Thomas Anthony Dooley III

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Person.png Thomas Anthony Dooley III  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(doctor, spook)
Thomas Anthony Dooley III, MD.jpg
BornJanuary 17, 1927
DiedJanuary 18, 1961 (Age 34)
Cause of death
Alma materSt. Louis University High School, University of Notre Dame, Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Victim ofpremature death
Interests • “disinformation”
• Vietnam War
• Laos
• medical cover
Doctor who was CIA operative. Collected intelligence under medical cover. After his death, it was discovered numerous descriptions of atrocities by the Viet Minh in his hugely influential book Deliver Us From Evil had been fabricated.

Thomas Anthony Dooley III was an American physician who worked in Southeast Asia at the outset of American involvement in the Vietnam War. While serving as a physician in the United States Navy and afterwards, he became known for his humanitarian and anti-communist political activities up until his early death from cancer. After his death, the public learned that he had been recruited as an intelligence operative by the Central Intelligence Agency, and numerous descriptions of atrocities by the Viet Minh in his book Deliver Us From Evil had been fabricated.

Dooley has been called "a key agent in the first disinformation campaign of the Vietnam War," garnering support for the [US government's growing involvement there.[1] Dooley, one critic said, is an example of "celebrity sainthood" and the "intersection of show business and mysticism occupied the space where Tom Dooley was perhaps most at home"[2]

Dooley authored three popular books that described his activities in Vietnam and Laos: Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, and The Night They Burned the Mountain.

Early life

Dooley was born January 17, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in a prominent Roman Catholic Irish-American household. He attended St. Roch Catholic Elementary School and St. Louis University High School; at both he was a classmate of Michael Harrington.[3] He then went to college at the University of Notre Dame, but completed only five semesters of course work.[4] In 1944 he enlisted in the United States Navy's corpsman program, serving in a naval hospital in New York City. In 1946, he returned to Notre Dame, but left without receiving a degree. Later, in 1960, Notre Dame presented him with an honorary degree.[5] He entered the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. When he graduated in 1953, after repeating his final year of medical school, he re-enlisted in the Navy. He completed his residency at Camp Pendleton, California, and then at Yokosuka, Japan. In 1954, he was assigned to the USS Montague, which was traveling to Vietnam.[6]

Humanitarian, author, and intelligence operative

In May 1954, the Geneva Agreements divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel north into two political zones. People north of the 17th parallel lived under the Viet Minh government, and those south of the 17th parallel lived under the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Hanoi and Haiphong remained free zones until May 1955. In August 1954, Dooley transferred to Task Force Ninety, a unit participating in the evacuation of over 600,000 North Vietnamese Catholics known as Operation Passage to Freedom. Here he served as a French interpreter and medical officer for a Preventive Medicine Unit in Haiphong. He eventually oversaw the building and maintenance of refugee camps in Haiphong until May 1955, when the government took over the city.[6]

CIA recruitment and Deliver Us From Evil

Dooley was assigned to the medical intelligence task force sponsored by the Military Advisory Assistance Group, whose leader, Lt. Gen. John W. O'Daniel, was an active ally of Ngo Dinh Diem. His official duties involved collecting samples for epidemiological work, "but his primary role was as a liaison between the refugee campaign...Operation Passage to Freedom and American reporters and politicians with an interest in Southeast Asia." In return for his work as a "spokesman", the doctor was awarded the highest presidential honor by Diem.[4] During this period, he wrote numerous letters to his mother, many of which she shared with reporters; the letters were then printed in the local press, including the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.[7] Most of the letters exaggerated his personal contribution to the refugee work.[8] Despite his self-promotion, he "was indefatigable in taking care of his patients."[9] Concerning the "self-aggrandizement" aspect of his personality, he said that to be a humanitarian in the modern world "you've gotta run it like a business. You've gotta have Madison Avenue, press relations, TV, radio...and of course you get condemned for being a publicity seeker"; he argued that being able to care for 100 people per day, between 1954 and 1958, with MEDICO later treating 2,000 per day, justified this approach to humanitarianism.[10]

