344. Memorandum for the 303 Committee1
- Proposal for Financial Support of Government of Vietnam-Sponsored Political Front in South Vietnam
Political activity in South Vietnam over the last 12 months has resulted in the emergence of political leaders and groupings, in and out of the Government, some of whom are now united in the realization of the need to develop a viable political mechanism to compete with the National Liberation Front (NLF). These elements, with the support of [Page 985] President Nguyen Van Thieu, have organized the “National Alliance for Social Revolution”, known in Vietnamese as the “Lien Minh”. As the result of recent conversations with President Thieu, in which Thieu has thrown his weight behind this Alliance, Ambassador Bunker now proposes that the U.S. Government covertly finance the Lien Minh with the sum of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to be spent in increments over the remainder of the FY 1969 [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].2
On 1 December 1967, the 303 Committee approved a proposal to provide [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to support individual assembly members and nascent political parties in Vietnam. This action reflected awareness by both President Thieu and the US Mission of the lack of an effective political force to compete with the NLF in South Vietnam. Since that time, President Thieu has achieved the coalescence of three political groupings which offers some hope of becoming a political bulwark for the existing government, a potentially significant competitor to the NLF, and a vehicle for manifesting the extent [Page 986] to which the Vietnamese are united in their opposition to Communist rule. The three groupings are Tran Van Don’s National Salvation Front (NSF), Tran Quoc Buu’s CVT-Hoa Hao Farmer Worker Association (CVT/FWA), and Nguyen Van Huong’s Free Democratic Forces (FDF).3 The amalgamation of these elements into a significant front capable of attracting additional political support depends upon a variety of factors including:
- the ability to crystallize and channel political emotions;
- a political and social program which is attractive to the population of South Vietnam;
- effective political organization; and
- demonstrated performance.
Needed first is sufficient financial support for organizational and cadre training purposes. Ambassador Bunker has been authorized to make available to President Thieu [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] as previously cleared by the 303 Committee and is now asking the 303 Committee to authorize the passage of an additional [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the remainder of FY 1969.
3. Factors Bearing on the Problem
- Origin of the Requirement—This specific proposal was initiated by Ambassador Bunker in a telegram to the Department of State and CIA dated 26 August 1968. It relates to the requirement initially proposed by Ambassador Bunker in November 1967, and approved by the 303 Committee on 1 December 1967, to organize a mass political movement in Vietnam.
- Relationship to Previous 303 Committee Actions—On 1 December 1967, the Committee approved a proposal to give Ambassador Bunker discretionary authority to stimulate and encourage the evolution of Vietnamese political groups and authorized [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for this purpose.
- Operational Objective—Our objective is to create a pro-government political front in South Vietnam which is capable of involving and engaging the interest of Vietnamese in the political life of their country, of encouraging unity by providing a vehicle for the concrete expression of [Page 987] widespread opposition to Communist rule, of attracting the political support of all non-Communist political parties in South Vietnam and, in the process, to become an effective competitor to pro-Communist organizations in South Vietnam.
- It is proposed that Ambassador Bunker be given discretionary
authority to provide financial assistance to President Nguyen Van Thieu, for support
of the Lien Minh, in the following amounts:
- U.S. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the period September–December 1968.
- U.S. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the period January–June 1969.
- A total sum of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] (of which [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] requires approval of the Committee at this time) would be passed to President Thieu throughout FY 69 in increments and would be used by him to finance the organization of the basic Lien Minh structure and training of political cadre. Ambassador Bunker says that President Thieu sees the Lien Minh as “a political instrumentality which will permit the people to identify more closely with the Government, and would provide a magnet for rallying nationalist sentiment to confront the Communists in the political area in the not too distant future.” President Thieu intends to develop a program to permit Vietnamese women to participate in Lien Minh and plans to use the organization as a catalyst for self-help activities. (Note: Although President Thieu was informed that American financial assistance was considered “seed money” and that a larger GVN contribution was expected, the President emphasized his limited financial assets and said that he hoped the Americans “would provide most of the Lien Minh finances.”)
- [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] working under the Ambassador’s direction, would pass funds directly to President Thieu and provide advice and assistance in the use of those funds. The President has appointed one of his key senior advisors as his designee with whom [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to work on the organization (but not the funding) of Lien Minh.
e. Risks Involved
While risks are certainly involved in this endeavor, on balance they do not appear excessive. There should be no direct evidence of U.S. funding. Funds are to be passed only to President Thieu who would be unlikely to divulge their origin. Our Embassy reporting already indicates that Lien Minh insiders are assuming GVN funding of the organization. As the funds are put to use, allegations of U.S. backing are also likely to be made by Thieu’s political opposition but in today’s Vietnam this sort of comment is not unusual and in fact would tend to contradict more dangerous [Page 988] and widespread charges of U.S. intentions to “sell out” the GVN. Alleged use of GVN funds could lead to charges of corruption against Lien Minh supporters but such allegations would be manageable as the organization becomes a useful and constructive link between the government and the people. Incremental funding, which permits some leverage over the shape and substance of the organizations, should assist in moving Lien Minh toward the intended constructive role and thereby minimize such criticism. Further, as the organization gains momentum it can logically be the recipient of legitimate community development funds. Finally our own intensive [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] coverage of the GVN political scene should give us a constant reading on the risk factor and allow time for remedial steps if it grows to critical proportions.4
f. Support Required from Other Agencies
g. Timing of the Operation
[1 line of source text not declassified] Ambassador Bunker’s direction when it is endorsed by the 303 Committee.
