Report reveals deeper CIA role in 1963 Vietnam coup and Diem’s assassination

Ngo Dinh DiemA newly declassified report by the Inspector General of the United States Central Intelligence Agency reveals that the South Vietnamese generals who overthrew President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 used CIA money “to reward opposition military who joined the coup”. Acknowledging that “the passing of these funds is obviously a very sensitive matter”, the CIA Inspector General’s report contradicts the sworn testimony of Lucien E. Conein, the CIA liaison with the South Vietnamese generals. In 1975, Conein told a United States Senate committee that the agency funds, approximately $70,000 or 3 million piasters, were used for food, medical supplies, and “death benefits” for the families of South Vietnamese soldiers killed in the coup.

The report (.pdf), one of the 19,000 JFK assassination documents released by the US National Archives on Thursday, also contains new details about the South Vietnamese generals’ decision to assassinate Diem that contradict a conclusion of the coup’s history written by the CIA station in Saigon. The majority of the generals, said the CIA at the time, “desired President Diem to have honorable retirement from the political scene in South Vietnam and exile”. According to a newly declassified portion of the 49-page document written by the CIA’s Inspector General, an unidentified field-grade South Vietnamese officer who provided the CIA station with pictures of the bloodied bodies of Diem and his brother and advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu, said that “most of the generals” favored their immediate execution: “The ultimate decision was to kill them. A Captain Nhung was designated as executioner”.

A redacted version of the Inspector General’s report, dated May 31, 1967, was released by the National Archives in November 2017. In that version of the report, the paragraphs related to the use of CIA funds and the generals’ decision to murder Diem were excised.

* William J. Rust is the author of four books about US relations with Southeast Asia countries during the cold war, including Kennedy in Vietnam. He is currently completing a book about US relations with Indonesia.

 

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