144. Memorandum for the Record1


  • 40 Committee Meeting, Saturday, 1 February 1975, 10:30 AM


  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense William P. Clements, Jr.
  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Joseph Sisco
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General George Brown
  • Director of Central Intelligence William Colby


  • Lt. General John W. Pauly
  • William G. Hyland
  • [name not declassified]
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft

Dr. Kissinger opened the meeting by asking Mr. Colby in what order he wanted to discuss the agenda.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Portugal.]


Mr. Colby said that things were going badly in Portugal.

[Page 490]

Dr. Kissinger said he was told by Callaghan (UK Foreign Secretary) that there might be a coup next week.

Mr. Colby said there were reports which had been circulated. One of the most disturbing items is that the General who controls the metropolitan troops is reportedly shifting to the Left.

Dr. Kissinger said that if Portugal goes Communist it will be one of the most disgraceful things in our national policy because we all saw it coming.

Mr. Colby said the Communists were not getting stronger in the countryside. There are four parties certified for the election.

Dr. Kissinger said there never would be an election.

Mr. Colby said he did not think there would be an election either, but there were things that could be done and that we had been working through foreign friends using their money.

Dr. Kissinger observed that was a great position for a great power.

Mr. Colby said that we could do things directly but that the risks were too great.

Mr. Hyland said the issue was just what we can do in the next few weeks. The Left is worried; the upcoming NATO military exercise worries them. They think it is something that the U.S. is plotting, although it was organized two years ago.

Mr. Clements asked if there was any truth in the report that the USSR was going to ask for port rights for its “fishing” fleet.

Mr. Hyland said this story was leaked by a Portuguese who came back from Moscow with instructions from the Soviets to do this. Our Ambassador said that the Government has denied the report.

[name not declassified] said this might be a logical follow-up of Portugal-USSR trade talks.

Dr. Kissinger said that we have not done anything because we had a shellshocked Embassy, a shellshocked intelligence community, and a shellshocked White House. Europeans do not have the firepower to put this together. The only thing that will work will be our telling the Rightists that we will back them. The Communists will drag Soares (Minister of Foreign Affairs) to the Left until he loses support and then they will kill him. The armed forces will conduct a coup but with Communist leadership.

Mr. Colby said we could try to forestall a Leftist coup by strengthening the Right-wing parties.

Dr. Kissinger said that the fact must be faced, if we were doing our duty (and he said he meant himself; no reflection on anyone in this room) we would have our assets ready for a coup. You can’t organize a coup in two weeks. What do you think, Bill (Hyland)?

[Page 491]

Mr. Hyland said that he was encouraged by some of the strength in the military that appeared to be turning Right.

Mr. Colby said it was still Right at the bottom, but some of the top was drifting Left.

Dr. Kissinger said what they want to know is what the U.S. is doing.

[name not declassified] said that there were divisions in the AFM and that we could work on the Leftists in the AFM.

Dr. Kissinger said we would just be affecting the rate of the turnover.

Mr. Hyland said that might be true, but if we let it go there is going to be a Left turn.

Mr. Colby said we could combine the NATO exercise with a leak that a Communist coup was planned. If that is okay we’ll leak it.

Dr. Kissinger said that he had no problem with that, just so it does not leak to the Washington Post first.

Mr. Colby said [less than 1 line not declassified] What our paper suggests is that you give us approval to act so long as we have the Ambassador’s approval.

Dr. Kissinger said that he had been trying to get CIA to act since July, but how can you do this without telling the Congress?

Mr. Sisco referred to the Ambassador’s cable and the fact that he wants a more detailed plan.

Dr. Kissinger said that the Ambassador is not going to testify, that when you start something like this you can never tell how it is going to come out.

Mr. Colby said he thought the Ambassador’s position was stated in positive terms. He wants to control, and that is as it should be.

General Brown said that the one thing that struck him in the Ambassador’s cable was his saying that covert action might be employed at a certain time—well, that time was now, we must move now.

Mr. Colby said [less than 1 line not declassified]

Mr. Hyland said that this is really a question of policy and covert action is only a part of it. We ought to roll out our big guns and declare that if the trend to the Left continues, then we will have to reevaluate our position vis-à-vis Portugal. Would we tolerate a NATO member that is Communist? The report about the Soviets wanting fishing port rights is an opening for us to go in and tell the Portuguese that we are worried.

[name not declassified] referred to a report that the Portuguese would let the U.S. use their largest airport.

[Page 492]

Dr. Kissinger said that if the Communists take over they would let us use the largest airport, and we’d hail this as a great achievement and would go on and let Italy become Communist. That would be the smart thing for the Communists to do, to work with NATO, to be conciliatory.

Mr. Hyland said they might disavow the fishing port proposal, but declare that the NATO exercise should be called off, too, to balance things. They would take real power but not apparent power.

Dr. Kissinger said Callaghan told him that Soares wanted Callaghan to come visit so there would be a banquet with speeches, and this would be the only way that Soares could get his remarks into the press without censorship.

Mr. Hyland opined that this was crazy.

[name not declassified] said there was only one paper, Expresso, which could print about what it wanted; that all the others were tied by the Communist printers union.

Dr. Kissinger asked what we could do.

Mr. Colby said we could leak that there is a threat of a coup from the Left, and we could tell the Ambassador to get us a plan to do something.

Dr. Kissinger asked Mr. Sisco to tell the Ambassador to get us a plan.

Mr. Clements asked if Dr. Kissinger couldn’t make a strong statement at a press conference.

Dr. Kissinger said it was better to do this with a cable. Tell the Ambassador to tell the Government that we object to the fishing port proposal and it would force us to reappraise our position. This proves my point; this meeting is supposed to be discussing covert action, but we always wind up calling on State to do something.

Mr. Colby said we needed policy approval to go ahead.

Dr. Kissinger asked Mr. Sisco to get a paper from the Ambassador and then we would have a meeting quickly. See if the Ambassador can get a paper to us by Tuesday (4 February). The President’s position is that if we do what the Ambassador proposes without having the Congress buttoned up, we are in trouble. If we brief 11 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, there is no way that we can keep it secret. It would be too dangerous.

Mr. Sisco asked how Representative Morgan would resist appeals by members of his committee for information.

Dr. Kissinger said this is what we must work out. It is too dangerous to do anything until the President decides.

Mr. Colby said [1 line not declassified]

[Page 493]

Dr. Kissinger said that we should have made an issue of this earlier. He noted that Mr. Colby had tried but that the White House had not really focused on it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Portugal.]

  1. Summary: The memorandum recorded a February 1 40 Committee meeting on Portugal.

    Source: National Security Council Files, Ford Intelligence Files, 40 Committee Meetings, Minutes/Approvals, 1975 GRF. Secret; Sensitive. On January 20, Kissinger told Ford: “Portugal is going as predicted. Soares is massively incompetent. The fight now is over the unified labor law. If he leaves the government, the Communists will be the only organized force and either they will take over or the army will. We should have a covert action plan, but it could leak.” Ford replied, “Let’s do it if it leaks or not.” (Memorandum of conversation, January 20; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 8) Three days later, Kissinger told Ford: “I am really worried. We are paralyzed. We have delayed a long time on Portugal. We should be infiltrating the AFM, even though our capacity may not be too great.” (Memorandum of conversation, January 23; ibid.)