1988 Vietnamese Public Security Article on Recommended Interrogation Techniques for Use in the Interrogation of Suspected Chinese Spies
In 1988 a classified Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security’s in-house professional journal published an article offering ideas on how to utilize the “psychological characteristics” of the ethnic Chinese in the interrogation of suspected “Chinese spies.”
In 1988 a classified Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security’s in-house professional journal called Public Security Science Studies (Nghiên Cứu Khoa Học Công An] published an article offering ideas on how to utilize the “psychological characteristics” of the ethnic Chinese in the interrogation of suspected “Chinese spies.”
At the time the article was published, the once-close alliance between the Vietnamese and Chinese Communist Parties, which Mao Zedong described in 1967 as being “as close as between lips and teeth,” had deteriorated into a vicious military and political conflict between the two former allies. Chinese efforts to collect intelligence on and to foment internal opposition against the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party were of special concern to Vietnam’s security service, and ethnic Chinese residents of Vietnam naturally became a primary focus of Vietnam’s counter-espionage efforts.
The 1988 article, titled “A Study of the Use of a Number of Psychological Characteristics of Ethnic Chinese in the Interrogation of Accused and Suspected Chinese Spies,” is of interest for several different reasons.
First, the article is largely devoid of the usual standard propaganda jargon and is written in a fairly straightforward, academic manner. This may reflect the fact that, faced with a desperate economic crisis and greatly reduced Soviet aid, the Vietnamese Communist Party was in the process of trying to reach some kind of rapprochement with China.
Second, the type of interrogation that the article recommended was clearly a soft approach that focused on persuading, not forcing, the subject to cooperate and did not involve the use of any “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The article stressed that “the interrogator must maintain a polite, proper attitude” and avoid doing anything to insult or offend the interrogation subject. The article maintained that “any display of anger, hot-headedness, or lack of self-control on the part of the investigator will make the interrogation more difficult.”
(It should be noted here that as the result of the damage caused to the Vietnamese Communist by unreliable information obtained through the use of torture during the war against the French, Vietnam’s Public Security service specifically banned the use of physical violence in 1951. While this ban was frequently ignored, or “honored in the breach”, especially at the local level, it remained the official Public Security policy.)
Third, the author of the article, Nguyễn Thủ Thanh, was a veteran investigations and interrogation instructor at the Public Security officers training school, which at that time was called the People’s Security University [Trường Đại học An ninh nhân dân] and is now Public Security’s People’s Security Academy [Học viện An ninh nhân dân], meaning that his article clearly reflected official Ministry policy on the conduct of interrogations.
Two years before the article was published, Thanh had returned to Vietnam after receiving five years of training (1981-1986) in the Soviet Union at a KGB training academy, where he graduated with a masters degree in security studies. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the article is also reflective of the author’s KGB training and of the advice of KGB advisors to Vietnam’s Public Security service.
As of 2010 Nguyen Thu Thanh had risen to the rank of major general and was the Deputy Superintendent of the People’s Security Academy.
 see Christopher Goscha, The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2022), 216-217, and Nguyễn Tài, Về Với Cõi Nguồn: Hồi Ký [Back to My Roots: A Memoir] (Hanoi: People’s Public Security Publishing House, 1997), 5.
 See Nguyen Thu Thanh’s biography provided in an 18 November 2008 People’s Public Security newspaper article titled “People’s Teacher Nguyen Thu Thanh: A Model, Dedicated Teacher” [Nhà giáo nhân dân Nguyễn Thủ Thanh: Một người thầy mẫu mực, tâm huyết], at
 People’s Public Security newspaper, 16 November 2010, New Professors from Our People’s Public Security Service are Hard-Working and Creative [Các tân Giáo sư trong lực lượng CAND miệt mài, tận tâm sáng tạo], at
About the Author
Merle L. Pribbenow II graduated from the University of Washington in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in political science. After serving in the CIA for 27 years, he retired in 1995 and is now an independent researcher/author specializing in the Vietnam War.Read More
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