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Left to Right: Secretary of State Dean Rusk with Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) Director Thomas L. Hughes, and INR Deputy Director Allan Evans (Photo courtesy Thomas L. Hughes)
Intelligence and Vietnam: The Top Secret 1969 State Department Study

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 121

Retrospective Preface by Thomas L. Hughes (Former Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State)

Contextual Introduction by John Prados (Senior Fellow, National Security Archive)

Edited by Thomas S. Blanton (Director, National Security Archive)

Embargoed for release, Sunday, May 2, 2004

Two months after the leak of the Pentagon Papers generated front page headlines and a landmark Supreme Court case, TIME magazine reported:

"State's Secrets. The Pentagon, it seems, was not the only Government department to make a top-secret retrospective study of the nation's decisions in Vietnam. In 1968 Tom Hughes, then director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, ordered another report, far less voluminous and ambitious but with considerable potential impact.

"Composed by two State Department Asia analysts, the study compared the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations' key Vietnam decisions with the bureau's own major judgments during the same period. In almost every case, the intelligence reports called the shots perfectly about such matters as the ineffectiveness of the bombing campaign, Vietnamese political upheavals and North Vietnamese troop buildups. Daniel Ellsberg is said to have read the study as a consultant for Henry Kissinger in 1969 and reacted: 'My God, this is astonishing. I thought the CIA stuff was great, but these papers are even more accurate.'

"After publication of the Pentagon papers, the two known copies of the State study have been locked away. Ray Cline, the intelligence bureau's current director, has forbidden subordinates to admit their existence."

-- TIME magazine, August 9, 1971, p. 16

Secrecy and bureaucratic inertia kept this historic study hidden in State Department vaults for nearly 35 years, until Freedom of Information Act requests by Clemson University professor Edwin E. Moise and the George Washington University's National Security Archive forced the release of the bulk of the study in November 2003. Missing from that initial release because of a processing mistake was a significant part of the sources for section A-VI, which the National Security Archive obtained from the State Department on April 27, 2004. Still missing from the 596-page study are a number of questionable deletions on national security grounds, which the Archive has appealed.

In late 1968, Thomas L. Hughes, the director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), commissioned this study, intended as an in-house classified review and evaluation of INR's performance on the subject of Vietnam during the eight years of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies. As Mr. Hughes explains in the retrospective preface he generously provided for this posting, he tasked two former INR analysts who were intimately familiar with INR's product but no longer serving in the Bureau - W. Dean Howells and Dorothy Avery - to produce the study. They wrote the chronological review of INR reporting, compiled the annexes of source material, and wrote the thematic summaries as well. Recently retired INR staffer Fred Greene then reviewed the material and wrote the critique section. Mr. Hughes refrained from supervising or editing the results. All of this material except for the "B" section, the 265-page "Annexes Quoting Sources," is included in this posting.

Then-INR director Hughes comments in his retrospective preface for this posting: "INR's analysis on Vietnam stood out as tenaciously pessimistic from 1963 on, whether the question was the viability of the successive Saigon regimes, the Pentagon's statistical underestimation of enemy strength, the ultimate ineffectiveness of bombing the North, the persistence of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, or the danger of Chinese intervention." Mr. Hughes contrasts INR's consistency with that "of leading actors who were hawks by day and doves by night." Mr. Hughes laments that "while we [in INR] were heeded, we were unable to persuade, sway, or prevail when it came to the ultimate decisions."

Archive senior fellow John Prados, who edited the Archive's forthcoming documentary collection on Vietnam, gives INR more credit in his contextual introduction, calling the Bureau "the mouse that roared." Dr. Prados concludes that INR "helped hone U.S. intelligence conclusions, called attention to the poor data and inadequate intelligence collection taking place in Vietnam, saved the CIA and other agencies from going even farther out on a limb than they climbed, and … also helped limit the war by contributing to the reluctance of top officials to escalate too far."

Archive director Thomas Blanton commented that "Lessons from the Vietnam experience with intelligence run directly counter to today's reform proposals for the U.S. intelligence community. Instead of a centralized 'czar,' this history suggests we need a multiplicity of competing agencies and analyses. Instead of policymakers who cherry-pick only the intelligence they want to hear, we need to encourage dissents and force closer examination of contrary findings. Instead of covering up with the cloak of secrecy, we need to open the insider critiques in real time and enrich the public debate."

