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As for the "heavy-handedness" cited by Dillard, on November 27, 1967, Fifth Special Forces Captain John McCarthy was sitting beside his principal agent, Inchin Hai Lam (a Cambodian working for B-57 out of Quang Loi), in the front seat of a car parked on a street in Tay Ninh. A suspected double agent, Lam was a member of the Khmer Serai, a dissident Cambodian political party created by the CIA to overthrow Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk. Without warning, McCarthy turned and put a bullet between Lam's eyes.

McCarthy was tried for Lam's murder, and the ensuing scandal raised questions about the legality of "terminating with extreme prejudice" suspected double agents. The issue would surface again in regard to Phoenix.

Regardless of where the VCI were -- in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or North Vietnam -- "the idea," said Dillard, "was that if we knew their pattern and if we could put the fear of God in them, then we could influence their movements so they could never assemble as a battalion. Our forces could resist any company-sized attacks, and that pretty much cut back their capabilities by preventing them from operating at a battalion-level force."

MACV "could do a fifty-two strike pretty easily," Dillard explained. And once MACV began using B-52 strikes as a way of harassing VC guerrilla units, "Thereafter we had pretty good evidence that the VC were doing just what we wanted them to do. They were not assembling in large battalion-sized forces, and we could route them around. We continued to try to do that from the summer of 1968 on, and we started getting in some pretty good defectors because of that pressure. The overall coordination was working."

Indeed, when B-52 strikes were mounted, coordination was essential. For example, the CIA could not run a PRU operation in enemy territory without first consulting MACV, because, as Dillard put it, "it's conceivable that the operations people have scheduled a strike in that area. "

Yet everyone mounted unilateral operations anyway

. "An element of the five-twenty-fifth" -- Dillard sighed -- "their collection and special security unit, was trying to get the VCI to defect -- this was in the summer of 1968. They had a lead to a VCI cadre meeting, and they ran the operation, and there was nothing there. We were all called into General Eckhardt's office to find out who the hell had approved this special operation without Ted Greyman knowing it.

"There's always that problem," Dillard contended, "when some outfit perceives that they're going to pull off a coup. Then it backfires. The damn thing was a total embarrassment. Just like the sale of arms to Iran."

As long as unilateral operations persisted, Phoenix could never fly. "It was kind of hard at times to determine just who was operating in that environment," Dillard remarked. "Quite often the main mission of the Special Branch guy may have been to keep tabs on the ARVN people. In the case of the Military Security Service, if I was able to get to the guy through [his counterpart, MSS Colonel] Phuoc or through the Army security unit in the Delta ... I would try to push an operation or try to find out what they knew that we were not being informed of. But in the whole time I was there, I was convinced that there was a lot of unilateral reporting that did not get into the U.S. system, whether it was Phoenix or something else. It had to do with the different axes people had to grind."

CHAPTER 15: Modus Vivendi

The inclusion of the Vietnamese in Phoenix in the summer of 1968 was not welcomed by meticulous CIA security officers.

These professional paranoids, Doug Dillard said with a sigh, "did not realize you cannot become so secretive that you can't even run an operation.

We were always aware of the need for secrecy, and where we suspected there was a leak we tried to hold everything as close as possible. But sometimes you just couldn't do it.

You had to plan and coordinate with the Vietnamese to run operations

." [1]

On the other hand, from the Presidential Palace to the most decrepit DIOCC, VC agents were everywhere.

It was a fact that was factored into every equation, it was the reason why Phoenix began as a unilateral operation, and it was why the program failed, for Phoenix was not a counterintelligence program meant to uncover enemy agents but a positive intelligence program designed to neutralize the people managing the insurgency.

The job of counterintelligence was shared by the Special Branch and the Military Security Service, with the Special Branch protecting the government and the MSS protecting the South Vietnamese armed forces, at times at cross purposes. For example, like many of his MSS colleagues,

Colonel Nguyen Van Phuoc was placed under house arrest and accused of being implicated when Diem and Nhu were assassinated. Afterward Phuoc was "tainted" but was resuscitated by the CIA, which valued him for his contacts, according to Dillard, in "the Catholic intelligence network that extended into Cambodia.

