94. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to President Nixon1


  • Report on Southeast Asia Survey Trip: 7–22 October 1970

I. Purposes of the Trip.

1. This memorandum constitutes my report to you on my 7–22 October 1970 trip to Southeast Asia. On this trip, I had three major objectives.

To survey the situation in Indochina and Thailand at first hand and to form my own estimate of the probable course of events in that area through personal observation augmented by direct conversations with people themselves directly involved on the ground. This latter group, as outlined in the Annex,2 included [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] State Department officials, senior U.S. military officers and local political and military leaders in the Indochina area.
[5 lines of source text not declassified]
[13 lines of source text not declassified]

II. Conclusions and Findings.

A. The Situation in Southeast Asia: Dynamics and Prospects.

[Omitted here is discussion of Southeast Asia.]

Thailand. Though Thailand is not technically part of Indochina, the Thai are directly involved in the Indochina struggle and Thailand’s leaders are deeply concerned about its outcome. Not surprisingly, this concern is viewed through the prism of what its leaders regard as Thailand’s [Page 195] own vital interests, and these tend to focus on Laos. There the Thai are particularly concerned about the trans-Mekong border provinces of Sayaboury, Champassak and Sithadone. These provinces used to belong to Thailand, a fact that lends a strong emotional coloration to the views of the Thai leaders, who feel that Vietnamese Communist control over any Lao territory on the west bank of the Mekong would be tantamount to an invasion of Thailand. The King made this clear in our conversation when he pointed out that France had deliberately wrested these three provinces from Thai control in the 19th century in order to point “a dagger at our heart.” General Praphat and other senior Thai leaders expressed similar sentiments. This attitude about the border provinces obviously colors the whole Thai approach to the utilization and disposition of Thai regular and irregular forces in Laos, including the Thai-Khmer Volunteers and the Thai SGU’s. The Thai want to make sure that Sayaboury, Champassak and Sithadone are adequately protected before they discuss use of Thai resources in other areas of Laos which they consider of less immediately urgent importance to Thailand itself.3
While the Thai welcome the Nixon doctrine, they are inclined to interpret it quite literally. Believing that they have already done much to aid us in providing bases in Thailand, sending troops openly to Vietnam, and deploying them [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in Laos, the Thai feel that if they provide the human resources for additional activities against North Vietnam, the material and economic costs of raising and supporting these assets should be borne by the United States. Their bargaining position is framed accordingly. But the Thai do recognize that this is a common struggle and are far from indifferent to its outcome. They are convinced that a North Vietnamese victory in Indochina would leave them boxed on the north and east by borders under hostile Communist control, Chinese or Vietnamese. Under such circumstances, they feel that external support to the already troublesome but presently manageable insurgency threat within Thailand would rise sharply and the Thai government would find itself faced with serious internal problems. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the Embassy officials with whom I talked believe that in such an eventuality, the whole political complexion of Thailand and her international posture would promptly change to a left-leaning neutralism.
Barring a North Vietnamese victory in the Indochina struggle, however, U.S. officials believe that Thai politics will probably continue on their current course without radical change. Thanom is planning to retire, but the path to a reasonably smooth succession by Praphat appears to be well paved. If Praphat should disappear from the scene, all bets are off.
[16 lines of source text not declassified]

[Omitted here is discussion of the Indochina area.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80–B01086A, Executive Registry Files, DCI Eyes Only Files 1970, Box 9 of 16. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Helms noted in the Annex that he “carefully reviewed the Thai situation [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] including programs involving Cambodia and Laos, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] with Ambassador Unger and his senior associates.” He also stated that he had official meetings with Thanom, Praphat, Dawee, and the King, and that he had lunch with Thai National Police General Chamras. Helms added that he also attended “an instructive, informal dinner hosted by Thanom which included Praphat, Dawee, General Surakit (Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army), Generals Bunmag and Sawaeng (of the Prime Minister’s staff) and General Dhep (who runs [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the organization that controls all Thai regular and irregular troops in Laos).” He also stated that he spent a day at Long Tieng “making a thorough survey on the ground of the situation there.” “I looked carefully into the role, performance and functions of the Thai troops and personally surveyed their emplacements and disposition.” Attached but not printed.
  3. In paragraph 35 of his memorandum to the President, Helms noted that his “personal inspection and conversations [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]” had convinced him “that without the Thais, Long Tieng would have fallen last March. The Thai artillery whose emplacement I surveyed and the stiffening of Thai forces—regulars or SGUs—are both essential to MR II’s defense and will have to be provided, if MR II is to be held.” Attached but not printed.