The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:51 am

CHAPTER 3: Covert Action

The dynamics of political warfare, as conceived by the Communists and copied by the CIA, revolved around armed propaganda teams. In South Vietnam a Vietcong armed propaganda team (APT) would enter a village at dusk, and the political cadres, being friendly and "upright," would go from person to person introducing themselves and getting everyone's attention. They would then gather everyone together for entertainment -- old tunes with a revolutionary twist -- followed by propaganda on GVN corruption and American war crimes, for example, a lecture on how American-made defoliants destroyed crops and caused disease or a skit depicting an American soldier raping a Vietnamese girl. Next came the obligatory self-criticism session, and last but not least, the recruitment of people into clandestine cells, liberation committees, guerrilla units, and informant nets.

As standard procedure, an armed propaganda team would return to the village to repeat the performance, and if the villagers resisted over a period of time, terror came into play. The APT would go through its routine, then announce that a spy had been discovered -- usually a secret policeman or corrupt village chief, sometimes a wife and children, too. The unfortunate person was put on trial before a "people's court" and, after being summarily convicted, was brutally murdered in the center of the village. A death notice was pinned to the body, and the body put on display.

The message was clear. The CIA determined early the economic advantages of this village-level selective terror approach. Only when selective terror was used by the CIA, it was called counterterror. The origin of the CIA's counterterror doctrine in South Vietnam may be traced to political warfare pioneer Ralph Johnson. A Chicago native, veteran of the Flying Tigers, and notorious ladies' man, whose most famous liaison was with Nguyen Cao Ky's wife, Johnson was described by one colleague as "a good-looking, fast-talking snake-oil salesman." [1] Johnson dubbed his counterterror doctrine Contre Coup and, in The Phoenix Program: Planned Assassination or Legitimate Conflict Management, describes it as "Turning the Communist terrorist strategy, which had proven effective, into a U.S.-Saigon pacification strategy." [2]

CIA officer Johnson formulated his theory in the Philippines in the mid-1950's and as a police adviser in Indonesia in 1957 and 1958, prior to the failed Sukarno coup. His cover having been blown in Jakarta, he was posted to Laos and assigned to the remote northern region bordering China and North Vietnam. There, working undercover for the Agency for International Development, Johnson began organizing Montagnard tribesmen and Pathet Lao defectors into Civic Action/commando teams on the Ed Lansdale "combat psywar" model.

In mid-1960, shortly before the Buddhist crisis, Johnson was transferred to Hue to serve as the CIA officer in charge of South Vietnam's northern provinces and to implement a program similar to the one he had created in Laos. In staffing the pilot programs they created, Johnson and his CIA colleagues spotted, vetted, and hired qualified military and police officers as agents. These Vietnamese nationals were detached from the military or the police and served at the pleasure of the local civilian authority. Such was the arrangement that enabled Johnson and Vietnamese Army Captain Le Xuan Mai to devise the Mountain Scouts, a political action program employing tactics and techniques Johnson had copied from the Communists and perfected in Laos.

According to Stu Methven, a veteran CIA officer who followed Johnson from Laos to Hue in early 1961, the Mountain Scouts were a unilateral CIA operation managed by CIA-funded province and district chiefs. The scouts were composed of Montagnard tribesmen recruited by Vietnamese agents in the CIA's employ. The "Yards" and their Vietnamese officers were then organized into fifteen-man teams that -- like the VC's armed propaganda teams -- had both paramilitary and political action capabilities. Their job, says Methven, was to "make the GVN presence felt outside the district capitals." Once inside a VC village, the Mountain Scout political officer would denounce the Communists and make a pro-GVN speech, co-written by Mai and Johnson. Other team members would take a census and make a map of the village. If possible, the team returned with defectors, left informers behind, and stuck a VC head on a pole as they left. The latter was a counterterror function, distinct from any strictly paramilitary function, which involved combat with enemy units.

Now a special assistant to the vice-president of the Center for Naval Analysis, Methven co-managed the Mountain Scout program with Ralph Johnson in 1961 and 1962. To counter what he perceived as rampant VC terror, Methven began extracting the most aggressive individuals from Mountain Scout teams and hiring mercenaries -- often Vietnamese convicts or Chinese Nungs -- to act as counterterrorists, to do unto the Vietcong's armed propaganda teams what they were doing to GVN officials. With the creation of these counterterror teams, the second of Phoenix's foundation stones was set in place.

Ralph Johnson defines the CTs as "small teams ... particularly well trained, aggressive, and consisting of a large percentage of former Viet Cong who had become disillusioned and were now violently anti-Viet Cong. Designed like SWAT units employed by the Police Departments of any major city, the Counter-Terror Teams were constituted of five to 20 men whose mission was to collect intelligence in Communist-controlled areas, as well as to apprehend key Viet Cong leaders. At maximum strength the Counter-Terror Teams never totaled more than 3,500 throughout all South Vietnam, but because of their CIA support, and the need to protect not only Team members but their families from Viet Cong reprisals, an aura of mystery and secrecy came to surround these units." [4]

With the appearance of CT teams in 1962, three separate and distinct programs began to emerge; political action, paramilitary, and counterterror. At this point Ralph Johnson was transferred to Saigon as an adviser to several important government officials, and the CIA station's chief of covert action, Cliff Strathern, assigned Methven the task of selling the Mountain Scout program to the province chiefs in I Corps and II Corps. Assisted by half a dozen CIA contract officers, Methven eventually installed the program in thirteen provinces with a force of fifteen thousand men. [5]

Selling the Mountain Scout program to province chiefs, what he called "fostering local initiatives," was easy, Methven recalled, "because we gave them money and supplies." Province chiefs also found the program attractive because as a unilateral CIA operation the Mountain Scouts were not under GVN control and because having the teams under their control strengthened the hand of province and district chiefs in their dealings with Saigon.

In expanding the Mountain Scout program, Methven noted, "MAAG was our biggest supporter." But in return for logistical support, MAAG ultimately assumed control. And being less concerned with political action than with fighting NVA and VC combat units, MAAG advisers began transforming the Mountain Scouts and other paramilitary CIDG teams from "static" defense groups into mobile strike (Mike) forces. The CIA, however, did not forsake its political action or counterterror missions, and while MAAG increased the size of the units under its control, the CIA purposely kept its CT and political action teams in small units -- usually fewer than two hundred men in a province -- and in this way maintained greater control over political developments at the local level.

With the militarization of the Mountain Scouts, hunter/killer teams first appeared on the scene. Composed of two or three Montagnards or mercenaries and one or two American advisers, the hunter team penetrated enemy areas, reconnoitered for intelligence, and conducted kidnapping and assassination (snatch and snuff) operations. When the hunter teams, which performed as counterterrorists, stumbled on large enemy troop concentrations, they called in killer teams in black, unmarked helicopters provided by the CIA. Although they worked in tandem, hunter teams were not under the operational control of killer teams.

Also at this time the CIA began using selective terror not just to do to the Vietcong what they were doing to GVN officials. Knowing that an act of selective terror against one Montagnard would send the whole village scurrying to a refugee center or a strategic hamlet, where they were then recruited into CIDG teams, the CTs began disguising themselves as Vietcong and committing acts of selective terror against ethnic rivals.

However, as became increasingly clear during the early 1960's, organizing favorable minorities through the CIDG program was not enough to stem the Communist tide. Through arrogance and repression, Diem had alienated the Buddhist majority, and even his generals were plotting against him. Meanwhile, the NLF was organizing more and more Buddhist villages, and the CIA was failing to do likewise on behalf of the GVN. As Jeffrey Race points out, "The [GVN] could not create a viable 'underground' apparatus like the Party's, because of the low level of motivation of the government's operatives and their lack of a sympathetic environment." [6]

For VC and CIA alike, the purpose of political action was threefold: to expand influence through propaganda and civic action, to organize villagers to fight enemy military units, and to destroy the enemy's infrastructure -- meaning that if the counterinsurgency was to succeed, the CIA had to create cadres that were every bit as motivated as the Vietcong. So, in the spirit of Contre Coup, the CIA turned to defectors to spread its message in the rural villages of Vietnam, in effect, into enemy territory.

According to William Colby, "The Armed Propaganda Team has [a number of] former Vietcong who are recruited to work for you .... Their function is to go around in the countryside and indicate to the people that they used to be Vietcong and that the government has received them and taken them in and that the Chieu Hoi [amnesty] program does exist as a way of VC currently on the other side to rally. They contact people like the families of known VC, and provide transportation to defector and refugee centers. [7]

As Colby explained, communication is the essence of political warfare. Thus, to understand political warfare and how Phoenix fits within that context, it is essential first to understand the role of language.

In its broadest political warfare application, language is the means by which governments, through subtle suggestion and disinformation, shape public opinion on issues. Communists and capitalists alike recognize the power of slogans and packaging to sell political as well as commercial products. For example, the Vietcong used language to peddle a totalitarian state in the guise of social justice, while language allowed Ed Lansdale to wrap the Diem dictatorship in the robe of Jesus Christ and sell it as a democracy. The difference in Vietnam, of course, was that the Vietcong slung their slogans at the rural population, proclaiming, "Land for the Landless," while Lansdale (who prior to World War II handled accounts for an advertising agency in San Francisco) declared straight-faced that "Christ has moved South," a pitch obviously aimed at the American public.

Lansdale was not unaware of what he was doing. The first objective of a covert action program is to create plausible denial -- specifically, in South Vietnam, to cloak the CIA's role in organizing GVN repression. The CIA did this by composing and planting distorted articles in foreign and domestic newspapers and by composing "official" communiques which appeared to have originated within the GVN itself. This disinformation campaign led predisposed Americans to believe that the GVN was a legitimately elected representative government, a condition which was a necessary prerequisite for the massive aid programs that supported the CIA's covert action programs. Insofar as language -- information management -- perpetuated the myth that Americans were the GVN's advisers, not its manufacturer, public support was rallied for continued intervention.

Next, the CIA judges a covert action program on its intelligence potential -- its ability to produce information on the enemy's political, military, and economic infrastructure. That is why the CIA's covert action branch operates as an intelligence arm under cover of civic action. What makes these intelligence operations covert is not any mistaken impression on the part of the enemy, but rather the CIA's ability to deny plausibly involvement in them to the American public. Here again, language is the key.

For example, during Senate hearings into CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, "plausible denial" was defined by the CIA's deputy director of operations Richard Bissell as the use of circumlocution and euphemism in discussions where precise definitions would expose covert actions and bring them to an end. [8]

The Church Committee report says, "In November 1962 the proposal for a new covert action program to overthrow Castro was developed. The President's Assistant, Richard Goodwin, and General Edward Lansdale, who was experienced in counter-insurgency operations, played major staff roles in creating this program, which was named Operation MONGOOSE." A special group was created to oversee Mongoose, and Lansdale was made its chief of operations. Those operations included "executive actions." [9]

A memo written by Lansdale and introduced during the hearings in part states that the "Attack on the cadre of the regime including key leaders ... should be a 'Special Target' operation. CIA defector operations are vital here. Gangster elements might prove the best recruitment potential for actions against police G-2 officials." When questioned about his language, Lansdale testified that the words "actions" and "attack" actually meant killing. He also testified that "criminal elements" were contracted for use in the attack against Castro. He euphemistically called these gangsters the Caribbean Survey Group. [10]

Further to ensure plausible denial, the CIA conducts covert action under cover of proprietary companies like Air America and the Freedom Company, through veterans and business organizations, and various other fronts. As in the case of fake newspaper articles and official communiques, the idea is to use disinformation to suggest initiatives fostering positive values -- freedom, patriotism, brotherhood, democracy -- while doing dirty deeds behind the scenes. In CIA jargon this is called black propaganda and is the job of political and psychological (PP) officers in the covert action branch. PP officers played a major role in packaging Phoenix for sale to the American public as a program designed "to protect the people from terrorism." [11]


Language, in its narrowest political-warfare application, is used to create defectors. Not only were defectors valued for their ability to sap the enemy's will to fight, but having worked on the inside, defectors were also the most accurate and timely source of intelligence on Vietcong and NVA unit strength and location. For that reason they made the best guides and trackers. After defecting, many returned immediately to their area of operations with a reaction force to locate hidden enemy arms or food caches. Others, upon turning themselves in, were screened and interrogated by security officers. Once turned, these defectors became penetration leads back into the VCI. Defectors who returned to their former positions inside enemy military units or political organizations were provided with a "secure" means of contacting their VBI case officer, whom they fed information leading to the arrest or ambush of enemy cadres, soldiers, and secret agents.

VBI case officers monitoring the defector program for potential recruits also conducted CIA-advised political reeducation programs for Communists and common criminals alike. Recycled wrongdoers were transformed by CIA advisers into counterterrorists and political action cadres who then co-opted former comrades, prepared leaflets, and conducted interrogations. Where hardened criminals were unavailable, counterterror elements were extracted from political action teams and hidden in sealed compounds inside Special Forces camps and CIA safe houses.

So it was that political and psychological warfare experts moved to the forefront of the counterinsurgency in the early 1960's, fighting, under cover of Civic Action, a plausibly deniable war against enemy agents and soldiers, using black propaganda, defectors, criminals (the entire Fifty-second Ranger Battalion was recruited from Saigon prisons), selective terror, forcible relocations, and racial hatred to achieve its goal of internal security.

The importance of information management in political warfare also meant a larger role in Vietnam for the U.S. Information Service (USIS). Ostensibly the overseas branch of the U.S. Information Agency -- performing the same propaganda and censorship functions outside America as the USIA performs within -- the USIS has as its raison d'etre promotion of the "American way" in its narrowest big business sense. In its crusade to convert the world into one big Chamber of Commerce, the USIS employs all manner of media, from TVs, radios, and satellites to armed propaganda teams, wanted posters, and counterterror.

The USIS officer most deeply involved in Phoenix was Frank Scotton. A graduate of American University's College of International Relations, Scotton received a U.S. government graduate assistantship to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. About the CIA-sponsored East-West Center, Scotton said in an interview with the author, "It was a cover for a training program in which Southeast Asians were brought to Hawaii and trained to go back to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to create agent nets." After passing the Foreign Service exam, Scotton was persuaded by a patron to join the USIS, which "dealt with people," unlike the State Department, which "observed from a distance." [12]

A fabulously charismatic personality, tall and swarthy, Scotton had recently returned from a trip to Thailand -- which included taking his teenage son on a patrol into Cambodia, where they were shot at by Khmer Rouge guerrillas -- when William Colby introduced us in 1986. According to Scotton, when he arrived in Saigon in November 1962, he was met by and fell under the influence of Everett Bumgartner, chief of USIS field operations in Vietnam. A Lansdale disciple, Bumgartner had launched wanted poster and defector programs in Laos in 1954 and implemented similar programs in Vietnam after he arrived there in 1959.

Bumgartner introduced Scotton to John Paul Vann, the senior adviser to the ARVN Seventh Division and a friend of Colonel Tran Ngoc Chau's, the controversial Kien Hoa Province chief. A graduate of Fort Bragg, where he roomed with Nguyen Van Thieu, Chau was a CIA asset who in 1962 had just finished a six-year tour as chief of the GVN's Psychological Warfare Service. Over the next ten years Chau's relationship with Scotton, Bumgartner and Vann came to symbolize Phoenix and the duplicitous nature of U.S. Vietnamese relations.

Scotton, Bumgartner, and Vann are described by Ngo Vinh Long in The CIA and the Vietnam Debacle:

Frank Scotton was the originator of the Provincial Reconnaissance Units program, the predecessor of the Phoenix program. For years he worked closely with John Paul Vann, the famous CIA operative who specialized, among other things, in black propaganda, which involved him in murder, forgery and the outright deception of the American press in order to discredit the NLF in particular and the opposition to American intervention in general. Everett Bumgartner was Colby's deputy and used to oversee pacification efforts in the central provinces of Vietnam. Any person who has the faintest knowledge of the pacification program would know what disasters have visited the Vietnamese people as a result of such programs. Bumgartner was also in charge of the Phoenix program in that area. [13]

When Scotton arrived in Vietnam, Bumgartner assigned him to the Central Highlands, the expansive area between Saigon and Qui Nhon City, the capital of Binh Dinh Province. Bumgartner thought there was "a vacuum of knowledge" in the highlands and directed Scotton "to energize the Vietnamese" in what Scotton calls "prerevolutionary development." As Scotton likes to say, "pacification wasn't even a term then." [14]

The emphasis at the time was on the strategic hamlet program -- separating the guerrilla fish from the sea of people through forced relocations. Begun in March 1962 with Operations Sea Swallow in Ca Mau Province and Royal Phoenix in Binh Dinh Province, more than four million Vietnamese had been relocated into strategic hamlets in most of South Vietnam's forty-four provinces by the time Scotton arrived in-country. The program was administered by CIA-advised province security officers reporting to Ngo Dinh Nhu's confidential agent in Saigon, the notorious double agent Pham Ngoc Thao. However, because VC guerrillas had at least the tacit support of the rural population, police and security officials had difficulty conducting law enforcement and intelligence operations outside strategic hamlets or other secure, generally urban areas. In following Bumgartner's orders to fill the vacuum of knowledge in Central Vietnam, Scotton told me, "We would take a Vietnamese employee of the Vietnam Information Service (VIS) and put him in the provincial information system and have him provide resources -- leaflets, school kits, films that sort of thing. In return we expected reporting."

Having placed his agent net, Scotton turned his attention to the job of "energizing" the Vietnamese. However, as a result of CIA machinations against his regime, Diem had instructed his provincial appointees to resist American influence and to blunt U.S. efforts to escalate the war against the Communists. Indeed, Diem's brother Nhu was secretly negotiating with the North Vietnamese in hopes of reaching a settlement before the United States found a pretext to call in the Marines, as the Pentagon seemed intent on doing.

In looking for motivated individuals to mold into political cadres, Scotton turned to the CIA's defector program, which in April 1963 was placed under cover of the Agency for International Development and named the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty program. There Scotton found the raw material he needed to prove the viability of political action programs. Together with Vietnamese Special Forces Captain Nguyen Tuy (a graduate of Fort Bragg's Special Warfare Center who commanded the Fourth Special Operations Detachment) and Tuy's case officer, U.S. Special Forces Captain Howard Walters (a Korean War veteran and psywar expert), Scotton worked through an extension of the Mountain Scout program Ralph Johnson had established in Pleiku Province.

As part of a pilot program designed to induce defectors, Scotton, Walten, and Tuy crossed the An Lao Valley, set up an ambush deep in Vietcong territory, and waited till dark. When they spotted a VC unit, Scotton yelled through a bullhorn, "You are being misled! You are being lied to! We promise you an education!" Then, full of purpose and allegory, he shot a flare into the night sky and hollered, "Walk toward the light!" To his surprise, two defectors did walk in, convincing him and his CIA sponsors that "a deter- mined GVN unit could contest the VC in terms of combat and propaganda."

Back in camp, according to Scotton, "We told the VC defectors that they had to divest themselves of untruths. We said that certainly the U.S. perpetrated war crimes, but so did the VC. We acknowledged that theirs was the stronger force, but that didn't mean that everything they did was honorable and good and just." In this manner, Scotton indoctrinated cadres for his political action teams. [15]


But these were tumultuous times in South Vietnam, as wild as the 1955 battle for Saigon. In early 1963, two hundred lightly armed VC guerrillas routed an ARVN force of twenty-five hundred, advised by John Vann and supported by U.S. bombers and helicopters at Ap Bac, a mere forty miles from Saigon. The incident reaffirmed what everyone already suspected: that the top-heavy, bloated, corrupt ARVN was no match for the underequipped, starving, but determined Vietcong.

Next, Diem's brother Thuc, the archbishop of Hue, forbade the display of Buddhist flags at a ceremony in Hue commemorating the 2587th birthday of Buddha. A demonstration led by Buddhist priest Thich Tri Quang erupted on May 8, and Nhu sent the LLDB in to put it down. In doing so, they killed nine people, mostly women and children. Official communiques blamed VC "terrorists," but the Buddhists knew better; they strengthened their alliance with the NLF and began organizing massive demonstrations. On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in Saigon. Soon others were doing likewise across Vietnam. "Let them burn," Madame Nhu, the Dragon Lady, cooed, "and we shall clap our hands." [16]

Two months later, while Nhu negotiated with the North Vietnamese and the Joint General Staff pressured Diem to declare martial law, a South Vietnamese Special Forces unit disguised as ARVN troops attacked Saigon's Xa Loi Temple, the city's most sacred Buddhist shrine. Buddhists immediately took up arms and began fighting the LLDB in Hue. The spectacle was repeated across Vietnam, as thousands of Buddhists were arrested, jailed, and summarily executed. In response, on August 21, 1963, the Special Group in Washington ordered the CIA to pull the financial plug on the Vietnamese Special Forces. The search for a more dependable, unilaterally controlled army began, and the nascent counterterror teams emerged as the most promising candidates.

Meanwhile, in Saigon Diem's downfall was originating within his own palace guard. CIA asset Tran Van Don conspired with secret police chief Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen, NVA double agent Pham Ngoc Thao, and, among others, General Duong Van Minh (known as Big Minh), who had the backing of the Dai Viets in the ARVN. Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu and Tran Thien Khiem joined the plot. In October President Kennedy suspended economic aid, and the pope ordered Thuc to leave his post in Hue, a decision "that eased the conscience of the Catholic plotters." [17]

As plotters swirled around them, Nhu and Diem instructed the Vietnamese Special Forces chief Colonel Le Quang Tung to prepare a counter-coup. But Tung was summoned to the senior officers' club at Joint General Staff headquarters and shot dead by Big Minh's personal bodyguard. That prompted III Corps Commander General Ton That Dinh to withdraw the Special Forces under his command from Saigon. The CIA-controlled palace guard vacated the premises, and the military began arresting Diem loyalists. Knowing the end was near, Nhu and Diem fled to a friend's house in Cholon, then sought sanctuary in a nearby church. Soon a military convoy arrived, arrested them, and took them for a ride. When the convoy reached Hong Thap Tu Alley, between Cao Thang and Le Van Duyet streets, the brothers were shot dead. "The military men in the vehicle, who hated Nhu, stabbed his corpse many times." [18]

America endured a similar bloodletting three weeks later, when President John Kennedy was caught in a crossfire of gunfire in Dallas, Texas. The assassination, curiously, came shortly after Kennedy had proposed withdrawing U.S. advisers from Vietnam. Three days after JFK's death, President Lyndon Johnson signed National Security Action Memorandum 273, authorizing planning for covert military operations against North Vietnam. Conceived in secrecy, the ensuing policy of "provoked response" paved the way for full-scale U.S. military intervention for which the CIA was laying the groundwork through its three-part covert action program in South Vietnam's provinces.

On December 19, 1963, the Pentagon's planning branch in the Pacific, CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific), presented its plans to the Special Group. Two weeks later LBJ approved OPLAN 34A, and Marine General Victor Krulak, SACSA, handed operational control to MACV. The Special Operations Group (SOG) was formed in Saigon to implement OPLAN 34A, and attacks against North Vietnam began in February from Phoenix Island off the coast of Da Nang.

On July 31, 1964, SOG achieved its goal of creating a provoked response. That night SEALs Elton Manzione and Kenny Van Lesser led twenty South Vietnamese marines in a raid against Ron Me Island. Dropped at the wrong end of the island, Manzione and Van Lesser failed to knock out their target -- an NVA radar installation -- but the raid did push the North Vietnamese into attacking the USS Maddox, which was monitoring NVA electronic defenses activated by the attack. The incident was sold to the American public as a North Vietnamese "first strike" and resulted in Congress's passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resulting air strikes against North Vietnam are cited by many historians as the start of the Vietnam War. Tonkin Gulf also allowed LBJ to sell himself as tougher than Republican candidate Barry Goldwater and to win the 1964 presidential election.

In Saigon, South Vietnamese armed forces Commander Duong Van Minh, who was supported by the important generals, the Dai Viets, and the CIA, surfaced as the new chief of state. Big Minh appointed General Khiem III Corps commander, and, in league with Nguyen Van Thieu, had General Ton That Dinh, the Vietnamese Military Security Service chief Mai Huu Xuan, CIO chief Nguyen Van Y, and Tran Van Don arrested. Generals Thieu and Khiem then used the unpopular arrests to undercut Big Minh, their main adversary, whom they replaced with General Duong Van Khanh. General Khanh, in the spirit of the times, called for an invasion of North Vietnam. But the plan was subverted three days later, when Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky -- fired from Operation Haylift for smuggling opium on his "black" flights -- revealed that the CIA had been sending teams into North Vietnam since July 1963. Diem's spy chief, Dr. Tuyen, was sent into honorable exile as ambassador to Egypt. NVA double agent Pham Ngoc Thao temporarily escaped detection and was appointed Ben Tre province chief; he served until 1965, when he was killed by Thieu, who suspected Thao of working against him on behalf of Ky. Thieu, Khiem, and Ky emerged as the big three power brokers and invited Dai Viet leaders Nguyen Ton Hoan and Professor Huy to return from ten years' exile in France to join a new but very loose coalition government. [19]

In the wake of the coup, according to Frank Scotton, "administrative paralysis set in. The VC exploited that and physically dismantled the strategic hamlets as despised symbols of the GVN." And as the grateful inmates returned to their villages, the country erupted in open revolt. Even the road leading from Saigon to John Vann's headquarters in My Tho was unsafe, so in December 1963 Ev Bumgartner sent Scotton to Long An Province, a few miles south of Saigon. Scotton brought along his political cadre from Quang Ngai Province, Civic Action recruits were provided by the Long An province chief, and Scotton set about "seeing what was wrong and getting a fix on the hamlets." He did this by using "small armed teams seeking information." [20]

Working with the American province adviser, Scotton organized three survey teams, which operated in three neighboring hamlets simultaneously: Each six-member team was equipped with black pajamas, pistols, a radio, and a submachine gun. Standard procedure was to regroup at the last moment before daybreak, then shift at dawn to a fourth hamlet, where the team would sleep during the day. At night they sat beside trails used by the VC cadres they had identified during visits to the hamlets. When Vietcong armed propaganda teams under their surveillance departed from a hamlet, Scotton's cadre would move in and speak to one person from each household, so the VC "would have to punish everyone after we left. But that never happened. A woman VC leader would bring in a unit after us," Scotton added, "but there were never any recriminations.

"The mission of these survey teams," according to Scotton, "was intelligence, not an attack on the VCI. But Long An proved the viability of small units. I felt confident that motivated small units could go in and displace the VC simply by their presence. Will and intent had to be primary, though; if they were, then the method generated useful reports."

With Diem dead, three quarters of South Vietnam's province chiefs fired from their jobs, and no more prohibitions on taking CIA money, the time was ripe for "local initiatives." Local officials, along with legions of Diem loyalists purged from government after the coup, were hired by the CIA and put in management positions in its covert action programs in the provinces and districts. But it was an American war now, with GVN stature at an all-time low, making it harder than ever to wage political war. And of course the situation was exploited by the North Vietnamese, who started infiltrating regular NVA troops, not just regroupees, into South Vietnam.

Other changes were also forthcoming as a result of the coup. With Operation Switchback and the transfer of the CIDG program to MACV, Ralph Johnson launched a new covert action program in Dam Pao outside Pleiku. Called Truong Son, it organized Montagnards into small units having civic action, counterterror, and intelligence functions. Meanwhile, Stu Methven was assigned to the Delta to stimulate "local initiatives" among the new generation of province chiefs.

Methven's plan was to create a three-part program with separate teams for civic action, counterterror, and intelligence. However, because the fighting was less intense in the Delta than in central Vietnam, Methven advocated easily monitored teams no larger than six men each -- the type Scotton was toying with in Long An. Methven also incorporated ideas developed in Kien Hoa Province by Tran Ngoc Chau, whose innovative census grievance teams were proving quite successful. Using Chau's and Scotton's programs as his models, Methven sold "local initiatives" to province chiefs across South Vietnam.

Behind every province chief, of course, was a CIA paramilitary officer promoting and organizing the CIA's three-part covert action program. Walter Mackem, who arrived in Vietnam in early 1964, was one of the first. After spending two months observing the CIDG program in Ban Me Thuot, Mackem was transferred to the Delta to institute similar programs in An Giang, Chau Doc, Sa Dec, and Vinh Long provinces. Mackem also reported directly to Washington on the political activities of the various sects and favorable ethnic minorities in his area of operations, the most important of which were the Hoa Hao (Theravada Buddhists) and the closely related ethnic Cambodians, the Khmer.

According to Mackem, there were no counterterror teams prior to his arrival on the scene. What did exist were private armies like the Sea Swallows, and those belonging to the sects. It was from these groups, as well as from province jails and defector programs, that Mackem got recruits for his CT teams. The composition of the teams differed from province to province depending "on what form opposition to the GVN took, and on the motives of the province chief" -- as Mackem puts it, "if he wanted the CT program tidy or not." The biggest contributors to Mackem's CT teams were the Khmer, who "didn't get along with the Vietnamese," while the armed propaganda team served as "a Hoa Hao job corps." [21]

Mackem personally selected and trained his CT and political action cadres. He dressed in black pajamas and accompanied them on missions deep into enemy territory to snatch and snuff VCI cadres. "I wandered around the jungle with them," Mackem admitted. "I did it myself. We were free-wheeling back then. It was a combination of The Man Who Would Be King and Apocalypse Now!"

To obtain information on individual VCI in GVN villages, according to Mackem, the CTs relied on advisers to the VBI, "the liaison types who set up an Embassy House." Information on VCI members in their own villages, or those in dispute, was provided by undercover agents in the villages, who, because of their vulnerability, "had a more benevolent approach [toward the VCI] than the police."

Such was the situation following the coup. The Vietcong controlled most of the countryside, and the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigations had little role to play outside Saigon and the major cities. In the countryside counterterror and armed propaganda teams, aided by secret agents in the villages, gathered intelligence on and attacked the Vietcong infrastructure. Meanwhile, U.S. airplanes, artillery, and combat units arrived and began driving the rural population into refugee camps or underground. However, the division of labor within the CIA station, which pitted police advisers against paramilitary advisers, had to be resolved before an effective attack on the VCI could be mounted, and first, the CIA would have to incorporate its covert action programs within a cohesive strategy for political warfare. Such is the subject of the next chapter.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:52 am

CHAPTER 4: Revolutionary Development

In February 1964 Frank Scotton returned to Qui Nhon to work on what Ogden Williams, the senior American adviser in neighboring Quang Ngai Province, called "a Phoenix-type thing." In developing this Phoenix-type program, Scotton teamed up with Ian Tiege, an Australian paramilitary adviser on contract to the CIA, and Major Robert Kelly, the MACV district adviser. "Kelly was the American on the spot," Scotton recalled. "I advised on training and deployment." [1] Tiege was the professional soldier, deciding how to fight the enemy.

Formal relations between MACV and CIA officers at the district level had begun only one month earlier, when General William Westmoreland arrived in Saigon as MACV commander and, in an effort to strengthen the American hand, assigned MACV advisers to each of South Vietnam's 250 districts. Military intelligence advisers assigned to the Fifth Special Forces also entered the districts at this point. However, coordination among MACV advisers, CIA officers, and their Vietnamese counterparts depended primarily on personal relationships and varied from place to place.

Notably, the impetus for Scotton's Phoenix-type program on the Vietnamese side came from the Tu Nghia District police chief, Colonel Pham Tuong. A long-standing CIA asset, Tuong anted up a platoon of volunteers, all of whom had been victimized by the VC, in exchange for equipment, money, and advice. "They wanted to fight," Scotton said, "but they didn't want to lose." Money and supplies were provided by Ralph Johnson. A fifteen-day "accelerated" training cycle was set up using what Scotton called his motivational indoctrination program. Modeled on Communist techniques, the process began on "a confessional basis. On the first day," according to Scotton, "everyone would fill out a form and write an essay on why they had joined." The district's Vietnam Information Service representative "would study their answers and explain the next day why they were involved in a special unit. The instructors would lead them to stand up and talk about themselves." This motivational function was handled by the unit's morale officer, chosen by his peers through what Scotton referred to ''as the only honest elections held in South Vietnam." The morale officer's job, he said, "was to keep people honest and have them admit mistakes."

Not only did Scotton co-opt Communist organizational and motivational techniques, but he also relied on Communist defectors as his cadre. "We felt ex-Vietminh had unique communication skills. They could communicate doctrine, and they were people who would shoot," he explained, adding, "It wasn't necessary for everyone in the unit to be ex-Vietminh, just the leadership."

In copying the Communists, Scotton was selective. "People from the other side knew the value of motivation, but they confessed too much. So we refined the technique based on what the Vietminh disliked the most: that the party set itself up as the sole authority. We didn't have the party as number one. We had the group as the major motivational factor."

Key to Scotton's motivational indoctrinational program was the notion of a "special" unit. To enhance this esprit de corps, Scotton's units were better equipped and better paid than regular ARVN units. Carbines were replaced with submachine guns, and instead of wearing uniforms, the cadres wore black pajamas -- just like the average Vietnamese. Scotton's teams were also special insofar as they reported directly to the province security chief and, ipso facto, the CIA.

"Tuong's original group was thirty-four," Scotton said, noting that Quang Ngai was a more heavily contested province than Long An and that the teams required more men and greater firepower, "so we bumped it up to forty and started a second group in an adjacent district. That's three teams of twelve men each, strictly armed. The control element was four men: a commander and his deputy, a morale officer, and a radioman. These are commando teams," Scotton stressed, "displacement teams. The idea was to go into contested areas and spend a few nights. But it was a local responsibility so they had to do it on their own."

Scotton named his special unit the Trung-doi biet kich Nham dou (people's commando teams). "Two functions split out of this," Scotton said. "First was pacification under Nguyen Be. Second was the anti-VCI function taken out to form the Provincial Reconnaissance Units. The PRU thing directly evolves from this." Indeed, the phrase "Biet Kich," meaning "commando," is the name the Vietnamese applied to counterterrorists and later the PRU.


Concurrent with the creation of the people's action teams (PATs), as Scotton's teams were renamed by station chief Peer DeSilva, there began a synthesis of White House policies and police and paramilitary programs that culminated three years later in Phoenix. It was, in effect, a blueprint for political warfare, conceptualized by Ralph Johnson, adapted to Vietnamese sensibilities by Le Xuan Mai, and formalized by Frank Scotton, Bob Kelly, Ian Tiege, and Stu Methven. At its heart was the doctrine of Contre Coup, particularly the notion of counterterror, which more than any other factor seized the imagination of station chief DeSilva, under whose direction the synthesis began.

In his autobiography, Sub Rosa, DeSilva describes arriving in Vietnam in December 1963 and being introduced to VC terror by one of his CIA officers. Two VC cadres had impaled a young boy, a village chief, and his pregnant wife on sharp poles. "To make sure this horrible sight would remain with the villagers, one of the terror squad used his machete to disembowel the woman, spilling the fetus onto the ground." Having arrived on the scene moments after the atrocity had occurred, DeSilva writes, "I saw them, the three impaled bodies and the unborn child lying in the dirt. A Catholic member of the village was making the sign of the cross over each body, murmuring a prayer in Vietnamese." [2]

A white-collar intelligence officer who put agent work above political warfare, DeSilva was shocked by what he saw. "The Vietcong," he writes, "were monstrous in their application of torture and murder to achieve the political and psychological [author's emphasis] impact they wanted." But DeSilva also recognized that "This implacable use of terror in its own way served an intelligence purpose," that "A bloody act of terror in a populated area would immobilize the population nearby, make the local inhabitants responsive to the Vietcong and, in return, unresponsive to the government element requests for cooperation." [3]

So DeSilva authorized the extraction of counterterror teams from Scotton's Political Action Teams. He describes this "radically different form of activity" as "a counterterror program consisting of small teams," dressed in black pajamas, armed with folding stock carbines which could be hidden under their black tunics, and with grenades carried in the pockets of their loose-fitting shorts. [4]

The idea, DeSilva continues, was "to bring danger and death to the Vietcong functionaries themselves, especially in the areas where they felt secure. We had obtained descriptions and photographs of known cadres who were functioning as committee chiefs, recruiters, province representatives and heads of raiding parties. Based on these photographs and their known areas of operation, we had recruited really tough groups of individuals, organized in teams of three or four, who were willing and able by virtue of prior residence to go into the areas in which we knew the Vietcong senior cadres were active and to see what could be done to eliminate them." [5]

Here DeSilva is describing Phoenix, the attack on the VCI on its own turf, using intelligence provided by commandos and selective terror conducted by counterterrorists. One of the soldiers who participated in DeSilva's counterterror program was Elton Manzione. A self-described "supersoldier," Manzione received extensive training in hand-to-hand combat, combat swimming, sniping, parachuting, and demolition. When his schooling was completed, Manzione was dropped in the jungles of Panama with a knife and a compass and told to find his way out, and he did. "By then," he noted with no small degree of understatement, "I was fairly competent."

In December 1964 Manzione left California aboard an oil tanker and, ten days later, crossed over to a guided missile destroyer, the USS Lawrence, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To ensure plausible denial, Manzione's service records were "sheep-dipped" and indicate that he never got off the Lawrence.

Manzione stepped ashore in Cam Ranh Bay in January 1964 and was met by a Special Forces colonel who briefed him on his mission. Manzione was told he would be working for the Special Operations Group under a number of directives called OPLANS which had been drawn up to accomplish specific goals. Insofar as SOG had absorbed the Combined Studies Group, he would be working for U.S. Army and civilian personnel, as well as the U.S. Navy. He was sent to the Hoa Cam Training Center near Da Nang, where in 1961 Ralph Johnson had based the Mountain Scout training camp and where in 1964 the CIA trained its special operations personnel in long-range reconnaissance patrols.

At Hoa Cam Manzione completed an intensive orientation course. He was taught advanced tracking and camouflage techniques, made familiar with Soviet and Chinese weapons, put on a steady diet of Oriental food, told not to bathe and not to shave. And he was briefed on the various OPLAN directives and goals. "The actual goals were to stop the infiltration from the North of arms and supplies," he recalled. "How did they phrase it? 'Undermining the enemy's ability to fight in the South.' Another goal was to deal with enemy violations of the international accords -- I'm assuming the 1962 Geneva Accords. It meant taking out command centers in Laos. And there was anti- infrastructure stuff, too."

Manzione was next assigned to Nam Dong in the Central Highlands, where he and two other SEALs were quartered inside a U.S. Special Forces camp. "Basically what they said was, 'Welcome to Nam Dong. This is the town you'll work out of. You're gonna get orders to do something, and the orders are going to be verbal.' The orders were always verbal and never said, 'Do this specifically.' It was always 'Go there and do what you think you ought to do.' It was so free-form it was hard to connect being in the military, let alone the Navy."

