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Re: [prezveepsenator] 40th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

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    Thanks for sending the info, Ram. Tom ... http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/essay.htm Essay: 40th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident by
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 22, 2005
      Thanks for sending the info, Ram.


      --- Ram Lau <ramlau@...> wrote:

      Essay: 40th Anniversary of the
      Gulf of Tonkin Incident

      by John Prados

      Posted August 4, 2004

      On this 40th anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf incident
      it is appropriate
      to recall an affair that has much history wound around
      it, a watershed
      in the U.S. move toward full-scale war in Vietnam. At
      the time, in
      August 1964, the administration of President Lyndon B.
      Johnson used
      the incident as a pretext to seek from Congress a
      joint resolution
      approving the use of force in Southeast Asia, which it
      then relied
      upon as legal justification for all-out war. The
      episode opened the
      way for an American military commitment that
      ultimately peaked in
      March 1969 with 548,000 U.S. troops in South Vietnam
      plus additional
      supporting forces in Thailand. Some 59,000 Americans
      and several
      million Vietnamese died in the conflict.

      More recently, the Tonkin Gulf incident has regularly
      been invoked in
      connection with the lead-up to the war in Iraq, where
      administration of President George W. Bush also cited
      threats to the
      United States to obtain congressional approval for the
      use of force.
      Those claims, too, proved to be based largely on
      seriously flawed
      intelligence and possibly, according to some critics,
      manipulated. The
      parallels to Tonkin make it all the more worthwhile to
      re-examine the
      events of 40 years ago on the basis of newly acquired


      The particulars of the incidents of early August 1964,
      as reported by
      the Johnson administration, were crucial to gaining
      the legislative
      authority President Johnson sought, which came in the
      form of the
      Tonkin Gulf Resolution. At the time and for some years
      afterward, the
      United States government took the position that it had
      done nothing to
      provoke a naval engagement in the Tonkin Gulf between
      North Vietnamese
      and U.S. warships. The Johnson administration also
      maintained that it
      had acted with restraint, refusing to respond to an
      initial North
      Vietnamese attack on August 2, 1964, and reacting only
      after North
      Vietnam made a second naval attack two nights later.
      Both of these
      assertions turned out to be misleading.

      In fact the United States at the time was carrying out
      a program of
      covert naval commando attacks against North Vietnam
      and had been
      engaged in this effort since its approval by Johnson
      in January 1964.
      (For documentation of this program, carried out under
      Operations Plan
      (OPLAN) 34-A, see the Tonkin Gulf subset of the
      National Security
      Archive's microfiche collection, U.S. Policy in the
      Vietnam War, I:
      1954-1968.) A fresh addition to the declassified
      record is the
      intelligence estimate included in this briefing book,
      Special National
      Intelligence Estimate 50-2-64. Published in May 1964,
      the estimate
      again demonstrates that the United States purposefully
      directed OPLAN
      34-A to pressure North Vietnam, to the extent of
      attempting to
      anticipate Hanoi's reaction. It wrongly concluded that
      North Vietnam,
      while taking precautionary measures, "might reduce the
      level of the
      insurrections for the moment." (Note 1) In fact Hanoi
      decided instead
      to commit its regular army forces to the fighting in
      South Vietnam.

      The Johnson administration's characterization of the
      specifics of the
      Tonkin Gulf incident has proven to be inaccurate.
      officials contended that the U.S. warship simply
      happened to be
      cruising in the Gulf to exert a U.S. presence --
      engaged in "innocent
      passage" under international law. The naval battle
      between the
      destroyer USS Maddox and several North Vietnamese
      torpedo boats
      occurred on August 2, 1964, in the immediate aftermath
      of a series of
      34-A maritime raids on North Vietnamese coastal
      targets. Among the
      targets were two offshore islands, Hon Me and Hon Ngu,
      which were
      closely approached by the Maddox prior to the August 2
      engagement. The
      American destroyer was in international waters when
      the battle itself
      took place but the North Vietnamese made the logical
      connection that
      the 34-A raids and the destroyer's appearance were
      related. In fact
      the mission of the Maddox was specifically to record
      North Vietnamese
      radar and other electronic emissions which could be
      expected to spike
      after a 34-A raid.

