CIA's Phoenix Program: Systematic Repression Abroad and at Home

24 Aug, 2023

“The Phoenix Program in Vietnam in many ways provides a blue print for our own times. Assassinations and torture are the essence of the war on terror. As are death squads and false flag terror attacks. As are mass surveillance of the populace.”

Hugo Turner 2016

“False rumors will proliferate and ruin the reputation of anyone who refuses to comply. People will become more terrified than ever. They will grab their precious guns and start shooting. Midnight arrests and disappearances will become commonplace. Amid the confusion the CIA will activate assassination units within the front organizations it has placed around the country, and plant explosives in school buses, not as training exercises, but as provocations to call in the militarized police. Property values will plummet, blood will run in the streets and 10,000 Trumps and Clintons, safely ensconced in their pre-secure Israeli-style Bantustans, will buy everything on the cheap. This is the Phoenix future [of America] . . .”

Douglas Valentine

“Between 1968 and 1972, Phoenix officially ‘neutralized’ (meaning imprisoned, persuaded to defect, or killed) 81,740 people suspected of VC membership, of whom 26,369 were killed, while Seymour Hersh wrote that South Vietnamese official statistics estimated that 41,000 were killed”

Wikipedia, Phoenix Program

Douglas Valentine is a remarkable investigative writer who meets the highest standards of integrity and courage. When he began investigating the brutal Phoenix Program, developed by the CIA for Vietnam initially, he had, interestingly, the blessings of the ex-CIA-chief Bill Colby. Colby headed the Phoenix Program at one time. Valentine’s book, “The Phoenix Program”, was first published in 1990.

The Phoenix program was developed by the CIA in 1967 to control South Vietnamese society by “neutralizing” those civilian South Vietnamese who supported the Viet Cong (VC), the North Vietnamese guerilla groups fighting the Americans. The term used was “neutralization” of the “Viet Cong Infrastructure” (VCI). As Valentine puts it: “The euphemism ‘neutralize’ means to kill, capture or make to defect.” It is a program of systematic repression.

The name Phoenix was introduced for symbolic reasons. The original name of the program was ICEX-SIDE, an acronym for Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation - Screening Interrogation and Detention of Enemy. To quote Valentine: “In time the mere mention of the Phoenix, the omnipotent bird of prey with a blacklist in one claw and a snake in the other, was enough to terrorize, not only targeted members of VCI, but the entire civilian population.”

The most crucial aspect of the Phoenix program is that it targets civilians. “Civilian casualties are an explicit objective” in this program. The Phoenix program is now being applied worldwide. It has been applied to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and so on. The Phoenix program has, in the past half century, gradually been extended, firstly, to cover all “opposition” to the US occupation forces anywhere in the world. Please note that all wars are being fought by the US under a so-called “counter-terrorism” mandate. It is terrorism but is called counter-terrorism. Secondly, Phoenix is being applied to suppress opposition to US in any country where the US controls a government. And, thirdly, gradually and insidiously, Phoenix is now being imposed on American society!

It may not be a coincidence that Bill Colby, who had been in charge of the Phoenix Program, was murdered in the year 1996, twenty years after his tenure as director of Central Intelligence ended. He had, initially, discouraged Douglas Valentine from pursuing the subject of the Phoenix Program. Before his death he had also told Congressman, John W. DeCamp, not to pursue the child abuse, Satanism and murder cases in Nebraska – the Franklin Cover-up -  as it is now known, as it could pose a threat to DeCamp’s life.

Colby’s murder is an unsolved mystery, although his parent organization, the CIA, is suspected of bumping him off for trying to open up, for investigative writers, criminal areas that the CIA would not allow anyone to trespass. How can the murder of an ex-CIA-chief remain an unsolved mystery? Because, most likely, it was the CIA that was behind it.

Douglas Valentine states the essence of the Phoenix Program in the following words: “Under Phoenix due process was totally nonexistent. South Vietnamese whose names appeared on blacklists could be kidnapped, tortured, detained for two years without trail, or even murdered, on the word of an anonymous informer.”  He also states: “To be neutral, or advocate for peace was viewed as supporting terrorism.  Proof wasn’t required, just the word of an anonymous informer.”

Valentine notes: “The psychological warfare aspect of Phoenix was so pervasive that people had to watch every word they said. Advocating peace with the Communists was punishable by imprisonment without trail or even death under administrative detention laws.” One can imagine the degree of fear and anxiety and stress that such a policy generated in society. Extreme and real fear was used to control society.

