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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume IV
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August-December 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 245-278

245. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, October 30, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Top Secret. Received at 12:32 p.m. and passed to the White House at 12:45 p.m.

821. Eyes only for President, pass White House directly. No other distribution whatever. Herewith my weekly report pursuant to Deptel 576/2/ for the week ending Wednesday, October 30.

/2/Document 195.

Question 1: Are we gaining or losing on balance and day by day in the contest with the Viet Cong?

Answer: No major change in military situation during last week. Most noteworthy event which happened to me personally is highly secret statement by Gen Don, Acting Chief, Joint General Staff, that he did not think the war could be won [with] the present government in power before the Americans left and certainly could not be won after that. I continue to think that we can and must continue the present utterly essential holding operation, but that it will take something more than is now being done by the GVN politically and psychologically to get a real victory.

Question 2: Is the government responding at any point to our threefold need for improvement in (a) campaign against VC, (b) internal political developments and (c) actions affecting relations with American people and government?

Answer: On (a) no major change. No specific responses have been received from GVN concerning the military areas which we have cited as needing improvement.

Under (b) no major change other than the activities reported on CAS channel.

Under (c) no major change.

Question 3: What does the evidence suggest on the strengthening or weakening of effectiveness of GVN in relation to its own people?

Answer: A report from the Acting Consul in Hue cites the case of a Vietnamese lady, headmistress of a girls school in Hue, who was still in prison because she had been guilty of writing a letter to the President "almost asking for changes in government" and of having it signed by members of the school faculty. The letter urged the President to exert his leadership to solve the Buddhist problem and to reject the oppressive actions of the lower officials. The American Consul, who took the matter up with the government, was told that as soon as she finished "confessing" the problem would be brought before a military court. Over the last weekend the lady was released, but it is believed that this was done in connection with the visit of the UN delegation and there is speculation as to what will happen to her after the UN delegation leaves. There is no reason to think that this case is extraordinary.

There is also a report of Army officers being asked to make lists of those in their units whose actions are opposed to course taken by government.

Question 4: And more specifically, what effect are we getting from our own actions under Deptel 534/3/ and what modifications in either direction do you think advisable?

/3/Document 181.

Answer: We are beginning to get some effect from our pressure under 534 but little concrete action. Diem invited me to spend Sunday with him and raised the whole subject of suspension of commodity imports which, I hope, is the start of a dialogue. Thuan later hinted that Diem's overture might be the beginning. Suspension of commodity imports and the cessation of aid to Colonel Tung appear to have impressed GVN with our annoyance as no amount of rhetoric could have done. Perhaps they will propose some steps be taken by them in exchange for our resuming our aid, although I doubt that they will offer anything significant. Whatever they promise to do would be subject to delay and would be difficult to verify.

When we decide the time is ripe for us to resume aid then perhaps I should be authorized to make a statement to Diem explaining that the policies of the GVN had made it very difficult for us to continue aid, but that, although American confidence had been weakened, we nonetheless had concluded that they intended to win the war; that they would be less worried in the future about their own tenure of office, and that, on strength of these assumptions we would resume payments on specific categories released at periodic intervals.

Other reactions were as follows:

a. Dr. Herbert K. Walther of the USOM education division, who probably sees more Vietnamese students and professors than any other official in the Mission, reports that not once had a professor or a student expressed anything but praise for the U.S. decision to withhold aid to Vietnam. All of his contacts with remarkable unanimity said they welcomed the recent U.S. moves and their only criticism was that it should have been done sooner.

b. General Don expressed pleasure that Colonel Tung's force had been placed under the Joint General Staff. He was also concerned with devaluation of plaster.

c. Vice President Tho asked a visitor whether I was strong enough to stand firm in current situation. When told that I was, he replied; good".

d. In the market place prices of imported goods continued upward with GVN reportedly controlling flour and condensed milk, as wholesale quantities unavailable. Currency market continues gyrations. Gold which rose 50 percent dropped 12 percent reportedly because large amount smuggled in from Hong Kong last week. Greenbacks steady at 140-150.

Rumors of GVN actions persist, but nothing happens. Reports on licensing not received from GVN since October 17, so unable to determine whether any additional items formerly U.S. financed have been picked up by GVN. Overall picture remains one of confusion among businessmen and civil servants. Some expressions discontent now being heard from trade unions. GVN officials also personally concerned at price movement, combined with rumored threat of salary cut and increased cost of living resulting from having buy noon meal when new working hours go into effect.

I understand there is enough milk to last until December or January. I intend to make this available whenever necessary to assure normal amount for popular consumption.

Finally GVN appears to be off to a good start with the U.N. mission. So far they have allowed them to meet everyone, including imprisoned Buddhists.



246. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, October 30, 1963, 6:30 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State and Defense Cables. Top Secret; Eyes Only. 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, be conveyed to Bundy. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 785-787.

MAC 2033. 1. Admiral Felt not addee this message but will be provided copy upon his arrival Saigon tomorrow.

2. I now hold copy of Saigon 768/2/ and this amplifies my MAC 2028/3/ which initially responded to your JCS 4188-63./4/

/2/Document 207.

/3/Document 240.

/4/Document 227.

3. Saigon 768 was Ambassador Lodge personal report to President in response to Deptel 576/5/ which is possible explanation why I had not seen 768 until one week after dispatch and only then when I requested a copy so that I might intelligently respond to your JCS 4188-63 which referred to 768.

/5/Document 195.

4. Upon receipt of Deptel 576 Ambassador Lodge requested that I provide him brief suggested inputs for responses to questions 1 and 2 (a) 1 of Deptel 576 in that they were principally military in nature. I have done this on weekly basis but have had no knowledge as to whether my suggested brief inputs were utilized in his personal report since as indicated above these were not opened to me.

5. My suggested brief inputs for para 1 which were provided the Ambassador for use as he saw fit in drafting his personal evaluations for the past three weeks follow:

16 Oct: On balance we are gaining in the contest with the VC. There will continue to be minor ups and downs but the general trend has been and continues upward.

23 Oct: While significant changes are, and will be, difficult to identify on a day to day or even weekly comparative basis as regards the contest with the Viet Cong, the general trend continues to be favorable. The tempo of RVN-initiated operations is increasing and recently the tempo of VC-initiated activity has fallen off.

30 Oct: No change from that previously reported. National day affairs this past week tended to bring about a slight reduction in the tempo of RVN-initiated actions, however VC initiated actions also waned and on balance the trend continues to be favorable.

6. My suggested brief inputs for paragraph 2(a) which were provided the Ambassador for use as he saw fit in drafting his personal evaluations for the past three weeks follow:

16 Oct: The government has responded at many points when we have cited need for improvement in the campaign against the VC (shift of boundaries; placement of VNSF activities in corps areas under OPCON of corps comdr; reallocation of forces). Additionally Gen Don and Gen Stilwell, my G-3 have spent the last week in the conduct of a Corps by Corps assessment of the present situation with a view to further desirable reallocation of forces. Based on their recommendations I will make further recommendations to Pres. Diem. (for inclusion in ans to para 2(a) Ambassador was advised that US/GVN military relations remain good).

23 Oct: Response received from the government in reaction to military areas where we have cited needed improvement has been favorable in some areas, while in other areas no indication of response has been received to date. In no case have they flatly resisted recommended improvements. Favorable indications are the commitment of nearly half of the general reserve to operations, plans for possible further redistribution of forces, and a recognition of the requirement to effect consolidation in the strategic hamlet program.

30 Oct: No specific responses have been received from the government this past week in reaction to military areas where we have cited need for improvement. This is believed due in areas part to their preoccupation with National day affairs.

7. Comparison of 23 October suggested brief inputs quoted above with Saigon 768 indicates Ambassador Lodge did not see fit to utilize my suggestions to any significant degree. It also apparent that upon further reflection Ambassador determined that more detailed response was required than he initially felt necessary when he requested brief inputs on principally military items.

8. I believe certain portions Saigon 768 require specific comment. These follow:

Para F of answer to question 1--View of Vice Pres Tho that there are only 15 to 20 all-around hamlets in the area south of Saigon which are really good is ridiculous and indicates need for him to get out of Saigon and visit countryside so as to really know of progress which is being made.

In past two weeks I have visited nine Delta provinces (Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, Hau Nhgia, Long An, Kien Phong, Kien Hoa, An Giang, Phong Dinh, Chaong Thien) eight of which are south of Saigon, and I do not find the province chiefs or sector advisors to hold the same views as Vice Pres Tho.

Para H of answer to question 1--I am unable to concur in statement that "one cannot drive as much around the country as one could two years ago". I believe it will be some time before, if we ever do, experience mass surrenders of the VC. I am unable to concur in statement that VC is "in fact, reckoned at a higher figure than it was two years ago". I have not observed the signs that hatred of the government has tended to diminish the Army's vigor, enthusiasm and enterprise. I find it difficult to believe the few rumors one hears regarding Generals being paid off with money and flashy cars. Most cars I see in use by Generals are same they have been using for past two years and few if any qualify as flashy to my mind. I do not concur with the evaluation of the 14 October report of the Delta subcommittee of the Committee on Province Rehabilitation/6/ which states that the VC are gaining. Moreover I take exception to the implication that the report represents official country team agency views and is consequently authoritative in the views it presents. Agency representatives on this sub-committee served as individuals in reporting to the COPROR Committee, incidentally there were wide divergencies even among sub-committee members.

/6/The report of this subcommittee of the Saigon Country Team's Committee on Province Rehabilitation has not been found.

