The Secret Team
The "Secret Team" --
The Real Power Structure
The most remarkable development in the management of America's relations with other countries during the quarter-century since the end of World War II has been the assumption of more and more control over military, financial and diplomatic operations at home and abroad by men whose activities are secret, whose budget is secret, whose very identities as often as not are secret -- in short, by a Secret Team whose actions only those implicated in them are in a position to monitor and to understand. For the purposes of this historical study, the choice of the word "Team" is most significant. It is well known that the members of a team, as in baseball or football, are skilled professionals under the direct control of someone higher up. They do not create their own game plan. They work for their coach and their owner. There is always some group that manages them and "calls the plays". Team members are like lawyers and agents, they work for someone. They generally do not plan their work. They do what their client tells them to do. For example: this is true of agents in the Central Intelligence Agency. It is an "Agency" and not a "Department" and its employees are highly skilled professionals who perform the functions their craft demands of them. Thus, the members of the highest level "Secret Team" work for their masters despite the fact that their own high office may make it appear to others that they, themselves are not only the Team but the Power Elite. This recalls a story related by the Rt. Hon. Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, of Great Britain, during WW II.
Winston Churchill had left the Admiralty to become Prime Minister. Frequently he would come down to the Admiralty basement on his way from #10 Downing Street, to his underground, bomb-proof bedroom. He made it his practice to visit the Officer in Charge for up-to-date Intelligence and then stroll into the Duty Captain's room where there was a small bar from which he sometimes indulged in a night-cap, along with his ever-present cigar.
On this particular night there had been a heavy raid on Rotterdam. He sat there, meditating, and then, as if to himself, he said, "Unrestricted submarine warfare, unrestricted air bombing -- this is total war." He continued sitting there, gazing at a large map, and then said, "Time and the Ocean and some guiding star and High Cabal have made us what we are."
This was a most memorable scene and a revelation of reality that is infrequent, at best. If for the great Winston Churchill, there is a "High Cabal" that has made us what we are, our definition is complete. Who could know better than Churchill himself during the darkest days of World War II, that there exists, beyond doubt, an international High Cabal? This was true then. It is true today, especially in these times of the One World Order. This all-powerful group has remained superior because it had learned the value of anonymity. For them, the Secret Team and its professionals operate.
We may wish to note that in a book "Gentleman Spy, the Life of Allen Dulles" the author, Peter Grose cites Allen Dulles response to an invitation to the luncheon table from Hoover's Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson. Allen Dulles assured his partners in the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, "Let it be known quietly that I am a lawyer and not a diplomat." He could not have made a more characteristic and truthful statement about himself. He always made it clear that he did not "plan" his work, he was always the "lawyer" who carried out the orders of his client whether the President of the United States, or the President of the local bank.
The Secret Team (ST) being described herein consists of security-cleared individuals in and out of government who receive secret intelligence data gathered by the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) and who react to those data, when it seems appropriate to them, with paramilitary plans and activities, e.g. training and "advising" -- a not exactly impenetrable euphemism for such things as leading into battle and actual combat -- Laotian tribal troops, Tibetan rebel horsemen, or Jordanian elite Palace Guards.
Membership on the Team, granted on a "need-to-know" basis, varies with the nature and location of the problems that come to its attention, and its origins derive from that sometimes elite band of men who served with the World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the father of them all, General "Wild Bill" William J. Donovan, and in the old CIA.
The power of the Team derives from its vast intragovernmental undercover infrastructure and its direct relationship with great private industries, mutual funds and investment houses, universities, and the news media, including foreign and domestic publishing houses. The Secret Team has very close affiliations with elements of power in more than three-score foreign countries and is able when it chooses to topple governments, to create governments, and to influence governments almost anywhere in the world.
Whether or not the Secret Team had anything whatsoever to do with the deaths of Rafael Trujillo, Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Dag Hammerskjold, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others may never be revealed, but what is known is that the power of the Team is enhanced by the "cult of the gun" and by its sometimes brutal and always arbitrary anti-Communist flag waving, even when real Communism had nothing to do with the matter at hand.
The Secret Team does not like criticism, investigation, or history and is always prone to see the world as divided into but two camps -- "Them" and "Us". Sometimes the distinction may be as little as one dot, as in "So. Viets" and "Soviets," the So. Viets being our friends in Indochina, and the Soviets being the enemy of that period. To be a member, you don't question, you don't ask; it's "Get on the Team" or else. One of its most powerful weapons in the most political and powerful capitals of the world is that of exclusion. To be denied the "need to know" status, like being a member of the Team, even though one may have all the necessary clearances, is to be totally blackballed and eliminated from further participation. Politically, if you are cut from the Team and from its insider's knowledge, you are dead. In many ways and by many criteria the Secret Team is the inner sanctum of a new religious order.
