Getting to Know the Presidents from the Intelligence Community’s Perspective

February 10, 2014

Presidents Day originated as a holiday to celebrate George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. As a result of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, the holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. While the holiday commemorates  George Washington, it also honors Abraham Lincoln whose birthday is ten days before Washington’s on February 12th. Consequently, Presidents Day always falls between the two birthdays. Let’s also give a shout out to two other Presidents whose birthdays fall in February – Ronald Reagan’s birthday on February 6th and William Henry Harrison on February 9th.

In recent years, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been declassifying documents and releasing historical collections giving the public access to fascinating and relatively unknown U.S. history. These collections have been made available through GPO’s bookstore and have been the topic of previous blog posts.

In honor of Presidents Day, Government Book Talk is taking a look at two recent books published by the CIA focusing on the relationship between Presidents and the intelligence community.

Crafting the U.S. Intelligence Community

Crafting an Intelligence Community-Papers of the First-4-DCIs ISBN 9780160920523The CIA’s predecessor, the Central Intelligence Group, was created after World War II in response to the success and usefulness of intelligence gathering during the war. The booklet and accompanying DVD Crafting an Intelligence Community: Papers of the First Four DCIs looks at the first Directors of Central Intelligence (DCI) and their relationships with President Truman and Congress during the initial years of the newly created intelligence agency during the transition from wartime to peacetime. History buffs and President Truman enthusiasts will particularly enjoy pouring through the 800 recently declassified documents from the DCIs from 1946-1953 that are found on the DVD.

The CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence and CIA Historical Collections Division describe this multimedia publication:

Admiral Sidney W. Souers, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter and General William Bedell Smith accepted President Harry S. Truman’s challenge to craft an intelligence organization.  Each man marked his tenure with his unique brand of leadership that provided his successor with the foundation needed for the next step toward the Central Intelligence Agency of today.

 The Crafting of an Intelligence Community collection of 800+ Agency documents along with 600 supplemental items shows the day-by-day activities, decisions, staff meetings and contacts that confronted each DCI.  They ran the gamut of choosing a secretary to responding to a Presidential question to an evening social event with various ambassadors and dignitaries.

Briefing the Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect

CIA Getting To Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2004 ISBN 9781929667192Getting To Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2004 (Book and DVD) or in Audio Book version was recently featured in the Washington Post for being the federal government’s first downloadable audio book available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). The book is an historical account of the information sharing process between the intelligence community and Presidential candidates and Presidents-elect during campaigns and administration transitions.  The early chapters when this practice was not yet well-established provide the greatest insight to the briefing process.

It starts with the transition periods from the Dwight D. Eisenhower to Harry Truman administration through the candidate and Presidential briefings of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, ending with President George W. Bush.

An interesting anecdote from the book occurs during the period leading up to the 1960 election when then-Vice President Richard Nixon was running against then-Senator John F. Kennedy. At the time, there were concerns regarding the intelligence briefings on Cuba and the U.S.’s policy towards the Castro government. The recent revolution in Cuba that led to a Soviet-supported communist government was a hot topic during the election and the Presidential debates. Since Nixon was running for President while serving as Vice President, he was privy to information on the covert actions that had been underway in Cuba during the Eisenhower administration. Vice President Nixon raised concerns over what information was shared with Kennedy by the DCI Allen Dulles and how it could affect Kennedy’s positions during the election and the success of the covert actions. This was the first time the CIA was part of a political campaign raising questions on which topics and to what extent Presidential candidates should be briefed.

Here is an excerpt from the book detailing this fascinating controversy:

Well before the Cuba liberation issue came to a head in October, the outgoing Eisenhower administration had realized that covert action planning on Cuba could be a political bombshell. Following one of Allen Dulles’s briefings of the National Security Council in early August, for example, the vice president pulled the DCI aside to ask him whether Kennedy and his running mate, Senator Lyndon Johnson, were being provided information on covert action projects, specifically those related to Cuba. Dulles gave a carefully crafted answer to the effect that Kennedy was being told a little but not too much. According to former Agency officials familiar with the exchange, Nixon reacted strongly to Dulles’s reply, saying, “Don’t tell [Kennedy] anything. That could be dangerous.”

In his own account of these events, published in 1962, Nixon charged that Kennedy, before the election of 1960, had knowledge of covert action planning “for the eventual purpose of supporting an invasion of Cuba itself.” This charge prompted a formal press release from the White House on 20 March 1962 denying that Kennedy had been told of any plans for “supporting an invasion of Cuba” before the election. The White House denial was backed up by Dulles, by then a former DCI, who explained that Nixon’s comments were apparently based on a misunderstanding of what was included in the briefings he had given Kennedy.

