226. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge) to the Department of State1

I have reviewed the following factors which appear to me to be particularly relevant in a balanced examination of the positive and negative forces affecting the chances of a successful coup d’etat:
Of immediate concern is the apparent lack of detail furnished by General Don both with regard to the military units to be involved and the politico/psywar side. This appears to me to be at least in part explained by the Generals’ reticence to reveal these details at this point and because of what must be a much greater regard for security than was the case in August. The Generals also acknowledge a certain amount of compartmentation and division of labor among the principals which on balance should work to our advantage.
The acknowledged involvement of General Dinh is an extremely variable factor. The Generals seem acutely aware of this and Don states that they have him under 24-hour a day surveillance and are prepared to neutralize him at any time should he kick over the traces.
The possibility of a premature, unrelated and precipitate coup by Col Pham Ngoc Thao or others looms large as a negative factor. Again, the Generals appear completely aware of this and as you know, we have never been particularly sanguine that Thao has this capability.
Knowledge of the involvement of certain civilian opposition elements, notably Bui Diem, who has stated that he is liaison between General Kim and civilian leaders, probably Dang Van Sung and Phan Huy Quat, represents both a positive and negative factor. On the negative side, it represents an extension of knowledge weakening the security element but on the positive side, it indicates an awareness of the necessity of civilian political inclusion and the fact that as Don has stated it is not intended to establish a military junta. Tran Trung Dung’s knowledge and probable involvement despite his disclaimer, further indicates intention to form civilian government, probably within frame of reference of constitutional succession.
I am disturbed over the reported discussion of Col Nguyen Khuong’s approaches to U.S. military personnel without the authorization of the coup principals. It should be remembered that Khuong’s role was obscure in the August coup activities. Don has stated that the coup principals would discipline Khuong and that he has been removed from the scene.
It would seem to me that the existence of an imminent coup atmosphere would reduce the element of surprise necessary for the successful implementation of a coup d’etat. This coup atmosphere has pertained, however, for several months which would tend to reduce the state of readiness for countering such a coup attempt. We have some information that counter-coup combat elements have been suborned. The fact that the coup principals remain as the responsible military authority enhances both their knowledge and ability to dispose the units both for and against.
Additional factors which should be noted are:
To date the Generals have not indicated either a desire for or dependence on our support or actions for successful implementation of a coup. On the contrary, the Generals have repeatedly demanded the least possible American involvement.
Although we are well aware of the profundity of student and Buddhist dissidence and unrest and even ability to undertake certain limited action, we do not know of any plans to utilize these elements and of course cannot calculate the extent of spontaneous action they might undertake.
Action taken with respect to the Commercial Import Program and the severance of support and certain elements under Col Tung have created a coup atmosphere and some deterioration in the economic situation characterized by the fluctuation of the piastre value, the disappearance of gold on the market, and the rising prices of consumer commodities.
Please note Don does not want me to change date of my departure for Washington. We are reviewing whole situation Wednesday night to see whether change my departure is justified.
A point which must be completely understood is that we are not engineering the coup. The sum total of our relationship thus far is: that we will not thwart a coup; that we will monitor and report; and that Conein’s long-standing friendship with Don may be a real help. Although there have been no requests to date by the Generals for material or financial support, we must anticipate that such requests may be forthcoming.
In summary, it would appear that a coup attempt by the Generals’ group is imminent; that whether this coup fails or succeeds, the USG must be prepared to accept the fact that we will be blamed, however unjustifiably; and finally, that no positive action by the USG [Page 455] can prevent a coup attempt short of informing Diem and Nhu with all the opprobrium that such an action would entail. Note too Don’s statement we will only have four hours notice. This rules out my checking with you between time I learn of coup and time that it starts. It means U.S. will not be able significantly to influence course of events.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only. The source text is CIA Station telegram [document number not declassified] from Saigon sent to the Department of State eyes only Rusk, Harriman, Ball, Hilsman, and Hughes. Also sent to the Department of Defense eyes only for McNamara, Gilpatric, Taylor, Krulak, and William Bundy; to the White House eyes only for McGeorge Bundy; repeated to Honolulu eyes only for Felt and to CIA eyes only for McCone, Carter, and Helms. Received at the Department of State at 7:59 a.m.