- Israel attacks Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, killing hundreds of civilians. The UN attempts to pass a resolution condemning the attacks, but the US vetoes it. (ZNet)
- January 8: NVA general staff plan for the invasion of South Vietnam by 20 divisions is approved by North Vietnam's Politburo. By now, the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army is the fifth largest in the world. It anticipates a two-year struggle for victory. But in reality, South Vietnam's forces will collapse in only 55 days. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- January 21: During a press conference, Ford states the US is unwilling to re-enter the war. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- March: At an OPEC meeting, Iran and Iraq sign a treaty ending their border disputes. (BBC)
- March 10: The final offensive begins as 25,000 NVA attack Ban Me Thuot located in the Central Highlands. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- March 13: President Thieu decides to abandon the Highlands region and two northern provinces to the NVA. This results in a mass exodus of civilians and soldiers, clogging roads and bringing general chaos. NVA forces then shell the disorganized retreat which becomes known as "the convoy of tears." (Vietnam War Timeline)
- March 31: After numerous victories, the NVA begins the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign," the final push toward Saigon. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- April 21: A bitter, tearful President Thieu resigns during a 90 minute rambling TV speech to the people of South Vietnam. Thieu reads from the letter sent by Nixon in 1972 pledging "severe retaliatory action" if South Vietnam was threatened. Thieu condemns the Paris Peace Accords, Henry Kissinger and the US. "The United States has not respected its promises. It is inhumane. It is untrustworthy. It is irresponsible." He is then ushered into exile in Taiwan, aided by the CIA, with 17 tons of gold in tow. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- April 27: Saigon is encircled. 30,000 South Vietnamese soldiers are inside the city but are leaderless. NVA fire rockets into downtown civilian areas as the city erupts into chaos and widespread looting. (Vietnam War Timeline)
- April 29: NVA shell Tan Son Nhut air base in Saigon, killing two US Marines at the compound gate. Conditions then deteriorate as South Vietnamese civilians loot the air base. President Ford now orders Operation Frequent Wind, the helicopter evacuation of 7000 Americans and South Vietnamese from Saigon, which begins with the radio broadcast of the song "White Christmas" as a pre-arraigned code signal. At Tan Son Nhut, frantic civilians begin swarming the helicopters. The evacuation is then shifted to the walled-in American embassy, which is secured by US Marines in full combat gear. But the scene there also deteriorates, as thousands of civilians attempt to get into the compound. Three US aircraft carriers stand by off the coast of Vietnam to handle incoming Americans and South Vietnamese refugees. Many South Vietnamese pilots also land on the carriers, flying American-made helicopters which are then pushed overboard to make room for more arrivals. Filmed footage of the $250,000 choppers being tossed into the sea becomes an enduring image of the war's end. (Vietnam War Timeline)
Fall of Saigon
- April 30: At 8:35 AM., the last Americans, ten Marines from the embassy, depart Saigon, concluding the United States presence in Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops pour into Saigon and encounter little resistance. By 11 AM., the red and blue Viet Cong flag flies from the presidential palace. President Minh broadcasts a message of unconditional surrender. The war is over. The US immediately extends its economic embargo to the entire country. (Vietnam War Timeline, Chronology of US-Vietnam Relations)
- May 12: The US merchant ship SS Mayaguez is seized by Cambodian forces of the Khmer Rouge in international waters in the Gulf of Siam, who suspect the ship of carrying arms for Cambodian rebels; in reality, the ship was carrying cargo for military bases in Thailand. The crew is removed for interrogation. The capture is the first major international incident of Ford's tenure; he is determined to deal with the situation forcibly, but is hampered by the US's lack of diplomatic contacts with the Khmer Rouge. Ford immediately denounces the capture as an act of piracy. On May 15, under orders from the White House, the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea moves into the area, and 70 Marines from the USS Holt board the ship, only to find it empty of crew. Eight US helicopters carrying approximately 200 men assault the Cambodian island of Koh Tang; four of the helicopters are shot down within minutes. The US did not know that a heavy contingent of Cambodian forces was in place, as part of Cambodia's territorial dispute with Vietnam. 38 Marines die in the fighting, and three others are captured and later executed by the Khmer Rouge. The incident causes a problem with Thailand; the US had used the U Tapao airbase as the base for the assault despite explicit demands from the Thai government that the US not violate its territorial sovreignity. Meanwhile, the USS Wilson, acting in support of the assault, is approached by a Thai fishing boat with all 39 crew members aboard; the Cambodians had released them hours before the attack. The reason for the release has never been made clear, but some suspect the behind-the-scenes intervention of either China or Israel. (Chronology of US-Vietnam Relations, Wikipedia, Merchant Marine)
