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CONELRAD: Atomic Secrets | This Letter Will Constitute Your Authority: The Eisenhower Ten

This letter will constitute your authority - the Eisenhower Ten

"You may recall that in late May, I wrote advising of the existence of classified letters from President Eisenhower to ten private citizens throughout the country giving them authority over various parts of the economy and total society in the event of a declaration of a national emergency..."
— Excerpt from August 19, 1961 memorandum to
National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy
Presidential Assistant Frederick G. Dutton [ 1 ]

It is something of a tradition in Washington for staffers from a Presidential administration exiting office to leave a few surprises for the incoming administration of the opposing party. In 2001, for example, Democratic White House office workers removed the letter "W" from computer keyboards in an effort to annoy President-elect Bush's people.

Of course, the "W" prank sounds pretty innocuous when compared to the ten letters President Eisenhower issued to (mostly) private citizens in 1958 and 1959 granting them unprecedented power in the event of a "national emergency" (read: A-Bomb attack). What no doubt caught the eye of Mr. Dutton (as quoted above) is the fact that these extraordinary missives had no expiration dates on them. One can only imagine President Kennedy's reaction to this news in light of the fact that he was also dealing with other surprises left for him by those irrepressible Dulles brothers.

National Security Advisor McGeorge BundyIn terms of gauging how the Kennedy administration felt about the General's Shadow Government appointments, historians are left, for now at least, with Dutton's follow-up letter to McGeorge Bundy calling attention to the Eisenhower Ten (E-10). It is a truly remarkable document in that it is written in a controlled bureaucratic style, but one that only half-masks the author's indignation over the fact that (a.) there are citizens roaming the country with authority to take over the government the day after World War III and (b.) Bundy hasn't even replied to his first letter!

While Dutton's consternation is understandable, CONELRAD, in reviewing copies of the actual Eisenhower letters, has discovered a couple of mitigating factors that the peeved Presidential Assistant was, evidently, unaware of. [ 2 ]

First of all, there were only nine post-war job openings. There were ten letters because one person quit his non-job a year after accepting, prompting the need for a replacement, hence the tenth letter. Secondly, of the nine, two of the positions were filled by Eisenhower cabinet secretaries and another slot was filled by the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. The remaining six were very accomplished captains of industry who, as time has proven, could keep a secret to the grave. [ 3 ] It should be noted that the sheer impressiveness of the Emergency Administrator roster caused Eisenhower Staff Secretary Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster (USA, Ret.) to gush, some 46 years later, "that list is absolutely glittering in terms of its quality." In his interview with CONELRAD, the retired general also emphasized how seriously the President took the issue of Continuity of Government: "It was deeply on his mind."

It should be pointed out that not all of President Eisenhower's thoughts on civil defense were uniformly positive. In a declassified White House memo dated July 25, 1956, the President is quoted rebuking Commerce Secretary Sinclair Weeks' assessment that, during the Operation Alert 1956 civil defense drill, his agency had evacuated 450 people "rather smoothly" to a relocation site. The memo offers the following description of the President's reaction: "He reminded the Cabinet that in a real situation these will not be normal people – they will be scared, will be hysterical, will be "absolutely nuts."

In the same memo President Eisenhower, though praising the results of Operation Alert wondered aloud about the ultimate efficacy of civil defense. Again, the memo offers a fascinating, previously classified view into the Commander-in-Chief's thought process: "The President stressed the job of trained government people is to preserve some common sense in a situation where everyone is going crazy. Who is going to bury the dead? Where would one find the tools? The organization to do it? We must not assume that we are going to handle these problems with calmness. Any such assumption would be completely unrealistic." At another point in the memo, the President is described as saying "Government which goes on with some kind of continuity will be like a one-eyed man in the land of the blind." Yet despite his reservations about the feasibility of civil defense contingency plans, two years later, Eisenhower issued his letters to his presumably semi-sighted designees.

Today only one of the ten letters remains classified, but in an irony that will surely delight CONELRAD readers, another declassified memo from the Office of Civil Defense Mobilization (OCDM) directly identifies the individual and his role: Theodore F. Koop who was to be the "Administrator of the Emergency Censorship Agency." So much for effective censorship. How exactly were these remarkable men selected and invited to serve such important and sensitive roles? According to Gen. Goodpaster "He (Eisenhower) chose them himself...I don't know if he called them all, but he called most of them." It is also possible that the Chief Executive popped the question to Emergency Housing Administrator-designee Aksel Nielson during one of their frequent fishing trips as Mr. Nielson was a regular fishing partner of the President's. It was only after the President was certain that these individuals were willing to fulfill the special duty that the formal letters were mailed. [ 4 ]

Eisenhower's appointment letters and some of the subsequent "housekeeping" correspondence issued by his staff are fascinating windows into the machinery of Cold War contingency planning. The appointment letters, in particular, are at once shocking, hopelessly confusing and finally rather banal. It is amazing to consider, for example, that correspondence of such consequence resembles a form letter from the DMV. Obviously the White House never imagined that the emergency designees would dare to compare notes.

Read strictly as "job offer" correspondence, the letters are not without significant humor value. In the section of the letter that explains when the position will be open, the President states " soon as you have assured yourself, by any means at your disposal, that ______________ (each letter states the specific agency here) has been created you shall immediately assume active direction of that agency and its function..."

