Is it possible for someone to be an effective spy while remaining loyal to one’s friends and at the same time, be an objective journalist? Or was Pham Xuan An a double agent? These are a couple of the questions raised in the biography, Perfect Spy.
Pham Xuan An was a spy for the North Vietnamese while working for US publications in Ho Chi Minh City including but not limited to Time Magazine during the Vietnam War. An’s mission was to provide strategic, intelligence on US war plans.
Larry Berman, the author, spent years interviewing An as well as those close to An. The author attempts to cite some actions taken by An which are intended to support that An was loyal to his friends and an objective journalist. For example, An was instrumental in getting a South Vietnamese supporter out of the country in April 1975 on a US helicopter when the US pulled out of Vietnam. Also, many of An’s professional colleagues that were US journalists based in Ho Chi Minh City, sponsored and/ or raised funds for An’s son to attend UNC and later Duke Law in the late 80’s out of respect for An.
Personally, the book left too many unanswered questions and not enough details of An’s involvement, but nonetheless an interesting read with a different perspective on the Vietnam War. For those interested in the Vietnam War and Vietnam, in general, I would recommend this book and would also suggest reading Tim O’Brien’s books on the Vietnam War simultaneously, if you have not had a chance to read any of his books (which provide another perspective).