Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume III, Vietnam, January–August 1963
256. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Helms), to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)1
- Transmittal of Estimates on Situation in South Vietnam
Attached hereto are estimates prepared by CIA in Saigon with regard to Government of Vietnam instability, and the likelihood of a coup d’etat, brought on by the continuing Buddhist crisis. Discussions held at our 14 August meeting2 were based upon these reports.
For the Deputy Director (Plans):
- Provisions of the Constitution which Deal with the Succession to the Presidency
- The President and the Vice President of South Vietnam are elected for five year terms. after initial election they are eligible for reelection for two more terms and can therefore serve a total of 15 years. Consequently, if Diem remains in office, he can run for re-election in 1966 for the third and final time, unless the Constitution is amended in the interim. See Article 32.
- Article 33 notes that apart from death in office, the President may, after a medical examination, be declared incapacitated because of serious illness by a four-fifths majority of the total number of delegates in the National Assembly. Also, he may tender his resignation to the National Assembly, and Article 33 puts no limitations upon his reasons [Page 570] for resigning. Article 33 also provides for the President’s deposition by the Special Court of Justice, which consists of the President of the High Court of Appeals and 15 deputies elected by each house of the National Assembly, or 30 in all.
- The Constitution provides for the simultaneous election of the President and Vice President. In the event of departure of the former from office for any reason, it is further provided that the Vice President shall assume the title and office of President, with full rights and duties, for the balance of the five year term. If both the President and the Vice President fail to complete their term, however, an interim caretaker arrangement is prescribed as indicated below.
- Article 34 provides that in a circumstance in which there is no President and no Vice President, the President of the National Assembly shall temporarily exercise the function of the President of the Republic in order to expedite current affairs and to organize the election of a new President and a new Vice President within a maximum period of two months.
- Articles 41 and 42 conceivably could have some bearing on this subject. Article 41 provides that for reasons of emergency the President may, between two sessions of the National Assembly, sign orders in council (meaning, presumably, that he can govern by decree). Article 42 provides that in case of emergency, war, internal disturbances or financial or economic crisis, the National Assembly may vote a law conferring on the President the power to sign orders in council for a definite time and within definite limitations, with a view to enforcing the policy defined by the National Assembly in the law by which it delegates power to the President. Article 42 says nothing one way or the other about whether the National Assembly could pass such a law in favor of a former President of the National Assembly who might be temporarily exercising the function of President of the Republic as prescribed under Article 34. In other words, the Constitution does not provide a mechanism under which a caretaker head of state may govern by decree although neither is forbidden.
- The Possibility of Ngo Dinh Nhu Succeeding President Ngo Dinh Diem
- The circumstances of President Ngo
Dinh Diem’s departure from the scene will be an
extremely important predeterminant to Ngo Dinh Nhu’s succession as
President of South Vietnam. The possibilities include:
- Death by natural or accidental means
- Death by assassination
- Overthrow by coup d’etat, possibly, but not necessarily involving death.
- Nhu is, of course, a member of the National Assembly, Khanh Hoa Province being his home constituency. Given the elimination of Diem, it therefore follows that Nhu could, without violating the constitution, aspire under Article 34 to exercise the powers of the President for a period not exceeding two months, if he could first persuade both Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho and Truong Vinh Le, President of the National Assembly, to resign their present offices, and then contrive his own election by the Assembly as successor to Le. Nhu would then have two further months during which to arrange and win a general election which would legally install him in the office of President. Vice President Tho, in this connection, represents an imponderable. Although he has never been considered a particularly strong man, he is probably not a cipher like Le and has never had an opportunity to show his mettle. It is possible that in a Government of Vietnam (GVN) crisis Tho might, on his own initiative, generate enough support to thwart Nhu’s ambitions, even if he might not ultimately succeed in maintaining himself in the Presidency long enough to finish out the constitutional term. Although it is extremely difficult to assess the likelihood that Nhu could successfully carry off this gambit, it is technically possible and could be done within the letter of the law, if not its spirit, provided Diem had left office under circumstances not involving a coup d’etat as such. It is clear that Nhu, second only to Diem, is at this time the strongest political power in Vietnam.
