1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963|
Released by the Office of the Historian
III. The Coup Against the Diem Government, October 23-November 2, 1963: 209. Editorial Note
III. The Coup Against the Diem Government, October 23-November 2, 1963:
209. Editorial Note
In CIA telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon, October 23, 1963, Lodge reported that he had talked with Harkins on the afternoon of October 23 about the U.S. approach to coup planning against Diem. Harkins confirmed that in his conversation with General Don on October 22 he had warned Don of Colonel Khuong's approach to one of his Military Assistance Command officers. (See Document 206.) According to Lodge, Harkins stated. that his purpose in offering Don the warning was to discourage Vietnamese military officers from approaching U.S. officers on political matters. Lodge stated that he reminded Harkins of the guidance on coup planning that Washington had sent. (Document 192) Harkins responded, according to Lodge, that he understood this guidance to mean that the United States did not favor a coup. Lodge countered as follows:
"I explained that while it was true that the USG did not desire to initiate a coup, we had instructions from the highest levels not to thwart any change of government which gives promises of increasing the effectiveness of the military effort, insuring popular support to win the war, and improving working relations with the U.S.... General Harkins expressed regret if he had inadvertently upset any delicate arrangements in progress and added that he would inform General Don that his remarks of 22 October did not convey official USG thinking." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Reports; ellipsis in the text of the telegram)
Don was understandably concerned about the differing signals on coup planning which he was receiving from Harkins and Conein. He arranged to meet Conein on the night of October 23 and during the discussion expressed his worries to Conein. Don stated that Harkins' discouragement of a coup during the discussion of October 22 seemed contrary to Conein's desire to know more about the coup committee's planning. Conein assured Don that Harkins' remarks had been inadvertent and were actually contrary to a Presidential guidance from Washington. Conein asked again for detailed plans of the coup. (CIA telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon, undated; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Reports, and Don, Our Endless War, page 98)
210. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency/1/
Saigon, October 24, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent to the Department of State. Also repeated Flash to the Director of NSA and USIB agencies. There is no time of transmission from Saigon on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State at 3:23 a.m.
Critic . 1. Highly reliable source reports coup imminent led by Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Thao. Originally scheduled 1300 hrs 24 Oct but Major Nguyen Van Tu, CO 8th Rgt who leading five battalions unable to get transport and now commandeering trucks and busses. 5th Paratroop Btn commanded by Ngo Quang Trnong in Saigon and participating but had no ammo but being supplied now. Target is Gia Long Palace to overthrow Diem. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, Marine Brigade CO, and Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu, 5th Division CO, promise remain neutral. Khang indicated may give support later. In event initial assault fails troops will withdraw. Air Force led by Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky will bomb Palace followed by renewed troop assault. Lawyer Nguyen Huu Duong seizing Civic Action, Information, and Radio Vietnam with five hundred students plus part of Tu's force. Following first attack coup group will broadcast from Radio Vietnam or from auxiliary transmitter at Civic Action if necessary.
2. Source unhappily working with Duong and fears preparations incomplete and coup may fall apart en route./2/
/2/In Critic 2 from Saigon, the Station reported it had contacted Pham Ngoc Thao at 3 p.m. Iocal time at his home. Thao disclaimed any knowledge of a coup scheduled for that day or the next few days. In Critic 3, the Station reported that Colonel Nguyen Cao Ky was still drinking beer with American officers at 3 p.m. local time on October 24. These developments and other checks caused the CIA Station to conclude in Critic 4 from Saigon, that either the original report of the coup was false or action had been delayed or aborted. (All October 24; ibid.) An account of Critic telegrams 1 to 4 is in the President's Intelligence Checklist, October 24; (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)
3. Station believes above insufficient to succeed but may trigger other units. Also believe likely source unwitting full scope military support as he claims no armor involved whereas Thao and Huynh Van Lang have claimed armor as key to their plans.
4. Ambassador has been briefed.
211. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) and the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins)/1/
Washington, October 24, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Har-Van Files, Coup South Vietnam. Secret; Eyes Only.
[document number not declassified] 1. Saigon 1896./2/ [2 document numbers not declassified]/3/ and your recent Critics have been considered at highest levels. We wish to reaffirm instructions contained CAS 74228/4/ and within their context we have the following comments for your consideration.
/2/See footnote 5, Document 207.
/3/Reference is to two CIA telegrams from Saigon described in Document 209.
2. Certain aspects of the Don-Conein contacts give us considerable concern. Don's reference (1) to a Presidential directive and to a scheduled meeting with Amb Lodge, for which there was no basis, (2) the lack of information regarding Don's real backing, and (3) the lack of evidence that any real capabilities for action have been developed, all lead us to wonder whether there may be danger Nhu attempting entrapment through Don's approaches to Conein.
3. We wonder whether it is wise to risk continued involvement of Conein in the dialogue with Don, since not only might it destroy his usefulness, but might also involve you and General Harkins in an operation which is difficult to deny. Is it possible to arrange a more secure system of contacts with General Don and others in the military, perhaps through cut-outs. We do feel quite strongly that you and Gen Harkins should stand back from any non-essential involvement in these matters. CAS septel makes other technical suggestions./5/
/5/CIA telegram [document number not declassified] to Saigon, dated October 24. (Department of State, Har-Van Files, Coup South Vietnam)
4. We also need urgently your personal assessment of Don's own status, the group he represents, and whatever plans they may have for the future. Considering all these factors, it seems wise to maintain close control over meetings between Don and Conein.
212. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff/1/
Washington, October 24, 1963, 10:30 a.m.
/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Mildred Leatherman of Harriman's staff.
Governor called Mr. Forrestal re Zablocki./2/ He said Zablocki was not told what our policy was. Mr. Forrestal said our policy became public a day after it was made. Govemor said he didn't know anything about withholding of aid from units. Mr. Forrestal said that only happened day before yesterday. Governor said it was only in the press day before yesterday but policy agreed to a long time ago./3/ Governor said he was not complaining about the earlier orders but he has to have a green light to tell him exactly . . . /4/ Mr. Forrestal said he thinks he should be brought up to date now that he is here in Washington. Governor referred to the report which Z will bring out./5/ Mr. Forrestal said he hopes he will write about the way the war is going. The other most delicate situation. Trying to improve the policies and personnel of that government. Hope he won't say anything in his report that would make it more difficult for us to accomplish this. One thing that would make it difficult would be to have a whitewash of the regime. Mr. Forrestal said it could be gently pointed out to Z that the suspension of aid was something that was done back in August-stopped commodity import program; this became public knowledge no later than first of September; Mr. Forrestal thought Z knew this before he went out. On the troops, Mr. F said, this is a somewhat different thing. Governor said Z was very much concerned that cutting aid off from troops might affect war effort. Governor said he didn't know whether he could talk to Z today; has luncheon and war games in afternoon and leaving city in the morning. Mr. Forrestal asked whether someone else might do it. Governor said perhaps Roger could and he said he would talk to Roger about it.
/2/ See footnote 8, Document 181.
/3/On October 22, Robert J. McCloskey, Deputy Director, Office of News, read the following statement to the press:
/4/Ellipsis in the source text.
/5/H. Rept. 893, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., November 7,1963.
Governor said he is concerned about Harkins' action. He would like to talk to Forrestal and Bundy about it next week. Forrestal said trying to get two messages out this morning. Governor said we should try to get our ducks in row before Lodge arrives.
213. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/
Saigon, October 24, 1964-2:46 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC exclusive for Felt. Received at the Pentagon at 3:27 p.m. Passed to the White House for Bundy; the Department of State for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman; and to the CIA for McCone and Colby.
MAC 1991. Yesterday I had long conversation with Sec Thuan re the topics included in your letter to the President/2/ and asked if he had anything concrete to report. He said he would give me periodic reports as and if changes occur. I suggested that I see the President personally to discuss some of the items. He agreed but said it would be next week because of preparations for the UN committee and the national holiday on the 26th. I am continuing my coverage of the Delta provinces. Spent this morning in Vinh Long and also with the new atmosphere the attitude of the 9th Div is bringing into the area. [sic]
Also spent yesterday in the new province of Han Nghia northeast of Saigon. Was very impressed with the Province Chief and the American advisory group. They have a fine attitude in tackling a real tough problem in an old VC stronghold. It really charges one's batteries to see these youngsters at work. They put in a full day-and chances are they'll be called to put out a VC fire almost every night.
Just saw CAS 1896 to Washington./3/I was not in Bangkok as indicated in last para. And I did discuss message with the Ambassador apparently after it had been dispatched. In fact he indicated that my discussion with Don contravened our instructions on coup planning. I do not feel that I did. CAP 63560 dated 6  Oct/4/ certainly spells out that policy and CAS Washington 74223 of 9 Oct/5/ gives additional thoughts.
/3/See footnote 5, Document 207.
In the past two weeks two different officers in the advisory detachments here in Saigon have been approached by Khuong asking if the U.S. would back a coup. Khuong did not discuss any details of any plan. When these U.S. officers came to me for guidance I told them to inform Col Khuong that the U.S. military are here to advise and support the people and the government in their fight against Communism-and it would be well if he, Col Khuong, would bend his efforts along that line. I have never met Khuong. I have seen Don several times recently and at no time has he mentioned coup planning to me. Not that he would. In fact all our conversations have been along lines of furthering the war effort, ideas for carrying out some of your suggestions to Diem-and items I should put in another letter to Diem to continue plugging these ideas.
I told him not all of his officers had got the word and mentioned Khuong's approaches to two of my advisors. Don was surprised and told me he thought he had stopped all that. My purpose in this was to see if we couldn't avoid having advisors distracted by matters which are not in their domain and which only resulted in diverting them from their main effort as advisors.
CAS 1896 is the first indication to me since your visit that the Generals group was again in business. Though I am not trying to thwart a change in government, I think we should take a good hard look at the group's proposals to see if we think it would be capable of increasing the effectiveness of the military effort. There are so many coup groups making noises. Unless elements of all are included I'm afraid there will be a continuous effort to upset whoever gains control for sometime out and this to me will interfere with the war effort. Ambassador has seen.
214. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/
Saigon, October 24, 1963, -6:55 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Exclusive. Repeated exclusive to Felt. Received at the Pentagon at 3:35 p.m. Sent for information to the White House for Bundy; to the Department of State for Rusk, Harriman, and Hilsman; and to the CIA for McCone and Colby.
MAC 1993. Have just seen CAS Saigon [document number not declassified] /2/ Copy received after dispatch. Apparently there is a discrepancy somewhere along the line. It appears the discrepancy is in how the interpretation of what was actually stated gets put down on paper.
/2/Reference is to the second CIA telegram described in Document 209.
This Gen Don agreed must be the case where [when] we talked last night. CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]/3/ is another case in point. I did not mention any Presidential directive to Gen Don nor have I in any discussions with him. Nor did I say my statement was inadvertent. I did tell Don my reason for mentioning Col Khuong was indicated in my MAC 1991/4/ to avoid having advisors approached on matters that are not within their domain.
/3/Reference is to the second CIA telegram described in Document 209.
Gen Don asked to see me again this afternoon. He wanted to discuss further Col Khuong. I told him I had nothing further to discuss other than as stated above. I told Don that I would not discuss coups that were not my business though I had heard rumors of many. /5/ He agreed there were. He informed me Col Khuong had been sent to Dalat with his family for a vacation.
/5/In telegram JCS 4137-63, October 25, 8:45 a.m., Taylor informed Harkins:
215. Editorial Note
According to CIA telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon, October 25, 1963, Conein and Don met on the night of October 24. Don stated that he could not now hand over to Lodge the coup committee's plans for political organization as he had promised earlier. The coup committee opposed such a move for reasons of security, but, Don continued, the committee would be willing to show Lodge all their plans, both military and political, 2 days before the coup was to take place. Conein reminded Don that the U.S. Government could make no commitment to the coup leaders until it had studied their plans in detail. Don answered that the coup was planned for no later than November 2 and again promised at least 2 days' notice. Don assured Conein that the new Vietnamese government would be civilian, would free non-Communist political prisoners, would allow honest elections, and would permit complete religious freedom. The new government, Don added, would be pro-Western, but would not be a vassal of the United States. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Reports)
216. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/
Saigon, October 25, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Reports. Top Secret; Immediate. Sent from the CIA Station in Saigon to the Director of Central Intelligence as [document number not declassified]. Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 590-591.
1. I appreciate the concern expressed by you in Ref A/2/ relative to the General Don/Conein relationship, and also the present lack of firm intelligence on the details of the Generals' plot. I hope that Ref B/3/ will assist in clearing up some of the doubts relative to the Generals' plans, and I am hopeful that the detailed plans promised for two days before the coup attempt will clear up any remaining doubts.
/3/See Document 215.
2. CAS has been punctilious in carrying out my instructions. I have personally approved each meeting between General Don and Conein who has carried out my orders in each instance explicitly. While I share your concern about the continued involvement of Conein in this matter, a suitable substitute for Conein as the principal contact is not presently available. Conein, as you know, is a friend of some eighteen years' standing with General Don, and General Don has expressed extreme reluctance to deal with anyone else. I do not believe the involvement of another American in close contact with the Generals would be productive. We are, however, considering the feasibility of a plan for the introduction of an additional officer as a cut-out between Conein and a designee of General Don for communication purposes only. This officer is completely unwitting of any details of past or present coup activities and will remain so.
3. With reference to General Harkins' comment to General Don [in] which Don reports to have referred to a Presidential directive and the proposal for a meeting with me, this may have served the useful purpose of allaying the Generals' fears as to our interest. If this were a provocation, the GVN could have assumed and manufactured any variations of the same theme. As a precautionary measure, however, I of course refused to see General Don. As to the lack of information as to General Don's real backing, and the lack of evidence that any real capabilities for action have been developed, Ref B provides only part of the answer. I feel sure that the reluctance of the Generals to provide the United States with full details of their plans at this time, is a reflection of their own sense of security and a lack of confidence that in the large American community present in Saigon their plans will not be prematurely revealed.
