home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list
The United States Intelligence Board, 28 April 1965 (Photo courtesy Thomas L. Hughes) - Click here for larger version and list of USIB members

The Mouse That Roared

State Department Intelligence in the Vietnam War

by John Prados, National Security Archive Fellow

Back to Introduction

One of the untold stories of the Vietnam era, a tale that lies at the very heart of the nexus of Washington's war decisions and its appreciations of that conflict, is how America's own diplomatic intelligence service contributed to United States understanding of affairs in Vietnam and their likely consequences. This is a story of steady efforts to piece together a wide range of unknowns into a coherent vision of how things appeared to Hanoi and its allies and what those parties would do about Vietnam themselves. It is an account of sometimes breathtaking, sometimes frustrating efforts to speak truth to power in a situation of primary importance to the United States, its leaders, and its people.

Decisions on U.S. intervention in South Vietnam, on bombing campaigns against North Vietnam, on policies with respect to adjoining nations such as Laos and Cambodia, on troop levels and strategies, all hinged on appreciations of consequences as well as likely responses from the nations ranged alongside America's adversaries in the war. Most key events of the conflict have an intelligence subtext to them, and these aspects are among the least-known of that tragic history.

During the Vietnam War intelligence remained a constant headache. Through much of the conflict there were uncertainties regarding progress in the war, the degree of support for the side the U.S. had elected to help, the reliability of reporting from American commanders as well as civilian officials in the field, the aid which adversaries were receiving from their allies, and the intentions as well as capabilities of the nations assisting American opponents. Sorting through the formerly classified records of the Vietnam War furnishes glimpses of the intelligence story, but even today that record is barely beginning to come into focus.

Intelligence is the arm of government that has the task of informing policymakers. In the United States, when asked about intelligence people usually think of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the independent agency that works in this field. Those more knowledgeable of activities in this area might name also the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) or the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) or their component units. In fact there is an entire constellation of entities, including staffs within many government agencies, that together comprise what is termed the intelligence community. Most of the intelligence history of Vietnam that has been told concerns those high visibility agencies such as the CIA. That is important history but it is far from the whole story.

A small but nonetheless quite important member of the community is the intelligence arm of the Department of State. These cousins of the big agencies participated in all the debates and controversies that beset the community as a whole and made their own contributions besides. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), as the cousins were known, amounted to a small-scale version of the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence. Their story furnishes a window into the intelligence history of Vietnam never before opened, and also provides new insights into U.S. policy in Southeast Asia during the period of the war.

In 1971 there was a leak of a massive Department of Defense study of the origins and conduct of the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers. This study surveyed the inner workings and content of U.S. strategy and decisionmaking for Vietnam. Commissioned in 1967 by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, the Pentagon Papers opened many eyes when they first appeared, for they constituted an authoritative account of U.S. actions in Vietnam which relied upon and even reprinted many of the documents used in compiling the study. It turns out there was an equivalent study done within the State Department of the role of INR in the war. In the 1990s Dr. Edwin Moise of Clemson University and the National Security Archive separately learned of this State Department study and requested its declassification under the Freedom of Information Act. An initial version, with a certain number of deletions by government censors, became available in 2003. That document forms the content of the present work. This paper introduces that material.

The State Department study was commissioned in 1968 by Thomas L. Hughes, then director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Titled "A Review of Judgments in INR Reports," the study was completed early in 1969 and has remained unknown until this day. It consists of a substantial paper that summarizes State Department views on various intelligence subjects through the 1960s, an annex that presents excerpts or the entire contents of documents that are referred to in the paper, a set of thematic summaries on certain subjects of special interest, a critique of the INR analysis, and a set of special annexes as authorized by the director of INR. Written by W. Dean Howells and Dorothy R. Avery, both of whom had worked for INR on Southeast Asia, the main paper and thematic summaries present a comprehensive overview of State Department's positions on the key intelligence questions of the era. Fred Greene, who headed INR's office for Far East research from 1966 to 1968, contributed the interpretative critique. The study essentially covers the period of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

In a way typical of internal analyses, the INR Study (as we shall call it here) focuses on the exact substance of various reports by the State Department intelligence bureau. It is devoid of context, whether of larger aspects of the intelligence debates with which it deals, or of the nature of work at INR, the way that organization functioned, its own responsibilities and problems, and so forth. Similarly the document says nothing about where the INR analyses came from, what they were supposed to accomplish, or what other business had been on the unit's plate in addition to this high level reporting on Vietnam. These gaps are worth filling.

In addition the INR Study, like the Pentagon Papers, was produced at a moment in the conflict, a moment near its most intense point. Thus its conclusions are inevitably colored by views and positions of individuals still laboring in the midst of war. A more reflective, retrospective assessment is possible today when positions and careers are no longer on the line in this analysis. For example, the Thematic Critique in the INR Study is written as if the purported second (August 4, 1964) incident in the Tonkin Gulf had actually taken place. This claim, already in doubt when the INR Study was compiled, was accepted by the author of this portion of the report. Today it is known that reports of a second incident were false. There are a number of points in the INR Study at which later knowledge sheds important light on the wartime work of the State Department analysts. This too is vital in understanding the INR contribution during the Vietnam War.

The remainder of this essay will supply the context necessary for a full appreciation of the INR Study and of the State Department intelligence unit's role in the Vietnam War. Among the subjects to be dealt with will be the character of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, how it changed over time, the work of analysts, its importance within the State Department and to senior U.S. diplomats, and so on. Also necessary is to set the interagency context: INR's relationship with the CIA, with the national security bureaucracy, and with U.S. officials in South Vietnam. Much of the INR Study concerns itself with disputes on key issues in Vietnam intelligence estimates, making it important to understand what function the Bureau had in the estimating process and how this was reflected in the resulting reports. On the issues themselves the long view of history helps us understand the value of INR's work during the Vietnam conflict. With staff and budgets dwarfed by that of the CIA, even moreso its sister agencies, INR contributed far more in proportion to its weight than most others; INR truly proved to be the mouse that roared.


World War II created the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In fact it was the Bureau, not the CIA, that would be the lineal descendent of the Research & Analysis division of the famous wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When President Harry Truman abolished the OSS in September 1945, the Research & Analysis unit went to the State Department, where it became the foundation for an intelligence analytical capability American diplomats have had ever since. In the calm after the war, and with the much diminished prestige of Research & Analysis (R&A) in its State guise, many of the wartime staff drifted off to other occupations. Across the street in Foggy Bottom, later across the river at Langley, the CIA replicated the capabilities of Research & Analysis, including using some of the same people. Too fine a point ought not to be put on the R&A claim to longevity, but the fact is that, with various name changes and standing with secretaries of state, the Bureau has existed for nearly six decades, longer than the CIA.

As the Office of Intelligence Research in the 1950s, the Bureau had an active part in the big intelligence disputes of the age, including the Bomber Gap and Missile Gap episodes, in which it took a less pessimistic view than the U.S. military or the CIA. State Department intelligence helped to hold the projections made by the military services within some sort of bounds. There was a modicum of agreement between State intelligence and the CIA, enough to induce the agency to farm out some necessary work to the Bureau. One of the CIA's responsibilities was to produce the "National Intelligence Survey," a massive compendium of basic data about foreign countries, everything from the capacity of ports to the current price of a pound of rice. The agency gave this work to State, and by 1960, veterans recall, the survey project was paying the salaries of about half the people at the Bureau, which the Department around this time elevated from the status of a mere "office."