As a matter of fact, he offered to bring them into the fold because of the sanctuary that main force guerrilla battalions enjoyed in Cambodia."

With CIA sponsorship, Phuoc was to enjoy a number of prominent positions

, not least as deputy IV Corps commander and counterpart to Doug Dillard and Andy Rogers.

But Phuoc lived on the edge and, like Generals Do Cao Tri and Tran Thanh Phong, eventually perished in a mysterious plane accident.

"Colonel Phuoc's problems on the Vietnamese side were greater than ours because the province chiefs were appointed by the president," Dillard explained. "There were all kinds of rumors about 'some bought their jobs,' and there were other kinds of arrangements, too.

There were businesses that flourished and were never bothered by the VC in the provinces, so it was obvious that someone was being paid off."

In fairness to the Vietnamese, a point should be made about cultural values.

For what Americans define as corruption, the Vietnamese consider perfectly proper behavior. Accepting gifts and returning favors -- taking bribes and making payoffs -- were how, after generations of colonial oppression, Vietnamese officials supplemented measly salaries and supported extended families. The system was a form of prebend, the same right ministers have to a portion of the Sunday offering as a stipend. And rather than fight the system, the CIA compensated for it by paying its Phung Hoang, secret police, and PRU assets exorbitant salaries.

Conversely, for the average Vietnamese citizen caught in a war-torn economy, dealing with the Vietcong was a matter of survival. And while this modus vivendi provided American intelligence officers with a line of communication to the enemy, it also gave them migraine headaches.

"For example," Dillard said, "in Bac Lieu there was a great suspicion that the province chief was on the take from the VC tax collector. The PRU team leader in Bac Lieu, Doc Sells, had firsthand evidence of that. But the VC tax collector, who lived in Ba Xuyen Province, was a wealthy businessman, and the way he stayed wealthy was by paying extortion and ransom.... Now Doc knew, based on the way the province chief had acted in the past, that never in the world would they [the PRU] be allowed to coordinate an operation in Ba Xuyen without compromising it. So the Bac Lieu PRU ran an operation over into Ba Xuyen and kidnapped this guy. It caused all kinds of grief between the two provinces, and when it surfaced at our level, they had to release him. Then there were threats that 'Well, next time he won't survive.' They put a price on Doc's head. I remember a kid came into the restaurant where Doc was eating and put a cigarette lighter on the table. It was a booby trap that exploded but luckily didn't hurt him."

All this means that if the VCI was a criminal conspiracy, then its partners in crime were government officials -- particularly province chiefs, police, and security officials. Robert Slater writes: "During the period 1964-1967, it was fairly common to read of a hand grenade being thrown into a bar. This was normally attributed by the press to terrorism, but police investigations usually showed that the owner had refused to pay taxes to the VC. It is uncommon to read or even hear of this now [in 1970]; undoubtedly the bar owners have agreed to pay their taxes." Likewise, "From 1965 to 1969," Slater knew "of no American oil company trucks being ambushed. On one occasion a VC road block let an American oil company truck pass by, then fifteen minutes later stopped a South Vietnamese bus, disembarked all the passengers, collected 'tax' money, and then shot two ARVN soldiers who were in uniform." [2]

This modus vivendi between the VCI and GVN officials frustrated many Phoenix coordinators who were trying to distinguish one from the other. Some simply threw up their hands, held their breaths, and marked time. Others were spurred to indiscriminate acts of violence.

Those who took the hard line, like III Corps DEPCORDS John Vann, believed that it was not enough for the Vietnamese simply to be pro-Phoenix. According to Vann's deputy for plans and programs, who shall hereafter be known as Jack, Vann insisted that in order for Phoenix to succeed, the Vietnamese had to fight actively against the VCI. But that was impossible, Jack explained, because "the Vietnamese were protected in the day by the GVN, but were left to the VC at night.

So the little guy in the village survived day to day knowing when to say yes and when to say no. The wrong answer could cost him his life."

[3]

Unfortunately for the Vietnamese who preferred to remain neutral, it was the most highly motivated Americans -- those who were most avidly anti-Communist -- who were listened to in Washington and who ipso facto determined policy.

