110. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (Gates) to Director of Central Intelligence Casey and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (McMahon)1

DDI #6508–83


  • Crisis Management: The Korean Airliner Incident

1. Before the events of the last week get too far behind us I want to set down for you two problems that I perceive in the handling of the Korean airliner incident. [portion marking not declassified]

2. First, as I have mentioned to you, the interagency meetings that were held on this subject had a great number of participants. The SIG chaired by Larry Eagleburger had some 25 people there and the subsequent IGs had between 40 and 50 people in the room—standing room only.2 Under these circumstances, it was very awkward to present intelligence briefings with anything like the completeness and the detail that senior policy officials needed to have. Even the FAA was reluctant in the IG meetings to provide details on some of their activities. [portion marking not declassified]

3. The State Department seems institutionally incapable of having a small meeting—or saying no to people. The only remedy for this in my view—and perhaps showing my earlier colors—is for this kind of incident or crisis management to be carried out by the NSC with the attendance at meetings limited to a very small number of people (8–10) where all the information available to all of the Agencies can be placed on the table and actions and decisions be taken on the basis of the full range of data. [portion marking not declassified]

4. Second, the way the incident was managed by the Department from the standpoint of the release of intelligence information was at minimum awkward and more often highly risky for sources and meth[Page 386]ods. Because so many bureaus and parts of State and other elements of the government were involved in acquiring information and putting it out, it was inevitable that a great deal of information would be made available to the press by government officials. The problem is that there were so many people involved in the process that no one person or single institution had any purview over what was to be released and was able to make distinctions between what was sensitive and what was more usable. NSA did its best working with State but there were other institutions involved as well, including DoD and the NSC Staff. Here again, in future incidents, having a small group chaired by the NSC where the public relations and Congressional liaison people could be included would permit decisions to be made and the coordination of information to be released carried out much more effectively and with less cost to sources and methods. [portion marking not declassified]

5. In sum, the handling of this problem was simply too diffuse and involved too many actors sitting at the table. The result was a significant lack of discipline in the release of intelligence information, in part based on a lack of understanding of what was sensitive and what was not, and no centralized coordination of the release of information. [portion marking not declassified]

6. I know that there are significant bureaucratic equities involved in the handling of incidents such as this. I am well aware of differences between State and NSC over who should handle these matters. I simply would suggest that you weigh in with Judge Clark that from the standpoint of intelligence equities, these affairs in our view are far better handled by a group such as the Crisis Pre-Planning Group or small ad hoc committees chaired by the NSC than by the “town meeting” approach of the Department of State.3 [portion marking not declassified]

Robert M. Gates4
  1. Source: Reagan Library, System IV Intelligence Files, 1983, 400641. Secret. Casey forwarded the memorandum to Clark on September 12. In an attached covering memorandum to Clark, September 12, deGraffenreid noted: “The DCI marked this IMMEDIATE, so I am sending it to you directly without complete staffing. However, Gates’ points seem well taken, and I recommend that it be circulated widely on our staff and Gates’ points fully considered.” Clark wrote “NO” to the side of this recommendation and noted at the bottom: “Let’s hold up for now.” In a follow-up note to Poindexter, deGraffenreid reported: “Bob Gates called to say he had just learned that the DCI sent his memo here. He is a bit worried that because his criticism of State could be misinterpreted that we limit distribution of his memo. I agree. We can just pull out the thoughts.”
  2. No record of these meetings has been found.
  3. On an attached routing slip, deGraffenreid wrote to Clark: “Judge: Gates’ points are good, but a key element of the facts is missing: the VP personally decided not to go the SSG route on KAL, as we had done on Lebanon. Also, while SSG and CPPG meeting are good and necessary, SIG/IG work must back them up. (I would venture to say that 1/5 of all meeting attendees at KAL SIGs were from the intelligence community—CIA, NSA, and DIA, INR).”
  4. Gates signed “RG” above his typed signature.