The Kennedy Assassination and the Vietnam War (1971)

Peter Dale Scott

Excerpts from Text

            With respect to events in November 1963, the bias and deception of the original Pentagon documents are considerably reinforced in the Pentagon studies commissioned by Robert McNamara. Nowhere is this deception more apparent than in the careful editing and censorship of the Report of a Honolulu Conference on November 20, 1963, and of National Security Action Memorandum 273, which was approved four days later. Study after study is carefully edited so as to create a false illusion of continuity between the last two days of President Kennedy’s presidency and the first two days of President Johnson’s. The narrow division of the studies into topics, as well as periods, allows some studies to focus on the “optimism”[1] which led to plans for withdrawal on November 20 and 24, 1963; and others on the “deterioration” and “gravity”[2] which at the same meetings led to plans for carrying the war north. These incompatible pictures of continuous “optimism” or “deterioration” are supported generally by selective censorship, and occasionally by downright misrepresentation.

…National Security Action Memorandum 273, approved 26 November 1963. The immediate cause for NSAM 273 was the assassination of President Kennedy four days earlier; newly-installed President Johnson needed to reaffirm or modify the policy lines pursued by his predecessor. President Johnson quickly chose to reaffirm the Kennedy policies…

Emphasis should be placed, the document stated, on the Mekong Delta area, but not only in military terms. Political, economic, social, educational, and informational activities must also be pushed: “We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle but of belief…” Military operations should be initiated, under close political control, up to within fifty kilometers inside of Laos. U.S. assistance programs should be maintained at levels at least equal to those under the Diem government so that the new GVN would not be tempted to regard the U.S. as seeking to disengage.

The same document also revalidated the planned phased withdrawal of U.S. forces announced publicly in broad terms by President Kennedy shortly before his death: “The objective of the United States with respect to withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remains as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.”

No new programs were proposed or endorsed, no increases in the level or nature of U.S. assistance suggested or foreseen…. The emphasis was on persuading the new government in Saigon to do well those things which the fallen government was considered to have done poorly…NSAM 273 had, as described above, limited cross-border operations to an area 50 kilometers within Laos.[3]

The reader is invited to check the veracity of this account of NSAM 273 against the text as reproduced below. If the author of this study is not a deliberate and foolish liar, the some superior had denied him access to the second and more important page of NSAM 273, which “authorized planning for specific covert operations, graduated in intensity, against the DRV,” i.e., North Vietnam.[4] As we shall see, this covert operations planning soon set the stage for a new kind of war, not only through the celebrated 34A Operations which contributed to the Tonkin Gulf incidents, but also through the military’s accompanying observations, as early as December 1963, that “only air attacks” against North Vietnam would achieve these operations’ “stated objective.”[5] Leslie Gelb, the Director of the Pentagon Study Task Force and the author of the various and mutually contradictory Study Summaries notes that, with this planning, “A firebreak had been crossed, and the U.S. had embarked on a program that was recognized as holding little promise of achieving its stated objectives, at least in its early stages.”[6] We shall argue in a moment that these crucial and controversial “stated objectives,” proposed in CINCPAC’s OPLAN 34-63 of September 9, 1963, were rejected by Kennedy in October 1963, and first authorized by the first paragraph of NSAM 273.

The Pentagon studies, supposedly disinterested reports to the Secretary of Defense, systematically mislead with respect to NSAM 273, which McNamara himself had helped to draft. Their lack of bona fides is illustrated by the general phenomenon that (as can be seen from our Appendix A), banal or misleading paragraphs (like 2, 3, and 5) are quoted verbatim, sometimes over and over, whereas those preparing for an expanded war are either omitted or else referred to obliquely. The only study to quote a part of the paragraph dealing with North Vietnam does so from subordinate instructions: it fails to note that this language was authorized in NSAM 273.[7]

And study after study suggest (as did press reports at the time) that the effect of NSAM 273, paragraph 2, was to perpetuate what Mr. Gelb ill-advisedly calls “the public White House promise in October” to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops.[8] In fact the public White House statement on October 2 was no promise, but a personal estimate attributed to McNamara and Taylor. As we shall see, Kennedy’s decision on October 5 to implement this withdrawal (a plan authorized by NSAM 263 of October 11), was not made public until November 16, and again at the Honolulu Conference of November 20, when an Accelerated Withdrawal Program (about which Mr. Gelb in silent) was also approved.[9] NSAM 273 was in fact approved on Sunday, November 24, and its misleading opening paragraphs (including the meaningless reaffirmation of the “objectives” of the October 2 withdrawal statement) were leaked to selected correspondents.[10] Mr. Gelb, who should have known better, pretended that NSAM 273 “was intended primarily to endorse the policies pursued by President Kennedy and to ratify provisional decisions reached (on November 20) in Honolulu.”[11] In fact the secret effect of NSAM … was to annul the NSAM 263 withdrawal decision announced four days earlier at Honolulu, and also the Accelerated Withdrawal Program: “both military and economic programs, it was emphasized, should be maintained at levels as high as those in the time of the Diem regime.”[12]

The source of this change is not hard to pinpoint. Of the seven people known to have participated in the November 24 reversal of the November 20 withdrawal decisions, five took part in both meetings.[13] Of the three new officials present, the chief was Lyndon Johnson, in his second full day and first business meeting as President of the United States.[14] The importance of this second meeting, like that of the document it approved, is indicated by its deviousness. Once can only conclude that NSAM 273(2)’s public reaffirmation of an October 2 withdrawal “objective,” coupled with 273(6)’s secret annulment of an October 5 withdrawal plan, was deliberately deceitful. The result of the misrepresentations in the Pentagon studies and Mr. Gelb’s summaries is, in other words, to perpetuate a deception dating back to NSAM 273 itself.

This deception, I suspect, involved far more than the symbolic but highly sensitive issue of the 1,000-man withdrawal. One study, after calling NSAM 273 a “generally sanguine” “don’t-rock-the-boat document,” concedes that it contained “an unusual Presidential exhortation”: “The President expects that all senior officers of the government will move energetically to insure full unity of support for establishing U.S. policy in South Vietnam.”[15] In other words, the same document which covertly changed Kennedy’s withdrawal plans ordered all senior officials not to contest or criticize this change. This order had a special impact on one senior official: Robert Kennedy, an important member of the National Security Council (under President Kennedy) who was not present when NSAM 273 was rushed through the forty-five minute “briefing session” on Sunday, November 24. It does not appear that Robert Kennedy, then paralyzed by the shock of his bother’s murder, was even invited to the meeting. Chester Cooper records that Lyndon Johnson’s first National Security Council meeting was not convened until Thursday, December 5.[16]

NSAM 273, Paragraph 1: The Central Object

            While noting that the “stated objectives” of the new covert operations plan against North Vietnam were unlikely to be fulfilled by the OPLAN itself, Mr. Gelb, like the rest of the Pentagon Study authors, fails to inform us what these “stated objectives” were. The answer lies in the “central object” or “central objective” defined by the first paragraph of NSAM 273:

It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported communist conspiracy. The test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contribution to this purpose.[17]

            To understand this bureaucratic prose we must place it in context. Ever since Kennedy came to power, but increasingly since the Diem crisis and assassination, there had arisen serious bureaucratic disagreement as to whether the U.S. commitment in Vietnam was limited and political (“to assist”) or open-ended and military (“to win”). By its use of the word “win,” NSAM 273, among other things, ended a brief period of indecision and division, when indecision itself was favoring the proponents of a limited (and political) strategy, over those whose preference was unlimited (and military).[18]

            In this conflict the seemingly innocuous word “object” or “objective” had come, in the Aesopian double-talk of bureaucratic politics, to be the test of a commitment. As early as May 1961, when President Kennedy was backing off from a major commitment in Laos, he had willingly agreed with the Pentagon that “The U.S. objective and concept of operations” was “to prevent Communist domination of South Vietnam.”[19] In November 1961, however, Taylor, McNamara, and Rusk attempted to strengthen this language, by recommending that “We now take the decision to commit ourselves to the objective of preventing the fall of South Vietnam to Communism.”[20] McNamara had earlier concluded that this “commitment…to the clear objective” was the “basic issue,” adding that it should be accompanied by a “warning” of “punitive retaliation against North Vietnam.” Without this commitment, he added, “We do not believe major U.S. forces should be introduced in South Vietnam.”[21]

            Despite this advice, Kennedy, after much thought, accepted all of the recommendations for introducing U.S. units, except for the “commitment to the objective” which was the first recommendation of all. NSAM 111 of November 22, 1962, which became the basic document for Kennedy Vietnam policy, was issued without this first recommendation.[22] Instead he sent a letter to Diem on December 14, 1961, in which “the U.S. officially described the limited and somewhat ambiguous extent of its commitment:…our primary purpose is to help your people….We shall seek to persuade the Communists to give up their attempts of force and subversion.’”[23] One compensatory phrase of this letter (“the campaign…supported and directed from the outside”) became (as we shall see) a rallying point for the disappointed hawks in the Pentagon; and was elevated to new prominence in NSAM 273(1)’s definition of a Communist “conspiracy.” It would appear that Kennedy, in his basic policy documents after 1961, avoided any used of the word “objective” that might be equated to a “commitment.” The issue was not academic: as presented by Taylor in November 1961, this commitment would have been open-ended, “to deal with any escalation the communists might choose to impose.”[24]

            In October 1963, Taylor and McNamara tried once again: by proposing to link the withdrawal announcement about 1,000 men to a clearly defined and public policy “objective” of defeating communism. Once again Kennedy, by subtle changes of language, declined to go along. His refusal is the more interesting when we see that the word and the sense he rejected in October 1963 (which would have made the military “objective” the overriding one) are explicitly sanctioned by Johnson’s first policy document, NSAM 273. (See table p. 321.)

