218. Memorandum From the Acting Secretary of State (Ingersoll) to Members of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism1 2


  • Guidelines for Dealing with Terrorism with International Ramifications

Since the establishment of the Cabinet Committee by the President the primary focus of its activity has been on international terrorism as it affects Americans abroad and foreign nationals in this country. We have now had sufficient warnings to cause us to be increasingly concerned about possible acts of terrorism in the United States with international ramifications. The Hearst and DC Courthouse incidents are but two examples of cases with international potential since both involved suggestions of foreign asylum for the terrorists.

We have taken a generally firm line against terrorists and have advised other governments to do likewise. It is important that our counsel abroad be consistent with our actions in domestic cases of terrorism involving foreign interests.

I commend to your consideration the attached guidelines, which I believe should be useful at such time as internationally-related incidents or issues may arise and which should facilitate the high level, including White House, decision-making which may be required.

We are hopeful that new factors such as progress toward a Middle East settlement will ease tensions and will render the climate for international terrorists less favorable. Thus it is important that these guidelines [Page 2]remain under continuing review. I have accordingly directed Ambassador Lewis Hoffacker, Chairman of the Working Group, to do so with his colleagues who represent you and to report periodically on appropriate changes in the light of modified international and other factors.

Robert S. Ingersoll
Acting Secretary


[Page 3]



Under principles of customary international law, the host government of a country where an act of terrorism occurs is responsible for providing protection to foreign nationals within its territory, including securing their safe release from captors.

The US Government has adopted a policy not to pay ransom and to discourage other governments, companies, and individuals from making such payments. (Department of State airgram, A-2667, April 1, 1974.)

The US Government will not give in to “international blackmail” by terrorist groups. (President Nixon press conference #34, October 3, 1973.)

The US cannot assume a host government’s responsibility to negotiate with terrorists abroad, but US officials naturally will render all appropriate assistance to that government, particularly if US citizens are held as hostages. Reciprocally, in an incident in the US involving foreign nationals the US Government will undertake negotiations to secure the release of hostages. (Department of State spokesman, Charles Bray, May 2, 1973.)

In cases within the US, the FBI, under guidance from the Attorney General, has clear responsibilities, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. The Department of State exercises responsibilities in any aspects touching on relations with other governments.

A terrorist should be prosecuted for criminally defined acts of terrorism within the country of commission or be appropriately extradited. (See Tokyo and Montreal Conventions - TIAS 6758 and 7570, respectively.)

[Page 4]


  • —To continue development of a firm, effective, and consistent US policy at home and abroad. To manifest appropriate US Government leadership, by example and by diplomacy, in attempting to find collective solutions to this international problem.
  • —To take measures at home against terrorism having international aspects and to do likewise abroad wherever international terrorists strike, bearing in mind that “domestic terrorism” is within the jurisdiction of the country concerned.
  • —To establish effective communication with terrorists whose hostages are under US protective responsibilities, avoiding hard and fast positions while seeking to reduce, or ideally to terminate, danger to hostages.
  • —To retain the firm, credible US Government image as a deterrent against potential terrorists and to encourage a like posture by nations and organizations of the international community, as well as in the private sector.


  • —All governments have an internationally accepted responsibility for protection of foreign nationals within their respective borders.
  • —The US Government will not release prisoners in response to terrorists’ demands.
  • —The US Government generally opposes but does not act to prevent foreign governments, private individuals, or companies from meeting terrorists’ demands, including payment of ransom.
  • —Because of effective FBI follow through in recovering ransom and kidnappers in this country, the US Government can show more flexibility here than abroad in acquiescing to ransom payments.
  • —The US Government recognizes the merit of elimination of causes of terrorism, including legitimate grievances which motivate potential terrorists.
  • —The US Government is committed to pursue legal remedies in dealing with terrorists and endeavors to influence other governments to do likewise.
  • —While political motivations such as the achievement of self-determination or independence are cited by some individuals or groups to justify terrorism, such issues should be addressed in appropriate fora rather than by resort to violence against innocent bystanders.
  • —While the US Government deplores terrorists’ actions wherever they occur, any official US policy representations to other governments on essentially domestic terrorism will be formulated in such a manner as to avoid interference in internal affairs, particularly if no US citizens or interests are involved. At the same time, the US Government reserves the right to criticize other governments if they show irresponsibility in transferring international terrorists to the international community in cases which do not involve probable further bloodshed. In so doing, the US Government will act so as not to incur responsibility for bloodshed in a particular incident.


