The Coup in Vietnam and the murder
of President Diem and his brother occured on November 1, 1963.
Researcher Anthony Frank writes:
A "Washington Post" article on September 22, 1963, about Kennedy’s
efforts to oust the Diem-Nhu regime, said that “certain elements
of the CIA believe that there is no alternative to the Diem-Nhu axis.
These sentiments also exist among American military leaders . . . The
brass simply feels that any change in American policy would wreck the
war effort. The firmest opponents of change, however, seem to be certain
top CIA people. There is strong reason to believe that the recent Times
of Vietnam story exposing an alleged CIA coup attempt was actually
leaked by CIA dissidents themselves in an attempt to forestall any
American attempt to dump Nhu . . . CIA dissidents see positive virtues
in Nhu . . . Ambassador Lodge cannot fully trust his own staff members.”
On October 5, 1963, nine days after McCone’s
memorandum, the "Washington Post" reported: “John H.
Richardson, CIA station chief in South Vietnam, is being recalled to
Washington . . . Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge is reported on good authority
to have requested Richardson’s replacement . . . Richardson has
been one of the key men in development of the U.S. Role of helping
the Diem government fight Communist guerrillas . . . There have been
persistent reports of differences between Lodge and the CIA staff.”
At a news conference on October 9, 1963,
four days after Richardson’s removal, President Kennedy “vigorously
defended the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in South Vietnam
. . . The President devoted a good share of his 30 minute news conference
to the subject of the CIA, a normally sacrosanct matter which the White
House never airs in public.”
On November 1, 1963, three weeks before
JFK was assassinated, the Diem-Nhu regime was ousted in a coup.
“Diem was defended to the last
by the special forces troops trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence
Researcher Pat Speer writes: Richardson
was most definitely against the coup, and felt (correctly, as it turned
out) there was no one who could replace Diem. He was telling as much
to McCone, who was telling as much to Kennedy. Kennedy was on the fence.
He didn't want a coup but wanted Diem to stop his oppression of the
Buddhists. Lodge wanted Richardson out of the way so he could be through
with Diem. Diem got the point and agreed to play ball. Lodge decided
it was too late and stood by as the coup took place. One of Diem's
brothers escaped into U.S. custody, and Lodge turned him over to the
coup plotters so he could be killed. When Kennedy expressed shock that
Diem and his brothers were killed, as he thought they were to be allowed
exile, Lodge reportedly mocked him and said that you can't make an
omelet without breaking some eggs (or some such thing). McNamara has
a lot on this in his book "In Retrospect". There is also
a book specifically on the coup entitled "A Death in November".
Both make clear that Lodge was the heavy in the deal, with the encouragement
of Hilsman and Harriman. Ultimately, of course, Kennedy was at fault,
as he should have executed more control over the State Department.
There is a famous quote from Kennedy
about "Seven Days in May", where he said a military coup
could happen here if a young President made a series of crucial mistakes
that ostracized the military and CIA. He felt the Bay of Pigs was strike
one, but thought he'd avoided strike two. Well, I'm not so sure the
opposing team didn't consider the Missile Crisis strike two and the
Diem coup strike three.
Researcher Paul Rigby brings up other points:
The Washington Daily News, Wednesday, October 2, 1963, p.3
'SPOOKS' MAKE LIFE MISERABLE FOR AMBASSADOR LODGE
'Arrogant' CIA Disobeys Orders in Viet Nam
By Richard Starnes
SAIGON, Oct.2 - The story of the Central
Intelligence Agency's role in South Viet Nam is a dismal chronicle
of bureaucratic arrogance, obstinate disregard of orders, and unrestrained
thirst for power.
Twice the CIA flatly refused to carry
out instructions from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, according to a
high United States source here.
In one of these instances the CIA frustrated
a plan of action Mr. Lodge brought with him from Washington because
the agency disagreed with it.
