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August 10th: Remembering a Day of Tragedy for the People of Vietnam

Samizdat – 10.08.2022

On this day, August 10, 1961, the United States began chemical warfare in Vietnam War, having sprayed 77 million liters of defoliants over South Vietnam by the end of 1971. Of that amount, 44 million liters contained dioxin, which causes various diseases and genetic mutations in humans and other living beings exposed to it.

Some three million Vietnamese were affected by direct contact with dioxin in that decade.

14% of the territory of South Vietnam was exposed to this toxin, causing severe consequences for the land and nature. Five thousand square kilometers of mangrove forests were almost completely destroyed; about 10,000 square kilometers of jungle and more than a thousand square kilometers of lowland forests were affected. American troops destroyed 70% of the coconut plantations and 60% of the Gewea plantations; they also changed the ecological balance of Vietnam.

The affected areas lost 18 out of 150 bird species; nearly all amphibians and insects disappeared; the number of fish in rivers decreased, and their composition changed. The microbiological composition of soils was disturbed. Changes in the fauna resulted in the replacement of black rats, which are safe for humans, with other species that were plague carriers. Alterations in the mosquito species composition led to the introduction of malaria-carrying ones. Dioxin: A Permanently Exploding Bomb The large-scale US use of chemical warfare in Vietnam lasted until late 1971. But this war was not over for Vietnam itself, said Professor Andrei Kuznetsov, director general of the Russian Division of the Joint Russo-Vietnamese Research and Technology Tropical Center, in an interview with Sputnik.

“This is because dioxins, once inside the human body, begin to work like an HIV infection. If a person is completely healthy, they do not affect him. As soon as the human immune system weakens and any disease begins, dioxins immediately get integrated into the disease chains and start working in their own way. No one knows just how. They can cause cancer, damage to the liver, skin, respiratory system, and much more. Dioxin pathology is very diverse. And the most tragic thing is that it is inherited through mother’s milk. More than a million and a half Vietnamese in the three postwar generations have suffered from it. For an extremely long time, for many generations, dioxins will continue to be passed on from women to their children. Moreover, there is no minimum permissible dose for dioxins,” says Andrei Kuznetsov.

Today, Vietnam faces the ever-present threat that children will be born with a wide variety of defects. To this day, several villages there are closed to the public, where children are born into families with various deformities. There are several specialized boarding schools where children with genetic defects live. Scientists from different countries have been studying the effects of dioxin on soil for a long time, but only in temperate and northern climates. No one has studied its impact in the tropics. There have been no studies on what happens when dioxin molecules enter the soil under tropical conditions, continued Professor Kuznetsov.

“The Joint Russo-Vietnamese Research and Tropical Technology Center is the first and only one to address this issue. It was commonly believed that dioxin molecules were insoluble. Supposedly, humus binds them and they remain in the top layer of the soil. One could bulldoze or even shovel it and burn it. But it turns out that things are different in the tropics. Dioxin molecules bind with various acids in the soil, forming new dioxin-containing molecules that become water-soluble and water-permeable. They mix with rainfall streams, sink into the soil, get transported by subsurface water, and subsequently enter wells, lakes, rivers, and seas hundreds of kilometers away from where they were sprayed. This situation persists in Vietnam to this day. There are several ‘hot spots’; places where, during the aggression, the Americans stored barrels with chemical agents. When they left Vietnam, they shot these barrels with large-caliber machine guns and left them there. For example, this happened in Da Nang, which was one of the largest US military bases. And the same happened at the US military base in Bien Hoa. These two former bases are still the largest and scariest hotbeds of contamination,” said Andrei Kuznetsov.

The expert also noted that the Americans recently have conducted a demonstrative action in Da Nang – and have now begun it in Bien Hoa – to decontaminate the soil to a depth of two meters in those places where barrels with warfare agents were stored. But they don`t check the level of dioxin contamination even within the radius of 200-300 meters from the storage sites. Meanwhile, subsurface water transports pesticides far beyond those limits.

The Mission of Joint Tropical Center The Joint Russo-Vietnamese Research and Technology Tropical Center has been studying the consequences of the US chemical war in Vietnam since its founding. In fact, it was established precisely for this work, noted Professor Kuznetsov.

“We were tasked with determining whether contact with dioxin leads to genetic changes in humans and has a detrimental effect on soil, flora, and fauna. Our conclusion – yes, it does. The results of our work were published and reported to the leadership of Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Health, together with our scientific and practical recommendations on combating various dioxin-related effects. At the same time, we noted that the most effective, global way to prevent dioxins from damaging people is to take maximum care of their health. That is, Vietnam needs to invest much more in health care than countries that have not been exposed to this toxic chemical. We cannot yet say when the effects of US chemical warfare will cease in Vietnam. After all, Vietnam is the first and only country to have been exposed to such massive amounts of poisonous substances,” Kuznetsov concluded.

