Billy Waugh Says He Wrote Recommendation to Drop Them on Mu Gia Pass Along Ho Chi Minh Trail on the North Vietnam-Laos Border
He and other Special Forces operatives planned to parachute a nuclear device into area behind enemy lines and then detonate it
Told General Vo Nguyen Giap’s son in 2017: “I wish we’d done that.”
[Waugh’s admission becomes more chilling in light of the current world situation and fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces into “special combat duty mode,” citing “aggressive statements from NATO related to the Russian military operation in Ukraine.”—Editors]
Billy Waugh is a Special Forces and CIA legend with eight Purple Hearts, one Silver Star and two Bronze Stars who has practiced the clandestine arts in more than 64 countries.
In 2017, he traveled to the former home of Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, founder of the Vietminh and the People’s Army, to discuss with his son, Vo Dien Bien, and General Giap’s former aide-de-camp, Colonel Bon Giong, a failed Special Forces mission to kill General Giap in June 1967, for which Waugh led forward observation control.
Waugh stunned his hosts when he said that his unit was considering parachuting a Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) nuclear device into Vietnam.
Vo Dien Bien responded that the Vietnamese had been under the impression that “the Americans would never use nuclear weapons against Vietnam.”
“Not true,” said Waugh, “I was on the team. We were going to drop it on the Mu Gia [mountain] Pass [along the Ho Chi Minh trail on the North Vietnam-Laos border]. I wrote up the recommendation.”
After a long pause, Dien Bien turned to journalist Annie Jacobsen, who had accompanied Waugh on the trip, and said: ‘Did he really just say [the] Americans were [considering] dropping a nuclear bomb on Vietnam?’”
The answer was yes.
According to Jacobsen, newly declassified documents show that, in 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered a scientific advisory group, the JASON scientists, to “evaluate the military consequences of a U.S. decision to use tactical nuclear weapons [TNW] in Southeast Asia.”
JASON scientist Seymour Deitchman said that the JASONs were asked whether it made sense to use nuclear weapons to close off the supply routes [from North to South Vietnam] along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an idea that had been discussed at the Pentagon. To augment the evaluation, the CIA performed a landscape analysis of the Mu Gia Pass and determined that it was “the most vulnerable section” of the trail.
However, the JASON scientists concluded that having a Special Forces team parachute in a tactical nuclear weapon for use in Vietnam was a “very bad idea,” not because of the human cost for the Vietnamese people and huge loss of life it would entail, but because a long-range problem might develop in that insurgent groups in Vietnam and elsewhere would subsequently try to acquire TNW for themselves and use nuclear weapons in a game of existential extortion.
Waugh told his hosts in Hanoi, however, “I wish we’d done that [used nuclear weapons]. it would have ended the war.”
Vo Dien Bien responded to Waugh in disgust: “This is my homeland you’re talking about.”
Waugh in turn retorted: “Fifty-eight thousand of my people died. Half a million of your people died. A lot of them would still be here.”
Then Colonel Giong stepped in: “Yes, but we might not have won the war.”
Finding His True Home
The exchange between Waugh and his Vietnamese hosts—told in Annie Jacobsen’s book, Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2019)—was illuminating of the mindset that has led to so many atrocities in the long “American Century.”
Born in Brastrop, Texas, in December 1929, Waugh saved money from after-school jobs when he was twelve to hitchhike to Austin and purchase a pair of paratrooper’s boots and then tried to run away from home to enlist in the army when he was under age.
After earning his wings with the 82nd Airborne Division, he served as a Platoon Sergeant in the Korean War with the 1987th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, and then was assigned to a classified army program that trained soldiers for unconventional warfare where, he said, he “found his true home.”
In the fall of 1960, Waugh carried out a secret training mission as part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “limited nuclear war doctrine” from a submarine off the waters by Okinawa, Japan, that was designed to emplace a tactical nuclear weapon into a target area, arm the device and exfiltrate without detection.
The tactical weapon that he and his team carried was a W54 SADM built at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, which weighed 98 pounds and could destroy an area roughly one mile in diameter.
