Edward Lansdale

Edward Lansdale was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 6, 1908. During the Second World War, Lansdale was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an organization that was given the responsible for espionage and for helping the resistance movement in Europe.

After the war, Lansdale was promoted to the rank of major and transferred to the Philippines. Appointed Chief of the Intelligence Division, his main task was to rebuild the country's security services.

On his return to the United States in 1948, Lansdale became a lecturer at the Strategic Intelligence School in Colorado. However, in 1950, Elpidio Quirino, the president of the Philippines, requested Lansdale's help in his fight against the communist insurrection taking place in his country.

In 1953, Lansdale was sent to Vietnam to advise the French in their struggle with the Vietminh. The following year, Lansdale and a team of twelve intelligence agents were sent to Saigon. The plan was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the south not to vote for the communists in the forthcoming elections.

In the months that followed, they distributed targeted documents that claimed the Vietminh and Chinese communists had entered South Vietnam and were killing innocent civilians. The Ho Chi Minh government was also accused of slaying thousands of political opponents in North Vietnam.

Colonel Lansdale also recruited mercenaries from the Philippines to carry out acts of sabotage in North Vietnam. This was unsuccessful and most of the mercenaries were arrested and put on trial in Hanoi. Finally, Lansdale set about training the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. For it was coming clear that it was only a matter of time before the communists would resort to open warfare.

In October, 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bo Dai, the former Emperor of Vietnam, and Ngo Dinh Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem should provide two ballot papers, red for Diem and green for Bao Dai. Lansdale hoped that the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune would help influence the result.

When the voters arrived at the polling stations, they found Diem's supporters in attendance. One voter complained afterwards: "They told us to put the red ballot into envelopes and to throw the green ones into the wastebasket. A few people, faithful to Bao Dai, disobeyed. As soon as they left, the agents went after them, and roughed them up... They beat one of my relatives to pulp."

After the election, Ngo Dinh Diem informed his American advisers that he had achieved 98.2 per cent of the vote. Lansdale warned him that these figures would not be believed and suggested that he published a figure of around 70 per cent. Diem refused and as the Americans predicted, the election undermined his authority.

Another task of Lansdale and his team was to promote the success of the rule of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Figures were produced that indicated that South Vietnam was undergoing an economic miracle. With the employment of $250 millions of aid per year from the United States and the clever manipulating of statistics, it was reported that economic production had increased dramatically.

Lansdale left Vietnam in 1957 and went to work for the Secretary of Defense in Washington. Posts held included: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations (1957-59), Staff Member of the President's Committee on Military Assistance (1959-61) and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations (1961-63).

In March 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a CIA plan to overthrow Fidel Castro. The plan involved a budget of $13 million to train "a paramilitary force outside Cuba for guerrilla action." Over 400 CIA officers were employed full-time to carry out what became known as Operation Mongoose. Lansdale continued to work for the Central Intelligence Agency and after the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation he was appointed project leader of Operation Mongoose, whereas William Harvey became head of what became known as Task Force W.

Sidney Gottlieb of the CIA Technical Services Division was asked to come up with proposals that would undermine Castro's popularity with the Cuban people. Plans included a scheme to spray a television studio in which he was about to appear with an hallucinogenic drug and contaminating his shoes with thallium which they believed would cause the hair in his beard to fall out.

These schemes were rejected and instead Bissell decided to arrange the assassination of Fidel Castro. In September 1960, Richard Bissell and Allen W. Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), initiated talks with two leading figures of the Mafia, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana. Later, other crime bosses such as Carlos Marcello, Santos Trafficante and Meyer Lansky became involved in this plot against Castro.

Robert Maheu, a veteran of CIA counter-espionage activities, was instructed to offer the Mafia $150,000 to kill Fidel Castro. The advantage of employing the Mafia for this work is that it provided CIA with a credible cover story. The Mafia was known to be angry with Castro for closing down their profitable brothels and casinos in Cuba. If the assassins were killed or captured the media would accept that the Mafia was working on their own.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had to be brought into this plan as part of the deal involved protection against investigations against the Mafia in the United States. Castro was later to complain that there were twenty ClA-sponsered attempts on his life. Eventually, Johnny Roselli and his friends became convinced that the Cuban revolution could not be reversed by simply removing its leader. However, they continued to play along with this CIA plot in order to prevent them being prosecuted for criminal offences committed in the United States.

In 1963, Lansdale was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for counter-insurgency work and became consultant to the Food for Peace programme.

Lansdale returned to Vietnam in 1965 and became Senior Liaison Officer of the U.S. Mission to South Vietnam. Two years later, he became assistant to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker. Lansdale retired in 1968.

Edward Lansdale died in McLean, Virginia, on February 23, 1987.

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