- In the aftermath of the fourth possibility, namely violent overthrow of Diem, Nhu’s chances of succession would be poor, whether he tried to do so by either constitutional or unconstitutional means. While perhaps conceding Nhu’s competence to hold high office, in terms of experience, organizational capability, and as the driving force [Page 572] behind the strategic hamlet program, etc., there exists considerable opposition to him among the educated and articulate elements of the population, including the military. Unquestionably, his greatest liability is Madame Nhu, towards whom these same elements express an intense and indeed very personal hostility on the ground that she is vicious, meddlesome, neurotic, or worse. Whether this opposition to Nhu and his wife is based on cold logic or on supercharged emotions is immaterial, it is important because it exists. It would be difficult, if not almost impossible, for Nhu to install himself in office, by any method whatever, after the removal of his brother by a coup d’etat. Nhu and his wife would be fortunate to escape with their lives, and in fact there have been reports of at least one plot in which the Nhus would be murdered, but Diem retained in power to preside over a reoriented GVN.
- In a conversation with an American observer on 25 June (TDCSDB-3/655,297 and CSDB-3/655,373),5 Nhu gradually worked himself into a highly emotional state of mind. Among other things he expressed strong opposition to Diem and his government, to such an extent that it would be unwise to exclude totally the possibility that Nhu would be capable of attempting a coup d’etat against Diem. This is not the first time Nhu has expressed himself so violently. In a conversation about two months ago, in which Dang Duc Khoi interpreted for Nhu and two Time/Life staffers, Nhu flatly said that the present regime (though not necessarily Diem himself) must be destroyed. He repeated this statement several times and lent emphasis to it by resorting to the Latin “Carthago delenda est”. On many occasions in the past he has then qualified such remarks by saying that he views the Diem regime as a transitional stage and the child of historical necessity, but neither to the Time/Lifers nor to the American observer on 25 June did he express such an intermediate point of view. In general, Nhu’s chances for succession to the Presidency tend to diminish as the extent of violence attending Diem’s removal increases, but there does remain a possibility that Nhu could attain the Presidency even in a violent situation, perhaps even including assassination of Diem, provided such situation had been organized by Nhu and was controlled by him.
- The key to any plan to prevent Nhu’s accession to the Presidency will be Vice President Tho, and the best plan would be to form a nationally supported action committee, outside the present government, whose task would be, in the event of Diem’s departure, to assist Tho to attain the Presidency and then to maintain himself in power as prescribed by the Constitution.
- We are pessimistic about the possibility of improving Nhu’s domestic or international image by any means which we can envision. He has been the subject of volumes of adverse comment both in Vietnam and abroad, and the importance of Madame Nhu as a liability has been mentioned above. So far as the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) is concemed, it can probably be said that Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, Commander, IV Corps, is the only general officer who has a reputation of having unequivocally supported Nhu thus far—even this statement must be qualified, however, by noting that it is a moot point whether the troops of the two divisions in Cao’s command would remain loyal to him. It thus follows that it would be as difficult to raise Nhu’s stature in the ARVN eyes as in the case of the Vietnamese and foreign public at large. As the ARVN commanders are certainly fully aware, Diem has always exercised close personal control over the assignment of his top military leaders, and the military leaders have no compelling reason for being deeply loyal to Nhu on this score.
