Vietnam Declassified: The CIA and Counterinsurgency

Vietnam Declassified: The CIA and Counterinsurgency

Vietnam Declassified: The CIA and Counterinsurgency

Vietnam Declassified: The CIA and Counterinsurgency


Vietnam Declassified is a detailed account of the CIA's effort to help South Vietnamese authorities win the loyalty of the Vietnamese peasantry and suppress the Viet Cong. Covering the CIA engagement from 1954 to mid-1972, it provides a thorough analysis of the agency and its partners. Retired CIA operative and intelligence consultant Thomas L. Ahern Jr. is the first to comprehensively document the CIA's role in the rural pacification of South Vietnam, drawing from secret archives to which he had unrestricted access. In addition to a chronology of operations, the book explores the assumptions, political values, and cultural outlooks of not only the CIA and other U.S. government agencies, but also of the peasants, Viet Cong, and Saigon government forces competing for their loyalty. The depth of Ahern's research combined with the timely relevance of his analysis to current events in the Middle East makes this title an important addition to military literature.


What is the point of a meticulously written, four-hundred-page study of a strenuously pursued failure that lasted for twenty years? Who will read it, and what will be derived from a reading of it?

First, the book is a detailed study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement in rural pacification operations in South Vietnam, a prolonged effort that involved the participation of more American case officers than any other commitment made by the agency since its founding in 1947. If one is interested in how the CIA performed under pressure, in difficult and dangerous conditions, here is a great place to begin.

Second, the book balances, in a way, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, a lugubrious history of CIA that is heavily focused on ill-conceived “covert actions” that American presidents ordered the agency to undertake. Shortly after the book’s publication in 2007, Richard Dearlove, the retired director of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service, rose to CIA’s defense, saying that it had done many things well that Weiner had made no mention of. This book gives strong support to Dearlove’s assertion.

Finally, Tom Ahern’s work clearly lays out the basic flaws in the policy framework within which all Americans in Vietnam had to work that contributed directly to failure at all levels of our civilian and military efforts. For example, Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s often-repeated mantra for the war was “We just want North Vietnam to leave South Vietnam alone.” Poor operational planning, unexamined assumptions, and an “analytical void” all made it very difficult to measure progress in the pacification programs. In his excellent preface, Ahern sheds light on what he calls “compelling similarities” between what we tried and failed to do in Vietnam and what we are currently trying to accomplish in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. He believes, and I agree, that there are lessons from Vietnam that may well apply to our current travails in dealing with radical Islam.

My first direct contact with Vietnam came in February 1962, when I vis-

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