THE PHOENIX PROGRAM- Chiến Dịch Phụng Hoàng

© 1990, 2000 by Douglas Valentine

Source: http://www.american-buddha.com/phoenixprogtoc.htm

Publisher: iUniverse (August 7, 2000)

In his autobiography, In the Midst of Wars, Lansdale gives an example of the counterterror tactics he employed in the Philippines. He tells how one psychological warfare operation “played upon the popular dread of an asuang, or vampire, to solve a difficult problem.” The problem was that Lansdale wanted government troops to move out of a village and hunt Communist guerrillas in the hills, but the local politicians were afraid that if they did, the guerrillas would “swoop down on the village and the bigwigs would be victims.” So, writes Lansdale:

A combat psywar [psychological warfare] team was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of a vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to circulate among Huk sympathizers in the town and make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along a trail used by the Huks. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the vampire had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on the hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.

Lansdale defines the incident as “low humor” and “an appropriate response … to the glum and deadly practices of communists and other authoritarians.”


Counterterror was one way of co-opting uncommitted civilians. To facilitate their political awakening, according to Manzione, “We left our calling card nailed to the forehead of the corpses we left behind. They were playing card size with a light green skull with red eyes and red teeth dripping blood, set against a black background. We hammered them into the third eye, the pituitary gland, with our pistol butts. The third eye is the seat of consciousness for Buddhists, and this was a form of mutilation that had a powerful psychological effect.”

Curiously, terror tactics often involve mutilating the third eye (the seat of insight and secret thoughts) and playing on fears of an “all-seeing” cosmic eye of God. Used by morale officers in World War I, the eye of God trick called for pilots in small aircraft to fly over enemy camps and call out the names of individual soldiers. Ed Lansdale applied the technique in the Philippines. “At night, when the town was asleep, a psywar team would creep into town and paint an eye (copied from the Egyptian eye that appears atop the pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States) on a wall facing the house of each suspect,” Lansdale writes. “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.”

To appreciate the “sobering effects” of the “malevolent” and “mysterious” eye of God, it helps to know something of the archetype’s mythological origins. In ancient Egypt, the eye of God was plucked from Horus, an anthropomorphic sun-god with a falcon’s head. Pictured as the morning sun cresting a pyramid, the eye of God represents the dawn of self-awareness, when the ego emerged from the id and no longer required human sacrifice to overcome its primeval anxiety. Awed by the falcon’s superlative sight, talons, and flight, the Egyptians endowed Horus with the bird’s predatory prowess, so he could avenge the murder his father, Osiris, whose name means “seat of the eye.” Set on high, scanning the earth for the forces of darkness, the falcon as sun-god — as the manifestation of enlightenment — carries out the work of organization and pacification, imposing moral order on earth.

The eye of God assumes its mysterious “counterespionage” qualities through this myth of the eternal cycle — the battle between good and evil — in which, if the perfidious gods of darkness can guess the sun-god’s secret name, they can rob him of his powers and trap him forever in the underworld. Thus a falcon emblem was placed above the gates of all Egyptian temples, scanning for the sun-god’s enemies, while the sun-god relied on code names to conceal his identity.

Oddly enough, the eye of God was the symbol of the Cao Dai sect, whose gallery of saints include Confucius, Buddha, Joan of Arc, Jesus, and Victor Hugo. Inside the Cao Dai cathedral in Tay Ninh City, the Cao Dai pope divined upon his planchette the secrets of the Great pyramid; over the temple door loomed a huge blue “all-seeing” eye surrounded by snakes and trees. For this reason, some people suggest that the Cao Dai eye of God endowed Phoenix, the all-seeing bird of prey that selectively snatched its prey, with its ubiquity.

In South Vietnam the eye of God trick took a ghastly twist. CIA officer Pat McGarvey recalled to Seymour Hersh that “some psychological warfare guy in Washington thought of a way to scare the hell out of villagers. When we killed a VC there, they wanted us to spread-eagle the guy, put out his eye, cut a hole in the back [of his head] and put his eye in there. The idea was that fear was a good weapon.” Likewise, ears were cut off corpses and nailed to houses to let the people know that Big Brother was listening as well.

“Now everyone knows about the airborne interrogation — taking three people up in a chopper, taking one guy and saying, ‘Talk,’ then throwing him out before he even gets the chance to open his mouth. Well, we wrapped det [detonator] cord around their necks and wired them to the detonator box. And basically what it did was blow their heads off. The interrogator would tell the translator, usually a South Vietnamese intelligence officer, ‘Ask him this.’ He’d ask him, ‘Who gave you the gun?’ And the guy would start to answer, or maybe he wouldn’t — maybe he’d resist — but the general idea was to waste the first two. They planned the snatches that way. Pick up this guy because we’re pretty sure he’s VC cadre — these other two guys just run errands for him. Or maybe they’re nobody; Tran, the farmer, and his brother Nguyen. But bring in two. Put them in a row. By the time you get to your man, he’s talking so fast you got to pop the weasel just to shut him up.” After a moment’s silence he added, “I guess you could say that we wrote the book on terror.”


The most valuable quality possessed by defectors, deserters, and criminals serving in “sensitive” CIA projects was their expendability. Take, for example, Project 24, which employed NVA officers and senior enlisted men. Candidates for Project 24 were vetted and, if selected, taken out for dinner and drinks, to a brothel, where they were photographed, then blackmailed into joining special reconnaissance teams. Trained in Saigon, outfitted with captured NVA or VC equipment, then given a “one-way ticket to Cambodia,” they were sent to locate enemy sanctuaries. When they radioed back their position and that of the sanctuary, the CIA would “arc-light” (bomb with B52’s) them along with the target. No Project 24 special reconnaissance team ever returned to South Vietnam.

Notably, minds capable of creating Project 24 were not averse to exploiting deviants within their own community, and SOG occasionally recruited American soldiers who had committed war crimes. Rather than serve time in prison or as a way of getting released from stockades in Vietnam or elsewhere, people with defective personalities were likely to volunteer for dangerous and reprehensible jobs.


On the forbidden subject of torture, according to Muldoon, the Special Branch had “the old French methods,” interrogation that included torture. “All this had to be stopped by the agency,” he said. “They had to be retaught with more sophisticated techniques.”

In Ralph Johnson’s opinion, “the Vietnamese, both Communist and GVN, looked upon torture as a normal and valid method of obtaining intelligence.” But of course, the Vietnamese did not conceive the PICs; they were the stepchildren of Robert Thompson, whose aristocratic English ancestors perfected torture in dingy castle dungeons, on the rack and in the iron lady, with thumbscrews and branding irons.

As for the American role, according to Muldoon, “you can’t have an American there all the time watching these things.” “These things” included: rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electrical shock (“the Bell Telephone Hour”) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; “the water treatment”; “the airplane,” in which a prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, afterwhich he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; and the use of police dogs to maul prisoners. All this and more occurred in PICs.


“I have described the intelligence service as a socially acceptable way of expressing criminal tendencies,” [Nelson Brickham] said. “A guy who has strong criminal tendencies — but is too much of a coward to be one — would wind up in a place like the CIA if he had the education.”


[The counterterror teams’] unofficial emblem was the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones. When working, CTs dispensed with the regalia, donned black pajamas, and plundered nationalist as well as Communist villages. In October 1965, upon returning from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam, Ohio Senator Stephen Young charged that the CIA hired mercenaries to disguise themselves as Vietcong and discredit Communists by committing atrocities. Indeed, CT teams disguised as the enemy, killing and otherwise abusing nationalist Vietnamese, were the ultimate form of psywar. It reinforced negative stereotypes of the Vietcong, while at the same time supplying Special Branch with recruits for its informant program.

In his autobiography, Soldier, Anthony Herbert tells how he reported for duty with SOG in Saigon in November 1965 and was asked to join a top-secret psywar program. “What they wanted me to do was to take charge of execution teams that wiped out entire families and tried to make it look as though the VC themselves had done the killing.


I remember one evening on an LST, right after an operation, sensing there was nothing but anarchy bordering on idiocy in how we were conducting the war … It was just absolute chaos out there … It was absolutely insane.


Operationally our biggest grapple was the demand to go out and capture VC cadre,” Wilbur continued. “Word would come down from Saigon: ‘We want a province-level cadre,'” Wilbur said. “Well, very rarely did we even hear of one of those. Then Colby would say, ‘We’re out here to get the infrastructure! Who have you got in the infrastructure?’ ‘Well, we don’t have anyone in the infrastructure. We got a village guy and a hamlet chief.’ So Colby would say, ‘I want some district people, goddammit! Get district people!’ But operationally there’s nothing more difficult to do than to capture somebody who’s got a gun and doesn’t want to be captured. It’s a nightmare out there, and you don’t just say, ‘Put up your hands, you’re under arrest!’

“First of all,” Wilbur explained, “the targets in many cases were illusionary and elusive. Illusionary in that we never really knew who the VC district chief was. In some cases there wasn’t any district there. And even if there was someone there, to find out where he was going to be tomorrow and get the machinery there before him — that’s the elusive part. Operationally, in order to do that, you have to work very comprehensively on a target to the exclusion of all other demands. To get a district chief, you may have to isolate an agent out there and set in motion an operation that may not culminate for six months. It was much easier to go out and shoot people — to set up an ambush.

The problem with the PRU, writes Warren Milberg, was that “the idea of going out after one particular individual was generally not very appealing, since even if the individual was captured, the headlines would not be very great in terms of body counts, weapons captured, or some other measure of success.” As Milberg observes, “careers were at stake … and impressive results were expected.”


As a SEAL in Quang Tri Province in 1964 Elton Manzione dressed like the enemy, worked with CTs who committed atrocities as standard procedure, and was told to ignore the rules of engagement. “But there was no sense of our role in the war,” he said to me forlornly. He resented the fact that he was trained to kill. “In psychology it’s called cognitive dissonance — the notion that once you make a commitment, it’s impossible to go back. It’s something about the human psyche that makes a person reluctant to admit a mistake. This is what training is all about. You’ve already killed the gook. So what if it isn’t a dummy in the bed this time? So what if it’s a living, breathing human being? This is what you’re supposed to do. And once the first time comes and goes, it’s not as hard the second time. You say to yourself, ‘Well, hey, I’ve killed people before. Why should I have any compunctions about doing it now?'”

“Training is brainwashing. They destroy your identity and supply you with a new one — a uniform identity that every soldier has. That’s the reason for the uniform, for everyone having the same haircut and going to dinner together and eating the same thing …. They destroyed the street kid from Newark and created the sailor. They destroyed the sailor and created the SEAL. But people aren’t robots, and despite their training, eventually they react; they turn on their trainers and confront the outside forces that have used them. That’s what happened to me.

“I was a guinea pig,” Manzione insisted. “There is no doubt in my mind today, and there was very little doubt then, even after five months in Vietnam. All the training and all the ‘special’ programs — it eventually began to backfire on them. I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, great program you got here; you’re using me to see how I react. I’m expendable. I’m a pawn.’ And that’s kind of a heavy realization when you’re an eighteen-year-old kid.

“It’s a paradox. You know,” Manzione continued, “they would send a guy over there to be a replacement for a specific person who was being pulled out. So what consciously came across to you was ‘I’m functioning as a part of a machine. And if I fail as a part or break down as a part … then another part will come along to replace me.’ Then you find yourself thinking, ‘The last time I looked at somebody as not a part of the machine, and I thought he was a really great guy, and he’s a friend of mine, he stepped on a land mine and came down dust, hair, teeth, and eyeballs.’

“Then you realize, ‘I can’t afford to do that. Because I feel terrible for a month afterwards.’ And you can’t function when you feel terrible. The only thing we could deal with at any particular time was survival. ‘What do I want to do today? I want to eat, sleep, and stay alive.’ And you did it. And you related to those kinds of things. Suddenly you looked around and said, ‘Wait a minute! That’s what those little guys in black pajamas are doing, too!” You get to a point where you begin to see these people just want to be left alone to grow their rice.

“I’ll give you one last example of what I’m talking about. I’m sure you’ve heard about the laser-guided smart bombs we had. Well, they would drop these laser-guided smart bombs, and what the VC would do was take a bunch of old rags and tires and stuff and start a bonfire with lots of smoke. And the laser beam would hit the smoke particles, and it would scatter, and the bombs would go crazy. They’d go up, down, sideways, all over the place. And people would smile and say, ‘There goes another smart bomb!’ So smart a gook with a match and an old tire can fuck it up!

“The whole perverse idea of putting this technological, semiantiseptic sort of warfare against these people — who didn’t have much more than a stick — was absurd. The sticks won!”


“In the Delta,” Willson told me, “the villages were very small, like a mound in a swamp. There were no names for some of them. The people in these villages had been told to go to relocation camps, because this was all a free fire zone, and technically anyone there could be killed. But they wouldn’t leave their animals or burial grounds. At the same time, the U.S. Air Force had spotters looking for muzzle flashes, and if that flash came from that dot, they’d wipe out the village. It was that simple.

“It was the epitome of immorality,” Willson suggested. “One of the times I counted bodies after an air strike — which always ended with two napalm bombs which would just fry everything that was left — I counted sixty-two bodies. In my report I described them as so many women between fifteen and twenty-five and so many children — usually in their mothers’ arms or very close to them — and so many old people. When I went to Tan Son Nhut a few days later, I happened to see an after-action report from this village. A guy I knew showed me where to look. The report said one hundred-thirty VC dead.


“It was part of the regime’s ideology that anyone who opposed them must be a Communist. They could not accept the fact that there might be people who hated them for the travesty they had made of the country’s life, for their intolerance and corruption and cold indifference to the lot of their countrymen.”


Ralph McGehee found the CIA squaring statistical facts with ideological preconceptions in Vietnam, just as it had in Thailand. “The station’s intelligence briefings on the situation in South Vietnam confirmed all my fears,” he writes. The briefers “talked only about the numbers of armed Viet Cong, the slowly increasing North Vietnamese regular army, and the occasional member of the Communist infrastructure. They made no mention of the mass-based Farmer’s Liberation Association, or the Communist youth organization, all of which in some areas certainly included entire populations.”

The reason for this deception, McGehee contends, was that “U.S. policymakers had to sell the idea that the war in the South was being fought by a small minority of Communists opposed to the majority-supported democratic government of Nguyen Van Thieu. The situation, however, was the opposite …. The U.S. was supporting Thieu’s tiny oligarchy against a population largely organized, committed, and dedicated to a communist victory.”

McGehee blames the American defeat in Vietnam on “policy being decided from the top in advance, then intelligence being selected or created to support it afterwards.” In particular, he singles out William Colby as the principal apostle of the Big Lie. A veteran of the Far East Division, McGehee at one point served as Colby’s acolyte at Langley headquarters and bases his accusations on firsthand observations of Colby in action — of watching Colby deliver briefings which were “a complete hoax contrived to deceive Congress.” Writes McGehee of Colby: “I have watched him when I knew he was lying, and not the least flicker of emotion ever crosses his face.” But what made Colby even more dangerous, in McGehee’s opinion, was his manipulation of language. “Colby emphasized the importance of selecting just the right words and charts to convey the desired impression to Congress. He regarded word usage as an art form, and he was a master at it.”

“Here the U.S. was trying to fight an enemy it only slightly acknowledged. Why? What had happened to all the idealism, all the rules of getting and reporting intelligence? Why did the agency blind itself while pretending to look for intelligence? Why did we insist on killing people instead of talking to them? How long would this insanity go on?”


“Phoenix,” [Ed Murphy] said, “was a bounty-hunting program — an attempt to eliminate the opposition. By which I mean the opposition to us, the Americans, getting what we wanted. Which was to control the Vietnamese through our clients — the Diems, the Kys, the Thieus.” For Murphy, all other definitions of Phoenix are merely “intellectual jargon.”

“In order to get into military intelligence school,” Murphy continued, “I and the other candidates had to write an essay on the debate about the Vietnam War. And the thrust of my paper was ‘What we do in Vietnam will come back to us.’ It was a one world thesis. Well, I go to Vietnam and I see the bullshit going down. Then I come back to the United States and see the exact same thing going on here. I’m at the Hundred Sixteenth MI unit, and as you leave the room, they have nine slots for pictures, eight of them filled: Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Ben Spock, Jerry Rubin. And I’m being sent out to spot and identify these people. This is Phoenix. This is Phoenix,” he repeated, then added for emphasis, “This is Phoenix!” … and it still is used in the United States.”


How the Senate hearings came to address Phoenix is unusual. It concerns Francis Reitemeyer, a Seton Hall Divinity School dropout who was drafted and attended officer candidate school in late 1968. Along with forty other air defense artillery officers, Reitemeyer was trained at Fort Holabird for duty as a Phoenix coordinator in Vietnam. He was appalled by the instruction he received from veteran Phoenix advisers. Loath to participate in what he considered a program that targeted civilians for assassination, Reitemeyer approached American Civil Liberties Union lawyer William Zinman in November 1968. On behalf of Reitemeyer, Zinman filed a petition for conscientious objector status in U.S. District Court on February 14, 1969, while the rest of Reitemeyer’s class was departing for Vietnam.

In the petition Reitemeyer said that he was told that he would supervise and fund eighteen mercenaries “who would be explicitly directed by him” to “find, capture and/or kill” as many VCI as possible within a given area. The VCI were defined as “any male or female of any age in a position of authority or influence in the village who were politically loyal or simply in agreement with the VC or their objectives.” Reitemeyer was told that he would be required to maintain a “kill quota” of fifty bodies per month and that for him to locate VCI, “resort to the most extreme forms of torture was necessary.” As an example of what was expected of him, Reitemeyer was told of one VCI suspect being killed by “said mercenaries and thereafter decapitated and dismembered so that the eyes, head, ears and other parts of the decedent’s body were displayed on his front lawn as a warning and an inducement to other VC sympathizers, to disclose their identity and turn themselves in to the Advisor and the mercenaries.”

Reitemeyer was told that Phoenix “sought to accomplish through capture, intimidation, elimination and assassination what the U.S., up to this time, was unable to accomplish through the … use of military power.” The Vietnamese were characterized in racist terms, so that the cruelties perpetrated upon them might be more easily rationalized. Reitemeyer was told that if captured, he could be tried for war crimes under “precedents established by the Nuremberg Trials as well as … the Geneva Convention.”

On the basis of this account of his Phoenix instruction, Reitemeyer was granted conscientious objector status on July 14, 1969. The Army filed an appeal but, for public relations purposes, withdrew it in October, just as the March Against Death was getting under way.


The press tended to characterize Phoenix as an absurdity. In a February 18, 1970, article in The New York Times, James Sterba said that “the program appears more notorious for inefficiency, corruption and bungling than for terror …. If someone decided to make a movie about Phoenix … the lead would be more a Gomer Pyle than a John Wayne.” Playing on the notion that the Vietnamese, too, were too corrupt and too stupid to be evil, Tom Buckley wrote that the PRU “were quicker to take the money, get drunk, and go off on their own extortion and robbery operations than they were to sweep out into the dangerous boondocks.” There was no motive behind the madness. Phoenix was a comedy of errors, dopey disguises, and mistaken identities. There was nothing tragic in their depictions; even the people directing the show were caricatures subject to ridicule. Twenty years later the facts speak for themselves.


What is important to remember is that in order to achieve internal security in South Vietnam, America’s war managers had to create and prolong an “emergency” which justified rule by secret decree and the imposition of a military dictatorship. And in order to gain the support of the American public in this venture, it was necessary for America’s information managers to disguise the military dictatorship — which supported itself through corruption and political repression — as a bastion of Christian and democratic values besieged by demonic Communists.

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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

CHAPTER 23: Dissension

Soon after the Senate hearings concluded in mid-March 1970, the Phoenix controversy was again obscured by a larger event. On April 30, 1970, ten days after he had proposed withdrawing 150,000 American troops by the end of the year, Richard Nixon announced that U.S. and South Vietnamese forces had invaded Cambodia.

A deviation from the Nixon Doctrine, the Cambodian invasion was the culmination of twelve years of covert actions against the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The final phase began on March 12, 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, and his prime minister, Lon Nol, under instructions from the CIA, ordered all North Vietnamese out of Cambodia within seventy-two hours. That same day Deputy Prime Minister Sirik Matak canceled a trade treaty between Cambodia and the Provisional Revolutionary Government. Four days later the U.S. merchant ship Columbia Eagle, which was ostensibly carrying munitions for U.S. Air Force units in Thailand, was commandeered by two CIA officers, who steered it into the port of Sihanoukville. Armed with guns and ammunition from the Columbia Eagle, and backed by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom (Cambodian exiles trained by the CIA in South Vietnam) and the Khmer Serai (Cambodians under Son Ngoc Thanh, trained by the CIA in Thailand), Lon Not’s forces seized control of the government and moved against the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communists) and the Vietnamese who supported Prince Sihanouk.

The CIA had been planning the operation since August 1969, when the murder of Thai Khac Chuyen had brought about an end to Detachment B-57. The CIA plan called for the Khmer Serai to attack Khmer Rouge positions from their base in Thailand, while Lon Nol seized Phnom Penh, using deserters from Sihanouk’s palace guard, backed by Khmer Kampuchea Krom (KKK) forces from South Vietnam. But the plan quickly got off track. Stanley Karnow notes: “Cambodia was convulsed by anarchy in late March 1970. Rival Cambodian gangs were hacking each other to pieces, in some instances celebrating their prowess by eating the hearts and livers of their victims. Cambodian vigilantes organized by the police and other officials were murdering local Vietnamese, including women and infants.” [1]

What Karnow describes is Phoenix feasting on Phnom Penh. Aided by the CIA, the Cambodian secret police fed blacklists of targeted Vietnamese to the Khmer Serai and Khmer Kampuchea Krom. The Vietnamese woman who translated the “Truth About Phoenix” article recalled what happened. “These were not VC being killed,” she said. “I remember that. These were mass killings of Vietnamese merchants and Vietnamese people in Cambodia. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah! I remember because a friend of mine told me. He was one hundred percent Vietnamese, but he didn’t succeed in Vietnam, so when he was young, he became a Cambodian citizen and served in the Cambodian government. There were many many Vietnamese people who went to Cambodia to settle. They were leaders of the economy and the government. But the Vietnamese were not loved by the Cambodians — like the Chinese in Vietnam — and there was a mass execution of all those Vietnamese. They cut off their heads and threw them in the river.” [2]

On April 4 the Communists counterattacked, and by late April the forces of Lon Nol were faltering. As planned, Nol asked Washington for help, and soon South Vietnamese planes were flying supplies to Phnom Penh. Hastening to support his besieged client, Nixon “encouraged General Abrams to propose intervention by American combat units as well. Abrams broadened the targets to include sanctuaries in the Fish Hook border region further north, where he also claimed to have located the legendary Communist headquarters, COSVN.” [3]

The ultimate mission of Phoenix, of course, had always been to neutralize what John Vann at the Senate hearings called the “brains” of the insurgency; and insofar as COSVN was the locus of the VCI, the Cambodian invasion was a massive attack against the VCI. Indeed, the Phoenix Directorate contributed directly to this last desperate attempt to win the war, primarily as a result of the personal relationship John Mason shared with his comrade from World War II General Creighton Abrams. The bond of trust these two men enjoyed enabled them to bridge the bureaucratic abyss that often separates the CIA and the military.

As important as the relationship between Mason and Abrams, however, was the relationship between Mason and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. McGrevey, who in July 1969 became the directorate’s operations chief, replacing Lieutenant Colonel Al Weidhas. An engaging and immensely likable man, McGrevey was a graduate of West Point (where he roomed with Richard Secord) who in 1964 was sent to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group GUSMAG) in Bangkok as an adviser to Thai intelligence. In Bangkok McGrevey met weekly with the MAG commander, General Richard Stilwell, with the CIA station chief, Red Jantzen, and with John Mason, who was stationed in Hawaii but made frequent trips to Bangkok. In effect, McGrevey was working as the military’s liaison to the CIA in Southeast Asia, establishing coordinated intelligence operations in Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam, in which capacity he visited South Vietnam at one-month intervals, was introduced to the senior Special Branch, MSS, and PRU officials, and became intimately aware of their operations.

In 1966 McGrevey returned to the United States to become chief of the 108th Military Intelligence Group in Boston, where he supervised operations throughout New England. Then, in 1967, at the request of the acting chief of staff for intelligence, General Chester Johnson, McGrevey returned to Bangkok to facilitate a trilateral agreement among the United States, Thailand, and South Vietnam. As a result of this agreement, Thai intelligence began running joint operations in Cambodia and Laos (where Secord was managing the air war for the Vientiane station chief, Ted Shackley) with the Vietnamese CIO and the CIA.

In July 1969, McGrevey was assigned to be the MACV intelligence chief in II Corps. When John Mason learned that McGrevey had arrived in Saigon, Mason immediately arranged for him to be reassigned to the Phoenix Directorate. In turn, McGrevey had a number of his former aides in Thailand transferred to the directorate, and after a period of orientation in respect to Phoenix operations in the provinces, he and his team began utilizing their contacts in Thailand in preparation for the Cambodian invasion. McGrevey obtained information on COSVN through his sources in Thai intelligence and through the handful of penetrations the directorate had inside COSVN. These penetrations existed at several levels, but the most significant penetration was COSVN’s deputy finance director, who alerted McGrevey when the finance director was going on vacation, enabling McGrevey to mount a black propaganda campaign in which he said the finance director was running off with embezzled funds.

In February 1970 Lieutenant Colonel Cao Minh Thiep was transferred from his job as chief of the Combined Intelligence Center to become McGrevey’s counterpart in the Phung Hoang Office. At this point General Abrams asked John Mason to intensify Phoenix operations in the border provinces in preparation for the invasion. This was done primarily through PRU teams that searched for infiltration routes and supply caches. Meanwhile, McGrevey was reading reports from the Special Operations Group, which, under Colonel Steve Cavanaugh in liaison with CIA officer Joe Moran, was mounting its own operations against COSVN. McGrevey also read reports submitted from Special Forces A camps and from the Army Security Agency (ASA), which was attempting to locate COSVN through its radio transmissions. But the best intelligence on COSVN came from Thai units in Cambodia. To obtain this information, McGrevey and Cao Minh Thiep, in the company of a team of Vietnamese CIO officers, were flown by the CIA to Bangkok, to the military side of the airport, where they met in the security center with Colonel Sophon and Colonel Panay from Thai intelligence.

Said McGrevey: “In April we provided [to General Abrams] a picture of what COSVN looked like and where the key people were.” [4]

On May 11, 1970, Newsweek reported that “near the town of Mimot, COSVN’s reinforced concrete bunkers are believed to spread 15 to 20 feet beneath the jungle’s surface and to house some 5,000 men.” Upon arriving in Mimot, however, “American troops found only a scattering of empty huts, their occupants having fled weeks before in anticipation of the assault.”

As Karnow quips, “The drive against COSVN … turned out to be quixotic.” [5]

“Quixotic,” yes, but only in the sense that the VCI was not headquartered in a particular set of underground bunkers in Mimot. The invasion deflected attention from the CIA-engineered coup and bloodbath in Phnom Penh, it enabled Lon Nol to install a pro-American government in Cambodia, and it allowed Union Oil of California to secure concessions for all onshore and much offshore Cambodian oil.

***

The Phoenix Directorate’s participation in the Cambodian invasion — if the program is viewed as a bell curve — was certainly its climax. It was not, however, the extent of the directorate’s role in operations against the VCI. Operations chief Tom McGrevey managed, from his office in Saigon, several actions against high-level VCI in South Vietnam. He cites as an example the time the Pleiku Province Phoenix officer got information of an impending VCI regional meeting near a tea plantation in II Corps. McGrevey asked the Army Security Agency to pinpoint the location of the meeting, and it obliged him by intercepting and tracking VCI radio communications. McGrevey then sent in a SEAL team that captured several high-ranking VCI.

In conjunction with the CIA station, the Phoenix Directorate also mounted penetrations of, and ran operations against, high-level VCI through special teams that never appeared on any of its rosters. American soldiers assigned to this highly compartmentalized aspect of Phoenix were enlisted men trained in the United States by the CIA, then sent to Vietnam, where they were briefed by CIA, SOG, and MACV intelligence officers at the Ho Ngoc Tau Special Forces camp on such matters as liaison procedures with the Vietnamese, the role of hunter-killer teams, how to screen detainees, district and province chief responsibilities, where input would come from, and where resources were available. Members of these special teams were given a sterile unit cover, usually as part of an Army Security Agency radio research unit, and were assigned only at corps and division level. While they were out on anti VCI operations, their daily activity reports were falsified to show that they had been present at high-level briefings. Said McGrevey: “The teams were in place when I got there.”

The team in Bien Hoa, for example, was assigned for administrative purposes to the 175th Radio Research Unit, which was headquartered on the Bien Boa military base. The team itself, however, was located in a safe house next to an old train station in Bien Hoa City. The team was composed of ten enlisted men divided into five two-man teams under the region Phoenix coordinator. The team’s top priority was collecting tactical military intelligence in support of the Bien Hoa military base, but it also conducted currency investigations and an attack against the VCI.

Regarding this latter function, the special team in Bien Hoa reported to the CIA’s special unit (which included women analysts) at the embassy annex. These CIA analysts read Phoenix reports on a daily basis, assessed them for potential intelligence recruitment leads (PIRLs), then decided how a particular VCI could be approached in order to be developed as a penetration agent. [i] Generally, VCI were told they could work for the CIA, or they could appear to have been killed by their own people. The program was basically a system of identification and control within the VCI, so GVN officials could assume positions of power after the impending cease-fire.

Special teams like the one in Bien Hoa operated above the Phoenix province organization, so there were occasional accidents. For example, in one case a VCI was removed from the blacklist and approached as a PIRL. However, the Phoenix team in the district got to him first and killed him. The Phoenix adviser was just doing his job, and doing it well, but it ruined the recruitment, which had taken three months to develop.

Another case in which the Bien Hoa special team was involved concerned a village chief who was supposedly loyal to the GVN. He was a former Vietminh, a southern Vietnamese who had not gone north. A strong nationalist, he hated Americans; but he also saw the North Vietnamese trying to control the South, and he hated the North too, and that was his motivation to work with the CIA. But it was a shaky motive, and when a team of NVA agents came and made him feel comfortable with their presence, he became a double agent.

The chief was also the Vietcong tax collector, in which capacity he went around with the VC political officer, who gave him access to unit cadre. At that point he was also working for the CIA, and when it gave him a polygraph test, he failed. Then a GVN team got ambushed en route to meet him, so he was terminated with extreme prejudice, which meant along with his entire family, in such a way that it was made to appear that he was taken out by the Vietcong. The job was done by the Vietnamese ranger team assigned to Bien Hoa special team. Other times the Americans did the terminations themselves, making sure to kill everyone so there would be no witnesses and using brass catchers so there would be no incriminating evidence. Other times the special team sent in SEALs.

***

Make no mistake about it: Americans who were involved in Phoenix suffered wounds that were not just physical. Many returned to the United States emotionally wrecked, fearful of being prosecuted for war crimes. Many began to doubt the reasons they were given for fighting the war.

Back home in the United States in 1970, many people were reaching the same conclusion, although belatedly because facts about the covert operations that fueled the war were slow to emerge. For example, not until he was released from prison after the war did Tran Ngoc Chau reveal that “a systematic campaign of vilification by use of forged documents was carried out during the mid-1950s to justify Diem’s refusal to negotiate with Hanoi in preparation for the unheld unifying elections of 1956.” According to Chau, the forging was done by U.S. and British intelligence agencies, which helped gather “authentic” documents that permitted plausible foundations to be laid for the forgeries. These were distributed to various political groups as well as to writers and artists who used the false documents to carry out the propaganda campaign. [6]

Forged documents used to justify and conceal illegal activities often appear in the form of captured documents similar to the type described by Chau. As two aides to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported about the Cambodian invasion, “There seems to be captured documents to prove any point or to support, retrospectively, almost any conclusion.” [7]

When used against an individual, forged documents are called a compromise and discreditation operation. Along with recruitment in place, defection, capture, and killing, the compromise and discreditation operation was a standard procedure employed by Phoenix personnel. Its purpose was to create dissension among the VCI, to make them suspect that one of their own had betrayed them. Compromise and discreditation were accomplished by conducting whisper campaigns and by planting forged documents or incriminating evidence, usually to reflect dishonesty, immorality, or greed.

