335. Central Intelligence Agency Information Report1


  • Situation Appraisal as of 30 November 1963


This is a field appraisal of the current situation. It is not an official judgment by this Agency or any component thereof. It represents the observations and interpretations of a staff officer based on information available to him at the time of its preparation. Prepared for internal use as a guide to the operational environment, this commentary is disseminated in the belief that it may be useful to other agencies in assessing the situation for their own purposes.
Although the Viet Cong (VC) overall incident rate continued to decline this week, enemy activity remained well above normal levels and included several significant successes. Perhaps the most notable VC success was the apparently unimpeded entry of a 300-man force into the US Special Forces civilian irregular defense training camp at Hiep Hoa, Hau Nghia Province, on 24 November. The circumstances behind this VC victory, which resulted in sizeable casualties (including the presumed capture of four Americans) and weapons losses, are not entirely clear, but there is evidence that security arrangements were [Page 648] inadequate; betrayal by some of the strike forces elements within the camp itself is also a possibility. The heaviest enemy activity continued to center on the 5th, 7th, and 9th Division areas, but other areas also responded with higher than usual levels of action to obvious Hanoi orders to exert heavy pressure on the new regime before it had adequate time in which to get organized.
The intensive activity of the VC this month has thus far failed of its apparent purpose of inducing panic in the new regime; nevertheless it has demonstrated a continuing, and in some areas an enhanced, enemy capability for sustaining a high level of activity over a period of time spanning several weeks. Perhaps even more disturbing than the VC’s continued offensive abilities is evidence of a growing defensive capability against air-supported assault by government forces. A government operation on 24-25 November in reaction to a VC attack in An Xuyen Province encountered heavy fire from what is believed to have been a VC anti-aircraft company prepositioned in anticipation with the result that a number of aircraft were damaged or destroyed. The anti-aircraft fire also helped prevent the operation, once the troops landed, from developing the momentum necessary to close off the VC defenders’ avenues of escape. In another area of the Delta, the government on 24 November captured two US 50 calibre machine guns mounted on anti-aircraft blocks, an anti-aircraft speed sight and a hand-held lead and range estimation device. With the exception of the machine guns, the equipment appears to be of Chinese Communist and/or Russian origin.
The assassination of President Kennedy has evoked strong emotions of sympathy in South Vietnam, the open articulation of which has undoubtedly been facilitated by the new atmosphere of greater friendship which has to date marked the post-coup period. In addition to an impressive memorial march by high school and university students on 25 November, memorial services at the Cathedral and at Xa Loi have been held in the presence of representatives of the Military Executive Council (MEC)—including Major General Duong Van Minh—and of the provisional government. The Saigon press, both vernacular and foreign language, has been full of expressions of sympathy and of confidence that the American-Vietnamese relationship will continue close under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
MEC Chairman Minh on 23 November signed a decree fixing the statute of the Consultative Council of Sages. The new council will consist of from “40 to 80 members selected from circles representing all nationalist tendencies and walks of life,” who will participate at the invitation of General Minh. One feature of the statute which is not likely to sit well with some political leaders is the powers given to Nguyen Ngoc Tho, in his capacity as Prime Minister, in relation to the council’s work. Several politicians had previously complained in private [Page 649] that Tho was maneuvering to give his mostly southern associates disproportionate representation in the projected council. The membership of the new council does not appear to have been finally decided; there is one report that the Generals have rejected a proposed first list sent up to the MEC, presumably by Tho. Several prominent nationalist politicians, meanwhile, appear to question the realism of the suggestion made by some advisors of the MEC that a two party system be established in South Vietnam; a position which would seem to receive considerable support from the fact that some seventeen groups have already applied to the MEC for permission to form parties.
In this initial post-coup shakedown period, it is difficult to trace out the lines of policy implementation within the MRC. Although the triumvirate of Minh and Major Generals Le Van Kim and Tran Van Don appears to exercise overall control and is the source of most of the policy guidance, the inner workings, both vertically and horizontally, of the MEC below this level remain obscure, especially in question of the degree to which the Minh-Kim-Don combine is privy of and controls the day to day activities of the other Generals in their respective spheres of responsibility. Slippage between the generally well intended policy lines laid down by the MEC leaders and actual implementation seems the greatest in connection with the handling of police affairs by Maj. Gen. Mai Huu Xuan, who continues to pack the Directorate-General and police with old cronies, some of whom are of questionable repute, and to pursue with perhaps greater than necessary zeal the roundup for questioning of officials connected with the Diem regime. In the Ministry of Information, Brig. Gen. Tran Tu Oai is taking a considerably less liberal view of freedom of the press than that apparently held by Minh and his immediate associates, reportedly having outlined to editors a fairly extensive list of taboo subjects.
Field dissem. State (Ambassador Lodge) USMACV (General Harkins), CINCPAC PACAF ARPAC PACFLT.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vietnam Memos. Secret; Routine; No Foreign Dissem/No Dissem Abroad/Controlled Dissem Background Use Only. A note on the source text indicates this information was acquired in Saigon on and before November 30; as it was commentary, it was unappraised. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1975, 56 E.