Haiphong, Kissinger, and William Colby

Nixon's policy as of early '69 was to win the Vietnam War, in a way as Johnson had tried to win it earlier, but by a different method that would cost less money, put less strain on the balance of payments and cause much less dissent at home.

I knew this basically in the fall of '69 from a number of people, one of them being Morton Halperin, one of them being John Vann, I'll mention him now because he's dead, and some other people in the government. I refer you to Roger Morris's piece in the Washington Monthly, in which Morris discloses--he was Kissinger's assistant--that Henry Kissinger came back from his first meeting with Xuan Thuy in September of 1969, and asked his staff including Morris to prepare full plans for a "savage" blow against North Vietnam that would bring them to their knees. And he said then as he'd said on other occasions, when his staff told him this wouldn't work, as I'd told him essentially like everybody else in December of '68, his answer was: "Are you telling me that this is the first country in history with no breaking point?"

The plan was to find the breaking point. A speech was written by Winston Lord, who later became Kissinger's assistant, who opposed the policy but wrote the draft for a presidential speech explaining the savage blow. The plans included mining Haiphong. I had been told throughout this period, a tacit assumption between us, my informants and me since Hanoi is not going to meet the Nixon-Kissinger terms they are going to carry out their plan, But Magruder gave some interesting clues as to why it was dropped. He says the administration was preoccupied with antiwar dissent, the success of the September 15 Moratorium, the October 15 Moratorium in particular. Magruder's first job was to work on this, working for Haldeman with the aid of a memo from Dwight Chapin, which he gives in his book. The memo begins, "If the president decides to announce escalation on November 3, it will then be hard to contain the November 15 Moratorium."

What could that possibly mean? The only discussion going on then was how big a cut would he come out with. Astonishment that he announced no cut in that particular speech. He sure didn't announce escalation. But that's what he was considering. And I think that Chapin gives a hint as to why they decided to postpone that. I think, in short, that Moratorium program that looked like a liberal thing and certainly did not look effective at the time, because it didn't get him out--I think it seems to have derailed a plan to mine Haiphong in the fall of '69, and postponed it for what turned out to be two and a half years. That probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives in North Vietnam and probably--speculation here, but I think a good bet--probably kept us from invading North Vietnam and using nuclear weapons ultimately. That's more speculative. The life aspect in North Vietnam I think is not really speculative.

The Pentagon Papers gave strong support to the idea that president after president after president has escalated and lied about it, so maybe this one is doing it. By '71 and Laos that was all the more plausible. They knew they had public relations problems in the future. So I think they weren't paranoid, they weren't unreasonable. They knew what lay ahead.


So that made them very interested to shut me up. I think the blackmail aspect of going into the doctor's office is particularly interesting to them. That was important, and it was the only way they could do it short of killing me. They didn't get to that point until they got very close to the mining of Haiphong.

The ultimate orders were given by Barker to the Cubans, Hunt to Barker, and Liddy to Hunt. This is also in Magruder's book although this order is not in Magruder's book: they just said beat me up. Colson called him up. Take advantage of the fact, he said, that there is an antiwar rally at the same time that J. Edgar Hoover is lying in state. This will confuse the public mind that Ellsberg is demonstrating against Hoover. Which is what they told the Cubans--Hunt told the Cubans that they were to protect J. Edgar Hoover's catavault from desecration by me.

What did happen was this: they came there, they did shout traitor while I was speaking. They began punching: a lot of people then came over to see what was happening and sort of encapsulated it. The police then took them off, and one man showed FBI credentials; the other showed CIA credentials; and said, "These are good American citizens, we vouch for them," and they were let go.

But what was I doing? I was talking about the mining of Haiphong which was about to come--the bombing had just started. It started five days later. This was the one time in the two-year period when it made sense to have me totally out of action for one week. The mining started on a Sunday, May 7, the anniversary of the fall of Dienbienphu, when the headlines in the New York Times--look 'em up--were "Nobody knows what he will do." I was at a press conference in Chicago; I said, "I am sorry to say that I do know what he is going to do. The NSC at this moment is meeting to ratify the mining of Haiphong which is probably underway at this moment." I'd been waiting for that for two and a half years, I'd done everything I could for two and a half years to prevent it by informing the public, and had totally failed. It had neither convinced anyone nor prevented it. It was the blackest weekend of my life, the one time that I can remember feeling total, absolute despair.

Partly the secrecy, by the way, of the earlier period helped Kissinger make that moronic, murderous judgment. The Seaborn mission in 1964 used the same words to the same person, Pham Van Dong in the summer of 1964, namely: The U.S. will blow you to pieces if you don't stop what you're doing in South Vietnam and so forth, and call off the war. And Pham Van Dong said lots of things in reply but to the effect of, We expect you to bomb, we carried out this war eight years without Hanoi or Haiphong against the French, we'll do it again. Kissinger didn't know that. It was secret. He'd been on the outside then.

