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"Sometimes we have to kill one suspect to get another to talk," Geyer quotes a PRU adviser as saying. Another PRU adviser told her that "he ate supper with his PRUs on the hearts and livers of their slain enemies." Another one said, "I've been doing this for 22 years all over the world." He cited Egypt when Nasser was coming to power and the Congo "when we were trying to get rid of Tshombe." Writes Geyer about the PRU adviser: "His job, like that of many Americans in South Vietnam, was terror." And she calls American PRU advisers "really the leaders," [10] a view that contrasted with Colby's claim that Americans were limited to "advice and assistance."

As for the instructors who taught Francis Reitemeyer how to manage PRU, Colby said, "[W]e have some rather direct instructions to our people as to their behavior in Vietnam." [11] Colby was referring to an October 15, 1969, memo sent to the Phoenix staff "and forwarded for inclusion in the training of Phung Hoang advisers in Vietnam and at Fort Holabird." The memo stated that "U.S. personnel are under the same legal and moral constraints with respect to operations under the Phung Hoang program as with respect to military operations against enemy units in the field."

The final word on Phoenix policy was contained in MACV Directive 525-36, issued on May 18, 1970.

Noting the "unlawful status of members of the VCI," MACV Directive 525-36 cites "the desirability of obtaining these targetted individuals alive and of using intelligent and lawful methods of interrogation to obtain the truth." It says that

Phoenix advisers were "specifically unauthorized to engage in assassination"

and that if they were to "come in contact with activities conducted by Vietnamese (never Americans) which do not meet the standards of land warfare," they were "[n]ot to participate further" but were "expected to make their objections of this kind of behavior known to the Vietnamese conducting them" and "expected to report the circumstances to the next higher U.S. authority."

The directive closes by saying that "if an individual finds the police type activities of the Phoenix program repugnant to him, on his application, he can be reassigned from the program without prejudice."

In response to the article by Geyer, which focused attention on the PRU and the issue of terror, and in defense of William Colby, his patron, John Vann [i] said, "[T]here is always a tendency to report extremes .... But when those exceptions ... are used by people who are in basic disagreement with the policy in Vietnam as a means of criticizing the effort, they are taken out of context. They in no way reflect anything that is normal." [13]

Kentucky Senator Sherman Cooper asked Vann, "Is the Phoenix organization a counter-terror organization?" [14]

Vann replied, "The counter-terrorist organization bore and bears no resemblance at all to ... Phoenix." [15]

COOPER: "Is the U.S. involved in any way in carrying out what can be called a "terrorist" activity?" [16]

VANN: "Well, the answer very shortly, sir, is no, we do not." [17]

Compare Vann's statement with that made by Charlie Yothers, the CIA's chief of operations in I Corps in 1970: "Sure we got involved in assassinations. That's what PRU were set up for -- assassination. I'm sure the word never appeared in any outlines or policy directives, but what else do you call a targeted kill?" [18]


According to Tully Acampora, Phoenix was a two-tiered program, with the PRU working against terrorists on the tactical level and the CIO operating above that on strategic affairs. This aspect of Phoenix was addressed by New Jersey Senator Clifford Case when he asked William Colby if Phoenix might be used "by ambitious politicians against their political opponents, not the Viet Cong at all." [19]

COLBY: "... it is our impression that this is not being used substantially for internal political purposes .... I have heard the President and Prime Minister on many occasions give strong directions that the focus is on the Vietcong ... and that it is not to be used for other purposes." [20]

Picking up on this line of questioning, Committee Chairman William Fulbright asked Colby: "... where is Mr. Dzu, the man who ran second in the last election?"

When Colby said, "Mr. Dzu is in Chi Hoa jail in Saigon," Fulbright asked him to "reconcile that with your statement of the very objective view of the Prime Minister." Colby replied that Truong Dinh Dzu "was not arrested under the Phoenix program." Dzu was arrested under Article 4, which made it a crime to propose the formation of a coalition government with the Communists. [21]

FULBRIGHT: "But you say they are giving instructions to be so careful not to use the program for political purposes, when Thieu himself has put a man in prison for no other crime that we know of than that he ran second to him in the elections." [22]

At that point Senator Case came to Colby's rescue, saying, "I think that just, perhaps, suggests this is a privilege reserved for higher officials." [23]

But the point had been made: If Phoenix were to be judged by the behavior, not the stated policies, of Thieu's administration, then it was an instrument of political repression. Moreover, as indicated in a letter from Tran Ngoc Chau to Senator Fulbright, political repression in South Vietnam was carried out with the tacit approval of the U.S. government. In his letter to Fulbright (which was inserted into the record of the hearings), Chau claimed that his contacts with his brother had been authorized by, among others, William Colby, Ev Bumgartner, Tom Donohue, Stu Methven, John O'Reilly, Gordon Jorgenson, and John Vann, who instructed Chau not to inform Thieu of his contacts with Hien.

Chau wrote, "Present political persecution of me is consequence of combined action taken by U.S. officials and CIA and Vietnamese officials in an attempt to sabotage Vietnamese and Communist direct talks for Peace Settlement." [24]

In February 1970 Chau was sentenced to twenty years in jail. In May 1970, writes Professor Huy, "the Supreme Court rendered a judgment stating that Chau's arrest and condemnation were unconstitutional. Despite this judgment, Thieu refused to free Chau." [25]

What happened to Chau and Dzu proved that stated policy in South Vietnam was ignored in reality. Likewise, attempts to portray Phoenix as legal and moral were transparent public relations gimmicks meant to buy time while Thieu consolidated power before the cease-fire.

To ensure Thieu's internal security, CIA officers were willing to betray their assets, and this capacity for treachery and deceit is what really defined American policy in regard to Phoenix, the PRU, and the war in general.

What the Senate concluded, however, was only that diametrically opposed views on Phoenix existed.

