The CIA vs the State Department over the Coup In Vietnam 1963

The New York Times, October 3, 1963
In the Nation [column]
"The Intra-Administration War in Vietnam"
by Arthur Krock

The Coup in Vietnam and the murder of President Diem and his brother occured on November 1, 1963.

Researcher Anthony Frank writes: A "Washington Post" article on September 22, 1963, about Kennedy’s efforts to oust the Diem-Nhu regime, said that “certain elements of the CIA believe that there is no alternative to the Diem-Nhu axis. These sentiments also exist among American military leaders . . . The brass simply feels that any change in American policy would wreck the war effort. The firmest opponents of change, however, seem to be certain top CIA people. There is strong reason to believe that the recent Times of Vietnam story exposing an alleged CIA coup attempt was actually leaked by CIA dissidents themselves in an attempt to forestall any American attempt to dump Nhu . . . CIA dissidents see positive virtues in Nhu . . . Ambassador Lodge cannot fully trust his own staff members.”

On October 5, 1963, nine days after McCone’s memorandum, the "Washington Post" reported: “John H. Richardson, CIA station chief in South Vietnam, is being recalled to Washington . . . Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge is reported on good authority to have requested Richardson’s replacement . . . Richardson has been one of the key men in development of the U.S. Role of helping the Diem government fight Communist guerrillas . . . There have been persistent reports of differences between Lodge and the CIA staff.”

At a news conference on October 9, 1963, four days after Richardson’s removal, President Kennedy “vigorously defended the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in South Vietnam . . . The President devoted a good share of his 30 minute news conference to the subject of the CIA, a normally sacrosanct matter which the White House never airs in public.”

On November 1, 1963, three weeks before JFK was assassinated, the Diem-Nhu regime was ousted in a coup.

“Diem was defended to the last by the special forces troops trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.”

Researcher Pat Speer writes: Richardson was most definitely against the coup, and felt (correctly, as it turned out) there was no one who could replace Diem. He was telling as much to McCone, who was telling as much to Kennedy. Kennedy was on the fence. He didn't want a coup but wanted Diem to stop his oppression of the Buddhists. Lodge wanted Richardson out of the way so he could be through with Diem. Diem got the point and agreed to play ball. Lodge decided it was too late and stood by as the coup took place. One of Diem's brothers escaped into U.S. custody, and Lodge turned him over to the coup plotters so he could be killed. When Kennedy expressed shock that Diem and his brothers were killed, as he thought they were to be allowed exile, Lodge reportedly mocked him and said that you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs (or some such thing). McNamara has a lot on this in his book "In Retrospect". There is also a book specifically on the coup entitled "A Death in November". Both make clear that Lodge was the heavy in the deal, with the encouragement of Hilsman and Harriman. Ultimately, of course, Kennedy was at fault, as he should have executed more control over the State Department.

There is a famous quote from Kennedy about "Seven Days in May", where he said a military coup could happen here if a young President made a series of crucial mistakes that ostracized the military and CIA. He felt the Bay of Pigs was strike one, but thought he'd avoided strike two. Well, I'm not so sure the opposing team didn't consider the Missile Crisis strike two and the Diem coup strike three.

Researcher Paul Rigby brings up other points:

The Washington Daily News, Wednesday, October 2, 1963, p.3


'Arrogant' CIA Disobeys Orders in Viet Nam

By Richard Starnes

SAIGON, Oct.2 - The story of the Central Intelligence Agency's role in South Viet Nam is a dismal chronicle of bureaucratic arrogance, obstinate disregard of orders, and unrestrained thirst for power.

Twice the CIA flatly refused to carry out instructions from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, according to a high United States source here.

In one of these instances the CIA frustrated a plan of action Mr. Lodge brought with him from Washington because the agency disagreed with it.

This led to a dramatic confrontation between Mr. Lodge and John Richardson, chief of the huge CIA apparatus here. Mr. Lodge failed to move Mr. Richardson, and the dispute was bucked back to Washington. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and CIA Chief John A. McCone were unable to resolve the conflict, and the matter is now reported to be awaiting settlement by President Kennedy.

It is one of the developments expected to be covered in Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's report to Mr. Kennedy.

Others Critical, Too

Other American agencies here are incredibly bitter about the CIA.

"If the United States ever experiences a 'Seven Days in May' it will come from the CIA, and not from the Pentagon," one U.S. official commented caustically.

("Seven Days in May" is a fictional account of an attempted military coup to take over the U.S. Government.)

CIA "spooks" (a universal term for secret agents here) have penetrated every branch of the American community in Saigon, until non-spook Americans here almost seem to be suffering a CIA psychosis.

An American field officer with a distinguished combat career speaks angrily about "that man at headquarters in Saigon wearing a colonel's uniform." He means the man is a CIA agent, and he can't understand what he is doing at U.S. military headquarters here, unless it is spying on other Americans.

Another American officer, talking about the CIA, acidly commented: "You'd think they'd have learned something from Cuba but apparently they didn't."

