Episode 17. The story of the blind CIA and the interpretation: “Each invariably recalled a questionable incident…”

 Chapter 4. An not communists!

Episode 17. The story of  the  blind CIA and the interpretation: “Each invariably recalled a questionable incident…

A. Summary:

  1. The story of the  blind CIA.
  2. The inference.
  3. Crony with Lansdale.
  4. Conversation with Lansdale about seal testicles
  5. Crony with Mills C. Brandes, Lucien Conein, Rufus Phillips.
  6. Lie:

                Reviews: CIA bosses are blind?

  1. Crony with Cao Giao, Nguyen Hung Vuong.
  2. Cao Giao.
  3. Nguyen Hung Vuong.

                Review: Very vague! They are blind?

                III The inference.

                1.Each invariably recalled a questionable

Review:  Each invariably recalled a questionable incident that was suddenly explained by the news.               

  1. When asked, An always scurries…
  2. You may be working for the Vietcong.

                Review: Fear of losing privacy (Scared too!): “Look, An,’ I told him, ‘for all I know, you may be working for the Vietcong. “

B. In detail.

  1. The story of the  blind CIA.
  2. The inference.

                “What Lansdale had begun as part of his cold war combat mission was taken over in 1964 by the U.S. military and expanded. When the Vietnam war ended in 1975, five hundred captured agents were incarcerated in North Vietnamese prisons, where they were left to rot for the next decade. “They must have had someone on the inside to roll up the entire network the way they did, all at one time,” Conein told an interviewer in 1995. He wondered if a mole or spy had tipped them off, with the most likely candidate being Conein’s “good friend” Pham Xuan An.” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 80)

  1. Crony with Lansdale.

“When asked to evaluate the world’s most successful spies, An would never rank himself as high as Lansdale. An distinguished between “offensive” and “defensive” spies. Offensive spies work in enemy territory. They form strategic alliances and reconfigure world maps. Defensive spies operate in a narrower field. Even if they cross enemy lines, their goals are con-servative and limited. An had a keen appreciation for Lansdale’s brilliance. He felt as if he were studying at the feet of a master, but the two men also shared jokes and stories and got on famously well with each other. “I met Lansdale quite often,” An says. “Those were very cheerful days.” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 87)

                Reviews:  “I met Lansdale quite often

  1. Conversation with Lansdale about seal testicles

                ““Soon after Lansdale left Vietnam, I went to the dog market,” An says. “I saw a beautiful German shepherd for sale.

The man who was selling it said, ‘This is the dog of Mr. Lansdale, chief of intelligence, who has just left the country. This is a very intelligent dog.’

“I walked around the corner and saw another German shepherd for sale. ‘This is Lansdale’s dog,’ said the owner. That day every German shepherd in the market was ‘Lansdale’s dog,’

and you were supposed to pay more, because it was so intelligent. After that, there wasn’t a German shepherd in Vietnam that hadn’t formerly belonged to Lansdale.”

From Lansdale An acquired the practice of traveling around Saigon accompanied by a dog. He kept a German shepherd nes-tled at his feet in café Givral or heeling on the terrace at the Continental Hotel. As An drove through town in his little green Renault, his dog sat upright in the passenger seat looking out on the road. Most importantly, his dog guarded his house at night while An worked in his darkroom copying documents and writing reports in secret ink. “He would growl softly when he heard a patrol moving through the neighborhood. He was very good at warning me in advance when danger was approaching.”

One day when their paths crossed, Lansdale mentioned to An that he was headed to California on leave and asked if he wanted anything from the United States. An mentioned one gift that would be very special but also very hard to obtain. It would require Lansdale’s swimming with the seals off the California coast.

“Oh, yeah?” Lansdale said, beginning to smile.

“You cut off the testicles of a male seal and put them in a jar full of whiskey,” said An. “I need an aphrodisiac. I am weak in this area, and this is a very good one.”

                An guffaws on remembering his conversation with Lansdale about seal testicles. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 88)

                Reviews: Jokes – Lie!