The official line advanced by William Colby portrayed Phoenix as imperfectly executed -- but legal, moral, and popular. The other view, articulated by Senator Fulbright, was that Phoenix was "a program for the assassination of civilian leaders." But that was not proven.

"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may have been confused by last week's testimony on Operation Phoenix," observed Tom Buckley. "The problem," he explained, "is one of definition." [26]

Unable to decide which definition was correct, the press tended to characterize Phoenix as an absurdity. In a February 18, 1970, article in The New York Times, James Sterba said that "the program appears more notorious for inefficiency, corruption and bungling than for terror .... If someone decided to make a movie about Phoenix ... the lead would be more a Gomer Pyle than a John Wayne."

Playing on the notion that the Vietnamese, too, were too corrupt and too stupid to be evil, Tom Buckley wrote that the PRU "were quicker to take the money, get drunk, and go off on their own extortion and robbery operations than they were to sweep out into the dangerous boondocks"

-- hardly a description of what Jim Ward called "the finest fighting force in Vietnam." But for Buckley and Sterba

there was no motive behind the madness. Phoenix was a comedy of errors, dopey disguises, and mistaken identities. There was nothing tragic in their depictions; even the people directing the show were caricatures subject to ridicule.

So it was that Phoenix began sinking in a morass of contradictions which seemed to reflect the intensely human, moral ambiguity of the Vietnam War itself. Even the dead-end debate between Colby and Fulbright mocked

America's babbling, hilarious schizophrenia

. Whom to believe?

Twenty years later the facts speak for themselves.

When Fulbright asked Colby if cash incentives were offered to Vietnamese for neutralizations, Colby said no. Six months later

the deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Frank Clay, sent a memo (JCSM-394-70) to Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, noting that General Abrams had recommended "an incentive program to foster greater neutralization achievement."

One of the more significant Phoenix documents, Clay's memo enumerated the Defense Department's major concerns regarding Phoenix: the national identity and registration program, information support of Phoenix, inadequacy of prison space, surveillance of released VCI, Phung Hoang leadership, and exchange of intelligence. These six concerns, notably, derived from a survey conducted by Robert Komer in June 1970.

Upon arriving in Turkey as U.S. ambassador, Komer had been dogged by demonstrators charging him with war crimes. Consequently, he resigned his post even before his nomination was confirmed by the Senate. Seeking vindication, he hired on with RAND, returned to Saigon, and wrote a scathing report called "The Phung Hoang Fiasco." In it Komer says, "[A]s the military war winds down and the conflict assumes a more politico-subversive character, a much more sophisticated and intensive effort to destroy the VCI becomes well nigh indispensable to a satisfactory outcome."

The former champion of quotas rails against "fakery," charging that "half the kills are falsely listed as VCI just to meet Phung Hoang goals." He cites instances where

"we may have as many as 10 or 12 dossiers on the same man,"

and he complains that "each agency still keeps its own files." Special Branch is "grossly overstaffed with poor quality results," the Field Police are "a flop as the action arm of Phung Hoang," and as for the PRU, Komer writes that "everywhere their effectiveness is apparently declining greatly."

Komer is especially critical of the Vietnamese. In III Corps "fully half the province chiefs don't really support Phung Hoang," he writes, and in II Corps Lu Lan "gives only lip service." Komer names Lieutenant Colonel Thiep (who replaced Loi Nguyen Tan, who took command of Chi Hoa Prison) as "the senior full-time Phung Hoang officer," then adds contemptuously that Thiep's "incompetent boss Colonel Song is apparently being kicked upstairs. As I put it bluntly to Thieu and Khiem," Komer says, "there are 65 generals in RVNAF: how come only a LTC to run Phung Hoang?"

Basically, Komer's anger stemmed from Thieu's decision to transfer the Central Phung Hoang Permanent Office from the prime minister's office to the National Police Directorate as a separate bloc. Noting that "the Phung Hoang bloc is completely separate from the key Special Branch bloc," Komer argues that the Central Phuong Hoang Permanent Committee had been "downgraded. " He calls the transfer "a case where one of the most crucial of all current GVN priority missions is given to one of the weakest and least effective GVN agencies, the National Police."

In a May 3, 1970, telegram to the secretary of state, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker explained that Phung Hoang was being transferred from Prime Minister Khiem's office to the National Police to "move it toward Vietnamization" and improve its overall operations. Noting that the "US advisory position on this question had been established through coordination between MACV/CORDS, OSA and Embassy," Bunker concludes by stating his belief that the "most important contribution National Police can make to future Vietnam lies in vigorous and proper execution of Phung Hoang Program against Viet Cong Infrastructure." Case closed.

As compensation for the transfer, Komer proposed getting "the best young, hard driving major general to be found -- Phong or Minh of CMD and make him Minister or Vice-Minister of Interior to give him status."

Other reforms Komer suggests: to "increase reward money," to "go after the five best dossiers," and to concentrate efforts "in eight provinces [where] well over half the estimated VCI are concentrated."

The provinces were Quang Nam, Quang Tin, and Quang Ngai in I Corps; Binh Dinh in II Corps; and Kien Hoa, Vinh Long, Vinh Binh, and Dinh Tuong (where Komer found the "only ... Phung Hoang program worthy of the name") in IV Corps.

Summarizing, Komer writes, "For better or worse, CIA produced ... the only experienced hands who were really good at the game. ... If I couldn't think of a better solution, I'd transfer operational control over the whole business to OSA [office of special assistant, cover designation for the CIA]."

But Bunker, in his May 3, 1970 telegram, had already nixed that idea. "Integration into Special Police would complicate important public information aspects of program," he said, "and produce complications to US advisory element. When VCI reduced to manageable level," he said, turning Phoenix over to the Special Branch "could be reviewed." In any event, the "VC turn to protracted war reemphasizes necessity of Phung Hoang effort against infrastructure during coming year ... and is of higher priority in Vietnam today than civil law enforcement as contribution to Vietnamization."

