Edward Lansdale

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Edward Lansdale was a United States Air Force major general who was principally assigned to intelligence agencies; the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War, military intelligence immediately after the war, and then to the Central Intelligence Agency.

He is best known as the key advisor to Ramon Magsaysay, initially secretary of defense and then president of the Philippines, where the Hukbalahap insurgency was successfully ended. His there made him the model for the thinly veiled "Colonel Hillandale" character in the book, The Ugly American. [1]The title of that book has become much misused, as the title character was a sympathetic character. John Paul Vann, a controversial military adviser and eventually U.S. regional commander in the Vietnam War, knew both the fictional and real stories, and considered Lansdale a role model for his initial assignment to Vietnam;[2]

In addition, however, Lansdale was very significantly involved in U.S. policy in the Vietnam War between 1954 and 1961.

Second World War

Entering the OSS as a civilian, he became as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in various military intelligence assignments throughout the war. In 1945, as a major, he became chief of the Intelligence Division of Headquarters Air Forces Western Pacific (AFWESPAC).[3]


He extended his tour to remain in the Philippines at AFWESPAC, and later PHILRYCOM, until 1948. During this period, he helped the Philippine Army rebuild its intelligence services, was responsible for the disposition of unresolved cases of large numbers of prisoners of war involving many nationalities, conducted numerous studies to assist the U.S. and Philippines Governments in learning the effects of World War II on the Philippines, and later served as public information officer for PHILRYCOM.

He was commissioned a Captain in the regular U.S. Air Force in 1947, with the temporary rank of major. After leaving the Philippines in 1948, he served as an instructor at the Strategic Intelligence School, Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, where he received a temporary promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1949.

Ramon Magsaysay had been named Philippine Secretary of Defense, by President Elpidio Quirino, and at the urging of MG Leland Hobbs, Chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Philippines (JUSMAG)[4] Magsaysay accepted only with assurances he would be given a "free hand", and rapidly began to overhaul the Filipino military, making himself visible in the field and rooting out corruption.

Lansdale, in 1950, was transferred, at Quirino's request, to JUSMAG, as intelligence advisor. He met Magsaysay and the two became close friends, visiting the combat areas together and planning counterinsurgency. He was given a temporary promotion to Colonel in 1951. [3]

Magsaysay had taken an exceptionally open approach, wearing ordinary clothes and often driving his car. For security, Lansdale convinced him to move into Lansdale's residence within the guarded JUSMAG compound; there were several assassination attempts against Magsaysay. [5] In July 1951, JUSMAG enlarged and became the executive agent for American military assistance to the Philippines under the general guidance of the ambassador, not the United States Pacific Command or Douglas MacArthur. Policy changes in 1953 allowed American advisors, besides Lansdale and his assistant, to go onto combat missions with the Filipinos; Lansdale remained a key planner of the counterinsurgency.

Magsaysay became President, using the military both for fighting the Huk guerrillas and for rural development.


Lansdale accompanied LTG John W. O'Daniel on one of O'Daniel's 1953 missions to Indochina. He reported to military, not CIA, command in this role. On his return, he met with John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State, who "Oh, I'm happy you're here, Ed . You know we're sending you over there to Indochina," which I hadn't known at all . And I said, "To do what? I don't want to help those French, you know." He said, "No, no, no, just do what you did in the Philippines." So I was then assigned to Indochina. [6] The interviewer observed that since Lansdale had taught the Filipinos how to be independent, would the French not be upset by the Vietnamese learning the same lessons? Lansdale agreed "Ah, exactly!", and quoted Dulles as giving him the only orders he had for the mission: "Okay, you help them as you can . I think we need you there ." I still don't know what he had in mind exactly .

His interviewer asked if that meant Lansdale was working for State (Dulles), Defense (O'Donnell), or CIA, and Lansdale said, "I don't know who. The United States."[7] When he arrived in Indochina, he said he'd report to O'Daniel for military affairs and the Embassy on everything else, with a tile of assistant air attache. The air attache disliked him, partially because he thought Lansdale worked for CIA. "Everybody out in Asia, in those parts. Not only CIA, I was secretly the head of CIA. I think they still think that out in Asia, all throughout. Now, who paid me? The air force did. That's all I got. CIA, I really don't want to comment on that because I gave my oath on that some years back and I'm still true to it."[8]. Since the Pentagon Papers clearly indicate Lansdale's role in the 1954 Saigon Military Mission,[9] it is unclear if Lansdale was being evasive, or if this took place before the CIA operation had started. Lansdale may even have worked for multiple chains of command: military and diplomatic for his relations with Diem, and CIA for planning clandestine and covert operations to go into effect after the inevitable French exit. He did say that he concealed activities with the Vietnamese from the French. [10]

In 1954, Lansdale was in the original CIA team to Vietnam, the Saigon Military Mission. Lucien Conein joined him to plan stay-behind missions in North Vietnam. While Lansdale did not unreservedly approve of President Ngo Dinh Diem, he did advise Diem.It has been argued that Lansdale wanted to apply the model that had worked in the Philippines, of a charismatic leader. Douglas Pike observed that Diem was not that type at all, but "very cold and aloof", but that a charismatic leader would not have worked; Pike cited Nguyen Cao Ky as highly charismatic, but whose charisma merely made him suspect. [11]


