Part III. Robert Shaplen: A New York Time Reporter
Was Killed by Vietnamese Communist.
Chapter 10. Robert Shaplen: A New York Time Reporter
Was Killed by Vietnamese Communist.
Episode 36. Edward Lansdale: “An was anything more than a quick change artist who had flipped to the winning side at the last minute.“!
- “He was an “April 30 revolutionary,” “!
- Après moi le déluge complex.
“An was shocked that the nearly one-million-man ARVN, the fourth largest army in the world, could crumble so quickly between March and April 1975. “An says that he never thought it would be so easy,” Shaplen wrote in his notebook for late April 1975. “Thieu will continue to blame everyone except himself and will bring house down with him. Après moi le déluge complex,” said An.38
…38. Circa April 1975, Folder 3 Box 93, Shaplen Papers.” (Perfect Spy – Chapter 6, Page 11/24 )
Comment: “An was shocked that the nearly one-million-man ARVN, the fourth largest army in the world, could crumble so quickly between March and April 1975.”
- Rufus Phillips.
“Rufus Phillips and An developed a special friendship that lasted until the very end of An’s life. “I think An was one of the most acute and balanced of all the Vietnamese I knew as a perceptive observer of both the Americans and the Vietnamese during the long struggle,” Phillips told me. “I just don’t think he could have ever bought into the Communist Party propaganda line. I knew him as a patriotic nationalist and not a Communist and that is how I will always remember him.”33” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 2, Page 12/19)
- “An reveal nothing that could substantiate the charge that … construed as pro–Viet Cong. “!
“The question of An serving as an agent of disinformation, that is, deliberately spreading false information in order to mislead his country’s enemy has never been corroborated, despite several investigations and accusations.10 It remains perhaps the most sensitive, if not most central question involving An’s cover—did he bias coverage of the war to favor the Communists? The charge was initially made by Arnaud de Borchgrave in testimony before a Senate subcommittee chaired by former American prisoner of war Senator Jeremiah Denton. According to de Borchgrave, “He [An] was in charge of relaying disinformation to the U.S. Embassy and to journalistic colleagues.”11
Former colleagues who worked closely with An say that he never fed them disinformation. “To his credit,” insisted Roy Rowan, former Time bureau chief, he never “misled our correspondents on the progress of the war.”12 Time later conducted an internal audit that found no evidence of skewed reporting by An. My extensive analysis of Robert Shaplen’s detailed notes from conversations with An reveal nothing that could substantiate the charge that An was trying to push false information or even an interpretation that could be construed as pro–Viet Cong. “Journalism was a job that I took seriously,” insisted An to his last day. “That is why no one ever suspected and why I have so many friends today.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 2/25)
“An was hardly anonymous in his cover; indeed, he seems to have incorporated the same modus operandi as he did at Orange Coast College, which was to allow himself to be as visible as possible in hopes that this would make him least likely to be suspected as a spy. Bob Shaplen featured An in a 1972 New Yorker essay on the subject of reporting from Vietnam. “(Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 7/25)
“…I have always questioned the American journalists who insist on romanticizing An. It was one thing to have been against the Vietnam War—many of us were—but quite another to express unconditional admiration for a man who spent a large part of his life pretending to be a journalist while helping to kill Americans.”65
Frank McCulloch was so upset at these accusations that he sent off his own response to the New Yorker. The letter was not published, but McCulloch gave me a copy: “My past and continuing respect for An has nothing to do with his work for the communists and everything to do with his integrity, intelligence and fierce love of his own country…certainly I had no reason to suspect him and didn’t know until after the war ended of his communist role. I forgave it then and forgive it now for two reasons: First, An’s reporting never reflected anything resembling the communist line—and I dearly wish those old files could be inspected to verify that.
