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On July 31, 1964, SOG achieved its goal of creating a provoked response. That night SEALs Elton Manzione and Kenny Van Lesser led twenty South Vietnamese marines in a raid against Ron Me Island. Dropped at the wrong end of the island, Manzione and Van Lesser failed to knock out their target -- an NVA radar installation -- but the raid did push the North Vietnamese into attacking the USS

Maddox

, which was monitoring NVA electronic defenses activated by the attack. The incident was sold to the American public as a North Vietnamese "first strike" and resulted in Congress's passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resulting air strikes against North Vietnam are cited by many historians as the start of the Vietnam War.

Tonkin Gulf also allowed LBJ to sell himself as tougher than Republican candidate Barry Goldwater and to win the 1964 presidential election.

In Saigon, South Vietnamese armed forces Commander Duong Van Minh, who was supported by the important generals, the Dai Viets, and the CIA, surfaced as the new chief of state. Big Minh appointed General Khiem III Corps commander, and, in league with Nguyen Van Thieu, had General Ton That Dinh, the Vietnamese Military Security Service chief Mai Huu Xuan, CIO chief Nguyen Van Y, and Tran Van Don arrested. Generals Thieu and Khiem then used the unpopular arrests to undercut Big Minh, their main adversary, whom they replaced with General Duong Van Khanh. General Khanh, in the spirit of the times, called for an invasion of North Vietnam. But the plan was subverted three days later, when

Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky -- fired from Operation Haylift for smuggling opium on his "black" flights -- revealed that the CIA had been sending teams into North Vietnam since July 1963.

Diem's spy chief, Dr. Tuyen, was sent into honorable exile as ambassador to Egypt. NVA double agent Pham Ngoc Thao temporarily escaped detection and was appointed Ben Tre province chief; he served until 1965, when he was killed by Thieu, who suspected Thao of working against him on behalf of Ky. Thieu, Khiem, and Ky emerged as the big three power brokers and invited Dai Viet leaders Nguyen Ton Hoan and Professor Huy to return from ten years' exile in France to join a new but very loose coalition government. [19]

In the wake of the coup, according to Frank Scotton, "administrative paralysis set in. The VC exploited that and physically dismantled the strategic hamlets as despised symbols of the GVN." And as the grateful inmates returned to their villages, the country erupted in open revolt. Even the road leading from Saigon to John Vann's headquarters in My Tho was unsafe, so in December 1963 Ev Bumgartner sent Scotton to Long An Province, a few miles south of Saigon. Scotton brought along his political cadre from Quang Ngai Province, Civic Action recruits were provided by the Long An province chief, and Scotton set about "seeing what was wrong and getting a fix on the hamlets." He did this by using "small armed teams seeking information." [20]

Working with the American province adviser, Scotton organized three survey teams, which operated in three neighboring hamlets simultaneously: Each six-member team was equipped with black pajamas, pistols, a radio, and a submachine gun. Standard procedure was to regroup at the last moment before daybreak, then shift at dawn to a fourth hamlet, where the team would sleep during the day. At night they sat beside trails used by the VC cadres they had identified during visits to the hamlets. When Vietcong armed propaganda teams under their surveillance departed from a hamlet, Scotton's cadre would move in and speak to one person from each household, so the VC "would have to punish everyone after we left. But that never happened. A woman VC leader would bring in a unit after us," Scotton added, "but there were never any recriminations.

"The mission of these survey teams," according to Scotton, "was intelligence, not an attack on the VCI. But Long An proved the viability of small units. I felt confident that motivated small units could go in and displace the VC simply by their presence.

Will and intent had to be primary

, though; if they were, then the method generated useful reports."

With Diem dead, three quarters of South Vietnam's province chiefs fired from their jobs, and no more prohibitions on taking CIA money, the time was ripe for "local initiatives." Local officials, along with legions of Diem loyalists purged from government after the coup, were hired by the CIA and put in management positions in its covert action programs in the provinces and districts. But it was an American war now, with GVN stature at an all-time low, making it harder than ever to wage political war. And of course the situation was exploited by the North Vietnamese, who started infiltrating regular NVA troops, not just regroupees, into South Vietnam.

