HANOI (Reuters) - Pham Xuan An, a Vietnamese spy who worked for Reuters and Time magazine in Saigon during the U.S. war in Vietnam, died on Wednesday after a long illness, a government official said. He was 78.
"He died this morning," said the official by telephone in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where An had been admitted to a military hospital with emphysema.
An was acknowledged as a dean of Vietnamese journalists working for western news media while also working as an undercover agent for communist North Vietnam. The communists unified the country in 1975 with the fall of the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in Saigon.
Dan Southerland, an American journalist during the war, recounts some of his experiences with the man he calls the perfect spy:
Educated at a community college in California in the mid-1950s, An was in many ways the perfect spy. At the time most of us knew him, he led a modest but bourgeois lifestyle. He enjoyed song birds and gambled on fighting cocks. He loved dogs, especially the big German Shepherd that kept him company at the time.
Like many other reporters, I used to meet An and other South Vietnamese journalists at Givral's coffee shop near the old Continental Hotel in the center of Saigon. The wiry An chain-smoked American cigarettes. I drank strong black coffee laced with condensed milk.
An seemed to know a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of the American and South Vietnamese military forces. But I can't remember ever pursuing a story based on what he told me. Later, An told returning reporters that he'd never tried to plant a story on any of them because it would have blown his cover.
Aha, but little did An know that, even as he was spying for the Viet Cong, the CIA was getting him addicted to cigarettes!
America: We'll get you eventually.