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Context of 'December 3, 2010: Wikileaks Cables Reveals Secret US Bombing of Yemen'

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Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973.Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973. [Source: Taylor Owen / History News Network]President Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, discuss North Vietnamese sanctuaries and supply routes in the neutral border country of Cambodia. General Creighton Abrams, the US military commander in South Vietnam, wants those sites bombed, regardless of the fact that military strikes against locations in a neutral country would be flagrant violations of international laws and treaties. Abrams has assured the White House that no Cambodian civilians live in those areas—a false assertion. Nixon orders Kissinger to come up with a plan for bombing Cambodia. Kissinger, his military aide Alexander Haig, and Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman develop the basic plan in two days. The first wave of bombings will begin three weeks later (see March 15-17, 1969). Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia—dubbed “Operation Menu”—will trigger a wave of global denunciations, further energize the antiwar movement, and help precipitate the leak of the “Pentagon Papers” (see March 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 48-49]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger, ’Operation Menu’, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., H.R. Haldeman, Creighton Abrams

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon makes the final decision to launch “Operation Menu”—secret air strikes against Cambodia (see February 23-24, 1969). He meets with Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, ostensibly to discuss the decision of whether “to bomb or not,” but unbeknownst to the two officials, Nixon has already issued the order and begun a system of phony telephone records put in place to disguise the bombings. Congress is not informed of the bombings. The first stage of the bombing, “Operation Breakfast,” is productive enough to lead Nixon to predict the war in Vietnam will be over by 1970. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 58-59]

Entity Tags: ’Operation Menu’, Melvin Laird, William P. Rogers, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former New York Police Department detective Jack Caulfield begins his new job as a White House aide. Caulfield was added to the White House by Nixon aide John Ehrlichman after President Nixon’s decision to use private, secretly held funds for political intelligence operations (see January 30, 1969). Caulfield is to conduct various political intelligence operations without being noticed by the CIA, the FBI, or the Republican National Committee. Originally, the idea was to pay Caulfield out of unspent campaign funds from the 1968 elections (see November 5, 1968), but Caufield insisted on being given a White House position. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 67]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The New York Times reveals the secret bombings of Cambodia, dubbed “Operation Menu” (see February 23-24, 1969 and March 15-17, 1969). National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is apoplectic in his anger: shouting to President Nixon, “We must do something! We must crush those people! We must destroy them!” Kissinger is not only referring to the Times, but Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, whom he believes leaked the information to the Times in order to discredit him. (Nixon has an unproductive phone conversation with Laird before his meeting with Kissinger; Nixon opened the phone call by calling Laird a “son of a b_tch,” and Laird hung up on the president.) Nixon suggests Kissinger’s own staff may be the source of the leaks. He is most suspicious of Kissinger’s aide Morton Halperin. By lunch, Kissinger has talked to the FBI about wiretapping suspected leakers. By dinner, Halperin’s phone is tapped. The next day, Kissinger’s military aide Alexander Haig has the FBI tap three more men “just for a few days,” warning the FBI not to keep any records of the wiretaps. The three targets are Kissinger’s aides Helmut Sonnenfeldt and Daniel Davidson, and Laird’s military assistant, Robert Pursley (who will again be wiretapped several months later—see May 2, 1970). At the same time, White House aide Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) arranges for a wiretap on a private citizen, syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft. While the FBI wiretaps are legally questionable, Caulfield’s tap is unquestionably illegal. Caulfield has the director of security for the Republican National Committee, former FBI agent John Ragan, personally install the wiretap in Kraft’s home. The tap on Kraft produces nothing except the conversations of housekeepers, as Kraft and his wife are in Paris. Nixon has the French authorities wiretap Kraft’s Paris hotel room. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William P. Rogers, Robert Pursley, Republican National Committee, Morton H. Halperin, Melvin Laird, Daniel Davidson, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., ’Operation Menu’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Henry A. Kissinger, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Ragan, Joseph Kraft, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

May 2, 1970: Haig Orders Four More Wiretaps

When the press reports the secret US-led invasion of Cambodia (see April 24-30, 1970) and the subsequent massive air strikes in that country, Alexander Haig, the military aide to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, notes that New York Times reporter William Beecher has been asking some suspiciously well-informed questions about the operation. Beecher’s latest story also alerts Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to the bombings (Laird, whom Kissinger considers a hated rival, has been kept out of the loop on the bombings). Haig tells the FBI he suspects a “serious security violation” has taken place, and receives four new wiretaps: on Beecher; Laird’s assistant Robert Pursley; Secretary of State William Rogers’s assistant Richard Pederson; and Rogers’s deputy, William Sullivan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 212]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry A. Kissinger, William Sullivan, Richard Pederson, William P. Rogers, William Beecher, Robert Pursley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

The US has been conducting airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, but denying responsibility for them, according to cables provided by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to the British daily The Guardian. The bombings are being attributed to local forces rather than the US in an attempt not to rile Arab public opinion. The Guardian breaks the story based on a number of cables provided by Wikileaks, which contain damning quotes. In a September 2009 cable Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, “I have given you an open door on terrorism, so I am not responsible.” Following a strike that killed multiple civilians carried out by the US, but attributed to Yemenis in December 2009, US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche cabled Washington to say: “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.’” Just over a week later, Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, who was also at the meeting, to joke that he had just “lied” by telling parliament the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa (the alleged al-Qaeda strongholds) were American-made but deployed by Yemen. In addition to the secret bombings, the Yemen-related cables published by The Guardian on this day deal with Yemeni reluctance to meet some US demands, the inaccuracy of some US weapons, large payments to be made by the US to Yemen, the Saudi Arabian reaction to the strikes, poor counterterrorism training for staff at Yemeni airports, Yemen’s unwillingness to share information about Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, alleged to be an al-Qaeda bomb-maker, and poor counterterrorist infrastructure in Yemen. [Guardian, 12/3/2010] Before the “war on terror,” the last time the US bombed a country in secret was during the Vietnam War, when the US bombed Cambodia (see March 15-17, 1969). It was a New York Times report on the bombing that was one of the spurs behind President Richard Nixon’s formation of the later-infamous “plumbers” unit (see May 9-10, 1969).

Entity Tags: WikiLeaks, John O. Brennan, Rashad al-Alimi, Ali Abdallah Saleh, David Petraeus, The Guardian, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, Stephen Seche

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Misc Entries, Domestic Propaganda

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