While influential at first, and seen originally as the key counterinsurgency expert in the country, he gradually lost his role and was essentially out of the decision loop soon into the Kennedy Administration Kennedy himself liked Landsdale and suggested him as Ambassador to South Vietnam. To that, the State Department was so opposed that Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Kennedy that he would resign if Lansdale were appointed. [12]

Kennedy then suggested Lansdale command Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam, which would have required jumping him from his brigadier general to lieutenant general rank. The Joint Chiefs of Staff objected intensely, considering him an intelligence operator, not a regular military officer[13]

In February 1961, Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, presumably with the support of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, named him as head of a new Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for Department of Defense covert action and work with the CIA. Going into 1962, Lansdale headed that office, but the Joint Chiefs responded by creating the Special Assistant (to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) for Counterinsurgency and Special Affairs (SACSA). SACSA was the Washington control for MACV-SOG, the military covert action organization in Vietnam. [14]

Frederick Nolting Jr.‎, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, described an April 1961 conversation with Lansdale. "Sure, there are a lot of criticisms that can be leveled against this government in South Vietnam, but compared to the others in Southeast Asia, it's a beaut," or words to that effect . I think he was probably pessimistic on the grounds of the staying power of the United States, on grounds of the persistence, absolute implacability of the communist movement in Southeast Asia, not only in Vietnam but throughout Southeast Asia. [6]

Lansdale, in the fall of 1962, had visited Maxwell Taylor, then Ambassador to South Vietnam, and offended Taylor by directly visiting President Diem. Taylor, who returned to the Pentagon and became Chairman of the JCS, removed Lansdale from Vietnam operations and reassigned him to Cuban operations.

In 1965-1967, serving as a special assistant to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Lansdale said he had met with Corsican gang leaders, whom had regarded him as a threat due to 1955 fighting between French intelligence and the CIA. Since they had made attempts on his life, he explained that his current brief did not include criminal investigation, and they agreed to a truce. Conein, however, fraternized with the Corsican underworld in Saigon, putting overall politicomilitary considerations beyond any counterdrug matters. McCoy suggests that this truce may, in part, have been a 1965-1967 attempt to avoid embarrassing Premier Nguyen Cao Ky. [15]

Latin America

While Lansdale was selected by Robert Kennedy as a key player in Operation MONGOOSE, the CIA plan to kill Fidel Castro. SACSA Brute Krulak said that the Director of Central Intelligence, John McCone, lost confidence in Lansdale, and Lansdale was ordered into retirement in May 1963, taking effect in October.

Return to Vietnam

Working for the State Department, he returned to Saigon in 1966, as a special assistant to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and then Ellsworth Bunker. Karnow describes it as a "vague" advisory job, where he had a "romantic" view of cooperation with the South Vietnamese that did not reflect the realities of American policy. [16]

According to Barry Zorthian, head of public information and psychological operations, Lansdale's small team had become irrelevant to the large buildups in 1964-1965.

By the time Ed got

out there with his team, some of whom were first-rate people, the situation had passed Ed by . The role he was designed to play really in my mind at least--I guess Ed would dispute this--was almost superfluous. We had made the decision to be there in force, and in force of all kinds, overwhelming force . And the thought of this little team of ten or twelve people, no matter how good they were--and in some cases at least there were questions about their competence for their role . But the thought of their being able to do the insurgency job, advise the Vietnamese in the way Ed had advised them back in the fifties was just outmoded, outdated . Every organization, AID, we, MACV, had structure after structure, platoons of advisers to the

Vietnamese . [17]


  1. Lederer, William J. & Eugene Burdick (1999), The Ugly American, W.W. Norton
  2. Sheehan, Neil (1988), A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New Random House, p. 423
  3. 3.0 3.1 Edward Geary Lansdale, Major General, United States Air Force, Arlington National Cemetery Website
  4. Greenberg, Lawrence M. (1987), Chapter V: Ramon Magsaysay, Edward Lansdale, and the JUSMAG, The Hukbalahap Insurrection: A Case Study of a Successful Anti-Insurgency Operation in the Philippines, 1946-1955, Analysis Branch, U.S. Army Center of Military History
  5. Greenberg, pp. 92-95
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gittinger, Ted (June 5, 1981), Oral History interview of Edward Lansdale, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, pp. I-7 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "LBJ-Oral" defined multiple times with different content
  7. LBJ Library, p. I-8
  8. LBJ Library, p. I-11
  9. Document 95, Lansdale Team's Report on Covert Saigon Mission in 1954 and 1955,, at 573-83
  10. LBJ Library, p. I-19
  11. Douglas Pike (June 4, 1981), Oral History interview by Ted Gittinger, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, pp. I-20 to I-21
  12. Shultz, Richard H., Jr. (2000), the Secret War against Hanoi: the untold story of spies, saboteurs, and covert warriors in North Vietnam, Harper Collins Perennial, pp. 280-281
  13. Schultz, pp. 281-282
  14. Schultz, pp. 284-286
  15. McCoy, Alfred W.; Cathleen B. Read & Leonard P., II Adams (1972), The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, Harper Colophon,, pp. 211-213
  16. Karnow, Stanley (1983), Vietnam, a History, Viking Press, p. 443
  17. Ted Gittinger, ed. (26 May 1982), Oral History interview III, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, p. 15