AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 8

No sooner had Chi Mai arrived home from the airport than she went directly to the Ministry of Interior to report to her boss, an intelligence colonel, also a close friend and comrade of her father. He gave Chi Mai a close hug. His voice was filled with joy.

– “You look different, and very beautiful!”

Chi Mai held his hands.

– “How have you been, uncle?”

The colonel took her towards his desk and had her sit down across from him.

– “I’m getting old,” the man said.

She said,

– “You still look very vigorous.”

He smiled kindly.

– “I must apologize for not answering you personal letter. But I had the feeling that I would be seeing you just by reading your monthly reports. How is Paris?”

She replied,

– “ I prefer living in Hanoi than in Paris.”

– “You have been away from the capital for almost ten years, haven’t you?”

– “Yes, uncle.”

– “How do you assess the feeling of the French people towards our Party?”

– “The boat people are giving us trouble. The French communist party is getting fewer votes now. Quite a few communist mayors have lost their positions. Uncle Ho’s name has been removed from a street in Paris.”

– “Why?”

– “Because the nationalist forces among the French people have become stronger.”

– “What about those intellectuals who have joined our side? Do they just sit there?”

– “They are a bunch of opportunists who dare not take a stand. I’m in the process of reorganizing our intelligence network to infiltrate the cultural, political, business, and religious organizations of the Vietnamese there. I think we should incite friction between them, especially between their religious organizations and their most influential writers, so that they will hate and oppose one another. Then we shall introduce our own unified committee. We still have ample time to retaliate and destroy them.”

One of the colonel’s bodyguards brought in a tray of tea. The old man asked her to take a cup. She sipped the hot tea and exclaimed,

– “Uncle, it’s so delicious!”

Her boss lighted another cigarette.

– “I’ve noticed that the political activities of our students in Eastern Europe are quite lax. What do you think?”

She said,

– “I think they socialize too much, and too freely.”

The colonel nodded.

– “You are right.”

He looked at her closely.

– “Do you know why I called you back so suddenly, Chi Mai?”

Chi Mai is the alias of a communist party member named Phan Thi Thanh. Born in 1950, at a time when the resistance against the French became more violent, she was the youngest daughter of a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee. Chi Mai grew up during wartime, in the halo of Dien Bien Phu victory. Being intelligent, and doing extremely well at school, Chi Mai also belonged to the ruling class. That was why the Party decided to invest in her, to train her to become one of the future leaders. Chi Mai had a happy childhood in Hanoi. Like any youngster in North Vietnam, Chi Mai began to learn to hate the US imperialists since she was ten. Her hatred grew more intense when US planes began to bomb Hanoi and other cities in North Vietnam. As the bombing became more frequent, Chi Mai had to leave the capital and evacuate to rural areas with her school. She joined the Ho Chi Minh communist youth group and was a very active member. Thanks to her hard efforts, and with the blessing of the Party, she became a member of the communist party. After a period of trial, Chi Mai was appointed to lead the communist section at the Faculty of Human Studies, University of Hanoi. She graduated from that university in 1970.

Chi Mai left the war-devastated Hanoi for Moscow to learn police techniques. She was trained by the KGB in the art of intelligence. Chi Mai can speak and write quite well four languages: Russian, French, English and Chinese. In 1974, she was working in the North Vietnamese Embassy in London as a cultural cadre. Her duties consisted of reviewing English newspapers and magazines and keeping track of the relationship between embassy employees and those of other countries. Before being assigned to Paris, Chi Mai had been working at different embassies of North Vietnam in Western, Northern, and Eastern European countries. She came to Paris in 1979, and was staying at 62 Boileau Avenue, 16th District. She was successful in her task of defaming some very influential writers on the nationalist side in France. She reorganized every communist organization, sent her cadres to infiltrate anti-Communist groups, and had contact with a few international terrorist groups. All the assignments given to Chi Mai were to prepare her for the time when the US would normalize its diplomatic relations with Hanoi. Then Chi Mai would be assigned to work in the embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Washington, DC.

It was during this time that she got an urgent order to return to Hanoi.

Chi Mai looked at her boss, and said politely:

– “No, uncle, I don’t.”

The colonel gently said,

– “The Party needs your intelligence.”

– “What for, uncle?”

– “To serve the Party.”

– “I am ready, sir.”

The old man gave her a stack of files.

– “This is for you to study.”

She asked,

– “Is this an espionage case?”

The colonel replied,

– “No. This is about an American prisoner.”

He continued,

– “You don’t have any idea about our plan to hold on to US prisoners after the war, do you?”

She folded her arms,

– “No, sir.”

The colonel slowly explained to her.

