MIA Facts Site

"The Trust:"
The Vietnamese
Take a Lesson
From the Soviets


Summary:  This article describes a little known aspect of the MIA issue.  In fact, the topic of this article is unknown outside a few US intelligence folks and some historians.  Following the end of the Russian Civil War, the "Reds" (The Russian Communists) had a problem on their hands:  The fledgling Soviet Union was under attack by "White" forces and organizations inside Russia, supported by anti-Communist Russian émigré organizations around the world.   Furthermore,  the Western democracies were hostile to the new Communist regime and they collaborated with the "Whites" to oppose the new "Red" regime.  What to do?  The Soviet intelligence agencies put together a very successful operation -- "The Trust" -- that eventually cut off the opposition at the knees -- it was brilliant.  After the Communist unification of Vietnam in 1975, the intelligence services of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) ran an operation based on the Soviet "Trust."  Read on for the details.

The Trust

What follows is a very simplified history lesson. 

The Background

The Russian civil war involved the "Whites"  -- the anti-communist royalists, czarists, democrats, and other anticommunist factions -- and the "Reds" -- the Russian communists.  Eventually, the Reds won, but, with the victory came several problems.

bulletThe Reds had to consolidate their victory -- although the Whites had been defeated in battle, there were still strong anti-Red organizations in Russia.
bulletThe anti-Communists in Russia had strong support from White émigré organizations worldwide, especially in Europe.  These organizations had financed much of the anti-Communist effort during the civil war and they were not about to give up the fight.
bulletThe Western democracies -- Great Britain, France, the US -- were not happy with the Communist victory and the Reds could not be certain that the Western government would not attack the fledgling Communist state.
bulletIn July 1918, the European allies decided to send troops to Siberia to protect the remaining White forces; the US sent troops for the "Siberian Intervention."
bulletJapanese, British, and US forces stayed in Siberia for several years; the Japanese were the last to withdraw, leaving Vladivostok in October 1922.

The Reds, then, were besieged at every turn -- and they had to do something to ensure their survival.  In addition to clearing out pockets of White resistance, mounting international political offensives, and generally trying to establish themselves, the Reds turned to their intelligence and security services -- the forerunner of the KGB -- to neutralize the threat from the Whites outside Russia's territory.  The operation mounted by Soviet intelligence was named "The Trust" and it was a brilliant operation, both in concept and in execution.

The Trust In Operation

The Communist intelligence and security services were faced with these challenges:

bulletTo neutralize the anti-communist émigré organizations that continued to send spies and saboteurs into Russia;
bulletTo neutralize internal dissent, especially that dissent supported from outside the USSR.
bulletTo neutralize foreign intelligence agency support for anti-communist activities.
bulletTo feed phony information to foreign intelligence services.

A major element of the Soviet intelligence strategy aimed at accomplishing these objectives was The Trust.  In its most simple form, The Trust operated as follows.

Identifying Agents

Soviet intelligence identified people inside Russia who, if the exited Russia, would be accepted and trusted by anti-communist organizations and by Western intelligence agencies.   These people were compromised by various means.

bulletSome were arrested and tortured into submission.
bulletSome were arrested, told that they were to be Communist agents, and their families were placed in jeopardy to ensure cooperation.
bulletSome simply sold out.

Putting Agents to Work

After Soviet intell had identified people who would be accepted by the anti-communist organizations and these people had been compromised or pressured into working for them, Soviet intell would arrange the individual's "escape" from Communist Russia.   As these folks appeared in Western Europe, they would contact various anti-communist émigré organizations -- often these organizations were populated by their friends who had left Russia earlier.  As a result, the Soviet intelligence services rapidly infiltrated people under their control into the anti-communist organizations working outside Russia.

The anti-communist émigré organizations were sending money, equipment, and people -- spies, saboteurs, assassins, etc. -- back into the Soviet Union, many of them through "windows" along the Russo - Finnish border.

The Soviet intelligence services also controlled individuals who escaped and offered their services and their information to Western intelligence services.  These people, because of their deep insights into communist Russia were welcomed by Western intell as sources of information about what was really happening inside Russia.

What Did the Agents Do

These agents did what one would expect.  Working inside the émigré organizations, they would encourage the dispatch of agents into the Soviet Union -- then they would pass to their case officers the details, resulting in almost every anti-communist agent dispatched from Western Europe being wrapped up.  Remember the story   "Sidney Reilly, Ace of Spies?"  Reilly probably met his fate because he was compromised by a Trust agent.

