38. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Transition


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. John Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • NSC Staff
  • Major Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • Jeanne W. Davis


—The NSC system will continue in being as it exists at present. The flow of papers on national security issues to the President will remain the same—through the Office of the Assistant to the President (for National Security Affairs).

—The State and Defense Departments are to prepare by Mon-day, August 12, briefing papers on key issues for the use of the new President.2

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—The DCI is to prepare a brief summary of world situation from the intelligence viewpoint.3

—The DCI is to prepare by Saturday morning (August 10) a list of 40 Committee issues.

—The JCS will consider and inform General Scowcroft of the matters they plan to discuss in their meeting with the President scheduled for August 13.

—The State and Defense Departments will prepare a list of U.S. commitments to foreign countries that the President should be aware of.

—Reconnaisance flights should be restored to their customary level as soon as the new President is sworn in.

Secretary Kissinger: This won’t be a long meeting, but there are a number of things the Vice President has asked me to get done. First, he will sign a directive to the Departments this afternoon continuing the NSC system as it presently exists. Second, the flow of papers to the President on national security matters will remain the same—through the Office of the Assistant to the President (for National Security Affairs). The NSC system will obviously have to be more active, at least in the initial period. After any new policies have been clearly established, perhaps it can slow down some. But for the present, we will go back to the more formal tendencies of the earlier Nixon Administration. The Vice President is extremely interested in getting all the options. He does not just want the positions of the various Departments. So you should each get your Departments organized along these lines.

There will be an NSC meeting tomorrow morning for about 15 minutes. We’ll let you know the time.

Mr. Colby: Will you need a CIA briefing?

Secretary Kissinger: No, this will be an organizational meeting for the President to affirm the continuity of our foreign policy and procedures. There will probably be another more substantive NSC meeting in about 10 days and I would appreciate your suggestions as to the most urgent problems that require consideration in the NSC. We will have to discuss SALT at an early meeting but probably not within 10 days.

Tomorrow, Saturday, there will be a Cabinet meeting, followed by the NSC meeting. That will be for statutory members and advisers only.

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The President wants from the Departments brief briefing papers on the key issues. Also (to Colby) he wants a brief summary of the world situation from the intelligence point of view.

Mr. Colby: We’ve already done that in this morning’s National Intelligence Daily.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m going to get that thing abolished! I just can’t take seriously anything that looks like a newspaper! How do other people feel about that format?

Mr. Colby: We sent out a questionnaire and most people like it. The President has been reading both the PDB and the NID.

Secretary Kissinger: He wants the PDB. I didn’t ask him specifically about the NID, but go on sending it to him until we find out what he wants.

(to Clements) The President also needs to know what you consider the major issues in the Defense area that require decision.

(to Gen. Brown) The President will meet with the Chiefs on Tuesday. Secretary Schlesinger should be there and I will be there. (to Clements) I’ll find out about your attendance. That meeting will be in the White House. (to Gen. Brown) We would welcome your ideas on what should be discussed. Would you want to brief him on the five-year plans of the services in terms of force levels?

Gen. Brown: We could, but I wonder whether that is the best approach. That’s a lot of detail. We might better tell him what forces we have and where they are—what we’re doing.4

Secretary Kissinger: And why?

Mr. Clements: Let us think about that and be in touch through Brent (Scowcroft).

Secretary Kissinger: The major purpose of the meeting will be to establish a relationship between the Chiefs and the President. Whatever the Chiefs think is most important for him to know as Commander in Chief.

Gen. Brown: At some time in the future he will want the specifics of SIOP implementation.

Secretary Kissinger: He is getting a briefing on that from Gen. Lawson at 5:15 p.m. today. He has had the SIOP briefing, hasn’t he?

Gen. Brown: Yes, in December.

Secretary Kissinger: He doesn’t feel the need for any more on SIOP.

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Gen. Brown: It might be helpful for him to know what he might be called on to do under certain circumstances. What his options are.

Secretary Kissinger: Sometimes the military are reluctant to be specific on what they want to do for fear the civilians will stop them from doing it. My experience has been that a President will act forcefully and with confidence if he knows what he can do. Give him a sense of what we have and what it gives him a chance to do. What are our actual capabilities—in NATO, SAC, etc.

Gen. Brown: He has been to SAC for a briefing.

Secretary Kissinger: He’s confident on the SIOP, and he will be getting the decision elements this afternoon.

Mr. Clements: Jim (Schlesinger), Gen. Brown and I will talk and come up with something.

Secretary Kissinger: The idea of deployments is a good one. We want to make the point that the Chiefs are the central feature on the military side. The Defense budget issues will come later. (to Colby) Is he up-to-date on CIA?

Mr. Colby: He came out to visit us about three months ago. And we have had a CIA officer assigned to him who has seen him almost every day.

Secretary Kissinger: Who was that?

Mr. Colby: [name not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: (to Colby) Can you pull together a list of all 40 Committee actions—whatever he needs to know about the 40 Committee—by tomorrow morning?

Mr. Colby: Sure.

Secretary Kissinger: Also, each Department should prepare a list of U.S. commitments to foreign countries—such things as nuclear arrangements, for example—that he should know about. These will be primarily Defense, I suppose.

Mr. Clements: We might cover these in our issues briefings.