- Ford's chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld draws heavy criticism for his assertions that the fall of Saigon will give Ford credit for pulling the troops out of Vietnam, and for prematurely celebrating the rescue of the USS Mayaguez while three US Marines are still held captive and later executed. (Kevin Phillips)
- During the Vietnam era, many of the neoconservatives of the 21st century are members of the Democratic party, mostly aligned with the conservative Senator Henry "scoop" Jackson. One former Jackson aide, Richard Perle, has spent 30 years denying the belief that neoconservatism got its start in the confusion and malaise surrounding Vietnam. (Kevin Phillips)
MK-ULTRA revealed to public
- Summer: Congressional hearings and the Rockefeller Commission reveal some of the reality behind the long-rumored CIA MK-ULTRA project. (See a variety of entries in the 1897-1961 page of this site.) The public is told that the CIA, and to a lesser extent the Department of Defense, had experimented with a variety of "mind control" techniques on American citizens, without governmental oversight or a recognition of ethical, moral, and scientific restraint, in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of those techniques were drug-oriented, with heavy experimentation with LSD and other hallucinogens, but other chemical, biological, and psychological techniques were used, including radiation. The death of Dr. Frank Olson, a CIA researcher, is explored without satisfactory results, as is the death of tennis player Harold Blauer, an unwitting subject of mescaline testing, in later investigations. A similar Army project, documented by 1953's "Wilson Memorandum," is also revealed. Many of the documents concerning MK-ULTRA (renamed MKSEARCH in 1964) were destroyed in 1972 by the order of CIA director Richard Helms.
- Senator Ted Kennedy says of the project, "The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over 30 universities and institutions were involved in an 'extensive testing and experimentation' program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens 'at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign.' Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to 'unwitting subjects in social situations.' At least one death, that of Dr. Olson, resulted from these activities. The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers." Senator Frank Church, a liberal Democrat chairing the committee investigating MK-ULTRA, says that the tests are obviously illegal and unethical, and President Gerald Ford will issue an executive order banning such experiments without the explicit consent of those being tested. Subsequent orders from presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan will ban human experimentation altogether. In 1994, a GAO report will reveal that hundreds of thousands of test subjects, mostly soldiers, had been exposed to dangerous hallucinogens, including BZ, a compound far more dangerous than LSD. A transcript of the subsequent 1977 Senate hearings, centering around testimony from CIA director Stansfiend Turner, is available at the Hidden Mysteries website; the site also includes other MK-ULTRA documents.
- Conspiracy theories surrounding MK-ULTRA abound to this day, the most persistent involving the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968, by Palestinian militant Sirhan Sirhan; Sirhan is rumored to have been a victim of CIA mind control techniques, though evidence supporting this theory is scant. Other conspiracy theories center around the possible introduction of LSD into the "hippie" community in an attempt to either control the users, or disrupt the burgeoning anti-war and anti-government movements. This theory, though lacking in documentation, is interesting in light of the August 1996 allegations by investigative reporter Gary Webb that the CIA is responsible for introducing crack cocaine into the Southern California ghettos. (Hidden Mysteries, Wikipedia)
- July 8: A memo from Dick Cheney to his boss, White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld, sheds light on the Cheney-Rumsfeld efforts to neutralize the influence of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as illustrative of Cheney's love of secrecy and his, and Rumsfeld's, ability to manipulate the press. Kissinger had advised Ford not to meet with Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who opposes detente between the two countries; Kissinger's rationale is to avoid upsetting the Soviet government. Cheney disagrees. "Seeing [Solzhenitsyn] is a nice counter-balance to all the publicity and coverage that's given to meetings between American Presidents and Soviet Leaders," Cheney writes. "Meetings with Soviet Leaders are very important, but it is also important that we not contribute any more to the illusion that all of a sudden we're bosum-buddies with the Russians." Cheney also advises that the meeting with Solzhenitsyn be held "with a very small group, so that we don't have the kind of leaks we did last time." Ford reads and initials the memo.