August 10, 2022 - Posted by | Environmentalism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | ,


  1. Appalling. The term “war crime” doesn’t begin to cover it.


    Comment by traducteur | August 10, 2022 | Reply

    Forgotten lessons from the fall of Saigon and what is left out of the history books
    Oct 18, 2021

    “This was the period of my government service that shattered my ideals, my romanticism . . . it shattered my idealistic vision of what my government, my country was all about, and particularly, the CIA was all about.”
    -John Stockwell

    Three weeks before Tay Ninh was captured in 1975, John Stockwell, the CIA chief of a small outpost in the city, ordered a helicopter to seek personal assurances from his superiors in Saigon. He had heard their official line, that there was to be no evacuation and that the end of the war not in sight, but he wanted to hear it from them himself. In his view, the signs were clear from intelligence and the daily shelling of his area that the South Vietnamese army, ARVN, would not hold and that it was only a matter of time before the North Vietnamese army would prevail. He decided before he got to Saigon what he wanted to say. He pictured it as a showdown where he would confront them on their lies:

    Hey fellas, between you and me, I want you to look me in the face and admit that this country is breaking apart. It’s about to go. Tay Ninh is a targeted place. I’ll hold my post open and keep the intelligence flowing, but I want to be sure that you’re not blowing smoke up my backside. I want to make sure that we understand each other. And that when the crunch comes, the helicopters will come in and get us.

    After landing on the embassy’s rooftop, Stockwell entered the CIA’s station in Saigon. He had been with the Agency for over a decade, had worked as an intelligence case officer, a chief of base, and a station chief, and was therefore familiar with the senior leadership. He could see Thomas Polgar, the Saigon Chief of Station, running down the hall and other high-ranking officers were similarly preoccupied with little time for Stockwell. As lunchtime approach, they offered: “Let’s go to lunch, we want to hear what you have to say.” This would give Stockwell his chance to present his case, or so he thought. Then there was a change in plans: “Let’s stop off for a quickie,” they decided. This statement was to preface the most bizarre experience of his professional career.

    The CIA leadership cadre in Vietnam took Stockwell to the No Name Bar, a converted house down an alleyway. He observed that the living room had been turned into a bar and the palatial dining room area had stalls and booths without tables. The reason for this, Stockwell found out, was that the house specialty was blowjobs. Standing at the bar, “two of the top guys go into the next room and laid back and girls come to attend to them,” Stockwell recalled. He tried to talk to another superior standing next to him as a girl approached. Despite now being indisposed in a chair, the boss claimed to want to know what Stockwell had to say. “I’m talking to talk him about the fact that the country is collapsing,” Stockwell lamented, “while she unzips him and hauls him out and starts to do him.” He reflected on the madness of the moment:

    What’s the protocol when you’re down in the capital to talk to your boss about the collapse of a country and the United States’ first total defeat and your life and other people’s lives are in danger and your boss is getting a blowjob, you know? Are you supposed to smile in his face and encourage him? And you know, ‘Come on,’ and help him along? Or should you look off at the bar and pretend it’s not happening until he’s finished? . . . Nobody had ever taught me in Marine Corps training or CIA training what the protocol for that was.

    Stockwell’s account of his time in Vietnam with the CIA was revealed in a 1985 TV interview, which was ostensibly to promote his book on the topic, one that was never released. What likely prevented this publication was the situation faced by his CIA colleague, Frank Snepp, who had published Decent Interval five years prior on his time in Vietnam. The CIA sued to prevent Snepp from publishing future work without CIA approval and to seize his profits. Similar to the revelations found in the book, the stories Stockwell told in the hour-long conversation inescapably bring to mind parallels with the fall of Kabul in the Afghanistan War.

    Stockwell’s tour of duty as a CIA officer in Vietnam began in 1973 following the withdrawal of American ground troops. Despite the Paris Peace Accords signed in January of that year, the CIA remained at full force in South Vietnam (with around 600 officers in total), to keep the invisible government in place and to signal to the North that the U.S. was not going to abandon the South. Unfortunately, the need for such a presence had dried up; Stockwell estimated that there was only enough work for “six serious case officers” among the 70-80 officers stationed in Saigon alone.

