166. Memorandum From the Military Assistant to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Odom) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Brezhnev Message on the NORAD Alert

I am attaching TASS comments on the missile threat assessment call.2 (U)

I believe you will recognize the line as straight from Brezhnev’s message to the President.3 As I suspected from the tone, it was not a serious communication but an opening shot in a propaganda campaign designed to take advantage of the President and what the Soviets believe they know of his attitude toward nuclear weapons. That is why my proposed reply to Brezhnev was sharp. I still believe it would be wise to send that version. Otherwise we are going to be in second place throughout this exchange, and we may see the Soviets succeed in working up public support in the U.S. and Europe for a major investigation. Soviet operatives in the U.S. and Europe will undoubtedly try to get the “no nukes” groups into the streets on this issue. (S)

Marshall Shulman did not like the idea of a reply at all. He would not give me a comment on the Gates’ version.4 There is no reason, he argued, to overload the circuits with another protest now.5 (S)

Defense, Komer and his staff, thought the Gates’ version was much too soft. They were trying to toughen it. (S)

I provide this background so that you may, if you wish, get Brown to support you on a response that will preempt this Soviet campaign which could possibly affect adversely the LRTNF decisions next month. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 15, Crisis Management: 11/78–5/80. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for information. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.”
  2. Attached but not printed is an FBIS report entitled “TASS Comments on Recent Malfunction at NORAD Headquarters,” dated November 15.
  3. On November 14, Dobrynin called on Vance to deliver a message from Brezhnev to Carter: “Reports have been received that recently, due to some erroneous actions, the US technical systems gave a signal of a nuclear missile attack on the United States which resulted in putting appropriate means on alert,” and that “according to reports the incident was reported neither to you nor to the Secretary of Defense, nor to any responsible officials.” For the full message, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 233.
  4. Not Found.
  5. Brzezinski wrote in the margin: “he is right!!”