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Another Look at "Intelligence"
By Thomas F. Bayard
From 9/67 to 9/68, I was in the 66th Engineer Company, Topographic. We made maps covering about three quarters of Vietnam. We didn't usually get "intelligence" material for this task, just the usual map-making information from our Surveyors, old French maps, and USAF aerial photography. Once in a while, we got a request for something specific, and that mostly concerned the photo maps we began making in early 1968. These were not the kind of maps you could get in a gas station. They were made up of photographs cleverly joined together to look like single, huge photos of areas in country, with lines printed on them to give locations that went with our "regular" maps.
This is where, sometimes, we were involved in "intelligence" operations. In fact, some of our work, once we were finished with it and the maps were printed and sent to a distribution point, were "classified" above our own levels, so we couldn't see them anymore (this for security). The second day of the Tet Offensive, I was called away from my position on the line defending our tiny unit and asked — asked! — if I would go to our operations area and make prints from a new batch of film taken over Saigon in the last day or two. I couldn't very well refuse, but I was not happy to be all alone in my photo van, working on these new materials, about fifty yards from where the VC attack on our area had begun the morning before, all locked up in the dark.
This new film was from a much lower level than our ordinary USAF stuff. From it, we would eventually make photo maps showing much greater detail than ever before and allowing, for instance, armed helicopters to hit one building rather than another, getting the VC without having to take down a whole block of a city. Again, once we made these maps, we never saw them again, because we didn't have the requisite security clearance. Ironically, all the VC and/or NVA had to do was dress up like ARVN's, get a jeep, get the right chits, and get brand new 66th ENGR CO, TOPO maps from our very own Map Depot. We knew it. We could see this happening right before our eyes when we were on daytime guard after Tet.
The most hilarious bit of "intelligence" silliness I saw was concerned with making the USAF film more secure by blanking out details of film showing airbases like Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhut. I was told to gather up and give to some intelligence person particular rolls of film I had in the photo van. When they came back, I could see that every single aircraft shown on our own film had been marked out with ink. Of course, the odd-shaped planes with very long wings and short fuselages were U-2's, the planes in the revetments — which were not marked out — were all fighters, etc. and so on. I could hardly stop from laughing. The other bit of "intelligence" work we did concerned that ocean-going ship found about fifty clicks from the sea, somewhere in Vietnam. Just to see if anyone ever checked our work, we put this ship on one of our photo maps and finished and printed it. To this day, we have never heard about it, so, somewhere in the Army archives, is this map with a ship steaming along in about five feet of Vietnamese water.
The last example I have of "intelligence" work at my unit again concerns aerial film brought to me to print up. This time, along with the new roll of film, I was given the number for a roll I already had. I duly printed both sets of negatives. It was impossible not to notice that the older set was of a village somewhere in South Vietnam. The new set was of the same village, I was pretty sure, but now it was just a series of round marks all through the area. This was, in fact — and I was never told this straight out — a series of before-and-after photos of a village that was bombed by our B-52's. It had been a mistake: the bombers had been given the wrong coordinates. This was never made public. So much for intelligence.
Thomas Bayard was the photo van operator of the 66th Engineer Company, Topographic, from 9/67 to 9/68, working mostly on contact prints of aerial photography done by the USAF. He had a security clearance, as did everyone in the 66th, but not high enough to see his work once it was published.