Documents show Nixon deception on Cambodia
Documents show Nixon deception on Cambodia
WASHINGTON - Even after Richard Nixon's secret war in Cambodia became
known, the president persisted in deception. "Publicly, we say one
thing," he told aides. "Actually, we do another."
Newly declassified documents from the Nixon years shed light on the
Vietnam War, the struggle with the Soviet Union for global influence
and a president who tried not to let public and congressional opinion
get in his way.
They also show an administration determined to win re-election in
1972, with Nixon aides seeking ways to use Jimmy Hoffa to tap into the
labor movement. The former Teamsters president had been pardoned by
Nixon in 1971.
The release Wednesday of some 50,000 pages by the National Archives
means about half the national security files from the Nixon era now
On May 31, 1970, a month after Nixon went on TV to defend the
previously secret U.S. bombings and troop movements in Cambodia,
asserting that he would not let his nation become "a pitiful, helpless
giant," the president met his top military and national security aides
at the Western White House in San Clemente, Calif.
Revelation of the operation had sparked protests and congressional
action against what many lawmakers from both parties considered an
illegal war. Nixon noted that Americans believed the Cambodian
operation was "all but over," even as 14,000 troops were engaged
across the border in a hunt for North Vietnamese operating there.
In a memo from the meeting marked "Eyes Only, Top Secret Sensitive,"
Nixon told his military men to continue doing what was necessary in
Cambodia, but to say for public consumption that the United States was
merely providing support to South Vietnamese forces when necessary to
protect U.S. troops.
"That is what we will say publicly," he asserted. "But now, let's talk
about what we will actually do."
He instructed: "I want you to put the air in there and not spare the
horses. Do not withdraw for domestic reasons but only for military
"We have taken all the heat on this one." He went on: "Just do it.
Don't come back and ask permission each time."
The military chiefs, more than their civilian bosses, expressed worry
about how the war was going. "If the enemy is allowed to recover this
time, we are through," said Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the naval
operations chief who two months later would become chairman of the
Nixon told his aides to plan offensive operations in neutral Laos,
continue U.S. air operations in Cambodia and work on a summer
offensive in South Vietnam. "We cannot sit here and let the enemy
believe that Cambodia is our last gasp."
The papers also are thick with minute aspects of Vietnam war-making
and diplomacy. They show growing worries about the ability of the
South Vietnamese government years before it fell, but also seek
encouragement wherever it could be found.
One May 1970 cable marked "For Confidential Eyes Only" provided
national security adviser Henry Kissinger with an inventory of
captured weapons, supplies and food. It noted, for example, that the
1,652.5 tons of rice seized so far would "feed over 6,000 enemy
soldiers for a full year at the full ration."
The papers also show concern that superpower rivalry would take a
dangerous turn if events in the Middle East got out of hand. Israel's
secretive nuclear program quietly alarmed Washington.
One U.S. official, reporting to Secretary of State William Rogers in
1969, said Israel's public and private assurances that it would not
introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East could not be believed.
The memo by undersecretary Joseph J. Sisco said U.S. intelligence
believed "Israel is rapidly developing a capability to produce and
deploy nuclear weapons," and this could spark a Middle East nuclear
arms race drawing Arab nations under a Soviet "nuclear umbrella."
Sisco's memo foresaw a chain of troubles if Israel could not be
"Israel's possession of nuclear weapons would do nothing to deter Arab
guerrilla warfare or reduce Arab irrationality; on the contrary it
would add a dangerous new element to Arab-Israeli hostility with added
risk of confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R," Sisco said.
To this day, Israel officially neither confirms nor denies its nuclear
status and the actual size of its stockpile remains uncertain. But it
has long been considered the only nation in the Middle East with
"For a long time, the U.S. kept secret its assessment of the status of
the Israeli nuclear program," said William Burr, senior analyst at the
National Security Archives at George Washington University. The paper
shows "Israel could develop nuclear weapons fairly quickly, something
that isn't widely known."
On the political front, the documents show the Nixon administration
saw Hoffa as a potential help to the re-election campaign.
A memo on March 19, 1971, from White House counsel John Dean to
Attorney General John Mitchell spelled out the political calculation
after Hoffa's wife and son requested a meeting with Nixon to ask for
leniency. At the time, White House officials were concerned that Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., could mount a fierce challenge for the
"If he is paroled, we may get some credit and he will start off with a
constructive relationship with the president. He would be a dedicated
factor to box in Kennedy, and he might eventually be key for us to
organized labor," Dean wrote.
Nixon pardoned Hoffa in December 1971 for convictions on jury
tampering and mail fraud charges, then got the Teamsters' endorsement
a year later. Critics have long contended that administration
officials cut a deal in exchange for political favors, though that
never has been proved.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.