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Cablegate: "A Perfect Spy" Provides Insights Into the Vietnamese

VZCZCXRO1168
RR RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0965 2620206
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 190206Z SEP 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3126
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2182
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3334

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000965

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI PROP VM
SUBJECT: "A PERFECT SPY" PROVIDES INSIGHTS INTO THE VIETNAMESE
GOVERNMENT

1. (SBU) The story behind the upcoming Vietnamese publication of
U.S. author Larry Berman's biography of North Vietnam's
highest-level intelligence agent, Pham Xuan An, provides an
informative lesson on the contradictions and complexity inherent
in Vietnam's evolving political scene. The original decision to
publish a Vietnamese language version of Berman's book was made
by the GVN-owned, party-controlled NVA Publishing. That
decision was then nearly reversed by GVN's own censorship
office, most likely due to the numerous quotes from Pham Xuan An
lamenting that Vietnam had simply traded one overlord for
another -- the Soviet Union -- and his criticism of post-war
policies.

2. (SBU) Upon learning that publication of "A Perfect Spy" was
threatened by the censorship office, multiple state-owned media
outlets, including the "Workers' Daily" (Lao Dong), "Youth
Times" (Tuoi Tre) and other party-controlled papers increased
their pre-publication publicity of the book in order to make it
very difficult for the censors to cancel publication. Media
reps even called colleagues to urge them to join the program.
Similarly, when Berman met with representatives of the
party-affiliated and GVN-sanctioned writers' union, the
Vietnamese writers were even more outspoken, advising Berman not
to "cave in to those [expletive deleted] censors by changing
even one word." The writers also stated their intention to use
what influence they have to ensure publication.

3. (SBU) In yet a further twist in the plot just prior to
printing, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) demanded that
the first 20 copies off the press be delivered to the MPS for
review. Fearing yet another tactic to delay or derail public
release, pro-publication elements within the GVN joined the fray
and successfully arranged for the first book off the press to be
delivered not to the MPS, as demanded, but directly to President
Triet, whom they believe will enjoy and endorse the book. The
MPS will receive their copies only after President Triet has had
a chance to review his own.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: The publication of "A Perfect Spy" provides an
interesting perspective into the GVN's ongoing identity crisis.
At a fundamental level, who wanted to publish the book (and even
sent royalty checks in advance): The GVN. Who tried to block
publication of the book? The GVN. Who waged a guerilla media
campaign to ensure publication? The GVN. The lesson is clear:
the GVN is not a monolith. In a reflection of a much broader
continuing battle over the future and direction of overall
reform in Vietnam, a large part of the GVN is actively promoting
increased openness, even going so far as supporting the
publication of a book in which one of the country's most
renowned heroes unleashes broadside attacks on post-war GVN
policy and the closed nature of Vietnamese society. Another
part of the GVN is clearly not ready for these bold steps and is
working to roll back the clock despite the fact that Pham Xuan
An's story and views are already widely known. As the saga of
"A Perfect Spy" -- as well as the great success of programs such
as STAR, the Vietnam Competitiveness Index, the Fulbright
Education Training Program and others -- clearly shows, the
pro-reform faction within the GVN has the upper hand. As the
attempt to ban "A Perfect Spy" -- as well as the many recent
setbacks in human rights -- reminds us, however, the
counter-reform faction still yields considerable power. END
COMMENT.

5. (U) This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

FAIRFAX

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