40. Memorandum From the Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency (Carver), to Director of Central Intelligence Helms 1


  • 13 March Session with Secretary Laird
My 13 March 1972 session with Secretary Laird was relatively brief and even more banteringly informal than usual. General Pursley was the only other person present (i.e., Deputy Secretary Rush was not there). As the mess steward was serving coffee, Laird—in high good humor—regaled me with an account of his just completed DOD staff meeting. Apparently, he had forcefully enunciated his position on NATO force reductions, a position considerably at variance with that of the service chiefs. Contentedly puffing a cigar, he observed that once he had made his remarks the room was filled with the noise of pens scratching under the table in an exercise that Pursley described as “real-time redrafting.” This anecdote is here relayed because I consider it relevant to some of the developments noted below.
Most of the meeting’s substantive discussion revolved around Laos and, particularly, Vang Pao’s projected new offensive operation, [Page 135] Strength II.2 Laird said he hoped no one thought he was being obstructive over the weekend but he had had a problem. On 8 March, Abrams sent in a flash message to Admirals Moorer and McCain in the Specat channel (copy attached)3 outlining five major threats with which MACV was currecently faced: the DMZ area, the B–3 Front, the lower trail net in Laos, and Long Tieng/PDJ. In the final paragraph of that 8 March message, Abrams explicitly addressed himself to Vang Pao’s proposed offensive describing Vang Pao’s initiative as commendable but cautioning against undertaking a sixth requirement for U.S. air support on top of the five MACV already faced in Indochina.
Laird explained that he had not been able to endorse Vang Pao’s plan until he had satisfied himself with respect to Abrams’ problems.4 He also expressed irritation at the fact that the White House, in various telephone conversations on Saturday morning (11 March), had claimed that Vang Pao’s operation was endorsed by the JCS. This was simply not true, or at least that was not what the Chiefs had told him. He also said—reflecting overt amusement that imperfectly masked private annoyance—that Godley’s message to the White House, the Secretary of State and the Director might have included him as an addressee since his resources were the ones being called on.5 In any event, if he was ever faced with a conflict between backing Abrams and backing Godley he would never hesitate for a moment to support General Abrams. In amplifying these remarks, Laird had Pursley secure a copy of Abrams’ 8 March message which Laird then passed to me for my information. I thanked him but noted lightly that it would have been very useful if we had had this text three days ago. He grinned but did not respond.
There are several things at work here. The Specat message in question is clearly the one Tom Polgar saw in Saigon and flagged to our attention by cable, though it was never released to us until Laird handed it to me on the 13th. The point about the Chiefs also merits amplification. When Bill Nelson talked to General Knowles on, I believe, Friday (10 March) Knowles did indeed say that the Chiefs endorsed Vang Pao’s plan. What almost certainly happened was that Moorer and/or his colleagues reversed field smartly when they sensed Laird’s personal reluctance.
Laird now claims to be a supporter of the Vang Pao operation though he cautions that there may not be air assets available to bail Vang Pao’s troops out of difficulty if difficulties arise simultaneously with the outbreak of serious hostilities on other major Indochina fronts. Laird also asked that I make sure that any information or reporting on Vang Pao’s operation be promptly passed to General Pursley for him.
The above conversation prompted Laird into a general discourse on the situation in Laos and his budgetary problems, particularly those deriving from the 350 million dollar Symington ceiling.6 According to Laird, Defense had already programmed 390 million dollars for Laos operations through 30 June on matters that came within the ambit of Symington’s restrictions. Something, hence, would have to give. Clearly reflecting traffic in military channels which I have not seen, Laird grumbled a bit about “fresh lettuce” and other foodstuffs that are apparently now being airlifted to Vang Pao’s troops at a cost Laird professes to find excessive. He did say that starting “this week” he might be forced to institute some “rationing” of deliveries in order to curtail the expenditure rate in an effort to stay within shooting distance of the Symington ceiling. I mentioned that, as he knew, there had been a lengthy discussion of this whole problem at the 10 March LIG meeting at the White House, chaired by General Haig and attended on our behalf by [name not declassified].7 It was my understanding that serious consideration was being given to seeking relief from some of the strictures the ceiling imposed. (I did not remind Laird that a considerable part of our problem derives from the inaccurate Defense Department figures on which the $350 million limitation was originally based.) Laird said he knew of the discussions in question, but even if the Administration did go back to Congress, he still felt that Laos expenditures had to be reduced.
The remainder of the session was devoted to a brief discussion of Cambodian politics and a review of current enemy troop movements in South Vietnam.
George A. Carver, Jr. 8
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 80–R01720R, Box 7, GAC [George A. Carver] Chronology, March 1972. Top Secret. Copies were sent to Colby, Karamessines, and Nelson.
  2. Elements of Vang Pao’s Hmong force were infiltrating northeast of the Plain of Jars to attack and divert North Vietnamese troops from the area around Long Tieng, but the North Vietnamese refused to engage and Strength II failed.
  3. Printed as Document 35.
  4. Haig approved the operation, in Kissinger’s name, before Laird himself decided to support it; see Document 36.
  5. Laird was presumably referring to message 1181 from Vientiane, Document 21.
  6. Reference is to an effort in Congress led by Senator Symington to restrict United States activities in Laos by limiting the amount of money that could be spent. He and his anti-war colleagues had imposed a similar restriction on United States activities in Cambodia.
  7. The Legislative Interdepartmental Group coordinated congressional liaison activities on foreign affairs and defense matters for the White House, NSC, CIA, Department of State, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice.
  8. Carver initialed “GAC” above his typed signature.