When President John F. Kennedy entered office his fresh wave of political appointees included a new director for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), Roger A. Hilsman, who had previously held senior roles at the Legislative Reference Service (the predecessor of the Congressional Research Service). Hilsman wanted to make INR relevant to policymakers, he initiated a series of changes that greatly altered its profile both at State and within the U.S. government. The intelligence survey was cast off as tangential to INR's mission of supporting the secretary. Hilsman accepted the loss of money and staff that went with the evaporation of CIA money, but he re-oriented INR. President Kennedy liked to reach down into the bureaucracy for advice on all sorts of subjects, and Hilsman had Kennedy connections from Capitol Hill days. Hilsman became one of the people Kennedy relied upon, in particular on intelligence. He would answer any Kennedy question; colleagues believe he did not necessarily keep Secretary of State Dean Rusk appraised of all these contacts. The INR director also had another route to Kennedy through the National Security Council staff person on Southeast Asia, Michael Forrestal, with whom he had worked during the Kennedy campaign. Hilsman's perch between Kennedy and Rusk frequently put him in a somewhat ambiguous position.

When the Cuban Missile Crisis came in 1962 Hilsman played an important role in coordinating intelligence and attended meetings of Kennedy's exclusive EXCOM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council). Years later he regularly wore the tie clasp the president had given to associates, even while teaching classes at Columbia University.

Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Hilsman was a World War II veteran of Burma (now Myanmar), where he had worked alongside OSS, which in that country organized anti-Japanese partisan groups from indigenous tribespeople. Hilsman came away with an appreciation for unconventional warfare techniques with fit well with President Kennedy's focus on counterinsurgency. At the outset of the administration he edited a monograph on guerrilla warfare that was published first as a pamphlet by the Army and later, in slightly changed form, as a book. Hilsman's approach emphasized popular mobilization in support of the counterinsurgent side, and in the case of the Saigon government led by Ngo Dinh Diem, it was easy to see that mobilization was not taking place. Attuned to the subject, Roger Hilsman kept a weather eye on issues of Vietnam intelligence and had enough knowledge to spot questionable assertions and ask for INR analyses.

The Bureau's views on Vietnam emerged in the INR reporting, which under Roger Hilsman assumed the form it would take throughout the war era. There were four essential categories of contributions by State's intelligence analysts. The first would be the Bureau's efforts to inform the secretary. Hilsman and his successors would brief the secretary of state early each morning, then present the intelligence briefing at meetings of the senior leadership. For this INR crafted paragraph-long reports that were used either as talking points for the meetings or items to hand out. More extensive treatments were possible in Intelligence Notes, the second category of INR product, which were page-and-a-half to two-page memoranda that presented the Bureau's impression of breaking developments. Both of these categories centered on current intelligence. Detailed and increasingly probing analyses were in longer papers that could be requested by senior officials, commissioned by the INR director, or initiated by the Bureau's regional offices. That constituted the third element in the INR effort. The last contribution was the Bureau's effort in the formulation of the National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) and Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs), high level reports that presented the considered views of the entire U.S. intelligence community on whatever subject was at issue. The INR Study presented here primarily surveys the Bureau's efforts in the last two categories of intelligence, although there are scattered references to the Intelligence Notes series.

All this material was created by a unit that remained among the smallest in the U.S. intelligence community, never more than about 350 persons, including its support staff. The Bureau had two major divisions, one for liaison and the other for actual intelligence reporting and analysis. The liaison division handled everything to do with the State Department's interactions with the intelligence community as a whole, including such issues as helping the secretary of state define his agency's position on various CIA or military proposals for covert operations. The research division that produced the reports that are surveyed here. It was organized along regional lines with offices like Research Soviet Bloc (RSB) that concentrated on intelligence regarding the Soviet Union and its satellites.

In fact the contrast between the small size of INR and its considerable output is even sharper since there were only about a dozen analysts working the Southeast Asia accounts. During the early period there was just a single analyst for South Vietnam and one other on the North. They worked for the Far East division (known as Research Far East, or RFE, until 1967 and then retitled East Asia, or REA) which as a whole numbered just twenty-three, "womanpower" as its then chief describes the staff. Many of the analysts were women. It was only at the height of the war, in 1968, that the South Vietnamese account had the attention of as many as four analysts, with the North Vietnam section grown to two.

The analysts were high-powered people, as a few illustrations will suggest. Allen S. Whiting headed RFE from 1962 through 1966. A senior analyst at the RAND Corporation, Whiting was known for his pathbreaking study of policy and intelligence failures in the Korean War, China Crosses the Yalu. Roger Hilsman and his deputy, Thomas L. Hughes, made the conscious decision to enrich INR with outside experts and recruited Whiting to lead the Far East effort as early as February 1961. The new analyst, however, lacked all the security clearances necessary to head the division and thus focused simply on the China issue until the required background checks were completed. A State Department officer who would be deputy, Bradford Coolidge, acted as director during the interim. Whiting was confirmed in the position in early 1962.

Whiting himself recruited Evelyn Colbert to head Southeast Asia analysis within the office. A prime example of the impact of the Hilsman reforms, the forty-three year old Colbert was first-generation U.S. intelligence. She had worked in the famed Research & Analysis branch of OSS on Japan research under Jane Smith-Hutton who sparkplugged that effort. Though Colbert stayed with State Department intelligence through the 1950s, she shifted over to coordinate the National Intelligence Survey project, working part-time (three days a week) and have time for her family. When Hilsman let go of the project Colbert left INR. Whiting brought her back. Evelyn Colbert led the branch, supervising the reporting and editing the INR reports, until the spring of 1968 when she was promoted to deputy director of the REA division.

Another of the fresh analysts, Dorothy Avery, would become INR's key analyst on North Vietnam. Avery had earned her masters degree on the East Asian program at Harvard, then was hired into the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) by Arnold Horelick, where she focused on propaganda analysis. A China specialist, Avery came to know Allen Whiting during that time and he brought her into INR in October 1962, initially in the "Asian Communist" section of RFE. "Dottie" Avery gradually extended her expertise to Sino-Vietnamese relations, then to North Vietnam proper, and was widely recognized for her analysis, ultimately receiving a medal for outstanding contributions to U.S. intelligence.

Almost the first thing Dorothy Avery did upon arriving at the Bureau was to participate in something of an INR intelligence coup. In the fall of 1962 China fought a border war with India at almost the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The conflict began with a series of incidents, followed by a stand down, succeeded by a brief, intense invasion, after which the Chinese halted and ended the engagement. Whiting's office accurately predicted the initial clashes, the resumption of hostilities, and where the fighting would end. When President Kennedy sent a mission headed by Assistant Secretary of State W. Averell Harriman to South Asia to calm the waters, INR's performance resulted in temporary duty orders for Whiting, Avery, and their colleague Rhea Blue, RFE's institutional memory, archivist, and a Tibet specialist. The INR group embarrassed the U.S. military, and helped Harriman's mission, because their excellent maps, which Blue had put together with INR's cartographer, were much better than anything the military had and formed the basis for policy discussions.

