1. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Coordination, Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Scott) to the Special Group 1


  • Report of the Subcommittee on United States Support of Foreign Paramilitary Forces

At a meeting of the Special Group (5412) on November 14, 1963,2 General Taylor proposed that an ad hoc subcommittee be formed to review United States programs involving support of foreign paramilitary forces. Fourteen countries were listed as having internal security problems and having received U.S. support for paramilitary organizations. Of these fourteen countries, however, only two (Laos [less than 1 line of source not declassified]) are now receiving covert U.S. support for their paramilitary forces. The remaining twelve countries receive overt U.S. support for their paramilitary forces. Accordingly, the ad hoc subcommittee has limited itself to a review of the covert paramilitary support programs in Laos [less than 1 line of source not declassified]. Reports on these programs are attached at Tabs I and II,3 respectively.


Paramilitary forces being aided by the U.S. covertly in Laos [less than 1 line of source not declassified] are remote from the urban centers, diffused throughout rural areas, and small in number in relation to the regular [Page 2] military forces. Consequently, they are unlikely to develop into power centers rivalling the established governments or to be involved directly as a major influence in a struggle for power in the foreseeable future. Aid given to Lao [less than 1 line of source not declassified] paramilitary forces has not lessened the confidence of these governments in the United States or been inimical to United States interests.


The Subcommittee recommends that the Special Group (5412):

Accept this report on covert United States aid to paramilitary organizations in Laos [less than 1 line of source not declassified]; and
Refer overt United States programs of paramilitary assistance supported by DOD and AID in the remaining countries listed in the minutes of the meeting of the Special Group (5412) on November 14, 1963, to the Special Group (Counterinsurgency) with the suggestion that it review these programs in the light of General Taylor’s memorandum on this subject, dated October 15, 1963.4

Joseph Scott

Tab I


The U.S. is engaged in overt and covert support to paramilitary forces in Laos but in large part the elements being aided are remote from the centers of power and unlikely to be involved in any future power struggle. Military assistance is being provided overtly to the regular non-communist forces, at the request and with the approval of Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma. These regular forces include the conservative Forces Armees du Royaume (FAR) under General Phoumi and the neutralist forces loyal to Prince Souvanna Phouma under General Kong Le. This overt assistance is in accordance with Article 6 of the Protocol of the Geneva Agreements, although we attempt to avoid publicizing it.

Covert support is given to paramilitary guerrilla and intelligence collecting groups which consist primarily of tribal members. General Phoumi is, in general, familiar with our assistance to these groups but not in detail. Although Prince Souvanna is generally aware of our activities in this area, he is less so than Phoumi.

[Page 3]

Paramilitary Forces

The principal paramilitary forces in Laos are those receiving covert U.S. support through CIA. In addition, however, certain organizations of the FAR can be considered to have a paramilitary character. These are the Auto Defense de Choc (ADC) units and the Directorate of National Coordination (DNC).

CIA Supported Covert Paramilitary Program

The genesis of this program stems from high level U.S. Government approval in late 1960 and early 1961 in response to a recommendation by the U.S. Ambassador in Laos that CIA enlist tribal support to fight communism. The main effort in this program has been development of the Meo, the largest non-Lao ethnic group in Laos, as an effective guerrilla force and the provision of plausibly deniable U.S. air support for the program.

Since the program’s inception CIA has worked with the two key Meo leaders, Touby Lyfong and Vang Pao. Vang Pao, the commander of the Meo forces, is a regular FAR officer and the Meo forces are technically considered to be FAR ADC units. As authorized by the Special Group in June 1963, this program has expanded to a present force of approximately 19,000 armed Meo guerrillas (23,000 authorized) engaged in village defense and guerrilla activities against the Pathet Lao. [7 lines of source text not declassified]

In addition to the Meos, CIA has developed, with Special Group approval, paramilitary and intelligence assets among the Yaos in northwest Laos (currently 1700; 2500 authorized) and the Khas in south Laos (currently 400; 1,000 authorized) and Lao in central Laos (currently 1,200; 2,000 authorized). The latter assets (Lao in central Laos) operate under FAR cover.

In support of the above forces CIA has employed covert air support designed to fulfill resupply requirements, as well as meet FAR and neutralist paramilitary and military requirements. This air support, conducted by an ostensibly private and commercial company, has been able to continue operations in Laos under USAID contractual arrangements and through the flexibility of CIA’s cover and funding mechanisms.

