Foreign Affairs

Conference on the Power of Free Inquiry and Cold War International History



Session II

Kennedy Library Holdings Relating to the Cold War and the Former Soviet Bloc
by Stephanie Fawcett

The Cold War was at its zenith during the years 1961 through 1963. The United States and the U.S.S.R. were rivals in a grim nuclear arms race. The "domino theory" reigned supreme in Washington; if one country fell to Communism, its neighbors would soon follow. The great-power conflict spanned the globe: Cuba, Berlin, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America. Tension between East and West reached its height during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. During the 10 days of the crisis, the possibility of a nuclear conflict was great. The world teetered on the brink of disaster before a diplomatic resolution was reached.

The Kennedy Library has an array of records documenting the dramatic history of U.S./Soviet relations during the early 1960s. The foreign policy collection contains a variety of materials: microfilm, audio recordings, maps, photographs, as well as original documents. The principal foreign policy collection in the Library's holdings is the National Security Files, sometimes referred to as the "Bundy" papers. The National Security Files, which were the files maintained by the National Security Council, are divided into a number of series: Countries, Regional Security, Trips and Conferences, Departments and Agencies, Subjects, Meetings and Memoranda, Chester V. Clifton, Carl Kaysen, William H. Brubeck, Ralph A. Dungan, McGeorge Bundy Correspondence, Komer/Saunders working files, and Boards, Committees and Commissions.

These series contain documents from virtually all government agencies. Predominant records include those from the State Department, which comprise approximately 60% of the collection, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. Other agencies represented are the Department of Energy, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Peace Corps, United States Information Agency, and United States Agency for International Development.

The National Security Files: Countries: U.S.S.R. have extensive material pertaining to U.S./Soviet relations. Of course, the Kennedy Administration considered this relationship of primary importance. However, the Library's holdings on Eastern Europe per se are minimal because these countries were perceived as puppets of the Soviet Union, dancing to whatever tune Moscow set.

In contrast to 16 boxes of material on the U.S.S.R., the Library has merely 1 folder for Bulgaria, 5 folders on Czechoslovakia, 4 folders on Poland, 7 folders on Rumania, and 5 folders on Yugoslavia in the Countries series of the National Security Files. Since it was not recognized by the U.S. as an independent country, there are no separate files for East Germany, rather East German affairs are incorporated in the "Germany" country files. The slenderness of our holdings for these countries testifies to their limited relevance to U.S. foreign policy at that time. They were not viewed independently by Kennedy administration officials but solely through the Cold War prism.

To concentrate one's research solely on specific boxes/folders related to the U.S.S.R/East Europe would be to curtail one's glimpse into the complex U.S./Soviet relationship. The vast scope of the U.S./Soviet contest touched on numerous areas of the world, affecting practically every country. Researchers will find Cold War related material in such diverse smaller countries as Cyprus and the Dominican Republic. Latin America, especially the Caribbean countries, was an area of acute sensitivity for the U.S.. The Administration's anxiety was that Soviet inspired communism would take root in Latin America thereby ensuring the encroachment on the U.S. by countries subservient to the Soviet Union.

The immense concern of the United States over Cuba has been well documented. However much we would now dismiss the idea of Cuba as a regional threat as being fantastical, it was in fact a heartfelt fear during the 1960s. Comparatively speaking, the Library has more information on Cuba in its National Security Files than it has on any other country, U.S.S.R. and Vietnam files included. Most of the information in these boxes, however, relates to Soviet influence, or possible influence, on the island. Obviously, Cuba would not have been as important to the U.S. had not the Soviets become involved. While this is especially true for Cuba, open virtually any box for a Latin American country and you will find evidence of U.S. actions/reactions to suspected Soviet machinations and maneuverings.

Files containing information on America's European allies also contain a rich load of material on the U.S./Soviet relationship. U.S. ties with the United Kingdom were strong during this period and thus the British were frequently consulted or informed of U.S. responses to Soviet moves. Berlin, of course, was one of the most explosive issues of the era. There is a large body of material in the Countries files that detail U.S., U.K., German and French consultations regarding joint actions in Berlin in response to Soviet efforts to block access to Berlin and to the construction of the Berlin Wall. These documents include information from the Washington Ambassadorial Group (WAG) and Live Oak, a quadripartite military entity instituted specifically to deal with the Soviet threat in Berlin.

The U.S./Soviet contest of wills also reached into Asia and Africa. The Library's country files are correspondingly rich for these two continents. The Administration was deeply concerned about the Sino-Soviet relationship and once a split became evident, sought means to exploit it. Soviet relations with India were also of concern, particularly in light of Sino-Indian and Indian-Pakistani tensions. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, though not yet constituting the issue they were to become, prompted concern in connection with the prevalent "domino theory".

