460. Memorandum From the [text not declassified] Directorate of Plans (Colby) to Director of Central Intelligence McCone0


  • National Security Council Meeting on Laos, 20 April 1963


  • The President, The Vice President, Secretary of State, Under Secretary Ball, Under Secretary Harriman, Deputy Under Secretary Johnson, Assistant Secretary Hilsman, Ambassador Thompson, The Attorney General, Assistant Secretary Nitze, Secretary of Defense, General Taylor, Mr. Murrow, Mr. Bundy, Mr. Forrestal

Mr. McCone and Mr. Colby

Mr. McCone gave a briefing on the current situation in Laos.
The President then asked the Secretary of State for his recommendations for diplomatic steps to be taken. The Secretary replied that the Soviet Union had not yet been approached nor has it taken a clear position, although some slight indications suggest that it may be helpful. He stated that Souvanna Phouma’s position as the head of a neutral Laos appears critical and that his continued existence in this capacity is vital to us, as only around him can we organize the political pressures to [Page 986] maintain the situation in Laos. Thus the Secretary’s recommendations were:
Ambassador Unger should contact Souvanna Phouma to assure him of strong United States support if he himself will take a strong position.
That the United States push the French to take a firm position in support of the solution for Laos that they had promoted, i.e., Souvanna Phouma. The President asked whether the French would help us much. The Secretary of State recalled President DeGaulle’s comment to himself that we must help Souvanna Phouma if he should get into trouble. The Secretary indicated that we would hope the French will strengthen Souvanna Phouma’s will, will assist in specific terms through its military mission in Laos, and will help press Moscow and Hanoi.
That Ambassador Kohler advise Gromyko of the seriousness with which we view the Laotian situation.
That Governor Harriman proceed to Paris to press the French and to London to organize an approach to Moscow. Thereafter, and depending upon the Russian attitude as expressed to Ambassador Kohler, he might proceed on to Moscow himself to press the Soviets.
The Secretary of State will call in the Ambassadors of the three ICC countries (India, Canada and Poland) to press them to take a vigorous role in Laos.
In the military field, the Secretary suggested certain precautionary moves:
That the scheduled SEATO maneuvers in June be used as a cover for the introduction of some military strength into Thailand.
That consideration be given to putting troops in the northern part of South Vietnam, in the Hue or Danang area, for potential defense against more vigorous DRV action and as a potential threat against the DRV.
Neither of these steps would be taken until after the discussions with Souvanna Phouma and with Moscow, but preparations to take them might be made now.
The President concurred with these with the exception of the last, about which he had some reservations, although he concurred with the desirability of preliminary military movements in order to give Khrushchev a pressure point to use to calm Hanoi.
General Taylor then gave the JCS recommendations for military action. They were:
That Admiral Felt visit Bangkok and Vientiane and meet with the military committee of SEATO to consult on the situation. CINCPAC will in the course of his discussions in Thailand seek permission from the Royal Thai Government to put United States troops again in Thailand. DOD’s position is that these should be air, not ground, elements.
That a task force with a carrier, several destroyers and a Marine amphibian element be moved to the Gulf of Tonkin as an obvious threat against North Vietnam. General Taylor expressed reservations against [Page 987] placing troops ashore in South Vietnam. The President then requested that a study be made by DOD as to what actually could be done against the DRV, including placing of the task force, overflights of North Vietnam, blockade of Haiphong and selected bombings. It was agreed that the task force would be told to depart Subic Bay late Monday afternoon in order to avoid a weekend recall from leave.
The Department of State will prepare various direct messages from President Kennedy to Khrushchev, to the British and to the French. It was believed best that if Governor Harriman goes to Moscow he not be accompanied with the British, i.e. Lord Home, although the British will probably desire to do this.
There was some discussion over whether or not the task force should go above the demarcation line at the 17th parallel in the Gulf of Tonkin. The President ruled that it should stay out for the time being, although in the next two or three days while it is enroute we may have some indication as to whether it would be desirable to send it further.
With respect to air units for Thailand, it was decided that these movements should be planned but not executed. It is also important that the Thai Government not be approached on this matter until we have some idea of the Russian attitude.
The President stated his belief that it was necessary to raise the pressure somewhat in Cuba. He felt that we could hardly continue to carry out a mild policy in Cuba at the time the Communists are carrying out an aggressive policy in Laos. He thus approved certain U–2 flights over Cuba. These flights and other activities against Cuba, however, will be delayed until the anticipated release by Cuba of prisoners on April 22. The President requested recommendations on April 22 for additional efforts which can be taken in Cuba.
During the course of the discussion, Ambassador Thompson stated that military action by U.S. air forces, such as a bombing raid into northern Laos would not have serious effect on Khrushchev’s internal situation in Moscow. On the other hand if we took strong action in Cuba, result of which would be to bring Castro down, it would seriously affect Khrushchev’s prestige and might have the effect of bringing Khrushchev down. (DCI after the meeting mentioned to the Attorney General and to Mr. Bundy, privately and separately, that in his opinion dynamic military actions in Laos at a time when we were inactive against the festering situation in Cuba might save Khrushchev’s position in Moscow and it would have most serious effects on Kennedy in the United States. DCI said that he did not feel that the American people would accept the commitment of military forces in Laos when we were unwilling to make such a similar indication of activity in the case of Cuba. DCI said in other words let’s not save Khrushchev at the expense [Page 988] of Kennedy. Both parties indicated that the President understood this fully.)
At the end of the meeting a review was made of the degree to which the meeting would be publicized, as follows:
This NSC meeting would be announced as having been devoted to Laos.
The Ambassadors of the ICC would be called in by the Secretary of State.
Governor Harriman’s trip to London and Paris would be publicized, with it left undetermined as to whether he would go on to Moscow.
An additional NSC meeting on Laos would be called on 22 April.1
It was clear that some leakage would occur on the departure of the naval task force from Subic Bay, but this would be phrased as going to sea for exercises and would in any case not take place until Monday afternoon Subic time.
Admiral Felt’s visit to Bangkok and Vientiane would be revealed.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI-McCone Files, [text not declassified]. Secret. Sent via the Deputy Director (Plans).
  2. See Document 463.