- While Cheney is already garnering the reputation of a White House official who loathes media leaks, in reality both Cheney and his mentor, Rumsfeld, are consummate media leakers when it suits their purposes. Ford speechwriter Robert Hartmann calls Rumsfeld a master of the "calculated leak." He recalls, "Rumsfeld would only personally leak the stories that reflected positively on him," leaving the negative leaks designed to damage and attack opponents to his deputy, Cheney. "Cheney was the abominable No-man," Hartmann jokes. Former Nixon counselor John Dean believes that when Cheney becomes White House chief of staff under Ford, much of the leaking will be from disgruntled staffers who dislike Cheney's authoritarian, heavy-handed management style. "The people I knew who were still there were very disenchanted with Cheney," Dean recalls. "They felt he was in way over his head." (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- August: The Portuguese government of the South Pacific island nation of Timor withdraws to the offshore island of Atauro, setting the stage for Timorese independence. (BBC/East Timor Timeline)
- Late October: White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld's internecine war against holdovers from the Nixon administration,
particularly Henry Kissinger, culminates in the so-called "Halloween Massacre," engineered by Rumsfeld and his assistant Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld becomes Secretary of Defense, Cheney ascends to chief of staff, George H.W. Bush takes over the CIA from William Colby, and Kissinger's deputy Brent Scowcroft takes Kissinger's position as national security advisor. Kissinger remains as Secretary of State, but the days of his absolute control over the Ford administration are gone. The firing of Colby is a particular plum; Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other administration officials feel that Colby has shared too much of the CIA's business with Congress. The increasingly hawkish and militant Rumsfeld is determined to rebuild the US military, particularly the Army, from the depths of demoralization and attrition caused by Vietnam, and to escalate the Cold War against the USSR. Predictably, Rumsfeld and Kissinger, who is a proponent of detente with the Soviet Union, clash over how the military should be rebuilt. Says James Mann: "I think [Rumsfeld] probably, with one exception, he's probably the most skillful bureaucratic knife fighter that has worked in government for the last half century. That one exception would be Kissinger himself, who, in different ways, was an amazing bureaucratic in-fighter." Rumsfeld steadily wins the battle. Rumsfeld stymied Kissinger's attempts to implement the SALT II disarmament protocols, essentially destroying Kissinger's entire arms control agreements. Later, he convinces a liberal-dominated Congress to increase the 1977 defense budget by $5 billion for military improvements.
- One reason Kissinger was defeated by Rumsfeld, says Mann, was that he fundamentally misunderstood Rumsfeld's motivations: "The Kissinger entourage thought Rumsfeld was just tacking. He had been a liberal in the Nixon years. Now [they thought] he was being a hawk because that might help his political standing. Everybody saw Rumsfeld as a political figure, someone who wanted to be President of the United States.... [But] in fact, when Rumsfeld became a hawk in the mid-seventies, he stayed a hawk." Robert Ellsworth claims that Rumsfeld's position on the military was always straightforwardly conservative, in other words "supportive of the military" and "supportive of our position in the world as the counter to the Soviet threat." With Ellsworth, Rumsfeld also blocks the Church Commission from cleaning up, or in their view dismantling, the US's intelligence apparatus. Rumsfeld's second posting as Secretary of Defense, in the second Bush administration in 2001 and beyond, is shaped by his battles with the Pentagon, which he sees as calcified by bureaucracy.
