VsV/T S. Hrg. 104-820
U \ VIETNAMESE COMMANDOS
Y 4. IN 8/19: S. HRG. 104-820
Uietnanese Connandosi S. Hrg. 104-8...
SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED FOURTH CONGRESS
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 1996
Printed for the use of the Select Committee on Intelligence
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
37-433 WASHINGTON : 1997
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402
V^y\ S. Hrg. 104-820
^ \ VIETNAMESE COMMANDOS
Y 4. IN 8/19: S. HRG. 104-820
Vietnanese Connandosi S. Hrg. 104-8...
SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED FOURTH CONGRESS
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 1996
Printed for the use of the Select Committee on Intelligence
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
37^33 WASHINGTON : 1997
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402
SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
[Established by S. Res. 400, 94th Cong., 2d Sess]
ARLEN SPECTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman
J. ROBERT KERREY, Nebraska, Vice Chairman
RICHARD G. LUGAR, Indiana JOHN GLENN, Ohio
RICHARD C. SHELBY, Alabama RICHARD H. BRYAN, Nevada
MIKE DeWINE, Ohio BOB GRAHAM, Florida
JON KYL, Arizona JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts
JAMES M. INHOFE, Oklahoma MAX BAUCUS, Montana
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, Texas J. BENNETT JOHNSTON, Louisiana
WILLIAM S. COHEN, Maine CHARLES S. ROBB, Virginia
HANK BROWN, Colorado
BOB DOLE, Kansas, Ex Officio
THOMAS A DASCHLE, South Dakota, Ex Officio
Charles Battaglia, Staff Director
Christopher C. Straub, Minority Staff Director
Kathleen P. McGhee, Chief Clerk
Hearing held in Washington, DC:
Wednesday, June 19, 1996 1
DeRosa, Mary, Office of the General Counsel, Department of Defense 30
Kerrey, Hon. J. Robert, a U.S. Senator from the State of Nebraska 2
Kerry, Hon. John F., a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Massa-
Singlaub, Major General John, USA (Ret), Former Commander,
Smith, Jeffrey, General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency 29
Son, Ha Van, Former Commando 11
Specter, Hon. Arlen, a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Penn-
Tourison, Sedgwick, Author, "Secret Army, Secret War" 7
Supplemental material, letters, articles, etc.:
Article, "McNamara's Covert War: The Zenith of Deception" by Sedgwick
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 1996
Select Committee on Intelligence,
The Select Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:08 a.m., in
Room SD-106, Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Honorable
Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Committee, presiding.
Present: Senators Specter, Kerrey of Nebraska, and Kerry of
Also Present: Charles Battaglia, Staff Director; Chris Straub, Mi-
nority Staff Director; Suzanne Spaulding, Chief Counsel; and Kath-
leen McGhee, Chief Clerk.
Chairman SPECTER. This morning the Senate Select Committee
on Intelligence will proceed to a hearing on an issue involving the
United States' treatment of Vietnamese who were called upon to
assist our country in the Vietnam War, in a tale which, on its face,
and from all appearances is a genuinely incredible story of callous,
inhumane, and really, barbaric treatment by the United States, if
the facts which appear to be true are verified during the course of
The underlying situation involved a process which began back in
1958, when South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem asked the
United States for assistance in conducting covert operations
against Communist controlled areas in the north. In the course of
time, approximately 500 commandos infiltrated, mostly in teams,
into North Vietnam, starting in 1961 and lasting for the better part
of a decade. Many were killed shortly after their entry into the
process. Most were captured, according to reports which we have
by North Vietnam, tried for treason, and then imprisoned.
The reports suggest — really show that the United States wrote
them off systematically, crossing their names off of the ledgers,
making a nominal payment of $300 for death claims to their fami-
lies. Took no action during the Paris peace talks to secure their
freedom, an absolutely incredible situation, if true. And then for
decades has covered up these atrocities with classified documents,
only recently declassified.
The saga continues to this moment, when in the Court of Claims,
the United States government is denying viability on a contention
that these are secret agreements and therefore are not justifiable
in court. A fancy word which says you can't get relief in a court
On their face they appear to me to be enforceable obligations
plus. Any concept of secrecy to condone this kind of conduct would
be against all tenets of public policy as I understand it in the law.
And the secrecy provisions would not be enforceable.
Only yesterday, after the scheduling of this hearing, have we had
any official word from the CIA. In a letter received dated June 18,
from Acting Director George Tenet, saying that our position is that
their claims are not justifiable and are in fact in the wrong forum.
There is a concession, quote "whether or not the mission of these
commandos was a mistake is not relevant to our moral obligations
to them now."
It's a little hard to understand how in one paragraph the Acting
Director of the CIA can talk about moral obligations and then talk
about procedures to deny payment, leaving the matter for the Con-
gress. And I think the Congress can handle the issue, but it is real-
ly shocking to me, that the Department of Justice, the Department
of Defense and the CIA would take a position in court on a motion
to dismiss that these are not valid claims.
It really hardly ought to be up to the oversight Committees of
Congress and the Congress itself to cure these palpable, egregious
injustices. And this Committee intends to get to the bottom of it.
And we are proceeding with this hearing today and whatever other
follow-up hearings may be necessary to cleanse the record and
purge these injustices.
I now turn to our distinguished Vice Chairman, Senator Robert
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I
must say at the outset, I don't anticipate this hearing with great
pleasure. The Vietnam War was one of the most painful episodes
in our nation's history. As we are going to be reminded today, it
was even more painful for the Vietnamese than it was for us. Even
in fighting for the freedom of Vietnamese, some Americans did
things that increased their suffering. And the betrayal of these
commandos appears to be such a case.
Time performs a healing function by dimming the memory of
pain. And when we choose to research events of the war that oc-
curred 30 and more years ago we are reopening scar tissue and
If in doing so we can help right a wrong that has been done to
people who took great risk for the freedom of their country, then
let us do it. I am cosponsor of Senator John Kerry's bill to pay the
claim of those Vietnamese operatives. In my view, the United
States simply owes them the money. I did not require a hearing,
however, for me to reach that conclusion. But I expect what I hear
today will make me even more firm in my view that these men
were badly misused. I also recognize the difficulty of assembling
witnesses who can talk with authority about the events of 30 years
Mr. Chairman, let me also publicly note that while this operation
reportedly began as a CIA operation, news articles say it was hand-
ed over to the Defense Department in 1964. If we allocate blame
this morning for the abuse these men suffered, I hope we will bear
in mind when the abuses occurred.
I look forward to the witnesses.
Chairman Specter. Thank you very much Senator Kerrey.
We now welcome our distinguished colleague, Senator John
Kerry of Massachusetts, who brings a special credibility to this
issue. Pardon me, Senator Robb would you like to make an opening
Senator Robb. Mr. Chairman, I have no opening comment. I'd
share the sentiments of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of
the Committee that this revelation is truly appalling and I am
pleased to be a cosponsor of the amendment that the distinguished
Senator from Massachusetts is offering and will be testifying to
Chairman SPECTER. One of the background factors is that there
is some suggestion that this situation is not isolated. And one real-
ly wonders from time to time what is present in these classified
documents. The reason for classification secrecy has long since ex-
pired. And what other horrendous injustices are buried under a top
secret classification, when they ought to be brought to light and
restitution made if not more.
We now turn to our distinguished colleague from Massachusetts,
Senator John Kerry, who brings special credibility to this issue, not
only from his service in the Senate, but from his contribution in the
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JOHN KERRY, A U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
Senator Kerry of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, thank you very
much. Thank you for permitting me to testify here today. And I'm
pleased to be able to share in this testimony this morning with my
friends Bob Kerrey and Chuck Robb, both of whom served with ex-
traordinary distinction in Vietnam and understand exactly the
meaning of this story that is unfolding.
It is, as Bob Kerrey just said, another painful legacy of the Viet-
nam War, in a sense our own bureaucratic Phoenix program. A
story of hundreds of Vietnamese commandos who served us ex-
traordinarily faithfully during the war. And this afternoon, as has
been mentioned, I will be offering an amendment together with
Senator McCain, Senator Bob Kerrey, Senator Chuck Robb, Sen-
ator Bob Smith, Larry Pressler, Tom Daschle, and Pat Leahy, and
others to reimburse the commandos sitting behind me and others
for their years of incarceration in North Vietnamese prisons and
for their years of service in our mutual cause in the war.
Thirty years ago, as Bob Kerrey alluded to, Vietnam presented
us with contradictions and questions to last a lifetime. And now
once again, Vietnam proves to be the war that refuses to go away.
An invisible, powerful author keeps serving up another chapter just
when we thought that the full story had been told. In many ways,
this chapter is both new and old at the same time. Old, because
we knew that Neil Sheehan was right when he described a "Bright
Shining Lie" and new because the stark, bold, cold calculation of
government influence and betrayal toward patriots stuns us in this
cynical age. Old because we have learned through centuries that
war is cruel and new because as Americans we never expect that
we would attack or diminish our own sense of honor. The truth is
we sent heroic Vietnamese commandos under our banner, on our
missions, on our payroll, into North Vietnam to do our bidding,
risking their lives and even their families' lives. And then we left
them there, denied their existence and walked away leaving them
to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
So we are here today to right a wrong. To pay for an injustice.
To seek fairness and to put to rest yet another disturbing legacy
of the Vietnam War. And I think as my colleagues have said, that
is not too much to ask.
These are the facts. In the early days of the war, the United
States and the South Vietnamese governments initiated a joint cov-
ert intelligence gathering operation against North Vietnam. South
Vietnamese government officials recruited commandos from among
the Vietnamese civilians and the ARVN, the Army of the Republic
of Vietnam, and the United States through the CIA, and later the
Defense Department, provided the training, the funding, including
all salaries, allowances, bonuses, and death benefits. Together the
United States and South Vietnamese officials determined where
and when the commandos, who were organized into teams, would
be inserted into North Vietnam. Many were dropped by parachute,
but some were sent in by sea or over land. Some also conducted
counterintelligence activities against North Vietnam from Laos.
ARIES, the first team, was inserted in early 1961. By the early
1970s, fifty-two teams comprising approximately 500 commandos
had been inserted behind enemy lines. Initially the mission was
confined to intelligence gathering, but soon it was expanded to in-
clude sabotage and psychological warfare. From the beginning it
was clear, at least to some, those responsible, that this operation
was a failure. Recently declassified Defense Department documents
show that the teams were killed or captured shortly after landing.
And that the CIA and the Defense Department, which took over
the operation in early 1964, knew it at the time.
It is now apparent that the missions were compromised. And
that Hanoi ran a counterespionage operation against us and our
South Vietnamese allies by forcing the commandos to radio back to
us exactly what Hanoi wanted us to know and hear. The prepon-
derance of evidence that has come to light in the last year leaves
little doubt that the United States continued to insert South Viet-
namese commandos behind enemy lines knowing full well what the
outcome of those missions would be. And what the chances of suc-
cess were. The Defense Department then compounded that tragedy
by simply writing off the lost commandos. Drawing a line through
their names as dead, apparently in order to avoid paying monthly
For example, a six-man team called ATTILA was dropped into
Nai Am province on April 25, 1964. The team was immediately
captured. Two months later on July 16 Radio Hanoi announced the
names and addresses of the six team members, the dates they were
captured, and the start of their trials. Declassified Defense Depart-
ment documents indicated that we knew the team had been cap-
tured. Nevertheless by the beginning of 1965, the Defense Depart-
ment had declared the entire team dead, and had paid very small
benefits to their next of kin.
This process of declaring the commandos dead on paper was re-
affirmed in 1969 by the operations officer for something called
OPLAN 34A in the Pentagon. And that officer said at the time, and
I quote him, "We reduce the number of dead gradually by declaring
so many of them dead each month until we had written them all
off and removed them from the monthly payrolls."
After sending these brave men, on what by anyone's judgment
were next to suicide missions, and after cutting off their pay, we
then committed the most egregious error of all — we made no effort
to obtain their release along with American POWs during the peace
negotiations in Paris. As a result, many of these brave men, who
fought along side us for the same cause, spent years in prison —
more than 20 years in some cases.
