417. Memorandum to the 303 Committee1
- Proposal for Political Party Development in South Vietnam
Despite the recent Presidential and National Assembly elections, Vietnam today is without political parties in any meaningful sense of the word. Although parties of one sort or other probably will evolve in time, it is urgent that this process be accelerated and guided where possible, both to help overcome Vietnamese inertia and inexperience in this area and to enable various political nuclei to contribute more effectively to the process of making the Vietnamese Government an effective instrument which is responsive to the will of the Vietnamese people. It is proposed, therefore, that [less than 1 line of source text not [Page 1073]declassified] be made available to Ambassador Bunker to be used selectively and at his discretion in support of individual Assembly members and of certain nascent political parties, with CIA serving as the action agent in dispensing these funds. This proposal was endorsed by Messrs. Bundy and Habib of the State Department and by Ambassador Bunker during the week of November 20th.
Although Thieu has recognized the need for forming a political party which will support the government program (and the desirability of a constructive opposition), he has expressed to the Ambassador the need for advice and assistance. Civilian politicians—even those recently elected to the Senate and the Assembly—have thus far demonstrated little talent for political organization of more than the most rudimentary sort. There is at present no functioning institutional link between the structure evolving in Saigon and the bulk of the Vietnamese people. We are thus faced with the disquieting possibility of a government and legislature which conducts its business in the capital in a manner irrelevant to the aspirations of the people in the provinces and, hence, incapable of engaging the support or positive identification of those people.
3. Factors Bearing on the Problem
- Origin of the Requirement—This proposal was initiated by Ambassador Bunker during his recent visit to Washington.
- Relationship to Previous 303 Committee Actions—To a degree this proposal is further development of the program previously authorized by the Department and the White House to provide financial assistance to selected Assembly candidates and groups during the Lower House elections. In both cases, a major objective is to foster political development through political parties.
- Operational Objective—Our objective is to foster the growth of organized national political activity in South Vietnam, both in the Vietnamese National Assembly and in the countryside, so as to involve and engage the interest of the average Vietnamese citizen in the political life and developments of his country.
Proposal—It is proposed that Ambassador Bunker be given discretionary authority to stimulate and encourage the evolution of Vietnamese political groups and eventually parties through a combination of the following two approaches:
- Work with the various blocs within the Assembly, encouraging them to cooperate and coalesce, both to facilitate the work of the Assembly and to provide possible nuclei for the subsequent formation of political parties.
- Work with individual members of the Assembly who have demonstrated some understanding of the need for maintaining close ties with their constituencies so as to strengthen their local political organizations and encourage the consolidation of various local organizations.
CIA would be the action agent, working under the Ambassador’s direction. In selecting groups and individuals with whom to work, the basic guidelines would be two-fold: potential for constructive work within the Assembly, whether in support of the government or in opposition to it, and potential to develop viable political activity rooted in the countryside. This activity is not aimed at the immediate formation of nation-wide mass political parties but at the initial necessary step of development of political forces and organizations which would eventually evolve by a process of coalescing and expansion into full fledged political parties. It is proposed that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] be put at the Ambassador’s disposal over the next year.
- Risks Involved—Given the oft-stated American position in support of political development in South Vietnam and the assumption by most Vietnamese that the Americans work in both overt and covert ways, we believe that the embarrassment resulting from revelation of this activity would be minimal in Vietnamese eyes, although it could be blown up to considerable proportions if it came to the attention of the foreign press. Since we propose to work selectively, only with a few individuals who can demonstrate their capacity for discretion, besides meeting the guidelines noted above, we believe that these risks can be kept within tolerable limits.
- Support Required from Other Agencies—None
- 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 was endorsed by Messrs. Bundy and Habib of the State Department during the week of 20 November 1967.
- U.S. Ambassador—Ambassador Bunker endorsed the proposal during the week of 20 November 1967.
- Host Country—This is a unilateral effort and no briefing of Host Country officials is planned.
It is recommended that the Ambassador be given discretionary authority to spend [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] during the next year within the guidelines noted above. Funds in the amount of [Page 1075][less than 1 line of source text not declassified] are available in the CIA FY 68 budget. An additional [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] will be programmed for this purpose in FY 69. The Station would be expected to report periodically to the 303 Committee on the actions taken and funds expended in implementation of this proposal. Prior approval of Washington level would not be required for the expenditure of these funds.2
- Source: National Security Council, 303 Committee, Vietnam, 1965–1969. Secret; Eyes Only. No drafting information is provided. A notation on the memorandum reads: “Approved by the 303 Committee on 1 Dec. 1967.” In a covering memorandum of November 28 transmitting a copy of this memorandum to Kohler, sent through William Trueheart, Deputy Director for Coordination of INR, and concurred in by Habib, Bundy wrote: “I have reviewed the proposal of November 27, 1967 that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] be made available to Ambassador Bunker for the support, at his discretion, of individual members of the Assembly and certain nascent political parties in South Vietnam and recommend that you support it in the 303 Committee. CIA would serve as action agent in dispensing any funds.” Kohler indicated his approval on the memorandum. A notation on it reads: “Jessup notified by W[illiam] T[rueheart]. 11/28/67.” Peter Jessup was a member of the NSC Staff. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asia Country Files, Vietnam, 1967)↩
- For the 303 Committee’s discussion of this proposal, see Document 424.↩