153. Memorandum of Discussion at the 445th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and agenda items 1 and 2.]

[Page 523]

3. Statements Regarding the U–2 Incident and the Recent Military Test Alert (NSC Action No. 2231)1

The President said there was a matter he would like to take up with the Council. It was clear that Congress would insist on some kind of investigation of the U–2 incident and the breakup of the Summit Conference. It must be well understood in advance in the Administration how far officials could go in testifying on these matters without endangering our whole intelligence fabric. The U–2 incident was partly out in the open and some questions about over-flights could be answered. However, the President continued, no information should be divulged as to how many over-flights have been made. Congress could be told that over-flights have been going on with the approval of the Secretary of State and our scientific advisers, who have indicated that this method of gathering intelligence is necessary. It should be made clear that basic decisions respecting reconnaissance over-flights of denied territory have been made by the President. However, the impression should not be given that the President has approved specific flights, precise missions, or the timing of specific flights.

Mr. Dulles said he would prefer in his own testimony not to mention the President in connection with the reconnaissance over-flights.

The President said he had in his press conference already referred to his own role in reconnaissance over-flights.2 Turning to the timing of the last U–2 flight, the President said there was no good time for failure. The question was: Had the risk been measurably greater at the time of the flight than it would have been at any other time? As Ambassador Lodge had said at the UN Security Council meeting, at the time Khrushchev was making his disarmament speech before the UN last year,3 the U.S. had taken two Soviet spies into custody. The President believed that as long as a powerful government suspected the intentions of another powerful government, intelligence activities would be carried on. He felt that the possibility of a new Pearl Harbor should not be unduly emphasized, nor should we attempt to be dramatic, but we could state publicly that intelligence operations are going on and that we are studying methods of obtaining information. The President remarked that over-flights, before the last one, had been so successful that we may have become careless. He added that the April 9 over-flight could be [Page 524] mentioned publicly since the Soviets had already mentioned it.4 He repeated that as to timing there was no good time for failure.

The President believed that certain elements in the U.S. would try to make it appear that we had instituted a general military alert on Sunday night, May 15. All that happened was that Secretary Gates had asked him whether it would not be appropriate at that time to make sure that our long-range communications were working efficiently. He had agreed that such a communications alert might be ordered. This test alert was the kind of alert that is conducted regularly. The President felt that in our public statement we should play down the May 15 alert by indicating that it was a test of our long-range communications facilities. Secretary Gates said that the alert also involved a quiet increase in military command personnel on duty for a test of command procedures.

The President asked whether the pilot of the U–2 which was brought down in Russia had made any flights before this one during his four years with CIA. Mr. Dulles said the pilot, Francis Powers, had made twenty to twenty-five operational flights over denied territory. One of the flights over denied territory was partly aborted because of weather conditions; the plane went through Mongolia and returned. Mr. Dulles added that Powers had been with CIA four years and before that had been with the Air Force for six years. He had been selected for this mission because of his knowledge of Arctic navigation. The President said that when reconnaissance over-flights had been explained to him, he had been told that the pilots on such flights were taught to destroy the plane rather than to let it fall into Soviet hands. The President believed that the blunder of our first statement on the U–2 incident was based on the presumption that the plane was destroyed.5 Accordingly, we thought the story that a NASA weather reconnaissance plane was missing was a good cover story. The President then remarked that apparently Powers started talking as soon as he touched the ground. Mr. Dulles said that we had traced the U–2 piloted by Powers down to 30,000 feet. Pictures of wreckage of the U–2 published by the Russians showed that parts of the plane have bullet holes. Mr. Dulles believed that bullets fired at the plane while it was in the air may have jammed the destruct mechanism. In any case, the pilot had time to eject himself from the U–2 while it was descending from 70,000 to 30,000 feet and, contrary to Soviet stories, the arming of the destruct mechanism would [Page 525] not have blown up the pilot.6 The President said apparently the pilot had a flight plan with him when he landed. Mr. Dulles said a flight plan was, of course, necessary to the operation. The President believed that the pilot did not have to carry the flight plan with him while descending from 70,000 feet altitude. Mr. Dulles said he understood the flight plan was found in the cockpit of the downed plane.

