The Tet Offensive


Armed Forces Journal International. Editors. "Fact vs. Fantasy -- the Tet Intelligence Imbroglio." 113 (Dec. 1975): 23-24. [Petersen]

Blood, Jake. The Tet Effect: Intelligence and the Public Perception of War. New York: Routledge, 2005.

From publisher: "This book examines intelligence's role in shaping America's perception of the war and looks closely at the intelligence leadership and decision process in Vietnam.... [T]he conclusion is made that four severe breaches of intelligence etiquette occurred during the period leading up to Tet."

Brewin, Bob. "Web Docs Show NSA Forecast Bloody Tet Offensive." Federal Computer Week, 2 Oct. 1998. []

According to Ford, CIA and the Vietnam Policy Makers (1998), "[i]ntercepts of enemy radio communications collected and collated" by NSA "provided U.S. commanders in Vietnam with more than two weeks' notice of the bloody 1968 Tet Offensive.... [Ford] told Federal Computer Week that he received permission from NSA to refer to its still-classified history of NSA operations in Vietnam."

Ford, Harold P. CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968. Washington, DC: History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1998.

Clark comment: The former officer in CIA's Office of National Estimates and, later, Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) provides "a candid view of the CIA's intelligence assessments concerning Vietnam during three episodes between 1962 and 1968 and the reactions of senior US policymakers to those assessments." (Foreword, i) The episodes presented are:

"Episode 1, 1962-1963: Distortions of Intelligence";

"Episode 2, 1963-1965: CIA Judgments on President's Johnson's Decision to 'Go Big' in Vietnam"; and

"Episode 3, 1967-1968: CIA, the Order-of-Battle Controversy, and the Tet Offensive."

Anderson, Intelligencer 9.3, calls Ford's book "one of the best studies on the Vietnam War." Goulden, Intelligencer 10.2, is similarly very positive about this book, noting that the author describes the policy debates in Washington "[w]ith consummate skill." For Shryock, IJI&C 13.4, this is an "exceptional piece of work." Three quibbles that the reviewer has with the work are that "Ford's footnotes are sometimes a mite meaty,... the index is maddeningly incomplete,... [and] there is no bibliography."

According to Bob Brewin, "Web Docs Show NSA Forecast Bloody Tet Offensive," Federal Computer Week, 2 Oct. 1998, Ford's book shows that "[i]ntercepts of enemy radio communications collected and collated" by NSA "provided U.S. commanders in Vietnam with more than two weeks' notice of the bloody 1968 Tet Offensive.... [Ford] told Federal Computer Week that he received permission from NSA to refer to its still-classified history of NSA operations in Vietnam."

Ford, Ronnie E.

1. "Intelligence and the Significance of Khe Sanh." Intelligence and National Security 10, no. 1 (Jan. 1995): 144-169.

"Khe Sanh's significance lies not in its role as a military victory or defeat, but as a stepping stone for a larger Communist plan to defeat the Americans. This plan incorporated a combined political-military- diplomatic strategy that targeted waning American political will."

The author sees Khe Sanh as a test. The United States ultimately failed that test, despite a significant military victory. That failure led to the North Vietnamese decision to launch the Tet offensive -- because the United States showed it would not launch a ground attack into the North. At the same time, Khe Sanh led to the military failure of the Tet offensive -- because it prevented the North Vietnamese from reinforcing its troops in the South.

"Ironically, various US intelligence agencies collected the information proving all aspects and objectives of the North's plan. But the Americans lacked the ability to fuse their information and garner an understanding of the strategic intent Hanoi planned with its activities." Thus, the surprise of the Tet offensive -- not its achievements -- shook American resolve and gave the North Vietnamese the "decisive victory" (negotiations) that it was seeking. An abbreviated version of this article is carried in American Intelligence Journal 16, no. 2/3 (Autumn-Winter 1995): 63-68.

2. Tet 1968: Understanding the Surprise. London: Frank Cass, 1995.

Carland, I&NS 11.3, finds "much of interest" in Ford's book, including his demonstration that significant differences existed among decision-makers in Hanoi and between those decision-makers and "principal players" in the South. Ford concludes that these differences "considerably compromised" the impact of their plan. Ford also concludes that the U.S. military was not surprised by the Tet offensive per se but, rather, by its "actual scale and level of coordination." The cause of the surprise was "a lack of hierarchy which left no one person or agency clearly in charge." Despite some problems with editing and sourcing, this is "an important book" for those interesting in understanding what and why things happened in the 1968 Tet Offensive.

3. "Tet Revisited: The Strategy of the Communist Vietnamese." Intelligence and National Security 9, no. 2 (Apr. 1994): 242-286.

Gordon, Don E. "Private Minnock's Private War." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 4, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 199-218.

"[R]ecognition for duty during the 1968 Tet Offensive.... [F]eat involved cryptologic intelligence.... 'Battle for Tuy Hoa City.'" Comment: Great story! But have a little trouble with NVA General Wun Hung Lo!?!

Robbins, James S. This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive. New York: Encounter, 2010.

According to Laurie, Studies 55.2 (Jun. 2011), the author "shows that Tet may have shocked the public, but it came as no surprise to US intelligence officials, soldiers, or politicians.... All had anticipated a last-ditch offensive in South Vietnam months in advance, prepared for it militarily, and rapidly defeated it once it occurred, inflicting a clear military defeat on the communists, who failed to achieve any of their goals." Yet, "[t]he idea that Tet constituted an American catastrophe settled in the public's mind and never went away."

Willbanks, James H. The Tet Offensive: A Concise History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Hawkins, Military Review (Jul.-Aug. 2007), calls this work a "short, well-written, and helpful reference." The author "ably encapsulates the campaign's most salient features for those unfamiliar with Tet 1968.... Given his position as a military historian on the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College faculty," it is not surprising that Willbanks "betrays a vein of institutional bias that runs throughout the work."

Wirtz, James J. "Deception and the Tet Offensive." Journal of Strategic Studies 13 (Jun. 1990): 82-98. [Seymour]

Wirtz, James J. The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991. DS5598M44W57

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