The Phoenix Program and the SLA (Douglas Valentine, Mae Brussell)
What we’re really doing in Vietnam is killing the cause of ‘wars of liberation.’ It’s a testing ground – like Germany in Spain. It’s an example to Central America and other guerrilla prone areas – Bernard Fall, Ramparts. December 1965.
Nelson Brickham viewed Vietnam as a war that would be “won or lost on the basis of intelligence,” and he created [the] Phoenix [Program] as the vanguard in that battle. Unfortunately, the Phoenix front line unraveled faster than the VCI’s; dissension between the Americans and Vietnamese, and the CIA and the military doomed the program to failure. And while the insurgents held tight, mistrust of U.S. government policy in Southeast Asia born during Tet 1968 and brought to a boil by the Cambodian invasion, began to unravel American society.
Immediately following the Cambodian invasion, massive antiwar demonstrations erupted across the country. In Ohio Governor James Rhodes reacted violently, vowing to ‘eradicate’ the protesters. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard responded to his exhortations, firing into a crowd of demonstrators at Kent State College, killing four people.
The spectacle of American soldiers killing American citizens had a chilling on many people, many of whom suddenly realized that dissent was a dangerous in the United States as it was in South Vietnam. To many Americans, the underlying tragedy of the Vietnam War symbolized by Phoenix, was finally felt at home. Nixon himself articulated those murderous impulses when he told his staff, “Don’t worry about decisiveness. Having drawn the sword, stick it in hard. Hit’ em in the gut. No defensiveness.”
Nixon backed his words with actions. He ordered one of his aides, a former Army intelligence specialist and president of the Young Americans for Freedom, Tom Huston, to devise a plan to surveil, compromise, and discredit his domestic critics. The Huston Plan was called evidence of a “Gestapo mentality” by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina.
What Ervin meant by the “Gestapo mentality” was Phoenix in its conceptual sense – the use of terror to stifle dissent. Reflecting Nixon’s “Gestapo Mentality,” offensive counterintelligence operations were directed against dissenters in America: blacks, leftists, pacifists, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and American Indians. The most famous example may have been mounted by the CIA’s domestic operations branch against the Black Liberation Movement; as in Chile, it provoked a violent reaction by security forces and served to justify repression.
Colston Westbrook, according to Mae Brussell in a July 1974 article in The Realist, was a CIA psywar expert. An adviser to the Korean CIA and Lon Nol in Cambodia, Westbrook from 1966 until 1969 reportedly worked (undercover as an employee of Pacific Architects and Engineers) as an adviser to the Vietnamese Police Special Branch. In 1970 Westbrook allegedly returned to the United States and was gotten a job at the University of California at Berkeley. According to Brussell, Westbrook’s control officer was William Hermann, who was connected to the Stanford Research Institute, RAND Corporation, and the Hoover Center on Violence. In his capacity as an adviser to Governor Ronald Reagan, Hermann put together a pacification plan for California at the UCLA Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. As part of this pacification plan Westbrook, a black man, was assigned the task of forming a black cultural association at the Vacaville Medical Facility. Although ostensibly fostering black pride, Westbrook was in truth conducting an experimental behavior modification program. Westbrook’s job, claims Brussell, was to program unstable persons, drawn from California prisons, to assassinate black community leaders. His most successful client was Donald DeFreeze, chief of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). It was Westbrook who designed the SLA’s logo (a seven-headed cobra), who gave DeFreeze his African name (Cinque), and who set Cinque and his gang on their Phoenix flight to cremation, care of the Los Angeles SWAT Team, the FBI, and U.S. Treasury agents.
The Phoenix Program: A Shattering Account of the most Ambitious and Closely Guarded Operation of the Vietnam War by Douglas Valentine. Pgs. 336, 337. ISBN# 0 688-09130-X