175. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • Armistead Selden
  • Major General David Ott
  • JCS
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
  • Captain Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (only stayed for Mr. Carver’s briefing)
  • NSC Staff
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • John H. Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —The Defense Department should knock down the story of the Soviet captain who claimed he sailed his vessel out of Haiphong harbor without incident on May 13.
  • —We should make a better effort to see that our Ambassadors are kept informed about all troop movements in their countries.
  • —The State and Defense Departments will coordinate a message to Ambassador Unger in Thailand on the urgent necessity of moving fifteen tankers from U Tapao to Don Muang.
  • —We will prepare a Presidential message to President Thieu, informing him of the decisions made on augmentation of logistic and matériel support for the GVN.
  • —The Defense Department will provide Gen. Abrams’ message about forming additional ARVN battalions to the WSAG participants. The group should then focus on the question of creating an additional division—from the regular forces or by converting some RF/PF forces. The group should also focus on the possibility of pre-positioning equipment for the division—in case we decide to organize one at a later date.
  • —We should be more imaginative and aggressive in our use of psychological warfare operations. We should all think in terms of the current activity culminating in a final settlement. And the President should be kept fully informed about our psywar activities.
  • —We should straighten out today the operational snag in Saigon which is preventing CIA from carrying out its instructions pertaining to black radio.
  • —We should do a much better job—especially in the U.S.—of getting out the good public affairs stories and points. William Sullivan’s interdepartmental group should be kept at a high level of personnel and intensity. It should also be expanded to include people who will work primarily on the domestic side.
  • —The State Department will again check the legal aspects of providing munitions and POL support from Cambodia for Thai aircraft in Cambodia. This legal problem must be solved.
  • —Gen. Haig will check with Mr. Kissinger on the feasibility of preparing a long-range planning paper—tying together the DIA, CIA and State papers.

[Omitted here is discussion of Chinese and Polish views on the situation in Vietnam, tracking of Soviet ships including a damaged one in North Vietnamese coastal waters, the military situation in South Vietnam, bombing over North Vietnam, the situation in Haiphong Harbor, reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam, the sources of a New York Times reporter, maritime insurance rates, the movement of additional military aircraft to Southeast Asia and where to put them, the President’s desire to deploy additional B–52s, and the NSDM on augmentation of logistic and matériel support to South Vietnam (Document 167).]

[Gen. Haig:] I want to say a word now about the psychological operations. They may have looked a bit uncertain after the last meeting. But I can assure you that is not the case. We have two four-page memos from the President on this subject,2 and he is upset at what he considers to be our lack of attention to it. On Thursday, I sent him a list at Camp David of all the things we have done so [Page 630] far.3 He wrote that this was very good. On Saturday, he said it was a sorry exercise.4 He wants us to use more imagination and ingenuity, and he is even thinking of establishing a new organization to carry out the psywar operations.

Mr. Johnson: What is the problem?

Gen. Haig: We have several problems. In the first place, we have two problems in trying to reassure the President. If something is done quietly, he doesn’t know about it unless we report it. On the other hand, if he doesn’t see something reported in the press, he mistrusts us and doesn’t think we are doing the job. So we have the problem from both sides in trying to convince the President that we are doing the job.

He said that MACV is not getting out the word about North Vietnamese casualties, and VOA is not pushing this word up North. He also wants us to drop hints about possible escalation. This is a sensitive subject, of course, and we have to handle it in a delicate manner. Perhaps we can do something on the black radio side. But the President probably wants more public hints, too, that we can do more.

He wants to see more reports about the reinforcements we are sending to Vietnam. He wants to see more material in the press about our air strikes in North Vietnam. And we have to be careful no imagery develops about our turning down the effort in the North because of the Moscow visit. The President said MACV and the Embassy should do more to get out the reports of high morale and the will to win among the South Vietnamese. The last point can be dangerous because we can say something one day and see it blasted apart the next day. But, nonetheless, these are the things the President wants us to do.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, that last point can be very tricky.

Adm. Moorer: We could get burned on it.

Gen. Haig: Perhaps it can be done with black radio directed at the North Vietnamese. It could be tricky here in the U.S., though.

Mr. Johnson: My impression in the last ten days or so is that the press is presenting a more balanced approach to the Vietnam situation.

Mr. Carver: Yes, but it is done very grudgingly.

Mr. Johnson: I know.

