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The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:47 am
by admin
by Douglas Valentine
© 1990, 2000 by Douglas Valentine



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It was soon apparent why Koslowski was upset.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Table of Contents

Opening Pages
Picture Gallery
• Chapter 1: Infrastructure
• Chapter 2: Internal Security
• Chapter 3: Covert Action
• Chapter 4: Revolutionary Development
• Chapter 5: PICs
• Chapter 6: Field Police
• Chapter 7: Special Branch
• Chapter 8: Attack on the VCI
• Chapter 9: ICEX
• Chapter 10: Action Programs
• Chapter 11: PRU
• Chapter 12: Tet
• Chapter 13: Parallax Views
• Chapter 14: Phoenix in Flight
• Chapter 15: Modus Vivendi
• Chapter 16: Advisers
• Chapter 17: Accelerated Pacification
• Chapter 18 Transitions
• Chapter 19: Psyops
• Chapter 20: Reforms
• Chapter 21: Decay
• Chapter 22: Hearings
• Chapter 23: Dissension
• Chapter 24: Transgressions
• Chapter 25: Da Nang
• Chapter 26: Revisions
• Chapter 27: Legalities
• Chapter 28: Technicalities
• Chapter 29: Phoenix in Flames


Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:48 am
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"No book to date conveys the hideousness of the Vietnam War as thoroughly as this one." -- Publishers Weekly

This book is dedicated to my darling wife, Alice. Special thanks to my father for his editorial assistance; the Fitchburg Arts Council for its financial aid; Adria Henderson, Bill McCoy, Jack Madden, John Kelly, and Nick Proffitt for their comradeship; Sandy Kelson, Larry Hill, and Any McKevitt for their generosity; Dave Coggeshall, Ian Fleming, the Fat Angel, and Robert Graves for inspiration; Lucy Nhiem Hong Nguyen, Lien Johnson, and Pham Thi Ngoc Chan for their efforts on my behalf; Larry Tunison for the night on the town; and all those who contributed to this book.


Douglas Valentine lives with his wife Alice in western Massachusetts. He is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, a widely praised account of life and death in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:48 am
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It was well after midnight. Elton Manzione, his wife, Lynn, and I sat at their kitchen table, drinking steaming cups of coffee. Rock 'n' roll music throbbed from the living room. A lean, dark man with large Mediterranean features, Elton was chain-smoking Pall Malls and telling me about his experiences as a twenty-year-old U.S. Navy SEAL in Vietnam in 1964. It was hot and humid that sultry Georgia night, and we were exhausted; but I pressed him for more specific information. "What was your most memorable experience?" I asked.

Elton looked down and with considerable effort, said quietly, "There's one experience I remember very well. It was my last assignment. I remember my last assignment very well.

"They," Elton began, referring to the Navy commander and Special Forces colonel who issued orders to the SEAL team, "called the three of us [Elton, Eddie Swetz, and John Laboon] into the briefing room and sat us down. They said they were having a problem at a tiny village about a quarter of a mile from North Vietnam in the DMZ. They said some choppers and recon planes were taking fire from there. They never really explained why, for example, they just didn't bomb it, which was their usual response, but I got the idea that the village chief was politically connected and that the thing had to be done quietly.

"We worked in what were called hunter-killer teams," Elton explained. "The hunter team was a four-man unit, usually all Americans, sometimes one or two Vietnamese or Chinese mercenaries called counterterrorists -- CTs for short. Most CTs were enemy soldiers who had deserted or South Vietnamese criminals. Our job was to find the enemy and nail him in place -- spot his position, then go back to a prearranged place and call in the killer team. The killer team was usually twelve to twenty-five South Vietnamese Special Forces led by Green Berets. Then we'd join up with the killer team and take out the enemy."

But on this particular mission, Elton explained, the SEALs went in alone. "They said there was this fifty-one-caliber antiaircraft gun somewhere near the village that was taking potshots at us and that there was a specific person in the village operating the gun. They give us a picture of the guy and a map of the village. It's a small village, maybe twelve or fifteen hooches. 'This is the hooch,' they say. 'The guy sleeps on the mat on the left side. He has two daughters.' They don't know if he has a mama-san or where she is, but they say, 'You guys are going to go in and get this guy. You [meaning me] are going to snuff him.' Swetz is gonna find out where the gun is and blow it. Laboon is gonna hang back at the village gate covering us. He's the stoner; he's got the machine gun. And I'm gonna go into the hooch and snuff this guy

"'What you need to do first,' they say, 'is sit alongside the trail [leading from the village to the gun] for a day or two and watch where this guy goes. And that will help us uncover the gun.' Which it did. We watched him go right to where the gun was. We were thirty yards away, and we watched for a while. When we weren't watching, we'd take a break and go another six hundred yards down the trail to relax. And we did that for maybe two days -- watched him coming and going -- and got an idea of his routine: when he went to bed; when he got up; where he went. Did he go behind the hooch to piss? Did he go into the jungle? That sort of thing.

"They told us, 'Do that. Then come back and tell us what you found out.' So we went back and said, 'We know where the gun is,' and we showed them where it was on the map. We were back in camp for about six hours, and they said, 'Okay, you're going out at o-four-hundred tomorrow. And it's like we say, you [meaning me] are going to snuff the guy, Swetz is going to take out the gun, and Laboon's going to cover the gate.'"

Elton explained that on special missions like this the usual procedure was to "snatch" the targeted VC cadre and bring him back to Dong Ha for interrogation. In that case Elton would have slipped into the hooch and rendered the cadre unconscious, while Swetz demolished the antiaircraft gun and Laboon signaled the killer team to descend upon the village in its black CIA-supplied helicopters. The SEALs and their prisoner would then climb on board and be extracted.

In this case, however, the cadre was targeted for assassination.

"We left out of Cam Lo," Elton continued. "We were taken by boat partway up the river and walked in by foot -- maybe two and a half, three miles. At four in the morning we start moving across an area that was maybe a hundred yards wide; it's a clearing running up to the village. We're wearing black pajamas, and we've got black paint on our faces. We're doing this very carefully, moving on the ground a quarter of an inch at a time -- move, stop, listen; move, stop, listen. To check for trip wires, you take a blade of grass and put it between your teeth, move your head up and down, from side to side, watching the end of the blade of grass. If it bends, you know you've hit something, but of course, the grass never sets off the trip wire, so it's safe.

"It takes us an hour and a half to cross this relatively short stretch of open grass because we're moving so slowly. And we're being so quiet we can hardly hear each other, let alone anybody else hearing us. I mean, I know they're out there -- Laboon's five yards that way, Swetz is five yards to my right -- but I can't hear them.

"And so we crawl up to the gate. There's no booby traps. I go in. Swetz has a satchel charge for the fifty-one-caliber gun and has split off to where it is, maybe sixty yards away. Laboon is sitting at the gate. The village is very quiet. There are some dogs. They're sleeping. They stir, but they don't even growl. I go into the hooch, and I spot my person. Well, somebody stirs in the next bed. I'm carrying my commando knife, and one of the things we learned is how to kill somebody instantly with it. So I put my hand over her mouth and come up under the second rib, go through the heart, give it a flick; it snaps the spinal cord. Not thinking! Because I think 'Hey!' Then I hear the explosion go off and I know the gun is out. Somebody else in the corner starts to stir, so I pull out the sidearm and put it against her head and shoot her. She's dead. Of course, by this time the whole village is awake. I go out, waiting for Swetz to come, because the gun's been blown. People are kind of wandering around, and I'm pretty dazed. And I look back into the hooch, and there were two young girls. I'd killed the wrong people."

Elton Manzione and his comrades returned to their base at Cam Lo. Strung out from Dexedrine and remorse, Elton went into the ammo dump and sat on top of a stack of ammunition crates with a grenade, its pin pulled, between his legs and an M-16 cradled in his arms. He sat there refusing to budge until he was given a ticket home.


In early 1984 Elton Manzione was the first person to answer a query I had placed in a Vietnam veterans' newsletter asking for interviews with people who had served in the Phoenix program. Elton wrote to me, saying, "While I was not a participant in Phoenix, I was closely involved in what I think was the forerunner. It was part of what was known as OPLAN 34. This was the old Leaping Lena infiltration program for LRRP [long-range reconnaissance patrol] operations into Laos. During the time I was involved it became the well-known Delta program. While all this happened before Phoenix, the operations were essentially the same. Our primary function was intelligence gathering, but we also carried out the 'undermining of the infrastructure' types of things such as kidnapping, assassination, sabotage, etc.

"The story needs to be told," Elton said, "because the whole aura of the Vietnam War was influenced by what went on in the 'hunter-killer' teams of Phoenix, Delta, etc. That was the point at which many of us realized we were no longer the good guys in the white hats defending freedom -- that we were assassins, pure and simple. That disillusionment carried over to all other aspects of the war and was eventually responsible for it becoming America's most unpopular war."


