149. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • Armistead Selden
  • R/Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • Capt. Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —For the time being, we will not reply to the Soviet statement.2
  • —We should not comment on the report that we will stop the aerial and naval bombardment of North Vietnam while the President is in Moscow.
  • —We should not make any comments about the Soviets or the Chinese this week. If asked, we should just say we are continuing the preparations for the summit.
  • —We should hold firm to our policy of not compromising on end-the-war resolutions.
  • —The Defense Department should present the VNAF study and the ROK paper at tomorrow’s meeting.

Gen. Haig: Henry is in with the President. He should be down shortly, but, in the meantime, he asked me to start the meeting.

Mr. Helms: If it is Monday, this must be Hanoi.

[Page 552]

Mr. Selden: He can’t be too far because I saw him at the Pentagon early this morning.

Gen. Haig: Yes, he was over there. But he has been in with the President ever since he came back. They’ve also met with some POW wives.3 (to Mr. Helms) Perhaps we should begin with your briefing.4

Mr. Helms: [Read his briefing.]

Mr. Kissinger joined the meeting at this point.

Mr. Kissinger: [After Mr. Helms mentioned that the North Vietnamese are dispersing some of their transport aircraft to Chinese airfields.] What kinds of aircraft are they dispersing?

Mr. Helms: We have indications they’ve sent one IL–18 and three AN–24s to China. [Continued to read his briefing.]

Mr. Kissinger: [After Mr. Helms mentioned that there have been no other Chinese or Russian statements since the last situation report.] What statements are you referring to?

Mr. Helms: That last sentence in the briefing was an unhappy one. What it means is that the last situation report—which was put out at 5:30 this morning—contained no new Russian or Chinese statements. And there have been no statements put out since that time.

Mr. Kissinger: You mean there has been none since none was reported before.

Mr. Helms: That’s right.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) Tom, do you have anything for us?

Adm. Moorer: To back up what Dick [Helms] reported, we have also noticed some effort to disperse aircraft to China. There has been a high tempo of air activity in the Hanoi–Haiphong area since our interdiction efforts started. We’ve destroyed 29 Migs so far—on the ground and in the air. Several of the Migs were shot down in dogfights, and one of our F–4 crews even got three Migs in one flight.

The enemy missile activity has peaked from 44 in the week before last to 130 in the last seven days.

We’ve lost four planes: two F–4s to Mig 17s; and one F–4 and one F–105 to Mig 21s.

We are watching the enemy’s effort to disperse the planes. So far, we haven’t attacked airfields, except to suppress them in certain operations. Our focus has been on interdicting the rail lines. We’ve cut the northeast and northwest lines going out of Hanoi, and we’ve also destroyed the Hanoi railroad bridge.

Mr. Kissinger: Tony Lewis says we didn’t get the bridge.

Adm. Moorer: Who is Lewis?

[Page 553]

Mr. Kissinger: He’s an American, a New York Times correspondent who is in Hanoi right now.

Adm. Moorer: He’s wrong. We have a picture of the downed bridge. I talked to Johnny Vogt about this a little while ago, and he told me the North Vietnamese have put down pontoons by the side of the bridge—in an attempt to drive trucks across the river. The bridge is down, and we will hit it again to make sure it stays down.

The Thanh Hoa railroad bridge is also down, as are almost all the bridges between Hanoi and Haiphong.

There is no significant activity to report with respect to our mining operations. I told Alex that the South Vietnamese have now sent a ship to join us on the notification line. I guess this makes everything legal now, but I don’t think the GVN ship will make much of a difference.

As far as the land activity is concerned, the South Vietnamese Marine operations were apparently successful and well-executed. Friendly forces are back in FSB Bastogne, which is west of FSB Birmingham. I understand we’ve captured a good deal of command and control equipment—enough for a regiment. I don’t know if the South Vietnamese are planning to stay at Bastogne or if they were just sweeping through. I’ll get some information on this a little later today.

Mr. Johnson: Are you disappointed that the Marines pulled out, or was that part of the plan?