    Stockwell was posted to Tay Ninh, one of the two provincial capitals the North Vietnamese army planned to take in order to launch their next offensive. The area was also an important source of intelligence: “The flow of their agents,” he remarked, “their corruption, their money, payments from the Bank of Saigon going up the road would go right in front of my compound, literally, to go up to COSVN (North Vietnam’s Central Office for South Vietnam).” His sources provided him with intelligence on the North’s plan to capture provincial capitals, with a target date set of 1976 for overtaking the entire country. The North’s miscalculation was in overestimating the strength of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the South Vietnamese army, which collapsed much more quickly than the North expected. “I was trying to tell my government,” Stockwell remembered. “I was trying to tell my Chief of Station, I was trying to send reports back to Washington and the reports would get to Saigon and they were stopped.” He would soon learn why the White House had no use for hearing the truth of the situation on-the-ground in South Vietnam.

    Ignoring local and CIA corruption

    Upon his arrival in the country, Vietnamization from Stockwell’s perspective appeared to be working, the concept of “handing most of the dirty work over to the South Vietnamese themselves” as Snepp explained it. Stockwell believed in the optimism displayed by Graham Martin, the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, that the United States’ plan was working. The longer he worked in Vietnam, however, an obvious rot began to reveal itself, particularly as the North began serious attempts at taking over the South in the spring of 1974. To extend the war effort further, Martin and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pushed the U.S. Congress for an additional $1.45 billion in aid for South Vietnam. Stockwell by this point realized why this money would be wasted: it was clear to any honest observer that the South Vietnamese government and military were thoroughly corrupt. Money intended for the military was duly siphoned by the Vietnamese leadership into their own pockets. “The corruption went beyond your imagination,” Stockwell explained. “Let half of the soldiers go home so that you could pocket their salaries. Then you could sell their uniforms and equipment to the Communists and get money from that. Then you could have half of your trucks you could use to haul produce and half of your helicopters to haul heroin. And the result, it was so corrupt, for example, in Tay Ninh province, that if the 25th division commander was going to engage the enemy, to get a shipment of ammunition, of artillery shells, he would have to make a payment to the regional commander. He would have to get some cash and deliver it and the guy would send a truckload of shells up for him to fire at the enemy.”

    The same concept applied for military members looking for artillery or air support. Snepp reported the corruption ran so deep that wounded government soldiers had to pay to be medically evacuated on the battlefield. Snepp also recorded the consequences of reporting this corruption. One of the agents the Agency had recruited “knew too much about corruption and drug-trafficking at the highest levels of the South Vietnamese government.” Rather than risk the revelations, the local authorities eliminated her before she could speak to a U.S. interrogator, who arrived in her cell to find her “swinging from the light cord in her cell, her four-year-old son—also arrested—sitting quietly in a corner, playing with her sandals.”

    Correspondingly, CIA leadership had no use either for learning about the corruption. Polgar, the ultimate Agency authority in Saigon, made it clear to his officers: “I don’t want any more reports about the corruption in the South Vietnamese army,” Stockwell recalled Polgar saying. “I don’t believe it, I don’t accept it. If you insist on sending them in, I’m going to tear them up. If you insist after that, I will put notes in your file that you can’t follow instructions.” There was a political motive to suppress this type of negative information; Kissinger would not be able to obtain the $1.45 billion in aid money if it were revealed that the South Vietnamese army was too corrupt to wage battle. Ambassador Martin adopted a similar posture of freezing out those who presented counternarratives to him internally. In one instance, a regional commander reported corruption to Martin, and Stockwell relayed the reaction: “Just the fact that he would dare to report about it would make Martin so angry that he would just shut the man out, the man would never set foot in his office again.”

    The aid request was presented as a necessity to keep South Vietnam from going down the drain. Stockwell noticed orders coming from the top “ordering the embassy analysts and the CIA analysts to write reports that would support this. They were selecting out of the reports that we would write and forward the ones that would support this and squelch the ones that would say anything different.” Despite these efforts to mislead the decision-makers, Congress failed to appropriate the funds as Kissinger had hoped, and during the summer of 1974, Stockwell reported a sense of doom hitting the CIA. Intelligence sources were drying up, the North’s agents were no longer willing to talk, and imminent failure seemed to be fast approaching.

