Foreign Relations of the United States
May - July 1960 : The U-2 Airplane Incident
Memorandum of Discussion at the 444th Meeting of the National Security Council

Memorandum of Discussion at the 444th Meeting of the National Security Council

Washington, May 9, 1960.

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Soviet Destruction of a U.S. U - 2 Reconnaissance Plane

The President opened the meeting by remarking that the U - 2 plane incident had produced a great storm. Allen Dulles was meeting with Congressional leaders in a session called by Secretary Herter to explain our reconnaissance activities fully but without apology.(1) The Department of State would issue this afternoon a comparable public statement which he (the President) had made less defensive in tone.(2) Reconnaissance activity had been going on for years; consequently it was inevitable that it would be revealed sooner or later. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of Central Intelligence and the scientific community had not only agreed to reconnaissance activity of this type but had insisted upon it. The President thought that the question was now posed as to the action we would take in the future in this field; in any event, the problem would have to be reviewed.

The President cautioned that the members of the Council would probably be accosted by newspapermen when they left the meeting. He believed that the participants in the meeting should have nothing whatsoever to say to the press and only the Department of State should issue public statements. If members of the Council made statements to the press, these statements would be compared and if there were any differences between them, the differences would be expanded into a big news story. Our reconnaissance was discovered and we would just have to endure the storm and say as little as possible. The President then remarked that if we discovered a Soviet spy, we would have to expose all our intelligence sources and methods in order to obtain a conviction. Even if convicted, a spy would probably be sentenced to only six years and would be replaced by six more spies. In this situation, about all the FBI can do is keep spies under surveillance.

The Attorney General said it was very difficult to prosecute spies in this country because most of them have diplomatic immunity, being attached either to Soviet Bloc embassies or to the UN. Mr. J. Edgar Hoover(3) has been compiling a list of Soviet Bloc spy cases during the last few years. At least sixteen Soviet Bloc diplomats have been dismissed from the U.S. on grounds of persona non grata. Mr. Rogers recalled(4) that in the Abel case,(5) a spy with no diplomatic immunity had received a twenty year sentence.

The President said he hoped he would not be allowed to forget about the Abel case and the twenty year sentence. However, he did not mean to say that the law enforcement agencies were not alert. The difficulty in prosecuting spies in the U.S. lay in their diplomatic protection, as the Attorney General had said, and also in the rules of evidence in our courts. Moreover, some judges were inclined to think that spying is not too heinous a crime.

The Attorney General said an attache of the Czech Embassy had recently been discovered taking pictures of military installations from commercial planes.

[1 paragraph (15-1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The National Security Council(6)

Noted and discussed a statement by the President on the subject, and the admonition by the President that all Executive Branch officials should refrain from any public or private comment upon this subject, except for authorized statements by the Department of State.

[Here follow agenda items 2 and 3. For text of the discussion of item 2, "Preparation for the Summit Meeting," see volume IX, Document 149.]

4. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security

Mr. Amory(7) said he would mention two relatively brief items. The first item concerned the factors motivating Khrushchev in exploiting the U - 2 reconnaissance plane incident. Khrushchev might have been motivated by the following: (1) deep conviction, which appears common among Soviet leaders, that secrecy is a major asset of the USSR; (2) anxiety with respect to any violation of Soviet territory; (3) the possibility that the Soviet military hierarchy was unhappy over the demobilization measures recently announced by Khrushchev(8) and has consequently insisted that Khrushchev take a strong stand in the plane case; (4) a possible desire to embarrass the President at the outset of the Summit Conference, a tactic which would be consistent with the past performance of the Soviets in trying to put the West on the defensive and exploit any chinks in the alliance just before international conferences. Mr. Amory said the opinion had been expressed in some quarters also that Khrushchev's exploitation of the plane incident had resulted from his discouragement at the prospects of the Summit Conference. Under this interpretation Khrushchev's tactics were primarily moves in preparation for the failure of the Summit Conference designed to put the onus for failure on the U.S. Mr. Amory did not believe there was serious opposition to Khrushchev's policies within the USSR, certainly not within his immediate entourage. However, certain economic difficulties existed in the USSR and opposition to Khrushchev's basic policy of detente had been manifested by the Chinese Communists and the East Germans.

[Here follow discussion of other subjects, including Vershinin's forthcoming visit (see footnote 4, Document 148), and the remaining agenda items.]

Marion W. Boggs

Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Boggs on May 13.

(1) Herter and Dulles briefed a group of 18 congressional leaders from both houses on the U - 2 in the early afternoon of May 9. No transcript of this session has been found; according to one report, none was made. (David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The U - 2 Affair (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 116) Back

(2) Regarding Secretary Herter's May 9 statement, see Document 147. Back

(3) Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Back

(4) William P. Rogers, Attorney General. Back

(5) Rudolf Ivanovich Abel was convicted of conducting espionage for the Soviet Union in the United States in October 1957. He and U - 2 pilot Powers were ultimately exchanged as prisoners by the United States and Soviet Union in 1962. Back

(6) The paragraph that follows constitutes NSC Action No. 2231, approved by the President on May 13. (Department of State, S/S - NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) Back

(7) Robert Amory, Jr., Deputy Director for Intelligence, CIA. Back

(8) Regarding Khrushchev's announcement of Soviet troop reductions to the Supreme Soviet on January 14, see Document 140. Back

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.