314. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Intelligence (Armstrong) to the Acting Secretary of State1


  • Attached Draft Letter

Allen Dulles has been and is concerned over the possible adverse effects on his budget for 1958 of the charges that have been aired in the Congress to the effect that U.S. intelligence failed to warn of the impending Israeli and UK-French attack on Egypt in October and November, 1956. He feels that the testimony of the Secretary in connection with the Middle East Resolution2 is subject to an interpretation which might justify some such accusations. Accordingly he has drafted a letter which might be used to set the record straight if necessary. Through Norman Paul, his Legislative Counsel, he has discussed this matter with me and then last evening Allen and I had an opportunity to discuss it further.

My initial reaction to the proposal was that it might possibly set a precedent of an unwelcome kind with respect to future intelligence triumphs or failures. Moreover, it might give rise to the feeling that “it seems the man doth protest too much,” if the Executive Branch feels it necessary to justify its activities in such sensitive fields as intelligence whenever they are unjustly criticized. On the other hand, if the information contained in the letter is used orally and judiciously, defense of [Page 591] our intelligence activities could be stimulated in legislative quarters which would have more influence with the critics than a direct reply by the Director of Central Intelligence.

Allen received my views last evening seriously and said that he was not himself yet sure that it would be wise to adopt this procedure. He stated that he had3 mentioned this to the Secretary, who had indicated a willingness to write a letter himself to put his testimony in a better context if that was thought desirable. In any case, Allen agreed with me that only the Secretary could determine whether such a procedure as Allen suggests was desirable and judge the effect it would have upon his own position in respect to his previous testimony. Accordingly, Allen agrees that the matter should be left in abeyance until the Secretary returns and has had an opportunity to review the problem. I am therefore sending this to you at this time only for information.

I also pointed out to Norman Paul and Allen the danger of the contents of the letter leaking if it were used. In this connection, I pointed out that the second paragraph on page 4 would be particularly exacerbating to our relations with the British and French and we agreed on certain language changes that will be incorporated in a further draft to eliminate as far as possible this difficulty.4


Draft Letter From the Director of Central Intelligence (Dulles) to the Secretary of State5

Dear Mr. Secretary: I have heard a number of comments recently from Congressional sources to the effect that the United States intelligence community failed completely to produce any advance warning of the imminence of an Israeli attack against Egypt in late October of last year or of the subsequent intervention by forces of France and the United Kingdom.

In each case where I have been given an opportunity to reply, I have denied that we were taken by surprise, and have described the substance of intelligence reports which were distributed to the policymaking agencies during the period in question. In almost every case where this has been done, however, I have met the rejoinder that my [Page 592] statements were in direct conflict with statements made by the President and by the Secretary of State to the effect that the United States had not been informed of the impending attacks on Egypt.

Prior to the time of the Senate hearings on the Middle East Resolution, I had been able to state to Congressional leaders and Committees that the intelligence community estimated the approximate time and place of the Israeli attack against Egypt well before the attack was made. I had also stated that as soon as the nature and character of the Israeli attack and surrounding circumstances were analyzed, we also estimated that the British and French would intervene. These statements were made at the White House briefing for Congressional leaders on 9 November 1956,6 at a briefing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 11 November 1956,7 and at a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 26 November 1956.8 I had also been able to explain to the Congressional subcommittees with which this Agency normally deals that a statement by the President to the effect that he had no advance warning of the attack was related to the fact that he had received no official advance notice from any of the governments concerned, and, I understood, was not intended to imply that intelligence had failed.

During the course of Senate hearings on the Joint Resolution, however, a number of statements were made by the Secretary of State which have again created a certain amount of confusion in Congressional minds as to whether or not United States intelligence was caught napping at the time of the invasion of Egypt. I refer specifically to exchanges (attached) between the Secretary and Senator Jackson (pp. 174–175 of the printed testimony), Senator Mansfield (p. 446), Senator Russell (p. 453), and Senator Knowland (p. 464).9

It is of course possible to apply varying interpretations to these, as to any other statements on matters of this kind. I think you will agree, however, that a reasonable person would be entitled to reach the conclusion after reading the exchanges referred to above, notably the one with Senator Mansfield, that the United States had indeed been taken by surprise on the occasion of the Israeli, British, and French attacks.

The facts of this matter, insofar as intelligence reporting is concerned, are as follows:

[Page 593]

The Israeli attack was not finally ordered until after the Budapest revolt probably during the course of Wednesday, 24 October. The next day the U.S. Military Attaché reported substantial evidence of Israeli mobilization to a level higher than any attained since the Armistice of 1949. This intelligence was carried in the CIA Bulletin on Friday the 26th. The Watch Committee (with the Department of State, of course, participating) considered this report on the 26th, but concluded that the mobilization was not “full” and that Israel’s indicated intentions were a “major reprisal” and preparations “to meet the possibility of broader action.”10

At approximately 1345 Washington time on the 26th two further reports from the Attaché in Tel Aviv were disseminated to all interested Government offices.11 These characterized Israeli mobilization as “very large scale,” and indicated that several convoys of trucks and taxis had departed for the South, that there had been a large number of individual call-ups during the night of 25 October (including the drivers for the Army and Naval Attachés and the U.S. Embassy), that many industries were badly affected, including some work stoppages, and that all units, posts, camps and stations of the Israeli Defense Force were on standby alert. The CIA Bulletin reported this information early Saturday with the comment that this activity “probably indicates preparation for a limited objective action against Egypt or Jordan, with full capability to exploit any Arab response.”

