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

352. Deptel 364.2 After careful study over past months (Embtels 302, 2333 and previous) General Harkins and I have jointly recommended approval of limited crop destruction operation in Phu Yen Province by spraying from air and in Phuoc Long Province by hand in conjunction ground operations. We are not yet prepared to recommend broad-scale crop destruction program until trial operations give basis for evaluating conduct such operations and results vis-à-vis Montagnard population and VC. Under GVN plans, spraying would be directed only against specific target areas which best intelligence available pinpoint as VC-cultivated or VC-controlled area. We have recommended test program in Phu Yen primarily because of obvious advantages in support operation Hai Yen II and Phuoc Long because crop destruction program currently being carried out by physical means-cutting and uprooting (Embtel 233). Admittedly there may be indirect impact on Montagnards as total food supply reduced but believe impact will be much greater on VC and Montagnards affected can be taken care of through other programs. Moreover, Montagnard letters described Embtel 302 provide evidence that at least some Montagnard groups would welcome destruction their crops in order deny assistance to VC. General Harkins and I continue be convinced by mounting evidence of VC food shortages in highlands that crop [Page 674]destruction can be effective weapon against VC. Without carrying out test operation we will never be able fully confirm efficacy this weapon or ability GVN to utilize it with limited indirect US assistance.

Regarding differentiation between VC and Montagnard crops, it possible pinpoint with considerable degree of accuracy highland areas under VC control.GVN in fact has provided us with maps showing specific target areas they wish to hit. These proposed targets would be checked out beforehand by MACV and we could restrict use chemical agents to verified VC targets. We have never envisaged using USAF aircraft and continue believe we should not concur use USAF 123ʼs. If trial program approved and assessed as successful, we might consider providing VNAF with suitable spray equipped aircraft.

Feel sure however that, if ARVN carried out operations with only such limited and indirect US assistance, any resultant VC propaganda would still be largely directed against US.

We can provide ARVN with capability for hand-spraying operations if authorization given.

Regarding psywar aspects: FBIS reports indicate Hanoi has sporadically been accusing US of conducting or aiding GVN in crop warfare in highlands usually lumping these charges in long list heinous crimes and without special emphasis. Thus, we already being accused to some extent. On other side of coin, we have detected no VC or DRV effort propagandize mangrove defoliation operations. We have seen no public or private VC or DRV references to this operation.

At same fume, mangrove defoliation operations have shown that ARVN has adequate psywar capability. After somewhat erratic start, it has conducted ground and air leaflet program with credible themes. It is also able employ loudspeaker planes and demonstrate “sprayed ARVN soldiers” to show that chemicals do not harm humans or animals, for mangrove defoliation program, GVN has also instructed Province Chief forward any claims for crops deshroyed to Saigon for action and payment.

In summary, General Harkins and I favor proceeding with the program along the following lines:

GVN initially proposes targets for attack with no U.S. advice or assistance, and
MACV reviews and approves, with Embassy coordination, only those which can definitely be verified as VC and have reasonable chance producing tangible results.
MACV provides technical assistance and advice as to chemical agent to be used, time and method of attack and other purely operationa1 advice, and
MACV assist GVN in preparation and implementation of concurrent psywar effort, and
Chemicals to be released only as required for attack of specific targets, and
Chemicals to be applied by hand by ARVN with equipment presently in country, but now held by U.S. Agency only, and
Chemicals to be air delivered only by VNAF helicopters, and
MACV-Embassy make joint evaluation of effects and provide appropriate recommendations to State and JCS as to whether program should be continued on an expanded basis or abandoned.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-2662. Secret; Niact. Repeated to CINCPAC for Polad.
  2. See footnote 1, Document 292.
  3. Dated September 15 and 1, respectively. The former described letters from Montagnard leaders asking for destruction of all crops in certain areas of their districts. (Ibid., 751K.00/9-1562) Regarding telegram 233, See footnote 6, Document 276.
  4. On October 2, the President authorized the crop destruction program in South Vietnam under the conditions and terms set forth by the Embassy. (Memorandum for the Record, October 2; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. According to a memorandum from Forrestal to McGeorge Bundy, October 4, the President “did so over the mild objections of Averell, Roger Hilsman, and myself; but with the strong approval of Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, the field, and just about everybody else you could think of. I believe his main train of thinking was that you cannot say no to your military advisors all the time, and with this I agree.” (Ibid., NSC Staff Memoranda. Michael Forrestal, 6/22-10/62)