At the heart of the Team, of course, are a handful of top executives of the CIA and of the National Security Council (NSC), most notably the chief White House adviser to the President on foreign policy affairs. Around them revolves a sort of inner ring of Presidential officials, civilians, and military men from the Pentagon, and career professionals of the intelligence community. It is often quite difficult to tell exactly who many of these men really are, because some may wear a uniform and the rank of general and really be with the CIA and others may be as inconspicuous as the executive assistant to some Cabinet officer's chief deputy. Out beyond this ring is an extensive and intricate network of government officials with responsibility for, or expertise in, some specific field that touches on national security or foreign affairs: "Think Tank" analysts, businessmen who travel a lot or whose businesses (e.g. import-export or cargo airline operations) are useful, academic experts in this or that technical subject or geographic region, and quite importantly, alumni of the intelligence community -- a service from which there are no unconditional resignations. All true members of the Team remain in the power center whether in office with the incumbent administration or out of office with the hard-core set. They simply rotate to and from official jobs and the business world or the pleasant haven of academe.
Thus, the Secret Team is not a clandestine super-planning-board or super-general-staff. But even more damaging to the coherent conduct of foreign and military affairs, it is a bewildering collection of semi-permanent or temporarily assembled action committees and networks that respond pretty much ad hoc to specific troubles and to flash-intelligence data inputs from various parts of the world, sometimes in ways that duplicate the activities of regular American missions, sometimes in ways that undermine those activities, and very often in ways that interfere with and muddle them. At no time did the powerful and deft hand of the Secret Team evidence more catalytic influence than in the events of those final ninety days of 1963, which the "Pentagon Papers" were supposed to have exposed.
The New York Times shocked the world on Sunday, June 13, 1971, with the publication of the first elements of the Pentagon Papers. The first document the Times selected to print was a trip report on the situation in Saigon, credited to the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, and dated December 21, 1963. This was the first such report on the situation in Indochina to be submitted to President Lyndon B. Johnson. It came less than thirty days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and less than sixty days after the assassinations of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam and his brother and counselor Ngo Dinh Nhu.
Whether from some inner wisdom or real prescience or merely simple random selection, the Times chose to publish first from among the three thousand pages of analysis and four thousand pages of official documents that had come into its hands that report which may stand out in history as one of the key documents affecting national policy in the past quarter-century -- not so much for what it said as for what it signified. This report is a prime example of how the Secret Team, which has gained so much control over the vital foreign and political activities of this government, functions.
Most observers might have expected that the inner group of men who had worked so closely with President Kennedy for three years would have lost heart in those days following his tragic death. On the contrary, they burst forth, as though from strong bonds and fetters and created this entirely new report, thus shaping the future of the Indochina conflict. Their energy and their new sense of direction seemed almost to rise from the flame of Kennedy's tomb in Arlington.
During those hectic months of late summer in 1963 when the Kennedy Administration appeared to be frustrated and disenchanted with the ten-year regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon, it approved the plans for the military coup d'état that would overthrow President Diem and get rid of his brother Nhu. The Kennedy Administration gave its support to a cabal of Vietnamese generals who were determined to remove the Ngos from power. Having gone so far as to withdraw its support of the Diem government and to all but openly support the coup, the Administration became impatient with delays and uncertainties from the generals in Saigon, and by late September dispatched General Maxwell D. Taylor, then Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and Secretary of Defense McNamara to Saigon.
Upon their return, following a brief trip, they submitted a report to President Kennedy, which in proper chronology was the one immediately preceding the remarkable one of December 21, 1963. This earlier report said, among other things "There is no solid evidence of the possibility of a successful coup, although assassination of Diem and Nhu is always a possibility." The latter part of this sentence contained the substantive information. A coup d'état, or assassination is never certain from the point of view of the planners; but whenever United States support of the government in power is withdrawn and a possible coup d'état or assassination is not adamantly opposed, it will happen. Only three days after this report, on October 5, 1963, the White House cabled Ambassador Lodge in Saigon: "There should be... urgent covert effort . . . to identify and build contact with possible alternate leadership." Knowledge of a statement such as this one made by the ostensible defenders and supporters of the Diem regime was all those coup planners needed to know. In less than one month Diem was dead, along with his brother.
Thus, what was considered to be a first prerequisite for a more favorable climate in Vietnam was fulfilled. With the Ngo family out of the way, President Kennedy felt that he had the option to bring the war to a close on his own terms or to continue pressure with covert activities such as had been under way for many years. Because the real authors were well aware of his desires, there was another most important statement in the McNamara-Taylor report of October 2, 1963: "It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel by that time...." [the end of 1965] This statement came at a key point in time.
Like the others, it was written by Secret Team insiders who knew the President's mind and how far they could go in setting forth ideas which he would accept and yet be acceptable to their own plans. Reports such as the October 2, 1963, document were not written in Saigon and they were not written by the men whose names appeared on them.
This pivotal report was written in Washington by members of the ST. Although it contained a lot of updated material from Saigon (some of which had been transmitted to Saigon verbatim for the express purpose of having to then re-transmitted back to Washington for inclusion in the report -- with the all-important Saigon dateline), one may be certain that this report contained a skillful mixture of what the President wanted to hear and what its authors in Washington wanted the President to read. Therefore, when it included the blunt and unequivocal statement that "it should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel by that time", the authors, cover and undercover, were in tune with the times. They knew the President was favorably considering means to extricate the United States from Vietnam.
