Phạm Xuân Ẩn

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Phạm Xuân An
Nickname(s)Hai Trung
Born(1927-09-12)September 12, 1927
Biên Hòa, French Indochina
DiedSeptember 20, 2006(2006-09-20) (aged 79)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Service/branchVietnam People's Army
RankVietnam People's Army Major General.jpgMajor General
AwardsHero of the People's Armed ForcesOrder of IndependenceMilitary Exploit OrderFeat Order

Phạm Xuân Ẩn (September 12, 1927 – September 20, 2006) was a Vietnamese journalist and correspondent for Time, Reuters and the New York Herald Tribune, stationed in Saigon during the war in Vietnam. He was also simultaneously spying for the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam. He was made a general after the war. His nicknames were "Hai Trung" and "Tran Van Trung." He was awarded the "People's Army Force Hero" by the Vietnamese government on January 15, 1976.[1] He was also put in a "softer" version of a re-education camp for a year after the war for being considered too close to the Americans.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born in Binh Truoc, Biên Hòa, Đồng Nai Province, but his parents were originally from Hải Dương Province. His grandfather was the headmaster of a school in Huế and was awarded the king of Vietnam's gold ring. Ẩn's father was a high-level engineer of the Public Administration Department. His family's service to France did not earn them French citizenship. Phạm was born in Biên Hòa Hospital with the help of French doctors.

When Ẩn was a child, he lived in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). He had joined the Viet Minh in 1944 at the age of 16 to fight against the Japanese during World War II and afterward against the French.[3] When the August Revolution began against the French government, Ẩn left school and joined the Volunteer Youth Organisation. Later, he took classes offered by the Viet Minh. He then moved to Cần Thơ and studied at the College of Cần Thơ.[citation needed]

After the partition of Vietnam in 1954, Ẩn served in the Saigon government army and was later awarded a scholarship to a college in California.[3] In the late 1950s, Ẩn attended Orange Coast College (OCC) and earned an Associate of Arts degree. He wrote for the campus newspaper, then called The Barnacle.[citation needed]


According to The Fall of Saigon by David Butler and Flashbacks by Morley Safer, Ẩn helped Tran Kim Tuyen, a South Vietnamese intelligence commander and CIA asset, escape Saigon on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon in 1975.[4]

During the fall of Saigon evacuations, Ẩn obtained transport for his wife and four children to the United States provided by Time magazine. Shortly after the fall of Saigon, he was interrogated by the communists and put under house arrest to ensure he had no further contact with Westerners, and he was suspected of being "corrupted" by capitalism after decades of living in South Vietnam as a spy.[citation needed] He brought his family back to Saigon, later saying, "It was the stupidest thing I ever did."[3] He was paid the pension of a retired brigadier general, about $US30 a month. He told his friend Stanley Karnow, as recounted in Karnow's book Vietnam: A History, that his love for Vietnam has not diminished his love for America, as in the French song "J'ai Deux Amours" (English: "I Have Two Loves"). Referring to his years in the United States, he told Karnow "Those were the best years of my life." Ẩn admired the communists as nationalists, "but their ignorance and arrogance have only given us misery."[3]

Ẩn died in Ho Chi Minh City in a military hospital from complications of emphysema.[citation needed]

In February 2009, The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An's Dangerous Game by Thomas A. Bass was published.[5]

Safer interview of 1989[edit]

In 1989, Ẩn did an interview with Morley Safer, described in Safer's book Flashbacks. Ẩn told Safer he had joined the Viet Minh in 1944 to fight the Japanese during World War II and the French later on. The book says he got a scholarship to the US in the late 1950s and worked at a newspaper in Orange County, California, before returning to Vietnam. Ẩn said that in 1960, he joined Reuters and later Time, when he was made a colonel in the Viet Cong. He claimed to have passed information periodically through secret meetings in the Ho Bo Woods near Saigon during the Vietnam War and that only a handful of Viet Cong knew about his identity as a spy. Safer also writes that Ẩn was close with Charlie Mohr, Frank McCulloch, David Greenway, Richard Clurman, Bob Shaplen, Nguyen Hung Vuong, and other noted journalists.[citation needed]

Safer called Ẩn a "dignified and decent man" but also noted the "enigma" and "layers" of the man. Safer also mentions Arnaud de Borchgrave's 1981 testimony before Senator Jeremiah Denton's subcommittee that Ẩn had a "mission" to "disinform the Western press". Ẩn denied the disinformation charge, claiming his superiors felt such tactics would have given him away. Safer and Ẩn also discuss Ẩn's year-long imprisonment in a re-education/lecture camp near Hanoi by the North Vietnamese after the end of the war because of his connection with Americans. Ẩn also described his opinion of the "paternalism and a discredited economy theory" being used by the Vietnamese leadership that had led to the failure of the revolution to help "the people."[6][page needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berman, Larry (2007). Perfect Spy. Smithsonian Books. ISBN 978-0-06-088839-8, pps 134-143
  2. ^ Flashbacks, Morley Safer, St Martin's Press/Random House, 1991
  3. ^ a b c d Vietnam: A History; Stanley Karnow; The Viking Press; 1983; Page 39-41
  4. ^ Butler, David (1990). The fall of Saigon. Abacus. also Flashbacks, by Morley Safer, 1990, St Martins Press/Random House
  5. ^ Bass, Thomas A. (2015-02-01). "Vietnam's concerted effort to keep control of its past". Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
  6. ^ This entire paragraph is from Safer's book, Flashbacks, 1991 St Martin's Press paperback edition of the Random House original.

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