145. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Rear Admiral William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Captain Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (stayed only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC Staff
  • Major Gen. Alexander M. Haig
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • John Negroponte
  • Mark Wandler

It was agreed that:

  • —Mr. Kissinger will take care of the O’Donnell memorandum about high-level officials speaking in various cities.
  • —We will not discuss in detail any of the figures concerning North Vietnamese logistics.
  • —We should try to get out some of the details in regard to Communist execution of government and police officials in Binh Dinh Province.
  • —The Defense Department should continue its study of the rules of engagement near the Chinese border. It should also pay attention to the question of North Vietnamese planes seeking refuge at Chinese airfields or in the airspace of the buffer zone.
  • —The draft contingency statement to be used in the event of a Soviet cancellation of the summit is all right.
  • —The State Department should call in Indian Ambassador Jha and protest the Foreign Minister’s latest speech, in which he said that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have been killed by American bombs.
  • —All the departments should work together on preventing passage of end-the-war resolutions.
  • —The Defense Department should check to see whether we have notified any foreign vessels that they were approaching the mine field at Haiphong harbor.

[Omitted here is discussion of high-level administration officials speaking in various cities, Kissinger’s press conference the previous day, recent polls on the President’s Vietnam war decisions and policy, Sullivan’s briefing of Republican members of the House of Representatives on the proposed cease-fire, comments to Sullivan by Czechoslovak diplomats about the cease-fire, North Vietnam’s reaction to the President’s May 8 speech, and Cuban ships in Haiphong Harbor.]

Mr. Kissinger: Nobody seems to be leaving Haiphong.

Mr. Helms: The only ships that left are the two that sailed out yesterday.

Adm. Moorer: We’ve heard that the harbor master has directed all ships to stay in the harbor. We’re trying to check this report out.

Mr. Sullivan: You mean the North Vietnamese harbor master?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. The Haiphong harbor master.

Mr. Johnson: If the North Vietnamese refuse to supply tugs and pilots, isn’t it true that the ships will not be able to leave?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. But it’s also possible that the North Vietnamese don’t want to take the responsibility of getting all those ships out of the harbor. If the harbor master has indeed instructed all the ships to remain, this may account, in part, for his decision.

Mr. Rush: Why should we really care if the ships remain in the harbor? The only way we would be affected is if the ships are tied up at the docks and used as hostages against our air strikes on the docks.

Mr. Kissinger: The docks will be marginal targets, anyway, as long as the harbor is closed.

Mr. Nutter: The North Vietnamese could also anchor the ships throughout the harbor—making it difficult for us to hit the lighters darting between the ships.

Mr. Kissinger: That won’t be a problem because new ships won’t be able to get into the harbor.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right. And we’ve always accepted the fact that the ships in the harbor right now will be offloaded.

Mr. Sullivan: If the Soviet ships are kept in the harbor at Moscow’s direction, it seems to me that the logic of that move would indicate that they are preparing to move on the negotiating front.

Mr. Kissinger: Why do you think so?

[Page 532]

Mr. Sullivan: Because if it were not the case, it would mean they are prepared to leave the ships there for an indefinite time period—and I don’t think they would want to do that.

Gen. Haig rejoined the meeting at this point.

Adm. Moorer: When the mines were first put in place, the Soviet ships did not leave because they knew the mines could be dangerous. Subsequently, [2 lines not declassified].

Mr. Kissinger: Can all the ships in the harbor get out in one night, if they want to?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. The Soviets are the greatest experts in the world on mines. And they are bound to become more nervous as the time for activation of the mines approaches.

Mr. Johnson: Tonight is the night we should know what they’ve decided to do.

Mr. Kissinger: Meanwhile, no ships have entered the harbor. Is that correct?

Mr. Rush: Is it possible for ships to enter?

Adm. Moorer: Ships can still sail into the harbor, but none have done so since we laid the mines.

Mr. Rush: It wouldn’t make much sense for new ships to enter because I understand all the dock space is already taken.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right. The ships are pretty much packed together.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) Will you mine the other channels tonight?

Adm. Moorer: Yes.