Adm. Moorer: I’m not disappointed. The plan called for them to pull out and join with other forces.

Mr. Kissinger: Wasn’t it a two-day plan of operations?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. It was a coordinated plan, and the Marines did what they were supposed to do. They found 263 enemy KIA, captured two 130-mm artillery pieces and destroyed three tanks. All that was at a cost of nine men. The operation was a success.

In the Kontum area, the enemy is moving in the direction of the city. The night before last, we saw the lights of some enemy tanks on the road, and the ARVN attacked with artillery, Tac Air and TOW missiles. As a result, ten of the North Vietnamese tanks were destroyed. And again, we found over 200 enemy KIA. That particular assault was stopped. Another assault, coming from the northwest, was also stopped—with at least 150 of the enemy being killed.

We have a report that one battalion of the 320th NVA Division is down to less than 100 men. The enemy is bringing in the 2nd Division in an attempt to bolster the 320th Division. Reports of heavy losses were confirmed by a prisoner who said that there were only 25 men left in his company.

Mr. Kissinger: But wasn’t that in III Corps?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. In IV Corps, the North Vietnamese are trying to infiltrate troops through the Seven Mountains area, near the [Page 554] Cambodian border. The South Vietnamese are aware of this, and they are moving against it.

There’s been no significant activity in Cambodia. I should mention, though, that Highway 5 has been reopened.

In general, all the operations are continuing.

Mr. Johnson: I would like to return to the Migs for a moment.

Adm. Moorer: You should be aware that the figures I cited before pertain to operations since our interdiction efforts began.

Mr. Johnson: I realize that. But I wonder if you can tell how many Migs are left? Have we cut down the North Vietnamese air force enough so that the environment for our pilots won’t be so hazardous?

Adm. Moorer: The most Migs that the enemy has had in the air at one time was sixty last week. Our attacks have had an effect, but the North Vietnamese can get all the planes they want. The Russians have the same problem in supplying Migs to the North Vietnamese that we have in supplying M–48s to the South Vietnamese: there aren’t enough trained people to operate and maintain the equipment. During the operations in Laos in January and February, the same North Vietnamese pilots were flying all the time. We have the names of most of the pilots. And I think they have less than twenty people who can fly at night.

Mr. Johnson: Nonetheless, the North Vietnamese still have planes and crews in China, which they can bring in, if they want to.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right. I wouldn’t want to be held to these figures, but I think they have thirty or forty.

Mr. Johnson: For the time being, then, the North Vietnamese can continue to put up a good fight in the air.

Adm. Moorer: Yes. We haven’t attacked the airfields, though. There’s also a new element: the SA–4 missile. This is a mobile, with the launcher and radar on tracks. The missile is not as fast as the SA–2, and it can be easily identified. So far, there have been no hits with it.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) Do you want to say a few words about the current rules of engagement? What do we do about minesweepers and about lightering? This is just so that everybody here knows what our policy is.

Adm. Moorer: Okay. Actually we have five situations which could involve the rules of engagement. First, there is the case when merchant ships approach the notification line. Our ships have instructions to come alongside these ships, inform them that the Haiphong channels are mined and urge them to leave the area. This has already been done.

Second, there is the case of counteractions to take if the North Vietnamese attempt to sweep the Haiphong channels. If the minesweepers are unmistakably identified as North Vietnamese and if the action would be without hazard to third country shipping, the minesweepers will be taken under fire.

[Page 555]

Third, there is the case where merchant ships are at anchor—either inside or outside North Vietnamese territorial waters—and are transferring their cargoes to North Vietnamese lighters. When the merchant ship is outside territorial waters (12 miles), the lighters will be taken under fire when they enter territorial waters. If both are inside the territorial waters, the lighters will be taken under fire when they are a good distance away from the merchant ships. This will be done regardless of what Soviet ships may be present.

Fourth, there is the case of Soviet combat ships taking up positions in the Tonkin Gulf. This has not yet developed. If it does, we will deal with it by trailing the Soviet submarines with our submarines and by maintaining a continuous surveillance on the Soviet surface ships.

