Foreseeing the Future (2)

Continuing from four days ago my post on predicting what will happen next:

After I and other analysts established the pattern followed by the North Vietnamese as they prepared for combat, we constructed indicator lists so that field units would be able to predict forthcoming attacks. The problem was that the intelligence customer didn’t always believe our forecasts, and our forewarnings were sometimes not acted on. One example was the 1967 battle of Dak To—our admonitions were ignored resulting in the loss of an entire battalion of American troops. Another was the 1968 Tết Offensive, a nationwide set of attacks against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. At my behest, The National Security Agency (NSA), my employer, published a series of reports warning of the coming attacks, but they were ignored. And finally, the April 1975 attack on Saigon by the North Vietnamese—I repeatedly warned Ambassador Graham Martin that attacks were imminent, but he didn’t believe the overwhelming evidence of the forthcoming assault and didn’t call for an evacuation. When the attack came and Saigon fell, losses were huge, and I escaped under fire.

In short, I learned the hard way that foretelling the future wasn’t enough; the intelligence customer had to accept and act on the warnings. When I was working with Marines, they always exploited the intelligence I gave them to the hilt, resulting in amazing victories. Army units sometimes didn’t act on the signals intelligence, almost invariably resulting disastrous consequences. My guess was that Marines were trained to exploit signals intelligence, but army officers and NCOs were not. I often came away with the impression army leaders not only weren’t taught the use of signals intelligence, but they also didn’t even know it existed.

I retired from the U.S. government more than thirty years ago. Those still in the business tell me that things have changed. I profoundly hope they are right.

2 thoughts on “Foreseeing the Future (2)”

  1. Drafted a comment but it was lost in the ether. Were you in the RVN at the time of the Battle of ApBac, Jan 63? Do you know if there was any info on the NVA intentions to stand and fight instead of melting into the jungle? Some of us believe there were a lot of unlearnt lessons from that battle.


    1. I was in South Vietnam at the time of the Ap Bac battle, but I honestly don’t remember much about it these days. My general impression was the South Vietnamese lost the battle through incompetence. I know that until around 1968, the North Vietnamese did rely on guerrilla tactics (essentially ambush and hide), that they stood and fought at Dak To in 1967, and that after trying more aggressive strategies in three 1968 offensives, they went back to guerrilla tactics until after the withdrawal of American forces. Hope that helps.


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