236. Memorandum From Philip A. Odeen of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • CIA Assessment of the Bombing and Mining

The latest CIA analysis of the impact of our bombing and mining campaign against North Vietnam is a step forward.2 They are at least looking at the problem by major economic sector and making some tentative efforts to assess the impact in the future as well as at present. But it is still very sketchy in its forecasts and the underlying analysis seems thin.

This memo is a brief comment on the paper, not a summary. I believe you should read the entire study if at all possible.

General Comments

The paper alludes to one underlying fact that was brought out in our discussions with the CIA staff. We know very little about the situation in the North. Therefore, what we can say is limited and anything that is said is very tentative. We know almost nothing about the composition [Page 827] of the imports, stock levels, and other key variables. Our intelligence about North Vietnam is very heavily dependent on photography. We learn some things via COMINT, but this source is limited and tells us little about the state of North Vietnam’s economy, basic logistical problems or morale.

The CIA study confirms the impression one gets from DIA and JCS reports on the campaign. The degree of damage on the North has bottomed out; in fact, the North may be recovering in some ways. The amount of physical damage is essentially stable. Modern industry has ground to a halt; we have destroyed the primary POL facilities and power plants; and the LOCs have been interdicted to the degree we can expect given the redundancy of their systems and the level of our air effort. Yet they are no worse off today than they were a month ago. Moreover, the situation may improve later this year as poor weather makes it more difficult for our air to operate.

The fact that physical damage levels have bottomed out does not mean the pain suffered isn’t increasing. In fact the difficulties and discomforts will build over time. But it does indicate that if the North is in fact getting sufficient imports via rail and road and can move supplies within NVN we can’t expect our air operations and mining to be crucial in policy decisions.

Import Levels

CIA estimates that approximately 3,000 tons per day are being imported, slightly above the estimated minimum requirement of 2,700 tons. The various ways this materiel is brought in is discussed in some detail. The limited COMINT data available indicates that the North is meeting minimum needs; in fact, there is some evidence that nonessential items continue to be imported.

The two most serious potential problem areas are POL and food. It will be very difficult for the North to meet its POL needs unless the pipelines can be kept operating about half the time. CIA still states they are unable to determine whether or not the pipelines are operational. DIA, however, is confident they are, based on fires following air strikes. Thus, it is essential to keep these pipelines inoperable a major part of the time if our import denial efforts are to inflict maximum pain on the North.

Impact on Military Operations

The other serious potential problem is food. The seriousness very largely depends on the success of the October harvest. With a good harvest the North will be in good shape well into 1973. On the other hand, weather or heavy flooding could reduce the harvest and serious food problems could be expected by January. Again, food could be imported but this would greatly complicate the North’s import problem.

[Page 828]

Impact on Military Operations

CIA sees little likely direct impact on military operations, with the exception of surface-to-air missiles and heavy equipment (tanks and artillery). Obviously petroleum shortages would also have a direct impact should it become critical.

CIA cites extensive evidence indicating that a substantial flow of military supplies continues to move south toward the battle area. Moreover, they point out that based on VC/NVA logistics patterns, particularly in Southern Laos and Cambodia, if we were to see any impact on military operations in the near term, it is likely to be in MR 1.

Implications for Our Operations

Assuming the CIA estimates are roughly right (and they do not differ markedly from DIA views), it would seem appropriate to press MACV and the 7th Air Force to take a hard look at the nature of the campaign.

Questions to be asked include:

  • —Do we really have a strategy for our operations; what targets are they focusing on and why are the operations of the 7th Air Force, SAC and the Navy [not?] fully integrated?
  • —What are the plans for the use of our air during the last few months of the year when the monsoon weather arrives?
  • —Are there operating authorities and rules that significantly constrain the effectiveness of our campaign?
  • —Do you need more air assets? Could B–52s be used more extensively in the North?
  • —If air and mining alone won’t turn Hanoi around, how can we combine it with ground operations in the South, psychological warfare, political steps, etc., to give us an overall impact that may cause Hanoi to change its policy?

We will review the CIA study in more detail and work with them to try to make further significant improvements. In addition, I will ask DIA for comments on the CIA work.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 161, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, August 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum reads: “HAK has seen.”
  2. The CIA paper, entitled “The Overall Impact of US Bombing and Mining Program on North Vietnam,” was sent to Kissinger on August 11 under a covering memorandum from Helms, which indicated that the paper had been requested by Kissinger. (Ibid., Box 96, Vietnam Subject Files, Air Activity in Southeast Asia, January–August 1972, Vol. III)