4. The best evidence available to the Embassy, which I grant you is not as complete as we would like it, is that General Don and the other Generals involved with him are seriously attempting to effect a change in the government. I do not believe that this is a provocation by Ngo Dinh Nhu, although we shall continue to assess the planning as well as possible. In the event that the coup aborts, or in the event that Nhu has masterminded a provocation, I believe that our involvement to date through Conein is still within the realm of plausible denial. CAS is perfectly prepared to have me disavow Conein at any time it may serve the national interest.
5. I welcome your reaffirming instructions contained in CAS Washington 74228./4/ It is vital that we neither thwart a coup nor that we are even in a position where we do not know what is going on.
6. We should not thwart a coup for two reasons. First, it seems at least an even bet that the next government would not bungle and stumble as much as the present one has. Secondly, it is extremely unwise in the long range for us to pour cold water on attempts at a coup, particularly when they are just in their beginning states. We should remember that this is the only way in which the people in Vietnam can possibly get a change of government. Whenever we thwart attempts at a coup, as we have done in the past, we are incurring very long lasting resentments, we are assuming an undue responsibility for keeping the incumbents in office, and in general are setting ourselves in judgment over the affairs of Vietnam. Merely to keep in touch with this situation and a policy merely limited to "not thwarting," are courses both of which entail some risks but these are lesser risks than either thwarting all coups while they are stillborn or our not being informed of what is happening. All the above is totally distinct from not wanting U.S. military advisors to be distracted by matters which are not in their domain, with which I heartily agree. But obviously this does not conflict with a policy of not thwarting. In judging proposed coupe, we must consider the effect on the war effort. Certainly a succession of fights for control of the Government of Vietnam would interfere with the war effort. It must also be said that the war effort has been interfered with already by the incompetence of the present government and the uproar which this has caused.
7. General Don's intention to have no religious discrimination in a future government is commendable and I applaud his desire not to be "a vassal" of the U.S. But I do not think his promise of a democratic election is realistic. This country simply is not ready for that procedure. I would add two other requirements. First, that there be no wholesale purges of personnel in the government. Individuals who were particularly reprehensible could be dealt with later by the regular legal process. Then I would suggest a cabinet covering a very broad range. This may be impractical, but I am thinking of a government which might include Tri Quang and which certainly should include men of the stature of Mr. Buu, the labor leader.
8. Copy to General Harkins.
217. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/
Washington, October 25, 1963-6:29 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, CIA Reports. Also addressed to Harkins. Sent via CIA channels to Saigon. Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, p. 592.
CAP 63590. Your 1964/2/ most helpful. We will continue to be grateful for all additional information giving increased clarity to prospects of action by Don or others, and we look forward to discussing with you the whole question of control and cut-out on your return, always assuming that one of these D-days does not turn out to be real. We are particularly concerned about hazard that an unsuccessful coup, however carefully we avoid direct engagement, will be laid at our door by public opinion almost everywhere. Therefore, while sharing your view that we should not be in position of thwarting coup, we would like to have option of judging and warning on any plan with poor prospects of success. We recognize that this is a large order, but President wants you to know of our concern.
218. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, October 25, 1963, 9:54 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, PER-LODGE, HENRY CABOT. Top Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Kattenburg and Mendenhall, cleared with Rice and McGeorge Bundy (in draft), and approved by Ball. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt.
647. Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge. Your 776./2/ Diem's invitation to you may mean that he has finally decided to come to you. Pursuant tactics you have been following, you probably will wish leave initiative to him to see what he wants to raise with you. If opportunity which you judge appropriate is presented we hope you can explain our policy within context para 12 our 534./3/ Objective, of course, is to see if there is any evidence Diem is moving in direction we desire and broader discussion may be helpful in probing his thinking. And if Diem seems unwilling to open subject we think you should seek means of moving conversation to these matters on your own if possible within context of your basic posture.
As you know, we wish to miss no opportunity to test prospect of constructive changes by Diem. One way or the other, we hope it will be practicable to raise some of following more immediate issues:
1. Military Matters:
a). You might express satisfaction that previously proposed and recently reemphasized suggestion to remark corps boundaries, placing greater emphasis on Delta, has been adopted by President, as well as suggestion to place Special Forces elements operating in various Corps areas under operational control of Corps Commanders, which we understand has been subject JGS directive.
b). You might also wish explain further along lines para 9 Deptel 534, and elaboration Deptel 570,/4/ reasons for our position that support must be withheld from those airborne ranger and Civil Guard companies not responsive to JGS control.
/4/See footnote 3, Document 198.
c). With regard to military operations (as spelled out in JCS 2792, 051834Z)/5/ our view is that military operations should emphasize clear-and-hold instead of terrain sweeps of little permanent value; that there should be expansion of personnel in combat in all units to full authorized strength; and that training and arming of hamlet militia should take place at an accelerated rate, especially in the Delta.
/5/See footnote 9, Document 181.
d). With regard to the strategic hamlet program, we believe a consolidation of this program in the Delta of special importance at this time, as well as action to ensure that future strategic hamlets not be built until they can be protected and until civic action programs can be introduced.
2. It is highly desirable GVN treat UN mission in manner which will insure that subsequent report, UN discussions and decision are as favorable as possible toward Republic Vietnam. This approach to mission requires that it be permitted access to all persons it desires to see. Also means that GVN should in its own interest avoid raising any matters with mission either directly or indirectly which could serve as pretext for UN members to deal with political issues relating to Vietnam such as reunification by elections, neutralization, etc.
3. GVN could serve its own interest while UN mission present in Vietnam by taking steps to release Buddhists and students remaining under arrest, reopening all schools still closed and initiating action in National Assembly for repeal Decree 10.
4. Anti-US public statements by GVN officials (like Nhu) and slanderous articles in GVN-controlled Times of Viet-Nam are poisoning atmosphere between US and GVN and make cooperation in pursuit of our effort increasingly difficult to maintain. This is particularly true in the light of the fact that the U.S. Government has been extremely careful in these last months to avoid this kind of comment with respect to GVN.
There may be other specific issues as well which you might find it appropriate to raise.
We realize of course that Diem's general mode of operation leaves little opportunity for his interlocutors to bring up matters not of interest to him, and that Diem may keep conversation strictly on plane of interest to him without bringing up any topics bearing on political relations between his government and US. But we repeat that we do not wish to lose any opportunity of pressing our position upon him, and this meeting looks like one of the best chances we have had.
219. Letter From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/
Saigon, October 26, 1963.
/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 68 A 5159, SGN 963, 19 GVN. A copy was sent to CINCPAC.
Dear Ambassador Lodge: I am increasingly concerned over the continued, and probably accelerating, utilization by the Viet Cong of Cambodian territory. Heavier and more sophisticated Sino/Soviet Bloc weapons are turning up in the Delta and elsewhere in RVN. History points up the indispensable role of neighboring friendly territories for resupply and communications points in connection with insurgent warfare. Mines, grenades and demolition charges are being detonated in the Republic of Vietnam filled with explosive materials brought in from Cambodia. Prisoner of War interrogations relate in considerable detail the activities and movements of VC personnel shuttling between Cambodia and RVN. The Watch Committee in Washington recently reaffirmed all this on 17 October 1963, stating in part, "that cumulative evidence . . . ./2/ makes it clear that the Viet Cong are continuing to use Cambodian territory as a base of operations, sanctuary and support area." /3/
/2/Ellipsis in the source text.
/3/The Watch Committee report of October 17 has not been found.
Accordingly, I feel that a new effort to control and as far as possible eliminate VC activity in Cambodia is mandatory. This would include closing off the infiltration pipeline, and shutting down the Viet Cong bases in Cambodia. Failure to take positive action in this respect could prolong the current war in the Republic of Vietnam.
Though I appreciate this is primarily a GVN-Cambodia issue, I feel there are some military measures that should be given consideration (we can assist in some) such as:
a. Permit photo reconnaissance flights on the Cambodian side of the border.
b. Relax current restrictions on clandestine intelligence operations across the border in Cambodia.
c. Institute a "hot pursuit" policy authorizing ground forces in contact with the Viet Cong to pursue enemy units across the border. This permission should extend to pursuit of Cambodian forces found violating RVN territory.
d. Impose rigid inspectional controls on Cambodian use of the Mekong River in attempting to prevent the introduction of hostile personnel and contraband into the RVN.
One of our main difficulties has been the collection of hard intelligence, and implementation of the above should go a long way toward providing more of the answers, as well as contributing toward an improved operational situation.
In summary, I cannot help but be disturbed over the present situation in Cambodia from a military point of view. The flow of weapons and ammunition coming from there, and the continued VC use of that territory for recuperation, regroupment and resupply should not be permitted.
I appreciate that this is a difficult diplomatic task to accomplish. However, I feel we should continue in our efforts in the hope we can make some gain-even though small, in effecting more rigid control of the border.
General, United States Army
/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
220. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 28, 1963, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret. Received at 9:06 a.m. and passed to the White House, CIA, and Office of the Secretary of Defense.
804. Eyes only Secretary Rusk.
1. On Monday/2/ after the atomic energy lunch Thuan spoke to me about my day with Diem, inferring that he had been instrumental in arranging it. He said that Diem had had elaborate studies made about what steps they could take without our aid and all had concluded that without our aid they could not go on.
2. I told him that after a long and frustrating conversation in which not one single specific idea of mine had been accepted, I finally asked Diem if he could think of some one thing which was within the range of his possibilities, which he would be willing to do and which could reassure US public opinion. He had said nothing.
3. When Thuan asked what sort of thing I would want, I said that I could illustrate it by such things as liberating the prisoners (Buddhists and others); opening the schools; eliminating the discriminatory features of Decree Law No. 10; and concealing nothing from the UN Commission, so as to put Vietnam in a good light with regard to world opinion.
4. I said that the trouble between Vietnam and the United States was largely one of public relations. We are a government in which public opinion is extremely important. I realized that they were accustomed to an authoritarian government; still, two such different governments should be able to work together on specific matters.
5. I hoped that we could get this thing out of the papers for awhile, which is why I had advised that the Nhus disappear for awhile.
6. Thuan then said: Well, you don't ask for much, I must say. He added: Of course, the President must save face.
7. I said that nobody, not even the Americans, likes to be put in the position of supporting totalitarian acts which are totally contrary to our way of thinking.
8. He asked me whether he could say to President that without some step by GVN he felt sure American attitude would harden. I said that I would rather say that without some step by GVN he could see no change in present American attitude.
9. The conversation ended with Thuan saying that my conversation with President Diem was "perhaps a beginning".
221. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 28, 1963, 9 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 8 S VIET-US. Secret; Priority. Also sent to Bangkok. Received at 12:48 p.m. and passed to the White House, CIA, and Office of the Secretary of Defense.
805. Eyes only Secretary. Bangkok exclusive for Felt.
1. Herewith report of my day with President Diem, Sunday, October 27.
2. We left Saigon [garble--and flew?] to Phuoc Long from where we flew for about 20 minutes by helicopter to Dao Nghia Plantation Center where we had lunch. We then flew over the Province of Quang Duc to Dalat. Diem was at his best, describing the public improvements that he had put into effect. He was constantly saying, "I did this" and "I did that". He appears deeply interested in agriculture and in developing the country. When we were in the helicopter, because of the noise, he was continually writing messages on a large block of paper describing what we were seeing. He is very likeable. One feels that he is a nice, good man who living a good life by his own lights, but who also feels that he is a man who is cut off from present, who is living in the past, who is truly indifferent to people as such and who is simply unbelievably stubborn.
3. After leaving Saigon, the President mentioned the fact that at one time UNESCO had planned to build another university in Vietnam. This gave me an opportunity to discuss the UN Commission. I asked him whether he had seen them. Diem said that he had. I said that I knew two members of it well and one slightly. I was sure that at least one of them was going to ask me to let him talk with Tri Quang. I said that my answer would be that I would not allow anyone to see Tri Quang without the request of the Government of Vietnam, but I strongly advised him to give his permission because it would help Vietnam in the United Nations if the Commission could say that he had at no time prevented them from seeing anything or talking to anybody whom they wanted. He said nothing but looked provoked.
After a pause, he said that he supposed I knew that Tri Quang had been communicating with the outside world and that he had dropped some papers out the window onto the street. I said that I found this hard to believe because there were no windows in the room in which he was living and even if he went along the gallery to go to the men's room, he still was nowhere near the street.
4. After a sumptuous Vietnamese dinner, he suddenly stopped talking about the events of the past and said, in a casual rather supercilious tone, that he would like to know whether we were going to suspend the commercial imports payments or whether we were going to stop. He said it as though it were a matter of indifference to him. I had at no time brought this up or done anything to make it easy for him to do so.
5. I said I did not know, but asked what he intended to do if our policy did change. Would he open the schools, would he liberate the Buddhists and others who were in prison, would he eliminate the discriminatory features of Decree Law Number 10?
6. He said that the schools had been gradually opened, that they were all open in Hue, that the Buddhists were being liberated and that changing Decree Law 10 was very complicated and up to the Assembly, that he had no authority.
7. He then attacked American activities in Vietnam. He spoke particularly about an American [less than 1 line not declassified] who had talked to people in the Vietnamese Government about threats which had been made to assassinate me and that the 7th Fleet would come in if such a thing happened. He said that Communist documents had also been found discussing a coup on October 23 and 24 which also involved the 7th Fleet. He said that the assassination story had been started to poison my mind, that anyone who knew him knew that my safety was an essential preoccupation of his. I said I had total confidence that he did not want me to be assassinated, but that these rumors were constantly being brought to me. I also pointed out that there had been no coup on October 23 and 24.
8. He said that Mecklin, the head of USIS, was printing tracts against the government and giving equipment to opponents of the government so that they could print tracts and that the CIA was intriguing against the GVN.
