D.C., December 23, 2008
- Amidst a massive bombing campaign over North Vietnam, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon candidly shared their evident satisfaction at the “shock treatment” of American B 52s, according to a declassified transcript of their telephone conversation published for the first time today by the National Security Archive. “They dropped a million pounds of bombs,” Kissinger briefed Nixon. “A million pounds of bombs,” Nixon exclaimed. “Goddamn, that must have been a good strike.” The conversation, secretly recorded by both Kissinger and Nixon without the other’s knowledge, reveals that the President and his national security advisor shared a belief in 1972 that the war could still be won. “That shock treatment [is] cracking them,” Nixon declared. “I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.” Kissinger optimistically predicted that, if the South Vietnamese government didn’t collapse, the U.S. would eventually prevail: “I mean if as a country we keep our nerves, we are going to make it.”
The transcript of the April 15, 1972, phone conversation is one of over 15,500 documents in a unique, comprehensively-indexed set of the telephone conversations (telcons) of Henry A. Kissinger—perhaps the most famous and controversial U.S. official of the second half of the 20th century. Unbeknownst to the rest of the U.S. government, Kissinger secretly taped his incoming and outgoing phone conversations and had his secretary transcribe them. After destroying the tapes, Kissinger took the transcripts with him when he left office in January 1977, claiming they were “private papers.” In 2001, the National Security Archive initiated legal proceedings to force the government to recover the telcons, and used the freedom of information act to obtain the declassification of most of them. After a three year project to catalogue and index the transcripts, which total over 30,000 pages, this on-line collection was published by the Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest) this week.
Kissinger never intended these papers to be made public, according to William Burr, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, who edited the collection, Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977. “Kissinger’s conversations with the most influential personalities of the world rank right up there with the Nixon tapes as the most candid, revealing and valuable trove of records on the exercise of executive power in Washington,” Burr stated. For reporters, scholars, and students, Burr noted, “Kissinger created a gift to history that will be a tremendous primary source for generations to come.” He called on the State Department to declassify over 800 additional telcons that it continues to withhold on the grounds of executive privilege.
The documents shed light on every aspect of Nixon-Ford diplomacy, including U.S.-Soviet détente, the wars in Southeast Asia, the 1969 Biafra crisis, the 1971 South Asian crisis, the October 1973 Middle East War, and the 1974 Cyprus Crisis, among many other developments. Kissinger’s dozens of interlocutors include political and policy figures, such as Presidents Nixon and Ford, Secretary of State William Rogers, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Robert S. McNamara, and Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin; journalists and publishers, such as Ted Koppel, James Reston, and Katherine Graham; and such show business friends as Frank Sinatra. Besides the telcons, the Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977 includes audio tape of Kissinger’s telephone conversations with Richard Nixon that were recorded automatically by the secret White House taping system, some of which Kissinger’s aides were unable to transcribe.
A series of unforgettable moments are captured in the transcripts, not least involving Kissinger’s complex and difficult relationship with Richard Nixon. Repeatedly, the national security adviser used his skills in flattery and connivance to help build up the president’s image and stay in his good graces. During the Jordan crisis in September 1970, Kissinger told the media that he had awakened the President to brief him on King Hussein’s military actions against Palestinian guerillas. But a transcript of his call to the President the next day recorded him as informing Nixon: “in light of the fact that there was nothing you could do, we thought it best not to waken you.”
The telcons also illustrate other Kissinger’s efforts to spin the media, monitor and control the process of decision-making, disparage rivals, keep important associates, such as his patron Nelson Rockefeller, in the loop, and win over critics:
- After Gerald Ford shuffled his cabinet in November 1975, removing Kissinger as national security adviser and shifting Donald Rumsfeld from his chief-of-staff position to be Secretary of Defense, Kissinger spoke to Secretary of the Treasury William Simon. “The guy who cut me up inside this building isn’t going to cut me up any less in Defense,” he noted.
- In an August 13, 1974, conversation with Elliott Richardson after Nixon resigned, Kissinger disparaged George H.W. Bush as a candidate to replace Gerald Ford as Vice President. “I am not as high on George Bush, as some others are, partly because of his lack of experience.”
- In a conversation with President Nixon on the illegal wiretap scandal in June 1973, Nixon threatened to go to political war with Democrats if they pressed the issue. “Lets get away from the bullshit,” Nixon stated angrily. “Bobby Kennedy was the greatest tapper.” The President even suspected his own phone had been wiretapped in the early 1960s. “[J.Edgar Hoover] said Bobby Kennedy had [the FBI] tapping everybody. I think that even I’m on that list,” President Nixon told Kissinger. When Nixon noted that the wiretap scandal would “catch some of your friends,” Kissinger responded: “Well, I wouldn’t be a bit unhappy.”
- In a bizarre conversation with anti-war activist/poet Alan Ginsburg on April 23, 1971, Kissinger discussed meeting with ardent opponents of the Nixon administration. Ginsburg suggested the meeting, joking that “It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television. “I gather you don’t know how to get out of the war,” Ginsburg is recorded as stating. “I thought we did,” Kissinger responded, “but we are always interested in hearing other views.”
