On August 9, 2002, Hanoi state-run newspaper Nhan Dan (People) and foreign media from Hanoi reported the death of a North Vietnamese Communist spy in the South Vietnam government during the war. Vu Ngoc Nha, 74, passed away on August 7 in his Saigon home after years of illness.
Most of reports regarding his story as a spy are based on documents and materials released by the Communist propaganda system, in the so-called true stories or memoirs. Vu Ngoc Nha has been a main character in such a book published by the state-run publisher. Hanoi even produced a television documentary about his life in espionage in which Nha was playing the part of himself. The Hanoi satellite TV channel VTV4 covering North America was broadcasting the documentary a month prior to Nha's death.
According to the books and the documentary, Vu Ngoc Nha began his spying task for the Vietnam Communist Party and its army since 1954 after the Geneva Agreement dividing the country into two parts.
He gained confidence of the Rev. Le Huu Tu, the well-known anti-Communist bishop of Phat Diem diocese in North Vietnam, then a popular Catholic leader in Saigon.
Shortly after leaving North Vietnam for Saigon, Nha became a top confidential advisor to the late President Ngo Dinh Diem, an intimate friend of President Diem and his brothers, even treated as a member of the president's family, Nha claimed.
Under the Second Republic and President Nguyen Van Thieu, the story goes, he was still working as a top advisor to the president. President Thieu trusted him to the extent that he regularly shared meals with Nha and gave Nha a key to his bedroom.
The stories by Hanoi assert that in 15 years serving the two South Vietnam presidents, Nha regularly passed Saigon government secret information to the Communist high command without being suspected by the presidents until 1969.
According to news reports, the American CIA uncovered the espionage ring led by Nha in 1969 and Saigon security authorities arrested him on July 16 the same year. Nha and three others in a spy cell were convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. He was released to the Communist side at the POW exchange following the Jan-27 Paris Agreement in 1973. Hanoi then promoted him to brigadier general.
His story is a sensational work of the Hanoi propaganda system. The book "Ong Co Van" (The Advisor) drew a large number of readers as it is based on many facts, real characters and true events inserted into a neatly worked-out plot full of lies for propaganda purpose. That makes the work half fiction, half news story.
Following are true facts against the tall story provided by several reliable sources, some of which are confirmed by former security authorities of the South Vietnam government who had been directly in charge of supervision on the case. One of the reports came from Tu Gan, real name Nguyen Can, former judge in South Vietnam before 1975, now a journalist writing for Saigon Nho (Little Saigon Weekly) in Orange County, California. Before November 1963, Nguyen Can had been a close friend to many leading figures of the Diem government, of the intelligence community in particular.
Nguyen Can said that after the book was published in 1987 in Hanoi; every of its five later editions by 2002 have some parts rewritten. So there are many differences between the contents of the first and the fifth.
It is true that Nha was sent to South Vietnam in 1954 to work for the Communists as a mole in the South Vietnam government. He became a confident aid to Rev. Hoang Quynh, a priest and a close assistant to Rev. Le Huu Tu. Thanks to Father Hoang Quynh's recommendation, Nha found a job as a regular, non-specialized clerk typist at the Ministry of Public Works. On the pay scale, his name was near the bottom because of his low degree in education (5th grade). His salary was a little higher than the wage earner's pay (class B-3 in the SVN civil servant pay scale). At that time, he was a member of the spy cell, known under the code name as A-22.
In 1958, the so-called Special Operation Group, a counter-espionage organization of the National Police General Department, arrested Nha and detained him at a special incarceration center in Hue. Mr. Nguyen Tu Thai, nickname Thai Den (Darky Thai), was a member of the group who took part in the arrest, detention and supervision of Vu Ngoc Nha until President Diem regime collapsed on November 3, 1963.
Thai is now a resident in the United States after spending 18 years in the Vietnam Communist prisons. He provided Tu Gan with further details, which are confirmed by Mr. Duong Van Hieu, the chief of the Special Operation Group. Hieu has been known as the most fearful spy hunter to the Communist spies and moles, and in some cases, allegedly the skilful investigator to nationalist dissidents as well. Hieu is living quietly in America.
