Chapter 2 Intelligence at Its Best
Major Rudyard Thackeray Toute, in charge of Division Intelligence, closed the door to his office and climbed onto his desk chair, where he stood holding three paper airplanes. He was preparing the daily intelligence estimate for I Corps. The first airplane was labeled in Major Toute’s small, precise handwriting, “Probable Attack.” The second said “Suspected Enemy Concentration.” The third said “Infiltration Route.”
He stood teetering on one leg, which made it more challenging to aim, and threw the first airplane at Danang on the map of I Corps that covered an entire wall. It made a slight “click” as it struck. Major Toute went to look where it had hit, and wrote “Au Phuc Dup Hamlet, Probable Attack” on a pad. Then he went back to his chair to determine suspected enemy concentrations. He did this daily, alerting the American forces to the intentions of the Viet Cong.
The slight click came from the paper clip that Colonel Toute attached to the nose of his airplanes to tighten his groups. He had started using the paper clips several months before, and he had so increased his accuracy that Infiltration Routes and Suspected Enemy Concentrations had moved much closer to Danang than they had been. The Pentagon had noticed that the communists were tightening their grip on the city, and had requested two more divisions.
Major Toute didn’t have a clue what was actually happening in Vietnam. Nor did anyone else in the Intelligence Office.
This had bothered him at first, but then he had learned that the lack of information did not hinder him in the performance of his duty. Now he was quite comfortable with things. In fact, any intrusion of the VC into his affairs would have seemed an imposition.
Besides, he had no choice. No American on his staff, or anywhere else for that matter, spoke Vietnamese. A year earlier the Marine Corps had begun sending students to language school at Henderson Hall in Washington, but they had never showed the slightest capacity to learn Vietnamese in Washington. Since the supply of Viet-speaking Marines remained inadequate, after six months the brass had doubled the number of students sent to learn Vietnamese. They didn’t, and so the quota was again doubled. No matter how many Marines didn’t learn Vietnamese, the need remained the same and the school expanded. Its budget grew like a weed to accommodate the burgeoning number of unlearning students, and the commander was promoted. Meanwhile the intelligence people had to rely on hired translators, all of whom were Viet Cong officers in disguise.
To make matters worse, General Grommett didn’t like the intelligence departments. He had once said with what he hoped was Patton-like soldierly bluntness, “The gooks are the enemy. You don’t study enemies. You kill them.” At least Colonel Walther, who had written this oration for him, said it sounded Pattonesque.
General Grommett resented the intelligence people for much the same reasons why he resented the Viet Cong, viewing them both as impediments to the smooth prosecution of the war. They added a disagreeable uncertainty to things, and caused embarrassing diversions of the war effort from its proper concern of maximizing the tonnage of bombs dropped. Without the Viet Cong it would be easier to bomb and strafe and keep his numbers up. General Grommett didn’t see why he had to have an intelligence department. He didn’t know much about the Viet Cong, and believed it un-American to find out. He thought it unsoldierly to study an enemy he didn’t respect, and how could one respect little yellow peckerheads who hid under trees so you couldn’t bomb them?
The intelligence office, unable to find out what was going on, had used Yankee ingenuity in discovering ways of doing its job, which, Major Toute had been gratified to find, was not to know what was happening but to turn out intelligence reports. His staff had found many ways of doing this. For months, every Wednesday they had predicted a major attack, qualifying the prediction by saying that tactical conditions to the south might force the enemy to change his plans. On Thursday through Tuesday, they predicted quiet, adding that tactical conditions to the north might force the enemy to strike.
To keep up the volume of reports, which they had noticed seemed to govern promotions, they had simply reissued reports from the same period the year before. Since no one stayed in Vietnam for more than a year, the recycling was never noticed, and last year’s predictions were no less accurate than this year’s. The staff had learned to phrase estimates with a Delphic opacity that fitted all possible events, like a horoscope.
A tremendous flow of estimates, situation reports, prognostications, and statistics issued from the department. The office was going swimmingly well even before the paper-airplane method of collecting intelligence had been developed.
Major Toute put on his hat and opened the door, which was marked Head, REBOP, which meant Reinforcement Evaluation Board/Operations. He was going downtown to talk to the chief bellhop at the hotel where he did his drinking. The bellhop was his chief source of tactical information. Next week he had to produce a report on the Political Situation, Trends, and Mood of the Populace.