Dooley was soon recruited as an operative by Lieutenant Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, head of the CIA office in Saigon. He was chosen as a symbol of Vietnamese-American cooperation, and was encouraged to write about his experiences in the refugee camps. The CIA, USAID, and several other agencies "conducted fund-raising campaigns for the refugees" later described in his books. The Pentagon Papers would later note that he "significantly aided" in the gathering of intelligence information.[11]

William Lederer, author of The Ugly American, helped initiate this phase of Dooley's career. Lederer, who was at the time serving as a Navy press officer, attached to the admiralty, appreciated the eloquence of Dooley's situation reports, and suggested that he write a book.[12] After his first draft was complete, he and Lederer spent two weeks living together polishing the manuscript.[13] Lederer was also on "special assignment" for the CIA during this period.[14]

In 1956, Dooley's book Deliver Us from Evil was released and became a best-seller, establishing him as an icon of American humanitarian and anti-communist activities abroad. His vivid accounts of communist atrocities committed on Catholic refugees appear to have been either fabricated or exaggerated. It has been alleged that Dooley was passing along descriptions of events that had been created by Landsdale and his team.[15] In 1956, U.S. officials who were stationed in the Hanoi-Haiphong area during his tour of duty submitted a lengthy report to the U.S. Information Agency holding that Deliver Us from Evil was "not the truth" and that the accounts of Viet Minh atrocities were "nonfactual and exaggerated." However, the US government kept the report classified for nearly thirty years.[16] James Fisher allows that the U.S. Information Agency report was "valid," but he also argues it "must be viewed with some suspicion" because they were preparing to "discredit Dooley" as "an insurance policy against a renewed outbreak of anti-internationalism."[17]

Dooley's book featured exceptionally gory tales of religious persecution. The doctor claimed the Viet Minh jammed chopsticks into the ears of children to keep them from hearing the Lord's Prayer and regularly mutilated Catholic instructors. Most sensationally, he fabricated a story of the Viet Minh pounding nails into the head of a priest—"a communist version of the crown of thorns, once forced on the Savior of whom he preached." He also claimed that Ho Chi Minh's forces had "disemboweled more than 1,000 native women in Hanoi." Thirty years after his death, in response to a journalist's question, Lederer said that "the atrocities the doctor described 'never took place.'"[16] At the time, however, Lederer brokered a deal with Reader's Digest to publish Dooley's claims to their massive audience;[1] and, he used him as the "real-life model" for Father John Finian, a heroic character in The Ugly American.[18]

Naval discharge and Laotian activities

Dooley was on a promotional tour for this book when he was investigated for participating in homosexual activities.[19] It seems that what the Navy discovered about his private life resulted in a negotiated agreement that he would announce he was leaving the Navy in order to serve the people of Vietnam.[12]

After leaving the Navy, Dooley and three former Navy corpsmen established a hospital near Luang Namtha, Laos with the sponsorship of the International Rescue Committee.[20] At this time, the International Rescue Committee had a secret working relationship with the CIA in Southeast Asia, coordinated by Joseph Buttinger.[14] In an article entitled "Why I'm A Jungle Medic," printed in Think magazine, June 1958, he said they chose Laos because the country, with 3,000,000 people, had only one "bonafide" doctor.[6] He explained to the Laotian Minister of Health that he wished to work in an area near the Chinese border because "there are sick people there and furthermore people who had been flooded with potent draughts of anti-Western propaganda from Red China."[21]

Dooley founded the Medical International Cooperation Organization (MEDICO) under the auspices of which he built hospitals at Nam Tha, Muong Sing (five miles south of the Chinese border), and Ban Houei Sa. The plan for MEDICO was that it would build, stock, supply, and train staff for small hospitals; after 16 months, MEDICO planned to turn over these hospitals to the host country's government.[6] During this same time period, he wrote two books, The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain, about his experience in Laos, including further descriptions of atrocities he said were committed by communist soldiers. In the latter book, he voiced strong political opinions about the Laotian crisis of 1960, defending the right-wing coup led by "one of his closest friends," Phoumi Nosavan. He also wrote that the rigging of elections "cut through the red tape and kibbosh you get involved with in Asia," asserting that "Democracy, as championed in the US, does not translate well into Lao...Not yet."[22]