In the April 15, 1972, conversation about bombing North Vietnam, Nixon recalled that bombing had failed to defeat Ho Chi Mhin’s forces in the past.
Nixon: “Of course, you want to remember that Johnson bombed them for years and it didn’t do any good.”
Kissinger: But Mr. President, Johnson never had a strategy; he was sort of picking away at them. He would go in with 50 planes; 20 planes; I bet you we will have had more planes over there in one day than Johnson had in a month.
The Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts
Today the National Security Archive announces the publication of a comprehensively unique, thoroughly-indexed set of the telephone conversation (telcon) transcripts of Henry A. Kissinger, one of the most famous and controversial U.S. diplomats of the second half of the 20th century. Consisting of 15,502 documents and over 30,000 pages, this on-line collection, published by the Digital National Security Archive (ProQuest), is the result of a protracted effort by the National Security Archive to secure this critically important record of U.S. diplomacy during the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, when Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. Collectively, the documents include the telcons released at the Nixon Presidential Library as well as those declassified by the State Department as a result of the Archive’s Freedom of Information Act request. The set sheds light on every aspect of Nixon-Ford diplomacy, including U.S.-Soviet détente, the wars in Southeast Asia, the 1971 South Asia crisis, and the October 1973 Middle East War, among many other developments. Kissinger’s many interlocutors include political and policy figures, such as Presidents Nixon and Ford, Secretary of State William Rogers, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin; journalists and publishers, such as Ted Koppel, James Reston, and Katherine Graham; and such show business friends as Frank Sinatra.
Besides the paper records of Kissinger’s telcons, the Archive’s publication includes unique audio material from the Nixon White House tapes. Apparently the tapes used by Kissinger’s staff to prepare the telcons no longer exist. While Nixon and White House staffers eventually learned that this was Kissinger’s practice, no one except Nixon and a few aides realized until the summer of 1973 that Nixon was secretly taping his phone conversations as well as meetings with Kissinger and other officials. Thus, audio and paper records exist for some of the same conversations. Moreover, some of Nixon’s White House tapes are the only source for some Nixon-Kissinger telephone conversations. As a special feature in this collection, the Archive includes as many of the audios of Nixon-Kissinger telephone conversations as possible.
That these documents are available in the first place is the result of the protracted efforts of the National Security Archive. Once Henry Kissinger left the State Department in early 1977, he transferred the telcons and other material to the Library of Congress as “private papers.” Soon journalists had tried to force the release of the telcons through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, but the Supreme Court ruled that they had no standing to sue. There the matter lay until 1999 when the National Security Archive wrote to the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) questioning whether Kissinger had the right to keep these documents, which were public records produced by White House and State Department staffers. The National Security Archive had the option of filing a law suit to ensure that these agencies observed federal records laws, but neither the State Department nor NARA were interested in litigation; instead, they asked Kissinger to return the records. He complied by returning sets of copies to those agencies in 2002. Two years later, the Nixon Presidential Materials Project (now the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum) opened for research the telcons covering the January 1969-August 8, 1974 period. The State Department kept a slightly overlapping set covering the period September 1973 through December 1976, when Kissinger was Secretary of State.
While most of the telcons from the Nixon years were available at the National Archives, significant numbers were still classified and the National Security Archive has begun filing mandatory review requests for them. For the telcons held by the State Department, it took a Freedom of Information Act request, filed in by the National Security Archive in 2001, to begin opening them up. From 2002 to 2008, the Department declassified or released in excised form over 6,000 telcons. A number of telcons were denied, in whole or in part, on privacy or national security grounds; while some were released under appeal, some material remains unavailable. Moreover, in a June 2007 decision, the State Department withheld over 800 telcons, many of them conversations with the late Gerald R. Ford. Those telcons are under appeal.
The State Department’s decision to withhold over 800 telcons is extraordinary. The Department’s decision letter invoked the (b) (5) exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, which federal agencies interpret to permit the exemption of “inter-agency or intra-agency communications containing deliberative process, attorney-client, attorney work product information or privileged presidential communications.” That the Department used (b) (5) exemption and the claim of “privileged presidential communications” to exempt thirty year old documents may make this one of the biggest abuses of (b) (5) and privilege claims the history of the FOIA. As federal courts have ruled, such privileges erode over time, and as time passes the public interest in open historical records has far greater weight. In the soon-to-depart Bush administration, such considerations have little influence and it is no surprise that the hands of the White House are behind the executive privilege claims. Henry Kissinger has been an adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney and, according to government sources, he influenced the declassification review process to ensure that his telephone discussions with President Ford remain classified for as long as possible.