            A paraphrase of NSAM 273’s seemingly innocuous first page was leaked at the time by McGeorge Bundy to the Washington Post and the New York Times. As printed in the Times by E.W. Kenworthy this paraphrase went so far as to use the very words, “overriding objective,” which Kennedy had earlier rejected.[25] This tribute to the words’ symbolic importance is underlined by the distortion of NSAM 273, paragraph 1, in the Pentagon Papers, so that the controversial words “central object” hardly ever appear.[26] Yet at least two separate studies understand the “object” or “objective” to constitute a “commitment”: “NSAM 273 reaffirms the U.S. commitment to defeat the VC in South Vietnam.”[27] This particular clue to the importance of NSAM 273 in generating a policy commitment is all the more interesting, in that the Government edition of the Pentagon Papers has suppressed the page on which it appears.


Oct 2, 1963
(McNamara - Taylor)

The security of South Vietnam remains vital to United States security. For this reason we adhere to the overriding objective of denying this country to communism and of suppressing the Viet Cong insurgency as promptly as possible.

Although we are deeply concerned by repressive practices, effective performance in the conduct of the war should be the determining factor in our relations with the GVN.[28]


Oct. 2, 1963
(White House - Kennedy)

The security of South Vietnam is a major interest of the United States as other free nations. We will adhere to our policy of working with the people and Government of South Vietnam to deny this country to communism and to suppress the externally stimulated and supported insurgency of the Viet Cong as promptly as possible. Effective performance in this undertaking is the central objective of our policy in South Vietnam.

While such practices have not yet significantly affected the war effort, they could do so in the future.

It remains the policy of the United States, in South Vietnam as in other parts of the world, to support the efforts of the people of that country to defeat aggression and to build a peaceful and free society.[29]

NSAM 273

NOV. 26, 1963
(White House - Johnson)

It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported communist conspiracy. The test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contributions to this purpose.[30]

NSAM 273, Paragraph 10: The “Case ” for Escalation

NSAM 273’s suppression of Kennedy’s political goal (“to build a peaceful and free society”) is accompanied by its authorization of planning for “selected actions of graduated (i.e. escalating) scope and intensity” against North Vietnam.[31] This shift from political to military priorities was properly symbolized by NSAM 273’s use of the word “object” or “objective”: for in November 1961 the rejected word “objective” had been linked to escalation proposals such as “the ‘Rostow plan’ of applying graduated pressures” on North Vietnam,[32] which Kennedy had then also rejected and which Johnson now also revived. Rostow personally was able to submit to the new President “a well-reasoned case for a gradual escalation” within days of Kennedy’s assassination;[33] and it is clear that NSAM 273 saw where such escalations might lead. In its last provision, which sounds almost as if it might have been drafted by Rostow personally, “State was directed to develop a strong, documented case ‘to demonstrate to the world the degree to which the Viet Cong is controlled, sustained, and supplied from Hanoi, through Laos and other channels.’”[34]

At the time of this directive it was known, and indeed admitted in the U.S. press, that “all the weapons captured by the United States…were either homemade or had been previously captured from the GVN/USA.”[35] William Jorden, an official directed in January 1963 to get information on Northern infiltration, had already reported on April 5 that he could not: “we are unable to document and develop any hard evidence of infiltration after October 1, 1962.”[36] In the words of a State Department representative on the Special Group, “the great weight of evidence and doctrine proved ‘that the massive aggression theory was completely phony.’”[37]

But where the January directive was to get information, NSAM 273’s was different, to make a “case.”[38] The evidence for the “case” seems to have been discovered soon after the directive, but at the price of controversy.

By February 1964, apparently, the Administration was firmly convinced from interceptions of cable traffic between North Vietnam and the guerillas in the South that Hanoi controlled and directed the Vietcong. Intelligence analyses of the time [February 12, 1964] stated, however, that “The primary sources of Communist strength in South Vietnam are indigenous.”[39]

This is interesting, for radio intercepts also supplied firm grounds for escalation during the Tonkin Gulf incidents of August 1964, the Pueblo incident of January 1968, and the Cambodian invasion of May 1970 – three escalations which were all preceded by like controversies between intelligence operatives and analysts. And in these three escalations the key intercept evidence later turned out to be highly suspicious if not indeed deliberately falsified or “phony.”[40] In like manner Congress should learn whether the radio intercepts establishing Hanoi’s external direction and control of the Vietcong emerged before or (as it would appear) after the directive to develop just such a “case.”

It is clear that at the time the military and CIA understood the novel opportunities afforded them by NSAM 273: within three weeks they had submitted an operations plan (the famous OPLAN 34A memorandum of December 19) which unlike its predecessors included overt as well as covert and nonattributable operations against North Vietnam, up to and including coastal raids.[41] Yet this novelty is denied by all the Pentagon studies which mention NSAM 273; it is admitted by only one Pentagon study (IV.C.2.a), which (as we shall see) discusses NSAM 273 without identifying it.

The full text of NSAM 273 of November 26, 1963, [was still] unknown [in 1971].[42]  In all three editions of the Pentagon Papers there are no complete documents between the five cables of October 30 and McNamara’s memorandum of December 21; the 600 pages of documents from the Kennedy Administration end on October 30. It is unlikely that this striking lacuna is accidental. We do, however, get an ominous picture of NSAM 273’s implications from General Maxwell Taylor’s memorandum of January 22, 1964:

National Security Action Memorandum No. 273 makes clear the resolve of the President to ensure victory over the externally directed and supported communist insurgency in South Vietnam…. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are convinced that, in keeping with the guidance in NSAM 273, the United States must make plain to the enemy our determination to see the Vietnam campaign through to a favorable conclusion. To do this, we must prepare for whatever level of activity may be required and, being prepared, must then proceed to take actions as necessary to achieve our purposes surely and promptly.[43]

The Joint Chiefs urged the President to end “self-imposed restrictions,” to go beyond planning to the implementation of covert 34A operations against the North and Laos, and in addition to conduct aerial bombing of key North Vietnam targets.”

It was not only the military who drew such open-ended conclusions from the apparently “limited” wording of NSAM 273. As a State Department official told one congressional committee in February 1964, “the basic policy is set that we are going to stay in Vietnam in a support function as long as needed to win the war.”[44] McNamara himself told another committee that the United States had a commitment to win, rather than “support ”:

The survival of an independent government in South Vietnam is so important… that I can conceive of no alternative other than to take all necessary measures within our capability to prevent a Communist victory.[45]

            All of this, like the text of NSAM 273 itself, corroborates the first-hand account of the November 24 meeting reported some years ago by Tom Wicker. According to that account Johnson’s commitment, a message to the Saigon government, was not made lightly or optimistically. The issue was clearly understood, if not the ultimate consequences:

Lodge…gave the President his opinion that hard decisions would be necessary to save South Vietnam. “Unfortunately, Mr. President,” the Ambassador said, “you will have to make them.” The new President, as recalled by one who was present, scarcely hesitated. “I am not going to lose Vietnam,” he said. “I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.”…His instructions to Lodge were firm. The Ambassador was to return to Saigon and inform the new government there that the new government in Washington intended to stand by previous commitments and continue its help against the Communists. In effect, he told Lodge to assure Big Minh that Saigon “can count on us.” That was a pledge…All that would follow…had been determined in that hour of political decision in the old Executive Office Building, while…Oswald gasped away his miserable life in Parkland Hospital.[46]

            The new President’s decisions to expand the war by bombing and to send U.S. troops would come many months later. But he had already satisfied the “military” faction’s demand for an unambiguous commitment, and ordered their opponents to silence.

NSAM 273(2) and 273(6): The Doubletalk About “Withdrawal”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had consistently and persistently advised their civilian overseers (e.g., on May 10, 1961 and January 13, 1962) that for what they construed as the “unalterable objectives” of victory a decision should be made to deploy additional U.S. forces, including combat troops if necessary.[47] They were opposed from the outset by the proponents of a more political “counterinsurgency” concept, such as Roger Hilsman. But in April 1962 Ambassador Galbraith in New Delhi proposed to President Kennedy a different kind of (in his words) “political solution.” Harriman, he suggested, should tell the Russians

of our determination not to let the Viet Cong overthrow the present government…The Soviets should be asked to ascertain whether Hanoi can and will call off the Viet Cong activity in return for phased American withdrawal, liberalization in the trade relations between the two parts of the country and general and non-specific agreement to talk about reunification after some period of tranquility.[48]

It is of course highly unusual for ambassadors to report directly to presidents outside of “channels.” Contrary to usual practice the memorandum did not come up through Secretary Rusk’s office; the White House later referred the memorandum for the comments of the Secretary of Defense (and the Joint Chiefs), but not of the Secretary of State. The very existence of such an unusual memorandum and procedure demonstrated that President Kennedy was personally interested in at least keeping his “political” options open. This was the second occasion on which Kennedy had used the former Harvard professor as an independent “watchdog” to evaluate skeptically the Rusk-McNamara consensus of his own bureaucracy; and there are rumors that Professor Galbraith continued to play this role in late 1963, after his return to Harvard. Another such independent “watchdog” was Kennedy’s White House assistant, Michael Forrestal.

