133. Letter from Rep. Holifield and Sen. Jackson to President Kennedy, July 251

[Facsimile Page 1]

My dear Mr. President:

The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy held an executive session on July 19, 1982 to review the latest developments in the field of detection and identification of nuclear explosions and on July 23, 1962 to be briefed on the current status and future plans regarding the nuclear test ban.

The Committee very much appreciates the cooperation of the responsible officials in the Executive Branch who participated in the hearings and particularly Mr. William Foster, Director, Mr. Adrian Fisher, Deputy Director, and Mr. George Bunn, General Counsel, of the Disarmament and Arms Control Agency, who have been most diligent in keeping the Joint Committee informed on a current basis of developments within the Agency’s jurisdiction.

We have noted that in your press conference on Monday, July 23, you indicated that you expected to reach a decision by the end of this week as to any changes in the United States’ position on the test ban negotiations. In order that you and your staff may have the flavor of the Joint Committee’s discussion of these problems, we are transmitting a copy of the transcript of the hearings separately to Mr. Bundy.

[Typeset Page 361]

We are setting forth below our personal views based on these hearings and long experience with previous changes in U.S. scientific data and political positions on the test ban:

1. We believe any decision on a change in position should carefully take into account the recent Soviet announcement that the USSR would resume testing. It would seem prudent to believe that the Soviets will reject everything until their coming series is completed. [Facsimile Page 2] It would also seem prudent for the United States to await the results of the Soviet test series before placing ourselves in a position whereby we would not be able to test.

2. Based upon the testimony at these recent hearings and previous extensive hearings, there does not appear to be any significant change or breakthrough in the technical capabilities of detecting and identifying clandestine nuclear weapon tests. Despite the relatively large amount of technical data obtained in conjunction with our current test series coupled with other analysis, it is evident that our knowledge is too preliminary in nature to constitute the basis for any political change in our negotiating position at Geneva. Both the ARPA press release of July 7 and Dr. Ruina’s statement to the Joint Committee on July 19 stated that the results to date were of a “preliminary” nature. We believe it is very necessary that all data be carefully checked and rechecked in view of past serious errors.

We know from past experience that scientific findings, whether they are called preliminary or final, are not immutable. The hearings held by our Committee over the years corroborate the fact that scientists have had to change their position consistently because of new developments that scientific research has given us. As we know, there are a number of recent classic examples in this field.

Our major cause for concern is the danger that, because of certain preliminary scientific findings, we will make a radical change in our approach to an agreement on a nuclear test ban—that radical change being to give up our insistence upon a true international control system of detection and inspection, including international control stations on Soviet territory.

There could be nothing more dangerous than to make a hasty change in a fundamental principle of arms control because of a preliminary scientific finding.

3. Notwithstanding the many and extensive concessions made by our negotiators during the past three and one-half years, the USSR remains adamant in its refusal to permit internationally manned stations and realistic inspection of significant events in the USSR which are essential to an adequate control system. We believe the idea that our negotiators must continue to make major concessions is unrealistic.

[Facsimile Page 3] [Typeset Page 362]

4. In his testimony to the Joint Committee on July 23, Mr. Foster discussed the various alternatives under consideration. Certain significant omissions were made, including:

a) The previous U.S. proposal of a joint U.S.-USSR coordinated research program for improving technical capabilities of detection has apparently been dropped. We would certainly hope that our negotiators will not retreat from the position that current technical know-how is still inadequate and continued research is required. In this connection, adequate attention must be given to the possibilities that concealment techniques may also advance.

b) There was no indication of any means of surveying Soviet territory to determine anomalies as shown by the GNOME shot.

Please be assured of our continued interest in these problems and our desire to be of assistance to you and your advisors in determining that action which is best for the United States and the Free World.

Sincerely yours,

Chet Holifield
Henry M. Jackson
Chairman, Subcommittee on Military Applications
  1. Concern regarding U.S. negotiating stance on the test ban talks. CIA Files, DCI, ER Subject Files, Congress.