Mr. Carver: If there is the slightest tactical setback at Kontum, the press will lose no time in returning to the pessimistic line.

Mr. Johnson: I realize that, but I was just giving my impression.

Adm. Moorer: In order to do what the President wants, we would have to reconstitute MACV.

[Page 631]

Mr. Johnson: Is the SOG gone?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, but it’s getting started again.

Gen. Haig: The President senses—based on the 1960’s experiences when we did things like this and when we were very often made to look foolish—that there is a great inhibition on the part of government officials. They do not want to repeat what the President calls the Rostow syndrome.

Mr. Rush: That’s true.

Gen. Haig: But he feels that we must overcome it. This is the final exercise, and we will not be faced with it again. He wants us to do the total job now and put maximum pressure on Hanoi. He wants to get all the support he needs. His great criticism about every issue is the problem we have with the old syndrome. The President feels that everyone is looking to prevent defeat and that no one is thinking in terms of victory. He wants to reverse this—not the military terms, but the thinking. Everyone should think in terms of the current activity culminating in a final settlement.

Mr. Carver: The Task Group met Saturday,5 and it will meet again today. We’re doing everything we can.

Mr. Johnson: (to Mr. Carver) Are you the chairman of that group?

Mr. Carver: No. My deputy is the chairman.

Mr. Kennedy: Sullivan’s group is meeting today, too.

Mr. Carver: On the black radio business, we sent instructions to Saigon. But we have just about been stopped dead in the water. For one thing, Frank Shakespeare sent a cable to Lincoln, telling him to take charge of all radio operations. The Ambassador also set up a committee which has pre-empted the radio assets. The committee is thinking in terms of doing more of the same—only in increased amounts and hours. The Station Chief can’t fight the Ambassador, and we can’t carry out the instructions we were given last week unless somebody gets the Ambassador off dead center.

Mr. Johnson: I don’t fully understand the problem.

Mr. Carver: We told the Station Chief to get on the air within one week with black radio operations directed to the North Vietnamese. He was going to use the Embassy’s spare transmitter, and start out the programs with music to catch the attention of the North Vietnamese. Then the station would broadcast news items about the bridges in North Vietnam being knocked down, about the very high casualties, about the high morale of the South Vietnamese. We would go after the North Vietnamese in an offensive way.

[Page 632]

The Ambassador, however, has now given Lincoln and the JUSPAO Task Group all the radio assets. As I said before, they plan to augment what is now on the air, but with very minor changes in substance. Thus, the spare Embassy transmitter has been co-opted, and the VOA transmitter is not available to us. If we are to do what we were instructed to do, somebody has to talk to the Ambassador.

Mr. Johnson: (to Mr. Carver) Have you talked to Bill [Sullivan] about this?

Mr. Carver: No. I wanted to do that this morning.

Mr. Johnson: Bill is before the Proxmire committee this morning—getting some money for the war.

Gen. Haig: I think we can work it out today.

Mr. Carver: There’s no bad will in Saigon about this—just some confusion.

Mr. Kennedy: We’ll work it out this afternoon with Bill.

Gen. Haig: It might seem a bit fuzzy about where we are heading, so I want to say a word about that. The President feels that the mining operations and the interdiction efforts are working. He feels that the premises he based these actions on were accurate. There’s no question that there is a leadership problem in Hanoi, and the President feels that the best solution will come about with a change of the North Vietnamese leadership. He thinks it is essential that the leadership be changed. That’s his target. I must say, too, that all the assessments so far seem to bear this out.

Mr. Rush: Yes, they do.

Mr. Johnson: That’s right.

Mr. Carver: To be very crass about it, if our goal is to change the leadership, we have to do more than we have done in the past. What we’ve done before was not good enough, and it won’t be good enough now.

Gen. Haig: The President’s strategy is to win. He’s becoming alienated with our style, as it is fed back to him. He thinks we are all following the “don’t lose” syndrome. He’s impatient these days about this, and we simply have to do much more.

Mr. Johnson: This discussion has been very useful.

Gen. Haig: On the public affairs side, there are a number of stories we can get out. We can say something about the communist assassinations of GVN police and government leaders. We can also say something about what the South Vietnamese are doing to help themselves.

Mr. Johnson: You’re right.

Gen. Haig: Have we put out the word about the assassinations of South Vietnamese officials? Has the VOA carried it? The President has not seen any indication that we’ve done those things.