Other changes were also forthcoming as a result of the coup. With Operation Switchback and the transfer of the CIDG program to MACV, Ralph Johnson launched a new covert action program in Dam Pao outside Pleiku. Called Truong Son, it organized Montagnards into small units having civic action, counterterror, and intelligence functions. Meanwhile, Stu Methven was assigned to the Delta to stimulate "local initiatives" among the new generation of province chiefs.

Methven's plan was to create a three-part program with separate teams for civic action, counterterror, and intelligence. However, because the fighting was less intense in the Delta than in central Vietnam, Methven advocated easily monitored teams no larger than six men each -- the type Scotton was toying with in Long An. Methven also incorporated ideas developed in Kien Hoa Province by Tran Ngoc Chau, whose innovative census grievance teams were proving quite successful. Using Chau's and Scotton's programs as his models, Methven sold "local initiatives" to province chiefs across South Vietnam.

Behind every province chief, of course, was a CIA paramilitary officer promoting and organizing the CIA's three-part covert action program. Walter Mackem, who arrived in Vietnam in early 1964, was one of the first. After spending two months observing the CIDG program in Ban Me Thuot, Mackem was transferred to the Delta to institute similar programs in An Giang, Chau Doc, Sa Dec, and Vinh Long provinces. Mackem also reported directly to Washington on the political activities of the various sects and favorable ethnic minorities in his area of operations, the most important of which were the Hoa Hao (Theravada Buddhists) and the closely related ethnic Cambodians, the Khmer.

According to Mackem, there were no counterterror teams prior to his arrival on the scene.

What did exist were private armies like the Sea Swallows, and those belonging to the sects. It was from these groups, as well as from province jails and defector programs, that Mackem got recruits for his CT teams. The composition of the teams differed from province to province depending "on what form opposition to the GVN took, and on the motives of the province chief" -- as Mackem puts it, "if he wanted the CT program tidy or not." The biggest contributors to Mackem's CT teams were the Khmer, who "didn't get along with the Vietnamese," while the armed propaganda team served as "a Hoa Hao job corps." [21]

Mackem personally selected and trained his CT and political action cadres. He dressed in black pajamas and accompanied them on missions deep into enemy territory to snatch and snuff VCI cadres. "I wandered around the jungle with them," Mackem admitted. "I did it myself. We were free-wheeling back then. It was a combination of The Man Who Would Be King and Apocalypse Now!"

To obtain information on individual VCI in GVN villages, according to Mackem, the CTs relied on advisers to the VBI, "the liaison types who set up an Embassy House." Information on VCI members in their own villages, or those in dispute, was provided by undercover agents in the villages, who, because of their vulnerability, "had a more benevolent approach [toward the VCI] than the police."

Such was the situation following the coup. The Vietcong controlled most of the countryside, and the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigations had little role to play outside Saigon and the major cities. In the countryside counterterror and armed propaganda teams, aided by secret agents in the villages, gathered intelligence on and attacked the Vietcong infrastructure. Meanwhile, U.S. airplanes, artillery, and combat units arrived and began driving the rural population into refugee camps or underground.

However, the division of labor within the CIA station, which pitted police advisers against paramilitary advisers, had to be resolved before an effective attack on the VCI could be mounted, and first, the CIA would have to incorporate its covert action programs within a cohesive strategy for political warfare. Such is the subject of the next chapter.

CHAPTER 4: Revolutionary Development

In February 1964 Frank Scotton returned to Qui Nhon to work on what Ogden Williams, the senior American adviser in neighboring Quang Ngai Province, called "a Phoenix-type thing." In developing this Phoenix-type program, Scotton teamed up with Ian Tiege, an

Australian paramilitary adviser on contract to the CIA

, and Major Robert Kelly, the MACV district adviser. "Kelly was the American on the spot," Scotton recalled. "I advised on training and deployment." [1] Tiege was the professional soldier, deciding how to fight the enemy.

