191. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Major Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. Richard Knowles
  • Capt. Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (stayed only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Rear Adm. Harry D. Train
  • NSC Staff
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • Philip Odeen
  • William Stearman
  • Mark Wandler

It was agreed that:

  • —Defense will work out alternative plans for basing the tankers after the 120-day time limit at Don Muong runs out.
  • —Defense will provide an options paper for the President on the aircraft and crews needed for the pre-emption of Radio Hanoi.
  • —We should make sure we get all the pertinent facts out about the situation in the North, our battlefield accomplishments and the South Vietnamese economic situation—in order to counter the backfire the enemy is trying to develop here.
  • —Defense should try to get its review of the South Vietnamese economic situation over here as soon as possible.
  • —We should pull together for the President all the facts relating to the delivery of additional equipment to the South Vietnamese and to the possible creation of another ARVN division so that he can see how his decision to send the equipment looks in reality.
  • —Gen. Haig should seek Presidential guidance about compromising on Case amendment.

[Omitted here is discussion of the military situation in South Vietnam, the POL pipeline the North Vietnamese were extending northward to China and how to destroy it, relocating U.S. aircraft in Thailand and associated political and financial problems, the possibility of basing the aircraft in the Philippines, the black operation against Radio Hanoi, and using drone aircraft to leaflet North Vietnam as well as manned aircraft during bombing missions.]

Gen. Haig: I have a feeling from reading the News Summary this morning and from recent intelligence reports that Hanoi is working in concert with the French Communist Party, trying to build a backfire here about the intensive bombing and about the “disastrous” situation in South Vietnam. After three weeks of intensive press play, some of these issues are starting to turn sour. One issue is the dikes.2 Another [Page 670] is the Stern story we talked about the other day.3 Still another is the economic problem in Saigon. Since I read the News Summary this morning, I’m pretty sure it will generate a reaction in the oval office. I’m sure the President will ask me about it during the course of the day. We ought to think of things we can do to counter the enemy effort. We’ve had some good briefings—some good backgrounders—out of the Embassy and MACV, and we should continue with them. We don’t want any overkill; we just want to refocus the facts in an attempt to counter this enemy backfire. Let’s make sure all the facts get out. What is the enemy doing now? What are our battlefield accomplishments? Abe, incidentally, did a good job in reporting these accomplishments in his assessment report last night. What is the economic situation in Saigon? I’m a little concerned about that.

Mr. Sullivan: I think the economic situation has bottomed out.

Mr. Nutter: That’s right. The economy is in much better shape now, and it has reacted well to the various measures which were applied to it. We can tell a much better story about the South Vietnamese economy now.

Mr. Sullivan: In that same vein, we’ve had a chance to take a closer look at the Moose and Lowenstein report, and they say the economy is in good shape now.4 The economic part of the report came from Cooper, so it is okay.

On the military side, the report plays the same line Stern writes about. It says the North Vietnamese accomplished their goals. Moose and Lowenstein say the North Vietnamese never wanted to capture An Loc or Kontum. According to Moose and Lowenstein, the enemy just wanted to concentrate the South Vietnamese forces, in order to go around them and mess up the pacification program. In a somewhat contradictory way, however, they say the North Vietnamese were only stopped at An Loc and Kontum by the massive use of U.S. air power. The conclusions they reach, quite naturally, are that Vietnamization is a failure and that the enemy offensive was blunted only by U.S. air.

On the political side, Moose and Lowenstein write that Thieu has no support, except for the U.S. They report that there is corruption throughout the country and that all U.S. officials wink at the corruption.

[Page 671]

I assume the report will be issued before Congress recesses on June 30.

Mr. Nutter: That’s a safe assumption to make.

Mr. Sullivan: I’ve asked our people to start getting all the statistics on pacification. We can say that the pacification has dropped as a result of the offensive. Nonetheless, compared to the 1968 and 1965 levels, the current pacification figures are still way up there. Only three percent of the population has come under Communist control. I should point out that we may have a problem in releasing these figures because the HES statistics are still classified. Do we want to declassify them?