COPROR Committee received but did not place its stamp of approval or concurrence on report to its Sub-Committee. COPROR Committee returned the report to its Sub-Committee for rework. Consequently this report has not as yet been submitted to country team nor has it been referred to individual country team agencies for review and/or comment. Any views quoted from this Sub-Committee report therefore have no validity as expressions of country team or individual agency views.

Para J of answer to question 1--With regard to the "existing political control over troop movements, which prevents optimum use of the Army", I do not deny that political influences enter into this picture; however, I feel we have made and are making significant strides in this area and do not concur that time is not working for usso long as political controls remain as at present.

Para J of answer to question 1--As indicated in paras 5 and 6 above and in other reports I have filed my evaluation is that from the military point of view the trend is definitely in RVN favor consequently I cannot concur that "we at present are not doing much more than holding our own".

Answer under (a) to question 2--I am correctly quoted here but para 6 above gives full context of my suggested input.

Answer under (c) to question 2--As indicated para 6 above Ambassador was advised that US/GVN military relations remain good.


247. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, October 30, 1963, 7 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, be conveyed to Bundy.

MAC 2034. When I said last week I was out of the coup business I did not realize I was going to be out of touch. In fact the Ambassador agreed to keep me informed. So I was a bit shocked when the Ambassador called me today on instructions from Washington to collaborate on reply on message (I don't have the number) seeking further info from here. I was shocked because I had not seen any of the Saigon 20 series [document number not declassified],/2/ 2041/3/ etc.

/2/Document 226.

/3/Document 229.

I did not know there had been further contacts between Don and Conein. I really did not realize how imminent Don's plan is to implementation.

As we do not know the plan I can not say how good it is. To me it just looked like Don has run down the Army roster indicating troops to be used.

How the 21st, 9th, 7th, 23rd, and 5th Divisions can lend any immediate support to an effort in Saigon is hard to visualize. If they are brought into the area the V.C. will certainly take advantage and I can not guess how long it would take to reestablish G.V.N. in the abandoned areas. If he plans to use only the loyal local troops the effort may well be a flop.

I read the Ambassador's reply/4/ to today's message and non-concurred that we should go along feeling we should have more information. Even though Don says his effort is purely Vietnamese, U.S. will soon be involved whether we like it or not. I feel we should go along with only a sure thing: This or continue to go along with Diem until we have exhausted all pressures. The prestige of the U.S. is really involved one way or the other and it must be upheld at all costs./5/

/4/Document 242.

/5/JCS 4230-63, from Taylor to Harkins, October 31, reads as follows:
"Refs: MAC 2028, 2033, 2034.
"References most useful here and are receiving attention at highest levels. CAS Washington [document number not declassified] is designed to clear the air and further clarify USG position. Regards." (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Top Secret Cables, October 1963 (B))
The cable referred is Document 249.


248. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, October 30, 1963, 12:25 p.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Dolores P Perruso of Harriman's staff.

Harriman said he had had a talk after Bundy left about Lodge and the Embassy. Harriman said he had been reading the telegrams./2/ McNamara was indignant Harkins was not asked about military assessment. . . . /3/ Harriman said Harkins' assessment is not accurate. Harriman said he thought Bundy should bear this in mind in connection with what he might say. Harriman said he had a great deal of misgivings about the competence of Harkins' staff. He said he thought Trueheart has done a good job.

/2/Apparent reference to Documents 240, 246, and 247.

/3/Ellipsis in the source text.


249. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, October 30, 1963, 5:49 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Flash; Eyes only. The source text is CAS telegram [document number not declassified] to Saigon. Repeated to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes; to Honolulu eyes only for Felt; and to the CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, pp. 604-605.

1. Our reading your thoughtful 2063/2/ leads us to believe a significant difference of shading may exist on one crucial point (see next para) and one or two lesser matters easily clarified.

/2/Document 242.

2. We do not accept as a basis for U.S. policy that we have no power to delay or discourage a coup. In your paragraph 12 you say that if you were convinced that the coup was going to fail you would of course do everything you could to stop it. We believe that on this same basis you should take action to persuade coup leaders to stop or delay any operation which, in your best judgment, does not clearly give high prospect of success. We have never considered any betrayal of Generals to Diem, and our [document number not declassified]/3/ explicitly rejected that course. We recognize the danger of appearing hostile to Generals, but we believe that our own position should be on as firm ground as possible, hence we cannot limit ourselves to proposition implied in your message that only conviction of certain failure justifies intervention. We believe that your standard for intervention should be that stated above.

/3/Document 236.

3. Therefore, if you should conclude that there is not clearly a high prospect of success, you should communicate this doubt to Generals in a way calculated to persuade them to desist at least until chances are better. In such a communication you should use the weight of U.S. best advice and explicitly reject any implication that we oppose the effort of the Generals because of preference for present regime. We recognize need to bear in mind Generals' interpretation of U.S. role in 1960 coup attempt, and your agent should maintain clear distinction between strong and honest advice given as a friend and any opposition to their objectives.

4. We continue to be deeply interested in up-to-the-minute assessment of prospects and are sending this before reply to our [document number not declassified]./4/ We want continuous exchange latest assessments on this topic.

/4/Document 237.

5. To clarify our intent, paragraph 7 of our [document number not declassified]/5/ is rescinded and we restate our desires as follows:

/5/Document 236.

a. While you are in Saigon you will be chief of country team in all circumstances and our only instruction is that we are sure it will help to have Harkins fully informed at all stages and to use advice from both him and [less than 1 line not declassified] in framing guidance for coup contacts and assessment. We continue to be concerned that neither Conein nor any other reporting source is getting the clarity we would like with respect to alignment of forces and level of determination among Generals.

b. When you leave Saigon and before there is a coup, Trueheart will be chief of the country team. Our only modification of existing procedures is that in this circumstance we wish all instructions to Conein to be conducted in immediate consultation with Harkins and [less than 1 line not declassified] so that all three know what is said to Conein. Any disagreement among the three on such instructions should be reported to Washington and held for our resolution, when time permits.

c. If you have left and a coup occurs, we believe that emergency situation requires, pending your return, that direction of country team be vested in most senior officer with experience of military decisions, and that officer in our view is Harkins. We do not intend that this switch in final responsibility should be publicized in any way, and Harkins will of course be guided in basic posture by our instructions, which follow in paragraph 7. Thus we do not believe that this switch will have the effect suggested in your paragraph 8.

6. This paragraph contains our present standing instructions for U.S. posture in the event of a coup.

a. U.S. authorities will reject appeals for direct intervention from either side, and U.S.-controlled aircraft and other resources will not be committed between the battle lines or in support of either side, without authorization from Washington.

b. In event of indecisive contest, U.S. authorities may in their discretion agree to perform any acts agreeable to both sides, such as removal of key personalities or relay of information. In such actions, however, U.S. authorities will strenuously avoid appearance of pressure on either side. It is not in the interest of USG to be or appear to be either instrument of existing government or instrument of coup.

c. In the event of imminent or actual failure of coup, U.S. authorities may afford asylum in their discretion [to] those to whom there is any express or implied obligation of this sort. We believe however that in such a case it would be in our interest and probably in interest of those seeking asylum that they seek protection of other Embassies in addition to our own. This point should be made strongly if need arises.

d. But once a coup under responsible leadership has begun, and within these restrictions, it is in the interest of the U.S. Government that it should succeed.

7. We have your message/6/ about return to Washington and we suggest that all public comment be kept as low-key and quiet as possible, and we also urge that if possible you keep open the exact time of your departure. We are strongly sensitive to great disadvantage of having you out of Saigon if this should turn out to be a week of decision, and if it can be avoided we would prefer not to see you pinned to a fixed hour of departure now./7/

/6/Apparent reference to telegram 825 from Saigon, October 10, in which Lodge informed the Department that he would fly directly from Saigon to Washington on the plane provided by the Department of Defense, arriving in Washington on November 2 and returning to Vietnam on November 5 or 6. (Department of State, Central Files, PER-LODGE, HENRY CABOT)

/7/In telegram [document number not declassified], October 30, Lodge acknowledged these instructions as follows: "Thanks your sagacious instruction. Will carry out to best of my ability." (Ibid., POL 26 S VIET)


250. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, October 31, 1963, 5:40 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 2114 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 9:33 a.m.

1. A provisional analysis of past coup reporting indicates that various dissident officers have been slowly getting together, establishing contacts with other groups, and by evolutionary process this now appears to be congealing primarily behind the Generals.