While Dooley was providing medical care to Lao refugees, he also collected intelligence for the CIA, tracking civilian movements, and he provided cover for US Special Forces medics who posed as civilian doctors.[11][23] Dennis Shephard, a physician who worked with him, claimed that he would round up as many of his former patients as he could whenever potential sponsors came to tour the Vientiane clinic, giving the impression that he had a full and active clinic. Shephard remembered local CIA officers coming by often to find out if Dooley had picked up anything about the movement of Chinese troops, as well as to ensure that the weapons he had brought up with his medical supplies were well-hidden and secure.[12] Shephard helped him establish a clinic at Vang Vieng;[24]

Televised Cancer Surgery, Death, and Peace Corps

In 1959, Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment. He agreed to Fred W. Friendly's request that his melanoma surgery be the subject of a CBS News documentary.[25] On April 21, 1960, Biography of a Cancer[26] was broadcast; it was hosted by Howard K. Smith, and included the surgery and an interview with him.[27] After the surgery was performed, it was revealed that his prognosis was bad; he died less than a year later.

Importance and legacy

A 1959 Gallup Poll named Dooley the 7th most admired man in the world according to the American public. But thereafter, his legacy became intertwined with the opposition to the Vietnam War.

Despite Dooley's problematic descriptions of Southeast Asia, Prince Souphan of Laos said that he was "known to his grateful Lao admirers as 'Thanh Mo America' (Dr. America)".[28] He himself was frequently critical of United States actions in the region. He observed: "We are hated in most of the Orient. ... They think freedom means freedom of the capitalist to exploit the Oriental people. No Americans have ever gotten down to their level."[7] At the same time, he opposed concrete reforms to foreign aid in Laos when Congress proposed them, defending the "first-class administrators" at the US embassy. He also rejected all compromises with communists, even when the Laotian public supported them, going so far as calling the popular neutralist leader Kong Le "an idiot."[29][30]

Teresa Gallagher, a volunteer who worked with him, along with his brother, Malcolm, established the Dr. Tom Dooley Foundation [31] that is dedicated to delivering medical care to people of the Third World; Dr. Jerry Brown, a 2013 graduate of an affiliated program in Cameroon was among the "Ebola Fighters" named as the Time Person of the Year for 2014.[32] And Dr. Davida Coady, an activist pediatrician, who was also inspired by Dooley, devoted herself to caring for impoverished people in Africa, Central America, Asia; she was involved in the famine relief efforts in Biafra, the hunting down of the last smallpox cases in India, and the rebuilding of medical infrastructure in Nicaragua. [33] The Dr Tom Dooley Foundation also an endowed scholarship at the University of New Mexico, in the pediatric residency, to enable residents to travel to the Third World on missions.

Dooley is memorialized at the University of Notre Dame's Grotto of Our Lady, with a statue as well as an engraved copy of a letter he wrote to former Notre Dame president Ted Hesburgh.[34][5]

Dooley was profiled by Time magazine, Life magazine, and Look magazine.


  1. a b,+propaganda,+vietnam&pg=PA197
  2. New York Times book review, 1998-01-04
  4. a b,+passage,+medical+intelligence&pg=PA251%7Ctitle=Dictionary of Missouri Biography
  5. a b
  6. a b c d
  7. a b
  11. a b,+abc+clio
  12. a b c
  14. a b
  15. on Foreign Relations
  16. a b
  19. Shilts, pp. 25—26
  21. The Edge of Tomorrow p. 18
  22. 294]
  28. Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, p. 1
  29. Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, pp. 247-250

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