9. I said: Give me proof of improper action by any employee of the US Government and I will see that he leaves Vietnam.
10. He then said that we must get on with the war against the Communists.
11. I said I agreed but we must consider US opinion; we wanted to be treated as equal partners; we do not want Vietnam to be a satellite of ours; nor do we want to be a satellite of Vietnam's. We do not wish to be put in the extremely embarrassing position of condoning totalitarian acts which are against our traditions and ideals. Repeatedly I asked him: What do you propose to do for us? His reply several times was either a blank stare or change of subject or the statement: "je ne vais pas servir", which makes no sense. He must have meant to say "ceder" rather than "servir", meaning: "I will not give in." He warned that the Vietnamese people were strange people and could do odd things if they were resentful.
12. I said many things happen which made it hard for us. In our newspapers we read of newspapermen being beaten up (as they were on October 5);/2/ of bonzes burning; of children being taken off to concentration points in US trucks.
/2/While covering an act of self-immolation by a Buddhist bonze at the circle in front of the Saigon Market, three American news correspondents, John Starkey and Grant Wolfhill of NBC and David Halberstam of The New York Times, were attacked and beaten by plainclothes Vietnamese policemen who sought to prevent them from taking photographs of the suicide. (Telegram 637 from Saigon, October 5; ibid., SOC 14-1 S VIET) See also Mecklin, Mission in Torment, pp. 242-243.
13. He said newspapermen shouldn't go into the center of a riot, they could expect to get beaten.
14. I said you don't get anywhere in the US by beating up newspapermen. He said I will not give in.
15. I said you wanted us to do something for you, what can you do for us? Ours is a government of public opinion. Public opinion is already so critical that I thought that if the Church resolution came to a vote there would be too many votes against Vietnam. I was glad that it was arranged to leave the decision on aid to Vietnam up to the President. But the President himself could not fly in the face of a totally adverse public opinion and the bad publicity coming out of Vietnam could make it hard for the President.
16. He said the US press is full of lies. He then changed the subject and talked about the impropriety of our allowing former Ambassador Chuong to speak.
17. I said there was free speech in America and anybody could say whatever he wanted.
18. He said there was a practice against letting a former Ambassador attack his own country in the country in which he had been Ambassador. This is clearly something for which Vietnam could be indemnified (edomommageable).
19. He then spoke about brother Nhu who he said was so good and so quiet, so conciliatory and so compromising.
20. I said I would not debate this point and it might be that Mr. Nhu had been treated unfairly in the press of the world but a fact is a fact and the fact is that Mr. and Mrs. Nhu have had extremely bad publicity. This is why I had advised a period of silence for both of them. It is still hard for me to understand why Mrs. Nhu felt she had to talk so much.
21. He said she had had more than 100 invitations.
22. I said yes, but they had not come from the US Government.
23. He said the press does not print what Madame Nhu says. The whole concert of lies is orchestrated by the State Department.
24. I said the government does not control the press in America. It is basically a free commercial press. When there is something sensational to report, an American newspaper is going to report it or else it will cease to be a newspaper. The way to stop the publicity is for Madame Nhu to stop talking.
25. He said that Ambassador Chuong's older daughter in Washington was "acting like a prostitute", that she "scandalized Georgetown" and "even jumped on priests". To this I made no comment.
26. Somewhat to my surprise he brought up the Times of Vietnam (which I had not done) and said that he realized that perhaps it had been a little bit inaccurate concerning the departure of Rufus Phillips which he understood was in fact due to the fact that his father was sick. I said that I was sure Phillips' father was sick, but I also said that the Times of Vietnam was constantly slandering the US, printing things which were totally untrue, such as the story the other day that [the Embassy?] allowed the American Congressional delegation and Secretary McNamara to visit Tri Quang. Neither of these things were true. But here again he would never admit any of my statements about the inaccuracy of the Times of Vietnam concerning the US.
27. At the end of the conversation he said with a sigh I realize I made a great mistake in leaving such a gap in Washington, meaning that if he had had another kind of Ambassador, the press and the politicians could have been cultivated so that Vietnam would not now find itself with such unfavorable public opinion.
28. When it was evident that the conversation was practically over, I said: Mr. President, every single specific suggestion which I have made, you have rejected. Isn't there some one thing you may think of that is within your capabilities to do and that would favorably impress US opinion. As on other previous occasions when I asked him similar questions, he gave me a blank look and changed the subject.
29. Although the conversation was frustrating and long-drawnout, the tone was always courteous and restrained. I am convinced that we have persuaded him of one thing: That the state of US opinion is very bad from his viewpoint. For a man who is as cut off as he is, this is something. Perhaps the conversation will give him food for thought and perhaps the conversation marks a beginning. But taken by itself, if does not offer much hope that it is going to change.
30. The US Government should, however, make up its mind as to what it would regard as an adequate action by the GVN on which to base a resumption of commercial imports. Thuan thinks we will be hearing from him again.
222. Memorandum for the Record by the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (Krulak)/1/
Washington, October 28, 1963.
/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers. Secret.
1. At the direction of General Taylor I called on Representative Zablocki to discuss his Vietnam visit./2/ He stated that his views would ultimately be expressed in writing but, in advance of the written report,/3/ that he would be glad to summarize them orally, generally as recounted below.
/2/See footnote 8, Document 181.
/3/H. Rept. 893, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., November 7, 1963.
2. He began by saying that his group included several members who left the US with a preconception that the Diem regime must be liquidated, while others went to Vietnam with an open mind. All returned, after 3-1/2 days in-country, with about the same convictions; specifically that:
a. Diem, with all his faults, his autocracy, his tolerance of venality and brutality, is durable, and has been winning.
b. There is no visible substitute for Diem--at least none which guarantees improvement; thus, actions by US representatives to join with coup plotters, as was apparently true in August, is harmful.
c. The conduct of the resident US press is a grave reflection upon their entire profession. They are arrogant, emotional, unobjective and ill-informed. The case against them is best expressed by their having been repudiated by much of the responsible US press.
d. He has serious doubts as to the efficacy of our commodity import suspension, in that he fears it will shake the confidence of the common people, inspire inflation and affect the war effort adversely. He is, at the same time, in full sympathy with the suspensions related to the Vietnamese special forces.
e. He is favorably impressed with Ambassador Lodge; believes he is attacking a most difficult task with sincerity, tenacity and vigor. He is likewise favorably impressed with General Harkins and his energetic approach to winning the war. He spoke unfavorably concerning Trueheart and Mecklin, in terms of their defeatist and anti-Diemist attitudes, although he did not explain how he reached this judgement in such a brief time.
f. He believes that intensified operations against North Vietnam are an essential to early termination of the war; that Ho Chi Minh's truce noises should be a signal for more pressure on him.
3. The Zablocki group visited the Delta and, by his account, were favorably impressed by the morale and enthusiasm of both the US and Vietnamese military. Someone had obviously told him of General Cao's tactical weaknesses, which he recounted accurately. He also observed that we should not lose sight, in our impatience to see the Delta war ended, that neither the French nor the Vietnamese had ever been able to establish much of a presence there; that it is indeed a hard problem.
4. At the end of the conversation--in which he did most of the talking-I noted that he had not mentioned the Buddhist problem. He then characterized it as a political matter, said we probably have as much religious discrimination in the US as there is in Vietnam, and compared the number of Roman Catholics in our own high government circles with the situation in Vietnam.
5. I asked if Mr. McNamara and General Taylor might have the favor of an advance copy of his report. He assented, but avoided saying when it might be complete. From remarks made by one of his secretaries I reached the conclusion that they are shooting for this weekend.
Major General, USMC
223. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/
Washington, October 28, 1963.
/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Pol 27-10 Rpts, 1963. Secret. Drafted by Montgomery and initialed by Kattenburg and Hilsman.
The attached telegram (Tab A)/2/ provides a condensation of TF/ Saigon's evaluation of defoliation and crop destruction operations in Viet-Nam. The full report is being pouched. /3/ The telegram concludes:
/2/Not attached; reference is to telegram 668 from Saigon, October 9. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 27-10 S VIET)
/3/The full report, "Evaluation of Herbicide Operations in the Republic of Vietnam (September 1962-September 1963)," was submitted on October 10 and approved by Harkins and Lodge. This 56-page report is in Washington National Records Center, RG 334, MACV Files: FRC 69 A 702, 204-58 Organization and Planning Files (1963).
1) Chemical defoliation and crop destruction operations are effective weapons against the VC;
2) Present approval procedures are too cumbersome;
3) The psychological and civic action aspects of the operation are not particularly good. No one, for instance, has been reimbursed for accidental damage.
TF/Saigon asks for a basic Washington decision on whether or not herbicides are an effective tactical weapon against the VC. If the decision is in the affirmative TF/Saigon recommends that:
1) Authority to approve chemical crop destruction be delegated to Ambassador and COMUSMACV per guidelines in Deptel 1055 (Tab B)/4/ and
/4/Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. III, Document 110.
2) Deptel 1055 be amended to allow wider use of herbicides;
TF/Saigon says it will seek to streamline request procedures and seek maximum US advisory assistance, particularly on the local level.
3) Authority for hand spray defoliation and crop destruction operations be decentralized to RVNAF advisors. Aerial spray will still be under control of the Ambassador and COMUSMACV.
I believe that we have sufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of herbicide operations. It has been demonstrated that the cost in adverse propaganda is relatively low. I agree that present approval procedures are too slow. I believe more effort should be made to improve the civic action aspects of this operation and that reimbursements for accidental damage should be paid promptly. More emphasis should be put on non-chemical defoliation.
I recommend that you sign the attached telegram. /5/
/5/A handwritten note on the source text reads: "done by R[oger] H[ilsman], 11:30 a.m. on 10/31. Tel sent to S/S 10/31." The telegram has not been found.
224. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 28, 1963, 6:57 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2003 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Department of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; and repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms.
1. Addressees of this message are as suggested in CAS Washington [document number not declassified]./2/
2. At the airport 0700 Monday, leading GVN officials were gathered to say goodbye to President Diem, who was taking me off on a trip. General Don sought me out and asked me whether Conein was authorized to speak for me. I said that he was. Don then said that whatever was done must be thoroughly Vietnamese and that the U.S. should not interfere or try to stimulate a coup.
3. I said that I agreed; the U.S. wanted no satellites; we would not thwart. I asked how soon action could be expected. He said, we are not ready yet. He then added: Army has lost its drive (in French "allant"); we must win before you Americans leave. We cannot do it with this government, we must, therefore, get a government with which we can win now. I said keep me informed and let me see your plans./3/
/3/Don, in Our Endless War, p. 98, recounts this airport conversation with Lodge in almost identical terms.
4. Unless you object, in the interests of maximum security, I propose to limit messages on this subject to myself and the CAS ACOS. Others will be given access on a strict need to know basis.
225. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 29, 1963, 2:54 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2023 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 4:23 a.m.
1. By prearrangement and at Gen Don's initiative, Col Conein met Gen Don [less than 1 line not declassified] of 28 Oct. [1 sentence (3 lines) not declassified]
[Numbered paragraph 2 (2 lines) not declassified]
3. Don stated that he had talked to Amb Lodge and that Lodge had vouched for Conein./2/ Don emphasized that he had told Amb Lodge that he and his group had no political ambitions, that their only desire was to win the war against the VC and re-establish the prestige of Vietnam and the Army. He stated flatly the only way to win before the Americans leave in 1965 was to change the present regime. Don indicated he was completely satisfied at Conein's bona fides as were the other members of the Generals' coup committee.
/2/See Document 224.
4. Don added that he and his fellow Generals wished to do everything possible to avoid American involvement in the coup. He stated emphatically that other Americans should quit talking to Colonels and Majors about coup action since in this way, Americans will involve themselves despite any discretion on the part of the Generals. Conein asked for specifics on this point. Don replied merely he recognized Conein to be the proper contact on the American side and the Americans should recognize him as the proper contact on the Vietnamese side. All other dealings on the subject of coup action between Americans and Vietnamese should cease. Don would not be more specific.
5. Explaining that he was speaking on his own initiative and without instructions (this had previously been cleared with the Ambassador), Conein called to Don's attention the fact that the Amb would be leaving for a brief trip to the United States on 31 Oct, that it might prove important both to Vietnamese and American considerations of this question should Amb Lodge have a complete grasp of the Generals' planning prior to his departure. Don repeated that Amb Lodge would have the plans before the coup but when pressed on his previous commitment to make these plans available 48 hours in advance, Don stated that possibly the plans could only be made available 4 hours in advance. Don questioned Conein closely as to what time on the 31st the Amb would be leaving. Don added that he hoped the Amb would not change his schedule, as any change might be suspect. Don stated nothing would be happening within the next 48 hours and that, if there was a good reason for the Amb to change his planning, the Amb would be informed in time to make his own decision. Don added that he would be leaving on the morning of 29 Oct to see Gen Do Cao Tri and General Nguyen Khanh, that the cover for this trip would be the distribution of medals. Actually, Don would be talking to Tri and Khanh to perfect the planning. Don asked Conein to remain at home from Wednesday/3/ evening onward.
[Numbered paragraph 6 (6 lines) not declassified]
7. Conein recalled to Don the latter's previous mention of Lt Col Pham Ngoc Thao. Don said to beware of Thao since he is not above fabrication and is suspect by the Generals' group. Don added that Thao is a protege of Ngo Dinh Thuc and Nhu, that likewise Thao is under suspicion by Col Do Mau, Chief of the MSS. Don added that even Gen Khanh is suspected by the President as not being entirely loyal.
8. Gen Don was again questioned about the participation of Gen Ton That Dinh in the coup planning. Don repeated that Dinh is not participating in the planning, that Dinh is under suspicion by Ngo Dinh Nhu, with whom Dinh argued while he was Military Governor of Saigon. Don reiterated that Gen Dinh is continuously surrounded by coup committee sympathizers and these persons have been given orders to eliminate Dinh if he shows any signs of compromising the coup.
