Batch of Vietnam Documents Made Public
Memos Portrayed Vietnam Failure Scenarios But Also Expressed Optimism

WASHINGTON (April 29) - A 1967 memo delivered in a sealed envelope to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson eerily foretold what would happen in Saigon nearly eight years later.

The documents were released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

"There could be a spectacle of panic flight from the country ... and Communist terror and vengeance," the CIA memo said.
The worst-case scenario was laid out in one of 174 intelligence documents released by the government Friday, one day before the 30th anniversary of Saigon's fall. In black and white, the documents spanning from 1948 to 1975 show where U.S. spies got it right - and wrong - on Vietnam.

More ironically, the memo was titled "Implications of an unfavorable outcome in Vietnam," which the CIA defined as a negotiated settlement that favored the North, rather than "the entirely implausible hypothesis of a political-military collapse."
The 1967 memo also bluntly stated what some historians have viewed as a still-resonating central lesson of Vietnam.
The "compelling proposition" of such a loss would be that the United States "cannot crush a revolutionary movement which is sufficiently large, dedicated, competent and well-supported," the memo said.

"In a narrow sense," it added, "this means more simply that the structure of U.S. military power is ill-suited to cope with guerrilla warfare waged by a determined, resourceful and politically astute opponent."

In an introduction to the compilation of documents, Lloyd Gardner, a Rutgers University history professor, said the intelligence papers lay out the "convictions and doubts of the intelligence community" as they changed over time.

"They are often ahead of the curve and occasionally lag behind the pace of events," said Gardner, a specialist on the Vietnam War.

The documents were released by the National Intelligence Council, the U.S. government's leading analysts who coordinate judgments of the various intelligence agencies and provide them to policy-makers.

On April 30, 1975, Saigon, South Vietnam's capital, fell to communist-led troops and ending the Vietnam War, that had lasted decades. On April 23, President Ford had called it finished. Days later, the last official Americans were evacuated from Vietnam, among them U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin.

In one estimate from April 1963, America's intelligence analysts saw "some promise" for political stability. But weeks after the estimate argued that "communist progress has been blunted," Buddhist monks were protesting on street corners, in some cases taking the shocking step of setting themselves afire. Americans watched in horror on their television sets.

The "political situation was literally set afire," Gardner wrote.

Only in the fine print of the 1963 document were doubts raised about the South Vietnamese government's ability to turn military success into security.

"Some areas of Viet Cong control, such as the Mekong delta, will be very difficult to pacify, decisive campaigns have yet to be fought, and no quick and easy end to the war is in sight," it said.

Later, in July 1969, an assessment said that U.S. analysts believed "Hanoi has the capability to pursue this military course through 1970 at levels approximating those of the past 12 months." The war lasted another five years and ended in the defeat of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government.

In the collection's final installment, dated March 1975, U.S. intelligence analysts said even if the North Vietnamese attack then under way could be blocked, the South Vietnamese government would find itself in control of very little.

The estimate "foresaw final defeat by early 1976, a predication still too generous as it turned out," Gardner wrote.
Associated Press writers Matt Kelley, Mike Feinsilber and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

04/29/05 18:56 EDT
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