245. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam Evacuation


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Philip Habib
  • Robert Miller
  • Amb. L. Dean Brown
  • Defense
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • Amos Jordan
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • Ted Shackley
  • William Christison
  • NSC Staff
  • LTG Brent Scowcroft
  • W. R. Smyser
  • Col. Clinton Granger
  • William Stearman
  • James Barnum

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll give you one more chance, Bill (Mr. Colby). Can’t you do a flanking movement or something, George (Gen. Brown)?

Mr. Colby began to brief from the attached text.2

Secretary Kissinger: What has happened to Tay Ninh? Isn’t that the provincial capital we were going to hold at all costs?

Mr. Christison: It’s all but lost. There is one regiment still there, however.

Mr. Colby continued to brief.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you mean, rebuilt? They never fought, did they? (Referring to a statement in the briefing that the city of Bien Hoa will now be defended by only two newly-rebuilt marine brigades.)

Mr. Colby: Yes, that’s right. They are being reconstituted from other elements. (Continued to brief.)

[Page 861]

Secretary Kissinger: Yesterday you said that Vietnam would collapse in two to ten days. Now you are saying two days. What do you mean?

Mr. Colby: The point is that Vietnam could collapse in one or two days—ten days at the outside. In the best case situation, it would take three weeks. (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: What’s Thieu going to talk about? (In reference to the report that President Thieu plans to give a speech within the next week.)

Mr. Colby: That he will fight to the end and blame the U.S. for the fall of Vietnam. It could have the bitterness of Sirik Matak’s speech (following the collapse of Cambodia). (Finished his briefing.)

Mr. Smyser: Is Route 4 still open?

Mr. Christison: The information in the briefing is based on information as of this morning in a conversation with our people in Saigon. It could well be that the situation is worse now. Route 4 could be closed, but we just don’t have that information at this point.

Secretary Kissinger: What would Thieu hope to gain from his address?

Mr. Colby: U.S. support. You know, he’s in another world these days—quite irrational.

Mr. Shackley: He’s been in a state of shock ever since the withdrawal. He’s a slow, methodical person, and things are unfolding faster than he is able to comprehend them.

Mr. Habib: The problem is that his speech could whip up a lot of anti-US feeling, just the thing we are worried about.

Secretary Kissinger: Bob, (Mr. Ellsworth) do you have anything? I don’t think we need to make any decisions today. I just wanted to get us all together, and I think we should meet every day. Dean (Amb. Brown), where do we stand on the parole question?

Amb. Brown: I think that tomorrow we will have to go forward with Congressional consultations on the high-risk Vietnamese. Some are moving out, but not enough.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you have to consult Congress about?

Amb. Brown: We have to consult with the Senate. The House is okay. This would be authority to pick up relatives and others without documentation. I think this is the key issue. If these people do start moving, we will have to go to Congress. It gets into a very grey area in terms of numbers. What I am worried about is whether it will screw up the aid bill.

Secretary Kissinger: The President has already asked for authority to evacuate civilians. What’s the problem?

[Page 862]

Mr. Habib: That was for the general category. We are talking now of high-risk Vietnamese. We have no parole authority for Vietnamese of the high-risk category.

Secretary Kissinger: Can we do it in a general way?

Mr. Habib: They (Congress) have asked for it in a specific way.

Amb. Brown: The problem is that the authority already granted does not include high-risk Vietnamese, and Congress wants us to consult with them on that.

Secretary Kissinger: Why?

Amb. Brown: They just want to know more.

Secretary Kissinger: I have no objections to general consultations with Congress. What I object to is creating the image of a mass evacuation out of Vietnam. Isn’t there some way to tell Congress, in general terms, about the different categories?

Mr. Ingersoll: The President has to give the Attorney General . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Goddamnit, he has! I was there when he gave him the authority.

Amb. Brown: The problem is that the minute General Chapman goes to consult, it will be all over the newspapers.

Secretary Kissinger: It depends on how we tell the committees. If we tell them we are starting to evacuate Vietnamese, there is going to be unshirted hell to pay.

Mr. Smyser: We’ve been consulting with them all along. What Congress wants is more details on the different categories.

Secretary Kissinger: We can still get them to the Philippines, can’t we?

Mr. Smyser: The trouble is that Clark Air Force Base is a sieve. There are stories out already about the influx into Clark.

