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NSC Memo on Fallout Shelters (1960)

Source: Declassified Documents Reference System. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.


This once secret White House memo shows the difficulty in assessing civil defense preparedness during the Cold War era. It was declassified October 17, 1983.

July 20, 1960
SUBJECT: Existing Fallout Shelters
REFERENCE: Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, subject "U.S. Policy on Continental Defense," dated July 14, 1960

I am concerned that OCDM, during the course of developing the reference discussion paper on Continental Defense, has been unable to furnish the Planning Board with a reasonably informed and accurate estimate of the number of fallout shelters already in existence. In paragraph 51 of the discussion paper, there is found no estimate of available fallout shelter based on any OCDM studies or samplings; rather, recourse is had to a survey made by a Congressional committee which is reported upon in the following terms:

"A recent survey by the House Committee on government Operations indicated that only 1,565 shelters had been built in the United States during the last two years."

Even this statement is misleading: on the one hand, it includes 400 shelters in Oklahoma which were constructed primarily for tornado protection; on the other hand, it is based on responses received from 35 states only, and no allowance is made for what shelter may be available in the other 15 states. [1]

It may be noted that the number of shelters reported to have been built during the past two years (1,565) is less than the number of employees on the OCDM payroll (1,700).

Examination of the survey in question, which was made by the Holifield Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, is not unrevealing. In February 1960 Chairman Holifield addressed a questionnaire to the Governors of every State and to the mayors of major cities asking 7 specific questions relating to civil defense. The first question was:

"How many civil defense home shelters have been constructed in your State?" [2]

The replies were based upon available knowledge, rather than upon a specific survey by the State Directors in response to Mr. Holifield's questionnaire. Those replies reported shelters in numbers varying all the way from zero to a few hundred. At one end of the scale, for example, were such states as Hawaii, New Hampshire and Wyoming which reported categorically "none". Vermont reported 1 shelter; North Carolina, 25; Illinois "about 363"; and Oklahoma "over 400" (estimated). [3]

Some of the replies were less than precise. For example, in giving figures on shelters Nevada reported "2 that we know of"; Texas reported "do not know"; Nebraska felt that the number would be "surprisingly more than we anticipated"; Oregon reported "several dozen only"; and Kansas stated that "hundreds" of shelters had been constructed. The Civil Defense Director of Maine replied that the question was difficult to answer. As an illustration, he reported that, despite the fact that he had three pictures of one shelter constructed in Boothbay Harbor, the owner insisted that the shelter was "for use in hurricanes only, and not for enemy bomb or missile action."

In testifying before the Holifield Committee (and apparently before the House Appropriations Committee earlier), the Director of OCDM on March 28, 1960 stated that people and industries are building "thousands" of shelters. Indeed, he averred, "I am confident that as of today we have shelter spaces of sufficient protection factor for 25 percent of the people in this Nation." [4] Mr. Holifield questioned the accuracy of that estimate. [5](In this connection it should be noted that the responses of the 35 states to the Committee survey related only to home shelters, whereas the Director of OCDM was speaking of both home and industrial shelters.) It would be helpful for the Council, in its discussion of whether substantially increased emphasis should now be given to protecting our population against fallout, to have some reasonably authentic information from within the Executive Branch itself as to (1) the number of existing fallout shelter spaces and (2) the number of shelters—home, industrial, dual purpose and other—which have been built as a result of the shelter policy (NSC 5807/2). [6]

Should not OCDM make surveys of its own at regular intervals and keep accurate, up to date tabulations?

Charles A. Haskins

Authority MR 80–49 # 14
By bc NLE Date 10/17/83

[1] Hearings before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, 86th Cong., 2d Session, pt. I, p. 328.

[2] Hearings, p. 257.

[3] As earlier indicated, the Oklahoma shelters were constructed primarily for tornado protection.

[4] Hearings, p. 57.

[5] Hearings, p. 61.

[6] At the Planning Board meeting on October 9, 1959, in connection with a discussion of the OCDM Status Report (NSC 5912, Part 4), the OCDM member stated the Director expected that 1,000,000 shelters would be constructed in FY 1960.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Reports on Asian Trip (1961)

Source: The Pentagon Papers, May 23, 1961.


Faced with a deteriorating situation in South Vietnam in the spring of 1961, the recently inaugurated President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) dispatched his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973), on a whirlwind tour of Asia to provide a firsthand report. Johnson indulged in some characteristically overblown rhetoric, once labeling Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963) the "Churchill of Southeast Asia," but the views he expresses here summed up the general American attitude regarding the importance of Vietnam to Southeast Asia and of Diem to South Vietnam. While aware of Diem's deficiencies, Johnson insisted that the South Vietnamese leader should be supported, or the United States might as well "throw in the towel" in Southeast Asia. Johnson's emotional appeal contributed to decisions for a major escalation of the U.S. commitment in late 1961.

… I took to Southeast Asia some basic convictions about the problems faced there. I have come away from the mission there—and to India and Pakistan—with many of those convictions sharpened and deepened by what I saw and learned. I have also reached certain other conclusions which I believe may be of value as guidance for those responsible in formulating policies.

These conclusions are as follows:

  1. The battle against Communism must be joined in Southeast Asia with strength and determination to achieve success there—or the United States, inevitably, must surrender the Pacific and take up our defenses on our own shores. Asian Communism is compromised and contained by the maintenance of free nations on the subcontinent. Without this inhibitory influence, the island outposts—Philippines, Japan, Taiwan—have no security and the vast Pacific becomes a Red Sea.
  2. The struggle is far from lost in Southeast Asia and it is by no means inevitable that it must be lost. In each country it is possible to build a sound structure capable of withstanding and turning the Communist surge. The will to resist—while now the target of subversive attack—is there. The key to what is done by Asians in defense of Southeast Asia freedom is confidence in the United States.
  3. There is no alternative to United States leadership in Southeast Asia. Leadership in individual countries—or the regional leadership and cooperation so appealing to Asians—rests on the knowledge and faith in United States power, will and understanding.
  4. SEATO is not now and probably never will be the answer because of British and French unwillingness to support decisive action. Asian distrust of the British and French is outspoken. Success at Geneva [in the current negotiations on Laos] would prolong SEATO's role. Failure at Geneva would terminate SEATO's meaningfulness. In the latter event, we must be ready with a new approach to collective security in the area.

We should consider an alliance of all the free nations of the Pacific and Asia who are willing to join forces in defense of their freedom. Such an organization should:

  1. have a clear-cut command authority
  2. also devote attention to measures and programs of social justice, housing, land reform, etc.
  3. Asian leaders—at this time—do not want American troops involved in Southeast Asia other than on training missions. American combat troop involvement is not only not required, it is not desirable. Possibly Americans fail to appreciate fully the subtlety that recently-colonial peoples would not look with favor upon governments which invited or accepted the return this soon of Western troops. To the extent that fear of ground troop involvement dominates our political responses to Asia in Congress or elsewhere, it seems most desirable to me to allay those paralyzing fears in confidence, on the strength of the individual statements made by leaders consulted on this trip. This does not minimize or disregard the probability that open attack would bring calls for U.S. combat troops. But the present probability of open attack seems scant, and we might gain much needed flexibility in our policies if the spectre of combat troop commitment could be lessened domestically.
  4. Any help—economic as well as military—we give less developed nations to secure and maintain their freedom must be a part of a mutual effort. These nations cannot be saved by United States help alone. To the extent the Southeast Asian nations are prepared to take the necessary measures to make our aid effective, we can be—and must be—unstinting in our assistance. It would be useful to enunciate more clearly than we have—for the guidance of these young and unsophisticated nations—what we expect or require of them.
  5. In large measure, the greatest danger Southeast Asia offers to nations like the United States is not the momentary threat of Communism itself, rather that danger stems from hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease. We must—whatever strategies we evolve—keep these enemies the point of our attack, and make imaginative use of our scientific and technological capability in such enterprises.
  6. Vietnam and Thailand are the immediate—and most important—trouble spots, critical to the U.S. These areas require the attention of our very best talents—under the very closest Washington direction—on matters economic, military and political.

