The Intelligence Function

Our tactical operations were at all times oriented on the enemy, his political as well as his military organizations, with less emphasis on terrain or geographical considerations. To maintain this orientation all division tactical operations were undertaken with intelligence operating as the pivotal point. Intelligence was and remained the chief targeting device for the employment of combat assets.

This concept had two major salutary effects: first, the application of unremitting military and psychological pressure on the enemy at all levels; and second, the economical employment of limited tactical assets on enemy units without dissipating them on a mechanical area coverage basis.

Within the division the intelligence theme initially was the centralization and control of all intelligence assets followed subsequently by decentralization to the lowest echelon capable of operating the asset. Initial control of these assets at division level was necessary to bring a particular intelligence source into operating harmony with the division concept. Once this was accomplished the source was turned over to the appropriate brigade or battalion. In all cases a requirement was maintained for rapid and accurate reporting up and down the intelligence chain.

Intelligence Support

External intelligence support for the division was received from the South Vietnamese Army and U.S. intelligence units in III and IV Corps Tactical Zone, depending on the area in which these units provided dedicated coverage. External sources while plentiful in number and diverse in nature were, in many cases, not co-ordinated in their activities and not always oriented toward satisfying the intelligence needs of tactical units. The reason for this problem was that the systems in use were not initially designed for passing "real time" intelligence but rather for reporting enemy activity which was hours and even days old. (Chart 10) The thrust of the division intelligence effort became one of co-ordinating and managing all of these sources to respond to the tactical requirements of the


(Average Hours Elapsed from Event to Receipt of Report)



division and to pass their highly perishable intelligence as close to real time as possible, enabling the division to operate against valid targets. Although these efforts resulted in substantial improvements in the system, they were never completely successful. The large number of intelligence units involved made complete coordination a nearly impossible task. (Table 14) The detection and compression of intelligence time lags through analysis is much more important than generally realized. Unquestionably, real time intelligence information really pays off.

The Division Intelligence Function

One of the best tools for orchestrating the intelligence and operational functions of the division was the daily Command and Staff Briefing. The briefing, conducted twice daily at 0700 and 1700, consisted of a graphic and oral presentation of all divisional activities which had occurred during the previous period. Present during the briefings were the Commanding General, the two As-


South Vietnamese Army   U.S.
G-2/Senior Advisor G-2 IV    Corps G-2, II Field Force, Vietnam
Tactical Zone     
G-2, 7th South Vietnamese Army    G-2, Capital Military Assistance
Division Command     
25th South Vietnamese Army     
S-2, Province:    G-2, 25th Division
Long An    S-2, 199th Brigade
Dinh Tuong    CO, 3rd Combat Intelligence Battalion
Kien Hoa    III Corps Tactical Zone
Go Cong     
S-2/District Intelligence Operations  Co-ordination Centers    CO, 4th Combat Intelligence Battalion  IV Corps Tactical Zone
Phung HuongJPhoenix Committees for each Province. (4)    CO, 73d Surveillance Aviation Company (Mohawk), III Corps Tactical Zone
Province Chieu Hoi Centers (4)
 CO, 244th Surveillance Aviation Company (Mohawk) IV Corps Tactical Zone
Province Interrogation Centers (4)
 Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, J304 (Unattended Ground Sensors)
Province National Field Police (4)    Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam
Chief Military Security Service, III & IV    Combined Military Interrogation Center
Corps Tactical Zone     
S-2, 44th Special Tactical Zone    Combined Document Exploitation Center


sistant Division Commanders, Chief of Staff, principal staff officers and selected members of the special staff. The intelligence portion of the briefing consisted of significant friendly and enemy activity in all Corps Tactical Zones with particular emphasis devoted to highlighting patterns of enemy activity such as "high points" of his offensive campaigns and his current methods of tactical employment. This was followed by a presentation of all reported enemy activity within the division operational area and in peripheral areas. Intelligence reports presented were evaluated as to their validity. A large 1:50,000 map display was used for graphic portrayal of all enemy activities and reports. The map contained a resume of the past 72 hours of reported activity, divided into three 24 hour periods. Each 24 hour period was keyed to a color; red, amber or green. Each source of intelligence such as Side Looking Airborne Radar, Airborne Infra Red, Agent Reports, radars, etc., was designated by a distinctive symbol in the proper color to denote the appropriate time period in which the event took place. The map was maintained on an hourly basis as information was received and evaluated. It was in essence an intelligence watch over the area and was a major tool for achieving a totally integrated intelligence and operational effort for the division. This system made enemy patterns of activity more discernible thereby facilitating timely operational decisions for the allocation of assets against targets with a fair degree of assurance of gaining contact with the enemy. The only intelligence source not covered during the open briefings was Special Intelligence which was presented to a selected group following the morning general briefing. The Special Intelligence briefing was presented with regard to those areas which dovetailed with other intelligence sources.

