335. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Political Affairs (Peck) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1

Mr. Ambassador:

You may recall that you agreed to consider some thoughts on the subject of the Department’s efforts to stay on top of what other agencies are doing in the field of foreign affairs. If my assumptions are correct, considerable improvement in our present situation is possible with the expenditure of relatively minimal—but relatively high level—effort.

Our coordination and control of what goes on must not be a reflection of narrow bureaucratic interests on our part. By the same token we are supposed to insure, to the extent practicable, that the actions of other agencies are equally consistent with our over-all policies. This can only be done if we know what is going on.

The Department’s principal failing, it seems to me, is in the area of communication, itself the key to any effective effort to control and coordinate. We fail to remind our Embassies—and our desks—of what is expected of them, tell them how they are doing and what the problems are, and insure that they are keeping each other informed. These points are very closely inter-related, but a few examples may serve as illustrations of the general thesis.

Since the letter to the Ambassadors of December 9, 1969,2 nothing has been done to refocus the attention of those concerned on the fact that it continues to be USG policy that the Ambassador is, indeed, in charge; this despite the long and growing list of transgressions (mostly by DOD; a few samples are attached). Our general policy seems to be to rely on other agencies to caution their own people, a highly questionable practice in terms of the observable results. Perhaps the most striking recent example was the Westmoreland/Ethiopia, Enterprise/Chile, homeporting/everywhere flap. The Secretary signed a letter of admonition to Mr. Laird,3 urging him to set up a program designed to [Page 746] lessen the possibility of further incidents of a similar nature, but to my knowledge none of our Embassies or desks (except for those directly involved) are even aware that there has been a series of serious problems or that we have tried to do anything about it. Under these circumstances, it would not be too surprising if the same sort of thing should happen again somewhere else.

In other and fairly frequent cases, where CAS and DOD appear to be the principal perpetrators, the crime consists of taking actions with a Chief of State, or the host government, without clearing with or even informing the Ambassador until after the fact, sometimes well after. The most recent examples involved [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

Incidents of this nature generally result in a bleat from the Embassy concerned, followed by silence from this end. The problem appears to be at least partly the result of a lack of understanding by the Ambassador and/or members of his mission of the responsibilities with which the former is charged. To some extent, this may be caused by the relatively rapid personnel turnover and a failure to insure that new arrivals from other agencies are carefully instructed by us before they depart and carefully read in by the Ambassador when they get there.

A third category of problems stems from the tendency of many Ambassadors to take actions based on instructions received from military commands, or through attaché channels, without insuring that the Department is aware of what they have been asked to do. On occasion, the Embassies may even become involved in a struggle with the agency over the proposal in question, still without the knowledge of the Department. From a management point of view, this is almost as great an error as an approval.

As you no doubt are aware, the CIA has made good use of the lack of assertiveness that often occurs at the desk level. The technique involves casually mentioning a subject to an Ambassador and then telling the Department he has approved it. Neither party thought it was a very good idea at all—and neither one checked the other’s views.

On the basis of the above, subjects with which you are quite familiar, I would like to make the following general recommendations. If you approve in principle, I propose to discuss the matter with S/PC, PM and INR, looking to them to generate the necessary paperwork. PM is already in basic agreement with this memo.

I. A letter (or a brief letter covering a memo) should be sent to each Ambassador, calling his attention—in general but unmistakable terms—to the fact that we have had a number of problems around the world of the kind mentioned above, requiring that specific steps be taken to improve and tighten control at the Embassy, and insure that the Department is kept better informed.

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The letter should be signed by one of the principals and should, at the very least, indicate that the Secretary’s wishes are behind it. Preferably, the Secretary would sign.




II. At the same time, the Secretary would address one of his full staff meetings on the subject, stressing the importance of the steps he wishes taken. The Assistant Secretaries should be instructed to insure that the people in their Bureaus are carefully advised as to what is to be done.




III. A meeting of all desk officers should be called, at which the same message would be put to them by a senior official (you can guess whom I have in mind). This would be in addition to the efforts by the Assistant Secretaries and would be intended to provide an indication of seventh floor interest. (JIG does not like this idea.)

IV. A program should be established to insure that all newly assigned Ambassadors, DCMs, Country Directors and Desk Officers are carefully instructed in their roles and responsibilities vis-à-vis other agencies, in particular CIA and DOD. The briefings, to be given by S/PC and DDC on a regular and continuing basis, would point out the dangers and pitfalls and would draw on incidents in other countries as specific examples. The same general procedure should be followed by us with regard to individuals from those agencies prior to departure for posts abroad, and after they arrive.




Two final points. It is recognized that many of our officers do not need to be reminded of their authority; others will not make real use of [Page 748] it despite reminders. To the extent that those who fall between these extremes are moved to action, the purpose of this exercise will have been achieved. Further, there is no intention to get involved in a major confrontation with the other agencies. I would foresee a non-contentious series of papers and actions resulting from the deliberations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Memorandums of the Executive Secretariat, 1964–1976, Box 6, S/SS Memos, April–Sept 1971, Vol. 3. Secret. Nicholas Platt (S/S) forwarded copies of the memorandum to James Dobbins (S/PC), Leonard Warren (PM), and William Berry (INR) under cover of a June 22 memorandum in which he indicated that Peck wanted their bureaus to look over the memorandum in anticipation of discussing it with them. (Ibid.)
  2. Document 310.
  3. Document 333.
  4. Johnson initialed his approval.
  5. Johnson initialed his approval and wrote in the margin: “This can be done at U staff mtg.”
  6. Johnson initialed his approval.