D.C., December 24, 2008
- Nixontapes.org and the National Security Archive are pleased to bring you the complete phone conversations of Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger as captured by the Nixon taping system. This unified, easy-to-use collection includes digital audio from the telephone switchboards of the Oval Office, Nixon’s hideaway office in the Executive Office Building, the Lincoln Sitting Room, the White House residence, and Camp David. Because the Nixon taping system centered on President Nixon, the overwhelming majority of the conversations included here are between President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger. Nevertheless, some of the conversations were initiated or received by Dr. Kissinger in Nixon’s presence in the executive offices. Other recordings cover Kissinger talking to other officials, such as Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, who were with the president. The chronological scope of the collection currently runs from the start of the White House Telephone (WHT) system in April 1971 through the end of publicly released “chronological series” of tapes in November 18, 1972. (Note 1)
During his tenure as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger directed his staff to prepare transcripts of his telephone conversations, or telcons, with presidents Nixon and Ford, government officials, foreign leaders and ambassadors, backchannel contacts, journalists, friends, and others. According to the official finding aid published online by the National Archives and Records Administration, “Initially, secretaries listened in on calls using a ‘dead key’ extension on the phone system and prepared summaries of conversations. This practice was later refined and resulted in verbatim transcripts transcribed from secretarial shorthand notes. While most of the conversations were recorded by secretaries listening in on ‘dead keys,’ many conversations were recorded mechanically with tapes that were immediately transcribed and then destroyed.” (Note 2) The telcons are a unique and nearly verbatim record of diplomacy. (Note 3)
Fortunately for scholars, the telcons overlap with another unique and literally verbatim primary source: the Nixon tapes. Beginning in February 1971, tape began to roll in the White House basement. The initial taping system was limited to the Oval Office, but the Secret Service soon expanded it to include the White House telephone switchboard starting in April 1971. The Nixon taping system automatically recorded the president’s conversations with nearly everyone he talked to on the phone, including Dr. Kissinger. The Nixon tapes currently open to the public include more than 200 of these Kissinger conversations, some of which were independently transcribed as telcons by Kissinger’s staff. Moreover, the collection assembled here is the first time all of these conversations have been made available in the same place in a single format.
Telcons exist for conversations that were not captured by the Nixon taping system, just as there are conversations captured by the Nixon taping system for which there are no telcons. When a telcon was not made, the tape is the only record of the conversation. For example, Kissinger called the Soviet Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, from the Lincoln Sitting Room on January 25, 1972 before the President delivered a major speech on peace prospects in Vietnam. In Nixon’s presence, Kissinger warned the Soviets that there would be “serious consequences” if the Soviet ally, North Vietnam, launched an offensive against American ally South Vietnam. (Note 4) Compare to other telephone recordings, the audio quality of the tape is poor, perhaps caused by competing recording systems at the White House and the Soviet Embassy. Similarly, audio quality and gain (similar to volume level) are generally lower for many of the conversations that overlapped between the Kissinger’s telcons and the Nixon tape recordings than other telephone conversations. This may have been due to the President’s and his NSC Advisor’s independent taping systems sapping voltage and interfering with one another. Feedback or buzz can also be heard in many of the overlapping conversations, like the noise generated when a microphone is too close to speakers.
Since the taping system operated automatically around President Nixon, the conversations are usually between Nixon and Kissinger. Some of the conversations were initiated or received by Dr. Kissinger in the presence of President Nixon, while other recordings cover Kissinger talking to other officials, such as Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, who were with the president in the executive offices.
Similar to the telcons, the tape recordings vary in utility and quality. Some of the Kissinger recordings are very clear while others are virtually unintelligible. Nevertheless, tapes and telcons used together, when possible, facilitate fact-checking and assessing accuracy. A comparison of some telcons and tapes reveals that telcons were not always verbatim and sometimes were incomplete. When Dr. Kissinger’s phone conversations were not transcribed by a “dead key” secretary, from shorthand, or otherwise recorded by his staff, the Nixon tape recordings alone have preserved conversations that otherwise would have been lost to history.
We have included transcripts for several recorded conversations for which there are no telcons, and several conversations that overlap with telcons. This is by no means a comprehensive transcription effort—in fact, Mr. Moss transcribed most these conversations for his dissertation—but we hope scholars use this collection as a starting point and understand the inherent strengths and pitfalls of using tape-recorded conversations as historical sources. We have included transcripts for several conversations released by the National Archives as recently as December 2, 2008.
