National Security Council

Intelligence Directorate, NSC - Director, 1981-1982


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Donald Phinney Gregg is a retired American politician, CIA employee, and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.

Donald Gregg was born in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY on December 5, 1927. After graduating from high school, Gregg enlisted in the military in 1945 and received training as a cryptanalyst. Leaving the army, he attended Williams College, graduating in 1951 with a B.A. in philosophy. During his college years, Gregg was recruited by the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

Gregg joined the CIA in 1951 while the Korean War was in progress. Over the years, Gregg spent much of his CIA career in Asia, serving in what was then called Burma, South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and Japan. Gregg served as CIA station chief in South Korea from 1973 to 1975, an assignment he personally requested.

During this time Gregg's personal complaint to the head of the presidential protective force about the Korean National Intelligence Services involvement in the death by torture of a dissident U.S.-trained professor led to its chief, Lee Hu-rak, being replaced, and his successor enacting a prohibition on torture. Gregg, noting that his boss, Ted Shackley, had warned him against such interference, later described this as "one of the best things I did as a CIA officer".

From 1975 to 1980, Gregg served at the CIA's headquarters and in Washington, D.C.; his responsibilities included responding to the Pike Committee investigating the CIA.

In 1979 Gregg was detailed to the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House.  He served as the Asia policy and intelligence matters specialist. Following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the new Administration requested that Gregg remain at the NSC. Gregg stayed at the NSC becoming the Director of the NSC's Intelligence Directorate.

In the summer of 1982, Gregg was asked by then Vice President George Bush to become his national security advisor. Gregg retired from his 31-year career at the CIA to take the post. He was awarded the CIA's highest decoration, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal. Greg remained with Vice-President Bush's staff until the end of the Reagan Administration. During his six years with Vice President Bush, Gregg traveled to 65 countries.

While serving as Vice President Bush's national security advisor, Gregg became a target of the Reagan Administration's Iran-Contra investigation. When Gregg assumed his position as assistant to the Vice President for national security affairs in August 1982, he consciously disassociated himself from former colleagues with whom he had worked during his CIA career. The exception to that rule was Felix Rodriguez.  During the Vietnam War, Gregg supervised CIA officer Felix Rodriguez and they kept in contact following the war. Gregg lost track of Rodriguez for a period of time after Vietnam and did not see him until the early 1980s, when Rodriguez came to Washington sporadically and talked with Gregg about old times. Gregg was not certain what Rodriguez was doing at that time, and he did not inquire; however, they remained friends.

Gregg also introduced Rodriguez to Vice President Bush in January 1985, and Rodriguez met with the Vice President again in Washington, D.C., in May 1986. He also met Vice President Bush briefly in Miami on May 20, 1986. 

In 1985 and 1986, Rodriguez, code name "Max Gomez"  worked out of the Ilopango air base in El Salvador, where he assisted the Salvadoran Air Force in anti-guerrilla counterinsurgency tactics and was involved in Lt. Col. Oliver North's Nicaraguan contra-resupply operation by coordinating flights based at Ilopango. This raised questions about Vice President Bush and Gregg's involvement in the re-supply operations.

Both Gregg and his deputy, Col. Samuel J. Watson III, were investigated by the Office of the Independent Counsel for possible false testimony regarding their denial of knowledge of Rodriguez's involvement in North's contra-resupply operation. It was determined that a criminal case against Gregg could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Gregg also served as a professorial lecturer at Georgetown University from 1980-1989, where he taught a graduate level workshop entitled Force and Diplomacy.

In early 1989, President Bush nominated Gregg to be U.S. ambassador to the Republic of South Korea. Gregg was confirmed by the Senate for this position on September 12, 1989, and served as ambassador until 1993. Prior to his departure from Korea in 1993, he received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, an honorary doctoral degree from Sogang University, and a decoration from the prime minister of Korea.

