home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list
Left to Right: Secretary of State Dean Rusk with Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) Director Thomas L. Hughes, and Deputy Director Allan Evans (Photo courtesy Thomas L. Hughes)

INR'S Vietnam Study in Context

A Retrospective Preface Thirty-five Years Later

by Thomas L. Hughes, Director of INR 1963-69

Back to Introduction

1. Doves and hawks: the private/public phenomenon.

Since the completion of this study in 1969, dozens of books and memoirs on Vietnam have appeared. A striking pattern has emerged from their disclosures. To a far greater extent than was imagined in the 1960's, prominent officials in Washington engaged in a combined patriotic, political, and careerist suppression of their strong personal doubts about the war. Cumulatively, another tragic dimension has thus been added to the Vietnam tragedy itself-the unveiling of a dramatis personnae of split personalities, of leading actors who were hawks by day and doves by night-a plethora of public hawks who were private doves.

Inside the government at that time, this anomaly was associated with George Ball's celebrated, and, many thought, lonesome opposition to the war from his perch as Undersecretary of State and "devil's advocate." Since then, we have learned that similar opposition was repeatedly expressed, orally to the President and/or in memos written for his eyes only, from a much larger circle of Washington heavyweights. At the supporting levels inside the government, there apparently were many others in the war machine who also were quietly dubious but publicly silent.

In 1971 Chester Bowles, former Undersecretary of State and subsequently Ambassador to India, disclosed his astute Vietnam memos to, and farsighted conversations with, President Kennedy and Dean Rusk from 1961-3, continuing with President Johnson ("Promises to Keep", Chester Bowles, Harper and Row, 1971, p. 407-16, 486, 575-6).

In 1976 former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey's memoirs disclosed the text of his February 17, 1965 personal memo to President Johnson on Vietnam, which effectively ostracized Humphrey from any policy participation on the subject for the rest of his first year in office. ("The Education of a Public Man", Hubert H. Humphrey, Doubleday, 1976, p. 320-24).

In 1982 George Ball's memoirs ("The Past Has Another Pattern", George W. Ball, Norton, 1982, p. 406, 428-9) listed John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Goldberg, and Clark Clifford as sometime colleagues in opposition. Ball acknowledged the assistance of INR's East Asian office directors, Allen Whiting and Fred Greene, in drafting his memoranda to LBJ. He added that Bill Bundy at State, John McNaughton at Defense, and Chet Cooper in the White House privately agreed that the "war could not be
won."

In 1991 Clark Clifford's memoirs ("Counsel to the President" Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, Random House, 1991, p. 408-22) disclosed that in late July, 1965, he spent long hours at Camp David and the White House with both President Johnson and Secretary McNamara, trying to forestall their decision to send American troops to Vietnam. Clifford called White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers "my informant, who sympathized with Ball and me". He credited the State Department's Paul Kattenberg and Louis Sarris (INR) with opposing escalation.

In the insightful double biography of the Bundy brothers ("The Color of Truth", Kai Bird, Simon & Shuster, 1998) we learned that even the State Department's hawkish action officer on Vietnam, Assistant Secretary Bill Bundy, had well-hidden tendencies favoring withdrawal, featured in his secret dovish memorandum of November, 1964, which Rusk and McNamara in consternation suppressed. We also learned more about the hawkish Dean Acheson, Bill's father-in-law, and his complicity with George Ball in an April 1965 proposal for a coalition government in South Vietnam.

In his two books excerpting the Johnson tapes, ("Taking Charge: the Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-4" Simon & Schuster 1997, and "Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-5", Simon & Shuster, 2001, 363-70), Michael Beschloss unveiled a remarkably prescient convergence of view in 1964 between Johnson and Richard Russell on the prospective quagmire we would face in Vietnam in the event of US escalation.

Recently Richard Helms' posthumous memoir adds more to the secret dove saga ("A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life In The Central Intelligence Agency", Richard Helms with William Hood, Random House, 2003, p. 312-13). In it we learn that the CIA produced a 250-page top secret study in mid-1966 affirming that the Communist will to persist in

Vietnam continued unabated, something that INR had postulated for the previous two years. Helms reports that President Johnson thereupon addressed him as a dove: "You know I secretly agreed with you and Senator Aiken ("Declare victory and get out"), but I knew I could not go that route without being torn apart by the Kennedys." Helms also discloses that in mid-1968 he sent the President a single copy ("political dynamite") of a CIA analysis debunking the domino-theory, which no one else apparently ever saw. The domino theory had been a favorite of three Presidents in a row-Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Since there was an official National Intelligence Estimate to the same effect, NIE 50-68, published about that same time, Helms' supersecret precautions seem excessive, but the story partially puts him in the dovecote as well.

In 2002 Daniel Ellsberg published his "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers", Viking, 2002. In it he discusses his own role as a private dove working for another private dove, John McNaughton, cooperating with yet another private dove, Adam Yarmolinsky, McNamara's own assistant. All of them, of course, were public hawks.