The story of Phoenix is not easily told. Many of the participants, having signed nondisclosure statements, are legally prohibited from telling what they know. Others are silenced by their own consciences. Still others are professional soldiers whose careers would suffer if they were to reveal the secrets of their employers. Falsification of records makes the story even harder to prove. For example, there is no record of Elton Manzione's ever having been in Vietnam. Yet, for reasons which are explained in my first book, The Hotel Tacloban, I was predisposed to believe Manzione. I had confirmed that my father's military records were deliberately altered to show that he had not been imprisoned for two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II. The effects of the cover-up were devastating and ultimately caused my father to have a heart attack at the age of forty-five. Thus, long before I met Elton Manzione, I knew the government was capable of concealing its misdeeds under a cloak of secrecy, threats, and fraud. And I knew how terrible the consequences could be.

Then I began to wonder if cover-ups like the one concerning my father had also occurred in the Vietnam War, and that led me in the fall of 1983 to visit David Houle, director of veteran services in New Hampshire. I asked Dave Houle if there was a part of the Vietnam War that had been concealed, and without hesitation he replied, "Phoenix." After explaining a little about it, he mentioned that one of his clients had been in the program, then added that his client's service records -- like those of Elton Manzione's and my father's -- had been altered. They showed that he had been a cook in Vietnam.

I asked to meet Houle's client, but the fellow refused. Formerly with Special Forces in Vietnam, he was disabled and afraid the Veterans Administration would cut off his benefits if he talked to me.

That fear of the government, so incongruous on the part of a war veteran, made me more determined than ever to uncover the truth about Phoenix, a goal which has taken four years to accomplish. That's a long time to spend researching and writing a book. But I believe it was worthwhile, for Phoenix symbolizes an aspect of the Vietnam War that changed forever the way Americans think about themselves and their government.

Developed in 1967 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Phoenix combined existing counterinsurgency programs in a concerted effort to "neutralize" the Vietcong infrastructure (VCI). The euphemism "neutralize" means to kill, capture, or make to defect. The word "infrastructure" refers to those civilians suspected of supporting North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers like the one targeted in Elton Manzione's final operation. Central to Phoenix is the fact that it targeted civilians, not soldiers. As a result, its detractors charge that Phoenix violated that part of the Geneva Conventions guaranteeing protection to civilians in time of war. "By analogy," said Ogden Reid, a member of a congressional committee investigating Phoenix in 1971, "if the Union had had a Phoenix program during the Civil War, its targets would have been civilians like Jefferson Davis or the mayor of Macon, Georgia."

Under Phoenix, or Phung Hoang, as it was called by the Vietnamese, due process was totally nonexistent. South Vietnamese civilians whose names appeared on blacklists could be kidnapped, tortured, detained for two years without trial, or even murdered, simply on the word of an anonymous informer. At its height Phoenix managers imposed quotas of eighteen hundred neutralizations per month on the people running the program in the field, opening up the program to abuses by corrupt security officers, policemen, politicians, and racketeers, all of whom extorted innocent civilians as well as VCI. Legendary CIA officer Lucien Conein described Phoenix as "A very good blackmail scheme for the central government. 'If you don't do what I want, you're VC."'

Because Phoenix "neutralizations" were often conducted at midnight while its victims were home, sleeping in bed, Phoenix proponents describe the program as a "scalpel" designed to replace the "bludgeon" of search and destroy operations, air strikes, and artillery barrages that indiscriminately wiped out entire villages and did little to "win the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese population. Yet, as Elton Manzione's story illustrates, the scalpel cut deeper than the U.S. government admits. Indeed, Phoenix was, among other things, an instrument of counterterror -- the psychological warfare tactic in which VCI members were brutally murdered along with their families or neighbors as a means of terrorizing the neighboring population into a state of submission. Such horrendous acts were, for propaganda purposes, often made to look as if they had been committed by the enemy.

This book questions how Americans, who consider themselves a nation ruled by laws and an ethic of fair play, could create a program like Phoenix. By scrutinizing the program and the people who participated in it and by employing the program as a symbol of the dark side of the human psyche, the author hopes to articulate the subtle ways in which the Vietnam War changed how Americans think about themselves. This book is about terror and its role in political warfare. It will show how, as successive American governments sink deeper and deeper into the vortex of covert operations -- ostensibly to combat terrorism and Communist insurgencies -- the American people gradually lose touch with the democratic ideals that once defined their national self-concept. This book asks what happens when Phoenix comes home to roost.





Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:49 am
by admin
Picture Gallery


CIA officer Ralph Johnson, in safari jacket and baseball cap, standing beside his donkey in Muong Sai, Laos, circa 1959 (Johnson family collection)


Phoenix officials, spring 1969; left to right: National Police officer Duong Tan Huu; Lt. Col. Loi Nguyen Tan; Phoenix Director Evan J. Parker, Jr.; Parker's replacement, John H. Mason; Lt. Col. Robert Inman; two unidentified Vietnamese (Parker family collection)


American pacification officials in Binh Dinh Province, circa 1963; left to right: Major Harry "Buzz" Johnson; State Department officer Val Vahovich; USIS officer Frank W. Scotton; Special Forces Sergeant Joe Vaccaro (Johnson family collection)


Nelson H. Brickham, Jr., in Dalat, circa 1966 (Brickham family collection)


William Colby, circa 1969 (Colby family collection)


Tulius Acampora with General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, circa 1966 (Acampora family collection)


Acampora with Major Nguyen Mau (Acampora family collection)

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:49 am
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Colonel William "Pappy" Grieves walking behind National Police Field Forces chief Colonel Nguyen Van Dai, February 1970 (Grieves family collection)


Khanh Hoa Province Interrogation Center, Nha Trang, circa 1966 (Brickham family collection)


Province Interrogation Center, unidentified province, circa 1966 (Brickham family collection)


Colonel Douglas Dillard with the director of the Military Security Service, General Vu Duc Nhuan, circa 1969 (Dillard family collection)


Province Interrogation Center program director Robert Slater in Dalat, December 1968, holding Bridget Bardot Rose, with Vietnamese Special Branch officers in background (Slater family collection)


Slater flanked by PIC program advisers Frank Cerrincione, left, and Orrin DeForest in Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province, December 1968 (Slater family collection)


Phoenix officer Warren Milberg standing beside I Corps National Police Chief Vu Luong, in Danang, spring 1968 (Milberg family collection)

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

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Quang Tri Province Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), circa 1967 (Milberg family collection)


Delta PRU adviser John Wilbur with the Kien Hoa Province PRU team, circa 1967 (Wilbur family collection)


PRU cadre, Vung Tau training center, circa 1967 (Wilbur family collection)


II Corps PRU advisers, circa 1969; left to right: Aussie Ostera; Blue Carter; Captain John McGeehan; Sergeant John Fanning; Major Paul Ogg; Captain Charles Aycock; Captain John Vaughn; Sergeant Buzz Brewer; Sergeant Al Young; Sergeant Larry Jones (Ogg family collection)


II Corps PRU adviser Paul Ogg with Colonel Ruel P. Scoggins, circa 1970 (Ogg family collection)


Phoenix training officer Lt. Col. Walter V. Kolon, right, with John E. MacDonald, senior State Department representative to the Phoenix staff, circa 1969 (Kolon family collection)


From left: Phoenix Director John H. Mason, Phoenix Operations Chief Lt. Col. Thomas P. McGrevey, and Deputy Phoenix Director Colonel James W. Newman, circa 1970 (Newman family collection)

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:49 am
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From left: Phung Hoang chief Colonel Ty Trong Song, John Mason, James Newman, and senior Phung Hoang officer Lt. Col. Pham Van Cao, circa 1970 (Newman family collection)


Sergeants Ed Murphy, left, and Blane Baisley outside Dragon Mountain Combined Interrogation Center, 4th Military Intelligence Detachment, Pleiku Province, circa 1968 (Murphy family collection)


Public Safety Adviser Douglas McCollum at National Police Field Force outpost in Darlac Province, circa 1968 (McCollum family collection)


Member of the Bien Hoa special Phoenix team, displaying Phoenix tattoo


Ancient and Oriental Order of Phoenicians certificate, provided by Phoenix district adviser Major Claude Alley


Special Police Saigon chief, Major Pham Quant Tan (Roberts family collection)


Saigon Phoenix Deputy Director Captain Shelby Roberts, at the beach at Vung Tau, circa 1969 (Roberts family collection)

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

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Phoenix Directorate staff, circa 1972; left to right: Operations Chief Lt. Col. George Hudman; Phoenix Director John S. Tilton; Deputy Director Colonel Herb Allen; Major Carl Moeller (seated); unidentified secretary; unidentified officer; unidentified secretary; Major Doug Collins; unidentified secretary; Sergeant Jim Marcus; unidentified officer, unidentified civilian; unidentified secretary (Hudman family collection)


Phoenix Directorate function, circa 1971; left to right: Deputy Director Colonel Chester B. McCoid; Director John S. Tilton; Lt. Col. Russ Cooley; unidentified Public Safety officer; Colonel Ly Trong Song; National Police adviser Frank Walton; Captain Albright; Special Branch Deputy Director Dang Van Minh; Lt. Col. John Ford (McCoid family collection)


Criminal Investigation Division Sergeant William J. Taylor (Taylor family collection)


CIA officer and senior SOG adviser George French flanked by Special Operations Group chief Colonel J.F. Sadler, left, and unidentified SOG officer, circa 1971 (French family collection)


Lt. Col. Walter Kolon and Lt. Col. Al Weidhas at a Tai Kwon Do exhibition in Saigon in 1969, sponsored by the Vietnamese American Association (Baillargeon family collection)


Phoenix officers at a farewell ceremony for State Department officer Seton Shanley; left to right: Captain Paul Baillargeon; National Police Chief Colonel Tran Van Hai; John Mason; Colonel Robert E. Jones; Captain Richard Bradish; Seton Shanley; Charles Phillips; unidentified Vietnamese officer (Baillargeon family collection)


CIA officers Bruce Lawlor and Patry Loomis in Quang Nam Province, circa 1972 (Lawlor family collection)

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:50 am
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CHAPTER 1: Infrastructure

What is the VCI? Is it a farmer in a field with a hoe in his hand and a grenade in his pocket, a deranged subversive using women and children as a shield? Or is it a self-respecting patriot, a freedom fighter who was driven underground by corrupt collaborators and an oppressive foreign occupation army?

