Saturday, March 15, 2008

Gulf of Tonkin X: Coverup or conspiracy, part 4

I think the words of Senator Fulbright best sum up the Gulf of Tonkin situation. When I informed him, for his possible interest, that I'd finally solved the mystery of my missing sonarman, he wrote to me from his law office, "The President and the Secretary of Defense used the alleged attack to pressure the Congress to give them the authority they sought, to give legitimacy to actions which were an evasion of the Constitution's provision on declaring war. They probably knew the attack was misrepresented to the Congress and the public, but it is difficult to prove. It was a very sad and tragic mistake by the President and did great harm to the country and the President."

That just about says it all.

But not quite. In October 2005, the New York Times published a story about an historian at the National Security Agency who reviewed the long-secret Gulf of Tonkin documents intercepted by the NSA and concluded that the agency’s intelligence officers “deliberately skewed” the evidence passed on to policy makers and the public to falsely suggest that North Vietnamese ships had attacked the Maddox and Turner Joy on August 4.

The NSA is based at Fort Meade, Maryland. It intercepts foreign communications, such as phone calls, e-mail and faxes, and is charged with protecting the security of American government communications. It is the largest American intelligence agency, with more than 30,000 employees, including codebreakers, computer experts and linguists.

The NSA historian, Robert J. Hanyok, summarized his research in a 2001 internal document which was kept secret until word of it leaked out in 2005 and Times reporter Scott Shane covered it on October 30. Shane wrote a followup story on December 2, 2005, when the NSA made the original intercepts and intelligence reports public, releasing them on the Internet. In summary, Shane wrote, Hanyok thought the initial misinterpretation of North Vietnamese intercepts was probably an honest mistake. But after months of detective work in NSA's archives, Hanyok concluded that midlevel agency officials discovered the error almost immediately but covered it up and doctored documents so that they appeared to provide evidence of an attack.

"It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night,” Hanyok wrote. “Information was presented in such a manner as to preclude responsible decisionmakers in the Johnson administration from having the complete and objective narrative of events from 4 August 1964. Instead, only [intercepts] that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers were given to administration officials.”

"The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened. So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that the attack occurred.”

John White

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