Nixon Tapes Without Telcons:
White House Telephone Conversation No. 17-125, 10:57 – 11:19 a.m., January 1, 1972
Kissinger called Nixon from New York on New Year’s Day 1972. The two briefly discussed Maltese Prime Minister Dominic Mintoff’s demands that the British remove their military base from Malta. They then discussed the fallout over the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that had ended weeks earlier. The conversation focused largely on statements made by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and how to handle the recognition of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). The second half of the conversation dealt primarily with Vietnam and how to handle the issue of POWs, withdrawal of American forces, and peace negotiations. Nixon told Kissinger, “the new factor we’ve got here, as to what we can wheel—and they’re quite aware of this…it’s just the attrition of support for the war.” Discussing the problems of Vietnam in public opinion, the president added, “I’m trying to set the stage of where we’re going to be in June…basically so we have a way to just take the issue out of the debate for about 3 months.” Noting the impact President Johnson’s 1968 bombing halt had had on the campaign of Nixon’s political opponent, Hubert Humphrey, Nixon proclaimed, “Let’s face it, Henry, the bombing halt was a totally political move. You know it didn’t mean a goddamned thing in terms of that, and it damned near won the election for Humphrey.” Then men concluded by discussing scheduling, the State of the Union message, and the President’s upcoming trip to China set for February 1972.
White House Telephone Conversation No. 18-66, 3:43 – 3:49 p.m., January 11, 1972
Kissinger gave President Nixon a status update on the annual foreign policy report he was preparing with his staff and quickly got to the substance of the conversation: the effect of the President’s upcoming trip to Peking and the Sino-Soviet interplay. (Note 5) Kissinger reported to the President that the Russians were putting the North Vietnamese up to the offensive (which actually began on March 30, 1972) in order to overshadow the presidential trip to China in February. Kissinger explained, “We have an intelligence report today…in which one of their people in Paris says they’re going to do it [launch an offensive] so that they, in February…can overshadow your trip to Peking.” Kissinger qualified the statement by adding, “I don’t think they’ve got that much power…On the other hand…it’s a double-edged sword for them, because if they do it at that time you’re overshadowing their offensive.” The President chuckled in agreement. (Note 6)
White House Telephone Conversation No. 19-65, Unknown time between 8:55 p.m. and 10:03 p.m., January 25, 1972
Kissinger called the Soviet Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, from the Lincoln Sitting Room right after the President delivered a major speech that evening on peace prospects in Vietnam. (Note 7) In a bombshell announcement, the President disclosed that Kissinger had been conducting secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris over the previous 30 months, but that the talks had reached an impasse. In Nixon’s presence, Kissinger warned the Soviets that there would be “serious consequences” if the Soviet-ally, North Vietnam, launched an offensive against American-ally South Vietnam. Kissinger also expressed the willingness of the U.S. to begin anew confidential contacts with the North Vietnamese.
White House Telephone Conversation No. 22-62, 8:02 – 8:07 p.m., March 30, 1972
Although the audio quality of this conversation is poor the content can be ascertained. Reports had been coming into the White House since the morning of March 30, 1972, but the ground situation was still uncertain at the start of the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive. Kissinger counseled restraint, to “watch for another day to see…whether it was just a high point or a real offensive.” Nixon and Kissinger discussed taking out North Vietnamese Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM), and the use of deadly C-130 gunships against the developing attack. Nixon said, “If we have a good provocation, I’d just whack ‘em in there, and, you know…on the basis of protective-reaction there isn’t going to be a hell of a flap.” Kissinger noted, “I think [the North Vietnamese] have their own massive problem. They have been trying to get their offensive all year.” The offensive, which became known as the “Easter Offensive,” was eventually repulsed by the use of American air and naval assets against North Vietnam. (Note 8)
White House Telephone Conversation No. 35-35, 4:00 – 4:15 p.m., December 28, 1972
In a telephone conversation between President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, after ten days of the heaviest bombing since World War II, both men concurred that the North Vietnamese were eager to return to the negotiating table. Nixon agreed to cease bombing within 36 hours (which he ended the following day). Nixon also told Kissinger that if necessary, new negotiations should take place bilaterally with North Vietnam, and that any agreement reached would then be promulgated with South Vietnam. There is no telcon for this conversation because Dr. Kissinger was vacationing in Palm Spring, CA.