In his testimony regarding Phoenix before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1970, former Director of Central Intelligence William Colby defined the VCI as "about 75,000 native Southerners" whom in 1954 "the Communists took north for training in organizing, propaganda and subversion." According to Colby, these cadres returned to the South, "revived the networks they had left in 1954," and over several years formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), the People's Revolutionary party, liberation committees, which were "pretended local governments rather than simply political bodies," and the "pretended Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. Together," testified Colby, "all of these organizations and their local manifestations make up the VC Infrastructure." [1]

A political warfare expert par excellence, Colby, of course, had no intentions of portraying the VCI in sympathetic terms. His abbreviated history of the VCI, with its frequent use of the word "pretended," deliberately oversimplifies and distorts the nature and origin of the revolutionary forces lumped under the generic term "VCI." To understand properly Phoenix and its prey, a more detailed and objective account is required. Such an account cannot begin in 1954 -- when the Soviet Union, China, and the United States split Vietnam along the sixteenth parallel, and the United States first intervened in Vietnamese affairs -- but must acknowledge one hundred years of French colonial oppression. For it was colonialism which begat the VCI, its strategy of protracted political warfare, and its guerrilla and terror tactics.

The French conquest of Vietnam began in the seventeenth century with the arrival of Jesuit priests bent on saving pagan souls. As Vietnam historian Stanley Karnow notes in his book Vietnam: A History, "In 1664 ... French religious leaders and their business backers formed the Society of French Missionaries to advance Christianity in Asia. In the same year, by no coincidence, French business leaders and their religious backers created the East India Company to increase trade .... Observing this cozy relationship in Vietnam, an English competitor reported home that the French had arrived, 'but we cannot make out whether they are here to seek trade or to conduct religious propaganda.'"

"Their objective, of course," Karnow quips, "was to do both." [2]

For the next two centuries French priests embroiled themselves in Vietnamese politics, eventually providing a pretext for military intervention. Specifically, when a French priest was arrested for plotting against the emperor of Vietnam in 1845, the French Navy shelled Da Nang City, killing hundreds of people, even though the priest had escaped unharmed to Singapore. The Vietnamese responded by confiscating the property of French Catholics, drowning a few Jesuits, and cutting in half, lengthwise, a number of Vietnamese priests.

Soon the status quo was one of open warfare. By 1859 French Foreign Legionnaires had arrived en masse and had established fortified positions near major cities, which they defended against poorly armed nationalists staging hit-and-run attacks from bases in rural areas. Firepower prevailed, and in 1861 a French admiral claimed Saigon for France, "inflicting heavy casualties on the Vietnamese who resisted." [3] Fearing that the rampaging French might massacre the entire city, the emperor abdicated ownership of three provinces adjacent to Saigon, along with Con Son Island, where the French immediately built a prison for rebels. Soon thereafter Vietnamese ports were opened to European commerce, Catholic priests were permitted to preach wherever Buddhist or Taoist or Confucian souls were lurking in the darkness, and France was guaranteed "unconditional control over all of Cochinchina." [4]

By 1862 French colonialists were reaping sufficient economic benefits to hire Filipino and Chinese mercenary armies to help suppress the burgeoning insurgency. Resistance to French occupation was strongest in the north near Hanoi, where nationalists were aligned with anti-Western Chinese. The rugged mountains of the Central Highlands formed a natural buffer for the French, who were entrenched in Cochin China, the southern third of Vietnam centered in Saigon.

The boundary lines having been drawn, the pacification of Vietnam began in earnest in 1883. The French strategy was simple and began with a reign of terror: As many nationalists as could be found were rounded up and guillotined. Next the imperial city of Hue was plundered in what Karnow calls "an orgy of killing and looting." [5] The French disbanded the emperor's Council of Mandarins and replaced it with French advisers and a bureaucracy staffed by suppletifs -- self-serving Vietnamese, usually Catholics, who collaborated in exchange for power and position. The suppletif creme de la creme studied in, and became citizens of, France. The Vietnamese Army was commanded by French officers, and Vietnamese officers were suppletifs who had been graduated from the French military academy. By the twentieth century all of Vietnam's provinces were administered by suppletifs, and the emperor, too, was a lackey of the French.

In places where "security" for collaborators was achieved, Foreign Legionnaires were shifted to the outer perimeter of the pacified zones and internal security was turned over to collaborators commanding GAMOs -- group administrative mobile organizations. The hope was that pacified areas would spread like oil spots. Suppletifs were also installed in the police and security forces, where they managed prostitution rings, opium dens, and gambling casinos on behalf of the French. From the 1880's onward no legal protections existed for nationalists, for whom a dungeon at Con Son Prison, torture, and death were the penalties for pride. So, outgunned and outlawed in their homeland, the nationalists turned to terrorism -- to the bullet in the belly and the bomb in the cafe. For while brutal French pacification campaigns prevented the rural Vietnamese from tending their fields, terrorism did not.

The first nationalists -- the founding fathers of the VCI -- appeared as early as 1859 in areas like the Ca Mau Peninsula, the Plain of Reeds, and the Rung Sat -- malaria-infested swamps which were inaccessible to French forces. Here the nationalists honed and perfected the guerrilla tactics that became the trademark of the Vietminh and later the Vietcong. Referred to as selective terrorism, this meant the planned assassination of low-ranking government officials who worked closely with the people; for example, policemen, mailmen, and teachers. As David Galula explains in Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, "Killing high-ranking counterinsurgency officials serves no purpose since they are too far removed from the population for their deaths to serve as examples." [6]

The purpose of selective terror was psychologically to isolate the French and their suppletifs, while demonstrating to the rural population the ability of the insurgents to strike at their oppressors until such time as a general uprising was thought possible.

In the years following World War I, Vietnamese nationalists organized in one of three ways: through religious sects, like the Hoa Hao or Cao Dai, which secretly served as fronts for anti-French activity; through overt political parties like the Dai Viets and the Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD); or by becoming Communists. All formed secret cells in the areas where they operated, and all worked toward ousting the French. In return, the French intelligence service, the Deuxieme Bureau, hired secret agents and informers to identify, capture, imprison, and murder core members of the underground resistance.

In instances of open rebellion, stronger steps were taken. When VNQDD sailors mutinied in 1932 in Yen Bai and killed their French officers, the French retaliated by bombing scores of VNQDD villages, killing more than thirty thousand people. Mass deportations followed, and many VNQDD cadres were driven into exile. Likewise, when the French caught wind of a general uprising called for by the Communists, they arrested and imprisoned 90 percent of its leadership. Indeed, the VCI leadership was molded in Con Son Prison, or Ho Chi Minh University, as it was also known. There determined nationalists transformed dark dungeons into classrooms and common criminals into hard-core cadres. With their lives depending on their ability to detect spies and agents provocateurs whom the French had planted in the prisons, these forefathers of the VCI became masters of espionage and intrigue and formidable opponents of the dreaded Deuxieme Bureau.

In 1941 the Communist son of a mandarin, Ho Chi Minh, gathered the various nationalist groups under the banner of the Vietminh and called for all good revolutionaries "to stand up and unite with the people, and throw out the Japanese and the French." [7] Leading the charge were General Vo Nguyen Giap and his First Armed Propaganda Detachment -- thirty-four lightly armed men and women who by early 1945 had overrun two French outposts and were preaching the gospel according to Ho to anyone interested in independence. By mid-1945 the Vietminh held six provinces near Hanoi and was working with the forerunner of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), recovering downed pilots of the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force. A student of American democracy, Ho declared Vietnam an independent country in September 1945.

Regrettably, at the same time that OSS officers were meeting with Ho and exploring the notion of supporting his revolution, other Americans were backing the French, and when a U.S. Army officer traded a pouch of opium for Ho's dossier and uncovered his links to Moscow, all chances of coexistence vanished in a puff of smoke. The Big Three powers in Potsdam divided Vietnam along the sixteenth parallel. Chinese forces aligned with General Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang were given control of the North. In September 1945 a division of Chinese forces advised by General Phillip Gallagher arrived in Hanoi, plundered the city, and disarmed the Japanese. The French returned to Hanoi, drove out the Vietminh, and displaced Chiang's forces, which obtained Shanghai in exchange.

