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Vietnamese Catholic intelligence officer in the service of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Pham Ngoc Thao was the ninth child in a wealthy Catholic family of 12. Born in Saigon, he had French nationality from birth (his grandfather had been naturalized in 1888). Pham Ngoc Thao completed his secondary studies in the Catholic Lycée Taberd in Saigon and then entered the public works service in colonial Indochina. In 1945, when the French moved to retake Vietnam by force, he renounced his French citizenship, took to the maquis to join the Viet Minh, and became a Vietnamese citizen in the DRV. In 1946, he was selected for advanced military training at the Tran Quoc Tuan Military Academy (Truong Vo Bi Tran Quoc Tuan) in Son Tay province in northern Vietnam. Graduated from the 1st Class, he traveled to lower central Vietnam to serve as a liaison agent in the army, moving ranking cadres between North and South Vietnam. When he successfully escorted Le Duan, the head of the party Regional Committee for Nam Bo, to the south, the latter decided to move Pham Ngoc Thao into intelligence and espionage operations. Pham Ngoc Thao also had close ties to Nguyen Binh, serving as the head of the military’s secret affairs unit or Phong Mat Vu Ban Quan Su Nam Bo based in Saigon-Cholon from 1946. He stayed on as chief of the military intelligence office until this special unit was transformed into the Intelligence Service for the Southern High Command (Ban Quan bao Bo Tu Lenh Nam Bo). In 1948, Hoang Minh Dao replaced him at the head of southern military intelligence. Pham Ngoc Thao became battalion leader of the 410th in Zone IX (Khu IX). Between 1952 and 1953, he served as the commander of the 307th battalion in war Zone IX (Chien Khu IX). Pham Ngoc Thao was the son-in-law of the powerful southern leader, Pham Thieu, and brother of Pham Ngoc Thuan, who worked in the Resistance and Administration for Nam Bo. Despite holding important and sensitive posts, Pham Ngoc Thao never became a communist party member.

Following the Geneva Accords of 1954 ending the war and dividing Vietnam provisionally into two states, he remained in the south on instructions from Le Duan. As Vo Van Kiet recalled it: “Anh Ba Duan had great confidence in Pham Ngoc Thao and assigned him a very special task”. Thanks to a powerful Catholic connection in the person of Ngo Dinh Thuc, Pham Ngoc Thao gained the trust of the latter’s brother, Ngo Dinh Diem. One of the communist party’s master spy handlers, Tran Quoc Huong, took over as his case officer and oversaw Thao’s infiltration of the Republic of Vietnam for the DRV. It remains unclear to this author how Pham Ngoc Thao could win over the trust of the Ngo family. Ranking intelligence and counter espionage officers in the Republic of Vietnam were well aware of his intelligence work for the DRV during the Indochina War. They also knew that his brother Pham Ngoc Thuan was the DRV’s ambassador to East Germany. In any event, things eventually spun out of control. Pham Ngoc Thao became “too impulsive” and “imprudent”, leading to his “tragic end”, is how DRV General Tran Van Tra later explained it to Georges Boudarel. That tragic end came in 1965 when Pham Ngoc Thao was arrested and apparently tortured to death.