PROPAGANDA, SPIES AND SECRET PEACE TALKS DURING THE VIETNAM WAR

HANOI HANNA

The Vietnamese version of Tokyo Rose, Hanoi Hannah tried to make American GIs homesick and convince them to go home because the war they were fighting was immoral. The sexy-sounding radio announcer for Voice of Vietnam, whose real name is Trinh Thi Ngo, told Philip Shenon of the New York Times in 1994, "My work was to make the GIs understand that it was not right for them to take part in this war. I talk to them about the traditions of the Vietnamese, to resist aggression. I want them to know the truth about this war and to do a little bit to demoralize them so they will refuse to fight."

Hanoi Hannah broadcasted from 1965 until the Americans left in 1975. Repeated several times a day, her 30 minute broadcasts featured American musicians such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Elvis Presley and a script that attempted to make the Americans aware that they "were the aggressor, that's this war was a problem for the Vietnamese to sort out." She also read the names of American troops who died the previous month and American newspaper articles about anti-war demonstrations in the U.S.

Spies for North Vietnam

Former C.I.A. interrogator Frank Snepp told The New Yorker: "We estimated there were fourteen thousand spies operating in South Vietnam. The Communists infiltrated right to the heart of the enemy. It was a government of Swiss cheese." Describing turning points in the war, such as Henry Kissinger’s secret negotiations in Paris and the decision by the South Vietnamese government in 1975 to abandon its positions in the Central Highlands, Snepp says, "The Communists knew what was happening before the U.S. Embassy knew. "We didn’t understand the degree of corruption in the South Vietnamese government. We didn’t want to look at corruption or morale. We didn’t want to know we were backing the wrong horse. This was true in Iran or Iraq or anywhere else where we’ve supported corrupt governments. An, of course, wanted very much to know these things. He knew under these conditions that Vietnamization would never work." [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

Vu Ngoc Nha, a spy for communist North Vietnam who was a close friend and adviser to two South Vietnamese presidents before he was unmasked by U.S. intelligence during the Vietnam War. Associated Press reported: "Nha was an insider in the administrations of presidents Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu and fed secret information to the North until he was exposed by the CIA in 1969 and sentenced to life in prison.

In an interview with the Vietnam News Agency in 2001, year, Nha said he frequently was summoned by Thieu and had a small bedroom next to the president's quarters. "The president and I discussed not only matters of national importance, but also talked over his family's affairs. Some things were known only by him and me. He even gave me the key to his room," Nha said. After the Vietnam War ended with the North's victory, Nha was promoted to major general in the Communist army. Nha's exploits were made famous in a biography by Huu Mai entitled "The Adviser." He died in 2002 at the age of 74 in Ho Chi Minh City [Source: The Associated Press, August 8, 2002]

John Walker, a retired Navy officer, gave the Soviet some of the U.S. Navy's most closely-guarded codes and information which enabled the Soviets to locate American submarines and the procedures the United States would follow in the event of a nuclear attack. He began spying after visiting the Soviet Embassy in Washington in 1967. He told his handlers that his motive was "purely financial." He earned more than $1 million before he was arrested in 1985. His brothers Michael and Arthur were also in the scheme.

U.S. News & World Report reported: On Dec. 18, 1967, a fresh-faced Navy communications officer slipped through the wrought-iron gates of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., and asked to see security. Escorted into a small side room, the 30-year-old didn't mince words. "I want to sell you top secrets," he told Yanis Lukashevich, an official he assumed to be KGB. The budding spy promptly handed over settings for the KL-47 cipher machine, which handled the sensitive personal messages of the Navy brass. John Anthony Walker Jr. left that day with a stack of $50 bills, 20 in all, the first installment in a 17-year traitorship that would ultimately yield him more than $1 million. [Source: U.S. News & World Report, May 22, 2003 <<]

Through Walker " KGB agents learned each and every American troop and air movement to Vietnam from 1971 to 1973, and they passed on to their allies the times and planned sites for U.S. airstrikes against North Vietnam. "It was the greatest case in KGB history," Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB officer who defected for a brief time in 1985, told American intelligence officers. "We deciphered millions of your messages. If there had been a war, we would have won it." <<

Pham Xuan An: North Vietnam’s Double-Agent and U.S. Ace Reporter

Pham Xuan An was a remarkable man who led a double life as a communist spy and a respected reporter for Western news organizations during the Vietnam War. According to Associated Press: "In the history of wartime espionage, few were as successful as An. He straddled two worlds for most of the 15-year war in Indochina as an undercover communist agent while also working as a journalist, first for Reuters news service and later for 10 years as Time magazine's chief Vietnamese reporter—a role that gave him access to military bases and background briefings. He was so well-known for his sources and insight that many Americans who knew him suspected he worked for the CIA.[Source: By Richard Pyle and Margie Mason, Associated Press, September 20, 2006]

