230. Telegram From the CIA Station in Saigon to Director of Central Intelligence Helms 1

CAS 702/IN 40384. Please pass following message from Ambassador to Assistant Secretary William Bundy:

Although momentarily overshadowed by our collective preoccupation with the bombing halt and negotiations issue, the need to proceed with priority programs in the political development field is obvious and urgent. Our Lien Minh effort is one such program. I should now like to resume our exchange on this subject, looking toward an early confirmation of our intention to support the Lien Minh over the coming months.
First, I want to express the opinion that Lien Minh is making adequate progress given the manifold difficulties which attend any venture of this kind in this particular country. Its governing bodies are meeting, its cadre are beginning to develop projects, “peoples’ committees” have been elected in all Saigon precincts, an information program is being developed, the process of forming Lien Minh provincial committees is underway, a new top level political council has been formed and, in general, we discern steady if slow movement forward. Still, problems of internal stress, leadership and lack of participation by major religious groups persist. During the past several weeks, partly as result of the negotiations crisis noted at the outset, we have seen an internal financial emergency develop.
It appears the Lien Minh ran out of funds around mid-October. Nguyen Van Huong failed in his efforts to discuss this with the President and solve the problem. Thieu was obviously not able to divert his attention from the boiling pot on the front burner. The financial problem for the Lien Minh did not go away, however. Finally, Huong was able to obtain a stop-gap remedy from Thieu of one million piasters, a sum not sufficient to cover what we understand to be the backlog of obligations.
You understand that, at my direction, there were no CAS contacts with Thieu during the period from 16 October until this week. The President was not about to raise with me the Lien Minh and our subsidy thereof while in the midst of our diplomatic tug-of-war. In fact, we had a CAS report indicating that he found the idea of accepting our Lien Minh funds during this period embarrassing and awkward. He [Page 681]apparently feared that it could be used as another pressure point on him to conform to our wishes. In any case, it was necessary and, perhaps in retrospect, politic to delay direct discussion with Thieu on Lien Minh until the air had cleared somewhat on our critical negotiations issue.
Accordingly, I authorized CAS to contact President Thieu only on 19 November and to include prominently on the agenda a discussion of the Lien Minh in an effort to determine Thieu’s present intentions concerning it. Following is a summary of what transpired:
Thieu was asked if he planned to continue to provide his full support to the Lien Minh. He was reminded of my earlier assurances that the USG stood behind him in this effort with both funds and political endorsement. Thieu was informed that I remain persuaded of the important potential of the Lien Minh, especially as a bridge between government and people in the provinces. He was told that the new administration would soon be briefed on the Lien Minh in order to obtain its views on this enterprise. Our presentation to the new team in Washington would require an up-to-date expression of Thieu’s support for the organization. If Thieu had changed his mind, we were prepared to adjust accordingly.
Thieu stated that he remains fully committed to the Lien Minh and professed his intention to attend to its problems shortly. He then described some of these problems as he saw them, to wit: Tran Van Don’s lack of organizing talent and cadre, faults in the system of cadre salaries, etc. These have been reported in FVS-17,978.2
When reminded that the Lien Minh was in financial difficulties, he reiterated his desire for USG help in this area. While he expressed the view that Lien Minh officials had not used funds for personal gain, he asked our assistance in evaluating the “wisdom” of the financial expenditures made thus far.
Thieu then requested a change in procedure with respect to the passage of funds. In order to improve the security of the support arrangements, he asked that the funds be given to his private secretary, Hoang Duc Nha, who in turn would give them to the President. The latter would, of course, dispense as needed to the Lien Minh organization. (Comment: Whether this request was based on Thieu’s assessment of the need to improve security or reflects a residual embarrassment at personally receiving these funds is an open question. In my view, the change is essentially mechanical and does in some ways improve security. In any event, this is how Thieu wants to handle the affair and we will comply. We have no derogatory information on Nha and assume that Thieu, a most prudent man in these matters, has placed his confidence [Page 682]in Nha with reason. Embassy has had continuing contact with Nha and has found him cooperative and well inclined towards U.S.)
We have approximately [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] remaining from existing authorization and plan to pass that to Nha as soon as possible. Additional sums will be required almost immediately. I would hope that in the natural order of briefings for the new administration, this important project would receive early attention. There will soon come a point where the Lien Minh will expand (we hope rapidly) as committees are formed and cadre recruited in the provinces. It would be unfortunate if momentum were lost by uncertainty of the financial side.
My desire to have a clear statement of willingness to support and to have funds clearly earmarked does not mean that I have altered previously stated intentions to avoid a blanket or open-ended commitment to the Lien Minh. The process of careful evaluation of its progress and potential will go on. If at any point we believe that forward motion is irrevocably arrested, I will so inform the President and can, if desired, arrange to terminate the subsidy. Moreover, intend to remind Thieu at the earliest expedient moment of the need to develop indigenous sources of funds. You will recall his strong feeling that this could be done but not until Lien Minh had become a going and successful concern. With hard work and some luck, the latter condition could apply before the end of the current fiscal year.
I can appreciate the possible difficulties in arranging a full dress review of the Lien Minh with the new administration during this hectic period. If this cannot be done, I must ask you to authorize a second [number not declassified] allotment to be passed by CAS at my direction pending the final decision on the entire package previously put before the 303 Committee.3
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISS Files, Job 78-32, [name not declassified] Chrono File, Vol. III. Secret; Rybat.
  2. Not found.
  3. The reply to Bunker from Bundy in CIA telegram 54540 to the Saigon Station, November 27, reads: “Your review of present state of play with respect to Lien Minh has been understood and appreciated at the appropriate levels here. Your comments on ‘possible difficulties of arranging a full dress review of the Lien Minh’ are quite apt, and I have, therefore obtained approval for the more limited allotment of [number not declassified] dollars requested in your para. 8 to be passed to Thieu by CAS at your direction. We naturally will need continuing reporting on developments affecting Lien Minh and the use to which the funds passed have been put. This reporting will be essential for the eventual revival of the effort to obtain appropriate clearances for the entire package previously put before the 303 Committee.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISS Files, Job 78-32, [name not declassified] Chrono. File, Vol. III) In telegram 44649 from Saigon, December 12, Bunker noted that he told Thieu in a December 11 meeting that “while we respect the President’s judgment that he should avoid over-identification with the Lien Minh, we believe it is clear that an enterprise of this kind is not going to gather momentum, let alone become a powerful non-Communist popular movement challenging the NLF/VC apparatus, unless there is a greater expression of Presidential interest.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Subject File, Vietnam)