As hard as it was to involve province chiefs in the attack on the VCI, the rural population was even harder to incite. Earnest Phoenix coordinators like Doug Dillard tried "to get the people in the villages to tell you when the VC were coming, so you could put the PRU on them or a B-fifty-two strike."

However, why the Vietnamese would not cooperate is understandable, especially in the case of B-52 strikes, "one of which," Dillard recalled, "occurred right between Kien Hoa and Dinh Tuong. There was pretty good evidence that a VC battalion had assembled in that area," Dillard said, "and Ted put a strike on it. They went in later to assess the damage, and said it looked like a butcher shop."

For that reason, damage assessment was not a popular job in Vietnam

and was a task often assigned to PRU units or unpopular American soldiers like Air Force Captain Brian Willson who, with the 823d Combat Security Police Squadron, commanded a mobile security unit at Binh Thuy Air Base four miles west of Can Tho.

As punishment for fraternizing with enlisted men, Willson was given the job of damage assessment in areas bombed by B-52's.

"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. [4]

"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 afteraction report from this village. A guy I knew showed me where to look. The report said one hundred-thirty VC dead.

"Another time I was driving up near Sa Dec. It was a coincidence. I didn't even know it was happening. There was an air strike, and I was very near this village where it was happening. I'd never seen a localized air strike on a village before. I was stunned. The ground shook like an earthquake, and that was scary. But there I was, watching as the last sweep came in and dropped some napalm, sending up balls of fire that finally wiped everything out. And I was standing in my jeep, kind of in shock, and this old man came running out of the village. I was about one hundred fifty feet from him, and our eyes met for like two seconds. Then he turned and ran away.

"I remember driving down this little lane ... thinking I'd wake up and not be there. I drove for three or four miles like that. Then I saw this old Vietnamese woman with a yoke on her back, holding a couple of pails of water. Then I saw this water buffalo just kind of meandering through a rice paddy. I remember stopping and thinking, 'Man, I am here. I'm still in Vietnam.' I'd been there three months.

After that I wanted to desert."

***


Why would the inhabitants of a Vietnamese village voluntarily announce to U.S. or GVN authorities the presence of VC guerrillas or political cadres, if doing so meant a bath in five-hundred-pound bombs or a pack of plundering PRU? This question reaches to the heart of Phoenix and the "collateral damage" it caused.

One explanation was offered in a series of articles written in late 1970 and early 1971 for the liberal Catholic newspaper

Tin Sang (Morning News)

. Published in Saigon by Ngo Cong Duc, a nationalist in the Vietnamese legislature, half of all its issues were confiscated by the police on orders from the minister of information, Truong Buu Diem, a long-standing CIA asset. Nearly all issues, however, are preserved in the Yen Ching Library at Harvard University.

Translated by a Vietnamese woman at the University of Massachusetts, this series of articles, titled "The Truth About Phoenix," provides rare insights into the Vietnamese perspective on Phoenix.

The author of "The Truth About Phoenix" used the alias Dinh Tuong An, but his true identity is known to CIA officer Clyde Bauer, who claims An was a Communist sympathizer. Red-baiting, of course, requires no substantiation. But it is a fact, as corroborated by Phoenix adviser Richard Ide, that An was a translator for Major Oscar L. Jenkins, the CIA's Special Branch adviser in the Trung Giang inner-Mekong area

, running Phoenix operations in Sa Dec, Vinh Long, and Vinh Binh provinces in 1968 and 1969.

"Phoenix," writes An, "is a series of big continuous operations which, because of the bombing, destroy the countryside and put innocent people to death .... In the sky are armed helicopters, but on the ground are the black uniforms, doing what they want where the helicopters and B-52's do not reach .... Americans in black uniforms," according to An, "are the most terrible." [5]

Also according to An, the CIA always sent PRU teams in the day before cordon and search operations, to capture people targeted for interrogation. The next day, An notes, the PRU would return in U.S. Navy helicopters with ARVN troops.

"When they go back to their base at Dong Tam [the sprawling PRU facility near My Tho], they bring people's bleeding ears. But," asks An rhetorically, "are these the ears of the VC?" [6]

The purpose of Phoenix, An contends, was "to avenge what the VC did during Tet.

