274. Summary Record of the 38th Meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council0

Prior to the arrival of the President, Secretary Rusk asked Ambassador Thompson to explain why he did not agree with the others on the Cuban paper under consideration.1 Ambassador Thompson said the paper was aimed at Cuba and does not take into account some of our worldwide objectives. He thought we should act toward Cuba in such a way as not to provoke a reaction from the USSR, particularly during the [Page 682] current period when we are seeking to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty and when we do not yet know what will flow from the split between the Chinese Communists and the USSR. In addition, he said there still existed a possibility of a split between Castro and the Russians. He urged that we do nothing overtly which appeared to the Russians to be contrary to what we had agreed to do during the Cuba negotiations. The proposed shipping orders, he said, would cause the Russians more concern than any of the proposed courses of action listed in the paper. He feared that if we implemented the proposed shipping orders, we might delay the withdrawal of Soviet troops still in Cuba. He acknowledged that domestically the policy he was suggesting would be difficult but suggested that key Congressmen be told exactly what the situation is.

Director McCone doubted that the Soviets would remove their troops from Cuba and downgraded preliminary evidence, cited by Ambassador Thompson, which would indicate that the Russians might be planning to withdraw highly classified equipment from Cuba.

Ambassador Thompson acknowledged that the Cuban paper placed domestic considerations in opposition to foreign policy considerations and a policy aimed at Cuba against a policy toward the USSR.

Secretary Rusk doubted that the Russians would remove any more of their troops and said he believed we must assume that the forces there are going to stay. Therefore, he felt we should accept the actions listed in the Cuba paper because the risk of delaying Soviet troop withdrawal was not great. As to the shipping orders, he called attention to the fact that they would mean very little practically. Free World trade with Cuba has, in the period January 1 to January 19, practically ceased. He acknowledged that while many of our allies would take informal actions to block the use of their ships in the Cuba trade, these same allies would oppose us if we asked them to adopt a principle, i.e. an embargo, with which they disagreed. He said that in view of the President’s press statement,2 he felt we may have to issue the shipping orders to encounter serious domestic opposition.

Apparent reference to Kennedy’s press conference of January 24, in which he admitted that “There are still approximately 16 or 17 thousand Russians there [Cuba], that the Soviets are continuing to operate the SAM sites and other technical pieces of equipment, and there are some organized units, the same organized units we’ve describe before, which are still on the territory of Cuba.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 93)2

The Secretary reported that even without the shipping orders, our economic pressures against Cuba are in fact tending to isolate Cuba economically. He preferred not to take on the task of persuading our allies to act formally to prevent Free World trade with Cuba when they appeared to be ready to block this trade by informal means. He felt that a decision [Page 683] had to be taken on whether the President’s press conference statement required us to issue the orders even if they were not really necessary.

Secretary Ball said that serious problems would not arise until ships which had participated in the Cuba trade came to U.S. ports and were refused admittance in compliance with the shipping orders.

The President joined the meeting.

Director McCone repeated his earlier view that there was little evidence to support a statement that the Russians were withdrawing their sophisticated equipment from Cuba. He cited numerous reports of internal disturbances in Cuba and added that Castro may be concerned by them. Referring to testimony he had given earlier in the day to a Senate Committee, Director McCone estimated that there is about twice as much Soviet equipment in Cuba as there had been prior to the Russian buildup. The largest increase in military equipment is in tanks.

The President said that Senator Keating was alleging that there is now in Cuba ten times as much equipment as there was. He asked how we made available to the press accurate statements of the Soviet increases in equipment.

Secretary Rusk praised the way in which Director McCone had handled the Senate Committee earlier in the day and then suggested that the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House press heads reconstitute a group to be responsible for giving to the press current information on Soviet equipment in Cuba.

Mr. Bundy expressed his view that the Defense Department should be responsible for giving to the press information on the military situation in Cuba. He added that the Cuban Coordinator should know all the latest information in order to avoid giving to the press differing stories. (At the end of the meeting it was decided that Assistant Secretary of Defense Sylvester should have a man on his staff who would be the expert on the military situation in Cuba and constantly available to answer press queries. His work should be closely related to the Cuban Coordinator’s work.)

Secretary Rusk reviewed for the President the earlier discussion on removal of Soviet troops.

The President asked whether Ambassador Thompson shouldn’t raise with Dobrynin the question as to whether the Russians were going to remove additional troops from Cuba as had been suggested in one of the Khrushchev letters.

Secretary Rusk reviewed for the President the problem of the issuance of the shipping orders.

The President decided to postpone issuance of the orders. He did not think they should be issued while Donovan was negotiating with Castro on the release of the American prisoners in Cuba. He asked that [Page 684] we draw up a statement3 explaining why we were delaying the issuance of the orders, which would be released only if the press asked about the orders.

Secretary Ball said that the only part of the shipping orders which were meaningful had to do with the shipment of U.S. property on vessels engaged in the Cuba trade. He said that no Executive Order was necessary to achieve this objective because the President could give guidance to the Department of Agriculture which would cover the largest amount involved, i.e. food shipments.

The President decided that there would be no public announcement but that the Department of Agriculture and other agencies should be directed to refrain from shipping U.S. products on ships engaged in the Cuba trade.4

There followed a discussion of the dropping of propaganda leaflets from free traveling balloons. It appeared that no one was prepared to advocate the use of balloons. The President decided that balloons should not be used. In response to a question as to whether a balloon capability should be retained for use in an emergency, Acting Director Wilson stated that USIA wouldprefer to rely on airborne TV to meet an emergency.

Secretary Rusk explained the courses of action which he believed we should take in the OAS (see attached OAS paper).5 He acknowledged that the new actions proposed did risk a less than unanimous vote in the OAS.

