9. Letter From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Clements) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Dear Henry:

In accordance with our discussion at the WSAG, this letter provides you with a discussion of options available to the U.S. Government to respond to the attempted shoot-down on 21 March of a [less than 1 line not declassified] C–130 by the Libyan Air Force, and our recommended course of action.

In considering our actions, we must give weight to two factors:

a. Our aircraft was proceeding in international air space. The Libyan Government establishment of a restricted area within 100 n.m. 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 attack on our aircraft was unprovoked and illegal and if not met by an appropriate response from the U.S. Government, it will 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 U.S. citizens in this country and our very substantial (in excess of $1 billion) investments in Libya.

Outlined below are four options for response with associated pros and cons.

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 [Page 13] our aircraft as an illegal and unwarranted act that will certainly affect relationships between our countries. In addition, we could threaten, or act, to withhold sales of military equipment to the Libyan Government.


(1) Presents minimum potential for open conflict, break in diplomatic relations or actions against U.S. citizens or property.

(2) The Libyan Government needs our support for U.S. military equipment. Its loss could certainly limit their utilization of this equipment; i.e., F–5 and C–130 aircraft.


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

(2) 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.

(3) Denial of U.S. military equipment (spares) would increase prospects for Soviet military sales and influence in Libya.

b. Option 2. We could assert our right to fly through this air space by using a high performance combat aircraft that would have the intrinsic capability of self-defense.


(1) This would afford us the opportunity to assert our right to fly in this air space. The aircraft transitting would, by definition, have the ability to meet and counter any Libyan reaction. [2½ lines not declassified] In those cases we elected to replace vulnerable platforms with one more appropriate to the threat.


(1) A response with combat or high performance aircraft alone would not provide the desired parallelism between the earlier mission and our response.

c. Option 3. We could respond by sending a C–130 aircraft non-reconnaissance equipped, escorted by combat aircraft.


(1) This option would afford the apparent parallelism between the flight challenged on 21 March and our response, i.e., a transport type aircraft. The provision of armed escort would correspond to the actions that we took in responding to the North Korean.

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(2) The provision of armed escort should give us a high assurance that the mission could be completed successfully without incurring loss of aircraft.


(1) This mission composition does place at risk a transport aircraft with little intrinsic capability for self-defense. Even with an escort there is a risk that the transport aircraft could be lost.

(2) [2 lines not declassified]

(3) Given the irrational and irresponsible nature of the Libyan leadership, we might well find the U.S. in the position of shooting down one or more Libyan fighter aircraft. The issue of U.S. legal rights would become lost in the emotional aftermath that could critically undercut moderate Arab leaders and help unify the various extremist elements of the Arab world. U.S. lives in Libya and elsewhere would be placed in increased jeopardy as the fedayeen mounted reprisals.

d. [2 lines not declassified]


[1½ lines not declassified]


Same as Option 3 above [less than 1 line not declassified] It is my recommendation that our responses be either Option 3 or Option 4. Details of these two options were forwarded to you under separate cover through my letter of 30 March, subject as above, and the amendment forwarded on 31 March 1973. Related documents have also been provided to the White House and the DIA intelligence assessment of this mission, subject “The Libyan Threat to US Reconnaissance Flights” dated 26 March 1973 and amended 31 March 1973.

W.P. Clements
  1. Summary: Clements provided Kissinger with four options in response to the March 21 Libyan attack on a U.S. C–130 aircraft.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 739, Country Files, Africa, Libya. Top Secret; Sensitive. The letter was sent to Scowcroft, April 6, under a covering memorandum from Dick Kennedy. Scowcroft wrote on the memorandum: “Action taken.”