For Immediate Release: January 22, 2003
Further information: Ann Scanlon (617) 514-1662
Boston, MA – The John F. Kennedy Library today announced that it has declassified and made available for research over 15 hours of presidential recordings of meetings and conversations that took place in the Cabinet Room and Oval Office of the White House from December 6, 1962 to February 2, 1963.
The release incorporates tape numbers 66 through 71 and covers wide-ranging subject matters including the economy and its political implications, the crisis in the Congo, Cuba and Latin America following the Cuban Missile Crisis, military assistance to Vietnam, and American relations with France and the European Community. Among more interesting highlights of the newly released recordings are the following:
The Economy and the 1964 Election:
At a December 6, 1962 meeting, President Kennedy remarks:
"If you are running for re-election in 1964 what is it you worry about most - recession? That is what I'm worried about…I don't think the country can take another recession. Otherwise we are liable to get all the blame for the deficit and none of the advantage of the stimulus in the economy."
Earlier in the meeting, President Kennedy commented that the economy had played a role in an earlier presidential election stating, "I think it ruined Nixon in 60." [Tape #67]
The Congo Crisis and US Military Intervention:
At a White House meeting on December 17, 1962, President Kennedy and his advisors discuss the United States’ response to the Congo Crisis, in particular whether the US should send a military team into the Congo and if so, should they be part of a UN contingent or a unilateral force. General Maxwell Taylor, Military Advisor to the President, did not agree with other military opinions that favored intervention. General Taylor expressed his "grave reservations" about military action and advises the President: "What I see against it…it won't bring military success, and the US may well be blamed for the failure there." Another staff member argues the opposite position, stating: "There is no military reason for this operation. This operation is purely psychological in deterrent -- it's to inject a new element here that is going to prevent something worse from happening." [Tape #68]
Foreign Affairs – Latin America and China:
At a Bipartisan Legislative Leaders Meeting attended by eight Senators and eight Congressmen on January 8, 1963, CIA Director John McCone briefed the leaders on Cuba and Latin America, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara briefed them on Vietnam, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk briefed them on Cuba and the Congo. Near the meeting's end, President Kennedy comments on what he considers the areas of most concern:
"I don't think we are in bad shape with the Soviets now. If Berlin gets difficult…Vietnam, Cuba's almost the same position Berlin was with us for a decade. Any action they take in Berlin we can take an action in Cuba. But I think that China and Latin America are our two most dangerous areas right now." [Tape #69]
At the Bipartisan Legislative Leaders Meeting on January 8, 1963, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara assesses Vietnam, stating, "there are a number of disquieting indications of possible trouble to come." He had recommended that General Earle Wheeler visit Vietnam and report back to the President.
Less than a month later, on February 1, 1963, General Wheeler met with the President to report on this trip. General Wheeler recommends that the US maintain the current general level of support for the South Vietnamese government. He also tells the President and his advisors that:
"the Vietcong are not bleeding in this war. The South Vietnamese are bleeding… in other words, they are suffering sizable losses, but the losses suffered by the Vietcong are negligible. Out of the 20,000-odd Vietcong that were killed last year…I would say that not more than a half a dozen that Ho Chi Minh could care--gives a damn--about. The rest of them….are fellows with the Vietnamese equivalent of the name 'Joe' -- and he can get plenty more of them and does."
Later in the meeting Wheeler recommends a policy to: "let the blood that we feel needs to be let in order to make Ho Chi Minh recognize that he can’t fight this war for free." [Tape #71]
France and the European Community:
President Kennedy met with the National Security Council on January 31, 1963 and February 5, 1963 to discuss the NATO alliance and French President Charles DeGaulle's January 14, 1963 press conference that was interpreted by President Kennedy as a tirade against the United States. Discussions included the strengths and weaknesses of the NATO alliance as a result of the Franco-German Treaty, and the overall feeling of waning support towards the United States including a latent European anti-Americanism. Of General DeGaulle’s policy, President Kennedy states:
"They put out some pretty vicious stuff out of Paris every day. They either attack us for trying to dominate Europe or they attack us for withdrawing from Europe or that we won't use our nuclear force or that we'll get them into a war and they're not consulted."
President Kennedy continues throughout the meeting to discuss the position that the United States now faced in Europe and adds:
"There's nothing the Soviets want more than…to have a competition between us. And the reaction in the United States is the feeling that after all we have done for Europe, that Europe's now sole desire is to remove the United States from Europe." [Tapes #70 and #71]
The Kennedy Library and Museum is providing members of the media with a CD-ROM containing approximately 16 minutes of excerpts from the 15+ hours of recordings. The 6 soundfiles were selected solely because of the sound quality of the voices or because the subject matter was familiar to most Americans. Members of the media are cautioned against making historical conclusions based on the sound clips alone. They are provided as a professional courtesy to facilitate the reporting of the release of these presidential recordings.
This complete release totals 15 hours and 38 minutes of recordings of which 21 minutes 18 seconds remain classified. Approximately 110 hours of meeting tapes remain to be reviewed for declassification prior to release. Processing of the presidential recordings will continue to be conducted in the chronological order of the tapes.
Next month, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum will host the first-ever National Presidential Tapes Conference on Presidents’ Day weekend, February 16 and 17. Co-sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the conference will highlight the history of the presidential taping systems and their impact on each president’s leadership and legacy. Scheduled speakers include Michael Beschloss, Taylor Branch, John Dean, Carl Kaysen, Richard Reeves, Bob Woodward, David Eisenhower, and Lynda Johnson Robb. For more information on the National Presidential Tapes Conference, visit the John F. Kennedy Library website at www.jfklibrary.org.
The practice of recording conversations and meetings in the White House began in 1940 with Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted to ensure that he was being accurately quoted by the media. The practice ended with Richard Nixon in 1974, whose tape recordings exposed his administration’s illegal and unethical activities.
The first items from the Kennedy Library’s presidential recordings were opened to public research in June of 1983. Over the past 20 years, Kennedy Library staff has reviewed and opened all of the telephone conversations and a large portion of the meeting tapes. The latter are predominantly meetings with President Kennedy in either the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. While the recordings were deliberate in the sense that it required manual operation to start and stop the recording, it was not, based on the material recorded, used with daily regularity nor was there a set pattern for its operation.
The tapes represent raw historical material. The sound quality of the recordings varies widely. Although most of the recorded conversation is understandable, the tapes include passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.
Today’s release of White House meetings is in tape form without transcripts. The tapes are available for research use in the Library’s Research Room. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm and appointments may be made by calling (617) 514-1629. The recordings and finding guide are available for purchase at the John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125, or by calling the Audiovisual Department (617) 514-1617.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.