546. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

I have carried out consultations on the Congo problem and have the following to report.

1. Nick Katzenbach (with whom I doubletalked—he is at Martha’s Vineyard) says he is for the action so that McBride will have some leverage over Mobutu. We have given McBride little to work with; but he has done a good job with what we have given him. In particular, Katzenbach is afraid of a threat to the lives of the 10,000 or so whites in the Congo. He is not wholly clear about how big the risk is of the operation blowing; or how much trouble it would make if it did blow. But, on balance, he believes we should proceed.

2. Sec. Rusk feels quite strongly that we ought to do this thing. If the Congo goes into an anti-white pogrom, we have already been warned by our Ambassador in Brussels that the Belgians will press us very hard to preserve and fly out the Belgians who are there. If we fail to do this, our Ambassador warns, the Belgians may regard this as letting down a NATO ally. Sec. Rusk wishes to have the record show that we did everything in our power to prevent that kind of situation from coming about and that kind of choice staring at us.

3. Dick Helms recommends against seeing Sen. Russell, mainly because he is now at Winder, Georgia, recuperating. He has not responded to efforts to engage him. For example, Scoop Jackson cannot get him to respond on a matter which Sen. Russell asked Sen. Jackson to [Page 793] undertake. So far as substance of the matter is concerned, Helms believes Russell would support it because he was against pulling the pilots out in the first place. He was not enthusiastic about the commitment of the pilots in the Congo, but he told Dick personally that he thought pulling them out was unwise because “you will probably need them again.” Therefore, Dick guesses that if the matter were put to him, he would remind him of his previous position and say “I guess you have got to do it.”

With respect to the risk of the pilots becoming publicly known, Dick Helms thinks the probability is quite high that they will become known but he does not believe it will make much noise because the use of foreigners to fly aircraft in that part of the world is widespread.




See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. XIV, Memos & Miscellaneous, 8/67–10/68. Top Secret.
  2. This option is checked. On September 1 the 303 Committee approved recruitment of five pilots to fly for the Congolese Government under the direction of a CIA air operations officer for a period of 90 days. (Memorandum to Helms, October 10, 1967; Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 82–00450R, Box 6, 40 Committee, Congo (K), 1965–)