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Recognized as a brilliant political analyst, beginning with his work in the nineteen-sixties for Reuters and then for the New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor, and, finally, as a Time correspondent for eleven years, Pham Xuan An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral’s café, on the old Rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon as the best news source in Saigon. He was called "Dean of the Vietnamese Press Corps" and "Voice of Radio Catinat"—the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as "docteur de sexologie," "professeur coup d’état," "Commander of Military Dog Training" (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), "Ph.D. in revolutions," or, simply, General Givral. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"An’s story strikes me as something right out of Graham Greene," says David Halberstam, who was friends with An when he was a Times reporter in Vietnam. "It broaches all the fundamental questions: What is loyalty? What is patriotism? What is the truth? Who are you when you’re telling these truths?" He adds, "There was an ambivalence to An that’s almost impossible for us to imagine. In looking back, I see he was a man split right down the middle." In his 1965 book on Vietnam, "The Making of a Quagmire," Halberstam described An as the linchpin of "a small but first-rate intelligence network" of journalists and writers. An, he wrote, "had the best military contacts in the country." Now that Halberstam knows An’s story, does he bear him any grudges? "No," he says, echoing the opinion of almost all of An’s former colleagues. "It’s a story full of intrigue, smoke and mirrors, but I still think fondly of An. I never felt betrayed by An. He had to deal with being Vietnamese at a tragic time in their history, when there was nothing but betrayal in the air." ////

"An was of paramount importance to the Communists, not only for getting information to the North but also for corroborating what they were receiving from other sources," says former C.I.A. interrogator Frank Snepp. Author of "Decent Interval," about the chaotic collapse of Saigon in 1975, Snepp now works as a television-news producer in Los Angeles. "An had access to strategic intelligence. That’s obvious," Snepp says. "But no one has ‘walked the cat backward,’ done a postmortem of the damage he did. The agency didn’t have the stomach for it." Snepp suggests that one source for An’s intelligence was Robert Shaplen, the New Yorker correspondent. Close friends and collaborators, An and Shaplen spent hours closeted in Shaplen’s room on the third floor of the Continental Palace Hotel, occasionally stepping out on the balcony to avoid being overheard. "Shaplen was one of our favorite journalists," Snepp says. "We had orders from the top to give him unbelievable access to the embassy and high-level intelligence.////

Pham Xuan An’s Espionage Work

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "An sent the North Vietnamese a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink, but it was his typed dispatches, now locked in Vietnam’s intelligence archives and known to us only through secondhand reports, which will undoubtedly rank as his chef d’oeuvre. Using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service, An wrote his dispatches, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film, An’s reports were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters. Every few weeks, beginning in 1952, An himself would leave his Saigon office, drive twenty miles northwest to the Ho Bo woods, and descend into the tunnels to plan Communist strategy. From Cu Chi, An’s dispatches were hustled under armed guard to Mt. Ba Den, on the Cambodian border, driven to Phnom Penh, flown to Guangzhou (Canton), in southern China, and then rushed to the Politburo in North Vietnam. The writing was so lively and detailed that General Giap and Ho Chi Minh are reported to have rubbed their hands with glee on getting these dispatches from Tran Van Trung—An’s code name. "We are now in the United States’ war room!" they exclaimed, according to members of the Vietnamese Politburo. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"From the Army, intelligence, secret police, I had all kinds of sources," An says. "The commanders of the military branches, officers of the Special Forces, the Navy, the Air Force—they all helped me." In exchange for this steady stream of information, An gave his South Vietnamese informants the same thing he gave his Communist employers. "We discussed these documents, as the South Vietnamese tried to figure out what they meant. They had a problem. How were they going to deal with the Americans?" An then turned around and advised the Americans on how to deal with the Vietnamese. It was a high-level confidence game, with death hovering over him should he be discovered photographing the strategic plans and intelligence reports slipped to him by his South Vietnamese and American sources.////

"An worked through the night photographing these documents. Then his film cannisters were disguised to look like nem ninh hoa, grilled pork wrapped in rice paper, or hidden in the bellies of fish that had begun to rot. More fish or nem would be piled into baskets made to look like offerings being presented at a Buddhist funeral. In the morning, when An walked his German shepherd at the horse-racing track, he would deposit his nem cannisters in an empty bird’s nest high in a tree. For larger shipments, he hid his rolls of film under the stele of what he pretended was a family grave. An’s wife sometimes followed him at a distance. If he was arrested, she could alert his couriers.////

