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Henry Kissinger: The Declassified Obituary – The Primary Sources on Kissinger’s Controversial Legacy

The historical record documents the darker side of Kissinger’s controversial tenure in power: his role in the overthrow of democracy and the rise of dictatorship in Chile; disdain for human rights; support for dirty, and even genocidal, wars abroad..

Henry Kissinger, 1975,Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C., November 29, 2023 - Henry Kissinger’s death today brings new global attention to the long paper trail of secret documents recording his policy deliberations, conversations, and directives on many initiatives for which he became famous—détente with the USSR, the opening to China, and Middle East shuttle diplomacy, among them.

This historical record also documents the darker side of Kissinger’s controversial tenure in power: his role in the overthrow of democracy and the rise of dictatorship in Chile; disdain for human rights and support for dirty, and even genocidal, wars abroad; secret bombing campaigns in Southeast Asia; and involvement in the Nixon administration’s criminal abuses, among them the secret wiretaps of his own top aides.

To contribute to a balanced and more comprehensive evaluation of Kissinger’s legacy, the National Security Archive has compiled a small, select dossier of declassified records—memos, memcons, and “telcons” that Kissinger wrote, said and/or read—documenting TOP SECRET deliberations, operations and policies during Kissinger’s time in the White House and Department of State.

The revealing “telcons”—over 30,000 pages of daily transcripts of Kissinger’s phone conversations which he secretly recorded and had his secretaries transcribe—were taken by Kissinger as “personal papers” when he left office in 1977 and used, selectively, to write his best-selling memoirs. 

The National Security Archive forced the U.S. government to recover these official records by preparing a lawsuit that argued that both the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had inappropriately allowed classified U.S. government documentation to be removed from their control. Archive senior analyst William Burr filed a FOIA request for their declassification. The draft lawsuit—which was never filed—is included in this dossier, since Kissinger’s effort to remove, retain and control these highly informative and revealing historical records should be considered a critical part of his official legacy, and the full texts have been published in the Digital National Security Archive series from ProQuest.

This special posting also centralizes links to dozens of previously published collections of documents related to Kissinger’s tenure in government that the Archive, led by the intrepid efforts of William Burr, has identified, pursued, obtained and catalogued over several decades. Together, these collections constitute an accessible, major repository of records on one of the most consequential U.S. foreign policy makers of the 20th century.

“Henry Kissinger’s insistence on recording practically every word he said, either to the presidents he served (without their knowledge that they were being taped) or the diplomats he cajoled, remains the gift that keeps on giving to diplomatic historians,” remarked Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. “Kissinger’s aides later commented that he needed to keep track of which lie he told to whom. Kissinger tried to keep those documents under his own control. His deed of gift to the Library of Congress would have kept them closed until five years from now, but the Archive brought legal action and forced the opening of secret documents that show a decidedly mixed picture of Kissinger’s legacy, and enormous catastrophic costs to the peoples of Southeast Asia and Latin America.”  



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Document 1.1

White House, Telcon, [Summary of Kissinger Conveying Nixon Order to Commence Secret Bombing of Cambodia to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird], March 15, 1969

Mar 15, 1969


Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), The Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977.

After receiving an order from President Nixon at 3:35pm on March 15, 1969, for “immediate implementation of Breakfast plan,” Kissinger transmits Nixon’s decision to begin the secret bombing of Cambodia, to the Secretary of Defense. “K said to lay on above for Monday afternoon our time, Tuesday morning their time. L said he would,” according to the summary. Kissinger warns Laird that “there is to be no public comment at all from anyone at any level, either complaining or threatening.” This is intended to be a TOP SECRET operation.


Document 1.2

White House, Telcon, “The President Mr. Kissinger 3-17-69 1:20 PM,” [Kissinger briefing to Nixon on preparations for first secret bombing raid over Cambodia], March 17, 1969

Mar 17, 1969


DNSA, The Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977.

Only hours before the first secret aerial bombing of Cambodia, Kissinger briefs Nixon on preparations. “K said it is all in order,” according to the summary of their phone conversation. The two comment on how South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu has already agreed to private talks.


Document 1.3

White House, Telcon, “3/18/69 8 p.m. General Wheeler,” [Briefing Kissinger on Success of First Bombing Raids], March 18, 1969

Mar 18, 1969


DNSA, The Kissinger Telephone Conversations: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977.

Kissinger gets a short briefing from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler on the success of the initial bombing raids. He advises the military to undertake additional “hits.” “HAK said they should put in 2 or 3 more hits along the whole area if we get the right intelligence.” Kissinger also shares his assessment of the impact of the sudden, secret raids: “Psychologically, the impact must have been something,” he states. In response, General Wheeler suggests the shock of the bombing will force the North Vietnamese back to the Paris peace talks: “Wheeler said they probably already had their speech written for Paris.”


Document 1.4

NSC, Telcon, Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon, December 9, 1970, 8:45 p.m.

Dec 9, 1970


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Home File, Box 29, File 2

In the wake of a year of secret bombing raids, President Nixon remains anxious about the Cambodian situation. In this telephone call, Nixon orders Kissinger to direct bombing attacks on North Vietnamese forces there ”tomorrow.” He wanted to ”hit everything there,” using the ”big planes” and the ”small planes.” ”I don't want any screwing around,” Nixon says.


