16. Editorial Note

On March 10, 1964, Soviet aircraft intercepted and shot down a U.S. RB–66 aircraft in East German airspace. President Johnson’s reaction to the incident and ensuing discussion in the White House are documented [Page 42]in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XV, Documents 19 and 20. On March 12 the 303 Committee reviewed the Joint Reconnaissance Center’s program and procedures with a view to detecting missions with “an incident potential” but noted “that the RB–66 training flight was not a part of the JRC program nor did this flight come under JRC jurisdiction. However, the question of routine navigation and training flights under local commanders was not considered as a separate entity for purposes of this discussion.” (Memorandum for the record; National Security Council, 303 Committee, Minutes 1964)

In its March 11 note protesting the intrusion, the Soviet Government claimed the “plane had penetrated into G.D.R. territory with the special purpose of conducting military reconnaissance.” Ambassador at Large Thompson categorically denied the assertion in his oral reply to Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin the next day. For text of the Soviet note and a summary of the U.S. reply, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pages 528–531. In a meeting with Dobrynin on March 19, Secretary of State Rusk expressed regret over the incident but insisted the plane was not on any mission in East Germany. Rusk contended that the Soviet military had acted too fast in shooting down the plane and requested prompt return of the fliers. A memorandum of the conversation is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XV, Document 21. At a second meeting 2 days later, Dobrynin told Rusk that the Soviet Government viewed with satisfaction his statement of regret and would release the fliers soon. (Memorandum of conversation; Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330) The release took place on March 27.

The March 10 incident followed by only 6 weeks an incident in which a Soviet fighter shot down a U.S. T–39 aircraft in East German airspace (see Document 9). Chairman Khrushchev reviewed both incidents and expressed his displeasure at the intrusions in an April 2 message to President Johnson ( Document 21).