            The response of the Joint Chiefs to Galbraith’s “political solution” was predictably chilly. They argued that it would constitute “disengagement from what is by now a well-known commitment,” and recalled that in the published letter of December 14, 1961 to Diem, President Kennedy had written that “we are prepared to help” against a campaign “supported and directed from outside.”[49] In their view this language affirmed “support…to whatever extent may be necessary, ” but their particular exegesis, which Kennedy declined to endorse in October 1963, did not become official until Johnson’s NSAM 273(1).

            On the contrary, for one reason or another, the Defense Department began in [May] 1962 “a formal planning and budgetary process” for precisely what Galbraith had contemplated, a “phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.”[50] Pentagon Paper IV.B.4, which studies this process, ignores the Galbraith memorandum entirely; and refers instead to what Leslie Gelb calls “the euphoria and optimism of July 1962.”[51] Assuredly there were military professions of optimism, in secret as well as public documents.[52] These professions of optimism do not, however, explain why in 1963 the actual level of U.S. military personnel continued to rise, from 9,865 at New Year’s[53] (with projected highs at that time of 11,600 in Fiscal Year 1963, 12,200 in February 1964, and 12,200 in February 1965) to unanticipated levels of 14,000 in June and 16,500 on October.[54] About these troop increases, which Diem apparently opposed, [55] the Pentagon Papers are silent.

By mid-1963, with the aggravating political crisis in Vietnam, the pressure to move ahead with withdrawal plans was increasing. This increased pressure was motivated not by military “euphoria” (if indeed it ever had been) but by political dissatisfaction. A State Department telegram from Rusk to Lodge on August 29, 1963, expresses the opinion that U.S. political pressures on Diem would otherwise be futile:

Unless such talk included a real sanction such as a threatened withdrawal of our support, it is unlikely that it would be taken seriously by a man who may feel that we are inescapably committed to an anti-Communist Vietnam.[56]

Pentagon Paper IV.B.4 ignores this telegram as well; yet even it (in marked contrast to Leslie Gelb’s “Summary and Analysis” of it) admits that

Part of the motivation behind the stress placed on U.S. force withdrawal, and particular the seemingly arbitrary desire to effect the 1,000-man withdrawal by the end of 1963, apparently was as a signal to influence both the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese and set the stage for possible later steps that would help bring the insurgency to an end.[57]

            At the time of Galbraith’s proposal for talks about phased U.S. withdrawal between Harriman and the Russians, Harriman was Chairman of the American delegation to the then deadlocked Geneva Conference on Laos, which very shortly afterwards reconvened for the rapid conclusion of the 1962 Geneva Agreements. Relevant events in that development include sudden U.S. troop buildup in Thailand in May, the agreement among the three Laotian factions to form a coalition government on June 11, and Khrushchev’s message the next day hailing the coalition agreement as a “pivotal event” in Southeast Asian and good augury for the solution of “other international problems which now divide states and create tension.”[58] The signing of the Geneva Accords on July 23 was accompanied by a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops in Thailand, as well as by a considerable exacerbation of Thai-U.S. relations, to the extent that Thailand, infuriated by lack of support in its border dispute with Cambodia, declared a temporary boycott of SEATO.[59]

            The 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos were marked by an unusual American willingness to “trust” the other side.[60] Chester Cooper confirms that their value lay in

a private deal worked out between the leaders of the American and Soviet delegations—the “Harriman-Pushkin Agreement.” In essence the Russians agreed to use their influence on the Pathet Lao, Peking, and Hanoi to assure compliance with the terms agreed on at the Conference. In exchange for this, the British agreed to assure compliance by the non-Communists.[61]

He also confirms that, before Harriman and Kennedy could terminate U.S. support for the CIA’s protégé in Laos, Phoumi Nosavan, “some key officials in our Mission there…had to be replaced.”[62] The U.S. Foreign Service List shows that the officials recalled from Vientiane in the summer of 1962 include both of the resident military attachés and also the CIA Station Chief, Gordon L. Jorgensen.[63] In late 1964 Jorgensen returned to Saigon, to become, as the Pentagon Papers reveal, the Saigon CIA Station Chief [Gravel ed., II:539].

This purge of right-wing elements in the U.S. Mission failed to prevent immediate and conspicuous violation of the Agreements by Thai-based elements of the U.S. Air Force through jet overflights of Laos. These same overflights, according to Hilsman, had been prohibited by Kennedy, on Harriman’s urging, at a National Security Council meeting. In late October 1963 Pathet Lao Radio began to complain of stepped-up intrusions by U.S. jet aircraft, as well as of a new military offensive by Phoumi’s troops (about which we shall say more later).[64]

            According to Kenneth O’Donnell, President Kennedy had himself (like Galbraith) abandoned hopes for a military solution as early as the spring of 1963. O’Donnell allegedly heard from Kennedy then “that he had made up his mind that after his re-election he would take the risk of unpopularity and make a complete withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam…in 1965.”[65] Whether the President had so unreservedly and so early adopted the Galbraith perspective is debatable; there is, however, no questioning that after the Buddhist crisis in August the prospect of accelerated or total withdrawal was openly contemplated by members of the bureaucracy’s “political” faction, including the President’s brother.

                How profoundly this issue had come to divide “political” and “military” interpreters of Administration policy is indicated by General Krulak’s minutes of a meeting in the State Department on August 31, 1963:

Mr. Kattenburg stated…it was the belief of Ambassador Lodge that, if we undertake to live with this repressive regime… we are going to be thrown out of the country in six months. He stated that at this juncture it would be better for us to make a decision to get out honorably…Secretary Rusk commented that Kattenburg’s recital was largely speculative; that it would be far better for us to start on the firm basis of two things—that we will not pull out of Vietnam until the war is won, and that we will not run a coup. Mr. McNamara expressed agreement with this view. Mr. Rusk…then asked the Vice President if he had any contribution to make. The Vice President stated that he agreed with Secretary Rusk’s conclusions completely; that he had great reservations himself with respect to a coup, particularly so because he had never really seen a genuine alternative to Diem. He stated that from both a practical and a political viewpoint, it would be a disaster to pull out; that we should stop playing cops and robbers and…once again go about winning the war.[66]

            At this meeting (which the President did not attend) the only opposition to this powerful Rusk-McNamara-Johnson consensus was expressed by two more junior State Department officials with OSS and CIA backgrounds: Paul Kattenburg (whom Rusk interrupted at one heated point) and Roger Hilsman. One week later, however, Robert Kennedy, who was the President’s chief troubleshooter in CIA, Vietnam, and counterinsurgency affairs, himself questioned Secretary Rusk’s “firm basis” and entertained the solution which Johnson had called a “disaster”:

The first and fundamental questions, he felt, was what we were doing in Vietnam. As he understood it, we were there to help the people resisting a Communist take-over. The first question was whether a Communist take-over could be successfully resisted with any government. If it could not, now was the time to get out of Vietnam entirely, rather than waiting. If the answer was that it could, but not with a Diem-Nhu government as it was now constituted, we owed it to the people resisting Communism in Vietnam to give Lodge enough sanctions to bring changes that would permit successful resistance.[67]

One way or another, in other words, withdrawal was the key to a “political” solution.

            These reports show Robert Kennedy virtually isolated (save for the support of middle-echelon State officials like Hilsman and Kattenburg) against a strong Rusk-McNamara bureaucratic consensus (supported by Lyndon Johnson). Yet in October and November both points of Mr. Rusk’s “firm basis” were undermined by the White House: unconditional plans for an initial troop withdrawal were announced on November 16 and 20; and the United States, by carefully meditated personnel changes and selective aid cuts, gave signals to dissident generals in Saigon that it would tolerate a coup. The first clear signal was the unusually publicized removal on October 5 of the CIA station chief in Saigon, John Richardson, because of his close identification with Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. And, as Leslie Gelb notes, “In October we cut off aid to Diem in a direct rebuff, giving a green light to the generals.”[68]

            But this brief political trend, publicly announced as late as November 20, was checked and reversed by the new President at his first substantive policy meeting on November 24. As he himself reports,

I told Lodge and the others that I had serious misgivings…Conventional demands for our withdrawal from Vietnam were becoming louder and more insistent. I thought we had been mistaken in our failure to support Diem…I told Lodge that I had not been happy with what I read about our Mission’s operations in Vietnam earlier in the year. There had been too much internal dissension. I wanted him to develop a strong team… In the next few months we sent Lodge a new deputy, a new CIA chief, a new director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) operations, and replacements for other key posts in the U.S. Embassy.[69]

In other words, Richardson’s replacement [presumably David Smith] was himself replaced (by Peer de Silva, an Army Intelligence veteran). Others who were purged included the number two Embassy official, William Trueheart, a former State intelligence officer, and John W. Mecklin, the USIA director: both Trueheart and Mecklin were prominent, along with Kattenburg and Hilsman, in the “get Diem” faction. This purge of the Embassy was accompanied by the replacement, on January 7, 1964, of Paul Kattenburg as Chairman of the Vietnam Inter-Department Working Group, and soon after by the resignation of Robert Hilsman.[70] The State Department’s Foreign Service List failed to reflect the rapidity with which this secret purge was effected.[71]

