The phoenix program - səhifə 7
In South Vietnam the eye of God trick took a ghastly twist. CIA officer Pat McGarvey recalled to Seymour Hersh that "some psychological warfare guy in Washington thought of a way to scare the hell out of villagers. When we killed a VC there, they wanted us to spread-eagle the guy, put out his eye, cut a hole in the back [of his head] and put his eye in there. The idea was that fear was a good weapon." Likewise, ears were cut off corpses and nailed to houses to let the people know that Big Brother was listening as well.
The subliminal purpose of terror tactics was to drive people into a state of infantile dependence. In this sense, CIA psywar experts were not exorcists come to heal Vietnam and free it from Communist demons; their spells were meant to break up the society and project its repressed homicidal impulses onto the Communists -- cast as carrion and snakes.
"It was all part of the counterterror doctrine developed by the Ugly American to beat the enemy at his own game," Elton Manzione said. In beating the VC at their own game, the SEALs were told to ignore the rules of engagement. "Our camp was always separate," he explained. "Just CTs and us. Sometimes a Special Forces colonel would walk in, but rarely. Nam Dong was not populated by the spooky hunter-killer type folks you associate with the Green Berets. A lot of them were medical specialists, or agricultural specialists, or language specialists that worked with the villagers on different things. So the great majority of this particular Special Forces camp were not hit team types. We were, however, and our camp was separated by wire and a gate.
"Now everyone knows about the airborne interrogation -- taking three people up in a chopper, taking one guy and saying, 'Talk,' then throwing him out before he even gets the chance to open his mouth. Well,
we wrapped det [detonator] cord around their necks and wired them to the detonator box. And basically what it did was blow their heads off.The interrogator would tell the translator, usually a South Vietnamese intelligence officer, 'Ask him this.' He'd ask him, 'Who gave you the gun?' And the guy would start to answer, or maybe he wouldn't -- maybe he'd resist -- but the general idea was to waste the first two. They planned the snatches that way. Pick up this guy because we're pretty sure he's VC cadre -- these other two guys just run errands for him. Or maybe they're nobody; Tran, the farmer, and his brother Nguyen. But bring in two. Put them in a row. By the time you get to your man, he's talking so fast you got to pop the weasel just to shut him up." After a moment's silence he added,
"I guess you could say that we wrote the book on terror."
Having seen the intelligence potential in Scotton's PATs and CTs, DeSilva, according to Stu Methven, "decided he wanted a version in each province in South Vietnam." The job of standardizing the political action teams, along with the counterterrorists and Chau's Census Grievance program, was given to Methven, whose first step was to find them a permanent home on the Vung Tau Peninsula. Methven did this with the help of Tran Quoc Buu, a wealthy Vietnamese warlord and founding member of the Can Lao party who in 1954 had headed the CIA-funded Vietnamese Federation of Labor. Buu had been charged by Diem with laundering Can Lao rake offs through the federation's foreign accounts. Buu, however, pocketed the money and used it to buy huge parcels of land, including a portion of Vung Tau.
After the coup the tables turned on Buu, whose association with Diem led to his imprisonment; in need of cash to buy his way out of jail, he sold Methven a choice piece of property on the Vung Tau Peninsula. Located at Cat Lo, Buu's estate had been used by the French as a transshipment point in their lucrative opium trade and as a training camp for their Montagnard maquis. Buu himself had used Cat Lo as a training camp for his private army of resettled Catholic refugees. Called the Shrimp and Cinnamon Soldiers, for their civilian jobs, Buu's troops were highly motivated and, according to Methven, were admired by Nguyen Van Thieu because "unlike the ARVN, they stayed at their posts at night." With Thieu's consent, Methven arranged for CIA contract employees to start training counterterror, census grievance, and political action cadres at Buu's Vung Tau facility. This was a unilateral CIA operation, extralegal, with no GVN oversight. Isolated and accessible only by Air America, Vung Tau was the perfect place for such a covert action undertaking.