The basic decision in Southeast Asia is here. We must decide whether to help these countries to the best of our ability or throw in the towel in the area and pull back our defenses to San Francisco and a "Fortress America" concept. More important, we would say to the world in this case that we don't live up to treaties and don't stand by our friends. This is not my concept. I recommend that we move forward promptly with a major effort to help these countries defend themselves. I consider the key here is to get our best MAAG people to control, plan, direct and exact results from our military aid program. In Vietnam and Thailand, we must move forward together.

  1. In Vietnam, Diem is a complex figure beset by many problems. He has admirable qualities, but he is remote from the people, is surrounded by persons less admirable and capable than he. The country can be saved—if we move quickly and wisely. We must decide whether to support Diem—or let Vietnam fall. We must have coordination of purpose in our country team, diplomatic and military. The Saigon Embassy, USIS, MAAG and related operations leave much to be desired. They should be brought up to maximum efficiency. The most important thing is imaginative, creative, American management of our military aid program. The Vietnamese and our MAAG estimate that $50 million of U.S. military and economic assistance will be needed if we decide to support Vietnam. This is the best information available to us at the present time and if it is confirmed by the best Washington military judgment it should be supported. Since you proposed and Diem agreed to a joint economic mission, it should be appointed and proceed forthwith.
  2. In Thailand, the Thais and our own MAAG estimate probably as much is needed as in Vietnam—about $50 million of military and economic assistance. Again, should our best military judgment concur, I believe we should support such a program. [Thai leader] Sarit is more strongly and staunchly pro-Western than many of his people. He is and must be deeply concerned at the consequence to his country of a communist-controlled Laos. If Sarit is to stand firm against neutralism, he must have—soon—concrete evidence to show his people of United States military and economic support. He believes that his armed forces should be increased to 150,000. His Defense Minister is coming to Washington to discuss aid matters.

The fundamental decision required of the United States—and time is of the greatest importance—is whether we are to attempt to meet the challenge of Communist expansion now in Southeast Asia by a major effort in support of the forces of freedom in the area or throw in the towel. This decision must be made in a full realization of the very heavy and continuing costs involved in terms of money, of effort and of United States prestige. It must be made with the knowledge that at some point we may be faced with the further decision of whether we commit major United States forces to the area or cut our losses and withdraw should our other efforts fail. We must remain master in this decision. What we do in Southeast Asia should be part of a rational program to meet the threat we face in the region as a whole. It should include a clear-cut pattern of specific contributions to be expected by each partner according to his ability and resources. I recommend we proceed with a clear-cut and strong program of action.

I believe that the mission—as you conceived it—was a success. I am grateful to the many who labored to make it so.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (1967)


Arab nationalists in surrounding nations have opposed the state of Israel from the time of its creation by the United Nations in 1948. Displaced Palestinians have demanded their own homeland and vowed to destroy Israel. With the world's largest Jewish population, the United States became Israel's most influential supporter and security partner, although public support for both Israel and the United Nations have fluctuated. In the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War, which Israel won, the United Nations proposed a basis for settlement of the long-term conflict in the Middle East, as embodied in UN Resolution 242, reprinted here. The resolution called on Israel to withdraw from areas it had seized in the Six-Day War in return for recognition by the other nations of the region of Israel's right to exist. As events in subsequent decades have proved, the compromise did not bring peace to the Middle East nor among interested parties around the world.

Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East.

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.

Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

  1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
  2. Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; ii. Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;
  3. Affirms further the necessity
  1. For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
  2. For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
  3. For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;
  4. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;
  5. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.

FBI Cable Regarding Racial Disturbances (1968)

Source: Declassified Documents Reference System. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.


This Federal Bureau of Investigation cable to the White House and other high government offices gives an indication of the extent of the its monitoring of student protests and other activities linked to the civil rights movement in the view of the FBI. Although such monitoring had gone on for years, the domestic disturbances of 1968 heightened the level of attention they received. Declassified August 23, 1995.

12:30 PM 12–13–68 CJD
TO: The President 001
TO: The Secretary of State 002
TO: Director, CIA 001
TO: Director, Defense Intelligence Agency 001
TO: Department of the Army 001
TO: Department of the Air Force 001 TO: White House Situation Room, ATT.: Secret Service (PID)
TO: Attorney General (By messenger)
FROM: Director, FBI

selected racial developments and disturbances

St. Louis Police Threatened after Arrest of Four Black Liberators: A source of this bureau who has furnished reliable information in the past advised that members of the Black Liberators, a black extremist organization in St. Louis, Missouri, learned yesterday of the arrest of four members of this organization by the St. Louis Police Department on burglary charges on December 11, 1968. It should be noted that previous arrests of Black Liberators were followed by threatening telephone calls to police and sniping at a St. Louis police precinct house. Police reported yesterday that an anonymous telephonic threat to burn the police ninth precinct house was received and Black Liberators in uniform have been observed in the vicinity of this building. Police have taken special security measures. The source predicted trouble can be expected as a result of these arrests.

Carmichael Not Well Received by Atlanta College Audiences: Stokely Carmichael, prime minister of the extremist Black Panther Party, spoke at three colleges at Atlanta, Georgia, on December 11, 1968. At one predominantly Negro college he discontinued his talk in apparent disgust with the audience, stating they were "acting like children." His reception at another predominantly Negro college was described as not as well received as on a previous occasion. A predominantly white audience at a third college heard his speech with little enthusiasm. All speeches were described as typical of those made by Carmichael in the past.

Striking Students and Police Clash at San Francisco State College: Picketing students at San Francisco State College, San Francisco, California, clashed with police on campus yesterday morning after police had made an arrest. Police thereafter made three more arrests charging three white males with inciting to riot. Some of the 250 picketing students identified themselves as students from Sonoma State College who claimed they were striking in sympathy with San Francisco State College students. A noon rally of about 1,200 individuals, on half of whom were believed to be nonstudents, heard speakers advocate a continuation of this student strike. After the rally, the participants began marching around the campus, were confronted by police, and were dispersed. Twelve arrests were made. Minor vandalism, rock throwing, and traffic disruption occurred. No further incidents were reported on this campus. Striking students have been causing disturbances at this school in recent weeks in an effort to force its closure and thereby pressure school authorities to grant concessions to Negro students and students of other ethnic backgrounds.

Student Racial Group Disrupts College at San Mateo, California: Police reported that yesterday students claiming to be members of the Third World Generation, an organization which reportedly represents black, brown, and yellow students, announced a student strike would commence today at the College of San Mateo at San Mateo, California. Police restrained a student who assaulted the college president. Twenty-five to thirty other students then picked up office furniture and broke glass doors and windows in the vicinity of the college president's office. A teach-in in preparation for the strike today was conducted yesterday afternoon. A fire, started with gasoline in a college building, was put [out] by a fireman before substantial damage occurred. One additional small fire and numerous false fire alarms also were reported during the day. Among the demands being made by the students is that all police on the campus must be disarmed and openly show their identification. The proposed student strike is not only in support of such demands but is also in sympathy [a]nd support of the students striking at San Francisco State College.