Three years into the program the Phoenix brain trust was back on square one, wondering, as Evan Parker had recommended, if it should focus its efforts not on legions of low-level VCI, but on the big fish and, as Parker had also observed, if CIA Special Branch advisers were not already doing the job. Having come full circle, Komer finally realized that the "Special Branch and its U.S. advisers seem to run an almost completely separate operation ... usually when I asked why no fingerprints in dossiers, I was told they were over in the Special Branch office in the PIC."

Komer was right. Phoenix was a fiasco, but not just because the CIA had decided to hide behind it for "public information" purposes. The notion that reporting formats and quotas as "management tools" could supplant a thousand years of culture and forty years of Communist political development at the village level was simply a false premise. Yes, Phoenix was a fiasco -- it had become unmanageable, and it encouraged the most outrageous abuses -- but because it had become "of higher priority ... than civil law enforcement," it was a fiasco with tragic, not comic, consequences.

By 1970 an armistice was inevitable, and Phoenix had become the vehicle by which America was going to transfer responsibility for internal security to the Vietnamese. As a result, General Abrams asked, "That it be made clear to all US and RVN agencies contributing to the Phung Hoang/Phoenix program that the objective of neutralizing the infrastructure is equal in priority to the objectives of tactical operations." As a way of going after strategic VCI targets -- the big fish running COSVN -- and as a way of protecting Phoenix from penetration by enemy agents,

Abrams also asked that "consultation be initiated with the Attorney General ... to secure a team of two or three FBI counter-espionage experts to be sent to the RVN for the specific purpose of providing recommendations for the neutralization of important national level members of the [VCI]." [27]

Meanwhile, in Washington General Clay advocated increased attention on the DIOCCs, "the cutting edge of Phoenix," because "the district and village level infrastructure remains the key element in the enemy plan to subvert the Government ... and continues to produce the major threat against GVN efforts to consolidate pacification gains made in the past 18 months." Clay also noted that "Phung Hoang leadership is being improved by recognizing and expanding the prominence of the role of the Special Police in the functioning of the DIOCC." [28]

But in order to mount an attack against the VCI, the U.S. Army needed to gain access to Special Branch files in the DIOCCs. So in February 1970 a third Standard Operating Procedure manual was issued with instructions on how to use the ultimate Phoenix "management tool," the VCI "target folder." As stated in the Phung Hoang Adviser Handbook, "preparation of target folders is the foundation from which successful operations can be run and sentencing be assured by Province Security Committees." [29]

Target folders also served a public information function, by allowing William Colby to say that "our first step was to make sure that the intelligence we gathered on the VCI was accurate, and for this we set up standards and procedures by which to weed out the false from the correct information." [30]

Target folders were specifically designed to help Phoenix advisers focus on high-level VCI. Divided in two, a target folder contained a biographical data on the left side and operational information on the right, in which the suspect's habits, contacts, schedule, and modus operandi were recorded, along with captured documents and other evidence. The folder was the responsibility of the Special Branch case handler in the DIOCC, although a source on the suspect might be handled by another agency. Each Special Branch case handler was required to maintain ten People's Intelligence Organization (PIO) cells -- each consisting of three agents -- in each hamlet in his area of operations. As stated in the third Standard Operating Procedure manual,

the tracking of a VCI suspect began when an informant reported someone making "suspicious utterances" or "spreading false rumors."

As more and more sources informed on a suspect, he or she graduated from blacklist D to C to B, then finally to blacklist A -- most wanted -- at which point the VCI suspect was targeted for neutralization and an operation mounted. The folder was sent to the PIC while the suspect was being interrogated and to the Province Security Committee to assure proper sentencing.

In order to help Special Branch case handlers gather the precise evidence a security committee needed for quick convictions, training programs were started in each corps, where the case handlers were taught how to maintain target folders, a hundred thousand copies of which the Phoenix Directorate prepared and distributed in August 1970. To assure proper target folder maintenance, the Army also assigned a counterintelligence-trained enlisted man to each DIOCC. In 1970, 185 of these counterintelligence specialists graduated from the Phoenix Coordinators Orientation Course. They acted as liaison among the PIC, DIOCC, and PIOCC. In addition, a third officer was added to each PIOCC staff to coordinate with Chieu Hoi and Field Police, and in an effort to upgrade the status of Phoenix coordinators vis-a-vis the CIA's Special Branch advisers, region slots were filled by full colonels, with majors in PIOCCs and captains in DIOCCs. However, cooperation between province Phoenix coordinators and CIA province officers rarely occurred.

A survey of each corps in November 1970 produced these results: I Corps reported "that certain member agencies in the DlOCCs have a wealth of knowledge and information which had hithertofore never been tapped." II Corps reported that "professional jealousies and even distrust among agencies continue to impair progress." III Corps reported that "support comes from only one or two of the agencies represented, while others tend to ignore results." IV Corps reported that "each GVN intelligence agency closely guards its information, thus making dossier construction difficult." [31]

The problem, not explicitly stated, was that CIA officers, extracted from Phoenix by Ted Shackley and hidden away in embassy houses, saw only liabilities in sharing their sources with "amateurish" Phoenix coordinators.

Said Ed Brady: "They had their relationship with the PIC. Many of them either participated in or observed or were close at hand during the interrogations. So they had firsthand output from it. Very few of them, however, ever went and put that in the PIOCC or in the DIOCC ... which they were required to do by the procedures .... What they really did," he complained, "was go out and get their own organization, the PRU, and run their own separate operations. It wasn't a Special Branch operation. It belonged to the province officer. So if he thought he had some intelligence that could be acted upon, the U.S. tendency was to act on it unilaterally. They might invite a few Special Branch people to go along, but the Special Branch might not accept the invitation. Then if they caught somebody, they brought him back and turned him over to the Special Branch. They were so caught up in the mythology themselves, they'd say, "Hey! I'm running a Phoenix operation.'" [32]

Here Ed Brady chose to define Phoenix in its narrow organizational sense, as a division of CORDS with its own SOP, offices, and employees. But insofar as Phoenix is a symbol for the attack against the VCI and insofar as the PICs and PRU were the foundation stones upon which Nelson Brickham built ICEX, the province officers were in fact running Phoenix operations.

