452. 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 Helms 1
Saigon, December 31, 1967, 0949Z.
CAS 747. Ref: Saigon 716.2 Following additional information obtained from debriefing of Buttercup/2:
- Although Sau Ha was warmly received and greeted by Anh Ba and Tan Duc,3 he was scorned by both for his lack of discretion and carelessness which resulted in his arrest (August) by the police. When B/2 was asked what disciplinary or punitive action Sau Ha could expect from the Front, B/2 stated that Sau Ha would most likely be purged from the party, either permanently or temporarily, and that Sau Ha would not be entrusted with any significant tasks or classified information in the future. Anh Ba related to B/2 a previous comment by B/1 that Sau Ha will be “writing newspaper articles.”
- B/2 and Sau Ha were both strongly rebuked for the manner in which they sought re-entry to the Dau Tieng U.S. military installation on 19 December (their reference to being on a POW exchange mission) when attempting to recontact CAS Saigon. They were told that both the American and Front sides were making serious effort to keep this operation as secret as possible and that they would have been much wiser to have stated simply that they were “CIA agents from Saigon”.
- B/2 was similarly rebuked for giving information about the Buttercup operation to a police lieutenant (Bach) when the latter approached [Page 1138] B/2 in a coffee stand in Saigon in late November. (Comment: This lieutenant was B/2’s chief inquisitor during B/2’s incarceration.) B/2 was again reminded that both the Front and Americans were trying to maintain secrecy and that too many GVN personnel already knew too much.
- Anh Ba and Tan Duc told B/2 that they desired to have Madame B/1 moved from Saigon as soon as possible. Admittedly this was without the concurrence of B/1. They then asked B/2 to return to Saigon and “further impose” on the American side for another act of “good will” that of delivering Madame B/1 to Phnom Penh. They told B/2 that, although such delivery would be very helpful and much appreciated, this is a request only, i.e., if it is not possible for the American side to fulfill this request, B/2 should proceed alone to the arranged rendezvous at Dong Lon on 5 January and the details for the delivery of Madame B/1 to the zone can be worked out later between B/1 and B/2. Nonetheless, they expressed a strong desire that Madame B/1 be delivered to Phnom Penh and said this would be greatly appreciated by the Front.
- During the course of the oral report to Anh Ba and Tan Duc on the night of 24 December, Sau Ha mentioned that Madame B/1 was confined to a “cachot” approximately up to the date of her release from prison. B/2 was told that B/1 will surely become very irritated to hear this in light of his request for better treatment of prisoners made two months ago. B/2 was directed by Anh Ba to tell the Americans that they recognized the difficulties of coordination between the Americans and the GVN to obtain better treatment for the POW’s. Anh Ba further instructed B/1 to recommend in strong terms to the Americans that they continue to try to influence the GVN to give better treatment, including medical care, to VC prisoners, especially for those whom B/1 named in his message. Anh Ba stated that this point is very important; he cited Madame B/1’s poor physical condition and inability to travel at the time of her release as an illustration of the need for improved treatment. This would eliminate the problem of being faced with “a Madame B/1 situation” each time a prisoner is released.
- B/2 was asked if, during the course of their conversations with Anh Ba and Tan Duc, either had stated or implied that the release of Madame B/1 would cause embarrassment for B/1. B/2 replied that although no such statements were made by either per se, Anh Ba commented that though B/1 was concerned about Madame B/1’s release, he was much more concerned about the release of more senior-level and more deserving cadre, such as Madame Le Thi Rieng and Chin K.
- B/2 reported that his return trip to Saigon was slightly delayed on the afternoon of 29 December by a mining incident which overturned a bus and killed a number of people on National Highway One [Page 1139] slightly north of Phuoc Hiep. B/2 said that traffic was backed up on both sides of the mining incident, and he alighted from the car shuttle and walked around the congestion to pick up a three-wheeled Lambretta and proceeded to Saigon.
- B/2 reported that when he returned home evening 29th December he learned from his wife that she and their house had been under close and constant surveillance throughout period of B/2’s absence. This had become some sort of a “joke” in the neighborhood as the local kids were pointing at policeman disguised as ice cream salesman etc. and telling everyone within earshot that the ice cream man was actually a cop. B/2 reported that morning of 30th December, en route from his home to place telephone call to his [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that he was clearly under surveillance; however neither B/2 (nor [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]) noted any surveillance at vehicular pickup site an hour after B/2 had made his call. B/2 again pointed out that he does not mind being surveilled as much as he is concerned that his neighbors will put two and two together and come up with approximate story relating to his operational role in Buttercup operation and his relationship with the “infamous” Sau Ha.
- 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. Received at 6:24 a.m. In telegram CAP 671267, December 31, Rostow reported to the President: “Buttercup/2 is back in Saigon having delivered Sau Ha and our message. He returns North on January 5 for meeting with higher official. Other side requests dispatch of Buttercup/1’s wife to Phnom Penh. They are surprised and pleased that we overcame difficulties in responding to their initiative. Channel is, therefore, still open.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Buttercup Vol. I (A)) Tong and Mai Thi Vang were released on January 5 and successfully made their way into VC-held territory. Tong returned to Saigon on January 20, having been instructed by Dang and his secretary to do so in order to be in contact with the Americans should COSVN decide upon an exchange of prisoners. The text of Tong’s written report given to the CIA Station is in telegram CAS 7321 from Saigon, January 23; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP.↩
- In telegram CAS 716 from Saigon, December 30, Bunker related the difficulties that Sau Ha and Tong faced traveling back to COSVN in Cambodia and that Tong faced in returning to Saigon. (Ibid.)↩
- Dang’s secretary and Director of National Liberation Front Radio, respectively.↩