Our response to the terrorist challenge should range from the period prior to an attack (pre-attack), during an actual act of terrorism (attack), and following the event (post attack).

I. Pre-Attack

  • —Study causes of terrorism. Seek to remove then if they are within our influence and are based on legitimate grievances. Through our example, through diplomacy, and through appropriate other means, attempt to influence other governments similarly.
  • —Give appropriate publicity to our position on terrorism so that potential terrorists—wherever they may be—will be forewarned should they be tempted to strike within the US or at our nationals abroad.
  • —Educate the US public concerning international terrorism, how it affects residents of this country, and the objectives we seek to achieve in countering it.
  • —Improve our intelligence capability in order to deter and detect terrorist acts. Share intelligence appropriately with friendly governments bilaterally and, if feasible, multilaterally.
  • —Improve technical and physical security wherever possible— e.g., airports, airlines, visas, immigration, customs, ships, piers, key bridges, highway and railway tunnels and water supplies to permit effective interception of terrorist acts. Share techniques and experience appropriately with foreign governments and inspire similar initiatives abroad.
  • —Take all appropriate diplomatic initiatives, preferably multilateral, to inspire legal safeguards or other deterrents against terrorists.

II. Attack

US decision-makers may be faced with four fairly common terrorist demands—ransom, release of prisoners, freedom for terrorists, and domestic amnesty—in three different situations—in the US, abroad with US interests or citizens involved, and abroad without involvement of US citizens or interests.

A. In the US

1. Ransom

—Refuse an official ransom. Given, however, the effectiveness of FBI retrieval of the vast majority of [Page 7]kidnappers/ransoms, show more flexibility in counsel to other governments, companies, or individuals faced with ransom demands in this country.

2. Prisoner Release

—Refuse demands for prisoner release.

3. Free Departure for Terrorists—Such a demand would go to the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, who would face the following options with pros and cons.

a. Arguments against facilitating foreign refuge for terrorists.

Allowing the terrorists to escape gives them the opportunity to strike again, and we may therefore be exporting our problem to another country, something we have asked other countries not to do.
Depending on the circumstances, this action may encourage other terrorists to believe they can test the government’s will without serious personal risk.
This would be inconsistent with the assumed need and utility of eliminating safe havens.

b. Arguments in favor of facilitating foreign refuge for terrorists.

Innocent life or lives might be spared without payment of ransom or other difficult concession to blackmail.
Depending on the circumstances, the failure of the terrorists to obtain their objectives might discourage repetition of such incidents.
If this alternative is suggested, its rejection could expose the US Government to at least a portion of the onus for any ensuing bloodshed.

4. Domestic Amnesty

—Avoid any suggestion that federal or state authorities are prepared to exercise such clemency lest they give a signal to other terrorists to try similar tactics. Moreover, granting amnesty to the terrorists themselves would, in certain instances, be inconsistent with international agreements we have supported and encouraged other nations to endorse.

B. Abroad with US Citizens or Interests Involved—Since cases in this category fall under foreign jurisdiction, the US Government role is essentially advisory.

1. Ransom

—Advise other governments, companies, and other parties concerned of the disadvantages of payment of ransom in the long range deterrent to terrorism.

—As a last resort and if the life of the hostage is clearly at stake, acquiesce to a non-US Government ransom.

2. Prisoner Release

—Refuse demands for American prisoners release.

—Advise other governments to stand firm against demands for prisoner release unless it is advantageous to show flexibility in cases of foreign “political prisoners.”

