347. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) to the Secretary of State1


  • Viet-Nam

Attached is a draft Memorandum to the President on the status of actions under National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 273,2 and action recommendations for additional measures to win the war.

This draft will be the basis of discussion at the meeting in the Department of State at 3 p.m., December 6, 1963.

It is not intended, at this stage, any of the agencies concerned to the precise views stated, although staff consultation has taken place.



The following actions have been taken pursuant to specified paragraphs of NSAM 273.

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Paragraph 5. Action to place military emphasis on the Delta was begun based on findings of the McNamara-Taylor mission. An additional Vietnamese Division was shifted to the Delta. Since then, directives have been issued to COMUSMACV to implement an increase in military tempo, improve tactics, maintenance of full strength in combat elements, training and arming of hamlet militia, and a consolidation of the strategic hamlet program to bring the pace of construction to a level consistent with the Government’s capability to provide essential protection and to introduce civic action programs.

Numerous AID actions have been taken designed to increase agricultural production in the Delta. These include an offer to finance a massive grant distribution of fertilizer, expanded grant distribution of pesticides, a program of rice seed multiplication and joint study of possible GVN policy changes affecting the economy of rice production. Additional action has been taken regarding intensification of the hamlet school program, retention of trained hamlet medics and the furnishing of generators and community radio sets.

Paragraph 6. AID has assured the GVN that, subject to Congressional appropriations, the United States will maintain the level of aid provided in FY’63 to the Diem government. Through the newly established Joint Committee on Economic Policy negotiations with the GVN have begun on desirable changes in GVN economic policies, and is using the leverage of commercial import financing to bring about these changes. [sic] Specifically, AID has proposed to the GVN a program of tax reform and enforcement, the draw-down of GVN exchange reserves up to $25 million a year, elimination of luxury imports, and measures to increase exports.

The Joint Staff has undertaken to determine the feasibility of establishing required reserve stocks of ammunition in Viet-Nam as US-owned stocks. The Director of Military Assistance is reviewing what immediate action can be taken in the interim period to establish US ammunition stocks in Viet-Nam. Additionally a study is underway to determine if economics can be made in the helicopter program as between MAP and service requirements. It has been determined that CINCPAC has authority to provide GVN forces serviceable, but not necessarily new materiels, and this should result in a reduction of MAP costs.

Paragraph 7. A joint CIA-Defense plan for intensified operations against North Viet-Nam, providing for selective actions of graduated scope and intensity, is being prepared in Saigon and is due in Washington by December 20.

Paragraph 8. It has been agreed between the Department of Defense and CIA that responsibility for support of paramilitary operations into southern Laos would pass from CAS to MACV. With this action a problem in the policy control and clearance of such politically [Page 668] sensitive operations clearly arises. What we do within Laos by such means can effect the viability of Souvanna Phouma’s delicately balanced government in Laos as well as, less directly, the strength of Sihanouk’s suspicions of US machinations near his borders.

The Country Team in Saigon has suggested that the following arrangement would protect US interests in the matter:

Establish a zone extending up to 50 kilometers into Laos from the border in which operations could be run without individual clearance.
MACV would undertake to inform Ambassador Lodge fully on plans and operations within this zone so that Ambassador Unger in Vientiane and the Department of State could be kept current on these activities.
Plans for operations outside the specified zone would require Washington clearance through both State and military channels.

This arrangement is acceptable to the Department of Defense and to the Central Intelligence Agency. Relevant suggestions by General Harkins include the desirability of cross-border aerial reconnaissance of Laos (as well as Cambodia and North Viet-Nam) and the use of US personnel in cross-border intelligence collection operations. These suggestions are endorsed by Admiral Felt.

The Department of State, recognizing the importance of obtaining all possible intelligence on Viet Minh infiltration routes through Laos, endorses the principle of a controlled increase in cross-border operations into Laos. However, it is unable to accept the Saigon Country Team recommendation on the ground that this fails to provide the close and continuing political guidance and clearance essential to all such operations if the broader interests of the US are to be protected. For this purpose not even the joint approval of the Ambassadors in Saigon and Vientiane is adequate; the broad overview available only in Washington is mandatory. The Department of State, therefore, recommends:

All cross-border operations into Laos be dependent upon clearance by the Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs, Department of State.
This clearance can be achieved by:
Establishing a coordinating group in Saigon headed by an Embassy political officer (POLAD) assisted by one American and one Vietnamese Special Forces adviser.
Developing joint US-Vietnamese cross-border plans by a joint border operations center established under respective US and Vietnamese Special Forces command.
Plans would be submitted to the POLAD who would clear in the field with the US Embassies in Saigon and Vientiane and get final clearance from Washington.