Document 1.5

White House, Telcon, Kissinger and General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., December 9, 1970, 8:50 p.m.

Dec 9, 1970


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Home File, Box 29, File 2, 106-10

A few minutes after receiving Nixon’s call on Cambodia, Kissinger telephones his military assistant, Alexander Haig, about the orders from ”our friend.” After he describes Nixon’s instructions for a ”massive bombing campaign” involving ”anything that flys [sic] on anything that moves,” the notetaker apparently heard Haig ”laughing.” Both Haig and Kissinger knew that what Nixon had ordered was logistically and politically impossible so they translated it into a plan for massive bombing in a particular district (not identifiable because the text is incomplete). These two phone calls illustrate an important feature of the Nixon-Kissinger relationship: while Nixon would, from time to time, make preposterous suggestions (no doubt depending on his mood), Kissinger would later decide whether there was a rational kernel in what Nixon had said and whether, and/or how, to follow up.


Document 1.6

FBI, Memorandum, “Colonel Alexander M. Haig Technical Surveillance Request,” TOP SECRET, May 12, 1969

May 12, 1969


Elliot Richardson Papers, LIbrary of Congress.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover transmits a TOP SECRET report to Attorney General John Mitchell on Kissinger’s request for telephone surveillance on four U.S. officials “to determine if a serious security problem exists.” According to the memo, the names have been brought to the FBI by Kissinger’s military deputy, Col Alexander Haig, who states that the matter is “of most grave and serious consequence to our national security.” Nixon and Kissinger had directed the FBI to begin a leak investigation and wiretaps almost immediately after the New York Times broke the story on the secret bombing raids over Cambodia.


Document 1.7

FBI, J. Edgar Hoover Wiretap Surveillance Report to President Nixon, TOP SECRET May 11, 1970

May 11, 1970


Richard Nixon Presidential Library Mandatory Declassification Review Request

In one of a series of reports to President Nixon on individuals targeted for wiretap surveillance by Kissinger’s office, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover shares information on three individuals: London Sunday Times reporter Harry Brandon; Kissinger’s former aide Morton Halperin, and State Department official William Sullivan, who is overheard speaking to former ambassador W. Averell Harriman. The wiretaps capture innocuous conversations by Brandon’s wife about opposition to Kissinger’s Vietnam policies among his former Harvard colleagues, and Halperin’s plans to quietly resign from the White House staff where he has been a part time consultant since stepping down as a top specialist on Kissinger’s NSC. The wiretap on Sullivan produces information that Ambassador Harriman plans to host a gathering at his home of State Department officials who had signed a letter of protest against the secret bombing of Cambodia. The FBI subsequently uses this information to physically surveil the meeting at Harriman’s house—a fact that emerges in congressional hearings on the wiretap scandal four years later.


Document 1.8

White House, Telcon, “The President/Mr. Kissinger 7:00pm., June 1, 1973 [Discussing wiretap scandal]

Jun 1, 1973


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

After the wiretap scandal breaks into the media, Nixon orders a report on wiretapping under previous administrations. He calls Kissinger in anger to tell him: “Let’s get away from the bullshit. Bobby Kennedy was the greatest tapper.” He accuses the former attorney general of tapping the phones of 300 people in 1963 and tells Kissinger that he is going to publish the names of those individuals Kennedy had placed under surveillance. “And let the[se] assholes know that they’re going to get this, Henry.” Kissinger responds: “I think you should.” “They started it,” Nixon reiterates. “They want to have a g[ood] fight; they’re going to get one, Henry, you understand.”


Document 1.9

White House, Telcon, “Attorney General Levi/Secretary Kissinger, March 13, 1976, Time: 4:13 p.m. [Conversation about Halperin lawsuit on illegal wiretaps]

Mar 13, 1976


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

In one of a number of conversations with Attorney General Edward Levi, Kissinger complains about how the Justice Department is handling the Halperin suit against him. Halperin’s lawyers are telling the press that there are “inconsistencies” between his story and other testimony in the case [likely witnesses such as Alexander Haig stating that Kissinger provided the names for the FBI of individuals to be put under surveillance as potential leakers.] Kissinger complains that the lawsuit is undermining his ability to do his job. “Right now the Secretary of State is being accused of lying, perjury, [and] conflicts are being printed in newspapers,” he tells the Attorney General. “I had a senior official of the Russian Embassy ask me whether my effectiveness was being damaged the other day.” Kissinger adds: “My philosophy is when in doubt attack.”

