Currency Leaflets

  Information about the production of the 1 Dong, 2 Dong and 5 Dong notes is given by Robert W. Chandler in his highly regarded book "The War of Ideas". According to Chandler: 

The propaganda offensive was restarted in 1972 and was named the "Field goal" operation. One of its campaigns, the use of facsimile Dong leaflets, turned out to be very controversial. The North Vietnamese Government said that the bogus Dong notes flooding the country were causing inflation and accused President Nixon of the "international crime" of counterfeiting. The foreign press echoed this sentiment. An American official explained , "It's not currency as such ... It's simulated currency likely to attract attention to our propaganda. I suppose with a scissors you could cut it out and if someone had dull vision or the light were bad you could pass it".

However, this project may have started much earlier.  A senior executive working at a major printing establishment in the Far East at the time tells this story:

"Either very late in 1968 or early 1969, I was contacted by secure telephone by a Major with the 7th PsyOps Group. He was not a person I had dealt with before. He indicated that they had a “very special” leaflet that they wanted us to print for high-altitude air drop, but that it was of such a confidential nature that only those with a “secret” or better security clearance could be involved in printing it.  In addition, they would be required to sign a statement attesting that this information could not be discussed nor disclosed to any other parties and was covered by National Security.  I indicated that this would rule out all of our usual printers who did not have the necessary clearance.  He asked if the printing could be done by our American printing supervisors (we had six) with the packing, in air-drop cartons, handling and transportation to Clark AFB done by bringing in Army personnel from Okinawa or Vietnam.  I indicated that that was possible.  He said that while some of the printing specialists of the 7th  PsyOps were familiar with our capabilities, he would like our Printing Supervisor (an American) to confirm that we could do this one, since there were “special features” to the leaflet, but this would have to be done in person.  He indicated he was flying from Okinawa to Clark AFB on a US military flight the next day and asked if 1) we could send our printing supervisor to meet him and verify we could do the job, and 2) send him in an Embassy vehicle with an Embassy guard, so that, if our printing supervisor indicated we could do the work, he would return with him to the print unit with the documentation.  He emphasized that this was of the “highest priority and urgency”.

 Later the next day, I got a call from our person saying it was a job we could do and that they were returning and would like to meet with me that evening at our facility so that the arrangements and scheduling could be made.  He also passed on a request that we alert the Embassy’s Marine guard officer that he had documents we would like placed in the Embassy secure vault.  That raised some red flags with me that this was different, and I alerted my boss about what was going on.

When they arrived it turned out the Major was also accompanied by another person, who I took to be military but his rank and unit were not disclosed.  Both were in civilian clothes.  They then proceeded to show me color separations (one for each of 4 colors which were used by us to burn metal printing plates for the offset process) of a leaflet which was an exact two-sided copy of North Vietnamese currency with an additional white area on one end with an un-attributed  propaganda message (something along the lines of “your government’s actions will make this money worthless”).   There was a clear thin line separating the currency copy from the propaganda message.  He indicated that it was intended to have the US Air Force drop the leaflet on North Vietnam at high altitudes from planes near the coast.  In response to my questions, he indicated that the intent was to enable whomever picked up such a leaflet to be able to cut off the propaganda message and use the currency (they had decided not to, for example, indicate that this was a cut line, nor to use a perforation, but to let people draw their own conclusion).  He also volunteered that these plates had not been prepared from a copy of the currency but by a European “engraver” who had originally “worked on the same thing”.  I think, although my memory is a little hazy on this, that one of the issues was whether we could serialize the plates, which was affirmative.   It would also have involved using both a special paper and special inks which the Army would ship in.  He had also told me that they had done a very short print run at their plant in Okinawa of a leaflet which had currency on one side and a message on the other, but had dropped the idea; plus their quality of color reproduction proved inadequate.  We never did get to the projected quantities, but this was intended to be a high-speed web press job (we had the newest and most sophisticated such press in Asia at that time, paid for by the Army), which was only used for very large quantity print runs.  I tried to question the other gentleman to ascertain his role, but got very little out of him.  I thought, at the time, he might be from one of the intelligence agencies, although not the CIA. 

