15. Minutes of the First Meeting of the National Security Council1

Meeting was opened by the President and in attendance were:

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State
  • Under Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Director, CIA
  • Secretary of the Treasury2
  • Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness
  • General Andrew J. Goodpaster
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The inaugural meeting commenced with a 7-minute still and motion picture photography session, after which the President announced that he would discuss briefly at this inaugural meeting the staff of procedural problems which the National Security Council will be concerned with, making the following points:

Number of meetings will generally follow a scenario which calls for two meetings per week up to the 1st of March, followed by a meeting every Thursday at 10:00 a.m. which should be finished by 2:00 p.m. and which should last for another month, after which he anticipates meetings will be held bimonthly.3

[Page 39]

The President desires that members of the National Security Council appoint their most qualified planners to sit on the NSC Review Group and urged the attendees to select their best brains at the second level in their respective departments.

The President stated that he wished to have a review of the international situation and that this review should be subject to the scrutiny of the best brains available each year.

Membership of the National Security Council must be tightly limited and the President prefers to have the statutory members always in attendance, as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Under Secretary of State. Beyond this, the Secretary of the Treasury should participate on an ad hoc basis during sessions in which budgetary or commercial considerations must be treated.

The President emphasized that the Secretary of the Treasury is the only other non-statutory Cabinet Member who will participate on a regular basis.4

The President discussed the role of the Director, CIA, at NSC meetings, emphasizing that he anticipates that the Director will normally give a briefing to update the membership on the intelligence aspects of the agenda items but the Director will not sit in on the substantive portions of the meetings.

The President pointed out that he wished the Director’s role to be distinct in this regard and that he is basically an expert on intelligence rather than a policy formulator but that when the agenda item so dictates, he would, of course, be included in the substantive discussion.

The Director of the Bureau of the Budget and the Attorney General would not be included in council meetings at the present time. The President emphasized the importance he places upon the maintenance of security with respect to deliberations of the council, adding that President Johnson had warned him that leaks throughout government had been one of his primary concerns.

The President added that he had no personal problem such as President Johnson manifested on leaks but that the system and organization itself must be disciplined in order to prevent wholesale disclosures which have characterized the style of government recently.

The President emphasized that he wanted the deliberations of the group to be open and free and to assure each member that they should feel completely free to speak their piece.

[Page 40]

The President emphasized that he did not want detailed debriefings in the respective departments following an NSC meeting, adding that he was conscious of the struggles for power within and among agencies and that leaks to the press had become an habitual vehicle for this in-fighting. He urged each statutory member to emphasize to their respective departments that their views would be heard at the NSC level, that they will not be watered down and that there could be no excuse for bringing their frustrations to the press.

The President then emphasized the careful selection process that had gone into the formulation of the membership of the Security Council, expressing his confidence that the very best men available had been chosen and that he had the utmost confidence in this body. Discussing the style and procedural approach that would be followed, the President stated that the NSC was not a decision-making body, that he would not call for votes on a particular issue and that he did not want them to feel obliged to hammer out a consensus.

The President stated, “I will make the decisions. To do this, I will need all points of view. I will then deliberate in private and make the decision. In this process, I might talk to individuals prior to finalizing my decision.”

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, and Peru.]

The President asked Mr. Kissinger to discuss with him the following day the scheduling of a worldwide intelligence briefing. He then turned the meeting over to Mr. Kissinger who outlined the following procedural points to the group:

Agenda items would be furnished to the membership in writing.
The NSC Review Group would meet prior to the Council, carefully consider the substantive issues, to include the costs of the various options to be presented.

The President then stated that he wanted the Director of OEP to serve on the Review Group. At this point, the Secretary of Defense asked if the President wished to have the same individuals sitting on the Review Group and the Under Secretaries’ Committee. Mr. Kissinger stated that the Under Secretaries’ Group should primarily be involved in operational matters, much like the old OCB while the Review Group would focus primarily on policy matters. The Under Secretary Group has much of the same character as the old OCB and would be chaired by the Under Secretary of State while the Review Group would have much of the character of the old Planning Group.

General Lincoln stated he had no planner available to participate on the Review Group and the President told him to get one as soon as possible.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

[Page 41]

Turning next to procedural matters, Mr. Kissinger stated that while some papers were prepared initially by the NSC staff, normal procedure in the future would be that these papers would be prepared by the interdepartmental groups, regional or functional, or by special ad hoc groups, that they would then be presented to the Review Group the week preceding consideration by the Security Council.

Mr. Kissinger stated that there were two issues that he would have to discuss with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, JCS, which involved (a) contingency planning and (b) studies to be conducted which involved the technical characteristics of weapons.

Mr. Kissinger stated that gaps had been left in the initial NSC agendas to provide for ad hoc problem areas which might arise from time to time. He stated that the published schedule would be revised at the President’s direction to move the Middle East item to the 1st of February and slip the SIOP briefing to February 5.

Mr. Kissinger emphasized that the President wanted alternatives presented to the NSC, not a single answer waffle.

The President interjected that he felt strongly about this point and if minority views existed that he wanted to see them clearly stated.

Secretary Kennedy asked how the President wished to have the facts presented to the Council. Secretary Rogers replied that we should get people such as the Director of CIA or interdepartmental briefings to accomplish this.

The President stated that that was the system that should be used rather than through papers alone, that he would like to get the facts through briefings.

Secretary of State stated, “I don’t want to read papers, I want to hear facts and be brought up to date.”

The President then asked how regularly we were in contact with Ambassador Lodge, to which Secretary of State replied, “several times a day.”

The President asked if we could not simplify our communication procedures with Lodge.

The President expressed his confidence in the Paris negotiating team and emphasized the importance that they moved in tandem with Washington.

As the meeting adjourned, the Vice President asked how he should handle confidential papers which he was receiving. Mr. Rogers said he would have him briefed on this problem.

Meeting was adjourned at 11:35 a.m.5

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 82, NSC Meetings, Jan–Mar 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) The Diary indicates that Haig also attended the meeting, and presumably he prepared the minutes. The Record of Actions prepared by Haig is ibid., NSC Files, Haig Chronological File, Box 955, Chron—Col. Haig–January 1969.
  2. During a telephone conversation on the morning of January 21, Secretary Kennedy told Kissinger that he thought he should attend the NSC meeting. Kissinger said he would check with Nixon and get back to him. Kennedy stated further that Nixon had told him he would be sent an agenda for every meeting and he would decide whether he wanted to attend. Kissinger said his understanding was that Kennedy would attend if there were issues such as international monetary policy on the agenda. (Note from Eagleburger to Joan McCarthy, January 21; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 1, Chronological File)
  3. According to a list of NSC meetings compiled by the NSC Staff in 1974, the NSC met 36 times in 1969 (averaging four times a month from January through June and twice a month from July through December), 21 times in 1970, 11 times in 1971, and 3 times in 1972. (Records of NSC and Related Meetings, January 20, 1969–December 31, 1972; ibid., Box CL 311, Listings of NSC and Related Committees’ Meetings, 1969–75) See also footnote 2, Document 178. Minutes for many of the meetings are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Boxes H–109 and H–110, NSC Minutes. Folders on each meeting containing talking points, briefing memoranda, analytical summaries, and background papers are ibid., Boxes 83–89.
  4. See Document 14.
  5. This time is in error. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that the meeting, which began at 2 p.m., adjourned by 3:30 p.m., when Nixon met alone with Kissinger and Wheeler. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)