The Cassandra Effect During the Fall of Saigon and Now

Friday, I wrote about the Cassandra Effect—failure of U.S officials to believe and act on intelligence, using the 1967 battle of Dak To in the Vietnam highlands as an example. An even more serious case of it occurred during the fall of Saigon. I’m struck by the similarity of my predicament then to the current stand-off between the U.S. intelligence community and the president-elect.

Before the end of March 1975, I knew from intercepted communications that the North Vietnamese were pushing for the final assault on South Vietnam to end in an attack on Saigon. The U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, received reports including that warning. By the beginning of April, with the northern half of South Vietnam now in their grasp, the North Vietnamese tightened their noose around Saigon. I, like Chuck, the protagonist of Last of the Annamese, reported to Martin, in a face-to-face meeting, that an attack on the city was imminent. He simply didn’t believe me. During the last week of April, I pleaded with him to call for an evacuation. I repeated to him what I had been reporting hourly—the 16 to 18 North Vietnamese divisions now surrounded Saigon, and one unit just north of the city was awaiting the order to attack. He showed me out.

No evacuation was ordered until the early hours of the morning on 29 April, when Washington finally countermanded the Ambassador. By then, the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city and it was too late to rescue the 2,700 South Vietnamese soldiers who had worked with my organization over the years. All of them were killed or captured by the North Vietnamese, and I barely escaped under fire.

The current warning by the intelligence community that Russia is launching cyber attacks against U.S political parties and the president-elect’s dismissal of that warning as “ridiculous” and his belittling of U.S. intelligence brings back bitter memories. May the Cassandra Effect turn out better this time than it did for me.

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