            Above all NSAM 273 sent a new signal to the confused Saigon generals, to replace the “political” signals of October and November. For the first time (as we shall see) they were told to go ahead with a “graduated” or escalating program of clandestine military operations against North Vietnam.[72] On January 16 these 34A Operations were authorized to begin on February 1. In Saigon as in Washington, a brief interlude of government by politically minded moderates gave way to a new “military” phase. On January 30, Nguyen Khanh ousted the Saigon junta headed by Duong van Minh, on the grounds that some of its members were “paving the way for neutralism and thus selling out the country.”[73] According to the Pentagon Papers Khanh notified his American adviser, Col. Jasper Wilson, of the forthcoming coup; but in a recent interview Khanh has claimed Wilson told him of the American-organized coup less than twenty-four hours in advance.[74]

Lyndon Johnson, like other observers, discounts the novelty of NSAM 273, by referring back to President Kennedy’s firm statements in two TV interviews of early September. In one of these Kennedy had said, “I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw.” In the other, he had argued against any cut in U.S. aid to South Vietnam: “I don’t think we think that would be helpful at this time….You might have a situation which could bring about a collapse.”[75] From these two statements Ralph Stavins has also concluded that “had John F. Kennedy lived, he would not have pulled out of Southeast Asia and would have taken any steps necessary to avoid an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Viet Cong.”[76]

But Kennedy had clearly shifted between early September 1963 (when he had pulled back from encouraging a reluctant Saigon coup) and late November (after he had given the signals for one). The TV interviews soon proved to be poor indicators of his future policy: by mid-October Kennedy was making significant aid cuts, as requested by dissident generals in Saigon, in order to weaken Diem’s position, and above all to remove from Saigon the CIA-trained Special Forces which Diem and Nhu relied on as a private guard.[77] And on October 2 the White House statement had announced that

Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, though there may be a continuing requirement for limited number of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progress ed to the point where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Viet-Nam can be withdrawn.[78]

            This language constituted a personal “judgment” rather than an authorized “plan” (or, as Mr. Gelb calls it, a “public…promise”). The distinction was recognized by the secret McNamara-Taylor memorandum of October 2 which proposed it: McNamara and Taylor, moreover, recommended an announcement as “consistent” with a program whose inspiration was explicitly political:

an application of selective short-term pressures, principally economic, and the conditioning of long-term aid on the satisfactory performance by the Diem government in meeting military and political objectives which in the aggregate equate to the requirements of final victory. [79]

The memo called for the Defense Department “to announce in the very near future presently prepared plans [as opposed to intentions] to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel.” [80] This recommendation was approved by the President on October 5, and incorporated in NSAM 263 of October 11, but with the proviso that “no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.”[81]

Instead the President began to leak the NSAM 263 plans informally. In his press conference of October 31, on the eve of the coup against Diem, the President answered an informed question about “any speedup in the withdrawal from Vietnam” by speculating that “the first contingent would be 250 men who are not involved in what might be called front-line operations.”[82] A fortnight later he was more specific, in the context of a clearly political formulation of U.S. policy objectives:

That is our object, to bring Americans home, permit the South Vietnamese to maintain themselves as a free and independent country, and permit democratic forces within the country to operate….We are going to bring back several hundred before the end of the year. But on the question of the exact number, I thought we would wait until the meeting of November 20th.[83]

The November 20 meeting was an extraordinary all-agency Honolulu Conference of some 45 to 60 senior Administration officials, called in response to the President’s demand for a “full scale review” of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, following the overthrow of Diem.[84] This all-agency Conference, like the follow-up “Special Meeting” of June 1964, is apparently to be distinguished from the regular SecDef Honolulu Conferences, such as the Seventh in May 1963 and the Eighth in March 1964.[85] It was extraordinary in its size and high-level participation (McNamara, Rusk, McCone, McGeorge, Bundy, Lodge, Taylor, Harkins), yet Robert Kennedy, the President’s Vietnam trouble-shooter, did not attend: on November 20 he celebrated his birthday at home in Washington. (The only Cabinet members left in Washington were Attorney General Robert Kennedy, HEW Secretary Celebrezze, and the new Postmaster General John Gronouski. Because of a coincident Cabinet trip to Japan, Dillon of Treasury, Hodges of Commerce, Wirtz of Labor, Freeman of Agriculture, and Udall of the Interior were also in Honolulu during this period.)[86]

            As the President’s questioner of October 31 was apparently aware, the issue was no longer whether 1,000 men would be withdrawn (with a Military Assistance Program reduction in Fiscal 1965 of $27 million), but whether the withdrawal program might not be accelerated by six months, with a corresponding MAP aid reduction of $33 million in Fiscal 1965.[87] Planning for this second “Accelerated Plan” had been stepped up after the October 5 decision which authorized the first.[88] The issue was an urgent one, since the Fiscal 1965 budget would have to be presented to Congress in January.

            The Chronology of Pentagon Paper IV.B.4, on Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, tells us that on November 20, two days before the assassination, the Honolulu Conference secretly “agreed that the Accelerated Plan (speed-up of force withdrawal by six months directed by McNamara in October) should be maintained.”[89] In addition the Honolulu Conference issued a press release which, according to the New York Times, “reaffirmed the United States plan to bring home about 1,000 of its 16,500 troops from South Vietnam by January 1.”[90] Thus the language of NSAM 273 of November 26, by going back to the status quo ante October 5, was itself misleading, as is the careful selection from it in the Pentagon Study. By reverting to the informal “objective” of October 2, NSAM 273(2) tacitly effaced both the formalized plans of NSAM 263 (October 5 and 11) announced on November 20, and also the Accelerated Plan discussed and apparently agreed to on the same day. NSAM 273(6), as reported by the Pentagon Papers, explicitly “maintained both military and economic programs…at levels as high as those…of the Diem regime.”[91]

            Most volumes of the Pentagon Papers attribute the letter and spirit of NSAM 273 to a misplaced military “optimism.”[92] But President Johnson’s memoirs confirm the spirit of urgency and “serious misgivings” which others have attributed to the unscheduled Sunday meeting which approved it.[93] President Kennedy had envisaged no formal meetings on that Sunday: instead he would have met Lodge privately for lunch at his private Virginia estate (or, according to William Manchester, at Camp David).[94] But President Johnson, while still in Dallas on November 22, “felt a national security meeting was essential at the earliest possible moment”; and arranged to have it set up “for that same evening,”[95]

Johnson, it is true, tells us that his “first exposure to the details of the problem of Vietnam came forty-eight hours after I had taken the oath of office,”[96] i.e., Sunday, November 24. But Pentagon Study IV.B.4 and the New York Times make it clear that on Saturday morning, for fifty minutes, the President and McNamara discussed a memorandum of some four or five type-written pages:

In that memo, Mr. McNamara said that the new South Vietnamese government was confronted by serious financial problems, and that the U.S. must be prepared to raise planned MAP levels.[97]

The Chronology adds to this information the statement that “funding well above current MAP plans was envisaged.”[98]

            The true significance of the symbolic 1,000-man withdrawal was as a political signal; and politics explains why NSAM 263 was overridden. As we have seen, another Pentagon Study admits that

The seemingly arbitrary desire to effect the 1,000-man reduction by the end of 1963, apparently was as a signal to influence both the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese and set the stage for possible later steps that would bring the insurgency to an end….[99]

NSAM 273, Paragraph 7: Graduated Covert Military Operations

            All of this suggests that the Pentagon Studies misrepresent NSAM 273 systematically. Although it is of course possible that NSAM 273 had already been censored before it was submitted to some or all of the authors of the Pentagon Papers, it is striking that different studies use different fragments of evidence to arrive (by incompatible narratives) at the same false picture of continuity between November 20 and 24. One study (IV.B.3, p. 37) suggests that these were “no new programs” proposed either at the Honolulu Conference or in NSAM 273, because of the “cautious optimism” on both occasions. Another (IV.C.2.a, pp. 1-2) speaks of a “different…new course of action ” in early 1964—the 34A covert operations—that flowed from a decision “made” at the Honolulu Conference under Kennedy and ratified on November 26 under Johnson:

The covert program was spawned in May of 1963, when the JCS directed CINCPAC to prepare a plan for GVN “hit and run” operations against NVN. These operations were to be “non-attributable” and carried out “with U.S. military material, training and advisory assistance.” Approved by the JCS on 9 September as CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63, the plan was discussed during the Vietnam policy conference at Honolulu, 20 November 1963. Here a decision was made to develop a combined COMUSMACV-CAS, Saigon plan for a 12-month program of covert operations. Instructions forwarded by the JCS on 26 November specifically requested provision for: “(1) harassment; (2) diversion; (3) political pressure; (4) capture of prisoners; (5) physical destruction; (6) acquisition of intelligence; (7) generation of intelligence; and (8) diversion of DRV resources.” Further, that the plan provide for “selected actions of graduated scope and intensity to include commando type coastal raids.” To this guidance was added that given by President Johnson [in NSAM 273(7)] to the effect that “planning should include…estimates of such factors as: (1) resulting damage to NVN; (2) the plausibility of denial; (3) possible NVN retaliation; and (4) other international reaction.” The MACV-CAS plan, designated OPLAN 34A, and providing for “a spectrum of capabilities for RVNAF to execute against NVN, ” was forwarded by CINCPAC on 19 December 1963. The idea of putting direct pressure on North Vietnam met prompt receptivity on the part of President Johnson.

