80. Memorandum From the Senior Military Assistant, National Security Council Staff (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Significant Military Actions


On October 7 you informed me that the President had instructed you to have the Secretary of Defense initiate a series of increased alert [Page 273] measures designed to convey to the Soviets an increasing readiness by US strategic forces. You also informed me that the President had personally mentioned this to Secretary Laird on the evening of October 6 and that Defense had promised to send over some proposed plans the following day. On October 7 Col. Pursley called Col. Haig and informed him that Defense was sending a plan for increased SAC alert to Col. Haig. When the plan arrived it was merely a résumé of an already approved East Coast air defense exercise, which was not responsive to the President’s instruction.

Later that day Col. Haig met with Col. Pursley and informed him that the actions taken should be based on the following criteria:

  • —be discernible to the Soviets and be both unusual and significant;
  • —not be threatening to the Soviets;
  • —not require substantial additional funding or resources;
  • —not require agreement with the allies;
  • —not degrade essential missions; and
  • —have minimum chance of public exposure.2

On the evening of October 8, Col. Haig received a memorandum from Col. Pursley (Tab A)3 which listed seven specific concepts as possibly satisfying the President’s instructions.

On October 9, you provided the President with a memorandum listing the options provided by Defense and recommending five of the seven for implementation starting October 13 and to be completed by October 25. The President approved your recommendations as indicated on the memo at Tab B.4

The President’s approval action was provided to Col. Pursley. On the evening of October 9 an additional analysis of the seven operations was provided to Col. Haig by Col. Pursley (Tab C).5

On October 9 Col. Haig called Col. Pursley and asked for a detailed plan together with press guidance and implementing instructions required to implement each of the proposals which had been approved by the President.

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On October 11 the Secretary of Defense forwarded a memorandum containing proposed initial actions which could be taken “without prior consultation with our allies, with no additional expenditures of funds and without degradation of current essential missions.” (Tab D)

The Laird memorandum enclosed an outline plan at Enclosure #16 which would:

  • —Implement a stand-down of SAC flying training activity effective 0800 hours October 13 Omaha time. The stand-down to continue until further notice.
  • —Provide for dispatch of messages to CINCONAD, CINCPAC, CINCEUR, and CINCSTRIKE, no later than 1200 hours October 13, directing a stand-down of all flying training activities and assumption of highest degree of combat readiness permitted by stand-down and consistent with no change in DEFCON. The stand-down to continue until otherwise directed.

Concurrently, General Wheeler dispatched a message to his unified commanders on October 107 informing them that readiness measures might be implemented which would include:

  • —Stand-down of flying of combat aircraft in selected areas or commands, to improve operational readiness.
  • —Implementation of radio and/or other communications silence in selected areas or commands.
  • —Increased surveillance of Soviet ships en route to North Vietnam.
  • —Increased ground alert rate of SAC bombers and tankers.

This message also informed unified commanders that certain commanders had been directed to stand-down training flights and introduce varying degrees of electronic emission controls (EMCON) and that these measures would last for four days of the prescribed 14–day period (October 13 thru 25). The message also requested addressees to nominate additional measures which might be taken.

Current Status:

At Tab E is a copy of a talking paper prepared for General Wheeler in conjunction with the JCS meeting with the President on October 11.8 This talker confirms that three of the five approved measures had been directed but that two of the original actions directed for execution—increased surveillance of Soviet ships en route to North Vietnam and dispersal of SAC and CONAD aircraft with nuclear weapons—had [Page 275] been held in abeyance because of additional costs and wide-spread implications.

On October 13, General Goodpaster dispatched a message (Tab F) to General Wheeler which indicated that the stand-down of activity would pose serious problems under existing guidance with respect to questions which would come from NATO allies. General Goodpaster also questioned to what extent Ambassador Ellsworth and General Spivy were informed.9

Concurrently, J–3 of the Joint Staff raised the question of possible conflict with the exercise High Heels 6910 scheduled to commence October 14 and continue through October 23. Among the problem areas cited by J–3 are:

  • —Intelligence community concern that High Heels and the increased alert would make assessment of Soviet reaction difficult and would result in confused signals to the Soviets.
  • —Planning for exercise High Heels is essentially complete and considerable funds have been expended with field command posts activated and observers in place worldwide.
  • —High Heels will require a high volume of communications traffic, relocation of military headquarters worldwide to emergency locations, and a shift of numerous personnel from their normal locations.
  • —Exercise activity is not compatible with achievement of purpose of the Plan for Increased Readiness.
  • —Unified and specified commanders have apparently identified a number of problems with regard to implementation of the alert measures. (Cancellation of High Heels was apparently recommended by six of the either unified and specified commanders in order to respond to the increased readiness posture.)
  • —Commitment to certain allies for participation in other major exercises during the time will be a basis for possible questioning of US intent.
  • —Restriction of flying training will impact on production of combat crews for Southeast Asia.

