337. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Dear Bob:

Since my letter to you of November 2, 1966,2 concerning Kagnew Station and your reply of January 13,3 the gravity of the Eritrean insurgency situation has increased, and our estimates of the stability of the Horn of Africa and specifically Ethiopia over the next few years have become considerably more pessimistic. As a result, I have been giving further thought to the question of Kagnew’s future and what should be done in this connection.

The requirements of Defense and the various other Washington users, including State, and the resultant difficulties in trying to diminish the United States presence in Asmara are fully appreciated. Nevertheless, in view of the continued trend of developments in Ethiopia, I believe we should prepare for performing the Kagnew missions elsewhere.

Opinions differ as to how long the Ethiopian Government can hang on to Eritrea or at least maintain some semblance of order there. Ambassador Korry doubts that it can be more than five years. In any event, there is a general consensus that when the Emperor dies (which could happen at any time), severe disturbances throughout the Empire and possibly loss of control of Eritrea by the central government can be expected. Moreover, in the interim there is an increasing likelihood of and capability for insurgent harassment of our station at Kagnew, such as the blowing up of antenna towers which cannot be protected or the cutting of roads, sabotage of the Massawa port and terrorism in Asmara itself.

I therefore believe that the risks for continued operations at Kagnew are such that it is only prudent to develop a program of action on the assumption that such operations could be placed in jeopardy at any time.

I think, as a result, that we should freeze U.S. presence at Kagnew at current levels and prepare plans for an orderly, phased removal of operations from Kagnew as soon as possible without undue prejudice to U.S. security interests.

Specifically, I think there should be no further net increases of personnel (including dependents), that we should suspend indefinitely all requests to the Ethiopian Government for additional acreage, and that [Page 577] there should be no further construction at Kagnew, unless necessary for imperative tasks.

Of course, any non-essential tasks or levels of operation should be eliminated.

I am very much aware that taking steps to relocate the missions performed at Kagnew face us with real problems in establishing them at other locations overseas, in addition to meaning technically less favorable locations than Kagnew. I recognize that it is inescapable for technical reasons that preferred location sites for many of these missions will be in Middle Eastern countries where there are already existing serious problems as to the U.S. presence, which will thus be increased.

I would therefore like to ask you to develop as soon as possible a phased program for relocation from Kagnew Station, together with proposed relocation sites, so that we may together review the best course of action to be taken in seeking to reduce our presence at Kagnew and maintain essential intelligence and communications capabilities in this area of the world to meet not only the Kagnew tasks but all others of importance to the national security.

The Department will be ready to cooperate with you at staff level in preparing this study (including the possible relocation of the Diplomatic Telecommunications System missions now at Kagnew) for review.

I am sending copies of this letter to Dick Helms and Walt Rostow, in view of their obvious interests and responsibilities.

Sincerely yours,

Nick 4
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 72 A 2467, 091.3 MAAG Ethiopia. Top Secret.
  2. Document 322.
  3. Document 323.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Katzenbach signed the original.