The Green Beret Affair: A Factual Review
By Terry McIntosh
Co D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Det. A-414, Thanh Tri, Mekong Delta, South Vietnam 1968-1969
After serving six months in country Vietnam with Special Forces C and B Teams, I was assigned to A-Team 414 operating in the Ken Tuong Province, Mekong Delta. The base camp sat a stone’s throw from the Cambodian border, and provided front line defense aimed at NVA and Viet Cong units based in the neighboring country. The team also hosted a top secret intelligence gathering operation “over the fence” inside of Cambodia. The Intel net was a part of Project Gamma, and was illegal in regards to agreements between the United States and Vietnam, and political restraints that forbade US incursions into Cambodia at that time. The site was valuable to Project Gamma due to its location. The B57 Intelligence Office assigned three men to operate the spy network. Their cover names were Capt. Martin, radio operator Scotty, and Case Manager Mike. Cover names were used so that they could disappear on a moment’s notice without being traceable. They were spies and not protected by the Geneva Convention.
Martin’s real identity, Robert Marasco, is well known and a matter of record. I am not revealing any new information about him in this forum. Scotty’s and Mike’s true identities are not well known. Mike was like a big brother to me, and I want to respect his and Scotty’s privacy in this forum. Marasco has been featured on television and in print numerous times as the central figure in the affair. Although no records about the project have ever been released, it played a major role in Vietnam and the later incursion of Cambodia.
Marasco networked with about 20 indigenous agents that spied out Parrot’s Beak, a VC stronghold in Cambodia, and also kept tabs on that nation’s Prince to know where he was at all times. My duty assignment included coding, decoding, sending and receiving intelligence reports. Although most of my time was spent at the border Forward Observation Base conducting combat patrols, I did assist Marasco’s team as needed when he and Scotty were off on covert missions into Cambodia.
Enter double agent Thai Khac Chuyen. All of our translators had been killed or wounded, and Chuyen was loaned out to us occasionally as a translator from the Special Forces B Team 41 in Moc Hoa. He has since been identified as Chu Van Thai Khac. He was 31 years old and was born in North Vietnam. I am not certain which of the two names was legitimate. I knew him by the name Thai Khac Chuyen.
Chuyen’s original position was that of S5 translator. His handler’s name was Sgt. Alvin Smith, a.k.a. Peter Sands. Smith was a former CIA operative then serving with Military Intelligence, and worked out of B-57 on field assignment to Moc Hoa B-41. Sands (Smith) was accountable to Marasco in the chain of command regarding Project Gamma.
During Chuyen’s short stay on site, he was assigned to run ambush patrol with yours truly. Circa 19 Feb 69, he and I were on ambush with ten indigenous troops in anticipation of VC targets in the area. I didn’t know who originated the Intel report. I was just following orders. We sat up perimeter watch and I radioed our coordinates back to the Forward Observation Base. Sometime near dawn, I spotted VC movement along the tree line through the night scope. I couldn’t tell how many, but I saw them moving directionally toward Moc Hoa. I alerted Chuyen and the troops. They prepared for action and waited. I elected to use the M-79 Grenade Launcher and fired one round into the air toward the VC. It hit and exploded, and the troops laid down heavy fire in direction of the blast. Chuyen observed the action. The VC did not return fire. I grabbed the night scope and peeked through it again. I could see some of them running away and back toward the trees. I handed the scope off to Chuyen, and he looked through it. I remember that he smiled. I thought that was strange, but dismissed it.
I tried to call back to the F.O.B. for mortar support, but couldn’t raise them. All I could get on the radio was dead air. I decided to go after “Charlie,” locked and loaded, and the troops followed in pursuit of a fleeing enemy. After running hard a short distance, we approached the tree line. I was proud of the troops. They lined up side by side, and we emptied our weapons into the tree line as we approached. We laid down a heavy barrage of firepower. Chuyen was on my left, and the others to my right, but I noticed that Chuyen wasn’t firing his weapon. He was fiddling with it, and later claimed that it jammed. I accepted his explanation without reservation.
Back at the FOB, teammate Specialist Mesa could see that we had made contact because of the explosion and bullet tracers that lit up the sky. When he couldn’t raise me on the radio, he assumed that I was hurt or killed, and called back to base camp for instructions. About that time, the VC opened up on us in the field from within the tree line with heavy fire power. I had no option but to order a retreat and we ran some safe distance away from the action. We sat up another perimeter and waited the night out. Chuyen was very calm through it all. Mesa, in hopes of rescuing us, opened fire on last known co-ordinates and dropped several mortar rounds into the tree line. We watched the explosions from a distance and spent the rest of the night in ambush mode should any VC retreat our way.