Senator-Kennedy-DCI-DullesImage from “Getting to Know the Presidents”: Senator Kennedy with former DCI Allen Dulles heading to a press briefing on the information the CIA provided Kennedy and Johnson. Source: White House

Celebrate Presidents Day and get to know the Presidents from the intelligence community’s perspective with these new CIA publications or any of the publications found in the GPO Bookstore’s Presidential History collection, which also includes the popular Public Papers of the Presidents collection.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THESE PUBLICATIONS?

About the author: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs. 

Additional images and content provided by Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions and Ecommerce Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Hawks vs. Doves: The Joint Chiefs and the Cuban Missile Crisis

October 18, 2012

50 years ago this week, the world stood on the brink of nuclear war as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. The United States finally decided to first blockade rather than immediately attack Cuba to prevent the Soviet Union from finishing installation of missiles that could reach the continental United States. This article introduces the little-known story of the battles between the “hawks” and the “doves” in the Kennedy Administration as related in a new publication, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Vol. 8, 1961-1964.

When President John F. Kennedy finally announced the naval blockade of Cuba and the reasons for it on national television, Americans huddled together, practiced nuclear drills, and prayed for some peaceful solution to prevent all-out nuclear war. Only decades later did the full story of brinkmanship, bravado and brilliance come out about what really happened behind the scenes during those two weeks.

Image Credit: The Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records

A little known side of the story comes from the top military commanders who were serving the Kennedy administration during the crisis, found in the surprisingly fascinating book titled The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Vol. 8, 1961-1964, from the Office of Joint History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy Administration

This accounting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during this tumultuous period in the history of American foreign affairs goes beyond the normal third party historian’s post mortem, since the author was actually able to meet with several members of the joint chiefs in the 1970’s to add more of their personal insights, including Admiral Arleigh Burke, Admiral George Anderson, General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman during 1960-1962, and the Chairman who succeeded him, General Maxwell D. Taylor.

Image: President John F. Kennedy meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Photograph includes: (L-R) United States Marine Corps General David Shoup; United States Army General Earle Wheeler; United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay, President Kennedy; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor; United States Navy Admiral George Anderson. West Wing Lawn.  White House. Washington, D.C. Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

What results is an interesting amalgam of history and a peek into the tensions between military joint chiefs and the civilians to whom they reported. Describing the relationship of the Kennedy administration and the military establishment, author Walter S. Poole says: “During 1961-1962, relations between the JCS and their civilian superiors were often awkward and even confrontational” particularly between Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Lemnitzer.

The old-school Joint Chiefs were concerned about the new approach to foreign policy being espoused by the Kennedy administration, and tensions grew. According to the author:

“What most concerned the JCS was an apparent erosion of US credibility that emboldened communist leaders to pursue more adventurous policies. President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara pursued what they conceived as more flexible approaches to strategy and crisis management.”

Quick Background on the Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962, the Soviet Union was losing the arms race with the United States. In late April 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba to double the Soviet strategic arsenal and provide a real deterrent to a potential U.S. attack against the Soviet Union from the Jupiter missiles the U.S. had just placed in Turkey.  Ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion the previous year, Fidel Castro felt a second attack by the U.S. on Cuba was inevitable, so he agreed to host the missiles as protection.

Image: Initial U.S. intelligence estimates of possible U.S. targets within range of the nuclear-capable Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballisticmissiles (MRBMs) and SS-5 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) found by the U-2 spy plane surveillance photographs if they were launched from Cuba.  Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS

On October 15, 1962, the National Photographic Intelligence Center confirmed that secret reconnaissance photographs from an American U-2 spy plane flight the day before were finally able to definitively prove the suspicion that Soviet medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Atlanta, the Midwest, Washington, DC, and even Los Angeles and Seattle were indeed in place and in the process of being installed and ready in Cuba within days. In response, President Kennedy and Secretary McNamara assembled the Executive Committee of the National Security Council call “ExComm” as a task force that, together with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and experts from the State Department and other intelligence agencies, would debate the United States’ options to deter the Soviets from nuclear escalation.

To Blockade, Strike or Invade?

Earlier in September 1962, after cloud-obscured U-2 photos had hinted at Soviet build-up in Cuba, the Joint Strategic Survey Council had submitted a recommendation for blockading rather than invading Cuba, on grounds that a blockade would be less dramatic, require smaller resources, cause fewer casualties, and be more plausibly related to upholding the Monroe Doctrine. In his 1823 annual message to Congress, President James Monroe had established this doctrine followed by the U.S. ever since that warned European countries not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere, stating “that the American continents… are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

However, as the crisis unfolded, the primary debate among the military commanders of the Joint Chiefs was over whether to carry out an all-inclusive attack against Soviet and Cuban forces on the island or a surgical strike confined to just attacking the missiles themselves, the nuclear storage sites, and Soviet MiG planes.

Both President Kennedy and McNamara thought that an all-inclusive attack would inevitably lead to invasion of Cuba, and then possible counter-attacks elsewhere by the Soviets or escalation to all-out war.