What is important to remember is that in order to achieve internal security in South Vietnam, America's war managers had to create and prolong an "emergency" which justified rule by secret decree and the imposition of a military dictatorship. And in order to gain the support of the American public in this venture, it was necessary for America's information managers to disguise the military dictatorship -- which supported itself through corruption and political repression -- as a bastion of Christian and democratic values besieged by demonic Communists.

In this context, Phoenix is the mask for the terror of the PICs and the PRU, and for the CIA's attempts at the political level "to eliminate the opposition to us and to control the Vietnamese through our clients."

[33] Phoenix in the conceptual sense is all the programs it coordinated, as well as the "public information aspects" that concealed its purpose. All other definitions are merely "intellectual jargon."

"The point," Ed Murphy reminded us, "is that it was used in Vietnam, it was used in the United States, and it still is used in the United States."




"I made the biggest impact of the war when I pulled John out of III Corps and sent him to IV Corps because," Colby said to me, "that was going to be the major area of the pacification battle. He did a spectacular job." A compulsive liar and adulterer, Vann committed statutory rape in 1959

. However, his wife lied on his behalf, and after rehearsing for days and going forty-eight hours without sleep, Vann passed a lie detector test and was exonerated. Like many senior American officers in Vietnam, Vann had several mistresses in Vietnam. [12]

CHAPTER 23: Dissension

Soon after the Senate hearings concluded in mid-March 1970, the Phoenix controversy was again obscured by a larger event. On April 30, 1970, ten days after he had proposed withdrawing 150,000 American troops by the end of the year, Richard Nixon announced that U .S. and South Vietnamese forces had invaded Cambodia.

A deviation from the Nixon Doctrine, the Cambodian invasion was the culmination of twelve years of covert actions against the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The final phase began on March 12, 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, and his prime minister, Lon Nol, under instructions from the CIA, ordered all North Vietnamese out of Cambodia within seventy-two hours. That same day Deputy Prime Minister Sirik Matak canceled a trade treaty between Cambodia and the Provisional Revolutionary Government. Four days later the U.S. merchant ship Columbia Eagle, which was ostensibly carrying munitions for U .S. Air Force units in Thailand, was commandeered by two CIA officers, who steered it into the port of Sihanoukville. Armed with guns and ammunition from the Columbia Eagle, and backed by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom (Cambodian exiles trained by the CIA in South Vietnam) and the Khmer Serai (Cambodians under Son Ngoc Thanh, trained by the CIA in Thailand), Lon Not's forces seized control of the government and moved against the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communists) and the Vietnamese who supported Prince Sihanouk.

The CIA had been planning the operation since August 1969, when the murder of Thai Khac Chuyen had brought about an end to Detachment B-57. The CIA plan called for the Khmer Serai to attack Khmer Rouge positions from their base in Thailand, while Lon No1 seized Phnom Penh, using deserters from Sihanouk's palace guard, backed by Khmer Kampuchea Krom (KKK) forces from South Vietnam. But the plan quickly got off track. Stanley Karnow notes: "Cambodia was convulsed by anarchy in late March 1970. Rival Cambodian gangs were hacking each other to pieces, in some instances celebrating their prowess by eating the hearts and livers of their victims. Cambodian vigilantes organized by the police and other officials were murdering local Vietnamese, including women and infants." [1]

What Karnow describes is Phoenix feasting on Phnom Penh. Aided by the CIA, the Cambodian secret police fed blacklists of targeted Vietnamese to the Khmer Serai and Khmer Kampuchea Krom. The Vietnamese woman who translated the "Truth About Phoenix" article recalled what happened. "These were not VC being killed," she said. "I remember that. These were mass killings of Vietnamese merchants and Vietnamese people in Cambodia. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah! I remember because a friend of mine told me. He was one hundred percent Vietnamese, but he didn't succeed in Vietnam, so when he was young, he became a Cambodian citizen and served in the Cambodian government. There were many many Vietnamese people who went to Cambodia to settle. They were leaders of the economy and the government. But the Vietnamese were not loved by the Cambodians -- like the Chinese in Vietnam -- and there was a mass execution of all those Vietnamese. They cut off their heads and threw them in the river." [2]

On April 4 the Communists counterattacked, and by late April the forces of Lon Nol were faltering. As planned, No1 asked Washington for help, and soon South Vietnamese planes were flying supplies to Phnom Penh. Hastening to support his besieged client, Nixon "encouraged General Abrams to propose intervention by American combat units as well. Abrams broadened the targets to include sanctuaries in the Fish Hook border region further north, where he also claimed to have located the legendary Communist head- quarters, COSVN." [3]

The ultimate mission of Phoenix, of course, had always been to neutralize what John Vann at the Senate hearings called the "brains" of the insurgency; and insofar as COSVN was the locus of the VCI, the Cambodian invasion was a massive attack against the VCI. Indeed, the Phoenix Directorate contributed directly to this last desperate attempt to win the war, primarily as a result of the personal relationship John Mason shared with his comrade from World War II General Creighton Abrams. The bond of trust these two men enjoyed enabled them to bridge the bureaucratic abyss that often separates the CIA and the military.

As important as the relationship between Mason and Abrams, however, was the relationship between Mason and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P . McGrevey, who in July 1969 became the directorate's operations chief, replacing Lieutenant Colonel Al Weidhas. An engaging and immensely likable man, McGrevey was a graduate of West Point (where he roomed with Richard Secord) who in 1964 was sent to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group GUSMAG) in Bangkok as an adviser to Thai intelligence. In Bangkok McGrevey met weekly with the MAG commander, General Richard Stilwell, with the CIA station chief, Red Jantzen, and with John Mason, who was stationed in Hawaii but made frequent trips to Bangkok. In effect, McGrevey was working as the military's liaison to the CIA in Southeast Asia, establishing coordinated intelligence operations in Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam, in which capacity he visited South Vietnam at one-month intervals, was introduced to the senior Special Branch, MSS, and PRU officials, and became intimately aware of their operations.

