126. Editorial Note

Although work on the plan to mine Haiphong Harbor had begun on May 4, 1972, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird had not been informed of the operation. At the time only a few individuals in the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were privy to the plan. Concerning when to let Laird know about the operation, Henry Kissinger and Admiral Thomas Moorer had the following conversation at 4:01 p.m. on May 5:

HAK: When do we have to get Laird into the act?

CJCS: I would think before we sent out the execute message. It ought to go out not later than noon tomorrow [May 6].

HAK: I will see Laird at breakfast, that would be time enough?

CJCS: Yes, if we can get the message right out then and there, in other words, you got to give him about 48 hours from the time that the President speaks.

HAK: You can alert them that would give them more than 48 hours.

CJCS: Taking some time for transmission and dissemination.

HAK: Only other choice I have as I have to go up to New York, I could drop by to see Laird now.

CJCS: If you are having breakfast with him.

HAK: We also want to make some command changes.

CJCS: That is fine. If you get approval by that time, that will be fine.

HAK: What do I tell him, whether you know about it?

CJCS: I will tell him I know about it from an informal talk with the President, he called me on the telephone. You can tell him that I have been asked about the plans, I don’t know about a decision having been made, that is the best way. Of course, I know about the plans, I have been talking about it all along, which I have but tell him that I have not been advised actually going to take place, this is great, Henry. You going to have breakfast in the morning, one thing I got the message all ready to go on that collection of tanks and vehicles, I need Haig to call Pursley or something to get this thing released, we had those pictures of all those tanks and transporters North of Hanoi, you wanted to go with it tomorrow night. I need somebody to break the log jam.

HAK: That is right.

CJCS: Not any later than in the morning for Laird.

HAK: It will not.” (Moorer Diary, May 5; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)

[Page 472]

In anticipation of the breakfast meeting with Laird, Haig prepared a number of talking points for Kissinger. Haig wrote:

“At this morning’s meeting you will wish to discuss the President’s decision with respect to North Vietnam. Because Secretary Laird is not aware of what actions have already taken place between you, Under Secretary Rush, and Admiral Moorer, it is necessary that you approach this topic gingerly. You should make the following points:

“1. The President wishes to have a plan for execution as early as Monday evening, Washington time, which would:

  • “a. Mine all North Vietnam ports.
  • “b. Establish a physical naval barrier (blockade) of the entire coast of North Vietnam.
  • “c. Extend authorities for unrestricted air war against military and military related targets throughout North Vietnam with a 25-kilometer restricted barrier south of North Vietnam’s border with Communist China.
  • “d. The President wishes to have the mines activated in a way that adequate time is permitted for shipping to depart Haiphong and other North Vietnamese ports. After the activation of the mine field, all port facilities will be destroyed by U.S. air action. He would like to have the concept for such a plan briefed by Admiral Moorer at the special WSAG meeting at 5 p.m. this afternoon. These plans should be in excellent shape since they were reviewed in 1969 and 1970 and preparatory steps such as mines and adequate naval and air forces have already been provided for.

“2. Point out the President’s determination to take all necessary action to bring the conflict in Vietnam to a conclusion.” (Memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, May 5; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 129, Papers Related to President’s Speech Vietnam, May 8, 1972)

During the morning of May 6, beginning with Kissinger’s breakfast with Laird at the Pentagon, principals in the policy circle—including Kissinger, Moorer, Haig, Laird, and Zumwalt—refined the plan, as a series of entries in Moorer’s Diary, including a transcript of a conversation between Kissinger and Moorer, show:

“0759. Met with—Admiral Zumwalt—in office—Discussed details of mining plan with Admiral Zumwalt and his experts. We went over some of the final touches and I told them that Admiral Freeman had prepared the execute message and that I wanted to go over it one more time. I asked Kin [McKee] to work up the DEFCON requirements and fill in the briefing with this information.”

“0830. Met with—SecDef—in his office—along with Dr. Kissinger and we explained the mining plan to SecDef. I laid out the whole plan and went over the whole pitch with him.”

“1027. TELECON/OUT—To DepSecDefSubj: Rush wondered how Mel took the mining plan. I said he is negative. I played it cool like I [Page 473] had never heard of it. He told me to go write the message. HAK really filled him in alone at the breakfast, so I was not there.”

“1033. Met with—LTG Zais—in office—told him to start plans for an interdiction campaign. Make a target survey and look over all the bridges, ferrys, fords out of Haiphong as well as the railroads and marshalling yards all the way from the DMZ to the Buffer Zone.” (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)

According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger arrived at the Pentagon at 8 p.m. and left at 9:45. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) After he returned to the While House, he placed a call to Moorer on a secure line at 10:53 p.m.:

CJCS: I am writing up, I have been told by SecDef, to write up the message on mining only.

HAK: What do you mean mining only?

CJCS: He did not mention anything about blockade to me. Do you want both or just one?

HAK: Mining plus what other measures are necessary to keep from going in there.

CJCS: This brings up the question whether to do both immediately or to link the mining with the President’s statement that says we are going to take whatever actions are necessary.

HAK: Why don’t we do the mining first and do the second on night of the President’s speech.

CJCS: That is all right, that is fine. I am going with mining the whole coast and Haiphong against ocean going ships, the coastline against small coastal logistic craft and I am going to set the serialization in the mines for 6 months, which I think is about right, then if we have to extend it we can put them down again.

HAK: I am just trying to find out what options we have if we get any nibbles coming in. We can call it off as late as Monday can’t we?

CJCS: This is not an Execute, just a planning message. We can call it off on Monday.” (Moorer Diary, May 6; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)

With Kissinger’s confirmation that the next step in the American counter-offensive would be to mine, not blockade, Haiphong Harbor and other coastal ports in North Vietnam, policy seemed to be set. Moorer quickly communicated this critical information to Zumwalt under whom worked the small group of Admirals who had developed the plan. At 11:07 p.m. he called Zumwalt and said: “After talking this thing over, the decision has been made to go with mining only. I think that might be better. Although I agree with your point and that doesn’t [Page 474] mean it is not going to be changed again. That is the way it is going to go with the first alerting message.” Zumwalt asked: “Does this mean to restructure our briefing?” To which Moorer replied: “No, just leave it the way it is.” (Ibid.)

Kissinger later explained why he supported the blockade-by-mining option: “I favored a blockade because it would force Hanoi to conserve its supplies and thus slow down its offensive at least until reliable new overland routes had been established through China. Since most of the supplies would be Soviet, this would not be an easy assignment. I preferred mining because after the initial decision it was automatic; it did not require the repeated confrontations of a blockade enforced by intercepting ships. Even though the brunt of stopping the offensive would still have to be borne by the forces of South Vietnam, once enemy supplies in the South were exhausted, the mining would create strong pressures for negotiations.” (White House Years, page 1178)