In March the SEALs started running "over-the-fence" missions as part of SOG's Leaping Lena program. Three quarters of the missions were in Laos, the demilitarized zone, and North Vietnam. At times the SEALs sat along the Ho Chi Minh Trail counting enemy troops and trucks. Other times they moved from one set of coordinates to another, reconnoitering. They also shot field-grade NVA officers, kidnapped prisoners, escorted defectors from the North to the South, demolished downed U.S. aircraft, and engaged in counterterror.

In regard to this last function, the SEALs worked with CTs, whom Manzione described as "a combination of ARVN deserters, VC turncoats, and bad motherfucker criminals the South Vietnamese couldn't deal with in prison, so they turned them over to us. Often they'd been pardoned to fight Communists. Some actually had an incentive plan: If they killed X number of Commies, they got X number of years off their prison terms." The CTs taught Manzione and his SEAL comrades the secrets of the psywar campaign, which in practice meant exploiting the superstitions, myths, and religious beliefs of the Vietnamese. One technique was based on the Buddhist belief that a person cannot enter heaven unless his liver is intact. So Manzione would snatch an NVA courier off the Ho Chi Minh Trail or sneak into a VCI's hooch at night, crush the man's larynx, then use his dagger to remove the man's liver. Some of the CTs would actually devour their enemies' vital organs.

In the summer of 1964 Manzione was assigned to SOG's northern headquarters in Dong Ha. "Back then," he said, "being as close to the DMZ as we were, it was hard to tell where any particular Vietnamese civilian came from." Here he referred to the fact that the demilitarized zone separated families and communities without regard for their political affiliations. In light of this ambiguity, 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." [6]

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.

The subliminal purpose of terror tactics was to drive people into a state of infantile dependence. In this sense, CIA psywar experts were not exorcists come to heal Vietnam and free it from Communist demons; their spells were meant to break up the society and project its repressed homicidal impulses onto the Communists -- cast as carrion and snakes.

"It was all part of the counterterror doctrine developed by the Ugly American to beat the enemy at his own game," Elton Manzione said. In beating the VC at their own game, the SEALs were told to ignore the rules of engagement. "Our camp was always separate," he explained. "Just CTs and us. Sometimes a Special Forces colonel would walk in, but rarely. Nam Dong was not populated by the spooky hunter-killer type folks you associate with the Green Berets. A lot of them were medical specialists, or agricultural specialists, or language specialists that worked with the villagers on different things. So the great majority of this particular Special Forces camp were not hit team types. We were, however, and our camp was separated by wire and a gate.

"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."

Having seen the intelligence potential in Scotton's PATs and CTs, DeSilva, according to Stu Methven, "decided he wanted a version in each province in South Vietnam." The job of standardizing the political action teams, along with the counterterrorists and Chau's Census Grievance program, was given to Methven, whose first step was to find them a permanent home on the Vung Tau Peninsula. Methven did this with the help of Tran Quoc Buu, a wealthy Vietnamese warlord and founding member of the Can Lao party who in 1954 had headed the CIA-funded Vietnamese Federation of Labor. Buu had been charged by Diem with laundering Can Lao rake offs through the federation's foreign accounts. Buu, however, pocketed the money and used it to buy huge parcels of land, including a portion of Vung Tau.

After the coup the tables turned on Buu, whose association with Diem led to his imprisonment; in need of cash to buy his way out of jail, he sold Methven a choice piece of property on the Vung Tau Peninsula. Located at Cat Lo, Buu's estate had been used by the French as a transshipment point in their lucrative opium trade and as a training camp for their Montagnard maquis. Buu himself had used Cat Lo as a training camp for his private army of resettled Catholic refugees. Called the Shrimp and Cinnamon Soldiers, for their civilian jobs, Buu's troops were highly motivated and, according to Methven, were admired by Nguyen Van Thieu because "unlike the ARVN, they stayed at their posts at night." With Thieu's consent, Methven arranged for CIA contract employees to start training counterterror, census grievance, and political action cadres at Buu's Vung Tau facility. This was a unilateral CIA operation, extralegal, with no GVN oversight. Isolated and accessible only by Air America, Vung Tau was the perfect place for such a covert action undertaking.

Vung Tau became the seedbed of the CIA's political cadres, who were trained to enter VC villages, to convince the people that the GVN represented their interests and, having done that, to help the villagers form self-defense forces to fight the VC. However, the generals who dominated the GVN viewed the image of an armed citizenry with alarm and were reluctant to support the program. Even MACV commander Westmoreland argued that anyone with a gun should be in the army. Thus, before the GVN could join the synthesis, it first had to put its house in order -- which, in the summer of 1964, was a remote possibility at best.

To begin with, the Montagnards had mutinied against their Special Forces officers in Ban Me Thuot and four other districts, temporarily diverting the CIA's attention. Meanwhile, the Dai Viets had assumed control of the government, created a Directorate of Political Warfare, and established their own pacification program managed by Professor Nguyen Van Huy. Called Rural Construction and centered in Thu Duc, the program used mobile cadre teams to organize villagers into pro-GVN associations. But the Dai Viets were split internally over the issue of allowing VNQDD cadres into the program, and when other, more powerful Dai Viets launched an unsuccessful coup against General Khanh in April, Huy and his associates were exiled once again.

With the CIDG program and the GVN in shambles, the CIA looked to its nascent Vung Tau program for stability. The CIA officer chosen to build the facility and create a national pacification program that could maintain operations independently of the GVN by fostering local initiatives was a garrulous, blustering Irish-American named Tom Donohue. A product and practitioner of Cook County politics, Donohue resembled W.C. Fields in looks and mannerisms and, you get the feeling, in ethics, too; to wit, he joined the CIA when he perceived the cold war as "a growth industry." When he spoke, his words came in melodramatic exclamations. As he pondered, he paced nervously, like a pool hustler circling the table, picking his next shot. In all these respects, Donohue was the prototypical CIA officer -- a cagey position player using a glib exterior to mask a calculating mind.

When we met in 1986, Tom Donohue was working as the Mideast representative for a Filipino construction company. When he arrived in Saigon twenty-two years earlier to replace Cliff Strathern as chief of covert action, he worked under State Department cover in the embassy's political office. One of his jobs at the time, he said, was managing "a small training camp down in Vung Tau which had about a hundred students run by a very dynamic guy -- Le Xuan Mai.

"I spent a lot of time with Mai," Donohue recalled, "and was mighty impressed. Mai was a wizard at appealing to a particular sensory element the Vietnamese seemed to have about the fatherland. He had the ability to interweave Vietnamese myth and modern-day nationalism that seemed somehow to make an impact on the tutored and the untutored alike. He was trilingual," Donohue said with admiration, "but he was controversial. What kind of army officer goes around talking about fairies and dragons?" [8]

Donohue immediately picked up where Stu Methven had left off, hammering out a deal with the minister of the interior to rent an even larger chunk of the Vung Tau Peninsula. He then got Mai a promotion to major and arranged for "a guy who had been training agency people to come up with three or four others to run the camp. This is an early program called armed propaganda team," what he termed an armed social working element.

"Anyway," Donohue said, "I decided this was the route we should be following, and I began looking for a means of expanding the program. I got rid of most of the other stuff I had responsibility for, and from that point on programming evolved rapidly. We began to build up the program with more and more officers coming in from Washington on permanent change of station."

Donohue leased a Catholic seminary, whose owners had "decided it was time to cut and run," and used Seminary Camp, as it became known, as headquarters for his staff. "It was really just a stopgap," Donohue explained, "but it gave us the ability to have a good permanent base. "Then we started building our training facility -- Ridge Camp. It was five miles beyond the airport, so we built roads. We built barracks, mess halls, classrooms, armories, and offices. We built a training camp for five thousand and opened it on the fifteenth of January, 1965."

Having put his management team and facilities in place, Donohue next had to demonstrate that the CIA could develop people's action teams for every province, which meant centralized training and using Scotton's forty-man model from Quang Ngai. Donohue also arranged for the training of CTs and Census Grievance cadre. To manage the CT training program, he imported "a couple of guys from headquarters. They were experts. They taught how to get in, how to abduct prisoners, and how to get the hell out with good sources for interrogation. I brought them out TDY and kept talking them into extending, and they both ended up doing a full tour." Both, Donohue said in 1986, "are still gainfully employed by the CIA."

Donohue's pet program was Census Grievance, "the most sophisticated program in the whole goddamned country -- the most effective political tool, if you accept the fact that the government really didn't care what people thought or what their political needs were." Noting that the VC had made the problem worse by cutting the lines of communication, "through the skillful use of terror," Donohue said, "the population had been cut adrift, and Census Grievance was the ersatz system that allowed us to say, 'We accept the fact that there are no normal political lines of influence, so we'll put this on and hope to God we can jump-start this body politic.'"

Donohue explained Census Grievance like this: "Everybody knows the government takes a census, so you'd have a guy make a map of every house in the village -- put everything into perspective. Then the edict was issued that once a month every head of household had to talk to the Census Grievance officer. We tried to get somebody from the village who was older -- retired teachers, retired civil servants -- older people who appeared harmless but were respected." To make it possible for a head of household to speak privately with the Census Grievance officer, "We would put together a little two-by-four shack (patterned on the Catholic confessional) so that there ain't nobody else around.

"Basically the census, scaled down, had three questions: (One) What would you like the GVN to do for you? All of the basic precinct-type needs. 'A bridge across this particular canal would save us a three-mile walk to get our produce to market.' Very legitimate needs. (Two) Is there anybody in the GVN giving you a hard time? Are the police at the checkpoint charging you a toll every time you take your rutabagas to market? (Three) Is there anything you want to tell me about the Vietcong? If the answer was no, the whole thing wasn't pursued, but once a month the head of household had to touch base. If the Census Grievance officer finds that X number of people say they need a bridge, you begin to get a consensus. Okay, money is allocated. If it went to the wrong things, you might as well keep it back here. So the point we would make with the province and district chiefs was 'This is a political need. If you are responsive to it, people will look at you in a different light.'"

"Census Grievance produced a good bit of intelligence," Donohue concluded. "So did the cadre program. But there were areas that were so tough and so inaccessible that there was just no intelligence coming out. Some of the Chieu Hois would bring it in, but we never really had what we thought was a good enough handle on continuing intelligence, which is a terrible blind spot if you're trying to win a war that's got all the built in problems that Vietnam had."

The next problem Donohue faced was "how to imprint a political system on a foreign country." That was no easy task, even for an irrepressible huckster like Tom Donohue. Donohue described the typical province chief as "a military officer who was a product of a mandarin system," a person with total discretion over how to spend funds, who "couldn't care less about what some grubby little old peasant lady in black pajamas had to say. He didn't have a political bone in his body." By way of comparison he added, "They're as bad as our military. They never understood either what we were doing." All that led Donohue to say, "We were running a coaching school for army officers."

Further complicating things was the fact that corruption in the provinces was a way of life. So Donohue spent a good deal of time "trying to keep the local parties from using it to their own advantage. The VNQDD element had to be goddamned careful that they weren't pushing the long-range interests of the party," he said, referring to Mai's habit of inserting four VNQDD cadres into every PAT team. "The same is true when you get into Hoa Hao country. If you had a province chief who looked upon it as a source of revenue or if a guy wanted to use it as a private army, then you had real trouble."

Donohue told each province chief, "If you use these people in the way they've been trained, we'll feed them, pay them, and equip them. If you decide at any time they're a hindrance rather than a help, you give me a call, and within thirty days we'll get them out of here. If I decide that you're not using them properly -- that you're using them as a palace guard here in the province -- I'll give you thirty days' notice and pull them out." And that was the agreement. It was that simple. Nothing in writing. Nothing went through the central government.

"Next, I'd take an agency officer -- or officers in a big province -- and stick him in the province and tell him, 'Find a place to live. Get some sandbags. We'll try to get you some Nung guards. Stay alive and do as you see fit.' And then he was responsible for the direction of the teams -- payroll, logistics, the whole smear." The CIA officer then selected "a vigorous young lieutenant" whom the province security officer would appoint to his staff as the Rural Construction cadre liaison, "so we would have a guy we could work with day in and day out. Then we would work down to the district level, where we had a similar arrangement, and then into a village."

As soon as the district chief had vouched for his recruits, "We'd put them on an airplane and send them down to Vung Tau," Donohue said. "This is pretty heady stuff. These guys had never been out of the village before. The food was spectacular. Suddenly they had more protein in their systems than they've ever had before, and they're able to stay awake in class. Our training program was vigorous as hell, but they all put on weight. We treated them for worms as soon as they came in the door. Then Mai began telling them stories about the fairies and the dragons and the great cultural heritage of the Vietnamese people. He had all sorts of myths which were at least apparent to many of these people. Then he would work in the political applicability of today."

According to Donohue, this is "precisely" what political warfare is all about: Having been selected into a "special" program and given "special" treatment, CIA political cadres were taught the corporate sales pitch. In effect, rural youths were put on a political assembly line, pumped full of protein and propaganda, cross-trained as interchangeable parts for efficiency, then given one last motivational booster shot. "The graduation ceremonies at Vung Tau were something else." Donohue chortled. "At night. Total darkness. Then the one candle lit. Oh! This is the schmaltz! Remember, these are kids that have never seen anything like this. The pageantry!"

The New York Times reporter R.W. Apple described on February 21, 1965 the Ridge Camp graduation ceremony occurring in an amphitheater the size of a football field. Filipino trainers were present and, writes Apple, "The ceremony had a theatrical, almost religious quality. Vietnamese national symbols, including the old imperial flag, were arrayed before an altar. Multi-colored pennants bearing the names of the nation's ancient heroes were mounted behind the speaker. Captain Mai stood at an illuminated lectern. The recruits were grouped on the three other sides of the arena. At a signal, all the lights except one focused on Captain Mai went out, and the recruits stripped off their white shirts and dark trousers. When the lights came on again, all were clad in black pajamas."

Whipped into an ideological fervor, the CIA's political cadres were then sent into villages to spread democratic values and undermine the infrastructure.

"It's a GVN presence that's really comprised of your own people that have, by God, gone off and been washed in the blood of the lamb. They've been trained and they've seen the light," Donohue palavered. "They spoke the local dialect, and they're there to defend and focus people on their own defense, to try to enlist the people into doing something positive. If the government can't protect you, it ain't no government."

Of course, the GVN was not a government but a military dictatorship which was opposed to independence in the countryside. The GVN at that time, writes Professor Huy, "could be curiously compared to that of the USSR with the Armed Forces Council as the Supreme Soviet, the Committee Leading the Nation as its Presidium, and the Central Executive Committee as the Soviet government before World War Two when its ministers were called commissars. General Nguyen Van Thieu was elected chairman of the Committee Leading the Nation and so became chief of state. General Nguyen Cao Ky was appointed chairman of the Central Executive Committee, i.e. the government." [9]

In June 1965 the National Council of Security was created and placed under Ky, who reported to Thieu but in fact exercised greater power than Thieu. As prime minister controlling the Interior Ministry, Ky appointed his people to the CIA 's covert action program and appointed his confidential agent, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, director of the Military Security Service in June 1965, director general of the National Police in October 1965, and head of the Central Intelligence Organization in Apri1 1966.

Explains Huy:

Nguyen Cao Ky was strongly backed by the Americans anxious to find a leader for the Vietnamese. A program called Rural Development, later called the Phoenix program, was set up. It aimed at detecting and destroying the communist cells in villages and reconstructing the countryside. This program was undertaken with means provided by the USA. It was smaller than what we had tried to apply when Nguyen Ton Roan was deputy prime minister in charge of Pacification. The only difference was that now, the personnel in use were not politically motivated and trained cadres, but merely dispirited employees of the government. [10]

Frank Scotton was also critical of Vung Tau. "I shied away from Vung Tau," he said, "because the American hand became too big and because having a fixed complex was spiritually uncomfortable. Spiritually the thing to do was to go into the villages. At Vung Tau they were not dealing with unconventional warfare, but with warehousers. There was always the threat that 'We'll turn off the water' if you don't do it our way." [11]

He also criticized the "development of incantation and rote" and the resulting "doctrinaire" mind-set that led to the Rural Construction program's being compared with Hitler's Strength Through Joy camps. Its cadre studied the ninety-eight duties, the eleven-point criteria, and the twelve phases of action. They sang the "New Life Hamlet Construction" song, with its symbolic twelve stanzas and ninety-eight notes, and recited the ritual Five Oaths: "Standing before the altar of our Fatherland and the national Flag, we, in the capacity of rural construction cadres, take the oath ... to remain faithful ... to firmly believe ... that cadres are created by the people ... to mingle with the people ... and to make constant efforts in study in order to progress in behavior, education and techniques." [12]

Scotton's biggest complaint, however, was the shift from intelligence and displacement to civic action. The change took place in early 1965, when Robert Kelly joined the CIA and took his team of instructors to duplicate the Quang Ngai program in other provinces. At that point Harry "The Hat" Monk took over in Binh Dinh Province and began working as case officer to Major Nguyen Be, the former insurgent who, before defecting, had been party secretary for the Ninth Vietcong Battalion. A visionary, Be wanted Rural Construction to be more than an attack on the VCI; he wanted to provide services to the people as well. Perceiving the PATs as "too American," he retrained his people as they returned to Binh Dinh from Vung Tau and, with the help of Monk, combined "mobile" Census Grievance cadres, PATs, and CTs, and came up with the fifty-nine-man Revolutionary Development (RD) team.

Be's fifty-nine-man RD teams had group leaders and psywar, intelligence, and medical specialists in staff positions. There were three eleven-man teams constituting an "action element" and having a counterterror mission, and there was a Rural Construction leader with a six-man Civic Action team; a six-man "mobile" Census Grievance team under the intelligence office; and a six-man economic unit. Be's teams were called Purple People Eaters by American soldiers, in reference to their clothes and terror tactics. To the rural Vietnamese they were simply "idiot birds."

Said Scotton: "Be was trying to create a climate to make the VC blunder into ambushes and fear the unpredictable." His goal was to neutralize the VC, but his style was "be nice to VC agents, give them gifts, smother them with affection, and then let them try to explain that to their superiors." It was a style Scotton did not approve of, although he loved Be himself. "Be was like an older brother to me and an uncle to my children," Scotton said. "He lived with us from 1976 until he died in summer of 1981."

Despite Scotton's compunctions, by mid-1965 the CIA was using Be's fifty-nine-man model as its standard team, at which point the Rural Construction Cadre program was renamed the Revolutionary Development Cadre program. With larger teams and standardization came the need for more advisers, so Donohue began recruiting military men like Joe Vacarro, a Special Forces sergeant working as a Public Safety adviser in Quang Nam Province. "I met Joe and chatted with him," Donohue said, "and he looked interesting, so I went to AID, and he was sort of seconded to me; although he still worked for AID, I wrote his fitness reports. Then I worked out a direct hire for him, and he came back here to D.C., did some formal Vietnamese training, then went back out for another tour." Vaccaro was to become heavily involved in the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit training program at Vung Tau. Donohue also hired Jean Sauvageot out of the Army. Sauvageot was to become the scion of Vung Tau and a close aide to Frank Scotton, his mentor, and William Colby.

"We get to the point," according to Donohue, "where the CIA was running a political program in a sovereign country where they didn't know what the hell we were teaching. So I had Thieu and Ky down to Vung Tau, and I did all the right things. But what kind of program could it be that had only one sponsor, the CIA, that says it was doing good? It had to be sinister. Any red-blooded American could understand that. What the hell is the CIA doing running a program on political action?

"So I went out to try to get some cosponsors for the record. They weren't easy to come by. I went to [USIS chief] Barry Zorthian. I said, 'Barry, how about giving us someone?' I talked to MACV about getting an officer assigned. I had AID give me a guy." But most of it, Donohue said, "was window dressing. We had the funds; we had the logistics; we had the transportation."

The CIA also had the approbation of Ky and Thieu. "Ky and Thieu saw the wisdom of it," Donohue said, "so they offered up (as their liaison to the program) General Nguyen Duc Thang. And he was indefatigable. He went everyplace." There was, however, one catch. As a way of monitoring the Saigon station, in August 1965 the Special Group assigned Ed Lansdale as senior liaison to General Thang, who instantly advocated transferring the entire Revolutionary Development program to the Defense Ministry.

"Ed Lansdale was an invention of Hubert Humphrey's," Donohue grumbled. "The idea was 'We did it before, we can do it again.' So Lansdale came out two years too late. He brought a lot of his old cohorts; some were agency guys that he'd suborned. He had some Army people and some retired folks, but there was really nothing," Donohue said wearily, "for them to do."

"My boss [Gordon Jorgenson, who replaced Peer DeSilva in February 1965] said, 'Tell them everything.' I said okay, and I spent two and a half hours briefing his full group about a week after they arrived. And they said, 'Let's have a joint office.' So we had our logistics people put in offices and all the right things. Then I had to get somebody to run the office. Thang said, 'Who do you want?' And I said, 'Chau.'"

Tran Ngoc Chau, according to Donohue, "was a farsighted, bright guy with an ability to keep meaningful statistics -- which is not very Vietnamese. He'd been the apple of Diem's eye during the strategic hamlet program, and he had a special phone to the palace -- Diem was on the horn to him constantly. Because he had that kind of sponsorship, he was able to do an awful lot of experimentation. So we used Kien Hoa as a proving ground. I spent a lot of time between Mai and Chau looking at programs," Donohue recalled, "trying to introduce refinements."

By having Chau transferred to Vung Tau, Donohue also got greater control over his pet project. "We took Census Grievance and expanded it," he said. "I got a villa in Gia Dinh and set up a training school for Census Grievance people. We would bring people in that had been spotted in various villages and run them through the training; then they would go back to their provinces. I had a French gent, Matisse, who ran the school. We trained in small groups, and it was a much faster process than the PATs; but these were literate people, so they were quick on the uptake. And it was very pleasant surroundings. It was a well-handled program." To it Donohue assigned John O'Reilly, John Woodsman, Dick Fortin, and Jean Sauvageot.

"But I had forced the transfer," Donohue confessed, "and Chau was so damn mad that he was in a permanent pout. So he decided to go down to Vung Tau and shape the place up. Which we really didn't need. 'Cause here you have two dynamic personalities [Mai and Chau] who couldn't stand each other."

The conflict was resolved in 1966, when Mai was reassigned to the Joint General Staff, while Chau took over the Vung Tau training program. Donohue minimized the effect. "I couldn't really do much business out there anyway," he noted, "because I needed our own system to talk to people. But at least for the record it looked pretty good. We had a MAVC guy, an AID guy, and a USIS guy down at Vung Tau, so all the bases had been touched. You see," he added, "at this point all we were trying to do was expand the thing and say that there's at least plausible denial that the agency is solely responsible."

Indeed, with the creation of Vung Tau and the synthetic Revolutionary Development Cadre program, South Vietnam began slouching toward democracy. But it was an empty gesture. The rule in South Vietnam was one step forward followed by two steps back.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:52 am


"A census, if properly made and exploited, is a basic source of intelligence. It would show, for instance, who is related to whom, an important piece of information in counterinsurgency warfare because insurgent recruiting at the village level is generally based initially on family ties." [1]

As counterinsurgency expert David Galula notes above, a census is an effective way of controlling large numbers of persons. Thus, while CIA paramilitary officers used Census Grievance to gather intelligence in VC-controlled villages, CIA police advisers were conducting a census program of their own. Its origins are traced to Robert Thompson, a British counter-insurgency expert hired in 1961 by Roger Hilsman, director of the State Department's Office of Research and Intelligence, to advise the United States and GVN on police operations in South Vietnam. Basing it on a system he had used in Malaya, Thompson proposed a three-pronged approach that coordinated military, civilian intelligence, and police agencies in a concerted attack on the VCI.

On Thompson's advice, the National Police in 1962 initiated the Family Census program, in which a name list was made and a group photo taken of every family in South Vietnam. The portrait was filed in a police dossier along with each person's political affiliations, fingerprints, income, savings, and other relevant information, such as who owned property or had relatives outside the village and thus had a legitimate reason to travel. This program was also instrumental in leading to the identification of former sect members and suppletifs, who were then blackmailed by VBI case officers into working in their villages as informers. By 1965 there were 7,453 registered families.

Through the Family Census, the CIA learned the names of Communist cell members in GVN-controlled villages. Apprehending the cadre that ran the cells was then a matter of arresting all minor suspects and working them over until they informed. This system weakened the insurgency insofar as it forced political cadres to flee to guerrilla units enduring the hardships of the jungle, depriving the VCI of its leadership in GVN areas. This was no small success, for, as Nguyen Van Thieu once observed, "Ho Chi Minh values his two cadres in every hamlet more highly than ten military divisions." [2]

Thompson's method was successful, but only up to a point. Because many VCI cadres were former Vietminh heroes, it was counterproductive for Political Action Teams and counterterrorists to hunt them down in their own villages. Many VCI were not terrorists but, as Galula writes, "men whose motivations, even if the counterinsurgent disapproves of them, may be perfectly honorable. They do not participate directly, as a rule, in direct terrorism or guerrilla action and, technically, have no blood on their hands." [3]

Thompson's dragnet technique engendered other problems. Mistakes were made, and innocent people were routinely tortured or subject to extortion by crooked cops. On other occasions VCI agents deliberately led Political Action Teams into arresting people hostile to the insurgency. Recognizing these facts, Thompson suggested that the CIA organize a police special branch of professional interrogators who would not be confused with PATs working to win hearts and minds. In 1964, at Thompson's suggestion, the Police Special Branch was formed from the Vietnam Bureau of Investigation and plans were made to center it in Province Intelligence Coordinating Committees (PICCs) in South Vietnam's provinces.

Creation of the police Special Branch coincided with the reorganization of the "Special Branch" of the Vietnamese Special Forces into the Special Exploitation Service (SES), the GVN's counterpart to the Special Operations Group. SOG and SES intelligence operations were coordinated with those of the Special Branch through the CIO, though only at the regional and national level, an inadequacy the PICCs were designed to overcome.

The birth of the police Special Branch also coincided with the Hop Tac (Pacification Intensive Capital Area) program, activated in July 1964 to bring security to the besieged capital. A variation on the oil spot technique, Hop Tac introduced twenty-five hundred national policemen into seven provinces surrounding Saigon. In October 1964 the National Identification and Family Census programs were combined in the Resources Control Bureau in the National Police Directorate, and a Public Safety adviser was placed in each region specifically to manage these programs. By December 1964 thirteen thousand policemen were participating in Hop Tac, seven thousand cops were manning seven hundred checkpoints, more than six thousand arrests had been made, and ABC TV had done a documentary on the program. In the provinces, Public Safety advised policemen-enforced curfews and regulations on the movement of persons and goods under the Resources Control program.

Also in September 1964, as part of the effort to combine police and paramilitary programs, Frank Scotton was directed to apply his motivational indoctrination program to Hop Tac. Assisted by cadres from his Quang Ngai PAT team, Scotton formed paramilitary reaction forces in seven key districts surrounding Saigon. Scotton's cadres were trained at the Ho Ngoc Tau Special Forces camp where SOG based its CS program for operations inside Cambodia. Equipment, supplies, and training for Scotton's teams were provided by the CIA, while MACV and Special Forces provided personnel. Lists of defectors, criminals, and other potential recruits, as well as targets, came from Special Branch files.

The aim of the motivational indoctrination program, according to Scotton, was to "develop improved combat skills -- increased commitment to close combat -- for South Vietnamese. This is not psywar against civilians or VC. This is taking the most highly motivated people, saying they deserted, typing up a contract, and using them in these units. Our problem," Scotton said, "was finding smart Vietnamese and Cambodians who were willing to die." [4]

The first district Scotton entered in search of recruits was Tan Binh, between Saigon and Tan Son Nhut airport, where he extracted cadres from a Popular Force platoon guarding Vinh Loc village. These cadres were trained to keep moving, to sleep in the jungle by day and attack VC patrols at night. Next, Scotton trained teams in Nha Be, Go Vap, and Thu Duc districts. He recalled going two weeks at a time without a shower, "subliminating the risk and danger," and participating in operations. "We had a cheap rucksack, a submachine gun, and good friends. We weren't interested in making history in the early days."

So successful was the motivational indoctrination program in support of Hop Tac that MACV decided to use it nationwide. In early 1965 Scotton was asked to introduce his program in SOG's regional camps, in support of Project Delta, the successor to Leaping Lena. Recruits for SOG projects were profit-motivated people whom Scotton persuaded to desert from U.S. Special Forces A camps, which were strung out along South Vietnam's borders. On a portable typewriter he typed a single-page contract, which each recruit signed, acknowledging that although listed as a deserter, he was actually employed by the CIA in "a sensitive project" for which he received substantially higher pay than before.

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.

In June 1965 Colonel Don Blackburn commanded SOG. His staff numbered around twelve and included the commanders of the First and Fifth Special Forces groups, plus various special warfare Marine, Air Force, and Navy officers. SOG headquarters in Saigon planned operations for the four hundred-odd volunteers in its operational units. However, 1965 was rough going for border surveillance. The Montagnards were no longer effective after their revolt, and as compensation, Project Delta was organized to provide intelligence for newly arrived U.S. Army and Marine divisions. About the paramilitary police, SOG, and pacification programs he and his compatriots developed, Scotton said, "For us, these programs were all part of the same thing. We did not think of things in terms of little packages." That "thing," of course, was a grand scheme to win the war, at the bottom of which "were the province interrogation centers.


John Patrick Muldoon, Picadoon to the people who knew him in Vietnam, was the first director of the PIC program in Vietnam. Six feet four inches tall, well over two hundred pounds, Muldoon has a scarlet face and a booming bass voice remarkably like Robert Mitchum's. He was friendly and not overly impressed with either himself or the CIA mystique. That makes Muldoon one of the few emancipated retired CIA officers who do not feel obligated to call headquarters every time a writer asks a question about Vietnam.

A Georgetown University dropout, Muldoon joined the agency in 1958, his entry greased by two sisters already in the CIA's employ. He did his first tour in Germany and in 1962 was sent to South Korea. "I worked interrogation in Seoul," Muldoon recalled. "I'd never been involved in interrogation before. Ray Valentine was my boss. Syngman Rhee had been replaced by Park Chung Hee, who was running the show. Park's cousin Colonel Kim Chong Pil was director of the ROK [Republic of Korea] CIA. There was a joint KCIA-CIA interrogation center in Yon Don Tho, outside Seoul."

Here it is worth pausing for a moment to explain that in recruiting cadres for the Korean CIA, the CIA used the same method it used to staff the Vietnamese CIO. As revealed by John Marks in The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, the CIA sent its top psychologist, John Winne, to Seoul to "select the initial cadre" using a CIA-developed psychological assessment test. "I set up an office with two translators," Winne told Marks, "and used a Korean version of the Wechsler." CIA psychologists "gave the tests to 25 to 30 police and military officers," Marks writes, "and wrote up a half-page report on each, listing their strengths and weaknesses. Winne wanted to know about each candidate's ability to follow orders, creativity, lack of personality disorders, motivation -- why he wanted out of his current job. It was mostly for the money, especially with the civilians." [5]

In this way secret police are recruited as CIA assets in every country where the agency operates. In Latin America, Marks writes, "The CIA ... found the assessment process most useful for showing how to train the anti-terrorist section. According to results, these men were shown to have very dependent psychologies and needed strong direction" -- direction that came from the CIA. Marks quotes one assessor as saying, "Anytime the Company spent money for training a foreigner, the object was that he would ultimately serve our purposes." CIA officers "were not content simply to work closely with these foreign intelligence agencies; they insisted on penetrating them, and the Personality Assessment System provided a useful aid." [6]

Following his tour in Korea, Muldoon was assigned to Vietnam in November 1964. "I was brought down to the National Interrogation Center [NIC] and told, 'This is where you're going to work ....You're going to advise X number of interrogators. They'll bring you their initial debriefing of the guy they're working on; then you'll give them additional CIA requirements.'"

The CIA had different requirements, Muldoon explained, because "the South Vietnamese wanted information they could turn around and use in their battle against the Vietcong. They just wanted to know what was going on in the South .... But we were interested in information about things in the North that the South Vietnamese couldn't care less about. And that's where the American advisers would come in -- to tell them, 'You gotta ask this, too.'"

"We had standard requirements depending on where a guy was from. A lot of VC had been trained in North Vietnam and had come back down as volunteers. They weren't regular NVA. So if a guy came from the North, we wanted to know where he was from, what unit he was with, how they were organized, where they were trained .... If a guy had been North for any length of time, we wanted to know if he'd traveled on a train. What kind of identification papers did he need? Anything about foreign weapons or foreigners advising them. That sort of thing."

Built in 1964, the National Interrogation Center served as CIO headquarters and was where civilian, police, and military intelligence was coordinated by the CIA. "It was located down on the Saigon River," Muldoon recalled, ''as part of a great big naval compound .... On the left was a wing of offices where the American military chief, an Air Force major, was located. In that same wing were the chief of the CIO ... his deputy and the CIA advisers." Muldoon referred to the CIO chief by his nom de guerre, Colonel Sam. "There was only one CIO chief the whole time I was there," he added, "up until August 1966. His deputy was there the whole time, too, and the same interrogators."

Muldoon estimated there were several hundred prisoners in the NIC and four interrogator-advisers. Muldoon was the fifth. Three were Air Force enlisted men serving under an Army captain. Muldoon's boss, the CIA chief of the NIC, was Ian "Sammy" Sammers, who worked under the station's senior liaison officer, Sam Hopper, who had supervised construction of the NIC in early 1964.

One year later, according to Muldoon, "There was a conference in Nha Trang, in late April 1965. They were putting together an interrogation center in an existing building they had taken over, and they asked for help from the NIC. So I was sent up there with the Army captain to look at the place, figure out what kind of staff we needed, and how we were going to train them .... And while we were up there trying to break these guys in, the police liaison guy in Nha Trang, Tony Bartolomucci, asked Sammy if they could keep me there for this conference, at which all of our people were going to meet Jack 'Red' Stent, who was taking over from Paul Hodges as chief of foreign intelligence. Bartolomucci wanted to show off his new interrogation center to all these big shots.

"The military people from the NIC had done their job," Muldoon continued, "so they left. But I stayed around. Then Tucker Gougleman and Red showed up for this conference. Tucker was chief of Special Branch field operations, and things were just starting to get off the ground with the PICs. A couple were already under way -- one in Phan Thiet and one in Phuoc Le -- and Tucker told me, 'We're going to build, build, build, and I need someone to oversee the whole operation. I want you to do it.'"

"So we had this big conference, and they packed the interrogation center full of prisoners. Bartolomucci wanted to show off with a bunch of prisoners, so he got his police buddies to bring in a bunch of prostitutes and what have you and put them in the cells. I don't think they had one VC in the place. After the conference they all went back to the regular jail, and I went to work for Tucker."

John Muldoon spoke affectionately about Tucker Gougleman. "Tucker was loud and foulmouthed, and he had a terrible temper; but it was all a big front. He was very easy to get to know ... a likable guy. Always in a short-sleeved shirt and sneakers. He was married three times, divorced three times. He had adopted a girl in Korea, and in Vietnam he had what he called his family. He was back in Saigon trying to get them out when he was picked up. When the evacuation was over, he was still there, staying in the hotel. One day he came down, got off the elevator, walked into the lobby, and they were waiting for him. They took him out, threw him in a car, and took him to the National Police Interrogation Center. A French newspaper guy saw it happen. The North Vietnamese denied they had him, but they returned his body about a year later.

"It's funny, but me and Tucker used to talk about the PICs. He said something like 'John, if we lose this war one day, we could end up in these goddammed things if we get caught.'

"'Well,' I asked, 'what would you do if you were in there?'

"He said he thought he'd kill himself rather than go through interrogation. But he didn't. The report I heard was that when his body got to the graves registration people in Okinawa, the broken bones had yet to heal. So obviously they had tortured him right up until the time he died. And I'd be willing to bet he didn't say a damn thing to help them. I can see him spitting in their faces."

Muldoon laughed. "Tucker wanted to turn the PICs into whorehouses. The interrogation rooms had two-way mirrors.

"Tucker was a hero in the Marine Corps in World War Two," Muldoon added. "He joined the agency right after and worked with [station chief] John Hart in Korea, running operations behind the lines. He was in Afghanistan and worked in training, too. He got to Vietnam in 1962 and was base chief in Da Nang running everything [i] that had to do with intelligence and paramilitary operations .... He was no longer the Da Nang base chief when I arrived in Saigon," Muldoon continued, "but he hadn't taken over field operations yet either. He was in Saigon trying to set up the Province Intelligence Coordination Committees with Jack Barlow, a British guy from MI Six. Barlow had been in Africa and Malaya with Robert Thompson, and they were the experts. They'd succeeded in Malaya, and we wanted them to show us how to do it. Barlow and Tucker worked hand in hand. I shared an office with them at the embassy annex -- which I had besides my office at the NIC -- and that's where I first met Tucker."

Forerunner to the Province Interrogation Center program, the Province Intelligence Coordination Committee program, established in November 1964, was designed to extend CIO operations into the provinces. Each PICC was to serve as the senior intelligence agency within each province and to guide, supervise, and coordinate all military, police, and civilian operations.

"Barlow was the guy pushing the PICCs, and Tucker agreed it was a good idea," Muldoon recalled. "But they weren't able to convince the military to go along with them. It was bought by us and the embassy, but not by the military, and that's the one you needed -- 'cause they were the ones who initially had control of the prisoners. And the Vietnamese military wasn't going to go along unless the U.S. military approved it. So when the U.S. military said, 'Don't turn those prisoners over,' there was no way we were going to get them. So the PICC project never got off the ground. Then after the embassy bombing [February 1965] they had a reorganization, and Tucker became chief of field operations. We started building the Province Interrogation Centers, and it was thought that people would say, 'Hey, man, this is a great spot! We'll send all our prisoners here!' and that then they'd start moving in and set up the PICCs around the PICs. But that never happened either.

"So after the Nha Trang conference we went down to Phuoc Le to set up a training schedule for the PIC that had already been built down there. The paramilitary guy, Pat, wanted to cooperate, and he had great relations with the province chief and the military. The intelligence guy, Ben, was serious about making everything in his province work. He wasn't happy that he got stuck with building the interrogation center and being the adviser, but he wanted to be the best. And he had great relations with the Special Branch and the CIO. Now some paramilitary and liaison guys didn't even talk to each other, but together Pat and Ben were able to make the thing work. It cost a lot of loyal Vietnamese their lives, but Ben would get hamlet informants to tell us who the VC were; then Pat would send the CTs out to get the names."

What Muldoon described was the one-two punch of the counterinsurgency -- the Province Interrogation Centers and the counterterrorists. Through the PICs, the CIA learned the identity and structure of the VCI in each province; through the CTs, the CIA eliminated individual VCI members and destroyed their organization.