- Cheney, who admits that it is improbable for "a 34-year old graduate school dropout" like himself to land such a senior position, parlays his new position into even more power, ousting veteran campaign chairman Bo Calloway to, in essence, take over the Ford-Dole presidential campaign of 1976 (though Cheney is later unsuccessful at getting Ford to choose Ronald Reagan over Bob Dole to join the ticket). Cheney's heavy-handed attempts to push Ford ever rightwards don't fend off Reagan as a powerful primary challenger, and Cheney's dictatorial management style causes disgruntlement and disarray in the campaign. An advisory group to the campaign, which includes Dole and Barry Goldwater, complains about the inability of the White House "to manage the president politically." Former Ford official James Cannon later observes that Cheney is over his head: "Too bad Rumsfeld did not stay for the campaign, Ford might have won a second term. Cheney was not as good an organizer and he was not as astute politically." (PBS, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- November: Secret police leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Urugray meet in Santiago, Chile, to create what is later called Operation Condor, or Plan Condor, with the assistance of Manuel Contreras, chief of the DINA, or secret police, of Chile. The operation was presented as a counter-terrorism initiative to deter Marxist influence and insurrections against these countries' authoritarian regimes. (Brazil joins a year later.) Condor is marked by a wave of assassinations, death sqauad activities, and torture, with 50,000 murdered and 30,000 "disappeared" in Argentina alone. The operation is given tacit approval by the US, with the close involvement of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Officially the targets are leftist guerrillas, but in reality Condor targets all kinds of political opponents, whether or not these opponents use violence. Among other incidents, the 1976 murder of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt is later revealed to be a Condor execution. The US helps facilitate communications for Condor, with a US installation in Panama being used by the South American intelligence and secret police chiefs involved in the operation. The "information exchange" (via telex) included torture techniques, including the near-drowning, or waterboarding, of victims, and playing the sound recordings of victims who were being tortured to their family). The infamous "death flights," or forced disappearances, are also widely used, in order to make the corpses, and therefore evidence, disappear, often by throwing them from planes into the ocean. There are also many cases of child abduction.
- On December 22, 1992, a significant amount of information about Operation Condor comes to light when Jose Fernandez, a Paraguayan judge, visits a police station in Asuncion to look for files on a former political prisoner. Instead he finds what become known as the "terror archives," detailing the fates of thousands of Latin Americans secretly kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Some of these countries will later use portions of this archive to prosecute former military officers. The archives count 50,000 persons murdered, 30,000 "desaparecidos," or disappeared, and 400,000 incarcerated people. According to these archives, other countries such as Colombia, Peru and Venezuela also cooperate to varying extents by providing intelligence information in response to requests from the security services of the so-called "Southern Cone" countries. Even though they weren't at the secret November 1975 meeting in Santiago de Chile there is evidence of their involvement. For instance, in June 1980, Peru was known to have been collaborating with Argentinian agents in the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of a group of Montoneros living in exile in Lima. The "terror archives" also revealed Colombia's and Venezuela's cooperation. In Colombia, it is now believed that a paramilitary organization known as Alianza Americana Anticomunista is cooperating with Operation Condor.
- Operation Condor officially comes to a close with the ousting of Argentina's ruthless dictatorship in 1983, though the killings continue. (Wikipedia, Buzzflash)
George H.W. Bush heads the CIA
- December: President Ford chooses George H.W. Bush to head the CIA, a decision made with the involvement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Though Bush has had an extensive involvement in CIA affairs for nearly twenty years, he claims that this is his first position with the agency. The position comes with a price; because of his position as CIA director, he will not be considered as Ford's running mate in the 1976 elections. With this, the Bush family secures over 60 years of involvement in American intelligence. "In a very real but little understood sense," writes historian Kevin Phillips, "the Bush dynasty was already getting underway in 1980-81 when George Bush went from the CIA director's job to the vice presidency, a jump no one had ever managed before and one that brought a new and unfamiliar mind-set to the elected executive office." Bush sets up Section B, a group of neo-conservative outsiders and generals, who proceed to radically overstate the estimates of the Soviet military budget. Bush strongly opposes Senator Frank Church's attempt to make the CIA budget a matter of public record. In private discussions with high-level members of Ford's administration, Bush argues that the US can win a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. (Bushwatch, Kevin Phillips)