"Using live drops, dead drops, couriers, and radio transmitters that linked him through C.O.S.V.N. to military headquarters in North Vietnam, An was supported by dozens of military intelligence agents who had been detailed to work on his behalf. Of the forty-five couriers devoted to getting his messages out of Saigon, twenty-seven were captured and killed. "There were times before my departure on a mission when my wife and I agreed, if I were arrested, it would be best if I were killed," An told Ngoc Hai. "It would be more horrible if they tortured me for information that put other people’s lives at risk. Sometimes it got so dangerous that, while my hands were steady, my legs were shaking uncontrollably. Despite my efforts to keep calm, the automatic reflexes of my body made me shiver with fear." ////

Pham Xuan An and Ap Bac and the Tet Offensive

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "But we know of several occasions when he reached behind the curtain to adjust the scene. One was the battle of Ap Bac, in 1963, which marked a turning point in the expanding American war. For the first time, the Viet Cong fought at battalion strength and won a decisive victory against Vietnamese troops supported by American helicopters, armored vehicles, and artillery. Two Viet Cong soldiers received North Vietnam’s highest military-exploit medal for winning this battle. One was the commander of the Communist forces. The other was Pham Xuan An, who devised the winning strategy. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"An comes into focus again at the Tet Offensive, the simultaneous attack on more than a hundred South Vietnamese cities and other targets during the New Year’s ceasefire of 1968. Planning for the offensive had begun two years earlier, when the head of An’s intelligence network, a colonel known by his nom de guerre, Tu Cang, moved from the jungle into Saigon. Tu Cang was a famous cowboy, a hearty, affable man, who packed a pair of K-54 pistols and could plug a target at fifty meters with either his left or his right hand. A former honor student at the French lycée in Saigon, Tu Cang had lived underground in the Cu Chi tunnels for so many years that by the time he reëntered Saigon he had forgotten how to open a car door. An replaced Tu Cang’s jungle sandals with new shoes and bought him a suit of clothes. Soon the two men were driving around town in An’s little Renault 4CV like old friends.////

"Pretending to be chatting about dogs and cockfights, they were sighting targets for the Tet Offensive. Tu Cang proposed attacking the Treasury to get some money. An told him the Treasury was the wrong target—"They only hand out salaries there." An said a better target was the courthouse, where lots of gold was stored as evidence in the trials of South Vietnam’s legion of burglars and smugglers. He advised Tu Cang to bring an acetylene torch. Tu Cang isolated twenty targets in Saigon, including the Presidential Palace and the United States Embassy. He personally led the attack on the palace, where fifteen of the seventeen members in his team were killed outright. He himself barely escaped to a nearby safe house, and he hid with his two pistols held to his head, vowing to kill himself rather than be captured. The following day, he and An were driving around the city again, this time counting the bodies of the Viet Cong soldiers who had died in the attack. ////

"Later that spring, in what was called the mini-Tet offensive, the Viet Cong began shelling Saigon indiscriminately, blowing up buildings and killing scores of civilians. An sent a note into the field. "I told them to stop the shelling. It had no military objective and was alienating people." "What happened next?" I ask. "The shelling stopped." ////

Pham Xuan An’s Early Life and family

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Pham Xuan An was born in the Vietnamese Year of the Cat, at the Hour of the Buffalo, on September 12, 1927, twenty miles northeast of Saigon, in the Bien Hoa psychiatric hospital. At the time, this was the only medical facility in Cochin China open to Vietnamese. As the firstborn son of a cadre supérieur, an educated member of the colonial administration, An had the rare honor of receiving a French colonial birth certificate.//// Originally from Hai Duong, the heart of North Vietnam, in the densely populated Red River Delta lying between Hanoi and the coast, An’s great-grandfather, a silver- and goldsmith, was recruited by the Nguyen dynasty to make medals for the royal court at Hue, in central Vietnam. An’s grandfather, who rose through the mandarinate to become a teacher and the director of a primary school for girls,[Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"An’s father, trained as an engineer at the university in Hanoi, worked as a cadastral surveyor, establishing property lines and tax rolls in Vietnam’s southern frontier. He laid out roads in Saigon and canals through the U Minh Forest, along the Gulf of Siam. While surveying in Cambodia, he met An’s mother, another emigrant from the North. She was an industrious woman whose second-grade education allowed her to read and write. The work of a colonial surveyor in what was then the wilds of South Vietnam involved press-ganging peasants into carrying chains through the Mekong marshlands and building towers in the jungle to establish sight lines. "When you do land surveying and build canals and roads, you see the poor Vietnamese workers eking out their living," An says. "You see the French system of forced labor, beatings, and other abuses. The only way to oppose these abuses is to fight for independence." He adds, "The Americans did the same thing in 1776. My family was always patriotic in their desire to remove the French from Vietnam." ////