      Senior administration officials were well aware of the
      between the 34-A raids and the destroyer's
      intelligence cruise, called
      a "DeSoto Patrol." Secretary of Defense Robert S.
      McNamara, in his
      very first telephone conversation with President
      Johnson about the
      battle, at 10:30 a.m. Washington time on August 3,
      raised the issue.
      LBJ wanted McNamara to hold a private briefing for
      leaders on Capitol Hill. McNamara replied, "I think I
      should also, or
      we should also at that time, Mr. President, explain
      this OPLAN 34-A.
      There's no question but what that had bearing on."
      (Note 2) McNamara
      went on to describe the 34-A mission, including
      mention of the two
      islands, the number of attack boats participating,
      their ammunition
      expenditures, and other details.

      Appearing before the legislators, Secretary McNamara
      did mention the
      34-A raids but asserted they were South Vietnamese
      naval missions and
      had nothing to do with the United States. In fact the
      34-A missions
      were unilaterally controlled by the U.S., using boats
      procured and
      maintained by the U.S. Navy, attacking targets
      selected by the CIA, in
      an operation paid for by the United States. The only
      South Vietnamese
      aspect of 34-A was the administrative responsibility
      borne by that
      government's special forces for their nationals
      recruited as the
      commandos for the missions, commandos who were
      nevertheless led by
      Americans. Some accounts by Americans who participated
      in such
      missions actually maintain that Americans were present
      aboard the
      attack boats during the raids of August 2. (Note 3)

      Secretary McNamara not only advanced the fiction of
      34-A as a South
      Vietnamese enterprise in a private meeting with
      congressmen, he
      repeated it at congressional hearings on the
      requested use of force resolution. At an executive
      session hearing
      held on August 6, McNamara declared, "Our Navy played
      absolutely no
      part in, was not associated with, was not aware of,
      any South
      Vietnamese actions, if there were any." (Note 4)
      Controversy over
      Johnson administration claims regarding the Gulf of
      Tonkin incident
      began not long after the events themselves and grew
      over time, leading
      to an unusual review of the events in a new set of
      hearings before the
      Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1968.
      McNamara again served as the administration's lead
      witness and claimed
      that the issue of provocation had been "fully
      explored" at the 1964
      hearings. Specifically, McNamara declared that
      Congress had
      investigated whether the attacks "were in any way
      provoked by or
      related to certain South Vietnamese naval activity."
      McNamara later
      reasserted that the 34-A missions were
      "countermeasures being taken by
      the South Vietnamese in response to North Vietnamese
      (Note 5) These administration assertions were highly
      misleading as the
      declassified documentary record of OPLAN 34-A makes
      abundantly clear.

      The leading edge of doubt which ultimately forced the
      February 1968
      review of the Gulf of Tonkin incident arose over
      whether a second
      attack on U.S. warships had occurred on the night of
      August 4.
      Following the initial naval battle of August 2,
      President Johnson
      ordered a second U.S. destroyer, the USS C. Turner
      Joy, to join the
      Maddox, after which both ships sailed back up the Gulf
      of Tonkin. On
      the night of August 4, both ships thought they had
      come under attack
      again and sent messages reporting enemy contacts,
      torpedoes in the
      water, and so on, while directing a good deal of fire
      at the supposed
      adversary. Following this supposed repeat challenge to
      passage," President Johnson ordered retaliatory
      bombing against North
      Vietnam and asked for the congressional resolution
      with which he
      prosecuted the Vietnam war.

