296. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Covert Action Program for the Yemens (S)

Attached is the SCC analysis and recommendation endorsing the proposed covert action program for the Yemens. It is a modest scale ($12 million) program [less than 1 line not declassified].2 (S)

The strategy would be to build up a moderate political force in North Yemen to resist Salih’s drift toward integration with the PDRY while at the same time tackling the root of the problem—the extremely radical Soviet-backed government in Aden which has designs against both North Yemen and Saudi Arabia and which serves as a major military base for the Soviet Union. Our effort against the PDRY would consist of building up moderate political opposition to the Ismail regime, encouraging dissident tribesmen, aggravating divisions which exist within Ismail’s government, and putting teeth into these political efforts by selected paramilitary operations by tribesmen and opposition against key PDRY communications and security facilities. (S)

Our objectives are, in increasing order of difficulty, to reassure the Saudis by engaging in a [less than 1 line not declassified] program to deal with a serious threat to them; to contain the PDRY’s subversive effort by strengthening moderates in the north and by keeping the PDRY off balance in the south; and, finally, to encourage the accession of a more moderate government in Aden. (S)

There are important risks to the program and the SCC has studied them carefully. Checkpoints for assessment of the program and of PDRY/Soviet reaction are built in. In sum, the projected reactions of the PDRY, the Soviet Union and their allies consist of actions which are already either under way or which we judge largely inevitable. Hence, the risks are essentially the same whether we proceed with the program or not. If we do not, the PDRY, and the Soviets are likely to try to keep the threat to Saudi security just below a threshold that would prompt strong US-Saudi reaction until it is too late. Conversely, proceeding with the program not only holds out the possibility of [Page 897] ultimately ending the threat from the PDRY but also strengthens Saudi Arabia’s, Oman’s and North Yemen’s capacity to resist PDRY subversion and paramilitary activity. (S)

If you approve the program, we will confirm our willingness to undertake it [1 line not declassified] you would sign the appropriate Finding at Annex 4.3 (S)


The SCC recommends that you approve the proposed program for the Yemens. I endorse this recommendation.4

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box IO 47, Yemen: 15 June 1977—13 March 1981. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]; Top Secret Attachment. Sent for action. Carter wrote “Zbig J” in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Carter underlined the phrase “undertake it [less than 1 line not declassified],” drew an arrow to the phrase, and wrote under the paragraph: “[less than 1 line not declassified].” Annex 4 is not printed.
  4. Carter checked the Approve option and wrote in the margin: “Zbig—How about the French & others being encouraged to stabilize the situation—not joining in our clandestine activities. Saudis need to treat YAR well. Also, we should see who else can approach either Yemen to prevent Soviet success. Post-Afghanistan, Arab League members may be able to help—J.” Carter added: “p.s. you always want to travel. How about a trip to PDRY? You may woo them over to our side.” Carter then drew a line across the page, writing under it: “In general, having read the memo, I believe we are much more likely to have success by working with YAR than against PDRY. Also, Moslem believers in S Yemen may be a more important factor than assumed here. J.” The covert action program was implemented through a number of Presidential Findings dated March 27, 1980. (National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box IO 47, North Yemen Finding—27 Mar 80 South Yemen Finding—27 Mar 80)