In March 1993, Gregg retired from a 43-year career in the United States government to become the president and chairman of The Korea Society. He has been chairman emeritus since 2009. In 2012 Gregg was appointed chairman of the Pacific Century Institute

Gregg, while at the Korea Society during President George W. Bush's administration, helped establish a program "of bringing North Koreans for information technology training and other issues" to the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Gregg has appeared on the PBS News Hour to discuss the program. 

Gregg is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his government and international relations work. Additional awards include an honorary degree from Green Mountain College (1996), Williams College’s Kellogg Award for Career Achievement (2001), the 2004 Bartels World Affairs Fellowship from Cornell University, the Philip Jaisohn Award for Service to Korean-American Relations (2005), the Distinguished Service Award from the American Committees on Foreign Relations (2006), the Korean-American Friendship Award (2007) and an honorary degree from Colorado College (2010). Gregg and his wife were honored in 2009 by the establishment of The Donald P. and Margaret Gregg Professorship at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. 

In 2014, Gregg published Pot Shards: Fragments of a Life Lived in the CIA, the White House and the Two Koreas, a memoir.

Gregg is married to Margaret Curry Gregg. Their daughter Lucy Steuart Gregg married the writer Christopher Buckley, the son of conservative journalist and author William F. Buckley and they have two children. They divorced in 2011.


Scope and Content Note

Donald Gregg was detailed from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the National Security Council (NSC) in 1979 to provide expertise in Asian affairs and intelligence matters. He continued with the NSC until the summer of 1982 when Vice President Bush asked him to be his national security advisor.

This is one of the few Reagan Administration collections to contain material from the Carter Administration. It also contains a substantial amount of material marked as national security classified information which is restricted from access.

Currently this collection is available for research for Series 1-4. Additional material was found for this collection and added in 2010. The additional material comprises Series 5-6 and is added at the end of this inventory.

The Donald P. Gregg collection consists of six series: SERIES I: Chronological Files; SERIES II: China Chronological Files; SERIES III: Evening Reports; SERIES IV: Weekly Reports; SERIES V: Subject File; and SERIES VI: Administrative Files.

SERIES I: CHRONOLOGICAL FILES, 1979-1982 (2.6 l.ft.; Box 1-7)

This series consists of memorandums prepared by Donald Gregg for the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (NSA) regarding issues and materials assigned to him for comment or action. During his tenure at the NSC, he prepared memoranda for Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Allen, and William Clark. Often the NSA would then prepare a memorandum for the President based on Gregg’s memos to the National Security Advisor. The material in these files pertain to the United States relations with Japan, Micronesia, Thailand, South Korea, North Korea, and a number of other Asian countries. The material consists of briefing memorandums; issue papers; draft trade agreements; draft communiqués; draft Presidential letters, statements, and speeches; preparations for the visits of foreign officials; and reports. The folders are arranged in chronological order.

SERIES II: CHINA CHRONOLOGICAL FILES, 1981-1982 (0.6 l. ft.; Box 7-8)

This series consists of memorandums prepared by Gregg and Richard Childress for NSA’s Richard Allen and William Clark on matters pertaining to the Peoples Republic on China (PRC) and Taiwan. The folders are arranged in chronological order.

SERIES III: EVENING REPORTS, 1980-81 (0.3 l. ft.; Box 9)

This series consists of Evening Report memorandums prepared by Gregg for NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski regarding his daily activities. This was a system used in the Carter administration National Security Council. The reports provide updates on ongoing items, contacts with agencies, and media contacts. The folders are arranged in chronological order.

SERIES IV: WEEKLY REPORTS, 1980-82 (0.1 l. ft.; Box 9)

This series consists of Weekly Report memorandums prepared by Gregg and Childress for the NSA regarding his activities for the week. The reports provide updates on ongoing items, contacts with agencies, and media contact. The folders are arranged in chronological order.

SERIES V: SUBJECT FILE, 1980-1982 (1 7.ft.; RAC Box 10-11)

Last Updated: 06/10/2021 06:51PM

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