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But in pursuit of total victory, the size and pace of military operations were steadily escalating in 1966, more and more to the exclusion of the concerns of the civilian agencies involved in pacification.

For example, the military was more concerned with gathering intelligence on the size and location of enemy combat units than on its political infrastructure.

Military agent nets and interrogators zeroed in on this type of information, reflecting what Brickham termed the military mentality, the object of which is "to set up a battle."

The police mentality, according to Brickham, is "to arrest, convict, and send to jail," while the intelligence mentality "is to capture, interrogate, and turn in place."

Expanding on this theme, Brickham said, "If the military were going into a province, the sector adviser and the sector S-two [sector intelligence adviser] would be brought in, do their thing, and come out without ever being aware of the enormous intelligence capability residing in the Special Police. When -- in provinces manned by bright military officers -- they did bring in the Special Police, it was done on an ad hoc basis. Conversely, anytime the military took over a civilian operation or activity, nine times out of ten it would be a perversion of the civilian capability into a military support arm. And when that happened, we would almost invariably find that the so-called civilian intelligence operation was quickly perverted to provide tactical combat intelligence for U.S. or ARVN forces. This was a tendency which had to be constantly opposed. "

However, Brickham qualified his opposition to the emphasis on tactical military concerns by noting: "The CIA could not claim exclusive jurisdiction for an attack on the VCI. We would not have wanted to. Special Branch wasn't strong enough. It suffered from incompetent leadership and from poor training, even though Special Branch personnel and leadership were a cut above the regular staffing of the National Police."

What was needed was cooperation. But while turf battles between the CIA and the military were obstructing the war effort, the problem was exacerbated when the Vietnamese were factored into the equation. "Talk about bureaucratic infighting." Brickham laughed. "Well, it was far worse on the Vietnamese side. There was unquestionably contempt held by the ARVN for the National Police. The Vietnamese military had no use for them. And to the extent that the U.S. military may have reflected the ARVN point of view, if there was a joint ARVN-American operation, well, the Special Police would have been systematically cut out of the thing."

Into this bureaucratic minefield in August 1966 stepped Robert Komer, packing a mandate from President Johnson and intent upon effecting the military takeover of pacification. Predictably the civilian agencies recoiled in horror. The State Department cited the political nature of pacification, and neither the Agency for International Development nor the CIA thought the military capable of doing the job. So, under pressure from Ambassador Lodge (who bestowed upon Komer the nickname Blowtorch), President Johnson gave the civilians one last shot. The result was the Office of Civil Operations (OCO).

Formed in October 1966, OCO combined the field operations units of AID, USIS, and CIA and on this basis was organized into branches for psychological operations, political action, defectors, public safety, refugees, and economic development.

Under the director, Wade Lathram, and his military deputy, General Paul Smith, OCO region directors were assigned to each corps; John Vann from AID in II Corps; State Department officer Art Koren in I Corps; CIA officer Vince Heyman in IV Corps; and Robert Mattson in II Corps. Ed Lansdale was slated for Mattson's job but turned it down.

Given four months to show results, the Office of Civil Operations was doomed from the start, but it did prove valuable by forcing the civilian agencies to work together. Faced with the prospect of military control, agency chains of command -- extending from Washington to Saigon to the provinces -- were wrenched apart and realigned. And even though nothing was achieved in terms of improving pacification, the formation of the Office of Civil Operations spared MACV commander Westmoreland from having to reorganize the civilian agencies himself. In March 1967 President Johnson was to incorporate OCO within MACV under the Revolutionary Development Support Directorate, managed by General William Knowlton. Announced in May 1967, the Military Assistance Command for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development (CORDS) was to be the bureaucratic vessel from which Phoenix would be born.

"During the big reorganization at the end of 1966," Brickham recalled, "they were trying to clean up the RD programs and streamline the war effort. So all the field operations, both covert and police Special Branch, were more or less divorced from the station and put under OCO, which was later called CORDS, in the Revolutionary Development Cadre Division. Lou Lapham came out from Washington to become the new deputy chief of station and chief of the RDC. I moved over from Rocky Stone's jurisdiction to Lapham's jurisdiction and answered to him. Lou was a very quiet, laid-back ex-professor with thick-rimmed glasses. He did not have a paramilitary background; his bag was propaganda and psychological warfare.

