My Most Precious Possessions (3)

Over time, NSA and its leaders softened their disdain for the Vietnam war and their coldness toward me. One incident was crucial.

A South Vietnamese general I worked with in Vietnam—my counterpart—escaped at the end by getting to the U.S. embassy just before Saigon fell. He was evacuated safely while his subordinates remained in place awaiting his orders. They were still waiting for word from him when the North Vietnamese got to them. They were all either killed or captured. Those captured went to “re-education camps,” really concentration camps, where the death rate was very high. That general, in other words, abandoned his troops.

As the fall of Saigon grew nearer, I reported to my boss, General Lew Allen, the Director of NSA, on the emotional breakdown of that general. He had become hysterical, subject to crying jags. I was doing my best to keep the signals intelligence effort among the South Vietnamese going because it revealed what the North Vietnamese were doing. Because of the personal subject matter, my messages to General Allen were eyes-only, not to be shared with other NSA personnel.

Some time after the fall of Saigon, NSA hired that Vietnamese general. Since I held him responsible for the deaths or captivity of 2700 soldiers I’d worked with, I wanted nothing to do with him. NSA decided to present him with a medal. I was invited to the ceremony and refused to go. The NSA deputy director, Ann Caracristi, called me on the carpet. How dare I refuse to attend the ceremony? I told her about my messages to General Allen, who had moved on and was no longer director, about the South Vietnamese general’s despondency and final abandonment of his troops. She told me General Allen had destroyed all his eyes-only messages and had never told her about the South Vietnamese general’s behavior. She didn’t cancel the medal ceremony, but she allowed me to boycott the event.

I can’t tell you the name of that general. It’s still classified.

More tomorrow.

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