                “An worked for Lansdale on psyops material and rumor campaigns for the Catholic exodus from the north, the battle of the sects, and Diem’s rigged presidential election. Soon he began learning the master’s tricks. Other able teachers arrived in Saigon as Lansdale staffed his Saigon military mission with the best spooks in the business. Some of these people became An’s lifelong “friends,” although a friendship in which you neglect to mention that you are your friend’s sworn opponent is a curious thing to contemplate.” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 93)

  1. Crony with Mills C. Brandes, Lucien Conein, Rufus Phillips.

“An made friends with another military man, Mills C. Brandes, one of Lansdale’s intelligence officers, who also had three children. The Americans were not encumbered by the racism and arrogance of the petits blancs colons.  They were vehe-mently anti-Communist, and they organized the world along an axis that flipped from white to black. But at this early stage in the war, they acted like deferential guests who were pleased to be visiting the land of their Vietnamese hosts. “They taught me all kinds of things, and their children taught me,” An says.

“I learned from them, preparing myself before going to the United States.”

The three Lansdale team members closest to An were Lucien “Black Luigi” Conein, the “indispensable man” who directed Lansdale’s black operations; former OSS officer Mills C.

Brandes; and Rufus Phillips, who later ran CIA operations in Laos and then directed Vietnam’s strategic hamlet program.

When I ask An if any of these men suspected him of being a Communist, he says, “No, no one knew, not even Lou Conein, and he knew everything. He was a very good friend. He came here first as a major, working for Lansdale. He had been a French soldier. He swore like a trooper. Whenever we got together for a drink at the Continental, Lou Conein and Bob Shaplen and I, Conein would be swearing in French, Shaplen in English, and I in Vietnamese. It was like hell in a very small place.”

“Lou Conein was always the man the Vietnamese trusted,”

An says. “When they pulled a coup in 1963, he was the only outsider invited by the generals to watch the operation. They allowed him to phone the embassy and keep them posted on the progress of the coup.” Thanks to Giai, his cousin, An also knew that Conein had fallen into a “woman trap” set for him by the Deuxième Bureau. “They used lots of pretty girls for gathering information. They succeeded in fooling many people. They failed to trap Lansdale and his other men, like Rufus Phillips, who was very handsome, but the French were successful in fooling Lou Conein.”

Mills Brandes, who was working under MAAG cover as an

“engineer,” became a kind of surrogate father figure for An, whose own father was an engineer. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 95)

                “Another of Lansdale’s energetic spies was Rufus Phillips, a strapping, six-foot football player from rural Virginia who graduated from Yale in 1951 and joined the army. After being reassigned from Korea to Vietnam in 1954, he worked on Lansdale’s team for a year and then moved to Laos. He returned to Vietnam in 1962 with the Agency for International Development and continued working in Vietnam as a consultant from 1965 to 1968.

…An and Phillips became close friends. Phillips respected An’s knowledge of Vietnamese history and his political acu-men. An respected Phillips’s intelligence and sincerity. “Vietnamese women were crazy about him, but he avoided the woman trap,” An says. “He remained formal, aloof. He learned French and played the game very well.” ”(The Spy Who Loved Us, page 96)

  1. Lie:

                “On November 1, the Diem government was overthrown in an American-supported coup d’état. Ngo Dinh Diem and two of his brothers were killed. The CIA officer supervising the operation, with an open telephone line to the U.S. embassy and forty two thousand dollars in Vietnamese piastres stuffed in his pocket, was Pham Xuan An’s friend Lou “Black Luigi” Conein. Three weeks later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 139)

Reviews: CIA bosses are blind?

  1. Crony with Cao Giao, Nguyễn Hưng Vượng.
  2. Cao Giao.

                “Born in 1917 into a mandarin family south of Hanoi, where his father worked as an official in the French judiciary, Cao Giao was irrepressible and brilliant. He had a rapier wit that spared no one’s feelings. In turn, every political party that came to power in Vietnam would throw him in jail and torture him.