Mr. Rush: I understand we lost a few F–4s during the Tac Air strikes around Hanoi and Haiphong yesterday.

Adm. Moorer: Yes. We lost four F–4s in what may have been the biggest dogfight since World War II. The enemy sent up 24 Migs, seven of which we shot down.

Mr. Johnson: You’re right. There probably hasn’t been such a big dogfight since World War II.

Mr. Sullivan: Were our planes all shot down by missiles?

Adm. Moorer: We’re not sure yet. The North Vietnamese fired less than fifty missiles.

Mr. Sullivan: Did we lose all the crewmen in the four aircraft?

Adm. Moorer: We rescued two of them.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you mean men or F–4 crews?

Adm. Moorer: I mean two men. They were picked up in the water near Haiphong. By the way, it seems as though we knocked off the [Page 533] remaining POL facilities in Hanoi yesterday. [Gen.] Vogt says we also scored some direct hits on the railroad bridge. He says we’ll finish it tomorrow. And we’ll also get some pictures of it.

Mr. Kissinger: How does he know we hit the bridge?

Adm. Moorer: The pilots reported seeing several direct hits. We took some pictures, which are being developed in Udorn. When they are ready, they will be phoned over here.

Mr. Kissinger: You’re sure we got the rest of the Hanoi POL facilities?

Adm. Moorer: We think so. It’s a little difficult to sort out because some of the remaining tanks had been emptied after the B–52 raids. When the tanks are hit now, they don’t explode in the usual manner. We also hit the Yeh Vien railroad yard north of the bridge. Vogt told me he wants to hit the railroad bridge further north. Then he can take out all the rolling stock caught between the two damaged bridges.

We don’t have much BDA yet, but we should have it shortly.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we instruct our pilots to keep off the Soviet ships for a few days?2

Adm. Moorer: Yes. There’s been a lot of noise about the tanker we supposedly hit. We again debriefed all the pilots who took part in the operation, and we still think we didn’t hit the tanker. The only ammunition expended was ninety rounds of 20-mm fire by one pilot—when he was five miles from the closest ship. We think the tanker was hit by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries firing at our planes.

Incidentally, I sent out instructions yesterday, as you directed, about keeping away from Chinese ships.3

Mr. Kissinger: Good.

Mr. Johnson: What happened with the Soviet coal ship?

Adm. Moorer: That’s the ship I’m talking about. The way we run it down, there is no way we could have hit the ship. The mining aircraft could not have done it.

Mr. Johnson: Are we attacking the road between Cam Pha and Haiphong?

[Page 534]

Adm. Moorer: Yes. There’s a little road that goes from Cam Pha, through Hon Gai, on to Haiphong—and we’re working it over.

Mr. Johnson: What about coastal fishing vessels? Are we attacking them? In the past, I think we’ve left them alone.

Adm. Moorer: In general, we don’t attack the coastal fishing vessels. However, if a group of them approach at night, we do shell them—because a PT boat may be concealed among them. We don’t engage in random shelling, though.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) And the other ports will be mined tonight?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. All the mines will be activated within 24 hours.

Mr. Helms: Before we go any further, I’d like to get some guidance. One of Secretary Laird’s speech writers asked me to provide some figures about the North Vietnamese logistics, but I declined to do so. If we don’t have one concerted view in the Government, different figures will begin appearing all over town. I think I did the right thing in turning the request down.

Mr. Kissinger: Exactly. If some of the logistics figures get out, we could be forced to the point where we would have to put George’s [Carver] figures out. I’m sure George’s figures are right, but I’m also sure he would be the first to admit the figures are subject to different kinds of analyses—along the lines of what we did at the NSC meeting on Monday.4

Mr. Helms: That’s right.

Mr. Kissinger: If we say the railroad can carry 6,800 tons, does that mean both ways, or just one way? If it’s just one way, then the two-way figure jumps to 13,000.

Mr. Carver: The railroad can carry 9,000 tons.

Mr. Kissinger: Okay. If we mean that is what it carries both ways, then it can only carry 4,500 tons one way. This is the kind of problem we will have if we release statistics.

