37. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
Washington, March 10, 1972.
- 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
- Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI Files, Job 80–R01284A, Box 6, 1 January–31 May 1972. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.↩
- Attachment A is an undated list of 22 operations including target, weapon, data, and results; not printed.↩
- Printed from a copy that bears Helms’s typed signature with an indication that he signed the original.↩