In his biography of "Senator Mansfield", Smithsonian Books, 2003, Don Oberdorfer recapitulates the twenty memoranda that the Senate Majority Leader privately gave to President Johnson opposing deeper US military intervention in Vietnam. But Mansfield likewise loyally endorsed Johnson's wartime policies in public.

There is a two-fold problem with all the private memo writing from the private doves. First their public hawkishness misleadingly conveyed the image of a unified administration, instead of one marked by widespread skepticism and doubt. Second, since their private convictions remained largely unshared with other like-minded memo writers (with some exceptions), and their communications with the president remained confidential, they were to a great extent unaware of the strength and persistence of one another's opposition to the war.

Thus many Democratic luminaries in the President's own party kept giving him private memoranda and/or conversational advice opposing the escalation of the war in a timely manner in advance of his most critical decisions. However the consequences were haphazard for the advisers. President Johnson arbitrarily punished some for their temerity, like Humphrey and Fulbright. But he shared his anguish with his mentor, Senator Russell, agreeing with him privately that there was no American national interest in Vietnam and that it was a no-win situation. LBJ encouraged still others like Ball and Mansfield to persist in their oppositionist memo writing, while confident of their continued support in the outside world. It is now also well established that this public hawk/private dove anomaly was widespread at working levels in the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and CIA.

2. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research excepted.

Whatever we may think of this public hawk/private dove phenomenon, there was at the time at least one major exception to it among claimants on the policymakers' attention. That exception was the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. INR's products were signed, dated, published, and widely distributed in official circles at home and abroad. They were readily available to any government official cleared to read them. Those responsible for writing and issuing them were not anonymous, but identifiable and accountable.

As this study of its research memoranda shows, INR's analysis on Vietnam stood out as tenaciously pessimistic from 1963 on, whether the question was the viability of the successive Saigon regimes, the Pentagon's statistical underestimation of enemy strength, the ultimate ineffectiveness of bombing the North, the persistence of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, or the danger of Chinese intervention. Indeed INR consistently saw no realistic escape from a policy trapped inside an iron triangle; (1) the chronic instability in the South, (2) Chinese intervention if US provocation overstepped a threshold in the North, and (3) the North's determination to persevere despite escalating punishment from the air. While INR respected the proprieties separating intelligence from policy and therefore stopped short of explicit policy advice, the policy implications of INR's analysis were obvious.

How was INR able to maintain such a coherent, disagreeable, and independent stance throughout the Kennedy-Johnson years in wartime Washington? First of all, in producing and publishing its analysis, INR had certain comparative advantages inside the Intelligence Community. Throughout this period, fortuitously, there were no major differences of opinion on Vietnam between INR analysts and the bureau's leadership. Thus in INR there was no need for the uncomfortable straddling that often confronted the Directors of Central Intelligence, for example, as they tried to paper over the opposing tendencies between analysts and operators on Vietnam within CIA, or as they compromised CIA's ultimate analytical judgments with those of the Pentagon.

INR's small size was also probably a positive factor. In the 1960's the Bureau totaled some 350 people with no more than a dozen professionals working on Vietnam at its peak. In a sense, therefore, we were the least anonymous members of the intelligence community. INR's small size also meant that our written products were more credibly associated personally with the bureau director who signed them than was true of the more diluted national documents issued by the Director of Central Intelligence.

The fact that the INR director personally briefed top State Department officials the morning after an INR research memorandum appeared on their desks also helped focus responsibility. INR analysts were readily available, as well, for intensive follow-up meetings when requested. All this minimized the chances for the public hawk/private dove dichotomy to sprout in INR.

Of course, INR's small size also argued against our comparative bureaucratic weight. We were small enough to be tolerated by the civilian hawks and also small enough to be ignored by the Pentagon brass. We were, however, identifiable enough to be targeted in October 1963 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and McNamara, who recommended our reprimanding, if not firing, for quarreling with MACV statistics.

Over the years, several INR products that have come to their attention have been praised by government officials, ranging from the compilers of the Pentagon Papers to William Gibbons, author of the massive Congressional Research Service series on the US Government and the Vietnam War. Academicians have made use of numerous INR products (e.g. see the dozens of citations in "Choosing War" by Fredrik Logevall, University of California Press, 1999). But to the best of my knowledge, no one outside the government, and almost no one inside, has had access to this overview of INR's Vietnam work.

