272. Memorandum by Director of Central Intelligence McCone0

With respect to the test ban treaty, I have not gone over the last draft.1 However, it is my understanding that the present negotiating position provides for seven on-site inspections, seven black boxes within the USSR, and an inspection area of 500 square kilometers, and that the treaty deals with all the other issues which have been developed through the years. Some consideration is being given to reducing the seven on-site inspections to six, or even to five. There is also a difference of opinion as to the value of the black boxes.

One would have to make a penetrating study of the results of the Vela experiments to make a final judgment as to the adequacy of the verification provisions of the treaty. However, Mr. Foster, at a recent Executive Committee meeting,2 stated that the threshold is on the order of one kiloton in granite, two kilotons in tuff, and 10 to 20 kilotons (and possibly 30 kilotons) in alluvium. He added that this was the threshold for a single test. Based on a theory of probabilities, he further concluded that a series of tests which included a meaningful number of underground shots in a single location would, with a small number of inspections, undoubtedly be detected and identified as nuclear rather than natural.

On the basis of these threshold figures, I have expressed the view to Mr. Foster and to the President3 that the degree of verification is not sufficient, as it cannot prove adherence to a suspension of testing in an important area of yields. Of greater importance, however, is the fact that under present political circumstances a test ban between the U.S., USSR, and UK would not, in the final analysis, answer the “proliferation” problem because the Soviets cannot handle the Chinese Communists and we and the British cannot handle the French.

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As for the advantages to the United States of further testing, doing so would yield a continuing improvement in our technology through the further development of small weapons, improvement of weight/yield ratios and increased knowledge of weapons effects. With respect to the first two of these items, improvements are important. Our failure to pursue them while the Soviets do so (clandestinely) would probably deprive us of our superior nuclear position. However, this would not necessarily affect the military balance as the improvements are expected to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, although important information would be provided. With respect to effects of testing, more study would be necessary before I would have an opinion.

There is a great danger of engaging in a treaty, living under it for a number of years, and permitting our laboratories to go downhill (which they undoubtedly would do) while the Soviets covertly pursue developments in their laboratories. The Soviets could then abrogate the treaty for some reason they claim provocative, and confront us with a situation under which they had made a significant forward step in their technology. This, as will be recalled, was exactly what they did in 1961. I do not see how we can avoid this risk if we engage in a treaty unless the treaty is subscribed to by all world powers and contains substantial penalties for such abrogation.

The Plowshare problem must be considered. Meaningful Plowshare experiments involve our most advanced weapons technology and, if the inspection arrangements outlined in the treaty are undertaken, it would mean exposing to the Soviets our most advanced weapons technology. This might mean abandoning Plowshare and therefore one must consider whether Plowshare is important to our national interest.

Intelligence will make some contribution to the verification of a test ban. Some indicators which have been meaningful in the past are now lost to us, some useful indicators are still available but they, too, could be lost. Aerial surveillance might help in some circumstances, and clandestine penetrations might also help. Soviet fear of the latter might also serve as a deterrent. No useful figure can be placed on the contribution of intelligence.

It seems to me that there has been an overemphasis on the importance of the test ban treaty and the whole issue of testing for many years, and most particularly, during the last two or three years. The issue at first centered around fallout. The most responsible scientific judgment seems to indicate that the effects of fallout were vastly overemphasized by the test ban advocates. I feel the whole issue should be brought into proper perspective and question whether much is to be gained by an agreement to stop testing so long as the United States, Soviet Union, and the British continue the production of fissionable material, nuclear weapons, and delivery systems at a high rate, and in addition, the French and the Chinese [Page 670] Communists pursue an independent and uncontrolled program, and rumor has it that the Israelis are now doing likewise. Hence, stopping testing does not slow down the arms race, does not remove the dangers of a nuclear holocaust, and does not end the proliferation problem.

One important consideration is that if we reach an agreement with the Soviets, we have “broken through” in our effort to negotiate with the USSR on an issue of disarmament, and this might lead to other more meaningful agreements. This consideration is important and we could sacrifice a great deal to accomplish such a “break through”. However, this consideration is of value only if the test suspension agreement provides reasonable means of verification and reasonable guarantee for conformance with all treaty terms, including some protection against unilateral revocation or abrogation of the treaty. If, however, we are reckless on the question of verification, then the “break through” will be a decided disservice to the United States’ security interests because it will establish a precedent for further steps in disarmament without adequate means of verification.

I have not personally studied the most recent developments in detection and identification techniques and cannot render a judgment on the proposed treaty. However, Mr. Foster’s disclosure of the threshold set forth in the second paragraph of this memorandum represents a drastic departure from US policy so often stated, i.e. we will only agree to a suspension of tests which can, in the opinion of responsible and informed people, be verified with reasonable assurance.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI, ER Subject Files, White Papers-Nuclear Test Ban 3/1/63-1/2/64. Secret. Circulated to McCloy.
  2. Reference is to a March 23 draft comprehensive test ban treaty. (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA/CRSC Files: FRC 77 A 59, Basic Policy, Pol 3-3, Proposals to President)
  3. Not identified; the test ban was not discussed in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council during 1963.
  4. In a memorandum for the record, April 4, McCone wrote he had told the President that day that former President Eisenhower had expressed opposition to the present draft treaty “because of inadequate verification, the threshold, etc.,” and that he, McCone, agreed with this position and also opposed it because “the Russians could no longer handle the Chinese situation and we and the British could no longer handle the de Gaulle situation, and hence the proliferation problem. The President seemed to agree, and restated that he did not think we were going to get a treaty anyway.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Meetings with President, 4/1/63-6/30/63) McCone’s memorandum of April 4 of a meeting held with Eisenhower on March 30 is ibid.