283. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to the Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (Taylor)1


  • Reflections on National Security Intelligence and the President

As requested, herewith some rather simple impressions based on my experience—notably that of the last eight years.

In the contemporary world, there is no way for the President to avoid a highly personal responsibility in national security affairs since:
  • —there are bound to be a substantial number of crises which involve the possibility of conflict, financial expenditure, or domestic political repercussions;
  • —the President (and the Vice President) are the only men in the Executive Branch who have a mandate from the people.
Therefore, the President must be able to operate with a full flow of detailed intelligence, carefully evaluated, sensitive to the exact questions which are on his mind, in what is inevitably an operational command post.
The first requirement is a flow of regular materials from the intelligence community tailored to meet the President’s tastes, habits, and working style.
The second requirement is that the President develop with the Director of Central Intelligence a close personal working relationship of confidence which allows the Director of Central Intelligence to be present at the Tuesday lunch or its equivalent. The Director of Central Intelligence should, in his personal capacity, be part of the President’s innermost circle in national security matters even if what he knows is not fully transmitted to his agency.
A third requirement is that the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs work with the Director of Central Intelligence and the other intelligence agencies in a wholly fraternal way to assure that the intelligence community is focusing on the issues most relevant to the decisions before the President or likely to come before the President. So far as the President is concerned—but he is not the sole consumer—the greatest “wastages” of intelligence take the form of papers which happen to come forward at a time when the President is [Page 612] focusing on another matter or where the form in which a question is posed in the intelligence community is not relevant to the precise issue to which the President is addressing himself. To generate maximum relevance, therefore, for the product of the intelligence community, the President’s Special Assistant must steadily throw questions back at the intelligence community in the form which will make the responses of the intelligence community bear most directly on the President’s decisions.
Since a great deal of the President’s business in the field of national security policy will inevitably be conducted—as it has, in fact, been conducted in the post-war years—within a relatively small group of the President’s closest advisors, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that relations of greatest mutual confidence should be cultivated-as they have been in recent years-between the Director of Central Intelligence and the other members of that small advisory group.
A final observation. The intelligence community should understand that on truly great matters the President himself, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs will form their own intelligence assessments. This has happened, for example, on questions such as these:
  • —What has been the character and the order of magnitude of the effect on North Vietnam of bombing attacks?
  • —What were Hanoi’s intentions in the winter/spring offensive of 1967–68?
  • —What were Hanoi’s motives in going to Paris?
  • —Would the Warsaw Pact forces assembled around Czechoslovakia move into Czechoslovakia?
  • —What are Soviet intentions towards the Middle East?
Just as a division commander in the field will form his own view of the enemy’s capabilities and intentions, so will the senior men in our government. This is a fact of life. What is essential is that two conditions be satisfied: first, that all these men have available to them the intelligence and the evaluations made by the intelligence community as an essential part of the information on which they will form their judgments; and, second, as I have tried to emphasize, the Director of Central Intelligence himself be a working member of that central group.
W.W. Rostow
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President-Walt Rostow, Vol. 108. Secret.