Telcons That Overlap With Nixon Tapes
Telcon + White House Telephone Conversation No. 20-106, 10:52 – 11:00 p.m., February 28, 1972
This tape recording overlaps with a Kissinger telcon. We have prepared a transcript to show the differences between telcons prepared at the time and a more verbatim transcript produced from the recording. The main differences lie in the details, and it appears that some remarks were edited out of the telcon. (The remarks are not historically significant. For example, Dr. Kissinger says that Nancy Reagan “whose got a hell of a lot more brains” than her husband, future president Ronald Reagan, was very enthusiastic about Nixon’s trip to China. The telcon includes Nancy Reagan’s support for President Nixon but omits the remark.) In this conversation with the President, Kissinger reports on his efforts to mollify conservatives (Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and James L. Buckley) about retaining U.S. defense commitments to Taiwan after the opening to Communist China. Nixon also advises Kissinger to invite Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to a private dinner at the White House in order to symbolically reassure the Soviets that the China trip did not affect U.S. plans for a May 1972 summit meeting in Moscow.
TRANSCRIPT + TELCON (PDF)
Telcon + White House Telephone Conversation No. 33-92, 12:15 – 12:20 p.m., November 18, 1972
In this conversation, Nixon and Kissinger discuss the “hard line” the administration sought to take with South Vietnamese President Nyugen Van Thieu on peace negotiations. If the U.S. ally refused to go along with the negotiations after a letter urging cooperation, Nixon quipped “why it may just be one of those breaking of relations.” Alluding to press reports out of Saigon that the South Vietnamese would not agree to the peace concessions, Nixon continued: “as I pointed out in my letter…we’re going to negotiate as hard as we can, get the best position that we can, and that we’re on this course, and that he must realize that we will not be subjected to pressure or harassment on this thing.” Nixon stressed that he would not accept an emissary from President Thieu, and that all communications were to go through the US Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker. Nixon said, everything “is to be transmitted through Bunker. That’s the way it’s to be done.” Kissinger complained of the stream of revisions from the US ally: “The trouble is that if we accept all of these on top of all of the others, we have an entirely new document and [North Vietnamese negotiator] Le Duc Tho is going to walk out.” Nixon reiterated that the negotiations were to be conducted through Ambassador Bunker: “The withdrawal has got to be handled on the basis that we’ve already suggested.” Kissinger saw an opportunity in the adversity, and counseled delay: “I think we should wait until we see what we get. If Hanoi kicks us in the teeth, then we don’t have problem. But if Hanoi accepts the changes which we are bringing […] then an already-good agreement becomes excellent.” The conversation ends with a brief discussion of moving Peter Peterson out of the Commerce Department as part of Nixon’s planned executive branch reorganization following the November 1972 election.
TRANSCRIPT + TELCON (PDF)
Telcon + White House Telephone Conversation No. 34-114, 10:49 – 11:11 a.m., December 17, 1972
In this long phone conversation, Nixon and Kissinger discussed a number of topics, including the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam and the use of “smart bombs” against North Vietnamese targets. They also discussed negotiations with the North Vietnamese, the role of the Chinese and the Soviets, American ally South Vietnam and its President Nguyen Van Thieu. Click here [link to tape log] for an excerpted version of the National Archives and Records Administration tape log. Nixontapes.org did not transcribe this conversation, but has included the telcon prepared by Kissinger’s staff at the time.
A NOTE ON AUDIO QUALITY AND TRANSCRIPTION
Every effort was made to preserve the fidelity of the included audio, which is based on the first complete set of digitized, publicly available Nixon tapes, prepared by nixontapes.org and the National Security Archive. (Note 9) For this posting, Moss and Nichter went through over 120 hours of telephone conversations and “clipped” the conversations with Kissinger. Although the audio is in the compressed, “lossy” MP3 format, the bit rate is near CD-quality. We have coordinated with Joyce Battle at the National Security Archive to integrate the tape conversations into the National Security Archive’s major production of the Kissinger telcons, available through Proquest at the Digital National Security Archive collection. (Note 10)
Both Moss and Nichter reviewed each of the transcripts on several occasions for accuracy. Different people hear different things, and the audio quality is far from perfect. Please use our transcripts as a guide, not as a definitive source. We encourage you to listen to the audio, which is available for each transcript, and we welcome feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We wish to thank Bill Burr, Joyce Battle, Marry Curry, Carlos Osorio, Maria Martinez, and Sue Bechtel of the National Security Archive for working with us to make the audio recordings and the Kissinger telcons available to us. Most significantly, we would like to thank Thomas Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive, without whose vision and support (pecuniary and moral) this project would not have been completed. Thank you also to John Carland and Anand Toprani for feedback on the material and constructive suggestions. Lastly, thank you to James and Lilian Charapich who aided the original transcription effort.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Richard A. Moss is a Contract Historian at the Historian’s Office, U.S. Department of State, and a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. Diplomatic History at The George Washington University, Washington D.C. His dissertation, entitled “Behind the Back Channel,” examines the use of back channel diplomacy in U.S.-Soviet relations, 1969-1972. Moss is the State Department’s resident Nixon tapes expert. Since 2001, he has produced and reviewed transcripts for over two-dozen published and forthcoming Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes. DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this summary are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the Department of State. Work on these conversations was done in a private capacity.
