370. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House1

Fm Amb Bunker 325. To the White House, eyes only Rostow.

I understand that DOD has approved draft press briefing on new VC/NVA order of battle picture and sent it to White House for final approval.
One aspect of it still bothers General Westmoreland, Bob Komer and myself. Given the overriding need to demonstrate our progress in grinding down the enemy, it is essential that we do not drag too many red herrings across the trail. Thus referring to old estimates of the shadowy Self-Defense and Secret Self-Defense Forces, and then saying we have dropped them from the order of battle it seems to me is simply to invite trouble. We may end up with stories that enemy strength is greater rather than less. Far better in our view to deal with this matter orally if it arises.
We also note that some confusion can arise from stating that the old estimate of 100–120,000 irregulars is divided into one-third guerrillas and two-thirds SDF and SSDF. This implies that we estimated 40,000 guerrillas in 1966. Since our new estimate is 70–90,000, a big increase is suggested, whereas we think actual guerrilla strength has declined. Our new guerrilla figures, adjusted retroactively, indicate that the guerrilla strength alone totaled 110–150,000 in December 1966.
I suggest that in the discussion of the strength figures for the old category of “irregulars” that we merely say that this figure contained guerrillas and other personnel of no military importance, and that our new figure carried guerrillas only. This short explanation will forestall many confusing and undesirable questions.
Sorry to badger you again on this, but the credibility gap is such that we don’t want to end up conveying the opposite of what we intend.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 7E1(a), Public Relations Activities. Secret; Eyes Only; Via CAS Channels. Received in the White House at 2:25 a.m.