Forged letters are a CIA specialty. Writes former CIA officer Philip Agee:

I would say our most successful operation in Ecuador was the framing of Antonio Flores Benitez, a key member of the Communist revolutionary movement. By bugging Flores’ phone, we found out a lot of what he was doing. His wife was a blabbermouth. He made a secret trip to Havana and we decided to do a job on him when he landed back in Ecuador. With another officer, I worked all one weekend to compose a “report” from Flores to the Cubans. It was a masterpiece. The report implied that Flores’ group had already received funds from Cuba and was now asking for more money in order to launch guerrilla operations in Ecuador. My Quito station chief, Warren Dean, approved the report — in fact, he loved it so much he just had to get into the act. So he dropped the report on the floor and walked on it awhile to make it look pocket-worn. Then he folded it and stuffed it into a toothpaste tube — from which he had spent three hours carefully squeezing out all the toothpaste. He was like a kid with a new toy. So then I took the tube out to the minister of the treasury, who gave it to his customs inspector. When Flores came through customs, the inspector pretended to go rummaging through one of his suitcases. What he really did, of course, was slip the toothpaste tube into the bag and then pretend to find it there. When he opened the tube, he of course “discovered” the report. Flores was arrested and there was a tremendous scandal. This was one of a series of sensational events that we had a hand in during the first six months of 1963. By late July of that year, the climate of anti-communist fear was so great that the military seized a pretext and took over the government, jailed all the Communists it could find and outlawed the Communist Party. [8]

Likewise, according to Donald Freed in Death in Washington, the catalyst for the 1973 coup in Chile was a forged document — detailing a leftist plot to start a reign of terror — which was “discovered” by the enemies of President Salvador Allende Gossens. The result was a violent military coup, which the officers (who had set it in motion through disinformation in the press) back and watched from a safe distance.

Compromise and discreditation operations are a tried-and-true method used in America, too. For example, CIA officer Howard Hunt forged State Department documents showing that President John Kennedy ordered the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. And the FBI discredited, through the use of forged documents, Martin Luther King, Daniel Ellsberg, and Jean Seberg. Among others.

When genuine, however, captured documents provide valuable insights into the enemy’s plans and strategies. Indeed, said Jack from the Vietnam Task Force, “Colby proved Phoenix effectiveness through captured documents.”

For example, in its 1970 End of Year Report, the Phoenix Directorate quoted captured documents signed by the deputy secretary of COSVN as saying that Phoenix and the accelerated pacification campaign “were the most dangerous and effective measures used by the GVN against the insurgency.” Another captured document, quoted in the report, stated that “personnel of the Phung Hoang intelligence organization are the most dangerous enemies of the Revolution in suburban and rural areas. Judging by information from captured documents, interrogations of captured personnel and Hoi Chanh debriefings,” the directorate concluded that “Phung Hoang is an effective program.” [9]

Captured documents, when genuine, also serve as something of a double-edged sword, revealing U.S. plans and strategies, including those pertaining to Phoenix, that might otherwise remain secret. Consider, for example, a circular titled “On the Establishment of the Enemy Phung Hoang Intelligence Organization in Villages.” Issued by the Vietcong Security Service in Region 6 on March 29, 1970, captured on May 15, 1970, and cited as Document 05-3344-70 by the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC), it describes how the VCI viewed and planned to combat Phoenix.

As stated in the circular, “the most wicked maneuvers” of Phoenix “have been to seek out every means by which to terrorize revolutionary families and force the people to disclose the location of our agents and join the People’s Self-Defense Force. They also spread false rumors … and make love with our cadres wives and daughters. Their main purpose is to jeopardize the prestige of the revolutionary families, create dissension between them and the people, and destroy the people’s confidence in the revolution. In addition, they also try to bribe poor and miserable revolutionary families into working for them.”

Phoenix agents are described as “village or hamlet administrative personnel, policemen and landowners,” who set up the People’s Intelligence Organization and work with “pacification personnel and intelligence agents” to organize “family cadre, issue ID cards, and classify the people.” Phoenix agents were said to have made a list of the cadre to be eliminated when the cease-fire took place. “Their prescribed criteria are to kill five cadre in each village in order to change the balance between enemy and friendly forces in the village.”

According to the circular, the primary task of GVN village chiefs is to “assign Phoenix intelligence organization and security assistants to develop and take charge of the PSDF [and] select a number of tyrants in this force to activate ‘invisible’ armed teams which are composed of three to six well trained members each. These teams are to assassinate our key cadre, as in Vinh Long Province.”

What the circular is describing is the culmination of Ralph Johnson’s Contre Coup process, in which counterterrorists were extracted from People’s Self-Defense Forces by Vung Tau-trained village chiefs under the aegis of the Phung Hoang program.

By 1970 political warfare was also being managed through Phoenix. The 1970 End of Year Report cites an experimental program in which “Armed Propaganda Teams of seven men were placed under the operational control of the DIOCCs. On a day to day basis, the DIOCC provided targeting information on specific VCI or VCI families to the APT [which] would then contact them in an effort to induce them to rally.” Ralliers were interrogated immediately, “thereby achieving a snow-ball effect … in the targeting subsequent neutralization process.” Defectors were dubbed “Phoenix Returnees.” [10]

By 1970 Phoenix was also sponsoring indoctrination courses. In May Phung Hoang agents in Dien Ban district organized the “People’s Training Course to Denounce Communist Crimes.” This training course — its name evoking memories of Diem’s denunciation campaign — was attended by 280 local residents.

The problem was that Contre Coup had no corresponding ideology . Ralph Johnson could turn the enemy’s tactics against him, but not his beliefs. On this point the captured circular reads, “[A]s a result of the victories of the Revolution, the enemy has been forced to accept serious failures and to de-escalate the war. In the face of the situation, the U.S. imperialists have been forced into withdrawing their troops. This fact has caused great confusion and dissension within the enemy ranks. The people have developed great hatred for the enemy … In addition, there is dissension among the Phoenix intelligence members, pacification personnel, policemen, and espionage agents due to internal conflict.”

Fanning this dissension was the ability of the VCI to penetrate IOCCs. A captured Vietcong document, dated July 1, 1970, and issued by the Dien Ban District Security Service (An Ninh), instructs its agents to penetrate all Phung Hoang Hanh Quan (intelligence operations coordination centers), to establish blacklists of personnel (especially Special Branch and PSDF), and report on their activities for elimination.

Da Nang City and Quang Nam Province were particularly well penetrated. A Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) report dated November 23, 1970, cites three messages “pertaining to Phoenix and the PSDF committee in Danang City, and the location and activities of the GVN intelligence service in Danang City”; a blank release slip from the Dien Ban DIOCC “copied by an unidentified individual”; and an undated note regarding a Phung Hoang meeting at the Quang Nam PIOCC at Hoi An.

According to another captured document provided by the Combined Document Exploitation Center on October 21, 1970, a member of the Da Nang military interrogation center escaped after the MSS had discovered he was a double agent. Still another captured document notes that “an agent of the Phung Hoang organization in the 2nd Precinct, Da Nang City,” who was the son of the secretary of the VNQDD (Vietnamese Kuomintang) in Vinh Phuoc Village, “provided detailed information on a Phung Hoang training course he attended on 15 June 1970 and the assignment of the trainees upon completion of the course” — meaning the VCI in Da Nang knew every move Phoenix was making.

***

Nelson Brickham viewed Vietnam as a war that would be “won or lost on the basis of intelligence,” and he created Phoenix as the vanguard in that battle. Unfortunately the Phoenix front line unraveled faster than the VCI’s; dissension between the Americans and Vietnamese, and the CIA and the military, doomed the program to failure. And while the insurgents held tight, mistrust of U.S. government policy in Southeast Asia, born during Tet 1968 and brought to a boil by the Cambodian invasion, began to unravel American society.

Immediately following the Cambodian invasion, massive antiwar demonstrations erupted across the country. In Ohio Governor James Rhodes reacted violently, vowing to “eradicate” the protesters. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard responded to his exhortations, firing into a crowd of demonstrators at Kent State College, killing four people.

The spectacle of American soldiers killing American citizens had a chilling effect on many people, many of whom suddenly realized that dissent was as dangerous in the United States as it was in South Vietnam. To many Americans, the underlying tragedy of the Vietnam War, symbolized by Phoenix, was finally felt at home. Nixon himself articulated those murderous impulses when he told his staff, “Don’t worry about decisiveness. Having drawn the sword, stick it in hard. Hit ’em in the gut. No defensiveness.” [11]

Nixon backed his words with actions. He ordered one of his aides, a former Army intelligence specialist and president of the Young Americans for Freedom, Tom Huston, to devise a plan to surveil, compromise, and discredit his domestic critics. The Huston Plan was called evidence of a “Gestapo mentality” by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina. [12]

What Ervin meant by the “Gestapo mentality” was Phoenix in its conceptual sense — the use of terror to stifle dissent. Reflecting Nixon’s “Gestapo mentality,” offensive counterintelligence operations were directed against dissenters in America: blacks, leftists, pacifists, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and American Indians. The most famous example may have been mounted by the CIA’s domestic operations branch against the Black Liberation Movement; as in Chile, it provoked a violent reaction by security forces and served to justify repression.

Colston Westbrook, according to Mae Brussell in a July 1974 article in The Realist, was a CIA psywar expert. An adviser to the Korean CIA and Lon Nol in Cambodia, Westbrook from 1966 until 1969 reportedly worked (undercover as an employee of Pacific Architects and Engineers) as an adviser to the Vietnamese Police Special Branch. In 1970 Westbrook allegedly returned to the United States and was gotten a job at the University of California at Berkeley. According to Brussell, Westbrook’s control officer was William Herrmann, who was connected to the Stanford Research Institute, RAND Corporation, and Hoover Center on Violence. In his capacity as an adviser to Governor Ronald Reagan, Herrmann put together a pacification plan for California at the UCLA Center for Study and Prevention of Violence. As part of this pacification plan Westbrook, a black man, was assigned the task of forming a black cultural association at the Vacaville Medical Facility. Although ostensibly fostering black pride, Westbrook was in truth conducting an experimental behavior modification program. Westbrook’s job, claims Brussell, was to program unstable persons, drawn from California prisons, to assassinate black community leaders. His most successful client was Donald DeFreeze, chief of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). It was Westbrook who designed the SLA’s logo (a seven-headed cobra), who gave DeFreeze his African name (Cinque), and who set Cinque and his gang on their Phoenix flight to cremation, care of the Los Angeles SWAT Team, the FBI, and U.S. Treasury agents.

***

In 1971 Nixon was to direct his domestic affairs officer, John Erhlichman, to form a special White House internal security unit called the Plumbers. Chosen to head the Plumbers were certified psychopath Gordon Liddy and “false document preparation” expert Howard Hunt. In charge of “controls” was Egil Krogh, who once said, “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.” [13]

Just as Thieu’s domestic political opponents were targets on Phoenix blacklists in Vietnam, so the Plumbers’ “enemies list” included critics of Nixon — people like Gregory Peck, Joe Namath, and Stanley Karnow. And just as illegal methods were used to discredit and compromise “neutralists” in Vietnam, so, too, the Plumbers turned to crime in their attack against “anyone who doesn’t support us.” Along with Hunt and several other government officials, Krogh (a devout Mormon) was to be convicted of breaking into the home of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

Offensive counterintelligence operations directed against the antiwar movement were mounted by the Plumbers; the CIA through its Operation Chaos; the FBI through its COINTELPROS under William C. Sullivan, whose favorite trick was issuing Kafkaesque “secret” subpoenas; the National Security Agency, which used satellites to spy on dissenters; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, servicing the Joint Chiefs and working with the Army chief of staff for intelligence, General William Yarborough, through Operation Shamrock, headquartered at Fort Holabird. Shamrock’s main targets were former military intelligence personnel like Ed Murphy and special operations veterans like Elton Manzione, both of whom, by then, were members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Allegedly as part of Shamrock, the 111th Military Intelligence Group (MIG) in Memphis kept Martin Luther King, Jr., under twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance and reportedly watched and took photos while King’s assassin moved into position, took aim, fired, and walked away. As a result, some VVAW members contend that the murders of King, and other less notable victims, were the work of a domestic-variety Phoenix hit team. Some say it still exists.

Be that as it may, it is a fact that during the Vietnam War the government sought to neutralize its domestic opponents, using illegal means, in the name of national security. The fear of surveillance being as effective as surveillance itself, the result was that many Americans refrained from writing letters to their representatives or otherwise participating in the democratic process, knowing that to do so was to risk wiretaps on their phones, FBI agents’ reading their mail, being blackmailed for past indiscretions, made victims of vicious rumor campaigns, losing their jobs, or worse.

Moreover, the suppression of dissent in America was championed by the same people who advocated war in Vietnam. And when it became apparent that America had been defeated in Vietnam, these reactionaries — like the Germans after World War I — vented their bitterness and anger on the disparate groups that formed the antiwar movement. Using Phoenix “offensive counterintelligence” tactics, the security forces in America splintered the antiwar movement into single-issue groups, which were isolated and suppressed during the backlash of the Reagan era. Today the threat of terrorism alone remains, pounded into the national consciousness, at the bequest of big business, by abiding media.

Indeed, without the complicity of the media, the government could not have implemented Phoenix, in either Vietnam or America. A full disclosure of the Province Interrogation Centers and the Provincial Reconnaissance Units would have resulted in its demise. But the relationship between the media and the government is symbiotic, not adversarial. The extent to which this practice existed was revealed in 1975, when William Colby informed a congressional committee that more than five hundred CIA officers were operating under cover as corporate executives and that forty CIA officers were posing as journalists. Case in point: reactionary columnist and TV talk-show host William Buckley, Jr., the millionaire creator of the Young Americans for Freedom and cohort of Howard Hunt’s in Mexico in the 1950’s.

When it comes to the CIA and the press, one hand washes the other. In order to have access to informed officials, reporters frequently suppress or distort stories. In return, officials leak stories to reporters to whom they owe favors. At its most incestuous, reporters and government officials are actually related — for example, Delta PRU commander Charles Lemoyne and his New York Times reporter brother, James. Likewise, if Ed Lansdale had not had Joseph Alsop to print his black propaganda in the United States, there probably would have been no Vietnam War.

In a democratic society the media ought to investigate and report objectively on the government, which is under no obligation to inform the public of its activities and which, when it does, puts a positive “spin” on the news. As part of the deal, when those activities are conducted in secret, illegally, reporters tend to look away rather than jeopardize profitable relationships. The price of success is compromise of principles. This is invariably the case; the public is always the last to know, and what it does learn are at best half-truths, squeezed into five-hundred-word columns or thirty-second TV bites, themselves easily ignored or forgotten.

So it was with Phoenix.

_______________

Notes:

i. PIRLs were provided with incentives from the black market, including narcotics that CIA contractors brought in from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

CHAPTER 24: Transgressions

In the introduction to this book, Elton Manzione described the counterterror campaign he joined in 1964. He told how as a U.S. Navy SEAL working in a hunter-killer team, he broke down from the strain of having to kill not just enemy soldiers but their families, supporters, and innocent bystanders as well. In September 1964 Manzione’s crisis of faith compelled him to go AWOL in France. His military records show he was never even in South Vietnam.

The tragedy of the Vietnam War is that with the arrival of regular American units in 1965, the attack on the elusive and illusory VCI became everyone’s job, not just that of elite units. And once the license to kill was granted carte blanche to all American soldiers, a corresponding moral turpitude spread like an infectious disease through their ranks. The effects were evident in fragmentation grenades thrown into officers’ tents, crippled Vietnamese orphans selling vials of heroin to addicted GIs, Confederate flags unfurled in honor of Martin Luther King’s assassination, companies refusing to go out on patrol, and thousands of deserters fleeing to Canada, France, and Sweden.

The problem was one of using means which were antithetical to the desired end, of denying due process in order to create a democracy, of using terror and repression to foster freedom. When put into practice by soldiers taught to think in conventional military and moral terms, Contre Coup engendered transgressions on a massive scale. However, for those pressing the attack on the VCI, the bloodbath was constructive, for indiscriminate air raids and artillery barrages obscured the shadow war being fought in urban back alleys and anonymous rural hamlets. The military shield allowed a CIA officer to sit behind a steel door in a room in the U.S. Embassy, insulated from human concern, skimming the Phoenix blacklist, selecting targets for assassination, distilling power from tragedy. As the plaque on Ted Shackley’s desk says, “Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune — but great minds rise above it.”

Others, meanwhile, sought to prevent the “negligent cruelties” they witnessed. William Grieves, for one, is proud of the fact that his Field Police were able to protect civilians from marauding Vietnamese Ranger units. And as Doug McCollum recounted, on one occasion they even held their own against a U.S. Army unit.

The military and the police, McCollum explained, divided Vietnam into areas of responsibility. In white areas, considered safe, and gray areas, considered up for grabs, the police had jurisdiction, but in red areas, considered war zones, the military could do whatever it wanted. It was in red areas that “the military shenanigans I reported” took place, McCollum recalled. [1]

McCollum told how, in 1968, in a joint operation with elements of the U.S. Fourth Division, he and his Field Police platoon entered a “red” Montagnard village in search of VC. But “there were only women and children and old men. That was generally the case,” he said. What happened next was no aberration either. A military intelligence captain called in armed personnel carriers and loaded the women and children in them. Everyone was taken out to a field, several miles from the village. The armed personnel carriers formed a semicircle with their backs toward the people. Soldiers manned the machine guns, and the people, knowing what was about to happen, started crying. The frantic Field Police platoon leader asked McCollum, “What are they doing?”

McCollum in turn asked the captain, “Who’s doing this?”

“Higher headquarters,” he was told.

“Well then, you’ll have to kill my Field Police and me,” McCollum said, deploying his forces in a line in front of Montagnards. “So the military drove away,” he told me, shaking his head. “They just left everyone there. And the next morning, when I told the police chief what happened, the only thing he said was, ‘Well, now you’ve got to transport everyone back to the village.’ That was what he was upset about.”

About the massacring of civilians by U.S. infantry troops, Doug McCollum stated, “There wasn’t too much of that. It was mostly raising skirts and chopping off fingers.” However, as more and more soldiers succumbed to anger and frustration, more and more incidents occurred.

***

The My Lai massacre was first reported in March 1969, one full year after the event. In April 1969, because of congressional queries, the case was given to the Army inspector general, and in August Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland turned the case over to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). In November 1969 Seymour Hersh broke the story, telling how 504 Vietnamese civilians were massacred by members of a U.S. infantry company attached to a special battalion called Task Force Barker.

Ten days after Hersh broke the story, Westmoreland ordered General William Peers to conduct an official inquiry. Evan Parker contended to me that Peers got the job because he was not a West Point graduate. [2] However, Peers’s close ties to the CIA may also have been a factor. In World War II, Peers had commanded OSS Detachment 101, in which capacity he had been Evan Parker’s boss. In the early 1950’s he had been the CIA’s chief of training and its station chief in Taiwan, and as SACSA in 1966 Peers had worked with the CIA in formulating pacification policy. Having had several commands in Vietnam, he was well aware of how the war was being conducted. But the most conclusive evidence linking Peers to the CIA is the report he submitted in March 1970, which was not made available to the public until 1974 and which carefully avoided implicating the CIA.

The perfunctory trials that followed the Peers inquiry amounted to slaps on the wrist for the defendants and fueled rumors of a cover-up. Of the thirty people named in the report, charges were brought against sixteen, four were tried, and one was convicted. William Calley’s sentence was quickly reduced, and in conservative quarters he was venerated as a hero and scapegoat. Likewise, the men in Calley’s platoon were excused as victims of VC terror and good soldiers acting under orders. Of nearly two thousand Americans surveyed by Time magazine, 65 percent denied being upset.

Yet, if most Americans were willing to accept the massacre as necessary to ensure their security, why the cover-up? Why was the massacre portrayed as an isolated incident?

On August 25, 1970, an article appeared in The New York Times hinting that the CIA, through Phoenix, was responsible for My Lai. The story line was advanced on October 14, when defense attorneys for David Mitchell — a sergeant accused and later cleared of machine-gunning scores of Vietnamese in a drainage ditch in My Lai — citing Phoenix as the CIA’s “systematic program of assassination,” named Evan Parker as the CIA officer who “signed documents, certain blacklists,” of Vietnamese to be assassinated in My Lai. [3] When we spoke, Parker denied the charge.

A defense request to subpoena Parker was denied, as was a request to view the My Lai blacklist. Outside the courtroom CIA lawyer John Greaney insisted that the agency was “absolutely not” involved in My Lai. When asked if the CIA had ever operated in My Lai, Greaney replied, “I don’t know.”

But as has been established in this book, the CIA had one of its largest contingents in Quang Ngai Province. Especially active were its Census Grievance cadre, directed by the Son Tinh District RD Cadre intelligence chief, Ho Ngoc Hui, whose VNQDD cadres were in My Lai on the day prior to the massacre. A Catholic from North Vietnam, Hui reportedly called the massacre “a small matter.” [4]

To understand why the massacre occurred, it helps to know that in March 1968 cordon and search operations of the type Task Force Barker conducted in My Lai were how RD Cadre intelligence officers contacted their secret agents. The Peers report does not mention that, or that in March 1968 the forty-one RD teams operating in Quang Ngai were channeling information on VCI through Hui to the CIA’s paramilitary adviser, who shared it with the province Phoenix coordinator.

The Phoenix coordinator in Quang Ngai Province at the time of the My Lai massacre was Robert B. Ramsdell, a seventeen-year veteran of the Army CID who subsequently worked for ten years as a private investigator in Florida. Ramsdell was hired by the CIA in 1967. He was trained in the United States and sent to Vietnam on February 4, 1968, as the Special Branch adviser in Quang Ngai Province. Ramsdell, who appeared incognito before the Peers panel, told newsmen that he worked for the Agency for International Development.

In Cover-up, Seymour Hersh tells how in February 1968 Ramsdell began “rounding up residents of Quang Ngai City whose names appeared on Phoenix blacklists.” [5] Explained Ramsdell: “After Tet we knew who many of these people were, but we let them continue to function because we were controlling them. They led us to the VC security officer for the district. We wiped them out after Tet and then went ahead and picked up the small fish.” [6] The people who were “wiped out,” Hersh explains, were “put to death by the Phoenix Special Police.” [7]]

Ramsdell “simply eliminated everyone who was on those lists,” said Gerald Stout, an Army intelligence officer who fed Ramsdell names. “It was recrimination.” [i] [8] Recrimination for Tet, at a minimum.

Unfortunately, according to Randolph Lane — the Quang Ngai Province MACV intelligence adviser — Ramsdell’s victims “were not Vietcong.” [9] This fact is corroborated by Jeffrey Stein, a corporal working undercover for the 525th MIG, running agent nets in Quang Nam and southern Thua Thien provinces. According to Stein, the VNQDD was a Vietnamese militarist party that had a “world fascist allegiance and wanted to overthrow the Vietnamese government from the right! The people they were naming as Communists were left-wing Buddhists, and that information was going to the Phoenix program. We were being used to assassinate their political rivals.” [10]

Through the Son Tinh DIOCC, Phoenix Coordinator Ramsdell passed Census Grievance-generated intelligence to Task Force Barker, estimating “the 48th Battalion at a strength of 450 men.” The Peers report, however, said that 40 VC at most were in My Lai on the day prior to March 16 and that they had left before Task Force Barker arrived on the scene. [11]

Ramsdell told the Peers panel, “Very frankly, anyone that was in that area was considered a VCS [Vietcong suspect], because they couldn’t survive in that area unless they were sympathizers.” [12]

On the basis of Ramsdell’s information, Task Force Barker’s intelligence officer, Captain Kotouc, told Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker that “only VC and active VC sympathizers were living [in My Lai and My Khe].” But, Kotouc said, because leaflets were to be dropped, “civilians would be out of the hamlets … by 0700 hours.” [13]

Phoenix Coordinator Ramsdell then provided Kotouc with a blacklist of VCI suspects in My Lai, along with the ludicrous notion that all “sympathizers” would be gone from the hamlet by early morning, leaving 450 hard-core VC guerrillas behind. Yet “the link between Ramsdell and the poor intelligence for the 16 March operation was never explored by the Peers Panel.” [14]

As in any large-scale Phoenix operation, two of Task Force Barker’s companies cordoned off the hamlet while a third one — Calley’s — moved in, clearing the way for Kotouc and Special Branch officers who were “brought to the field to identify VC from among the detained inhabitants.” [15]

As Hersh notes parenthetically, “Shortly after the My Lai 4 operation, the number of VCI on the Phoenix blacklist was sharply reduced.” [16]

In an unsigned, undated memo on Phoenix supplied by Jack, the genesis of the blacklist is described as follows:

There had been a reluctance to exploit available sources of information in the hamlet, village and district. It was, therefore, suggested that effective Cordon and Search operations must rely on all locally available intelligence in order to deprive the Viet Cong of a sanctuary among the population. It was in this context that carefully prepared blacklists were made available. The blacklists were furnished to assist the Allied operational units in searching for specifically identified people and in screening captives or local personnel held for questioning. The information for the blacklists was prepared by the Police Special Branch [ii] in conjunction with intelligence collected from the Province Interrogation Centers.

Kotouc was charged by the Peers panel with concealing evidence and falsifying reports, with having “authorized the killing of at least one VC suspect by members of the National Police,” and with having “committed the offense of maiming by cutting off the finger of a VC suspect.” [17]

The CIA, via Phoenix, not only perpetrated the My Lai massacre but also concealed the crime. The Peers panel noted that “a Census Grievance Cadreman of Son My Village submitted a written report to the Census Grievance chief, Quang Ngai, on 18 March 1968,” indicating that “a fierce battle with VC and local guerrillas” had resulted in 427 civilian and guerrilla deaths, 27 in My Lai and 400 in the nearby hamlets of Thuan Yen and Binh Dong!” [18] The appearance of this report coincided with the release by Robert Thompson of a “captured” document, which had been “mislaid” for nineteen months, indicating that the Cuc Nghien Cuu had assassinated 2,748 civilians in Hue during Tet.

The only person named as having received the Census Grievance report is Lieutenant Colonel William Guinn, who testified in May 1969 that he “could not recall who specifically had given it to him.” In December 1969 Guinn, when shown a copy of the Census Grievance report, “refused further to testify and accordingly, it was not possible to ascertain whether the 18 March Census Grievance report was in fact the one which he recalled having received.” [19] With that the matter of the Census Grievance report was dropped.

The My Lai cover-up was assisted by the Son Tinh District adviser, Major David Gavin, who lost a report written on April 11 by Tran Ngoc Tan, the Son Tinh district chief. Tan’s report named the 504 people killed at My Lai, and Tan said that “he discussed [the report] with Gavin” but that “Gavin denies this.” Shortly thereafter Major Gavin became Lieutenant Colonel Gavin. [20]

The Eleventh Brigade commander dismissed Tan’s charges as “baseless propaganda.” [21] Barker’s afteraction report listed no civilian deaths. Civilian deaths in South Vietnam from 1965 until 1973 are estimated at 1.5 million; none is reported in U.S. military afteraction reports.

The Peers panel cited “evidence that at least at the Quang Ngai Province and Son Tinh District levels, and possibly at 2nd ARVN Division, the Senior U.S. military advisors aided in suppressing information concerning the massacre.” [22]

Task Force Barker commander Lieutenant Colonel Barker was killed in a helicopter crash on June 13, 1968, while traveling back to My Lai as part of an investigation ordered by the Quang Ngai Province chief, Colonel Khien. Khien is described ”as a big time crook” and a VNQDD politico who “had a family in Hue” and was afraid the VC “were going to make another Hue out of Quang Ngai.” Province Chief Khien and the deputy province senior adviser, Lieutenant Colonel Guinn, both “believed that the only way to win the war was to kill all Viet Cong and Viet Cong sympathizers.” [23]

The last piece in the My Lai puzzle concerned Robert Haeberle and Jay Roberts, Army reporters assigned to Task Force Barker. After the massacre Roberts “prepared an article for the brigade newspapers which omitted all mention of war crimes he had observed and gave a false and misleading account of the Task Force Barker operation.” Roberts was charged by the Peers panel with having made no attempt to stop war crimes he witnessed and for failing to report the killings of noncombatants. Haeberle was cited by the panel for withholding photographic evidence of war crimes and for failing to report war crimes he had witnessed at My Lai.

As Jeff Stein said, “The first thing you learn in the Army is not competence, you learn corruption. And you learn ‘to get along, go along.'” [24]

Unfortunately not everyone learns to get along. On September 3, 1988, Robert T’Souvas was apparently shot in the head by his girl friend, after an argument over a bottle of vodka. The two were homeless, living out of a van they had parked under a bridge in Pittsburgh. T’Souvas was a Vietnam veteran and a participant in the My Lai massacre.

T’Souvas’s attorney, George Davis, traveled to Da Nang in 1970 to investigate the massacre and while there was assigned as an aide a Vietnamese colonel who said that the massacre was a Phoenix operation and that the purpose of Phoenix was “to terrorize the civilian population into submission.”

Davis told me: “When I told the people in the War Department what I knew and that I would attempt to obtain all records on the program in order to defend my client, they agreed to drop the charges.” [25]

Indeed, the My Lai massacre was a result of Phoenix, the “jerry-built” counterterror program that provided an outlet for the repressed fears and anger of the psyched-up men of Task Force Barker. Under the ageis of neutralizing the infrastructure, old men, women, and children became the enemy. Phoenix made it as easy to shoot a Vietnamese child as it was to shoot a sparrow in a tree. The ammunition was faulty intelligence provided by secret agents harboring grudges in violation of the agreement that Census Grievance intelligence would not be provided to the police. The trigger was the blacklist.

As Ed Murphy said, “Phoenix was far worse than the things attributed to it.” Indeed, the range of transgressions generated by Phoenix was all-encompassing but was most evident in its post-apprehension aspect. According to Jeff Stein, the CIA “would direct the PRU teams to go out and take care of a particular target … either capture or assassination, or kidnapping. Kidnapping was a common thing that they liked to do. They really liked the whole John Wayne bit — to go in and capture someone at night …. They’d put him in one of these bins these garbage collection type bins — and the helicopter would pick up the bin and fly him off to a regional interrogation center.

“I think it’s common knowledge what goes on at the interrogation center,” Stein writes. “It was common knowledge that when someone was picked up their lives were about at an end because the Americans most likely felt that, if they were to turn someone like that back into the countryside it would just be multiplying NLF followers.” [26]

Bart Osborn (whose agent net Stein inherited) is more specific. “I never knew in the course of all those operations any detainee to live through his interrogation,” Osborn testified before Congress in 1971. “They all died. There was never any reasonable establishment of the fact that any one of those individuals was, in fact, cooperating with the VC, but they all died and the majority were either tortured to death or things like thrown out of helicopters.” [27]

One of John Hart’s original ICEX charges was to develop a means of containing within the GVN’s judicial system the explosion of civilian detainees. But as Nelson Brickham explained, no one wanted to get the name of the Jailer of Vietnam, and no agency ever accepted responsibility. So another outcome of Phoenix was a prison system filled to overflowing.

It was not until April 1970, when ten Vietnamese students put themselves on display in a room in the Saigon College of Agriculture, that treatment of political prisoners gained the attention of the press. The students had been tried and convicted by a military field court. Some were in shock and being fed intravenously. Some had had bamboo splinters shoved under their fingernails. One was deaf from having had soapy water poured in his ears and his ears pounded. The women students had been raped as well as tortured. The culprits, claims Don Luce in his book Hostages of War, were Saigon’s First District police, who used false documents and signatures to prove guilt, and used torture and drugs to extract confessions.