A. Selected Telcons with Audio Versions from Nixon’s White House Tapes
Document 1: “How Do I know You are Not Stealing Papers All over the Place”
With President Nixon, June 17, 1971, 7:40 P.M. (Conversation 005-117 - MP3)
The ongoing publication by The New York Times and the imminent publication by The Washington Post of the “Pentagon Papers” (officially titled, United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense), leaked by RAND Corporation staffers Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, created a crisis in the Nixon administration. As this telcon suggest, Nixon wanted to deflect any controversy over the war to his predecessors by getting former President Johnson and his national security adviser Walt Rostow to make statements about the leak. The typed telcon conveys the thrust of the conversation, but one hearing of the very clear White House audiotape shows that Kissinger’s aides missed quite a few details. Like many, this telcon is not close to verbatim. For example, on page 2 of the document it is evident that the transcriber did not hear that Kissinger said, to the effect that “These people are undermining confidence in government. You [Nixon] are resisting the flouting of law and the idea that the end justifies the means.” Moreover, Kissinger recounts his conversation with Time magazine correspondent Jerrold Schechter, who, allegedly said, “how do I know you are not doing the same thing?” with respect to Vietnam. Kissinger told Nixon that he replied: “how do I know you are not stealing documents all over the place.” Worried about the impact of the publication of the top secret study of Vietnam War decision-making, Nixon wanted legal action against those newspapers but the Supreme Court rejected the Justice Department request for an injunction against the Times and the Post.
Document 2: “We Can Bomb the Bejesus Out of Them”
With President Nixon, 15 April 1972, 11:30 P.M. (Conversation 022-131)
In the weeks after North Vietnam’s 1972 Spring Offensive, Nixon and Kissinger ordered heavier bombing of the North, although withholding attacks on Hanoi or mining Haiphong Harbor, two actions which they held out for the next decision to escalate. This conversation, which took place when Kissinger was at home, was fully recorded on the White House tape system, but apparently Kissinger’s tape player did not begin recording it for transcription purposes until about 10 and a half minutes into the conversation. The Nixon tape, which is at a low volume and not easy to follow, begins with a discussion of diplomatic strategy, including Kissinger’s talks with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that day (which are reported in detail in the State Department historical volume, Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years). (Note 1) In light of Hanoi’s decision to postpone private talks with Kissinger scheduled for 24 April), Kissinger told Dobrynin that “such behavior by Hanoi [was] clear evidence of an unwillingness to conduct serious negotiation and as reflecting a basic desire of the North Vietnamese ‘to bring down a second American president.’” While the White House was willing to hold back on attacks on Hanoi or Haiphong, Nixon believed that such threats were a “hold card” in the negotiations: “It either got to be [a] settlement or we blockade.” Besides discussing details of military strategy, which is accurately recorded in the telcon (at least the discussion in the second half of the conversation), they discussed the schedule of Kissinger’s forthcoming secret trip to Moscow, which was to occur in a few days.
Document 3: “The Fellow Has got to be Out of His Mind After the Letter That I Wrote”
With President Nixon, 18 November 1972, 12:18 P.M. (Conversation 033-092 - MP3)
With the Vietnam War peace negotiations in their end-game, the Nixon administration was baffled by problems with its South Vietnamese ally, President Nguyen Van Thieu. As listening to the audio confirms, this telcon is a highly accurate rendition of the conversation. Furious with the draft peace agreement that Kissinger had negotiated with North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho, Thieu and his advisers kept suggesting changes to favor Saigon’s position. Having already written Thieu to the effect that the “bargaining [was] over,” Nixon suggested that Thieu “has got to be out of his mind” to keep pushing for changes. Nixon insisted that “we will not be subjected to harassment” and rejected the idea of a South Vietnamese emissary coming to Washington; as it turned out, however, the harassment continued and South Vietnamese diplomats were in the Oval Office within a few weeks. The most difficult point, and one on which Nixon and Kissinger refused to give ground, was Thieu’s insistence that North Vietnamese forces leave the South at the same that U.S. forces exited South Vietnam. As Nixon observed during this conversation, “withdrawal has to be handled on the basis that we already suggested.” That the North would keep its forces in pockets of South Vietnam was a condition for the January 1973 Paris Peace Agreement, but one which could only raise doubts about the Saigon regime’s future. Listening to the audio confirms that this telcon is a highly accurate rendition of the conversation.
B. Selected Telcons
I. The White House Years: As National Security Adviser
Document 1: “You Can’t Write History After You’ve Seen a Thing Like That”
With Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, U. Alexis Johnson, 19 January 1970 10:40 a.m.
One of the most complex negotiations during the first year of the Nixon negotiations involved a textiles agreement that was linked to the U.S. reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Under pressure from southern states to protect the textile industry from Japanese competition, Nixon and Kissinger found it difficult to get Tokyo to follow through on an understanding that they believed had been reached with Japanese Prime Minister Sato during his November 1969 visit. While they thought that Sato had agreed to a “comprehensive” solution to be reached by the end of December, the Prime Minister did not have the same understanding. This telcon with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson (himself a former ambassador to Japan) conveys some of the confusion caused by the fact that key Japanese officials as well as U.S. ambassador Armin Meyer did not know about the secret Nixon-Sato understanding (“piece of paper”). At the end of the conversation, Kissinger observed that “you can’t write history after you’ve seen a thing like that. Documents have nothing to do with it.”
Document 2: “Some of the Stories Are Awful … I Don’t Think the Public Likes It”
With President Nixon, 17 March 1970 8:07 p.m.
