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«“The story of Pham Xuan An is the revelation of a remarkable life and a remarkable man. Fictional accounts of practitioners of the Great Game—the ...»

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Praise for

The Spy Who Loved Us

“I enjoyed this book enormously and learned a lot. The Spy

Who Loved Us is a fine read and a gripping story; but, most of

all, it is an object lesson in why human intelligence and a great

spy will always trump the most sophisticated espionage and

surveillance technology. It’s not the simple accumulation of information that counts. It’s the recognition of what’s important

and then knowing what to do with it.”


“The story of Pham Xuan An is the revelation of a remarkable life and a remarkable man. Fictional accounts of practitioners of the Great Game—the craft of spying—come nowhere near the real thing that was practiced by An. In The Spy Who Loved Us, An is revealed as a man of split loyalties who managed to maintain his humanity. Cast prejudices aside and you will discover a true hero, scholar, patriot, humanist, and masterful spy.” —MORLEY SAFER, correspondent, CBS 60 Minutes and author of Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam “Relevant, instructive, funny. The shock of the double never goes away. Neither does the gullibility of the arrogant intruder.” —JOHN LE CARRÉ “This is a brilliant book about a man and his times. It strengthens the feeling I got from meeting him late in his life that Pham Xuan An was one of the most impressive people I have ever encountered. He was a man of wisdom, courage, and clear-headed patriotism. He was also—even if it seems ironic to say this under the circumstances—a man of extraordinary integrity. He loved us at our best even while confronting us at our worst.” —DANIEL ELLSBERG, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers “Thomas Bass tells a fantastic tale of intrigue, espionage, and friendship. His book reads as if it came from the farthest shores of fiction, and I wouldn’t believe a word of it if I hadn’t met so many of its characters and didn’t know the story to be true.” —H. D. S. GREENWAY, editor, The Boston Globe, and Vietnam war reporter for Time Magazine and the Washington Post “Every veteran, every scholar, every student, everyone who survived the Vietnam war is advised to read this book and reect on its wisdom. In his thoughtful, provocative biography of one of the most successful espionage agents in history, Thomas Bass challenges some of our most fundamental assumptions about what really happened in Vietnam and what it means to us today.” —JOHN LAURENCE, Vietnam war reporter for CBS News and author of The Cat from Hué: A Vietnam War Story “This is a chilling account of betrayal of an American army—and an American press corps—involved in a guerrilla war in a society about which little was known or understood. The spy here was in South Vietnam, and his ultimate motives, as Thomas Bass makes clear, were far more complex than those of traditional espionage. This book, coming now, has another message, too, for me—have we put ourselves in the same position, once again, in Iraq?” —SEYMOUR HERSH, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib “Thomas Bass has rendered a sensitive, revealing portrait of the strangely ambivalent personality I knew during the Vietnam war.

In doing so he provides us with unique insights into the nature, conflicting sentiments, and heartbreak of many Vietnamese who worked with Americans, made friends with them, but in the end loved their land more and sought, as their ancestors had for a thousand years, to free it from all trespassers.

—SEYMOUR TOPPING, former Southeast Asia bureau chief and managing editor of The New York Times THE SPY WHO LOVED US This page intentionally left blank


The Eudaemonic Pie Camping with the Prince and Other Tales of Science in Africa Reinventing the Future Vietnamerica The Predictors © 2005 JAMES NACHTWEY Pham Xuan An, Ho Chi Minh City, February 2005.

Photograph by James Nachtwey.






–  –  –

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address PublicAffairs, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1321, New York, NY 10107.

Portions of this book first appeared in The New Yorker.

The author wishes to thank James Nachtwey and the Richard Avedon Foundation for permission to reproduce the photographs on pages iv and x–xi.

PublicAffairs books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the U.S. by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail special.markets@perseusbooks.com.

–  –  –

Cao Giao, Newsweek correspondent.

TO THE RIGHT, Nguyen Hung Vuong, Newsweek correspondent, and Nguyen Dinh Tu, Chinh Luan newspaper.

Continental Hotel, Saigon, April 17, 1971.

Photograph by Richard Avedon.



–  –  –

A merica is good only at fighting crusades,” wrote General David Petraeus in his doctoral dissertation on “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” Submitted to Princeton University in 1987, Petraeus’s work attacked what had become the military’s conventional wisdom on the lessons of Vietnam. He characterized this as an “all or nothing approach,” which boiled down to the doctrine that the United States should fight only conventional wars with overwhelming support from a crusading public. Petraeus rejected this “business as usual approach.” He argued instead that the United States was likely to find itself in the midst of other irregular wars fighting two, three, many Vietnams. Petraeus went on to compile the army field manual on counterinsurgency published in 2006. The following year, given the chance to conduct fieldwork on his academic specialty, he was appointed commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Wars are not only crusades; they are also affairs of the heart.

