266. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Kohler)1


  • Draft Revision of NSC 5412

As we agreed orally, INR has drafted a revision of NSC 5412 which is attached (Tab A), in response to Walt Rostow’s memorandum of March 29, 1967.2

I also attach a question-and-answer sheet discussing the changes in the draft, as compared with NSC 5412 (Tab B), and a tabular comparison of the texts of both versions (Tab C).3

As stated in Tab B, there would appear to be four reasons for revising NSC 5412:

To make its language accord with the text and spirit of the report of the President’s Review Committee;
To deal more explicitly with the risks, consequences, and alternatives of covert operations;
To plug loopholes;
To get rid of anachronistic cold-war language.

There are admittedly disadvantages to undertaking a revision. A good deal of discussion and inter-agency negotiation will be necessary, probably in an amount disproportionate to the objective. On balance, however, I think it would be advisable to try it. At least twice before, revisions of NSC 5412 were seriously considered. Not to revise it now, when the whole question of covert operations is under review in public as well as in private, might be hard to explain at some later time. Moreover, there seems to be no more promising time to make needed revisions.4

I realize that, as pointed out in the 303 meeting on April 7, CIA’s platter is rather full at the moment. I would therefore suggest that we consider [Page 576] handing copies of the attached draft to Walt Rostow, Cy Vance, and Dick Helms, suggesting that it be discussed at a convenient future time.

Tab A


Covert operations are defined as actions in furtherance of United States foreign policy which are so planned and executed (a) that United States Government responsibility for them will not be revealed, and (b) that if revealed, the United States Government could plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Excluded from this definition are armed conflict by recognized military forces, espionage and counter-espionage, and cover and deception for military operations.
The United States Government has undertaken covert operations as a necessary response to covert operations by major hostile powers, or the threat of such operations. Nevertheless, covert operations involve varying degrees of contradiction to basic legal and social principles. They therefore carry the serious long-term risk of eroding or negating these principles, which are fundamental to the achievement of long-range United States objectives.
It is therefore United States policy to keep covert operations to an irreducible minimum, and to undertake a covert operation only when it is determined, after careful consideration, that the prospective results (a) are essential to national security or national interests; (b) are of such value as significantly to outweigh the risks, both immediate and long-term; and (c) cannot be effectively obtained in any other way.
A Special Group is established under the National Security Council to approve and review covert operations, acting on the basis of unanimity. The Special Group shall consist of the Secretaries of State and Defense, or representatives designated by them; a representative of the President designated by him; and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Director of the Bureau of the Budget participates in periodic reviews of operations in progress, and may participate in other Special Group proceedings.
The Special Group shall specifically approve each covert operation before it is undertaken, review and evaluate each operation at not less than twelve-month intervals, and note (or may direct) its termination or its conversion to a less sensitive form of action, with the following exceptions:
The Special Group may delegate to representatives of any two of its members, of the rank of Deputy Assistant Secretary or above, its responsibilities with respect to minor covert operations under guidelines [Page 577] it establishes. All decisions reached by such representatives shall be promptly reported to the Special Group.
The Secretary of State may approve a particularly sensitive project which has no military implications. The fact of such approval shall be reported to the Special Group, as well as the termination of the operation so approved.
Under the authority of Section 102(d)(5) of the National Security Act of 1947, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shall be responsible for planning, conducting, and terminating covert operations which are approved by the Special Group of the National Security Council. He will provide the Special Group with all information concerning such operations that the Group deems necessary to its responsibilities. In exceptional circumstances, such as those in paragraph 7, covert operations may be assigned by the Special Group to the Secretary of Defense.
In theaters of war or areas in which United States armed forces are engaged in combat operations, (a) the Secretary of Defense shall assure that plans for covert operations are in consonance with and complementary to approved war plans of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and (b) the conduct of covert operations will be under command and control relationships approved by the Secretary of Defense.
The Special Group may authorize an agency of the United States Government, other than the Central Intelligence Agency, to conduct an operation in support of national interests or national security without disclosing Government responsibility. The proposed operation must be such that overt Government sponsorship would largely negate its expected benefits, but at the same time must be of such nature that disclosure of Government responsibility would not be a significant embarrassment to the United States. Approval, review, and appraisal of each non-disclosed operation shall be either by the Special Group itself or by delegation in the same way as provided in Paragraph 5a above. The executing agency shall provide the Special Group with all information concerning such operation that the Group deems necessary to its responsibilities.
The Chief and Deputy Chief of each diplomatic mission shall be informed in advance of covert and non-disclosed operations affecting the country or organization to which they are accredited, and shall be kept informed on such operations until they are terminated, unless the Special Group determines otherwise.
The Director of Central Intelligence will recommend to the Special Group the procedures needed to ensure that the security of covert operations is maintained. Members of the Special Group will take special precautions in their respective agencies so that only those employees who must know are informed of each covert operation or have access to documents concerning it.
The Director of the Bureau of the Budget will assist the Special Group in arranging the financing of covert and non-disclosed operations.
No federal agency shall provide any covert assistance or support, direct or indirect, to any of the nation’s educational or private voluntary organizations, except in individual cases specifically approved by the Special Group and by the Secretaries of State and Defense in unusual contingencies where overriding national security interests so require, and where open sources of support are shown to be unavailable. In no event shall any future exception be approved which involves any educational, philanthropic, or cultural organization.
This directive does not modify the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State and Defense and of the Director of Central Intelligence under existing laws and Presidential directives. NSC 5412/2, December 28, 1955, with the associated Memorandum and Annex of March 26, 1957, and NSAM 303 of June 4, 1964, are rescinded.5 The Special Group shall exercise its responsibilities over all continuing covert operations approved under these or other previous directives.
  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Files, CA-Coordination and Review. Top Secret; Sensitive. The memorandum is an unsigned copy marked “Number 3 of 6 copies, Series A.”
  2. Tab A is printed below. Rostow’s memorandum to Rusk stated: “In view of the President’s acceptance of the Katzenbach Committee report on CIA covert support of private organizations, we should proceed promptly to revise the now outdated National Security Council Paper 5412/2, dated December 28, 1955.” (Johnson Library, NSAMs, NSAM 303)
  3. Tabs B and C are attached but not printed.
  4. NSC Directive 5412 was not revised during the Johnson administration.
  5. See footnotes 5 and 6, Document 263.