But General Taylor reported that the Joint Chiefs and the combatant commanders felt “so strongly about the dangers inherent in [only] the limited strike that they would prefer taking no military action. They feel it’s opening up the United States to attacks which they can’t prevent, if we don’t take advantage of surprise.” Taylor added that his personal inclination was “all against invasion, but nonetheless trying to eliminate as effectively as possible every weapon [present in Cuba] that can strike the United States”.

According to the reports by the author, the Joint Chiefs were opposed to only attacking the medium-range ballistic missiles themselves, saying it would incur “an unacceptable risk” and that not attacking the enemy’s planes would expose the continental United States and Puerto Rico to air attack and could cause unnecessary casualties among the garrison at Guantanamo and the forces assembling for invasion.  Instead, the JCS initially recommended “also hitting tactical missiles, aircraft, ships, tanks, and other appropriate targets, as well as imposing a ‘complete’ blockade.


Image: A meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council in the Cabinet Room during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 29, 1962, 10:10-10:58am. Clockwise from left: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (standing); Assistant Sec. Defense Paul Nitze; Dep. USIA Dir. Donald Wilson; Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen; Exec. Sec. NSC Bromley Smith; Special Assistant McGeorge Bundy; Sec. Treasury Douglas Dillon; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; Ambassador  Llewellyn Thompson; William C. Foster; CIA Dir. John McCone (hidden); Under Secretary of State George Ball (hidden); President John F. Kennedy; Sec. State Dean Rusk; Sec. Defense Robert McNamara; Dep. Sec. Defense Roswell Gilpatric; Chairman JCS Gen. Maxwell Taylor. Credit: Photo by Cecil Stoughton, JFK Library ST-A26-18-62

The Blues vs. the Reds

Even more fascinating was the story of the war gaming techniques used. To quickly develop two alternative scenarios for the President to consider, the ExComm task force split into two groups that constantly exchanged position papers and critiqued each other’s work. The “Blues,” who were to prepare the scenario for a surprise air strike, included General Maxwell Taylor, Robert Kennedy, Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon, Director McCone, Dean Acheson, and McGeorge Bundy. The “Reds,” drafting the blockade option, included Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. George Anderson, Marine Corps Commandant David Shoup, Secretary Rusk, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, and Theodore Sorensen.

Image: On October 11 last week, certain documents from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s personal papers about the Cuban Missile Crisis were declassified. In it was the above personal list of who RFK thought among the ExComm were the “Hawks” who favored an air strike (shown in the right column labeled “Strike”) vs. the “Doves” who favored a blockade of Cuba (in the left column). Note that the “Chiefs” meaning the Joint Chiefs of Staff along with General Taylor are shown on the “Hawks” Strike side of his list on the right.  Source: The National Security Archive

In less than two days, two complete scenarios were prepared and presented to President Kennedy on October 20, with competing input coming from the Pentagon and the State Department.

From this insider accounting of events, we learn that the Chairman thought that the probable sequence of events to be green-lighted would be: a political approach; a warning; air attack on the missile sites; blockade; and, if necessary, invasion, with the earliest air strike date set for October 21 (optimally the 23rd), and an invasion to begin on October 28.

However, to find out exactly what happened and how the drama played out behind the scenes, pick up a copy of this fascinating book.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Vol. 8, 1961-1964”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s US Government Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

Find this and other Government publications about Cuba in our Cuba collection.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Critical Thinking and Missile Crises

June 11, 2010

Government Book Talk got quite a bit of traffic for last Friday’s review of  Interrogation: World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq, so I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss another book just in from the National Defense Intelligence College. Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis is a study of the practice of critical thinking – which can be defined as simultaneously thinking and thinking about thinking as a means of an analyst “coming to a solution and improving the way her or she reasons.” Although the application of this reasoning technique to intelligence analysis is the focus of the book, the discussion of what critical thinking is, its advantages over either inductive or deductive reasoning, and its value in the analysis of a wide variety of problems and situations makes it a useful tool for academics, business people, or anyone else needing to analyze a particular scenario or set of evidence.

Because I’m not a heavily abstract thinker, I found the author’s case study very useful in getting a better handle on how the absence of critical thinking can result in a major intelligence failure. Prior to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, American intelligence analysts had received so much false or exaggerated information on Soviet military activities – including reports of Mongolian and Chinese troops –  that they seemed to believe that any such reports had to be untrue. Disinformation on the part of the Soviets added to the analysts’ disinclination to think critically about the intelligence they were receiving, so the discovery of offensive Soviet missiles was a total surprise to them.  The book also draws analogies to the failure of intelligence during the lead up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and in the 2002 failure to detect the absence of weapons of mass destruction prior to the second U.S. war with Iraq.

The verdict: an excellent textbook for the teaching of critical thinking (there’s a syllabus in the Appendix) and a very interesting take on a crucial episode in Cold War history. You can read it here and buy it here. To find it in a library, go here.


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