273. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam evacuation


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

Secretary Kissinger: The President wants no briefings by any of the departments until after the White House briefing. Can you all arrange that please? There will be no briefings until after we have briefed here.

Mr. Ingersoll: I’m scheduled to go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 10:00. I’m going to be asked questions. What shall I say?

Secretary Kissinger: What are you going up there for?

Mr. Ingersoll: To testify on the State Authorization Bill.

Secretary Kissinger: If you are asked, just say that you want to wait until after the White House briefing.

Gen. Brown: (Secretary) Schlesinger went on television about six o’clock this morning, you know.

Secretary Kissinger: That was brought to my attention. I didn’t know it, but it was brought to my attention. I’m just relating Presidential instructions, okay? Just wait until after the White House briefing.

Gen. Brown: What time is the White House briefing going to be?

[Page 934]

Secretary Kissinger: We have a Cabinet meeting at 9:45 a.m., and the President wants to meet with the Congressional leadership at 11:00. After that is finished—I would say about 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. we’ll have the briefing.

Mr. Habib: Is the helicopter evacuation finished?

Gen. Brown: With a lot of luck it should be over shortly—by 12:00 noon our time. The number of people to be evacuated keeps going up though, and the weather is bad. It’s rainy and foggy. It’s slowing us down.

Secretary Kissinger: Where are all these extra people coming from?

Gen. Brown: Over the wall and through the gates. I don’t know where they are all coming from.

Secretary Kissinger: Can someone explain to me what the hell is going on! The orders are that only Americans are to be evacuated. Now, what the hell is going on?

Mr. Clements: There are still something like 350 to 400 Americans still to be evacuated.

Amb. Brown: There have been 4,500 people taken out so far. That’s raw information.

Secretary Kissinger: And there are still Americans to be evacuated?

Gen. Brown: Yes, there are 500—close to 600 still to be evacuated.

Secretary Kissinger: And there is still no sign of opposition to the evacuation?

Gen. Brown: There has been some sniper fire from the roofs of buildings near the Embassy. One problem is that the weather is bad.

Secretary Kissinger: The weather is bad?

Mr. Habib: The rainy season starts in the middle of April. What you get is rain and fog early in the morning.

Secretary Kissinger: Does it clear during the day?

Mr. Habib: There are some clear spots during the afternoon.

Gen. Brown: We don’t know yet if . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Why did it take so long to get the helilift started?

Gen. Brown: I don’t know, but I suspect we’ll need to have an investigation. I suspect that what happened was that some of the local commanders changed their plans at the last minute. Also, I suspect that they miscalculated when they converted the time from Zulu to Saigon time. They miscalculated by about two hours. The result was that we wasted two hours doing nothing. I was sitting over there in the command center doing nothing for two hours.

Secretary Kissinger: I know. I must have told the President three times that the helicopters were ten minutes out (from the carriers).

[Page 935]

Mr. Clements: I don’t know about you, Henry, but I’m just madder than hell about it. I know George (Gen. Brown) is too.

Gen. Brown: Once we got going, it went rather smoothly.

Secretary Kissinger: So we lost two hours.

Mr. Habib: It may end up that we will still have 200 Americans still at the Embassy compound and will have to evacuate them the next day.

(Secretary Kissinger was handed a note at this point.)

Secretary Kissinger: This says that the helicopters are taking fire from small arms, tracers, and anti-aircraft. It’s an NSA message. Who could they be, ARVN?

Gen. Brown: It’s hard to say.

Mr. Colby: Probably some ARVN and the local police. When they say small arms fire and tracers, it is probably police and ARVN.

Secretary Kissinger: Who’s firing the anti-aircraft?

Mr. Colby: It’s hard to say. Flying bullets sound like anti-aircraft to pilots under fire. It’s just hard to tell.

Mr. Shackley: The only anti-aircraft guns in Saigon are those controlled by the South Vietnamese at the Presidential Palace grounds.

Secretary Kissinger: Do they (U.S.) have authority to fire back?

Gen. Brown: Yes, but it’s hard to do, particularly at night. There’s no coordination with the ground, and they can’t see anything. It’s just damn tricky to fire back at night.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay. I have to go see the President in a few minutes. Bill (Mr. Colby), do you have anything?

Mr. Colby: I can just briefly re-cap what has happened. (Began to brief from the attached.)2

Secretary Kissinger: I just saw a news release that Huyen (South Vietnamese Vice President) and the North Vietnamese had agreed to a cease-fire to begin on Wednesday.3

Mr. Colby: Yes, I just saw that too, but it’s not confirmed. (Finished his briefing.)

Secretary Kissinger: Well, okay. I think the North Vietnamese have elected to take over Saigon militarily. Why do you think they changed their mind?

Mr. Colby: I think that the real question is, did they really hold back so that we could evacuate, or did they hold back only to reposition and resupply their troops?

[Page 936]

Mr. Habib: You know, they will probably attack (propaganda) our evacuation.

Secretary Kissinger: They could have given us a warning that they would attack in 24 hours.

Mr. Colby: There’s one thing I would like to bring up. There are about 1,000 high-risk people at Phu Quoc Island that we would like to get out.

Secretary Kissinger: They should be taken out, definitely.

Mr. Habib: There are a lot of others there who want out too.

Secretary Kissinger: We can’t take the refugees out, but I think that anybody who worked with us should be taken off the island.

Mr. Shackley: We do have a communications link out to the Naval Base at Phu Quoc.

(Secretary Kissinger was summoned by the President at this point.)

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, is there anything else? I have to go see the President.

Gen. Brown: I have one plea, Henry. There are still some 400-odd Americans still in the compound at the Embassy. The Ambassador has got to get those people out of there. Can’t you tell him to get them out of there?

Secretary Kissinger: Those are his bloody orders, goddamnit!

Gen. Brown: I know, but he’s not complying.

Secretary Kissinger: There is no reason for Americans to still be there. He has been ordered by the President of the United States to get them the hell out of there. My impression was that you said that it would take one and one-half hours for the evacuation and that it would be only Americans. At four o’clock this morning I find out that nobody is off the ground yet. Now what the hell is going on? Yes, I’ll instruct the Ambassador to get those people out, but he’s been ordered to get those people out a hundred times. Look, call Martin (to Gen. Scow-croft) and tell him of the concern here. We can’t tell him how to load his helicopters. I’ll call him. I have to go.

  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 29, attached but not printed.
  3. April 30.