"RDC took over the CIA's covert action programs under its operations branch, RDC/O," Brickham explained, "while a second branch, RDC/P [Plans], took over police field operations. That was my shop. I no longer had the title of chief of field operations. But it was the same job with basically the same duties, except we were theoretically working toward a coordinated system. I became chief of RDC/P, and

we and RDC/O moved from the embassy annex to another building called USAID Two

. Donohue went home, and a new guy, Renz Hoeksema, came out from Washington and took over that shop. Renz and I had done two tours together in Teheran. He was a hard-driven officer, very smart ... one of those Midwest Dutchmen of whom we have several in the agency." Brickham described Hoeksema as "ruthless" and "an expert on self-promotion."

"During the reorganization," Brickham continued, "the station adopted the Special Branch field operations organizational structure as a model for coordinating liaison and covert operations, only instead of using six regions, they used the four corp zones. My Tho and Ban Me Thuot were no longer regional offices." After that all CIA activities in a region were brought under one officer called the region officer in charge (ROIC). Likewise, province officers in charge followed automatically. "The POIC was in charge of all CIA operations, covert and liaison, in a province," Brickham explained. "He could have been drawn from liaison or covert operations, depending on who the ROIC thought was the best guy in the province. Incidentally, we did not actually assign POICs right away, because the rivalry and lack of trust between FI and PM people wouldn't allow it. When I talk about coordination problems in Vietnam, the fact is that we could not even coordinate the station programs in province.

"After the ROICs were named, we set up bases. The engineers went out and built vaults in each of these places and set up the complete multi-channel automatic teleprinter encryptographic system radio communications. From this point on the line command went from the chief of station to the deputy chief of station for RDC, to the ROICs, then to the POICs. Renz Hoeksema and I were no longer supervisors in the chain of command to the field operations; we were now running branches as staff assistants to the chief of RDC, outside the station. It made little difference, except the ROICs would occasionally thumb their noses at us. But I didn't object. You couldn't run it any other way.

"So the major result of the fall 1966 decision was to separate the station and the counterinsurgency effort. That was a result of Stone's attitude toward this. And he was right. It's mixing oil and water."

One other significant event occurred at this juncture. "The Provincial Reconnaissance Units were offered to me in the fall of 1966," Brickham recalled. "It was one of the options discussed at the time of the reorganization. This offer was made to me in terms of John Hart's dissatisfaction with the reputation the CTs had acquired. He wanted to turn the CTs into an intelligence arm for capturing prisoners and documents, and not a paramilitary service. But I didn't want them," Brickham said, "mainly because I didn't think we could manage them properly. My Foreign Intelligence guys were in no way, in terms of experience, able to control or direct PRU teams." Consequently, as of November 1966 the recycled counterterrorists were called Provincial Reconnaissance Units and were thereafter managed by CIA officer William Redel in Renz Hoeksema's operations shop in CORDS's Revolutionary Development Cadre Division.


It is commonly agreed that the U.S. military went to Vietnam to fight a conventional war. However, by late 1966 it was clear that gains on the battlefield were transitory and that the war would not be won by seizing pieces of territory.

Grudgingly the military was forced to admit that VCI political power could offset U.S. firepower.

"Bear in mind," Brickham told me, "that the military was only over there from mid-1965, so it took a period of time for this realization to sink in. The exploitation of province National Police resources by the U.S. military was sporadic at best up until the fall of 1966, when we made a systematic procedure out of it."

Indeed, the process of systematizing the attack against the VCI began in the fall of 1966, when Rocky Stone arranged for Nelson Brickham to brief General Westmoreland on the subject. The impetus for the briefing came from the Roles and Missions Study and the conclusion reached at the 1966 Combined Campaign Plan that

"increased emphasis will be given to identifying and eliminating the VC Infrastructure and to small unit operations designed specifically to destroy guerrilla forces."


"These things were all evolving and coming together because of the Office of Civil Operations," Brickham noted. "People wanted to know what you meant when you said 'attack against the VCI.'" So, while preparing for his hour-long briefing of Westmoreland, Brickham wrote a paper aptly titled "Attack Against the Viet Cong Infrastructure." His purpose was to summarize everything that was known about intelligence sources and reaction forces involved in the antisubversive facet of the war. "I don't think Westy had ever heard of the Special Branch before our briefing," Brickham quipped, "or the fact that we had provincial interrogation centers or political order of battle files on VC in the villages and districts."