    Sharing information with the enemy

    In a relationship that served to undermine U.S. efforts, Hanoi in North Vietnam had a special source who kept them regularly informed of the actions of the CIA. Stockwell was stunned to learn of the amount of information being shared by none other than his Station Chief, Thomas Polgar: “The corruption boggled the mind.” Born in Hungary, Polgar immigrated to the U.S. in his teenage years and still spoke with a heavy accent. Hungary was a member of the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), which was formed following the Peace Accords. Polgar became fast friends with the Hungarian colonels. Stockwell found out that through this close bond, Polgar would share U.S. positions on sensitive matters, despite reservations from headquarters on the burgeoning relationship and the security implications it entailed. “He got so involved in telling them what we were doing, that he was giving regular briefings. He would take the briefing charts that we used for visiting National Security Council people, for the Senators who had Top Secret clearances. He would take those same charts out and brief the Hungarians, who of course were telling Hanoi, that was the understanding.” Snepp confirmed that the Hungarians were used as a conduit to Hanoi and that Polgar “was drawn to [Hungarian ICCS delegation] as if by an affinity of blood.” In particular, Snepp reported that the lead Hungarian intelligence officer was sent to mislead Polgar and played on his sense of nostalgia for his country of birth and “with each passing month he allowed the Hungarian to draw him ever more deeply into a relationship of openness and intimacy that would ultimately cloud his own vision of what lay ahead.”

    What this information sharing did to the U.S. effort was sabotage South Vietnam’s security posture and allow the North to adjust their plans and launch a surprise attack on the Central Highlands rather than on Tay Ninh as originally planned. “We’ll never know how many of our agents he gave away when he briefed about the agent identities,” Stockwell lamented. “We would write a top analysis to headquarters . . . ‘Here is our latest sense of the situation.’ And he would take it, or a version of it, and brief his Hungarian buddies.” Hanoi, for their part, received intelligence through this method they would have otherwise paid millions of dollars to obtain. The Hungarians were able to overturn Polgar’s skepticism, converting him to the belief that Saigon would remain a free city despite the North’s advances. “This was a total fraud and we knew it,” Stockwell said. Their sources told him there would soon be “tanks in the streets of Saigon” but Polgar chose to believe the Hungarians rather than his own CIA officers. This had several consequences for the front line, including inadequate preparation for evacuation, an inability to acknowledge the South was collapsing. Stockwell concluded: “It was kind of maddening to people. It violated . . . any professional ethic you could possibly have.”

    Downplaying the possibility of losing the war

    By March 1975, while Stockwell reasonably expected an imminent invasion of Tay Ninh where he was stationed. Rather than being allowed to leave, he instead got to hear the harrowing sounds of another CIA office be overtaken. As the city of Ban Me Thuot fell, he listened to the radio transmissions of a CIA team speaking to an Air American plane: “There are tanks at the front of the house,” they said. “We’ve got to talk in a quiet voice. We better cool it now because people are coming in the front yard.” This standoff lasted for three days until the team’s radios ran out of batteries and Stockwell learned they were captured.

    Disturbingly, all Stockwell heard from Polgar were platitudes about being “greatly encouraged by the situation.” Stockwell understood the need for a positive spin for an external audience, perhaps the political class, but Polgar was speaking in this case to internal staff who knew better. Even after Tay Ninh was captured, Polgar continued to believe the North would leave Saigon as a free city so that the U.S. would not need to evacuate completely. As the fantasy scenario went, the U.S. would stave off humiliation and would support the Vietnamese with reconstruction, including technical assistance for pumping oil from the South China Sea. In reality, the North had no intentions of entertaining anything other than the South’s complete surrender and reunification of the country, having gone through occupation from the Japanese and the French in previous decades, with the Americans simply the latest to follow in the footsteps of failed imperial efforts. Stockwell’s intelligence sources reiterated to him the reality: the North planned “tanks in the streets of Saigon as soon as possible.”

    In accordance with this stated intent, the fall of Ban Me Thuot marked only the beginning of the 1975 offensive, which was swift and effective. Following the attack on March 10, the North successfully defeated all ARVN contingents within six weeks and the CIA ultimately left the country by April 30. Stockwell likened the crumbling of the South’s army to “a vase hit by a sledgehammer.”

    Refusing to plan for evacuation in advance

    Since CIA leadership did not allow for the thought of failure in Vietnam, this meant that the front line in turn was not permitted to plan for evacuation. In early April, Polgar visited Bien Hoa and Can Tho, relaying to staff located there of his continued positivity and his feeling of being encouraged by the situation. Simultaneously, behind the scenes he was shipping his personal values out of the country. For another two weeks, Polgar stonewalled his staff, telling them: “There will be no evacuation.” In the final week, he eventually relented, as Stockwell found “he was still paying lip service to his position, but letting evacuations start to happen in great chaos and confusion.”

