297. Telegram From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1

CAS 273. To the White House, eyes only Walt Rostow.

Bob Komer and I wish bring to your attention potentially serious problem created by new NIE now on verge of completion.2
Despite thorough re-analysis by now massive MACV intelligence machine which has brought MACV position much closer to that of CIA, the latter’s experts appear insistent on bringing out an estimate which will make enemy strength 430–490,000 instead of the range centering on 298,000 developed by MACV.
CIA does this chiefly by adding to strength figures some 120,000 so-called self-defense and secret self-defense forces, which are not organized military units at all but rather a shadowy, mostly unarmed part-time hamlet defense element of women, children, and old men on which we have very little evidence and which is so inconsequential and rarely encountered by us as not to warrant inclusion in enemy strength. In last analysis only armed men plus structure controlling and supporting them should validly be included.
I need hardly mention the devastating impact if it should leak out (as these things so often do) that despite all our success in grinding down VC/NVA here, CIA figures are used to show that they are really much stronger than ever. Despite all caveats, this is inevitable conclusion which most of press would reach.
Westy has gone back hard at Buss Wheeler on this and I intend to mention it to the President in my coming weekly. The credibility gap created would be enormous, and is quite inconsistent with all the hard evidence we have about growing enemy losses, declining VC recruiting and the like.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, White House Cables-Back Channels-Incoming, Outgoing. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Sent via CAS channels.
  2. See Document 397. At this time, SNIE 14–3–67, an estimate of enemy strength, was scheduled for release on September 1.