Sunday, October 28, 2007

Perfect Spy

Đọc "Perfect Spy" để hiểu rõ cái đau của chính quyền Mỹ xưa và nay vốn rất tự hào về mạng lưới tình báo của họ. Ngày đó, chàng trai trẻ Phạm Xuân Ẩn sang Mỹ với $1,000 trong tay (được chính ông Mười Hương (3) trao) đã gây được sự chú ý tại trường OCC (Organe County College). Ai chú ý? Đó là giáo viên; đó là sinh viên; quan trọng hơn; đó chính là cơ quan tình báo Mỹ CIA. Điệp viên CIA đã nhắm trước chàng SV PXA, đã chọn SV PXA để làm việc cho chính họ tại Sài Gòn sau khi hòan thành khóa học tại California. Chính vì vậy, họ đưa SV PXA đi gặp biết bao nhiêu nhân vật quan trọng; chính khách có, nhà báo có, giáo viên có, luật sư có.... Để rồi, tất cả đều bị giáng một đòn nặng nề khi biết ra ông 2T chính là cán bộ tình báo của VC, của ta. Mạng lưới TBCM VN đã thành công khi mượn tay Mỹ để đào tạo cho ta một cán bộ tình báo lẫy lừng, nói tiếng Anh tốt và hơn hết hiểu nước Mỹ và chính quyền Mỹ quá tốt.

Nhưng hay ở chỗ, ông không vì làm tình báo cho VC mà quên đi bạn bè và gia đình. Ông đã đích thân giúp đỡ ông Trần Kim Tuyến (giám đốc TB VNCH) chạy thóat đi nước ngòai, đã đưa gia đình tạm lánh sang nước ngòai cho an tòan. Trong con tim mình, ông luôn dành cho bạn bè và người thân một chỗ đứng nhất định. Chính vì thế, không một ai xem ông là kẻ phản bội cho dù họ là những đồng nghiệp từng làm chung với ông trong các tòa sọan báo trước 1975, hoặc những người quen biết ông đứng trong hàng ngũ VNCH ngày trước.

Tác giả cuốn sách còn cảm phục nếp sống thanh tao và giản dị của ông. Ông đâu có cần gì, cho dù là danh vọng hay tiền tài. Những gì ông có, ông đã cống hiến cho đất Mẹ Việt Nam rồi. Vậy nên, cho dù có những lúc không được đối đãi đúng mức, ông vẫn là ông, một con người yêu nước nồng nàn, một chiến sĩ cách mạng trung kiên. Trong nhà, ông chỉ nuôi ba con vật với những ý nghĩa sâu xa "con chim dạy ta biết hót (nói), con cá dạy ta biết im lặng và con chó dạy ta biết trung thành" (4). Cá nhân tôi hiểu rằng, nói đúng lúc - im lặng đúng chỗ - trung thành với đất Mẹ Việt Nam là châm ngôn giúp ông tỏa sáng trong ngành tình báo Việt Nam và cả thế giới.

Cuốn sách này ra đời và được đón nhận chẵng những tô đậm nỗi đau của CQTB Mỹ và còn làm bật lên sự ám ảnh về cuộc chiến tại Việt Nam trước 1975. Thành công sao được khi Việt Nam luôn có những con người như ông Hai Trung. Hãy đọc những gì ông Hai Trung nói về cuộc chiến chống Mỹ "...Hòa bình mà tôi chiến đấu để đạt được có thể làm kiệt quệ đất nước này, nhưng chiến tranh có khi còn giết chết nó. Dù tôi yêu nước Mỹ, nhưng nước Mỹ không có quyền gì ở nước này. Chúng tôi phải tự giải quyết vấn đề của mình..."

Từ sâu thẳm đáy lòng, một lần nữa, xin được thắp nén nhang lòng cho ông, kính mong ông an nghỉ thanh thản ở miền Lạc Cảnh.

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Xin mời bạn đọc cùng đọc một vài ý kiến về ông 2T và cuốn sách này của chính tác giả Larry Bauman và nhiều người đọc khác (5) :

"... Ông Ẩn là người khá thú vị, rất hoạt ngôn, biết cách dẫn dắt câu chuyện với khả năng nói tiếng Anh xuất sắc. Ông khá tự nhiên khi tiếp xúc với tôi – một người Mỹ. Theo quan sát của tôi, những người Việt Nam khác khá thụ động và cảnh giác trước người nước ngoài. Họ thường xem người mình đang tiếp xúc là ai trước khi bắt chuyện. Ông Ẩn thì không thế. Tôi cảm thấy rất thoải mái khi nói chuyện với ông. Có lẽ đó cũng là điều khiến ông trở thành một điệp viên giỏi, vì ông làm người khác cảm thấy thoải mái khi trao đổi thông tin...", trích lời của chính ông Larry khi trả lời phỏng vấn đài BBC vương quốc Anh.

