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"I remember one evening on an LST, right after an operation, sensing there was nothing but anarchy bordering on idiocy in how we were conducting the war." Wilbur sighed. "I remember writing a letter in my mind to [Yale University President] Kingman Brewster, telling him how important it was for people who had some moral training and education to be on the ground to prevent the negligent cruelties that occurred. I saw myself as that person.

I saw an opportunity for SEAL team assets and training to multiply exponentially by working with the PRU. I didn't have any master plan, but I felt, when I am with this kid, I think I know where he's going, and when he puts his hand on my arm and whispers, 'Don't shoot,' I know that I shouldn't shoot. And those were significant things. You felt he was guiding you to do something you ought to do and preventing you from doing what you ought not to do.

"This guy proved himself to me," Wilbur stated emphatically. "He was able to command in the field. He was at home, and I wanted to be like that. He was a very good influence:

Plus which the Vietnamese are very sweet, affectionate people. You'd go to places and they'd be walking around holding hands with American sergeants. Or they'd come up behind you, put their arms around you, hug you, and offer you some cigarettes.

The kid was like that. He was friendly. He reacted. He hung around and became our mascot, which he liked."

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

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

The PRU program was American-controlled, which is absolutely essential. It was the breakdown of that control that eventually led to the destruction of the PRU concept."

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

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

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

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

Eye Corps

; by and large the Special Forces in Two Corps; the Army in Three Corps, and the SEALs in Four Corps. Most of us were officers or senior enlisted men.

"During the first week we all stayed at the same hotel ... and we were indoctrinated in what Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) was all about -- Census Grievance, Revolutionary Development, et cetera. We were given a presentation indicating that we were all volunteers, then were told what the PRU mission was to target the political infrastructure of the Vietcong, to gather and compile accurate information about it, and to react upon that information to try to destroy the political and economic infrastructure of COSVN. A lot of our briefing concerned COSVN's political, economic, and military arms. We were told what the VCI was, how it operated, and why we were targeted against it. It was almost like learning about CORDS. It was exciting and heady, too.

Coming from the military envelope, I was awakened into this whole new world. It was 'Hey! This is a secret' and 'We're the tough guys!' I was pretty impressed with myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The advisers were assigned to CORDS province teams and came under the direct command of the CIA's province officer," Wilbur explained. "They were not under my direct operational control, and much to my horror, I found myself in an administrative position.

And the senior enlisted people were very political in terms of how they tried to maximize their independence. They loved wearing civilian clothes and saying they worked for the CIA, having cover names and their own private armies, and no bloody officers or bullshit with barracks.

So a lot of my job was ... maintaining good relations between the PRU advisers and the province officers, many of whom were retired Special Forces sergeant majors with distinguished military careers. Often there were sparks between the PRU adviser and province officer because it was a little too close to their old professions."

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

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

As for the quality of his PRU advisers, Wilbur said, "The original SEALs were tough guys who did a lot of training but hadn't fought in any wars. Then they went over to Vietnam.

By that time they had kids and they weren't that aggressive.

The senior guys wanted to send the PRU people out on operations and stay by the radio. Which was a problem.

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

"Other guys really rose to the occasion," Wilbur noted, adding that

because the older men played it safe, the people who started dominating the SEAL ranks "were the young tiger enlisted men. They'd go out and waste people."


One of those "young tiger enlisted men" was Navy SEAL Mike Beamon, who worked "on the Phoenix program in the Ben Tre and My Tho areas" from mid-1968 through February 1969. Beamon's recollections of the PRU resemble Elton Manzione's more than John Wilbur's.

He described the PRU as "made up by and large of guys who were doing jail time for murder, rape, theft, assault in Vietnam. The CIA would bail them out of jail under the condition that they would work in these mercenary units." [14]

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

From Beamon's perspective, Phoenix was a "carefully designed program to disrupt the infrastructure of the Viet Cong village systems. And apparently on some occasions the plan was to come in and assassinate a village chief and make it look like the Viet Cong did it."