The collection of Kissinger telcons at the Nixon Library is comprehensive, but not complete. A number of telcons have surfaced in other collections, not only elsewhere in the Nixon Papers but in State Department collections as well. This is an example of a telcon that is not in the Kissinger telcon collection but was found in a file on “Israeli Aid” that shows up in the National Security Council files. During this conversation, after a brief discussion of U.S. military aid to Israel (assurances of up to 8 Phantoms and 20 Skyhawk jets), and before turning to the bombing of Laos, Nixon and Kissinger discuss the My Lai investigation led by Army General William Peers. Although Nixon insisted that the cover-up “was in the interests of the country,” Kissinger was less confident that this was so and more disturbed by the brutality of the incident: “some of the stories are awful.” Nixon, however, had no doubt: “We know why it was done. These boys were being killed by women carrying that stuff in their satchels.”
Document 3: “Knock the Bejesus Out of Them”
With President Nixon, 17 September 1970, 9:00 a.m., Excised copy
This telcon of Nixon-Kissinger discussion during the September 1970 Jordanian crisis was declassified as a result of the Archive’s mandatory review request. (Note 2) On the morning of 17 September, Nixon was in Chicago for mid-term electioneering and Kissinger called him to report that Hussein had initiated military actions against the fedayeen. The New York Times later reported that Kissinger and Haldeman had woken Nixon up in the middle of the night to tell him the news, but as Kissinger acknowledged to Nixon, they made that up, apparently to dramatize Nixon’s role. (Note 3) When Kissinger described Hussein’s actions as a “crisis,” Nixon said “a crisis that’s good,” no doubt because he found it useful politically. Mentioning that Hussein had already consulted with the United States before his move, Nixon queried whether the “move is a result of our encouraging him.” Kissinger did not give an unequivocal answer, but said that Washington had been trying to “stiffen his back.” Both turned to the problem and possibility of Syrian and Iraqi intervention (Nixon mistakenly referred to “Iranians”) to support the fedayeen. If that happened, Nixon wanted to “use American air and knock the bejesus out of them.” While Kissinger agreed, he observed there “are strong arguments on both sides.” Moreover, he pointed to an intelligence problem; U.S. intelligence was trying to “acquire the targets,” but “we’ve got to know where to hit.” While Nixon thought that a “landing team” might be necessary to evacuate U.S. nationals, it would be “another thing” if the Marines started fighting because of the risk of Soviet intervention.
Document 4: “If You See Helms, Ask Him if he has Begun Meditating Yet.”
With Allen Ginsberg, 23 April 1971 7:50 p.m.
Not long before the “May Day” anti-war demonstrations in Washington, poet Allen Ginsberg called up Kissinger to arrange a meeting with Rennie Davis (one of the “May Day Tribe” leaders), David Dellinger, and Ralph Abernathy. While Kissinger appeared to be willing to go along with the idea of a private meeting, Ginsberg joked about having a discussion “naked on television.” In any event, once it was clear that Ginsberg wanted a meeting at the beginning of the May Day demonstrations, Kissinger was not sure that he would be in town. Kissinger ended the conversation by agreeing to call Senator Eugene McCarthy, who, according to Ginsberg, had suggested the call.
Document 5: “We Have to Be a Little Unprincipled Ourselves”
With White House Counsel Charles Colson, 13 July 1972 9:22 a.m.
This document illustrates the role of Nixon “hatchet man” and White House counsel Chuck Colson, later indicted for the Watergate burglary cover-up, during the 1972 campaign. After a brief discussion of the efforts of some Teamsters officials to get a pardon for former president Jimmy Hoffa, so he could go to Hanoi and negotiate the release of POWs there, Colson discussed his efforts to get support for the Nixon campaign from the Teamster’s union, and its president, Frank Fitzsimmons. To win support from local and union officials for a Nixon endorsement, apparently Fitzsimmons used intimidation tactics, such as threats of “early retirement” against vice president Harold Gibbons, who had been on Nixon’s enemies list for his role as a founder of Labor for Peace. When discussing the McGovern campaign organizations, Colson and Kissinger observed that they’re “shrewd” and “unprincipled,” which led Colson to conclude that “That just means we have to be a little unprincipled ourselves.”
Document 6: “There is No Stunt Involved”
With John Kenneth Galbraith, 22 August 1972 12:10 p.m
Another conversation (and an incomplete one at that) that did not appear in the main Kissinger telcon collection, this one with Harvard economics professor “Ken” (“Stan” was a stenographer’s error) Galbraith also took place during the 1972 campaign. After some friendly chatter, Kissinger turned to political attacks on him from the Democratic campaign. While noting that the attacks actually helped his position in the White House, he argued that his talks with Hanoi to end the war were not a “stunt,” even if it “will help the president if it succeeds,” but was a “serious negotiation.” After the election, Kissinger wanted to do his “damndest to leave the bridges open to the liberal community as I have done before and it’s not going to help me very much if I become the chief [villain]. … I [,] the guy who has been the only one who has had intellectuals and liberals in here.” While the record of the rest of the conversation appears not to have survived, perhaps Kissinger was suggesting that the “bridges” might not stay open if the liberals kept attacking him. In any event, Kissinger came to be regarded as a “villain” for decisions and actions (e.g., the “Christmas bombing,” East Timor and Chile) that he may have found justifiable, but that others found objectionable.