            The density of misrepresentations in this study, and especially this paragraph, suggest conscious deception rather than naïve error. The footnotes have unfortunately been suppressed, so we do not have the citation for the alleged directive of May 1963. The Chronology summarizing this Study gives a clue, however, for it reads “11 May 63# NSAM 52# Authorized CIA-sponsored operations against NVN.”[100] But the true date of NSAM 52, as the author must have known, was May 11, 1961; and indeed he makes a point of contrasting the sporadic CIA operations, authorized in 1961 and largely suspended in 1962, with the 34A “elaborate program” of sustained pressures, under a military command, in three planned “graduated” or escalating phases, which began in February 1964.

            The inclusion in planning of MACV was in keeping with the Kennedy doctrine, enacted after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, that responsibility for “any large paramilitary operation wholly or partly covert… is properly the primary responsibility of the Department of Defense.”[101] Before November 26, 1963, U.S. covert operations in Asia had always (at least in theory) been “secret” and “plausibly deniable”; these were the two criteria set for itself in 1948 by the National Security Council when it first authorized CIA covert operations under its “other functions and duties” clause in the 1947 National Security Act.[102] Throughout 1963 the Kennedy Administration was under considerable pressure, public as well as within its personnel, to go beyond these guidelines, and intervene “frankly” rather than “surreptitiously.” In May 1963 this appeal for escalation was publicly joined by William Henderson, an official of Socony Mobil which had a major economic interest in Southeast Asia, to an appeal to move from a “limited ” to an “unlimited” commitment in that area.[103]

The covert operations planning authorized by NSAM 273 seems to have been the threshold for at least the first of these policy changes, if not both. But both were incompatible with the Kennedy Administration’s last movements toward withdrawal. In May 1963 McNamara had authorized changes in long-range planning “to accomplish a more rapid withdrawal;”[104] and on November 20 in Honolulu, as we have seen, the resulting initial withdrawal of 1,000 men was supplemented by the so-called Accelerated Plan.[105] It is hard to imagine, at either date, the same man or men contemplating a new 34A “elaborate program” of acts which threatened war, to coincide with an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces.[106]

The next sentence of Study IV.C.2.a tells us that CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63 was “approved by the JCS on 9 September”—this “approval” means only that, at the very height of the paralytic stand-off between the “political” and “military” factions, the Joint Chiefs forwarded one more tendentious “military” alternative for consideration by McNamara and above all by the 303 Committee (about whom the author is silent). One Gravel Pentagon Papers Chronology (III:141) notes that, “Apparently, the plan was not forwarded to the White House by SecDef [McNamara].”

The same Pentagon Papers chronology reports that CIA cross-border operations, radically curtailed after the 1962 Geneva Agreements of Laos, were resumed by November 19, 1963, one day before the Honolulu Conference, even though the first Presidential authorization cited for such renewed operations in Johnson’s NSAM 273 of November 26.[107] Kennedy’s NSAM 249 of June 25, 1963, in rejecting State’s proposals for actions against North Vietnam, had authorized planning for operations against Laos conditional on further consultation; and it had urged review [of] whether “additional U.S. actions should be taken in Laos before any action be directed against North Vietnam.”[108]

            Although the overall language of NSAM 249 (which refers to an unpublished memorandum)[109] is obscure, this wording seems to indicate that June 1963 Kennedy had delayed authorization of any action against North Vietnam. Yet North Vietnamese and right-wing U.S. sources agree that in this very month of June 1963 covert operation against North Vietnam were resumed by South Vietnamese commandos; these actions had the approval of General Harkins in Saigon, but not (according to the U.S. sources) of President Kennedy.[110] The same sources further corroborated by the Pentagon Papers, also linked these raids to increased military cooperation between South Vietnam and the Chinese Nationalists, whose own commandos began turning up in North Vietnam in increasing numbers.[111]

            It has also been suggested that KMT influences, and their sympathizers in Thailand and the CIA, were behind the right-wing political assassinations and military offensive which in 1963 led to a resumption of fighting in Laos, “with new American supplies and full U.S. political support.”[112] This autumn 1963 military offensive in Laos coincided with escalation of activities against Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia by the CIA-supported Khmer Serei in South Vietnam. After two infiltrating Khmer Serei agents had been captured and had publicly confessed, Cambodia on November 19 severed all military and economic ties with the United States, and one month later broke off diplomatic relations.[113]

            All of these disturbing events suggest that, in late 1963, covert operations were beginning to escape the political limitations, both internal and international (e.g., the Harriman-Pushkin agreement), established during the course of the Kennedy Administration. During the months of September and October many established newspapers, including the New York Times, began to complain about the CIA’s arrogation of power; and this concern was echoed in Congress by Senator Mansfield.[114] The evidence now published in the Pentagon Papers, including Kennedy’s NSAM 249 of June and the Gravel chronology’s testimony to the resumption of crossborder operations, also suggests that covert operations may have been escalated in defiance of the President’s secret directives.

If this chronology is correct, the Pentagon Study IV.C.2.a’s efforts to show continuity between the Kennedy and Johnson regimes suggest instead that President Kennedy had lost control of covert planning and operations. OPLAN 34-63, which “apparently…was not forwarded to the White House”[115] was discussed during the Vietnam policy conference at Honolulu, 20 November 1963. Here a decision was made to develop a combined COMUSMACV-CAS, Saigon plan for a 12-month program of convert operations.

That NSAM 273’s innovations were hatched at Honolulu is suggested also by the Honolulu press communiqué, which, anticipating NSAM 273(1), spoke of “an encouraging outlook for the principal objective of joint U.S.-Vietnamese policy in South Vietnam.” In Pentagon Study IV.B.4, this anticipatory quotation is completed by language reminiscent of Kennedy’s in early 1961 — “the successful promotion of the war against the Viet Cong communists.”[116] But at the Honolulu press conference, the same key phrase was pointedly (and presciently) glossed by Defense and State spokesman Arthur Sylvester and Robert C. Manning, in a language which Kennedy had never used or authorized, to mean “the successful promotion of the war against the North Vietnam Communists.”[117]

Study IV.C.2.a’s implication that the escalation planning decision was made officially by the Honolulu Conference (rather than at it without Kennedy’s authorization) is hard to reconcile with the other Studies’ references to the Conference’s “optimism” and projections of withdrawal. The author gives no footnote for these crucial sentences; and in contrast to his own Chronology he does not even mention NSAM 273. His next citation is to the JCS directive on November 26 (which, we learn from his own Chronology and Stavins, repeats that of NSAM 273 itself);[118] but this citation clearly begs the question of what official decision, if any was reached on November 20. What is left of interested in the author’s paragraph is the speedy authorization by the infant Johnson Administration, and the personal emphasis added to the new JCS directives by the new President himself.

            NSAM 273, it seems clear, was an important document in the history of the 1964 escalations, as well as in the reversal of President Kennedy’s late and ill-fated program of “Vietnamization” by 1965. The systematic censorship and distortion of NSAM 273 in 1963 and again in 1971, by the Pentagon study and later by the New York Times, raises serious questions about the bona fides of the Pentagon study….It also suggests that the Kennedy assassination was itself an important, perhaps a crucial, event in the history of the Indochina war….


Text of National Security Action Memorandum No. 273 (NSAM 273, as published 1991)

From Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963; Vol. IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963 (Washington: GPO, 1991), 637-40.

National Security Action Memorandum No. 273[119]

                                                Washington, November 26, 1963


The Secretary of State

The Secretary of Defense

The Director of Central Intelligence

The Administrator, AID

The Director, USIA


The President has reviewed the discussions of South Vietnam which occurred in Honolulu, and has discussed the matter further with Ambassador Lodge. He directs that the following guidance be issued to all concerned:

1. It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contribution to this purpose.

2. The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.

3. It is a major interest of the United States Government that the present provisional government of South Vietnam should be assisted in consolidating itself and in holding and developing increased public support. All U.S. officers should conduct themselves with this objective in view.

4. The President expects that all senior officers of the Government will move energetically to insure the full unity of support for established U.S. policy in South Vietnam. Both in Washington and in the field, it is essential that the Government be unified. It is of particular importance that express or implied criticism of officers of other branches be scrupulously a voided in all contacts with the Vietnamese Government and with the press. More specifically, the President approves the following lines of action developed in the discussions of the Honolulu meeting of November 20. The offices of the Government to which central responsibility is assigned are indicated in each case.

5. We should concentrate our own efforts, and insofar as possible we should persuade the Government of South Vietnam to concentrate its efforts, on the critical situation in the Mekong Delta. This concentration should include not only military but political, economic, social, educational and informational effort. We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle but of belief, and we should seek to increase not only the control of hamlets but the productivity of this area, especially where the proceeds can be held for the advantage of anti-Communist forces.

(Action: The whole country team under the direct supervision of the Ambassador.)