Secretary Herter said he understood the timing of the U–2 flight was dictated by technical factors. For example, he had been told that at this season of the year the sun’s rays were at the proper angle for good aerial photography and that the weather was apt to be clear over the USSR. He wondered whether this line of thought would be useful in testimony before Congress. The President said the U–2 flights were made because it was necessary for us to find out whether the Soviets were hardening their airbases or not, but of course it was impossible for us to say this publicly. Mr. Dulles said this was the best season of the year for reconnaissance over-flights of the USSR because the weather in that part of the world was apt to be foggy at other times.

Secretary Gates asked whether the pilot of the U–2 had been briefed to tell the truth if he were captured. Mr. Dulles said the pilot had been told to reveal whatever he himself knew, including the fact that he worked for CIA.

Mr. Herter wondered whether the fact that we had tracked the U–2 down to 30,000 feet should be revealed. Mr. Dulles preferred to say that we had tracked the plane to the point where it could be shot down. The President wondered why it was necessary for us to reveal that we had tracked the plane down to 30,000 feet. Mr. Dulles explained that the Soviets were announcing that their rockets could shoot a plane down from an altitude of 60,000–70,000 feet. It would be re-assuring to our allies if we could inform them that the plane had not been shot down at this high altitude. The President said that nevertheless it bothered him to reveal information of this kind which throws some light on our intelligence activities. Mr. Dillon thought we might say that the Russian pictures revealed bullet holes in the wreckage of the plane, thus implying that the plane had descended to a relatively low altitude before being shot down. Mr. McCone said that Time magazine had stated in its last issue that we tracked the plane down to 30,000 feet.7 The President said that secret information which revealed our intelligence activities must not be [Page 526] given out. This was a matter which involved the security of the U.S. and the protection of our intelligence operations. The President then added that no one should admit that any person in any nation other than the U.S. has been a party to reconnaissance over-flights. These over-flights should be regarded as solely a U.S operation. The President added that he had proposed a bilateral meeting with Khrushchev in Paris to discuss the over-flights because he wanted to make it clear to Khrushchev that our allies were not involved.

[Here follows discussion of the upcoming summit conference.]

General Twining believed that an investigation, once started, would seek to explore our whole intelligence operation. He wondered whether there was anything we could do to stop the investigation. The President said he would be able to stop an investigation of the advice which his personal advisers had given him but the forthcoming investigation would deal with Administration officials as well as his personal advisers. Accordingly, he felt the investigation could not be stopped. However, he believed Administration officials should testify themselves and not allow their subordinates to speak. General Twining feared that if the investigators probed CIA, they would then want to investigate the JCS operations. The President said Mr. Dulles would reply to the questions asked by the investigators and might have to say that CIA was a secret organization of the U.S. Government.

Secretary Anderson believed that the President’s forthcoming TV address8 should leave the public with the image of a clear and decisive leader but that it should also say that no apology is due for U.S. efforts to protect the Free World against devastating attack. Moreover, the speech should express the hope that no one in this country will engage in activities which will imperil the capability of the country to protect itself in the future. The speech should contain the implication that there is a limit beyond which investigation cannot go without imperiling our security. Secretary Anderson felt that the image of Pearl Harbor was still in the minds of the people and that they would accept this admonition about security.

The President said that upon his return to this country from Paris, he had deliberately talked about the U–2 incident and the Summit at some length at Andrews Field9 because at that time he did not intend to make a TV speech. Now he was about to make a TV speech and he understood [Page 527] that the State Department was preparing a White Paper.10 He wondered whether our opponents would not say we were on the defensive if we continue to make speeches and prepare White Papers. Secretary Herter said the proposed State Department White Paper would cover Soviet espionage activities in the U.S. and other Free World countries.