    Stockwell’s time in Tay Ninh came to an end, hampered by this lack of planning: “Every source we had, the high ones and the low ones . . . they were all saying, today or tomorrow the attack begins. Every place that had been attacked in the north had collapsed instantly so there was no reason to think that we would hold. We had about seven divisions against us and one division defending and it was a notoriously corrupt division.” Stockwell called his regional chief: “We’ve got to get out of here,” he said to his boss, whom Snepp referred to using the pseudonym Bill Taggart. “It’s happening today and ARVN won’t hold. I want a helicopter to come and get us.” Stockwell prepared by destroying the vast majority of his sensitive documents and was left with a briefcase full of codes and his team was ready to depart. His superior officer was unhelpful to say the least, informing Stockwell that Washington had not approved the closing of Tay Ninh. Stockwell was frustrated at this lack of foresight, as he had been reporting the deteriorating situation three times daily. There had also been the notorious briefing at the No Name Bar three weeks prior where, unsurprisingly, Stockwell never got a satisfactory answer from his superiors while they were attended to by prostitutes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Things are not as bad as you think,” they told him, “but we understand your position. You’re up there on the frontline and you probably feel the pressure. We really admire you guys, we really admire you guys for your guts and sticking it out up there. Don’t worry, when the crunch comes, we’ll come and get you. Don’t worry a minute.”

    The moment of truth had arrived and there was no support to leave Tay Ninh. Stockwell and his team had no choice but to wait. Fortunately for them, the attack had not yet arrived and the next morning Taggart decided to review the situation the following day in person and make a recommendation to Washington. Stockwell’s team waited with apprehension throughout the night and morning. Taggart was reported over their radios as being airborne and then he disappeared. Where is he? Where is he? his team wondered in a panic. It’s a thirty-minute flight. He’s been airborne for 30 minutes, an hour. An hour and a half. Has he been shot down? What is going on?

    The team later learned that Taggart had landed partway through the trip at at the ARVN 25th Division command post, where had intended to question them on the safety of flying 12 additional miles to Stockwell’s post, not trusting his subordinate’s assessment that it was in fact safe to fly to that location. Stockwell described the scene when Taggart landed:

    ARVN is in the middle of a pitched battle and it’s within artillery range of the Communist forces. So this shiny, silver Air America chopper lands and immediately all hell breaks loose. And all the mortar rounds and artillery rounds start landing on the headquarters. The ARVN commanders ducked down in their bunkers and the pilot takes off and my boss just barely had his time to get on the plane and get back in the air. So they panic and instead of coming to get me, they conclude it’s not safe so they go back home.

    At long last, Taggart got on the radio and explained: “I’m in Bien Hoa.” Stockwell replied with annoyance, “What the hell are you doing in Bien Hoa?” as shells exploded around the area. Stockwell feared that tanks were on their way into town. Stockwell reiterated his plea: “It’s safe. Send the plane back to get us.” Taggart replied, “Well, we have a problem. Now Air America is refusing to fly because it’s too dangerous and they’re civilians and they’re not being paid combat time.” Stockwell asked desperately, “What do you propose for us to do?” Taggart responded, “You don’t have any choice but to sit tight and we’ll work on the problem down here.”

    Stockwell and his team were left again without support for another day and night. He realized he could only rely on himself to get out safely. He managed to fly to Bien Hoa on a South Vietnam Air Force ammunition plane. Stockwell confronted a surprised Taggart in person, he recalled: “He was a coward and he didn’t resist. And I went and I got an Air America pilot and said, ‘We’re going back.’ And their first reaction was, ‘Like hell,’ and I said, ‘No, no. I just flew out of there, I’m going with you, I’ll show you how to fly, it’s safe. We got to get these people out.’ And if I would go with them, they flew back. And we went back and got my people and went down to Bien Hoa . . . Right after that experience . . . I found that the cowards from Nha Trang had been put in positions over us.”

    Leaving local employees behind

    Two days before the fall of Danang, the chief of base there who was loyal to Polgar continually denied the city would be taken and told his officers to remain calm. Once the inevitable attack by the North Vietnamese arrived, ARVN fled using ships, planes, and boats, along with the CIA, while the CIA’s Vietnamese employees were left behind. This scenario was to play out repeatedly as the South fell. Stockwell was horrified to learn that the official position of the Agency to abandon its local employees and that the chief of base in this instance was later rewarded with a “high position in Washington.”

    Snepp also confirmed in his book the fact that many of the CIA’s Vietnamese employees were left behind without support to leave the country. To add insult to injury, the CIA left safehouses full documents in several instances “that had the names and identities of everybody who had worked for the CIA, and the codes and everything,” Stockwell recalled. This occurred in Playku, where the CIA officers fled without informing their embassy colleagues that ARVN was also on the way out. “So ARVN is panicking,” Stockwell remembered, “fleeing the city, the CIA flees, and it leaves the State Department people behind without telling them about what it knew about what was happening. Those State Department people did get out, no thanks to the CIA.”