After their release from prison in the late 1970's or 80's, a num-
ber of the commandos made their way to the United States and are
now simply seeking acknowledgment of their service and payment
from the United States government for the period of their intern-
In a pending law suit, which has been referred to, they've asked
for $2,000 a year — not a very significant sum — for an average of 20
years spent in captivity. The United States owes these men a debt
that can frankly never be repaid, but we can at least give them the
recognition that they deserve and the small amount of compensa-
tion that they were promised three decades ago.
Mr. Chairman, I want to emphasize that we're not here today,
I am certainly not here today, to point a finger at anyone individ-
ually. I am certainly not here looking for scapegoats or scalps. I
don't think any purpose is served by that. We know the difficulties
of that time. We know what it did to the country. We know the
road and journey we've traveled since then. And I think all of us
are anxious to continue the process of healing. And that is more
important in many regards, and in many ways that is exactly what
this effort is about.
But we should understand what happened so that such a choice
is never made again. We're here simply to do the right thing. And
it is important not to compound the judgment that was exercised
during the 1960's by avoiding a better judgment and our respon-
sibility today. We can't bring anybody back to life. We can't make
up for the extraordinary suffering or for the torture or for the years
of having turned away from these fighters. But we can honor their
service, and we can make it clear to those who wish to join us in
the struggle for freedom and democracy in the future, that we are
a country big enough to admit mistakes, and strong enough to un-
derstand our clear sense of responsibility and duty and to move to
rectify mistakes when they are made. And that while sometimes in-
dividuals may make a mistake, as a country, we are a people with
extraordinary generosity, a great country, that will always honor
and thank those who fight with us in common cause.
I also want to emphasize, as I'm confident Bob Kerrey and Chuck
Robb would, that even as we sit here today talking about a debt
owed to those who joined us as allies in a fight, we, I know, par-
ticularly as veterans, want to remember that there are still too
many of our own brothers here in this country who are dealing
with the terrible aftermath of that war even in 1996. And that ef-
forts to repay these commandos should not diminish our obligation
to our fellow veterans in this country to maintain the standard of
care and attention which has been promised to them and which, I
must say candidly, is threatened today by some of the choices being
made here in Washington.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for listening.
Chairman SPECTER. Thank you very much, Senator Kerry.
My own service was during the Korean War, so I did not have
the call in Vietnam as you did and Senator Robert Kerrey and Sen-
ator Chuck Robb. And as I hear your testimony and review the al-
legations, this conduct seems to me to be just totally indefensible
and I have grave doubts that money is enough. And when you say
we can't bring people back to life, that's certainly true, but I have
a strong sense that it is necessary to do more than pay compen-
satory damages if we're to have an example that this conduct will
not be tolerated in the future.
And I know how difficult it is to assess individual blame, but I
have a sense that that inquiry ought to be made. What we do it,
I'm not exactly sure. But this conduct as you've described it, and
as I have seen it, is criminal. It is criminal conduct. Where there's
a duty owed to these Vietnamese commandos who were going in to
do our mission, when we leave them in captivity to be tortured and
to be mutilated and to do nothing about it, that's homicide, it's
malice, it's premeditated. And the payment from the government
hardly seems to me to be sufficient.
Well, that's what we have to wrestle with. And it's not exactly
yesterday. It's today. The CIA cannot be present here today, be-
cause they are fearful of testifying in a Senate proceeding because
they may prejudice a case in the Court of Claims. I, frankly, do not
see how their case can be more prejudiced than it is today. And I
commend you for the legislation which you have introduced. And
I intend to introduce legislation to overturn the 1875 Supreme
Court decision which says that lips are sealed and you can't go be-
hind a secret agreement. That's a horrendous decision which ought
not to receive any weight today from anybody, including the De-
partment of Justice which is fighting that case.
But these are not mistakes that were made yesterday, a decade
ago, or two decades ago, or three decades ago; they are going on
today. Our government is not facing up to the facts. Not facing up
to basic humanity.
Senator Kerry of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, if I could just
say that I agree with most of what you have said with respect to
your characterization of it, but I do think that it's important to put
on the record that we've worked closely with the Administration;
that immediately when it learned about this, indicated a desire to
try to rectify it and try to do what is correct. And Tony Lake, on
behalf of the President and the White House has helped to nego-
tiate out a means of doing that in a way that doesn't extend beyond
this case to cases that we're not even aware of or situations we're
not aware of. We've tried to include the full universe of people.
The law suit embraces, I believe, about 281. We've encompassed
the full universe of 400 to 500, which is why there is a discrepancy
between the amount of money that we are asking for in our legisla-
tion versus what the lawsuit is asking for. So in effect, I think
while an argument can be made on the value here, what we're
doing is respecting what the commandos themselves have asked
for. And I think it is its own statement about values that there's
that level of a reasonableness. And in a sense one of the things
that they have indicated that they want more perhaps than money,
is this process of public acknowledgment for what they went
through and for the service they gave. And so I think that is part
of what is happening here.
But I do agree — the fundamental egregious decisions that were
made, were made a number of years ago. Is there a pattern of se-
crecy that continues? The answer is yes. And I think we are always
trying to break through that barrier.
Chairman Specter. Senator Kerry, we have just five minutes
left on the vote, and the votes are going to be strictly enforced as
to time. I agree with you that the Administration has acted prop-
erly with respect to the cooperation with you on your bill. I have
a question as to what the Department of Justice is doing, the De-
partment of Defense, and the CIA are doing, but my statements
were not intended in any way to make any suggestion that the Ad-
ministration was not acting in a forthright manner in dealing with
this specific issue. And I appreciate the fact that it could be a
precedent, and could it be extended, and could it be something they
don't want to make a judgment on or make a commitment to before
they see other facts. And that's what we have to pursue. And I
agree with you that the acknowledgment is very important and
that this hearing and perhaps subsequent hearings can accomplish
Senator Kerry of Massachusetts. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Specter. Thank you very much, Senator Kerry.
We're going to stand in recess for a few moments until we con-
clude the vote, and we will continue with the hearing in about 10
to 15 minutes.
[A recess was taken from 9:33 a.m. until 9:59 a.m.]
Chairman SPECTER. We are now going to hear from Mr. Ha Van
Son, former commando, who is speaking for not only himself, but
others; and Mr. Sedgwick Tourison, author of the "Secret Army, Se-
cret War." Let us begin with you Mr. Tourison.
Thank you for joining us and we look forward to your testimony.
STATEMENT OF SEDGWICK TOURISON, AUTHOR OF "SECRET
ARMY, SECRET WAR"
Mr. Tourison. Senator Specter, Senator Kerrey, distinguished
members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you for this
truly unique opportunity to appear before you today to speak about
the lost commandos.
Chairman Specter. We would ask you to limit your testimony to
5 minutes if you could. Your statement will be made part of the
record. May we use the light please.
Mr. Tourison. I authored the book "Secret Army, Secret War"
published by the Naval Institute Press in July 1995. My book is a
tragic story about the over 450 Vietnamese commandos who
worked for both the United States and the Republic of Vietnam. All
were declared dead after landing inside North Vietnam. In Decem-
ber 1988 one of the surviving agents asked me to write about the
commando force that survived 15 or more years at hard labor while
convicted of espionage. And I knew that I would be challenged to
present fact, not opinion; truth, not propaganda. The man who
asked me to do that is seated behind me to my left, Le Van Ngung,
former commander of Team HADLEY, landed in North Vietnam,
January 25, 1967; declared dead June 1967. He is today, as was
then, very much alive.
In January 1993, the declassified history of our wartime covert
operations confirmed the terrible chilling fact. We declared all our
covert agents dead, even with the certain knowledge that nearly all
were taken prisoner and were last known alive in captivity. Gen-
eral William C. Westmoreland, our wartime commander in South
Vietnam, has stated the following for the record in regard to the
actions of some of our own officers who directed our Vietnamese
commando agents. "If I had known then, what I now believe to be
the facts, I would have fired a lot of them."
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania stands a monument to Stephen
Girard, an American patriot of French ancestry. The monument to
which I refer is Girard College, my alma mater, an institution that
educates children without fathers. Inscribed inside Girard's main
building are the words of its founder: "My deeds must be my life.
When I am dead, my actions must speak for me." What I have
written about our Vietnamese wartime agents is my deed. Others
will measure its worth. The children of our Vietnamese wartime
covert operatives lost in North Vietnam grew up without a father,
families lost a son, and siblings lost a brother. I share with them
the pride of our misdeeds.
An issue that many of you are wrestling with is a simple one.
Who was responsible for what happened during the war, and what
are our responsibilities today? I can answer the first. Others must
answer the second.
A little background. In January, 1993, I contacted an attorney,
John Mattes, about the agents. Mr. Mattes had not been aware of
these commandos and the Joint Chiefs of Staff study of our covert
operations. In the fall of 1993, Mr. Mattes agreed to seek com-
pensation for these agents. I located and introduced to him over
350 surviving agents and the next of kin of those who perished.
Some of these agents are here today. Before Mr. Mattes contracted
with any potential clients, I signed an agreement with him that
prevented me from receiving one cent of any compensation for his
legal services. In my mind, it was then and still is today blood
money of which I want no part.
The covert war that involved these agents was kept from the
Pentagon Papers from one man in the Pentagon who knew the
truth and kept silent, Daniel Ellsberg. Why was this covert war
kept from public view for decades? My testimony may provide some
insight into this.
For example, on November 8, 1995, I was invited by the Vietnam
Veterans Institute to speak at the Army-Navy Club in Washington
at a one day symposium to critique former Defense Secretary Rob-
ert McNamara's memoir. I ask that a copy of my remarks at the
WI symposium be entered into your record as it contains my con-
clusions about the effect of our disastrous covert operation against
The CIA's failures in the covert operation were acknowledged by
the late CIA Director William Colby to Mike Wallace on the May
5, 1996 program "60 Minutes." Mr. Colby agreed that we had an
obligation to compensate these commandos and we had not yet ful-
filled that obligation. I know that General Westmoreland echoes
Mr. Colby's sentiments.
With regard to the question of who was responsible 30 or more
years ago, the first confirmed payment of death benefits occurred
during the CIA's stewardship. The wife of Dinh Nhu Khoa, an
agent whose capture was reported widely in the international press
and in particular during the public trial in Hanoi in December
1961, was paid death benefits in January 1962, by the Republic of
Vietnam Armed Forces. I have documentary evidence that the Re-
public of Vietnam paid death benefits through December 1963 to
the wives of other agents, and there is anecdotal evidence that the
CIA was the source of these payments.
I must make one point clear from the outside. These were by and
large citizens of the Republic of Vietnam. However, their activities
were directed by the United States.
Major General John Singlaub, the MACSOG commander during
1966-68, was quoted in the Time Magazine issue of June 24, 1996
as follows: "I don't think there is a legal or moral justification for
saying who should accept responsibility for them. They were not
Americans." With all due respect to Major General Singlaub, our
national intelligence community makes payments to agents all the
time. And such payments are usually in accordance with the
agent's contract for services. And I say this from the position as a
former intelligence officer, including a case officer, who dealt with
agents, including agent payrolls, during my 4 years in Laos.
Permit me to describe the contract that MACSOG had with the
agents it sent in harms way. To begin with, the House of Rep-
resentatives authorized appropriated funds for these covert oper-
ations to include agent pay. The funds were provided to and man-
aged by the U.S. Navy through its annual budget. The Navy's 8
year financial records of MACSOG's covert operations, approxi-
mately 240,000 pages, were declassified beginning on June 5, 1996.
The covert operation was pursuant to the agreement as described
by Senator Kerry. The National Security Council approved an ex-
pansionist program in November 1960 to include teams of armed
agents. As of January 1966, the South Vietnamese Strategic Tech-
nical Service received monthly salary payments from its American
counterpart. The counterpart was the Military Assistance Com-
mand Studies and Observations Group, MACSOG, then headed by
Colonel Donald Blackburn. According to U.S. Marine Corps Colonel
John Windsor, Operations Officer at MACSOG during this period,
MACSOG Commander Colonel Blackburn's desire was that these
relatives of agents in North Vietnam should be paid the death al-
lowance and that the agent's monthly pay to the relatives back in
Saigon be discontinued. Quoting from Colonel Windsor:
When I told South Vietnamese Colonel Chun Van Ho what he wanted to do they
cooperated to the fullest. They reduced the number of dead gradually, declaring so
many of them dead each month until we had written them all off, paid them, and
removed them from the monthly payroll. Colonel Ho didn't want the Vietnamese
agents and the relatives to know that we lost so many. He nevertheless agreed to
Colonel Blackburn's proposal, given the U.S. role in the operation
was not a request, it was a command.
