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IN the shadowy world of the intelligence agent, the phrase “to terminate with prejudice” means to blackball an agent administratively so that he cannot work again as an informer. When the phrase “to terminate with extreme prejudice” is used, it often becomes the cloak-and-dagger code for extermination. In June, just such an execution order reached a U.S. Special Forces outfit in a port city of South Viet Nam. Seven Green Beret officers and one enlisted man helped to carry it out. The upshot was their arrest and detention pending investigation. Last week, as the Army maintained total silence and a host of rumors swirled through offices and bars in Saigon, Washington and Green Beret headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., a bizarre tale of counterespionage began to unfold.

The alleged crime centers around Special Forces Unit B57 (code name: “Black Beard”) located on Nha Trang airbase 190 miles northeast of Saigon. Like two other outfits (B52 and B-55) operating in Viet Nam, B57 is a Special Forces intelligence unit, commanded by Major David Crew of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of the eight under arrest. It was engaged in counterespionage along the borders of Laos and Cambodia, employing a network of 300 secret agents to spot enemy infiltrators, supply dumps and rest camps. One of its top agents was a Vietnamese national with the cover name of Thai Khac Chuyen.

Too Late. Early in June, B57 received intelligence photos snapped in Cambodia by another of its spies showing Agent Chuyen in conversation with a man known to be a high official in the North Vietnamese intelligence system, the CNC (Cue Nghien Cuu—Central Office for Research and Studies). Chuyen was picked up in Tay Ninh near the Cambodian border and brought to Nha Trang for “hard” interrogation. Later he was taken to Saigon, shot full of sodium pentothal and given a lie-detector test.The interrogations convinced the Green Berets that Chuyen was a double agent serving Hanoi as well as the U.S. Because the CIA has overall responsibility for secret agents in Viet Nam, it was notified at once. The CIA sent the fatal reply: “Terminate with extreme prejudice.” A few days later, the CIA countermanded its “extreme” order —but by then it was too late.

Chuyen had already been given a massive dose of morphine, bundled into a boat and shot to death with a .22-cal. pistol. His body, weighted with chains, was dumped into either the deep, mud-bottomed Giang River or the South China Sea. Despite weeks of full-time dredging by three ships, Chuyen’s body has not been recovered.

South Viet Nam literally swarms with spies and agents of all sorts. On the allied side alone, there are said to be at least 15 separate intelligence organizations, often antagonistic to one another. A roundup of suspected enemy spies and agents last month netted 69 prisoners, including Huynh Van Trong, a longtime friend of President Thieu’s and his Special Assistant for Political Affairs. Rumors in Saigon at once linked the Green Beret case to the recent roundup.

Double Deaths. After arresting the Green Berets, the Army, both in Washington and Viet Nam, was being closemouthed. Attorneys for the defense, most notably George Winfred Gregory, 31, from Cheraw, S.C., were speaking loud and clear. Gregory, a boyhood friend of Major Thomas Middleton, one of the accused, flew to Saigon last week to handle the case. Authorities in Washington had not been helpful, groused Gregory. “All they were giving me,” he said, “was passport instructions.” Gregory claims to have it on good authority that last year some 160 double agents were executed, or ordered executed, by Americans. Because of this, the harsh treatment meted out to the eight baffles observers in Saigon and Congressmen in Washington. Gregory wonders aloud how any of the men can be charged with murder when “any killing that might have been done was in the carrying out of a lawful order.”

Intensive Heat. At week’s end the Army was still keeping silent and acting tough. Colonel Robert Rheault, a much-decorated West Pointer who commanded all Special Forces in Viet Nam, was being held in a house trailer. The seven other accused Green Berets were confined in small, metal-roofed rooms at the infamous Long Binh jail, noted for riots and p.o.w.-like conditions. There they were allowed only one exercise period a day and subjected to repeated interrogation. At least one officer has gone through several “strip searches,” in which the prisoner is required to take off all his clothes for minute examination.

Heat of such intensity can come from only one source in Viet Nam—General Creighton Abrams, the U.S. commander. Why was Abrams reacting so strongly? Saigon’s rumor mills have ground out at least three plausible theories: 1) The killing inflamed long-smoldering resentment between the military and the Central Intelligence Agency, with the Green Berets caught in the middle. It is said that Abrams made an issue of the case as a warning to the CIA to stop using the Special Forces to do its dirty work. 2) The victim was an extremely important agent, possibly a special emissary from President Thieu to Hanoi or a North Vietnamese courier who had already been granted immunity. This would explain the CIA’s belated effort to rescind its execution order. It would also explain the trial of the Green Berets as a way for the U.S. to say, in effect: “We are sorry your man got rubbed out.” 3) Perhaps most likely, the whole affair is a colossal military snafu. According to this theory, Abrams might have been annoyed at news of the killing, and told aides in an offhand manner, “We’ve got to clean those guys up.” Overzealous subordinates, misinterpreting his remark, then might have ordered the arrests. Before the imprisoned men could be sprung and the affair hushed up, Lawyer Gregory had heard from Middleton and brought the case into the open.

Whatever the truth, it is now impossible for the Army to drop the affair quietly. There are doubts, however, that a court-martial would unearth the real story—or that a court-martial will in fact be held.

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