I Asked CIA about General Hieu's Death

The Central Intelligence Agency would certainly know the circumstances surrounding the death of General Hieu. Because the CIA played a key role in American policy design and participated in every major decision-making process during the "Vietnam Experience" from its inception in 1954 to its ending in 1975. And also because of the close relationship between General Hieu and the American General Consul in Bien Hoa (a position normally held by a CIA operative). One of the hypotheses of General Hieu's death right in his office at the 3rd Corps Headquarters was that the authority suspected that the CIA approached him to plot a coup d'etat and had him eliminated in advance. I borrow General Vinh Loc's words and inserted within them my three own ones: "The South Vietnam President was paranoid even toward his own shadow and his own reflection, trembling before Paratroopers, shivering before Armored Cavalry, frightened by General Hieu at the thoughts that each one of them might launch a coup."(Thu Gui Nguoi Ban My, page 82).

Consequently, since arriving in the United States, I always entertained the intention of contacting the CIA with the hope of finding out the truth surrounding the death of my brother. I am fully aware that it would be extremely difficult to extract any statement or acknowledgment from CIA, since its survival depends on secrecy. The Congress enacted the "Freedom of Information Act" law instructing governmental agencies to disclose all declassified documents to the public when requested, and also determined that after 20 years, all documents will be automatically declassified. That was why I patiently wait 20 years before I began trying to contact the CIA.

Between the CIA and I, we generated seven letters (3 from me and 4 from the CIA):

1. In my first request letter dated 28 August 1996, I requested a copy of records pertaining to General Hieu, with the following cues: 3 Corps Deputy Commander, was killed 2 weeks before the fall of Saigon, close relationship with Mr. Richard Peters, the American General Consul in Bien Hoa.

2. In its response letter dated 2 October 1996, the CIA advised me that the Agency neither confirm nor deny the existence or non existence of the records responsive to my request. The CIA also advised me that the Agency was exempted from the "Freedom of Information Act" in two instances: (b)(1) classified documents under Executive Order to protect national security and foreign policy; (b)(3) the responsibility of CIA Director to protect intelligence sources and methods, and CIA organizational structure.

3. In my appeal letter dated 7 October 1996, I appealed CIA determination because: one, I was only requesting documents that were automatically declassified upon reaching 20 years old; two, I was only requesting information pertaining to my brother, and was not interested in intelligence sources and methods of the CIA.

4. In its appeal acceptance letter dated 25 October 1996, the CIA advised me my appeal was referred to the Review Release Panel.

5. In its letter dated 15 January 1997, the Release Panel deny my request based on the same two reasons stated in the first response letter with, however, additional exemptions rulings.

6. In my last attempt letter dated 28 January 1997, I switched tactics in asking the CIA to consider "human friendship" instead of in invoking legal rights, in revealing to me "who" and "why" my brother was killed. I also proposed the CIA to either read the documents on "for your eyes" basis or hear the information on "for your ears" basis only, so that the CIA could deny any knowledge in so doing.

7. In its response letter dated 5 February 1997, the CIA stated that my proposal fell outside the limits determined by the "Freedom of Information Act" (!), and thus could not satisfy my request, and further advised that I could ask for a review at any United States district court.

At this point I gave up attacking the compact facade put up by the CIA, with the hope that someday down the road, the Congress might force the CIA to relax a little more its classification policy. At such time I might resume my harassment for information!

Nguyen Van Tin

P.S. (September 10, 2000) - A note pertaining to CIA's policy of non-denial nor non-admission of the existence or non-existence of documents sought:


In early August 2000 the National Security Archive (NSA) won a partial summary judgment in a U. S. District Court against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Court's decision establishes a new precedent that effectively challenges that agency's traditional policy of refusing to "neither confirm or deny" the existence of certain CIA-prepared information when responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

In this instance, back in May 1995, the NSA filed a FOIA request for the biographies of nine former Communist leaders of Eastern European countries (seven of whom are now dead). Drawing upon the so-called "Glomar" claim (named after a lawsuit over access to records relating to the ship Glomar Explorer in which the CIA won the right to "neither confirm of deny" information when responding to information sought under a FOIA request) the CIA refused to confirm or deny the existence of the biographies.

Consequently, the NSA filed suit in May 1999 in an effort to compel the agency to release the information.

In the court's ruling, Judge Kollar-Kotelly found that the CIA had already admitted the existence of the biographies in a detailed article declassified in 1994 and hence could not claim the information did not exist. The judge found: "To hold that the CIA has the authority to deny information that it has already admitted would violate the core principles of FOIA without providing any conceivable national security benefit." While the decision does not completely nullify the CIA's ability to use the Glomar claim when responding to future FOIA requests by historians, journalists, and others, it does establish a precedent that could help to compel that agency to be more responsive, particularly when it can be established that the item being sought via a FOIA request does exist.