2. Among the dissident elements of which we are aware are the following:

a. The Tran Kim Tuyen group, which in itself was an amalgam of military, civilian nationalist, Buddhist and student groups. Organization was extensive and well compartmented.

b. The Lt Col Pham Ngoc Thao/Huynh Van Lang group which developed military support, established liaison with and now reportedly has partially merged with and trying to take the leadership of the Tuyen group.

c. A group of Central Vietnamese military officers who appear to be a part of the the Generals coup, headed by Gen Le Van Nghiem, with Generals Pham Xuan Chieu, Le Van Kim, Tran Van Minh, Nguyen Ngoc Le, and Duong Van Hinh as part of the upper structure. It was supposedly paralleled by group of Northern and Southem officers under Gens Chieu and Kim respectively. While little is known of the overall direction, some unit support was identified.

d. The United Front Party, described by Bui Thngt [sic] Long Hy, which is organized into three-man cells of intellectuals and professionals, with the aim of overthrowing the Diem regime. This may be one of the segments of the Tuyen group.

e. The Dai Viet element, represented by Bui Diem, working with the Generals. Conversation with Dang Van Sung and Tran Trung Dung indicate they are very knowledgeable and, we suspect, participant.

f. The Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang element of Nguyen Van Luc who very early established contact with and promised support for the Tuyen group, and the Thao/Lang group have been trying to exploit them.

g. We have had several reports indicating Colonels, and junior officers, particularly from Airborne, Marines, and Armor, were discussing a coup among themselves.

h. The group of Major Nguyen Van Bich, reportedly DCO of 23rd Division, who came to our attention through Du Phnoc Long of the Press Liaison Bureau, which wished to develop a redoubt area near the Cambodian border. Long's involvement may indicate that this was an element of Tuyen's group which may have lost contact with other elements with Tuyen's departure. Other comments of Long indicate it may also have been an element of the Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang. Long stated later that events had left these plans behind.

i. The group of Nguyen Huu Duong, a govt attorney, has many contacts in both the civilian and military sides. This group worked parallel with the Tudo group, both having many contacts with students. Duong's group and the Tudo group were interdependent and were associated with the Tuyen group.

j. The Generals' group, headed by Duong Van Minh with Tran Van Don as spokesman and Le Van Kim as political organizer. Most of the above groups now appear to be involved with this group. Elements of a, c, e, f, and g, have been identified with the Generals. In addition there is considerable duplication of units claimed by the Generals and the Thao/Lang group.

k. Pham Huy Co's Territorial Action Committee, clearly planning overthrow of regime, has been active in psywar, has some civilian organization; no real indication of broad military support, but there is no indication yet that it constitutes a unified coup mechanism.

3. We feel that most coup activity now centers around the Thao/ Lang group on the one hand and the Generals' group on the other, and the question may well be who will lead the units anxious to participate. Both groups seek to use many of the same units with the Generals' group appearing to be better and more broadly organized. If the Thao/Lang group move first, they must hope for defections from the evident opposition, support from units whose loyalty they are not sure of, or a swift action which quickly eliminates the Ngo family. Even if successful, it is not at all certain they can implement their political program. We believe that if the Generals move first, the power will be with them and the Thao/Lang group would be forced to lend the support of what little is distinctively their own. The Generals reportedly do not plan to bring in Thao from the start as they distrust him, but are willing to use him.


251. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 2:24 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent for information Flash to the Department of State. Also sent for information Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 1:44 a.m.

DTG 010624Z November. Critic. At 1345H General Don telephoned Stilwell, J-3 and stated in the clear all (sic)/2/ Generals were assembled with him at JGS HQ and were initiating a coup. Stilwell asked if timing was immediate and was told yes. Don asked that I be informed at once.

/2/As on the source text.

I notified Ambassador at 1400. He had just received info that Marine unit had seized the PTT. CAS reports unidentified elms have seized central Police station.

Army elms (presumably 3rd Airborne Bn) are on road from airfield to Saigon. Reports of fighting at Special Forces HQ adjacent to JGS.

Ambassador and I have directed AFRS to broadcast warning to US personnel to stay off streets in view reported civil disturbances.

Numerous troop movements reported this morning. All details later. Will keep you advised.


252. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret Flash. The source text is the copy sent for information Flash to the Department of State. Also sent for information Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 2:34 a.m.

2. Critic. Fm: Conein at JGS HQS/2/ from Gens Big Minh and Don and eye witness observation:

/2/According to the Acting Chief of Station in Saigon, the decision to send Conein to the JGS headquarters was made by the Saigon Station and not by Washington. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, October 11, 1984)

Following are prisoners at JGS:

Col Tung, Police Commissioner Tu, Air Force Commander Hien, Airborne Commander Col Vien, Marine Commander Khang, Civil Guard Commander Lam. Navy Commander Quyhn, killed morning 1 Nov in premature action by Navy.

Gens attempting contact Palace by telephone but unable to do so. Their proposition as follows: If the President will resign immediately, they will guarantee his safety and the safe departure of the President and Ngo Dinh Nhu. If the President refuses these terms, the Palace will be attacked within the hour by Air Force and Armor.


253. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIEI Confidential; Flash. Repeated Flash to CINCPAC. Received at 2:15 a.m. and passed to the White House, CIA, Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Defense Intelligence Agency at 3:20 a.m.

842. Department pass ACSI and DIA. As reported through separate charnels,/2/ coup d'etat commenced at about 1345./3/ Salient developments as of 1500 are as follows:

/2/CIA Critic 1, November 1, received at the Department of State at 2:15 a.m. (Ibid.)

/3/According to interviews with Lucien Conein and others October 11 and April 14, 1984, respectively, Nhu attempted a last ditch ploy to save his brother's government. As the American of ficals remember it, Nhu was generally aware of coup plotting at the end of October, "that the elephants were crashing about in the jungle and some were getting pretty close to him." Nhu concluded that the only way to turn the situation around was to show the United States that he and his brother were the "only saviors of Vietnam." Nhu arranged with General Dinh, military commander of the Saigon military district, to stage a fake Viet Cong uprising in Saigon. Included in the plan was the assassination of key U.S. officials. Nhu then planned to send "loyal" troops from Dinh's contingent to put down the revolt, restore order, and save Vietnam. But Dinh had been won over to the coup plotters' side and he told his rebel colleagues of Nhu's plans. As Conein described it, the Generals' "double bumped" Nhu. When the actual coup began, Nhu was under the impression that it was the staged uprising he had planned with Dinh. (Ibid., Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews)

1. General Don has confirmed in two separate messages to us that coup underway.

2. Telecommunications center of Ministry of Interior taken by coup forces, believed to be Marines.

3. Little firing in streets.

4. Col. Tung Commander Vietnamese Special Forces reported captured and persuaded issue cease fire order to Special Forces.

5. Presidential Guard fully deployed around Palace but no firing this area.

6. Minister Thuan, Minister of Economy Thanh, Minister of Finance Luong are all at Italian Ambassador's apartment.

7. 103 truckloads of troops reported entering Saigon over bridge from Bien Hoa.

8. Col Tung, Police Commissioner, Chief Air Force, Air Force Commander, Civil Guard Comdr, all captives at Joint General Staff Headquarters. Navy Commander reported killed in premature action by Navy this morning.

9. Coup Generals have attempted get through to Palace to issue ultimatum to Diem guaranteeing safe conduct out of country for Diem and Nhu if they capitulate within one hour. Unable get through. General Don says he will issue proclamation concerning coup by radio within the hour.

10. Condition Gray declared and Americans alerted over radio AFRS to stay indoors.



254. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 1 p.m.

/1/ Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate. Sent eyes only for Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Received at the Department of State at 3:18 a.m. 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 Bundy; and repeated to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms and to Honolulu and Hong Kong eyes only for Felt.

2129. Ref: CAS Washington [document number not declassified]./2/

/2/Document 237.

1. Following comments keyed to units named in ref:

2. President Guard: Concur. Guard has estimated strength of 18 M-24 tanks, four M-114 and four M-113 armored personnel carriers. Guard lacks combat experience of such units as Airborne and Marines.

3. Airborne brigade: Commanders of 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th Btns all reportedly close to Major Ho Tieu, Airborne DCO and COs, whom we believe most likely prospect to organize airborne support for coup. However, CO of 3rd is weak and not likely to participate. The 1st Btn is reported as part of coup force organized by Tran Kim Tuyen. The 1st and 7th Btn CO's have been critical of regime to their advisors. Contrary to report of Tuyen's coup group, we consider 6th Btn CO most loyal to the regime. CAS has report he may be relieved shortly for incompetence. In Airborne, as in Marine Brigade, Btns constantly being shifted for tactical reasons. On 31st October 1st Btn in new Hau Nghia Province; 3rd Btn on alert at Tan Son Nhut; 5th and 7th Btns in Binh Duong Province; 8th Btn in Kien Hoa Province; and 6th Btn going into training at Vung Tau.

4. Marine Brigade: 2nd and 3rd Btns in Saigon area; First and Fourth Btns on operation in Binh Duong Province. Brigade CO Le Nguyen Khang reportedly disaffected since beginning Buddhist crisis and CAS information indicates Khang waiting on coup but willing to sit it out. Capt Ma Viet Bang, CO 3rd Btn, reported disaffected and coup-minded, along with Tran Van Nhut, CO 1st Btn.

5. Armor: In addition to Presidential Guard Armor, other Armor units in Saigon include the 2nd Plt, 1st Co, 2nd Squadron (five M-24 tanks) at Tan Son Nhut; 3rd Plt, 1st Co, 2nd Sqrd (five M-24 tanks) at JGS; two M-113's, two M-24's; and six M-8's at 1st Sqdr HQS, Go yap; the 5th Mech Rifle Co, 1st Sqdr, in Saigon area; two pits of 1st Tank Co, 1st Sqdr (about 10 tanks) in Saigon area; one pit, 1st Tank Co, 1st Sqdr (about five tanks) at Bien Hoar and 4th Co, 4th Sqdr (15 M-113) at Go yap. CAS reports indicate that Fifth Co, 1st Armor Sqdr, most likely to join a coup having promised support to Tuyen coup group, working with Major Nguyen Van Tu, CO, 8th Rgt, Binh Duong Prov. First Tank Co, 1st Sqdr, has figured in coup reporting without indicating if company CO involved. An armor company from 2nd Armor Sqdr has been reported as involved in coup. This unit was reportedly brought to Saigon area at the arrangement of Gen Tran Thien Khiem, ostensibly for counter-coup activity. Two CAS sources report that Armor School Commander promises between 40 and 50 vehicles including tanks and armored personnel carriers. The school is located at Long Hai and has total of 35 armored vehicles of which four are currently dead-lined and eight are in poor condition. If additional truck transport available to the school were included, the number of vehicles could fall into the reported range. One senior Armor staff officers has stated he will lead elements of 1st Sqdr Armor and a portion of the Presidential Guard Armor in a coup.