6. Programs of military and economic assistance should be maintained at such levels that their magnitude and effectiveness in the eyes of the Vietnamese Government do not fall below the levels sustained by the United States in the time of the Diem Government. This does not exclude arrangements for economy on the MA P account with respect to accounting for ammunition, or any other readjustments which are possible as between MAP and other U.S. defense resources. Special attention should be given to the expansion of the import, distribution, and effective use of fertilizer for the Delta.

(Action: AID and DOD as appropriate.)

7. Planning should include different levels of possible increased activity, and in each instance there should be estimates of such factors as:

A. Resulting damage to North Vietnam;

B. The plausibility of denial;

C. Possible North Vietnamese retaliation;

D. Other international reaction.

Plans should be submitted promptly for approval by higher authority.

(Action: State, DOD, and CIA.)

8. With respect to Laos, a plan should be developed and submitted for approval by higher authority for military operations up to a line up to 50 kilometers inside Laos, together with political plans for minimizing the international hazards of such an enterprise. Since it is agreed that operational responsibility for such undertakings should pass from CAS [CIA] to MACV, this plan should include a redefined method of political guidance for such operations, since their timing and character can have an intimate relation to the fluctuating situation in Laos.

(Action: State, DOD, and CIA.)

9. It was agreed in Honolulu that the situation in Cambodia is of the first importance for South Vietnam, and it is therefore urgent that we should lose no opportunity to exercise a favorable influence upon that country. In particular a plan should be developed using all available evidence and methods of persuasion for showing the Cambodians that the recent charges against us are groundless.

(Action: State.)

10. In connection with paragraphs 7 and 8 above, it is desired that we should develop as strong and persuasive a case as possible to demonstrate to the world the degree to which the Viet Cong is controlled, sustained and supplied from Hanoi, through Laos and other channels. In short, we need a more contemporary version of the Jorden Report, as powerful and complete as possible.

(Action: Department of State with other agencies as necessary.)

Mc George Bundy

[cc:       Mr. Bundy

            Mr. Forrestal

            Mr. Johnson

            NSC File]

[NSAM 273 was declassified in the late 1970s, after a request from a member of the House Committee on Assassinations staff.].

[1] Pentagon Papers (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1972), hereafter cited as USG ed., IV.C.1, pp. ii, 2; Pentagon Papers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), hereafter cited as Gravel ed., III:2, 17.

[2] USG ed., IV.B.5, pp. viii, 67; Gravel ed., II:207, 275-276. Leslie Gelb, Director of the Pentagon Study Task Force and author of the study summaries, himself talks in one study summary of “optimism” (III:2); and in another of “gravity” and “deterioration” (II:207).

[3] USG ed., IV.B.3, pp. 37-38; Gravel ed., II:457-59; emphasis added.

[4] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p viii; Gravel ed., III:117; cf. Pentagon Papers (New York Times/Bantam, 1971), p. 233. Another study on Phased Withdrawal (IV.B.4, p.26; Gravel ed., II:191) apparently quotes directly from a close paraphrase of NSAM 273 (2), not from the document itself. Yet the second page of NSAM 273 was, as we shall see, a vital document in closing off Kennedy’s plans for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

[5] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. ix; Gravel ed., III:117.

[6] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. i; Gravel ed., III:106.

[7] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. 2; Gravel ed., III:150-151; cf. Stavins et al., pp. 93-94.

[8] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. v; Gravel ed., II:163.

[9] NYT, November 16, 1963, p.1; November 21, 1963, pp. 1, 8; Richard P. Stebbins, The United States in World Affairs, 1963 (New York: Harper and Row, for the Council on Foreign Relations, 1964), p. 193: “In a meeting at Honolulu on November 20, the principal U.S. authorities concerned with the war could still detect enough evidence of improvement to justify the repatriation of a certain number of specialized troops.” Jim Bishop (The Day Kennedy Was Shot, New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1968, p. 107) goes further: “They may also have discussed how best to extricate the U.S. from Saigon; in fact it was a probable topic and the President may have asked the military for a timetable of withdrawal.” Cf. USG ed., IV.B.4, p. d; Gravel ed., II:170: “20 Nov. 63… officials agreed that the Accelerated Plan (speed-up of force withdrawal by six months directed by McNamara in October) should be maintained.”

[10] NYT, November 25, 1963, p. 5; Washington Post, November 25, 1963, A2. [FRUS, 1961-63, IV, 637.]

[11] USG ed., IV.C.1, p. ii; Gravel ed., III:2.

[12] [NSAM 273 (6)], USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 3; Gravel ed., III:18. See Postscript.

[13] Rusk, McNamara, Lodge, McGeorge Bundy, and McCone. McCone was not known earlier to have been a participant in the Honolulu Conference, but he is so identified by USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 25 (Gravel ed., II:190). [We now know that the 1000-man McNamara withdrawal plan had been whittled down by General Taylor by November 20. See Newman, JFK and Vietnam, 432-33.]

[14] The only other new face was George Ball.

 [15] USG ed., IV.C.1, pp. 1-3; Gravel ed., III:17-18.

[16] Chester Cooper, The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam (New York: Dodd Mead, 1970), p. 222. Cooper should know, for he was then a White House aide to McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs,. If he is right, then Pentagon study references to an NSC meeting on November 26 (USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 26; Gravel ed., II:191) are wrong—naïve deductions from NSAM 273’s misleading title. [We now know that there was concern about disunity between Lodge and Harkins in the Saigon US Embassy, as well as alleged leaking by Harriman and Hilsman.]

[17] NSAM 273(1), below, p. 237; Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), p. 45. Cf. USG ed., IV.C.1, pp. 46-47. In his version, Johnson replaces “object” with “objective,” the word used more commonly in the Pentagon documents.

[18] Some disgruntled officials told the New York Times that as late as the Honolulu Conference on November 20, two days before the assassination, “there had been a concentration on ‘something besides winning the war’” (NYT, November 25, 1963, p. 5).

[19] NSAM 52 of May 11, 1961, in Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), p. 126.

[20] Rusk-McNamara memorandum of November 11, 1961, in Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), p. 152; Gravel ed., II:113.

[21] McNamara memorandum of November 8, 1961, commenting on Taylor Report of November 3, 1961; Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), pp. 148-149; Gravel ed., II:108-109.

[22] Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), pp. 107, 152; Gravel ed., II: 110, 113, 117.

[23] G. M. Kahin and J. W. Lewis, The United States in Vietnam (New York: Delta, 1967), p. 129; letter in Department of State, Bulletin, January 1, 1962, p. 13; Gravel ed., II:805-806.

[24] Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), p. 148.

[25] NYT, November 25, 1963, pp. 1, 5: “President Johnson reaffirmed today the policy objectives of his predecessor regarding South Vietnam….The adoption of all measures should be determined by their potential contribution to this overriding objective.” [Cf. FRUS, 1961-63, IV, 637 (Bundy).]

[26] In only one study do we find the words “central object” (USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 46; Gravel ed., III:50). In another, the phrase is paraphrased as “purpose” (USG ed., IV.B.5, p. 67; Gravel ed., II:276). In all other studies this sentence is ignored.

[27] USG ed., IV.B.5, p. xxxiv (suppressed); Gravel ed., II:223. Cf. USG ed., IV.B.3, p. 37; Gravel ed., II:457: “that the U.S. reaffirm its commitment.”

[28] McNamara-Taylor Report of October 2, 1963, in Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), p. 213; Gravel ed., II:753.

[29] Gravel ed., II:188.

[30] L.B. Johnson, The Vantage Point, p. 45.

[31] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. viii; Gravel ed., III:117. Compare the inexcusable non sequitur by Leslie Gelb in USG ed., IV.B.3, p. v; Gravel ed., II:412: “If there had been doubt that the limited risk gamble undertaken by Eisenhower had been transformed into an unlimited commitment under Kennedy, that doubt should have been dispelled internally by NSAM 288’s statement of objectives.” NSAM 288 of 17 March 1964 was of course a Vietnam policy statement under Lyndon Johnson, the first after NSAM 273, and a document which dealt specifically with the earlier noted discrepancy between NSAM 273’s “stated objectives ” and the policies it envisaged. As USG ed., IV.C.1 points out (p. 46; Gravel ed., III:50). “NSAM 288, being based on the official recognition of the fact that the situation in Vietnam was considerably worse than had been realized at the time of … NSAM 273, outlined a program that called for considerable enlargement of U.S. effort….In tacit acknowledgment that this greater commitment of prestige called for an enlargement of stated objectives…NSAM 288 escalated the objectives into a defense of all of Southeast Asia and the West Pacific.”

 [32] Taylor Report of November 3, 1961, in Gravel ed., II:96, emphasis added; cf. USG ed., IV.C.2.b, p. 21 (not in Gravel edition).

[33] Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 527; quoted in USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. 2; Gravel ed., III:151.

[34] USG ed., IV.B.5, p. 67; Gravel ed., II:276; cf. W.W. Rostow, “Guerrilla Warfare in Underdeveloped Areas,” in Lt. Col. T.N. Greene, ed., The Guerrilla – and How to Fight Him: Selections from the Marine Corps Gazette (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 59: “We are determined to help destroy this international disease, that is, guerrilla war designed, initiated, supplied, and led from outside an independent nation.”

[35] Ralph Stavins et al., Washington Plans an Aggressive War (New York: Vintage, 1971), p. 70.

