Episode 9. The story … unreal.

Chapter 2. Ẩn gave the untruthful stories

                Episode 9. The story … unreal.

I. An “saved” Robert Sam Anson?

                “BOB ANSON WAS ALIVE but facing imminent death. In his own harrowing narrative, Anson describes being captured by North Vietnamese troops across the river in Cambodia a few miles from the town of Skoun.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 1, Page 10/19)

                “Anson’s luck was that Hanoi was expecting An’s detailed analysis of Nixon’s Cambodian incursion as well as an updated report on ARVN morale and training. An decided to send only one message along with some canisters of film. He issued specific instructions about an American reporter, a colleague at Time and a friend of the Vietnamese, who had been captured. If Bob Anson was not already dead, An demanded that he be set free, no questions asked, explaining that he was an American who had saved the lives of Vietnamese children at Takeo.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 1, Page 13/19)

AFTER WEEKS OF CAPTIVITY, Bob Anson was awakened in the middle of the night by one of his interrogators, who informed him that his story about being a journalist for Time had checked out. It would take a few days, but he would soon be released. The interrogator wanted to know why Anson had not told them everything during questioning. Anson could think of nothing he had withheld, but before saying so, his captor asked, why had he said nothing about Takeo? “We have a tradition in Vietnam. Someone who saves the life of one of our children is owed a blood debt. The Front gives you its thanks. You are to be released…. You are one of us. A soldier of the revolution.”37

Bob Anson was overcome with joy but also puzzled. He had not thought to disclose Takeo because it seemed irrelevant to his confession. Still, he put aside all questions and thought only of being with Diane and his children. Nine days later, as he left captivity, his fellow soldiers of the revolution gave Anson a gift of Ho Chi Minh sandals with soles made from a truck tire and straps from inner tubes. “We use only the best. American made. Four-ply,” said the Vietnamese soldier.38(Perfect Spy, Chapter 1, Page 15/19)

  1. Prepared before meeting you.

Seventeen years later Bob Anson returned to Vietnam for personal closure. In a late-night visit to An’s home, he was greeted by his friend wearing the uniform of a colonel in the Vietnamese army decorated with the equivalent of a Medal of Honor. “All along!” Anson gasped. “Yes, all along,” said An, smiling. An would later tell me that Anson was followed by dozens of security agents. “He thought no one followed him, but the next day I had a visit from security. I told them the truth about Takeo, and they left me alone.”

                “So tell me, how are Christian and Sam? And please, how is Diane?” was the first thing An said to his friend. “Seventeen years, and he hadn’t forgotten a detail,” thought Anson. “Seventeen years, and he still knew how to put me at ease. The skill must have made him a master at his craft.”39 (Perfect Spy, Chapter 1, Page 15/19)

  1. Evidence is “learn about Takeo“?

After ninety minutes of friendly conversation, Anson finally asked how it was possible for his captors to learn about Takeo. For the first time An admitted to Anson that it was he who had notified the Front of his friend’s captivity and the details of his heroism at Takeo. But that night he would tell Anson only part of the story, saying that a member of the Front had come to his Saigon home to check out Anson’s confession about working for Time. This is the account Anson provided in his book War News:

“But why? We were on different sides, you and I.”

“An looked at me thoughtfully, as if disappointed that after all his teaching I had failed to grasp his most basic lesson. ‘No, we were friends.’”

There is one final page to this story. An was not prepared to share the complete truth with Anson in 1988. It was still too dangerous for him to disclose his modus operandi as a spy. Eighteen years later An told me what really happened. No member of the Front visited him at home; that could blow his cover. Besides, almost no one in the Front knew about his mission, and the Front was not going to risk losing An over a single American.

                Bob Anson was released because of the secret report An had written about Takeo that Nguyen Thi Ba and another courier carried to Cu Chi. ” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 1, Page 15/19)

                “I have come to understand why journalists consider Frank McCulloch the very best of his profession. Frank spent hours speaking with me about the man he hired to work for Time as well as An’s professionalism. Robert Sam Anson reconstructed events surrounding his capture and release and provided important documents pertaining to An Pham’s study in the U.S.


                Review: Very vague!

  1. Truelearn about Takeo“.

                “In a prolonged war with shifting boundaries and murky allegiances, being captured was a serious threat. An got reports from the Communists on who had been captured and where they were being held. On numerous occasions he vouched for his journalist colleagues and worked through back-channel contacts to get them released. In public, he feigned helpless-ness. While aiding his fellow Time  journalist Robert Sam Anson, An came closest to getting discovered. Another attempt to free Time  photojournalist Sean Flynn resulted in failure.

