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1206Vietnam War history

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  • Greg Cannon
    Oct 31, 2005
      I 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

      Message: 1
      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
      kept secret
      since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that
      during the Tonkin
      Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam
      War, N.S.A.
      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
      accusation that
      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
      destroyers on
      Aug. 4, 1964, two days after a previous clash.
      President Lyndon B.
      Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress
      to authorize
      broad military action in Vietnam, but most historians
      have concluded
      in recent years that there was no second attack.

      The N.S.A. historian, Robert J. Hanyok, found a
      pattern of
      translation mistakes that went uncorrected, altered
      intercept times
      and selective citation of intelligence that persuaded
      him that
      midlevel agency officers had deliberately skewed the

      Mr. Hanyok concluded that they had done it not out of
      any political
      motive but to cover up earlier errors, and that top
      N.S.A. and
      defense officials and Johnson neither knew about nor
      condoned the

      Mr. Hanyok's findings were published nearly five years
      ago in a
      classified in-house journal, and starting in 2002 he
      and other
      government historians argued that it should be made
      public. But
      their effort was rebuffed by higher-level agency
      policymakers, who
      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
      with some
      internal discussions of the matter.

      Matthew M. Aid, an independent historian who has
      discussed Mr.
      Hanyok's Tonkin Gulf research with current and former
      N.S.A. and
      C.I.A. officials who have read it, said he had decided
      to speak
      publicly about the findings because he believed they
      should have
      been released long ago.

      "This material is relevant to debates we as Americans
      are having
      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
      anonymity because
      the research has not been made public.

      Both men said Mr. Hanyok believed the initial
      misinterpretation of
      North Vietnamese intercepts was probably an honest
      mistake. But
      after months of detective work in N.S.A.'s archives,
      he concluded
      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
      years," Mr.
      Aid said.

      Asked about Mr. Hanyok's research, an N.S.A. spokesman
      said the
      agency intended to release his 2001 article in late
      November. The
      spokesman, Don Weber, said the release had been
      "delayed in an
      effort to be consistent with our preferred practice of
      providing the
      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
      other raw
      material for his work, so the public could better
      assess his

      The intelligence official gave a different account. He
      said N.S.A.
      historians began pushing for public release in 2002,
      after Mr.
      Hanyok included his Tonkin Gulf findings in a
      400-page, in-house
      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
      called into
      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
      agency the
      issue was discussed. A spokesman for Gen. Michael V.
      Hayden, who was
      the agency's. director until last summer and is now
      the principal
      deputy director of national intelligence, referred
      questions to Mr.
      Weber, the N.S.A. spokesman, who said he had no
      further information.

      Many historians believe that even without the Tonkin
      Gulf episode,
      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
      dumb, stupid
      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
      war," Mr.
      McNamara said. "But we thought we had evidence that
      North Vietnam
      was escalating."

      Mr. McNamara, 89, said he had never been told that the
      might have been altered to shore up the scant evidence
      of a North
      Vietnamese attack.

      "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
      role in
      history. Johnson responded by ordering retaliatory air
      strikes on
      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
      steps, including
      the use of armed force," to defend South Vietnam and
      its neighbors
      and was used both by Johnson and President Richard M.
      Nixon to
      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.
      But they
      involved discrepancies between the official N.S.A.
      version of the
      events of Aug. 4, 1964, and intercepts from N.S.A.
      listening posts
      at Phu Bai in South Vietnam and San Miguel in the
      Philippines that
      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
      phrase, "we
      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
      N.S.A. in
      recent years has made public dozens of studies by its
      Center for
      Cryptologic History. A study by Mr. Hanyok on signals
      and the Holocaust, titled "Eavesdropping on Hell," was
      last year.

      Two historians who have written extensively on the
      Tonkin Gulf
      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
      said, "it's
      new evidence that intelligence, so often treated as
      the Holy Grail,
      turns out to be not that at all, just as in Iraq."
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