48. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Korean DMZ Incidents

After the downing of a helicopter over North Korea was followed by the ambush of four U.S. soldiers in the DMZ on October 18, the Department of Defense was asked to provide you with a report on the adequacy and suitability of existing procedures for U.S. operations in that area.2

At Tab A is Mel Laird’s response.3 His report contains a detailed summary of present precautions taken for air and ground operations in the DMZ. In assessing the incidents, Laird indicates, inter alia, that:

  • —The cause for disorientation of the helicopter pilot is inexplicable since the weather was clear, the pilot was technically qualified, and existing procedures were followed (item 6 of report).
  • —Contrary to existing instructions, a machine gun jeep escort was not provided for the ambushed work team (item 11).
  • —The incidents were the result of personnel error rather than inadequate procedures.

Laird concludes that existing procedures are “adequate and suitable.”

Personnel error is, of course, always possible. But as a minimum, all personnel operating in the DMZ should be frequently reminded of the importance of following instructions to the letter and indoctrination qualifications of helicopter pilots must not become perfunctory. I believe that the incidents themselves will tend to ensure stringent adherence to existing procedures in the near future. However, an informal check should be made about six months from now that personnel near the DMZ have not become relaxed about adhering to standing procedures.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1322, NSC Unfiled Material, 1969, 19 of 19. Secret. Sent for action. Kissinger wrote the following note at the top of the first page: “Al—How do you make such a check? Can you make sure it happens. HK
  2. See footnote 3, Document 43.
  3. Dated December 9, attached but not printed.
  4. Nixon initialed his approval. On July 7, 1970, Holdridge sent Haig a memorandum reminding him that Kissinger had “promised the President last December that he would check in June to see that personnel near the DMZ have not become relaxed about adhering to standard procedures. You and Lindsey [Grant] agreed that the best way of checking would be to solicit Ambassador Porter’s views informally by letter. I have done so, and have received the attached letter from Ambassador Porter [dated June 16] which reassures us that General Michaelis and he remain very alert to the problem.” Holdridge added at the end of the memorandum that “I think this closes the case.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1326, NSC Unfiled Material, 1970, 9 of 11)