…An worked to save the lives of other captives, including a

“dairy farmer” who was actually a colonel in the Australian air force. On other occasions he tried to keep the Communists from attacking strategic hamlets defended by conscripted peasants. “In 1967, Rufus Phillips and I learned about some fighting fifteen kilometers outside Saigon. He grabbed me and said,

‘An, why don’t we go out there and take a look?’ We drove there in my small car. Rufe was a big man. He could barely fit in my car. Bob Shaplen could ride with me, but that was the limit. I couldn’t fit in anybody bigger than that.”

” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 186)

                “Four months after Sean Flynn disappeared, An got involved in trying to rescue his colleague Robert Sam Anson, who was captured in Cambodia in August 1970. …

In a singular act of bravery, Anson tried to prevent a massacre in the Cambodian village of Takeo. Two hundred Vietnamese civilians had been rounded up by Cambodians and placed in an internment camp, where they would be killed.

Anson drove out every day to check on the Vietnamese prisoners. He staved off the massacre for a few days, but one morning he arrived to find a great heap of bloody corpses, among them a few children who were still breathing. When Anson was later captured, It was An’s description of his good deed at Takeo that convinced the Communists to release him.

After three weeks in captivity, Anson was given a pair of Ho Chi Minh rubber sandals as a going away present and released. He made his way back to Saigon and rushed into Time’s office to wrap Pham Xuan An in a bear hug of thanks. It would be another eighteen years before Anson learned for sure that An had saved his life, but Anson’s wife had begged An for help, and he had promised to do what he could—a dangerous remark, implying that he really could do something. “I have a weakness for crying women and children,” An admits. In 1988, when Anson visited An in Vietnam, he asked, “Why did you save me, if you were an enemy of my country?” An replied, “Yes, I was an enemy of your country, but you were my friend.” To this day, Anson works with a photo of An on his desk.

” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 189)

                Review: Fizzle out!

                “He staved off the massacre for a few days, but one morning he arrived to find a great heap of bloody corpses, among them a few children who were still breathing. When Anson was later captured, It was An’s description of his good deed at Takeo that convinced the Communists to release him. “

  1. An “saved” Mills C. Brandes?

“Pham Xuan An smiled as he read the return address: Mills C. Brandes, 2329 South Joyce Street, Arlington, Va.

It was April 1958. An’s first year as an undergraduate at Orange Coast College was coming to an end. So many good things had happened in his life since the evening of August 16, 1957, when An and the Brandes family said their good-byes at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport. Mills Brandes had just completed a two-year undercover assignment in Saigon and was departing on an extended family vacation before moving to Arlington so that Mills could begin a new assignment in Washington, D.C.

Mills’s primary concern during the short drive to the airport had not been with his own family’s imminent departure, but rather with that of his young Vietnamese friend, who was scheduled to leave Saigon in a few weeks for Costa Mesa, California, to begin journalism studies at Orange Coast College. Mills and his wife, Janet, had already purchased a new suitcase for An and again reminded him that Southern California had none of Saigon’s stifling humidity.

…Mills first met An in 1956 while on assignment from the State Department, working in the hydroelectric area, or at least that was his cover story. A close friend of the legendary CIA operative Lou Conein, Brandes was really working undercover to assist the government of Ngo Dinh Diem in defeating the Communist Viet Minh insurgency.2 Conein and Brandes had been members of the same detachment in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. In 1954 Conein went to work for Edward Lansdale’s covert mission in North Vietnam, organizing a paramilitary anti-Communist stay-behind group that would prepare for the sabotage of industrial assets as well as overseeing a psywar campaign.3 It was on Conein’s recommendation that Brandes came to Vietnam and joined the battle against Communism. “I never knew that” was An’s surprise response upon learning from me that Brandes had been working undercover. “I knew Mills Brandes was a fierce anti-Communist, but I did not know about him and Lou Conein. ” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 1/20)

  1. Being Communists arrested?

                That trip was most memorable for another story; it was the day Mills took a wrong turn onto a remote road and the car was suddenly surrounded by armed Viet Minh guerrillas. The children were terrified. An first reassured everyone, telling the family to stay calm while he went to speak with them. No one was to make any movements or to say anything. After several minutes of animated conversation, An returned to the car and instructed Mills how to get back onto the main road. Whatever he said worked because the guerrillas quickly disappeared into the adjacent forest.