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Paragraph 9. US ability to influence Cambodia has been greatly reduced by Sihanouk’s request for termination of US aid and by his continued charges of US complicity in Khmer Serei activities. Efforts to locate the Khmer Serei transmitters have not yet been conclusive, but they continue. [1 sentence (2 lines) not declassified] Meanwhile, the Cambodians have apparently adopted a less arbitrary attitude toward our aid termination. We have instructed our Ambassador to be forthcoming to the extent Cambodian intentions are sincere and in conformity with our legal requirements and our dignity. The situation has been further complicated by Sihanouk’s call for an international conference to guarantee his neutrality. His proposal is directed at Viet-Nam and Thailand and has rendered the chances of Vietnamese initiative to improve relations with Cambodia almost nil. We are now consulting with our allies to help us determine what our response to Sihanouk’s proposal should be.

Paragraph 10. MACV has prepared a report4 on Hanoi’s control and supply of the Viet Cong, which is being forwarded after coordination with the Embassy. On its receipt in Washington it will be studied and a decision will be made whether to send Mr. Jordan again to Viet-Nam or whether enough material is in hand to write this story for publication.


In addition to actions already taken under National Security Action Memorandum No. 273, November 26, 1963, an inter-agency review of the current situation in Viet-Nam shows additional actions to be desirable. If you concur in the following further actions, they will be cabled to the Ambassador for execution unless he has serious objections.

A. Political

1. Formulation of U.S.-GVN Brain Trust.

Background: General Minh told Ambassador Lodge November 30 that he wants a U.S. team to work with the GVN as a “brain trust.”6 This is another of several indications that the new government—contrary to the Diem government—is most receptive to U.S. advice. We must, however, continue to be discreet about the manner of giving advice to avoid a basis for charges that the new government is our puppet.

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That Embassy Saigon actively follow up General Minh’s invitation, creating whatever type of advisory arrangement the Embassy and the GVN deem most suitable.
That Washington offer to furnish for permanent or TDY assignment any personnel U.S. agencies in Saigon or the GVN considers required for this purpose.

2. Acceleration of a Modified Strategic Hamlet Program.

Background: The new GVN has decided to concentrate on the improvement of existing strategic hamlets to insure that they serve the purposes for which they were created. The economic development phase of the strategic hamlet program has just been placed in a new Commissariat General for a New Rural Life attached to the Premier’s office. The security phase is presumably a responsibility of the Ministry of National Defense. Coordination is presumably handled by the cabinet at national level and by provincial and lower officials at local levels.

On the U.S. side a Committee on Provincial Rehabilitation serves as a U.S. coordinating and advisory organ on the strategic hamlet program.


That Embassy Saigon explore with the GVN the adequacy of GVN machinery to coordinate the counter-insurgency program (military clear-and-hold operations and the strategic hamlet program) nationwide and to establish priorities for the assignment of economic and military resources to this program.
That U.S. officials in Saigon urge the GVN to push ahead with all deliberate speed on consolidating existing strategic hamlets on a phased basis from more secure to less secure areas.
That the GVN be urged to continue the construction of new strategic hamlets if there are relatively secure zones where they are needed

3. Revival and Revitalization of the Amnesty Program.

Background: The Diem regime inaugurated a limited amnesty program for Viet Cong in January, 1963, which left persons surrendering in considerable doubt as to their future prospects. While the Diem Government’s claim that 15,000 had surrendered under this program is probably grossly exaggerated, a well-devised amnesty program is a vital part of a counter-insurgency program. The new government has concentrated important efforts on gaining the support of the dissident [Page 671] Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects (numbering millions in the Mekong Delta), but has had no time to devote to the program of amnesty for Viet Cong.


That Embassy Saigon urge early GVN attention to a revitalized amnesty program with forgiveness, for example, to all who served in the Viet Cong prior to the November 1 coup and who surrender by a certain date.
That land redistribution and vocational training be incorporated in the amnesty program.
That the program be given maximum publicity.

4. Revival and Revitalization of Land Programs.

Background: The Diem Government instituted both land rental contract and land redistribution programs. The first never received adequate emphasis, and the second virtually lapsed with the spread of the guerrilla war. The former limited rents to 25 percent of the crop. Under the second program the GVN bought the land from landlords and sold it on an installment basis to peasants. (The Communists, of course, gave away land they expropriated.) The GVN still holds undistributed about 625,000 acres of land bought from French landowners.


a) That the new GVN, as an important means of attracting peasant support, revitalize the land rental contract and land redistribution programs, and establish the easiest possible terms for the latter consistent with the government’s budgetary problems.