The case of the students prompted two congressmen to investigate conditions at Con Son Prison in July 1970. Initially, Rod Landreth advised station chief Shackley not to allow the congressmen to visit, but Shackley saw denial as a tacit admission of CIA responsibility. So Landreth passed the buck to Buzz Johnson at the Central Pacification and Development council. Thinking there was nothing to hide, Johnson got the green light from General Khiem. He then arranged for Congressmen Augustus Hawkins and William Anderson and their aide Tom Harkins to fly to Con Son accompanied by Public Safety adviser Frank Walton. Acting as interpreter for the delegation was Don Luce, a former director of the International Volunteer Service who had been living in Vietnam since 1959. Prison reform advocate Luce had gained the trust of many Vietnamese nationalists, one of whom told him where the notorious tiger cages (tiny cells reserved for hard-core VCI under the supervision of Nguyen Minh Chau, “the Reformer”) were located at Con Son Prison.

Upon arriving at Con Son, Luce and his entourage were greeted by the prison warden, Colonel Nguyen Van Ve. Harkins presented Ve with a list of six prisoners the congressmen wished to visit in Camp Four. While inside this section of the prison, Luce located the door to the tiger cages hidden behind a woodpile at the edge of a vegetable garden. Ve and Walton protested this departure from the guided tour, their exclamations prompting a guard inside the tiger cage section to open the door, revealing its contents. The congressmen entered and saw stone compartments five feet wide, nine feet long, and six feet high. Access to the tiger cages was gained by climbing steps to a catwalk, then looking down between iron grates. From three to five men were shackled to the floor in each cage. All were beaten, some mutilated. Their legs were withered, and they scuttled like crabs across the floor, begging for food, water, and mercy. Some cried. Others told of having lime buckets, which sat ready above each cage, emptied upon them.

Ve denied everything. The lime was for whitewashing the walls, he explained, and the prisoners were evil people who deserved punishment because they would not salute the flag. Despite the fact that Congress funded the GVN’s Directorate of Corrections, Walton accused the congressmen of interfering in Vietnamese affairs. Congressman Hawkins expressed the hope that American POWs were being better treated in Hanoi.

The extent of the tiger cage flap was a brief article in The New York Times that was repudiated by U.S. authorities. In Saigon the secret police cornered Luce’s landlady and the U.S. Embassy accused Luce of being a Vietcong agent. Rod Landreth approached Buzz Johnson with the idea of circulating evidence of Luce’s alleged homosexuality, but Johnson nixed the idea. When Luce began writing articles for Tin Sang, all issues were promptly confiscated and his press card was revoked. Finally, Luce was expelled from Vietnam in May 1971, after his apartment had been ransacked by secret policemen searching for his records. Fortunately Luce had mailed his notes and documents to the United States, and he later compiled them in Hostages of War.

Michael Drosnin, in the May 30, 1975, issue of New Times, quotes Phoenix legal adviser Robert Gould as saying, “I don’t know for sure, but I guess Colby was covering up for Con Son too. Nothing really was changed after all that publicity … the inmates who were taken out of the Tiger Cages were simply transferred to something called ‘cow cages,’ which were even worse. Those were barbed wire cells in another part of the camp. The inmates were shackled inside them for months and left paralyzed. I saw loads of spidery little guys — they couldn’t stand and they couldn’t walk, but had to move around on little wooden pallets.” [28] According to Gould, “It was a well known smirking secret in certain official circles that with all the publicity about the Tiger Cages, no one ever found out about the cow cages.” [29]

Added Gould: “The responsibility for all this is on the Americans who pushed the program. We finally made some paper reforms, but it didn’t make any difference. The Province Security Committees did whatever the hell they wanted and the pressure our ‘neutralization’ quotas put on them meant they had to sentence so many people a month regardless. And God, if you ever saw those prisons.” [30]

In Hostages of War Don Luce refers to the GVN as a “Prison Regime” and calls Phoenix a “microcosm” of the omnipotent and perverse U.S. influence on Vietnamese society. He blames the program for the deterioration of values that permitted torture, political repression, and assassination. “While few Americans are directly involved in the program,” Luce writes, “Phoenix was created, organized, and funded by the CIA. The district and provincial interrogation centers were constructed with American funds, and provided with American advisers. Quotas were set by Americans. The national system of identifying suspects was devised by Americans and underwritten by the U.S. Informers are paid with U.S. funds. American tax dollars have covered the expansion of the police and paramilitary units who arrest suspects.” [31]

Thus, Luce writes, “the U.S. must share responsibility for the nature of the Saigon government itself. It is a government of limited scope whose very essence is dictated by American policy, not Vietnamese reality.” [32] But the CIA absolved itself of responsibility, saying that abuses occurred in the absence of U.S. advisers and that oversight was impossible. However, if the CIA had accepted responsibility, it would have nullified the plausible denial it had so carefully cultivated. Like Phoenix, the prison system was intentionally “jerry-built,” enabling sadists to fall through the gaping holes in the safety net.

Writes Luce: “Abuses of justice are not accidental but an integral part of the Phoenix program.” For example, “The widespread use of torture during interrogation can be explained by the admissibility of confession as evidence in court … and by the fact that local officials are under pressure from Saigon to sentence a specific number of high level VCI officials each month.” He adds that “Phoenix was named after the all seeing mythical bird which selectively snatches its prey — but the techniques of this operation are anything but selective. For many Vietnamese, the Phung Hoang program is a constant menace to their lives.” [33]

______________

Notes:

i. In August 1966 the CIA’s paramilitary adviser in Quang Ngai, Reed Harrison, unwittingly sent USAID employee Dwight Owen into an ambush outside Tu Nghia. The guerrillas who killed young Owen were from the Forty-eighth VC Battalion.

ii. In June 1988 Quang Ngai Special Branch chief Kieu participated in a Vatican ceremony which elevated Catholics killed in Vietnam to the status of martyrs.

CHAPTER 25: Da Nang

Jerry Bishop served in the Da Nang City Phoenix program from July 1968 until March 1970. An ROTC and Fort Holabird graduate, he arrived in Vietnam with thirty other lieutenants in August 1967 and was assigned to the Huong Thuy DIOCC near Hue. Shortly thereafter, in July 1968, he was transferred to Da Nang, where he became Major Roger Mackin’s deputy in the Da Nang City Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center.

Like many young men who wound up working for the CIA, Bishop felt constrained by the military and preferred the company of freewheeling agency officers like Rudy Enders, who had married PVT’s [i] sister and had formed the Da Nang City PRU as a means of providing his in-laws with draft deferments and steady employment. Working undercover in the CIA motor pool, the Da Nang City PRU specialized in deep-penetration operations into the jungle area in the districts outside Da Nang where the ARVN feared to go. Said Bishop: “We relied on the PRU and the U.S. Special Forces Mobile Reaction (Mike) Forces, [ii] because the Regional and Popular Forces could not be trusted. Also, it was hard to convince the Vietnamese to run operations which is why having the PRU was so important.”

The Da Nang City PRU were the subject of much controversy. They were the only PRU team assigned to a city in all Vietnam and did not have the approbation of Captain Pham Van Liem, the Quang Nam PRU chief, or of Major Nguyen Van Lang, the national PRU commander, who made his living selling “PRU-ships” and resented the fact that PVT had gotten his job for free. In fact, when Bishop arrived in Da Nang in July, his boss, Roger Mackin, was embroiled in a dispute with Police Chief Nguyen Minh Tan over the mere presence of the PRU in Da Nang. And while Enders was home on leave, Liem transferred PVT to Quang Ngai Province. When Enders returned to Da Nang, he brought PVT back and assigned him and his PRU to the newly created IOCC as the action arm of Phoenix in Da Nang. Tan was transferred to the newly created Central Phung Hoang Permanent Office in Saigon, and the controversy over the Da Nang City PRU simmered.

Meanwhile, Bishop stepped in as deputy Phoenix coordinator in Da Nang City, in which capacity he coordinated the various Vietnamese intelligence agencies in Da Nang. The city, incidentally, was strictly off limits to U.S. troops living in nearby military bases. Apart from Phoenix personnel, only a few military policemen, CID investigators, SOG spooks, and CORDS advisers were permitted within the city proper.

Bishop’s top priority was collecting data on VCI infiltrators living in the shantytowns on the outskirts of the city. He did this by reading translated Special Branch reports provided by Dick Ledford, the senior CIA Special Branch adviser headquartered at the Da Nang Interrogation Center with his Vietnamese counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Tien, and the PIC chief, Major Mao. Ledford used Bishop to interrogate high-level VCI prisoners, whom Bishop would isolate and humiliate in order to make them lose face with the other prisoners, on the theory that breaking a man’s spirit was the quickest way to get him to talk. In hard cases Bishop administered drugs to disorient his prisoners, then offered a return to sanity in exchange for information. Business was brisk. The Da Nang PIC held five hundred prisoners, most supplied by the PRU, which did their interrogations there. The PIC, [iii] in Bishop’s words, was the “cornerstone” of anti-VCI operations in Da Nang, while Phoenix was “just coordination.”

Phoenix operations in Da Nang, like those described by Shelby Roberts in Saigon, consisted mainly of the National Police cordoning off neighborhoods where VCI activity was suspected, then searching homes and checking IDs. The city was ringed by police checkpoints which Bishop, carrying photographs of VCI suspects, regularly visited in the company of Special Branch personnel. Bishop also worked closely with the Public Safety adviser to the Da Nang Field Police, which Bishop described as “mobile riot cops riding around in trucks with truncheons and shields,” enforcing the 10:00 P.M. curfew, arresting suspects, putting them in CONEX garbage containers and hauling them off to prison. Bishop called Phoenix operations in Da Nang “an example of big brother police state tactics.”

As Phoenix coordinator Bishop also worked with the MSS, an outfit he likened to the Gestapo and said included “the kind of people who torture people to death.” While the police had Da Nang City as their beat, the MSS operated primarily in the districts outside town. Each of Da Nang’s three districts had its own IOCC and Phoenix coordinator. The Third District IOCC — located across the bay in a rural area — was advised by an Army lieutenant, but neither he nor the other two DIOCC advisers, one of whom hailed from the Food and Drug Administration, were intelligence officers. They averaged twenty-two or twenty-three years old and were unable to speak Vietnamese.

Another part of Bishop’s job was working with the Military Police recovering property — mostly jeeps and trucks — stolen from the U.S. Army, and he often met with Army and Marine commanders to obtain helicopters for joint operations. At times these operations had nothing to do with the VCI. “We had problems with deserters, mostly blacks near the Marine air base, hiding out in the shantytown across the bay,” Bishop explained. “They were trying to make noodles and stay underground, but they were heavily armed and, at times, worked with the VC. So we had cordon and search operations to round them up. After the MPs started taking casualties, though, we used American military units, airborne rangers provided by General Lam, and the Nung Mike Force from Special Forces.”

Bishop also ran operations against the local Koreans, who “had their own safe houses and their own black-market dealings.” The Koreans “were selling weapons to the NVA through intermediaries and were shipping home U.S. Army trucks, which is what finally brought the MPs and Police Chief Duong Thiep together. But the Koreans were too tough — they all had black belts in karate — for the police to handle by themselves.” So Bishop used the Da Nang City PRU to raid the safe house where the deals were being done. “We confiscated their vehicles, which they did not take lying down. They were so pissed off,” Bishop recalled, “that they later tossed a grenade in my jeep.”

Despite his trouble with the Koreans, Bishop and the other Americans in Da Nang frequented the Korean social club, which was located next door to the CIA’s embassy house on Gia Long Street. It was a favorite spot for Americans because the Vietnamese had outlawed dance halls. On the other hand, the Vietnamese maintained a number of opium dens in Da Nang. “The Vietnamese didn’t give a damn about drugs,” Bishop explained, “so we left them alone. That was Public Safety’s problem.”

In late 1968 Roger Mackin left Vietnam, and Jerry Bishop assumed command of the Da Nang City IOCC, and in early 1969 Dick Ledford bequeathed the I Corps Phoenix program to Colonel Rosnor, the Phoenix region coordinator. As part of the MACV takeover, Rosnor was forced to move Phoenix region headquarters out of the CIA compound into the mayor’s office. And shortly thereafter Rosnor was himself replaced by Colonel Daniel Renneisen, a Chinese linguist brought in from Taiwan to assuage the Vietnamese. With Renneisen’s approval, Bishop built a new IOCC “off the harbor road three blocks from the water.” Promoted to captain in early 1969, Bishop became Renneisen’s deputy and liaison to Lieutenant Colonel Thiep.

The CIA’s pullout from Phoenix had a big impact on Bishop. “Previously,” he explained, “I would see Ledford for coordination; I would go to the PIC, get the hot information, and bring it into the Da Nang City IOCC, which was important, because the Special Branch wouldn’t share its information with the Vietnamese police or the military. But once Ledford was gone, we had no more access. The new people coming in were lost.” Phoenix, said Bishop, “became a mechanism to coordinate the Vietnamese, while the CIA began running its own parallel operation …. The problem,” Bishop explained, “is that the CIA sees itself as first. You’re supposed to give your agents and your information to them, and then they take over operational control. So everyone tried to keep something for themselves.” Bishop, for example, ran his own secret agent, whom he had recruited from the local Chieu Hoi center.

Not only had Bishop lost access to Special Branch information, but he had also lost his major source of funding, and he had to find a way to involve the Vietnamese more directly in the program. His response was to give PVT money from the Intelligence Contingency Fund, which PVT used to throw a party for the top-ranking Vietnamese officials every two or three weeks. PVT would hire a band and invite high-ranking officers from the mayor’s office, the MSS, the National Police, and Special Branch, and everyone would make small talk and share information. It was an informal way of doing things which, Bishop pointed out, reflected Vietnamese sensibilities.

“The people in the villages,” Bishop pointed out, “had no concept of communism. They couldn’t understand why we were after the VCI, and they didn’t take sides. They’d help the guerrillas at night and the GVN during day.” In Bishop’s opinion, “We were helping the wrong side. The GVN had no real sense of nationality, no real connection to people. They were trained by the French to administer for the Saigon regime. Those who worked with Chieu Hoi and RD understood communism somewhat, but the GVN had no ideology. Just negative values.”

Over time the parties organized by PVT evolved into formal Phung Hoang meetings held in the mayor’s office. PVT acted as translator (Americans wore headsets) and facilitator, setting the agenda and making sure everyone showed up. The Phung Hoang Committee in Da Nang consisted of the mayor and his staff and reps from the MSS, Special Branch, National Police, Census Grievance, RD Cadre, and Chieu Hoi — nine to ten people in all. They had never gotten together in one spot before, but from then on the Phung Hoang Committee was the center of power in Da Nang, even though it was split into opposing camps, one led by Thiep, the other by Mayor Nguyen Duc Khoi, Thiep’s business rival.

Bishop was aligned with Thiep, and in order to strengthen Thiep’s hand, he persuaded Colonel Renneisen to persuade General Cushman, the American military commander in I Corps, to ante up a helicopter, which Bishop and Thiep then used to visit each of I Corps’s five PIOCCs on a circuit-rider basis.

The Special Branch representative on the Phung Hoang Committee reported (but always on dated information) to Mayor Khoi — a former MSS officer who had at one time been Diem’s security chief. As the agency with the closest ties to the civilian population, the Special Branch had the best political intelligence and thus was a threat to the I Corps commander, General Lam. For that reason, when General Khiem had become prime minister in early 1969, he appointed his confidential agent, Lieutenant Colonel Thiep (an MSS officer from Saigon) police chief in Da Nang, with cognizance over the Special Branch. Thiep reported to General Lam and was able to post an MSS officer in the region PIC. However, PIC chief Mao — in fact, a Communist double agent — isolated the MSS officer, leaving Phung Hoang Committee meetings as the only means by which Thiep could keep tabs on the Special Branch.

The CIA’s region officer in charge in 1969, Roger McCarthy, and his deputy, Walter Snowden, retreated from sight, leaving Renneisen and Bishop to fend for themselves. But MACV was not providing sufficient funds to maintain either the Da Nang PRU or existing agent nets, and so Bishop began issuing special passes to the Special Forces team in Da Nang in exchange for captured weapons, which he traded to the Air Force for office supplies, which he gave to Thiep for his Phung Hoang headquarters. When Bishop learned, through PVT, that the Navy Civic Action center was in possession of stolen jeeps, he confiscated the jeeps, painted them green and white at the PRU motor pool, forged legal papers, and gave them to Thiep. One of Bishop’s confrontations with the local MPs occurred when Marine investigators tried to recover the stolen vehicles but found they now belonged to Thiep and the National Police. Tension between the Da Nang Phoenix contingent and Marine investigators mounted because, according to Bishop, “People got corrupted by Phoenix.”

With the loss of CIA funding, the Phoenix program in Da Nang suffered other setbacks. The Da Nang City PRU were suddenly on their own. PVT, the indispensable link between the Americans and Vietnamese, began to worry, so Bishop was forced to take action. “We heard through PVT what really went on,” Bishop said. But in order to keep PVT as an asset and carry out the attack against the VCI, it was necessary to maintain the PRU in Da Nang. “Our PRU were English-speaking and could translate documents and act as interpreters for us,” Bishop explained. “We couldn’t get along without them.” Knowing that the Da Nang Phoenix program was on the verge of collapse, Bishop wrote a letter to Prime Minister Khiem, asking that the PRU be retained as draft-exempt employees of the Da Nang City Phung. Hoang program, working as auto mechanics in the motor pool, paid through the MACV Intelligence Contingency Fund.

The letter was not well received by PRU commander Lang in Saigon. Nor was the 525th MIG thrilled at the prospect of shelling out money for a program that was coming under increasing criticism. “The PRU were hated by everyone,” Bishop explained. “They were considered worse than the MSS Gestapo.”

Colonel Renneisen did not want to get involved either, “But we needed interpreters,” Bishop said, “and the letter was signed by Thiep, and Thiep arranged for PVT to meet with Colonel Pham Van Cao at the Phung Hoang Office in Saigon. Cao wrote a letter to the director general of the National Police, who approved it, as did General Lam after prodding from Renneisen. And so on the condition that they be directed only against the VCI, the PRU were allowed to stay in Da Nang.”

The establishment of the Da Nang PRU as an official arm of the city’s Phung Hoang program coincided with the transfer of PRU national headquarters to the National Police Interrogation Center in Saigon, and the transfer of PRU logistical support was transferred to Colonel Dai and the National Police. While the PRU had been paid directly by the CIA before, as of 1969, funds were channeled through intermediaries — usually Phoenix — while uniforms and equipment came through the Field Police.

Having profaned the sacred chain of command with his letter to Khiem, Bishop soon found himself in hot water. “A red-haired guy from Saigon, a young kid, came up to Da Nang and replaced me at the Da Nang City IOCC with a major from the Third Marine Amphibious Force,” Bishop recalled. “I was kicked upstairs and became Renneisen’s full-time deputy, and the major — responding to General Cushman, who was upset because vehicles kept disappearing — decided to get rid of all renegade vehicles in the PRU motor pool. The last I heard, the steering wheel fell off his jeep while he was driving around the city.”

Jerry Bishop left Vietnam in March 1970 and returned to college, badly disillusioned. Colonel Renneisen was transferred to Saigon as operations chief at the Phoenix Directorate. A new I Corps Phoenix coordinator settled into the job. In Quang Nam Province, the Phoenix adviser was Lieutenant Bill Cowey; Captain Yoonchul Mo was the Korean liaison; and the PRU, under Major Liem, were advised by Special Forces Sergeant Patry Loomis. The Da Nang City PRU continued to be advised by PVT. Major Thompson ran the Da Nang City IOCC, and the DaNang PIC was advised by Vance Vincent.

***

The question this book has tried to answer is, was Phoenix a legal, moral, and popular program that occasionally engendered abuses or was it an instrument of unspeakable evil — a manifestation of everything wicked and cruel? Consider the case of William J. Taylor. A former Marine Corps investigator and veteran of three tours in Vietnam, Taylor now owns his own detective agency, one of the foremost in the country. He served as chief investigator and consultant in the Karen Silkwood, Three Mile Island, and Greensboro murder cases. He was also involved in the investigations into the My Lai massacre, the Atlanta missing and murdered children case, and the Orlando Letelier assassination. A man who has been shot and stabbed in the course of his work, Taylor is tough as nails, but when we met in the fall of 1986, it was in an attorney’s office, in the presence of a witness; for what he had to say lent credence to all the horror stories ever told about Phoenix.

Bill Taylor enlisted in the Marines in 1963. He did his first tour in Vietnam in 1966 as a member of a unit guarding a mountaintop radio relay station that monitored enemy and allied radio traffic in the valley below. When the post was attacked and overrun by an NVA unit, Taylor was nominated for a Silver Star for his gallantry in action.

Taylor returned to Vietnam in 1968 as an investigator with the Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division (CID). His duties involved investigating robberies, arsons, murders, rapes, fraggings, race riots, and other serious crimes committed by American military personnel. Taylor transported dangerous prisoners, acted as a courier for classified messages, and maintained a network of informers in Da Nang. In 1969 Taylor returned to Da Nang as a CID investigator with the Third Marine Amphibious Force. He resided at the Paris Hotel and worked, half a mile away, with a team of Marines in the Army’s CID headquarters. Taylor’s supervisor was Master Sergeant Peter Koslowski.

“Pete liked me.” Taylor laughed. “He was always mad at me, but he liked me.”

It was through Koslowski that Taylor first heard about Phoenix. “Koslowski said Phoenix was a great organization and that it would right a lot of wrongs over there,” Taylor recalled. “He said it was necessary, sometimes, to cut throats and that it was also important, for psychological reasons, that sometimes it be made to look like the Communists had done it. That included terrorist activities in Da Nang and Saigon, which were Phoenix projects.” Expressing his own disgust with such a policy, Taylor said, “I was young and didn’t understand political realities. That’s what Koslowski said. Well, now that I’m mature, I understand them less.”

Taylor’s account of Phoenix is set in Da Nang in July 1970. The incident occurred on a Sunday morning. As was his habit, Taylor was rummaging through the garbage cans in the alley behind the White Elephant restaurant near the Da Nang Hotel, loading the back of his jeep with discarded fruit, vegetables, and bread, which he gave to Vietnamese members of his informer network who were having a hard time making ends meet. Some of these people worked at Camp Horn; others, for the mayor of Da Nang. Most he had known since 1968.

While poking around in the trash, Taylor saw a U.S. Army intelligence officer, accompanied by a Korean intelligence officer, pass by in a jeep. Taylor had been investigating the American for several months, so he quickly dropped what he was doing and followed them. Taylor had opened the case when a number of his Vietnamese sources began complaining to him that an American military officer, in cahoots with the Koreans, was murdering Vietnamese civilians for the CIA. The American officer was regularly seen at the Da Nang Interrogation Center, assaulting women prisoners and forcing them to perform perverse acts. He had a reputation as a sadist who enjoyed torturing and killing prisoners. A psychopath with no compunctions about killing people or causing them pain, he was the ideal contract killer.

That the CIA should recruit such a man was not unusual. Taylor himself had investigated a racial incident in which four blacks threw grenades into the Da Nang enlisted men’s club while a movie was being shown. One of the blacks told Taylor that a CIA “talent scout” had offered to get him and his comrades off the hook if they would agree to perform hits for the CIA on a contract basis, not just in Vietnam but in other countries as well.

Taylor’s principal source was a Vietnamese woman who knew where the American assassin lived. Together they watched the house, and when the man emerged, Taylor recognized him immediately. The man was the Da Nang Phoenix adviser, in which capacity he periodically appeared at the CID compound dressed in the uniform of a U.S. Army intelligence officer.

“The guy was crazy,” Taylor explained. “He was my height, slightly taller. He had dark hair and a runner’s build. He had three or four names and eyes you’d never forget — like he was acting at throwing a tantrum. Like Jim in Taxi. He was angry all the time,” Taylor continued. “When he walked through a crowd of Vietnamese, he just pushed people aside. The first time I saw him, as a matter of fact, was outside Koslowski’s office. A Vietnamese sentry blocked his way, so he slammed the guy up against the guardhouse. Right then and there I knew that someday we were going to fight.

“He didn’t look or act like a military officer,” Taylor added. “That’s why I started watching him.”

Over the next few months Taylor compiled a comprehensive dossier on the man, with more than a hundred pages of notes and twenty rolls of film, including pictures of the Koreans and American civilians with whom he met. When Koslowski discovered what Taylor was doing, he tried to dissuade him. But Taylor persisted. He continued to surveil the Phoenix agent, noting that much of his contact with other Americans occurred at the Naval Claims Investigation building, a “gorgeous mansion” that served as a “CIA front.” Known to Jerry Bishop as the Civic Action center, it was the place where Vietnamese went to collect indemnities when their relatives were accidentally killed in U.S. military operations or by U.S. military vehicles. Although there were only six claims adjusters, the building had dozens of spacious rooms and doubled as a beer hall on Saturday nights. Taylor and his colleagues would party there with the intelligence crowd, local American construction workers, and reporters from the Da Nang Press Club. At these parties Taylor watched while the Phoenix agent met and took instructions from civilians working undercover with the Da Nang Press Club.

Sensing he was on to something unusual, Taylor wrote to L. Mendel Rivers, a congressman in South Carolina. “A few weeks later,” he noted, “Koslowski hinted that maybe I shouldn’t be writing to politicians.”

Taylor began to feel uncomfortable. Thinking there was an informer in Rivers’s office, he began mailing copies of his reports and photographs to a friend in Florida, who concealed the evidence in his house. What the evidence suggested was that Phoenix murders in Da Nang were directed not at the VCI but at private businessmen on the wrong side of contractual disputes. In one case documented by Taylor, Pepsi was trying to move in on Coke, so the Coke distributor used his influence to have his rival’s name put on the Phoenix hit list.

Taylor’s investigation climaxed that Sunday morning outside the White Elephant restaurant. He followed the Phoenix adviser and his Korean accomplice as they drove in smaller and smaller circles around the northwest section of Da Nang. Satisfied they weren’t being tailed, the two parked their jeep, then proceeded on foot down a series of back alleys until they reached an open-air cafe packed with upper-middle-class Vietnamese, including women and children. Taylor arrived on the scene as the two assassins pulled hand grenades from a briefcase, hiked up the bamboo skirting around the cafe, rolled the grenades inside, turned, and briskly walked away.

Taylor watched in horror as the cafe exploded. “I saw nothing but body parts come blasting out. I drove around the burning building and the bodies, hoping to cut them off before they reached their jeep. But they got to it before I did, and they started to drive away. They passed directly in front of me,” Taylor recalled, “so I rammed my jeep into theirs, knocking it off the road.

“After the initial shock,” he continued, “they reached for their weapons, but I got to them first. I wanted to blow them away, but instead I used my airweight Smith and Wesson to disable them. Then I took their weapons and handcuffed them to the roll bar in the back of my jeep. I drove them back to the CID building and proceeded to drag them into Koslowski’s office. I got them down on the floor and told Ski they’d killed several people. I said that I’d watched the whole thing and that there were witnesses. In fact, the crowd would have torn them apart if I hadn’t brought them back fast.

“Meanwhile, the American was screaming, so I stepped on him. I’d taken the cuffs off the Korean, who was trying to karate-chop everything in sight, so I cuffed him again. Then Ski told me to go back to my office to write up my report. Ski said he’d handle it. He was mad at me.”

It was soon apparent why Koslowski was upset.

“While I was in my office across the courtyard, in another wing of the CID building,” Taylor said, “one of the other CID agents came in and asked me if I had a death wish. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I have a sense of duty.’

“‘Well,'” he said, “‘nothing’s gonna get done.'” By this time reports describing the incident as an act of Vietcong terrorism were streaming into the office. Fourteen people had been killed; about thirty had been injured.

“Then,” Taylor said, “a second CID agent came in and said, ‘Ski’s letting them go!’ I charged back to the main building and saw the American Phoenix agent walking down the hall, so I started bouncing him off the walls. At this point Koslowski started screaming at me to let him go. A Vietnamese guard came running inside, frantic, because there was a lynch mob of Koreans from the Phoenix task force forming outside. One of the CID guys grabbed me, and the Phoenix agent screamed that I was a dead man. Then he took his bloody head and left.

“I really didn’t care.” Taylor sighed. “Sanctioning of enemy spies is one thing, but mass murder … I told Ski, ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to get those guys.'”

Shortly thereafter Koslowski received a phone call and informed Taylor that “for his own safety” he was being restricted to his room in the Paris Hotel. Two marines were posted outside his door and stood guard over him through the night. The following morning Taylor was taken under custody to the Third MP Battalion and put in a room in the prisoner of war camp. Now a captive himself, he sat there for two days in utter isolation. When the Koreans learned of his whereabouts, and word got out that they were planning an attack, he was choppered to a Marine base on Hill 37 near Dai Loc on Route 14. Taylor stayed there for two more days, while arrangements were made for his transfer back to the States. Eventually he was flown back to Da Nang and from there to Cam Ranh, Yokohama, Anchorage, and Seattle. In Seattle he was relieved of his gun and escorted by civilians posing as personal security — one was disguised as a Navy chaplain — to Orlando, Florida.

“When I got to Orlando, where my family was waiting,” Taylor recalled, “there was still mud on my boots. I had five days’ growth of beard, and I was filthy. I cleaned up, contacted Marine headquarters, and was told to stand down. Nothing happened for about forty-five days, at which time I was ordered to Camp Lejeune, where I was debriefed by a bunch of military intelligence officers. I was told not to tell anyone about what had happened. They said I could go to jail if I did.”

And so Bill Taylor’s account of Phoenix came to an end. Almost. Within a month of his return to the States, his friend’s house was broken into and the incriminating evidence stolen. In a predictable postscript Taylor’s service records were altered; included in the portion concerning his medical history were unflattering psychological profiles derived from sessions he never attended. He never got the Silver Star either. Yet despite his losing battle with the system, Bill Taylor still believes in right and wrong. He is proud of having brought the Phoenix assassins in for justice (never dispensed), for having torn the masks off their faces, and for putting them out of business temporarily in Da Nang.

Nor has the Phoenix controversy ended for Taylor. He has seen the fingerprints of the “old Phoenix boys” at the scene of a number of murders he has investigated, including those of American journalist Linda Frazier and Orlando Letelier. The “old Phoenix boys” Taylor referred to are a handful of Cuban contract agents the CIA hired after the Bay of Pigs fiasco to assassinate Fidel Castro. Some served in Vietnam in Phoenix, and a few operate as hired killers and drug dealers in Miami and Central America today. Taylor included the CIA case officers who manage these assassins in his definition of the “old Phoenix boys.”

_____________

Notes:

i. The CIA’s unilateral Vietnamese asset PVT was in charge of PRU and Phoenix operations in Da Nang.

ii. The PRU and Special Forces Mike Forces were trusted because they were under CIA control, with no official Vietnamese involvement.

iii. Bishop noted that the American sergeant in charge of PIC administration sold food and clothing on the black market and had to be relieved. The Da Nang City IOCC and the three district IOCCs had their own interrogation and detention facilities.

CHAPTER 26: Revisions

By 1971, as the war subsided and the emphasis shifted to police operations, it was finally understood, as General Clay had said in August 1969, “that the objective of neutralizations of the infrastructure is equal in priority to the objective of tactical operations.” [1]

Brighter than ever, the spotlight shone on the Phoenix Directorate, which boasted in its 1970 End of Year Report: “The degree of success of the RVN counter-insurgency effort is directly related to the success in accomplishing this neutralization objective.” Noting that “This concept [author’s emphasis] will receive even more emphasis in 1971” and that “The Phung Hoang program has been given the highest priority in the GVN’s pacification effort,” the report says: “Full participation of all agencies will be maintained until VCI strength is greatly reduced; then it will be feasible to transfer complete responsibility for VCI neutralizations to the Special Police.” [2]

Despite the optimism, there were problems. The pending cease-fire, aka the stab in the back, meant that just as the coup de grace was about to be delivered to the VCI, Washington politicians were preparing to grant it legal status, a development which would enable its agents, the directorate warned, “to increase their activity in controlled and contested areas and, with their anonymity, be free to proselytize, terrorize and propagandize in the GVN controlled rural and urban areas.” Citing captured documents that revealed plans for Communist subversion after the truce, the directorate said, “It is imperative that the Phung Hoang or a similar anti VCI effort be continued, particularly during an in-place ceasefire.” Moreover, because the politicians were hastening to withdraw American troops, the directorate suggested “[c]areful and studied consideration … to ensure that the Phung Hoang Program is not adversely affected by the premature withdrawal of advisory personnel.” [3]

Apart from the cease-fire and the drawdown, what the directorate feared most was the inability of the Vietnamese to manage the attack on the VCI. The pressure began to mount on December 3, 1970, when The New York Times quoted Robert Thompson as saying that captured documents indicated that hundreds of South Vietnamese policemen were Vietcong agents, that there were as many as thirty thousand Communist agents in the GVN, and that Phoenix was not doing the job and was itself infiltrated by Communists. Thompson’s charge was substantiated when, in 1970, a CIA counterintelligence investigation revealed that Da Nang’s PIC chief was a Communist double agent who had killed his captured comrades during the Tet offensive in order to maintain his cover.

