The Central Intelligence Agency would certainly know the circumstances
surrounding the death of General Hieu. Because the CIA played a key role in
American policy design and participated in every major decision-making process
during the "Vietnam Experience" from its inception in 1954 to its ending in
1975. And also because of the close relationship between General Hieu and the
American General Consul in Bien Hoa (a position normally held by a CIA
operative). One of the hypotheses of General Hieu's death right in his office at
the 3rd Corps Headquarters was that the authority suspected that the CIA
approached him to plot a coup d'etat and had him eliminated in advance. I borrow
General Vinh Loc's words and inserted within them my three own ones: "The South
Vietnam President was paranoid even toward his own shadow and his own
reflection, trembling before Paratroopers, shivering before Armored Cavalry,
frightened by General Hieu at the thoughts that each one of them might
launch a coup."(Thu Gui Nguoi Ban My, page 82).
Consequently, since arriving in the United States, I always entertained the
intention of contacting the CIA with the hope of finding out the truth
surrounding the death of my brother. I am fully aware that it would be extremely
difficult to extract any statement or acknowledgment from CIA, since its
survival depends on secrecy. The Congress enacted the "Freedom of Information
Act" law instructing governmental agencies to disclose all declassified
documents to the public when requested, and also determined that after 20 years,
all documents will be automatically declassified. That was why I patiently wait
20 years before I began trying to contact the CIA.
Between the CIA and I, we generated seven letters (3 from me and 4 from the
1. In my first
request letter dated 28 August 1996, I requested a copy of records
pertaining to General Hieu, with the following cues: 3 Corps Deputy Commander,
was killed 2 weeks before the fall of Saigon, close relationship with Mr.
Richard Peters, the American General Consul in Bien Hoa.
2. In its
response letter dated 2 October 1996, the CIA advised me that the Agency
neither confirm nor deny the existence or non existence of the records
responsive to my request. The CIA also advised me that the Agency was exempted
from the "Freedom of Information Act" in two instances: (b)(1) classified
documents under Executive Order to protect national security and foreign policy;
(b)(3) the responsibility of CIA Director to protect intelligence sources and
methods, and CIA organizational structure.
3. In my appeal
letter dated 7 October 1996, I appealed CIA determination because: one, I
was only requesting documents that were automatically declassified upon reaching
20 years old; two, I was only requesting information pertaining to my brother,
and was not interested in intelligence sources and methods of the CIA.
5. In its
letter dated 15 January 1997,the Release Panel deny my request based on the
same two reasons stated in the first response letter with, however, additional
6. In my last
attempt letter dated 28 January 1997, I switched tactics in asking the CIA
to consider "human friendship" instead of in invoking legal rights, in revealing
to me "who" and "why" my brother was killed. I also proposed the CIA to either
read the documents on "for your eyes" basis or hear the information on "for your
ears" basis only, so that the CIA could deny any knowledge in so doing.
7. In its
response letter dated 5 February 1997, the CIA stated that my proposal fell
outside the limits determined by the "Freedom of Information Act" (!), and thus
could not satisfy my request, and further advised that I could ask for a review
at any United States district court.
At this point I gave up attacking the compact facade put up by the CIA, with
the hope that someday down the road, the Congress might force the CIA to relax
a little more its classification policy. At such time I might resume my
harassment for information!
Nguyen Van Tin (8/1998)
P.S. (September 10, 2000) - A note pertaining to CIA's policy of
non-denial nor non-admission of the existence or non-existence of documents
CIA COMPELLED TO DISCLOSE RECORDS
In early August 2000 the National Security Archive (NSA) won a partial
summary judgment in a U. S. District Court against the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA). The Court's decision establishes a new precedent that
effectively challenges that agency's traditional policy of refusing to
"neither confirm or deny" the existence of certain CIA-prepared information
when responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
In this instance, back in May 1995, the NSA filed a FOIA request for the
biographies of nine former Communist leaders of Eastern European countries
(seven of whom are now dead). Drawing upon the so-called "Glomar" claim (named
after a lawsuit over access to records relating to the ship Glomar Explorer in
which the CIA won the right to "neither confirm of deny" information when
responding to information sought under a FOIA request) the CIA refused to
confirm or deny the existence of the biographies.
Consequently, the NSA filed suit in May 1999 in an effort to compel the
agency to release the information.
In the court's ruling, Judge Kollar-Kotelly found that the CIA had already
admitted the existence of the biographies in a detailed article declassified
in 1994 and hence could not claim the information did not exist. The judge
found: "To hold that the CIA has the authority to deny information that it has
already admitted would violate the core principles of FOIA without providing
any conceivable national security benefit." While the decision does not
completely nullify the CIA's ability to use the Glomar claim when responding
to future FOIA requests by historians, journalists, and others, it does
establish a precedent that could help to compel that agency to be more
responsive, particularly when it can be established that the item being sought
via a FOIA request does exist.