Meanwhile, Lord Louis Mountbatten (who used the phoenix as an emblem for his command patch) and the British were put in charge in the South. Twenty thousand Gurkhas arrived in Saigon and proceeded to disarm the Japanese. The British then outlawed Ho's Committee of the South and arrested its members. In protest the Vietnamese held a general strike. On September 23 the Brits, buckling under the weight of the White Man's Burden, released from prison those French Legionnaires who had collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation and had administered Vietnam jointly with the Japanese. The Legionnaires rampaged through Saigon, murdering Vietnamese with impunity while the British kept stiff upper lips. As soon as they had regained control of the city, the French reorganized their quislings and secret police, donned surplus U.S. uniforms, and became the nucleus of three divisions which had reconquered South Vietnam by the end of the year. The British exited, and the suppletif Bao Dai was reinstalled as emperor.

By 1946 the Vietminh were at war with France once again, and in mid-1946 the French were up to their old tricks -- with a vengeance. They shelled Haiphong, killing six thousand Vietnamese. Ho slipped underground, and American officials passively observed while the French conducted "punitive missions ... against the rebellious Annamese." [8] During the early years of the First Indochina War, CIA officers served pretty much in that same limited capacity, urging the French to form counterguerrilla groups to go after the Vietminh and, when the French ignored them, slipping off to buy contacts and agents in the military, police, government, and private sectors.

The outgunned Vietminh, meanwhile, effected their strategy of protracted warfare. Secret cells were organized, and guerrilla units were formed to monitor and harass French units, attack outposts, set booby traps, and organize armed propaganda teams. Assassination of collaborators was part of their job. Company and battalion-size units were also formed to engage the French in main force battles.

By 1948 the French could neither protect their convoys from ambushes nor locate Vietminh bases. Fearful French citizens organized private paramilitary self-defense forces and spy nets, and French officers organized, with CIA advice, commando battalions (Tien-Doan Kinh Quan) specifically to hunt down Vietminh propaganda teams and cadres. At the urging of the CIA, the French also formed composite airborne commando groups, which recruited and trained Montagnard hill tribes at the coastal resort city of Vung Tau. Reporting directly to French Central Intelligence in Hanoi and supplied by night airdrops, French commandos were targeted against clandestine Vietminh combat and intelligence organizations. The GCMAs were formed concurrently with the U.S. Army's First Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

By the early 1950s American soldiers were fighting alongside the French, and the 350-member U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) was in Saigon, dispensing and accounting for U.S. largess. All in all, from 1950 through 1954, the United States gave over three billion dollars to the French for their counterinsurgency in Vietnam, including four million a year as a retainer for Emperor Bao Dai, who squirreled away the lion's share in Swiss bank accounts and foreign real estate.

In Apri1 1952, American advisers began training Vietnamese units. In December 1953, an Army attache unit arrived in Hanoi, and its officers and enlisted men began interrogating Vietminh prisoners. While MAAG postured to take over the Vietnamese Army from the French, the Special Technical and Economic Mission provided CIA officers, under station chief Emmett McCarthy, with the cover they needed to mount political operations and negotiate contracts with the government of Vietnam (GVN).

Finally, in July 1954, after the Vietminh had defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, a truce was declared at the Geneva Conference. Vietnam was divided along the seventeenth parallel, pending a nationwide election to be held in 1956, with the Vietminh in control in the North and Bao Dai in control in the South. The French were to withdraw from the North and the Vietminh from the South, where the United States was set to displace the French and install its own candidate, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic mandarin from Hue. The CIA did this by organizing a cross section of Vietnamese labor leaders and intellectuals into the Can Lao Nham Vi (Personalist Labor party). Diem and his brothers, Nhu, Can, and Thuc (the archbishop of Hue), thereafter controlled tens of thousands of Can Lao followers through an interlocking maze of clandestine cells present in the military, the police and security services, the government, and private enterprise.

In Vietnamese History from 1939-1975, law professor Nguyen Ngoc Huy, a Dai Viet politician who was exiled by Diem in 1954, says about the Diem regime: "They persecuted those who did not accept their orders without discussion, and tolerated or even encouraged their followers to take bribes, because a corrupt servant must be loyal to them out of fear of punishment .... To obtain an interesting position, one had to fulfill the three D conditions: Dang [the Can Lao party]; Dao [the Catholic religion]; and Dia phuong [the region -- Central Vietnam]. Those who met these conditions and moreover had served Diem before his victory over his enemies in 1955 enjoyed unbelievable promotions." [9]

Only through a personality cult like the Can Lao could the CIA work its will in Vietnam, for Diem did not issue from or have the support of the Buddhist majority. He was, however, a nationalist whose anti-French reputation enabled the Americans to sell themselves to the world as advisers to a sovereign government, not as colonialists like the French. In exchange, Diem arranged for Can Lao businessmen and their American associates to obtain lucrative government contracts and commercial interests once owned exclusively by the French, with a percentage of every transaction going to the Can Lao. Opposed to Diem were the French and their suppletifs in the Surete and the Vietnamese Mafia, the Binh Xuyen. Together with the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious sects, these groups formed the United Sect Front and conspired against the United States and its candidate, Diem.

Into this web of intrigue, in January 1954, stepped U.S. Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale. A confidential agent of Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Dulles, Lansdale defeated the United Sect Front by either killing or buying off its leaders. He then hurriedly began to build, from the top down, a Vietnam infused with American values and dollars, while the Vietcong -- as Lansdale christened the once heroic but now vilified Vietminh -- built slowly from the ground up, on a foundation they had laid over forty years.

Lanky, laid-back Ed Lansdale arrived in Saigon fresh from having managed a successful anti-Communist counterinsurgency in the Philippines, where his black bag of dirty tricks included counterterrorism and the assassination of government officials who opposed his lackey, Ramon Magsaysay. In the Philippines his tactics earned him the nickname of the Ugly American. He brought those tactics to Saigon along with a team of dedicated Filipino anti-communists who, in the words of one veteran CIA officer, "would slit their grandmother's throat for a dollar eighty-five." [10]

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

A combat psywar [psychological warfare] team was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of a vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to circulate among Huk sympathizers in the town and make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along a trail used by the Huks. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the vampire had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on the hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity. [11]

Lansdale defines the incident as "low humor" and "an appropriate response ... to the glum and deadly practices of communists and other authoritarians." [12] And by doing so, former advertising executive Lansdale -- the merry prankster whom author Graham Greene dubbed the Quiet American -- came to represent the hypocrisy of American policy in South Vietnam. For Lansdale used Madison Avenue language to construct a squeaky-clean, Boy Scout image, behind which he masked his own perverse delight in atrocity.

In Saigon, Lansdale managed several programs which were designed to ensure Diem's internal security and which later evolved and were incorporated into Phoenix. The process began in July 1954, when, posing as an assistant Air Force attache to the U.S. Embassy, Lansdale got the job of resettling nearly one million Catholic refugees from North Vietnam. As chief of the CIA's Saigon Military Mission, Lansdale used the exodus to mount operations against North Vietnam. To this end he hired the Filipino-staffed Freedom Company to train two paramilitary teams, which, posing as refugee relief organizations supplied by the CIA-owned airline, Civil Air Transport, activated stay-behind nets, sabotaged power plants, and spread false rumors of a Communist bloodbath. In this last regard, a missionary named Tom Dooley concocted lurid tales of Vietminh soldiers' disemboweling pregnant Catholic women, castrating priests, and sticking bamboo slivers in the ears of children so they could not hear the Word of God. Dooley's tall tales of terror galvanized American support for Diem but were uncovered in 1979 during a Vatican sainthood investigation. [C-1]

From Lansdale's clandestine infiltration and "black" propaganda program evolved the Vietnamese Special Forces, the Luc Luong Duc Biet (LLDB). Trained and organized by the CIA, the LLDB reported directly to the CIA-managed Presidential Survey Office. As a palace guard, says Kevin Generous in Vietnam: The Secret War, "they ... were always available for special details dreamed up by President Diem and his brother Nhu." [13] Those "special" details sometimes involved "terrorism against political opponents." [14]

Another Lansdale program was aimed at several thousand Vietminh stay-behind agents organizing secret cells and conducting propaganda among the people. As a way of attacking these agents, Lansdale hired the Freedom Company to activate Operation Brotherhood, a paramedical team patterned on the typical Special Forces A team. Under CIA direction, Operation Brotherhood built dispensaries that were used as cover for covert counterterror operations. Operation Brotherhood spawned the Eastern Construction Company, which provided five hundred hard-core Filipino anti-Communists who, while building roads and dispensing medicines, assisted Diem's security forces by identifying and eliminating Vietminh agents.

