14. Memorandum From Harold Saunders and Richard Kennedy of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Contingency Planning for Libyan Flight

The Libyan reconnaissance flight went off without incident. Therefore, there is no need this morning to discuss the contingency papers prepared yesterday. However, it would be useful for you to ask that they be reviewed by an interdepartmental working group for discussion in the WSAG before another flight.


Memorandum for Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff

Washington, undated.


  • Options for Possible [less than 1 line not declassified] Mission Incident, 17 April 1973

(TS) In accordance with the discussion at the WSAG on 16 April, we have examined alternatives in response to—“what do we do or say if the Libyans attack our aircraft on the [less than 1 line not declassified] Mission of 17 April 1973?”

(TS) In considering our actions we have again given weight to the two factors set forth in the letter to Mr. Kissinger of 5 April 1973:

(a) Our aircraft will be proceeding in international air space. The Libyan Government establishment of a restricted area within 100 nautical miles of Tripoli is not recognized by the U.S. Government, and we have lodged formal protest with the Libyan Government concerning their unilateral and illegal declaration of air space control. The Libyan [Page 28] attack on our aircraft was unprovoked and illegal and, if not met by appropriate response from the U.S. Government, it would reinforce the Libyan claim.

(b) It is our objective to maintain diplomatic relations with the Libyan Government, both to maintain contact with this government and to represent the some 3,000 citizens in this country and our very substantial (in excess of $1 billion) investments in Libya.

(TS) Outlined below are two non-military options available to us if our aircraft are attacked:

(a) Option 1. Diplomatic protest only. We could make our position clear again that we do not recognize the Libyan claim and regard their attack upon our aircraft as an illegal and unwarranted act that will certainly affect relationships between our countries.

Pro: Presents minimum potential for open conflict, break in diplomatic relations or actions against U.S. citizens or property.

Cons: We have delivered protests before on the Libyan claims on air space. A diplomatic protest would be viewed as a weak and ineffective response.

(b) Option 2. We could threaten, or act, to withhold sales of military equipment to the Libyan Government; specifically this would be the FMS and commercial pipeline of spares for the F–5s and C–130s of the Libyan Air Force; a contract maintenance team furnished by Lockheed for the C–130s; and a recent request to purchase additional C–130s.

Pro: The Libyan Government needs our support for U.S. military equipment. Its loss could certainly limit their utilization of this equipment.

Cons: (1) Our leverage with respect to military equipment is limited. It is possible that the support required by the Libyan Government could be obtained from other sources. (2) Denial of U.S. military equipment (spares) would increase prospects for Soviet military sales and influence in Libya.

(TS) The following actions are military oriented and in certain cases could and/or would be done in concert with the two foregoing nonmilitary options. We should reschedule additional missions with escort into HLR–22 at a rate initially of approximately one per day. Other actions which might be taken concurrently, not necessarily arranged in recommended priority of adoption, are:

a. Expand present authorities to include hot pursuit into Libyan airspace.

b. Escort aircraft on future [less than 1 line not declassified] missions be authorized to engage/destroy Libyan fighter aircraft upon [Page 29] detection/intercept regardless of whether or not hostile intent has been established.

c. Commence military air operations from a U.S. CVA inside of HLR–22, but outside 12 mile limit. Engage/destroy any Libyan fighter aircraft which approach U.S. aircraft or ships.

Pro: The advantage to the above actions would be to demonstrate our determination to exercise our right to operate in international airspace and protect our aircraft in this airspace, taking reprisal action against those interfering with our rights by acts of force.


a. There would be strong and violent reaction throughout the Arab world, and almost certainly reprisals against U.S. oil and other commercial interests.

b. There would be a severe hazard to the lives of U.S. nationals living in Libya. There might be a severe danger in other Arab countries due to street mobs and arranged demonstrations or overt attacks against U.S. personnel and properties.

c. Sympathy for the Libyan “cause” in the world councils and in the world press would be enhanced, and corresponding damage to American prestige.

d. Relations with our allies in western Europe, who are highly dependent upon Libyan oil, would be gravely strained, and we would find some of them in strong opposition to the United States both within and without NATO.

(TS) Additionally, we are exploring Libyan flag shipping and aircraft assets operating outside Libya which might be susceptible to reprisal measures.

(S) In the event a serious incident results from the [less than 1 line not declassified] mission, the USG should be prepared to evacuate U.S. citizens from Libya, as they might well become targets for radical Arab attacks.

  1. Summary: Saunders and Kennedy gave Kissinger the options paper on the Libyan situation requested by the Washington Special Actions Group on April 16.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 739, Country Files, Africa, Libya. Top Secret; Sensitive. An unknown hand underlined everything after the word “however” in the last sentence of the covering memorandum, and drew two parallel lines in the margin beside it.