Operation Chaos – The Vietnam Deserters who fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and themselves
By Matthew Sweet, Picador 2018, UK
As I experienced the events covered by the book, at least in relation to the Deserters and Sweden, I opened it with some amount of eager anticipation. It was a little like watching the first movie version of The Hobbit after having read the book 3 times. I could glimpse the book in the film, but had an uneasy feeling that the director hadn’t read the book.
In the interest of fairness, Sweet wrote a highly entertaining and easily read book, oftentimes providing information and perspectives that I found of value.
Sweet promised a book about Deserters, CIA and Brainwashers. This should have been really interesting, however…
The CIA, as Sweet points out, was fond of shredding any and all documentation of issues that might cast a shadow on their activities, especially when such activities might be seen as clearly illegal. Sweet could therefore find nothing of value or interest in public CIA files relating to the CIA’s Operation Chaos, which was directed against the Deserters in Sweden. He did however find some limited mention made of the CIA operation in FBI files. Thanks to J Edgar Hoover, the FBI has an entirely different attitude towards the documentation and the saving of said documentation than that of the CIA. Unfortunately, the documentation Sweet found in FBI files only justified a few of the pages in his book. The CIA, he found, sent agents to Stockholm and most likely placed agents inside of the deserter/exile community, although their identities have not yet been revealed. Speculation as to their identity has been rife since 1968, both within the exile community and among the general public.
As Sweet mentioned, about 1,000 Americans came to Sweden 1968-1972 in protest against the Vietnam war. Only about 30% of these were actual deserters, i.e., active duty members of some branch of military service. The vast majority were resisters and had not left military service to come to Sweden. Sweet has several main characters that he follows throughout the book, the majority of them being resisters, not deserters. The main character, a kind of spider at the center of the net, Mike Vale, was neither a deserter nor a resister. What he was remains an open question even today.
The brainwashing turns out to have been Mike Vale browbeating a number of members of the exile community to make them his allies. Two such cases, a deserter named Bill Jones and a resister named Warren Hamerman become Vale’s hatchet men in the exile community.
A third close associate of Vale’s, Cliff Gaddy, is something of a mystery man and Sweet insinuates that Gaddy may have been the CIA mole in the exile community. Mike Vale, the spider in our exile community web, occupied a large apartment in central Stockholm where the exile community often collected during 1968. I spent a lot of time there myself during 1968 and yet I managed to miss out on all the brainwashing that Sweet said was taking place. I never even heard anyone mention it.
Oh well, that takes care of the Deserters, the CIA and the Brainwashers. What’s left in the book? Although some mention is made of a number of exile community participants, a great deal of the book’s contents deal with how a select (Vale, Jones, Gaddy, and Hamerman) became involved with a remarkable American political sect, the NCLC (National Caucus of Labor Committees) run by their a cult figure named LaRouche.
If you are interested in paranoid/nutty conspiracy theories then LaRouche is the man to study. Sweet uses far too many of the pages in his book dealing with the absurdities of the various LaRouche front organizations and following these members of the exile community as they wandered in and out of the LaRouchian Maze in Sweden, Germany, France and the USA.
Sweet is a talented writer.
I am looking forward to seeing him write a book about the Vietnam War Deserters in Sweden. Let’s hope he does that. When he does I hope he will take up some of the many success stories to be found in the exile community, as he had no place for them in this book.