A skeletal outline of INR personnel who worked on Vietnam during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations from 1961-69 would include the following:

Directors of Intelligence and Research (INR)

Roger Hilsman, January 1961-March 1963
Thomas L. Hughes, March 1963-August 1969

Deputy Directors (INR)

Thomas L. Hughes, April 1961-March 1963
George C. Denney, July 1963- 1969
Allan Evans, January 1961-retirement
Murat Williams, 1964-66
William Trueheart 1966-69

Office Directors for East Asia (RFE/REA)

Allen Whiting, 1962-66
Fred Greene, 1966-68
John Holdridge, 1968-69

Deputy Office Directors for East Asia (RFE/REA)

Bradford Coolidge, 1962-3
Richard Ewing, 1963-65
James Leonard 1965-66
John Holdridge 1966-68
Evelyn Colbert 1968-69 (chief SEA Division 1962-68)

Southeast Asia analysts (North and South Vietnam) for varying lengths of time in the 1960's included among others Louis Sarris, Dorothy Avery, William R. Smyser, Paul Kreisberg, Joan Thielbar, George Furness, Richard Teare, Steven Lyne, Hunt Janin, Barbara Rieman, and David Engel. INR analysts included both civil servants and foreign service officers, a combination which was not only intellectually beneficial to INR but which arguably also gave it certain unique advantages bureaucratically.

3. The origin and purpose of the 1969 study.

As Director of INR, I commissioned this study in late 1968. It was intended to be an in-house classified review and evaluation of INR's major published research and analysis on Vietnam over the eight years of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The study was completed in the spring of 1969, but until 2003 it remained classified, uncirculated, and unread, at least outside the government.

To avoid any appearance of self-interest, I made a point from the outset of not supervising or editing the manuscript myself. It appears now as originally written, minus the censors' redactions. Full responsibility for the authorship was placed on two INR alumni who were no longer serving in the bureau, Dorothy Avery and William Dean Howells. They were recalled as consultants for this project. As they explain in their own 1969 introduction (below), they wrote the first three sections-the chronological, textual, and thematic parts- of the study. Professor Fred Greene of Williams College, the then recently retired INR office director for East Asia, wrote section four, the critique. Researchers and analysts who were still working on Vietnam in INR were kept at arm's length.

Since leaving the government in 1971, I have not been able until now to review the INR study. Therefore, in addition to comments about the study itself, I will venture beyond them here, exploiting a pertinent opportunity that may not recur. I ask the reader's forgiveness for what may seem excessive self-indulgence in some of the anecdotal material that follows as I proceed to write more personally and expansively about INR's extended role in the '60's,

This INR project was first disclosed by Time Magazine two months after the Pentagon Papers appeared. Its issue of August 9, 1971, carried the following story on page 16:

"State's Secrets. The Pentagon, it seems, was not the only Government department to make a top-secret retrospective study of the nation's decisions in Vietnam. In 1968 Tom Hughes, then director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, ordered another report, far less voluminous and ambitious but with considerable potential impact.

"Composed by two State Department Asia analysts, the study compared the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations' key Vietnam decisions with the bureau's own major judgments during the same period. In almost every case, the intelligence reports called the shots perfectly about such matters as the ineffectiveness of the bombing campaign, Vietnamese political upheavals and North Vietnamese troop buildups. Daniel Ellsberg is said to have read the study as a consultant for Henry Kissinger in 1969 and reacted: 'My God, this is astonishing. I thought the CIA stuff was great, but these papers are even more accurate.'

"After publication of the Pentagon papers, the two known copies of the State study have been locked away. Ray Cline, the intelligence bureau's current director, has forbidden subordinates to admit their existence."

Despite requests for its declassification by the National Security Archive in Washington and the Johnson Presidential library in Texas, the study remained classified for thirty five years. Relying on memory but with the benefit of the Pentagon Papers, I occasionally referred to its general conclusions in essays, articles, or book reviews. Examples include my chapter "The Power to Speak and the Power to Listen" in "Secrecy and Foreign Policy", ed. Thomas M. Frank and Edward Weisband, Oxford, 1974; my remarks in "A Vietnam Roundtable", LBJ School of Public Affairs, U. of Texas, 1993; and my article "Experiencing McNamara" in Foreign Policy Magazine, fall 1995. But only the persistence of Professor Ed Moise of Clemson University succeeded in freeing up this 500 page study itself. The deletions from its original text are now being appealed by the National Security Archive.

The study was designed to summarize and appraise INR's most finished and thoughtful production- chiefly its formal "Research Memoranda" which were issued by the bureau independently and on its own authority. From 1961-69 these memoranda, each several pages in length, were customarily signed by the INR Director personally, in the first two years by Roger Hilsman and in the next six years by me. While research memoranda from INR have sometimes surfaced in recipients' archives, I believe that this study remains the only attempt to survey systematically those INR Vietnam assessments that were issued on the bureau's own authority.

Nor has there been any previous account highlighting INR's role in producing National Intelligence Estimates (NIE's) or Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIE's), a role often obscured by the final compromised language. NIE's and SNIE's were genuinely joint products of the whole Intelligence Community, not just the CIA as is sometimes implied by CIA commentators. INR often succeeded in rewriting or measurably affecting drafts written by CIA. At other times INR dissented, particularly in NIE'S and SNIE's on Vietnam, taking formal footnotes, again always with full accountability, dated and signed.

4. Personal reactions to inclusions and deletions.

a. In a single but important instance, I think the language of the study is misleading. Its awkward treatment of INR's role in the Gulf of Tonkin crisis of August, 1964, needs clarification and elaboration. (See the study's sections A-IV 2-3, 9, 34-8; B-IV 30-1; C-12; D-III 9-10; E-II 1-2).