6. Special Forces: Some Special Forces officers have indicated feeling of dissidence with the regime, but we concur that they must be carried as a loyal element in terms of organized force. Four companies of Special Forces are not in the Saigon area at present.

7. We concur that the uniformed police constitute a negligible factor. The Combat Police, while trained in riot control have not been called upon to stand up under fire. The coup forces claim they can split the Combat Police.

8. Fifth Division: The regimental commanders have long been claimed dissident by coup organizers including Tuyen, and the division CO, Col Nguyen Van Thieu, has recently been reported by CAS sources as joining the coup. He has been frequently reported as friendly with some of the participant Generals. The Seventh Regiment is the least committed in fighting at present. The CO 8th Regiment (Maj Tu) has been named by a number of CAS sources as participant in coup plotting, and he is supported by his btn commanders. Although the current situation is unknown, 8th Rgt was to provide one to two btns to come to the relief of the regime in the event of a coup, but these btns planned to switch sides upon arrival at Saigon. Lack of transport may make it difficult for more than one btn of any rat to be moved at a time.

9. Seventh Division: Col Dam is reported dissident but we regard him as weak and not likely to commit himself. His deputy, Lt Col Nguyen Van Tu, appears to be the stronger personality and has been reported as a part of coup plotting by several sources. Tuyen claimed Tu was to lead counter-coup forces from the division to Saigon following the eruption of his coup, and join the coup. Seventh has only three mobile battalions.

10. Air Force: Dissidence is very widespread and in spite of Col Hien's loyalty, we believe the coup group can gain control by eliminating Hien and having Lt Col Nguyen Cao Ky, backed by Lt Col Do Khac Mai, assume control. We are reluctant to relegate the Air Force as a strictly secondary force. They could prove a decisive factor if turned loose against Gia Long Palace, and would also be of assistance as an interdiction force against loyal elements moving on Saigon.

11. Miscellaneous units: We agree that these are generally insignificant with a few exceptions. The 3rd Bt, 46th Rgt, as [has?] the defense of Bien Hoa Air Base where the nearest fighter squadron is located and one report claims it is involved in the coup. In addition, counter-coup forces are reportedly to be brought in from Quang Trung and Thu Duc Training Centers. Tuyen claimed he had subverted these forces as well.

12. The units in the field can be expected to have sufficient ammunition for the coup. Although ARVN gasoline allotments recently decreased, reserves are adequate for any coup-related troop movements. Transportation also can be assumed available for field units.

13. It should be pointed out that we have not been given the coup plans nor a rundown on coup forces. General Don states he has nothing to do with the military preparations in the organization of a compartmented coup program. What information Don gave Conein was in response to specific attempts at elicitation by Conein and Don's replies were vague, Don claiming he was passing on only some of the details he had overheard. Thus, we are unable to adequately assess the viability of the coup group. The basic questions are whether the Generals have the courage and competence to mount a coup successfully. They are basically cautious and it appears unlikely they would move without expecting success.

14. MACV comment:

a. The unit strengths and dispositions contained in this message have been furnished by the MACV staff. It is to be noted that all but three battalions of each of the 5th and 7th Divisions are committed to operational missions, which cannot be foregone without creating a serious security problem for the population.

b. MACV has inadequate information on which to base an evaluation of the motivations attributed by CAS to the military personnel cited in this message.

c. MACV has no info from advisory personnel which could be interpreted as clear evidence of an impending coup.


255. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963. 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Confidential; Flash. Repeated Flash to CINCPAC. Received at the Department of State at 3:19 a.m. and passed to the White House at 3:25 a.m. and to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and CIA at 3:39 a.m.

853. Department pass ACSI and DIA. Embassy telegram 842./2/ Generals have refused to deal directly with Palace re ultimatum. In effect they have asked Embassy to relay message at our option. We have requested Acting Papal Delegate to attempt to get message through to Palace. Meantime ground and air attack on Palace underway.

/2/Document 253.



256. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent for information Flash to the Department of State. Also sent Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 3:40 a.m.

6. Critic. Conein reports from JGS Gens firmly decided there to be no discussion with the President. He will either say yes or no and that is the end of the conversation.

CAS officer observed four AD-6 fighter bombers with munitions aboard at approx 10,000 ft over Saigon at 1515.

Heavy fighting including armor, small arms, and possibly some light artillery vicinity Palace as of 1530 furs.

Conein reports from JGS Gens have monitored radio broadcast from Palace to First and Second Corps and 21st Division. Broadcast states coup attempted in Saigon but all insurgents arrested. Can hear fighting from Embassy. Can confirm insurgents not arrested.

As of 1535, 105 fire reported Palace vicinity.


257. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent for information Flash to the Department of State. Also sent Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 3:55 a.m.

8. Critic. Conein reports from JGS that Gens have group of nationalistic anti-Communist pro-Western civilian politicians with them at JGS. These individuals will head the new civil administration. There well be no military personalities in high positions in the new government. Military hopes to turn over government to the civilians within two to three days.

Gens have taped a proclamation for broadcast and have taken over VTVN studios. However, one relay point apparently blown up, and broadcast of proclamation delayed.

Now at JGS are Gens "Big" Minh and "Little" Minh, Khiem, Kim, Le, and Chieu. Gens claim Gen Khanh and Gen Tri also supporting coup. Gens report Bien Hoa and My Tho have been taken by forces loyal to them.

Now heavy firing vicinity Embassy. AAA going up. Apparently duel going on between aircraft and ships in river.


258. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/ Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash The source text is the copy sent for information Flash to the Department of State. Also sent Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 4:11 a.m.

2. DTG 0-00Z. Conein at JGS reports Big Minh called President on telephone but President allegedly not present and Big Minh spoke to Nhu. In order show strength all Gens present including in addition to those previously named, Gen La, Gen Tam, Gen Oai, and Gen Ngoc. In addition, Col Lam of the CG, Col Khang of the Marines and Col Khuong also spoke to Nhu on the telephone. In addition, Col Tung was forced at gun point to announce that he a prisoner. Air Force Commander did not speak. Conein believes he has been eliminated. Big Minh stated to Nhu that if the President and Nhu did not resign, turn themselves over to the coup forces within five minutes, the Palace will sustain a massive airborne bombardment. At this, Gen Minh hung up./2/

/2/In the next telegram in this series, CAS Saigon 3, DTG 0-21Z, November 1, the Station relayed the following information on a second Big Minh-Diem telephone conversation:
"Conein reports from JGS that Gen Big Minh once more called President Diem and Diem hung up as of 1715 hours. Minh has given the order to bomb the Palace. This apparently refutes radio announcements that President has resigned which broadcasted approx 1710 hr." (Ibid.)


259. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Flash; Limit Distribution. Received at the Department of State at 5:11 a.m. and passed to the White House, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and CIA at 5:31 a.m. Printed in part in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 3, pp. 57-58.

860. At 4:30 a telephone call [came] from President Diem and the following conversation occurred:

Diem: Some units have made a rebellion and I want to know: What is the attitude of U.S.?

Lodge: I do not feel well enough informed to be able to tell you. I have heard the shooting, but am not acquainted with all the facts. Also it is 4:30 a.m. in Washington and U.S. Government cannot possibly have a view.

Diem: But you must have some general ideas. After all, I am a Chief of State. I have tried to do my duty. I want to do now what duty and good sense require. I believe in duty above all.

Lodge: You have certainly done your duty. As I told you only this morning,/2/ I admire your courage and your great contributions to your country. No one can take away from you the credit for all you have done. Now I am worried about your physical safety. I have a report that those in charge of the current activity offer you and your brother safe conduct out of the country if you resign. Had you heard this?

/2/See Document 262.

Diem: No. (And then after a pause) You have my telephone number.

Lodge: Yes. If I can do anything for your physical safety, please call me.

Diem: I am trying to re-establish order.



260. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Director of the National Security Agency (Blake)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 6:53 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent Flash to the Department of State. Also sent Flash to USIB agencies. Received at the Department of State at 6:08 a.m.

7. DTG 011053Z. Critic. From reliable source at JGS from Gen Big Minh: The moment of decision has arrived, troops are moving on Gia Long and expect to take possession of the Palace by 1900 hours. They are prepared for a counter move. Gens are very hopeful for early recognition of their new govt by the United States and other Western powers. Military will not retain power. Gen Minh repeated this several times. Will turn over to civilian control within two or three days if possible and will bend every effort to make sure civilian control is complete within one week. When the coup is completed, possibly on the night of 1 Nov the Gens will come to the Embassy and ask Thich Tri Quang to join the new govt. They will not attempt to force Thich Tri Quang in any way. He will be given free choice to join up or abstain.


261. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET. Secret; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 7:26 a.m. and passed to the White House at 8:35 a.m.


1. Admiral Felt, Minister Martin, Embassy interpreter and I met with Diem from 10:00 am until 11:15 today. Afterwards I spoke alone with Diem for 20 minutes (see separate telegram)./2/

/2/Document 262.

2. Diem began with monologue covering in somewhat condensed manner same ground covered in September 29 conversation with McNamara, Taylor, Harkins and myself. See Embassy memcon forwarded under Embassy Airgram A-244 dated October 3./3/

/3/Document 158.