Black Students Disrupt Reed College, Portland, Oregon: College sources advised that a group of black students, supported by some white students, known as the "Radical Student Caucus," an ad hoc group, barricaded itself in a building at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, on December 11, 1968, thereby blocking entrance to the president's office, business offices, and some classrooms. Demanding a program of black studies and other racial concessions. Reed College is a private institution of about one thousand three hundred students, thirty-six of whom are Negroes. Disruptive activities by these students continued yesterday as faculty members met throughout the day considering demands made by the black students who at a press conference stated that the barricade will continue until demands are met. Black students have also solicited support from the black community of Portland. According to school sources, the protesting students are considering the occupation of a building on campus housing a nuclear reactor. The reactor has been shut down. Police and college officials are working in close cooperation to prevent any attempt to take over this building. The Atomic Energy Commission and other appropriate agencies have been advised.

Arrest of Negro Causes Disturbance at Miami, Florida: Police reported that a melee developed last night in the Liberty City area of Miami, Florida, when police were attacked by a mob of youths as they arrested a Negro who was part of a group throwing objects at cars driving through the area. Five other youths were arrested and police thereafter dispersed a crowd which had assembled. Prominent Negro leaders thereafter gathered at the Public Safety Department office in Miami to see local officials and further meetings are planned for today.

End and pls hold for acks Confidential
Received Dec 16, 1968

General Wheeler's Report on Tet Offensive to Lyndon B. Johnson (1968)

Source: The Pentagon Papers, February 27, 1968.


After visiting South Vietnam in February 1968, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Earle Wheeler (1908–1975) sought to use the Tet Offensive to do what the military had wanted to do since 1965: mobilize the United States for unlimited war and mount an endthe-war offensive in Vietnam. Describing Tet as a "very near thing," he nevertheless indicated that the United States and South Vietnam had rallied to regain the initiative. Now was the time, he affirmed, to mobilize the reserves, expand U.S. forces in Vietnam, and wage all-out war against a weakened enemy. Wheeler's recommendations forced President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) to launch a full-scale reappraisal of U.S. strategy in Vietnam, but that ultimately led to a decision to end gradual escalation and seek a negotiated settlement.

1 The Chairman, JCS and party visited SVN on 23, 24 and 25 February. This report summarizes the impressions and facts developed through conversations and briefings at MACV and with senior commanders throughout the country.

2. summary

  • The current situation in Vietnam is still developing and fraught with opportunities as well as dangers.
  • There is no question in the mind of MACV that the enemy went all out for a general offensive and general uprising and apparently believed that he would succeed in bringing the war to an early successful conclusion.
  • The enemy failed to achieve his initial objective but is continuing his effort. Although many of his units were badly hurt, the judgement is that he has the will and the capability to continue.
  • Enemy losses have been heavy; he has failed to achieve his prime objectives of mass uprisings and capture of a large number of the capital cities and towns. Morale in enemy units which were badly mauled or where the men were oversold the idea of a decisive victory at TET probably has suffered severely. However, with replacements, his indoctrination system would seem capable of maintaining morale at a generally adequate level. His determination appears to be unshaken.
  • The enemy is operating with relative freedom in the countryside, probably recruiting heavily and no doubt infiltrating NVA units and personnel. His recovery is likely to be rapid; his supplies are adequate; and he is trying to maintain the momentum of his winter-spring offensive.
  • The structure of the GVN held up but its effectiveness has suffered.
  • The RVNAF held up against the initial assault with gratifying, and in a way, surprising strength and fortitude. However, RVNAF is now in a defensive posture around towns and cities and there is concern about how well they will bear up under sustained pressure.
  • The initial attack nearly succeeded in a dozen places, and defeat in those places was only averted by the timely reaction of U.S. forces. In short, it was a very near thing.
  • There is no doubt that the RD Program has suffered a severe set back.
  • RVNAF was not badly hurt physically—they should recover strength and equipment rather quickly (equipment in 2-3 months—strength in 3-6 months). Their problems are more psychological than physical.
  • U.S. forces have lost none of their pre-TET capability.
  • MACV has three principal problems. First, logistic support north of Danang is marginal owing to weather, enemy interdiction and harassment and the massive deployment of U.S. forces into the DMZ/Hue area. Opening Route 1 will alleviate this problem but takes a substantial troop commitment. Second, the defensive posture of ARVN is permitting the VC to make rapid inroads in the formerly pacified countryside. ARVN, in its own words, is in a dilemma as it cannot afford another enemy thrust into the cities and towns and yet if it remains in a defensive posture, against this contingency, the countryside goes by default. MACV is forced to devote much of its troop strength to this problem. Third MACV has been forced to deploy 50% of all U.S. maneuver battalions into I Corps, to meet the threat there, while stripping the rest of the country of adequate reserves. If the enemy synchronizes an attack against Khe Sanh/Hue-Quang Tri with an offensive in the Highlands and around Saigon while keeping the pressure on throughout the remainder of the country, MACV will be hard pressed to meet adequately all threats. Under these circumstances, we must be prepared to accept some reverses.
  • For these reasons, General Westmoreland has asked for a 3 division-15 tactical fighter squadron force. This force would provide him with a theater reserve and an offensive capability which he does not now have.

3. the situation as it stands today

a. Enemy Capabilities:

  1. The enemy has been hurt badly in the populated lowlands, is practically intact elsewhere. He committed over 67,000 combat maneuver forces plus perhaps 25% or 17,000 more impressed men and boys, for a total of about 84,000. He lost 40,000 killed, at least 3,000 captured, and perhaps 5,000 disabled or died of wounds. He had peaked his force total to about 240,000 just before TET, by hard recruiting, infiltration, civilian impressment, and drawdowns on service and guerrilla personnel. So he has lost about one fifth of his total strength. About two-thirds of his trained, organized unit strength can continue offensive action. He is probably infiltrating and recruiting heavily in the countryside while allied forces are securing the urban areas. (Discussions of strengths and recruiting are in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of Enclosure (1)). The enemy has adequate munitions, stockpiled in-country and available through the DMZ, Laos, and Cambodia, to support major attacks and countrywide pressure; food procurement may be a problem. (Discussion is in paragraph 6 Enclosure (1)). Besides strength losses, the enemy now has morale and training problems which currently limit combat effectiveness of VC guerrilla, main and local forces. (Discussions of forces are in paragraphs 2, 5, Enclosure (1)).
  2. I Corps Tactical Zone: Strong enemy forces in the northern two provinces threaten Quanq Tri and Hue cities, and U.S. positions at the DMZ. Two NVA divisions threaten Khe Sanh. Eight enemy battalion equivalents are in the Danang-Hoi An area. Enemy losses in I CTZ have been heavy, with about 13,000 killed; some NVA as well as VC units have been hurt badly. However, NVA replacements in the DMZ area can offset these losses fairly quickly. The enemy has an increased artillery capability at the DMZ, plus some tanks and possibly even a limited air threat in I CTZ.
  3. II Corps Tactical Zone: The 1st NVA Division went virtually unscathed during TET offensive, and represents a strong threat in the western highlands. Seven combat battalion equivalents threaten Dak To. Elsewhere in the highlands, NVA units have been hurt and VC units chopped up badly. On the coast, the 3rd NVA Division had already taken heavy losses just prior to the offensive. The 5th NVA Division, also located on the coast, is not in good shape. Local force strength is about 13,000 killed; some NVA as well as coastal II CTZ had dwindled long before the offensive. The enemy's strength in II CTZ is in the highlands where enemy troops are fresh and supply lines short.
  4. III CTZ: Most of the enemy's units were used in the TET effort, and suffered substantial losses. Probably the only major unit to escape heavy losses was the 7th NVA Division. However, present dispositions give the enemy the continuing capability of attacking in the Saigon area with 10 to 11 combat effective battalion equivalents. His increased movement southward of supporting arms and infiltration of supplies has further developed his capacity for attacks by fire.
  5. IV Corps Tactical Zone: All enemy forces were committed in IV Corps, but losses per total strength were the lightest in the country. The enemy continues to be capable of investing or attacking cities throughout the area.

