BY AMY TAXIN and DEB RIECHMANN
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) — Overseas reaction to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 was mixed: The Soviets expressed worry about the future of detente. North Korea reacted brashly, calling Nixon’s exit the “falling out” of the “wicked boss” of American imperialists. South Vietnam put its forces on high alert because it feared the North Vietnamese would take advantage of the vulnerable U.S. political situation.
The international response to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s fall is noted in 2,500 newly declassified intelligence documents the CIA released on Wednesday at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. The 28,000 pages — many still with lengthy redactions — represent eight years of the top-secret President’s Daily Brief prepared for Nixon and his successor, President Gerald Ford.
At the start of Nixon’s tenure, the CIA delivered morning and afternoon intelligence briefs at the request of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who wanted timely intelligence on world events. By the end of 1969, the PDB was about 10 pages long. Ford sought even more analysis and his PDBs were sometimes close to 20 pages long with annexes.
The brief on Sept. 5, 1973, said Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had “voiced suspicions that opponents of Soviet-U.S. accommodation are trying to exploit Watergate and said he wanted to build detente so firmly that it will not be an issue in future U.S. politics.”
Most of the documents mentioning Watergate followed Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 8, 1974. The scandal erupted in 1972 after operatives for Nixon’s Republican re-election campaign were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office and hotel complex in Washington.
“The world in the past 24 hours has seemed to mark time as the U.S. succession process worked itself out,” according to the Aug. 10, 1974, brief. “None of the potential troublemakers has produced even a rumble. … It may be that many have not had time to consider how the situation might be turned to advantage. Many, the Soviets for example, had probably not anticipated the situation to come to a climax so rapidly and, still in something of a state of shock, are without (a) fixed course.”
According to the brief, the North Vietnamese did not accelerate attacks, but instead confined themselves to “warning President Ford not to follow past U.S. policies toward Indochina.”
One intelligence brief, about a week after the resignation, predicted that Brezhnev, who had developed a personal relationship with Nixon, could lose some standing in the Politburo, the policy-making body of the Communist Party. The partnership had produced results. In May 1972, Nixon visited Moscow for discussions that led to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The pact to limit nuclear arms was a key foreign policy achievement for Nixon and Kissinger.
Other subjects discussed in the documents released Wednesday include:
Attack at Munich Olympics. The Sept. 6, 1972, brief said Israel “seems certain to avenge” militants responsible for kidnapping and killing 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. “Although the Israelis could allow the outrage in the international community to suffice for the present, domestic sentiment for a response is already mounting,” the brief said. “Any reprisal action could be severe.”
1975 fall of Saigon. U.S. intelligence predicted that Saigon wouldn’t fall to the North Vietnamese until early 1976. In fact, it happened months earlier on April 30, 1975. That day’s intelligence brief said: “North Vietnamese troops and tanks entered the heart of Saigon less than two hours after President Duong Van Minh announced the unconditional surrender of his government. … At last report, Minh was seen leaving the palace accompanied by communist troops.”
1973 Arab-Israeli War. The war started Oct. 6, 1973, on Yom Kippur when Egypt and Syria attacked Sinai and the Golan Heights on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The day before the war began, intelligence reports remarked that while military exercises in Egypt seemed larger and more realistic, “they do not appear to be preparations for an offensive against Israel.” Even on the day the war began, the brief did not confirm Israeli reports of an imminent attack, and said neither side seemed inclined to start hostilities. Rather, officials were concerned that Syria could mobilize its defenses, alarming the Israelis, which would “increase the risk of military clashes, which neither side originally intended.”
Attending a program at the Nixon Library in conjunction with the release of the documents, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked about the U.S. being surprised by the Yom Kippur war and how intelligence analysts sometimes get it wrong.
“For every one of those, there are probably 10 calls we made that are correct, and which never get publicized, and where the intelligence community, I’m proud to say, has saved lives,” Clapper said.
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