Vietnam Table of Contents
Vietnam did not have a secret police force of the same kind as Nazi Germany's Gestapo. The PPSF (or PSS at the village level), a plainclothes internal security organization charged with handling sensitive security threats, bore the closest resemblance.
Actually, the secret police function in Vietnam appeared to be distributed among the Ministry of Interior, the party, PAVN, and the Paramilitary Force, with the PPSF as the pivotal element. The PPSF was more a party than a state organization, and observers believe that its chain of command ran from the district level through a hierarchy to the Political Bureau Secretariat in Hanoi. In its reporting responsibilities as an organ of the party, the PPSF largely bypassed or coordinated only laterally with the minister of interior, its nominal superior in the government hierarchy. This organizational arrangement was instituted in the early 1950s by two top party security figures, Le Giang and Tran Hieu, at the time the director and deputy director respectively of what was then the First Directorate for Security of the Ministry of Public Security. Some observers believe that the PPSF was in reality an institution of professional police and trained security agents disguised as ordinary party administrative cadres.
During the First Indochina War, the PPSF supervised the issue of travel permits and identification cards, checked on the movements of marine fishermen, identified strangers in the villages, and maintained family census and travel records. At one point it also monitored and reported on public health, apparently in the belief that North Vietnam was to be subjected to chemical warfare attacks.
The PPSF assumed new importance in the late 1970s with the rise of the China threat and the increased prospect of a serious sabotage and espionage effort by outsiders. In order to cope with these developments, authorities in 1980 enlarged the hamletvillage -level structure. A nationwide system was instituted, with a PSS chief and two cadres detailed to every hamlet and a chief and five cadres assigned to each village. In many instances, they replaced PASF personnel. At the same time, higher recruitment standards were established (for education and age), a six-month training program was introduced, and an effort was made to create a more professional service with more sophisticated operations. In 1983 plans for putting the PPSF into uniform were announced, but in 1987 they had yet to be acted upon.
In the South, the PPSF (or PSS) was more or less under direct party control. Members wore yellow armbands with a red inscription, Order and Security Control, to differentiate them from PAVN security units, whose members wore red armbands with a yellow inscription, Military Control, and from the PASF forces, whose red and blue arm bands bore the yellow legend Order.
The rise of the China threat highlighted certain weaknesses in the security system related to the proper division of labor between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of National Defense. In 1981 a concerted effort was launched to increase and improve coordination between the two ministries: they signed two interministerial directives, one establishing the mechanism for systematic, joint security work and the other spelling out the respective duties of each in "the three tasks of maintaining political security, strengthening social discipline, and insuring public safety."
Under the new arrangement, there was unified recruiting for the two services. A recruit could choose the service he would enter and, in many instances, the province to which he would be assigned. PAVN made available to the Ministry of Interior some of its military hardware, including such highly desirable items as equipment used by special weapons and tactics teams. The Ministry of Interior relieved the Defense Ministry of its responsibility for guarding foreign missions in Hanoi and for supplying guards to the country's prisons. Personnel also were transferred, most from the Ministry of Interior to PAVN, and a new PAVN unit called the Police Protection Regiment was formed. Transfers from this ministry to strengthen PAVN units along the China border were probably due to the growing China threat, the nature and size of which was perceived as simply beyond Ministry of Interior capabilities. Some PASF units were converted into PAVN Border Defense Command regiments, although their duties, like those of the Police Protection regiments, were not known in 1987.
Some observers noted that the net effect of the security reorganization initiated in 1981 was the Ministry of Interior's improved ability to check on the actions and loyalties of highranking PAVN generals. Others observed that PAVN authority now extended deeper into the civilian sector. The new arrangement also highlighted the underlying competition between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of National Defense with respect to security responsibilities and authority.
One other dimension of security activity was the use of youth and youth organizations for internal security purposes. Hanoi appeared to have calculated that young people tended to have greater loyalty to the existing order than their elders, and that they represented a vast manpower pool ideally suited to mass surveillance work. The mass media commonly referred to Vietnam's three security forces as PAVN, public security, and "fourth generation" youth (that is, the fourth generation since the founding of the VCP). The security role of youth was stressed more in southern Vietnam, where, through an umbrella youth group called the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the energies of the young were harnessed in the name of social improvement. Much of this activity was economic and related to various nationbuilding programs; some, however, concerned political security, social order, and safety, areas of activity commonly given the collective label of "revolutionary action against negativism."
RAM had a large corps of organizations from which to draw. In the mid-1980s, the total party youth force was about 4.5 million; this included the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League (2 million) and the organizations for those younger in age--the Vanguard Teenager Organization, the Ho Chi Minh Young Pioneers, and the Ho Chi Minh Children's Organization (2.5 million). A front organization called the Vietnam Youth Federation included about 10 million party and nonparty youth.
The most important RAM subgroup was the Ho Chi Minh Assault Youth Force (usually termed the AYF), the core of an amorphous organization called the Young Volunteers Force or volunteer service. The AYF was open to males seventeen to twenty-five years of age and females seventeen to twenty, who volunteered for two years' service (the males thus could escape the military draft). The AYF was organized along quasi-military lines and was assigned chiefly economic duties, mostly in the rural areas of the South.
Within the AYF were smaller organizations, such as the Assault Security Team and the Assault Control Team, which had security assignments. Some teams focused on ordinary crime; others were engaged in covert surveillance, particularly of other youth. The most elite of these were the Youth Union Red Flag teams, which were made up entirely of Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League members. (AYF teams, by contrast, were a mix of party and nonparty youth.) Red Flag teams were entrusted with the most sensitive assignments given to the young. The high point of AYF security activity apparently came in the few years immediately following the 1979 China incursion. After that, vigilance in security matters tapered off somewhat.
Data as of December 1987
Vietnam Table of Contents