Chile’s ruler Augusto Pinochet meeting U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Santiago, June 8, 1976 (Wikimedia Commons)


Chile is arguably the Achilles heel of Kissinger's legacy. The declassified historical record leaves no doubt that HAK was the chief architect of U.S. efforts to destabilize the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. In the weeks before Allende was inaugurated, CIA documents reveal, Kissinger supervised covert operations—codenamed FUBELT—to foment a military coup that led directly to the assassination of Chile’s commander-in-chief of the Army, General René Schneider. After initial coup plotting failed, Kissinger personally convinced Nixon to reject the State Department’s position that Washington could establish a modus vivendi with Allende, and to authorize clandestine intervention to “intensify Allende’s problems so that at a minimum he may fail or be forced to limit his aims, and at a maximum might create conditions in which collapse or overthrow might be feasible,” as Kissinger’s talking points called for him to tell the National Security Council, three days after Allende’s inauguration. The U.S. “created the conditions as great as possible,” Kissinger informed Nixon only days after Allende was overthrown 50 years ago on September 11, 1973. “[I]n the Eisenhower period, we would be heroes,” he added.

Kissinger designed U.S. policy to keep Allende from consolidating his elected government; but once General Augusto Pinochet’s forces violently took power, the documents demonstrate, Kissinger reconfigured U.S. policy to assist the consolidation of a brutal military dictatorship. “I think we should understand our policy—that however unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was,” he told his deputies as they reported to him on the human rights atrocities in the weeks following the coup. At a private June 1976 meeting with Pinochet in Santiago, Kissinger told the Chilean dictator: “My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going communist.”

“We want to help, not undermine you,” Kissinger informed the General, disregarding advice from his own ambassador to give Pinochet a direct, tough message on human rights. “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”


Document 2.1

White House, Telcon, Conversation on Blocking Allende between National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, September 12, 1970.

Sep 12, 1970



Only days after Salvador Allende’s election, Kissinger speaks to Secretary of State William Rogers about plans to block his inauguration. Rogers reluctantly agrees that the CIA should “encourage a different result” in Chile but warns it should be done discreetly lest U.S. intervention against a democratically elected government be exposed. Kissinger firmly tells Rogers that “the president’s view is to do the maximum possible to prevent an Allende takeover, but through Chilean sources and with a low posture.” (Note: this page of the telcon has been misdated as September 14; page 1 makes it clear that the conversation took place on September 12, 1970.)


Document 2.2

NSC, Memorandum, “Chile—40 Committee Meeting, Monday – September 14,” SECRET, September 14, 1970

Sep 14, 1970


Clinton Administration Chile Declassification Project

In a memorandum to prepare Henry Kissinger for a 40 Committee meeting on covert options to block Allende’s inauguration in Chile, his top deputy for Latin America, Viron Vaky, takes the opportunity to warn against U.S. efforts to block Allende. In addition to the costs of possible exposure to the reputation of the United States abroad, he advances a bold moral argument: “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets.” Over the coming days, weeks, and months, Kissinger will chair the 40 Committee meetings determining and overseeing covert operations to undermine Allende’s presidency.


Document 2.3

CIA, Helms Notes, “Meeting with President on Chile at 15:25 Sept 15, ’70, Present: John Mitchell + Henry Kissinger,” September 15, 1970

Sep 15, 1970


Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973.

On September 15, 1970, Kissinger participates in a fifteen-minute Oval Office meeting with President Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms on Chile. Notes taken by the CIA director record Nixon’s orders to the CIA to “make the economy scream” and to prevent Allende from being inaugurated as president of Chile. Nixon directs Helms to put together a “game plan” in 48 hours, which is then shared with Kissinger who becomes the de facto supervisor of the initial CIA efforts to foment a military coup before the inauguration in early November.


Document 2.4

CIA, Memorandum of Conversation, “Dr. Kissinger, Mr. Karamessines, Gen. Haig at the White House—15 October 1970,” SECRET, October 15, 1970

Oct 15, 1970


Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973.

This memorandum of conversation summarizes a meeting between Henry Kissinger, his deputy, Alexander Haig, and the CIA's Thomas Karamessines to evaluate the status of coup plotting in Chile. The key plotter who is receiving CIA support, retired General Roberto Viaux, “did not have more than one chance in twenty-perhaps less-to launch a successful coup,” Karamessines reports. After Kissinger lists the negative consequences of a failed coup, they decide to send a message to Viaux warning him not to take precipitate action and advising him that “The time will come when you with all your other friends can do something. You will continue to have our support.“ Dr. Kissinger instructs Karamessines that the CIA “should continue keeping the pressure on every Allende weak spot in sight—now, after the 24th of October, after 5 November and into the future…” A CIA report cabled to Santiago immediately following the Kissinger meeting states that “it is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.”


Document 2.5

United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Complaint, Rene Schneider et al, v. Henry Alfred Kissinger and the United States of America, "First Amended Complaint for Summary Execution, Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, Arbitrary Detention, Assault and Battery, Negligence, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Wrongful Death," November 12, 2002

Nov 12, 2002


United States District Court for the District of Columbia

The covert CIA operation that Kissinger supervised to foment a coup before Allende’s inauguration led directly to the assassination of the pro-Constitution Chilean commander-in-chief of the Army, General Rene Schneider. On September 10, 2001, the sons of General Schneider, Raul and Rene Schneider, filed a civil lawsuit against Henry Kissinger and the U.S. government for the “wrongful death“ of their father. This complaint, as amended in November 2002, cited the declassified U.S. record as evidence of liability in the case. According to the petition: “Recently declassified U.S. government documents and congressional reports have provided Plaintiffs with the information necessary to bring this action. The documents show that the knowing practical assistance and encouragement provided by the United States and the official ultra vires acts of Henry Kissinger resulted in General Schneider’s summary execution, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, assault and battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death.” The civil lawsuit was eventually dismissed because the judges ruled that Kissinger had immunity for actions he took as part of his official responsibilities as national security advisor to the President.