"In his early childhood, An was living on a sampan in the cajeput forests at the southern tip of Vietnam when he was swept overboard during a typhoon and nearly drowned. He was sent to stay with his grandparents in Hue, returned to the South on the death of his grandmother, and sent north again when he flunked his exams in the third grade. His father separated him from his siblings and exiled him to Truoi, in the countryside, where life among the peasants was supposed to scare him into working harder in school. Instead, An delighted in playing hooky and larking around the countryside. When he flunked his exams again, he was caned by his father and moved back to Saigon for a stricter regimen.////

Pham Xuan An Recruited as a Spy in the Viet Minh in the 1950s

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "An was an eighteen-year-old high-school student at the Collège de Can Tho, in the Mekong Delta, when he dropped out of school, in 1945, to enlist in a Vietminh training course. For more than a hundred recruits there were only fifty weapons, some left over from the First World War. Trainees had to pick up spent cartridges to make new bullets. Though he was involved in fighting first the Japanese and then the French, An dismisses this experience as little more than running errands. But a government Web site, recounting his activities as a Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, describes An as "a national defense combatant who participated in all battles in the western region of South Vietnam."[Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"By 1947, An had left his position as a platoon leader, involved mainly in propaganda, and moved back to Saigon to care for his father, who would have a lung removed and spend the next two years in the hospital with tuberculosis. An organized student demonstrations in Saigon, initially against the French and then against the Americans. He worked as a secretary for the Caltex oil company until, in 1950, he passed the exam to become a French customs inspector.////

"During the Tet New Year celebration in 1952, An was summoned into the jungle north of Saigon to meet the Communist officials who were setting up C.O.S.V.N.—the Central Office for South Vietnam. C.O.S.V.N. would lead the war against the Americans, who, even before the end of the First Indochina War, in 1954, were beginning to replace the French as the primary enemy. An was excited about this call to the war zone, where he hoped to join his sister, who had moved to the jungle three years earlier to become "the Voice of Nam Bo," a radio broadcaster for the Communist network. An visited her sometimes, taking her food or medicine, and staying overnight in the Vietminh tunnel network, where the cooking fires were vented through termite mounds in order to evade the French spotter planes that flew overhead. (In 1955, An’s sister moved to North Vietnam to work for the state-run coal mines.)

"An was disappointed to learn that he wouldn’t be joining his sister in the jungle but, instead, was being recruited to work as a spy in Vietnam’s newly established military intelligence service. "I was the first recruit," he says. An found his new assignment ignoble. Spying is the work of hunting dogs and birds of prey, he says. "I had been beaten by the riot police during student demonstrations in Saigon, and I had no desire to be a stool pigeon or an informer." An was formally inducted into the Communist Party in 1953, at a ceremony in the U Minh Forest presided over by Le Duc Tho. Tho, who was in charge of the southern resistance against the French, would later spend four years negotiating with Henry Kissinger at the Paris peace talks. Tho’s younger brother, Mai Chi Tho, as the head of security for the Communist forces in the South, was An’s boss.////

Pham Xuan An’s Work with the CIA and the Quiet American in Saigon in the 1950s

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "The first problem An confronted on slipping back into Saigon as a newly recruited spy was how to avoid being drafted into the French colonial forces. To practice the English that he was learning at the United States Information Service, he volunteered his services as a press censor at the central post office. Here he was told to black out the dispatches written for British and French newspapers by Graham Greene, a "troublemaker" who the French assumed was working for British intelligence during his frequent visits to Vietnam. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"In spite of his freelance work for the French intelligence agency, the Deuxième Bureau, An was drafted in 1954. To avoid getting shot during the waning days of the French colonial war in Indochina, An played on the family connections by which business gets done in Vietnam. He asked a cousin, Captain Pham Xuan Giai, for help. Giai, who commanded G5, the psychological-warfare department of the Army general staff, made An an adjutant, the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer, and put him to work at Army headquarters on the Rue Gallieni, near Cholon.////

"This is where Colonel Edward Lansdale found An when he came to offer his services—and money—to Captain Giai. Lansdale, a former advertising man and an expert in psychological warfare, had been sent to run the C.I.A.’s covert operations in Vietnam. Arriving in the country soon after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Lansdale found G5 and the rest of the old colonial military apparatus in a shambles. They were totally demoralized, with no idea what to do with themselves, until Lansdale and his innocuously titled Saigon Military Mission began turning South Vietnam into a country, complete with an army, a President, and a flag.////

"Finding a promising student in the young Pham Xuan An, Lansdale and his colleagues began teaching him the tradecraft that he would employ in his next twenty years as a Communist spy. "I am a student of Sherman Kent," An says, referring to the Yale professor who helped found the C.I.A. Strategic intelligence, Kent wrote in his classic text, "Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy" (1949), is a "reportorial job" based on studying the "personalities" of world leaders. "It must know of their character and ambitions, their opinions, their weaknesses, the influences which they can exert, and the influences before which they are frail. It must know of their friends and relatives, and the political, economic, and social milieu in which they move." ////

