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Phoenix adviser John Cook describes the accelerated pacification campaign as "an all out nationwide effort to put as many hamlets under government control as soon as possible. The Viet Cong violently opposed this action, since its primary purpose was to eliminate them and their control. It involved large military operations coupled with psychological operations, resulting in increased emphasis on the pacification program." Insofar as the attack on the VCI strengthened Henry Kissinger's bargaining position, Cook writes, "Pressure was placed on the Intelligence and Operations Coordinating Centers to provide more valid information about the enemy's location. This required more of an effort from all of us, which meant an increase in the number of raids, ambushes and operations." [7]

The hour of Phoenix was at hand. With American troops withdrawing and emphasis being shifted from military to political operations, the pressure began to mount on Phoenix advisers, who were expected to eliminate any vestiges of revolutionary activity in South Vietnam. Reasons why they failed to accomplish this goal are offered by Jeffrey Race in his book War Comes to Long An.

Blaming "overcentralization," Race observes that the district, where the DIOCCs were located, "was the lowest operational level" of Phoenix, "one having no significance in terms of social or living patterns, and staffed by outsiders whose interests bore no necessary connection to the districts. By contrast, the revolutionary organization was the essence of simplicity ... and intimately familiar with the local population and terrain."

Race traces the lack of "security" at the village level to the GVN's disdain for the common people and its "failure to develop a highly motivated and trained local apparatus." [8]

Operational as well as organizational errors also factored into the equation. F

orces under the Phoenix program, Race explains, "operated in the manner of a conventional war combat organization -- independently of their environment -- and so they did not have the enormous advantage enjoyed by the party apparatus of operating continuously in their home area through a personally responsive network of friends and relatives.

This in turn severely handicapped their ability to locate intended targets and to recognize fortuitous ones. The program was also handicapped in developing a sympathetic environment by the use by the Saigon authorities of foreign troops and by the program's intended purpose of maintaining a distributive system perceived as unfavorable to their interests by much of the rural population." [9]

Responding to the grievances of the rural population and taking steps to correct social injustices might have enabled the GVN to collect intelligence and contest the VCI in the villages. But acknowledging the nature of the conflict would have undermined the reason for fighting the war in the first place. And rather than do that, Race says, "attention was turned to the use of such new devices as starlight scopes, ground surveillance radar, and remote listening devices, as well as the previously employed infrared and radio transmission detection devices." [10]

***


In August 1968, concurrent with Robert Komer imposing, as "a management tool," a nationwide quota of eighteen hundred VCI neutralizations per month, the science fiction aspect of Phoenix was enhanced with the advent of the Viet Cong Infrastructure Information System.

VCIIS climaxed a process begun in February 1966, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara established the Defense Department's Southeast Asia Programs Division.

The process was carried forward in Saigon in January 1967, when the Combined Intelligence Staff fed the names of three thousand VCI (assembled by hand at area coverage desks) into the IBM 1401 computer at the Combined Intelligence Center's political order of battle section. At that point the era of the computerized blacklist began.

As the attack against the VCI exploded across South Vietnam in 1968, reports on the results poured into the Phoenix Directorate, inundating its analysts with reams of unreliable information on individual VCI and anti-VCI operations. In DIOCCs the data could be processed manually, but in Saigon it required machines.

Hence, with input from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI and the CIA -- all of which had an interest in analyzing the finished product -- VCIIS became the first of a series of computer programs designed to absolve the war effort of human error and war managers of individual responsibility.

The cerebellum of Phoenix, VCIIS compiled information gathered from all U.S. and free world field units on VCI boundaries, locations, structures, strengths, personalities, and activities. The end product, a monthly summary report, was a statistical summary of Phoenix operational results by province, region, and the country as a whole and showed the levels and methods of neutralizations at each echelon within the VC infrastructure. A monthly activity listing listed each "neutralized" VCI by name.

In July 1970 the Vietnamese were invited to contribute to the program and started key punching at the National Police Interrogation Center. Until then the computerized blacklist was a unilateral American operation.