Then, as MACSOG, through the South Vietnamese, was writing
off its agents, new agents were recruited into the program with the
promise that their paid allowances would continue until they re-
turned from their mission.
I wish to submit for the record, the January 1966 payroll report
from the South Vietnamese headquarters that supplied the agents
to MACSOG. The payroll identifies, by name, the first 28 agents
to be wiped off the rolls and declared dead from the 1 10 agents in-
side North Vietnam.
Chairman Specter. Mr. Tourison, when the arrangements were
made with these South Vietnamese commandos, was there an ex-
plicit understanding or any understanding at all that this was a se-
cret transaction, which would be unenforceable in an American
Mr. Tourison. No, sir; it was not. In point of fact, as the Joint
Chiefs of Staff history demonstrates, the operational security was
so sloppy — team names were left out in the open. Violations of fun-
damental rules of document security, personnel security, it was a
Chairman Specter. Well, the issue has been raised in the litiga-
tion, that these were Secret arrangements, lips were sealed, and
therefore are unenforceable. So my question goes as to the underly-
ing facts here, as to whether that was the contractual arrangement
between the parties.
Mr. TOURISON. Not to the best of my knowledge, from having
spoken with over 300 — nearly 300 agents. And having spoken with
the Vietnamese officers who directed them. There was, between the
South Vietnamese and the Americans who were managing the pro-
gram, an understanding of the need for secrecy. However,
MACSOG compromised that when, late in 1963, early 1964, it
brought all the agents together at a huge training center for spies.
Chairman Specter. Well, when you are talking about secrecy
there well may be secrecy as to what the mission is of the South
Vietnamese commandos, but that doesn't go to the core issue as to
whether the contractual arrangements are secret and unenforce-
able in an American court.
Mr. TOURISON. The agreements that the Vietnamese signed, ac-
cording to their statements to me, were not stamped classified, nor
were they told that they could never tell anyone what they were
doing, nor were they ever told anything other than we will take
care of you, just go to North Vietnam.
Chairman SPECTER. In the foreword to your book, "Secret Army,
Secret War," you comment about almost feeling like a voyeur lis-
tening to a conversation, distinguishing between the rights of the
South Vietnamese contrasted with the position of the United States
Government, United States citizens. The essence, as I understand
it, as to what you are saying here is that somehow, some people
considered the obligation to the South Vietnamese to be an inferior
obligation, no duties, because they were not American. Is that cor-
Mr. Tourison. I believe that is a fair statement, Senator Specter.
If I may point out that with regard to the financial arrangements
with the agents, there is ample evidence from the surviving agents
that the money that we paid to the South Vietnamese side of the
operation may, in many cases, never have reached the wives and
the parents to whom it was to be paid.
Chairman Specter. Where did the money go?
Mr. TOURISON. I don't know, Senator.
Chairman Specter. Let me turn at this point to former com-
mando Ha Van Son. We welcome you here, Mr. Son. Would you
care to make an opening statement?
STATEMENT OF HA VAN SON, FORMER SOUTH VIETNAMESE
Mr. Son. First I appreciate everybody we made to be here to talk
about my story. That's not my story, but I think that's a fact of the
history of the Vietnam War. Was recruited by Americans and
trained by Americans. And when I go operation by plane, of Amer-
ican. And in my operation the leader of my team is American.
Chairman Specter. When were you recruited, Mr. Son?
Mr. Son. 1967.
Chairman Specter. And pursuant to that recruitment, precisely
what did you do?
Mr. Son. I didn't know who recruit me, but that's an American.
And after I was trained and because I think this a secret war, so
I didn't ask everything about my duty and everything.
Chairman SPECTER. What happened to you during the service
you rendered as a South Vietnamese commando?
Mr. Son. No; I'm not a South Vietnamese commando. Only be-
Chairman Specter. How would you classify or categorize your-
self? What would you call yourself?
Mr. Son. I haven't — I only a team member.
Chairman Specter. A team member?
Mr. Son. Yes.
Chairman Specter. Okay, what did you do as a team member?
Mr. Son. Team member. I received the command of my team
leader is Mr. Jim Vernon Dexter. Go operation to Lao. In the bor-
der Laos and North Vietnam. And a tragedy. When he finished my
operation with the helicopter came to pick up us, when the heli-
copter came to pick us up, the helicopter was shot down. And after
I was captured with Mr. Vernon Dexter and Frank Curst. Mr. Jim
Vernon Dexter was dead in Tangh Wa province, North Vietnam,
because the Communist dead him. And one, the other GI is Frank
Curst. He was exchange when Paris agreement was signed in 1973.
And me stay in jail.
Chairman Specter. You were in jail?
Mr. Son. Yeah.
Chairman Specter. How long were you in jail?
Mr. Son. Twenty years.
Chairman SPECTER. Twenty years.
Mr. Son. Twenty years.
Chairman Specter. Almost twenty years?
Mr. SON. Yes. That's my tragedy.
Chairman Specter. And what happened to you while you were
in jail. How were you treated?
Mr. Son. I was a long time. But I think, and I believe all the
time in jail, I believe that the U.S. government and the Republic
of Vietnam's government will pick us out of the jail. Because I wish
somebody to come and get me. Nobody get you out.
Chairman Specter. How old are you know Mr. Son?
Mr. Son. Forty-eight.
Chairman Specter. And how old were you when you first went
Mr. Son. Nineteen.
Chairman Specter. Mr. Son, I am told that you have just today
examined a document which is labeled a death gratuity. Which
says that I, Ha Van Cau, ID Number 06935, received from liaison
bureau the amount of 41,200 $VN.
Mr. Son. That's my father.
Chairman Specter. For the death of Ha Van Son.
Mr. Son. Yeah. My name.
Chairman Specter. That's you. Who was killed while on duty
with FOB #1 Phu Bai. To the above amount is paid as survivors
death benefits. This payment reflects full settlement of death gra-
tuity and the United States Government is hereby released from
any future claims arising from this incident. Pay computation
5,100 monthly pay times 12 months, 61,200.
Mr. Son. Yeah.
Chairman Specter. Would you mind stepping forward? I'd like
to show this to you. Come forward and identify what purports to
be your father's signature. Take a look at that.
Mr. Son. This is really my father's signature.
Chairman Specter. This right here is your father's signature.
Mr. Son. My father.
Chairman Specter. You are sure of that?
Mr. Son. Yeah. He was dead on 1993 before I came to America.
Chairman Specter. We have present today, I'm informed, Mr.
John Mattis who's representing the commandos. You are Mr.
Mattis? Would you mind stepping forward?
Mr. Mattis would you state briefly the scope of your representa-
tion of the commandos?
Mr. Mattis. Senator, I have represented the commandos since
1993 in the investigation of their claim.
Chairman Specter. You are an attorney at law?
Mr. Mattis. That's correct, sir.
Chairman Specter. And where are you licensed to practice?
Mr. Mattis. I'm licensed in the federal claims court here in
Washington and in federal courts in and around the United States.
Chairman Specter. Do you have your offices here in Washing-
Mr. Mattis. No. My offices are based in Miami, Florida.
Chairman Specter. And briefly stated, what is the status of the
litigation in the court of claims?
Mr. Mattis. The status — we are — we have been pursuing discov-
ery for the last several years. We've been seeking the government
turning over to us documents which we believe to exist and inde-
pendent of the court process we were able to obtain the 500,000 top
secret documents. Despite
Chairman Specter. Not through federal discovery though?
Mr. Mattis. That's correct.
Chairman Specter. How did you get them? Freedom of Informa-
Mr. Mattis. That's correct sir. We obtained them through a fed-
eral FOIA request which we made to the National Archives.
Chairman Specter. How many commandos are you represent-
Mr. Mattis. Approximately 300.
Chairman Specter. And you have quite a number of the com-
mandos here today?
Mr. Mattis. That's correct.
Chairman SPECTER. Could you identify those commandos who
are present in the hearing room.
Mr. Mattis. Sir, we got commandos from the Atlanta region and
some of the commandos' periods of incarceration range from 15 to
25 years with the longest being incarcerated until 1988. His wife,
his children are still in Vietnam. We cannot get them out.
Chairman Specter. Who is that? Will that gentleman please
stand. And what is his name?
Mr. TOURISON. His name is Win Van Thu.
Mr. SON. His wife and two children still be in Vietnam. They
Chairman SPECTER. I would like for all of the Vietnam comman-
dos or members of the team to stand if they would please.
[Those commandos in the room stood for recognition.]
Chairman SPECTER. Thank you very much. Thank you.
I would like to call at this time Major General Singlaub. If you
gentlemen would sit back for a few moments.
Major General Singlaub would you step forward, please.
Major General Singlaub, we very much appreciate your joining
us today to help us on our inquiry into this matter. Your full state-
ment will be made a part of the record. To the extent that you can
summarize it within the course of five minutes, we would appre-
ciate it. If it takes you some time longer, we understand that. And
the floor is yours.
STATEMENT OF MAJOR GENERAL JOHN SINGLAUB, USA (RET),
FORMER COMMANDER, MACSOG
General Singlaub. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. I cer-
tainly appreciate the opportunity to address this Committee on this
very important subject of the so-called Vietnamese special comman-
dos. At the outset I want to make it clear that I have great admira-
tion for the individual valor and the courage, and the patriotism of
the majority of the people who participated in that program. They
were volunteers. And these were very hazardous missions into
Communist controlled North Vietnam.
I've been asked to explain my relationship to these commandos
and I'll do that as quickly as I can.
I was on the Army General Staff in 1965 and was selected by the
Chief of Staff of the Army, at that time Harold K. Johnson
37-433 - 97 - 2
Chairman Specter. General Singlaub, how long were you in the
General Singlaub. I served a little over 35 V2 years active duty.
Chairman SPECTER. And when did you terminate active duty?
General Singlaub. In 1978.
Chairman SPECTER. Thank you very much.
General Singlaub. I was selected by the Chief of Staff to take
command of the MACVSOG organization, at that time commanded
by Colonel Don Blackburn. I was a colonel at that time. I started
my briefings in February of 1966 and departed the United States
in April of that year and actually took command in May of 1966.
And I retained command of MACSOG until August of 1968.
I think it is appropriate to make some reference to what
MACSOG — MACVSOG actually was. There appears to be some
confusion on that subject. MACVSOG was a DOD-established joint
unconventional warfare task force. It was the U.S. component of a
combined unconventional warfare task force to conduct covert oper-
ations in enemy-controlled areas in southeast Asia. That is Viet-
nam, Laos, and Cambodia. MACVSOG was truly a joint command.
It had all of the services represented in the joint table of distribu-
tion. And it had special U.S. ground, sea and air units that were
assigned to MACSOG for the conduct of its covert operations.
The basic concept of the operation was that the Vietnamese gov-
ernment would provide the operational personnel while the U.S.
would provide the advice, training assistance, technical support
and ultimately, of course, the funding, as it did for all of the forces
engaged in that conflict.
The commandos belonged to one of the parts of that organization,
referred to as OP34 ALPHA. It was a relatively small part of the
total SOG program. This particular program was initiated in 1960,
as has been indicated by the CIA, and transferred to the Depart-
ment of Defense in January of 1964 when MACSOG was estab-
lished. And these covert operations as opposed to clandestine oper-
ations were transferred to the Department of Defense.
And the mission was to introduce these intelligence assets into
North Vietnam to perform basically three missions. First, was to
collect positive intelligence on the North Vietnamese in North Viet-
nam. The second was to conduct limited and very specific sabotage
activities. And finally their mission would be to become a cadre for
a resistance operation against the North Vietnamese communist re-
Now, the third phase, or the third mission was never fully imple-
mented by the OP34 teams.