"Pham Xuan An, the psyops intelligence agent, was beginning to acquire the "reportorial" method that he would later employ so brilliantly as Pham Xuan An the Time correspondent. "People usually have one career, while I had two, the job of following the revolution and the job of being a journalist," An told the writer Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai, who has published a Vietnamese monograph about him. "These two professions were very contradictory, but also very similar. The intelligence job involves collecting information, analyzing it, and jealously keeping it secret, like a cat covering its droppings. The journalist, on the other hand, collects information, analyzes it, and then publishes it to the world." ////

"As a quadruple agent moonlighting for France’s Deuxième Bureau, working for his cousin’s indigenous Vietnamese intelligence organization and its C.I.A. sponsor, and reporting to his Communist handlers, An was beginning to live along the edge of his own personal nightmare. "I was never relaxed for a minute," he says. "Sooner or later as a spy, you’ll be captured, like a fish in a pond. I had to prepare myself to be tortured. That was my likely fate." It was scant solace that most of An’s colleagues in G5 were in a similar predicament. "When we weren’t spying on each other, we smoked opium and played together as friends," An says. "That was just the way things worked. I had to compartmentalize." He acknowledges that it was hard to do. "But you can’t kill all the time. When the war was over, these were the people I would have to live with." ////

"After this Mai Chi Tho and Muoi Huong, An’s case officer, decided to send him to the United States to be trained as a journalist. Muoi Huong, in an interview with the Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien, said that he got the idea to make An a journalist from Ho Chi Minh, who himself had worked as a reporter. In the U.S. An studied at Orange Coast College in California and did internships at the Sacramento Bee and the United Nations. He traveled America financed by the Asia Foundation, which was later revealed to be a C.I.A. front.////

Pham Xuan Works for the South Vietnamese CIA Saigon

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "On returning to Saigon, An was so frightened that he hid in his house for a month. Then, in a bold stroke, he used family connections to call on Tran Kim Tuyen for help. A former military surgeon, Tuyen was the brilliant, diminutive figure who ran South Vietnam’s intelligence network for President Ngo Dinh Diem and his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. This vast C.I.A.-sponsored network of spies and clandestine military forces operated out of the President’s cabinet under the anodyne name of the Office of Political, Cultural, and Social Research. If Tuyen hired him, An figured he would be safe, at least for the moment, from arrest. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"Tuyen put An in charge of the foreign correspondents working for V.T.X., the Viet News Agency. Many of them, with no training in the profession, had never filed a story as a journalist. An ordered them to write a story a week. They complained to Tuyen, saying that doing journalism would get in the way of their work as spies—their real job. Supporting An, Tuyen instructed his foreign agents to get "serious in your work" and start filing stories like the "professional pressman" An.////

"Tuyen fell out of power, after a failed coup, and An moved from V.T.X. to Reuters and from there to Time. Recognized as one of the most hardworking journalists in town, always ready to help his colleagues with informed opinions or telling anecdotes, An gave information in order to get it. Describing to Ngoc Hai the similarities between journalists and spies, An said, "Their food is information, documents. Just like birds, one has to keep feeding them so they’ll sing." ////

Pham Xuan and the American Press

Associated Press reported: "An's political and military contacts made him an essential source for other Vietnamese reporters working for foreign news organizations. He was known as the soft-spoken, chain-smoking oracle of "Radio Catinat," as the Saigon rumor mill was called. But few, if any, suspected he was a communist spy. Former media colleagues expressed mixed feelings, from bemusement to a sense of betrayal, after An revealed in the 1980s that he had been a spy. Outside critics vilified An for his role in espionage activities that may have led to the deaths of many Americans and South Vietnamese. But most of An's ex-colleagues refrained from criticizing his deception. "If ever there was a man caught between two worlds, it was An. It is very hard for anyone who did not serve in Vietnam in those years to understand the complexity," said David Halberstam, who covered the early years of the war for The New York Times. [Source: By Richard Pyle and Margie Mason, Associated Press , September 20, 2006]

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Far from planting stories, says Richard Pyle, the former A. P. Saigon bureau chief, "An saved Time from embarrassing itself by publishing stories that weren’t true. It was sleight of hand on his part. Without revealing how he knew what he knew, he’d let you know whether you were on the right track." An was also accused, according to former Time correspondent Zalin Grant, of being "the first known case of a Communist agent to appear on the masthead of a major American publication as a correspondent." Murray Gart, the chief of correspondents at Time during the war, is reported to have said, after he learned the news, "An, that son of a bitch. I’d like to kill him." [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"Another reporter who is critical of An, though for different reasons, is Peter Arnett. An rented a house from Arnett’s Vietnamese in-laws, and the two journalists would meet often at Givral’s to swap stories. "It’s still a raw point for me," Arnett says. "Even though I understand him as a Vietnamese patriot, I still feel journalistically betrayed. There were accusations all throughout the war that we had been infiltrated by the Communists. What he did allowed the right to come up and slug us in the eye. For a year or so, I took it personally. Then I decided it was his business." ////

