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

1149. From Ambassador Nolting. Manila for Harriman.2 Following relates to US statements to press concerning US military activities in Viet Nam. We have previously disseminated and stressed to all units of mission press guidance given to date, including distribution of Secretary Ruskʼs statement March 6th.3

Late evening March 7 two reporters (Hudson of NBC and Rose of Time) came by my house to discuss what they termed very important information received by them which was in conflict with their understanding of official US statements. I thanked them for following suggestions made at earlier press briefing that US press corps check doubtful or important information with General Harkins or me, or designated representatives, prior to broadcast or filing. Reporters then said they had received from a US military source, and had verified through GVN military source, the following: (1) that Farmgate operation was in many cases spearhead of ground support and bombing missions against Viet Cong, including recent operation in Tay Ninh province, results of which had been seen by several reporters: (2) that there are now two air forces in Viet Nam operating against the Viet Cong—the GVN Air Force and secondly American units (Farmgate) controlled and operated by US Air Force, comprising T-28ʼs and RB-26ʼs: (3) that during recent grounding of GVN AD-6 squadrons, US had been requested to supply US pilots for the AD-6ʼs for combat missions and had done so; (4) that this report was inconsistent with [Page 207]what had been said in Washington and in Saigon officially as to US military role in Viet Nam. These two reporters added that above information was widely known to foreign reporters now in Viet Nam.

I told them following: (1) US role in Viet Nam is, as officially stated, a training and supporting role in air force as well as in all other branches of GVN Armed Forces. (2) It is incorrect to say US is “spearheading” ground support and bombing operations against Viet Cong. (3) In training GVN Air Force in operation T-28ʼs, a new plane to them, we are giving on-the-spot training which often involves training under combat conditions, but that in no case do US pilots operate alone, purpose and objective being training of GVN pilots for combat operations. (4) Information that we had been requested to fly AD-6ʼs in combat during short period of grounding of GVN Air Force was false, as was statement that there are two distinct air forces operating now in Viet Nam. These reporters said they accepted this explanation and would file their stories accordingly, remarking that this made stories considerably less sensational. I have no doubt, however, that they will continue to probe this matter on basis of leads they already have, and try define more precisely role of Farmgate. (This code name was used by them throughout.)

As illustrated by above, I feel most US reporters here are trying to play ball with us, but I also have strong feeling that, given number of participants, both US and GVN, in these air operations, it is inevitable that the degree of US control of mechanics of Farmgate operation, and the degree of US participation in air combat operations, will become increasingly known and stressed in press. (Lt. Cuu, one of renegade pilots now in Cambodia, is undoubtedly familiar with details of Farmgate operation.) Such questions as when will GVN pilots be trained and ready to take over complete control of T-28ʼs and RB-26ʼs now at Bien Hoa will inevitably arise.

Believe we should give further thought to adequacy our present line with press in light these insistent inquiries. While official statements correct in general terms, they may become object of criticism or attack when specifics of operation become further known, which is likely. Mission may have further suggestions.

General Harkins concurs.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/3-962. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC and Manila. A note by Bundy on a copy in the Kennedy Library instructed the Communications Center to forward the telegram to Salinger in Miami.
  2. Harriman was in Manila en route to a Chiefs of Mission Conference for U.S. representatives in the Far East scheduled for Baguio, March 10-11.
  3. Presumably a reference to Ruskʼs March 1 statement; see Document 94.