Document 2.6

White House, Kissinger, Memorandum for the President, "Subject: NSC Meeting, November 6-Chile," SECRET, November 5, 1970

Nov 5, 1970


Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (The New Press, 2013) pp. 121-128.

After the failure of the CIA to foment a coup to prevent Allende’s inauguration, the Nixon White House scheduled an NSC meeting on November 5 to determine US policy toward an Allende government. But Kissinger asks that the meeting be postponed a day to November 6, in order to lobby Nixon to reject the State Department’s position that Washington foster a modus vivendi with Allende. Instead, Kissinger argues, Nixon should "make a decision that we will oppose Allende as strongly as we can and do all we can to keep him from consolidating power,” as he writes in this pivotal memorandum, explaining why the first freely elected Marxist government in the world must not be allowed to succeed. “The election of Allende as President of Chile poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere,” Kissinger submits in his opening sentence, underlining it for effect. “Your decision as to what to do about it may be the most historic and difficult foreign affairs decision you will have to make this year,” he dramatically advised Nixon, “for what happens in Chile over the next six to twelve months will have ramifications that will go far beyond just US-Chilean relations.”


Document 2.7

NSC, Telcon, Kissinger Discussion with Nixon on the coup in Chile, September 16, 1973

Sep 16, 1973



In their first substantive conversation following the military coup in Chile, Kissinger and Nixon discuss the U.S. role in the overthrow of Allende, and the adverse reaction in the news media. When Nixon asks if the U.S. “hand” will show in the coup, Kissinger admits “we helped them” and that “[deleted reference] created conditions as great as possible.” The two commiserate over what Kissinger calls the “bleating” liberal press. In the Eisenhower period, he states, “we would be heroes.” Nixon assures him that the people will appreciate what they did: “let me say they aren’t going to buy this crap from the liberals on this one.”


Document 2.8

Department of State, Memorandum of Conversation, "U.S.-Chilean Relations," [Kissinger conversation with Pinochet], SECRET, June 8, 1976

Jun 8, 1976


National Security Archive U.S.-Chile Relations collection

In Santiago for an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting, Kissinger meets privately with General Pinochet. Despite being briefed by his aides that the regime’s rampant human rights violations have made Chile “a symbol of rightwing tyranny” and advised to press Pinochet on that issue, Kissinger takes a decidedly solicitous approach. “My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going communist,” he tells Pinochet, avoiding any pressure on human rights or a return to civilian rule. “We want to help, not undermine you."


Document 2.9

NSC, Telcon, Conversation between Kissinger and Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, William D. Rogers, June 16, 1976

Jun 16, 1976



Following his visit to Chile and his meeting with Pinochet, Kissinger read an article in the Washington Post reporting on remarks made by Robert White, a member of the State Department delegation to the OAS conference (and later U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador). White criticized the Pinochet regime for rejecting the OAS report on ongoing human rights abuses in Chile. Unbeknownst to White, only a few days earlier, Kissinger privately told Pinochet that ”we want to help, not undermine you.” Now, Kissinger is angry that a U.S. official has publicly challenged Pinochet on his human rights record. ”This is not an institution that is going to humiliate the Chileans,” he states. ”It is a bloody outrage.” Kissinger tells Rogers, the State Department’s top official for Latin America, that they should fire White.


Secretary Kissinger’s abject embrace of the Pinochet regime, and disregard for its repression, contributed to a broad public and political movement to institutionalize human rights as a priority in U.S. foreign policy. As Congress began passing laws restricting U.S. assistance to regimes that violated human rights, Kissinger’s distain for the human rights issue escalated. His willingness to endorse, support and accept mass bloodshed, torture and disappearance by allied, anti-Communist military regimes, is reflected in various declassified documents.


Document 3.1

State Department, Telcon, [Kissinger conversation with Assistant Secretary, Harry Shlaudeman ,on Argentina], June 30, 1976

Jun 30, 1976



In this brief conversation, Henry Kissinger berates his aide after learning that the State Department’s Latin America bureau has issued a demarche to the Argentine military junta for escalating death squad operations, disappearances and reports of torture following the coup in March 1976. The demarche was recommended by Ambassador Robert Hill and conveyed by him to Foreign Minister Guzzetti on May 27. A similar message was given to the Argentine ambassador in Washington, D.C., by one of Shlaudeman’s deputies, Hewson Ryan. But the demarche appears to contradict a message that Kissinger had personally given to Guzzetti during a private meeting in Santiago on June 10; to act ”as quickly as possible” to repress leftist forces in Argentina. Now Kissinger demands to know ”in what way is it [the demarche] compatible with my policy.” He tells Shlaudeman: ”I want to know who did this and consider having him transferred.”


Document 3.2

State Department, memorandum of conversation, “Secretary's Meeting with Argentine Foreign Minister Guzzetti,” SECRET, October 7, 1976

Oct 7, 1976


Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive, released November 2003.