The ST had had its day with Kennedy on the beaches of the Cuban Bay of Pigs. Kennedy had minutely reviewed that debacle, and from that time on he was ever alert for the slightest sign of any undercover operation that might expand and get so out of hand as to involve this country in any more such disasters. The Team had come a long way since that dismal period in April 1961, and had learned well how to use and thrive with Jack Kennedy, in spite of his caution. One way to do this was to be certain to spell things correctly -- meaning hewing close to his line while retaining ST initiative. It is a safe bet to say that this forecast of personnel withdrawal by the end of 1965 was the maneuvering time they wanted and what Kennedy would accept, in their language, so that he too would have time to get re-elected and then carry out his own decisions as he had related them to Senator Mansfield. It appears that Kennedy felt that with the obstacle of the Diem regime out of the way, he would have the opportunity to disengage this nation from the war that he had so far been able to keep from becoming a runaway overt action. Up to the end of 1963, all U.S. Army troops in South Vietnam, with the exception of a small number in the Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG) and a few other such positions, were there under the operational control of the CIA. This was flimsy cover and it was a poor device to maintain that the United States was not overtly involved in military activity in Indochina; but the device did achieve its purpose of keeping the level of the war to a minimum.
Within thirty days of the Taylor-McNamara report, Diem and his brother were dead. The Government of South Vietnam was in the hands of the popular and powerful General Duong Van "Big" Minh. Minh was a strong enough man to have made Vietnamization work. But within another thirty days President Kennedy was dead, and the Government of the United States was in the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson. "Big" Minh may have been the man Kennedy wanted in Saigon, but he did not last long with the new Johnson Administration. Four days after Kennedy's death, on November 26, 1963, President Johnson issued an order reaffirming United States policy in South Vietnam and at the same time referring to the new Government of General Minh as a "provisional government", presaging and assuring the inevitability of another change in the near future. President Johnson's advisers wanted a "benevolent" military regime in Saigon, and they wanted one which would be more suitable than Minh's. Kennedy would have had Minh rally around him a popular and strongly independent Vietnamese administration. After Kennedy's death, U.S. policy called for leadership in Saigon which would accept continuing United States participation in the internal affairs of that Government.
Less than fifteen days after the death of Kennedy, Secretary of Defense McNamara was on his way back to Saigon to assess the situation under General Minh and to report to the new President of the United States. This time, the McNamara report was, to quote The New York Times, "Laden with gloom". His assessment laid the groundwork for the long haul and included decisions to step up the covert war against North Vietnam in early 1964 and to increase American aid to South Vietnam. Within ninety days the Government of "Big" Minh was eased out of office and replaced by the more tractable General Nguyen Khanh.
There are those who say that because he had approved certain covert operations in Indochina, President Kennedy was planning to expand the war. It is true that accelerating cover operations is like stoking the fire; but we should weigh Kennedy's actions against the fact that the United States had been actively involved in clandestine operations in Indochina since 1945 as well as in other areas of the world for many years, and that these activities did not signify that the administration concerned had embarked upon a course leading to open warfare.
The paramount condition underlying any approval for clandestine operations is absolute control at the top. The ST will come up with operational schemes all the time and will seek approval for as many as it believes it can get away with. The only way to cope with this is for the President to make it clear that there will be no covert operations without proper approval and that he will always be in a position to cancel or disapprove of any and all operations as he sees fit. Truman and Eisenhower knew this and practiced it. Kennedy learned it at the Bay of Pigs. Eisenhower had terminated major operations in Tibet, Laos, and Indonesia without escalating them into open war. Until his death Kennedy had held the line at the limited level of covert activities in Indochina, and American participation there was restricted to an advisory capacity. (Of course, we all recognize that this advisory role was, in many cases, pure combat.)
Clandestine operations that are small and strictly controlled with a fixed and time-limited objective can be terminated at any time, whether they succeed or fail. However, clandestine operations that become large, that are permitted to continue and to be repeated, that become known or compromised -- and yet still continue, as in Laos -- are very dangerous and can lead to open hostilities and even war. Thus, when the ST proposed a vastly escalated covert campaign against North Vietnam in December 1963, they were laying positive plans for the major military action that followed in 1965. Within thirty days after Kennedy's death all of this changed drastically. In his report of December 21, 1963, McNamara stated: "Viet Cong progress had been great during the period since the coup. We also need to have major increases in both military and USOM (United States Operations Mission) staffs."
Later, he added, "Our first need would be immediate U-2 mapping of the whole Laos and Cambodian border, and this we are preparing to do on an urgent basis." And then, "One other step we can take is to expand the existing limited but remarkably effective operations on the Laos side, the so-called Operation HARDNOSE... Plans to expand this will be prepared and presented for your approval in about two weeks." And further, "As to the waterways, the military plans presented in Saigon were unsatisfactory, and a special Naval team is being sent a once from Honolulu to determine what more can be done."
