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.
Adams planned a memoir of his career. In 1980 as he joined 60 minutes for a highly controversial report on the American defeat in Vietnam. His efforts and the legal demands forced him to set aside his manuscript for almost ten years.
Publisher’s note: This chapter reveals Westmoreland orders from LBJ to wage a war of attrition. Westmoreland never wavered from his Presidential order.
One of his stronger passages occurred on 20 May 1967. Sam learned MACV had a PR staff to accompany MACV to CIA meetings in Saigon:
and the general sitting next to Davidson is Winant Sidle — he’s head of MACV’s Public Relations.
Public Relations?” I said. I was about to ask what the dickens a PR man was doing at an order-of-battle conference.
Clearly MACV understood their Viet Cong numbers were no longer adding up. This critical political error would haunt the country. Colonel Gains Hawkins, MACV intelligence supported Sam’s new Viet Cong guerrilla numbers. Yet the Pentagon and MACV pressured the CIA intelligence to ignore his research and published “Capabilities of the Vietnamese Communists for Fighting in South Vietnam“(PDF) on 13 November 1967.
Adams authored a four point counter-paper supported by George Carver and George Allen. Adams personally photocopied and delivered them to CIA staff including Director Richard Helms on Friday October 24 1967. Special National Intelligence Estimate SNIE 14.3-67 went through twenty-two drafts but held firm to MACV’s number estimate.
90 days later Tet would crush the MACV report, initially shaking the American military. Tet proved CIA intelligence and Adams correct. Adams and his colleagues saw the buildup of Viet Cong units around Saigon. Captured Viet Cong documents revealed enemy logistical operation plans (N-Day) aimed to significantly alter the outcome of the war. CIA intelligence had gathered enough information to understand the enemy was planning a large scale attack. CIA through interrogation and captured documents. At the same time Adams acknowledged:
…of the five hundred or so agents roving Vietnam the number speaking Vietnamese was “considerably less than” six.
Naturally Tet caused a formal review of the Order of Battle within CIA. Adams filed a formal complaint with the CIA Inspector General. Much to his surprise their final report supported his view. It pushed Helms to review his work favoring CIA estimates and shut down MACV’s long-held views. Almost 215,000 enemy troops were finally added to the Viet Cong order of battle. This easily explained enemy surges around Saigon and Hue.
Adams was asked by the CIA to train new agents before departing for Vietnam. He also reported on captured enemy documents that revealed during Tet the Viet Cong murdered three thousand Vietnamese in the city of Hue alone. Adams revealed how interrogation techniques flipped guerrilla supporters to identify and kill Hue government officials, their families including children in the first three weeks of Tet.
After confronting Helms, Adams was researching Viet Cong data when a colleague informed him the military arrested 70 Viet Cong spies – the Cuc Ngien Cuu, the NVA’s military intelligence:
The South Vietnamese National Police had recent arrested seventy Cuc Ngien Cuu agents in the capital city….and a South Vietnamese army lieutenant “who regularly provided sensitive documents of strategic value….A liaison officer. Liaison between Abrams headquarters and the South Vietnamese Join Chiefs. He carried paper mostly, such as plans for Allied operations, requests for B-52 raids, including the coordinates there of, and so forth. Always three copies, – one for Abrams, one for the Joint Chiefs and one for the Cuc Ngien Cuu.
This was the type of information the military wanted to bury. Yet Adams and CIA intelligence colleague Bob Klein were able to assemble an initial list of spies numbering over 500 working in US military roles in Saigon. Klein and Adams forecasted that number could be as high as 1,000. All working for the Viet Cong with American military jobs in Saigon.
Sadness is Sam’s untimely death. The publisher was forced to bring to a close the amazing story of Sam Adams and the CIA during the Vietnam war.