"With these few exceptions—and even Arnett ends our conversation by praising An as a "bold guy"—An’s colleagues are united in their support of him. "Was I angry when I learned about An?" says Frank McCulloch, who was the head of Time’s Asian bureaus when he hired An to work in the Saigon office for seventy-five dollars a week. "Absolutely not. It’s his land, I thought. If the situation were reversed, I would have done the same thing." "An was my colleague and star reporter," says McCulloch, who is now retired after a distinguished career as the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and other papers. "An had a very sophisticated understanding of Vietnamese politics, and he was remarkably accurate." McCulloch bursts into laughter. "Of course he was accurate, considering his sources!" ////

"Stanley Karnow, author of the seminal 1983 book, "Vietnam; A History," told Associated Press that despite his secret role, An was always reliable. "I was struck by how much he knew and was willing to share," Karnow said. "He said later that his function as a spy was not disinformation, it was to gather the best info he could for them (the Viet Cong)." [Source: By Richard Pyle and Margie Mason, Associated Press , September 20, 2006]

When An’s former colleagues first learned his story—from rumors that began circulating in the eighties—they invariably recalled a scene, a revelatory moment, which was suddenly explained by the news. Nick Turner, An’s former boss at Reuters, confirmed his suspicions about An’s unannounced absences from the office. H. D. S. Greenway, known to his friends as David, suddenly understood why his former colleague at Time knew more than he did about Lam Son 719, the disastrous attempt by the South Vietnamese Army to attack Laos in 1971. "I had been up on the border near Khe Sanh, watching badly mauled soldiers retreating from Laos," Greenway told me. "I described them as survivors from the original column leading the attack. ‘No,’ An said, without the slightest hesitation. ‘The original column was wiped out. What you saw was survivors from the attempt to rescue the column, which also failed.’ Later, when I thought back on it, he seemed remarkably well informed. It’s the kind of insight you’d have only from knowing what both sides in the battle were doing." ////

"McCulloch remembers An with tremendous fondness and respect, and he says it was a "great pleasure," in 1990, to organize a subscription fund, which raised thirty-two thousand dollars, to send An’s eldest son, Pham Xuan Hoang An, known to everyone as Young An, to journalism school at the University of North Carolina. The list of subscribers to the fund reads like a Who’s Who of Vietnam War reporters. ////

Pham Xuan An Saves American Journalist and South Vietnamese Spy

Associated Press reported: "Before Saigon fell to the communists, An worked to help friends escape, including South Vietnam's former security chief who feared death if he was found by northern forces. An later revealed his true identity as a Viet Cong commander, but said he never reported any false information or communist propaganda while in his role as a journalist. In a 2000 interview with The Associated Press, An said he always had warm feelings for his press colleagues and for the United States, where he attended college at Fullerton, Calif. But deep down he remained a "true believer" in the communist cause as the best way to free Vietnam of foreign control. "I fought for two things - independence and social justice," he said. [Source: By Richard Pyle and Margie Mason, Associated Press , September 20, 2006]

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "In 1970, An’s fellow Time correspondent Robert Sam Anson was captured by North Vietnamese soldiers and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where at least twenty-five other journalists were already dead or unaccounted for. After Anson’s wife pleaded with An to help her, he secretly arranged for Anson’s release. It would be another seventeen years before Anson learned the story of what An had done for him. When Anson saw An again in 1987, he asked him, "Why did you save me, if you were an enemy of my country?" An replied, "Yes, I was an enemy of your country, but you were my friend." To this day, Anson works with a photo of An on his desk. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"An won his final military-exploit medal for the role he played in the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, which ended with the Communists seizing Saigon on April 30, 1975. His last deed in the war was another act of friendship. Hours before the city fell, An arranged the escape of his old patron, the South Vietnamese spymaster Tran Kim Tuyen. In the famous photo showing the helicopter taking off from the roof of what is usually misidentified as the United States Embassy (it was actually a C.I.A. safe house two blocks away), the last person climbing the rickety ladder to get on board is Tran Kim Tuyen. Out of the frame, waving goodbye, stands Pham Xuan An.////