Then he noted: "Plans for covert action into North Vietnam were prepared as we had requested and were an excellent job. . .General Krulak of the JCS is chairing a group that will lay out a program in the next ten days for your consideration." All of these statements were evidence of typical, thorough ST groundwork.
McNamara closed out this report -- which was so vastly different from the earlier October 2 one that he and Maxwell Taylor had submitted to President Kennedy -- by saying: "We should watch the situation very carefully, running scared, and hoping for the best, but preparing for more forceful moves if the situation does not show early signs of improvement."
This was not the report of a group that was planing to wind down the war. It was a report that delineated various avenues of endeavor and that looked well into the future. This was the first such report made to President Johnson, and it was not designed to be reassuring. On the same day that the McNamara report was being handed to President Johnson, a former President was writing a totally different statement for the readership of the general pubic. President Harry S. Truman, observing the turn of events since the death of President Kennedy, and pondering developments since his Administration, wrote for the Washington Post a column also datelined December 21, 1963:
For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government... I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.Truman was disturbed by the events of the past ninety days, those ominous days of October, November, and December 1963. Men all over the world were disturbed by those events. Few men, however could have judged them with more wisdom and experience than Harry S. Truman, for it was he who, in late 1947, had signed unto law the National Security Act. This Act, in addition to establishing the Department of Defense (DOD) with a single Secretary at its head and with three equal and independent services -- the Army, Navy, and Air Force -- also provided for a National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. And during those historic and sometimes tragic sixteen years since the Act had become law, he had witnessed changes that disturbed him, as he saw that the CIA "had been diverted" from the original assignment that he and the legislators who drafted the Act had so carefully planned. Although even in his time he had seen the beginning of the move of the CIA into covert activities, there can be little doubt that the "diversion" to which he made reference was not one that he would have attributed to himself or to any other President. Rather, the fact that the CIA had gone into clandestine operations and had been "injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations", and "has been so much removed from its intended role" was more properly attributable to the growing and secret pressures of some other power source. As he said, the CIA had become "a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue".
There can be no question that the events just prior to this statement heavily influenced his arriving at these disturbing conclusions. It is possible, but quite improbable, that Harry Truman knew about the McNamara report of the same date. But the coincidence between the appearance of Truman's commentary and of McNamara's report is compelling, especially since McNamara's report was the first selected by The New York Times for publication in its expose of the Pentagon Papers.
Now that the McNamara report has been published and has emerged from the depths of security, it can be added that this pivotal report was not written by McNamara; it was not even written in Saigon. This report, like the one dated October 2, was actually written by a group of ST and near-ST members and was drafted by them solely to impress upon the new President their idea of the increasing gravity and frightful responsibility of the war in Indochina. It was not for nothing that the Times noted that this report was "laden with gloom" and that it offered nowhere any easy or quick panacea for early victory in Indochina. It was not untended to do so. In fact, it did just the opposite. It left no room for any course of action other than eventual escalation of the war. This report and the ones that followed close upon it were carefully and skillfully written to instill into the new President an indelible belief that the war in Vietnam was the greatest issue facing the Free World. They hammered home the fanciful belief that if South Vietnam fell before the onslaught of Communism, the whole world would be engulfed.
As was common with reports such as this one, the first time McNamara saw it was during a few days stopover in Honolulu on his return trip from Saigon. It had been put together from many sources and drafts, primarily from the CIA and other secret-operations related areas, by the office of the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) in the Joint Staff under the skilled and dedicated direction of Major General Victor H. Krulak. General Krulak was the same man who was designated in the body of the report to chair "a group that will lay out a program of covert action in North Vietnam in the next ten days".
In Pentagonese for highly classified matters, General Krulak's office in the Joint Staff was described as being responsible for serving as the JCS point of contact, in his field of interest, with related activities in the Military Departments, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and other agencies of the government. This was the unclassified way of saying that his office was the point of contact within the DOD for the CIA. His contacts in this select circle in the OSD were such men as Major General Edward G. Lansdale, who was McNamara's special assistant for all matters involving the CIA and special operations; William Bundy, who appears throughout the Pentagon Papers as one of the key men of the ST and was at that time a recent alumni of the CIA, with ten years in that Agency behind him; John T. McNaughton, another member of the ST and a McNamara favorite; Joseph Califano, who moved from OSD to the White House; General Richard G. Stilwell of the White House Special Committee (details to follow), and others.
The preparations for and the writing of such influential reports as this one attributed to McNamara was a work of skill, perseverance, and high art. Whenever it was decided that McNamara would go to Saigon, select members of the ST sent special messages to Saigon on the ultra-secure CIA communications network, laying out a full scenario for his trip. The Secretary of Defense and his party would be shown "combat devastated villages" that had paths and ruts that had been caused by the hard work and repeated rehearsals -- not battles -- that had taken place in them between "natives", "Vietnamese soldiers", and Americans. McNamara would be taken on an itinerary planned in Washington, he would see "close-in combat" designed in Washington, and he would receive field data and statistics prepared for him in Washington. All during his visit he would be in the custody of skilled briefers who knew what he should see, whom he should see, and whom he should not see.
