277. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos 1

144166. For Ambassador from Bundy. Extension of Shining Brass.

It has been decided at highest levels that we should extend scope of Shining Brass activity as one of series of additional steps to improve anti-infiltration efforts.
Decision is to change Shining Brass rules to permit:
Operations east of line bounded by coordinates XD430980 at Lao/NVN border to XD430400 to XD700000 to YC010980; southern sector unchanged;
Use of helicopters to full depth of above zone;
Use of exploitation forces to full depth of zone.
Multi-platoon operations up to three platoons in any single operation.
Delegation of authority to approve operations to CINCPAC, who will insure coordination with Vientiane. (We will interpret this to mean that CINCPAC will “obtain concurrence of” Vientiane.)
Without consulting Souvanna at this stage, desire your considered views on effect such an extension of Shining Brass operations will have on your essential relationships with Souvanna, and specifically request your judgment on how problem can best be handled in terms of consultation and public affairs aspects.
Our reading of situation is that up to now Souvanna is quite firm that he would not consent to US ground operations in Laos. Having in mind his apparent recognition that activities in eastern portion of panhandle are beyond RLG capacity to control, with most of friendly population removed, and on basis of clear evidence of recent upsurge of infiltration at least in terms of truck traffic, do you foresee possibility of his moderating his position? If not, what outcome would you estimate if we were to decide simply to inform him that we have now determined such steps to be necessary and beseech his understanding? Would such a proceeding leave us in better or worse shape than inadvertent exposure of operations without his having been consulted or informed.
Your judgment on foregoing questions should be made in light of following preliminary thinking on problem of press handling, together with any further suggestions you may wish to advance: [Page 558]
There would, of course, be no announcement and standing instructions to guard against disclosures would be reinforced.
If casualties, helicopter losses or other incidents lead to publicity, we would make maximum effort to avoid acknowledgment by:
Declining comment on communist propaganda charges, if such were original source.
Citing apparent navigational error if in proximity to SVN border.
Using SAR activity as cover if feasible.
If size of forces involved or location made such explanation impossible, we should seek when possible to fall back on proposition that border crossing occurred while forces in contact with NVN forces and acting in self-defense.
In event of some hard to explain incident, we would decline comment but talk to responsible press reps on deep background basis, acknowledging that cross border reconnaissance being conducted, explaining it essential we know enemy strenghts and movements in critical area. For reasons analogous to our answering queries on air operations by reference to “aerial reconnaissance,” we would say we simply cannot confront Souvanna with pressures that would result from official acknowledgment. We would thus propose to stop short of any direct admission of violation. Recognize, however, that we would henceforth be dealing with press on a somewhat different footing, by tending to treat all activity in Laos in fashion in which questions on air activities have been handled up to now.
Public affairs guidance will be developed for issuance at time operational orders are released, in coordination with DOD and in light of your comments and recommendations, which required by Saturday Feb. 25 Wash. time.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Hamilton and cleared by Steadman, Unger, and Daniel Arzac of the Bureau of Public Affairs.