209. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of State1

CIA 7697. Note to Secretary of State Rusk (eyes only) from Director CIA.

Ambassador Bunker has sent the following message to me for passing to you eyes only. You will note Ambassador Bunker’s parenthetical introduction to the text. (Saigon 8185, DTG 191253Z)

(Following is text of message which Ambassador Bunker requests be passed to Secretary of State Rusk. Ambassador has requested that knowledge of this proposal be held to minimum. Outside of Station, proposal is known only to Ambassador Bunker, Deputy Ambassador Locke, and General Westmoreland. Latter two have concurred.)

  • “1. I have become concerned at the deteriorating political situation here which has resulted from several factors. One of these, of course, is General Thieu’s announcement of his candidacy for President, with results which are well known to the Department. Of much greater seriousness, however, are the rather blatant election-rigging tactics of General Loan. A number of sources have brought Loan’s tactics to our attention and they are covered thoroughly in a CAS report, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].2
  • “2. Loan’s tactics have created a situation in which much of what we have succeeded in doing over the past year in working toward a constitutional government is being vitiated within a very short time. Loan’s actions are so widely known that, as long as he remains in his present position, the results of the September election will remain in doubt regardless of how well in the end it may be conducted. Even if Ky takes measures to rein in Loan and to insure that the election is conducted fairly, very few Vietnamese will have faith in the fairness of the result if Loan remains as Police Director General. The implications for our position here, elsewhere abroad, and at home are too obvious to need spelling out.
  • “3. In thinking about this problem we must, however, realize that some of the blame is probably shared by Thieu. While such a judgment is of necessity uncertain, it is notable that there was no solid evidence of any intention on the part of Ky and Loan to rig the election until Thieu tossed his hat rather tentatively into the ring on 20 May. From that point on, we began to see a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity. The most offensive was carried on by Loan and was aimed at utilizing the administration and police machinery nationwide to insure a Ky victory.
  • “4. If Ky were not virtually certain to win, whether by proper or improper means, and if he were not on balance the best available candidate, though not exactly a prize package, the problem could be viewed from a different perspective. However, since we shall almost certainly have to contend with him as the President and dominant political force for some time to come, it is in my judgment urgent that we take steps to restore faith in the fairness of his administration and of the honesty of the forthcoming elections.
  • “5. I have been carefully examining the means which might be employed to exert pressure on Ky to put his house in order. Although I recognize the weight of points made in Deptel 212155,3 I nevertheless feel that he must be persuaded that Loan, however valuable he may be to Ky as the latter’s most trusted lieutenant, has now become a pernicious force whose continued presence in his present office neither Ky nor ourselves can in our own best interests continue to tolerate. I think there are ways of persuading Ky of this unhappy fact while at the same time maintaining our good relations with him personally.
  • “6. If we are able to arrange for Loan’s removal from the scene, this will, of course, probably be a temporary measure and should be managed with suitable attention to saving face. Since it would be difficult for him to be removed from office and remain in the country without continuing his undesirable activities, one obvious solution is to arrange to have him sent to the United States for training, perhaps at one of the military staff colleges. It would be helpful if the Department could look into this possibility.4
  • “7. The advantages which will flow from Loan’s removal are, of course, considerable. The most important of them is that the Vietnamese whose opinions count will probably, almost without exception, interpret his departure from the scene as an earnest of the GVN’s intention to conduct a fair election. Loan’s removal, precisely because it is rather a drastic step, is one of the few measures which would be so interpreted. We are entitled to hope that a major share of the credit for Loan’s removal will accrue to Ky, whose image at the moment badly [Page 528]needs refurbishing. A very large share of the credit is also certain to accrue to our own government, thus minimizing any basis for charges that we are supporting a corrupt regime.
  • “8. Over and above what we do about Loan, we need to act energetically to prevent any recurrence of this type of problem. Since Thieu’s actions have contributed importantly to creating the problem in the first place, there may be measures which we can take to exert behind-the-scenes pressure on Thieu to withdraw from the Presidential race. If so, we shall reduce the dangers to Ky’s candidacy, making it easier for him to run an honest campaign. We are actively investigating these measures with help from CAS.
