Vietnam War: The Role of Intelligence Essay


The 1968 Tet Offensive was a surprised onslaught on the United States and Allied forces in a extremely co-ordinated operation between the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong insurrectionists. The success of this monolithic land assault was non attributed to their superior combat capablenesss but instead the US’s ill-interpretation of onslaught warning marks and inaccurate rating of the enemy’s ability to earn support and exploit resources. This paper discusses a series of trip taken by the US’s failure to acknowledge the function and value of intelligence taking up to the concluding minute when the first moving ridge of onslaughts occurred.

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Her intelligence setup fell into the self-contradictory misrepresentation of fixating on a false mark when in world the true purpose was of multiple marks and these marks were everyplace else but Khe Sanh small town. Her ill-conceived perceptual experience was farther exasperated by undervaluing the communists’ resourcefulness. In the after-math. lessons learned from these bloopers encouraged US analysts to invariably reevaluate their logic to outdo mitigate prejudices and over indulgence of assurance giving equal weight and value when size uping those resources beyond the immediate control.


Contrary to facts and figures. the Tet Offensive was non at all unexpected or a surprise to the Americans as told by history. Evidence mounted in the months taking up to the event so subsequently good documented in the wake that clear marks of the monolithic onslaughts were at hand. The extract below is a elaborate conflict program drawn specifically for the Tet operation. It was found on described in a Viet Cong soldier’s notebook that had fallen into the custodies of US intelligence two months prior to the monolithic onslaught. The transition reads: The cardinal central office has ordered the full ground forces and people of South Vietnam to implement general offense and general rebellion in order to accomplish a decisive victory…Use really strong military onslaughts in coordination with the rebellions of the local population to take over towns and metropoliss. They should travel toward emancipating the capital metropolis. take power and seek to beat up enemy brigades and regiments to our side one by one.

This cursing grounds was underestimated in value and overlooked by deduction on many occasions in the months taking up to the onslaughts. while others were given overpowering acceptance. A instance in point. analysts had gone on records to acknowledge they themselves frequently did non go through on intelligence for farther analysis disregarding them as insignificant or irrelevant. The undermentioned treatment provides an overview of two major fortunes where the US forces failed to acknowledge cardinal marks and events as fore-warnings that monolithic onslaughts were at hand on Tet in 1968 in and throughout South Vietnam. Intelligence Failure # 1: False Arrested development on Khe Sanh

The individual most of import and good known misreckoning of intelligence work during the Vietnam War was the ill-committed and false arrested development that Khe Sanh small town was traveling to be the communist’s ultimate mark of devastation and humiliation for the US. Analysts were convinced that the communists’ chief violative onslaught was traveling to be the big US base in the Khe Sanh vale. Their logic was this. Located in a distant. forest covered country in northern state of South Vietnam and merely South of the De-Militarized Zone ( DMZ ) . Khe Sanh was alone at the clip in that it carried an aura of and shared features similar to major conflict Dien Bien Phu metropolis where the Gallic fought and folded to the Communist province 16 old ages earlier. The parallel drawn by the US leading and its intelligence bureaus would go the psychological ground-zero from which false reading and perceptual experiences of the Tet Offensive onslaught would be based-on.

Rather than measuring each mark or hint as single pieces of intelligence with its ain virtue. they simply enhanced the analysts’ biases. The massing of four divisions of North Vietnamese regular ground forces military personnels of over 40. 000 in strength. on the environing vale merely supported what Westmoreland and his analysts already knew. in other words. Khe Sanh was to be a do-it-again of Dien Bien Phu scenario. Any informations reverse to this firmed angle were either dismissed or deemed as derailment to the arrested development on Khe Sanh. In the clip taking to Tet onslaughts. US intelligence systematically received intelligence. informations and negotiations amongst the enemy that there would be an uprising in towns. metropoliss and vales throughout South Vietnam. Westmoreland and US Intelligence reasoned that these were erroneous intelligence aimed to debar and deviate from the Khe Sanh mark.