Pham Xuan An at the Fall of Saigon

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Nayan Chanda, who was working for Reuters and the Far Eastern Economic Review, remembered seeing An standing in front of the Presidential Palace on the last day of the war, as Communist tank No. 843 smashed through the iron gate. "There was a strange, quizzical smile on his face. He seemed content and at peace with himself. I found it odd," Chanda says. "His wife and children had just been airlifted out of the country, and he didn’t seem to have a care in the world." Chanda later realized that An was celebrating the Communist victory, for which he had worked for thirty years. Aside from Chanda’s fleeting glimpse, An kept his cover in place after 1975. "It was a dangerous moment for me," he says. "It would have been easy for someone to put a bullet through my skull. All I could do was wait for someone from the jungle to come out and recognize me." [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"An and his mother moved into the Continental Palace Hotel. They lived first in Robert Shaplen’s old room. Then An moved into Time’s two-room office. He was repeatedly summoned for interrogations by the police, until intelligence officials intervened. People began to suspect that he was "a man of the revolution" when they saw him ride his bicycle to the military supply depot and leave with bags of rice and meat tied to the handlebars. They assumed that he was an "April 30th revolutionary," someone who had jumped to the Communist side after the fall of Saigon.////

"Not even military officials as highly placed as Bui Tin knew An’s story. Tin was the North Vietnamese colonel who accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. He was working as the deputy editor of Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the North Vietnamese Army newspaper, when he rode a tank up to the Presidential Palace on April 30th. Accidentally finding himself the highest-ranking officer there, Tin accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government and sat down at the President’s desk to file a dispatch for his newspaper. Like most journalists newly arrived in Saigon, the next thing he did was go looking for Pham Xuan An. "On the morning of May 1st, I went to meet An at his office in the Continental Palace Hotel. I had no idea at the time that he was a spy," Tin says. "All he told me was that he was a correspondent working for Time-Life. He introduced me to all the journalists in town, and I helped them send their articles abroad. Three months after the end of the war, I still didn’t know An was a spy." ////

Foiled Plans to Send Pham Xuan An to the U.S. After the Vietnam War

Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "As Saigon fell to the Communists, An, like his fellow-correspondents, was hoping to be evacuated to the United States. Vietnam’s military intelligence agency planned to continue his work in America. The Politburo knew there would be a war-after-the-war, a bitter period of political maneuvering in which the United States launched covert military operations and a trade embargo against Vietnam. Who better to report on America’s intentions than Pham Xuan An? In the last days of the war, An’s wife and their four children were airlifted out of Vietnam and resettled in Washington, D.C. An was anxiously awaiting instructions to follow them, when word came from the North Vietnamese Politburo that he would not be allowed to leave the country. [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

"Hints of the power struggle over An—pitting the military intelligence agents who wanted to send him to the United States against officials in the Politburo—were revealed to Bui Tin only when the government moved to get An’s wife and children repatriated to Vietnam. Bucking the tide of refugees flooding out of the country, An’s family spent a year trying to get back into Vietnam by means of a circuitous route that passed through Paris, Moscow, and Hanoi. The first official announcement of An’s wartime allegiance came in December, 1976, when he flew to Hanoi as an Army delegate at the Fourth Party Congress. Friends who saw him walking around Hanoi in an Army uniform, which he was wearing for the first time in his life, were astounded by the transformation of the journalist into a beribboned hero.////

"The problem with Pham Xuan An, from the perspective of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was that he loved America and Americans, democratic values, and objectivity in journalism. He considered America an accidental enemy who would return to being a friend once his people had gained their independence. An was the Quiet Vietnamese, the representative figure who was at once a lifelong revolutionary and an ardent admirer of the United States. He says he never lied to anyone, that he gave the same political analyses to Time that he gave to Ho Chi Minh. He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth.////

Pham Xuan An After the Vietnam War

Instead was sent to a re-education camp. Thomas A. Bass wrote in The New Yorker, "Always a bad student, An finished near the bottom of his class. "They didn’t like my jokes," he says of the dour Northerners who were trying to teach him to speak "new" Vietnamese, full of political terms borrowed from China. An suffered through the bone-chilling rains of a Hanoi winter, sleeping on a wooden bed with a cotton mattress. "I wore a Chinese cotton jacket that made me look like a mummy," he says. "I asked for a Russian jacket. But I was still cold, so I went back and asked for a ‘hundred-and-eleven-degree jacket’—three girls, one sleeping on my right, one on my left, and one on top of me." "They didn’t like me at all," An says of his political reëducators. "But I haven’t made a big enough mistake to be shot yet." [Source: Thomas A. Bass, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005 ////]

Later "An was named a Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, awarded four military-exploit medals, and elevated to the rank of brigadier general. He was also sent to a reëducation camp and forbidden to meet Western visitors. His family were brought back to Vietnam, returning a year after they left. In 1990, Colonel An was elevated to the rank of general. At the time, Vietnam had begun to adopt doi moi, the "renovation policy" that opened the country to the West. Whether the Communists were recognizing An’s merits, ashamed of the threadbare penury in which he lived, or maneuvering to keep him on a tighter leash is open to interpretation. An, as usual, explains his promotion with a joke. As Western journalists began returning to Vietnam, people would ask to see "General Givral." To avoid embarrassment, the government decided to raise his rank to match his title.////

