CAB 159, Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office: Central Intelligence Machinery: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee later Committee: Minutes (JIC Series), 1947-1968
The records in this series which have been included in this resource contain the minutes of meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee (Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee until December 31, 1947), from January 1947 to December 1953. Some items within the 1947 and 1948 minutes carry an '(O)' suffix indicating that they were concerned with operational matters.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee (JIC) began to develop a network of specialist sub-committees to cover the growing demands which were placed on it by the Chiefs of Staff and other Whitehall departments. One example was the Inter-Service Topographical Department which in January 1947 was renamed the Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB), with its director, Sir Kenneth Strong, becoming a full member of the JIC. The minutes also contain reference to a number of geographical outstations. These were designated JIC (Germany), JIC (Middle East), JIC (Far East), and JIC (Washington), and fed reports into the JIC structure in London. In 1947, following a review of British intelligence by Air Marshall Sir Douglas Evill, the JIC was upgraded from Sub-Committee to full Committee chaired by a senior Foreign Office official with the rank of Under-Secretary. The first chair of the new JIC structure was William Hayter, who was later appointed Ambassador to Moscow.
The JIC usually met in the Joint Staff Conference Room at Ministry of Defence headquarters on a weekly basis. Its membership, reflected in the minutes, included the three intelligence branches of the armed services (War Office, Admiralty, and Air Ministry), the Director-General of the Security Service, the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, and the Director of the JIB. In 1948, the head of the Defence Department of the Colonial Office became a member, and in 1951 the Director of Government Communications Headquarters, now an independent organization, was added. In its early discussions the main focus of JIC deliberation was Soviet military and political intentions. These were difficult to determine, as according to the JIC minutes of July 1947, the Soviet leadership “had virtually no current appreciation of developments in the outside world.” This assumption meant that the Soviet leadership was likely to take unexpected action due to its over-optimistic reading of current events. The JIC minutes reflect this position.
The JIC also exchanged its assessments with its U.S. intelligence agencies. These exchanges highlight differences in analysis between the two countries. One area of contention was the question of whether the Soviet Union was an aggressive expansionist power or a cautious state more concerned with defending its own security and sphere of interest. There was concern in Washington that “JIC reports were inclined to lay too much emphasis on Russian fear of aggression.” The U.S. was anxious to avoid the perception that an overemphasis on security concerns could provide a pretext for Russian expansion. In some instances JIC assessments were not shared with the United States. One such area was reports that contained intelligence on U.S. and U.K. atomic developments. These assessments were withheld from the Americans, with references to them removed from other papers that might be given wider circulation. The codename “Guard”, which appears on a number of minutes in this collection, was used to classify documents not meant for U.S. dissemination; this was later amended to “UK Eyes Only”.
The minutes also demonstrate the wide range of topics that fell within the remit of the JIC. For example, the minutes for 1950 (CAB 159/7 and CAB 159/8) cover such diverse issues as the security of defense research establishments, photographic intelligence in Persia, and the control of VHF transmissions in war. One of the more regular subjects for discussion during this period was the communist threat in the Far East and South East Asia which received almost weekly attention. The issue reached crisis point in June 1950 when the communist forces of North Korea invaded the South. The implications of the invasion were discussed by the JIC at a hastily convened meeting on the morning of June 28. The minutes of the meeting convey a suppressed excitement tinged with apprehension. The JIC were instructed to prepare a daily situation report for the Prime Minister, to examine the implications for British interests in South East Asia including the defense of Hong Kong, and to pay particular attention to “indications of a Soviet build up or of increased Soviet pressure in any part of the world other than the Far East.”
The final set of minutes in this collection cover the period from July to December 1953. These minutes are interesting as they contain a number of Perimeter Reviews attached as annexes to the minutes. One such example is found in the 79th meeting of the JIC on July 23, 1953. The review is divided into a number of discrete geographical sections and details weekly developments in the Soviet Union, Germany, Korea, China, and the Middle East. In relation to Korea, it was reported that the communists were now discussing prisoner exchange and that “there seems now to be no good reason why an armistice should not be signed before too long.” This series provides a detailed account of British involvement in the Korean War for the duration of the conflict.
Dr. Stephen Twigge, Head of Modern Collections, The National Archives, UK