Chairman Specter. General Singlaub, how many of the South
Vietnamese men were involved? In the overall operations?
General Singlaub. Counting all of our activities?
Chairman Specter. Yes.
General Singlaub. There were several thousand.
Chairman Specter. Several thousand?
General Singlaub. Yes. There were — at the maximum, I believe
there were about 500 Americans
Chairman SPECTER. And several thousand Vietnamese?
General Singlaub. Yes.
Chairman Specter. Is it true that when they were taken pris-
oners, that there was no effort made by the United States govern-
ment to secure their release?
General Singlaub. I cannot say that that is accurate.
Chairman Specter. Do you know of any effort made by the Unit-
ed States government to secure their release?
General Singlaub. These were not the responsibility of the U.S.
Government. Let me point out how the control was in the hands
of the Vietnamese. This is a very important part of this because
I've heard allegations of criminal behavior and deliberate efforts to
take them off the rolls to save money.
Chairman Specter. Were they not deliberately taken off the rolls
of the United States payment obligations?
General Singlaub. Not to save money.
Chairman Specter. Well, were they taken off the rolls?
General Singlaub. When they were determined or believed to
have been — fallen under the control of the communists they were
taken off the lists as active assets in North Vietnam.
Chairman Specter. But they weren't dead at that time, were
General Singlaub. They were declared a nonviable asset. Now
Chairman Specter. Now wait a minute. When they are declared
a nonviable asset, because they are in custody, performing a mis-
sion that the United States government asked them to under-
General Singlaub. No, that's not true. You're starting with a
basic assumption that is false. The United States government did
not ask them. The United States government did not recruit them.
We provided assistance to a basically Vietnamese intelligence oper-
Chairman Specter. Did we train them?
General Singlaub. We assisted in the training.
Chairman Specter. We assisted in the training?
General Singlaub. That's correct.
Chairman Specter. We paid them.
General SINGLAUB. We paid them through the Vietnamese, but
that's true of every member of all of the forces. The Koreans and
the Thai and all the others who participated in that war.
Chairman Specter. Well, we may have acted improperly in a lot
of other cases. That doesn't justify it to say that we paid them the
same way we paid them in Korea and Thailand and other places.
General Singlaub. No, I'm talking about
Chairman Specter. Excuse me. We had an arrangement with
the South Vietnamese government to have these commandos per-
form a function that both the United States government and South
Vietnam wanted carried out. Isn't that correct.
General Singlaub. Not quite.
Chairman SPECTER. Well, what is incorrect about it?
General Singlaub. The operation was initiated by the Vietnam-
ese. Initially it was a priest who had come out of North Vietnam
and he wanted assistance in recruiting people to return to North
Vietnam. But this was done by CIA.
Chairman Specter. Okay, initiated by the South Vietnamese,
but agreed to by the United States.
General Singlaub. Yes, agreed to for support, that's correct.
Chairman SPECTER. On a purpose which was for the benefit
jointly of the Vietnam government and the United States govern-
General Singlaub. That is correct. But, I go on to say that they
were recruited by the Vietnamese. They were screened and vetted
by the Vietnamese.
Chairman Specter. Was the United States government any less
than a full partner in this operation, General Singlaub?
General Singlaub. Yes. We were less than a full partner in this
particular part of the operation — of the total MACSOG operation.
This was a Vietnamese originated operation. It was run by the Vi-
etnamese. We had no say on their methods of selecting the agents.
I made — many times I tried to get them to change or to introduce
some psychological assessment to try to improve the quality of the
agents. But I had no say. They ran that part of it.
Chairman Specter. Well, General Singlaub, with all due respect,
I think that when you talk about the method of selection, you are
at the fringe of the operation. When you talk about the initiation,
that's an important point, but then the United States joins in. The
United States is a participant. The United States is seeking their
assistance for a purpose which is for the benefit of the United
States as well as South Vietnam. And the United States is under-
taking to pay them a certain amount of money.
General SINGLAUB. In accordance with the contract signed by the
agents with representatives of the Republic of Vietnam.
Chairman Specter. Fine. So the Republic of Vietnam is involved.
These individual men are involved, but the United States govern-
ment is involved. And there is to be a monthly payment for these
men doing certain things. Undertaking activities behind North Vi-
etnamese lines. Now they are taken into custody so they are no
longer able to perform an active mission. But they are in custody,
they are in jail, they are subjected to torture
General SINGLAUB. You have to know
Chairman Specter. Let me finish my question please, General
Singlaub — for performing a job that the United States jointly asked
them to undertake. How can you, in any conscience at all, say that
the obligation to pay them ends at a time when they are taken into
custody totally beyond their control, carrying out a mission for the
United States government and South Vietnam.
General Singlaub. We paid them — paid money to the Vietnam-
ese to carry out the contracts that they signed with these agents.
And the terms of those contracts were rather explicit. They were
not all the same. They varied because of incentives that were put
in by the Vietnamese to change it from time to time. But it stated
in the contract, that if they were captured or killed, certain things
would take place. And the Vietnamese carried that out.
Chairman Specter. Was it specified in the contract that if they
were captured performing a mission jointly for South Vietnam and
the United States that the obligation of the United States govern-
ment to pay them would end?
General Singlaub. There was no obligation in that contract with
the United States. The contract was not between the United States,
or MACSOG, and the agents. It was between the Republic of Viet-
nam intelligence service and the agent who did the recruiting. They
signed the contract. They adjusted the contract. And they came to
us with a list of people who were entitled to various payments.
Chairman Specter. Well, if the United States government had
no obligation under the contract, General Singlaub, why does this
death gratuity payment state specifically "this payment reflects full
settlement of death gratuity and the United States government is
hereby released from any future claims arising from this incident."
If there's no obligation, why does the United States government
seek a release?
General Singlaub. Because the United States government was
paying the money.
Chairman Specter. Because the United States government con-
cluded that it had an obligation.
General Singlaub. Well, the obligation was the contract between
the two elements of the Republic of Vietnam — their intelligence
agents and the intelligence service and we were subsidizing that.
As we did most other activities.
Chairman Specter. General Singlaub, by all legal interpreta-
tions the United States is a party to that contract, at least a third
party beneficiary, has obligations, has benefits.
General SlNGLAUB. That's right.
Chairman Specter. The United States government recognized
that in this death gratuity release saying that they wanted to be
absolved from all claims because they do have obligations; other-
wise this language would be meaningless.
General Singlaub. Well it was to establish the fact that we do
not have an obligation. That's why it was signed in that way.
Chairman Specter. It was to establish the fact that there would
be no obligation after there was a release by
General Singlaub. That's correct.
Chairman Specter [continuing]. These parties who got this sum
of money, acknowledging that there was an obligation prior to the
release. What's the point of having a release from an obligation if
there is no obligation?
General Singlaub. It's a quit claim. It's to establish the fact that
the United States does not have an obligation.
Chairman Specter. Well, the United States government is pay-
ing money to release them from an obligation which they recognize.
General Singlaub, do you think the Administration is paying
money here that they have no obligation to pay, as Senator Kerry
testified here earlier today? Or if the United States government
does go ahead and pay this money to these men, that they are pay-
ing money they have no legal obligation to pay.
General Singlaub. Well, I think there is some confusion that's
come into this. The death gratuity that you are talking to here has
nothing to do with OP35. The individual who came forward — I
mean OP34 ALPHA. He was a member of OP35. And OP35 was
in fact an American commanded organization which did cross bor-
der operations in Laos
Chairman Specter. So you are saying as to Mr. Son, the United
States did have an obligation as to him.
General SlNGLAUB. Yes. Yes. Because he worked in OP35. I don't
know why he is included in this group.
Chairman SPECTER. Well, so there were some South Vietnamese
where the United States did have an obligation even under your
General SlNGLAUB. Oh, yes.
Chairman Specter. Well, how many were they?
General SlNGLAUB. I don't have an exact figure. But it is consid-
erably more than the limited number who were in the OP34 pro-
gram. These individuals were part of the cross border operations,
organized in teams of 12. Three Americans and nine indigenous.
Some of the teams were Vietnamese, ethnically Vietnamese. Most
of them were various tribes of Montagnard. And some were Cam-
bodian. But that was different operation and was one that was in
fact run by, and commanded by Americans.
Chairman SPECTER. Well, I had understood from your earlier tes-
timony that people like Mr. Son, were not entitled to any payment
from the United States because it was a South Vietnamese oper-
ation. But now you are saying that some of these South Vietnam-
ese commandos or team members, whatever you call them, were
operating under U.S. auspices and did have a claim against the
General SlNGLAUB. That is correct.
Chairman Specter. Why in the case of Mr. Son?
General SlNGLAUB. When you read that, I thought that was from
one of the commandos. It was not from one of the commandos. It
was from Mr. Son. Who, by his statement, was a member of OP35,
which was a completely different program. And there are — it was
a much larger program than the OP34.
Chairman SPECTER. Well, dealing with Mr. Son's unit for just a
moment, we've heard him testify about being in jail for almost 20
years. And you have a representation by the United States govern-
ment here that he is dead, because they are paying a death gratu-
ity. And they are paying him for twelve months. Was that a fair
thing to do? Was that the total U.S. obligation to write him off as
dead when he was in fact alive.
General SlNGLAUB. We did not know that he was alive.
Chairman SPECTER. Well did you know that he was dead?
General SlNGLAUB. Yes.
Chairman Specter. How could you know he was dead when he
General SlNGLAUB. He was presumed dead which is a
Chairman Specter. It's a convenient way of getting him off the
General SlNGLAUB. Pardon?
Chairman Specter. It's a convenient way of getting him off the
rolls. How do you presume he is dead when there is no effort made
to find out what happened to him or where he is?
General SlNGLAUB. I reject the idea that there was no effort
made to find out where he was. If he was
Chairman Specter. What effort was there made to find out what
happened to Mr. Son?
General SlNGLAUB. Those teams would send patrols back in and
look, search the area. He never came up on any captured list. And
so he was assumed to have been killed in the fight that took place
when his team was — encountered the enemy.
Chairman SPECTER. Well, General Singlaub, those captured lists
were hardly conclusive as to what had happened to the individuals.
It doesn't rule out his being taken prisoner and being in jail which
in fact he was. Does it?
General Singlaub. Well, no; that's true. The same thing applies
to the Americans. One of the programs within MACSOG was in-
volving with E&E. The evasion and escape operations. We had the
Joint Personnel Recovery Center, as a part of activities. And we
kept track of every American that was captured, or listed as miss-
ing in action. And we made efforts to retrieve some of those. And
we certainly did it on those OP35 people. Because they were close
in. And we ran operations to locate them at the time. We ran res-
Now, I don't know the exact reason, but in most cases, but when
someone was declared dead, it was because a fellow team member
who was rescued said that he saw him dead or seriously wounded
and they could not bring him out.
Chairman Specter. But of course you don't know whether that
happened in Mr. Son's case.
General SlNGLAUB. No, I do not know that.
Chairman Specter. General Singlaub, do you think Mr. Son was
General Singlaub. In view of the fact that he was captured and
spent a lot of time in prison, I cannot say that he was fairly treat-
Chairman SPECTER. Do you think the United States Government
has an obligation to do more than pay him for the 12 months paid
under this death gratuity?
General Singlaub. I think that the United States is a very gen-
erous and compassionate society and we try to do what is correct.
Not only what the contract specifies.
Chairman SPECTER. My question to you was do you think the
United States government has an obligation to pay him for more
than the twelve months under this death gratuity?
General Singlaub. In view of the fact that he was not killed, yes.
Chairman Specter. I would yield now to Senator Kerrey. I have
an obligation, that I'm going to have to excuse myself for about 15
or 20 minutes but I will return as soon as I can.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. I'll manage for 20 minutes. General, be-
fore I get into some questions, I may, since I'm now in charge, ask
one of the other witnesses to come back up that I didn't have a
chance to ask questions in my absence.
But one of the things I think is important to set here is that in
1972 both the Republican and the Democratic convention endorsed
platforms that said the United States should get out of Vietnam.
And in 1975 we got out of Vietnam. And most of the newspapers
in America and many, I would say a majority of Americans said get
out, don't go back, turn your backs, forget it.