As a follow up to a meeting they held in Santiago in June, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister César Guzzetti meet again at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and discuss the Argentine military regime’s repressive campaign to eradicate the left. Kissinger offers U.S. support: “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better.”


Document 3.3

Department of State, memo, “Foreign Minister Guzzetti Euphoric over visit to United States,” October 19, 1976

Oct 19, 1976


U.S. State Department, Argentina Declassification Project (1975-1984), August 20, 2002Transcription

U.S. Ambassador Robert Hill sends this protest to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he has emboldened the Argentine military by not giving Foreign Minister Guzzetti a strong disapproval from Washington for their human rights violations. ”Guzzetti's remarks both to me and to the Argentine press since his return are not those of a man who has been impressed with the gravity of the human rights problem as seen from the U.S.” Ambassador Hill reports. “Both personally and in press accounts of his trip Guzzetti’s reaction indicates little reason for concern over the human rights issue. Guzzetti went to US fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warning of his govt’s human rights practices. Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation. Convinced that there is no real problem with the USG over this issue.” Hill concludes that “While that conviction lasts it will be unrealistic and unbelievable for this embassy to press representations to the GOA over human rights violations.”


Kissinger’s resistance to pressing the Southern Cone military regimes on human rights extended to their international assassination operations known as Operation Condor. In early August 1976, Kissinger was briefed by his deputy on plans, under Condor, “to find and kill terrorists … in their own countries and in Europe.” His aides convinced him to authorize a demarche that would be delivered to General Pinochet in Chile, General Videla in Argentina, and junta officers in Uruguay—the three Condor states most involved in transnational murder operations. But when the U.S. ambassadors to Chile and Uruguay raised objections to delivering the demarche, Kissinger simply rescinded it, ordering that “no further action be taken on this matter.”

Five days later, Condor’s boldest and most infamous terrorist attack took place in downtown Washington, D.C., when a car bomb planted by Pinochet’s agents killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his young colleague, Ronni Moffitt.


Document 4.1

Department of State, Action Memorandum for Kissinger, “Operation Condor,” SECRET, August 30, 1976

Aug 30, 1976


National Security Archive FOIA request

In his memo to Kissinger dated August 30, 1976, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Harry Shlaudeman advises him on the U.S. position on Condor assassination plots: ”What we are trying to head off is a series of international murders that could do serious damage to the international status and reputation of the countries involved.” Shlaudeman’s memo requests approval from Kissinger to direct the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, Ernest Siracusa, to proceed to meet with high officials in Montevideo and present the Condor demarche.


Document 4.2

Department of State, Cable, “Actions Taken,” CONFIDENTIAL, September 16, 1976

Sep 16, 1976


Department of State FOIA website

In this cable, sent from Lusaka where Kissinger was traveling, the Secretary of State refuses to authorize sending a telegram to U.S. ambassador to Uruguay Ernest Siracusa instructing him to proceed with the Condor demarche. Kissinger then broadens his instructions to cover the delivery of the demarche in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay: ”The Secretary has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.” These instructions effectively end the State Department initiative to warn the Condor military regimes not to proceed with international assassination operations, since the demarche has not yet been delivered in Chile or Argentina. Five days later, former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt, are assassinated by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., planted by Chilean secret intelligence operatives.


Kissinger’s indifference to human rights extended to what the head of the U.S. Consulate in Dacca, Archer Blood, called “genocide” in East Pakistan, committed by Pakistan’s military dictator, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (Yahya). Estimates of mass murder range as high as three million civilians in East Pakistan in the spring of 1971; but Nixon and Kissinger’s policies tacitly supported Yahya, who played a secret role in the administration’s efforts to negotiate an opening with China. Archive analyst Sajit Gandhi created a comprehensive dossier, “The Tilt and the South Asian Crisis of 1971” that contains dozens of documents recording reports of the genocide and the Nixon/Kissinger policies. The famous “Blood Telegram” and an example of Nixon and Kissinger’s positions are below:


Document 5.1

State Department, U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, "Dissent from U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan," CONFIDENTIAL April 6, 1971

Apr 6, 1971


NARA, RG 59, SN 70-73 Pol and Def. From: Pol Pak-U.S. To: Pol 17-1 Pak-U.S. Box 2535

In one of the first ”Dissent Cables,” Consul General Archer Blood transmits a message denouncing U.S. policy towards the South Asia crisis. The transmission suggests that the United States is ”bending over backwards to placate the West Pak [sic] dominated government and to lessen likely and deservedly negative international public relations impact against them.” The cable goes on to question U.S. morality at a time when “unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable.”