[Page 633]

Mr. Johnson: We talked about this the other day. We discussed what was happening in Binh Dinh Province. If I recall, though, the information wasn’t too solid, and we were going to check it out some more.

Adm. Moorer: The information doesn’t have to be absolutely solid for us to use it.

Mr. Johnson: That’s right. We can talk in general terms, without referring to specifics. We can say there was a report that fifteen police and three provincial officials were executed in Binh Dinh Province on May 14. That kind of report is good enough for us to use.

Mr. Carver: We planted a story in the Bangkok Post Friday about the COSVN directive to move against Tay Ninh City calling for liquidation of South Vietnamese officials. The story doesn’t do much good in the Bangkok Post, however.

Adm. Moorer: It should have been in the Washington Post. You have your Posts mixed up.

Mr. Johnson: (to Mr. Carver) Do we have that directive?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Mr. Johnson: I mean something we can use right now?

Adm. Moorer: We need some sort of central control to get these things out here.

Mr. Rush: I thought Ziegler was doing it, in coordination with the Department spokesmen.

Gen. Haig: We have a committee to handle these things. Bill [Sullivan] should sit in on all the meetings. When everyone is there, they should decide how a story will be played and who will do what. The Chairman sent Gen. Knowles to the last meeting, and George [Carver] was also there.

Mr. Johnson: Was Bill there?

Gen. Haig: Yes. But in a week the meeting will be back down to a low level. I think it’s better to keep the meeting at a high level of personnel and intensity. The committee should report to the President and confirm whatever actions have been taken.

Mr. Johnson: Who chairs this committee?

Gen. Haig: Bill does. It is the Psywar Group.

Mr. Carver: You have to remember that the Psywar Group is basically overseas oriented. We’re concerned now with the domestic aspect of the problem.

Mr. Rush: Who is on the committee from Defense?

Mr. Carver: General Knowles, General Manor and Bill Flanagan.

Mr. Johnson: George is right. The group is overseas oriented.

Mr. Carver: The question is how do we handle the domestic problems?

[Page 634]

Gen. Haig: Perhaps we can expand the group.

Mr. Johnson: McCloskey, Friedheim and some other spokesmen have a daily meeting. Maybe they can handle some of the load.

Adm. Moorer: Those guys just execute on a day to day basis the policy that the planners have decided on. I don’t think it would be right to bring them into this.

Mr. Rush: Who handles the domestic side?

Adm. Moorer: I think it may be a good idea to expand Bill’s group.

Gen. Haig: We have to decide what level it should be at and where—the White House, State, Defense?

Mr. Carver: I think the same body should be concerned with overseas and domestic affairs—so that what’s put out here is in harmony with our song overseas.

Gen. Haig: At the very least, why don’t we add a DOD representative?

Mr. Selden: We have one: Bill Flanagan.

Gen. Haig: I’m talking about the interdepartmental group which sets themes and does things like that.

Mr. Rush: That’s Bill’s [Sullivan] group.

Mr. Johnson: Yes. Bill Flanagan is on the Agency’s sub group.

Mr. Carver: That’s right. We do things on the working level—like setting up frequencies.

Gen. Haig: If we had someone from McCloskey’s shop, we could use Les Janka as a bridge to the White House, so that Ziegler could be clued in on everything.

Mr. Johnson: Who is Janka?

Gen. Haig: He’s the NSC press liaison officer.

Mr. Johnson: I see no problem with that.

Mr. Rush: Neither do I.

Gen. Haig: George put his finger on the problem. Even if we do significant things in the field, the President does not see the results in the domestic press.

Mr. Johnson: We have to get the President information on what is being done.

Mr. Holdridge: Should Herb Klein’s shop have a representative on the group?

Gen. Haig: Yes, I think so.

Mr. Johnson: I’ll tell Bill about it when he gets back to the office.

Mr. Kennedy: We’ll get in touch with Klein.

Mr. Johnson: Tell him to expect a call from Bill. Who will be on the committee from Defense?

[Page 635]

Mr. Selden: Dennis Doolin is our man, but he is away. Bill Flanagan is substituting for Dennis.

Gen. Ott: Bill [Flanagan] told me that he wanted me to take his spot when he leaves for Vietnam.

Mr. Rush: Okay. That sounds like a good idea to me.

[Omitted here is discussion of Thailand.]

  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, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. Documents 160 and 169.
  3. Document 162.
  4. Document 172.
  5. May 20.