"I can see light at the end of the tunnel."

- Lyndon Johnson, 1968


"President Johnson and Nixon's silence on the morality of the

Vietnam War left an indelible impression of two people who

were more preoccupied with the trappings of authority than

with the abuse of power in America and Vietnam."


THE UNITED STATES UNDERMINES THE GENEVA CONVENTION. The Viet Minh ("League for the Independence of Vietnam") attempted to regain its country from 100 years of colonialism after the French displaced Japan in 1945. By 1954 United States aid reached $1.4 billion for the French, and this constituted 78 percent of France's budget for the war. Earlier in 1945 and 1946 Ho Chi Minh wrote eight letters to Truman asking for United States aid in winning independence. None of the letters was ever acknowledged by the White House.


From 1945 to 1954 the United States government, unknown to the American people, funded the French with approximately $1.5 billion. In 1954 the Geneva Convention was not signed by the United States since it precluded any military effort to defeat the Viet Minh. The United States had strategic and economic interests in Southeast Asia, and it felt these had to be preserved. A critical area was Japan, which could never be lost to the Soviet Union. However, it was impossible for government officials to believe that Ho Chi Minh would go on and conquer Malaysia, Thailand, and eventually Japan. Ho Chi Minh's ambitions would have to be limited to Laos and Cambodia which actually were a part of Vietnam, that is, French Indo-China. Thus, Vietnam became a challenge to the validity of the domino theory.


"There were two Vietnams, north and south. They had been separate nations for centuries." -Ronald Reagan, January 1978


From the very beginning, United States involvement in Vietnam was early and heavy. Between June 1954 and June 1963, the CIA was absolutely and exclusively dominant in creating and carrying out the policies which led eventually to the Vietnam War.

In July 1954 the Geneva conference formally ended French involvement in Indo-China. On the very day that the French surrendered at Dienbienphu, President Eisenhower dispatched General Edward Lansdale to devise a clandestine plan to overthrow Ho Chi Minh's government. He became a close friend of Ngo Dinh Diem and later endorsed the "Basic Counterinsurgency Plan for Vietnam." Lansdale proposed the use of guerrillas and the formation of civic reforms in South Vietnam as ways to defeat the Viet Cong.

Also in 1954, the United States initiated an embargo against the north and blacklisted French firms doing business with them.


The United States was alone in refusing to sign the final declaration specifically because it was opposed to the negotiated settlement which precluded any further military effort to defeat the Viet Minh. There had been ample indication of American displeasure with the whole process well before the end of the conference. Two weeks earlier, Eisenhower had declared at a news conference: "I will not be a party to any treaty that makes anybody a slave; now that is all there is to it." However, the United States did issue a "unilateral declaration" in which it agreed to "refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb" the accords.


Diem announced he had no intention of participating in the planned national elections, which Ho Chi Minh and the Lao Dong were favored to win. Instead, Diem held elections only in South Vietnam, in October 1955. He won the elections with 98.2 percent of the vote. It was clear that the elections were rigged. For example, about 150,000 more people voted in Saigon than were registered.

Diem deposed Bao Dai, who had been the only other candidate, and declared South Vietnam to be an independent nation called the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), with himself as president and Saigon as its capital. Vietnamese Communists and many non-Communist Vietnamese nationalists saw the creation of the RVN as an effort by the United States to interfere with the independence promised at Geneva.

The Eisenhower Administration clearly undermined the Geneva Accords. By signing the accords and allowing for free elections, the United States would have supported a Vietnam free from any foreign intervention and looking forward to a Vietnam free from any aggressive operations.

As Eisenhower later revealed in his memoirs: "I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indo-China affairs who did not believe that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 percent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai."


These free elections were to be under international supervision and be held by July 1956. Consultations beginning "from July 20, 1955 onwards" were to take place. The American official statement was: "In the case of nations now divided against their will, we shall continue to seek to achieve unity through free elections supervised by the United Nations to insure that they are conducted fairly."


The CIA had no intentions of allowing democratic elections. Even the Eisenhower later stated in his memoirs that if there had been free elections, 80 percent of the Vietnamese would have voted for Ho Chi Minh. The CIA picked Diem, a former French colonial official who was living in the United States, to head South Vietnam. However, Diem had no interest in organizing political support among the population, and he refused to listen to advice from the United States. Diem did not attempt to institute any democratic reforms and instead carried out his duties by using coercion. In addition he was a Roman Catholic which was alien to most Vietnamese who practiced Buddhism.

Documents of the CIA’s most complete activities in Indo-China in the 1950s were released in the fall of 2009. The information showed that the CIA estimated as early as 1954 that the United States-appointed dictator of South Vietnam would be unable to gain the trust and support of the Vietnamese people in the South.

CIA documents also showed that Diem’s his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was essentially a CIA informant from as early as 1952. CIA documents released August 30, 2009; National Security Archive’s Electronic Briefing Book No. 283)


In the fall of 1955, the CIA under Allen Dulles bribed the primary French-leaning Vietnamese generals to resign. Simultaneously, the CIA provided the arms and leadership for Diem to crush his domestic political opponents in a mini-civil war. Many Vietnamese were resettled into “agrovilles” and the later into “strategic hamlets” which were funded by the agency.

The CIA created the secret police forces of Diem’s brother in order to prevent dissent. Between 1954 and 1963, the CIA was used to discourage public criticism of the Diem regime. (Peter Grose, The Life of Allen Dulles, 1994)

Diem's right-wing regime became a murderous and violent one. The Eisenhower administration made it clear that the United States was in Vietnam to remain there with "advisers." White House policy was one of containment, the theory that Ho Chi Minh would construct a communist regime in Vietnam; move on to capture neighboring Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Thailand; and then jump into a sampan and leapfrog across the far Pacific and conquer Taiwan and Japan. That never happened.