9. Don was pressed to reveal details of the units participating in the coup. Don said that this was not his specific function within the coup committee and therefore he could not answer the question with precision. Don outlined his function as the contact man with the Americans, other Generals, and division commanders. Gen Le Van Kim is doing the political planning and the military planning is in the hands of others (Comment: presumably "Big Minh" himself). Of those units which he had knowledge he listed:
A. One half of the Airborne brigade (specific units not known to him).
B. Two battalions of Marines (specific units unknown). Col Nguyen Khang, Marine CO, fears for his family and would lead the entire Marine Corps into the coup if he could be assured [of] the security of his family in case he is killed.
C. All of the Air Force with exception of its commander, Col Nguyen Huu Hien.
D. Some units of the Presidential Guard plus at least four tanks.
E. The entire 5th Division.
F. The 9th Division (Comment: now in the Delta) after the coup begins.
G. Entire 21st Division.
H. Half of the 23rd Division (specific regiments not known).
10. Gen Don said that he was unaware of the position of the 7th Division/4/ but did not know that neither the Navy nor the Special Forces are involved in any way. He said likewise the 135th Regiment was not involved. He indicated some possibility that the combat police and other elements of the National Police in Saigon might join in after the coup begins. He could not give an opinion with respect to the 46th and 48th Territorial Regiments. He emphasized that he was not doing the military planning.
/4/In CIA Station telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon, October 30, the position of the Seventh Division was corrected as follows: "A review of Conein's notes indicates that the coup group can count on two regiments of that division. This agrees with our prior estimate that the bulk of the Seventh can be counted on." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)
11. Don volunteered that Gen Tran Thien Khiem was being very circumspect at the moment because he knows he is under suspicion by the President.
12. The only additional details that Don could offer were:
A. Command post for the coup will be the JGS. This was chosen because of its proximity to Special Forces headquarters and Tan Son Nhut.
B. The Generals are aware that there are two underground tunnels of escape from Gia Long Palace. These terminate at the cemetery at the corner of Phung Khoc Khoan and Phan Thanh Gian and at the zoo. These were formerly part of the sewers but the sewerage has been diverted into other channels.
C. At the moment of the initiation of the coup, PTT will be taken and phones cut off.
13. In closing, Gen Don said that he would be in contact again within 48 hours, utilizing the new system outlined by Conein. He pleaded that the Amb not alert the American community in any way, specifically that Americans not be told to stock up on food since that would be an instant alert to the GVN.
[Numbered paragraph 14 (1-1/2 lines) not declassified]/5/
/5/In Don's brief account of this meeting with Conein, he states that Conein "offered us money and weapons, but I turned him down, saying that we still need only courage and conviction, which we abundantly had." (Our Endless War, pp. 98-99) According to the interim report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders (Reps. 94-465, Senate, 94th Cong, 1st sess.), p. 222, Conein passed 3 million plasters ($42,000) to an aide of Don's late on the morning of November 1 to procure food for the coup forces and to pay death benefits for those killed during the coup.
226. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 29, 1963, 6:40 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Department of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 7:59 a.m.
1. I have reviewed the following factors which appear to me to be particularly relevant in a balanced examination of the positive and negative forces affecting the chances of a successful coup d'etat:
A. Of immediate concern is the apparent lack of detail furnished by General Don both with regard to the military units to be involved and the politico/psywar side. This appears to me to be at least in part explained by the Generals' reticence to reveal these details at this point and because of what must be a much greater regard for security than was the case in August. The Generals also acknowledge a certain amount of compartmentation and division of labor among the principals which on balance should work to our advantage.
B. The acknowledged involvement of General Dinh is an extremely variable factor. The Generals seem acutely aware of this and Don states that they have him under 24-hour a day surveillance and are prepared to neutralize him at any time should he kick over the traces.
C. The possibility of a premature, unrelated and precipitate coup by Col Pham Ngoc Thao or others looms large as a negative factor. Again, the Generals appear completely aware of this and as you know, we have never been particularly sanguine that Thao has this capability.
D. Knowledge of the involvement of certain civilian opposition elements, notably Bui Diem, who has stated that he is liaison between General Kim and civilian leaders, probably Dang Van Sung and Phan Huy Quat, represents both a positive and negative factor. On the negative side, it represents an extension of knowledge weakening the security element but on the positive side, it indicates an awareness of the necessity of civilian political inclusion and the fact that as Don has stated it is not intended to establish a military junta. Tran Trung Dung's knowledge and probable involvement despite his disclaimer, further indicates intention to form civilian government, probably within frame of reference of constitutional succession.
E. I am disturbed over the reported discussion of Col Nguyen Khuong's approaches to U.S. military personnel without the authorization of the coup principals. It should be remembered that Khuong's role was obscure in the August coup activities. Don has stated that the coup principals would discipline Khuong and that he has been removed from the scene.
F. It would seem to me that the existence of an imminent coup atmosphere would reduce the element of surprise necessary for the successful implementation of a coup d'etat. This coup atmosphere has pertained, however, for several months which would tend to reduce the state of readiness for countering such a coup attempt. We have some information that counter-coup combat elements have been suborned. The fact that the coup principals remain as the responsible military authority enhances both their knowledge and ability to dispose the units both for and against.
2. Additional factors which should be noted are:
A. To date the Generals have not indicated either a desire for or dependence on our support or actions for successful implementation of a coup. On the contrary, the Generals have repeatedly demanded the least possible American involvement.
B. Although we are well aware of the profundity of student and Buddhist dissidence and unrest and even ability to undertake certain limited action, we do not know of any plans to utilize these elements and of course cannot calculate the extent of spontaneous action they might undertake.
C. Action taken with respect to the Commercial Import Program and the severance of support and certain elements under Col Tung have created a coup atmosphere and some deterioration in the economic situation characterized by the fluctuation of the piastre value, the disappearance of gold on the market, and the rising prices of consumer commodities.
D. Please note Don does not want me to change date of my departure for Washington. We are reviewing whole situation Wednesday night to see whether change my departure is justified.
3. A point which must be completely understood is that we are not engineering the coup. The sum total of our relationship thus far is: that we will not thwart a coup; that we will monitor and report; and that Conein's long-standing friendship with Don may be a real help. Although there have been no requests to date by the Generals for material or financial support, we must anticipate that such requests may be forthcoming.
4. In summary, it would appear that a coup attempt by the Generals' group is imminent; that whether this coup fails or succeeds, the USG must be prepared to accept the fact that we will be blamed, however unjustifiably; and finally, that no positive action by the USG can prevent a coup attempt short of informing Diem and Nhu with all the opprobrium that such an action would entail. Note too Don's statement we will only have four hours notice. This rules out my checking with you between time I learn of coup and time that it starts. It means U.S. will not be able significantly to influence course of events.
227. Telegram From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins)/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Top Secret Cables, October 1963 (B). Top Secret; Eyes Only. The telegram is a compilation of documents prepared for the White House; there is no time of transmission on the source text.
JCS 4188-63. 1. In a discussion of the Vietnam situation at the JCS meeting with the Secretary of Defense on 28 October,/2/ concern was expressed over what appears to us a continued lack of effective communication between you and Ambassador Lodge. For example, one receives the impression from CAS Saigon 1986/4/ and [document number not declassified]/4/ that there was a lack of common understanding of the Washington coup guidance. It appears that CAS Saigon 1896 and [document number not declassified]/5/ which quoted you on a sensitive subject were transmitted first and shown to you later. The issue reported in MAC 1993/6/ contains a disagreement on facts which might have been resolved in Saigon by direct discussion between principals prior to messages being sent to Washington. These examples tend to form a picture of a relationship which lacks the depth and continuity required by the complex circumstances in Saigon.
/2/No record of this meeting has been found.
/3/See footnote 5, Document 207.
/4/Reference is to the first CIA telegram described in Document 209.
/5/Reference is to the second CIA telegram described in Document 209.
2. Related to the foregoing is the divergent reporting on the military situation arriving through the MACV and Ambassadorial channels. Saigon 768/7/ contains statements on the progress of the campaign at variance with those which we have received from you and with the impressions which Secretary McNamara and I received in Saigon. Are we correct in believing that the Ambassador is forwarding military reports and evaluations without consulting you?
3. In preparing to meet with Ambassador Lodge upon his return, it would be most helpful to receive your comments on the foregoing matters. If our impressions are correct, I would welcome any suggestions as to how we may help at this end to bring about a closer rapport between you and Ambassador Lodge.
228. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 29, 1963, 6:30 p.m.
/1/ Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Department of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 8:11 a.m.
1. On 14 October, Bui Diem, Dai Viet oppositionist, told [less than 1 line not declassified] he optimistic at that time because military friends were continuing their plotting against regime. Said had feared apparent victory of Ngo family over United States might halt further coup planning but this not case because, even though many Vietnamese do not understand American policy, they also appreciate fact USG not satisfied current state affairs. Bui Diem noted continued reluctance Vietnamese talk freely Americans, since in past this has resulted in Diem regime knowing of such planning.
2. On 28 October, Bui Diem told [less than 1 line not declassified] that Generals who planning coup being very secretive for security reasons, such security lacking in past, and any break in security now disastrous for families all concerned. In context of [less than 1 line not declassified] warning about whom he should or should not speak to, Bui Diem said he understood Conein had a key role vis-a-vis the Americans and could Conein be trusted? Affirmative reply given. Bui Diem said it might be necessary for him contact Conein in future as alternate link between Conein and Generals if existing links disrupted.
3. Bui Diem said he had frequent contact with General Kim and that Kim most politically astute of Generals. He said Kim and Big Minh close on their thinking relative civilian role in or immediately after coup, that other Generals had been brought in on military side, namely Generals Don and Chieu, but that in military discussions the naming of specific civilians had been minimized in order not to compromise civilians. Bui Diem said civilian side not serious problem, that civilian leadership could be solved without much difficulty when time came. Noted his discussions with Kim and the several papers he had provided Kim were more concerned with structure and policies of a new govt than with personalities. [less than 1 line not declassified] remarked that structure, policies, and personalities of vital concern any group hoping for USG recognition, that any new govt would desire such recognition soonest, therefore these details should be made known in advance. Bui Diem also said he had emergency commo with Dr Phan Huy Quat, assigned this week to Can Tho area, and that Quat could be back in Saigon on short notice. He added that Quat would in any case be in Saigon by end of week, and that he was acting as liaison between Generals and Quat.
229. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 29, 1963, 6:39 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2041 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Department of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; and repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 9:25 a.m.
1. Evening 25 October former Asst Minister of Defense, Tran Trung Dung, told CAS officer he had learned general officers planning coup within ten days. Coup to be led by Generals Don, "Big Minh", and that he understood General Le Van Kim involved at top level. Dung said apparently Generals planned the complete removal of the Ngo family.
2. Dung said that to his knowledge Generals had not yet approached civilian leaders. As he has previously, Dung expressed some concern about capabilities and intentions Generals. He considers majority of Generals no more than French trained sergeants in Generals' uniforms. Dung noted three exceptions this assessment: "Big Minh", Kim, and Pham Xuan Chieu. Dung said his concern re Generals was development of military junta and, although regime must be replaced, Generals lacked necessary political experience run govt.
3. Dung said he personally would prefer constitutional succession as interim solution. He noted Vice Pres Nguyen Ngoc Tho filled several requirements: Tho southerner, has gained a type of negative respect in posture vis-a-vis Diem and Nhu, was not ambitious for power, would delegate authority and responsibility, was not at odds with military, and most important, was flexible and would not fight change in constitution providing for Prime Minister. Dung said next best choice head an interim regime was Phan Huy Quat, who from center, could unify civilian leadership elements, was clean, capable executive and administrator, probably acceptable to military and would also delegate powers. Tho preferable as President, Quat as Prime Minister, with strong cabinet necessary to support either or both, further supported by energetic younger leaders at secondary echelon level.
4. Dung specifically singled out Tran Van Ly for Interior post, Phan Quang Dan, Tran Van Tuyen, and Pham Khao Suu, all for ministries: Dan or Suu for Social and Cultural Affairs, Dan or Suu for Civic Action, Tuyen for Information. Only three exiles woth consideration: Nguyen Goc Bich, due strong following and popularity Cochin China, Nguyen Huu Chau, who stood up to family and highly capable, and Nguyen Ton Hoan as good Minister for Youth. In category useless exiles Dung named Pham Huy Co and Hoang Co Thuy.
5. Dung himself said would not refuse serve in new govt, but clean sweep was necessary and fact he married to Diem niece may harm new grouping. Dung admitted resignation and aloof posture since, may nullify haul effects of his connections with Ngo family. [sic] Throughout evening Dung much more critical than before of Diem, Nhu, Madame Nhu, and entire Ngo entourage and govt hierarchy. Several times emphasized necessity clean sweep, Ngos beyond saving selves or country, and as in past will be sincerely agree reforms [sic], especially under pressure. Several times Dung toasted "second republic".
6. Despite disclaimers to contrary, it possible Dung involved current coup planning on civilian side. This based on following: Dung initial statement Don and "Big Minh" planning coup, seeming uncertainty re Kim, coupled with later statement when he included "Big Minh", Kim and Chieu in category capable Generals; his statement that to his knowledge civilians not approached, later mentioning some of more natural civilian leader candidates. On other hand, nothing Dung said proves he personally involved or has been approached, especially since what he said follows logical line of discussion and elicitation.
230. Paper Prepared for the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, 10/1/ 63-10/10/63 and undated. Top Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text. The paper was apparently prepared in anticipation of the meeting on the coup at 4 p m.; see Document 234. There are notes on the source text apparently in Hilsman's handwriting indicating that Harriman, U. Alexis Johnson, Ball, Sullivan, and Hilsman met at 2:20 and 3:20, perhaps to refine these talking points.
1. Status of coup planning.
a. Don saw Ambassador Lodge briefly at airport Monday/2/ morning Saigon time. Lodge confirmed bona fides of Conein. Don said coup group not yet ready. He said coup must be Vietnamese, and Lodge said we would not interfere or thwart.
