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

1126. Embtels 1099. 1109.2

GVN announced evening Feb 27 casualties in morning aerial assassination attempt on President were four dead and approximately 30 wounded. Embassy info puts wounded at between 30 and 40, many of whom injured in Cholon by falling anti-aircraft fire.

2.
Security measures have gradually been relaxed in past 48 hours and job of repairing palace already begun. Particularly strategic buildings such as Treasury and Gia Long Palace, where President now living, remain under heavy guard. Tanks and armored cars have disappeared from streets, however, and municipal police and gendarmerie have taken over security controls originally performed by army.
3.

Information gleaned from interrogation captured pilot, Quoc, continues indicate very small number of people involved. Father of pilot Cuu who escaped to Cambodia and several others with VNQDD (VN Anti-Communist Nationalist Party) implicated, and Suox [?], Captain Quocʼs brother, also VNAF pilot, party to plot.

However, still no indications other units were prepared to support this, shocked reaction other pilots in AD-6 squadron, GVNʼS rapid and effective response to attack all point to limited scope effort.

4.
Pilots’ motivations not clear. Quoc one of VNAFʼS most outstanding and experienced pilots, though only 1st Lieutenant. Married, he had been at Bien Hoa for six years and under almost continuous [Page 196]combat conditions for past two years. He recently selected for jet training in U.S. and had been told had excellent chance for promotion and more responsible job on return. Like Cuu, his family had VNQDD history. Cuuʼs father arrested some two years but, according Dr. Tuyen, head Presidential security service, released at instance Col. Vinh, AF commander. Cuu, also married, in squadron only since December, prior to which had flown l-19ʼs. Considered be good pilot and known to have invited Quoc to his house several times. What little have in motivation info thus points to political rather than personal grievance compulsion.
5.

Numerous mass meetings, religious ceremonies, petitions of support, etc., which being publicized indicate GVN may be trying use attack as vehicle for renewed popular support of President and government. Official treatment continues depict incident as isolated act two deranged pilots. No doubt, however, that suspicions of President and family toward Saigon political dissidents and intellectuals will be even stronger in future than in past. Also likely his reluctance trust GVN officials and his unwillingness delegate authority will be strengthened, too.

… In talk with U.S. journalist Tuyen hinted all non-GVN political circles under suspicion. Thus appears be some possibility GVN may use attack as basis for further restrictions on opposition. Possible augury of such line is motion adopted by Bureau of National Assembly Feb 27 calling for “end of tolerance” and severe repression of “irresponsible elements”.

According … info some 60 people taken into custody for questioning; number actually detained not known. Tuyen told several journalists no one had been arrested. Among those questioned was reported to be Nguyen Thi Truyen, unsuccessful vice presidential candidate in last Aprilʼs elections. Cuuʼs father reportedly still being sought.

6.

Despite mass meetings, etc., there appears be no pattern of public reaction, which probably due Vietnamese temperament as well as caution. There has been little display of emotion, and most of Saigon appears studiously to have gone about business.

We thus unable evaluate at this moment what effect Tuesdayʼs3 event will have on Diemʼs popular position. We understand most correspondents here describing attack as manifestation GVNʼs basic unpopularity.

7.
Grounding of VNAF lifted evening March 1. However, AD-6 armament to be limited for moment to 20mm cannon. President has twice assured AD-6 squadron that he did not hold it responsible for acts of two of its pilots and that he continued have confidence in air force.
8.
So far as we now know, VC did not attempt exploit confusion surrounding attack on palace, either in Saigon or outside. Seems reasonable believe, however, Commie conviction “enemy divided at home” will be strengthened, and bolder ventures may ensue.
9.
Effect on GVN-RKG relations will probably be bad. FonMin Mau told EmbOff March 1 GVN had requested extradition of Cuu, but Sihanouk in speech Feb 27 implied he would be granted political asylum. Also noteworthy but not surprising that while messages of sympathy and support being addressed to Diem from many nearby countries, Cambodia not one of senders.
10.
As all of foregoing indicates, it still too early provide final answers as to scope of plot, attackers’ motivations, effect on GVN and Diem and on their status in country and abroad. No reason at this time change earlier appraisal of limited-scope, anti-Communist assassination attempt. We are inclined believe that with some luck GVN may succeed in minimizing adverse effects, though we somewhat disquieted by possibility it may react against political opposition in general.
Nolting
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/3-262. Confidential, Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC for Polad, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, Geneva for FECON, Paris, London, Manila, New Delhi, Moscow, Hong Kong, Taipei, Hue, Kuala Lumpur., Singapore, Djakarta, Tokyo, Seoul, Rangoon, and Ottawa.
  2. See Document 88 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. February 27.