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 discuss his passing at the close of the book I dreaded the last 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 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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Volume IV-C6c reveals a number of interesting items. The CIA’s contributions to prepping Westmoreland and a memorandum immediately following Tet had the following expanded topics of recommendation:
4. Drive on the Viet Cong Infrastructure
In our concern over the behavior of our allies, we must not neglect our enemies and the present opportunity to compound and exacerbate communist problems. Operation Phoenix which is targeted against the Viet Cong must be pursued more vigorously in closer liaison with the US. Vietnamese armed forces should be devoted to anti-infrastructure activities on a priority basis. The Tet offensive surfaced a good deal of the infrastructure and the opportunity to damage it has never been better. This would force the VC on the defensive and head off the establishment of local VC administrative organizations and VC attempts to set up provisional governmental committees.
7. The Prime Minister
We should solicit Ambassador Bunker’s views on the desirability of replacing the Prime Minister. If he is to be replaced we should agree on his successor beforehand, in consultation with Thieu and Ky.
The dreaded Phoenix Program. For the first time Phoenix was mentioned in the Pentagon Papers. CIA was always commenting on how effective this counter-terror program was in weakening the Viet Cong during an ‘unconventional war’ in the South following Tet.
For the first time in the Pentagon Papers this volume displays the full text of American journalists articles critical of the US command. The first was written (Part IV-C6c – Page 65) by Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith:
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I feel that the opening pages of Volume III: 1965–1967 US Ground Strategy and Force Deployments is a telling example of why we lost Vietnam. One cannot help notice that we were way off the mark regarding the enemy in this volume.
We relied upon technology to fight when behind the scenes we knew the political structure of the South Vietnamese government would never succeed, their desertion rate was rising and constant turnover of leaders weakened their moral. Yet we continued to support the South because of the risk (at the time) attributed to the domino effect regarding communism in Asia and the Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union:
The friendly picture gives rise to optimism for increased successes in 1968. In 1967, our logistics base and force structure permitted us to assume a fully offensive posture…A greatly improved intelligence system frequently enabled us to concentrate our superior military assets in preempting enemy military initiatives leading us to decisive accomplishments in conventional engagements. Materiel and tactical innovations have been further developed and employed: Long range reconnaissance patrols, aerial reconnaissance sensors, new observation aircraft, air-mobile operations and the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), to name a few.
The MRF has been significantly successful in depriving the enemy of freedom and initiative in the population and resources rich Delta areas. The helicopter has established itself as perhaps the single most important tool in our arsenal — and we will welcome more.
While the helicopter may have won the day in the Ia Drang Valley at LZ X-Ray bad command decisions to not to use helicopters led to an ambush for those remaining troops walking from LZ X-Ray to LZ Albany, about 4 kilometers to the north-northeast. I’m no longer convinced about the accuracy of the report are concerning Tet:
The enemy’s TET offensive, which began with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on 31 January 1968, although it had been predicted, took the U.S. command and the U.S. public by surprise, and its strength, length, and intensity prolonged this shock.
Predicted? The Pentagon Paper’s acknowledge the Tet offensive had been predicted.
Its safe to assume IV-C6c will reveal more problems with Clark Clifford as the newly installed Secretary of Defense.