242. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Conveying the Word to Hanoi
[Page 840]
At the President’s request, we have taken several steps to give the North Vietnamese leadership clear reason to believe that if Vietnamese Communist forces in Cambodia attack Phnom Penh, United States forces will hit them from the rear by mounting sharp attacks on Vietnamese Communist sanctuaries.2

To get this word across, we have arranged for one basic story to be pipelined into several channels that should get it back quickly, and credibly, to Hanoi.3 The basic theme planted with all our sources used runs as follows, though there have been suitable variations in each specific instance:

The US and the GVN have long felt that Vietnam internal security problems can never be really solved so long as the Communists have sanctuaries in nearby Cambodia. Hence, the US and the GVN have long itched to attack these sanctuaries and the Communist troops resting or refitting in them. Recent events in Cambodia have considerably whetted American and South Vietnamese appetites, but the US (particularly) has felt the Vietnamese Communist muscle flexing in neutral Cambodia was giving Hanoi such a propaganda black eye worldwide—particularly within the US itself—that the United States Government was reluctant to see the waters muddied by allied military involvement in the Cambodian-VC/NVA fight. However, if the VC/NVA forces make further military moves against Phnom Penh, the US is set to take prompt advantage of world opinion focus on Cambodia’s plight in the face of North Vietnamese invasion and clear up the sanctuary problem by attacking VC/NVA forces from the rear.

[17 lines of source text not declassified]
In line with the above considerations, the following moves are now in train:
[Omitted here is detailed discussion.]
In both tone and content, the President’s 20 April speech4 will make this message more credible to Hanoi. From a strictly operational perspective, the best possible support for this story’s (and our sources’) credibility would be the movement of selected US troops to the immediate vicinity of the Cambodian Frontier of South Vietnam.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. III, 10 April 1970–23 April 1970. Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger summarized this memorandum for Nixon on April 22, but that memorandum was not initialed and there is no indication it was sent to the President. (ibid.)
  2. On April 24 Helms sent a memorandum to Kissinger reporting that NLF official [text not declassified] was given a convincing written report indicating that the GVN and U.S. intended to invade Cambodia. According to the Helms memorandum, “[name not declassified] became very nervous, shaking his legs and feet nervously” when he heard the report. “[name not declassified] remained in an agitated condition throughout the meeting. [name not declassified] stated that the National Liberation Front ‘expected United States intervention in Cambodia but not so soon.’” When queried about NLF and North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, [text not declassified] acknowledged their presence, but stated “it would be political suicide for us to admit it.” (Ibid., Box 207, Agency Files, CIA, Vol. II, 1 January 1970 to 30 June 1970)
  3. The message was passed to Mai Van Bo in Paris on April 29. Bo was “deeply interested, probed extensively for additional details, and during the meeting revealed that the DRV apparently had not felt the US would send its own forces into Cambodia for fear of adverse reaction from the ‘Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Congress, public opinion and eventually the electorate at the polls.’” (Memorandum from Helms to Kissinger, May 1; ibid., Box 579, Cambodia Operations (1970), Actions in Cambodia, Vol. 1)
  4. Reference is to the President’s Address to the Nation broadcast at 6 p.m. on April 20 from San Clemente, California, in which Nixon reported “no progress” on the negotiation front and announced his intention of withdrawing from Vietnam an additional 150,000 forces over the next year. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 373–377)