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The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold…

The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and…

by Richard H. Shultz Jr.

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Don't read this book expecting 408 pages detailing the adventures of individual SOG soldiers and their missions. There is really only one chapter, "Crossing the Fence" with its details of SOG operations in Laos, that fits that bill. What Shultz details, using unprecedented access to recently declassified Pentagon documents and interviews with many of the participants in SOG operations, is the complete story of the origin, operations, successes, failures, and lessons of the Studies and Observations Group. His prose may not be scintillating, he may repeat himself frequently, and the beginning of the book may bog down occasionally with flow charts of command, but Shultz isn't writing a popular history. He's writing a policy review of SOG's operations for future civilian and military leaders who may turn to covert operations and unconventional warfare to get themselves out of diplomatic binds. The final chapter of the book summarizes these lessons.
Still, this book is worthwhile reading even for ordinary civilians.

Those interested in espionage history will find a fascinating account of SOG's attempts to foster rebellion in North Vietnam and wage psychological warfare. Not only do we learn why the CIA could not start a resistance movement in the "denied" country of North Vietnam, a "counterintelligence state" of extreme paranoia and security, but why the inheritor of the project, SOG, was also doomed to fail and fail spectacularly. Of approximately 500 agents inserted into North Vietnam, all were killed or captured and many turned into double agents.

But SOG officers experienced in espionage turned this disaster into a brilliant operation that convinced North Vietnam a massive underground was operating in their country and loyal North Vietnamese were implicated as traitors. For those wanting to know exactly what is encompassed by the term "psychological warfare", Shultz gives some idea in the chapter "Drive Them Crazy with Psywar". SOG set up a fake resistance movement with accompanying bogus radio traffic, propaganda, and blocks of ice parachuted into the jungle to melt and leave empty chutes and an uneasy feeling amongst the North Vietnamese.

Shultz also tells of the few maritime operations SOG carried out against enemy targets, its sabotage efforts which included tainting caches of the enemy's rice and leaving behind tainted ammo for the VC and NVA soldiers, and its operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail.

But the documentation on SOG was initially classified for a reason. Ultimately, the program was a failure, and Shultz documents how there's plenty of blame to go around. Civilian leadership in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations micromanaged the program, had unrealistic expectations for its speed and efficacy, and held the bizarre belief that covert means should be congruent with overt public policy. Military leadership at the highest levels set up SOG as a sop to civilian leaders whom they thought naively enamored of special warfare. They expected little from it, provided little by way of support, and had no plan to coordinate SOG's efforts into the grand Vietnam strategy. Shultz also points out that special ops was, far from being a glamorous, honored posting, a career stopper for a professional military man.

While Shultz, of course, concentrates on SOG, I also learned a fair amount about the diplomatic, political, and military history of the Vietnam war in general. Prior to this, my only exposure to the war, in book form, had been a biography of Carlos Hathcock, the Marine sniper in Vietnam.

The book is a bit slow at times, but it rewards the reader who completes it. ( )
  RandyStafford | Oct 29, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060194545, Hardcover)

The Secret War Against Hanoi documents American covert actions in Vietnam, beginning in 1961 when John F. Kennedy decided that if Hanoi could wage a guerilla war against the South, the U.S. could do the same in the North. Dissatisfied with the CIA's initial results, Kennedy passed responsibility for covert operations to the Pentagon--which never fully supported them. For example, in an interview for this book, General Westmoreland, Commander of American forces in Vietnam, vastly underestimated the imaginative ways in which underground activities could destabilize an enemy. American covert action focused on disrupting two vital "centers of gravity": the North's own internal stability and the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos and Cambodia. Such activities ran counter to the Geneva Accords, however, and nervous diplomats placed them under severe constraints. Permission always had to be obtained from the top, which after 1964 meant an excessively cautious President Johnson, concerned that China would be goaded into intervening openly in Vietnam as it had in Korea. The creative thinking that went into America's secret exploits reads like a racy novel, from the adroit brainwashing and release of captured fishermen to the fabrication of a phantom secret society based on a 15th-century anti-Chinese hero, plus innumerable nasty booby traps. Author Richard H. Shultz has had unusual access to prominent protagonists and to thousands of classified documents made available only to him while he researched this book. The Secret War Against Hanoi clearly lays out what was achieved and what might have been achieved by covert action in Vietnam, ending with a thoughtful analysis of lessons learned for future politicians and operatives in a post-cold war world. --John Stevenson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:50 -0400)

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Relates the espionage campaign against North Vietnam.

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