69. Editorial Note

In late June and early July 1964, the discussions of the COMSAT-Department of Defense joint satellite project continued. In a long memorandum for the President, General James O’Connell, the President’s Special Assistant for Telecommunications, laid out the issue: “Top echelons of DOD and COMSAT both want this agreement for financial and other reasons.” He explained: “If we seek to look at this mixed system from the viewpoint of world opinion, the COMSAT Act of 1962 proposed to the world a global system for peaceful use. No matter how much we wish to disguise the fact, it is clear that the U.S. military will have the use of half the system and is attempting to provide financial and other inducements to bring about a COMSAT and consortium decision to adopt the type of system the Defense Department desires. Such a setup can have the tendency to drive out other countries and reduce the possibility that there will be a truly global system. In any case, our position as advocating and promoting a peaceful global system appears hypocritical. Another view which foreign nations may take with some logic is that our Defense Department exercises such decisive influence on our national objectives as to have changed the originally stated purposes of our global COMSAT network.”

O’Connell concluded that the United States could have a more flexible communications system if the Department of Defense network was separate, and he cautioned: “We are taking a step right now which has very large implications with regard to the future of communication satellites in the world. Irrevocable decisions can be made now which, while having relatively little impact in the short run, may have long-range impact on our world position.” He argued: “The change in worldwide public image of our COMSAT system is an important consideration. A global commercial system dedicated to increasing world understanding, and for the equal opportunity of use by all nations, is the image we have sought to create. It does not seem credible that all nations could think that equal opportunity is practical when the U.S. military has nearly half the potential of each satellite.”

Summing up, he noted that “the proposed agreement, because of a preponderance of negative long-range potential consequences, presents hazards which are virtually impossible adequately to evaluate and is therefore not the best choice for the United States Government.” (Undated, but probably June 1964; Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Communications (Nat’l Communications System, COMSAT, etc.) Vol. 1 [1 of 2])

The President’s Science Adviser, Donald Hornig, also examined the issue. In a draft memorandum for the President on July 2, he commented: “It is clear that our international relations would be better [Page 133] if our military communications system were separated from the international system. If we were to back off from the concept of an international system at this stage, if that is indeed possible, our position on peaceful uses of space would at least be greatly weakened in the eyes of the world.” (Ibid.)

A later version of the Memorandum of Understanding, dated June 12, with Department of Defense revisions is in a memorandum from Fubini (DOD) to McGeorge Bundy, July 17; ibid.