16. Editorial Note

In a January 22, 1969, memorandum to Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird raised the issue of “communication channels between the Department of Defense (DOD ) and your office. It would be exceedingly valuable to me—and I believe a useful practice for the NSC system—if all official communications between DOD and your office were to come through the Secretary of Defense. In that way I could better keep abreast of developments, both within the Department (a task which may be rigorous under the best of circumstances) and between the Department and its principal outside contacts. I shall ask the DOD elements which will be involved in NSC matters to forward their official communications through the Secretary’s office.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1347, NSCNixon Files—1969) Laird made the same points in a January 22 memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, FRC 330 75–89, 334 NSC Jan 1969) Kissinger responded to Laird in a January 25 memorandum that in the future “all official National Security Council communications will be routed through you” with courtesy copies provided to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This routing, however, was “not intended to affect the direct access between the President (and the NSC) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nor their statutory role as the principal military advisers to the President and the NSC.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1347, NSCNixon Files—1969)

Both President Nixon (for the White House) and Laird (for the Defense Department) issued guidelines for liaison between the two agencies. Both specified that on issues involving national security or defense policy communication would be between Nixon or Kissinger on the one hand and Laird on the other. On other issues communication would be channeled through Nixon’s Military Assistant and Laird’s Special Assistant. (Memorandum from Laird to Nixon, March 15, 1971, and memorandum from Nixon to Laird, April 8, 1971; ibid., Agency Files, Box 226, Dept of Defense, Vol. XI, 24 Feb 71–15 May 71 and memorandum from Laird, January 24, 1972, attached to Staff Meeting Minutes for January 24; Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330 7628, OSD Office Chronological Files) Laird expressed his concern over breakdowns in White House- DOD channels of communication with some frequency. For example, he raised the issue directly with President Nixon in 1971 and at a number of his own staff meetings, including those on August 24 and 31, 1970; April 12, 1971; January 10 and 24, June 5, June 19, and October 16, 1972. (Staff Meeting Minutes; ibid.) Following the White House’s discovery in December [Page 43] 1971 that the JCS had been receiving copies of NSC documents by illicit means (see Document 164) Laird sent copies of his two January 22, 1969, memoranda to Attorney General Mitchell under cover of a January 5, 1972, memorandum in which he stated, “As you will see, on January 22, 1969—my first day as Secretary of Defense—I counseled both the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against a private NSCJCS channel. As you know, I have since repeated that admonition numerous times.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, FRC 330 7445, Signer’s Copies, January 1972)