The office's South Vietnam analyst, Louis G. Sarris, followed a trajectory similar to those of Roger Hilsman and Thomas Hughes-from Capitol Hill to INR. A doctoral candidate who needed money, Sarris worked for a senator for a year before learning of a job opening at the Office of Intelligence Research, INR's predecessor. He went to the State Department in 1957 to handle Vietnam intelligence, shortly after Ngo Dinh Diem's only visit to the U.S., when the Saigon leader had been hailed by the Eisenhower administration. Sarris replaced Paul Kattenburg, another individual who would later have an important role in U.S. policy on the war. For thirteen years Sarris continued to be the lead analyst on South Vietnam.


The INR Study makes clear that from the outset of the Kennedy administration State Department intelligence retained a clear concept of the major issues in U.S. understanding of events in Vietnam. On the military side these were the source, nature and extent of National Liberation Front capabilities, and the nature of the techniques and tactics necessary to defeat them. On the political side the issue was the degree to which the Saigon government could inspire support from Vietnamese villagers. An associated issue which the study notes, the manner in which the United States could provide aid to Saigon yet still maintain leverage over the South Vietnamese, appears somewhat in the early reporting but became a major intelligence issue in 1963. (In fact, the whole question of U.S. leverage remained a central, and unsolvable, problem during the Vietnam War and seems to have been confronted insufficiently by both INR and CIA.) In any case the inventory of problems was the right one and INR would be forthright in its reporting.

During President Kennedy's first year, INR played a hand in major policy reviews on Vietnam in the spring and in the fall of 1961, two key National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), and preparing a variety of spot reports. The Bureau continued to maintain that there were other potential leaders in South Vietnam besides Diem, that Diem neutralized potential U.S. leverage by arguing his indispensability, that U.S. problems in South Vietnam were partly the result of Washington's own aid programs, and that the National Liberation Front's strength flowed from the villages of South Vietnam, not from any infiltration of North Vietnamese troops. The latter point flew in the face of the U.S. military, which insisted on the primacy of North Vietnamese support to the war in the South, and even of the diplomatic side of the State Department, which issued a white paper in 1961 on aggression from the North.

The Bureau also followed proclivities of its director; Hilsman wanted to act on a stage larger than that provided by intelligence analysis alone. When the Kennedy administration undertook its fall 1961 policy review, the result of a mission carried out by the president's special military representative, General Maxwell D. Taylor, and his deputy national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, INR was direct in its critique of their concept: "The basic weakness of the counterinsurgency plan is the US assumption that the crisis in Vietnam can be solved virtually by flooding the country with US aid." President Kennedy's policy directives resulting from the Taylor-Rostow report had been in place for barely a couple of months when, in January 1962, he asked Roger Hilsman to visit South Vietnam and bring back a new view. The INR director saw the counterinsurgency effort's emphasis on military security as insufficient. Hilsman was much more receptive to ideas for population resettlement and control along lines advanced by Robert G. Thompson, a British consultant to the Diem government, and adopted them as his own. Kennedy asked Hilsman to prepare a paper showing how this concept could work. Hilsman, in turn, brought Louis Sarris into the project and they spent several weeks elaborating the paper, "A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam." According to Sarris, Hilsman wrote the first draft, after which the work bounced between the two as Sarris supplied corrections, alternative language, and insights, and Hilsman shot back revisions of the text. The Hilsman paper would eventually be accepted by Kennedy as the basis for U.S. policy, implemented in South Vietnam as the "strategic hamlet program," and christened "Operation Sunrise." The South Vietnamese government exhibited little serious commitment to the initiative, however, and it ultimately failed. Kennedy sent Hilsman on a follow-up inspection trip to South Vietnam in January 1963, but nothing done to energize this effort succeeded in reversing its course.

One of Roger Hilsman's last acts at INR involved the NIE process. A most notorious NIE of the Vietnam period went through during his final weeks at the Bureau. This was NIE 53-63, "Prospects in South Vietnam." The standard procedure of the time was for a unit run by the Director of Central Intelligence, then John A. McCone, called the Board of National Estimates, to assign one of its members to manage the creation of an NIE. The Board's manager might solicit contributions from member agencies in the intelligence community, and would use analysts at a subordinate unit, the Office of National Estimates (ONE), to produce a draft text. These drafts would come to INR where analysts would comb over them, possibly preparing alternate views. There would then be one or more coordinating meetings at CIA in which a Board member would lead a discussion at which the draft NIE was gone over line by line to craft language as acceptable as possible to all the participating agencies. In the case of NIE 53-63, the Board manager at CIA was Willard Matthias and his chief drafter from ONE was George Carver, who wrote a paper that was fairly pessimistic about Diem's prospects and pictured the Soviet Union and China as sympathetic to but not overlords of Hanoi on its policy towards South Vietnam.

Hilsman went along with INR analysts who objected that the draft was not pessimistic enough. Draft NIEs at the final stage were reviewed by the United States Intelligence Board (USIB), the intelligence community board of directors chaired by McCone; the Board was obliged to review the draft carefully because of the INR objections. McCone decided to remand the NIE for a complete rewrite, ordering the drafting team to interview officials with in-country experience in Vietnam, primarily the military and CIA operations people, before completing the paper. The result would be a diametrically opposite view, an NIE that made only caveats to problems in Vietnam and foresaw great progress. Events almost immediately revealed the estimate to be wildly off the mark.

Evelyn Colbert participated in the panels of estimators who interviewed various officials in the preparation of the revised NIE 53-63. With Director McCone having planted his feet there was no alternative to an estimate the analysts considered wrong. Striving to salvage something from the debacle, Colbert and Carver worked up a paper on the more general question of intelligence resources on Vietnam that found huge gaps in collection in all areas and prescribing corrective actions. McCone agreed to issue the memorandum along with the revised NIE. The INR Study notes that the Bureau participated in this initiative and helped monitor its implementation for almost a year.

That summer a revised estimate was issued that painted a much gloomier picture-and it used verbatim lengthy passages from INR's more cautionary reports.

In the spring of 1963 President Kennedy appointed Roger Hilsman to Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. Hilsman's successor as INR director was his former deputy, Thomas L. Hughes. Like Hilsman, Hughes had excellent contacts on Capitol Hill. He had been legislative counsel to his homestate senator, Hubert H. Humphrey, from 1955 to 1958 and had then worked with Chester Bowles, in Congress at that time but later a senior State Department official. A skilled raconteur, Rhodes Scholar, and sharp editor, Hughes was also a ready listener and willing to stick to his guns when necessary, a good combination for the Bureau. He brought in George C. Denny as the new deputy, a fellow with good links to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, enabling INR to pass messages to its redoubtable chairman, J. William Fulbright, when that became necessary.

