288. Memorandum for the 303 Committee1
- Establishment of a left wing Political Group in South Vietnam
CIA proposes to establish and support covertly a left wing political group in Vietnam. The short run objective of establishing this group is to provide tangible evidence to leftists that political activity of this sort is tolerated in Vietnam. The real purpose is to persuade key members of the Liberation Front that they would have a political role to play on the non-Communist side if they should leave the Front. It is believed that a legal and overt left wing group would have some appeal for a variety of political elements in South Vietnam who are alienated from active political life by the predominantly anti-Communist character of present day Vietnamese politics. This activity will cost initially an estimated [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] which is available in the FY 68 CIA budget. Ambassador Bunker has approved his proposal. Earlier in May 67, it was discussed informally with Secretary McNamara, Mr. Walt Rostow and Mr. Unger of the State Department.2 This proposal was approved by Assistant Secretary Bundy on 27 July 1967.
In its efforts to penetrate and cause the defection of top level members of the Liberation Front, CIA believes it essential to provide a political inducement as alternative to the positions and political prominence that the target personalities now enjoy within the Front. While it is not possible to offer them positions of comparable rank and influence within the South Vietnamese government, CIA believes that tangible evidence must be provided to these persons that, after defecting from the Front they will be able actively to participate in the political life in South Vietnam. This proposal to establish an overt left wing political group is intended to provide that evidence.
3. Factors Bearing on the Problem
Origin of the Requirement
This requirement stems from CIA’s efforts to penetrate and cause the defection of top level members of the Liberation Front.
Relationship to Previous 303 Committee Actions
Pertinent U.S. Policy Considerations
Given Hanoi’s persistent assertions that the Liberation Front is the only legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese people, anything that can be done to split or otherwise tarnish the image of the Front will undermine the Front’s position, both within and without Vietnam, and weaken Hanoi’s position correspondingly.
CIA’s objective is to provide potential defectors from the Liberation Front with a political home on the non-Communist side of Vietnamese politics, thereby facilitating the process of defecting key leaders and splitting the Front.
CIA proposes to stimulate the formation of a focal point for left wing political sentiment in Saigon, initially though the formation of a left wing study center that would draw on persons of various political viewpoints who share a common alienation from the incumbent power structure and its political orientation. [4 lines of source text not declassified] As the study center legitimizes itself through overt programs relating to Vietnam’s current problems, the basis would be provided for the ultimate formation of a leftist political party, hopefully with at least nominal representation within the National Assembly.
The risks involved in this operation are two: revelation of U.S. involvement to the Vietnamese government, the North Vietnamese or the Liberation Front or capture of the movement by the Communists. Revelation could result from [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] hostile counter-intelligence activity. The CIA assessment [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] is that the risk of revelation from this source is minimal. Similarly, CIA believes that the threat from hostile counter-intelligence activity has been and will continue to be kept within tolerable by scrupulous security precautions. Revelation of U.S. involvement would result in some temporary embarrassment, but since the idea of attempting to establish contact with the Front has been cleared with Prime Minister Ky, CIA believes that this extension of the principle should not cause undue problems with the present Vietnamese leadership. The risk of the movement being captured by the Communists and being turned into an additional component of subversion is hard to determine at this time because it is directly related to the success of the venture. Overall, CIA is aware of both the risks and political sensitivity of this proposed activity. In addition to the use of meticulous security precautions in the development of the scheme, CIA will monitor the activity closely and is prepared to alter the pace and time of the effort if we obtain indications that the risks are becoming excessive. We will resubmit the proposal for 303 Committee review if unexpected developments cause the risk factor to increase to a marked degree.
Support Required from other Agencies
Timing of the Operation
CIA is prepared to undertake this activity when it is endorsed by the 303 Committee.
U.S. Departments and Agencies
This proposal has been discussed informally with Secretary McNamara, Mr. Unger of the State Department and Mr. Rostow of the White House on 6 May 1967. It was approved by Assistant Secretary Bundy on 27 July 1967 with the understanding that CIA would exercise special care with this sensitive operation.
Ambassador Bunker has approved this proposal.
Prime Minister Ky and National Police Director Loan are aware of CIA’s efforts to contact the top leadership of the Liberation Front, but they have not been and will not be briefed on this proposal.
It is recommended that CIA be authorized to proceed immediately with the establishment of the study center and to follow up this beginning with additional steps aimed at the ultimate formation of an overt and legal left wing political party, the pace of activity to be governed by how rapidly the various components of this movement can be brought together. The initial cost will be about [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for FY 1968 which is available in the CIA budget.3
- Source: National Security Council, Records of the 303 Committee, Vietnam 1965–1969. Secret; Eyes Only.↩
- No record of this meeting has been found.↩
- On August 22 the 303 Committee met to consider approval of covert actions in South Vietnam as well as in other areas. Attendees at the meeting included Rostow, Kohler, Nitze, and Helms. The Committee approved the proposal set out in this memorandum as “a worthwhile risk.” (Several members had been briefed in Saigon on this project.) According to the record of the meeting, “Rostow observed that although we had wisely abstained from direct government subsidies in the present election campaign, once a viable government had been elected we should consider the subsidy of political party machinery to guarantee some continuity in this attempt at the democratic process.” (Memorandum for the Record, August 22; National Security Council, Records of the 303 Committee, 303 Committee Minutes, August 22, 1967) In October the Committee authorized the spending of [text not declassified] to aid Dai Viet and Vietnamese Confederation of Trade Unions (CVT) candidates for the National Assembly. In November the Committee also approved [text not declassified] for the development of political parties in Vietnam. The fund was to be administered by Bunker and directed toward “nascent political parties and individual Assembly members.” (Memorandum from Donald MacDonald, Deputy Director for Coordination, INR, to George Denney, Deputy Director, INR, July 26, 1968; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asian Country File, Vietnam, 1968)↩