/2/October 28. See Document 224.
b. Don saw Conein Monday evening Saigon time./3/ He said: Lodge would have plans before coup, but possibly only 4 hours in advance. He said nothing would happen for next 48 hours. Since he was told Lodge would leave Oct. 31 for US, there is reason to believe coup may be scheduled for Wednesday night or Thursday morning Saigon time (Wednesday morning or evening our time). Don's request to Conein to remain available at home starting Wednesday evening seems to confirm this estimate.
/3/See Document 225.
Command post for coup will be Joint General Staff hq. near airport in Saigon.
Don said he would be in touch with Conein again in 48 hours.
2. Estimate of coup.
a. Position of military leaders--see attachment.
b. Position of military units--see attachment. Picture is not very clear as there are many gaps in our information. Lodge explains this on security grounds. Coup group would appear to at least have preponderance of forces.
c. Civilian role--see attachment.
d. Lodge's estimate:/4/ Coup attempt by Generals is imminent; whether it fails or succeeds, U.S. will be held responsible; no positive action can prevent coup other than informing Diem and Nhu. There will be no time in any case to check with Washington re coup since Don indicates U.S. may be given only four hours' notice.
3. Possible actions for U.S. to consider:
a. Movement of U.S. military units/5/ in South China Seas and Okinawa into positions in which they were placed in August. Pro: to be in position to evacuate U.S. dependents in case of necessity. Con: will probably tip hand to GVN that something is up since GVN learned about our movements in August. Don asks that we avoid actions re American community that will tip off GVN. Our recommendation: ask for Lodge's view.
/5/A handwritten note at this point reads: "Ltd. stand by alert Sat? by White House. Forrestal did something, S/S Read says."
b. Lodge will review his travel plans Wed. night Saigon time to see whether he can leave. Don has asked that he make no change in his plans because it might tip off GVN./6/
/6/A handwritten note at this point reads: "Secy thinks 1) as seen from here Lodge should not follow schedule (plans as scheduled) 2) Ensure Harkins filled in." A note in the margin reads: "Decide p.m."
Should we make military plane available to Lodge in order to make his travel plans more flexible? If so, it should go no further than the Philippines without further word from Washington.
c. On coup planning we suggest Washington leave the matter in Lodge's hands. Any action from here may gum up the matter./7/
/7/Handwritten notes at the bottom of the page read: "Secy 3rd Intel assessmt-prospects, Intel people new assessmt," and "What do we do if both sides ask support-e.g. helicopters?"
/8/Top Secret. Prepared by Mendenhall.
1. General Duong Van ("Big") Minh--leader of coup group and apparently its military planner. Most respected and popular of all military officers. Now holds nominal post of military advisor to the President.
2. General Le Van Kim--political planner for the coup. Most intelligent and has keenest political sense of all military officers. Very close to "Big" Minh and brother-in-law of General Don. Now holds nominal post with Interdepartmental Committee on Strategic Hamlets.
3. General Tran Van Don--contact man for coup group with Americans, other Generals and division commanders. Serves as Acting Chief of the Joint General Staff, the top military position.
4. General Pham Xuan Chieu--earlier said by Don to be one of four Generals on coup committee. Known to be rather close to other Generals named above. Now serves as an inspector of strategic hamlets.
5. General Tran Thien Khiem--earlier reported by Minh as member of coup planning group, but now apparently not active with group as Don reports he is under suspicion by the President. Serves as Chief of Staff of the Joint General Staff (i.e., No. 2 to Don).
6. General Do Cao Tri--evidently made aware of coup plan by Don, but as CG I Corps in Central Viet-Nam, too far away to play an immediate role.
7. General Nguyen Khanh--CG II Corps in Central Viet-Nam. Same comments as for Tri.
8. General Ton That Dinh--CG III Corps with headquarters in Saigon. Neutralized by coup sympathizers around him.
[Numbered paragraph 9 (2 lines) not declassified]
/9/Top Secret. Prepared by Mendenhall.
Don does not know exactly the position of military units regarding the coup, but has furnished some information (all we have).
Of key units following is status based on Don's sketchy information:
1. Presidential Guard--2500 with 15 tanks and 12 armored personnel carriers. "Some units" and at least 4 tanks with coup group.
2. Armor Branch--4300 with 21 tanks, 41 armored personnel carriers and 14 armored cars. No information from Don, but loyalty to Diem earlier considered highly questionable.
3. Airborne Brigade--2550 in Saigon area. One-half of brigade with coup group.
4. Marine Brigade--1500 in Saigon area. Two battalions with coup group.
5. Special Forces--1840. Presumably with Diem as not involved with coup group.
6. Air Force--2812 in Saigon area. All with coup group.
7. Navy--2200 in Saigon area. Presumably with Diem as not involved with coup group.
8. 5th Division--hq. at Bien Hoa about 20 miles from Saigon. All with coup.
9. 7th Division--hq. at My Tho south of Saigon. Position on coup unknown.
10. 9th Division--newly moved to Delta from Central Viet-Nam. With coup after it starts.
11. 21st Division--hq. deep in Delta. All with coup.
12. 23rd Division--hq. at Benmethnot in Central Plateau, about 200 miles from Saigon. Half with coup.
13. 22nd, 25th, 2nd and 1st Divisions--all far removed from Saigon in Central Viet-Nam. No information on their position.
14. 135th Territorial Regiment--hq. in Saigon. Not involved in coup plan-presumably not contacted.
Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rice)/10/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
1. The four names of civilians associated with the Generals' coup group which we received this morning, e.g.:
Dang Van Sung
/11/A handwritten note next to Quat's name reads: "Probable Prime Min."
are all connected with the Dai Viet party, a long-standing non-Communist nationalist opposition group, anti-French before independence and anti-Diem since. The group is generally pro-U.S.
2. Recognized older leaders of the Dai Viet are Sung (48 years old) and his cousin-by-marriage Quat (long highly regarded by our official representatives in Saigon). They have both managed to remain relatively inconspicuous in their opposition, and thus to avoid arrest in recent years. President Diem is known to have considerable respect for Quat, but the latter has consistently refused to join and serve the GVN.
3. Bui Diem is a much younger Dai Viet leader, who has for several years been one of the few oppositionists in regular contact [less than 1 line not declassified]. He is assessed as very dynamic.
4. Tran Trung Dung, who is related by marriage to the Ngo family and who served Diem capably as Defense Secretary from 1955 to Nov. 1960, is a definite asset to the group. Recent telegram on his views is attached./12/
5. The absence of any reference to Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho in these recent messages does not, in my opinion, indicate he is not involved. He is Big Minh's closest political contact and will most likely emerge as Constitutional successor. In his case, however, extreme security precautions are obviously required.
231. Briefing Paper/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, 10/1/63-10/31/63 and undated. Top Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text, but initials on an earlier draft indicate it was prepared for Rusk, Harriman, U. Alexis Johnson, and Mendenhall. (Ibid.)
ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION AT OCTOBER 29 MEETING/2/
/2/See Document 234.
1. Should Lodge proceed with his travel plans to the U.S.?
Recommendation: Yes, unless the coup occurs before his scheduled departure. Otherwise, the GVN may be tipped off something is in the wind.
2. What other American officials in Saigon should be made privy to coup information to enable them to act in Lodge's absence?
(a) Mr. Trueheart, the DCM, who will become Charge and thus be the senior U.S. representatives in Viet-Nam.
(b) General Harkins, who will play an important role in the protection of Americans in Viet-Nam.
(c) Acting Chief of CAS Station [less than 1 line not declassified] is already privy to coup information.
3. Should the U.S. try to prevent the Generals' coup?
Recommendation: Since the U.S. may not receive coup plans until 4 hours before the event, there may not be sufficient time for a U.S. decision to be made.
In any case, we do not believe the U.S. should at this late stage attempt to thwart a coup for the following reasons:
(a) Lodge has told the coup group repeatedly, either directly or through Conein, that we would not thwart a coup.
(b) This is the best chance for a successful coup we are likely to have.
(c) Any attempt to thwart now would leave a great legacy of bitterness and distrust on the part of the Generals toward the U.S.
(d) While there is, of course, considerable risk in connection with a coup and no absolute guarantee of success, any other course of action or inaction involves risks equally as great or greater.
4. Should U.S. military units in South China Seas and Okinawa be moved into the same positions of readiness they had in August?
Recommendation: That we seek Lodge's view. It may be necessary to use U.S. forces from outside Viet-Nam to protect Americans during evacuation. On the other hand, movement of U.S. forces may tip off the GVN since the GVN learned about our movements in August. Movement of these forces would also show prior U.S. knowledge of coup planning.
5. What other actions could be taken for the safety of American personnel in Vietnam?
Recommendation: No other action appears necessary or feasible. Review of the evacuation plan indicates that the plan is ready to function, but its operation may be hampered by any unfriendly government.
6. What action should we take if requested by either side for support after a coup starts?
Recommendation: Since we have told the coup group we will not thwart a coup, we should refuse any GVN request for our support.
We are doubtful that the coup group will ask for support since Don says the coup group wishes to avoid American involvement and the coup should be thoroughly Vietnamese. If the coup group does make a request for support, we should be prepared to offer it if the field so recommends at the time.
7. What is the balance of forces vis-a-vis a coup?
Answer: The picture is not very clear as there are many gaps in our information. Lodge explains these gaps on security grounds.
However, on the basis of units reported to form the coup, the coup group appears to have at least a preponderance of the forces. Since it does not necessarily follow that all other units are anti-coup, the coup group may have a great preponderance of the forces.
8. What public posture do we adopt immediately after it becomes known that coup is in progress?
Recommendation: We state, both here and in the field, that we are closely following reports and watching developments. If asked about foreknowledge, we reply we had none. If asked whether we continue to recognize the Diem Government, we should reply that no action has been taken on this matter. If asked whether we are continuing aid to the Diem Government, we should reply we continue to support the Vietnamese people in their efforts to defeat the Communist enemy and to build a better future. In this, we wish them all success.
232. Briefing Paper Prepared in the White House/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. On a draft of this paper, McGeorge Bundy wrote the following note: "Should we cool off the whole enterprise[?]" (Ibid., Vietnam, Memos and Miscellaneous)
CHECK LIST FOR 4 PM MEETING/2/
/2/See Document 234.
A. Estimate of prospective balance of forces;
B. Estimate of quality and quantity of military leadership committed;
C. Summary of intelligence questions on which it would be profitable to ask further field assessment, e.g.,
1. Can we insist on independent process of confirmation or crosscheck?
2. Should we ask for a separate evaluation on these questions by Harkins?
2. Lodge's Movements
A. If we keep him in place, what are consequences for
1. Plausible denial;
2. Possible indefinite delay in return while nothing happens;
3. Possible bad signal to Nhu or to coup group.
B. If he returns on schedule, who is in charge in Saigon, and under what instructions. (There should be a draft instruction to Trueheart and Harkins on this point for the 4 o'clock meeting.)
3. Contingency Planning
A. CINCPAC--Presumably Defense will draft instructions for Felt which will preserve cover but move substantial forces to within easy range of Saigon.
B. Response to coup. Presumably Harkins should be asked for detailed plans on use and withholding of U.S. forces so as not to choose up sides.
C. There should be a political scenario of U.S. posture:
1. while in a possibly prolonged struggle;
2. if coup succeeds;
3. if coup fails.
233. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, McGeorge Bundy Files, Memos for the President.
/2/See Document 234.
I think it would be a wise precaution at the end of this meeting to ask that one copy of all important separate instructions and reports made on any channel--State, CIA, DOD, USIA, and JCS--be sent over here during this next period for your personal information.
My object here is to provide a check on the tone of voice of policy-level messages in these tense periods. There is just no doubt at all that a good deal of our trouble in the last three months has come from differences of emphasis, at least, in what we have said to the field. It is pointlessly cumbersome to inhibit the dispatch of business by requiring interdepartmental clearance on everything, but the existence of a single information copy of everything important for you over here will allow Mike and me to call to your attention any serious divergences.
In requesting such a single information copy, you would be safe in saying that in no case would any such copy be given any additional circulation without direct notice from you to the agency concerned.
I do not underestimate the sensitivity of this order. JCS, DOD, and CIA particularly feel that they have a right to communication downward that is not monitored from above. But your interest is not served by the uncritical acceptance of that right.
/3/Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.
234. Memorandum of Conference With President Kennedy/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963, 4:20 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Smith. The meeting was held in the White House. Another record of this conference, drafted by Mendenhall, is ibid., Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, White House Meetings, State Memcons. In To Move a Nation, Hilsman gives a detailed description of this meeting, pp. 518-519.
Mr. Colby of CIA gave the current status of coup forces. He estimated that the pro-Diem and anti-Diem forces were about even, approximately 9800 on each side, with 18,000 listed as neutral. The briefing was illustrated with a CIA order of battle map./2/
/2/ Not found. Mendenhall's record of this conference contains a more complete treatment of Colby's briefing as follows:
The President asked what Diem had learned from the attempted coup in 1960. Mr. Colby replied that Diem now had much better communications with military forces deployed outside Saigon. He could thus call into Saigon rapidly loyal forces to oppose rebel forces in the city. The 1960 coup was frustrated when forces outside Saigon remained loyal, moved into Saigon, and defeated the forces which had surrounded the palace.
Mr. McGeorge Bundy suggested that the assessment just given the group be sent to Saigon to see if our officials there agreed with it. He asked whether Ambassador Lodge should return to Washington now and mentioned that some of those present felt he should stay in Saigon.
Secretary Rusk said we must assume that Diem and Nhu have heard rumors about a coup. The question for us is whether we think there is enough prospect of a successful coup to make the decision to keep silent. Should we let the coup Generals know that a protracted civil war must not be the result of their efforts to overthrow Diem? Should we tell them we would support them only if the coup is short and bloodless? If fighting between the two sides takes place, each will ask for our help. If we support Diem, then we will disrupt the war effort because we will be acting against those Generals who are now fighting the war against the Viet Cong. If we support the rebel Generals, then we will have to guarantee that they are successful in overthrowing the Diem government.