I mean, that's the historical context as I see it. We ignored what
was going on in Cambodia. We ignored commitments that we made
to the Hmong in Laos. We ignored most especially the commitment
that we had made to the South Vietnamese to stay with them re-
gardless of what happened. I mean that's the political context of
'72. '73. '74. '75. I think one has to be a bit careful in just pulling
this one historical event here, completely out of context. I mean, I
visited Vietnam in '89 and '90. And in '90 I had the occasion to ask
the communist leaders in the North about the South Vietnamese,
the ARVN soldiers, and their treatment of ARVN soldiers, which
has been atrocious. Which has been brutal. The reconciliation has
not occurred. The denial of human rights. The denial of civil rights.
The denial of all opportunities for jobs, for education, even after the
re-education camp and the torture and the mistreatment after the
war itself was over is all sort of air-brushed away by the com-
munist leaders in the North.
So I asked them this, about whether or not they were going to
reconcile. And they said, well we have a man who is in the assem-
bly when you go down to Ho Chi Minh City. We'll set up a meeting.
And I met with this man in his office in Saigon and he said to me
coming out of his office, something that was not quite an epiphany
for me. but certainly it opened my eyes to what we had done. And
he said, quite simply, we believed you. We believed you when you
said you were going to stay with us.
I mean, the window was closed. The door was shut from '75 on.
And so for us to come back now and say that this was the CIA who
did all this, or the DOD that did all this, America shut the door.
There was a genocide in Cambodia we ignored because we didn't
want to go back into Southeast Asia. We didn't want to get in-
volved in all of that. There were protests allowing the boat people
to come to the United States of America. They weren't always wel-
come in many communities. And still. I think there is an unwilling-
ness to face the general suffering amongst the people in the South.
Anyway, I just set that down as a very brief analysis, or state-
ment of context for this particular discussion.
One of the things that I would like to inquire about and it may
require Mr. Son to come back up as well, I'm not sure, or at least
it may require some responses, and if it does. I would be pleased
to have him and Mr. Tourison to come up as well. It appears that
these operations — you were the head of MACSOG, when did you
take over head of MACSOG did you say°
General SlNGLAUB. In May of 1966.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. In May of 1966. So I can't — I'm looking
at the list of commandos that are attending the hearing today and
they go back, I presume, that there was an operation in '64, I pre-
sume the date of incarceration is the day of the operation. I pre-
sume that's the case. I see someone nodding back over here.
General Senglaub. In many cases that was true, but many of the
teams lasted for weeks or months so it's not an exact
Vice Chairman Kerrey. So I see an operation in '64, purses
rolled up in 1964, the mission failed; '65 also captured, incarcer-
ated; '66 captured, incarcerated, two more, three more, '64, another
'65. '62. '62. The question is that I have is, number one, what hap-
pened? Why were they captured? Were they given up by their own
people? Was this — were these missions compromised? Did they
merely get exposed when they went in the North?
And secondly, why did — if they were failing all the time, why
weren't they stopped? Why weren't they stopped? Why did we con-
tinue them in the face of this kind of failure?
General Senglaub. Those are good questions. And certainly ques-
tions that I asked when I took command and asked several times
afterwards. And I believe it was after I came back and briefed the
Joint Chiefs of Staff in the summer of 1968, that they did allow us
to terminate them. There was great pressure from the Administra-
tion to keep those assets alive. They wanted to indicate that we
had intelligence forces in North Vietnam. When I was briefed in
early 1966 out at the CIA headquarters, we went over all the
teams. They gave their views of whether they were viable or not.
In most cases they were not. But, in analyzing what went wrong,
the assumption was there was some problem with operational secu-
rity. Operational security was changed.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Mr. Son and Mr. Tourison would you
mind coming back up again so I can perhaps ask some — I apolo-
gize. I was not here when Mr. Son provided testimony. Does he re-
quire an interpreter?
Mr. Tourison. He speaks English. If you keep the questions sim-
ple and direct, Senator, he will pick up.
Vice Chairman KERREY. Mr. Son can you describe the cir-
cumstances under which you were captured in 1967. is that cor-
Mr. Son. Please repeat.
Vice Chairman KERREY. You were part of an operation — you
went on an operation in 1967.
Mr. Son. Yes.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And you were captured by North Viet-
Mr. Son. Yes.
Vice Chairman KERREY. Can you describe the circumstances of
your capture and why you believe you were captured?
Mr. Son. I went operation with my team.
Vice Chairman KERREY. How many men on the team?
Mr. SON. Eight members. Three American. Three American, is
team leader, vice team leader and one, the other man I think he
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And you were — just to respond earlier,
General Singlaub, he was a member of OPLAN 35?
General SlNGLAUB. That's correct. Cross border operations which
was a completely separate operation that-
Vice Chairman Kerrey. You would recognize
General Singlaub [continuing]. Was handling.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. You would recognize him as a U.S. em-
ployee. If he's OPLAN 35 he's a U.S. employee?
General Senglaub. That's correct.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Any why wasn't he asked for in the
Paris conference in '73?
General Slnglaub. He was presumed dead. One of his team
members who did survive, apparently indicated that — assumed
that he was dead.
" Vice Chairman KERREY. Mr. Tourison, vou are shaking vour
head u no"?
Mr. Tourison. I have spoken with — the team interpreter hap-
pens to be in California. The incident where Mr. Son was lost was
a distressed incident, and was so distressful for the family of Mas-
ter Sergeant Ronald Dexter who was one of MACSOG's own NCOs.
They lost their first helicopter, they had to transfer over to a sec-
Vice Chairman Kerrey. They inserted by helicopter?
Mr. Tourison. Yes, sir.
Vice Chairman KERREY. Two helicopters?
Mr. TOURISON. They were inserted by helicopter. And got into a
firefight within the first 24 hours.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Do you know enough detail? When was
it in '67?
Mr. Tourison. July 1967.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Did they go in at night, in daytime?
Mr. Tourison. They went in during the daytime. Set up their pa-
trol base along the ridge line. Next morning got into combat.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And where exactly did they land?
Mr. TOURISON. I believe it was in Savannahkhet Province, Laos.
The next day they called for an air extraction. The first helicopter
could not get them out. They brought in another helicopter. The
helicopter was shot down. They crashed in the center of a North
Vietnamese ammunition depot. Of the 11 Vietnamese who were
aboard the helicopter, and they were the only Vietnamese on board
the helicopter, 10 were taken prisoner, the 11th was crushed to
death underneath the rear ramp of the Chinook. Two Americans
were taken prisoner. Ronald Dexter, Master Sergeant, United
States Army, Special Forces, and United States Marine Corps
Lance Corporal Frank Cius.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And were these two men a part of the
Mr. TOURISON. Corporal Cius was repatriated, Ronald Dexter
was not accounted for then, and I believe to this very day has
never been accounted for. The Defense Attache office
Vice Chairman Kerrey. But both of them were on the list in
Mr. Tourison. Yes, sir.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And why in your judgement was Mr.
Son not on the list?
Mr. TOURISON. I do not understand why, particularly with Gen-
eral Singlaub's statement, that these were clearly, in the case of
the OPLAN 35, those lost in cross border operations in Laos — and
they lost hundreds of men — and the evidence of death is not there.
No one was taken, no one returned from that downed helicopter.
Ronald Dexter was listed as missing in action. Kept on the books.
Name was there. Frank Cius. Kept on the books, name was there.
Frank Cius returned alive. Ronald Dexter is yet to be, has yet to
be returned. But all the Vietnamese on that team that survived, of
the ten, only Ha Van Son was kept in North Vietnam. Other agents
were repatriated in the spring of 1973 as political prisoners. Colo-
nel "Bull" Simons went to the United States Court of Federal
Claims in Honolulu, Hawaii and got back pay. From date of cap-
ture until date of return. That was paid by a United States Army
officer in Saigon. A U.S. Army interpreter, Bill Bell, who you may
be familiar with from his service later on in Hanoi, executed —
translated the quit claim agreement in Honolulu, Hawaii in the
spring of 1973, after the Pacific Command ruled Colonel Bill Si-
mons got money from the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Back pay. Civilian and regular Defense group. Date of capture to
date of return. But not for Ha Van Son. Because he was the only
member of his ten man team to survive that was not repatriated.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Who was in charge of the team?
Mr. Tourison. Master Sergeant Ronald Dexter on the U.S. side.
He was beaten to death, on the evidence we have, when he was in
North Vietnam before they got to the Hanoi Hilton.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. So a U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant
was in charge of the team?
Mr. TOURISON. Yes, sir. Frank Cius was a door gunner on the
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And what do you view as the cause of
their being compromised? Did they just fly into an area
Mr. TOURISON. In this case, Senator, they got into a hot area. It
happened many, many times. They did not necessarily know they
were coming. Except for one thing. There was a mole. And General
Singlaub looked for the mole. The record on that is clear. General
Singlaub tried for 2 years. His predecessors had tried. Who was the
mole? Who are the people on the inside?. And they couldn't find
them. One month after my book was released, Vietnam's Interior
Ministry placed the mole on Vietnamese national television.
Former South Vietnamese Army Colonel, Lt. Col. Do Van Tien,
deputy chief of covert operations into North Vietnam, recruited by
the South Vietnamese in 1956. He admitted that he during the
length of the entire program had compromised to North Vietnam's
intelligence service the prior landing site of all teams sent into
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Is there any chance in your mind that
the people for whom we are considering to pay a claim could be
Mr. Tourison. No, sir.
Vice Chairman KERREY. Why do you say that? What's the evi-
dence of that conclusion?
Mr. Tourison. Colonel Gilbert Layton, who passed away re-
cently, was involved with covert operations in South Vietnam and
always felt during his period in South Vietnam in the early 1960s
working for Bill Colby, that 10% could have been working for the
North Vietnamese. But he felt he had an edge on them of nine to
one. I have talked with all of these agents who are here today. I
have talked to nearly every survivor and next to 100 next of kin.
I know what these people went through. I have tracked each of
them year by year through the prison system. I know who was
there, I know who was not. If Vietnam's Interior Ministry had re-
cruited one of these people and sent them over to the United States
after they got out of prison. Senator anything is possible. I think
Vice Chairman Kerrey. But no hard evidence. I mean one con-
versation, and an estimate. No evidence that would stand up in a
serious counterintelligence evaluation, investigation.
Mr. TOURISON. There are two, one of the first agents that Wil-
liam Colby sent to North Vietnam, Agent ARIES was a double
Vice Chairman Kerrey. What's your view — I presume you have
some knowledge of U.S. involvement in training the Hmong.
Mr. Tourison. No, sir. I was the intelligence liaison officer with
the Royal Army intelligence staff and essentially just as General
Singlaub worked with the South Vietnamese in the covert oper-
ations, I handled Royal Army interrogation operations in Vientiane
essentially between 1971 and 1974, though my actual full time
time of arrival was March of '71. I also handled two military re-
gions in Laos: military region one, military region five, and was re-
sponsible for overseeing the production of all interrogation reports
that we, in a very small team, the Laos Exploitation Team, did be-
tween 1971-1974 during my stewardship.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. I presume when this bill is taken and
referred to either Judiciary or Armed Services that they can take
up the question about both the legality of the claim and the poten-
tial widening of the claim. I mean that is a great fear that we've
got here. And I think it's very important for us to respond here in
a very straight forward fashion and not get kind of caught up in
the mire of guilt that we understandably feel about the damage
done to these individuals. I think it is very important that we un-
derstand that we have U.S. law that we are dealing with and deal
with it, as I said, in a very straight forward fashion that is con-
scious of what could follow if these awards are made, and conscious
as well of what the citizens themselves would like us to do.
