191. Telegram From the Embassy in Spain to the Department of State1

871. Dept pass DOD. Ref Embtels 867 and 869; Deptel 834.2

Following is roundup developments related B-52/KC-135 accident since last reports (Embtels 867 and 869):
Shortly after noon January 21 FonMin telephoned Ambassador to convey “extreme concern” of Chief State upon reading UPI story cabled by Spanish Embassy Washington (text about same as that quoted Deptel 834). FonMin said he sending Sagaz to discuss question.
Sagaz arrived displaying considerable agitation. Using such terms as “deep concern,” “emergency” and “crisis,” he complained particularly about passages in UPI story concerning alleged attitude of [Page 387] “US diplomats” and purporting describe complaints of Spanish inhabitants of accident area against GOS for permitting overflight nuclear-armed USAF aircraft. Sagaz did not fail ring in potential blow to tourism of radiation scare. He ended presentation saying these revelations had effect liberating GOS to take independent action on its own and mentioned possibility convening press conference for full disclosure all facts and GOS position. Ambassador refuted UPI attribution to US diplomats, mentioned imminent return Chief JUSMG from scene accident with up-to-date account of circumstances there for our information and that of GOS, and referred to desirability remaining calm and continuing mutually advantageous US-Spanish collaboration in dealing with delicate situation of equal and common concern to both govts. In this manner, Ambassador succeeded in quieting Sagaz, who at end of conversation agreed await further reports from scene.
Upon return from Almeria, Chief JUSMG reported to Ambassador: Fourth bomb still missing and probability was it dropped into sea; USN mine sweepers about to begin sea search operations with help two local fishermen who reported having seen object with parachute drop into water; recovery of fragments wreckage on land continuing and all leads as to possible location fourth bomb being followed up; areas of radiation on land have been identified, are small and now closed off; water trucks being brought up to leach these spots; crops and livestock possibly affected being bought up; medical examinations being made of persons in area who could have been exposed; community leaders and general public being assured with effect that while there some natural fear and uncertainty among people there no evidence of mass fright or panic; Spanish in area, including civil authorities, Guardia Civil and Spanish nuclear scientific and medical teams, cooperating to full in these efforts. General Donovan also mentioned that numerous international press representatives are in area, including UPI, Paris Match, British press, CBS-TV and possibly French TV crews.
Ambassador called in local UPI bureau chief Stathos, firmly refuted attitude “US diplomats” as attributed by UPI file and challenged him on source his information this point. Stathos appeared shaken, stated he had obtained information on this point “at third hand” and repeatedly apologized for filing story without checking with Embassy (see F below).
Following discussions subparagraphs C and D above, Ambassador telephoned FonOff (about 1930). Gave Sagaz summary and offered send EmbOff to give full report, which Sagaz quickly accepted. Sagaz listened intently and showed keenest interest in account Stathos admission he had not received information re “US diplomats” attitude from Embassy, but from other source. We assured Sagaz we open to any Spanish suggestions on how best handle situation but reiterated [Page 388] belief we should continue work in close concert. Sagaz indicated concurrence, said he had no suggestions to make for time being and appeared calm, albeit obviously concerned. EmbOff had impression Sagaz wanted get Stathos incident particularly clear to report to superiors.
Morning January 22, Stathos UPI telephoned Ambassador to reiterate apologies, offer make retribution and disclaim any attempt “make trouble.” He added that he now believed he “had been had” by his Spanish information sources (otherwise unidentified) for political reasons and expressed apprehension about his position in Spain.
[9 lines of source text not declassified]
[4 lines of source text not declassified]
Re foreign and local press coverage, Embassy hears:
Reuters reported rumor that in village near Vera yesterday about 50 people milled about, some shouting: “Yankees go home and take your bombs.” Reuters correspondent did not witness and GOS InfoMin officially denied. AP carried denial last night.
AP correspondent Milks has just filed interview with unnamed Spanish official saying medical specialist found small area at site of main bomber wreckage initially radioactive and “only normal that people working over that spot have been contaminated.” Official added: “But if so, this is very, very slight and offers no danger to anybody. All traces should have disappeared completely in two or three days.”
Of three Madrid morning dailies, only Ya carried follow-up story today: brief but reassuring front page story headed: “Search and security measures proceeding in Almeria. No danger from air accident exists. Inhabitants of involved zones have not been evacuated.” Story in same tone says: “Life goes on normally in affected zone since local measures which adopted in small degree represent only excess caution. Proof of this is that inhabitants of little rural settlements in zone have not been evacuated.”
Understand one AEC representative from Albuquerque already in Spain and three more due arrive January 23.
Believe we must be prepared for continued and possibly increased media treatment of accident until fourth bomb located and removed. If much more time elapses without success in search, we may be faced with practical necessity admitting officially one bomb still missing. [4 lines of source text not declassified] It therefore clearly of utmost urgency that no effort be spared locate fourth bomb with minimum delay. Urge all necessary US resources be provided for search.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Spain, Vol. 1. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. There is no time of transmission on the telegram, which was received at 9:26 a.m. Passed to the White House and DOD.
  2. Telegram 867 from Madrid, January 21, forwarded the text of a Spanish Air Ministry statement on the Palomares crash. (Department of State, Madrid Post Files: Lot 71 A 2420, Def 17 B52/KC 135 Collision) Telegram 869 from Madrid, January 21, reported on discussions between U.S. and Spanish officials regarding the crash. (Ibid.) In telegram 834, January 20, the Department of State reported the text of a UPI story on Spanish Government censorship of crash information. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 17 US)