How We Reported Terror in Little Saigon

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November 3, 2015
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Reporting Terror in Little Saigon took ProPublica and Frontline to more than a dozen U.S. cities, as well as to Vietnam and Thailand. We conducted approximately 140 interviews, including three with co-founders of the Front, and with dozens of former law enforcement and intelligence officials. As well, we spoke with family members and survivors of the crimes, many of whom had never before granted an interview.

In Southeast Asia, we interviewed intelligence and military officials in Vietnam and Thailand, among them the former head of the Thai intelligence service, Prasong Soonsiri, and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army and Prime Minister of Thailand. We also talked to five ex-members of a Laotian anti-Communist guerrilla group, and a Front soldier who had gone into combat with the Front in the 1980s. With the help of translators and researchers, we conducted interviews in English, Vietnamese, Thai and Lao.

Our reporting was informed by archival materials at the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the National Library in Hanoi, the Hmong Archives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the University of California, Berkeley. A 1994 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Silenced: The Unsolved Murders of Immigrant Journalists in the United States,” helped us comprehend the scope of the violence. Translators assisted us in reviewing Vietnamese-language publications and videos produced in the U.S. and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Memoirs of Front leaders Pham Van Lieu and Dinh Hung Cuong proved particularly helpful in understanding the early days of the organization, while books and newspaper accounts from Vietnam described the Front’s final battles.

A central component of the reporting came in the form of thousands of pages of FBI files that ProPublica sought to have declassified and released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. We sought and obtained files related to three foreign counter-intelligence operations and a vast string of crimes stretching over more than a decade. We also obtained CIA, National Security Council and immigration service records. To understand how local law enforcement agencies handled the assassinations and terror crimes, we obtained police reports and case files from Texas, Virginia and California.

Many people contributed to this project, several of whom asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their personal safety. Oakland filmmaker Tony Nguyen provided much of the crucial initial research and connected us with people who helped shape our understanding of the crimes. In the U.S., Ali Winston and Frontline’s Rick Rowley did additional reporting, while Leah Bartos and Frontline’s Lauren Ezell Kinlaw provided research assistance. Lucy Sexton conducted research and reporting in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Anusonadisai Nattasuda aided our efforts in Thailand.

Jimmy Tong Nguyen and Leslie Nguyen traveled across the U.S. with us, helping to locate former Front members and crime victims. Finally, Terror in Little Saigon benefited from the input of Vietnamese-American journalists and translators who offered us their particular insights, sensitivities and expertise.

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