I would just like to explore if I could, this idea that the oper-
ations were continued. Now General, you said you asked for them
to stop and as I see on the sheet there is only one in 1970. So you
are saying that about after '68 the counter border operations
General Singlaub. The cross border operations were increasing
at that time, because they were very successful. The operations
into North Vietnam had not been successful from the outset. We
know now that is was because of a high placed mole in the South
Vietnamese government that was tipping off the North Vietnam-
ese. Changes in operations security didn't have an impact on that.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Mr. Son, I was asking you and I
General Singlaub. The point is that Mr. Son was not a part of
that program. He was in a program that continued right up until
the time that we started our withdrawal.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. And by the way, I can reach no other
conclusion, when answering my own question, as to why they were
not included and Americans were included on the list that was pre-
sented in '73 in Paris is that they are Vietnamese and so they are
not on the list. I mean if he is a U.S. employee we would not take
a single individual, saying well, Lt. Kerrey was killed. I saw him
die. A single individual testifying to my death as a casualty would
not be sufficient to keep me off a list. The U.S. would investigate
further and make sure that they verified with more than just one
eye witness. Again, I take that back to what I said earlier. I do
think, from 1975 to 1995, you know, including Robert McNamara's
rather remarkable mea culpa, going over to Hanoi and having an
interview with General Giap and saying what the hell did happen
in August of 1964, after coming to Congress and saying I have in-
controvertible evidence that indicates that we were attacked. So I
mean I do think this is something that just can't be laid at the
doorstep of our negotiators and Mr. Kissinger in particular. As I
said, I can reach no other conclusion other than to say that if Mr.
Son's name was Bob Kerrey, serial number 723089, that he would
have been on the list. They would not have accepted a single wit-
ness. And as I said, I think that was unfortunately and tragically
a general attitude held in the entire country, the entire United
States, and it does make us in 1996 not look altogether good in
General, you were not responsible for taking this action, but I
must say that I, I find myself reaching that conclusion and it's not
a very happy conclusion and it's not a very proud conclusion.
General SlNGLAUB. I bring up the point again, though, that we
have to make the distinction between the two types of operations
that we were talking about. Mr. Son was in an operation that was
run by the Americans clearly, and I don't know whether or not his
name was on the list
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Was not.
General SlNGLAUB. You know that?
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Not on the 72 Paris list. He was not pre-
sented as a POW.
General SlNGLAUB. Of course, I have no idea what criteria was
established to put them on the list.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. That's the point I am making. Obviously
the criteria was lower for an ARVN than it was for a U.S. soldier.
General Singlaub. That's right.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Mr. Son, can you tell me in your own
words why you think the operation failed that you were on in — get
my number right — 1967, July of '67.
Mr. Son. When I go on operation in 1967
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Mr. Son, excuse me, could you pull the
microphone just a little closer.
Mr. Son. On 1967 I was captured. After I was capture because
that two helicopter were shot down and when I was capture I usu-
ally believe that the American government will pick me out — pick
me back. But I think I keep my belief until interview some of my
friend got interview from HO program.
But sometime I think the American that run the plane didn't
take care for me, because on Paris Agreement I think U.S. govern-
ment have negotiate with the government communist. What I
didn't know maybe Mr. Singlaub. Right now I know him. Before
time I didn't know him because I am only a team member. Right
now I know you. You are major colonel. But I think you did your
work with the responsibility. You didn't think about what you do.
And so that I didn't know how can I tell with you what right now
I talk about my life with everybody, and with the Senators office,
because I think the USA, the United States of American is good na-
tion and that is my deal when I was young. But sometime there
is somebody to do something with the responsibility. So that when
I came here I related with my friend. Every commando they were
put in jail with me, all the time about 20 year over, I say with my
friend. We had to fight. Right now we had to fight. But sometimes
we fight for freedom and defeat the communists. Right now we
have to fight for our honor.
The problem is not only the money. No money pay for my life.
But I think my honor and my friends honor must be recognition,
get recognition. And money I think does of course. And I want to
talk with everybody about some leader didn't think about the man
who fight for the freedom.
Vice Chairman Kerrey. Well, Mr. Chairman, as you can see, I
asked the other witness to come back up because I was not here
earlier and I am pretty much done in my questioning, and I make
it clear that what I said earlier, that U.S. officials requesting our
prisoners in 1973 did not include an employee of the U.S. govern-
ment that all four parties had a responsibility here, as well as the
South Vietnamese government, to present their list of people that
they believed were still being held, and there is I think perhaps an
argument that could be made that the U.S. government might have
been concerned about the treatment of South Vietnamese nations
if we were to say to the North Vietnamese, here's a list of people
and included on that list are South Vietnamese nations. I mean,
I have no reason to know that that is the case, but one could cer-
tainly argue that this may have been a U.S. concern at that time.
Nonetheless, it seems to me still to be the case that the United
States should have argued for the release of allies who were on a
mission headed by U.S. forces.
Anyway, I appreciate the witnesses testimony, Mr. Chairman, I
appreciate the hearing and the opportunity to ask the questions.
Chairman Specter. Thank you very much, Senator Kerrey.
Mr. Son, I think your last statement about honor is a very, very
important one, and I commend you for making it.
General Singlaub, let's go back to the point about the distinction
between these two categories of units. I think you classified them
34 and 35?
General SlNGLAUB. That's correct; yes, sir.
Chairman Specter. Mr. Son is in the Unit 35, where the United
States government, even under your interpretation, was a party to
General SlNGLAUB. They were recruited, trained by Americans,
and led by Americans in that program in cross border operations,
primarily along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Chairman Specter. And you testified that you think there was
an obligation on the part of the United States government to men
like Mr. Son who were in a 35 contingency?
General SlNGLAUB. Absolutely. Many Americans lost their lives
trying to recover team members who were separated from their
team in an insertion or in a conflict that took place after insertion.
We felt very strongly that these were members of our overall effort,
and we had complete control of them, and I cannot — just because
I don't know what the criteria was for putting the names of the Vi-
etnamese and the other non-Vietnamese indigenous people who
worked on these teams on the list at Geneva — or at Paris, I mean.
Chairman Specter. Do you think that men like Mr. Son in Unit
35 should have been people whom the United States government
pressed to have released by North Vietnam?
General SiNGLAUB. I am amazed that this name was not on it.
I only can assume that he was presumed dead and therefore was
not listed as an MIA.
Chairman Specter. When you come to the question of presump-
tion of death, which is a complex legal subject in some jurisdic-
tions — it's a matter of time, 7 years not having been heard from;
questions about rebuttable presumptions — what were the stand-
ards, presuming somebody like Mr. Son to be dead?
General SiNGLAUB. I do not know. That was generally handled
by the Vietnamese and they had their legal advisors on that.
Chairman Specter. Well, it was more than the Vietnamese. It
was a conclusion which was joined in by the United States under
this death gratuity. There was a conclusion by the United States
government that Mr. Son was dead — death gratuity.
General SiNGLAUB. Yes, but that was a case not of — after a long
period of time. The nature of the action in which he was ultimately
captured was such that everybody was lost, as I learn now from
Mr. Tourison, and I still don't know the name of this team, which
Mr. Tourison. Team Illinois.
General Singlaub. Illinois.
Chairman Specter. But why would the conclusion be that every-
one was lost? Where there is combat, some are lost, or killed, oth-
ers are taken
General SiNGLAUB. I believe you were out of the room when Mr.
Tourison went over the operation in which two helicopters were
shot down, they crashed, and eventually
Chairman Specter. Does that relate to Mr. Son, Mr. Tourison?
Mr. Tourison. Yes, sir. I would be happy to repeat it, Senator,
if you would like.
Chairman Specter. Would you?
Mr. Tourison. In July of 1967, after several days of skirmishing
in Laos, a Chinook helicopter attempting to remove Vietnamese
team members was finally shot down and crash landed in the cen-
ter of a North Vietnamese ammunition depot.
Chairman SPECTER. Was Mr. Son in that helicopter?
Mr. TOURISON. He was in that helicopter, as were the pilot, copi-
lot, Marine Master Sergeant Ronald Dexter, and a door gunner,
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Cius.
Chairman Specter. And did Mr. Son confirm that — Mr. Son, did
you confirm that you were in that helicopter? You were?
Mr. Son. Yeah.
Chairman SPECTER. But of course, you survived.
Mr. Son. Yeah.
Chairman Specter. Mr. Son, did others in that helicopter sur-
Mr. Son. Two American and some Vietnamese commandos.
Chairman Specter. Well, all right, I had not heard that, and I
did have to step out of the room for a few moments. Here we have
meetings going on simultaneously and hearing going on. It is a
tough matter to cover them all.
But even with the helicopter crash, it isn't conclusive as to some-
body being killed, because people do survive helicopter crashes.
But General Singlaub, I want to go back to this point about how
many South Vietnamese there were in Contingency 35 and how
many there were in Contingency 34, so that the record will be pre-
cise as to the two categories.
Can you give me a ballpark figure as to how many there were
in Contingency 35?
General Singlaub. I cannot give you an exact figure. I can say
Chairman Specter. A few hundred?
General Singlaub. No; it was more than the 300 that — approxi-
mately 300 that we had in the Op 35 over the many years. It was
a continually expanding program. There were, as I have indicated
earlier, ethnically these people were Vietnamese and then a variety
of Montagnard tribes as well as Cambodians. They were handled
in different bases
Chairman Specter. Well, there were several hundred.
General Singlaub. There were several hundred; yes, sir.
Chairman Specter. And contrasted with Contingency 34, there
were several thousand.
General Singlaub. No. No. In Contingency 34, ALPHA, there
were approximately 300.
Chairman Specter. And you think the obligation of the United
States differed with respect to the people in 34 contrasted with 35?
General Singlaub. Yes, I do.
Chairman Specter. Well, all right. Taking up Unit 35, you think
that we — the United States government did not discharge its re-
sponsibilities to those individuals?
General Singlaub. Well, until this case came up, I thought that
we had done very well in taking care of the team members from
these cross border operations under Operation 35.
Chairman Specter. Director Deutch has been quoted as saying,
Time Magazine, June 24, 1996: "Last Week CIA Director John
Deutch finally did take responsibility, realizing the revelations
could endanger operations being run today. Foreign spies might
now be far less willing to take risks for the CIA if the Agency got
a reputation for not paying its bills," quote. "The CIA feels very
deeply that it must take care of people who work for it, CIA Gen-
eral Counsel Jeffrey Smith told Time."
With respect to the statement attributed to Mr. Deutch, do you
think, General Singlaub, that as a practical matter, that foreign
spies might be far less willing to take risks for the CIA if these
South Vietnamese are not paid?
General SINGLAUB. I think that that is a valid concern, and if I
were in Mr. Deutch's position, I would take that — I would express
Chairman Specter. General Singlaub, do you know of any other
instance where the United States government has acted towards
men like it acted toward Mr. Son and his colleagues in Contingency
General Singlaub. I do not know. I cannot — I know that we have
conducted similar operations in other areas, and I would suggest
that there might be a bad precedent established here because of
the numbers of people who have participated in the intelligence op-
erations of Korea, for example, in the Korean War.
Chairman Specter. Are you suggesting that there is a bad prece-
dent because we treated people like Mr. Son unfairly, or are you
suggesting there is a bad precedent because we may be paying
money which would establish a precedent for future payments?
General SlNGLAUB. For future payments, yes. I am concerned
that there are probably hundreds of Koreans who would say they
were in a similar situation. They were recruited by the Korean gov-
ernment, but we provided some support in the training of those
agents. In some case flew the aircraft that dropped them, or put
them ashore in North Korea.
Chairman Specter. How about the precedent of taking men like
Mr. Son under operations controlled by Americans, and after he is
captured, making no effort to get him back, and make a death gra-
tuity payment for 12 months and not doing anything further to this
minute, notwithstanding all this litigation and travail.
General SlNGLAUB. I have to go back to the point that we did not
know the actual situation of Mr. Son at the time. Certainly if we
had known that, he should have been placed on the list, we should
have fought very hard to have him returned. Why he was not on
the list, I can't answer. I was not there.
Chairman Specter. Well, that's just to the list. But Mr. Son has
been known to the United States government for a long period of
time now — he is nodding yes — looking for recognition, looking for
an acknowledgement of unfairness, and looking also for the pay-
ment of money while he was in captivity. Any justification for that
conduct by the United States government, in your judgment, Gen-
General SlNGLAUB. No; I — I cannot rationalize that.
Chairman Specter. Okay.