This led to a dramatic confrontation
between Mr. Lodge and John Richardson, chief of the huge CIA apparatus
here. Mr. Lodge failed to move Mr. Richardson, and the dispute was
bucked back to Washington. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and CIA Chief
John A. McCone were unable to resolve the conflict, and the matter
is now reported to be awaiting settlement by President Kennedy.
It is one of the developments expected
to be covered in Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's report to Mr.
Others Critical, Too
Other American agencies here are incredibly
bitter about the CIA.
"If the United States ever experiences
a 'Seven Days in May' it will come from the CIA, and not from the Pentagon," one
U.S. official commented caustically.
("Seven Days in May" is a fictional
account of an attempted military coup to take over the U.S. Government.)
CIA "spooks" (a universal term
for secret agents here) have penetrated every branch of the American
community in Saigon, until non-spook Americans here almost seem to
be suffering a CIA psychosis.
An American field officer with a distinguished
combat career speaks angrily about "that man at headquarters in
Saigon wearing a colonel's uniform." He means the man is a CIA
agent, and he can't understand what he is doing at U.S. military headquarters
here, unless it is spying on other Americans.
Another American officer, talking about
the CIA, acidly commented: "You'd think they'd have learned something
from Cuba but apparently they didn't."
Few Know CIA Strength
Few people other than Mr. Richardson
and his close aides know the actual CIA strength here, but a widely
used figure is 600. Many are clandestine agents known only to a few
of their fellow spooks.
Even Mr. Richardson is a man about whom
it is difficult to learn much in Saigon. He is said to be a former
OSS officer, and to have served with distinction in the CIA in the
A surprising number of the spooks are
known to be involved in their ghostly trade and some make no secret
"There are a number of spooks in
the U.S. Information Service, in the U.S. Operations mission, in every
aspect of American official and commercial life here," one official
- presumably a non-spook - said.
"They represent a tremendous power
and total unaccountability to anyone," he added.
Coupled with the ubiquitous secret police
of Ngo Dinh Nhu, a surfeit of spooks has given Saigon an oppressive
police state atmosphere.
The Nhu-Richardson relationship is a
subject of lively speculation. The CIA continues to pay the special
forces which conducted brutal raids on Buddhist temples last Aug. 21,
altho in fairness it should be pointed out that the CIA is paying these
goons for the war against communist guerillas, not Buddhist bonzes
Hand Over Millions
Nevertheless, on the first of every month,
the CIA dutifully hands over a quarter million American dollars to
pay these special forces.
Whatever else it buys, it doesn't buy
any solid information on what the special forces are up to. The Aug.
21 raids caught top U.S. officials here and in Washington flat-footed.
Nhu ordered the special forces to crush
the Buddhist priests, but the CIA wasn't let in on the secret. (Some
CIA button men now say they warned their superiors what was coming
up, but in any event the warning of harsh repression was never passed
to top officials here or in Washington.)
Consequently, Washington reacted unsurely
to the crisis. Top officials here and at home were outraged at the
news the CIA was paying the temple raiders, but the CIA continued the
It may not be a direct subsidy for a
religious war against the country's Buddhist majority, but it comes
close to that.
And for every State Department aide here
who will tell you, "Dammit, the CIA is supposed to gather information,
not make policy, but policy-making is what they're doing here," there
are military officers who scream over the way the spooks dabble in
A Typical Example
For example, highly trained trail watchers
are an important part of the effort to end Viet Cong infiltration from
across the Laos and Cambodia borders. But if the trailer watchers spot
incoming Viet Congs, they report it to the CIA in Saigon, and in the
fullness of time, the spooks may tell the military.
One very high American official here,
a man who has spent much of his life in the service of democracy, likened
the CIA's growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure even the
White House could control it any longer.
Unquestionably Mr. McNamara and Gen.
Maxwell Taylor both got an earful from people who are beginning to
fear the CIA is becoming a Third Force co-equal with President Diem's
regime and the U.S. Government - and answerable to neither.
