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.