That evening Mills assembled his family and told them to never forget that An had saved their lives. “If not for him we would have been killed” is what the children recalled their father saying. …” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 3/20)

  1. An convince the Communists?

                “…An told me that when he spoke to the Viet Minh, he said he was serving as a tour guide for this young American family and they were now lost because he did not know the local roads. “I said they were a threat to no one and that Mills did not work for the government.” I somehow doubted that was all An told them and prodded him. “There are some things that even after fifty years I cannot talk about,” he said in a tone indicating we should move on to the next subject.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 3/20)

                Review: Simple too right? “Viet Minh” easily persuaded?

                Never “Viet Minh” forgive one who “I knew Mills Brandes was a fierce anti-Communist”


An communication posture?

If the story is true. Mills Brandes would suspect An!

                Note:Mills C. Brandes, Dies.” (Comfortable lie.)

  1. [My father] is not alive today.

                “To this day the Brandes family speaks with eternal gratitude for what they consider an act of friendship and courage, a debt that can never be fully repaid. When I asked Jul and Jud for their father’s reaction upon learning that An had been a Communist spy, they said, “Father told us that Mr. An is our friend, I won’t judge him. We loved Vietnam, we loved An, we understood nationalism, the Vietnamese were our friends. An did what he had to do, it was his country, his family. He built friendships for the future. He played the game as smart as he could.”4

…4. After I returned her father’s correspondence, Jul sent the following message for An: “Mr. An, I love you…you were my best friend when we lived in Vietnam. I’m so sorry [my father] is not alive today to say hi to you.”

                (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 3/20)

  1. These are Communists:

                “This so-called Second Tet was also characterized by successful infiltration into the Cho Lon area, where on the first day of the fighting four journalists from Reuters and Time were killed by the Viet Cong.60 An’s friend, Time correspondent John Cantwell, lost his life along with Michael Birch of Australian Associated Press, Ronald Laramy of Reuters, and Bruce Pigott, assistant bureau chief of Reuters in Saigon.

The group had been riding in a jeep when they noticed a column of smoke rising above Cho Lon. Heading for the smoke, they soon found themselves moving through a stream of people fleeing the Viet Cong. The reporters kept going, ignoring warnings until they arrived at an empty intersection where they were confronted by armed Viet Cong units. Cantwell, who was driving, tried to put the jeep in reverse, but it was too late. When the VC commander approached the jeep, Birch cried out, “Bao Chi,” using the Vietnamese word for newsman. “Bao Chi,” replied the VC derisively and pumped three rounds from his .45 into the correspondent.61

…60. “Reds Showed No Mercy in Slaying 4 Newsmen.” Time, May 10, 1968. One reporter, Frank Palmos, twenty-eight, a freelance Australian journalist, escaped to tell the story.

  1. Ibid.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 13/25)
  1. Contents of the letter … Just friends.

“An always looked forward to updates from Mills, but this letter brought disturbing news. “I hope you don’t mind our consulting you on these matters concerning Vietnamese-America relations,” wrote Mills Brandes. “We do so because we are interested in these relations and because we know that you will give us your honest opinion. After all, you are the one person who taught me and my family most of what we know about your country.”5

Enclosed were four articles, including “one on the discovery of several communist newspapermen in Vietnam by the Vietnamese government.” Mills warned An that these arrests

“point to the existence of the communist menace and also to the awareness of its existence by some people. We don’t have any ‘full time’ propaganda people in this country, only the ‘free press’ which you are learning about now. Many times I feel that our country is fighting with its hands tied behind its back. Let us hope that this unwillingness on our part to meet the communists with U.S. Government sponsored propaganda is not mistaken as being cowardice by our friends.

“I must admit that I have met more people in your country and others, in the Far East who are ‘wise’ to communist strategy and tactics than I have here at home. I am only one person and this may not be a fair sampling either at home, or abroad—probably isn’t. If, some day, my people are allowed to understand world communism for what it really is—an insidious plot for world domination which is completely controlled by a few madmen—then communism will be destroyed. I don’t think that our people yet realize this menace in its true meaning. Further, I don’t believe that we know yet our most powerful weapons with which we can destroy it—truth, honesty, and individual integrity.”

