Much has been written about Ed Lansdale, lots of it about his being an Air Force officer working with the CIA.   Actually his story is a lot more complex than that and opens the door to a great deal of covert warfare/operations carried out under the auspices of the Pentagon, more specifically the Joint Chiefs staff and even more specifically the Special Operations Division of the Military Assistance Command (the same group which legendary CIA paramilitary officer David Morales would eventually end up supporting after his tours in SE Asia).

Lansdale was a veteran of the OSS early  in WWII but after that went into the Army Air Force and served in the Air Force Western Pacific HQ, becoming Chief of Intelligence and extending his tour to remain in the Philippines through 1948, rotating back to the US to serve as an instructor at the AF Strategic Intelligence School (receiving a temporary promotion to Lt. Col in 1949).  In 1950, being personally requested by the Philippines President, Lansdale was transferred to the Joint US Military Assistance group and earned his own legend in civic and psychological counter insurgency actions against the HUK revolutionaries.

In 1953 Lansdale served on a military mission to Indo-China, acting as an adviser on counter-guerrilla operations.  And in 1954 he was transferred to Saigon, serving as head of the US Saigon Military Mission (SMM).  His professional specialty was psychological operations, civic action and refugee programs (the “soft side” of counter-insurgency).  His personal specialty was establishing strong personal relationships with regime leaders.  In 1957 he moved on to a tour as assistant secretary of defense for special operations under the Office of Secretary of Defense and in 1959 served on the President’s Committee on Military Assistance (receiving a temporary promotion to Brigadier General in April, 1960).

OK, so all that you can get from his Air Force historical bio, but it certainly establishes his functions as lingering inside the military’s special operations element, an element favored and encouraged by then incoming President Kennedy but not one thought very highly of at the highest levels of the military itself. Kennedy became a strong proponent of Lansdale, endorsing his comments from a Vietnam study mission and eventually directing him to head a coordinating group waging one phase of  the secret war against Castro (Mongoose).  Kennedy would ultimately be requested to appoint Lansdale to a major position in Vietnam.

But Lansdale had some powerful opponents within the military, including General Maxwell Taylor. Taylor had been irked to find Lansdale taking a Pentagon slot on  a Vietnam study group, the Budy/Taylor mission.  (Lansdale had earlier bested an old Army buddy of Taylors in a fight over supporting Diem vs. his friend’s opposition back in 1955).

Later, in 1963, JFK had sent another Vietnam study mission, headed by Taylor and McNamara; the mission included Far Eastern Division Chief, William Colby. In his biography of Colby, John Prados relates that during that mission, Ambassador Lodge had written a letter to Secretary Rusk, (for JFK’s attention) requesting that Ed Lansdale replace Saigon CIA station chief John Richardson. The problem with that was, even though JFK seems to have thought well of Lansdale, neither the Pentagon or the CIA shared that view.

Besides Taylor’s personal hostile towards Lansdale and it appears that Lansdale’s “fuzzy” approach to psychological warfare and “soft” counter-insurgency grated on McNamara’s orientation towards numbers.  Certainly it would be far from the hard line military approach eventually taken by the Phoenix program.

CIA headquarters was also very much adverse to Lansdale and Prados reports that Director McCone personally told Dean Rusk the CIA had no confidence in Lansdale and the officers in Saigon would not accept him as Station Chief.

So, not only did Lansdale not get the Saigon CIA billet, he received word in late 1963 that he was on the retirement list; at that time he was separated with the rank of Major General.

During the following years, there were calls to bring him back into service as a government adviser on Vietnam, but the various factions managed to oppose that until Ambassador Lodge himself brought Lansdale back to Saigon in 1965, as a consultant on Vietnamese pacification efforts.  That strongly irritated the Saigon CIA station staff as they worried that with his long standing and good relationships with the Vietnamese,  the Vietnamese might assume Lansdale had indeed returned as the “real”CIA station chief. Apparently the acting CIA officer repeatedly reminded Lansdale (and anybody else who would listen) that he was not with the Agency and in general both the CIA and military “studiously ignored” him during his return to the country (another symptom of the highly fractured US efforts).

Certainly Ed Lansdale worked with and for the CIA; he also worked with and for the Pentagon, especially its Special Operations Division.  Yet in the end the people at the highest levels of both the Agency and the Pentagon torpedoed his career and his role in Vietnam.