As a result of these problems, it was suggested that further revisions in the Phoenix program be made. One of the first steps was to hire two private companies — Southeast Asia Computer Associates (managed by CIA officer Jim Smith) and the Computer Science Corporation (under CIA officer Joe Langbien) — to advise the two hundred-odd Vietnamese technicians who were scheduled to take over the MACV and CORDS computers. The Vietnamese were folded into Big Mack, and the Phung Hoang Management Information System (PHMIS) was joined with the National Police Criminal Information System, which tracked the VCI members from their identification through their capture, legal processing, detention, and (when it happened), release.

Personnel changes designed to strengthen National Police Command support of Phoenix began at the top with the promotion of Colonel Hai to brigadier general in September 1970. [i] Five months later twenty-five thousand ARVN officers and enlisted men and ten thousand RD Cadre were transferred to the National Police. Three policemen were sent to each village having at least five hundred residents, and in urban areas two cops were assigned for each thousand people. Field Police platoons were sent to the districts, and twenty-six hundred additional special policemen were hired into the force. [4]

As a way of addressing what General Clay called “the critical shortage of qualified Special Police case officers,” the directorate focused greater attention on the case officer training courses and seminars at the regional Phung Hoang schools, emphasizing the use of target folders.

Regarding American personnel, Phoenix inspection teams were given the authority to remove unsatisfactory Vietnamese, and more than two hundred senior enlisted men scheduled to return to the United States as part of the drawdown were transferred instead to Phoenix as deputy DIOCC advisers, mostly in the Delta. Because these men could speak Vietnamese and were counterintelligence experts, Jack called this a windfall. These counterintelligence specialists maintained target folders, reviewed agent reports, PIC reports, and Chieu Hoi debriefings, and liaisoned among PICs, PIOCCs, and Chieu Hoi centers.

September 1970 also marked the creation of the Phoenix Career Program and the Military Assistance Security Advisory (MASA) course at Fort Bragg, climaxing a process begun in 1950, when the U.S. Army had established its Psywar Division at Fort Riley. Requirements for MASA training included an “outstanding” record and Vietnamese-language “ability and aptitude.” Prior service in Vietnam was “desirable,” and military intelligence officers were given top priority. Field-grade officers were promised entry into the Command and General Staff College. Other ranks were promised, among other things, preference of next assignment; civil schooling upon completion of the tour; an invitation to join the Army’s Foreign Area Specialist program; and, while in Vietnam, five vacations and a special thirty-day leave, including a round-trip ticket anywhere in the free world.

“The only bad side to that,” said Doug Dillard, “is that it didn’t work. When I came from the War College to take over as chief of Military Intelligence Branch, we were getting a lot of complaints from the youngsters saying, ‘You’re not living up to your promise. I wanted to go to Fort Bragg and you’re sending me to Fort Lewis.’ It was part of the turmoil of the drawdown, that all these jobs were not going to exist when these kids started coming out of Vietnam. I immediately did everything I could to change that program and not make any commitment to those youngsters.” [5]

In July 1970 the Phoenix Coordinators’ Orientation Course was renamed the Phung Hoang Advisory School and moved from Seminary Camp to the Driftwood Service Club on the Vung Tau Air Base. Classes began in August and were taught by CIA instructors and a team of intelligence officers assigned to Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Fulford. As the National Police assumed greater responsibility for Phoenix, more Public Safety advisers began to receive Phung Hoang training and were folded into the program as PIC and Phoenix task force advisers.

Another development in 1970 was the proliferation of Phoenix task forces. For example, in September 1970 in Quang Tin Province, a Phoenix task force composed of 180 field policemen, 60 PRU, and 30 armed propagandists was organized and used as a private army by the Phoenix coordinator in Tam Ky. Called Hiep Dong, the force was broken down into platoons that operated independently and in combined operations with U.S. or ARVN forces. The Quang Tin province chief wrote Hiep Dong’s operational orders, which were cosigned by the local U.S. and ARVN commanders. In one Hiep Dong operation, 24 Regional Force companies, 99 Popular Force platoons, and the entire 196th and 5th ARVN regiments were committed. Of the operation’s 132 objectives, 116 were VCI targets, 99 of which were neutralized.

In addition, the Territorial Forces and People’s Self-Defense Forces provided “intelligence and reconnaissance units” to the force. “In my hamlet,” said a resident of Quang Tin Province quoted in Hostages of War, “the Phoenix men come at night and rap on our doors. They are dressed in the black pajamas of the Liberation soldiers and tell people they are with the Liberation army. But they are really the secret police. If the people welcome them with joy, these policemen kill them or take them away as Viet Cong. But if they are VC soldiers and we say anything good about the Saigon government, we are taken off as rice bearers or soldiers for the Front.” [6]

All in all, 8,191 VCI were killed in 1970 — more than any year before or after; 7,745 VCI rallied and 6,405 were jailed, for a total of 22,341 VCI neutralized, all class A and B. Approximately 40 percent of all VCI kills were credited to Territorial Forces. The Field Police were still “underemployed,” according to the 1970 End of Year Report, and “Coordination of the PRU with the DIOCCs was somewhat less than ideal in some areas. The PRU, in some cases justifiably critical of the security in the DIOCCs and PIOCCs, generally did not contribute intelligence regularly to the DIOCC but instead reacted to intelligence they had gathered on their own.” PRU matters, however, were not within the directorate’s bailiwick but were “addressed by the advisory elements at the Saigon level.” [7]

In A Systems Analysis View of the Vietnam War, Thomas Thayer reports that the PRU in 1970 were “per man … at least ten times as effective as any other anti-VCI action force.” [8] He also writes: “The PRU are being incorporated into the Special Branch” and that “Hopefully [sic] they will serve as a nucleus around which an improved police force may be built.” [9] However, in March 1972 William Grieves told General Abrams, “To date … not a single application has been received from a member of the PRU for enrollment in the National Police.” [10]

Thayer is far more critical of Phoenix than the revisionist directorate. According to Thayer, “Results through April 1971 indicate that Phoenix is still a fragmented effort, lacking central direction, control and priority. Most neutralizations still involve low level, relatively unimportant workers gained as a side benefit from military operations …. Only 2% of all VCI neutralized were specifically targeted and killed by Phoenix forces, and there have been very few reports of such assassinations from the field.” He faults the judicial system for being unable to “process the 2500 or so suspected VCI captured each month,” and citing a “constant backlog” of detainees, he observes: “Significant numbers of alleged VCI wait 6 months before going to trial.” [11]

Meanwhile, the issues of incentives and internal security were dominating Phoenix planning. Regarding internal security, General Frank Clay, the deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blamed the CIA for the “critical shortage of qualified Special Police case officers.” [12] Colby, meanwhile, in a December 12, 1970, presentation to Defense Secretary Melvin Laird (titled “Internal Security in South Vietnam — Phoenix”), complained about the “continuing predominance of military leadership in the program.” Colby then made twenty-seven recommendations for “improving GVN internal security in general and Phung Hoang in particular.” Chief among his recommendations were that an FBI officer be sent to Saigon and that an incentive program be implemented.

The request for FBI assistance was initially made by General Abrams in the summer of 1970 “for the specific purpose of providing recommendations for the neutralization of important national level members of the [VCI].” [13] It fell to Colby to get the ball rolling. He assigned Jack, the assistant for concepts and strategy on the Vietnam Task Force, as action officer on the matter. “People in Washington, D.C., wanted Colby’s scalp,” Jack explained. “Things weren’t moving, Phoenix being one. What there was was tension between the CIA and the Pentagon. And so the FBI was called in.”

On February 4, 1970, through General Fritz Kramer, Jack met with FBI Internal Security Division chief William C. Sullivan, who told him “that any request for FBI assistance would have to come from the White House as a directive signed by Kissinger.” Sullivan said he would call Kissinger “on a quiet” basis and apprise him of the request. The problem, said Jack, was that “Senior people were very sensitive about the FBI screwing around in the embassy” and that AID Assistant Director Robert Nooter thought that the task being assigned to the FBI was a police function rightly belonging to AID.

To clear the way for the FBI, Colby back-channeled instructions to his friend and CIA colleague Byron Engel, the chief of Public Safety. Engel passed those instructions along to his Vietnam desk officer, John Manopoli. When Jack met with Manopoli on February 8, the latter said that AID had changed its mind and had no objections to the FBI visit. That day Jack drafted a “talking paper” for General Karhohs, which the Vietnam Task Force chief used to brief Defense Secretary Laird the next day. Jack called Sullivan “to clear the action,” and on February 12 Warren Nutter signed the necessary letter of transmittal, which Laird sent to the White House for approval. On February 23, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover received the directive, signed by National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.

On March 30 Jack received a copy of a White House memo directing the FBI to send two people TDY to Vietnam. Hoover approved it and sent Harold Child, the FBI’s legal adviser at the Tokyo Embassy, to Saigon for four or five days on a “diagnostic” basis, to see if an investigation was warranted. “It was a perfunctory execution of a White House directive,” Jack chuckled. “There was not enough time to do a thorough review.”

Harold Child writes:

Early one morning I received a telephone call from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. [He] wanted me to go immediately to Saigon to talk with all the people concerned to help him reach a conclusion as to whether there was anything that the FBI could constructively do in South Vietnam …. John Mason turned out to be the individual in Saigon who was designated to assist me in my contacts and provide information and background that I required.

Until I landed in Saigon, I had no idea whatever as to what the Phoenix program was. In fact, even after the first two or three days, what they were doing and what they had accomplished were very confusing to me. Upon return to Tokyo, I furnished a detailed report to Mr. Hoover … [and] my recommendations were in summary: 1) No information had been presented to me to demonstrate that operations of the Phoenix Program had any direct relation to FBI internal security responsibilities; 2) There was much confusion and inconsistency inherent in the program, which had developed over a considerable period of time, making it impractical for the FBI to come in at this late stage; and 3) I recommended against the FBI becoming involved in insurgency problems or other local problems in Vietnam. [14]

John Mason’s military deputy, Colonel Chester McCoid, has a different recollection. According to McCoid, in an interview with the author, Child was there to obtain information on Vietnamese supporters of American antiwar groups; the FBI wanted current intelligence, but the CIA would not share what it had. Mason presented “the CIA’s perspective, not the CORDS perspective,” McCoid claimed. [15] Citing the separate charters of the CIA and FBI, “Mason lectured Child on cognizance, arguing that overseas intelligence is the CIA’s job.

“Phoenix was a creature of the embassy,” McCoid said. “The footwork was done by uniforms, but the tone was set by the CIA — by Ted Shackley and John Mason.” [ii]

Colby denied any shenanigans. “I just wanted FBI ideas on how to improve Phoenix,” he said to me. [18] Yet while seeming to advance the process, Colby actually blunted it. On April 30, 1971, Hoover reported to Colby that FBI services were not required in Saigon. Jack terminated the action on May 24. “Colby sent a letter killing it,” he said. Instead of the FBI’s advising the directorate, the Internal Security Bureau of the National Police was expanded from forty to six hundred personnel.

***

For a view of Phoenix in the field, we turn to a December 1970 report by the III Corps DEPCORDS, Richard Funkhouser. At the time, according to Funkhouser, the VCI were lying low, concentrating on recruiting new cadres, penetrating the GVN, and bumping off the occasional GVN official. The III Corps commander, General Do Cao Tri, had approved “a combined U.S.-GVN Phung Hoang Task Force” to inspect IOCCs and “get the horses galloping in the same direction.” General Tri (who was killed when his helicopter was shot down on February 23, 1971) had approved the task force as part of a “crash VCI program” that “Thieu kicked off … himself at a special secret meeting at Vung Tau on 31 October.” [19]

Funkhouser reported that PIOCCs were being integrated into police operation centers, that the VCI was stronger in urban than rural areas, and that “the leadership of the police traces itself back to the Ministry of Interior which reportedly makes assignments after the proper payoff is made.” He deemed quotas “redundant, difficult to attain and in fact not susceptible to accurate measurement,” the problem being that neutralization figures were inflated to meet goals. He said that most Vietnamese police officers were too busy to devote time to Phoenix but that targeting of the VCI had improved with the assignment of senior noncommissioned officers as deputy DIOCC advisers in thirty-five of III Corps’s fifty-three districts. “Coordination with PICs ranges from good to fair,” he reported, “but advisors often conducted supplementary interrogations.” To be successful, Funkhouser noted, anti-VCI operations required “the sensitive and instant use of informers and total secrecy.”

“We stayed on our own side of the fence,” said the III Corps senior Public Safety adviser Walt Burmester. “And the Vietnamese felt the same way …. People didn’t come to the police for help, because the only places attacked by the VC were government installations.” Burmester added that the National Police merely supplied Phoenix with equipment and that Phoenix itself acted more as a resource center than an action agency. [20]

In fact, the attack against the VCI in the early 1970’s was carried out primarily by the CIA through the PRU. As reported by Funkhouser, “The increase in PRU effectiveness throughout the region has been spectacular, and is due primarily to the strong leadership of the Region PRU commander and his U.S. adviser.” That PRU adviser was Rudy Enders.

In 1965, with only nine cadres (one of whom was PVT), Rudy Enders had formed III Corps’s original counterterror team in Tan Uyen. In 1970 he returned to Bien Hoa, at Ted Shackley’s request, to manage the region’s paramilitary forces. “Our main job was to keep rockets from raining on Saigon,” Enders said to me, although he also managed the attack on the VCI. [21] However, he added, “There were simply too many party committee structures. To unscramble this, we centralized in Bien Hoa. We got access to high-level guys in the Chieu Hoi center, the PIC, or the hospital — anyone we could get our hands on. We’d take him around, watch him for two weeks, and try to win him over.

“Sam Adams was making a case that the commander of VC military subsection twenty-two, Tu Thanh, had recruited four hundred fifty penetrations in Hau Nghia,” Enders said, then told how he proved Adams wrong. The process began when “Our Long An officer and a defector from COSVN were going past the market one day.” Quite by accident, the defector spotted Tu Thanh’s secretary. She was grabbed and taken to the embassy house, where, during interrogation, it was learned that she was in love with Tu Thanh’s son and that Tu Thanh’s family had established legal residence under aliases in Hau Nghia after the Cambodian invasion. However, because Tu Thanh had forbidden his son to see his secretary, the woman decided to defect. Blessed with a photographic memory and eager to exact revenge, she supplied the CIA with Tu Thanh’s identification number, along with the real names and addresses of another two hundred VCI in Tu Thanh’s network.

Having managed the Vietnam desk in 1962 and 1963, III Corps CIA region officer in charge Donald Gregg understood the importance of the secretary’s information. He immediately focused everyone in the region on Tu Thanh’s network, which was diagrammed on a wall map to show where his deputies and family members lived. Enders and Gregg then dispatched Special Branch surveillance teams to take pictures of the suspects; meanwhile, they tried to place a penetration agent inside the apparatus.

“We tried to recruit a district cadre from Hau Nghia,” Enders recalled. “Tu Thanh’s secretary knew he had a girl friend, so we got her to narrate on a tape cassette a plea for him to work with us. The girl friend brought the tape to the cemetery where her mother was buried, and they exchanged it there. Next we sent a three-man PRU team from Hau Nghia to make a pitch, to get the guy to defect. But they came back empty-handed. Then we got wind that the next night the VC had come in for the tape recorder, so we ran a counterintelligence operation on the PRU and found out that the PRU commander was a VC penetration agent. So we changed commanders; Mr. Nha became the PRU commander.”

It was as a result of this failure that Gregg gave up on penetrations. “Shackley was interested in penetrations,” he recalled, “and the vehicle for doing that was the Special Branch working closely with PIC advisers.” Gregg added emphatically, “This is not Phoenix.” As for the nature of Phoenix operations in III Corps, he said, “The PIOCCs and DIOCCs had a guy asleep at the desk.” [22]

As Gregg explained it, “Because Three Corps had hard-core VC units in heavily mined areas, I decided I couldn’t penetrate. So I wound up trying to take apart the remaining elements of the VCI by putting together a chart of it from ralliers, prisoners, et cetera. I told ARVN I’d take all the POWs they couldn’t handle. We’d get battered people and treat them well. In return we’d get information on caches, supply dumps, river crossings, et cetera. We’d get them to point out the location on the map. Then Felix Rodriguez would take them up in a light observation helicopter to point out the hiding places on the ground. A PRU team would follow with the First Air Cav and [Phoenix Region Coordinator] Johnny Johnson. Felix would locate the bunker by drawing fire; then he’d mark it with smoke. The First Air Cav would provide two or three Hueys for fire support and two more with the PRU. Then they’d go in.” When bigger operations were mounted, the First Air Cavalry provided troops.

“So we went after Tu Thanh during Tet of 1971,” Rudy Enders went on. “We missed him by a step but found his hiding place and brought twenty-three people hiding there to the PIC. The PIC chief in Region Three, Colonel Sinh, did the interrogations. We brought guys in from Con Son to flesh out the reports, and we had guys analyzing reports, marking photographs, putting the pictures together on the wall, and then photographing that. As a result, we learned the names of ninety-six people in the organization, only two of whom had access to ARVN or the police. One was the province chief’s valet; the other was in the Hau Nghia police. But instead of four hundred fifty, like Adams said, it was only two.

“In the process of going after this organization,” Enders continued, “we got all of [III Corps Commander] General Hollingsworth’s assets, and together we took photos of the houses where they lived … then took the photos back to the helicopter where we had the twenty-three people plus the woman from Long An. The twenty-three people were hooded, and they circled the faces of the VCI. Felix Rodriguez was the guy doing this. Felix also got the choppers from Hollingsworth.”

Like Gregg, Enders claimed this was not a Phoenix operation. “Phoenix was just a record-keeping thing,” Enders said. “No organization is going to share intelligence because you didn’t know who was a double.” In other words, by 1971 the CIA was carrying the attack against the VCI, while Phoenix was merely keeping score.

Phoenix as defined in official reporting also differed from Phoenix in fact. While the directorate was promoting Phung Hoang as a Vietnamese program, the commander in chief, Pacific, was saying, “The GVN has not been able to secure the cooperation of officials at hamlet, village and district level that is required for a successful Phung Hoang-Phoenix program.” [23] Likewise, Pacification Attitude Analysis System results revealed that Phoenix was penetrated by the VCI and that most Vietnamese considered Phoenix a U.S. program, preferred a modus vivendi, and had “a grudging admiration for the VCI struggle.” [24]

“I reported to this guy in the station, who I only knew by the name George,” Ed Brady said to me. “I told him, ‘Your flow of information is through guys like Joe Sartiano and Dave West. But what does Minh Van Dang tell Dave West?’ I said, ‘They know he’s there for you; they tell him what you want to hear. How would you like something in context? Something that wasn’t told to an American official?’ And I had a good record of doing that, so I was reassigned to become special assistant to the director, John Mason.”

Unfortunately, Brady’s reports did not show success and were roundly ignored. As he explained it, “I had a view that was different from the official reports. But this put the CIA in the position of having to decide, Is he right or not? Sometimes they’d go with me, but more often not. They frequently didn’t want to use material I generated — they didn’t want to report it to Washington — because it made them look bad.”

***

For another inside view of Phoenix in 1971, we turn to Colonel Chester McCoid, who in February 1971 replaced Colonel James Newman as deputy to John Mason. A veteran of four years and ten separate assignments in Vietnam, McCoid chronicled the program’s major developments in letters to his wife, Dorothy. On February 18 he writes:

Yesterday afternoon … with two other Americans … from the Saigon City Advisory Group, I drove first to 6th Police Precinct Office and then on to the 7th. Our purpose was to inspect the work in progress to eliminate the enemy agents and shadow government apparatus in these critical areas.

The net result was an acute sense of distress! This was due directly to the inadequate job the American advisers were doing in both precincts. Here, in a situation where the enemy are hardcore old timers, we are employing callow young lieutenants to give advice to Vietnamese National Policemen who have been on the job for as many as 17 years. Naturally our people are far over their heads and find that they are rarely listened to by those whom, in theory, they are to give operational assistance. One of the officers, a captain, knows what should be done. He is familiar with his duties and does know a great deal about the precinct-population, size, state of the economy, ethnic breakdown, enemy strength, recent VC activity, who their supporters are, the true identity of the VC leaders, etc. His only difficulty is that he hasn’t won the confidence of the National Police chief yet.

In the 7th Precinct the situation is so unsatisfactory that it is sickening. There a lazy young punk is absolutely without any influence and, unless there is a dramatic improvement in his efforts, there is little hope there ever will be. This member of the “Pepsi Generation” knows almost nothing of the area for which he is supposedly accountable. In response to questions relating to the enemy … he had no answers. He complained that the Chief of the Special Police would spend no time with him, and that he, our lieutenant, was never approached for advice. Small wonder.

What are our advisory personnel like? Well, they range from being as useless as the clod in the 7th Precinct to some who have spent years in the Counter-Intelligence Corps. Most of these are majors or chief warrant officers; they know their trade and they manage to establish effective relationships with the National Police and Province S2s early on. Our best people aren’t in Saigon because the need is greater out in the remote border areas where the Vietnamese dump their duds. They naturally concentrate their most competent searchers for the VCI here in the nation’s capital; after all, they don’t want to have the Prime Minister or the President unhappy with the program.

In an April 2 letter, McCoid discusses the Thu Duc training center, where two thousand ARVN officers were to be sent for Phoenix training in preparation for assignment as village police chiefs:

The frustrations of working with some of these little bastards are formidable. They absolutely cannot do anything requiring any initiative — or perhaps the term should be “will not.” The school is for their case officers, yet they rely almost exclusively on the efforts of one of our personnel to draw up the program of instruction, the lesson plans, and the schedules. The course is to commence on the 19th and they’ve invited the Prime Minister to attend the opening ceremony; yet the building needs repairs and there is little or nothing available in the way of furnishings. There are only four of the required 10 instructors and few of the other personnel on hand — and no steps are being taken to correct the situation. By this time, if they were Westerners, they would be in a state of emotional collapse; but the Vietnamese face the situation with perfect equanimity — in fact, Monday the 5th is a holiday and they all are taking the day off. What are they waiting for? Well, American funding for one thing. They know that we will eventually come through with about seven million piasters ($25,000) and they see no reason to get excited until our money starts to flow.

In an April 14 letter McCoid announces the transfer of power on April 25 from John Mason to the third and final Phoenix director, John Tilton. [iii] A graduate of George Washington University, Tilton had served most of his career in Central and South America, where he served as operations officer in two countries. He also served as chief of station in two other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, where he mounted the successful manhunt and capture of Che Guevara. Colonel Paul Coughlin, chief of operations at the Phoenix Directorate throughout 1971, claimed that a photo taken of Che’s spread-eagled corpse — which was leaked to the press and depicted the revolutionary as a crucified Christ figure — was the reason why Tilton was exiled from his area of expertise to Southeast Asia. [25] Tall and thin, gaunt and gangly, Tilton, according to McCoid, was like Mason insofar as they both held Ted Shackley “in awe.” [iv]

Tilton served as Phoenix director from May 1971 till August 1973. From August 1972 till August 1973, he also served as deputy chief of station and senior adviser to the Special Branch in Vietnam. Under Tilton, Phoenix was reunited with its foster parent, the Special Branch.

Tilton considered himself a hands-on manager who worked closely with his region and province officers on operational matters. He inspected DIOCCs, evaluated the military officers posted to the directorate, attended Central Phung Hoang Committee meetings, and occasionally visited the Phung Hoang Office. In return, the Phung Hoang chief, Colonel Ly Trong Song, was frequently in Tilton’s office and house. Song, Tilton noted, was replaced by Colonel Nguyen Van Giau.

Tilton defined Phoenix as basically committees and cited this as one of the program’s faults — because committees are okay in setting broad policy, but a single agency in charge of the program would have been more effective. His other gripes were that Americans were trying to organize a country that wasn’t a country, that Phoenix advisers were too dependent on their interpreters, and that most informants were working for both sides. Tilton described Phoenix as a Special Forces program run out of Fort Bragg, and he tried hard to conceal the role of his parent agency. Prior to an interview with reporter Michael Parks, Tilton told McCoid not to reveal that Tilton was with the CIA. “He was very cherry about that,” McCoid noted.

On May 30, 1971, on orders from President Thieu, Colonel Ly Trong Song assumed command of the Phung Hoang bloc, and the program began going downhill. Always late, often not appearing at work at all, Song busied himself picking up order blanks for Sears or Montgomery Ward, snatching pens and pencils from people’s desks, and asking Colonel McCoid to buy him booze at the PX. A political appointee, Song had the job of preventing Phung Hoang personnel from disrupting Thieu’s influence in the provinces.

Morale problems began to affect the directorate. In a June 2 letter McCoid writes that more and more Phoenix advisers were requesting early releases, which were being granted as a means of scaling down U.S. involvement. Otherwise, CORDS was not filling vacancies. McCoid mentions how one captain assigned to the directorate asked for release after five weeks and how most of the others were badly disaffected. McCoid notes that more and more enlisted men were turning to drugs and that more and more NCOs were finding solace in the bottle. “Our strength here in the Directorate is scheduled to fall steadily while our work load sky-rockets,” he says, adding that he spent one third of his time responding to flag notes from William Colby, whom he called “a monumental figure.”

In a July 3 letter, McCoid notes that Colby had gone home to testify once again before Congress about Phoenix. Colby was to remain in Washington as executive director-comptroller of the CIA until his appointment as director in August 1973. Colby’s job at CORDS was taken over by George Jacobson, and CORDS, too, began its descent into oblivion. “Our supply and funding officer,” McCoid once wrote, “theorizes that only the Americans feel strongly about the necessity of rounding up the political cadre of the VC.” Indeed, with the ineluctable withdrawal of American “advisers,” Vietnamese determination steadily deteriorated, and the war effort staggered to its dishonorable conclusion.

_______________

Notes:

i. In December 1970 Hai was reassigned as commander of the XXXXIV Corps Tactical Zone, and as Komer suggested, Major General Tran Thanh Phong became National Police chief.

ii. Few members of the directorate held Mason in high esteem. Walter Kolon described him as “duplistic in all of his dealings. He would be honey smooth to a man’s face, then vitriolic as soon as he left the room.” [16] James Hunt said, “I was never quite sure if he was being clever or straightforward.” [17] Everyone agrees that his loyalty was to Ted Shackley and the CIA station.

iii. When I interviewed Tilton in 1986, he was forthcoming and helpful. After I presented him with a magazine article that was critical of Phoenix (and which had been mailed to me by Nelson Brickham), Tilton asked not to be quoted.

iv. In 1971 George French replaced Bob Dunwoodie as CIA liaison to SOG, Bob Wall was back as senior adviser to the Special Branch, and Tully Acampora had returned as adviser to Tran Si Tan, chief of the metropolitan police and, according to Acampora, “to Thieu what Loan had been to Ky.” [26]

CHAPTER 27: Legalities

In his aptly titled master’s thesis for American University, Ralph Johnson poses the question: “The Phoenix Program: Planned Assassination or Legitimate Conflict Management?” [1]

The answer is that Phoenix was both. Insofar as the rifle shot concept was the essence of the attack against the VCI, Phoenix was “planned assassination.” At the same time, in the sense that the key to the Vietnam War was the political control of people, Phoenix was also conflict management. The question is if, under the aegis of conflict management, everything from ambush and assassination to extortion, massacre, tiger cages, terror, and torture was legitimate and justifiable? Indeed, by 1971 the legality of Phoenix was being questioned not just by antiwar activists but by the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information, co-chaired by William Moorehead and Ogden Reid.

As usual, it was a whistle-blower who provided Congress with its ammunition. In late 1970 Bart Osborn approached an aide on Congressman Moorehead’s staff with a copy of the training manual he had been issued at Fort Holabird. Said the aide, William Phillips: “It showed that Phoenix policy was not something manufactured out in field but was sanctioned by the U.S. government. This was the issue: that it is policy. So we requested, through the Army’s congressional liaison officer, a copy of the Holabird training manual, and they sent us a sanitized copy. They had renumbered the pages.” [2]

This stab at disguising policy prompted Congressman Pete McCloskey to visit the Phoenix Directorate in April 1971, in preparation for hearings on Phoenix to be held that summer. His visit was recalled by Phoenix training chief James Hunt: “Colby was out of town, Jake [George Jacobson] was in charge, and Mason was there. And just as I was getting up to go to the platform to give my briefing, Mason whispered into my ear, ‘We gotta talk to them, but the less we say, the better.’ Well, the first question McCloskey asked was if anyone in the program worked for the CIA. And Mason denied it. He denied any CIA involvement. Jake, too.”

Hunt recalled that McCloskey, Mason, and Jacobson immediately went into executive session. He did not know what happened there. But it bothered him that Mason “blatantly lied.” Hunt added parenthetically, “Phoenix had been under the CIA; then MACV supposedly took it over. But we didn’t really understand it, and that bothered us. There was always a suspicion. My impression was that John Mason worked for Colby through Jake, but he also had a close relationship with the chief of station — a professional relationship, back-channeling messages.”

Also bothered by the lies, McCloskey returned to Washington and charged that planned assassinations under Phoenix denied due process and that Phoenix “violated several treaties and laws.” [3] The legal basis for McCloskey’s charge was Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” It also prohibits mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture.

Having agreed to the conventions, the United States government was well aware of the substance of Article 3. The problem was a letter written on December 7, 1970, by Imer Rimestead, the American ambassador to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In his letter Rimestead says, “With respect to South Vietnamese civilians captured by U.S. forces and transferred by them to the authorities of the RVN, the U.S. Government recognizes that it has a residual responsibility to work with the GVN to see that all such civilians are treated in accordance with the requirements of Article 3 of the Conventions.”

To the consternation of the war managers, Rimestead’s letter meant that the U.S. government could no longer dismiss the problem of civilian detainees — corralled in droves by the Phoenix dragnet — as an internal matter of the GVN. Rimestead reasoned that the U.S. government, by funding Phoenix and the GVN Directorate of Corrections, automatically assumed “residual responsibility.” And the truth of the matter was, without U.S. aid there never would have been a Phung Hoang bloc or Directorate of Corrections.

In response to Rimestead’s letter, which implied that U.S. war managers were war criminals, the Vietnam Task Force began coordinating with State Department and Pentagon lawyers in an attempt to prove that Phoenix did not violate Article 3. At the same time, the CORDS Research and Analysis staff and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon began a review of Phoenix procedures, and William Colby marched off to face his critics in Washington. However, as was so often the case, when Colby and the Phoenix controversy landed in America, a larger event grabbed the headlines. On June 13, 1971, The New York Times began printing lengthy excerpts from the Pentagon Papers — a painstakingly edited stack of documents that, even by name, deflected attention away from the CIA and Phoenix. Consequently, little public attention was paid when the Times, on July 15, 1971, reported: “Previously classified information read into the record of a House Government Operations sub-committee today disclosed that 26,843 non-military Vietcong insurgents and sympathizers were neutralized in 14 months through Operation Phoenix.”