In any event, "Attack" was circulated among the MACV and CIA staffs and was accepted as the definitive statement on the VCI.

Written on November 22, 1966, "Attack" is significant for three reasons. First was its definition of the VCI ''as the VC organizational hierarchy, the management structure, as opposed to guerrillas, troops, and even in many cases VC terrorists. Many if not most of these categories -- guerrillas, troops and even terrorists -- are young people who have been either impressed or seduced into the VC and cannot in any way be considered 'hard core' Communists." [4]

Specifically cited in "Attack" as VCI were "all Party members and front organization officers, as opposed to the rank and file of these front organizations. Thus all members of a village chapter, all District Committee and all Province Committee cadre are included, as of course are the higher echelons, Region and COSVN. We would also include members of the so-called sapper units -- these people are hardened Communist troops, organized in military formations to carry out sabotage and terrorism of the larger and more dramatic nature -- hotel bombings in Saigon, Long Binh Ammunition dump, General Walt's residence. These latter are not casual acts of terrorism, but carefully planned and fully organized military operations -- Commando type operations." [5]

About the word "infrastructure," Brickham said during our interview, "it may be peculiarly applicable to insurgency, due to the animistic conceptual view held by rural people in want of literacy and hygiene, let alone technology."

Brickham held the revisionist view that in an insurgency among such people, only 5 percent of the population is politically active, with 2-1/2% percent for the insurgents, and 2-1/2% percent against them.

The rural population is not the driving force. Their attitude, he said, is "a pox upon both your houses."

"Without an infrastructure," Brickham said, "there is only a headless body. Destroy the infrastructure, you destroy the insurgency. However, this is not such an easy thing to do, despite any disaffection on the part of the majority of the people. Nor is it exclusively a matter of winning hearts and minds. That only makes it easier to destroy the infrastructure."

Brickham viewed the VCI as a criminal conspiracy, a Mafia operating under the pretense of political ideology, coercing people through the selective use of terror.

The insurgency, in his opinion, attracted people oriented toward violence and, through political fronts, "naive" individuals. The presence of such marginal characters, he contends, made the attack on the VCI a difficult task.

Secondly, "Attack" is significant in that it defines "the attack against the VCI" in terms of Special Branch field operations -- informants, interrogations, and penetrations -- of which interrogations are "by far the most important source." Informant operations produced information mostly on hamlet and village cadres and guerrillas, while penetrations could produce "substantial bodies of infrastructure information -- identification of cadre, movements and activities -- and at times advance information of meetings and conferences." As of September 30, 1966, as stated in "Attack," there were 137 penetrations of district committees, 93 belonging to Special Branch, 44 to the CIO. Special Branch was then developing 92 more penetrations, and the CIO 61.

The "action tools" in the attack on the VCI were primarily "ambushes by the police, PRU or Regional Forces and Special Forces elements" and "military search and destroy, hamlet search, or 'Country Fair' type operations. For these operations," Brickham explains in "Attack," "the police prepare search lists from their files ... and collect VC defectors and other sources to use as 'identifiers' of VC caught in these cordon and sweep operations." Even though William Colby later testified to Congress that Phoenix was a South Vietnamese police program, Brickham in "Attack" states: "A final and not insignificant tool are direct military operations .... For example, 175m artillery fire was directed on the reported site of a combined conference [of] COSVN representatives." On the basis of after-action reports, Brickham writes, "we are confident that the damage to the infrastructure, in terms of key personnel killed, is significant." [6]

"Attack" also mentions "A special Task Force ... organized to launch a combined intelligence/police/military assault against the MR-4 (Saigon/Cholon/Gia Dinh Special Zone Committee) headquarters and base area." [7] This is the third significant point raised by "Attack." Called Cong Tac IV by its Vietnamese creators, it is the operational model for Phoenix and as such deserves a detailed explanation.