About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

4 responses »

  1. troy wiggins says:

    i am under the impression that lansdale had a big part in the assassination/coverup! from your above article it seems jfk and ed were on the same page

    • Hi Troy, thanks for posting and I look forward to a dialog on Nexus. I always enjoy discussing the books and am having to chat via email any time. I’ve learned a lot from people reading the books and several of them have taken leads in the books and gone on to do very important research. Right now at least two readers are tracking leads relating to Red Bird that could turn out to be very important.

      As to Lansdale, I know many people have him as a key player, largely because of the Prouty identification I imagine. The pros and cons of that have been widely discussed elsewhere and several years ago I did really focus on Lansdale for a time due to that. However it seemed to me that the context was really out of whack.

      First off, Lansdale and JFK really were in synch and JFK gave him lots of support and endorsement. As fare as Lansdale being “fired” from the Cuba project, that’s a bit of a misnomer because Mongoose was simply turned off due to the multiple aspects of the missile crisis and its resolution – you really don’t want US paramilitary operations going on while you are trying to get UN inspection teams in to do verification. Lansdale simply went back to his regular staff job while the next phase of the Cuba project was in limbo – I discuss that in Nexus.

      And during that period of 1963 he took some vacation, began some staff travel to do advise on counter-insurgency strategies, his specialty. It appears however that his being championed by JFK (and not McNamara) had further annoyed some very influential people who had always viewed him as a wild card and trouble maker in Vietnam. Which explains his raises “retirement” but leaves the questions of both how and why he would/could have been pulled into an act against the President – who would actually have been the key to his resuming some sort of role in SE Asia, which had been his long time interest.


    Are you aware that Lansdale had his service extended by 6 months, approved by LeMay? LeMay was very friendly with D.H Byrd, Lansdale and Charles Cabell were said to be close. I am agnostic on the Lansdale in Dealy Plaza ID, but I take Prouty to be a reputable (on this issue) source; perhaps their is some explanation, like it was a fake assassination plot to invade cuba that became corrupted? I have watched those 4 hrs or so of Lansdale’s PBS interviews re: Vietnam and I’ll admit he doesn’t seem like the type, then again he was a cia jackel of sorts.

    • It’s been some years now but at one time I spent a lot of time on Lansdale – I revisited his assignments more recently when I wrote Shadow Warfare, especially his SE Asia activities. My impression was that 1963 was a very chaotic year for him, clearly JFK wanted to continue using Lansdale and was pushing hard to have him assigned to a significant position in Vietnam. That would have been very consistent with JFK’s turn to special operations and in particular special ops to pressure North Vietnam. But JFK was about the only one championing Lansdale at that point; both State and CIA rebelled against his being assigned – mainly because he had his own high level contacts there and they felt he could out maneuver them. The Army didn’t want an Air Force officer intruding on their takeover of covert ops from the CIA and they were having lots of their own organizational problems. And Lansdale had no real fans on the Joint Chiefs because of Mongoose and JFK. He was definitely odd man out. His retirement was rather sudden and pretty much a political maneuver; his service was extended so he could do a Latin America counter insurgency tour – not a priority for anyone but he was handy and apparently the commitment had been made. I do recall Prouty saying at one point that LeMay had no idea of what Prouty really did and Prouty had to assure him he did have a job and LeMay should sign some paperwork on him. Not sure it that is true but Lansdale was way down inside SACSA which would not have been one of LeMay’s priorities. I don’t recall anything about Cabell and Lansdale so you have me there, it would make some sense given Cabell’s long history in Air Force Intelligence, much more so than a LeMay connection.

      All the background I found on Lansdale put him much more in line with JFK’s thinking than most of his peers, which was why JFK was so impressed with him during the Vietnam review meetings which ultimately led JFK to pick him for Mongoose. Given the Mongoose failures its interesting to speculate about what would have happened if JFK had forced Lansdale into Vietnam and Dallas had not happened. As to Prouty, I find his writing very valuable when he relates his actual work but when he goes off into the conspiracy I run into issues. I recommend that everyone read his lengthy interview with the ARRB and reach your own conclusions- I put that and all the ARRB internal memos on Prouty onto the disk that Lancer has available, Keys to the Conspiracy. Don’t know if its on the internet or not; I got it the hard way back when it was paper or nothing.

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