BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's belief in
lying Vietnamese spies, "ghosts," "slicky boys" and "marketplace mush"
contributed to America losing its Vietnam War in 1975, according to
James Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate Vietnam.
   When asked in an interview about CIA-run Vietnamese spies who
fabricated information for the CIA's reports during the war, Mr.
Parker, 73, replied:
   "Ah, the lying spy syndrome."
   When the CIA operates in any country, "you cannot get intel [CIA
intelligence] operatives to stay in a battle zone for more than a
couple of years at a time, so the occupational problems of fabricators
was unavoidable.
   "I was in Afghanistan [during] 2010 and 2011," Mr. Parker said,
describing one of his most recent CIA assignments.
   "The best intel service there was probably the Israel Mossad,
wouldn't you think?  Because they had been operating in that area for
   Worldwide, for the CIA, "it's hard to recruit spies, to find them,
develop them, recruit them to steal secrets, dispatch them, and then
debrief them on their return," he said.
   "To the uninitiated, it's tougher than it looks. And here's another
thought: when that guy or gal you've recruited to be a spy comes back
in with the secret information you sent him to get, it's only at this
point where the whole process gives a return on our country's
investment of time, money [and] risk.
   "You, and your agent, are only of value to the intel community when
you finally, finally write up the intel report. The process can take
years sometimes, progressing from one case officer's development to
another," he said.
   Mr. Parker, now based in Las Vegas, Nevada, worked at the CIA for
32 years, starting in 1970.
   He became a CIA paramilitary case officer in 1971 fighting
alongside ethnic Hmong guerrillas and Thailand's forces against Lao
and North Vietnamese communists inside Laos until 1973.
   In 1974, he became a CIA intelligence officer in U.S.-backed South
Vietnam handling Vietnamese agents in the Mekong River Delta and
liaising with South Vietnam's military until the U.S. lost its wars in
Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in April 1975.
   He was the last CIA officer to evacuate Vietnam, escaping on May 1,
1975, two days after the U.S. abandoned its embassy in Saigon.
   After the U.S.-Vietnam War, Mr. Parker returned to headquarters in
Langley, Virginia.
   In 1976, he became a staff espionage officer doing "CIA Directorate
of Operations work as a spy recruiter and handler...around the world"
-- starting with two years based in Africa.
   He retired in 1992 but on Sept. 11, 2001, returned to the CIA as a
contractor to "teach tradecraft to new hires" and work inside
Cambodia, Afghanistan and elsewhere before retiring again in 2011.
   Mr. Parker received the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit, a
Certificate of Distinction, and two Certificates of Exceptional
   He authored several books about his CIA experiences in Southeast
Asia, including his newest published in 2016 titled, "The Vietnam War:
Its Ownself."
   The 706-page book includes biographical and often bloody details.
   It displays photographs of CIA officers, Hmong and Vietnamese
soldiers, maps, bomb sites, dead bodies and one nude Lao bar girl.
   The book also details his proudest CIA successes during the war
and, what he says, are reasons the U.S. failed.
   In the interview, Mr. Parker recalled how in South Vietnam during
the war, "you find a new guy through your own spade work or maybe by
referral from the U.S. military or South Vietnamese police, and you go
on to assess and vet him and recruit him and train him and send him
out. And then sometimes he just disappears, losing his nerve when it
comes down to actually doing what he has been tasked to do.
   "What's the life of a productive spy? Five years maybe, sometimes
longer, but not often. They lose their edge -- their interest in
having their lives disrupted and endangered -- or they lose their
access. Or after two or three [CIA] case officer handlers, the
personal attachment can become weak and the [Vietnamese] guy maybe
just doesn't gee-haw [get along] with the new case officer."
   Mr. Parker said, "It's a tough business under any conditions. In
Vietnam, this difficult business had to be done under combat
conditions, where to be found out, meant sure death for the spy."
   The continuous revolving door of experienced CIA case officers
departing Vietnam, and introducing their fresh replacements into the
complicated war, also created difficulties.
   The CIA's American "case officers turned over every couple of years
as their tours expired, and the new guy was often taken advantage of
by the existing [Vietnamese] agents.
