Title: Slow Burn
Author: Orrin DeForest
DeForest, Orrin (1990) and David Chanoff. Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam. New York: Simon and Schuster
Date Updated: November 29, 2016
Slow Burn is an engrossing, hard-hitting memoirs from an American spymaster disillusioned by his nearly ten years in the thick of the action in Vietnam. When DeForest returned to Indochina in 1968 as a CIA contract officer, his conviction was that he had joined “the first team of the intelligence world.” The author also thought the skills he’d developed in the course of a lengthy career as an investigator for US federal agencies could help make a difference in the long-running war.
Once in country, however, DeForest was quickly disabused of both notions. Taking over as chief interrogation officer in Military Region Three, DeForest soon found provincial procedures were more honored in the breach than the observance. The debriefing of prisoners tended to be either cursory or casually brutal, and the CIA had failed to enlist any Vietcong agents. During the next few years, though, the author oversaw the compilation of detailed dossiers on all defectors and detainees who passed through interrogation centers. By employing carrots as well as sticks, he and his associates were able to recruit a far-flung network of spies, which supplied the CIA with a wealth of information on enemy intentions and movements.
Eventually, of course, DeForest’s efforts proved unavailing. The Paris Accords, for which he has harsh words, undermined the South Vietnamese and their American allies at a time when the North was vulnerable, even, quite possibly, near a breaking point. The endgame took another three years—during which the author (one of the last Americans to be evacuated) soldiered on. Nonetheless, he’s still not reconciled to the incompetence and bureaucratic procrastination that forced him to leave hundreds of loyal operatives to brutish fates. The book is an unsparing, ground-level perspectives on a divisive conflict.