Fifth, there is the case of the classic blockade, where you fire a shot across the bow of a ship and attempt to board and search it. We haven’t issued orders to our ships for this situation, but we have these orders ready.

I think the rules of engagements are very clear. We can solve any problems which may come up in the future. One thing in our favor is that these operations are not time-sensitive. We will get a warning if the Soviet minesweeper leaves the Sea of Japan. And if the four minesweepers in the Indian ocean—presently clearing up Chittagong harbor—are brought to North Vietnam, they will have to be towed.

Mr. Johnson: Is there any sign that the North Vietnamese are trying to improvise minesweepers?

Adm. Moorer: Net yet, but they may try. We are keeping a close watch on them. They will never really know for sure what we will do. It remains to be seen if they would be willing to risk a merchant ship—and whose—to clear the channels.

Mr. Kissinger: We won’t permit them to clear the channels. If need be, we will seed the mines faster than they can sweep them. We don’t want to play any games. The first time they try to sweep the channels, we have to stop them. There should not be any doubt that there aren’t enough mines out there. If they do manage to sweep some mines without our catching them, we will have to seed more mines.

Mr. Sullivan: What would we do if some Quakers, or another similar group, attempt to sail a mercy mission to Haiphong in a wooden hulled vessel?

Adm. Moorer: What kind of mercy mission are you talking about?

Mr. Sullivan: Some kind of mission to bring medicines into Haiphong.

Mr. Johnson: We had one fellow try to do that once when I was in Japan.

Mr. Sullivan: What would we do if that happens again?

Mr. Selden: The ship may very well hit a mine.

[Page 556]

Mr. Sullivan: But if they knew how to navigate very well, couldn’t they get a wooden hull through the mine field?

Mr. Johnson: As I say, we had this once before, but I doubt that it will happen again. Even if it does, we should have plenty of advance notice, and we would be able to take care of it.

Adm. Moorer: We just wouldn’t let them go up the channel.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. We could deal with this problem later.

Mr. Johnson: We would have plenty of time to consider what to do.

Adm. Moorer: We have several contingency plans. One ship is prepared to reseed the mines on very short notice. We simply won’t let the North Vietnamese open the channels.

Mr. Kissinger: Fine. (to Mr. Johnson) Do you have any problems, Alex?

Mr. Johnson: No. You probably know we sent over a proposed reply to the Soviet statement.5 Our recommendation, though, is that we don’t issue the reply. I think we’re getting by fine.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree. And the President is not eager to reply, either.

Mr. Sullivan: Our press people need some guidance on the report that we will suspend our activities during the Moscow visit.

Mr. Kissinger: What report is that? What does it refer to—the mining?

Mr. Sullivan: No. It refers to the bombing and the naval bombardments.

Mr. Johnson: I haven’t seen that report.

Mr. Sullivan: It came from France, from the Figaro.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have to say anything?

Mr. Sullivan: We’re being asked about the report.

Adm. Moorer: We should just continue to say that we will not say what we will or will not do. I don’t think we should make any other comments.

Mr. Helms: That’s right. I think it would be ill-advised to make other comments.

Mr. Kissinger: We should just say we have no comment.

Mr. Johnson: I agree with Tom [Moorer].

[Page 557]

Mr. Kissinger: Absolutely.

Adm. Moorer: People think we would be stupid to make other comments. They don’t expect us to.

Mr. Kissinger: Not all people.

Mr. Johnson: The Secretary said that he got an excellent reaction from his speech at Hot Springs6—even from the women.

Mr. Helms: That’s right. The Secretary made a very good speech. And when I walked in, the stock market went up two points, too.

Adm. Moorer: [After receiving a message from the Sit Room.] The ARVN are still holding FSB Bastogne.

Mr. Kissinger: We don’t want any comments about the Soviets this week. We don’t want any expression of relief or of worry. If asked, we should just say we are continuing the preparations for the summit. We don’t want the Soviets challenged, so just say nothing. What about the extra gunships? What are we doing to get more of them out there?

Adm. Flanagan: Do you mean the VNAF study?