So it was again, four days later, when, in regard to those 26,843 non-military insurgents, Congressman Reid asked William Colby, “Are you certain that we know a member of the VCI from a loyal member of the South Vietnamese citizenry?” [4] Colby replied no but assured Congress and the American public that Phoenix did abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Read into the hearing transcript on July 19 was a memo titled “The Geneva Convention and the Phoenix Program.” Prepared by the Vietnam Task Force, it argued that the Geneva Conventions afforded no protection to civilian detainees because “nationals of a co-belligerent state are not protected persons while the state of which they are nationals has diplomatic representation in the state in whose hands they are.” It asserted that Article 3 “applies only to sentencing for crimes and does not prohibit a state from interning civilians or subjecting them to emergency detention when such measures are necessary for the security or safety of the state.” Skirting the issue of executions carried out “without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court,” it asserted that because An Tri [administrative detention] procedures involved “no criminal sentence,” they were “not violative of Article 3.”

In other words, the United States had the right to intern Vietnamese civilians because they, unlike soldiers, were not “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions. Likewise, the GVN could place citizens in emergency detention to ensure its internal security, without violating the Geneva Conventions, as long as those citizens were not sentenced but merely detained. Regarding due process, Congressman Reid asked Colby if civilian detainees had a right to counsel. Colby replied no.

Noting that there were often cases of mistaken identity, Reid asked, “How can you possibly put that together with a quota for sentencing?”

Responded Colby: “There is additional pressure in the assignment of public prosecutors to the Province Security Committee.” [5]

But, Congressman Pete McCloskey asked Colby, “The administrative detention applies to those against whom there is insufficient evidence to convict, isn’t that right?”

Colby agreed.

So McCloskey inquired, “If Article 3 … requires a trial by court, how are we working with the GVN to see that these civilians are receiving the proper attention under the Geneva Convention?”

Referring to the various reforms and revisions, Colby answered, “We are trying to put in the standards of due process … and we have achieved a number of them.” [6]

But, McCloskey blurted, “the defendant informed against, or identified, has no right to appear in his own defense, no right to counsel, no right to confront his accusers, no right to see his dossier; is that correct?” [7]

“That is correct,” Colby said, producing statistics to show that only hard-core Communist offenders generally had their sentences extended indefinitely by the Central Security Committee, while many category Cs were released. [8]

“That brings me to the real problem with the Phoenix program that I saw while I was there,” McCloskey countered. “If the evidence is insufficient to convict a man, and also insufficient to show a reasonable probability that he may be a threat to security, then he may still be sent to the PIC.” [9]

Regarding verification, Ogden Reid asked Colby: “Do you state categorically that Phoenix has never perpetrated the premeditated killing of a civilian in a noncombat situation?”

Colby, differentiating between concept and organization, replied: “Phoenix as a program has never done that. Individual members of it … may have done it. But as a program it is not designed to do that.” [10]

Regarding Americans involved in Phoenix, Reid asked Colby, “Do they perform any actual arrests or killings, or do they merely select the individuals who are to be placed on the list who are subject to killing or capturing and subsequent sentencing?”

Colby replied, “They certainly do not arrest, because they have no right to arrest.” But, he added, “American units may capture people in the course of a raid on a district VC headquarters base,” and “Occasionally a police advisor may go out with a police unit to capture somebody [but] he would not be the man who reached out and grabbed the fellow.” [11]

Reid said, “I have here a list [signed by the CIA’s Special Branch adviser in Binh Dinh Province] … of VC cadre rounded up … after that area was secured by Operation Pershing in February 1967. It is of some interest that on this list, 33 of the 61 names were women and some persons were as young as 11 and 12.” [12]

Colby: “I think that is an example of exactly the situation that this program is designed to eliminate.” [13] He then submitted written responses to questions on every aspect of Phoenix, from PICs to PRU and refugees, explaining why conflict management in wartime required the suspension of habeas corpus and due process.

On August 3, 1971, Congressman Reid, referring specifically to Phoenix, offered an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act which would have barred assistance to any nation or program that employed assassination or torture. In offering the amendment, Reid expressed his feeling that some activities of Phoenix were “violative at the time they took place of the Geneva Conventions.” Said Reid: “At least as shocking as the assassinations, torture, and drumhead incarcerations of civilians under the Phoenix program is the fact that in many cases the intelligence is so bad that innocent people are made victims.” In making his case, Reid observed that Colby had replied no when asked, “Are you certain we know a member of the VCI from a loyal member of the South Vietnamese citizenry?” Reid asked rhetorically, “Who knows how many innocent people have been assassinated or tortured in the name of the Phoenix program?” [14]

In any event, congressional hearings are not trials, and William Colby was not charged with wrongdoing. But neither was he believed, for whereas the Senate hearings of 1970 had allowed him to define Phoenix in terms that supported his ideological preconceptions, the House allowed people to refute Colby by citing for the record specific instances of abuse.

For example, despite Colby’s claim that standards of due process were being put in place, CORDS official Ted Jacqueney testified that “arrest without warrant or reason” was a major complaint of the people of Da Nang. “I have personally witnessed poor urban people literally quaking with fear when I questioned them about the activity of the secret police in the past election campaign. One poor fisherman in Danang, animated and talkative in complaining about economic conditions, clammed up in near terror when queried about the police, responding that ‘he must think about his family.’ After many personal interviews in Vietnam on this subject, I came to the conclusion that no single entity, including the feared and hated Vietcong, is more feared and hated than the South Vietnamese secret police.” [15]

Jacqueney said, “In every province in Vietnam there is a Province Interrogation Center — a PIC — with a reputation for using torture to interrogate people accused of Vietcong affiliations. These PICs have a CIA counterpart relationship with the AID police advisor. Not in all cases however. Last year the senior AID police advisor of Danang City Advisory Group told me he refused, after one visit, to ever set foot in a PIC again, because ‘war crimes are going on in there.’ … Another friend, himself a Phoenix advisor, was ultimately removed from his position when he refused to compile information on individuals who would, he felt, inevitably be ‘targeted’ however weak the evidence might be.” [16]

Referring to Colby’s testimony about Americans not being the ones “who reached out and grabbed the fellow,” Jacqueney said, “I know of Americans that have actually battered down the door — so help me — in going after people.” [17]

Also contradicting Colby was Michael Uhl, who served in Vietnam in 1968 with the Eleventh Brigade’s First Military Intelligence Team (MIT). As a first lieutenant Uhl administered the team and supervised its counter-intelligence section. He said, “Ambassador Colby gave the impression that Phoenix targetted specific high level VCI whose identity had been established by at least three unrelated intelligence sources …. Colby thus would have us believe that the vast majority of these people were targetted according to the rules that he outlined.” But, Uhl added, “It was my experience that the majority of people classified as VC were ‘captured’ as a result of sweeping tactical operations. In effect, a huge dragnet was cast out in our area of operations and whatever looked good in the catch, regardless of evidence, was classified as VCI.” [18]

Uhl testified that he was told by a superior officer “that the only justification for MI people to be on a patrol was for the hunting down of VCI. From that point on, any ‘body count’ resulting from an MI patrol were automatically listed as VCI. To my knowledge,” said Uhl, “all those killed by the 1st MIT on such patrols, were classified as VCI only after their deaths. There was never any evidence to justify such a classification …. Not only was there no due process … but fully all the detainees were brutalized and many were literally tortured.” He added that “All CDs [civilian detainees] … were listed as VCI” and that even though Colby denied that Americans actually exercised power of arrest over Vietnamese civilians, “In Duc Pho, where the 11th Brigade base camp was located, we could arrest and detain at will any Vietnamese civilian we desired, without so much as a whisper of coordination with ARVN or GVN authorities.” [19]

As for the accuracy of information from “paid sources who could easily have been either provocateurs or opportunists with a score to settle,” Uhl said, “The unverified and in fact unverifiable information, nevertheless was used regularly as input to artillery strikes, harassment and interdiction fire, B-52s and other air strikes, often on populated areas.” [20]

Bart Osborn agreed: “I had no way … of establishing the basis of which my agents reported to me suspected VCI …. There was no cross-check; there was no investigation; there was no second opinion. There was no verification and there was no discrimination.” Osborn added, “I never knew of an individual to be detained as a VC suspect who ever lived through an interrogation in a year and a half, and that included quite a number of individuals.” [21] “They all died?” Congressman Reid asked incredulously.

“They all died,” Osborn replied. “There was never any reasonable establishment of the fact that any one of those individuals was, in fact, cooperating with the VC, but they all died and the majority were either tortured to death or things like thrown out of helicopters.”

At the end of the hearings Representatives McCloskey, John Conyers, Ben Rosenthal, and Bella Abzug stated their belief that “The people of these United States … have deliberately imposed on the Vietnamese people a system of justice which admittedly denies due process of law …. In so doing, we appear to have violated the 1949 Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian peoples at the same time we are exerting every effort available to us to solicit the North Vietnamese to provide Geneva Convention protections to our own prisoners of war.

“Some of us who have visited Vietnam,” they added, “share a real fear that the Phoenix program is an instrument of terror; that torture is a regularly accepted part of interrogation … and that the top U.S. officials responsible for the program at best have a lack of understanding of its abuses.” They concluded “that U.S. civilian and military personnel have participated for over three years in the deliberate denial of due process of law to thousands of people held in secret interrogation centers built with U.S. dollars,” and they suggested that “Congress owes a duty to act swiftly and decisively to see that the practices involved are terminated forthwith.” [22]

***

Was William Colby really unaware? When Congressman Reid asked if any Phoenix advisers had “resigned on the grounds that they could not morally be satisfied that they were identifying the right individuals,” Colby said he could not recall any who had resigned “for that reason.” [23] Yet, considering his close contact with George Jacobson, John Tilton, John Vann, and Wilbur Wilson, is it likely that Colby was unaware of the case of Sid Towle, who on August 1, 1971 (while the hearings were in progress) requested release from Phoenix for exactly that reason?

A graduate of Yale University, Lieutenant Sid Towle in June 1969 was assigned to the 116th MIG in Washington, D.C. As chief of a counterintelligence team Towle assigned and reviewed cases (including an investigation into Ed Murphy’s antiwar activities) and conducted offensive counterintelligence operations in the nation’s capital. One task was disrupting antiwar demonstrations by building bonfires and inciting people to riot, so the capital police could be called in to bash heads. During this period Towle was rated by his commander as “one of the most dedicated, professionally competent and outstanding junior officers I have had the privilege to serve with anywhere.” [24]

But Sid Towle did not want to go to Vietnam, and upon receiving orders to head overseas in January 1971, he requested release from active duty, citing in his application his “complete abhorrence for the Vietnam War and the continued U.S. presence there.” Towle tiled for release under Army Regulation 635-100; but his request was denied, and his counterintelligence credentials were withdrawn. Towle was sent to Vietnam in March 1971 as the Phung Hoang coordinator in Vung Liem district in Vinh Long Province.

During his stint as a Phoenix adviser, Towle spent most of his time “sifting through the DIOCC’s target folders looking for aliases.” [25] A sergeant assigned to the DIOCC managed funds obtained from the CIA for informers and PRU and acted as liaison with the Vinh Long PIC and PIOCC. Towle lived in a villa with five or six other people in the CORDS district team. Behind the villa were the PRU quarters. Said Towle: “We turned up the radio when we heard the screams of the people being interrogated …. I didn’t know what the PRU were doing ninety percent of the time,” he explained. “They were directed by province.”

To clear operations against the VCI, Towle had to get permission from the province officer in charge, Tom Ahearne. Regarding operations, Towle said, “I went after an average of eight to ten VCI per week. The Special Branch people next door … would come up with the names, which I would check. Then the PRU went out. They went out every night and always killed one or two people. But verifying whether or not they were VCI was impossible. They would tell you who they had killed, and it was always a name on the list, but how could I know? We had charts on the wall, and we’d cross off the name, and that was it.”

In effect, Towle was keeping score — until the day the district chief took him for a ride in a helicopter. As they were flying over a village, they spotted an old man and a girl walking hand in hand down the main street. The district chief said to the door gunner, “Kill them.”

The gunner asked Towle, “Should I?”

Towle said no.

“That was the beginning of the end,” he reported. “Ahearne called me on the carpet. He told me the province chief was angry because I had caused the district chief to lose face.”

There were other reasons why Towle did not enjoy working in Phoenix. According to Towle, Ahearne (who was taken hostage while serving as CIA station chief in Teheran in 1979) and the province senior adviser, Colonel D. Duncan Joy, initiated a bounty program in the province, in which cash prizes were offered to the Vietnamese as an incentive. Ahearne and Joy even arranged a contest between the Phoenix advisers to see who could rack up the biggest body count. Disgusted, the advisers got together and decided not to participate.

That was in June 1971. A few days later John Vann arrived in his private helicopter. “He flew right into the DIOCC,” Towle recalled. “He was very critical. He asked where the bodies and weapons were, then sent me into a funeral in progress. He had me open the casket to identify the body. I hated Vann,” Towle said. “He was really into body counts.”

On another occasion, while Towle was eating his dinner in the CORDS villa, the district chief stormed into the room with the PRU team and dumped a dirty bag on the table. Eleven bloody ears spilled out. The district chief told Towle to give the ears to Joy as proof of six VCI neutralized. “It made me sick,” Towle said. “I couldn’t go on with the meal.

“After the ear thing,” Towle explained, “I went to Vinh Long and joined up with the air rescue team on one of its missions. I was promoted to captain while I was there and received a message from the district senior adviser saying, ‘Don’t come back.’ So I went to see a friend in the judge advocate general’s office in Can Tho, and he reported the incident to General Cushman. The general went down in a chopper and handed Joy a letter of reprimand. After that I knew I could never go back, so I had one of my friends in Vung Liem bring my bags up to Can Tho.”

Captain Sid Towle was officially removed as the Vung Liem Phoenix coordinator on July 20, 1971. While awaiting reassignment, he worked at the Combined Document Exploitation Center, reading reports on NVA infiltration along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and giving briefings to senior MACV officers. Then, on August 1, he received orders reassigning him to Kien Phong Province. “It was the proverbial one-way ticket to Cambodia.” He sighed. “The last two guys sent out there as Phoenix coordinators were killed by their own PRU. So I went back to see the major running Phoenix administration in Can Tho [James Damron], and he said he would not reassign me. So from there I went to the JAG [judge advocate general] office, where my friend and I drafted a letter to the Phoenix Directorate in Saigon.”

In his letter to Tilton, Towle said that “War crimes as designated by the Geneva Conventions were not uncommon” in Phoenix and that he “had expressed my negative feelings on the program to the province Phung Hoang Coordinator and had given much thought to applying for release under MACV 525-36.” He then requested “immediate release” from Phoenix.

The next day Major Damron, with the approval of the IV Corps Phoenix adviser, Lieutenant Colonel Efram E. Waller, reassigned Towle to the Tuyen Binh DIOCC — the same DIOCC where the previous two “triple sixers” had been killed in action. Damron noted that General Cushman was aware of the move, as was the JAG. Meanwhile, Towle’s request for release was in the pipeline. So, taking two weeks’ vacation, he hid at a friend’s house in Can Tho until August 10, when the new CORDS chief of staff, General Frank Smith, approved his release. (Postscript: Referring to “the case that appalled us all,” Wilbur Wilson wrote to George Jacobson, at the request of John Tilton, suggesting: “A records check in Saigon before an officer or enlisted man is assigned to a Phung Hoang position in Vietnam could reduce chances of assignment of unsuitable personnel.”)

While William Colby was assuring Congress that no Phoenix adviser had resigned on moral grounds, or through MACV 525-36, and that incentive programs were not policy, John Tilton was organizing, with the National Police Command, a High Value Rewards Program (HVRP). In explaining the program to his wife, Colonel McCoid writes, “A very substantial reward is placed on highly placed VC political leaders, as much as $8,000 at the rate on the blackmarket or twice that amount on the official rate of exchange. Our idea is to induce the lower-grade VCI to turn their bosses in for the bounty money.” Sadly, says McCoid, “our original proposal … was watered down by the bleeding hearts, who think placing a price on your enemy’s head is excessively cruel! This despite Colby’s support.”

A conference of police and CORDS personnel, including Tilton, was scheduled for July 23, to select a list of VCI whose names were to be passed down to Phoenix officers in four pilot provinces (Binh Dinh, Quang Nam, Bien Hoa, and Vinh Binh) crucial to Thieu’s election in October. Selected VCI were to be district rank or higher, dangerous, and confirmed with enough evidence to convict. Province chiefs, in their role as Phoenix committee chairmen, were to select dossiers and coordinate with the PIOCC. The list was to be approved by the region’s military commander, and as stated in Interior Ministry Directive 1223, the “Phung Hoang Bloc of the National Police Command, acting for the Central Phung Hoang Committee, will review and make final selection of the VCI to be placed on the rewards list and will be submitted to the Major General Commander of the National Police, Vice Chairman concurrently Secretary General of the Central Phung Hoang Committee for final approval.”

The HVRP, which was to be expanded into all provinces and administered by Phoenix advisers, was tentatively approved on July 31 by Josiah Bennett, director of the Vietnam Working Group; Henry Sizer at the Saigon Embassy’s Internal Unit; the State Department’s Vietnam desk officer, Lars Hydle; MACV; and the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO). However, the conference to select HVRP targets was indefinitely postponed as a result of Decree 1042. Promulgated in secret by General Khiem on August 2, 1971, its provisions known only to the Central Security Committee, the decree granted VCI suspects the right to an attorney and the right to appear in person at their trials. As a result, “public action” on the HVRP was deferred until after the election.

On October 3, 1971, Thieu was reelected with nearly 90 percent of the vote. The next day The New York Times reported that more than twenty thousand innocent civilians had been killed under the Phoenix program and that a congressional subcommittee had criticized the Pentagon for not investigating war crimes. A few days later the High Values Reward Program was scrapped by Ambassador Bunker, and plans to phase out American involvement in Phoenix were begun in earnest.

The process had begun on August 11, 1971, when Gage McAfee, a legal adviser to William Colby, submitted his end of tour report. Citing reports that the VCI was actually growing in number, McAfee writes, “There is doubt that the Phung Hoang Program is achieving its desired goal of eliminating the infrastructure. It can be argued that its resources and energy are actually being diverted to other undesirable activities that are … counter-productive in the context of supporting a viable and responsive government which will provide an effective alternative to the insurgent government.” He adds that “some if not the majority of the war results from the social grievances of the part of the population, separate and distinct from the military aggression of the North,” and that “No really responsive government should ever need such a program at all.”

McAfee notes that An Tri “lacks a legislative base, there being no specific statute enacted by the National Assembly which empowers the Executive in time of war or emergency to administratively detain.” He cites the legislature’s opposition to Province Security Committees, which, he adds, “were generally acknowledged to be extra-constitutional if not unconstitutional.” He rejects as “irrelevant” the argument that no residual responsibility for civilian detainees exists, citing Nuremberg and Vietnam, in which Telford Taylor says that if the GVN did not abide by the Geneva Conventions, “then the original captor power [the United States] must take effective steps to correct the situation, or shall request the return of the prisoners.” [26]

McAfee emphasizes that Province Security Committees were not “regularly constituted courts” and that support for them was “a departure from the standards” of Article 3. “From a strictly legal standpoint,” he concludes, the Rimestead letter required that the United States either demand the elimination of security committees or take steps to insure that no prisoners captured by U.S. forces were sentenced by them. “Not only are we now in the difficult position of having supported these committees in the past,” he writes, “but many Vietnamese now think that Security Committees are as American as apple pie and baseball. The Phung Hoang program itself has always been associated with the Americans and of course the CIA. If the U.S. decides … to recommend the elimination of these Committees, it might be useful for the Vietnamese … to blame it all on the U.S. So with the Phung Hoang program in general. If it fades into and is totally absorbed by the Special Police, it might help the Vietnamese to eliminate the bad aftertaste by blaming the entire program on their misguided benefactors.” The only alternative, McAfee suggests, was “to force the GVN to make necessary improvements.”

But the U.S. government would not go along with McAfee’s recommendations that the Stalinist security committees “should die,” that trials be made public, or that “The kill quota be eliminated as the ultimate misuse of the body count.” Instead, it stalled until the problem could be sloughed off on the GVN. The Defense Department denied any “residual responsibility” whatsoever, and the Saigon Embassy minimized the problem, saying that only “between 1500 and 2500 individuals out of a VCI correction population of about 17,000 are the subject of that responsibility.” [27]

The final word on U.S. policy regarding civilian detainees was stated on November 12, 1971, in State Department telegram 220774, which directed the Saigon Embassy to work with the Directorate of Political Security to guarantee “humanitarian treatment of detainees” and to ensure that An Tri was implemented “in terms of fundamental concepts of due process and to improve conditions of internment.” This, despite State Department attorney Robert Starr’s admission that “We cannot justify secrecy of procedural reforms in Circular 1042,” which failed to provide for judicial review, “meaningful” appeal, “free choice” of an attorney, or the right to cross-examine witnesses. Noting that confessions alone were enough to convict a suspected VCI, Starr urged that “there should be a requirement of corroborating evidence.” He cautioned Bunker that An Tri “is subject to attack on grounds it does not simply provide for emergency detention, but involves actual findings of guilt or innocence and sentencing of persons,” and he suggested that Bunker work to implement “new legislation establishing a clear and detailed basis for program.”

What Starr envisioned was legislation transferring security committee responsibilities to regularly constituted courts. But that never happened. Until the fall of Saigon, only the CIA-advised Directorate of Political Security could reverse Province Security Committee recommendations to extend detention. In November the GVN did withdraw from security committees the power to recommend An Tri detention against Communist offenders whose sentences had expired, VCI suspects who were released before trial for lack of evidence, and VCI suspects who were referred and had been acquitted. Unless “new factors” were specified. In December Prime Minister Khiem announced a parole and conditional release program “to release selected prisoners and also provide a system for post-release surveillance.”

On December 13, 1971, Robert Starr reported to William H. Sullivan: “These reforms are another welcome step in the right direction but fall short of effectively dealing with the underlying problems.” [28] The next day the Washington Post printed an article by Peter Osnos headlined U.S. PLAN FAILS TO WIPE OUT VC CADRE. The year 1971 closed without a resolution of An Tri or Phoenix.

CHAPTER 28: Technicalities

In early October 1971 Lieutenant Colonel Connie O’Shea arrived at the Phoenix Directorate and was assigned by John Tilton as liaison officer to Colonel Song at the Phung Hoang bloc office in the National Police Interrogation Center. His job, he told me, “was to tell Tilton what Song was thinking.” [1]

A veteran intelligence officer who had served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, O’Shea described the directorate in late 1971 as “Sleepy Hollow …. There were ongoing discussions between U.S. and Vietnamese police officials,” he recalled, ”as to how to get the program transferred. Tilton and [operations chief Paul] Coughlin were doing their PHREEX [Phung Hoang reexamination] report, and coming down from Washington was a proposed list of things we should back away from. They were going to turn the dossiers over to the Vietnamese, and the Special Branch was apprehensive; they didn’t want to turn their files over to anybody …. The other big thing was PHMIS [Phung Hoang Management Information System], but it was not ready to be used yet by the Vietnamese.”

Coauthored by the CORDS Research and Analysis Division, PHREEX, according to Phoenix operations chief Paul Coughlin, “came from John Tilton,” who initially wanted to call it Phung Hoang Reprise! “It involved four months of depth research and included slides and graphs,” explained Coughlin, “and basically outlined how to transfer Phoenix to the Vietnamese and how to deal with lessening assets [in 1972 the directorate had at most fifteen staffers]. But it also addressed what activities U.S. forces should be involved in, and to what degree; the whole idea of Revolutionary Development support and CORDS, which was the program’s Achilles’ heel, because everyone was answering to a different master …. Detention was not a PHREEX issue,” Coughlin added, “but military justice and the moral aspects of the program were, as were our concerns over Vietnamese loyalty. After all of these things were considered together, we decided not to let the program die on the vine, but just to let the dead areas go.” Otherwise, Coughlin noted, “Our concern in the directorate was that people in the field got what they needed — jeeps, communications equipment, et cetera — which we learned about through reports.”

He added that “reports on operations ran up through another channel — through Special Branch.” As for the relationship between the Special Branch and Phoenix, Coughlin observed that the directorate was “very compartmented,” that a reserve officer on staff might have worked for the CIA, and that Chester McCoid’s replacement as deputy director, Colonel Herb Allen, “was not in the know” and “was selected for that reason.” Coughlin asserted that the Green Beret murder trial “changed the whole thing” and that employees of the Defense Investigative Service started arriving, running agents, and doing background investigations for Phoenix in 1972.

A different perspective on PHREEX was provided by Coughlin’s deputy, Lieutenant Colonel George Hudman, a veteran intelligence officer who was also a friend of John Tilton’s. “Coughlin was not an intelligence officer,” Hudman explained, “and, as a result, was not trusted by Tilton. So I briefed PHREEX to Jake [George Jacobson] and General Forrester …. Basically, it explained why Phoenix didn’t work. People in the agency were looking for a way to back out, and PHREEX was it. We took all the data compiled from all Phoenix centers, put it all together, and showed that the program was failing because it was too big and because the military had no understanding of it. They had no understanding of intelligence. They would round up VCI suspects, and they resorted to body counts. But intelligence isn’t predicated on body counts.” [3]

Despite blaming the military for the failure of Phoenix, Hudman explained that “Shackley, then Polgar to Tilton was the real chain of command” and that “Bob Wall [then senior adviser to the Special Branch] oversaw Phoenix.”

Indeed, as the U.S. military prepared to leave Vietnam, the CIA needed to find a new way of managing the attack against the VCI without appearing to do so. In other words, the concept of an attack against the VCI was still considered vital; what was sought was a new organization. The process began when General Abrams suggested in October that “responsibility for the full anti VCI mission should be assigned to the National Police Command on a time-phased basis commencing 1972” [4] and that Phung Hoang committees and centers be deactivated as a way of “increasing the emphasis on the anti-VCI responsibilities of district and province chiefs.”

These recommendations were studied in Washington by a working group composed of Josiah Bennett (State), John Arthur (AID), George Carver (CIA), John Manopoli (Public Safety), General Karhohs (ISA), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and SACSA. After each agency had considered the proposals, Bennett shot a telegram (196060) back to Saigon indicating tentative approval, although, in deference to the CIA, “with the Special Branch collating intelligence and maintaining dossiers on the VCI, and with positive action responsibilities assigned to the PRU, NPFF and other elements as required.” A few weeks later Ambassador Bunker sent a telegram (17357) to Secretary of State William Rogers saying that Robert Thompson and the GVN had also approved of the plan. The working group then prepared to send a team, headed by the Vietnam Task Force’s action officer Jack, to Saigon to determine which “key people” could be reassigned to Phoenix. When the team arrived in Saigon in mid-November, according to Jack, “Tilton got the okay from Carver to give me the Phoenix information.”

Despite its tentative approval of the plan to phase out Phoenix and turn the management of the attack against the VCI over to the National Police Command (NPC), the CIA had no such intentions. In fact, in October 1971 orders went out to all province Special Branch advisers to begin forming Special Intelligence Force Units (SIFU). Eight-man teams composed of four volunteers each from the Special Police and Field Police, the SIFU were targeted specifically at high-level VCI, as substitutes for the PRU. They were also a sign that the CIA planned to manage the attack on the VCI through the Special Branch, while keeping Phoenix intact as a way of deflecting attention and accountability.

For Phu Yen Province PIC adviser Rob Simmons — who worked under cover of the CORDS Pacification Security Coordination Division but who never even met the CORDS province senior adviser — Phoenix in 1972 was merely a library of files to cross-check information, not the CIA’s partner in the attack on the VCI. “We would go to Phoenix,” Simmons told me, “and they’d show us a file, and we’d use the file to build a case. And every report we generated, we sent to the PIOCC. But Special Branch had its own files. And if at the PIC we got someone who cooperated, we would withhold his file — if he was going to be doubled — because we knew the PIOCC was penetrated.” [5] Furthermore, according to Simmons, the Phu Yen Province officer in charge concentrated on unilateral operations and political reporting, because he considered (as had Rocky Stone) Special Branch liaison too exposed to be secure.

As William Colby explained it, “CORDS people were kept out of the station. And even though Special Branch coordinated through the province senior adviser, the station had a clear chain of command in intelligence matters.” [6]

Indeed, Phoenix was a valuable resource, and it allowed the CIA to say that it had no officers in the districts. But the CIA was not about to turn over its Special Branch files to the National Police Command (NPC) or submit its agents to NPC authority. And when those proposals returned to Carver’s desk for final approval, there they died. In December 1971 Carver wrote a working paper entitled “Future U.S. Role in the Phung Hoang Program.” Its stated purpose was “to ensure that the GVN Phung Hoang Program continues to receive effective U.S. advisory support during upcoming 18-24 month period with an option for continuance if required.”

Using familiar terms, Carver defines Phoenix as: a) “the intelligence effort against the higher levels of the VCI who possess information … on enemy plans and intentions; b) the intelligence effort directed against the lowest level of the VCI [who] perform an essentially political function of relating the Communist party mechanism to the population; and c) an action effort to neutralize the targets in (a) and (b ).” He also notes that, on November 27, 1971, General Khiem changed his mind and said that “Phung Hoang Centers and Committees will be retained,” that the Central Phung Hoang Committee would be upgraded and chaired by Khiem himself, that the Phoenix program “will be continued indefinitely,” and that “included … will be a rewards program funded by the GVN.” One month after Bunker had killed the High Value Rewards Program, it was born anew as a GVN program, as part of Phung Hoang.

The main reason for not scrapping Phoenix, Carver writes, was the “crucial” need to destroy the VCI. However, he suggests that the titles Phoenix and Phung Hoang adviser be dropped, and he warns against withdrawing advisers in provinces where the VCI presence was heavy. “The minimum staffing level appears to be about thirty positions which would provide coverage of the program at national, regional and a few key provincial echelons,” Carver writes, adding, “Plans should be drawn up to have the normal U.S. advisory structure absorb anti-VCI advisory duties beyond the transitional period of the drawdown.” He envisioned the complete withdrawal of Phoenix advisers by the end of 1972, but only in a way that would provide the United States with “a capability to monitor not only the GVN program but also to develop some semblance of an independent estimative capability.” That job would fall, after 1973, to the 500th Military Intelligence Group as well as the CIA.

As ever, the CIA got its way. On December 28, 1971, State Department officer Lars Hydle, in response to Carver’s paper, wrote “that Phung Hoang should be handled by the Special Branch within the National Police Command … that Phung Hoang Committees should continue in existence,” and that province and district chiefs should assume responsibility “beginning with the most secure areas where there are few RVNAF main forces. Perhaps U.S. military advisors will continue to be needed as long as RVNAF retains action responsibilities for Phung Hoang, but as action is transferred to the Special Branch, the advisory role should be taken over by the Special Branch advisor, the CIA man” (author’s emphasis).

This is the “reprise” John Tilton imagined: the return of the Special Branch to prominence in anti-VCI operations. By 1972 it was policy, as articulated by Bob Wall: “I was really pushing Special Branch to support Phoenix during the Easter offensive, while the VC were overrunning Hue. [The National Police commander Major General] Phong had the chief of police in Hue on the phone. I told him what to do, and he relayed the message ….Where the Special Branch contributed,” Wall said, “was in Hue in April 1972; there was success.” [7]

As soon as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attacked, the VCI in Hue were to begin sabotage and terror attacks within the city, direct NVA artillery fire, and guide assault columns. However, reports Robert Condon, the Phoenix coordinator on the scene, “Before the enemy agents could be activated, about 1000 of them who had been long identified by the PIOCC were arrested. Our intelligence indicated that the NVA commanders were blind in Hue, due to this timely Phung Hoang operation.” [8]

“Phoenix,” Bob Wall insisted, “represented the strategy that could have won the war.” But, he lamented, “Ted Shackley stuck to the traditional route of only collecting intelligence and gave Phoenix away.” Removing the Special Branch in 1969, Wall contended, “kicked the teeth out of the program.

“The Special Branch was up to the job,” Wall added. “Mau had instituted a training program in 1970, but Khiem prevented them from getting good-quality people because Mau had demonstrated the operational capabilities necessary to pull off a coup. Not that he was close to trying it, but when Thieu listed the possibilities, Mau was at the top: He was smart, charismatic, courageous, cold-blooded, politically minded, and he had access to the agency and troops who could pull it off.”