The problem with the Phuoc Le PIC, according to Muldoon, was its design. "Ben had built his PIC with the guard posts outside each corner, so there was no way for the guards to get back into the inner compound during an attack. Once the shooting started and they ran out of ammunition, they were finished. So the first thing we did was change the design so they were still on each corner and could see in all directions but had a door leading inside the compound."

CIA architects settled on a standard design based on the modified Phuoc Le PIC. Strictly functional, it minimized cost while maximizing security. Under cover of Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E), the CIA's logistics staff hired local Vietnamese contractors to build interrogation centers in every province. Funds and staff salaries came from the Special Branch budget. After it was built, the CIA bought the interrogation center, then donated it to the National Police, at which point it became a National Police facility under the direction of the Special Branch. In practice, however -- because they got their operating funds directly from the CIA -- Special Branch employees wielded more power than their supervisors in the National Police, who received Aid-in-Kind funds indirectly from the Agency for International Development through the National Police Directorate in Saigon.

Each provincial capital would eventually have a PIC. However, regional interrogation centers were built first and were larger, holding two to three hundred prisoners each. In IV Corps's regional capital, Can Tho, where the French had built a jail capable of holding two thousand prisoners, existing facilities were renovated. In choosing where to build in the provinces, each CIA regional officer selected priority provinces. Then, according to Muldoon, it was up to the liaison officer in the province to talk to the province chief and his CIO counterpart to find a spot near the provincial capital. "'Cause that's where our guy lived. Some of the guys had a hell of a time getting PICs started," Muldoon noted, "because some province chiefs wanted money under the table."

Once the interrogation center was built, the liaison officer became its adviser, and Muldoon helped him recruit its staff. There were deadlines for each phase, and part of Muldoon's job was to travel around and monitor progress. "In one place construction would be half done," he recalled, "and in another they'd be trying to find a piece of land. It was a very big undertaking. We even had nit-PICs, which were smaller versions for smaller provinces." Most interrogation centers were built or under construction by the time Muldoon left Vietnam in August 1966, at which point he was transferred to Thailand to build the CIA's huge interrogation center in Udorn, "where the CIA ran the Laos war from the Air America base." Muldoon was replaced as PIC chief in Vietnam by Bob Hill, a vice cop from Washington, D.C. Hill replaced Muldoon in Thailand in 1968.


One story high, fashioned from concrete blocks, poured cement, and wood in the shape of a hollow square, an interrogation center was four buildings with tin roofs linked around a courtyard. In the center of the yard was a combination lookout-water tower with an electric generator under it. "You couldn't get the guards to stay out there at night if they didn't have lights," Muldoon explained. "So we had spotlights on the corners, along the walls, and on the tower shooting out all around. We also bulldozed around it so there were no trees or bushes. Anybody coming at it could be seen crossing the open area." People entered and exited through green, steel-plated gates, "Which were wide open every time I visited," said Muldoon, who visited only during the day. "You didn't want to visit at night," when attacks occurred. PICs were located on the outskirts of town, away from residential areas, so as not to endanger the people living nearby, as well as to discourage rubbernecking. "These were self-contained places," Muldoon emphasized. Telephone lines to the PICs were tapped by the CIA.

On the left side were interrogation rooms and the cellblock -- depending on the size, twenty to sixty solitary confinement cells the size of closets. Men and women were not segregated. "You could walk right down the corridor," according to Muldoon. "It was an empty hallway with cells on both sides. Each cell had a steel door and a panel at the bottom where you could slip the food in and a slot at the top where you could look in and see what the guy was doing." There were no toilets, just holes to squat over. "They didn't have them in their homes." Muldoon laughed. "Why should we put them in their cells?"

Prisoners slept on concrete slabs. "Depending on how cooperative they were, you'd give them a straw mat or a blanket. It could get very cold at night in the highlands." A system of rewards and punishments was part of the treatment. "There were little things you could give them and take away from them, not a lot, but every little bit they got they were grateful for."

Depending on the amount of VCI activity in the province and the personality of the PIC chief, some interrogation centers were always full while others were always empty. In either case, "We didn't want them sitting there talking to each other," Muldoon said, so "we would build up the cells gradually, until we had to put them next to each other. They were completely isolated. They didn't get time to go out and walk around the yard. They sat in their cells when they weren't being interrogated. After that they were sent to the local jail or were turned back over to the military, where they were put in POW camps or taken out and shot. That part I never got involved in," he said, adding parenthetically, "They were treated better in the PICs than in the local jails already there for common criminals. Public Safety was advising them, working with the National Police. Sometimes they had sixty to seventy people in a cell that shouldn't have had more than ten. But they didn't care. If you're a criminal, you suffer. If you don't like it, too bad. Don't be a criminal."

The interrogation process worked like this. "As we brought prisoners in, the first thing we did was ... run them through the shower. That's on the left as you come in. After that they were checked by the doctor or nurse. That was an absolute necessity because God knows what diseases they might be carrying with them. They might need medication. They wouldn't do you much good if they died the first day they were there and you never got a chance to interrogate them. That's why the medical office was right inside the main gate. In most PICs," Muldoon noted, "the medical staff was usually a local ARVN medic who would come out and check the prisoners coming in that day."

After the prisoner was cleaned, examined, repaired, weighed, photographed, and fingerprinted, his biography was taken by a Special Branch officer in the debriefing room. This initial interrogation extracted "hot" information that could be immediately exploited -- the whereabouts of an ongoing party committee meeting, for example -- as well as the basic information needed to come up with requirements for the series of interrogations that followed. Then the prisoner was given a uniform and stuck in a cell.

The interrogation rooms were at the back of the PIC. Some had two-way mirrors and polygraph machines, although sophisticated equipment was usually reserved for regional interrogation centers, where expert interrogators could put them to better use. Most province liaison officers were not trained interrogators. "They didn't have to be," according to Muldoon. "They were there to collect intelligence, and they had a list of what they needed in their own province. All they had to do was to make sure that whoever was running the PIC followed their orders. All they had to say was 'This is the requirement I want.' Then they read the initial reports and went back and gave the Special Branch interrogators additional requirements, just like we did at the NIC."

The guards -- usually policemen, sometimes soldiers -- lived in the PIC. As they returned from guard duty, they stacked their weapons in the first room on the right. The next room was the PIC chief's office, with a safe for classified documents, handguns, and the chief's bottle of scotch. The PIC chief's job was to turn those in the VCI -- make them Special Branch agents -- and maintain informant networks in the hamlets and villages. Farther down the corridor were offices for interrogators, collation and report writers, translator-interpreters, clerical and kitchen staff. There were file rooms with locked cabinets and map rooms for tracking the whereabouts of VCIs in the province. And there was a Chieu Hoi room where defectors were encouraged to become counterterrorists, political action cadre, or Kit Carson scouts -- a play on the names Biet Kich and Kit Carson, the cavalry adviser who gave a reward for Navajo scalps. Kit Carson scouts worked exclusively for the Marines.

Once an interrogation center had been constructed and a staff assigned, Muldoon summoned the training team from the NIC. Each member of the team was a specialist. The Army captain trained the guards. Air Force Sergeant Frank Rygalski taught report writers how to write proper reports -- the tangible product of the PIC. There were standard reporting formats for tactical as opposed to strategic intelligence and for Chieu Hoi and agent reports. To compile a finished report, an interrogator's notes were reviewed by the chief interrogator, then collated, typed, copied and sent to the Special Branch, CIO, and CIA. Translations were never considered totally accurate unless read and confirmed in the original language by the same person, but that rarely happened. Likewise, interrogations conducted through interpreters. were never considered totally reliable, for significant information was generally lost or misrepresented.

Another Air Force sergeant, Dick Falke, taught interrogators how to take notes and ask questions during an interrogation. "You don't just sit down with ten questions, get ten answers, then walk away," Muldoon commented. "Some of these guys, if you gave them ten questions, would get ten answers for you, and that's it. A lot of them had to learn that you don't drop a line of questioning just because you got the answer. The answer, if it's the right one, should lead you to sixty more questions. For example," he said, "Question one was 'Were you ever trained in North Vietnam?' Question two was 'Were you ever trained by people other than Vietnamese?' Well, lots of times the answer to question two is so interesting and gives you so much information you keep going for an hour and never get to question three, 'When did you come to South Vietnam?'"

For Special Branch officers in region interrogation centers, a special interrogation training program was conducted at the NIC by experts from the CIA's Support Services Branch, most of whom had worked on Russian defectors and were brought out from Washington to handle important cases. Training of Special Branch administrative personnel was conducted at region headquarters by professional secretaries, who taught their students how to type, file, and use phones. This side of the program was run by a former professional football player with the Green Bay Packers named Gene, who chain-smoked and eventually died of emphysema. "In between puffs, he'd put this box to his mouth, squeeze it, and take a breath of oxygen," Muldoon recalled.

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." [7] 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.

One reason was inexperienced advisers. "A lot of guys in Vietnam were career trainees or junior officer trainees," Muldoon explained. "Some had been in the military; some had just graduated from college. They put them through a six-month course as either intelligence or paramilitary officers, then sent them over. They were just learning, and it was a hell of a place for their baptism of fire. They sent whole classes to Vietnam in 1963 and 1964, then later brought in older guys who had experience as region advisers ... They were supposed to hit every province once a week, but some would do it over the radio in one day.

"The adviser's job was to keep the region officer informed about real operations mounted in the capital city or against big shots in the field," Muldoon said, adding that advisers who wanted to do a good job ran the PICs themselves, while the others hired assistants -- former cops or Green Berets -- who were paid by the CIA but worked for themselves, doing a dirty job in exchange for a line on the inside track to the black market, where VC in need of cash and spies seeking names dealt in arms, drugs, prostitution, military scrip, and whatever other commodities were available.

PICs are also faulted for producing only information on low-level VCI. Whenever a VCI member with strategic information (for example, a cadre in Hue who knew what was happening in the Delta) was captured, he was immediately grabbed by the region interrogation center, or the NIC in Saigon, where experts could produce quality reports for Washington. The lack of feedback to the PIC for its own province operations resulted in a revolving door syndrome, wherein the PIC was reduced to picking up the same low-level VCI people month after month.

The value of a PIC, according to Muldoon, "depended on the number of people that were put in it, on the caliber of people who manned it -- especially the chief -- and how good they were at writing up this information. Some guys thought they were the biggest waste of time and money ever spent because they didn't produce anything. And a lot of them didn't produce anything because the guys in the provinces didn't push them. Other people say, 'It's not that we didn't try; it's just that it was a dumb idea in the first place, because we couldn't get the military -- who were the ones capturing prisoners -- to turn them over. The military weren't going to turn them over to us until they were finished with them, and by then they were washed out.'

"This," Muldoon conceded, "was part of the overall plan: Let the military get the tactical military intelligence first. Obviously that's the most important thing going on in a war. But then we felt that after the military got what they could use tomorrow or next week, maybe the CIA should talk to this guy. That was the whole idea of having the Province Intelligence Coordination Committees and why the PICs became part of them, so we could work this stuff back and forth. And in provinces where our guys went out of their way to work with the MACV sector adviser, they were able to get something done."

The military's side of the story is given by Major General Joseph McChristian, who arrived in Saigon in July 1965 as MACV's intelligence chief. McChristian recognized the threat posed by the VCI and, in order to destroy it, proposed "a large countrywide counterintelligence effort involved in countersabotage, countersubversion and counterespionage activities." [8] In structuring this attack against the VCI, McChristian assigned military intelligence detachments to each U.S. Army brigade, division, and field force, as well as to each South Vietnamese division and corps. He created combined centers for intelligence, document exploitation, interrogation, and materiel exploitation and directed them to support and coordinate allied units in the field. And he ordered the construction of military interrogation centers in each sector, division, and corps.

McChristian readily conceded the primacy of the CIA in anti-VCI operations. He acknowledged that the military did not have sophisticated agent nets and that military advisers at sector level focused on acquiring tactical intelligence needed to mount offensive operations. But he was very upset when the CIA, "without coordination with MACV, took over control of the files on the infrastructure located" in the PICs. He got an even bigger shock when he himself "was refused permission to see the infrastructure file by a member of the [CIA]." Indeed, because the CIA prevented the military from entering the PICs, the military retaliated by refusing to send them prisoners. As a result, anti-VCI operations were poorly coordinated at province level. [9]

Meanwhile, MACV assigned intelligence teams to the provinces, which formed agent nets mainly through Regional and Popular Forces under military control. These advisory teams sent reports to the political order of battle section in the Combined Intelligence Center, which produced complete and timely intelligence on the boundaries, location, structure, strengths, personalities and activities of the Communist political organization, or infrastructure. [10]

Information filtering into the Combined Intelligence Center was placed in an automatic data base, which enabled analysts to compare known VCI offenders with known aliases. Agent reports and special intelligence collection programs like Project Corral provided the military with information on low-level VCI, while information on high-level VCI came from the Combined Military Interrogation Center, which, according to McChristian, was the "focal point of tactical and strategic exploitation of selected human sources." [11]

The South Vietnamese military branch responsible for attacking the VCI was the Military Security Service under the direction of General Loan. Liaison with the MSS was handled by MACV's Counter-Intelligence Division within the 525th Military Intelligence Group. The primary mission of counterintelligence was the defection in place of VCI agents who had penetrated ARVN channels, for use as double agents. By mid-1966 U.S. military intelligence employed about a thousand agents in South Vietnam, all of whom were paid through the 525th's Intelligence Contingency Fund.

The 525th had a headquarters unit near Long Binh, one battalion for each corps, and one working with SOG in third countries. Internally the 525th was divided into bilateral teams working with the Military Security Service and ARVN military intelligence, and unilateral teams working without the knowledge or approval of the GVN. Operational teams consisted of five enlisted men, each one an agent handler reporting to an officer who served as team chief. When assigned to the field, agent handlers in unilateral teams lived on their own, "on the economy." To avoid "flaps," they were given identification as Foreign Service officers or employees of private American companies, although they kept their military IDs for access to classified information, areas, and resources. Upon arriving in-country, each agent handler (aka case officer) was assigned a principal agent, who usually had a functioning agent network already in place. Some of these nets had been set up by the French, the British, or the Chinese. Each principal agent had several subagents working in cells. Like most spies, subagents were usually in it for the money; in many cases the war had destroyed their businesses and left them no alternative.

Case officers worked with principal agents through interpreters and couriers. In theory, a case officer never met subagents. Instead, each cell had a cell leader who secretly met with the principal agent to exchange information and receive instructions, which were passed along to the other subagents. Some subagents were political specialists; others attended to tactical military concerns. Posing as woodcutters or rice farmers or secretaries or auto mechanics, subagents infiltrated Vietcong villages or businesses and reported on NLF associations, VCI cadres, and the GVN's criminal undertakings as well as on the size and whereabouts of VC and NVA combat units.

Case officers handling political "accounts" were given requirements, originated at battalion headquarters, by their team leaders. The requirements were for specific information on individual VCIs. The cell leader would report on a particular VCI to the principal agent, who would pass the information back to the case officer using standard tradecraft methods -- a cryptic mark on a wall or telephone pole that the case officer would periodically look for. The case officer would, upon seeing the signal, send a courier to retrieve the report from the principal agent's courier at a prearranged time and place. The case officer would then pass the information to his team leader as well as to other customers, including the CIA liaison officer at the embassy house, as CIA headquarters in a province was called.

The finished products of positive and counterintelligence operations were called army information reports. Reports and agents were rated on the basis of accuracy, but insofar as most agents were in it for money, accuracy was hard to judge. A spy might implicate a person who owed him money or a rival in love, business, or politics. Many sources were double agents, and all agents were periodically given lie detector tests. For protection they were also given code names. They were paid through the MACV Intelligence Contingency Fund, but not well enough to survive on their salaries alone, so many dabbled in the black market, too.

The final stage of the intelligence cycle was the termination of agents, for which there were three methods. First was termination by paying the agent off, swearing him to secrecy, and saying so long. Second was termination with prejudice, which meant ordering an agent out of an area and placing his or her name on a blacklist so he or she could never work for the United States again; third was termination with extreme prejudice, applied when the mere existence of an agent threatened the security of an operation or other agents. Case officers were taught, in off-the-record sessions, how to terminate their agents with extreme prejudice. CIA officers received similar instruction.



i. Karnow calls Gougleman "the principal adviser" to OPLAN 34A.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:53 am

CHAPTER 6: Field Police

Four Opinions on Pacification

The corporate warrior: "Pacification was the ultimate goal of both the Americans and the South Vietnamese government. A complex task involving military, psychological, political, and economic factors, its aim was to achieve an economically and politically viable society in which the people could live without constant fear of death or other physical harm" -- WILLIAM WESTMORELAND, A Soldier Reports

The poet: "Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set afire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification" -- GEORGE ORWELL, Politics and the English Language, 1946

The reporter: "What we're really doing in Vietnam is killing the cause of 'wars of liberation.' It's a testing ground -- like Germany in Spain. It's an example to Central America and other guerrilla prone areas" -- BERNARD FALL, "This Isn't Munich, It's Spain," Ramparts (December 1965)

The warlord: "A popular political base for the Government of South Vietnam does not now exist. The existing government is oriented toward the exploitation of the rural and lower class urban populations. It is in fact a continuation of the French colonial system of government with upper class Vietnamese replacing the French. The dissatisfaction of the agrarian population ... is expressed largely through alliance with the NLF" -- John Paul Vann, 1965

In retaliation for selective terror attacks against Americans in South Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson ordered in 1965 the bombing of cities in North Vietnam. The raids continued into 1968, the idea being to deal the Communists more punishment than they could absorb. Although comparisons were unforthcoming in the American press, North Vietnam got a taste of what England was like during the Nazi terror bombings of World War II, and like the Brits, the North Vietnamese evacuated their children to the countryside but refused to say uncle.

Enraged by infiltrating North Vietnamese troops, LBJ also ordered the bombing of Laos and Cambodia. To help the Air Force locate enemy troops and targets in those "neutral" countries, SOG launched a cross-border operation called Prairie Fire. Working on the problem in Laos was the CIA, through its top secret Project 404. Headquartered in Vientiane, Project 404 sent agents into the countryside to locate targets for B-52's stationed in Guam and on aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. The massive bombing campaign turned much of Laos and Cambodia into a wasteland.

The same was true in South Vietnam, where the strategy was to demoralize the Communists by blowing their villages to smithereens. Because of the devastation the bombing wrought, half a million Vietnamese refugees had fled their villages and were living in temporary shelters by the end of 1965, while another half million were wandering around in shock, homeless. At the same time nearly a quarter million American soldiers were mired in the muck of Vietnam, a small percentage of them engaged in pacification as variously defined above. The Pentagon thought it needed half a million more men to get the job done.

Reacting to the presence of another generation of foreign occupation troops, COSVN commander General Nguyen Chi Thanh called for a renewed insurgency. The head of the NLF, Nguyen Huu Tho, agreed. The battle was joined. And with the rejuvenated revolution came an increased demand by the CIA for VCI prisoners. However, the VCI fish were submerged in the sea of refugees that was rolling like a tidal wave over South Vietnam. Having been swamped by the human deluge, only three thousand of Saigon's eighteen thousand National Policemen were available to chase the VCI; the rest were busy directing traffic and manning checkpoints into Saigon.

Likewise, in the countryside, the hapless police were capturing few VCI for interrogation -- far fewer, in fact, than U.S. combat units caught while conducting cordon and search operations, in which entire villages were herded together and every man, woman, and child subjected to search and seizure, and worse. As John Muldoon noted, the military rarely made its prisoners available to the police until they were "washed out."

Making matters worse was the fact that province chiefs eager to foster "local initiative" often made deals with the CIA officers who funded them. At the direction of their paramilitary advisers, province chiefs often pursued the VCI with counterterror teams, independently of the police, put the VCI in their own province jails and sent them to PICs only if the CIA's Special Branch adviser learned what was going on, and complained loud enough and long enough. Meanwhile, amid the din of saber-rattling coming from the Pentagon, the plaintive cries of police and pacification managers began to echo in the corridors of power in Washington. Something had to be done to put some punch in the National Police.

What was decided, in the summer of 1965, was to provide the National Police with a paramilitary field force that had the mission and skills of counterterror teams and could work jointly with the military in cordon and search operations. The man given the job was Colonel William "Pappy" Grieves, senior adviser to the National Police Field Forces from August 1965 till 1973.

"I was trying to create an A-One police force starting from scratch," Grieves told me when we met at his home in 1986. [1] A blend of rock-solid integrity and irreverence, Grieves was the son of a U.S. Army officer, born in the Philippines and reared in a series of army posts around the world. He attended West Point and in World War II saw action in Europe with the XV Corps Artillery, then came the War College, jump school at Fort Benning (he made his last jump at age sixty) and an interest in unconventional warfare. As MAAG chief of staff in Greece in the mid-1950's, Grieves worked with the CIA, the Special Forces, and the Greek airborne raiding force in paramilitary operations behind enemy lines.

Grieves ended his career as deputy commander of the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg under General William Yarborough. "I've often thought that if he had gone to Vietnam instead of Westmoreland, the war would have taken a different course. More would have been put on the Vietnamese. Yarborough," said Grieves, "realized that you can't fight a war on the four-year political cycle of the United States -- which is what we were trying to do. I'm convinced the war could have been won, but it would have taken a long time with a lot less U.S. troops." The notion that "you can't go in and win it for somebody, 'cause you'll have nothing in the end'" was the philosophy Pappy Grieves brought to the National Police Field Forces.

Days before his retirement from the U.S. Army, Grieves was asked to join the Agency for International Development's Public Safety program in South Vietnam. "Byron Engel, the chief of the Public Safety Program in Washington, D.C., had a representative at the Special Warfare Center who approached me about taking the job," Grieves recalled. "He said they were looking for a guy to head up the paramilitary force within the National Police. They specifically selected me for the job with the Field Police, which were just being organized at the time, because they needed someone with an unconventional warfare background. So I went to Washington, D.C., was interviewed by Byron Engel, among other people, took a quick course at the USAID Police Academy, and as a result, when I retired in July 1965, by the end of the next month I was in Vietnam.

"Let me give you a little background on what the Field Police concept was," Grieves continued. "In a country like Vietnam you had a situation where a policeman couldn't walk a beat -- like Blood Alley in Paris. In order to walk a beat and bring police services to the people, in most parts of Vietnam you had to use military tactics and techniques and formations just for the policeman to survive. So you walk a beat by squads and platoons. The military would call it a patrol, and, as a matter of fact, so did the police.

"That was the basic concept. Whether you had an outfit called Phoenix or not, there was a police need for a field force organization in a counterinsurgency role. The British found this necessary in Malaya, and they created Police Field Forces there. In fact, the original idea of the Vietnamese Police Field Forces came out of Malaya. Robert Thompson recommended it. And when I got to Vietnam, they had a contract Australian ... who had taken over for himself the Police Field Forces: Ted Serong. If you looked at the paper, he was hired by AID as a consultant; but he was paid by the CIA, which was reimbursed by AID. This arrangement allowed the CIA to have input into how the Field Police were managed.

"When I got to Vietnam," Grieves continued, "I found myself responsible on the American side of this thing, and yet Serong was in there, not as an adviser, but directly operating. He had some money coming in from Australia, which he would dispense to get [Vietnamese] to come over to his side, and he had five or six Australian paramilitary advisers, paid by the Company [CIA], same as him."

The problem was that the CIA wanted to establish the Field Police under its control, not as a police force but as a unit against the infrastructure. The CIA tried to do that by having Serong suborn the Vietnamese officers who managed the program, so that he could run it like a private army, the way the agency ran the counterterror teams. "Under Serong and the CIA," Grieves explained, "the Field Police program was not for the benefit of the Vietnamese; when they were gone, there wasn't going to be anything left. Well, they could run it like the counterterror teams, or they could be advisers."

As a matter of principle, Grieves felt obligated to run his program legitimately. "Now Serong and I were both dealing with the same Vietnamese," he recalled, "with him on the ground trying to make it anti-VCI. Then I discovered that some very peculiar things were going on. There was no accountability. The CIA was furnishing piasters and weapons to get the Field Police going, but these things were dropped by the Company from accountability when they left Saigon. Serong would take a jeep, ship it by Air America up to the training center in Da Lat, ship it back on the next airplane out, and he'd have a vehicle of his own off the books! A lot of piasters were being used to pay personal servants, to buy liquor, things of that nature. And he had sources of information. He was going with the director of AID's administrative assistant, and she would take things Serong was interested in and let him see them before [USAID Director] Charlie Mann did. There were all sorts of things going on, and this just put me across the barrel.

"It took me a couple of months to figure it out" -- Grieves sighed -- "and it made it hard to put the Field Police back on the police track, which was my job. So the first thing we did was try to get rid of that crowd. But Bob Lowe, who was the head of Public Safety in South Vietnam and my boss through the chief of operations, wanted me to stay out of it. Serong had pulled the wool over his eyes, and he just wasn't interested. Then John Manopoli replaced Lowe, and John called me in and said he wanted to see me get into it; he had a directive to get rid of Serong, and I supplied the ammunition.

"It was [not] just his personality," Grieves said in retrospect, "but his handling of funds, equipment, and everything else was completely immoral. And eventually it all came out. After about a year the services of Brigadier Serong were dispensed with; his and his people's contracts ran out or were turned over to the Company, and my relationship with the CIA station soured as a result."

The final parting of ways came when Grieves was asked to work for the CIA without the knowledge of his AID superiors. From his experience with the agency in Greece, Grieves knew that CIA staff officers were protected but that contract employees were expendable. He did not trust the CIA enough to put himself in the tenuous position of having to depend on it.

Grieves's refusal to bring the Field Police under CIA control had a significant effect. "In the eyes of Serong and that crew, the Field Police were to be an outlet of the Company," Grieves explained. "So when it became obvious they were a part of the National Police, the CIA developed the Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU) -- units operating separately, hired and commanded by Company people." Unfortunately, he added, "The Field Police could never develop across the board as long as PRU existed." Indeed, the PRU and the Field Police worked at cross-purposes for years to come, reflecting parochial tensions between U.S. agencies and undermining the U.S. war effort in Vietnam.

The Field Police was formally established on January 27, 1965, at the same time as the Marine Police. Its mission, as written by Grieves, was "for the purpose of extending police services to the people of Vietnam in areas where more conventionally armed forces and trained National Police could not operate, and to provide a tool to assist in the extension of the National Police into the rural areas." Field Police units were to patrol rural areas, control civil disturbances, provide security for the National Police, act as a reserve, and conduct raids against the VCI based on information provided by the Special Branch.

Notably, Grieves placed the anti-VCI role last, a priority that was reversed two years later under Phoenix. In the meantime, he was intent on bringing order, discipline, and a public service purpose to the Field Police. "The headquarters was in Saigon, collocated with Public Safety," Grieves recalled. "As soon as we could, however, we constructed a separate headquarters and a warehouse on the outskirts of Saigon. We hired Nungs as security. There was a Nung platoon in Cholon at our central warehouse and forty to fifty Nungs at our training center in Da Lat. We got them through Chinese brokers in Cholon.

"Between 1965 and 1966," Grieves explained, "the Field Police were just getting organized. Under Serong the planned strength was eighteen thousand, but the actual force in July 1965 was two thousand." There were six companies in training at the original center in Nam Dong, which Serong moved to Tri Mot, about six miles outside Da Lat. "He was also dealing with piaster funds on the black market, using the profits to build a private villa for his vacations up there," Grieves revealed.

The Tri Mot facility accommodated twelve companies. The American in charge was retired Special Forces Sergeant Major Chuck Petry. Training of field policemen began with a two-month course at the National Police training center in Vung Tau, followed by a three-month course at Tri Mot. Field policemen were assigned to provinces initially as a unit, later as individuals. Offshore training in jungle operations and riot control was given to selected recruits at the Malayan Police Field Force training center (created by Serong) through the Colombo Plan, while other field policemen were trained at the International Police Academy in Washington. The first two Field Police companies, from Long An and Gia Dinh provinces, completed their training in December 1965.

Grieves then arranged for MACV to provide logistical support to the Field Police through U.S. Army channels on a reimbursable basis. In order to make sure that supplies were not sold on the black market, equipment was issued directly into the American warehouse and parceled out by Grieves and his staff. "We did not issue it to the Vietnamese," he said, "until they had the troops for it. We didn't give them twenty-seven companies' worth of equipment when they only had ten companies of people.

"We were the administrators;" Grieves explained, "which forced us to account for funds and do a lot of things that were not in an advisory capacity. But it was the only way to get the job done. From the very beginning the idea was to turn it back to the Vietnamese when they could handle it, but at first we had to expand our advisory role to create this force.

"My first counterpart," Grieves recalled, "for about eight months was a Special Forces lieutenant colonel named Tran Van Thua. He was assigned to the National Police and was working with Ted Serong. Thua meant well but was not a strong officer. He was attempting to play us against each other by not allowing himself to become too aware of it. Then Nguyen Ngoc Loan became director general of the National Police, and he brought in Colonel Sanh, an army airborne officer." At that point Thua was reassigned as chief of the National Police training center at Vung Tau. "Colonel Sanh was an improvement over Thua, but he was also a little hard to get along with," according to Grieves. "He had no real interest in the police side of it. He came from one of the Combat Police [i] battalions and was interested primarily in the riot control aspect of the Field Police."

Reflecting General Loan's priorities, Colonel Sanh in early 1966 revised Field Police operating procedures to emphasize civil disturbance control, and he directed that Field Police units in emergencies would be available as a reserve for any police chief. Concurrently with this revised mission, the two existing Combat Police battalions -- still advised by Ted Serong under CIA auspices -- were incorporated into the Field Police. Available as a nationwide reaction force, the Combat Police was used by General Loan to suppress Buddhist demonstrations in the spring of 1966 in Da Nang, Hue, and Saigon. Likewise, Field Police units in provinces adjacent to Saigon were often called into the capital to reinforce ongoing riot control operations. In such cases platoons would generally be sent in from Long An, Gia Dinh, and Binh Duong provinces.

"The trained provisional Field Police companies were finally deployed to their provinces in July 1966," Grieves said, "after being held in Saigon for riot control during the Buddhist struggle movement, which dominated the first half of that year. By year's end there were forty-five Field Police companies, four platoons each, for a total of five thousand five hundred forty five men." By the end of 1967 the Field Police had twelve thousand men in fifty-nine companies.

"My counterpart for the longest time," said Grieves, "was Major Nguyen Van Dai, who started out as a ranger captain in the Delta. Dai was the best of the bunch -- an old soldier and a real hard rock. He was the one who really built the Field Police."

From July 1968 until February 1971 Dai served as assistant director of the National Police Support Division and as commandant of the National Police Field Forces. "Over two years and a half," said Dai, ''as commandant NPFF, my relationship with Colonel Grieves and his staff was very friendly. We had open discussions to find an appropriate and reasonable solution to any difficult problems. After twenty-two years in the army, most of that in combat units, I have only one concept: Quality is better than quantity. All soldiers in my command must be disciplined, and the leader must demonstrate a good example for others." [2]

"Dai," Grieves said with respect, "brought to the National Police Field Forces the attitude of 'service to the people.'

"My personnel," explained Grieves, "the Field Police advisers, were hired in this country and sent over to Vietnam. In addition, because they were coming over so slowly, we got a couple of local hires who were military and took their discharges in Vietnam. The Field Police advisers were all civilians. [Of 230 Public Safety advisers in Vietnam, 150 were on loan from the military.] We also had a bunch of peculiar deals. I needed advisers, and I needed them bad. The Fifth Special Forces at Nha Trang meanwhile had a requirement for men in civilian clothes in three particular provinces where I needed advisors, too. Theirs was an intelligence requirement, mine was a working function, but a guy could do both jobs. When this came out, I went and laid it on the table with my boss. I wasn't pulling anything underhanded, and I got their permission to do this. These guys came along and were documented as local hires by AID, but actually they were still in the military. They took over and did a damn fine job in the provinces.

"There were some officers, too," Grieves said, adding that "most of them were staff members. We also had an ex-military police major as an adviser to two Field Police companies working with the First Cavalry near Qui Nhon, rooting out VC. He was there two days and said he wanted a ticket home. He said, 'I'd have stayed in the Army if I wanted this.'

"So Ed Schlacter took over in Binh Dinh," Grieves continued. "Based on Special Branch intelligence that Vietcong guerrillas were in the village, around first light the First Cavalry would go in by chopper and circle the village, followed by a Field Police squad, platoon, or company. While the Cav provided security, the Field Police would search people and look in the rice pot. The Americans never knew what was going on, but the Vietnamese in the Field Police would know how many people were feeding by looking in the rice pot. If they saw enough rice for ten people but only saw six people in the hooch, they knew the rest were hiding underground."

About the Special Branch, Grieves commented, "They had a security and intelligence gathering function. Special Branch furnished the intelligence on which the Field Police would react. They could pick up two or three guys themselves and actually didn't need to call in the Field Police unless it was a big deal.

"What we did was put a company of Field Police in each province," Grieves explained. "Originally the plan was for a fixed company: four platoons and a headquarters. If you had a big province, put in two companies. Then it became obvious, if you're going to put platoons in the districts, that it would be better to have one company headquarters and a variable number of platoons. So the basic unit became the forty-man three-squad platoon. They had M-sixteens and were semi-mobile.

"In theory, each company had an adviser, but that was never the case. There were never enough. In fact, some of the places where we didn't have a Field Police adviser, the Public Safety adviser had to take it over. When I first went out there, some Public Safety people had to cover three provinces and were supposed to take the Field Police under their wing. In most cases, however, they didn't have any interest, and it didn't work too well. But when the thing got going, the Public Safety adviser had the Field Police adviser under him, and by the very end the companies were so well trained that they could run themselves."


Doug McCollum was one of the first Public Safety advisers to manage Field Police units in Vietnam. Born in New Jersey and reared in California, McCollum served three years in the U.S. Army before joining the Walnut Creek Police Department in 1961. Five years later one of McCollum's colleagues, who was working for Public Safety in Vietnam, wrote and suggested that he do likewise. On April 16, 1966, Doug McCollum arrived in Saigon; two weeks later he was sent to Pleiku Province as the Public Safety police adviser.

"There was no one there to meet me when I arrived," McCollum recalled, "so I went over to the province senior adviser ... who didn't know I was coming and was surprised to see me. He didn't want me there either because of the previous Public Safety adviser, who was then living with his wife in Cambodia. Rogers didn't think Public Safety was any good." [3]

Not many people did. To give the devil his due, however, it was hard for a Public Safety adviser to distinguish between unlawful and customary behavior on the part of his Vietnamese counterpart. The province police chief bought his job from the province chief, and in turn the police chief expected a percentage of the profits his subordinates made selling licenses and paroles and whatever to the civilian population. Many police chiefs were also taking payoffs from black-marketeers, a fact they would naturally try to keep from their advisers -- unless the advisors wanted a piece of the action, too.

The problem was compounded for a Field Police commander and his adviser. As Grieves noted, "the Vietnamese Field Police platoon leader could not operate on his own. He received his orders and his tasks from commanders outside the Field Police, and the National Police commanders he worked for were in turn subjected to the orders of province and district chiefs who had operational control of the National Police."

Another limitation on the Field Police was the fact that Vietnamese policemen were prohibited from arresting American soldiers. Consequently, Doug McCollum worked closely with the Military Police in Pleiku to reduce tensions between American soldiers and Vietnamese and Montagnard pedestrians who often found themselves under the wheels of U.S. Army vehicles. With the cooperation of his counterpart, McCollum and the MPs set up stop signs at intersections and put radar in place in an effort to slow traffic. To reduce tensions further, McCollum and the MPs restricted soldiers to bars in the military compound.

A dedicated professional who is now an intelligence analyst for the Labor Department, McCollum believed he "was doing something for our country by helping police help people." One of his accomplishments as a Public Safety adviser was to renovate the province jail, which before his arrival had male and female prisoners incarcerated together. He inspected the PIC once a week, did manpower studies which revealed "ghost" employees on the police payroll, and managed the national identification program, which presented a unique problem in the highlands because "it was hard to bend the fingers of a Montagnard." McCollum also led the Field Police in joint patrols with the MPs around Pleiku City's perimeter.

Soon McCollum was running the Public Safety program in three provinces -- Pleiku, Kontum, and Phu Bon. As adviser to the police chief in each province McCollum was responsible for collecting intelligence "from the police side" on enemy troop movements, caches, and cadres and for sending intelligence reports to his regional headquarters in Nha Trang. Then, in February 1967, McCollum was reassigned to Ban Me Thuot, the capital city of Darlac Province. There he had the police set up "a maze of barbed wire, allowing only one way into the city. I put people on rooftops and had the Field Police on roving patrols." McCollum also began monitoring the Chieu Hoi program. "They'd come in, we'd hold them, feed them, clothe them, get them a mat. Then we'd release them, and they'd wander around the city for a while, then disappear. It was the biggest hole in the net."

McCollum's feelings reflect the growing tension between people involved in police programs and those involved in Revolutionary Development. At times the two approaches to pacification seemed to cancel each other out. But they also overlapped. Said Grieves about this paradoxical situation: "We used to send Field Police squads and platoons down to Vung Tau for RD training, which was political indoctrination, and for PRU training, which was raids and ambushes. Now the RD Cadre were patterned on the Communists' political cadre, and they paralleled the civilian government. But most were city boys who went out to the villages and just talked to the girls. On the other hand, the Vietcong had been training since they were twelve. So the CIA was trying to do in twelve weeks what the Communists did in six years."

Phoenix eventually arose as the ultimate synthesis of these conflicting police and paramilitary programs. And with the formation of the Field Police, its component parts were set in place. The CIA was managing Census Grievance, RD Cadre, counterterror teams, and the PICs. Military intelligence was working with the MSS, ARVN intelligence, and the Regional and Popular Forces. AID was managing Chieu Hoi and Public Safety, including the Field Police. All that remained was for someone to bring them together under the Special Branch.



i. The two Combat Police battalions (later called Order Police) were CIA-advised paramilitary police units used to break up demonstrations and provide security for government functions.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:53 am

CHAPTER 7: Special Branch

Nelson Brickham is fiercely independent, hungry for information, and highly skilled at organizing complex systems in simple terms. "I've been called an organizational genius," he said modestly, "but that's not true. I'm just well read." [1] He is also engaging, candid, and willful, with interests ranging from yachting and bird watching to religious studies. When we met in November 1986, he had just completed a master's thesis on the First Book of John.

His motive for speaking with me, however, had nothing to do with atonement; in his words, it was a matter of "vanity," the chance that "maybe I'll wind up as a footnote in history." Said Brickham: "I feel that I, as well as a number of other people, never got recognition for some of the things we did." Brickham also believed his analysis of the CIA's role in the Vietnam War might help reverse what he saw as a dangerous drift to the right in American politics. "The events we've seen in recent years," he told me, "are a reaction to the psychic trauma of the country following Vietnam, a reaction which, on a far more modest scale, is similar in character -- and here's where it's dangerous -- to the frustration and bitterness of the German nation after the First World War."