In January 1969 VCIIS was renamed the Phung Hoang Management Information System. The PHMIS file included summary data on each recorded VCI in the following categories: name and aliases; whether or not he or she was "at large"; sex, birth date, and place of birth; area of operations; party position; source of information; arrest date; how neutralized; term of sentence; where detained; release date; and other biographical and statistical information, including photographs and fingerprints, if available. All confirmed and suspected VCI members were recorded in this manner, enabling Phoenix analysts instantly to access and cross-reference data, then decide who was to be erased.

All of this added up to hard times for NLF sympathizers, Thieu opponents, and those unfortunate enough to be creditors or rivals of Phoenix agents.

As a management tool PHMIS was used by Komer and Colby to measure and compare the performance of Phoenix officers -- unless one believes those like Tom McCoy, who claims that Komer was a fraud who went to Vietnam "not to do pacification but to prove that it was being done." [11] In that case the numbers game was computerized prestidigitation -- an Orwellian manipulation of statistics to shape public opinion.

According to McCoy's scenario, PHMIS was part of a larger hoax begun in January 1967, when Robert Komer introduced the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) -- eighteen factors subject to computer analysis for each of South Vietnam's fifteen thousand hamlets. These factors included data on VC military activity, GVN security capabilities, the strength of the VCI, Revolutionary Development activities, etc. The data were assembled by MACV district advisers, with the computer then putting the hamlets into one of three classes: A, secure; B, contested; or C, controlled by the VC.

On the verge of Tet in December 1967, nearly half of South Vietnam's hamlets were rated A. One year later more than half were rated A. As Public Safety chief Frank Walton told me,

"We would get reports of provinces being eighty-five percent pacified and ninety percent pacified, and then, when it got to the point that they were near a hundred percent, figures had to be revised downward. It was done with computers, and that's where I first heard the term 'GIGO' for 'garbage in; garbage out.'" [12]

The Hamlet Evaluation System also included input on "the known strengths of the 319 currently identified, upper-level VCI organizations at COSVN region, province and district levels." The HES guesstimate of VCI strength in January 1969 was 75,500.

Statistics on the VCI; definitions of the VCI; attitudes toward the VCI -- all were subjective. Yet despite his own admission that "we knew there was a VCI, but we could not be said to know very much about it," William Colby set about attacking it. Armed with technology that rendered due process obsolete, he "set up standards and procedures by which to weed out the false from the correct information."

To ensure that Phoenix operations were mounted on factual information, "The general rule was established that three separate sources must have reported a suspect before he could be put on the rolls." Thus, the VCI was put into three classes of offenders: A, for leaders and party members; B, for holders of other responsible jobs; and C, for rank. and-file members and followers. "And the decision was taken that those in the 'C' category should be ignored, since Phoenix was directed against the VCI command and control structure and not the occasional adherent or supporter." [13]

To complement these safety procedures, Phoenix advisers and their Vietnamese counterparts were issued, in July 1968,

the Yellow Book, published by the CIA under cover of the RAND Corporation. Officially titled

The Modus Operandi of Selected Political Cadre

, the Yellow Book described the operational patterns and procedures of VCI cadre and suggested "possible actions" to exploit them.

In November 1968 came SOP 2, telling how to manage a DIOCC, and in December 1968 appeared the Green Book, Current Breakdown of Executive and Significant VCI Cadre. The bible of Phoenix advisers, the Green Book listed all VCI job titles, assigned each an A, B, or C rating, and prescribed the duration of detention suitable for each functionary. It told how the VCI routed messages, how they constructed and hid in tunnels, who was likely to know whom in the party organization, and other tips that would allow earnest Phoenix advisers to prioritize their targets, so they could go after the big fish recorded in the Black Book kept in the situation section of each DIOCC and PIOCC.

Other publications made available to Phoenix advisers included a bi-weekly newsletter that enabled advisers to share their favorite interrogation, operational, and briefing techniques; MACV's monthly "Summary of VCI Activities"; Combined Document Exploitation Center and Combined Intelligence Center readouts; the PHMIS monthly report; and an eagerly awaited Phoenix End of Year Report.