The only two 1964 INR memoranda summarized in the study were dated August 4 and 6, and therefore written in the midst of the crisis. In actuality, both memos were overcome by events, inside and outside INR. Moreover neither fully reflected what was known and said at the time at the upper levels of the bureau or the government about the relationship of covert operations to the August 2 attack, or about the doubts surrounding the August 4 "incident" that arose immediately afterwards.

The INR memos referred to "Hanoi's provocative behavior" (A-IV 9, 34). They also assumed that the second reported attack of August 4 was genuine, and even that both attacks were "deliberate". Generally speaking, both memos reflected the initial conventional wisdom of August 2-4, shared across Washington-the assumptions that prompted LBJ to seek the Tonkin Gulf resolution on Capitol Hill. At least by August 6, however, there was widespread uncertainty that the second attack ever occurred, and these doubts were promptly conveyed orally to the policy makers, up to and including the President, by CIA, INR, and the White House Situation Room.

A more serious problem is the reference to a November 14, 1967, INR review that reconfirmed the conclusions (1) that the second (August 4) Tonkin incident actually occurred and (2) that it had been a deliberate North Vietnamese attack (A-IV 35; E-Annex II 1-2). This was an internal INR review "for the director" of the accumulated Tonkin evidence. It originated in INR's East Asian office whose leadership, incidentally, had changed since the 1964 events, and this may have affected the language used. A sizeable chunk of the commentary was redacted (see E-II 1-2). In any case these 1967 conclusions were controversial inside INR, disputed both by some analysts and by me. Unless the contrary can be demonstrated, I doubt that this "review" was ever distributed as an official INR document.

b. The censor's deletions from the study's Tonkin coverage are even more troubling than the evaluators' inclusions. The redactions are particularly problematical. By extensively excising (A-IV 2, 34, 37; B-IV 30; E-2 1) references to the covert 34A operations and the DeSoto patrols which preceded the August "attacks", the censors leave a seriously distorted picture of what was actually known and briefed to policy makers from the outset of the crisis.

The connection between the covert US-sponsored South Vietnamese attacks on the North Vietnamese coast and the latter's attacks on the US destroyer Maddox on August 2 was noted by INR immediately. Those of us who first briefed President Johnson at the White House early that Sunday morning discussed it, and the President made the connection in his own mind. The big deletions listed above would lead the reader of the study in its present shape to be unaware that the issue of who had provoked whom had been presented to the policy-makers from the outset.

c. Other deletions subtract some of INR's finest hours. As early as October 1963, INR had aroused the wrath of the Joint Chiefs for second guessing MACV's statistics of enemy strength. One of INR's chief analysts, Lou Sarris, continued to play a major role on this issue for the next five years. This story has been written up many times, but the censor has rather transparently deleted several references to it (A-II 14; A-IV 22; A-VI 14-18).

INR's role in the controversial policy-dictated NIE 53/63 on Vietnam, released after months of revision in April, 1963, is also deleted (A-II 14-15) as the context makes clear. Here the broadly based pessimism of INR analysts was toned down both by McCone's insistence on policy guidance and by the coincidence that Hilsman during March, 1963, was already transitioning from INR to a formal policy role. The policy makers' "guidance" was a cause celebre in the Intelligence Community. Apparently unknown to the censors, this episode has also been extensively ventilated elsewhere ("CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers", Harold P. Ford, CIA, 1998, p. 12-15).

Repeated references to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) are removed throughout the study, as are any mentions of coup-plots. Contingency plans for striking North Vietnam were considered as early as the Kennedy Administration. The time frame suggests that the deletion on A-II 18 must relate to one of these, with INR as early as 1962 taking the pessimistic position that the North would respond robustly.

The huge deletions in A-IV 40-2, 45, obviously have to do with the Bundy-McNaughton contingency war planning in the fall of 1964 which has also been extensively written up elsewhere. Again there were dissents from INR of a pessimistic kind on several escalatory options. INR was well ahead of CIA in the accuracy of its predictions, and we were retrospectively proud of our prescience. The study must have highlighted it, and unfortunately the excisions distort INR's record by omission.

In April 1965 the troops issue was addressed in advance of Johnson's decision in July. INR submissions took the position that US troops would not solve South Vietnam's instability problem. Indeed anti-US sentiment, we argued, would eventually grow with a greater US troop presence and would ultimately threaten the US position there. The deletions in A-V 8-9, 17 seem to apply to this exercise.

The excisions listed above are the most egregious results of the censor's work, and it is to be hoped that these redactions will be countermanded on appeal.

