279. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

341. For the Ambassador. In view of two Maddox incidents and certain responses which are now being developed here, you should see Khanh as soon as possible to be sure he has accurate account of NVN actions against our two destroyers. You should tell him that President will shortly be announcing U.S. responsive measures against NVN including actions against NVN naval craft wherever they may be found on the high seas, U.S. air strikes against four torpedo boat bases on NVN coast, air cover for these operations which will engage any unfriendly aircraft. These actions are expected to take place approximately 1830 Washington time.

You should enjoin Khanh to keep this information strictly secret. We expect to have a Presidential message out to you in the next few hours. We will also insure that you are informed through military channels of results of U.S. action which you may also pass on to Khanh in your discretion.

Our position is that this deliberate and unprovoked attack on U.S. vessels in international waters cannot go unanswered. On the other hand, we have limited our response to the offending boats and supporting facilities in order to avoid forcing escalation.

We want to keep Khanh as fully informed as possible, consistent with operational security. In meantime you should forcefully advise Khanh to take no independent action external to SVN and avoid public statements during this critical period. You may wish, however, to suggest to him precautionary and alerting measures against possible NVN retaliation. We leave these to your judgment.

When these actions have become public, they may help you in your efforts convince military and politicians that drastic changes in GVN leadership must not be considered at this time.

Slug all future messages this subject “Pierce Arrow.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 219, DeSoto Patrols, Aug. Top Secret; Flash; Exdis; Pierce Arrow. Drafted by Forrestal and cleared by William Bundy.