28. Memorandum of Discussion at the 252d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, June 16, 19551

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

Continental Defense (NSC 5408; Progress Reports on NSC 5408, dated June 1, 1955; NSC Action No. 1273–b–(4)2)

Mr. Dillon Anderson advised that the third series of Progress Reports on Continental Defense were before the Council for consideration; that, at the President’s direction, such reports were submitted semiannually by the six agencies3 responsible for implementing the Council’s Continental Defense policy (NSC 5408). He added that the third series of reports had been reviewed by the NSC Planning Board and by Mr. Robert C. Sprague, the Council’s able consultant on Continental Defense. He noted that Mr. Sprague had spent several hours with the Planning Board when it considered the Department of Defense Progress Report on the subject; that Mr. Sprague’s views had thereafter been circulated to the Planning Board members in order that (a) they might provide advance briefing thereon to their respective principals, and (b) points raised by Mr. Sprague might be covered in the oral presentation of the military services at today’s meeting.

Mr. Anderson indicated that because of its extraordinary sensitivity, a very special procedure had been followed with respect to the Department of Defense report on Continental Defense; that review thereof had been restricted on a need-to-know basis to Planning Board [Page 88] members or their representatives, with such review taking place in the NSC Staff offices; that all copies of the Defense report would be returned to the Department of Defense with the exception of a minimum number of copies which would be retained in NSC Staff files for completion of Council records and for further review on an absolute need-to-know basis.

After suggesting the procedures to be followed in order to expedite the Council’s work at the meeting, Mr. Anderson called on Admiral Radford for any introductory remarks he wished to make prior to the oral presentations by the three Services. Admiral Radford had no remarks at this point. Major General Gerhart thereupon advised the Council that the Services’ presentations would be made by the following individuals; Colonel Bothwell, USAF, who briefed the Council on the status of the Air Force elements of the Continetal Defense program; Colonel Turner, USA, who briefed the Council on the Army elements of the Continental Defense program; and Captain Leverton, USN, who briefed the Council on the Navy elements of the Continental Defense program. Following the completion of the presentation by the Services (covering 65 minutes), Mr. Anderson called on Mr. Sprague to give the highlights of his independent views on the Department of Defense report. Mr. Sprague then summarized the highlights of his June 16, 1955 report on the subject, copies of which were available on the Council table throughout the NSC meeting.4

[2 paragraphs (13 lines of source text) not declassified]

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Secretary Wilson mentioned at this point that Defense had already planned stepped-up production of our B–52’s by 35% and, in addition, had asked for the transfer of additional funds to the Secretary of Defense for allocation for research purposes in those areas of continental military defense which seemed most promising.

The President said he was grateful to Mr. Sprague for his contribution, and mentioned that, if he were Mr. Sprague, he would not be apologetic in advancing differing views from other individuals who, like Mr. Sprague, were also concerned with our Continental Defense problems.

Mr. Allen Dulles referred to the figures used in that portion of the Sprague report of June 16 which reflected that by mid-1957 the Russians would have [1 number not declassified] modern bombers in operation. He said that while these figures were taken from CIA’s estimates,5 they must be studied with a great deal of care before final conclusions were reached on Soviet long-range delivery capabilities. He said that while he would not discount the increased attention being devoted to long-range delivery capabilities by the Soviets, he personally was inclined to the [1 word not declassified] estimate, which takes a somewhat less alarmist view than the estimate prepared by CIA and used by Mr. Sprague in his June 16 report. He said that while the situation was more grave than indicated by the intelligence estimate of last November, he thought that more study was needed before firm conclusions were reached on the basis of the evidence now available.

Secretary Wilson, reverting to his prior reference to the stepped-up production program for the B–52, mentioned that some 200,000 people in the United States were now working either directly or indirectly on the B–52; that the plane was a very good one; and that Defense felt the production program for the B–52 was now ready to be pushed with safety. As to this point, the President observed that this increased production would result in putting more planes on the same number of SAC bases.