3. Diem added following with unusual directness:

a. Junior CIA officers were poisoning atmosphere by spreading rumors of coups against him. Said one such officer, Hodges has recently told General Staff that GVN planning demonstration against American Embassy. Hodges had remarked that if this happened, Seventh Fleet would fend, etc. Diem remarked Hodges clearly knew more about this than he did but added that enemy would take advantage such rumors. Said two Viet Cong killed south of Saigon October 23 had on person VC plans for taking advantage of any coup attempt to seize Saigon.

b. USG plan to withhold aid would hurt war effort, would work special hardship on soldiers and unpaid Strategic Hamlet guards (Combatant Youths). He planned measures to protect them economically as much as possible. Further lamented cutoff of aid in flour and especially in milk.

c. USG was entirely wrong in withholding subsidy for Special Forces. These forces were not independent, as USG seemed to allege, but were directly subordinated to ARVN General Staff, which had directed their use in action against pagodas August 21 after ARVN senior officers had unanimously told Diem such action necessary. Added lamely that USG may have gotten false impression of Special Forces independence because their particular type of mission often involved them in action crossing normal division or corps sectors borders.



262. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 3 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET/UN. Secret; Priority. Received at 9:18 a.m. and passed to the White House at 9:37 a.m. William Colby, in Honorable Men, p. 215, describes this cable and notes that because it was sent only priority, it arrived in Washington well after the coup had begun.

841. The Palace notified me early Friday morning that President Diem wanted to see me alone for fifteen minutes after the interview with Admiral Felt./2/ After the Admiral had gone, President Diem said:

/2/See Document 261.

1. The Buddhist bonzes, spurred on by American agents and who, under American stimulus, had created a so-called pagoda, have now received the UN Commission and have told them that they were the victims of "intoxication" by Americans. (I would translate the French word "intoxication" as "having been bulldozed by the Americans"). In particular one bonze [less than 1 line not declassified] admitted the falsity of the document which they had circulated and had attributed to the GVN. Another bonze [less than 1 1ine not declassified] admitted the false rumors of a coup d'etat which he had started and cited a number of American names. The UN Commission wanted to have the names. Brother Nhu had suggested last night that the American names be withheld because, after all, we were allies and we did not want to wash our dirty linen in public. GVN would, however, furnish the Embassy with the names.

2. I said that I hoped we would get the names and that he could be sure that if any American had committed an impropriety, I would send him out of the country.

3. Diem then spoke of a number of small student groups who had been worked on by the Communists and who intended to throw hand grenades and plastic bombs while the UN Commission was here. It was for this reason that he had kept the universities closed. But as soon as the UN Commission leaves, the universities will be opened "little by little" ("au fur et a mesure").

4. Diem repeated what he said to Admiral Felt that the Special Forces were really under the Joint General Staff and that it was a very serious thing to cut off the Special Forces from the people who were dependent upon the [garble] North Vietnam and who needed their support. He said General Harkins is a fine man but some of his advisors were not liked. He spoke particularly of former American Colonel Vann whom he said was very imprudent.

5. Then he spoke about suggestions to change the government which was all very well but who should be brought into the government? Whenever he asked that, nobody could give him any names. Also the question of timing was very important. He intended to do it at the proper time.

6. He hoped that when I was in Washington, I would ask Mr. Colby of CIA and former Ambassador Nolting about brother Nhu because the fact was that brother Nhu did not wish power but that he had such a flexible spirit and was always so full of good advice that people would ask him for his advice. When they had a difficult problem, brother Nhu would always find a solution. Mr. Colby had come to President Diem and had said that it was too bad that brother Nhu was living in an ivory tower, he should go out more. Ambassador Nolting had agreed and it was "due to their pressure" that brother Nhu had started going out and making himself known. But then when he did go out, people said he was usurping power and it was then all the bad publicity began.

7. When I got up to go, he said: Please tell President Kennedy that I am a good and a frank ally, that I would rather be frank and settle questions now than talk about them after we have lost everything. (This looked like a reference to a possible coup.) Tell President Kennedy that I take all his suggestions very seriously and wish to carry them out but it is a question of timing.

8. Comment: I feel that this is another step in the dialogue which Thuan thought Diem had begun at our meeting in Dalat on Sunday night./3/ If U.S. wants to make a package deal, I would think we were in a position to do it. The conditions of my return could be propitious for it. In effect he said: Tell us what you want and we'll do it. Hope to discuss this in Washington. See also Nhu's statement on release of all Buddhists and students now in jail.

/3/See Document 221.

On a personal basis, as soon as Admiral Felt had left the room, I said that I could assure Diem that these rumors of assassination had not in any way affected my feeling of admiration and personal friendship for him or for Vietnam. I had long admired his courage before coming to Saigon and since getting to know him, I formed sentiments of friendship for him. I was grateful to him for being so extremely nice to my wife and me. This was something which no amount of false rumors could possibly affect.



263. Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 8 a.m.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by W.Y Smith.

1. Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.

2. Vietnam. Bundy opened the meeting by stating that "they" (presumably himself and Forrestal) had spent a quiet night watching the cables from Vietnam. I asked how many forces were actually involved, hoping to draw out some of Bundy's thinking. He responded by saying that, with the exception of the palace guard, the army in Saigon and in the field seem to be firmly behind the Generals. Forrestal added that it was a well executed coup, much better than anyone would have thought possible. Bundy then commented that Diem was still holding out in the palace, adding that no one wanted to go in for the kill. They preferred that Diem leave the country. He continued that the Lodge trip is obviously off, and concluded by saying that all we could do for the present was continue to watch. At one point Dungan jokingly said that if we recognized this military regime quickly, it would put him in trouble in Latin America. Someone responded that the group in Vietnam was "representative." Bundy, I believe, added that this was an example of the acceptable type of military coup Martin of State had in mind when he made his statement some weeks ago./2/

/2/Reference is to Edwin M. Martin, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, and his statement written for and published in the New York Herald Tribune, October 6, 1963. The statement is also printed in Department of State Bulletin, November 4, 1963, pp. 698-704.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]


264. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 10:50 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash. Drafted by Hilsman and Sullivan, cleared by the White House, and approved by Rusk.
At 10 a.m., President Kennedy met with his principal advisers: Rusk, McNamara, McCone, Robert Kennedy, Taylor, Harriman, Hilsman, McGeorge Bundy, Robert Manning, Colby, Krulak, Forrestal, and Kline. Many had been awake most of the night following the coup developments as the reports came into Washington. During the meeting, which is described as "Off the Record," the President attended Holy Trinity Church's All Saints Mass from 10:55 to 11:29 a.m. Kennedy then returned to the meeting which had continued without him. The President and his advisers met until 12:15 p.m. (Kennedy Library, President's Appointment Book) No other substantive record of this meeting has been found. Both Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, p. 301, and Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 519, recall being awakened early on the morning of November 1 to follow the coup situation. Taylor states that Kennedy received the news of Diem's death at this meeting when, in fact, he received the news at the 9:35-10:05 a.m. meeting on November 2; see Document 274.
Telegram 673 was apparently drafted before the 10 a.m. meeting.

673. For Lodge from Secretary. Ref CAS Saigon [document number not declassified]./2/

/2/This telegram, sent from Lodge to Rusk via CIA channels, November 1, received at 7:55 a.m. reads as follows:
"Re Critic Flash CIA no 7, following message is being passed to General 'Big Minh':
"1. Generals will be received at Embassy after coup is over. (FYI: I expect to receive them myself.)
"2. We believe it would be better for Generals to meet with Tri Quang outside Embassy. We will advise him it is safe to leave when Generals inform us that in their opinion it is safe.
"Presume Department will require further information re composition and intentions new government but will be prepared act promptly on recognition as soon as this information available." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)

1. If coup succeeds, recognition problem will be urgent. Of course, you would expect to deal in friendly and cooperative fashion with effective authorities from the outset but timing of our announcement of formal recognition might be delayed for brief period. Since coup is wholly Vietnamese, Generals should understand that false recognition by the United States in advance of other governments would falsely brand their action as American-inspired and manipulated. Since Generals plan to establish a government within two or three days, formal recognition might better await that action.

2. Re CAS Saigon critic 04/3/ and CAS Saigon critic 07./4/ Tri Quang is of course free to come and go as he pleases.

/3/ CAS Saigon Critic 4, DTG 101955Z, November 1, received at the Department of State at 5:08 a.m., reads in part as follows:
"Conein reports from JGS that Gens are interested in whether or not Thich Tri Quang will be released from asylum at Embassy in order to join government as Buddhist advisor to symbolize freedom of religion." (Ibid.)

/4/Document 260.

3. However, after studying reports of Embassy conversations with Tri Quang we are somewhat uneasy about his political orientation and as to effects of his strong anti-Catholic views on political stance of new government.

4. On balance we are inclined to believe intention coup group designate Tri Quang as Buddhist adviser new government makes better sense than his inclusion in Cabinet as minister with significant portfolio. Giving him specific responsibilities limited to Buddhists has two advantages in our view, (a) it reassures Buddhists; and (b) it does not frighten Catholics or other groups which would be concerned by prospect overzealous Buddhist reaction to Diem-Nhu repression. At same time, advisory position for Tri Quang with new government would avail Generals Tri Quang's considerable talents without prejudicing non-denominational stance new government.

5. Regarding reftel, we assume Generals leading coup will not call on you in large group, thus giving false impression they were reporting to headquarters. A certain formality and correctness is greatly in their interest in preserving Vietnamese character their action.

6. Assuming your departure Washington temporarily postponed.



265. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Secretary of State and Senator J. William Fulbright/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 12:01 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 190, Telephone Conversations. Transcribed by Phyllis D. Bernau. Rusk left the meeting at the White House at 11:05 a.m. and returned to the Department of State. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) Senator Fulbright was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


F returned the call and Sec said it looks as though coup will succeed. They have in mind turning over in 2-3 days to an all-civilian govt. So Sec hopes our people there will hold fire until this evolves. Looks as though VP will be Pres. This is not civilian vs. military. Sec said we had heard rumors re the coup but did not have details. Our own involvement is minimal. F asked if Sec wanted to come up before Comm. Sec said he could this p.m. or tomorrow a.m. Will be glad to. maybe early next week when he has more info. F said he was not advocating it. Sec said to say he or others will be glad to come./2/

/2/See Document 300.


266. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 12:04 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash; Eyes Only. Drafted by Hilsman and McGeorge Bundy and approved by Rusk. Apparently drafted before the 10 a.m. meeting at the White House; see footnote 1, Document 264.

674. If coup succeeds, acceptance and understanding of its purpose here will be greatly increased if Generals and their civilian associates continue to develop strongly and publicly the conclusion reported in one of their broadcasts that Nhu was dickering with Communists to betray anti-Communist cause. High value of this argument should be emphasized to them at earliest opportunity./2/

/2/In telegram 871 from Saigon, November 1, received at 1:52 p.m. Lodge informed the Department that this "point has been made to Generals." (Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET)



267. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, November 1, 1963, 6:25 p m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Exclusive; Eyes Only. Repeated to CINCPAC. The source text is the copy sent by the JCS to the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. The telegram was also sent to the White House exclusive for Bundy. Received at the Department of State at 2:35 p.m.

MAC J00 8512. Personal for General Taylor and Admiral Felt from General Harkins. Subject: Coup.

1. Instead of getting four hours or two days notice, we got approximately four minutes. I returned from the airfield when in company with General Don and others we said goodbye to Admiral Felt, had lunch, and then back to the office. General Stilwell came into the office about 1345 hrs and said he had just received a telephone call in the clear from General Don saying that the General had decided to move and to notify General Harkins and his American friends. General Stilwell asked when they were going to move. General Don said immediately."

2. At this time firing was reported in the vicinity of the Spec Fcs HQ near Tan Son Nhut. Apparently ARVN troops were closing in on the HQ in an effort to take Col Tung prisoner.

3. Is now 1700 and during the afternoon there has been sporadic firing at a couple of planes who did some very poor bombing if they were aiming at the Palace. In fact, they hit our Embassy Marine House but apparently nobody was hurt.

4. I just talked to the Ambassador. He said that Big Minh and Don were trying to get in touch with the President and ask him to resign and Don and Minh promised the President and Mr. Nhu safe conduct out of the country if they would resign.

5. It is difficult to say at this time what the line-up of coup and counter coup forces is. The CNO, Captain Quyen, was reported killed this morning. The paratroopers took over the Navy HQ, put them on a ship and sent them down the river. The ARVN has taken over the communications and somebody else took over the civilian Police headquarters. The head of the Air Force, the head of the Paratroopers, the head of the Marine Brigade, the head of the Civil Guard, head of the Police force, and Colonel Tung were all prisoners in the Tan Son Nhut area. Unconfirmed.

6. At this time it is reported that the Palace is surrounded with the troops in position to attack if attack is necessary.

7. Until this thing settles down I am requesting that visitors be discouraged from coming to Vietnam. We don't know as of yet who the military have picked for leaders on the civilian side. Brig Gen Stilwell's house which is next to the old Palace received a few bullet holes as the troops went by on their way to Gia Long Palace. Betty/2/ reports considerable shooting in the vicinity of my home though none of the shooting has been directed at the house as yet. There is an antiaircraft gun on the roof of the house across the street which has been quite active.

/2/Mrs. Harkins.

8. Don told Adm Felt and me that he was going to move two ABN battalions to Tay Ninh this morning. However, the move was to Saigon rather than the two places he indicated.

9. As of now it looks like we have two ABN, two Marine and two ARVN battalions in town with another parachute and ARVN bn enroute from the training camp in Vung Tau.

10. I have directed all US mil personnel to stay off the streets and not to take sides. I have also directed that the main thing now is to watch uprisings by the VC. I am sure they will take advantage of this to create a series of acts of terrorism within and without the city. All the police throughout the city have been disarmed, yet the streets seem crowded with people. Other than that, everything is quiet. All I can say is, there is never a dull moment here in Saigon. Warm regards.

11. P.S. All is now quiet. Some heavy stuff. Sounds like tank fire has just started. Oh me!!


268. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 6:53 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Koren; cleared by McGeorge and William Bundy and Harriman; and approved by Hilsman and Rusk.

678. Re Critic 15./2/ Initial names for provisional government appear good as well as civilian-military proportion. Trust remainder of slate will be as sound.

/2/This telegram, November 2, 2:50 a.m. Saigon time, reads as follows:
"Reliable source at IGS reports that following personnel selected for provisional government which is to hold power for three to five months.
"Prime Minister Nguyen Ngoc Tho
"Vice Prime Ministers Pham Huy Quat and Tran Van Ly
"Min of National Defense and Commander of Gen Staff Maj Gen Tran Van Don
"Min of Interior, Brig Gen Ton That Dinh
"Min of Information, Brig Gen Tran Tu Oai
"Min of Youth and National Education Maj Gen Tran Van Minh
"Foreign Min Vu Van Mau
"Min of Public Works Tran Le Quang
"Ambassador to US Tran Van Chuong
"Min of Finance, Economy, Agriculture, Justice and Health are still to be chosen but all will be civilians.
"Vice Pres Tho has contacted Gens and is alive and safe. There will be no President in provisional govt since the Gens view Presidency as elective office whereas Prime Ministership appointive office. After 3 to 5 months free elections will be held for the election of a President. Gen Big Minh has several times emphasized he desires no post whatsoever.
"Same source reports Gen Dinh now at Palace talking to Commander of Ranger Battalion who has joined Presidential Guard.
"Provisional govt will state its primary objective as the successful prosecution of the war against the VC." (Ibid., POL 15-1 S VIET)

Obvious that key to world attitude and most importantly US public and congressional reaction toward coup will depend primarily on Generals' statements and actions to implement statements. Realize you acutely aware problem this respect we face here and through wise counsel you doing what possible to assure Generals take right steps. We realize this Vietnamese affair and Generals appear to know where and how they wish to proceed and may not seek advice or take it if requested. Nevertheless for guidance following are points we hope Generals will bear in mind.

1. Practical evidence of determination prosecute war with renewed vigor.

2. Reprisals at minimum.

3. Safe passage for family to exile.

4. Humane treatment for arrestees.

5. Minimum censorship both method and length of time.

6. Minimum period martial law.

7. Prompt announcement re assumption RVN international obligations and readiness maintain relations with states friendly to RVN.



269. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, November 1, 1963, 8:47 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET Secret; Flash. The text of this message was received from the White House for transmission as a Department of State telegram. Cleared by McGeorge and William Bundy and Rusk and approved by Hilsman.

683. Eyes only to Ambassador Lodge. On assumption CAS 18/2/2 and MACV 4 and 5/3/ are carried out, we send our warm thanks for a day of brilliantly quick reporting.

/2/ This telegram, November 2, 6:42 a.m., Saigon time, received at the Department of State on November 1 at 6:05 p.m., reads in part as follows:
"As of 0620 hours, 2 Nov, President Diem personally called General Don at JGS and offered to surrender with honor. Diem stated that he and Nhu wished only safe escort to the airport and departure from there, destination not specified. The Nhu children are not at the Palace. Gen Minh has accepted this and is attempting to arrange a cease fire at the Palace where heavy fighting now in progress." (Ibid., POL 26 S VIET)

/3/ MACV Critic 4, November 2, 6:41 a.m., Saigon time, received at the Department of State on November 1 at 6:03 p.m., reported that Diem had agreed to surrender to the coup leaders. MACV Critic 5, November 2, 6:53 a.m., Saigon time, received at the Department of State at 6:07 p.m., indicated that Diem and Nhu had been taken into custody at 6:40 a.m., Saigon time. (Ibid., and ibid., POL 15-1 S VIET, respectively)

At 9:15 Washington time tomorrow morning, President will review position and urgently asks your recommendations for this meeting. Our preliminary thinking is that if current trends are continued we should move promptly toward support and recognition, but this move will require careful justification in light of danger of misleading comparisons in Latin America. Our thought is to emphasize failings of Diem regime in repression, loss of popular support, inability to continue effective prosecution of war, and even signs of desire to negotiate with enemy. By contrast, we expect to emphasize prompt and evident popular support for what is in effect movement by entire senior staff of Vietnamese armed forces, as well as many well-known and respected civilian leaders, end of repression, and aim toward prompt restoration of constitutional government. In this last we believe position of Tho very important and hope it can be emphasized there.

More immediately, we expect to background press this evening that this is not a coup in the sense that it is merely the product of a few scheming officers, but that day's events plainly show that Diem has yielded to virtually unanimous determination of military and civilian leadership of his country. In the context of civil war, this amounts to a national decision. This last point is of particular importance in underlining absurdity of notion that this national decision could have been merely a foreigner's trick.



270. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 2, 1963, noon.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Flash. Received at 11:38 p.m. and passed to the White House at 11:42 a.m.

875. Your Deptel 683./2/

/2/Document 269.

1. Agree we should move promptly to support and recognize. We should decide to resume commercial import payments but on a periodic and selective basis without public announcement so as to avoid appearance of blank check or of pay-off. We should not be first to recognize but should assure other friendly Embassies that this is our attitude that we will recognize as soon as a few others have done so. We should, of course, give unmistakable signs of our satisfaction to the new leadership.