The dissemination of intelligence was not restricted to the formal briefing but was passed continuously as the information and situation warranted. The G-2 and G-3, working in close proximity to each other, coordinated and assessed intelligence targets as they developed. This coordination was absolutely essential and evolved into a system whereby each brigade was assigned a minimum of one intelligence target per day from division with the G-3 recommending the allocation of available tactical resources in accordance with the weight or evaluation of the overall intelligence picture. The system of assigning intelligence targets increased the number of contacts with the enemy on a division scale. The increased contacts in turn resulted in improved intelligence due to the captured prisoners and documents and these in turn produced more targets. An example was the apprehension of five North Vietnamese Army prisoners and


some documents taken from the lead element of a large enemy unit initially targeted by agent reports. The prisoners and documents disclosed the size, strength and assigned operational areas for a North Vietnamese Army unit infiltrating from Cambodia to Long An Province. This information enabled the division to gain additional and almost continuous contact with other elements of the North Vietnamese Army unit resulting in heavy losses and final dispersal of the enemy. The same rule also applied to the Viet Cong infrastructure. The apprehension of a courier or minor village functionary often permitted a roll up operation on a portion of the local infrastructure. These are but a few examples of the maxim that the more contacts you get the more you improve your intelligence and therefore improve your chances of finding the enemy. However, even information gained in this manner is highly perishable and must be reacted to immediately or it is lost. An unusual feature of the Vietnamese War was that most of the Communist prisoners of war or defectors (Hoi Chanh) "sang like birds." They almost seemed to heave a sigh of relief at being captured alive and decided that the more information they could disclose the better off for everyone. The Communist doctrine taught that one fought until death and that the enemy (U.S. and South Vietnamese) would slaughter any prisoners. (In fact, at the tactical level, the Communists themselves ignored the Geneva Conventions.) Due to the lack of indoctrination on the realities of the situation, the average Communist prisoner was so overwhelmed by the considerate treatment he received that presumably he lost all sense of restraint.

Summarizing, we operated on a three phase intelligence cycle: reviewing operations and intelligence inputs in the evening; reevaluating again early on the morning of operations; and finally reacting to new intelligence as operations progressed. This kept our commanders finely tuned to enemy activities and our operations were executed utilizing real time intelligence to the maximum extent possible.

Use of Internal Resources

The lack of agent coverage by other intelligence organizations in certain critical areas such as eastern Long An Province and all of Kien Hoa Province was a shortcoming that required much innovation on the part of the division to remedy. Normal close-in early warning nets were expanded into collection nets and targeted on these and other lightly covered areas. The building of agent nets, not normally a division function, was a slow process with an equal number of successes and failures; however, coverage was provided in


areas previously not covered. The division nets had one major advantage over other agent operations-the ability of the division to target these nets on specific missions. The nets also gave us the advantage of having a finger on the pulse of the population. For example, we had a report from one net that the Cai Be City Viet Cong Intelligence Section Chief would attempt to infiltrate one of the division nets. Within two weeks this individual offered his services through a principal agent who in turn notified his U.S. handler. A decision was made at division to recruit the Viet Cong agent to determine his target and detect his agents if possible. He was operated in isolation from other agent nets. He soon offered information that he had uncovered a number of Viet Cong who wished to Chieu Hoi. The U.S. handler received nine of these Chieu Hois one at a time over the next two weeks however, instead of taking them to the Chieu Hoi Center he delivered them to the Division Prisoner Collection Point where interrogation disclosed that their mission was to infiltrate the Province Chieu Hoi Center and later be recruited into the South Vietnamese Army and the Kit Carson (Tiger Scout) program. When the Cai Be Viet Cong agent complained that he was unable to see his friends at the center he was taken into custody and confessed to the whole scheme which included ascertaining the identity of members of the division net which the Viet Cong Province Chief wanted to destroy. He also disclosed the names of agents of the Viet Cong net operating in central Dinh Tuong Province which the Phung Huaong ("Phoe-




nix") Committee was delighted to receive. (The Phoenix Committee was a Vietnamese agency which worked to identify and eliminate the Viet Cong infrastructure.)

