88. Editorial Note

There is documentary evidence that the Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test was detected (if belatedly) by the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, which eventually initiated a strategic alert and a military exercise respectively in late October 1969. On October 17, General Wheeler, Chairman of the JCS, in a memorandum to Secretary of Defense Laird, reported that as yet there had been “no significant activity by Soviet Military forces which can be judged as a reaction to U.S. operations. We believe, however, there has been some increase in Soviet intelligence collection activities.” Even eight days later, on October 25, Wheeler sent two memoranda to Laird informing him that the Soviets had not reacted to a menu of specific alert measures, including the following: reduced communications in the Southern and European Commands (EUCOM), heightened alert of certain nuclear weapons systems in EUCOM and in the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), and enhanced security measures by naval forces in the Pacific Command (PACOM). Wheeler’s memoranda are in the National Archives, RG 218, Records of the JCS, Records of the Chairman, General Wheeler, Box 111, 381, World-Wide Increased Readiness Posture (Oct. 69). General Westmoreland, Army Chief of Staff, in an un-dated memorandum to Laird, similarly reported that the Soviet Union had not reacted either to a communication standdown or increased surveillance of Soviet military facilities in EUCOM or to a training flight standdown in the Atlantic Command. Westmoreland consequently recommended that these actions continue as planned. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates that Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard concurred with Westmoreland’s recommendation. (Ibid.)

Other reports indicated, however, that the PRC had initiated a strategic alert and the Soviet Union had launched a military exercise. These moves began just as the resumption of border negotiations in Beijing on October 20, first announced on October 7, had lessened the [Page 291] likelihood of Sino-Soviet warfare. During a telephone conversation held on October 21 at 6:23 p.m., Laird informed Kissinger that “we got a response from the Chinese on our exercise—they have gone on alert.” The two again discussed the topic by telephone at 8:25 the following morning, during which Kissinger said he “didn’t know whether it [the Chinese alert] was in reaction to us or what the Soviets did in reaction to us. L said he didn’t know either.” (Transcripts of telephone conversations; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

[18½ lines not declassified] Kissinger received a memorandum on October 30 from James Fazio, a member of the National Security Council Staff assigned to the White House Situation Room, indicating that Chinese military activity was returning to normal. (Ibid.)

United States intelligence also began to detect that the Soviet Union had identified and reacted to certain elements of the alert. According to a memorandum from Wheeler to Laird dated October 22, “U.S. naval actions in the Gulf of Aden are believed to have caused a change in the Soviet naval posture in that area.” Specifically, two Soviet ships, spotted heading north in the Red Sea, suddenly reversed course on October 20 and headed toward either the Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean, along with at least four other Soviet vessels. (Ibid., RG 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of the Chairman, General Wheeler, Box 111, 381, World-Wide Increased Readiness Posture (Oct. 69))

On October 25, Kissinger learned from a memorandum sent by David McManis, an NSC staff member assigned to the White House Situation Room, of a “possible large-scale Soviet strategic exercise.” According to McManis’ memorandum, [3 lines not declassified].

McManis’ memorandum informed Kissinger that there was “some evidence, although not conclusive,” that the Soviet exercise was initiated on October 10 and thus was not “a response to our readiness activities. However, some of the components of this Soviet exercise are of the kind which would be implemented in reaction to our operations.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 12, President’s Daily Briefs, October 22–28, 1969)