- The relationship between Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can involves a number of complexities. The two brothers have differed on many issues over the years and have constructed internal political organizations which frequently compete with one another on such matters as appointment to lower and medium level jobs and access to lucrative economic franchises. Madame Nhu is again a factor, in that she and Can detest each other. Additionally, Can has often expressed a low opinion of Nhu’s judgment and practical ability as a leader. Nevertheless, in a crisis involving Nhu’s efforts to attain the Presidency, after—and only after—Diem’s disappearance from the scene, Nhu could probably count upon Can’s assistance and would make strenuous efforts to obtain it. A large measure of Can’s power in Central Vietnam is derived from support from Saigon, and to retain that power over a long period, he must have continued support. Can would reason that with Nhu in office in Saigon, he would stand a better chance of continued support than he would from any other leadership. Can’s influence during a crisis period would be in a measure independent of Saigon, in that it is based upon a sense of identification with him on the part of provincial authorities, both civil and military, who obtained and hold their own positions with, at the very least, his concurrence. Can’s hold over his subordinates is not so much a matter of their loyalty to him as a realization on their part that without him they could very likely lose their own positions. In speculating upon Can’s relations with Nhu, and his likely course of action if the latter makes a bid for power, past experience suggests that Can, in a crisis, cannot always be counted upon to play a rational role, even in terms of his own best interests. Though a shrewd politician, he nevertheless has [Page 574] several times shown a tendency to panic in emergencies, or simply to withdraw in the face of situations which he regards as presenting difficult problems.
- In conclusion, Nhu’s
chances of achieving the Presidency are assessed as follows:
- In a situation other than a coup d’etat directed against Diem, Nhu’s chances of initially taking over the Presidency are fair.
- In a coup d’etat against Diem, it would be almost impossible for Nhu tQ become President. In fact, he and his wife could very well be victims of the coup.
- If Nhu should initially take over the Presidency, his chances of solidifying his position and maintaining himself in power over an extended period are poor.
- Contingency Planning for Succession Crisis
Section I: The Stable Transfer of Power
- Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho would, at least initially, succeed to the Presidency through the normal constitutional processes should anything happen to President Ngo Dinh Diem. Tho’s possible succession immediately presents basic policy questions requiring a United States Government decision. If Diem should leave the Presidency under any circumstances whatever, constitutional succession of Tho would be the most desirable next step and the least dangerous in terms of both Vietnamese and U.S. Government self-interest. Implicit in this statement would be a decision (a) to strengthen Tho’s position by all the means at our disposal, as soon as Diem was out of the way, and (b) to oppose a power grab by Nhu, either initially or at some later date. It is obvious that if Diem should be overturned in a chaotic and violent situation, it might be extremely difficult for the U.S. Government to contribute significantly to bringing the situation under control. In this eventuality the most readily presentable outcome would probably be some form of military junta or other “abnormal transfer of power”.
- A U.S. Government decision to back the constitutional
succession of Tho would
be thus based on a number of factors:
- The conclusion that Nhu’s chances of maintaining himself in power for an extended period are poor.
- Acceptance of the opinion that, regardless of his chances of survival, Nhu’s past behavior and that of his wife are such that we could not tolerate him as president, in terms of U.S. Government policy.
- Agreement that Tho represents the only presently foreseeable alternative to Nhu who would have a fair chance of survival and whom we might be able to guide along lines acceptable to U.S. Government policy.
- Acceptance of the view that strong and immediate expressions of U.S. Government support of Tho, following the departure of Diem, would make it more difficult for Nhu to attract and consolidate various Vietnamese power factors which he would need to install and maintain himself m power.
- We should be under no illusions as to the sanctity of the Vietnamese constitution in the eyes of many Vietnamese. Some of its provisions are a legal fiction (e.g., prohibitions against illegal arrest, brutal treatment, etc.) and, in any case, the constitution has not existed long enough to develop deep-rooted prestige in terms of tested historical precedent. From the American point of view, however, the constitution probably does provide the best available tool with which to force a succession solution which we can accept, and thwart the ambitions of Nhu, whom we cannot accept, in such a way as to maintain a tenable U.S. Government policy stance in the eyes of American and world opinion.
Section II: Abnormal Transfer of Power
- It is difficult to forecast with any degree of confidence how
an abnormal transfer of power might come about, nor precisely
who might be involved. General possibilities include the
following, descending order of likelihood:
- A non-communist coup d’etat by the army, perhaps drawing on civilian oppositionists, though not necessarily.
- A palace” coup d’etat, perhaps engineered by Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen and his colleagues, directed against the entire Ngo family (probably with cooperation of the military).