   "For example, if these [Vietnamese] agents were what is known as
'principle' agents, they sent out other Vietnamese contacts as their
intel gatherers. These sub-agents were hard to keep up does
accountability and chain of acquisition of their information.
   "And, perhaps most common, these hard to verify sub-agents were
often ghosts, as in not really there," Mr. Parker said.
   As the war dragged on, some of the CIA's Vietnamese spies became
increasingly corrupt.
   "We're talking [about] the end of the war here where [Vietnamese]
'principle agents' had come to know pretty much what the CIA generally
was looking for.  So the good scammers would just stay in place for
years -- up until the end really -- feeding marketplace mush to the
CIA case officers.
   "And for years, if 'principle agents' who had worked for the CIA
were found out to be phony, or if they hyped low-level info into
something that sounded sexy [and] were found out and terminated in one
province -- since they knew the business, these slicky boys would
often just move to another province and make indirect contact with
Americans there with a whole new invented network of sub-sources and
sell their fabricated newspaper-inspired stuff, or general ground
truths, to an unsuspecting new CIA guy as 'intelligence'," he said.
   "All that new local [Vietnamese] intel entrepreneur had to do was
mix in a little truth, and he would look like he had potential.
   "Some of the [Vietnamese] agents identified as 'fabricators' were
not necessarily criminal and deceitful in their work, but had, along
the way, lost their access or their agents were killed or just didn't
come back from missions.
   "But [they] continued to pretend that they had sub-agents, when in
fact the 'principle agent' was just making up what the [CIA] case
officer wanted to hear."
   Among the CIA's American staff, problems arose because their own
bosses demanded more and more information.
   "You gotta remember that there was pressure on us CIA case officers
to produce intels," he said, referring to intelligence reports.
   "So the emphasis, certainly from say 1968 to 1972, was to believe
your [Vietnamese] agent over reasonable doubt sometimes, and keep him
on -- to provide the necessary number of reports you need for
promotion, or to keep the [CIA] base you were operating from, up to
   As a result, CIA case officers experienced a "lot of resistance to
cleaning your stable of [Vietnamese] assets, or vetting them anew
after a year or so in which they had produced five or ten reports a
month to you."
   Lessons needed to be learned from the CIA's lack of spying
expertise in Vietnam, he said.
   "This lack of intelligence, on the plans and intentions of the
communist in South Vietnam, is something the CIA must bear responsible
   Mr. Parker said when the U.S.-Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975,
his two best Vietnamese military sources committed suicide, and an
American diplomat endangered the lives of escaping staff and CIA
   Earlier, off the coast of Danang, South Vietnamese who evacuated
onto a U.S. ship shot, stabbed, raped, trampled and executed each
other during onboard revenge attacks and panic, he said.
   "As for my experiences back in Vietnam at the end, the absolute
chickenshit character of the men in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, how
they were so petty and self-indulgent, so pedantic and so distant from
the fighting," contributed to the U.S. war's failure and chaotic end,
Mr. Parker said in the interview.
   "Their pusillanimity disrespected the men, American and Asian, I
had known who died fighting the good fight.
   "I'm speaking about all the Americans at the U.S. Embassy in
Saigon, though this does not include the Americans from the CIA that
had retreated from positions in the northern provinces [of South
Vietnam] down to the embassy, as the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) moved
   "The State Department people were not folks to look up to in a combat zone."
   On April 23, 1975, one week before communist North Vietnam achieved
victory over U.S.-backed South Vietnam, the "evacuation plan for the
consulate" in Can Tho city where Mr. Parker was based, degenerated
into chaos.
   "Jim D., a career Central Intelligence Operations officer and chief
of the CIA base in the Delta of South Vietnam" insisted the safest,
most reliable evacuation would be in helicopters, Mr. Parker said in
the interview, declining to reveal Jim D.'s surname.
    But Can Tho Consul-General Terry McNamara demanded: "This
consulate goes out by boat down the Bassac River. Period. End of
   Mr. McNamara did not trust the CIA's reliable battle-hardened Air
America pilots would fly them to a waiting U.S. Navy ship.
   "They could leave us all here. They are wild, uncontrollable
animals, the Air America people. We control our own destiny if we go
out by boat" on the 60-mile river route to the South China Sea, Mr.
McNamara yelled.