He never recanted, never shaved the truth. Up to the day he died in exile in Belgium in 1986″ (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 67)

                “Cao Giao then went to work for the Communists. Among the crucial tips he gave them was advance notice of the Japanese coup d’état against the French. “He was the only source for this information,” An says.

“He contributed a lot to the revolution, particularly under the Japanese occupation and the French.”

Nonetheless, when the Communists come to power in the north, it was their turn to arrest Cao Giao and torture him for having worked for the Japanese. Eventually he fled to the south.

…By 1978 he was being tortured again in Saigon’s infamous Chi Hoa prison, this time for supposedly collaborating with the CIA. After four years in prison, including thirteen months in solitary confinement, Cao Giao was finally allowed to fly into exile. ”  (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 67)

                ” “An’s friend Cao Giao was also serving a term in Ngo Dinh Can’s infamous prison. “He knew Muoi Huong, that he was a high official in the Communist Party and chief of intelligence in the south. The two had worked together when Cao Giao was passing information to the Communists, giving them advance warning of the Japanese coup d’état. He stood to gain his freedom by denouncing Muoi Huong, but Cao Giao never denounced anyone, even under torture. He walked by him with a stone face that revealed nothing of their past association. He was one of the brave ones who never lost their morale.” “(The Spy Who Loved Us, page 112)

  1. Nguyen Hung Vuong.

                “While Cao Giao was a born storyteller whose round, nut-brown face was invariably animated with a smile, his colleague, the frail, stoop-shouldered Vuong, spoke in a cadaverous whisper that made him sound as if he were trying to disappear from the space in front of you. He had a head full of straight, graying hair and the transparent, papery skin of an opiomane.  Born in 1923

in Kunming, southern China, into a Vietnamese family who worked for the French, Vuong was a brilliant student who passed his high school exams in Hanoi before going on to study medicine. In August 1945, after a brief stint as a censor, he left Vietnam for Hong Kong. Then he traveled to Thailand, where he became friends with Pham Xuan Giai, An’s cousin. While Giai was attached to the Deuxième Bureau, Vuong was working for the CIA, first in Thailand, Laos, and Hanoi, and then finally in Saigon, where Giai recruited him to work for G5.

“Vuong, who worked for the CIA, was fighting against my cousin, who worked for the Deuxième Bureau,” An says. “They were keeping track of each other’s activities, reporting back to their bosses on what was happening. But they were good friends who played around together. There is nothing wrong with that.

Each one had his own responsibilities. I learned a lot of things from these people. No one ever suspected that I was working for the Communists. I was so innocent and so open. Anything I didn’t know, I would just ask about. Since no one had taught me about intelligence, I had to ask those who knew about it to teach me.” ”  (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 68)

                Review: Very vague! They are blind?

                III The inference.

                1.Each invariably recalled a questionable incident…

                “When his former colleagues first learned An’s story from rumors that began circulating in the 1980s, each invariably recalled a questionable incident that was suddenly explained by the news. Nick Turner, An’s former boss at Reuters, confirmed his suspicions about An’s unannounced absences from the office. H. D. S. Greenway, known to his friends as David, suddenly understood why his former colleague at Time knew more than he did about the battle of Lam Son 719.

“I had been up on the border near Khe Sanh, watching badly mauled soldiers retreating from Laos,” Greenway told me.

“I described them as survivors from the original column leading the attack. ‘No,’ An said, without the slightest hesitation.

‘The original column was wiped out. What you saw were survivors from the attempt to rescue the column, which also failed.’

Later, when I thought back on it, he seemed remarkably well informed. This is the kind of insight you’d have only from knowing what both sides in the battle were doing.”

Nayan Chanda, who was working for Reuters and the Far East Economic Review,  remembered seeing An standing in front of the Presidential Palace on the last day of the war as Communist tank 843 smashed through the iron gate. “There was a strange, quizzical smile on his face. He seemed content and at peace with himself. I found it odd,” Chanda says. “His wife and children had just been airlifted out of the country, and he didn’t seem to have a care in the world.” Chanda later realized that An was celebrating the Communist victory he had supported for thirty years.