Coming from a CIA officer who did everything in his power to win the war, to the extent of creating Phoenix, such a warning carries double weight. So, who is Nelson Brickham? Prior to joining the CIA in 1949, Brickham attended Yale University, from which he was graduated magna cum laude with a degree in international politics. His first CIA assignment was on the Czechoslovakian desk in the Office of Reports and Estimates. During the Korean War Brickham worked for the agency's Special Intelligence Branch, gathering intelligence on Soviet political and foreign officers. Next came a stint in the Office of Current Intelligence, where he got involved in "depth research" on the Soviet political process and produced with several colleagues the landmark Caesar Project on the selection process of Soviet leaders after Stalin's death. As a result of the Caesar Project, Brickham was invited to London as a guest of British intelligence-MI6. Overseas travel and liaison with foreign nationals appealed to him, and in 1955 he transferred from the sedate Directorate of Intelligence to the Soviet Russia (SR) Division in the freewheeling Directorate of Plans, where the CIA's clandestine operations were then being hatched.

In 1958 Brickham was appointed chief of the operations research branch of the SR Division, where he planned covert operations into Soviet territory. These operations included the emplacement of photographic and signet equipment near Soviet military bases and the preparation of false documents for "black" agents. Brickham also wrote research papers on specific geographic targets.

Then the Russians sent up Sputnik, which "scared everyone," Brickham recalled, "and so I was put in charge of a massive research project designed to develop collection targets against the Soviet missile program. Well, in 1954 I had read a report from British intelligence describing how they had developed a target plot approach to guiding espionage and other collection activities. In applying that target plot idea to the Soviet problem, it immediately occurred to me to magnify it as a systems analysis study so we could go after the whole Soviet missile program. It was the first time," he said, "that any government agency had taken a systems approach toward a Soviet target. We wanted to pull together all information from whatever source, of whatever degree of reliability, and collect that information in terms of its geographic location. And from that effort a series of natural targets sprang up."

A systems approach means assembling information on a weapons system from its theoretical inception, through its research and development stage, its serial production, its introduction to the armed forces, finally to its deployment. "For the first time," Brickham said, "there was a complete view of everything known about Russian military and missile development systems. The British called this the best thing achieved by American research since the war."

Insofar as Phoenix sought to combine all existing counterinsurgency programs in a coordinated attack on the VCI, Brickham's notion of a systems approach served as the conceptual basis for Phoenix, although in Phoenix the targets were people, not missile silos.

With yet another feather in his cap, Brickham was posted in 1960 to Teheran, where he managed intelligence and counterintelligence operations against the Soviets in Iran. As one of only three neutral countries bordering the USSR, Iran was a plum assignment. For Brickham, however, it devolved into a personality conflict with his desk officer in Washington. Frustrated, he requested a transfer and in 1964 was sent to the Sino-Soviet Relations Branch, where he managed black propaganda operations designed to cause friction between the USSR and China. At the heart of these black operations were false flag recruitments, in which CIA case officers posed as Soviet intelligence officers and, using legitimate Soviet cipher systems and methodology, recruited Chinese diplomats, who believed they were working for the Russians, although they were actually working for the CIA. The CIA case officers, on Brickham's instructions, then used the unsuspecting Chinese agents to create all manner of mischief. Although it was a job with "lots of room for imagination," Brickham was unhappy with it, and when the agency had its "call-up" for Vietnam in the summer of 1965, Brickham volunteered to go.

His preparation included briefings from experts on the Vietnamese desk, reading books and newspaper articles, and reviewing reports and cable traffic produced by every government agency. Upon arriving in Saigon in September 1965, he was assigned to the station's liaison branch as deputy chief of police Special Branch field operations. His boss was Tucker Gougleman.

The chief of station was Gordon Jorgenson, "a kindly, thoughtful person. He'd been through the bombing of the embassy the previous February. Peer DeSilva, who was hurt in the explosion, went home, and Jorgy, who had been his deputy, became station chief. But within a matter of months he went home, too, and John Hart came out as the new chief of station in January 1966." The subject of John Hart gave Brickham pause. "I have described the intelligence service as a socially acceptable way of expressing criminal tendencies," he 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. I'd put John Hart in this category -- a mercenary who found a socially acceptable way of doing these things and, I might add, getting very well paid for it.

"John Hart was an egomaniac," Brickham continued, "but a little bit more under control than some of the bad ones. He was a smart one. A big, imposing guy over six feet tall with a very regal bearing and almost a British accent. He claims to be Norman, and he spoke fluent French and was always trying on every occasion to press people to speak French. Red Stent used to say that you could tell somebody who parades his knowledge of French by the way he uses the subjunctive, and John Hart used it properly. But John Hart had both feet on the ground. He was a bright guy, very energetic, and very heavy into tennis -- he played it every day.

"When John Hart came out as chief of station, I was one of his escort officers; our job was to take him on a tour of the whole country, to visit the facilities and explain what was going on. And my job was in question at that moment because Hart had another guy -- his pet, John Sherwood -- slated to replace Tucker as chief of field operations .... Anyway," Brickham said, "there's a great division in the Foreign Service world between people who get out on the local economy and try to eat native and find out what's going on versus the people that hole up in the American colony, the so-called golden ghetto people. So we're sitting around, talking about Vietnamese food and about the guys who go down to the MAAG compound for dinner every night, and Hart makes this sort of sneerlike remark to me at the restaurant where we're having dinner; he says, 'Well, really, I would have figured you for the kind of person who would eat dinner in the MAAG compound every night.' Well, he later found out that wasn't true, and he was persuaded to appoint me to the position of chief of field operations. And even though I started out with that base of insecurity, Hart respected me. And later on that became quite evident."

Perhaps as a result of his eating habits, Brickham got assigned as chief of Special Branch field operations in the spring of 1966, after Tucker Gougleman's tour had ended and he was transferred to New Delhi. And once installed in the job, he began to initiate the organizational reforms that paved the way for Phoenix. To trace that process, it is helpful to understand the context.

"We were within the liaison branch," Brickham explained, "because we worked with the Vietnamese nationals, dealing with the CIO and Special Branch on questions of intelligence and counterespionage. The chief of the liaison branch was Jack Stent." Brickham's office was in the embassy annex, while Special Branch headquarters was located in the National Police Interrogation Center. As chief of field operations Brickham had no liaison responsibilities at the national level. "I had field operations," Brickham explained, "which meant the province officers. I managed all these liaison operations in the provinces, but not in the Saigon-Gia Dinh military district. That was handled by a separate section under Red Stent within the liaison branch."

As for his duties, Brickham said, "In our particular case, field operations was working both positive intelligence programs and counterespionage, because police do not distinguish between the two. Within the CIA the two are separate divisions, but when you're working with the police, you have to cover all this." Brickham compares the Special Branch "with an intelligence division in a major city police force, bearing in mind that it is within a national police organization with national, regional, province, and district police officers. There is a vertical chain of command. But it is not comparable with FBI, not comparable with MI Five, not comparable with Surete. It's the British Special Branch of police .... And with the Special Branch being concerned specifically with intelligence, it was the natural civilian agency toward which we would gravitate when the CIA got interested. Under Colby, the Special Branch became significant."

If under Colby (who was then chief of the CIA's Far East Division) the Special Branch became significant, then under Brickham it became effective. Brickham's job, as he defined it, "was to bring sharpness and focus to CIA field operations." He divided those operations into three categories: the Hamlet Informant program (HIP), which concerned low-level informants in the villages and hamlets; the Province Interrogation Center program, including Chieu Hoi and captured documents; and agent penetrations. "I did not organize these programs," he acknowledged. "They were already in place. What I did do was to clean up the act ... bureaucratize ....We had some province officers trying to build PICs, while some didn't care. We even had police liaison people putting whistles on kites at night to scare away the VC when that wasn't part of their job. We were not supposed to be propagandists; that's covert operations' job."

As Brickham saw it, a Special Branch adviser should limit himself to his primary duties: training Vietnamese Special Branch case officers how to mount penetrations of the VCI, giving them cash for informers and for building interrogation centers, and reporting on the results. Brickham did this by imposing his management style on the organization. As developed over the years, that style was based on three principles: "Operate lean and hungry, don't get bogged down in numbers, and figure some way to hold their feet to the fire.

"When I got there, we had about fourteen province officers who were not distributed evenly around the country but were concentrated in population centers, the major ports, and provinces of particular interest. A lot of provinces were empty, so we had to fill them up, and we eventually got our strength up to fifty."

Training of incoming officers was done in Washington, although Brickham and his staff (including John Muldoon and an officer who handled logistics) gave them briefings on personal security, aircraft security, emergency behavior, and procedure -- "what to do if your plane is shot down in VC territory or if the VC overrun a village you're working in .... Some guys took it seriously; some did not," Brickham noted. "We also gave them reading material -- a Time magazine article on the Chinese mind and several books, the most important of which was Village in Vietnam. But we had to cut back on this because the stuff was constantly disappearing. Then, as the police advisory program expanded, Washington set up another training program for ex-police officers being brought in on contract and for military officers and enlisted men assigned to the agency .... We had a bunch of guys on contract as province officers who were not CIA officers, but who were hired by the agency and given to us."

Not the sort of man to suffer fools, Brickham quickly began weeding out the chaff from the wheat, recommending home leave for province officers who had operational fund shortages or were not at their posts or otherwise could not cut the mustard. Brickham's method of evaluating officers was a monthly report. "I wanted a province officer to tell me once a month every place he'd been and how long he'd been there. Normally this kind of thing wouldn't show up in a report, but it was important to me and it was important to the Vietnamese that our people 'show the flag' and be there when the action was going on. Reporting makes for accountability.

"A Special Branch monthly report, as I designed it, would go up to four pages in length and would take province officers two or three days to complete .... The reports were then sent in from the province through the region officer [a position Brickham placed in the chain of command], who wrote his report on top of it. We studied them in Saigon, packaged them up, and sent them on to Washington, where they had never seen anything like it."

To streamline the rapidly expanding Special Branch advisory program further, Brickham set up six regional offices and appointed region officers; Gordon Rothwell in Da Nang, for I Corps; Dick Akins in Nha Trang, handling the coastal provinces in II Corps; Tom Burke in Ban Me Thuot, handling Montagnard provinces; Sam Drakulich in Bien Hoa in III Corps; Bob Collier in My Tho for the northern Delta; and Kinloch Bull in Can Tho for the southern provinces. Brickham's liaison branch was the first to have region officers; the rest of the station was not operating that way. In fact, while the liaison branch had one officer in each province, reporting to a region officer, the discombobulated covert action branch had five or six programs in each province, with an officer for each program, with more than two hundred officers coming in and out of headquarters, each operating under the direct supervision of Tom Donohue.

Donohue scoffed at Brickham's attention to reporting. "My point, of course, was quite the opposite of Brickham's," he said. "I felt it was better to keep those guys working and not tie them up with paper work (that can be handled elsewhere). What I did was take raw reporting and give it to an officer who was not really any good in the field, and he was responsible for doing nothing but producing finished reporting from raw reporting. That takes the problem off the guys in the field. It's the same problem that so many sales organizations have: Do they want their people on the street or doing reports?" [2]

Donohue's budget ("about twenty-eight million dollars a year") was considerably larger than his archrival Brickham's, which was approximately one million dollars a year. Otherwise, according to Brickham, "The main difference between Foreign Intelligence and Paramilitary was the fact that we had region officers, but the PM people worked directly out of Saigon .... And it was this situation that Hart wanted to straighten out.

"Hart's first move was to adopt this regional officer concept from the liaison branch," Brickham explained. "Second was to establish province officers so all CIA operations in a particular province came under one coordinated command. The fact that it operated on the other basis for as long as it did is almost unbelievable, but there was just too much money and not enough planning.

"The covert action people are a breed apart" -- Brickham sighed -- "especially the paramilitary types. They've had a sort of checkered history within the agency, and in Vietnam most of them were refugees from the Cuban failure. More than one of them said they were damned if they were going to be on the losing end of the Vietnam operation, too." Backing away from the knuckle draggers, Brickham noted: "We had very little to do with one another. They were located across the hall from us in the embassy annex, and we knew each other, and we were friends, and we drank beer together. But we had our separate programs, theirs being the covert programs the station was conducting in the provinces. The PM shop was basically an intelligence arm under cover, getting its own intelligence through armed propaganda teams, Census Grievance, and the whole Montagnard program run out of Pleiku .... Then they had the so-called counterterror teams, which initially were exactly as leftist propaganda described them. They were teams that went into VC areas to do to them what they were doing to us. It gets sort of interesting. When the VC would come into villages, they'd leave a couple of heads sticking on fence posts as they left. That kind of thing. Up there in I Corps there was more than one occasion where U.S. advisers would be found dead with nails through their foreheads."

As for the Census Grievance program, managed by John Woodsman, Brickham said, "We wanted access to its intelligence because they could get intelligence we didn't have access to. But because we were more compartmented within ourselves than we should have been, the police could not necessarily absorb this stuff .... The basic contract with the Vietnamese peasant," Brickham explained, "was that anything that was learned through Census Grievance would not be turned over to the police authorities. This was to get the confidence of the rural population. So we had almost nothing to do with it. It was for the province chief's advice and guidance. They took Census Grievance stuff and turned around and used it in the counterterror teams, although on occasion they might turn something over to the military." Brickham cited Chieu Hoi as "one of the few areas where police and paramilitary advisers cooperated."

Regarding his own programs, Brickham said, "All counterinsurgency depends in the first instance on informants; without them you're dead, and with them you can do all sorts of things. This is something that can only be a local operation. It's a family affair. A few piasters change hands."

In "The Future Applicability of the Phoenix Program," written for the Air University in 1974, CIA Province Officer Warren Milberg calls the Hamlet Informant program the focus of the Special Branch's "bread-and-butter" activities, designed specifically "to gain information from and on the people who lived in rural hamlets .... The problem," he writes, "was in recruiting informants in as many hamlets as possible." This task was made difficult by the fact that informing is dangerous work, so "it became necessary to do detailed studies of various motivational factors." Consequently, at the top of Special Branch recruitment lists were "people who had been victims of Viet Cong atrocities and acts of terrorism." [3]

Recruiting victims of VC terror as informers was a condition that dove-tailed neatly with counterterror and the doctrine of Contre Coup. For, as David Galula explains, "pseudo insurgents are another way to get intelligence and to sow suspicion at the same time between the real guerrillas and the population." [4]

By 1965 defectors who joined counterterror teams had the words Sat Gong (Kill Communist) tattooed on their chests as part of the initiation ceremony to keep them from returning to former VC and NVA units. Their unit insignia was a machete with wings, while their 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. This was not a fact reported only by the leftist press. 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. "It was alleged to me that several of them executed two village leaders and raped some women," the Herald Tribune reported Young as saying. [5]

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. The rationale was that other Vietnamese would see that the VC had killed another VC and would be frightened away from becoming VC themselves. Of course, the villagers would then be inclined to some sort of allegiance to our side. [6]

"I was told," writes Herbert, "that there were Vietnamese people in the villages who were being paid to point the finger." Intrigued, he asked how they knew for certain that the informer might not have ulterior motives for leading the death squads to a particular family. "I suggested that some of their informers might be motivated, for instance, by revenge or personal monetary gain, and that some of their stool-pigeons could be double or triple agents." [7]

Milberg concedes the point, noting that the Special Branch recruited informants who "clearly fabricated information which they thought their Special Branch case officers wanted to hear" and that when "this information was compiled and produced in the form of blacklists, a distinct possibility existed that the names on such lists had little relation to actual persons or that the people so named were not, in fact, members of the VCI." [8]

Such concerns, unfortunately, were overlooked in the rush to obtain information on the VCI. "The Special Branch kept records of people who had been victims of Viet Cong atrocities and acts of terrorism, of people who had been unreasonably taxed by the Viet Cong, of families which had had sons and husbands impressed into Viet Cong guerrilla bands, and those people who, for differing reasons, disliked or distrusted the Viet Cong. Depending on the incentive, be it patriotism or monetary gain, many hamlet residents were desirous of providing information on the activities of the local VCI. The Special Branch then constructed sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple plans to either bring these potential informants into province or district towns or to send undercover agents to the hamlets to interview them on a regular basis." [9]

In recommending "safe, anonymous" ways for informers to convey information, counterinsurgency guru David Galula cites as examples "the census, the issuing of passes, and the remuneration of workers." Writes Galula: "Many systems can be devised for this purpose, but the simplest one is to multiply opportunities for individual contacts between the population and the counterinsurgent personnel, every one of whom must participate in intelligence collection." [10] The idea, of course, is that "intelligence collection" is the primary task of the counterinsurgent and that all his contacts with the population are geared toward this purpose, whatever ulterior motive they may appear to have.

Apart from the Hamlet Informant program, Special Branch advisers also managed the PIC program -- what Brickham called "a foundation stone upon which it was later possible to construct the Phoenix program. The PICs were places where defectors and prisoners could be taken for questioning under controlled circumstances," he explained. "Responsibility was handled by a small group assembled by Tucker Gougleman. This group worked with province officers setting up training programs for translators, clerks doing filing and collation, and interrogators. John Muldoon was the chief of this little group. He was CIA staff, and he had a good program there. Everything led me to believe that he was top-notch."

The third major program run by the Special Branch was agent penetrations, what Brickham termed "recruitment in place of Vietcong," adding, "This is by far the most important program in terms of gathering intelligence on the enemy. My motto was to recruit them; if you can't recruit them, defect them (that's Chieu Hoi); if you can't defect them, capture them; if you can't capture them, kill them. That was my attitude toward high-level VCI."

The penetration process worked as follows, according to OSS veteran Jim Ward, the CIA officer in charge of IV Corps between 1967 and 1969. An athletic, good-looking man, Ward noted, when we met together at his home, that the Special Branch kept dossiers on all suspected VCI in a particular area of operations, and that evidence was gathered from PIC interrogations, captured documents, and "walk-ins" -- people who would walk into a police station and inform on an alleged VCI. When the accumulated evidence indicated that a suspect was a high-ranking VCI agent, that person was targeted for recruitment in place. "You didn't send out the PRU right away," Ward told me. "First you had to figure out if you could get access to him and if you could communicate with him once you had a relationship. Everybody in the Far East operates primarily by family, so the only opportunity of getting something like that would be through relatives who were accessible people. Does he have a sister or wife in town that we can have access to? A brother? Somebody who can reach him? Somebody he can trust? If that could be arranged, then you looked for a weakness to exploit. Is there any reason to believe he's been in this position for five years and hasn't been promoted when everybody else around him has been moving up the ladder? Does he bear resentment? Anything you can find by way of vulnerability that would indicate this guy might be amenable to persuasion to work for us." [11] Bribes, sex, blackmail, and drugs all were legitimate means of recruitment.

Speaking of the quality of Special Branch penetration agents, Brickham remarked, "We had some that were fairly good. By which I mean their information checked out." That information, he added, concerned "the movements and activities of district and province and COSVN cadre. COSVN people might come around on an inspection tour or an indoctrination mission. Sometimes they had major political conferences where you might have a number of province and COSVN cadre together in one place. Now this is the kind of thing we'd go right after however we could. It was usually militarily; artillery if you could reach it."

Because of the unparalleled "intelligence potential" of penetrations, one of the main jobs of liaison advisers was training Special Branch case officers to handle penetration agents. At the same time, according to Brickham, "if the opportunity came their way, our own people would have a unilateral penetration into the VCI without their Special Branch counterparts knowing. These things for the most part were low-grade, but occasionally we had some people on the payroll as penetration agents who worked at district level, and as I recall, we had three or four at province level, which is fairly high up."

In 1967, Brickham told me, the CIA had "several hundred penetration agents in South Vietnam, most of them low-level." They were not cultivated over a period of years either. "In a counterinsurgency," he explained, "it's either quickly or not at all. However, the unilateral operations branch in the station went after some very high-level, very sophisticated target penetration operations." Since this unit played a major role in Phoenix, it requires a brief accounting.

The CIA's special operations unit for unilateral penetrations was largely the work of Sam Drakulich, the senior Special Branch adviser in III Corps in 1965. "I've always had a notion ever since I was a kid," Brickham said, "that it's the crazy people that have the bright ideas. So I've always been willing to play along with people like that, even though they're ignored by the other kids in school. Same thing with Drakulich. He had a lot of good ideas, but he was a little flaky -- and he got more so. He refused to live in Bien Hoa, and he was the region officer in charge. Now I wanted all the region officers to live in their capitals. Anyway, Drakulich had a place to live out there, and it hadn't been bombed in thirty years; but he was terrified, so he came to Saigon every night. The point came [March 1966] where he was not supervising the province operations, and therefore, I persuaded Tucker to relieve him of duty.

"Howard 'Rocky' Stone [Jack Stent's replacement as chief of Foreign Intelligence (FI)] had just come into country and was putting on pressure for VCI penetrations. So what Tucker and I did -- to respond to Stone, on the one hand, and to solve the Drakulich problem, on the other -- was to create a high-level VCI penetration unit and switch Drakulich to run it."

Drakulich claimed to me, in a 1986 interview, that he had written a proposal for the high-level penetration unit before he was given the job by Brickham. Big and powerfully built, Drakulich said he designed the unit specifically to identify a group of high-level VCI that had killed, in broad daylight, a CIA officer on the main street of Bien Hoa. Hence his angst about sleeping overnight in Bien Boa. In any event, Drakulich devised a special unit for penetrating the high-level VCI who were targeting CIA officers for assassination, and it was his contention that this special unit, which supplied blacklists to a special CT unit in Saigon, was the prototype for Phoenix. [12]

The special unit organized by Drakulich consisted of several high-ranking CIA officers who traveled through the country reviewing all penetration cases. This team would visit each province officer, interview everyone on his staff, evaluate all the cases, in some instances meeting with the agent, then determine which of the cases were promising enough to set up special arrangements. The special unit would bring back to Saigon the cases that were promising, and in Saigon, Brickham said, "We would apply special care to their development. We would nurture them, generate requirements, and make sure they had communications and full exploitation.

"Regardless of the potential importance of this job," Brickham added, "Sam could never adjust to the fact that he had been relieved of his regional officer job, and so he left Vietnam in the summer of 1966. And that was the end of that. Then Rocky Stone set up his special unit [under Burke Dunn] I to take over what Sam Drakulich was supposed to be doing, and suddenly these cases, if they were thought to be good, would disappear from our purview all together.

"Stone pressed very hard for unilateral operations. He was interested in high-level penetrations of the VCI; I was interested in fighting a counter-insurgency war. As a result, he set up this separate shop, which took away my best operations -- which is always a source of resentment. Stone and I later became best of friends, but not in this period." Brickham took a deep breath, then said solemnly, "This competition for intelligence sources is one of the underlying, chronic conflicts that you can't avoid. There's a tension because there are two different purposes, but you're utilizing basically the same resources.

"Anyway, the penetrations Stone wanted to take away were our unilaterals. Out in the provinces we would provide advice and guidance to the Special Branch for their penetrations into the VCI. But on our side, maybe through Chieu Hoi or some other resource, we would develop independent unilateral penetrations unknown to the police. We had a number of these around the country, and it's that kind of thing that Stone's special unit was interested in reviewing. And if it was very good, they'd take it away from us."

Not only did Rocky Stone abscond with the special unit, but he also took steps to have Special Branch field operations expelled from the station. This issue is central to Phoenix. "There was always a big fight in the agency as to how covert it should be," Brickham explained. "In particular, there was a lot of opposition in the station to the extent of exposure we had in Special Branch field operations. So Stone came in and tried to reduce that operation in favor of unilateral espionage into the VCI. Which I resisted."

A believer in David Galula's theories on political warfare, Brickham stated, "My feelings were simple. We're in a war, an intelligence war, meaning fought on the basis of intelligence. It will either succeed or fail on intelligence. Special Branch field operations are a crucial element of this whole thing with Special Branch operations -- informants, defectors, PICs -- critical against the enemy infrastructure. American boys are over here who are being killed. We don't have time to worry about bureaucratic niceties. We don't have time to worry about reputations. We got to win the goddamned thing!

"So I was all gung ho for continuation and improvement of field operations. But Stone said, 'Get rid of field operations. I don't want it as part of my responsibility.' So I was turned over to the new Revolutionary Development Cadre unit that was run by Lou Lapham, who was brought out from Washington especially for that purpose."
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:53 am

CHAPTER 8: Attack on the VCI

In the summer of 1966 steps were finally taken in Washington and Saigon to resolve the debate over who should manage the pacification of South Vietnam. At the heart of the problem was the fact that despite the U.S. Army's success against NVA main force units in the Central Highlands, the Vietnamese people were not supporting the GVN to the extent that President Lyndon Johnson could withdraw American forces and leave the Vietnamese to manage the war on their own.

On one side of the debate was the Pentagon, recommending a single chain of command under MACV commander Westmoreland. The reasons were simple enough: The military was providing 90 percent of pacification resources, a single chain of command was more efficient, and there was danger in having unsupervised civilians in a battle zone. On the other hand, the civilian agencies were afraid that if the military managed pacification, any political settlement calling for the withdrawal of troops would also require civilians under military management (in, for example, refugee programs) to depart from Vietnam along with U.S. soldiers.

In 1965 Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge had handed the problem to Ed Lansdale, whom he appointed senior liaison to the Ministry of Revolutionary Development. But Lansdale (a "fifth wheel," according to Brickham) was unwanted and ignored and failed to overcome the bureaucratic rivalries in Saigon. By 1966 the problem was back in Washington, where it was determined that pacification was failing as the result of a combination of poor management and the VCI's ability to disrupt Revolutionary Development. As a way of resolving these interrelated problems, President Johnson summoned his war managers to a conference at Warrenton, Virginia, in January 1966, the result of which was an agreement that a single pacification manager was needed. Once again, this point of view was advanced by the military through its special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities, General William Peers, who suggested that the MACV commander be put in charge of pacification, with a civilian deputy.

Although the civilians continued to object, Johnson wanted quick results, the kind only the military could provide, and shortly thereafter he named National Security Council member Robert Komer his special assistant for pacification. Komer was an advocate of military control, whose master plan was to unite all agencies involved in pacification under his personal management and direct them against the VCI.

Meanwhile, the Saigon Embassy commissioned a study on the problem of interagency coordination. Begun in July 1966 under mission coordinator George "Jake" Jacobson, the Roles and Missions Study made eighty-one recommendations, sixty-six of which were accepted by everyone. Consensus had been achieved, and a major reorganization commenced. Notably, the policy for anti-VCI operations as stated by the Roles and Missions Study was "that the Police Special Branch assume primary responsibility for the destruction of the Viet Cong Infrastructure." [1]

"We did claim in Roles and Missions," according to Brickham, the CIA representative on that committee, "that the police should have a major civilian role and be the spearhead of the effort because it was the police over the long haul, and in terms of ultimate victory, that would have to settle the problem ... and that therefore we should not let the military run everything till the end of the war, then let everything fall into chaos when the military was brought out." [2]

But in pursuit of total victory, the size and pace of military operations were steadily escalating in 1966, more and more to the exclusion of the concerns of the civilian agencies involved in pacification. For example, the military was more concerned with gathering intelligence on the size and location of enemy combat units than on its political infrastructure. Military agent nets and interrogators zeroed in on this type of information, reflecting what Brickham termed the military mentality, the object of which is "to set up a battle." The police mentality, according to Brickham, is "to arrest, convict, and send to jail," while the intelligence mentality "is to capture, interrogate, and turn in place."

Expanding on this theme, Brickham said, "If the military were going into a province, the sector adviser and the sector S-two [sector intelligence adviser] would be brought in, do their thing, and come out without ever being aware of the enormous intelligence capability residing in the Special Police. When -- in provinces manned by bright military officers -- they did bring in the Special Police, it was done on an ad hoc basis. Conversely, anytime the military took over a civilian operation or activity, nine times out of ten it would be a perversion of the civilian capability into a military support arm. And when that happened, we would almost invariably find that the so-called civilian intelligence operation was quickly perverted to provide tactical combat intelligence for U.S. or ARVN forces. This was a tendency which had to be constantly opposed. "

However, Brickham qualified his opposition to the emphasis on tactical military concerns by noting: "The CIA could not claim exclusive jurisdiction for an attack on the VCI. We would not have wanted to. Special Branch wasn't strong enough. It suffered from incompetent leadership and from poor training, even though Special Branch personnel and leadership were a cut above the regular staffing of the National Police."

What was needed was cooperation. But while turf battles between the CIA and the military were obstructing the war effort, the problem was exacerbated when the Vietnamese were factored into the equation. "Talk about bureaucratic infighting." Brickham laughed. "Well, it was far worse on the Vietnamese side. There was unquestionably contempt held by the ARVN for the National Police. The Vietnamese military had no use for them. And to the extent that the U.S. military may have reflected the ARVN point of view, if there was a joint ARVN-American operation, well, the Special Police would have been systematically cut out of the thing."

Into this bureaucratic minefield in August 1966 stepped Robert Komer, packing a mandate from President Johnson and intent upon effecting the military takeover of pacification. Predictably the civilian agencies recoiled in horror. The State Department cited the political nature of pacification, and neither the Agency for International Development nor the CIA thought the military capable of doing the job. So, under pressure from Ambassador Lodge (who bestowed upon Komer the nickname Blowtorch), President Johnson gave the civilians one last shot. The result was the Office of Civil Operations (OCO).

Formed in October 1966, OCO combined the field operations units of AID, USIS, and CIA and on this basis was organized into branches for psychological operations, political action, defectors, public safety, refugees, and economic development. Under the director, Wade Lathram, and his military deputy, General Paul Smith, OCO region directors were assigned to each corps; John Vann from AID in II Corps; State Department officer Art Koren in I Corps; CIA officer Vince Heyman in IV Corps; and Robert Mattson in II Corps. Ed Lansdale was slated for Mattson's job but turned it down.

Given four months to show results, the Office of Civil Operations was doomed from the start, but it did prove valuable by forcing the civilian agencies to work together. Faced with the prospect of military control, agency chains of command -- extending from Washington to Saigon to the provinces -- were wrenched apart and realigned. And even though nothing was achieved in terms of improving pacification, the formation of the Office of Civil Operations spared MACV commander Westmoreland from having to reorganize the civilian agencies himself. In March 1967 President Johnson was to incorporate OCO within MACV under the Revolutionary Development Support Directorate, managed by General William Knowlton. Announced in May 1967, the Military Assistance Command for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development (CORDS) was to be the bureaucratic vessel from which Phoenix would be born.

"During the big reorganization at the end of 1966," Brickham recalled, "they were trying to clean up the RD programs and streamline the war effort. So all the field operations, both covert and police Special Branch, were more or less divorced from the station and put under OCO, which was later called CORDS, in the Revolutionary Development Cadre Division. Lou Lapham came out from Washington to become the new deputy chief of station and chief of the RDC. I moved over from Rocky Stone's jurisdiction to Lapham's jurisdiction and answered to him. Lou was a very quiet, laid-back ex-professor with thick-rimmed glasses. He did not have a paramilitary background; his bag was propaganda and psychological warfare.

"RDC took over the CIA's covert action programs under its operations branch, RDC/O," Brickham explained, "while a second branch, RDC/P [Plans], took over police field operations. That was my shop. I no longer had the title of chief of field operations. But it was the same job with basically the same duties, except we were theoretically working toward a coordinated system. I became chief of RDC/P, and we and RDC/O moved from the embassy annex to another building called USAID Two. Donohue went home, and a new guy, Renz Hoeksema, came out from Washington and took over that shop. Renz and I had done two tours together in Teheran. He was a hard-driven officer, very smart ... one of those Midwest Dutchmen of whom we have several in the agency." Brickham described Hoeksema as "ruthless" and "an expert on self-promotion."

"During the reorganization," Brickham continued, "the station adopted the Special Branch field operations organizational structure as a model for coordinating liaison and covert operations, only instead of using six regions, they used the four corp zones. My Tho and Ban Me Thuot were no longer regional offices." After that all CIA activities in a region were brought under one officer called the region officer in charge (ROIC). Likewise, province officers in charge followed automatically. "The POIC was in charge of all CIA operations, covert and liaison, in a province," Brickham explained. "He could have been drawn from liaison or covert operations, depending on who the ROIC thought was the best guy in the province. Incidentally, we did not actually assign POICs right away, because the rivalry and lack of trust between FI and PM people wouldn't allow it. When I talk about coordination problems in Vietnam, the fact is that we could not even coordinate the station programs in province.

"After the ROICs were named, we set up bases. The engineers went out and built vaults in each of these places and set up the complete multi-channel automatic teleprinter encryptographic system radio communications. From this point on the line command went from the chief of station to the deputy chief of station for RDC, to the ROICs, then to the POICs. Renz Hoeksema and I were no longer supervisors in the chain of command to the field operations; we were now running branches as staff assistants to the chief of RDC, outside the station. It made little difference, except the ROICs would occasionally thumb their noses at us. But I didn't object. You couldn't run it any other way.

"So the major result of the fall 1966 decision was to separate the station and the counterinsurgency effort. That was a result of Stone's attitude toward this. And he was right. It's mixing oil and water."

One other significant event occurred at this juncture. "The Provincial Reconnaissance Units were offered to me in the fall of 1966," Brickham recalled. "It was one of the options discussed at the time of the reorganization. This offer was made to me in terms of John Hart's dissatisfaction with the reputation the CTs had acquired. He wanted to turn the CTs into an intelligence arm for capturing prisoners and documents, and not a paramilitary service. But I didn't want them," Brickham said, "mainly because I didn't think we could manage them properly. My Foreign Intelligence guys were in no way, in terms of experience, able to control or direct PRU teams." Consequently, as of November 1966 the recycled counterterrorists were called Provincial Reconnaissance Units and were thereafter managed by CIA officer William Redel in Renz Hoeksema's operations shop in CORDS's Revolutionary Development Cadre Division.


It is commonly agreed that the U.S. military went to Vietnam to fight a conventional war. However, by late 1966 it was clear that gains on the battlefield were transitory and that the war would not be won by seizing pieces of territory. Grudgingly the military was forced to admit that VCI political power could offset U.S. firepower. "Bear in mind," Brickham told me, "that the military was only over there from mid-1965, so it took a period of time for this realization to sink in. The exploitation of province National Police resources by the U.S. military was sporadic at best up until the fall of 1966, when we made a systematic procedure out of it."

Indeed, the process of systematizing the attack against the VCI began in the fall of 1966, when Rocky Stone arranged for Nelson Brickham to brief General Westmoreland on the subject. The impetus for the briefing came from the Roles and Missions Study and the conclusion reached at the 1966 Combined Campaign Plan that "increased emphasis will be given to identifying and eliminating the VC Infrastructure and to small unit operations designed specifically to destroy guerrilla forces." [3]

"These things were all evolving and coming together because of the Office of Civil Operations," Brickham noted. "People wanted to know what you meant when you said 'attack against the VCI.'" So, while preparing for his hour-long briefing of Westmoreland, Brickham wrote a paper aptly titled "Attack Against the Viet Cong Infrastructure." His purpose was to summarize everything that was known about intelligence sources and reaction forces involved in the antisubversive facet of the war. "I don't think Westy had ever heard of the Special Branch before our briefing," Brickham quipped, "or the fact that we had provincial interrogation centers or political order of battle files on VC in the villages and districts."

In any event, "Attack" was circulated among the MACV and CIA staffs and was accepted as the definitive statement on the VCI. Written on November 22, 1966, "Attack" is significant for three reasons. First was its definition of the VCI ''as the VC organizational hierarchy, the management structure, as opposed to guerrillas, troops, and even in many cases VC terrorists. Many if not most of these categories -- guerrillas, troops and even terrorists -- are young people who have been either impressed or seduced into the VC and cannot in any way be considered 'hard core' Communists." [4]

Specifically cited in "Attack" as VCI were "all Party members and front organization officers, as opposed to the rank and file of these front organizations. Thus all members of a village chapter, all District Committee and all Province Committee cadre are included, as of course are the higher echelons, Region and COSVN. We would also include members of the so-called sapper units -- these people are hardened Communist troops, organized in military formations to carry out sabotage and terrorism of the larger and more dramatic nature -- hotel bombings in Saigon, Long Binh Ammunition dump, General Walt's residence. These latter are not casual acts of terrorism, but carefully planned and fully organized military operations -- Commando type operations." [5]

About the word "infrastructure," Brickham said during our interview, "it may be peculiarly applicable to insurgency, due to the animistic conceptual view held by rural people in want of literacy and hygiene, let alone technology." Brickham held the revisionist view that in an insurgency among such people, only 5 percent of the population is politically active, with 2-1/2% percent for the insurgents, and 2-1/2% percent against them. The rural population is not the driving force. Their attitude, he said, is "a pox upon both your houses."

"Without an infrastructure," Brickham said, "there is only a headless body. Destroy the infrastructure, you destroy the insurgency. However, this is not such an easy thing to do, despite any disaffection on the part of the majority of the people. Nor is it exclusively a matter of winning hearts and minds. That only makes it easier to destroy the infrastructure." Brickham viewed the VCI as a criminal conspiracy, a Mafia operating under the pretense of political ideology, coercing people through the selective use of terror. The insurgency, in his opinion, attracted people oriented toward violence and, through political fronts, "naive" individuals. The presence of such marginal characters, he contends, made the attack on the VCI a difficult task.

Secondly, "Attack" is significant in that it defines "the attack against the VCI" in terms of Special Branch field operations -- informants, interrogations, and penetrations -- of which interrogations are "by far the most important source." Informant operations produced information mostly on hamlet and village cadres and guerrillas, while penetrations could produce "substantial bodies of infrastructure information -- identification of cadre, movements and activities -- and at times advance information of meetings and conferences." As of September 30, 1966, as stated in "Attack," there were 137 penetrations of district committees, 93 belonging to Special Branch, 44 to the CIO. Special Branch was then developing 92 more penetrations, and the CIO 61.

The "action tools" in the attack on the VCI were primarily "ambushes by the police, PRU or Regional Forces and Special Forces elements" and "military search and destroy, hamlet search, or 'Country Fair' type operations. For these operations," Brickham explains in "Attack," "the police prepare search lists from their files ... and collect VC defectors and other sources to use as 'identifiers' of VC caught in these cordon and sweep operations." Even though William Colby later testified to Congress that Phoenix was a South Vietnamese police program, Brickham in "Attack" states: "A final and not insignificant tool are direct military operations .... For example, 175m artillery fire was directed on the reported site of a combined conference [of] COSVN representatives." On the basis of after-action reports, Brickham writes, "we are confident that the damage to the infrastructure, in terms of key personnel killed, is significant." [6]

"Attack" also mentions "A special Task Force ... organized to launch a combined intelligence/police/military assault against the MR-4 (Saigon/Cholon/Gia Dinh Special Zone Committee) headquarters and base area." [7] This is the third significant point raised by "Attack." Called Cong Tac IV by its Vietnamese creators, it is the operational model for Phoenix and as such deserves a detailed explanation.