Meanwhile, Ho was implementing a covert operation of his own in the north. In 1957 he began to build a clandestine organization that was responsible for carrying out a propaganda program, recruiting cadres, and planning attacks. Hanoi unleashed a southern campaign aimed at village government officials. The American government estimated that approximately 2,500 assassinations took place in South Vietnam in 1959, nearly double the number from the year before.


KENNEDY'S SECRET WAR. When Kennedy took office in 1961, the American allies in Laos and South Vietnam were on the verge of collapse. Kennedy accepted a de facto settlement in Laos, but he chose to escalate American involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy surrounded himself with advisers who advocated a type of warfare at a controlled level: using covert operations to conduct localized warfare. His inner circle shared his philosophy. Robert McNamara, former head of the Ford Motor Company, became secretary of defense. Having no political experience, McNamara was easily convinced that the military should run covert operations in Vietnam. General Maxwell Taylor was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But Kennedy and Taylor fought each other on the issue of using the military to conduct covert activities in North Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy was appointed special assistant for national security affairs. Walt Rostow was Bundy's deputy and eventually succeeded him. Both Rostow and Bundy supported Kennedy's approach to the Vietnam dilemma. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy also lobbied for counterinsurgency operations.


The fight to come dealt with several matters. Should the Kennedy administration send more military personnel to South Vietnam? Should American involvement be expanded to include covert actions in North Vietnam? If so, should the CIA or should the military have jurisdiction for carrying out black operations? The NSC assigned the intricacies of implementing policies relating to propaganda, economic warfare, sabotage, and other subversive actions. But Kennedy would soon give that task to the unwilling Pentagon.


At Kennedy's first National Security Council meeting on January 28, 1961 -- just eight days after he was inaugurated -- the discussion revolved solely around the quandary in Vietnam. While most of the top brass in the Pentagon despised Kennedy, he find an ally in General Edward Lansdale. An outcast among his peers, Lansdale remained loyal to the president. When Kennedy suggested that he be named ambassador to South Vietnam, the Pentagon was furious since previously he had worked for in secret warfare operations for the CIA in the Philippines. He also had been adversely characterized in the Ugly American. The Pentagon advocated that the slot should be filled by a statesman, not one who had been associated with illegal operations. Subsequently, the Pentagon convinced Kennedy to consider another appointee.


The next month, Lansdale was chosen to establish and lead the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (OATSD). As head of OATSD, Lansdale was given the responsibility for meeting with the NSC's Committee 5412 which later was renamed the 303 Committee. His immediate superior was the deputy secretary of defense who was McNamara's representative to Committee 5412. As a result, Lansdale and other Pentagon leaders sparred over the role of the military in black operations in Vietnam. In an attempt to silence Lansdale, the JCS created the Office of the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) a year later. SACSA gave the impression that the Pentagon was committed to running covert operations in Vietnam. Marine Major Victor Krulak was assigned to head the SACSA, and he played a key role in dismantling OATSD and the resignation of Lansdale.


At the January 28 NSC meeting, Kennedy also created a task force to inquire about the use of the CIA in covert operations inside North Vietnam. The task force studied the consequences of sending agent teams and individual agents into the north. Their objective would be to gather intelligence and to conduct psychological warfare by using radio stations, newspapers, and pamphlets to distribute anti-communist propaganda.


Four months later in May, the task force finished its study and concluded that part of South Vietnam had been infiltrated by communist operants, and it recommended military, political, psychological, economic, and clandestine actions to counter the growing force. Consequently, Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 52 for action to be taken.


The CIA soon resorted to covert CIA activities, including paramilitary operations in Vietnam. The CIA used Pacific bases to train South Vietnamese in guerrilla tactics. The agency created military support facilities in the Philippines. And it began smuggling arms and military equipment into Vietnam and storing them in hidden locations.


In the spring of 1961, the Bay of Pigs fiasco unfolded and CIA Director Dulles was forced out. Kennedy came to the conclusion that the CIA was inefficient and that the agency could not be trusted. The president believed that only the military had the expertise in special warfare. Two months later, Kennedy issued NSAM 55, 56, and 57 which transferred the executive branch's responsibility for conducting unconventional warfare operations from the CIA to the Pentagon. NSAM 55 eliminated exclusive CIA authority over planning and executing covert paramilitary operations. NSAM 56 gave authority to the secretary of defense inventory the paramilitary assets in the armed forces and to determine where the implementation of policy would require using indigenous forces. And most important, NSAM 57 assembled the bureaucratic ground rules for planning and executing paramilitary operations by the CIA and Defense Department.


A special counterinsurgency group was created in January 1962 when Kennedy issued NSAM 124 which established a viable policy on fighting a non-conventional war and developed an inter-agency program to implement such a program. At the White House level, the 303 Committee was assigned control of covert and paramilitary operations across the globe, and it focused on coordinating the infiltration of North Vietnam from 1961 to 1962.


In February, the White House established the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) which was assigned responsibility for all military activities in Vietnam. But the Kennedy White House soon made Vietnam a secondary issue when the Cuban missile crisis erupted. Meanwhile, North Vietnam stepped up the movement of troops through Laos and along the Ho Chi Minh trail to the south. In June 1962 alone, 1,500 troops moved into Laos and proceeded southward into South Vietnam. The situation in Laos not only became a serious problem for the administration because of the Ho Chi Minh trail, but because of increased hostility -- which first broke out in 1959 -- between the leftist Pathet Lao headed by Prince Souphanovong and the Royal Lao government headed by his half-brother, Prince Souvanna Phouma. By 1962, it had expanded into a full scale civil war in northwest Laos.

Kennedy's "secret war" became less and less a secret. American officials announced that air force pilots were involved in combat missions. The media reported that American pilots were taking the initiative in South Vietnam by using helicopters with more firepower than any World War II fighter plane. According to White House advisor George McBundy, "Intelligence and sabotage forays were underway in North Vietnam since mid-1962."