5. INR's Wider Roles in the State Department.

INR's larger daily role inside the State Department was beyond the scope of this study, but that role also deserves attention. Thus the study does not cover the bureau's more ephemeral production such as Intelligence Notes or perishable written briefing items, produced for quick circulation or as a basis for oral briefings of high officials. Over my eight years in INR, I personally briefed Secretary Dean Rusk privately, one on one, usually four mornings a week. I often briefed his successive (and dovish) Under Secretaries Chester Bowles, George Ball, and Nicholas Katzenbach, and I frequently met with his Deputy Under Secretaries U. Alexis Johnson, Llewellyn Thompson, and Foy Kohler, as well as with Ambassador Averell Harriman.

It should be borne in mind, of course, that, far from concentrating exclusively on Vietnam, INR was responsible on a daily basis for worldwide intelligence reporting and analysis. Our normal coverage in the '60's was interspersed with crisis coverage on Cuba, Berlin, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Indonesia, not to mention Chinese and Israeli nuclear weapons, the Sino-Indian war, Indian-Pakistani conflicts, the six day war in the Middle East, or the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Naturally some interested recipients liked our analysis one day on one subject, and disliked it another day on another subject.

Thus George Ball, who used us extensively for support on Vietnam, found our analysis uncongenial on his ill-fated European Multilateral Force proposal.

Nor does the study try to cover INR reports that did not originate in REA. For example, INR papers were also produced on significant French and Soviet attitudes toward Vietnam contingencies and prospects for negotiations. Some of these have occasionally been referred to in the published literature. The following two examples of INR commentaries were produced outside REA:

Hughes to Meloy, "Study on Trends of French Foreign Policy", Jan. 8, 1963, Robert Schaetzel files, National Archives, College Park, cited by Wilfried Mausbach in "European Perspectives on the War in Vietnam", German Historical Institute Bulletin no. 30, spring 2002. This memorandum was produced by REU, INR's office for Western European research.

See also Hughes to Secretary Rusk; "Kosygin's Suggestion of an American Counter Proposal to the Four Points" July 28, 1965, W. Averell Harriman Papers, Library of Congress, discussed in "The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War", Ilya V. Gaiduk, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1996. This memorandum was produced by RSB, INR's office for Soviet Bloc research.

Nor does the INR Vietnam study cover chance encounters between INR and foreign policy makers like Jerzy Michalowski, Director General of the Polish Foreign Ministry (later ambassador to the US), a Southeast Asian expert who was deeply involved in Project Marigold. He and Hughes fortuitously met when both were panelists at Carleton College, Minnesota, in February 1967 (see James G. Hershberg, "Who Murdered Marigold?", Working Paper No. 27, Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson Center, 2002.)

As INR director, I regularly presented an oral fifteen minute worldwide briefing at the Secretary's Wednesday morning staff meetings, whose participants usually included all the top State Department officials at the assistant secretary level and above, as well as the heads of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the United States Information Agency (USIA), and the Agency for International Development (AID).

I was also responsible for occasional personal briefings of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and of Vice President Humphrey, briefings which were often Vietnam related. Other INR officers, particularly Allen Whiting and Fred Greene, successively our office directors for East Asia, regularly briefed the regional Assistant Secretaries for that area, first Roger Hilsman and then Bill Bundy, as well as their superiors at the Under Secretary level.

Also beyond the bounds of this study but relevant to Vietnam were speeches given and articles written by me and by others in INR during the 1960's. For example in my case see three articles in Foreign Affairs magazine in January 1967, July 1967, and July 1969; "The Odyssey of Counter-Insurgency: A Political-Military Affair", National War College speech, August 11, 1967; and my July 1969 INR farewell lectures "The Fate of Facts in a World of Men", reprinted by the Foreign Policy Association in 1976.

Many of these were given wide distribution, and a full account of INR's role on Vietnam in the 1960's would take note of them as well.

From time to time, INR was proposed for a special mission. For example, in mid-July, 1963, while en route to India, Ambasador Bowles stopped in Saigon for several days. He reported to Washington that he was deeply disturbed by his visit: "In a private cable to the White House I described the rapidly deteriorating situation and expressed my particular concern about Diem. 'President Diem is living in a world of his own and seems to be completely out of touch with the real situation. Any attractive South Vietnamese brigadier general with a little courage and organization could, I believe, take this place over in twenty-four hours.' I recommended that President Kennedy send an individual in whom he had personal confidence unobtrusively but immediately to Vietnam to make an independent analysis. I specifically recommended Thomas Hughes, Director of INR. Although my emergency cable was the occasion for a series of high-level meetings, nothing came of it." (ibid. Bowles, p. 416).

INR was in fact the site for important meetings on Vietnam such as the one I convened at White House request at the end of August, 1963, to review what was known by experts inside and outside the government about contingent post-Diem leadership possibilities in Saigon. In addition to internal INR experts, the group included Gilbert Jonas of the American Friends of Vietnam and Wesley Fishel of Michigan State University, an erstwhile friend of Ngo Dinh Diem and one of academia's few experienced Vietnam hands.

