Skip to main content

Phoenix Program

Phoenix Program

In an attempt to cripple or eliminate South Vietnamese communist guerilla resistance (the Vietcong) to both United States forces and the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam, the Phoenix program was allegedly designed to conduct arrest and assassination operations against suspected Vietcong and Vietcong sympathizers. The Phoenix program was developed and operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States Army, and components of several South Vietnamese intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

U.S. CIA personnel (including those assigned to Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation operations) provided the core of Phoenix leadership. Starting in 1967, the program, which was based in Saigon (then the capital of South Vietnam) used a complex network of informants, a mix of military intelligence, and even trials at computer algorithms to determine appropriate targets for "neutralization." In 1968, CIA officer William Colby (who would become Director of Central Intelligence in 1973) assumed command of the program.

Initially named the Phuong Hoang Operation (named after a mythical Vietnamese bird of prey), the renamed Phoenix program resulted in the arrest, detention, brutal interrogation, and execution of thousands of Vietcong fighters and sympathizers at the hands of South Vietnam police and intelligence agencies. In addition to identifying suspected Vietcong and Vietcong sympathizers, Phoenix intelligence operations also accumulated data that exonerated thousands of suspects. Phoenix operations, and the identification of Vietcong infrastructure became increasingly important after the 1968 Tet Offensive and Phoenix generated intelligence was used to determine military targets.



Colby, William E., and James McCargar. Lost Victory: A First Hand Account of America's Sixteen-year Involvement in Vietnam. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1989.

Moyar, M. Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: the CIA's Secret Campaign to Destroy the Viet Cong. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Phoenix Program." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. . 11 Dec. 2018 <>.

"Phoenix Program." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. . (December 11, 2018).

"Phoenix Program." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.