212. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report1



  • Situation Appraisal of the Political Situation as of 1200 hours on 6 July
This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this organization or any component thereof. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at time of its preparation. Prepared for internal use as a guide to the operational environment, this commentary is disseminated in the belief that it may be useful to other agencies in assessing the situation for their own purposes.
In Saigon the political situation remains unsettled with both the government and the Buddhists continuing to exchange charges of bad faith. Elements on each side appear intent upon the submission of the other. Against this background, the coup atmosphere has become perceptibly heavier. During the past few days, coup groups have formed to take advantage of the instability attending the Buddhist crisis. It is not clear at this time whether these groups intend to await further emotional outbursts, which would occur if there are additional Buddhist self-immolations, or whether they are now prepared to move ahead at a time of their choosing, regardless of what the Buddhists do. Buddhist strategy is polarizing around the views of Thich Tri Quang, [Page 474] head of the General Association of Vietnamese Buddhists for Central Vietnam, who has openly stated his intention not to cease agitation until the Diem government falls. Thich Tri Quang also has indicated his intention, if necessary, to call for suicide volunteers. Among thpse allegedly ready to volunteer are Dieu Hue, the mother of Vietnam’s leading scientist and Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Niger and Senegal, and her sister, Tu Dieu, the aunt of the Government of Vietnam (GVN) Director of Youth, Cao Xuan Vy.
Three coup groups have been reported to be now cooperating, one headed by Lieutenant Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, former Chief of Kien Hoa Province, and then Ngo Dinh Nhu’s special investigator for strategic hamlets, another characterized as the Tran Kim Tuyen group, and a third, primarily military in composition. Little is known about the Thao and the military groups; somewhat more about the Tuyen group.
Tran Kim Tuyen has been identified as an organizer, but not the leader, of a coup group which is said to include the Catholic Archbishop of Saigon, Pham Van Binh; some Buddhists and some military supporters, including Major General Duong Van Minh, military advisor to the President, and Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, Commander of the III Corps area, which borders on the Saigon metropolitan area. Tuyen has had recent contact and a long time friendship with two of the Buddhist activists, Thich Tam Chau, Vice President of the General Association of Vietnamese Buddhists, and Thich Thien Minh, Chairman of the Buddhist Intersect Committee dealing with the GVN and head of the Buddhist Students of Central Vietnam. Major General Tran Van Don, Commander of the Army of Vietnam, has also admitted that he too is also involved in coup plotting.2 Don has no direct command of troops, but could lend important support to military moves on the part of General Dinh from his General Staff position. Tuyen has requested the preparation of a manifesto for “a new government.” Plans also have allegedly been made by Tuyen to take over the Ministry of Civic Action and all public media at the first moment of a coup, which will not be a military putsch, but a Palace revolution involving the assassination of Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife and the “elimination” of President by less forceable means if possible, but by assassination if necessary.
There is no direct evidence, but the inference can be drawn from available reports, that the chosen political leader of the Tuyen group would be Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho, who would represent [Page 475] legal succession in the event of the demise or resignation of President Diem. There is no intimation that Tho has participated in coup planning. There have been numerous rumors that Tho has resigned, and an individual who is in a position to have such access has confirmed Tho’s submission of his resignation. However, Secretary of State at the Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan on 4 July 1963 categorically denied that Tho had resigned. On the morning of 5 July Tho claimed that he had not resigned, although Tho, at the time, indicated his dislike for political problems and his personal upset in being involved in the present Buddhist controversy. Tho is the chief of the Interministerial Council which negotiated with the General Association of Buddhists. He was the only Buddhist member of that council and has been the object of some criticism for his alleged concessions to the Buddhists from Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu.
If, as is suspected, the military group, the Tuyen group, and the Thao group have indeed combined in a marriage of convenience, their chances of maintaining unity after a successful coup would probably be poor because of the many personal animosities that would probably exist in such a group. Although Tuyen has strong support in the Civil Service, through persons he has carefully seeded in the bureaucracy over a period of years, he is generally openly and ardently despised by the military who would hold the predominance of power in a post-coup situation. Unless the military leaders opt for the legalities of Vice President Tho’s assumption of the Presidency, a military leader might arise to seize the office of Chief Executive. Such a seizure probably also would be accompanied by considerable instability as one of the Generals attempted to assert supremacy.
The timing of possible coup events is not yet clear. Allegedly, the military committee of the Tuyen group has recommended that the coup take place any time up until 10 July; however, the group’s central committee has not yet given its consent. Others have leaned toward the 7th of July, the traditional date for the celebration of Double 7 which commemorates President Diem’s accession to power in 1954. One individual indicated the timing to be prior to the end of August. We believe that any serious coup group may try to act before the 31 August elections.