- A “palace” coup d’etat engineered by Nhu in an effort to unseat Diem and install himself in office.
- A communist coup d’etat mounted by the Viet Cong.
- Key power centers among the military and police services are
- Presidential Guard. Strength 2,500. Heavily armed with ten M-24 tanks, six M-113 armored personnel carriers, six M-114 armored personnel carriers, vehicles with mounted quad 50’s, recoilless rifles, bazookas. Some personnel billeted on palace grounds, but most are at other locations in Saigon. This unit will probably remain completely loyal to Diem. There is strong friction between the Presidential Guard and the Airborne Brigade.
- Armor command, which is controlled by the Joint General Staff UGS) and has subordinate squadrons under operational control of corps commanders (except III Corps, where the JGS still exercises operational control). There are considerable armor units scattered at various points in and around Saigon. These units could, under their own power, be brought into play within various periods of time up to four hours, depending upon their distance from the center of the city. The different units of the 1st armor squadron are the most significant as they have many access routes to Saigon and cannot easily be blocked. Owing in considerable part to the divisive effect of the Buddhist question, the loyalty of the armor command to Diem may have been impaired.
- Airborne Brigade. There are six battalions, all based in the vicinity of Saigon. Whenever trucks are made available to one of the battalions for an operation, an armor unit is placed on alert. Recently armor units have been attached to two airborne units in an operation near Saigon. Airborne Brigade has mounted one coup d’etat, and indications are that it might be willing to mount another. Many of the key officers participated in the first coup, and some have recently expressed regret that it did not succeed. The loyalty of the Airborne Brigade to Diem is very doubtful.
- Marine Brigade. There are four marine battalions. The 3rd battalion is based near Saigon, and the 4th battalion is currently stationed in the city to help during the crisis situation. The loyalties of the Marine Brigade were split during the 1960 coup.7 Diem has worked hard to gain the marines’ loyalty, and he has probably succeeded. The Brigade Commander, however, has just rotated battalions on emergency duty in Saigon, thus removing from the city a strong Catholic battalion commander and replacing him with a Buddhist whose loyalties, while unknown, might be mixed.
- Ranger Companies. The loyalty of these companies, of which there are perhaps 200, is difficult to assess. Some companies reportedly were formed predominantly of Catholics. A number of the companies have been brought into Saigon during the Buddhist situation. In a crisis they will be led by picked Vietnamese Special Forces officers who are considered loyal to the Diem regime. The Ranger Commander, Colonel Ton That Xung, has no great loyalty to the regime.
- ARVN Corps Units:
- III Corps. Troops from the III Corps would be the first to arrive in Saigon during a crisis, apart from special units, such as those mentioned above. Brigadier General Ton That Dinh is reportedly engaged in coup plotting, but the information is rather scanty on this point.
- IV Corps. The Corps Commander, Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, is considered to be the general most loyal to Diem. It is doubtful, however, that he could control the two divisions under his command unless there was an identity of interests between them and himself. The 7th Division Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bui Dinh Dam, is said to be loyal to Secretary of State Nguyen Dinh Thuan. The troops of the IV Corps could be [Page 577] blocked from entering Saigon by the destruction of several highway bridges or by the second armor squadron, which holds a potential locking position at My Tho.
- The I Corps and the II Corps are too far from Saigon to play an immediate role in a coup crisis.
- Navy. Captain Ho Tan Quyen, Navy Commander, personally led two companies of marines to the defense of Diem in the 1960 coup, and is generally believed to be loyal. The Navy vigorously defended the palace against the air attack on 27 February 1962.8
- Air Force. It is at least doubtful that the air force would defend Diem. Several high level air force officers have advocated a coup d’etat.
- Police and Security Services:
- The latest strength figures show 21,000 uniformed regular police, of which 5,900 are in Saigon, and 1,301 combat police, of which 534 are in Saigon. So far as is known, the combat police have no heavy weapons except a few old Malayan (British) armored cars and a very few 30 caliber machine guns. The uniformed police have nothing heavier than submachine guns.