Ambassador Lodge was asked by General Don to stick to his departure plan so Lodge should go ahead as he had planned. We now have little information. We need 48, not 4, hours advance notice of any coup. We should put our faith in no one, including General Don. We should caution the Generals that they must have the situation in hand before they launch a coup. We should tell them we have no interest whatsoever in a long civil war in South Vietnam.
The President agreed that Ambassador Lodge should leave Saigon for Washington as he had planned. He thought the rebel Generals should talk to General Harkins. He said the odds were against a coup. He suggested that General Harkins be put in charge of our mission in Saigon when Ambassador Lodge leaves. If Ambassador Lodge delays his departure, Diem will know we are aware of coup plans. It would be good to have Ambassador Lodge out of the country when a coup takes place.
Regarding the estimate that the pro- and anti-Diem forces are evenly balanced, the President commented that it always looks this way until the coup actually begins. Then support for the coup is forthcoming, as was apparent, for example, in Korea.
General Taylor cautioned against looking at the Vietnam situation as if it were a football game. He said a few key people are crucial to the success of a coup and are more important than total numbers.
The President asked that we try to find out who these key people are.
Secretary McNamara asked who of our officials in Saigon are in charge of the coup planning. He suggested that the Deputy Chief of Mission, Trueheart, the Acting Chief of CIA, [less than 1 1ine not declassified], and General Harkins form a group which would (a) jointly decide on what our agent Conein would say and do and (b) hear all of Conein's reports. If any of the three disagree, a report would be sent back to Washington at once. General Harkins may not know what the Embassy and CIA are now doing. Trueheart should head the Vietnamese country team until the coup was initiated. At that time, General Harkins would take over with Trueheart becoming his political adviser.
Director McCone did not agree that a troika should be set up in Saigon. He said it would be better for the CIA officer to take direction rather than participate in a decision-making group.
The Attorney General, acknowledging that he had not seen all of the reports, said that in his opinion the present situation makes no sense to him on the face of it. The situation in Vietnam is not comparable to that in Iraq or in a South American country where a coup could be brought off promptly. The situation now is no different than that of four months ago when the Generals were not able to organize a coup. To support a coup would be putting the future of Vietnam and in fact all of Southeast Asia in the hands of one man not now known to us. Diem will not run from a fight or quit under pressure. A failure of a coup risks so much. The reports we have are very thin and the information about the assets which the rebel Generals have at their command is limited. We have a right to know what the rebel Generals are planning. We can't go half way. If the coup fails, Diem will throw us out. If we send out the draft cable/3/ as it stands, it will appear that we are in favor of a coup and only want more information. "My view is the minority view."
/3/For the telegram as sent, see Document 236. No draft has been found.
Secretary Rusk replied that if we say we are not for a coup, then the coup-minded military leaders will turn against us and the war effort will drop off rapidly./4/
/4/In Mendenhall's record, Rusk is paraphrased as follows: "if a major part of the Vietnamese military leadership feels that the war against the Viet Cong could not be won with the Diem Government then it is a major risk for the U.S. in continuing with this government." According to Mendenhall's record, "The Attorney General remarked that he was aware of no support for the view of certain Vietnamese military leaders that the war could not be won with the Diem Government. General Taylor expressed agreement with the Attorney Generals' point of view."
General Taylor said he agreed with the Attorney General. When pressed by the President, General Taylor said that even a successful coup would slow down the war effort because the new central government would be inexperienced. In addition, all of the province chiefs appointed by Diem would probably be replaced by a new government.
Director McCone said he agreed with General Taylor. The failure of a coup would be a disaster and a successful coup would have a harmful effect on the war effort.
The President asked General Taylor why all the province chiefs would be replaced. He replied that as Diem appointees they would be loyal to Diem, and therefore, not trusted by the rebel Generals who had overthrown Diem.
Secretary Rusk said the important question was whether the rebel Generals could achieve quick success. He felt that in the long run, if the Diem government continued, the war effort would go down hill.
Mr. Harriman said it was clear that in Vietnam there was less and less enthusiasm for Diem. We cannot predict that the rebel Generals can overthrow the Diem government, but Diem cannot carry the country to victory over the Viet Cong. With the passage of time, our objectives in Vietnam will become more and more difficult to achieve with Diem in control.
The President said it appears that the pro- and anti-Diem military forces are about equal. If this is so, any attempt to engineer a coup is silly. If Lodge agrees with this point of view, then we should instruct him to discourage a coup.
Mr. McGeorge Bundy said the most unfortunate development would be a three-day civil war in Saigon. The time remaining for us to instruct Lodge is very short. If a military plane were sent to pick up Lodge, the Ambassador could stay longer in Vietnam during the uncertain days immediately ahead.
Secretary McNamara thought that we ought to leave it up to Ambassador Lodge when he would leave Saigon for Washington. In commenting on the draft cable, he said he thought Lodge would read it as a change of signals. Lodge now believes that he is not to thwart a coup. The draft instructs him to call in General Harkins, which would be difficult to do in view of the fact that Lodge is not now keeping General Harkins informed of developments. The Ambassador should be given an option to delay his return if he wishes.
The President asked what were Lodge's existing instructions. In reply, Secretary Rusk read a paragraph from the October 5 telegram./5/
/5/Apparent reference to Document 182.
The President agreed to ask Lodge what he thought he ought to do about resuming to Washington. Mr. McGeorge Bundy said the working group would rewrite the draft cable.
/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
235. Memorandum of a Conference With President Kennedy/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings on Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Smith. The meeting was held in the White House.
A revised cable to Ambassador Lodge was circulated to the group (copy attached)./2/
/2/Not found; the cable as sent is Document 236.
The President commented that he was not so concerned now about the kind of a government which would exist after the coup as he was about the correlation of pro- and anti-Diem forces.
Secretary McNamara agreed and asked that the draft cable stress our objection to a situation in which there would be major fighting between the Diem forces and the rebel Generals.
The President said the burden of proof should be on the coup promoters to show that they can overthrow the Diem government and not create a situation in which there would be a draw. We can discourage a coup in ways other than telling Diem of the rebel Generals' plans. What we say to the coup Generals can be crucial short of revealing their plans to Diem. The paragraph referring to post-Diem government matters should be dropped. Lodge should be told that from here we can see that a disaster could take place and that if the rebels can't win, it would not be sensible for them to go ahead. Lodge feels that the coup is comparable to a stone rolling down hill which can't be stopped. If this is so, then no one can say that we are to blame for the coup, no matter what we do.
In reviewing a request for a country team assessment of the coup situation, the President asked that we make clear to Lodge the doubts we have concerning the military strength of the rebel Generals and ask him to ask the rebel Generals how they plan to deal with a situation in which their military strength is apparently inferior to that of the Diem regime.
The President reiterated his suggestion that Lodge should tell the Generals that they must prove they can pull off a successful coup or, in our opinion, it would be a mistake to proceed. If we miscalculated, we could lose our entire position in Southeast Asia overnight.
The President said that he agreed that Lodge should return to Washington by military plane, the time of his departure to be left up to him.
/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
236. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963-7:22 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret. The source text is CIA telegram [document number not declassified] sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; and repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. 11, pp. 782-783.
Eyes only for Ambassador Lodge from McGeorge Bundy.
1. Your 2023, [document number not declassified], 2041 and [document number not declassified]/2/ examined with care at highest levels here. You should promptly discuss this reply and associated messages with Harkins whose responsibilities toward any coup are very heavy especially after you leave (see paragraph 7 below). They give much clearer picture group's alleged plans and also indicate chances of action with or without our approval now so significant that we should urgently consider our attitude and contingency plans. We note particularly Don's curiosity your departure and his insistence Conein be available from Wednesday/3/ night on, which suggests date might be as early as Thursday.
/2/ Documents 225, 226, 229 and 228, respectively.
2. Believe our attitude to coup group can still have decisive effect on its decisions. We believe that what we say to coup group can produce delay of coup and that betrayal of coup plans to Diem is not our only way of stopping coup. We therefore need urgently your combined assessment with Harkins and CAS (including their separate comments if they desire). We concerned that our line-up of forces in Saigon (being cabled in next message)/4/ indicates approximately equal balance of forces, with substantial possibility serious and prolonged fighting or even defeat. Either of these could be serious or even disastrous for U.S. interests, so that we must have assurance balance of forces clearly favorable.
3. With your assessment in hand, we might feel that we should convey message to Don, whether or not he gives 4 or 48 hours notice that would (a) continue explicit hands-off policy, (b) positively encourage coup, or (c) discourage.
4. In any case, believe Conein should find earliest opportunity express to Don that we do not find presently revealed plans give clear prospect of quick results. This conversation should call attention important Saigon units still apparently loyal to Diem and raise serious issue as to what means coup group has to deal with them.
5. From operational standpoint, we also deeply concerned Don only spokesman for group and possibility cannot be discounted he may not be in good faith. We badly need some corroborative evidence whether Minh and others directly and completely involved. In view Don's claim he doesn't handle "military planning" could not Conein tell Don that we need better military picture and that Big Minh could communicate this most naturally and easily to Stilwell? We recognize desirability involving MACV to minimum, but believe Stilwell far more desirable this purpose than using Conein both ways.
6. Complexity above actions raises question whether you should adhere to present Thursday schedule. Concur you and other US elements should take no action that could indicate US awareness coup possibility. However, DOD is sending berth-equipped military aircraft that will arrive Saigon Thursday and could take you out thereafter as late as Saturday afternoon in time to meet your presently proposed arrival Washington Sunday. You could explain this being done as convenience and that your Washington arrival is same. A further advantage such aircraft is that it would permit your prompt return from any point en route if necessary. To reduce time in transit, you should use this plane, but we recognize delaying your departure may involve greater risk that you personally would appear involved if any action took place. However, advantages your having extra two days in Saigon may outweigh this and we leave timing of flight to your judgment.
7. Whether you leave Thursday or later, believe it essential that prior your departure there be fullest consultation Harkins and CAS and that there be clear arrangements for handling (a) normal activity, (b) continued coup contacts, (c) action in event a coup starts. We assume you will wish Trueheart as charge to be head of country team in normal situation, but highest authority desires it clearly understood that after your departure Harkins should participate in supervision of all coup contacts and that in event coup begins, he become head of country team and direct representative of President, with Trueheart in effect acting as POLAD. On coup contacts we will maintain continuous guidance and will expect equally continuous reporting with prompt account of any important divergencies in assessments of Harkins and [less than 1 1ine not declassified].
8. If coup should start, question of protecting U.S. nationals at once arises. We can move Marine btl into Saigon by air from Okinawa within 24 hours if Tan Son Nhut available. We are sending instructions to CINCPAC to arrange orderly movement of seaborne Marine btl to waters adjacent to South Vietnam in position to close Saigon within approximately 24 hours.
9. We are now examining post-coup contingencies here and request your immediate recommendations on position to be adopted after coup begins, especially with respect to requests for assistance of different sorts from one side or the other. Also request you forward contingency recommendations for action if coup (a) succeeds, (b) fails, (c) is indecisive.
10. We reiterate burden of proof must be on coup group to show a substantial possibility of quick success; otherwise, we should discourage them from proceeding since a miscalculation could result in jeopardizing U.S. position in Southeast Asia.
237. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the Station in Saigon/1/
Washington, October 29, 1963, 9:21 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret. The source text is CIA telegram [document number not declassified] sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; and to Honolulu eyes only for Felt. Received at the Department of State at 11:34 p.m.
1. Available info here indicates that Generals do not have clear preponderance of force in Saigon area, posing possibility of extended fighting, which we wish to avoid, or even defeat. We do not refer to overall numerical relationship, but weighted estimate with recognition of critical factors of key units, surprise, resolution, disposition, strength, etc. Would appreciate your review of our holdings re following units, and their component elements, viewed here as of decisive importance and your estimate of role they would play in coup initiated by these Generals.
Presidential Guard. Two tens totaling 2500 men, fifteen tanks twelve armored personnel carriers near Palace, presumed loyal although Don claims one company and both Thao and Tuyen have claimed that disaffection exists.
The Airborne Brigade. Six tens totaling 4800 men. Two tens Bien Hoa area. Remaining four tens in Cap Mil District, especially at Tan Son Nhut. Don claims half with coup, Tuyen claimed first, fifth, sixth and eighth tens disaffected. Many officers discontented but contradictory reports re Col. Vien loyalty.
Marine Brigade. Four tens totaling 4500 men. First and third tens Saig. Second and fourth in IV Corps. Reports indicate two or three tens reported disaffected but no firm identification. No hard reading on Commander Col. Khang or unit commanders in terms willingness actively join coup. Armor first squadron principally Saigon and north. Varied collection tanks, armored cars and personnel carriers. Commander in past reported as loyal to Diem but some more recent indications of disaffection by him and by several unit commanders under him. Our reading, however, is that unit would be loyal to Palace in coup situation. Second squadron My Tho. Some early indications of pro coup possibilities but more recent reports leave orientation in doubt.
Special Forces. 1200 men of which bulk in Saigon area, all presumed loyal to Palace.
Police. Uniformed 4500. No hard info but not considered decisive. Combat police 800. No hard info but presumed loyal to regime.
Fifth Division. Bien Hoa and north. 9200 men. We hold bulk as unknown despite reports certain smaller components have tendencies toward Generals and Don's claim of whole division.
Seventh Division. My Tho. 9200 men. We carried Commander Colonel Dam as possible joining coup but no hard info this unit.
Air Force. Possibly susceptible to coup effort but believed by nature not capable of deciding issue in coup situation.
Other units exist in Saigon area such as Quang Trung training center, military police, civil guard, territorial regiment, administrative and technical personnel etc., but these not believed likely to be decisive in coup situation.
2. Summarizing, comparative forces lineup would appear give Palace quite firm base in Presidential Guard, Special Forces, with possible help of some Marines, some Airborne and some Armor. Coup side is estimated to include some Airborne, some Marines, some Armor and Air Force and units outside of Saigon which could not play immediate role.
