RESEARCH DOCUMENT /// The Shevardnadze File : Late Soviet Foreign Minister Helped End the Cold War

Politburo Notes and Memcons Detail Surprising Rise, "New Thinking" Candor, Diplomatic Partnerships, and Sense of Missed Opportunities

Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze, In Memoriam

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 481

Posted July 24, 2014

Compiled and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv

Washington, DC, July 24, 2014 –Former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who passed away on July 7, brought a new diplomatic style and candor to bear in changing U.S.-Soviet relations in the late 1980s and ending the Cold War, according to Soviet and U.S. declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

The posting includes the 1985 Politburo minutes of Shevardnadze’s surprise selection as foreign minister, contrasted with the behind-the-scenes account from senior Central Committee official Anatoly Chernyaev in his diary. The e-book also includes the transcripts of Shevardnadze’s remarkable first conversations with his American counterparts, George Shultz (in the Reagan administration) and James Baker (in the George H.W. Bush administration); other memcons featuring Shevardnadze’s leading role in summit meetings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and American presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Shevardnadze’s last conversation with Bush before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in the Oval Office, September 23, 1988. (photographer unknown)

Shevardnadze’s rise to leadership of the Foreign Ministry in 1985, only months after Gorbachev became general secretary, was a "bolt from the blue," in Chernyaev’s words. Shevardnadze’s talks with Shultz brought a whole new tone to U.S.-Soviet discourse, while the Soviet minister’s growing friendship with Baker, including 1989’s fly-fishing outing in Wyoming, led to actual partnership between the former Cold War adversaries by the time of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But the memcons also reflect Shevardnadze’s frustration with American "pauses" and missed opportunities for dramatic arms reductions across the board, and for earlier domestic political transformation in the Soviet Union.

The National Security Archive obtained the Shevardnadze documents through Freedom of Information Act requests to the Reagan and Bush presidential libraries and to the U.S. State Department, and through generous donations from Anatoly Chernyaev. Additional material comes from the files of the Gorbachev Foundation, the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, and the former Communist Party (SED) archives in Germany.

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze at a meeting of European leaders, November 21, 1990. (photographer unknown)

Two key aides to Shevardnadze played leading roles in developing the new Soviet foreign policy during the 1980s, and deserve mention for helping scholars afterwards understand the end of the Cold War. Experienced diplomat Sergei Tarasenko had already served in the Soviet embassy in Washington and provided Shevardnadze with expert advice on relations with the U.S., including in most of the U.S.-Soviet meetings transcribed here. Tarasenko also participated in the seminal 1998 Musgrove discussion published in the award-winning book, Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (Budapest/New York: Central European University Press, 2010). Teimuraz Stepanov-Mamaladze served as Shevardnadze’s chief of staff, having come with him from Georgia to the Foreign Ministry, and subsequently donated his invaluable diaries and notes of the period to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University.


DOCUMENT 1: Excerpt of Official Minutes of the Politburo CC CPSU Session, June 29, 1985

Source: Russian State Archive of Contemporary History (RGANI), Fond 89. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.

Perhaps the most audacious personnel change made by Gorbachev came very early, only four months into his leadership, when longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (known to the Americans as "Mr. Nyet") retired upwards to the job of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet — the titular head of state— as part of the deal that earlier had featured Gromyko advocating for Gorbachev’s election as general secretary. Gromyko understood that his successor would be his carefully-groomed deputy, Georgi Kornienko — so there was shock-and-awe throughout the Central Committee and the Foreign Ministry when Gorbachev instead proposed as foreign minister the ambitious first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, Eduard Shevardnadze. During the Politburo session on June 29, 1985, Gorbachev stepped down from his position as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which he held together with his position as general secretary (Leonid Brezhnev had merged the two jobs in 1977). By kicking Gromyko upstairs, Gorbachev opened a key position-Minister of Foreign Affairs — where he wanted to place his close ally, whom he already knew shared his reformist thinking on both international and domestic policy. This official record of the Politburo session shows Gorbachev nominating Shevardnadze, ostensibly after discussing several alternative candidates with Gromyko and jointly coming to the conclusion that Shevardnadze was the best choice. All Politburo members express their full support for Gorbachev’s candidate— testament to the power of the general secretary.

Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze fly-fishing in Wyoming, September 24, 1989. (photographer unknown)

DOCUMENT 2: Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, July 1, 1985

Source: Diary of Anatoly S Chernyaev, donated to the National Security Archive.

Translated by Anna Melyakova.

Anatoly Chernyaev, who at the time was first deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (CC CPSU), describes in his diary the nominations of Gromyko and Shevardnadze as they were announced at the CC CPSU Plenum. The Plenum had to approve the nominations that the Supreme Soviet would confirm the next day. Shevardnadze’s nomination was like a "bolt from the blue," Chernyaev writes. The diary relates how Boris Ponomarev, head of the International Department, told Chernyaev what had actually happened at the Politburo, an account that differs substantially from the official minutes (see Document 1). According to Ponomarev, the Shevardnadze nomination was a total surprise to other Politburo members, and Gromyko and Ponomarev tried to protest by suggesting career diplomat Yuli Vorontsov as a candidate, but Gorbachev disregarded their protest completely. Chernyaev concludes that Gorbachev’s nomination of Shevardnadze is "very indicative of the end of Gromyko’s monopoly and the power of the MFA’s staff over foreign policy."

DOCUMENT 3: Record of Conversation between George Shultz and Eduard Shevardnadze in Helsinki, July 31, 1985

Source: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of State.

This U.S. State Department memcon records the meeting with the U.S. secretary of state during Shevardnadze’s first foreign trip in office — to Helsinki for a meeting of CSCE foreign ministers on the tenth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. In this first meeting with George Shultz, the Soviet foreign minister mainly reads from his notes, giving the American a tour d’horizon of the Soviet positions on arms control. However, his tone is strikingly different from previous meetings when Andrei Gromyko had represented the Soviet side. Even on questions of human rights, Shevardnadze reacts not with "indignation or rage" (as Shultz comments in his memoirs) but asks Shultz jokingly, "When I come to the United States, should I talk about unemployment and blacks?" In the second part of the conversation, where Shultz and Shevardnadze are accompanied only by translators, Shevardnadze urges his counterpart to move fast on arms control, indicating that the Soviets are willing to reassess their positions — "there is no time now to postpone solutions." He ends the conversation with the statement: "you have experience but we have the truth," a remark that would win him some positive points from the Politburo.

DOCUMENT 4: Minutes of Politburo discussion of Shultz-Shevardnadze talks in Vienna, November 13, 1986

Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.

Shevardnadze was an active participant at the historic summit between Gorbachev and Reagan in Reykjavik in October 1986, where the two leaders almost agreed to abolish nuclear weapons. Just after the summit, the Soviets, trying to build on the momentum of Reykjavik, tried to offer the U.S. side concessions on laboratory testing for the missile defense program so close to Reagan’s heart – a change in position that might have made a difference at Reykjavik. But it was too late. Enmeshed in the growing Iran-contra scandal and under attack from allies like Margaret Thatcher for nuclear heresy, the Reagan administration had already retreated from the Reykjavik positions. Here the Politburo reviews the results of the November Shevardnadze-Shultz talks in Geneva, where Shultz refused even to discuss Shevardnadze’s new proposals concerning what testing would be allowed and not allowed under the ABM treaty. Shultz’s position notwithstanding, Gorbachev emphasizes the need to press the U.S. to move forward on the basis of Reykjavik. He stresses that "we have not yet truly understood what Reykjavik means," referring to its significance as a new level of disarmament dialogue and reduction of the sense of nuclear threat.

DOCUMENT 5: Record of Shultz-Shevardnadze Conversation in Moscow, April 21, 1988

Source: FOIA request to the Department of State.

This State Department memorandum of conversation records the third set of negotiations between the U.S. secretary of state and the Soviet foreign minister leading up to the 1988 Moscow summit (February in Moscow, March in Washington, now April back in Moscow). Shevardnadze presses for progress on the START treaty aimed at reducing nuclear weapons, but Shultz responds that still-unresolved issues like sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) would not "reach full closure during the next month," so agreement would be unlikely for the summit. Arguments over these nuclear-armed cruise missiles would hold up START negotiations for years, pushed by the parochial interests of the U.S. Navy rather than a consideration of the national interest, but by 1991 their lack of strategic value would lead to President George H. W. Bush’s unilateral decision to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. ships.

The bulk of the discussion here concerns human rights issues, including an interesting exchange about the Vienna follow-up meeting on the Helsinki Final Act. Shultz raises his "disappointment with the performance of the Soviet delegation" at Vienna, which "was not prepared to go as far in its statements as what the Soviet leadership was saying in Moscow." Shevardnadze responds, "We have a hard delegation" in Vienna; we tell them one thing, "They do something different."

DOCUMENT 6: Minutes of the Politburo discussion of Mikhail Gorbachev’s United Nations speech, December 27-28, 1988

Source: RGANI. Published in "Istochnik" 5-6, 1993. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.

The December 27-28 Politburo meeting was the first following Gorbachev’s return from the United States after his historic announcement at the United Nations of massive unilateral Soviet withdrawals of forces from Eastern Europe. Observers in the United States ranging from Sen. Daniel Moynihan to Gen. Andrew Goodpaster hailed the speech as marking the end of the Cold War; but incoming Bush administration "hawks" such as Brent Scowcroft did not agree (as Gorbachev would only find out later, with the 1989 "pause"). Part of the context here in the Politburo for Gorbachev’s lengthy monologues and Shevardnadze’s proposals for a "businesslike" withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe is the growing bewilderment of certain military and KGB leaders who were not fully informed in advance about the scale and tempo of Gorbachev’s announced unilateral arms cuts.

Still, there is no trace of real opposition to the new course. The Soviet party leader has learned a lesson from the military’s lack of a strong reaction to previous discussions of "sufficiency" as a national security strategy, and he is now ramming change down their throats. Ever obedient, Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov states, "everyone reacted with understanding," even after Shevardnadze’s aggressive attacks against the military for retrograde thinking, for directly contradicting the U.N. speech, and for proposing only "admissible" openness rather than true glasnost. Ironically, however, when Shevardnadze and Ligachev suggest announcing the size of Soviet reductions "publicly," it is Gorbachev who objects: if the Soviet people and party learn how huge Soviet defense expenditures really are, it will undermine the propaganda effect of his U.N. speech.

DOCUMENT 7: Record of Conversation between Erich Honecker and Eduard Shevardnadze, June 9, 1989

Source: Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR-Bundesarchiv, SED, ZK, JIV2/2A/3225. Translated by Christiaan Hetzner.

This is one of many documents that became available in the Communist party archives of the former East Germany (GDR) after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Less than a week after Solidarity had swept the Polish elections, to the dismay of the Polish Communists, the hard-line GDR leader Erick Honecker is rapidly becoming a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. At this moment in mid-1989, only Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania surpasses Honecker in his resistance to Gorbachev’s perestroika and the new thinking in Moscow represented in this meeting by Shevardnadze. Honecker has even banned some of the new Soviet publications from distribution in the GDR. The conversation reveals Honecker’s deep ideological concerns, and his understanding of the geostrategic realities in Central Europe. He reminds Shevardnadze that "socialism cannot be lost in Poland" because through Poland run the communications lines between the Soviet Union and the Soviet troops in the GDR facing NATO’s divisions.

This same consideration led Honecker and his predecessor, Walter Ulbricht, to urge Soviet military intervention to suppress previous East European uprisings such as the Prague Spring in 1968 or the strikes in Poland in 1980-1981. But here Honecker is most dismayed by Gorbachev’s upcoming trip to West Germany (FRG), which threatens Honecker’s own political "balancing act," which in turn depends on poor relations between the Soviets and the West Germans. Shevardnadze has an impossible mission here, to assuage the East German leader’s concerns about all the changes taking place in Poland, Hungary and inside the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze’s opening words — "our friends in the GDR need not worry" — sound more than ironic today. In fact, Shevardnadze does not believe in Honecker’s concept of East German "socialism," and in only a few months, the Moscow leadership would signal to Honecker’s colleagues it was time for him to go.

DOCUMENT 8: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, September 21, 1989

Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.