Vung Tau became the seedbed of the CIA's political cadres, who were trained to enter VC villages, to convince the people that the GVN represented their interests and, having done that, to help the villagers form self-defense forces to fight the VC. However, the generals who dominated the GVN viewed the image of an armed citizenry with alarm and were reluctant to support the program. Even MACV commander Westmoreland argued that anyone with a gun should be in the army. Thus, before the GVN could join the synthesis, it first had to put its house in order -- which, in the summer of 1964, was a remote possibility at best.
To begin with, the Montagnards had mutinied against their Special Forces officers in Ban Me Thuot and four other districts, temporarily diverting the CIA's attention. Meanwhile, the Dai Viets had assumed control of the government, created a Directorate of Political Warfare, and established their own pacification program managed by Professor Nguyen Van Huy. Called Rural Construction and centered in Thu Duc, the program used mobile cadre teams to organize villagers into pro-GVN associations. But the Dai Viets were split internally over the issue of allowing VNQDD cadres into the program, and when other, more powerful Dai Viets launched an unsuccessful coup against General Khanh in April, Huy and his associates were exiled once again.
With the CIDG program and the GVN in shambles, the CIA looked to its nascent Vung Tau program for stability. The CIA officer chosen to build the facility and create a national pacification program that could maintain operations independently of the GVN by fostering local initiatives was a garrulous, blustering Irish-American named Tom Donohue. A product and practitioner of Cook County politics, Donohue resembled W.C. Fields in looks and mannerisms and, you get the feeling, in ethics, too; to wit, he joined the CIA when he perceived the cold war as "a growth industry." When he spoke, his words came in melodramatic exclamations. As he pondered, he paced nervously, like a pool hustler circling the table, picking his next shot. In all these respects, Donohue was the prototypical CIA officer -- a cagey position player using a glib exterior to mask a calculating mind.
When we met in 1986, Tom Donohue was working as the Mideast representative for a Filipino construction company. When he arrived in Saigon twenty-two years earlier to replace Cliff Strathern as chief of covert action, he worked under State Department cover in the embassy's political office. One of his jobs at the time, he said, was managing "a small training camp down in Vung Tau which had about a hundred students run by a very dynamic guy -- Le Xuan Mai.
"I spent a lot of time with Mai," Donohue recalled, "and was mighty impressed. Mai was a wizard at appealing to a particular sensory element the Vietnamese seemed to have about the fatherland. He had the ability to interweave Vietnamese myth and modern-day nationalism that seemed somehow to make an impact on the tutored and the untutored alike. He was trilingual," Donohue said with admiration, "but he was controversial. What kind of army officer goes around talking about fairies and dragons?" 
Donohue immediately picked up where Stu Methven had left off, hammering out a deal with the minister of the interior to rent an even larger chunk of the Vung Tau Peninsula. He then got Mai a promotion to major and arranged for "a guy who had been training agency people to come up with three or four others to run the camp. This is an early program called armed propaganda team," what he termed an armed social working element.
"Anyway," Donohue said, "I decided this was the route we should be following, and I began looking for a means of expanding the program. I got rid of most of the other stuff I had responsibility for, and from that point on programming evolved rapidly. We began to build up the program with more and more officers coming in from Washington on permanent change of station."
Donohue leased a Catholic seminary, whose owners had "decided it was time to cut and run," and used Seminary Camp, as it became known, as headquarters for his staff. "It was really just a stopgap," Donohue explained, "but it gave us the ability to have a good permanent base. "Then we started building our training facility -- Ridge Camp. It was five miles beyond the airport, so we built roads. We built barracks, mess halls, classrooms, armories, and offices. We built a training camp for five thousand and opened it on the fifteenth of January, 1965."
