It was Sam Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms – roughly twice the number that the U.S. command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. Gen. William Westmoreland had put an artificial limit on the number Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. And Gen. Creighton Abrams specifically warned Washington that the press would have a field day if Adam’s numbers were released, and that this would weaken the war effort.
A SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Westmoreland’s deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams on August 20, 1967 stated: “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months,” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”
The Communist countrywide offensive during Tet (January/February 1968) made it clear that the generals had been lying and that Sam Adams’s “higher figures” were correct. Senior intelligence officials were aware of the deception, but lacked the courage to stand up to Westmoreland. Still (and sadly), Sam remained reluctant to go “outside channels.”
A few weeks after Tet, however, Daniel Ellsberg rose to the occasion. Dan learned that Westmoreland was asking for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam – right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond. Someone else promptly leaked to the New York Times Westmoreland’s troop request, emboldening Ellsberg to do likewise with Sam Adams’ story. Dan had come to the view that leaking truth about a deceitful war would be “a patriotic and constructive act.” It was his first unauthorized disclosure. On March 19, 1968 the Times published a stinging story based on Adams’s figures.
On March 25, President Johnson complained to a small gathering, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us…We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request [by Westmoreland] and the leaks…I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.” On March 31, 1968 Johnson introduced a bombing pause, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term in November.
Sam Adams continued to press for honesty and accountability but stayed “inside channels” – and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack, nagged by the thought that, had he not let himself be diddled, many lives might have been saved. His story is told in War of Numbers, published posthumously.
Samuel Adams, Ex-C.I.A. Officer And Libel Case Figure, Dies at 54 (obituary published in New York Times, October 11, 1988
Samuel A. Adams, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who was a co-defendant in Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s libel suit against CBS, died yesterday, apparently of a heart attack, at his home in Strafford, Vt. He was 54 years old.
Mr. Adams, who specialized in Southeast Asia, was a paid consultant and a major contributor to a 1982 CBS documentary called ”The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception” that accused General Westmoreland’s command staff of conspiring to minimize enemy troop strength in 1967. During the 18-week libel trial, which ended in February 1985, an account in The New York Times said that the documentary probably could never have been made without Mr. Adams’s help.
Shortly before a Federal District Court jury in New York was to begin deliberations, the suit was settled with a joint statement that expressed the network’s respect for the general’s ”long and faithful service to his country” and his esteem for CBS’s ”distinguished journalistic tradition.” There was no monetary compensation to General Westmoreland. A Witness for Ellsberg
Mr. Adams, who served in the C.I.A. from 1963 until 1973, had testified for the defense in another celebrated case: the espionage trial of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, accused in connection with the illegal transmission of the Pentagon papers, a secret Government-sponsored history of the Vietnam War. Citing Government misconduct, a Federal judge dismissed all charges against the two.
At that trial Mr. Adams spoke publicly for the first time about his belief that there had been political pressures in the military to depict the North Vietnamese and Vietcong in 1967 as weaker than they actually were.
A direct descendant of the Adams family of Colonial Massachusetts, Mr. Adams was born near Bridgeport, Conn., on June 14, 1934, the son of a member of the New York Stock Exchange. He was a graduate of St. Mark’s School in Southampton, Mass., and of Harvard, where he majored in European history. After graduating from Harvard in 1955 he served for two years in the Navy, then entered Harvard Law School in 1959. He left two years later.
In March 1963 Mr. Adams was accepted as a C.I.A. officer trainee at Langley, Va. After some initiation in what he later called ”the nuts and bolts of espionage,” he began work as an intelligence analyst and wrote a study on the economy of the Congo Republic, Leopoldville (now Zaire), for which he was commended. Questioned Count of Enemy
After visiting South Vietnam four times in 1966 and 1967, Mr. Adams concluded that senior military intelligence officers were underestimating the strength of the enemy, perhaps by half.
He pressed that view on his superiors. But, Mr. Adams said, late in 1967 the C.I.A. reached an agreement with the military on lower figures. He wrote a memorandum calling the agreement ”a monument of deceit.” In January 1968, after the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the C.I.A. adopted an enemy count along the lines he had recommended. By then, he had left the Vietnamese affairs staff in protest, and was concentrating on Cambodia.
In 1969 Mr. Adams removed C.I.A documents, later used in the Westmoreland trial, and buried them in the woods near his 250-acre farm in Virginia. After his resignation from the agency in 1973, he roamed the country looking for former officers who might confirm his charges of a Saigon cover-up.
From the massive ”chronologies” Mr. Adams compiled, he detailed his allegations in a Harper’s magazine article in 1975. He also testified before the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which reached conclusions similar to his own.