I am told that we also have with us today General Counsel Jeff
Smith of the CIA and General Counsel Mary DeRosa of the Depart-
ment of Defense. Would you step forward for a moment or two?
Thank you very much, General Singlaub; thank you very much,
Mr. Son; thank you, Mr. Tourison.
Mr. Son. Thank you.
Chairman SPECTER. Mr. Smith, do you think that Congress
ought to legislate to overrule the case of Totten v. the United
States, which says that somehow lips are sealed in a secret ar-
rangement and people cannot collect in a Court of Claims, because
there is no justifiable issue?
STATEMENT OF JEFFREY SMITH, GENERAL COUNSEL,
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
Mr. Smith. It is worth thinking about, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Specter. Well, haven't you thought about it, Mr.
Mr. Smith. I have not thought about a proposal that Congress
overturn it until you raised it this morning, no, sir.
Chairman Specter. Okay, I will ask General Counsel DeRosa, to
give you time to think about it.
What do you think about it, Ms. DeRosa?
STATEMENT OF MARY DeROSA, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL
COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Ms. DeROSA. Well, first I would like to clarify, I am not the Gen-
eral Counsel, I am in the General Counsel's Office.
Chairman Specter. Are you adverse to a promotion?
Ms. DeROSA. That would be fine with me.
Chairman Specter. You are a lawyer in the General Counsel's
Ms. DeROSA. Yes, I am.
Chairman SPECTER. How about overruling Totten v. the United
States? Do you think it takes the Congress to do that, or can't the
Department of Justice recognize a 126 rule which makes no sense
today, and pay the money?
Ms. DeRosa. I am afraid I have not given that any thought be-
fore this morning either, and I really can't comment.
Chairman Specter. Okay.
Would you care to comment, Mr. Smith?
Mr. Smith. First of all, Ms. DeRosa is a former colleague of mine
at Arnold & Porter, Mr. Chairman, so I am pleased that she is sit-
ting beside me. But she had not been prepared for this surprise
testimony, so I would be happy to take the bulk of your questions,
if I may.
Chairman Specter. Well, I don't know about that. Is either Mr.
Arnold or Mr. Porter available?
Mr. Smith. Sadly, no; they are
Chairman Specter. I know what Mr. Arnold would say. I think
he would say it's an egregious rule and we're not going to follow
it. He was that kind of a tough, forthright guy.
Mr. Smith. I think it is worth thinking about, Mr. Chairman. It
has served us well in that we face a unique situation in the espio-
nage business. We enter into a lot of agreements with individuals
who agree to work for us to collect information or to engage in espi-
onage on our behalf. With the vast majority of these people, we do
not have contracts. That is to say, a formal contract that is signed
and sealed and delivered. But we have agreements with them, we
have understandings, we have handshakes, we have a variety of
agreements with them that the CIA feels very strongly we are
obliged to honor. And in some respects we feel even stronger about
honoring these commitments on moral grounds than we would nec-
essarily on legal grounds.
Chairman Specter. Mr. Smith, is it really a matter, as Director
Deutch is quoted as saying, that foreign spies might be far less
willing to take risks for the CIA if the Agency got a reputation for
not paying its bills, or is it really a manner, as this quotation goes
to General Counsel Jeffrey Smith, who says the CIA feels very
deeply that it must take care of the people who work for it. Whom
do you vote for as between Deutch and Smith?
Mr. Smith. I am not sure I followed your question Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Specter. Well, is the paramount issue here the prag-
matic one of encouraging spies to take risk with the CIA, as Direc-
tor Deutch is quoted as saying, or the fairness issue, which general
counsel Jeffrey Smith is quoted as saying?
Mr. Smith. I don't see them as mutually exclusive. I think they
are complementary. We need both. We ask people to take great
risks for us, and we have to be prepared to honor our commitments
to them. And if we don't, we'd go out of business as a spy agency.
Chairman Specter. Well, I would ask you, Ms. DeRosa, to take
the matter up with your superiors at the Department of Defense,
and I would ask you, Mr. Smith to think about it.
Thank you all very much. That concludes the hearing.
[Thereupon, at 11:24 a.m., the hearing was concluded.]
[Additional information for the record follows:!
McNamara's Covert War: The Zenith of Deception
(By Sedgwick Tourison)
The true story about the United States covert war against North Viet Nam ranks
among the last most closely guarded secrets of the Viet Nam War. It was a war con-
trolled more by Ha Noi than by Washington, a silent struggle that under Robert
McNamara led us inexorably into an expanded conflict, a conflict we call today the
Viet Nam War. It is through our understanding of how and why the covert war was
doomed to fail, and the cover-ups of what actually happened 32 years ago, that we
may begin to comprehend why the Viet Nam War expanded the way it did.
In April 1995, I watched Diane Sawyer's televised interview of Robert McNamara.
Diane Sawyer asked McNamara if he had lied to the president. McNamara re-
sponded that he had not lied to the president because, as McNamara explained, to
have told a lie meant to intentionally deceive and that, Robert McNamara asserted,
he had not done.
Permit me to put it as succinctly as I can.
Robert McNamara misled President Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara lied
to the congress. The combination of these two serious indiscretions created condi-
tions that led Vietnamese Communist forces to prevail throughout Viet Nam.
If anyone has ever researched Defense Department documents from the period
when Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense, it is easy to reach a conclu-
sion that Robert McNamara was a hands-on person. He got involved and demanded
a lot of detail. It certainly came as no surprise that the Joint Chiefs of Staff pre-
viously top secret study about our covert war against North Viet Nam contained ref-
erence after reference to events in which Robert McNamara was personally in-
volved. 1 It is clear that he had an infatuation for numbers and details in the pros-
ecution of both the overt war and the covert war.
Robert McNamara wrote in his memoir that he had not kept a diary. 2 I reasoned
that it took some time for McNamara to pull together the documents he needed and
most of his sources of information about the covert war were missing. Then, I dis-
covered a great disparity between the facts contained in the July 1970 Joint Chiefs
of Staff study of the Defense Department's effort in the covert war, an exhaustive
study in 1969 that included 38 contemporaneous oral histories dozen oral histories
and references by title and file location to hundreds of original official messages and
other documents then in the custody of the JCS.
I easily identified major discrepancies in the chain of events of the covert war be-
tween what Robert McNamara had written and several thousand pages of 25 year
old documents. The magnitude of the errors of fact persuaded me that neither
McNamara nor those who helped him pull together the documents he needed to sup-
port his memoir had taken the time to research the covert war against North Viet
Nam that had been largely declassified in December 1992. Had that happened, of
course, Robert McNamara would have been required to reconsider what he planned
to write about the covert war and this might have led him to other revisions as well.
Let me put forth some simple statements about the impact of the United States
covert war against North Viet Nam, facts and details that are documented in "Se-
cret Army, Secret War."
First, a fundamental counterintelligence failure by the Central Intelligence Agen-
cy in the conduct of the covert war against North Viet Nam during 1960-1964 is
a root cause of the Viet Nam War.
Second, Robert McNamara's successor covert operation through Operations Plan
34A was so fundamentally flawed and subsequently corrupted that it guaranteed
that the United States would be drawn into a much wider war along lines designed
by North Viet Nam.
Third, Robert McNamara gave knowingly false information to members of the
U.S. Senate about what was happening in our covert operations against North Viet
Footnotes at end of article.
Nam, thereby misleading the congress about the actual covert war that prompted
the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Allow me to draw an easily understood parallel between the CIA's counterintel-
ligence failures in Viet Nam and more recent events.
I think that most of us are aware of Aldridge Ames, the CIA counterintelligence
officer who worked for the KGB. Ames's treachery cost U.S. intelligence at least ten
agents, most of whom were executed by the KGB. In terms of the Viet Nam conflict,
we find that similar CIA counterintelligence failures were present here too.
Our covert war against Vietnamese communist forces began years before French
military forces withdrew from northern Viet Nam in 1955. After 1955 it became a
very low-level and low-budget CIA covert operation piggy-backed on the South Viet-
namese. The CIA's program was designed to develop stay-behind agents in the event
that Communist forces prevailed in South Viet Nam. Then, in November 1960, CIA
Saigon Station Chief William Colby received the National Security Council's ap-
Eroval to begin sending teams of armed agents into North Viet Nam. The United
tates then changed from using single spies to embarking on a most curious covert
war that was ostensibly designed quietly to collect information but instead sent
teams on missions that were actually intended to draw the attention of the North
Vietnamese security services. 3 This would only have been done if the teams were
intended to be captured, something no one will admit, and was copied from a pro-
gram which had precisely that objective in Europe in 1942-1943.
Unknown to William Colby, there was a nest of spies inside the South Vietnamese
counterpart of the CIA's covert operation. One of them was Do Van Tien, the deputy
chief of the South Vietnamese office that carried out the Joint CIA-South Vietnam-
ese covert operations into North Viet Nam. Another was a North Vietnamese agent
who looked so appealing that the CIA agreed that he should be recruited, trained,
and sent back to North Viet Nam where he operated on his radio for roughly nine
The South Vietnamese case officer who handled that agent, an agent known as
ARES, was none other than Do Van Tien. Viet Nam surfaced Do Van Tien after my
book "Secret Army, Secret War" was published.
These were not the only traitors within, there were others, all permitted to oper-
ate with impunity because of a deliberate effort to avoid sound counterintelligence
In all fairness to everyone concerned, we did not have all these facts some thirty
plus years ago. The double-agent we learned about in roughly August 1985, the fact
that the deputy chief was working for them we just learned about in August 1995.
It has taken us nearly 40 years to find out these things and that is precisely the
point; we should have attempted to learn the truth years ago.
According to the counterintelligence professionals working in CIA at the time,
William Colby buried his intelligence head in the sand and did rot really look for
the spies. That failure is a root cause of the Viet Nam War that would soon follow
Colby's departure from Sai Gon in the summer of 1962. 5
Between 1960 and late in 1963, roughly 250 agents sent by the CIA and South
Viet Nam into North Viet Nam were lost in an operation designed, funded, and di-
rected by the CIA. Not one long range paramilitary agent team returned, although
most were designed to land in North Viet Nam and remain there, undetected, for
some years. By the end of 1963, the CIA has lost nearly all its agents, informing
the Defense Department that a half dozen teams of agents had made it safely to
their target area and were reporting by radio from deep inside North Viet Nam. 6
One problem though; no one knew at the time was that all the teams working
their radios from North Viet Nam had been captured and the team radio operators
were working for North Viet Nam's Ministry of Public Security Counterespionage
Directorate. Analysis of information the CIA provided to the Pentagon confirms the
CIA was fully aware that most teams it landed inside North Viet Nam during 1961-
1962 were captured and the CIA engaged in "radio play" with the team radio opera-
tors forced to transmit under duress. 7 This should have sent loud warnings that the
CIA's operation into North View Nam was encountering a well-prepared hostile
counterespionage force employing the same highly successful counterespionage tech-
niques employed against the CIA across Eastern Europe a decade earlier.
William Colby acknowledges these failures were brought to his attention in 1963.
But, by then it was too late, the die was cast, and any suspicions held by individual
CIA officers fell victim to Washington's politics.
In 1963 the CIA literally flooded North Viet Nam with teams of paramilitary
agents. They were all captured, usually by North Vietnamese forces waiting on the
ground. But, those few teams the CIA viewed as viable, transmitting essentially
worthless information from deep inside North Viet Nam, created an illusion that a
covert war against North Viet Nam was a sustainable notion. 8
In November 1963, McNamara met in Hawaii with senior CIA officials. According
to McNamara's memoir, this was the first time the covert operation was raised. In
fact, as well documented by William Colby and the Joint Chiefs of Staff official docu-
ments, this was the meeting when John McCone, the CIA Director, and Robert
McNamara, the Defense Secretary, were to hammer out transferring the CIA's cov-
ert northern program to the Pentagon. Colby insists he informed McNamara that
the covert operation would not work. What William Colby apparently did not tell
the Defense Secretary was the fact that the CIA had effectively inhibited any coun-
terespionage review of the entire operation.
