381. Memorandum From the Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense (Vance) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)1

It is requested that you develop contingency plans for U.S. military intervention in the Republic of Panama2 under the following circumstances:

The present Government of Panama requests U.S. military assistance to prevent its overthrow by Communist/Castro oriented political groupings.
A Communist/Castro oriented government has seized power in Panama and a decision is made by the U.S. to intervene for the purpose of replacing it with a government friendly to the interests of the U.S.

Under each of the assumptions listed above, planning should envision two separate responses by the Guardia Nacional.3 These are:

Guardia opposes the Communist takeover.
Guardia supports the Communist takeover, is neutral, or is divided in its loyalties.

The purpose of the military action will be to establish sufficient control over selected territories in the Republic of Panama as to permit a non-Communist government to exercise power in the Republic. Minimum force will be utilized to achieve this objective. Further, the [Page 809] planning should envision the earliest possible withdrawal of U.S. forces after the objective is achieved.

These plans should be developed as a matter of priority.4

Cyrus R. Vance 5
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD/ISA Files, FRC 330 68 A 4023, Panama, 1964. Top Secret.
  2. An entry in the President’s Daily Diary, dictated by Valenti, indicates that at 8:30 a.m. on January 22 the President “instructed Secretary of Defense McNamara to have plans ready for any contingency in Panama. If a coup is used, let us have detailed plans prepared for it.” (Johnson Library)
  3. In a telephone conversation with Mann at 9:30 a.m. on January 22, the President expressed his concern about the capabilities of the Panamanian National Guard and reported that he had asked McNamara “to get ready for the worse if something happened down there.” Although Mann told the President that “the relationship between the Army and the Guard is good,” the President felt that it might be necessary to seal off the Canal Zone “for security reasons.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation between Mann and President Johnson, January 22; ibid., Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1965)
  4. The JCS informed USCINCSO the night of January 22 that Major General F.T. Unger of the Joint Staff, representing General Taylor, would arrive in Panama January 23 to consult with O’Meara and Martin and assist in the development of contingency plans that would be “for priority consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” (JCS telegram 4506 to CINCSO, January 22; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 1–1 PAN) McNamara sent the President a summary of the JCS plan for military intervention in Panama on January 31. The concept of the plan was based on quick reaction, early seizure of centers of power within Panama City, securing the installations and borders of the Canal Zone, and secondarily sealing of Colon because it was a “Communist stronghold.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Panama Riots, Vol. II, Part F, January–February, 1964)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.