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Top Secret Vietnamese Ministry of Interior Transcript of Speech Given by Minister of Interior Tran Quoc Hoan to a National Conference on Investigating Political Targets

In 1979, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s Ministry of Interior published the text of Minister of Interior Tran Quoc Hoan’s [Trần Quốc Hoàn] speech to a long-delayed national conference on the conduct of investigations held in October 1977.

In 1979, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s (SRV) Ministry of Interior (now the Ministry of Public Security), which was the SRV’s equivalent of the Soviet KGB, published the text of Minister of Interior Tran Quoc Hoan’s [Trần Quốc Hoàn] speech to a long-delayed national conference on the conduct of investigations held in October 1977.[1] The transcript of the speech was issued as a “Top Secret” [Tối Mật] internal document that was disseminated in numbered copies to specific authorized personnel only.

In the introduction to his speech, the minister explained that the conference was supposed to have been held in 1974 but had to be delayed, presumably because of other pressing business during the lead-up to the 1975 North Vietnamese offensive and the subsequent unification of North and South Vietnam in 1976.  He also said that, unlike the previous national Public Security investigative conferences, which were to be held every five years, this conference would focus on “political” investigations and that a separate conference would be held on criminal investigations.

The minister emphasized the importance of carrying out investigations into “political” targets by telling the conference that during a Public Security meeting held in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon),  Communist Party General Secretary Le Duan [Lê Duẩn] and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong [Phạm Văn Đồng] had criticized the ministry for not having “a firm grasp on the enemy situation”. The Minister said that the Ministry not only had to investigate millions of new “political targets” in South Vietnam; it also had to continue to investigate potential hostile spies and political dissidents in North Vietnam, including continuing opposition among some North Vietnamese Catholics.

Minister Hoan said that the volume of information that Public Security would have to review to conduct these investigations was so massive that the Ministry would have to use “computers and computer punch cards” to process the information. (Fortunately for the North Vietnamese communists, they had captured several large IBM computers in South Vietnam, including one at the Joint General Staff Headquarters and one at the Shell Oil headquarters in Saigon in 1975.) He said that the investigations would be conducted using various different methods, including conducting interrogations (of both the targets themselves and of captured enemy personnel), using “secret informants” (spies), physical surveillance, technical surveillance, and by studying documents and files captured from the former South Vietnamese government. The Minister commented that so many files had been captured from the former South Vietnamese Central Intelligence Organizations (the CIO) alone - “approximately 1.5 million files” - that the Ministry was going to have to build an entire new building just to store them. 

While the Minister said that, when conducting its investigations, the Public Security must be careful to distinguish between those individuals who were truly “counter-revolutionaries” who had “committed crimes” and those who had been forced to join the “enemy” and who were not personally guilty of “crimes”, in a number of places the Minister’s speech demonstrated the kind of almost paranoid suspicions that dominated Public Security’s thinking during this period.  For example, he told the conference that every single individual who had served in the South Vietnamese Navy or on South Vietnam’s civilian ships must be banned from employment in any sea-going profession in the future because of the possibility that they might be unreliable. He also proclaimed that anyone who had worked as an interpreter for the Americans, no matter in what capacity, and anyone who had been trained in the U.S. must be considered suspect – even those who had been spies for the communists during the war. 

Minister Hoan’s edict included even two of Public Security’s own spies who had worked as radio communications specialists working in the South Vietnamese Police Headquarters. The Minister said that even though these two spies had supplied Public Security with communications intelligence during the war, simply because the two had been trained in the U.S. for six months they would not be allowed to continue to serve in any Public Security position under the new Communist regime. He explained that “when they send cables for the Ministry, or receive cables for the Ministry, they might also be able to covertly send and receive radio messages to and from the enemy as well.” 

Minister Hoan even cited the case of the Jews in the Soviet Union to justify the need for Public Security to conduct wide-ranging investigations of suspected “political targets,” stating that “a few years ago no one would have suspected that the Jews in the Soviet Union would have been as disruptive and to have raised such a racket as they are doing now.  The Jews have risen high, they have become academicians, they have become scientists, but now they demand to be allowed to emigrate to Israel, and they are stirring up an anti-Soviet movement.”

In addition to discussing the need to investigate Vietnamese Catholics, including some of South Vietnam’s leading Catholics (two Catholic archbishops and several prominent politically-active priests), the Minister’s speech also reflected growing SRV government suspicions of the loyalty of its Chinese citizens as a result of the increasingly tense situation that had developed between Vietnam and China. After Minister Hoan stressed his desire to compel all ethnic Chinese to clearly and publicly declare whether they considered themselves to be citizens of Vietnam or of China. He said, “[W]e must keep an eye on those who have recently immigrated to Vietnam but who list themselves as Vietnamese citizens.  And those Chinese who came here in 1966 or later, meaning those who came here during the period of the Cultural Revolution, but who list themselves as Vietnamese citizens, we must be even more vigilant about them and keep an even closer eye on them.  We may be able to trust those Chinese whose ancestors came here from the time of the Qing dynasty or before and who list their citizenship as Vietnamese.”

Within a year, this increasing suspicion of the ethnic Chinese resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese from both northern and southern Vietnam that began in 1978, which further exacerbated Sino-Vietnamese tensions.

In his speech, the Minister made repeated references to Vietnam’s favorite bugaboo: alleged “CIA” spies.  Although the speech was given at a time when tentative moves toward rapprochement were underway between President Carter’s administration and the new Communist government of Vietnam, Minister Hoan nevertheless devoted a portion of his speech to the alleged continuing threat from American espionage.

During the speech he spent some time describing the case of Vo Van Ba, the CIA and South Vietnam’s best spy inside the communist ranks during the war,  decrying the fact that because of this spy, President Nixon himself had been able to read the text of strategic-level Communist Party resolutions, and he also described what Public Security had discovered about American efforts to train agents who would be left behind after the Americans left. 

The Minister also expressed his strong suspicion that Truong Dinh Dzu, a South Vietnamese lawyer who ran for the Presidency of South Vietnam in 1967 on a platform advocating peace and the formation of a coalition government with Communist participation, and who was arrested and imprisoned by the South Vietnamese government from 1968 to 1975 for his “pro-communist” views, was a really a “pawn” of the Americans. Minister Hoan told the conference, “…[S]hould we think that since he [Dzu] did not work for the puppets, and since the puppets arrested him and imprisoned him for several years, that is the end of it and we do not need to investigate him anymore?  Is that what we should do?  No! Absolutely not! …He is still a CIA man … he is a pawn of the Americans!” 

Truong Dinh Dzu disappeared from public view shortly after the Communist takeover in 1975 and was rumored to have been arrested.


[1] Like the KGB, the Ministry of Public Security has operated under different names over the years of its existence. In 1975 the Ministry of Public Security was renamed as the Ministry of Interior, and in 1998 the ministry’s name was changed back to the Ministry of Public Security.

About the Author

Merle Pribbenow

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.

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