The negotiating track initiative of April, 1965, also convened under INR auspices in my office. It involved Dean Acheson and Lloyd Cutler, and met at George Ball's instigation with President Johnson's encouragement, to seek alternatives in advance of the fateful troop decision later that summer. INR was also the designated recipient or discussion point for many outside recommendations from researchers or unofficial establishment groups-like the Carnegie Endowment's Bermuda conference group that recommended disengagement from Vietnam in 1967.

Nor does this study attempt to address the issue of audience receptivity to INR's written product. Papers and briefings in Washington often led to requests for follow-up research and analysis. All of the papers excerpted or summarized in this study were widely circulated-to the White House, Defense, CIA, the full membership of the United States Intelligence Board (USIB), and to embassies abroad, as well as within the State Department itself. We had frequent written reactions from ambassadors overseas.

6. INR's bureaucratic networking in the '60's.

To put further flesh and blood on our overall role, INR should be placed in the bureaucratic context of the '60's. In addition, some points should be made about our extracurricular connections with policy-making and politics.

INR's 350 person bureau naturally had built-in, entirely normal, day-to-day relationships with other foreign policy analysts in Washington, both inside and outside the government. The director, his deputies, the regional office directors, and dozens of substantive analysts had give-and-take relationships with counterparts across town. We had excellent working relationships with State's highly competent executive secretaries-Lucius Battle and his successor, Benjamin Read-who guided the bureaucratic paper-flow to high level policy makers.

As INR's Director from March 1963 to August 1969, I had almost daily contact with people working on Vietnam. In addition to meetings with superiors or peers in the State Department, I represented State in the Intelligence Community at weekly meetings of the United States Intelligence Board. During the 1960's it was presided over in sequence by Allen Dulles, John McCone, Admiral "Red" Raborn, and Richard Helms. I also met frequently with each of them personally and informally. The same was true when it came to relationships with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the separate intelligence services of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. INR had close relationships and friendly rivalries with CIA's current intelligence analysts as well as the staff of the Board of National Estimates.

In my own case, old personal contacts happened to augment new bureaucratic ones. Having served on Capitol Hill as a both a legislative counsel and administrative assistant for five years before the Kennedy Administration took office, I had many pre-existing relationships with the staffs of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees. I continued to see the staff directors of both throughout the '60's.

For nine years, until it was disbanded in 1964, I was also a member of the Air Force's 9999th reserve squadron on Capitol Hill. It was composed, on a bi-partisan basis, of Senate staffers who were Air Force Reserve officers. Our "commander" was none other than General/Senator Barry Goldwater himself. Meetings of that group gave me useful contemporary glimpses of how Air Force intelligence was briefing or misbriefing the Congress.

At the White House I continued my prior Senate connections with the Kennedy staff-Ted Sorenson, Ralph Dungan, Mike Feldman, and Fred Holborn. New relationships developed with Arthur Schlesinger, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, and Mike Forrestal. Later, in the Johnson White House, I retained easy access to the last three. Additionally at the White House I had good ties to Bill Moyers, Chet Cooper, Harry McPherson, and Jim Thomson, the latter two also being old colleagues of mine from Capitol Hill.

At the Pentagon, whenever necessary, I could reach into McNamara's circle via Cyrus Vance, Paul Nitze, John McNaughton, Adam Yarmolinsky, or Townsend Hoopes. When Clark Clifford became Secretary of Defense, I renewed a personal friendship and working relationship that had started years earlier in frequent private meetings from 1963-67 when he was chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

Often these networks provided glimpses into how INR's product was being used. For example, at a White House lunch on Saturday, August 24, 1963, the President's Vietnam aide, Mike Forrestal, went out of his way to praise INR for having produced the first analysis in town of Ngo Dinh Nhu's assault earlier that week on the Buddhist pagodas in Saigon. He noted that President Kennedy had read it word for word the previous evening and taken it with him to Hyannisport. This was the Saturday of the famous Forrestal-Hilsman-Harriman pro-coup telegram to Lodge in Saigon.

7. Testing the Limits of Policy-Oriented Research.

When I joined INR as Deputy Director to Roger Hilsman in in April, 1961, we were both determined to set the Bureau on a course dedicated to policy-relevant research. The Bay of Pigs fiasco had hit hard, and henceforth President Kennedy wanted the in depth analysis that had been missing at the time of that disaster. We were to be tested repeatedly on how close to policy intelligence could get without our becoming overt policy advisers.

Naturally our extracurricular roles are also omitted in this study. To round out the INR story, several things should probably be said about our connections with policy-making and even with politics, both partisan and personal.

Theoretically-one might say, theologically- the intelligence community was supposed to be sealed off from policy-making. Presumably policy makers did not intrude on the independence of intelligence analysts, and the latter did not grind policy axes or participate in policy debates. On the whole, these somewhat artificial fences were maintained in the 1960's, but there were several conspicuous exceptions.

