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

[document number not declassified] Situation here has reached point of no return. Saigon is armed camp. Current indications are that Ngo family have dug in for last ditch battle. It is our considered estimate that General officers cannot retreat now. Conein’s meeting with Gen. Khiem [document number not declassified]2 reveals that overwhelming majority of General officers, excepting Dinh and Cao, are united, have conducted prior planning, realize that they must proceed quickly, and understand that they have no alternative but to go forward. Unless the generals are neutralized before being able to launch their operation, we believe they will act and that they have good chance to win. If General Dinh primarily and Tung secondly cannot be neutralized at outset, there may be widespread fighting in Saigon and serious loss of life.

We recognize that crucial stakes are involved and have no doubt that the generals do also. Situation has changed drastically since 21 August. If the Ngo family wins now, they and Vietnam will stagger on to final defeat at the hands of their own people and the VC. Should a generals’ revolt occur and be put down, GVN will sharply reduce American presence in SVN. Even if they did not do so, it seems clear that American public opinion and Congress, as well as world opinion, would force withdrawal or reduction of American support for VN under Ngo administration.

[Page 672]

Bloodshed can be avoided if the Ngo family would step down before the coming armed action. If General Dinh would join with the other Generals, it is conceivable Ngo family might surrender without a final fight. Up to now, Dinh has remained firmly on the family’s side. [2 sentences not declassified]

[3 sentences not declassified] It is obviously preferable that the generals conduct this effort without apparent American assistance. Otherwise, for a long time in the future, they will be vulnerable to charges of being American puppets, which they are not in any sense. Nevertheless, we all understand that the effort must succeed and that whatever needs to be done on our part must be done. If this attempt by the generals does not take place or if it fails, we believe it no exaggeration to say that VN runs serious risk of being lost over the course of time.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 8/24/63-8/31/63, CIA Cables. Secret. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. II, p. 736.
  2. Document 299.