Having put his management team and facilities in place, Donohue next had to demonstrate that the CIA could develop people's action teams for every province, which meant centralized training and using Scotton's forty-man model from Quang Ngai. Donohue also arranged for the training of CTs and Census Grievance cadre. To manage the CT training program, he imported "a couple of guys from headquarters. They were experts. They taught how to get in, how to abduct prisoners, and how to get the hell out with good sources for interrogation. I brought them out TDY and kept talking them into extending, and they both ended up doing a full tour." Both, Donohue said in 1986, "are still gainfully employed by the CIA."
Donohue's pet program was Census Grievance, "the most sophisticated program in the whole goddamned country -- the most effective political tool, if you accept the fact that the government really didn't care what people thought or what their political needs were." Noting that the VC had made the problem worse by cutting the lines of communication, "through the skillful use of terror," Donohue said, "the population had been cut adrift, and Census Grievance was the ersatz system that allowed us to say, 'We accept the fact that there are no normal political lines of influence, so we'll put this on and hope to God we can jump-start this body politic.'"
Donohue explained Census Grievance like this: "Everybody knows the government takes a census, so you'd have a guy make a map of every house in the village -- put everything into perspective. Then the edict was issued that once a month every head of household had to talk to the Census Grievance officer. We tried to get somebody from the village who was older -- retired teachers, retired civil servants -- older people who appeared harmless but were respected."
To make it possible for a head of household to speak privately with the Census Grievance officer, "We would put together a little two-by-four shack (patterned on the Catholic confessional) so that there ain't nobody else around.
"Basically the census, scaled down, had three questions: (One) What would you like the GVN to do for you? All of the basic precinct-type needs. 'A bridge across this particular canal would save us a three-mile walk to get our produce to market.' Very legitimate needs. (Two) Is there anybody in the GVN giving you a hard time? Are the police at the checkpoint charging you a toll every time you take your rutabagas to market? (Three) Is there anything you want to tell me about the Vietcong? If the answer was no, the whole thing wasn't pursued, but once a month the head of household had to touch base. If the Census Grievance officer finds that X number of people say they need a bridge, you begin to get a consensus. Okay, money is allocated. If it went to the wrong things, you might as well keep it back here. So the point we would make with the province and district chiefs was 'This is a political need. If you are responsive to it, people will look at you in a different light.'"
"Census Grievance produced a good bit of intelligence," Donohue concluded. "So did the cadre program. But there were areas that were so tough and so inaccessible that there was just no intelligence coming out. Some of the Chieu Hois would bring it in, but we never really had what we thought was a good enough handle on continuing intelligence, which is a terrible blind spot if you're trying to win a war that's got all the built in problems that Vietnam had."
The next problem Donohue faced was "how to imprint a political system on a foreign country." That was no easy task, even for an irrepressible huckster like Tom Donohue. Donohue described the typical province chief as "a military officer who was a product of a mandarin system," a person with total discretion over how to spend funds, who "couldn't care less about what some grubby little old peasant lady in black pajamas had to say. He didn't have a political bone in his body." By way of comparison he added, "They're as bad as our military. They never understood either what we were doing." All that led Donohue to say, "We were running a coaching school for army officers."
Further complicating things was the fact that corruption in the provinces was a way of life. So Donohue spent a good deal of time "trying to keep the local parties from using it to their own advantage. The VNQDD element had to be goddamned careful that they weren't pushing the long-range interests of the party," he said, referring to Mai's habit of inserting four VNQDD cadres into every PAT team. "The same is true when you get into Hoa Hao country. If you had a province chief who looked upon it as a source of revenue or if a guy wanted to use it as a private army, then you had real trouble."
Donohue told each province chief, "If you use these people in the way they've been trained, we'll feed them, pay them, and equip them. If you decide at any time they're a hindrance rather than a help, you give me a call, and within thirty days we'll get them out of here. If I decide that you're not using them properly -- that you're using them as a palace guard here in the province -- I'll give you thirty days' notice and pull them out." And that was the agreement. It was that simple. Nothing in writing. Nothing went through the central government.