Document 5.2

White House, Memorandum for the President, "Policy Options Toward Pakistan," SECRET, April 28, 1971

Apr 28, 1971


NARA, Richard Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), NSC Files, Country Files: Middle East, Box 625

Kissinger presents Nixon with U.S. policy options directed towards the crisis in East Pakistan. Nixon and Kissinger both feel the third option is the best, as Kissinger writes, because it "would have the advantage of making the most of the relationship with Yahya, while engaging in a serious effort to move the situation toward conditions less damaging to US and Pakistani interests." At the end of the last page Nixon writes, "To all hands: Don't squeeze Yahya at this time. “


U.S. support for the repressive Indonesian dictatorship of General Suharto and his regime’s murderous invasion of East Timor in December 1975 is another documented example of Kissinger’s polices of indifference to human violations and national sovereignty. The declassified records obtained by the National Security Archive record more than “a tilt” toward Suharto’s aggression; they reveal a clear green light from the highest level of the U.S. Government, given to Suharto only hours before Indonesian troops launched an incursion and occupation that cost an estimated 100,000 to 180,000 Timorese lives. An East Timor Truth Commission report completed years later stated that U.S. “political and military support were fundamental to the Indonesian invasion and occupation.


Document 6.1

State Department, Embassy Jakarta, Telegram, [Text of Ford-Kissinger-Suharto Discussion], SECRET, December 6, 1975

Dec 6, 1975


Gerald R. Ford Library, Kissinger-Scowcroft Temporary Parallel File, Box A3, Country File, Far East-Indonesia, State Department Telegrams 4/1/75-9/22/76

On the eve of Indonesia’s full-scale invasion of East Timor, Kissinger accompanied President Ford to Jakarta to meet with General Suharto. The meeting focuses on wider U.S.-Indonesian security cooperation. In the middle of a discussion of guerrilla movements in Thailand and Malaysia, Suharto raises the issue of East Timor and his plans to take “rapid or drastic action” against the newly independent former colony of Portugal. This memorandum of conversation records both Ford and Kissinger supporting the invasion. “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem and the intentions you have,” Ford responds. [See pages 8,9, and 10 of the memcon.] Kissinger stresses that “the use of US-made arms could create problems,” but then adds, “It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation.” In any case, Kissinger states: “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.” Suharto deploys his troops into East Timor the next day, with an understanding of approval from the Ford White House.

In mid-1974, Secretary of State Kissinger initiated protracted historic and secret diplomatic talks to normalize relations with Cuba — which included furtive meetings between U.S. and Cuban emissaries at La Guardia airport and an unprecedented three-hour negotiating session at the five-star Pierre Hotel in New York City. At the time, this secret back-channel diplomacy marked the most significant and promising effort to bring about a Caribbean détente and end what Kissinger called “the perpetual hostility” in U.S.-Cuba relations.

But his diplomatic initiative unraveled after Fidel Castro decided to send Cuban troops to support the anti-colonial struggle in Angola in the fall of 1975. In Oval Office meetings with President Ford, Kissinger angrily referred to the Cuban leader as a ”pipsqueak” whose bold deployment of military forces on the African continent threatened U.S. geopolitical strategies in the Third World. Concerned that Castro would eventually broaden his military incursion beyond Angola, Kissinger counseled Ford that they would have to ”crack the Cubans.” ”If they move into Namibia or Rhodesia, I would be in favor of clobbering them,” Kissinger told the president.

Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, with President Gerald R. Ford, was angered by Fidel Castro’s 1975 incursion into Angola  (Photo: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library).

In the March 24 meeting with an elite national security team known as the Washington Special Actions Group, Kissinger expanded on the domino scenario. ”If the Cubans destroy Rhodesia then Namibia is next and then there is South Africa,” Kissinger argued. To permit the ”Cubans as the shock troops of the revolution” in Africa, he argued, was unacceptable and could cause racial tensions in the ”Caribbean with the Cubans appealing to disaffected minorities and could then spillover into South America and even into our own country.” Moreover, the lack of a U.S. response to the global exercise of military power by a small Caribbean island nation, Kissinger feared, would be seen as American weakness. ”If there is a perception overseas that we are so weakened by our internal debate [over Vietnam] so that it looks like we can't do anything about a country of eight million people, then in three or four years we are going to have a real crisis.”

Warfare planning papers, obtained by Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh through a mandatory declassification review request to the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, revealed that Kissinger ordered the Washington Special Actions Group to draft contingency options that ranged from economic and political sanctions to acts of war, such as mining Cuba's harbors, a naval quarantine, and strategic airstrikes ”to destroy selected Cuban military and military-related targets.” “If we decide to use military power it must succeed. There should be no halfway measures,” Kissinger instructed General George Brown of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The contingency planners warned Kissinger, however, that any act of aggression could trigger a superpower confrontation. Unlike the 1962 missile crisis, stated one planning paper, ”a new Cuban crisis would not necessarily lead to a Soviet retreat.”


Document 7.1

DOS, Kissinger Aide-Memoire to Cuba, January 11, 1975

Jan 11, 1975


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

This conciliatory message approved by Secretary of State Kissinger was given to the Cuban side at the first furtive meeting between U.S. and Cuban representatives in January 1975, which took place at a cafeteria in La Guardia airport. ”We are meeting here to explore the possibilities for a more normal relationship between our two countries,” it begins. The objective is to ”determine whether there exists an equal determination on both sides to settle the differences that exist between us.” While the ideological differences are wide, Kissinger expresses hope that such talks will ”be useful in addressing concrete issues which it is in the interest of both countries to resolve.” As a gesture to the Cubans, the U.S. will permit Cuban diplomats (accredited to the UN) to travel from New York to Washington and may begin granting additional visas to Cubans for cultural, scientific and educational meetings. For Kissinger, ”no purpose is served in attempting to embargo ideas.”