The President then commented that the value of Mr. Sprague’s survey was not limited to questions of the intelligence estimate alone; that its great value lay in making us reassess our programs in relation to the major items raised by Mr. Sprague for the purpose of seeing if we were placing proper emphasis on the right programs. He said that our great objective here is (a) to avert disaster, and (b) to win the war, if it comes. He added that he personally would agree with the more conservative estimate of the USSR’s long-range air delivery capability.

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Secretary Humphrey, noting that our Government was placing great reliance on its massive retaliatory capability, said he would like to know if the Air Force thought an attack, such as that earlier described by Mr. Sprague, could wipe out our retaliatory capability. He asked if 15 or 16 bombs on our SAC bases could put us out of business. General Twining replied that he did not think a small attack could have that effect. He said the Air Force was more concerned over a larger attack. He stated that in the event of an attack such as that described by Mr. Sprague, it would be impossible for all the attacking aircraft to come in simultaneously over their respective targets; as a consequence, with the first attacking plane we would disperse other SAC aircraft. General Twining then went on to say that the Air Force did not believe it should plan to build fighters with interceptor capability at 57,000 feet. He said that if we were about to do that, we couldn’t do anything else. He concluded that he did not think the Soviets would sacrifice their heavy, long-range aircraft on a one-way mission with complete strategic surprise, as suggested by Mr. Sprague.

Admiral Strauss then asked General Twining how much time would be required to get all SAC planes in the air, assuming there was some warning, and General Twining replied that he thought it would be possible to get about 80% of the bombers off pretty fast and that the remainder, exclusive of SAC aircraft undergoing repairs or refittings, could be gotten off the ground within a period of one hour to 1½ hours.

Mr. Anderson expressed appreciation to Mr. Sprague on behalf of the Council for the work he had performed, and then went on to discussion of the ODM report.

Mr. Anderson summarized the highlights of the ODM report, noting that emergency relocation plans to insure the continuity of essential functions of the Executive Branch had reached a high state of readiness, and that there had been no substantial change in the status of the following continental defense programs which are the responsibility of ODM: (a) emergency plans for the relocation of the Legislative and Judicial Branches; (b) plans for the pre-emergency permanent removal of essential Governmental operations from the Washington, D.C. target area; (c) plans for continuity of industry, reduction of urban vulnerability, and physical security of industrial and Governmental installations.

Dr. Flemming said that he had no comments on the ODM progress report at this time, adding that in the evaluation exercise to follow on June 17, the officials concerned would assess the effectiveness of [Page 91] emergency relocation plans being tested in conjunction with “Operation Alert 1955”.6

Mr. Anderson then summarized the highlights of the FCDA report, noting that additional funds totaling $12 million had been requested for civil defense research purposes, including research on evacuation, radiological defense, warning, communications, public education and shelter. Mr. Anderson mentioned that varying degrees of progress were being made in the following additional continental defense programs which were the primary responsibility of FCDA: (a) civil defense education, training, and stockpiling programs; (b) Federal civil defense contributions to States for attack warning, communications and related purposes; (c) civil defense plan for dispersing urban populations.

Governor Peterson said that in the civil defense field a considerable amount of progress has been made of late, but it was not anywhere near an acceptable level. He said that in the final analysis, the safety of the American people in our large cities rested on passive defense, i.e., civil defense, which placed a tremendous responsibility on our civil defense forces. He noted that under the present law, State and local governments had primary responsibility for civil defense. He said that at their last conference, the Governors were agreed that primary responsibility for civil defense should not rest on the local people alone; that it should be a shared responsibility, i.e., shared between the Federal and the local governments. He said that he had asked the Governors to submit their proposed solution to this problem, and when the solution was submitted it would be staffed through the normal mechanism and eventually submitted to the President. He said that it might well be that the U.S. would have to have such a program, and to that end it might be necessary for the Administration to seek increased authority and responsibility for FCDA in this field. He said that he was fearful that when FCDA came up with recommendations for sound civil defense programs it would encounter severe budgetary problems. He concluded with the view that in this very involved field FCDA should proceed slowly and carefully before pushing too hard for greatly increased programs.