In many cases even the messages relayed from Saigon, ostensibly written by and for McNamara while he was there, had been sent to Saigon from Washington before he had arrived there. When a total communications system such as that available to the ST exists all over the world and is concealed by secrecy, it is not difficult to yield to the urge to "play God" and make everything come out as desired.
While McNamara was on his trip, the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities and his staff, augmented by CIA and others, were working around the clock on the report. There were times when General Krulak himself stayed at his desk for thirty-six hours or more to keep a full staff going while secretaries and typists were shuttled to and from their homes for rest periods to get the massive report done in time.
While all of the writing was under way, cartographers and artists were working on illustrative material for the final report and for the big briefing charts that became a part of McNamara's personal style. The final report, perhaps two inches thick, was printed and bound in a legal-size, black goatskin cover, with the name of the President engraved in gold on it.
The finished report was rushed by helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base, about twenty miles from the Pentagon, and placed aboard a military jet fighter for a nonstop, midair-refueled flight to Honolulu, where it was handed to Mr. McNamara and his staff. He familiarized himself with the report while his jet flew him to Washington, where he disembarked at Andrews Air Force Base, trotted (with the report tucked under his arm) to the waiting Presidential helicopter and was whisked to the White House lawn to be greeted by the President. As soon as he got into the White House, an aide distributed the closely guarded and controlled copies of the report to those who had the need to know, and discussions began.
This recapitulation is worth setting forth in detail because it underscores not only the resourcefulness of the ST but its ability to perform super-miracles in an age when mere miracles are commonplace. The ST always fights for the minds, the time, and the attention of the top-echelon men. It moves fastest and most adroitly when others are off guard. This report of December 21, 1963, was absolutely crucial to the interests of the ST. Twenty-five years of driving, devoted work by ST members through a whole generation of critical events culminated in the Vietnam war. Never before in all the long history of civilization was a country to devote so much of its resources, its men and their lives, its money, and its very prestige in so strange an event as that which is called "The War In Vietnam". It made the coups d'état in Guatemala and Iran, the rebellion in Indonesia, the escape of the Dalai Lama and the underground war in Tibet, the Bay of Pigs, and the wasting war in Laos all pale before its magnitude.
President Johnson, for all his experience and native ability, had not yet been singed by the fire of experience as had Jack Kennedy in Cuba or Eisenhower by the U-2. Johnson was a natural "wheeler dealer", with courage and a flair for getting things done; but he had not yet learned how to say "No" and make it stick, rather, he had the inclination to defer the issue to a later day. This was the ideal formula for the ST, and they struck while the iron was hot.
There is another important factor to weigh in considering the agility and cunning of the ST. In bureaucratic Washington, few things are worth more than prior information. If a subordinate knows now what his boss is going to know tomorrow, he is in the same position that the gambler would like to be in if he knew which horse was going to win in a future race. The ST has set itself up through the use and control of intelligence data, both real and manufactured, to know now what its bosses are going to know later. This applies most significantly in such events as the McNamara report.
As anyone who has perceived the full significance of the routine described earlier will realize, the ST knows what the report of the Secretary of Defense is going to be even before he does, and therefore, before all the rest of official Washington does. This twenty-four to forty-eight hour lead-time of critical and most influential knowledge is a most valuable commodity. Many staffs who have no real responsibilities in the covert activities of this nation break their backs for a glimpse of what the ST is doing, and for this special privilege they pay one way or another.
At other times the Team will extract from a report such as has been described a few paragraphs that will be skillfully leaked to the press and to selected businessmen. Background briefings are held, most frequently in some quiet conference room in the New State Building or perhaps in the big executive dining room Allen Dulles had in the old "E" Street headquarters of the CIA; and there a sub-staff of the ST will pour over the language of a brief item designed especially for "Periscope" in Newsweek, or perhaps for its old favorite, Joe Alsop.
In any event, advance top-level information is a most valuable and saleable commodity. But nowhere is it more valuable than in the White House itself and in the offices of the Secretary of Defense and of the Director of Central Intelligence. McGeorge Bundy, Mike Forrestal, Joe Califano, Maxwell Taylor, and the others always looked good when they could sit down, calm and composed, with the President and with Rusk and McNamara, already knowing what was in the reports these men were pouring over page by page. McNamara would give one of his classic "fully charted" briefings of his trip, utilizing for his purpose the originals of the artwork in his report, and have the President and other Cabinet officers hanging on his every word -- words he had been learning and rehearsing while he sped by jet from Honolulu. At the same time, the ST members were secure in their knowledge that they already knew every word that McNamara was going to say and that they had staff studies and Presidential messages already drafted to send to the Ambassador and the commanders in Indochina.
