78. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense’s Deputy Special Assistant for Special Operations (Lansdale) to the Regional Director, Far East (O’Donnell) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs1


  • Vietnam

State message Saigon 25252 reports on Viet-cong sabotage of U.S. aid equipment in Vietnam and President Diem’s request for experts in “anti-guerrilla tactics”, as well as advice on police, SDC, civil guard, and military counter sabotage matters.3 The Saigon Country [Page 205] Team reports that police advisers and MAAG are studying the problem there.

As an initial reaction, the following comments are offered as of possible help in consideration of this problem:

U.S. missions in Vietnam have programs, personnel, equipment and funds which statedly are to accomplish what Diem is now asking the U.S. to do. He apparently feels that the U.S. isn’t helping effectively enough. This raises two questions:
Exactly what is the internal security situation?
Will the U.S. missions in Vietnam be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their own programs and personnel accurately enough for a sound judgement by the U.S.?
A realistic appraisal is needed of how the acts of terrorism and sabotage are mounted, to indicate the amount of support given to the terrorists and saboteurs by the local public, as well as what motivates this support. Locally established Viet Cong organizations which would undertaken terrorism and sabotage would require local population support; the counter-action would be to win local population support away from them, to expose and destroy the Viet Cong organizations; this requires political and economic action coordinated with armed security action. On the other hand, if saboteurs and terrorists are being brought in singly or as small teams, as essentially foreigners to the target areas, then this requires coordinated intelligence–police action to expose and destroy them.
Saigon 2525 implies that both President Diem and Vice President Tho apparently believe that technical advice and probably training are what the Vietnamese need most. Since Diem went on a 3-day visit to a trouble area, to see for himself, (which he usually does with only the lightest sort of physical security), it is also apparent that he must believe that he has popular support locally. If he is wrong about this, as some U.S. officials believe, then Diem must convince himself (with effectively convincing U.S. advice) that further political-psychological action is required of the Vietnamese government to win over the populace in these areas, in coordination with economic and security actions; however, political-psychological planning and advice by U.S. officials must be tailored to the hard realities of existence in Vietnam today.
There was a bad psychological climate for U.S. objectives in Vietnam in February of this year.4 If this climate hasn’t improved, [Page 206] there are Washington actions which can help improve it. The psychological climate was generated mainly by Radio Hanoi broadcasts, relayed through a transmitter in Cambodia, which gave a strong, clear signal in most areas of South Vietnam. The signal was Stronger than GVN broadcasts, which made it easier for South Vietnamese troops and civilians to listen to Hanoi than to Saigon. The Hanoi broadcasts were not only anti-Diem and pro-DRV, but also carried a “hate America” theme; U.S. MAAG personnel were attacked as rapists, poisoners, torturers, and bullies. The GVN needs a vastly improved radio broadcasting means than it now has; it has needed this since 1954, when ICA planned a radio project for the GVN (and has re-planned it ever since). ISA and OSO should undertake further action to get ICA to go to work realistically on this problem.
The Saigon Country Team undoubtedly will suggest that U.S. Army officers in MAAG act as “anti-guerrilla” advisors. The U.S. has remarkably few experienced officers in this category, since experience in Greece and Korea has little application to guerrilla forces native to an area and supported by the mass of local populations, such as in Vietnam. Most U.S. Army officers in Vietnam and the Philippines during the major campaigns there against Communist guerrillas had little opportunity to learn the counter-guerrilla tactics that were most successful. It is suggested that Army Special Warfare detail small teams to MAAG–Vietnam as “advisors”, with instructions to learn counter-guerrilla tactics by being with the Vietnamese combat troops prior to giving advice. If these Army officers are experienced in small unit combat tactics and understand the home-made combat weapons of guerrillas (and Special Forces training is good preparation for this), then such Army officers should be able to learn counter-guerrilla tactics quickly and be able to act as wise, realistic counter-guerrilla “advisors” before their tours of duty in Vietnam end. If such officers are also required to submit detailed reports on tactics employed, which were successful and why, which failed and why, then these reports could be used to enrich U.S. tactical doctrine as developed for our Special Forces. This would be a valuable exercise for the U.S. Army, if done properly. (I would like to suggest the names of some U.S. Army officers whom I believe should be in the cadre of such an effort.)

OSO can assist ISA further in solving the problem in Vietnam. As a start, we will undertake the following:

Cdr. Curts will assist you with moves to speed-up ICA assistance to Radio Vietnam.
Mr. Kelleher will discuss the Special Warfare problem with the Army.
Mr. French will assist you with OISP aspects, upon his return to the U.S.
I will try to obtain a clearer evaluation of the situation from all sources available.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, SP Internal Security.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 72.
  3. The following extract was reported to the President on June 3:

    “Communist bands operating mainly in the Saigon Delta have damaged or destroyed about 40 tractors and a dredge, mostly U.S. aid equipment, in the last few months. Diem has urgently requested American advice in coping with this new sabotage.”(Synopsis of State and Intelligence material reported to the President, prepared by John S.D. Eisenhower, May 3D–June 3; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)

  4. Lansdale was in Vietnam, February 3–6, as part of the Anderson Subcommittee team. See footnote 2, Document 55.
  5. See Document 83.