Next morning at the FOB, Mesa discovered that the radio had been tampered with, and the frequency had been switched to a wrong channel. I did not suspect Chuyen until later after he was exposed as a double agent. It now appears that he switched the frequency to prevent me calling in fire power, and that his weapon “jammed” just at the right time to avoid firing into the tree line at his buddies. He could have killed me at any moment during the ambush and gotten away with it, but he was using us at the time and not trying to eliminate one American soldier. Mike told me later that his informants said that we had jumped the lead element of a heavy weapons platoon enroute to attack Moc Hoa. There was some satisfaction in knowing that.
As it turned out, there would be much to the story that remains unresolved today. Chuyen was recruited as an agent for Project Gamma, and later identified as a double agent when a team captured film in Cambodia that showed him with NVA officers. He was subsequently killed by teammate Robert Marasco. Initial inquiry to CIA operatives fielded a slow response. One agent said that they could not sanction the execution, but it was the best remedy. It was also passed down from a high ranking CIA official that elimination was the preferable choice. That left Special Forces with impression that they were to exterminate Chuyen with extreme prejudice. A plan was made and Chuyen was whisked away to Nha Trang along with Marasco. Reports indicate that Chuyen was drugged, interrogated, and eventually killed.
A cover story was created to explain Chuyen’s absence saying that he was sent out on a special recon mission and not returned. Meanwhile, Alvin Smith a.k.a. Peter Sands was upset that Chuyen had been killed and feared for his own life, according to reports. Someone said he described the team as crazed killers. He reported the assassination to the CIA, and the case went public. The CIA suddenly discovered a “Don’t Kill” memo. It was clear they were not going to take the blame. Marasco, Col. Rheault, and six other officers were charged with murder and complicity to commit murder. Smith was included and offered immunity.
The Soviet Union ran wild with the story claiming that Green Berets are a group of mental degenerates ready to plunder, destroy, and trample on the rest of the world. Moscow radio alleged that Green Berets, as a rule, kill peasants without showing mercy to women, old people, or children. Since Russia was a real force behind North Vietnam’s communist government, they seized the moment to devalue a feared enemy, the American Special Forces.
In fairness to Sgt. Smith, accused by some of betrayal, his story and
perceptions are recounted in a Raider Publishing book entitled Faithful Devotion,
by Smith’s widow, Lisa M. Smith. An in depth and unbiased investigation of the
affair is found in a book penned by Jeff Stein entitled A MURDER IN WARTIME – The untold spy story that changed the course of the Vietnam war.
Faithful Devotion includes Smiths recollections that touch on my experience. Smith relates that Chuyen collected information relating to mortar attacks on Moc Hoa. Since my ambush patrol was the only one to make contact with the VC enroute to Moc Hoa during that period of time, a Smith recollection at first appears to include the incident.
Faithful Devotion, chapter 5, page 66:
“At Moc Hoa, the camp frequently was hit by mortar or rocket attack by the Viet Cong (VC). These attacks rarely succeeded in causing serious damage. Because a similar barrage always precedes any major ground assault by the VC, the attacks did succeed in scaring me. One morning, following an attack, in which a Vietnamese girl and her baby daughter had been killed, I targeted Chuyen on the VC operating in the Moc Hoa area. By this time, I had recruited him as my Principal Agent (PA) and, although we were not supposed to effect any collection operations within Vietnam, I did not think this housecleaning chore would be out of line.
As planned, Chuyen was to attempt to discover when, and from what area, the Viet
Cong would launch their next attack on Moc Hoa. If the site of their attack were
closer to Than Tri, Martin (Marasco) and some of the Green Berets from A414
would ambush them. If the site planned for their assault were closer to Moc Hoa,
Chico and I with some Nungs, would take them. I explained the plan to Martin
(Marasco) and he enthusiastically agreed. The plan, I thought, would take a
number of “hunts” before it could be brought to fruition. As it turned out,
shortly after receiving his target, Chuyen provided the time and coordinates of
the next attack. The site was closer to Martin (Marasco) and, at the time Chuyen
had specified, in the place he had described, the VC began preparing for their
assault. Martin and his team killed them to a man. The next day, Martin
(Marasco) visited Moc Hoa and ecstatically described the detail of his ambush to
me and Chuyen.”