Which is why Thieu did not hesitate to sign Phoenix into law. But," he adds, "local officials knew nothing about the program except the decree. The central government didn't explain anything. Furthermore, the CIA and their assistants had a hard time trying to explain to province chiefs about operations to pacify the countryside and destroy the VCI." [7]

Indeed, the Vietnamese were confused by contradictory American programs. For example, B-52 strikes and Agent Orange dustings served only to impoverish rural villagers, prompting them to deduce that these operations, were directed against

them

, not the VCI. Making matters worse, province chiefs reported the damage, ostensibly to get compensation for those hurt by the attacks, but kept the money for themselves. Then Revolutionary Development Cadre appeared, promising to offset the damage with economic development. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army was pursuing a scorched-earth policy and the Agency for International Development was withdrawing support for RD reconstruction projects -- a reversal in policy, An contends, that stemmed from the CIA's belief that reconstruction projects only helped the wives and families of VC who returned from their jungle hideouts when the projects were done.

[8] All that led most Vietnamese to agree with An that "Revolutionary Development only teaches the American line."

The end result of the contradictory programs and double-talk was a lack of trust in the GVN, not in the VCI, which rarely failed to make good on promises.

Likewise, the Vietnamese interpreted Phoenix, the program designed to provide security to the rural population, as an attempt by the Americans to prolong the war.

Like B-52 strikes and Agent Orange, Phoenix only made people's lives more difficult. People wondered, An informs us, how Phoenix could turn things around. [9]

In responding to these concerns, An writes, the CIA argued that Phoenix was needed because B-52 strikes and defoliation operations did not destroy "the VC lower structure." But in attacking the VCI, the CIA never considered the human concerns of the Vietnamese, declares An. For example, many rice fields were owned by Vietcong, and as more and more fields were destroyed by Agent Orange, people had no choice but to buy rice from these VC. This included wealthy merchants who were subsequently accused by security forces of collaborating with the enemy and were forced to pay bribes to keep from being arrested. In this way GVN officials extorted from people caught in between them and the Vietcong.

Nor, An adds, did the CIA care that many Vietnamese during Tet -- including policemen and soldiers -- visited their families in areas controlled by the Vietcong, thus becoming VCI suspects themselves. Or that Vietnamese civil servants, especially schoolteachers with families living in VC areas, became informants simply as a way of getting advance notice of Phoenix operations, so they could warn their relatives of pending attacks. In return for protecting their families, these Vietnamese were surveilled and extorted by government security forces.

Nor did the CIA take steps to protect people from false accusations. An cites the case of five teachers working for a Catholic priest in Vinh Long Province. These women refused to attend a VC indoctrination session. When the VC were later captured by PRU, they named these teachers as VC cadres. The teachers were arrested and jailed without trial or evidence. "That's why people feared Phoenix," An explains. "The biggest fear is being falsely accused -- from which there is no protection. That's why Phoenix doesn't bring peace or security. That's why it destroys trust in the GVN, not the VCI." [10]

Adding to this mistrust was the fact that the CIA rewarded security officials who extorted the people. "The CIA," An writes, "spends money like water."

As a result, MSS and Special Branch operators preferred to sell information to the CIA rather than "give" it to their Vietnamese employers. And even though the CIA had no way of corroborating the information, it was used to build cases against VCI suspects.

The CIA also passed quantities of cash to the various religious sects. "Many priests in the inner-Mekong," An reports, "have relations with the CIA, so people in the provinces refuse to have contact with them. [11]

"Many agents from the different police in IV Corps receive money from the CIA," An reports, "in the form of merit pay." Money was spent beautifying Special Branch offices -- buying telephones, generators, air conditioners, Lambrettas, and Xerox machines for dutiful policemen and pretty secretaries. Big bucks were lavished on local officials, particularly those sitting on Phoenix committees. "Conveniences" given to committee members, writes An, made it easier for them "to explore information from agents," leading to the arrest of suspected VCI. [12]

Recall what Warren Milberg said: "I had virtually unlimited resources to develop agent operations, to pay for a staff that translated and produced intelligence reports ... more money ... than what the province budget was." [13] But while Milberg saw this as "creating economic stability,"

the incentive to sell information had the side effect of tearing apart Vietnamese society.