General McChristian writes that Cong Tac IV evolved, concurrently with the joint U.S.-Vietnamese Combined Intelligence Staff, from an intensive intelligence program (Project Corral) which he initiated in the spring and early summer of 1966 and directed against MR-4. The purpose was to produce "intelligence on the identification and location of Viet Cong operating in MR-4" and "the dissemination of this intelligence to user agencies for apprehension and exploitation of enemy personnel." [8]

In September 1966 McChristian met with General Loan to discuss his plans for a combined intelligence staff. The idea was approved in November by Prime Minister Ky, the Vietnamese Joint General Staff, and the U.S. Mission Council. As a result -- and as a substitute for Hop Tac -- Operation Fairfax was begun in December, using three American and three ARVN battalions for the purpose of "searching out and destroying VC main force units, guerrillas, and infrastructure in the MR-4 area." Operation Fairfax and the Combined Intelligence Staff (CIS) were the primary elements of Cong Tac IV. [9]

"The initial actions of the Combined Intelligence Staff," McChristian writes, "were to compile a blacklist of MR-4 infrastructure personalities in support of the combined US and Vietnamese military actions in this area." In the process, the Combined Intelligence Staff compiled, by hand, more than three thousand names, which were stored in a central registry and made available to U.S. and Vietnamese units. Later "the systematic identification and location of VC and the rapid retrieval of these data in usable form was [sic] made possible by the use of the automated data processing system located at the Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam." [10]

In fact, the foundation for the Combined Intelligence Staff was laid, on the American side, in 1964, when CIA security chief Robert Gambino created the Combined Security Committee inside Saigon's First Precinct headquarters. Through a secure radio network linking each of Saigon's nine precincts, the Combined Security Committee coordinated CIA and State Department security officers at the American Embassy with MACV and Vietnamese Military Security Service officers at Tan Son Nhut and with the Special Branch at National Police headquarters and alerted them of pending VC attacks. The Combined Security Committee was directed by Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Xinh, chief of staff of the Saigon police and the deputy to the Saigon police chief, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Luan. By mid-1967 the Combined Security Committee's "Blue Network" covered all of CT IV.


For deeper insights into Cong Tac IV we turn to Tulius Acampora, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer and Korean War veteran who was detached to the CIA in June 1966 as General Loan's adviser. As an officer on General James Van Fleet's staff in Korea, Acampora had had prior dealings with John Hart, who as station chief in Korea had masqueraded as an Army colonel and had interfered in military operations to the extent that General Van Fleet called him "an arrogant SOB." [11] The old grudges were carried forward in Saigon to the detriment of Phoenix.

"I assisted Hart." Acampora sighed when we first met in 1986 at Ft. Myers. "He called me in and said, 'We're dealing with an enigma. A cobra. General Loan.' Now Loan had a mandarin Dai Viet background, and his father had rescued Diem. Consequently, under Ky, Loan was very powerful; and Hart resented Loan's concentration of power. Although he was not a political animal, Loan was substantial. So Hart took away first his supervision of the Military Security Service and eventually his oversight of Central Intelligence Organization. But for a while Loan ran them both, along with the National Police.

"When I arrived in Saigon," Acampora continued, "at the national level, the U.S. Embassy, with the agency and MACV, had decided to take over everything in order to change the political climate of Vietnam. Through the CIO, the agency was running all sorts of counteroperations to VC infiltration into political parties, trying to find compatible elements to create a counterforce to take over control from Ky, who was a peacock. This was done by intercepting VC political cadre: surveilling them, then arresting them or moving toward them, then buying them over to your side in order to destroy the integrity of the VC." Acampora qualified this statement by noting: "The VC would always say yes, but they were usually doubles.

"It was a dual-level scheme," Acampora went on. "We were faced with the threat of terrorism from sappers, but we also had to stop them at the political level. We stopped them at sapper level with PRU under the Special Operations Group and at the political level through the CIO -- the centerpiece of which was the National Interrogation Center under [Special Branch chief Nguyen] Tien. The CIO operated over and above CT Four. It could take whatever it wanted -- people or information or whatever -- from any of its elements. Its job was to turn around captured VCI and preempt Loan. When it came to CT Four, however, Loan wanted control. Loan said to Hart, 'You join us; we won't join you.' In effect, Loan told Hart to go screw himself, and so Hart wanted me to assuage Loan -- to bring him in tow."

But this was not to be, for General Loan, a dyed-in-the-wool nationalist, had his own agenda. In fact, the basis for CT IV derived, on the Vietnamese side, from a countersubversion program he commissioned in the summer of 1966. The thrust of the program was to prevent VC agents from infiltrating pro-GVN political parties and to prevent sappers from entering Saigon. Called the Phung Hoang program, it was, according to Acampora, "wholly inspired and conducted by the Vietnamese."

The man who conceived Phung Hoang at the request of General Loan was the Special Branch deputy director, Colonel Dang Van Minh, a Claude Rains type of character who, according to Acampora, was "a stoic who took the path of least resistance." Born on Con Son Island, where his father was a nurse, Minh at age eighteen joined the accounting department of the French Surete. During the Ngo regime he received CIA training overseas and was then appointed chief of the Judicial Police -- the only National Police branch with the power to arrest. After the coup Minh became deputy director of the Special Branch.

Insulated behind his desk at Special Branch headquarters on Vo Thanh Street, Minh weathered each successive regime by serving his bosses as "a professional intelligence officer." Indeed, when I met Minh at his office in 1986, he attributed the fall of Saigon to "the many changes of command in Saigon, while North Vietnam had only one leader and one chain of command." [12] That, plus the fact that the Vietcong had infiltrated every facet of the GVN -- a fact Loan also acknowledged when he confessed to Acampora, "We're twenty percent infiltrated, at least."

Minh's attack against the VCI was measured, sophisticated and diametrically opposed to American policy. In contrast with Brickham, Minh viewed the VCI as village-level cadres "to be monitored, not killed." As Minh conceived the attack on the VCI, all Vietnamese agencies receiving information on the VCI would forward their reports to the Special Branch for inclusion in its political order of battle file. The goal was the "combination of intelligence," as Minh termed it, phoi hop in Vietnamese. Seeking an appropriate acronym, Minh borrowed the Ph from phoi and the Ho from hop and christened the program Phung Hoang, after the mythological Vietnamese bird of conjugal love that appears only in times of peace. In Vietnamese myth, the Phung Hoang bird holds a flute and represents virtue, grace, peace, and concord. Its song includes the five notes of the Vietnamese musical scale, and its feathers include the five basic colors.

Before long, however, Phung Hoang was transformed into Phoenix, the mythological bird that perpetually rises from its own ashes. As the Americans drew it, the bird held a blacklist in its claw. In this manifestation, Phoenix is an omnipotent, predatory bird that selectively snatches its prey -- a symbol of discord rather than harmony.

Nowhere is the gap between American and Vietnamese sensibilities more apparent than in their interpretations of Phoenix and Phung Hoang, which also represent the struggle between General Loan and John Hart for control over the attack on the VCI. In this contest, Loan scored first when, for legal reasons, Cong Tac IV was placed under his control. Loan assigned as many as fifty officers to the program from the participating Vietnamese agencies, with Major Nguyen Mau in charge of operations, assisted by Dang Van Minh. The United States provided twenty MACV counterintelligence officers, each of whom served as a desk officer in a Saigon precinct or outlying district capital. CIA officer Tom Becker supervised the headquarters staff; the Australians assigned their embassy security officer, Mike Leslie; and the Koreans provided a representative. Members of CT IV were not part of any separate unit but remained identified with their parent agencies and did not have to back-channel to bring resources to bear.

Cong Tac IV came into existence on November 1, 1966, the day Lou Lapham arrived in Saigon to take over the "second" station, as the Revolutionary Development Cadre program was sometimes called. Curiously, it was the same day that VC mortars first fell on Saigon. U.S. generals, dozing in reviewing stands only a few blocks away, were oblivious of the fact that the VC were using a nearby church spire as a triangulation point for their fire.

From November 1 onward, Tully Acampora managed CT IV with Major Mau. The program kicked in when Tom Becker, assisted by MACV officers Larry Tracy and John Ford adopted the standard American police ID kit (replete with Occidental facial features). With their ID kits in hand, CT IV desk officers ventured into the precincts and districts, accompanied by Special Branch and Military Security Service officers. They screened suspects who had been corralled by military units conducting cordon and search operations, took photographs, put together composites of suspected VCI members, then compiled the results and sent their reports to CT IV headquarters in the National Police Interrogation Center in Saigon, where it was collated, analyzed, and used to compile blacklists of the VCI.

"They called it police work," Acampora said, "because the police had the constitutional responsibility for countersubversion. But it was paramilitary. In any event, Loan was going to bring it all together, and he did, until Komer came out in February 1967 and was briefed by Mau and Tracy."

In a 1986 interview with the author, Tracy agreed that the demise of CT IV came from "politicking" on the part of the Americans. "It was short-lived," he told me, "because Komer saw it as a prototype and wanted to make it nationwide before working out the methodology. Komer wanted to use CT Four as a showcase, as part of the Combined Intelligence Staff, but General Loan was reluctant to participate and had to be strong-armed by Komer in February 1967." [13]

By April 1967 the Combined Intelligence Staff would have entered more than sixty-five hundred names in its Cong Tac IV data base and would be adding twelve hundred per month. As the methodology was developed, a search unit consisting of three forty-nine-man Field Police platoons began accompanying the U.S. and Vietnamese military units conducting cordon and search operations in MR-4. With the military providing a shield, the Field Police checked IDs against blacklists, arrested VCI suspects, and released innocent bystanders. According to General McChristian, "From the inception of the Combined Intelligence Staff until 1 December 1967, approximately 500 VC action agents were apprehended in Saigon and environs. The significance of these arrests -- and the success of the staff -- cannot be fully measured, but unquestionably contributed to the Communist failures in Saigon during the 1968 Tet offensive." [14]

Whether or not Tet was a failure for the VC will be discussed later. But once the CIA had committed itself to the attack on the VCI, it needed to find a way of coordinating its efforts with the other civilian agencies, American and Vietnamese, working independently of each other in the provinces. Considering the number of agencies involved, and their antipathy, this was no easy thing to do. To wit, at Nelson Brickham's request, the liaison officer in Gia Dinh Province, John Terjelian, did a study on the problem of coordination. "The count he made," Brickham recalled, "was something like twenty-two separate intelligence agencies and operations in his province alone. It was a Chinese fire drill, and it didn't work because we had so many violently conflicting interests involved in this thing."

But while the bureaucratic titans clashed in Saigon, a few military and CIA officers -- in remote provinces where battles raged and people died -- were trying to cooperate. In the northernmost region, I Corps, the Marines and the CIA had especially good relations, with the Marines supplementing many of the agency's personnel needs and the CIA in turn sharing its intelligence. Because of this reciprocal relationship, a solution to the problem of interagency coordination was developed there, with much of the credit going to Bob Wall, a CIA paramilitary officer in Quang Ngai Province. In December 1966 Wall was made deputy to I Corps region officer in charge, Jack Horgan. Wall recalled, when we met in 1987: "In the winter of 1966 to '67, General Lou Walt was the First Marine Amphibious commander and we (the CIA region staff] would cross the river to attend his briefings each morning. Casualties were minimal, and he was the picture of a marine, taking his briefings quickly, sitting erect at his desk. Within the next two months, however, casualties rose from two or three a day to ninety a day -- and yet the VC body count was minimal." Said Wall: "Walt went to the picture of abject frustration, slumped at his desk, his head in his hands. He needed help. [15]

"My experience had been as cadre officer in Quang Ngai, where I ran the PATs, the PRU, and Census Grievance," added Wall. "Forbes was the Special Branch adviser but there was no coordination between us and the military or AID. There were about fifteen separate programs in Quang Ngai, and it took me awhile to realize this was the problem. Then I got transferred to Da Nang, where as a result of Walt's inability to make contact with the enemy, I personally proposed Phoenix, by name, to establish intelligence close to the people. Based on a British model in Malaya, we called it a DIOCC, a District Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center. "

Having learned through the Quang Ngai Province Interrogation Center the structure of the VCI in the province, Wall was aware that the VCI operated from the hamlet up and that to destroy it the CIA would have to create in the districts what the PICs were doing in the provinces. Hence the DIOCC.

"Walt grabbed it," Wall recalled. "He assigned a crackerjack sergeant to make the necessary equipment available, and this sergeant set it up in Dien Ban, just south of Da Nang in Quang Nam Province. Then we did two more" -- in Hieu Nhon and Phuong Dien districts in Thua Thien Province.

The Dien Ban DIOCC went into effect in January 1967 and was the model on which Phoenix facilities were later built throughout Vietnam. A prefab building ten by forty feet large, it was built by marines and located in their district compound. On duty inside were Sergeant Fisher and Lieutenant Morse, along with two people from Census Grievance, one from RD Cadre, and one from Special Branch. There were two interpreter-translators and three clerk-typists. Census Grievance supplied desks, typewriters, and a file cabinet. The Marines supplied the wall map and an electric fan. Office supplies came from the CIA 's paramilitary officer in Quang Nam Province. A radio was used for high-priority traffic, with normal communications going by landline to other districts and Third Marine HQ. It was not a sophisticated affair.

The purpose of the DIOCC was that of an intelligence clearinghouse: to review, collate, and disseminate critical information provided by the various intelligence agencies in the area. But what made it innovative was that dissemination was immediate at the reaction level, whereas the member agencies had previously reported through their own channels to their province headquarters, where the information was lateraled to other interested agencies, which then passed it down to the districts. Also, a summary was made at the end of each day. In the Dien Ban DIOCC, the Americans handled the record keeping, with Lieutenant Morse managing the order of battle reporting and Sergeant Fisher taking care of the VCI files and source control cards. In order to protect agents, each agency identified its own sources by number.

Local Marine and ARVN commanders made units available as reaction forces for the DIOCC. More than one hundred policemen in Dien Ban were also made available, along with the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit from the province capital in Hoi An. The DIOCC provided guides from Census Grievance, and the police supplied ID kits, to the operating units. The Marines screened civilian detainees (CDs) arrested in operations, using informants or Special Branch officers to check names against the DIOCC's blacklist. When a positive identification was made, they delivered the suspect to the PIC in Hoi An. A marine detached to the PIC, Warrant Officer Richardson, made a daily run from the PIC to the DIOCC, bringing interrogation reports and other province-generated information. Most CDs were turned over to district police, at which point, the Americans complained, they paid bribes and returned home, there to be arrested again and again.

"Phoenix," insisted Wall, "represented the strategy that could have won the war. The problem was that Phoenix fell outside Foreign Intelligence, and paramilitary programs are historically trouble for intelligence. So Phoenix never got primary attention. MACV did not have the mentality to work with the police, the police were not trained to win hearts and minds, and [Minister of Interior] Khiem, fearing a coup, mistrusted the police and would not assign quality personnel. Phoenix did not work in Vietnam because it was dominated," Wall told me, "by the military mentality. They couldn't believe they would lose."
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:54 am


In May 1967 CIA officer Robert Komer arrived in Saigon as deputy for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development. Thereafter he was called the DEPCORDS, a job that afforded him full ambassadorial rank and privileges and had him answering only, in theory, to MACV Commander William Westmoreland and Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker.

"I'd known Komer from 1952, when he was with the Office of National Estimates," Nelson Brickham told me, [1] "which from the beginning was a high-level organization. Komer would go on to move from one high-level job to another, and in 1967, of course, he was working for the national security adviser, Walt Rostow, in the White House. Komer and I always chatted when he came around and talked to the branches, as he had been doing since February 1967. But in May he was even more acerbic than before. Komer was intensely ambitious, intensely energetic, intensely results-oriented.

"In May," Brickham continued, "in connection with Komer coming out to run CORDS, Hart called me into his office one day and said, 'I want you to forget your other duties -- you're going home in June anyway -- and I want you to draw me up a plan for a general staff for pacification.' I was still chief of field operations," Brickham noted, "so my replacement, Dave West, was sent out early to free me up while I was working on this special paper. Then I asked for another officer in the station [John Hansen] to work with me on this paper. He was counterespionage. But he was also into computers, and he could say the right things about computers and be persuasive in ways that I could not. So Hansen was assigned to me, and we set about writing it up. Hansen focused on the computer end of this thing, and I focused on the organizational end.

"In complying with John Hart's request for a general staff for pacification, there were three things I had to review: strategy, structure, and management. Now the important thing to remember is that we were never at war in Vietnam. The ambassador was commander in chief. The MACV commander was under him. So all the annual military operations and everything else were focused under the Country Plan rather than a strictly military plan. And I was the principal agency representative each year for the development of next year's Country Plan.

"Regarding strategy, basically this was it: We had an army to provide a shield from North Vietnamese field units and to engage in military sweeps to go after Vietcong units .... And the Vietnamese Army did basically the same thing. That's in-country military. Pacification efforts ...were to operate behind the military shield to stabilize and to secure the situation. That's the civilian side. Then you had out-of-country military, which was aircraft reconnaissance, naval blockades, bombing operations in the DMZ and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and operations in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

"My point," Brickham emphasized, "was not to change anything, just do it better. We didn't need more intelligence; we needed better intelligence, properly analyzed and collated. That's the strategy.

"Next, the structure, which, of course, was interagency in nature and encompassed MACV, CIA, CORDS, Revolutionary Development, and the embassy. Now when you start fooling around with other agencies, you're in trouble. Each one has its own legislative mandate, meaning its job prescribed by Congress or as defined in the Constitution. Then there is legislative funding, funds allocations, accounting procedures, and the question of who is going to pay for something. Those legislative givens have to be respected. I as a CIA officer cannot set up an organizational arrangement where I'm going to spend Pentagon money unless the Pentagon gives it. And even if they give it to me, it still has to be within the framework of the congressional appropriation. Then there are the bureaucratic empires, in both Saigon and Washington, all deeply committed to these things. You have overlap, contradictory programs, ill-conceived ventures which receive hearings; time is wasted, and you get corruption, embezzlement, and low morale. And yet somehow you have to pull all these different agencies together."

In looking for a solution, Brickham seized on the personality and presidential mandate of Robert Komer. "Komer had already acquired the nickname Blowtorch," Brickham said, "and his position was a bureaucratic anomaly. He was a deputy ambassador on a par with General [Creighton] Abrams ... but actually he was reporting to Lyndon Johnson, and everyone knew that. So my idea was to set up a board of directors in which each agency head or his deputy was a member, then establish a reporting system that would allow a guy like Komer to hold their feet to the fire -- to make each agency responsive, to give it goals and targets, and to criticize its failures in performance, whether deliberately or inadvertently through sloppiness.

"Remember, the strategy was to sharpen up intelligence collection and analysis and to speed up the reaction time in responding to intelligence, whether on a military or a police level. So the idea was to set up a structure in which agencies had to participate and had to bring their own resources and funds to bear, without interfering with their legislative mandate or financial procedures."

In determining how to do this, Brickham borrowed an organizational model from the Ford Motor Company, which, he said, had "set up a command post to run their operations, with the policy of the corporation coming from the chief executive officer and a board of directors. Call it the operating committee at the top, supported by a statistical reporting unit that put everything together for the chief executive and the board of directors, giving management the bottom line for them to consider and make decisions .... This became the basic structure for the general staff, which Hart was calling ICEX -- intelligence coordination and exploitation. I wrote it so the different agencies would provide their own money, personnel, and direction, but as part of a machinery by which they would be directed to a specific purpose."

Having formulated a strategy and structure, Brickham turned to management, which for him boiled down to two things: the bottom line, telling management only what it needed to know; and using reporting as a tool to shape behavior, as articulated by Rensis Likert in New Patterns of Management.

"Basically," Brickham explained, "a reporting format fosters self-improvement, if the people reporting know what they are expected to do, and are provided with objective measurements of performance in terms of those expectations .... So we designed the reporting structure to provide critical types of information to the ICEX board of directors, primarily Komer. But also, by focusing attention in the regions and the provinces on the things we felt were important, we tried to guarantee that those things worked properly."

In particular, Brickham hoped to correct "the grave problem of distortion and cover-up which a reporting system must address." In explaining this problem to Komer, Brickham quoted a CIA officer who had criticized "the current system of reporting statistics that prove ... that successive generations of American officials in Vietnam are more successful than their predecessors." The officer observed that "Americans in the field, the majority of whom serve a one-year tour ... go through a honeymoon phase in which they try to see everything good about their counterpart and about the situation and report it thus. Then they go through a period of disillusionment in which they realize that nothing has been accomplished, but by this time they have become the victims of their own past reports and they have to maintain the fiction. Ultimately they go out of there very discouraged and probably very unhappy with their own performance because about the same time they become knowledgeable enough to really do something they are on their way home and have no desire to hurt their own professional career."

Explained Brickham: "The key to ICEX was decentralization" -- in other words, forcing field officers to do their jobs by putting responsibility on the scene, while at the same time trying to deliver to these officers the kinds and amounts of information they needed, fast. "This means feedback," Brickham stressed, "which reflects and recognizes the province officer's own activities, tells him what other people are doing, identifies to him the important and reportable activities, and induces a competitive and emulative spirit."

Keyed to Special Branch reporting cycles, the initial ICEX reporting format was submitted monthly and contained narrative and statistical data responding to requirements from Washington, Saigon, and the regions. It reflected the activities, understanding, and writing abilities of field officers, enabling managers like Komer to judge performance. It also revealed program progress and functioning of related systems. Meanwhile, John Hansen was developing a comprehensive input sheet capable of listing every piece of biographical information on VCI individuals, operations, and organization in general. He was also designing collated printouts on the VCI, which were to be sent to region, province, and district ICEX officers plugged into the ICEX computer system.

"Anyway," said Brickham, "those were the ideas that involved this statistical reporting unit for the ICEX staff, which was to pull everything together and analyze it. The statistical reporting unit was the guts, with a plans and programs unit and a special investigations unit tacked onto it."

On May 22, 1967, Nelson Brickham and John Hansen delivered to Komer a three-page memo titled "A Concept for Organization for Attack on VC Infrastructure." Hurriedly prepared, it recommended four things. First was the creation of a board of directors chaired by the DEPCORDS and including the senior intelligence and operations officers from MACV, CIA, and CORDS -- a general staff for pacification under Robert Komer. Next, it recommended the creation of a command post in Saigon and ICEX committees in the regions and provinces. Thirdly, it recommended that the Americans "coordinate and focus" the attack on the VCI and that they "stimulate" their Vietnamese counterparts. Lastly, it recommended that province officers create DIOCCs, which Brickham called "the essential ingredient in the Phoenix [as ICEX would eventually be renamed] stew." The concept paper was approved by the CIA station, then sent to Komer, who turned it down. As Brickham recalled, "Komer said, 'A concept paper is not what I want. I want a missions and functions paper -- something in military style that the military can understand.'"

"At this point," Brickham said, "I was seconded over to Komer's office. He was buying everything that we proposed to him, but he wanted to develop 'action papers.' He kept repeating, over and over again, that he wanted a 'rifle shot' approach -- a sniper's attack, not a shotgun approach -- against the VCI. And Komer is a stickler. He was constantly throwing papers back at me to rewrite over and over again until they satisfied him in those terms."

In response to Komer's demands, Brickham and Hansen incorporated the major themes of the concept paper into a detailed missions and functions paper titled "A Proposal for the Coordination and Management of Intelligence Programs and Attack on the VC Infrastructure and Local Irregular Forces." What resulted, according to Brickham, "was not a general staff planning body, but an executive action organization that was focused on getting the job done, not thinking about it, by taking advantage of Komer's dynamic personality."

Eleven pages long (plus annexes on interrogation, data processing, and screening and detention of VCI), "A Proposal" was accepted by Komer in early June 1967. Its stated purpose was: "to undertake the integration of efforts of all US and GVN organizations, both in intelligence collection and processing and in operations directed against the elimination of the VC Infrastructure and irregular forces" and "to insure that basic programs conducted by different organizations and components, as they relate to the elimination of the VCI, are made mutually compatible, continuous, and fully effective." [2]

ICEX as the embodiment of executive action had emerged as the solution to the problem posed by the VCI. It was a "machine" composed of joint committees at national, corps, province, and district levels. At the top sat Robert Komer as chairman of the board, setting policy with the approval of the ambassador and MACV commander. Serving as Komer's command post was the ICEX Directorate in Saigon, to be headed by "the senior U.S. coordinator for organizing the overall attack on the VCI." [3]

The ICEX Directorate was to be subdivided into three units. The intelligence unit was to be composed of two senior liaison officers -- one from MACV and one from the CIA -- who were to prepare briefings, conduct special investigations, and evaluate the effectiveness of the attack on the VCI.

The operations (aka the plans and programs) unit was to be composed of three program managers who planned activities, set requirements, managed funds, and were responsible for three specific problem areas: (1) intelligence collection programs and their coordination and reaction operations; (2) screening, detention, and judicial processing of VC civil defendants; and (3) the interrogation exploitation of VC captives and defectors. How ICEX handled these problem areas will be discussed at length in Chapter 10.

The reports management unit was to refine the attack on the VCI through the science fiction of statistical analysis. Reports officers were to help program managers "in developing reports to be required from Region and Province" and to analyze those reports. The reports dealt with province staffing; prisoner and defector accession and disposition; RD team locations, actions, and casualties; quantitative and qualitative descriptions of intelligence reports and PRU operations; and province inspection reports, among other things. The reporting unit included an inspections team because, as Brickham observed, "Everybody lies .... These guys are supposed to be on the road most of the time, dropping in unexpectedly to look at your files and to verify what was being reported to us in writing was true."

ICEX field operations were to be grafted onto the CIA's liaison and covert action programs, with the region and province officers in charge continuing to manage those programs and in most cases assuming the added job of ICEX coordinator. The ICEX Province Committee was to be "the center of gravity of intelligence operations against the VCI." The ICEX province coordinator in turn was to establish and supervise DIOCCs (usually seven or eight per province), "where the bulk of the attack on the low level infrastructure and local guerrilla forces must be generated and carried out." ICEX committees at each level were to be composed of the senior intelligence, operations, and pacification officers. And the ICEX coordinator was to "recommend and generate operations for the attack on infrastructure" and "stimulate Vietnamese interagency cooperation and coordination." [4]

"I'm a great advocate of committee meetings," Brickham told me, "provided they're properly run. That's why Phoenix wound up as a committee structure at nation, region, province, and district levels. A joint staff at every level down to district is the essence of Phoenix. We hoped the committee structure would be a nonoperative kind of thing, but we had to have some machinery for bringing together everybody involved in these programs."

Added Brickham: "Some Phoenix coordinators were from the Agency for International Development or the military. They didn't have to be CIA. Same with the province officer in charge; the POIC would be a member of the Phoenix committee, whether or not he was the coordinator." However, insofar as the PICs and the PRU were the foundation stones of Phoenix, if someone other than the CIA province officer in charge was the ICEX Province Committee chairman. or its coordinator, that person was totally dependent on the POIC for access to information on, and reaction forces for use against, the VCI. In addition, the committee structure allowed the CIA to deny plausibly that it had anyone operating in the DIOCCs.

"I was opposed to the DIOCCs at the beginning," Brickham admitted, "but after I visited three places up north and wrote the early June paper, I had converted into believing in them as important .... And then Komer said we could have as many men as we asked for, and at that point we tried to get district officers." In any event, according to Brickham, "ICEX institutionalizes the thing."

"Okay," said Brickham. "Komer approved this, and we sent a cable to Washington headquarters outlining the situation and requesting approval. And we got a cable back from Colby which basically said, 'Well, we don't know what you're going to do.' And as I recall, they suggested that we sort of pull in our horns."

"Well, we said, 'This is the only way to do it, so we'll just go ahead and do it.' We came up with the ambassador's approval out there in the field, so back in Washington they were left with a fait accompli. And the irony is, Colby had nothing to do with ICEX or Phoenix. He had to go along with it. It was approved by Komer and the ambassador and the White House, so we implemented it." At that point Nelson Brickham returned to Washington for a job on the Vietnamese desk, and a new personality appeared on the scene, willing and ready to pick up where Brickham had left off.


Having chatted with Roger Trinquier in Vung Tau in 1952, Evan Parker, Jr., was no stranger to Vietnam. As the son of an American pilot who had served in King George's Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, Parker was also well connected. Upon graduating from Cornell University in 1943, Parker, who was fluent in French, was invited to join the fashionable OSS. Trained with the jaunty Jedburghs, [i] he was slated to parachute into France but instead was sent to Burma, where he served in Detachment 101, as an interrogation and logistics officer fighting with Kachin hill tribes behind the Japanese lines. Parker later served as Detachment 101's liaison officer to Merrill's Marauders and the British Thirty-sixth Division. His service with the OSS (followed by a brief stint as a traveling salesman) led to a career in the CIA's clandestine services and to personal relationships with many of the major Vietnamese, French, and American players in Vietnam.

Parker began his CIA career as a courier in the Far East, then was graduated to case officer, operating mostly in Hong Kong and China. Over the ensuing years, he told me when we met in 1986, he made "four or five" trips to Vietnam and, when he arrived again in Saigon in June 1967, was slated to become the station's executive director, its third-highest-ranking position. However, Robert Komer and John Hart thought that Parker could better serve "the cause" as ICEX's first director.

Parker was chosen to manage ICEX, first and foremost, because Komer needed a senior CIA officer in that position. The CIA alone had the expertise in covert paramilitary and intelligence operations, the CIA alone was in liaison with the Special Branch and the CIO, and the CIA alone could supply money and resources on a moment's notice, without the red tape that strapped the military and the State Department. As a GS-16 with the equivalent rank of a brigadier general, Evan Parker, Jr., had the status and the security clearances that would allow him access to all these things.

Parker's persona and professional record also made him the perfect candidate for the job. Having just completed a tour as the CIA officer assigned to the Pentagon's Pacific Command, Parker had helped draw up the military's strategic plan for Vietnam and was well aware of how Vietnam fitted into the "big picture." Possessing the persuasive skills and political connections of a seasoned diplomat, Parker also enjoyed the status and the style necessary to soothe the monumental egos of obstinate military officers and bureaucrats. And ''as the expert on unconventional warfare," which was how Tully Acampora facetiously referred to him, Evan Parker had the tradecraft qualifications required to launch a top secret, highly sensitive, coordinated attack on the VCI.

Upon arriving in Saigon, Parker prepared himself by reading Brickham's papers and reviewing "the fifty to sixty" programs we already had in place to deal with the "infrastructure," a word Parker described to me as "hideous." [5] [ii] At an informal conference in Da Nang called to discuss the attack on the VCI, Parker learned that Brickham "and his partners in crime" wanted to concentrate their efforts initially on the Americans, then on the Vietnamese, but that Komer first had to ram ICEX through the impervious Saigon bureaucracy.

This was not hard to do, considering that President Johnson had given Komer a mandate that encompassed not only the formulation of an integrated attack on the VCI but also the reorganization of the Republic of Vietnam's armed forces, management of the October 1967 Vietnamese presidential elections, and revitalizing South Vietnam's economy. When faced with the irresistible force called Robert "Blowtorch" Komer, the immovable Saigon bureaucracy gave way quickly, if not altogether voluntarily.

Flanked by John Hart and General George Forsythe, MACV's chief of Revolutionary Development, Komer on June 14, 1967, presented MACV's chiefs of staff with Brickham's "Proposal." Komer made a forceful presentation, writes Ralph Johnson, but Generals Phillip B. Davidson Jr., Walter Kerwin, and William Pearson balked, "because MACV personnel requirements were not included." [6]

But it did not matter that the majority of DIOCC advisers were slated to be military men. Komer, backed by Hart, simply took his case to MACV commander Westmoreland, who, having been informed of President Johnson's wishes in the matter by Ambassador Bunker, overruled his staff on June 16. A few days later the White House Coordinating Committee (Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler, and Chairman William Sullivan) nodded their final approval. And so it was that ICEX -- soon to be Phoenix -- was born. And not without resentment. General McChristian recalled, "On my last day in Vietnam, I became aware that a new plan for attacking the VCI was to be implemented. It was to be called ICEX. To put it mildly, I was amazed and dismayed." McChristian was amazed that he had not been told earlier, and was dismayed because ICEX was going to replace Cong Tac IV.

On the morning of June 20, [iii] Evan Parker met with General Davidson (McChristian's replacement as MACV intelligence chief) and General Pearson, the MACV chief of operations. At this meeting, Parker recalled, the generals agreed "to staff this thing out." But, he added, "I think from the point of view of the military, well, they may have felt this was being shoved down their throats by the chief of station.

"Anyway," said Parker, "[Komer and Hart] said, 'Do it,' and they identified me as the man they proposed to head up this staff, and the agency said they would supply assistance. Okay, but immediately you have a problem because there are already advisers to the Special Branch ... and if all of a sudden I come in and am put in charge, that means I'm getting into somebody else's business. So if I want to get to the Special Police, I have to sound out the American adviser to see if he wants to cooperate with this. Maybe he wants to, and maybe he doesn't. Maybe he feels he's already doing this.

('Well, he may not like it" -- Parker smiled -- "but he has to do it, because the chief of station tells him to. So he does it. But that doesn't make the pill any easier to swallow. In effect he's getting another layer of command or, I should say, coordination, over him."

Ed Brady, an Army officer on contract to the CIA and assigned to the ICEX Directorate, elaborated when we met in his office in 1987. "There certainly was a conflict going on," Brady said. [8] "Dave West [Nelson Brickham's replacement] didn't want to share his prerogatives with another powerful CIA guy .... Why should there be two organizations working with the Special Branch? It wasn't proposed that [ICEX] be under his control. It was proposed that it interact with the Special Branch on a separate basis and that separate Special Branch officers would be assigned over there to do that. And West wouldn't have any control or influence over it.

"The Special Branch," Brady explained, "was supposed to be carrying out internal surveillance and operations against subversives. That's its job. The problem ... was that the vast majority of Special Branch energy went into surveilling, reporting on, and thwarting opposition political parties. Non-Communists. Every now and then they did something about a VC -- if he was in Saigon. But they didn't have any systematic program against the Communists. Their main activity was to keep the existing regime in power, and the political threat to the existing regime was not the Communist party, 'cause the Communist party was outlawed! What the Special Branch was doing was keeping track of the so-called loyal opposition -- keeping track of what Tran Van Don or what Co Minh Tang or what the Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang was doing.

"Phoenix," Brady explained, "at an absolute minimum caused a focus to be brought to bear on anti-Communist activities."

Having pulled rank to get MACV and the liaison branch in line, John Hart then assigned four CIA officers to Evan Parker on a temporary basis, as well as the services of "key CIA personnel stationed outside of Saigon" and "integrated and CIA-funded programs such as Census Grievance Teams, PRU, RD Cadre, and Special Police." [9] Parker was then told to select a military deputy, and he asked for an old friend from OSS Detachment 101, Colonel Junichi Buhto, then the MACV chief of counterintelligence.

"Junichi agreed to assist," Parker said when we met at his home, "even though he had plenty to do in his own job. It was agreed he would keep his regular job and be my assistant on a part-time basis as another duty. And with his assistance we found a bunch of Army officers, all of whom were near the end of their tours but who could be spared from whatever they were doing. And so it went. That's the ICEX staff.

"Then the police were brought into it," Parker added, referring to the National Police. "Leaving aside the agency people, the key people are John Manopoli and myself because he was head of the National Police."

A retired New York State Police lieutenant, Manopoli had served as a police adviser in Vietnam from 1956 through 1959 and had returned to Saigon as chief of Public Safety in 1966. Although he had no authority over Special Branch, as senior adviser to the National Police, Manopoli was responsible for meeting its, as well as ICEX's, logistical and administrative needs.

"Manopoli," Parker pointed out, "was actually the senior police adviser in-country. I didn't have that kind of responsibility. Mine was a staff responsibility. We in Phoenix were not put over the police or military; we simply gave a directive in the name of MACV or Komer or Colby. The idea was to come up with an organization that would pool intelligence on the infrastructure and try to get these people to use that intelligence to go out and arrest them. This is so easily said and so difficult to do because all these agencies have their own jobs and they existed long before Phoenix."

Manopoli also got the job of kicking Tully Acampora out of his office and moving Parker's staff in. "They found some space for us in USAID Two," Parker said. "We were squeezed in." He was given some part-time secretarial help, and with the officers lent from Hart, "what we did first was come out with a MACV staff paper which described what this program was, what we were going to do, and what this coordinated program -- this ICEX -- was going to be."

This staff paper, titled "Intelligence, Intelligence Coordination, and Exploitation for Attack on VC Infrastructure (C)," short title: ICEX (U), commonly known as MACV 381-41, was promulgated on July 9, 1967, and marked the birth of ICEX as a formal entity. It also signaled the end to the escalation of the Vietnam War. Five days later the Defense Department imposed a 523,000-man troop limit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

One of the authors of MACV 381-41 was CIA officer Jim Ward, who was then preparing to replace Kinloch Bull as region officer in charge of IV Corps. "The first meeting back in those days," Ward recalled, "was between Evan, me, and Junichi Buhto. That's early July 1967. I had known Juni from Germany and OSS Detachment One-oh-one. Just by chance all three of us had been in Detachment One-oh-one of OSS in World War Two. In fact, Evan and I were together at Camp David, where the Jedburghs were trained." [10]

A paramilitary expert who had commanded a unit of Kachin guerrillas operating behind Japanese lines, Ward -- whose CIA career began in 1948 in Malaya, where he was schooled by Claude Fenner -- was well aware of the prominence of the Special Branch in counterinsurgency warfare. According to Ward, "The key to the Vietnam War ... was the political control of people. And the Communists were doing a better job of this than we were, and the best way to stop this was to get at the infrastructure. Not the people who were sympathizers or supporters in any way of the VC. They didn't count. The people who counted were the key members of the People's Revolutionary party. These were the people behind the NLF.

"Anyway, Evan set up this meeting. He wanted input from someone with field operations experience and know-how, and what we talked about was concepts: what we had to do to bring everybody together who was collecting intelligence and that everybody should be channeling intelligence into the DIOCC. There intelligence would be collated, analyzed, interpreted, and then reaction operations could be undertaken almost immediately. And new intelligence directives would be drafted. Whoever was in charge was supposed to be doing that all the time -- that is, letting people know that a particular piece of information [needed to mount an operation against a particular VCI] was missing, or asking, 'What's the pattern of this guy's movements every day?' Then you decide who should get these directives -- the police if you're talking about an infrastructure guy or the military if you're talking about a battalion of VC. Anyway, the guy who runs the DIOCC -- be it Special Branch or MSS or S-two or whoever -- usually does the laying of requirements.