  • “9. The core of the problem which we face, however, remains the fact that Ky does not have enough experience or political wisdom of his own at this point to conduct his campaign without sounder advice than he can command from his compatriots. It is therefore incumbent upon us to establish a special relationship with Ky in order to exert on him the sort of continuous influence which is impossible through formal official contacts. [1–½ lines of source text not declassified]
  • “10. The disadvantages of giving any type of backing to any particular candidate are, of course, numerous and well known, and our public policy of remaining neutral as between the various candidates has been reiterated many times. I believe, however, that in light of present circumstances it is essential that this public posture be supplemented by covert efforts to protect our enormous equity in a successful election meeting reasonable standards of fairness and honesty. In addition, some other rather considerable advantages will result from a covert program.
  • “11. Overall, the advantages of initiating a program of covert action are as follows:
    • “A. An indication to Ky that we have definitely decided to support him under certain circumstances against other candidates should help reconcile him to the loss of General Loan between now and the elections. He will feel that he is trading one advantage for another, but certainly will know that, on balance, he has made a tremendous gain in receiving our support. This support should increase his confidence and reduce his temptation to rely on blatantly illegal tactics.
    • “B. A covert channel will enable us to conduct a continuing exchange of views with Ky, as well as funneling advice to him on problems of mutual concern. Such a channel should reduce his dependence on the advice of his more undesirable henchmen.
    • “C. We shall be better able to exert pressure on Ky to develop a constructive program calculated to draw support from many groups which might otherwise be unwilling to gather behind him. We may, therefore, hope to achieve a degree of political unity which, under other circumstances, might never be possible.
    • “D. A covert relationship will facilitate monitoring all pre-election activities to insure that the campaign is as technically clean as possible, and particularly that the security services are not used by Ky’s group to exert unfair pressures on his opponents. We should make a particular effort to prevent blatant misuse of the censorship power.
    • “E. Just as important, of course, is the fact that, once elected, we shall have in being a working relationship which should greatly facilitate our influencing the new administration in the direction of an efficient and wise conduct of affairs.
  • “12. Once a [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] relationship is established with Ky, it is quite likely that he will request some financial support for his campaign. I am assured that this can be done under secure circumstances, and I think we should stand ready to give such help; not only will it increase our influence with Ky in regard to his conduct of political affairs, but it may also help him avoid unwise alliances and dependence on questionable business deals in his effort to finance his political activities. We are, however, not at this point in a position to give any indication of the scale of the financial support which might be required.

    [1 paragraph (12 lines of source text) not declassified]

  • “14. I think you will appreciate that it is not possible in this difficult and complicated situation to spell out in complete detail the steps which we would take in the covert field, but I can assure you that I will follow and control them closely, working in consultation with the CAS Station Chief. I would hope for your approval to proceed in the very near future, since the present situation does not permit of much delay. Signed, Ellsworth Bunker.”
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967. Secret; Eyes Only; Nodis. The telegram was transmitted to Rostow, who then forwarded it to the President. On the June 19 covering memorandum, Rostow wrote: “This is a critically important cable sent by Amb. Bunker via the back channel. It is being held most closely at State. There will be no action on it, of course, without your considering it. Nick may raise it at lunch tomorrow.” The handwritten notation “L” on the covering memorandum indicates that the President saw the telegram. Katzenbach, McNamara, Helms, McGeorge Bundy, Rostow, and Christian met with Johnson for the regular Tuesday Luncheon from 1:06 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. on January 20. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No record of the meeting has been found.
  2. A CIA report on Loan’s activities apparently based on this cable was sent to Bundy; see footnote 2, Document 211.
  3. Attached but not printed; see footnote 7, Document 205.
  4. Johnson wrote the following note next to this paragraph: “Look into.”