14. Memorandum From Charles E. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the Professional Staff of the National Security Council1


  • Operations Center of the Department of State

Attached is a description of the Operations Center recently established in the State Department under the direction of Mr. Achilles and Mr. Stutesman, his deputy. This is distributed as a matter of general information to the Staff, in view of the close working relationship that will be maintained between the National Security Council Staff and that of the Operations Center.

Charles E. Johnson2
[Page 32]



In the Operations Center, with its interdepartmental staff, the Secretary has an instrument for following up government-wide action in the field of foreign affairs, for conducting informal interdepartmental reviews of emerging foreign policy problems, and for creating major interdepartmental Task Forces under his direction at an instant’s notice.

I. Crises

S/O provides, on an around-the-clock basis, the secretariat, office and conference space and rapid communication facilities for the establishment and operation of as many as three major Task Forces at the same time.

Called into being by the Secretary, a Task Force gathers all pertinent facts bearing on a specific problem in the field of foreign affairs and prepares recommendations for action. The membership is drawn at appropriate levels from the Department and other agencies of the Government. The Chairman is usually the Assistant Secretary of the Geographic Bureau most directly concerned.

The Chairman and the substantive officers of the Task Force are given office space and officer and secretarial staff assistance in S/O. Intelligence and operational data regarding the problem under study flow on a 24-hour duty basis directly into S/O from the State Department Telegraph Branch, the intelligence community through INR, from the Defense Department and from other agencies as required.

Task Forces should be disbanded as soon as possible after the functions for which they are established have been fulfilled, subject to reconstitution if and when needed.

II. Potential Crises

As an emerging or potential crisis is identified, the Secretary may place it under special watch in S/O. In view of the fact that communications from the field, from other agencies and from the intelligence community are more rapid and complete to S/O than to a Geographic Bureau, it may be useful to detail an appropriate Geographic Bureau officer to S/O for the period of watch. This gives that substantive officer the full benefit of S/O facilities and removes him from the pressures of daily routine so that he can devote full time to the significant questions of the problem under study.

In effect, an interdepartmental Task Force in a minor key is thus established as the permanent Defense, CIA and USIA members of S/O [Page 33] work on an easy, continuing and informal basis with the Department officers concerned. This group, studying all alert signals and reviewing existing policies, establishes a foundation of interdepartmental understanding upon which a major Task Force can be built at an instant’s notice.

III. Follow Up

Basic responsibility for the implementation of policies requiring interdepartmental coordination rests with the appropriate Assistant Secretaries under the coordinating supervision of the Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs. S/O assists the Deputy Under Secretary in the exercise of his responsibilities and follows up, at the Secretary’s direction, any interdepartmental action in the field of foreign affairs whether it originated within the Department or in the National Security Council or in other inter-agency decision.

With a minimum of written reports and a maximum of informal consultation, S/O maintains a continuing review of programs and can identify at an early stage problems in the implementation of those programs which may require high level attention. Formal interdepartmental committee meetings or “progress reports” are called for only when essential.

S/O thus serves the Secretary by keeping a continuing review of government-wide action on certain programs. At the same time, S/O assists the Geographic Bureau desk officers by offering them a constant high level contact with Defense, CIA and USIA through the representatives of those agencies assigned to S/O.

IV. Watch

S/O has an officer (generally FSO-3 level), a clerk and a messenger-driver on duty at all times.

Other around-the-clock watch officers in the Department are: (1) the INR duty officer who monitors all intelligence reports; and (2) the Telegraph Branch Watch Officer who monitors all operational cables. They are under instruction to alert the S/O duty officer the instant any significant message appears regarding any problem being dealt with by S/O.

Thus, the S/O duty officer is constantly in touch with all major developments on those problems and is prepared to take the necessary action to deal promptly with any question or problem which may arise. Some questions he may be able to answer on the basis of his own knowledge of S/O activities and the briefing he received before going on duty. Other matters may require a search for information. In this connection, he is furnished with a daily revised list of telephone numbers [Page 34] where every S/O officer may be reached that evening or night. He will take counsel with the S/S duty officer in the office during the day or at home at night if an operational problem outside S/O jurisdiction should arise.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of State General, 6/17/61–6/20/61. No classification marking.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.