Few Know CIA Strength

Few people other than Mr. Richardson and his close aides know the actual CIA strength here, but a widely used figure is 600. Many are clandestine agents known only to a few of their fellow spooks.

Even Mr. Richardson is a man about whom it is difficult to learn much in Saigon. He is said to be a former OSS officer, and to have served with distinction in the CIA in the Philippines.

A surprising number of the spooks are known to be involved in their ghostly trade and some make no secret of it.

"There are a number of spooks in the U.S. Information Service, in the U.S. Operations mission, in every aspect of American official and commercial life here," one official - presumably a non-spook - said.

"They represent a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone," he added.

Coupled with the ubiquitous secret police of Ngo Dinh Nhu, a surfeit of spooks has given Saigon an oppressive police state atmosphere.

The Nhu-Richardson relationship is a subject of lively speculation. The CIA continues to pay the special forces which conducted brutal raids on Buddhist temples last Aug. 21, altho in fairness it should be pointed out that the CIA is paying these goons for the war against communist guerillas, not Buddhist bonzes (priests).

Hand Over Millions

Nevertheless, on the first of every month, the CIA dutifully hands over a quarter million American dollars to pay these special forces.

Whatever else it buys, it doesn't buy any solid information on what the special forces are up to. The Aug. 21 raids caught top U.S. officials here and in Washington flat-footed.

Nhu ordered the special forces to crush the Buddhist priests, but the CIA wasn't let in on the secret. (Some CIA button men now say they warned their superiors what was coming up, but in any event the warning of harsh repression was never passed to top officials here or in Washington.)

Consequently, Washington reacted unsurely to the crisis. Top officials here and at home were outraged at the news the CIA was paying the temple raiders, but the CIA continued the payments.

It may not be a direct subsidy for a religious war against the country's Buddhist majority, but it comes close to that.

And for every State Department aide here who will tell you, "Dammit, the CIA is supposed to gather information, not make policy, but policy-making is what they're doing here," there are military officers who scream over the way the spooks dabble in military operations.

A Typical Example

For example, highly trained trail watchers are an important part of the effort to end Viet Cong infiltration from across the Laos and Cambodia borders. But if the trailer watchers spot incoming Viet Congs, they report it to the CIA in Saigon, and in the fullness of time, the spooks may tell the military.

One very high American official here, a man who has spent much of his life in the service of democracy, likened the CIA's growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure even the White House could control it any longer.

Unquestionably Mr. McNamara and Gen. Maxwell Taylor both got an earful from people who are beginning to fear the CIA is becoming a Third Force co-equal with President Diem's regime and the U.S. Government - and answerable to neither.

There is naturally the highest interest here as to whether Mr. McNamara will persuade Mr. Kennedy something ought to be done about it.


Arthur Krock’s riposte in the pages of the NYT on October 3, 1963, was a defence of the Agency and an attack on Kennedy. (Indeed, Krock was a veteran mouthpiece and message bearer for US intelligence, even prior to the formation of the CIA.) Again, to illustrate the point:

New York Times, 3 October 1963, p.34

Intra-Administration War in Vietnam

By Arthur Krock

The Central Intelligence Agency is getting a very bad press in dispatches from Vietnam to American newspapers and in articles originating in Washington. Like the Supreme Court when under fire, the C.I.A. cannot defend itself in public retorts to criticisms of its activities as they occur. But, unlike the Supreme Court, the C.I.A. has no open record of its activities on which the public can base a judgment of the validity of the criticisms. Also, the agency is precluded from using the indirect defensive tactic which is constantly employed by all other government units under critical fire.

This tactic is to give information to the press, under a seal of confidence, that challenges or refutes the critics. But the C.I.A. cannot father such inspired articles, because to do so would require some disclosure of its activities. And not only does the effectiveness of the agency depend on the secrecy of its operations. Every President since the C.I.A. was created has protected this secrecy from claimants – Congress or the public through the press, for examples – of the right to share any part of it.

This Presidential policy has not, however, always restrained other executive units from going confidentially to the press with attacks on C.I.A. operations in their common field of responsibility. And usually it has been possible to deduce these operational details from the nature of the attacks. But the peak of the practice has recently been reached in Vietnam and in Washington. This is revealed almost every day now in dispatches from reporters – in close touch with intra-Administration critics of the C.I.A. – with excellent reputations for reliability.

One reporter in this category is Richard Starnes of the Scripps-Howard newspapers. Today, under a Saigon deadline, he related that, “according to a high United States source here, twice the C.I.A. flatly refused to carry out instructions from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge … in one instance frustrated a plan of action Mr. Lodge brought from Washington because the agency disagreed with it.” Among the views attributed to United States officials on the scene, including one described as a “very high American official…who has spent much of his life in the service of democracy…are the following:The C.I.A.’s growth was “likened to a malignancy” which the “very high official was not sure even the White House could control…any longer.” “If the United States ever experiences it will come from the C.I.A. and not the Pentagon.” The agency “represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone.”