- During the 1960 coup, large numbers of Saigon police, including several of their leaders, absented themselves from their duty posts and thus were not of help to the government. There is no reporting to suggest that leaders of the police could be counted among the oppositionists, but conversely there is little to suggest that the police would be any more effective in behalf of the regime than they were the last time, if another coup should be attempted. An important factor is that the police are well aware that they are unable to stand up against heavily armed regular military units.
- Even if the foregoing assessment of the loyalties of the armed services and police is not certifiably accurate, it can be said, with some confidence, that the regime has sustained a significant loss of prestige and support in these services. The Buddhist unrest of the past two months has had a divisive effect, and in a new crisis the Diem government would be leading from a much weaker position than in November 1960.
- Conclusions and recommendations: In the event of an attempted
coup d’etat, there will be an initial period of confusion,
perhaps characterized by fighting in the streets of Saigon and
other disturbances. This phase may be a matter of hours, or it
may extend over several days. After this period, it will be
clear either that Diem
has put down the coup and will remain in office, or that he has
failed in this objective. The following actions will be called
for from the U.S.: [Page 578]
- Initial period of confusion. All assets will be utilized to obtain as much information as possible-identify coup leaders, their plans, the extent of their armed support, etc. During this period it seems doubtful that the U.S. Government could take any definitive position. If Diem should succeed in putting down the coup, he will later resent the U.S. Government inaction, but this cannot be helped.
- Diem victory. If Diem wins, or if the indications that he is going to do so are sufficiently convincing, the U.S. Government will have no alternative but to issue a statement reaffirming support.
- Successful coup d’etat. The U.S. Government position should be to intercede with the coup leaders to the extent that this may be feasible to urge that they set up a stable, broadly based, anti-communist and anti-neutralist regime. They should be urged to put as good a face as possible on the new government, in terms of its legality and constitutionality, putting Tho in office as Diem’s successor as provided under the constitution. If the coup leaders are a form of military junta we should still urge them to utilize Tho, even if only as a front man. It should be pointed out that in attempting to influence American and world opinion in favor of the new regime, the task will be more easily done if the new regime installs itself in an orderly way.
- Unavailability of Tho. The remaining contingency is that the coup will succeed, but that Tho either is swept away in the course of it or is unacceptable to the ruling group, even as a front man. In this situation, and bearing in mind the need to put a facade of respectability on the new government, the best, if not the only U.S. Government course, would be to recognize the status quo and take all possible steps to influence the junta to install a broadly based government which would also utilize competent civilians.
- A change of government in Vietnam could occur at any time, with little or no warning and in an orderly or disorderly fashion. It is recommended that the policy questions herein presented be resolved as quickly as possible, in order that we can move quickly in Saigon if the need arises.
- Vietnamese Personalities Who Might Play a Dominant Role in a Succession Crisis
- The type of succession crisis is the determining factor in judging which personalities will play important roles. Those persons involved in a stable transfer of power are likely to be different from those figuring prominently in an abnormal situation, e.g., an assassination or an attempted coup d’etat. However, there will be some overlap in the personalities listed due to the fact that certain key military units provide a common denominator in the analysis of any succession crisis. The degree of loyalty toward the regime and the probable actions of [Page 579] the commanding officers, the dominant officers and the men in these key units must be considered by participants in any succession crisis, since they are the final arbiters re success or failure in establishing a successor government.
- The dominant personalities of the key units:
- Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Khoi, CO Presidential Guard. All reports indicate that Khoi is strongly loyal to President Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can. Following the 11 November 1960 coup attempt, Khoi assumed command of the demoralized guard, and proved highly capable in the improvement of the morale and the efficiency of the unit by intensive training, including patrol action against the Viet Cong near Saigon. High morale combined with heavy armament make the guard an important power center.
