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122. Record of Meeting0

The meeting opened with John McCone giving pretty much the SNIE;1 the only difference was that he read that last sentence2 and didn’t put the right emphasis on the purely military considerations. But this was all right; I was in the President’s office right after the meeting; he [Page 252]asked Mac Bundy, George Ball, and I to step in, and McNamara and I noticed that on the coffee table he had the CIB,3SNIE, and our paper of a couple of days ago4 and he had it all right there, and he was as well informed as anybody around the table by and large.

McCone finished and McNamara charged in with all guns blazing, and charged in hard and with contempt in his voice for the intelligence community and he said this was pretty silly, and of course McNamara understands the facts and figures business, this is his business; so he said there were 300 motorized junks, and 1300 sailing vessels, take 50 men each; this means that the most you can do is 100,000; you’d have to go back, and couldn’t move heavy equipment; with LST’s and he thinks this is for the birds; now, of course, this puts CIA in a terrible position because McCone had presented it in a way, and the President asked questions, so that obviously the President was looking at this one as that which he had to be most fearful of; and McNamara jumped all over him; then Lemnitzer came in and the same thing; downgrading it, the idea of the third possibility; very heavily, and Lemnitzer, he said there are three possible explanations for this; maybe they will attack Taiwan, and nobody even suggested this; and to draw people away from Southeast Asia; to try to get us out of SEA; they jumped all over this and McNamara said he had several recommendations to make; he wanted to bring two more SAC U-2s into Formosa; we gotta have intelligence; have no intelligence; implications that CIA has been doing a lousy job, make judgments on the wrong facts; McCone didn’t defend himself very well, talked a little bit about the weather problems, and President asked—can’t you fly lower and got off into a kind of hassle about the technique of getting air photos, with CIA not much in focus. He didn’t defend himself very well.

McNamara was—if you wanted to lose a few lives, you might still do it subtleties—and I wasn’t about to step in at that point, to defend a course of action, I had busily fought his people all morning. And then even Kirk spoke up that this was quite an operation, and he is an amphibious warfare expert, but he ended up on the right note saying if you wanted to spend enough lives, you could probably do it. The nearest Defense came off the better of this exchange. Mac Bundy asked if there was anybody in this Intelligence [community?] and USIB who was taking the line that it was possible for it to be a surprise attack; was it potential Pearl Harbor and Mr. McCone said no one did. And this amazed me for this is exactly what Fitzh5 was arguing. So I didn’t say anything to that but it looked awfully funny with Defense (Lemnitzer and McNamara) [Page 253]joining hands here; opposing this thing that the Defense (Navy and Army) Navy supported the Army a little bit; this was weird, and McNamara did say that he hadn’t had a chance to get together with his people (intelligence) and that will be interesting when that happens. McNamara recommended keeping the 4th Carrier in the Pacific which it was due to come back apparently moving a couple of carriers into the Straits, bringing two more U-2s to Formosa; I didn’t quite get the reason for this and it was some time before that it turns out that his real reason is not a bad one; which is, that if there is a clear day that we deploy all 4 simultaneously and make the most of it. These are SAC having ChiNat pilots; cause they have 4—Ray Cline raised the possibility of deploying them and hiding them in the hangar, but they said, put them in Okinawa, Clark Field or someplace like that.6

All the measures were approved except the last, which was to be considered. The memorandum states that Kennedy “raised the possibility of deploying U.S. air units to the area,” but McNamara thought it unnecessary. The carrier returned to the United States early in July. (Telegram from Kaysen to Kennedy in Mexico City, June 29; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China)

The funny thing is that there was a hassle between McNamara and Lemnitzer on one side and McCone on the other; one thing that made the State Department look good was that I spoke up to the JIC estimate and a couple of things; after the meeting I said a couple of more things; but I was keeping my head down in this one because there was almost nothing that I could say to correct McNamara or Lemnitzer without appearing to defend a position we wouldn’t ourselves support; and there was no possible way for me to put him in perspective without looking like I was defending something we wouldn’t want to defend.

You know that it was going to be an all-out Pearl Harbor assault on Quemoy right away, which would go against all our feeling about caution; so I kept my mouth shut on this one; and I supplied some things about the JIC and some factual data but didn’t intervene at this point.

The State Department looked a little bad in that the President said well, we’ve got to get straight what we want to say to the Russians and what we want to say to the Chinese Communists and how we want to say [Page 254]it; and we had spent half an hour in Ball’s office going over the papers;7 the trouble was that Harriman wasn’t completely satisfied with the papers his boys had produced and so he didn’t speak up and Ball didn’t come in and say we’ve got it; so we looked like we hadn’t done our home work; or at least on this one, which puzzled me because I didn’t know why … (exchange of conversation).

Now Yager is going to work out the contingencies with Defense;8 I have the impression Yager is nervous about INR’s role here; is that right (addressed Peaslee).9 I don’t think he is [as] willing to have us participate as Rice and Koren. Harriman is perfectly clear—and he doesn’t feel that way.

Afterwards I took occasion to chat with McNamara and to give him some political reasons to support his own position. To get a little back in his good graces. So this was very friendly little chat with McNamara, Ball, and myself. I went in with the President and Mac and talked about the press guidance, where I got these instructions; the President is having Salinger do it10 and wants us to do this.

