531. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • DOD Investigation of Panama Allegations Against the U.S. Army

Attached is the DOD report of its investigation of General Torrijos’ allegations that the 470th Military Intelligence Group in the Canal Zone aided and abetted the abortive December 15 attempt to oust him from power.

The report states that the several allegations by Torrijos can be summarized in two questions: (1) Did the 470th Military Intelligence Group or any member thereof participate in the coup or aid it as alleged? (2) Did any member of the 470th use General Westmoreland’s name, indicating that he was in agreement with the coup?

The report states in substance that the findings do not support General Torrijos’ allegations.

With regard to the first question, the report concludes that: “There was no 470th MI Group witting participation in the coup.” The report goes on to say that the 470th’s role was “open, aggressive collection of intelligence information,” and that this may have placed the 470th in the unwitting position of passing limited amounts of information from one National Guard source to another.” The report notes that during the collection operations on 14–16 December, members of the 470th exchanged telephone calls between their headquarters and the National Guard (GN). These calls were with liaison contacts. At certain times one member of the 470th would be on the telephone to a GN source while another member of the 470th talked to a different GN source. Sometimes information was passed between two members of the 470th and then relayed to a GN source. Because of these circumstances, the report states that the 470th“could be viewed with involvement in the coup (sic).” However, the report states that there was no intent to be involved or to support one side or the other.

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With regard to the second question, the report found no evidence at all that General Westmoreland’s name was used or that any U.S. official support for the coup was ever alleged by any member of the 470th.

Ambassador Sayre and General Mather have both reviewed the report. General Wheeler points out that the attached investigation only addresses General Torrijos’ allegations. It does not respond to your memorandum of January 26 asking for a general review of intelligence activity in Panama. That review is the subject of separate action.

The report appears to me to be a reasonably conclusive investigation, and I do not believe anything further need be done at this point.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 790, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Vol. 1, January 1969–28 February 1970. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates that Kissinger saw it. The February 14 memorandum from Froehlke to Kissinger has not been found. In a February 3 memorandum from Under Secretary of the Army Thaddeus R. Beal to Laird, Beal confirmed that the U.S. military was not involved in the December 15, 1969, coup attempt. However, Sayre and Mather “believe that there was a failure of times dissemination of intelligence gather by the 470th and that the way in which it has operated with agents in the GN has to be changed.” Mather stated that because the GN was so closely involved in Panama’s political affairs, intelligence gathering would have to be more circumspect. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–067, 81, Panama 1970)
  2. Vaky reported to Kissinger that a Department of Defense report found that, even though the 470th Military Intelligence Group in the Canal Zone had been collecting intelligence information between December 14 and 16, 1969, there was no evidence of Military Intelligence Group participation in the coup attempt in Panama on December 15.