Gen. Haig: We have to be very careful with the statistics because if there is a new offensive coming we don’t want to set ourselves up for something worse than we already have.

Mr. Johnson: You’re right. That’s always possible.

Gen. Haig: When will we get the DOD economic study?5

Mr. Nutter: I sent the study to Secretary Laird, but I haven’t heard anything more about it. I’ll check on it when I get back to the office.

Mr. Sullivan: What study is this?

Mr. Nutter: It’s a review we’ve prepared of the economic situation in South Vietnam.

Mr. Sullivan: This is a DOD review?

Mr. Nutter: Yes.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s interesting. I’d like to see it.

Mr. Nutter: Sure. We’ll send you a copy just as soon as the Secretary clears it. By the way, I’d also like to see your review of the economic situation.

Gen. Haig: We’re going to wrestle today with the funding issue for additional equipment and costs resulting from our intensified efforts in recent months. We should have the problem resolved by the end of the day.

Mr. Rush: Good.

Gen. Haig: Are there any indications that Thieu’s inability to get the full emergency powers he sought is eroding his support in Saigon?

[Page 672]

Mr. Sullivan: No. There doesn’t seem to be any erosion of support because of that. He is still up against the same combinations that have always been against him. As usual, the request for full emergency powers wasn’t handled very smoothly by the Palace. Thieu could probably get some of the emergency powers if he went in with a truncated government-sponsored bill. Still, the Senate is suspicious that he will convert the powers granted in truncated bill into the full powers he has been seeking. But I think he could get some of the emergency powers if he settled for half a loaf instead of the full loaf.

Mr. Carver: Bill’s analysis is correct. He could get some of the powers, but he is being stiff-necked in insisting on getting everything he wants. The Senate is demonstrating its independence.

Mr. Sullivan: We can sympathize somewhat with Thieu because the Senate wants to cut out the powers dealing with finance and taxation—just the powers we want him to have.

Mr. Nutter: That’s right. He already has most of the other powers enumerated in the bill, as a result of the martial law decrees. We feel that now is the time to move on the financial and taxation matters, and we would like him to have the appropriate powers in those areas.

Gen. Haig: When Henry gets back, he will want to know about the plans to deliver the additional equipment called for by NSDM 168.6 Are most of the items going to be delivered by August 1?

Mr. Rush: We sent a paper over to you about that. Have you seen it?

Mr. Odeen: You mean the paper dated June 17?

Mr. Rush: Yes.

Mr. Odeen: Dave Ott and I got together on this yesterday.

Gen. Haig: As I understand it, we will have a shortfall in tanks. Do we want to draw down tanks from other sources in order to get them to Vietnam by August 1? Recent intelligence reports indicate we could get a cease-fire proposition very shortly. Would we want to accept the shortfall in Vietnam, or would we want to draw down other stocks, with possible implications for our worldwide posture? This, I think, is the key question that has to be addressed.

Mr. Odeen: I went over this fairly thoroughly with Dave Ott yesterday, and I think we have a good handle on it.7 The tanks and APCs [Page 673] are the biggest problems. The only way of meeting the Vietnam requirement is to draw the tanks and APCs from other units. DOD feels that the cost of drawing down APCs, Vulcans and a few other items from units will be too great because it may downgrade our overall posture. Six or seven items of consequence will not get to Vietnam by August 1. All the other items will go as scheduled.

Gen. Haig: What about creating an additional ARVN Division? How do we feel about that?

Mr. Odeen: Defense feels that we shouldn’t do it.

Mr. Nutter: We don’t think this is the moment to create another division. The South Vietnamese will need additional forces just to maintain and operate the equipment we are sending them. Most of these additional forces will have to be taken from the PF.

Gen. Haig: We ought to pull all these things together for the President and tell him how his decision to send additional equipment looks in reality.

Mr. Sullivan: I want to bring up for discussion the amendment Senator Case wants to attach to the foreign assistance bill. If passed, this amendment would forbid the use of Thai SGUs in Laos. Peter Dominick, acting for the Administration, is sponsoring a resolution coming up for debate Friday which, if passed, would eliminate the Case amendment. Case contacted Dominick yesterday and offered to compromise. To me, that indicates Case doesn’t think he has the votes for his amendment.

