CIABASE: The Phoenix Program

Ralph McGehee was a CIA operative for 25 years. He wrote “Deadly Deceits” and created the CIABASE database of public disclosures of CIA operations, which used to occur with some regularity when we had a partially functioning media.  He posted this to in 2004.

This is in response to Hayden Peake’s query. It should be noted that the article in the Washington Post of 1/28/97 re CIA’s coercive interrogation manual also mentioned the CIA manual that taught CIA-backed, Nicaraguan contra rebels about “neutralizing” enemies. (The Washington Post noted that the Baltimore Sun obtained the manual under the Freedom of Information Act and published its article on 1/27/97).

So we have documentary proof not only of CIA-sponsored torture but also assassinations – i.e. “neutralizations” not only in Latin America in the eighties but also in Vietnam earlier — as cited below. This of course does not cover the gamut of CIA operations to sponsor torture and assassinations but does record a few of these operations.

The CIA and its officers, retired and active, are loathe to admit to such but the evidence is overwhelming. I, can attest,to the agonies of accepting the truth about CIA and its activities. In Vietnam, I contemplated suicide as the only way out of my moral dilemma. I do not wish to be dramatic or confessional — it took many years before I could admit this to anyone — butit is extremely difficult to view your life’s endeavorsas primarily a lie and a cruel, destructive hoax.

This is one of the reasons why I protest — can we expect that those subjected to CIA operations to forgive and forget?Should we expect them to? Should we excuse these operations? Should we continue these operations? Lastly, is this an intelligence organization?

Ralph McGehee CIABASE

Operation Phoenix

The Phoenix or Phuong Hoang Operation was originally designed to “neutralize,” that is assassinate or imprison, members of the civilian infrastructure of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Phoenix offices were set up from Saigon down to the district level. Their functions were to: (1) collate intelligence about the “Vietcong Infrastructure”; (2) interrogate civilians picked up at random by military units carrying out sweeps through villages; (3) “neutralize” targeted members of theNLF. This third task was often carried out by CIA-led Vietnamese organized into Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU).

The original Phoenix concept was quickly dilute, for two main reasons: (1) pressure form the top to fill numerical quotas of person to be neutralized; (2) difficulties at the bottom of identifying NLF civilian infrastructure, who were often indistinguishable from the general population, and the near impossibility of proving anyone membership in the NLF. The result was vastly to increase the numbers of innocent persons rounded up and imprisoned, indiscriminately murdered, and brutally tortured in an effort to show results….

One of the principal tasks of high-level U.S. officials, led by Colby, was to establish quotas for the number of Vietnamese to be”neutralized” each month.

Vietnam Information Notes, published by the U.S. State Departmentin July 1969, reports that “The target for 1969 calls for the elimination of 1800 VCI per month….The Phoenix program…[has] served notice to Province Chiefs that their performance will in large part be measured by Phoenix results.

MACV said until….Tet 1968, the GVN was reluctant to carryout a systematic program of “neutralization”…as negotiations progress
…the pressures within families to reach accommodation will increase
and, correspondingly, the effectiveness of the Phoenix-Phuong Hoang program could decrease.

U.S. advisers — CIA, U.S. Army and Office of Public Safety were placed in the field to assess and direct operations. A number of such U.S. personnel testified that one of Phoenix’s main results was the mass and indiscriminate murder of Vietnamese civilians.

In a document entitled Vietnam: Toward Peace and Prosperity, published by the Saigon Ministry of Information, the GVN states that

The Phoenix program was launched on August, 1, 1968, in orderto eradicate the communist infrastructure, with the following results;…Killed–40,994.

Colby himself testified that Phoenix had resulted in the deaths of 20,587 persons as of May 1971. This number proportionate to population, would total over 200,000 Americans deliberately assassinated over a three-year period, were Phoenix in practice in the United States.

Michael Uhl, a Phoenix military intelligence operative, testified before Congress: a Phoenix military intelligence team measured its success…not only by the body count and kill ratio but by the number of CD’s [civil detaineess] it had captured….

Between 1968 and 1972 hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians were rounded up and turned over to the Vietnamese police for questioning. Such interrogation has usually been marked by brutal torture. Uhl also said “All CD’s, because of command pressure…were listed as VCI. To my knowledge, not one of these people ever freely admitted to being a cadre member. An again contrary to Colby’s statement, most of our CD’s were women and children.

The yearly processing of hundreds of thousands, this detention of tens of thousands, inevitably led Phoenix to change judicial procedures. Civilians rounded up by Americans. The U.S. Phoenix program resuscitated the Security Committee as a means of jailing detainees without a trial. Under the An Tri law, the Security Committees have been empowered to jail any South Vietnamese citizen for up to two years, renewable. The Security Committee does not see or talk with the accused. The accused has no right to be represented by a lawyer, confront witnesses, present evidence, or even plead in his or her own behalf.

The quota system, was also used for sentencing. The Phoenix program decreed that at least 50 percent of those captured were to be sentenced. Colby said: The reason for putting in the 50 percent sentencing was to put a greater pressure on officials to do a more professional job of capturing and interrogating and then sentencing
…. From: UNCLOAKING THE CIA, H. Frazier editor, 1978, The Free
Press,pages 111-119.

A few CIABASE references to Phoenix report:

Vietnam, 67-73 CIA developed Phoenix program in 67 to neutralize: kill, capture or make defect VCI. VCI means civilians suspected of supporting communists. Targeted civilians not soldiers. Phoenix also called Phung Hoang by VNese. Due process totally nonexistent. svnese who appeared on black lists could be tortured, detained for 2 years without trial or killed. Valentine, D. (1990). The Phoenix Program, 13….!original/