301. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Conference with IATA Officials on Airplane Hijacking


  • Mr. Knut Hammarskjold, Director General of IATA
  • Mr. Julian Gazdik, General Counsel of IATA
  • Mr. Frank E. Loy, E/TT
  • Mr. John S. Meadows, E/TT/OA
  • Mr. Harry Feehan, E/TT/OA/AVP
  • Mr. Richard A. Frank, L/ARA
  • Mr. Allan I. Mendelsohn, L/E
  • Mr. John F. Fitzgerald, ARA/ CCA
  • Mr. Park Wollam, ARA/CCA

The Messrs. Hammarskjold and Gazdik called on Mr. Loy at his request for the purpose of discussing what these gentlemen might say to a Cuban representative to the UN that afternoon about the hijacking of planes to Cuba, and for the purpose of discussing hijacking in general.

[Page 529]

Mr. Loy began by thanking the Messrs. Hammarskjold and Gazdik on behalf of the United States Government for undertaking to help us deal with the Cubans on the hijacking problem. He stated that he had some statistics on the hijacking of planes to Cuba, as well as some biographical and motivational information on the hijackers, which he would first summarize and then hand over to Mr. Hammarskjold for the latter’s use. Mr. Hammarskjold asked if there was “any pattern.” Mr. Fitzgerald stated that the element most common to all of hijackers was mental instability, although some common criminals were involved. Mr. Loy said that it was hard to find a pattern; however, political objectives were apparently not dominant, except that, in relation to the hijackings of foreign aircraft to Cuba, there was some evidence of political motivation. Mr. Hammarskjold asked if any Cuban planes had been hijacked. Mr. Fitzgerald replied that there had been no such instances in recent years, although there had been instances of small planes having been stolen in Cuba and flown to the United States.

Mr. Loy then said that we had thought of several things that might be done in relation to hijacking, first in specific regard to Cuba and second in regard to hijacking in general; and that the objective was to find a way to deter hijackers. He hoped that it would be possible to persuade the Cubans that their return to the USG of hijackers, both past and future, would pose a deterrence and would be in the Cuban as well as the United States interest. He then described a recent New York Times story, referring to a story in the Miami News, which indicated that the Cubans took a dim view of hijacking and hijackers, adding that, while he had no way of knowing whether the story was accurate, he had no reason to doubt it. It showed an intelligent point of view by the Cubans. He went on to say that it was apparent that the hijacking of the El Al plane to Algeria had caused severe strains and divisions within the Algerian government; and that this might be pointed out to the Cubans by Mr. Hammarskjold. Mr. Hammarskjold observed that a recent IATA statement about hijacking was a non-political one. Mr. Loy went on to say that we had had no problem with the Cubans so far with regard to the return of the planes and the passengers, but that, for the sake of deterrence, we would wish the hijackers to be returned. We would be prepared to consider a reciprocal agreement with the Cubans for the return of hijacked planes, hijacked passengers who wished to return to Cuba and of hijackers. But we would balk at a deal involving the return of political refugees.

Mr. Hammarskjold observed that “we have the instruments we need,” both for the definition of issues and deterrence, in the Tokyo Convention.2 He said that he recently had received assurances from [Page 530] the Venezuelan and Colombian governments, and was expecting one from the Mexican government, that each would enforce Article 11 of the Convention as if the Convention were in effect if others would.3 However, he conceded that there was some doubt as to what the Convention did to the hijacker himself. Mr. Loy said he had not thought of the Tokyo Convention as requiring the return of the hijacker as opposed to allowing the onward movement of the plane and those passengers who wanted to go. Mr. Gazdik said this was a matter of interpretation; that so much of Article 11 as required signatory countries to “take all appropriate means to restore control of the aircraft to its lawful commander” could be interpreted so as to require the return of the hijacker. (There then ensued a general discussion of this point and several doubts were expressed as to the validity of Mr. Gazdik’s proffered interpretation, which he himself described as strained.)

Mr. Gazdik asked if we had any information as to what had happened to the hijackers now in Cuba. Mr. Fitzgerald said that we had very spotty information, that one was known to be working on the Isle of Pines, presumably in the cane fields, that one had been executed for crimes subsequently committed in Cuba, that a couple more (including the hijacker of the NAL DC–8 in July) were known to be in jail; but that was about all we had since the Cubans gave very little public play to these incidents.

Mr. Gazdik then asked if we knew of any provisions of Cuban law relative to hijacking. Mr. Mendelsohn said that we did not know of any. Mr. Hammarskjold then returned to the Miami News story and, after a general rehashing of its contents, asked if we were doing anything to give it more publicity. Mr. Loy replied that we had considered this and were casting about to find out what could be done. Mr. Gazdik then observed that our real interest seemed to be in getting the hijacker back, and asked if we did not have an extradition treaty with Cuba. Mr. Frank stated that it was doubtful that the treaty would apply, citing among other considerations the one that it had been concluded with a predecessor government to the Castro government. Mr. Loy said that the important thing was that the Cubans return the hijackers, with or without a treaty or an agreement; and that, however they wanted to do it, if they wanted to, that was enough for us.