5. Encouragement of Treatment of Peasants With Social Justice.

Background: Under the old regime the peasents were constantly pushed around because of the pressure on provincial and lower officials to meet the central government’s desires or to impress Saigon. The completely different attitude of the new government is shown by its prompt discontinuation of forced labor on projects which do not directly benefit the peasant. Despite the good effect of this exemplary attitude at the top, the tendency among officials in non-democratic Oriental states is to push the people around, and the new regime will have to be prepared to deal swiftly and justly with officials displaying the old approach.

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a) That Embassy Saigon encourage the new GVN at every appropriate opportunity to maintain special diligence about official treatment of the peasants with consideration, respect, and justice.

6. Establishment of a Domestic Peace Corps.

Background: Shortly after the coup General Minh directed that a student who suggested direct urban participation in the improvement of rural life be asked to set up a “domestic Peace Corps” for this purpose. Nothing more has been heard of this, but it seems to be a laudable idea for establishing the links now missing between the urban intelligentsia and the rural masses and for giving the former an opportunity for direct participation in the war effort.


a) That Embassy Saigon follow up this idea with the GVN and encourage its implementation.

7. Development of Additional Political Action Techniques.

Background: To further strengthen the political will of the population against the Viet Cong assaults, a political action campaign should be mounted to give the people vehicles for expression of their interests. These vehicles should, to the maximum possible extent, be non-governmental in order to enable the people to use them to represent their interests vis-a-vis the government. This political action campaign should use existing organizations wherever possible, but new ones may need to be established with covert and overt U.S. and GVN assistance.

The Tenant Farmers Union, an affiliate of Viet-Nam’s largest labor confederation, is the best example of an existing organization which might be revitalized. Reaching its peak effectiveness in 1959 with a claimed membership of 300,000, it supported the GVN’s land reform program on the local level, organized cooperatives and distributed fertilizer at cost. It lost momentum because of Diem/Nhu mistrust of it as a private organization, but still has a skeleton organization which could probably be expanded.


That Embassy Saigon sound out the generals about revitalization of the Tenant Farmers Union and its use for indirectly attracting peasant support to the government.
That the Country Team study the desirability of seeking to establish additional organizations for the purpose of building anti-Communist political strength, and recommend a U.S. program of action.

8. Improved Treatment of the Mountain Tribespeople.

Background: Approximately 600,000 of South Viet-Nam’s population of 14.5 million belong to one of a large number of mountain tribes. These people, culturally distinct from the ethnic Vietnamese, have long been subject to discriminatory treatment by the Vietnamese and have been particularly subject to clever exploitation by the Communists. Some improvement has, however, taken place in South Vietnamese attitudes and practices toward the Montagnards since 1961.


That an intensive U.S.-GVN study of the land tenure situation in Montagnard areas be proposed to the GVN with a view to providing the Montagnards with some form of title to ancestral lands.
That the GVN be urged to increase Montagnard educational facilities at the village and provincial levels.
That U.S. officials emphasize on every possible occasion to responsible GVN officials the importance of improved attitudes toward the Montagnards.

9. Dissipation of Rumors About Arbitrary Police Methods.

Background: News stories are appearing of a repetition of arbitrary police methods by the new government. Continuation of such reports will damage the regime’s international reputation and harm its domestic political standing.


That the new government issue a prompt and comprehensive public statement listing all non-Communists detained, the reasons for their detention and the expected disposition of the cases.
That the new regime be urged either to try or to remove Ngo Dinh Can expeditiously from Viet-Nam.

10. Neutralization of General Ton That Dinh

Background: Dinh, emotional and ambitious, is the potential Nasser among the generals. Not only is he Minister of Public Security and a frequent, if self-appointed, spokesman for the new government, but he retains command of the III Corps around Saigon and the Commander of the IV Corps in the Mekong Delta is believed close to him.

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a) That Embassy Saigon be urged to seek and use any feasible and appropriate means for neutralizing Dinh, such as separating him from his troop command on the ground that this job plus his ministry are too much for one man.