2. New weapons or tactics:

We may see heavier rockets and tube artillery, additional armor, and the use of aircraft, particularly in the I CTZ. The only new tactic in view is infiltration and investment of cities to create chaos, to demoralize the people, to dis-credit the government, and to tie allied forces to urban security.

b. RVNAF Capabilities:

1. Current Status of RVNAF:

(a) Strength
—As of 31 Dec RVNAF strength was 643,116 (Regular Forces—342,951; RF—151,376; and PF—148,789)

DateAuthPFD% of Strength
31 Dec.112,43596,66786
10 Feb.112,43577,00068.5
15 Feb.112,43583,93574.7
  1. The redeployment of forces has caused major relocations of support forces, logistical activities and supplies.
  2. The short range solutions to the four major areas listed above were: (a) Emergency replacement of major equipment items and ammunition from the CONUS and (b) day-to-day emergency actions and relocation of resources within the theater. In summary, the logistics system in Vietnam has provided adequate support throughout the TET offensive….

d. GVN Strength and Effectiveness:

  1. Psychological—the people in South Vietnam were handed a psychological blow, particularly in the urban areas where the feeling of security had been strong. There is a fear of further attacks.
  2. The structure of the Government was not shattered and continues to function but at greatly reduced effectiveness.
  3. In many places, the RD program has been set back badly. In other places the program was untouched in the initial stage of the offensive. MACV reports that of the 555 RD cadre groups, 278 remain in hamlets, 245 are in district and province towns on security duty, while 32 are unaccounted for. It is not clear as to when, or even whether, it will be possible to return to the RD program in its earlier form. As long as the VC prowl the countryside it will be impossible, in many places, even to tell exactly what has happened to the program.
  4. Refugees—An additional 470,000 refugees were generated during the offensive. A breakdown of refugees is at Enclosure (7). The problem of caring for refugees is part of the larger problem of reconstruction in the cities and towns. It is anticipated that the care and reestablishment of the 250,000 persons or 50,000 family units who have lost their homes will require from GVN sources the expenditure of 500 million piasters for their temporary care and resettlement plus an estimated 30,000 metric tons of rice. From U.S. sources, there is a requirement to supply aluminum and cement for 40,000 refugee families being reestablished under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Refugee self-help program. Additionally, the GVN/Public Works City Rebuilding Plan will require the provision of 400,000 double sheets of aluminum, plus 20,000 tons [words illegible].

4. what does the future hold

  1. Probable Enemy Strategy. (Reference paragraph 7b, Enclosure (1).) We see the enemy pursuing a reinforced offensive to enlarge his control throughout the country and keep pressures on the government and allies. We expect him to maintain strong threats in the DMZ area, at Khe Sanh, in the highlands, and at Saigon, and to attack in force when conditions seem favorable. He is likely to try to gain control of the country's northern provinces. He will continue efforts to encircle cities and province capitals to isolate and disrupt normal activities, and infiltrate them to create chaos. He will seek maximum attrition of RVNAF elements. Against U.S. forces, he will emphasize attacks by fire on airfields and installations, using assaults and ambushes selectively. His central objective continues to be the destruction of the Government of SVN and its armed forces. As a minimum he hopes to seize sufficient territory and gain control of enough people to support establishment of the groups and committees he proposes for participation in an NLF dominated government.
  2. MACV Strategy:
  3. MACV believes that the central thrust of our strategy now must be to defeat the enemy offensive and that if this is done well, the situation overall will be greatly improved over the pre-TET condition.
  4. MACV accepts the fact that its first priority must be the security of Government of Vietnam in Saigon and provincial capitals. MACV describes its objectives as:
  • First, to counter the enemy offensive and to destroy or eject the NVA invasion force in the north.
  • Second, to restore security in the cities and towns.
  • Third, to restore security in the heavily populated areas of the countryside.
  • Fourth, to regain the initiative through offensive operations.

c. Tasks:

  1. Security of Cities and Government. MACV recognizes that U.S. forces will be required to reinforce and support RVNAF in the security of cities, towns and government structure. At this time, 10 U.S. battalions are operating in the environs of Saigon. It is clear that this task will absorb a substantial portion of U.S. forces.
  2. Security in the Countryside. To a large extent the VC now control the countryside. Most of the 54 battalions formerly providing security for pacification are now defending district or province towns. MACV estimates that U.S. forces will be required in a number of places to assist and encourage the Vietnamese Army to leave the cities and towns and reenter the country. This is especially true in the Delta.
  3. Defense of the Borders, the DMZ and Northern Provinces. MACV considers that it must meet the enemy threat in I Corps Tactical Zone and has already deployed there slightly over 50% of all U.S. maneuver battalions. U.S. forces have been thinned out in the highlands, notwithstanding an expected enemy offensive in the early future.
  4. Offensive Operations. Coupling the increased requirement for the defense of the cities and subsequent reentry into the rural areas, and the heavy requirement for defense of the I Corps Zone, MACV does not have adequate forces at this time to resume the offensive in the remainder of the country, nor does it have adequate reserves against the contingency of simultaneous large-scale enemy offensive action throughout the country.

5. force requirements

  1. Forces currently assigned to MACV, plus the residual Program Five forces yet to be delivered, are inadequate in numbers to carry out the strategy and to accomplish the tasks described above in the proper priority. To contend with, and defeat, the new enemy threat, MACV has stated requirements for forces over the 525,000 ceiling imposed by Program Five. The add-on requested totals 206,756 spaces for a new proposed ceiling of 731,756, with all forces being deployed into country by the end of CY 68. Principal forces included in the add-on are three division equivalents, 15 tactical fighter squadrons and augmentation for current Navy programs. MACV desires that these additional forces be delivered in three packages as follows:
  2. Immediate Increment, Priority One: To be deployed by 1 May 68. Major elements include one brigade of the 5th Mechanized Division with a mix of one infantry, one armored and one mechanized battalion; the Fifth Marine Division (less RLT-26); one armored cavalry regiment; eight tactical fighter squadrons; and a groupment of Navy units to augment on going programs.
  3. Immediate Increment, Priority Two: To be deployed as soon as possible but prior to 1 Sept 68. Major elements include the remainder of the 5th Mechanized Division, and four tactical fighter squadrons. It is desirable that the ROK Light Division be deployed within this time frame.
  4. Follow-on Increment: To be deployed by the end of CY 68. Major elements include one infantry division, three tactical fighter squadrons, and units to further augment Navy Programs.
  5. Enclosure (9) treats MACV's force requirements for CY 68 to include troop lists, and service strengths for each of the three packages which comprise the total MACV request.
  6. Those aspects of MACV's CY 68 force requirements recommendations meriting particular consideration are:
  7. Civilianization. Approximately 150,000 Vietnamese and troop contributing nations' civilians are currently employed by MACV components. Program Five contains provisions to replace 12,545 military spaces by civilians during CY 68. MACV is experiencing difficulties with the civilian program because of curfew impositions, disrupted transportation, fear, movement of military units which include civilians, strikes, and prospective mobilization [rest illegible].

