John F. Kennedy, 1961-63

"Our First Line of Defense" Presidential Reflections on US Intelligence (U)


John Kennedy was only 43 years old when he gave his inaugural address as the 35th President of the United States. His tragically short administration faced two major crises in which CIA played a prominent part: the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. DCI Allen Dulles lost his job after the former; CIA under his successor John McCone never shone brighter than it did in the latter.

"I WANT, FIRST OF ALL, TO EXPRESS my appreciation to you all for the opportunity that this ceremony gives to tell you how grateful we are in the government and in the country for the services that the personnel of this Agency render to the country.

"It is not always easy. Your successes are unheralded--your failures are trumpeted. I sometimes have that feeling myself. But I am sure you realize how important is your work, how essential--it is and how, in the long sweep of history, how significant your efforts will be judged.

"So I do want to express my appreciation to you now, and I'm confident that in the future you will continue to merit the appreciation of our country, as you have in the past."

President John F. Kennedy, CIA Headquarters, 28 November 1961


" . . . IT IS MY WISH THAT YOU serve as the government's principal foreign intelligence officer, and as such that you undertake, as an integral part of your responsibilities, the coordination and effective guidance of the total United States foreign intelligence effort. As the government's principal intelligence officer, you will assure the proper coordination, correlation, and evaluation of intelligence from all sources and its prompt dissemination to me and to other recipients as appropriate. In fulfillment of these tasks I shall expect you to work closely with the heads of all departments and agencies having responsibilities in the foreign intelligence field. . . .

"As directed by the President and the National Security Council, you will establish with the advice and assistance of the United States Intelligence Board the necessary policies and procedures to assure adequate coordination of foreign intelligence activities at all levels."

President John F. Kennedy, 16 January 1962


"I wish to express to you, the members of the United States Intelligence Board, and to the individual members of the intelligence agencies my deep and sincere appreciation for your outstanding services to our Nation--and the Free World--during the recent international crisis.

"In the course of the past few months I have had occasion to again observe the extraordinary accomplishments of our intelligence community, and I have been singularly impressed with the overall professional excellence, selfless devotion to duty, resourcefulness and initiative manifested in the work of this group. The fact that we had timely and accurate information, skillfully analyzed and clearly presented, to guide us in our judgments during this crisis is, I believe, the greatest tribute to the effectiveness of these individuals and agencies. The magnitude of their contribution can be measured, in part, by the fact that the peace was sustained during a most critical time.

"It is, of course, a great source of strength to me to know that we have such dedicated and skilled men and women in the service of our Nation in these times of peril. Although I cannot personally commend each member of the intelligence community for their individual efforts, I would like you to convey to them, through the members of the United States Intelligence Board, my personal word of commendation, my deep admiration for their achievements, and the appreciation of a grateful Nation."

President John F. Kennedy, Letter of commendation to John A. McCone, DCI, 9 January 1963


" . . . We have worked very closely together in the National Security Council in the last two months attempting to meet the problems we faced in South Viet-Nam. I can find nothing, and I have looked through the record very carefully over the last nine months, and I could go back further, to indicate that the CIA has done anything but support policy. It does not create policy; it attempts to execute it in those areas where it has competence and responsibility. . . . I can just assure you flatly that the CIA has not carried out independent activities but has operated under close control of the Director of Central Intelligence, operating with the cooperation of the National Security Council and under my instructions.





"So I think that while the CIA may have made mistakes, as we all do, on different occasions, and has had many successes which may go unheralded, in my opinion in this case it is unfair to charge them as they have been charged. I think they have done a good job."

President John F. Kennedy, News conference, 9 October 1963


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Aug 24, 2016 11:38 AM