As far as anyone knows, this account appears to be the same one I detailed, but there are some problems with it. I did not understand Smith saying that Martin (Marasco) described it to Smith and Chuyen next day. Marasco was not personally present during this particular ambush. He was not authorized to conduct unilateral combat operations without express authorization from both A-Team and B-Team commanders. According to Marasco, he never met with Smith and Chuyen regarding the incident, and that Chuyen should never have been allowed to go out with me before he was investigated. The ambush apparently occurred in the normal process of A-Team operations prior to Chuyen’s recruitment as agent, and Chuyen’s role was just that of interpreter. Smith’s recollections make it appear as having been one of his operations relating to Intel collected by Chuyen. It could be the single most important incident that persuaded Smith of Chuyen’s loyalty, and he later indicted Marasco as having been involved by reason of faulty memory or otherwise to dispel accusations that he recruited improperly.
According to more of Smith’s recollections in Faithful Devotion, the incriminating picture of Chuyen with VC officers was already in hand when another report identified Chuyen as a spy. The report originated from my “big brother,” Mike. He was very troubled by the Chuyen situation, and he shared some concerns without revealing more than I was authorized to know. I did learn about Chuyen’s contact in Moc Hoa, a female agent, immediately after Mike had reported it.
Smith writes in chapter 5, page 78,
“The next morning, there was a conference with the detachment counterintelligence section. At the time of this conference, Major Crew, commanding Officer of Detachment B-57 reported news that Chuyen, Thai Khac was a VC agent. This report originated from Sgt. (left blank by yours truly), assistant case officer, who was running operation in Moc Hoa (from the “A” Detachment Intelligence net, which is separate from the B-57 net) while his superior was on leave. It stated that the interpreter for S5, is a VC agent who works with a woman in Moc Hoa.”
A very similar report is recorded in the book A Murder in Wartime, and specifically identifies A-414 as the source of information.
Mike’s report was generated when Marasco was off site on short leave. It was based on eyewitness testimony of trusted agents, as I understand it. I suppose this was the nail in the coffin for Chuyen. When Mike later confided that Chuyen was positively identified, I inquired as to how the situation would be handled. He told me that Chuyen would be alerted for a special mission, and then likely arrested. According to his wife and brother, Chuyen was summoned for questioning by interrogators as to why he had refused to go on a special mission for the Green Berets, although that was not the reality. He was agitated by it, and told his wife, Rhan Kim Lien, to check on him if he didn’t come home. He was last seen on June 13 when he returned for further questioning. This account doesn’t jive with other reports, although the time line is correct. I understand that Chuyen had applied for a more classified position, and submitted to questioning as he thought he could gain more trust from his handlers. Of course, it backfired.
Once Chuyen was terminated, Smith began to suspect that he was a target for same fate. He was the only one who had objected to the killing, and also became suspicious that someone else other than the woman in Moc Hoa worked with Chuyen. His suspicions grew even greater once he imagined that members of the “inner circle” considered the possibility that he might turn on them, and after one of them had made a secretive dry run similar to the scenario that ended with Chuyen dead. According to Smith, Marasco a.k.a. Martin was the only one of the men that he trusted, but Martin had returned to A414, so he had no one to talk to. Smith requested asylum from CIA Headquarters in Nha Trang. He believed it was in his own best interest to report the facts, but never intended for it to go public. He wrote that he expected it to be handled internally, but the situation was further complicated when Col. Rheault lied to Gen. Abrams about the affair. Abrams was known to be a man of strong opinions, and rushed to shut them down.
The officers denied that they plotted to kill Smith, but Smith claims that one of them affirmed that it had been discussed, and later voted on. The conclusion was not to kill him. Investigators concluded that the officers made no such plans at any time. Different stories, different perspectives.
I have reconstructed the time line of events from my perspective with the aid of Stein’s book and Smith’s recollections.
15 October 1968 - Alvin Smith a.k.a. Peter Sands assigned to B-41 base in Moc Hoa. According to Sands recollections, Chuyen arrived to Moc Hoa one week later. Chuyen applied for S5 job as interpreter when position posted, and the two of them became good friends.
January 69 – Capt. Robert Marasco a.k.a Robert Martin assigned to A-414 camp in Thanh Tri as B-57 covert operative, Project Gamma. Radioman “Scotty” and Assistant Case Manager Sgt. “Mike” circa same date.