Secretary Anderson asked whether Mr. Dulles had any estimate regarding the fact that the USSR is sending eighteen of its UN officials home. Mr. Dulles said this move might be due to regular rotation. The eighteen officials would be drawn both from the Soviet Embassy and from the UN. The one thing that was clear was that the Soviets did not like the conduct of Ambassador Menshikov. Secretary Herter said the State Department had been studying the projected return of the Soviet Ambassador and the eighteen other Soviet officials and had been able to see no special significance in the move. There was, however, apparently a kind of mass movement going on. The Polish Ambassador appeared to be going home also.

The President wondered whether it would be a good idea for him to mention in his speech the fact that the State Department is preparing a White Paper on the details of Soviet espionage. Secretary Herter said he preferred to wait until the first draft of the White Paper was prepared. There was a question whether the White Paper could contain enough cases to make it worthwhile without compromising the FBI sources of information. Mr. Dulles asked whether the White Paper would cover Soviet espionage in allied countries. Mr. Dillon said the White Paper would cover such espionage. The President wondered whether this coverage would require us to clear the White Paper with our allies. Mr. Dillon said information in the White Paper about Soviet espionage in allied countries was drawn from public sources.

The President said we had been the leader for peace in the world. In order to remain the leader, we must remain strong and in order to be strong we must obtain intelligence information.

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The National Security Council:11

Noted, after discussion of the subject, the following instructions by the President regarding statements by Executive Branch officials in public or in Congressional testimony:

Discussion of the U–2 incident could include information which the USSR is presumed to know, but should not include any information which would jeopardize any other intelligence sources and methods. Statements should be calm and clear, but not expansive as to details or other intelligence activities. It should be emphasized that the policy of the United States is to seek a just and lasting peace, but to pursue that objective from a position of strength which requires intelligence activities to guard against surprise attack. Therefore, there should be no apologies for our effort to protect the Free World from surprise attack, and we should not imply that any other nations were involved in this U–2 activity. While making clear that the basic decision regarding the U–2 program was made by the President, the impression should not be given that the President approved specific flights, their precise missions or their timing.
As to the test alert, it should be made clear that this was of limited scope designed primarily to test long-range communications and command procedures, and that such alerts are necessary to maintain the operational readiness of U.S. armed forces. Authorization was given for more frequent test alerts.

[Here follow the remaining agenda items.]

Marion W. Boggs
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Pepared by Boggs on May 25.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 149.
  3. For text of the President’s remarks, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–61, pp. 403–404.
  4. Lodge’s statement has not been further identified.
  5. Khrushchev mentioned this in his May 5 speech to the Supreme Soviet; see Document 147.
  6. Regarding the first NASA statement on the missing U–2 plane, May 3, see Document 147.
  7. In his speech to the Supreme Soviet on May 7, Khrushchev reported that Powers did not use the automatic ejection device because there was an explosive charge in the plane that was to blow up as soon as the pilot was catapulted. (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, June 8, 1960, p. 5) The Soviet press subsequently reiterated Khrushchev’s version. (Ibid., June 29, 1960, p. 30)
  8. Time, May 23, 1960.
  9. For text of the President’s May 25 nationwide television address on the collapse of the summit in Paris, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–61, pp. 437–445.
  10. For text of the President’s remarks, see ibid., pp. 435–437.
  11. Reference may be to a report drafted in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, attached to a May 26 memorandum to Under Secretary Dillon, and entitled “The Soviet Espionage Effort Against the United States and the Free World.” Lampton Berry, Deputy Director of Intelligence and Research, wrote in part that the attached INR paper “has been prepared primarily with a Congressional audience in mind, but also with a view of possible eventual publication.” (Department of State, INR Files: Lot 58 D 776, 1960 Intelligence Notes) No further record of the preparation and publication of this paper has been found.
  12. The paragraphs that follow constitute NSC Action No. 2237, approved by the President on May 31. (Ibid., S/S-NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)