Vietnam War Espionage and Dead Letter Drops – in Saigon’s Cathedral.
Above Photo: Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral, a hotbed of espionage during the Vietnam War.
One place I really wanted to visit on my recent trip to Saigon was Notre Dame Cathedral; but not for any religious or even architectural reason.
This visit was motivated purely by an interest in seeing a place that had been used during the Vietnam War in a complicated game of espionage, masterminded by US Military Intelligence officer, Jack Jolis, who ran a network of North Vietnamese spies in Saigon, during his time in US Military Intelligence in 1968-1989.
He had used the cathedral to meet various spy contacts and they also used it as a dead letter drop, for passing messages.
Not much now remains of the war in Saigon, except if you look carefully enough; and even on the front of Saigon cathedral, much repaired since the end of the war, you can still see bullet holes in the stonework.
I was fascinated on this latest visit to Saigon as I looked at the buildings of the city and walked along historic streets (such as the old Tu Do Street, AKA Rue Catinat in the time of the French, but now called Dong Khoi Street, which I’ll deal with in future posts) thinking back to what had happened inside the buildings and along these same streets during the Vietnam War.
And this is why I was so keen to see inside Notre Dame cathedral one morning.
I asked Jack how notes had been hidden in the cathedral for collection and delivery by his spies.
He replied, “By the old tried-and-true method of affixing them to the underside of a previously agreed-upon section of a particular wooden pew. Hopefully it would be an obscure and rarely-used pew. And the method of fixing was usually thumb tacks, although Scotch tape and chewing gum were occasionally used.”
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Interviews with Jack Jolis recording his time in Military Intelligence in Saigon can be found on this site:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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