Luke A. Nichter is an Assistant Professor of History at Tarleton State University-Central Texas (soon to be known as Texas A&M University-Central Texas). He received his Ph.D. in History from Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio. His dissertation, entitled “Richard Nixon and Europe: Confrontation and Cooperation, 1969-1974” examined key elements in relations between the United States and its traditional postwar European allies, including Great Britain, France, and Germany. This multi-archival, multi-lingual research was based on the Nixon tapes, as well as sixteen government and historical archives in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He teaches courses in the field of America and the World, including Diplomatic history and selected courses on the history of Asia.
In collaboration with Moss, Nichter created nixontapes.org in July 2007 with the intention of finally making available to researchers and the public a user-friendly, complete version of the Nixon tapes.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in this summary are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the Department of State. Work on these conversations was done in a private capacity.
1. As of this posting, the National Archives and Records Administration’s has not yet declassified and released tapes from January 12, 1973 through the end of taping in July 1973. Additionally, this collection does not include conversations from the “Abuse of Power series” (which, for the most part, are included in the chronological series) and several conversations from reel 24 due to a malfunction with the DAT. Analog copies of these missing conversations will be posted at a later date.
3. For more information on the Kissinger Telcons collection at the National Security Archive, see: https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB123/index.htm
4. The authors transcribed the conversation. Conversation No. 19-65 between Kissinger and Dobrynin, White House Telephone, January 25, 1972, Unknown between 8:55 pm and 10:03 pm. Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972 (Washington DC: GPO, 2007), p.570, cites the tape and provides Ambassador Dobrynin’s report back to Moscow on the conversation, but does not include a transcript of the tape.
5. The President’s, “Third Annual Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy,” was delivered on February 9, 1972. See The American Presidency Project at UCSB for the text of the report: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=3736&st=&st1=
6. Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, White House Telephone Conversation No. 18-66, 3:43 - 3:49 p.m., January 11, 1972, WHT, NPMP, NARA II.
7. Dobrynin wrote that Kissinger had called him twice before the speech. The first time, Kissinger had called the Soviet ambassador on presidential orders “to meet and speak…briefly about this upcoming speech.” Kissinger called back to say he had “been urgently summoned to see the President” and would therefore send General Haig, “who was aware of the matter at hand,” to the Soviet embassy. Kissinger-Dobrynin Memcon (USSR), January 25, 1972, in Soviet-American Relations: Détente Years, 1969-1972 (Washington: US GPO, 2007), pp.569-571. No record of the conversations has been found in the Kissinger Telcons. Nixon’s speech of January 25, 1972 can be found online at: http://www.nixonlibraryfoundation.org/clientuploads/directory/archive/1972_pdf_files/1972_0021.pdf
8. For an extremely thoughtful account of the American response to the Easter Offensive, see: Stephen Randolph, Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Easter Offensive (Harvard UP, 2007).
9. In 2002, the National Security Archive sent a Research Associate to make copies of archival Digital Audio Tapes (DATs) at the National Archives in College Park, MD. The Research Associate, Mr. Peter Bertone, copied over 1300 2-hour duration DATs. Since most people do not have expensive, commercial-use DAT machines, the tapes had to be transferred from DAT into an uncompressed computer-based format, such as .WAV or .AIFF, or a “lossless” compressed file that does not suffer from degradation of audio quality as part of the compression process (FLAC, Apple Lossless). The National Security Archive initially planned to digitally transfer the DATs, but loaned the DATs to the Presidential Recordings Project at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. The Miller Center began to post digital files online in 2005, but, unfortunately, their collection has significant and substantive gaps. Using equipment and material support from the National Security Archive, Mr. Moss donated his time and converted over 370 DATs (over 500 hours) from “Chron 3” (January – July 1972) from 2006-2007. Filling other gaps in the Miller Center collection, Dr. Luke Nichter has transferred over 150 DATs (220+ hours) for “Chron 1” (February – July 1971) and 200 DATs (350+ hours) for the Cabinet Room collection (February 1971-July 1973) over the past year and has completed the collection with Mr. Moss. The end result is a complete digital collection of Nixon tapes in one, easily accessible format.