In 1966 McGrevey returned to the United States to become chief of the 108th Military Intelligence Group in Boston, where he supervised operations throughout New England. Then, in 1967, at the request of the acting chief of staff for intelligence, General Chester Johnson, McGrevey returned to Bangkok to facilitate a trilateral agreement among the United States, Thai- land, and South Vietnam. As a result of this agreement, Thai intelligence began running joint operations in Cambodia and Laos (where Secord was managing the air war for the Vientiane station chief, Ted Shackley) with the Vietnamese CIO and the CIA.

In July 1969, McGrevey was assigned to be the MACV intelligence chief in II Corps. When John Mason learned that McGrevey had arrived in Saigon, Mason immediately arranged for him to be reassigned to the Phoenix Directorate. In turn, McGrevey had a number of his former aides in Thailand transferred to the directorate, and after a period of orientation in respect to Phoenix operations in the provinces, he and his team began utilizing their contacts in Thailand in preparation for the Cambodian invasion. McGrevey obtained information on COSVN through his sources in Thai intelligence and through the handful of penetrations the directorate had inside COSVN. These penetrations existed at several levels, but the most significant penetration was COSVN's deputy finance director, who alerted McGrevey when the finance director was going on vacation, enabling McGrevey to mount a black propaganda campaign in which he said the finance director was running off with embezzled funds.

In February 1970 Lieutenant Colonel Cao Minh Thiep was transferred from his job as chief of the Combined Intelligence Center to become McGrevey's counterpart in the Phung Hoang Office. At this point General Abrams asked John Mason to intensify Phoenix operations in the border provinces in preparation for the invasion. This was done primarily through PRU teams that searched for infiltration routes and supply caches. Meanwhile, McGrevey was reading reports from the Special Operations Group, which, under Colonel Steve Cavanaugh in liaison with CIA officer Joe Moran, was mounting its own operations against COSVN. McGrevey also read reports submitted from Special Forces A camps and from the Army Security Agency (ASA), which was attempting to locate COSVN through its radio transmissions. But the best intelligence on COSVN came from Thai units in Cambodia. To obtain this information, McGrevey and Cao Minh Thiep, in the company of a team of Vietnamese CIO officers, were flown by the CIA to Bangkok, to the military side of the airport, where they met in the security center with Colonel Sophon and Colonel Panay from Thai intelligence.

Said McGrevey: "In April we provided [to General Abrams] a picture of what COSVN looked like and where the key people were." [4]

On May 11, 1970, Newsweek reported that "near the town of Mimot, COSVN's reinforced concrete bunkers are believed to spread 15 to 20 feet beneath the jungle's surface and to house some 5,000 men." Upon arriving in Mimot, however, "American troops found only a scattering of empty huts, their occupants having fled weeks before in anticipation of the assault."

As Karnow quips, "The drive against COSVN ... turned out to be quixotic." [5]

"Quixotic," yes, but only in the sense that the VCI was not headquartered in a particular set of underground bunkers in Mimot. The invasion deflected attention from the CIA-engineered coup and bloodbath in Phnom Penh, it enabled Lon Nol to install a pro-American government in Cambodia, and it allowed Union Oil of California to secure concessions for all onshore and much offshore Cambodian oil.


The Phoenix Directorate's participation in the Cambodian invasion -- if the program is viewed as a bell curve-was certainly its climax. It was not, however, the extent of the directorate's role in operations against the VCI. Operations chief Tom McGrevey managed, from his office in Saigon, several actions against high-level VCI in South Vietnam. He cites as an example the time the Pleiku Province Phoenix officer got information of an impending VCI regional meeting near a tea plantation in II Corps. McGrevey asked the Army Security Agency to pinpoint the location of the meeting, and it obliged him by intercepting and tracking VCI radio communications. McGrevey then sent in a SEAL team that captured several high-ranking VCI.

In conjunction with the CIA station, the Phoenix Directorate also mounted penetrations of, and ran operations against, high-level VCI through special teams that never appeared on any of its rosters. American soldiers assigned to this highly compartmentalized aspect of Phoenix were enlisted men trained in the United States by the CIA, then sent to Vietnam, where they were briefed by CIA, SOG, and MACV intelligence officers at the Ho Ngoc Tau Special Forces camp on such matters as liaison procedures with the Vietnamese, the role of hunter-killer teams, how to screen detainees, district and province chief responsibilities, where input would come from, and where resources were available. Members of these special teams were given a sterile unit cover, usually as part of an Army Security Agency radio research unit, and were assigned only at corps and division level. While they were out on anti VCI operations, their daily activity reports were falsified to show that they had been present at high-level briefings. Said McGrevey: "The teams were in place when I got there."

The team in Bien Hoa, for example, was assigned for administrative purposes to the 175th Radio Research Unit, which was headquartered on the Bien Boa military base. The team itself, however, was located in a" safe house next to an old train station in Bien Hoa City. The team was composed of ten enlisted men divided into five two-man teams under the region Phoenix coordinator. The team's top priority was collecting tactical military intelligence in support of the Bien Hoa military base, but it also conducted currency investigations and an attack against the VCI.

Regarding this latter function, the special team in Bien Hoa reported to the CIA's special unit (which included women analysts) at the embassy annex. These CIA analysts read Phoenix reports on a daily basis, assessed them for potential intelligence recruitment leads (PIRLs), then decided how a particular VCI could be approached in order to be developed as a penetration agent. [i] Generally, VCI were told they could work for the CIA, or they could appear to have been killed by their own people. The program was basically a system of identification and control within the VCI, so GVN officials could assume positions of power after the impending cease-fire.