Aside from Chanda’s fleeting glimpse, An kept his cover in place after 1975. “It was a dangerous moment for me,” he says. “It would have been easy for someone to put a bullet through my skull. I was afraid they would kill me and barbecue my dogs alive. All I could do was wait for someone from the jungle to come out and recognize me.” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 221)

                Review:  “When his former colleagues first learned An’s story from rumors that began circulating in the 1980s, each invariably recalled a questionable incident that was suddenly explained by the news.

  1. When asked, An always scurries…

                “How does a correspondent for Reuters win a combat medal? When asked, An always scurries behind his standard explanation: he did strategic analysis and provided background information on the commanders and troops involved. But An did far more. He was intimately involved in training the Vietcong troops who engaged in the battle, advising them on how to fight against helicopter gunships, armored personnel carriers, and other new weapons which were then being introduced into Vietnam. He mapped the battlefield strategy and helped lay the trap that led to the Communist victory, and then he went out and got the story reported.

The battle took place outside the hamlet of Ap Bac, forty miles southeast of Saigon, in January 1963. “Up till then Viet Cong activities had consisted of hit-and-run attacks, avoiding pitched battles,” Nick Turner wrote in an article called “Media and War: Reflections on Vietnam,” which was published in 2003. “The Americans said that if the Communists could be made to stand and fight they would get a bloody nose….

Turner speculates that An might have played another role in the battle. “He would have had enough knowledge of the battlefield tactics, rules of engagement, logistics and battle-readiness of both the Vietnamese and Americans in that area at that time to give pretty good advice on the way to set up a trap for them. Certainly Ap Bac had the hallmarks of a trap. The Americans in particular (who at that time were still in an ‘ad-visory’ role but also providing helicopter support and air cover for ARVN troops) had been saying that they couldn’t wait for the opportunity to engage a force of well-trained VC regulars who were prepared to stand and fight instead of melting away. The importance of Ap Bac was that this is exactly what the VC did, for the very first time. But they did it according to their own carefully laid plan, not through being cornered and forced to defend themselves.”

Following Ap Bac, An busied himself covering the other big stories of 1963″ (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 137)

Review: “How does a correspondent for Reuters win a combat medal? When asked, An always scurries behind his standard explanation:…

  1. You may be working for the Vietcong.

                “An would tell Turner what the Communists were going to do, and “invariably that’s what they did. His perception of events was uncannily well-informed,” Turner says. Oddly, Reuters had no use for this information. The agency avoided analytical articles and think pieces, sticking to hard news, short and terse, to keep the cable costs down.

As far as Turner was concerned, An could be both a Communist and a good reporter so long as he did the job he was paid for, but his capitalist employer was getting short shrift compared to his Communist bosses. “An would disappear from the office for several days at a time. He wouldn’t tell me where he was going, and when he returned he wouldn’t tell me where he had been or what he had done. He just disappeared. People speculated he had a girlfriend, but I didn’t believe it. I knew he was very fond of his wife, and I didn’t think he was involved with anyone else. I suspected he was going off to talk to the Vietcong.”

“‘Look, An,’ I told him, ‘for all I know, you may be working for the Vietcong. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 140)

Review: Fear of losing privacy (Scared too!): “Look, An,’ I told him, ‘for all I know, you may be working for the Vietcong. “

                “United Press International (UPI) reporter Ray Herndon, who lived in Vietnam from 1962 to 1967, also suspected that An had divided loyalties. When he accompanied An to the bird market on Nguyen Hue Street, An would inquire curiously about Herndon’s visits to the field. He was particularly interested in descriptions of military units, their strengths and weaknesses. “I had a car and driver in Vietnam, which I leased to the Reuters bureau for two hundred and fifty dollars a month,”

says Herndon. “An would disappear with my car for several days at a time.”

