CIA activities in Cambodia
The Military Assistance Command Vietnam’s Studies and Operations Group (MACVSOG) was United States’ largest and most complex covert operation since the Second World War. More commonly referred to as SOG (Special Observation Group), the CIA conducted secret operations in Laos and Cambodia for eight years as part of the conflict against Communist North Vietnam.
In December 1958 Ngo Dinh Nhu – Ngo Dinh Diem's younger brother and chief adviser – broached the idea of orchestrating a coup to overthrow Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk. Nhu contacted Dap Chhuon, Sihanouk's Interior Minister, who was known for his pro-American sympathies, to prepare for the coup against his boss. Chhuon received covert financial and military assistance from Thailand, South Vietnam, and the CIA. In January 1959 Sihanouk learned of the coup plans through intermediaries who were in contact with Chhuon. The following month, Sihanouk sent the army to capture Chhuon, who was summarily executed as soon as he was captured, effectively ending the coup attempt. Sihanouk then accused South Vietnam and the U.S. of orchestrating the coup attempt. Six months later, on 31 August 1959, a small packaged lacquer gift, which was fitted with a parcel bomb, was delivered to the royal palace. Norodom Vakrivan, the chief of protocol, was killed instantly when he opened the package. Sihanouk's parents, Suramarit and Kossamak, who were sitting in another room not far from Vakrivan, narrowly escaped unscathed. An investigation traced the origin of the parcel bomb to an American military base in Saigon. While Sihanouk publicly accused Ngo Dinh Nhu of masterminding the bomb attack, he secretly suspected that the U.S. was also involved. The incident deepened his distrust of the U.S.
President Richard Nixon asked Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger to explore two potential CIA actions in Cambodia:
- Creating covert paramilitary harassing operations directed against North Vietnamese Regular Forces in the sanctuary areas just over the Cambodian border
- CIA capability for eliminating or reducing the arms traffic through Cambodia to communist forces in South Vietnam.
After discussion in the 303 Committee, which was then the approval group for US covert actions, the committee endorsed the first, although the CIA recommended against it for two reasons. They believed it would take effort away from operations in South Vietnam, and also would have questionable effectiveness but high cost against the large North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia.
As far as the second, CIA has identified a number of Cambodian army officers who are actively involved in supporting communist forces in South Vietnam, but does not now have direct, secure and controlled access to any of these officers. They doubt any of the officers involved in the arms traffic would be now susceptible to bribery both because of the profits accruing to them from such operations as well as the personal political risks entailed in a relationship involving the United States. Further, they pointed out that if recent U.S. diplomatic approaches to Cambodia result in the formal resumption of full diplomatic relations, CIA will gain an operating base for improved intelligence collection and covert action. With such a base, they would have a better chance to convince Prince Sihanouk that it is in his best interest to make an honest effort to reduce or halt the arms traffic.
Kissinger recommended continuing to monitor rather than taking action. There is no record on file of a Presidential decision on these matters.
A February 19 memorandum from Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon proposed a bombing attack by B-52 aircraft against what was believed to be COSVN in Cambodia. In this discussion, specific CIA analysis was not discussed, but Kissinger indicated that he believed the target information to be correct:
On February 18, 1969, Mr. H.A. Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Laird, Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Wheeler, and Colonels Pursley and Haig met in the Secretary of Defense’s conference room and were briefed by a two-officer team from Saigon on the conduct of the proposed Arc Light strike against the reported location of COSVN Headquarters.
Note that no intelligence personnel were present.
At an 11 October 1969 meeting with Nixon, Kissinger, United States Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Attorney General John Mitchell and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (i.e., no CIA personnel), several pertinent observations were made.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Earle Wheeler cited two COSVN Resolutions, with the inference that COSVN existed as an organizational entity. In the subsequent discussion of bombing options, there were no mention of COSVN's physical location.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk claimed in his 1973 book that the CIA engineered his ouster by Lon Nol in March 1970. While Sihanouk's allegations about the CIA have never been substantiated, and it may well be the case that the highest levels of the U.S. government were surprised by the coup, there is a developing academic consensus that U.S. military intelligence was aware of and actively encouraged the plot to depose Sihanouk.
In December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, ending the Cambodian Genocide and installing a new government led by Khmer Rouge defectors. The Reagan administration authorized the provision of aid to a coalition called the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), run by Son Sann. In 1989, Vietnamese forces were withdrawn from Cambodia, after having successfully quelled the uprising by Khmer Rouge and KPNLF insurgents.
- Central Intelligence Agency (3 August 1954). "NIE 63-5-54: Post-Geneva Outlook in Indochina" (PDF).
- Burchett, William G.; Norodom, Sihanouk (1973). My War with the CIA: Cambodia's fight for survival. United States of America: Penguin Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-14-021689-8.
- Chandler, David P. (1991). The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War and Revolutions since 1945. United States of America: Yale University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-300-05752-0.
- Osborne, Milton E. (1994). Sihanouk Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-8248-1639-1.
- Burchett, William G.; Norodom, Sihanouk (1973). My War with the CIA: Cambodia's fight for survival. United States of America: Penguin Books. p. 107. ISBN 0-14-021689-8.
- Burchett, William G.; Norodom, Sihanouk (1973). My War with the CIA: Cambodia's fight for survival. United States of America: Penguin Books. p. 108. ISBN 0-14-021689-8.
- Chandler, David P. (1991). The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War and Revolutions since 1945. United States of America: Yale University Press. p. 106. ISBN 0-300-05752-0.
- Burchett, William G.; Norodom, Sihanouk (1973). My War with the CIA: Cambodia's fight for survival. United States of America: Penguin Books. p. 110. ISBN 0-14-021689-8.
- Osborne, Milton E. (1994). Sihanouk Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-8248-1639-1.
- Chandler, David P. (1991). The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War and Revolutions since 1945. United States of America: Yale University Press. p. 107. ISBN 0-300-05752-0.
- Henry A. Kissinger (March 17, 1969). "Memorandum for the President on Possible CIA Courses of Action in Cambodia".
- Kissinger, Henry (19 February 1969). "Consideration of B–52 Options Against COSVN Headquarters" (PDF). Foreign Relations of the United States, Nixon-Ford Administrations. Volume VI. Foreign Relations, 1969-1976. Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970. United States Department of State. FRUS Document 22.
- "JCS Meeting with the President" (PDF). Foreign Relations of the United States, Nixon-Ford Administrations. Volume VI. Foreign Relations, 1969-1976. Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970. United States Department of State. 11 October 1969. FRUS Document 136.
- Sihanouk, Norodom (1973). My war with the CIA: The memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-48543-2.
- Clymer, Kenton (2013). The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000: A Troubled Relationship. Routledge. pp. 21–22. ISBN 9781134341566.
- Brinkley, Joel (2011). Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. PublicAffairs. p. 57.
Vietnam appointed Heng Samrin, a longtime member of the Cambodian Communist Party, as Prime Minister...In 1978 the Vietnamese military had chosen him to command a small group of Khmer Rouge deserters who would "lead" the invasion of Cambodia, to give it an indigenous face.
- Thayer, Nate (1991). "Cambodia: Misperceptions and Peace". The Washington Quarterly. 14 (2): 179–191. doi:10.1080/01636609109477687.