- Col. Nguyen Van Thien, CO, Armor Branch. A devout Buddhist from Central Vietnam, Thien has expressed dissatisfaction with the regime apparently because of current Buddhist crisis. The Armor Branch has no operational control over armor units and is the repository for officers not trusted by the regime. Chief of Staff Major Nguyen Dinh Bang, Chief of Operations Captain Nguyen Quang Nguyen, and Major Duong Hieu Nghia, a Dai Viet, are among this group. They are listed here because they have influence among the officers and men of the armor squadrons. This is especially true of Thien.
- Major Huynh Ngoc Diep, CO, First Armor Squadron, outskirts Saigon. A passionate defender of the regime in the Buddhist crisis, Diep is undoubtedly loyal. Strongly pro-regime company commanders Captain Bui Nguon Ngai and Captain Tran Van Thoan assist Diep to maintain the loyalty of the squadron to the Government of Vietnam (GVN).
- Major Nguyen Van Ba, CO, Second Armor Squadron, two hours from Saigon. His loyalty to the regime is unknown. He is highly regarded by Col. Thien and commands a unit whose composition is mostly Buddhist. Probably Ba would respond to Thien’s orders in a crisis.
- Col. Cao Van Vien, CO, Airborne Brigade. Vien describes himself as the only loyal officer to the GVN in the Airborne. He is not popular with the men, but is respected because of his leadership ability. In a crisis, he would probably not be able to rally the Airborne behind him against a coup with good potential success.
- Major Ho Tieu, Second Task Force Commander, Airborne. Tieu participated in the aborted 11 November 1960 coup and frequently expresses regrets that it failed. He is considered, like most Airborne officers, as highly likely to join coup forces, and may be able control the Airborne as a unit.
- Lt. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, CO, Marine Brigade, Saigon, is a nominal Buddhist from North Vietnam. Privately, he has expressed some dissatisfaction with the regime, but is believed to be strongly loyal to the GVN. He is an exceptional officer as commander, trainer, and in staff work. He has won the loyal support of almost all his subordinates because of his interest in their welfare. He could probably swing the Brigade as a unit behind the regime in a crisis.
- Captain Nguyen Van Tinh, CO, Fourth Battalion, Marine Brigade. Located in Saigon. Tinh is regarded by advisors as an exceptional officer. He is very close to Khang, but nothing is known of his loyalty to the regime.
- Captain Ma Viet Bang, CO, Third Battalion, Marine Brigade, Saigon. Bang is a maverick in the Brigade and is considered the least likely Battalion CO to remain loyal to Khang and the regime.
- Col. Le Quang Tung, Commander, Special Forces, Saigon. Tung is a key officer in the Can Lao party from Central Vietnam. Both Tung and his outfit are considered to have unquestioned loyalty to the regime, and reports concerning various coup plots refer to the necessity of eliminating Tung.
- Col. Huynh Huu Hien, CO, Air Force, Saigon. A nominal Buddhist, Hien supports the regime but not strongly. He is commander of an Air Force whose senior officers have expressed extreme criticism of the regime. Hien is close to Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh, CO, II Corps, and would probably support Khanh if the latter organized a coup.
- Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky, CO, First Transport Group, Air Force, is a swashbuckler type and idolized by pilots. He has many adherents among Air Force officers and is known to be close to Tran Kim Tuyen.
- Captain Ho Tan Quyen, CO, Navy, led two companies of Marines to aid President Diem during the 11 November 1960 abortive coup. He is considered loyal to the regime and is a capable administrator but has had little background experience for his present position.
- Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, CG, III Corps, bordering Saigon on the North. If any unit could be considered as the key unit, this is it. Dinh is a member of the Can Lao and nominally a Catholic. He has been reported as plotting a coup, but nothing is definitive. Dinh is an opportunist who would probably choose the winning side in a crisis.
- Col. Nguyen Van Thien, CO, Fifth Division, III Corps, is a Catholic from Central Vietnam. A supporter of Ngo Dinh Nhu, he is probably loyal to the regime. There is no information on Thien’s ability to command the loyalty of his division, which has a high percentage of Nungs.
- Brigadier General Huynh Van Cao, CG, IV Corps, bordering Saigon on the South, is probably loyal to the regime. He is a Catholic and a member of the Can Lao. Highly intelligent with an excellent record as a division CO, there is some doubt if he could swing the Corps as a unit to support the regime in a crisis.
