159. Memorandum Prepared by the Directorate of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency1
The over-all situation in South Vietnam remains extremely fragile. Although there has been some improvement in GVN/ARVN performance, sustained Viet Cong pressure continues to erode GVN authority throughout the country, undercut US/GVN programs and depress South Vietnamese morale. We do not see any signs that these trends are yet “bottoming out.” During the next several months there will be increasing danger that an assassination of Khanh, a successful coup, a grave military reverse, or a succession of serious military setbacks could have a critical psychological impact in South Vietnam. In any case, if the tide of deterioration has not been arrested by the end of the year, the anti-Communist position in South Vietnam is likely to become untenable.
Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. IX. Secret. A covering memorandum from McCone, May 16, brought this memorandum to President Johnson’s attention. (Ibid., SEA Special Intelligence Material, Vol. I) Also published in Declassified Documents, 1976, 21C.
At 1:03 p.m., May 16, McCone called Rusk to discuss this memorandum:
“M said he thought the situation in Viet-Nam was much more serious than Bob’s report; we are trying to deal with it isolated from Cambodia, Laos and M thought the situation there was really serious. M said that was why he produced the paper this morning, the May 15 appraisal; he thought the Sec should read it; the Sec said he had not seen it. M said we are hanging on a thread of two people—Khanh and Phoumi. M said also the great emphasis was on the military and none on his building a government, which he did not have. Sec said he was working this week end on a long message from him to Lodge; probably President, McNamara and M would see before it went out.” (Department of State, Rusk Papers: Lot 72 D 172, Telephone Conversations)
For McNamara’s report, see Document 154↩