50. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1

Here is an important memorandum on the organization of this government for foreign operations which Max Taylor has prepared, pursuant to your instruction to him of last September. He has gone beyond the field of counterinsurgency, and I think he has produced a very constructive set of proposals. He has also done a very workmanlike job of clearing them around the government.

When you have had a chance to read his memorandum, I think you may want to talk with him directly, and I would be glad to join if you want me. It is quite possible that some new instructions along this line could be made to fit in very well with a plan to continue my office on a somewhat less visible scale. Max’s plan in essence is to throw the responsibility at the State Department with enough White House participation to insure Presidential control and to keep other agencies from declaring their independence.

McG. B.


Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson

Mr. President:

My letter to you has the general concurrence of Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Mr. Schultze, General Wheeler and Mr. McGeorge Bundy. Admiral Raborn supports the purpose of the proposal but is concerned over the implementation as it may effect his sensitive intelligence activities. If you decide to act favorably on it, I recommend that you take the following actions: [Page 112]

Approve the concept set forth in the letter.
Direct Mr. McGeorge Bundy and Mr. Schultze to consider the draft NSAM (Annex 3) and to propose an appropriate implementing document for your approval.3
Direct the Secretary of State to propose a new Presidential letter to Ambassadors.
Direct the preparation of a plan for explaining this project to Congress and the public.
Direct the Chairman, Special Group (Counter-insurgency), Governor Harriman, to take appropriate action on the matters raised in Annex 1.



Letter From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson

Dear Mr. President:

In your letter of September 1, 1965,5 you directed me to review all governmental activities in the field of counter-insurgency (i.e., the resistance to “wars of liberation”) and make appropriate recommendations to assure our readiness to cope with future situations similar to that in South Viet-Nam. Since that time, I have been engaged in complying with your instructions, assisted by four interdepartmental committees which have reviewed the counter-insurgency activities of the government in the fields of policy, organization, planning, training, resources and intelligence. In order to permit an early reply to your directive, the committees were given only two months to prepare their reports so that, of necessity, their review has been of the nature of a spot-check of the vast number of governmental programs related to counter-insurgency.6

[Page 113]

At the outset, we agreed that the problem which we were examining was inaccurately described by the term, “counter-insurgency” which suggests primarily the military aspects of the final phase of a “war of liberation,” and fails to emphasize the non-military preventive aspects of the problem. To avoid this pitfall, we have defined the purpose of our review as the evaluation of the adequacy of governmental policies, procedures, programs and performance for anticipating or coping with subversive aggression; i.e., the use of political subversion, sabotage, terrorist activities and guerrilla operations (singly or in combination) to overthrow a government which the United States has a cogent interest to maintain. It is considered that, in the normal case, the subversive aggression is likely to be Communist inspired and to receive support from sources outside the territory of the country under attack. A characteristic of such situations is that, by their critical or potentially critical character, they pose a requirement in Washington and in the field for a sharper focus of interdepartmental attention and for a closer coordination of interdepartmental efforts and resources than would be possible by adherence to normal governmental procedures.

Based on the foregoing statement of the scope of the problem, the committees completed their reviews and have submitted their reports to provide a basis for my recommendations to you. No effort has been made to staff them among the interested agencies of the government or to reconcile the occasional differences of view which developed between committee members or between committees. I have been guided but not bound by their conclusions.

This inquiry has developed many interesting facts bearing on the effectiveness of governmental programs dealing with what I shall henceforth call “subversive aggression” and its antidote “counter-subversion”. There is no question but that a great deal has been accomplished since the establishment of the Special Group (Counter-insurgency) in January, 1962, in developing means and procedures for defense against subversive aggression. However, there is considerable evidence that the missionary zeal of the early years has subsided to some degree and needs to be revived at a time like the present when the Communist leadership, particularly in Peking, is proclaiming a clear and serious intent to instigate further “wars of liberation” in such areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America, after their anticipated success in South Viet-Nam. The evidence of their confidence in this technique gives us a strong incentive to review and revitalize our own programs, and to bring our procedures and resources into sharper focus on the problem.