Secretary Kissinger: Our problem for this week is not to try to cover ourselves all the time, but to get done what has to be done. The trouble is that Congress always tries to top us. They are always ahead of us. Our objective is to try to preserve the situation so that we can get the maximum number of people out under a calm situation. I have no objection to going to the Hill for consultations if it is carried out in a low-keyed fashion.

Mr. Habib: We could take small groups of high-risk people out and then seek approval. It’s one way of getting them out. The general category has already been taken care of.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t think this is a problem.

Amb. Brown: The problem is the 200,000 Vietnamese that have been talked about. (Senator) Mansfield is saying that we shouldn’t be responsible for 200,000 Vietnamese. It was in the press this morning. That’s the problem.

[Page 863]

Secretary Kissinger: That’s purely hypothetical.

Mr. Habib: We need to get some of them out.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll talk to the Attorney General about it.

Mr. Colby: You also have to assure that there are way-stations for these people.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll call (Attorney General) Levi today. (Senator) Kennedy should have no objection. He’s very reasonable. I know him well. I’ll call him and explain.

Amb. Brown: Pressure to do something about the refugees is building up all over the country.

Mr. Habib: Even George Meany is talking about taking people.

Secretary Kissinger: If we just don’t make a high drama out of this thing I think we can handle it. I’ll talk to Kennedy, and I’ll talk to the Attorney General.

Mr. Ingersoll: Are you going to talk to (Senator) Eastland too?

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll talk to Kennedy first.

Mr. Colby: One thing I would like to bring up. Yesterday you said that Taiwan would not be a re-location center. Does that also apply to Vietnamese who already have relatives there, who want to go there, and whose relatives want them to come?

Secretary Kissinger: How many are you talking about?

Mr. Colby: Only a few.

Secretary Kissinger: If it is done unobtrusively and in small numbers I have no objection.

Mr. Shackley: We’re only talking about 50 to 60 people.

Secretary Kissinger: I have no problem with that. Just so long as it doesn’t get in the press.

Gen. Brown: Another problem is that various independent airlines are bringing people out and dumping them in places like the Philippines.

Secretary Kissinger: Do we care? What does that have to do with us? What airlines?

Gen. Brown: Flying Tiger, for one.

Amb. Brown: I just wanted to warn you—make you aware—of these little individual things that are beginning to crop up. The problem is that these independent outfits will depend on us to follow through. These businessmen are yelling, why didn’t you take my janitor out? It’s a cancer. So far (Amb.) Martin has told them no.

Secretary Kissinger: Martin told them no?

Mr. Ingersoll: That’s right.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, we just have to trust Martin’s judgement on things like that. Where’s Admiral Gayler?

[Page 864]

Gen. Brown: He’s back in Hawaii. He and Graham (Amb. Martin) had some good conversations.

Secretary Kissinger: What about the movement of those U.S. Marines to Saigon?

Gen. Brown: It wasn’t resolved. They didn’t talk about it. Gayler’s request is still in. We haven’t acted yet. We’re waiting for Martin’s reaction.

Mr. Ingersoll: The cable didn’t go out until this morning.

Secretary Kissinger: Why the hell not?

Mr. Habib: You’re going to be mad if I tell you. There was a note on the cable, from your office, saying that this was not necessary.

Secretary Kissinger: What the hell!

Gen. Scowcroft: Apparently, there was a note on the cable saying that it was OBE.

Mr. Habib: It was a mix-up. They thought that the note was written after the WSAG meeting. Actually it was before the meeting. We got the cable up there so fast following the meeting that they thought the WSAG had not yet taken place.

Secretary Kissinger: So, we lost a day. Well, it probably is not a good idea anyway. We’ll get their views tomorrow.

Gen. Brown: I have some good news. All of the recovery forces are now on station. Some C–141s flew today into Saigon at the Ambassador’s request, and he has scheduled some more flights for today and tomorrow. Twenty-one aircraft will fly tomorrow, picking up 1,900 people.

Mr. Habib: I have one suggestion. I think we should help get the diplomatic missions in Saigon down to . . .

Secretary Kissinger: That’s their goddamn problem! Have they asked for help?

Mr. Habib: The Australian Ambassador was in yesterday . . .

Secretary Kissinger: But have they asked for our help? We should stick to our own goddamn business. That’s their problem.

Mr. Habib: But . . .

Amb. Brown: We should get the 1,900 people out first.

Secretary Kissinger: I want to remind you that the WSAG is not a State Department Staff meeting. It is an inter-agency meeting. We’ll keep our intra-departmental squabbling to staff meetings. Bob (Mr. Ellsworth), anything you need? Bill (Mr. Colby)?