As assistant secretary, Hilsman continued to have problems with the military reporting from South Vietnam. He felt the military were claiming progress where there was none, and using claims of infiltration of troops from North Vietnam to explain away the continued resilience of the National Liberation Front. His action may also have been a counterattack after NIE 53-63. Hilsman's concerns led to one of the most celebrated INR efforts of the period, when he called in Hughes and asked the Bureau chief to have Louis Sarris compile a report on statistics from South Vietnam. By this time the Diem government was in great difficulty, propelled by its hamfisted attempt to repress South Vietnam's Buddhist religious majority, which greatly concerned INR analysts. The Bureau had been doing serious analysis of the Buddhist crisis since June, a month after the onset of the crisis, when Diem conducted some sham negotiations with religious leaders. Sarris took U.S. military reports from South Vietnam before and after the crisis. Using the military's own data he found adverse trends in the war situation that were simply not reflected in the steady stream of claims to progress. Sarris found that National Liberation Front attacks were up since July while reports of prisoners taken, defectors, and weapons captured were all down. These results were embodied in the paper RFE-90, "Statistics on the War Effort in South Vietnam Show Unfavorable Trends," of October 22, 1963.

Louis Sarris briefed his paper to Roger Hilsman, and the document circulated throughout government, as was normal with INR products. A tempest then erupted. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) compiled an extensive complaint about the INR paper, listing items that the military were experts on and civilian analysts supposedly inexperienced, and forwarded this critique to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, arguing that the South Vietnamese offensive effort had not reached its optimum level but "is on the way thereto". McNamara forwarded the JCS memo to Secretary of State Dean Rusk with a cover note that said:

Attached is the State memo re the war in Vietnam. Below it are the comments of the Chiefs. If you were to tell me that it is not the policy of the State Department to issue military appraisals without seeking the views of the Defense Department, the matter will die.

Secretary Rusk called both Thomas Hughes and Louis Sarris into his office. After telling them how much he appreciated INR's work he asked what he ought to do about the Pentagon diatribe. Sarris believes that McNamara's implicit threat was to take the matter to the president and that he meant it. Sarris sees Rusk's motives as complex: he held the military in great respect from his own experience in World War II, but he also wanted an opportunity to get at Roger Hilsman, whose direct access to the Kennedys had troubled him. Hughes recalls that at a certain point Rusk asked Sarris to leave the room and that, afterwards the INR director himself told Rusk that he had not become bureau chief to be told what to report. Rusk acknowledged that but asked if f he could mollify McNamara anyway. Hughes also sees Rusk's motives as complicated; on the one hand, the secretary wanted to defer to the people on the spot (the military); on the other hand, he was a fierce defender of INR's independence.

On November 8, 1963 Hughes sent Rusk a memorandum prepared by Sarris that took the military claims against RFE-90 and dissected them, adding further commentary but conceding that "we naturally agree that military assessments are basically the responsibility of the Department of Defense." Rusk then sent McNamara a note which gave McNamara the assurance he had sought in identical language, adding, "I have instructed that any memoranda given interdepartmental circulation which include military appraisals be coordinated with your Department."

In practice the instruction turned out to mean exactly nothing. When the community moved ahead to a new SNIE {Special National Intelligence Estimate] on Vietnam in February 1964 it noted that statistics from the Diem government had been doctored. Director Hughes observes that Secretary Rusk never made any effort to enforce the restriction, and that no later INR reports were subjected to similar complaints even though there were many on military subjects. Louis Sarris explains that the Southeast Asia office was preoccupied with political reporting for long after these events, and that by the time he returned to the subject, Secretary McNamara had himself joined the ranks of those doubting the veracity of reporting from South Vietnam and was actively seeking other sources of enlightenment.

This is a good place to spend a moment on Dean Rusk. The secretary of state held views considerably at odds with those of his Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Rusk favored an aggressive stance in Southeast Asia while INR reporting constantly cast doubts on such a course. Yet Rusk never intervened in INR's efforts to influence the reporting in any way, and he ensured these reports with their different conclusions circulated throughout government. Hughes and other INR veterans uniformly agree that Secretary Rusk never wavered in his support of the INR analysts. Meanwhile, INR's reports went forward, even RFE-90. John F. Kennedy passed from the scene at this moment, assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. His successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, notes in his own memoirs that in December he read, and was impressed by, an INR review of the military situation that can only have been RFE-90.


Many key decisions on the Vietnam War occurred during President Johnson's first two years in the White House, among them the decision to pursue covert operations against North Vietnam, that to send American combat troops to South Vietnam, later one to intervene massively with ground forces, the decision to initiate a bombing campaign against North Vietnam, and decisions on successive bombing halts and peace feelers. Certain key intelligence questions remained at the fore throughout this period because they were material to all the Johnson decisions. Principal among those questions were what impact each course of action would have on Hanoi's support for the war in the South, and whether the given action might induce the People's Republic of China to intervene in the war. Throughout this time the Bureau remained at the cutting edge of U.S. intelligence on these issues.

This is a story of the National Intelligence Estimates, although there were certainly other INR products that spoke to the same issues. The INR Study shows that the Bureau worked away steadily on the matter of North Vietnam and the potential that various U.S. measures might influence its actions. The Study demonstrates that INR argued from at least as early as 1963 that Hanoi had decided it held the advantage in fighting alongside the National Liberation Front and that no American action was likely to dissuade it. From late 1964 through 1966, when Washington considered a range of options, especially certain escalations or pauses in bombing North Vietnam, there was a premium on intelligence as to what the impact would be in Hanoi. A succession of SNIEs was prepared on this question. In a number of them the military, and often the CIA as well, contended that the application of force would induce Hanoi to make concessions or send tacit signals of willingness to negotiate. Dorothy Avery with the support of Hughes and Whiting considered those views unrealistic. In several estimates when the paper came before the United States Intelligence Board (USIB), Hughes dissented in behalf of his agency. In practice, in the U.S. intelligence system, when an agency dissents on an estimate it presents its own position, in its own language, in a short passage appended to the report. During the Vietnam period these dissents appeared as footnotes below the main text of the NIE or SNIE, and the act of dissenting was termed "taking a footnote." State Department intelligence took several footnotes on the subject of Hanoi's intentions.

The Bureau was wrong in perceiving the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, or North Vietnam) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) as a single actor, with at most Hanoi calling the shots for a proxy in the South. In fact there were and continued to be significant differences between the DRV and NLF despite their close relationship. The INR Study, written in 1968-69, at the height of the Vietnam War, itself fails to note this error. That is explainable in the sense that no U.S. government agency could admit at that time that the DRV and NLF might be separate entities, since much of the U.S. justification for its war rested on the contention that it was defending South Vietnam against an invasion from North Vietnam, a classic alliance and warfare situation.

INR nevertheless had a good feel for the decision process in North Vietnam. Avery's assessment that Hanoi felt it was on a roll and held the advantage in South Vietnam led INR to with some regularity to predict accurately that North Vietnam would up the ante in the South, increase its support to the NLF and perhaps send its own troops to fight. In December 1963 a high level meeting in Hanoi actually made the decision to expand that support, a decision which gradually became visible in Washington, bearing out the Bureau's arguments. Until the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 there was no judgment by U.S. intelligence that Hanoi would actually send regular troops to South Vietnam. The Bureau contested that view, and after the Gulf of Tonkin insisted on its own position. The DRV actually did begin sending regulars to the South in November 1964, and it had started preparations for the move in August, so that there is some evidence for the claim that the Gulf of Tonkin led to Hanoi's decision. However, the information we now have from a Vietnamese official history is that the decision to send troops South was made by the DRV Politburo at a September 1964 meeting. In effect INR analysts were correct but premature in their reporting on Hanoi's intentions to send regular troops to South Vietnam.

