413. Telegram From the Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam (Locke) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow), Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and Director of Central Intelligence Helms1

CAS 852. 1. In 23 November discussion with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Minister Vien agreed to release Sau Ha to American custody for one day debriefing and instructed General Loan [Page 1066] accordingly.2 Procedure outlined was for Loan’s police to transfer the prisoner to CIO, ostensibly for counter-intelligence exploitation, and CIO in turn to pass him to American hands.

2. Per arrangements made on Thanksgiving Day [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], Sau Ha was released from national police prison late morning 24 November, turned over to the custody of CIO and brought under guard to [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] safehouse for four hour debriefing following which he was brought to CIO’s national interrogation center where he will be held in “VIP” cell pending resolution his case re Buttercup operation.

3. Sau Ha was very nervous throughout debriefing, showed no physical condition though he had lost some weight and complained only of a bad tooth and difficulty in getting his eyes accustomed to daylight. Though he answered each question he probably withholding information and was, as expected, cagey and suspicious throughout interview. For example he said that he “was afraid of telling us things that police would get angry about.”

4. According Sau Ha, who was arrested on 15 August 1967, for the first 25 days of his imprisonment he was kept in solitary detention cell located in special detention section of national police prison. After this he was moved into cell in another part prison with two other persons one of whom (Do Nhu Cong) remained while third person changed from time to time such as a “Tan,” “Ba Kinh” and “Pham Loi.” He remained in this cell until 22 November when he was again separated from other prisoners and kept alone until his release.

5. From date his arrest until end of August he said he was interrogated continuously, night and day. For first day or so he attempted to hold to his cover story, denying that he was in fact Sau Ha, which he held until police brought in three other prisoners (Buttercup/2, Ky Ninh and Vu Hanh) who identified him. Following this, interrogation continued and he was subjected to “water treatment” until he broke (at least partially) and commenced disclosing some of his operational contacts and activities. He said he was given, relatively speaking, “light” interrogation treatment in that he was not subjected to physical beatings with rods and whips nor the “electric shock” treatment. He received food and water throughout his imprisonment. After initial period of interrogation he was only sporadically questioned on specific points while starting circa 20 November he was asked by police to “cooperate” in a propaganda/publicity sense; this he refused to do [Page 1067] saying that it was one thing to “declare” information under duress but quite another to betray the Viet Cong.

[Here follow a list of people arrested before Sau Ha, some of whom named him as their VC contact, and a list of persons he compromised during his interrogations.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Buttercup; Exclusive; Via CAS Channels. Also addressed to Ambassador Bunker. Received at 8:30 a.m.
  2. In telegram CAS 809 from Saigon, November 22, Locke reported that Vien would submit a compromise to Thieu: Sau Ha and Tong would be released along with a message insisting upon a “good faith” release of two American prisoners before other VC on the list would be freed. (Ibid.)