OSI at 75: End of Tour Report from the Vietnam War

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

OSI Detachment 5010 was activated on December 1, 1965, at Binh Thuy Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Detachment headquarters was located in a hotel building in Can Tho City, approximately six miles from the airbase. Can Tho City was one of the largest cities in the Mekong Delta region. With a population in the late 1960s of roughly 100,000 people, the city was adjacent to the Bassac River (today’s Hau River) which served as a major transport and commerce route between South Vietnam and Cambodia.

Binh Thuy AB was used by the Air Force primarily between 1962 and 1972, becoming a major operating location for AC-47 ‘Spooky’ gunships. The air base was also home to a small number of rescue helicopters and other observation and attack aircraft. In addition to the air base, there was an Army airfield and a smaller Navy facility located near Can Tho City. There were  typically between two to six special agents and one administrative person assigned to the detachment at any given time. The following was excerpted directly from an end of tour report written by the detachment commander who served with Detachment 5010 between April 1969 and April 1970.

“The OSI mission in the Republic of Vietnam was different at most detachments from the mission at other OSI units throughout the world. OSI, specifically at Detachment 5010, was involved in positive intelligence within a 30 kilometer area of Binh Thuy Air Base and Can Tho City. Outside of the 30 kilometer area, positive intelligence, particularly against Viet Cong infrastructure, was conducted by Air Force intelligence personnel.”

“Although the detachment conducted criminal investigations, primarily narcotics and black market cases, 90 percent of the detachment effort was involved with the area source program.  OSI interpreters daily contacted sources who reported information about Viet Cong units within 30 kilometers of Can Tho City and Binh Thuy Air Base. Because of travel problems, sub-sources rarely reported on units more than 10 kilometers away. Of most concern were units within 7 kilometers since this was the maximum distance for effective 75-millimeter recoilless rifle fire.  The 75-millimeter recoilless rifle, along with the 60-millimeter mortar (effective range 4 kilometers), were the most frequently used weapons against the air base and Army units in and around the city. During my tour, stand-off attacks using the above weapons rather than assaults by Viet Cong units or personnel were the primary mode of attack against the U.S. military and Vietnamese forces. Occasionally, the Viet Cong would throw grenades at U.S. forces at bus stops or place grenades in gas tanks of U.S. vehicles. Sniper attacks with small arms were rare.”

“Three separate area source program networks were in operation when I arrived at the detachment. Two of the source nets were controlled by detachment personnel. The third net was controlled by the Vietnamese Air Force Security Division, the OSI counterpart agency. The operations were successful in identifying Viet Cong locations and reducing the number of stand-off attacks by the Viet Cong.”

“Sources were trained to record sightings using map coordinates. Lists of these coordinates, along with numbers of personnel and unit designations were provided through interpreters to detachment agents who published these for dissemination to USAF personnel, U.S. Army helicopter gunship pilots, and Vietnamese Army artillery units. These units would consolidate these locations with information from other intelligence units and direct artillery and air strikes into the areas of these locations. The source nets also used a citizens band radio to relay Viet Cong sightings to the detachment agents during the evenings. OSI fabricated a way to conceal a two-way radio. Any sightings of Viet Cong by sub-sources which were reported at night were relayed to detachment agents via the radio using a simple code. These sightings were immediately delivered to an artillery unit which would direct fire into the area of the sightings.”

“The information received from the area source program was verified by an Army flying unit from Can Tho Air Field.  Members of this unit would routinely photograph OSI sightings using a handheld camera. More frequently than not, the photographs would depict sampans, bunkers, and evidence of people. The primary value of the operations was the detachment’s ability to disseminate the intelligence to the users, those military units who had the ability to mount operations against the Viet Cong.” 

“The greatest operational accomplishment of Detachment 5010 was the success of the area source program in helping to curtail Viet Cong stand-off attacks against Can Tho City, the Army air field, and the air base. During 1966 to 1968, the above targets were the most heavily shelled of any in the Republic of Vietnam at that time. By the end of 1969 and beginning of 1970, those targets were the least shelled of any in the Republic of Vietnam.” 

“Another accomplishment was helping the Vietnamese Air Force Security Division establish their own area source program operation. Their operation at Binh Thuy produced a significant quantity of useful information.”

“Another accomplishment was the successful protective service operation for the Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Fall of 1969. Detachment 5010 had geographical responsibility for the U Minh Forest. The Deputy Secretary of Defense went to the area of the forest for a briefing. His tour of Vietnam ended without incident.”

“Agents at Detachment 5010 also uncovered a black marketing ring whose modus operandi was to use fake military travel orders to purchase money orders to send out of the country. Fake orders used to purchase approximately $200,000 worth of negotiable instruments were discovered at the Binh Thuy Bank and Post Office. The investigation was expanded to other OSI detachments.”

Editor’s Note: OSI at 75 is an installment of OSI’s year-long commemoration of its 75th Anniversary Year based on the theme: “Inspired By Our Past – OSI’s Future Starts Today.”