57. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

252908. For Ambassador Bunker from Bundy.

As you know, the information media have been making as much as possible from the coup rumors that are apparently circulating in Saigon, and from the red alert which the GVN declared on Oct 8. We have been responding to press queries by taking the line that we are aware of GVN’s declaration of a state of alert, but have avoided comment on such speculative stories as that carried by AP reporting wholesale arrest of marine officers and the prediction attributed to “a high government source” that many people will be arrested within the next few days.
From certain indicators, notably Minister of Interior Khiem’s conversation with Sam Berger (Saigon 39695),2 as well as recent CAS reporting, it does appear that President Thieu is somewhat concerned about political activity against the government. We would hope that he and his colleagues are on top of this situation. (We do feel, by the way, that Khiem may have been inclined to accept, without sufficient skepticism, former police chief Doan Cong Lap’s version of plotting in I Corps by RDV cadres and others.)
Obviously, it would be most helpful if during the course of Oct 10 GVN were in position and disposed to make an authoritative, public statement which would put the events and rumors of the last few days in some sort of perspective and which would indicate to the public at large that the constitutional government remains firmly in control and that there was never any important threat to its stability. This would seem to us to be the best way of dampening down excessive speculation and depriving Hanoi and others of the opportunity of embarrassing GVN and ourselves.3
We understand just how difficult it is to piece together all aspects of a situation such as this. At times such as this the Vietnamese can be at their most Byzantine. We assume that you will let us know if we can be helpful in any way.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 23-9 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by John Burke of the Vietnam Working Group, cleared by John Walsh of S/S, and approved by Bundy.
  2. Dated October 9. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 253254 from Saigon, October 10, the Embassy speculated that “Thieu himself may be over-reacting for our benefit and trying to signal something to us about his position towards peace possibilities or any fresh developments in Paris” and advised: “It seems to us absolutely essential that another major effort be tried at this time to bring the two together. If we were to see some sort of break in Paris within the near future, the GVN’s position as well as our own would be seriously weakened if an open and obvious rift existed at the highest levels in Saigon and was apparent to one and all. By the same token, evidence of a closer collaboration between Thieu and Ky would aid our cause markedly.” (Ibid.)