228. Notes of Meeting1


  • Notes of President’s Friday Morning Meeting on the Pueblo Incident


  • The President
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Under Secretary Katzenbach
  • General Wheeler
  • CIA Director Helms
  • Secretary Nitze
  • Clark Clifford
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Samuel D. Berger
  • Walt Rostow
  • Bromley Smith
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Prior to the President’s arrival the following agenda was agreed upon:

An intelligence situation report by Richard Helms.
A diplomatic situation report by Under Secretary Katzenbach.
A summary of the military proposals on aircraft movement and other actions by Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler.
A discussion of the merits of a Presidential address to the Nation.
More discussion on Clark Clifford’s question of Thursday, “How best to secure the return of the Pueblo if diplomacy fails.”

Secretary McNamara: We should not plan on any military action in less than seven days.

General Wheeler: That is correct. That time will be required to get all of our units on the ground and make them combat effective.

Secretary McNamara: We should have working sessions periodically to discuss these matters. We may do this without the President. I suggest that we ask the State Department to call these meetings. We should have one a day. Let’s work out a system like we had in the Cuban Missile Crisis.2

At 11:00 a.m. the President joined the meeting.

I. Intelligence Situation Report

Director Helms: On the overflight last night, the Soviet and North Korean radar picked up this flight. There was no effort to intercept it although it made repeated photographic runs. We did get photographs. I expect a photographic report from Japan later today.3

[3 paragraphs (7 lines of source text) not declassified]

II. Diplomatic Situation Report Deputy Secretary Berger: The Goldberg text is now being worked on (Goldberg text attached as Appendix A).4

[Page 523]
  • —The Japanese were contacted. They replied that this is a very grave situation.5
  • —We have no reply as yet about our notice that we would be sending additional B–52’s to Okinawa.
  • —The Indonesians have told their Ambassador in North Korea to urge the release of our ship and crew.6
  • —The Pakistanis have assured us of their support in the U.N.7 (The President asked if Berger is certain of this. The President said he had a different reading of the text. The President asked “Did he sign on?”) Berger said, not exactly.
  • —The tenor of most of the replies have been friendly.8 The President asked if there was any report on the nine members of the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Berger said there had been no report on their positions.

Walt Rostow: The Security Council meets at 3:30 p.m.

The President: Let me see the draft of the Goldberg statement.

Secretary McNamara: Has there been a response from Moscow yet?

[Page 524]

Under Secretary Katzenbach: Yes, Gromyko was negative. They showed some concern. He was less negative than Kuznetsov. They urge restraint. They said they hope we will not over-react to this.

The President: May I see the cable on the Soviet discussion? (Ambassador Thompson’s cable is attached as Appendix B.)9

The President: Is there any chance whatever that this ship was in territorial waters?

Secretary McNamara: It is possible, but the chances are less than 50–50.

General Wheeler: The ship has the best navigational gear we have. North Korea has a rugged coastline. Because of this we can get a good fix by radar. Admiral Moorer has said that it is very improbable that the vessel was even a mile from where it ought to be.

In addition, the intercepts of North Korean radio traffic confirm that the North Korean ships which intercepted the Pueblo were in the same area the Pueblo reported as its location.

Secretary McNamara: The only thing which would have brought the Pueblo inside of the territorial waters was the possibility that they were getting a very good intercept and needed to move closer to get a better product.

The President: Do you have anything more to report on the men and the equipment.

Secretary McNamara: We have nothing more on this.

Director Helms: There is nothing either way.

General Wheeler: There was a North Korean press message which said that the crew should be tried and punished as criminals.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: We interpret this as their response to our calling up reserves.

The President: Do we harass Soviet ships?

Secretary McNamara: Yes, they harass us too. This is almost a way of life on the high seas.

The President: Let’s be more careful about all of this.

Secretary McNamara: We will reassess the whole thing.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: I thought there was a case of our buzzing a ship in Haiphong Harbor.

Secretary McNamara: That was a photo reconnaissance mission to see if the ship was damaged as alleged.