Perhaps the most far-reaching innovation of 1968 was the Phoenix Coordinators Orientation Course (PCOC), which held its first classes at Vung Tau's Seminary Camp in November 1968. The PCOC represented a final recognition that, as Doug Dillard remarked, "MACV really had to account for it." [14] To state it simply, military careers were now hitched to the Phoenix star.

The advent of the PCOC dovetailed neatly with the folderol of the accelerated pacification campaign and the infusion into the Phoenix Directorate of a new generation of staff officers, who brought with them new ideas and were confronted with new concerns, most concerning public relations. On the CIA side, Robert E. Haynes replaced Joe Sartiano as executive director, and Sartiano and two State Department officers began writing a plan to put Phung Hoang under the control of the National Police. On the military side, Colonel Robert E. Jones replaced William Greenwalt as deputy director.

In September, Army Security Agency officer Lieutenant Colonel Richard Bradish stepped in as the military liaison to Special Branch. Bradish "provided direct assistance" to the Phung Hoang staff in Special Branch headquarters at the NPIC. He and the sergeant assisting him were the only military personnel who had desks there. "We were very busy," Bradish told me, "primarily advising the Special Branch in anti-infrastructure operations." [15] Bradish also advised Vietnamese inspectors visiting Phung Hoang committees on "how to bolster morale and improve record keeping on VCI neutralizations."

Bradish noted that Parker's military deputy, Colonel Jones, did not provide "close supervision," a condition that was "characteristic of the whole thing .... I was compartmented," Bradish said about himself and the other military personnel on the staff. "We were outsiders. When I was there, Special Branch was Phung Hoang" -- meaning that the CIA still controlled Phoenix, with the military there as window dressing. Likewise, Bradish observed, the Vietnamese at the Phung Hoang Office "were putting on a show. They were not acting like they were at war, but like it was a normal job." In his judgment, "The North Vietnamese were more committed."

The Central Phung Hoang Permanent Committee as of November 1968 looked like this:

Chairman: General Tran Thien Khiem
Assistant Chairman: Colonel Ly Trong Song
Phung Hoang Plan: Lieutenant Colonel Loi Nguyen Tan
Planning Bureau: Mr. Duong Than Huu
Intelligence Operations: Mr. Ha Van Tien
Action Programs: Mr. Mai Viet Dich
Inspections Bureau: Mr. Nguyen Van Hong
Chieu Hoi Representative: Mr. Le Doan Hung
Statistics Bureau: Military Security Service Captain Dinh Xuan Mai

Also arriving at the Phoenix directorate in September 1968, concurrent with its reorganization into separate branches for plans and training, was Lieutenant Colonel Walter Kolon. Put in charge of training, Kolon's job was "to prepare incoming personnel at Seminary Camp at Vung Tau," [16] which in 1969 was still the private property of the CIA; only Air America was authorized to fly in and out. Having worked with the agency at various stages in his career, including his first tour in Vietnam in 1965 with the Special Military Intelligence Advisory Team (SMIAT), Phoenix was a program that Walter Kolon was well suited for. Assembled by CIA officer William Tidwell within MACV's Technical Intelligence Branch, SMIAT was a deep cover for sophisticated "black" operations against the VCI before Phoenix.

"The premise and charter of SMIAT," said Kolon, "laid the groundwork conceptually for Phoenix."

When Kolon arrived on the scene, CIA contract officers like Bob Slater and veteran Phoenix coordinators like Doug Dillard and Henry McWade were teaching classes at Vung Tau. Recalled Dillard: "There was a compound and classrooms and different kinds of training facilities out on the grounds. Colonel Be was there with his RD Cadre training school, although they kept them separate. And of course, I was involved only with American personnel. They had agency people who had been with ICEX as instructors. The U.S. cadre down there were all agency people; later they began to get some Army personnel in."