      But the certainty of the "second attack" would never
      be so clear as
      the first. The initial battle took place in daylight.
      There were
      photographs of the North Vietnamese torpedo boats
      engaged in a
      fire-fight with the Maddox, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
      retained a dud
      shell from one of the Vietnamese vessels as a
      souvenir, and numerous
      Maddox sailors confirmed sighting at least three
      torpedoes. However,
      there was no physical evidence at all for the August 4
      attack claims.
      The supposed surface action took place at night and in
      poor weather.
      The skipper and four seamen aboard the C. Turner Joy
      variously claimed
      having seen a searchlight, boat cockpit lights, smoke
      at a location
      where they claimed their gunfire had hit a Vietnamese
      vessel in the
      water, and one, or perhaps two, torpedo wakes. The
      Navy further
      claimed their vessels had sunk two attacking torpedo
      boats. But there
      was no wreckage, nor bodies of dead sailors. No
      photographs or other
      physical evidence existed. Radar and sonar sightings
      provided an
      exceedingly confusing set of data at best. (Note 6)

      American pilots from the carrier USS Ticonderoga sent
      to help defend
      the destroyers from their supposed attackers told the
      same story.
      Commander James B. Stockdale, who led this flight of
      jets, spotted no
      enemy, and at one point saw the Turner Joy pointing
      her guns at the
      Maddox. As Stockdale, who retired an admiral after a
      career that included being shot down and imprisoned by
      the North
      Vietnamese, later wrote: "There was absolutely no
      gunfire except our
      own, no PT boat wakes, not a candle light let alone a
      burning ship.
      None could have been there and not have been seen on
      such a black
      night." (Note 7) In his memoir, Stockdale also
      remarked on the
      situation: "I had the best seat in the house from
      which to detect
      boats-if there were any. I didn't have to look through
      surface haze
      and spray like the destroyers did, and yet I could see
      the destroyers'
      every move vividly." (Note 8) These comments reinforce
      the dispatches
      from the Navy's on-scene commander, Captain John
      Herrick, who after
      filing various reports of attacks sent a cable that
      questioned them
      all. A Top Secret August 28, 1964 chronology prepared
      for President
      Johnson summarized Herrick's report, sent at 1:27 p.m.
      Washington time
      on August 4, as follows: "a review of the action makes
      many reported
      contacts and torpedoes fired 'appear doubtful'. 'Freak
      effects' on radar, and 'over-eager' sonarmen may have
      accounted for
      many reports. 'No visual sightings' have been reported
      by the Maddox,
      and the Commander suggests that a 'complete
      evaluation' be undertaken
      before any further action." But Washington had already
      decided to
      strike North Vietnam.

      Stockdale's commentaries came after America's Vietnam
      war had ended,
      but questions regarding the "second attack" were
      already strong enough
      by 1968 to force renewed congressional attention.
      Secretary McNamara
      pulled out a trump card during the 1968 hearings to
      silence doubters.
      The trump was a set of communications intercepts made
      by the Naval
      Security Group detachment on the destroyer Maddox, the
      very unit whose
      presence defined this cruise as a DeSoto Patrol. As
      McNamara described
      the intercepts in his testimony: "Intelligence reports
      from a highly
      classified and unimpeachable source reported that
      North Vietnam was
      making preparations to attack our destroyers with two
      Swatow [patrol]
      boats and one PT boat if the PT could be made ready in
      time. The same
      source reported, while the engagement was in progress
      on August 4,
      that the attack was underway. Immediately after the
      attack ended, the
      source reported that the North Vietnamese lost two
      ships in the
      engagement." (Note 9)

      Secretary McNamara played the intercepts very close to
      his chest.
      Describing them only in general terms, he refused to
      leave copies with
      the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Staff member
      J. Norvill Jones
      later recalled that McNamara cited the staff's lack of
      clearances as a reason, but also notes that McNamara's
      Pentagon had
      stalled the Committee's investigation of Tonkin Gulf
      since 1965, and
      had furnished some requested documents only after the
      intercession of
      Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, the powerful
      chairman of the Armed
      Services Committee and a close friend of Lyndon
      Johnson's. Years
      later, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William
      Fulbright was
      finally able to arrange with the Nixon administration
      for Jones and
      staff director Carl Marcy to actually view the
      intercepts. Jones'
      reaction is important to record:

      Of the several messages we were allowed to scan,
      only one was from
      August 4. The others clearly related to the incident
      on August 2.