   Jim D. rebelled and replied: "I have my people to protect, and I
have [Air America] helicopters. My people go out by helicopter."
   Mr. Parker's and his CIA colleagues' escape was also "at extreme
risk with McNamara's plan," he said in the interview.
   During his CIA paramilitary experience in Laos and South Vietnam,
Mr. Parker enjoyed extensive links with Air America.
   "Mr. McNamara's plan did not provide for the safety of the CIA
officers," he wrote.
   "We had no cover. If we were captured by the North Vietnamese, as
was entirely possible, McNamara suggested we tell them that we were
USAID engineers, which would not have held up during any type of
serious interrogation."
   "Everyone in the consulate knew that McNamara had facilitated the
evacuation of his Cambodian in-laws, plus cooks and drivers and others
of questionable eligibility through Tan Son Nhut (Saigon's
international airport) while refusing to allow the base to evacuate
its more vulnerable KIP," Mr. Parker said, referring to the CIA's Key
Indigenous Personnel.
   Mr. McNamara, his diplomatic staff and some South Vietnamese went
on boats down the "extremely dangerous" river.
   "He must have known his plan would leave CIA agents behind.  And I
don't think he cared," Mr. Parker said in the interview.
   Mr. Parker, Jim D. and others eventually arranged Air America
helicopter flights to U.S. Navy ships for themselves, the consulate,
embassy and CIA colleagues, plus more than 100 KIP during the final 48
   One week before the war's end, Mr. Parker's best South Vietnamese
source -- "and friend" -- Gen. Tran Van Hai predicted the April 30
deadline of North Vietnam's victory over Saigon.
   But Saigon's CIA Station Chief Tom Polgar and CIA head analyst
Frank Snepp refused to believe Mr. Parker.
   Both CIA seniors insisted North Vietnam would allow Saigon and the
southern Delta to remain separate under U.S. protection after a last
minute cease-fire, he said.
   On May 1, 1975, Gen. Hai was found dead.
   "General Hai lay face down at his desk. Alone during the night,
without saying good-bye to anyone, he had committed suicide. A
half-empty glass of brandy, laced with poison, was near an
outstretched hand," Mr. Parker wrote.
   "That report Hai gave me [predicting] the day Saigon would fall to
the NVA...that intel probably had a bearing on my receipt of the
[CIA's] Intelligence Medal," Mr. Parker said in the interview.
   Hours after North Vietnam's April 30 victory, South Vietnamese Gen.
Le Van Hung -- Mr. Parker's other best CIA source and also "my friend"
-- said he would commit an "honorable" suicide.
   Gen. Hung saluted his troops "and then shook each man's hand. He
asked everyone to leave. Some of his men did not move, so he pushed
them out the door, shook off his wife's final pleas, and finally was
alone in his office.
   "Within moments there was a loud shot. General Hung was dead," he wrote.
   One month earlier off Danang's coast, violence among evacuees
erupted aboard a U.S. ship, the Pioneer Contender, chartered to the
Military Sealift Command and mastered by Merchant Marine Capt. Ed
   Capt. Flink was evacuating Americans and thousands of South
Vietnamese civilians when Danang fell to the communists at the end of
   But some U.S.-backed South Vietnamese Rangers also climbed aboard.
   Mr. Parker wrote about meeting Capt. Flink aboard his ship during
the war's final hours after Mr. Parker's KIP were transferred there.
   "The Vietnamese Rangers...took over my ship. Killed, raped, robbed.
You could hear gunshots all the time. Soldiers were walking around
with bloody knives," Capt. Flink, a World War II veteran, told Mr.
   "We had to lock ourselves in the pilot house. I only had a crew of
forty plus some security, but there were thousands of those wild,
crazy Vietnamese people.
   "They finally shot some of the worst, once we docked...but I'll
tell you, son, it was hell. We found bodies all over the ship after
everyone got off. Babies, old women, young boys. Cut, shot, and
trampled to death."
   Asked about the bloodshed, Mr. Parker said in the interview: "It
was Vietnamese officials who shot the rioters."
   South Vietnamese marines shot dead about 25 people they claimed
were communist Viet Cong suspects, an Associated Press reporter aboard
the ship reported on March 31, 1975.
