Secrecy News

In 1962, JFK Was Urged to Take “Drastic Action” Against Leakers

Fifty years ago, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) urged President John F. Kennedy to take “drastic action” against whoever had leaked classified intelligence information to a New York Times reporter.  The Board also suggested that the CIA be empowered domestically to track down such leaks.

The PFIAB recommendations to President Kennedy were memorialized in an August 1, 1962 report that established a template for future efforts to combat leaks, up to the present day.  The report stated:

    “Based on a review of intelligence disclosures in a New York Times article by Hanson Baldwin, the Board recommended that:

    “(1) the President emphasize to Government officials his concern about such disclosures and his intention in this case to identify and take action against the source of Government leaks to the newspaper writer;

    “(2) the President take drastic action against the offender if identified by the FBI, or against the heads of offices from which the leak emanated;

    “(3) the Departments of State and Defense and the CIA require their personnel to make memoranda of record on talks with the press, and to clear such contacts in advance with departmental Public Relations Officers;

    “(4) those responsible for protecting intelligence data and techniques identify selected areas of sensitive data requiring special handling;

    “(5) ways be sought to reduce the number of persons involved in preparing highly sensitive intelligence estimates;

    “(6) the DCI and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency be provided with the investigative capability to run down leaks of sensitive intelligence data;

    “(7) a confidential policy be established within the Executive Branch as to the degree of disclosure of intelligence data to be made to Congressional Committees;

    “(8) a re-study to be made of possible proposals for legislation to protect official secrets; and

    “(9) a review be made of Government policy and procedures with a view to declassifying non-sensitive information and thereby strengthening programs for the safeguarding of sensitive data.”

The PFIAB recommendations were declassified as part of the JFK Assassination Records Collection, and were reprinted in a new history of PFIAB called “Privileged and Confidential” by the late Kenneth M. Absher, et al.

The recommendations were presented to President Kennedy at an August 1, 1962 meeting that was recorded and transcribed.  Excerpts were published in “J.F.K. Turns to the C.I.A. to Plug a Leak” by Tim Weiner, New York Times, July 1, 2007. The news story containing classified intelligence information that prompted the PFIAB’s fury was “Soviet Missiles Protected in ‘Hardened’ Positions” by Hanson W. Baldwin, New York Times, July 26, 1962.

It is not known whether or to what extent the PFIAB recommendations were acted upon, and there is no indication that the source of the Times story was ever identified.

Needless to say, the prevalence of leaks was not discernibly affected by any actions to deter them that were taken by the Kennedy Administration or its successors.  Still, the 1962 PFIAB recommendations defined options for combating leaks of classified information that would be reiterated time and again in the years to come.

“All contacts with any element of the news media in which classified National Security Council matters or classified intelligence information are discussed will require the advance approval of a senior official,” ordered President Reagan in his 1982 directive NSDD-19, echoing the third PFIAB recommendation above.

The pending anti-leak legislation that was introduced lately by the Senate Intelligence Committee also bears a family resemblance to the PFIAB menu of recommended actions.

In fact, the congressional intelligence committees appear to have internalized a PFIAB-like perspective to a surprising extent, and they have prioritized executive branch security interests above other considerations.  While fiercely opposing leaks of classified information, the intelligence committees have had nothing to say about the subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen or the ill-conceived prosecution of former NSA official Thomas Drake or similar actions which jeopardize values other than security, narrowly construed.

3 thoughts on “In 1962, JFK Was Urged to Take “Drastic Action” Against Leakers

  1. CIA’s EL Hunt testified before congressional committee that one of his jobs in the 1960s was to create and make public “disinformation” using CIA contacts through media. Hunt on the subject of JFK Assassination led the public, to this day, on every path other than the truth. One only needs to read Powers Behind JFK Assassination to know the truth of how and why President Kennedy had o be stopped by assassination. The best selling book is now sold worldwide in English, Spanish and German at:

  2. Excellent research went into this piece, no doubt. Having said that, “leaks” play an important part in the fabric of Washington politics. Often intentional, as a back-channel for putting forth positions, or testing blowback, leaks have for the most part been deliberate as part of strategy as an enabler for forwarding an agenda of one kind or another. I’m speaking of leaks that are not in violation of any release of classified information. Rather, leaks that are non-attributable are strategically used and have been historically demonstrated as a ploy to forward a position or even as disinformation. Pick up any issue of the Washington Post, and I’m fairly certain there’s at least one story that cites “a senior official” being blatant on a position and not cited “because they did not have authority to discuss the issue publicly”.

    JFK alluded to “shadow government” (a la Dick Cheney, and GHW Bush) so the warning he received may have been more ominous, and he paid the ultimate price as well.

    But, leaks were, are, and will continue to be a channel used to float policy or positions with no attribution, and will remain a tool in the kit of politicians for the foreseeable future of politics.

    – Selah.


  3. I’m so pleased to see this article about the PFIAB. We’ve had the documents released by the ARRB for years and even had a really good presentation on them by John Williams at one of our Dallas conferences. It is always confusing why more historians don’t study and write about this group and their recommendations. Debra Conway

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