"First we talked about the coordination of intelligence. For instance, in the Delta there were approximately ten thousand intelligence reports a month coming in from different levels ... a few hundred were coming up through police channels, some through ARVN and American battalions, and others through the Green Berets and their [Vietnamese] counterparts. All of them were sending information through their own chains of command, rather than using it laterally and exploiting it locally. And we wanted them, at the reaction level [the DIOCC], to collate the information and exploit it. That's the first objective.

"The second objective -- assuming the military intelligence gets exploited by the military units -- is making sure the infrastructure intelligence gets exploited by whoever appears to be the most appropriate unit to coordinate it. If it's the kind of thing that can be handled only by a large military organization, fine. Even the largest of the American outfits get involved in this, like the First Air Cavalry and the Hundred First Airborne, which was especially good at cordon and search operations. They would take PRU or Field Police units along with them and Special Branch units to do the interrogating. But generally the outfit that's best equipped to get a single guy in a remote place is the PRU."

These concepts of intelligence collection and exploitation, as outlined by Ward, were incorporated in MACV 381-41 along with Brickham's organizational concepts. Timetables were set for the region officers in charge to draft missions and functions statements, to determine in which districts the first DIOCCs were to be built, and to prepare guidelines for DIOCC operations. All this was to be done by the end of July. MACV 381-41 also charged the CIA's region officers in charge with briefing their Vietnamese counterparts as soon as possible.

With MACV 381-41 in hand, Evan Parker and John Hart visited each ROIC. "We told them what we had in mind," Parker recalled, "what the objective was and what their function was. Briefly stated, they were to be the nucleus to get it going. This was all done orally .... They were simply told, 'You've now heard what Ev's in charge of -- you'll get it done here; you'll pass the word to your people.' Then we briefed the senior military people in the four regions."

Parker attributed his success in co-opting the ROICs to the fact that "in addition to being the Phoenix fellow, I was also a senior CIA officer wearing my other hat." In that capacity he attended CIA station meetings three times each week. In July 1967 the ROICS, who may be thought of as Phoenix's first field generals, were Jack Horgan in I Corps, Dean Almy in II Corps, Kinloch Bull in IV Corps, and Bob Wall in III Corps.

Each region was unique, geographically and politically, and Phoenix in flight conformed to those contours. As Parker explains, "Four Corps was different because there weren't as many Americans there." The Delta was also the breadbasket and population center of Vietnam, thus the locus of the counterinsurgency and Phoenix. I Corps was distinct by virtue of its proximity to North Vietnam and the extent to which Phoenix was directed against Thieu's domestic political opponents. Headquartered in Nha Trang under the shadow of Fifth Special Forces, II Corps was an admixture of SOG and Phoenix operations. And as the region encompassing Saigon and the Central Office of South Vietnam, III Corps was perhaps the most critical region -- although one in which, according to Nelson Brickham, there was little success against the VCI.


In June 1967 Robert Komer sent a cable to Richard Helms commending Nelson Brickham for "an outstanding job in helping design new attack on infrastructure" and asking that Brickham be made available for occasional temporary duty in Vietnam "if critical problems arise." Three weeks after arriving back in Langley, with yet another feather in his cap, Brickham was transferred from the Vietnamese desk to the office of the special assistant for Vietnamese affairs (SAVA).

"SAVA was up at the DCI level," Brickham noted, ''as a coordination point for an agency and interagency activities relating to Vietnam. The reason I was brought up there was that [SAVA Director George] Carver was obliged to brief [the secretary of defense] and other people on ICEX/Phoenix, and he didn't have a clue. He couldn't understand. Nobody in Washington could understand what we had done out there in the station. So Carver called me in and asked me to write a memorandum."

Brickham described Yale graduate Carver as the person who "provided the theoretical basis for U.S. intervention in Vietnam in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine ["The Faceless Viet Cong"] on the nature of the Vietnam insurgency and American interests there.

"I stayed in SAVA for two months," Brickham continued. "Then I went back out to Vietnam TDY to work with Ev Parker ... to assist him in the reporting formats, the requirements, and this and that and to implement the philosophy I explained earlier. And it was at this point that we ran into problems with Bob Wall.

"Bob Wall was a paramilitary type." Brickham sighed. "He was first assigned as a province officer, then as deputy in I Corps, and in that capacity he was instrumental in creating the first DIOCCs. He invited some Brits from Kuala Lumpur to explain what they had done there, and he was always hustling papers around the station. He was not a regional officer before the reorganization, but he ended up as our ROIC in Third Corps, in Bien Hoa. Now that was shortly before I left country, and I had very little to concern myself with that situation. It was when I came back TDY to help Evan Parker in the fall of 1967 that it became evident that Bob Wall was one of our less satisfactory region officers.

"One of our problems in Vietnam," Brickham philosophized, "is that that part of the world seems to generate the warlord. It's the damnation of the Far East and a disease that infects the white man when he goes there .... And the upshot in Vietnam, before someone came out with the sledgehammer to knock heads together, was that you had forty-four different wars in forty-four different provinces and forty-four different warlords ... and American region advisers often would fall victim to this same virus: Bob Wall is a prime example. So I recommended disciplinary action and relief from duty.

"Ev Parker, of course, was in charge of it, and he didn't do that. I'd never known Ev Parker before that, but just a finer gentleman you'll never know; he's what the Russians would call a cultured individual. Now Ev Parker is less abrasive than I am; he would see a problem and seek a diplomatic solution. Whereas I would rock a boat and sometimes sink it, Ev Parker would steer it in a different course, so it wouldn't take the waves. Ev Parker has a Chinese mind, and he chose a different way to soften Wall's position."

That position, according to Brickham, was that "Bob Wall was permitting the military people in Third Corps to turn the entire intelligence operation into a military support adjunct, ignoring the infrastructure. Even though he was pushing the DIOCCs like crazy, he and his military counterpart in Region Three were using the PRU as blocking forces for military operations. He was not following policy. He was pursuing his own war out there in the region. This became the issue between Bob Wall and myself in Third Corps."

Bob Wall, a balding, roly-poly man, emphatically denied Brickham's charges. "No way!" he said, adding that it was perfectly proper to use the Provincial Reconnaissance Units in village sweeps, because "the PRU could actually deal with the people. They spoke their language and knew what to look for, whereas U.S. forces were only interested in killing people."

Wall did solicit the help of his corps's deputy intelligence chief, Lieutenant Colonel John Kizirian, who anted up fifteen second lieutenants as DIOCC advisers in III Corps. But that in itself did not make him a warlord. For a CIA region officer could push Phoenix only to the extent that his military counterpart provided qualified personnel to run the DIOCCs. And the military always wanted something in return. And then, of course, there was the overriding question of Vietnamese participation.

On this issue Brickham said, "We put [Phoenix] together and presented, it to the Vietnamese. General Loan by this time was chief of the National Police. Everybody knows what he looks like -- they've seen pictures of him shooting the VC on TV -- but I'm convinced that Loan was an absolutely honest, dedicated patriot. Anyway, this ICEX proposal was presented to Loan, and it didn't take him long to turn it down, mainly because they looked upon it as an infringement on their sovereignty. When I say Loan was a patriot, he was! He was looking out for the Vietnamese. He recognized the fact that Vietnamese and American interests were not always identical. So they turned it down flat.

"We said, 'Well, that's okay 'cause we're gonna do it anyway.' ... Regardless of what the Vietnamese were going to do, we were going to go ahead with it anyway, if nothing else, to try to serve as an example. And there was really no need for the Vietnamese to string along with us, although up in Da Nang they did. Which, as you know, is where the name Phoenix came from.

"Jack Horgan was our ROIC up there," Brickham went on. "He was in good liaison with both the Vietnamese military and police, and when he presented this to the Vietnamese up there, one of them said, 'Well, we should really call this Phoenix, because it's to rise from the ashes and seek victory.' So Jack Horgan came down with a cable and said, 'By the way, so-and-so has coined the name Phoenix for this activity" and it took immediately. It became known as Operation Phoenix, and everybody was happy with that. By then it was beginning to go."



i. Elite OSS officers trained at Camp David. Colby, Ward, Parker, and Buhto all were Jedburghs.

ii. According to Parker, Komer liked the phrase "attack on the infrastructure" because "he thought it sounded sexy."

iii. That afternoon Parker had "a brief conversation with General Loan," during which Loan rejected the ICEX proposal, claiming it infringed on Vietnamese sovereignty.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:54 am

CHAPTER 10: Action Programs

Before he bade adieu to Vietnam in November 1967, Nelson Brickham helped put together what was entitled "Action Program for Attack on VC Infrastructure 1967-1968." Signed by the CORDS assistant chief of staff, Wade Lathram, "Action Program" represented Robert Komer's administrative and operational directives for the ICEX program. It is the most significant Phoenix document, charting the program's dimensions and course over its first eighteen months. It set in place Brickham's reporting requirements, established tables of organization, identified major problems, and formed groups to find solutions.

"Action Program" consisted of twelve separate tabs, each addressing a separate mission or function to be accomplished by a specific deadline. First on the list, Tab 1, called for promulgating the ICEX mission directive, MACV 381-41. Tab 2 called for briefing all corps senior advisers, and Tab 3 directed the CIA region officers to designate corps and province ICEX coordinators, all by July 31, 1967. By year's end ICEX committees were operating in thirty-nine provinces, thirty-four of which were chaired by CIA officers. Most were meeting monthly and had initiated anti-VCI operations. Also by year's end twenty-nine Province Intelligence Operations Coordination Centers (the province equivalents of a DIOCC) were functioning and sending reports to the ICEX Directorate. In certain provinces, such as Vinh Long in the Delta, the PIOCC doubled as a Phoenix committee.

Tab 4 called for continuation and expansion of DIOCC development. At the time "Action Program" was issued, 10 DIOCCs were in operation; by year's end there were 103, although most were gathering tactical military intelligence, not infiltrating and attacking the VCI. In November 1967 more than half a million dollars were authorized for DIOCC construction, salaries of Vietnamese employees, office equipment and supplies, and transportation. "These were not operational funds in the sense of supporting anti-infrastructure activities." [1] Money for anti-VCI operations came from the parent agency.

To his credit, Evan Parker did not approve of the rapid pace at which Phoenix was expanding. "I didn't think we needed an elaborate structure everywhere in the country," he told me. "Some of the provinces didn't have enough people or activity in them to warrant it. I would have preferred to concentrate on the more populated active areas where you knew that you had people to work with and something to work against." [2]

There were too many variables, Parker contended, to have "a uniform program." The methodology had not been perfected, and too much depended "on the personal likes and dislikes of the senior Vietnamese people in the field ... and their adviser .... For instance, in I Corps there was a lot of activity, not so much concerned with the VCI as with the machinations of rival political parties -- the Buddhists or whatever .... These are things that were hung over from the French days .... This was always the problem with Thieu .... [it] was sort of open season on the enemy -- of settling scores."

Tab 5 of "Action Program" prescribed ICEX staff organization along the committee lines proposed by Brickham. In Saigon the ICEX board of directors consisted of the DEPCORDS as chairman, the CIA station chief, the MACV intelligence (12) and operations (13) chiefs, and the CIA chief of Revolutionary Development. In fact, the board met only once, and Robert Komer quickly assumed control of Phoenix, setting policy as he saw fit, with the directorate serving as his personal staff. "Komer or Colby [who replaced Komer as DEPCORDS in November 1968] said, 'You'll do it.' My job," explained Parker, "was to say, 'Okay, Colby says you'll do this, and this is how you're gonna go about doing it.' What I did was help people carry out what they were ordered to do. And I firmly believe in the soft sell."

In practice, Parker's CIA kinship with Komer and especially Colby enabled him to manage the Phoenix Directorate without having to consult agency heads. He had merely to state his wishes to the DEPCORDS in order to bypass the various chains of command.

"Colby was my division chief in the field, and in Washington also," Parker explained. "I served with him in World War Two when I was in England. I met him when we were both in a program known as the Jedburghs. He went into the field in Europe, and I went into the field in the Far East.

"Colby is a fine gentleman, I'll tell you. He was tremendously helpful to me. So was Komer. But their personalities were very different. Komer was essentially a rasping, grating sort of voice ... but he was consistently staunch in his support of the program .... He may have given orders, he may have been sarcastic -- all those things -- but at the same time he was not one to stand on ceremony, not one to do things because that's the way it's always been done. He didn't give a damn about that. He'd say, 'I want Parker's organization to get four trucks! I don't give a good goddamn where they come from, just give him four trucks!'

"Colby was quieter, more soft-spoken, but just as firm in terms of getting things done.... He would suddenly say, 'Let's go visit so-and-so,' in a province or region. That meant you would call up and get a helicopter or a plane, with no notice, and he would just go there and see them. That made it a whole lot more secure because we traveled without bodyguards."

Case in point: While serving as Phoenix coordinator in Quang Tri Province, Warren Milberg was visited by Colby, who was on an inspection tour. As Milberg recalled it, Colby decided to spend the night, so Milberg assigned a Nung guard to watch over him. That night there was a mortar attack. The Nung guard grabbed Colby by the scruff of the neck, dragged him backward down the stairs (Milberg arrived in time to see Colby's heels bouncing on the steps) into the basement of the building, threw him on a cot, and threw himself on top of the future director of Central Intelligence. Somewhat dismayed at the treatment the Nung had afforded the DEPCORDS, Milberg half expected the ax to fall when Colby and his entourage assembled for breakfast the following morning. But Colby merely thanked the earnest Nung for the gesture of concern.

The consummate insider, Colby would win many friends with his "just folks" management style, while using his considerable influence to refine and redirect the broad policies put in place by Komer -- the outside agitator who rode roughshod over everyone. Together, Komer and Colby were the perfect one-two combination required to jump-start Phoenix and keep it running for five years.

As of August 15, 1967, Parker's part-time staff had been replaced by three permanent CIA officers: Joe Sartiano as executive director; William Law as chief of operations; and James Brogdon as administrative officer; Colonel William J. Greenwalt had replaced Junichi Buhto as deputy director, and six MACV officers were assigned as full- time employees, along with a smattering of AID and State Department people.

"We set up a working organization built around agency people," Parker said, "with other individuals made available from the different agencies, but still paid for by the agencies they belonged to." By then there were American women serving as secretaries, MACV and CIA officers advising the Vietnamese, and others in the office keeping records. "There were probably three or four people I counted on more than anyone else," Parker remarked, but "in order to make this work, I would say that the core people were the agency people in charge of the special police -- the senior agency advisers."


Tab 6 provided for military augmentation of ICEX field units. As Parker put it, "Then you realize you're going to have a nationwide organization as well as a headquarters staff, and that you're going to need a lot more people than you envisioned. So the Army becomes the principal.

"In due course a table of organization was set up which assigned people to region, then to province, and most of them were Army. You'd have a captain at province and a major or [lieutenant colonel] at region with assistants -- corporals and sergeants and so forth. MACV took the bodies at first as they came in-country and assigned them regardless of the fact that they may have been intended for something else. For example, my deputy was going to a military unit but found himself in ICEX instead. Another fellow who was going to be assigned to MACV counterintelligence instead was assigned to an intelligence function in ICEX. That's where the first people came from."

The first MACV allotment to Phoenix was for 126 military officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs), all counterintelligence specialists. One officer, one NCO, and one clerk-typist had been sent to each corps by September 15, and one officer and/or NCO to each province. By the end of 1967 one NCO had been assigned to each of the 103 DIOCCs then in existence. All military officers and enlisted men assigned to the Phoenix program in 1967 took orders from the CIA.

Tab 7 provided for briefing and coordination with senior GVN officials. While the groundwork was being laid on the American side of the program, Parker said, "we were working with the Vietnamese to sell them the idea. Although they were militarily assisting, the Vietnamese police had the major role because after all, you're dealing primarily with civilians. So the person who worked most closely with us was the director general of the National Police."

But General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was wary of the CIA, which was supporting Nguyen Van Thieu -- not Nguyen Cao Ky -- in the campaign leading up to the October 1967 presidential elections. And even though Ky was persuaded to run as Thieu's vice-president (they joined forces against "peace" candidate Tran Van Dzu), the two were bitter enemies. As Ky's enforcer General Loan opposed Phoenix not only because it infringed on Vietnamese sovereignty but because he believed it was being used to promote Thieu. Their opposition to Phoenix was to spell trouble for General Loan and his patron, Ky.

General Loan's opposition to Phoenix, however, did not mean that he refused to work with Americans on an equal basis. His support for CT IV disproves that. And Cong Tac IV "was a program that was doing well, too," said Tully Acampora, "until February 1967. Then Robert Komer arrived, grabbed the political implications, and, after returning to Washington and conferring with his boss, Walt Rostow, purloined it from the Vietnamese." [3]

CT IV differed, fundamentally, from Phoenix in that the U.S. military units it employed were not empowered to arrest Vietnamese civilians. Phoenix, on the other hand, relied primarily on the PRU, which operated under the exclusive jurisdiction of the CIA and thus were beyond General Loan's control. General Loan naturally preferred to work with General McChristian's Combined Intelligence Staff. But when McChristian left Vietnam in July 1967, Komer immediately exploited the situation. At Komer's direction, MACV officers assigned to CT IV were gradually withdrawn by McChristian's replacement, General Phillip Davidson, whom Tully Acampora described as "beholden" to Komer for his job.

"Komer was disastrous," Acampora stressed. "He more than anyone politicized MACV. He was forcing for a treaty, promoting Phoenix and promising Westmoreland the job of Army chief of staff, if he went along. In mid-1967 it was a completely political situation."

Indeed, by deducting more than a hundred thousand Self-Defense Forces and "political cadre" from the enemy order of battle, Westmoreland, Komer, and Hart were able to show success and in the process convince President Johnson that "the light" really was at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, having backed themselves into a corner, they decided to do the job themselves. So what if General Loan was resistant? As Nelson Brickham had said, "That's okay 'cause we're gonna do it anyway!"

Symbolizing this "get tough" policy was Phoenix, rising from the devastation of two years of a stalemated war. Phoenix in this hawkish manifestation represented the final solution to the problem of distinguishing between a covert Communist enemy and an inscrutable ally. Uninhibited by family ties, Americans in charge of irregular forces, or by themselves, began hunting the VCI in its villages, doing what the Vietnamese were reluctant to do -- even though they were never quite sure of whom they were stalking.

This desperate policy was not without its American detractors. Tempestuous Tully Acampora called it "detrimental and contradictory." Ed Brady, the Army captain assigned to the Phoenix Directorate as a cover for his CIA activities, concurs. "It's very hard to carry out secret covert operations and repressive kinds of things in order to separate guerrillas from people -- and then make a speech to them about how their individual rights are so important," Brady said in an interview with Al Santoli. [4]

But while Acampora and Brady believed the United States had no business preempting the Vietnamese when it came to the attack against the VCI, other Americans thought that the time for patience and cooperation had come and gone. From Evan Parker's perspective, the problem was competition between the Special Branch and the ARVN. "It involved one Vietnamese agency saying, 'Well, we can't give [information] to them, because they're penetrated by the VC.' That sort of thing. And in some cases undoubted it was true."

Parker raised a legitimate point. In order for an intelligence coordination and exploitation program like Phoenix to work, institutional mistrust between the police and the military had to be overcome. But, Parker explained, "Having the Special Branch have such an active role made it difficult in many provinces and many of the more rural areas, because the special policeman was probably the equivalent of a sergeant. So ... he doesn't have much clout .... And the [outgunned, outmanned] police are pretty subordinate to the military, so you have all this business of army versus police. It's a wonder it worked at all."

Moreover, frustration with Vietnamese security leaks gave Americans yet another reason not to wait for the Vietnamese to throw their support behind Phoenix. As Evan Parker said, "One of the great problems with the Vietnamese in getting this started was that the classification of the directive was so high -- in order to prevent it from falling into enemy hands -- that it was very difficult to handle these documents in the field ... and tell people what they were supposed to do."

Typically, Tully Acampora refuted Parker's explanation and interpreted the emphasis on secrecy in political terms. According to Acampora, for whom the switch from CT IV to Phoenix meant a loss in status, Parker "always envisioned Phoenix as a wholly U.S.-promoted, -managed, and -supported program." Moreover, "Hart's one mission was to undermine Loan's influence, to reduce his power base, and to superimpose Phoenix on CT Four. They bought off the head of Special Branch, Major Nguyen Tien. Then Parker started suborning guys on the MACV intelligence staff. He seduced Colonel Junichi Buhto [MACV's chief of counterintelligence] by promising to make him a GS-nineteen if he went along with the CIA .... Davidson's mission was to destroy CT Four, and in August, Davidson and the CIA began withdrawing Americans from the Combined Intelligence Staff. This involves the election of 1967."

There is no doubt that Phoenix, in its fledgling stage, was conceived and implemented by the CIA. Furthermore, Ralph Johnson writes, "The results obtained by ICEX by the end of 1967 were primarily, if not totally, stimulated and supported by the Americans." [5] There was early acceptance of Phoenix by the Vietnamese in I Corps, but as Parker himself noted, much of that activity was directed against Thieu's non-Communist political opponents. Otherwise, the majority of Vietnamese hesitated to embrace a program as politically explosive as Phoenix. As Johnson observes, "most province chiefs were waiting for instructions from the Central Government." [6]

The first step in that direction was taken in late December 1967, two months after Thieu had been elected president and Ky had begun to lose influence. On December 20, 1967, Prime Minister Nguyen Van Loc signed Directive 89-Th. T/VP/M, legalizing Phung Hoang, the Vietnamese clone of Phoenix. However, the directive was not signed by President Thieu and thus carried little weight with cautious province chiefs hedging their bets while Thieu established himself more solidly.

It is also important to note that Prime Minister Loc's reasons for authorizing Phung Hoang were directly related to Robert Komer's attempt to undermine General Loan and Nguyen Cao Ky by ending support for CT IV. After December 1, 1967, when Komer managed to terminate Operation Fairfax, Loc had no choice but to support Phoenix. And, according to Tully Acampora, by withdrawing the U.S. units that shielded CT IV's Field Police, "Komer opened up all the avenues which led to Tet." Making matters worse, in an attempt to stimulate the South Vietnamese economy and, in the process, allow Thieu to reap the political rewards, Komer went so far as to remove police roadblocks and checkpoints around Saigon.

Meanwhile, Tully Acampora was pleading with as many American generals as he could find, asking them not to withdraw American forces from CT IV. "Loan was saying that there was a massive influx of VC into Saigon," Acampora recalled, "but Komer was calling it light, and Hart backed him. They wouldn't listen to Loan, who was trying to convince them for sixty days prior to Tet."

Nelson Brickham, for one, admitted to having been fooled. "The VC had pulled their good people out and sent them up North in 1966. We knew that. Then, in the summer and fall of 1967, they came back. But I misinterpreted it. In October 1967 I told Colby that we were in a position that no NVA or VC unit could move without us knowing it. We saw Loan's warnings as crying wolf." [7]

"We were picking up massive numbers of infiltrators," Acampora told me, "so Loan countermanded the Joint General Staff's orders to withdraw; he refused to pull out all of his people. He kept a paratroop unit and a marine unit in Saigon and canceled all police leaves. Those units, with the police, met the first assault in Tet. Then, of course, Loan was resurrected." But by then it was too late. In Acampora's judgment, Komer's machinations brought about Tet. "The fact is," he said, "that Parker contributed to that disaster, too. Parker said Phoenix was the only impediment, that it turned defeat into victory. But the embassy was attacked! How could that happen? The fact is, Phoenix was a failure, and it was only because of Loan that the VC suffered a setback."

"In any event, the prime minister said, 'Do it.' He gave the order," Evan Parker said, "and he wrote the letters to empower them to do it, and Phung Hoang came into being on the Vietnamese side .... A Phung Hoang staff was set up by the Vietnamese consisting primarily of people from Special Branch. Then they set up quarters for them " at the National Police Interrogation Center. "The two organizations had separate quarters," Parker added, "because we wanted the Vietnamese to feel that Phoenix was a Vietnamese program and that the Americans were simply advisers."

"So anyway" -- Parker sighed -- "we went through this organizational phase. The Vietnamese went through the same thing, pulling together the police and whatever, trying to set up staffs, finding places for them to sit, providing them with pencils and paper, and trying to get them to actually conduct some sort of operations. And here you come to the nitty-gritty."


Tab 8 of "Action Program" called for review of VCI intelligence collection requirements and programs, especially Project Corral, a unilateral American operation started in October 1966 solely to collect information on the VCI at province level. After completing their review, CIA officers on the Phoenix staff began to prepare a standard briefing on the VCI for incoming officers and interested officials. They also began compiling handbooks, interrogation guides, and "related materials" like most wanted lists.

Especially effective against the VCI, most wanted lists had been used for years by Special Forces when, in April 1967, Renz Hoeksema's deputy, Robert Brewer, initiated a Most Wanted program in Saigon and expanded it nationwide. "Every province was directed to examine its files for a list of ten," [8] Brewer explained noting that the object of the exercise was to show that the enemy was not "faceless." Soon most wanted "posters," replete with composite drawings (prepared by Special Branch officers using New York City Police Department makeup kits, of VCI suspects were being nailed to trees, DIOCC walls, and market stalls throughout Vietnam. The posters offered cash rewards and had a picture of the phoenix to catch people's attention. (See enclosure.)

In the spring of 1967 Komer appointed Brewer as senior adviser in Quang Tri Province. "When I got there, I got all the intelligence-gathering outfits together," Brewer recalled, "and we wrote up a list of the twenty-one most wanted VCI. One guy on my list, Bui Tu, had killed a district adviser's sergeant, and I wanted to get him. So I went to the high school and found his picture in the yearbook. That really paid off. On a sleepy afternoon in July the word came in from Special Branch that Bui Tu was in the area. The DIOCC notified district, district notified village, and the Marine combined action patrol went after him.

"Bui Tu had been spotted in a shelter on a rice paddy. Three guys jumped up and ran, and the Popular Force team and the Marines mowed them down. Bui Tu was number one. The top. He had captain's bars and a briefcase full of notes, with a quarter inch of papers on me! They knew where I slept in the compound and they were planning to kill me." Thanks to Bui Tu's documents and information provided by the defector, Brewer said, "We blew the VCI apart."

What Brewer described is a typical Phoenix operation: A most wanted poster led to a high-ranking VCI suspect's being spotted and killed, while his captured documents revealed the whereabouts and identities of many of his VCI comrades. Most wanted posters also served to inhibit the VCI. As Jim Ward explained to me, "All of a sudden this guy who used to travel from place to place begins to wonder who is going to turn him in! It begins to prey on him. We found out later that this really had a significant psychological impact on these guys, making them hide and becoming less effective." Said Ward: "It suppresses them." [9]

By the end of 1967 thirty-five provinces were compiling blacklists of VCI members, and twenty-two more had most wanted lists. [10]

Tab 9 of "Action Program" called for review and recommendations for action programs to exploit infrastructure intelligence. In theory this meant the training, direction, and coordination, by U.S. personnel, of Field Police and PRU in anti-VCI operations. Between the two, the PRU were more effective, accounting for 98 percent of all anti-VCI operations in I Corps alone. In November 1967, Ralph Johnson writes, "II Corps and III Corps reported that 236 significant VCI were eliminated by the PRU, which continued as the main action arm of the 'rifle shot' approach." [11]

"Basically the PRU were effective," Parker stated. "In some cases the police were effective. And in many areas more got done in capturing VCI in military operations. But I was interested in getting key people. You can arrest the little ones, but the operation goes on and on, and you haven't really hurt them. But it's very hard to get a really important man.

"I personally wasn't involved in any operations," Parker stressed. "Operational control was exercised at whatever level it was happening at, by the so-called action agencies. The idea was to use resources wherever they were .... If there needed to be cooperation, the Vietnamese would consult ... if they trusted the head of the other agency. Unfortunately the Americans would conduct operations without telling the Vietnamese. And vice versa."

By the end of 1967 the Field Police were conducting anti-VCI operations in twenty-six provinces; thirty-nine provinces were using systems taught by Phoenix staffers on how properly to "debrief" defectors, who were used as spotters, PRU, and interrogators. Included in the Phoenix arsenal were joint military-police search and destroy and cordon and search operations, population and resources control, and riverine and maritime operations.

Tab 10 charged the Phoenix program with improving the civilian detention system. About this subject Nelson Brickham remarked, "The one major element left out of all this was the civilian detainee problem. It starts with the Province Interrogation Centers, but the larger problem is, How do you screen detainees, and then what do you do with identified VCI?

"When you'd go through these village sweeps, you'd have whole corrals filled full with Vietnamese just sitting there looking at you all day long. In rural provinces you'd wind up with barbed-wire cages with tin roofs packed with people. It was a major problem basically because we were running a revolving-door operation. We'd capture VC; then a week later we'd capture them again ...assuming they were VC. The Vietcong always knew about these sweeps several days beforehand and always pulled out before we hit. In a lot of sweeps all you would get were the old men and women and kids. There were VC in there, too ... but nobody knows really who they are.

"There were legal questions. Do we reindoctrinate them? Do we shoot them? Do we put them back on the farm? It was just out of control. So one of John Hart's tasks on the original ICEX charge was, What to do with these civilian detainees? Do they have prisoner of war status? Remember, there's no war going on! But in Geneva Americans were saying, 'We're treating these people like POWs.' The Swiss were saying, 'Okay. We want a look into the prison system.' So Hart became concerned with the problem, and the reason it shows up in the ICEX proposal is at John Hart's insistence.

"It went 'round and 'round, and the long and short of it was, nobody wanted to get the name of the Jailer of Vietnam attached to them. USAID didn't want to touch the problem with a ten-foot pole .... Same with the military. Their attitude was 'He's a POW. Forget him. When the war's over, we'll ship him back to the farm.' And so one of our tasks was to investigate the problem and recommend a solution to it. But we never did. What we did was to beg the question. We tasked the problem over to the new plans and programs element of the ICEX staff. What they did, I don't know."

What the ICEX staff did was state the problem. As listed in Tab 10, the major issues were: (1) overcrowding, substandard living conditions, and indiscriminate crowding of POWs, common criminals, VC suspects, and innocent bystanders in ramshackle detention facilities; (2) lack of an adequate screening mechanism to determine who should be interrogated, jailed, or released; and (3) a judicial system (lacking due process, habeas corpus, arrest warrants, and lawyers, that might delay someone's trial for two years while he languished in a detention camp or else might release him if he could afford the bribe.

In seeking solutions to these problems, Tab 10 proposed: (1) the construction of permanent detention facilities; (2) a registration system, coordinated with refugee and Chieu Hoi programs, to eliminate the revolving-door syndrome; and (3) judicial reform aimed at the rapid disposal of pending cases, as devised by Robert Harper, a lawyer on contract to the CIA. In addition, a study team from the CORDS Research and Analysis Division (where Phoenix operational results were sent along with a weekly summary of significant activities, conducted "a comprehensive and definitive study of all aspects of the problems of judicial handling and detention of civilian infrastructure." [12] This three-man study team (John Lybrand, Craig Johnstone, and Do Minh Nhat) reported on apprehension and interrogation methods; the condition and number of jails, prisons, and stockades; and graft and corruption.

Regarding overcrowding, by early 1966 there was no more space available in the GVN's prison system for "Communist offenders." And as more and more people were captured and placed in PICs, jails, and detention camps, a large percentage was necessarily squeezed out. Hence the revolving door.

In the fall of 1967 the forty-two province jails where most VCI suspects were imprisoned had a total capacity of 14,000. Of the four national jails, Con Son Prison held about 3,550 VCI members; Chi Hoa Prison in Saigon held just over 4,000; Tan Hiep Prison outside Bien Hoa held nearly 1,000; and Thu Duc held about 675 VCI, all women. Approximately 35,000 POWs were held in six MACV camps scattered around South Vietnam. VC and NVA prisoners fell under U.S. military supervision while ARVN camps handled ARVN deserters and war criminals. [13]


As attorney Harper wrestled with the problem of judicial reform, a mild-mannered, medium-built, retired Marine Corps colonel, Randolph Berkeley, tackled the detention camp problem. Before retiring in 1965, Berkeley had been the corps's assistant chief of staff for intelligence. In 1966 he was hired by the Human Sciences Research Corporation to do a study in Vietnam on civil affairs in military operations, and in early 1967 he briefed Komer in the White House on the subject. Komer liked what he heard and hired Berkeley (who had no corrections experience) as his senior adviser on corrections and detentions) in which capacity Berkeley returned to Saigon in July 1967 as a member of the ICEX staff.

Upon arriving in Saigon in July 1967, Berkeley was assigned by Evan Parker to manage the SIDE (screening, interrogation, and detention of the enemy) program. Berkeley and five assistants -- all experienced corrections officers -- were listed on paper as employees of Public Safety's Department of Corrections.

"Shortly after my arrival," Berkeley recalled in a letter to the author, "I was called to report to General Westmoreland. I found him with staff members and Ambassador Komer, and it was explained to me that I needed to draft a plan, within a few weeks, which would make the prisons secure from attacks, as valuable lives were being lost in capturing VC who would then be sprung quickly to fight again .... The Westmoreland meeting turned me into an operator so busy with his requirements," Berkeley explained, "that my focus was more on prisons than detentions. [14]

"The CIA provided me space in one of their offices at MACV headquarters, and for several weeks I flew about in an Air America plane, scouting locations for attackproof detention facilities and prisons, taking aerial photographs myself, and developing the plan." While doing this, Berkeley learned: "There were over forty prisons nationwide, detention facilities [usually 'just a barracks surrounded by barbed wire'] in every province, and the GVN had neglected all of them in nearly every aspect, including protection from attack by the enemy.

"When my plan was presented on schedule, General Westmoreland approved it and directed that I execute it. In the next few months the prisons were provided defensive weapons and guards trained to use them, and ... attacks on prisons quickly lost their popularity. One other device we used was to fly VC prisoners to Con Son Island, which was secure from any enemy attack."

Having satisfied Westmoreland's requirement for prison security, Berkeley turned to the issue of detention facilities. "I visited Singapore and Malaya to look at prefab construction for possible use in detention camp construction but decided it was cheaper to do the job with local resources available in Vietnam. Meaning the detention problem was dropped like a hot potato, this time into the hands of the GVN." ICEX Memo No. 5, dated November 2, 1967, handed responsibility for the operation and security of detention camps to the province chiefs, with advice and some resources provided by MACV through Berkeley and the Department of Corrections.

On December 27, 1967, MACV issued Directive 381-46, creating Combined Tactical Screening Centers and stating: "The sole responsibility for determining the status of persons detained by U.S. forces rests with the representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces." Case closed. In every Combined Tactical Screening Center, the detaining unit did the screening, interrogating, and classifying of rows and civilian detainees, sending enemy soldiers to POW camps or to Saigon if they had strategic intelligence, to provincial jails if they were common criminals, or to PICs if they were deemed to be VCI.

"There were, in effect," Evan Parker explained, "two prison systems: "the civil one under USAID and the military one for POWs. PICs were separate and staffed as an agency program ... but there had to be a lot of understanding between us in order not to waste money." For example, the CIA would provide PICs with vans but not gas or oil or mechanics. The Phoenix coordinator would then have to persuade the Public Safety adviser to persuade the Vietnamese police chief to provide these materials and services to the Special Branch, which, considering the ongoing rivalries, got done grudgingly, if at all.

"The problem Phoenix dealt with," Evan Parker added, "was making sure that when a knowledgeable person got picked up, the right person got to talk to him and he just didn't disappear in the system." This weeding-out process happened in the PICs "because there you had the Vietnamese whose salaries were paid by the agency. They weren't beholden to the military or AID."

Ultimately Phoenix did nothing to alleviate the problems of civilian detainees. Rather, as Phoenix threw its dragnet across South Vietnam, tens of thousands of new prisoners poured into the already overcrowded system, and the revolving door syndrome was simply converted by province chiefs into a moneymaking proposition. Meanwhile, ICEX lawyers tried to paper over the problem by compiling a handbook on national security laws and procedures, which legalized the attack against the VCI by permitting the administrative detention of VCI suspects for up to two years without trial. No steps were taken to establish due process for civilian detainees.


Tab 11 called for the Phoenix Directorate "to conduct an on the ground review of interrogation facilities, practices and procedures, including coordination, exploitation, and follow through, with a view to optimum support to the attack on the infrastructure." The object was to focus interrogations on intelligence concerning the VCI at province and district levels and to improve coordination with other agencies. No report was required from the CIA compartment within the Phoenix Directorate on this sensitive subject.

Regarding the "practices" of the PIC program, what is known of official policy comes from Nelson Brickham. "I had an absolute prohibition in field operations activities toward conducting or sanctioning or witnessing any acts of torture," he said. "I said the same thing to my province officers from the third day I was in-country. My statement [which he never put in writing] simply was 'Any of you guys get caught in this stuff, I'll have you going home within twenty-four hours.' And there never was such a case that came into existence, although it's possible that there was and the reports never got to me."

Brickham also directed his province officers "to run the PICs from a distance. It's a Special Branch operation; Americans are not to be identified with the program. These guys were not to go near the PICs on a day-to-day basis. They were not to participate in interrogations there or anything like that."

Brickham's directive was ignored. Warren Milberg, for example, spent "15 percent" of his time in the Quang Tri PIC, supervising interrogations and advising on questions and topics to pursue. His experience is typical; an earnest Phoenix officer had to be at the interrogation center to obtain intelligence quickly. Indeed, in the final analysis, interrogation practices were judged on the quality of the reports they produced, not on their humanity. "Phoenix advisers who took an interest in PIC operations," Milberg writes, "normally attempted to improve the quality of interrogation techniques by carefully going over reports and pointing out leads that were missed and other items which should have been explored in greater detail." [15]

As for torture, "While the brutalization of prisoners did occur, interested Phoenix personnel could curtail support for the PIC unless such unauthorized activities ceased." However, Milberg adds, "Since most advisers were neither intelligence nor interrogation experts, the tendency existed to provide passive support and not to try and improve PIC operations." [16]

According to Robert Slater, director of the Province Interrogation Center program from July 1967 until April 1969, "The first thing the Vietnamese wanted to do was tie the guy up to a Double E-eight." As advisers, however, there was little he and his training team could do to prevent this use of an electric generator, other than to try to raise the professional standards of PIC personnel. Slater and his team (augmented and eventually replaced by a Vietnamese team) taught Special Branch employees how to track VCI suspects on maps, how to keep files and statistics on suspects, and how to take and process photos properly. They did not teach agent handling; that was done in Saigon by CIA experts imported from Washington. "The whole concept of the PIC," according to Slater, "was to get them in and turn them around. Make them our agents. It didn't work for us, though, because we didn't reward them well enough." [17]

The major "procedural" problem in the Phoenix interrogation program concerned the disposition of high-ranking VCI suspects. According to Parker, "High-level prisoners and Hoi Chanhs were invariably taken to higher headquarters and never heard from again." Milberg agrees: "People [at region or in Saigon] grabbed our best detainees on a regular basis, so you tended not to report that you had one. You'd keep him for two or three days," to get whatever intelligence he had on other VCI agents in the province, then report that you had him in custody." Milberg writes that when "prisoners of high position in the VCI were removed from local PICs for exploitation at other levels, morale of PIC personnel decreased. Often the result was that the PICs became auxiliary jails and were used to house common criminals." [18]

For Robert Slater, the transfer of important VCI prisoners to higher headquarters was merely standard operating procedure. "We trained Special Branch people how to properly keep statistics and files, how to use a board in the office to track cases, but most important, to send hot prospects from province to region to the National Police Interrogation Center [NPIC]." In other words, Phoenix interrogation procedures at the province (tactical) level were superseded by interrogation procedures at the national level -- the political-level Phoenix seeking strategic intelligence.

