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

Critic [1]. 1. Highly reliable source reports coup imminent led by Lt. Col. Pham Ngoc Thao. Originally scheduled 1300 hrs 24 Oct but Major Nguyen Van Tu, CO 8th Rgt who leading five battalions unable to get transport and now commandeering trucks and busses. 5th Paratroop Btn commanded by Ngo Quang Trnong in Saigon and participating but had no ammo but being supplied now. Target is Gia Long Palace to overthrow Diem. Col. Le Nguyen Khang, Marine Brigade CO, and Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu, 5th Division CO, promise remain neutral. Khang indicated may give support later. In event initial assault fails troops will withdraw. Air Force led by Lt. Col. Nguyen Cao Ky will bomb Palace followed by renewed troop assault. Lawyer Nguyen Huu Duong seizing Civic Action, Information, and Radio Vietnam with five hundred students plus part of Tu’s force. Following first attack coup group will broadcast from Radio Vietnam or from auxiliary transmitter at Civic Action if necessary.

2. Source unhappily working with Duong and fears preparations incomplete and coup may fall apart en route.2

3. Station believes above insufficient to succeed but may trigger other units. Also believe likely source unwitting full scope military support as he claims no armor involved whereas Thao and Huynh Van Lang have claimed armor as key to their plans.

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4. Ambassador has been briefed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Flash. The source text is the copy sent to the Department of State. Also repeated Flash to the Director of NSA and USIB agencies. There is no time of transmission from Saigon on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State at 3:23 a.m.
  2. In Critic 2 from Saigon, the Station reported it had contacted Pham Ngoc Thao at 3 p.m. Iocal time at his home. Thao disclaimed any knowledge of a coup scheduled for that day or the next few days. In Critic 3, the Station reported that Colonel Nguyen Cao Ky was still drinking beer with American officers at 3 p.m. local time on October 24. These developments and other checks caused the CIA Station to conclude in Critic 4 from Saigon, that either the original report of the coup was false or action had been delayed or aborted. (All October 24; ibid.) An account of Critic telegrams 1 to 4 is in the President’s Intelligence Checklist, October 24; (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series)