In 1962, Kennedy made plans to withdraw American forces from Vietnam by 1965. Deliberations in the Kennedy administration were later revealed in the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg. In 1962, a White House analyst was quoted in the Pentagon Papers as saying, "At the request of the President, the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) undertook to reexamine the situation (in Vietnam) and address himself to its future with a view to assuring that it be brought to a successful conclusion within a reasonable time." McNamara called for "phasing out major United States advisory and logistic support activities." He went on and stated that "it would take three years instead of one, that is, by the end of 1965." McNamara also said that "it might be difficult to retain public support for United States operations in Vietnam indefinitely" and that it was necessary "to phase out United States military involvement." The JCS ordered preparation to implement this White House decision.


In January 1963, the JCS stated that "the phase-out of the United States special military operations generally occurring during the period July 1965-June 1966." A few days later the JCS supported their original statement by saying that "a concurrent phase-out of United States support personnel (would leave) a Military Assistance Advisory Group of about 1,600 personnel" by 1965.


Thus, the core issue in the Kennedy administration revolved around his decision to withdraw American troops. Perhaps he was assassinated for this reason. Kennedy stated that he would appoint his brother to be the new director of the CIA and that he would "shred it (the CIA) into a thousand pieces." Two years earlier, Kennedy had fired top military personnel for their failure in the Bay of Pigs. Some alleged that he would dismantle the military-industrial complex, end the Cold War, and establish rapprochement with Latin America with his newly created Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress.


In September 1963, Kennedy agreed that Diem should be overthrown. On August 28, Kennedy "asked the Defense Department to come up with ways of building anti-Diem forces in Saigon." He "called on his advisors to devise actions in Washington which would maximize the chances of the rebel generals." Advisors Roger Hilsman, George Ball, and Robert Kennedy "agreed that we cannot win the war unless Diem is removed," and Secretary of State Dean Rusk warned Kennedy that "Nhu (Diem) might call on the North Vietnamese to help him throw out the Americans." Robert Kennedy suggested that the Pope should inform Cardinal Diem, the leader's brother, that he should abdicate. President Kennedy sent General Maxwell Taylor and McNamara to Vietnam to prepare a report which justified the removal of all American personnel.


Tape recorded conversations between Kennedy and McNamara were released in July 1997. According to the tapes, on October 2, 1963, McNamara again urged Kennedy to begin the withdrawal of 1,000 American advisers. He stated that the Vietnamese should be trained to take over "essential functions now performed by United States military personnel" by the end of 1965, and that "the Defense Department should announce the plans to withdraw 1,000 United States personnel by the end of 1963" as "an initial step in a long-term program to replace United States personnel with trained Vietnamese without impairment of the war effort." To Kennedy, withdrawal of American troops was essential. He believed that any significant slowing of this process would have a serious effect on American public support. The Defense Department secretary suggested that the 16,000 American advisers could be replaced by Canadian personnel, who "would take over the essential functions" of training the South Vietnamese army. McNamara suggested to Kennedy that there should be "an increase in the military tempo" so that American forces could withdraw by no later than 1965. Kennedy issued NSAM 263 which was the official blueprint for the withdrawal of Americans from Vietnam.


Even though Kennedy made plans for the evacuation of American forces, he was still deeply entrenched in Vietnam while continuing to battle the Pentagon. The JCS fought Kennedy's demands to turn the covert operations of the war over to the military and have it develop special warfare capabilities. In the fall of 1962, Taylor recommended to the National Security Council's 303 Committee, which had policy oversight of covert missions, to broaden the CIA's role in North Vietnam. However, he did not propose that the military be assigned the task of escalating clandestine operations against Ho's government.


Taylor sent Army chief of staff Earl Wheeler to Saigon in January 1963 to gather information and to assess paramilitary and clandestine requirements in Vietnam. Even though Taylor opposed the proposal for the Pentagon to assume authority over all covert operations in Vietnam, he offered Kennedy a compromise package. The JCS chief recommended that the Pentagon coordinate covert activities with the CIA. The president was delighted to hear the suggestion. But no one in the Pentagon wanted to take responsibility for overseeing the black operations.


In May 1963, the JCS directed the Pacific Command to initiate the development of clandestine operations against Ho's government. Admiral Harry Felt lobbied to commence hit-and-run missions along the coast of North Vietnam, and the Pacific Command submitted OPLAN 34A to Taylor on June 17. Taylor approved the plan in early September but stalled on it. The Pentagon chiefs still were reluctant to take over black operations. The JCS not only believed that covert operations in Vietnam were unnecessary, but they anticipated that if something went wrong with the missions, they would be blamed for the failure, as they had been two years before at the Bay of Pigs. Taylor waited two months until he was pressured into submitting the proposal to McNamara on September 9.


A month later Diem was assassinated in Saigon, and the following month Kennedy, too, was dead.


MACVSOG and JOHNSON'S CLANDESTINE OPERATIONS. The day after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson received his first briefing on Vietnam. He was told that the government of South Vietnam was in disarray and close to anarchy, particulary since Diem had been assassinated just a few weeks earlier. The new president was also informed that the Viet Cong were gaining more support throughout South Vietnam.


Johnson was in a quandary. If he chose to get out of Vietnam, the American public would perceive him as being soft on communism. If he decided to dig in, conservatives in Congress would use the cost of the war as an excuse to cut appropriations for the Great Society. And most important, the presidential election was less than a year away.


On November 26, Johnson chose the most pragmatic course. He said that he would continue Kennedy's aggressive covert policy by signing NSAM 273. This authorized the escalation of covert operations against North Vietnam. It also opened the door for full implementation of OP 34A by significantly allowing for the escalation of the black war in North Vietnam. It also opened the door for expanding the covert war into Laos which was used by the NVA to send forces to the south. Provision 8 of NSAM 273 called for operating up to 50 kilometers in Laos.