“‘I have gone hunting,’ he would say when he returned to Saigon. Then he would present my wife and me with a leg of venison or a piece of wild boar. Maybe it crossed my mind to wonder if he was a courier, running antibiotics and other supplies out to the Vietcong. My wife, who is Eurasian, was also suspicious of An. He seemed to show up in too many places at once and be too interested in observing what was happening. Of course, our side was spying on us too. The CIA put an agent named Don Larrimore on our staff. I caught him once inside my apartment riffling through my telephone book. So we were suspicious of everybody, An included.” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 140)

                “When I ask Turner if he ever ran a security check on An or discussed his suspicions with intelligence agents, he admits, “No one seemed to believe that An was a security risk, and I wasn’t going to mention it to British or American intelligence. I was afraid they would clam up and not talk to me anymore.”

                Turner himself was already a marginal figure in Saigon. “They regarded me as representing a British outfit, and I wasn’t treated as well as if I had been in American news.” In order to keep his own nose clean, Turner stifled his suspicions. The one person capable of blowing An’s cover did his best to keep it in place. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 143)

                ““An had come from a wealthy landholding family in the delta. We were told he had lost his land to the Vietcong, and this provided An with a perfect cover. He could and did sound anti-Communist.”

“Did he tell you this story?” David Felsen asked McCulloch in their taped interview.

“I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember if he told us that story, or if it came from somewhere else,” says McCulloch.”(The Spy Who Loved Us, page 170)

                Review: “We were told he had lost his land to the Vietcong, and this provided An with a perfect cover. He could and did sound anti-Communist.”

  1. Jokes.

                “The political situation in Vietnam was altered dramatically as the first of what would eventually be a half million troops arrived in the country. “When the Americans sent in their troops in 1965, it presented problems for the Vietnamese who were running the south,” An says. “I suggested people get together and discuss among themselves how they were going to deal with the Americans. ‘Up to this point you have been independent. But now the question becomes, How are you going to maintain your command? If you aren’t happy with the American advisers, you can kick them out.’”

                This is useful advice for a Communist agent to give the generals who are commanding his enemy’s army. As I listen to An tell this story, I relish its ironies. Many of An’s apparently innocent remarks are loaded with these double and triple en-tendres. They are like pebbles careening down a mountainside.

                They ricochet through the scree of everyday assumptions and accumulate huge boulders of meaning before they hit bottom, with consequences large enough to flatten a country. An helps the South Vietnamese military shape its response to the arrival of American combat troops and at the same time provides this information to his North Vietnamese colleagues. He is a trusted adviser in the south and an invaluable informant to the north. (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 182)

                Review:  “As I listen to An tell this story, I relish its ironies. Many of An’s apparently innocent remarks are loaded with these double and triple en-tendres.

                “In the summer of 2007, I met Vietnamese refugee Tran Tu Thanh for dinner at a restaurant outside of Washington, D.C. Thanh had worked for General Nguyen Ngoc Loan in police intelligence. He interrogated captured soldiers, and, as a friend of An’s, he had inadvertently provided him with some of the information he sent to the north. The son of a math professor who had once served as South Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, Thanh was captured at the end of the war. He was imprisoned and tortured for fifteen years. For four and a half of these years, he was shackled at the ankle and held in a box the size of a coffin.

“Why would An spend the last day of the war working so hard to get Tuyen out of the country?” Thanh asks, as we begin our dinner .  He speculates that An must have had a good reason for getting Tuyen removed from the scene. If Tuyen had been captured and tortured, as he surely would have been, what name might have come to his lips? This would have been embarrassing for his former colleague and loyal assistant An. If all that talk about An being a double agent were true, then Tuyen was the best source for confirming these rumors.” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 219)

                “An never vaunted his own skills as a spy, attributing to luck what others would have claimed as cunning. An considered his work defensive rather than offensive in nature. He was not an aristocrat like Sir Anthony Blunt, who advised the Queen on her art collection while spying for the Soviet Union. He more closely resembled Richard Sorge, the German journalist who befriended all the top Nazis while spying for Stalin. Sorge was hung by the Japanese in 1944. The closest An got to playing on the world stage was his aborted posting to the United States.” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 238)

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