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The President inquired whether FCDA expected to get the additional funds totaling $12 million which have been requested for civil defense research and related purposes. Governor Peterson replied that he thought that the Congress would appropriate these funds.

Mr. Anderson next took up the IICICIS report, noting that the several programs assigned to the Committees were generally proceeding in a satisfactory manner, [remainder of paragraph (13 lines of source text) not declassified]

Mr. Anderson then called upon Mr. Yeagley, Chairman of the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security, who advised that the ICIS would complete in the near future a study [remainder of this paragraph and 6 following paragraphs (1 page of source text) not declassified].

Mr. Anderson next recommended NSC action on the third series of progress reports along the lines indicated in the final paragraph of this memorandum.

Dr. Flemming inquired how soon the Council would consider the agency comments on the Killian committee recommendations. Mr. Anderson indicated that they had been tentatively scheduled for NSC consideration in July,7 but that they might have to be postponed because of more urgent matters. Dr. Flemming said that his inquiry was based upon his concern that the agency responses to the Killian recommendations be considered in sufficient time to be related to the preparation of the budget for the next fiscal year.

Secretary Wilson said that a lot of progress was being made in some of the areas referred to both in the Department of Defense report on Continental Defense and in the Killian report, and that, in so far as the Killian recommendations were concerned, he would be inclined to take a little more time in order to do a better job.

Governor Stassen observed that it would be well to have in mind that if the Soviets attempted a strike against the United States, they would probably be making all types of peaceful overtures just prior to the attack. Accordingly, Governor Stassen emphasized the necessity of good intelligence in order that there would be advance warning of an impending attack.

The President observed that this brought up the political aspects of the situation again. He said he knew of few cases in history wherein a government, after making a great many peaceful overtures, attempted a surprise attack; he said in those circumstances such political aggressors would have to take into account public and world opinion.

The President said he agreed with the recommended NSC action.

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Secretary Humphrey said he understood that action to mean that when something new came up, the same general principles would apply as had applied in the past. He emphasized the necessity of weighing various aspects of the Continental Defense program on their relative merits, stating that if it were decided to accelerate greatly one particular aspect, efforts should be made to find other less important programs which could be cut down to compensate therefor, [remainder of paragraph (3 lines of source text) not declassified]

Mr. Hughes said he assumed that the recommended action at today’s meeting would not be taken as a change of policy, to which the President responded that one change had already been indicated—namely, the stepped-up production in the B–52 program. The President added that he thought it necessary to use a rule of reason in assessing the various programs involved.

Secretary Humphrey said that if you don’t think about offsetting moves to compensate for increased programs, budgetary-wise and tax-wise the Government would be placed in a considerable bind unless there was real reason to change our policies, in which event it would be necessary to seek an increase in the tax program next year.

Secretary Wilson said that he did not favor any effort to bring before the Council by July final agency comments on the Killian report, to which Mr. Anderson responded that comments were now in from all agencies in one form or another.

Mr. Rockefeller mentioned the psychological and morale aspects of the subject, saying that he thought there should be a psychological plan to dovetail with the Continental Defense program.

The President, noting Mr. Rockefeller’s observation, said that there would be great chaos in the event of an attack, and consequently these psychological and related factors had to be carefully considered. Mr. Anderson suggested that these factors might be included in NSC 5408 when revised.

The Attorney General inquired if there wouldn’t be some advance warning, such as large troop movements in satellite countries, etc., in the event of the attack on our SAC bases envisaged by Mr. Sprague.