This meeting in Washington marks the start of Shevardnadze’s trip to the United States that will culminate with his fly-fishing expeditions with James Baker in Wyoming, where the two men established a close personal connection. This was also Shevardnadze’s first meeting with George H.W. Bush as president of the United States. He tells Bush about the progress of domestic perestroika and democratization in the Soviet Union, the work on economic reform, and the new tenor of U.S.-Soviet relations. However, Shevardnadze laments that the desired progress toward a 50% reduction in strategic nuclear weapons is not on the horizon, and he urges his U.S. counterparts to pick up the pace. He also enumerates other Soviet arms control proposals, including banning fissionable materials and eliminating short-range nuclear weapons.

DOCUMENT 9: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, April 6, 1990

Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.

Shevardnadze is in Washington for this meeting, working out arrangements for the long-planned summit meeting between Bush and Gorbachev that will take place at the end of May. The Lithuania crisis has created a rift in U.S.-Soviet relations, "lost momentum" in Bush’s phrase, as the independence demands of Lithuanian nationalists build on the long-standing American position of non-recognition of Soviet incorporation of the Baltics, as well as domestic U.S. political pressures from émigré groups. Gorbachev’s own lack of understanding for Baltic nationalism has produced an inconsistent Soviet policy alternating between crackdowns, threats of an embargo, and attempts at dialogue. Shevardnadze tries to explain to the Americans why the Soviets needed "Presidential authority" to deal with the problems between ethnic groups in Lithuania, not to mention Soviet claims to ownership of the factories there. But when Bush says the Soviets have backtracked on arms control agreements (such as how to count air-launched cruise missiles, or ACLMs), Shevardnadze is quick to point out how the Americans have reneged on their on-site inspection pledges.

Perhaps most remarkably, Shevardnadze describes the Soviet argument for a nuclear test ban as based on domestic political pressures from mass demonstrations (such as in Kazakhstan against the Semipalatinsk test range). The Soviet foreign minister also makes a plea for partnership in international financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, saying the Soviets are "not looking for your help." This would change within a year. On the American side, the conversation reveals a clear expression of Bush’s vision when he reports he is often asked, "Who is the enemy?" Bush’s answer: "unpredictability." And perhaps it is just diplo-speak, but it is all the same music to Shevardnadze’s ears, when the American president combines his own "Europe whole and free" phrase with Gorbachev’s "common European home" and remarks that the latter idea is "very close to our own."

DOCUMENT 10: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, May 6, 1991

Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.

This is Shevardnadze’s last meeting with President Bush, and he appears only in his unofficial capacity as president of the Moscow-based Foreign Policy Association. Shevardnadze resigned as foreign minister in December 1990, warning against the coming dictatorship, and protesting Gorbachev’s turn toward the hard-liners. But here Shevardnadze comes to Washington asking for support for the embattled reform still underway in the Soviet Union. He describes the dismal situation in his country, pointing specifically to economic instability, the nationalities crisis, and the rising conservative opposition. He regrets delays on every important issue, especially the Union treaty that would precipitate the hard-line coup in August 1991: "if we had offered this treaty in 1987 or even 1988, all would have signed it." But most of all, the former foreign minister is "concerned, indeed frightened, by the pause in our relations." He urges Bush not to delay the planned Moscow summit (it would ultimately happen at the very end of July) and to keep engaging with Gorbachev. In effect, progress in U.S.-Soviet relations has become the only strong card Gorbachev has left to play in the context of his domestic crises.

Bush and Shevardnadze talk about Gorbachev’s relationship with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and wonder why they cannot find a way to work together. Shevardnadze appeals to Bush to move fast on reductions in conventional forces (CFE) and in nuclear weapons (START) because "demilitarization is the best way to help the Soviet Union." For Bush, however, completing these two treaties remains a precondition for even holding the 1991 summit. Shevardnadze’s plea for farm credits is especially poignant; a year earlier, he sought economic partnership, but now he says, "We must let people [in the Soviet Union] feel something tangible. I know it is hard, but if it is possible, give the credits." Prophetically, Shevardnadze remarks, "Even if we can’t maintain a single Soviet Union, reform will continue."

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Studies by Once Top Secret Government Entity Portrayed Terrible Costs of Nuclear War

After Briefing on Likely Death Tolls, JFK Remarked: "And We Call Ourselves the Human Race"

Net Evaluation Subcommittee Nevertheless Initially Projected U.S. Prevailing in Global Nuclear Conflict — Although Final Report Described a "Nuclear Stalemate"

Some Studies Depicted U.S. as Launching First, Preemptively

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 480

Posted – July 22, 2014

For more information contact:
William Burr – 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv

Estimated distribution of radioactive fall-out on U.S. caused by a Soviet retaliatory launch-on-warning (LOW) attack in mid-1965 on a range of U.S. target systems: urban-industrial (also Canadian), air defenses (also Canadian), SAC bases, naval bases, command-and-control, and military depots.

Washington, D.C., July 22, 2014 – On the morning of 20 July 1961, while the Berlin Crisis was simmering, President John F. Kennedy and the members of the National Security Council heard a briefing on the consequences of nuclear war by the NSC’s highly secret Net Evaluation Subcommittee. The report, published in excerpts today for the first time by the National Security Archive, depicted a Soviet surprise attack on the United States in the fall of 1963 that began with submarine-launched missile strikes against Strategic Air Command bases. An estimated 48 to 71 million Americans were "killed outright," while at its maximum casualty-producing radioactive fallout blanketed from 45 to 71 percent of the nation’s residences. In the USSR and China, at the end of one month 67 and 76 million people, respectively, had been killed.

This was President Kennedy’s first exposure to a NESC report, but the secret studies of nuclear war scenarios had been initiated by his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It may have been after this briefing, described by Secretary of State Dean Rusk as "an awesome experience," that a dismayed Kennedy turned to Rusk, and said: "And we call ourselves the human race."

The NESC reports on nuclear war were multi-volume, highly classified studies and none has ever been declassified in their entirety. The summaries published here today — for the annual reports from 1957 to 1963 — provide a glimpse of the full reports, although important elements remain classified. Besides the summaries and fuller reports for 1962 and 1963, today’s posting includes a number of special studies prepared by the NESC, including an especially secret report requested by President Eisenhower that led to the production of the comprehensive U.S. nuclear war plan in 1960, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

The National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee was a small and highly secret organization that prepared annual reports analyzing the "net" impact of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, in terms of losses of people, military assets, and industrial resources. For Eisenhower such studies were essential; he came to believe that a U.S.-Soviet military conflict would quickly go nuclear and that as long as winning was what mattered, "one could not be meticulous as to the methods by which the force was brought to bear."[1] Studies on nuclear war, mainly the estimated impact of a U.S. atomic air offensive, had begun during the Truman administration — for example, the 1948 Harmon report and Weapons System Evaluation Group [WSEG] study 1 — but they were not prepared at the presidential level and did not estimate the impact of a Soviet attack on the United States.[2]

For years, the very existence of the NESC was a well-kept secret. Its name leaked to the press only once when a deputy director died in a 1956 plane crash in the Potomac, but the news stories provided no explanation of the NESC’s work. Historians and the interested public did not know anything about the Subcommittee until the 1980s and 90s, when presidential libraries started to declassify documents about its role in government, and the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States series began to publish records of NSC meetings where the NESC presented its findings.[3]

Directors of the National Security Council’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee, from the late 1950s through 1964

Gen. Gerald C. Thomas (U.S. Marine Corps), 1957-1958.

Lt. General Thomas Hickey (U.S. Army), 1959-1961.

General Leon W. Johnson (U.S. Air Force), 1962-1964.

With the end of the Cold War, the NESC scenarios of a U.S.-Soviet general nuclear war appear obsolete and irrelevant. Even with renewed tensions with Russia, the possibility of nuclear war or even a direct conventional military confrontation is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, the terrifying NESC scenarios are a reminder of the concerns that motivated Kennedy and his successors to seek to control the nuclear arms race and to avoid conflicts by pursuing détente with the Soviet Union. In any event, the threat of nuclear war is not an imaginary one. Today India and Pakistan are pursuing a dangerous and destructive nuclear arms race and war could produce terrible consequences for the people of South Asia. Whether the leaders of those countries have asked their nuclear experts to undertake NESC-like studies is unknown, but they may find the reports of the Eisenhower-Kennedy era to be useful examples for projecting the possible consequences of the worst-case scenario.

With the focus on the relative power positions of the United States and the Soviet Union, the conclusions of the annual reports present an interesting progression, with some confidence about the outcome in the earlier studies and a more sober assessment at the end. The 1958 study suggested that despite the terrible destruction, the United States would come out ahead in terms of the "balance of strength" in strategic nuclear forces and industrial capacity. In the 1959 study, the Soviet Union "would receive the greater industrial damage and population casualties." Some of the conclusions are excised from the 1961 study, but the 1962 report concluded that in the two general war scenarios reviewed the "US strategic military posture would remain superior to that of the Soviet Union." The next year, however, the NESC found no advantage: "neither the US nor the USSR can emerge from a full nuclear exchange without suffering very severe damage and high casualties." That held true even if the United States launched first. Thus, President Kennedy concluded that Moscow and Washington had reached a "nuclear stalemate."[4]

The 1963 report was the last of the NESC’s annual assessments. Perhaps because the studies showed the same terrible consequences year after year, policymakers asked the NESC to look more closely at crisis management issues. A report in late 1963 focused on "The Management and Termination of War with the Soviet Union," while one the following year examined a military crisis in Western Europe. By early 1965, at the instigation of a turf-conscious Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the NESC no longer existed. McNamara argued for its abolition on grounds of organizational efficiencies, but a key problem was that the NESC had prepared a report that was not to his liking [See documents 10A-C].

The declassification of NESC reports raises questions about the claim that the "U.S. was never the aggressor" in war games and other exercises depicted as occurring in an "official future."[5] This claim needs to be considered carefully because the Subcommittee produced several reports — namely, for 1962 and 1963 — that postulated the United States as the initiator of preemptive nuclear attacks, close to a classic first strike. Whether a preemptive strike is "aggressive" depends on the point of view; the concept of preemption depends on accurate strategic warning of an attack, so it could be seen as an aggressive response to imminent aggression. But a preemptive strike based on an inaccurate warning would be both aggressive and catastrophic. In any event, well before 1962, preemption was an element of U.S. nuclear war planning and U.S. military planners continued to assess whether it was advantageous or not.[6]

The classified NESC reports are under the control of the National Security Staff at the White House. At the close of the Clinton administration, the NSS turned over most of the historical National Security Council institutional files to the presidential libraries but a sub-set of intelligence files, such as records of the 303 and 40 committees that vetted intelligence operations, remain in White House hands. The Staff works with the presidential libraries and documents in this collection can be requested from the relevant library. Because the NESC reports are large, multi-volume works, the Archive began by requesting summaries of the reports during 1957-1963. That alone, including a prolonged appeals process, took over 12 years to accomplish. In the meantime, the Defense Department has denied in its entirety a 2001 FOIA request for reports from the Eisenhower period, necessitating a new appeal. Separate requests for declassification of the first volumes of the 1956, 1961 and the 1963 reports are also underway.


Document 1: Report of the Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee, 3 November 1954, Top Secret, excised copy, released under appeal

Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library (DDEL), National Security Council Staff Records, 1948-1961. Disaster File, box 37, Net Evaluation Subcommittee (3)

The NESC had forerunners, including a Special Evaluation Subcommittee and a Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee, both of which focused on the methodology of a Soviet attack and the damage that it would cause the United States.[7] The report of the Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee, which reviews a Soviet attack on the United States in mid-1957, was recently declassified. It provides great detail on how and why the Soviets would attack — to strike the "first blow" against an expected U.S. attack, essentially a preemptive strike. According to the report, the Soviets would prefer a non-nuclear war because of the U.S. nuclear advantage, but they also understood that Washington "would not permit itself to be deprived of its most powerful weapon."

The estimated Soviet nuclear stockpile was relatively small, which led the analysts to posit an attack centering on Strategic Air Command bases and strategically important U.S. metropolitan areas. The bases were critically important because Moscow would see destroying them as essential to "blunting the retaliatory blow that … would be directed at the USSR upon the initiation ofhostilities." Reflecting Cold War suspicions and anxieties, clandestine detonations were an essential element of the Soviet attack. The Soviet air offensive could take different forms, low- or high-altitude or even a small "sneak attack." However the offensive unfolded, Soviet air crews would be flying one-way missions and would have to be induced to "accept missions forwhich there would be little chance of return."

