199. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Special Prisoner of War Committee
I have been considering various ways of setting up the action-oriented team on prisoners of war which you wish to have established within the White House, and believe that the most effective and efficient way to accomplish this purpose is to set up a committee composed of members of all Departments and Agencies concerned with the POW issue to meet regularly under the chairmanship of a member of my staff. In this way White House direction can be assured without the administrative problems connected with creating an entirely new office within your staff, and new ideas and concepts can be put forward without running up against the frequently stultifying inter- and intra-agency clearance process.
This committee, which could come into existence almost immediately, could be created by calling on each of the Departments and Agencies now concerned with POW affairs to nominate one or two representatives, depending on the extent to which it has been involved in this particular aspect of our operations. For example, Defense might nominate two people, one from the office of the Special Assistant to the Joint Chiefs for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities and one from ISA; State one individual who has experience in POW affairs; CIA one person familiar with Southeast Asian operations; and USIA one person with psychological warfare background. Support staff would be supplied by the NSC.
The charter of the committee would be to function both in the overt and clandestine field in all ways which could put pressure on Hanoi. Overtly, it would assure that a hard-hitting series of statements on POWs is drafted for the Paris talks,2 it would consider contacts with [Page 658] foreign governments as appropriate, and it would coordinate efforts to achieve inspections of POW facilities, exchange of mail and packages, release of name lists, and release of sick and wounded POWs. This would, of course, be in accordance with consultations with State and Defense. On the clandestine side, it would undertake to exercise jurisdiction over the various efforts of CIA and Armed Forces units to free our POWs. It might also see that contacts are maintained with “peace” groups which have opened up some degree of access to POWs in North Vietnam. It would propose and regulate psychological operations of both a “black” and overt nature.
I have drafted a memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of USIA (Tab A)3 which informs them of your decision to implement the plan described above and directs them to nominate personnel.
That you approve the plan outlined above.
That you authorize me to issue the memorandum at Tab A.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, U.S. POWs in North Vietnam to April 30, 1970. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action.↩
- On February 27 Nixon read a summary account of the 56th session of the Paris Peace Talks in which the third-ranking North Vietnamese and NLF officials refused to respond to Habib’s questions on POW issues, especially mail privileges. Nixon wrote the following comment: “K. I have changed my mind—From now on until further direction from me—Habib is to talk only about prisoners. In the meantime get Thieu to move on unilateral release [of some POWs held by South Vietnam].” (Ibid., Box 18, President’s Daily Briefs) Kissinger sent Rogers instructions to this effect on March 3. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL 27–14 VIET S) In a March 14 memorandum to the President, Kissinger reported that at the 57th and 58th plenary meetings of the Paris Peace Talks, Habib talked only about POWs. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam—U.S. POWs in North Vietnam to April 1970)↩
- Tab A, a March 24 memorandum signed by Kissinger, is attached but not printed.↩
- Nixon approved both recommendations on March 23.↩