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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing

:
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Military Intelligence: Tong
Cuc II
Carlyle A. Thayer
September 8, 2009

[client name withheld]:
Question 1: I am currently reporting on the unfolding crack down against Vietnamese
bloggers and others who have touched on sensitive issues related to Vietnam-China
relations, including the bauxite mining project and territorial island disputes, and was hoping
to gain your expert insights on a couple of scores. In particular, I would be very interested to
receive your thoughts on the 2nd General Bureau's and Nguyen Chi Vinh's probable role in
the unfolding crackdown against anti-Chinese sentiment.
Some have suggested that the 2nd General Bureau, which I loosely understand Beijing
assisted in establishing in the mid-1990s, has maintained a certain influence over the Bureau
and its operations. Do you agree? What can be said about Nguyen Chi Vinh's influence inside
the Bureau and his broad political ambitions?
Also, why to your mind has the Communist Party/2nd General Bureau only now cracked down
on anti-Chinese sentiment on blogs and other media? Does this play into the conservative vs.
liberal antagonisms inside the party you previously mentioned, and is the crack down a
means for the conservative faction to gain an advantage over the liberals, including the PM,
before the Congress?
ANSWER 1: General Department II was reportedly established in the early 1980s when
General Le Duc Anh was Minister of National Defence. Under the terms of Decree 96/ND-CP
(September 1997) Vietnam’s military intelligence is charged with collecting news and
documents related to national security with special attention to all foreign countries,
organisations and individuals, at home or abroad, ‘who plot or engage in activities aimed at
threatening or opposing the Communist Party of Vietnam or the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam.’ According to Chapter 1, Article 1 of the Ordinance on Intelligence (1996), General
Department II is empowered to be ‘active in the fields of politics, defence, security, foreign
relations, economics, science and technology, industry and the environment, science and
culture.’
Very little was known about the operations of General Department II until March-April 2001
when it attracted public attention for its role in tapping the telephones of senior party officials.
Party Secretary General Le Kha Phieu reportedly used the dossiers complied by a specialised
wire tap unit known as A 10 within GD II to influence factional in-fighting on the eve of the
ninth national party congress.
According to the then Prime Minister, Vo Van Kiet, ‘[t]here was a general reminder to the
Politburo that they should not use this instrument (military intelligence wire tapping) for
personal purposes after some allegations made by people and the public. Normally in the
tradition of the communist party here, the general secretary has the right to use party and
state organisations to monitor the domestic and foreign situation. The important thing is to use
that apparatus to cope with the internal situation. It is unacceptable for anyone, and I mean
anyone at all, to use this instrument for personal purposes. It’s something that should be
roundly criticized because it is forbidden.’ Le Kha Phieu was replaced by Nong Duc Manh as
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party secretary general at the ninth party congress in April 2001.The Chief of the General
Staff and the head of the General Political Department both received reprimands but their
careers were not affected otherwise.
In 2004, two of Vietnam’s most respected retired military generals raised the issue of GD II’s
interference in internal party affairs in private letters to the senior leadership. No less a figure
that General Vo Nguyen Giap demanded an investigation into the ‘extra-legal’ activities of GD
II. He noted that the party Central Committee, Politburo, Secretariat and Central Control
Committee had all considered the matter without taking any corrective action. Giap charged
that for many years GD II had tried to manipulate factionalism within the CPV to its advantage
and had smeared the political reputations of many leading figures including himself.
General Giap’s allegations were supported by retired Major General Nguyen Nam Khanh in a
letter to the senior party leadership on the eve of a plenary meeting of the Central Committee.
Khanh accused the GD II of ‘slandering, intimidation, torture, political assassination’ and
manipulation of internal party factionalism for its own partisan purposes. Khanh provided
excerpts from the GD II’s classified News Bulletin (Ban tin) to back up his accusations.
Question 2: Finally, do you know anything about past calls by retired generals and party
members for investigations into the 2nd General Bureau's operations? What are the
complaints and why haven't these investigations ever gone ahead? Have you heard the
rumors that the Bureau once uncovered a US Central Intelligence Agency document that
listed Communist Party members that were/are allegedly in its pay?
Answer 2: While Le Kha Phieu’s replacement signaled a short-term decline of military
influence in politics, the maneuvers of General Department II (military intelligence) had
provided evidence for the gradually expanded autonomy of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA)
within Vietnam’s political system. This was also highlighted by the fact that Phieu’s misuse of
the VPA’s intelligence service created only a minor blowback against the military at the ninth
national party congress. To the extent that there were repercussions, they fell on individual
senior officers and not the VPA as an institution. For example, VPA representation on the
Central Committee was reduced only marginally from ten percent (eighth congress) to 9.3
percent. Similarly, General Pham Van Tra emerged almost unscathed. While he was dropped
two places in the protocol rankings, he retained his most important positions as Minister of
National Defence and his seat on the Politburo. If there was a main victim in the military, it
was General Pham Thanh Ngan, head of the General Political Department. He was dropped
from the Politburo. General Le Van Dung, Chief of the General Staff (CGS), retained his seat
on the Central Committee and was elected to the party’s Secretariat. Five months after the
tenth congress, Dung replaced Thanh as head of the GPD.
Complaints about the military’s interference in politics continued unabated after 2001. In
2004, two of Vietnam’s most respected retired military generals wrote private letters to the
party’s senior leadership charging that the military intelligence service was abusing its power
by interfering in internal party affairs. No less a figure than General Vo Nguyen Giap
demanded an investigation into the ‘extra-legal’ activities of General Department II because of
the failure of the Central Committee, Politburo, Secretariat and Central Control Committee to
take appropriate action. General Giap specifically charged that General Directorate II had
attempted to manipulate factionalism in the party by smearing the political reputations of
leading figures including himself.
General Giap was supported by retired Major General Nguyen Nam Khanh. Khanh was a
pillar of the establishment. He was the former head of the Central Committee’s Propaganda
and Training Department, former Political Officer for Military Region 5, and former deputy
head of the VPA’s General Political Department. He accused General Department II of
‘slandering, intimidation, torture, political assassination’ and manipulation of internal party
factionalism for its own partisan purposes.
Khanh documented his allegations by quoting from the classified News Bulletin produced by
General Directorate II.
If there is any substance to the allegations raised by generals Giap and Khanh, they
demonstrate that key military leaders were actively involved in internal factional politics within
the VCP itself. Significantly, it was only in the late 1990s that national security and intelligence
agencies ostensibly came under legislative control for the first time. For example, the first
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Ordinance on Intelligence was issued by the chairman of the National Assembly Standing
Committee in December 1996.
In September the following year, the Prime Minister issued Decree 96/CP on defence
intelligence. These documents placed control over the military intelligence service in the
hands of the state president and ‘unified direction of the government.’ Both documents were
in fact drafted by the VPA and granted such extensive power to the military that it was able to
operate outside of effective party and government control. In November 2004, in an effort to
restore party-state oversight, the National Assembly adopted the Law on National Security
that set out the duties and responsibilities of security agencies.
I am doubtful China has much influence of GDII but sharing technology to monitor the internet
and blog sites is possible. The director general of GDII is a vice minister of defence not
positioned for higher command.