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

SUBJECT

  • Operation Against Barracks and Storage Facilities in Dien Bien Phu in North Vietnam
[Page 304]

You will recall that you had previously approved in principle an operation conceived by CIA, which would result in an attack against barracks and storage facilities at Dien Bien Phu in North Vietnam utilizing a rocket attack by CIA-supported guerrilla troops from Laos. Subsequently, after the operation was planned in detail and ready for execution, I suggested that we submit it for the consideration of the 303 Committee in order to preclude subsequent charges of unilateral White House action. On July 8, the 303 Committee met to consider the proposal and despite the fact that CIA had proposed the plan, for unexplainable reasons, General Cushman supported State and Defense in recommending that the operation not be approved.2 I have summarized below the highlights of the departmental positions as they developed at the meeting.

Alex Johnson expressed the State Department view that the costs and risks involved were not commensurate with anticipated gains. He could foresee no real military or political objectives to be accomplished through the effort even if successful. He conceded, however, that probably nothing would be lost, either.

General Cushman supported Alex Johnson's position. He felt that the necessary operational limitations on the size of the infiltration team precluded getting enough rockets into the target area to have any real impact unless a lucky hit was scored on an ammunition dump. General Cushman pointed out that CIA had been asked to examine the various possibilities within its capabilities for mounting a harassment operation having some psychological impact against North Vietnam and that this proposal was the best CIA could offer. He conceded that CIA's capabilities for mounting harassing operations of any magnitude against North Vietnam are very limited.

Dave Packard was not enthusiastic about the probable results to be achieved from this operation. He felt no real military damage was likely and doubted that the psychological impact would be great.

John Mitchell suggested proceeding with the preliminary operational preparations of rocket testing, targeting, team selection and training and deferring the decision on implementation. Final decision on whether or not to go forward with the operation could then be taken in the light of factors prevailing at that time.

John Mitchell's alternative would entail three to four weeks in time and minimal costs. I support Mr. Mitchell's proposal and recommend that I instruct the CIA to proceed with the operational preparations for this mission subject to final mission approval at a later date.3

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, 303/40 Committee Files, Subject Files, Vietnam, 1965–1969. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action.
  2. The minutes of the July 8 303 Committee are ibid., 303 Committee Minutes. Kissinger's account of the discussion at the meeting closely follows these minutes. On July 3 the CIA prepared a 7-page proposal for the operation for the 303 Committee. (Ibid., Subject Files, Vietnam, 1965–1969)
  3. Nixon initialed the approve option.