178. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

516. Gen. Taylor and Cottrell called on Vice President Tho October 19 accompanied by Mendenhall and me. Main points made by Vice President as follows:

1. Intelligence services function poorly because qualified personnel, equipment, and available funds spread too thinly among too many competing services. Central Intelligence Organization, which was formed at US request, not really functioning. Agreed with Taylor that adequate intelligence is of first importance in fighting guerrilla war.

2. Peasants do not support Communists politically but are forced help them because of pressure. Necessary to furnish proper protection to peasants including development protective measures at hamlet level. Stressed need for Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps, particularly latter, in sufficient number, better paid, better trained and better armed. Said that center is behind south in developing proper protective measures at village level.

Under questioning, expressed personal view that CG and SDC should have been increased rather than Armed Forces. Added current situation in central Viet-Nam requires some modification of that view but it is still valid for southern VietNam. based this on fact that guerrilla war is fought at village level thus requiring local forces who know terrain and people. Also criticized Armed Forces for being overly-developed for modern warfare rather than being able to fight in mud and water, and said greater stress should be placed on Ranger forces.

3. When questioned on Montagnard problem, said this is most difficult problem facing VietNam. He said that Montagnards are excellent as intelligence agents but not good in combat.

4. Stated that in general economy has not gone too badly despite insecurity. Asserted, however, that if Commies continue advance in countryside, cities will be gradually asphyxiated through loss of peasant purchasing power and growing unemployment resulting from influx people into cities. Thus absolutely necessary to hold countryside. Added that Communists have plan to try to seize [Page 400] upcoming rice harvest and province chiefs have been asked for ideas as to how to beat Communists to punch over this crop.

5. After brief account by Vice President of tactics and techniques followed by Communists in reaching present stage of guerrilla development, Taylor asked what should be done. Vice Pres in carefully phrased reply stated that US should “intervene” quickly and intelligently. He eluded questions directed at producing specific recommendations, but did state that US has already given lots of arms and other aid and more will be coming, and what we must insist upon is that this aid be used efficiently. Pointing to Taylor’s initial questions about intelligence organizations, he asserted with smile that Taylor already knew what was wrong in VietNam.

Vice President added that morale of population is not bad and could easily be revived if government worked properly. People are anti-Communist and will fight but they must be convinced that what is being done is intelligently planned and executed.

6. In conclusion I raised flood conditions and Vice President said that urgent assistance already requested by GVN should arrive during first two weeks in November to produce proper impact.

Comment: It was clear that Vice Pres, when pressed for his views, was pointing his finger at Diem’s methods of government and administration. He said he was not anti-Diem and expressed his support of President. But this was a plea for US to adopt a firm approach in order to make Diem and his government effective. Though lacking specifics, Vice President’s appeal was both moving and disturbing in its stress on importance of time. He said six months from now would be too late.

Vice President made very good impression during talk. He showed detailed knowledge of what is going on in countryside, and had lucid ideas as to how to deal with it. He is close to people and experienced in dealing with them. Obvious, however, that he will not himself stand up to Diem and doubtful that he any longer even tries to make his voice heard by Diem.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1551K/10-2061. Secret; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC for PolAd, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Vientiane. No time of transmission is given on the source text; the telegram was received in the Department of State at 2:12 p.m.