Document 7.2

DOS, Memorandum of Conversation, “Cuba Policy: Tactics Before and After San Jose,” June 9, 1975

Jun 9, 1975


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

As a vote in the OAS to end the multilateral trade sanctions against Cuba looms in the summer of 1975, Kissinger instructs his top aides to make another attempt to set up a negotiating session on normalizing relations. “It is better to deal straight with Castro,” he instructs them. “Behave chivalrously; do it like a big guy, not like a shyster. Let him know: We are moving in a new direction; we’d like to synchronize…steps will be unilateral; reciprocity is necessary.” The effort to reach out to Cuba leads to the first serious set of negotiations to normalize relations since the Cuban revolution, held secretly a month later at the Pierre Hotel in New York city between Kissinger and Castro’s top aides.


Document 7.3

White House, Memorandum of Conversation between President Ford and Kissinger, February 25, 1976

Feb 25, 1976


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

After Castro decides to send Cuban troops to Angola, Kissinger sours on pursuing talks to normalize relations. During a conversation with President Ford in the Oval Office, Kissinger raises the issue of Cuba’s military incursion into Angola, implying that Latin American nations are concerned about a ”race war” because of Cuba’s efforts in Africa. ”I think we are going to have to smash Castro. We probably can't do it before the elections.” The president responds, ”I agree.”


Document 7.4

White House, Memorandum of Conversation between President Ford and Kissinger, March 15, 1976

Mar 15, 1976


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

In another Oval Office conversation, Kissinger raises the Cuban military involvement in Africa and expresses concern that Castro may deploy troops elsewhere in the region. ”I think sooner or later we have to crack the Cubans … I think we have to humiliate them.” He continues to argue that, ”If they move into Namibia or Rhodesia, I would be in favor of clobbering them. That would create a furor … but I think we might have to demand they get out of Africa.” When President Ford asks, “what if they don't?” Kissinger responds, ”I think we could blockade.”


Document 7.5

State Department, Meeting Minutes, Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, Cuba, SECRET, March 24, 1976

Mar 24, 1976


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

Kissinger convenes The Washington Special Actions Group—a small, elite team of national security officials—on March 24 to discuss a range of options and capabilities to move against Cuba. ”We want to get planning started in the political, economic and military fields so that we can see what we can do if we want to move against Cuba,” he explains. “In the military field there is an invasion or blockade.” Kissinger shares his domino theory of Cuban military involvement in the region. ”If the Cubans destroy Rhodesia then Namibia is next and then there is South Africa. It might only take five years,” Kissinger argues. In discussing military options, he states, “if we decide to use military power it must succeed. There should be no halfway measures - we get no reward for using military power in moderation.” Kissinger orders the group to secretly draw up plans for retaliation if Cuban troops go beyond Angola.


Document 7.6

WSAG, Cuban Contingency Plan Summary, SECRET (ca. April 1976)

Apr 1, 1976


National Security Archive Cuba Dialogue collection

This document is a summary of the Cuban Contingency survey considering the possible U.S. diplomatic, economic and military responses to continued Cuban and USSR "Angola style" intervention. Among the options are “a series of military actions on a graduated scale of seriousness which would involve the possibility of hostilities and would be considered acts of war.”

In 2001, the National Security Archive drafted a legal complaint directed at the State Department and the National Archives for abdicating their duty under the Federal Records Act to recover the Kissinger “telcon” documents, which were produced on government time with government resources. “Most, if not all, the telephone transcripts are agency records as defined by federal law,” the suit stated, “and Mr. Kissinger had no authority to remove them under the governing federal statutes and regulations.” A previous legal effort by reporters using the FOIA two decades earlier had failed to force Kissinger to return thousands of pages of transcripts his secretaries produced from listening to and recording his phone calls; Kissinger had resisted earlier efforts by the U.S. government to access these important records. “Mr. Kissinger,” the Archive’s draft lawsuit stated, “who has no legal authority to restrict access to agency records by federal officials charged with preserving such records, continues to assert unbridled discretion to control access to and maintain the secrecy of the telephone transcripts.”

The State Department Legal Adviser William Howard Taft IV agreed with the Archive’s legal arguments; he asked the Archive to postpone filing its legal action; Taft then formally notified Kissinger that he was required to return the documents or complete copies thereof and sent a team of lawyers to arrange the transfer. When Kissinger finally relinquished the records in August 2001—almost 24 years after he had misrepresented U.S. government documentation as “personal” papers and taken them—the Archive promptly filed a FOIA request for the telcons. After obtaining over 15,500 telcons in 2004, the Archive has since published the conversations in the Digital National Security Archive series through the online publisher ProQuest—and has also made them available through multiple postings such as this one.