Document 7: “Now the Biggest [Wire] Tapper Was Bobby Kennedy”
With President Nixon, 1 June 1973 7:00 p.m.
With the Watergate Crisis unfolding, Nixon’s position was precarious; the Senate Watergate Committee was starting to hold its hearings, although it would be some weeks before the discovery of the White House tapes. But Watergate was not the only scandal afflicting the White House; days earlier, it was reported that in 1969 the Nixon White House had authorized the FBI to wiretap a number of NSC and Defense Department officials who were suspected of leaking information to The New York Times. Kissinger was closely associated with the decision (and later issued an apology for the wiretaps as a condition for settling Morton Halperin’s lawsuit against him). Outraged by former National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy’s apparent claim that Attorney General Robert Kennedy did not use wiretaps, Nixon argued that wiretapping in the Kennedy administration dwarfed anything done in his administration (240 compared to 110). Moreover, to confound Kissinger’s “liberal friends,” Nixon wanted the numbers put out immediately (evidently this was not done). During a brief discussion of coverage of the meeting with French president Pompidou held in Iceland, the day before, Nixon angrily denounced press coverage of the administration.
II. As Secretary of State and National Security Adviser
Document 8: “We Are Going to … Def Con Three Alert”
With British Ambassador Lord Cromer, 25 October 1973, 1:03 a.m.
One of the moments of crisis during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War was after Israeli forces crossed the west bank of the Suez Canal and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. Moscow’s concern for the fate of its Egyptian client led General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, on 24 October, to send a letter to President Nixon raising the possibility of Soviet unilateral action to support Egypt. (Note 4) In light of Brezhnev’s letter, and the perception of threat, Kissinger and the National Security Council had a late night meeting where they agreed to put U.S. military forces world-wide on a higher state of alert, Defcon 3, but not so high as to raise concern in Moscow about U.S. military action. Nixon was not directly involved in the NSC meeting as he was distressed over Watergate developments as well as Vice President Agnew’s recent resignation (over corruption charges). Soon after making the meeting, Kissinger phoned up British ambassador Cromer to inform him of the alert and the considerations that led to it. That the British and European NATO allies were skeptical of the alert and questioned the lack of consultation before Washington made the decision contributed to tensions in U.S-European relations during the final months of 1973.
Document 9: “So – you don’t like those paintings?”
With White House Special Counsel Leonard Garment, 27 December 1973, 10:59, p.m.
Kissinger had been Secretary of State for only a month when the October War broke out in the Middle East. From then on, Kissinger was intensely involved in negotiations to reduce tensions in the region. On 27 December 1973, Kissinger had met with a group of Jewish community leaders to discuss the Middle East crisis and the ongoing negotiations. One of the attendees was White House special counsel Garment, who played an important liaison role in the Nixon White House. Garment made critical comments on the abstract painting that he had seen in Kissinger’s office and suggested that he replace it with some nice Bonnards and impressionist pieces. Garment argued that Kissinger was “a classical man with a classical style” and that abstraction was “symptomatic of the decline and fall of everything.” Although Kissinger was known to worry about the decline of American power, Garment’s claim about the art did not bother him; “I happen to like it.”
Document 10: Diego Garcia
With Deputy Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rush, 24 January 1974, 9:28 a.m.
During the early 1970s, London and Washington negotiated the turnover to the latter of Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The controversial move involved the dispossession of the archipelago’s 1700 inhabitants, but the United States sought Diego Garcia for military operations in the region, initially for naval communications (e.g., with submarines operating in the Indian Ocean). During the 1990s and earlier this century it also became an air base for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Allegations have also been made that the island has become integral to the ferrying of detainees captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This was all in the future, but in the 1974 negotiations, Washington wanted “uninhibited” use of the island, while the British wanted to retain some appearance of control. Kissinger and Rush agreed that the United States would have to agree to “innocuous” language about consultation.
Document 11: Massacre in Israel
With British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan, 13 April 1974, 4:10 p.m., Excised copy
Kissinger developed a close working relationship with James Callaghan, who had become Foreign Secretary when the Labor Party formed a government a month earlier. The present release includes a number of telcons with Callaghan and Ambassador Peter Rambsbottham on Cyprus and Greece, among other issues. Communication problems bedevil this conversation leading Callaghan to propose that U.S. and British officials listening in on the conversation put down their receiver in order to strengthen the trans-Atlantic signal. At this suggestion, Kissinger laughed--because he was going to do no such thing. A good part of the discussion was on coordinating positions on recent developments in Israel: Palestinian guerrillas had attacked Israeli civilians, near the border with Lebanon, to which the Israelis responded with a raid in several Lebanese villages.
Document 12: “I Can Always Count on You Being Filthy”
With Foreign Secretary Callaghan, 22 July 1974, 11:25 a.m.
