PHUNG HAUNG DONG TIEN
HISTORY OF PHOENIX
The Aim of Phung Hoang Dong Tien /
The program consisted of the
centralization of all the intelligence data and counterespionage
operations in the person of an army or police officer at each level
of the bureaucracy. The aim of the program was to eliminate the
rivalries between the various army units and the police which had so
long prevented the Americans and the GVN from identifying, much less
capturing, the political agents of the Front. In addition the GVN
revived the old detention law whereby without the delay and
uncertainty of trial by jury a provincial security committee could
condemn a suspect to up to two years in prison. As with the
Revolutionary Development program, however, the Americans managed to
clear away mountains of red tape only to build another mountain.
They created an efficient system of counterinsurgency in a void of
any efficient agencies to carry it out. The results were
predictable. In 1969 the United States set a goal for the Phoenix
Program to neutralize twenty thousand NLF agents during the year,
and at the end of the year GVN authorities reported 19,534 agents
neutralized. The figure was unsettling in that there had been no
corresponding decline in American estimates of NLF agents at large.
Who then, were the 19,534 people, and what had become of them?
As only 20 percent of those arrested were actually sentenced--and
then only for a period of a few months--The American officials
concluded that large percentage of the neutralized agents simply
Some of the District and Province
chiefs engaged in systematic extortion rackets, arresting the rich
of their districts twice and three times a year. Other officers
settled old scores or terrorized their fellow officers. The Phoenix
Program permitted them to indulge in all the practices classical to
an irresponsible secret police.
The true destructiveness of the
program came from the very structure of the program itself.
In order to get a handle on the
estimate of the amount of men involved in Phoenix you must first
accept the fact that by Mr. Colby's estimate 26,369 VC were killed
and 40,000 VC were wounded or captured, and no matter how well those
450 advisors were trained at Fort Hollabird, MD, they could not have
inflicted those amounts of casualties by acting alone. So the main
force of enforcers consisted of the Provincial Recon Units (PRU),
mostly Chinese mercenaries called Nungs, brig rats and later the
national police. So if each advisor was assigned at the very least,
twelve men, there would have been 5,400 men involved, American men.
But the amounts were much higher because entire companies and
battalions were used in Phoenix operations, so the possibility of
any one man knowing another was very remote.
There were three levels of
enforcement. The advisors identified the bad guys. The brig rats and
the mercenaries tracked them down; and there was to be a legal
program to restrain them and jail them. There was not. The one
element of men consisted of men who gave up all their rights to
avoid prosecution for various crimes committed, served in the field,
received no official recognition, but received cash payments for
work and missions completed.
"THE TRUTH IN A MAN LIES FIRST AND FOREMOST IN WHAT HE HIDES"
THE MEN OF PHUNG HOANG DONG TIEN/PHOENIX
The senior Chief of Station (COS),
William Colby was stationed at operations headquarters in Saigon.
The C.O.R.D.S. compound was located
at Can Tho, called Palm Springs, and the home of the C.I.A. Base
Closer to home was Embassy House,
located in Can Lo, (province town), about one hundred miles from
Saigon. The Embassy House was the base of operations and the home of
the C.I.A. case officer and most important, the C.I.A. Province
team, consisting of the junior advisory and his twelve man team,
along with the Vietnamese kit carson, so to speak.
The Senior Province Advisor was
stationed at "Pentagon West," at TAN SON NHUT. Make note that the
junior advisory was actually the Operations advisor, and he carried
the ball, in more way than one.
The "Nungs" were ethnic Chinese from
North Vietnam, dedicated mercenaries, very ferocious and angry men,
even when sober. They were the backbone of the Provincial recon
units and were the Phoenix advisor's wolf pack.
Most were short, slight men who
dressed in black pajama type garb, same as VC. Allowing their hair
to grow long, they wore bandannas as sweatbands and one earring in
case of death, which bought their way into Heaven. By carrying
AK47's in the field their profiles against the horizon were the same
as VC. The only ones sticking out like a sore thumb was the American
advisor who walked, stalked, and ran in a bent over fashion. Nungs,
the hill people of Vietnam believe in NGOH-MEIH-YUHT. This was the
custom of cutting seven horizontal lines from the groin to the
breastbone as the seven final steps to Nirvana. This was the
quickest and easiest way without meditation, but of course you were
also dead. Nungs had the bad habit of cutting out the hearts of
their enemy and sewing it to the victim's belly button to insure
that their soul did not escape. As an afterthought, looking back at
the body, they would bend down and break the victim's fingers
backward so that the victim could not hold his power.
The Province chief, a South
Vietnamese, acted in the same fashion as States Governors. He had
absolute power over the Armed forces and the National Police. He had
the strength of the National Government at his disposal. He
controlled the Phoenix Program, at least those who listened to him,
and he, without benefit of the legal system, could order
imprisonment, or assassination, called specials, or kidnapping. He
was a total bastard.
The Operations advisor, C.I. A. Case
manager, Province Chief, the PRU's and the girlfriends of all, lived
at Embassy house.
The Embassy House was actually a two
story French Colonial house made of concrete and cinder block
covered with off white stucco. The roof was of red tiles which we
continually used as breaking material. It had a large front porch
and all the furniture was mostly wicker and the entire house gave
the appearance of a summer home, that is until you took note of the
steel shutters covering the windows and the high wall surrounding
it. The walls were continually guarded by Nungs and four 4'
spotlights turned night into day, every night. A smaller corrugated
building was located to the rear of the property, out of hearing
distance and a sign on the roof of this building gave it the
designation, "Delta Gas and Electric,"
the interrogation room.
Phung Hoang/Phoenix Advisors were
trained at Fort Holabird, MD, for a total of twelve weeks and in
this twelve weeks they also were supposed to learn and understand
the Vietnamese language, soon to be forgotten, that is until he
found a Vietnamese girlfriend.
All advisors had to have held the
rank of Major, meaning they had to be college educated and also they
would have to been at least 35 years old, between 1967-1972,
although training stopped around 1971 or early 1972.
Advisors were trained to give
orders, how to "advise," Vietnamese social studies, and probably a
touch of business blackmail and the like. Looking at the training
from an outsider's point of view, it would seem that the training
was given so someone could say that the Advisors were even trained,
which they were not.
Of the four hundred fifty Advisors,
the total trained at Holabird, twenty six of these men were gathered
into this training program because of extenuating circumstances such
as having a superior knowledge of firearms, martial arts, or
language skills. Also included in this group were men who had
problems with either civilian society of the military structure and
these men were not constricted by the rank requirement, but they
also were not allowed the luxury of the Form 525-36. This form was
standard procedure when an operation was planned, but "Specials"
were not included. This form which simply states, quote, "Macv
Directive Form 525-36 clearly gives you the choice to accept the
operation in question ( name of operation). If you find the police
type activities of this operation or the activities of the Phoenix
Program repugnant to you, you may, on your application, may be
reassigned from the program without prejudice" unquote. This form
was never used for a "Special." After knowing of this form, think of
those men who did the "Specials," those men who were there because
they had only one form, and that form did not allow for refusals or
choices. The "mental" form, never on paper, was simple, join or
Now I will write it as it really
was, and take particular note to the spelling, for it is correct.
NEXT: Phoenix - "The Blackened Bird"