The important point in all of this is that a compromise would establish the principle that U.S.-supported forces cannot engage in hostilities outside their country without Congressional approval. We’re faced, therefore, with choosing between expediency and principle. We could get approval for the use of Thai forces at the expense of giving up the principle. We are negative about compromising. I gather the Agency is trying to come up with something which will gut the amendment even more.

Mr. Helms: I think you stated the issue fairly. We can accept the compromise and get the use of the Thai SGUs for another year. Or we can say the principle is more important than the SGUs. If that’s the case, then Dominick will call for an executive session to debate the matter.

Gen. Haig: The President thinks that in the next few weeks we will have more strength on Southeast Asia than we are ever likely to have again. He feels the Mansfield amendment and other riders must be met head on, and I think he is right. Because of the summits, the feeling of good will and other similar things, we probably have the votes on our side right now. A perfect manifestation of this is the vote in support of the President’s Vietnam policy at the Mayors’ Conference yesterday. [Page 674] The President wants us to be tough, to insist we are doing the right things. He thinks we will have the support we need.

Mr. Helms: The suggested compromise would be an amendment that would be a nonsense issue.

Mr. Kennedy: The amendment is directed against foreign forces in Thailand. It’s a non-issue operationally.

Mr. Sullivan: Should the issue come to a vote on the floor, the vote could go either way. Our people don’t know how it would come out. If there is a floor vote, it would come after the executive session debate.

Mr. Helms: Al [Haig],8 I suggest you talk to the President about this. You should try to find out if he wants to cash his checks on this issue, which is not really very big.

Gen. Haig: You’re right.

Mr. Kennedy: If there is an executive session on the floor of the Senate, it would undoubtedly get a lot of attention. Do we want this issue to be aired in the press?

Mr. Nutter: We’re talking about the Senate. The House won’t behave the same way. Even if the Senate passes the amendment, the House will probably not pass it.

Mr. Sullivan: I think the general feeling is that you are right. It’s most likely that any Senate action would not survive the conference committee. But if the action did go to conference, Fulbright would designate the conferees—not Stennis. Fulbright would probably be one of the conferees, and he would probably select Case as the other conferee.

Mr. Helms: I think the Senate has bigger fish to fry than this.

Mr. Nutter: Fulbright didn’t sign the report.

Mr. Sullivan: No. Case did.

  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. The dikes around Hanoi and the Red River Delta were crucial to crop irrigation and to keeping Hanoi and the other cities in the area from being flooded. From time to time North Vietnamese leaders suggested that the dikes were potential targets of or had been targeted by American military aircraft.
  3. “Analysts Measure Hanoi’s Goals and Results,” The Washington Post, June 18, 1972, pp. A1, A14.
  4. Reference is to “Vietnam: May 1972,” June 29 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), a report for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepared by staffers Richard M. Moose and James G. Lowenstein after their May 23–June 6 visit to Vietnam. Sections of the report were deleted at the request of the Department of State, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency.
  5. The report reached Kissinger on June 26. In his transmittal memorandum Laird wrote: “The paper concludes that the South Vietnamese economy is resilient and flexible, and the reforms and emergency measures already instituted have made it even more responsive to changes in the economic situations. The fact that the enemy apparently did not target the economic infrastructure (whether to minimize popular resentment of the invasion or to preserve the economy intact in the event of success) points toward probable achievement of a relatively rapid recovery.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–088, Washington Special Action Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 6/28/72)
  6. Document 167.
  7. The result of Odeen and Ott’s effort was a memorandum to Haig from the former dated June 19 and entitled “Military Assistance for RVNNSDM 168, June 20 WSAG.” On a note attached to the memorandum, Odeen wrote: “I have made marginal comments where my questions were answered in follow-up discussions with OSD.” (National Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–088, Washington Special Action Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 6/28/72)
  8. Brackets are in the original.