37. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Operations Against North Vietnam
You will recall that in response to your request in early 1970 we began a program of action operations against North Vietnam. Since 22 February 1970, twenty-two of these operations have been run. We have reviewed the results of these operations, their cost in money and personnel, the prospects for future operations and the political risks. Our conclusion, frankly, is that the results of this program are of questionable value balanced against the effort required and the risks inevitably involved. We recommend that this program be phased down and at the same time we develop a program in the covert action and disinformation field against North Vietnam. This latter program we believe has the potential for causing North Vietnam much more real difficulty than minor paramilitary harassment.
Since 22 February 1970, twenty-two operations were attempted by CIA teams conducting attacks by fire against targets within North [Page 127] Vietnam. (See Attachment A.)2 Ten operations failed; twelve operations were successful in that the team fired toward the target and returned to the base safely. Of these twelve, three were rocket attacks against Dien Bien Phu, six were against North Vietnamese Army (NVA) supply depots, two were rocket attacks against truck parks and one ruptured an NVA POL pipeline. No damage assessment was possible on any of these operations.
As far as we know the results of these operations have been minimal in military terms and it is doubtful they have had any psychological impact on Hanoi. To date we have spent over $3 million on these operations, diverted to them a considerable part of the operational effort of the Vientiane Station, and have lost twenty-nine team members in action, most of whom have been captured. These are all Lao nationals.
One of our principal problems has been that most of our operations have, perforce, been conducted in the immediate vicinity of the North Vietnamese border. We have developed some limited capability for deeper penetration by helicopters [less than 1 line not declassified]. Deeper penetration operations, however, require good low-level photography in order to pick out helicopter landing zones and develop operational plans. The JCS has been most cooperative in attempting to provide us with the necessary photography. There has been an enormous increase of North Vietnamese antiaircraft and air defense capability in the most likely target areas. As a result of this, the JCS has been unable to provide us with the kind of low-level photography that is essential to mount an effective sabotage mission. They have been forced, because of the MIG threat, to fulfill our request for photography by the use of drone and SR–71 platforms. This kind of photography does not provide the necessary resolution for operational use. We therefore face the prospect that if we attempt to go on with this program we will have to employ U.S. reconnaissance planes and pilots in low-level photographic flights in an extremely hostile environment. To proceed would also involve risking [less than 1 line not declassified] helicopters and crews in missions which are unlikely to have any serious military or psychological effect on the North Vietnamese, but which would appear to run major political risks in the context of Congressional and public opinion.
In the light of the above, I feel we should phase out the present program and turn our efforts to the development of a structured program of deception and disinformation targeted at North Vietnam which will, I believe, cause North Vietnam considerably more trouble at much less risk to the U.S. interest. We will be able to use the [Page 128] penetration capability developed to date to place small intelligence teams on special missions inside North Vietnam against high priority intelligence targets.
I believe that at the present time North Vietnam would be particularly susceptible to a carefully orchestrated deception program worked out in close cooperation with your office. You will recall that we attempted such deception programs in the past on a limited basis in connection with both the Cambodian incursion and the Lamson 719 operation. We believe we have the channels through which we could convincingly move such deception material to the North Vietnamese, though to be effective the themes employed should be worked out in close cooperation with your office to ensure their consonance with Presidential policy and the negotiating situation between the U.S., North Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. We have put at Attachment B a series of suggestions illustrating the kinds of themes that could be used. These are only presented as examples and the actual scenario in each case would have to be worked out with your office. We propose that you assign one member of your staff to work with us on an ad hoc basis to develop appropriate scenarios.
I recommend therefore:
That we phase out of paramilitary action operations against North Vietnam.
Agreement in principle to develop a series of deception and disinformation operations against North Vietnam designed to compound the problems of North Vietnam’s leaders and simultaneously increase the attractiveness, in their eyes, of a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam war and a termination of their military effort in South Vietnam.
Richard Helms 3

Attachment B


The U.S. and Communist China are negotiating a secret protocol or agreement under which the U.S., in return for cessation of Chinese military assistance to the DRV and renewal of the Open Door policy in Sino-American relations, will guarantee (a) the territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China and (b) removal of residual elements of the U.S. 7th Fleet from the Taiwan Straits. (This line, if believed in Hanoi, should expedite serious negotiations since it would point to the beginning of the end of military assistance either from or through China.)
President Nixon is considering offering a deal to the USSR whereby in return for significantly reduced Soviet aid to the DRV, including elimination of all military aid, the U.S. will agree to a European security conference and agreements facilitating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe. (This line could have high impact on Hanoi, since the USSR currently provides 80 percent of DRV’s foreign assistance.)
A faction inside the DRV Politburo is planning a coup motivated by the belief that increased emphasis should be placed on rebuilding the DRV economy as opposed to the primacy of the war policy. This coup will be supported by Peking, which is acting on behalf of the U.S. in return for significant support to Chinese industrial development. (This line could be reinforced by reopening the Hoang Minh Chinh affair of 1967 and offering some plausible evidence to support the idea that Hoang and his cohorts were, in fact, Chinese—or Soviet—agents of influence. The result could be increased suspicion and repression within the leadership structure with a concomitant diminution in drive and efficiency.)
An upper-middle level Soviet official, in a recent briefing of Japanese Communist Party officials, confided that it was not in the Soviet Union’s interest for Hanoi to be too successful or for the Americans to suffer an ignominious defeat. It would be much better for the big powers involved to have Hanoi bloody its head indefinitely in combat with a reasonably strong GVN. This would keep North Vietnam from suffering delusions of grandeur about who calls the shots on communist movements elsewhere in Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. The Japanese should therefore make clear to their business interests that large-scale investment in North Vietnam would not be financially prudent for the foreseeable future. Safer and more significant returns could be achieved through economic development and investment in Siberia. (The objective here would be to reinforce whatever views the Hanoi leadership may have that the USSR is prepared to play big-power politics and sell the DRV down the river when the Soviets’ own national interests are at stake.)
During President Nixon’s visit to Peking, Chinese officials applauded the American decision to provide a multi-billion dollar postwar aid program to South and North Vietnam. They urged the Americans, however, to place careful restrictions on this aid. They said that aid should either be in the form of hard goods or light industrial plants and that the U.S. should be cautious that aid not be given in such a form as to enable Hanoi to use it to acquire hegemony over the other Indochina states of Laos and Cambodia. (This line would reinforce to Hanoi’s leadership the prospect of an emerging conflict of interest between China and North Vietnam in Indochina, with consequent worry that future Chinese aid might be less generous.)
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI Files, Job 80–R01284A, Box 6, 1 January–31 May 1972. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. Attachment A is an undated list of 22 operations including target, weapon, data, and results; not printed.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears Helms’s typed signature with an indication that he signed the original.