211. Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Bundy) and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (Habib) for East Asian and Pacific Affairs1

SUBJECT

  • Analysis of Ambassador Bunker’s Proposal for Political Action in Viet-Nam

Ambassador Bunker’s Proposal

1.
Remove Loan from Viet-Nam.
2.
Seek to assure Thieu’s withdrawal from the Presidential race.
3.
Mount a covert operation of advice and assistance for Ky.

Factors Involved

1.

Bunker believes that Loan’s activities in support of Ky have reached a point where the bona fides of the election are seriously threatened. Furthermore, he believes that as long as Loan remains in Viet-Nam, and regardless of attempts to curb him, a Ky victory will not be acceptable or defensible in or out of Viet-Nam.

Comment: Loan’s present activities are pernicious.2 However, Loan serves Ky in many ways, not the least of which is as a watch-dog against the possibility of coups or conspiracies against Ky. Loan is an organizer and a man of action, who has proven his worth and loyalty to Ky many times. He is tough and ruthless, but he can be influenced although not controlled. Ky will not be easily persuaded to get rid of Loan; in fact there is strong doubt that he would do so unless it were made an absolute demand on our part with penalties to follow if denied. Ky’s first reaction to our demand would be to insist that he can and will control Loan’s activities. Moreover, Loan might not go easily and we could face a move by Loan (with the support of his organization, other generals and the Baby Turks),3 to put pressure on Ky to reject any demand for his removal.

2.

Ky’s campaign organization includes a number of military and civilian elements other than Loan. Control over them, and limitation of undesirable practices, involves such people as General Khang of III Corps, the commanders of the Air Force, Minister of Information Tri, Minister of Revolutionary Development Thang, and a substantial number of province chiefs and lesser officials.

Comment: Removing Loan will not prevent the organization from pursuing his tactics. The best way to attempt to limit undesirable activities on their part is through Ky. To do so we need not necessarily get in bed with Ky. Rather we should keep before Ky, in as forceful a way as possible, the consequences of his actions and the limits involved. We should also maintain the closest possible contact with other candidates, making it clear we are not supporting anyone.

3.

A covert program of advice and assistance to Ky would need to be kept absolutely secret. Despite the assurances given to Ambassador Bunker [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] we doubt very much that this can be done. To be effective our involvement would need to be in depth, and this would drastically increase the chance of word getting around.

Comment: If it becomes known that we are backing Ky, the consequences are obvious and they include the possibility that other candidates will withdraw and point the finger at us. It is, of course, possible that other candidates will withdraw if we do nothing and Ky mounts an unfair campaign. But we would not be the cause and the accused. If we keep our “neutrality” we could at least try to influence other candidates to stay in the race, offer them evidence of our desire for a fair race, and be able to make plausible our actions in support of limitations on mis-use of the Ky organization.

4.
General Thieu is at this time quite determined to run. We do not see what can be done or said to him by us that will change his mind. Loan’s head would probably not be sufficient. If Thieu were to become aware of the U.S. involvement with Ky that is proposed, we run a real risk that he might try to upset the apple cart within the government and the military.
5.
The unity of the military, in particular the avoidance of an outright struggle among the principal leaders, remains essential. A move against Loan, a clear stand for Ky, and an attempt to force Thieu to move over, could add to the pressures working against the precarious balance that exists. Thieu’s candidacy has already placed strains on the ties holding the military together, but unless he discovers an underlying lack of support and accepts this reason for his withdrawal, we should be wary of putting direct pressure on him.

Alternative Courses of Action

1.
Accept Bunker’s proposal—to do so at this time runs too great a risk of either a) a confrontation with Ky if he refuses to remove Loan; [Page 534]or b) unduly and unnecessarily involving ourselves with Ky’s victory with the probability that our role will be known; or c) upsetting the military balance. Covert support runs a serious risk of exposure, and it is questionable how successfully we could staff it.
2.
Place great pressure on Ky to limit Loan’s actions and those of the other excessively zealous supporters. This means putting Loan on a tight rein. It should involve an approach to Ky through a [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] intermediary, with most specific charges and suggestions. This to be supported in less specific terms by Ambassador Bunker. We might also forthrightly crank up Bui Diem and send him back to Saigon with the message.
3.
We could modify Bunker’s proposal by leaving Loan in place (or having him give up one of his hats, e.g. the Military Security Service). However, this would be ineffective and might even lead to an impression he would simply work harder on using the police politically.
4.
We could consider offering Ky support, and at the same time offer one or more of his rivals support. We might be able thus to work both sides of the street, but the complexity of the operation and the risk of exposure are probably such that we could not pull it off with any clear gain.

Recommended Course:

We recommend holding off on accepting Ambassador Bunker’s proposal at this time. We should inform him of our views along the lines of the attached cable4 and solicit his further comments. In the meantime the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] close to Ky could explore the various possibilities in discussion with Ky, with subtlety and no promises. At the same time our Embassy should strengthen its lines to the civilian candidates Huong and Suu. Our current line should be a step-up of measures to influence Loan and the others around Ky, to work on Ky himself directly and through people like Bui Diem.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967. Secret; Nodis.
  2. In an undated memorandum to Bundy, Douglas S. Blaufarb of the CIA listed the various activities of Loan on behalf of Ky, which included smuggling, bribery of candidates by the National Police, innuendoes against other candidates, extortion of government ministries, and interference in local elections. In the June 20 covering note to Bundy, Special Assistant John R. Burke suggested that the assertions were “somewhat thin” and often “contradictory” and that several of the reports “could be interpreted as misleading.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Bunker Proposal)
  3. “Baby Turks” was a nickname for the young, ardent ARVN officers in the colonel and lieutenant colonel ranks.
  4. Not further identified, but see Document 213.