Rerun: The Cassandra Effect

Readers keep going back to my posts on the Cassandra Effect, so I decided to rerun (post again) my thoughts on the subject.

I’ve written here several times about U.S. government officials ignoring warnings I gave them about the North Vietnamese, during the Vietnam war, based on signals intelligence (the intercept and exploitation of the radio communications). It happened so frequently during my thirteen years in and out of Vietnam that I gave it a name: the Cassandra Effect.

Cassandra, according to Greek myth, was a Trojan woman blessed by the gods with the ability to foretell the future and cursed that no one would believe her. I found myself in Cassandra’s shoes often during the Vietnam war. American military commanders were not trained to understand the utility of signals intelligence—many had never heard of it—and dismissed my warnings.

Three spectacular examples illustrate the dilemma.

In the fall of 1967 in Vietnam’s western highlands, I alerted the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade that the North Vietnamese B3 Front and its subordinate main force units were in the hills to the west of us preparing for combat. The commander of the 4th Infantry Division didn’t believe my reports but sent a battalion to reconnoiter just to be sure. It was all but destroyed. At the end of the resulting battle, one of the bloodiest in the Vietnam war, no territory had changed hands.

In January 1968, at my behest, my agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), issued a series of reports warning that the North Vietnamese were preparing to launch a country-wide offensive. I briefed General Westmoreland and his staff at the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). The general and his staff thanked me but dismissed the warning. The Tet Offensive which began days later took them by surprise.

In April 1975, I alerted the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, multiple times that the North Vietnamese were preparing to attack Saigon. I repeatedly informed him in writing and briefed him personally three different times. He didn’t believe my warning, never called for an evacuation, and barely escaped by helicopter when the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I fled the city under fire.

I write again here about the Cassandra Effect because, as I noted recently, our country is in severe danger due to an administration that not only ignores intelligence but is actually hostile to it. As I wrote in my post about my book Secretocracy, dismissing intelligence warnings and sabotaging the intelligence agencies invites disaster. We only have a few more weeks until Trump leaves the White House. I fervently hope he doesn’t act against the interests of the U.S. in the interim.

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