The President expressed his strong reservations to the course of action proposed. He did not see why we should change the existing OAS resolution. He did not wish to have Assistant Secretary Martin undertake a trip to Mexico, Chile and Brazil with his hat in his hand requesting support for an altered resolution.

Secretary Rusk said the practical effect of the recommended OAS resolution on trade would be very little because the Latin American states had very little trade with Cuba. However, OAS action would provide a basis upon which to ask NATO to place Cuba under COCOM rules.

Secretary Rusk said we were now seeing in Cuba the effect of our economic embargo. Director McCone agreed and said that the lack of [Page 685] spare parts for U.S. equipment in Cuba was seriously affecting the Cuban economy.

The President decided that Assistant Secretary Martin should go to Mexico on other business and incidentally find out the current Mexican position toward further OAS action against Cuba. Depending on the Mexican reaction, a decision could then be made as to whether he should proceed to Chile and Brazil. Only then should we decide whether further action in the OAS should be undertaken. The President did not wish us to undertake an effort which had little chance of succeeding. He asked for a statement as to what the effect would be if the OAS adopted the resolution we favored and if NATO agreed to place Cuba under COCOM rules.

Secretary Rusk concluded discussion of the OAS by calling attention to the fact that some OAS members felt that we should act more forcefully than we have so far done.

Mr. Cottrell summarized the recommendation covering our policy toward the Cuban brigade (see attached paper).6 He said no one favored continuing the brigade as a “hard core” and all favored a medium course of action.

General Taylor expressed reservations about allowing members of the brigade, upon completion of their military training in the U.S. training camps, to become eligible for membership in a reserve unit. He was concerned that these reserve units would become political.

Mr. Bundy expressed his view that the proposed course of action would be difficult to sell to the brigade members.

The Attorney General explained his views in detail. He said some members should be sent to Latin America to lecture in Latin American universities or to engage in work with Latin American student groups; other members would choose to undergo military training while still others would want to return to civilian life, and, therefore, would be seeking jobs. He felt that some members could be usefully placed in special forces units assigned to Latin American countries. He felt that their firsthand experience with Communism could be used to great advantage in Latin American countries in explaining the threat of Communism.

The Attorney General said he had been told that most brigade members were opposed to Cardona, the present head of the Cuban Revolutionary Committee. Many of them wanted to stay out of politics but wished to retain membership in a group which would be a symbol to those who would eventually rebuild Cuba. He said we should first talk to the brigade members and then draw up a program. He thought that the brigade members should be treated as equal partners, and that we [Page 686] should try to get their ideas rather than dictate to them. In order to avoid their turning hostile, he felt they must be treated properly and must have a sense of participation. We would get a great deal out of them if we handled them correctly. One way would be to tell them honestly that we cannot now invade Cuba and that they can fight Communism much more effectively in the present by undertaking tasks suggested to them in other Latin American countries, either as special forces members or as civilians in the academic field.

The Attorney General concluded by saying that the brigade members should participate in some way in planning our Cuban intelligence actions. He thought we would benefit by their ideas and suggestions. He urged that we not merely pick brigade members and use them as agents, instructed as what to do, but rather we should encourage them to take part in the selection of targets and methods of operation. He acknowledged that one reason why this had not so far been done was because of the reputation the Cubans had of being unable to keep a secret. He doubted that all Cubans could be accused of talking too much.

Mr. Cottrell expressed his doubt that the brigade members would be accepted by the 26 July group in Cuba which considered them to be mercenaries and untrustworthy.

Mr. McCone said he did not believe the brigade was discredited in Cuba. On the contrary, he said it was considered to be a brave group of Cuban patriots. He urged that we not destroy the value of the brigade but use it as an asset, preferably by working with individual brigade members.

Secretary McNamara, in response to a question, said there would be no difficulty in providing military training for those brigade members who wished to be trained. They would be trained with the 2200 Cubans now in camp.

The President decided that in the next two weeks we should find out from individual brigade members what each would prefer to do, i.e. take a civilian job, be given military training, go to Latin America in various capacities as scholars, lecturers, student leaders, etc., or become intelligence agents. The Army, CIA and Mr. Cottrell’s office would work together, in consultation with the Attorney General. A decision as to whether there should be a brigade headquarters would be made later. The President expressed his hope that large numbers of the brigade members would choose to take military training.

Secretary Dillon referred to the basic objectives listed in the Cuban paper. He questioned objective number 5 which called for encouraging Castro to split with Moscow. He felt this objective was inconsistent with the objective of seeking the overthrow of Castro.

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Mr. Bundy said this was a subordinate objective which should be kept in even though it was in some ways inconsistent with another objective.

The President said he did not think it was necessary to approve the general parts of the paper and summarized the specific actions which he had already approved.

There followed a discussion of the intelligence “objective” author-ized in paragraph 10 of the basic paper. The President expressed his strong view that we should not risk good men by sending them to Cuba to get information which was only of marginal use to us. He was reminded that the 5412 Special Group reviewed each plan to send intelligence teams into Cuba. The President said the Group should make a judgment in each case as to whether the danger of the loss of the team was worth the benefit to the U.S. derived from the information we would obtain. He said no intelligence officer should feel that he was required to send in the largest possible number of agents merely to satisfy an intelligence requirement.

Bromley Smith 7
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Executive Committee, Meetings, Vol. IV, 38-42. Top Secret; Sensitive. This record is part I; part II relates to European policy.
  2. Rusk is referring to the revised version of “U.S. Policy Towards Cuba,” see attachment 2 to Document 273.
  3. Not found.
  4. There were problems with this decision, see the January 30 memorandum from U. Alexis Johnson to McGeorge Bundy in the Supplement. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSAM 220) For the decision on shipping, see Document 277.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 273.
  6. See footnote 1, Document 273.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.