212. Briefing Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Coordinator for Combating Terrorism (Hoffacker) to Secretary of State Kissinger1 2
Terrorism: The Busy Month of December
The bright spot in December, if not for the year, as far as counter-terrorism is concerned, is the adoption by the UN General Assembly on December 14 of a Convention for protection of diplomats. Our mission at the UN and the Legal Adviser’s office bore the brunt of this challenge and are to be commended for careful, imaginative, and effective diplomacy.
A task force followed the attack on the Pan Am plane in Rome on December 17 and the subsequent holding of hostages aboard the Lufthansa plane commandeered at Rome.
Seventeen Americans were among the 32 deaths in this atrocity. We are attempting to stimulate the maximum feasible punishment of the terrorists, who apparently have been turned over to the PLO by the Kuwaiti authorities. Moreover, we are taking all appropriate preventive actions in the light of this new experience. (A separate memorandum, dated December 21, was prepared on this subject.)
The Postal Service reacted efficiently to a spate of letter bombs which originated in Toronto and which were addressed to American officials and businessmen throughout the world. Several of these bombs were intercepted with no casualties.
The Soviet-made SA-7 surface-to-air missile has apparently spread to terrorists who hope to operate in Western Europe. You will recall that the original incident involving this vicious weapon occurred in Rome in August and that the Italians are still contemplating release of terrorists found red-handed with this missile.[Page 2]
Recommendations to you are in their final stage for responding to the Soviets, who, in the person of Foreign Minister Gromyko, have suggested a bilateral agreement to combat terrorism. One of our recommendations will probably be to attempt to get satisfaction from Moscow—something which has not been possible thus far—about Soviet controls which should keep the SA-7 effectively out of the hands of irresponsible individuals and groups, including known or suspected terrorists.
The Argentine situation continues to threaten virtually all American businessmen operating there. We (the Embassy and the Department) have consulted steadily with them and have supported their request for more protection by the Argentine authorities, who have augmented security affecting our businessmen but who have not as yet made an appreciable inroad against the strong terrorist groups operating throughout the country.
On the domestic side, the Department of Transportation—and in particular the Federal Aviation Administration—has done a remarkable job in airport and airliner security controls which, along with the bilateral agreement with Cuba, have given us the longest period without a hijacking of a US air carrier in more than six years. Secretary Brinegar reports to the President on this accomplishment in the attached letter of November 30. You might wish to commend Secretary Brinegar when you next see him. You might also express concurrence with his stated view that we must continue to put pressure on foreign governments to tighten their air security and to ratify the three principal international conventions (The Hague, Tokyo, and Montreal). FAA and the Department of Transportation work closely with the Department and other agencies in the Cabinet Committee/Working Group context in inspiring other governments to do better in international civil aviation security.
During my recent three day speaking swing through Southern Florida, the varied audiences were particularly interested in you (your security and your manner of doing [Page 3]business) and in the Middle East situation. At the risk of polishing the apple, I found it easy to reassure my listeners on these aspects.