David E. McGiffert was born in Boston on June 27, 1926. After high school, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, but left without taking a degree in 1944. He then enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a radio technician during World War II. Upon leaving the Navy in 1946, he attended Harvard University; he graduated with a B.A. in 1949. He spent the 1949-50 school year at Cambridge University and then attended Harvard Law School, receiving his LL.B. in 1953.
After graduating from law school, McGiffert took a job as an associate attorney at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. He spent 1956 as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and then returned to Covington & Burling from 1957 to 1961.
In 1962, President of the United States John F. Kennedy named McGiffert Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, serving under United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He held this position until 1965, at which time President Lyndon B. Johnson named him United States Under Secretary of the Army.
He served as Under Secretary of the Army from November 1965 until February 1969. During his time as Under Secretary of the Army, protests against the Vietnam War broke out in force, and there were calls on the army to support desegregation and equal rights.
On October 21, 1967, some 35,000 anti-war protesters organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, gathered for a demonstration at the Defense Department (the "March on the Pentagon"), where they were confronted by some 2,500 armed soldiers. During the protest, a famous event occurred, where George Harris placed carnations into the soldiers' gun barrels. Abbie Hoffman declared the group's intention of levitating the Pentagon 300 feet (90 m) by means of meditation, wobbling it once in mid-air in order to exorcise evil spirits. In the wake of these protests McGiffert took the lead in organizing the Directorate for Civil Disturbance Planning and Operation, a "domestic war room" at the Pentagon. About this time, the Pentagon also set up a large computer database containing the names of individuals suspected of fostering domestic disturbances. (This controversial program would be shut down in 1970.)
At Secretary McNamara's direction, McGiffert then headed a civil disturbance steering committee to examine the domestic use of the United States Armed Forces. United States Deputy Attorney General Warren Christopher also served on this committee. In the tense atmosphere, further heightened by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968, this committee undertook detailed intelligence and tactical planning based on "worst case" domestic scenarios.
Regular Army troops were also used to provide security at the 1968 Republican National Convention (August 5–8, 1968) and the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention (August 26–29, 1968).
Upon leaving the United States Department of the Army in 1969, McGiffert returned to Covington & Burling as a partner. He was active in the Democratic Party, serving on the Defense and Arms Control Study Group of the Democratic Party's Foreign Affairs Task Force from 1974 to 1976.
With the election of Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, McGiffert contributed position papers to President Carter's transition team. On February 25, 1977, President Carter nominated McGiffert as United States Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In this capacity, McGiffert would be responsible for overseeing military security in the Middle East.
With the end of the Carter administration, McGiffert returned to Covington & Burling and practiced law there until his retirement in 1995.
McGiffert died of a heart ailment on October 12, 2005 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 79 years old.
- Wolfgang Saxon, "David E. McGiffert; Pentagon official in 60s upheavals; 79," New York Times, Oct. 28, 2005
- President Carter's Nomination of McGiffert as Assistant Secretary of Defense
- In Memoriam in the HLS Bulletin
Stanley Rogers Resor
|United States Under Secretary of the Army
November 1965 – February 1969
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