Recognized as a brilliant political analyst, beginning with his work in the nineteen-sixties for Reuters and then for the New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor, and, finally, as a Time correspondent for eleven years, Pham Xuan An seemed to do his best work swapping stories with colleagues in Givral’s café, on the old Rue Catinat. Here he presided every afternoon as the best news source in Saigon. He was called “Dean of the Vietnamese Press Corps” and “Voice of Radio Catinat”—the rumor mill. With self-deprecating humor, he preferred other titles for himself, such as “docteur de sexologie,” “professeur coup d’état,” “Commander of Military Dog Training” (a reference to the German shepherd that always accompanied him), “Ph.D. in revolutions,” or, simply, General Givral.
We now know that this is only half the work An did as a reporter, and not the better half. An sent the North Vietnamese a steady stream of secret military documents and messages written in invisible ink, but it was his typed dispatches, now locked in Vietnam’s intelligence archives and known to us only through secondhand reports, which will undoubtedly rank as his chef d’oeuvre. Using a Hermes typewriter bought specially for him by the North Vietnamese intelligence service, An wrote his dispatches, some as long as a hundred pages, at night. Photographed and transported as undeveloped rolls of film, An’s reports were run by courier out to the Cu Chi tunnel network that served as the Communists’ underground headquarters.