Late in 1980 George Crile, who had edited the Harper’s article and by then was a producer for CBS, asked Mr. Adams to become a consultant on the Vietnam documentary. Later Mr. Crile was to write a memorandum to Mr. Wallace in which he said that ”Adams was the thread, he delivers the indictment to us.”
Mr. Adams signed a contract with W. W. Norton & Company to write a book on the alleged deception. He was working on revisions of the book, entitled ”Who the Hell Are We Fighting Out There?,” at the time of his death.
He is survived by his wife, the former Anne Cocroft, and a son, Abraham, of Strafford. Also surviving is a son from a previous marriage, Clayton Pierrepont Adams of Waterford, Va.
The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (part 1 of 3, CBS Reports documentary broadcast January 23, 1982, with Mike Wallace)
(Part 2 of 3)
(Part 3 of 3)
Also see: “A Review of Who the Hell Are We Fighting? The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars: One Intelligence Analyst Remembers Another” by C. Michael Hiam, Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press (2006), 326 pages, in Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA library (https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no4/a-review-of-who-the-hell-are-we-fighting-the-story-of-sam-adams-and-the-vietnam-intelligence-wars.html);
By Philip Giraldi, March 23, 2017 (originally published on The American Conservative.).
There is a perception among some of the public and within the alternative media that America’s burgeoning national-security state is a monolith, a collective entity pursuing its own interests regardless of what is good for the country or its people. From both progressives and conservatives who mistrust the government, I often hear comments such as, “Once in the CIA, always in the CIA”—as if onetime employment in the agency forms an unbreakable bond.
Those familiar with both the national-security community and the peace movement are aware that something like the reverse is true. Individuals who were attracted to careers in intelligence, law enforcement, or the military are often sticklers for doing what is right rather than what is expedient. That often puts them at odds with their political masters, leading sometimes to resignations and a resulting overrepresentation of former national-security professionals in the anti-war movement.
One manifestation of this is an organization of former national-security officers, including myself, called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS. VIPS was founded in 2003 out of revulsion on the part of many former officials over the shabby intelligence that was driving the decision to invade Iraq. The group includes officials from the whole alphabet soup of national security—CIA, NSA, FBI, FS (Foreign Service), and DOD. VIPS’s emergence and its ongoing letters of protest on national-security policy reflect a reality going back to the early debates surrounding the U.S. government’s stealthy escalation of the Vietnam War and its woeful handling of that conflict, ending in a humiliating defeat.
The lies that led to that Vietnam experience produced one of the first well-known rebels against intelligence corruption. Sam Adams, a CIA analyst who was assigned to the agency’s Vietnam desk in 1965, observed that the strength estimates for the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrillas consistently underreported the true strength of the enemy. This led to a prolonged conflict with Army and White House officials, as well as with Adams’s own bosses, all of whom promoted the false notion that the Vietnam challenge was a limited insurgency easily defeated, a fabrication intended to ensure U.S. popular support for the conflict.
Though Adams eventually was forced out of the agency, he continued to expose how intelligence had been hijacked to suit a political agenda. He served as a witness in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers revelations. He wrote about the Vietnam “cover-up” and spoke to the House Intelligence Committee’s Pike Commission, which credited his allegations.
Today there are many former national-security officials in the mold of Sam Adams. For many, the disillusionment with the corruption of intelligence and betrayal of national security began with Iraq. CIA officers in the clandestine service such as European Division chief Tyler Drumheller pushed hard against CIA Director George Tenet and the White House, insisting that field reporting demonstrated that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Drumheller also dismissed “Curveball,” the German-Iraqi source of the false intelligence that Iraq was building mobile biological-weapons labs. The source, said Drumheller, was merely “a guy trying to get his green card essentially, in Germany, and playing the system for what it was worth.”
CIA analysts also sought to expose false claims that Iraqi intelligence officials had met with al-Qaeda. Senior State Department officials John Kiesling, John Brown, and Ann Wright resigned over the march to an avoidable war.
For others, increasing governmental attacks on the Constitution proved decisive. National Security Agency (NSA) officer Tom Drake went through channels after he learned the agency was illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He was joined by former NSA officers William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Ed Loomis. Their efforts were rebuffed by the government. Despite whistleblower protections, Drake later was charged under the Espionage Act.
The large numbers of former foot soldiers in the national-security establishment who are now opposed to the warfare state should be an eye opener for many Americans, suggesting that there is no “high confidence” among many of those who are actually best positioned to know the truth regarding Washington’s perpetual warfare policies.