It may seem strange to readers of the Pentagon Papers to note how often a report from the chairman of the JCS to the Secretary of Defense would be followed the next day by one from the Secretary of Defense to the President -- and then almost on the same day, by a lengthy message to the ambassador in Saigon. What may seem even more strange is that the reply from the ambassador would follow, with all of its detail, within twenty-four hours. This was not a miracle. This was preplanning by the ST. The whole thing was done at the same time, and even the reply from the ambassador had been anticipated by a closely guarded message via CIA channels to a CIA man on the embassy staff in Saigon, giving him the language to use for the ambassadors reply almost as soon as the President's wire arrived. The ST seldom left anything to chance, and since they had the means of the "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", they made it a way of life to use it.
The Pentagon Papers reveal in the total listing of names of the principal writers of those papers a good compilation of key members of the ST at that time. However, it would be very misleading to accept this list as complete and meaningful for anything more than this one area of activity. Furthermore, some of the most influential members of the Team are not even mentioned in those pages. There were and are many men who are not in government who are prime movers of Secret Team activity.
Only one month after McNamara's report, General Maxwell D. Taylor, then Chairman of the JCS, kept the ball rolling with a report to Secretary McNamara, dated January 22, 1964. It is important to keep in mind that Maxwell Taylor was on the same trip to Saigon with McNamara that resulted in the October 2, 1963, report, the one that contained the "home by end of 1965" theme. Now, less than four months later, he was saying: "It would be unrealistic to believe that a complete suppression of the insurgency can take place in one or even two years." And further, "The United States must make plain to the enemy our determination to see the Vietnam campaign through to a favorable conclusion. To do this, we must prepare for whatever level of activity may be required and, being prepared, must then proceed to take actions as necessary to achieve our purposes surely and promptly."
"The JCS believe that our position in Cambodia, our attitude toward Laos, our actions in Thailand and our great effort in South Vietnam do not comprise a compatible and integrated policy for Southeast Asia. U.S. objectives in Southeast Asia cannot be achieved by either economic, political or military measures alone. All three fields must be integrated into a single, broad U.S. program for Southeast Asia."
Later, we shall deal in more detail with this new "military" line, which Taylor was here expounding. But while we are weighing these words, we should note that the U.S. military -- more precisely, that part that was closely affiliated with the CIA (and by 1964, General Taylor must be considered to be among them) -- was underscoring here in the United States as well as overseas the new political-social-economic role of the Army. This subject is only inferentially introduced in Taylor's report; but as we shall see later, it had become a dominant theme in the peacetime-operations Army procedure of this period.
At the same time it should be noted that Taylor, operating most certainly under the provisions set forth by President Kennedy in his National Security Action Memorandum #55 of June, 1961, is strongly announcing his support of covert actions against North Vietnam. This would have been quite uncharacteristic and unthinkable in the Army before this time. It became Secret-Team-type doctrine, because the Team knew all too well that covert operations of sufficient size and volume could be exploited.
Like the carbon rods in a nuclear reactor, to raise or lower the level of "radioactivity" or to heat up a latent insurgency situation to the level desired, this has been done in Laos for fifteen or more years. The policies that have been used in Indochina create and generate more combat than they quench. It has been said that the Vietnamese war is one of "re-counter", the idea being that if you hit someone -- even little, starving, terrorized, and homeless natives -- long enough, they will eventually fight back with whatever bits of remaining strength they have. Thus, Taylor's following words take on certain special significance:
It is our [JCS] conviction that if support of the insurgency from outside South Vietnamin terms of operational direction, personnel and material were stopped completely, the character of the war in South Vietnam would be substantially and favorably altered. Because of this conviction, we are wholly in favor of executing the covert actions against North Vietnam which you have recently proposed to the President. [These were the covert actions which the group chaired by General Krulak had developed.] We believe, however, that it would be idle to conclude that these efforts will have a decisive effect on the Communist determination to support the insurgency; and it is our view that we must therefore be prepared fully to undertake a much higher level of activity, not only for its beneficial tactical effect, but to make plain our resolution, both to our friends and to our enemies.Following this statement, which like others was written by his special staff and by his CIA associates, General Taylor listed ten activities which he said the United States must make ready to conduct in Southeast Asia. One of these was to "... commit U.S. forces as necessary in support of the combat action within South Vietnam." He added, "The past few months have disclosed that considerably higher levels of effort are demanded of us if U.S. objectives are to be attained."
In the inner chambers of the Government, where secret operations are cloaked in sufficient cover-story language to keep even the experts and top echelon leaders in a state of unreality, nothing ever more closely approached the "emperor's new clothes" syndrome than did the ST's work on Johnson, Rusk, McCone, and McNamara.