11. Improvement of Vietnamese-Cambodian Relations.

Background: Immediately following the coup prospects for improved Vietnamese-Cambodian relations appeared favorable. Despite Sihanouk’s laying down five difficult conditions for resumption of relations with the GVN, the latter sent their former representative to Phnom Penh on a personal mission. This might have borne fruit if coup rumors against Sihanouk had not emanated from Saigon causing Sihanouk to refuse further attempts. Since then further Sihanouk accusations against the GVN and suggestions of neutralization and subsequent confederation with Cambodia have reduced hopes for improvement almost to the vanishing point. The outlook is further clouded by Sihanouk’s demand for Cambodian neutrality being internationally guaranteed through a conference of the Geneva Powers. GVN considers Sihanouk’s proposal highly unnecessary and beamed primarily at Viet-Nam and Thailand. The GVN will be suspicious of any U.S. pressure (and it would have to be heavy) on the GVN to participate in such a conference.

The Vietnamese-Cambodian border remains a sore point. There is no doubt the Viet Cong make use of Cambodia both as refuge and infiltration route and as a way to smuggle in supplies for their SVN operations. General Harkins has proposed: (a) photo reconnaissance flights on the Cambodian side of the border, (b) clandestine intelligence operations across the border into Cambodia, (c) institution of a “hot pursuit” policy, and (d) rigid inspection and control of the Cambodian use of the Mekong.


That the GVN should be urged to continue to exercise restraint vis-a-vis Cambodia and to seize the initiative in making concrete proposals. The latter should be such that if accepted they would result in demonstrable improvement in relations and if refused would put Sihanouk on the spot as being the one who rejected generous and practical offers of reconciliation, thus indicating he really did not desire normal relations. Silencing of the Khmer Serei radio and cessation of any GVN support therefore is an obvious step for the GVN.
That General Harkins’ fourth proposal be approved, but the first three deferred at present because of the likelihood they would drive Sihanouk still closer to Communist China. They can be reconsidered if Sihanouk fails to agree to reasonable GVN proposals for settlement of their problems and cooperation about the border.

12. Improvement of Relations With Laos.

Background: At the present time embassies are maintained in Saigon and Vientiane headed by Charges whose actual diplomatic status is purposely left ambiguous. Work is carried on but not at the desired level. Souvanna has so far refused to accept a GVN ambassador or even to grant formal recognition to the new regime. He claims the former will require tripartite approval by the three sections and the latter must await indications that the new regime has full popular support. At the same time, Vietnamese contact with the right wing faction in Laos (General Phoumi) on military matters continues and there are repeated reports of a meeting about to take place. Regardless of the state of diplomatic relations, close cooperation between the two military sides is important for the operations we wish to see conducted in the corridor.


1) We should not hesitate to urge, when possible, both countries to resume full diplomatic relations and to cooperate militarily. Border cooperation is essential; however, purely military relations should not be carried out without the knowledge of Souvanna.

13. Relations With Other Countries.

Background: Improvement of relations with Thailand appear not only desirable, but possible. Malaysia and the Philippines offer good prospects. It is important that the GVN not just give lip service to their declaration for a desire for friendly relations, but actively pursue them, particularly in Asia. The importance of this in the receipt of third country economic and technical assistance is obvious. However, internal matters should take precedence and the reported visit of General Don to nearby countries at this time is questionable.


We should endeavor where possible to foster good international relations of the GVN. This is particularly important in Asia to avoid the isolation which was increasing under Diem.
An effective Vietnamese spokesman at the UN would help greatly both in presenting the GVN side of the war and refuting Communist Bloc propaganda against it. Generally, the quality of Vietnamese representation abroad should be improved.

B. Intelligence

Background: The current volume, accuracy and timeliness of intelligence concerning Viet Cong capabilities, strengths, sources of personnel and supplies, actions and plans are not adequate to serve as a basis for political action or for military planning and operations. Evidence of infiltration is meager while the effectiveness of recent operations suggests that the actual level of personnel and material infiltration may have been seriously underestimated. We also have inadequate data on the reasons motivating the entry into the Viet Cong of such large numbers of people from South Viet-Nam.


That the National Security Agency be requested to adjust its priorities of effort and allocations of personnel and material, both in Washington and Viet-Nam, as required to break Viet Cong communication codes.
That Embassies Saigon, Phnom Penh and Vientiane be directed to develop a combined intelligence acquisition plan designed to produce reliable and timely information concerning the Viet Cong use of the territory of Cambodia and Laos. A directed [direct] feature of this plan should be to assign Embassy Saigon overall responsibility for the coordination of U.S. agency efforts in this regard.
That the U.S. agencies in Saigon, in coordination with the GVN, develop improved prisoner interrogation procedures to produce a rapid and voluminous flow of intelligence on Viet Cong infiltration and on local recruitment in South Viet-Nam (including numbers and motivation).
In order to assure the availability of presently unreported, but useful overt information, the Country Team should communicate requirements on a continuing basis to all operating staff, and impress them with the need for greater reporting consciousness.
To coordinate the covert and overt collection processes, the Ambassador may wish to appoint a senior official full time for this purpose.

