284. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency1

0291. 1. Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh requested immediate meeting with CAS officer at 1330 local 25 August and in half hour conversation preceded by frank plea that regardless of our ultimate decision we not declare his stand to Counsellor Nhu, he proceeded along following lines.

2. The Generals still taking orders within the legal framework of the Constitution, even though some of them have a heartache over some of the actions taken by the government in the process of restoring order.

3. Some of the Generals (he refused to identify further, stating it was not necessary to put any other head on the block at this point beside his own) are however determined to stop taking orders from the politicians (queried for definition he flatly stated the Ngo family) the very minute South Vietnam’s anticommunist stand comes in question. These Generals now fear that the politicians are now thinking in the direction of an arrangement with the DRV.

4. Khanh remarked that the United States has not taken any stand over recent events beside bland statements of disapproval of some of the incidents. Khanh now wants to know (and soon, he asked for a reply by 1530 this afternoon when he would return to Pleiku and was told a reply by that time would be impossible) whether the United States would support “the Army” should it move to take over the country. Regardless of our decision, he reiterated, the Army would go it alone should it become clear that the politicians were heading for any softening on anticommunism.

5. Asked to amplify he declined, but offered “as an example” the following hypothesis: let’s assume that United States decides to curtail or cut aid to Viet Nam in order to force the Ngo family to toe the line, and the politicians decide to seek an agreement with the DRV or even with Communist China for a neutralization of Viet Nam. If this were to happen he, Khanh, and his General friends would definitely revolt. What would the American military, who have fought side by side with the Vietnamese soldiers so far, do?

6. Khanh stated he has four divisions under his command and he can do “pas mal des choses”, quite a few things. Declining once again to name Generals allied with him, he acceded only to replying that [Page 634] while General Tran Van Don is a good and respected friend, he, Khanh cannot afford to trust him at this moment and that General Tran Thien Khiem is completely on Khanh side.

7. Throughout the conversation there was a strong plea for a very rapid assessment of the situation by the United States, to determine if any errors had been committed in the past and should this be established to be the case, prompt, immediate, intelligent and strong remedial action. Asked if he and his Generals have any plan for follow through on political plane, Khanh said they were only military trying to keep the country from being turned over to communism: it was up to the United States to take care of the political part. At any rate, he reiterated at the end, the Generals would go down fighting if the politicians now in power moved in the wrong direction, which the Generals now fear is the case.

8. Khanh has not visited the Palace since 20 Aug. Was asked (did not say by whom) to remain in Saigon tonight but chooses to return to Pleiku instead. Hopes we will contact him there soonest

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, CIA Cables. Secret. The CIA sent copies to the White House for Forrestal, to the Department of State for Hughes and Hilsman, and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Krulak. The telegram was received at the White House at 10:41 a.m.