Adams-Westmoreland Controversy

Sam Adams was an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) working on Vietnam in 1965. Using captured enemy documents and interrogations of enemy personnel, Adams found support for Pentagon estimates of enemy killed, wounded, captured, and deserted—figures that the media believed were inflated. Adams also found support for a far higher estimate of the number of enemy in South Vietnam, for the infiltration rate of regular troops from North Vietnam to the South, and a higher capability for supplying those larger numbers than the U.S. Army intelligence estimates coming out of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) headquarters in Saigon.

Adams gradually became the center of a growing controversy. He was unable to gain upper-level backing within the CIA for his revisions of the size of the enemy; meetings between intelligence officials of the CIA and several military commands could not reach a compromise figure. General William Westmoreland was unwilling to change enemy totals, although he was willing to reallocate figures within various categories. With the Tet Offensive of 1968, Adams felt the battle weakened the enemy less than army officers claimed, since he believed the enemy was originally stronger.

In 1975 Adams made his charges public in Harper's magazine, and in January 1982 in a CBS News documentary. The documentary charged General Westmoreland with a conspiracy to report low figures for the enemy. After Westmoreland sued, the resulting court trial in 1985 seemingly found support for Adams's original contention and vindication for his lonely vigil. Westmoreland and CBS settled their suit out of court.