274. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Caribbean Protective Operations

You will recall that following the seizure in international waters of two Bahamas Line ships—Johnny Express and Layla Express—you directed special operations be conducted in the Caribbean to protect Bahamas Line merchant ships from similar attacks. Last May Defense recommended termination of those special operations or at least a gradual standdown. You approved a gradual reduction of the operation as outlined by the Department of Defense and directed that a final review be conducted before termination of the more limited protective measures.

In the memorandum at Tab A, former Secretary of Defense Richardson reports that the authorized reductions in operations were completed in September. Since that time, third-phase operations using one patrol craft on standby plus the normally based ready aircraft at Guantanamo and Key West have been committed to this exercise. In addition more U.S. ships have been routed through the area of most concern. Richardson feels that termination of the special operations is now in order for the following reasons.

—There is no evidence of Cuban reaction to any of the phased reductions in the level of protective operations.

—In the 16 months of protective operations there have been no known Cuban operations which threatened Bahamas Line ships.

—The Cuban Government has released to Panama the two captured Express ships. Remaining Bahamas Line ships have been conducting business as usual with no indication of Cuban interest in the ships. So long as the owners of the Bahamas Line continue to refrain [Page 730] from supporting anti-Castro operations, there appears to be no significant Cuban threat to the ships.

I agree that termination of the operation is now warranted. We have made our point to Castro. We will continue to utilize forces normally available in the area for contingencies. LANTCOM forces will maintain a presence in the area with routine transits and operations which should demonstrate to Cuba continued U.S. resolve to protect U.S. citizens and to maintain freedom of the seas in the Caribbean.


That you authorize termination of operations in the Caribbean to protect merchant ships of the Bahamas Line from seizure.

  1. Summary: Kissinger recommended terminating measures to protect merchant ships from Cuban attack that had been instituted after the December 1971 seizure of the Layla Express and the Johnny Express.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Box 781, Latin America, Cuba, Vol. IV, 1972. Top Secret. Sent for action. A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Nixon initialed his approval of the recommendation. Jorden transmitted a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger under a May 30 memorandum, not published. Attached (Tab A) is a May 21 memorandum from Richardson to Kissinger requesting authority to discontinue the use of forces to protect merchant shipping in the Caribbean, not published. (Ibid.) In a June 11 memorandum, Kissinger transmitted the President’s decision to Rogers and Clements. (Ibid.)