Now, we went back to George Ball’s office afterwards and got ourselves in line; Harriman would like two decisions at the moment; one is a decision that we will in fact restrain Chiang; how far we are prepared to go on this one; and how much we are prepared to tell the Russians on this one. But he also wants advance permission to support the defense of the [Page 255]islands if the Chinese Communists attack it. Not nuclear weapons or anything like that but to make—if Chinese Coms do attack Quemoy and Matsu that the US helps the Chinese Nationalists to the extent of making it awfully expensive for them.

He wants these two decisions so he can talk to Dobrynin; he doesn’t want to threaten Dobrynin; just wants to ask a question at stage one.

A somewhat more harmonious message through the British to the Chinese Communists but in stage two with Dobrynin he wants to be able to tell him the first time around with Dobrynin—he’d like to know what our decisions are and just say, just ask him, what about this and say here we are, peace in Southeast Asia, Laos agreement, and what are your boys doing out there.

Exactly why Harriman wants it faced. (others talking)

He may not and may not get it in this point of the scenario.

That could be. Well the exercise right now; what Harriman and FE are doing right now is what he would be saying to Dobrynin. In the meantime Yager and Company and Nitze are going to do contingency planning, various contingencies; McNamara has the idea that in 1958 we didn’t let them bomb the airfields from which the planes were taking off, we ought to let them bomb those airfields this time. Pretty major step and he wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but he is thinking about it. This was just in chatting.

I don’t know what we do.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Box 1, China—Offshore Islands Crisis, 6/62. No classification marking, but the first page is marked “T.S. File.” The document is apparently a transcript of an oral briefing by Hilsman of the meeting, which was held at the White House. A summary record of the meeting is in a memorandum for the record by Cline; according to it, the participants included Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, the President’s Military Representative General Maxwell D. Taylor, Bundy, Forrestal, Ball, U. Alexis Johnson, Harriman, Hilsman, McCone, McNamara, Lemnitzer, Felt, and Kirk. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80-B01285A, DCI Meetings With the President) A June 20 memorandum from Taylor to the Director of the Joint Staff describes this meeting as a briefing of the President on China and suggests that DOD/JCS representatives include in their presentations the answers to several questions which “have Presidential interest” concerning the possibility of a Communist attack on the offshore islands, the ability of the Nationalists to defend them, and U.S. assistance that might be necessary for a successful defense. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Box 17, Folder 11, Miscellaneous)
  2. SNIE 13-5-62, “Chinese Communist Short-Range Military Intentions,” dated June 20. [text not declassified] it stated that the Chinese Communists had moved seven army divisions, with possibly five more on the way, across the Strait from Taiwan, representing “the largest such movement since the Korean War.” The scale and urgency of the troop movements appeared too large to be merely a demonstration to deter GRC raids. The SNIE concluded that the movements were either defensive, designed to put pressure on the offshore islands, or intended for a surprise attack on the Chinmens. (Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 79-R01012A, ODDI Registry) See the Supplement.
  3. The last sentence reads: “The scale and urgency of the military movements, taken by themselves, strongly support this last possibility.”
  4. Presumably the June 20 issue of the Current Intelligence Bulletin, a coordinated daily intelligence summary; not found.
  5. Presumably Document 119.
  6. Possibly Desmond FitzGerald.
  7. Cline’s memorandum cited in the source note states that McNamara and the JCS recommended “(a) augmentation of carrier strength by retaining fourth carrier in 7th Fleet which had been due to return to the United States; (b) deployment of carriers closer to Taiwan; (c) all-out reconnaissance effort by F-101 and high-altitude photo-recce aircraft based on Taiwan; (d) doubling high-altitude force to permit maximum effort.”
  8. Lists of measures that might be taken before any attack on the islands and measures that might be taken after an attack were sent to Ball on June 20 with a covering memorandum from Harriman. The first included proposals to try to deter an attack by approaching the Soviet Ambassador or by calling a meeting at Warsaw to warn that an attack could lead to wider hostilities. The second proposed that the U.S. response to an attack should be calculated “to localize the conflict and terminate it as swiftly as possible with the islands still in GRC hands.” Direct U.S. involvement should be avoided if possible and, if unavoidable, should be limited to the minimum necessary to prevent Communist seizure of the islands, with no use of nuclear weapons. (Department of State, ROC Files: Lot 71 D 517, Offshore Islands (Misc) 1962)
  9. An interdepartmental Offshore Islands Working Group representing the State and Defense Departments, Central Intelligence Agency, and White House, met irregularly between June 21 and July 17. Participants at the first meeting included Harriman, Hilsman. Nitze, Cline, and Forrestal but participation was usually at a somewhat lower level. Unsigned notes of the meeting and extensive contingency planning papers produced under its stimulus are ibid.,S/S Files: Lot 66 D 150, Offshore Islands Contingency Planning Papers, Vol. II, and Offshore Islands Chronology, Vol. III.
  10. Alexander L. Peaslee, Chief of the Asian Communist Division in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
  11. According to notes of a June 21 telephone conversation between Harriman and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Thomas E. Morgan, Harriman stated that the President had decided rather late in the evening to let Salinger tell “some responsible people” about the situation; most of the White House press corps had left, and Salinger talked to the Associated Press and United Press reporters. (Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Chronological Files, Telephone Conversations)