The Secret Bombing of Cambodia
From March 1969 to May 1970 under the direction of Richard Nixon, the United States carried out a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, using B-52 heavy bombers to carpet bomb areas of the country where there were suspected rest and resupply areas for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The bombing was called Operation Menu, and when it was completed it was followed by another bombing operation which would continue until 1973. Operation Menu was so secret that it bypassed the normal chain of command for the Air Force.
The bombings began at a time when the United States was attempting to establish full diplomatic relations with the Cambodian government, led by Prince Sihanouk. The Prince was aware of the North Vietnamese refuge areas along the border, in fact, he had agreed formally with China to allow the North Vietnamese to enter the border areas. He had also agreed to allow US and South Vietnamese troops who were actively pursuing them to cross the border if they were following up from an engagement. Henry Kissinger later claimed that this was tantamount to the Prince giving his permission for the bombing.
The Cambodian government complained of the American bombing in their country over 100 times on the floor of the United Nations, only to have the United States deny any intrusions into their airspace, other than minor incidents caused by faulty navigation. On one occasion the Cambodians specified the use of B-52s in their protest. In May 1969 the bombing was reported in The New York Times, which reported that the story had come from an unnamed source highly placed within the Nixon administration. An outraged Nixon ordered J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap (illegally) the suspected source.
There was a little follow-up to the story by the rest of the news media and for several more years, the bombing of Cambodia was kept from the Congress, other than five Congressmen whose support on the Appropriations Committee was vital. When one of the military officers involved in the planning questioned the legality of the operation to his superior, his efficiency reports fell, ruining his career. This officer then wrote to Senator William Proxmire, asking for guidance on American policy regarding the bombing of a neutral nation. Proxmire initiated hearings in the Senate.
The hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee coincided with the Watergate hearings and investigation and drew far less media attention. The committee found that the covert operation and the attempts to keep it secret exceeded the authority of the White House and that the administration had lied not only to Congress but to the most senior civilian and military leaders of the Air Force. Henry Kissinger later claimed (falsely) that the Cambodian government had requested American bombing of their country to stop the influx of North Vietnamese troops and said, “…I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue…”