[Page 525]

III. Military Proposals Secretary McNamara summarized in handwriting his schedule for aircraft movements. (Attached as Appendix C.)10


Monday—16 plus 66 from U.S.S. Ranger




—Two days later, we will send in 18 aircraft from Vietnam. These are 18 aircraft which are being replaced and will not be sent from Vietnam until their replacements arrive in Vietnam.

The 26 B–52’s will bring the total to 347 aircraft including those aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. We would like a decision on this whole matter today.

This action will leak. We will try to hold it as tightly as possible, but when men and units begin to move the press gets wind of it.

Secretary McNamara reviewed with George Christian the proposed answers to questions concerning the aircraft movements. The President approved the answers. (Attached as Appendix D.)11

Secretary McNamara: We would like to alert the units today for movement.

The President: Is this what you want now General Wheeler?

General Wheeler: Yes sir.

The President: Does State agree with this?

Under Secretary Katzenbach: Yes we do.

The President: Clark, do you agree with this?

Clark Clifford: I have no objection.

The President: What do we say now to the Congress?

Secretary McNamara: Mr. President you have before you a list of authority which we would like to require from the Congress in relation to the Pueblo incident. These are as follows:

  • 1.

    Authorize the extension of all enlistments, appointments, periods of active duty, and other periods of obligated service of Regular and Reserve members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

    Reason required—Extension of tours of duty involuntarily is the quickest way to achieve any needed expansion of force strength. Such [Page 526] extension will add 2200 trained personnel per day. This can be authorized by Joint Resolution.

  • 2.

    Authorize the call of all individual Reservists.

    Reason required—Department of Defense Appropriation Act, 1967,12 authorizes the President to order units of the ready Reserve of an armed force to active duty. Authority to call individuals from units is required in order to fill gaps in units on active duty with personnel possessing special skills. Moreover, extension of tours of those presently on active duty would be inequitable unless individual Reservists are subject to call. This, too, can be accomplished by Joint Resolution.

  • 3.

    Expand South Korean military assistance program by $100,000,000.

    Reason required—The MAP request for Fiscal Year 1968 was cut 40%. This made it impossible to expand the military assistance given to South Korea, although such expansion is warranted in view of their troop contribution in South Vietnam and the increased level of harassment by North Korean forces. A supplemental appropriation under the Foreign Assistance Act will permit the funding of destroyers, helicopters and artillery and facilities needed for counter-infiltration purposes, and the necessary modernization to increase the defense capabilities of ROK aircraft, vehicles, anti-aircraft equipment and patrol craft. In addition, it will fund the required increase in ammunition levels.

The President: How many times have we authorized the extension of enlistments and periods of active duty?

Secretary McNamara: Many times.

The President: Get me the number of times we have done it and the reasons for each.

Secretary McNamara: We will do that.

The President: We can only call units now?

Secretary McNamara: This is correct. We can only call units. This request would permit the authority to call individuals from units in order to fill any gaps in units on active duty with personnel possessing special skills.

The President: How many men does this affect?

Secretary McNamara: Roughly 150,000.

The President: How much was cut from the military assistance program?

Secretary McNamara: The Fiscal Year 1968 request was cut 40%.

[Page 527]

The President: Nick (Under Secretary Katzenbach) how do we get an expression from the Congress on what our policy should be in regard to Korea? George (George Christian) we must make certain that in the future we notify the Congress before the press announcement is made. There are a few people who are mad because they were not advised of the call up action yesterday.

Secretary McNamara: Mendel Rivers is mad.

The President: Mansfield is also bellyaching about it.

Secretary McNamara: I called Mansfield.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: If you go all the way down the road you need nothing short of a Tonkin Resolution.

The President: The Tonkin Resolution wasn’t very effective. Fulbright is against a resolution of any kind. We should discretely show the Congress copies of the mutual security acts between North Korea and the Soviets. I thought we should have had a resolution on the Israel situation. We have a new ball game with the Foreign Relations Committee.

Let’s do what we can to bring them along a little bit.

Let’s give some thought to how we can get Congress in on it.