      My reading of the Aug. 4 intercept was that it was
      a boastful
      summary of the attack on August 2. Even the NSA
      [National Security
      Agency] officials could not say that it definitely
      related to the Aug.
      4 action. In addition the time sequence of the
      intercept and the
      reported action from the U.S. destroyers did not jibe.
      Curiously, NSA
      could not find the original of the Aug. 4 intercept,
      although it did
      have originals of the others. (Note 10)

      A 1980s investigation of these events by reporters for
      U.S. News and
      World Report found intelligence officers who agreed
      with Jones'
      reading of the Tonkin Gulf intercepts. They quoted Ray
      S. Cline, who
      at the time headed the CIA's Intelligence Directorate
      and would later
      become chief of the State Department's Bureau of
      Intelligence and
      Research: "I began to see that the [intercepts] which
      were being
      received at the time of the second attack almost
      certainly could not
      have referred to the second attack because of the time
      involved. Things were being referred to which,
      although they might
      have been taking place at that time, could not have
      been reported back
      so quickly." (Note 11) Also suspect was the fact that
      intercepts from
      August 2 had been recorded widely by NSA stations as
      well as the
      Maddox while those of the 4th reportedly were recorded
      only by a
      listening post at Phu Bai in South Vietnam. Louis
      long-serving deputy director of the National Security
      Agency, was
      among those intelligence officers who discount the
      validity of the
      August 4 intercepts.

      New Evidence

      Now, forty years later, Americans for the first time
      have the
      opportunity to make up their own minds on the Tonkin
      Gulf intercepts.
      After repeated requests using the Mandatory
      Declassification Review
      process, this analyst was able to get them
      declassified in March 2003.

      The cables included here are the relevant NSA
      intercepts. In the
      immediate aftermath of the "crisis," the White House
      asked for the
      intercepted radio traffic and it was sent over. A
      cover note for
      National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy on August 8
      reads: "Last
      night the White House Situation Room relayed a request
      from Mr. Bundy
      for all intercepts which preceded and related to the
      second attack on
      the Maddox and Turner Joy. The attached messages were
      selected by CIA
      and NSA." (Note 12) The note covered a list that
      contained the exact
      items reproduced here, including the five (out of
      eight) which have
      been declassified as of this writing.

      A review of the documents will make clear that the
      cables were not raw
      intercepts of North Vietnamese radio traffic but
      rather reports from
      the intercepting units on the Maddox and elsewhere
      which summarize the
      contents of the raw intercepts. This point is
      important because it
      means that the infamous intercepts could not have been
      passed along to the Hawaii headquarters of the
      Pacific or to Washington. Radio intelligence units had
      to perform
      three activities before the information could be
      passed up the chain
      of command: the intercepts themselves had to be
      recorded, the North
      Vietnamese communications had to be decoded and
      translated, and a
      message had to be assembled using the new information.
      Of course,
      those messages themselves had then to be coded and
      encrypted in U.S.
      systems before being transmitted on American radio
      nets. All this is
      crucial to bear in mind because claims as to the
      unimpeachability of
      the intelligence advanced by the Johnson
      administration turn on
      comparisons of the time these messages were sent
      versus the times that
      Captain Herrick and his destroyers reported various
      actions supposedly
      taking place in the Tonkin Gulf.

      Since time is literally of the essence here, the
      reader should
      understand how to interpret the times printed on these
      messages. All
      United States military traffic is sent using "Zulu"
      time, or Greenwich
      Mean Time (GMT), and each message contains a
      "date/time group" that
      identifies the time of transmission. Messages are
      frequently referred
      to by their date/time groups in official commentaries
      and in
      references in subsequent message traffic. A date/time
      group is
      composed first of two numbers identifying a day, then
      of four numbers
      that show the hour and minute (using a twenty-four
      hour clock).
      Sometimes messages also list the month and the year,
      the latter
      indicated by two final numbers. Thus "03/1211Z Aug"
      refers to 12:11
      p.m. GMT on August 3, 1964. Local time in the Tonkin
      Gulf is seven
      hours ahead of GMT, and twelve hours ahead of
      Washington, DC. The
      date/time above therefore equates to 7:11 p.m. on
      August 3 in the
      Tonkin Gulf, and 7:11 a.m. on August 3 in Washington.
      Keep these time
      differences in mind when examining the message traffic