    The evacuation of Playku was nothing compared to the Agency’s actions in Nha Trang, which Stockwell called “one of the most cowardly incidents in U.S. history.” There the CIA went as far as actively deceiving and turning on the Vietnamese people who had served the U.S. government. Stockwell recounted how the chief of base acted towards the local staff in the final weeks of the war:

    He decided they were not worthy of his respect. He had a policy of leaving them behind, which was Polgar’s policy and [CIA Director] Bill Colby’s policy in Washington. He dumped them, he left behind safehouses full of the documents, once again, that identified them. To get clear of them, he told them in one instance that they should come, everybody is leaving in the morning on planes and told them where the pick-up point would be, but gave them a false pick-up point so they would go to the wrong side of the strip. When he went to take off, some managed to follow him and he actually fired on them with machine guns . . . so they wouldn’t crowd on the helicopter so he could get away. He didn’t even pay their last month’s salaries so that they would have enough cash, because there was still commerce and boats, so they could pay their own way to get out of the region and left them. Now, three weeks later the first Communist forces entered the city. He fled in this total hysteria and panic and dumped his people.

    Stockwell was shocked by this conduct, particularly since he knew many of them well. “I played chess with these people, I played rugby, we went to dinner. These were my professional colleagues.” He decided to do the opposite and save as many people as he could: “I was committed to trying to save our Vietnamese employees. I saw no reason not to. In my own post, I worked up a plan early on, a contingency plan on how we would get them out. I got them out, I got all of them out. I got all of the files out or burned.”

    Snepp in his book Decent Interval described this bond with the local employees: “Stockwell had developed a strong personal attachment to the locals under his care, both his agents and his translators, and he was now determined to do all he could to assure their safety, whatever the oracles from Saigon said.” Snepp added that Stockwell had refused to leave his twenty Vietnamese staff members behind when he had been told to instead evacuate his small two-man American team. Stockwell recalled he faced similar opposition at their new location: “When I got down to Bien Hoa, the chief of base there was supporting Polgar once again and Colby’s policy of dumping the Vietnamese. To make sure that myself and a couple of the other case officers who were devoted to the principle of saving our Vietnamese employees, which we easily, obviously could have done. They brought in the case officers from [Military Region 1] and [Military Region 2] and they put them in charge of us in our own region. We had been running operations, the chief of operations, the deputy chief of operations . . . the structure. They brought in these incredible cowards who had panicked and run, and put them in positions over us . . . to manage us in the evacuation of [Military Region 3]. To make sure that the principles of dumping all our agents would be adhered to. To keep us from coming up with plans that would have got our people out.”

    Snepp recounted Stockwell screaming “When are we going to start trying to help our locals!” at his boss during a contentious staff meeting. Taggart had no interest in the charade of preparing a list, whereas when Snepp tried to contribute a few Vietnamese names to a list in Saigon’s headquarters, he was told: “Why not? None of this is going to work anyway. If you want to waste your time, be my guest.”

    While Taggart dragged his heels, Stockwell hatched a new plan: “I got some boats, there was an admiral who had retired there and gotten some surplus ships and had a little company going. And he saw it was collapsing, he gave me two of his landing craft that were enough for me to take all of our Vietnamese out to sea with all of their families.” Stockwell procured the ships, as well as rice and water. In addition, he bought machine guns in case they encountered enemy fire down the river. He explained this contingency plan to Taggart, which turned out to be his biggest mistake. In a dramatic scene, Taggart brought Stockwell to the Saigon embassy on a helicopter and hauled him into Polgar’s office and asked for authority to have Stockwell arrested and thrown out of the country. Stockwell explained how Taggart finally succeeded in getting his way:

    He said I had this mutinous effort afoot that would endanger the safety of the whole mission and start a giant panic and everything. Polgar asked me what my plan was, what I was up to because he liked me and he was astonished that I would [plan a] mutiny or something. I told him the plan and he said, ‘That’s a great plan. What’s wrong with that?’ he asked my boss. ‘What’s wrong with it is Stockwell wants to go down the river with them in the boats.’ And Polgar said, ‘Well . . .’ and the boss said, ‘Remember, we just lost this guy up country.’ They had . . . another case officer on a suicidal mission up country and left him stranded and didn’t get him out and he was captured just the day before. And so he said, ‘See, we can’t lose another one’ and Polgar said, ‘Oh yeah, we can’t risk that.’ So he agreed that I wouldn’t take the ships down to sea. And I went back to Bien Hoa thinking, Well that’s alright, my boss is leaving today for Bangkok, when he’s gone I can take the people out to sea. But the son of a bitch before he left, the last thing he did was he gave my boats to the province chief so that our people would have no way they could get out to sea. He took away the means. And the province chief put soldiers on them with arms so there was nothing I could do . . . and then he left the country. That was his last official act.