C. Military

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Background: Notwithstanding the considerable improvement in the Vietnamese military posture and the newly evident inclination of the Vietnamese to respond more effectively to U.S. military advice, operational, training and conceptual deficiencies still exist.


Combat troops should be employed to their maximum capacity in the performance of combat missions. The average RVN AF Battalion (130 total) is engaged in combat missions on 10-15 days of each month. Our objective is 20 days per month of effective operations for all combat forces.
The numerous under-manned and non-effective outposts in remote areas are a drain on available military manpower and constitute vulnerable targets for Viet Cong attack. Action to disband unneeded posts and consolidate others in larger and more effective installations is now under way. It must be accelerated.
The Vietnamese have thus far failed to assign sufficient numbers of highly qualified Special Forces personnel for counterpart training with our own Special Forces. More emphasis on this program may be needed.
The shift of military emphasis to the Delta has been proceeding at a slow pace. It probably should be accelerated. The best available Vietnamese military commanders have not yet been assigned to the Delta, although there is steady progress in this direction.
Terrain sweeps, which often fail to inflict casualties upon the Viet Cong forces and contribute little toward consolidating control over areas involved, continue to divert a considerable proportion of the total Vietnamese offensive resources. These ineffectual sweeps are steadily being replaced by the more effective “clear and hold” operations. The process should be accelerated. Specifically there should be an increase in protracted combat patrolling, in which air-supplied patrols remain in the field for periods of several weeks, relying upon ground controlled, quickly responsive direct air support as a major element of their combat power.
Concurrent with the consolidation of the strategic hamlet program, particularly in the Delta, the companion program of arming and training an effective hamlet militia requires refinement and invigoration.
Manning levels of combat units remain too low. Pressure must be maintained to persuade Vietnamese authorities to bring these units to full strength.
Improvement of Vietnamese capabilities for combined air-sea-ground operations is required.
More use should be made of the sea for tactical maneuver. There is also a requirement to increase river operations, in order to deny the Viet Cong these avenues of resupply and secure them for the transportation of essential GVN supplies.

D. Economic

Background: Additional actions beyond those already taken are necessary to assure that the GVN has the necessary resources for the counter-insurgency program, and takes effective action in the economic field to attract the support of the peasants.


That an economic expert, with a recognized independent reputation and capable of establishing rapport with the GVN-e.g. Eugene Staley (who led a similar special mission in 1961), be recruited immediately to conduct delicate and difficult negotiations with the GVN designed to produce the resources necessary for counter-insurgency. Measures to be negotiated with the GVN include:
Improve tax enforcement and compliance.
Increase the productivity of the tax system.
Reduce commercial credit (other than credit for export and agriculture).
Develop institutions and instruments to mobilize voluntary savings.
Draw down exchange reserves by $20-25 million a year.
Eliminate import subsidies of about 300 million plasters (principally on milk and cotton).
Reduce non-counter-insurgency operating expenditure especially construction and subsidies to government corporations.
Hold government investment expenditures to one billion piasters.
Tighten the import program to eliminate the bulk of financing of luxury items.
Auction limited amount of foreign exchange for luxuries.
Increase exports through a variety of specified measures.
Lift price and other restrictions on production and use of agricultural forestry and fisheries products.
Establish a country-wide price support policy for major agricultural crops.
Expand agricultural credit facilities.
That Embassy and AID Saigon continue to urge the GVN to streamline its administrative procedures to bring about a more rapid flow of funds to the provinces, decentralize responsibility and control of resources and assign more effective civil personnel to the Mekong Delta.
That Embassy and AID Saigon continue to urge the GVN to assign a qualified deputy to each province chief, with priority to the Mekong Delta, responsible for administering the economic and political aspects of the strategic hamlet program.
That AID Saigon and MACV urge the GVN to reactivate its dormant program of military civic action, with emphasis on the Mekong Delta.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Memos and Misc. Top Secret. Sent also to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development.
  2. Document 331.
  3. Not found.
  4. There is no “Part 1”. The source text begins with page 1; presumably this document is the second part of the attachment.
  5. See Document 334.