190. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (Cline) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Vietnam
Herewith my own capsule appreciation of the unfolding of the scenario in Vietnam so far. It is in accord with the views of most of my Southeast Asia experts but is far too clear-cut a statement to be coordinated easily as an official intelligence community view.
For your noting, not necessarily for reading, are two of my earlier memos2 on the situation in Vietnam and what to do about it. You will see I am at least consistent. My only fear now is that we may have waited too long to reduce the pressure on the political and internal security fabric in South Vietnam. It is pretty threadbare, as you know. If it holds, then I believe the course we are on will pay dividends as time goes on.
Ray S. Cline
[Page 421]


Memorandum Prepared by the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (Cline)


  • Status Report on Vietnam after Seven Days in March

It is too soon to tally up the returns from U.S. military pressure on North Vietnam of the systematic kind implicit in the March air strikes. It is clear, however, at the end of this first week that the reactions and results all around are running according to the scenario envisaged beforehand in planning papers and intelligence estimates.

The first series of air strikes in North Vietnam (7, 8, 11 February and 2 March) inflicted limited damage on military installations associated with infiltration but, of course, as anticipated, constituted more of a political and psychological signal than a major military interdiction of the North Vietnamese effort in the South.
The 2 March signal seemed to register in Hanoi, Peking and Moscow, causing perhaps more noise and flutter than might have been expected from one raid. The unexpected propaganda barrage was laid down by all three Communist governments condemning the U.S. and trying to deter it from pursuing this campaign of military pressure.
Hanoi has reacted otherwise by sitting tight, activating the Viet Cong to try to win as much of South Vietnam as possible, hopefully from their point of view all of it, by guerrilla tactics and terror before it is too late. Gains thus won would, of course, be useful at the bargaining table if Hanoi was later obliged to negotiate some sort of settlement. For the present, though, North Vietnamese leaders are, as we estimated they would, decrying any talk of negotiations prior to U.S. complete withdrawal from Vietnam as a way of snatching the fruits of victory from Communist hands.
There are no signs of open military moves to change the character of the war through the intervention of large-scale regular forces not now engaged, either North Vietnamese or Chinese. Peking has talked very tough, and there are some Chinese Communist precautionary movements and activities which could, of course, presage later military intervention, but this was expected.
The Soviet Union seems to be about to re-enter the arena with military aid of some kind. This was not specifically anticipated but so far seems to be a minimum military commitment if it is one at all. On the whole, Moscow seems more worried about the dangers of escalation and [Page 422]anxious to reassure itself of the limited character of U.S. military action than to intervene in any way except purely defensive or political.
Most observers report that the U.S. air strikes have given a substantial boost to morale in South Vietnam. Unfortunately, as yet there is no appreciable diminution of divisive sparring among political cliques in Saigon. This fact is disappointing, although it should be recognized that strengthening of the national political fabric in South Vietnam is a long-term task.
The truly discouraging phenomenon is the ability the Viet Cong now demonstrate to dominate large areas of the country previously under Saigon’s control and to mount tremendous harassing campaigns against internal security almost everywhere. We are seeing the results of long years of careful Communist preparation, and we estimated that an aggressive, no-holds-barred guerrilla attack would be the Communist response at this stage.
The crucial question is whether the political and internal security fabric in South Vietnam will hold together under this strain while military pressures on North Vietnam build up over a long enough time to have some effect on Viet Cong instructions from Hanoi, will to fight, or capabilities. This we cannot predict with any certainty so soon after all of the factors in the situation have been stirred up as a result of the 2 March strikes. About all that can be said is that for the first time in many months the U.S. has some initiative and the Communist nations are watching Vietnam with some agitation and concern.
Ray S. Cline
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXX. Top Secret.
  2. Dated March 14 and November 27, 1964; attached, but not printed.