86. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting, Washington, February 27, 1976, 3:40–4:02 p.m.1 2

February 27, 1976

Time and Place: 3:40 p.m. - 4:02 p.m., White House Situation Room

Subject: US Equipment Captured in Vietnam


  • Chairman: Brent Scowcroft
  • State: Robert Ingersoll
  • Robert Miller
  • William Gleysteen
  • Thomas Sterns
  • DOD: William Clements
  • Amos Jordan
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • JCS: Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. William Smith
  • CIA: George Bush
  • William Christison
  • Theodore Shackley
  • Treasury: Richard Albrecht
  • Stanley Sommerfield
  • NSC Staff: William G. Hyland
  • Thomas Barnes
  • Col. Clint Granger
  • Michael Hornblow
[Page 2]

General Scowcroft: We are now going to review US policy regarding the sale of captured US equipment in Vietnam. The first thing I would like to know is how much of it is still in sellable condition?

Mr. Christison: One half or more is in good condition.

Mr. Shackley: There are 780,000 M16s available and there has been a discussion of a sale of 20,000. Other offers talk about spare parts.

General Scowcroft: But how about aircraft and tanks and other heavy equipment which deteriorates rapidly.

Mr. Shackley: The offer on the market deals with the M-16s. I have not seen any lists.

General Scowcroft: Have there been any hard offers?

Mr. Christison: They are offering 20,000 M-16s for a basic price of $328 each. In this connection they want a $100,000 letter of credit and a $100,000 performance bond. It is a brokerage deal in the international arms market.

Mr. Shackley: Have there been any specific requests from countries asking about our position?

Mr. Stern: No, although there have been some queries from arms dealers.

Mr. Clements: Would arms dealers take their information to the CIA and share it?

Mr. Christison: Not likely.

General Scowcroft: The study that was prepared in this question identified three options. Under the first option we would try to prevent the sale and shipment of captured US equipment. At the other extreme is an option which would encourage friendly governments to [Page 3] purchase the equipment. Under the middle option we would take no formal policy action in advance and would judge requests on a case by case basis. Apparently there are some differences of opinion as to which option is the best.

Mr. Bush: I do feel strongly that the CIA should not take a policy position on such questions. The previous topic [text not declassified] directly concerned us, so we had a position. I know my predecessor had an opinion on this subject but I don’t want to take a position. So I want to be excused from the voting and go back to sleep.

General Scowcroft: Okay but you don’t have to keep quiet. Bill?

Mr. Clements: I must frankly say that we are split. We have two thoughts in DOD and have vacillated around. JCS has one position and the Department or OSD has a position that we should prevent the sale of the equipment and just let it stay in Vietnam and deteriorate. I personally am vacillating. The JCS position is that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis. George will explain their position. On the other side there are all kinds of good reasons for just letting the material deteriorate.

Mr. Ingersoll: Do you think we have that option?

Mr. Clements: Yes, I do. A good bit of that equipment requires regular maintenance. It is mechanical equipment which requires care or it will go to hell. The large majority of the equipment there will deteriorate and will deteriorate quickly. But on the other hand what if we have an ally who needs help and we don’t want to drawdown from our own equipment. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to purchase this equipment? Those are our differences. George, do you have anything to add?

General Brown: If we take a hard policy we would find that we are impotent to prevent the sales. We just can’t control such sales.

General Scowcroft: That is basically true although we could delay and slow them down.

[Page 4]

Mr. Ingersoll: Our position is that we don’t look with favor on any such arms transfer and would do our best to discourage it. But if a friendly country needs and wants these arms we would want to be able to evaluate such a case on its merits.

General Scowcroft: We would be better off having these arms go to a friendly country rather than to guerilla groups.

Mr. Clements: You are absolutely right, Brent. Take those rifles for example. You can put them in oil and they can be preserved indefinitely. We would not want those weapons to go to someone like Qadhafi. There are alternatives here. I would hate to see us settle into a concrete position.

Mr. Abramowitz: What if the President or the Secretary of Defense gets asked at a news conference about supplying spare parts to a country which has purchased these captured weapons? The President would have to say no. It is a public relations question. Politically he would have to say no.

Mr. Clements: But what if it was a country like Morocco. We would certainly want to help them.

General Scowcroft: There are inconsistencies. It depends on the country.

General Brown: That is why we support the case by case option.

General Scowcroft: Treasury — what is your position?

Mr. Albrecht: The sale of these high technology, big items could generate considerable foreign exchange for North Vietnam. We think that a public announcement by the United States opposing such sales might drive down the price and would discourage sales.

Mr. Clements: I have no problem with that.

General Scowcroft: You think there should be a public statement of our position?

Mr. Albrecht: Yes, in addition it would discourage American arms dealers.

[Page 5]

Mr. Stern: No it wouldn’t — they would just use International arms dealers as frontmen.

Mr. Clements: The North Vietnamese are going to have a considerable amount of difficulty selling this equipment unless there is some assurance of spare parts from us. That equipment could become as useless as tits on a boar hog. The leverage in this situation is with the U.S. and not the North Vietnamese. They might be willing to accept bargain basement prices just to get rid of the stuff.

General Scowcroft: There is a wide divergence of position here ranging from a hard line public announcement to letting Morocco buy these arms.

Mr. Albrecht; Maybe there could be some modification in the wording of the public announcement.

Mr. Clements: The announcement should specifically say that these sales must be approved by the State Department.

General Brown: Perhaps we should take this opportunity to buy back some of our APCs.

Mr. Clements: That is right.

General Scowcroft: There seems to be a consensus here in favor of a soft public statement which would discourage the purchase of this military equipment and give no assurance on spares.

Mr. Albrecht: We would then judge these on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Clements: And process them through the Department of State.

Mr. Miller: It will be necessary to prepare some guidance to our posts in the field.

General Scowcroft: Okay.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), SRG Meeting Minutes, Originals, February 1976 (2). Top Secret. Briefing book, with documents requested by Scowcroft on November 18, 1975, is ibid., Box 16, SRG Meeting, Taiwan, February 27, 1976 (3).
  2. Members of the SRG discussed problems related to U.S. equipment captured in Vietnam.