THE COLD SIX THOUSAND
BACK TO TIMELINE
October 16, 1964 "POUCH COMMUNIQUE"
DOCUMENT INSERT: 10/16/64. Pouch communiqu. To: Pete Bondurant. From: John Stanton. Marked: "Hand Pouch Deliver Only"/
"Destroy Upon Reading."
Here's the summary you requested. As always, please read and burn.
First off, there's a consensus among Agency analysts: we're in Vietnam to stay. You know how far the trouble goes back--with the Japanese, the Chinese and the French. Our interest dates to '45. It was shaped by our commitment to France and our desire to keep Western Europe out of the Red Bloc, and was spurred by China going Red. Vietnam is a key chunk of real estate. We'll lose our foothold in Southeast Asia if it goes Red. In fact, we'll risk losing the entire region.
Much of the current situation derives from the Viet Minh defeat of the French forces at Dien Bien Phu in March, '54. This led to Geneva accords and the partitioning of what is now "North" and "South" Vietnam, along the 17th parallel. The Communists withdrew from the south and the French from the north. A nationwide election was called for the summer of '56.
We installed our man Ngo Dinh Diem in the south. Diem was a Catholic who was pro-US, anti-Buddhist, anti-French colonialist and anti-Communist. Agency operatives rigged a referendum that allowed Diem to succeed Premier Bao Dai. (It wasn't subtle. Our people got Diem more votes than the actual number of voters.)
Diem renounced the '56 Geneva Accord elections. He said the presence of the Viet Minh insured that the elections could not be "absolutely free." The election deadline approached. The U.S. backed Diem's refusal to participate. Diem initiated "security measures" against the Viet Minh in the south. Suspected Viet Minh or Viet Minh sympathizers were tortured and tried by local province officials appointed by Diem. This approach was successful, and Diem managed to smash 90% of the Viet Minh cells in the Mekong Delta. During this time Diem's publicists coined the pejorative term "Vietnam Cong San" or "Vietnamese Communist."
The election deadline passed. The Soviets and Red Chinese did not press for a political settlement. Early in '57, the Soviets proposed a permanent partition and a U.N. sanctioning of North and South Vietnam as separate states. The U.S. was unwilling to recognize a Communist state and rebuffed the initiative.
Diem built a base in the south. He appointed his brothers and other relatives to positions of power and in fact turned South Vietnam into a narrowly ruled, albeit stridently anti-Communist, oligarchy. Diem's brothers and relatives built up their individual fiefdoms. They were rigidly Catholic and anti-Buddhist. Diem's brother Can was a virtual warlord. His brother Ngo Dinh Nhu ran an anti-Viet Cong intelligence network with CIA funds.
Diem balked at land reforms and allied himself with wealthy landowning families in the Mekong Delta. He created the Khu Tru Mat, i.e., farm communities to buffer peasants from Viet Cong sympathizers and cells. Peasants were uprooted from their native villages and forced to build the communities without pay. Government troops often pilfered their pigs, rice and chicken.
Diem's actions created a demand for reform. Diem closed opposition newspapers, accused journalists, students and intellectuals of Communist ties and arrested them. At this time, the U.S. had a billion dollars invested in South Vietnam. Diem (dubbed "a puppet who pulls his own strings") knew that we needed his regime as a strategic port against the spread of Communism. He spent the bulk of his U.S.-donated money on military and police build-up, to quash Viet Cong raids below the 17th parallel and quash domestic plots against him.
In November '60, a military coup against Diem failed. Diem-loyalist troops fought the troops of South Vietnamese Army Colonel Vuong Van Dong. Diem rebuffed the coup, but his actions earned him many enemies among the Saigon and Mekong Delta elite. In the north, this internal dissent emboldened Ho Chi Minh. He embarked on a terror campaign in the south and in December '60 announced the formation of a new insurgent group: the National Liberation Movement. Ho contended that he did not violate the Geneva Accord by sending troops into the south. This was, of course, a lie. Red troops had been steadily infiltrating the south along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" since '59.
Shortly after his inauguration, John Kennedy read a Pentagon analysis of the deteriorating Vietnamese situation. The analysis urged that aid to Diem be increased. Kennedy increased the number of in-country "advisors" to 3,000. The advisors were really military personnel, in violation of the Geneva Accord. Kennedy issued a foreign-aid order which served to increase the size of the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN, or Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) by 20,000 men, to a total of 170,000.
Diem resented the presence of the U.S. "advisors." Then large Viet Cong units began attacking ARVN posts. At that juncture, Diem told the advisors that he wanted to form a bilateral defense pact between the U.S. and South Vietnam.
Kennedy sent General Maxwell Taylor to Saigon. Taylor reported back and reconfirmed the strategic importance of a stand against the Viet Cong. He called for more advisors, along with helicopters and pilot-support for the ARVN. Taylor requested 8,000 troops. The Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense McNamara requested 200,000. Kennedy compromised and sent more financial aid to Diem.
