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Notes:

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

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

CHAPTER 29: Phoenix in Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agee in particular was despised by his CIA colleagues for saying, in an interview with Playboy magazine, that there was "a strong possibility that the CIA station in Chile helped supply the assassination lists."

Agee asserted that the CIA "trains and equips saboteurs and bomb squads" and that the CIA had "assassinated thousands of people .... When the history of the CIA's support of torturers gets written," Agee predicted, "it'll be the all-time horror story. [11]


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