"I was taken aback by An's working against the U.S. after having made so many friends here, how well the VietCong/NVA infiltrated U.S. planning, and how long ahead their thinking ran. The book also brings an eerie sense of wondering what is happening along these same lines now in Iraq"

"As a former Marine sniper with two straight years in the Vietnam War, the early part, I couldnt pass this book up. An, the spy, is the perfect spy and by the end of the book you can see he duped our press, his 'friends', not only in Vietnam during the war, but all the way to his recent death. He certainly played a central part in the demise of our strategy and as one soldier to another, my hat goes off to him. He was good at what he did and so were my fellow Marines and I. He fought for his country in his way and we in ours. An incredible man", written by G.E. Kugler, tác giả quyển sách "The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle".

"I read this book in a single afternoon. I picked it up by chance, intended to browse through the first few pages, then ended up finishing the whole book. This is a fascinating book about a fascinating life. Professor Berman not just details An's life, but also paints a vivid picture of the Saigon foreign press corp during the height of the war, the Tet offensive, the Laos incursion and the North's final push for Saigon. The analysis on the strategic value of An's information to the North is highly illuminating and provides an interesting glimpse on the inner working of the war machines of both sides", by Linh Vuong, California.

"During an interview on NPR, Berman was asked by the host if An had lied to him. "An probably took 80% of his secrets with him to his grave," admitted Berman", by Pham Xuan Quang, Orange County, California.

"This is an extraordinary story, one that offers new explanations of several key events of the war…Berman's book appears 32 years after the war, yet, amazingly, adds significantly to our understanding of what happened. Students of American failures—who have had so much new material to ponder—will be richly rewarded by reading this book", by Robert Kaiser, Washing Post.

"...many of the American reporters he knew still respected his journalistic skill. Drawing on extensive interviews with An and a number of his Vietnamese and American friends, Berman recounts a remarkable story. Perhaps he could have emphasized more strongly the deadly results of An's intelligence assistance to the Communists. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating account of a complex man who loved his homeland, as well as the United States and the profession of journalism. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries", by A.O. Edmonds, Library Journal

"... ông vừa là điệp viên, vừa là nhà chiến lược. Ông có mạng lưới liên lạc sâu sát với người Mỹ và có khả năng phân tích tình huống xuất sắc. Họ chưa bao giờ bắt được ông. Ông là điệp viên hòan hảo..." trích phát biểu của phóng viên người Pháp Jean-Claude Pomonti.

2 comments:

Nam Vu said...

A Perfect Spy -- For Which Side?

Bui Van Phu

Perfect Spy: the incredible double life of Pham Xuan An, Time magazine reporter & Vietnamese communist agent. Larry Berman. 328 pages. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. $25.95
($21 on Internet Bookselling)

*
Causes for the U.S. defeat in Vietnam are many. Lacking strategic intelligence was one. Meanwhile, communist agents were able to infiltrate all levels of the U.S. military's commands and of the Saigon government.

Pham Xuan An was a journalist for Time magazine, who had close contacts with important people in South Vietnam's political and military arena, and with American reporters. No one believed An worked for Hanoi until he was promoted to the rank of general after North Vietnam took over the South in 1975.

After the war ended, An became a subject of discussion among the American reporters. They suspected him, but no one was definite that he had been a Hanoi agent. General Edward Lansdale did not believe An was a communist spy. Journalists from Neil Sheehan, Dan Southerland and David Halberstam to Robert Shaplen, and Stanley Karnow were all impressed with his knowledge and caring. He saved lives of CIA spy Mills C. Brandes, Time magazine reporter Robert Sam Anson, and Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen, the former chief of South Vietnamese intelligence under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.

Who truly was An? What connections did he have with the CIA that caused former Director William Colby to try unsuccessfully to meet with him a few times after 1975?

Vietnamese Communists praised Pham Xuan An as their talented spy. However, some did not believe that he was just working for Hanoi. So, did Pham Xuan An work for the French G-2, Ngo Dinh Diem's secret police, the CIA, South Vietnamese intelligence, or did he work for all sides? Was his work so important that he should have been awarded four stars, as he joked when he was promoted to the rank of one-star general and the title of Hero of the People's Army?