3. Freedom for Terrorists

—As a last resort and if the life of the hostage is clearly at stake, acquiesce in “the Bangkok solution” whereby terrorists are given their freedom and publicity for their cause in return for freedom of the hostages.

[Page 9]

4. Domestic Amnesty

—Urge fulfillment of the principle of arrest or extradition of an offender unless, as in the previous section, the life of the hostage is clearly at stake.

C. Abroad without US Citizens or Interests Involved

1. Ransom, prisoner release, freedom for terrorists, or domestic amnesty—In all four categories, US Government counsel to other governments will necessarily be more muted than in the previous instance, where US citizens or interests were directly involved, unless there is the prospect of transfer of the international terrorist(s) in question to the international community. In the latter instance, the US Government should advise firmness in the absence of a probable threat to the hostage’s life and resist, within the limitation of the law, admitting terrorists wishing to come to the US.

III. Post-Attack

  • —Pursue the terrorist with the collaboration of other governments.
  • —Arrest and prosecute the terrorist or extradite him to an appropriate jurisdiction.
  • —Urge other governments to follow the US pattern of holding convicted terrorists for service of their sentences in accord with the terms and conditions generally applicable to common criminals serving sentences for like crimes. Governments should not consider release of prisoners in anticipation of a further terrorist threat.
  • —Improve technical, physical, and legal deterrents in the light of the experience gained in the attack. Exploit the momentum which sometimes is generated by an attack to induce other governments to improve counter-measures.
  • —Examine the origin of the terrorist action, including the motivation of the terrorists. If it is within our [Page 10]influence and it embodies a legitimate grievance, seek ways to remove it in order to eliminate the cause of similar terrorism.


Terrorist incidents abroad involving US interests are normally managed by task forces, either informally or formally organized, headed by the Chairman of the Working Group of the Cabinet Committee, who operates simultaneously as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State as Coordinator for Combating Terrorism. (Exceptions are sometimes made on the management of the task force if a US official is kidnapped.)

In either capacity he calls on members of or participants in the Working Group, or others, to cooperate in meeting the challenge of an international terrorist attack. This task force action usually focuses in the Operations Center of the Department of State, but may also be directed from the office of the Chairman. Procedures for dealing with kidnapping of a US official abroad are dealt with in a special SOP (A-S660, July 3, 1973).

The Chairman of the Working Group would take similar initiatives (at the suggestion of members of the Working Group or otherwise) in setting up a task force in the Department of State in the event of any incident within the US with foreign components or potentiality. Such an organization will dove-tail with the command post established by the FBI or other agencies having responsibilities for coping with the incident. Nothing herein conflicts with or infringes upon standing responsibilities of the FBI or other agencies in such situations. The functions of the task force would include:

Maintain closest liaison with the operational command post run by the FBI or other agency managing the incident and advise them on foreign relations aspects which may be involved or foreseen.
Call upon Justice, Transportation, CIA and other agencies with responsibilities in the incident (probably their Working Group members) to name representative(s) to work with the task force.
Maintain liaison with the White House (Domestic Council and NSC) as appropriate, soliciting guidance as the case develops.
Maintain contact with Foreign Service posts involved and, through them, with the respective foreign governments. Maintain similar contact with the embassy (embassies) concerned in Washington.
Serve as the focal point for making recommendations on the foreign policy aspects to be passed to the respective superiors by members of the Working Group, keeping the White House informed throughout this process.
Take such initiative as appropriate to ensure prompt, coordinated recommendations to the White House on crucial decisions.
Because of the extreme importance of using publicity to the maximum advantage, serve as the authority within the US Government for arranging public statements on international aspects of ongoing incidents.

[Page 12]


The Secretary of State
The Secretary of the Treasury
The Secretary of Defense
The Attorney General
The Secretary of Transportation
The United States Ambassador to the United Nations
The Director of Central Intelligence
The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
The Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs
The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P740122–0412. Confidential. Copies were sent to USUN, the Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, and Transportation.
  2. The memorandum disseminated guidelines for responding to terrorist attacks within the United States involving international ramifications.