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

CAS 140. 1. At Vien’s request [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] met with him on 8 December. Vien began the conversation referring to Ambassador Bunker’s recent talk with President Thieu on the Buttercup case.2Vien indicated he had then met with President Thieu, discussed the various ramifications of the Buttercup case and the many press reports relating to it, and that President Thieu had concluded the conversation by agreeing “in principle” to the release of both Sau Ha and Buttercup/1’s wife. Vien remarked that Thieu and he considered the timing of the release of Sau Ha and Buttercup/1’s wife to be important and that the release should not take place for “one or two weeks.” In addition to allowing time for the press stories to die down and general curiosity to abate, Vien also feels additional time before their release is necessary for General Loan’s emotional feelings on this case to simmer down before Vien discussed the release of Buttercup/1’s wife with Loan. Vien feels that Loan will, undoubtedly, become quite excited about this release of Buttercup/1’s wife and will react much as he has in the past several weeks on the Buttercup case in general. Vien, therefore, plans to wait until 11 or 12 December before discussing the next Buttercup move with Loan. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] commented that it would be most desirable for us to launch the next step of the operation no later than about one week from now since to wait much beyond that would make it more likely that Radio Hanoi or Liberation Radio will come out with a propaganda exploitation of the Buttercup operation.

2. Vien queried whether it was the American feeling that we should release both individuals to go to Buttercup/1 at the same time and was given an affirmative answer. In discussing details of how to arrange the release and our American requirement to have Sau Ha in our custody for at least 48 hours as well as having Buttercup/1’s wife in our hands for one or two days both for briefings and for medical examinations, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] proposed the following time schedule: release of Sau Ha to American custody on [Page 1104]Wednesday, 13 December, release of Buttercup/1’s wife on Friday, 15 December and launching them on their mission along with Buttercup/2 on Saturday or Sunday, 16 or 17 December. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] suggested the weekend would be a quiet period during which these activities could take place while arousing a minimum of attention. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] indicated he would like to fix these dates with Vien so that the American side could begin planning for such things as the helicopter lift and making arrangements with the U.S. military regarding the area through which the individuals would pass enroute to the NLF headquarters. Vien stated he agreed generally to this timing.

3. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] described the need to revise our next outgoing message to Buttercup/1 and asked Vien if he personally would like to participate in drafting the message. Vien suggested that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] work instead with Acting Commissioner of CIO, Colonel Huan, in drafting the message, describing Huan as discreet and trustworthy. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] requested Vien stress the need for tightest security when Vien discusses this with Colonel Huan and Vien assured [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] he would do so, citing the way he himself has closely held this Buttercup information to the point where only he and President Thieu are knowledgeable of the details of the case at the top echelons of the GVN and that even the Prime Minister is only generally aware of the nature of the case. The Prime Minister was briefed by Vien in connection with the issuance of the GVN communiqué of 7 December relating to the Buttercup case.3Vien remarked that the communiqué appeared to be effective in satisfying the interests of both the GVN and the USG even though, of course, it was not possible to make a flat denial of all aspects of the Buttercup case.

4. Vien commented that he anticipates an unpleasant session with Loan on the release of Buttercup/1’s wife, that Loan has very strong views on this case and, undoubtedly, is still very much opposed to the release of Sau Ha as a result of American pressure on the GVN to do so. Vien did indicate, however, that if it should come to the point he will simply order Loan to release Buttercup/1’s wife and will also insist that it be done in such a way that no security leaks spring from it.

5. Next steps in the Buttercup case will be for Vien to see Loan on either 11 or 12 December and for [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] [Page 1105]and Colonel Huan to work up a draft of our next outgoing message to Buttercup/1.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Secret; Nodis; Buttercup; Exclusive; Via CAS Channels. Received at 8:21 a.m.
  2. See Document 429.
  3. In a December 6 statement, Prime Minister Loc confirmed that the National Police had arrested a VC cadre who claimed to be trying to contact the U.S. Embassy but did not specify exactly when the arrest occurred.
  4. The U.S. Government already had a draft message to send to Dang. It assured the NLF that despite the recent publicity surrounding the contacts, “sustained good will by all parties” would bring about prisoner exchanges. (CAS telegram 120 from Saigon and telegram 57993 to Saigon, both December 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP) In a closed session appearance on December 14, Katzenbach briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on both the Buttercup case and the issue of NLF representation at the United Nations. (Ibid., Katzenbach Files: Lot 74 D 271, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 12/14/67)