254. Editorial Note

At 7:20 a.m. on April 24, 1970, President Nixon met with Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Lieutenant General Robert Cushman, and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger until 8:15 a.m. Kissinger remained with the President until 9:02 a.m. (National [Page 868] Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Kissinger recalls that the President explicitly excluded Secretary of State Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird from the meeting on the pretext that this was only a military briefing, but in reality it was because of the President’s “extreme irritation at the bureaucratic foot dragging” of both their agencies on the question of U.S. air support for the South Vietnamese Parrot’s Beak operation. According to Kissinger’s recollection, the President wanted to discuss the feasibility of a combined U.S.– ARVN attack against the Fishhook sanctuary to complement the South Vietnamese attack on the Parrot’s Beak. Kissinger recounts that Moorer and Helms were strongly in favor of the combined operations, believing that they would relieve the North Vietnamese pressure on Phnom Penh and destroy enemy supplies and gain time for Vietnamization to work. After the meeting Kissinger recalls that he telephoned Laird to inform him of the discussion at the meeting. Laird suggested that it would be wise not to make any decision before Rogers testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 27 so that the Secretary of State could answer truthfully that no American forces would be going into Cambodia. Laird also suggested that Moorer and Abrams were opposed to the joint U.S.– ARVN operation against the Fishhook. Kissinger then telephoned Moorer who in no uncertain terms rejected the Secretary of Defense’s contention. (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 495–496) At 2:25 p.m. on April 24 Kissinger telephoned Wheeler to ask if he and Abrams were recommending on military grounds “this COMUS thing.” Wheeler answered that they were and they supported it on military grounds. Kissinger recommended that Abrams act on the assumption that the operation might be ordered. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Wheeler, April 24; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

On April 24 at 7:20 p.m. Kissinger called Helms to ask him what he thought in his “private capacity of the course of action” discussed at the meeting that morning. Helms stated: “It seemed to me that if he [Nixon] is prepared for the fallout, then it is the thing to do. He obviously was.” Kissinger asked Helms if he thought “it is worth it?” Helms thought it was. Kissinger then asked Helms if he thought there should be two operations, suggesting that there would be as much flak for one as for two. Helms agreed. Kissinger then told Helms: “It is my judgement and strong recommendation that any decision must be discussed with Cabinet Members—even if the decision has already been made and an order is in the desk drawer. You can’t ram it down their throats without them having a chance to give their views.” Helms agreed that “you have to bring the other fellow in.” Kissinger added, “And give them the opportunity to discuss the wisdom of it.” Helms suggested [Page 869] that even so, “it is just not right to start monkeying around with something like this at the last minute. I think the state of mind I saw this morning was just right—keep it and not monkey with it.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Helms, April 24; ibid.)

The next day Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler, who reassumed his duties after a brief stay in the hospital, informed Commander in Vietnam General Creighton Abrams that the President was concerned that he would be subject to the same kind of criticism that President Kennedy endured after the abortive Bay of Pigs Operation in April 1961 if the Cambodian operations failed. The President wanted ARVN and U.S. commanders to “have an aggressive frame of mind and a determination to achieve success.” (JCS telegram 5711, April 25, Wheeler to Abrams, JCS Files, OCJCS File 091 Cambodia, Ground Strikes Against Base Areas in Cambodia, 25 March–27 April 1970, as cited in JCS Historical Division, History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1969–1970, pages 252–253)