Whatever these passages disclose, they most certainly establish that representatives of other Executive branches have expanded their war against the C.I.A. from the inner councils to the American people via the press. And published simultaneously are details of the agency’s operations in Vietnam that can only come from the same critical official sources. This is disorderly government. And the longer the President tolerates it – the period is already considerable – the greater will grow its potentials of hampering the real war against the Vietcong and the impression of a very indecisive Administration in Washington.

The C.I.A. may be guilty as charged. Since it cannot, or at any rate will not, openly defend its record in Vietnam, or defend it by the same confidential press “briefings” employed by its critics, the public is not in a position to judge. Nor is this department, which sought and failed to get even the outlines of the agency’s case in rebuttal. But Mr. Kennedy will have to make a judgment if the spectacle of war within the Executive branch is to be ended and the effective functioning of the C.I.A. preserved. And when he make this judgment, hopefully he also will make it public, as well as the appraisal of fault on which it is based.

Doubtless recommendations as to what his judgment should be were made to him today by Secretary of Defense McNamara and General Taylor on their return from their fact-finding expedition into the embattled official jungle in Saigon.

Senator Saltonstall read Krock’s apologia for CIA mutiny into the Congressional Record for precisely the purpose of exonerating the organisation, prefacing it thus: “As one who has followed the work of the CIA closely since its inception and closely since the time Allen Dulles and now John McCone have been its Directors, I can testify as to its responsibility and loyalty to our Chief Executives and their Administrations” (CR, Vol 109, October 3, 1963, p.18682).

Starnes’ extraordinary despatch was read into the Congressional Record (88th Congress, Vol 109, October 3, 1963) by two Senators and a Congressman. The first named on the list, it should be noted, was a perennial member of a small group of persistent Senatorial critics of the CIA:

Senator Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska), pp.18645- 8;
Senator Miller (R-Michigan), pp.18729-18730;
Congressman Paul Rogers (D-Florida), p.18602.

Extracts were also published, under the title “CIA’s ‘Thirst for Power,’” in The New Republic of October 12, 1963, as an appendage to the preceding article, Jerry A. Rose’s “Dead End In Vietnam: 1 – We Can’t Win, But We Need Not Lose” (pp.15-17). The CIA coup prophecy was here omitted (see p.17), as in the New York World-Telegram version of the despatch.

Remarkably, only Joachim Joesten of the earliest, and better known, pro-conspiracy writers could bring himself to mention Starnes’ name; and that was only to cite two post-assassination pieces by Starnes from early December 1963: “Truth Won’t Out” (NY World-Telegram & Sun, December 3, 1963, p.25) and “Dulles Is Shadow on Inquiry” (NY World-Telegram & Sun, December 11, 1963, p.). Both are majestic, but no substitute for the Starnes journalism which preceded the coup. How Lane, Weisberg et al missed the Starnes piece and the ensuing furore – the NYT devoted at least six follow-ups to it by October 8 – must remain a matter for future fun.

Contrary to the arguement served up by Mssrs Frank and Speer (above), John H. Richardson, the recalled chief of station was a) originally named by the (English-language) "Times of Vietnam" on September 2, 1963 (See John Prados’s "Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby" (Oxford UP, March 2003) <019528478>, p.122, for example); and b) a firm advocate of Diem’s ouster by no later than August 28, 1963, when he telegrammed Washington to the effect that Saigon was an “armed camp,” and the situation there at a “point of no return.” The generals backed by the CIA understood “that they have no alternative but to go forward” or else, by their inaction, permit a sharp reduction in the American presence and their country “stagger on to final defeat.” You’ll find details of Richardson’s telegram in Francis X. Winters’ "The Year of the Hare: America in Vietnam, January 25, 1963 – February 15, 1964" (University of Georgia Press, 1997), p.66.

Thus by the time Lodge demanded Richardson’s recall in September, the latter was a committed advocate of Diem’s removal.

Kennedy discussed ‘Arrogant’ CIA at a National Security Council meeting at the White House on the evening of its October 2 publication. According to the summary held by the Kennedy Library, the President read a draft paragraph for inclusion in a public statement, “but rejected it as too fluffy. He felt no one would believe a statement saying that there were no differences of view among the various US agencies represented in Saigon.” (See http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/viet8.htm, citing the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meeting No. 519. Top Secret.) He was to offer a highly qualified public defence of the Agency a week later only after being subjected to considerable pressure from McCone.

Starnes’ source did not go into specifics about the two courses of action thwarted by Agency insubordination. As he put it in a recent email: “As to which specific plans the CIA frustrated, I have no clue. My source clearly was aware that he was taking enormous risks in talking to me, and time was of the essence. I didn't press on that detail.”

He also had this to say about Kennedy’s reaction to the Agency insurrection: “I suppose in the timeless fashion of manipulators such as Kennedy and his people, the decision was made to finesse the agency insurrection instead of confronting it head-on. Or maybe Kennedy was simply afraid they'd kill him if he tried.” It’s also worth adding that according to at least one source, Kennedy had commissioned another major enquiry into the CIA in the weeks preceding his murder on Elm Street.


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