From 1964 to 1972, the United States executed an extremely secret campaign of covert operations against North Vietnam. Controlled by the Pentagon's Special Operations Group, under the cover name "Studies and Observation Group" (SOG), it was the United States' largest and most complex covert operation since World War II. Because it was so highly classified and politically sensitive, once the war was over the story of SOG was buried deep in the vaults of the Pentagon--until Dr. Richard H. Shultz, Jr., one of the world's leading experts on SOG's activities in Southeast Asia, began his impressive investigative research and wide-ranging special interviews.
The Secret War Against Hanoi is based on thousands of pages of recently declassified top-secret SOG documents, as well as interviews with sixty officers who ran SOG's covert programs and the senior officials who directed this secret war, including Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, Richard Helms, William Colby, William Westmoreland, and Victor Krulak. It is the first-ever definitive and comprehensive account of the covert paramilitary and espionage campaign, with many eye-opening disclosures.
Dr. Shultz reveals how in 1963, President Kennedy, dissatisfied with the CIA's ineffective guerrilla operations against North Vietnam, turned over operational control of the covert war to the Pentagon and demanded results. Despite Kennedy's strong directive, those results were slow in coming. United States policymakers and the senior military leadership had little interest in or understanding of special operations and resisted any expansion of the secret war. When SOG finally did get started in January 1964, under newly inaugurated President Johnson, it was constantly hobbled by the micro-management of the National Security Council, State Department, and Pentagon leadership.
Despite these restraints, SOG conducted its intense secret war for eight years, through the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and managed to execute a range of operations, including the dispatch of numerous spies to North Vietnam and creation of a sophisticated triple-cross deception program: psychological warfare through a fabricated guerrilla movement, manipulation of North Vietnamese POWs and kidnapped citizens, and dirty tricks; commando raids against Hanoi's coast and navy; and operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to kill enemy soldiers and destroy supplies. Ultimately, the Pentagon's spies, saboteurs, and secret warriors would produce both spectacular and disastrous results.
There are lessons to be learned from Washington's conduct of the secret war against Hanoi that will be valuable and valid for years to come for presidents who engage in covert special operations to meet twenty-first-century threats to vital U.S. interests.
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The Secret War Against Hanoi documents American covert actions in Vietnam, beginning in 1961 when John F. Kennedy decided that if Hanoi could wage a guerilla war against the South, the U.S. could do the same in the North. Dissatisfied with the CIA's initial results, Kennedy passed responsibility for covert operations to the Pentagon--which never fully supported them. For example, in an interview for this book, General Westmoreland, Commander of American forces in Vietnam, vastly underestimated the imaginative ways in which underground activities could destabilize an enemy. American covert action focused on disrupting two vital "centers of gravity": the North's own internal stability and the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos and Cambodia. Such activities ran counter to the Geneva Accords, however, and nervous diplomats placed them under severe constraints. Permission always had to be obtained from the top, which after 1964 meant an excessively cautious President Johnson, concerned that China would be goaded into intervening openly in Vietnam as it had in Korea. The creative thinking that went into America's secret exploits reads like a racy novel, from the adroit brainwashing and release of captured fishermen to the fabrication of a phantom secret society based on a 15th-century anti-Chinese hero, plus innumerable nasty booby traps. Author Richard H. Shultz has had unusual access to prominent protagonists and to thousands of classified documents made available only to him while he researched this book. The Secret War Against Hanoi clearly lays out what was achieved and what might have been achieved by covert action in Vietnam, ending with a thoughtful analysis of lessons learned for future politicians and operatives in a post-cold war world. --John StevensonAbout the Author:
Richard H. Shultz, Jr., is the director of the International Security Studies Program and associate professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has been Olin Distinguished Professor of National Security Studies, U.S. Military Academy; Secretary of the Navy Senior Research Fellow, U.S. Naval War College; and Research Fellow, Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University. His books include The Soviet Union and Revolutionary Warfare.
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