Signals Intelligence in The Cold War - Indochina and Vietnam To 1954

Indochina and Vietnam To 1954

"After abolition of the French Indochina opium monopoly in 1950, SDECE imposed centralized, covert controls over the illicit drug traffic that linked the Hmong poppy fields of Laos with the opium dens operating in Saigon." This generated profits that funded French covert operations in French Indochina".

In the spring and fall of 1951, French forces beat back Viet Minh attacks, but continued to be increasingly hard-pressed in 1953. While the NSA history is heavily redacted, it appears that the French may have provided COMINT to the CIA.

In 1953, the French began their strongpoint at Dien Bien Phu, for reasons the NSA history said were unclear. Factors may have included controlling some restive tribal groups, or, having seen the effect of US firepower in Korea, hoped to draw the Viet Minh into a similar killing zone. The history mentioned the possibility that the French intelligence service did not want to lose a profitable opium operation in the area, but suggested it was more likely that the Viet Minh were making a profit in this area.

Again concealed by heavy redactions in the NSA history, it appeared that the French had intelligence of multiple Viet Minh units in the Dien Bien Phu area, but no good idea of their size. The overall commander, Henri Navarre, rejected the possibility that these units could be of division size, and that the Viet Minh was capable of a multidivisional operation against Dien Bien Phu.

The NSA history indicates, although the sources and methods are redacted, that the US had very good data on both sides at Dien Bien Phu. As the position crumbled, the French apparently thought that they could get combat assistance from the US. Only the heading of that an NSA emergency force was being considered survived redaction. Nevertheless, while some of the Joint Chiefs did recommend a US relief expedition, President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as Gen. Matthew Ridgway, having just come from the Korean command, rejected the idea of another land war in Asia.

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