Having been the CIA's senior adviser at the National Police Interrogation Center, Slater had valuable insights into the interrogation system at its summit. His story began at Camp Pendleton in early 1967, when he was asked to join a presidentially directed counterinsurgency program that trained and sent fifty Vietnam veterans from the various military services back to Vietnam to serve as province officers and Phoenix coordinators. "But I was a separate entity," he noted in a conversation with the author, "... although we went over at the same time." A Vietnamese linguist with three years of interrogation experience in-country, Slater was assigned to the NPIC "on the basis of a decision made in Saigon. Dave West said he won me in the lottery, when the station people sat around and reviewed the resumes of the people coming over."

Slater's cover desk was in USAID II, where he sat beside his boss, a tall, muscular, blond CIA officer named Ron Radda, who served as an adviser to Dang Van Minh. Slater attended briefings given by Minh every morning at the NPIC on Vo Thanh Street, where he had his covert office. "When a prisoner came in from, say, Da Nang," Slater explained, "the reports would come over to my section. I'd put them on an eight-foot-long blackboard and report anything hot to Ron." At that point Radda and Minh's interrogators went to work.

Headquarters for both the Special Branch and the National Police, the NPIC was "a monstrous French compound with a separate, restricted wing for the Special Branch. We cleaned it up," Stater said. "Actually whitewashed it." After Tet, the CIA also built the Special Branch social club, the Co Lac Bo, on the gravesite of the VC killed during Tet. The NPIC held between three and four hundred prisoners, most of whom, Slater says, "were packed forty or fifty in little black holes of Calcutta."

The fact is that prison conditions and interrogation practices in Vietnam were brutal -- especially those taken out of sight. Case in point: "At a quarter after twelve on June 16, 1967, I was driving home from work to have lunch with my wife," writes Tran Van Truong in A Vietcong Memoir. Suddenly a car cut him off. Two men jumped out, pushed their way into his car, and told him that General Loan had "invited him to come in for a talk." Instead of going to the NPIC, however, Truong's captors took him to the old Binh Xuyen headquarters in Cholon. As he was led into the reception room, he found himself "face to face with a burly, uniformed man whose slit eyes and brutal expression were fixed on me in concentrated hatred ... a professional torturer who had personally done in many people." The interrogator said to Truong, "I have the right to beat you to death. You and all the other Vietcong they bring in here. There aren't any laws here to protect you. In this place you are mine." [19]

Truong describes this secret interrogation center. "Sprawled out on the floor the whole length of the corridor were people chained together by the ankles. Many of their faces were bloody and swollen; here and there, limbs jutted out at unnatural angles. Some writhed in agony, others just lay and stared dully. From the tangle of bodies came groans and the sound of weeping, and the air was filled with a low, continuous wail. My heart began to race. On one side of the hallway were the doors that apparently led to the interrogation rooms. From behind these came curses and spasmodic screams of pain." [20]

Later Truong was invited inside one of these rooms; it "looked like a medieval torture chamber," he writes. "Iron hooks and ropes hung from the ceiling, as did chains with ankle and wrist rings. These latter devices were well known among the activists and Front prisoners, who called them the Airplane. In one corner was a dynamo. Several tables and benches stood in the middle of the floor or were pushed up against the walls." What happened next, you can imagine.

The last tab of "Action Program," Tab 12, directed Evan Parker and his staff to establish "requisite" reporting systems, "for purposes of program management and evaluation, and for support to field collection and collation activities and operations against infrastructure." [21] At first, each agency used its existing system. Province officers gathered information on the VCI from the collation sections of PICs. They then sent this information to region officers, who used liaison branch reporting formats to relay the information to RDC headquarters in Saigon. There it was analyzed and plugged into a data base "against which future developments and progress may be measured." MACV sector personnel sent their reports on the VCI through military channels to the MACV Joint Operations Office in Saigon, which then coordinated with ICEX.

As MACV and CIA Phoenix personnel were gradually incorporated within CORDS province advisory teams and assigned to PIOCCs and DIOCCs, monthly narrative reports were sent directly to the Phoenix staff in Saigon; meanwhile, the Vietnamese used their own parallel, uncoordinated reporting systems.

Standardized reporting was fully authorized on November 25, 1967, and focused on three things: (1) the number of significant VCI agents eliminated; (2) the names of those eliminated; and (3) significant acquisition, utilization, and other remarks. Until mid-1968 reports about the DIOCCs would occupy as much time as reports generated by the 103 DIOCCs in business at the time. Ultimately information gathered on individual VCI suspects in the DIOCCs became the grist of the Phoenix paper mill.
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:55 am


In early 1967 Frank Scotton left his post in Taiwan and returned to Saigon to help set up CORDS. Upon arriving in-country, Scotton found Colonel Nguyen Be, who was investigating corruption within RD units, "in Qui Nhon being set up for assassination. While the hit team [dispatched by General Lu Lam, the II Corps commander] was hunting him down," Scotton told me, "I flew him to safety in Pleiku." [1] In the meantime, Ed Lansdale arranged with the RD minister, General Nguyen Duc Thang, for Be to assume control of Vung Tau from Tran Ngoc Chau. Chau went on to campaign for a seat in the National Assembly, itself recently instituted under South Vietnam's new constitution.

Soon after this changing of the guard, Tom Donohue (then George Carver's deputy at SAVA), paid a visit to Vung Tau. Robert Eschbach had replaced Ace Ellis as director of the National Training Center; Jean Sauvageot had taken over the Revolutionary Development Cadre training program; and Tucker Gougleman managed the PRU. On the Vietnamese side, Donohue told me, "Be was in charge. But he wasn't in the same league as Mai," who "was in the Saigon office cutting paper dolls." [2]

Under the tutelage of Nguyen Be, according to Jim Ward, "the RD teams no longer had a security mission." [3] In order to foster a democratic society, Be had transformed RD from the "intelligence and displacement" program Frank Scotton had started three years earlier in Quang Ngai Province into one that emphasized "nation building." But with little success. Of South Vietnam's fifteen thousand-odd villages, only a few hundred were secure enough to hold elections in 1967. And where elections were held, they were typically a sham. The RD teams had nominated all the "elected" village chiefs after the chiefs had been recruited by the CIA and trained at Vung Tau. Nevertheless, the village chiefs really didn't know what they were supposed to do or represent, and, as a matter of practicality, their top priority often was accommodating the local VC. And so with the Revolutionary Development teams on the defensive, the attack against the VCI fell to Phoenix or was contracted out. For example, in order to ferret out the VCI in critical Tay Ninh Province, President Johnson hired, at the cost of thirty-nine million dollars, the services of a Filipino Civic Action team. [4]

Meanwhile, in Saigon fantastic amounts of money were being spent (seventy-five million dollars in 1967) in support of RD. But corruption was rife, and much of the money was diverted into people's pockets. For example, while inspecting Quang Ngai Province in mid-1967, RDC/O chief Renz Hoeksema found eight hundred "ghost" employees out of a total of thirteen hundred cadres on the province RD Cadre payroll. Hoeksema set up a fingerprinting system to prevent further abuses, which, considering that each cadre was paid the equivalent of ten dollars a month, continued unabated.

Despite the problems of corruption and accommodation, the RD program continued to have "intelligence potential," mainly through its static and mobile Census Grievance elements. According to Robert Peartt, who in late 1967 replaced Renz Hoeksema, the RD program's primary mission was still to "put eyes and ears in districts where there were none before." [5] To this end, Peartt managed 284 paramilitary officers in the provinces, each of whom fed information on the VCI into DIOCCs and PIOCCs, while passing information gotten from unilateral sources to the CIA station in Saigon through secure agency channels. On the Vietnamese side, information on the VCI was fed to the province chiefs, who, according to Jim Ward, "may or may not turn this over to Phoenix."

In any event, the political war was not going well in late 1967, and with the shift in emphasis to "nation building," Phoenix emerged from the RD matrix as the CIA's main weapon against the VCI. Its two major action arms, as stated in MACV Directive 381 and Action Program Tab 9, were the PRU and Field Police. Of the two, the PRU were "by far the most effective and suffered the lowest casualties," according to the 1966 Combined Campaign Plan, which also noted that "the type of target attacked by the PRU was strategically most significant." [6]

This chapter focuses on the PRU, which more than any other program is associated with Phoenix. But first a quick review of the Field Police, which at the behest of Robert Komer was to be "redirected" against the infrastructure, ''as its main function."

Naturally Colonel William "Pappy" Grieves did not respond favorably to this "redirection" of the Field Police, calling it "a misreading of its mission" and calling Phoenix "a phase that set us back." [7] As an example of the proper use of Field Police, Grieves, in a briefing for General Abrams, cited Operation Dragnet in Binh Dinh Province, "in which three companies of Field Police at a time, for two four-month cycles, worked with the 1st Cavalry Division in Cordon and Search operations." As another example of the proper use of Field Police, Grieves cited CT IV and Operation Fairfax, in which Field Police "search" teams operated under the protection of security squads provided by the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Working in six-man teams, the Field Police searched hooches for hidden documents and weapons and set up screening centers for suspects, where they checked names against blacklists and faces against photos obtained from the Family Census program. Field policemen also checked ID, voter registration, and draft cards. Such were the functions Grieves believed were appropriate for a law enforcement organization dedicated to providing police services to the public. He complained to Abrams:

Then Phoenix was upon us. At the direction and insistence of Ambassador Komer, the Field Police SOP was drastically reoriented and reworded, with new emphasis on the anti-subversive mission, which was the only mission which was spelled out, and which was emphasized as the first priority mission.

This mission statement resulted in the tremendous under-utilization of the Field Police. Proper Field Police missions, other than anti-subversive, were ignored. Police commanders, local officials, and US advisors considered the job done when a Field Police platoon was given carte blanche to a DIOCC, completely ignoring the fact that Phoenix agencies were not producing enough real targets to keep any of the multiplicity of reaction forces available to them fully occupied on this single mission.

Perfectly appropriate and suitable missions assigned to Field Police units, not fully in use by Phoenix were constantly reported by US advisers and observers, including Komer, as misuse of Field Police.

In other words, in the rush to destroy the VCI, a successful police program was derailed. Likewise, with the redirection of the Field Police against the VCI, much to Grieves's dismay, Public Safety advisers like Doug McCollum found themselves working more closely than ever with the Special Branch and its CIA advisers. In accordance with procedures instituted by Robert Komer, McCollum began receiving Aid-in-Kind funds through the province senior adviser. "I was given twenty thousand dollars a month," he recalled, "which I had to spend, to develop agent networks in Darlac Province." [8]

McCollum developed three nets, comprised 90 percent of Montagnards, and presented the intelligence these nets produced at weekly meetings among himself, the CIA's province officer, and the MACV sector intelligence officer. These meetings compared notes on enemy troop movements, VCI suspects, double agents, and double dippers -- agents who were working for more than one U.S. agency. The CIA's province officer, according to McCollum, got his intelligence from the PRU and the Truong Son Montagnard RD program. When VCI members were identified, individual or joint operations were mounted. When called upon to contribute, McCollum dispatched his Field Police company under former Special Forces Sergeant Babe Ruth Anderson. The PRU adviser, Roger, was a mercenary hired by and reporting only to the province officer.

"It was two halves of the apple," McCollum recalled. "Collection and operations. We would get blacklists from the province officer with names of people in villages or hamlets. The Field Police went out with ARVN units or elements of the U.S. Fourth Division, usually on cordon and search operations. We'd select a target. The day before we were going to hit it, we'd get picked up in the morning by white Air America choppers. I'd take twenty-five or thirty Field Police, and we'd land about ten miles away and set up a base camp with elements of the Fourth Division.

"We'd get up at three A.M., surround the village, and at daybreak send in a squad to check for booby traps. Then we'd go in, search the place, segregate women and children from men, check people against the blacklist, and take them into custody. We'd get money, boots, and medicine and sometimes NVA. If the VCI were classified A or B, hard core, they were sent to the PIC. At that point it was out of my hands. We'd take the other prisoners back to Ban Me Thuot in police custody; we did not give them to the military. Coming back to camp, the U.S. Fourth Division would use the Field Police as point men."

As McCollum described them, the Field Police were used (as Grieves intended) as roving patrols outside Ban Me Thuot more often than they were used against the VCI. However, because they did on occasion go after the VCI, by 1967 the Field Police were being compared with the PRU. In an October 1967 article in Ramparts, David Welch quotes the Khanh Hoa Province psychological warfare officer as saying that the Field Police "work just like the PRU boys. Their main job is to zap the in-betweeners -- you know, the people who aren't all the way with the government and aren't all the way with the Viet Cong either. They figure if you zap enough in-betweeners, people will begin to get the idea." [9]

"Just like the PRU boys"? Unlikely. On February 18,1967, Chalmers Roberts, reporting for the Washington Post on the subject of counterterror, wrote that "one form of psychological pressure on the guerrillas which the Americans do not advertise is the PRU. The PRU work on the theory of giving back what the Viet Cong deals out -- assassination and butchery. Accordingly, a Viet Cong unit on occasion will find the disemboweled remains of its fellows along a well trod canal bank path, an effective message to guerrillas and to non-committed Vietnamese that two can play the same bloody game."

Komer may have wished that the Field Police would operate like the PRU, and in some cases it did, but the PRU had counterterror and intelligence collection missions which the Field Police never had, even under Phoenix. Moreover, the PRU were not a law enforcement organization; in fact, as CIA assets they operated outside the law and had no legal powers of arrest. The PRU were the personification of the Special Forces' behind-the-lines mentality, which in a counterinsurgency meant getting the VCI in its own villages.

Jim Ward put it this way: "To get a guy in enemy territory, you've got to get an armed intelligence collection unit where the guy's got the balls to go into an area to perform the mission. You're not going to get police officers who are walking a beat in town or the Special Branch guy who deals with agents. Generally, the PRU is the outfit that's best equipped."

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." [10]


In view of these conflicting pressures -- the official call for small-unit operations against the VCI and the dirth of "impressive results" the job afforded -- by 1967 a new breed of officer was being introduced to the Vietnam War. While conventional warriors continued to search for big battles, highly trained and motivated unconventional warfare officers, with an abiding appreciation for public relations, were called upon to manage the counterinsurgency.

One of the new breed was Navy Lieutenant John Wilbur, a tall, husky, sensitive Yale graduate. In April 1967 Wilbur journeyed to Vietnam as deputy commander of SEAL Team 2, a twelve-man detachment, with no combat veterans in its ranks, which was assigned to a naval riverine warfare group and quartered in a Quonset hut at the My Tho River dock facility in the middle of the Mekong Delta.

"Frankly," Wilbur (now an attorney in Palm Beach) told me, "the Navy didn't know what to do with us. They didn't know how to target us or how to operationally control us. So basically they said, 'You guys are to go out and interdict supply lines and conduct harassing ambushes and create destruction upon the enemy however you can.' Mostly, we were to be reactive to, and protective of, the Navy's PBRs [river patrol boats]. That was probably our most understandable and direct mission. The PBR squadron leaders would bring us intelligence from the PBR patrols. They would report where they saw enemy troops or if there was an ambush of a PBR. Then we'd go out and get the guys who did it." [11]

Knowing what to do and doing it, however, were two vastly different things. Despite their being highly trained and disciplined, Wilbur confessed, "That first month we started out with the typical disastrous screw-up operations. In our first operation ... we went out at low tide and ended up getting stuck in mud flats in broad daylight for six hours before we could be extracted .... We didn't have any Vietnamese with us, and we didn't understand very basic things ....We didn't know whether it was a VC cadre or a guy trying to pick up a piece of ass late at night. The only things we had were curfews and free fire zones. And what a curfew was, and what a free fire zone was, became sort of an administrative-political decision. For all we knew, everybody there was terrible.

"We got lost. We got hurt. People were shooting back at us, and other times we never got to a place where we could find people to shoot at .... There was a lot of frustration," Wilbur said, "of having no assurance that the information you got was at all reliable and timely."

As an example, Wilbur cited the time "we raided an island across from where the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division was based. We surrounded the settlement that morning and came in with our guns blazing .... I remember crawling into a hut -- which in Vietnam was a sort of shed encompassing a mud pillbox where people would hide from attacks -- looking for a VC field hospital. There I was with a hand grenade with the pin pulled, my hand on my automatic, guys running around, adrenaline going crazy, people screaming -- and I didn't know who the hell was shooting at who. I can remember that I just wanted to throw the goddamned grenade in the hut, and screw whoever was in it. And all of a sudden discovering there was nothing but women and children in there. It was a very poignant experience.

"This was during that first two-month period," Wilbur said, shaking his head. "Then one day a SEAL Team One enlisted man who was assigned to the CIA came down to My Tho. His name was Dave, and he was one of two advisers to the PRU, whom we vaguely knew to be independent. Dave presented us with a whole new perspective. He was dressed in blue jeans and a khaki shirt, he had his own jeep, and he went where he wanted and did what he wanted to do. He had a sense of place. He gave me a fairly broad brief, which attracted the hell out of me. Then he said, 'I've got some people, and I'd like to run some operations with you.'"

In exchange, the SEAL team provided the PRU with increased firepower. Explained Wilbur: "We had all the toys: M-seventy-nines, CAR fifteens, Swedish Ks, grease guns, and grenades. Not only that, we had tremendous support capabilities through the Navy chopper squadron [the Sea Wolves] and the PBRs. And we got immediate reaction through the Navy chain of command. So it was advisable for the PRU to work with us. The Vietnamese wanted helicopter rides and that reaction requirement. In exchange, they had the skills, the intelligence, and the experience to know where the bad guys were -- who to shoot at and who not to shoot at. It had the potential for a very beneficial relationship."

One of the attributes of the PRU was that they were required to be from the province in which they operated. "So they had relatives and friends in the area," Wilbur explained, and "they had their own intelligence network set up. They'd go back to their hometown for a couple of days, sit around and drink tea and say, 'What's happening?' And a friend would say, 'Tran's a buddy of mine; I'll tell him about the VC district chief meeting.'" Tran would then tell the PRU adviser and, Wilbur said, "Dave, would come down and say, 'My guy says there's a VC district chief meeting. We need some helicopter gunship support. We want to be able to air-evac. You give us the Sea Wolves, we'll give you the operation, and together we'll score a victory.'"

At first Dave assigned one of the PRU to Wilbur as a scout, so the the SEALs could adjust to working with a Vietnamese. The teenage scout "could more or less indicate where the VC were set up, when they might come by, and where we might ambush them," Wilbur told me. "He was the kind of person to say, 'We aren't going to go on a PBR into this town. We'll take a little water taxi, and we'll hide on the river till night, then go in at three A.M. and ... go there.'"

"He helped us chart a course for the war," Wilbur added respectfully. "He gave me a sense of confidence and made us feel that we weren't spinning our self-destructive wheels. I was very aware of how minimally trained most Americans were. I remember being in the Sea Wolf helicopters, and people shooting at peasants on water buffaloes, or at fishermen in dugouts because they happened to be in free fire zones, or rocketing huts and burning things down. But with the PRU, I had the ability to control things better than the William Calleys did. I was a professional officer in an elite organization that had a lot of pride, and we were not going to mess up.

"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." Wilbur sighed. "I remember writing a letter in my mind to [Yale University President] Kingman Brewster, telling him how important it was for people who had some moral training and education to be on the ground to prevent the negligent cruelties that occurred. I saw myself as that person. I saw an opportunity for SEAL team assets and training to multiply exponentially by working with the PRU. I didn't have any master plan, but I felt, when I am with this kid, I think I know where he's going, and when he puts his hand on my arm and whispers, 'Don't shoot,' I know that I shouldn't shoot. And those were significant things. You felt he was guiding you to do something you ought to do and preventing you from doing what you ought not to do.

"This guy proved himself to me," Wilbur stated emphatically. "He was able to command in the field. He was at home, and I wanted to be like that. He was a very good influence: Plus which the Vietnamese are very sweet, affectionate people. You'd go to places and they'd be walking around holding hands with American sergeants. Or they'd come up behind you, put their arms around you, hug you, and offer you some cigarettes. The kid was like that. He was friendly. He reacted. He hung around and became our mascot, which he liked."

Wilbur was also intrigued by the CIA mystique. "Dave had this freedom and economy. He was working with intelligent people, whom I got to know, and so I indicated to him that I'd like to get into the PRU program. By coincidence, this happened just when the agency wanted to expand the PRU and develop its mission -- as they envisioned it, a PRU unit in every province with a Special Forces adviser doing the daily operational control. Special Forces, including SEALs, Force Recon Marines, Green Berets, and SAS (British Special Air Service].

"So, lo and behold, just as I became anxious to get into this area, word came down that the Navy was to suggest an officer to go up to a two-week briefing in Saigon, to develop a SEAL adviser system in this program. This was July 1967. I was sent to Navy headquarters in Saigon and told to go to a huge house with servant quarters around the walls outside. There we were organized by Bill Redel. This was his baby," Wilbur said. "There were no Vietnamese visible, unlike the RD program. The PRU program was American-controlled, which is absolutely essential. It was the breakdown of that control that eventually led to the destruction of the PRU concept."

It is also important to recall that before July 1967 PRU teams were organized and directed by CIA advisers at the province level through the province chief's special assistant for pacification. It was only with the formation of ICEX that the PRU became a national program under CIA officer William R. Redel, a veteran of Greece and Korea who wore a Marine Corps colonel's uniform. "He and I were old and close friends," said Evan Parker, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, "and there again we cooperated with him and helped." [12] Collocated in USAID II, Redel and Parker worked as equal partners.

"His program was also for going after the VCI," according to Parker. "These were paramilitary people, mostly former Vietcong. In many instances the province chief preferred to use them as his action arm against the infrastructure, rather than regular army forces, which were not as responsive. That's the key; the PRU were directly responsive because you were dealing with the convinced."

John Wilbur recalled: "Bill Redel was a good-looking guy: Nordic, blue eyes, tanned -- a model type of guy. He was a good salesman, too, smooth bureaucratically and very political. He greased palms well.

"Bill organized it like a tour," Wilbur said of the briefing in Saigon. "There were fifteen or twenty of us; SEALs ... Special Forces ... Force Recon Marines, and straight-leg Army infantry types. Maybe four or five of each. The way it was set up, the Force Recon people were to be advisers in Eye Corps; by and large the Special Forces in Two Corps; the Army in Three Corps, and the SEALs in Four Corps. Most of us were officers or senior enlisted men.

"During the first week we all stayed at the same hotel ... and we were indoctrinated in what Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) was all about -- Census Grievance, Revolutionary Development, et cetera. We were given a presentation indicating that we were all volunteers, then were told what the PRU mission was to target the political infrastructure of the Vietcong, to gather and compile accurate information about it, and to react upon that information to try to destroy the political and economic infrastructure of COSVN. A lot of our briefing concerned COSVN's political, economic, and military arms. We were told what the VCI was, how it operated, and why we were targeted against it. It was almost like learning about CORDS. It was exciting and heady, too. Coming from the military envelope, I was awakened into this whole new world. It was 'Hey! This is a secret' and 'We're the tough guys!' I was pretty impressed with myself.

"Then we spent two days down at the Vung Tau training camp. It was actually a short helicopter ride north, off in the dunes on the South China Sea. The training facility was a corrugated iron compound with classrooms and barracks, a chow hall, and lecture rooms. Two or three hundred people. Then there were rifle ranges and the operational course. There were American instructors, but not many, and the chief administrator was an American -- one of the colorful names -- baldheaded, barrel-chested, tough, marinish. It was also at Vung Tau that I met Kinloch Bull. Then we all returned to our tactical areas of responsibility. I went to Can Tho to talk further with Kinloch Bull."

Described by Nelson Brickham as "a strange person, devious and sly," [13] Bull was one of the few Foreign Intelligence officers to serve as a CIA region officer in charge. A confirmed bachelor, Bull worked undercover as the director of a Catholic boarding school, where he would "preside at the head of the table like a headmaster." Tall and thin and fastidious, Bull was a gourmet cook and protege of William Colby's. He was also an intellectual who confided to Wilbur that his ambition was to sit at a typewriter on the southern tip of the Ca Mau Peninsula and, like Camus, write existential novels.

"We lived in Binh Se Moi," recalled Wilbur, "the motor vehicle hub of Can Tho. Actually it was about five kilometers up the river, halfway between the city and the airport. We were down an alley surrounded by whorehouses and massage parlors where all the enlisted troops would go. There were five or six of us in the place, and I was by far the junior. The others were all in their second careers. There was Bill Dodds, a retired Army colonel with unconventional warfare experience in Korea and Africa. He was the RDC/O in charge of the paramilitary program of which the PRU was a part. Another guy living there was Wayne Johnson, the Phong Dinh province officer. The Special Branch person, the RDC/P, lived with Kinloch. They were all very paternal, very loyal, very fine people.

"So I started working for Kinloch Bull," Wilbur said, "but the Navy wanted me still to work for them. They wanted to make the PRU program theirs, so they could brag about it. But the CIA told me not to provide the Navy with operational reports, so the Navy tried to have me relieved. At which point Kinloch said, 'Well, we'll kick the Navy out of the Delta program then.' It progressed into a tremendous bureaucratic tug-of-war. Everybody wanted to have the PRU because they inflated their statistics."

In describing how the PRU program was structured, Wilbur recalled, "When I got to Can Tho in July, eleven of the sixteen provinces had PRU units. By September they all did. The number of PRU varied from province to province. We had a very large detachment in Can Tho, maybe a hundred. The smallest was twenty in Kien Giang.

"I tried to make sure my advisers were all senior enlisted men," Wilbur continued, "from either SEAL Team One or Two. I had about half and half. We wanted them for a long period of time, but the SEAL teams wanted to rotate as many people as possible in the program, to keep it theirs. I recommended one-year billets, but it turned out to be six months.

"The advisers were assigned to CORDS province teams and came under the direct command of the CIA's province officer," Wilbur explained. "They were not under my direct operational control, and much to my horror, I found myself in an administrative position. And the senior enlisted people were very political in terms of how they tried to maximize their independence. They loved wearing civilian clothes and saying they worked for the CIA, having cover names and their own private armies, and no bloody officers or bullshit with barracks. So a lot of my job was ... maintaining good relations between the PRU advisers and the province officers, many of whom were retired Special Forces sergeant majors with distinguished military careers. Often there were sparks between the PRU adviser and province officer because it was a little too close to their old professions."

Province officers with military backgrounds often exerted more control over the PRU teams than young, college graduate-type officers who had difficulty controlling their hard-bitten PRU advisers, many of whom were veterans of OPLAN 34A and the counterterror program before it was sanitized. "So where I had the most problems," Wilbur explained, "it was usually when the province officer had more expertise in what the PRU were doing and would run it more hands-on and, in many instances, better than the PRU adviser. And in those instances I had to relieve the PRU adviser ... Also, to be honest, a tot of PRU advisers were being manipulated by their PRU people. You can't have people go out on combat operations three times a week indefinitely. It's like having teams in the National Football League play two games a week. It takes time to recover, and the PRU had a natural and understandable desire to bag it. So the PRU would figure out excuses to get their advisers to resist the operation. Then the PRU adviser would become the man in the middle. Sometimes he'd say, 'Well, we can't go out; we don't have enough people.'

"In other cases the PRU advisers tried to win popularity contests with their cadre," according to Wilbur, "and then the province officer would get mad at the PRU adviser for being less responsive to him than the PRU cadre themselves. Then that would create a problem between me and the PRU adviser and in many instances between me and the province officer. Bill Redel had the same problem. He was the national PRU adviser, but he had no authority over the region officers. He would tell me to do things, and I would do exactly what my enlisted men would do. If I didn't want to do it, I'd go to Jim Ward and say, 'Do I have to do this?' And he'd say, 'No. I'm going to tell Bill Redel to go shove it.' In the same way, my PRU advisers would hide behind their province people, so as not to do what I wanted them to do."

As for the quality of his PRU advisers, Wilbur said, "The original SEALs were tough guys who did a lot of training but hadn't fought in any wars. Then they went over to Vietnam. By that time they had kids and they weren't that aggressive. The senior guys wanted to send the PRU people out on operations and stay by the radio. Which was a problem.

"We had one situation where we got the operational report that they went out and killed two people and captured two weapons. But they didn't kill anyone the second time ... and it was the same weapon. My PRU adviser would drop the PRU team off in his jeep, and he'd pick them up, and he'd transport them back and forth. So he never discovered that they were going out and planting weapons.

"Other guys really rose to the occasion," Wilbur noted, adding that because the older men played it safe, the people who started dominating the SEAL ranks "were the young tiger enlisted men. They'd go out and waste people."


One of those "young tiger enlisted men" was Navy SEAL Mike Beamon, who worked "on the Phoenix program in the Ben Tre and My Tho areas" from mid-1968 through February 1969. Beamon's recollections of the PRU resemble Elton Manzione's more than John Wilbur's. He described the PRU as "made up by and large of guys who were doing jail time for murder, rape, theft, assault in Vietnam. The CIA would bail them out of jail under the condition that they would work in these mercenary units." [14]

Beamon spoke of the PRU using ears as evidence to prove they had assassinated a particular VCI and of PRU stealing weapons from South Vietnamese armories and selling them to the CIA. "I can remember ambushing a lot of tax collectors," he added. "After they made all the collections, you'd hit them in the morning and rob them of the money and, of course, kill them. And then report that all the money was destroyed in the fire fight. They'd carry a thousand dollars at a time. So we'd have quite a party." [15]

From Beamon's perspective, Phoenix was a "carefully designed program to disrupt the infrastructure of the Viet Cong village systems. And apparently on some occasions the plan was to come in and assassinate a village chief and make it look like the Viet Cong did it." The idea, he explained, was to "break down the entire Viet Cong system in that area ...." -- a plan which did not work because "the Viet Cong didn't organize in hierarchies. [16]

"If you organize in a big hierarchy," Beamon explained, "and have one king at the top and you wipe out the king, that is going to disrupt the leadership. On the other hand, if you organize in small guerrilla units, you'll have to wipe out every single leader. Plus if you organize in small units, you have communication across units and everybody can assume leadership .... It is my feeling," he said, "that later on we were hitting people that the Viet Cong wanted us to hit, because they would feed information through us and other intelligence sources to the CIA and set up a target that maybe wasn't a Viet Cong, but some person they wanted wiped out. It might even have been a South Vietnamese leader. I didn't understand Vietnamese. The guy could've said he was President for all I knew. He wasn't talking with me. I had a knife on him. It was just absolute chaos out there. Here we are, their top unit. It was absolutely insane." [17]

"From that you can perceive what my job was," Wilbur told me, referring to the dichotomy between the theoretical goals of administrative officers and the operational realities endured by enlisted men trying to achieve I those goals. "It was quality control," he said. "I spent a lot of time traveling between the provinces, doing inspections and field checks on the efficiency of these groups. My objective was to go out on operations with all the units so I could report from firsthand knowledge on what their capabilities and problems were. I was constantly on the road, except when Dodds would make me sit in the office and handle the reports which were sent to me from the PRU advisers in the field. The biggest problem was the thousands of reports. Everybody became deskbound just trying to supply the paper that fed Saigon and Washington."

They were not only deskbound but oblivious as well. "Intelligence people operate in a closet a great deal," according to Wilbur. "It got so the guy, literally didn't know what was happening on the street corner where he was, fifteen feet away from him, when he could find the answer by asking someone over coffee."

"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.

"So what happened, the American demand for immediate results to justify this new program, ICEX, started to swamp our operational capabilities. Also at this particular juncture, the province chiefs started seeing the PRU as their only effective combat reaction force, and they ultimately were not guys you could say no to all the time. So the province adviser had to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to keep the province chief from using the PRU as his personal bodyguards, to guard his house or bridges or to go fight VC battalions. We literally had times when the province chiefs ordered the PRU to go engage a battalion, and therein was the daily tension of trying to keep the PRU on track, to respond to the demand for high-level cadre-type targets."

The value of pursuing such an illusionary and elusive policy was, of course, debated within the CIA itself, with Jim Ward and Kinloch Bull personifying the CIA's schizophrenia on the subject. "Kinloch was a plans-oriented person," Wilbur stated. "He saw the problems of the inability to control a PRU-type operation. It was the battle of the bulge. Less staff people ... more contract people ... and less quality among the contract people. More and more programs. More involvement in overt paramilitary activities. Paying for Revolutionary Development and things other than classic intelligence functions."

But whereas Bull tried to stem the tide, his replacement, Jim Ward, hastened the inevitable. "PRU was Jim Ward's baby," Wilbur remarked. "That was his love."

"PRU in the Delta," said Ward, "were the finest fighting force in the country."

How does Ward know? "I went out with the PRU," he answered, "but just to see how they were operating." And Ward expected his province officers to do likewise. "We encouraged the province officers to go on enough of these operations to make sure they're properly connected. But the SEAL guy had to go on more," he added. "Doc Sells down in Bac Lieu Province used to go on three-man operations. He went out at night dressed in black pajamas, his face darkened with root juices .... They'd go deep into enemy territory. They'd grab some figure and they'd bring him back."

On the subject of terror, Ward said, "The PRU started off as a counterterror program, but that wasn't too well received in certain areas. That wasn't the basic mission anyway. They were to get at the guys who were ordering the assassinations of schoolteachers and the village headmen. They were trying to 'counter' terror. Their basic mission was as an armed intelligence collection unit -- to capture prisoners and bring back documents."

RDC chief Lou Lapham agreed, when I spoke with him in 1986, saying that he directed that the PRU capture VCI members and take them to PICs for interrogation. "But none of us were so naive," he added, ''as to think that we could stop every PRU team from carrying out the assassination mission they had as CTs .... We lived in the real world. You just cannot control the people fighting the war" -- [18] as Phoenix attempted to do.

"Jim Ward wanted ICEX to work," Wilbur said apologetically. "ICEX was something that Jim came in and proselytized. Committees were set up. But since ICEX was a broad term that assumed coordination of multi-agencies, I perceived it as something that was going to make the intelligence-gathering capabilities more efficient and that we in the PRU program were simply going to continue doing what we were doing. The idea of ICEX was to give us better and more timely information on the VCI, and we were to be the reaction arm of ICEX. The Field Police were the reaction arm of the plans people. We're on call; ICEX comes in with a hot number, and we go out with the ambulance. ICEX was a name and appeared to create a process, but the process was informally in place anyway."

As for the viability of the Phoenix-PRU program, Wilbur commented, "People didn't recognize the practical difficulties of achieving what its academic objective was to be, which somehow was to be an ambulance squad that went out and anesthetized the district people and brought them in [to the DIOCC or PIOCC or the PIC], where they were mentally dissected and all this information would come in. It was a rhetorical approach that just didn't work out there."

In any event, Wilbur said, "Tet put all that in abatement. Tet happens and it's 'Don't give me all this ICEX crap. Go out and get the guys with the guns.' Tet propelled the PRU into conventional-type small-unit infantry tactics, which, really, they felt more comfortable with than this sophisticated mission, which was elusive and illusionary. 'There's a VC squad in the woods! Let's go get 'em!' It was a more tangible and interesting thing to do. It's easier to go on an ambush."

This dissolution of the PRU, according to Wilbur, marked the beginning of the end of the program. "People began perceiving them as a strike force, a shock troop sort of thing," he said, adding, "With Tet, the PRU got visible. They produced staggering statistics, which became attractive for manipulation and distraction. The objectives started becoming slogans."
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Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

Postby admin » Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:55 am


In September 1967 John Hart developed detached retinas ("From playing too much tennis," Nelson Brickham quipped) [1] and was medevaced to the States for treatment. At William Colby's request, RDC chief Lou Lapham stepped in as acting station chief, juggling both jobs until late November, when Hart returned to Saigon, at which point, according to Tully Acampora, "Hart fell out of bed" [2] and detached his retinas again. Three weeks later, fearing for his sight, would-be soldier of fortune John Hart left Vietnam forever. In January 1968 Lewis Lapham was officially appointed Saigon chief of station.

Unlike his "dynamic" predecessor, scholarly Lou Lapham favored classic intelligence rather than paramilitary operations. His priorities, as he articulated them to the author, were: the political stability of the GVN, understanding the GVN's plans and intentions, unilateral penetrations of the VCI and COSVN, and RD programs, including Phoenix.

Lapham assured GVN stability, his number one priority, by lending to President Thieu whatever support was necessary to keep him in power, while steering him toward U.S. objectives through the use of "compatible left" parties managed by CIA assets like Senator Tran Van Don. As for priority two, Lapham's senior aides secretly recruited Vietnamese civilians and military officers "with something to tell us about GVN plans and strategies." [3]

Vietnamese nationals working for the CIA did so without the knowledge of their bosses. Their motive, for the most part, was money.

Unilateral penetrations of the VCI, Lapham's third priority, were managed by Rocky Stone's special unit. According to Lapham, "This was the toughest thing, getting an agent out in Tay Ninh into COSVN, to learn about VC and NVA plans and strategies. But we thought we did. The operation was a valid one when I left [in December 1968]." [4]

Lapham described his first three priorities as "strategic" intelligence. Phoenix, the other RD programs, and SOG were "tactical." "Phoenix was designed to identify and harass VCI," Lapham said, while "the station kept its strategic penetrations and operations secret." And even though tactical intelligence was not as desirable as the strategic sort, Lapham was careful to point out that it was not always easy to delineate between them. "What you get at a low level often reflects a high-level directive. That's why the station has analysts reading captured documents, intelligence reports from region officers, and briefings from interrogators. They put it all together for us, with bits and pieces adding up to reflect guidelines from Hanoi. That's how you do it, unless you can read Ho's reports."

When put in the proper context, Phoenix-generated intelligence on occasion had strategic implications. So CIA officers on the Phoenix staff also briefed station officers in liaison with the CIO, and Evan Parker himself attended station meetings thrice weekly. In these ways the station kept abreast of strategic intelligence Phoenix stumbled on while coordinating its sapper-level programs.

