Episode 2. The little little Vietnam had a big big Spy.

Chapter 1. Strange stories.

Episode 2. The little little Vietnam had a big big Spy.


I. Standing out larger than life, almost a myth.

  1. many American friends in journalism” and “include the CIA’s ”.

“…An never said a word that evening about his job in espionage, focusing instead on the details of his other job as a correspondent for Reuters and Time. He spoke passionately about his trade and with fondness about his many American friends in journalism, mentioning many of the era’s best-known reporters, including Robert Shaplen, Stanley Karnow, Frances FitzGerald, Robert Sam Anson, Frank McCulloch, David Halberstam, Henry Kamm, and Neil Sheehan. He told me that his circle of friends extended well beyond journalism to include the CIA’s Lou Conein, Colonel Edward Lansdale, and former CIA director William Colby, who had been the CIA station chief in Saigon. He also mentioned many South Vietnamese politicians and generals, including General Tran Van Don, Ambassador Bui Diem, General Duong Van Minh, known as Big Minh, who was the last president of the Republic of South Vietnam, and former prime minister and vice president Nguyen Cao Ky, who regularly sought An’s advice on fighting cocks and dog training. My dinner companion seemed to know everyone who was anybody during the war.” (Perfect Spy, Prologue, Page 1/12)

  1. Standing out larger than life, almost a myth.

                “Final farewell to our dear brother, teacher and colleague, Hai Trung, a quiet Vietnamese hero who is so uncommon in qualities yet so human in nature that he is well respected by friends and foes alike, and standing out larger than life, almost a myth. Now that it’s all over, may he rest in peace in the next life, with all its pains and ironies, all the mysteries and memories of the good old days that not all is well understood, that he could bring with him to the other world.

—Nguyen Quang Dy, inscription in An’s memory book, September 22, 2006

(Perfect Spy – Epilogue , Page 1/10 )

Comment:  My dinner companion seemed to know everyone who was anybody during the war..

But contact:

…From 1961 to 1975 Ba worked as An’s sole intelligence courier.31 “Each month I would meet with An three or four times to receive documents from him,” recalled Ba, whose code was Female Spy B3. “However, when the situation was urgent we might have to meet five or six times a month. …”

But undetected?

CIA blind?

Story is impossible!


 “The little little Vietnam had a big big Spy” and “standing out larger than life, almost a myth“?

CIA blind?

Story is impossible!


  1. Challenges?

“The Spy Who Loved Us

“I enjoyed this book enormously and learned a lot. The Spy Who Loved Us  is a fine read and a gripping story; but, most of all, it is an object lesson in why human intelligence and a great spy will always trump the most sophisticated espionage and surveillance technology. It’s not the simple accumulation of information that counts. It’s the recognition of what’s important and then knowing what to do with it.”


“The story of Pham Xuan An is the revelation of a remarkable life and a remarkable man. Fictional accounts of practitioners of the Great Game—the craft of spying—come nowhere near the real thing that was practiced by An. In The Spy Who Loved Us,  An is revealed as a man of split loyalties who managed to maintain his humanity. Cast prejudices aside and you will discover a true hero, scholar, patriot, humanist, and masterful spy.”

—MORLEY SAFER, correspondent, CBS 60 Minutes  and author of Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam

“Relevant, instructive, funny. The shock of the double never goes away. Neither does the gullibility of the arrogant intruder.”


“This is a brilliant book about a man and his times. It strength-ens the feeling I got from meeting him late in his life that Pham Xuan An was one of the most impressive people I have ever encountered. He was a man of wisdom, courage, and clear-headed patriotism. He was also—even if it seems ironic to say this under the circumstances—a man of extraordinary integrity. He loved us at our best even while confronting us at our worst.”


Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers FM_1586484095_Bass:bass 12/1/08 11:51 AM Page b

“Thomas Bass tells a fantastic tale of intrigue, espionage, and friendship. His book reads as if it came from the farthest shores of fiction, and I wouldn’t believe a word of it if I hadn’t met so many of its characters and didn’t know the story to be true.”

