51. Telegram From the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Smith) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

CAP 64320. This is preliminary CIA comment on Khrushchev’s weapon statement:

  • “1. On 15 September Khrushchev told a visiting delegation of Japanese socialist members of parliament that the Soviet Union has developed a ‘monstrous new, terrible weapon.’ He stated that on 14 September he had been shown a weapon of terrible destruction by military men, scientists and engineers. He is quoted as having said, ‘I have never seen anything like it. It is a method of destroying and exterminating mankind. It is the strongest and most powerful of existing weapons. Its power is limitless.’
  • 2. After mentioning the weapon, Khrushchev launched into an attack on Chinese border claims and accused Mao Tse-tung of spreading warlike sentiments. Earlier Khrushchev has recalled the tragedy of the Japanese people, the first in history to suffer the atomic bomb. Alluding to the Chinese, Khrushchev said that he who says that the atomic bomb is a paper tiger is crazy.
  • 3. The choice of audience, and the context in which Khrushchev’s statement regarding the new weapon was delivered, suggest that he intended the threat implied by this new development to be taken as directed primarily against the Chinese.
  • 4. While Khrushchev gave no specific clues concerning the nature of the weapon, we did have an indication four months ago that Khrushchev wanted us to know beforehand that he was going to make such an announcement.
  • 5. Last May [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], two Soviet KGB officers deliberately revealed themselves as such to a CIA officer, and told him that they knew he was a CIA officer. The spokesman for the two then asked twice ‘very positively’ that the CIA officer inform Washington that the Soviet Government was soon to make a very important announcement on development of a Soviet military capability [Page 152] which ‘would not be used against the West but would be very effective against the Chinese.’ The spokesman said he was not authorized to reveal the details.
  • 6. The delay between this tip-off is that Khrushchev wanted us to know that the announced claim of a new weapon, when it came, would be directed at the Chinese and that we should not be concerned by it. It also is possible that Khrushchev had information indicating that the Chinese were going to claim a nuclear capability this year and timed the announcement to blunt the political effect of such a development.
  • 8.2 We have no information on any specific Soviet weapon development which would equate to Khrushchev’s description.
  • 9. It is improbable that a new delivery system was the subject of his remarks since the Soviets have long claimed the ability to deliver their largest nuclear weapons by missile and to attack from any direction, although a January 1960 Khrushchev statement referring to a ‘fantastic weapon’ then in the hatching stage may have referred to the 100 megaton bomb. It seems improbable that his present ‘new weapon’ would refer to such a previously well publicized capability. It is unlikely in the absence of appropriate nuclear tests that the Soviets have had the opportunity to develop significantly larger nuclear weapons that could be used with confidence.
  • 10. It is similarly difficult to conceive of radiological weapons that would fit Khrushchev’s description. It is now possible, through appropriate selection of weapons and burst altitude, to contaminate very large areas with lethal radioactivity. These effects probably could be somewhat enhanced by alterations in weapon design, perhaps including the salting of weapons with materials such as cobalt. Such capabilities would not appear to be new or very significantly superior to those now possessed by the major nuclear powers.
  • 11. In the biological warfare field, we have no information that agents capable of the extermination of mankind have been developed. Other scientific developments with weapons potential, such as lasers, do not appear to meet the mass destruction criteria of Khrushchev’s description.
  • 12. If in fact a monstrous new weapon exists, Khrushchev’s statements imply that it is in the developmental rather than production state. If the weapon is ‘very effective’against the Chinese but not against the West, anti-personnel weapons such as biological or radiological weapons, are suggested. We have, however, no evidence of spectacular developments in the fields.”

Recommendations on U.S. public reaction will follow.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Nuclear Weapons, USSR, Vol. I, Box 34. Secret; Noforn; Flash. There is no indication where the cable was sent, but on September 16 Bundy accompanied the President aboard Air Force One to Seattle, Washington, with stops en route at Great Falls, Montana, and Vancouver, Canada. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) An identical typewritten draft from which this cable was prepared is ibid., National Security File, Subject File, Nuclear Weapons, USSR, Vol. I, Box 34.
  2. There is no numbered paragraph 7.