2. Believe the very great popularity of this coup should be stressed. Every Vietnamese has a grin on his face today. Am told that the jubilation in the streets exceeds that which comes every new year. The Vietnamese employees at the Embassy Residence, whom I know well, have an entirely different look on their face today. When I drove to the office with a very small US flag flying, there were bursts of applause from the sidewalk, people shaking hands and waving. The tanks which were standing at the street corners were being covered with garlands of flowers and the Army was evidently immensely popular with the people. At the big circle in which [stands] the statue of the Trung sisters which was modeled in the image of Madame Nhu, young men were busy with acetylene torches cutting the statues off at the feet and putting cables around the necks so as to topple them to the ground.

3. Do not think the President should be identified with the story of the desire of the Diem regime to negotiate with the Army. I know of no hard evidence of such a desire.

4. Otherwise line proposed in reftel seems satisfactory.



271. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, November 2, 1963, 2:50 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIEI Secret; Flash. Drafted by Koren and cleared with Harriman and Forrestal.

688. For Lodge. News of Diem, Nhu suicides/2/ shocking here and presumably in rest of world. Generals must preserve to extent possible good reputation their actions have thus far created. Therefore important to establish publicly beyond question that deaths actually suicide if this true and it not by violence. Believe best way to do so would be verification by unquestionably impartial group such as members UN team or members diplomatic corps with accompanying doctor's report.

/2/The news of Diem's and Nhu's supposed suicides was reported to Washington in CAS Saigon Critic telegram 22, DTG 020410Z, November 2, received at the Department of State at 12:24 a.m., November 2, as follows:
"Best estimate this time is that Diem and Nhu dead. Radio announcement reports they committed suicide by poison. CAS officers report have been informed by Viet counterparts that suicide committed en route from city to JGS but unable to find out how or when. Bodies reported to be JGS in armored personnel carrier or inside building. Feel with reasonable certainty that they are dead and continuing to check by what means and where now located." (Ibid.. POL 26 S VIET)



272. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff/1/

Saigon, November 2, 1963, 6 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Priority. The source text is the copy sent for information priority to the Department of State and received at 5:05 a.m. Also repeated for information priority to CINCPAC and the White House.

MAC J-3, DTG 012200Z. Reference: A. Your 011418Z Nov,/2/ B. My 011515Z Nov./3/

/2/In this telegram, JCS 3342 to Harkins, November 1, 11:20 a.m., the Joint Chiefs asked for information as follows:
"JCS need your running evaluation of events taking place in Saigon. Of special interest to us are following:
"A. Indications of coup success.
"B. Status of public order.
"C. Units and personalities supporting coup.
"D. Any threat to US nationals.
"E. Any VC or DRV reaction to coup.
"F. Effect of Saigon events on SVN forces and their operations against VC.
"G. Steps being taken to form new government." (Ibid.)

/3/In this telegram, November 1, 11:15 p.m., Harkins provided the JCS with a special report on events in Saigon through about 11 p.m., November 1. He also reported that he had directed U.S. forces to observe the curfew as declared by the Generals and that there were no reported U.S. casualties from the fighting. (Ibid.)

Summary Evaluation Situation.

A. Indicators of Coup Success.

1. All corps and division commanders have declared full support of their troops for the General Committee.

2.Coup forces control all major communication media Saigon.

3. No fighting or unrest reported anywhere in SVN outside Saigon area.

4. Population in Saigon-Cholon making no attempt to interfere with coup forces.

5. Fighting now localized to Presidential Guard barracks and area surrounding Gia Long Palace.

6. Growing list of civil figures reported on radio as having declared for General Committee.

7. No reports of any ARVN units moving to reinforce Palace or block coup forces.

B. Status of Public Order

1. Civil populace standing clear of fray, remaining indoors, scrupulously obeying curfew. No reports of looting.

2. Few uniformed police in evidence. Many have removed their uniforms and left posts.

3. All public utilities have functioned uninterruptedly since coup began.

C. Units and Personalities Supporting Coup Group.

1. As indicated above, all corps and div cmdrs have declared for General Committee. This not conclusive evidence that all corps and division units are behind coup.

2. Following are reported (by radio, JGS statements and/or advisor msgs) to have thrown support to General Committee:

VNAF (under Col Hien);

VNN (under Cmdr Cang, formerly head of river forces);

Special Forces Command (under Lt Col Trieu);

Senior officers (less Gen La) of CMD;

Airborne Brigade (under Colonel Vien);

Marine Brigade (under Lt Col Khang);

However one must remember that coup forces control radio and that there is no immediate way of confirming these claims.

3. Membership of General Committee as promulgated by Radio Saigon:

MG Duong Van Minh, Chairman

MG Tran Van Don

MG Nguyen Ngoc Le

MG Tran Van Minh

BG Le Van Nghiem (former CG, I Corps)

BG Nguyen Giac Ngo (former Dir, Guerilla Warfare)

BG Mai Hou Xuan (CG, Quang Tng Gr)

BG Tran Thien Khiem (C/S JGS)

BG Nguyen Van La (CG, Cmd)

BG Phan So Chieu (Don's deputy during martial law)

BG Le Van Kim (Office, Natl Defense)

BG Ton That Ding (CG III Corps)

BG Trang Ngoc Tam (Inspector, Strat Ham)

BG Tran Thieu Oai (Dir, Psy War)

Col Do Mau (Chief, Mil Security Service and now political advisor to Committee)

Col Nguyen Khuong (C/S, Army Cmd)

L/Col Nguyen Van Thien (Chief, Armor Cmd)

L/Col Le Nguyen Khang (CO, Marine Bde)

Col Duong Ngoc Lam (Director, CG/SDC)

L/Col Pham Van Thuyen (UNK)

L/Col Do Ngoc Nham (Chief of Material)

Maj Nguyen Ngoc Thiet (Provost Marshal)

4. Radio has also announced that following have declared support for Committee:

Col Nguyen Huu Hien (CO, VNAF)

530 Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume IV

Col Cao Van Vien (CO, Airborne)

Tran Van To (Police Commissioner)

L/Col Le Quang Trieu (reported new Special Forces Cmdr) Maj Tu (Chief Binh Duong Province and CO 8th Regt)

Secy Nguyen Dinh Thuan (Natl Defense)

Minister Nguyen Luong (Finance)

Minister Hoang Tat Thanh (Natl Economy) Minister Tran Le Quang (Agriculture)

(Thuan, Luong, Thanh last reported in Italian Embassy next to MACV HQ)

D. The threat to U.S. nationals is limited to the spill over from fighting between coup forces and the Presidential Brigade in Saigon. To a specific request, coup forces assented to free movement of U.S. military personnel and guaranteed the security of U.S. installations. There have been no restrictions except those realistically imposed by sporadic fighting in Saigon and those prudently arising from the U.S. declared Condition Yellow. We have not had a single report of molestation of, or aloofness toward U.S. personnel. RVNAF officers at JGS Opns Center continue to pass all info freely to US counterparts.

E. VC Reaction to Coup.

Negative at this juncture. This is primary view and advisory personnel being pressed for indicators.


It is too early to assess the effect of Saigon's own SVN forces and their operations against the VC. Obviously, forces engaged in the coup in Saigon will not be available for field operations until the course of the coup is run. However, the number of troops directly involved is not large; aside from the general reserve battalions, only gap created is in 5th Div tactical area. Further, the pro-coup declarations of all corps commanders augur against spread of civil war outside the national capital and therefore should preclude diversion of I, II and IV Corps from counter-insurgency tasks. This is, of course, highly speculative for there is no info available on reaction of paramilitary forces (Civil Guard, SDC, hamlet militia, or significantly, Republican Youth). However, The fragmentation of paramilitary forces, by geography and organization (company and lower) and the reality of the VC threat in areas of deployment preclude coordinated or massive counter action. We face the greater danger if the issue is long delayed and the country left without clear political and military leadership, for the VC will certainly move to exploit the resultant vacuum.

G. Steps Being Taken To Form New Government.

1. Big Minh, unquestionably in charge, has indicated that Nguyen Ngoc Tho is choice for President of provisional government. Whereabouts of Tho unknown to coup leaders.

2. Understood here that number of ministers (including those named in para C4 above) have tendered resignations to General Committee; their future is in doubt.

3. To be expected is a governing military junta at outset, should coup succeed. To be hoped for is a turnover to responsible civilian leadership as rapidly as practicable.


273. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 2, 1963, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Received at 8:45 a.m. and passed to the White House at 9:28 a.m.

888. 1. Very reliable source gives following story about death of Diem and Nhu:/2/

/2/See Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders (Reps. 94-465, Senate 94th Cong. 1st sess.), p. 223, footnote 1, for a summary of evidence and speculation on the deaths of Diem and Nhu. General Don, in Our Endless War, pp. 110-113, placed the responsibility for the Ngos' deaths on General "Big" Minh.

They left the Palace on Friday evening/3/ accompanied by Chinese businessman who was the organizer of the Republican Youth in the Chinese town of Cholon. This man had engaged in this work not because he believed in it but in the interests of avoiding trouble for the Chinese community.

/3/November 1.

This Chinese took Diem and Nhu to a clubhouse which he owned where they arrived at about nine o'clock. Diem and Nhu, through this Chinese businessman, made a strong effort to have ChiNat Embassy give them asylum, did not succeed.

After spending the night in the clubhouse they, at eight o'clock in the morning went to church and about 10 minutes after that were picked up by the Army and were forced to enter an Army vehicle into which they were locked. This source does not know what happened after that-whether they are alive or murdered or suicides.

2. Luong, Finance Minister in Diem government, together with Thuan and former Economic Minister Thanh, spent Saturday afternoon at Generals' headquarters. General Big Minh told him that Diem and Nhu had been found in a church in Cholon at about 8 a.m. this morning and were locked up inside an Army vehicle. Due to an inadvertence there was a gun inside the vehicle. It was with this gun, said Big Minh, that they committed suicide.