Preface: INR'S Vietnam Study in Context
A Retrospective Preface Thirty-five Years Later
by Thomas L. Hughes, Director of INR 1963-69

Since the completion of this study in 1969, dozens of books and memoirs on Vietnam have appeared. A striking pattern has emerged from their disclosures. To a far greater extent than was imagined in the 1960's, prominent officials in Washington engaged in a combined patriotic, political, and careerist suppression of their strong personal doubts about the war. Cumulatively, another tragic dimension has thus been added to the Vietnam tragedy itself-the unveiling of a dramatis personnae of split personalities, of leading actors who were hawks by day and doves by night-a plethora of public hawks who were private doves.

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Introduction: The Mouse That Roared
State Department Intelligence in the Vietnam War
by John Prados, Senior Fellow, National Security Archive

One of the untold stories of the Vietnam era, a tale that lies at the very heart of the nexus of Washington's war decisions and its appreciations of that conflict, is how America's own diplomatic intelligence service contributed to United States understanding of affairs in Vietnam and their likely consequences. This is a story of steady efforts to piece together a wide range of unknowns into a coherent vision of how things appeared to Hanoi and its allies and what those parties would do about Vietnam themselves. It is an account of sometimes breathtaking, sometimes frustrating efforts to speak truth to power in a situation of primary importance to the United States, its leaders, and its people.

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The Document

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1961 - 1968
Interpreted in INR's Production
by W. Dean Howells, Dorothy Avery, and Fred Greene

Cover Page (42 KB)

A: Review of Judgments in INR Reports

Introductory Note; Note on Sources (154 KB)

I - The Problem Confonted: January 1961-February 1962, 13 pages (527 KB)

II - Looking for Progress: February 1962-May 1963, 19 pages (725 KB)

III - The Trouble with Diem: May-November 1963, 10 pages (392 KB)

IV - Time of Decision: November 1963-March 1965, 47 pages (1.8 MB)

V - Trial by Force: March 1965-February 1966, 42 pages (1.6 MB)

VI - A Massive Effort to Turn the Tide: February 1966-April 1968, 46 pages (1.8 MB)

VII - The Search for Peace: April-December, 1968, 22 pages (833 KB)

B: Annexes Quoting Sources for Each Section Above [This section not included here]

C: Thematic Summaries (Index) (34 KB)

I - Communist Intentions and Response to US Actions (235 KB)

II - Political Stability (212 KB)

III - The Course of the War (268 KB)

IV - Prospects for Beginning Talks and Negotiating a Settlement (285 KB)

D: Critique of INR's Interpretations in the Light of Contemporary Events

I - The Political Situation in South Vietnam (855 KB)

II - The Course of the War in the South (905 KB)

III - The War Against the North and the Role of China (863 KB)

IV - Negotiations (623 KB)

E: Special Annexes available as authorized by the Director, RCI

I - Infiltration (454 KB)

II - The Tonkin Gulf (64 KB)

III - Chinese Military Activity, September 1964-January 1965 (31 KB)

IV - Sino-DRV Air and Ground Action, February 1965 to February 1966 (53 KB)

V - DRV Planes Receive Sanctuary, 1967 (48 KB)

The United States Intelligence Board, 28 April 1965 (Photo courtesy Thomas L. Hughes) - Click here for larger version and list of USIB members pictured here

Related Contemporary Memoranda (released April 2004):
1. "Next Stages in the Vietnam Project," Fred Greene to W. Dean Howells. February 9, 1969.
2. Note from Fred Greene, February 9, 1969.
3. "INR Estimates and the Vietnam War," Allen S. Whiting to Thomas L. Hughes, February 10, 1969.
4. "Random (and Enumerated) Observations on INR's Record on Vietnam 1961-1968," Fred Greene to Dean Howells, March 5, 1969.

A Retrospective Study from the CIA:
CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968, by Harold P. Ford (Washington D.C.: History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1998), at www.odci.gov/csi/books/vietnam/index.html

National Security Archive letters appealing questionable deletions in the INR study:

Department of State
Central Intelligence Agency

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