"Next, I'd take an agency officer -- or officers in a big province -- and stick him in the province and tell him, 'Find a place to live. Get some sandbags. We'll try to get you some Nung guards. Stay alive and do as you see fit.' And then he was responsible for the direction of the teams -- payroll, logistics, the whole smear." The CIA officer then selected "a vigorous young lieutenant" whom the province security officer would appoint to his staff as the Rural Construction cadre liaison, "so we would have a guy we could work with day in and day out. Then we would work down to the district level, where we had a similar arrangement, and then into a village."
As soon as the district chief had vouched for his recruits, "We'd put them on an airplane and send them down to Vung Tau," Donohue said. "This is pretty heady stuff. These guys had never been out of the village before. The food was spectacular. Suddenly they had more protein in their systems than they've ever had before, and they're able to stay awake in class. Our training program was vigorous as hell, but they all put on weight. We treated them for worms as soon as they came in the door.
Then Mai began telling them stories about the fairies and the dragons and the great cultural heritage of the Vietnamese people. He had all sorts of myths which were at least apparent to many of these people. Then he would work in the political applicability of today."
According to Donohue, this is "precisely" what political warfare is all about: Having been selected into a "special" program and given "special" treatment, CIA political cadres were taught the corporate sales pitch. In effect, rural youths were put on a political assembly line, pumped full of protein and propaganda, cross-trained as interchangeable parts for efficiency, then given one last motivational booster shot. "The graduation ceremonies at Vung Tau were something else." Donohue chortled. "At night. Total darkness. Then the one candle lit. Oh! This is the schmaltz! Remember, these are kids that have never seen anything like this. The pageantry!"
The New York Times reporter R.W. Apple described on February 21, 1965 the Ridge Camp graduation ceremony occurring in an amphitheater the size of a football field. Filipino trainers were present and, writes Apple, "The ceremony had a theatrical, almost religious quality. Vietnamese national symbols, including the old imperial flag, were arrayed before an altar. Multi-colored pennants bearing the names of the nation's ancient heroes were mounted behind the speaker. Captain Mai stood at an illuminated lectern. The recruits were grouped on the three other sides of the arena. At a signal, all the lights except one focused on Captain Mai went out, and the recruits stripped off their white shirts and dark trousers. When the lights came on again, all were clad in black pajamas."
Whipped into an ideological fervor, the CIA's political cadres were then sent into villages to spread democratic values and undermine the infrastructure.
"It's a GVN presence that's really comprised of your own people that have, by God, gone off and been washed in the blood of the lamb. They've been trained and they've seen the light,"Donohue palavered. "They spoke the local dialect, and they're there to defend and focus people on their own defense, to try to enlist the people into doing something positive. If the government can't protect you, it ain't no government."
Of course, the GVN was not a government but a military dictatorship which was opposed to independence in the countryside. The GVN at that time, writes Professor Huy, "could be curiously compared to that of the USSR with the Armed Forces Council as the Supreme Soviet, the Committee Leading the Nation as its Presidium, and the Central Executive Committee as the Soviet government before World War Two when its ministers were called commissars.General Nguyen Van Thieu was elected chairman of the Committee Leading the Nation and so became chief of state. General Nguyen Cao Ky was appointed chairman of the Central Executive Committee, i.e. the government." 
In June 1965 the National Council of Security was created and placed under Ky, who reported to Thieu but in fact exercised greater power than Thieu. As prime minister controlling the Interior Ministry, Ky appointed his people to the CIA 's covert action program and appointed his confidential agent, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, director of the Military Security Service in June 1965, director general of the National Police in October 1965, and head of the Central Intelligence Organization in Apri1 1966.
Nguyen Cao Ky was strongly backed by the Americans anxious to find a leader for the Vietnamese. A program called Rural Development, later called the Phoenix program, was set up. It aimed at detecting and destroying the communist cells in villages and reconstructing the countryside. This program was undertaken with means provided by the USA. It was smaller than what we had tried to apply when Nguyen Ton Roan was deputy prime minister in charge of Pacification. The only difference was that now, the personnel in use were not politically motivated and trained cadres, but merely dispirited employees of the government. 