This masterpiece of contingency-speak foresees a designee cowering in a fallout shelter and interpreting some Morse Code announcement of his agency having been established. And what would follow? Perhaps a designee would limp into a radioactive shantytown clutching his crumpled letter from Ike and ask some looters for directions to New Washington?

"You will receive such compensation as the President may hereafter specify..." Meaning, of course, that if cigarettes are the post-attack currency of choice, the designee will be paid in Pall Malls and have to like it.

"You will, in the performance of your duties be subject to the direction, control and coordination of the Director of the Office of Emergency Resources..." In other words, don't think for a moment that just because the planet is destroyed there won't be a supervisor to answer to and a bureaucracy to maintain.

In the end McGeorge Bundy did reply to the Dutton follow-up memo on the Eisenhower Ten. His terse August 21, 1961 reply opined that the "outstanding authority" of the Emergency Administrators should be terminated. Case closed? Apparently not. The Kennedy Library Archives has on file registered mail receipts (for correspondence sent after Bundy's response to Dutton) to six members of the remaining Eisenhower Nine. Presumably, these receipts are for letters that gave six designees their walking papers. But did President Kennedy retain the remaining three for continued duty? This is a question that the Kennedy Library could not immediately answer. What is known, however, is that the New York Times reported in its October 27, 1961 edition that on October 26th Director of Emergency Planning Frank B. Ellis disclosed on NBC's THE TODAY SHOW that President Kennedy had a list of men who would assume administrative power ("in such areas as transportation, the mobilization of necessary foods, the re-establishment of communications and all of the other very critical aspects that are necessary to place into working order following an emergency") should an atomic attack or other calamity kill senior Government officials. Ellis declined to name the individuals saying only that "they are known." His only elaboration was that the designees would periodically "make a complete study of their operation." One wonders if Mr. Dutton was watching television that morning shaking his head in disbelief.

It is Gen. Goodpaster's assertion that because Eisenhower practically wrote the book on Continuity of Government, the practice of having Emergency Administrators waiting in the wings for the Big One was a tradition that continued throughout the Cold War and perhaps even to this day. [ 5 ]

Little Ole Wine Drinker Me, or Administrator-Designee of the Emergency Liquor Agency?The General may very well be correct about Ike's secret civil defense innovations carrying over into succeeding administrations. However, after reading all the available letters and associated memos pertaining to the Eisenhower Ten, it struck CONELRAD as odd the contingency agencies not anticipated as being necessary for a post-attack recovery. An Emergency Energy and Minerals Agency is all well and good, sure, but what about an Emergency Entertainment Administrator?! Frank Sinatra was just waiting for a position like this to open up before he got on board for Kennedy's campaign in '60. Or, what about an Emergency Liquor Agency? World War III would have surely brought out the drunk in the most devout teetotaler and it would have been chaos controlling the distribution of booze. Dean Martin would have done this job for free! Perhaps, though, there was a Shadow Shadow Government that we have yet to find out about that was comprised wholly of Rat Pack members. If so, we can only hope that their successors have been chosen or it will be a very boring Day After.

CONELRAD first learned of the existence of the Eisenhower letters from the Federation of American Scientists and wishes to thank Steven Aftergood who is director of this organization's Project on Government Secrecy. We also wish to thank Tim Goldsmith, a frequent CONELRAD research contributor. [ BACK ]

2. In a 2/2/04 telephone interview with Mr. Dutton's wife and law partner, Nancy H. Dutton, it was confirmed that Mr. Dutton, who has only a vague recollection of the Eisenhower Ten issue, was unaware that three of the 10 were public servants. Ms. Dutton added that she was Administrative Assistant to her future husband at the White House during this period and she recalls that Bill Hopkins, the Chief Clerk of the White House, was the individual who brought the existence of the letters to Mr. Dutton’s attention. [ BACK ]

3. In a 1/21/04 telephone interview with CONELRAD, Frank Stanton, the only living member of the E-10, indicated that if he hadn't received our request for comment he probably never would have breathed a word about it, so we'll count that as making good on the secrecy oath. When asked if he had ever discussed his special government service with anyone outside of the Eisenhower Ten apparatus he replied without hesitation, "nope." The nonagenarian was planning to suggest that we contact one of the other ten for a more comprehensive interview, but then thought better of it and asked, "Is there anyone left?" Stanton explained his rationale for signing on for the position by saying "When the president asks you to do something, you do it." Does Stanton recall ever gathering with the other members of his shadow fraternity? "Early on the group of us met with Ike," he said and then remarked that he only had to travel out of state once for the "job." Finally, when asked whether he received a letter from President Kennedy terminating his service, Stanton replied, "I don’t recall if it was from Kennedy, but I do remember getting that kind of letter." [ BACK ]

4. 2/3/04 telephone interview with Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster (USA, Ret.) [ BACK ]

5. Ibid. [ BACK ]

CONELRAD wishes to thank the Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy Presidential Libraries for providing copies of the correspondence that was used in this article. We also wish to thank Dr. Frank Stanton, General Andrew J. Goodpaster (USA, Ret.), and Nancy H. Dutton, esq. for being kind enough to speak with CONELRAD about the Eisenhower Ten.

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