Formal relations between MACV and CIA officers at the district level had begun only one month earlier, when General William Westmoreland arrived in Saigon as MACV commander and, in an effort to strengthen the American hand,

assigned MACV advisers to each of South Vietnam's 250 districts

. Military intelligence advisers assigned to the Fifth Special Forces also entered the districts at this point. However, coordination among MACV advisers, CIA officers, and their Vietnamese counterparts depended primarily on personal relationships and varied from place to place.

Notably, the impetus for Scotton's Phoenix-type program on the Vietnamese side came from the Tu Nghia District police chief, Colonel Pham Tuong. A long-standing CIA asset, Tuong anted up a platoon of volunteers, all of whom had been victimized by the VC, in exchange for equipment, money, and advice. "They wanted to fight," Scotton said, "but they didn't want to lose." Money and supplies were provided by Ralph Johnson. A fifteen-day "accelerated" training cycle was set up using what

Scotton called his motivational indoctrination program. Modeled on Communist techniques

, the process began on "a confessional basis. On the first day," according to Scotton, "everyone would fill out a form and write an essay on why they had joined." The district's Vietnam Information Service representative "would study their answers and explain the next day why they were involved in a special unit. The instructors would lead them to stand up and talk about themselves." This motivational function was handled by the unit's morale officer, chosen by his peers through what Scotton referred to ''as the only honest elections held in South Vietnam." The morale officer's job, he said, "was to keep people honest and have them admit mistakes."

Not only did Scotton co-opt Communist organizational and motivational techniques, but he also relied on Communist defectors as his cadre.

"We felt ex-Vietminh had unique communication skills. They could communicate doctrine, and they were people who would shoot," he explained, adding, "It wasn't necessary for everyone in the unit to be ex-Vietminh, just the leadership."

In copying the Communists, Scotton was selective. "People from the other side knew the value of motivation, but they confessed too much. So we refined the technique based on what the Vietminh disliked the most: that the party set itself up as the sole authority. We didn't have the party as number one. We had the group as the major motivational factor."

Key to Scotton's motivational indoctrinational program was the notion of a "special" unit. To enhance this esprit de corps, Scotton's units were better equipped and better paid than regular ARVN units. Carbines were replaced with submachine guns, and instead of wearing uniforms, the cadres wore black pajamas -- just like the average Vietnamese. Scotton's teams were also special insofar as they reported directly to the province security chief and, ipso facto, the CIA.

"Tuong's original group was thirty-four," Scotton said, noting that Quang Ngai was a more heavily contested province than Long An and that the teams required more men and greater firepower, "so we bumped it up to forty and started a second group in an adjacent district. That's three teams of twelve men each, strictly armed. The control element was four men: a commander and his deputy, a morale officer, and a radioman. These are commando teams," Scotton stressed, "displacement teams. The idea was to go into contested areas and spend a few nights. But it was a local responsibility so they had to do it on their own."

Scotton named his special unit the Trung-doi biet kich Nham dou (people's commando teams). "Two functions split out of this," Scotton said. "First was pacification under Nguyen Be. Second was the anti-VCI function taken out to form the Provincial Reconnaissance Units. The PRU thing directly evolves from this." Indeed, the phrase "Biet Kich," meaning "commando," is the name the Vietnamese applied to counterterrorists and later the PRU.

***


Concurrent with the creation of the people's action teams (PATs), as Scotton's teams were renamed by station chief Peer DeSilva, there began a synthesis of White House policies and police and paramilitary programs that culminated three years later in Phoenix. It was, in effect, a blueprint for political warfare, conceptualized by Ralph Johnson, adapted to Vietnamese sensibilities by Le Xuan Mai, and formalized by Frank Scotton, Bob Kelly, Ian Tiege, and Stu Methven.

At its heart was the doctrine of Contre Coup, particularly the notion of counterterror

, which more than any other factor seized the imagination of station chief DeSilva, under whose direction the synthesis began.

In his autobiography, Sub Rosa, DeSilva describes arriving in Vietnam in December 1963 and being introduced to VC terror by one of his CIA officers. Two VC cadres had impaled a young boy, a village chief, and his pregnant wife on sharp poles. "To make sure this horrible sight would remain with the villagers, one of the terror squad used his machete to disembowel the woman, spilling the fetus onto the ground." Having arrived on the scene moments after the atrocity had occurred, DeSilva writes, "I saw them, the three impaled bodies and the unborn child lying in the dirt. A Catholic member of the village was making the sign of the cross over each body, murmuring a prayer in Vietnamese." [2]

A white-collar intelligence officer who put agent work above political warfare, DeSilva was shocked by what he saw.

