231. Briefing Paper1


1. Should Lodge proceed with his travel plans to the U.S.?

Recommendation: Yes, unless the coup occurs before his scheduled departure. Otherwise, the GVN may be tipped off something is in the wind.

2. What other American officials in Saigon should be made privy to coup information to enable them to act in Lodge’s absence?


Mr. Trueheart, the DCM, who will become Charge and thus be the senior U.S. representatives in Viet-Nam.
General Harkins, who will play an important role in the protection of Americans in Viet-Nam.
Acting Chief of CAS Station [less than 1 line not declassified] is already privy to coup information.

3. Should the U.S. try to prevent the Generals’ coup?

Recommendation: Since the U.S. may not receive coup plans until 4 hours before the event, there may not be sufficient time for a U.S. decision to be made.

In any case, we do not believe the U.S. should at this late stage attempt to thwart a coup for the following reasons:

Lodge has told the coup group repeatedly, either directly or through Conein, that we would not thwart a coup.
This is the best chance for a successful coup we are likely to have.
Any attempt to thwart now would leave a great legacy of bitterness and distrust on the part of the Generals toward the U.S.
While there is, of course, considerable risk in connection with a coup and no absolute guarantee of success, any other course of action or inaction involves risks equally as great or greater.

4. Should U.S. military units in South China Seas and Okinawa be moved into the same positions of readiness they had in August?

Recommendation: That we seek Lodge’s view. It may be necessary to use U.S. forces from outside Viet-Nam to protect Americans during evacuation. On the other hand, movement of U.S. forces may tip off the GVN since the GVN learned about our movements in August. Movement of these forces would also show prior U.S. knowledge of coup planning.

5. What other actions could be taken for the safety of American personnel in Vietnam?

Recommendation: No other action appears necessary or feasible. Review of the evacuation plan indicates that the plan is ready to function, but its operation may be hampered by any unfriendly government.

6. What action should we take if requested by either side for support after a coup starts?

Recommendation: Since we have told the coup group we will not thwart a coup, we should refuse any GVN request for our support.

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We are doubtful that the coup group will ask for support since Don says the coup group wishes to avoid American involvement and the coup should be thoroughly Vietnamese. If the coup group does make a request for support, we should be prepared to offer it if the field so recommends at the time.

7. What is the balance of forces vis-a-vis a coup?

Answer: The picture is not very clear as there are many gaps in our information. Lodge explains these gaps on security grounds.

However, on the basis of units reported to form the coup, the coup group appears to have at least a preponderance of the forces. Since it does not necessarily follow that all other units are anti-coup, the coup group may have a great preponderance of the forces.

8. What public posture do we adopt immediately after it becomes known that coup is in progress?

Recommendation: We state, both here and in the field, that we are closely following reports and watching developments. If asked about foreknowledge, we reply we had none. If asked whether we continue to recognize the Diem Government, we should reply that no action has been taken on this matter. If asked whether we are continuing aid to the Diem Government, we should reply we continue to support the Vietnamese people in their efforts to defeat the Communist enemy and to build a better future. In this, we wish them all success.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, 10/1/63-10/31/63 and undated. Top Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text, but initials on an earlier draft indicate it was prepared for Rusk, Harriman, U. Alexis Johnson, and Mendenhall. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 234.