War Powers Resolution (1973)


In 1973, in a bold response to more than a quarter century of increasing presidential power, including over the long-term commitment of the American military, Congress passed—by overriding the veto of President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994)—the War Powers Resolution, also known as the War Powers Act. The resolution had its strongest support among critics of the Vietnam War, but moderates in both the Republican and Democratic parties also voted for it. Support for the measure stemmed from the fact that the Vietnam War was, with the Korean War (1950–1953), the second major American military engagement of the twentieth century that was not accompanied by an official declaration of war by Congress. According to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. However, by appropriating money for the prosecution of two wars, Congress had effectively allowed presidents to carry out extensive military operations without a formal declaration.

The War Powers Act sets a sixty-day limit on presidential commitment of troops to hostilities abroad or into situations where hostilities appear imminent, unless Congress specifically authorizes continued action. The measure also provides an additional thirty days in order to withdraw troops safely. Presidents ever since have objected to the measure on the grounds that it conflicts with the executive's constitutional role as commander in chief. Yet they have found ways to accommodate it or get around it without directly challenging it.

House Joint Resolution No. 542 ("War Powers Resolution")

Public Law 93-148 November 7, 1973

Joint Resolution

Concerning the war powers of Congress and the President

Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled

Section 1: This joint resolution may be cited as the "War Powers Resolution".

purpose and policy

Section 2: (a) It is the purpose of this joint resolution to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States and insure that the collective judgement of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicate by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.

  1. Under article I, section 8, of the Constitution, it is specifically provided that the Congress shall have the power to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution, not only its own powers but also all other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.
  2. The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.


Section 3: The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.


Section 4: (a) In the absence of a declaration of war, in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced—:

  1. into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances;
  2. into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces; or
  3. in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation; the president shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, in writing, setting forth—
  1. the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United States Armed Forces;
  2. the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place; and
  3. the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.
  4. The President shall provide such other information as the Congress may request in the fulfillment of its constitutional responsibilities with respect to committing the Nation to war and to the use of United States Armed Forces abroad
  5. Whenever United States Armed Forces are introduced into hostilities or into any situation described in subsection (a) of this section, the President shall, so long as such armed forces continue to be engaged in such hostilities or situation, report to the Congress periodically on the status of such hostilities or situation as well as on the scope and duration of such hostilities or situation, but in no event shall he report to the Congress less often than once every six months.

congressional action

Section 5: (a) Each report submitted pursuant to section 4(a)(1) shall be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate on the same calendar day. Each report so transmitted shall be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate for appropriate action. If, when the report is transmitted, the Congress has adjourned sine die or has adjourned for any period in excess of three calendar days, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate, if they deem it advisable (or if petitioned by at least 30 percent of the membership of their respective Houses) shall jointly request the President to convene Congress in order that it may consider the report and take appropriate action pursuant to this section.

  1. Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 4(a)(1), whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of Untied States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Such sixty-day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.
  2. Notwithstanding subsection (b), at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.

congressional priority procedures for joint resolution or bill

Section 6: (a) Any joint resolution or bill introduced pursuant to section 5(b) at least thirty calendar days before the expiration of the sixty-day period specified in such section shall be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives or the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, as the case may be, and such committee shall report one such joint resolution or bill, together with its recommendations, not later than twenty-four calendar days before the expiration of the sixty-day period specified in such section, unless such House shall otherwise determine by the yeas and nays.

  1. Any joint resolution or bill so reported shall become the pending business of the House in question (in the case of the Senate the time for debate shall be equally divided between the proponents and the opponents), and shall be voted on within three calendar days thereafter, unless such House shall otherwise determine by yeas and nays.
  2. Such a joint resolution or bill passed by one House shall be referred to the committee of the other House named in subsection (a) and shall be reported out not later than fourteen calendar days before the expiration of the sixty-day period specified in section 5(b). The joint resolution or bill so reported shall become the pending business of the House in question and shall be voted on within three calendar days after it has been reported, unless such House shall otherwise determine by yeas and nays.
  3. In the case of any disagreement between the two Houses of Congress with respect to a joint resolution or bill passed by both Houses, conferees shall be promptly appointed and the committee of conference shall make and file a report with respect to such resolution or bill not later than four calendar days before the expiration of the sixty-day period specified in section 5(b). In the event the conferees are unable to agree within 48 hours, they shall report back to their respective Houses in disagreement. Notwithstanding any rule in either House concerning the printing of conference reports in the Record or concerning any delay in the consideration of such reports, such report shall be acted on by both Houses not later than the expiration of such sixty-day period.

congressional priority procedures for concurrent resolution

Section 7: (a) Any concurrent resolution introduced pursuant to section 5(b) at least thirty calendar days before the expiration of the sixty-day period specified in such section shall be referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives or the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, as the case may be, and one such concurrent resolution shall be reported out by such committee together with its recommendations within fifteen calendar days, unless such House shall otherwise determine by the yeas and nays.

  1. Any concurrent resolution so reported shall become the pending business of the House in question (in the case of the Senate the time for debate shall be equally divided between the proponents and the opponents), and shall be voted on within three calendar days thereafter, unless such House shall otherwise determine by yeas and nays.
  2. Such a concurrent resolution passed by one House shall be referred to the committee of the other House named in subsection (a) and shall be reported out by such committee together with its recommendations within fifteen calendar days and shall thereupon become the pending business of such House and shall be voted on within three calendar days after it has been reported, unless such House shall otherwise determine by yeas and nays.
  3. In the case of any disagreement between the two Houses of Congress with respect to a concurrent resolution passed by both Houses, conferees shall be promptly appointed and the committee of conference shall make and file a report with respect to such concurrent resolution within six calendar days after the legislation is referred to the committee of conference. Notwithstanding any rule in either House concerning the printing of conference reports in the Record or concerning any delay in the consideration of such reports, such report shall be acted on by both Houses not later than six calendar days after the conference report is filed. In the event the conferees are unable to agree within 48 hours, they shall report back to their respective Houses in disagreement.

interpretation of joint resolution

Setion 8: (a) Authority to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations wherein involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances shall not be inferred—

  1. from any provision of law (whether or not in effect before the date of the enactment of this joint resolution), including any provision contained in any appropriation Act, unless such provision specifically authorizes the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into such situations and stating that it is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of this joint resolution; or
  2. from any treaty heretofore or hereafter ratified unless such treaty is implemented by legislation specifically authorizing the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into such situations and stating that it is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of this joint resolution.
  3. Nothing in this joint resolution shall be construed to require any further specific statutory authorization to permit members of United States Armed Forces to participate jointly with members of the armed forces of one or more foreign countries in the headquarters operations of high-level military commands which were established prior to the date of enactment of this joint resolution and pursuant to the United Nations Charter or any treaty ratified by the United States prior to such date.
  4. For purposes of this joint resolution, the term "introduction of United States Armed Forces" includes the assignment of member of such armed forces to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged, in hostilities.
  5. Nothing in this joint resolution—
  1. is intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President, or the provision of existing treaties; or
  2. shall be construed as granting any authority to the President with respect to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations wherein involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances which authority he would not have had in the absence of this joint resolution.

Separability Clause Section 9: If any provision of this joint resolution or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the joint resolution and the application of such provision to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.

effective date

Section 10: This joint resolution shall take effect on the date of its enactment.

