162. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • News of the day

[Here follows material unrelated to Laos.]

2. At Tab A is a splendid set of cables from Bill Sullivan in Vientiane showing the rise and probable fall of an unusually foolish coup earlier today. It is worth your reading because of the flavor it gives of life in Laos, and still more because it shows what a resourceful man Sullivan is—in essence he blocked this coup by getting a tipsy Australian technician to cut some wires.

[Here follows material unrelated to Laos.]

McG. B.

Attachment A

Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State

1164. Considerable activity of confused origin shaking city tonight. Several roadblocks have mushroomed around city and troop movements [Page 326] are reported. One short burst of automatic weapons fire about 2015 hours.

Most rumors suggest that young colonels may be taking action that they have long discussed. If so, action likely be diffused and directed primarily against grievances which are more personal than institutional.

We have officers with General Kouprasith and Col. Ttoglith [Tong Lit?] at Chinamao. We are sending others to be with General Siho at his headquarters. Our purpose is to neutralize main sources of local power in order avoid escalation.

British Ambassador, who has called Souvanna, has been assured by latter that situation being brought under his control but we, at current moment, have no assurance that he knows any more than we do just what is afoot.

Sullivan

Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State

Vientiane, February 1, 1965, 12:30 a.m.

1165. As far as we can determine, difficulty in Vientiane seems to be initiated by Col Bounleut Saycocie, malcontent chief of logistics and activist among Young Turks of military establishment. Our best estimate is that he has only one company of troops. However, this is difficult to judge with confidence since everybody with a weapon seems to be milling round in town or on the outskirts.

Bounleut’s principal accomplishment so far has been seizure of radio station. He has broadcast five communiques announcing coup d’etat in name of several officers who, to best of our knowledge, are not engaged in activities. Radio station seems to have been left in hands of few soldiers who control entrance while main force of Bounleut’s company have moved south of city in direction of Chinaimo camp.

I have rounded up Australian technician who runs radio station (he unfortunately is half-stoned) and also Australian DCM. With concurrence Australian Ambassador, I am sending a joint US-Australian Task Force of about 6 men to cut a wire leading from radio station studios to transmitters, thus putting radio off the air. They have instructions to do this only if they can avoid confrontation with military.

[Page 327]

Once we have silenced radio station, I hope we can send Bounleut and his boy scouts back to their marshmallows.

I have talked with Phoumi by telephone and am reasonably confident he is not personally directing this operation. However, he is fairly lathering to take advantage of anything that develops. Both Souvanna and General Ouane are in King’s palace compound where I have not been able to reach them by telephone. Three members of Cabinet are holed up in [garble—hospital?] (where we were having dinner and where my wife is now plying them with cognac to quell their trepidations).

In general, it seems to be a normal Sunday evening in Vientiane.

Sullivan

Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State

Vientiane, February 1, 1965, 12:30 a.m.

1166. ANZUS Task Force has cut wires, putting radio off air. I have sent two officers from Military Attache’s office to roadblock controlled by Bounleut’s troops to tell them coup has failed and to advise them head for the hills. To best our knowledge, only casualties are two soldiers from Chinaimo who were killed while attempting run Bounleut roadblock. I am off to see Souvanna at palace if I can get through.

Sullivan

Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State

Vientiane, February 1, 1965, 2 a.m.

1167. I have just come from seeing Souvanna, who is holed up in King’s compound with most of General Staff and with those Cabinet officers who not at my house. He was delighted know we had cut radio and seems to feel that effort will fizzle.

[Page 328]

According his information there are two colonels involved: Bounleut Saycocie and Khamchan Souvouovong. They dispose at most of two companies of men. Their chances for success seem nil. He asked if we could assist in disposing their men.

We sent Assistant Military Attaché to camp which Bounleut allegedly was using as command post but have not been able find him. We are now sending same officer to seek him out at roadblock en route Camp Chinaimo.

In meantime, I am sending General Sang (PsyWar Chief) who still drinking my brandy at my residence, in company with EmbOff to get message from Souvanna to broadcast on his Armed Forces Radio Station. Sang seems somewhat reluctant, but he is being transported bodily to palace at this moment. Assuming broadcast calms population and troops disperse, I think we may be out of woods by morning.2

Sullivan
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. VIII, 1/1/65–2/19/65. Secret. An initial on the source text indicates that Johnson saw this memorandum. All four attached telegrams are Secret, Flash and were repeated Priority to Bangkok, Saigon, and CINCPAC. For Sullivan’s account of this episode, see his Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, pp. 221–227.
  2. On February 1 McGeorge Bundy sent the President an additional memorandum on the coup in Laos as follows: “Since you enjoyed the first of Sullivan’s reports on the non-coup in Vientiane yesterday, you may want to have the whole series as we have it. It comes out as he predicted it would, but there are some amusing ups and downs and some good touches at the end, including resumption of the tennis tournament, a Canadian black tie dinner for Souvanna, and a swim (after victory) for Sullivan.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to President, Vol. VIII, 1/1/65–2/19/65) The additional attached cables are not printed.