Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars is the story Sam’s incomplete memoir War of Numbers could not deliver. Sam Adams died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 54. Sam was a gifted analyst at the CIA. Author C. Michael Hiam delivers a well written narrative of Sam’s life.
Sam displayed the uncommon trait of speaking truth to power. As history often suggests Sam was in the right place at the right time.
His truth revealed outcomes that pitted him against the White House, MACV and even senior leadership within the CIA.
What also made Sam unique was his inability to backdown to the highest offices in the government. Sam created a point of great turmoil by discovering and confronting repeated MACV intelligence failures. His analysis was not supported by CIA Director Richard Helms. Nobody wants to make their boss look bad.
Haim traces Sam’s life from Harvard to a rising star within the CIA to a disillusioned analyst. War of Numbers did not shed light on Sam’s death. Realizing Haim was going to address his passing at the close of the book I dreaded the final chapter to the life of Sam Adams.
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War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir was published after the death of Sam Adams. He spent his career working in CIA intelligence during the Vietnam War. He leaves behind a memory of dedication to country and an unbending legacy speaking truth to power.
Sam graduated from Harvard and began a CIA intelligence career in the Congo. Adams won high praise for accurately predicting changes to the Congolese government in 1966.
His initial Vietnam war research focused on the moral of Viet Cong troops in 1967. He wrote a larger Viet Cong order of battle. This began a long clash with CIA, MACV, the Joint Chiefs and the White House over the size of VC forces before the Tet Offensive.
His initial reports never made it out of the CIA. His experiences in chapter 4 “Bulletin 689” changed everything. Adams was able to discover errors in the MACV order of battle. Insights from CIA interrogations allowed Sam to separate deserters vs. defectors regarding guerrilla troops at the hamlet, village and district levels. His order of battle data revealed MACV underestimating VC guerrillas by 120,000 by 1967.
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Regarded as one of the CIA’s premiere Vietnam intelligence experts George W. Allen wrote a 2001 memoir None So Blind: A personal account of the intelligence failure in Vietnam that remains an alarming insight of intelligence failures that forecasted both France and America’s defeat in Vietnam. Allen’s contributions set the stage regrettably for the Pentagon and White House to also follow France’s misplaced goals in Indochina for the next twenty-five years.
My interest in Allen’s memoir developed from reading a series of confidential reports by the US military and CIA from the 1950s. Declassified in the late 1990s the documents address the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
Many of those documents point to Allen’s intelligence reports and analysis. Naturally this peaked my wish to better understand the American intelligence analysis of the French defeat.
Allen holds a unique, deep understanding of the Indochina Wars (France 1945-1950) and the coming failure of America’s intervention on behalf of South Vietnam 1960-1974. The lessons in his book leave deep, haunting impressions today on the White House and Pentagon leaders who ignored our intelligence community.
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Lewis Sorely’s effort in A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam is a good summary how Creighton Abrams altered the American war effort after succeeding William Westmoreland. Westmoreland executed a war plan from LBJ based upon large battalion strategies that were successful fighting World War II and Korea.
The Viet Minh proved to the French their war was a new type of war. The NVA understood America’s superior firepower and technology could overwhelm their efforts. But for the Viet Cong and NVA this enemy was another war in their long quest for national liberation.
To a larger extent the second indochina war was a war against Diem, the U.S. appointed, French-educated Catholic leader. America selected him to rule a highly corrupt, agrarian and Buddhist society.
Abrams inherited the same political handcuffs trying to pursue the enemy into Laos and Cambodia. LBJ’s Vietnam was a war that limited what American forces could accomplish. American politicians never permitted a ground attack above the 17th parallel. It is disheartening to understand Abrams was not in command control of all US military forces. The Air Force and Navy did not report under his chain of command at MACV.
Abrams clearly understood the role of American forces after Tet. He shifted from large engagements with the NVA to re-establishing protected hamlets and securing the South against Viet Cong guerrillas.
The CIA’s William Colby and US Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker worked with Abrams to develop a very effective approach to both the military and political infrastructure in South Vietnam. To a great extent this helped turn the tide of the war somewhat in America’s favor.
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Hindsight makes us brilliant. David Halberstam brought his experiences writing in Saigon for the New York Times in late 1962 into this book “The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era” in which he won a pulitzer prize for international reporting from Vietnam in 1964. In many ways its a perfect prequel to his wonderful book The Best and the Brightest.
There are terrible lessons from the long US involvement in Vietnam that echo today. Its fair to say we Americans like to repeat history. This book written almost thirty years ago yet tells much about our approach in Afghanistan and Iraq. The quick lesson is that America regardless of party backed Ngo Dinh Diem from 1955 until plotting his assassination in 1963. Diem was actually living in a catholic monastery in New Jersey for three years before returning to Vietnam to become South Vietnam’s first President.