Mr. Carver: I’ll check on the tonnage figure for the railroad. But I do agree with you about not releasing the statistics. If we do, it will mean nothing but trouble for us.

Mr. Helms: That’s my view, too. I just wanted to get your support.

Mr. Kissinger: Don’t put any of the figures out. These figures are based on a lot of assumptions: uniform distribution of rolling stock, operation day and night and no intervention. George would readily admit that many of these assumptions will not stand up.

Mr. Carver: That’s right.

[Page 535]

Mr. Helms: There will be a lot of talk in the next few days and weeks about this. I think it would be useful for us to stay away from it.

Mr. Kissinger: My view is that we have had our say. Now we should be quiet. Our actions should take over now. If they work, that will be good. If they don’t work, we will have problems. The more we talk, though, the more nervous we appear to be. If we talk about logistic figures in detail, it is a losing game. It’s all right, though, to talk in general terms. We can say that the North Vietnamese have fifteen divisions in South Vietnam, that Sihanoukville is not in operation and that the North Vietnamese have a big supply problem.

Mr. Johnson: I agree completely.

Mr. Helms: But it won’t do us any good to talk about isolated logistic figures.

Mr. Kissinger: We can say, for example, that ninety percent of the seaborne tonnage enters North Vietnam through Haiphong.

Mr. Carver: Yes. And we can also say ninety percent of all the supplies coming to North Vietnam are brought in by ship.

Mr. Sullivan: Is that true? I recently heard somebody say this was seventy-five percent.

Mr. Kissinger: However, if we get into arguments about how much is transported by rail and how much by road, it will be bad.

Mr. Sullivan: Are we satisfied with the figure of ninety percent of the tonnage coming in by sea?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Mr. Helms: You have to remember, though, that the ninety percent figure covers gross goods, including peanuts, peanut oil and other things like that.

Mr. Kissinger: We’re pretty sure 2.1 out of 2.4 million tons come in by sea.

Mr. Carver: That’s right. Ninety percent of the supplies—by tonnage—come in by sea, and ninety percent of that comes into Haiphong.

Adm. Moorer: On the Hill this morning, I was asked if most of the military items are being brought into North Vietnam by the railroad. I said that our photos show a lot of equipment being carried on the rail lines. Nonetheless, I muddied up the answer pretty well.

Mr. Helms: A lot of those questions may have been generated by the NSSM 1 paper which has been made public.5 But that paper was only the first draft, and the final product was changed a great deal.

[Page 536]

Mr. Kissinger: The NSSM 1 paper also dealt with guerrilla war. We have a whole new situation in Vietnam now.

Adm. Moorer: When I was asked on the Hill if we were attacking the rail lines, I replied that we are attacking military targets. I’m good at muddying things up.

Mr. Johnson: I was talking this morning with the Secretary about the executions the Communists are carrying out in Binh Dinh Province. We wonder if any of this has gotten out yet.

Mr. Carver: The North Vietnamese are executing government and police officials.

Mr. Johnson: We think it may be a good idea to get this out to the public—not in general terms, but in specific terms about Binh Dinh Province.

Mr. Carver: The North Vietnamese are also doing the same thing in the Loc Ninh area. This is their standard practice.

Mr. Johnson: It’s one thing to say it’s their standard practice, but it’s another thing to get the details out.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have any precise figures?

Mr. Carver: No.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s try to get it out.

Mr. Helms: I heard a report that the B–52s are laying down a protective path for the ARVN to follow north of Hue. (to Adm. Moorer) Is there anything to that report?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. In fact, Abe [Gen. Abrams] has found that this created some impressive results north of the Marine line at Hue.

Mr. Helms: The report didn’t say how far the South Vietnamese have advanced, or if they are meeting with success.

Adm. Moorer: It’s gone several klics [kilometers] north of the Marine line.

Mr. Sullivan: Tran Van Don has been called back to Saigon, and he has already left Paris.

Mr. Nutter: Thieu probably called him back to help carry out the emergency proclamation.

Mr. Sullivan: I think it’s good that he left Paris.