Waugh and his men had been trained to operate under extraordinary pressure, entrusted to handle a device capable of death and destruction on an unimaginable scale, whose power was contained inside a small aluminum vessel the size of a kitchen garbage can.
Waugh later recalled that, as team leader, he carried two of the four plutonium rings, which were attached to his body with cloth ties and secured with metal clips.
Subsequently, he performed other secret exercises where he would parachute a tactical nuclear weapon out of an aircraft.
Surprise, Kill, Vanish
In the late 1950s, Waugh participated in Operation White Star in Laos, under the command of Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, in which CIA officers and Green Berets disguised as land surveyors wearing civilian clothing trained Royal Lao soldiers fighting the pro-communist Pathet Lao in unconventional warfare.
The Pathet Lao had been driven underground after they had won 1959 elections that were reversed following a CIA backed coup. Their leader, Prince Souphanouvong, escaped from prison in a violent rainstorm after convincing his guards of the justness of the Pathet Lao cause.
The White Star teams lay the groundwork for the development of the CIA’s clandestine Hmong army, which took advantage of a split between the Hmong’s Lo and Ly clans, the latter of which had allied with the French (the Lo allied with the Pathet Lao who had fought the French).
In Vietnam, Waugh trained what he called “North Vietnamese Army [NVA] turncoats” and Montagnards [Indigenous people of the Central Highlands] in irregular warfare tactics to fight the southern-based insurgents, the National Liberation Front [NLF] and to run clandestine operations behind enemy lines in North Vietnam.
Waugh acknowledged that most of the Montagnards were poor farmers transformed into “mercenaries, paid to fight someone else’s war.” Their mission was to “sneak up on enemy soldiers while they were sleeping, kill as many of them as possible, and get away without loss. Surprise, Kill, Vanish.”
One day out on patrol, Waugh ordered one of his Montagnard men to slit the throat of an NVA soldier they came upon who was sleeping. He then cut the throat of two NVA cooks, a man and a woman, he encountered while they were collecting firewood.
Subsequently, his men ambushed an adjacent NVA camp, killing at least 150, though Waugh was shot several times in an NVA counterattack before being miraculously saved.
On a return tour, Waugh joined a classified unconventional warfare unit called SOG (Studies and Observation Group) commanded by Colonel Donald Blackburn, a former leader of Operation White Star, who led more clandestine missions into Laos in violation of the 1962 Geneva Conventions mandating the neutrality of Laos.
The men of SOG wore Asian-made uniforms with no labels or insignia and were issued stiletto knives. After some harrowing weeks out in the jungle, Waugh returned to the SOG base filthy with the leg of one of his comrades who had been eaten by a tiger.
Subsequently, he led the ill-fated operation on June 1, 1967, to kill General Giap in a Laotian Valley dubbed Oscar-8 20 miles southwest of Khe Sanh. The plan involved B-52 bombers dropping high-explosive bombs to clear the area for Special Forces troops that were flown in from CH-46 helicopters, which were shot down by the NVA.
In 1970, Waugh was pictured with a local mercenary in Cambodia where his actions helped advance a coup d’état resulting in the ouster of neutralist Prince Norodom Sihanouk and his replacement with a pro-U.S. military government led by Lon Nol. Sihanouk joined forced with the communist Khmer Rouge, which Waugh’s unit hunted down—backed by a massive bombing campaign that caused methodical devastation.
Back in Action
After the Vietnam War ended, Waugh suffered through several years working at the Post Office in Austin before getting a phone call in 1977 from an SOG covert operator who asked him if he was ready to get back into action. Waugh of course said yes.
After a large sum of cash was deposited into his bank account, Waugh was sent to Libya to work under ex-CIA agent Edwin Wilson to train soldiers who were part of Muammar Qaddafi’s elite Special Forces.
Secretly, Waugh was working as a spy. He was instructed to take photographs of military facilities in Libya—particularly a classified facility near Benghazi which had Soviet surface-to-air missiles.