…5. Mills also tried convincing An that he should write a letter to the Washington Post in response to a recently published letter by Thiem Kim, a “little Vietnamese girl” whose critical questions about United States foreign policy had been published in the paper on February 25 (personal letter, March 24, 1958).” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 3/19)

                Review: All the stories are not true!

                III. Conclusions: His cover was still intact“?

                “From the letter An learned two important things. First, that back home there had been a crackdown by the Diem government against those suspected of having VC sympathies, and second, his cover was still intact. ” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 4/19)

                Review: Simple too right? Super spy?

II. The story … unreal. (follow)

  1. An better than your boss.

“I was surprised by the coup,” said An. “The Americans had put so much into Diem, but Lansdale was the only one who could restrain him. My superiors thought incorrectly that by getting rid of Diem, the United States was trying to rid themselves of Vietnam. I laughed and said, ‘No way, they are coming and you better get ready for a big war.’ I told them Diem also opposed American troops and that was another reason he was removed by the CIA. He became expendable because he was no longer on the American short leash.”

The large-scale American commitment to Vietnam was made on July 28, 1965,61 (Perfect Spy, Chapter 4, Page 21/27)

An said his primary source for the information on Khanh was the CIA’s Lou Conein, although I suspect he also had other sources. “Lou Conein came back one day from a helicopter flight with Nguyen Khanh and started yelling at me, ‘An, get your wife and family, pack up, and get out of here. All is lost. Your country is going to fall into the Communists’ hands very soon. It is worse than I ever thought, Khanh is in bed with the NLF.’” An explained that during their flight Conein had decided to “test” Khanh by saying something to the effect that “this may be the right time to explore a coalition government and speak with the NLF.”

Khanh took the bait and detailed his thoughts to Conein…(Perfect Spy, Chapter 4, Page 21/27)

  1. ““saved” his magazine from jumping into several traps “?

                “As if to demonstrate his loyalty to Time, An frequently claimed that he “saved” his magazine from jumping into several traps set up to embarrass correspondents. Former CIA agent Frank Snepp, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an analyst and counter-intelligence officer, identified Shaplen as the target of disinformation campaigns initiated by the CIA with the sole purpose of showing (by creating) a Viet Cong bias in reporting.36

An told me that he got wind of a planted story about a renegade group of disenchanted Viet Cong who were attempting to overthrow the NLF. Some journalists took the bait and went to an area in Long Khanh to meet with a representative of the National Liberation Front, who told them about a coup attempt in Song Be province. Jean-Claude Pomonti wrote a lengthy article that was published on the front page of Le Monde with the title “A Coup d’État in the Jungle.”37 The story was picked up by many other news agencies. The only problem was that it was all a CIA disinformation plan to discredit journalists. An told me that Pomonti was embarrassed and his professional reputation tarnished. Time bureau chief Stanley Cloud had wanted to send someone to cover the story, but An urged him not to do so, knowing it was false. He asked Cloud how could there be a coup in the jungle that no one else knew about it? When the Pomonti story was published, Cloud called An into his office, shouting, “Why, why, why did we not run this story; why did you not cover this?” An could only tell him, “Look, my sources tell me it was a fake and there was no coup. Trust me, I guarantee my source.”38 When I spoke with Cloud and McCulloch about this, they said that there were several times when An urged each of them to avoid a false lead, whether it had been a planted one or just based on bad information.39(Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 8/25)

  1. An help Claude Pomonti “reach the “VC liberated zone,””?

An felt badly that he could not stop his friend Jean-Claude Pomonti from going into the jungle, and a few months later helped Pomonti make contact with real spokesmen from the NLF by instructing him how to find a liberated area.40 According to Pomonti, after the signing of the Paris Agreement, many reporters wanted to visit the VC “liberated zones” and write articles about the “other side.” One afternoon An came to see him in his room at the Hotel Continental. They chatted, and when leaving, An casually mentioned that if Pomonti wanted to discover a VC zone, he could take the road to the city of My Tho (about sixty kilometers south of Saigon), then before arriving at My Tho, take the road to the My Thuan ferry, then before coming to the ferry stop at a hamlet called My Qui. An then said, “People say that there one can pass [to the VC zone].” The next day, Pomonti said his group was able to reach the “VC liberated zone,” where he was greeted with banners saying, WELCOME TO THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS. Pomonti spent two days in the “liberated zones” and attended a theatrical performance.

“I had to help him the second time to make up for saying nothing the first time,” An explained. “I could save Time from embarrassment, but if I told Pomonti and no one went to the fake story, my cover would be gone.”