Johnson's first objective was to Hanoi to terminate its activities in the south. Second, Johnson hoped to direct psychological operations against the population as a whole. And third, he hoped that an increase in paramilitary operations would indicate the seriousness of a subversive force within North Vietnam. Consequently, Johnson hoped that Ho would realize that the situation was grave and that would encourage him to withdraw from Laos and South Vietnam. Now his advisors, previously dovish aides to Kennedy, changed course and advocated strikes against North Vietnam, since they believed that operations in the south were futile.


On December 21, Johnson and McNamara met with CIA Director John McCone to discuss OP 34A. They decided to choose black operations which would promise the most with the least risk. Krulak was designated to form a committee to assess a plan. First, the committee assessed the extent to which Hanoi might retaliate by increasing the war. Second, it evaluated the degree to which executing covert activities in the north might lead to a negative reaction by the international community. Krulak concluded that 34A need to be scaled down in order to comply with the Johnson administration's "least risk" policy. In January 1964 Johnson approved the recommendations from the Krulak committee.


The next month, Johnson authorized OP 34A that expanded CIA-approved covert operations in North Vietnam.


In The Secret War against Hanoi, Richard Shutz, Jr. traces SOG's missions into North Vietnam and later into Laos and Cambodia. SOG's objective was to send covert teams into the north to conduct deception programs; carry out psychological warfare; run small boats up the North Vietnamese coast; and disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail. SOG had three groups that supported these missions. The Air Studies Branch included all the aircraft -- tactical aircraft, helicopters, and transport planes -- assigned to its missions and based in South Vietnam and Thailand. The Logistics Division worked with the Army's Counterinsurgency Support Office and the CIA's Far East office, both of which were located in Okinawa.


General William Westmoreland concurred with the Pentagon that black operations under SOG's command would provide little benefit in fighting Hanoi. For the next six months, the military command paid little attention to SOG. Admiral Harry Felt continued to run a few hit-and-run missions along the North Vietnamese coast, but black operations into the heart of the north were ignored by the Pentagon.

In January 1964, LBJ expanded CIA-approved covert operations in North Vietnam. The Army's Counterinsurgency Support Office worked with the CIA's Far East office, both of which were located in Okinawa. They sent covert teams into North Vietnam to conduct deception programs:

1. Run small boats up the North Vietnamese coast

2. Disrupted the Ho Chi Minh trail

3. Duplicated North Vietnam Army (NVA) uniforms

4. Set booby traps and wiretapping devices in the north

5. Contaminated rice fields

6. Rigged ammunition so it would misfire or blow up in the faces of NVA soldiers. Teams carried the doctored ammunition on missions and planted it on bodies of dead NVA soldiers or scattered it around where NVA teams would operate.

7. Pilots dropped radios into North Vietnam. The radio deception consisted of broadcasting false information -- such as the enormous size of its covert teams. For example, messages were broadcast to existing teams and instructed the operants how to link up with other groups which never did exist.

However, the size of the SOG teams was miniscule. Between April 1964 and October 1967, 40 agent teams and several individual operants were in the north. The four-agent teams assigned to North Vietnam were code-named Bell, Remus, Tourbillon, and Easy. A fifth team, which had been under the jurisdiction of the CIA until February, was code-named Europa, and those operants were transferred out of the north when SOG took over operations.

Eagle team members were inserted by the Chinese border on June 27, 1964. Their mission was to conduct sabotage operations on North Vietnamese highways, railroad lines, and an air base. They never finished their mission and were ordered to move southward. Then SOG lost contact with them soon afterwards.


The ten-man Romeo team arrived by helicopter just north of the DMZ. The were instructed to gather intelligence concerning military traffic on highways and to carry out sabotage and harassment activities. SOG later reported that Romeo failed to furnish them with information during 1967 and 1968.


Hadley infiltrated the north by crossing the DMZ. The team's objective was to monitor highway traffic on roads that led into Laos and to report on troop movements and to help American planes target NVA vehicles. But a large part of their activities was to evade NVA detection. They did report back to SOG but no information was useful in identifying potential air-strike targets.


Team Tourbillon landed just northeast of Hanoi near the Laotian border. And the last group inserted into the north was Red Dragon. On September 21, 1967 the seven-man team was flown into the Red River Valley just south of China. Both were to conduct sabotage and intelligence missions, but they likewise were unproductive. Radio contact with Red Dragon ended a year later in 1969. Some SOG officials believed that they were captured and were forced to work for the north as double-agents.


To implement the program, pilots dropped radios into North Vietnam. They were preset to transmit two black radio programs: Voice of SSPL and Radio Red Flag. The radio deception consisted of broadcasting false information -- such as the enormous size -- about its covert teams. For example, messages were broadcast to existing teams and instructed the operants how to link up with other groups which never did exist.


Some of the SOG teams received new agents while operating in North Vietnam. Tourbillon received fresh operants in 1962, twice in 1964, and once again in 1965, 1966, and 1967. Remus was reinforced four times and Easy five times. All the reinforcements were either captured or killed by the NVA. The SOG believed that the captured agents were forced to conduct double-cross operations for Hanoi by sending back disinformation. The CIA ran the same operation, capturing NVA soldiers and kidnapping North Vietnam civilians, and using cooperative ones as double-agents. By 1967, only seven teams -- Eagle, Hadley, Red Dragon, and Romeo -- and a singleton agent were still functioning in North Vietnam.


In late 1967, SOG added two new short term reconnaissance teams and target acquisition teams to its operations. OP 34 added a new diversionary program -- creating the false impression that many of its agents had been compromised. Analysts thought that Hanoi was conducting counterespionage operations against SOG members who became double-agents. The diversionary program was code-named Forae, and SOG hoped to convince North Vietnam that subversion within its government was much greater than they thought.


By 1968, OP 34 had three segments: OP 34A which was responsible for agent teams operating in the north; OP 34B which consisted of strata operations; and OP 34C whose goal was to carry out diversionary operations. According to OP 34A, the agents were to establish a resistance group in North Vietnam, but it was never officially approved by Washington. As a result, their objective was changed to intelligence gathering, psychological warfare, and sabotage. But the agents were ordered not to establish contact with the civilian population, making it nearly impossible to accomplish their goals. Later their mission was changed again, and they were instructed to make civilian contacts. However, SOG operations in the north were relatively unsuccessful.


