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English Professor Bass Publishes in The New Yorker

Professor of English Thomas A. Bass

Professor of English Thomas Bass, shown here in the Saigon Post Office, visited Vietnam in March 2005. He was among a group of international journalists who were invited to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as guests of the Vietnamese government (GVN) for a week-long series of press conferences and other events commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War (April 30, 1975). The Saigon Post Office is a Beaux Arts building designed by Gustave Eiffel.

by Greta Petry (May 24, 2005)

Professor of English Thomas A. Bass showcases his reportorial and writing skills in the May 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine in the feature article "The Spy Who Loved Us."

Bass unearths the story of Pham Xuan An, a "brilliant political analyst" from Vietnam who began his reporting career with Reuters in the 1960s, then moved on to the New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor, before spending 11 years with Time. An turned out to be a double agent for the Communists throughout the Vietnam War.

According to Bass's article, An joined the Communist Party in 1953, and was the first spy recruited by North Vietnam's military intelligence network. He fed the Communists secret military dispatches that were taken by courier through the Cu Chi network of tunnels. They eventually made their way to the Politburo in North Vietnam. Twenty-seven of those 45 couriers "were captured and killed," Bass wrote.

An "says he never lied to anyone, that he gave the same political analyses to Time that he gave to Ho Chi Minh. He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth," wrote Bass.

Sent to study in America by the Communist Party in 1957 at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., An had internships at the Sacramento Bee and the United Nations.

His many years of spying resulted in untold damage to South Vietnamese and American forces. After the war ended, An was "named a Hero of the People's Armed Forces, awarded four military-exploit medals, and elevated to the rank of brigadier general," Bass noted. Yet he was not allowed by the North Vietnamese to leave Vietnam.

"The problem with Pham Xuan An, from the perspective of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was that he loved America and Americans, democratic values, and objectivity in journalism. He considered America to be an accidental enemy who would return to being a friend once his people had gained their independence," Bass wrote.

An was known among the American press as the "best news source in Saigon." An's circle of colleagues included Peter Arnett, David Halberstam, and Neil Sheehan.

An was quoted by the writer Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai as saying the professions of journalism and spying are contradictory, yet similar. "The intelligence job involves collecting information, analyzing it, and jealously keeping it secret, like a cat covering its droppings. The journalist, on the other hand, collects information, analyzes it, and then publishes it to the world."

Bass interviewed An, 78, at his home in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, beginning in January of 2004 and completed those interviews in March of this year.