Special teams like the one in Bien Hoa operated above the Phoenix province organization, so there were occasional accidents. For example, in one case a VCI was removed from the blacklist and approached as a PIRL. However, the Phoenix team in the district got to him first and killed him. The Phoenix adviser was just doing his job, and doing it well, but it ruined the recruitment, which had taken three months to develop.

Another case in which the Bien Hoa special team was involved concerned a village chief who was supposedly loyal to the GVN. He was a former Vietminh, a southern Vietnamese who had not gone north. A strong nationalist, he hated Americans; but he also saw the North Vietnamese trying to control the South, and he hated the North too, and that was his motivation to work with the CIA. But it was a shaky motive, and when a team of NVA agents came and made him feel comfortable with their presence, he became a double agent.

The chief was also the Vietcong tax collector, in which capacity he went around with the VC political officer, who gave him access to unit cadre. At that point he was also working for the CIA, and when it gave him a polygraph test, he failed. Then a GVN team got ambushed en route to meet him, so he was terminated with extreme prejudice, which meant along with his entire family, in such a way that it was made to appear that he was taken out by the Vietcong. The job was done by the Vietnamese ranger team assigned to Bien Hoa special team. Other times the Americans did the terminations themselves, making sure to kill everyone so there would be no witnesses and using brass catchers so there would be no incriminating evidence. Other times the special team sent in SEALs.


Make no mistake about it: Americans who were involved in Phoenix suffered wounds that were not just physical. Many returned to the United States emotionally wrecked, fearful of being prosecuted for war crimes. Many began to doubt the reasons they were given for fighting the war.

Back home in the United States in 1970, many people were reaching the same conclusion, although belatedly because facts about the covert operations that fueled the war were slow to emerge. For example, not until he was released from prison after the war did Tran Ngoc Chau reveal that "a systematic campaign of vilification by use of forged documents was carried out during the mid-1950s to justify Diem's refusal to negotiate with Hanoi in preparation for the unheld unifying elections of 1956." According to Chau, the forging was done by U.S. and British intelligence agencies, which helped gather "authentic" documents that permitted plausible foundations to be laid for the forgeries. These were distributed to various political groups as well as to writers and artists who used the false documents to carry out the propaganda campaign. [6]

Forged documents used to justify and conceal illegal activities often appear in the form of captured documents similar to the type described by Chau. As two aides to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported about the Cambodian invasion, "There seems to be captured documents to prove any point or to support, retrospectively, almost any conclusion." [7]

When used against an individual, forged documents are called a com promise and discreditation operation. Along with recruitment in place, defection, capture, and killing, the compromise and discreditation operation was a standard procedure employed by Phoenix personnel. Its purpose was to create dissension among the VCI, to make them suspect that one of their own had betrayed them. Compromise and discreditation were accomplished by conducting whisper campaigns and by planting forged documents or incriminating evidence, usually to reflect dishonesty, immorality, or greed.

Forged letters are a CIA specialty. Writes former CIA officer Philip Agee:

I would say our most successful operation in Ecuador was the framing of Antonio Flores Benitez, a key member of the Communist revolutionary movement. By bugging Flores' phone, we found out a lot of what he was doing. His wife was a blabbermouth. He made a secret trip to Havana and we decided to do a job on him when he landed back in Ecuador. With another officer, I worked all one weekend to compose a "report" from Flores to the Cubans. It was a masterpiece. The report implied that Flores' group had already received funds from Cuba and was now asking for more money in order to launch guerrilla operations in Ecuador. My Quito station chief, Warren Dean, approved the report -- in fact, he loved it so much he just had to get into the act. So he dropped the report on the floor and walked on it awhile to make it look pocket-worn. Then he folded it and stuffed it into a toothpaste tube -- from which he had spent three hours carefully squeezing out all the toothpaste. He was like a kid with a new toy. So then I took the tube out to the minister of the treasury, who gave it to his customs inspector. When Flores came through customs, the inspector pretended to go rummaging through one of his suitcases. What he really did, of course, was slip the toothpaste tube into the bag and then pretend to find it there. When he opened the tube, he of course "discovered" the report. Flores was arrested and there was a tremendous scandal. This was one of a series of sensational events that we had a hand in during the first six months of 1963. By late July of that year, the climate of anti-communist fear was so great that the military seized a pretext and took over the government, jailed all the Communists it could find and outlawed the Communist Party. [8]

Likewise, according to Donald Freed in Death in Washington, the catalyst for the 1973 coup in Chile was a forged document -- detailing a leftist plot to start a reign of terror -- which was "discovered" by the enemies of President Salvador Allende Gossens. The result was a violent military coup, which the officers (who had set it in motion through disinformation in the press) back and watched from a safe distance.

Compromise and discreditation operations are a tried-and-true method used in America, too. For example, CIA officer Howard Hunt forged State Department documents showing that President John Kennedy ordered the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. And the FBI discredited, through the use of forged documents, Martin Luther King, Daniel Ellsberg, and Jean Seberg. Among others.

When genuine, however, captured documents provide valuable insights into the enemy's plans and strategies. Indeed, said Jack from the Vietnam Task Force, "Colby proved Phoenix effectiveness through captured documents."

For example, in its 1970 End of Year Report, the Phoenix Directorate quoted captured documents signed by the deputy secretary of COSVN as saying that Phoenix and the accelerated pacification campaign "were the most dangerous and effective measures used by the GVN against the insurgency." Another captured document, quoted in the report, stated that "personnel of the Phung Hoang intelligence organization are the most dangerous enemies of the Revolution in suburban and rural areas. Judging by information from captured documents, interrogations of captured personnel and Hoi Chanh debriefings," the directorate concluded that "Phung Hoang is an effective program." [9]

Captured documents, when genuine, also serve as something of a double-edged sword, revealing U.S. plans and strategies, including those pertaining to Phoenix, that might otherwise remain secret. Consider, for example, a circular titled "On the Establishment of the Enemy Phung Hoang Intelligence Organization in Villages." Issued by the Vietcong Security Service in Region 6 on March 29, 1970, captured on May 15, 1970, and cited as Document 05-3344-70 by the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC), it describes how the VCI viewed and planned to combat Phoenix.