– “Our Politburo understands very well the feeling of the people and government of the USA. We should exploit their sentiments for the POW’s to the utmost. Our leadership has enough experience to be sure that the US government will have to get their POW’s back at all cost. So we have carefully studied the POW’s family backgrounds to classify them into different groups. We have hidden the POW’s who came from powerful families in the USA. We had known from the beginning that there would be a negotiation to end the war, and these POW’s would be for our bargain. They are valuable assets, whether they are alive or dead. The vision of our leadership has proved to be right. The business has been very good for us. One American skeleton for half a Boeing! What better business can you find? As long as we tell them that we have shown good faith and returned all POW’s to America, we are all right. We don’t care whether those who remain are alive or dead. Our aim is to create political unrest in the USA; for the families of the those MIA’s will keep on opposing their government as long as their husbands and sons have not returned. We have been quite successful. Once in a while, we tell them that an American skeleton has just been discovered. Then they will run right to us with their money to buy back the skeleton.”

The old man laughed.

– “Those idiots don’t know that the ‘just discovered’ skeleton actually belongs to a POW who recently died because he had run out of the will to survive.”

His face suddenly became serious again.

– “But now, our Party just had a new idea.”

– “What is that, uncle?”

– “We intend to give them a live POW, without even charging them a cent. Our Party considers this as a gift to the American people. In fact, it will be an act of diplomacy, and an excellent opportunity for our propaganda. We are in the 1980’s. The USA will have to renew diplomatic relationship with us. They just suggested that we cooperate with them in an effort to search for the MIA’s.”

Chi Mai nodded politely.

– “I understand now, uncle.”

The colonel said,

– “ I’ll let you handle the case of James Fisher, the only son of Congressman Allan Fisher, a ‘hawk’ from Texas.”

– “I’m honored to take it, sir.”

– “You’ll be able to practice what you have learned in Siberia.”

– “Thank you, uncle.”

– “The Party wants him to condemn those US warmongers. He should write his own statement, sign it, and read this statement into our recorder. That’s all we require of him. Do you think you can accomplish that, Chi Mai?”

– “I will try, sir.”

– “You must be determined to do it.”

_ “I AM determined to do it, uncle.”

– “I know you are the only person who can do it. The people in America and the whole world will believe James’ statement, especially after hearing his own voice. Nobody will be able to deny it. I will give you full authority to carry out this task. I’ll issue you a special order and write a letter of recommendation to the commanding officer at Ly Ba So prison camp. Remember, Chi Mai, I give you full authority to handle this case. You should study James Fisher’s file carefully before leaving the capital for the camp. Now, you can tell me what method you are going to use to achieve this goal.”

Chi Mai briefly told him a few brainwashing techniques she had used with the Russian reactionaries at different concentration camps in Siberia.

– “What was your rate of success, Chi Mai?”

– “One hundred percent, uncle.”

– “Whatever you need to fulfill this mission will be provided to you on an urgent basis.”

– “I shall submit a list of requests after studying the prisoner’s file.”

– “Very good.”

– “What is the deadline for me to finish this assignment?”

– “As long as you find necessary.”

– “You don’t mean indefinitely, do you?”

– “No. The goal is a signed statement and a recorded message by James Fisher to condemn the warmongers in America. And…”

The old man paused for a moment, and continued slowly,

– “You can take this opportunity to reflect on the difficulties that our country in undergoing. By doing so, you can rid yourself of any unhealthy influence of the so-called European communism.”

Chi Mai was impressed. She bowed her head.

– “Thank you, uncle.”

The colonel said,

– “You can start studying the file right now.”

He pushed a button. A bodyguard opened the door. Chi Mai followed the guard to an office that had been set aside for her. She read the file of the American POW named James Fisher. She started by looking at his first declaration. Chi Mai wasn’t impressed with the previous investigator who worked on James’ case. She thought he hadn’t asked James to write long enough on that declaration. Possibly at that time, it was not necessary to have the prisoner write his declaration in details, over and over again. Chi Mai was very proud of her apprenticeship in Siberia. She was involved in the investigation of some of the most stubborn political prisoners in the Soviet Union. These prisoners had to give in at last. All of them completed the confession statement and had it tape-recorded. According to Chi Mai, Russian prisoners were more resilient than American POW’s. She had read the memoir of a former US POW in Vietnam. Chi Mai found that the ability to endure suffering of this American soldier was below average. American military men were accustomed to living in comfort. They were enslaved by the convenience of life. Just because of not having water for a shower, many of them thought they were living in hell.

To Chi Mai, James Fisher was just one of those American dandies whom she did not give high regard to. She was quite sure he would be subdued without any difficulty. Chi Mai planned to win him over, first by showing her sincerity and concern for him. She thought her boss had overestimated James Fisher. For her, it would take a week at most to finish the assignment. After reading his file a number of times, Chi Mai had memorized everything about him. A few days later, Chi Mai received all the things she had requested. The next morning, she left for Thanh Hoa province, where the notorious Ly Ba So prison camp was located. And she had met with James four times. Just like a female wolf playing with a meek, young sheep.

—> 9

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