Diem initiated the "Strategic Hamlet" program early in '62. He detained peasants in armed stockades in an effort to thwart their susceptibility to the Viet Cong. In reality, the program supplied the Viet Cong with converts. In February '62, Diem survived another coup. Two ARVN pilots attacked the presidential palace with napalm, bombs and machine-gun fire. Diem, his brother Nhu and Madame Nhu survived.
Ngo Dinh Nhu had become an embarrassment. He was an opium addict prone to bouts of paranoia. Madame Nhu had convinced Diem to sponsor edicts abolishing divorce, contraceptives, abortion, boxing matches, beauty contests and opium dens. These edicts spawned great resentment. The U.S. advisors noted a new groundswell of anger against the Diem regime.
Anti-Diem sentiment was building within the ARVN command. Diem's Can Lao (the South Vietnamese Secret Police) stepped up its arrests and torture of suspected Buddhist dissidents. Four Buddhist monks publicly incinerated themselves in protest. Madame Nhu praised the suicides and created more resentment. Kennedy and the new Vietnamese ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, concluded that the Diem regime was becoming an embarrassing liability, and that Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu were the heart of the problem. Covertly, Agency operatives were told to sniff out discontent within the ARVN high command and discuss the viability of a coup.
It was determined that numerous plots already existed, in various states of readiness. Diem sensed the existing ARVN discontent and ordered a show of force against Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers in Saigon and Hue. It was Diem's intention to turn the Buddhists against the ARVN and exploit the situation to his advantage. On 8/21/63, Diem troops attacked Buddhist temples in Saigon, Hue and other cities. Hundreds of monks and nuns were killed, injured and arrested. Riots and protests against the Diem regime followed.
The Agency learned of Diem's machinations in the ensuing weeks. Kennedy and his advisors were furious and still convinced that Ngo Dinh Nhu was the problem. Diem was instructed to get rid of Nhu. Agency operatives were told to contact potential coup leaders should he refuse, and to pledge our post-coup support.
Ambassador Lodge met with Diem. He became convinced that Diem would never drop Nhu. Lodge informed his Agency contacts. They contacted plotters within the ARVN high command. Lodge, Kennedy, McNamara and the Joint Chiefs met. They discussed the cutoff of financial aid to the Diem regime.
The cutoff was announced. The plotters proceeded. Chief among them were General Tran Van Don, General Le Van Kim and General Duong Van Minh, aka "Big Minh." Agency operatives met with General Don and General Minh and promised them continued U.S. financial aid and support. Kennedy determined that his administration would remain convincingly unaccountable and that the coup would publicly present itself as an all-Vietnamese affair.
The coup was planned and postponed throughout the early fall. Kennedy's advisors included pro-coup and anti-coup factions. The anti-coup faction argued that the autonomous nature of the coup might lead to another "Bay of Pigs fiasco."
Internal bickering diverted the plotters. The generals argued over which position of power they would assume in post-coup Saigon. The coup was finally scheduled for 11/1/63. It was implemented that afternoon.
Madame Nhu was in the U.S. Premier Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu hid in the basement of the presidential palace. Insurgent units captured the palace, the guard barracks and the police station. Diem and Nhu were apprehended and given "safe passage" in an armored personnel carrier. The carrier stopped at a railroad crossing. Diem and Nhu were shot and stabbed to death.
A 12-man "Military Revolutionary Council" took over and then succumbed to internal squabbles. Concurrent with this, riots swept the south and steady streams of Viet Cong infiltrated from the north. ARVN troops deserted in large numbers. Concurrent with this, Kennedy was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson and his advisors reevaluated the ambiguously defined Vietnamese policy of the Kennedy administration and decided to expand our financial-military commitment.
General Nguyen Khanh toppled the "Military Revolutionary Council" on 1/28/64. ("Bloodless" describes it best. The other generals abdicated and returned to their military fiefdoms.) Concurrently, the Viet Cong stepped up its southern incursion, defeating the ARVN in several encounters and staging a series of terrorist attacks in Saigon, including the bombing of a movie theater, where three Americans were killed. Throughout early '64, the Viet Cong forces doubled to 170,000 (mostly recruited in the south) with a commensurate improvement in their ordnance: Red Chinese and Soviet-supplied AK-47s, mortars and rocket launchers.
Secretary McNamara visited Vietnam in March and toured the south in a propaganda effort to bolster Premier Khanh. McNamara returned to Washington. He proposed and secured President Johnson's approval of an "action memorandum." The memorandum called for increased financial aid, to provide the ARVN with more aircraft and other ordnance. Premier Khanh was allowed to stage cross-border raids against Communist strongholds in Laos and to study the feasibility of possible incursions into Cambodia to interdict Viet Cong supply routes. Pentagon specialists started pinpointing North Vietnamese targets for U.S. bombing raids.
Ambassador Lodge resigned to pursue a career in domestic politics. President Johnson appointed General William C. Westmoreland as Commander of the U.S. Military Advisory Group (MACV) in Vietnam. Westmoreland remains committed to a greatly expanded American presence. There is now a formidable U.S. contingent in the south, among them servicemen, accountants, doctors, mechanics and sundry others involved in dispensing the $500,000,000 that Johnson has pledged in fiscal '64 aid. Much of the U.S. donated food, weaponry, medicine, gasoline and fertilizer has ended up on the black market. The U.S. presence in South Vietnam is rapidly becoming the foundation of the South Vietnamese economy.
