More on U.S. SIGINT and the Vietnam War

06.03.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The National Security Agency has released some additional declassified passages from its major historical study of Vietnam-era signals intelligence, “Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975.”

The large bulk of the 500-page report was declassified last December. But in response to a mandatory declassification review appeal from researcher Michael Ravnitzky, further declassifications on 90 pages (large pdf) were released last month, including disclosures authorized by “other government agencies.”

Most of the new disclosures appear to be insignificant, not to say tiresome. For example, several previously redacted references to the term “COMINT” (i.e., “communications intelligence”) have been approved for release. Numerous allusions to the French war in Indochina have been okayed too. And several mentions of the year 1959, which had been censored for reasons that are hard to fathom, have been restored.

Other newly declassified lines include these:

“With the deaths of Kennedy and Diem, the struggle in the South entered a period of enormous flux and instability. A plan developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under guidance from the Kennedy administration, to reduce American forces in Vietnam by the end of 1965 to one-quarter the 1963 level (25,000), was quietly scrapped.” (p. 171).

“There had always been a suspicion going back to the 1950s about the integrity of South Vietnamese security.” (page 463).

“Westmoreland called the battle in Kontum Province the ‘beginning of a great defeat of the enemy’.” (page 317).

“As for the Tet Offensive, despite official and personal claims, SIGINT did not deliver an adequate warning in January 1968.” (p. 465).

Perhaps most substantive is the brief discussion of a 1968 report of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on the performance of intelligence in Vietnam (pp. 340-41).

The 90 pages that include newly declassified material are posted here.

The previously released body of the report (not yet including the newly disclosed passages) can be found here.