220. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rice) to the Secretary of State1

SUBJECT

  • Reports that Brother Nhu is Planning a Coup

We have four reports2 from Vietnamese Generals of a July 11 meeting of Nhu with officers of that rank. Two (or possibly three) of these reports indicate that Nhu may be planning a coup. We think it not unlikely, however, that Nhu is responding to reports of coup plotting among the Generals themselves, seeking to confuse and divide them, smoke out their intentions, and rally those which he can reach by such blandishments as “active” assignments. He may have [Page 489]had the additional intention of improving his personal position with the Generals against the possibility that they will successfully mount a coup.

The four reports are not wholly consistent with one another, but the following emerges from all four: (1) Nhu asked the Generals for their support; (2) Nhu criticized the government and/or his brothers during the meeting; (3) Nhu extended an olive branch to the Generals by being very cordial and by promising “active” assignments to all.

General Khanh reported Nhu asked for “personal support”; General Kim stated Nhu said he would not blame the Generals if they were thinking of a coup and that he would be with them; General Cao merely said that Nhu had asked for their cooperation in meeting the present crisis. One unnamed “general officer” who may or may not have attended the meeting reported that Nhu had spoken of a “lightning” coup with himself leading it. But a large meeting of this sort would not provide a suitably secure forum in which to make a serious proposal of this sort, and Nhu’s position on the Buddhist crisis is not one which would be most likely to appeal to dissatisfied officers.

Unless the Buddhist crisis deepens, the longer the various coup plots incubate, the less likelihood of anything hatching. We have not yet heard that any coup group has developed a well articulated plan with much chance of success, nor do the Generals appear to be united-and Nhu’s move is probably shrewdly intended, among other things, to prevent their uniting. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of a plan being suddenly attempted. We have heard of several, but the better a plan was the less likely we would be to learn of it in advance.

The joint Embassy/CAS evaluation of the four reports (Tab A), together with the reports themselves (Tabs B to E) are attached.

707

Central Intelligence Agency Information Report3

TDCSDB-3/655,524

SUBJECT

  • Comments on reports of Ngo Dinh Nhu’s coup plotting

Following are the joint Embassy/CAS comments on the four reports concerning the 11 July 1963 meeting at Joint General Staff Headquarters. The first of these came from Brigadier General Van Thanh [Page 490]Cao, delegate to the eastern provinces, Saigon AmEmbtel 80,4 two other reports on 12 July, one from Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh Commanding General II Corps, TDCSDB-3/655,512 [document number not declassified], and the other from a general officer, TDCSDB-3/655,512 [document number not declassified]. The fourth report is from Brigadier General Le Van Kim, Ministry of National Defense, TDCSDB-3/655,523 [document number not declassified].5

1.
All of these reports have some elements in common. They differ widely in detail and emphasis. Common elements are:
a.
The meeting was called by Nhu;
b.
Nhu criticized the Government of Vietnam (GVN) handling of the Buddhist crisis;
c.
Nhu promised the Generals a more active role in the war and promised to give those Generals whose positions are sinecures legitimate responsibilities; and,
d.
Nhu made an appeal for the loyalty of the Generals (to whom is the question).
2.
Actually there may have been two meetings between Nhu and the Generals on 11 July. The first was a formal meeting at Joint General Staff offices. The second followed immediately after the first at the Officers Club at the Joint General Staff. The general officer states clearly that his report derives from the Officers Club talk, although he attended both meetings. We are not clear as to those present at either meeting. General Khanh states that there were “about fourteen” Generals in attendance when Nhu made the remarks he reported. Including newly appointed Brigadier General Do Cao Tri, there are now nineteen generals in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
3.
The general officer’s report is the only one of the three which is explicit with regard to a coup led by Nhu. With respect to specificity, it is worth noting that Khanh, Cao, and Kim have had long time relationships with the individuals to whom they spoke.
4.
It is worthwhile to compare the remarks attributed to Nhu by the general officer with the report of the conversation between Nhu and an American observer on 25 June, CSDB-3/655,373.6 At that time Nhu indicated, as he had previously, that if he believed the government, meaning Diem, was becoming servile to the United States, he himself would lead a coup d’etat.
5.
Both Cao’s report and Khanh’s reports indicate that Nhu’s remarks had some considerable impact upon the Generals. Cao believed that Nhu’s statements had relieved the critical situation, at least temporarily. Khanh stated that Nhu had been convincing in his request [Page 491]for loyalty and support, and that he believed that the majority of the general officers would support Nhu. It was not clear from Khanh’s remarks that this support would be provided within the context of a coup d’etat. On the other hand, Kim thought that the majority of the. Generals reacted negatively. According to the general officer, Major General Nguyen Ngoc Le, Chief of Veterans Affairs, commented on 12 July that he believed that the Generals should proceed without Nhu since Nhu only sought to save himself. We are inclined to believe that if the Generals should consent to support Nhu, it would be from their point of view a temporary marriage of convenience.
6.
It is still too early to evaluate exactly what Nhu may have in mind. It is possible that the general officer has misread Nhu’s remarks which were possibly made in the same vein as Nhu”. comments to an American observer on 25 June. This interpretation, however, must take into consideration Nhu’s statement that the coup must be staged overnight and must be lightning fast followed by a turnover of power from the general officers to civilian control. It is difficult to believe that this construction could be based on the sometimes vague and theoretical utterances of Nhu.
7.
We believe that some Generals are planning, or at the very least, far more intensively thinking about, coup action. How the Generals plans or intentions may be advanced or retarded by Nhu’s remarks is too early to tell.
8.
Even if one accepts the general officer’s account, it does not necessarily follow that Nhu is in fact contemplating a coup. It is possible that Nhu is seeking to entrap the Generals in some fashion and might even be doing so with the knowledge of Diem.
9.
As a subsidiary comment, we conclude from these four reports that Major General Tran Van Don, Commander of the ARVN, claim to be a member of a coup group, TDCS-3/552,8227 [document number not declassified] comprising most of the general officers is exaggerated. From these reports, it does not emerge that the Generals have reached a consensus or are plotting as a single group, rather that there may be two or more groups among them.8
10.
Field Dissem. None.
  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26 Coup Rumors. Secret. Drafted by Heavner and initialed by Rice. A note on the source text reads: “Secretary Saw”. Also sent to Ball, Harriman, and Johnson.
  2. These reports are identified and analyzed in Tab A below. The four reports were also attached to the source text, but not printed.
  3. [Tab A]
  4. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; No Dissem Abroad; Background Use Only.
  5. Dated July 12, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET)
  6. Dated July 12, not printed.
  7. Not found.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 212.
  9. On July 15, an individual associated with the Tuyen group reportedly said that their coup would occur “soon”, but not before July 20. (CIA Information Report, TDCSDB-3/655,588, July 16; U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63) According to another report, on July 16, General Duong Van Minh, Military Adviser to President Diem, lent weight to reports of the general military desire to remove President Diem and “advocated” a change of government in South Vietnam. (CIA Information Report TDCS DB-3/655,605, July 18; Ibid.)