The telephone conversations record Kissinger’s conversations with U.S. presidents, with several CIA directors, other cabinet members, foreign ministers and diplomats, including Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, as well as celebrities such as Frank Sinatra. They also capture his many conversations with major reporters who actively sought information from him, and who Kissinger sought to influence for advantageous press coverage. As a collection of records, the telcons remain a unique treasure trove of history. Since obtaining them, the Archive has made a maximum effort to call international attention to these papers that record the conversations, policies, actions and attitudes that are a profound and revealing part of Henry Kissinger’s historical legacy.


Document 8.1

National Security Archive, Draft Complaint, “National Security Archive v. The Archivist of the United States and The Secretary of State of the United States, February 13, 2001.

Feb 13, 2001


National Security Archive

Rather than sue Henry Kissinger, in early 2001 the National Security Archive targeted the two U.S. government agencies that “failed to initiate action…as required by federal law, to recover the telephone transcripts.” The draft complaint, written by Archive general counsel Kate Martin and the Archive’s pro-bono counsels Lee H. Rubin and Craig Isenberg from Mayer, Brown, & Platt, proved so compelling that U.S. Government lawyers acted upon its arguments to regain possession of the Kissinger telcons before it was ever filed. The complaint contains a statement of facts that reveals how Kissinger stored the transcripts in a set of “personal” files, removed U.S. government records, some of them clearly classified, and selectively used them for personal gain in violation of federal regulations and to the detriment of accurate history for over two decades when they were in his possession.


Document 8.2

State Department, Telcon, “Ken Fried/HAK 4/29/1975 – 10:31 p.m.” [Kissinger receives the news of the fall of Saigon and end of the Vietnam war]

Apr 29, 1975


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

In one of the most dramatic conversations recorded by Kissinger’s secret taping system, he receives a late-night call from wire service reporter Ken Fried who informs him that Saigon has fallen and General Duong Van Minh (”Big Minh”) had unconditionally surrendered to the "VC" (Viet Cong), a reference to North Vietnam's People's Liberation Armed Forces. “Is it true?” Kissinger asks initially, before attempting to disguise the fact that he had not yet heard this history-changing news that the Vietnam war was finally over and that the U.S. had lost.


Document 8.3

State Department, Telcon, “Sec Kissinger/Ted Koppel, 7/9/76; 12:30 p.m.

Jul 9, 1976


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

In this wide-ranging telephone conversation, journalist Ted Koppel converses with Kissinger about the prospects for the November 1976 election and whether Kissinger will remain in office or not. Koppel bets Kissinger five dollars that Ford will lose, but Kissinger insists “I think Carter is beatable.” At one point, Kissinger jokes that Jimmy Carter, who is leading President Ford in the polls, might actually keep him on as secretary of state. Koppel tells Kissinger that he is going to take a break from journalism to write a political novel in which the central figure “resembles you—you will be terribly pleased.” The fictional Kissinger-esque character will be named “Vanderburg.”


Document 8.4

Department of State, Kissinger Telephone Conversation with Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin, 9 December 1975, 6:06 p.m.

Dec 9, 1975


Digital National Security Archive [DNSA]

As Kissinger prepares to leave for Moscow for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), he calls Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin about a difficult subject—the Moscow Signal. For decades, the Soviets have been transmitting microwave energy beams at the U.S. Embassy building in an apparent effort to recharge listening devices planted in the walls. The current U.S. ambassador is threatening to brief the staff about the health issues related to the constant microwave exposure. “Maybe you could turn it off until I get there,” Kissinger presses, attempting to use a bit of humor to impress Dobrynin with the gravity of the situation. “And then you could switch it back on again,” Dobrynin responds. “You could give me a radiation treatment,” Kissinger banters. “Then you will be radioactive,” Dobrynin concludes. Worried about a leak which could cause an uproar in U.S. relations with the Kremlin, Kissinger warns Dobrynin that “We really are sitting on it here but too many people know about it.”


Document 8.5

State Department, Telcon, Rumsfeld-Sec. Kissinger December 23, 1974, 9:35 a.m. [Conversation about New York Times exposé on the CIA’s domestic operations]

Dec 23, 1974


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

After Seymour Hersh’s front page New York Times story on December 22, 1974, reveals CIA domestic operations against U.S. anti-Vietnam war movements, Kissinger calls White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld about the revelations. Kissinger denounces Hersh as a “son-of-a-bitch,” but claims he did not know about the activities himself. Kissinger agrees with Rumsfeld that Colby should prepare a report for the President. Eventually the CIA’s internal investigation compiles a slew of domestic spying operations and other illegal activities that become known as “the family jewels.”


Document 8.6

State Department, Telcon, “Frank Sinatra/Secretary Kissinger January 16, 1976, 8:09 pm,” [Conversation about arrangements for major diplomatic dinner in Los Angeles]

Jan 16, 1976


DNSA, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations

Kissinger's friendship with Frank Sinatra dated back to Nixon's first term, and reflected his famous hob-knobbing with major celebrities. Sinatra’s call is about arrangements for a major dinner for Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin being held at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. But the conversation begins and ends with Sinatra joking “do you want me to straighten out Angola for you?” With the U.S. Congress barring CIA intervention in Angola, Kissinger responds that he needs some of Sinatra's "enforcers" to solve the Angola problem. Sinatra asks Kissinger to speak at the Rabin event after the band plays and tells him “I will bring the formula for Angola.”