In an attempt to cripple or eliminate South Vietnamese communist guerilla resistance (the Vietcong) to both United States forces and the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam, the Phoenix program was allegedly designed to conduct arrest and assassination operations against suspected Vietcong and Vietcong sympathizers. The Phoenix program was developed and operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States Army, and components of several South Vietnamese intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
U.S. CIA personnel (including those assigned to Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation operations) provided the core of Phoenix leadership. Starting in 1967, the program, which was based in Saigon (then the capital of South Vietnam) used a complex network of informants, a mix of military intelligence, and even trials at computer algorithms to determine appropriate targets for "neutralization." In 1968, CIA officer William Colby (who would become Director of Central Intelligence in 1973) assumed command of the program.
Initially named the Phuong Hoang Operation (named after a mythical Vietnamese bird of prey), the renamed Phoenix program resulted in the arrest, detention, brutal interrogation, and execution of thousands of Vietcong fighters and sympathizers at the hands of South Vietnam police and intelligence agencies. In addition to identifying suspected Vietcong and Vietcong sympathizers, Phoenix intelligence operations also accumulated data that exonerated thousands of suspects. Phoenix operations, and the identification of Vietcong infrastructure became increasingly important after the 1968 Tet Offensive and Phoenix generated intelligence was used to determine military targets.
█ FURTHER READING:
Colby, William E., and James McCargar. Lost Victory: A First Hand Account of America's Sixteen-year Involvement in Vietnam. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1989.
Moyar, M. Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: the CIA's Secret Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997.