3. Other versions received from CAS sources:

A. According one CAS report, Col. Pham Ngoc Thao said at 1130 November 2, that he, with his forces, had entered Gia Long Palace in early morning hours for purpose of escorting Diem and Nhu to JGS Hqs after their unconditional surrender. Following search, it was determined that Diem and Nhu were not at Gia Long and had not been there during course of coup. Thao returned to JGS with this information. There followed check of villas in Saigon/Cholon known to be used by Ngo family.

Detail, under personal direction of Gen Mai Huu Xuan, located Diem and Nhu at villa on Phung Hung St., Cholon. Xuan returned to JGS with bodies of Diem and Nhu. Nothing is known about actual cause of their demise.

B. Another CAS report indicates that Lt. Nguyen Ngoc Linh, Special Assistant to General Nguyen Khanh, CG, II Corps, and at present in Saigon, said he had personally viewed at 1330 November 2, bodies of Diem and Nhu at JGS Hqs and there was no possibility of mistaken identities. Linh said it was clear that Diem and Nhu had been assassinated, if not by Xuan personally, at least at his direction.

While above apparently confirmed information, it should be remembered that current situation in Saigon is made to order for any speculation surrounding Diem and Nhu.

According to Thao and Linh, Diem and Nhu could have maintained telephone communications from Cholon villa throughout coup since lines run from Gia Long Palace to Thu Duc, and from Thu Duc to Cholon villa.

C. Still another CAS report indicates reliable source at JGS was told by Generals Big Minh and Little Minh and other officers that Diem and Nhu escaped from Gia Long Palace shortly after 0700 hours, November 2, by third tunnel which was unknown to Generals. Diem and Nhu left tunnel in dock area and then went to Don Thanh Chinese Catholic Church in Cholon, where they took poison. Diem and Nhu were found at church at 1030 furs. Usually reliable source was offered opportunity to see remains of Diem and Nhu, offer which he declined. CAS source has strong impression that Diem and Nhu are dead and bodies are at JGS.

D. Finally, another CAS officer was informed by officer of J-2, JGS, that President Diem, and his brother and one presidential orderly were caught and killed by personnel under direction of Gen Mai Huu Xuan at church in Cho Quan, Cholon. Also captured with them was Capt Do Hai, nephew of Do Mau, Chief of Military Security Service.



274. Editorial Note

On November 2, 1963, the President held an off-the-record meeting at the White House with his principal advisers on Vietnam from 9:35 to 10:05 a.m. The participants at the conference with the President were Rusk, McNamara, McCone, Robert Kennedy, Taylor, Harriman, Hilsman, Henry L. T. Koren, Donald Wilson, and John S. Gleason. (Kennedy Library, President's Log Book) Taylor recounts that the meeting began with the fate of Diem and Nhu still unknown, but Michael Forrestal brought in a copy of a telegram stating that Diem and Nhu were dead and supposedly had committed suicide. Taylor was apparently referring to a White House copy of CAS Saigon Critic telegram 22, November 2, or telegram 888, Document 273. Regarding Critic 22, see footnote 2, Document 271.

Taylor described the President's reaction as follows:

"Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before. He had always insisted that Diem must never suffer more than exile and had been led to believe or had persuaded himself that a change in government could be carried out without bloodshed." (Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, page 301)

Arthur Schlesinger related that he saw the President "soon after he heard that Diem and Nhu were dead." Schlesinger confirmed Taylor's impression that the President was "somber and shaken" and looking more depressed than he had been since the Bay of Pigs invasion. According to Schlesinger, Kennedy doubted that the Ngo brothers, as practicing Catholics, would have committed suicide and he felt that, after 20 years of service to South Vietnam, Diem's life should not have ended as it did. (Schlesinger, Thousand Days, pages 997-998)

Later in the day, the President held another off-the-record meeting on Vietnam with most of the same people. The meeting lasted from 4:30 to 5:35 p.m. and no record has been found of the discussion. (Kennedy Library, President's Log Book)


275. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)/1/

Saigon, November 2, 1963, 10:42 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Exclusive; Eyes Only. Repeated for information to Felt, CINCPAC, the White House exclusive for Bundy, CIA exclusive for McCone, and the Department of State exclusive for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman. The source text is the Department of State copy; it was received at 10:07 a.m.

MAC J-3 8556. Taylor and Felt from Harkins.

1. We are no 1onger a republic.

As you know, the Diem regime has fallen and the President and Counsellor are in the custody of the General Committee at an undisclosed location. We fix the time of the surrender of the Palace at 020600H. While the issue was fairly clear late last night, it took a heavy assault on the Palace, by a much superior force, to bring capitulation. Diem was stubborn to the end; in fact when Dinh, as tactical commander, got the President on the telephone at 0600H, Diem demanded the immediate surrender of the coup forces.

2. During the evening of 1 November, the coup forces systematically reduced the Presidential Guard barracks, took its defenders prisoner and moved troops into position ringing the Palace garrison (estimated at 1000 and 4 armored vehicles). While Palace was subjected to harassing fire from initiation of coup, it was made clear that an assault would begin at midnight if no surrender forthcoming. Heavy pounding actually started around 0400. At this juncture, we still lack estimates of casualties, except for those involved in defense of the Presidential Guard barracks, I believe casualties to be light. At least 5 tanks were hit and burned in the vicinity of the Palace. No U.S. casualties as yet reported.

3. My summary evaluation, DTG 012200Z,/2/ reflected the remarkable cohesion of the RVNAF once the coup started. Let's hope it will continue. Dinh, his deputy, Col Co, and 5th Div Cmdr Col Thieu, were the key figures at the operational level since the initial troops to close Saigon and initiate action were units under their opn control. Thien personally commanded the largest single force against the Palace, supported by the 4th Marine Battalion and elms of the 11th Regt. Promotions of both Co and Thieu to Brig General already announced.

/2/Document 272.

4. The lineup of the provincial govt looks good, for a starter. Tho is the logical choice until a stronger man appears-I shall push the Generals hard to make good their stated intention to relinquish, as soon as possible, the ministerial posts they have assumed. The nonappearance of Big Minh in the Cabinet was, of course, expected.

5. The big job now, and the entire interest of my people and me, is to get the new team focused on the VC immediately. We buckle down to this at once.


276. Telegram From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) to the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Harkins)/1/

Washington, November 2, 1963, 12:25 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET. Secret; Eyes Only. Also sent to Felt. Repeated for information to Generals LeMay, Wheeler, and Shoup and Admiral McDonald; to the Department of State for Rusk, Ball, Harriman, and Hilsman; to the White House for Bundy; to the JCS for Admiral Riley and Krulak; and to the Department of Defense for McNamara, Gilpatric, and William Bundy.

JCS 4279-63. 1. Out of the present turbulence in Saigon we all hopeful will emerge a strong government able to prosecute the war with improved effectiveness. I am sure that you are thinking of all the changes and improvements which we might desire for the military apparatus. I have in mind such things as the establishment of a clear channel of command and more effective relationships between field commanders and province chiefs. I would appreciate knowing what you have in mind in the way of military improvements to be sought from the new government.

2. Related to the above is my concern over the possible adverse effect of the change in administration on the province chiefs. My impression is that we are generally satisfied with these men, who are now performing a very important military role in the conduct of the war. Do you consider that there is any likelihood of a wholesale replacement of present incumbents based on their prior relationships with Diem government? It is clearly in our interest to prevent removal of effective and experienced chiefs.


277. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to All Diplomatic Posts/1/

Washington, November 2, 1963, 5:49 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 16 S VIET. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Hilsman, cleared with McGeorge Bundy, and approved by Rusk.

833. 1. We now expect to recognize new regime in Saigon early next week. All missions, especially in Western Hemisphere, should be prepared to give full explanation this decision and sharp distinction between its basis and USG opposition to military coups against democratic regimes elsewhere. Elements of difference are these:

(1) Diem regime had become instrument of complete personal authority of one family.

(2) Diem regime was deeply opposed not merely by mass of people but increasingly by its own senior officials, civilian and military

(3) Regime was increasingly incapable of giving effective direction to national effort against Communist subversion and aggression.

2. By contrast, the following can already be said about the government of military men and leading civilians which is now in control:

(1) This government rapidly reversing previous regime's repression and has evident and general popular support.

(2) Its declared policy is to transfer political power, in the near future, to a popularly elected government responsive to the will of the entire people.

(3) It is rallying the nation for renewed prosecution of its war against Communist aggression.

(4) This government, with the death of President Diem, has in its leadership his constitutional successor, Vice President Tho. (FYI. Tho appears to be slated for Prime Minister's role, but exact status still uncertain.)



278. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)/1/

Washington, November 2, 1963, 6:31 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15-1 S VIET Secret; Eyes Only. Sent via CIA channels. Repeated for information to the Office of the Secretary of Defense eyes only for McNamara, to the Department of State eyes only for Rusk, and to the CIA eyes only for McCone. The source text is the Department of State copy.

CAP 63602. Deaths of Diem and Nhu, whatever their failings, has caused shock here and there is danger that standing and reputation of incoming government may be significantly damaged if conviction spreads of their assassination at direction of one or more senior members of incoming regime. Evidence available here is thin and conflicting, but simple assertion of suicide obviously will not end the matter. We believe that it is deeply in the interest of the regime to make prompt and full explanation, and if the deaths not by suicide, to emphasize with clear evidence all mitigating circumstances. They should not be left under illusion that political assassination is easily accepted here. Across the months of repression and increasing ineffectiveness, American people and government remember great services to freedom rendered by Diem over many years.


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