Who Wanted David Truong Put Away?
Schaar, Stuart, Hovsepian, Nubar, The Nation
In 1978 David Truong, a Vietnamese man living in the United States, was convicted on several counts of espionage in a Federal court. We believe, however, that Truong's real crime was working for reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam, that he was a victim of history.
Truong came to this country as a student in 1964. The son of Truong Dinh Dzu, who made a strong bid for the presidency of South Vietnam in 1967 as a peace candidate, David Truong was active in the U.S. antiwar movement during the 1960s. After the United States withdrew from Saigon in 1975, he devoted himself to working for the normalization of relation with Vietnam through the American-Vietnamese Reconciliation Center. Aided by his father's prominence, he was an effective lobbyist in Congress.
In 1977, however, he was arrested and charged with passing State Department cables to a Vietnamese friend in Paris. The information was routine in nature, the kind of material any researcher can obtain nowadays under the Freedom of Information Act. The summary of the trial transcript contains this memorable paraphrase of a Central Intelligence Agency memorandum: "The CIA concluded that connection between the cables and U.S. defense is so attenuated that only a Jesuit could understand it." The key witness against Truong was a Vietnamese woman named Dung Krall, who worked as an informant for the C.I.A. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Truong was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Ronald L. Humphrey, the Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Information Agency who had given Truong the documents, received the same sentence. In January 1982, Truong began serving his time at the Federal prison in Lake Placid, New York.
During the next three years we visited him, first at Lake Placid and then at the correctional institution in Danbury, Connecticut, where he is currently incarcerated. From discussions with him, with his lawyers and with experts on Indochina, we became convinced that the severity of the sentence that he and Humphrey received can be attributed more to political considerations than to the crime of having passed seemingly harmless documents.
In 1977 there were two schools of thought in the Carter Administration on U.S. policy toward Vietnam. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski favored playing the "Chna card" against the Soviet Union, which meant siding with Beijing in its disputes with Hanoi. …