Okay. Now, as I understand it, we’re down to one helicopter lift.

Gen. Brown: Yes, if we have to, we’ll take out 1,000 people and recycle once.

Secretary Kissinger: Do you have the additional capacity to go to 10,000 if we need to?

[Page 865]

Gen. Brown: If the decision is made early enough, yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Is Martin aware of the plans?

Amb. Brown: Yes, and he is preparing a list.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ve talked with the President, and he is pleased with the way things are being handled. George (Gen. Brown), if you are asked—you may have to plan on an all-day evacuation. I think the President will want to get the 10,000 out. My worry is the security of Tan Son Nhut Airport. You said it would take only 400 Marines to secure the airfield. Is that right?

Gen. Brown: Those 400 Marines are not security forces. They would be there only to help load the people onto the planes. They are not intended to be a security force.

Secretary Kissinger: Suppose we could achieve some sort of controlled evacuation. Do you still see the need for the Marines?

Gen. Brown: Yes, we would need them to help load. Now, that’s based on a calm situation and under controlled situation. If there are mobs, that’s something else. We would then look to the Vietnamese forces—those airborne and marine units—to provide the security, with the promise that we pull them out, too.

Secretary Kissinger: But those units are at Bien Hoa, aren’t they? And, that place is about to be overrun.

Mr. Colby: That’s right, but there are some units in Saigon.

Gen. Brown: The thing that worries me is that if we get mobs like we did at Danang, we don’t get out of that airfield. If the situation deteriorates—there are mobs and chaos—we leave the planes on the ground and wave off the other flights.

Secretary Kissinger: Then you would go to the helicopters.

Gen. Brown: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: And you can secure those zones?

Gen. Brown: Yes, with 1,000 Marines we can. Now I want to warn you, it could get very bloody. The orders go something like this: we start out with the least amount of force, like bayonets—civil disturbance type stuff. Then we go to tear gas. If it gets real bad, snipers shoot the mob leaders. I warn you, it could get real bloody if there are mobs.

Mr. Colby: An example of the problem is what happened to General Nhi up there in 2nd Corps. A bunch of his own rangers threw him off the helicopter. It could happen in Saigon too.

Secretary Kissinger: Where is he now?

Mr. Colby: On the road somewhere.

Gen. Brown: There are two things in our favor. Both lift zones have fences around them. Fences can be knocked down, but they are somewhat of a deterrent.

[Page 866]

Secretary Kissinger: Are Martin and Gayler in accord with this?

Gen. Brown: There are no disagreements.

Mr. Ellsworth: You know, Henry, if you want to plan on taking out that 10,000, it is still not clear whether the authority we have to use force to get U.S. citizens out extends to Vietnamese. We ought to get a clarification on that.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s a good point. We could mix half U.S. and half Vietnamese. That’s a good point, Bob. I’ll raise it with the President. How many Vietnamese are moving?

Amb. Brown: We just don’t have any good figures on that.

Secretary Kissinger: How about those ships in harbor at Saigon?

Gen. Brown: They are still there.

Amb. Brown: One of the four moved out last night. It is carrying sensitive material, no passengers.

Secretary Kissinger: What about the files?

Mr. Colby: We’ve burned most of them.

Secretary Kissinger: How about the intelligence files?

Mr. Colby: We’re burning them.

Secretary Kissinger: But how about the ones in the Presidential Palace?

Mr. Shackley: We haven’t had a chance to get to those yet.

Secretary Presidents Kissinger: My worry is that the Viet Cong will get ahold of letters from Nixon and Johnson.

Mr. Shackley: We’ll take another look at that and see what we can do.

Secretary Kissinger: I think we should get as many files out of the Palace as we can. What did you say, Bill, we have a maximum of three weeks before Saigon falls?

Mr. Colby: A maximum of three weeks, a minimum of one day.

Mr. Christison: The attacks this morning could be the start of the offensive to take Saigon. We don’t know yet, but will have a better idea later today.

Mr. Shackley: There is also the increased threat of a coup. It could escalate the collapse.

Secretary Kissinger: Why would anybody want to run that government now?

Mr. Ellsworth: To make a deal with the Viet Cong. Get U.S. aid money.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s the irony of the thing. Okay, we’ll meet again tomorrow. I think we should meet every day. We’ll let you know the time later, but it will be about 10:00 or 10:30.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 25, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, April 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “Vietnam,” April 20, attached but not printed.