North Vietnamese forces first actually engaged South Vietnamese troops in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in February 1965. The State analysts, who had been right on Hanoi's disposition to intervene, briefly doubted that North Vietnamese regulars were actually involved. Capture of the first North Vietnamese prisoners settled the question.

On the Gulf of Tonkin incident itself, the INR Study concludes that the Bureau was surprised by this naval engagement, but no more so than the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. American intelligence had been arguing that the DRV would do what it could to avoid antagonizing the United States, which suggested Hanoi would avoid any such naval encounter. We now know that the North Vietnamese naval action resulted from the decisions of local commanders and did not represent any decision by Hanoi. The INR Study shows that the Bureau argued at the time that this was the probable origin of the naval attack of August 2. However, the study, as already noted, erroneously takes the position that the alleged August 4 North Vietnamese attack actually took place.

Possibly INR's finest hour came in 1964-1965 when the intelligence community mulled over whether Beijing would enter the war alongside Hanoi. Thomas Hughes has previously written a short account of this based on material that appeared in the Pentagon Papers, but the emergence of the INR Study, as well as progressive declassification of the underlying intelligence estimates, makes it possible to address this subject more directly. A major question for President Johnson and his cohorts as they pondered escalating the Vietnam War continued to be whether China (Russia also, but the People's Republic of China posed the immediate threat) would come into the war in response to Johnson's dispatch of large numbers of troops, U.S. tactics (invasions of North Vietnam or Laos), or intensifications in U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. LBJ-as President Johnson was known-recalls that most of his advisers felt the risks of triggering Chinese or Russian intervention, particularly from any sharp increase in the air war, greatly outweighed the advantages and that "I accepted that judgment."

John McCone of the CIA became a notable exception, telling President Johnson that as the U.S. deployed ground forces to South Vietnam the North needed to be hit harder to inflict greater damage. McCone's sanguine views on bombing were reflected in the NIEs. The Bureau under Hughes broke with the consensus view starting in October 1964, constantly warning of a greater danger of Chinese action. In mid-February, just as LBJ considered the sustained bombing that became known as Rolling Thunder, a special estimate considered the impact of such a campaign. Where the community consensus predicted a fair chance that China would introduce limited numbers of "volunteers" into North Vietnam, INR dissented with a judgment that the probability was considerably higher, and where the estimate noted that China "might" use its jet fighters over the DRV, the Bureau insisted that word should be changed to "would probably." In late February, as LBJ approved the bombing, an SNIE attempted to predict reactions to the program, and found that Hanoi would make concessions to "secure a respite from U.S. air attack." Hughes inserted an INR footnote which not only argued that the DRV would calculate its gains in the South outweighed damage from a U.S. air campaign, but went on to warn that vigorous attacks on major targets "could easily coincide with the probable use over the DRV of Chinese air defense from Chinese bases."

In late April, in fact on the day John McCone resigned as Director of Central Intelligence, a fresh SNIE stated a unanimous community view-INR's. Both North Vietnam and the People's Republic of China (PRC) were pictured as hardening their positions. Then in early June, in SNIE 10-6-65, the community reversed its analysis of February and agreed with INR that Hanoi would not be dissuaded by the bombing from its course in the South. Evelyn Colbert, who attended the coordinating sessions where the language of estimates was hammered out before it the final drafts went to the USIB, recalls writing between the lines of the papers in her workups for Hughes and Rusk, then seeing her language adopted wholesale for the NIEs.

In late July President Johnson finalized his decision to commit major U.S. ground forces to the Vietnam War and open up the rules of engagement for American forces to conduct all types of operations. Another estimate was drafted to consider reactions to that eventuality. Hughes and INR dissented on the impact of bombing, correctly predicting that North Vietnamese supply routes to the South would not be blocked even by greater damage by bombing; and also on the chances of PRC air intervention in the case of attacks on the Hanoi-Haiphong and northeast DRV areas-where the community foresaw an even chance of that happening, the Bureau judged this as higher.

Then in September Washington postulated another extension of bombing and asked the intelligence community to evaluate that. The contemplated program included all the Hanoi-Haipho g and northeast corridor targets considered a couple of months earlier. The consensus view was that the DRV's resolve had weakened, and as for the PRC, "It is possible that Hanoi and Peking [Beijing] have an agreed plan for the Chinese to intervene from their own bases in response to the kind of US air attack assumed in this estimate. We doubt this." In a move unprecedented for INR and indeed for the entire community, Director Hughes dissented from the entire SNIE, filing a sixteen-paragraph alternate estimate that comprised nearly half the text of the estimate. Among other things, INR judged that the escalation would be seen in Beijing and elsewhere-not just in Hanoi-as marking a fundamental change in the war with great military significance, that the DRV would counter the escalation by intensifying its effort in South Vietnam, and that the PRC would immediately increase its defensive preparations and its presence on the ground in North Vietnam. Further, "It is almost certain that Hanoi and Peking have concerted their preparations and discussed plans for Chinese action in the event of US attacks such as the ones assumed here." After two more months the Johnson administration asked for one more estimate. That paper, SNIE 10-12-65, would be littered with footnotes. Though not all of the dissents came from INR, it was joined by other agencies, especially the National Security Agency and Army intelligence.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research was literally correct that Hanoi and Beijing had had talks and concerted actions. We now know that military talks had occurred in April and June 1965 and political ones in May. The Chinese moved thousands of troops into North Vietnam. Beijing reached a specific understanding with Hanoi on the conditions that would trigger their full-scale intervention. They indeed agreed to send "volunteer" pilots and regular air units to the DRV, and to fly jet interceptors from bases in China to fight American planes over the DRV, only landing at North Vietnamese airfields to refuel. Beijing never did fulfill these latter provisions of the agreements, apparently telling Hanoi that July that the aircraft intervention was inappropriate and increasing the strength of antiaircraft artillery units instead. The latter action undoubtedly reflects a Chinese calculation that the use of ground troops would be less provocative than air forces.

The lack of an overt Chinese aerial intervention resonates in retrospect with INR analysts. Both Allen Whiting and Dorothy Avery concede perhaps having gone too far with their view of the threat of Chinese action, but argue essentially that INR was wrong for the right reasons. The appreciation that China was ready to intervene was a correct one, and the Bureau was exactly correct that the dynamics of the situation would lead Hanoi and Beijing to concert action. That the Chinese did not ultimately carry out their agreement, or rather carried it out in modified form, is due to at least three factors. First and of key importance, China was diverted by internal developments-the Cultural Revolution-from military actions it had clearly anticipated and made preparations for. Those preparations were observed by U.S. intelligence and were the basis for INR analysts' prognostications, while the internal developments only gradually became visible and were subjects of dispute in themselves. Second, INR and U.S. intelligence as a whole underestimated the size of the Chinese ground force deployments into North Vietnam, so that the modified PRC action (substituting ground for air forces) was missed. Third was the synergistic relationship between U.S. intelligence and decisionmaking.