The report includes a detailed description of the estimated damage that an attack by some 1,000 Soviet long-range bombers would cause to U.S. military installations and economic resources, including industry, money-credit system, and nuclear energy facilities. The damage assessment includes an estimate of death caused by high-altitude or low-altitude attacks, with or without evacuation from cities. Without evacuation, the high-level attack would cause 9,600,000 deaths in industrial areas; but with evacuation the numbers would be in the range of 4,400,000. For the low-altitude attack, the numbers were 3,100,000 and 5,100,000 respectively.

Document 2: National Security Council Staff, "Megatonnage Involved in Previous Net Evaluation Studies," attached to "Planning Board Questions Net Evaluation Presentation," 26 April 1960, Top Secret

Source: National Archives, Record Group 273. Records of the National Security Council, box 84, 442nd Meeting of the National Security Council, April 26, 1960

When the NSC Net Evaluation Subcommittee was established in 1955, it started by focusing on the net impact of a Soviet attack, although U.S. retaliatory strikes would be taken into account. In 1956 the NESC received instructions to look in detail at the impact of the U.S. attack on Soviet bloc targets. Each of the reports would postulate the total megatons detonated by Soviet and U.S. nuclear strikes. Over the years this information has been classified but it was disclosed in this FOIA release. For the purposes of comparison, one megaton-a million tons-of explosive yield is equivalent to about 66 of the 20 kiloton weapon that devastated Hiroshima.

Document 3: "Summary and Conclusions," 1957 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council, 15 November 1957, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: DDEL FOIA release

The NESC’s report for 1957 analyzed the consequences of four Soviet bomber-missile attacks launched under various circumstances in 1960, three of which were surprise attacks on U.S. forces at different states of readiness. Except for air defenses, U.S. forces were at "full alert" for the fourth scenario. All four attacks were devastating although the attack under condition II was less so because U.S. air defense forces were in a high state of readiness. Thus, the U.S. suffered an estimated 46 million fatalities instead of 85 million.

The attack scenario began with the detonation of clandestinely-introduced nuclear devices in New York City and Washington, D.C. This was a scenario that reflected Cold War suspicions and obsessions, but by the mid-1950s, U.S. intelligence estimated that the Soviets had the capability to introduce clandestine devices under diplomatic cover but would be more likely to use them as an "auxiliary" method of attack than as an important means of disabling the United States. In the NESC scenario, the surprise detonations provided early warning to SAC alert forces which made it possible for them to launch a devastating strike that left the Soviet Union with "no remaining capability to deliver a nuclear attack" against the United States. Nevertheless, "a nuclear war initiated by the USSR against the United States under circumstances of either ‘Strategic Surprise’ or ‘Full Alert’ would result in the devastation" of both countries.

The NESC looked closely at the U.S. retaliatory attack that would be launched in response to the Soviet attack under condition VI. Seven hundred and twenty SAC bombers and 47 strategic missiles delivered an attack on military targets in the Soviet Union, including 74 government control centers. SAC did not target industry or populations per se, so devastation and fatalities were caused by the "fallout and the bonus received from the blast and thermal effects of’ weapons detonating off their desired targets or on military targets in population centers." "Bonus" conveyed the idea of unplanned but nevertheless useful destruction, but is misleading because blast and thermal effects were inherent features of the weapons.

The NESC analysts argued that the study demonstrated the need for more effective defenses and robust alert forces: air defenses, anti-ballistic missile systems, dispersed nuclear forces on constant alert, hardened ballistic missile sites, fallout shelters, and electronic systems for warning of Soviet missile attacks. Such recommendations recurred in subsequent reports.

Document 4A-D: The 1958 Report

A:"Summary and Conclusions," 1958 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council, 10 November 1958, Top Secret, excised copy

B: Memorandum by NSC Executive Secretary S. Everett Gleason, "Discussion at the 387th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, November 20, 1958," 20 November 1958, Top Secret

C: Gerard C. Smith to Under Secretary of State Herter, "Oral Presentation of the Annual Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee," 25 November 1958, Top Secret

Sources: A: FOIA request to DDEL; B: DDEL, Ann Whitman File. NSC Series. Box 10. 387th Meeting of the National Security Council; C: Record Group 59, Records of the Department of State, Policy Planning Staff Records, 1957-1961, box 205, S/P Chron, 1957-59

The NESC report for 1958 presented a devastating Soviet attack in 1961 involving the detonation of 553 nuclear weapons on the United States with a total yield of 2,186 megatons. The attack produced "widespread fires" burning out 169,000 square miles or 5.7 per cent of the U.S. land area.[8] Moreover, a "lethal blanket of radiation" covered "at its maximum one-half the nation, and persisted in small areas for over two years." Fifty million Americans were dead and nine million were sick or injured, out of a pre-attack population of 179 million. When housing and food supplies were destroyed, exposure and starvation caused more deaths.

The U.S. retaliatory attack on the Sino-Soviet bloc was by 805 bombers, 5 ICBMs and 41 IRBMs. At President Eisenhower’s instruction, the NESC staff was to posit an attack on a combined military/urban-industrial target system. That included, according to the NSC minutes and a memorandum by Gerard C. Smith, every city with a population of over 25,000. Moscow itself was targeted with a 100-megaton attack by missiles and bombers.

The contemplated U.S. attack completely destroyed "command facilities" in Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang and killed 71 million people at once; 30 days later, a total of 196 million people had died (out of a total of 952 million people in the bloc). The attack reduced the Soviet GNP by 75 per cent for the year following the attack. The total bloc GNP was decreased by about 56 percent. The U.S. attack "would virtually eliminate [the Soviet Union] as a world power." Thus, as the NESC observed, the 1958 report, like the earlier one, drew a picture of a devastated U.S. and Soviet Union. Nevertheless, according to the report, at the end of the nuclear exchange, "The balance of strength would be on the side of the United States."

The report generated rather differing assessments by Smith and President Eisenhower, but also an important nuclear planning initiative. Smith raised questions about morality and over-destruction, while Eisenhower suggested that the destructiveness was about right, but should not be increased. . Noting that that the estimated attack would "paralyze the Russian nation" and "[destroy] the will of the Soviet Union to fight," Eisenhower thought it would be wrong to go further and to "require a 100 per cent pulverization of the Soviet Union." "There was obviously a limit — a human limit — to the devastation which human beings could endure." These considerations led Eisenhower to request a study on what types of retaliatory attacks would best deter the Soviet Union from future attacks: an attack on a military-target system or an "optimum mix" of military and urban-industrial targets. The request was NSC Action 2009 and the resulting studies would lead to the first Single Integrated Operational Plan.

Documents 5A-B: The 1959 Report

A: "Summary and Conclusions," 1959 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council, n.d., Top Secret, excised copy

B: Lt. Col. Brian Gunderson to General Martin, "Briefing to Net Evaluation Subcommittee," 2 December 1958, Top Secret

Sources: A: DDEL FOIA release; B: FOIA release from NARA, Record Group 341, United States Air Force (Air Staff), Directorate of Plans, Records for 1958, box 36, OPS 40 (Speeches, Briefings, Presentations) (6 Sept 58-Dec 58).

This report evaluated a different Soviet surprise attack, occurring in 1962 but under different circumstances: with U.S. and allied military forces on high alert beginning 48 hours in advance. The damage to the United States inflicted by the Soviet attack was: "of such magnitude that [it] could not fully return to pre-attack status for years." Within a year of the attack, 60 million Americans had died, over half from radiation exposure. In this scenario, Soviet missiles caused about 1/3 of the damage. The U.S. counterattack caused 96 million Russian fatalities, over half from fallout as in the United States. Because U.S. forces were on high alert, The USSR would receive the greater industrial damage and population casualties. But, according to the NESC, the "initial nuclear exchange" did not settle the war’s outcome since both sides "would retain significant military forces capable of further limited operations."

A briefing by Colonel Brian Gunderson on "Air Force Concept of Operations in the 1962 Time Period for Unrestricted General War" provides an example of the kind of input that the NESC received to develop its scenarios. Noting that U.S. policy rejected preventive war, Gunderson argued that this did not mean the United States must "suffer a surprise, direct and possibly massive and devastating attack before our strategic offensive force is launched." It was possible to initiate "hostilities … under other circumstances" To destroy Soviet counter-force targets, the Air Force could take the "initiative" by which Gunderson probably meant preemption; consistent with this, he later mentioned the possibility of receiving a strategic warning. In the event of a surprise attack that inflicted substantial losses, the Air Force needed a force that could "prevail" by having a capability to destroy remaining Soviet strategic-nuclear forces.

For Gunderson, a force that could "prevail" would be a deterrent. "The U.S. must have a force in-being that can inflict decisive damage on the complete nuclear delivery capability of the Soviets, and we must convince our enemies of our determination to employ this force if we are to deter them and save this nation from nuclear devastation."

Document 6: The Origins of the SIOP, Net Evaluation Subcommittee, Appraisal of the Relative Merits, from the Point of View of Effective Deterrence, of Alternative Retaliatory Efforts, 30 October 1959, Top Secret, excised copy. Page 13 missing in file and page 39 incomplete.

Source: DDEL MDR release, under appeal

In late 1960, as one of the last acts of his administration, President Eisenhower signed off on the first Single Integrated Operational Plans, SIOP-62 (for fiscal year 1962). The history of SIOP-62 is well known, thanks to David A. Rosenberg’s path-breaking studies and the declassification of significant documents from the period.[9] Nevertheless, this study, a key starting point for SIOP-62, has been classified for decades and is still only available in part. Requested by President Eisenhower in December 1958, the study was so secret that the regular members of the NESC, such as the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Federal Civil Defense Administrator, were out of the loop. Only Staff Director Lt. General Thomas Hickey (U.S. Army) and the Committee staff were involved in its production.

Following Eisenhower’s instructions, General Hickey and the NESC staff reviewed three target systems-military, urban-industrial, and an "optimum-mix" of urban-industrial/military targets-to determine the extent to which a capability to destroy them would provide an effective deterrent and enable the United States to "prevail" in the event of general war. The result of the NESC’s effort was a several-hundred-page study, some of which has been declassified with excisions (annexes E, F, and G are still undergoing review). But the basic conclusion stands out: compared with retaliation against urban-industrial targets or military targets only, the attack on the "optimum mix" target-system, if successful, would "substantially destroy or neutralize the enemy nuclear delivery capability, retard the movement of land, sea, and air forces in the USSR and China, substantially destroy primary and secondary military and government controls, cause in excess of 35 percent casualties in the USSR and 15 percent in China, and indefinitely paralyze the war-supporting industries of both countries. Such extensive destruction would place the United States in "a position of relative advantage from which to ultimately prevail." That sanguine assumption became the premise of SIOP-62.[10]

The official definition of "prevail," found in National Security Council document 5904 (and repeated in Annex C) posited that the United States would "survive as a nation" and that its adversaries will have "lost their will and ability to wage war." Yet the NESC observed that by the early 1960s the assumption of prevailing would become "questionable" when the Soviet Union had a long-range missile force, whether ground- or submarine-launched. With both bombers and missiles, the Soviets would be able to launch an attack with such "overall-weight" that "survival might be doubtful." Therefore, the United States would in the future have to develop a capability to counter a missile attack by "destroying the force at its source." Moreover, a capability to provide adequate warning of a missile attack was essential: "The point cannot be made too strongly that survival and prevailing are directly dependent on receiving the maximum amount of warning at the tactical level."

Estimates of destruction or damage expectancy and of assurance of delivering a weapon to the Bomb Release Line were significant elements of the report. Assurance of delivery ranged from 75 to 90 percent. Because 100 percent destruction was impractical and too expensive, the NESC called for a 90 percent probability of achieving varying degrees of damage-ranging from "severe" to "significant." Anything less than 90 percent would raise questions about the value of the target as such. When the first SIOP was constructed by the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, 90 percent (or higher) was boiler plate, which White House science adviser George Kistiakowsky and some Navy and Army leaders saw as a sign of excessive destruction or "overkill" that needed to be scaled back. Nevertheless, high levels of damage expectancy remained a basic feature of the SIOP for years to come.