CARL ALBERT, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

JAMES O. EASTLAND, President of the Senate pro tempore.


The House of Representatives having proceeded to reconsider the resolution (H. J. Res 542) entitled "Joint resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President", returned by the President of the United States with his objections, to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, it was

Resolved, That the said resolution pass, two-thirds of the House of Representatives agreeing to pass the same. Attest: W. PAT JENNINGS, Clerk.

I certify that this Joint Resolution originated in the House of Representatives. W. PAT JENNINGS, Clerk.

In the Senate of the United States, November 7, 1973

The Senate having proceeded to reconsider the joint resolution (H. J. Res. 542) entitled "Joint resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President", returned by the President of the United States with his objections to the House of Representatives, in which it originate, it was

Resolved, That the said joint resolution pass, two-thirds of the Senators present having voted in the affirmative. Attest: FRANCIS R. VALEO, Secretary.

CIA Funds to Support Hmong Refugees (1976)

Source: Declassified Documents Reference System. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.


Classified "secret" at the time it was written, this White House memo was declassified June 14, 2000. It provides the rationale for the U.S. support of Hmong refugees.

The White House
July 10, 1976
The Honorable George Bush
Director of Central Intelligence
SUBJECT: Support by CIA in Thailand of Meo tribesmen who were Refugees from Laos

On September 22, 1975, I approved transfer of AID funds to the State Department to assist overtly the United Nations and the Thai government in supporting in Thailand the Meo tribesmen who were refugees from Laos. I also authorized at that time the CIA to maintain on a standby basis the capability to provide support for such refugees pending adequate operation of the authorized plan for overt assistance and to exercise this capability if the American Ambassador at Bangkok approved.

Based on the latter authorization, OMB approved expenditures by the CIA [blocked out] for the period July 1, 1975, to the end of the calendar year, and subsequently an additional [blocked out] for the period January 1 to April 1, 1976, because of continued delays in getting underway support of the refugees under the UN-Thai program. At the time of each of these approvals, OMB wrote the Senate and House Appropriations Committees informing them of the action taken.

These expenditures were the result of a long continuing program by the CIA to support non-Communist elements in Laos and were necessitated by events in May 1975 when democratic resistance collapsed and the Communists took control of the Laotian government, forcing flight of the Meo tribesmen from Laos into Thailand.

I had previously authorized the Laotian phase of this program, [blocked out]

[blocked out] I did not expect [blocked out] the change of government in Laos which occurred in May of 1975, but inherent in the conduct of any operations of this sort is the possibility of having to withdraw from positive endeavors and to protect the human and physical assets which had been committed to the operation. Support of any elements in a foreign country to work in the interests of the national security of the United States and in opposition to forces in that foreign country which are working against our interests necessitates a continuity of operation to try saving those elements from loss or annihilation because of their prior efforts in behalf of our interests whenever or however they become jeopardized. Otherwise, it would be difficult to enlist the efforts of such elements in the first place; and it would prejudice similar operations elsewhere in the future if it should happen and become known that we as a nation precipitously abandon the support of people who help our interests once they have lost their immediate effectiveness. When I made the finding [blocked out] I included language related to all operations then approved as follows:

In addition, I also find important to the national security of the United States the support necessary to the tasks and operations covered by this finding.

The purpose of this general finding was to cover activities by the CIA necessarily related to the operations as specifically described and authorized, and I consider the required support of the Meo tribesmen even after the end of their involvement against the Communist forces in Laos to have been covered by this general finding.

The Director of Central Intelligence has heretofore been designated by me to be responsible for making the required reports to the appropriate Committees of the House and Senate on the description and scope of each operation covered by Section 662 of the aforementioned act. If you determine that the operation [blocked out] then I request that you complete such reporting and advise me accordingly.

Photocopy from Gerald R. Ford Library

Report on the Iran Contra Affair (1987)


In 1985, high-ranking officials in the Ronald Reagan administration began selling arms clandestinely to Iran for its war with America-supported Iraq. The money from these arms sales was laundered in Israel and diverted to the Contras, rebels fighting the elected communist government in Nicaragua. The U.S. officials concealed knowledge of the arms sales and, when questioned, shredded and destroyed key evidence. The scandal marred the Reagan and George Bush administrations.

The Report on the Iran-Contra Affair, the result of Congressional hearings, is emphatic in its denunciation of these activities, claiming the "common ingredients of the Iran and Contra policies were secrecy, deception, and disdain for the law." The report strongly states that it is unconstitutional for foreign policy decisions to be made by the president alone. Only "policies formed through consultation and the democratic process," will eventually succeed.

By Executive Order and National Security Decision Directive issued by President Reagan, all covert operations must be approved by the President personally and in writing. By. statute, Congress must be notified about each covert action. The funds used for such actions, like all government funds, must be strictly accounted for.

The covert action directed by [Lt. Col. Oliver] North, however, was not approved by the President in writing. Congress was not notified about it. And the funds to support it were never accounted for. In short, the operation functioned without any of the accountability required of Government activities. It was an evasion of the Constitution's most basic check on Executive action—the power of the Congress to grant or deny funding for Government programs… .

… [Robert] McFarlane [National Security Advisor] told Congressional Committees that he had no knowledge of contributions made by a foreign country, Country 2, to the Contras, when in fact McFarlane and the President had discussed and welcomed $32 million in contributions from that country. In addition, [Eliot] Abrams initially concealed from Congress—in testimony given to several Committees—that he had successfully solicited a contribution of $10 million from Brunei.

North conceded at the Committees' public hearings that he had participated in making statements to Congress that were "false," "misleading," "evasive and wrong," …

the coverup

The sale of arms to Iran was a "significant anticipated intelligence activity." By law, such an activity must be reported to Congress "in a timely fashion" pursuant to Section 501 of the National Security Act. If the proposal to sell arms to Iran had been reported, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees would likely have joined Secretaries Shultz and Weinberger in objecting to this initiative. But [John] Poindexter [new National Security Advisor] recommended—and the President decided—not to report the Iran initiative to Congress.

Indeed, the Administration went to considerable lengths to avoid notifying Congress.

… After the disclosure of the Iran arms sales on November 3, 1986, the American public was still not told the facts. The President sought to avoid any comment on the ground that it might jeopardize the chance of securing the remaining hostages' release. But it was impossible to remain silent, and inaccurate statements followed.

In his first public statement on the subject on November 6, 1986, the President said that the reports concerning the arms sales had "no foundation." A week later, on November 13, the President conceded that the United States had sold arms, but branded as "utterly false" allegations that the sales were in return for the release of the hostages. The President also maintained that there had been no violations of Federal law… .

The common ingredients of the Iran and Contra policies were secrecy, deception, and disdain for the law. A small group of senior officials believed that they alone knew what was right. They viewed knowledge of their actions by others in the Government as a threat to their objectives. They told neither the Secretary of State, the Congress, nor the American people of their actions. When exposure was threatened, they destroyed official documents and lied to Cabinet officials, to the public, and to elected representatives in Congress. They testified that they even withheld key facts from the President.

The United States Constitution specifies the process by which laws and policy are to be made and executed. Constitutional process is the essence of our democracy, and our democratic form of Government is the basis of our strength. Time and again we have learned that a flawed process leads to bad results, and that a lawless process leads to worse.

policy contradictions and failures

The Administration's departure from democratic processes created the conditions for policy failure and led to contradictions which undermined the credibility of the United States.

