335. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Coordination, Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Trueheart) to the Deputy Director (Denney) and Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes)1


  • Recent Covert Action Against North Vietnam

Maritime Operations

During recent months an average of between 15 and 20 missions have been carried out by Vietnamese-manned PTF’s below the 20th parallel. About a third of these missions have involved landings by rubber boats either on Tiger Island or on beaches south of Thanh Hoa. Prisoners have been taken on these over-the-beach operations and during the seizure and inspection of North Vietnamese fishing junks.

There are indications that the North Vietnamese are slowly developing a defense of sorts against PTF raids. An increasing number of reports have been received, largely as a result of the interrogation of prisoners taken in North Vietnam, that the North Vietnamese Navy is equipping fishing junks with automatic weapons and explosives and is training their crews to defend the fishing fleets.

The most recent example of the North Vietnamese attempts to retaliate against the PTF’s occurred on August 7. Three PTF’s came upon some 35 fishing junks just above the 19th parallel. PTF’s, in searching the junks, unwittingly came upon an armed craft. When one of its crewmen had been taken aboard a PTF he was discovered to have a hand grenade in his possession. While he was being disarmed the crew of the junk sprang into action, killing two PTF crew members by rifle fire. [Page 966] Another junk crew member obviously on a suicide mission, scrambled aboard the PTF with explosives strapped to his body. He was killed before he could set off the explosives. At this point four additional junks opened fire on the PTF with small arms and mortars. Coastal defense guns also commenced firing. The PTF’s then circled around the armed junks, firing on them until they sank. Nine military personnel and 2 civilians were captured and 12 killed on the enemy side. Two PTF crew men were killed and 6 wounded. Mortars fired from the armed junks opened up holes in the PTF decking. Some 200 rounds were fired by coastal defense guns, the closest rounds landing some 50 meters from the scene of the engagement.

Despite the failure of this particular attempt by the North Vietnamese to retaliate against the PTF’s, further North Vietnamese attacks are likely. Additional armed junks are reported, sometimes in numbers as high as 40, below the 20th parallel. Previous small scale attacks occurred in December 1967 and July 1968.

In-Place Teams

On August 7, 1968 Hanoi radio announced the capture of a 12 man “Spy Commando” group. This group has been identified by MASCO as the team “Easy” which infiltrated North Vietnam by parachute on August 10, 1963. While it is not clear when the team came under Hanoi’s control, it has been evident for the last few months that the team has been “doubled.” It is possible that Hanoi decided to announce capture of the team as a means of demonstrating lack of faith on the part of the US in entering peace negotiations. At the same time the announcement would demonstrate to the North Vietnamese public the regime’s efficiency in capturing an infiltration group. Hanoi’s announcement may also have been hastened by an order given to the team in late spring to begin moving toward a landing zone from which 4 of the team members could be exfiltrated.

It is possible that Hanoi will make further announcements of the capture of such teams since there is some evidence that others of the remaining 6 infiltrated groups above the 20th parallel maybe doubled.

Approximately 4 “Strata” teams are in North Vietnam to conduct road watch activities North of the DMZ along the Laos-North Vietnam border at all times. These teams are infiltrated and exfiltrated by helicopter.2

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Psychological Activities

Black radio operations have now been expanded to a total of 14 hours per day on two frequencies; white radio activities are carried on for two hours daily while gray transmitters broadcast six hours per day in Cantonese and 20 hours in Vietnamese. In addition, airborne transmitters over the Gulf of Tonkin broadcast for 3–1/2 hours daily, usually repeating black radio broadcasts. Each of these broadcasts is carried on two different frequencies.3

The success of those broadcasts devoted to the notional Sacred Sword Patriotic League (SSPL) is attested by a report (based on an interrogation) that, early in July, 17 Catholic men and women put to sea from Nghe An Province in the hope that they would be captured by SSPL boats, as they call the PTF’s. At the 30 fathom curve they met 2 US warships (destroyers?). The warships gave the Vietnamese food but would not take them aboard. They sailed about until their food gave out in the hope that they would encounter PTF’s. Some wanted to commit suicide rather than to return to North Vietnam. However, they were deterred by the women aboard who reminded them that since they were Catholic they would not go to heaven if they committed suicide. On their return to Nghe An the leaders of the group were arrested and have not been heard of since.4

Among other psychological activities, more than 100 letters are mailed in third countries to North Vietnam every month. Some one and a half million leaflets are distributed over North Vietnam, along with some three to five hundred news letters. Over a thousand fixed frequency radios and several hundred rice bowls, the latter bearing the symbol of the SSPL, are given to fishermen on junks stopped and searched by the PTF’s.

Intelligence Reports

Approximately 100 intelligence reports are prepared and distributed every month, some from in-place teams, but the bulk from captives taken off junks. Several junk captives are being used as agents. They are tasked to discover certain information, return to North Vietnam by boat (as do all captives) and are taken again at some later time at which they furnish the information required.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asia Country File, Vietnam 1968. Top Secret.
  2. The specific activities of the MACV Special Operations Group teams are discussed in an April 29 memorandum from Trueheart to Hughes. (Ibid.)
  3. The initial proposal for these operations was discussed initially at a joint INR-CIA meeting on June 13. (Memorandum from Trueheart to Hughes, Denney, and Deputy Director for Research Allan Evans, June 18; ibid.)
  4. This report is now being checked with the 7th Fleet. [Footnote in the source text.]