Halberstam makes it clear early in the book that the war in Vietnam was lost during the Eisenhower Administration. The war against the North continued to fail throughout the coutnryside of South Vietnam during Kennedy’s short Presidency.
Halberstam shows how the war was not lost in Saigon or the Central Highlands. It was lost in the Mekong Delta between 1956-1959. But the US back Diem insisting on saving Vietnam from communism, tolerated a corrupt Diem family and fought a war for another 20 years before finally giving up. Halberstam does not spare America its sinking America’s loss as a world power. Again I find his writing to be powerful lessons for today.
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Tim Weiner wrote an extraordinary book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. He traced the origin back to World War II and movements by former Office of Strategic Services Officers to run the new agency in a post war world.
Weiner’s research (over 50,000 documents and interviews with agents and over a dozen CIA Directors) is priceless. Legacy of Ashes won the 2007 National Book Award for non-fiction.
I cannot help but look back at sections of his book regarding the CIA’s role in Vietnam from 1954-1975. Weiner book helps indicate where the CIA is today as an organization, regarding their war on terror….also known as the ‘transnational anti-terrorism activities’ including implications of human rights abuses.
Weiner’s rich history of CIA’s vast amount of intelligence gathering required by Presidnets Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon is no surprise, however I was surprised by Weiner’s documentation regarding Kennedy’s distain for the agency and its Director former Air Force General Charles Cabell.
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I was looking forward to George Friedman‘s The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. I found this to be a very compelling read due to the simple nature that predictions in general are always horribly incorrect.
Friedman’s background provides a true global, military view of the world’s future and his role at Stratfor, a global intelligence service provides direction to his book.
Yet I could not help but think twice about some of the aspects of his work. I agree with his points that in the future countries including Poland can become a superpower, but at the same time to predict in 40 years America will be at war with Mexico after fighting Japan and Turkey are a bit…on the surface, a stretch.
For the strangest reason Friedman seems to be able to tie some of his predication today. Following the fall of the USSR and the Orange Revolution not many would predict that Ukraine and Russia would sign a joint agreement in April 2010 to keep Russian Naval forces in their former communist republic in Sevastopol.
At the same time his prediction of Poland’s coming success as a global power could not have taken into account the April 2010 tragedy in Katyn. I do not believe this will stop Poland from gaining power in the future, but it appears to be slowing down (potentially) the process by a decade.
I do feel the first half of the book hold chapters that are solid and well written:
Chapter 1: The Dawn of the American Age
Chapter 2: Earthquake: The US – Jihadist War
Chapter 3: Population, Computers and Culture Wars
Chapter 4: The New Fault Lines
Chapter 5: China 2020: The Paper Tiger
However Chapters 6 – 13 layout the world order from 2020 to 2080. Again the further out the more difficult to predict IMHO. Interesting reading for sure since most today would never foresee Mexico winning a war against America.
Tags: The Next 100 years, George Friedman, 21st Century, America, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, future, reading, trends
I finished reading The Cell: Inside The 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It and was a bit disappointed. Not due to the writing, but rather I also read Triple Cross: How bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI–and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him just a couple of months ago and felt it was much more in depth.
Triple Cross critiques issues addressed as errors in the reporting by the authors John Miller and Michael Stone. Miller is a noted former investigative journalist with ABC News.
There was much attention drawn to The Cell for two reasons: The ABC movie The Path to 9/11 which was America’s first network movie behind the attack on 9/11 was based upon the book. Second, it was Miller’s famous 1998 interview with Osama bin Laden.
At that interview Miller learned bin Laden was well on his way to leading al-Qaeda‘s war on America. The only problem was it was too early for most law enforcement agencies to act upon.
The interview was interesting enough to see how Al was protecting bin Laden and Miller’s recollection of how 15 years old boys were shooting AK-47s next to his ears (as a way to intimidate him) repeatedly as bin Laden arrived for his interview.
Miller shared how he even initially met with bin Laden’s right hand man Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. It was quite an interview for Miller and helped establish him as a strong source on terrorism for ABC even before the 9/11 attack.
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Of all the books written about Watergate and the domino effect those crimes left upon the federal government comes a rather late entry: In Nixon’s Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate.
This was is a rather interesting read since L. Patrick Gray wrote his first hand account leading the FBI as Watergate unfolded.
Gray was a political appointment to the FBI by Nixon following the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s only Director who served over 48 years as the top federal law enforcement officer to appointed by President Calvin Coolidge.
To many inside the FBI his appointment was considered a shock since he was not a career FBI agent, but rather a former Navy officer who left the armed services to campaign for Nixon.
