389. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Wiesner) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0

In response to your request,1 I have investigated the matter of the Air Force tracking station in South Africa raised by Chester Bowles[Page 608] memorandum to you (attached).2 I have talked to a number of people in the Air Force, including Assistant Secretary McMillan, and to Ros Gilpatric.

The following are the facts: The South African station is used for receiving telemetering data to provide diagnostic information in the event of failure in certain of our satellite tests. At the present time the only programs involved are the Midas Ballistic Missile Warning Satellite and the Advent Communications Satellite. Both of these are research programs of importance, but are not among the highest priority Defense Department space programs. If we were forced out of the Union of South Africa, we would have to operate without this particular diagnostic data until either we get another land-based site (the Air Force is seeking a new site, but we shouldn’t count on their finding one), or we are able to prepare a tracking ship to substitute for the land-based station. The Air Force estimates that this could not be done until late fall of 1962 at the earliest.

However, since the test programs could be carried on, albeit some-what less effectively, Secretary Gilpatric has agreed to the position that loss of this site would be painful, but not fatal, and therefore we should advise the State Department to proceed in the following manner: neither be deliberately provocative and thus insure that we will be ordered out, nor permit the need for the site to be the reason for compromise on issues which the State Department regards as fundamental in the conduct of its foreign policy.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Africa. Secret.
  2. An attached memorandum from McGeorge Bundy to Secretary Rusk reads: “Some weeks ago I had a long letter from Chester Bowles reporting disagreement between his office and Ros Gilpatric on the importance of the Air Force tracking station in South Africa. A copy of the letter is attached. He asked that the matter be arbitrated through a review by Jerry Wiesner. Wiesner’s review is now at hand, and in essence his view is reported in the third paragraph of the enclosed memorandum from him to me. From the little I know of the matter, it makes sense. I hear you are receiving Foreign Minister Louw tomorrow, and accordingly I think you will want to know of this episode and of Wiesner’s technical conclusion in which Secretary Gilpatric concurs.”
  3. Document 386.