"In 1997, the Vietnamese government denied An permission to visit the United States for a conference in New York to which he had been invited as a special guest, and it was not until March, 2002, that the seventy-four-year-old, emphysema-stricken general was allowed to retire. "They wanted to control me," he says. "That’s why they kept me in the military so long. I talk very wildly. They wanted to keep my mouth shut." This is one possible explanation, but, as always with An, there could be another figure in the carpet. All we know is that, for at least twenty-seven years after the end of the war, An was still an active member of Vietnam’s military intelligence service.////

Given his familiarity with the French, Viet-Minh, Viet Cong, South Vietnamese and American armies, An said in the 2000 interview, "I told them they should make me a five-star general. I don't think they understood my sense of humor." An died in 2006 at the age of 79. An had lived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), since South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. "[Source: By Richard Pyle and Margie Mason, Associated Press , September 20, 2006]

Marigold Secret Peace Talks

According to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the U.S. tried unsuccessfully in seven attempts to initiate negotiations with Hanoi between mid-1965 and 1968. Three efforts were made in 1967, through Canada, Poland, and a meeting between the British and Soviet foreign ministers. Another attempt was made in Paris by enlisting the help of a godparent of Ho Chi Minh. [Source: Washington Post]

William M. Goldstein wrote in the Washington Post: "The secret diplomatic channel of 1966 between Poland, Italy, the United States and North Vietnam known as "Marigold," which came tantalizingly close to initiating direct negotiations between Washington and Hanoi to end the war. In 1966, Janusz Lewandowski was a 35-year-old Polish diplomat, the only communist ambassador in non-communist Saigon. It was Lewandowski’s dream, Hershberg writes, "to alter the course of history" by brokering a covert negotiation to end the Vietnam War. [Source: William M. Goldstein, Washington Post, February 24, 2012 ==]

"On June 2, 1966, Lewandowski met in Hanoi with North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong, who expressed new flexibility about the possibility of negotiations with the United States. Lewandowski reported to Italian Ambassador Giovanni D’Orlandi that Hanoi was prepared to launch talks with Washington in pursuit of a settlement that would require neither the immediate reunification of Vietnam nor its neutralization. American forces, Lewandowski explained, could withdraw from the country in phases and according to a "reasonable calendar." D’Orlandi informed the U.S. ambassador to Saigon, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who promptly cabled Washington. "The proposals attributed to Hanoi, as a package, go far beyond anything we have heard mentioned before," Lodge noted, and "appear so forthcoming as to arouse suspicion concerning the credibility of the Polish intermediary." ==

"Despite his initial doubts, the White House authorized Lodge in the following months to engage in a spirited, secret dialogue with the Italian and Polish diplomats — and by extension North Vietnam — to explore the prospects for peace and a direct negotiation with Hanoi. On Nov. 28, 1966, Lewandowski met with Dong for the second time in three days to lay the groundwork for a secret meeting in Warsaw between a North Vietnamese emissary and the U.S. ambassador. When the conversation ended, Dong, close to tears, hugged and kissed Lewandowski. The dynamic Polish diplomat appeared to be nearing a breakthrough. ==

"The American ambassador in Warsaw, John Gronouski, was tapped to represent the United States. Ambassador Do Phat Quang was designated to represent North Vietnam. According to McNamara, Washington was prepared to say to its adversary, in effect: "Give us private assurances of more than talk, and we will immediately cease bombing, after which you will be expected to reciprocate by reducing infiltration and military operations in the south." Hershberg notes that guidance for North Vietnam’s negotiator was in fact delivered by the diplomat whose participation had been absent from the documentary record, Nguyen Dinh Phuong, who carried "a document so sensitive that his wife sewed it into his vest, and a senior North Vietnamese official ordered him to destroy it before dying if his plane crashed." ==

"Ironically, and perhaps tragically, despite the months of methodical secret communication, the meeting that was intended to be the catalyst for a negotiated settlement never occurred. While it appears there was simply a lapse in communication among the parties, Hershberg concedes that historians may never uncover the precise explanation for what doomed a potentially transformative meeting between Washington and Hanoi. A week later, President Lyndon Johnson, who Hershberg persuasively demonstrates badly misjudged Hanoi’s commitment to talks, ordered punishing airstrikes around the North Vietnamese capital. Marigold swiftly collapsed. In the years before and after Marigold, other secret channels of communication to launch negotiations were opened between Hanoi and Washington, with code names such as Sunflower and Pennsylvania. But in Hershberg’s view, none of these efforts came as close as that of Lewandowski to stimulating a serious negotiation. ==

Book: Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam, evidence from James G. Hershberg, (Stanford University Press/Wilson Center Press, January 2012)

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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