I understand that the campaign of candidate John Kerry is now asserting that not only did Navy Lt. Kerry visit Cambodia in his swift boat in 1968-69, but he performed four missions to drop off agents inside Cambodia. Perhaps, but I don't think so.
In my Aug. 13 column in this paper, I described my job in the American embassy 1968-1970 as the "Cambodia man." My job was to follow events in Cambodia as they impacted the United States in Vietnam. This related in most part to border incidents. However, I did chair, on behalf of the American ambassador, a group known as the "Cambodia Committee," composed of Army, Navy intelligence, CIA and Special Forces representatives. The function of this committee was to supervise authorized cross-border operations -- principally insertion of U.S. and Vietnamese Special Forces into the northeastern part of Cambodia and the panhandle of Laos to monitor the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This mountainous and jungled area had no civilian population, with the exception of some hill tribe villages. These teams performed very dangerous tasks, and the reaction of the Communists was invariably violent. Most extractions were done under fire.
Main force American units also performed reconnaissance of Communist border concentrations in their areas of operations with Long Range Patrols, known colloquially as "LRPs." Those that probed Cambodian base areas also received violent reactions. The Communist base areas after 1965 were extensive, well camouflaged and frequently underground. When U.S. and Vietnamese forces entered those areas during the incursions of May and June 1970, they encountered fierce resistance when destroying massive amounts of food and material. Military intelligence kept tabs on the more than one dozen base areas in Cambodia principally by signal intercepts, aircraft using side-looking radar, prisoner interrogation and some agent reports. At one Special Forces camp that I visited in the Mekong Delta swamps on the south side of the "Parrot's Beak" of Cambodia, the Green Berets had a ground radar system for monitoring infiltration that could discern humans from cattle as well as direction of movement.
I assisted in the delivery of five separate intelligence dossiers in 1968 on the Cambodian base areas through the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh to the Cambodian government. We know the dossiers had a significant impact on the Cambodians, and we began a low level of cooperation as a result of the information.
The Navy kept track of Communist shipping to Cambodia, and the U.S. mission in Vietnam was persuaded that most of the munitions to the Communist forces in the southern half of South Vietnam were delivered through the Port of Sihanoukville.
Line crossers were not generally used in the populated portions of Cambodia that stretched along the borders of Vietnam's III and IV Corps to the Gulf of Siam because of the concern for the impact on civilians that could enrage Prince Sihanouk, the fiery head of state of Cambodia. Intelligence operatives had great trouble penetrating base areas. Even Cambodian provincial officials were prevented from traveling in their jurisdictions where there were base areas.
This was, by the way, one key reason for the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in March 1970. His seeming acceptance of Vietnamese Communist usurpation of Cambodian land alienated many of his subjects, including the peasants on the border who were shot at by both sides. The Cambodian farmers detested the land grabbing of the Vietnamese. The relative openness of the terrain also militated against armed groups of Americans scouring the countryside.
I believe, based on the foregoing, that I would have been aware of Navy operations inserting agents into the southern parts of Cambodia.
Andrew Antippas is a combat infantry veteran of the Korean War and served eight of his 32 years in the U.S. Foreign Service working on Cambodia.