During the development, employment and support of the above covert tribal paramilitary program in Laos, CIA has provided World War II weapons and associated ammunition; salary and subsistence and miscellaneous support items. The budget for the Laos tribal program for FY 1963 was $11,625,000 and for FY 1964 $14,008,000.


The FAR ADC units, which are not part of the Meo ADC force, have a total strength of about 9,000 and are essentially home guard or militia-type [Page 4] military units concerned with local village or urban defense. On occasion, however, they have been used as regular forces. The ADC’s are considered to be part of the FAR and come under its organizational command. Thus, General Phoumi controls these units, as he does the regular FAR troops. Phoumi provides some support to the ADC’s from US military assistance but the amount is probably minimal. The neutralists have also begun recently to develop some ADC elements which will presumably be controlled and maintained by the regular neutralist forces under Kong Le.


The Directorate of National Coordination is an organization of the FAR charged primarily with security and police responsibilities. (A national police force has not been reconstituted as yet.) In addition to acting as the police force in Vientiane and other areas, the DNC is engaged in intelligence, customs and border control activities on behalf of the FAR. DNC units are stationed in the few cities and large towns and penetrate slightly into the country side in scattered gendarmerie posts of four or five men. The DNC numbers some 7,800 men under Col. Siho, of which 3,600 are engaged in police and 4,200 in military-type activities. Three battalions of the latter in the Vientiane area are the most important elements of the DNC in terms of any political involvement. As part of the FAR and because of Siho’s relationship with him, General Phoumi controls the DNC.

Power Rivalries

The basic power rivalry in Laos is between the pro-Communist Pathet Lao (PL) and the non-Communist Lao. Although rivalries continue to exist between the neutralist and conservative factions, the aggressive PL posture toward the neutralists since a year ago has resulted in a more cooperative neutralist-conservative relationship, especially between Souvanna and Phoumi, and also between the military in the field. Rivalries also exist within each of the two non-Communist factions. Growing restiveness has been reported within conservative ranks. It is generally recognized, however, that any attempt to create a new power alignment among the non-Communist leadership requires U.S. support if it is to succeed. We have made our position clear to all concerned that the U.S. continues to support Prime Minister Souvanna and the Geneva settlement and we consider any changes in the existing setup inimical to U.S. and Lao interests.

Nevertheless, the danger always exists that some ambitious or misled group might attempt to upset the present fragile balance. A coup attempt could, for example, come from within the FAR ranks by generals disillusioned with Phoumi’s leadership. It could also result from a power play by Col. Siho and the DNC, although this would probably require [Page 5] support by other FAR elements. General Phoumi claims to have the situation under control. We can expect, however, to continue to hear rumors about such coup plotting. In addition, rivalries between neutralist military leaders will continue to produce rumors about efforts of one neutralist group to gain ascendancy over Kong Le’s position. These moves, however, among conservative or neutralist groups, involve primarily regular military forces.

The danger of an attempt to gain power by the principal paramilitary group, the Meo, is more remote. The Meo, as all tribal groups in Laos, are isolated from the country’s political arena and are not integrated into Lao society. They are located away from the main centers of the country, living in scattered villages at the higher elevations (the Yao and Kha tribal groups are even more isolated and too few in number to pose a threat). Moreover, the Meo are subject to U.S. guidance and direction. The development of the Meo as a rival center of armed power with political objectives in a national Lao context does not seem to be a realistic possibility. The main problem posed by the Meo, and all other tribal groups in Laos, is the need for their eventual integration into Lao society and identification with the Lao nation. Phoumi is beginning to recognize this, as is Meo leader Vang Pao who has recently also established a working relationship with Kong Le in the Plaine des Jarres area. Other Lao leaders, however, including Souvanna, continue to view the Meo and other tribal peoples in the traditional Lao manner of the tribal people being separate and apart from the Lao. Souvanna even seems to feel that military support for the Meo could lead to a greater autonomous status for them. He has expressed opposition to the use of Thai in support of the Meo. In terms of U.S. interests, however, the Meo will continue to play an essential and useful military role as an anti-Communist guerrilla force. At the same time it is important to continue efforts to impress on the Meo the need for national identification with Laos and the Lao government. The first steps in this respect give some reason for encouragement, although a better relationship with and acceptance by Souvanna is still essential.

  1. Source: Department of State,INR/IL Historical Files, Special Group Meetings. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. A memorandum of that meeting is ibid.
  3. Tab II is not printed.
  4. Taylor’s memorandum of October 15, 1963, has not been found. The Special Group accepted these recommendations at its meeting of January 23. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Special Group Meetings)