The biggest exception was the so-called policy role of the Director of Central Intelligence. Early on, Allen Dulles had had irrepressible policy inclinations which, in combination with the covert instincts of his brother, the Secretary of State, had achieved for Allen a well known backstairs policy role in the Eisenhower Administration. His successor, John McCone, insisted on, and wore, his "policy hat" with great self-assurance under Kennedy. He gave policy advice to Kennedy and Johnson, played a regular role as intermediary between Kennedy and ex-President Eisenhower, and enjoyed "official" visits to foreign capitals to discuss policy matters with foreign heads of state. Moreover he did not hesitate to inflict policy advice on his intelligence estimators, nor to advocate his own personal estimates even when they disagreed with his CIA analysts. The confusion of roles that resulted was a disservice to both intelligence and policy-making.

On a lesser scale, a somewhat similar situation obtained in INR in the first two years of the Kennedy Administration when Roger Hilsman was director. A personal friend and adviser to Kennedy on Vietnam, Hilsman was sent on Presidential missions to Saigon while INR director. Roger was a policy champion of the strategic hamlet program and of counter-insurgency in general, and he was a regular and active participant in White House policy meetings on Vietnam. In this dual role, he was simultaneously both intelligence interpreter and policy advocate. Of course INR benefited from this high profile activity, but it violated the essential tenets that separated intelligence from policy. In March, 1963, when Kennedy appointed him Assistant Secretary for East Asia, this anomaly at least was overcome.

In my own case there were several occasions during the 1960's when I too was offered a choice of moving out of intelligence into a policy position at State, the Pentagon, or the White House. With one exception, I declined these overtures, preferring to remain in INR.

The exception occurred on December 29, 1964 at the LBJ ranch where personnel changes were discussed for the newly elected administration. According to Bill Moyers, who was present, Rusk proposed me as successor to his own favorite State Department colleague, Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson. This position was the critical choke point for policy consideration between the Assistant Secretary level and higher authority. The post had once been held by Rusk himself under Marshall. According to Moyers, both the President and McGeorge Bundy approved my appointment. Then, inexplicably, the enigmatic Secretary withdrew his proposal. Saying that I was too valuable to him in INR, he took my name off the list.

Had this proposal actually materialized, I would have accepted the appointment. State's policy lineup on Vietnam would then have been measurably different, right at the beginning of 1965, the fateful year of escalation. In the fall of 1964 Rusk himself had shown signs of opposing US troops for Vietnam, and he was at least wavering on the issue. Below him now there would have been a hierarchy of doves-with George Ball and myself, (Averell Harriman by then in the wings but still active), situated just above Assistant Secretary Bill Bundy, the de facto Vietnam desk officer, and with Allen Whiting still directing East Asian research in INR. Assuming that Bundy's dovish inclinations could be reactivated, this enhanced skeptical lineup for four echelons below Rusk might well have carried serious policy weight at an historic moment. Instead it is one of history's might-have-beens.

Of course nothing but a policy-maker's self-restraint ever prevents him from asking policy advice from members of the intelligence community. Over the years there were occasions when policy-makers found such conversations irresistible. Presidents in particular were tempted to leap over the jurisdictional boundaries of the bureaucracy. They and their chief advisers tended to listen to the briefers who provided information that they liked and to bypass the messengers who brought bad news. Walt Rostow's collaboration with George Carver, the CIA's courtier at the White House in the late '60's, was a classic case in point.

By contrast, INR was a great beneficiary of Secretary Rusk's procedural, rather legalistic, view of the proprieties. Uncommunicative downward when it came to his own views, he was unfailingly supportive of INR's right to independent judgment. This permissive posture was all the more remarkable considering Rusk's determination to "avoid another Munich" and the consequent discomfort that INR's pessimistic analysis must have caused him, whenever he applied this questionable analogy to Vietnam.

When McNamara and the Joint Chiefs attempted to bridle INR's second-guessing of MACV's statistics on Viet Cong strength in the fall of 1963, for example, Rusk assured McNamara that INR would always consult the Pentagon on such matters, as indeed we did. Beyond that, the Secretary assumed a Voltaire-like posture, telling me that, however disagreeable our analysis, he would always defend our right to independent judgment. Unlike many others, INR was never told to "get on the team". With the same magnanimity, of course, Rusk encouraged his chief deputy, George Ball, to write and speak up against the whole Vietnam enterprise. Rusk also knew that Ball had enlisted the help of INR officers and analysts, and regularly used our supporting evidence to bolster his Vietnam memos and White House presentations.

One can only speculate about Rusk's tolerance, even appreciation, for INR's Vietnam analysis. My own hunch is that he assimilated our disagreeable information, disregarded its big picture implications, and converted it instead into alternating attention to north-south scenarios. Analysis that should have raised major doubts about the entire American intervention was successively reduced to tactics, the emphasis oscillating between north and south, always avoiding fundamentals.

Of course intelligence officers and analysts were not naive about their ultimate target audiences. A major example of audience awareness was INR's knowledge that potential Chinese intervention was an overwhelming worry for many, beginning with Johnson and Rusk. In his now released White House tapes, LBJ himself repeatedly voices his preoccupation with avoiding Chinese involvement. This mirrored Rusk's own fixation on Chinese intervention, based on his bitter experience with it as Assistant Secretary during the Korean War.