Since the covert teams operating in North Vietnam were highly unsuccessful, on March 14, 1968 the commander of MACV, General William Westmoreland, approved a new diversionary program known as Forae. The main purpose of Forae was to convince Hanoi that there were more covert teams operating in the north than actually existed. The objective was to force Ho's government to divert the NVA's attention from South Vietnam and to convince Hanoi's leadership that security at home was their primary problem. That would compel Hanoi to rein back its effort to continue to infiltrate the south with NVA troops.


The first three key projects were code-named Borden, Urgency, and Oodles. The goal of Borden was to recruit NVA prisoners of war as SOG agents. The plan was to take POWs to American holding areas, train them as agents, and send them back to the north. The Americans provided false information -- such as the enormous build-up of SOG teams and the growing number of resistance groups -- to the POWs. Once they were returned to the north, SOG knew that they would be interrogated by the NVA and that they would pass on that false information to the Hanoi government. Thus, the POWs would unknowingly serve the objectives of OP 34 without realizing it. Ninety-eight NVA detainees were used for the project throughout 1968. And 44 of them were returned to the north.


Urgency was responsible for two operations. First, these teams worked with only hard-core, uncooperative North Vietnamese civilians or soldiers who were kidnapped or captured. They were taken to Paradise Island where they thought they were being "indoctrinated." SOG tried to impress upon them that the American trusted them to be part of a resistance group known as the Sacred Sword of the Patriots League. Meanwhile, Urgency agents sewed false messages into the seams of their clothing. They were given a crash course on the use of a parachute, flown back into the north, and dropped less than a day's walk from a city. SOG knew that they would be interrogated and searched and that the messages would be retrieved by the interrogators. The notations included a number of false espionage activities. For example, some notes contained the names of North Vietnamese "informants" who actually sided with the NVA. Presumably, they would be wisked away by interrogators. Others falsely named areas in the north where resistance groups and SOG teams were operating.


The second objective of Urgency was also a deceptive program. SOG took cooperative prisoners -- or at least ones whom they thought could be trusted -- to Paradise Island. They tried to convince them that they would be trusted. Subsequently, they were given false information about subversive operations in North Vietnam and returned to their homeland where SOG hoped they would pass on that information to authorities.


Radio deception was assigned to the third element of Forae known as Oodles. The program was designed to portray an extensive network of agents in selected areas of North Vietnam. OP 34 sent false radio messages were sent to SOG teams. These included reinforcement missions, supply drop zones, and even messages from "family members" on a special occasion such as on one of the agent's birthday. Zoodles was also responsible for dropping "supply" packages into areas were the NVA would be certain to find them. But they were merely empty packages, giving the NVA the idea that the contents had been retrieved by the teams.


Forae developed three other projects in 1968 -- Uranolite, Pollack, and Sanitaries. Project Uranolite consisted of inserting harassing devices in North Vietnam to divert NVN security. Planes dropped boxes which contained only papers or imprints that indicated that they contained some highly sophisticated intelligence equipment, assassination equipment, or explosives which already had been retrieved by SOG teams. Pollack's goal was to incriminate NVA officials by sending them incriminating letters through double-agents or pseudo-agents who had infiltrated the military. SOG again hoped that the NVA would be diverted to security problems in the north. Pollack terminated operations in November 1968. Sanitaries expanded the fictitious resistance movement known as the Sacred Sword of the Patriots League. It was designed to convince Hanoi that resistance groups were proliferating in the north.


SOG's diversionary program presumably caught Hanoi's attention. North Vietnamese radio stations and newspapers revealed some worry about its espionage and subversion. Then in November 1968, Washington ordered all operations stopped. The collapse of the diversionary program was a result of the devastating defeats the United States suffered in South Vietnamese cities during the Tet offensive. Even though as many as 40,000 NVA and VC soldiers were killed during Tet, it was a gigantic shock to the Johnson administration. The White goal quickly changed. It was no longer winning the war; it became how to get out gracefully.


In December 1964, SOG was ordered to escalate covert maritime operations in North Vietnam. During all of 1965, SOG carried out 170 missions that originated in Danang harbor. SOG swift boats and "Nasties" attacked coastal targets as well as North Vietnamese gun boats and some civilian fishing junks. Additionally, 126 North Vietnamese fishermen were kidnapped and taken to Paradise Island as part of the SOG's Sacred Sword of the Patriots League indoctrination program. They were given giving propaganda leaflets, pre-tuned radios, and gift kits. In 1965 alone, SOG distributed about 1,000 radios, 28,742 gift kits, and over one million leaflets to civilians whom they encountered or kidnapped. The next year, 353 prisoners were taken to Paradise Island.


However, the SOG's maritime raids -- much like its covert operations inside North Vietnam -- were a dismal failure. As the Ho government increased its coastal defenses, it became more difficult for swift boats to penetrate into the north and hit their targets. In addition the SOG boat crews, manned by South Vietnamese, were reluctant to engage the enemy. In 1967 151 coastal missions were undertaken by SOG, and only 125 were completed. Three hundred and twenty-eight more North Vietnamese were captured and taken to Paradise Island.


Overall, SOG missions along the coast as well as inside North Vietnam failed to disrupt Ho's government. Several factors contributed to the failure of CIA operations in North Vietnam. According to Richard Shultz, Jr. (The Secret War against Hanoi), first, the CIA was forced to compete with the repressive South Vietnamese government in selecting agents to infiltrate the north. Second, when covert teams infiltrated the north, there were no intelligence networks. The CIA did not focus on any single area and had no plans to expand. Third, the teams relied on air drops, but the CIA air assets were limited. Fourth, the teams were given little in the way of false identification and documents in the event that they were captured. And fifth, there was no viable way to prevent North Vietnamese agents from infiltrating their teams.