A Catholic and central Vietnamese with Can Lao connections, Mau was good at his job. But he was a consultant to PA&E, and he had given the CIA access to the accounting records of the Special Branch, and he had organized his own political party, the Nationalist Students, all of which combined to make him a liability. So after Thieu had won reelection in October 1971, Mau was replaced as chief of the Special Branch by Brigadier General Huynh Thoi Tay; Colonel Song was replaced as the chief of Phoenix by Nguyen Van Giau; and General Phong [i] was replaced as the director general of the National Police by CIO chief Nguyen Khac Binh, even though, according to Tom Polgar, it was a mistake to have one man in both positions. Polgar added that Rod Landreth and Phil Potter negotiated the transfer of Phoenix and the PRU to the GVN with Generals Binh and Dang Van Quang. [9]

Meanwhile, the CIA was distancing itself from the PRU. III Corps adviser Rudy Enders noted that PRU national commander Major Nguyen Van Lang was fired for selling positions and shaking down his region commanders and that “by the time 1972 rolls around, Ho Chau Tuan [former commander of the Eighth Airborne Battalion at Tan Son Nhut) had taken over in Saigon.” [10]

Michael Drosnin quotes Ho Chau Tuan as saying, “The main mission of PRU was assassination. I received orders from the Phoenix office, the Vietnamese and Americans there, to assassinate high-level VCI. We worked closely with Saigon with the CIA from the Embassy, and in the provinces with the CIA at the consulates, to decide who to kill.” Writes Drosnin: “Tuan offered to name names of high-level Americans who directly ordered assassination strikes, but then he backed off. ‘I have enough experience in this profession to be afraid,’ he explained. ‘I know the CIA. I might be killed'” (New Times, 1975). [11] [ii]

In 1972 the PRU were advised in I Corps by Patry Loomis, in II Corps by Jack Harrell and Bob Gilardo, in III Corps by Rudy Enders and Felix Rodriguez, and in IV Corps by John Morrison and Gary Maddox.

***

Phoenix operations in the field in 1972 varied from region to region. Rudy Enders told me he had the VCI on the run in III Corps. And in IV Corps, where the PRU were most active, success was reported against the VCI. But in I Corps and II Corps, where the NVA concentrated its attacks in 1972, the situation was much harder to handle. Quang Tri fell in April, and in early May the NVA captured Quang Ngai City, which it held until September. In Binh Dinh Province, forty thousand Koreans refused to fight, several thousand unpaid ARVN soldiers threw down their rifles and ran away, and the NVA seized three district capitals. With the ARVN and Territorial Forces in retreat, Thieu turned to Phoenix.

In May 1972, writes Michael Klare, “Thieu declared martial law and launched a savage attack on the remaining pockets of neutralism in the big cities. Government forces reportedly cordoned off entire districts in Hue, Danang and Saigon and arrested everyone on the police blacklists. The reputable Far Eastern Economic Review reported on July 8, 1972, that 50,000 people had been arrested throughout Vietnam during the first two months of the offensive, and Time magazine reported on 10 July that arrests were continuing at a rate of 14,000 per month.” [12]

For an eyewitness account of Phoenix operations in II Corps in 1972, we turn first to Lieutenant Colonel Connie O’Shea, who in January 1972 was transferred from Saigon to Phoenix headquarters in Nha Trang, as deputy to II Corps Phoenix Coordinator Colonel Lew Millett.

“The problem with the program,” according to O’Shea, “was that people were being rotated out, but replacements were not being made. And as the intelligence officers went home, the Phoenix guy took over that job, but not the reverse. It was a one-way street, and Phoenix fell to the wayside.

“Millett was trying to keep Phoenix people doing their Phoenix job,” O’Shea continued, “and he spent a lot of time going around to the province chiefs, trying to keep them focused on the VCI. But it was hard during the spring offensive. So Millett and [Region II Phung Hoang chief] Dam went around trying to keep the organization in place, telling the Phoenix coordinators that if they had to do S-two work, not to forget their anti VCI job. That was number one. Our other job was making ourselves visible with Colonel Dam, so the Vietnamese would not get the sense that we were pulling out. We kept a high profile. We were missing a couple of province guys, and an awful lot of DIOCCs were missing advisers. The district senior advisers were not taking over but were trying to get the Vietnamese to take over. So we spent a lot of time touring and helping the Phung Hoang Committees and DIOCCs collect intelligence and prepare operational plans.

“Thirdly,” O’Shea said, “Millett was an operator, trying to conduct as many missions as possible himself.” Millett’s biggest success was “turning” the Montagnard battalion that had led the attack on Hue during Tet of 1968.

Fifty-two years old in 1972, Medal of Honor winner Lew Millett — who in 1961 had helped create the Vietnamese rangers and later did likewise in Laos — was known as a wild man who participated in ambushes and raids against VCI camps with Connie O’Shea and some of the more aggressive Phoenix coordinators.

According to Millett, “Phoenix was coordinated at corps level by the CIA, and I had to back-channel to get around them.” [13]

According to O’Shea, “The Phoenix program had gotten to the point where the region office was a manager’s office. Millett was trying to coordinate provinces and districts, and where we did run operations, it was in a province where the PIOCC was not doing much. We as senior officers did not theoretically coordinate with the CIA’s province officer in charge; that was the job of the major at the PIOCC.”

One such major at a PIOCC in 1972 was Stan Fulcher, the Phoenix coordinator in Binh Dinh Province. “Stan had taken over all the programs,” O’Shea noted. “He was running the whole show. He kept taking on everything, including the PRU, which was true in many cases.”

The son of an Air Force officer, Stan Fulcher was brought up in various military posts around the world, but he brands as “hypocritical” the closed society into which he was born. “The military sees itself as the conqueror of the world” — Fulcher sighed, “but the military is socialism in its purest form. People in the military lead a life of privilege in which the state meets each and every one of their needs.” [14]

Having served in the special security unit at Can Tho Air Base in 1968 — where he led a unit of forty riflemen against the VCI — Fulcher fully understood the realities of Vietnam. He told me of the Military Security Service killing a Jesuit priest who advocated land reform, of GVN officials trading with the National Liberation Front while trying to destroy religious sects, and of the tremendous U.S. cartels — RMK-BRI, Sealand, Holiday Inns, Pan Am, Bechtel, and Vinnell — that prospered from the war.

“The military has the political power and the means of production,” Fulcher explained, “and so it enjoys all the benefits of society …. Well, it was the same thing in Vietnam, where the U.S. military and a small number of politicians supported the Vietnamese Catholic establishment against the masses …. Greedy Americans,” Fulcher contended, “were the cause of the war. The supply side economists — these are the emergent groups during Vietnam.”

During a tour in London from 1968 to 1971, in which he saw British businessmen trading with the North Vietnamese, Fulcher learned there are “no permanent allies.” During his tour in Phoenix, he became totally disenchanted. “When I arrived in Saigon,” he recalled, “an Air America plane was waiting and took me to Nha Trang. That night I talked with Millett. The next day I got in a chopper and went to Qui Nhon, the capital city of Binh Dinh Province, where I met the S-two, Gary Hacker, who took me to my quarters in a hotel by the ocean.” Hacker then took Fulcher to meet the province senior adviser, “a young political appointee who lived in a beautiful house on the ocean. When I walked into the room, he was standing there with his arms around two Vietnamese girls. The tops of their ao dais were down, and he was cupping their breasts.”

Next, Fulcher met Larry Jackson, the CIA province officer in Binh Dinh. Jackson had “about twenty contract workers, USIS types who thought they were Special Forces. They all had Vietnamese girlfriends and important dads. They were all somewhat deranged and did nothing but play volleyball all day.” Fulcher described the CORDS advisory team as “a sieve.”

As the Binh Dinh Province Phoenix coordinator, Stan Fulcher supervised nearly a thousand U.S. technicians and Vietnamese nationals, including a Special Forces sergeant who ran Binh Dinh’s PRU. The PRU adviser reported both to the CIA and to Fulcher. “His Vietnamese wife had been cut open,” Fulcher said. “He was a dangerous man who went out by himself and killed VC left and right.” Fulcher mistrusted the PRU because they did not take orders and because they played him against the CIA.

Fulcher’s Vietnamese counterpart was MSS Major Nguyen Van Vinh. “The Vietnamese with the MSS,” Fulcher contended, “were the worst. They kept track of what the Americans were doing, they had friends in the VCI, and they would deal with Phoenix before the police.” The National Police had its own adviser, “a former cop from Virginia who ran the Field Police.” The PIC “was terribly disgusting,” and there was an interrogation center behind the Province Operations Center, Fulcher said, “right behind the province senior adviser’s house. Our barracks were next door.”

Mr. Vinh was paid by Fulcher, who also had an interpreter and seven other Vietnamese on his Phoenix staff. “I could influence each one,” he stated, noting that with no replacements coming in, the advisory vacuum was easily filled by an aggressive person such as he. “As more and more Americans left,” Fulcher explained, “more Vietnamese came under my control. They needed consolidation. The structure was so corrupt, with everyone power grabbing, that independent units couldn’t do a job. And that meant added jobs for me.”

For example, Fulcher inherited Binh Dinh’s Civic Action program — including the fifty-nine-man RD teams — which had been getting one million dollars annually in U.S. aid. “Then the well dried up, and funds were cut off,” Fulcher explained, “which caused much bitterness. Like the contras or, before them, the Cubans. Everyone was turning against the government.” As the province psywar officer, Fulcher also controlled the Qui Nhon TV station, where he spent one day a week working with the actors and staff, organizing parades, producing broadcasts and puppet shows, printing leaflets, and distributing radios tuned in to the GVN station. According to Fulcher, the embittered Vietnamese psywar officer absconded with the TV money and sold the radios on the black market.

Fulcher also managed the Chieu Hoi program. During the spring offensive, he recalled, “We gave them rifles and sent them up to the front lines …. I sat on top of a knoll and watched while they threw down their guns and ran away.”

Territorial security was a job that involved “checking villages every two weeks for a day or so. The Territorial Forces,” he pointed out, “were a motley crew, mostly old men and women and little kids.” Fulcher also liaisoned with the Korean White Horse Division, “which would steal anything it could get its hands on.” According to Fulcher Americans were involved with the Koreans in drug dealing, and he said that the Koreans were “sadistic and corrupt.”

In explaining the meaning of Phoenix, Stan Fulcher said, “You can’t understand it by creating a web. There were several lines of communication, which skipped echelons, and I could go to whatever side — military or Phoenix — that I wanted to …. Phoenix was more of a political program, like what the Germans had on the eastern front — Gestapo/SS, but half assed.” For that reason, Fulcher explained, “The regular military didn’t like Phoenix, and the province senior advisers [PSAs] hated it, too.

“Twice a week I’d brief the PSA at the TOC [tactical operations center]. Each member of the province team would brief through his deputy. The operations officer was the main guy, then the G-two, then Phoenix, PRU and the CIA rep. The Province Phung Hoang Committee met twice a month, at which point the MSS would exercise whatever influence it had with the province chief, who’d say, ‘We need fifty VCI this week.’ Then the Special Branch would go out and get old ladies and little kids and take them to the PIC. They’d send us on special operations missions into the hamlets, and the village chiefs would take the old and maimed and give them to us as VCI. ‘If you don’t give me rice, you’re VCI.’ It was perverted.

“The ARVN supplied us with cards on everyone they didn’t like,” Fulcher went on, “but we could never find them. On night operations during curfew hours, we’d seal off the exits and go after a specific guy. We’d be running through houses, one guy lifting up a lamp, another guy holding pictures of the suspect and taking fingerprints. But everyone had the same name, so we’d search for weapons, maps, documents. It was just impossible” — Fulcher sighed — “so after two months I started to find ways to let people go — to get their names off the list. You see, Binh Dinh had something like thirty-seven political parties, and no one could say who was VC. By 1972 most district chiefs were NLF, and even though they were appointed by Saigon, most were from the North and were kept off hit lists due to friendships.”

What finally convinced Fulcher to work against Phoenix was the “disappearing” of thirty thousand civilians in the aftermath of the spring offensive. Rocking back and forth in his chair, his head buried in his hands, sobbing, Fulcher described what happened: “Two NVA regiments hit Binh Dinh in the north, mainly at Hoi An. We went through a pass in the valley to meet them, but a whole ARVN regiment was destroyed. Four hundred were killed and sixteen hundred escaped down Highway Thirty-one. I could see the ARVN soldiers running away and the NVA soldiers running after them, shooting them in the back of their heads with pistols so as not to waste ammunition …. I could see our helicopters being shot down ….We called in close air support and long-range artillery and stopped them at Phu Mi. There were pitched battles. The NVA attacked on two ridges. Then [II Corps Commander John] Vann was killed up in Kontum, and [Special Forces Colonel Michael] Healy took over. Healy came in with his Shermanesque tactics in August. ”

The disappearance of the thirty thousand occurred over a two-month period beginning in June, Fulcher said, “mainly through roundups like in the Ukraine. The MSS was putting people in camps around Lane Field outside Qui Nhon, or in the PIC. Everyone was turning against the GVN, and anyone born in Binh Dinh was considered VC. There were My Lais by the score — from aerial bombardments and artillery Phoenix coordinated it. Me and Jackson and four or five of his contractors. The National Police had lists of people. Out of the thirty thousand, the Special Branch was interested in particular in about a hundred. The MSS put everyone else in camps, and the Vietnamese Air Force loaded them up, flew away, and came back empty. They dumped whole families into the Gulf of Tonkin. This was not happening elsewhere.”

How could this happen? “You’re a shadow,” Fulcher explained, his face contorted with anguish. “You’re a bureaucrat. You only think things, so you don’t investigate.”

After the disappearances, Fulcher complained to a State Department officer. As a result, two things happened. First, in addition to his job as province Phoenix coordinator, Fulcher was made senior adviser in the three districts — Hoi An, Hoi Nan, and Binh Khe — that the NVA had seized. Next, an attempt was made on his life.

“Jackson was unhappy with the PRU,” Fulcher explained. “He couldn’t pay them anymore, so they moved in with Binh Khe district team. I was scheduled to go up there to pay them [from the Intelligence Contingency Fund], but a West Pointer, Major Pelton, the Phoenix guy from Phu Cat, went instead. And the PRU shot him in the helicopter right after it landed. Pelton was killed, and the Phu Cat district senior adviser, Colonel Rose, was wounded. The incident was blamed on the VC, but Mr. Vinh and I went to the landing zone and found Swedish K rounds (which only the PRU used) in the chopper. First I went to [the PSA], then Millett at Nha Trang, then Healy in Pleiku. But nothing ever happened.”

In explaining how such tensions might occur, Connie O’Shea (who replaced Lew Millett as II Corps Phoenix coordinator in August 1972) points to the inclusion of key military leaders as well as civilians in the definition of VCI. “Vann put pressure on to get these guys,” O’Shea explained, “but Special Branch would not give their names for security reasons …. And as a result … military advisers started going after the commo-liaison links — those VCI that were more military than political. And when you got very strong personalities like Stan Fulcher in there, that situation became explosive. Stan wanted access, and his solution,” O’Shea said, “was to force it back up to Vann or Healy, who would say, ‘I can’t force them to open up files.’ So it was kept at the local level, where it went back and forth between Stan and Jackson. And I had to go down there and try to mediate between them. But we just had to accept that this was not the period of time to be arguing with the CIA that to run an effective PIOCC, we had to have their dossiers. The time to do that was four years prior. But Stan was insisting … that he was going to get at them. Well, the CIA would give other stuff — Revolutionary Development or Census Grievance — but not Special Branch.”

When asked why he and Millett could not exert influence, O’Shea replied, “This is why Phoenix was not as effective as it should have been.”

***

In March 1972 Ambassador Bunker sent a telegram (040611Z) to the State Department saying, “We question whether the USG should concede failure of an An Tri system to meet test of Article 3.” Because he thought that An Tri probably did violate the Geneva Conventions, Bunker asked that a decision be put off until completion of a study written by CORDS legal adviser Ray Meyers. In the study, entitled “An Tri Observations and Recommendations,” Meyers suggested, among other things, opening An Tri hearings to the public. On April 11, John Tilton advised against doing that, saying it would “result in the compromise of sources …. Under Executive Order 10460,” Tilton wrote, “the American public is not allowed to attend U.S. administrative security proceedings nor are transcripts of the proceedings releasable to the public. It is difficult to justify why a nation which is seriously threatened by internal subversion should institute a procedure that is not even allowed in a nation which has no such threat.” [15]

Tilton’s recommendation on this point was accepted.

Meyers also noted that “the great majority of the Vietnamese people are completely ignorant of the purposes, procedures and results of either Phung Hoang or An Tri.” Tilton retorted that that was “a subjective statement … and could cause a reader with little background … to reach the erroneous conclusion that the programs are pretty much of a failure.” Tilton recommended that “many” be substituted for “great majority.” [16] That suggestion, too, was implemented.

On April 12, the CORDS Public Safety Directorate added its two cents, calling An Tri “a relaxation of the RVN’s right of self-defense and … a gratuity.” The embassy recommended “that detentions based on a charge of belonging to or supporting the VCI [a crime of status] be eliminated on a province by province basis over a period of years to eliminate gradually the whole An Tri structure instead of institutionalizing it by transferring jurisdiction over VCI from the province security committees to the courts.” [17] However, Tilton advised against the province-by-province phase-out, and his position, again, was accepted.

Faced with intractable CIA internal security considerations, the embassy decided to defer reform of An Tri indefinitely. But it did not want to appear to be sanctioning summary executions either, so embassy political officer Steven Winship emphasized that “the mission recognizes this to be a serious problem, particularly when excessive legalism or consideration of public relations are [sic] introduced tempting the police to neutralize by killing instead of arrest and prosecution.” [18] It was suggested that the computer system at the National Identity and Records Center “be supported and that some provision be made for the review of cases where VCI suspects were released by the Province Security Committees.” The idea was to set up a central control that would prevent abuses at the local level and would allow the GVN to market preventive detention as a “substitute for killing people.”

The result was that An Tri was to be reformed into a system not of “sentencing” but of indefinite “detention” with periodic review by the Central Security Committee. It was to apply only to Communists. This system was to be a “temporary” measure, which “offers possibilities for avoiding possible criticism under the terms of the Geneva Convention.” Article 19 of Decree Law 004 of 1966 was amended to “preclude charges that the system violates Article 7 (2) of the RVN Constitution,” and Bunker put the U.S. seal of approval on An Tri.

While the subject of An Tri was being debated in Saigon, IV Corps Commander Truong in Can Tho authorized, on April 21, 1972, a “special” F6 Phung Hoang campaign designed to neutralize the VCI by moving against suspects with only one adverse report on the record. A response to the Easter offensive, the F6 campaign was started in Chau Doc Province on the initiative of the province chief, who was concerned with reports that NVA units were being guided and assisted by the VCI. More than a thousand VCI suspects were quickly rounded up.

Flying as it did in the face of An Tri reforms, F6 was the cause of some concern. “Mission is aware of potential pitfalls in special Phung Hoang campaign and possibilities of adverse publicity if campaign used for mass round-ups of suspects,” wrote Ambassador Bunker. [19]

***

A hundred twenty-five Phoenix advisers were left in Vietnam in October 1972, when a tentative agreement was reached calling for the formation of a National Council for Reconciliation and Concord composed of representatives from the GVN, NLF, and Third Force neutralists. On October 24, President Thieu presented sixty-nine amendments to the agreement and, stating that the VCI “must be wiped out quickly and mercilessly,” ordered a new wave of arrests. On November 25, 1972, three weeks after Richard Nixon was reelected, Thieu signed Decree Law 020, “Concerning National Security and Public Order.” Issued in secret, 020 modified An Tri to the extent, Ambassador Bunker wrote, “that these powers are no longer limited to wartime and may be applied following a ceasefire and the end of an officially declared state of war. The evident purpose of the law is to provide for an extension of An Tri procedures in preparation for a ceasefire confrontation with the Communists.” [20]

Broadening An Tri to include people deemed dangerous to “public order,” Bunker wrote, “means that virtually any person arrested in South Vietnam can now be held on criminal instead of political charges.”

The “public order” provision was included in Decree Law 020 precisely because the cease-fire agreement prohibited the incarceration of political prisoners. According to Decree Law 020, Communist offenders already in jail under the An Tri Laws would also have their sentences automatically extended. Likewise, Province Security Committees were directed to extend automatically the detention of categories A and B VCI until the end of the “present emergency,” which did not end with the cease-fire.

As a result of Decree Law 020, thousands of Vietnamese remained incarcerated until April 1975. On December 18, 1972, Newsweek estimated that there were forty-five thousand “official” prisoners in Vietnamese prisons and another hundred thousand in detention camps. Amnesty International reported at least two hundred thousand political prisoners, and other observers cited higher estimates. The U.S. Embassy identified on its computer tapes fewer than ten thousand political prisoners and called the criticism unfounded in light of An Tri reforms. In Saigon, three thousand people were arrested in one night. The cost of having an enemy’s name placed on a Phoenix hit list, now easier than ever, thanks to Decree 020, was reduced to six dollars.

In December 1972 cease-fire talks collapsed, and Nixon bombed Hanoi. Thieu called for a return to the denunciation of Communists campaign of 1956 and ordered his security officers to target neutralists in the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord. With Decree Law 020 safely in place, Prime Minister Khiem canceled the F6 campaign and ordered a return to the three-source rule. “However,” wrote Bunker, “there is some evidence that the National Police do not regard the order as terminating the accelerated Phung Hoang campaign.” [21]

By 1973 South Vietnam had come full circle. Only the names had changed. Empowered by secret decrees written by CIA officers, security forces now arrested dissidents for violating the “public order” instead of the “national security.” In March 1972 Prime Minister Khiem determined that “it is important not to get hung up on the term Phung Hoang …. The problem that the Phung Hoang structure was erected to address will still remain …with or without the term.” [22] In a report on Phoenix, “Phung Hoang Effectiveness During August and September 1972,” John Tilton crossed out the words “Phung Hoang” and inserted in their place the term “Anti Terrorist,” explicitly heralding the modern era of low-intensity warfare.

In Nha Trang in December 1972, Connie O’Shea transferred the records and equipment in the region Phung Hoang office to the Public Safety adviser, “who didn’t want them. Then I turned off the lights,” he said, “locked the door, walked across the street to the CORDS building, and turned in the key.”

_______________

Notes:

i. Phong was killed with five bodyguards and advisers William Bailey and Luther McLendon in a plane that exploded on the ground on December 1, 1972, in Tuy Hoa, the capital of Phu Yen Province.

ii. New Times is an English-language version of Nove Vremya, which is published in Moscow and distributed in various countries.

CHAPTER 29: Phoenix in Flames

After the cease-fire agreements were signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, the armed forces and government of South Vietnam were expected to stand on their own. To meet the challenge, General Khiem signed Circular 193, creating political struggle committees in every province, city, district, and village. Political struggle committees were described by Ken Quinn, a State Department officer in Chau Doc Province, in a February 24, 1973, memo, as the “principal vehicle for organizing anti-Communist demonstrations” and for combating “the Communist plot for a General Uprising.” Each struggle committee’s subcommittee for security and intelligence was given jurisdiction over the existing Phung Hoang Committee. But, observed Quinn, “unless more specific instructions are forthcoming, even those village officials who understand why they are part of the committee will not understand what they are supposed to do.”

To ensure that government officials followed the party line, the GVN through its Quyet Tam campaign put an officer in each village as its special political warfare cadre. A member of Thieu’s Dan Chu party, the cadre put in place agents who organized networks in the hamlets to spy on local GVN officials as well as Communists and dissidents.

On the American side of the fence, under the terms of the cease-fire agreements, MACV was replaced by a Defense Attache Office (DAO) in the U.S. Embassy. The DAO consisted of some four hundred civilian Defense Department employees, fifty military officers, and twenty-five hundred contract workers. Colonel Doug Dillard, who in 1973 commanded the 500th Military Intelligence Group and managed all U.S. military intelligence activities in Southeast Asia, recalled “The Five Hundredth MIG, under Operation Fast Pass, received primary responsibility for intelligence support to the embassy in Saigon during the remainder of the U.S. presence. The other services bowed out, but the Army, via General Alexander Haig, agreed to provide the people.” [1]

According to Dillard, ”as part of the in-country structure, there was a province observer in each province as liaison with the MSS and Special Branch, in coordination with Phoenix under the U.S. Embassy. But they didn’t work at province, really. They worked as liaison with the South Vietnamese Army, Navy, Air Force, and General Staff, because U.S. Navy and Air Force intelligence had phased down and only the Five Hundredth provided support after the drawdown.

“There were several province observers on the Five Hundredth’s payroll,” Dillard continued, “in a civilian capacity.” Many of them had served in Vietnam before, as liaison officers or Phoenix coordinators. But, Dillard added, their function was often so tightly controlled by province State Department representatives, who were “very jealous of their prerogatives … and didn’t want that billet filled …, that they contributed very little and the program never got off the ground.”

Other province observers were doing more than merely training and reporting on South Vietnamese units. According to PRU adviser Jack Harrell, his counterpart, Tran Ahn Tho, went to work for Province Observer David Orr (formerly the CIA’s paramilitary adviser in Binh Dinh Province) in 1973 as a principal agent organizing stay-behind nets. In “From the Ashes” Jeff Stein writes that “the prime mission of intelligence agencies is to set-up stay behind operations in the event a truce does actually go into effect.” [2] Noting that the focus was on political reporting, Stein goes on: “American case officers are meeting frequently with their agents now and developing alternative means of communication so that when the officers are removed to such areas as Bangkok or Phnom Penh or even Tokyo or the United States, they can maintain communication with their agents and direct them toward political personnel, the VCI. So that … the operations would be able to continue indefinitely — whether there was one American in Vietnam or not.”

As civilians, province observers were often disguised as employees of private companies, like the Computer Science Corporation, on contract to the Pentagon. In a November 1972 article in The New York Times, Fox Butterfield wrote that ”as many as 10,000 American civilian advisers and technicians, most of them under DOD [Defense Department] contract, will stay on in Vietnam after the ceasefire.” Among those staying behind through a loophole in Article 5 of the cease-fire agreements were a number of Public Safety advisers from Japan, Israel, Taiwan, and Australia, as well as from America. In fact, the last two Army officers at the Phoenix Directorate — Colonel Richard Carey and Lieutenant Colonel Keith Ogden — completed their tours as Public Safety advisers.

Other people, like Ed Brady, hired on with the State Department’s Reconstruction and Resettlement Directorate or as part of SAFFO (the special assistant for field operations), which replaced CORDS and was managed by George Jacobson.

Several hundred CIA officers also remained in Vietnam beyond the cease-fire. Among them was George French, who as the officer in charge of propaganda broadcasts into North Vietnam managed the Con Te Island complex near Hue until 1974. Frank Snepp continued to interrogate prisoners at the National Interrogation Center. Robert Thompson returned as an adviser to the National Police, and Ted Serong returned as an adviser to the Joint General Staff.

The allied strategy was simple. For the first half of 1973 Henry Kissinger relied on massive B-52 raids into Cambodia as a way of turning Hanoi’s attention away from South Vietnam. But then Congress cut off funds for further bombing, and Kissinger and Thieu again turned to Phoenix and a renewed round of political repression.

On May 15, 1973, State Department officer Frank Wisner sent a memo from Can Tho to Washington, subject “Phoenix Goes Underground.” “After a two month respite, the Phoenix program is quietly coming back to life,” Wisner notes, adding, “Phoenix activities have been generally restrained since the ceasefire, partly because they violate article 10 of the Paris agreement, and partly because the working level forces … lacked the zeal to pursue their risky business” (author’s emphasis).

“For a time [deleted] tried to continue the program under cover of changing the names of the targets from VCI to ‘disturbers of domestic tranquility,'” Wisner continues. Noting that that pretext had been dropped, he writes: “Saigon had instructed all province Phung Hoang (Phoenix) Committees to double the number of monthly operations against VCI without the fanfare and publicity that it used to receive. The GVN has assigned it high priority.”

Further bolstering the attack against the VCI and the Third Force was Prime Ministerial Decree 090 of May 12, 1973, which authorized detention for up to two years and enforced residence in their homes, confiscation of their property, and/or banishment from prohibited areas of persons deemed dangerous to National Security or Public Order. Province security committees examined cases, which were reviewed by the Central Security Committee in Saigon. The prime minister issued the final decision.

On May 19, 1973, Decree 093 modified Decree 090 to the extent that the director of military justice was given a seat on the Central Security Committee, which then included the minister of the interior; prosecutor general of the Saigon Court of Appeals; director general of the National Police; director of military justice; director of political security and his chief of statistics and records; the chief of the Penitentiary Directorate; and their American counterparts.

In June 1973 State Department officer Dean Brown informed the State Department that the I Corps Special Branch liaison officer had reported that Da Nang Mayor Le Tri Tin had “ordered the cessation of all overt Phung Hoang (Phoenix) activities. No more files and correspondence will be maintained,” he added, “and most information will be passed by word of mouth. ‘Security Suspects’ will still be pursued, but quietly. Liaison officer was told that this action was taken because of the possibility of ICCS (International Commission of Control and Supervision) inspection for ceasefire violations.” [3]

In July 1973, with the cessation of bombing in Cambodia, Thieu, in violation of the cease-fire agreements, ordered several large search and destroy operations along the border. The North Vietnamese counterattacked, over-running ARVN outposts in Quang Duc Province on November 6. Declaring that the war had begun anew, Thieu requested American military aid. But the very next day Congress passed the War Powers Act, restricting the President’s ability to initiate hostilities against foreign countries. Congress began cutting back aid, and the South Vietnamese economy began to fizzle. More and more the Vietnamese turned to corruption and drug dealing to maintain the standard of living they had known under American patronage. According to CIA officer Bruce Lawlor, the disease was contagious.

A Vietnamese linguist, Bruce Lawlor in early 1972 was assigned to the counterintelligence section of the CIA’s Da Nang region office. Lawlor worked at that job through the Easter offensive, during which time he developed a friendship with Patty Loomis. In the summer of 1972, when Loomis was made the region PRU adviser, Lawlor replaced him as the Quang Nam province officer in charge. By then the PRU had been renamed Special Reconnaissance Units and, Lawlor recalled, “had become an adjunct duty of the Special Branch adviser in each province.” [4] The CIA funneled PRU salaries in I Corps through the Special Branch to the region PRU commander, Major Vinh, who then doled it out to the province PRU chiefs.

As Rob Simmons had done in Quang Ngai, Lawlor and Loomis created in Quang Nam, with Special Branch Captain Lam Minh Son, a Special Intelligence Force Unit. “Lam recognized that his own people could not run paramilitary operations in rural villages,” Lawlor explained. “So we trained a unit of Special Branch guys — taught them infantry formations — so when the PRU came under the operational control of Special Branch in the province after the cease-fire,” Lam could utilize them for paramilitary functions immediately.

Prior to the cease-fire, Lawlor’s “easy, striped pants” job as Special Branch adviser amounted to coordinating with Captain Lam and getting reports from the Hoi An Province Interrogation Center. He had no dealings with the U.S. military or the province senior adviser and “rarely acted on Phoenix information — just PRU and unilateral sources. There was little Special Branch input, because no one talked to anyone.”

According to Lawlor, as the Easter offensive tailed off, the North Vietnamese concentrated on repairing their infiltration routes in preparation for the next offensive. Then came the cease-fire, at which point each village and hamlet identified itself as either GVN or VC-controlled, and, Lawlor recalled, “all of a sudden there was a lot of business. Because as soon as someone put a VC flag on their roof, they’re gone. Not in the sense that they were killed, but we could pick them up and interrogate them. And we basically were flooded.”

It was also after the cease-fire, according to Lawlor, that the “country club set” took over. Tom Flores (a protege of Tom Polgar’s) replaced Al Seal as I Corps region officer in charge. Flores brought in his own deputy and chief of operations, and the entire CIA contingent moved into the Da Nang Consulate under State Department cover.