Studies of the process of American decisions on Vietnam have often remarked on the incremental nature of the process. This had a bearing on the third factor just mentioned. The decisions were partial and incremental in part because U.S. officials resisted pushing Hanoi to the wall precisely because they feared the responses, not only in Beijing, to full bore escalation. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who benefited from the observations of INR's analysts, was one of the major incrementalists. He took credit in retrospect for helping to keep China out of the war. At the time Rusk began many of his morning meetings with Tom Hughes by asking, "Any sign of Chinese movement?" Ultimately the intelligence helped encourage an incrementalism which helped keep INR's most dire predictions from coming true.

Allen Whiting had a major interest in China, of course, and he kept a close eye on the intelligence collected bearing on this question. With his all source clearances Whiting was up to date on such things as the odd airfield development in southwestern China, where two duplicate fields were built in a place they would not have been needed except to optimize air action over the DRV. "These were my hobbyhorses and I rode them," recalls Whiting. Eventually North Vietnamese aircraft were seen on one of these fields and U.S. intelligence became aware Beijing was indeed doing things like those the NIEs had considered. Beijing simply never went as far as the Bureau had anticipated, and the Cultural Revolution, which turned the PRC inward, has everything to do with that. By 1967 INR was estimating that Beijing would restrict itself to low level actions, such as permitting North Vietnamese aircraft to operate out of Chinese bases. That was exactly what the Chinese did.

Meanwhile, a story Whiting tells throws interesting light on the U.S. military's blithe discounting of the dangers of Chinese intervention. Passing through Honolulu on one of his trips to Vietnam, Whiting was invited by the Commander-in-Chief Pacific (CINCPAC), then Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, to attend the CINCPAC morning intelligence briefing. During the show the INR analyst noticed there was nothing to indicate the Chinese airfields on maps or charts or in documents. He inquired as to whether this was an "all-source" briefing, that is, one at the highest level of classification where all intelligence information was accessible. When Sharp, who did not know, asked his aide, that officer ruefully admitted that indeed it was not-in deference to the admiral's proclivity to bring in all sorts of people on these briefings whose levels of clearance were unknown to staffs, the briefings were not done with the all-source information. The possibility thus arises that CINCPAC, who bore command authority for Rolling Thunder and was constantly pressing for maximum escalation, was himself unaware of indications of Chinese response to the actions he had advocated. Whiting, incidentally, was warned by a naval officer on one of his trips not to go aboard any aircraft carriers, as INR had been marked as a source of opposition to the air war and he could be in personal danger from disgruntled pilots who saw themselves as being held back. The intelligence war in Vietnam had many fronts.


Director Hughes concluded after the war that the intense disputes of 1964-1965 were costly to the intelligence community. Hughes told a conference in March 1991: "I think the receivers got impatient; it's clear the Secretary of Defense got disgusted with the process and started asking for his own estimates . . .This splitting of the community really did tend to discredit us in many ways-probably with the President, too."

In 1966 dissents became less frequent in the NIEs, while the focus of dispute shifted to questions of the rate of North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam and the size of the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front armed forces, where the infighting tended to be between the CIA and military intelligence. The INR Study makes clear that the Bureau took an active role in questioning the infiltration reporting. But the Bureau lacked resources for any intensive approach to this question, limiting itself to critiquing the reports received based on internal evidence. Evelyn Colbert remarks that the CIA had platoons of analysts combing over the infiltration data while INR had to rely on just one or two people.

INR had an impact in other places. Tom Hughes, through his long association with Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, played a role as a sort of private adviser, and helped Humphrey craft some important papers the vice-president floated within the administration. Allen Whiting had a similar role with Undersecretary of State George W. Ball. Noted as the Johnson administration's devil's advocate on Vietnam, Ball had repeatedly cautioned against escalation, both the ground troop commitment and the projected massive escalation of Rolling Thunder. His intelligence inputs came from Whiting, who is cited in some of the massive policy papers Ball wrote. Whiting provided advice as well for W. Averell Harriman, whom Johnson made special envoy for negotiations with North Vietnam.

Until January 1966 Whiting always had a channel into the White House, because national security adviser McGeorge Bundy would listen to what he had to say and, if it made sense, circulate Whiting's paper. But Bundy left government and, following a brief interregnum, Walt Rostow took over the security adviser post. Not only did Rostow have a much more hard-line attitude than Bundy, some of his own schemes for escalation had been shot down by INR analysis in 1964-1965. Whiting's channel closed. He then accepted a posting to Hong Kong as the number two at the U.S. consulate, leaving the Bureau but gaining a new channel to Washington since his cables would circulate widely. For Whiting that also turned to be an incomparable opportunity to observe the Chinese Cultural Revolution up close.

Director Hughes appointed Fred Greene the new division chief for East Asia (as the unit was retitled in 1967). Greene got on better with the military than Whiting, and though he was more conservative, many considered him fair and a brilliant analyst, although somewhat disorganized. Sarris thinks Greene was the best division chief REA ever had, a category that includes Sarris himself, who briefly held the position later on. As an example he cites Greene's calling him in one day and telling him that a certain new diplomat was headed for South Vietnam, making it the moment for Sarris to write a paper that had been on hold for a long time, resisted in the bureaucracy, but which the diplomat could carry to Saigon.

Little has been said so far about INR's briefing paragraphs and Intelligence Notes, which total many hundreds of pages, probably the Bureau's most voluminous products. These were timely and designed to highlight immediate issues. For example there were Notes produced instantly on the occasions of coups d'etat in Saigon. Even events that might have been coups but turned out not to be, such as the bombing of Diem's presidential palace by South Vietnamese air force pilots on February 27, 1962, sparked INR reactions. In the Diem coup of November 1963, the coup mounted by General Nguyen Khanh in January 1964, as well as the coup against Khanh in February 1965, the Bureau was quick off the mark with its analysis. The Bureau also supplied commentaries when the Tonkin Gulf incident occurred, during the Buddhist crisis of 1966, at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968, and on other occasions. When the U.S. actually did bomb Haiphong in the summer of 1967, an INR intelligence note described Beijing's initial reaction as muted. Not only events but opinions could provide occasion for INR commentaries: when scholar Bernard Fall was arguing, as early as 1962, that bombing could make Hanoi give up supporting the war in the South, in a preview of its position on the NIEs of the 1964-1965 period, INR issued an Intelligence Note rejecting that prescription.