South Vietnamese Army Sources

Essential to successful intelligence operations was the maintenance of close and continuous contact with the Vietnamese forces operating in the area. They had a thorough and detailed knowledge of the enemy forces. The reluctance of District and Province organizations to pass intelligence was overcome when they realized that the dissemination of information was a two way street. When the Phung Huaong (Phoenix) Committees and District Intelligence Operations and Coordination Centers realized that the division would react rapidly to targets which they developed, they "tried harder" to develop better targets for the division. One excellent means of establishing rapport was to require each brigade to station a liaison team with the Province Intelligence Operations Coordination Center with which they were operating and to have our battalions do the same at the District level. Liaison of this sort provided ready access to target information and permitted closer cooperation with the government forces responsible for the area.

Operational Analysis

We subjected our intelligence resources to constant analysis and appraisal to determine their effectiveness and reliability. As stated earlier the key to the use of intelligence was lightning quick operational reactions. Without the immediate tie-in of intelligence to operations and the built-in flexibility of the operational system to react to new intelligence at any time-day or night, the 9th Division could not have improved its combat efficiency so markedly. One of the most unusual studies concerning intelligence that came out of the Vietnamese conflict at a divisional level was one conducted during the period 1 March through 30 April 1969. During this period the total quantity of intelligence reports received in each of the brigade areas was logged and the number of reactions to these intelligence reports was noted and confirmations of the correctness of the intelligence were listed. From all sources during this two month period there were 8,172 intelligence reports-an astonishing number-of which 2,559 were reacted to and 709 were confirmed. Confirmation is defined as tangible evidence indicating the validity of the report. Generally confirmation was interpreted as contact with the enemy but we also included documents, caches, and in the case of unattended ground sensors, trail activity.


Concomitant with our study, Lieutenant Colonel Leonard A. Spirito, the G-2, made an analysis of the timeliness of our normal intelligence resources. We found that there was a tremendous spread, from an average of 72 hours for agent reports to not more than one-half hour for reports of the People Sniffer, ground surveillance radars and sensor fields. The reports of ground surveillance radars, which would have added another 20 to 30 daily sightings, were not included in our overall intelligence analysis.

Over 30 percent of all intelligence reports were reacted to and almost 30 percent of those reacted to were confirmed. Consequently, it is no wonder that once we got the ball rolling the momentum carried the division forward. This high level of intelligence activity was reached during the months of March and April when the division obtained its highest number of enemy eliminated 240 Prisoners of War taken and 6,621 Viet Cong killed. Naturally the two phenomena go hand in hand. As the enemy unravelled we had more intelligence, more contacts, etc. The process fed on itself.

Analysis indicated the relative reliability of intelligence information obtained from personnel in the field (Prisoners of War, Chieu Hois, friendly villagers) compared to the intelligence obtained by machines. The overall confirmation from Agent Reports (15 percent) , Prisoners of War and Hoi Chanhs (11.4 percent) and Integrated Civic Action Programs (19 percent) were much higher than those received from Side Looking Airborne Radar (4.5 percent) 1 Infrared Emissions (4.4 percent) 1 and Usually Reliable Reports (7.0 percent) . Because of their increased reliability the division continued to emphasize the necessity for prisoners and Hoi Chanhs. On the other hand, even though the reliability of personnel reports was appreciably higher than the intelligence obtained from sensors, the quantity of sensor data was so much greater that the number of confirmed personnel reports (237) was only half of the number of confirmed sensor reports (472). (Table 15.)