Kissinger and Callaghan continued to have problems with trans-Atlantic calls but US-UK communications increased during the unfolding Cyprus crisis. Wanting to avoid antagonizing the Greek junta which had sponsored the 18 July 1974 coup against Archbishop Makarios, Kissinger opposed putting any pressure on them. As he had explained to his State Department “Cyprus group”, “To attempt to overthrow the Greek Government to satisfy our souls and bring Makarios back is a high price to pay.” (Note 5) Turkey invaded Cyprus on 20 July and two days later, the day the Greek military dictatorship fell, on 22 July, Callaghan and Kissinger discussed developments. Both agreed that Nicos Sampson, the gunman whom the Greek junta had installed to rule the island, had to go, because of his role in provoking the Turkish invasion, but the junta’s collapse quickly put Sampson out of power. Thus, the banter about Kissinger being “filthy” to Sampson was irrelevant. Plainly Callaghan and Kissinger had different takes on the situation, with Callaghan stating that Archbishop Makarios, the deposed President, was the “legitimate President,” while Kissinger took a “noncommittal” stance. Kissinger wanted freedom of action on the Cyprus problem and did not want to support Makarios, whom he had seen as too independent. While the conversation was affable, Kissinger later declared that “Basically Callaghan screwed up all along” by not pressing the Greeks to be a more forthcoming toward Turkey. (Note 6)
Document 13: “Inordinately Painful”
With Federal Reserve Board Chairman Arthur Burns, 10 August 1974, 2:33 p.m.
Kissinger and Burns commiserated over Nixon’s resignation and the circumstances surrounding it. According to Kissinger, Nixon’s family was not helpful because “they wanted to keep fighting” but he believed that the fight could not go on: “Enough is enough.” Plainly a supporter of some kind of pardon, Kissinger did not want “to see a former President … in jail or in court. He wasn’t a bad president.”
Document 14: Lobbying for the Vice Presidency
With Former Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson, 13 August 1974
Once Gerald Ford became president, there was no Vice President and the new President would have to make a decision. With his wealth of government experience—at the Justice Department, State Department, Pentagon, and Department of Health Education and Welfare—Elliot Richardson took it for granted that he was well qualified to serve. Nelson Rockefeller, Kissinger’s former patron was in the lead, but if it did not work out, Kissinger assured Richardson that he would personally prefer him; he “wouldn’t have anybody else.” Certainly, Kissinger respected Richardson and had worked well with him in his previous roles. Kissinger made it plain that he could not support George Bush “partly because his lack of experience.”
Document 15: “I Am Afraid it is a Little Late”
With Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis, 15 August 1974, 7:22 P.m.
Not having to protect the Greek junta, Kissinger became more worried about pressure on Turkey, a major NATO ally; thus, he “slightly tilted” U.S. policy toward Turkey. As Geneva negotiations on Cyprus began to collapse on 13 August, the U.S. took the position that Turkish claims for greater influence on Cyprus were just, even if it would be wrong for Ankara to use force to uphold them. The next morning, Turkey launched the second phase of their invasion, which brought them control over 37 percent of the island but also led to a significant refugee problem, as over 180,000 Greek Cypriots fled south. The next day, Kissinger phoned Prime Minister Karamlanlis, the leader of the new civilian government, to inform him that Ankara would stop military operations the next day and “we will hold them to this promise.” Karamlanlis lacked the military forces to go to war with Turkey, which was his preference, and it was evident that Washington was not going to try to reverse the Turkish encroachments. The Prime Minister saw Kissinger’s words of “friendship for Greece” as a “little late”, arguing that “you [Kissinger] have to do something more than give advice to the Turks.” Kissinger, however, had little sympathy for the Greek leadership because he believed that they had failed to make the compromises that he believed necessary to appease the Turks.
Document 16: Seymour Hersh’s Revelations
With White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, 23 December 1974, 9:35 a.m., Excised
The morning that Seymour Hersh’s story on spying on Americans appeared in The New York Times, Kissinger spoke with White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld. Kissinger said he knew nothing about the events discussed in the Hersh story reported but wanted Colby to prepare a report for the President. “Obviously the CIA must operate in the law.” The heavy excisions in this telcon are a good example of the abuse of the (b) (5) “predecisional” exemption in this FOIA case.
Document 17: “The Damage These Bastards Have Done”
With NSC Staffer William Hyland, 22 February 1975, 3:30 p.m.
Action taken by Congress, with Senator Henry Jackson (D-Wa) in the forefront, penalizing the Soviet Union for its policies on Jewish émigrés from the Soviet Union had a serious impact on the détente that Kissinger had helped forge. Kissinger and Hyland, a former CIA expert on Soviet policy, agreed that the “Jackson crowd” had done “unbelievable,” even “irreparable” damage to U.S. relations with Moscow.
Document 18: “It would be a disaster … if they took on the President”
With Max Fisher, 24 March 1975, 7:10 [p.m.]
