296. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


  • CIA Programs to Induce Desertions and Defections in South Vietnam

1. CIA conducts unilaterally or in cooperation with other agencies in Vietnam a wide gamut of defector inducement programs which range from the pin-pointed approach to high-level VC cadre to broad propaganda appeals to enemy troops of all categories.

Inducement of Desertions

2. CIA and MACV jointly conduct a sizable program designed to induce desertion by VC and NVA soldiers. Through black radio and leaflets continuing efforts are made to lower the morale of the individual enemy soldier to the point where he realizes the futility of his situation and begins to seek an alternative to inevitable death. Radio and leaflet output emphasizes the endless sacrifice these soldiers are required to make the awesome fire power they must face and the heavy casualties their units endure. The privation caused by lack of sufficient food and medicine, the dissension between Northerner and Southerner, the failure of the people of South Vietnam to support them except when forced to do so, and the failures and inadequacies of their own command and support structure are additional themes. Publicity is given to defections, particularly those involving high ranking officers and groups, and defectors are used in a variety of ways to attempt to induce the defection of their comrades.

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Rewards Program

3. The Station has also worked closely with MACV in the development of a program of awards utilized by both U.S. forces and the GVN to encourage defectors and to obtain information leading to the capture of VC/NVA leaders. Under the code name Born Free, a comprehensive program of rewards has been instituted to encourage defectors and stimulate the flow of voluntary information. Other programs providing related incentives include awards to ralliers for weapons turned in and monetary awards to RD cadre for capture of VC. The GVN Ministry of the Interior has a pacification fund separate from the Chieu Hoi Program which provides rewards for capturing or killing VC cadre.

Contributions of Phoenix

4. The Phoenix Program,2 formerly called ICEX (Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation), has now expanded sufficiently to permit its district centers scattered throughout South Vietnam to proceed with some effectiveness in the defection field. The following order of priority has been established: Defection in place, inducement to rally, capture, destruction of infrastructure elements. In some areas the Phoenix Program has progressed to the point where the province Phoenix representative [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] selects a province level VC political or military leader of significant stature for concentrated attention to achieve his neutralization according to the foregoing order of priorities. This is designed to supplement the day-to-day endeavor to capitalize on intelligence to eliminate the infrastructure. The recent capture of Col. Le Van Ngot in III Corps is an example of an effective PRU operation utilizing the intelligence resources available through Phoenix.

Operational Support

5. In addition to operational endeavors, the intelligence capabilities of the CIA Station provide a steady flow of useful information and analysis which is utilized by the various components involved in the [Page 853] inducement of deserters and defectors. For example, the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] National Interrogation Center (NIC) provides a considerable volume of comment from prisoners and ralliers concerning the effectiveness of radio and leaflet operations. This data provides insights useful for refining the content of these psychological operations to increase their effectiveness. The Station has provided a variety of papers on the character and life of the NVA soldier in South Vietnam and on his strengths and vulnerabilities which have been used in the planning of psychological operations.

Precise Targeting of Prospective Defectors

6. [10–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Exploitation of High Level Defectors

7. The intense military pressures on VC and NVA military units resulting in part from changed and more aggressive enemy military operations has created new operational opportunities and a somewhat increased flow of higher level military defectors. The use of a recent defector, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] provides insight into methods for exploiting successes to achieve further success. [5 lines of source text not declassified] around South Vietnam, and newsmen have been given access to him for in-depth interviews.

[heading and 1 paragraph (11 lines of source text) not declassified]

Intelligence Operations

9. In 1966, the CIA Station revamped its program to gain access for intelligence purposes to strategic level leadership in the VC and to encourage defections from that leadership. Since that time, our efforts have resulted in vastly expanding CIA knowledge of the top enemy leadership. [5–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Enemy Response

10. The variety and extent of these various programs resulted in 1967 in counter-action by enemy forces to reduce the desertion rate through more stringent controls over their personnel and through intensified political indoctrination. One cause for the drop in Chieu Hoi rate in late 1967 appears to have been this enemy effort for greater indoctrination and tighter control.