Douglas Valentine points out: “At its height Phoenix managers imposed quotas of eighteen hundred neutralizations per month on the people running the program in the field, opening up the program to abuses by corrupt security officers, policemen, politicians, and racketeers, all of whom extorted innocent civilians as well as VCI. Legendary CIA officer Lucien Conein described Phoenix as ‘A very good blackmail scheme for the central government. If you don’t do what I want, you’re VC.’”

As if the American military was not wreaking enough destruction and unprecedented killing in Vietnam and neighboring countries, the CIA had unleashed a reign of terror in South Vietnam that went against all norms of civilized conduct of warfare and governance. The CIA is a bad loser – it is the world’s worst loser. It has to inflict maximum pain on a society where it is losing. If the VC were brutal the CIA had to be even more brutal.

Since the war was not going its way, since the people did not have their heart with the Americans, who, rightfully, were seen as invaders by many in South Vietnam as well, the CIA had to devise the Phoenix Program. The CIA had taken part in the assassination of John F. Kennedy who had wished to move out of Vietnam. It was this action of the CIA, carried out in obedience to its international-banker masters, that had landed the US in the Vietnam quagmire, so that the bankers could further drown the US in debt, and so that their military industry could reap profits at immense human cost. They wanted profits, and impoverishment of America, and not a victory. The CIA enabled them to do so.

In the words of Douglas Valentine: “Because Phoenix ‘neutralizations’ were conducted at midnight while its victims were home, sleeping in bed, Phoenix proponents describe the program as a ‘scalpel’ designed to replace the ‘bludgeon’ of search and destroy operations, air strikes, and artillery barrages that indiscriminately wiped out entire villages, and did little to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Vietnamese population.”

Valentine adds: “Yet...the scalpel cut deeper than the US government admits. Phoenix was, among other things, an instrument of counterterror – the psychological warfare tactic in which VCI members were brutally murdered along with their families or neighbors as a means of terrorizing the neighboring population into a state of submission. Such horrendous acts were, for propaganda purposes, often made to look as if they had been committed by the enemy.” This was the usual Gladio technique applied in Vietnam – it was familiar territory for the CIA.

The tactics of terror in Phoenix were so inhuman as to be beyond belief. Let us quote a couple of instances described by CIA operatives involved in the Phoenix program, as narrated to Douglas Valentine. “Now everyone knows about the airborne interrogation – taking three people up in a chopper, taking one guy and saying talk, ‘Talk’, then throwing him out before he even gets a chance to open his mouth. Well, we wrapped det [detonator] cord around their necks and wired them to the detonator box. And basically what it did was blow their heads off. The interrogator would tell the translator, usually a South Vietnamese intelligence officer, ‘Ask him this’. He’d ask him, ‘Who gave you the gun?’ And the guy would start to answer, or maybe he wouldn’t – maybe he’d resist – but the general idea was to waste the first two.” How “civilized” and how much in accordance with the various international laws on warfare was this? The reader can answer this question himself or herself.

There is a symbol of the eye of God in ancient Egypt. In Vietnam it was a symbol of the Cao Di sect. Therefore, it was the view of some people that Cao Dei eye of the God endowed the bird Phoenix with its all seeing ability and its ubiquity. Valentine writes: “In South Vietnam the eye of the God trick took a ghastly twist. CIA officer Pat McGarvey recalled to Seymour Hersh that ‘some psychological warfare guy in Washington thought of a way to scare the hell out of villagers. When we killed a VC there, they wanted us to spread eagle the guy, put out his eye, cut a hole in the back [of his head and put his eye in there. The idea was that fear was good weapon.’ Likewise, ears were cut off corpses and nailed to houses to let the people know that Big Brother was listening as well.” One has a hard time even quoting such horrific acts. But they were perpetrated by CIA and its assets. How can CIA officers live with these things? Nothing seems to burden their conscience. Or does it?

Under the Phoenix program, purpose designed buildings known as PICs (Province Interrogation Centers), were built in the length and breadth of South Vietnam. Here people who were rounded up were brought for interrogation purposes. The torture inflicted in the PICs was “supervised” by CIA personnel who employed local South Vietnamese for the purpose. Most of those tortured would “die during the interrogation”. There were few who “managed to survive, but were often killed later anyway.”