They had it rearward. The Communist leaders all along used Khe Sanh to pull US attending. military personnels and resources off from true marks where readyings were under manner prior to the onslaughts and besides to cut down opposition as there would be less US and allied forces during the onslaughts. The communist inactive misrepresentation scheme and program worked. General Westmorland was so positive of the onslaught on Khe Sanh that he issued a warning to ignore activities elsewhere because they were merely recreation to the existent mark. . Skirmishes did take topographic point at Khe San but such merely to function as the existent recreation to the multi-frontal invasions and originating throughout South Vietnam. After the NVA/VCs’ initial push from the northern portion of South Vietnam intelligence of the Tet Offensive spread. taging a deep panic in the pages of history as one of the most ruinous intelligence failures of the US Intelligence Community.

Intelligence Failure # 2: Underestimated the Communists’ Resourcefulness The misrepresentation of Khe Sanh could non hold happened without the appropriate resources and organized systems of support. The North Vietnamese Communists leveraged the lessons learned from the yesteryear with the limited assets from the present and generated the maestro program to lead on the US and Allied forces. The experiences of holding fought off aliens in the past decennaries have taught the Vietnamese state above all else in times of war. is to be resourceful. Noted in the Pentagon Papers. Study Number 5. dated October 12. 1972. the paperss offers the undermentioned statement to depict the North Vietnamese political authorities. “North Vietnam’s adaptability and resourcefulness had been greatly underestimated. ”

Even with such consciousness. the United states analysts still overlooked this cardinal factor for development. exposing an intelligence failure of the Tet Offensive. The Communist leaders recognized that they could non win by manner of the traditional warfare. Matching the US blow for blow would be futile. They had to look for something else. That something else was to seek support from three beginnings ; the Viet Cong insurrectionists. China and Soviet Union. and its ain political setup. The insurgent assets of Vietminh in the North and Viet Cong in the South were used as an extension to the ground forces. boots-on-the-ground. These communist insurrectionists formed the anchors that provide and maintain the military substructure behind enemy’s [ US ] line. “Thousands of agents and slumberers existed throughout the South Vietnam’s authorities. armed forces. and security/intelligence organisations.

The dramatic extent of that advantage was non revealed until the autumn of Saigon in 1975. when events disclosed how exhaustively the enemy had penetrated the society of South Vietnam—including some American offices. ”6 North Vietnamese authorities reached out to the adjacent provinces and fellow Communists for logistical support. China and Soviet Union kept a steady flow of armaments and supplies during the violative. “Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces were equipped with new AK-47 assault rifles and B-40 projectile launchers. The support was non limited to merely guns and grenades. Soviet Union besides sent 4. 000 advisers along with the arms to North Vietnam as trainers. contrivers. and to even manning missile batteries. The 3rd alternate plus that the Communist government integrated into the overall Tet scheme was the usage of its ain political setup.

In a secret meeting with President Johnson. the North Vietnamese carried on an insincere conversation with the purpose to denote publically of something else other than what was discussed in private. The diplomatic exchange was designed “to deceive US determination shapers but besides to drive a cuneus in the confederation at a clip when allied solidarity was of important importance. ” In all instances described above. the US analysts missed the chance to work each misrepresentation separately and the relationship they shared to pave the manner for the offense. Where the intelligence failed to acknowledge the communists’ cunning to incorporate these resources into the Tet run may be a contemplation of the analysts’ intelligence haughtiness. In the heads of most US senior leaders. the North is nil “but a little agricultural state with no existent industrial base and merely modest demands for go oning the war. ”

