1206Vietnam War history
- Oct 31, 2005I got this article from a friend at
Central_Asia_Now@yahoogroups.com and thought you all
might be interested. Sorry there's no link to the
Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2005 14:52:20 -0000
From: "awjfire" <williamfeuer@...>
Subject: Vietnam Study, Casting Doubts, Remains Secret
A little off-topic maybe, but may be of interest...
October 31, 2005 By SCOTT SHANE in the NYTimes
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 - The National Security Agency has
since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that
during the Tonkin
Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam
officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence
to cover up
their mistakes, two people familiar with the
historian's work say.
The historian's conclusion is the first serious
communications intercepted by the N.S.A., the
eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, were falsified
so that they
made it look as if North Vietnam had attacked American
Aug. 4, 1964, two days after a previous clash.
President Lyndon B.
Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress
broad military action in Vietnam, but most historians
in recent years that there was no second attack.
The N.S.A. historian, Robert J. Hanyok, found a
translation mistakes that went uncorrected, altered
and selective citation of intelligence that persuaded
midlevel agency officers had deliberately skewed the
Mr. Hanyok concluded that they had done it not out of
motive but to cover up earlier errors, and that top
defense officials and Johnson neither knew about nor
Mr. Hanyok's findings were published nearly five years
ago in a
classified in-house journal, and starting in 2002 he
government historians argued that it should be made
their effort was rebuffed by higher-level agency
by the next year were fearful that it might prompt
comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to
justify the war in
Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar
internal discussions of the matter.
Matthew M. Aid, an independent historian who has
Hanyok's Tonkin Gulf research with current and former
C.I.A. officials who have read it, said he had decided
publicly about the findings because he believed they
been released long ago.
"This material is relevant to debates we as Americans
about the war in Iraq and intelligence reform," said
Mr. Aid, who is
writing a history of the N.S.A. "To keep it classified
because it might embarrass the agency is wrong."
Mr. Aid's description of Mr. Hanyok's findings was
confirmed by the
intelligence official, who spoke on condition of
the research has not been made public.
Both men said Mr. Hanyok believed the initial
North Vietnamese intercepts was probably an honest
after months of detective work in N.S.A.'s archives,
that midlevel agency officials discovered the error
immediately but covered it up and doctored documents
so that they
appeared to provide evidence of an attack.
"Rather than come clean about their mistake, they
helped launch the
United States into a bloody war that would last for 10
Asked about Mr. Hanyok's research, an N.S.A. spokesman
agency intended to release his 2001 article in late
spokesman, Don Weber, said the release had been
"delayed in an
effort to be consistent with our preferred practice of
public a more contextual perspective."
Mr. Weber said the agency was working to declassify
not only Mr.
Hanyok's article, but also the original intercepts and
material for his work, so the public could better
The intelligence official gave a different account. He
historians began pushing for public release in 2002,
Hanyok included his Tonkin Gulf findings in a
history of the agency and Vietnam called "Spartans in
Though superiors initially expressed support for
releasing it, the
idea lost momentum as Iraq intelligence was being
question, the official said.
Mr. Aid said he had heard from other intelligence
officials the same
explanation for the delay in releasing the report,
though neither he
nor the intelligence official knew how high up in the
issue was discussed. A spokesman for Gen. Michael V.
Hayden, who was
the agency's. director until last summer and is now
deputy director of national intelligence, referred
questions to Mr.
Weber, the N.S.A. spokesman, who said he had no
Many historians believe that even without the Tonkin
Johnson might have found a reason to escalate military
against North Vietnam. They note that Johnson
apparently had his own
doubts about the Aug. 4 attack and that a few days
later told George
W. Ball, the under secretary of state, "Hell, those
sailors were just shooting at flying fish!"
But Robert S. McNamara, who as defense secretary
played a central
role in the Tonkin Gulf affair, said in an interview
last week that
he believed the intelligence reports had played a
decisive role in
the war's expansion.
"I think it's wrong to believe that Johnson wanted
McNamara said. "But we thought we had evidence that
Mr. McNamara, 89, said he had never been told that the
might have been altered to shore up the scant evidence
of a North
"That really is surprising to me," said Mr. McNamara,
who Mr. Hanyok
found had unknowingly used the altered intercepts in
1964 and 1968
in testimony before Congress. "I think they ought to
make all the
material public, period."
The supposed second North Vietnamese attack, on the
destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy, played an outsize
history. Johnson responded by ordering retaliatory air
North Vietnamese targets and used the event to
persuade Congress to
pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on Aug. 7, 1964.
It authorized the president "to take all necessary
the use of armed force," to defend South Vietnam and
and was used both by Johnson and President Richard M.
justify escalating the war, in which 58,226 Americans
and more than
1 million Vietnamese died.
Not all the details of Mr. Hanyok's analysis,
published in N.S.A.'s
Cryptologic Quarterly in early 2001, could be learned.
involved discrepancies between the official N.S.A.
version of the
events of Aug. 4, 1964, and intercepts from N.S.A.
at Phu Bai in South Vietnam and San Miguel in the
are in the agency archives.
One issue, for example, was the translation of a
phrase in an Aug. 4
North Vietnamese transmission. In some documents the
sacrificed two comrades" - an apparent reference to
during the clash with American ships on Aug. 2 - was
translated as "we sacrificed two ships." That phrase
was used to
suggest that the North Vietnamese were reporting the
loss of ships
in a new battle Aug. 4, the intelligence official
The original Vietnamese version of that intercept,
unlike many other
intercepts from the same period, is missing from the
archives, the official said.
The intelligence official said the evidence for
falsification is "about as certain as it can be
without a smoking
gun - you can come to no other conclusion."
Despite its well-deserved reputation for secrecy, the
recent years has made public dozens of studies by its
Cryptologic History. A study by Mr. Hanyok on signals
and the Holocaust, titled "Eavesdropping on Hell," was
Two historians who have written extensively on the
episode, Edwin E. Moise of Clemson University and John
Prados of the
National Security Archive in Washington, said they
were unaware of
Mr. Hanyok's work but found his reported findings
"I'm surprised at the notion of deliberate deception
at N.S.A.," Dr.
Moise said. "But I get surprised a lot."
Dr. Prados said, "If Mr. Hanyok's conclusion is
correct, it adds to
the tragic aspect of the Vietnam War." In addition, he
new evidence that intelligence, so often treated as
the Holy Grail,
turns out to be not that at all, just as in Iraq."
- Next post in topic >>