The committees considered that they found numerous inadequacies in government performance in the fields of organization, training, resources and intelligence which they reviewed. Guided by their comments, [Page 114] I have cited in Annex 1 those areas in which deficiencies may exist which seem important enough to call to the attention of the responsible departments and agencies of the government. I shall limit my comments in this letter to what I believe to be the basic problem—the need to improve the executive direction, coordination and supervision of interdepartmental activities overseas. A short title for the problem might be “crisis prevention and management in overseas affairs”, with subversive aggression regarded as a particularly important kind of crisis with particularly exacting requirements for prevention or management. Because of the intensity of effort required to prevent or cope with subversive aggression, it seems a reasonable assumption that procedures adequate for dealing with it will also suffice for critical overseas problems which fall outside the normally defined limits of subversive aggression and, thus, should meet the needs of crisis management in general.

As we have learned from our experience in Viet-Nam, there are three essential parts to coping with subversive aggression—the first is the prompt and timely identification of the threat; the second, the determination that the U.S. has a cogent interest in resisting this threat; the third, a prompt and effective interdepartmental response both in the country threatened and in the executive branch of the government in Washington. Hence, in this review, I have felt the need to examine closely the effectiveness of our Ambassadors and Country Teams overseas and the working of the overseas coordination function in the Department of State, since under the terms of President Kennedy’s statement of February 19, 1961,7 that Department is charged with the coordination of the work of the government overseas. Finally, I shall discuss the role of the Special Group (Counter-insurgency) which was established by NSAM No. 124, January 18, 1962 (Annex 2) as an instrumentality of the President for the purpose of “assuring unity of effort and the use of all available resources with maximum effectiveness in preventing and resisting subversive insurgency and related forms of indirect aggression in friendly countries.”

Overseas, the Ambassador, assisted by his Country Team, is reasonably well equipped to cope with his interdepartmental problems. A series of Presidential letters to Ambassadors, the last that of President Kennedy in 1961, have clearly established the responsibility of an Ambassador to oversee, coordinate and supervise all U.S. activities in his country, except those related to military operations. Although this authority does not make the Ambassador directly responsible for the [Page 115] success or failure in the aggregate of the programs of his subordinates on the Country Team, it is probably sufficient authority to guide the United States effort in normal situations. I have doubts that it is broad enough in countries seriously threatened by subversion. There is a strong case, I believe, to review the role of the Ambassador, at least in critical countries, with a view to making him the representative of the President with directive authority over all agencies and activities (less exempted military activities) in his country, subject to the right of appeal of his subordinates to Washington. In this capacity, he would be viewed as concurrently the representative of the Department of State for political and diplomatic matters and your representative as overall coordinator and general manager, responsible for the success of all United States activities within the limits set by the resources made available to him. As noted above, his present responsibility for these matters does not extend beyond overseeing, coordinating and supervising.

It would be comparatively easy to tighten up executive direction abroad; it is more complicated in Washington where only the President has full authority to adjudicate issues between the heads of departments and to assure the coordination and unity of their efforts. If the President and his senior advisers are to be protected from the distraction of relatively minor matters, there needs to be a filtration process at several points along the channel of responsibility reaching from the overseas embassy to the White House, for disposing of all interdepartmental matters not requiring the action of the next higher authority. If we are to disturb existing relationships as little as possible, it seems clear to me that the Secretary of State, acting as the agent of the President, should carry out this function of direction, supervision and coordination of overseas affairs (less exempted military activities) and should be responsible for the functioning of a coordination-filtration mechanism analogous to the Ambassador’s Country Team both at the level of the regional Assistant Secretaries and just below his own level in the Department of State. I have deliberately added to the responsibilities of the Secretary the functions of supervision and direction in addition to coordination because of the firm conviction that decisive directive action must be encouraged—indeed insisted on—at all the focal points along the channel of responsibility cited above.

