42. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Possible CIA Courses of Action in Cambodia

You asked that I explore in the 303 Committee two possible CIA courses of action with respect to Cambodia:

CIA potential for creating covert paramilitary harassing operations directed against North Vietnamese Regular Forces in the sanctuary areas just over the Cambodian border
CIA capability for eliminating or reducing the arms traffic through Cambodia to communist forces in South Vietnam.

CIA can develop the operations described in (a) above at some sacrifice to high priority operations now directed against the Viet Cong infrastructure in South Vietnam. CIA recommends against initiating such operations on the grounds of high cost versus expected low effectiveness against the large concentrations of regular NVN forces there.2 The Committee members endorsed the CIA recommendation.

With respect to (b) above, CIA has identified a number of Cambodian army officers who are actively involved in supporting the movement of arms and ammunition through Cambodia to communist forces in South Vietnam. CIA does not now have direct, secure and controlled access to any of these officers but is continuing to explore vigorously opportunities in this direction. CIA is skeptical that any of the officers involved in the arms traffic would be now susceptible to bribery both because of the profits accruing to them from such operations as well as the personal political risks entailed in a relationship involving the United States.3

CIA has pointed out that if recent U.S. diplomatic approaches to Cambodia result in the formal resumption of full diplomatic relations, CIA will gain an operating base for improved intelligence collection and covert action in support of U.S. diplomatic measures aimed at attempting [Page 127] to convince Prince Sihanouk that it is in his best interest to make an honest effort to reduce or halt the arms traffic.4

I recommend that:5

you approve the 303 Committee’s judgment that the probable effectiveness of mounting a CIA paramilitary effort against the NVN regulars in Cambodia would not be worth the expense, and
that as diplomatic relationships develop with Cambodia, I monitor those diplomatic and CIA steps which can be taken in an effort to eliminate or reduce the arms traffic from Cambodia to the communist forces in South Vietnam.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 301, NSC File, 303 Committee, 1969–1970. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action.
  2. In a memorandum to the 303 Committee, February 13. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Subject Files, Vietnam, 1969–1970)
  3. This summarizes an attached but not printed CIA memorandum of March 14 entitled, “Possibilities for Bribing Cambodian Officials to Reduce Arms Flow to the Viet Cong.”
  4. In a memorandum of February 26 entitled, “CIA’s Potential for Covert Support to Possible United States Government Diplomatic Efforts to Reduce the Movement of Arms and Ammunition Through Cambodia to Communist Forces in South Vietnam.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 505, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. I, 8–69)
  5. There is no indication on the memorandum of a Nixon decision. At its March 13 meeting, the 303 Committee agreed to recommend to the President that CIA should not undertake covert harassment missions against North Vietnam in Cambodia because of high costs versus low returns. The Chairman of the Committee, Kissinger, passed on a request from Nixon that Helms and CIA explore methods—either through bribery or corruption of the right people in Cambodia—to prevent arms and supplies passing through Cambodia to the enemy in South Vietnam. Helms responded that CIA had already studied the question and determined that gaining access to the right people was a major problem and that arms traffickers were making so much profit that U.S. bribery attempts would be inadequate. (Minutes of the March 11th 303 Committee, March 13; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 303/40 Committee Meetings, 2/16/68–1/20/70, March 13, 1969) For the President’s decision, see footnote 2, Document 47.