The United States simultaneously pursued two contradictory foreign policies—a public one and a secret one:

  1. The public policy was not to make any concessions for the release of hostages lest such concessions encourage more hostage-taking. At the same time, the United States was secretly trading weapons to get the hostages back.
  2. The public policy was to ban arms shipments to Iran and to exhort other Governments to observe this embargo. At the same time, the United States was secretly selling sophisticated missiles to Iran and promising more.
  3. The public policy was to improve relations with Iraq. At the same time, the United States secretly shared military intelligence on Iraq with Iran, and North told the Iranians, in contradiction to United States policy, that the United States would help promote the overthrow of the Iraqi head of government….
  4. The public policy was to observe the "letter and spirit" of the Boland Amendment's proscriptions against military or paramilitary assistance to the Contras. At the same time, the NSC staff was secretly assuming direction and funding of the Contras' military effort.
  5. The public policy, embodied in agreements signed by [C.I.A.] Director [William] Casey, was for the Administration to consult with the Congressional oversight committees about covert activities in a "new spirit of frankness and cooperation." At the same time, the CIA and the White House were secretly withholding from those Committees all information concerning the Iran initiative and the Contra support network.
  6. The public policy, embodied in Executive Order 12333, was to conduct covert operations solely through the CIA or other organs of the intelligence community specifically authorized by the President. At the same time, although the NSC was not so authorized, the NSC staff secretly became operational and used private, non-accountable agents to engage in covert activities….


There was confusion and disarray at the highest levels of Government… .

  • One National Security Adviser understood that the Boland Amendment applied to the NSC; another thought it did not. Neither sought a legal opinion on the question.
  • The President incorrectly assured the American people that the NSC staff was adhering to the law and that the Government was not connected to the Hasenfus airplane. His staff was in fact conducting a "full service" covert operation to support the Contras which they believed he had authorized….

dishonesty and secrecy

The Iran-Contra Affair was characterized by pervasive dishonesty and inordinate secrecy.

North admitted that he and other officials lied repeatedly to Congress and to the American people about the Contra covert action and Iran arms sales, and that he altered and destroyed official documents. North's testimony demonstrates that he also lied to members of the Executive branch, including the Attorney General and officials of the State Department, CIA and NSC.

Secrecy became an obsession. Congress was never informed of the Iran or the Contra covert actions, notwithstanding the requirement in the law that Congress be notified of all covert actions in a "timely fashion."

Poindexter said that Donald Regan, the President's Chief of Staff, was not told of the NSC staff's fundraising activities because he might reveal it to the press. Secretary Shultz objected to third-country solicitation in 1984 shortly before the Boland Amendment was adopted; accordingly, he was not told that, in the same time period, the National Security Adviser had accepted an $8 million contribution from Country 2—even though the State Department had prime responsibility for dealings with that country. Nor was the Secretary of State told by the President in February 1985 that the same country had pledged another $24 million—even though the President briefed the Secretary of State on his meeting with the head of state at which the pledge was made. Poindexter asked North to keep secrets from Casey; Casey, North, and Poindexter agreed to keep secrets from Schultz.

Poindexter and North cited fear of leaks as a justification for these practices. But the need to prevent public disclosure cannot justify the deception practiced upon Members of Congress and Executive branch officials by those who knew of the arms sales to Iran and to the Contra support network… .

…North ordered the intelligence agencies not to disseminate intelligence on the Iran initiative to the Secretaries of State and Defense. Poindexter told the Secretary of state in May 1986 that the Iran initiative was over, at the very time the McFarlane mission to Tehran was being launched. Poindexter also concealed from Cabinet officials the remarkable nine-point agreement negotiated by Hakim with the Second Channel. North assured the FBI liaison to the NSC as late as November 1986 that the United States was not bargaining for the release of hostages but seizing terrorits to exchange for hostages—a complete fabrication. The lies, omissions, shredding, attempts to rewrite history—all continued, even after the President authorized the Attorney General to find out the facts.

It was not operational security that motivated such conduct—not when our own Government was the victim. Rather, the NSC staff feared, correctly, that any disclosure to Congress or the Cabinet of the arms-for-hostages and arms-for-profit activities would produce a storm of outrage.

As with Iran, Congress was misled about the NSC staff's support for the Contras during the period of the Boland Amendment, although the role of the NSC staff was not secret to others. North testified that his operation was well known to the press in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua. It was not a secret from Nicaragua's neighbors, with whom the NSC staff communicated throughout the period. It was not a secret from the third countries—including a totalitarian state—from whom the NSC staff sought arms or funds. It was not a secret from the private resupply network which North recruited and supervised… .


The NSC staff turned to private parties and third countries to do the Government's business. Funds denied by Congress were obtained by the Administration from third countries and private citizens. Activities normally conducted by the professional intelligence services—which are accountable to Congress—were turned over to [Retired Air Force Major General Richard] Secord and [Albert] Hakim [involved in Iranian arms negotiations, with Secord].

The solicitation of foreign funds by an Administration to pursue foreign policy goals rejected by Congress is dangerous and improper. Such solicitations, when done secretly and without Congressional authorization, create a risk that the foreign country will expect and demand something in return. McFarlane testified that "any responsible official has an obligation to acknowledge that every country in the world will see benefit to itself by ingratiating itself to the United States." North, in fact, proposed rewarding a Central American country with foreign assistance funds for facilitating arms shipments to the Contras. And Secord, who had once been in charge of the U.S. Air Force's foreign military sales, said "where there is a quid, there is a quo."

Moreover, under the Constitution only Congress can provide funds for the Executive branch. The Framers intended Congress's "power of the purse" to be one of the principal checks on Executive action. It was designed, among other things, to prevent the Executive from involving this country unilaterally in a foreign conflict. The Constitutional plan does not prohibit a President from asking a foreign state, or anyone else, to contribute funds to a third party. But it does prohibit such solicitation where the United States exercises control over their receipt and expenditure. By circumventing Congress's power of the purse through third-country and private contributions to the Contras, the Administration under-mined a cardinal principle of the Constitution.

Further, by turning to private citizens, the NSC staff jeopardized its own objectives. Sensitive negotiations were conducted by parties with little experience in diplomacy, and with financial interests of their own. The diplomatic aspect of the mission failed—the United States today has no long-term relationship with Iran and no fewer hostages in captivity… .

Covert operations of this Government should only be directed and conducted by the trained professional services that are accountable to the President and Congress. Such operations should never be delegated, as they were here, to private citizens in order to evade Governmental restrictions.

lack of accountability

The confusion, deception, and privatization which marked the lran-Contra Affair were the inevitable products of an attempt to avoid accountability. Congress, the Cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were denied information and excluded from the decision-making process. Democratic procedures were disregarded.

Officials who make public policy must be accountable to the public. But the public cannot hold officials accountable for policies of which the public is unaware… .

Congress was told almost nothing—and what it was told was false.

Deniability replaced accountability. Thus, Poindexter justified his decision not to inform the President of the diversion on the ground that he wanted to give the President "deniability." Poindexter said he wanted to shield the President from political embarrassment if the diversion became public.

This kind of thinking is inconsistent with democratic governance. "Plausible denial," an accepted concept in intelligence activities, means structuring an authorized covert operation so that, if discovered by the party against whom it is directed, United States involvement may plausibly be denied. That is a legitimate feature of authorized covert operations. In no circumstance, however, does "plausible denial" mean structuring an operation so that it may be concealed from—or denied to—the highest elected officials of the United States Government itself.

The very premise of democracy is that "we the people" are entitled to make our own choices on fundamental policies. But freedom of choice is illusory if policies are kept, not only from the public, but from its elected representatives.