Townsend Hoopes, who spent years in the Pentagon in this awesome environment, wrote in the Washington Post of August 17, 1971, "The altered alignments in the Communist world were much clearer in 1964 than in 1960, making it, again in theory, easier for Johnson to take a fresh look. But the abrupt and tragic way in which he had come to the White House, the compulsions of the 1964 presidential campaign, and his own lack of a steady compass in foreign affairs (not to mention the powerful and nearly unanimous views of his inherited advisers) effectively ruled out a basic reappraisal of our national interests in Vietnam. Like each predecessor, Johnson decided, as one analyst put it, "that it would be inconvenient for him to lose South Vietnam this year".
There is a fine point to add to Mr. Hoopes' perceptions. Johnson not only did not make "a basic reappraisal of our national interests in Vietnam", but he did not check out the compass to assure himself that the Ship of State was on the same course that it had been sailing before he took the helm of office. He never took the time nor made the effort to check out the ST. He just took it for granted that it was on the same course after Kennedy's death as before. This was his first big oversight.
The point is subtle, and the change was at each turn slight; but the long-range course was being altered dynamically. Each report he received gave the semblance of normalcy, and each report was a reasonable part of the pattern with which he was somewhat familiar. No one would deny that Lyndon Johnson was not an intimate of Jack Kennedy's and that, especially in matters pertaining to Vietnam, he really did not know the Presidents mind. The fact that he had been to Vietnam may actually have been more of a cover story and a handicap for him than a view of reality.
Brainwashing was the business of the ST in South Vietnam. No less than Robert McNamara, Robert Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson, and John McCone were thoroughly indoctrinated on South Vietnam by hardheaded experts who thought nothing of sharpening the scenarios skillfully drawn for consumption by top-level officials. Allen W. Dulles meant it when he called his book The Craft of Intelligence. To him and his inner ring of confidants and paramilitary experts, big-time intelligence was craftily managed. As a result, these carefully drawn reports told the President that things were getting much worse in Southeast Asia and that there was a strong possibility of a Communist take-over of all of South Asia if South Vietnam and Laos and then Cambodia succumbed to the insurgency which, the Team said, was running rampant there.
After the reports and briefings of December 1963 and January 1964, it became evident that Johnson was giving way before the pressures of the CIA and the "military" who were working with the Agency.
It is essential that the term "military" be clarified for use throughout this book. Many military men are regularly assigned to the CIA, in their primary roles as intelligence experts, for their own experience and training and to flesh out areas where the Agency can use them. These are legitimate military assignments, and such men are openly identified with the CIA. There is another group of military men who are fully assigned to the Agency, meaning their pay and allowances are reimbursed to the parent service by the CIA, but they appear to be with regular military units or other normal assignments so that their assignment to the CIA will not be revealed to those unwitting of their real task.
These men are on cover assignments. Some of them are completely detached from the service for the period of their assignment although they will get promotions and other benefits similar to those of their contemporaries. Then there are other military personnel working with the CIA who are really Agency employees but who are permitted to wear the uniform and rank or grade of their Reserve or National Guard status. And lastly, there are other CIA personnel who for special reasons are permitted to assume the uniform or at least the identity of one of the military services, with rank as is necessary, even though they have no real service connection.
There are few of these latter individuals; but they do exist. It is also true that for certain practical purposes nearly all CIA personnel carry the identification of the Department of Defense or some other government agency in order that they will have simple cover for such things as credit cards and banking accounts so they will not have to reveal their employment with the CIA. This category is simply a technical expedient and is not intended in the first instance to be used for clandestine purposes.
This strong military bias of the Agency plays a very important part in the operations of the ST and will be discussed more fully in later chapters. It probably played an impressive role in the winning of President Johnson's mind soon after be took office. He no doubt, as did most others, looked to such men as General Maxwell Taylor, General Victor Krulak, General William Rosson, General Edward Lansdale, General William Peers, General Richard C. Stilwell, General William Dupuy, and many many others as straight-line military officers. Although without question they all were military men, they all also had assignments of various types that made them effective CIA operators. By the very nature of their work, they worked with, for, and in support of the CIA. It was their first allegiance. Those mentioned above form but a brief list of the great number of senior officers in this category.
After these first reports of December 1963 and early 1964, the next round of Secret Team maneuvers was planned as they worked to up-grade the war. It became time for McNamara to bring things up to date with the White House. On March 16, 1964, he made a report to the President, "On Steps to Change the Trend of the War". This report was long and discursive. It even included the line, "Substantial reductions in the numbers of U.S. military training personnel should occur before the end of 1965." Notice how the words were put! This report had the ring of the old "home by the end of 1965" report of October 2, 1963, but with a significant difference. In October, Taylor and McNamara had said to Kennedy that it should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U S. personnel. The key word is "personnel", as opposed to the March 16 "military training personnel".
The Vietnam war has always been a most unusual one from the standpoint of its being a non-typical war. A very large number of U.S. personnel in this war were not military. There were thousands from other government agencies. There were tens of thousands of civilian workers of all kinds. The helicopter maintenance support alone required fantastic numbers of civilian maintenance personnel and contract workers. Kennedy knew this, and when he was told that "U.S. personnel" would be coming home, he knew that meant a comprehensive and meaningful number. However, when McNamara told Johnson that "substantial reductions in. . . military training personnel" would take place, he was talking about a small slice of the pie.