…With respect to the “mysterious” Time memo, “that was the weekly Washington letter produced by that bureau for the information, guidance and amusement of Time’s editors. I don’t remember numbering the copies we got in Saigon, but if we did, it was only because we didn’t have enough copies to go around. About 90 percent of the ‘letter’ eventually wound up in print in the magazine, so if there was valuable detail for the communists there, all they had to do was subscribe. To be completely candid about it, we were cautious about its distribution only because we didn’t want Newsweek to see it.”66” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 5, Page 7/25)
Comment: “so if there was valuable detail for the communists there, all they had to do was subscribe.“!
- How could someone so funny … be a Communist?
“An was a brilliant conversationalist. His method throughout his life had been to disguise his activities through talk. How could someone so voluble and open about his life be a spy?
How could someone so funny and pointed in his remarks about human stupidity be a Communist? This method worked so well that it became ingrained in his personality. There was no way to shut him up. An talked and talked, and in the end, for a mere magazine article, we had recorded sixty hours of taped interviews. Many more hours of conversation were transcribed in the written notes of our meetings. ” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 5)
Reviews: “How could someone so voluble and open about his life be a spy?
How could someone so funny and pointed in his remarks about human stupidity be a Communist? “
- He was an “April 30 revolutionary,”!
“An and his mother moved into the Continental Palace Hotel, where they occupied Robert Shaplen’s old room. (Shaplen had pressed the key into An’s hand as he left the country.) Eventually An moved into Time’s two-room office.
He was summoned for repeated interrogations by the police until intelligence officials intervened. People began to suspect that he was “a man of the revolution” when they saw him ride his bicycle to the military supply depot and leave with bags of rice and meat tied to his handlebars. They assumed, though, that he was an “April 30 revolutionary,” someone who had jumped to the Communist side only after the fall of Saigon.
Not even military officials as highly placed as Bui Tin, a North Vietnamese colonel and intelligence agent, knew An’s story. Working as deputy editor of the North Vietnamese army newspaper, Tin rode a tank up to the Presidential Palace on April 30. Accidentally finding himself the highest ranking officer on the scene, he accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government and then sat down at the president’s desk to file a dispatch for his newspaper. Like most journalists newly arrived in Saigon, the next thing he did was go looking for Pham Xuan An. As Tin recalled, “On the morning of May 1, I went to meet An at his office in the Continental Palace Hotel.
I had no idea at the time that he was a spy. All he told me was that he was a correspondent working for Time-Life. He introduced me to all the journalists in town, and I helped them send their articles abroad. Three months after the end of the war, I still didn’t know An was a spy.”
An was supposed to follow his family to Washington and carry on his work as a Vietnamese intelligence agent, but this assignment was blocked at the last minute. Hints of the power struggle over An—between the military intelligence agents who wanted to send him to the United States and reticent officials in the Politburo—were revealed to Bui Tin only when the government moved to get An’s wife and children repatri-ated to Vietnam.“(The Spy Who Loved Us, page 222)
Reviews:“They assumed, though, that he was an “April 30 revolutionary,” someone who had jumped to the Communist side only after the fall of Saigon.“
- Trần Kim Tuyến: “Never gave even the slightest clue.”!
“Tuyen later told friends that he trusted two people more than any others: An and Pham Ngoc Thao. When he learned that both had long been working as Communist agents, Tuyen said that in retrospect he could see Thao, but it was impossible to believe that An had worked for the Communists; he never gave even the slightest clue.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 6, Page 20/24)
III. Edward Lansdale: “taken with a grain of salt.”
“According to his son, Shaplen felt “crushed” and rejected” when he visited Vietnam in the early 1980s and was told that An did not want to see him. (An told me that he too felt crushed when he learned that the government, without informing him, had blocked their meeting. He rushed to Phnom Penh to catch up with Shaplen before he left Southeast Asia but arrived too late.) In a letter to Edward Lansdale written in 1982, Shaplen mentioned that former Time reporter Stanley Karnow was claiming that An was a Communist spy. Lansdale replied, advising that whatever Karnow reported about Vietnam should be “taken with a grain of salt.” Until his death in 1987, Lansdale refused to believe that An was anything more than a quick change artist who had flipped to the winning side at the last minute.