Louis Sarris notes that his branch was preoccupied with political reporting for much of the time after his Pentagon fight of 1963. That was certainly true with the intense period of 1964-1965, when a succession of coups d'etat rocked Saigon. Then 1966 brought another Buddhist crisis and the first South Vietnamese elections, and the summer of 1967 a presidential election. In the national assembly elections of 1966 INR argued that the size of the turnout, by indicating a level of support for the Saigon government, was a more critical value than the question of who won the elections. Going into the presidential elections of 1967 the Bureau had begun doubting the leadership of South Vietnamese Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, who was then prime minister. Sarris argued that Ky was using the National Police, headed by an ally, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, much like Diem had used his Can Lao political movement, to ensure victory, to such an extent this action might affect the credibility of the election. Allen Whiting once asked Sarris, as they worked late into the night on the Diem issue, how he could know so much about Saigon politics. Sarris quipped, "I'm Greek. It's just like Greek politics. There's no problem."

In late 1967 INR again did a research memorandum on statistics from the war in Vietnam. It was a product very similar to the infamous 1963 paper. Sarris recounts that he got back into the issue after one of his visits to South Vietnam, which were extensive and during which he would speak to junior and middle-level officers, not merely listen to briefings at the U.S. embassy or Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). At the time the MACV commander, General William C. Westmoreland was in the United States, rallying support for the war and declaiming that he saw light at the end of the tunnel. In Vietnam, Sarris sat down for a three-hour conversation with one of Westmoreland's corps commanders, General Fred Weyand, who told him, "I don't know what Westy's saying with this light at the end of the tunnel thing. We could be hit at any time and we wouldn't know where it came from." When Sarris got back to INR he did his fresh critique of the field reporting. This time there were no complaints from Rusk, McNamara, or anyone else.

Like other U.S. intelligence agencies, the Bureau was surprised at Tet. INR fell into the trap of expecting North Vietnam to attack the U.S. base at Khe Sanh, or Khe Sanh plus other objectives, rather than mounting a widespread urban offensive. In an intelligence note the first day of the offensive the Bureau called the initial urban attacks "unusual and unanticipated" and went on "we do not expect that the Communists have chosen to mount them as a substitute for a major military threat." Within days, however, INR had shifted to reporting Hanoi's primary intent as creating a "revolutionary situation." In defense of the Bureau, however, the INR Study cites another intelligence note, ten days before Tet, in which the Bureau correctly observed that numerous small scale attacks and selected big ones "have drawn US forces from core population areas," leaving these and the pacification program open to increased military pressures.

When Lyndon Johnson asked his President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to do a postmortem on the surprise at Tet, the CIA assembled its own report as a contribution, the first draft of which read like the agency was absolving itself of all blame. The Bureau did not have that luxury and read the CIA postmortem with a jaundiced eye. A new analyst, a Foreign Service Officer fresh from service in Vietnam, looked at the paper, walked into Fred Greene's office, and threw it on the desk exclaiming, "This is utter bullshit!" Greene did not bat an eye. "Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer," he replied.

The main military actions of the Tet Offensive came in three successive waves, the last of them in August 1968. The Bureau also missed the last of those waves, arguing days before it occurred that Hanoi did not consider 1968 a "necessarily decisive period." In this case the surprise was not so great because the third wave attacks were anticipated by other U.S. agencies.

Intelligence on peace feelers and negotiations was another subject, one where INR had special difficulties, not so much because of any lack of expertise, but due to the fact that it was deliberately cut out of the key events. Thomas Hughes was a member of Averell Harriman's "Non Group" interagency unit that watched over all diplomatic feelers, but under ground rules that kept data from the working level analysts. The East Asia office was thus confined to making general observations about the predispositions to negotiation of the players on the international scene. Here it had some help from INR's Soviet Bloc office, which contributed memoranda on the Soviet and Eastern European countries. Later in the Nixon administration, INR was kept almost completely ignorant, but then so too would be most of the U.S. government.

Nevertheless the Bureau had some success at identifying the negotiating positions of allies and adversaries. As early as April 1965 the Soviet Bloc analysts correctly characterized Russia's position. In February 1966 INR informed Rusk that Hanoi's denunciation of a U.S. proposal (Johnson's "14 Points") as a "sham peace" was a definitive one-and indeed that remained the DRV's position for two years. In April 1968 the Bureau correctly appreciated the South Vietnamese stance on negotiations proceeding as one of "quiet bitterness," and equally accurately saw the DRV's foreign minister as attempting to leap from contacts, where the process had been stuck since 1965, to actual negotiations. Later that year INR made reasonable assessments of the assignment to the talks of Hanoi Politburo member Le Duc Tho and of diplomatic maneuvers by delegation deputy chief Xuan Thuy.

Another special subject, from an early date, was National Liberation Front (NLF), and then North Vietnamese, use of Cambodia. From 1962 on INR took the position that the NLF was making extensive use of Cambodia as a sanctuary but its overall value in their war effort remained marginal. The question of NLF and DRV supplies through Cambodia assumed increasing importance over the course of the war. By 1964 INR recognized this use but saw it as limited, judgments repeated in 1965 and 1966. In 1967 the Bureau "objected strenuously" to the consensus view in a USIB paper that saw Cambodia as having an important impact on the outcome of the war.

By 1968 the question of NLF/DRV supply through Cambodia had assumed such importance that it was made the subject of special study by an interagency task force from the intelligence community. Faced with contradictory reports from the military and CIA, and with INR skeptical of both, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs William P. Bundy pushed for the study group, which formed under James C. Graham of the Board of National Estimates. The INR representative was Steven Lyne, a Foreign Service Officer who was among a fresh contingent of INR analysts who had had field service in Vietnam. Both Louis Sarris and Dorothy Avery benefited from this new crop of people, and both appreciated the fresh expertise. Lyne, who had served in South Vietnam's Central Highlands, was expert on Cambodia, and made direct inquiries into the sources of NLF supplies in the Mekong Delta area as part of this study, which concluded that NLF/DRV supply activities through Cambodia were increasing and the Cambodian government was complicit, but that Hanoi's use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail remained its main supply source.

Lyne by this time had moved up to head the Indochina branch of REA, with Sarris promoted to chief of the division. He had another Foreign Service Officer, Richard Teare, and later got a third, David Engel. Dorothy Avery on North Vietnam had the help of Richard Smyser. Fred Greene left REA, replaced as chief by John Holdridge, who had been deputy since 1966. Evelyn Colbert became deputy in succession, and her former place was the one that went to Sarris. The Bureau's Vietnam intelligence effort had assumed the shape that would carry it into the Nixon years.


The INR Study covers much more ground than can be covered here. It is clear from that study, as well as this examination, that INR was quite prolific at its work. Analyst for analyst, and dollar for dollar, INR was possibly the most effective agency in the intelligence community. One of the greats of U.S. intelligence in the Vietnam era, George V. Allen, who served with Army intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency, years later accosted Lou Sarris to tell him, "I just want you to know, you guys were great!"

This account can do little more than put some flesh onto the bones of the INR Study, but even from this it is clear that there is another, little explored, dimension to the intelligence story of the Vietnam War. The INR story is also evidence of a different proposition-that there is real value in a multiplicity of analytical units poring over the intelligence data. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research helped hone U.S. intelligence conclusions, called attention to the poor data and inadequate intelligence collection taking place in Vietnam, saved the CIA and other agencies from going even farther out on a limb than they climbed, and brought the community to a consensus view on the Indochina conflict's potential to escalate. It also helped limit the war by contributing to the reluctance of top officials to escalate too far. These were real contributions and they deserve both attention and praise.