We need more than a toast—that is all we have on the Israel situation. If they (the Congress) murder us on Vietnam with all those facts including SEATO and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, what are we going to do in a situation like this.

Secretary McNamara: I agree. We need strong Congressional support.

The President: I have always tried to put Congress in on the take-off as well as on the landing. If the Dominican Republic means nothing, if the Tonkin Gulf means nothing, what do we do here. We do not want to exercise power and authority without the support and approval of the Congress.

Let’s discuss with Senator Fulbright and Senator Russell what ways we should approach this matter.

At some point we are going to be called upon to put up or shut up. I want Secretary McNamara to set up a meeting with Senator Russell and take Buzz (General Wheeler) along with you. Nick (Under Secretary Katzenbach) you do the same with Senator Fulbright and Senator Mansfield. Also I want you (General Wheeler) to get General Goodpaster to go over this with President Eisenhower.13

[Page 528]

Get him to ask Ike what is our best constitutional way to proceed.

Paul, (Secretary Nitze) do you have any thoughts on this?

Secretary Nitze: The key here is Senator Fulbright. He wants to put the Executive Branch in a position where they cannot make a move without the approval of his Committee.

The President: Bromley, (Bromley Smith) get me the dates and exactly what we did in the situations leading up to the Dominican Republic and the Tonkin Gulf. Get them to me right away.

Now let us address ourselves to the question of what we do if diplomacy fails.

Walt Rostow: We really cannot do that until we see what happens in the United Nations. In addition we need to get a read-out on photo reconnaissance.

The President: I want you to get your very best dreamers on this right away. Are there no economic sanctions we can take?

Walt Rostow: We will set up a special task force on this.

The President: Get your very best people working on this.

Secretary McNamara: Mr. President, we should remind you of something we pointed out before the President entered. It would not be appropriate to take any military action in less than seven days because of the need to get our units there and get them combat effective.

The President: We also should keep in close touch with the Korean Embassy. Park may be about to blow something and we would be involved.

The President: What about a television address to the Nation?14

George Christian: The point of concern is that the President has said nothing publicly on this matter, although I would not recommend any television now, I would think the President might want to consider dropping something into a speech.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: We must remember that Goldberg is coming up on television for the next two or three days, so there will be plenty of Administration talk.

The President: I want you to give Rusk and Goldberg an outline of what to say in their speeches. All of you remember that we brought those Russian ships in a while back. They paid $60 fine and were freed. Our ship, the Pueblo, was not in Korean territorial waters. We had no time to do anything to prevent it from being towed in in the one- and-a-half hour period. Let’s be prepared to answer every question [Page 529] that is being raised by people like Time Magazine and answer them factually.15

George Christian: One of the principal questions was why the ship was not protected.16

The President: This is simple. We cannot provide an Armada over every ship we have. The Russians do not have their ships protected.

George Christian: Another question they are raising is why there was not more air power in Korea.

Secretary McNamara: We do not have planes assigned to protect these types of ships. This is an advantage that the initiator had. They also had MIGs overhead.

General Wheeler: We could pick up six trawlers off our shores today if we wish. They don’t protect their ships. This type of thing goes on all the time.

Clark Clifford: If these ships were covered by air, their effectiveness would be reduced substantially.

Walt Rostow: There are probably 50 incidents of harassment each year.

Secretary McNamara: The Pueblo would have been much more prepared if he had been inside territorial waters. The fact that he was unprepared reinforces the fact that he was outside territorial waters in international territory.