"The Vietcong," he writes, "were monstrous in their application of torture and murder to achieve the

political

and

psychological

[author's emphasis] impact they wanted." But DeSilva also recognized that "This implacable use of terror in its own way served an intelligence purpose," that "A bloody act of terror in a populated area would immobilize the population nearby, make the local inhabitants responsive to the Vietcong and, in return, unresponsive to the government element requests for cooperation." [3]

So DeSilva authorized the extraction of counterterror teams from Scotton's Political Action Teams. He describes this "radically different form of activity" as "a counterterror program consisting of small teams," dressed in black pajamas, armed with folding stock carbines which could be hidden under their black tunics, and with grenades carried in the pockets of their loose-fitting shorts. [4]

The idea, DeSilva continues, was "to bring danger and death to the Vietcong functionaries themselves, especially in the areas where they felt secure. We had obtained descriptions and photographs of known cadres who were functioning as committee chiefs, recruiters, province representatives and heads of raiding parties. Based on these photographs and their known areas of operation, we had recruited really tough groups of individuals, organized in teams of three or four, who were willing and able by virtue of prior residence to go into the areas in which we knew the Vietcong senior cadres were active and to see what could be done to eliminate them." [5]

Here DeSilva is describing Phoenix, the attack on the VCI on its own turf, using intelligence provided by commandos and selective terror conducted by counterterrorists. One of the soldiers who participated in DeSilva's counterterror program was Elton Manzione. A self-described "supersoldier," Manzione received extensive training in hand-to-hand combat, combat swimming, sniping, parachuting, and demolition. When his schooling was completed, Manzione was dropped in the jungles of Panama with a knife and a compass and told to find his way out, and he did. "By then," he noted with no small degree of understatement, "I was fairly competent."

In December 1964 Manzione left California aboard an oil tanker and, ten days later, crossed over to a guided missile destroyer, the USS Lawrence, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To ensure plausible denial,

Manzione's service records were "sheep-dipped" and indicate that he never got off the

Lawrence

.

Manzione stepped ashore in Cam Ranh Bay in January 1964 and was met by a Special Forces colonel who briefed him on his mission. Manzione was told he would be working for the Special Operations Group under a number of directives called OPLANS which had been drawn up to accomplish specific goals. Insofar as SOG had absorbed the Combined Studies Group, he would be working for U.S. Army and civilian personnel, as well as the U.S. Navy. He was sent to the Hoa Cam Training Center near Da Nang, where in 1961 Ralph Johnson had based the Mountain Scout training camp and where in 1964 the CIA trained its special operations personnel in long-range reconnaissance patrols.

At Hoa Cam Manzione completed an intensive orientation course. He was taught advanced tracking and camouflage techniques, made familiar with Soviet and Chinese weapons, put on a steady diet of Oriental food, told not to bathe and not to shave. And he was briefed on the various OPLAN directives and goals. "The actual goals were to stop the infiltration from the North of arms and supplies," he recalled. "How did they phrase it? 'Undermining the enemy's ability to fight in the South.' Another goal was to deal with enemy violations of the international accords -- I'm assuming the 1962 Geneva Accords. It meant taking out command centers in Laos. And there was anti- infrastructure stuff, too."

Manzione was next assigned to Nam Dong in the Central Highlands, where he and two other SEALs were quartered inside a U.S. Special Forces camp. "Basically what they said was, 'Welcome to Nam Dong. This is the town you'll work out of. You're gonna get orders to do something, and the orders are going to be verbal.' The orders were always verbal and never said, 'Do this specifically.' It was always 'Go there and do what you think you ought to do.' It was so free-form it was hard to connect being in the military, let alone the Navy."

