72. Editorial Note

On November 20, 1970, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Vietnam time, a joint team of United States Army and Air Force special forces launched Operation King Pin, the new code name for the mission to rescue U.S. prisoners of war in the Son Tay prisoner camp 23 miles outside of Hanoi. The team was taken in by helicopter from Thailand, landed in the prison yard, killed a number of guards, and pulled out less than a half-hour later, but no prisoners were in the camp. The prisoners of war had been moved during the summer because of flooding. Planning for the mission had begun nearly 6 months earlier, when U.S. intelligence had identified the location of the camp and the Joint Chiefs of Staff formed a 15-man study group under Air Force Brigadier General Donald D. Blackburn to investigate the possibility of staging a rescue. The mission team was put together in August under the leadership of Brigadier General Leroy Manor, U.S. Air Force, overall commander, and Colonel Arthur Simons, U.S. Army, ground commander, and training began later that month for what then was code-named Operation Ivory Coast.

The President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, called U. Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, at 6:30 p.m. on November 20 to discuss the operation, how the administration would announce it, and the series of protective reaction strikes against North Vietnam that were planned to begin on November 20:

K[issinger]: It was a dry hole. Confirmed now.

J[ohnson]: That’s that then.

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“K: The other problem is and the press line is nothing. Everything will go to Defense. If the other operation goes you should let Bruce know what it is. Not this first part. No need for me to do it.

“J: You never told him about the other one. You will have confirmation on it.

“K: In 15 mins.

“J: Plan still for DOD statement tomorrow?

“K: That’s right or as soon as Hanoi screams.

“J: No, the other operation.

“K: Either tomorrow morning or if Hanoi screams in the middle of the night.

“J: We will have confirmation?

“K: Within the hour. Draft something and hold it until we get word. We don’t want too many aborts.

“J: I have been doing some research and what happened the last time. That was smothered by Cambodia. They postponed the meeting a week following that. They made some statements and we did in Paris. We didn’t do anything else.

“K: I don’t think we should make much of it.

“J: No. I just wanted to review what we have done previously. That’s the record. I will get something ready on a contingency basis for Bruce.

“K: Abrams will brief Bunker.”

“J: What a disappointment.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials. Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 7, Chronological File)

Given a later portion of this conversation, which is not printed, the “other problem” Kissinger refers to is probably the unsuccessful attempt by the Soviet Union to establish a submarine base at Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba in the autumn of 1970. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 207, 208, 210215, 219226, and 228.