There is naturally the highest interest
here as to whether Mr. McNamara will persuade Mr. Kennedy something
ought to be done about it.
Arthur Krock’s riposte in the pages
of the NYT on October 3, 1963, was a defence of the Agency and an attack
on Kennedy. (Indeed, Krock was a veteran mouthpiece and message bearer
for US intelligence, even prior to the formation of the CIA.) Again,
to illustrate the point:
New York Times, 3 October 1963, p.34
Intra-Administration War in Vietnam
By Arthur Krock
The Central Intelligence Agency is getting
a very bad press in dispatches from Vietnam to American newspapers
and in articles originating in Washington. Like the Supreme Court when
under fire, the C.I.A. cannot defend itself in public retorts to criticisms
of its activities as they occur. But, unlike the Supreme Court, the
C.I.A. has no open record of its activities on which the public can
base a judgment of the validity of the criticisms. Also, the agency
is precluded from using the indirect defensive tactic which is constantly
employed by all other government units under critical fire.
This tactic is to give information to
the press, under a seal of confidence, that challenges or refutes the
critics. But the C.I.A. cannot father such inspired articles, because
to do so would require some disclosure of its activities. And not only
does the effectiveness of the agency depend on the secrecy of its operations.
Every President since the C.I.A. was created has protected this secrecy
from claimants – Congress or the public through the press, for
examples – of the right to share any part of it.
This Presidential policy has not, however,
always restrained other executive units from going confidentially to
the press with attacks on C.I.A. operations in their common field of
responsibility. And usually it has been possible to deduce these operational
details from the nature of the attacks. But the peak of the practice
has recently been reached in Vietnam and in Washington. This is revealed
almost every day now in dispatches from reporters – in close
touch with intra-Administration critics of the C.I.A. – with
excellent reputations for reliability.
One reporter in this category is Richard
Starnes of the Scripps-Howard newspapers. Today, under a Saigon deadline,
he related that, “according to a high United States source here,
twice the C.I.A. flatly refused to carry out instructions from Ambassador
Henry Cabot Lodge … in one instance frustrated a plan of action
Mr. Lodge brought from Washington because the agency disagreed with
it.” Among the views attributed to United States officials on
the scene, including one described as a “very high American official…who
has spent much of his life in the service of democracy…are the
following:The C.I.A.’s growth was “likened to a malignancy” which
the “very high official was not sure even the White House could
control…any longer.” “If the United States ever
experiences it will come from the C.I.A. and not the Pentagon.” The
agency “represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability
Whatever these passages disclose, they
most certainly establish that representatives of other Executive branches
have expanded their war against the C.I.A. from the inner councils
to the American people via the press. And published simultaneously
are details of the agency’s operations in Vietnam that can only
come from the same critical official sources. This is disorderly government.
And the longer the President tolerates it – the period is already
considerable – the greater will grow its potentials of hampering
the real war against the Vietcong and the impression of a very indecisive
Administration in Washington.
The C.I.A. may be guilty as charged.
Since it cannot, or at any rate will not, openly defend its record
in Vietnam, or defend it by the same confidential press “briefings” employed
by its critics, the public is not in a position to judge. Nor is this
department, which sought and failed to get even the outlines of the
agency’s case in rebuttal. But Mr. Kennedy will have to make
a judgment if the spectacle of war within the Executive branch is to
be ended and the effective functioning of the C.I.A. preserved. And
when he make this judgment, hopefully he also will make it public,
as well as the appraisal of fault on which it is based.
Doubtless recommendations as to what
his judgment should be were made to him today by Secretary of Defense
McNamara and General Taylor on their return from their fact-finding
expedition into the embattled official jungle in Saigon.
Senator Saltonstall read Krock’s
apologia for CIA mutiny into the Congressional Record for precisely
the purpose of exonerating the organisation, prefacing it thus: “As
one who has followed the work of the CIA closely since its inception
and closely since the time Allen Dulles and now John McCone have been
its Directors, I can testify as to its responsibility and loyalty to
our Chief Executives and their Administrations” (CR, Vol 109,
October 3, 1963, p.18682).