A breakdown in negotiations over the second phase of Israeli disengagement from the Sinai—Prime Minister Rabin had rejected President Sadat’s offer--led Ford and Kissinger to threaten a re-evaluation of U.S. policy. A phone conversation between Kissinger and Max Fisher, a Republican supporter active in Jewish causes, captured the state of tension as controversy over Sinai II unfolded. The next day, speaking with President Ford, Kissinger said that “Fisher called me in a state of agitation.” Believing that the Israelis were being uncooperative and worried that the U.S. Jewish community would attack the administration’s step-by-step diplomacy, Kissinger advised Ford that “We have to show Israel that we are a great power and they don’t run our foreign policy.”
Document 19: “A casualty of Watergate”
With New York Times columnist James Reston, 16 April 1975, 4:30 p.m.
With North Vietnamese forces threatening to bring down the U.S.-supported Saigon regime, Kissinger was constantly on the phone to discuss the situation. Talking with New York Times columnist James Reston, Kissinger argued that Washington would have been in a better position to support Saigon, and enforce the peace agreement with Hanoi, if Watergate had not toppled Nixon: “I think the agreement could have held without Watergate [which] so weakened the executive authority.” Counter-factual history is always problematic but, even without Watergate, it can be argued that Congress was so determined to get the United States out of any fighting role in Southeast Asia, that it is unlikely that it would have permitted any White House bombing operations to enforce the peace treaty.
Document 20: Contacts with Iraq, North Korea, and the Soviet Union
With Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller, 19 April 1975, 6:12 p.m.
Throughout the Nixon and Ford administration, Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller was in routine contact with Kissinger; Rockefeller had been an important Nixon supporter. Chase Manhattan was an influential bank, and Rockefeller’s brother, Nelson, had been Kissinger’s patron since the late 1950s. With the world becoming awash in petro-dollars, major U.S. banks were expanding their contacts with countries in the Middle East, and Iraq was one of them. Although Baghdad had broken relations with Washington during the 1967 Six Day War, Kissinger was interested in developing a relationship, especially because Iran and Iraq had resolved some of their tensions. Thus, if one of Chase’s envoys met with Saddam Hussein, he wanted them to let him know that Washington “would be prepared to have political contacts with them.” Besides Iraq, Rockefeller and Kissinger discussed Chase’s approaches to North Korea, the oil producers-consumers conference, the State Department’s contact for Bilderberg conference matters, Rockefeller’s forthcoming visit to Turkey, developments in the Middle East negotiations, and Rockefeller’s recent talk with the Soviet economist Stanislav Men’shikov (whose father had been ambassador to the United States during the 1950s) about Soviet détente policies.
Document 21: “We Will Not Stand Still for the Radicalization of the Arab World by Your Actions”
With Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, 22 July 1975, 10:50 a.m.
The threatened reevaluation of U.S. Middle East policy only produced a return to step-by-step diplomacy after it became evident that Congress would not permit any pressure on the Israelis; moreover, Presidents Ford and Sadat had productive meetings suggesting that the talks on Sinai could get back on track. Nevertheless, tensions between Israel and the United States persisted as was evident in Kissinger’s conversation with Ambassador Dinitz. First, Kissinger took offense at the way Israeli handled a proposal to establish U.S.-staffed warning stations on the Sinai. Second, he found “totally unacceptable” Israeli pressure against U.S. military aid to Jordan. As difficult as Sinai II was to negotiate, by the end of August, the three sides had signed an agreement.
Document 22: “I Don’t Want a Drooping Irishman Around Here”
With Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Pat Moynihan, 6 August 1975
This long conversation with Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel P. Moynihan (former Nixon White House staffer and U.S. Ambassador to India, future Senator from New York) focused on the issue of admission to the United Nations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the difficulties of getting a clear message on Kissinger’s position, and instructions for U.S. action in the General Assembly and Security Council. Recognizing that it was impossible to deny UN membership to the two Vietnams for any length of time, Kissinger wanted to delay admission as a bargaining chip. In the short-term, it was not “right” to admit South Vietnam into the UN the same year that “we got run out of Indochina,” and it would be a “disaster to [President Ford] with the right.” Four days later, at the UN Security Council Moynihan blocked the admission of the two Vietnams into the United Nations, arguing that if the Council had even considered a proposal for the admission of South Korea he would have acted otherwise.
Document 23: “What a Disaster”
With Deputy National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft, 16 October 1975, Excised copy
During a dinner in Ottawa, Kissinger spoke frankly about former presidents, including Kennedy and Nixon, but he did not realize that the microphone was on and that the press had listened to the entire conversation. Soon Kissinger’s remarks, e.g., that Nixon was a “difficult and unpleasant man,” were a major media story. During this conversation with his deputy Brent Scowcroft, who was sympathetic and horrified, Kissinger said he wasn’t sure what to do, but finally decided that he should “call [Nixon] and tell him.” Scowcroft agreed, noting that it would be “worse” if Kissinger did not. They also discussed a New York Times story by Leslie Gelb about the deadlocked SALT II talks; both agreed that it was based on leaks from Pentagon officials who wanted to undermine Kissinger’s assertion that the negotiations were “95 percent” complete.” Indeed, the SALT II agreement was not complete until 1979, when Moscow and Washington signed it.