The sources assert that Vu Ngoc Nha was at the third rank in the 3-spy cell A-22. He had never been close to Ngo Dinh Diem or any of Diem's brothers, let alone a top advisor to the arrogant president who never employed anyone of low formal degree as his advisor. He had never met with Diem or Nhu, according to another source close to the Diem family.
A few months after being detained in 1958, Nha agreed to work for the Special Operation Group in exchange for his parole. He was doing good help to the group. He was paid VN$ 2,200 a month (equal to an Army sergeant's pay) by a special fund from the president's office. "Darky" Thai was handing on the money to Nha every month. The last time Thai paid Nha was on October 30, 1963, two days before the coup d'etat overthrowing President Diem on November 1. The payment stopped since the coup.
Actually, the Special Operation Group in co-operating with other members in the intelligence community has detected and detained a large number of North Vietnamese spies. Reliable sources assert that more than 400 ranking secret agents (from captain to full colonel) sent by Hanoi into South Vietnam were ensnared
by the Saigon counter-intelligence nets.
Many of them were detained in secret and quietly released on parole to serve Saigon as double agents. They provided valuable advice and information to the South Vietnamese intelligence services. Some returned to the Communist side and continued working as moles for Saigon.
One of them was Colonel Le Cau, Deputy Chief of Intelligence Department, the North Vietnam Army J-2. He disclosed the accurate location and detailed operations of the secret base Do Xa (Quang Ngai province) in 1961, previously unknown to South Vietnamese military. That led to a large-scale bombardment destroying the huge logistic base. He also advised the government to establish the two provinces Quang Tin and Phu Bon to control the two infiltration routes into the central coastal region from the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodge border areas.
Most of other Hanoi's agents still in prison were released right after November 1, 1963, either by errors (mistaken them for nationalist political prisoners) or by bribery.
As the regime collapsed, so did its special police organizations. Some of the released spies after several years without being watched by secret police, renewed contact with the Communist intelligence and resumed espionage tasks.
When General Nguyen Van Thieu became the chairman of the National Leadership Committee then president of the Second Republic, his political chief of staff employed Nha as a specialist. Mr. Nguyen Van Huong (also known as Muoi Huong, Huong the Tenth), the Secretary General of the presidential office might have been unaware of Nha's background, or he only admitted Nha in his department for a counter-espionage scheme that he helped a part of it.
Nha's job in Mr. Huong's staff could have helped him get access to some classified materials, but not to many national top-secret documents as Hanoi boasts in the book. Moreover, President Thieu was a skeptical leader. Even his wife didn't know his intention of appointing a new province chief. There is no evidence that Thieu would confide in Nha, a former Communist mole, although Nha had faithfully cooperated with the secret services.
In fact, the arrests of Nha and the other three moles in 1969 were not a result of the CIA hunting operation. Their espionage activities must have been recorded by all the top intelligence agencies in Vietnam and in the United States since 1958 when Nha and his comrades were arrested for the first time.
The Vu Ngoc Nha story is nothing but a book for propaganda with brazen lies. In the 20-year Vietnam War, there were dozen cases of Communist spies infiltrating into South Vietnamese government and military agencies. They were causing considerable devastation to the national security of South Vietnam much more seriously than what Vu Ngoc Nha did.
An Army cryptographer sergeant working at the top-secret code room right beside the office of the Chief of the Joint General Staff had been providing highly classified information and code keys to North Vietnam Communists for years until 1961. Others were court-martialed for collaboration with the enemy, among them a "charge de mission" of the Foreign Ministry, a major in the Military Justice Directorate, a cryptanalyst serving the SVN Army Signal Corps...
But Hanoi selected Nha, not the others, for its scheme of propaganda, possibly because his story fit better for the purpose and he might have been more co-operative in making up the book and the TV documentary.
For the last four decades, the state-run publishing houses of the Communist regime have produced hundreds of detective stories, in a political cloak-and-dagger style serving political propaganda purposes in which facts mingle with lies.
As to the commoners, Hanoi achieved some success with this strategy. Therefore, its propaganda strategists haven't hesitated to tell brazen lies. They may be certain that most common people have no access to other sources to make out the truth. Highly educated and foreign audiences are not their primary targets.
For the last few years, the effect of such strategy resorting to lies is on the decrease as more and more information from outside the party-controlled sources is reaching the grass roots.