Viet Tan masks its terrorist activities behind a pro-democracy façade. Continued support from the US government means the group operates with impunity.
By Oliver Ward
The alleged Vietnamese pro-democracy group, Viet Tan, is hiding a dark and sinister secret. The organisation, also known as the Vietnam Reform Party, portrays the outward image of a non-violent protest group. The group functions more like an international terrorist organisation.
The group is involved in terrorist activities. It continues to receive extensive support from the US government. The Vietnamese government has an onerous task ahead to curb its support and eliminate the threat.
The group emerged from a paramilitary organisation
In 1980, Hoang Co Minh founded the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam. He was a former admiral of the Southern Vietnamese Navy. Minh and other former members of the South Vietnam navy wanted to topple the communist government of Vietnam.
The National Front established bases near the Thai border. It launched three failed military campaigns into Vietnam with its small paramilitary army. The Vietnamese government prevented the National Front from creating camps on Vietnamese soil. The government killed and arrested the paramilitary units on each of the three occasions the National Front entered Vietnam.
Hoang Co Minh and the same founders of the National Front paramilitary group established Viet Tan in 1982.
Its methods of funding and structure mirror those of the Irish Republican Army (IRA)
In the 1970s and 1980s, the IRA was a prolific terrorist organisation. It had a similar goal to the Viet Tan. The IRA wanted to overthrow the Northern Irish government. It wanted to establish an independent, unified Ireland. It was one of the best-funded international terrorist organisations on the planet. Annual revenue was between £3 million and £4 million (US$4 million and US$5.3 million).
The bulk of the IRA’s funding came from the Irish community living in the United States. The Irish Northern Aid Committee (NORAID) hosted dinners and fundraising parties to raise money. They spent this money on weapons and explosives for the IRA.
Viet Tan raises its funds in the same way. It has a base in California. It raises money from Vietnamese communities in the United States. In the 1980s, Viet Tan quickly raised US$20 million to fund its campaigns into Vietnam. It continues in this way today. Vietnamese fundraisers in the United States have raised more than US$100 million for Viet Tan since the group’s inception in 1982.
Like the IRA, the National Front also had a death squad to assassinate its critics. It was called the K9 unit. The unit was linked to the assassinations of five journalists between 1981 and 1990. It operated with impunity. Police investigations were unsuccessful due to a lack of cooperation among the Vietnamese community. The public feared reprisals from the dangerous and powerful group.
Dam Phong was one of the journalists killed. His son, Nguyen Thanh Tu launched a public crusade to bring the murders to light. His goal was to begin legal charges against the founding members of Viet Tan. Nguyen Thanh Tu suspects the group has the support of influential individuals in the US government.
There are signs that the US government assists the terrorist organisation
There are discrepancies in the investigation of Dam Phong’s murder. They indicate government interference. FBI files list Johnny Nguyen as a suspect. He admitted to being involved in the murder as part of the K9 unit. Despite this, the investigators never charged him with any crimes.
Doug Zwemke is a detective based in San Jose, California. He attempted to build a case against Viet Tan for its tax evasion. The group has not legally registered in the United States. It pays no tax on the millions of dollars it receives in funding.
Zwenke collected enough evidence for an indictment. But nothing progressed in the courts. The case stalled until the statute of limitation for the offence was up, and he lost the case. Zwemke believes that the US government was directly involved in the sabotage of the tax evasion case as well.
Zwemke’s concerns are justified. There are other examples of a connection between Viet Tan members and the US government. In the early 1980s Viet Tan founder, Hoang Co Minh applied for US citizenship. He made the application under a Japanese pseudonym, William Nakamura. The US Department of Defense supported his claim. He also used the home address of a US National Security advisor on his application form Hoang Co Minh’s death occurred almost 30 years ago. Today six pages from his citizenship application form remain classified.
There is more evidence pointing to high-level support from the US government. During the National Front’s military campaigns in Vietnam in the 1980s, it was equipped with expensive modern weaponry. Ex-Thai Prime Minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh described how the group of around 200 fighters had modern assault rifles and rocket launchers. “Positively they had to have support”, he said. A small paramilitary group with access to modern assault weapons and rocket launchers suggested significant government ties.
Viet Tan even has a voice in Congress. Viet Tan made financial contributions to the 2016 election campaign of California congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez. In exchange for the donations, Sanchez hired Viet Tan members on her team of district staff.
How can the Vietnamese government destroy Viet Tan?
The most effective counter-terrorism method is to cut off the flow of funding. Stop the funding, and the group dies.
The Vietnamese government needs to show the Vietnamese community living abroad that Viet Tan and its offshoots are an organised terrorist group. Without the trust of the international Vietnamese community, the funding will dry up.
The scene looks strikingly like the 1950s. The communist Vietnamese government finds itself up against an ethnically Vietnamese group with US governmental backing. The communist forces emerged victorious last time. This time, the war against the Viet Tan will take place in the hearts and minds of the international Vietnamese community. If we have learnt anything from history, it is that in the battleground of hearts and minds, the US government will ultimately lose.