Which brings us back to VIPS and the dissident former national-security officers who have found a home there. One is Tom Drake, who was involved from the start, as was Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA analyst and presidential briefer. VIPS has produced 47 memos on national-security policy. Its first official action was a February 2003 memo to President George W. Bush condemning the United Nations speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell that established the pretext for invading Iraq. The memo said, “you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond … the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
More recently, VIPS has raised serious questions about the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “Russian hacking” designed to destabilize American politics and, if possible, put Donald Trump in the presidency. The group called on President Obama to release solid evidence of this, even if it creates difficulty for ongoing intelligence operations. The former security officials suggested the evidence released by the government thus far “does not pass the smell test,” and they noted particularly the lack of any public evidence linking the Russians to WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question.
“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstatianted, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies,” said the VIPS statement, addressed to Obama. “Otherwise, we … will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those—like Mr. Trump—who wish to deal constructively with them.”
The VIPS statement didn’t get much attention. Indeed, such warnings from former intelligence, security, law-enforcement, and military personnel are largely frozen out of the establishment media. When VIPS presents its annual Sam Adams award for integrity in intelligence, the recipients get more media attention in Europe than in the U.S. Rarely do the 50-plus associates of VIPS appear in the U.S. mainstream media, although they are frequently interviewed by the foreign press, particularly in Western Europe.
The government also does its best to repress any dissident opinion by requiring many former intelligence and law-enforcement personnel to have their writings reviewed by security officers prior to publication. The reviews can take months, make no effort to accommodate publishing deadlines, and often result in a heavily redacted text that is unreadable. The government sometimes strikes back in less subtle ways. Ray McGovern’s 2006 return of his Intelligence Commendation Medal over reports of CIA torture led to a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2007 enabling Congress to strip retirees of their pensions.
Pushback from former national-security officials is a good thing for the country and the agencies once served by these dissidents. Just as the Founders envisioned a citizen army so the defense of the nation would be in the hands of the people, a national-security structure responsive to responsible dissent should be cherished. The Obama administration, to its discredit, routinely punished legitimate whistleblowers and covered up its misdeeds through invocation of the state-secrets privilege. We can hope that the new Trump administration will have the wisdom and confidence to call off the dogs.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
The Daily Beast and the New York Times have reported allegations that senior (but thus far unidentified) Defense Department and United States Central Command (CENTCOM) officials have pressured intelligence analysts working ISIS to alter their conclusions to make their products more palatable to the Obama administration.
The Times story indicates that a DOD Inspector General (IG) investigation into the allegations is underway “after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama.”
This current episode of alleged politicized intelligence estimates sounds eerily familiar to students of the history of the US Intelligence Community in wartime, particularly the top-down pressure to “only give us the good news.”
(Read full article by Patrick Eddington on “Just Security”)
Exclusive: Many reflections on America’s final days in Vietnam miss the point, pondering whether the war could have been won or lamenting the fate of U.S. collaborators left behind. The bigger questions are why did the U.S. go to war and why wasn’t the bloodletting stopped sooner, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern reflects.
By Ray McGovern
Ecclesiastes says there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. The fortieth anniversary of the ugly end of the U.S. adventure in Vietnam is a time to speak – and especially of the squandered opportunities that existed earlier in the war to blow the whistle and stop the killing.
While my friend Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 eventually helped to end the war, Ellsberg is the first to admit that he waited too long to reveal the unconscionable deceit that brought death and injury to millions.
(Scene from the Vietnam War)
I regret that, at first out of naiveté and then cowardice, I waited even longer – until my own truth-telling no longer really mattered for the bloodshed in Vietnam. My hope is that there may be a chance this reminiscence might matter now – if only as a painful example of what I could and should have done, had I the courage back then. Opportunities to blow the whistle in time now confront a new generation of intelligence analysts – whether they work on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS or Iran.
America’s war in Vietnam, which was authorized by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution a half century ago, had lasting consequences for the nation, including deeper public distrust of government and government’s determination to restrict the people’s right to know, as retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce explains. (read full article)
Sam Adams loved intelligence work, and that enthusiasm shines throughout this memoir of his years with the Central Intelligence Agency. His career was dominated by an epic struggle over Vietnam — over military attempts to hide the true size of the enemy forces there, and over the integrity of the intelligence process. Adams’s insistence on telling the truth caused an ungodly ruckus in both Washington and Saigon at the time, and years later, after the CIA had threatened to fire him (on thirteen occasions!) and he had quit the agency in disgust, Adams brought his story back up to the surface more loudly than ever in a CBS television documentary which eventually resulted in a notorious trial on libel charges brought by General William Westmoreland.
After leaving the CIA, Adams sat down to write an account of his life at the agency. There is nothing else quite like the story he tells. Books here and here.