61. Draft Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and the President1

The President: Hello, Roger. Who puts this stuff out in Washington? There’s an article in The New York Times by Tad Schultz [Szulc], page 5, in which he says that officials say that Nhu is trying to blackmail us.2 It’s a big story on page 5 and there’s more on page 1.

Mr. Hilsman: I’ve given strict orders to everyone in FE not to talk to the press. I don’t know where he gets this stuff.

JFK: Call Manning and see if he might have said anything. If no one is telling Schulz this stuff then somebody ought to call the NY Times. If nobody there—you or Manning or Gov. Harriman—has said anything then no one with the authority could have said this.

Mr. Hilsman: I will look into it, sir.

JFK: We can’t have people saying that US officials are saying these kinds of things. If somebody is, we’ve got to put a stop to it. If not, then nobody qualified to make such a statement could have given him this kind of information. Let’s get Manning and Harriman and if not them, then call The New York Times. Has Gov. Harriman talked to anybody?

RH: Not to my knowledge, sir.

JFK: Well, check into it and call me back this morning.

RH: Well, sir, I have to testify before the Senate this morning.

JFK: On what? What will they be asking you about?

RH: About Laos and Viet-Nam and Korea.

JFK: Who specifically?

RH: Senator Lausche. Miraculously we’re on very good terms and he has been most cooperative. I’ll be testifying in executive session; nothing official and it will be just a background review of the situation.

JFK: What about Lodge talking to the French Ambassador?3

[Page 112]

RH: Well I slapped his wrist in a cable about 4 days ago about the Halberstam article.4 He ought to watch the paper more closely down there.

JFK: Well, good. Now I want to have this NY Times article looked into this morning. I think it makes us look a little-

RH: If we find out that no one with authority in FE and no one-Manning nor Harriman spoke to the press, then we will put in a call to The New York Times and let them know that nobody with authority could possibly have made these statements.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam. This memorandum apparently was transcribed by a staff member in Hilsman’s office.
  2. In this New York Times article entitled, “Washington Officials Accuse Nhu of Blackmail,” September 5, Szulc stated that administration officials believed Nhu’s attempts at political blackmail were bound to fail.
  3. Telegram 410 from Saigon, September 4, reported on Lodge’s conversation with Lalouette. Lalouette “reiterated that Nhu believed he could work out an arrangement with the VC whereby the guerilla war would be ended. I asked what would be the quid pro quo, and he said: the withdrawal of some US troops.”

    Lodge reported that what Lalouette “particularly stressed was his belief there is no alternative to the Diem regime and that we must work with them as partners to win the war.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Country Series-Vietnam, State cables)

  4. In White House telegram CAP 63474 to Saigon, September 1, Hilsman told Lodge that it appeared Halberstam in his August 30 article entitled, “U.S. Policy Clash With Diem Hinted,” printed in The New York Times of August 31, “may have picked up some points from US sources.” Hilsman noted: “Possible that some US officials talking too much with press or other embassy staffs. Trust you are cautioning staff.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State cables)