Phoenix personnel assigned to Seminary Camp shared their mess hall with PRU advisers. "We had two elements," Walter Kolon recalled. "One was the Phoenix school; the other was PRU. Those were the only two there. The RDC training area was separate. But the people being assigned were neither fish nor fowl; counterintelligence and intelligence people had no understanding of police or judicial procedures, and former policemen were not the solution either," he added, noting that they and people from other agencies sometimes had no intelligence training at all. "What was needed was a new breed of cat, a person who understood collection, analysis, and response units like the National Police Field Force, and how all that jibed with gathering evidence and building a case."

So, Kolon continued, "We made recommendations to Colby to get a new program under way in the States. Then I went back to brief the people at SACSA, CIA, Fort Holabird, and the Continental Army Command at Fort Lee as to what our needs were, not just immediately, but into the foreseeable future as well -- always remembering that Phoenix was a coordinative function. As a result, the military intelligence branch of the Army, on instructions from the acting chief of staff for intelligence, actively began identifying in the United States people to volunteer as Phoenix advisers, on the understanding that they would be able to choose their next assignment after Vietnam. This would eventually develop into what was called the Phoenix Career Program."

Phoenix curriculum was soon introduced to the Foreign Service Institute; the Defense Intelligence School; the Army Intelligence School; the Institute for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg; the Civil Affairs School at Fort Gordon (home of the Military Police); the Army Intelligence School in Okinawa; and Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Thailand.

Walter Kolon then returned to Vung Tau, where he supervised the creation of the ten-day bimonthly Phoenix Coordinators' Orientation Course. The staff was "originally about a dozen people. Some were former DIOCC advisers, and the CIA also supplied a number of guest lecturers."

About his experience as a Phoenix facilitator, Henry McWade said, "I gave two classes. The first class was how the DIOCC should be, as set forth in SOP One and SOP Two. In the second class I said, 'Forget the first class; this is how it really is.' Then I explained how they had to adjust to the Vietnamese, how they would get money for expenditures but no money for bodies, and how sometimes they would get money for agents."

Kolon and his deputy, Major Kelly Stewart, also provided advice and support to Special Branch training courses begun in Bien Hoa in December 1968, then expanded to the other corps. In this capacity Kolon traveled with Ed Brady and Loi Nguyen Tan. By the end of 1969 corps centers had trained eighteen hundred students, primarily in how to be case officers. Beginning in February 1969, American advisers to ARVN ranger battalions, along with police advisers and Free World Military Assistance Forces, were also given Phoenix instruction.

In addition to classes at Vung Tau, the CIA gave instruction to Phoenix advisers at the Vietnamese Central Intelligence School. John Cook attended one of the sessions. He writes:

There were forty of us in the class, half American, half Vietnamese. The first day at the school was devoted to lectures by American experts in the insurgency business. Using a smooth, slick delivery, they reviewed all the popular theories concerning communist-oriented revolutions .... Like so many machines programmed to perform at a higher level than necessary, they dealt with platitudes and theories far above our dirty little war. They spoke in impersonal tones about what had to be done and how we should do it, as if we were in the business of selling life insurance, with a bonus going to the man who sold the most policies. Those districts that were performing well with the quota system were praised; the poor performers were admonished. And it all fitted together nicely with all the charts and figures they offered as support of their ideas. [17]

Like many of his colleagues, Cook resented "the pretentious men in high position" who gave him unattainable goals, then complained when he did not reach them.

In particular, as a result of mounting criticism in the American press, Phoenix advisers were called to task for their failure to capture rather than kill VCI. The problem stemmed from the press's equating Phoenix with the PRU teams it employed. For example,

in December 1967 the Minneapolis

Tribune

described the PRU as "specially trained Vietnamese assassins" who "slip silently by night into sleeping hamlets to carry out their deadly function." The

Tribune

noted: "This aspect of ICEX has a tradition that goes back far beyond the Vietnam conflict, and its methods are those of hired killers everywhere."

The "hired killer" label was to stick to Phoenix, with hapless DIOCC advisers taking the heat for PRU advisers conducting their business with impunity.

Writing for the

Wall Street Journal

on September 5, 1968, reporter Peter Kann described the VCI as "the invisible foe," adding that "the target is assassinated, sometimes brutally as an object lesson to others."