After the war ended in April 1975 Pham Xuan An was so closely watched and Hanoi's policies so harsh that he became disillusioned with his dream of a developed and free Vietnam. He was not allowed to leave the country, even though he tried several times and in different ways.

Those are the fascinating details in Perfect Spy.

Pham Xuan An considers the author his official biographer. To reconstruct An's life, the author traveled to Vietnam numerous times to interview him, his friends, commanders, colleagues, relatives and did research at archives on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

The story begins when An infiltrates the U.S. Military Mission in the mid-1950s, which takes him to America to study journalism in late 1950s, then his return home to work as a correspondent for the Republic of Vietnam's Press Agency and international news agencies in Saigon.

Perfect Spy beautifully blends important events in South Vietnam with An's actions, from Ngo Dinh Diem's consolidation of power, the battle of Ap Bac in 1963, the strategic hamlet program, and the coup that overthrew the Ngo family, to the arrival of U.S. combat troops, the Vietnamization program, the 1972 Easter Offensive, the Paris Peace Talks, and the final days of the Republic of Vietnam. At each stage, An provided Hanoi strategic analyses to help it devise plans to deal with.

While planning for the 1968 Tet Offensive, An took a communist cadre all over Saigon to select targets to be attacked, including the U.S. Embassy.

Those who knew An during the war agreed that he had a deep understanding of both cultures and was able to accurately analyse current events.

Years of study in the United States provided An the keen understanding of America. His study abroad had been arranged by Mai Chi Tho, the younger brother of Le Duc Tho -- who later became Henry Kissinger's counterpart at the Paris Peace Accords.

While at Orange Coast College in southern California, Pham Xuan An demonstrated quick adaptation to American life, even though he was then 30 years old. He had many close and dear friends and at a time wanted to marry an American girl. When he was offered a chance to stay in the United States, he wandered to the Golden Gate Bridge, looked out at the prison on Alcatraz Island, and thought of Con Son Island in Vietnam. But he decided to return to his homeland, with fear that he would be arrested because Muoi Huong, his cell's leader in Vietnam, had already been detained, and his identity might have been exposed.

But he was not. During the turbulent years of the war, Givral Café in downtown Saigon was Pham Xuan An's headquarters, where American correspondents sought him out to exchange information and to look for leads. He was given the nickname "General Givral."

In 2003 a U.S. battleship made a port call in Saigon for the first time since the Vietnam War ended. An was invited onto the vessel. He was so pleased with the visit and told the author that he could now die happily because the two former enemies now are developing the relations into strategic partners. That had been his dream when the war ended almost thirty years before.

Aboard the ship, a People's Army Colonel recognized the intelligence general and jokingly asked him which side he belonged to. Without hesitation, An replied, "Both sides," and then added, "Just kidding." An told this story to the author with an assessment: "You see, that is why they can't let me out; they are still unsure who I am."

Perfect Spy draws the reader into the live and activities of an extremely talented and mysterious spy, whose work began when Le Duc Tho, alias Sau Bua, inducted An into Communist Party member in Ca Mau in 1953. With prospects that the United States would replace the France and would intervene deeply and forcefully in South Vietnam, the Party ordered An to study about Americans, their culture and to infiltrate into the ranks of the American press.

Which side was Pham Xuan An really with? Perfect Spy does not provide readers a clear answer. Perhaps An took the truth to that question to his grave when he died in Saigon on September 20th, 2006 at the age of 79.

The Vietnam War remains a controversial and complex issue, but the author has done a very good job in handling this intricate and interesting subject matter.

____

Prof. Larry Berman of University of California-Davis is the author of three books about the Vietnam War: Vietnam: Planning a tragedy: the Americanization of the war in Vietnam; Lyndon Johnson's war: the road to stalemate in Vietnam; and No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and betrayal in Vietnam.

Nam Vu said...

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
Reviewed by Robert G. Kaiser

All the American journalists in Saigon knew Pham Xuan An, a ubiquitous

presence in our midst, a fixture at Givral's -- the café on Tu Do Street in the center of town where the gossip was thick enough to pick up with chopsticks -- and one of the best Vietnamese explainers of Vietnam to Americans. Soon after I arrived in Saigon in March 1969, Robert Shaplen, the New Yorker's Asian correspondent, advised me to get to know An because he knew everybody. I followed Shaplen's advice. Every American news organization with a Saigon bureau had one or more Vietnamese journalists on retainer to help us hapless correspondents, almost none of whom spoke any Vietnamese or knew the country's history and politics. Most of these people labored anonymously, but because he was so good and so useful, An's employer, Time magazine, put his name on its masthead and treated him as a full-fledged correspondent. But An, a garrulous charmer, was eager to help everyone, not just Time correspondents. He always seemed available for a conversation. One of his biggest assets was his excellent English. In the 1950s An had studied journalism and politics at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif. Today Orange County is a center of Vietnamese-American life, with hundreds of thousands of residents who came from Vietnam or were born to those who did, but An used to joke that he had been the first Vietnamese to live in the county. There he mastered the English language and learned a lot about Americans, too.