Apart from PICs there were PRUs (Provincial Reconnaissance Units). These were essentially mercenary forces controlled by the CIA. They would carry out operations designed to kill the so-called communists. But their technique of identifying communists was so questionable, as we will see, that many innocent men, women and children were needlessly killed. So Phoenix had “interrogation” centers (PICs) and death squads (PRUs) who killed after superficial and unreliable intelligence gathering.

Even though premeditated murder was not allowed by the program it took place frequently. A “blacklist” of suspects had to be maintained – they kept on adding names to enlarge it because the program supported capturing as many VC as possible. One writer states: “The normal procedure of capturing people on the ‘blacklist’ would involve going into a village, grabbing a bystander and demanding the location of a ‘target’. As most people were so afraid that they could not speak, the PRUs would put a sandbag over the ‘informant’s’ head, adding holes for him or her to be able to see. They would then put a ‘commo’ wire over the person’s neck to use as a leash and drag him or her through the village, asking the person to shake his head when the unit passed the target’s house. After this, once night fell, the PRUs would return and knock the door. Whoever answered the door would be blasted with gunfire. It didn’t matter to the group who it was because in their definition, every person in the house was a communist.” Imagine the fear such murderous assaults must have generated in the community where these were inflicted. And imagine its inhumanity and cruelty.

Douglas Valentine quotes John Patrick Muldoon, the first director of CIA’s PIC program in Vietnam who stated that the forms of torture used to extract information during interrogation at PICs “included rape, gang rape, rape using snakes, eels and other hard objects, rape followed by murder; ‘Bell Telephone Hour’ rendered by attaching military field telephone wires to the genitals and other sensitive organs of the body; waterboarding; ‘the airplane’, in which a prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back and a rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair while he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; and the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.”  Valentine comments “All this and more occurred in PICs.”

The well-known journalist, the late Mary McGrory, who had been put by Richard Nixon in the list of his enemies, wrote about K. Barton Osborn, an intelligence operative with the Phoenix Program. He had 50 men working for him: “His agents fingered villages and villagers for extinction, the former by B-52 strikes and artillery fire, the latter by death after torture.”  Osborn had testified before the Congress in 1971 and described Phoenix Program as “a sterile depersonalized murder program.”

McGrory reported: “He saw a prisoner who had dowel drive into his ear – they had hit the brain too soon and killed him. ‘They were embarrassed’’ he said.” Please note that a dowel is a cylindrical piece made of wood, plastic, or metal. Barton Osborn also saw a woman who had been “starved to death in a cage in a Marine interrogation center. When he inquired about her he was told ‘she died of malnutrition’.” What kind of monsters does the CIA produce?

Language plays a very important role in whatever the CIA does. It engaged in terrorism but called it counter-terrorism! These days it has extended its “counter-terrorism” operations to many parts of the world. Theaters were bombed in Vietnam and the bombing was blamed on the Viet Cong. These were false flag operations. In fact, Gladio terrorism also evolved with the start of the Phoenix Program and was influenced by it. What the CIA did in Vietnam was then replicated in Europe. Phoenix started in 1967 whereas Gladio bombings in Italy, the first ever in Europe, in which innocent people were killed, began in 1969. These were blamed on the Communists! This false flag bombing tactic was clearly imported from Phoenix in Vietnam.

To quote Hugo Turner: “In contrast to most such forces like the contras in Nicaragua in the 80's (trained by people from the Phoenix program) or the Fascist volunteer battalions in Ukraine today who are often poor fighters, only effective at terrorizing unarmed civilians. The PRU (Provincial Reconnaissance Units) as the CIA's Vietnamese death squads were renamed were the most effective fighting force in South Vietnam. They would form one of the primary elements in the Phoenix Program. Along with the Field Police they would be the enforcers.”

Similarly, the PICs, the interrogation centers first established in Vietnam have been replicated worldwide in the phony war on terror. It is important to note that these were torture centers and were built in a specifically designed way. Hugo Turner points out: “They are exact forerunners of today’s CIA black sites which now dot the world aiming to torture people to produce real or fabricated intelligence, recruit double agents, break people's spirits and terrify the rest of the planet into submission.”

Douglas Valentine had filed a request with the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, asking for the release of all records about PICs. “That request was denied”. Valentine writes: “Forty years after they were abandoned, the PICs are still as big a secret as what happened inside the gulag archipelago of black sites the CIA built after 9/11 in eight countries, including Thailand (where al Qaeda commander Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded), Afghanistan and ‘several democracies in Eastern Europe.’ The CIA will never release to the public its secret files about the PICs, which certainly served as models for black sites. And even if it did release them, they should not be believed. CIA officers are trained never to incriminate themselves in written reports or spoken words. Not to do so, after all, is the key to achieving plausible deniability.”