Perhaps the most disturbing charge made by An is that CIA operators encouraged the illegal activities of Phoenix personnel.

He cites as an example the time Military Security Service agents in Sa Dec observed Special Branch agents taking payoffs from the local VC tax collector. Naturally, the MSS agents sold this information to the CIA, which took no action -- because payoffs were a vehicle for penetration operations. Writes An:

"The CIA works to keep some Communist areas intact so they can get information." [14] This, of course, was in direct opposition to the Phoenix mission.

As an example of the intelligence potential of the modus vivendi, An notes that unilateral CIA penetration agents into the VCI often posed as pharmacists and were supplied with desperately needed antibiotics, which they would smuggle into Vietcong jungle hideouts in Cambodia in exchange for information. "Phoenix," explains An, "was watching and talking to the VC while at the same time working to prevent the NLF from reorganizing the VCI." [15]

All this leads An to conclude that America was never interested in ending the war.

Instead, he thinks the goal was to show success, "even if many lives must be lost." For An, Phoenix was not a mechanism to end the war quickly, but a means to extend it indefinitely, with a minimum of American casualties. The nature of Phoenix, he suggests, was to pit the Vietnamese against each other, to undermine their efforts at rapprochement while fueling the conflict with money and lies and psychological operations designed to destabilize the culture. [16]

In conclusion, An contends that the Vietnamese neutralists wanted only for the United States to grant South Vietnam the same status it granted Taiwan and Israel. But this was not to be, for in South Vietnam advocating peace with the Communists was punishable by death or imprisonment without trial for two years under the An Tri (administrative detention) Laws.

And like Phoenix, An Tri was a boondoggle for corrupt GVN officials. Persons arrested as VCI suspects or sympathizers could be held indefinitely and were released only when their families scraped together enough money to bribe the local Security Committee chairman. That is why, An suggests, the roundup was the worst of all the hardships Phoenix imposed on the Vietnamese people.

The practice of extorting ransoms from VCI suspects served CIA interests however, by elevating security personnel into a privileged class that was utterly dependent on the CIA, in the process, thoroughly destabilizing the society.

Through the ICEX screening, interrogation, and detention program, the CIA expanded this psywar tactic into the districts, enabling every minor official to get a piece of the action.

As Colonel Dillard remarked, "I became a major construction tycoon in the Delta as a sideline to my Phoenix business." As well as giving fifteen thousand dollars to every district chief to build a DIOCC, he worked with the CIA in building "those little jails, as I call them, which really were interrogation centers." Dillard recalled: "The agency sent down an elderly gentleman from Maryland who was a contractor. His job in the Delta, one of many, was to get these interrogation centers constructed .... Pacific Architects and Engineers did the work, but this guy was an agency employee. [17]

"What you needed in a lot of these little derelict-type districts in the Delta where they really didn't have any facilities," said Dillard, "was a place to secure and interrogate prisoners .... They were for anyone ....

I remember going into one we'd built in Chau Duc that had several monks inside. They had a steel chain chained to their legs so they wouldn't run off.

"We pretty much constructed them throughout the Delta. Those that went up quickest were in the districts that were most accessible. But as fast as they went up, the VC knocked them down with satchel charges." That did not disturb the district chiefs, for whom each new construction project meant another lucrative rake-off.

Indeed, the Phoenix program offered a wide range of financial opportunities.

"Phoenix in Sa Dec," An writes, "was an occasion for many nationalists to get rich illegally. Many innocent people were chased away from their homes to the district hall where they were extorted or confined in the interrogation center behind the town hall.

Even water buffalo guardians were taken to the district hall, and their parents had to pay for their release or else they would be sent to Vinh Long Prison."

[18]

Writes An: "One visiting U.S. congressman said our province was lucky because we had no prison. But actually this is unfortunate, because

innocent people -- and the Police Special Branch know who is innocent -- are confined in the town hall. There is no room to lie down there. The people suffocate. They are put in an empty pool without water."

[19]


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