1. See, for example, Harold P. Ford, CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968. Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1998; Major General Joseph A. McChristian, Vietnam Studies: The Role of Military Intelligence, 1965-1967. Washington (DC): Department of the Army, 1974; General Philip B. Davidson, Secrets of the Vietnam War. Novato (CA): Presidio Press, 1990; Sam Adams, War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir. South Royalton (VT): Steerforth Press, 1994; George W. Allen, None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publishers, 2001; Willard C. Matthias, America's Strategic Blunders: Intelligence Analysis and National Security Policy, 1936-1991. University Park (PA): Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001; John Prados, Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. For a review of CIA reporting of scope similar to the present document see General Bruce Palmer, "US Intelligence and Vietnam," Studies in Intelligence Special Issue, v. 28, no. 5, 1984. The Ford monograph, the Palmer study and the present INR report all form parts of the "Intelligence" subset of the Vietnam collection (I) issued by the National Security Archive and Proquest.

2. The most widely available version of this study is in The Pentagon Papers as Published by The New York Times. New York: Bantam Books, 1971. The most comprehensive set is The Pentagon Papers: Senator Mike Gravel Edition: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971. The U.S. government put out its own edition of the Pentagon Papers as a print from the House Armed Services Committee, United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office, 1971. Both the Gravel and U.S. government versions of the Pentagon Papers form parts of the "General" subset of the Vietnam (II) collection from the National Security Archive and Proquest. For additional perspective see Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Viking 2002. Also see John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, eds., Inside the Pentagon Papers. Lawrence(KS): University Presses of Kansas, 2004.

3. John Prados, The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence Analysis and Soviet Strategic Forces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, pp. 38-95.

4. Hilsman's first account of the Cuban Missile Crisis (he has a more recent book on this subject) is also an important source on the early period of the Vietnam war, as well as his work at INR. See To Move A Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy. Garden City (NY): Doubleday, 1967.

5. Interview, Allen S. Whiting, January 11, 2004.

6. Allen S. Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu: The Decision to Enter the Korean War. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960.

7. Evelyn Colbert Interview, January 12, 2004.

8. Most of this material comes from an interview with Dorothy Avery, January 12, 2004, though some comes from other interviews.

9. Louis G. Sarris Interview, January 10, 2004.

10. INR, "Critique of US Policy in South Vietnam," November 6, 1961, Excerpted in INR Study, B-I-19.

11. Hilsman, To Move A Nation, pp. 427-439.

12. The most recent treatment of this theme is in Philip E. Catton, Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam. Lawrence (KS): University Press of Kansas, 2002. Catton argues that the U.S. failed to understand Diem, whom he casts as a social reformer intent on sparking a national revolution from internal sources, and that Diem for his part spared little effort for U.S.-sponsored initiatives. North Vietnam certainly appreciated strategic hamlets, which it characterized as U.S. "special warfare," as a potential threat, and Hanoi possibly overestimated the degree of their success. In Washington both INR and CIA pointed out shortcomings in these pacification efforts.

13. Willard Matthias, America's Strategic Blunders, pp. 185-191. The summary conclusions of NIE 53-63 appear in the INR Study at B-II-29.

14. Later in 1963 the CIA issued a memorandum correcting the mistaken estimate, and another SNIE that called Diem's political problems much more accurately. McCone apologized to his estimates people as well.

15. Sarris recalls this provenance. In an interview on January 10, 2004, Thomas L. Hughes did not recall that specific Hilsman request, but did not dispute Sarris's account.

16. The full text of this paper can be found in the Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, v. 2, pp. 770-780. Excerpts appear in Section B of the INR Study.

17. See "Draft Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense," undated, attached to memorandum Thomas L- Hughes-Dean Rusk, November 8, 1963 in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: 1961-1963, v.IV: Vietnam August-December 1963. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office, 1991, p. 585.

18. Reprinted in Louis G. Sarris, "McNamara's War and Mine," The New York Times, September 5, 1995, p. A17.

19. Sarris and Hughes interviews, op. cit.

20. FRUS 1961-1963, v. IV, pp. 582-586, quoted p. 583.

21. Sarris, "McNamara's War and Mine."

22. Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency, 1963-1969. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971, p. 62.

23. John Prados, The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. New York: John Wiley's Sons, 1999, p. 109-110.

24. Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975 (tns. Merle L. Pribbenow). Lawrence (KS): University Press of Kansas, 2002, p. 137-138.

25. Thomas L. Hughes, "The Power to Speak and the Power to Listen," in Thomas M. Franck and Edward Weisband, eds., Secrecy and Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

26. Lyndon Johnson, The Vantage Point, p. 140.

27. Letter, John McCone-Lyndon Johnson, April 1965 (undated but internal evidence indicates a date shortly after April 2, 1965). Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, v.II, Vietnam: January-June 1965. Washington(DC): Government Printing Office, 1996, pp. 521-524.

28. CIA, "Communist Reactions to Possible US Actions," SNIE 10-3-65, February 11, 1965 (declassified September 10, 1993), p. 10-11. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library: Lyndon Baines Johnson Papers: National Security File (hereafter LBJL:LBJP:NSF): NIE Series, box. 1, folder: "10-65, Communist States."

29. CIA, "Communist Reactions to Possible US Courses of Action Against North Vietnam," SNIE 10-3/1-65, February 18, 1965 (declassified September 8, 1994), p. 5. Ibid.

30. Colbert Interview.

31. CIA, "Communist and Free World Reactions to a Possible US Course of Action," SNIE 10-9-65, July 23, 1965 (declassified September 8, 1994), pp. 3-6, 9-11. Ibid.

32. CIA, "Probable Communist Reactions to a US Course of Action," SNIE 10-11-65, September 22, 1965 (declassified September 8, 1994), p.14. Ibid.

33. Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000, pp. 132-135.

34. See, for example, Leslie H. Gelb and Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked. Washington(DC): Brookings Institution, 1979.

35. Dean Rusk, As I Saw It. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

36. Ted Gittinger, ed. The Johnson Years: A Vietnam Roundtable. Austin: Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas Press, 1993, quoted, p. 93.

37. See especially, Allen S. Whiting, The Chinese Calculus of Deterrence: India and Indochina. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975.

38. Whiting Interview.

39. Ibid.

40. Ted Gittinger, The Johnson Years: A Vietnam Roundtable, p. 63.

41. Colbert Interview.

42. Sarris Interview.

43. Whiting Interview.

44. Sarris Interview.

45. Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Note 84, January 31, 1968. Department of State: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, v. VI, Vietnam: January-August 1968. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office, 2002, fn. P. 93.

46. Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Note 97, February 3, 1968. Ibid., fn. P. 109.

47. INR Study, quoted p. A-VI-23.

48. Steven Lyne Interview, January 9, 2004.

49. INR Study, A-VII-14.

50. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, v. IV: Vietnam, 1966. Washington(DC): Government Printing Office, 1998, p. 192.

51. FRUS, 1968, op. cit., fns. pp. 370, 544, 572, 701, 746.

52. INR Study, A-VI-15.

53. John Prados, The Blood Road, p. 297.

54. Sarris Interview.

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.