The idea, he explained, was to "break down the entire Viet Cong system in that area ...." -- a plan which did not work because "the Viet Cong didn't organize in hierarchies. [16]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RDC chief Lou Lapham agreed, when I spoke with him in 1986, saying that he directed that the PRU capture VCI members and take them to PICs for interrogation.

"But none of us were so naive," he added, ''as to think that we could stop every PRU team from carrying out the assassination mission they had as CTs .... We lived in the real world. You just cannot control the people fighting the war" -- [18] as Phoenix attempted to do.

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

As for the viability of the Phoenix-PRU program, Wilbur commented,

"People didn't recognize the practical difficulties of achieving what its academic objective was to be,

which somehow was to be an ambulance squad that went out and anesthetized the district people and brought them in [to the DIOCC or PIOCC or the PIC], where they were mentally dissected and all this information would come in.

It was a rhetorical approach that just didn't work out there."

In any event, Wilbur said, "Tet put all that in abatement. Tet happens and it's 'Don't give me all this ICEX crap. Go out and get the guys with the guns.'

Tet propelled the PRU into conventional-type small-unit infantry tactics, which, really, they felt more comfortable with than this sophisticated mission, which was elusive and illusionary.

'There's a VC squad in the woods! Let's go get 'em!' It was a more tangible and interesting thing to do. It's easier to go on an ambush."

This dissolution of the PRU, according to Wilbur, marked the beginning of the end of the program. "People began perceiving them as a strike force, a shock troop sort of thing," he said, adding,

"With Tet, the PRU got visible. They produced staggering statistics, which became attractive for manipulation and distraction. The objectives started becoming slogans."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless of why it happened, Tet surely did throw the GVN into utmost chaos.

On January 31, 1968, thousands of VC simultaneously attacked hundreds of South Vietnam's cities and towns and in the process destroyed the credibility of the American war managers who had pointed to "the light at the end of the tunnel."

Not only did Tet pour gasoline on the smoldering antiwar movement, hastening the American withdrawal, but it also prompted the war managers to ponder how the VCI could mount such a massive campaign without being detected.

CIA analyst Sam Adams suggests that by lulling people into a false sense of security, imprecise estimates of VCI strength precipitated Tet. That opinion is backed by Tom McCoy, the CIA's chief of East Asian political and psychological operations, who quit the agency in November 1967 to join McCarthy's campaign.

Said McCoy: "LBJ was the victim of a military snow job. Three members of the CIA were back-channeling information, contravening the advice of McNamara, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

But "the directive from the field was to report positively," and "the CIA was outdistanced by regular channels of communication." [9]

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


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

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

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

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

It was the same all over South Vietnam, but particularly bad in Quang Tri, where the province capital was under siege for five days and everybody had been reported killed.

"The first twenty-four hours were pretty much run on adrenaline," Warren Milberg remarked when we met in 1986. "Then the fighting tailed off, and I began to realize that we had very little chance of surviving any kind of massed assault. This is when I began to burn files and make preparations for my death." [10]

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

"When the Tet offensive was over," Milberg went on, "the month of February was one of cleaning up and trying to resurrect whatever kinds of agent networks you had -- of finding out who survived." For Milberg, this meant traveling to Hue to look for Bob Hubbard, one of several CIA province officers killed during the first hours of Tet, when

the VC aimed their attacks at the CIA's interrogation centers and embassy houses.

[i] Milberg described Hue as "a scene of what Germany must have been like during the Allied bombings. I'd never seen anything like it. Fighting was still going on. You heard shots here and there. Some armor units were still in a pitched battle against the NVA in the citadel.

"What happened in Hue was pretty traumatic for me," Milberg confided.

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

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

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

Quantitative discrepancies need explaining, too. The number of persons buried in Hue, as estimated by Police Chief Doan Cong Lap and reported by Stewart Harris in the March 27, 1968, Times of London, was two hundred.

The mayor of Hue, according to Harris, found the bodies of three hundred local officials and prominent citizens in the mass grave. Stanley Karnow agrees with these figures but questions how many of the dead in the mass graves were civilians killed in the retaliatory U.S. bombardment "that also inflicted a heavy toll on the civilian population." [11]

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