Even if all of the training personnel came home, there would still be a lot of U.S. manpower there. The distinction was meaningful. It was brainwashing and misleading, and intentionally so. Lines such as this were added simply for flavoring. The ST writers would not expect the President to notice the difference. He would hear the words "reductions" and "personnel" only.
Meanwhile, the ST had a safety valve in their report in the event they had to account for this report at a later date, something they always planned for, but seldom, if ever, had to do. After all of the words, recent history of Indochina involvement, and some philosophizing continued in this lengthy McNamara report, the final paragraph held the meat of the proposition:
12. To prepare immediately to be in position on 72 hours notice to initiate the full range of Laotian and Cambodian "Border Control" actions beyond those authorized in Paragraph 11 above and the "Retaliatory Actions" against North Vietnam, and to be in a position on 30 days' notice to initiate the program of "Graduated Overt Military Pressure" against North Vietnam.This was another big step forward on the way to inevitable escalation. It is one thing for a nation to plan for a clandestine operation with an agent or agents and to arrange for its success, or in the event of failure, to totally deny involvement. All such activities are planned in such a way that the nation taking the action may be able to disclaim plausibly to the entire world that it had anything to do with such an action. But the action above is serious international business, because at the very root of the plan is the intent to violate the sovereignty of another nation. Wars have been started by such events. When a nation feels that it must resort to clandestine activities, it does so with great caution and then only with agents who are specially prepared for such work. In no case, or in the very rarest cases, are members of the diplomatic service and of the uniformed military service ever used for such acts. Honor and honesty in the society of nations demand that the diplomatic corps and the military services be beyond reproach. The paragraph quoted above from McNamara's March 16 report not only proposed more or less routine covert activity against Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, but it added that the United States should plan for "overt military pressure" against North Vietnam, thus carrying through the momentum of action initiated with his December 21, 1963, report. The die was cast. The Gulf of Tonkin incident occurrect on August 4, 1964, and from that time on to the President's announcement of the massive build-up of forces, there could be no doubting the course laid out for the United States in Indochina.
This course was set by the winds of change as this Government responded to and reacted to various intelligence-data inputs from as far back as 1945. Vietnam was not so much a goal as it was a refuge and backlash of everything that had gone wrong in a quarter-century of clandestine activities. There can be no questioning the fact that Vietnam inherited some of the Korea leftovers; it inherited the Magsaysay team from the Philippines with its belief in another Robin-Hood-like Magsaysay in the person of Ngo Dinh Diem; it fell heir to the Indonesian shambles; it soaked up men and materials from the Tibetan campaign and from Laos in particular, and it inherited men and material, including a large number of specially modified aircraft, from the Bay of Pigs disaster. In its leadership it inherited men who had been in Greece in the late forties or during the Eisenhower era and who felt that they knew Communist insurgency when they saw it. The nation of South Vietnam had not existed as a nation before l954, rather it was another country's piece of real estate. South Vietnam has never really been a nation. It has become the quagmire of things gone wrong during the past twenty-five years.
In the August 7, 1971, issue of The New Republic, the Asian scholar Eugene G. Windchy says, "What steered the nation into Vietnam was a series of tiny but powerful cabals." What he calls a sense of tiny but powerful conspiracies, this book puts all together as the actions of the Secret Team. That most valuable book by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross calls this power source "The Invisible Government", and in the chapter on the various intelligence organizations in the United States they use the term "Secret Elite".
The CIA did not begin as a Secret Team, as a "series of tiny but powerful cabals", as the "invisible government", or as members of the "secret elite". But before long it became a bit of all of these. President Truman was exactly right when he said that the CIA had been diverted from its original assignment. This diversion and the things that have happened as a result of it will be the subject of the remainder of this book.
- This is a gross and crafty misnomer [Pentagon Papers], since all too few of those papers actually were bona fide military papers. They may have been written under Pentagon headings; they may have been signed by "military" officers or "military department civilians", but for the most part they were not actually military papers. They represent the papers of a small group of civilians, some of whom worked in the Pentagon, and their military [real and cover] counterparts.
- The Pentagon Papers' account and the subsequent NBC-TV presentation of the assassination of the Ngo brothers are both excellent representations of what happened during those grim days in Washington and Saigon. The only problem is that neither one is a complete and accurate account of what really took place, especially in Washington.
- McNamara used to make the distinction that the war against North Vietnam was "sophisticated". Whereas the war in the South was "unsophisticated". The feeling was that there was an element of design and control over the war in the North which was not possible in the South. Walt Rostow had his own term for this. He liked to say that the war in the North was a sort of game of tit-for-tat. His idea was that if they hit us, we'd hit back. This type of game is all the more "sophisticated" when we hit clandestinely; they strike back overtly and then we strike back, claming they hit first!
- See clarification on pages 115 and 401.
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