… In the Iran-Contra Affair, secrecy was used to justify lies to Congress, the Attorney General, other Cabinet officers, and the CIA. It was used not as a shield against our adversaries, but as a weapon against our own democratic institutions… .

The NSC was created to provide candid and comprehensive advice to the President. It is the judgment of these Committees that the NSC staff should never again engage in covert operations.

disdain for law

In the Iran-Contra Affair, officials viewed the law not as setting boundaries for their actions, but raising impediments to their goals. When the goals and the law collided, the law gave way:

  1. The covert program of support for the Contras evaded the Constitution's most significant check on Executive power: the President can spend funds on a program only if he can convince Congress to appropriate the money.

When Congress enacted the Boland Amendment, cutting off funds for the war in Nicaragua, Administration officials raised funds for the Contras from other sources—foreign Governments, the Iran arms sales, and private individuals; and the NSC staff controlled the expenditures of these funds through power over the Enterprise. Conducting the covert program in Nicaragua with funding from the sale of U.S. Government property and contributions raised by Government officials was a flagrant violation of the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution.

  1. In addition, the covert program of support for the Contras was an evasion of the letter and spirit of the Boland Amendment. The President made it clear that while he opposed restrictions on military or paramilitary assistance to the Contras, he recognized that compliance with the law was not optional. "[W]hat I might personally wish or what our Government might wish still would not justify us violating the law of the land," he said in 1983.

A year later, members of the NSC staff were devising ways to continue support and direction of Contra activities during the period of the Boland Amendment. What was previously done by the CIA—and now prohibited by the Boland Amendment—would be done instead by the NSC staff.

The President set the stage by welcoming a huge donation for the Contras from a foreign Government—a contribution clearly intended to keep the Contras in the field while U.S. aid was barred. The NSC staff thereafter solicited other foreign Governments for military aid, facilitated the efforts of U.S. fundraisers to provide lethal assistance to the Contras, and ultimately developed and directed a private network that conducted, in North's words, a "full-service covert operation" in support of the Contras.

This could not have been more contrary to the intent of the Boland legislation… .

Numerous other laws were disregarded:

  1. North's full-service covert operation was a "significant anticipated intelligence activity" required to be disclosed to the Intelligence Committees of Congress under Section 501 of the National Security Act. No such disclosure was made.
  2. By Executive order, a covert operation requires a personal determination by the President before it can be conducted by an agency other than the CIA. It requires a written Finding before any agency can carry it out. In the case of North's full-service covert operation in support of the Contras, there was no such personal determination and no such Finding. In fact, the President disclaims any knowledge of this covert action.
  3. False statements to Congress are felonies if made with knowledge and intent. Several Administration officials gave statements denying NSC staff activities in support of the Contras which North later described in his testimony as "false," and "misleading, evasive, and wrong."
  4. The application of proceeds from U.S. arms sales for the benefit of the Contra war effort violated the Boland Amendment's ban on U.S. military aid to the Contras and constituted a misappropriation of Government funds derived from the transfer of U.S. property….

congress and the president

The Constitution of the United States gives important powers to both the President and the Congress in the making of foreign policy… .

Yet, in the Iran-Contra Affair, Administration officials holding no elected office repeatedly evidenced dis-respect for Congress's efforts to perform its Constitutional oversight role in foreign policy:

  • Poindexter testified, referring to his efforts to keep the covert action in support of the Contras from Congress: "I simply did not want any outside interference."
  • North testified: "I didn't want to tell Congress anything" about this covert action.
  • [Elliot] Abrams [Assistant Secretary of State] acknowledged in his testimony that, unless Members of Congressional Committees asked "exactly the right question, using exactly the right words, they weren't going to get the right answers," regarding solicitation of third-countries for Contra support.
  • And numerous other officials made false statements to, and misled, the Congress.

Several witnesses at the hearings stated or implied that foreign policy should be left solely to the President to do as he chooses, arguing that shared powers have no place in a dangerous world. But the theory of our Constitution is the opposite: policies formed through consultation and the democratic process are better and wiser than those formed without it. Circumvention of Congress is self-defeating, for no foreign policy can succeed without the bipartisan support of Congress… .

… Democratic government is not possible without trust between the branches of government and between the government and the people. Sometimes that trust is misplaced and the system falters. But for officials to work outside the system because it does not produce the results they seek is a prescription for failure.

who was responsible?

Who was responsible for the Iran-Contra Affair?…

At the operational level, the central figure in the Iran-Contra Affair was Lt. Col. North, who coordinated all of the activities and was involved in all aspects of the secret operations. North, however, did not act alone.

North's conduct had the express approval of Admiral John Poindexter, first as Deputy National Security Adviser and then as National Security Adviser. North also had at least the tacit support of Robert McFarlane, who served as National Security Adviser until December 1985.

In addition, for reasons cited earlier, we believe that the late Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, encouraged North, gave him direction, and promoted the concept of an extra-legal covert organization… .

The Attorney General [Edwin Meese] recognized on November 21, 1986, the need for an inquiry. His staff was responsible for finding the diversion memorandum, which the Attorney General promptly made public. But as described earlier, his fact-finding inquiry departed from standard investigative techniques. The Attorney General saw Director Casey hours after the Attorney General learned of the diversion memorandum, yet he testified that he never asked Casey about the diversion. He waited two days to speak to Poindexter, North's superior, and then did not ask him what the President knew. He waited too long to seal North's offices. These lapses placed a cloud over the Attorney General's investigation… .

Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for the events in the Iran-Contra Affair must rest with the President. If the President did not know what his National Security Advisers were doing, he should have. It is his responsibility to communicate unambiguously to his subordinates that they must keep him advised of important actions they take for the Administration. The Constitution requires the President to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." This charge encompasses a responsibility to leave the members of his Administration in no doubt that the rule of law governs… .

Several of the President's advisers pursued a covert action to support the Contras in disregard of the Boland Amendment and of several statutes and Executive orders requiring Congressional notification. Several of these same advisers lied, shredded documents, and covered up their actions. These facts have been on the public record for months. The actions of those individuals do not comport with the notion of a country guided by the rule of law. But the President has yet to condemn their conduct.

The President himself told the public that the U.S. Government had no connection to the Hasenfus airplane. [Eugene Hasenfus, an American mercenary, had been captured when his plane, part of a C.I.A.-supported supply network, had been shot down.] He told the public that early reports of arms sales for hostages had "no foundation." He told the public that the United States had not traded arms for hostages. He told the public that the United States had not condoned the arms sales by Israel to Iran, when in fact he had approved them and signed a Finding, later destroyed by Poindexter, recording his approval. All of these statements by the President were wrong.

Thus, the question whether the President knew of the diversion is not conclusive on the issue of his responsibility. The President created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the President's policies.

This same environment enabled a secretary [Fawn Hall] who shredded, smuggled, and altered documents to tell the Committees that "sometimes you have to go above the written law," and it enabled Admiral Poindexter to testify that "frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law." It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC staff and their private agents could lecture the Committees that a "rightful cause" justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just, and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to Administration policy. What may aptly be called the "cabal of the zealots" was in charge.

In a Constitutional democracy, it is not true, as one official maintained, that "when you take the King's shilling, you do the King's bidding." The idea of monarchy was rejected here 200 years ago, and since then, the law—not any official or ideology—has been paramount. For not instilling this precept in his staff, for failing to take care that the law reigned supreme, the President bears the responsibility.

Fifty years ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed: "Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy."

The Iran-Contra Affair resulted from a failure to heed this message.