In 1960, Ho Chi Minh and his supporters initiated their third “anti-colonial war”, calling for the “elimination of the U.S. imperialist and the Ngo Dinh Diem clique.” (17) This proclamation would be reinforced by the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF); organized by various political and religious groups in the South and aided by its guerilla force, the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong descended on villages and infiltrated hamlets armed with communist propaganda devised to coax the local population against what they saw as a puppet government in the South. Much of the population sympathized with the Viet Cong and saw them primarily as revolutionaries, fulfilling the long Vietnamese tradition of resistance against foreign occupation. However, traditional methods often proved unsuccessful for the Viet Cong and acts of terror were readily used on anti-communist resisters, informants, secret police, and civilian leadership including family members. Bodies were often displayed in public view and pinned with a death notice to make sure everyone knew the score.
Willing to go to great lengths to achieve their objective of “winning hearts and minds”, the U.S. advisors adopted highly effective Communist terror tactics and implemented many of them “into a U.S.-Saigon pacification strategy.” Evolving over time, the counterterrorism program organized by the CIA would culminate in 1968 with the creation of Phung Hoang, better known as the Phoenix Program. The operation fell under control of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS). It was crucial for the U.S. to take such action as “fighting under cover of Civic Action, a plausibly deniable war against enemy agents and soldiers” could be achieved. Counter-terror was waged against the VC, “using black propaganda, defectors, criminals (the entire 52 Ranger Battalion was recruited from Saigon prisons), selective terror, forcible relocations, and racial hatred to achieve its goal of internal security.”