- Lt. Col. Bui Dinh Dam, CO, Seventh Division, immediately South of Saigon, is a Catholic from North Vietnam. Dam is close to Major General Tran Van Minh, Permanent Secretary General, Ministry of National Defense, and Inspector General, ARVN, and Secretary of State at Presidency Nguyen Dinh Thuan. He would be likely to support the latter in a crisis. According to Gen. Minh, Dam would support a nationalist, anti-communist movement aiming at overthrow of the regime.
- Brig. Gen. Mai Huu Xuan, CO, Quang Trung Training Center, is a key figure because Quang Trung has a large quantity of weapons and is close to Saigon. Xuan is a Buddhist from South Vietnam, and is believed to be a dissident, but to an unknown degree. He is friendly [Page 581] with Brigadier General Pham Xuan Chieu and Major General Tran Van Don. He is an excellent administrator and an experienced security officer.
- Col. Phan Dinh Thu (nickname, Lam Son), CO, Thu Duc Reserve Officers School, is a Buddhist from Central Vietnam and close to Ngo Dinh Can. The regime has made efforts to insure Thu’s loyalty He was promoted to a full colonel and his promotion was made permanent; he was awarded the National Order Third Class, which previously was given to only three other officers. Thu’s loyalty is difficult to assess, but he certainly has the courage to mount a coup if he is so inclined. Thu Duc, which is near Saigon, has many students who are discontented because they were drafted and for various other reasons.
- The personalities who would be involved in a stable transfer
of power and who might be recommended to Vice President
Tho for appointment
to the key positions cited are:
- Major General Duong Van Minh as Chief, Joint General Staff. “Big Minh” is close to Tho and is a Southerner. He probably has more prestige with other Army officers than any other single officer, and could swing the Army behind Tho.
- Brigadier General Le Van Kim as Chief of Staff, JGS. He is probably the best staff man in the Army and its most fully qualified officer. He is close to General Duong Van Minh.
- Maj. Gen. Tran Van Minh, as alternate to General Kim as COS, JGS. He is a capable staff man but not as good as Kim. He is a Southerner and close to Duong Van Minh.
- Nguyen Dinh Thuan as Secretary of State at Presidency. Tho may not approve of this appointment as Thuan is publicly associated with the present regime. However, Thuan is by far the most capable civil servant extant and works well with the U.S. mission.
- Dr. Pham Huv Quat, former Dai Viet leader and founder of The Front for National Unity, as an alternate to Thuan. He is a former Minister of Defense and Minister of Education, and helped draft the code of military justice and the curriculum now used m the public schools. He is a moderate oppositionist.
- Tran Trung Dung as Secretary of State/Assistant Minister of National Defense. Formerly held this position, as well as other public posts and is a good administrator. He has impressed American officials m the past with his ability.
- The Ministries of Interior, Civic Action, and
Information are key ministries. (Directorate General of
Information should be elevated in status.) The following
list of qualified men should be presented to Tho for serious
consideration for appointment to these or other Cabinet
- Tran Van Lam, Ambassador to New Zealand and Australia. A Southerner, former National Assembly President, and a delegate for the southern provinces.
- Tran Quoc Buu, President of the General Confederation of Vietnamese Labor. He turned down the Vice Presidency at one time, is dedicated to the cause of labor, and is honest and intelligent.
- Tran Kim Phuong, Charge d’Affaires in Malaya and Consul General in Singapore. One of the younger men who is qualified for a high rank. He has impressed American officials with a mature outlook and grasp of problems, particularly those connected with foreign affairs and economics.
- Tran Le Quang, Secretary of State for Rural Affairs: He has handled a difficult job well because he is a generally good administrator and understands peasant problems.
- Pham Khac Suu, an oppositionist now under sentence for participation in 11 November 1960 abortive coup d’etat. He is included here because he is held in high Dublic regard, and is renowned for personal and moral courage. He could be the means of selling the public on the sincerity of Tho’s government.
