The ExComm (for Executive Committee of the National Security Council) was a special group set up by President Kennedy during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He continued to call on it in the following months.
The ExComm is most famous for its meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In confronting that crisis, President Kennedy sought more flexibility and selectivity than the formal National Security Council group allowed. The ExComm was a smaller group than the National Security Council proper as well giving the President the flexibility to bring in outside advisers on an ad hoc basis.
The famous photos of ExComm meetings (like the ones on this page) were taken on October 29, the day after the 13 days of peak crisis. Given the secrecy of the group’s discussions and the obvious tension in the air during the 13 days, photographers were not allowed in the room.The group formally came into being on October 22, 1962, and had its first meeting under the new title the following day. It held 42 numbered meetings with the President as well as 2 supplemental meetings without the President. Its last meeting was on March 29, 1963.
Members of the ExComm
In establishing the ExComm by a memorandum on October 22, Kennedy designated himself as chairman and listed the group’s core members. They were:1
- President Kennedy
- Vice President Lyndon Johnson
- Dean Rusk (Secretary of State)
- Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense)
- Douglas Dillon (Secretary of the Treasury)
- Robert Kennedy (Attorney General)
- John McCone (Director of Central Intelligence)
- General Maxwell Taylor (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
- Llewellyn Thompson (Ambassador-at-Large)
- Theodore Sorensen (Special Counsel)
- McGeorge Bundy (Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs)
Bromley Smith (Executive Secretary of the National Security Council) kept notes and took care of the logistics of paper distribution and handling but was not a formal member of the ExComm and did not participate in the policy discussions.
The participants in any given ExComm meeting varied to some degree, in part as some officials shuttled between Washington and New York. Others had engagements out of town from time to time. And sometimes specialists were brought in for specific briefings. Various other participants joined most or some of the ExComm’s meetings. They included:
- George Ball (Under Secretary of State)
- Roswell Gilpatric (Deputy Secretary of Defense)
- Paul Nitze (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs)
- Adlai Stevenson (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations)
- John McCloy (Chairman of the Coordinating Committee)
- Edwin Martin (Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs)
- Edward R. Murrow (Director of the U.S. Information Agency)
- Donald Wilson (Deputy Director of the U.S. Information Agency)
- Kenneth O’Donnell (Special Assistant to the President)
- Pierre Salinger (White House Press Secretary)
- U. Alexis Johnson (Deputy Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs)
- Harlan Cleveland (Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs)
- Sterling Cottrell (Coordinator for Cuban Affairs)
- Robert Manning (Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs)
- Arthur Sylvester (Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs)
- William C. Foster (Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency)
- Dean Acheson (former Secretary of State)
- Joseph Charyk (Under Secretary of the Air Force)
- Lincoln Gordon (U.S. Ambassador to Brazil)
- Chester Bowles (President’s Special Representative and Adviser on African, Asian, and Latin American Affairs)
- William Tyler (Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs)
The group was formed to deal with the Cuba crisis, and that was by far the dominant topic of most of their discussions. But Kennedy also called on the group to provide advice on the situation in the Congo, the proposal for a multilateral nuclear force for NATO (MLF), India, Pakistan, and Brazil.
In almost all instances, the ExComm meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House. President Kennedy secretly recorded many of their meetings. And as you can see clearly on the timeline below, the ExComm’s meeting became much less frequent into 1963.
This is a complete list of all the ExComm meetings. Each ExComm meeting was assigned a number at the time by the White House national security staff. [You can find a list of the formal meetings of the National Security Council here.] There were frequently interdepartmental break-out sessions to continue discussions started in the ExComm, but they were not designated as NSC meetings and are not listed here.
|11/16/1962||14:30||26-A ExComm||Cuba||President and Vice President did not attend.|
|11/20/1962||15:30||28th ExComm||Cuba||Vice President did not attend.|
|11/21/1962||16:00||29th ExComm||Cuba||Vice President did not attend.|
|11/23/1962||10:30||30th ExComm||Cuba||At Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port. John McCone and Vice President did not attend.|
|12/3/1962||10:00||32nd ExComm||Cuba, India, Pakistan|
|12/4/1962||17:30||32-A ExComm||Cuba||President and Vice President did not attend.|
|12/10/1962||17:40||34th ExComm||Cuba||Vice President did not attend.|
|12/11/1962||10:00||35th ExComm||Brazil||Vice President did not attend.|
|12/17/1962||10:00||36th ExComm||Cuba, NATO Meeting, Congo, South Asia|
|12/17/1962||15:45||37th ExComm||Congo, Cuba|
|1/31/1963||18:00||39th ExComm||NATO, France|
|2/5/1963||16:00||40th ExComm||Cuba, NATO Multilateral Nuclear Force (MLF)|
|2/12/1963||10:00||41st ExComm||NATO Multilateral Nuclear Force (MLF)|
- Bromley K. Smith, Organizational History of the National Security Council during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 1988), p. 46. ↩