Trust agents who were accepted by Western intell as experts on the Soviet Union would feed controlled information to Western intell, resulting in inaccurate intelligence estimates.  These estimates would then serve to form Western policies toward the Soviet Union -- the Soviets, then, came close to controlling the analysis in Western intell.

The Really Brilliant Stroke

Then, in the mid-1920s, the Soviets pulled a truly brilliant stroke.  They leaked information to Western intell that resulted in the exposure of their entire operation.

Why would they do this?  Simple.  Suppose you are the chief of a Western intelligence agency and you suddenly discover that a couple of your favorite "Soviet émigré experts" were actually planted by the KGB?  Would you trust another Russian émigré -- ever?  What if you were a member of an anti-communist émigré group, working to overthrow the Communists -- then you discovered that some members of your group were actually KGB agents.  Whom do you trust now?

By exposing their operation, the Soviets essentially destroyed the anti-Communist organizations outside Russia, who were thrown into total disarray.   Ditto for the Soviet-watchers in Western intell.  Beautiful move.

The Vietnamese Trust

Would it surprise anyone to know that US intell believes that the Vietnamese ran -- and may still be running -- their own "Trust" among the Vietnamese émigré community worldwide? Consider how the world looked to the Vietnamese Communists from 1975 until, say the mid-1990s.

bulletThey had unified Vietnam but the defeated South was anything but secure.  How did the Vietnamese Communists know that there were not huge weapons caches all over the South?   How did they know that CIA stay-behinds were not ready to foment revolution all over the South?  After all, this is what the Communists had done to the French after WW II.
bulletAs  people fled from the former Republic of Vietnam -- the south -- they eventually ended up in Europe, Canada, and the US, where they formed united, vocal anti-Communist émigré organizations, each of which had the goal of reclaiming Vietnam from the Communists.
bulletThe Communists must have suspected that the US would support these émigré groups -- just as they themselves had been supported by the Chinese and the Soviets.

In fact, for many years, rag-tag anti-communist groups inside the south caused security problems for the Communists.  As late as the late 1980s, a group of anti-communist émigrés, led by a former RVN admiral -- who owned a restaurant in Arlingon, Virginia -- slipped into Laos from Thailand and tried to trek across Laos into Vietnam.  They were intercepted by Laotian forces and destroyed.  "Little Saigons" popped up all over the world, wherever a community of Vietnamese émigrés congregated and wherever you found a Vietnamese restaurant, you found a gang of former ARVN drinking beer in the back room, plotting the overthrow of the commies.

Now, you and I may find this laughable but the new rulers of all Vietnam were convinced that they were about to be overthrown -- just as they had overthrown the French and the RVN -- by subterfuge.  What to do about it?  They took a page from the KGB book and established a Trust of their own.

Some War Stories

After I had been chief of the analysis branch in the DIA POW-MIA office for a while -- late 1986 -- I began to notice a pattern to certain reports.  There were in the files a number of "live sighting" reports in which an individual reported that he had seen US POWs held in Vietnam after 1973.  On the surface, these stories appeared believable -- every story had considerable detail, the story was told fairly consistently, and the whole thing appeared plausible.  Yet, in each case, there were one or two details the rendered the story  impossible.  In some cases, the source, when confronted with the problems in the story, admitted fabrication.  In others, research proved that the stories were not true. 

I pointed these stories out to the senior analysts in the office -- Bob Destatte, Gary Sydow, and Wick Tourison.  They told me that they wondered what took me so long to catch on.  It seems that they had the pattern spotted early in the game.  As time went on -- well up into the 1990s -- the pattern continued.  There were approximately 15 sources of this type and Bob, Gary, and Wick pointed out to me several similarities among the sources.

bulletMany of them had been introduced to US intell by a Vietnamese émigré living in Cheverly, MD.  (More about her later.)
bulletThe sources had been introduced publicly, told their stories, kept away from DIA, and only were interviewed by DIA after they had received a lot of public attention, including telling their stories to the League of Families.
bulletSome of these sources were known to have been assocaited with Vietnamese communist political and intelligence organizations during the war.
bulletSome of them had exited Vietnam under unusual circumstances -- that is, they received their exit documents quickly, without the usual delays.
bulletSome of them -- especially those who surfaced in Europe -- had connections to émigré organizations known to have connections with the Communists.