Gray’s son Edward has authored a website regarding the book. There are interesting segments not only about Gray’s life before the FBI but also his management style that came from his Navy background as a skipper of subs during WWII and the Korean War. Nixon appointed Gray Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division in the Department of Justice.
Gray’s biggest lesson from Watergate was, as a life long Republican he was ultimately sacrificed by Nixon’s WhiteHouse over his confirmation hearings with the Senate. He was lead astray by John Ehrlichman and John Dean. As Director of the FBI he reported to Ehrlichman and not Nixon. Nixon’s men controlled access to the President.
Terrorist Attack at Chicago O’Hare
One of the surprises is Gray’s revelation of the terrorist attack planned for Chicago’s O’Hare following the 1972 Olympic tragedy. It was a rather unique peak into history, to understand how the FBI managed the threat and to learn about Gray’s actions to lead the FBI’s response.
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As most of the President’s men who served Nixon have released their own accounts of their roles in Wategate, Howard Hunt’s book American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond is no different. Hunt spent his career in the CIA from the end of WWII to Watergate. I must admit Hunt lived quite a life. He was also a respected writer having published over 45 books.
He will always be known for his role in the Bay of Pigs and his reported involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy however his book’s focus is Watergate.
I cannot honestly believe how stupid the Republicans were in dealing with Hunt’s team from Miami. G. Gordon Liddy was the mastermind of Operation Gemstone and directed the overall planning with the White House while Hunt ran the team. Its amusing to see the amount of detail Hunt provided regarding the planning to break into DNC offices in the Watergate building.
Many believe the break-in was a one time event. In the last twenty years it has become accepted that Liddy directed four break-ins at the Watergate.
Why? A member of Hunt’s Miami team, Virgilio Gonzàlez the lock picker actually forgot to bring the correct tools to break into the DNC office. Hunt’s team had to cancel the operation while Gonzàlez actually fly back to Miami over a weekend to located a correct set of tools to successfully pick the lock.
This just proves how stupid Hunt and Liddy were regarding this group of clowns….the guy who is in charge of picking the lock to get you inside the DNC forgets to bring his lock picking tools?
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My understanding of the events leading up to 9/11 have been shaped by great authors and believe Triple Cross: How bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI–and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him by Peter Lance makes significant contributions to understanding the full breakdown of the US intelligence community. Many elements of his research and interviews will should shock Americans.
Lance reveals Al Qaeda had a mole in the NYFD who was able to steal blue prints of the World Trade Center before the 1993 bombing and that US authorities had been tracking Al Qaeda for more than 10 years.
The book’s primary focus is the role of Al Qaeda master spy Ali Mohamed and his work as a mole within US Army intelligence, the CIA and the FBI. Lance brings a number of key points that were overlooked or more appropriately ignored by the 9/11 Commission.
Patrick Fitzgerald, National Security Coordinator for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York met multiple times with Ali Mohamed years before 9/11. During this timeframe Ali Mohamed declared his loyalty to Osama bin Ladin and told Fitzgerald that he did not need a fatwà to attack America. And yet Fitzgerald did nothing.
Ali Mohamed was identified by the US State Department as Osama bin Ladin‘s first security trainer and helped smuggle Al Qaeda’s co-leader Ayman al-Sawahiri into mosques located in California and North Carolina for recruiting and fund raising. Lance reveals that even Bin Ladin recruited at mosques in Chicago in the late 1980s.
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Daniel Ellsberg‘s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is about his direct experience in Vietnam and more importantly his role in leaking The Pentagon Papers. Daniel’s lessons in both academic research and military battlefields helped me learn more about the times he lived in and how it ultimately caused him to steal and publish top secret files regarding the war in Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers showed world the surprising role of US involvement in Vietnam dating back to Harry Truman through the Nixon Administration. His influence is not to be under estimated. I was impressed to learn of his work with President Kennedy in David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. There was more to Ellsberg than meets the eye.
His background: undergraduate studies at Harvard and post graduate Woodrow Wilson fellowship at Cambridge in England. Daniel returned to apply for Marine officer candidates courses but had to wait a year — so he went to grad school at Harvard (during the Korean War) where he was expected to serve. In the beginning Ellsberg was a political hawk regarding communist expansion in the world especially Soviet aggressiveness in Czechoslovakia and Poland.
A week after getting his PhD he was in the military training to be a lieutenant. He would command a rifle unit in the second Marine division. As his tour was ending his first son was born. He was awarded a three year junior fellowship back at Harvard, but asked the Marine commandant to extend his tour as war in the Middle East appeared imminent. Daniel drafted secret plans against Egypt and Israel. As a research fellow back at Harvard in economic and decision theory he attracted attention of the Rand Corporation and in ’58 accepted an economic position with RAND in California. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik during this time-frame. The cold war was beginning to really heat up.
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