Where the loyalties of the rank and file of the military would lie in a coup situation are hard to predict. Some of the Air Force personnel report considerable disaffection at high and medium levels. The paratroop brigade is also said to be disaffected and the loyalties of the Navy are uncertain, although in the past two coupe, the Navy commander, Captain Ho Tan Quyen, has proved to be a staunch supporter of Diem. The armored brigade is reported to be so split in opinion, because of the Buddhist situation, as to make its loyalties questionable. [Page 476] Recently, Major General Duong Van Minh, military advisor to the President, stated his fear that the Buddhist issue was definitely dividing the loyalties of the Vietnamese Army.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Buddhist leadership, now ensconced at Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon and eager to present its case to anyone who happens to come along, either is unable to believe, or prefers not to believe, that the GVN, as it is presently constituted, has any intention over the long run of living up to the letter or the spirit of the 16 June agreement. For the moment, the Buddhist complaints center on alleged chicanery concerning the number of arrested participants in the 16th June riot who have been released; alleged GVN support and encouragement of the discredited Co Son Mon sect; and charges, for which the Buddhists claim documentary proof, that the government, or elements thereof, have backhandedly encouraged the Republican Youth to question whether the government may not have been too generous in its concessions to the Buddhists. The Buddhists also claim that the GVN has quietly sent instructions to its provincial representatives to give pro forma lip service to the agreement with the Buddhists for the time being, but to ready themselves for future repressive measures. The Buddhist hierarchy alleges that even now Buddhist monks and nuns in the provinces are being subjected to various restraints.
It is difficult to pin down these charges. Judged by the regime’s past performance in dealing with political opponents, which is generally the way it views the Buddhist leadership, and by reports from others, there is probably considerable truth to these Buddhist assertions. However, the relative merit or truth of the Buddhist charges is not as important in the present context as the fact that the Buddhists are sticking to them, reflecting a profound chasm between them and the GVN. Buddhist spokesmen at Xa Loi convey the unmistakable impression that even if the government can satisfactorily refute these charges, the Buddhists will raise new charges and the militant wing indicate they intend to keep up the pressure until the Diem regime is overthrown. Thus, the Buddhists, at least those under the influence of Thich Tri Quang, appear to be consciously transferring their struggle to the political realm. Whether they are using political means to overthrow Diem out of honest conviction that only in this way can greater religious equality be assured in Vietnam, or whether more secular motives are also involved, can at this time only be a matter of surmise. The Buddhist leaders vigorously deny accepting the help of, or being influenced by, outside opposition political elements, and to date there is little evidence with which to challenge that claim. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the line here between formal participation in religious affairs as a Buddhist monk and secular life is extremely fluid. The Buddhist struggle, adopted initially essentially to redress real and [Page 477] imagined religious grievances, may well have transformed itself into an entirely new political force whose aims transcend the basically religious purposes for which it was originally set in motion.
The two weeks deadline set by the Buddhists for GVN compliance with the 16 June accord passed without the previously threatened further Buddhist manifestations. Since then, while promising further suicides, the Buddhists have progressively pushed back the timetable for their threatened acts. Their hesitation may have been caused by a variety of reasons, perhaps including a desire to see the effect of international pressures on Diem; a suspicion or even knowledge that a coup would be shortly attempted; and/or, a determination to wait and see how the rumored struggle within the GVN itself over the Buddhist question played itself out. In any event, it would be a mistake to exclude the possibility of additional self-immolations or other equally upsetting methods of sacrificial self-destruction. Some of the Buddhist leaders appear completely set on the elimination of the Diem regime by one means or another.
There are indications that the Diem regime is aware of the peril which it is now in, but there are equally voluminous signs of divided counsel on how to cope with the problem. A Ngo family conference was held in Hue on 29 and 30 June, but unfortunately its results are still unknown. From the Times of Vietnam articles, which periodically refan the flames of controversy, from Ngo Dinh Nhu’s statements and from other bits of information, it appears clear that the Nhus were opposed to going as far as the government did in the 16 June agreement. It seems equally clear that Secretary of State at the Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan and Vice President Tho, with Minister of Interior Bui Van Luong included, but perhaps reluctantly, are in favor of the agreement they hammered out with the Buddhists and would like to see it honorably carried out. Ngo Dinh Can’s position on the Buddhist issue is the subject of conflicting reports, and the President’s mood is even more difficult to fathom. The best guess is that at the moment he is being buffeted by conflicting advice within his immediate entourage and by various domestic and international pressures, and that he has not yet made up his mind. Almost certainly, the Diem regime is currently undergoing a crisis of decision as to whether to adopt repressive tactics against the Buddhists or to make further conciliatory gestures toward them.
In making that decision, Diem faces a difficult dilemma. Repressive measures, such as the arrest of his leading Buddhist antagonists, might play into his enemies’ hands by creating just the pretext they have been looking for to move decisively against him. If he does nothing, he will invite international condemnation by elements ready to accept the Buddhists’ case against him lock, stock and barrel, as well as to permit the internal situation to drift even more dangerously close [Page 478] to disaster for his regime. However, if he makes the gestures of further conciliation toward the Buddhists currently being pressed upon him, he has no assurance that these will satisfy them and no guarantee that such gestures, which could be interpreted as additional signs of weakness, would not merely whet the appetite of his antagonists for further unsustainable concessions. Although the latter course would appear to be the least of several evils from Diem’s point of view, it is feared that it is the one least congenial to the President’s temperament, and it is not probable that he will adopt it, regardless of the pressures imposed upon him.
  1. Source: U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63. Confidential; No Foreign Dissem. Regarding these CIA reports, see footnote 1, Document 190.
  2. According to CIA Information Report TDCS-3/552,822, July 8, General Don said on July 8 that there was a military plan for the overthrow of the Diem government, and that, except for one or two general officers all were in agreement. Don did not specify the timing of the planned coup, but said that he did not plan to leave the Saigon area for the next 10 days. (Ibid.)