Frank Scotton was also critical of Vung Tau. "I shied away from Vung Tau," he said, "because the American hand became too big and because having a fixed complex was spiritually uncomfortable. Spiritually the thing to do was to go into the villages. At Vung Tau they were not dealing with unconventional warfare, but with warehousers. There was always the threat that 'We'll turn off the water' if you don't do it our way." 
He also criticized the "development of incantation and rote" and the resulting "doctrinaire" mind-set that led to the Rural Construction program's being compared with Hitler's Strength Through Joy camps. Its cadre studied the ninety-eight duties, the eleven-point criteria, and the twelve phases of action. They sang the "New Life Hamlet Construction" song, with its symbolic twelve stanzas and ninety-eight notes, and recited the ritual Five Oaths: "Standing before the altar of our Fatherland and the national Flag, we, in the capacity of rural construction cadres, take the oath ... to remain faithful ... to firmly believe ... that cadres are created by the people ... to mingle with the people ... and to make constant efforts in study in order to progress in behavior, education and techniques." 
Scotton's biggest complaint, however, was the shift from intelligence and displacement to civic action. The change took place in early 1965, when Robert Kelly joined the CIA and took his team of instructors to duplicate the Quang Ngai program in other provinces. At that point Harry "The Hat" Monk took over in Binh Dinh Province and began working as case officer to Major Nguyen Be, the former insurgent who, before defecting, had been party secretary for the Ninth Vietcong Battalion. A visionary, Be wanted Rural Construction to be more than an attack on the VCI; he wanted to provide services to the people as well. Perceiving the PATs as "too American," he retrained his people as they returned to Binh Dinh from Vung Tau and, with the help of Monk, combined "mobile" Census Grievance cadres, PATs, and CTs, and came up with the fifty-nine-man Revolutionary Development (RD) team.
Be's fifty-nine-man RD teams had group leaders and psywar, intelligence, and medical specialists in staff positions. There were three eleven-man teams constituting an "action element" and having a counterterror mission, and there was a Rural Construction leader with a six-man Civic Action team; a six-man "mobile" Census Grievance team under the intelligence office; and a six-man economic unit.
Be's teams were called Purple People Eaters by American soldiers, in reference to their clothes and terror tactics. To the rural Vietnamese they were simply "idiot birds."
Said Scotton: "Be was trying to create a climate to make the VC blunder into ambushes and fear the unpredictable." His goal was to neutralize the VC, but his style was "be nice to VC agents, give them gifts, smother them with affection, and then let them try to explain that to their superiors." It was a style Scotton did not approve of, although he loved Be himself. "Be was like an older brother to me and an uncle to my children," Scotton said. "He lived with us from 1976 until he died in summer of 1981."
Despite Scotton's compunctions, by mid-1965 the CIA was using Be's fifty-nine-man model as its standard team, at which point the Rural Construction Cadre program was renamed the Revolutionary Development Cadre program. With larger teams and standardization came the need for more advisers, so Donohue began recruiting military men like Joe Vacarro, a Special Forces sergeant working as a Public Safety adviser in Quang Nam Province. "I met Joe and chatted with him," Donohue said, "and he looked interesting, so I went to AID, and he was sort of seconded to me; although he still worked for AID, I wrote his fitness reports. Then I worked out a direct hire for him, and he came back here to D.C., did some formal Vietnamese training, then went back out for another tour." Vaccaro was to become heavily involved in the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit training program at Vung Tau. Donohue also hired Jean Sauvageot out of the Army. Sauvageot was to become the scion of Vung Tau and a close aide to Frank Scotton, his mentor, and William Colby.
"We get to the point," according to Donohue, "where the CIA was running a political program in a sovereign country where they didn't know what the hell we were teaching.So I had Thieu and Ky down to Vung Tau, and I did all the right things. But what kind of program could it be that had only one sponsor, the CIA, that says it was doing good? It had to be sinister. Any red-blooded American could understand that. What the hell is the CIA doing running a program on political action?