Mr. Helms: I’m a bit puzzled by the lack of movement in Haiphong harbor. The ship captains certainly saw the mines, but they may not have known the mines wouldn’t be activated for 72 hours. Is there any doubt about the captains not knowing this?

Mr. Sullivan: Their governments certainly understand what is happening.

Adm. Moorer: A notice to mariners was also put out. The Haiphong harbor master knows, too, and he should have told the captains.

[Page 537]

Mr. Johnson: Is Moscow clear on this? Have the Soviets been told anything—apart from what was said in public?

Mr. Rush: The Soviets must be totally clear on everything.

Mr. Kissinger: I gave the President’s speech to Dobrynin, and I went through it with him, sentence by sentence.6 I don’t know how the Soviets could misunderstand what the President said. I thought his speech was so clear.

Mr. Helms: During the mining operation, NSA picked up a report from the ships that the mines were being laid in the channels. At that time, the Soviets obviously weren’t sure the mines were not set to be activated in three days.

Adm. Moorer: That’s correct. When they saw the mines in the water, they didn’t know the mines were not active.

Mr. Johnson: But we covered all this thoroughly in the President’s speech, in the letter to the UN, in the notice to mariners and in notes to governments with ships in Haiphong.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) Did you give the Soviets a separate note?

Mr. Johnson: No, not as such. The letter to the UN and the notice to mariners were circulated, though. And we did talk to the Poles.

Mr. Kissinger: But the Polish ships are not leaving Haiphong, either.

Adm. Moorer: The only reason the Pevek left was because she had been damaged.

Mr. Sullivan: The Poles told us they were waiting to see what Moscow would do.

Adm. Moorer: There’s no question that the Soviets know what will happen. That’s one reason, I think, why the Pevek left.

Mr. Johnson: We’re getting close to the critical time.

Mr. Kissinger: Is there any other item of business? (to Adm. Moorer) Tom, do you have anything?

Adm. Moorer: I want to mention that Abe sees a pattern developing: he thinks the North Vietnamese may try to do something before Ho Chi Minh’s birthday on May 19, perhaps by attacking An Loc, Kontum and Hue during this time. This is based, by the way, on interrogations of prisoners. Abe proposes to use all the B–52s—the first day at An Loc, the next day at Kontum and the day after that at Hue.

Mr. Rush: That will undoubtedly cause a lot of fireworks.

[Page 538]

Mr. Sullivan: He wants to use all the B–52s at each one of those cities?

Adm. Moorer: Yes.

Mr. Nutter: The B–52s will be bumper to bumper.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s Abe’s problem. If he wants to do it, it’s all right with me.

[Omitted here is discussion related to military activity in Thailand.]

Mr. Kissinger: Have you done some more work on the rules of engagement near the Chinese border?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. I want to show you what the problem is. [Goes to special briefing map.] At present, our orders tell the pilots to stay outside the 25-mile buffer zone around the Chinese border. I had our people look to see what lucrative targets there may be within the buffer zone. One such target is Lang Son, and there are about six others. We still have to study this a bit more. I don’t think we’ll ask for authority to hit targets on the border, but we may ask to go as close as twenty miles to the border.

Mr. Kissinger: Where are the targets closest to the border?

Adm. Moorer: One is Dong Dang, about two miles away from the Chinese border. There are a couple of others six or seven miles away, and the rest are at least fifteen miles from the border. We want to work on it a little more, though.

Mr. Sullivan: Have we ever breached the buffer zone before?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. In fact, we had some aircraft go down in China. We used to go as close as ten miles before the buffer zone was established.

Mr. Johnson: Isn’t there an arc around Haiphong which the planes can’t penetrate without special permission?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. There is a ten-mile circle around the city, and the aircraft have to receive special authorization from Washington before they can attack targets within the circle, except for specific targets already approved.

Mr. Johnson: Is the same thing true with Hanoi?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, it’s exactly the same with both cities. If the targets are outside the circles, the pilots just have to notify us. If the targets are inside the cities, the pilots have to request permission to attack.

Mr. Sullivan: Do the Chinese know about the buffer zone?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, although they may not know how many miles it is from the border.

