37. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the Special Assistant to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Lake) for the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

The import of the coup in Libya will be clearer in another 24–48 hours, Following is to give you the best Washington appraisal as of the end of the day (Monday).

A group of young military officers has staged a coup, proclaimed the “Arab Republic of Libya” and set up a Revolutionary Command Council. The head of the council is the only individual publicly named so far as associated with the coup. He is a 34-year-old former officer who has apparently been brought out of “retirement,” Colonel Sa’ad al-Din Abu-Shuawayrib. He received his basic military education in the UAR Cadet College but has since attended US military schools, including Command and General Staff Officer Course in 1964–65. His bio in intelligence files describes him as pro-US, but of course no one should lean too heavily on that description in present circumstances.

The best we can say about the political complexion of the new government without knowing more about its composition is that its very few initial pronouncements show some moderation. For instance, representatives of the coup group have assured our charge that the coup was directed at the removal of internal corruption—of which there has been an increasing amount recently—and not at any foreign group, east or west. The new government has promised to protect foreign interests, including oil companies. The five-point statement proclaiming the new government said the regime would be socialist, would seek solidarity with the third world and would be based on the Koran. [Page 2] By current Arab standards, this is a mild statement, especially since it omits the vigorous statements on pursuing the struggle for Palestine that one would expect of my more radical group.

During the day, we have watched for signs of counter-action by forces seeking to rally behind the monarchy. None so far as we can tell have materialized. The King himself, 80, is in Turkey. The Crown Prince apparently went on the air, renounced his prerogatives as viceroy and urged support of the Revolutionary Command Council. Elements of the police and military which we thought might have resisted have one by one been reported as supporting the coup. The major element not heard from is a large group of civilian politicians who owed their bread and butter to the monarchy. We may learn more of how the politicians have split when the composition of any new cabinet becomes apparent, but in any case resistance now would seem to depend on support from within the army and possibilities for that have narrowed.

Since Americans do not seem to be in danger, the main contingencies we have to think about involve Wheelus Base. The Royal Libyan Air Force is based there and depends entirely on US logistical support. If there were any counter-coup, we would have to consider how to react to an Air Force request for support. We might also have to handle requests for asylum at the base. And eventually, the chronic pressures for us to give up the base may reassert themselves. None of these seem to be upon us tonight, so I will not take up your time discussing them. In short, we want to keep Wheelus insulated from this to the maximum extent possible.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1239, Saunders Files, Libya, 1969. Secret. According to a September 2 exchange between Jon Howe and Harold Saunders, the message was sent to Kissinger in California. (Ibid., Box 738, Country Files, Africa, Libya, Vol. I) Similar reports on Libya were contained in Bureau of Intelligence and Research Intelligence Note 625, September 1 (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 LIBYA) and Intelligence Memorandum 2216/69, September 1. (Central Intelligence Agency, DI/OCI Files, Box 13, Job 79–T00829A)
  2. In this memorandum, Saunders advised Kissinger of a coup staged by a group of young military officers, who had proclaimed the Arab Republic of Libya. Saunders then offered a brief discussion of the political complexion of the new government, the Libyan monarchy’s response to the coup, and possible U.S. strategies in dealing with the new government.