64. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs’ Special Assistant (Jorden) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)1


  • Infiltration in Viet Nam

(This memorandum is based on a study of the above subject conducted during a visit to Viet Nam from February 21 to March 14.)

Problem. To demonstrate the continued use of Laos as a channel for introduction of Viet Cong personnel and war material into South Viet Nam, particularly since October 7 by which date all foreign military personnel were to have been withdrawn from Laos under the Geneva Agreement.

Procedure. Before departing Washington, I read all available information on this subject. In Saigon, I reviewed more recent data with the Embassy and CAS. The subject was discussed in detail with the G-2 section of MAC/V. The latter has just completed a study of infiltration and has submitted it to the JCS.

Then, working through contacts in the Vietnamese Government I was able to look over the evidence in the hands of ARVN/G-2 and other intelligence agencies. This evidence consisted of captured weapons and supplies, interrogation reports of VC prisoners and defectors, captured diaries and documents. Finally, I visited a number of posts near the border and talked with Vietnamese and American officers who are concerned with border control and the infiltration problem.

Findings. Infiltration from North Viet Nam into South Viet Nam occurred through the first eight months of 1962. It is possible to demonstrate that the territory of Laos and Cambodia was used for this purpose. In addition, external support for the Viet Cong effort can be demonstrated in the increasing quantity of arms and equipment captured [Page 166] in South Viet Nam which originated from bloc sources. These include weapons and ammunition, particularly of Chinese origin, and medical supplies from Communist China, North Viet Nam, Hungary and East Germany.

It is not possible, however, to prove any significant movement of personnel through Laos and into South Viet Nam since September, 1962. As of the date of my departure from Saigon, no VC prisoner or defector had come into GVN hands who admitted entering South Viet Nam after October 7. Informants in the Highlands and other areas have reported Viet Cong moving over trails and through or near villages from the direction of Laos in recent months. But hard evidence is lacking.

Conclusions. We cannot now prove a clear violation of the Laos Agreement by demonstrating that foreign military personnel crossed into South Viet Nam from Laos since October 7, 1962. Nor, in fact, is there hard evidence that the elaborate program of infiltration from North Viet Nam into the South continued during the past five months on any significant scale.

I question, therefore, the utility at this point of producing a follow-up report on this subject along the lines of the Department’s earlier white paper, “A Threat to the Peace.”2 Nor do we have in hand the kind of material that would make possible an effective protest to the Soviets in their role as co-chairman of the Laos settlement.

It appears virtually certain, however, that the kind of evidence we seek will become available within a reasonable time. Officials in Saigon, both Vietnamese and American, are alert to the problem and can be expected to report promptly any significant new evidence that becomes available.

Some Observations on Infiltration.

Problems of control—the people.

Control of Viet Cong infiltration into South Viet Nam depends on control of the Highlands. This, in turn, means winning the confidence and cooperation of significant numbers of the Highland tribes who inhabit most of the area. A start has been made by the handful of able and talented Special Forces teams now operating in the area. More, much more, must be done if this problem is to be met even half-way.

A major disadvantage in this effort is the contempt in which most Vietnamese hold the tribal peoples. This sentiment is reciprocated by the Montagnard. Moreover, the Viet Cong have devoted considerable effort to winning Montagnard support by both promises and threats. Some Vietnamese understand the problem perfectly well and are working to overcome the residue of distrust and dislike that has prevailed. [Page 167] But it is going to take a major effort to convince the average Vietnamese soldier, officer and government official of the necessity for treating the tribesmen as something more than sub-human.

The territory.

The most misleading thing we can do is to look at a political map of Viet Nam and think in terms of “sealing off” the border. A topographical map helps. Better still, one should fly over the vast trackless area that is the Viet Nam-Laos border region. Mile after mile of mountains and steep valleys unfold below you. The whole area is covered by impenetrable forest growth. Now and then you see a hut, or a cluster of three of four, in the middle of nowhere. The monotony is broken occasionally by a open plot burned into a hillside for planting.

I visited one post where part of a Vietnamese battalion (181 men) and one lonely American sergeant were stationed. Their sector was an area of more than 250 square miles. Their assignment-to patrol their area and to keep a 20 mile stretch of highway open and safe. A regiment might have been able to do it.

At another post, a 12-man American Special Forces team had trained a 200-man strike force of Montagnard and a patrol group of 150. Their area was 1,800 square miles.

An American officer noted: “They could put the Fourth Route Army through here and we wouldn’t know it until they hit somewhere.”

No one is quite certain just where the Laos border is. Three maps of different scale each show it differently with variations up to ten miles.

These are some of the things we must consider when we talk of border control and infiltration in Viet Nam.

Need for better surveillance.

If infiltration from the North and through Laos is to be controlled or even restricted, it is clear that greater efforts will have to go into tighter border surveillance. This calls for an accelerated effort with the mountain tribesmen. One promising program in this regard is the proposal to form small (five-man) patrol units to move into the large unpoliced area east of the Laos border. Their job would not be to engage the Viet Cong, though they would carry light arms to defend themselves. Rather they would try to spot infiltration groups, report their size and direction, discover the most used trails for later ambush, locate feeding and rest stations, and the like. For both political and practical reasons, we should seek to engage the Vietnamese in this program as actively as possible.

Deep surveillance.

From the testimony of Viet Cong infiltrators and other evidence, it seems certain that much of the effort depends on VC establishments in such places as Tchepone, Saravana and Atopeu. Officers on the scene [Page 168] think that surveillance of these areas by small patrols would produce invaluable information on the Viet Cong infiltration and supply effort. Such a program of deep surveillance involves sensitive political questions which must be weighed carefully. However, we should consider that we are dealing with an enemy that treats such niceties with contempt. If there has been no recent review of this problem, this might be an appropriate time for reconsideration.

Aerial surveillance.

I understand that the program of aerial reconnaissance over suspected VC base areas in Laos and along the border area was halted some time ago. U.S. officers in Viet Nam believe that this amounts to tying one arm behind our back in the anti-infiltration effort. Should not this matter be reconsidered?

VC aerial flights.

I heard several reports in the border areas of mysterious night flights from the direction of Laos flying due East into the heart of the Highlands and then returning in the direction of Laos some time later. People on the scene assumed they were VC flights and that they were either delivering key personnel or high priority equipment to a VC base in the area.

Officials in Saigon appeared not to have heard of these reports. The matter should be checked carefully. If there seems to be any basis in fact for the belief that some kind of air drop effort is underway from Laos to the VC, appropriate steps to intercept should be undertaken.

A downed plane from Laos carrying VC supplies or personnel would provide us with dramatic evidence of infiltration to say nothing of a clear violation of the Laos Agreement.

Nature of infiltration.

The most recent information from VC prisoners and defectors includes some disquieting data. An increasing number of infiltrees during 1962 were specialists—in antiaircraft, armor and transport. This suggests a move toward much more sophisticated activity than the VC have engaged in heretofore. The number of recoilless rifles in VC hands has increased and there have been several reports that they have 50 cal. machineguns, effective against aircraft.

Our intelligence people in Saigon are fully aware of these developments. We should consider them here in assessing VC plans and determination to counter the heightened use of air and armor by the GVN.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 27-11 Infiltration. Secret.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 35.