Lessons Learned

The Tet onslaughts provide ample mentions and theoretical accounts from which the US intelligence community and the likes of think-tanks can look-to for lessons learned. Two were rapidly realized in the wake. The misrepresentation of Khe Sanh played mostly on the biass of the US intelligence analysts. Colonel Hughes-Wilson made this point in the Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups. “General Giap’s principal active misrepresentation step to dissemble his true offense had worked brightly. Blinded by personal ain biass. the Americans had been inexorably drawn to the feint attack…” Sold to the US and Allies that Khe Sanh would be the mark of an full-scale onslaught. dubbed as “The Great Task” . the enemy employed a multi-faceted misrepresentation attack in a well organized and elaborated program designed to lead on the US analysts. Khe Sanh was perfectly isolated in the heads of US analysts by their humanistic detectors. Having heard straight from senior leading. analysts were told that Khe Sanh would be the large mark. Ford. 2008. offered this cogent evidence with respect to the suspected premier mark. “General Westmoreland assumed that this force [ NVA 320th and 325th Delta Divisions ] would be used for the ‘final stage. ”

Adding to the analysts’ ocular sensory. paperss from the field reported that 1000s of NVAs had amassed in and around the Khe Sanh vale. These pieces of information led analysts to do the connexion and fulfill their sense of logic about to the point of certainty that the concluding onslaught was in fact Khe Sanh. The 2nd lesson US intelligence learned was that they discounted the significance of how the Communists exploited the alternate assets. For illustration. meetings with US functionaries were simply chances to circulate half-truth and dead set information designed to skew Washington’s perceptual experience. Colonel Hughes-Wilson wrote. “These diplomatic and open political gestures were portion of what the North Vietnamese termed “passive” misrepresentation. designed to hide their existent purposes. ”

To increase the army size. the North Vietnamese authorities enlisted a significant population of sympathisers in the South to incite and infiltrate throughout the South Vietnamese authorities and its operations. And there were no deficits of logistical support as the Soviet Union and China maintained a uninterrupted watercourse of supplies and armaments to their battlers. Opposite to the enemy’s extremely co-ordinated methodological analysis. the US analysis machine worked independently to really small collaborative attempts. once more. Colonel Hughes-Wilson observed. “Below the over centralised National Command Authority was a monolithic of viing intelligence organisations that made any existent cardinal control of intelligence a C3 ( Command. control. and Communications ) incubus. ”

The writer identified and listed 10 bureaus that merely cod intelligence. proposing there were more executing other maps. These bureaus were non merely organized but they did non portion what each knows or administer what information each has. Hence. intelligence merchandises and cognition were amassed because of redundancy. confused because of inconsistent and conflicting informations. and irrelevant because of single bureau prejudices.


The 1968 Tet Offensive was a surprise on the US and Allied forces but non by the superior capableness of the enemy but by the failure of the US’s readings and misunderstandings of available intelligence. Analysts fell into the paradox of misrepresentation and underestimated the communists’ ability to work and form their resources. Convinced that the Communist would concentrate their onslaughts on Khe Sanh and that activities everyplace else were merely to function as distraction. they missed the true marks. the opposite to what they had anticipated.

The North Vietnamese non merely proved that they were resourceful but they were able to carry on major violative onslaughts into the South Vietnam. despite warning marks were signaled that onslaughts would be elsewhere. Through the old ages. rating of the Tet onslaughts changed many times over as new visible radiations shined on different facets and elements to assist explicate how and why the most beforehand intelligence organisation in the universe. given the lessons learned from Pearl Harbor. missed the fore-telling marks of Tet onslaughts. The reply was simple to understand but hard to accept because the groundss spoke contrary to the analysts’ prepossession.


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[ 1 ] . An excerpted from Steven Hayward’s book. The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Leberal Order. 1964-1980. He so writes this article. The Tet Offensive. as holding the book for the background and as rule mention. hypertext transfer protocol: //www. ashbrook. org/publicat/dialogue/hayward-tet. hypertext markup language [ 2 ] . Ronnie. E. Ford. Tet 1968. Understanding the Surprise. ( London: Frank Cass & A ; Co. 1995 ) . 9-16. [ 3 ] . Ibid. pp. 11. 17.

[ 4 ] . James P. Finley. Cipher Likes To Be Surprised: Intelligence Failures. hypertext transfer protocol: //connection. ebscohost. com/c/articles/9706170978/nobody-likes-be-surprised-intelligence-failures [ 5 ] . Colonel John Hughes-Wilson. Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups ( New York: Carroll & A ; Graf Publishers.