—H. D. S. GREENWAY, editor, The Boston Globe, and Vietnam war reporter for Time Magazine  and the Washington Post

“Every veteran, every scholar, every student, everyone who survived the Vietnam war is advised to read this book and reflect on its wisdom. In his thoughtful, provocative biography of one of the most successful espionage agents in history, Thomas Bass challenges some of our most fundamental assumptions about what really happened in Vietnam and what it means to us today.”

—JOHN LAURENCE, Vietnam war reporter for CBS News and author of The Cat from Hué: A Vietnam War Story

“This is a chilling account of betrayal of an American army—and an American press corps—involved in a guerrilla war in a society about which little was known or understood. The spy here was in South Vietnam, and his ultimate motives, as Thomas Bass makes clear, were far more complex than those of traditional espionage. This book, coming now, has another message, too, for me—have we put ourselves in the same position, once again, in Iraq?”

—SEYMOUR HERSH, author of

Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

“Thomas Bass has rendered a sensitive, revealing portrait of the strangely ambivalent personality I knew during the Vietnam war.

In doing so he provides us with unique insights into the nature, conflicting sentiments, and heartbreak of many Vietnamese who worked with Americans, made friends with them, but in the end loved their land more and sought, as their ancestors had for a thousand years, to free it from all trespassers.

—SEYMOUR TOPPING, former Southeast Asia bureau chief and managing editor of The New York Times” (The Spy Who Loved Us – Introductions.)

Comment: Story is impossible!


II. An really are?

  1. Party records created his alias as Tran Van Trung in order to protect him?

“The Communist Party recruited An and turned him into espionage agent X6, a lone cell member of the H.63 intelligence network in Cu Chi, known as “The Heroic Unit of the South Vietnamese Liberation Army.” The party instructed An to choose a career in journalism as the best cover, raised the money to send him to the United States, and developed a carefully scripted artificial life history to support his cover. Party records created his alias as Tran Van Trung in order to protect him…” (Perfect Spy, Prologue, Page 8/12)                                                                                         

  1. He listed his employer as Time magazine and his occupation as journalist.

“Back in Saigon, An was also sad and scared…

An was instructed to register with the local authorities, where he listed his employer as Time magazine and his occupation as journalist…” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 2/23)

“…An was now quite literally Time’s man in Ho Chi Minh City, staying in touch with former colleagues and contributing to coverage in post–April 30 editions. “All American correspondents evacuated because of emergency,” An telexed New York. “The office of Time is now manned by Pham Xuan An.”4 Time’s publicity department published a picture of An standing on a deserted street, smoking a cigarette and looking pugnacious.

Each morning An went to the Time office, where the “liberation forces” had placed a censor, which boiled down to censoring An. “I was all alone, except for my censor,” An told me. “He was not a difficult guy to work for, but he was a difficult censor. After a few weeks, nothing went out.”

…An’s last dispatch appeared in the May 12 issue of Time, titled, “The Last Grim Goodbye.” Here is an excerpt from the report:

The last images of the war: U.S. Marines with rifle butts pounding the fingers of Vietnamese who tried to claw their way into the embassy compound to escape from their homeland…” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 7, Page 3/23)

Comment: Why not: “listed his employer as  – Party records created his alias as Tran Van Trung in order to protect him“?


  1. I’m a southern land-owner’s son.1

“Born in 1927 in Binh Truoc village in southern Dong Nai province, An traveled everywhere with his father, whose assignments as a land surveyor took him to the most remote areas of southern Vietnam. When his father saw how inattentive his son was to school and studies, he sent An to live with relatives in Hue in order for him to understand the difference between those who have something and those who have nothing.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 7/19)

“I’ll look them square in the eye and say—all right, what do you want to do with me? I’m a southern land-owner’s son.1

—Pham Xuan An to Robert Shaplen, April 1975…” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 6, Page 1/24)

                “Pham Xuan An was born in the Vietnamese Year of the Cat, at the Hour of the Buffalo, on September 12, 1927, twenty miles northeast of Saigon, in the Bien Hoa psychiatric hospital, which at the time was the only European medical facility in Cochin China open to Vietnamese. As the firstborn son of a cadre supérieur,  an educated member of the colonial administration, he received a French birth certificate, an unusual privilege.