THE TONKIN INCIDENT. As early as 1961, Commander Harry Felt, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command, suggested that the CIA commence sea operations against North Vietnam. He felt that Hanoi was vulnerable to covert coastline operations and that small craft could be used to destroy power plants, bridges, and railroad lines along North Vietnam's coast. The CIA put Tucker Gougelmann in charge of setting up a small fleet in Danang harbor. The Pentagon provided him with PT-810 and PT-811 boats that were armed with 40mm and 20mm guns. The craft were renamed "Patrol Type Fast (PTF)-1" and "PTF-2." Two years later, two PTF-3 and PTF-4 boats were procured.


Two years before SOG was authorized to conduct covert activities in North Vietnam, the United States Navy was conducting covert intelligence operations off the coast China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea. The objective was to intercept communications from the mainland. In 1964 American destroyers were sent into the Tonkin Gulf and to conduct similar operations off the coast of North Vietnam.


In March 1962, Kennedy authorized the Navy to conduct espionage operations in the Tonkin Gulf. Code-named Operation DeSoto Its initial purpose was to collect information on China and North Vietnam. Two months after Johnson became president, he approved "34-A" operations in conducting raids off the North Vietnamese coast. Desoto's role was expanded to provide intelligence for 34-A operations which consisted of sabotaging bridges, roads, and railroads. In addition, some facilities on the North Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Hon Ngu were shelled by Navy ships.


Johnson was getting deeper and deeper into Vietnam. On March 14, a Johnson adviser stressed the need "to take whatever measures are necessary in Southeast Asia to protect those who oppose the communists and to maintain our power and influence in the area, including whatever military steps may be necessary to halt communist aggression in the area."


Since 34-A operations were ineffective, the Pentagon planned an increase in Navy surveillance in the Tonkin Gulf for August. The purpose was to determine the amount of North Vietnamese coastal patrol activity along its coast. On July 30, four patrol boats headed northward from Danang to bomb enemy targets. When they reached a point just southeast of Hon Me in North Vietnam, they split into pairs and attacked artillery emplacements and military buildings. Two boats attacked Hon Me and the other two shelled Hon Nieu. They headed back southward, pursued by North Vietnamese gun boats.


On another occasion, the destroyer USS Maddox was operating in international waters in the Tonkin Gulf and passed by four North Vietnamese patrol boats. The following day, they attacked the Maddox which returned gunfire, sinking one boat and damaging the others. Johnson then ordered the USS Turner Joy to accompany the Maddox.


Several days later -- on August 4 -- the Maddox and Turner Joy reported that they were fired upon. Captain Herrick of the Maddox reported that enemy torpedoes were picked up on radar and sonar. Throughout the stormy night, the Maddox fired back. However, within two days Herrick realized that there was no enemy fire. He concluded that his ship's radar had picked up blips from electricity in the air and that the ship's sonar heard noises from their own propellers. The attack on the Maddox had never occurred. However, Johnson still went ahead and informed Congress and the American people that they had been attacked. This was an overt act of war. Days later Congress approved the Tonkin Resolution, giving Johnson unlimited power to carry out his own war. Within two years 550,000 American were assigned to Vietnam.


The ground invasion of Vietnam intensified immediately after the Tonkin resolution. In February 1965, the United States extended its strikes into North Vietnam, tripling its bombings. Between 1964 and 1965, 160,000 to 170,000 civilians were killed in South Vietnam. The United States secretly extended the war into Laos and Cambodia. By 1966, 161,000 tons had dropped on Vietnam and there were 30,000 civilian casualties, with 1,000 being killed or wounded per week.


Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind." - General William Westmoreland


According to National Security Agency (NSA) secret documents declassified in October 2005, the agency falsified records so that they made it look as if North Vietnam had attacked American destroyers on August 4, 1964. That was two days after a previous clash. (Washington Post, November 2, 2005)

Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress to authorize broad military action in Vietnam, but most historians have concluded in recent years that there was no second attack.

In the translation of a phrase in an August 4 North Vietnamese transmission, the phrase, “We sacrificed two comrades” was incorrectly translated as “We sacrificed two ships.” This was an apparent reference to casualties during the clash with American ships on August 2. The phrase was used to suggest that the North Vietnamese were reporting the loss of ships in a new battle August 4. (Washington Post, November 2, 2005)

Surprisingly, much of the reporting of the Vietnam War was uncensored. The media were allowed to travel to many areas and to report and photograph many incidents which since have been carefully monitored. Even a South Vietnamese colonel was caught on camera executing a South Vietnamese suspect in the streets of Saigon.


THE MY LAI MASSACRE. In 1967, the village of My Lai was attacked by Lieutenant William Calley, after his platoon waited outside the hamlet for several weeks. Calley assumed that the 88th battalion of the Viet Cong was based in My Lai, but no one came out to confront Calley's men. He waited for nearly two weeks, and still there was total silence in the hamlet. Then he ordered his combat soldiers to invade.


Between 400 and 500 innocent people -- mainly women and children -- were taken to a dry creek bed and murdered. Two hours before the massacre ended, helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and two other crew members flew over My Lai while his comrades were savagely beating and killing the hamlet's civilians. He stated that there "wasn't an enemy soldier in sight." At the same time, another company, which was attached to Task Force Barker, marched three miles to the east into the hamlet of My Khe 5 and killed approximately 90 other people.


Defying a senior officer, Thompson evacuated 10 civilians to safety. He then landed his helicopter and rescued a baby who was lying in a ditch among dead bodies. The killing spree only stopped after Thompson returned to his base and told his commanding officer what had happened.


For 18 months, the massacre was kept secret. When the American public heard of these atrocities, there was pressure to court-martial the perpetrators. However, Calley was the only fall man. Charges against Captain Ernest Medina and Colonel Oren Henderson were dropped, even though there were eyewitnesses, including Thompson, who saw Medina shoot civilians. Calley was convicted on only 22 murder counts and was sentenced to only three years of confinement on a military base.