Kissinger used a Rostow policy which led Rostow and Bundy together to drop 3.2 million tons of bombs on North Vietnam and on Indochina, Kissinger for the same reasons and with the same effect politically drops 445 millions tons of bombs on Indochina, to be the greatest mass murderer--well, since World War II, that's for sure. One of the greatest in history, but to do it all through sounding like a serious person, whereas Rostow managed to sound like a bubblehead and a pompous ass whenever he opened his mouth. I think Kissinger played one indispensible role, snowing the press. Now, are they dumb? Are they stupid? It's an Ellsberg rule--Ellsberg's Law of Bureaucracy, I'm not a bureaucratic theorist but what I learned in the Pentagon was: Anyone can be as dumb as he has to be to keep his job. The highest plum that any reporter can offer his boss is access to Henry Kissinger, the ability to have a private conversation with Henry Kissinger. You don't get that ability twice if you use it the first time to talk about what a conniver, fool, murderer, war criminal Henry Kissinger is.

In Vietnam Colby was in charge of paramilitary operations, killing infrastructure. He came as deputy ambassador--by the way, in his hearings at that time he was described as having retired from or resigned from the CIA to take the job. In his recent confirmation hearings as head of CIA, the hearings have now been published and it comes out he now says he didn't retire, he was on leave of absence. Surprise.

He was in charge of pacification in general and was identified with the Phoenix program which was one part of that, which was to assasinate infrastructure--that is, civilians, civilian political cadres of Vietnam. Since most of this killing took place at night, on roads and whatnot, the program didn't in every respect increase the actual killings, because a lot of bodies were counted to fulfill quotas. However, the figures they gave out were 70,000 killed over a matter of several years, and by all evidence, by every testimony, the Colby policy of assigning quotas down through the line had the predictable effect not only of increasing the numbers reported to be killed beyond what actually were killed, but also of increasing the number of civilians that actually did get knocked off.

I was at a CIA conference that invited him as a pro forma matter and he turned up, to everyone's consternation. The issue is what do you say to the man who has just been revealed as the murderer of Allende? I did have a chance to ask him the following question: Did you know of the imminence of that coup before it took place? I really was asking this more or less rhetorically, And he did answer, he said yes. And I said, the second question: Did you inform the constituted authorities of Chile of the imminence of this coup, the overthrow of constitutional government? And he said, that was not my job.

He said, a political decision was made not to inform them. I said, "You were aware of that. And you agreed with that." Yes. Not to inform them.

When I was in Vietnam for two years, when I was in the Pentagon a year before that, I became aware of as many as a dozen abortive or not abortive coup attempts in Vietnam. And if we said no it didn't happen. A couple of times we didn't say no. That's the way we do it, when we don't want a coup to take place. I did ask, "Did you want the coup to take place?" His answer is the preferred thing was a democratic election in '76 that would replace Allende. But a political decision was made not to tell Allende what we knew. Now, there would be no political decision if what we knew was what we'd read from UPI. To fail to give that information is to take, I would say, total share in the responsibility for what comes after as well as the responsibility for the earlier destabilization program. And indeed Colby made very clear that day that we preferred the current regime to the past regime, and that it was in the light of that preference that they made the definite decision not to take any step to prevent the coup. I'm just putting this in the terms of what he gave--I also suspect strongly that we knew every aspect of the coup, were fully in on it, and were running it, basically. I believe Colby was an instrument, was involved in the machinery that killed a much better man than he or any of his bosses had ever been, in my personal opinion.

In '61 I could think of good reasons for murder, good reasons for killing Diem, good reasons for killing Trujullo, good reasons for bombing. And all I now say in defense of that position is that that was seven million tons of bombs ago. And if you ask me now about the CIA, I say CIA doesn't kill people by the hundreds of thousands, and that's where you start when you talk about murder and responsibility and what you want to stop. So I don't think Colby has done anything as bad in his direct line of work as Kissinger. It would be totally luducrous to focus only on the murderer of the individual or of the 70,000 in the Phoenix program and ignore the bombing. It would be less hard to justify the killing of an individual, but you begin to ask what were the effects, what were the alternatives. And I think unless you are a total pacifist--well, I'm moving in that direction--what I'm definitely prepared to say is: The motives for which we have killed people, have in fact killed people, I think have not justified one single one of those killings. To say that is to say that it's a policy of murder, in my opinion, which is utterly unextenuated.

Daniel Ellsberg '52 released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. These are excerpts from his talk with the Nieman Fellows last week.