Lawlor described Flores as “a very senior officer on his last tour” whose objective “was to live well, not rock the boat, and take advantage of the amenities that were readily available.” That attitude was prevalent. For example, Lawlor says, the Public Safety adviser “was one of the guys who used to set up the [Field Police] shakedowns of merchants …. He came out of that war wealthier than you or I will ever be. But you can’t prove it.” Moreover, when Lawlor brought the matter to the attention of his bosses, he was told, “Don’t bother me,” or asked, “What do you want me to do?”

Even some province observers were just along for the ride. “The Special Branch liaison in Hue became the Thua Thien province observer,” Lawlor recalled. “He had been a retired cop, and he liked the good life. But he had no enthusiasm. He thought it was a joke. He wanted to stay over there when his contract was up, so he became the province observer. He liaised.”

Contributing to the decline in morale after the cease-fire was the fact that the Special Intelligence Force Units were disbanded and the PRU were placed under the National Police Command within the Special Branch. “This caused many problems,” Lawlor explained. “We started seeing more ghost soldiers, more extortion, more protection money. We couldn’t pay them at all, so we lost control.” The PRU had the same mission, and they maintained their intelligence agents in field, “but because the CIA adviser was no longer a participant, there were less operations and more excuses for not going.” Instead, Lawlor tried to maintain control by providing “gee whiz” gadgets like UH-1 Night Hawk helicopters with miniguns and spotlights and by being able to get wounded PRU into the hospital in Da Nang.

“Phoenix coordination,” according to Lawlor, “was dead. There was nothing left. The Vietnamese gave it lip service, but there was no coordination with the Special Police. When the MSS and Special Branch got together, they tried to take away rather than share information.” And once the Special Branch had begun paying PRU teams at province level, “Major Vinh got concerned. Now he has to answer to Saigon. He has to give them a cut. That resulted in Vinh cheating somebody out of his cut, and that fractured what had been a unified unit.”

Vinh began putting the squeeze on the Quang Nam PRU chief, Phan Van Liem, who in turn began changing money for the VC. Eventually one of the Quang Nam PRU team, a man named Quyen, came to Lawlor and said, “It’s getting out of hand.” Ever the idealist, Lawlor investigated. He walked into the Hoi An PIC and saw a woman — who knew about Liem’s dirty dealings — stretched over a table. She had been raped and murdered. Said Lawlor: “All of a sudden Mr. Vinh wants me to go on a mission with him, and other PRU guys are telling me, ‘Don’t go.'”

So it was that the PRU program devolved into a criminal enterprise, like Frankenstein’s monster, beyond the control of its creators.

***

With the cease-fire and the end of American subsidization of Phoenix, PVT and the Da Nang Phoenix Committee had moved into the Da Nang police station. Throughout 1973 PVT divided his time doing Phoenix and drug investigations [i] — managed by the Air America dispatcher at the Da Nang Air Base — for the CIA. As PVT discovered, the major drug dealers were the Vietnamese police officer in charge of narcotics investigation in Da Nang and his American Public Safety adviser.

The last straw for Bruce Lawlor occurred just before the end of his tour in November 1973. Having worked in Da Nang’s counterintelligence office, Lawlor knew that an NVA spy ring still existed in the area and that the Special Branch had merely sacrificed a number of low-level cadre in 1971 instead of actually flushing out the most important spies. According to Lawlor, “It was a great deception operation. The high-level people continued to operate.” In fact, one of the agents was the girlfriend of Tom Flores’s operations chief. When Lawlor reported this to Flores, Flores did nothing but accuse Lawlor of having “gone native.” Lawlor slipped a copy of his report to the station’s security chief in Saigon. The operations officer was sent home, a new operations chief arrived, and Bruce Lawlor ran afoul of the Saigon station. Security teams visited his office, confiscated his furniture, and presented him with a ticket back home.

“After that I became disillusioned,” Lawlor confessed. He completed his tour and returned to Langley headquarters, where Ted Shackley — then chief of the Far East Division — offered to accept his resignation.

Lawlor was embittered. “The agency betrayed us,” he said. “To go after the VCI, we had to believe it was okay. But we were too young to understand what happens when idealism cracks up against reality. We risked our lives to get information on the VCI, information we were told the President was going to read. Then guys who didn’t care gave it to superiors more interested in booze and broads.”

(Postscript: In 1984, when he ran for state attorney general in Vermont, Lawlor’s opponents uncovered his participation in Phoenix operations and accused him of having committed war crimes. He lost the election. When William Colby heard about the smear campaign, he offered his support. Lawlor was summoned to Langley and interviewed by Rudy Enders, then chief of the Special Operations Division. Despite his willingness to return to the fold and go to work for the CIA in Central America, details of the Da Nang incident surfaced during the interview, and Lawlor was not called back.)

***

By the end of 1973 the cease-fire, like pacification, was a thing of the past. The Chieu Hoi rate plummeted and, with drastic cuts in U.S. aid, GVN officials who had depended on American aid to maintain their private empires sought their own separate peace with the encroaching Communists. ARVN morale deteriorated as paychecks were diverted into commanders’ pockets. Unpaid Territorial Security forces and armed propaganda teams reverted to their pre-Phoenix ways, like the Civil Guard of old, spending most of their time guarding Chieu Hoi centers and the homes and offices of government officials.

At the time Ed Brady was working for the Computer Science Corporation, which had contracted with the Directorate of Political Security to study the “administrative and judicial aspects of the An Tri Laws.” Said Brady, who was interviewing Vietcong prisoners at Con Son: “I wrote a lot about how people, if they weren’t VC when they were sent to Con Son, were VC when they came out. It was a great training center … the people they recruited were made into somebody.” [6]

Brady told of one VCI who had been chained to the floor in solitary confinement for refusing to salute the flag. He told Brady, “I’m not South Vietnamese. I’m a VC soldier, and it would be a breach of discipline for me to salute the flag of my enemy. I’ll never say yes.” Brady pointed out: “He knew what he was and what he believed in, and he was an example to the rest of the camp.” Punishing him for sticking to his principles, Brady asserted, “was good for the morale of all the other prisoners. It was a matter of principle to the VC, but it was just a power struggle, like between a parent and a child, for the South Vietnamese. That’s what it was all about. None of the propaganda mattered. The VC had principles. The GVN was corrupt.”

In 1974, writes Professor Huy, “Corruption, already established as a principle of government by Thieu, Khiem and Vien, now was devouring the social tissue as a growing cancer.” [7] Unfortunately, the battle against corruption opened the way for the final Communist offensive.

The push for genuine reform, as the only way to win the political struggle, came from the Catholics and began after Thieu had visited the Vatican and the pope admonished him for packing the jails with political prisoners. Concerned that a Third Force coalition of Buddhists and Communists would exclude them from any position of power in a post Thieu Vietnam, the Catholics used anticorruption as a pretext to mobilize public opinion against Thieu in July 1974. The movement was led, ironically, by Father Tran Huu Thanh, author of the Vietnamese version of personalism, [ii] which had brought the Ngo regime via the Can Lao party to power in 1954.

At the same time that opposition was building against Thieu, hearings to impeach President Richard Nixon were getting under way in the U.S. Congress. The issues were similar. As a result of the Watergate incident, Congress was concerned that Nixon was using intelligence and security forces to suppress his political opponents. There was also the matter of his having accepted illegal campaign contributions and the bombing of Cambodia and Laos. Likewise, on July 17, 1974, Congressman Otis Pike convened hearings for the purpose of investigating the CIA’s role in the Watergate break-in, the disinformation campaign to compromise and discredit Daniel Ellsberg, and other illegal activities the CIA was conducting worldwide.

Back in Saigon, the Catholics, armed with documents showing Thieu’s overseas real estate holdings, mounted massive demonstrations in July; by August the capital was in turmoil. On August 18, 1974, the day Nixon announced his plans to resign, David Shipler wrote an article for The New York Times headlined SAIGON POLICE FIGHT SUBVERSION BUT ALSO CURB POLITICAL DISSENT. Said Shipler, “[T]hose caught in the web of arrest, torture and imprisonment include not only Communists … but non-Communist dissidents … apolitical peasants … and writers who have simply opposed United States policy and called for peace.” Shipler called the wave of political repression “a silent hidden war that runs its course out of the public view.”

Phoenix had gone underground, but the bodies it corralled were impossible to hide — despite the efforts of Ambassador Graham Martin, who on July 25, 1974, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “we found no one in prison” who could be regarded as a political prisoner and that charges that there were two hundred thousand political prisoners were part of a Communist propaganda campaign “deliberately designed to force the American Congress to limit economic aid.”

Refuting Martin’s assertions was David Shipler, who cited one instance after another of perverse torture of women and men — mostly teachers, students, and union workers — in Saigon’s First Precinct headquarters. Shipler interviewed Tran Tuan Nham, jailed in 1971 (while running for the National Assembly) by police who cited his anti-American articles as evidence that he was a Communist. Nham wrote about the CIA’s involvement in My Lai and the harmful effects of defoliants. Shipler told of another writer “held for three years after he had written newspaper and magazine articles arguing that Vietnamese culture must be preserved against Americanization.” And Shipler wrote about a woman arrested in Saigon, taken to the Kien Chuong PIC twenty-two miles away, and viciously, sadistically tortured for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than for the pleasure of the torturers.

Wrote Shipler: “[D]issidents who are free to speak out say they are mere ornaments, that whenever they begin to accrue political power the police arrest the lesser figures around them, break up their meetings and leave them isolated.” The leaders themselves were targeted for assassination.

In his follow-up article on August 20, TO SAIGON, ALL DISSENTERS ARE FOES, ALL FOES ARE REDS, Shipler explained that GVN security forces believed that only Communists opposed Thieu. He quoted Thieu as saying that “the 19.5 million South Vietnamese people should be molded into a monolithic bloc, motivated by a single anti-Communist ideal.” Shipler then told how security forces saw Communists — to whom they attributed superhuman powers of deviousness and persuasion — everywhere. And not only were all dissenters Communists, but according to a PRU officer working with the Special Branch, “all dissidents are opportunists.”

In reality, soaring inflation — resulting from a lack of U.S. aid — had made mere survival the single ideal uniting the Vietnamese people. Even CIA-supported Special Branch officers were feeling the pinch and in order to make ends meet were packing the jails with “opportunists” who they held for ransom. Shipler described a visit he made to see a group of “opportunists” held for ransom in the Chi Hoa jail. The “movie room” where they were being held was eighteen by twenty-four feet, dimly lit by a single bulb, full of mosquitoes, and the stench of urine and feces on the floor was so bad that the prisoners — all of whom were shackled by one leg to an iron bar running the length of the wall — couldn’t breathe. Friends and relatives of prisoners, and “VCI” suspects, were required to report to the Special Branch, then extorted. Indeed, by 1974 there was no middle ground in Vietnam — just the rising blood pressure of a body politic about to suffer a massive coronary thrombosis.

At the same time that the financial supports were being kicked out from under the Thieu regime in Saigon, USAID’s Office of Public Safety was put on the chopping block. The process had begun in 1969, when Public Safety adviser Dan Mitrione was captured and killed in Uruguay by guerrillas who claimed he was an undercover CIA officer teaching torture techniques to the secret police. A 1970 movie titled State of Siege, which dramatized the Mitrione episode and showed International Police Academy (IPA) graduates torturing political prisoners, brought attention to the practices of the IPA. Consequently, according to Doug McCollum, the State Department “developed animosity toward Public Safety people,” and many contracts, including McCollum’s, were not renewed. [8]

Charges that the IPA taught torture and political repression gained credence in August 1974, when columnist Jack Anderson printed excerpts from several student papers written at the academy. Wrote one student from South Vietnam: “Based on experience, we are convinced there is just one sure way to save time and suppress stubborn criminal suspects — that is the proper use of threats and force.”

On October 2, 1974, Senator James Abourezk inserted into the Congressional Record the words of National Policeman Le Van An. Said Le: “Despite the fact that brutal interrogation is strongly criticized by moralists, its importance must not be denied if we want to have order and security in daily life.” [9]

In 1972 senior Field Police adviser William Grieves was scheduled for reassignment to Bangkok. “But,” he told me, “the ambassador wouldn’t let me in because the CIA held a grudge.” Instead, Grieves was sent to Washington as deputy to Public Safety chief Byron Engel. Said Grieves: “I lost all respect for Byron Engel. He’d been too long in CIA. He was always asking me to have so-and-so bring things back from Hong Kong, and he was rude to congressmen.” But the worst thing, according to Grieves, was Engel’s attempt to “rewrite history.” [10]

And history was rewritten. The IPA was abolished but, like a Phoenix, was reborn in the guise of a new organization called the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

Despite its ability to regenerate and survive, the CIA was taking its lumps in 1974, too. Richard Helms was accused and later convicted on perjury charges after William Colby admitted that the agency had spent eight million dollars to “destabilize” Allende’s regime in Chile. Colby himself was under attack, not only for alleged Phoenix-related war crimes but for having censored John Marks’s book The Cult of Intelligence and for trying to block publication of Philip Agee’s CIA Diary.

Agee in particular was despised by his CIA colleagues for saying, in an interview with Playboy magazine, that there was “a strong possibility that the CIA station in Chile helped supply the assassination lists.” Agee asserted that the CIA “trains and equips saboteurs and bomb squads” and that the CIA had “assassinated thousands of people …. When the history of the CIA’s support of torturers gets written,” Agee predicted, “it’ll be the all-time horror story. [11]

“Thousands of policemen all over the world,” Agee said, “are shadowing people for the CIA without knowing it. They think they’re working for their own police departments when, in fact, their chief may be a CIA agent who’s sending them out on CIA jobs and turning the information over to his CIA control.”

Some of those people were Special Branch officers in Vietnam. For example, in August 1974, Colonel Ben Hamilton prepared a report titled “Results of Communist Infrastructure Neutralization Efforts Made by Phoenix Committees” for Colonel Doug Dillard at 500th MIG headquarters. The report cited the number of neutralizations from February 15 through May 31, 1974. The source of the information was a “friendly Foreign Intelligence agency,” meaning the National Phoenix Committee under Colonel Nguyen Van Giau, who signed the report and sent it to the Directorate of Political Security. Noting that the figures were probably “inflated,” Hamilton sent the report to the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the acting chief of staff for intelligence at the Pentagon. According to the report, I Corps tallied 39 percent of its yearly quota from February till May. In II Corps Binh Thuan Province racked up 54 percent of its yearly goal, with 39 convictions, 47 killed, and 29 rallied. In III Corps Phuoc Long Province tallied 3 VCI killed and 2 rallied, and in IV Corps, 169 VCI were killed in Chuong Thien Province.

In September 1974 William Colby was asked by a panel of citizens why Watergate burglar and CIA officer James McCord’s personnel records had been burned by CIA officer Lee Pennington immediately after the break-in and why the CIA had destroyed tapes of Richard Helms instructing Nixon and John Erhlichman how to respond to congressional inquiries. They asked Colby to defend CIA financing of the National Student Association, and he responded by citing Point 5 of the National Security Act, which allows the CIA to perform “functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.”

Senator James Abourezk asked Colby, “But you do undertake activities overseas that would be crimes in this country?”

Replied Colby: “Of course. Espionage is a crime in this country.” [12]

ABOUREZK: “Other than espionage?”

COLBY: “Of course.” Added Colby: “I think … the use of an atomic bomb is justified in the interest of national security, and I think going down from there is quite a realm of things you can do in the reasonable defense of the country.”

Asked John Marks: “But in peacetime?”

***

On January 6, 1975, the NVA overran Phuoc Long Province.

A few days later UPI reporter Robert Kaylor reported that the United States was still involved with “the ill-famed Phoenix program,” that the program had been renamed the “Special Police Investigative Service (SPIS)” and was being conducted by fourteen thousand special troops whose operations are monitored on a part-time basis by CIA operatives in Saigon and in provincial capitals throughout the country. According to Kaylor, “The U.S. also provides data processing facilities for SPIS through a contractor, Computer Science Services Inc.,” which “runs intelligence reports through its machines to classify and collate them and then turns the material over to SPIS.” [13]

Writes Kaylor: “According to sources here, about 100 American personnel are now involved in monitoring the program. They said that overall responsibility for watching it rests with a U.S. Air Force officer on detached duty with the American Embassy in Saigon.”

When Ambassador Martin read Kaylor’s article, he immediately sent a telegram to Washington calling Kaylor’s article “journalistic fiction” and assured the State Department that, as regarded Phoenix, “No element of the U.S. Government is involved in any way with any program in Vietnam of any such description.” [14] As for the Special Police, “The U.S. Government has no relationships to this organization whatsoever.” According to Martin, “There is no U.S. Air Force officer on detached duty,” and as for the Computer Science Corporation (CSC), it merely contracted with the National Police “in logistics and personnel.” Said Martin: “At the present time, CSC … is uninvolved in any counter-insurgency or other operational matters.”

On March 10, 1975, the NVA overran Ban Me Thuot. In desperation, Ted Serong drew up a plan to abandon the Central Highlands and withdraw all ARVN forces to cities along the coast. The South Vietnamese agreed, opening the floodgates to the NVA. Hue fell on March 25. Chu Lai and Quang Ngai City fell on the same day, amid attacks by the South Vietnamese against CIA officers who abandoned their records and agents. Within hours all that remained in I Corps was Da Nang. II Corps was going down just as fast. Kontum and Pleiku had fallen two weeks earlier, and thirteen province capitals were to be gone by April. The Third NVA Division was heading toward Qui Nhon, and a million refugees were fleeing toward Nha Trang.

In Da Nang the scene was one of fire, murder, looting, and rape. ARVN soldiers had seized the airport control tower, and planes meant to evacuate them were frozen on the ground. CIA helicopters were ferrying Americans out of the city, abandoning their Vietnamese assets. Thousands of panicked people moved to the waterfront, piled onto piers and barges, dived into the water, tried to swim to boats. Hundreds of bodies were later washed up on the shore. The CIA contingent joined the exodus, fleeing their quarters while their Nung guards fired shots at their heels. At Marble Mountain airstrip the consul general was beaten into unconsciousness by ARVN soldiers. By March 29 Da Nang was defenseless and being shelled. By the thirtieth Special Branch and Military Security Service officers were being rounded up and shot by NVA security officers.

On March 29 PVT found himself stranded in Da Nang, on the verge of a harrowing experience. “The ranger and airborne generals left, saying they had to go to a meeting,” he recalled. “We were told to wait for orders, but they didn’t come. After that there was no coordination.” [15] Growing impatient, PVT and eight members of his PRU team made their way with Police Chief Nguyen to police headquarters. But “They were all gone.” Knowing they had been abandoned, PVT and his comrades decided to stick together and fight their way out. Taking charge, PVT led the group to the waterfront, where, by force of arms, they commandeered a boat and set off down the river into the bay. That night they were picked up by a U.S. Navy vessel crowded with refugees. On April 2 the ship disembarked its human cargo at Cam Ranh Bay. PVT and his crew began walking south down Route 1 but were stopped at gunpoint at an ARVN checkpoint; no one was being allowed to leave the city. Luckily, though, PVT was recognized by an ARVN commander, who put them on a truck going to Nha Trang. Several hours later they arrived there only to find that the American Embassy had been abandoned the day before. Nha Trang would be bypassed by the NVA on its way to Cam Ranh.

With cities in II Corps falling like dominoes, PVT led his group to the home of another friend, Colonel Pham, the Khanh Hoa province chief. After curfew Colonel Pham loaded his own family along with PVT’s PRU team in the back of a truck, drove them to the dock, and put them on a ship bound for Vung Tau. PVT could think of nothing else but getting to Saigon and arranging safe passage for his family out of Vietnam. Upon arriving off the coast of Vung Tau, however, PVT and his companions were informed that all traffic to Saigon, both by river and by road, had been cut. In Washington the CIA’s Far East Division chief Ted Shackley had ordered the city sealed off from refugees. His heart sinking as fast as Vietnam, PVT sailed off toward Phu Quoc Island.

Still holding hopes for a negotiated settlement, the war managers met one last time in Saigon to plan the city’s defense. While evacuation plans were drawn up on a contingency basis, the American brain trust drew a Maginot Line extending from Tay Ninh to Phan Rang and told its Vietnamese clients to defend it to the death. Behind the scenes Air Marshal Ky pressed for a coup d’etat, and General Loan — then a special assistant to General Vien — warned station chief Polgar that unless “high-risk” Vietnamese were evacuated as promised, American hostages would be taken. To avert such a catastrophe, an evacuation team under State Department officer Dean Brown was formed in Washington. Among those chosen to select which Vietnamese were to be saved were Lionel Rosenblatt, Frank Wisner, Ev Bumgartner, Craig Johnstone, Ken Quinn, and Frank Scotton. Bill Johnson, the CIA’s Saigon base chief, got the job of setting up CIA stay-behind nets.

On April 4, 1975, Congress was debating how much money to give Saigon for its defense, while in Saigon, Valium and scotch were selling at a premium in the besieged U.S. Embassy. Metropolitan Police Chief Tran Si Tan slapped a twenty-four-hour curfew on the city. Panic began to spread. The war reached Saigon four days later when a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot dropped three bombs on the Presidential Palace. Inside, Thieu consulted with fortune-tellers. Tran Van Don and General Khiem, who had resigned as prime minister, nominated General Duong Van “Big” Minh as Thieu’s replacement.

On April 12 Henry Kissinger ordered the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As the American contingent boarded helicopters and flew to safety, Sirak Matak cried that he had been betrayed. Five days later, when Khmer Rouge troops rolled into the city, he was arrested and summarily executed. Meanwhile, six NVA regiments were poised north of Can Tho in the Delta, and numerous others were heading south toward Saigon. Knowing the country was doomed, Tucker Gougleman wrote a letter to a friend on April 13, spelling out his plans to rescue his family. Posted from Bangkok, where he managed Associated Consultants Limited, Gougleman’s letter told how he planned his “extraction from Phu Quoc Island to Trat near Chantaburi on the southernmost part of the Thai east coast.” Gougleman commented on the “totally undependable” ARVN and its “cruel perpetrations on civilian refugees” and noted that “Thieu has killed SVN.” He closed the letter with “C’est la fucking vie.”

Being stuck on Phu Quoc Island was a frustrating experience for PVT, and as soon as they could, PVT and his PRU comrades boarded a boat heading for Saigon. Immediately four Vietnamese marines armed with M-16’s commandeered the boat and stole everyone’s money and watches. “But they didn’t know we were police or that we were armed,” PVT told me with a glint in his eye. “I told my men to wait till dark. When the marines were eating, I organized an assault. We got control.” A few hours later PVT arrived in Saigon.

Phan Rang fell on the sixteenth. On Saturday, the nineteenth, the CIA began flying selected Vietnamese out on unauthorized black flights. Ostensibly these were “high-risk” assets from the various security programs who were unable to obtain the necessary exit visas from the Ministry of the Interior. More often they were girl friends of their CIA case officers. On the twentieth the CIA began burning its files. On the twenty-first, Xuan Loc fell, and the evacuation rate was accelerated. Fifteen hundred people were flown out that day.

Having finally set foot in Saigon, PVT reported to Colonel Hai, who only a few weeks before had taken over command of the PRU and who proposed to PVT that he and his PRU team provide security for the CIA. Having been unable to find a single CIA officer to vouch for him in Saigon, PVT refused. Instead, he began making arrangements to save his family. On the twentieth PVT gathered his wife and children together in a house he owned near Tan Son Nhut airport. He visited his brother at the Cholon branch of the Thanh Thien bank and arranged to have his savings transferred to a branch office in Gia Dinh Province. “Communist political cadre were even then moving everyone out of the city,” he said. Thieu resigned on the twenty-first and turned the government over to Vice President Huong. That day PVT piled his family into a jeep and drove them to Tan Son Nhut airport, where they were given sanctuary by a police colonel — a close friend of Ky’s — whose house was inside the gates.

Inside Tan Son Nhut, PVT contacted his old friend from Da Nang, Police Captain Nguyen Minh Tan. After the flap over the Da Nang City PRU, PVT had used his influence to get Tan a job in the Saigon Phoenix office. When Colonel Nguyen Van Giau assumed command of Phoenix after the cease-fire, he reassigned Tan to the immigration office inside Tan Son Nhut. On the twenty-first Tan told PVT that it was time to go. PVT handed his sister his life’s savings — five hundred thousand in piasters — and asked her to change it in Cholon. She returned with two hundred American dollars. On the twenty-second Tan brought PVT into the office of the South Vietnamese Air Force captain in charge of flights to Clark Air Force base in the Philippines. For two hundred American dollars the captain put PVT’s name on manifest. At 9:00 P.M. on the twenty-second, while the NVA rolled toward Bien Hoa and Vung Tau, PVT and his family and Nguyen Minh Tan and his family bade adieu to their homeland.

On the same day PVT left Saigon, Lionel Rosenblatt and Craig Johnstone arrived, set up shop in the Regent Hotel, and arranged safe passage out of Vietnam for a number of their friends. By the time the two left on the twenty-fifth (the same day that Thieu and Khiem fled to Taiwan), they had smuggled out anywhere from three to two hundred high-ranking police and PRU officers.

On April 25, while U.S. Marines exchanged rifle fire with South Vietnamese paratroopers, President Huong offered to free the two hundred thousand political prisoners the U.S. Embassy claimed had never existed. The Communists laughed in his face. On the twenty-seventh the road between Tay Ninh and Saigon was cut, rockets began falling in Saigon, and Huong turned the government over to Big Minh. That night CIO chief General Binh bade adieu to Vietnam. By the twenty-eighth there was fighting in the streets of Saigon. U.S. helicopter gunships roamed the smoke-filled skies while Saigon base chief Bill Johnson paid a final visit to his colleagues in the Special Branch and CIO. He suggested that they get out of town fast. According to Frank Snepp, four hundred Special Branch and four hundred CIO officers were left behind, along with “files identifying defectors, collaborators, prisoners, anyone who had helped us or seemed likely to.” [16] Snepp says the CIA abandoned “countless counter-terrorist agents — perhaps numbering as high as 30,000 — specially trained to operate with the Phoenix program.” [17]

On William Colby’s orders, U.S. helicopters began flying Americans to ships offshore on the twenty-eighth; the following day the NVA hit Tan Son Nhut. With the army in full retreat and no policemen left to enforce the curfew, rioting and looting broke out in Saigon. Panic spread through the American community while the one man with the most to lose, Tucker Gougleman, decided to go down with the ship. Perhaps he was having a drink on the veranda of the Continental Hotel when Saigon, like the Phoenix in flames, gave up its ghost.

_______________

Notes:

i. Phoenix advisers began participating in drug investigations between August and October 1971. Tom Thayer wrote that “reports from field advisers indicate that the joint US/GVN program to dry up South Vietnam’s drug traffic may have added to Phung Hoang’s chronic problems. Phoenix assets are being used to ferret out drug dealers,” he said, adding, “Their attention has in many provinces been turned partially away from anti-VCI efforts. While both problems are essentially police matters, they apparently cannot be handled concurrently. The number of province advisors who mentioned this in their July reports underscores the lack of depth of the Phung Hoang organization.” [5]

ii. See Chapter 1: The Can Lao party — the Can Lao Nham Vi — translates as the “Personal Labor party.”

EPILOGUE

In the opinion of Stan Fulcher (who in 1972 was the Binh Dinh Province Phoenix coordinator and whose experiences are recounted in Chapter 2, “Phoenix was a creation of the old-boy network, a group of guys at highest level — Colby and that crowd — who thought they were Lawrence of Arabia.” [1]

Indeed, the Phoenix program in South Vietnam was set up by Americans on American assumptions, in support of American policies. Unfortunately America’s allies in South Vietnam were people whose prosperity depended on American patronage and who therefore implemented a policy they knew could not be applied to their culture. In the process the definition of the Vietcong infrastructure was misinterpreted to mean any Vietnamese citizen, and Phoenix was broadened from a rifle shot attack against the “organizational hierarchy” into a shotgun method of population control.

It happened, Fulcher said ruefully, because “any policy can find supporting intelligence,” meaning “the Phoenix Directorate used computers to skew the statistical evaluation of the VCI. Dead Vietnamese became VCI, and they lucked out the other five percent of the time, getting real VCI in ambushes.” As Fulcher explained it, “The Vietnamese lied to us; we lied to the directorate; and the directorate made it into documented fact …. It was a war that became distorted through our ability to create fiction. But really, there were only economic reasons for our supporting the fascists in Vietnam, just like we did in Iran.”

Professor Huy agrees, asserting that America “betrayed the ideals of freedom and democracy in Vietnam.” Furthermore, writes Huy, “American politicians have not yet changed their policy. What happened later in Iran was a repetition of what happened in South Vietnam. Almost the same people applied the same policy with the same principles and the same spirit. It is amazing that some people are still wondering why the same result occurred.” [2]

“It’s the problem of supporting personalities rather than democratic institutions,” Fulcher explained, noting that in Vietnam the issue was not the Vietcong versus the Army of South Vietnam, but land reform and government corruption. “The Vietnamese were victims of our corruption,” Fulcher said emphatically. “We smothered them with money. It’s the same thing you see in Central America today. You can’t take a Salvadoran colonel in a patron army without the corruption he brings along.

“With consolidation we could have had control,” Fulcher concluded, “and Phoenix was the culmination of the attempt to solidify control.” But the warlords and corrupt politicians we supported in Vietnam refused to sacrifice even a tiny share of their empires for the greater good of Vietnam, and thus were incapable of countering what was a homogeneous, nationalist-inspired insurgency.

In any event, defeat in Vietnam did not repress the impulses that powered America to third world intervention in the first place; it simply drove them elsewhere. Nowhere is this more evident than in El Salvador, where Lieutenant Colonel Stan Fulcher served from 1974 till 1977 as an intelligence adviser with the U.S. Military Group. In El Salvador Fulcher saw the same “old boys” who had run the war in South Vietnam. Only in El Salvador, because of the vast reduction in the CIA’s paramilitary forces instigated by the Carter administration, these officials effected their policies through proxies from allied countries. For example, Fulcher watched while Israeli agents taught El Salvador’s major landowners how to organize criminals into vigilante death squads, which, using intelligence from Salvador’s military and security forces, murdered labor leaders and other opponents of the oligarchy. Likewise, Fulcher watched while Taiwanese military officers taught Kuomintang political warfare techniques at El Salvador’s Command and General Staff College: Phoenix-related subjects such as population control through psychological warfare, the development and control of agents provocateurs, the development of political cadres within the officer corps, and the placement of military officers in the civilian security forces. He also saw political prisoners put in insane asylums — facilities he described as being “like Hogarth’s paintings.”

While other Americans smuggled weapons and funds to the death squads, Fulcher, who was outraged by what he saw, organized at his home a study group of young military officers who supported land reform, nationalization of the banks, and civilian control of the military. In 1979 these same reformist officers staged a successful but short-lived coup, as a result of which the Salvadoran National Security Agency (ANSESAL), which had been formed by the CIA in 1962, was disbanded and reorganized as the National Intelligence Agency (ANI).

This reorganization did not put an end to the death squads. Instead, the landowners and fascist military officers moved to Miami and Guatemala, where they formed a political front called Arena, to which they channeled funds for the purpose of eliminating the reformers. Chosen to head Arena was Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, a former member of ANSESAL who transferred its files to general staff headquarters, where they were used to compile blacklists. Operating out of Guatemala, D’Aubuisson’s death squads murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero and El Salvador’s attorney general in early 1980. In December of that year six members of El Salvador’s executive council were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a death squad, and the death squads began a rampage which included the murders in January 1981 of Jose Rodolfo Viera, the head of the land distribution program, along with Viera’s American advisers, Michael Hammer and Mark Pearlman.

At this time, according to Salvadoran Army officer Ricardo Castro, [3] death squad supervision passed to Department 5, the civil affairs branch of the Salvadoran general staff. “Department 5 suddenly started coordinating everything,” said Castro, a West Point graduate with a master’s degree in engineering. Formed in the mid-1970’s by the CIA, Department 5, Castro explained, became “the political intelligence apparatus within the general staff.” Although it was designed as an investigative, not an operating, agency, Department 5 had “a large paramilitary force of people dressed in civilian clothes,” and because it targeted civilians, “They can knock someone off all by themselves, or capture them.”