Wars are fought for love, which we have known ever since Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships full of smitten men

xviixviii FOREWORD

willing to die on her behalf. American humorist P. J. O’Rourke captured this truth in an essay he wrote on Vietnam in 1992: “In the early evening in Hué, the girls from the secondary schools come home from classes, fleets of them bicycling through the streets, all dressed in white ao dais, trim shirtdresses worn over loose-fitting trousers. Not for nothing do the remaining Catholic churches ring the Angelus this time of day. I wonder if it changes the nature of a society for beauty to be so common.” After exclaiming over the “huge aggregate percentages of sirens and belles” in this Edenic country, O’Rourke writes, “Now I understand how we got involved in Vietnam. We fell in love.... [We] swooned for the place. Everybody, from the first advisers Ike sent in 1955 to Henry Kissinger at the Paris peace talks, had a mad crush on Vietnam. It broke their hearts.

They kept calling and sending flowers. They just couldn’t believe this was goodbye.” Before beginning my story about Vietnam and America (with sideways glances toward France and other parts of the world), let me say that this book is about war and love, the lessons of Vietnam, counterinsurgencies, and other conflicts called irregular. It is about spies and journalists and the confusion between them. Some would claim that journalists helped to lose the war in Vietnam. In this case, I am claiming that a journalist helped to win the war—for the Vietnamese. This discomfiting book is about knowledge and deception and the ineluctable incertitude of knowing where one shades into the other. It offers no verities to be redacted into the new lessons of the Vietnam war. It is the simple life of a complex man. The truth is in the details. We begin.

A Cautionary Note on Agent Z.21 H ere is Pham Xuan An now,” Time’s last reporter in Vietnam cabled the magazine’s New York headquarters on April 30, 1975. “All American correspondents evacuated because of emergency. The office of Time is now manned by Pham Xuan An.” An filed three more reports from Saigon as the North Vietnamese army closed in on the city. Then the line went dead. During the following year, with An serving as Time’s sole correspondent in postwar Vietnam, the magazine ran articles on “The Last Grim Goodbye,” “Winners: The Men Who Made the Victory,” and “A Calm Week Under Communism.” An was one of thirty-nine foreign correspondents working for Time when the Saigon bureau was closed and his name disappeared from the masthead on May 10, 1976.

Recognized as a brilliant political analyst, beginning with his work in the 1960s for Reuters and then for the New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor, and, finally, as a Time correspondent for eleven years, Pham Xuan An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral, a café on the old rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon 2 THOMAS A. BASS as the best news source in Saigon. He was called “dean of the Vietnamese press corps” and “voice of Radio Catinat”—the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as “docteur de sexologie,” “professeur coup d’état,” “Commander of Military Dog Training” (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), “Ph.D. in revolutions,” or, simply, General Givral.

We now know that this was only half the work An did as a reporter, and not the better half. An sent the Communist government in Hanoi a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink, but it was his typed dispatches, now locked in Vietnam’s intelligence archives in Hanoi, which will undoubtedly rank as his chef d’oeuvre. An wrote four hundred and ninety-eight reports (the official figure revealed by the Vietnamese government in 2007), averaging about one per month, during his fifty-five-year career as an intelligence agent.

Using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service, An wrote his reports, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film, An’s dispatches were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters. Every few weeks, beginning in 1952, An would leave his Saigon office, travel twenty miles northwest to the Ho Bo woods, and descend into the tunnels to plan Communist strategy. From Cu Chi, An’s dispatches were hustled under armed guard to Mount Ba Den, on the Cambodian border, driven to Phnom Penh, flown to Guangzhou (Canton) in southern China, and then rushed to the Politburo in Hanoi. An’s writing was so lively and detailed that General Giap and Ho Chi Minh are said to have rubbed their hands with glee on getting these reports from Tran Van Trung—An’s code name. “We are now in the United States’ war room!” they exclaimed, according to members of the Vietnamese Politburo.

The Spy Who Loved Us 3 As Saigon fell to the Communists, An was hoping to be evacuated to the United States. This was not because he feared Communist reprisals, as everyone assumed, but because Vietnamese intelligence planned to continue his work in America.

They knew there would be a war-after-the-war, a bitter period of political maneuvering in which the United States might launch covert military operations and a trade embargo against Vietnam. Who better to report on America’s intentions than Pham Xuan An? In the last days of the war, An’s wife and their four children were airlifted out of Vietnam and resettled in Washington, D.C. An was anxiously awaiting instructions to follow them when word came from the North Vietnamese Politburo that he would not be allowed to leave the country.

An was named a Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, awarded more than a dozen military medals, and elevated to the rank of brigadier general. He was also sent to what he called a “reeducation” camp and forbidden to meet Western visitors. His wife and children were brought back to Vietnam a year after they left. The problem with Pham Xuan An, from the perspective of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was that he loved America and Americans, democratic values, and objectivity in journalism. He considered America an accidental enemy who would return to being a friend once his people had gained their independence. An was the Quiet Vietnamese, the man in the middle, the representative figure who was at once a lifelong revolutionary and ardent admirer of the United States. He says he never lied to anyone, that he gave the same political analyses to Time that he gave to Ho Chi Minh. He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth.

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