[36] Report to Special Group, in Stavins, p. 69. Roger Hilsman (p. 533, cf. p. 529) later revealed that, according to official Pentagon estimates, “fewer infiltrators had come over the trails in 1963 [7,400] than in 1962 [12,400].”

[37] Stavins, pp. 70-71.

[38] This changed attitude towards the facts must have especially affected Roger Hilsman, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, who had just circulated a contrary memorandum inside the government: “We have thus far no reason to believe that the Vietcong have more than a limited need for outside resources” (Hilsman, p. 525). Hilsman was soon ousted and made his opposing case publicly.

[39] Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), p. 242; quoting SNIE 50-64 of February 12, 1964, in USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 4.

[40] See [above], The War Conspiracy, cc. 3, 5, 6.

[41] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. 46; Gravel ed., III:150-51.

[42] [It has since been declassified and is appended below, pp. 346-49.]

[43] Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), pp. 274-275.

[44] U.S. Cong., House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Winning the Cold War: the U.S. Ideological Offensive, Hearings, 88th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Feb. 20, 1964), statement by Robert Manning, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, p. 811.

[45] U.S. Cong., House, Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations for 1965, Hearings, 88th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Washington: G.P.O., 1964), Part IV, p. 12; cf. pp. 103-104, 117-118.

[46] Tom Wicker, JFK and LBJ: The Influence of Personality Upon Politics (New York: William Morrow: 1968), pp. 205-206. Cf. I. F. Stone, New York Review of Books, March 28, 1968, p. 11; Marvin Kalb and Elie Abel, Roots of Involvement (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 153: “Lyndon Johnson, President less than forty-eight hours, had just made a major decision on Vietnam and a worrisome one.” [Cf. FRUS, 1961-63, IV, 635-36.]

[47] JCSM-33-62 of 13 Jan. 1962; Gravel ed., II:663-666.

[48] Memorandum for the President of April 4, 1962; USG ed., V.B.4, pp. 461-462; Gravel ed., II:671, emphasis added.

[49] USG ed., V.B.4, p. 464; Gravel ed., II:671-672.

[50] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. i; Gravel ed., II:160. [We now know that the planning began on May 11, 1962. (Kaiser, American Tragedy, p. 134).]

[51] Ibid.

[52] Arthur Sylvester, the Pentagon press spokesman, reported after a Honolulu Conference in May 1963 the hopes of officials that U.S. forces could be reduced “in one to three years”(NYT, May 8, 1963, p. 10; Cooper, The Lost Crusade, p. 208).

[53] U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Appropriations, Department of Defense Appropriations for 1967, Hearings, 89th Cong. 2nd Sess., Washington: G.P.O., 1966, Part 1, p. 378.

[54] Projected levels in January 1963 from USG ed., IV. B.4, p. 10: Gravel ed., II:179, cf. p. 163 (Gelb). [See Postscript.]

[55] Cooper, The Lost Crusade, p. 207; NYT, April 27, 1963. Cooper also tells us that he “was sent to Vietnam in the spring [of] 1963 to search for the answer to ‘Can we win with Diem?’ The very phrasing of the question implied more anxiety about developments in Vietnam than official statements were currently admitting” (p. 202).

[56] State 272 of August 29, 1963 to Lodge, USG ed., V.B.4, p. 538; Gravel ed., II:738; emphasis added. [Although some saw the threat of withdrawal as a means to pressure Diem, the withdrawal plan was rigorously distinguished from the political program of pressures in both the October 2 McNamara-Taylor Report and the ensuing NSAM 263. See Pentagon Papers, Gravel ed., II:752-53, 769-70.]

[57] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 23; Gravel ed., II:189.

[58] NYT, June 13, 1962, p.3.

[59] Richard P. Stebbins, The United States in World Affairs 1962 (New York: Harper and Row, for the Council on Foreign Relations, 1963), pp. 197-200.

[60] Stebbins [1962], p. 199: “This was not kind of ironclad arrangements on which the United States had been insisting in relation to such matters as disarmament, nuclear testing, or Berlin.”

[61] Cooper, p. 190.

[62] Cooper, p. 189.

[63] Hilsman, pp. 152-53.

[64] FBIS Daily Report, October 24, 1963, PPP3; October 28, 1963, PPP4; October 31, 1963, PPP4. About the same time State Department officials began to refer to “intelligence reports” of increased North Vietnamese activity in Laos, including the movement of trucks; but it is not clear whether these intelligence sources were on the ground or in the air (NYT, October 27, 1963, p. 27; October 30, 1963, p. 1).

[65] Kenneth O’Donnell; “LBJ and the Kennedy’s,” Life (August 7, 1970), p. 51; NYT, August 3, 1970, p. 16. O’Donnell’s claim is corroborated by his correct reference (the first I have noted in print) to the existence of an authorized plan in NSAM 263 of October 11: “The President’s order to reduce the American personnel in Vietnam by 1,000 men before the end of 1963 was still in effect on the day that he went to Texas” (p. 52).

[66] Pentagon Papers (NYT/Bantam), pp. 204-205; USG ed., V.B.4. pp. 541-543; Gravel ed., II:742-743, emphasis added.

[67] Hilsman, p. 501, emphasis added.

[68] USG ed., IV.B.5, p. viii; Gravel ed., II:207. Cf. Chester Cooper, The Lost Crusade (New York: Dodd Mead, 1970), p. 220: “The removal of Nhu’s prime American contact, the curtailment of funds for Nhu’s Special Forces, and, most importantly, the cutting off of import aid must have convinced the generals that they could proceed without fear of subsequent American sanctions.”

[69] Johnson, The Vantage Point, p. 44 [FRUS, 1961-63, IV, 636].

[70] Kattenburg had been named Chairman on August 4, 1963, the same day that Frederick Flott assumed his duties in Saigon. Mecklin’s replacement, Barry Zorthian, assumed duties in Saigon on February 2, 1964.

[71] For the purposes of the April 1964 State Department Foreign Service List de Silva remained attached to Hong Kong, and both Richardson and Flott were still in Saigon. In fact de Silva was functioning as Saigon CAS station chief by February 9 (USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 33). Trueheart did not surface in Washington until May; his replacement, David Nes, officially joined the Saigon Embassy on January 19, but was already in Saigon during the McNamara visit of mid-December 1963 (USG ed., IV.C.8 [alias IV.C.11], p. 59; Gravel ed., III:494.

[72] USG ed., IV. B.5, p. 67.

[73] Franz Schurmann, Peter Dale Scott, Reginald Zelnik, The Politics of Escalation (New York: Fawcett, 1966), p. 26.

[74] USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 35; Gravel ed., III:37; Stern (January 1970).

[75] Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point, p. 61.

[76] Ralph Stavins et al., Washington Plans on Aggressive War, p. 81.

[77] A White House message on September 17 had authorized Lodge to hold up any aid program if this would give him useful leverage in dealing with Diem (CAP Message 63516; USG ed., V.B.4, II, p. 545; Gravel ed., II:743).

[78] Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy: 1963 (Washington: G.P.O., 1964), pp. 759-760; Gravel ed., II:188.

[79] USG ed., V.B.4, Book II, pp. 555-573; Gravel ed., II:766; emphasis added.

[80] Gravel ed., 752.

[81] Loc. cit., p. 578; Gravel ed., II:770.

[82] Public Papers, p. 828.

[83] Press Conference of November 14, 1963; Public Papers, pp. 846, 852.

[84] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 24; Johnson, The Vantage Point, p. 62; NYT, November 21, 1963, p. 8; Weintal and Bartlett, p. 71.

[85] USG ed., IV.B.4, pp. a, e; Gravel ed., II: 166, 171.

[86] William Manchester, The Death of a President: November 20-25, 1963 (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), pp. 101, 158.

[87] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 29; Cf. pp. 14-16; cf. Gravel ed., II:180-192. Another study (USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 15) quotes different figures, but confirms that a reduction in the Fiscal ’65 support level was agreed to at Honolulu.

 [88] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 23.

 [89] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. d; Gravel ed., II:170. The text of the same study corroborates this very unclearly (IV.B.4, p. 25; II:190), but the text is strangely self-contradictory at this point and may even have been editorially tampered with. In comparing Honolulu to NSAM 273, the Study assures us of total continuity: “Universally operative was a desire to avoid change of any kind during the critical interregnum period.” Yet the same Study gives us at least one clear indication of change. McNamara on November 20 “made it clear that he thought the proposed CINCPAC MAP [Military Assistance Program] could be cut back” (p. 25; II:190); yet McNamara on November 23, in a written memorandum to the new President, “said that…the U.S. must be prepared to raise planned MAP levels” (p. 26; II:191; the Chronology adds that “funding well above current MAP plans was envisaged”). The study itself, very circumspectly, calls this “a hint that something might be different” only ten lines after speaking of the “universally operative… desire to avoid change of any kind.”

  What is most striking is that this Study of Phased Withdrawal makes no reference whatsoever to NSAM 273(6), which emphasized that “both military and economic programs…should be maintained at levels as high as those in the time of the Diem regime” (USG ed., IV.C.1, p. 3; Gravel ed., III:18). Yet the Study refers to McNamara’s memorandum of November 23, which apparently inspired this directive. Mr. Gelb’s summary chooses to skip from October 2 to December 21, and is silent about the Accelerated Plan.