Mr. Johnson: No. This was a separate question.

Adm. Flanagan: I defer to Adm. Moorer on this.

Adm. Moorer: We’re getting six more gunships ready, and we will send them out as fast as we can.

Mr. Kissinger: How long will it take to get these six gunships over there?

Adm. Moorer: They are in different degrees of completion, and we’ll have to send them over one at a time.

Mr. Kissinger: When will that be? In a month?

Adm. Moorer: I think all of them should be out there in a month to six weeks. We’re working as fast as we can. It’s difficult to convert the aircraft, though, because we have to install gun mounts, infrared sensors and radar sensors. This is a complex job.

Mr. Kissinger: But we’re pushing ahead as fast as we can?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, I can assure you of that.

Mr. Kissinger: What about the ROKs?

Adm. Moorer: We’ll have a paper for you tomorrow. We have to rely on Barry Shillito for a large part of this paper, and he just returned the night before last. The paper will be ready tomorrow.

Mr. Kissinger: We shouldn’t make any comments about the Chinese, either. They have been amazingly quiet so far.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, they have.

Mr. Sullivan: Chou En-lai made a statement at the Somali banquet last night which was a little heavier than the earlier statement. But it was still a fairly quiet statement.

[Page 558]

Adm. Moorer: Perhaps Chou had to use some stronger words because the Somalis have ships in Haiphong. The Somalis are also a special case because the Chinese are trying to work with them on the Horn of Africa.

Mr. Helms: Chou’s speech was mild. He repeated almost word for word what he said in his earlier statement. And there was no mention of the President or of the alleged damage to Chinese ships by U.S. aircraft.

Mr. Kissinger: Okay.

Mr. Sullivan: We have a major problem on the Hill with the end-the-war resolutions.

Mr. Kissinger: This comes up every year. As long as there is no compromise on our part, we are in good shape. Our policy has always been to hold firm.

Mr. Sullivan: I heard this morning that Scott was moving toward a compromise—perhaps as early as tomorrow.

Mr. Kissinger: He’s not doing that with our approval.

Mr. Sullivan: Scott, I understand, wants to change the Church–Case resolution. Instead of the present clause about North Vietnamese agreement to release our prisoners, he wants the clause to read: “after the release of our prisoners.”

Mr. Kissinger: We will not yield. We don’t want to compromise on a resolution which says the Congress doesn’t trust the President. We don’t want to compromise on a resolution which threatens to cut off funds in order to make the President carry out promises he has already made. We should get the Congressional liaison people out.

Mr. Sullivan: They are out. My people say Scott may move tomorrow.

Mr. Kissinger: Whenever we agree to compromise language, other people always come along and want to compromise the compromise. We don’t want that. We are not in bad shape now. Even if this passes, it will only be a sense of the Senate resolution.

Mr. Johnson: The Secretary’s feeling is that the Senate may vote to cut the funds off, but the House won’t go along. The conference committee would then work out a compromise which would say something about policy but which would not cut off the funds.

Mr. Kissinger: We could live with something like that. We’re in the driver’s seat. Any Senator who moves too far, may jeopardize all sorts of things.

Mr. Selden: Secretary Laird said in his staff meeting this morning that there should be no compromises with the President’s position.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s meet at 10:00 tomorrow morning. Then, depending on the situation, perhaps we should meet every other day.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 79, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group, May 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, attached to Document 213.
  3. See Document 148.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. INR characterized the Soviet statement as mild and analyzed it in the following terms: “The Soviet Government’s statement of May 11, issued the day the US mines in North Vietnamese harbors became activated, does not mention the summit and studiously avoids treating the US actions to disrupt Soviet shipments to the DRV as a direct challenge to the USSR. Instead, Moscow has elected to view them as violations of international law deserving censure but not to address their larger implications or possible consequences.” (Intelligence note prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, RESN–63, May 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–2 VIET S)
  6. Rogers addressed the Business Council, Hot Springs, VA, May 13. (Ibid., Rogers Office Files, Entry 5439, Box 20)