Secretary Kissinger: I have two additional observations: First, and my own department probably needs this more than anyone but I will direct my remarks to all. It is very important that there be no adverse comment to the effect that the conduct of foreign policy has been affected by Watergate. We must behave with dignity to a man who made major and courageous decisions in foreign policy. We must cast no aspersions on a man who performed great services for this nation. Second, it is most important that we give the impression of a united government. If anyone should decide to take a run at us, we would probably over-react, if anything. The Vice President is determined to have a very rapid transition. He is sending about 45 messages to Heads [Page 208] of Governments this afternoon.5 And either he or I will be in touch with almost every government by the end of today. We will meet with most of the Ambassadors here today,6 and I will see the remaining ones tomorrow at the State Department. There will be very visible continuity. We will have meetings with Fahmy and King Hussein next week. We will also plan to have a substantive meeting of this group the middle of next week.

Mr. Clements: (to Gen. Brown) Do you want to tell Henry about the message you sent out yesterday.

Gen. Brown: I sent a message to all the unified commanders yesterday (reads message). We told them to increase their diligence and to move with extreme caution in areas which might be seen as provocatory—told them to take appropriate measures and to report back to me. All the reactions were quite reasoned. We did pull back some risky reconnaisance missions.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m not sure about that; it will be noted, won’t it? Can we resume the reconnaisance this afternoon?

Gen. Brown: Yes. We did fly the SR–71 mission last night.

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s restore the reconnaisance to its previous levels as soon as the Vice President is sworn in. We should show no unusual concerns.

Gen. Brown: We’ll resume reconnaisance this afternoon. We’ve increased our intelligence watch.

Secretary Kissinger: The message was a very good idea; you were right to do it. We will send you a message for the Armed Forces from the President by 2:00 p.m. today,7 and the directive on continuation of the NSC system. I think those are the only actions, except for seeing the Ambassadors, that the President will take in foreign policy in the next 72 hours. If something boils up, we will be in touch with the WSAG.

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Mr. Clements: When do you want the papers on the issues?

Secretary Kissinger: Opening of business Monday morning. (to Colby) I’ll be in touch with you after I get a better feel for what the President wants. I believe he may be less restrictive in seeing people. We won’t know until we try.

Mr. Colby: He comes in fairly well briefed.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes; I spent two hours with him yesterday and an hour today. He’s in good shape on most issues. Well, we’ve been through a lot together in this group. We’ll meet again Monday or Tuesday to review where transition stands. Let’s aim for Tuesday, so I’ll need the papers Monday. The President will speak to the Congress Monday night.

Mr. Clements: Do you want our papers Monday morning or Monday night? An extra day will be a big help.

Secretary Kissinger: Let me have what you can Monday morning and the rest Monday night.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 24, Institutional Files—Meetings, Meeting Minutes—Washington Special Actions Group, August 1974. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Richard Kennedy sent Kissinger an August 8 briefing memorandum, accompanied by talking points, in advance of the meeting. Kennedy’s memorandum, which bears a note indicating that Kissinger saw it, began: “The purpose of the meeting is to stress to the principals the need for unity and solidarity in this difficult time of transition, to focus attention on potential trouble spots as a basis for possible contingency planning, and to establish a climate of more intensive focus on the situation over the coming weeks.” (Ibid., Box 18, Institutional Files—Meetings, Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, 8/9/74—Transition)
  2. On August 12, Department of State Acting Executive Secretary Samuel R. Gammon forwarded to Scowcroft a briefing book, drafted by the Departments of State and Defense, for the President covering major foreign policy issues. (Ibid., National Security Adviser, Presidential Files of NSC Logged Documents, Box 51, NSC “NS” Originals Files, Survey of Important Issues in Foreign Policy and National Security) A large collection of briefing papers is ibid., Presidential Transition File, 1974, Box 1, Transition Subject File, Issue Papers 1–3.
  3. “Problem Issues on the International Scene,” a paper prepared by the CIA and dated August 9, outlined six issues “of a particularly high order of importance”: Soviet-U.S. relations, the strategic balance, the Arab-Israeli conflict, energy prices, Cyprus, and Vietnam. (Ibid., Presidential Files of NSC Logged Documents, Box 51, NSC “NS” Originals Files, Survey of Important Issues in Foreign Policy and National Security)
  4. The memorandum of conversation of this August 13 meeting is ibid., Memoranda of Conversations, Box 4, Ford, Kissinger, Schlesinger, Joint Chiefs.
  5. Ford’s letters to foreign heads of government are ibid., Presidential Transition File, 1974, Box 1, Transition Subject File, Letters to and from World Leaders—Memoranda to the President.
  6. Ford and Kissinger met individually or in groups with Ambassadors and Chargés the afternoon and evening of August 9. In remarks to the NATO Ambassadors, Kissinger indicated that he would continue to serve as both the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs and Secretary of State. According to a memorandum of conversation, Kissinger “noted that those in attendance had been serving in the United States during a difficult and tragic period in America’s history. However, he went on to say that the content of US foreign policy had not been impaired by the domestic problems which President Nixon had faced. United States foreign policy he said has bipartisan support, and for this reason the continuity of our foreign policy is assured.” (Ibid., Presidential Agency File, Box 15, NATO, 8/12/74–9/30/74)
  7. Ford’s August 9 memorandum to Schlesinger, to be conveyed to all members of the Department of Defense, stated that, as President, he had assumed his constitutional duty as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S armed forces. (Ibid., Box 6, Defense, Department of)