In this way Phoenix developed a reputation as an assassination program. That is why it became imperative that the CIA disassociate itself from the program through public statements building a case for plausible denial. Such was the tack William Colby took at a press conference held for thirty news correspondents on December 28, 1968, in response to mounting public queries about Phoenix. In his opening statement Colby called Phoenix "a Vietnamese program" in which Americans were involved "only as part of military operations." The MACV information officer assisting Colby added that no American units were allocated to Phoenix. Colby stressed that the goal was to capture, not to kill, VCI. Nothing was said about wanted dead or alive posters, the PRU, or the Army's combined reconnaissance and intelligence platoons (CRIPS), which Jeffrey Race calls "Far more effective than even the PRU at eliminating members of the VCI." [18]

When asked how advisers prevented people from using Phoenix as a cover for political assassination, Colby cited systematic record keeping as the fail-safe mechanism, producing charts and graphs to show statistics backing his claims. He did not mention the massacre of Ky's people on June 2, 1968, or Tran Van Don's claim that Phoenix helped Truong Dinh Dzu in the 1967 election, or the station's special unit, whose victims' names never appeared on Phoenix rolls.

Colby made no reference to the CIA's having built the province interrogation centers and said that advisers were "seldom" present at interrogations. He then outlined American-conceived legal procedures for detaining suspects.

The

essence

of Colby's dissembling was his definition of Phoenix as an organization rather than a concept. As stated in the previous chapter, when Ed Brady was asked if Phoenix generated atrocities, his answer was that it depended on whether or not the PRU and the PICs were defined as part of Phoenix. The

reason

for Colby's ignoring these two foundation stones of Phoenix was to conceal CIA involvement in the program, as well as to protect unilateral CIA penetrations

, what Nelson Brickham called "the most important program in terms of gathering intelligence on the enemy. "What Jim Ward called "the real sensitive, important operations." [19] And, according to Colby, it worked: "We were getting more and more accurate reports from inside VCI provincial committees and regional Party headquarters from brave Vietnamese holding high ranks in such groups. " [20]

"CORDS provided an umbrella," said John Vann's deputy, Jack. "But people, especially the CIA, were always back-channeling through their own agencies to undermine it .... Komer insisted that CIA people would run Phoenix through regular channels. But on highly sensitive matters, like tracking high penetrations, it wasn't reported in CORDS."

In a conversation with the author, Jack noted that the informal lines of command are more important than formal lines, that, as he put it, "

real

power gravitates off the organizational charts.

The way it gets organized isn't critical; it had to be done some way, and it can adapt. For example, in Hau Nghia it was military, while in Gia Dinh it was Special Branch. It has to be flexible to account for HES A and B hamlets as opposed to C and D hamlets. Military or police, depending on the environment. In any event the CIA advised Special Branch had cognizance over Phoenix." [21]

And Phoenix was a concept, not an organization.

______________

Notes:

i. Lang's sister had married Tucker Gougleman when Gougleman was managing SOG operations in Da Nang in 1964.

CHAPTER 18: Transitions

Saigon has been called a wicked city. It is said that the pungent smell of opium permeated its back alleys, that its casinos never closed, that its brothels occupied entire city blocks, and that a man could sell his soul for a hundred dollars, then use the money to hire an assassin to kill his lover, his boss, his enemy.

Anything was possible in Saigon. And given the massive infusion of American soldiers, dollars, and materiel that began in 1965, criminally minded individuals had the chance to make fortunes. This could be done in all the usual ways: by selling military supplies and equipment on the black market, by taking kickbacks for arranging service and construction contracts, and through extortion, gambling, prostitution, narcotics, and money changing.

The dimensions of the black market were limitless and included corrupt officials, spies seeking untraceable funds and contact with the enemy, and mafiosi in league with military officers and businessmen out to make a fast buck.

By late 1968, with the psychological defeat brought about by Tet, the crime wave was cresting, and the transition from a quest for military victory to making a profit had begun in earnest.



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