In January 1955, using resettled Catholic refugees trained by the Freedom Company as cadre, Lansdale began his Civic Action program, the centerpiece of Diem's National Security program. Organized and funded by the CIA in conjunction with the Defense Ministry, but administered through the Ministry of Interior by the province chiefs, Civic Action aimed to do four things: to induce enemy soldiers to defect; to organize rural people into self-defense forces to insulate their villages from VC influence; to create political cadres who would sell the idea that Diem -- not the Vietminh -- represented national aspirations; and to provide cover for counterterror. In doing these things, Civil Action cadres dressed in black pajamas and went into villages to dig latrines, patch roofs, dispense medicines, and deliver propaganda composed by Lansdale. In return the people were expected to inform on Vietminh guerrillas and vote for Diem in the 1956 reunification elections stipulated by the Geneva Accords. However, the middle-class northern Catholics sent to the villages did not speak the same dialect as the people they were teaching and succeeded only in alienating them. Not only did Civic Action fail to win the hearts and minds of the rural Vietnamese, but as a unilateral CIA operation it received only lip service from Diem and his Can Lao cronies, who, in Lansdale's words, "were afraid that it was some scheme of mine to flood the country with secret agents." [15]

On May 10, 1955, Diem formed a new government and banished the French (who kept eighty thousand troops in the South until 1956) to outposts along the coast. Diem then appointed Nguyen Ngoc Le as his first director general of the National Police. A longtime CIA asset, Le worked with the Freedom Company to organize the Vietnamese Veterans Legion. As a way of extending Can Lao party influence, Vietnamese veteran legion posts were established throughout Vietnam and, with advice and assistance from the U.S. Information Service, took over the distribution of all existing newspapers and magazines. The legion also sponsored the first National Congress, held on May 29, 1955, at City Hall in Saigon. One month later the Can Lao introduced its political front, the National Revolution Movement.

On July 16, 1955, knowing the Buddhist population would vote overwhelmingly for the Vietminh, Diem renounced the reunification elections required by the Geneva Accords. Instead, he rigged a hastily called national referendum. Announced on October 6 and held on October 23, the elections, says Professor Huy, "were an absolute farce. Candidates chosen to be elected had to sign a letter of resignation in which the date was vacant. In case after the election the representative was considered undesirable, Nhu had only to put a date on the letter to have him expelled from the National Assembly." [16]

Elected president by a vast majority, Diem in 1956 issued Ordinance 57-A. Marketed by Lansdale as agrarian reform, it replaced the centuries-old custom of village self-government with councils appointed by district and province chiefs. Diem, of course, appointed the district chiefs, who appointed the village councils, which then employed local security forces to collect exorbitant rents for absentee landlords living the high life in Saigon. Universal displeasure was the response to Ordinance 57-A, the cancellation of the reunification elections, and the rigged election of 1955. Deprived of its chance to win legal representation, the Vietcong launched a campaign of its own, emphasizing social and economic awareness. Terror was not one of their tactics. Says Rand Corporation analyst J. J. Zasloff in "Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam 1954-1960": "There is no evidence in our interviews that violence and sabotage were part of their assignment." Rather, communist cadres were told "to return to their home provinces and were instructed, it appears, to limit their activities to organizational and propaganda tasks." [17]

However, on the basis of CIA reports saying otherwise, Diem initiated the notorious Denunciation of the Communists campaign in 1956. The campaign was managed by security committees, which were chaired by CIA-advised security officers who had authority to arrest, confiscate land from, and summarily execute Communists. In determining who was a Communist, the security committees used a three-part classification system: A for dangerous party members, B for less dangerous party members, and C for loyal citizens. As happened later in Phoenix, security chiefs used the threat of an A or B classification to extort from innocent civilians, while category A and B offenders -- fed by their families -- were put to work without pay building houses and offices for government officials.

The military, too, had broad powers to arrest and jail suspects while on sweeps in rural areas. Non-Communists who could not afford to pay "taxes" were jailed until their families came up with the cash. Communists fared worse. Vietminh flags were burned in public ceremonies, and portable guillotines were dragged from village to village and used on active and inactive Vietminh alike. In 1956 in the Central Highlands fourteen thousand people were arrested without evidence or trial -- people were jailed simply for having visited a rebel district -- and by year's end there were an estimated twenty thousand political prisoners nationwide. [18]

In seeking to ensure his internal security through the denunciation campaign, Diem persecuted the Vietminh and alienated much of the rural population in the process. But "the most tragic error," remarks Professor Huy, "was the liquidation of the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and Binh Xuyen forces. By destroying them, Diem weakened the defense of South Vietnam against communism. In fact, the remnants ... were obliged to join the Vietnamese Stalinists who were already reinforced by Diem's anti-communist struggle campaign.

"Diem's family dealt with this problem," Huy goes on, "by a repressive policy applied through its secret service. This organ bore the very innocent name of the Political and Social Research Service. It was led by Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen, a devoted Catholic, honest and efficient, who at the beginning sought only to establish a network of intelligence agents to be used against the communists. It had in fact obtained some results in this field. But soon it became a repressive tool to liquidate any opponent." [19]

By then Ed Lansdale had served his purpose and was being unceremoniously rotated out of Vietnam, leaving behind the harried Civic Action program to his protege, Rufus Phillips. Meanwhile, "Other Americans were working closely with the Vietnamese," Lansdale writes, noting: "Some of the relationships led to a development which I believed could bring only eventual disaster to South Vietnam."

"This development was political," Lansdale observes. "My first inkling came when several families appeared at my house one morning to tell me about the arrest at midnight of their men-folk, all of whom were political figures. The arrests had a strange aspect to them, having come when the city was asleep and being made by heavily armed men who were identified as 'special police.'" [20]

Sensing the stupidity of such a program, Lansdale appealed to Ambassador George Reinhardt, suggesting that "Americans under his direction who were in regular liaison with Nhu, and who were advising the special branch of the police, would have to work harder at influencing the Vietnamese toward a more open and free political concept." But, Lansdale was told, "a U.S. policy decision had been made. We Americans were to give what assistance we could to the building of a strong nationalistic party that would support Diem. Since Diem was now the elected president, he needed to have his own party." [21]

"Shocked" that he had been excluded from such a critical policy decision, Lansdale, to his credit, tried to persuade Diem to disband the Can Lao. When that failed, he took his case to the Dulles brothers since they "had decisive voices in determining the U.S. relationship with South Vietnam." But self-described "visionary and idealist" Lansdale's views were dismissed off-handedly by the pragmatic Dulleses in favor "of the one their political experts in Saigon had recommended." Lansdale was told he should "disengage myself from any guidance to political parties in Vietnam." [22]

The mask of democracy would be maintained. But the ideal was discarded in exchange for internal security.


July 30, 1979 Vol. 12 No. 5 18 Years After Dr. Tom Dooley's Death, a Priest Insists He Was a Saint, Not a CIA Spook, By Rosemary Rawson

Tom Dooley was a real taskmaster, and he had an Irish temper, there's no doubt about that," says the Rev. Maynard Kegler. "But the documents in no way imply that he was an agent of the CIA." The papers in question are recently disclosed agency records that identify Dr. Dooley as a sometime CIA informant (but not as an actual spy). They have sparked a new flurry of interest in the controversial medical missionary—once known as "Dr. America"—whose work in Laos captured the hearts and minds of his countrymen in the innocent days before the war in Vietnam. Ultimately, suspicions about the doctor could torpedo a cause Father Kegler has promoted for five years—the elevation of Dooley, who died in 1961, to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Kegler, 54, acted as U.S.-based liaison between his religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and Dooley from 1958 to 1961. "I spent time with him in this country, not in Laos," says Kegler, "and got to know him well." After Dooley's death from cancer, Kegler, now director of a Buffalo, Minn. retreat house, began the research that would enable him to argue the case for Dooley's beatification. It is the first step in the complex process of attaining sainthood.

Kegler claims he was not surprised when his investigation led him to the CIA. There he found 500 unclassified documents showing that Dooley occasionally helped the agency and that it kept a close watch on him. "He gave them information out of patriotism, love of country and all that the United States stood for in 1958," Kegler insists. "He was willing to do that in return for having a little more freedom to do his work and a little less harassment. But he didn't initiate contact with the CIA, and he took no money for his work."

Nonetheless, Dooley's reputation has taken a beating in recent years from critics on both the left and the right. In the '60s antiwar activists came to regard his brand of self-righteous anti-Communism as one of the causes of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Others have dismissed him as an aggressive self-publicist who practiced ineffective "hit-and-run" medicine. A fund set up to continue Dooley's work after his death went bankrupt, and the man who succeeded him in Laos died by his own hand.

Father Kegler, however, believes Dooley has been maligned. "All of the people I have interviewed who knew Tom personally have been very positive," he reports. "The negative response was all from people who never knew him and never worked with him." As evidence of Dooley's sanctity, the priest cites his decision, while a Navy surgeon, to devote his life to Indochina. "When he saw the plight of those hundreds of thousands of people," Kegler reports, "he said, 'My God, I can't go home and leave them.' Up until that time I believe Tom Dooley was just an ordinary Christian—maybe not even that." The priest is equally impressed with Dooley's courage in fighting his cancer. "The example he gave while facing suffering, facing death, was a great service to the American people," says his sponsor. "Cancer is the greatest fear in the country today."

