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Cablegate: Mps Notches Up Criticism of U.S. "Threat" On National Tv

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL VM
SUBJECT: MPS NOTCHES UP CRITICISM OF U.S. "THREAT" ON NATIONAL TV
NEWS PROGRAM

1. (SBU) SUMMMARY: On August 19, as part of its nightly national newscast, Vietnam National Television (VTV) aired a 20-minute segment outlining how local activists, overseas Vietnamese and "external hostile forces" had conspired to overthrow the government. The segment -- the fourth in a broadcast whose lead story, incongruously, involved a glowing account of Senator Jim Webb's meetings with senior officials -- featured a series of what appear to be carefully edited
police confessions from recently arrested political prisoners, including prominent lawyer Le Cong Dinh. In the final clip, Dinh described his contacts with U.S. officials, including the Ambassador and Consul General, former Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, and IRF Ambassador John Hanford. According to press contacts, the segment was prepared by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and passed to VTV the previous day by Party officials responsible for press affairs.

2. (SBU) COMMENT: Provocative, to be sure, but we do not want to overreact. While the format was unprecedented, the content was not: conspiracy fantasies, "peaceful evolution," color revolutions -- these are common tropes. It is evident that in advance of the 2011 Party Congress, prominent elements in the MPS and the Commission on Propaganda and Education have ratcheted up pressure on dissidents and other perceived "threats" to regime security. These conservative forces have always viewed the United States with suspicion and remain dubious of
our efforts to promote an independent judiciary, which almost by definition represents a challenge to the CPV's complete monopoly on power. The naming of individual USG officials, including staff at our HCMC Consulate, is egregious and
we will protest. But we do not see the episode, however distasteful, as portending a chill in relations. In separate conversations over the past week, four
prominent members of the Politburo -- PM Dung, President Triet, DPM/FM Khiem, and Hanoi Party Secretary Nghi -- have emphasized both the positive nature of the bilateral relationship and the need for accelerated reform through 2011 and beyond. We see continuing progress on a broad range of issues, including our pol/mil relationship. This is not to minimize the incident; the prominence and length of the broadcast, again, are without precedent. Nevertheless, our GVN partners will continue to push for cooperation -- and certain troglodytic elements in the state-Party apparatus will continue to push back. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

The Broadcast
-------------

3. (SBU) At 7:00 pm on August 19, Vietnam National Television (VTV), as part of its nightly national news broadcast, aired a segment purporting to expose a plot by various local activists, working with foreign elements, to subvert the Government of Vietnam. The forth story of the evening, the segment lasted 20 minutes, unusually long for a news broadcast. It featured a series of taped -- and heavily edited -- police confessions by high-profile individuals arrested in May-July, including prominent lawyer Le Cong Dinh. According to press contacts, the tapes and narrative text were produced by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and sent to VTV by the CPV Ideological and Education Commission on one
day's notice and without explanation. (Note: The Commission is headed by the Politburo's newest member, To Huy Rua. End note.) The primetime broadcast, initially on VTV 3, was rebroadcast on VTV at 10:00 pm and is available on VTV's website.

The Confessions
---------------

4. (SBU) After a brief introduction, the program began with the confession of
Viet Youth for Democracy (VYD) and Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV) member Nguyen Tien Trung. Trung said his political activism dated back to 2002, including his initial contacts with the late DPV General Secretary Hoang Minh Chinh and overseas Vietnamese activists Nguyen Sy Binh and Nguyen Xuan Ngai. Trung said that he founded Viet Youth for Democracy and became a member of the DPV in 2006. Trung also said he tried to recruit Vietnamese youths to join Viet Youth for Democracy and to take part in demonstrations, and that he met with "many foreign politicians." Trung said that "after working sessions with the investigative agency," he realized that "whatever foreign politicians do is always motivated by their countries' interests and agenda and that any support the politicians gave to Vietnam's democracy movement is partly motivated by their countries'
interests." Trung said that his "biggest mistake" was that he had "placed too
much trust and reliance" on (unnamed) foreign politicians to bring about democratic change in Vietnam. Trung also said that he introduced blogger Tran Huynh
Duy Thuc and lawyer Le Cong Dinh to the DPV. Trung stated that his activities
had seriously violated the GVN's laws, and that he very much regretted the impact his actions had on his family and friends. Asking for leniency, he pledged
to abandon his links with Viet Youth for Democracy and the DPV and stop all activities against the GVN.

5. (SBU) The next, particularly heavily edited, clip featured the author of the blog "Change We Need," Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. Thuc described in detail his political activities beginning at the end of 2005, when he "set up a group to research Vietnam's future based on an ancient prophecy." Thuc did not elaborate on the prophecy, but said the group had concluded that political change had to come from within the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). He then proceeded to detail an elaborate effort to instigate regime change in Vietnam, the first phase of which involved setting up blogs critical of the GVN's macro-economic policies, as well as government decisions on bauxite excavation. These blog entries, he said, were intended to "decrease readers' trust" and to sew divisions within
the CPV leadership. (Thuc added that he had hoped to become Minister of Economics in the new government.) Thuc confessed to meeting Le Cong Dinh and Nguyen
Sy Binh in Thailand in March 2009, where they planned to set up two new political parties in 2010, the Labor Party of Vietnam and the Socialist Party of Vietnam (SPV), and agreed to set up websites. At the end of the clip Thuc expressed remorse and asked for leniency so he could return to his family and rectify the consequences of his actions.

6. (SBU) The edited confession of retired Colonel and blogger Tran Anh Kim took a similar line. Kim described his contacts and membership in the DPV, as well as the 60 Internet articles he had posted in an attempt to "demonize" the GVN and CPV. He admitted to contacting "political opportunists and foreign-based
radio stations" and to "instigating land protestors to support the future standing of the DPV." Kim also admitted he received money from (unnamed) "people abroad" to buy communication equipment as well as to "bribe" new members into joining his organization. Kim confessed that his activities violated the GVN's laws and asked for mercy.

U.S. Officials Named
--------------------

7. (SBU) The final confession featured the most prominent of the four individuals: HCMC-based lawyer Le Cong Dinh. It began with a somewhat enigmatic statement from the narrator suggesting that this was "another of many" descriptions of Dinh's activities. Dinh said that he had met with Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Nguyen Sy Binh in Thailand, had been a member of the DPV and had "propagandized against the GVN." A large majority of the edited clip focused on his frequent meetings with USG officials and diplomats. Dinh mentioned former Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, IRF Ambassador John Hanford, Ambassador Michalak, Consul General Ken Fairfax, HCMC Economic Officer Douglas Sonnek and HCMC Political Officer Katia Bennett by name. (Note: Not mentioned, oddly, was Dinh's February meeting with EAP DAS Scot Marciel, DCM Virginia Palmer, and PolOff Christian Marchant. End note.) The most detailed individual reference was to Dinh's September 2008 meeting with Ambassador Negroponte. Dinh said that the former Deputy Secretary told him that the USG took great interest in the professional development of lawyers in Vietnam, because without good lawyers it would be impossible
to have a government based on the rule of law. Dinh said that he realized -- based on the USG's interest in fostering cooperation between the U.S. judiciary
and court system and that of Vietnam -- that the USG wanted to encourage an independent judicial system in Vietnam, a system that would be independent from control of the Communist Party. (Comment: Dinh was describing the Deputy Secretary's meeting with the HCMC Bar Association's leadership. Taken in isolation, Dinh's comments were neutral -- we certainly would not disavow promoting an independent judiciary -- but as edited, they cast the meeting as part of a more sinister plot. End comment.)
MICHALAK

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