403. Editorial Note

Following the meeting with the President on November 2 (see Documents 399 and 400), William Bundy was asked to chair a working group to review U.S. policy on Vietnam. Sometimes called the NSC Working Group and at other times the Executive Committee or Excom, the group comprised officers at the Assistant Secretary level including Vice Admiral Lloyd M. Mustin, Senior Operations Officer of the JCS; [Page 887] Harold Ford, Senior China-Asia Officer at CIA; John T. McNaughton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and McGeorge Bundy from the White House. The first meeting took place on November 3 and, based on the discussion, William Bundy drafted a Project Outline.

This outline presented nine topics for which various members of the working group were responsible. Section I, “Situation in South Vietnam,” was to be prepared by the intelligence community, while Sections II and III, “U.S. Objectives and Stakes in South Vietnam” and “Southeast Asia and the Broad Options,” were to be prepared by William Bundy assisted by CIA and JCS papers already drafted on these topics. Under Section III, Bundy presented three options:

  • “A. Continue on present lines.
  • “B. Present policies plus a systematic program of military pressures against the north, meshing at some point with negotiation, but with pressure actions to be continued until we achieve our central present objectives.
  • “C. Present policies plus additional forceful measures and military moves, followed by negotiations in which we would seek to maintain a believable threat of still further military pressures but would not actually carry out such pressures to any marked degree during the negotiations.”

Section IV, “Alternative Forms of Negotiation,” was to be drafted by the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State assisted by the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Section V analyzed Option A and was put aside in the beginning. The JCS and Department of Defense were tasked with drafting an analysis of Option B (Section VI), while Section VII, an analysis of Option C, was deferred until the papers for Sections VI and VII were ready. Section VIII, “Immediate Actions in the Period Prior to Decision,” was to be done by the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs at the Department of State with the implication that it might not be included in whatever paper was finally devised. Section IX would present the conclusions and recommendations and would be done at the very end. For full text of the Project Outline, see Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, volume III, pages 588–590.

On the following day, November 3, Bundy revised the Project Outline, providing details for some of the sections, adding a new Section VIII, “Actions in Reference to Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand,” which he would prepare, and renumbering Sections VIII and IX of the first Project Outline as IX and X in the revised draft. (Department of State, Bundy Files, Working Papers, November 1964, Vol. I; published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 002148)

In the following two weeks, the working group met frequently to consider the various drafts of individual sections and to comment on proposals raised by the participating agencies. At a meeting on November [Page 888] 7 at 11 a.m., it discussed the preliminary drafts and Ball’s October 5 memorandum (see Document 370). By November 17, Bundy had completed a 100-page draft which considered all aspects of the Project Outline and a 20-page summary of this larger draft. Further consideration of these documents is presented in the documentation that follows.