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Appendix C

NSC 5412, "National Security Council Directive
on Covert Operations"

A segment of NSC 5412 follows below. Known as the Special Group 5412/2, this subcommittee of the National Security Council was the descendant of the Special Group 10/2 which, as described in "The Forty Committee" by L. Fletcher Prouty[1], produced a document, NSCID 10/2, that "came close to giving the CIA what it wanted" in terms of being able to conduct clandestine operations. NSC 5412, "National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations," effectively neutralized such oversight functions as were intended to be carried out under the authority of the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB) which was a part of NSC by law. OCB was intended to be a group of senior individuals, who would follow the decisions made by the National Security Council and make sure that the bureaucracy carried them out.

The following is taken from pages 308-310 of The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part I, 1945-1961, prepared for the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1984. Also important to note here is the wording that defined "covert operations."

Although there had been some covert U.S. operations in Indochina during Truman's administration, which had been continued by Eisenhower, the approval of NSC 5412 on March 15, 1954, marked the official recognition and sanctioning of a much larger program of anti-Communist activities in Indochina and throughout the world.[81]

NSC 5412, "National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations," which continued to be the U.S. Government's basic directive on covert activities until the Nixon administration's NSC 40 in 1970, began with this statement of purpose:

The National Security Council, taking cognizance of the vicious covert activities of the USSR and Communist China and the governments, parties and groups dominated by them . . . to discredit and defeat the aims and activities of the United States and other powers of the free world, determined, as set forth in NSC directives 10/2 and 10/5 [of the Truman administration], that, in the interests of world peace and U.S. national security, the overt foreign activities of the U.S. Government should be supplemented by covert operations. . . .

The NSC has determined that such covert operations shall to the greatest extent practicable, in the light of U.S. and Soviet capabilities and taking into account the risk of war, be designed to

a. Create and exploit troublesome problems for International Communism, impair relations between the USSR and Communist China and between them and their satellites, complicate control within the USSR, Communist China and their satellites, and retard the growth of the military and economic potential of the Soviet bloc.

b. Discredit the prestige and ideology of International Communism, and reduce the strength of its parties and other elements.

c. Counter any threat of a party or individuals directly or indirectly responsive to Communist control to achieve dominant Power in a free world country.

d. Reduce International Communist control over any areas of the world.

e. Strengthen the orientation toward the United States of the peoples and nations of the free world, accentuate, wherever possible, the identity of interest between such peoples and nations and the United States as well as favoring, where appropriate, those groups genuinely advocating or believing in the advancement of such mutual interests, and increase the capacity and will of such peoples and nations to resist International Communism.

f. In accordance with established policies and to the extent practicable in areas dominated or threatened by International Communism, develop underground resistance and facilitate covert and guerrilla operations and ensure availability of those forces in the event of war, including wherever practicable provisions of a base upon which the military may expand these forces in time of war within active theaters of operations as well as provision for stay-behind assets and escape and evasion facilities.

NSC 5412 defined "covert operations" as " . . . all activities conducted pursuant to this directive which are so planned and executed that any U.S. Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Specifically, such operations shall include any covert activities related to: propaganda, political action; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition; escape and evasion and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states or groups including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups; support of indigenous and anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world; deceptive plans and operations; and all activities compatible with this directive necessary to accomplish the foregoing. Such operations shall not include: armed conflict by recognized military forces, espionage and counterespionage, nor cover and deception for military operations."

To approve and coordinate most covert operations, (some were required to be approved by the President), NSC 5412 established what became known as the 5412 Committee, also given the nonspecific title, the "Special Group," to reduce chances of exposure. (In 1964, after the term "Special Group" became known, the Group was called the 303 Committee. In 1970, it was renamed the 40 Committee.) The 5412 Committee and its successors consisted of the Deputy Under Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the CIA, with the latter serving as the Group's "action officer." In 1957, the Chairman of the JCS also became a member.

  1. NSC 5412 was declassifed in 1977, and is located at the National Archives, RG 273. It will be published in a future volume of FRUS.

  1. "The Forty Committee", by L. Fletcher Prouty, Genesis, February, 1975, pp.28, 105-108,

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