- U.S. Departments and Agencies—This proposal was discussed with Assistant Secretary Bundy and Mr. Rostow on 26 August 1968, and they have approved in principle.
Ambassador Bunker initiated this proposal to the Department of State and the CIA on 26 August 1968.
- Host Country
President Nguyen Van Thieu has solicited U.S. financial and advisory support for this operation.
In the national interest, discretionary authority is requested for the Ambassador to spend U.S. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for support and development of Lien Minh and its projects for the remainder of FY 1969. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] would be expected to report periodically to the 303 Committee on the actions taken and funds expended in implementation of this proposal. While additional funds are likely to be necessary beyond FY 1969 every effort will be made to obtain [Page 989] legitimate alternative funds from Vietnamese sources or, at least, to encourage the Vietnamese to raise on their own funds sufficient to mask the American contribution and give the Vietnamese a sense of having a direct personal stake in, commitment to and identification with this activity.5
- Source: National Security Council, 303 Committee Files, Vietnam, 1965–1969. Secret; Eyes Only. A typed note reads: “Approved by the 303 Committee on 3 September 1968. Final approval to be obtained from the Secretaries of State & Defense and from HA.”↩
- See Document 343. In telegram CAS 375 from Saigon, August 26, Bunker wrote: “I believe the total funds required for Lien Minh will be substantially greater than we had at first anticipated. While President Thieu states that his other commitments prevent him from supporting Lien Minh financially, I believe that once the program demonstrates its capabilities, the Vietnamese can be brought to realize that their financial participation will be necessary and desirable. I shall actively encourage President Thieu in this direction. In the meantime, I strongly recommend that the 303 Committee endorse full financial support for this activity. A tentative Lien Minh budget calls for [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the four-month September–December 1968 period. I believe a more realistic total figure for this period to be [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and recommend that the 303 Committee authorize this amount and a similar rate of support for the final two quarters of FY 69. We here will move ahead as aggressively as possible to tighten up the planning which has already taken place, and to the extent we are able and deem wise, will do what can be done to insure that costs do not become excessive in terms of results achieved.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 VIET S) In CAS 374 from Saigon, August 26, [text not declassified]: “At present our intention is to concentrate our support in developing Lien Minh’s organizational infrastructure.” Thieu would receive [text not declassified] of previously authorized funds that week while the balance of the [text not declassified] programmed for political action would be disbursed very soon as well. An additional [text not declassified] would be requested promptly to finance activities for the rest of 1968 and an additional [text not declassified] for the balance of FY 1969. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asia Country File, Vietnam (Lien Minh) 1968) Carver’s assessment of the request outlined in these two telegrams is in his August 27 memorandum to Helms. (Central Intelligence Agency, SAVA (Carver) Files, Job 80–R01720R, GAC Chrono, January 1968–August 1968) In a memorandum to Helms, August 29, Carver provided a more detailed assessment. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Meetings with the President, May–December 1968 ) Trueheart assessed the request in an August 26 memorandum to Hughes. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, EAP General Files, EA Weekly Meetings, 1968)↩
- In a July 26 memorandum to George Denney, Deputy Director of INR, Donald S. Macdonald, then INR Deputy Director for Coordination, noted: “In October 1967 some [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] was spent to aid Revolutionary Dai Viet and CVT (labor) candidates for the Assembly. Prior to this the 303 Committee had in August approved the expenditure of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in FY 68 for the creation of a left wing political group which would serve as an alternative to the National Liberation Front, particularly for any high ranking defectors from the latter organization. There is no evidence to suggest that this program has ever been fully implemented.” (Ibid., East Asia Country File, Vietnam 1968)↩
- In telegram 38284 from Saigon, September 20, Bunker reported Thieu’s statement that “he is not in a hurry to call for general support for the Lien Minh” in order to have adequate time to find the right people to lead the organization and to avoid the appearance of creating a personal political party. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 13 VIET S)↩
- A memorandum for the record, September 5, by Peter Jessup of the 303 Committee staff, recorded the minutes of the 303 Committee’s meeting of September 3. According to this memorandum, during the meeting Bundy “made a few comments in support of ‘getting something moving in a direction considered vital.’ He said there were admitted risks but pointed out we were dealing with people we trust, with professional talent, and that putting all the eggs in Thieu’s basket was preferable to a separate funding of factional groups.” Both Rostow and Nitze agreed with the recommendation subject to higher-level approval. The Committee approved the measure. (National Security Council, 303 Committee Minutes, 1968) However, Clifford expressed reservations about the scheme and it was not immediately approved. (Memorandum for the Record, October 3; ibid.) The Bureau of the Budget was unwilling to release the funds without Clifford’s approval. (Memorandum for the Record by Bohlen, October 9; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asia Country File, Vietnam (Lien Minh) 1968) Although a decision on the dispersal of full program funds was put off until the next administration came into office and until Thieu came up with a firm proposal, on November 25 Rusk, with the concurrence of President-elect Richard Nixon’s transition representative Robert Murphy, authorized Bunker to dispense an additional [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for the Lien Minh as a stop-gap measure. (Memorandum from Bundy to Rusk, November 25; ibid.)↩