As stated in the circular, "the most wicked maneuvers" of Phoenix "have been to seek out every means by which to terrorize revolutionary families and force the people to disclose the location of our agents and join the People's Self-Defense Force. They also spread false rumors ... and make love with our cadres wives and daughters. Their main purpose is to jeopardize the prestige of the revolutionary families, create dissension between them and the people, and destroy the people's confidence in the revolution. In addition, they also try to bribe poor and miserable revolutionary families into working for them."

Phoenix agents are described as "village or hamlet administrative personnel, policemen and landowners," who set up the People's Intelligence Organization and work with "pacification personnel and intelligence agents" to organize "family cadre, issue ID cards, and classify the people." Phoenix agents were said to have made a list of the cadre to be eliminated when the cease-fire took place. "Their prescribed criteria are to kill five cadre in each village in order to change the balance between enemy and friendly forces in the village."

According to the circular, the primary task of GVN village chiefs is to "assign Phoenix intelligence organization and security assistants to develop and take charge of the PSDF [and] select a number of tyrants in this force to activate 'invisible' armed teams which are composed of three to six well trained members each. These teams are to assassinate our key cadre, as in Vinh Long Province."

What the circular is describing is the culmination of Ralph Johnson's Contre Coup process, in which counterterrorists were extracted from People's Self-Defense Forces by Vung Tau-trained village chiefs under the aegis of the Phung Hoang program.

By 1970 political warfare was also being managed through Phoenix. The 1970 End of Year Report cites an experimental program in which "Armed Propaganda Teams of seven men were placed under the operational control of the DIOCCs. On a day to day basis, the DIOCC provided targeting information on specific VCI or VCI families to the APT [which] would then contact them in an effort to induce them to rally." Ralliers were interrogated immediately, "thereby achieving a snow-ball effect ... in the targeting subsequent neutralization process." Defectors were dubbed "Phoenix Returnees." [10]

By 1970 Phoenix was also sponsoring indoctrination courses. In May Phung Hoang agents in Dien Ban district organized the "People's Training Course to Denounce Communist Crimes." This training course-its name evoking memories of Diem's denunciation campaign -- was attended by 280 local residents.

The problem was that Contre Coup had no corresponding ideology . Ralph Johnson could turn the enemy's tactics against him, but not his beliefs. On this point the captured circular reads, "[A]s a result of the victories of the Revolution, the enemy has been forced to accept serious failures and to de-escalate the war. In the face of the situation, the U.S. imperialists have been forced into withdrawing their troops. This fact has caused great confusion and dissension within the enemy ranks. The people have developed great hatred for the enemy ... In addition, there is dissension among the Phoenix intelligence members, pacification personnel, policemen, and espionage agents due to internal conflict."

Fanning this dissension was the ability of the VCI to penetrate IOCCs. A captured Vietcong document, dated July 1, 1970, and issued by the Dien Ban District Security Service (An Ninh), instructs its agents to penetrate all Phung Hoang Hanh Quan (intelligence operations coordination centers), to establish blacklists of personnel (especially Special Branch and PSDF), and report on their activities for elimination.

Da Nang City and Quang Nam Province were particularly well penetrated. A Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) report dated November 23, 1970, cites three messages "pertaining to Phoenix and the PSDF committee in Danang City, and the location and activities of the GVN intelligence service in Danang City"; a blank release slip from the Dien Ban DIOCC "copied by an unidentified individual"; and an undated note regarding a Phung Hoang meeting at the Quang Nam PIOCC at Hoi An.

According to another captured document provided by the Combined Document Exploitation Center on October 21, 1970, a member of the Da Nang military interrogation center escaped after the MSS had discovered he was a double agent. Still another captured document notes that "an agent of the Phung Hoang organization in the 2nd Precinct, Da Nang City," who was the son of the secretary of the VNQDD (Vietnamese Kuomintang) in Vinh Phuoc Village, "provided detailed information on a Phung Hoang training course he attended on 15 June 1970 and the assignment of the trainees upon completion of the course" -- meaning the VCI in Da Nang knew every move Phoenix was making.


Nelson Brickham viewed Vietnam as a war that would be "won or lost on the basis of intelligence," and he created Phoenix as the vanguard in that battle. Unfortunately the Phoenix front line unraveled faster than the VCI's; dissension between the Americans and Vietnamese, and the CIA and the military , doomed the program to failure. And while the insurgents held tight, mistrust of U.S. government policy in Southeast Asia, born during Tet 1968 and brought to a boil by the Cambodian invasion, began to unravel American society.

Immediately following the Cambodian invasion, massive antiwar demonstrations erupted across the country. In Ohio Governor James Rhodes reacted violently, vowing to "eradicate" the protesters. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard responded to his exhortations, firing into a crowd of demonstrators at Kent State College, killing four people.

The spectacle of American soldiers killing American citizens had a chilling effect on many people, many of whom suddenly realized that dissent was as dangerous in the United States as it was in South Vietnam. To many Americans, the underlying tragedy of the Vietnam War, symbolized by Phoenix, was finally felt at home. Nixon himself articulated those murderous impulses when he told his staff, "Don't worry about decisiveness. Having drawn the sword, stick it in hard. Hit 'em in the gut. No defensiveness." [11]

Nixon backed his words with actions. He ordered one of his aides, a former Army intelligence specialist and president of the Young Americans for Freedom, Tom Huston, to devise a plan to surveil, compromise, and discredit his domestic critics. The Huston Plan was called evidence of a "Gestapo mentality" by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina. [12]

What Ervin meant by the "Gestapo mentality" was Phoenix in its conceptual sense -- the use of terror to stifle dissent. Reflecting Nixon's "Gestapo mentality," offensive counterintelligence operations were directed against dissenters in America: blacks, leftists, pacifists, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and American Indians. The most famous example may have been mounted by the CIA's domestic operations branch against the Black Liberation Movement; as in Chile, it provoked a violent reaction by security forces and served to justify repression.