In establishing the coordination-filtration mechanism, the first area to consider for strengthening is that of the regional Assistant Secretary of State (and perhaps also the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs) who, with his supporting managerial apparatus, should perform the function of a wide-viewing radar, sweeping and surveying the area represented by the countries for which he is responsible. Working with the Ambassadors of his area, he should be constantly on the lookout for critical situations, anticipating [Page 116] their needs and verifying that adequate interdepartmental plans and programs exist and are being implemented in each of the countries of his responsibility. He should be quick to spot and report the symptoms of subversive aggression. In my opinion, to discharge those important duties he needs an interdepartmental committee composed similarly to the Country Team but with White House staff representation on which he could occupy a similar position to that of the Ambassador on the Country Team. He should chair this committee himself and have the authority to decide all issues before the committee, subject to the right of appeal of its members to higher authority. It is convenient to refer to such a chairman as an “executive chairman” and the authority implied by the title must be wielded aggressively if a committee like this one is to be effective.

At present, the Assistant Secretaries, generally speaking, do not have the assistance of such a committee which I shall tentatively call the Regional Coordination Group (RCG) to assist them in taking prompt interdepartmental decisions and actions. Thus, they must rely largely on ad hoc meetings and informal staffing procedures to achieve the necessary coordination.

Even if supported by an RCG, the Assistant Secretaries will always have some interdepartmental problems—a limited number, we would hope—which will have to be carried to the level of the President or of the Cabinet for resolution. Again, as a part of the screening process designed to protect the time of top officials we would like to have a mechanism to dispose of as many of them as possible short of the Secretary. I have found my greatest difficulty in reaching a recommendation on this point but have found the suggestion of a solution in the present functioning of the Special Group (Counter-insurgency) mentioned above.

The strength of the Special Group (Counter-insurgency) has been that, by the quality and seniority of its membership, quick and decisive interdepartmental action was possible on matters brought before it. Also, it has enjoyed the prestige of being a Presidential committee which can obtain White House directives as needed to carry out its purposes.

It is my view that the Special Group (Counter-insurgency) with a broader directive and a new name, perhaps the Overseas Operations Group (OOG), could be converted into an agency for supporting the Secretary of State in discharging his broadened responsibilities for the direction, coordination and supervision of overseas affairs (less exempted military matters).

While it should report to the Secretary of State in his role as coordinator and director of overseas affairs, to retain the advantages of a [Page 117] Presidential link and to serve as a reminder of the Presidential nature of the function being discharged, it may be desirable that, like the Assistant Secretaries and Ambassadors, the chairman be appointed by the President (although he could be concurrently an official of the Department of State if such an arrangement were desired). As in the case of the Assistant Secretaries, he should have the authority of an “executive chairman” over the OOG. In Annex 3, there is a draft NSAM which would effect the changes in Washington organization which have been described above. I have deliberately omitted from the draft any reference to the handling of sensitive intelligence matters which, by their nature, will continue to require special consideration and treatment. If, after appropriate coordination, such a NSAM is promulgated, I believe that a new Presidential letter to Ambassadors should be issued at the same time to set forth their duties and responsibilities under the new arrangement.

There is a related matter of sufficient importance to mention in this letter. It is the need for an agreed procedure for establishing and maintaining a list of “critical countries” for use in assuring the proper priority of attention by all agencies of government with overseas responsibilities. At present, there are at least three such lists kept in three different places, none of which bears the stamp of formal governmental approval. I would like the OOG to be charged with recommending such a list (after considering recommendations from Assistant Secretaries and the United States Intelligence Board) for the formal approval of the Secretary of State and with keeping it up to date thereafter. Obviously, the term, “critical country”, will first require a careful definition if we are to avoid a dispersion of attention and effort over too many countries at any one time.

A short summary of the foregoing proposal (Annex 4) is that the President assigns responsibility for the direction, coordination and supervision of overseas interdepartmental activities to the Secretary of State as his agent, who will be assisted in discharging this function by the Ambassadors and the regional Assistant Secretaries of State acting in an additional role separate from their functions as a State Department official; and that at these three levels there be established a strong interdepartmental committee on the Country Team model with an “executive chairman” having broad powers of decision and discretionary authority to settle all interdepartmental matters falling within his purview or capability. It assumes that the requirements for focusing concentrated interdepartmental attention on counter-subversion can be met by these arrangements which will, at the same time, be capable of dealing with other critical problems arising overseas which fall outside the definition of subversive aggression.