Document 7A-D: The 1961 Briefing

A: "Summary and Conclusions," 1961 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council, n.d., Top Secret, excised copy

B: "Notes on National Security Council Meeting, 20 July 1961," Top Secret

C: President’s Daily Schedule, 20 July 1961, excerpt

D: Memorandum for the President, 21 November 1961

Sources: A: FOIA Release, B: Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, VP National Security File. National Security Council (II); C: John F. Kennedy Library, President’s Office File, President’s Secretary File, D: John F. Kennedy Library at

President Kennedy received his first NESC briefing during a well-attended NSC meeting at 10 a.m. on 20 July 1961, in the midst of the Berlin crisis. What has been declassified from the summary presents a dire picture of a post-attack United States and Soviet Union, and the excised portions may show an even more calamitous picture. It may have been after the presentation, described by Secretary of State Dean Rusk as "an awesome experience," that a dismayed John F. Kennedy turned to Rusk and said: "And we call ourselves the human race."[11]

On the basis of a sketchy record of this NSC meeting, one researcher concluded that the 1961 report was an actual plan for a "preemptive strike" on the former Soviet Union.[12] But this confuses the NESC’s analytical purposes with the nuclear war planning which went on elsewhere in the federal government. The topic of the 1961 report was the usual Soviet surprise attack and U.S. retaliation, all taking place in the fall of 1963. The summary included a striking overview statement: "the scope and intensity of destruction and the shattering of the established political, military and economic structure resulting from such an exchange would be so vast as to practically defy accurate assessment." Estimated population losses were huge: in the USSR and China at the end of one month: 67 million and 76 million people respectively. The United States "suffered severe damage and destruction from the surprise Soviet attack … Tens of millions of Americans were killed outright; millions more died in subsequent weeks. The framework of the federal and of many state governments was shattered." Between 48 and 71 million were killed and casualties increased during the year that followed.

A detailed record of this meeting has not surfaced, but the previously mentioned summary includes President Kennedy’s admonition that the meeting and its purpose were to be kept secret. Nevertheless, some word about the event leaked and an article by Fletcher Knebel-co-author of Seven Days in May published in 1962-mentioning the briefing appeared in Look Magazine on 21 November 1961. In a memorandum to President Kennedy, McGeorge Bundy rebutted the Knebel article point-by-point.

Documents 8A-B: Strategic Systems Requirements

A: "A Study of Requirements for US Strategic Systems; Final Report," 1 December 1961, Top Secret, excised copy

B: Memorandum for Secretary of Defense from Defense Department Comptroller Charles Hitch, "Review of the Hickey Study," with evaluation attached, 22 December 1961, Top Secret, excised copy

Sources: A: FOIA request; B: MDR request

The report on targeting [Document 6] was not the last special project requested of the NESC. Another one came in March 1961 when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara asked General Hickey to prepare a study that would serve as a "foundation for the determination of requirements for delivery vehicles for strategic nuclear weapons" and to do this by laying out alternative U.S. nuclear postures and strategic objectives and to evaluate them in terms of the achievement of strategic objectives, implications for budgets, Soviet objectives/postures/budget levels, and "alternative circumstances of war outbreak and termination." The first study, not yet available, was due 1 June 1961. The Final Report, prepared months later, represented an attempt to "flesh out" the actual strategic force levels, for each year from 1961 to 1971, required for implementing the Kennedy administration’s "controlled response" strategy.

Among the new systems proposed by the report was an Advanced Minuteman, a new Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile, an advanced Titan II ICBM, "Supersonic Low-Altitude Penetrators" launched by "Standoff Missile Launching Aircraft," and a reconnaissance strike aircraft (RS/X). Some of the proposed systems would contribute toward the strategic "reserve force"-the heart of "controlled response"-needed to survive a surprise attack and help improve "intra-war bargaining power." Other purposes were to deter "wanton wartime strikes against U.S. cities," and provide a capability to "strengthen prospects for war termination on favorable terms by having an option to selectively attack urban-industrial targets even during the later stages of a war."

The Final Report was the topic of a detailed summary and assessment prepared for McNamara by his comptroller, Charles Hitch, who noted that the force postures proposed by Hickey "inherently have varying degrees of first-strike capability" which needed to be analyzed. Taking exception to some of the specific recommendations, Hitch argued that "the requirements for a controlled response strategy are … exaggerated and its feasibility is underestimated." According to Hitch, strategic programs then under way, should provide a "satisfactory posture" for controlled response by 1964 "if not sooner."

Documents 9A-C: The 1962 Report

A: Introduction and Conclusion, 1962 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council, n.d. [Circa 22 August 1962], Top Secret, excised copy

B. "1962 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council," Volume 1, n.d., [circa 22 August 1962], Top Secret, excised copy

C: Memorandum for the Chairman, Net Evaluation Subcommittee, 22 August 1962

Source: A: FOIA release by Kennedy Librry; B and C: NARA, Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of JCS Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer, box 19, 381 Net Evaluation

In 2006, five years after the Archive requested summaries of the NESC reports from the Kennedy years, volume 1 of the 1962 report was declassified from JCS records at the National Archives. So far, this is the most complete release of any of the NESC annual reports and it is more complete than the excerpts for 1962 released under FOIA. The declassification at NARA included a list of the attendees at the briefing: President Kennedy and members of the National Security Council, along with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, civil defense chief Edward McDermott, and several senior White House staffers. Substantially fewer people attended this briefing than the one held the previous July, probably because of the press leak mentioned earlier.

This NESC report is of a Vietnam War scenario in 1965 with conflict stemming from a North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam and Laos escalating into general war with China and Soviet Union. The NESC depicted two "general wars," one involving Soviet preemption against the U.S., the other a U.S. preemptive attack against the Soviet Union. Both wars started out with counterforce strikes against nuclear targets, but they culminated with massive targeting of urban-industrial targets. As expected, both wars involved enormous destruction with millions of fatalities and injuries on both sides; nevertheless, the NESC found that in both wars "the net balance …would favor the US." In both scenarios, the "US strategic military posture would remain superior to that of the Soviet Union." In overall terms, the Subcommittee found that in both scenarios "the net balance … would favor the US." The next year’s report provided a striking contrast.

Documents 10A-B: The 1963 Report

A: "Summary and Conclusions," 1963 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council," n.d., Top Secret, excised copy

B: 1963 Report of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee, National Security Council Oral Presentation, 27 August 1963, Top Secret, excised copy

C: McGeorge Bundy to President Kennedy, "Net Evaluation Subcommittee Report 1963," 12 September 1963, Top Secret

Sources: A: John F. Kennedy Library; B: NARA, Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor, box 25, 381 Net Evaluation; C: NARA, Record Group 273, Records of the National Security Council, Records of NSC Representative on Internal Security, box 66, Net Evaluation Subcommittee, 1961-64

Summarizing the longer report, the "Oral Presentation" prepared for an NSC meeting analyzed several hypothetical nuclear wars during 1964-1968; like the 1962 report, in each, one of the superpowers initiated a preemptive strike and the other retaliated. The NESC’s conclusions were grim: for "the years of this study … neither the US nor the USSR can emerge from a full nuclear exchange without suffering very severe damage and high casualties."

Soon after the report was completed, the National Security Council received a briefing by the NESC’s director, General Leon Johnson, on 12 September 1963. McGeorge Bundy had already prepared President Kennedy with the basic conclusions as well as some questions that he could raise. According to the record of the meeting, the judgment that the United States would not suffer less damage than the Soviet Union brought President Kennedy to the conclusion that the superpowers were in a "nuclear stalemate" and that preemption, which Bundy had equated to a first strike, no longer offered an advantage. While NESC director Johnson believed that in the new stalemated situation "nuclear war is impossible if rational men control governments," Rusk was skeptical, arguing that "if both sides believed that neither side would use nuclear weapons, one side or the other would be tempted to act in a way which would push the other side beyond its tolerance level."

Even with the stalemate, the SIOP would continue to include a preemptive option in the unlikely event that decision-makers had "strategic warning" of an impending Soviet attack. Moreover, by the 1970s, with the Defense Support System giving approximately 25 minutes of warning before an attack, a launch on warning option became available although it was fraught with risk of a false alarm.

Documents 11A-B: The War Termination Study

A: Net Evaluation Subcommittee, "The Management and Termination of War with the Soviet Union," 15 November 1963, Top Secret

B: Memorandum from Colonel William Y. Smith to General Maxwell Taylor, 7 November 1963, Top Secret

Sources: A: Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Records of Policy Planning Council, 1963-64, box 280, file "War Aims," previously posted on National Security Archive Web site; B: Record Group 218, Records of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maxwell Taylor Papers, box 25

Not long after the presentation of the 1963 report, the NESC staff completed the first U.S. government systematic study of the problem of nuclear war termination. Worried about the inflexibility of U.S. nuclear strategy, the Kennedy administration had begun to look closely at "flexible response" and "controlled response" strategies for fighting conventional war or lower-level nuclear conflicts in NATO Europe. Consistent with that, the NESC took up the daunting task of considering whether it was possible to fight a nuclear war in a "discriminating manner" so that it ended on "acceptable terms" to the United States while avoiding "unnecessary damage" to adversaries and allies. To illustrate the problem of war termination, the NESC presented three scenarios of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war, 1) an all-out Soviet attack on the U.S., 2) a U.S. preemptive counterforce attack (based on certain knowledge of Soviet attack preparations), and 3) escalation from conventional to limited nuclear conflict, with scenarios of European and Far Eastern conflicts.

Commenting on a nearly final draft of this study, Col. William Y. Smith, then assistant to JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor, summarized key points. He found the recommendations unsurprising: a need for improved command and control, better planning, more discriminate weapons, etc. Some readers, he observed, "may question that [the report] makes the unreal seem possible, by treating the possibility of exerting some control over the use of nuclear weapons at the tactical and strategic level."

Documents 12A-C: The End of the NESC

A: JCS Chairman Wheeler to McGeorge Bundy, 15 October 1964, Top Secret

B: McGeorge Bundy to Wheeler, 26 October 1964, Confidential

C: Robert McNamara to Secretary of State et al., enclosing memorandum to the President, "Elimination of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the National Security Council," 23 December 1964

Sources: A and B: NARA, Record Group 273. National Security Council. Records of NSC Representative on Internal Security, box 66. 1964 Net Evaluation; C: NARA, Records of Department of State Participation in the Operations Coordinating Board and the National Security Council, 1947-1963, box 96, NSC 5816

The last NESC report on the management of possible U.S.-Soviet crises remains classified but a short summary is available, as is Secretary of Defense McNamara’s proposal to abolish the NESC immediately thereafter. To prepare the report, members of the subcommittee staff, including James E. Goodby, met with top U.S. military officers in Western Europe, including Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Lyman Lemnitzer. A meeting with 7th Army Commander General William Quinn (father of Washington Post journalist Sally Quinn) was especially important because Quinn questioned the deployment of Allied forces in West Germany and the degree to which they could counter a Soviet attack. Goodby recalls that the report addressed a number of issues that the military thought needed attention, but which Defense Department planners were not considering, such as maldeployment of Allied forces across the North German plain. The implication was that the task of creating a non-nuclear flexible response that would be compatible with forward defense was a tougher problem than McNamara was portraying and would probably require greater defense expenditures by the Allies than he had proposed..

Recalling that McNamara became "visibly angry" during the briefing, Goodby surmised that he saw the NESC as a challenge to his authority because it was an independent channel for the military to provide its analysis to the White House. The next day, McNamara proposed to President Johnson that he abolish the NESC.[13] McNamara’s proposal did not mention policy disagreements. Instead, he emphasized organizational efficiencies; for example, that the Subcommittee duplicated functions that Pentagon offices, such as the JCS Special Studies Group, were already performing better. According to McNamara, while the NESC’s "annual study program …had value and relevance in 1958, its contribution today is marginal." President Johnson concurred and the NESC was soon disbanded.


[1] Quoted from Marc Trachtenberg, "A Wasting Asset: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance," History and Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), page 138.

[2] David A. Rosenberg, "American Atomic Strategy and the Hydrogen Bomb Decision," Journal of American History 66 (1979): 62-87.

[3] See, for example, Andreas Wenger, Living with Peril: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nuclear Weapons (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 143, and Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 282-284. Freedman does not mention the NESC as such, but discusses the findings of the 1963 report as referred to in FRUS (see note 2).