Colston Westbrook, according to Mae Brussell in a July 1974 article in . The Realist, was a CIA psywar expert. An adviser to the Korean CIA and Lon Nol in Cambodia, Westbrook from 1966 until 1969 reportedly worked (undercover as an employee of Pacific Architects and Engineers) as an adviser to the Vietnamese Police Special Branch. In 1970 Westbrook allegedly returned to the United States and was gotten a job at the University of California at Berkeley. According to Brussell, Westbrook's control officer was William Herrmann, who was connected to the Stanford Research Institute, RAND Corporation, and Hoover Center on Violence. In his capacity as an adviser to Governor Ronald Reagan, Herrmann put together a pacification plan for California at the UCLA Center for Study and Prevention of Violence. As part of this pacification plan Westbrook, a black man, was assigned the task of forming a black cultural association at the Vacaville Medical Facility. Although ostensibly fostering black pride, Westbrook was in truth conducting an experimental behavior modification program. Westbrook's job, claims Brussell, was to program unstable persons, drawn from California prisons, to assassinate black community leaders. His most successful client was Donald DeFreeze, chief of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). It was West- brook who designed the SLA's logo (a seven-headed cobra), who gave DeFreeze his African name (Cinque), and who set Cinque and his gang on their Phoenix flight to cremation, care of the Los Angeles SWAT Team, the FBI, and U.S. Treasury agents.


In 1971 Nixon was to direct his domestic affairs officer, John Erhlichman, to form a special White House internal security unit called the Plumbers. Chosen to head the Plumbers were certified psychopath Gordon Liddy and "false document preparation" expert Howard Hunt. In charge of "controls" was Egil Krogh, who once said, "Anyone who opposes us, we'll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn't support us, we'll destroy." [13]

Just as Thieu's domestic political opponents were targets on Phoenix blacklists in Vietnam, so the Plumbers' "enemies list" included critics of Nixon -- people like Gregory Peck, Joe Namath, and Stanley Karnow. And just as illegal methods were used to discredit and compromise "neutralists" in Vietnam, so, too, the Plumbers turned to crime in their attack against "anyone who doesn't support us." Along with Hunt and several other government officials, Krogh (a devout Mormon) was to be convicted of breaking into the home of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

Offensive counterintelligence operations directed against the antiwar movement were mounted by the Plumbers; the CIA through its Operation Chaos; the FBI through its COINTELPROS under William C. Sullivan, whose favorite trick was issuing Kafkaesque "secret" subpoenas; the National Security Agency, which used satellites to spy on dissenters; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, servicing the Joint Chiefs and working with the Army chief of staff for intelligence, General William Yarborough, through Operation Shamrock, headquartered at Fort Holabird. Shamrock's main targets were former military intelligence personnel like Ed Murphy and special operations veterans like Elton Manzione, both of whom, by then, were members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Allegedly as part of Shamrock, the 111th Military Intelligence Group (MIG) in Memphis kept Martin Luther King, Jr., under twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance and reportedly watched and took photos while King's assassin moved into position, took aim, fired, and walked away. As a result, some VVAW members contend that the murders of King, and other less notable victims, were the work of a domestic-variety Phoenix hit team. Some say it still exists.

Be that as it may, it is a fact that during the Vietnam War the government sought to neutralize its domestic opponents, using illegal means, in the name of national security .The fear of surveillance being as effective as surveillance itself, the result was that many Americans refrained from writing letters to their representatives or otherwise participating in the democratic process, knowing that to do so was to risk wiretaps on their phones, FBI agents' reading their mail, being blackmailed for past indiscretions, made victims of vicious rumor campaigns, losing their jobs, or worse.

Moreover, the suppression of dissent in America was championed by the same people who advocated war in Vietnam. And when it became apparent that America had been defeated in Vietnam, these reactionaries -- like the Germans after World War I -- vented their bitterness and anger on the disparate groups that formed the antiwar movement. Using Phoenix "offensive counterintelligence" tactics, the security forces in America splintered the antiwar movement into single-issue groups, which were isolated and suppressed during the backlash of the Reagan era. Today the threat of terrorism alone remains, pounded into the national consciousness, at the bequest of big business, by abiding media.

Indeed, without the complicity of the media, the government could not have implemented Phoenix, in either Vietnam or America. A full disclosure of the Province Interrogation Centers and the Provincial Reconnaissance Units would have resulted in its demise. But the relationship between the media and the government is symbiotic, not adversarial. The extent to which this practice existed was revealed in 1975, when William Colby informed a congressional committee that more than five hundred CIA officers were operating under cover as corporate executives and that forty CIA officers were posing as journalists. Case in point: reactionary columnist and TV talk-show host William Buckley, Jr., the millionaire creator of the Young Americans for Freedom and cohort of Howard Hunt's in Mexico in the 1950's.

When it comes to the CIA and the press, one hand washes the other. In order to have access to informed officials, reporters frequently suppress or distort stories. In return, officials leak stories to reporters to whom they owe favors. At its most incestuous, reporters and government officials are actually related -- for example, Delta PRU commander Charles Lemoyne and his New York Times reporter brother, James. Likewise, if Ed Lansdale had not had Joseph Alsop to print his black propaganda in the United States, there probably would have been no Vietnam War.

In a democratic society the media ought to investigate and report objectively on the government, which is under no obligation to inform the public of its activities and which, when it does, puts a positive "spin" on the news. As part of the deal, when those activities are conducted in secret, illegally, reporters tend to look away rather than jeopardize profitable relationships. The price of success is compromise of principles. This is invariably the case; the public is always the last to know, and what it does learn are at best half-truths, squeezed into five-hundred-word columns or thirty-second TV bites, themselves easily ignored or forgotten.

So it was with Phoenix.


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