At 10 a.m. Saturday, October 27, you and your principal assistants were advised that a major Israeli attack against Egypt could be expected at any time after the close of the Hebrew Sabbath that evening.12

At noon on Sunday, 28 October, the Watch Committee on the basis of the above reports stated that a favorable opportunity had been provided “for a major attack.13 Past Egyptian provocations and the key role of Egypt in the Arab threat …14 indicate the attack will be launched against Egypt in the very near future, under the pretext of retaliation and exceeding past raids in strength. The scale of the mobilization indicates that Israel is prepared to meet and exploit such situations as may arise during such an attack.”

With regard to British-French involvement in any Israeli attack against Egypt, there were five meetings during the week preceding hostilities of a special committee15 studyingthere were indications of a [Page 594] build-up on Cyprus. This committee reported such indications as These included a large increase of British Canberra light bombers on Cyprus between 19 and 28 October, unexplained communications changes and a rapid build-up of transport strength, especially for the French air force.16

Immediately after the Israeli attack on 29 October the IAC Watch Committee again met and concluded that “the British and French are prepared to and probably will intervene with force in the Middle East as opportunity occurs in connection with the Israeli-Egyptian action.”17

During the period immediately preceding the military intervention in Egypt, a number of governmental actions were taken which were, at least in part, a reflection of the seriousness with which intelligence reports on the situation were regarded. On 27 and 28 October, the President sent urgent messages to Premier Ben Gurion.18 On 28 October, a cable was sent to our Embassy in Cairo ordering preparation for the evacuation of all American dependents and non-essential personnel.19 On the 29th of October, Zakarya Muhi-al-Din, Egyptian Minister of the Interior informed an American official that his government wouldn’t have been particularly disturbed by the Israeli mobilization were it not for the United States decision to evacuate personnel.20 On the same day, Ambassador Hare expressed President Eisenhower’s concern over the Egyptian-Israeli situation to President Nasser, who said he was unable to understand what all the turmoil was about. Nasser also stated that he was at a loss to understand why we felt it necessary to evacuate American personnel.21

I feel that it is of great importance to the intelligence community and to the Government as a whole that the record of United States intelligence performance during this phase of the Middle East crisis be established clearly and correctly. To this end, if you agree that the foregoing statement of facts is correct, I request your permission to make the contents of this letter available to the appropriate members [Page 595] and committees of the Congress in the event that further questions are raised as to the quality of intelligence reporting during this period and on the understanding that the text remains classified.


Allen W.Dulles22
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.5280/5–357. Secret.
  2. Reference is to Dulles’ testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations/Armed Services Committees on January 15 and February 1, 1957, excerpts from which are attached to the draft letter, but not printed here. See The President’s Proposal on the Middle East: Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, Eighty-fifth Congress, First Session, on S.J. Res. 19 and H.J. 117, Part I, pp. 174–175, 446, 453, and 464.
  3. After reading ME transcript. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. For these changes, see the paragraph in the draft letter below, which begins “With regard to British-French involvement in any Israeli attack against Egypt”.
  5. Top Secret. Drafted by Norman Paul.
  6. The memorandum of conversation by Minnich is not printed. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Bipartisan Legislative Meetings)
  7. See Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Eighty-fourth Congress, Second Session, vol. VIII, pp. 617 ff.
  8. The transcript of the executive session has not been published.
  9. See footnote 2 above.
  10. See Hitchcock’s memorandum to the IAC, October 26, 1956, vol. XVI, p. 787.
  11. See the editorial note, ibid., p. 788.
  12. No record of this communication has been found in Department of State files.
  13. See the Special Watch Report, October 28, 1956, vol. XVI, p. 798.
  14. Ellipsis in the source text.
  15. No information concerning the special committee has been found in Department of State files.
  16. The changes reflected in this paragraph were presumably made during Armstrong’s conversation with Norman Paul and Director Dulles on May 2. (See the last paragraph of Armstrong’s covering memorandum.) Cancelled type has been used to indicate passages deleted from the text and italics to indicate insertions.
  17. See JCS 912463, October 29, 1956, vol. XVI, p. 844.
  18. Ibid., pp. 795 and 801.
  19. See footnote 5, ibid., p. 807.
  20. Reported in telegram 1200 from Cairo, October 29, 1956, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/10–2956)
  21. See telegram 1193 from Cairo, October 29, 1956, vol. XVI, p. 827.
  22. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.