Kegler's quest to establish Dooley's sainthood—technically, church certification that a dead person is now in heaven—is far from over. He may possibly have to prove that Dooley is responsible for two certifiable miracles, then must submit his entire case to Vatican-appointed "devil's advocates" who will attempt to pick it apart. Kegler remains confident. "When we interpret Tom Dooley's actions in Laos, we have to do it in the context of what he knew of the CIA at the time," he concludes. "In no way will this connection hurt his cause for sainthood—in fact, I think it's going to help it."

Re: The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:51 am
by admin
CHAPTER 2: Internal Security

In 1954, in the professed belief that it ought to extend the "American way" abroad, Michigan State University (MSU) offered to provide the government of Vietnam with a huge technical assistance program in four areas: public information, public administration, finance and economics, and police and security services. The contract was approved in early 1955, shortly after the National Security Council (NSC) had endorsed Diem, and over the next seven years MSU's Police Administration Division spent fifteen million dollars of U.S. taxpayers' money building up the GVN's internal security programs. In exchange for the lucrative contract, the Michigan State University Group (MSUG) became the vehicle through which the CIA secretly managed the South Vietnamese "special police."

MSUG's Police Administration Division contributed to Diem's internal security primarily by reorganizing his police and security forces. First, Binh Xuyen gangsters in the Saigon police were replaced with "good cops" from the Surete. Next, recruits from the Surete were inducted into the Secret Service, Civil Guard, and Military Security Service (MSS), which was formed by Ed Lansdale in 1954 as "military coup insurance." On administrative matters the MSS reported to the Directorate of Political Warfare in liaison with the CIA, while its operations staff reported to the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF)'s Joint General Staff in liaison with MAAG counterintelligence officers. All general directors of police and security services were military officers.

The Surete (plainclothesmen handling investigations, customs, immigration, and revenue) was renamed the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigations (VBI) and combined with the municipal police (uniformed police in twenty-two autonomous cities and Saigon) into a General Directorate of Police and Security Services within the Ministry of the Interior. This early attempt at bureaucratic streamlining was undermined by Diem, however, who kept the various police and security agencies spying on one another. Diem was especially wary of the VBI, which as the Surete had faithfully served the French and which, after 1954, under CIA management, was beyond his control. As a result, Diem judged the VBI by the extent to which it attacked his domestic foes, spied on the Military Security Service, and kept province chiefs in line.

Because it managed the central records depository, the VBI was the most powerful security force and received the lion's share of American "technical" aid. While other services got rusty weapons, the VBI got riot guns, bulletproof vests, gas masks, lie detectors, a high-command school, a modern crime lab and modern interrogation centers; and the most promising VBI officers were trained by the CIA and FBI at the International Police Academy at Georgetown University in agent handling, criminal investigations, interrogation, and counterinsurgency. The VBI (the Cong An to Vietnamese) is one of the two foundation stones of Phoenix.

Whereas the majority of Michigan State's police advisers were former state troopers or big-city detectives, the men who advised the VBI and trained Diem's Secret Service were CIA officers working under cover as professors in the Michigan State University Group. Each morning myopic MSUG employees watched from their quarters across the street as senior VBI adviser Raymond Babineau and his team went to work at the National Police Interrogation Center, which, Graham Greene writes in The Quiet American, "seemed to smell of urine and injustice." [1] Later in the day the MSUG contingent watched while truckloads of political prisoners -- mostly old men, women, and children arrested the night before -- were handcuffed and carted off to Con Son Prison. America's first colonialists in Saigon looked, then looked away. For four years they dared not denounce the mass arrests or the fact that room P-40 in the Saigon Zoo was used as a morgue and torture chamber. No one wanted to incriminate himself or get on the wrong side of Babineau and his proteges in the "special police."

The fear was palpable. In his book War Comes to Long An, Jeffrey Race quotes a province chief: "I hardly ever dared to look around in the office with all the Can Lao people there watching me, and in those days it was just impossible to resign -- many others had tried -- they were just led off in the middle of the night by Diem's men dressed as VC, taken to P-40 or Poulo Condore [Con Son Prison] and never heard from again." [2]

While the VBI existed primarily to suppress Diem's domestic opponents, it also served the CIA by producing an annual Ban Tran Liet Viet Cong (Vietcong order of battle). Compiled for the most part from notes taken by secret agents infiltrated into VC meetings, then assembled by hand at the central records depository, the Ban Tran Liet was the CIA's biography of the VCI and the basis of its anti-infrastructure operations until 1964.

In 1959 Diem held another sham election. Said one Vietnamese official quoted by Race: "The 1959 election was very dishonest. Information and Civic Action Cadre went around at noon when everyone was home napping and stuffed ballot boxes. If the results didn't come out right they were adjusted at district headquarters." When asked if anyone complained, the official replied, "Everyone was terrified of the government ....The Cong An beat people and used 'the water treatment.' But there was nothing anyone could do. Everyone was terrified." Said another official: "During the Diem period the people here saw the government was no good at all. That is why 80% of them followed the VC. I was the village chief then, but I had to do what the government told me. If not, the secret police [VBI] would have me picked up and tortured me to death. Thus I was the very one who rigged the elections here." [3]

As is apparent, Diem's security forces terrorized the Vietnamese people more than the VCI. In fact, as Zasloff noted earlier, prior to 1959 the VCI carried out an official policy of nonviolence. "By adopting an almost entirely defensive role during this period," Race explains, "and by allowing the government to be the first to employ violence, the Party -- at great cost -- allowed the government to pursue the conflict in increasingly violent terms, through its relentless reprisal against any opposition, its use of torture, and, particularly after May 1959, through the psychological impact in the rural areas of the proclamation of Law 10/59." [4]

In Phoenix/Phung Hoang: A Study of Wartime Intelligence Management, CIA officer Ralph Johnson calls the 10/59 Law "the GVN's most serious mistake." Under its provisions, anyone convicted of "acts of sabotage" or "infringements on the national security" could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment with no appeal. Making matters worse, Johnson writes, was the fact that 'The primary GVN targets were former Viet Minh guerrillas -- many of whom were nationalists, not Communists -- regardless of whether or not they were known to have been participating in subversive activities."' The 10/59 Law resulted in the jailing of fifty thousand political prisoners by year's end. But rather than suppress the insurgency, Vietnamese from all walks of life joined the cause. Vietminh cadres moved into the villages from secluded base camps in the Central Highlands, the Rung Sat, the Ca Mau swamps, and the Plain of Reeds. And after four years of Diem style democracy, the rural population welcomed them with open arms.

The nonviolence policy practiced by Vietcong changed abruptly in 1959, when in response to the 10/59 Law and CIA intrusions into North Vietnam, the Lao Dong Central Committee organized the 559th Transportation and Support Group. Known as Doan 559, this combat-engineer corps carved out the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the rugged mountains and fever-ridden jungles of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Doan 559 paved the way for those Vietminh veterans who had gone North in 1954 and returned in 1959 to organize self-defense groups and political cells in Communist-controlled villages. By the end of 1959 Doan 559 had infiltrated forty-five hundred regroupees back into South Vietnam.

Sent to stop Doan 559 from infiltrating troops into South Vietnam were U.S. Army Special Forces commandos trained in "behind-the-lines" anti-guerrilla and intelligence-gathering operations. Working in twelve-member A teams under cover of Civic Action, the Green Berets organized paramilitary units in remote rural regions and SWAT team-type security forces in cities. In return, they were allowed to occupy strategic locations and influence political events in their host countries.

Developed as a way of fighting cost effective counterinsurgencies, the rough-and-tumble Green Berets were an adjunct of the CIA -- which made them a threat to the U.S. Army. But Special Forces troopers on temporary duty (TDY) could go places where the Geneva Accords restricted the number of regular soldiers. For example, in Laos, the "Sneaky Petes" wore civilian clothes and worked in groups of two or three, turning Pathet Lao deserters into double agents who returned to their former units with electronic tracking devices, enabling the CIA to launch air attacks against them. Other double agents returned to their units to lead them into ambushes. As Ed Lansdale explains, once inside enemy ranks, "they could not only collect information for passing secretly to the government but also could work to induce the rank and file to surrender." Volunteers for such "risky business," Lansdale adds, were trained singly or in groups as large as companies that were "able to get close enough in their disguise for surprise combat, often hand to hand." [6]

By the late 1950s, increasing numbers of American Special Forces were in South Vietnam, practicing the terrifying black art of psychological warfare.


Arriving in Saigon in the spring of 1959 as the CIA's deputy chief of station was William Colby. An OSS veteran, Princeton graduate, liberal lawyer, and devout Catholic, Colby managed the station's paramilitary operations against North Vietnam and the Vietcong. He also managed its political operations and oversaw deep-cover case officers like Air America executive Clyde Bauer, who brought to South Vietnam its Foreign Relations Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Lions' Club, in Bauer's words, "to create a strong civil base." [7] CIA officers under Colby's direction funneled money to all political parties, including the Lao Dong, as a way of establishing long-range penetration agents who could monitor and manipulate political developments.