Starnes’ extraordinary despatch
was read into the Congressional Record (88th Congress, Vol 109, October
3, 1963) by two Senators and a Congressman. The first named on the
list, it should be noted, was a perennial member of a small group of
persistent Senatorial critics of the CIA:
Senator Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska), pp.18645-
Senator Miller (R-Michigan), pp.18729-18730;
Congressman Paul Rogers (D-Florida), p.18602.
Extracts were also published, under the
title “CIA’s ‘Thirst for Power,’” in
The New Republic of October 12, 1963, as an appendage to the preceding
article, Jerry A. Rose’s “Dead End In Vietnam: 1 – We
Can’t Win, But We Need Not Lose” (pp.15-17). The CIA coup
prophecy was here omitted (see p.17), as in the New York World-Telegram
version of the despatch.
Remarkably, only Joachim Joesten of the
earliest, and better known, pro-conspiracy writers could bring himself
to mention Starnes’ name; and that was only to cite two post-assassination
pieces by Starnes from early December 1963: “Truth Won’t
Out” (NY World-Telegram & Sun, December 3, 1963, p.25) and “Dulles
Is Shadow on Inquiry” (NY World-Telegram & Sun, December
11, 1963, p.). Both are majestic, but no substitute for the Starnes
journalism which preceded the coup. How Lane, Weisberg et al missed
the Starnes piece and the ensuing furore – the NYT devoted at
least six follow-ups to it by October 8 – must remain a matter
for future fun.
Contrary to the arguement served up by
Mssrs Frank and Speer (above), John H. Richardson, the recalled chief
of station was a) originally named by the (English-language) "Times
of Vietnam" on September 2, 1963 (See John Prados’s "Lost
Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby" (Oxford
UP, March 2003) <019528478>, p.122, for example); and b) a firm
advocate of Diem’s ouster by no later than August 28, 1963, when
he telegrammed Washington to the effect that Saigon was an “armed
camp,” and the situation there at a “point of no return.” The
generals backed by the CIA understood “that they have no alternative
but to go forward” or else, by their inaction, permit a sharp
reduction in the American presence and their country “stagger
on to final defeat.” You’ll find details of Richardson’s
telegram in Francis X. Winters’ "The Year of the Hare: America
in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 – February 15, 1964" (University
of Georgia Press, 1997), p.66.
Thus by the time Lodge demanded Richardson’s
recall in September, the latter was a committed advocate of Diem’s
Kennedy discussed ‘Arrogant’ CIA
at a National Security Council meeting at the White House on the evening
of its October 2 publication. According to the summary held by the
Kennedy Library, the President read a draft paragraph for inclusion
in a public statement, “but rejected it as too fluffy. He felt
no one would believe a statement saying that there were no differences
of view among the various US agencies represented in Saigon.” (See
http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/viet8.htm, citing the Kennedy Library, National
Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meeting No. 519.
Top Secret.) He was to offer a highly qualified public defence of the
Agency a week later only after being subjected to considerable pressure
Starnes’ source did not go into
specifics about the two courses of action thwarted by Agency insubordination.
As he put it in a recent email: “As to which specific plans the
CIA frustrated, I have no clue. My source clearly was aware that he
was taking enormous risks in talking to me, and time was of the essence.
I didn't press on that detail.”
He also had this to say about Kennedy’s
reaction to the Agency insurrection: “I suppose in the timeless
fashion of manipulators such as Kennedy and his people, the decision
was made to finesse the agency insurrection instead of confronting
it head-on. Or maybe Kennedy was simply afraid they'd kill him if he
tried.” It’s also worth adding that according to at least
one source, Kennedy had commissioned another major enquiry into the
CIA in the weeks preceding his murder on Elm Street.