A final comment bears on what the proposal is not intended to do. There is no thought of injecting some kind of impersonal automaticity [Page 118] into the process of decision-making. It does not affect in any way the individual, statutory responsibilities of the key executive officers of the government but undertakes to facilitate their timely personal intervention through the use of the procedures proposed. For example, the President and his principal assistants such as the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense would have their personal representatives in attendance both in the Regional Coordination Group and in the Overseas Operations Group, serving as their eyes and ears and keeping them informed of the issues under consideration. Thus, they would be kept aware of the status of those issues so that they could intervene personally at any moment.

Another purpose which might possibly be inferred but which definitely is not intended is that this proposal is to make it possible in the future for the United States to take a larger share in the policing of the world. I am aware of Marshal Lin Piao’s comment last September that one virtue of a proliferation of “Wars of Liberation” would be to pin down and deplete our forces and I believe that there is always a real danger of dissipating our resources in this way. Rather than encourage such dissipation, I would hope that the proposed procedures would give an improved selectivity to our choice of areas and issues and, hence, to the application of our resources.

At your convenience, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the foregoing matters with you and receive your guidance as to how to proceed hereafter.8


Maxwell D. Taylor
[Page 119]

Annex 49

Organization for the Direction, Coordination and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas. (Less Exempted Military Activities)

Secretary of State (1)
Seat of Government Executive Chairman Overseas Operations Group (OOG) (2), (3), (4)
Overseas Executive Chairman (Assistant Secretary of State) Regional Coordinating Group (RCG) (2), (5)
Executive Chairman (Ambassador) Country Team (2)


Carries out responsibility for the direction, coordination and supervision of interdepartmental activities (less exempted military activities) of the United States Government overseas.
The Executive Chairman has the authority to decide all matters within the purview and capability of the Group or Team, subject to the right of appeal of members to higher authority.
Includes an Executive Chairman and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Administrator AID, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director CIA, Director USIA, the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (if the Chairman is not a State Department official). Representatives of other departments and agencies may attend on invitation.
OOG has following duties:
Takes over counter-insurgency responsibilities of Special Group (Counter-insurgency) which it replaces.
Settles interdepartmental matters falling within purview.
Keeps “critical countries” list.
Assures effective governmental focus of effort on “critical countries” in accordance with extent of U.S. interest.
Keeps President informed through the Secretary of State on unresolved interdepartmental problems overseas.
Conducts spot-checks overseas and in U.S. of counter-insurgency and other interdepartmental activities.
Executive Chairman is Regional Assistant Secretary of State and is concurrently the State member. Same departments and agencies are represented as on OOG. Duties of RCG include:
Assures adequacy of country statements of U.S. policy and adequacy of plans, programs, resources and performance to implement policy.
Watches for emergent critical situations-particularly for indications of subversive aggression.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Bromley Smith Papers, Organization of SIG. No classification marking. The memorandum is marked with an indication that, together with the attachments, it was included in the President’s Night Reading and that the President saw it.
  2. Secret.
  3. Attached to Taylor’s letter were four annexes: (1) a paper entitled “Areas of Possible Deficiencies in Counter-subversion: Plans and Programs”; (2) NSAM 124, January 18, 1962, printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VIII, Document 68; (3) a draft NSAM, “The Conduct of the Direction, Coordination and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas”; and (4) an organization chart, which is printed here.
  4. Secret.
  5. The letter was written in anticipation of Taylor’s becoming a Special Consultant to President Johnson on September 17. A copy is in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Box 63, Folder II, NSAM 341 (SIG) & Related Items.
  6. Documentation on the review, including committee reports, is ibid., Boxes 60–63, and in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 70 D 258, Special Group (CI).
  7. For text of Kennedy’s statement on February 19, 1961, upon signing an order abolishing the Operations Coordinating Board, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 104–105.
  8. In a covering memorandum to the President, January 21, under which Bundy returned Taylor’s proposal to Johnson, Bundy noted that Taylor would be coming in to see the President the next day. Johnson wrote on the memorandum: “No-Not on this I hope.” (Johnson Library, Bromley Smith Papers, Organization of SIG) According to the President’s Daily Diary, the President met with Taylor and Bundy from 12:12 to 1:01 p.m. on January 24 “to discuss organization for crisis management.” (Ibid.)
  9. Secret.