Under Colby's direction, the CIA increased its advice and assistance to the GVN's security forces, at the same time that MSUG ceased being a CIA cover. MSUG advisers ranging across South Vietnam, conducting studies and reporting on village life, had found themselves stumbling over secret policemen posing as village chiefs and CIA officers masquerading as anthropologists. And even though these ploys helped security forces catch those in the VCI, they also put the MSUG advisers squarely between Vietcong cross hairs.

So it was that while Raymond Babineau was on vacation, assistant MSUG project chief Robert Scigliano booted the VBI advisory unit out from under MSUG cover. The State Department quickly absorbed the CIA officers and placed them under the Agency for International Development's Public Safety Division (AID/PSD), itself created by CIA officer Byron Engel in 1954 to provide "technical assistance" and training to police and security officials in fifty-two countries. In Saigon in 1959, AID/PSD was managed by a former Los Angeles policeman, Frank Walton, and its field offices were directed by the CIA-managed Combined Studies Group, which funded cadres and hired advisers for the VBI, Civil Guard, and Municipal police. Through AID/PSD, technical assistance to police and security services increased exponentially. Introduced were a telecommunications center; a national police training center at Vung Tau; a rehabilitation system for defecting Communists which led to their voluntary service in CIA security programs; and an FBI-sponsored national identification registration program, which issued ID cards to all Vietnamese citizens over age fourteen as a means of identifying Communists, deserters, and fugitives.

Several other major changes occurred at this juncture. On the assumption that someday the Communists would be defeated, MSUG in 1957 had reduced the Civil Guard in strength and converted it into a national police constabulary, which served primarily as a security force for district and province chiefs (all of whom were military officers after 1959) and also guarded bridges, major roads, and power stations. CIA advisers assigned to the constabulary developed clandestine cells within its better units. Operating out of police barracks at night in civilian clothes, these ragtag Red Squads were targeted against the VCI, using intelligence provided by the VBI. However, in December 1960 the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group seized control of the constabulary and began organizing it into company, battalion, and regimental units armed with automatic rifles and machine guns. The constabulary was renamed the Regional Forces and placed under the Ministry of Defense. The remaining eighteen thousand rural policemen thereafter served to enforce curfews and maintain law and order in agrovilles -- garrison communities consisting of forcefully relocated persons, developed by MSUG in 1959 in response to Ed Lansdale's failed Civic Action program.

With the demise of Civic Action teams, pacification efforts were by default dumped on the Vietnamese Army, whose heavy-handed tactics further alienated the rural Vietnamese and enabled the Vietcong to infiltrate the Self-Defense Corps and erode the program from within. In an attempt to stop the bleeding, Civic Action cadres were redirected toward organizing "community development" programs, in which class A and B Communist offenders were forced to build agrovilles, as well as roads leading to and from them. When construction had been completed, South Vietnamese army units leveled the surrounding villages, "resettled" the inhabitants in agrovilles, and manned outposts along the roads as a means of facilitating the movement of security forces in search of Communist offenders.

The idea behind agrovilles was to control the rural population by physically moving the sea of sympathetic people away from the guerrilla fish. By making relocated persons build agrovilles -- tent cities protected by moats, mud walls, and bamboo stakes -- internal security, it was imagined, could be established, laws enforced, and potential revolutionaries tacitly involved in the fight against the guerrillas and thus psychologically prone to act as informers to VBI case officers. Their information would then lead to the elimination of the insurgent political cells through their imprisonment, assassination, or defection. Agrovilles were defended by Regional Forces and the Popular Force -- derived from Self-Defense Corps -- trained and advised by U.S. Army, AID/PSD, and CIA personnel.

The secondary nation-building goal of the agroville program was physically to construct a social and economic infrastructure connected to the GVN. In reality, though, by uprooting the people from their ancestral homes, the program generated legions of Vietcong sympathizers. Moreover, the massive infusion of American aid amounted to a boondoggle for the corrupt government officials administering the program. Piled on top of a land reform program that stole from the poor and gave to the rich and of the 10/59 Law, agrovilles replaced Civic Action as the main target of the burgeoning insurgency and its North Vietnamese sponsors.

In response, when he became chief of the CIA's Saigon station in 1960, William Colby accelerated the pace of CIA operations into North Vietnam. He and Gilbert Lawton (a CIA officer disguised as a Special Forces colonel) also launched the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program as a means of preventing North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and roving Vietcong guerrilla units from moving through, drawing sustenance from, or maintaining agents in GVN-monitored villages. Extrapolated from the French commando program begun in 1951, the CIDG program used Vietnamese Special Forces to organize "favorable minorities" into static Self-Defense Corps through Civic Action, which were armed, trained, and targeted by the CIA against Communist political and military units.

Father Hoa's Sea Swallows exemplify the CIDG program in operation. Imprisoned in the 1940's by the Communist Chinese for conspiring with the Kuomintang, Father Nguyen Loc Hoa led two thousand Catholic converts into Laos in 1950, shortly after Chiang Kai-shek had fled to Taiwan with his Nationalist Army. Eight years later, after enduring religious persecution in Laos, Father Hoa was persuaded by Bernard Yoh -- a Kuomintang intelligence officer on loan to the CIA -- to resettle his flock in the village of Binh Hung on the Ca Mau Peninsula in southern South Vietnam. The deal was this: Father Hoa was appointed chief of a district where 90 percent of the people were Vietcong supporters. He was given quantities of military aid and advice from a series of CIA officers disguised as Special Forces colonels. In exchange, Father Hoa had merely to fight the Vietcong, as he did with vigor. As Don Schrande reported in the Saturday Evening Post of February 17, 1962, "Father Hoa personally led his pitifully small force into the swamps nightly to strike the enemy on his own ground." [8]

Stuck in the midst of a VC stronghold, Binh Hung village resembled a military outpost, replete with an obstacle course Father Hoa called "our own little Fort Bragg." As district chief Father Hoa used CIA funds to run "an intelligence network" consisting of "a volunteer apparatus of friendly farmers and a few full time agents." On the basis of this intelligence Father Hoa mounted raids against individual Vietcong cadres. By 1962 he had corralled 148 prisoners, whom he used as slave laborers in the village's rice paddies. In the evenings Sea Swallow cadres indoctrinated their captives with religious and political propaganda, prompting the weaklings to defect and join the ranks of Father Hoa's Popular Force battalion -- five hundred Vietnamese dressed in ill-fitting U.S. Army-supplied khaki uniforms.

Because it was composed of Vietnamese, the Popular Force battalion was not trustworthy, however, and did not include the Sea Swallows' own cadre. Described by Schrande as former Boy Scouts who gave the three-fingered salute, this "group of black-clad commandos armed to the teeth" was "[c]lustered around the priest like a personal bodyguard." [9] Unlike their Vietnamese neighbors, Father Hoa's Chinese Catholic zealots held what Bernard Yoh calls "an ideology that there can be no compromise with Communism." [10]

The image of a defiant band of foreigners, transplanted by the CIA to Vietnam to suit its purposes and surrounded by captives, defectors, and enemies, symbolizes perfectly the state of the counterinsurgency in the early 1960's. Things were not going well inside the GVN either. The Military Security Service was infiltrated by Communist agents, and in June 1959 the VBI arrested the personal bodyguard to the ARVN chief of staff and charged him with spying. In January 1960 two officers in the Operations Division of the Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS) were arrested as Vietcong agents. Even the Can Lao was penetrated by Communist agents, as events proved. The situation climaxed in November 1960, when a group of disgruntled Dai Viet paratroopers led a coup against Diem. Although a failure, the coup attempt drew attention to Diem's lack of popular support, a situation made worse when his brother Nhu sicced the secret police on the Dai Viets and their Buddhist allies. This purge sent the Buddhists underground and into alliances with the Communists, and what was called "the Buddhist crisis" ensued, eventually causing the demise of the Ngo regime.

Sensing that Diem was on the ropes and bolstered by the Buddhists' having joined their cause, the Communists on December 20, 1960, announced the formation of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam and called for the expulsion of all Americans. Ho Chi Minh appointed Le Duan secretary-general of the southern branch of the party, and one year later the People's Revolutionary party (PRP) was activated in the South. The insurgency had begun in earnest.


How the insurgency was organized is essential to understanding Phoenix, which was targeted specifically against its leadership, the VCI. At the top of the VCI organizational chart was the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN), an executive committee answering to the Lao Dong Central Committee's Reunification Department in Hanoi. From its floating headquarters along the Cambodian border, COSVN in turn directed the activities of the People's Revolutionary party, the National Liberation Front, and the Liberation Army -- aka the Vietcong. COSVN's marching orders were sent to six regional committees in South Vietnam, plus one more for the Saigon capital zone. Province committees in turn directed district committees, which were formed by groupings of at least three village committees. Likewise, each village committee was composed of at least three hamlet-level chapters, which constituted the fundamental link to the rural population. Hamlet chapters had three to five members, who were organized into cells with elected leaders. The cell was the smallest VCI organizational unit but could not exist unless integrated into a chapter.