3. In answering above, request that availability of transportation, fuel, ammo and any known GVN control mechanisms over units be considered in connection with each unit's loyalty and ability to influence a coup in Saigon.
4. Request that MACV and MAAG be consulted in formulating answers to above, and that Amb be shown this message.
238. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 11:55 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2060 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy and to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy. Repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 12:15 a.m.
1. On 28 October 1963 Tran Quoc Buu stated to a CAS officer that the CVTC and the Vietnamese people as a whole would willingly support a military government brought about by force of arms. They would support an even tougher government than the present regime, as long as it proved itself honest and capable of pursuing a sound policy. The various opposition groups would accept such a government also, particularly since such groups lacked organization and numbers. The CVTC would not ask for representation in the government but would carry weight nonetheless, since it was the only independent organization, with the possible exception of the Buddhist groups, which had a large and disciplined membership.
2. Buu added that the key to any change of government at this time is the military. Probably nothing will happen until the military acts; then all elements of the population will immediately rally to the cause, and the present regime would fall in short order.
239. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 9 a.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, FT 1 S VIET. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 2:39 a.m. and passed to the White House at 4:50 a.m.
816. Herewith are some ideas for study in the Department and for possible discussion when I am in Washington on the conditions under which the U.S. might resume payment of commercial imports to Vietnam
1. We should decide that we will not again give the GVN a blank check and that for the future all aid will be given, for example, on a quarterly basis so that at all times we have some control.
2. We should also make it clear that we will not pay back the amount which was lost by the suspension.
3. If we decide to resume payments on the strength of an offer by them to do certain things, I would hope that these things would really go to the fundamentals. For example, I attach no value whatever to reshuffling the cabinet. This is one example of a purely superficial measure.
4. Some of the steps which would have some meaning would be as follows:/2/
/2/In telegram 820 from Saigon, October 30, Lodge added the additional suggested step:
a. Putting Mr. Nhu into the Cabinet or into some position with definite limitations where he could be more easily watched and controlled.
b. Liberating the prisoners, both Buddhists and students.
c. Reopening all the schools.
d. Eliminating discriminatory features of Decree Law No. 10.
e. Loosening press censorship so as to provide a safety valve for unorthodox opinions.
f. Stop arresting people who oppose the government so that there can be some loyal opposition. In general, to be less timid.
g. Allow the legislature to function better by having Cabinet Ministers subject to questioning by the legislature.
h. Allowing labor to operate in the provinces.
i. Let the UN Mission see whomever and whatever it wants.
5. I can think of no way whereby the execution of such a plan could be guaranteed or how we can protect ourselves against foot dragging and evasions.
6. We may also face a situation in which they refuse to do anything and yet we consider that we might resume payments. In that case I might call on Diem, tell him we were going to resume payments on certain items for limited periods and read to him a statement which I would then leave with him and which might say something as follows:
"Mr. President, the United States is about to resume payment for certain types of commercial imports for a limited period of time.
"You should know that we suspended these payments in part because of the police state methods used in Vietnam against Buddhist leaders, students and even against Americans. Public opinion was also concerned that the public statements of Madame Nhu and others apparently expressed the point of view of the Government of Vietnam. These things had weakened the support of American public opinion for American help to Vietnam. Under our system of government, even our President cannot go against the full force of public opinion.
"We now conclude that while much has been done to shake American confidence, there is still faith that the Government of Vietnam, working with the people and the army, and abandoning any exaggerated concern for its own tenure of office, will concentrate wholeheartedly on winning the war against the Viet Cong.
"But candor compels us to say that we must not again be put into the position of condoning brutality and totalitarian practices which go squarely against our traditions and customs."
7. Hope Department will study which of the measures in paragraphs a to i are more or less self-enforcing, that is which the public can watch and see that they are done.
240. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 4 p.m.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State and Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to Bangkok for Felt. Attached to the source text was a signed note from Krulak to McGeorge Bundy stating that Taylor asked that this message, which had been shown only to McNamara at Defense, should be conveyed to Bundy. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 784-785.
MAC 2028. Your JCS 4188-63/2/ arrived as I was in the process of drafting one for you along the same lines. I share your concern. I have not as yet seen Saigon 768./3/ I sent to the Embassy for a copy at 0830 this morning-as of now 1100-the Embassy has not released it. Also CINCPAC 0-300040Z/4/ info JCS came as a surprise to me as I am unaware of any change in local situation which indicates necessity for actions directed. Perhaps I'll find the answer in Saigon 768. Or perhaps actions directed in CINCPAC 300040Z are precautionary in light of Gen Don's statement reported in [document number not declassified]/5/ that a coup would take place in any case not later than 2 November. It might be noted Don also is supposed to have said [document number not declassified]/6/ that though the coup committee would not release the details, the Ambassador would receive the complete plan for study two days prior to the scheduled times for the coup.
/5/ Reference is to the second CIA telegram cited in Document 209.
I have not been informed by the Ambassador that he has received any such plans. I talked to him yesterday on my return from Bangkok and he offered no additional information. He has agreed to keep me completely informed if anything new turns up.
Incidentally he leaves for Washington tomorrow (31st) afternoon. If the coup is to happen before the second he's hardly going to get two days notice.
One thing I have found out, Don is either lying or playing both ends against the middle. What he told me is diametrically opposed to what he told Col. Conein. He told Conein the coup will be before November 2nd. He told me he was not planning a coup. I sat with Don and Big Minh for 2 hours during the parade last Saturday. No one mentioned coupe. To go on:
Both CAS Saigon 1896/7/ and [document number not declassified]/8/ were sent first and delivered to me after dispatch. My 1991/9/ was discussed with the Ambassador prior to dispatch. My 1993/10/ was not, basically because I had not seen CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]/8/ before dispatch and I just wanted to get the record straight from my side and where my name was involved.
/7/See footnote 5, Document 207.
/8/Reference is to the same telegram cited in footnote 5 above.
The Ambassador and I are currently in touch with each other but whether the communications between us are effective is something else. I will say Cabot's methods of operations are entirely different from Amb Nolting's as far as reporting in the military is concerned.
Fritz would always clear messages concerning the military with me or my staff prior to dispatch. So would [less than 1 line not declassified] if MACV was concerned. This is not true today. Cite CAS 1896 and [document number not declassified]/11/ for examples. Also you will recall I was not the recipient of several messages you held when you were here.
/11/Reference is to the same telegram cited in footnotes 5 and 8 above.
CINCPAC brought this matter up again when I saw him in Bangkok, this past week end. He is going to make a check when he returns to see if he holds messages I have not received. Have just received Saigon 768./12/ I will have to report you are correct in believing that the Ambassador is forwarding military reports and evaluations without consulting me. For his weekly report to the President, at his request, I furnish him a short military statement. For preparation of 768 I made no mention of the Delta. I will answer 768 separately today.
There is a basic difference apparently between the Ambassador's thinking and mine on the interpretation of the guidance contained in CAP 63560 dated 6 October/13/ and the additional thoughts, I repeat, thoughts expressed in CAS Washington 74228 dated 9 October./14/ I interpret CAP 63560 as our basic guidance and that CAS 74228 being additional thoughts did not change the basic guidance in that no initiative should now be taken to give any active covert encouragement to a coup. The Ambassador feels that 74228 does change 63560 and that a change of government is desired and feels as stated in CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]/15/ that the only way to bring about such a change is by a coup.
I'm not opposed to a change in government, no indeed, but I'm inclined to feel that at this time the change should be in methods of governing rather than complete change of personnel. I have seen no batting order proposed by any of the coup groups. I think we should take a hard look at any proposed list before we make any decisions. In my contacts here I have seen no one with the strength of character of Diem, at least in fighting communists. Certainly there are no Generals qualified to take over in my opinion. I am not a Diem man per se. I certainly see the faults in his character. I am here to back 14 million SVN people in their fight against communism and it just happens that Diem is their leader at this time. Most of the Generals I have talked to agree they can go along with Diem, all say it's the Nhu family they are opposed to.
Perhaps the pressures we have begun to apply will cause Diem and Nhu to change their ways. This is apparently not evident as yet. I'm sure the pressures we have begun to apply if continued will affect the war effort. To date they have not. I am watching this closely and will report when I think they have.
I do not agree with the Ambassador's assessment in 768 that we are just holding our own. The GVN is a way ahead in the I, II and parts of the III Corps and making progress in the Delta. Nothing has happened in October to change the assessment you and Secretary McNamara made after your visit here.
I would suggest we not try to change horses too quickly. That we continue to take persuasive actions that will make the horses change their course and methods of action. That we win the military effort as quickly as possible, then let them make any and all the changes they want.
After all, rightly or wrongly, we have backed Diem for eight long hard years. To me it seems incongruous now to get him down, kick him around, and get rid of him. The US has been his mother superior and father confessor since he's been in office and he has leaned on us heavily.
Leaders of other under-developed countries will take a dim view of our assistance if they too were led to believe the same fate lies in store for them.
241. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 4:45 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Received at 6:30 a.m. and passed to the White House at 7:35 a.m.
822. Joint Embassy/USOM message. Reference: Deptel 601./2/
/2/In telegram 601, October 18, the Department of State sent the following request to Saigon:
I. Reftel covers two different classic issues:
a. Methods for removing Can Lao influence and opportunities profit from US aid program, and
b. Procedural changes in economic aid programs not necessarily related a above.
II. Detailed information on first class issues best dealt with by CAS and they will provide separate report. Undoubtedly Can Lao profits from wide range economic concessions not necessarily related aid programs. Special treatment accorded taxes, monopolies, licenses, government loans, contracts, etc. Eligible importers selected back in 1957-1958 with virtually no new members added in interim. According our information, criteria used that time were objective-nevertheless probably Can Lao getting "cut" from those profiting import program expanding list undesirable from standpoint efficiency distribution supplies in country-many believe too many importers now either selling import licenses or unable set up internal distribution channels outside major cities. Furthermore no reason to believe expanding number would necessarily reduce Can Lao capacity project. In summary, we sceptical efficacy suggested remedies or virtually any other remedies so long as Nhu is in power and holds sway over Can Lao, and he or those he controls are able exact kickbacks from importers virtually at will. If his power broken, issue Can Lao support could become irrelevant.
III. With respect to type b issue, our opinion much depends on situation at time we decide resume aid. In present tug of war, two outcomes (with various shadings) possible: (a) favorable change in government or major political concessions by present government; (b) for variety reasons difficult to predict now, we decide resumption aid without any significant improvement our relations. Another dimension to this analysis is an estimate of economic conditions existing at time we resume aid. In any case, it would not be intended permit onset of widespread economic chaos prior to resuming aid.
IV. If aid resumed after significant favorable political changes and in the wake of serious price rises and plaster value decline, we certainly would not press for procedural reforms but would rather expedite to maximum input of those aid commodities essential to economy (including refilling pipeline, but not repaying amount lost by suspension). Furthermore, the generally improved nature of our relationships with the government would argue for "detailed consultations and study" rather than imposition of "conditions".
V. If we resume aid in fear of loss SVN or in atmosphere accommodation welfare populace without settlement outstanding issues with government there would be little leverage for exacting procedural concessions. The same is true at present under aid suspension--GVN not likely be receptive to demands for procedural improvements when smarting under US pressure.
VI. Given above analysis, we suggest Dept consider, along with suggestions contained Embtel 816,/3/ specific reforms of CIP and remedies against local abuses (taxes, income distribution, land tenure, etc.) be part broader objective changing institutions and bringing into government people with different motivations as prelude discussion and [garble--start?] specific reform measures. To extent we retain leverage for reforms, political climate permits, we would then concentrate on such things as:
a. Creation of Ministry of Emergency Planning with delegated broad economic powers, under Presidency. This economic czar to have power to impose administrative rulings on all line departments, including National Bank, and to have direct responsibility for only those operations essential to carry out reforms. Areas of concentration would be taxation; exploitation farmers, fishermen and small artisans by middlemen; inefficient government procedure; US foreign aid; joint US-GVN budgeting; marketing policies for rice, fish, fertilizer, etc.
b. Staffing of the top personnel of the Ministry with people of known competence and integrity, e.g. Dean Thuc, Pho Ba Long, Di Kien Thanh, Hanh of SOFIDIV, Vu Van Thai and others.
c. Elimination from top posts of incompetent and corrupt officials.
d. Joint study and consultation on whole range of economic and financial problems.
e. Increase decentralization of responsibility for execution of policies and greater emphasis on local operational initiative in provinces.
VII. Hopefully, if some of above things achieved, appropriate procedural reforms suggested reftel would flow from them.
242. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 6:30 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Flash; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2063 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy and repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 7:16 a.m. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 789-792.
Ref: CAS Washington [document number not declassified]./2/
1. We must, of course, get best possible estimate of chance of coup's success and this estimate must color our thinking, but do not think we have the power to delay or discourage a coup. Don has made it clear many times that this is a Vietnamese affair. It is theoretically possible for us to turn over the information which has been given to us in confidence to Diem and this would undoubtedly stop the coup and would make traitors out of us. For practical purposes therefore I would say that we have very little influence on what is essentially a Vietnamese affair. In addition, this would place the heads of the Generals, their civilian supporters and lower military officers on the spot, thereby sacrificing a significant portion of the civilian and military leadership needed to carry the war against the VC to its successful conclusion. After our efforts not to discourage a coup and this change of heart, we would foreclose any possibility of change of the GVN for the better. Diem/Nhu have displayed no intentions to date of a desire to change the traditional methods of control through police action or take any actions which would undermine the power position or solidarity of the Ngo family. This, despite our heavy pressures directed Deptel 534./3/ If our attempt to thwart this coup were successful, which we doubt, it is our firm estimate that younger officers, small groups of military, would then engage in an abortive action creating chaos ideally suited to VC objectives.