III. After the “Halloween Massacre”: Secretary of State Only
Documents 24A and B: “The Guy That Cut Me up Inside this Building Isn’t Going to Cut Me Up Any Less in Defense”
A. With New York Times columnist James Reston, 3 November 1975
B. With Treasury Secretary William Simon, 3 November 1975
A few days earlier, Kissinger learned that President Ford had shaken up his cabinet: Kissinger was fired as national security adviser, replaced by his deputy Brent Scowcroft; James Schlesinger was fired as Secretary of Defense, replaced by White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, and William Colby was to leave the CIA, with George H.W. Bush taking his job. Engineered by Donald Rumsfeld and presidential aide Cheney (who subsequently became White House Chief of Staff), the purpose of the “Halloween Massacre” was to strengthen Ford’s political position as the 1976 campaign approached. Speaking with Reston, Kissinger was not sure what caused the turnover, but Kissinger thought that in the case of Schlesinger, that the President had “had enough” of what he saw as Schlesinger’s back-stabbing in the media. A conversation with William Simon was even franker. Simon had disabused reporters that Kissinger had somehow engineered the cabinet change; indeed, he believed that things would be “worse” for Kissinger with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Kissinger agreed: “the guy that cut me up inside this building isn’t going to cut me up any less in Defense.”
Document 25: “We are Trying to Keep the Thing Quiet”
With Ambassador Anatoli Dobyrnin, 23 December 1975
That Soviet intelligence was aiming microwave signals at the upper floors of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, presumably as part of an intelligence operation, became a point of issue during late 1975. It may have had a physical impact on Ambassador Walter Stoessel who had been a resident of one of the upper floors; he caught a rare blood disease and had to be transferred back to Washington. Ambassador Dobyrnin may not have been in the loop on this as is suggested by his surprised reaction to Kissinger’s news that the hours of microwave transmission had doubled. While Kissinger kept a lid on the situation to prevent public discord, press reports linking the microwaves to Ambassador Walter Stoessel’s health problems surfaced a few months later. At the end of the discussion, Dobrynin referred briefly to recent White House decisions barring U.S. military intervention in the Angolan civil war and restricting the U.S. role to military aid to Zaire and Zambia.
Document 26: “I Can’t Understand how the Arms Control Agency Can Put Itself to the Right of the Secretary of Defense”
With Arms Control and Disarmament Agency [ACDA] Director Fred Ikle, 6 February 1976, Excised Copy
Kissinger’s loss of authority in strategic arms control decisions is evident in this discussion with Fred Ikle, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. As a result of the ACDA/State Department purge of arms controllers, demanded by Senator Henry Jackson at the end of Nixon’s first term, a more conservative group, headed by Ikle, took over the agency. Whatever role Kissinger may have played in the purge, he may have been sorry that it was so comprehensive because it greatly strengthened officials at ACDA and the Pentagon who were more suspicious and critical of détente and the SALT talks.
Document 27: Presidential Prerogatives
With Attorney General Edward Levi, 8 March 1976
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 that produced the FISA Courts had its origins in the Ford administration where the White House supported legislation to govern domestic wire-tapping. Levi wanted to brief Kissinger on the proposed bill and understood that he had objections to it. Kissinger, unlike the Ford White House, took it for granted that the legislation encroached on executive authority; he had told a State Department lawyer that “you defend what it is right if it is a Presidential prerogative even if you stand alone.”
Document 28: “People say that gd [sic] Kissinger … has to go”
With Senator Barry Goldwater, 3 August 1976, 6:49 p.m.
After a brief discussion of Kissinger’s stance on the problem of Pakistan’s interest in a nuclear reprocessing plant, Kissinger asked Goldwater how he can help the Ford campaign after the Republican convention the following week. Goldwater recommended “bull sessions” and forays into “strong pockets of conservatism” so that Kissinger could build support for Ford. Plainly Goldwater leaned toward the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party, at least in the foreign policy area: “People say that gd [sic] Kissinger … has to go and I say why … they can’t do it.”
Document 29: “This Campaign is Lost”
With National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft, 25 October 1976, 10:10 a.m.
Less then 10 days before the election, Kissinger and Scowcroft pondered President Ford’s political future. Although Kissinger’s evaluation of Ford’s chances would change from day to day, in this conversation he judged that the campaign was “lost.” For him, Chief of Staff Richard Cheney’s advice that Ford not “over speak” was irrelevant. While both agreed that the second debate with Jimmy Carter was damaging because Ford had argued that Poland was not under Soviet control, Scowcroft believed that the campaign had gotten some “momentum” back.
1. For the Dobrynin-Kissinger exchanges on 15 April, 1972, see David Geyer and Douglas Selvage, editors, Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008), 662-668.
2. For a helpful overview of the crisis, see Nigel J. Ashton, “Pulling the Strings: King Hussein’s Role During the Crisis of 1970 in Jordan,” The International History Review XXVIII (2006): 94-118.
3. Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (New York: Summit Books, 1983, 239.
4. For background on these developments, see “The October War and U.S. Policy,” https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB98/press.htm
5. For “save our souls,” see memorandum of conversation, “Cyprus Crisis,” 18 July 1974.
6. For “screwed up,” see memorandum of conversation, “Cyprus,” 14 August 1974.