[4] See "Summary Record of the 517th Meeting of the National Security Council," 12 September 1963, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States 1961-1963 VIII (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996), Document 141

[5] Matthew Connelly et al, "’General, I Have Fought Just as Many Nuclear Wars as You Have’: Forecasts, Future Scenarios, and the Politics of Armageddon," The American Historical Review 117 (2013), 1451.

[6] For the role of preemption in nuclear planning and its relationship to launch-on-warning options, see Bruce Blair, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1993).

[7] For the work of the NSC Special Evaluation Subcommittee, see Report to the National Security Council by the Special Evaluation Subcommittee of the National Security Council, 18 May 1953,and Memorandum of Discussion at the 148th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, 4 June 1953, both published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Volume II, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1979).

[8] This is one of the few explicit references to mass fires in the NESC summaries, although fires and fire storms are a predictable feature of nuclear explosions and can be much more destructive than blast effects. See Lynn Eden: Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).

[9] David Allan Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," International Security 7 (Spring 1983): 3-71. See also "New Evidence on the Origins of Overkill," National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 236.

[10] For divergent JCS views on the NESC report, but approval of the "Optimum Mix" concept, see Memorandum from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Eisenhower, "Appraisal of Relevant Merits, from the Point of View of Effective Deterrence, of Alternative Retaliatory Efforts," 12 February 1960," U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960 Volume III (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996), 383-385.

[11] Dean Rusk, As I Saw It (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990): 246-247.

[12] James K. Galbraith,"Did the U.S. Military Plan a Nuclear Strike for 1963?," The American Prospec, Fall 1994.

[13] Telephone conversation with Ambassador James Goodby, 5 June 2014.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Soldiers, Spies and the Moon: Secret U.S. and Soviet Plans from the 1950s and 1960s

Declassified Documents Reflect the Covert Side of Lunar Programs

Posting Marks 45th Anniversary of First Human on the Moon

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 479

Posted July 20, 2014

Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv

Washington, DC, July 20, 2014 – Forty-five years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his "one small step" for mankind, becoming the first person to set foot on the moon. The program that resulted in that historic event — managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — had been a very public one ever since its announcement by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Even the Soviet government had publicized aspects of its own effort.

But there were also highly secret elements to the U.S. and Soviet schemes, which are the subject of today’s National Security Archive posting of previously classified records. The documents focus on three topics — early U.S. military plans, including the possibility of conducting nuclear tests in space, the use of the moon to reflect signals for military or intelligence purposes, and U.S. intelligence analyses and estimates of Soviet missions and their intentions to land a man on the lunar surface.

The posting includes:

  • Army and Air Force studies from 1959 – 1961 on the creation of a military lunar base, with possible uses as a surveillance platform (for targets on earth and space) and the Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System (Document 1a, Document 1b, Document 3, Document 4).
  • A study on the detonation of a nuclear device on or in the vicinity of the moon (Document 2).
  • The use of the lunar surface to relay signals from Washington to Hawaii and from U.S. spy ships (Document 15).
  • Collection of Soviet radar signals after they bounced off the moon — a technique known as Moon Bounce ELINT (Document 11, Document 14).
  • The U.S. theft and return of a Soviet space capsule during an exhibition tour (Document 13).
  • A 1965 estimate of Soviet intentions with regard to a manned moon landing (Document 5).
  • Several analyses of Soviet Luna missions, including Luna 9 — the first mission to result in a soft landing on the moon (Document 6, Document 7, Document 8, Document 10, Document 16).

* * * *

Soldiers, Spies, and the Moon

By Jeffrey T. Richelson

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, an event watched by a worldwide audience of approximately 600 million people. Armstrong’s "one small step" was the result of a prolonged and intense campaign initiated when President John F. Kennedy told Congress on May 25, 1961, that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."1

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong left a small, gold replica of an olive branch on the moon in 1969. "The gesture represented a wish for peace for all mankind," according to NASA. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

The prolonged and public U.S. effort that resulted in Armstrong’s arrival on the lunar surface took place along with a competing Soviet program that involved spacecraft in lunar orbit as well as unmanned landings. While the U.S. had attained a number of important firsts with regard to the secret efforts to employ space for military, particularly intelligence, purposes, the Soviets had beat the United States in the more visible achievements of placing a spacecraft in orbit (Sputnik) and a man in space (Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961). For much of the U.S. effort there was the concern that the Soviet astronauts would also arrive on the moon first.

While the U.S. civilian program to reach the moon, and some details of the Soviet one, were public, there were other aspects of the race to the moon that were more secretive. They included the details of earlier proposals for military activities on or near the moon, the ability to use "moonbounce" for intelligence or communications purposes, and the U.S. intelligence community’s attempt to collect and analyze information about the Soviet lunar program.

Lunar Bases and Detonations

Before the mission of landing a man on the moon was definitively assigned to the civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration, both the Army and the Air Force lobbied to establish outposts on the moon. A two-volume Army study (Document 1a, Document 1b), Project Horizon, argued that there was a need for a military moon base that would be used to develop techniques for surveillance of both earth and space, communications relay, and operations on the lunar surface. The study examined not only the technical aspects — the necessary space transportation system, its launch, construction of the base, and communications — but political, management, policy and legal implications.

One Air Force study (Document 3), produced by the service’s Ballistic Missile Division in April 1960, had alternative titles — one classified (Military Lunar Base Program) and one unclassified (S.R. 183 Lunar Observatory Study). It laid out a six-phase effort, beginning in November 1964 and concluding with a lunar base becoming operational in June 1969. Among the options being considered, according to the study, was a Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System. The second Air Force study (Document 4), published in May 1961, was the Air Force Systems Command’s Lunar Expedition Plan — LUNEX. A key reason for such an expedition was to demonstrate that the United States could successfully compete with the Soviets in the technology sphere.

A different potential military use of the moon was found in a study (Document 3) produced by Leonard Reiffel of the Armour Research Institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1959. Its title, A Study of Lunar Research Flights,did not reveal the proposed purpose of those flights — to deliver a nuclear device to the surface or to the vicinity of the moon, where it would be detonated. Also involved in the study effort was the yet-to-become-famous astronomer Carl Sagan. Many years later, Reiffell said that the "foremost intent [of such a detonation] was to impress the world with the prowess of the United States" and that the Air Force ended the project when its leadership decided the risks exceeded the potential benefits.2


Footprint left on the moon by an Apollo 11 astronaut. (Photo courtesy of NASA Langley Research Center)

While NASA’s lunar program helped preclude — undoubtedly along with international political considerations — any military service ambitions to establish an outpost on the moon, the military and the Intelligence Community found at least two ways, after 1961, to make use of the moon without leaving Earth. Both approaches involved signals bounced off the moon, a possibility that had been confirmed by experiment as early as 1946.

In one case, the U.S. was purposefully bouncing signals off the Moon as a means of relaying intelligence information. Carried on-board U.S. Navy signals intelligence ships, such as the U.S.S. Liberty, was a system designated TRSSCOMM — Technical Research Ship Special Communications — a successor to the Communications Moon Relay (CMR) system established in 1956 to relay teletype and facsimile messages between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii (Document 15). As James Bamford reported, TRSSCOM consisted of a "sixteen-foot, dish-shaped antenna mounted on a movable platform and capable of bouncing a 10,000-watt microwave signal off a particular spot on the moon and down either to the receiving station at Cheltenham, Maryland or to one of the other Navy SIGINT ships." He also noted that, while the system had the advantage of allowing large volumes of information to be transmitted without giving away the location of the ship carrying out the transmissions, it seldom worked properly.3

In the second case, as explained in two articles (Document 11, Document 14) in the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence journal, the United States Intelligence Community was intercepting signals from Soviet anti-ballistic and air defense radar systems after they had exited the Earth’s atmosphere and bounced off the moon. The CIA employed a 150-foot dish antenna at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California to monitor Soviet radar signals reflected off the moon, while the National Security Agency used the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory in Puerto Rico to intercept signals that had originally been transmitted from a Soviet Arctic Coast radar. The Air Force also had its own moonbounce project — designated FLOWER GARDEN — which relied on several antennas, including the 250-foot antenna at Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory in England. Other moonbounce antennas were located at Sugar Grove, West Virginia, and the Naval Research Laboratory’s Chesapeake Bay Annex. The latter made the first intercept of a signal from the Soviet Hen House radar.4

Monitoring the Soviet Lunar Program

While NASA pursued its lunar program, the U.S. Intelligence Community closely monitored the entire Soviet space program, including its lunar component. The declassified documents in this posting concern a number of aspects of that effort — collection through a variety of means, different levels of analysis, and analysis of specific missions.

Two very different collection activities are the subjects of two Studies in Intelligence articles. One, published in 1964 (Document 6), examined the interception of Soviet space pictures that had been transmitted from their assorted space programs — including Sputnik, Cosmos, and Lunik — to stations in the Soviet Union. A second, published three years later (Document 13), involved a more unconventional approach – the temporary theft of a Lunik spacecraft that was part of an exhibition of Soviet industrial and economic achievements in an unspecified country.

Early in the U.S. lunar program, in April 1963, the CIA’s Office of National Estimates, the forerunner of today’s National Intelligence Council, explored the subject of Soviet intentions concerning a manned lunar landing (Document 5). It reviewed relevant developments in the Soviet program as well as tried to assess the extent of the Soviet commitment to beating the U.S. to the moon.

One particular mission — the Luna 9 mission of February 1964 — produced a number of different classified publications. Two of those (Document 7, Document 8) followed closely after the mission and were intended to provide reasonably current intelligence. One (Document 7) was an assessment of the entire mission, while the other (Document 8) was more narrowly focused — a preliminary technical analysis of Luna 9 photography performed by the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) at the request of the CIA’s Foreign Missile and Space Analysis Center (FMSAC). (A similar study (Document 12) with regard to Luna 13 photography was also produced by NPIC at FMSAC’s request).5

Two articles published in CIA and NSA journals represented retrospective accounts concerning the Luna 9 collection and analysis effort. One (Document 16) recounted in the NSA’s Crytpologic Almanac the author’s participation in intercepting and processing Luna 9 imagery. Another (Document 10) contains a broader account of the U.S collection and analysis effort concerning Luna 9 and the years preceding it.


Much of the U.S. lunar program that followed President Kennedy’s decision to assign NASA the responsibility to send men to the moon was conducted openly — but there are other aspects of U.S. plans with regard to the moon are revealed, at least in part, by declassified documents.

The Soviet lunar program was only one part of the Soviet space program, which involved launch facilities and vehicles, production facilities, earth-orbiting military and civilian spacecraft, and interplanetary probes to Mars and Venus.6 While Soviet military satellites were the most important targets due to their potential threat to U.S. national security, the Cold War competition between the United States and Soviet Union meant that space exploration efforts, even if devoid of military activities, were significant elements of the propaganda war — which made them important targets for the U.S. Intelligence Community, a story which is also partially told by declassified documents.


Document 1a: United States Army, Project Horizon, Volume I: Summary and Supporting Considerations, March 20, 1959. Classification Not Available.


Document 1b: United States Army, Project Horizon, Volume II: Technical Considerations and Plans, March 20, 1959. Classification Not Available.


This two-volume study was based on the Army’s premise that "there is a requirement for a manned military outpost on the moon" and that outpost was required to develop techniques in moon-based surveillance of the earth and space, in communications relay, and in operations on the lunar surface. Volume I consists of four chapters (introduction, technical considerations and plans, management and planning considerations, non-technical supporting considerations) and three appendices (U.S. space policy, legal and political implications, and technical services support capabilities). The second volume, fully focusing on technical considerations, examines the possible outpost, the space transportation system required, communications, the launch site, program logistics, research and development, and program cost and schedule.

Document 2: L. Reiffel, Armour Research Foundation, Illinois Institute of Technology, A Study of Lunar Research Flights, Volume I (Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico: Air Force Special Weapons Center, June 19, 1959). Classification Not Available.


This volume focuses on the possibility of a nuclear detonation on or near the moon’s surface. The introduction notes the possibility that both scientific and military purposes would be advanced — including information on the space environment as well as the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare. The chapters of volume I focus on optical studies concerning the nuclear device’s trip to the moon, the blast, and the thermal conductivity of the lunar surface; seismic observations on the Moon; the lunar radiation environment; the Moon’s magnetic field; and other topics. Two, probably classified/sensitive, chapters are contained in Volume II.