    Snepp documented this incident in Decent Interval, writing in part that “Although Polgar had always respected Stockwell, he decided to act on Taggart’s recommendation, particularly since Stockwell seemed insistent on taking all sorts of personal risks (to the point of accompanying the boats downriver) to ensure the success of the operation. Having just lost [James Lewis] to the Communists, Polgar was not about to let another CIA man put himself in jeopardy.” Following his capture on April 16, Lewis was subjected to sleep deprivation and malnutrition and was eventually released on October 30, reportedly the last American prisoner of war from the Vietnam War to return home.

    Contrary to the Agency’s direction, the chief of base in Can Tho attempted Stockwell’s idea and successfully evacuated his Vietnamese employees. The consequences for this insubordination were clear: “He did not move on to a higher position in the Agency afterwards.” The chief of base in Saigon similarly came up with a clever scheme, using Polgar’s denialism against him, after being replaced by the “coward” base chief who had fled Nha Trang:

    [He] didn’t get upset. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t screaming and yelling a little bit but he was real cool. And later I found out why. What he did was, he came up with a scheme which he was able to sell to Polgar, saying, ‘OK we want to keep the radios going, if you want to have an interim city, a Hong Kong or a free city, we’ll want the clandestine radios working. I’ll put them on an island offshore, so give me the authority’ and he got the authority. And he quietly moved all of his employees to this island offshore, knowing there wasn’t going to be any radio thing, but just as a ploy to get his people out.

    A week later when the country collapsed, this scheme was put into action: the former chief of base used the Navy to save all of his team, including the Vietnamese employees. As per the pattern, this officer also never received a high position in Washington. Stockwell could not fathom the reasoning behind the policy, given how many Vietnamese were able to leave the country: “almost 300,000 people left in those weeks safely. We certainly could have brought out all our people. All it would have taken was a decision from the CIA Director and the Station Chief to say, ‘Find ways to save people,’ and we would have done it. Everybody could have done it.”

    The aftermath and legacy of the fall of Saigon

    Parallels between the fall of Saigon and the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021 are numerous and appear to reflect the truism of history repeating itself. As captured in recent news articles and opinion pieces, the lessons from the CIA’s experiences in Saigon were nowhere to be found in the policies and planning leading up to the end of the conflict. Examples include:

    Misread warnings helped lead to chaotic Afghan evacuation: “The Afghan government would likely fall once U.S. troops pulled out. But intelligence agencies and ultimately President Joe Biden missed how quickly it would happen, losing weeks that could have been used for evacuations and spurring a foreign policy crisis.” (AP News)

    Majority of Interpreters, Other U.S. Visa Applicants Were Left Behind in Afghanistan: “The U.S. still doesn’t have reliable data on who was evacuated, nor for what type of visas they may qualify, the official said, but initial assessments suggested most visa applicants didn’t make it through the crush at the airport.” (Wall Street Journal)

    The collapse of Afghan military: We’ve seen this movie before: “Alongside the US, these leaders allowed networks of patronage and corruption to take root in their countries’ militaries during their respective rebuilding processes, enabling the eventual success of ISIL and the Taliban.” (Al Jazeera)

    Stockwell was not part of the famous rooftop evacuation of the Saigon embassy on April 30, 1975, the final day of the Vietnam War. “I left a few days before that,” he remembered. “I had proposed to be . . . part of that group, because I wanted to try to keep on getting my people out. That was the last battle that I lost was selling myself on being able to stay with the last group. They wouldn’t have me. For the obvious reason: I was committed to getting people out and they were committed to leaving people behind.”

    For his service during the war, Stockwell was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit, which is given “for the performance of especially meritorious service or for an act or achievement conspicuously above normal duties which has contributed significantly to the mission of the Agency.” It may be needless to note that the award for not for his evacuation attempts of Vietnamese employees. He explained the Agency’s reasoning: “Five months before [the fall of Saigon], [the North] had declared Tay Ninh a free-fire zone in order to get the population out of the way. They had ordered the population to leave and then fired shells every day to make the people get the message and leave. So the population had evacuated. And we were shelled every day . . . This is what I got the medal for afterwards . . . because I held my post open for five months when we were shelled every day in order to keep this intelligence flowing, this top agent working.”