In March the SEALs started running "over-the-fence" missions as part of

SOG's

Leaping Lena

program

. Three quarters of the missions were in Laos, the demilitarized zone, and North Vietnam. At times the SEALs sat along the Ho Chi Minh Trail counting enemy troops and trucks. Other times they moved from one set of coordinates to another, reconnoitering. They also shot field-grade NVA officers, kidnapped prisoners, escorted defectors from the North to the South, demolished downed U.S. aircraft, and engaged in counterterror.

In regard to this last function, the SEALs worked with

CTs, whom Manzione described as "a combination of ARVN deserters, VC turncoats, and bad motherfucker criminals the South Vietnamese couldn't deal with in prison

, so they turned them over to us. Often they'd been pardoned to fight Communists. Some actually had an incentive plan: If they killed X number of Commies, they got X number of years off their prison terms."

The CTs taught Manzione and his SEAL comrades the secrets of the psywar campaign, which in practice meant exploiting the superstitions, myths, and religious beliefs of the Vietnamese.

One technique was based on the Buddhist belief that a person cannot enter heaven unless his liver is intact. So Manzione would snatch an NVA courier off the Ho Chi Minh Trail or sneak into a VCI's hooch at night, crush the man's larynx, then use his dagger to remove the man's liver.

Some of the CTs would actually devour their enemies' vital organs.

In the summer of 1964 Manzione was assigned to SOG's northern headquarters in Dong Ha. "Back then," he said, "being as close to the DMZ as we were, it was hard to tell where any particular Vietnamese civilian came from." Here he referred to the fact that the demilitarized zone separated families and communities without regard for their political affiliations. In light of this ambiguity,

counterterror was one way of co-opting uncommitted civilians. To facilitate their political awakening, according to Manzione, "We left our calling card nailed to the forehead of the corpses we left behind. They were playing card size with a light green skull with red eyes and red teeth dripping blood, set against a black background. We hammered them into the third eye, the pituitary gland, with our pistol butts. The third eye is the seat of consciousness for Buddhists, and this was a form of mutilation that had a powerful psychological effect."

Curiously, terror tactics often involve mutilating the third eye (the seat of insight and secret thoughts) and playing on fears of an "all-seeing" cosmic eye of God.

Used by morale officers in World War I, the eye of God trick called for pilots in small aircraft to fly over enemy camps and call out the names of individual soldiers. Ed Lansdale applied the technique in the Philippines.

"At night, when the town was asleep, a psywar team would creep into town and paint an eye (copied from the Egyptian eye that appears atop the pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States) on a wall facing the house of each suspect," Lansdale writes. "The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect." [6]

To appreciate the "sobering effects" of the "malevolent" and "mysterious" eye of God, it helps to know something of the archetype's mythological origins. In ancient Egypt, the eye of God was plucked from Horus, an anthropomorphic sun-god with a falcon's head. Pictured as the morning sun cresting a pyramid, the eye of God represents the dawn of self-awareness, when the ego emerged from the id and no longer required human sacrifice to overcome its primeval anxiety. Awed by the falcon's superlative sight, talons, and flight, the Egyptians endowed Horus with the bird's predatory prowess, so he could avenge the murder his father, Osiris, whose name means "seat of the eye." Set on high, scanning the earth for the forces of darkness, the falcon as sun-god -- as the manifestation of enlightenment -- carries out the work of organization and pacification, imposing moral order on earth.

The eye of God assumes its mysterious "counterespionage" qualities through this myth of the eternal cycle -- the battle between good and evil -- in which, if the perfidious gods of darkness can guess the sun-god's secret name, they can rob him of his powers and trap him forever in the underworld. Thus a falcon emblem was placed above the gates of all Egyptian temples, scanning for the sun-god's enemies, while the sun-god relied on code names to conceal his identity.

Oddly enough,

the eye of God was the symbol of the Cao Dai sect

, whose gallery of saints include Confucius, Buddha, Joan of Arc, Jesus, and Victor Hugo. Inside the Cao Dai cathedral in Tay Ninh City, the

Cao Dai pope divined upon his planchette the secrets of the Great pyramid; over the temple door loomed a huge blue "all-seeing" eye surrounded by snakes and trees

. For this reason, some people suggest that the Cao Dai eye of God endowed Phoenix, the all-seeing bird of prey that selectively snatched its prey, with its ubiquity.


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