232. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1


  • Special Operations (U)

On 18 July 1972, I was notified of your desire to proceed with the task of creating notional agents/resistance groups in North Vietnam without the insertion of pseudo agents.

A notional agents program implemented without concurrently conducting agent or direct action team operations might achieve limited credibility; however, the effectiveness of notional programs is directly related to and dependent upon actual operations to foster credibility. Although black radio operations, insertion of bogus documents, and dummy supply drops might cause some concern within North Vietnam, it is unlikely that significant reaction will result unless there is physical evidence of actions carried out by such a group. This credibility problem is compounded by the fact that tangible support of notional operations ceased within North Vietnam after the 1968 bombing halt and would be difficult to reestablish at this time. Furthermore, even a limited notional agents/resistance group program would require augmentation of air capabilities in Thailand and expose additional US air crews to the air defenses of North Vietnam. Therefore, unless you indicate otherwise, I propose not to proceed with a notional agents/resistance group program in North Vietnam due to the marginal return anticipated and the risks to US personnel. The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff concurs.

I have also conducted a review of other programs ongoing or currently held in a planning status with the following results:

  • —Insertion of bogus documents in North Vietnam.
  • —A total of 92 letters have been delivered to the CIA for posting to North Vietnam purportedly from overseas North Vietnamese who urge an end to the war or espouse open opposition to the regime.
  • —No reports of results of this operation are available, but I will report any impact of which we become aware.
  • —Insertion of radios to support psyops broadcasts.
  • —30,000 radios are to be available in September for air drop or floating ashore.
  • —I will report when these have been distributed in North Vietnam.
  • —Small scale raids against North Vietnam.
  • —This operation has been held in the planning stage since May.
  • —Review indicates a high risk to US air crews and limited probability of success of the RVNAF direct action teams due to North Vietnamese security measures.
  • —The teams have, therefore, been returned to normal RVNAF in-country and cross-border (Laos and Cambodia) operations.
  • —Introduce former North Vietnamese Army personnel into North Vietnam as short duration agents.
  • —Twenty personnel have completed training.
  • —Review of this concept suggests limited intelligence or sabotage potential with significant risk to personnel and supporting air crews.
  • —Such use of PW’s (even as volunteers) is in contravention of the Geneva Convention and could cause difficulties.
  • —Personnel have, therefore, been returned to their normal in-country intelligence duties.
  • —Conduct amphibious diversions off the coast of North Vietnam.
  • —Seventh Fleet assets in the Gulf of Tonkin retain capability to execute such operations.
  • —Credibility of such diversions probably masked by ongoing coastal interdiction operations and diminished by use during Lamson 719.

The strategy of applying maximum military and psychological pressure on the enemy is proceeding with all available resources. Psychological operations, particularly, have been expanded dramatically with both leafletting and extensive broadcasting campaigns. I will continue to seek every feasible and practical method of sustaining pressure operations within available capabilities and prudent risks to US personnel.2

Mel Laird
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, Viet (North) 370.64 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. When he transmitted this memorandum to Laird for his signature on August 8, Nutter recommended Laird send it to the President. Nutter noted: “It not only recommends that he withdraw his directive to proceed with notional operations, but attempts to close out the possibility of an undesirable decision to proceed with other marginal operations and end the unnecessary reporting requirement.” (Ibid.)
  2. Kissinger replied to Laird in an August 18 memorandum: “The President requests that a plan for creating notional/agent resistance groups in North Vietnam should be pursued vigorously in coordination with the Director of Central Intelligence. This would not require the insertion of personnel, but only give the appearance that we have done so (by dropping parachutes, agent radios, beaching rafts, etc.). This program can be further exploited by radio traffic directed to the notional agents. Even though the DRV may suspect this operation is a ploy, it cannot be sure and must consequently divert assets to counter it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 7, HAK Administrative and Staff Files)