71. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Your Meeting with Secretaries Rogers and Laird, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer, and Henry A. Kissinger at 11:30 a.m., November 18, 1970


You are scheduled to meet with Secretary Rogers, Secretary Laird, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer and me in your office on Wednesday, November 18 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the two forthcoming military operations planned for execution on Saturday, November 21st and Sunday, November 22d Saigon time.2

The first operation involves the rescue of up to 60 U.S. prisoners of war from a POW compound in North Vietnam. The date of execution of the rescue operation will determine the execution date for the second operation which consists of retaliatory air strikes against anti-aircraft installations, choke points and supply installations along North Vietnam’s border with Laos. Although the preferred date of the rescue operation is now scheduled for midnight Saturday, November 21st, a five-day “window” has been established which, depending on weather conditions could result in the execution of the rescue operation on either Friday the 20th, Saturday the 21st (the preferred date), Sunday the 22d, Monday the 23d or Tuesday the 24th. The retaliatory strikes will be launched at first light of day following the rescue operation or approximately six hours later.3

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Purpose of the Meeting

The meeting is designed to accomplish the following:

  • —Initial notification of the Secretary of State about the fact of the two operations.4
  • —A detailed briefing for you on the operational details and scope of the two operations, and
  • —Your final approval of the operations.

Conduct of the Meeting

Since this is the first indication that Secretary Rogers will have of both operations, the manner in which the discussion is launched should be delicately considered.

I suggest you adopt the following procedure:

  • —Inform the group that Secretary Laird has developed a bold scheme for the rescue of some U.S. POWs held by the North Vietnamese. You have asked Secretary Laird to have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff present the details of that plan.
  • —Related to the rescue operation is the fact that the North Vietnamese have shot down one of our unarmed reconnaissance planes in the vicinity of the Ban Karai Pass in North Vietnam and have, on several occasions before and after the shootdown, fired at other unarmed reconnaissance flights. For this reason, you have asked the Secretary of Defense to prepare a retaliatory strike against anti-aircraft weapons, SAM sites and logistics installations along North Vietnam’s border with Laos. Because the security of the rescue operation is so important, you have deferred retaliation for the reconnaissance plane shootdown pending possible execution of the rescue operation.
  • —You should then ask Secretary Laird and the Chairman to present to the group a briefing on both plans. Secretary Laird will ask the Chairman to conduct the briefing on the rescue operation followed by a briefing on the protective reaction strikes.

At the conclusion of the briefings you should instruct me to convene the senior members of the WSAG sometime Thursday or Friday to develop a detailed public line game plan for both operations.5

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Attached at Tab A are suggested talking points for your conduct of the meeting.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 87, Vietnam Subject Files, North Vietnam Raid 11 Nov 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Kissinger and Haig.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held on November 18 at the White House from 11:28 a.m. to 12:38 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) In his diary entry for November 18, Haldeman noted, “P[resident] had long secret meeting with Laird, Rogers, Moorer, and K[issinger] about a new secret plan to try to rescue 90 POWs, we’ll try it Saturday.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 211) No other record of the meeting has been found.
  3. Moorer ordered McCain to execute a 1-day strike, not the 3-day strike that Abrams had prepared, against anti-aircraft sites, supply stockpiles, and vehicles on and near the Mu Gia, Ban Karai, and Ban Raving areas of North Vietnam, with a possible second day of strikes if the first proved productive. The 1-day strikes, codenamed Freedom Bait, occurred November 20–21 (Washington time). Three waves of attacks were planned, but the last one was cancelled due to poor weather. As a result, while the raids against the logistical targets were successful, the anti-aircraft sites were not appreciably impaired, even though they were hit. (History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam, 1969–1970, p. 224)
  4. In a November 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Haig recommended that Kissinger: “Fix with the President whether or not he wants to break the news to Rogers privately before the meeting of the whole group or concurrently during that meeting.” Kissinger indicated that he discussed the matter with Nixon. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 336, Subject Files, Items to Discuss with the President, 8 September 70-December 70)
  5. No record of a meeting was found. In a November 19 memorandum to Kissinger, Haig wrote that the “public affairs aspects of this weekend’s two operations in North Vietnam pose complex and difficult problems which must be carefully considered to limit damage here at home while fully exploiting the advantages of the operations.” He added that since Rogers excluded himself from involvement in this aspect at the November 18 meeting, Kissinger should work out basic decisions with Laird and Moorer before discussing the issue with other key officials in the White House, Defense Department, and MACV. (Ibid., Box 87, Vietnam Subject Files, North Vietnam Raid 11 Nov 1970)
  6. Attached but not printed. On November 19, Nixon wrote the following note to Laird: “Mel, As I told Moorer after our meeting yesterday, regardless of results, the men on this project have my complete backing and there will be no second guessing if the plan fails. It is worth the risk and the planning is superb. I will be at Camp David Saturday—I would like for you to call me as soon as you have anything to report.” (Note attached to memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, November 23; ibid., Box 106, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Recon Flights, Viet 1968 Understanding, 2 of 2)