    Being recognized by the Agency felt hollow as Stockwell’s psyche and belief in U.S. institutions had been thoroughly damaged by all that he had witnessed: “At the end, my final mental state was: I felt like my mind had been raped or my soul had been raped. If it’s possible to conceive of such a thing. I felt violated. The things that I had believed in, in terms of honor and integrity. The things that had led me to volunteer in the Marine Corps and try it, to get into the elite units in the Marine Corps and then get into the CIA which I understood was the elite of our foreign service, had all been violated by the conduct of my leaders in Vietnam. What they had done to prevent us from reporting the truth. The games they had played, giving our information to the Communists. Leaving our people behind when we could just as easily have saved them.”

    One aspect that is unavoidable in Stockwell’s and Snepp’s recounting of their history in Vietnam is the discrepancy between management and the front line, one side making poor decisions (or none at all) and the other paying the price. This is the common tale of institutional dysfunction, made especially more fraught with dire consequences in times of war. Obedience is institutionally rewarded, while those who push back are punished or shunned. For holding the company line, Polgar became Chief of Station in Mexico City, which Stockwell termed as “the largest, most prestigious station in the CIA.” Forgotten in the political machinations were the locals who propped up the United States’ efforts in Vietnam. While Stockwell and Snepp were at a minimum able to escape during the evacuation and return to their lives in the United States, Stockwell’s Vietnamese employees never made it out of the country. Soon after leaving Vietnam, flying back to Clark Air Base in the Philippines he learned that President Ford had ordered the evacuation of at-risk South Vietnamese nationals two days before the fall of Saigon. “I realized that I could have brought all of my people out just like that. But I didn’t and they were left behind.” Taking his first trip back to Vietnam ten years later, Stockwell discovered their nightmare still had not ended: “They’ve been in re-indoctrination centers ever since.”

    YOUTUBE: Secrets of the CIA’s Final Days in Vietnam (1985)
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    John R. Stockwell (born 1937) is a former CIA officer who became a critic of United States government policies after serving seven tours of duty over thirteen years. Having managed American involvement in the Angolan Civil War as Chief of the Angola Task Force during its 1975 covert operations, he resigned and wrote In Search of Enemies.

    Born in Angleton, Texas, Stockwell’s Presbyterian father moved the family to the Belgian Congo when he was posted there to provide engineering assistance. Stockwell attended school in Lubondai before studying in the Plan II Honors program at the University of Texas.

    As a Marine, Stockwell was a CIA paramilitary intelligence case officer in three wars: the Congo Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the Angolan War of Independence. His military rank is Major. Beginning his career in 1964, Stockwell spent six years in Africa, Chief of Base in the Katanga during the Bob Denard invasion in 1968, then Chief of Station in Bujumbura, Burundi in 1970, before being transferred to Vietnam to oversee intelligence operations in the Tay Ninh province and was awarded the CIA Intelligence Medal of Merit for keeping his post open until the last days of the Vietnam War in 1975.

    His books include:

    The Praetorian Guard: The US Role In The New World Order. Boston: South End Press, 1991.

    Red Sunset. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1982.
    In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978.

    Frank Warren Snepp, III (born May 3, 1943) is a journalist and former chief analyst of North Vietnamese strategy for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Saigon during the Vietnam War. For five out of his eight years as a CIA officer, he worked as interrogator, agent debriefer, and chief strategy analyst in the United States Embassy, Saigon; he was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work. Snepp is a former producer for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, California. He was one of the first whistle blowers who revealed the inner workings, secrets and failures of the national security services in the 1970s. As a result of a loss in a 1980 court case brought by the CIA, all of Snepp’s publications require prior approval by the CIA.

    Read Frank Snepp’s book: – Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam

    The Fall of Saigon, also known as the Liberation of Saigon by North Vietnamese, was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong on 30 April 1975. The event marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period to the formal reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

    The PAVN, under the command of General Văn Tiến Dũng, began their final attack on Saigon on 29 April 1975, with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces commanded by General Nguyễn Văn Toàn suffering a heavy artillery bombardment. By the afternoon of the next day, the PAVN had occupied the important points of the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. The city was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City, after the late North Vietnamese President Hồ Chí Minh.

    The capture of the city was preceded by Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of almost all American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians who had been associated with the Republic of Vietnam. A few Americans chose not to be evacuated. United States ground combat units had left South Vietnam more than two years prior to the fall of Saigon and were not available to assist with either the defense of Saigon or the evacuation. The evacuation was the largest helicopter evacuation in history. In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and the institution of new rules by the communists contributed to a decline in the city’s population.

    More on the fall of Saigon:
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    Comment by Pip | August 10, 2022 | Reply

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