Secret Army, Secret War: Washington's Tragic Spy Operation in North Vietnam

Article excerpt

SECRET ARMY, SECRET WAR: Washington's Tragic Spy Operation in North Vietnam by Sedgwick D. Tourison. 389 pages. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. 1995. $29.95.

This book is one of the first in a special warfare series from the Naval Institute Press. The author spent eight years in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam as a US Army linguist and intelligence analyst. From 1983 to 1988, he served in the Defense Intelligence Agency's special office for prisoners of war (POWs)/missing in action (MIA) affairs and became the chief analyst. In November 1991, he joined the Senate Select Committee's staff on POW/MIA affairs and was a major contributor to its final 1993 report.

In Secret Army, Secret War, Tourison focuses on Operation Tiger, a series of little-known covert operations conducted against North Vietnam in the early days of US involvement in Southeast Asia. Beginning in 1961, the CIA began infiltrating small teams of South Vietnamese undercover agents into North Vietnam. These teams were a mix of South Vietnamese army officers and civilians, many of whom originally came from North Vietnam and knew the terrain and dialects. The teams slipped into North Vietnam by night on junks, sampans and speedboats; parachuted in with help from the South Vietnamese air force; or were dropped into Laos by the CIA from Air America planes and walked into the war zone.

Strong evidence suggests these operations were compromised from the beginning, and by 1964, the Pentagon was certain team members had been killed, captured or "turned" to work for North Vietnam. A new effort, dubbed Operation Plan 34-Alpha, was launched as part of a shadowy covert action force known as the Studies and Observation Group, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACVSOG). These operations were no more successful than the initial efforts, and by 1968, some 500 agents had been lost in North Vietnam. US officials told their families the men were dead, and nothing was done to find them, yet 20 years later more than 300 of the agents were released from North Vietnamese prisons, exposing the dark secret of the abandoned commandos.

Using recently declassified government files and personal interviews with the commandos and CIA and SOG participants, Tourison examines the tragically flawed operation from two perspectives. …

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