Books Monographs

CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-68

By Harold Ford


This volume is part of the Center for the Study of Intelligence’s continuing effort to provide as clear a record of CIA activities as possible within the constraints of overall national security concerns. We believe it is important for the American public to be aware of and to understand the Agency’s crucial mission. The CIA is committed to a degree of openness that not only documents its activities but also informs the US public of the historical successes and shortcomings of the Intelligence Community.

This recently declassified study by former CIA officer Dr. Harold P. Ford reviews the Intelligence Community’s analytic performance during the chaotic Vietnam era, with particular focus on the efforts of CIA analysts. It offers a candid view of the CIA’s intelligence assessments concerning Vietnam during three episodes between 1962 and 1968 and the reactions of senior US policymakers to those assessments.  Without ignoring or downplaying the analysts’ problems and errors, Dr. Ford argues persuasively that, for the most part, the Agency’s analysis proved remarkably accurate. His study shows that CIA analysts had a firm grasp of the situation in Vietnam and continually expressed doubts that heightened US military pressure alone could win the war. Contrary to the opinions voiced by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and others, Dr. Ford strikingly illustrates the substantial expertise CIA officers brought to the Vietnam question.

Dr. Ford was uniquely qualified to undertake this in-depth study of the Agency’s performance on Vietnam. After graduating from the University of Redlands, he served as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II. He earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago and was a postdoctoral scholar at Oxford University. He joined the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination in 1950 and transferred in 1951 to the Agency’s Office of National Estimates where he served for most of his Agency career. He drafted many National Intelligence Estimates concerning Vietnam and participated in several of the inter-Agency Vietnam working groups discussed in this study. He later served as a CIA station chief abroad. Dr. Ford retired from CIA in 1974 and subsequently worked for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He returned to the Agency in 1980 to help form the National Intelligence Council (NIC). At the time of his retirement in 1986 he was the NIC’s Acting Chairman.

—Gerald K. Haines

Chief, CIA History Staff (1998)

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