February 69 – SGT. Terry McIntosh assigned to A-414 Thanh Tri. McIntosh leads an indigenous 12 man ambush patrol and engages enemy in firefight 19 Feb 69. Chuyen accompanied as interpreter. Chuyen did not return fire at enemy and radio contact was severed with support, thereby preventing McIntosh from calling in direct fire power. Sp/4 Mesa observed tracer bullets in Area of Operation from his position at F.O.B. Failure to raise McIntosh on radio led him to believe that McIntosh was either dead or wounded, and Mesa opened fire on last known co-ordinates. McIntosh and team escaped to safe area. Chuyen explained his failure to fire at VC with reasonable excuse, and McIntosh did not make official report. After action review discovers that radio had somehow been switched to a wrong channel. It was Sands (Smith) who lent Chuyen to Thanh Tri for a few days. Reasonable conclusion that this is same ambush Sands referred to in his recollections. It appears that Sands (Smith) attributes enemy troop movement to Intel gathered from Chuyen, and served as evidence of Chuyen’s loyalty to US. However, contradictions indicate that his report is embellished for whatever reason, whether faulty memory or otherwise. Marasco denies having known about it as Smith relates, and the mission appears to have been in the normal course of A-Team operations prior to Chuyen’s official recruitment as agent.
03 March 69 - Sands requested name trace on Chu Yen Thai Khac. A few days later response “No Record.” Sands declared intent to recruit Chuyen to Det. B-57. Official approval extended.
08 March 69 - Chuyen was fingerprinted, photographed, and registered as Agent No SF7-166. NOTE: Smith did not administer polygraph, nor conduct further research. Marasco was troubled by fact that Chuyen spoke fluent English, yet no records of his employment could be located.
March 69, circa mid month - SSG Tom Powell and SGT. McIntosh engaged VC and friendlies on conflicted 3 way ambush operation during border patrol. No interpreter on mission due to fact that Chuyen was now under Marasco’s close supervision, and he would not send Chuyen out with team.
April 69, mid month - Marasco transfers Sands to Nha Trang and puts Chuyen on ice into old job in the civil affairs shop in Moc Hoa. NOTE: Marasco’s suspicions about the pair would mean that Chuyen could not return to Thanh Tri without Marasco’s explicit knowledge and approval. Marasco was Chuyen’s paymaster and refused to keep him on as agent. Stein confirms that Marasco radioed Nha Trang seeking permission to reassign Sands.
May 69 - Col. Robert Rheault assumes command of 5th SFGA.
Unclear at what point Chuyen quit job in Moc Hoa. He returned to Saigon and family, but it appears to be after Sands was transferred to Nha Trang.
10 May 69 – Sands (Smith) identifies Chuyen in photo.
19 May 69 circa - Marasco on emergency leave stateside. Circa same date, Col. Rheault visits A-414. Mike submits report from local Thanh Tri informants separate from B-57 team. He reports that interpreter working in Thanh Tri was asking pointed questions about Special Forces personnel and duties. Rumors also that same interpreter was VC spy who had a female collaborator in Moc Hoa. NOTE: The “working in Thanh Tri’ had to be past tense because Chuyen was by then contained in Moc Hoa. Mike confirmed report to McIntosh.
May 69 (circa last week) – Marasco (Martin) returns after emergency leave stateside. Confirms man in photo as Chuyen. B-57 failed to brief Marasco on Mike’s report about female collaborator.
04 June 69 - Rheault finishes winging around Vietnam on inspection tour of A-teams. His visit to A-414 had been unrelated to Chuyen as originally considered, as Chuyen had not come to his attention before Rheault began his tour and subsequent visit to A414.
09 June 69 - Plans made to bring Chuyen in for interrogation. Sands was ordered to bring Chuyen in under guise of new covert op. Mike’s report was cause for additional concern.
June 12 -17, 1969
Chuyen fails polygraph.
Chuyen identifies Phan as Marasco’s Principal Agent. [Major security breech]
Chuyen affirms that Sands took him along on visits to A-414.
Denies self image in photo.
Denies female contact in Moc Hoa. Smith, however, wrote about the relationship Chuyen had with this particular female in his recollections.
Chuyen confirms work in Thanh Tri as translator.
Chuyen collapses in exhaustion, and curses “stupid” Americans. Says will lose war to NVA.
Smith pleads for one more chance to “turn Chuyen around.”
18 June 69 – Closed door session concocts plan to eliminate Chuyen. Smith objects.
20 June 69 - Chuyen is executed.
21 June 69 - CIA telex says killing is no solution, and high flap potential. B-41 team gave cover story that Chuyen was dispatched on mission inside Cambodia.