Document 3: Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Military Lunar Base Program (C) or S.R. 183 Lunar Observatory Study (U), Volume I: Study Summary and Program Plan , April 1960. (Extract)

Source: Air Force Freedom of Information Act Release

This volume summarizes a study whose objective was to "determine an economical and sound approach for establishing a manned intelligence observatory on the moon" — with technical requirements being the subject of Volume II. It delineates a six-phase effort beginning with lunar probes in late 1964 and progressing through lunar orbits, a soft lunar landing, lunar landing and return, manned vehicle development, and concluding with an operational lunar base in June 1969. It also states that decisions concerning the types of strategic systems to be placed on the moon (including a Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System) could be safely deferred for three to four years.

Document 4: Air Force Systems Command, Lunar Expedition Plan – LUNEX , May 1961. Secret.

Source: Air Force Freedom of Information Act Release

This document identifies the purpose of a Lunar Expedition as being manned exploration of the moon with first landing and return in late 1967. It asserts that "this one achievement if accomplished before the USSR, will serve to demonstrate conclusively that this nation possesses the capability to win future competition in technology." Its main sections provide a program description, and discuss master schedules, development and production, budget matters, program management, materiel support, engineering, personnel and training, and intelligence matters.

Document 5: Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum for the Director, Subject: Soviet Intentions Concerning a Manned Lunar Landing, April 25, 1963, Top Secret/ DINAR [DELETED] RUFF .

Source: CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), National Archives and Records Administration, College, Park, Maryland.

The summary to this estimate notes the uncertainty about Soviet intentions with regard to a moon landing: while repeating the Office of National Estimate’s previous view that the odds were better than even that the Soviets would seek to beat the U.S. to moon, it also states that it was possible "Soviet lunar objectives are less ambitious." The authors examine the resumption of Soviet unmanned lunar launchings, Soviet statements concerning a manned lunar landing, an analysis of Soviet ground facilities, and offer conclusions.

Document 6: Henry G. Plaster, "Snooping on Space Pictures," Studies in Intelligence, Fall 1964, pp. 31-39. Secret.


One component of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s effort in gathering intelligence on the Soviet space program was intercepting the signals, including video, from Soviet spacecraft. This article reports on the efforts and results with regard to a variety of categories of Soviet spacecraft operations – Sputnik, Cosmos, and Lunik. Included is a discussion of the efforts with regard to Lunik III’s video of the lunar surface.

Document 7: Office of Scientific Intelligence, Directorate of Science and Technology, "Preliminary Analysis of Luna 9," Scientific Intelligence Digest, March 1966. Top Secret.


This heavily redacted article, which appeared in a journal of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, focuses on the Soviet Luna 9 mission — which concluded with the first soft landing on the moon and the transmission of images of the lunar surface. Portions of the article cover the configuration of the Luna 9 spacecraft, its missions, and the implications of radiation measurements on the Moon for human safety.

Document 8: National Photographic Interpretation Center, NPIC/R-5017/66, Preliminary Analysis of Luna-9 Photography , June 1966. Secret.


In response to a request from the CIA’s Foreign Missile and Space Analysis Center, the agency’s National Photographic Interpretation Center produced a preliminary analysis of the photography transmitted by the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft. The analysis focused on the spacecraft’s photographic system, the spacecraft, and identifying new information on the lunar surface.

Document 9: Carl Berger, USAF Historical Liaison Division Office, The Air Force in Space, Fiscal Year 1961, April 1966 (Extract). Secret.

Source: Air Force Freedom of Information Act Release

This extract titled "Man on the Moon – A National Objective" notes that the Air Force was concerned over "the apparent inadequacy of our current National Space Program" and reports that the "Air Force said that long-time studies showed convincingly that an orderly and phased lunar expedition culminating in a 1967 landing and return was perfectly feasible."

Document 10: James Burke, "Seven Years to Luna 9," Studies in Intelligence, 10 (Summer 1966), pp. 1-24. Secret.


This article also concerns the 1966 Luna 9 mission, examined more narrowly in earlier reports (Document 7, Document 8). Its purpose is "to tell the story of how intelligence kept track of that effort through the collection and analysis of telemetric and other information." The author covers a number of events and activities leading up to the mission and the U.S. collection effort — the early lunar program, Soviet launch vehicles, collection and prediction through 1961, US. deep-space collection, Soviet planetary shots in 1962, and Soviet space launches in 1964 and 1965 — and then the Luna 9 mission itself.

Document 11: Frank Eliot, "Moon Bounce ELINT," Studies in Intelligence 11, 2 (Spring 1967): 59-65. Secret.


While the moon figured in purely hypothetical plans to collect intelligence from the lunar surface, it was employed, in a different way, in an actual effort to gather intelligence on Soviet anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile radars. That technique, recounted in this article, was based on the 1946 detection of a man-made signal reflected off the moon.

Document 12: National Photographic Interpretation Center, NPIC/R-5015/67, Analysis of Luna-13 Photography, July 1967. Secret.


As with Document 8, this NPIC report was a response to a request from the Foreign Missile and Space Analysis Center for an analysis of the video signals transmitted by a Soviet lunar spacecraft — focusing on the photographic system, the spacecraft, and the lunar surface.

Document 13: Sydney Wesley Finer, "The Kidnaping of the Lunik," Studies in Intelligence, 11, 3 (Winter 1967), pp. 33-39. Secret.


While a common source of intelligence on Soviet space, including lunar, efforts was collected through satellite photography and electronic intercepts, a more unusual and less frequent source is described in this article. It describes how the CIA "borrowed," examined, and returned a Soviet Lunik spacecraft that was part of an exhibition touring several countries to promote Soviet industrial and economic achievements.

Document 14: N.C. Gerson, "SIGINT in Space," Studies in Intelligence, 28, 2 (Summer 1984). Secret.

Source: Author’s collection

Among the topics discussed in this article is the author’s work on the "moonbounce" phenomenon and the possibility of establishing an intercept site on the moon.

Document 15: Applied Research Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, From the Sea to the Stars: A Chronicle of the U.S. Navy’s Space and Space-related Activities, 1944-2009, 2010. Unclassified. (Extract)


These pages from an official history discuss two attempts to use the moon as a communication relay — the establishment of a Communications Moon Relay (CMR) system in 1956 for transmission of teletype and facsimile messages between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii, and the Technical Research-Ship Special Communications (TRSSCOM) for "spy ship" communications.

Document 16: John O’Hara, "Luna 9, the First Soft Landing on the Moon," Cryptologic Almanac, January – March 2003. Unclassified/For Official Use Only.


This article, from a National Security Agency journal, focuses on NSA’s role, and particularly that of the author, in intercepting and processing the images from the Luna 9 spacecraft — and in delivering them to the president’s desk that afternoon.


[1] William E. Burrows, This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (New York: Random House, 1998), p. 330.

[2] William J. Broad, "U.S. Planned Nuclear Blast on the Moon, Physicist Says," New York Times, May 16, 2000, p. A15; Keay Davidson, Carl Sagan: A Life (New York: Wiley, 1999), pp. 94-95.

[3] James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace: A Report on NSA, America’s Most Secret Agency (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1982), p. 219.

[4] Jeffrey T. Richelson, The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 2001), pp. 89-90.

[5] On the Luna program see, William E. Burrows, Exploring Space: Voyages in the Solar System and Beyond (New York: Random House, 1990), pp. 160-163.

[6] A future National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book will cover U.S. Intelligence efforts focusing on the other elements of the Soviet space program.





National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 478

Posted July 8, 2014

Edited by Peter Kornbluh

For more information contact:

Peter Kornbluh 202/374-7281 or peter.kornbluh

Washington, DC, July 8, 2014 – The Brazilian military regime employed a "sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system" to "intimidate and terrify" suspected leftist militants in the early 1970s, according to a State Department report dated in April 1973 and made public last week. Among the torture techniques used during the military era, the report detailed "special effects" rooms at Brazilian military detention centers in which suspects would be "placed nude" on a metal floor "through which electric current is pulsated." Some suspects were "eliminated" but the press was told they died in "shoot outs" while trying to escape police custody. "The shoot-out technique is being used increasingly," the cable sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro noted, "in order to deal with the public relations aspect of eliminating subversives," and to "obviate ‘death-by-torture’ charges in the international press."

Peter Kornbluh who directs the National Security Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project called the document "one of the most detailed reports on torture techniques ever declassified by the U.S. government."

Titled "Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives," the document was among 43 State Department cables and reports that Vice President Joseph Biden turned over on June 17 to President Dilma Rousseff during his trip to Brazil for the World Cup competition for use by the Brazilian Truth Commission. The Commission is in the final phase of a two-year investigation of human rights atrocities during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985. On July 2, the Commission posted all 43 documents on its website, accompanied by this statement: "The CNV greatly appreciates the initiative of the U.S. government to make these records available to Brazilian society and hopes that this collaboration will continue to progress."

The records range in date from 1967 to 1977. They report on a wide range of human rights-related issues, among them: secret torture detention centers in Sao Paulo, the military’s counter-subversion operations, attitudes of the Church on human rights violations, and the regime’s hostile reaction in 1977 to the first State Department human rights report on abuses. Some of the documents had been previously declassified under routine release procedures; others, including the April 1973 report on psychophysical torture, were reviewed for declassification as recently as June 5, 2014, in preparation for Biden’s trip.

Declassification Diplomacy.

During his meeting with President Rousseff, Biden announced that the Obama administration would undertake a broader review of still highly classified U.S. records on Brazil, among them CIA and Defense Department documents, to assist the Commission in finalizing its report. "I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future," he noted.

Since the inception of the Truth Commission in May 2012, the National Security Archive has been assisting the Commissioners in obtaining U.S. records for their investigation, and pressing the Obama administration to fulfill its commitment to a new standard of global transparency and the right-to-know by conducting a special, Brazil declassification project on the military era. "Advancing truth, justice and openness is precisely the way these classified U.S. historical records should be used," according to Kornbluh. "Biden’s declassified diplomacy will not only assist the Truth Commission in shedding light on the dark past of Brazil’s military era, but also create a foundation for a better and more transparent future in U.S.-Brazilian relations."

To call attention to the records and the Truth Commission’s work, the Archive is highlighting five key documents from Biden’s timely donation.


Document l: Department of State, "Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives," Confidential, April 18, 1973

This intelligence cable, sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, provides detailed reporting on a "sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical" method of torture being employed by the Brazilian military against suspected militants. In response to growing international condemnation of human rights violations, the cable suggests, the Brazilian torturers have adopted more modern interrogation methods that leave less visible evidence of abuses. In cases where detainees are "eliminated," the military is also deceiving the press by claiming they were killed in a "shoot-out" while trying to escape.

The cable was declassified on June 5, 2014, only eleven days before Biden’s trip to Brazil in order for him to provide it to President Rousseff as a diplomatic gesture. But key sections of the document are redacted, presumably at the request of the CIA, that identify the military units responsible for these atrocities — information that would be of critical use to the Brazilian Truth Commission as it attempts to hold the military accountable for the atrocities of the past.

Document 2: Department of State, "Political Arrests and Torture in São Paulo," Confidential, May 8, 1973

The Consul General in Sao Paulo, Frederic Chapin, reports on a source described as "a professional informer and interrogator working for the military intelligence center in Osasco," an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo. The source has provided graphic details on methods of abuse, including a Brazilian form of "waterboarding" that involved putting prisoners in vats of water that forced them to stand on their tiptoes for prolonged periods of time to be able to breath. The informant also provides a description of methods of executing prisoners so that their bodies could not be identified. Prisoners would be machine gunned from head to toe — a method referred to as "sewing" the suspect up.

This document was declassified in 2005, and initially provided to the Truth Commission by National Security Archive Brazil project director Peter Kornbluh. It played a key role in enabling researchers to identify the April 18, 1973, cable on psychophysical abuses, which is cited as a reference telegram. A memorandum of conversation with the informant/torturer, however, is also cited in this document and would be of exceptional value to the Truth Commission in obtaining additional information about the torture center in Osasco.

Document 3: Department of State, "Allegation of Torture in Brazil," Secret, July 1, 1972

U.S. Ambassador William Rountree advises the State Department that openly protesting human rights "excesses" by the Brazilian military government will be counterproductive and "damage our general relations." Ambassador Rountree encourages the State Department to oppose a piece of human rights legislation known as the "Tunney Amendment" which would link U.S. aid to Brazil to a U.S. government certification that the Brazilian regime was not engaged in human rights violations.