A more detailed fact sheet is at Tab G.

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I do not believe that General Goodpaster’s suggestions are overriding since allies could be told that the stand-down of training flights was an additional aspect of the High Heels operations.

It does not appear that High Heels and increased alert measures are incompatible in the communications area. Rather, a one-day period of the High Heels exercise might be modified to provide for a total communications stand-down.

I believe that the other measures approved by the President should be undertaken at the end of this week and that they can be implemented without undo costs and risks. These involve:

  • —Increased ground alert for SAC bombers and tankers.
  • —Increased surveillance of Soviet ships en route to North Vietnam.
  • —Dispersal of SAC and CONAD aircraft with nuclear weapons to military dispersal bases.

None of the above have been implemented because of alleged costs and political implications.

A careful review of the situation by Secretary Laird and General Wheeler (Wheeler should be included) should focus on making the communications control compatible with High Heels and also making the air stand-down compatible with requirements of High Heels.

Consultation indicated as a problem by General Goodpaster and also the CONAD commander with respect to the Canadians can be accomplished with little difficulty by informing the allies concerned that the stand-down is being directed in conjunction with High Heels as additional readiness measures.

It would appear that the primary problem is the failure of all concerned to understand the time sensitiveness of the measures directed by the President and the reasons for which they have been directed. I believe both General Wheeler and Secretary Laird should provide additional guidance on this and specify the need to have the measures completed sufficiently before November 3 for the President to ascertain beyond a doubt whether or not the signals have been effective.


That you ask Secretary Laird to include General Wheeler in the 10:00 a.m. meeting.11

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That the communications and air activity conflicts between High Heels and the directed alert measures be made compatible by prompt exchanges between the JCS and the executing commands.

That General Goodpaster and any other unified or specified commander concerned with consultation problems be directed to inform appropriate allies of the actions being undertaken with the rationale that these measures have been added to High Heels as additional readiness tests.

That the Secretary of Defense be encouraged to implement this week through additional messages those measures not already set en-train which were approved by the President. Specifically:

  • —increased surveillance of Soviet ships en route to North Vietnam;
  • —preparatory measures and final execution of the movement of SAC and CONAD aircraft to military dispersed operating basis.

That a greater degree of coordination be effected with State immediately by Defense so that the necessary alerting of affected ambassadors can be accomplished.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 958, Haig Chronological Files, October 1–October 15, 1969 [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Haig on October 13. Printed from a copy that does not bear Haig’s initials.
  2. Laird telephoned Kissinger at 5:35 p.m. on October 14 to report that military authorities had received “their first inquiries” about the standdown from the press. They agreed that the official response to such inquiries should be that the United States Government does “not discuss readiness tests.” But Kissinger wished to delay responding for another day so as to avoid making things “worse” and thereby getting “the peaceniks worked up about this.” (Ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  3. No tabs were found attached. Tab A is Tab D of Document 72.
  4. Document 73.
  5. Tab A of Document 74.
  6. Tab A of Document 75.
  7. Document 76.
  8. Document 77.
  9. Goodpaster’s message of October 13 contained similar reservations to those expressed in Document 79. Goodpaster’s October 13 telegram noted that the questions allies were most likely to ask were as follows: “(1) What forces and measures are involved? (2) Who directed such measures? (3) Why?” He concluded by emphasizing “the extreme importance of the U.S. being ready with valid and adequate public (and private) statements as soon as speculation starts to build up. Without them, the possibilities for dis-array, resentment and embarrassment for the U.S. seem tremendous.” (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of the Chairman, General Wheeler, Box 111, 381, World-Wide Increased Readiness Posture (Oct. 69))
  10. See footnote 3, Document 78.
  11. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Laird and Rogers from 12:20 to 12:42 p.m. on October 15. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) See footnote 4, Document 81.