13. Memorandum From the Director of United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson1


  • Information-Psychological Warfare Program in South Viet-Nam

During the recent trip to Saigon with Secretary Rusk,2 I came to the conclusion that the weakest part of the war operation, both on our part and that of the Government of South Viet-Nam, is in the field of information and psychological warfare. According to a report by the Military Advisory Commission3 as well as information gathered by USIS, this is true on both a nationwide basis and a province-by-province basis.

It is my judgment that the Viet-Namese people will never give sufficient support to the war effort until certain glaring gaps are closed in the information-psychological campaign.

In view of the importance of public opinion in Viet-Nam, in this country and in the world at large, I believe that top priority should be given to a large scale United States program to improve the GVN ability to win the support of the people and to tell its story abroad.

Two steps are urgently required:

1. We must place informational-psychological advisors into every major area, just as we have placed military and economic development advisors throughout the GVN organization.

2. We must begin a crash program to train promising South Viet-Namese personnel in radio, motion picture, publishing and other techniques crucial to any programs of psychological warfare. This is essential because it is unanimously agreed that the GVN is sorely lacking in personnel with the motivation and training to do the job required.

I found Prime Minister Khanh and Minister of Information Pham Thai extremely forthcoming in talks about a new information program, and both expressed eagerness to have United States assistance—a sharp improvement over the attitude of the Diem government. This Agency already has submitted to the GVN a detailed proposal of steps needed [Page 35] to improve its psychological warfare performance. The GVN has promised to respond with a detailed proposal of areas in which it wishes our immediate assistance.

While in Saigon, I also held sessions with the representatives of CIA, MACV, USOM, the Embassy political section and my USIS staff. We agreed on steps now underway, or soon to be gotten underway, which require no action from Washington. (For example, a small group of key Americans and a few top Viet-Namese officials Monday held the first meeting of a joint psychological operations committee which had been set up some time earlier but had never gotten together.)4

If the proposed program is to succeed, it will require a modest outlay of U.S. funds and some increase in personnel from USIA and perhaps other U.S. agencies. I recommend also that we explore the possibility of third country contributions to the information program. U.S. expenditures in the information-psychological field are now quite small, relatively speaking. In fact, I was informed that the program is a failure in several provinces because of the lack of small bits of money to pay for such things as the running of a projector, or paper on which to print leaflets.

I emphasize strongly my belief that the information effort will fail, no matter what resources we pour into it, unless it has the clear direction of a single individual capable of formulating the program required and of guiding it to success. For many reasons, I believe that the control should be civilian and that Barry Zorthian, the Country Public Affairs Officer and one of the most capable men in this entire agency, should be given this responsibility.

I further recommend that a top USIA officer be included as an official part of any subsequent missions from Washington to study the development of the Viet-Namese operation. Likewise, if Mr. Zorthian is to have a chance at success, USIA must be represented on all committees in Washington which are mapping plans to carry us to victory in Viet-Nam.

In a few days I shall submit for consideration by you, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense a detailed plan to meet the objectives spelled out above.5

Carl T. Rowan6
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, DIRCTR Subj. Files, 1963–69, Bx 6–29 63–69: Acc: #72A5121, Entry UD WW 257, Box 16, Field—Far East (IAF) January–April. Secret. Drafted by Rowan. Copies were sent to Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy. Notations in an unknown hand indicate that copies were sent to Wilson, to McNamara on April 22, to Sullivan and Ball on April 23, and to Lodge in Saigon on April 24. Also printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Vietnam, 1964, Document 122.
  2. Rowan accompanied Rusk to Vietnam, April 17–19. For information about the trip, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Vietnam, 1964, Documents 108145.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. No record of the Monday, April 20, meeting has been found.
  5. Presumably a reference to an April 28 memorandum from Rowan to Sullivan. (National Archives, RG 306 USIA Psychological Operations Files: FRC 68 A 4933, INFO-PSYCH Operations, 1964)
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.