Only when he was finally allowed to see An in 1988 did Shaplen get a firsthand report about An’s long career as a spy. The reunion was not a happy one, at least for Shaplen, who felt heart-broken and betrayed. “Dad cried when he told me the story,” Peter says.” (The Spy Who Loved Us, page 161)
Reviews: 1.”Until his death in 1987, Lansdale refused to believe that An was anything more than a quick change artist who had flipped to the winning side at the last minute.“!
5 years ago:
- “In a letter to Edward Lansdale written in 1982, Shaplen mentioned that former Time reporter Stanley Karnow was claiming that An was a Communist spy. Lansdale replied, advising that whatever Karnow reported about Vietnam should be “taken with a grain of salt.”“
- “(An told me that he too felt crushed when he learned that the government, without informing him, had blocked their meeting. He rushed to Phnom Penh to catch up with Shaplen before he left Southeast Asia but arrived too late.)” = “should be “taken with a grain of salt.”“!
- Lansdale: “I don’t know the Karnow talk about An and Thao. But I’d take anything he said about the Vietnamese with a grain of salt.“
“More than twenty years later, Lansdale found it hard to accept that An had been working for the other side. In 1982 Bob Shaplen wrote Lansdale about a Stanley Karnow article that identified An’s apparent double life. Lansdale wrote back saying, “I don’t know the Karnow talk about An and Thao. But I’d take anything he said about the Vietnamese with a grain of salt. I’d trust you to know better.”30
…30. Lansdale to Shaplen, June 8, 1982, Box 1, Folder 14, Lansdale Papers. See Stanley Karnow, “In Vietnam, the Enemy Was Right Beside Us,” Washington Star, March 22, 1981.” (Perfect Spy, Chapter 4, Page 13/27)
III. Edward Geary Lansdale?
Edward Geary Lansdale
Edward Geary Lansdale (February 6, 1908 – February 23, 1987) was a United States Air Force officer who served in the Office of Strategic Services and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He rose to the rank of Major General and was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal in 1963. He was an early proponent of more aggressive U.S. actions in the Cold War. Lansdale was born in Detroit, Michigan and died in McLean, Virginia. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was twice married and had two sons from his first marriage.
Lansdale was a member of General John W. O’Daniel‘s mission to Indo-China in 1953, acting as an advisor on special counter-guerrilla operations to French forces against the Viet Minh. From 1954-57 he was stationed in Saigon as the head of the Saigon Military Mission (SMM). During this period he was active in the training of the Vietnamese National Army (VNA), organizing the Caodaist militias under Trình Minh Thế in an attempt to bolster the VNA, a propaganda campaign encouraging Vietnam’s Catholics to move to the south as part of Operation Passage to Freedom, and spreading claims that North Vietnamese agents were making attacks in South Vietnam. Before the widely discredited 1955 referendum that saw Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm depose head of state Bảo Đại and proclaim himself President of the newly formed Republic of Vietnam, Lansdale advised Diệm, with whom had a close friendship, to not rig the poll and to be content with a realistic 60-70% result, advice Diệm did not take. Diệm was credited with 98.2% of the vote overall and 133% in Saigon.
Lansdale mentored and trained Phạm Xuân Ẩn, a reporter for Time magazine who was actually a highly placed North Vietnamese spy. In 1961, he helped to publicize the story of Father Nguyen Lac Hoa, the “fighting priest” who had organized a crack militia called the Sea Swallows from his village of anti-communist Chinese Catholic exiles. In 1961, Lansdale recruited John M. Deutch to his first job in government, working as one of Robert McNamara‘s ‘Whiz Kids‘. Deutch would go on to be the 17th Director of Central Intelligence.
…Late in his career
He retired from the Air Force on November 1, 1963. Yet from 1965 to 1968 he was back in Vietnam where he worked in the United States Embassy, Saigon, with the rank of minister. The scope of his delegated authority was vague, however, and he was bureaucratically marginalized and frustrated. His 1972 memoir, In the Midst of Wars. An American’s Mission to Southeast Asia, covers his time in the Philippines and Vietnam up to December, 1956.
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