2. While we will attempt a combined assessment in a following message,/4/ time has not yet permitted substantive examination of this matter with General Harkins. My general view is that the U.S. is trying to bring this medieval country into the 20th century and that we have made considerable progress in military and economic ways but to gain victory we must also bring them into the 20th century politically and that can only be done by either a thoroughgoing change in the behavior of the present government or by another government. The Viet Cong problem is partly military but it is also partly psychological and political.
3. With respect to para 3 ref, I believe that we should continue our present position of keeping hands off but continue to monitor and press for more detailed information. CAS has been analyzing potential coup forces for some time and it is their estimate that the Generals have probably figured their chances pretty closely and probably also expect that once they begin to move, not only planned units, but other units will join them. We believe that Vietnam's best Generals are involved in directing this effort. If they can't pull it off, it is doubtful other military leadership could do so successfully. It is understandable that the Generals would be reticent to reveal full details of their plan for fear of leaks to the GVN.
4. Re para 4 ref, we expect that Conein will meet Don on the night of 30 Oct or early morning 31 Oct. We agree with para 4 ref that we should continue to press for details and question Don as to his estimate of the relative strengths of opposing forces. We do not believe, however, that we should show any signs of attempting to direct this affair ourselves or of giving the impression of second thoughts on this Vietnamese initiation [initiative]. In the meantime, we will respond specifically to CAS Washington [document number not declassified]./5/ Please note that CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]/6/ corrects CAS Saigon 2023/7/ and two regiments of the 7th Division are included in the coup forces.
/6/See footnote 4, Document 225.
5. Apparently para 5 ref overlooks CAS [document number not declassified] 5 Oct 1963/8/ which gave an account of the face to face meeting of General "Big Minh" and Conein at Minh's instigation and through the specific arrangement of Gen Don. Minh specifically identified Gen Don as participating in a plan to change the government. Please note that Minh's remarks parallel in every way the later statements of Gen Don. We believe that the limitation of contact to Don and Conein is an appropriate security measure consonant with our urging that the smallest number of persons be aware of these details.
6. We do not believe it wise to ask that "Big Minh" pass his plans to Gen Stilwell. The Vietnamese believe that there are members of the U.S. military who leak to the Government of Vietnam. I do not doubt that this is an unjust suspicion but it is a fact that this suspicion exists and there is no use in pretending that it does not.
7. I much appreciate your furnishing the berth equipped military aircraft which I trust is a jet. I intend to tell Pan American that a jet has been diverted for my use and therefore I will no longer need their services. This will undoubtedly leak to the newspapers and the GVN may study this move with some suspicion. I will answer any inquiries on this score to the effect that I am most pleased by this attention and that this is obviously done as a measure to insure my comfort and save my time. To allay suspicions further, I will offer space on the aircraft to MACV for emergency leave cases, etc, and handle this in as routine a fashion as possible. I wish to reserve comment as to my actual time of departure until I have some additional information, hopefully tomorrow.
8. Your para 7 somewhat perplexes me. It does not seem sensible to have the military in charge of a matter which is so profoundly political as a change of government. In fact, I would say to do this would probably be the end of any hope for a change of government here. This is said impersonally as a general proposition, since Gen Harkins is a splendid general and an old friend of mine to whom I would gladly entrust anything I have. I assume that the Embassy and MACV are able to handle normal activities under a, that CAS can continue coup contacts under b, and as regards c, we must simply do the very best we can in the light of events after the coup has started.
9. We appreciate the steps taken as outlined in para 8. However, we should remember that the GVN is not totally inept in its foreign soundings and that these moves should be as discreet and security conscious as possible. I would, of course, call for these forces only in case of extreme necessity since my hope coincides with the Generals that this will be an all Vietnamese affair.
10. We anticipate that at the outset of the coup, unless it moves with lightning swiftness, the GVN will request me or Gen Harkins to use our influence to call it off. I believe our responsibilities should be that our influence certainly could not be superior to that of the President who is Commander in Chief and that if he is unable to call it off, we would certainly be unable to do so and would merely be risking American lives attempting to interfere in this Vietnamese problem. The government might request aircraft. Helicopters, for the evacuation of key personalities, would have to be studied closely, but we would certainly not commit our planes and pilots between the battle lines of the opposing forces. We should, rather, state that we would be willing to act in this fashion during a truce in which both sides agree to the removal of key personalities. I believe that there would be immediate political problems in attempting to take these personalities to another neighboring country and probably we would be best served in depositing them in Saigon [Saipan?] where the absence of press, communications, etc, would allow us some leeway to make a further decision as to their ultimate disposition. If senior Vietnamese personalities and their families requested asylum in the Embassy or other American installations. We would probably have to grant it in light of our previous action with respect to Tri Quang. This will undoubtedly present later problems but hopefully the new government might feel disposed to help us solve this problem. Naturally asylum would be granted on the same basis as the Buddhists, i.e., physical presence at the Embassy or other location.
11. As to requests from the Generals, they may well have need of funds at the last moment with which to buy off potential opposition. To the extent that these funds can be passed discreetly, I believe we should furnish them, provided we are convinced that the proposed coup is sufficiently well organized to have a good chance of success. If they are successful, they will undoubtedly ask for prompt recognition and some assurance that military and economic aid will continue at normal level. We should be prepared to make these statements if the issue is clear-cut predicating our position on the President's stated desire to continue the war against the VC to final victory. VOA might be an important means of disseminating this message. Should the coup fail, we will have to pick up the pieces as best we can at that time. We have a commitment to the Generals from the August episode to attempt to help in the evacuation of their dependents. We should try to live up to this if conditions will permit. American complicity will undoubtedly be charged and there might be some acts taken against specific personalities which we should anticipate and make provision against as best we can. Should the coup prove indecisive and a protracted struggle is in progress, we should probably offer our good offices to help resolve the issue in the interest of the war against the VC. This might hold some benefit in terms of concessions by GVN. We will naturally incur some opprobrium from both sides in our role as mediator. However, this opprobrium would probably be less distasteful than a deadlock which would open the door to the VC. We consider such a deadlock as the least likely possibility of the three.
12. As regards your para 10, I do not know what more proof can be offered than the fact these men are obviously prepared to risk their lives and that they want nothing for themselves. If I am any judge of human nature, Don's face expressed sincerity and determination on the morning that I spoke to him. Heartily agree that a miscalculation could jeopardize position in Southeast Asia. We also run tremendous risks by doing nothing.
If we were convinced that the coup was going to fail, we would, of course do everything we could to stop it.
13. Gen Harkins has read this and does not concur.
243. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 30, 1963, 6:30 p.m.
/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIEI Top Secret; Immediate. The source text is CIA Station telegram 2077 from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; and repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 10:50 a.m.
1. In conversation with CAS officer evening of 29 October 1963 Dr. Dang Van Sung, opposition leader and close friend and political collaborator of Dr. Phan Huy Quat, said that for past several months he has been working actively to unify various local groups into cohesive political element. These groups include Sung's front for democratization, elements of the Dai Viet Party, the VNQDD and Duy Dan parties and the Hoa Hao sect. Sung stated that in spite of the historic inability of Vietnamese groups to form a united front, he has made definite progress in bringing these groups together since the present atmosphere is so favorable.
2. Sung said that on the basis of this political spadework he has, apparently as representative of the above groups, been in contact with senior military officers through an intermediary. The purpose of these contacts has been to make political recommendation to the senior officers in case there is a change of regime. According to Sung, the military reaction to the general nature of these recommendations has been assuredly favorable although a final decision as to details of the form and structure of a new government has not been made.
3. Sung stated that his thinking and that of the military officers comprises both short and long range programs. Immediately after a coup d'etat, assuming that it will be executed by the senior military officers, a transitional government would be formed with a General, probably Duong Van Minh, as President. A civilian, perhaps Tran Van Do, would be named Vice President. Sung said he believed that a military officer would be named Minister of National Defense, but that civilians would head all other ministries which would probably be reduced in number for the sake of efficiency. Sung and his colleagues believe that the plethora of ambitious politicians both in and out of South Vietnam make military control of the transitional government mandatory.
4. Sung said that the key feature of the new government would be a quasi-legislative branch known as the group of advisors. This body would have the power to suggest and criticize, but not to overrule decisions of the executive. The advisory group would number twenty-five or thirty members. Ten members would be selected by consultation between the new government and political personalities and other leaders. The first ten members would include, in addition to some of the present opposition leaders, representatives of labor, different religions, etc. The first ten members would then select another fifteen or twenty members vaguely representing various areas of South Vietnam and including the ethnic minorities and religious sects.
4. Sung said that after the transitional period of six months to one year a new National Assembly would be chosen by free election and that its membership would be limited to about fifty deputies. Sung said that in his contacts with the senior military officers it has been generally agreed that it would be difficult to retain the present size of the National Assembly and still have energetic and capable Deputies; the emphasis will be on quality rather than assuring that every small region of the country is represented. The transitional group of advisors will have as a primary objective the preparation for an effective and democratically chosen National Assembly. Sung said it was also agreed that a true and responsible opposition in the National Assembly was the sine qua non of a new government, and that he envisaged his personal role as the formation of such an opposition. Sung added that it was planned that an effective National Assembly and a genuine opposition party would bring about the dissolution of the present opposition parties (Dai Viet, VNQDD, Vuy Dan, etc.) which he termed obsolete and generally wasteless [useless?].
6. Sung said that while the long range goal of a new government would be military victory and economic, social and political reforms leading to democracy, there would be short range measures necessary that perforce would be dictatorial in nature. He mentioned the elimination of the Saigon press (followed by substitution of a responsible press) and the elimination of the present judicial system which he termed a political arm of Diem and Nhu. Sung solicited American support and advice in planning and implementing both the short and long range programs of a new government. In the context of American support and advice, Sung stated that he has been working actively among student elements in Saigon from whose ranks future leaders will be drawn. Following the Buddhist dispute, a clandestine inter-high school committee comprising twenty-one members representing about forty public and private high schools was formed. There are seven Communists on this committee. Sung said he has been asked by other students how to counteract the Communist members, but that in the present atmosphere it has been extremely difficult to provide effective advice and support.
7. Sung disclaimed any knowledge of the timing of a possible coup d'etat, and was reluctant to discuss measures which might be taken to effect a change of government. He said that he and his colleagues were not participating in the "destructive" aspect of any change, but would bend their energies to getting the country back on the road when there is a change of regime.
244. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)/1/
Washington, October 30, 1963.
/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries-Vietnam. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Initialed by both Kattenburg and Hilsman.
We are actually in the dark as to the methods the Generals and their civilian allies, if any, plan to use. Going back to Conein's conversation with Big Minh on 5 October,/2/ he outlined three possible plans:
/2/See Document 177.
a) assassination of Nhu and Can keeping Diem in office--he said this was the easiest plan to accomplish;
b) encirclement of Saigon by various military units;
c) direct confrontation between coup military units and the loyalist military units in Saigon, dividing city into sectors impeding [sic] it out pocket by pocket.
Minh also said in the same conversation that he would have to get rid of Nhu, Can and Hieu, that would bring Colonel Tung on his knees before him.
There have been further somewhat more indirect references to assassinations and elimination of the entire Ngo family.
Don earlier promised Conein that the coup committee had agreed that the complete political and military planning would be turned over for study by Ambassador two days prior to scheduled time for coup (conversation night of 24 October/3/), but in a conversation with Conein on 28 October,/4/ Don said that possibly plans could only be made available four hours in advance. He questioned Conein closely as to time on 31 October Ambassador would [be] leaving.
/3/See Document 215.
/4/See Document 225.
As to who is doing the planning, Don indicated to Conein that he was contact man with the Americans, other Generals and division commanders. Kim was doing the political planning and military planning is in the hands of others (presumably Big Minh himself).
Leading Coup Personalities
As early as October 5, Big Minh informed Conein that "among other Generals participating with him in this plan were: Major General Don, Brigadier General Khiem, and Major General Kim."
In their October 24 conversation, Conein told Don that the coup committee included himself, General Minh, General Chieu, and General Kim. (Note: General Khiem is here left out and replaced by General Chieu whom we know to have been long in dissidence. In their October 28 conversation, Don told Conein that General Khiem was being very circumspect as he knew he was under suspicion by the President.)
Again on October 28 Don told Conein that General Khanh was cooperating, but not a member of the coup committee; he would "not attempt to take his corps area into dissidence." Don also said the same applied to Generals Tri and Dinh.
In their October 28 conversation, Don told Conein that he would be leaving on the morning of October 29 to see Generals Tri and Khanh to perfect the planning. He cautioned against trusting Lt. Col. Thao whom he said was suspect by the Generals' group.
It is clear that certain civilian and oppositionist elements have knowledge of the Generals' coup planning though perhaps not in significant detail. These civilians are predominantly the leaders of the old anti-French, anti-Communist, anti-Diem Nationalist Dai Viet group.
Notably they include Bui Diem, the more dynamic of younger Dai Viet leaders; Dang Van Sung and Pham Huy Quat, old-time leaders of the Dai Viet; and Tran Trung Dung, Diem's Defense Secretary from 1955 to November 1960.
In a conversation between Dung and a CAS officer,/5/ the former stated he envisaged a regime headed by Vice President Tho, with Quat as Prime Minister. He singled out the following for cabinet posts; Tran Van Ly (former Governor of Central Vietnam); Phan Quang Dan (long-time oppositionist who spent many years in US); Tran Van Tuyen (a former Cao Dai political adviser); and Pham Khac Suu, another well known Dai Viet oppositionist in Saigon. He also mentioned three exiles as worthy of consideration, including Nguyen Huu Chau and Nguyen Ton Hoan.
/5/See Document 229.
Military Units Involved
You will receive separate material on this subject.
The only reference thus far to a political program was made in Don's conversation with Conein on October 24, in which Don stated that: a) the succeeding government would be civilian; b) it would as soon as possible free non-Communist political prisoners and hold honest elections, and would tolerate the operation of opposition parties; c) there would be complete freedom of religion; and d) it would be pro-Western, but not a vassal of the US, to "carry the war against VC to successful conclusion with Western, particularly American, help."
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