In 1997, a bitter feud developed over whether to give Thompson the Soldier's Medal for bravery. In December 1997, he was awarded the medal. However, the ceremony took place in privacy and not in public at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where Thompson would have preferred it.


THE PHOENIX PROGRAM. In the mid-1960s, the CIA developed the Phoenix Program under agents Shackley and Clines, who had been operating in Laos to destabilize that government in the 1960s. CIA chief William Colby admitted that between 1968 and 1971 the United States with the aid of the South Vietnam government killed 20,587 suspects who were believed to have cooperated with the National Liberation Front (NLF) and Viet Cong. The South Vietnamese government credited the Phoenix Program with killing 40,994 suspects.


According to the official United States report, the intelligence-military-police (US-GVN) stated that they had succeeded in "neutralizing" some "84,000 Viet Cong infrastructure" with 21,000 killed. Local officials decided to kill 80 percent of the suspects, but American advisers convinced them to publicly state that only 50 percent had been killed. A United States intelligence adviser stated that when he arrived in the Mekong Delta, he was given a list of 200 names of people to be killed. When he left six months later, 260 had been killed. However, none of the suspects, whom he had named, was on that list.


The Phoenix raids employed the services of the Khmer Kampuchean Kram (KKK) which consisted of anti-communist Cambodians and drug smugglers. This death squad was a favorite of Nixon. When there was a move to terminate funding, Nixon objected, the funds were promptly restored, and the indiscriminate murders continued.


The CIA also administered hallucinogenic drugs while interrogating some of the suspects. In one experiment, three prisoners were given an anesthetic and their skulls were opened. Doctors placed electrodes in different parts of their brains and were observed by CIA psychiatrists who hoped that they would attack one another. The experiment failed; the electrodes were removed and used for subsequent tests; and the prisoners were shot and their bodies were burned.


COVERT OPERATIONS IN LAOS AND CAMBODIA. For two years SOG refused to allow agents to cross the border into Laos. It had been discussed when OP 34A was initiated, but some military advisers opposed its implementation since it violate the 1962 Geneva Accords which prohibited crossing over into Laos. But in March 1964, the JCS convinced McNamara to lift the restriction when he was told that North Vietnam had increased troop deployment through Laos and along the Ho Chi Minh trail. In the summer of 1964, SOG was given the responsibility for carrying out reconnaissance team operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. As NVA traffic along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos increased, SOG established OP 35 in the summer of 1965. It was given the authority to cross over into Laos and to conduct clandestine operations on the eastern front. North Vietnam's expansion of the trail created numerous targets for OP 35 teams to pinpoint for air strikes. Furthermore, the NVA had been operating out in the open, since nothing was done by the United States to interdict traffic. So SOG was confident that its mission into Laos would be successful.


OP 35 had headquarters in Saigon with a detachment stationed in Danang. From South Vietnam's two largest cities, SOG personnel coordinated the movement of teams into Laos. The first reconnaissance teams were located at a forward operating base in Kham Duc near the Laotian border. Five reconnaissance teams -- Iowa, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, and Dakota -- were assigned to it in late 1965. At first, the teams could only enter Laos by foot and not by helicopter. The border between Laos and South Vietnam ran for 200 miles, but the teams had orders to cross along a portion of the border beginning 50 miles south of the DMZ. The next year, the teams were restricted even more when orders came that they could not penetrate beyond five kilometers into Laos.


As a result of the restrictions, the teams provided virtually no intelligence reports on NVA movement to SOG. Consequently, Pentagon gave the reconnaissance teams more latitude, allowing them to cross any portion of the 200 mile long border and to increase the number of their missions. OP 35 consisted of a three-phase program. First, the teams' goal was to identify NVA headquarters, base camps, and supply caches --- and then they ordered air strikes. SOG teams brought back substantial evidence of NVA activities that could not be detected by aerial photographs. Additionally, the teams captured some NVA soldiers and rescued American pilots who had been shot down.


Second, OP 35 permitted the deployment of large companies of American troops into Laos after enemy positions were identified by the reconnaissance teams. And third, OP 35 teams recruited indigenous tribesmen along the way and organized resistance groups for long range operations against the NVA. This third phase relied on White Star whose objective was to train Kha tribesmen in guerrilla warfare to fight the leftist Pathet Lao. In 1966 OP 35 carried out 111 reconnaissance missions.


OP 35 was expanded by McNamara in June 1967, and the number of missions more than doubled. But the number of Americans who died rose from three in 1966 to 42 in 1967. The Muscle Shoals project was implemented in 1967. Reconnaissance teams were sent into Laos to inject electronic sensors to monitor the movement of NVA troops in Laos. Most of the sensors were dropped by American aircraft, but some were hand-carried by reconnaissance teams and placed in strategic areas in the vicinity of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The American teams were also used to rescue personnel who were captured by the NVA or who were stranded inside Laos.


Hanoi countered in late 1966 by deploying NVA soldiers alongside the Laotian border in areas which were likely spots for American helicopters to drop off reconnaissance teams. The NVA also studied SOG's operational patterns, mapped their routes, and learned the night time conditions necessary to insert teams. Hanoi also stepped up special operations forces to attack reconnaissance teams.


OP 35's assignment was expanded in 1967 when they were ordered to insert reconnaissance teams into Cambodia to conduct intelligence missions, and to locate enemy targets and call for air strikes. The first SOG teams crossed the South Vietnam border as part of Operation Salem House, but because of constraints, their successes were rare. They were able to verify some enemy locations, infiltration routes, and supply areas.


In 1969, 454 reconnaissance teams were sent into Cambodia, the same year that Nixon began secretly bombing the "Bamboo Pentagon." Soon thereafter, Nixon announced his Vietnamization policy. In 1970, 150,000 American combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. The reduction of American troops had no bearing on the reconnaissance teams in Laos. However, the SOG teams assigned to Cambodia were affected by Nixon's mandate. Before Vietnamization, Operation Binh Tay provided for joint American-ARVN incursions into Cambodia to pursue Viet Cong forces who sought sanctuary after strikes in South Vietnam. But soon after Nixon's withdrawal policy went into effect, American combat forces were not allowed to enter Cambodia, and that left the poorly trained and equipped ARVN troops to operate alone.


