When Intelligence Contradicts Policy (2)

In 1968, I warned repeatedly that the North Vietnamese were preparing for a nation-wide offensive—later called the Tết Offensive—but U.S. policy makers assured the American public that we were winning the war and had nothing to worry about. When the North Vietnamese struck at the end of January 1968, U.S. forces were not prepared. They responded somewhat belatedly and eventually defeated the attackers. Friendly casualties, however, were high.

Then, in 1973, the U.S. and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords, a peace treaty. Official U.S. policy was that the war was over. That ignored the fact that the North Vietnamese were still assaulting and conquering territory until, by April 1975, they surrounded Saigon. I knew from signals intelligence that they were preparing to attack the city.

In April 1975, my employer the National Security Agency (NSA), at my behest, issued a series of reports warning that the North Vietnamese blitz against Saigon was imminent. But the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, assured the White House and the State Department that the enemy had no intention of striking Saigon—they wanted to form a coalition government with all patriotic forces and rule jointly. That fit U.S. policy that the war was over.

I pleaded with Martin to evacuate vulnerable civilians and at-risk Vietnamese nationals as soon as possible. He didn’t listen. With the blessing of the State Department and the White House, he dismissed my warmings. And he forbade me from evacuating the people working for me and their families.

More next time.

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