Adm. Moorer: I don’t know if we ever told the Chinese. But they certainly can figure it out by watching our flight operations.

Mr. Sullivan: So you think they probably know we don’t penetrate within 25 miles of the border.

[Page 539]

Mr. Kissinger: They don’t know that. I’m sure we could go twenty miles without their noticing it. If we tell them there is a 25-mile buffer zone, we would have a problem if we want to go twenty miles.

Adm. Moorer: To repeat, there are about three or four targets twenty miles from the border which we could hit.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s take another look at it when your people have completed their studies.

Adm. Moorer: Fine. I just wanted you to know what the problem was.

Mr. Johnson: What about the rules for hot pursuit?

Adm. Moorer: We don’t fly over China.

Mr. Johnson: Do we fly into the buffer zone, or do we break off the pursuit when we come to the buffer zone?

Adm. Moorer: This hasn’t come up yet. But I think we would probably break off the engagement at the buffer zone.

Mr. Johnson: I’m talking about whether the North Vietnamese planes seek refuge at Chinese airfields or in the buffer zone.

Mr. Kissinger: There are no airfields in the buffer zone.

Mr. Johnson: I mean the airspace of the buffer zone.

Adm. Moorer: I don’t know. We’ll have to take a look at this. For one thing, the North Vietnamese don’t have any confidence about knowing precisely where the buffer zone is. We have plenty to do for the next few days. After we see what happens and after we study this a bit more, we may ask for additional authorities if we think they will be useful.

Mr. Kissinger: Good. I now want to come back to something we’ve talked about before. No more forces should be pulled out of Vietnam without coming back here for permission.

Adm. Flanagan: Simply for management purposes, we put expiration dates on unit deployments and operating authorities. But these dates are always reviewed. It doesn’t mean we have decided to bring the units home or to end the operating authority on that date. We will take care of this.

Mr. Kissinger: Good. We don’t want any forces pulled out.

Mr. Johnson: What about the withdrawal program? Won’t that continue?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. But we don’t want any degrading of our Air Force and Navy forces.

Adm. Flanagan: Don’t worry. These are just review dates.

[Omitted here is discussion related to the Soviet Union and the Summit.]

[Page 540]

Mr. Kissinger: Are there any minesweepers in North Vietnamese waters?

Adm. Moorer: No. The North Vietnamese would have to get them from the Soviet Union or China.

Mr. Kissinger: Is it your judgement that they can’t sweep up the mines as fast as we can seed them?

Adm. Moorer: That’s right. They would have difficulty sweeping the mines—even with divers—because the channel bottom is muddy and silty.

Mr. Sullivan: Wouldn’t that also make it hard for the divers?

Adm. Moorer: No, not necessarily. The first problem for the North Vietnamese is to find the mines. Once the mines go in the water, they wiggle around.

Mr. Johnson: Has there been a new concept in mine warfare, or have we just improved what we had in World War II?

Adm. Moorer: There’s been a constant improvement since World War II.

[Omitted here is discussion of a possible Soviet reaction to the mining of North Vietnamese harbors, how to respond if North Vietnam accepted the U.S. cease-fire offer, and U.S. domestic response to the mining.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. In a telephone conversation at 6:25 p.m., May 10, Moorer told McCain: “I am going to send you a message particularly careful not to hit Chinese or Russian ships for the next few days due to political discussions underway and we had a very delicate period right now, so we do not want to throw the balance. (Moorer Diary, May 10; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)
  3. Although the message has not been found, Moorer, in a telephone conversation with McCain at 5:01 p.m., May 9, said: “We want to be very careful we do not hit these Chinese ships off by themselves in particular, because I think the Chinese kind of play ball with us on this.” To which McCain replied: “I think they will be too delighted to see what is going on between U.S./USSR.” (Moorer Diary, May 9; ibid.)
  4. May 8; see Document 131.
  5. One of Kissinger’s first acts as the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs had been to issue NSSM 1 on the situation in Vietnam, which comprised 6 pages of questions—28 major, 50 subsidiary—that Kissinger required involved departments and agencies to answer. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 4. The answers are summarized ibid., Document 44.
  6. See Document 135.