Despite its strategic potential, Phoenix was designed primarily to sharpen the attack against the sapper-level VCI. Renz Hoeksema explained how: "With the PRU you didn't have controlled sources, and so the information wasn't reliable .... That's why I didn't mind Phoenix. It was a way to corroborate low-level intelligence. For instance, if Special Branch has an informer, say, a ricksha driver, who falls into something and passes the information back, then we've got to check on it. But otherwise, everybody was too busy with their own operations to check. Phoenix steps in to do coordinating." [5]

"That's why," Lapham said, "the relationship between Special Branch and the PRU is so important. The PRU was the only station means to respond in an operational way to the VCI. When we got hot information through a DIOCC or PIOCC, we could mount an attack."

Clearly, in its fledgling stage, when the majority of Phoenix coordinators were CIA officers operating under cover of CORDS, the program was designed primarily to improve coordination between the station's liaison and coven action branches. It also provided Phoenix coordinators with American and Vietnamese military augmentation and intended to redirect them, by example, against the VCI. However, as John Wilbur explained, "Tet put all that in abatement." [6]

And Tet was a result of Robert Komer's desire to show success, which prompted him to withdraw U.S. forces from Cong Tac IV -- even though General Loan was predicting a major assault against Saigon -- and to realign South Vietnam's political forces behind Thieu. This is the strategic "political" aspect of Phoenix -- alluded to earlier by Vietnam's Diogenes, Tulius Acampora -- as conducted by the CIO. The CIO, according to Lou Lapham, "didn't trust the police and wouldn't leave high-level penetrations to the Special Branch." And because "Thieu and Ky were just as concerned with suppressing dissidents as Diem," Lapham explained, "There was an element in the police under the CIO for this purpose."

Liaison with the CIO, an organization Lapham described as "basically military intelligence," was handled by the special unit created by Rocky Stone, which met with the CIA's region and province officers and absconded with their best penetrations.

"The CIA is strategic intelligence," Howard "Rocky" Stone asserted when we spoke in 1987. "We were more interested in talking than in killing .... So in 1967 I set up an intelligence division at the National Interrogation Center with the Military Security Service and with McChristian." Within this division, Stone revealed, "I set up a separate unit to select targets -- to recruit people with something to tell us. This is the precursor to Phoenix. But when I described Phoenix to [Director of Central Intelligence Richard] Helms, he said, 'Give it to the military.' And the military broadened it into something else." [7]

Short, moonfaced, and a member of the CIA's Vince Lombardi clique, Stone said solemnly, "This has never been told, but we thought that by contacting North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese Communists and giving them secure communications, we could initiate a dialogue toward a settlement. We began negotiating with powerful people. It was only after [Senator Eugene] McCarthy entered the [U.S. presidential] race [on November 30, 1967] that problems developed."

What those problems were, Stone would not divulge, but he did refer obliquely to "lines of communication being compromised." He would also like to have the record show that "we were close in terms of timing and political considerations. There were potential avenues for political negotiations in late 1967, but when those collapsed, the Vietnamese thought we were delaying. Negotiations became impossible in 1968, and that resulted in Tet."

Stone's revelation flies in the face of contemporary wisdom. Stanley Karnow, for one, writes that a settlement was impossible in late 1967 because the Communists "had been planning a major offensive since the summer ... that would throw the Americans and the Saigon regime into utmost confusion." [8]

Regardless of why it happened, Tet surely did throw the GVN into utmost chaos. On January 31, 1968, thousands of VC simultaneously attacked hundreds of South Vietnam's cities and towns and in the process destroyed the credibility of the American war managers who had pointed to "the light at the end of the tunnel." Not only did Tet pour gasoline on the smoldering antiwar movement, hastening the American withdrawal, but it also prompted the war managers to ponder how the VCI could mount such a massive campaign without being detected.

CIA analyst Sam Adams suggests that by lulling people into a false sense of security, imprecise estimates of VCI strength precipitated Tet. That opinion is backed by Tom McCoy, the CIA's chief of East Asian political and psychological operations, who quit the agency in November 1967 to join McCarthy's campaign. Said McCoy: "LBJ was the victim of a military snow job. Three members of the CIA were back-channeling information, contravening the advice of McNamara, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff." But "the directive from the field was to report positively," and "the CIA was outdistanced by regular channels of communication." [9]

In any event, Tet proved to the world that the VCI shadow government not only existed but was capable of mobilizing masses of people. From the moment it erupted, Tet revealed, for all the world to see, the intrinsically political nature of the Vietnam War. Even if the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments found it impossible to admit that the outlawed VCI was a legitimate political entity, they could not deny that it had, during Tet, dictated the course of events in South Vietnam. And that fact pushed Phoenix into the limelight. For while operations against the VCI were overshadowed by the military crisis during Tet, in many areas the DIOCCs were the only places where intelligence on VC military units could be found.


At 3:00 A.M. on January 31, 1968, John Wilbur dragged himself out of bed, grabbed his weapons, strapped on his gear, straddled his Lambretta, and put-putted from Bien Se Moi to Can Tho airport. The trip was uneventful, the road empty of traffic, and Wilbur's thoughts were on the dawn raid the PRU were planning to conduct that morning in Kien Tuong Province. But when he stepped into the operations center in the CIA's command post, "It was like walking into pandemonium. People were going crazy. Everybody was on radios, and all the big Special Forces sergeants who had finally graduated to the C Team were walking around with flak jackets and guns. I asked, 'What's going on?'

"One of the sergeants said, 'Eye Corps, Two Corps, Three Corps, and twelve province capitals in the Delta are under simultaneous attack.' All the calls coming in were from province officers saying, 'We're under attack. We're under attack!'

"So," Wilbur recalled, "I ran out to the helicopter pad, and here come these helicopters. I think, 'This must be my operation.' So I literally ran out to this helicopter, and the closer I got to it, the closer it got to me! And the helicopter starts landing right on top of me! I was yelling -- and you can imagine the noise -- 'Is this the PRU operation to Kien Tuong?'

"And the guy said, 'PRU operation? Bullshit! We've just evacuated from Vinh Long! The airport at Vinh Long is under VC control!' And that," said Wilbur with a shake of his head, "was the commencement of Tet."

It was the same all over South Vietnam, but particularly bad in Quang Tri, where the province capital was under siege for five days and everybody had been reported killed. "The first twenty-four hours were pretty much run on adrenaline," Warren Milberg remarked when we met in 1986. "Then the fighting tailed off, and I began to realize that we had very little chance of surviving any kind of massed assault. This is when I began to burn files and make preparations for my death." [10]

But Milberg decided to stick it out, even though the province chief climbed on a helicopter and left. "I knew if I left the province, which I had the option to do, I could never come back and be effective," he said. "So I stayed for five days. And somehow I survived.

"When the Tet offensive was over," Milberg went on, "the month of February was one of cleaning up and trying to resurrect whatever kinds of agent networks you had -- of finding out who survived." For Milberg, this meant traveling to Hue to look for Bob Hubbard, one of several CIA province officers killed during the first hours of Tet, when the VC aimed their attacks at the CIA's interrogation centers and embassy houses. [i] Milberg described Hue as "a scene of what Germany must have been like during the Allied bombings. I'd never seen anything like it. Fighting was still going on. You heard shots here and there. Some armor units were still in a pitched battle against the NVA in the citadel.

"What happened in Hue was pretty traumatic for me," Milberg confided. "At one point, in looking through the rubble for Hubbard, I stumbled on a Marine colonel alive and well and looting bodies .... I nearly killed him, I was so angry. But I wound up drawing my pistol instead, taking him into custody and driving him, screaming and shouting, to the nearest Military Police unit. I won't give you his name, but he was court-martialed.

"Next," said Milberg, "I confronted what the North Vietnamese had done in the city of Hue and probably elsewhere. They had lists of all the people who had collaborated with the Americans and apparently had lined a lot of these people up and summarily shot them. But the most grotesque thing was to find some of the graves where hundreds of people had been pushed in alive and were buried." After a long period of silence Milberg added softly, "It's the kind of thing I still think about."

When asked if he thought the lists used by the NVA and VC in Hue were any different from Phoenix blacklists, Milberg said, "I see a lot of qualitative differences." He would not say what those qualitative differences were.

Quantitative discrepancies need explaining, too. The number of persons buried in Hue, as estimated by Police Chief Doan Cong Lap and reported by Stewart Harris in the March 27, 1968, Times of London, was two hundred. The mayor of Hue, according to Harris, found the bodies of three hundred local officials and prominent citizens in the mass grave. Stanley Karnow agrees with these figures but questions how many of the dead in the mass graves were civilians killed in the retaliatory U.S. bombardment "that also inflicted a heavy toll on the civilian population." [11]

Journalists allowed to view the graves while they were being opened reported seeing tire tracks and scour marks around the edges. Considering that the NVA did not have bulldozers, this suggested that civilians killed in the retaliatory bombing were bulldozed into the graves. Just as disturbing is a February 1972 article in the Washington Monthly, by Oriana Fallaci, titled "Working Up to Killing." Fallaci writes that more than a thousand people were killed after the liberation of Hue "by Saigon forces," including VCI cadres, who surfaced during Tet and were identified and killed by the secret police.

One person who knows what happened in Hue in February 1968 is PVT, the I Corps PRU and Phoenix inspector. The background of this unilaterally controlled CIA asset bears examination. Because his father was a police officer in Hue, PVT was accepted into the Surete Federale in 1954. When the Americans took over in 1955, he moved over to the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigation, rising through the ranks to become chief of Region 1 in Hue. Unfortunately for his career, his job included investigating the Buddhist immolations, and after the Diem coup PVT was jailed on suspicion of being Can Lao. Released a few months later, he and many of his tainted Catholic colleagues went to work for the CIA "because they didn't like the government" of General Nguyen Khanh.

Intelligent and tough, PVT served the CIA well as a Special Branch administrator in Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, and My Tho. In 1965, when Nguyen Cao Ky sold the CIA the right to organize Counterterror, Census Grievance, and Political Action franchises in the provinces, PVT went to work for CIA officer Rudy Enders in Bien Hoa, as his special assistant for pacification. A fast friendship formed between the two men, and when Enders was reassigned to I Corps as the CIA's senior paramilitary adviser, PVT tagged along and helped his patron manage the region's PRU, RD Cadre, Census Grievance, Special Branch, and Phoenix programs.

The CIA officer in charge of Hue in February 1968 was William Melton, "an older man," according to PVT, "hard and mean," who was angered over the death of his PRU adviser. While the battle for Hue was raging, Enders came down from Da Nang to lend Melton a hand. After a quick look around Enders decided to go after "the VCI who had surfaced at Tet. We had troop density," Enders explained to me, "and we had all these [ICEX] files, so now we grab hold." [12]

Also arriving on the scene at that moment were Evan Parker, Tully Acampora, and General Loan, who a few days earlier, on February 2, 1968, had achieved notoriety when, in retaliation for the murder of several of his secret policemen, he had summarily shot a VC sapper in the head in front of a TV camera crew. Bringing the same avenging spirit to Hue, Loan officially sanctioned Vietnamese participation in Phoenix operations in I Corps when he tacked the ICEX chart to the wall of the Hue City police station.

But in order actually to "grab hold" of the VCI operating in Hue, Rudy Enders required the services of PVT, whom he brought down from Da Nang to interrogate VCI prisoners. As PVT told it, he and "a small team of five or six people" crossed the Perfume River into Hue and went directly to the interrogation center, where "Rudy left me in charge." PVT and his team then interrogated the captured Communists and "took photos and fingerprints and made blacklists."

Reports Karnow: "Clandestine South Vietnamese teams slipped into Hue after the Communist occupation to assassinate suspected enemy collaborators; they threw many of the bodies into common graves with the Vietcong's victims." [13]

On February 24, 1968, the most bitter battle of the Vietnam War ended, and out of the mass graves of Hue rose Phoenix, its success prompting Defense Secretary Clark Clifford to recommend on March 4, 1968, that "Operation Phoenix ... be pursued more vigorously" and that "Vietnamese armed forces ... be devoted to anti-infrastructure activities on a priority basis." [14]

One day later, on March 5, 1968, with the Pentagon, hence the Armed Forces of Vietnam, now embracing the CIA's controversial Phoenix program, Prime Minister Nguyen Van Loc ordered the activation of Phung Hoang committees at all echelons, and he appointed Dang Van Minh chief of a special Phung Hoang Task Management Bureau. Doubling as the Special Branch representative on the Phung Hoang Central Committee, Minh immediately assigned Special Branch teams to the most important DIOCCs and PIOCCS on a twenty-four-hour basis and charged them with coordinating intelligence, the theory being that if Phoenix worked in Hue, it could work anywhere.

On March 16, 1968, the same day as the My Lai massacre, General Creighton Abrams replaced William Westmoreland as MACV commander. And by the end of the month Lyndon Johnson had pulled himself out of the upcoming presidential campaign. Warren Milberg, who was on leave in the States, recalled the mood of the country: "I remember coming back and listening to LBJ tell everybody that he wasn't going to seek reelection. That kind of reinforced in my mind the futility of the whole endeavor. It really made a big impact on me. I mean, LBJ was a casualty of the Tet offensive -- among other things."

Many dedicated American soldiers and civilians, after Tet, felt the same way. On the other hand, while demoralizing many Americans, the trauma of Tet spurred others on to greater acts of violence. For them, Phoenix would become an instrument to exact vengeance on a crippled, exposed enemy. "Up until the 1968 offensives," Robert Stater writes, "the VCI cadre were almost untouchable. Any losses suffered prior to then were insignificant. Confident of almost certain victory during the Tet Offensives, however, they surfaced their key cadre. The results are well known; the attacks cost the Viet Cong thousands of their most valuable cadre, including irreplaceable veterans with ten to twenty years of revolutionary activity." [15]

Professor Huy concurred, writing that "many agents whom the VC had planted in the towns and cities were discovered because of their activities during the attack, and were eliminated by the Saigon government." [16]

It is a fact that Tet was a psychological victory for the VCI. But it was a pyrrhic victory, too, for in proving itself a viable political entity, the VCI backed the GVN into a corner. Fear, and a chance to exact revenge, finally brought Phoenix to the forefront of the GVN's attention. All that remained was for Lieutenant Colonel Robert Inman to bring everyone together at the middle management level.


Having served in Vietnam with the Army Security Agency from 1963 till 1965, Robert Inman had already had, like many Phoenix officers, a tour of duty under his belt. Also like many Phoenix veterans who contributed to this book, Inman is compassionate, intelligent, and more than a little irreverent. "At the time I arrived in Saigon in early 1968," he told me, "there was a U.S. staff but no corresponding Vietnamese staff. On the U.S. side there were about twenty people, mostly military, although the key management-level positions at the directorate were CIA .... We had two read files: one for everybody and one for the CIA only. The distinction was maintained throughout my tour, but" -- he chuckled -- "I got to read the CIA stuff." [17]

The reason for the compartmentation, according to Inman, was that "CIA coordination with Special Branch continued at a higher level than Phoenix." Likewise, the parallel chains of command extended into the field, with CIA province officers receiving operational direction from ROICs while at the same time, in their capacity as Phoenix coordinators and members of the CORDS province advisory team, reporting administratively to the CORDS province senior adviser. U.S. military personnel serving as Phoenix coordinators fell administratively within CORDS but received operational direction from MACV. The CIA-MACV schism was to be narrowed in some provinces, but the gap was never universally bridged.

At the time Inman arrived at the Phoenix Directorate, there were three State Department officers on staff: Lionel Rosenblatt, Bernard Picard, and their boss, John E. MacDonald. According to Inman, MacDonald's job "was never revealed." Picard, now a prominent Washington lawyer, would not explain to me what he did. Rosenblatt merely said, "As a [twenty-two-year- old] junior officer ... I was assigned to CORDS-Phoenix in December 1967 and served there till June 1969. During this time my principal duties were: (one) orientation and visits to DIOCCs, December 1967 until March 1968; (two) Cam Ranh City Phung Hoang coordinator, March 1968 through September 1968; and (three) Phung Hoang liaison officer in Saigon." [18]

Executive Director Joe Sartiano, Inman recalled, "spent a lot of time with agency officers in the provinces, trying to coordinate the RDC/P people who ran the PICs with the RDC/O people who ran the PRU under the province officer system."

Inman himself was assigned to the operations section of the Phoenix staff, of which, he said, "There was a unilateral agency effort and a binational effort. And they were separate, too." The Phoenix Reports Branch, under Lieutenant Colonel Lemire, was headquartered not in USAID II but in the old embassy building on the river. "Nothing was computerized," Inman stated. "It was all pens and pencils and paper." There were, in addition, a plans and training section under Lieutenant Colonel Ashley Ivey and an administrative section under CIA officer James Brogdon.

As for the mood of the Phoenix staff, according to Inman, "The problem on the U.S. side was that cynicism was developing. Gooks, slopes, dinks: You didn't hear those words in the Saigon office, but the attitude was there." This racist attitude generally belonged to proponents of unilateral operations, as opposed to people, like Inman, who wanted to hand the job to the Vietnamese. "There were definitely two sides." He sighed, adding, "A lot of people after three months said, 'Why should I waste my time with the Vietnamese at the national level? I can get into the Special Branch files, and I can run the PRU, so what the hell?'" When asked if this was due to legitimate security concerns, Inman responded, "Lack of security was often just an excuse for incompetency."

Inman did not blame Even Parker for the bigotry evident at the Phoenix Directorate. "Parker was not paternal," he said. "But he had reached a point in his career where he was functioning more on a diplomatic than an operational level. And Ev had frustrations with his own people inside the CIA who viewed the RDC/P and RDC/O systems as competitive. Each side would say, 'Yeah, talk to them, but don't tell them too much.' No one wanted to divulge his sources."

There were other problems with Phoenix. "For example," Inman commented, "one province in Three Corps was relatively pacified, and the province senior adviser there thought Phoenix would only stir things up. He thought his ninety-five percent HES [Hamlet Evaluation System] rating would drop if they started looking for trouble." The problem, Inman explained, was that "The U.S. had tremendous resources, enough to fund twenty-five programs, all first priority. Bigger pigs, and better rice, and Phoenix. Now, some province senior advisors simply said, 'There's no way to do it all,' and picked one or two to focus on -- and not always Phoenix."

The other major problem, Inman said, was that "Phoenix was used for personal vendettas."

When Inman arrived at the Phoenix Directorate, Evan Parker's military deputy was Colonel William Greenwalt, "an administrator trapped in an office." Inman and his best friend on the Phoenix staff, Lieutenant Colonel William Singleton, concluded that "the CIA had Greenwalt there to take the rap if anything went wrong." What went wrong was Greenwalt's career. Greenwalt was slated to become a brigadier general, but by virtue of his association with the CIA, via Phoenix, his career jumped track, and he retired as a colonel when his Phoenix tour ended.

"Operations was run by a civilian," Inman recalled, "a retired full colonel on contract to the CIA. His name was William Law. He'd been the military attache in Laos. Singleton and I were assigned to Law, and Law told us to review everything in the files because he didn't know what the next step was going to be. After a month it got to be a drag, so I complained to Greenwalt. I said, 'I want another job. I'm wasting my time.'"

Greenwalt relented. "He gave me and Singleton three or four actions, which we resolved in about an hour," Inman recalled, and shortly thereafter "Law was sent down to the Delta to be the CIA's contact with the Hoa Hao." Law was replaced by George French, "a very personable, very experienced CIA officer who had done some very dramatic things in his career, from the OSS to Cuba."

George French's first job was as a demolitions expert in an Arizona lead mine, in the years before World War II. For that reason he was recruited into the OSS's Underwater Demolitions Unit in 1943 and assigned to Detachment 404 in Ceylon. Over the course of his CIA career, French did tours in Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, and Saipan and, as a member of the CIA's Special Operations Division, in Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere. In the summer of 1967 French was assigned to III Corps as Bob Wall's deputy in charge of PRU, even though he actually outranked Wall. Nor did he appreciate that Wall acted "like a dictator." So he asked for a transfer and was assigned to the Phoenix Directorate, replacing William Law as operations chief. French described the job as mostly traveling to the provinces to see what was going on and asking, "How's your body count?" The rest of the job, he told me, "was just paper shuffling: compiling information and passing it on up to MACV." [19]

In March 1968 the Phoenix-Phung Hoang program began to gel. Passing up the opportunity to manage the Soviet/Russia Division (with Rocky Stone as his deputy), William Colby instead had returned to Vietnam, at the request of Richard Helms, to serve as acting chief of staff of CORDS. Because he was too overbearing to communicate effectively with the Vietnamese, Robert Komer needed Colby to work with Interior Minister Tran Thien Khiem in formulating counterinsurgency policy and procedure at the national level. Colby understood Vietnamese sensibilities and knew enough about the country to select and assign CORDS advisers where they were needed most. He also understood the dynamics of the attack on the VCI: that Phoenix advisers were needed specifically to help local authorities develop card files and dossiers modeled on the Diem-era ABC system. In the process Colby was to achieve infamy as the man most closely associated with Phoenix and as its principal apologist.

"At the time I arrived," Inman recalled, "Parker was meeting with Colby and Khiem, developing proposed action programs, writing documents, and sending them down. Khiem was saying yes to everything, but nothing was happening on the Vietnamese side. So I went to Greenwalt and asked permission to contact some lieutenant colonels and majors in the Vietnamese Ministry of the Interior. Greenwalt said okay, and I approached Phan Huu Nhon, my counterpart during my first tour and the J-seven special intelligence officer to the Joint General Staff. Nhon sent me to see Lieutenant Colonel Loi Nguyen Tan, the action officer for Phoenix at the Interior Ministry, where he had a desk, but nothing coming in."

Here it is worthwhile to pause and realize that one reason the Vietnamese were slow in creating their own version of the Phoenix Directorate was their difficulty in finding a suitable translation for the word "infrastructure." To solve the problem, President Thieu appointed a commission consisting of senior American and Vietnamese intelligence officials. Attending as an interpreter-translator was Robert Slater.

"After five lengthy and rather hot (both in temperature and temperament) sessions," Slater writes, "a decision was reached that the term that was presently in use would be retained. The Vietnamese term was ha tang co so ... meaning 'the lower layer of an installation' or 'the underlying foundation.'" According to Slater, this misinterpretation was the "crux of the problem in the Allied attack against the VCI. If the South Vietnamese government cannot get across to the South Vietnamese people the danger of the VCI through an adequately descriptive word, then how can they hope to combat them?" [20]

The "crux" of the problem, of course, was not a lack of understanding on the part of the Vietnamese but the fact that the Americans insisted on defining the VCI in terms that conformed to their ideological preconceptions. Ed Brady put the problem in perspective when he explained that for the Vietnamese, "Committees at lower levels are the infrastructure of any higher-level committee." In other words, village committees are the infrastructure of district committees, district committees of province committees, and so on ad nauseam. According to Brady, "The word 'infrastructure' drew no distinctions at all, and whatever level the VCI existed at depended solely on each individual's own semantic interpretation." [21]

"They were writing documents," Inman said, "and sending them down for translations, but no one understood what the word 'infrastructure' meant, and no one dared go back to Khiem and say, 'I don't understand.' Tan said to me, 'What is this infrastructure?' They were looking it up in the dictionary and coming up with highways and electrical systems and such .... I said, 'It's their leaders.'

"And Tan said, 'Oh. Can bo. "Cadre." That's what we call them."'

What Thieu's national commission could not resolve in five days, two lieutenant colonels resolved in five minutes. Next, Inman said, "Tan introduced me to a major who was Thieu's personal chief of staff. Tan, this major, and I sat down and wrote up Thieu's Presidential Directive. [ii] Then this major got the papers to Thieu. The papers were issued in July, and Tan moved into the National Police Interrogation Center, with about ten senior people from Special Branch, as Khiem's man in charge of Phung Hoang. Duong Tan Huu [a former precinct chief in Saigon and, before that, Nha Trang police chief] was assigned as the senior National Police officer. Major Pham Van Cao became the day-to-day manager of the Phung Hoang Office, and I spent the next eight months there as liaison to the Vietnamese national-level staff."

A self-proclaimed "true believer" in the right of the Vietnamese to settle their own affairs, Inman had little to do with the U.S. side of Phoenix. "I was mostly at NPIC headquarters," he stated. "My role was as salesman. I'd check in with George French for thirty minutes in the morning, sometimes only once or twice a week. I'd get input through him from a lot of people; he'd say, 'Sell this to the Vietnamese.' I'd channel policies and directives and manuals from French -- all in English -- over to the Phung Hoang Office, and they translated them. Then I'd spend time getting everybody to read and understand and sign off on them. I'd run them past Census Grievance and RD, Field Police and Special Branch, the Interior Ministry and ARVN , and everybody would sign off." And that is how the Vietnamese Phung Hoang Office got its marching orders from Colby and the Phoenix Directorate.

The other reason why the Vietnamese were slow in creating the Phung Hoang Office concerned the struggle between President Thieu and Vice President Ky, a struggle that in 1968 reflected changes in the relationship between America and South Vietnam brought about by Tet. The first signs of realignment appeared when President Johnson withdrew from the presidential campaign, at which point his influence in Saigon began to wane. Johnson, however, remained committed to a negotiated settlement because success at the bargaining table was the Democratic party's only chance of getting Hubert Humphrey elected.

But Republican candidate Richard Nixon seized the issue and used it to subvert the Democrats. The darling of the Kuomintang-financed China Lobby, Nixon, through intermediaries in Saigon, persuaded Thieu to postpone negotiations until after the elections, assuring himself the presidency of the United States, at the expense of prolonging the Vietnam War.

Reflecting those developments in Washington, a similar political realignment began in Saigon in May 1968, when the VC initiated a second wave of attacks on Saigon, and Thieu, writes Professor Huy, ''as usual had no quick response." But Ky did react decisively. "He tried to mobilize young people for the defense of Saigon and received a favorable response." [22]

"With Tet," said Tully Acampora, "Loan made a comeback. Thieu was in another camp, watching and waiting. Through February the attacks increased, and by May, with the second offensive, Loan thinks he can walk on water. Then he gets shot outside of MSS headquarters, and that's the beginning of the end. It's all downhill after that."

On May 5, 1968 [iii] General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was seriously wounded and quickly replaced as director general of the National Police by Interior Minister Khiem, who appointed his own man, Colonel Tran Van Pham. Next, writes Professor Huy, Thieu "began his plan to weaken Ky." [23] His first move was to dismiss Prime Minister Loc and replace him with Tran Van Huong, a former mayor of Saigon and a bitter enemy of Ky's. During the 1967 elections Ky had coerced "peace" candidate Truong Dinh Dzu into pressing blackmail charges against Huong. And so, as soon as he was appointed prime minister, Huong tasted sweet revenge by dismissing most of Ky's backers in the administration.

"Then," writes Huy, "Ky received a new blow when several officers loyal to him and serving in the Saigon police were killed at the beginning of June in Cholon during their campaign against the second attack of the Communists. They were killed by a rocket launched from an American helicopter. Apparently this was a mistake, but many people thought it was due to the American decision to help Thieu against Ky." [24]

The incident occurred on June 2, 1968, when a rocket fired from a U.S. Marine helicopter gunship "malfunctioned" and slammed into a wall in a schoolyard on Kuong To Street. The wall collapsed, killing seven high-ranking officials who had been invited by the Americans to the battlefront in the belief that the VCI leadership was hiding in the home of the Buddhist leader Tri Quang. Killed were Pho Quoc Chu, Loan's brother-in-law and chief of the Port Authority; Lieutenant Colonel Dao Ba Phouc, commander of the Fifth Ranger Battalion; Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Luan, Saigon police chief; Major Le Ngoc Tru, Cholon police chief and Loan's personal aide; Major Nguyen Ngoc Xinh, Combined Security Committee and First Precinct police chief; and Major Nguyen Bao Thuy, chief of staff to Lieutenant Colonel Van Van Cua, Loan's brother-in-law and the mayor of Saigon.


Four days later President Thieu appointed Colonel Tran Van Hai director general of the National Police. On the same day that he took office, Hai dismissed Ky's eight remaining police chiefs in Saigon and replaced Special Branch chief Nguyen Tien with his friend Major Nguyen Mau, who refused to accept Phoenix within the Special Branch and instead incorporated the Combined Intelligence Staff within a new Capital Military District Command (CMDC).

A by-product of Tet, the Capital Military District was formed for two reasons: to organize better the resources against the VCI cadres that had aided VC sapper units during Tet and to regulate the half million refugees produced during Tet and pouring into Saigon. It was also with the creation of the Capital Military District that Thieu and Khiem wrenched control away from Ky and Loan once and for all. Encompassing Saigon's nine precincts and Gia Dinh Province, the CMD had as its American counterparts MACV's Capital Military Assistance Command and a Phung Hoang committee in First Precinct Headquarters. Prior to the CMD, Phoenix personnel from Gia Dinh Province had patrolled Saigon's precincts on a circuit rider basis; as of June 1968, Phoenix advisers were placed in DIOCCs in each of the precincts. Phoenix precinct advisers reported to Lieutenant Colonel William Singleton through his deputy, Major Danny L. Pierce, whom Robert Inman describes as "an active Mormon who traveled all over the country on Sundays holding services." In this capacity, Inman informs us, "Singleton and Pierce were involved directly in intelligence and reaction operations in the back alleys of Saigon."

CIA operations in the Capital Military District -- aka Region Five -- were managed by a series of veteran CIA officers under their cover boss, Hatcher James, the senior USAID adviser to the mayor of Saigon. Headquartered behind City Hall, the Region Five officer in charge monitored all Phoenix operations in the Capital Military District.

A few days after the CMD was created, General Nguyen Khac Binh was appointed director of the CIO and quickly conferred upon station chief Lou Lapham "a charge from Thieu to run intelligence operations anywhere in the country, going after the big ones."

With Ky's people in the grave or the hospital, President Thieu began to shape the government of Vietnam in his own image, appointing ministers, police and province chiefs, and military commanders who would do his bidding. Also, by issuing Law 280, Thieu lifted the monkey off the U.S. Embassy's back, and in return, the Americans looked away when he began persecuting domestic opponents whose "compatible left" political organizations fell under Law 280's definition of VCI "cadre." From July 1968 onward the task of ensuring the GVN's internal security fell to General Tran Thien Khiem, who, according to Dang Van Minh, was "the real boss of administration and intelligence." CIA asset Khiem -- serving as interior minister, deputy prime minister for pacification, and chairman of the Phung Hoang Central Committee -- thereafter worked hand in hand with William Colby in steering Phoenix into infamy.

With the promulgation of Law 280 -- which compelled Vietnamese corps commanders and province chiefs to organize Phung Hoang committees -- and, one week later, MACV Directive 381-41, which ordered U.S. military and civilian organizations to support Phung Hoang -- Phoenix was ready to run on both its American and Vietnamese cylinders.

All that remained was for Lieutenant Colonel Inman to spread the word. "One of my principal functions," he said, "was to take Tan ['polished' and 'above it all'] and Cao ['blunt and offensive'] to visit the PIOCCs and DIOCCs and give a pep talk. I probably visited every district in my last eight months." But, he added, "It was not my job to sell Phoenix to the U.S., so we didn't announce our arrival; the district senior adviser wouldn't even know I was there. My job was to sell Phung Hoang to the Vietnamese, and I stayed on the Vietnamese side."

The people saddled with the chore of selling Phoenix to the Americans were the region Phoenix coordinators -- field-grade military officers who began arriving in Vietnam in January 1968. Their role is discussed in Chapter 14. But first some statistics on Phoenix through August 1968.

No aspect of Phoenix is more significant than its impact on civilian detainees, and despite the increase in the number of CDs after the GVN's acceptance of Phoenix in July 1968, the construction of facilities capable of holding them never materialized. Instead, hard-core VCI were transported from mainland camps to Con Son Island, and four "mobile" military field courts were authorized in October 1967 to supplement the four courts authorized in 1962. Confirmed VCI were tried by province security committees, whose proceedings were closed to the public -- the defendant had no right to an attorney or to review his dossier. Security committees could release a suspect or send him to prison under the An Tri (administrative detention) Laws or to a special court. Due process for CDs remained on the drawing board.

Nevertheless, in compliance with Law 280, the four Vietnamese corps commanders (General Hoang Xuam Lam in I Corps, General Vinh Loc in II Corps, General Nguyen Duc Thang in IV Corps, and General Nguyen Khanh in III Corps), formed joint Phoenix-Phung Hoang working groups and corps-level Phung Hoang committees, bringing the military and police into varying degrees of cooperation, depending on the commander's personal preferences. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Lemire reported that General Khanh "was reluctant to support police type operations with military resources." [25] Khanh assigned a mere captain as his regional Phung Hoang coordinator.

"In Eye Corps and Two Corps," Lemire noted, "the cordon and search, using Phung Hoang blacklists, appears to get the best results. In Four Corps the PRU is still the main action arm. In Three Corps the joint PRU/Police/RF/PF district operation seems to be most productive."

Everywhere the degree of Vietnamese participation in Phoenix rose steadily. By August 1968 Phung Hoang committees existed in 42 provinces and 111 districts; 190 DIOCCs had been built, at an average cost of fifteen thousand dollars each, and 140 were actually operating, along with 32 PIOCCs. A total of 155 Phoenix advisers were on the job. However, confusion still existed about the proper relationship between PIOCCs and Phung Hoang committees. In some provinces the two were merged, in others they were separate, and sometimes only one existed. Many Phung Hoang committees had no relationship at all with DIOCCs, which were often viewed as an unrelated activity. The change in name from ICEX to Phoenix to Phung Hoang added to the confusion. In Pleiku Province the ICEX Committee became the Phoenix Committee but met separately from the Phung Hoang Committee. Everywhere Americans and Vietnamese continued to conduct unilateral operations, and tension between the Special Branch and the military persisted as the biggest Phoenix-related problem.

The other major problems, cited in a May 1968 report written by CORDS inspectors Craig Johnstone and John Lybrand, were lack of trained DIOCC advisers; lack of agreement on the definition of the word "infrastructure"; inadequacy of reaction forces at district level, the exception being when PRU were sent down from province; improper use of Field Police forces; torture of prisoners; [iv] lack of a standardized filing system; poor source control mechanisms; lack of coordination between Phoenix and other free world forces; and Census Grievance participation in Phoenix.

To facilitate Phoenix operations nationwide, the CIA issued two handbooks in June 1968. The first, a thirty-one-page document titled The VC Key Organization from Central Level down to Village and Hamlet Levels, outlined the VCI for Phoenix operators. The other was the Phoenix Directorate's first manual of procedures, outlining the program from Saigon down to the DIOCCs. At this point a detailed picture of the estimated seventy thousand VCI was emerging, targeting was becoming specific and scientific, and results were improving. Lieutenant Colonel Lemire reported that ''as the DIOCCs and PIOCCs have refined data bases, gained experience, and mounted more operations against targetted individuals, the neutralization rate has been well over 1000 per month for the last four months." In Gia Dinh Province, Lemire reported, "the combination of an aggressive Province Chief and a dedicated Phoenix Coordinator has more than quadrupled the monthly rate of killed, captured, and rallied VCI."

Much emphasis was placed on neutralization rates, which were deemed the only objective way of measuring Phoenix success. As reports poured into the directorate from all over the country, numbers were tabulated and scores posted; by the end of June 1968, more than six thousand VCI had been "neutralized," with exact numbers available from each DIOCC so Phoenix managers could judge performance.

As Evan Parker explained it, "You've got people. You've got some sort of structure set up, some facilities and money and resources. Then you need a record-keeping system. Unfortunately," he added, "people lived on reporting .... In order to get brownie points, a guy would say, 'We conducted X many Phoenix operations,' and that looks good on your record. But simply because they were ordered to conduct sweeps, they might pick up some VC, but they could just as easily have been soldiers as civilians. Whatever the results were, it was conducted in the name of Phoenix. A lot of things were done in the name of Phoenix. And this goes into your record-keeping system."

Ralph Johnson writes: "It was this reporting weakness which for a long time attracted much of the foreign press criticism of Phung Hoang." [26]

"Then" -- Parker groaned -- "Komer took it one step beyond and assigned goals for the number of VCI neutralized. Komer was a great one for setting objectives, then keeping score of your performance against these objectives. And this is how quotas got developed in the summer of 1968."

Borrowing military "kills" to meet Komer's quotas was more than inflationary. John Cook, the Phoenix coordinator in Di An District in Gia Dinh Province, in his book The Advisor notes that switching the identity of a VC soldier killed in combat with that of a known member of the infrastructure meant that "If at a latter date the real member was captured or killed, this action could not be reported, for you can only eliminate a man once." [27] "Komer didn't understand the police nature of the attack against the VCI," Bob Wall said scoffingly. "When LBJ put pressure on him, he invented quotas as a management tool, and this destroyed Phoenix. Quotas gave starving policemen a way to feed families. It let them bring in bodies and say they were VCI." [28]

"I resisted like mad the idea of quotas," insisted Evan Parker, "because I felt this would lead to cheating, or in innocent people being arrested, and this looking good on the quota. Or there might even be names listed on arrest reports that didn't even exist. In one area I was told they were taking names off the gravestones .... But" -- he sighed -- "they had quotas, and they tried to meet quotas, and that's how you get the idea that this was some sort of murder organization."

Indeed, Phoenix was labeled an assassination program, evoking the specter of war crimes and leading many people to minimize the impact of quotas. "I think it was moot," Warren Milberg said. "It was something I just ignored. For the most part it was coming to you from people in Saigon who were going home at night and sitting under the veranda of the Continental Hotel. You just didn't take that stuff seriously. They couldn't relate to what you were doing, just like you couldn't relate to what they were doing. It was a different war. It was a different part of the world."

Another Phoenix coordinator, a CIA Czechoslovakian desk officer sent to Bien Hoa Province in 1968, saw comparisons between Phoenix and Gestapo tactics in World War II. For him, "The reports I sent in from my province on the number of Communists that were neutralized reminded me of the reports Hitler's concentration camp commanders sent in on how many inmates they had exterminated, each commander lying that he had killed more than the others to please Himmler."

Why one person remained silent and went along with Phoenix while another spoke out against it is the subject of the next chapter.



i. CIA compounds in the provinces were called embassy houses, because they were extensions of the State Department's consulates.

ii. Decree Law 280 defined the VCI as all party members from COSVN to hamlet level and as cadre that "direct and control other parties and organizations such as ... the Alliance of National Democratic and Peace Forces, or other similar organizations in the future." The only people named as not being VCI were "VC military units" and "citizens forced to perform as laborers." Law 280 charged the Ministry of the Interior, not the Defense Ministry, with footing the Phung Hoang bill.

iii. One day later Colonel Luu Kim Cuong, commander of the First Transport Group and a senior aide to Ky, was killed by border police on the outskirts of Saigon.

iv. Writes Johnstone: "The truncheon and electric shock methods of interrogation were in widespread use, with almost all advisors admitting to have witnessed instances of use of these methods."
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