The death squads of Phoenix program were invoked in other places in subsequent decades, carrying different names. In his 2017 book, “The CIA as Organized Crime”, Douglas Valentine mentions the deployment of CIA-advised and –funded Special Police Commandoes in Iraq. These Commandoes “Tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Iraqi men and boys.” This is a replica of the Vietnamese Phoenix Program. He stated: “But the Commandoes are only one of the America’s many weapons of human destruction in Iraq. Along with US military forces that murder indiscriminately, CIA-funded death squads that murdered selectively, and the CIA’s palace guard – the Iraqi Special Operation Forces – the Commandoes are a part of a genocidal campaign that had killed 10% of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq by 2008, and drive half of all Sunnis from their homes.”

In the same book Douglas Valentine states: “The CIA’s death squads in El Salvador were periodically moved from one cover to another to confuse investigators. The CIA played this shell game with its Special Police Commandoes in Iraq as well, rebranding them as ‘National Police; following the exposure of one of the secret torture centers in November 2005. In its finest Madison Avenue marketing traditions, the CIA renamed the Commandoes’ predatory Wolf Brigade ‘the Freedom Brigade’, bringing to mind Reagan’s description of Contras as ‘freedom fighters’.”

With Homeland Security Phoenix has come home to roost. The strategies developed to quell and exterminate opposition in occupied countries abroad, have now been imported home to quell dissent and suppress Americans. Behind all this suppression and ugliness, and gradual destruction of American ideals, stands the ghastly and deadly organization named CIA, controlled by the wealthiest families on the planet. Phoenix may have gone but the techniques bequeathed by Phoenix are now in operation.

Douglas Valentine observes in “The CIA as Organized Crime”: “Any domestic Phoenix-style organization or operation depends on double-speak and deniability as well as official secrecy and media self-censorship. The overarching need for total control of information requires media complicity. This is one of the great lesson defeat in Vietnam taught our leaders. The highly indoctrinated and well rewarded managers who run the government will never allow the public to see the carnage they inflict upon civilians. Americans will never see the mutilated Iraqi, Afghani, Libyan and Syrian children killed by marauding US forces and their cluster bombs.”

Valentine goes on to emphasize that apart from denying information to Americans about the atrocities committed by the US abroad, “falsified portrayal of CIA kidnappings, torture, and assassinations are glorified on TV and in movies. Telling the proper story is absolutely essential.  Thanks to media complicity, Phoenix has already become the template for providing security for America’s leaders.” Americans are drowned day and night by false propaganda, concocted, distorted and selective and slanted news, superficial and shallow TV “discussions”, and syndicated newspaper columns by “presstitutes”. And 9/11 has provided a huge and unprecedented impetus to these things. CIA manages all this activity.

The upright patriot Paul Craig Roberts, who was the Assistant Secretary of Treasury in the Regan administration has noted the change in America. He writes: “[W]e have become a society in which the function of law is to get someone or to achieve an agenda that cannot be achieved legislatively.  The person doesn’t have to be guilty of a crime.  Merely being demonized or disapproved of suffices.  Law now serves not justice but political and ideological emotions and the agendas of the powerful. “

Roberts adds: “That the entire legal profession and all of its institutions have stood aside for this transformation of law indicates that freedom is no longer a value.  Consequently, Constitutional protections are less and less enforced.  White Americans have suffered discrimination in university admissions, hiring, and promotion for more than a half century.  Government and its agencies have used print, TV, and social media to censor and control explanations.  Spying on citizens without court approved warrants is widespread. The US has declared its law to be enforceable worldwide, even applicable to foreign national journalists such as Julian Assange, and to the President of Russia.” 

One may end by quoting Valentine: “The success of Phoenix doctrine is most evident in the ability of its advocates in the ruling class to corrupt Congress and force it to divest massive amounts of public money into the militarization of foreign and domestic policy. The constant barrage of propaganda about looming terrorist threats, and the lurid human rights violations of straw dog enemies abroad, serves only to justify heavily armed police officers and National Guardsmen patrolling in paramilitary formations in our airports and train stations. Implicitly, the public knows those weapons can be used against them. No that the corrupt and corrupting Phoenix structure is in place in America, it is only a matter of time until we enter the next Phoenix phase of terror at home.” That phase has been described in Valentine’s quote at the beginning of this article.