31. Memorandum of Discussion at the 359th NSC Meeting1

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  • Discussion at the 359th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, March 20, 1958

Present at the 359th Council meeting were the President of the United States, presiding; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Federal Civil Defense Administrator (participating in Items l–4); the Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers (participating in Items 1 and 2); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; The Assistant to the President; the Deputy Assistant to the President; the Acting Director, U.S. Information Agency; the Director, International [Typeset Page 112] Cooperation Administration; the Special Assistants to the President for Information Projects, for National Security Affairs, and for Science and Technology; the White House Staff Secretary; Mr. Karl G. Harr, Jr., Department of Defense; Assistant Secretary of State Gerard C. Smith; Paul McGrath, Charles Shafer, and Robert Stokley, Federal Civil Defense Administration (for Item 1); Dr. Gordon Dunning, Atomic Energy Commission (for Item 1); the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.


(NSC Action No. 1814; NSC 5724; NSC 5724/1; NSC Actions Nos. 1841 and 1842; Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, subject: “Report to the President by the Security Resources Panel of the ODM Science Advisory Committee”, dated January 22, 1958; NSC 5807)

In briefing the Council, General Cutler indicated that the problem of providing shelter for the population against radioactive fallout would be considered at two successive meetings of the Council. At the first one, today, the Council would hear a factual presentation by the Federal Civil Defense Administration on radioactive fallout and on the types of protective measures against it. (A copy of General Cutler’s briefing note is filed in the minutes of the meeting, and another is attached to this memorandum.) Upon the conclusion of his briefing, General Cutler called on Governor Hoegh, the Federal Civil Defense Administrator, who in turn indicated that the presentation would be given by Dr. Paul McGrath of FCDA.

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Upon the conclusion of Dr. McGrath’s presentation, General Cutler complimented him on the high quality of his report, and advised the Council that the purpose in hearing this factual presentation was to remind members of the Council of the basic facts relating to shelter prior to Council consideration next week of the report of the Interdepartmental Committee entitled “Measures to Carry Out the Concept of Shelter” (NSC 5807).

The Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization inquired of Dr. McGrath the number of casualties estimated in Dr. McGrath’s discussion of Operation Sentinel. Dr. McGrath replied that the casualties were estimated at about 82 million.

Mr. Stans, the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, pointing out the arbitrary level of tolerance of radiation which Dr. McGrath had set at 75 Roentgens, inquired what was the general range of tolerance in human beings. Dr. McGrath explained that the figure of 75 Roentgens had been selected because this intake of radiation would not make many [Typeset Page 113] people sick and accordingly unfit to work. A dose of 200 Roentgens, on the other hand, would cause disabling sickness.

Admiral Strauss commented that the natives on some of the islands in our Pacific proving grounds, and some of our own U.S. personnel there, had undergone much larger doses than 75 Roentgens without serious ill effect.

The President inquired how one could distinguish the degree of contamination from radioactive fallout in a given area at a given time. Mr. Shafer, of the FCDA, explained that it was proposed to distribute instruments for this purpose immediately after a nuclear detonation.

The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed an oral briefing by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, concurred in generally by the Atomic Energy Commission, on the hazards of radioactive fallout and on the relative effectiveness of types of protective shelter.


(NSC Action No. 1842–f; Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 14, 1958)

Having done a lot of hard work on this intelligence estimate, the intelligence community, explained Mr. Allen Dulles, was still of the opinion that the Soviet Union did have a program of civil defense and of air-raid shelter construction. It was not easy to pin down and describe this program, but Mr. Dulles said that he would be glad to invite skeptics into his office to see the enormous [Facsimile Page 3] mass of evidence of the existence of such a program in the Soviet Union. Incidentally, he added, the present estimate had been concurred in by all of the agencies of the intelligence community.

Mr. Dulles then went on to cite certain specific evidence from training manuals, Soviet Red Cross reports, and other sources. Weighing all the evidence, Mr. Dulles then summarized his conclusions. First, that a minimum of from 10 to 15 million people of the Soviet Union’s urban population are now afforded some degree of protection, and that the effort to provide more is a continuing effort in the Soviet Union. All this was true despite much uncertainty as to the precise character and size of the Soviet program.

When the Director of Central Intelligence had concluded his remarks, General Cutler informed the Council that when it was produced before the Planning Board, this estimate on the Soviet program had been received with a certain amount of skepticism, particularly in view of two sentences—one in paragraph 2, reading “It is impossible [Typeset Page 114] to determine the precise state of readiness in the USSR”, and secondly, the first sentence of paragraph 11, reading “The adequacy of protection afforded by the shelter program outlined in the above paragraphs has not been analyzed in this report.” General Cutler also pointed out that Ambassador Thompson was of the opinion that no shelters were being provided in the enormous Lenin Hills housing development in Moscow. Mr. Dulles replied that he was inclined to disagree with Ambassador Thompson’s interpretation of what had been observed in the Lenin Hills development.

General Cutler said that in any case Mr. Dulles presumably agreed with his advice to Mr. Dulles that he should not go out too far on a limb with respect to this estimate of the Soviet program. Mr. Dulles indicated that he had been inclined to go along with this view when it had first been expressed to him by General Cutler, but that he had somewhat changed his mind after seeing more of the concrete evidence to support the existence of a Soviet civil defense and air-raid shelter program. General Cutler inquired whether Mr. Dulles proposed to continue his efforts to discover the size and character of the Soviet program, and he received an affirmative answer.

Mr. Gordon Gray questioned whether it was meaningful to cite as evidence of a modem Soviet program shelter structures which had been built as early as 1949. To Mr. Grey, such structures would have little or no use in a future nuclear war. Dr. Killian, however, pointed out that such structures might still prove helpful as shelter against radioactive fallout as opposed to blast or thermal effects. Secretary Dulles agreed with this opinion, but pointed out that this was not the type of shelter which the United States was contemplating in its current study of shelter programs.

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Mr. Stans inquired of Mr. Allen Dulles how many of our American population could be protected by some of the same sort of measures, such as subways, which the intelligence estimate cited as being part of the Soviet program. There was no answer to this question.

The National Security Council:

Noted and discussed an estimate on the subject by the Director of Central Intelligence, prepared pursuant to NSC Action No. 1842–f and transmitted by the reference memorandum of March 14, 1958.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the memorandum.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Agenda item 1: Measures To Carry Out the Concept of Shelter; Agenda item 2: Soviet Civil Defense and Air-Raid Shelter Construction. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Extracts—4 pp. Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Drafted on March 21.