Waugh returned to Libya 30 years later, in 2011, on an undisclosed mission that helped set the groundwork for Operation Odyssey Dawn, a joint U.S.-NATO bombing operation that resulted in Qaddafi’s overthrow and lynching by a violent mob.
In the 1980s, Waugh had administered field operations for the CIA in Angola in support of the right-wing National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which was trying to overthrow the Cuban-backed government headed by the left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Waugh also became a Deputy Chief of Police at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands, assigned the task of preventing Soviet theft of U.S. missile nose cones.
In the 1990s, after obtaining a Master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, with an emphasis on criminal justice, from Southwest Texas State University, Waugh was sent by the CIA to spy on Osama bin Laden in Sudan, drafting an early plan to kill him—which President Clinton rejected. Waugh said that he had come within 30 meters of bin Laden and “could have killed him with a rock.”
In Sudan, Waugh was also involved in the hunt for left wing terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) and taught the 19 sons of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), how to parachute jump.
“Get Me in on This War…”
On September 11, 2001, Waugh was heading to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a meeting with Asian drug lord Khun Sa as part of a still-classified CIA mission. He got in touch with his old CIA boss, Cofer Black, and told him “Crusader, get me in on this war [War on Terror].”
Black responded by asking Waugh his age, and when Waugh responded that he was 72, Black said he was too old, but Waugh insisted and eventually Black gave in, telling him to go to Kabul.
Waiting for a flight on the tarmac in the UAE, Waugh recognized an old clandestine operator who had flown covert missions for SOG in Laos and Vietnam 40 years earlier. Small world, he said.
Waugh was carrying an M4 Carbine, an AK-47 assault rifle, a Heckler & Koch 40 mm grenade launcher, and a suitcase containing $6 million in cash.
The money was used to buy allegiance, security, and information in Logar Province—a Taliban stronghold and al-Qaeda safe haven. Growing his beard long to try to fit in with the locals, Waugh was part of Team Romero, a combined CIA/Special Forces takedown unit that hunted Osama bin Laden at 9,000 feet of elevation.
Waugh was later sent to Iraq where photographs showed him working out of Uday Hussein’s former palace in Baghdad.
From there he was sent to a secret mission in the Balkans and on to Saudi Arabia, where his mission was to locate and then photograph Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah chief of staff from Iran suspected of involvement in numerous terrorist attacks who was later incinerated by a drone in a neighborhood of Damascus in a joint U.S.-Israeli operation.
Dark Shadow of the American Empire
When British novelist D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) wrote that “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer,” he was describing Waugh perfectly.
Waugh’s meeting with Giap’s son shows that he has never grown up or matured, like the nation he has served.
For Waugh, the ends always justify the means: Obliterating Vo Dien Bien’s homeland was worth it to win the Vietnam War, and killing Imad Mughniyeh was justified without considering the underlying grievances fueling the growth of groups like Hezbollah.
Today, Waugh is more than 92 years old. There are no more missions for him to undertake or terrorists for him to kill. His days on Planet Earth are numbered just like that of the evil empire for which he sold his soul.
Annie Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2019), 442-46. ↑
Billy Waugh, with Tim Keown, Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier’s Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against Terrorism (New York: Avon, 2005). ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 58. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 102, 103. According to material declassified by the Department of Defense, “few humans, buildings [or] structures in the kill radius” would survive. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 102, 103. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 113, 114. ↑
Waugh, Hunting the Jackal, 30. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 152. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 153. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 150-60; Waugh, Hunting the Jackal, 12. ↑
Blackburn had experience training tribesmen on kill missions in the Philippines during World War II. The tribesmen he led adopted headhunting practices. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 171, 172. ↑
Waugh, Hunting the Jackal, 47-55. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 238. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 289. ↑
Waugh, Hunting the Jackals, 116. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 286, 290. ↑
- Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 290; Waugh, Hunting the Jackal, 119. Waugh said that he was involved in many other classified missions during this period.
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 341, 347. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 356. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 357. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 361. ↑
Waugh, Hunting the Jackal, ix. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 387. ↑
Jacobsen, Surprise, Kill, Vanish, 388, 395, 396. ↑
Quoted in Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), 105. ↑
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