The most reliable source of intelligence in the 9th Division was the People Sniffer, wherein over 33 percent of all significant readings were confirmed. Without question, the reason for this high rate was the fact that People Sniffer readings were obtained in real time, with air cavalry on the spot and infantry resources on the pad available to react within the hour. The importance of real time intelligence cannot be overemphasized and we feel that steps must


be taken to insure that ground sensor terminals for Side Looking Airborne Radar, infrared, and other devices are available to the combat commander in order to make possible rapid readouts and real time reactions.

One last generality which may be of interest is the fact that intelligence gathered from friendly personnel generally was worthwhile in static situations only. Thus these sources rarely enabled the division troops to chalk up major contacts. On the other hand the sensors often unearthed targets of opportunity and frequently led to major contacts where a large number of the enemy could be fixed, surrounded, and badly cut up. However, the importance of many small contacts must not be underestimated. The trade off between many small contacts versus a few large contacts has been discussed elsewhere. It was also apparent from studying the analysis that some brigade commanders neglected useful sources of information.


  Quantity Received Number of Reactions (percent) Confirmations (percent) a Overall Confirmations (percent)
Agent Reports b  885    357    (40)    135    (38)    15
Usually Reliable Intelligence Reports    1368    193    (14)    98    (51)    7
Prisoner of War Interrogation & Hoi Chanh Reports    367    110    (30)    42    (38)    11
Integrated Civic Action Program Reports c    318    147    (46)    60    (41)    19


a Confirmation Criteria: Tangible evidence that confirms the validity of the report, that is, contact, Prisoners of War, documents, caches, trail activity, and so forth.
b Figure degraded because one brigade used contacts only for information.
c See section on pacification for description of Integrated Civic Action Program.

In retrospect we did not realize until late in the game the advantages to be realized by the systematic evaluation of all intelligence modes as to their effectiveness and pay-offs. This was one of our major failures. Unquestionably, the key to intelligence utilization is to obtain the reports on a real time basis and to react immediately and vigorously.

The Intuitive Leader

Never did commanders have more intelligence sources going for them than they did in Vietnam. On the other hand, since the


American Revolution the Army had not been engaged in the type of conflict where the enemy was all around, sometimes hiding among the local inhabitants. The situation was further complicated by the very difficult language barrier. It should not be construed that all the literally thousands of contacts made by the 9th Division during this period resulted from intelligence reports. On the contrary, many of the most lucrative results came about as the result of a commander's intuition. Several of our more gifted commanders had the ability to "feel" the enemy. Some of our junior leaders could literally smell the enemy. Our major contact in the 1968 Viet Cong Fall Offensive on Saigon at Phouc Lam, where we engaged three enemy battalions for three days in a battle that decimated two of those battalions, resulted from a gut feeling. Thus, although it is important that tactical commanders react quickly to intelligence reports, it is also necessary to give a good commander his head because intuitive leaders will find the enemy regardless of the situation. What was termed intuition usually resulted from a very thorough knowledge of the situation.

Summary of Intelligence Operations

The intelligence function of the 9th Division was primarily one of managing the diverse indigenous and U.S. sources in such a way as to cause them to operate in support. of the division mission. Constant management was applied to these sources to speed up their dissemination of information to overcome the perishability factor. Stress was placed on the value of obtaining prisoners as important sources of information. The more contacts, the more prisoners; the more prisoners, the more valid the intelligence.2 All intelligence sources were subjected to constant analysis and appraisal to determine their effectiveness and reliability. Close and continuous liaison with South Vietnamese forces was necessary for maintaining a continuous flow of information and in instilling trust and confidence for the U.S. on the part of Vietnamese agencies. The total integration of intelligence and operations was a major key to success.

There is an unavoidable tendency to view intelligence and operations as separate activities. If one can develop a "closed loop concept" in which information leads to combat action immediately, the overall efficiency of the operation increases manyfold.


Endnotes for Chapter V

1 These figures indicate rather small returns from Side Looking Airborne Radar and Infrared. Unfortunately the discrimination of the equipment and the built-in time lags of the reporting systems were not suited to the small, soft, and elusive targets that were presented. (click here to go back)

2 A separate system, quite different from the prisoner of war evacuation system, was set up for screening and processing civilians. The civilian system has not been covered since it is outside the scope of this monograph. (click here to go back)

page updated 19 November 2002

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