29 June 69 – Smith fears he will be eliminated in similar fashion as Chuyen to insure silence.
02 July 69 circa – Smith reports execution and requests asylum from CIA office in Nha Trang.
14 July 69 – Marasco and B-57 team arrested along with Col. Rheault.
Mid July 69 circa - Intel reported 500 NVA were enroute through AO at Thanh Tri. All available personnel, A-Team members and CIDG alerted to ambush. Did not materialize. Nights later, “Spookie” aircraft chewed up VC in AO. Team members watched action from roof at base camp.
20 July 69 – Lt. Col. Ken Facy identifies Col. Rheault as man who gave order to eliminate Chuyen.
20 July 69 circa – Mortar attack on base camp A-414 Thanh Tri. Thought to be in retaliation for Chuyen's disappearance.
21 July 69 – Rheault, Marasco, and others transferred to Long Binh Jail (LBJ).
23 July 69 – SFC Eddie Hamby escorts SGT. McIntosh to Moc Hoa by boat on first leg of stops heading stateside. Hamby advises McIntosh to disavow knowledge of covert operations. He signs papers stating no knowledge of covert operations and is released by Military Intelligence.
26 July 69 circa – A second mortar attack on base camp. According to SFC Hamby, four CIDG soldiers, Papa San, and Diwi Diem were all KIA. Severe damage inflicted on camp and new structures later built.
29 September 69 – The US Army drops all charges against the Special Forces team. The CIA will not testify and a fair trial is impossible. The White House acknowledges that President Nixon was involved in shaping the decision to drop murder charges.
When Military Intelligence questioned me, I signed papers stating that I didn’t know anything about covert, illegal operations out of A414. At that point, I was not aware that Marasco and others had been arrested. I only knew that they had been pulled out of Thanh Tri. I did what they wanted me to do – go home and say nothing.
All charges were eventually dropped in September 69 after President Nixon got involved, and the Green Beret Affair became history, and according to Daniel Ellsberg, the catalyst for release of the Pentagon Papers.* Marasco resigned his commission. Col. Rheault was forced into retirement. Other players were reassigned stateside.
For the record, as tragic as it was for all parties, I salute Marasco and others who were charged. They were soldiers under orders. There were no good options for them. They acted to protect the lives of American soldiers and our allies. Nobody wanted to do it. The job fell to them. The moral issues are still unresolved, but those men made a difficult decision under orders to protect the lives of American soldiers and Vietnamese allies by eliminating one treacherous and dangerous enemy.
War is never pleasant, and the Viet Cong were cruel oppressors. They used terror tactics that put the devil to shame. They would raid villages, rape the women, kill the men, and steal the children. This is the real enemy we faced in Vietnam, and we had to react harshly sometimes. Marasco is not the only military officer to be accused of war crimes, and won’t be the last. There are a million stories to tell that are just like this one, and another million just waiting to happen. As long as there is war, people are going to die, the soldier, the innocent civilian, and the enemy. If civilian agencies are going to send American troops into battle, they have to expect them to kill the enemy, and leave them to get the job done.
In summation, war is bigger than the individual soldier, and I believe in
accountability, but the soldier has to make real time decisions. Sometimes that
means taking lives under less than perfect conditions. In spite of the flak over
the Pentagon Papers, and although South Vietnam fell to the North after the
United States withdrew, a lot of good was accomplished because of the US
presence in country. Lives were saved, and no soldier who ever died fighting to
defend the innocent and helpless ever died in vain. They gave all they had to
protect the people around them. So goes the way of war, and I salute every
American soldier past, present, and future. They are the point of spear in the
struggle for freedom.
• Profiles in Audacity 2006, Ref: Spymaster; my life in the CIA 2005,
Secrets: a memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
by Daniel Ellsberg,
A Question of Torture
2006 Holt Paperbacks,
Those Gallant Men: On Trial
1984, A Murder in Wartime 1993, Faithful Devotion
Written by Terry McIntosh. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Terry McIntosh at: email@example.com.
About the author:
Terry McIntosh resides in Paducah, KY and currently serves as CEO of Terry McIntosh Ministries, Inc., an international ministry to Israel, Palestine, and the United States.
He worked on the set of a Warner Brothers Movie about Vietnam veterans, "In Country" 1989 (www.showbizdata.com/credits.cfm?mid=38889).
He was also seen in "US Marshals" 1998.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.