218. Telegram From the Station in Saigon to the Central Intelligence Agency1

CAS 8486. Following is the text of a message which Ambassador Bunker approved at 1820 hours (Saigon time) 26 June and asked to be passed to the Secretary of State:

“I have studied the Department’s message of 21 June, received through CAS channels,2 in the light of Ky’s decision to rein in Loan as first reported in [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].3Ky’s proclaimed intentions, which have been reported fairly liberally in the press, will have a salutary effect if he follows through on them in good faith.

“It appears that, although Ky’s welcome decision to restrain Loan was the result of a number of pressures on him, the program which he put forth was in fact one suggested to him behind-the-scenes by some of his close associates. (CAS Headquarters has further information on this subject.)

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“The fact that Ky was so receptive to constructive advice on this occasion indicates that we would be missing an important opportunity by not insuring that he continues to receive sound advice in the future. What is necessary, in my view, is a more or less continuous consultation with Ky as outlined in the Department’s para 5E.4 This would allow us, for example, to follow up with him to be sure that he actually implements the plans for fair treatment of all candidates to which he has given considerable publicity during the past few days. Unless we do ride herd on him on this matter, however, I regret to say that I have grave doubts that he will in fact live up to his promises.

“What I have in mind, therefore, is not in any sense an ’extensive’ program, nor one which is likely to lay us open to embarrassing charges. Within the framework of advising Ky on ways to keep the election honest, we can also give him advice on acceptable uses of his present position in the interests of his own candidacy. If he takes our advice to heart, as I believe he may, we will be much better off having him run a successful, more or less orderly, and reasonably honest campaign on the basis of our behind-the-scenes guidance than we could be if he is left to his own rather unpredictable devices. The latter alternative will almost certainly lead to abuses of power for which, however impartial our position may in fact have been, we will receive rather widespread blame.

“I agree that part of our continuous consultation with Ky can be carried out via an American CAS representative, and propose to proceed with an updated version of what the Department has suggested in its para 5. [7 lines of source text not declassified]

“As I said in my message of 19 June through CAS channels (CAS Saigon Message No. 8185),5 I believe we should stand ready to consider giving covert financial help if Ky requests it. However, there is no evidence to indicate at the moment that Ky is actually in need of such help. I suggest, therefore, that consideration of this problem be deferred until the arrangements which I have proposed above have given us a better idea of Ky’s thinking about the conduct of his campaign and his plans to support it.

“On the problem of General Thieu, the passage of time has resulted in the battle lines forming and stiffening, and I rather doubt at this late date that Thieu can be persuaded to retire from the contest. Whatever the effect of his candidacy on military unity, it would probably be counterproductive for us to try to do anything about it. I believe, therefore, that we will be best advised to throw our influence in [Page 554]the direction of doing everything we can to keep Ky’s campaign reasonably honest and his treatment of other candidates as fair as can be expected. If he then runs the sort of campaign which we would like him to and does not abuse his hold over the national administrative structure, he should increase the respect with which he is already held in many quarters. Given the considerable lead which Ky probably has over any of the other principal candidates, under these circumstances the damage which can be done by Thieu’s rival military candidacy will be held to the minimum and, all in all, we should come out of the affair in September reasonably well.

“I hope you will agree that, under the circumstances, the modest actions proposed above provide our best hope of realizing full advantage from forthcoming elections. Should the Department disagree with the actions proposed above, I hope you will let me know in the very near future.”

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Sensitive. A June 26 covering memorandum from Carver to Read explained that the reports carried in [text not declassified] and TDCS DB–315/02242–67 reported Ky’s decision, which was based upon meetings that two of his advisers had with [text not declassified] of the Saigon CIA Station. “Ambassador Bunker, who was of course kept fully conversant with these developments, told Mr. Hart he was delighted with the initial apparent result of the advice passed quietly to Ky through the informal channels outlined above and suggested that additional advice to Ky be passed through this mechanism, provided the necessary policy approval is obtained from Washington,” Carver reported. (Ibid.) Rostow’s covering note transmitting the telegram to the President, June 26, reads: “Here is where Bunker stands on Loan-Ky-Thieu. Could be worse.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967) A notation on the note indicates that the President saw the telegram.
  2. CAS Hqs. Message No. 0644. [Footnote in the source text. The cable is printed as Document 213.]
  3. TDCS DB–315/022242–67. [Footnote in the source text. The report was not found.]
  4. i.e., para 5E of CIA Hqs. Message No. 0644. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. Sent in CIA telegram 7697, Document 209.