In 1970 Salem House carried out 577 missions in Cambodia, but only 40 percent of the reconnaissance teams remained in Cambodia. Then Nixon accelerated the timetable for troop withdrawal, reducing the total number of American combat soldiers in South Vietnam to 75,000 by the end of 1971, so the impact of Salem House became negligible.


Nixon expected a major offensive by the NVA in 1972 as large numbers of Americans were sent home. His aides suspected that Hanoi's offensive would be launched from Laos. Also, 1972 was an election year.


General Creighton Abrams committed ARVN's best units to Lam Son 719. They were sent alongside the South Vietnam-Laos border just east of the DMZ with instructions to sever the Ho Chi Minh trail along Route 9. SOG argued that ARVN could not resist NVA forces, but Abrams made the decision to set up a stronghold. Abrams ordered SOG to conduct diversionary activities for the NVA just west of Khe Sanh, SOG teams dropped dummy parachutists with exploding devices. Teams also used diversionary methods to trick Hanoi into thinking that more reconnaissance groups were being inserted.


For six weeks ARVN took a brutal beating at the hands of the waiting NVA forces. Half of ARVN troops were casualties. And bad weather prevented air strikes by American pilots. The American media portrayed the Laotian incursion as a catastrophe and showed that Vietnamization was doomed to fail. Still the Nixon administration boasted of the success of Lam Son 719. From January 1971 to March 1972, OP 35 conducted useless 474 missions, 278 of which were inside the borders of South Vietnam.


By the end of 1971, SOG advised MACV that a massive NVA strike would occur. However, they could not pinpoint where the invasion would occur. On March 30, 1972 Hanoi used heavy artillery and tanks to launch a gigantic conventional invasion of the south. 120,000 NVA troops attacked across the DMZ, in the central highlands, and from Cambodia.


Beginning in January, plans were being made to terminate the entire SOG program. Finally on April 30, SOG was permanently shut down when an order from the Pacific Command directed that all its programs be transferred to South Vietnam's Strategic Technical Directorate. Over the years, OP 35 had three detachments that totaled 110 officers and 615 enlisted personnel. Each detachment had about 30 reconnaissance teams. Ninety-five percent involved operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail. SOG lost a total of 300 men on missions most of which went into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. When Hanoi released 591 American POWs in April 1973, not one SOG person was among them. Most of them presumably died in fire fights with the NVA. As many as 20 may have been captured. That became the legacy of SOG.


In well over ten years of warfare in Vietnam, the United States:


Dropped eight million tons of bombs.


Dropped 400,000 tons of napalm. Destroyed over 40 percent of Vietnam's plantations and orchards.


Sprayed 12 to 15 million gallons of Agent Orange. In 1990, an official U.S. report concluded that there was no cancer caused by Agent Orange. The tests had been conducted on Americans stationed on ships off the coast of Vietnam.


Left ten million people were homeless.


Killed three to four million people, including Cambodians and Laotians. Congress unknowingly funded CIA operations for Laos and Thailand.


In addition, 58,100 Americans were killed.


Over 400,000 Americans suffer from delayed stress syndrome.


Hundreds of thousands of Americans were injured and left crippled.


The United States dropped the equivalent of 3 H-bombs per day, enough to destroy the world 25 times over.


The top ten American defense corporations, particularly Dow Chemicals, Dupont, and International Telephone and Telegraph, grossed $11.6 billion in contracts.


Just three weeks after the termination of the Vietnam War, an incident erupted off the coast of Cambodia. The United States had just been defeated by North Vietnam, a Third World country, so now it had the opportunity to display to the world that it was still powerful and resolute. The Mayaguez, an American merchant ship, was sailing from South Vietnam to Thailand. When it neared tiny Tang Island off the coast of Cambodia, it was seized by leftists, and its crew was taken to a port on the mainland. While being held captive, Cambodian soldiers treated the Americans humanely as was testified by Captain Miller. "Even the Cambodians fed the Americans first and then ate the leftovers." They were asked a few questions, but nothing was said about spying and the CIA.


President Ford sent a communiqué via the Chinese liaison mission in Washington D.C. to the Cambodian government. Since there was no response for 36 hours, it was assumed that the Cambodian regime ignored Ford's message. At that time Ford deployed American planes strafe the Mayaguez and to land marines. In October 1976 the General Accounting Office (GAO) announced for the first time that the Chinese government did receive Ford's message. There was no response. The GAO stated that China relayed a message to the Ford administration, saying that they "expected it (the crew) released soon." Yet the American assault began 14 hours before the marine assault began. As it turned out, 41 Americans were killed, 23 in a helicopter crash, in their effort to liberate 39 crew members


More clandestine operations during the Vietnam War surfaced in February 1996. 281 Vietnamese, who were involved in covert CIA operations in the 1960s, had been assumed killed by the American government. It was revealed that they had been imprisoned by communist North Vietnam and later had been released after serving as many as 21 years. They insisted that the United States honor its pledge which was made when they became CIA operatives. According to the declassified documents, the American government cut off monthly payments to their families in the south. The total amount is $11 million. Yet the Pentagon had claimed they were dead and therefore no longer was obligated to continue payments to their families. However, the documents proved that the American government knew this was not true, that they were alive and serving sentences in North Vietnamese prison camps. No one disputed that Operation 34-Alpha existed, whereby the CIA recruited and trained South Vietnamese to infiltrate the north to spy, sabotage, and stir up local resistance. Taken north by American ships, they swam ashore, and eventually many were captured. American documents state, "Captured soon after landing" and "Captured, tried by the NVN (North Vietnamese)."