161. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • North Vietnam Operations
The first phase of operations against North Vietnam, under OPLAN 34A,2 terminates on 31 May 1964. In reviewing the military commanders’ proposal for a four month continuation of operations, commencing June 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have appraised the achievements, and limitations, of the first three months of the program now being conducted under cognizance of the Department of Defense.
The over-all objective of the program is primarily to help convince the North Vietnamese leadership that it is in its own self-interest to desist from its aggressive policies. Ancillary objectives are:
To gain more information regarding the enemy, and
To intensify the current psychological warfare, deception and resistance operations in order to weaken Hanoi’s control of the population and to involve the regime in costly countermeasures.
The indices of the progress of the war in South Vietnam for the past three months indicate a slow beginning in an over-all program designed to deter the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRY) aggression against the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). There are, however, indications that attempts at infiltration and certain psychological activities, [Page 339] together with widespread press and radio speculation over the extension of the war, have had an effect on the DRV. Its reactions tend to substantiate the premise that Hanoi is expending substantial resources in defensive measures.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude from their appraisal of the program that:
A general lack of program direction by the Government of Vietnam (GVN) was caused by the 30 January coup.
The program was initiated before the special materiel and personnel required for such a program were assembled in adequate numbers. Some of the assets inherited at the outset of the program were not operationally effective.
Overflights of Laos, while presently severely restricted, are essential in order to take advantage of en route weather conditions, avoid DRV radar and antiaircraft defenses, reduce time over DRV territory, permit planning flexibility, and enhance the security of drop zones and aircraft.
Other factors which have limited operations are bad weather, inadequate combat intelligence, motivational problems, and the time required for [to?] ready major items of equipment.
With due regard for the difficulties encountered in commencing this program, the Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that the potential of this total program remains high. They advocate continuing the program for the Phase II period of June, July, August, and September at a rate commensurate with the growing operational capabilities of COMUSMACV and GVN armed forces. The next four months will bring a substantial increase in the military resources which can be brought to bear in the form of improved electronic intelligence, trained RVN, military sabotage teams, increased C–123 airlift, including crews, Nasty type PT craft, and operating experience for all echelons. The recently developed capability of the VNAF to conduct aerial mine-laying should be exploited during this period. In addition to aerial mining, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the VNAF has the capability to conduct air strikes successfully now and their recommendations concerning this type of operation during the Phase II period will be provided in the near future.
In summary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:
RVN operations against North Vietnam be continued during the Phase II period commencing 1 June 1964 and intensified as operational capabilities are achieved and demonstrated.
Aerial mining against Swatow bases utilizing unmarked aircraft and non-US crews be authorized during this period.
The restrictions on overflights of Laos in support of this program be removed for unmarked aircraft with non-US crews.
Intelligence collection efforts, reconnaissance, and psychological operations be conducted at an increased tempo to include ground intelligence collection probes into the DMZ, the infiltration of intelligence teams into North Vietnam via Laos, and the development of intelligence networks and resistance cadres in tribal areas.
Joint planning, training, and organizing be conducted to provide for an intensified Phase III commencing 1 October 1964.
The recommendations contained herein, together with the proposed list of actions for June, July, August, and September contained in the Appendix hereto,3 be the basis of the Department of Defense position and presented for decision as a matter of priority.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Maxwell D. Taylor 4
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 300, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, 092 North Vietnam. Top Secret; Sensitive. A summary version is printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 511–512.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 4.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.