By W.R. (Bob) Baker
Originally published in Small Wars Journal, 02/01/2023
As the Easter Offensive of 1972 was the precursor to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, there were two occasions where the United States could and should have moved against North Vietnam earlier but didn’t.
The first time occurred prior to the invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which began of March 30, 1972, was when William Stearman, a career Foreign Service member who went over to the National Security Council (NSC), put together a small sub rosa group before the Easter Offensive. This group was composed of NSA, CIA, and DIA members, as well as Dr. Steve Hosmer of RAND and Dr. Stearman. Using Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)—the Hanoi newspapers—they had they first inkling of what was to be the Easter Offensive in the fall of 1971.
They found that North Vietnamese men who were previously exempted (both skilled and physically unfit, Chinese, and Montagnards who didn’t speak Vietnamese) were all being conscripted in North Vietnam, they looked at seasonal weather patterns, and “communications shifts,” all of which brought them to the conclusion that the date of the invasion was to be somewhere around 10 days before it actually occurred, which was March 30th. This analysis was passed to Henry Kissinger’s deputy, General Alexander Haig. “I wrongly passed this on to Al Haig who seems to have ignored it, since our generals were caught by surprise,” Stearman wrote.
The second occurrence happened shortly afterward.
DIA (the Defense Intelligence Agency) noticed a large increase in men, materiel, and new unit traffic headed south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Sound, heat, urine, and vibration sensors were placed along the Trail to detect movement of troops and trucks. Colonel Peter Armstrong, USMC, wrote, “Our estimate was based on hard intelligence, and as the intelligence business is a very competitive one, I also enjoyed the fact the DIA was first on the street with the new estimate.”