306. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) to the Secretary of State1
- JCS Comments on Department of State Research Memorandum RFE-902
We appreciate receiving the detailed comment by the Joint Chiefs of Staff relevant to INR’s Research Memorandum RFE-90, Statistics on the War Effort in South Vietnam Show Unfavorable Trends, October 22, 1963 (Attachments A and B3 respectively). We concur fully with Secretary McNamara’s view that we should not issue military appraisals without seeking the views of the Department of Defense, nor have we done so in this instance.
You may be assured that our working level officers maintain close contact with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and with General Krulak’s office. As noted in the first page of the Research Memorandum, all statistics used in this report were compiled by DIA and by General Krulak’s office. Recognizing limitations in these statistics, we have explained at some length, in the first two pages of our report, how the statistics are incomplete, sometimes unreliable, and omit other factors that are important but cannot be quantified. However, the statistics selected are among those regularly highlighted by the Military Assistance Command (MAC) and DIA in its weekly briefings [Page 583]of State’s Vietnam Working Group. We recall that Generals Krulak and Wheeler, during last spring’s discussions at CIA on the South Vietnam National Intelligence Estimate,4 declared that these statistics, then running in favor of the Vietnam Government, were not given sufficient emphasis in the estimate.
While it is true that the data in our report cover largely a period of only seven weeks (actually, three sets of figures extend over nineteen weeks), it should be noted that MACV and joint US mission reports from Saigon on trends and developments in the counterinsurgency program, including statistical compilations, often examine much shorter periods.
We naturally agree that military assessments are basically the responsibility of the Department of Defense. However, the unique and varied political factors involved in the insurgency in South Vietnam and the continuing political crisis since May led us to investigate the possibility that the counterinsurgency effort may have been adversely affected during this period. Indeed, over the past few years we have similarly made intermittent political-military assessments of progress and problems in South Vietnam.
We would like to comment briefly on two assertions in the Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum. It claims as a favorable indicator “the rise of confidence and fighting efficiency of the Vietnamese military forces.” (Page 2) We agree that these qualities have improved generally over the past few years but we believe that morale nonetheless has been adversely affected in recent months. The US Military Attache in Saigon reported last month that the Vietnamese Deputy Commander of Corps III feared mass desertions among his troops, possibly as high as 80%.
The JCS memorandum also claims that the armed strength of the Viet Cong has decreased. While it is true that the present estimate (October 1963) of Viet Cong strength, as reported by MACV, is lower than the previous estimate of last March, it should be noted that MACV has changed the criteria for determining the Viet Cong order of battle. In its October report, MACV states:
“In previous editions of the MACV Viet Cong OB, an arbitrary figure of 100 personnel per company and 30 per platoon was assigned in those cases where hard evidence was lacking upon which to base a strength computation. Commencing with this edition, all strength estimates have been based on evidence obtained from prisoner-of-war estimates or from captured documents.”
Thus there is no basis for comparing the most recent estimate with those of six months and one year ago.[Page 584]
In conclusion, we note that a very recent CIA report,5 prepared independently of our analysis, concurred with our findings using essentially the same statistical indicators and the same time period.
Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam, JCS Comments on RFE-90. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Initialed by Rusk. Attached was a copy of a letter from Rusk to McNamara, November 8, which reads as follows:
“Confirming our telephone conversation about INR’s research memorandum RFE-90 of October 22, 1963, it is not the policy of the State Department to issue military appraisals without seeking the views of the Defense Department. I have requested that any memorandum given interdepartmental circulation which includes military appraisals be coordinated with your Department.”↩
- See Document 205.↩
- Tab B contained the substance of Tab A in the form of a draft letter from McNamara to Rusk.↩
- See vol. III, p. 232.↩
- Not further identified.↩