Document 4: Department of State, "The Esquadrão da Morte (Death Squad)," Limited Official Use, June 8, 1971

Ambassador Rountree submits an 11-page report on death squad activity in Brazil. He advises that there has been an "upsurge" of victims of unofficial operations in recent months, believed to be the work of off-duty policemen. In Sao Paulo, the death squads are reportedly led by Sergio Fleury, who has now been charged in at least one murder. Some of the victims are common prisoners, others political figures and militant opponents of the regime. Much of the information in the report is gleaned from newspaper articles; the report appears to contain almost no intelligence information.

Document 5: Department of State, "Conditions in DEOPS Prison as told by Detained American Citizen," Confidential, October 7, 1970

This memorandum of conversation contains a report by a U.S. businessman, Robert Horth, who was detained by the military police in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Horth relates hearing from fellow Brazilian prisoners about torture at the prison where he is held in downtown Sao Paulo. The torture techniques include the Parrot Perch — known in Portuguese as "pau de arara" — and electrical shock to all parts of the body, as well as the "telephone technique" where an interrogator stands behind the seated prisoner and smacks both sides of his/her head repeatedly, almost destroying their eardrums.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT /// Iran 1953 : US Envoy to Baghdad Suggested to Fleeing Shah He Not Acknowledge Foreign Role in Coup

Shah "Agreed," Declassified Cable Says

Document Casts Doubt over Accuracy of US Reports from Tehran — and Adds to Debate over Responsibility for the Coup

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 477

Posted July 2, 2014

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information contact:
Malcolm Byrne 202/994-7043 or nsarchiv

Washington, DC, July 2, 2014 –On August 16, 1953, the same day the Shah of Iran fled to Baghdad after a failed attempt to oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the agitated monarch spoke candidly about his unsettling experience to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. In a highly classified cable to Washington, the ambassador reported: "I found Shah worn from three sleepless nights, puzzled by turn of events, but with no (repeat no) bitterness toward Americans who had urged and planned action. I suggested for his prestige in Iran he never indicate that any foreigner had had a part in recent events. He agreed."

Despite the passage of more than six decades, fundamental questions persist about Mosaddeq’s overthrow, including who was responsible for this milestone event in Iranian history. The above cable, which was previously published but with these key passages excised for secrecy reasons, is one of several important pieces of evidence pointing to the United States role.

Nevertheless, the question of how important the U.S. and British were in the events of 1953 has recently come under intensified scrutiny. An article in the July/August 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs by noted Iran analyst Ray Takeyh is the latest in a series of analyses by respected scholars who conclude Iranians, not the CIA or British intelligence, were fundamentally responsible.

In the course of explaining "What Really Happened in Iran," however, the piece spotlights some of the risks of writing about such sensitive historical events, particularly when they involve covert intelligence operations. In particular — how do you know when to trust your sources?

Today’s brief posting is by no means a full assessment or refutation of this argument. (In the interests of disclosure, the author believes the evidence shows that both the CIA — with British help — and Iranians themselves were critical in their own ways to the end result[1]). Instead, the posting mainly points out one of the peculiar challenges confronting historians of 1953, especially on the question of the U.S. and British roles.

The challenge is simply that U.S. and British reporting about the coup cannot be taken strictly at face value. The main reason is secrecy. President Eisenhower underscored the need for confidentiality in a diary entry from the time. Dated October 8, 1953, but referring back to August 19, Eisenhower notes: "Another recent development that we helped bring about was the restoration of the Shah to power in Iran and the elimination of Mossadegh. The things we did were ‘covert.’ If knowledge of them became public, we would not only be embarrassed in that region, but our chances to do anything of like nature in the future would almost totally disappear." (See Document 1)

Because of that concern, even internal U.S. records (not just those aimed at public audiences, such as Kermit Roosevelt’s memoir, Countercoup) sometimes cast events in a particular light, exaggerated them, or omitted key facts for the sake of protecting the operation.

A case in point is U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson’s August 20 preliminary report to the State Department on the events surrounding the coup (Document 2), which the Foreign Affairs article cites. Henderson, initially opposed to the coup plan, was eventually read into the program in detail. Yet, he makes no mention whatsoever of the various CIA-planned activities, either in terms of their effectiveness or the lack thereof. Instead, he writes as if there had been no such activities at all.

Why? Because very few officials knew about the plans, including in the State Department, certain quarters of which were still innocently proposing approaches to Mosaddeq after the operation had been put into play. Henderson was not about to jeopardize operational security by divulging secrets in a reporting cable he knew would attract wide attention within the Department. Therefore, even if his expression of surprise at the size of the crowds on August 19 was genuine — and there is reason to believe it was overstated (see Document 2 description below) — it cannot be assumed he was telling the full story as he knew it, much less that he believed the covert operation had been immaterial.

Henderson’s follow-up cable (Document 3) to the Department the next day, August 21, makes this point even more starkly. In it, he coyly reports that "Unfortunately impression becoming rather widespread that in some way or other this Embassy or at least US Government has contributed with funds and technical assistance to overthrow Mosadeq and establish Zahedi Government." Since he knew all about the plans, this could only have been a deliberate attempt to protect the operation from wider disclosure.

The British engaged in the same Orwellian exercise. An example is the British Foreign Office report to the Cabinet shortly after the coup (Document 4). It also makes no mention of the joint clandestine operation, the success or failure of which would have been of high interest to anyone with access to it.

Ann K.S. Lambton, noted British Iran specialist and advocate of Mosaddeq’s ouster. (Photographer unknown)

For a better idea of how some British Iran watchers thought London should act during this period, see Document 5 from two years before the coup. In a conversation with a Foreign Office colleague, the venerable Ann Lambton brusquely spells out her preferences for how to deal with Mosaddeq — i.e. to "under-mine" him using "covert means" in order to "create the sort of climate in Tehran which is necessary to change the regime."

The desire to keep information about the operation hidden has continued long after the fact. It is worth recalling that the single most important compilation of U.S. records about the overthrow — Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X, "Iran," 1951-1954 — became a symbol of historical manipulation when it was published in 1989 without a single reference to the American or British parts in the operation. (The State Department Historian’s Office expects to produce a "retrospective" volume in Summer 2014, which reportedly will contain CIA and other previously withheld documents that will shed new light on American thinking and activities during the coup period.)

The final document in this posting (Document 6) is an August 17, 1953, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad reporting on the ambassador’s meeting with the Shah who had just fled Iran that day. Although it deals with events prior to the second coup attempt (which is the focal point for those arguing the case for Iranian responsibility), the cable makes it clear the Shah was fully aware of the importance of the U.S. in recent events (see description below). The document first appeared in the FRUS volume above, but the key portions mentioned here were excised. The unexpurgated document, obtained from files at the National Archives and Records Administration, is presented in this posting.

These examples do not presume to deal with all the arguments made in Foreign Affairs or elsewhere by others with a similar take on the subject. They also certainly do not represent every instance of questionable sourcing that exists on the overthrow. But the documents below do point up a major wrinkle that anyone interested in the 1953 coup must take into account.


Document 1: Dwight Eisenhower, Diary entry, October 8, 1953, Secret

Source: Eisenhower Library

The section of this diary entry dealing with Iran sums up President Eisenhower’s understanding of events at the time. In a Weekly Standard piece in 2013 that closely parallels his Foreign Affairs article, Ray Takeyh implies that Eisenhower did not believe Kermit Roosevelt’s account, quoting the diary as saying the CIA agent’s report "seemed more like a dime novel than an historical fact." However, the full passage makes clear the president accepted Roosevelt’s version without reservation, commenting on "exactly how courageous our agent was in staying right on the job [after the first attempt] and continuing to work until he reversed the entire situation."

Document 2: Loy Henderson, Cable #416 to the State Department, August 20, 1953, noon. Confidential

Source: FRUS

This preliminary report on the events of recent days is suspect as a full and accurate record since it avoids any reference to U.S. involvement, even though that fact was well known to Henderson and others at the Embassy. That makes it more difficult to assess the rest of the detailed rundown of events it provides. The summary may well reflect the true beliefs or best information available to the Embassy, but without any sense of the sources used there is reason to be guarded. For one thing, the situation was by most accounts still highly fluid. Even the Americans and British were worried that the Tudeh might mount a serious counter-attack, and showed frustration that Zahedi had not been more effective in forestalling that possibility. Furthermore, it was entirely in line with the goals of the covert operation (regardless of one’s views about its efficacy) to present the events of 28 Mordad in as positive a light as possible, including portraying it as entirely spontaneous and far-reaching.

In that regard, a lingering question requiring further clarification — even after all these years — is what the true size of the crowds was. The scholar Ali Rahnema in a forthcoming book gives a detailed breakdown of the demonstrations on August 19.[2] Among other sources, he notes that even the pro-Zahedi press (Dad) came up with a crowd figure of 7,000. If accurate, that hardly compares to the numbers given for various Tudeh marches (e.g., in July 1952 and 1953), and would not by itself justify characterizing 28 Mordad as a major revolt.

Document 3: Loy Henderson, Cable #436 to the State Department, August 21, 1953, 2:00 p.m. Secret

Source: FRUS

Beyond the opening passage quoted above, this cable is interesting for the arguments it advances in the second paragraph in favor of keeping mum about the question of foreign involvement in the overthrow — even to the point of declining to deny the charge. Prophetically, the author notes that the current government, "like all governments of Iran eventually will become unpopular and at that time US might be blamed for its existence."

Document 4: Foreign Office, Brief for the Cabinet, "Persia," August 25, 1953. Secret

Source: British National Archives

It is hard to know whether the author(s) of this briefing knew about the joint U.S.-British operation. Clearly, the Cabinet was meant to be kept in the dark about it. Much of the analysis in the memo sounds perfectly reasonable in retrospect — a fact that does not at all imply that those in the loop believed their role had been insignificant.

Document 5: E. A. Berthoud, Minute, "Persia," June 15, 1951. Confidential

Source: British National Archives

Ann K.S. (Nancy) Lambton was a renowned scholar of Persian history and culture, well-connected with the British government, and regularly consulted on Iranian politics, especially during the Mosaddeq period. She reportedly had as little respect for the Shah as she did for the prime minister, whom she bluntly advocated overthrowing. Lambton proposes sending a colleague, Robin Zaehner, to Iran to put in place the pieces she sees as necessary to removing Mosaddeq. (Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison did in fact assign Zaehner to help put together a coup plan.) Lambton’s comment that Zaehner "was apparently extremely successful" at advancing British interests through propaganda during the 1945-46 Azerbaijan crisis says a great deal about British assumptions about their power to influence events in Iran.

Document 6: U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Cable #92 to the Under Secretary, August 17, 1953. Top Secret / No Distribution

Source: National Archives and Records Administration

This cable from U.S. Ambassador Burton Y. Berry in Baghdad was classified Top Secret and directed personally to the Under Secretary of State. Given its audience of one, the author feels freer than Henderson evidently did in the above reports to be forthright about such sensitive topics as the Shah’s state of mind and his admissions concerning the U.S. role in the coup to that point. Interestingly, the Shah made several statements to Berry that showed his dependence on the guidance of a person he refers to only as "an American." The cable notes this was "not (repeat not) an official of the State Department," leading to this author’s conclusion it was probably Kermit Roosevelt. The ambassador also makes clear the Shah intends to continue to get "advice from his American friend" before taking any further steps — a small indication that calls into further question the idea that the U.S. role can be entirely dismissed even after the initial failure of the CIA-British plan.


[1] For a comprehensive statement of this view, see the Conclusion of Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne (Syracuse, 2004). See also the various previous postings linked at the top of this page.

[2] Ali Rahnema, Behind the 1953 Coup in Iran: Thugs, Turn-Coats, Soldiers, Spies (Cambridge University Press: November 2014).

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : The Battle for Iran, 1953: Re-Release of CIA Internal History Spotlights New Details about anti-Mosaddeq Coup

U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson and Some CIA Officials Initially Disagreed with Certain Premises of Coup Planners

Declassified History Implies British Ties to the Operation, Criticizes London’s Policies in Period Leading up to the Overthrow

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 476

Posted June 27, 2014

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information contact:
Malcolm Byrne 202/994-7043 or nsarchiv

Washington, DC, June 27, 2014 –During early planning for the 1953 Iran coup, U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson warned not only that the Shah would not support the United States’ chosen replacement for Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq but that the Army would not play its hoped-for leading role without the Shah’s active cooperation, according to a newly released version of an internal CIA history of the operation posted today by the National Security Archive.

