Spies and Commandos
How America Lost the Secret War in North Vietnam
Kenneth Conboy and Dale Andrade
Winner: Richard W. Leopold Prize
During the Vietnam war, the United States sought to undermine Hanoi's subversion of the Saigon regime by sending Vietnamese operatives behind enemy lines. A secret to most Americans, this covert operation was far from secret in Hanoi: all of the commandos were killed or captured, and many were turned by the Communists to report false information.
“A marvelous and convincing book brimming with evidence that a strategy of dealing with foreign dictators by plotting their removal is no strategy at all.”
—Wall Street Journal
“A pathbreaking book that's also a good read.”
—Washington TimesSee all reviews...
“Conboy and Andradé have constructed a readable, almost mission-by-mission account of the SOG operations, from the policy decisions of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the experiences of the agents themselves. The book’s most riveting sections are the many suspenseful accounts of cross-border missions—complete with names, dates, places, acronyms, code names, and a detailed cataloguing of weapons and espionage equipment used by the spies and commandos.”
“Out of the troubled history of the Vietnam War comes this well-researched and detailed study of the doomed, covert U.S. war against North Vietnam. . . . A compelling story of good intentions defeated by naiveté and a vigilant enemy. Most revealing is the involvement of the Taiwanese in this secret program. Recommended for all public libraries.”
“Valuable, well researched, and well written, Spies and Commandos does an excellent job of dispelling the mists of classification and time that have long hidden the Studies and Observations Group (SOG).”
“Poor planning, lack of imagination, too little knowledge of a far-off country and its people—all were partly responsible for the program’s failure. What was most astonishing was that both the CIA and the Pentagon took so long to realize that their efforts had been compromised. What was most reprehensible, say the authors, was that the United States turned its back on the few commandos who survived.”
—Proceedings of the Naval Institute
“An important study of United States-sponsored intelligence operations and guerrilla and psychological warfare.”
—Journal of Military History
“A superb work that chronicles the unsuccessful attempts by the United States to undermine North Vietnam from within. Recommended for all libraries.”
“A major work that goes beyond what is in any of the other books that touch on these aspects of the Vietnam war—including Sedgwick Tourison’s Secret Army, Secret War.”
—John Prados, author of The Hidden History of the Vietnam War
“Spies and Commandos is full of enlightening and fascinating details. Conboy and Andradé deserve praise for their diligent research, cogent analysis, and significant contribution to understanding America’s secret war in Vietnam.”
—H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty
“The story Conboy and Andradé tell is fascinating, their research very impressive, and their prose style engaging.”
—Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam War, 1945–1990See fewer reviews...
Spies and Commandos traces the rise and demise of this secret operation—started by the CIA in 1960 and expanded by the Pentagon beginning in1964—in the first book to examine the program from both sides of the war. Kenneth Conboy and Dale Andradé interviewed CIA and military personnel and traveled in Vietnam to locate former commandos who had been captured by Hanoi, enabling them to tell the complete story of these covert activities from high-level decision making to the actual experiences of the agents.
The book vividly describes scores of dangerous missions-including raids against North Vietnamese coastal installations and the air-dropping of dozens of agents into enemy territory—as well as psychological warfare designed to make Hanoi believe the "resistance movement" was larger than it actually was. It offers a more complete operational account of the program than has ever been made available-particularly its early years-and ties known events in the war to covert operations, such as details of the "34-A Operations" that led to the Tonkin Gulf incidents in 1964. It also explains in no uncertain terms why the whole plan was doomed to failure from the start.
One of the remarkable features of the operation, claim the authors, is that its failures were so glaring. They argue that the CIA, and later the Pentagon, was unaware for years that Hanoi had compromised the commandos, even though some agents missed radio deadlines or filed suspicious reports. Operational errors were not attributable to conspiracy or counterintelligence, they contend, but simply to poor planning and lack of imagination.
Although it flourished for ten years under cover of the wider war, covert activity in Vietnam is now recognized as a disaster. Conboy and Andradé's account of that episode is a sobering tale that lends a new perspective on the war as it reclaims the lost lives of these unsung spies and commandos.