"So I went out to try to get some cosponsors for the record. They weren't easy to come by. I went to [USIS chief] Barry Zorthian. I said, 'Barry, how about giving us someone?' I talked to MACV about getting an officer assigned. I had AID give me a guy." But most of it, Donohue said, "was window dressing. We had the funds; we had the logistics; we had the transportation."
The CIA also had the approbation of Ky and Thieu. "Ky and Thieu saw the wisdom of it," Donohue said, "so they offered up (as their liaison to the program) General Nguyen Duc Thang. And he was indefatigable. He went everyplace." There was, however, one catch. As a way of monitoring the Saigon station, in August 1965 the Special Group assigned Ed Lansdale as senior liaison to General Thang, who instantly advocated transferring the entire Revolutionary Development program to the Defense Ministry.
"Ed Lansdale was an invention of Hubert Humphrey's," Donohue grumbled. "The idea was 'We did it before, we can do it again.' So Lansdale came out two years too late. He brought a lot of his old cohorts; some were agency guys that he'd suborned. He had some Army people and some retired folks, but there was really nothing," Donohue said wearily, "for them to do."
"My boss [Gordon Jorgenson, who replaced Peer DeSilva in February 1965] said, 'Tell them everything.' I said okay, and I spent two and a half hours briefing his full group about a week after they arrived. And they said, 'Let's have a joint office.' So we had our logistics people put in offices and all the right things. Then I had to get somebody to run the office. Thang said, 'Who do you want?' And I said, 'Chau.'"
Tran Ngoc Chau, according to Donohue, "was a farsighted, bright guy with an ability to keep meaningful statistics -- which is not very Vietnamese. He'd been the apple of Diem's eye during the strategic hamlet program, and he had a special phone to the palace -- Diem was on the horn to him constantly. Because he had that kind of sponsorship, he was able to do an awful lot of experimentation. So we used Kien Hoa as a proving ground. I spent a lot of time between Mai and Chau looking at programs," Donohue recalled, "trying to introduce refinements."
By having Chau transferred to Vung Tau, Donohue also got greater control over his pet project. "We took Census Grievance and expanded it," he said. "I got a villa in Gia Dinh and set up a training school for Census Grievance people. We would bring people in that had been spotted in various villages and run them through the training; then they would go back to their provinces. I had a French gent, Matisse, who ran the school. We trained in small groups, and it was a much faster process than the PATs; but these were literate people, so they were quick on the uptake. And it was very pleasant surroundings. It was a well-handled program." To it Donohue assigned John O'Reilly, John Woodsman, Dick Fortin, and Jean Sauvageot.
"But I had forced the transfer," Donohue confessed, "and Chau was so damn mad that he was in a permanent pout. So he decided to go down to Vung Tau and shape the place up. Which we really didn't need. 'Cause here you have two dynamic personalities [Mai and Chau] who couldn't stand each other."
The conflict was resolved in 1966, when Mai was reassigned to the Joint General Staff, while Chau took over the Vung Tau training program. Donohue minimized the effect. "I couldn't really do much business out there anyway," he noted, "because I needed our own system to talk to people. But at least for the record it looked pretty good. We had a MAVC guy, an AID guy, and a USIS guy down at Vung Tau, so all the bases had been touched. You see," he added,
"at this point all we were trying to do was expand the thing and say that there's at least plausible denial that the agency is solely responsible."
Indeed, with the creation of Vung Tau and the synthetic Revolutionary Development Cadre program, South Vietnam began slouching toward democracy. But it was an empty gesture. The rule in South Vietnam was one step forward followed by two steps back.
CHAPTER 5: PICs
"A census, if properly made and exploited, is a basic source of intelligence. It would show, for instance, who is related to whom, an important piece of information in counterinsurgency warfare because insurgent recruiting at the village level is generally based initially on family ties." 
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