An told his Vietnamese biographer, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai: “People usually have only one profession, but I had two: following the revolution and working as a journalist. These two professions were both extremely opposite and extremely similar to one another. Intelligence work involves collecting information, analyzing it, and keeping it secret, protecting it like a mother cat protects her kittens. Journalists, on the other hand, collect information, analyze it, and then broadcast it to the entire world.”41(Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 9/25)

Review: If the story is true. Jean-Claude Pomonti would suspect An!

  1. Everyone in the CIO considered me one of their own.

“An went back a long way with his CIA contacts, beginning with Lansdale, Conein, and Phillips. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful 1960 coup against Diem, station chief William Colby recommended that Dr. Tuyen create a Vietnamese Central Intelligence Office. Tuyen called into his planning circle only those he knew could be relied on, and of course An was one of those.69 “Everyone in the CIO considered me one of their own,” says An. “They were my best source for information during the war.” This group worked hand in hand with the CIA in creating the South Vietnamese counterpart.

” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 16/25)

  1. Communists have compassion?

                “TWO OF THE MOST instructive cases for demonstrating An’s apparent objectivity to his dual professions and which dispel the charge of disinformation can be seen in Lam Son 719 and the 1972 Easter Offensive.

On February 8, 1971, twenty thousand South Vietnamese troops crossed into the Laotian panhandle to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an operation code-named “Lam Son 719” in commemoration of Emperor Le Loi who had been born in the village of Lam Son and who had defeated a fifteenth-century Chinese invasion.70 The immediate target was the small Laotian town of Tchepone, some twenty-five miles from the border with Vietnam. The town was adjacent to Route 9, and virtually all of the roads of the Ho Chi Minh Trail led through this area.

That An forwarded his analysis predicting the Laos action was unremarkable. “Everyone knew about Laos well in advance, except those in charge,” An told me. “My primary military contacts included an ARVN colonel, paratroopers, and special forces. I remember the day I met the colonel, who had been gone from Saigon for a few days. He was tan, and I knew he had been somewhere else, so I said, ‘Have you been fishing in southern Laos?’ He smiled and I knew the answer right then. I was worried because I knew what was awaiting all of them. I told him to be careful and look at the maps for Communist activity. I could not jeopardize the other side’s plans, but I wanted my friends to be careful.”

One of my regrets was not asking An to elaborate on this struggle or tension between knowing that friends were walking into a terrible trap that he and others had contributed to, yet being unable to do anything except say, “Be careful.” I wondered if he had sleepless nights or felt the moral ambiguity in his life.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 17/25)

  1. Make friends with Big Minh” ?

“At 12:10 p.m. the first tanks of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces broke through the gates of the Presidential Palace. Within minutes the PRG flag was raised. The final president of South Vietnam, Duong Van Minh, An’s old friend “Big Minh,” was waiting to preside over the last breath of the Saigon government. “The old administration has totally collapsed,” Colonel Bui Tin told Big Minh. “You cannot hand over what you do not have. You must surrender immediately.” To ease tensions between Vietnamese, Bui Tin asked Big Minh if he still played tennis and how was his splendid orchid collection, reputed to have over six hundred species. Bui Tin asked him why his hair was so long, since he had promised to wear it short for as long as Thieu remained president. Big Minh laughed at this, saying that it was no wonder the North had won the war, their intelligence kept them so well informed.

Big Minh was one of South Vietnam’s most well-liked leaders. Back in October 1971, An had convinced Minh not to run as the leader of a neutralist faction against Nguyen Van Thieu. “Big Minh came to me for my advice. He was my friend and he knew I would give him an objective analysis. I told him Thieu needed him to run to make it look like a close election. If Minh ran, he would be serving the role of red carpet for the Americans, because he was needed to make it look like a democracy, but after he lost the Americans would walk over him like a red carpet. They needed Thieu to win the election. He was their man.” An told me that Minh tried arguing, but An told him, “Look, you will lose, although if you do win, I will get good scoops all the time.” An told Shaplen the same thing: “Minh will run, but will give up at the last minute to save his prestige. Then he returns to his orchids…the elections aren’t genuine anyway, so what difference does it make?”68

On October 3, 1971, eighty-seven percent of the eligible seven million voters went to the polls and in a one-man election, Thieu received ninety-four percent of the vote. Just what the Communists had hoped for in undermining the South’s credibility.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 6, Page 19/24)

                Review: All the stories are not true!

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