Mr. Hammarskjold said that it might be useful if the Cubans were under the pressure that the matter might come up at the ICAO conference in Buenos Aires this September; they presumably would want their hands clean at that time. Mr. Loy stated that we were thinking about ways and means which this issue would be raised at Buenos [Page 531] Aires. He also said that we had considered approaching Mr. Binaghi 4 for his ideas as to how ICAO might be able to help us with the Cubans, and generally in regard to hijacking.

Mr. Loy then said that one of the U.S. carriers had suggested the payment of a cash award to the Cubans for the return of a hijacker.5 He said that we were not sure whether this idea could be married to our other proposals, i.e. whether it was compatible with approaches based on concern with safety; but that if other measures did not work, perhaps we would turn to this one. Mr. Hammarskjold observed that the Cubans give excellent ATC service to aircraft flying near Cuba for only nominal fees; and that perhaps a general increase in the fees would be preferable to the reward approach. Mr. Fitzgerald said that the reward would be offered generally, not just to the Cubans. Mr. Hammarskjold thought that the increase-in-fees idea would be “cleaner.” Mr. Loy thought the approach to the Cubans on safety and international responsibility would be better without the reward aspect. Mr. Hammarskjold said that the Cuban(s) whom they were going to talk to that afternoon either had been told to accept some type of proposal, or to do nothing but listen; but that he agreed the public interest approach, rather than the reward one, was the better one.

Mr. Loy then said that we had discussed with the Mexican government the possibility of their taking up the matter with the Cubans on the basis of Mexico having diplomatic relations with Cuba and on the basis of a Mexican plane having been involved in one of the hijackings. While the Mexicans had expressed an interest, no action had been taken yet; but Mr. Hammarskjold should be aware of this. Mr. Hammarskjold thought this was “a clever idea.”

Mr. Loy then said that, turning to the subject of hijacking world-wide, the USG was also concerned about this larger problem. He said that we hoped to be able to submit the Tokyo Convention to the Senate in the near future. Mr. Hammarskjold said he had commitments from the UK, Germany, Holland and France that each planned to accede before the end of 1968.6 Mr. Loy said that probably the USG would accede; but that it was sort of a poor time of year to be sending things to the Congress.7 He then said that we had some ideas about what IATA might consider doing on a general basis. (Mr. Loy then presented and described the proposals set out on p. 3 of the attached talking [Page 532] paper8 except for the one of IATA offering a cash award for the return of a hijacker. He stressed these were ideas for consideration rather than USG proposals.) Mr. Hammarskjold said that all of these were worth discussion. Mr. Gazdik said that the CAB might have some difficulty with the proposal that IATA carriers refuse the provision of interline and other usual services to the carrier(s) of a state refusing the reasonably prompt return of a hijacked plane and its passengers. Mr. Loy said that we could present him with a USG view, including that of the CAB, if he wished. Mr. Gazdik said that, with regard to the proposal that IATA carriers pressure their governments to refuse landing and take-off rights to the carrier(s) of a hijack-offending state, IATA preferred not to get into the business of recommending to carriers what to do or not do in relation to their governments; that perhaps ICAO would be a better mechanism for the implementation of this proposal.

Mr. Gazdik then went on to outline an idea of his to the effect that perhaps the Two Freedoms provision of the Transit Agreement could be used to pressure a hijack-offending state. In substance, it was that the privilege to land for non-traffic purposes included the privilege to take off after such landing; that a state refusing the take-off privilege was in violation of the Agreement; that the state of the aircraft involved could complain of this violation to ICAO; that ICAO then had to send a commission to investigate the complaint; and that the dispatch of this commission would be highly embarrassing to the state visited, etc. Mr. Loy said he would think about this and would consider an approach to ICAO. Mr. Hammarskjold said that he was disappointed that the whole problem of hijacking had not been handed over to one of its specialized agencies (ICAO) by the UN for handling.

Mr. Loy then asked if there was anything else Mr. Hammarskjold and Mr. Gazdik wished to talk about. Mr. Gazdik asked if we had used our extradition treaty with Cuba recently. Mr. Frank said that we had not; that perhaps we would not object to making a request under it; but that its use raised other issues. Mr. Gazdik asked if we had concluded any type of an agreement with the Cubans during the past two or three years. Mr. Fitzgerald said that we had concluded the Refugee Airlift Agreement, although the Swiss had acted for us, and that, of course, we were in several multilateral agreements with the Cubans. Mr. Hammarskjold asked if we had any impression of their general attitude on the subject of hijacking, whether they seemed to think that they were under some obligation to “behave normally.” Mr. Fitzgerald stated again that, to date at least, the Cubans had returned hijacked planes and passengers fairly promptly; but that there was no evident [Page 533] basic change in their overall attitude toward the U.S. which was militantly anti-U.S. He observed that the Cubans had good reason for relaxing the tensions between the two countries because of their severe economic problems, but they had given no evidence of such relaxation. He added that he thought Mr. Hammarskjold should be aware that we went to great lengths to return assorted small watercraft to Cuba which had been used for transporting political refugees.

There being nothing further, the meeting broke up at about 1:00 p.m.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 12 US. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Feehan.
  2. See Document 296.
  3. None of these governments had yet ratified the convention.
  4. Loy had met with Walter Binaghi on May 17; see footnote 3, Document 297.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 300.
  6. None of these countries acceded in 1968.
  7. The convention was submitted to Congress on September 25; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book II, pp. 974–975.
  8. Not printed.