The Archive, based at The George Washington University, obtained the latest release of this history — The Battle for Iran, written in the mid-1970s — in response to a Mandatory Declassification Review request.

The document goes on to say that members of the CIA’s station in Tehran and certain officials at agency headquarters sided with Henderson against some of the assumptions of American coup planners, who were working under "closely held" conditions in Washington during Spring and Summer 1953.

Mainly through interviews with coup participants, scholars have known generally that disagreements existed (and eventually Henderson went along with Mosaddeq’s overthrow), but freshly declassified portions of the document posted today provide a few more specifics about the nature of the differences and who held to which views. (An earlier internal CIA account downplayed Henderson’s dissenting views, choosing to emphasize that he was "always thoroughly cooperative" and "absorbed in a search for constructive suggestions.")[1]

A tank patrols a neighborhood in Tehran, soon after August 19, 1953. (National Security Archive collections)

The document also offers the most explicit declassified CIA references to-date to British participation in the operation. London’s role — undoubtedly the worst-kept secret in Britain’s relationship with Iran over the past 60 years — has never been formally acknowledged by either British or U.S. authorities. However, in this latest CIA release at least two references are tantamount to an official admission of the fact (see below).

Furthermore, the CIA study concludes that the British "misjudged their adversaries badly" in several respects, and that their actions effectively forced the Mosaddeq government to adopt untenable policies. London’s rash approach also risked a war with the Soviets, according to the author (see below).

The Battle for Iran is one of three agency histories of the coup that are known to exist. Although heavily excised, it contains a number of interesting details as well as insights into U.S. thinking both in the 1950s and two decades later. It also contains evidence to support the conclusion that the participation of both outside intelligence agencies and Iranians themselves (from the Shah to Mosaddeq to his political opposition to the clerics, the military and finally members of the general population) contributed to the eventual outcome:[2]

  • The document’s author does not view the coup as an undiluted success, noting that it left considerable "debris" in its wake (p. 71)
  • The history implies American coup plotters worked directly with certain Iranian clerics on the timing of the critical August 19 demonstration, noting "the mullahs wanted to hold it on Friday, 21 August, which was a religious festival day" but that this might be too late to stave off rumored plans by the authorities to hang a number of arrested officers on August 20 (p. 62). The previous and subsequent sections are excised, so it is not possible to tell how extensive the cooperation was or who the religious leaders were.
  • The document gives a less belittling portrait of the deposed prime minister than many Western accounts from the 1950s. It mentions his "often bizarre behavior" but concludes "most of his actions, even his most emotional and apparently irrational ones, were probably well calculated" (p. B-2).
  • The history repeats several of the generally negative characteristics of the Shah that many other U.S. and British accounts have noted. The author writes that "his indecision and susceptibility to bad advice were notorious," and he describes the monarch as a "mistrusting but gullible ruler" (pp. 47-48)
  • Fazlollah Zahedi, the general picked by the U.S. to replace Mosaddeq, had a "career balance sheet" with "nearly as many minuses as pluses" (p.32), according to the author. The document also highlights some of the personal and political conflicts between Zahedi and the Shah.
  • Contradicting published accounts that Mosaddeq was pinned down in his home on August 19, and that he was forced to escape over a garden wall, this version asserts, without sourcing, that the ousted prime minister "was not even in his house" but had gone next door and "taken temporary refuge" with none other than the head of the U.S. aid program Point Four – William Warne (p. 70). (The Wilber history speculates that Mosaddeq "had probably already left" his house by early afternoon [p. 70].)
  • The New York Times and other accounts "grossly exaggerated" the number of casualties during the coup, according to the history, which disparages Times reporter Kennett Love’s descriptions of events, including his use of the phrase "torn to pieces" to describe the fates of Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi and Col. Ezatollah Momtaz, who led the defense of the prime minister’s residence on August 19. (Love put the number of dead at over 300. By comparison, a British report in early September 1953, without attribution, gave an estimate of over 50 dead and 300 wounded.[3])

Shortly after the overthrow, Shaban Jafari, celebrated wrestler and political enforcer, leads a pro-Pahlavi procession through Tehran. Propped up in the backseat of the crowded Cadillac is a large portrait of the Shah. (National Security Archive collections)

The CIA had first reviewed The Battle for Iran for release in 1981, but riddled it with exceptionally heavy excisions. A re-review occurred in 2011, and again in 2013 as the result of a National Security Archive request, leading to release of the version posted today. (The posting includes all three versions.) As a rough approximation, about 40 of the 150 pages include some amount of newly released material, sometimes the better part of a page, at other times only a few words. Most of the released text is in Sections III, IV and V, with about two-and-a-half pages newly available in Appendix D. Unaccountably, Appendix E, a chronology of events, has been withheld in its entirety.

The remaining excisions are too extensive to allow a thorough evaluation of the document, but some additional, preliminary comments are possible.

The earliest of the CIA’s three internal histories of the 1953 coup was a 1954 "Clandestine Services History" prepared by coup operative Donald Wilber. The Battle for Iran was produced some two decades later, followed by "Zendebad, Shah!": The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in June 1998. Both Battle and Zendebad were written by historians at the CIA. The agency has released portions of the latter two documents, albeit with heavy excisions. Only one sentence of Wilber’s account has been officially declassified (see Archive posting) — although in 2000 The New York Times posted virtually the entire document on its Web site after an unnamed former official leaked it to reporter James Risen.

It is important to note that this version of The Battle for Iran is a draft. Each page bears the stamp "Administrative — Working Paper," and typed and handwritten edits are visible throughout. There is nothing in the public record to indicate whether a final version ever appeared and, if so, what happened to it.

Another important point, and a difference between this and the earlier Wilber report — other than the amount of time that passed between their writing — is that the author of this document was a member of CIA’s History Staff, not a direct participant in the operation. The current author therefore theoretically would have had less of a stake in portraying the coup in a positive light (one of the criticisms of skeptics of the Wilber history). Beyond that, it is unclear why the agency would have commissioned another internal history on the subject — much less seek a third account 20 years later.[4]

The Battle for Iran consists of five sections and six appendices. The 150-page document begins with a short introduction then 24 pages of background on Iran’s history, population, economics, politics and government (reminiscent of the content of CIA’s current "World Factbook"), more than half of which covers the Cold War period. After this section the agency, without identification or explanation, has inserted two pages of a handwritten outline of what may be the actual coup plan.

The third section is entitled "Covert Action" and over the course of 45 pages discusses the operation’s various stages, including planning, involving the Shah, putting the operation into play, the failure of the first attempt, and the recovery that finally produced success. A 9-page description of the aftermath follows, then the main body of the document ends with a one-and-a-half-page assessment of the coup’s long-term effects. Again, much of this remains classified, despite the wide public availability of corroborating material originating from other CIA sources.

Finally, seven appendices cover topics ranging from a history of the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute, to biographic information about key participants, to a set of talking points used with the Shah (heavily excised), to details about operational plans (entirely excised), and the trial of Mosaddeq.

The document’s overall perspective is interesting. On the one hand it accepts as given the standard precepts about the Cold War — primarily the threat of Soviet aggression, including the perception that Mosaddeq seriously intended to move closer to the Soviets. It also makes dubious assertions about the Iranian character — for example, "their tendency to be talkative was notorious" (p. 54) — that are of a piece with many Westerners’ attitudes in the 1950s. On the other hand, 20 years after the fact, the author does not fall entirely in line with Eisenhower administration caricatures of Mosaddeq, pronouncing him "neither a madman nor an emotional bundle of senility" (p. 26; see also p. B-2).

The matter of identifying Britain’s role in the coup has become something of a poor joke. While the deletion of several passages in the text is clearly aimed at concealing the British role, at least two declassified references spotlight the issue. The first characterizes the operation as an "official admission by both the United States and United Kingdom that normal, rational methods of international communication and commerce had failed." The second notes that a few weeks before the operation a State Department office insisted that, if a coup were to go forward, London would have to provide a "firm commitment" to be "flexible" on any future oil settlement with "the new government." Shortly thereafter, the British cabled their acceptance of the conditions (pp. 39-40).

In this connection, the State Department is reportedly close to publishing its long-awaited retrospective volume on the coup as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States series, which will apparently include much valuable new information. However, it seems unlikely Britain’s role will be discussed.

As mentioned above, the author freely criticizes the British approach. London’s main misjudgment was to assume that the loss of revenue from the oil crisis would "bring the Iranians to their knees." Instead, it "merely forced them to take the risky steps that increasingly endangered their country’s future" (p. 27). Moreover, if the British had "sent in the paratroops and warships," as earlier envisioned, it was "almost certain" the Soviet Union would have invaded, making the "danger of a third world war" seem "very real" (p. 27-28).

As noted, the history does not see the overthrow as an unqualified good. It may have removed Mosaddeq and restored the Shah but "it left behind a good deal of debris [words excised] to clean up, plus not a few complications." (The next half page of detail is excised.) (p. 71) The coup changed Iranian history, but it "did not, as Churchill hoped, enable the West to turn things around in the Middle East" (p. 79).

The author’s characterization of the Shah may raise some eyebrows. He was "by no means a dedicated Western ally" even though he served Western interests by being staunchly anti-Soviet. His reforms brought important changes, according to the author, and the White Revolution is credited with having "solidified the foundations of the throne that seemed so shaky and insecure in the violent days of 1952 and 1953." At the same time, the history acknowledges the obvious, that "the Shah has a monopoly of political power … although parliamentary elections and procedures may furnish the window-dressing of democratic government" (p. 79-80).

In one particular respect, the document is a reflection of its time. Written in the mid or possibly late 1970s, it comes in the wake of the revelations of widespread CIA misconduct by journalists such as Seymour Hersh and official investigations, notably the Church and Pike congressional committees and the Rockefeller Commission on CIA abuses. This was the era when the agency was publicly pilloried as a "rogue elephant" operating without presidential authority or accountability.

That is the background for the opening comments in Part III, which have a distinctly defensive tone. "The many chroniclers of Central Intelligence Agency misdeeds … have long placed the August 1953 coup … near the top of their list of infamous Agency acts … The point that the majority of these accounts miss is a key one: the military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government" (p. 26).

THE DOCUMENT: The Battle for Iran, CIA History Staff, ca. mid-1970s

For purposes of comparison, this posting includes all three releases of the document — each of which has very different excisions. Each version has been broken into segments for ease of viewing.

The Battle for Iran, 2014 release

A: Sections I and II (with attached handwritten outline of plans)

B: Section III, IV, and V

C: Appendixes

The Battle for Iran, 2011 release

A: Sections I and II

B: Section III

C: Appendixes

The Battle for Iran, 1981 release

A: Sections I and II

B: Appendixes


[1] Mark Gasiorowski of Tulane University has done the most extensive interviewing of former operatives. The leaked history is: Donald N. Wilber, CIA Clandestine Services History, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953 , March 1954, especially p. 18. When Wilber wrote this document, Henderson was still an active diplomat, and in fact still posted to Iran, necessitating some significant diplomacy on this point on Wilber’s part. (See Archive EBB No. 435.)

[2] This is the conclusion of the editors of the volume Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne (Syracuse University Press, 2004). In recent years a handful of analyses, downplaying or dismissing altogether the evidence in certain American and British sources, have claimed neither the CIA nor British intelligence contributed meaningfully to Mosaddeq’s actual overthrow.

[3] "Persia: Political Review of the recent Crisis," origin unknown but likely Foreign Office or British Embassy in Washington, September 2, 1953. SeeForeign Relations of the United States, Vol. X, "Iran, 1951-1954," p. 786. Love evidently did not make up the phrase that Battle’s author called "a favorite" of his. This same British document reports that pro-Shah forces announced from the radio station at 2:30 p.m. on August 19 that Fatemi had been "torn to pieces" (p. 785).

[4] An attempt in June 2014 to contact a member of the CIA History Staff familiar with the background of the 1998 history received no response.

RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Being an Ottoman Vlach – On Vlach identity (Ies), role and status in western parts of the Ottoman Balkans (15th-18th centuries)

Being an Ottoman Vlach – On Vlach identity (Ies), role and status in western parts of the Ottoman Balkans (15th-18th centuries).pdf

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