When military as opposed to political targets were involved, Department 2, the intelligence branch of the general staff, would send information gathered from its informant nets to Department 3 (operations), which then dispatched a death squad of its own. Whether the people to be killed were guerrillas or civilians, Castro explained, “the rich people — the leading citizens of the community — traditionally have a great deal of input. Whatever bothers them, if they’ve got someone who just came into their ranch or their farm and they consider them a bad influence, they just send a messenger to the commander.”

In March 1981 Castro himself began leading death squad operations. Using a modus operandi perfected in Vietnam, orders were always verbal and the soldiers in the death squads shucked their uniforms and dressed as left-wing guerrillas. “Basically,” said Castro, “you come in after patrolling or whatever … and then you’re told that at a certain hour you will have to go get up the troops and go do something …. They already know what the mission is. They happen just about every night, or they used to.

“Normally,” Castro added, “you eliminate everyone …. We usually go in with … an informant who is part of the patrol and who has turned these people in. When you turn somebody in,” Castro noted, “part of your obligation is to show us where they are and identify them. We would go in and knock on people’s houses. They’d come out of their houses and we’d always tell them we were the Left and we’re here because you don’t want to cooperate with us or whatever. And then they were eliminated, always with machetes.”

In late 1981, with the government of El Salvador back in the hands of the fascist military, the death squads were moved under the Salvadoran security forces, which generally operated in urban areas and pretended to be and/or used the services of right-wing vigilantes. Castro told of death squads within the treasury police [i] killing teachers and of death squads within the National Guard killing mayors and nuns — all with the approval of the general staff.

Castro also worked as translator to a series of CIA advisers at general staff headquarters. One course he translated was on interrogation. It was taught by a CIA officer who suggested electric shock and presented architectural plans for a PIC-like prison to be built at the cavalry regiment headquarters. “It was going to become a secret jail,” recalled Castro, who was enlisted by Department 5 to begin engineering work.

According to Castro, the CIA interrogation instructor also advised the general staff on mounting death squad operations in foreign countries, especially Honduras, and was complicit in these operations insofar as he provided El Salvador’s Secret Service with files and photos of Salvadorans in the United States.

***

As in Vietnam, the proliferation of political assassinations in El Salvador had a ripple effect, which ended in the massacring of innocent civilians. Castro told how in November 1981 a number of civilians were killed following a sweep by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion. Said Castro: “[T]here were 24 women and children captured, and they were assassinated right smack in front of me — just one by one, in cold blood.” Counterterror-style, the mutilated corpses were left behind as a warning to leftist guerrillas.

In December 1981 Castro met Major Pineda of Department 5, who was operating in Morazan Province. “They had two towns of about three hundred people each,” Castro recalled, “and they were interrogating them to see what they knew. Since I had translated in the class and knew something about interrogations, he said they might want me to help. The Major told me that after the interrogation, they were going to kill them all.” Said Castro: “I later found out, they did go in and kill them after all.”

In August 1982 Castro traveled to Washington on behalf of a group of young Salvadoran officers concerned about corruption and demoralization within the army rank and file. Castro told a CIA officer in Washington about the death squads. The CIA officer said, “We know all that.” Nothing was done.

This hands-off policy reflected a maturation in the thinking of the CIA. In the aftermath of Vietnam the CIA set up a special section to study terrorism and third world instability. The “terrorism account” was given to DIOCC creator Bob Wall by ICEX’s first director, Evan Parker, who was then deputy director of the CIA’s paramilitary Special Operations Division (SOD). In analyzing the problem of terrorism, Wall brought in Foreign Intelligence experts, who determined that the CIA could not reasonably expect to penetrate terrorist groups — like the VCI or the Palestine Liberation Organization — which were “homogeneous.” As a result of this determination, the CIA then separated its antiterrorist activities from its counterinsurgency activities, which it renamed “low-intensity warfare.”

By 1980 paramilitary expert Rudy Enders was chief of the Special Operations Division, and Enders in turn passed the “terrorism account” to former senior PRU adviser William Buckley, who created a military staffed antiterrorism unit in 1981 under the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command.

Meanwhile, El Salvador had emerged as the perfect place to test the CIA’s new theory of low-intensity warfare. In March 1983 Vice President George Bush’s national security adviser, former III Corps region officer in charge Donald Gregg, wrote to President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, Robert MacFarlane, saying, “Rudy Enders … went to El Salvador in 1981 to do a survey and develop plans for effective anti-guerrilla operations. He came back and endorsed the attached plan.” [5] The Pink Plan, written by former PRU adviser Felix Rodriguez, was to launch mobile air strikes with “minimum U.S. participation” at leftist rebels. Rodriguez said the plan would “Be ideal for the pacification effort in El Salvador and Guatemala.” [6]

Shortly after proposing the Pink Plan, Gregg introduced Rodriguez to George Bush [ii] and Oliver North. Rodriguez was sent to El Salvador, where, as an adviser to Department 5, he organized a “high-bird, low-bird” Pink Team, leading the missions himself and using the same techniques he had developed while serving as Gregg’s deputy in charge of the PRU in Vietnam. As in Vietnam, civilian security services joined with Department 5 (civil affairs) and Department 2 (intelligence) to provide Department 3 (operations) with information on the location of guerrillas, whose hideouts were bombed by U.S. warplanes, then ravaged in Phoenix-style cordon and search operations in which PRU-type teams hunted enemy cadres in their homes. Rodriguez played the role of coordinator. At the time Colonel Adolfo Blandon commanded Departments 2 and 5.

According to reporter Dennis Volkman, Blandon was advised by a Cuban-American from the consular section of the American Embassy, who met regularly with U.S. military advisers to Departments 2 and 5 in San Salvador. [7]

General Paul Gorman, who commanded U.S. forces in Central America in the mid-1980’s, defined this new type of counterinsurgency operation as “a form of warfare repugnant to Americans, a conflict which involves innocents, in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicit object.” [8]

Gorman could have been alluding to Operation Phoenix, launched by the Salvadoran Army in January 1986. As reported in the Boston Globe, Operation Phoenix began with the military dropping waves of 750-pound bombs over Guazapa volcano, “a defiant symbol of persistence by a few thousand rebels against government forces that outnumber them 10 to one and are backed by the purse and arsenal of the U.S.” [9] Next came planes with leaflets and bullhorns offering the rebels rewards for their rifles and safe passage to refugee camps. Meanwhile, thirty-five hundred troops swept the volcano in a tightening circle, burning crops, destroying hideouts, interrogating civilian detainees, and hunting enemy cadres.

The Salvadoran officer in charge of Operation Phoenix said, “We have three goals. Get rid of the idea that Guazapa belongs to the terrorists; to reactivate idle land; and to convince the masa (the people) we are different from the reality they’ve been told.” And, he added, “By removing the masa from Guazapa, officials hope to disrupt the rebels’ vital network of rural support.”

In a Public Broadcasting System documentary titled Enough Crying of Tears, Operation Phoenix was described as wiping out entire villages.

***

In the wake of Vietnam, the CIA not only defined antiterrorism apart from counterinsurgency but also separated counterterrorism (defined as “bold and swift action to undo what terrorists have recently done”) from antiterrorism, which is the broad spectrum and includes psywar campaigns against countries the United States brands as “terrorist.” The best example is Nicaragua, where the CIA mined harbors and inserted insurgents, called contras, who systematically tortured and massacred civilians and assassinated government officials.

When in 1983 tales of contra atrocities began reaching congressional ears, CIA Director William Casey sent CIA officer John Kirkpatrick (an alias) to contra headquarters in Honduras to clean up their act. In October 1983 former Green Beret Kirkpatrick returned to Washington, where he copied a U.S. Special Forces manual issued at Fort Bragg in 1968. He then returned to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where the manual was printed in Spanish. It was titled Tayacan: Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare.

Kirkpatrick was an older man who dressed entirely in black in order “to inspire a cult of death among the fighting men,” writes James Dickey in With the Contras. “Kirkpatrick thought he knew quite a bit about his end of a paramilitary operation: the psychology of it …. He knew about those special circumstances when an assassination might be unavoidable, even appropriate. He knew from studying the methods of the Communists everywhere, and from his own experience in Vietnam and from what he learned from the Phoenix program there, how you could make even an accidental killing work in your favor. But he also knew what My Lai could do, and the way one massacre could destroy your credibility.” [10]

Dickey describes Tayacan as “a little book with a cover in the blue and white of the Nicaraguan flag. The graphic motif was rows of heads with large holes through them. Targets. It looked as if they were targets for snipers. But the idea was to target their minds.” [11]

Indeed, Tayacan was based entirely on Frank Scotton’s motivational indoctrination principles. The goal was to organize the contras into armed propaganda teams that would persuade the people to stage a general uprising. As stated in Tayacan, this was to be done through psychological operations, by reaching beyond the “territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the ‘political animal’ that Aristotle defined.” For once his mind has been reached, the “political animal has been defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets.”

Central to the CIA’s doctrine of psychological operations is the “compulsion of people with arms,” the notion of “implicit terror,” that “the people are internally ‘aware’ that the weapons can be used against them.” There are also times, Tayacan adds, when “explicit terror” is required to compel the people to change their minds. Using a modus operandi perfected by the Vietcong, Tayacan instructs its armed propaganda teams to gather the villagers together, cut all communication with the outside world, then desecrate symbols of the government while being courteous to the people so as to get the names of government informants and officials, who are then brought before a people’s tribunal. Lastly, the team’s political cadre gives a prepared speech explaining that force is necessary to give the people power over the government and that the ensuing execution is being done to protect the people and is an act of democracy.

Tayacan specifically calls for “neutralizing” judges, police officials, and state security officials. It also says that “professional criminals should be hired to carry out specific, selective jobs.”

What Tayacan represents, of course, is Ralph Johnson’s doctrine of Contre Coup having come full circle, emerging from the Phoenix program in Vietnam as the Phoenix concept of “explicit terrorism” disguised as antiterrorism.

It is instructive to hear how people responded to Tayacan. Contra defector Edgar Chamorro, who leaked the manual to the American press in 1984, used language lifted from Robert Komer when he said Tayacan author John Kirkpatrick “didn’t want us to use a shotgun approach; he wanted us to select our targets.” [12]

Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia said the word “neutralize” could be interpreted by reasonable people to mean “assassination.” [13]

“It does not mean assassination,” William Colby said on the October 28, 1984, David Brinkley Show; “it means take the person out of action.” [14] Ronald Reagan agreed and said that “neutralize” meant “remove from office.” When asked how that could be done without violence, Reagan said, “You just say to the fellow that’s sitting there in the office, you’re not in the office anymore.” [15]

Duane Clarridge, the CIA officer in charge of operations against Nicaragua at the time Tayacan was printed, acknowledged that “civilians and Sandinista officials in the provinces, as well as heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors and judges,” had been killed by the contras. But, he added, “These events don’t constitute assassinations because as far as we are concerned assassinations are only those of heads of state.” [16]

***

Eden Pastora was not a head of state; he was the head of the southern branch of the contras — until May 31, 1984, when an attempt was made on his life at La Penca, Costa Rica, where he was preparing to announce his withdrawal from the contra force. When asked whom he blamed for the attempt on his life, Pastora responded, “We now believe the order came from Oliver North.” When asked whom he held ultimately responsible, Pastora replied, “I could get killed for saying this, but it would have to be Vice-President George Bush.” [17]

Is Pastora’s accusation totally outrageous? Perhaps not when one considers that in May 1984, in El Salvador, Felix Rodriguez was facilitating the contra resupply effort for Oliver North. Or that the person initially chosen by North to resupply the contras was former SOG commander John Singlaub, who in doing so worked with Soldier of Fortune publisher Robert Brown, creator in 1974 of Phoenix Associates. Or that one mercenary group operating in Nicaragua actually called itself the Phoenix Battalion.

There is another disturbing connection in the La Penca bombing. On the night before the bomb went off, Oliver North’s liaison to the contras, Rob Owen, was meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, with the CIA station chief, Joe Fernandez. Rob Owen is the brother of Dwight Owen, who was killed in an ambush by the same Vietcong outfit that was supplied by the villagers of My Lai.

Consider also that Tom Polgar, former Saigon station chief, was chief investigator for the Senate Select Committee probing the Iran-contra affair. In the February 1986 issue of Legal Times, Donald Gregg is quoted as saying that Polgar “wanted to assure me that [the hearings] would not be a repeat of the Pike and Church investigations.” When George Bush was director of central intelligence in 1976, Gregg was his representative before the congressional committees that were investigating the CIA’s role in criminal activities, including the attempted assassinations of foreign leaders. At the time Gregg presented the committees with an ultimatum: Back off or face martial law. Polgar, it seems, likewise derailed another round of executive-legislative brinkmanship.

In 1985 Tom Polgar was a consultant on George Bush’s Task Force on Combating Terrorism, along with Oliver North and John Poindexter.

What these “old Phoenix boys” all have in common is that they profit from antiterrorism by selling weapons and supplies to repressive governments and insurgent groups like the contras. Their legacy is a trail of ashes across the third world.

And where can Phoenix be found today? Wherever governments of the left or the right use military and security forces to enforce their ideologies under the aegis of antiterrorism. Look for Phoenix wherever police check-points ring major cities, wherever paramilitary police units patrol in armored cars, and wherever military forces are conducting counterinsurgent operations. Look for Phoenix wherever emergency decrees are used to suspend due process, wherever dissidents are interned indefinitely in detention camps, and wherever dissidents are rounded up and deported. Look for Phoenix wherever security forces use informants to identify dissidents, wherever security forces keep files and computerized blacklists on dissidents, wherever security forces conduct secret investigations and surveillance on dissidents, wherever security forces, or thugs in their hire, harass and murder dissidents, and wherever such activities go unreported by the press.

But most of all, look for Phoenix in the imaginations of ideologues obsessed with security, who seek to impose their way of thinking on everyone else.

_______________

Notes:

i. Under Colonel Nicolas Carranza, who, according to the Center for National Security Studies, was recruited by the CIA in the late 1970’s at a cost of ninety thousand dollars a year. [4]

ii. In 1983 Bush journeyed to El Salvador and arranged to have the most prominent death squad leaders sent to diplomatic posts abroad. By 1987 nine of eleven were back.

APPENDIX

Addendum 1: Psyops Comic Book: “Phung Hoang Campaign”

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The cartoon book titled Gia dinh ong Ba va Chien Dich Phung Hoang (Mr, Ba’s Family and the Phoenix Operation) reads as follows:

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Caption 2. Summary: Mr. Ba and his family are presently living in Phong Thanh village. This village is actually part of the nationalist territory but is still infiltrated by a number of Communist elements; therefore, Phoenix leaders have taken military action against them. They received enthusiastic cooperation from the villagers. As a result of this, and through accurate information provided by local people, many Communist cadres have been arrested. These circumstances help you follow the story of Mr. Ba’s family.

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Caption 3. The cruel Communists kill innocent people again!

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Caption 4. Following is the news: “This morning at nine A.M., a Lambretta was blown up by a Communist mine five kilometers outside Phung Hiep village. Two children were killed, three women wounded. The Communists continue to terrorize people!”

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Caption 5 .”Hello, sister Tu!”

“Why are you so late?”

“Hello, brother and sister. I am sorry I am late. I left early this morning, but we had to stop at the bridge because it was destroyed by a Communist bomb. We had to wait for the bridge to be repaired by a military engineering unit.”

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Caption 6. “Mr. Ba, you are asked to pay farm tax to to the Liberation Front!”

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Caption 7. “This year the crop is poor, but the Communists still collect taxes. It is a miserable situation. I have heard there is much security in Phung Phu village. There taxes are not collected by the Communists any more thanks to the Phoenix operation. I wonder why such an operation has not come to our village?” “Perhaps because nobody provides them with information! This afternoon the Phoenix operation agents posted a notice at the intersection. I will go and see it tomorrow.”

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Caption 8. “What is new, my friends?”

“There are two dangerous Communist cadres hiding in our village.”

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Caption 9. Here are the two Communist cadres sought by the Phoenix Operation. The wanted poster says: “Dear compatriots, If you know the hiding place of the two above named Communist cadres, please notify the national police or the armed forces. You will be rewarded, and your name will be kept secret.”

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Caption 10. The radio broadcast says, “Compatriots, please help your government by providing information indicating the hiding place of two Communists, Ba Luong and Hai Gon. You will be rewarded, and your name will be kept secret.”

“Did you hear that on the radio?”

“I knew it already. It is exactly the same as it has been posted on the wall at the intersection of the village.”

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Caption 11. “See, there are so many leaflets!”

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Caption 12. “Honey, what do they say in those leaflets?”

They are the same as those wall posters, as well as the announcements on the radio yesterday. The two Communists Ba Luong and Rai Gon are presently hiding in our village in order to collect taxes. I am determined to report to the Phoenix Operation Committee because I know their hiding place.”

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Caption 13. “Where are you going so early?”

“I am going to the district headquarters to report about what happened last night.”

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Caption 14. “Dear Sir, the two Communists you want are hiding in my village. They are hiding in the house number 80/2 by my village boundaries. They only go out at night. If you succeed in arresting them, please keep my name secret!”

“Thank you, Mr. Ba, your name will be kept secret.” (The Phoenix Operation provides security and prosperity to the people.)

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Caption 15. “Why are so many soldiers entering our village?”

“Perhaps they are conducting a military operation against the Communists in hiding.”

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Caption 16. “The two Communists are very dangerous. We can only have peace and security when they are captured.”

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Caption 17. “Ladies, do you know that the two Communists are captured? From now on our village will be secure. There will be no more assassinations or tax collectors. The Phoenix operation is very effective!”

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Caption 18. “Mr. Ba, since the two Communists are captured, our village is at peace. Too bad they are in jail! If they returned to our side beforehand, it could have been better for them!”

“They are obstinate indeed. Had they returned like Mr. Thanh from Long Dien village, they certainly would have enjoyed the government’s clemency. Mr. Thanh is now reunited with his family.”

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Caption 19. “Mr. Ba, you have some mail.”

“I wonder who sends you this mail?”

“Wait and see!”

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Caption 20. “What does the letter say?”

“Dear Mr. Ba, Since you have helped the government by providing information and undermining the local structures of the Communists, you will be rewarded accordingly. You are invited to attend the coming meeting of the Phoenix Operation Committee to receive your award. Sincerely yours.”

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Caption 21. Poster says: “Mr. Nguyen Van Thanh, former guerrilla at Long Dien village, Gia Rai District, Bac Lieu Province, has returned to the national side. He therefore is allowed to be reunited with his family.”

GLOSSARY

AA Air America: subsidiary airline of the Central Intelligence Agency which was active in Asia during the Vietnam War
Agroville (Khu Tru Mat): garrison community into which rural Vietnamese were forcefully relocated in order to isolate them from the Vietcong.
AID Agency for International Development: branch of the U.S. State Department responsible for advising the government of Vietnam, including the National Police
AIK Aid-in-Kind: nonmonetary aid
An Ninh The Vietcong’s internal security and propaganda service
APC Accelerated pacification campaign: pacification program begun November 1968 to increase the number of villages rated “secure” under the Hamlet Evaluation System
APT Armed propaganda team: platoon-size unit composed of soldiers with both a combat and psychological-warfare mission
ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam
ASA Army Security Agency: branch of the National Security Agency working with the U.S. Army to locate the Vietcong through its radio communications
Biet Kich Commando
Cadre Nucleus of trained personnel around which a larger organization can be built
CAP Combined Action Patrol: platoon-size unit composed of U.S. Marines and Vietnamese Territorial Forces
CAS Controlled American source: an employee of the CIA
CD Civilian detainee: Vietnamese civilian detained by U.S. or Vietnamese military forces
CDEC Combined Document Exploitation Center: formed October 1966 to support allied military operations primarily through the translation of captured enemy documents
CG Census Grievance: CIA coven action program designed to obtain information on the VCI through static agents in villages, or mobile agents in armed propaganda teams
CI Counterintelligence: that aspect of intelligence devoted to destroying the effectiveness of enemy intelligence activities
CICV Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam: created in 1965 to coordinate U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence operations
CID Criminal Investigation Division: branch of the U.S. Army charged with investigating crimes committed by American soldiers
CIDG Civilian Irregular Defense Group: U.S. Special Forces-trained village and tribal security and reaction forces
CINCPAC Commander in Chief, Pacific: the U.S. military headquarters in Hawaii to which the commander of MACV reported
CIO Central Intelligence Organization: formed in 1961 to coordinate South Vietnamese foreign and domestic intelligence operations
CIS Combined Intelligence Staff: formed in November 1966 to manage the attack against the VCI in Saigon and its environs
CMDC Capital Military District Command: formed in June 1968 to coordinate military and pacification operations in Saigon and its environs
CMEC Combined Materiel Exploitation Center: formed in 1965 to coordinate intelligence gained from the analysis of captured enemy materiel
CORDS Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support: organization established in May 1967 under MACV, designed to coordinate U.S. military and civilian operations and advisory programs in South Vietnam
COSVN Central Office of South Vietnam: mobile headquarters of the South Vietnamese insurgency, created in 1962
CPDC Central Pacification and Development Council: formed in 1968 by William Colby, who was then chief of CORDS, as a liaison staff to the office of the prime minister of South Vietnam
CPHPO Central Phung Hoang Permanent Office: formed in July 1968 to manage the South Vietnamese attack against the VCI
CSC Combined Security Committee: formed in 1964 to protect U.S. government personnel and facilities in Saigon and its environs
CT Counterterrorist: mercenary soldier employed by the CIA to kill, capture, and/or terrorize the VCI
CT IV Cong Tac IV (also known as Counterterror IV): joint U.S.-South Vietnamese program begun in December 1966, designed to eliminate the VCI in Saigon and its environs
CTSC Combined Tactical Screening Center: formed by the U.S. Army in 1967 to distinguish prisoners of war from civilian detainees
Cuc Nghien Cuu Central Research Agency: North Vietnamese intelligence service
DAO Defense Attache Office: U.S. military headquarters that replaced MACV in 1973 after the cease-fire
DCI Director of Central Intelligence: U.S. official in charge of managing the affairs of the CIA
DEPCORDS Deputy to the MACV commander for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support
DGNP Director General of the National Police: Vietnamese official in charge of the South Vietnamese police
DIOCC District Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center: office of the Phoenix adviser in each of South Vietnam’s 250 districts
DMZ Demilitarized zone: stretch of land along the seventeenth parallel, created in 1954 to separate North and South Vietnam
DSA District senior adviser: senior CORDS official in each of South Vietnam’s 250 districts
FI Foreign Intelligence: branch of the CIA charged with inserting agents within foreign governments
Free Fire Zone: Area in South Vietnam where U.S. military personnel had the authority to kill anyone they targeted
GAMO Group administrative mobile organization: French-advised and -outfitted combat unit composed of South Vietnamese soldiers
GCMA Composite airborne commando group: French-advised and -outfitted antiguerrilla unit composed mostly of Montagnards
GVN Government of Vietnam
HES Hamlet Evaluation System: computer system developed by the U.S. Defense Department in 1967 to measure trends in pacification
HIP Hamlet Informant program: CIA-funded program managed by CIA officers in liaison with the Special Branch of the South Vietnamese National Police in which secret agents were paid to identify VCI in hamlets
hooch: Dwelling occupied by rural Vietnamese
Hop Tac: Pacification Intensive Capital Area program, begun July 1964 to bring security to Saigon and its environs
HVRP High Values Rewards Program: bounty program proposed by the Phoenix Directorate in July 1971 to induce low- level VCI to turn in high-level VCI
ICEX Intelligence coordination and exploitation: original
name of the Phoenix program, formed in June 1967
IOCC Intelligence Operations and Coordination Center
IPA International Police Academy: school in the United States where the Agency for International Development through its Office of Public Safety trained policemen from foreign countries from 1963 to 1974
ISA International Security Affairs: office within the U.S. Defense Department responsible for supervising security assistance programs such as Phoenix in foreign countries, excluding NATO
JAG Judge Advocate General: chief prosecuting general within the U.S. armed forces
JGS Joint General Staff: command organization of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces
JI Personnel branch of the JGS or MACV
J2 Intelligence branch of the JGS or MACV
J3 Operations branch of the JGS or MACV
J4 Logistics branch of the JGS or MACV
JUSPAO Joint U .S. Public Affairs Office: formed in May 1965 under the office of the U.S. Information Agency in South Vietnam, to manage MACV psychological warfare operations and public relations
KKK Khmer Kampuchea Krom: Cambodian exiles trained by the CIA in South Vietnam
KMT Kuomintang: official ruling party of the Republic of China (Taiwan), formed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1911
LLDB Luc Luong Duc Biet: South Vietnamese Special Forces
LRRP Long-range reconnaissance patrol: small team of U .S. soldiers sent to gather behind-the-lines intelligence on enemy troops
LST Landing Ship Transport: naval vessel in which troops are often quartered
MACV Military Assistance Command, Vietnam: arrived in Saigon in February 1962 as a unified command under the Commander in Chief, Pacific, managing the U.S. military effort in South Vietnam
MAAG Military Assistance and Advisory Group: arrived in South Vietnam in November 1955 to provide support and training to the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces. Its function was absorbed by MACV in 1964.
MASA Military Assistance Security Adviser: U.S. military officer who manages a security assistance program in a foreign country
MAT Mobile advisory team: team of U.S. military personnel assigned to CORDS, charged with training and supporting the Territorial Security Forces of South Vietnam in a province or district
Mike Forces: Mobile strike force commands: corps-level units under the command of the 5th Special Forces
MOI Ministry of the Interior: branch of the GVN with authority over pacification, including Phung Hoang
MSS Military Security Service: counterintelligence branch of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces
MSUG Michigan State University Group: employees of Michigan State University contracted in 1954 to provide technical assistance to the GVN
NIC National Interrogation Center: CIA facility built in 1964 inside CIO headquarters in the naval shipyard in Saigon
NLF National Liberation Front: formed in 1960 by the various insurgent groups in South Vietnam
NPC National Police Command: organized in June 1971 to incorporate Phung Hoang within the existing National Police structure
NPCIS National Police Criminal Information System: computer system designed to track identified VCI
NPFF National Police Field Force: paramilitary branch of the National Police
NPIASS National Police Infrastructure Analysis Sub-Section: data bank containing biographical information on the VCI, used to plan countermeasures
NPIC National Police Interrogation Center: located at National Police headquarters on Vo Tanh Street in Saigon
NVA North Vietnamese Army
OCO Office of Civil Operations: formed in Saigon in November 1966 to manage U.S. pacification programs in South Vietnam
OSA Office of the Special Assistant: code name for the CIA station in Saigon
PA&E Pacific Architects and Engineers: private company that did construction work for the GVN
PAAS Pacification Attitude Analysis System: computer system designed to assess the political effects of CORDS pacification programs
PAT People’s action team: CIA version of the standard Vietcong armed propaganda team
PCOC Phoenix Coordinators Orientation Course: begun November 1968 at Vung Tau’s Seminary Camp to train Phoenix coordinators
PHMIS Phung Hoang Management Information System: computer system containing biographical and organizational data on the VCI, created January 1969
PHREEX Phung Hoang reexamination: study begun in 1971, designed to critique the Phoenix program
Phung Hoang: The mythological Vietnamese bird of conjugal love that appears in times of peace, pictured holding a flute and representing virtue, grace, and harmony. Also the name given to the South Vietnamese version of Phoenix
PIC Province Interrogation Center
PICC Province Intelligence Coordination Committee: established by decree in November 1964 to serve as the senior intelligence agency in each province, but never put into effect
PIOCC Province Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center: headquarters of the Phoenix adviser in each of South Vietnam’s forty-four provinces
PIRL Potential intelligence recruitment lead: VCI removed from the Phoenix blacklist and approached to become an agent of the CIA
PM Paramilitary: branch of the CIA that obtains intelligence through unconventional warfare operations
POIC Province officer in charge: senior CIA officer in a province, supervising both police liaison and paramilitary operations
PP Political and Psychological: branch of the CIA that manages black propaganda and political liaison activities
PRG Provisional Revolutionary Government: formed in June 1969 by the NLF to negotiate the reunification of North and South Vietnam
PRP People’s Revolutionary party: created in January 1962 as the southern branch of the Vietnamese Communist party
PRU Provincial Reconnaissance Units: mercenary forces under the control of the CIA in South Vietnam
PSA Province senior adviser: senior CORDS official in each of South Vietnam’s forty-four provinces
PSC Province Security Committee: nonjudicial body charged with the disposition of captured VCI
PSD Public Safety Division: branch of CORDS responsible for advising the National Police
PSCD Pacification Security Coordination Division: CIA component of CORDS
PSDF People’s self-defense forces: South Vietnamese civilian militia
psyops Psychological operations
psywar Psychological warfare
PTSD Post traumatic stress disorder: stress that continues after the traumatic event that caused it
RD Revolutionary Development: CIA program to build support for the GVN in the provinces of South Vietnam
RDC Revolutionary development cadre: South Vietnamese trained by the CIA at Vung Tau to persuade the citizens of South Vietnam to support the central government
RDC/O Revolutionary Development Cadre, Operations: CIA officer in charge of paramilitary operations in a province
RCD/P Revolutionary Development Cadre, Plans: CIA officer in charge of liaison with the Special Branch in a province
RF/PF Regional Forces and Popular Forces: a National Guard under the control of district and province chiefs
RMK/BRJ Raymond Morrison Knudson, Brown Root Jorgansen: private company that did construction work for the GVN
ROIC Region officer in charge: senior CIA officer in each of the four corps and Saigon
RVNAF Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces
S2 Sector intelligence adviser: senior MACV intelligence adviser to the South Vietnamese forces in a province
SACSA Special Assistant (to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities: office within the Joint Chiefs with responsibility for Phoenix policy
SARC Special airmobile resource control: method of interdicting VCI attempting to resupply armed Vietcong guerrillas
SAVA Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs: office in the CIA reporting directly to the Director of Central Intelligence on developments in South Vietnam
SCAG Saigon Capital Advisory Group
SEAL Sea-Air-Land: the U.S. Navy’s Special Forces
SES Special Exploitation Service: formed in April 1964 as the JGS counterpart to SOG, renamed Strategic Technical Directorate in September 1987
SIDE Screening, interrogation, and detention of the enemy: ICEX program begun in September 1967 to resolve the problem of separating genuine VCI from innocent civilian detainees
SIFU Special Intelligence Force Units: small units formed in 1971 to replace PRU, composed of Special Branch and Field Police
SMIAT Special Military Intelligence Advisory Team: formed in 1965 to mount sophisticated operations against the VCI
SMM Saigon Military Mission: CIA office formed in 1954 to help the South Vietnamese conduct psychological warfare against the Vietminh
Snatch and snuff Kidnap and kill
SOG Special Operations Group: joint CIA-military organization formed in 1964 to conduct operations outside South Vietnam in support of MACV, but under the control of SACSA
SP Special Police: term used in reference to the CIA-advised and -funded Special Branch of South Vietnamese National Police
Trung-doi biet kich Nham dou: people’s commando team, formed by Frank Scotton in 1964
USARV United States Army Republic of Vietnam: created July 1965 at Long Binh to control all logistical and administrative units of the U.S. Army in Vietnam
USIS United States Information Service: branch of the U.S. government responsible for conducting psychological operations overseas
TDY Temporary duty
TRAC Target Research and Analysis Section: created in January 1965 to develop targets for Strategic Air Command B-25s in support of MACV
VBI Vietnamese Bureau of Investigation: precursor organization to the Special Branch, also known as the Cong An
VC Vietcong: Vietnamese Communist
VCI Vietcong infrastructure: all Communist party members and NLF officers, plus Vietcong and NVA saboteurs and terrorists
VCS Vietcong suspect: Viemamese civilian suspected of being VCI
VIS Vietnamese Information Service: branch of the GVN responsible for conducting psychological operations in South Vietnam
VNQDD Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang: Vietnamese branch of the Kuomintang
VNTF Vietnam Task Force: office within ISA responsible for Vietnam

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