- Dinh Trinh Chinh, Counselor at Law, is highly regarded by many oppositionists. He has a brilliant mind, particularly in the political field. He is regarded by some Vietnamese as a Tuyen man, but this is not true. Politically ambitious, he would work well with Americans, whose viewpoint on anti-communist war he largely shares.
- Luu Van Tinh, Director General of Budget and Foreign Aid and also acting chief of the Foreign Exchange Office. He is generally accorded recognition by U.S. mission economists as quite knowledgeable in his field. Probably he should be only appointed as an economist or to a position with similar functions to those which he now holds.
- Brigadier General Le Van Kim, has been proposed as COS, JGS, but he could also fill position as Minister of Interior or of National Defense.
- Power grab by Ngo Dinh Nhu. It is almost impossible to categorize those who would support Nhu in this venture, and who would turn on him. His assets include the ability to divide his opposition, considerable political acumen, support of his brother Ngo Dinh Can (a case of preserving Can’s own position) and a few persons who depend upon Nhu for their own positions or who genuinely feel Nhu is necessary for the stability of the country.CIA feels that he could reasonably expect support from: Ngo Dinh Can, Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Khoi, Lt. Col. Le Quang Tung, General Huynh Van Cao, Lt. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, Col. Nguyen Van Thieu, Major Huynh Ngoc Diep, and Madame Nhu. Gen. Dinh could be expected to give support to Nhu if he thought that the latter had a good chance of success.
- Personalities involved in coups d’etat. All officers listed in paragraph 2 will figure in varying degrees of importance in any coup. Their reaction will depend upon who the coup leaders are, and their chances of success. Some, like Nguyen Ngoc Khoi will fight for the regime, others, e.g., Major Ho Tieu will probably be against it; most, if not actually part of the coup, will wait and see how the coup is going before commitment. CIA does not assess many high ranking officers as having the necessary courage to initiate genuine coup. Brig. Gen. Do Cao Tri, CO, First Division, I Corps, and dominant officer in that [Page 583] Corps, Col. Lam Son, Brig. Gen. Nguyen Khanh, CG, II Corps, possess this moral courage. Other possibilities are, in lesser degree, Duong Van Minh and Maj. Gen. Tran Van Don, Commander, Land Forces. CIA still does not have sufficient information accurately to assess possibilities of a revolt by a group composed solely of captains, majors, or lieutenant colonels.
- CIA is well aware most civilian old line oppositionists want the regime deposed. Many engaged in coup plotting to some extent, but so far this amounts only to talk without adequate military backing. Good examples of this type oppositionist are the “caravellistes”. An exception may be Tran Kim Tuyen who reportedly is engaged in serious coup plotting, as has been reported.
- In the event of a successful coup, CIA believes a great effort should be made to convince the leaders (who would probably be some form of military junta) to honor constitutional procedure as far as possible. The United States may well be confronted with a fait accompli in which civilian leaders have been appointed, but the recommendations contained in paragraph 3 provide a good basis for negotiations. CIA has yet to discover an outstanding civilian personality acceptable to all factions.
- Assassination may be an integral part of projected coups or may be done in hope that something better will somehow emerge from the resulting chaotic situation. This was apparently the plan of the instigators of the palace bombing in February 1962. Tran Kim Tuyen is allegedly plotting a palace coup with assassination of the Ngo family planned. Paragraph 3 still appears valid in such a case but with this difference, the U.S. should notify appropriate military leaders that the Tuyen group is not acceptable and ask them to install Nguyen Ngoc Tho as President. If this is not done, it is likely that coup will follow coup in an increasingly anarchic situation.
- Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26, Coup Rumors. Secret. Copies of the covering memorandum and the attachments were sent to Krulak and Forrestal.↩
- No record of these discussions has been found.↩
- Neither found.↩
- For documentation on the unsuccessful coup of November 1960, see Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. I, pp. 631 ff.↩
- For documentation on the air attack on the Presidential Palace in Saigon, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Documents 87 ff.↩