Problems and Proposals

11. Although the various programs to induce defections and desertions are extensive, there remain many opportunities for improvement both in organization and tactics. The complexity of the problem creates [Page 854] difficulties in organization and coordination which are not currently adequately met by existing procedures. Two mission council committees have responsibilities relating to this problem. One group, the Psychological Operations Committee (chaired by the JUSPAO director) has not met for a year. The Prisoners and Detainees Committee confines itself almost exclusively to U.S. POW problems. An ad hoc psychological operations committee, consisting of representatives from the Embassy, MACV, JUSPAO and CIA has been useful in discussing the exploitation of specific opportunities [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. It would appear desirable to establish a Vietnamese-American working group to concentrate on defection inducement and to insure that appropriate techniques and procedures for handling high level ralliers are developed. There is a continuing problem in insuring that new techniques in this field are reported to all echelons for implementation (a problem complicated by the rapid turnover in personnel). Various opportunities for action in this field by the GVN have not been aggressively exploited. President Thieu, for example, could give personal publicity to recent ralliers and could increase public attention and GVN support for the National Reconciliation Program by establishing a “Council on National Reconciliation”. Opportunities available to enemy cadres who rally need to be publicized more vigorously since, despite considerable effort, recent evidence indicates that enemy personnel are not well-informed concerning these programs. Enemy indoctrination to the effect that capture will result in torture and death is apparently effective and must be neutralized not only by counter-propaganda but by practical improvements in GVN structure and practices to eliminate excesses which substantiate this indoctrination. CIA has cooperated in an effort to develop more systematic procedures for processing and adjudicating prisoners as one effort to this end.


12. In summary, the CIA contribution to defector and deserter inducement falls into two broad areas: (1) a selective effort organized and implemented essentially by CIA to induce individual high level defectors, and (2) a broad variety of actions to support programs of other agencies in this field. Problems of coordination and management exist to some degree on the American side but there is a continuing and intensive search for new ideas and operational initiatives which is achieving some success. On the GVN side, at senior levels, there is a pattern of apathy and some opposition to programs which involve acceptance of enemy personnel back into the Vietnamese community without retribution. On lower levels there in a spotty but in general a cooperative attitude in pushing the various programs forward.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80–R01580R, 266—Vietnam. Secret. Sent to Rostow with copies to Katzenbach and Nitze. In the attached covering memorandum transmitting a copy of the paper to Helms, July 12, William Nelson, Chief of CIA’s Far East Division, wrote: “This memorandum responds to a request from the Director of Central Intelligence to Chief, Far East Division for a briefing paper on the above subject for passage to the Secretary of State and other senior government officials.” In a separate attached covering note transmitting a copy of the paper to Rusk, July 15, Helms wrote: “Here is the report on Agency efforts to induce defections in South Vietnam. This is in response to your request of me some days ago. It is clear from paragraph 11 that additional organizational work needs to be done in Saigon inside the American community. You might want to raise this as an item in Honolulu.” In another attached covering note transmitting a copy of the paper to Rostow, July 15, Helms wrote: “Secretary Rusk asked me for the attached report and I have sent him the original. In my note covering this paper, I have suggested to Secretary Rusk that he may want to raise the organizational problem outlined in paragraph 11 with appropriate individuals in Honolulu later this week.” A notation on this covering note reads: “Identical notes with Xerox to: Katzenbach and Nitze.”
  2. “Phoenix” referred specifically to U.S. activities in support of the anti-Viet Cong infrastructure plan while comparable South Vietnamese activities were known as “Phung Hoang.” The South Vietnamese program received Thieu’s public endorsement in Decree No. 280-a/TT/SL, July 1, which established the Phung Hoang program as part of a general campaign to accelerate the pacification of the rural areas of South Vietnam. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISG Files, Job 77–186, Phoenix—GVN Decrees and Directives) Status reports by the CIA Station in Saigon are ibid., Phoenix—Progress Reports, 1967, 1968, 1969. Additional indications of progress in this program are in MACV’s periodic reports in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 472, Records of the U.S. Forces in Southeast Asia, HQ MACV-CORDS, Phung Hoang Directorate, General Records, 1967–1971, 1601–9A, Phoenix Newsletters.