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Profile: ’Operation Menu’

’Operation Menu’ was a participant or observer in the following events:

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)

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)

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)


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