184. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Dennis Doolin
  • Maj. Gen. David Ott
  • JCS
  • R/Adm. Mason Freeman
  • Capt. Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —Defense should come up with a way of providing the air assets needed for the pre-emption of Radio Hanoi—without activating the [Page 652] Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit.2 We should also carry forward our scenario past the point where FBIS would pick up the broadcasts.
  • —Defense should plan to bomb the North Vietnamese pipeline, to prevent the enemy from extending it to the Chinese border.
  • CIA should review the North Vietnamese supply situation, looking at the situation which will prevail in the South for the next few months and at the longer term prospects for the enemy.
  • —Defense should prepare a special study on the recession in South Vietnam.
  • —State and Defense should work out a plan for providing safe-haven for the B–52s based on Guam when a typhoon threatens Guam.

[Omitted here is discussion of the proposal to bomb Radio Hanoi transmitters and broadcast American-created programs on the same frequency.]

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Carver) George, do we have a present estimate of the North Vietnamese supply situation and of the enemy capability to sustain operations in the South? Have these questions been formally addressed in the last week or so?

Mr. Carver: No, they haven’t.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you think it would be worthwhile to take a formal look at them now?

Mr. Carver: Yes, I do.

Mr. Kissinger: As I recall, we asked about six weeks ago for an estimate of the enemy’s offensive capability, and you gave us one then. Has anything new come in since then to make us change our estimate?

Mr. Carver: No, nothing new has come in. The big problem, I think, is the POL situation. There are also a few tenuous signs of unit rationing—of trying to conserve SAMs and artillery rounds. I don’t think the supply situation will make the North Vietnamese curtail their offensive in MR 1. In any case, we’ll take a look at the evidence that has come in during the last six weeks and revise our estimates accordingly.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, it would be a good idea to do that.

[Page 653]

Mr. Johnson: Do we have any up-dated information on the truck movements in North Vietnam?

Mr. Carver: There has been a little bit of truck movement, but there certainly has been no major diversion of ground assets to offset the effect of the mining and the cutting of the rail lines.

Mr. Kissinger: Is there any evidence that the Chinese are sending truck traffic into North Vietnam?

Mr. Carver: No.

Mr. Helms: We thoroughly scrub down the photos taken during every mission over North Vietnam, and there is no evidence of a significant truck movement from China into North Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: Is it fair to conclude that the North Vietnamese have lost one month’s worth of sea-delivered supplies and that they have received fewer supplies by rail than they normally receive?

Mr. Carver: Yes, that is an accurate conclusion. And while the Russians and Chinese are fussing about how to deliver supplies to the North Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese are losing precious time.

Mr. Johnson: That’s very true. I saw a DIA report this morning which estimated that the enemy has lost about fifteen percent of the POL which was in storage facilities. Frankly, I was a little surprised because I thought the figure would be higher than fifteen percent.

Mr. Nutter: The report referred to the fact that fifteen percent of the stored POL has been destroyed. But don’t forget that the North Vietnamese are also using up their POL at a fast rate.

Mr. Johnson: I realize that. Still, I thought the figure would be higher.

Mr. Doolin: There’s also no indication that the amount of rolling stock on the Chinese side of the border is increasing.

Mr. Nutter: That’s right. The rolling stock is not piling up there.

Mr. Kissinger: Is it going through into North Vietnam?

Mr. Nutter: There’s no evidence that it is going through.

Mr. Helms: Warren [Nutter]3 is right.

Mr. Carver: Some of the rolling stock is going through to the transshipment point on the North Vietnamese side of the border, perhaps ten or fifteen miles inside North Vietnam.

Mr. Helms: True, but the stock isn’t getting through to points where it can be effectively used.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s true to say, then, that the North Vietnamese are getting less by rail than they got before our interdiction efforts began.

[Page 654]

Mr. Helms: Yes. So many of the railroad bridges are out that the two railroads are effectively cut. What is leaking through is very small.

Mr. Kissinger: As I recall, we were told about six weeks ago that the North Vietnamese had a four-month supply of POL on hand.