Le Thi Anh

Living in Cheverly, MD was a Vietnamese émigré, Ms. Le Thi Anh.  In her younger days she had been a member of the Viet Minh, now she proclaimed a dislike of the communists.  She had contacts throughout the Vietnamese émigré community worldwide.  She was closely connected, for several years, to the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.  Ms. Anh introduced to US intell a number of sources.

Mrs. Anh was, however, closely associated with another emigre in California who published a magazine (defunct since the mid-1980s).  That publication served as the public relations organ of an anti-communist resistance organization that enjoyed a large following in the emigre community.  The owner/editor-in-chief of that publication appears to have been the founder of this particular anti-communist resistance organization, and a behind-the-scenes power in the organization.  A Communist agent who defected in Vietnam during the early 1970s implicated this man as an Communist agent of influence. Not long after that Communist assassins found and killed the
defector.  Many of the "live-sighting" sources Mrs. Anh introduced to us had responded to a classified ad Mrs. Anh had placed in this magazine.  This magazine published one or more of these "live-sighting" stories.

The modus operandi was that she placed a long-running classified ad in the magazine, ostensibly on behalf of American families.  An emigre would respond to the ad with an offer to provide information about POWs.  Acting as a volunteer translator and intermediary she presented the story to interested Americans that varied from MIA next of kin, to members of congress, to activists who exploit the MIA issue, to journalists, etc.   After building a following of supporters, the source would be introduced to DIA's Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs for investigation.  When the DIA's analysts found the story false, Mrs. Anh encouraged others to complain that the analysts had
a mind-set to debunk.  One goal appears to have been to discredit the American officials and office responsible for achieving an accurate
accounting for our missing servicemen.

Some of Ms. Anh's sources had connections with suspect émigré groups in Europe and several of them were former ARVN intelligence officers.

Contact with US MIA "Activists"

In some cases, sources reporting knowledge of live US POWs contacted MIA "activists," either before they were interviewed by US intell or after they were interviewed and their stories found to be bogus.  In either case, the result was the same:  US intell was attacked for "debunking" the source.

Asking for Favors

Occasionally, a person passing a bogus live POW story asked for a favor.  For an example of this, read this article about a source who was introduced to us by Senator Bob Smith.  This story has several elements:  an "older son," emigrated under unusual circumstances, contact with MIA activist before contact with US intell, and asking a favor.

In this case, the mother of the young man making the claim asked the DIA interviewers for help in obtaining a security clearance so she could get a job at a local plant that manufactured avionics (!!!).

So, What's the Point?

What's the point of all this?  The Defense Intelligence Agency was not charged wtih counterintelligence responsibiities for individuals living in the US.  Thus, we had no charter to investigate thoroughly the many incidents that we felt were part of an orchestrated whole.  Still, I believe that we had sufficient indications of a Vietnamese Trust operation. 

But Why?

Why would Vietnamese intell dispatch sources to spread bogus POW stories?  Simple.  

bulletThey sent out sources with stories that they knew we would break.  I believe they thought that this would cause US intell to distrust all émigré sources.
bulletThey sent out sources who would make a big public splash before DIA could prove that their stories were bogus.  This was done to try to discredit DIA in the eyes of MIA families.
bulletThey may have thought that individuals with POW stories would be accepted in the Vietnamese community -- especially by former ARVN who made up the bulk of the "resistance" organizations.  This would allow them to easily infiltrate the anti-communist émigré groups.

In Conclusion

The whole story is a somewhat more complicated than I have laid out here, but this article contains the basics.  The fact is that Vietnamese intelligence services were involved in generating bogus reports of US POWs remaining in Vietnam and of the remains of US servicemen being available.  They planted these reports as part of a larger operation to destroy the credibility of the émigré community -- whom they saw as a threat -- and to drive wedges between the government -- especially DIA -- and the families of missing men. 

Sad to say, they have succeeded in some cases.  Elsewhere on the MIA Facts Site are articles about such individuals as Ted Sampley, Billy Hendon, and Senator Bob Smith.  Many of the sources cited by or sponsored by these men are linked directly to Vietnamese intell -- Sampley, Hendon, and Smith were suckered in and are now spreading the same stories as the Vietnamese intelligence agents.

The Trust served the Vietnamese as well as it served the  Soviet Union.

Posted 8 March 2000.   Edited on:   12/24/07