Johnson has approved a covert plan called "OPLAN 34-A," which calls for larger incursions north of the 17th parallel, an expanded propaganda effort and covert ops to intercept Communist ships delivering material to the Viet Cong in the south. The Gulf of Tonkin incident (8/1-8/3/64, wherein two U.S. destroyers were fired upon by Communist seacraft and returned said fire) was largely a staged and improvised event that Johnson capitalized upon to get congressional sanction for planned bombing raids. The 64 bombing sorties that followed were limited to one day, so as to not give the appearance of overreaction to the Gulf of Tonkin provocation.
As of this (10/16/64) date, there are just under 25,000 "advisors" in Vietnam, and the bulk of them are, in fact, combat troops. These troops are Army Special Forces, Airborne Rangers and support personnel. President Johnson has committed to a covert escalation plan which will allow him to introduce an additional 125,000 troops by next summer. Expected North Vietnamese provocations will help him push this troop commitment through Congress. The plan will allow for a large deployment of marines in the winter and spring of '65, and a large influx of army infantry in the summer. Johnson is also committed to sustained bombing raids into North Vietnam. The raids will begin in the late winter-early spring of '65. Again, Agency analysts believe that Johnson will commit to Vietnam for the long haul. The consensus is that he sees Vietnam as a way to establish his anti-Communist credentials to their fullest advantage and use them to counterbalance any political dissension he creates with his liberal domestic reforms.
This overall escalation should serve to cloak our in-country activities. Opium and its derivatives have fueled the Vietnamese economy going back to its early French-colonial days. Intelligence units of the French Army ran the opium trade and managed most of the opium dens in Saigon and Cholon from '51 to '54. The opium traffic has financed dozens of coups and coup attempts, and the late Ngo Dinh Nhu was planning to circumvent Premier Diem's anti-opium edict at the time of his death. Since the 11/1/63 coup, 1,800 opium dens have reopened in Saigon and 2,500 in the heavily Chinese enclave of Cholon (Cholon is 2.5 miles up the Ben Nghe Channel from Central Saigon). Premier Khanh has established a hands-off policy toward the dens, which will serve us well. It should be noted that Khanh is extremely malleable and beholden to our presence in South Vietnam. He loves American money and will not risk offending even adjunct Agency personnel such as our cadre. He is not a "puppet who pulls his own strings." I doubt if he'll last long, and I doubt that his successor(s) will give us any trouble.
The crop source for our potential merchandise is situated in Laos, near the Vietnamese border. The fields near Ba Na Key are rich in the limestone soil component that poppy bulbs thrive on, and dozens of large-scale farms are situated there. Ba Na Key
is close to the North Vietnamese border, which invalidates it for our purposes. A strip of acreage further south, near Saravan, is limestone-rich and accessible to the South Vietnamese border. Several poppy camps are situated near Saravan. They are run by Laotian "Warlords" who employ "Armies" of overseers, who work "Cliques" of Laotian/Vietnamese "Slaves," who harvest the bulbs. I've been grooming an English-speaking Laotian named Tran Lao Dinh, and my plan is to have you and Tran purchase or somehow co-opt the services of the Laotian warlords.
The standard procedure is to refine the poppy sap into a morphine-base that can be further refined into heroin. My goal would be to accomplish that at the farm(s) and ship the base to your chemist's lab in Saigon. We could fly it or move it by PT boat, which would require a pilot-navigator familiar with Vietnamese waterways. The standard way to move morphine-base out of Vietnam is via freighter to Europe and China. That's counterproductive in our case. We need your chemist to refine it in-country, in order to reduce the bulk size and render it easier to ship to Las Vegas. Please think of a way we can courier the finished product stateside, and limit our exposure on both ends.
Some closing thoughts.
Remember, I'm in this with six other agents, and we're Stage-1 Covert, with no Agency sanction. You'll meet the other men on a need-to-know basis. You're the operations boss and I'm the personnel runner. I know you're anxious to start funneling money to the Cause, but we're going to accrue large operating expenses in-country and out, and I want to make sure we're cash fluid first. The Agency has a front-company in Australia that will trade Vietnamese piastres for U.S. dollars, and we may be able to utilize a Swiss bank-account system for the laundering of our ultimate profits.
Let me stress this now. No morphine-base or fully refined merchandise should be allowed to slip into the hands of the U.S. military--for accountability's sake--or into the hands of ARVN personnel. Most ARVNs are highly corruptible and cannot be trusted around saleable narcotics.
I think you'll like my end of the cadre. I've co-opted an Army 1st Lt. named Preston Chaffee. He's a language whiz, Airborne-certified and an all-around good scout. He's my projected liaison to the ARVNs, the Saigon politicos and Premier Khanh.
I need to assess your projected plans and vet your chosen personnel. Can you pouch me, Vegas to Arlington?
For the Cause,
Excerpted from The Cold Six Thousand by
Copyright 2001 by James Ellroy. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf,
a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
BACK TO TIMELINE