Historical Dictionary



On coming to power, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) immediately went to work creating a public security force in order to establish order and guarantee the new state’s security as quickly as possible against real and imagined enemies, above all the French and anti-DRV Vietnamese groups. In the north, the DRV created the Bureau of Security Forces for Northern Vietnam (So Liem Phong Bac Bo), modeled largely on the French Sûreté. Recently liberated from colonial detention in Madagascar, Le Gian directed this bureau with Tran Hieu serving as his deputy director. The Bureau of Security Forces for Northern Vietnam consisted of a Scouting Intelligence Unit (Ban Trinh Sat), a Political Bureau (Phong Chinh Tri), a Bureau of Legal Administration (Phong Hanh Chinh Tu Phap), and a Bureau of Identification (Phong Can Cuoc). In central Vietnam, the DRV started more modestly with a simple Scouting Intelligence Service (So Trinh Sat). In Nam Bo, the National Defense Guard (Quoc Gia Tu Ve Cuoc) came to life under the leadership of Duong Bach Mai, Nguyen Van Tran, and later Cao Dang Chiem. When war broke out below the 16th parallel in mid-September 1945, part of the Guard was pushed out of Saigon-Cholon while the rest went underground.

From the outset, the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) sought to control and to direct these new police services. In charge of this was a discreet man who oversaw the party’s own internal security affairs – Tran Dang Ninh. He had served time in the famous Son La colonial prison before 1945. In 1947 he assumed the leadership of the Control and Inspection Board (Ban Kiem Tra) of the Executive Committee of the Central Committee of the ICP. He served as the deputy director of the party’s General Inspectorate for the Government (Tong Thanh Tra Chinh Phu). He also headed up the Central Committee’s own Surveillance Board (Ban Trinh Sat) to oversee and coordinate the emerging security services. On 21 February 1946, with Tran Dang Ninh’s backing, the government promulgated decree 23 which unified all security and police forces under the Ministry of the Interior. This was the Vietnamese Public Security Department (Viet Nam Cong An Vu). Officially Le Gian headed the new department for the government; but he was secretly answerable to the ICP Central Committee via Tran Dang Ninh. The central governing body of the public security force was referred to as the Nha Cong An Viet Nam. It stood between the Ministry of the Interior and the two lower levels of this new security administration. The first was the Public Security Services in northern, central, and southern Vietnam (So Cong An Bac Bo, Trung Bo and Nam Bo) and the second was the provincial Public Security Services (Ty Cong An). The Public Security Department was in charge of collecting information and documentation both inside and outside the country that was vital for ensuring national security. Internal security was the priority at the outset. Police forces were mainly concerned with keeping the state alive and protecting it against its internal and external enemies. This meant maintaining law and order, and neutralizing anti-communist opponents, such as the Greater Vietnam Nationalist Party (Dai Viet Quoc Dan or Dai Viet), the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, VNQDD), and the Alliance League (Dong Minh Hoi).

The crucial conjuncture in the modernization and professionalization of Vietnamese intelligence occurred in 1950. Between 8 and 15 January 1950, as the Cold War bore down on all of Indochina, the fifth countrywide meeting of public security took place in Tuyen Quang. This important meeting approved the revamping of the service in light of the new international situation and the preparations for the general counter-offensive. Directives were issued to train more cadres, step up espionage and counter-espionage activities (even against American and British targets), and develop better intelligence on the counter-revolutionary government coming into being under the direction of Bao Dai. This meeting concluded that the public security forces were to maintain order and security, protect the Vietnamese state, and contribute to the independence struggle. In 1953, Tran Quoc Hoan took over as head of the newly created Ministry of Public Security. See also ANTOINE SAVANI; INTELLIGENCE SERVICES, ARMY OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM; MARCEL BAZIN; MAURICE BELLEUX; SERVICE DE DOCUMENTATION EXTÉRIEURE ET CONTRE-ESPIONNAGE; SÛRETÉ FÉDÉRALE.