 I have to say that at this time I was absolutely non-plussed.  What was running through my mind was 1) the analogy to the German effort to counterfeit British currency in World War II with a view to funding its spying activities and with the hope of undermining faith in the English Pound, 2)  the fact that our printing such a document might be a violation of our agreements and understandings with the local authorities on what activities we could do in their country (even though  technically our facility was on US soil), 3) he was somewhat ambiguous about JUSPAO’s role in this (they having primary authority for approving all leaflets), 4) given the strong anti-war movements at that time in the US, Europe and Asia, this could be a political bombshell if it were to become known, and 5) I was not even certain it was legal under US law – effectively it was counterfeiting. 

I informed the Major that there might be a problem and I would have to get my boss involved.  I called him at home, and asked him to come down.  I met him at the door while the others were upstairs in our conference room and told him briefly what had happened and about my concerns.  We then went upstairs and he was given the same presentation.  He too, was disturbed and indicated he would have to clear the matter with both Barry Zorthian, the head of JUSPAO in Saigon, and with the US ambassador.  We had the separations and accompanying documents locked up in the Embassy vault, had a Marine guard put on it, found a hotel for our visitors and agreed to meet in the morning.

Early the next morning, before our meeting, we called JUSPAO on a secure line and were met with incredulity.  They claimed not to have knowledge of it.  My boss met with the Ambassador while I had breakfast with the visitors, and the Ambassador was also surprised and got in touch with the State Department.  Before the day was out, we received instructions from both USIA (JUSPAO had been in touch with them) and the State Department to halt all discussions and leave the materials in the Embassy vault.

Our visitors received a call from 7th PsyOps (I was not privy to the content) and were told to return to Okinawa immediately, leaving the materials behind.  I knew from the guards that about a week later someone came and retrieved the materials with State Department authorization, but I do not know whom it was.  I never had any further contact with that particular Major and never heard any more about the matter.  I also knew enough not to talk to anyone about it.  Usually, Top Secret designated materials and communications are de-classified after 25 years, so I would think it might be available somewhere, and that I am quite safe in bringing it out now.

My own suspicion at the time was that someone in the military, it could have been Special Operations, thought they had a good idea, but never had a clue they were handling dynamite.  It would not have been the first time.  And that, once it got up the chain of command, it was immediately shut down as a very bad idea.  This was also at the point of transition between the Johnson and the Nixon administrations and direction from the top became very loose for a while. 

I resigned from government service in 1971 and began working in private industry. It was many years later, long after the event, that I discovered that a currency leaflet had been produced and dropped over North Vietnam. My job involved much travelling and I may have been out of the country when the newspapers reported it in 1973.

Here is my off-the-top-of-the-head theory on what probably happened.  From what I remember of my history of the period, in 1972, Nixon and Kissinger's strategy to extract the US from Vietnam was one of gradualism, the so-called Vietnamization, which was a gradual but steady reduction in both US forces and US participation in the war with the hope the south Vietnamese could stand their ground and the North Vietnamese would sign a truce and not push too hard until we were gone.  Nixon was pinning his re-election on it.  But, the N. Vietnamese jumped the gun and directly invaded once US forces had been reduced to a much lower level.  In effect, during 1972, the air bombardment of N. Vietnam was rapidly escalated and was more severe than earlier and eventually led to a new bombing campaign against Hanoi with B-52s, which had not been used until then, the object being to get the NVA to call a halt to their drive and get them back to the Peace Talks.  It worked, but was not recognized by the press at the time.  I think that sometime in mid-1972 someone in Army Psy-Ops remembered the currency leaflet and resurrected it as all the other stops had been let out in the air campaign. It could be, therefore, that the decision never got above the brigade (7th Psy-Ops level) and would think it unlikely it could have survived if it had reached the Secretary of Defense (Melvin Laird) or certainly the Secretary of State (Henry Kissinger), or their staffs, who were just too experienced and savvy to have made such a faux pas.  Especially given that it was an election year!

It is of course possible that it was a completely new project, unconnected to the earlier one. I seem to remember that the documents I saw were for a much higher denomination (probably 20 or 50, cannot exactly remember) and the quality of the art work was excellent."