Mr. Carver: That was our estimate. Remember, though, that it can be stretched out a little bit.

Mr. Kissinger: One month’s supply is gone, and an estimated twelve to fifteen percent of the stored POL has been destroyed. That means about forty percent of the POL they had on May 8 is gone.

Mr. Carver: Yes, I think that figure is fairly accurate.

Mr. Kissinger: So by the end of June, close to sixty-five percent of the POL will be gone. The question is will they run down the POL supply to zero?

Mr. Carver: I have great respect for the resourcefulness of the North Vietnamese. They must find alternate routes for the POL flow by mid-July at the latest, or else they will be taking a bigger gamble than I thought they would take.

Mr. Helms: They are not extending the pipeline to Kep just to get the exercise. This is an alternate POL route they are going to depend on.

Mr. Kissinger: Will they be able to depend on the pipeline?

Mr. Carver: In order for the pipeline to be effective, they have to extend it to China.

Mr. Kissinger: Where is Kep? How far is Kep from China?

Mr. Carver: It’s about sixty or seventy kilometers from China.

Mr. Kissinger: Will they be able to get the POL from China?

Mr. Carver: Yes, once they complete the pipeline.

Mr. Kissinger: And that’s what they are trying to do now?

Mr. Helms: I think so. It must be what they have in mind because they’ve never done anything like that before.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we bomb the pipeline?

Adm. Freeman: Yes, but it may be difficult to destroy it, especially if parts of it run underground. I’m sure, however, that we can cut the line.

Mr. Carver: It may be best to keep going after the pumping stations.

Mr. Kissinger: Will the pipeline have enough capacity to satisfy the North Vietnamese requirements?

Mr. Helms: It won’t have enough capacity to solve all their problems. But it will help alleviate the critical problem they are now facing with regard to the POL situation.

Mr. Johnson: I’ve been away for a few days. Is this a new pipeline they are building?

[Page 655]

Mr. Carver: Not really. They are extending the old pipeline up to Kep, where the railroad spur comes from Thai Nguyen.

Mr. Kissinger: Where did the pipeline go before?

Mr. Carver: It used to end up not far north of Hanoi.

Adm. Freeman: We estimate that they can finish extending the pipeline to the border by the end of June.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s if we don’t bomb it. Will we bomb the pipeline?

Adm. Freeman: Yes, our intent is to bomb it.

Mr. Carver: We’ll look at this when we review the entire supply situation.

Mr. Kissinger: Good. How much do they need in the South in order to maintain their operations there? In early May, we estimated they could keep the offensive going from the supplies already in place for the better part of the summer. Is that correct?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: In the light of recent activities, have we revised that estimate?

Mr. Carver: No. Remember that those supplies were already deployed when the offensive began.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s true. But if things become very tough in the North, it might compound the difficulties the enemy has in the South.

Mr. Carver: If they continue to use up all their supplies in the South, it will be like writing a check against a bank account when there is no more money coming in.

Mr. Helms: We will review the entire situation for you.

Mr. Kissinger: Good. Look at the situation which will prevail in the South for the next few months, as well as the longer term prospects for the North Vietnamese. I will be grateful for this review.

[Omitted here is discussion of minesweeper activity off the coast of North Vietnam, South Korean forces operating in Kontum, the economic situation in South Vietnam, and where to send B–52s based on Guam in bad weather.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 80, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group, June 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Guard unit was the only one in the Air Force possessing the special equipment and specially trained pilots and crew to carry out such a mission. If that unit were not used, aircraft from other units would have to be reconfigured and other crews trained, which would take time. Using the Guard unit, however, would require its activation, which would then become a matter of public record, and that might compromise the mission. Kissinger’s response to comments such as these by Carver, Nutter, and Freeman was: “Our experience has always been that the first time we look at something like this, we are told we can’t do it. Then, if the President wants it enough, he will order it—and we will find a way to carry out the order. We’ve had the same experience with other issues: the B–52s, to name one.”
  3. Brackets are in the original.