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Another component of CORDS was the Phoenix Program.2 Although Phoenix was run and ostensibly controlled by the Saigon government, CIA funded and administered it. Phoenix built on the work of the CIA-created network of over 100 provincial and district intelligence operation committees in South Vietnam that collected and disseminated information on the VCI to field police and paramilitary units.
Essentially, these committees created lists of known VCI operatives. Once the name, rank, and location of each individual VCI member became known, CIA paramilitary or South Vietnamese police or military forces interrogated these individuals for further intelligence on the communist structure and its operations.
The lists were sent to various Phoenix field forces, which included the Vietnamese national police, US Navy Seal teams and US Army special operations groups, and Provincial Reconnaissance Units such as the one in Tay Ninh.
These forces went to the villages and hamlets and attempted to identify the named individuals and "neutralize" them. Those on a list were arrested or captured for interrogation, or if they resisted, they were killed. Initially, CIA, with Vietnamese assistance, handled interrogations at the provincial or district levels.
According to my friends in the Special Forces, there was another layer of Phoenix, ready for a command to assassinate all the leaders in a region, near simultaneously. But, heck, they're just a bunch of career soldiers.
Here's a fun conspiracy. My friend Bob is a Vietnam Conflict spook, who spent more time than McCain in a tiny cage & has the scars to suggest veracity. He's a very calm old guy with a great sense of humor, & I wouldn't THINK of pissing him off -- that sort of presence.
In an unguarded (hah!) moment, back around 1990, Bob told me a little about his day-job. "You know how the CIA & such are filled with cowboys?"
"Yeah," I allowed.
"So it just makes sense to have a smaller group, to keep tabs on them so that a bunch don't get together over drinks & decide to overthrow the U.S. government or something."
"But then you've got a tighter group that need to have access to the sort of power to control those cowboys. Maybe there should be another, smaller group to watch the watchdogs."
"Uh-huh," I said, getting an idea where this was going.
"And again, a small group to watch those watchers."
"Well," he said with a shrug, "that's what I do."
Bob passed away a few years ago, but I promise you that the conversation did actually happen.