258. Memorandum From the Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs of the Embassy in Vietnam (Calhoun) to the Deputy for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Komer)1


  • Coping with Corruption


  • Your Memorandum of July 6, this Subject2
I have read with interest your suggestions to the Inter-Agency Committee on Corruption for the collection of information on GVN officials who are believed, but not proven, to be corrupt, on the basis of which American advisors would refuse all but minimum contact and cooperation. The Committee’s reply has been discussed with me and I have also noted General Lansdale’s thoughtful comments on this matter.3
I agree that the level of corruption in Viet-Nam has reached a point where, as you point out, it has become a key obstacle to pacification. [Page 648] We must find a way to reduce it, and we must act more vigorously than we have done. General Lansdale has addressed himself to some of the steps we might consider in the coming weeks to encourage and assist responsible elements within the GVN to seize the opportunities offered by the new governmental framework to act against corrupt elements. This point was touched upon briefly in the Committee’s reply. I think we ought also to look more carefully at what we Americans can do to reduce the incentives and opportunities for corruption. Among these measures might be the relocation and careful control of bars and brothels frequented by Americans, and the reduction of piaster expenditures by civilian as well as military personnel. The restoration of “sign-off” or veto authority over the distribution of USAID commodities to American Provincial Advisors would seem desirable, although I understand from USAID that we may have to seek Congressional action to make “sign-off” meaningful. I believe we must keep our concern over corruption continuously before GVN officials at the highest level.
The discreet collection of credible although unproven reports about corrupt GVN officials as suggested by you and agreed upon by the Committee may prove useful and I am quite agreeable to its compilation by the Committee.
I think it is evident, however, that the uses to which this information might be put, as well as the means which would be necessary to verify much of it, raise fundamental questions concerning the relationship of our Government with the GVN. As the Committee points out, in order to effect rapid reduction in corruption the United States would have to acquire, and be willing to exercise, at least the power to veto appointments of Province Chiefs and ARVN officers of divisional commander rank and responsibility. The assumption of such sweeping prerogatives entails an invasion of the sovereignty of the Republic of Viet-Nam so great that it could and would be argued thereafter that United States is indeed the neo-colonialist power its critics and enemies allege it to be.
Our policy in Viet-Nam has been and is based on different, indeed quite contrary, premises. We have believed that self-determination is good for the Vietnamese people and that the exercise of control by outsiders is bad; we have believed that lasting changes for the better in Vietnamese society must be brought about by the Vietnamese themselves, with our aid, encouragement, and prodding, but not at our discretion. I believe that the more representative government which is emerging in Viet-Nam must be the vehicle for eliminating the social evils which beset the people. I do not think we can or should do this job for them.
It may be argued that there are many Vietnamese who, despairing of the present situation, would welcome our taking over. Although [Page 649] I recognize that there are some Vietnamese who feel that way, and that among them are able and dedicated patriots, I do not believe that most Vietnamese do. The majority would detest us for such a take-over and our enemies would benefit by exploiting this feeling.
I might add that it is my opinion that even if we should wish to assume such sweeping powers, I doubt our ability to exercise them effectively. Our personnel are not trained nor our people motivated to carry out the police and administrative functions the assumption of such sovereign power would entail.
I believe the Committee has accurately defined the degree of control which the US would have to exercise to effect a rapid and dramatic reduction in the level of corruption in Viet-Nam. I do not think it would be wise for us to seek such control.4
  1. Source: Center for Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, GVN Corruption 1967. Secret; Noforn.
  2. In this attached July 6 memorandum to the Chairman of the Embassy’s Corruption Committee, Thomas Dunlap, Komer suggested blacklisting GVN officials believed to be engaged in corruption and then instructing U.S. advisers to avoid them. By this mechanism, the identified individuals would “lose face.”
  3. Lansdale’s July 21 memorandum to Komer, Calhoun, and Dunlap noted the opportunity presented to address the corruption issue by a provision in the new Constitution for an “Inspectorate.” He argued that this organization should be encouraged and strengthened by the Mission. (Ibid.)
  4. In a memorandum of July 27 to Komer, the Committee responded at length to the concerns raised in his July 6 memorandum. For any measures against corruption to be effective in the short term, the Committee concluded that “a major change in the relationship between the United States Government and the Government of Viet Nam would be necessary.” The necessary “leverage” in order to ensure progress would involve U.S. Mission veto power over the appointment of province chiefs and division commanders. The “blacklist” concept was adopted, although any such findings would be termed instead “incident reports.” (Ibid.)