- December: Senate hearings uncover the fact that internment plans for American citizens, originally conceived by Roosevelt and the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover during 1939 and codified in the Internal Security Act of 1950 revealed the ongoing internment plan had never been terminated. The report, entitled "Intelligence Activities, Senate Resolution 21," exposed the covert agenda. In a series of documents, memos and testimony by assorted government informants, the reality emerges of the designs by the federal government to monitor, infiltrate, arrest and incarcerate a potentially large segment of American society. That Senate report also exposes the existence of the Master Search Warrant (MSW) and the Master Arrest Warrant (MAW), both of which are currently still in force today. The MAW document, authorized by the attorney general of the United States, directs the head of the FBI to: "Arrest persons whom I deem dangerous to the public peace and safety. These persons are to be detained and confined until further order." The language gives wide latitude for an aggressive attorney general to detain just about anyone without cause, without legal representation, and with limited Constitutional protections. The MSW also instructs the FBI director to "search certain premises where (1) it is believed that there may be found contraband, prohibited articles, or (2) other materials in violation of the Proclamation of the President of the United States. It includes (3) such items as firearms, shortwave radio receiving sets, cameras, propaganda materials, printing presses, mimeography machines, membership and financial records of organizations or groups (4) that have been declared subversive, or may hereafter be declared subversive by the Attorney General." (World Net Daily/Geoff Metcalf)
East Timor declares independence; invaded by Indonesia with US support
- December 7: After East Timor declares its independence, Indonesia, with American support, invades the small country, using the struggle against communism as a pretext. (The day before the invasion, President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visit Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and in a meeting with Indonesian dictator Suharto, gives the Indonesian government their approval to invade. 90% of the weapons used by the Indonesian military were provided by the US. US intelligence monitors the slaughter of thousands of Timorese civilians via electronic intercepts, and are well aware of countless atrocities such as the murder of entire families in their homes and the dumping of hundreds of bodies into the harbor. When warned that the Indonesians were violating the agreement it had with the US not to use US-supplied weaponry for aggression, and that Congress might start asking questions, Kissinger rails against his top aides for leaving a paper trail. The note-taker for that meeting is L. Paul Bremer, who will later join Kissinger Associates, and in 2003 will become the US administrator in Iraq.) It annexes much of the nation as its 27th province, a move not recognized by the UN. After the invasion, the US rewards Indonesia by doubling military aid to the country.
- In 1978, US vice president Walter Mondale responds to a request from the Indonesia government for more warplanes to expedite its hunt for Timorese civilians in the mountains by fast-forwarding US provision of A-4 attack planes to Indonesia. The Reagan administration will provide hundreds of billions of dollars in military aid to the Indonesians; under the first Bush administration, US corporations such as AT&T and General Electric invest heavily in Indonesia, but is unable to continue heavy military aid due to grassroots activist who lobby Congress. President Clinton continues US support of the Suharto regime.
- Strong resistance by the Timorese follows, which, along with famine and brutal repression by the Indonesian military, results in the deaths of over 200,000 civilians. This, one of the most long-lasting and vicious repressions in modern history, goes virtually ignored by the American media and the American government (CBS airs one 40-second report on the invasion; after that, none of the three major networks mention East Timor at all for the next sixteen years). Popular Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao leads the rebellion against the Indonesian occupiers. The civilians take to the mountains, as Indonesian troops develop the practice of exterminating entire communities at once. Thousands of Timorese are forced to live in detention camps; in 1979, aid workers testify that conditions in Timor are worse than those faced by Biafrans during the 1960s. (BBC/East Timor Timeline, Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
John Paul Stevens joins Supreme Court
- December 19: John Paul Stevens is sworn in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Stevens, a decorated World War II veteran and former appellate court justice, is considered by Ford to be a political moderate, but both due to the rightward swing of the court and Stevens's own changing views, has become a relatively staunch liberal voice on the Court. (Most notably, he has moderated his former opposition to some affirmative action programs.) Stevens will be a vociferous opponent of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision. (Wikipedia)
- Christopher John Boyce, a clerk at TRW, the company helping build the next-generation Rhyolite spy satellite for the CIA and process information from the satellite systems currently in orbit, sells a vast amount of sensitive information to Soviet agents in Mexico City and Vienna. Boyce and his accomplice Andrew Daulton Lee are caught, convicted, and sentenced to long jail terms. Their story inspired the fact-based novel The Falcon and the Snowman. (Philip Taubman)