General McChristian writes that Cong Tac IV evolved, concurrently with the joint U.S.-Vietnamese Combined Intelligence Staff, from an intensive intelligence program (Project Corral) which he initiated in the spring and early summer of 1966 and directed against MR-4. The purpose was to produce "intelligence on the identification and location of Viet Cong operating in MR-4" and "the dissemination of this intelligence to user agencies for apprehension and exploitation of enemy personnel." [8]

In September 1966 McChristian met with General Loan to discuss his plans for a combined intelligence staff. The idea was approved in November by Prime Minister Ky, the Vietnamese Joint General Staff, and the U.S. Mission Council. As a result -- and as a substitute for Hop Tac -- Operation Fairfax was begun in December, using three American and three ARVN battalions for the purpose of "searching out and destroying VC main force units, guerrillas, and infrastructure in the MR-4 area." Operation Fairfax and the Combined Intelligence Staff (CIS) were the primary elements of Cong Tac IV. [9]

"The initial actions of the Combined Intelligence Staff," McChristian writes, "were to compile a blacklist of MR-4 infrastructure personalities in support of the combined US and Vietnamese military actions in this area." In the process, the Combined Intelligence Staff compiled, by hand, more than three thousand names, which were stored in a central registry and made available to U.S. and Vietnamese units. Later "the systematic identification and location of VC and the rapid retrieval of these data in usable form was [sic] made possible by the use of the automated data processing system located at the Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam." [10]

In fact, the foundation for the Combined Intelligence Staff was laid, on the American side, in 1964, when CIA security chief Robert Gambino created the Combined Security Committee inside Saigon's First Precinct headquarters.

Through a secure radio network linking each of Saigon's nine precincts, the Combined Security Committee coordinated CIA and State Department security officers at the American Embassy with MACV and Vietnamese Military Security Service officers at Tan Son Nhut and with the Special Branch at National Police headquarters and alerted them of pending VC attacks.

The Combined Security Committee was directed by Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Xinh, chief of staff of the Saigon police and the deputy to the Saigon police chief, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Luan. By mid-1967 the Combined Security Committee's "Blue Network" covered all of CT IV.


For deeper insights into Cong Tac IV we turn to Tulius Acampora, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer and Korean War veteran who was detached to the CIA in June 1966 as General Loan's adviser. As an officer on General James Van Fleet's staff in Korea, Acampora had had prior dealings with John Hart, who as station chief in Korea had masqueraded as an Army colonel and had interfered in military operations to the extent that General Van Fleet called him "an arrogant SOB." [11] The old grudges were carried forward in Saigon to the detriment of Phoenix.

"I assisted Hart." Acampora sighed when we first met in 1986 at Ft. Myers. "He called me in and said, 'We're dealing with an enigma. A cobra. General Loan.' Now Loan had a mandarin Dai Viet background, and his father had rescued Diem. Consequently, under Ky, Loan was very powerful; and Hart resented Loan's concentration of power. Although he was not a political animal, Loan was substantial. So Hart took away first his supervision of the Military Security Service and eventually his oversight of Central Intelligence Organization.

But for a while Loan ran them both, along with the National Police.

"When I arrived in Saigon," Acampora continued, "at the national level, the U.S. Embassy, with the agency and MACV, had decided to take over everything in order to change the

political climate

of Vietnam.

Through the CIO, the agency was running all sorts of counteroperations to VC infiltration into political parties, trying to find compatible elements to create a counterforce to take over control from Ky, who was a peacock. This was done by intercepting VC political cadre: surveilling them, then arresting them or moving toward them, then buying them over to your side in order to destroy the integrity of the VC." Acampora qualified this statement by noting: "The VC would always say yes, but they were usually doubles.

"It was a dual-level scheme," Acampora went on. "We were faced with the threat of terrorism from sappers, but we also had to stop them at the political level. We stopped them at sapper level with PRU under the Special Operations Group and at the political level through the CIO -- the centerpiece of which was the National Interrogation Center under [Special Branch chief Nguyen] Tien. The CIO operated over and above CT Four. It could take whatever it wanted -- people or information or whatever -- from any of its elements. Its job was to turn around captured VCI and preempt Loan. When it came to CT Four, however, Loan wanted control. Loan said to Hart, 'You join us; we won't join you.' In effect, Loan told Hart to go screw himself, and so Hart wanted me to assuage Loan -- to bring him in tow."