The President said he would think it odd if we received no warning at all, mentioning that our Air Force was unable to effect attacks with complete surprise during World War II, citing the air strikes against the Ploesti fields as an example. The President said that we were unable to make such attacks with complete surprise; that the enemy had warning of such attacks each time they were mounted.

The President reiterated his concurrence in the action recommended by Mr. Anderson.

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The National Security Council:8

Noted and discussed the reference Progress Reports on NSC 5408, covering the period from November 1, 1954 to April 15, 1955.
Noted and discussed the report of the NSC Consultant on Continental Defense, and referred paragraph 15 thereof to the Department of Defense for consideration.
Deferred any general revision in the basic Continental Defense policy (NSC 5408) until after the Council considers departmental comments on recommendations of the Killian Report relating to Continental Defense.
Agreed that, pending Council consideration of the comments referred to in c above, the United States should continue accelerated military and non-military programs for Continental Defense, placing emphasis upon achieving a state of readiness adequate to counter the increased capability for strategic nuclear attacks which the USSR will have obtained by July, 1957.

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of Defense. The action in d above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to all responsible departments and agencies for implementation.

J. Patrick Coyne
  1. Source: Eisenhower Libratry, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Coyne on June 17.
  2. NSC 5408, “Continental Defense,” February 11, 1954, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, p. 609. The progress reports of five of the six responsible agencies are in Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5408 Series; the report of the Department of Defense has not been found in Department of State files. Regarding NSC Action No. 1273, see Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, vol. II, Part 1, p. 801, footnote 17. Paragraph b–(4) stipulated that the next series of progress reports was to cover the period through April 15, and be submitted to the NSC Staff by May 20.
  3. The Treasury Department, the Defense Department, the Office of Defense Mobilization, the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference together with the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security.
  4. A copy of this report is in the Eisenhower Library, Sp. Asst. for Nat. Sec. Affairs Records. In a June 14 memorandum to the Acting Secretary of State, Robert Bowie stated that the essence of the Defense Department’s progress report was that some programs were doing well while others were behind schedule, but that the implications of greatest interest in this report were those brought out by Robert Sprague:

    “Mr. Sprague comes to a conclusion of great significance to our national security and basic national security policies set forth in NSC 5501. Mr. Sprague concludes: (a) that at the present rate of development of our continental defense system the Soviets by mid-1957 will be able to destroy our nuclear retaliatory power by surprise attack; (b) that the situation can be rectified if certain programs are speeded up or enhanced; and (c) that to do so might cost during the next two years about $500 million in addition to funds presently programmed for continental defense (this figure represents a personal estimate on Mr. Sprague’s part and is not contained in his memorandum). It is also his personal belief that if the Administration or the Congress is unwilling to appropriate additional moneys for this purpose the necessary funds should be taken from other programs.

    “It is quite possible that the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense will dispute Mr. Sprague’s conclusion, but it is a subject of such critical importance to our national security and our national strategy that any doubt should be resolved in favor of greater efforts so that our retaliatory force, at least, will receive greater protection at an earlier date.” (Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70 S/P Chronological)

  5. NIE 11–7–55, “Soviet Gross Capabilities for Attacks on the U.S. and Key Overseas Installations and Forces Through 1 July 1958,” dated June 23, and NIE 11–3–55, “Soviet Capabilities and Probable Soviet Courses of Action Through 1960,” dated May 17, are ibid.,INRNIE Files.
  6. Operation Alert was an annual nationwide civil defense exercise. A description of Operation Alert 1956 and its relationship to civil defense efforts is contained in Eisenhower’s letter to Val Peterson, dated July 17, 1956, printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, pp. 598–602. A series of reports on Operation Alert for the years 1955, 1956, and 1957 from Gordon Gray to the President are not printed. (Eisenhower Library, Staff Secretary Records, Exercise Progress and Evaluation Reports)
  7. See Document 25.
  8. “Paragraphs a–d and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1417. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Actions by the National Security Council)