[90] NYT, November 21, 1963, p. 8, emphasis added. Cf. USG ed., IV.B.5, p. 67; “An uninformative press release… pointedly reiterated the plan to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops.” I have been unable to locate anywhere the text of the press release.

[91] Pentagon Study IV.C.1, p. 2; Gravel ed., III: 18. Cf. USG ed., IV.C.9.a, p. 2; Gravel ed., II:304. [cf. below, p.237]

[92] USG ed., IV.B.3, p. 37; IV.C.1, p. ii.

[93] Johnson, p. 43; cf. 22: “South Vietnam gave me real cause for concern.” Chester Cooper (The Lost Crusade, New York, Dodd, Mead, 1970) also writes of the “growing concern” and “the worries that were submitted” in this memorandum; cf. I.F. Stone, New York Review of Books, March 28, 1968, p. 11.

[94] Johnson writes that Lodge “had flown to Washington a few days earlier for scheduled conferences with President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and other administration officials” (p. 43). But Rusk, if he had not been turned back by the assassination, would have been in Japan.

[95] Johnson, p. 16.

[96] Johnson, p. 43.

[97] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 26; Gravel ed., II:191; NYT, November 24, 1963, p. 7: “The only word overheard was ‘billions, ’ spoken by McNamara” [Neither Kaiser (288) nor Logevall (77) mentions the November 23 memo or its change of policy.].

[98] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. d; Gravel ed., II:170. A page in another Pentagon study, suppressed from the Government volumes but preserved in the Gravel edition, claims, perhaps mistakenly, that Lodge first met with the President in Washington on Friday, November 22, the day of the assassination itself. Gravel ed., II:223 (suppressed page following USG ed., IV.B.5, p. xxxiii); cf. IV.B.5, p. 67.

[99] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 23; Gravel ed., II:189.

[100] USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. viii; Gravel ed., III:117. [My narrative was wrong to refer the source of this decision to NSAM 52 of May 11, 1961, but also right to draw attention to the falsity of the Pentagon study’s May 1963 Chronology, implying a presidential authority in that month which did not exist. In fact we now know that the Joint Chiefs did approve a “concept for greatly expanded activities” against North Vietnam on May 22, 1963 (Kaiser [202], says May 21); and also this was after a conference with Harriman in the State Department, and an apparent failure to lift State’s “politically-imposed restrictions” on these operations. The source document of 23 May 1963 (NARA #202-10002-10072[CM-601-63 of 23 May 63]) was released into the National Archives by the Assassination Records Review Board.]

[101] NSAM 57 of 1961, in Gravel ed., II:683.

[102] David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government (New York: Bantam, 1964), pp. 99-100.

[103] William Henderson, “Some Reflections on United States Policy in Southeast Asia,” in William Henderson, ed., Southeast Asia: Problems of United States Policy (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1963), p. 263; cf. pp. 253-254: “We shall ultimately fail to secure the basic objectives of policy in Southeast Asia until our commitment to the region becomes unlimited, which it has not been up till now. This does not mean simply that we must be prepared to fight for Southeast Asia, if necessary, although it certainly means that at a minimum. Beyond this is involved a much greater commitment of our resources….”

[For a more extended analysis of this lobbying, cf. Peter Dale Scott, “The Vietnam War and the CIA-Financial Establishment,” in Mark Selden, ed., Remaking Asia: Essays on the American Uses of Power (New York: Pantheon, 1974, pp. 125-30).]

[104] USG ed., IV.B.4, p. 12.

[105] USG ed., IV.B.4, pp. 25, d.

[106] [I was wrong. The published record now shows quite clearly that since mid-1963 McNamara had espoused both withdrawal and expansion of the war.]

[107] Gravel ed., III:141; Stavins, p. 93.

[108] USG ed., V.B.4, p. 525; Gravel ed., II:726.

[109] [The memorandum can now be found in FRUS, 1961-63, XXIV, 477ss. It is well summarized in Kaiser, American Tragedy, 211-12.]

[110] Robert S. Allen and Paul Scott, “Diem’s War Not Limited Enough,” Peoria Journal-Star, September 18, 1963, reprinted in Congressional Record, October 1, 1963, p. A6155: “Since Diem—under a plan prepared by his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu—began sending guerrillas into North Vietnam in June, powerful forces within the administration have clamored for the President to curb the strong anti-Communist leader….General Paul D. Harkins, head of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Saigon, who favors the initiative by Diem’s forces, violently disagreed …but President Kennedy accepted the diplomatic rather than the military view.” Cf. Radio Hanoi, FBIS Daily Report, October 22, 1963, JJJ 13; April 8, 1964, JJJ4.

[111] Allen and Scott, loc cit.: “Diem also notified the White House that he was opening talks with a representative of Chiang Kai-shek on his offer to send Chinese Nationalist troops to South Vietnam from Formosa for both training and combat purposes. This… so infuriated President Kennedy that he authorized an undercover effort to curb control of military operations of the South Vietnam President by ousting Nhu…and to organize a military junta to run the war”; Hanoi Radio, November 10, 1963 (FBIS Daily Report, November 14, 1963, JJJ2: “The 47 U.S. Chiang commandos captured in Hai Ninh declared that before intruding into the DRV to seek their way into China, they had been sent to South Vietnam and received assistance from the Ngo Dinh Diem authorities,” Cf. USG ed., IV.c.9.b, p. vii (censored): Gravel ed., II:289-290: “GVN taste for foreign adventure showed up in small, irritating ways….In 1967, we discovered that GVN had brought in Chinese Nationalists disguised as Nungs, to engage in operations in Laos.” Hilsman (p. 461) relates that in January 1963 Nhu discussed with him “a strategy” to defeat world Communism for once and for all—by having the United States lure Communist China into a war in Laos, which was ‘an ideal theater and battleground.’” Bernard Fall confirmed that in Washington, also, one faction believed “that the Vietnam affair could be transformed into a ‘golden opportunity’ to ‘solve’ the Red Chinese problem as well” (Vietnam Witness 1953-1966 [New York: Praeger, 1966], p. 103; cf. Hilsman, p. 311; Scott, The War Conspiracy, pp. 21-23, 208).

[112] D. Gareth Porter, in Nina S. Adams and Alfred W. McCoy, eds., Laos: War and Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), p. 198. An Air America plane shot down in September 1963 carried an American pilot along with both Thai and KMT troops, like so many other Air America planes in this period. The political assassinations of April 1963, which led to a resumption of fighting, have been frequently attributed to a CIA-trained assassination team recruited by Vientiane Security Chief Siho Lamphoutacoul, who was half Chinese (see above, pp. 113-16). After Siho’s coup of April 19, 1964, which ended Laotian neutralism and led rapidly to the U.S. air war, the New York Times noted of Siho that “In 1963 he attended the general staff training school in Taiwan and came under the influence of the son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, General Chiang Ching-kuo, who had learned secret police methods in Moscow and was the director of the Chinese Nationalist security services” (NYT, April 27, 1964, p. 4).

[113] NYT, November 20, 1963, p. 1: The two prisoners “said they had conducted activities against the Cambodian Government in a fortified hamlet in neighboring South Vietnam under control of U.S. military advisers. They said Radio Free Cambodia transmitters had been set up in such villages. One prisoner said he had been supplied with a transmitter by U.S officials.” [For U.S. corroboration of CIA involvement in Khmer Serei operations, cf. above, pp. 232-33. What we now know exposes the cynicism of NSAM 273(9) concerning Cambodia (the only section not mentioned in the Pentagon Papers): “In particular a plan should be developed using all available evidence and methods of persuasion for showing the Cambodians that the recent charges against us are groundless.”]

[114] A New York Times editorial (October 6, 1963, IV, 8) noting “long-voiced charges that our intelligence organization too often tends to ‘make’ policy,” added that “there is an inevitable tendency for some of its personnel to assume the function of kingmakers,” in answers to its question “Is the Central Intelligence Agency becoming a state within a state?” Cf. Washington Daily News, October 2, 1963, reprinted in Congressional Record, October 1963, p. 18602: “If the United States ever experiences a ‘Seven Days in May’ it will come from the CIA, and not the Pentagon, one U.S. official commented caustically…People…are beginning to fear the CIA is becoming a third force, coequal with President Diem’s regime and the U.S. government and answerable to neither.”

[115] Gravel ed., III: 141.

[116] USG ed., IV. B.4, p. 25; Gravel ed., II:190.

[117] Washington Post, November 21, 1963, A 19; San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 1963, p. 13; emphasis added.

[118] Stavins et al., pp. 93-94; cf. USG ed., IV.C.2.a, p. viii: “NSAM 273 Authorized planning for specific covert operations, graduated in intensity, against the DRV.”

[119] The FRUS editors have this note: “Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSAM’s Top Secret. NSAM 273 grew out of the discussion at the November 20 Honolulu Conference. McGeorge Bundy wrote the first draft and sent copies to Hilsman and William Bundy, asking for their opinions. In fact, Bundy’s draft was almost identical to the final paper. The major exception was paragraph 7 of the Bundy draft which reads as follows: `7. With respect to action against North Vietnam, there should be a detailed plan for the development of additional Government of Vietnam resources, especially for sea-going activity, and such planning should indicate the time and investment necessary to achieve a wholly new level of effectiveness in this field of action. (Action: DOD and CIA)’ (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous).”