Signals Intelligence in The Cold War - Indochina


The Viet Minh, at first, used captured French communications equipment. Under the French, no Vietnamese had been trained in cryptography, so, the initial messages were sent in the clear. On September 23, 1945, the US intercepted a message from Ho Chi Minh to Joseph Stalin, requesting aid for flood victims. This traffic immediately triggered more suspicion of Ho's relationship to Moscow, but it turned out to be one in a series of messages to world leaders.

On September 12, the Viet Minh established a Military Cryptographic Section, and, with their only reference a single copy of French Capitaine Roger Baudoin's Elements Cryptographic, and began to develop their own cryptosystems. Not surprisingly, these were very basic. By early 1946, they had established a network of radio systems, still transmitting with only minimal communications security.

The French had a number of direction-finding stations, with about 40 technicians. By 1946, the French had identified a number of Viet Minh networks and were able to do traffic analysis. They also monitored Nationalist and Communist Chinese, British, Dutch and Indonesian communications In general, however, SIGINT in French Indochina was limited by the availability of linguists.

While the US began to provide military supplies to the French, approximately at the time of the start of operations of the Armed Forces Security Agency in 1949, Indochina was a low COMINT priority. Even in 1950, the position of the French there was considered "precarious", both in a Joint Chiefs of Staff assessment and a National Intelligence Estimate.

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