The President: All of you should meet regularly and get as well organized in this situation as we were in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Get your best people working on this. Let’s not have us charged with failure to deal with the situation properly.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo VII, 11:00 a.m. Top Secret. Drafted by Tom Johnson. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.)
  2. On January 26 an interagency Korean Working Group and a State Department Korean Task Force were formed and headed by Berger. (Memorandum for the Korean Working Group, January 26; ibid., National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Miscellaneous, Vol. I)
  3. On January 29 the Directorate of Intelligence issued a memorandum containing a preliminary assessment of information gathered by a Black Shield flight over North Korea on January 26. An analysis of the photographs showed “no unusual air or naval deployments,” but “North Korean surface-to-air missile defenses appear to be in a high state of readiness.” The overflight photographed the Pueblo in Wonsan Bay. The ship had no visible damage and was guarded by three patrol boats armed with Komar missiles. (Ibid.)
  4. Not printed; the text of Goldberg’s January 26 statement is in Department of State Bulletin, February 12, 1968, pp. 194–198.
  5. Document 222 discusses the approach to Japanese officials. Ambassador Johnson subsequently met with Ushiba to review Korean developments. Johnson was informed that Miki would contact the Soviet Ambassador in Tokyo to express his government’s concerns about North Korean actions. (Telegram 4998 from Tokyo, January 25; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 KOR S) In a January 30 letter Sato responded to President Johnson’s message by expressing his own fears and concerns about the situation in Korea and his commitment to cooperating with the United States to settle the Pueblo crisis and North Korean guerrilla actions. (Telegram 108777 to Tokyo, February 2; ibid.)
  6. In telegram 4279 from Djakarta, January 26, Ambassador Marshall Green informed the Department of his meeting with Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Adam Malik, who promised to contact immediately “his ambassador in Pyongyang instructing him to inform NK authorities of Indonesia’s concern and to urge immediate release of Pueblo and crew in order to prevent situation from deteriorating further.” (Ibid., POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  7. Reference appears to be to President Johnson’s letter to Pakistani President Ayub Khan and the reply thereto. Johnson’s letter requested that Ayub instruct his UN Ambassador, who was also President of the Security Council, to support “a simple resolution of the Security Council expressing concern about the grave situation, calling for strict observance of the Armistice Agreement, and requesting the immediate release of the United States crew and vessel.” (Telegram 104475 to Rawalpindi, January 25; ibid.) In reply, Ayub stated that “Ambassador Shahi is in touch with other members of the Security Council and we earnestly hope that consensus will emerge amongst the members of the Council on the best means to meet the situation.” (Telegram 2969 from Rawalpindi, January 26; ibid.)
  8. The Department of State sent telegrams to all Ambassadors informing them of the facts surrounding the Pueblo incident and Blue House raid and asking that they request their host government to express support for the United States by, but not limited to, approaching the USSR and, where appropriate, North Korea. (Telegrams 104818 and 104819, both January 26; ibid.) By the evening of January 26, when a summary of responses received thus far was given to him, the President noted “we have too few replies and our Ambassadors don’t seem to have much clout. Please follow thru for reports from all posts.” (Memorandum from Smith to the President, January 26; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. Ia, Part B [through January])
  9. Reference is to Document 227.
  10. Not printed.
  11. Not printed.
  12. PL 89–687, October 15, 1966, 80 Stat. 980–998; the Appropriation Act of 1968 actually covered the fiscal year ending June 30, 1968, however. See PL 90–96, September 29, 1967, 81 Stat. 231–249.
  13. See Document 239. Memoranda of other briefings as well of Rusk’s comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 26 are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. I, Part B (through January) and ibid., Vol. Ib, Part A (beginning February). In a letter to Rusk on February 1 Fulbright posed 20 questions on the Pueblo situation. A substantive, all-encompassing series of reports replying to those questions was sent to Fulbright on March 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  14. See footnote 6, Document 223.
  15. The President met with Hugh Sidney of Time magazine and Jack Horner of the Washington Star in the Oval Office that evening from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. for a confidential, unattributed discussion of the Pueblo crisis. (Notes of the President’s Meeting, January 26; Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo Backgrounder)
  16. General McKee, Commander of the Fifth Air Force, stationed in Japan and responsible for responding to Pueblo’s distress calls, undertook an investigation and concluded that “no air cover and no strip alert was provided because none was requested.” The Fifth Air Force was not notified of the ship’s mission at the time the mission was approved nor upon execution of the ship’s orders. Only a few intelligence and operations officers had any knowledge of the mission and they and other Fifth Air Force personnel were not prepared to respond during the seizure of the Pueblo. (Telegram from 5AF to CINCPACAF, January 25; ibid., National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. I, Part A [through January])