                 “They had one doctor to take care of the crazy people who were pregnant,” An says. “It’s because I was born in an insane asylum that some people say my blood was infected by the ‘virus’ of Communism. An was born in a psychiatric hospital?

                That’s why he follows the Communists. He’s crazy! ” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 14)

                “As a cadre supérieur,  An’s father held one of the highest ranks available to a Vietnamese in the colonial administration.”(The Spy Who Loved Us, page 16)

                Comment: “Communist Vietnam” can be trusted: southern land-owner’s son.” and “his father, whose assignments as a land surveyor.”?

“Communist Vietnam” are?

“Communist Vietnam” like?

Story is impossible!


  1. Someone who works for the government (enemy)

“An had provisionally joined the Party the preceding year during a ceremony in the jungle near Cu Chi. “There is a pro-bationary period of three to six months for a worker to join the party,” An explains. “For a member of the middle class, a student, or someone who works for the government, the proba-tionary period is at least a year, before you move from alternate to become a full member of the Party.” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 61)

  1. The son of a petit bourgeois has a tail.

“He was a landowner who collected rent from peasants, a petit bourgeois oppressor of the working class. As described by his Vietnamese biographers, An had two tails, both of which he had to chop off.

“You are a petit bourgeois guy, but one who in his blood wants to be a hero, who has a passion for the movies, so it’s easy to botch the work,” An’s handlers told him. “The son of a petit bourgeois has a tail. That tail is a bourgeois lifestyle, an arrogant and condescending speech and behavior toward the people, especially poor people whom they call the lower class. Even if you are clever enough to hide it, sooner or later the tail will protrude; it’s very disgusting. You must find a way to cut it off.”

After this lecture, An reported to the docks every day to eat lunch with the stevedores. This effort at worker solidarity was guided by the motto of the “three togethers”: eat together, work together, rest together. An thought he was making good progress, until one day he revealed the second tail to be chopped off.

An punched a Frenchman in the nose. The lout was abus-ing some workers when An grabbed him by the neck and flung him to the ground. Instead of being praised for revealing “the tail of a patriot,” he was chastised by the Communists. “An intelligence agent cannot be impatient and egoistic. It’s not permissible to act like the boss defending his workers. Having been charged with secret work in the bowels of the enemy, if you show an unwillingness to associate with colleagues, turn down bribes, refuse to go for drinks or flirt with girls, how can you get anything done? Only a Communist guy would be so serious and determined. How can you fight if you show your tail like that?” ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 63)

  1. Join Patriotic Union (Viet Minh) also returned!

“… He spent his life along with the history of the Vietnam war, a soldier in three different armies. Join Patriotic Union (Viet Minh) aged 18, was returned for lack of guns, weapons that time for basic ingredients. He mixed in students’ movement Tran Van On in Saigon in 1950. “(Pham Xuan – Name as life, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai, The People’s Public Security Publishing – 2005 Part 1)

Comment: “Communist Vietnam” can be trusted: Someone who works for the government (enemy)” and The son of a petit bourgeois has a tail. “?

“Communist Vietnam” are?

“Communist Vietnam” like?

Story is impossible!


III. Where is the truth?

  1. Always told the truth?

“An was the Quiet Vietnamese, the man in the middle, the representative figure who was at once a lifelong revolutionary and ardent admirer of the United States. He says he never lied to anyone, that he gave the same political analyses to Time that he gave to Ho Chi Minh. He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 3)

  1. They had swapped ignorance for willful ignorance.

                “In 2005 I published an article about Pham Xuan An in The New Yorker.  Shortly after the piece appeared, I signed a contract to develop the article into a book. What I thought would be a simple assignment turned hard as I became en-veloped by yet more intrigue, smoke and mirrors. I began to suspect that I had fallen into the same trap as An’s former colleagues. They had swapped ignorance for willful ignorance and remained charmed to the end by An’s smiling presence. Was he a “divided man,” as Halberstam maintained, or was he a “man of the revolution,” as the Vietnamese say, with the rest being his cover? Was he an accidental Communist or a Communist tout court,  who worked at his job until the day he died? ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 4)

Comment: Story is impossible!


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