The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #69

Among the first major CIA clandestine operators and propagandists functioning abroad was OSS veteran and US Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale. An early confidante of Allen and John Foster Dulles, Lansdale was an advertising executive-turned-spy and counterinsurgency expert, all the while projecting “a squeaky-clean, Boy Scout Image, behind which he masked his own perverse delight in atrocity,” writes historian Douglas Valentine.

Edward Landsdale. Image Credit: Wikipedia

In the prelude to America’s full-scale involvement in Southeast Asia Landsdale fulfilled a special role in the formation of the CIA’s infamous counterterror assassination program dubbed Phoenix, having successfully organized an anti-Communist movement in the Philippines. Acting in the 1950s as the Dulles’ emissary in Vietnam, Landsdale played an important role as US advisor to the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. And the slogan-savvy Lansdale coined the term “Vietcong”, forever denigrating Vietminh patriots in the Western mind.

Lansdale’s activities in the Philippines earned him the nickname the “Ugly American.” He brought those tactics to Saigon along with a team of dedicated Filipino anti-Communists who, in the words of one veteran CIA officer, ‘would slit their grandmother’s throat for a dollar eighty-five.’”

In one psychological warfare operation Landsdale sought to motivate Vietnamese government troops to vacate a village and engage Communist guerrilla fighters on the outskirts. The problem was that village’s leaders feared assassination by the same guerrillas if the troops left. As ad exec Landsdale recalls,

“A combat psywar [psychological warfare] team was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of a vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to circulate among Huk sympathizers in the town and make their way up the hill to the camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along a trail used by the Huks. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the vampire had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on the hill. When daylight came the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.”

Lansdale deemed the operation “’low humor’ and ‘ an appropriate response … to the glum and deadly practices of communists and other authoritarians,'” notes Valentine. “And by doing so, former advertising executive Lansdale–the merry prankster whom author Graham Greene dubbed the Quiet America–came to represent the hypocrisy of American policy in South Vietnam.

Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990, 25-26.

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2 thoughts on “The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #69”

  1. Lansdale was the model for “The Quiet American” (not the Ugly American), a novel by Graham Greene which predicted the failure of America’s involvement in Vietnam.

    L. Fletcher Prouty also identified a photo of a man in Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was killed, who was walking the other direction right past the three “hobos” being escorted by cops, as Edward Lansdale.

    1. Yes, thank you for the observation. I believe Greene’s novel was published circa 1955 and purportedly Landsdale was an inspiration for the protagonist. The post has been edited to include author Valentine’s quote on page 26, which seems to anticipate your observation in distinguishing “Ugly American” from “Quiet American,” and I’ve revised to include.

      “And by doing so, former advertising executive Lansdale–the merry prankster whom author Graham Greene dubbed the Quiet America–came to represent the hypocrisy of American policy in South Vietnam. For Landsdale used Madison Avenue language to construct a squeaky-clear, Boy Scout image, behind which he masked his own perverse delight in atrocity.”

      Yes, aware of the photo to which Prouty refers. I believe he covered this in some of his interviews with Black Ops Radio in the early 1990s. This could have been a much lengthier post indeed. Also, I did not include the fact that as you may know Lansdale’s role as Vietnam advisor is presently being celebrated in a bit of historical revisionism by Council on Foreign Relations’ palace court historian Max Boot’s new book, The Road Not Taken. This is what we thought to be quite a good review of that work.

      https://thebaffler.com/latest/max-boot-ganz

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