The National Liberation Front sought to mobilize the "people" through associations encompassing all sectors of society. The NLF coordinated the Communist party with other South Vietnamese political parties through its Central Committee, which floated along the Cambodian border in the area referred to as the Parrot's Beak. When operations were mounted against it, the Central Committee slipped into the Iron Triangle area north of Saigon, or into the famous tunnels of Cu Chi, or into Tay Ninh City. Regardless of where it was headquartered, the NLF was most viable at the grass-roots level. There farmers' associations preached land reform; women's associations trained nurses; and liberation youth associations opposed the draft. Liberation associations existed for all classes of society, including writers and Buddhists.

Initially, only Communist party members headed NLF associations, and all ambitious revolutionaries sought admission to the People's Revolutionary party, which by 1962 boasted half a million members. Entrance to the PRP required a sponsor, a background check, and a trial membership. As the insurgency's managers, party members were the primary target of Phoenix and its predecessor organizations.

Topping the hit list were party secretaries -- the people directing Vietcong operations at region, province, and district levels. Although usually known by name, they were nevertheless hard to find. VCI "duty expert" Robert Slater, a Marine captain on contract to the CIA from 1967 to 1969, writes: "In over three years in Vietnam, I knew of no Province Party Secretary ever being captured." Why so hard to kill? "Since he is the most important VC committee member in the province, access to him is limited to province and district committee members. This is to prevent any attempted assassination by Allied penetration agents or VC 'sell-outs.'" [11]

High on the list was the district party secretary, in Slater's words, "the indispensable link between COSVN, region, province and the villages." Armed and always on the move, the "DPS usually does not sleep in the same house or even hamlet where his family lives," Slater notes, "to preclude any injury to his family during assassination attempts or Allied raids." Such precautions did not always work. Writes Slater: "The Allies have frequently found out where District Party Secretaries live and raided their homes; in an ensuing fire fight the secretary's wife and children have been killed and injured." [12]

The village party secretary was another priority target. Traveling alone to hamlets to conduct person-to-person business in rice paddies, cafes, and barbershops, the village secretary was responsible for feeding, billeting, and guiding VC and NVA troops in the area. More visible than district or province cadre, village secretaries were considered easy pickings.

Managing revolutionary intelligence operations in South Vietnam was the Central Research Agency (Cuc Nghien Cuu) reporting to the National Defense Committee in Hanoi in conjunction with the Reunification Department of the Lao Dong Central Committee. The task of Cuc Nghien Cuu agents in South Vietnam, according to CIA officer Ralph Johnson, was the penetration of GVN offices, "to determine plans and capabilities, to recruit GVN military members, and to provide intelligence for paramilitary activities, espionage, subversion, and other political operations." [13] Agents of the Cuc Nghien Cuu reported through an intricate radio and courier network directly to Hanoi, where intelligence data were analyzed and collated with information from elsewhere in South Vietnam and abroad. The Cuc Nghien Cuu maintained secret bases and courier networks in the South as a means of supplying its agents with direction and equipment.

Introduced into South Vietnam in 1960 as the insurgency's security service was the An Ninh. Composed mainly of North Vietnamese agents who reported to Hanoi's Ministry of Public Security, the An Ninh investigated VCI members suspected of being double agents or potential defectors. From its headquarters in COSVN, the An Ninh ran intelligence nets, propaganda campaigns, and counterespionage operations at the village level, drawing up blacklists of double agents and manning armed reconnaissance teams that kidnapped and assassinated GVN officials. More than any other branch of the Communist shadow government in South Vietnam, the An Ninh was responsible for destabilizing the GVN. Ralph Johnson calls it "the glue that held the VCI together." [14] The Cuc Nghien Cuu and the An Ninh were the CIA's archenemies and, ironically, the models for its Phoenix coordinators.

Indeed, as the CIA saw how the insurgency was organized, it structured its counterinsurgency accordingly. Unable to admit that nationalism was the cause of the insurrection and that the United States was viewed as an intruder like the French, the CIA instead argued that Communist organizational techniques, especially its use of selective terror, compelled the Vietnamese people to support the insurgency. As William Colby testified before Congress, "the implication or latent threat of force alone was sufficient to insure that the people would comply with Communist demands." [15]

In drumming up public support in America for military intervention, the CIA portrayed all armed anti-GVN sects as Communist puppets, and because the agency asserted that the "people" were not behind the insurgency but were mindless peasants who had been coerced by a clever mix of propaganda and terror, the legitimate grievances of the people -- primarily their anger at Diem's dictatorship -- could be ignored. This being the case, the GVN did not have to comply with the Geneva Accords, provide fair elections, or enact land reform. It did not have to end preferential treatment for Catholics, curb police corruption, or discipline ARVN soldiers. All grievances were dismissed as smoke and mirrors disguising the criminal ambitions of the Communists.

This revisionist view is what Stanley Karnow calls "the myth ... that the Vietcong was essentially an indigenous and autonomous insurgent movement." [16] The revisionists argued that the wily Communists had recognized the legitimate grievances of people, then adapted their organization to exploit local conditions. Having gained toeholds in the villages, they used selective terror to eliminate GVN authority and frighten the people into joining NLF associations and armed VC units. Ipso facto the VCI and the "people" were in no real sense connected, and one had only to destroy the VCI -- the apparatus -- to stop the revolution.

Key to revisionist theory was the notion that selective terror was a more effective social control than the GVN's suppressive terror, which only fanned the revolutionary fires. As Jeffrey Race notes, "violence will work against the user, unless he has already preempted a large part of the population and then limits his acts of violence to a sharply defined minority." [17] Ironically, by using selective terror effectively, the VCI handed the CIA the rationale it needed to develop counterterror teams. And by announcing the formation of the NLF in a bid for political legitimacy -- just as this notion of killing off the enemy's civilian leadership was being advanced -- the VCI offered itself as a target.

Meanwhile, as the CIA became aware of what political warfare entailed, Diem and his brother Nhu began to be perceived as liabilities. Convinced that William Colby had organized the November 1960 coup attempt, Nhu prohibited his Can Lao followers from consorting with the CIA. This edict threw a wrench into CIA attempts to organize internal security in South Vietnam, and in May 1961 Ambassador Elbridge Durbow asked Diem to abolish the Can Lao, claiming it denied advancement to the majority of Vietnamese and nullified democratic reforms.

Unwilling to divest himself of his power base, Diem refused, and instead sought to appease the Americans by authorizing a statute legalizing the creation of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), a move Colby credits as the beginning of Phoenix. Station chief Colby then directed Raymond Babineau to provide the people and the equipment required to put the CIO in business. [18] Colonel Nguyen Van Y was named chief, a building in Saigon was selected as his headquarters, and he recruited his staff from a faction of the Can Lao that included General Tran Thien Khiem, the man who eventually managed Phoenix, and Nguyen Van Thieu, the army colonel who eventually became president of South Vietnam. Not limited to the coordination of police and military intelligence, the CIO also managed political and foreign intelligence operations. Smaller and more sophisticated than the Cong An, the CIO became the nerve center of the counterinsurgency.

Knowing that the single-minded Americans would carry the fight against the North, Diem, through his spymaster, Dr. Tuyen, and the Office of Political and Social Studies, redoubled his attack against his domestic opponents. However, Karnow writes, "Tuyen feared that Diem's failings would bring about a Communist takeover. Ironically, he filled his faction with dissenters he had blacklisted, and he also attracted disgruntled junior officers. He teamed up as well with Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, unaware of Thao's clandestine Communist ties. Thao's followers included a young air force pilot, Nguyen Cao Ky." [19]

Believing Thao to be trustworthy, Nhu appointed him to manage the strategic hamlet program, which replaced the agroville program in 1962. Thus, by forcing Diem and Nhu into greater dependence on reactionary programs and a Communist double agent, the formation of the CIO in 1961 further hastened the demise of the Ngo regime.

Meanwhile, in order to stem the tide of cheap little wars of liberation that Nikita Khrushchev promised would "bury" the West, President John Kennedy formed the National Security Council Special Group to manage U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Vietnam and elsewhere. A special assistant for covert and special activities (SACSA) was assigned to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Lansdale aide General William B. Rosson was made the special warfare assistant to the Army's chief of staff, and the CIA got a new headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

When, on September 18, 1961, an An Ninh terror squad decapitated the Catholic chief of Phuoc Long Province. President Kennedy, ignoring troop limits set at the Geneva Accords, rushed legions of Special Forces advisers to the South Vietnamese. The 704th Military Intelligence Group arrived and began advising the Military Security Service, and the Army sent its first province advisers to Vietnam, supplementing MAAG with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). CIA psywar and paramilitary officers, their brains bursting with big ideas and their Abercrombie and Fitch safari jacket pockets bulging with big bucks, converged on Vietnam from Cuba, Africa, Greece, Korea, the Philippines, Laos, and Indonesia. By the end of 1962 nearly twelve thousand American soldiers were in South Vietnam, flying helicopters, dropping napalm on Communist villages, spraying Agent Orange, advising ARVN battalions, patrolling rivers and the coast, conducting "behind-the-lines" missions, and mounting anti-infrastructure operations that included attacks on Diem's political opposition. The counterinsurgency, too, had begun in earnest.