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The Aim of Phung Hoang Dong Tien / Phoenix Program

   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 disappeared.


   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 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 Chief.


   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 jail.


   Now I will write it as it really was, and take particular note to the spelling, for it is correct.


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Copyright 2005 Harry G. Smith