Additional information on U.S./Soviet relations may be found in other series of the National Security Files. For example, in the Regional Security series, check the NATO, MLF, and Europe files. In the Department and Agencies series, information can be found in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Commerce, Department of State, and USIA files. The Subjects, Meetings and Memoranda, Clifton, Kaysen, Komer series and the indices for the NSC and Standing Group meetings may also yield important additional information.

Other collections housed in the Kennedy Library are worth pursing. They include the President's Office Files, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, Arthur Schlesinger Papers, Theodore Sorensen Papers, Roger Hilsman Papers, the George Ball telcons (these are notes of conversations between George Ball, Undersecretary of State, and other individuals taken by his secretary), Jerome Weisner Papers, Office of Science and Technology microfilm, and USIA microfilm.

The Kennedy Library also contains the oral histories of prominent administration officials such as Dean Rusk, Robert F. Kennedy, Walt Rostow, Paul Nitze, Llewellyn Thompson, Robert Komer, Richard Helms, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Martin Hillenbrand, Carl Kaysen, Charles Bohlen, and Lyman Lemnitzer. The information found in these materials is at times quite arresting although much duplicates information found in the National Security Files.

It should be noted here that not all of the information in these materials is available for research. A very limited amount of information may be unavailable under the privacy restriction of a donor's deed of gift. Other information may be restricted for national security reasons. For privacy restrictions, however, a researcher may file a request asking that a privacy closure be reconsidered. This is not a lengthy process and in most cases the information will be opened. If the archivist makes a decision to keep the information closed, a researcher may appeal to the Director of the Library, who will then make a determination.

Some documents in the Library's collections may be closed in whole or in part for national security reasons. The Library is currently involved in a massive declassification review project in an effort to release, if possible, previously classified material from the Kennedy Administration. During the last 2 years, the Library has released approximately 230,000 pages and 50 hours of audio recordings that contain previously security classified information.

The Library has employed a multi-prong strategy to achieve this result. President Clinton's Executive Order 12958 mandates the declassification review of all national security classified records 25 years old and older by April 2000. The classified holdings of the Kennedy Library certainly fall under this mandate. To meet the President's deadline, the Library embarked on a major systematic declassification review effort. In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, archivists of the Foreign Policy Unit of the Library studied the events of the period using a variety of sources as well as standard library reference sources. The knowledge gained from this study, combined with on-site training from agencies such as the Department of State and Naval Sea Systems Command and a broad interpretation of declassification guidelines issued by a number of government agencies has enabled the foreign policy archivists to achieve a 75-80% declassification rate on a large portion of the materials. Unfortunately, while we are able to review State Department and other agencies' information, which comprise approximately 70% of our classified holdings, to great effect, we have neither the guidelines nor the authority to review documents containing intelligence information, Restricted Data, and Formerly Restricted Data, our other significant bloc of material. Information that has been designated as Restricted Data or Formerly Restricted Data is exempt from the E.O.

To facilitate the declassification review of what we refer to as our "hard-core" information, the Library has participated in the Remote Archives Capture Project, or RAC. "Hard-core" information is information which cannot be reviewed for declassification by library archivists. Documents containing intelligence, nuclear or other types of information considered sensitive under government guidelines fall in this category. Under the auspices of the RAC, sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Library's "hard-core" documents--with the exception of those containing Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data--were digitally scanned onto compact disks and returned to the CIA for dissemination to the appropriate government agencies. The documents were to be collated by OPR an acronym for Office of Primary Responsibility-- and then made available to the OPR for declassification review. Once review determinations were made by the OPRs and received by the CIA, the documents along with the review decisions, would be returned via the CIA to the Library.

The Kennedy Library has participated in this project twice, the first time in September, 1996, and the second time in February/March 1998. The Library's first effort failed because of scanning errors. The second attempt made earlier this year successfully scanned the documents. However, the Library has yet to receive back reviewed documents from the CIA nor does it have projected dates when documents will be received.

The bulk of the documents scanned, approximately 80% of 200,000+ pages, contain intelligence information. The remaining 20% contain Department of Defense information and a smattering of other agencies' equities such as Department of Treasury and Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Another mechanism used by the Library to facilitate declassification review is the Assassination Records Act. This Act was promulgated to gain the release of documents pertinent to the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy and the subsequent investigation of his murder. Under the Act, 30 boxes or 30,000 pages of the National Security Files for Cuba were reviewed for declassification. As a result of this effort, 95% of the material was opened in full. The remaining documents, with the exception of approximately 10 documents which were exempted from declassification, were released in part. This comprised the totality of our NSF Cuba files. Additional documents in the NSF and the President's Office Files, as well as various other collections of personal papers have been reviewed for declassification under the Act. Again, the majority of the documents were subsequently released in full with a limited number of documents released in part. A minuscule number of documents was withheld in full. Ironically, the Library has had documents released under the Assassination Records Act that would not be released under the E.O.

