Journalism in Action: Beverly Deepe Keever and Her Career

Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Phạm Xuân Ẩn, Darling Spy

by Sam Mellema

Phạm Xuân Ẩn, a charismatic, smooth-talking Vietnamese man, had a life filled with contradictions and mixed allegiances. Ẩn worked as a spy for the Communists in the Vietnam War, but he also cared deeply about the American and other Western journalists he encountered through his espionage work. Ẩn served his country through two wars, one for independence from French Colonial forces and the other for independence for American interference, i.e. the “American War,” the Vietnamese name for what is known in the West as the Vietnam War. Living as a spy, Ẩn had to carefully protect many things, including his family, his alias, his true allegiance, his own reputation, and the people he worked with and grew so close to over the years. Ẩn perfected the art of being a double agent. Many of his colleagues that worked with him had absolutely no idea about his true allegiance until well after the war. In fact, Ẩn was such a convincing spy that at one point the CIA offered him a job, which he turned down.

Ẩn became a member of the Communist Party because he agreed with their pro-independence and anti-colonialism stance. He did not necessarily agree with the Party’s ideology, and after the war  Ẩn stated that the war was pointless as the  Vietnamese had simply “exchanged the Americans for the Russians.” Shortly after joining, the Communist Party assigned Ẩn to go to the United States and learn the customs of Americans and how they lived. Ẩn attended undergraduate classes at Orange Coast College in California where he quickly fell in love with the American culture and people. At that time, Ẩn was the only Vietnamese person in the county, but his outgoing personality quickly landed him many new friends. Ẩn excelled in his studies and actively participated in many extra-curricular activities. He made the honor roll every semester, started several international clubs, and got a job working for the student newspaper, the Barnacle. Immediately after graduating college, the United Nations offered Ẩn an internship in New York. Ẩn decided to drive across the country by himself to see more of America. Ẩn continued to live and work in the US for several more months before returning home to Vietnam.

When Ẩn returned to South Vietnam he initially feared capture by authorities for his party membership. Ẩn knew that authorities had already arrested some of his Communist comrades and he was uncertain whether any of them had told authorities about his true loyalties. Ẩn lived in fear for about a month before realizing his cover endured, so he turned to working to help his Party and his country. With his party affiliation unknown to authorities, Ẩn turned to gathering information that might be useful for the Communists. Ẩn had been educated in journalism, not the art of spying. Ẩn actually got a lot of his knowledge about spying from a book given to him by a journalist colleague called Anatomy of Spying by Ronald Seth. With this book, Ẩn began his double-sided life, working for both sides of the war.

During the Vietnam War, Western journalists had access to significantly more information and leads than their native Vietnamese counterparts. Ẩn knew that if he could gain the trust of a few western correspondents he could have access to valuable American press briefings about the war. He could then pass this information along and immensely help the Communist Party and the fight for an independent Vietnam. By working with a wide variety of reporters and journalists, Ẩn managed to get on the lists of several major newspapers and media outlets that allowed him to gain as much information as possible that he could then send back to Communist forces.

Ẩn’s relationships with Western correspondents were not entirely faked. In fact, Ẩn still loved the Americans and their culture. He did not hate Americans necessarily; he just wanted freedom for his own country from any imperial occupation. Ẩn saw his Western colleagues as true friends, and he even attended a wedding for some Americans who he had met in Vietnam. Ẩn built a strong relationship with a young American journalist name Beverly Deepe Keever. Ẩn and Keever worked closely together for a long time without Keever, or any other Western journalist, knowing Ẩn’s true identity until after the war.

In 1975, with the fall of Saigon, Vietnamese refugees started making their way to America. Ẩn used his connection to Time to get his wife and children out of the country, but he stayed behind in Saigon. Keever took in Ẩn’s wife and 4 sons in her Washington, D.C. apartment.  Despite his work for the Communists during the War, Ẩn was accused by the new government of being too close to the Americans and corrupted by his many years with Westerners. He was put under house arrest and then sent to a reeducation camp for a year. Despite the volatile and dangerous political situation, Ẩn decided to call his family back to Vietnam soon after.

Even though Ẩn deceived the journalists he worked with, he still hoped to keep ties with them after the war, inviting any and all of them to his home in Saigon if they ever came back to Vietnam for any reason. Unlike many other journalists, Keever decided not to stay in contact with Ẩn after the war ended. Although mentioned extensively in Keever’s memoir, she never contacted Ẩn after the war. Ẩn felt hurt that he was never able to rebuild the burnt bridge between the two old friends. In the 2000’s, Ẩn told his biographer, “I loved (Keever) so much, my children and my wife still love her. I still hope one day before I die we can reconcile, like our countries have done.” Ẩn said this with great sadness in his eyes (Berman, 166). Unfortunately, Ẩn and Keever never reunited. On September 20, 2006, at age 79, Phạm Xuân Ẩn died of emphysema, which he contracted after his many years of smoking. 

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