An's many successes in life grew from his ability to please people who could help him, including the South Vietnamese government officials who decided to send him to California. When I first knew him, he seemed like a classic example of a Vietnamese type: a resourceful entrepreneur who could make his way by making the right friends. But all of us who worked with him had to radically revise our impressions in the late 1970s, when it became obvious that the An we knew had been an invention. An, it turned out, had been working throughout the war, and back to the 1940s, for the communists. He was a spy -- the perfect spy, as Prof. Larry Berman of the University of California at Davis argues. After reading this book, it is difficult to dispute that characterization. An had many American friends who were or became famous writers, from Shaplen and David Halberstam to Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow, but for reasons he has taken to his grave, it was Berman in whom he confided the aspects of his secret life that none of us previously knew. The two met in Saigon -- now technically Ho Chi Minh City, though still Saigon to the natives -- in 2001. They became friends and then collaborators on this book.

Berman is no literary stylist. John le Carré could have turned this story into something Smiley would have envied; Berman tells it in Joe Friday fashion. Nor did An ever relinquish control, and Berman readily acknowledges that An held back some of his secrets. An also put events in the best possible light. That said, this is an extraordinary story, one that offers new explanations of several key events of the war. In each case, we learn of a critical role played by Pham Xuan An. Because everyone believed that An was an anti-communist Time magazine correspondent, he had extraordinary access to information from both Americans and South Vietnamese. He used this access ingeniously. Three examples:

Early in the war, before the arrival of U.S. combat forces, American advisers to the South Vietnamese helped the army of President Ngo Dinh Diem devise new tactics for fighting Vietcong guerrillas with the assistance of American helicopters, potentially a powerful weapon in a guerrilla war. An learned all about the new tactics from South Vietnamese and American sources and conveyed details to his masters in the North. The generals in Hanoi helped Vietcong commanders develop countertactics that were tested in one of the most important battles of the early war, at the village of Ap Bac just 30 miles south of Saigon. In January 1963, Vietcong forces clobbered the South Vietnamese in that engagement, shot down five U.S. helicopters, killed three American advisers and wounded five more. An's information had been critical.

In late 1967, An's masters told him their secret plans to launch the Tet Offensive early in 1968. He thought this was a bad idea -- he doubted the South Vietnamese people would join the "general uprising" the communists hoped the Tet attacks would provoke. But his job was to help prepare for the attacks, so for days he scouted out potential targets in Saigon, looking for soft spots in the city's defenses. He boldly brought his commander into the city and showed him around, introducing him as a bird collector and dealer (An collected birds himself) from out of town. The intelligence they gathered helped the communists infiltrate forces into Saigon for the offensive.

A third key moment came in 1975, when the North Vietnamese doubted they could march to Saigon uncontested. They thought it would take several years longer to lay the groundwork. An helped persuade them that the situation was ripe to take the initiative; of course, he was proved right.

The conquering North Vietnamese marched into Saigon and won a hard-fought victory, but they never really trusted Pham Xuan An. He was "re-educated," used as a consultant to explain American actions, but never entrusted with a serious job. The North Vietnamese must have suspected his revolutionary credentials. They were right to do so. An liked Americans and American ways too much to ever be a loyal Marxist-Leninist. I returned to Vietnam in 1994 and had two long conversations with An, then frail but still alive to the world around him. He said he was happy to talk but asked me not to quote him by name. I wanted him to discuss the American war and its consequences for Vietnam and for us, but An was bored by those topics. "You won World War III," he said a little impatiently, obviously referring to the Cold War. "So you lost a skirmish here -- so what?" Was he sad about that outcome? I thought not. An's cause was the unification and independence of Vietnam, not Marxism-Leninism. He had been frustrated by his own fate in the unified Vietnam, but the outcome of "World War III" seemed to suit him fine. An died in September 2006, of emphysema. Nearly 80, he'd been a chain smoker for half a century.

Berman's book appears 32 years after the war, yet, amazingly, adds significantly to our understanding of what happened. Students of American failures -- who have had so much new material to ponder -- will be richly rewarded by reading this book. So will le Carré fans -- not for its style but for its remarkable substance.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.