But this was not to be, for General Loan, a dyed-in-the-wool nationalist, had his own agenda. In fact, the basis for CT IV derived, on the Vietnamese side, from a countersubversion program he commissioned in the summer of 1966. The thrust of the program was to prevent VC agents from infiltrating pro-GVN political parties and to prevent sappers from entering Saigon. Called the Phung Hoang program, it was, according to Acampora, "wholly inspired and conducted by the Vietnamese."

The man who conceived Phung Hoang at the request of General Loan was the Special Branch deputy director, Colonel Dang Van Minh, a Claude Rains type of character who, according to Acampora, was "a stoic who took the path of least resistance." Born on Con Son Island, where his father was a nurse, Minh at age eighteen joined the accounting department of the French Surete.

During the Ngo regime he received CIA training overseas and was then appointed chief of the Judicial Police

-- the only National Police branch with the power to arrest. After the coup Minh became deputy director of the Special Branch.

Insulated behind his desk at Special Branch headquarters on Vo Thanh Street, Minh weathered each successive regime by serving his bosses as "a professional intelligence officer." Indeed, when I met Minh at his office in 1986,

he attributed the fall of Saigon to "the many changes of command in Saigon, while North Vietnam had only one leader and one chain of command.

" [12] That, plus the fact that the Vietcong had infiltrated every facet of the GVN -- a fact Loan also acknowledged when he confessed to Acampora, "We're twenty percent infiltrated, at least."

Minh's attack against the VCI was measured, sophisticated and diametrically opposed to American policy. In contrast with Brickham, Minh viewed the VCI as village-level cadres "to be monitored, not killed."

As Minh conceived the attack on the VCI, all Vietnamese agencies receiving information on the VCI would forward their reports to the Special Branch for inclusion in its political order of battle file. The goal was the "combination of intelligence," as Minh termed it, phoi hop in Vietnamese.

Seeking an appropriate acronym, Minh borrowed the




and the




and christened the program Phung Hoang, after the mythological Vietnamese bird of conjugal love that appears only in times of peace. In Vietnamese myth, the Phung Hoang bird holds a flute and represents virtue, grace, peace, and concord. Its song includes the five notes of the Vietnamese musical scale, and its feathers include the five basic colors.

Before long, however, Phung Hoang was transformed into Phoenix, the mythological bird that perpetually rises from its own ashes. As the Americans drew it, the bird held a blacklist in its claw. In this manifestation, Phoenix is an omnipotent, predatory bird that selectively snatches its prey -- a symbol of discord rather than harmony.

Nowhere is the gap between American and Vietnamese sensibilities more apparent than in their interpretations of Phoenix and Phung Hoang, which also represent the struggle between General Loan and John Hart for control over the attack on the VCI. In this contest, Loan scored first when, for legal reasons, Cong Tac IV was placed under his control. Loan assigned as many as fifty officers to the program from the participating Vietnamese agencies, with Major Nguyen Mau in charge of operations, assisted by Dang Van Minh. The United States provided twenty MACV counterintelligence officers, each of whom served as a desk officer in a Saigon precinct or outlying district capital. CIA officer Tom Becker supervised the headquarters staff; the Australians assigned their embassy security officer, Mike Leslie; and the Koreans provided a representative. Members of CT IV were not part of any separate unit but remained identified with their parent agencies and did not have to back-channel to bring resources to bear.

Cong Tac IV came into existence on November 1, 1966, the day Lou Lapham arrived in Saigon to take over the "second" station, as the Revolutionary Development Cadre program was sometimes called. Curiously, it was the same day that VC mortars first fell on Saigon. U.S. generals, dozing in reviewing stands only a few blocks away, were oblivious of the fact that the VC were using a nearby church spire as a triangulation point for their fire.

From November 1 onward, Tully Acampora managed CT IV with Major Mau. The program kicked in when Tom Becker, assisted by MACV officers Larry Tracy and John Ford adopted the standard American police ID kit (replete with Occidental facial features). With their ID kits in hand, CT IV desk officers ventured into the precincts and districts, accompanied by Special Branch and Military Security Service officers. They screened suspects who had been corralled by military units conducting cordon and search operations, took photographs, put together composites of suspected VCI members, then compiled the results and sent their reports to CT IV headquarters in the National Police Interrogation Center in Saigon, where it was collated, analyzed, and used to compile blacklists of the VCI.

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