The fact that INR's office director on East Asia from 1962-66 was Allen Whiting, author of "China Crosses the Yalu", guaranteed Rusk's attention to INR's China analysis. As his daily briefing officer, I can testify to his preoccupation with, and constant queries about, any and all evidence of interventionist Chinese activity. In his book, "As I Saw It" (Penguin, 1990, p. 456-7)) Rusk proudly claims credit for avoiding Chinese involvement by his policy of incremental escalation and by the deliberate avoidance of provocations that might have risked it.

This Johnson-Rusk determination to avoid provoking China contrasted, of course, with the frequently expressed willingness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to engage China and use nuclear weapons. Even inside the CIA there were others, like Ray Cline, who favored the use of Chinese Nationalist aircraft and even Chinat troops in Vietnam, and who did not hesitate to use their intelligence positions to advocate-and to induce John McCone to advocate-provocative policies toward the Chinese mainland.

8. INR and Presidential Politics-Personal and Partisan.

In the 1960's important journalists in Washington thought nothing about using the President's name for their own purposes. Joe Alsop, for instance, was notorious for calling to say that "President Kennedy suggested that you and I ought to have lunch to discuss Vietnam." And you were left to your own devices to decide whether this was a spurious Alsopian trick or a genuine Presidential request. Either explanation was plausible, and there were potential penalties, whatever your response.

White House staffers, oblivious to the jurisdictional fences around intelligence, would sometimes call (always "on behalf of the President") on domestic political errands. I remember a phone call from an LBJ staffer in 1966 demanding research on Senator William Fulbright and his "leftist, defeatist attitudes". The staffer grew irate when I told him that we were really not into domestic research. I managed to get George Ball somehow to stifle the request.

White House demands were harder to countermand when the request came from the President himself. I remember Mac Bundy phoning me one afternoon to relay a verbatim message from Johnson: "Get that fellow Hughes out of bed at the State Department and have him stay up all night- him and his people-and get me the voting record of all the Republicans on the SEATO Treaty. I want it over here at 7:00 tomorrow morning for General Goodpasture. (LBJ had a habit of deliberately mispronouncing names, in this case General Andrew Goodpaster). General Goodpasture is going to take it up to Gettysburg to remind President Eisenhower of how we got into this mess." (Vietnam). Politics or no politics, tangling with LBJ was a no-brainer, and in this case we came up with the voting records.

Finally, an intelligence briefing sometimes merged into a quasi-political assignment. An example with serious consequences was my trip to brief Vice President Humphrey in Georgia on a critical mid-February weekend in 1965, just as the President was about to authorize his Rolling Thunder bombing of North Vietnam. Humphrey had already criticized the prospective bombing at an NSC meeting, and Rusk had suggested that I brief him with the latest INR and national intelligence estimates on Vietnam. After reviewing them for an entire afternoon and evening, the newly elected Vice President concluded that it was his last clear chance to forestall the Vietnam escalation. He decided to write a private memo to the President, not on the substance of the Vietnam problem, but on the "politics of Vietnam", the aspect of the problem where he thought he would have the greatest influence.

A few years earlier I had been Humphrey's legislative counsel in the Senate, and we were old friends. That Sunday in Georgia he asked me to forget for a few hours that I was Director of INR and to resume my former role as his colleague. We went over what he wanted to say, and he suggested that I put his thoughts down in draft. This I did. He made a few amendments on our plane trip back to Washington, and then submitted the memo to Johnson. The rest of the story is well known. Johnson was furious, and in effect exiled his Vice President from Vietnam involvement for the rest of the year.

Ironically Humphrey's four years as Vice President ended as they began, victimized by Vietnam. Once again a political decision involving Vietnam-related intelligence was fraught with the greatest political consequences. I refer, of course, to the Anna Chennault affair in the final days of the 1968 Presidential election. Henry Kissinger seems to have been working as a kind of self-propelled double agent in both the Humphrey and Nixon campaigns. Kissinger went to Paris and used his entree to the Harriman-Vance team to learn about the probable breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks. He then tipped off John Mitchell, Nixon's campaign manager, who told Anna Chennault that it was time to advise the South Vietnamese leaders to boycott the talks and wait for a better deal from a Nixon administration.

The fact of the Chennault caper with Saigon was intercepted electronically and disclosed to the candidates. Humphrey was tormented over whether to protect the intelligence or expose the perfidy and possibly win a close election. Against the advice of his staff, Humphrey decided to protect the intelligence and not to publicize the perfidy.

The Humphrey story, like the Vietnam saga at large, is shot through with many ironies. In retrospect, as the INR study shows, those of us who worked there on Vietnam in the 1960's have the ironic satisfaction of knowing that most of our forecasts have been vindicated by history. We can only lament that, while we were heeded, we were unable to persuade, sway, or prevail when it came to the ultimate decisions.

home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2004 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.