Approximately 185 hours of closed audio recordings also must be reviewed for declassification under the E.O. These recordings consist of meetings between President Kennedy and individuals or groups of advisers on a wide range of foreign policy issues. The collection contains about 10 hours of dictabelt recordings of telephone conversations between JFK and various individuals on foreign policy and domestic issues. Although a date has not yet been set, the Library intends to release approximately 25 hours of meeting tapes and all remaining telephone conversations this fall. This release will open all taped meetings from the installation of the taping system in the White House through the Cuban missile crisis concluding on October 28, 1962 in addition to all recorded telephone conversations. The remaining audio recordings will be reviewed for declassification and released in 1999.

A large number of the recorded meetings to be released this fall pertain to nuclear testing and negotiations for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Others concern China, Cuba, and Vietnam, and other trouble spots around the globe. Of particular interest to scholars may be the recorded meetings between the President and former President Dwight Eisenhower and the President and General Douglas MacArthur. These particular recordings reflect the Administration's concern with the spread of Soviet influence worldwide, especially in Cuba, Berlin, and China. Despite the specific subject matter, the thread woven throughout the conversations is how to meet the Soviet threat.

One caution about the tapes. Because of the placement of the microphones and the quality of the 1960's taping system, the audio quality of the recordings is inconsistent at best. Recorded telephone conversations will generally be significantly clearer than meeting tapes, which are subject to a cacophony of sounds from a number of different sources. A researcher can either visit the Library to listen to the tapes or purchase a copy of the tapes or tape in a cassette tape format. For those who choose to purchase the tapes, I suggest listening to them using headphones; a walkman is particularly useful.

The unique value of the recordings lies in the fact that no where else in the holdings of the Kennedy Library can you get a flavor of John F. Kennedy the man. Unfortunately, President Kennedy seldom wrote his thoughts down. While you will find reams of material written by individuals such as McGeorge Bundy and Robert Komer, seldom will you find documents expressing the President's personal thoughts and views on events or policies of the day. No where, that is, except on the recordings. It is here where you glimpse JFK's decision-making prowess and the process by which he and advisers dealt with the crises of their time. The recordings, however limited and circumscribed, also give a sense of context and the priorities of the administration. They also reveal how a decision for action, or inaction, in one area of the world affected decisions made for other parts of the globe. In other words, the inter-connectedness of America's foreign policy is revealed. This appreciation is important since foreign policy tends to be viewed in isolated vignettes or crises by most of the American public. And during the early 1960's, the intense rivalry between the two super-powers colored virtually every decision made for any country.

The Kennedy Library also contains microfilm copies of certain government agency records. Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated, his brother Robert requested that the various government agencies microfilm their records for donation to the as yet unformed Kennedy Library. Consequently, the Library has in excess of 1,000 rolls of microfilm in its holdings. Not surprisingly since Robert Kennedy headed the Department of Justice, the largest number of microfilm rolls are from that agency. The Library also has a limited number of microfilmed documents from the Department of Defense, Agency for International Development, Office of Science and Technology Policy, United States Information Agency, CIA, Department of State, Department of Treasury, Department of Commerce, and still other agencies. A number of these rolls are available for research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy microfilm is currently under review by this White House office and some rolls are already available for research. Others are classified still and must be reviewed for declassification. Although I can not claim that this is true with all the microfilm, the Library recently discovered that the original documents microfilmed by the Department of Justice either can not be located or no longer exist. Therefore, these records, which include comprehensive case files, are one-of-a-kind records. This situation may prove true with other microfilmed documents as well, though this has not been verified. Certainly, however, the microfilm is worth a look for any interested scholar.

Finally, it should be noted here the differences between the John F. Kennedy presidential records and those found in the government agencies. As we have conducted the declassification review of our holdings, we have noted that in the main, by the time information reached the Presidential level, it was in a more generalized form. As our colleagues in other government agencies have repeatedly reminded us, "the devil is in the details." And our presidential records generally do not have the details. This is not to say that they are unimportant or to imply that other Presidential libraries resemble ours. This merely means that during our time period, the specifics resided with the originating agencies. When one pauses to consider, this actually makes sense. To read and distill mountains of detail each day during a 4 year term in office would overwhelm even the most hardy individual. A president needs to have information on a broad range of subjects. Excessive detail would be paralyzing and too time consuming. So quite logically, the agencies would handle the details and give the President a more general overview of the subject. What presidential records provides then are not the details of plans and proposals, but a window to Presidential priorities, interests, and decision-making. These records are an indispensable part of any history of U.S./Soviet relations during the Cold War years.

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