   Capt. Flink later told interviewers that Vietnamese conducted
onboard "kangaroo courts" and executed suspected communists.
   One month later on May 1, "Standing on the bridge of the Pioneer
Contender and looking back at Vietnam, I suddenly sensed -- in a
startling moment of clarity -- that even though we had lost, we had
done right by coming here to fight this war," Mr. Parker wrote.
   "History will look kindly on our good intentions to save a country
from being overrun by an aggressive neighbor."
   Failures by the White House, State Department, Pentagon, U.S.
Embassy and the CIA's Saigon Station are also to blame for deadly
mistakes during the war, Mr. Parker said in the interview.
    In 1963, "when [President John] Kennedy was assassinated, [Defense
Secretary Robert] McNamara and his power of persuasion rose to be the
alpha animal when it came to U.S. policies in Southeast Asia, and he
didn't have a fucking clue," Mr. Parker said.
   "Wrong-headed McNamara was the primal idiot. [Gen. William]
Westmoreland his minion.
   "The North won the war because we were led from the Pentagon by
[McNamara], a complete wacko idiot who didn't listen to [President
Dwight] Eisenhower about fighting the expansion of communism in
Southeast Asia by denying Laos to the North Vietnamese."
   As a result, North Vietnamese created a valuable Ho Chi Minh Trail
through Laos and Cambodia to move troops and weapons into South
   "The war was over with Tet [North Vietnam's lunar New Year military
offensive] in 1968 when [President Lyndon] Johnson lost his will to
fight.  He fired Westmoreland and McNamara, and sent in [Gen.
Creighton] Abrams, but the war was over when he [Johnson] said he
wasn't going to run for president in the fall of '68.
   "Most of the fighting and dying was yet to be done before the U.S.
military pulled out in 1973, but our commitment to win was over when
Tet accomplished its mission of getting Johnson to give up."
   The U.S. wars resulted in the deaths -- on all sides -- of more
than one million Vietnamese, and between 200,000 to one million people
in Laos, plus at least 600,000 Cambodians and more than 58,000
Americans, according to various researchers.
   "U.S. intelligence interest -- when I first got there -- was on
political wrangling in Saigon, and only the barest of interest in what
was happening in the field.
   "That's why my [CIA] reporting from the [Mekong River] Delta in
1974 got such little attention."
   Describing Saigon's doomed U.S. Embassy's State Department staff
during the final four months, Mr. Parker said:
   "In Saigon, all that was left of the Americans were place-keepers
who, for the most part, had only a distant relationship with the ARVN
(South Vietnam's army)."
   Those Americans had never been shot at, did not have friends die in
their arms, and had no close contact with any Vietnamese except mostly
girlfriends and maids, he said.
   The CIA's Saigon Station was also fooled by propaganda.
   In 1975, "the CIA leadership in Saigon...sincerely did believe what
was obviously a Soviet disinformation ploy that the fix was in, and
the North Vietnamese only planned to move to the northern gates of
Saigon, and that they would allow the capital and the Delta to remain
free," he said.
   "Hard to believe that our people bought into this, but that's what
I have surmised.
   "Certainly I was told by Snepp, the [CIA's] head analyst in Saigon,
that...they knew what was happening out here, and that the North
Vietnamese would not take Saigon. Period."
   Mr. Parker described Mr. Snepp as a condescending, pedantic elitist
who during 1974-1975 spouted trivia about North Vietnamese
personalities and Saigon intrigue which did not reflect the war-torn
countryside's losses.
   '"There will be many future generations of CIA case officers in the
Delta,' was Snepp's famous closing line to us" -- weeks before the war
   In April 1975, Mr. Parker reluctantly told his Vietnamese employees
that South Vietnam would not collapse, even though he knew North
Vietnam's military was about to seize Saigon.
   "I remember being pelted with questions about the future when I
closed down the CIA compound in My Tho [South Vietnam].  I looked each
employee in the compound directly in the eye and told them that they
were safe, that the CIA information was that there would be a
   "I gave them this line because I didn't want to be mobbed," by
employees desperate to escape.
   "There was also danger from the South Vietnamese who might think
about kidnapping my sorry ass and holding me as ransom for their safe
exit, or in shooting me for leading them down the primrose path in our
war fighting."