In December 1963, Robert McNamara met with President Johnson. He asked the
president to approve the Defense Department's takeover of the CIA's covert program
against North Viet Nam, convincing the president that the Pentagon could put more
muscle into the program than the CIA and use the resources to be committed under
the plan to send a message to North Viet Nam. That message was that through in-
creasing sabotage and eventually air strikes, North Viet Nam could be persuaded
to rethink its infiltration of South Viet Nam. Such notions were sheer lunacy in
1964 and they are even more absurd today, given the pitifully small resources actu-
The president approved Robert McNamara's recommendations. Over Christmas
and New Year's of 1963, senior staff hammered out the framework for McNamara's
Plan 34A. This was a successor to Plan 34 previously developed by William Colby.
Before examining what happened next, it is important to examine Robert
McNamara's recounting of his previous brush with CIA covert operations at the
time of the mid- 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster. As McNamara recounted in his memoir,
he went to President Kennedy in the summer of 1961 and offered to accept the
blame for the failure at the Bay of Pigs. McNamara describes admitting he had be-
come a silent and uncritical observer to what he, McNamara, considered a CIA oper-
ation for which the Joint Chiefs of Staff had gone on record as claiming it could
well lead to an overthrow of Castro. 9 Thus, for Operations Plan 34 and 34A, McNa-
mara was no longer an uncritical observer unaware of the plan and unable to chal-
lenge any aspect of it. He was, after all, the manager of the implementation of Plan
34A. He had ample opportunity to learn from the mistakes of 1961. He did not and
today seems incapable of understanding that failing.
McNamara writes in his memoir that this was a CIA-supported operation. McNa-
mara is wrong; the president approved Plan 34A to be Robert McNamara's Pentagon
From the end of December 1963 through January 1964, McNamara was up to his
elbows in a series of very high level actions that included formation of a military
special operations group in Saigon on 24 January 1964. This group, known initially
as the Military Assistance Command Special Operations Group (MACSOG), later re-
named the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, took
over at least 169 paramilitary agents whose morale had crumpled and six teams of
agents transmitting from deep inside North Viet Nam.
The agents concluded that the United States had a hand in the Diem coup, rea-
soning that if the United States was willing to dispose of their president, the United
States could easily get rid of the contract agents. The Joint Chiefs of Staff study
confirms the agent's fears were well founded.
The first U.S. Army commander of the special operations group did just that; he
got rid of them by dropping them over North Viet Nam with no hope they would
accomplish the missions assigned them. The colonel explained that he had to get
rid of the agents. He was afraid to release them inside South Viet Nam where they
might divulge details about the United States covert war against North Viet Nam.
In reality, Communist North Viet Nam had been reporting for five years the capture
of most of the teams it did not coopt and press into service as turned teams. The
CIA and Pentagon were aware of this reporting through the foreign Broadcast Infor-
mation Service monitoring of North Vietnamese press releases, information kept
from the next-of-kin of agents reported or killed.
What the colonel had to have known was that the CIA arranged for nearly every
team MACSOG deployed to North Viet Nam to be landed in extreme northwestern
North Viet Nam adjacent to Sam Neua Province, Laos, or adjacent to Xieng
Khouang Province, Laos, where the CIA intended the teams would function as an
early warning screen to report about Communist forces entering North Laos. These
teams parachuted into this area to reinforce teams the North Vietnamese had cap-
tured three years earlier and whatever information came from them was obviously
disinformation. A detailed analysis of the agent team landing sites confirms the
team had missions that did not relate any infiltration toward
South Viet Nam, their missions were limited solely toward North Laos. This means
that at the Washington level and within three months of the president's approval
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to transfer the operation from CIA to the Pentagon, the national intelligence com-
munity effectively emasculated the forces designed to send an ineffective message
to Ha Noi and annulled the purpose of Operations Plan 34A. It is unclear if the
president was aware of this technical change.
Between the spring of 1964 and October 1967, MACSOG lost 240 more agents in-
side North Viet Nam and scores of agents in adjacent Laos and Cambodia. 10 Once
again, it included the entire long range agent team force sent into North Viet Nam.
There is no hard evidence that anyone within MACSOG was seriously suggesting
that the entire operation be cancelled. In fact, when the South Vietnamese appealed
to MACSOG to end the farce, MACSOG pressured the South Vietnamese to con-
The Joint Chiefs of Staff documents also confirm that in the spring of 1966,
MACSOG embarked on a five-year program to quietly declare all the agents essen-
tially dead, paying the families death benefits, and erasing the secret army from the
rolls. In 1973, U.S. officials in South Viet Nam reporting to the Defense Intelligence
Agency learned that hundreds of agents were still alive in North Viet Nam, sud-
denly terminated the interrogation of the sources who brought this information to
South Viet Nam.
Almost 300 agents came out of prison alive in the 1980s and their former com-
manders, both Vietnamese and American, largely pretended they did not exist. If
that is how we treated our allies, it should come as no surprise that we did not do
as well as hoped against our enemies. Robert McNamara recounts none of these
facts in his memoir.
McNamara recounts a wailing and gnashing of teeth in 1964 at the time of the
Gulf of Tonkin incident, officials saying that everyone had made this great mis-
calculation in 1964. I ask you stop and think about this for a minute, considering
facts that were very, very well known at the time, most of it information someone
could learn from reading the newspaper.
North Viet Nam had been telling its people for years that the United States was
waging a war in South Viet Nam and had turned the South into a colony. To urge
public acceptance of their propaganda, North Vietnamese security officials referred
to the captured agents as "American commandos," their presence in the North being
portrayed as evidence that the U.S. military was really involved in and fomenting
the war. Some people up North believed them and some did not. In fact, Ha Noi
was aware that it was initially a CIA operation and it was not military as reported
to its own people. What Ha Noi lacked in its northern homeland was credible evi-
dence of a directed U.S. military involvement.
One problem with what North Viet Nam was claiming was that there were rel-
atively few U.S. military there in the very early 1960s, no ground combat troops to
speak of, and a lot of people knew that what Hanoi was saying was not all that
true. But, North Viet Nam had promised the Vietnamese that Communism was the
vision and that vision was getting more and more distant. After all, North Viet Nam
historically had insufficient food to feed its own people, relying on the southern rice
bowl to feed the north, and no real military hardware with which to prosecute a
war in South Viet Nam.
Thus, in the world of 1964, the CIA and Pentagon knew they were losing all their
agents but did not discover why this was happening. As the Pentagon prepared to
take over the covert operation from the CIA, an operation that by all appearances
was winding down, not up, Robert McNamara began to tell the world that the Unit-
ed States would reduce our forces in Viet Nam, not increase them. The agent teams
were reporting from North Viet Nam that they had recruited more agents and were
conducting the sabotage asked of them, even asking for more reinforcements and
supplies. Other Communist countries had been supportive of the North Vietnamese,
stopping far short of giving their fraternal Communist brethren in Ha Noi a blank
check for the military hardware it required to prosecute a war in South Viet Nam.
Thus, when American destroyers began conducting intelligence missions in the
Gulf of Tonkin and the North Vietnamese knew the U.S. would attack the North
if U.S. forces were attacked, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that we
were heading toward a situation where it would not take much to provoke us to at-
tack. And, once we did attack, the North Vietnamese could sit back and tell the
world "See, we told you so." And that is, of course, precisely what happened. It is
with this historic background that McNamara's claimed wailing and gnashing of
teeth seems rather hollow.
I believe most of us are aware that the USS Maddox was attacked by three North
Vietnamese motor torpedo boats on 2 August 1964. On 4 August the Maddox had
been joined by the USS Turner Joy and reported that it was again under attack.
There was some doubt that an attack had actually taken place and every one seems
to have assumed it was the North Vietnamese. Enough senior officials in Washing-
ton and Hawaii thought that an attack had taken place, that McNamara met with
selected senators and reassured them that there was a belief that a second attack
had occurred. But, for the past 31 years there has been considerable debate about
whether there had really been an attack by the Viet Nam People's Navy on 4 Au-
Two years later I received what had all the appearances of credible information
indicating that the Viet Nam People's Navy did not attack on 4 August, suggesting
that the Chinese People's Navy could have conducted the attack, supporting the Viet
Nam People's Navy as they had done in July 1963 during a day-long mission
against maritime operations boat crew Nautilus 7. But, rather than demanding that
we learn the truth, the Pacific Command took a rather different approach, some-
thing I believe Robert McNamara may have forgotten.
On 5 July 1966 I was part of a two-man U.S. Army team assigned to interrogate
19 North Vietnamese Navy prisoners capture four days earlier in the Gulf of Ton-
kin. The senior prisoner was Senior Captain Tran Boa, Chief of Staff of the 135th
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron. Bao admitted his unit had attacked on 2 August but
stated emphatically that North Viet Nam had not attacked on 4 August. When that
word was flashed by the boat that was serving as our interrogation center, the 7th
Fleet came back with a message that we were "Not, Repeat Not" to debrief further
concerning the gulf of Tonkin incident.
I had already asked Bao to defend his statement that his navy did not, and indeed
could not have, attacked the Maddox on 4 August. Bao obliged. I will not go into
the details here; you can read about it in "Secret Army, Secret War." I am sure it
is just a coincidence that when a congressional inquiry looked into the Gulf of Ton-
kin incident about a year and a half later, all 19 North Vietnamese Navy POWs
were suddenly sent back to North Viet Nam. At the end of 1990 I had a chance
to read the final report of the 7th Fleet Exploitation team to which we were as-
signed in July 1966 and I found that all references to the August 1964 attacks were
missing from the team final report. 11
Lastly we have my third area, false statements to the Congress.
In his memoir released in the spring of 1995, Robert McNamara recounts his tes-
timony on 6 August 1964 before a joint executive session of the Senate Foreign Rela-
tions and Armed Services committees, urging support for the administration and
what has become known to history as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. McNamara
writes: "In reply [to Sen. Wayne Morse] I said "Our Navy played absolutely no part
in, was not associated with, [and] was not aware of any South Vietnamese actions."
As I have explained, the U.S. Navy did not administer 34A operations, and the
DESOTO patrols had neither been a "cover" for nor stood by as a "backstop" for 34A
vessels. Senator Morse knew these facts, for he had been present on August 3 when
Dean [Rusk], [Gen.] Bus [Wheeler] and I briefed senators on 34A and the DESOTO
patrols. That portion of my reply was correct." 12
NcNamara also writes: "Critics. * * *charge that the administration coveted con-
gressional support for the war in Indochina * * * and presented false statements
to enlist such support. The charges are unfounded." 13
It is not I who argues that Robert McNamara lied to the Congress, it is the his-
tory of the maritime operations element of MACSOG as contained in the Joint
Chiefs of Staff previously top secret study, the oral histories of the CIA officers who
directed the covert maritime operations using U.S. Navy SEALs as the trainers, and
the oral histories of the Americans and South Vietnamese who rode on those boats.
The fact is that Robert McNamara was aware that MACSOG controlled the north-
ern maritime operations with funding for them approved by the U.S. House of Rep-
resentatives and packaged within the U.S. Navy's annual budget. It logically follows
that such false statements could well have played a decisive role in enlisting con-
gressional support for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Robert McNamara's assertion
to the contrary notwithstanding.
I want to close with two critical questions for Robert McNamara:
Why were you less than straight forward 31 years ago and why are you still not
telling it "like it really was'?
1 Joint Chiefs of Staff, MACSOG Documentation Study, 10 July 1970. The document released
by the Defense Department's Central Documentation Office to the author on 24 December 1992
is located in the author's investigator files maintained in the legislative files portion of the Na-
tional Archives, Washington, DC.
2 Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect, 387.
3 Sedgwick Tourison, Secret Army, Secret War— Washington's Tragic Spy Operation in North
Vietnam, Naval Institute Press, 1995.
4 Author's interview with South Vietnamese former commando, September 1995, Crofton,
5 Tourison, Secret Army, Secret War, 56-58.
6 Tourison, Secret Army, Secret War, Appendix 1, 10.
9 McNamara, in Retrospect, 25/27.
10 Tourison, Secret Army, Secret War, 326.
"United States Pacific Fleet, Seventh Fleet, Final Report of SEVENTH Fleet Exploitation of
North Vietnamese PT Boat Personnel (U), 9 August 1966.
12 McNamara, 137.
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