      Not mentioned thus far in regard to possible U.S.
      provocation is the
      fact that 34-A forces carried out another raid on
      North Vietnam during
      the night of August 3/4, when the U.S. destroyers were
      beginning their
      run back up the Tonkin Gulf. If Hanoi was responding
      to the first
      raid, a second one furnished an equivalent reason to
      act against the
      reinforced DeSoto Patrol. Yet, it appears Hanoi
      decided not to act.
      North Vietnamese officials, including Defense Minister
      General Vo
      Nguyen Giap, explained at a retrospective
      international conference in
      1997 that their August 2 response had been ordered by
      a local naval
      command, not the Hanoi leadership. (Note 13) The
      Vietnamese said they
      had mounted no naval sortie on the 4th. This is
      consistent. Concerned
      at the severity of the U.S. reaction to the August 2
      engagement, the
      Hanoi leadership could very well have made sure not to
      mount a
      subsequent operation, even in the face of a second
      34-A coastal raid.

      Congressional staffer Jones and others are quite right
      to observe that
      a number of the intercepts describe the naval action
      of August 2. In
      that battle there were shootouts between North
      Vietnamese torpedo
      boats and U.S. aircraft, and two of the North
      Vietnamese boats were
      sunk, as described in one of the messages. Another
      message describes a
      sighting of "two enemy assault vessels" east of the
      island of Hon Me.
      The time of day reported in the message, 8:28 p.m.
      local (message
      03/1328Z), actually corresponds very closely to the
      time, 9:35 p.m.,
      when the Maddox had been in this position on August 1,
      prior to the
      initial naval engagement. That time is recorded on
      track charts of the
      Maddox's position in the official U.S. Navy history
      for this period of
      the Vietnam war. (Note 14) The two destroyers
      traveling together were
      near Hon Me only in mid-afternoon of August 4. Hon Me
      had been one of
      the targets of the initial 34-A maritime operation,
      which had hit at
      half past midnight, July 31 -- a rather close
      connection. The North
      Vietnamese message had included orders to naval
      officers to shadow the

      The next message in the series (04/1140Z) reports a
      preparatory order
      to two North Vietnamese patrol boats to prepare for
      operations and
      informs them that a torpedo boat, the T-333, may join
      them if it can
      be made ready in time. Three minutes later there was a
      sighting report
      for a U.S. destroyer. This sounds like possible
      support for the
      hypothesis that the North Vietnamese fought Americans
      again on August
      4, but only until the American side is also examined.
      Herrick's destroyers first reported radar sightings in
      a message with
      the date/time group 04/1240Z. The base for the North
      Vietnamese Swatow
      patrol vessels referenced in these messages was at
      Quang Khe, near
      Dong Hoi, roughly 110 nautical miles from Hon Me. Not
      even a
      well-maintained and fully fuelled Swatow able to
      sustain its maximum
      speed of over 40 knots could cover that distance from
      Quang Khe in the
      time interval between the intercepts and the U.S.

      Meanwhile, in Washington, at 9:43 a.m. on August 4,
      Secretary McNamara
      had another conversation with President Johnson. Their
      reflects McNamara's knowledge of the intercepts where
      he says,
      referring to the U.S. destroyer (McNamara uses the
      singular), "this
      ship is allegedly, uh, to be attacked tonight." (Note
      15) McNamara and
      the president went on to discuss what retaliation they
      could carry out
      for the attack (that had not happened), including
      bombing targets in
      North Vietnam or undertaking more 34-A maritime
      assaults. An hour
      later, when McNamara called in the first report that
      the alleged
      attack had begun, he was already prepared with a list
      of options.

      Much of the supposed action of August 4 occurred
      between the U.S.
      message just mentioned and another from Captain
      Herrick at 04/1602Z,
      in which the destroyers reported having evaded
      torpedoes and to having
      "sunk" at least one attacking surface craft. It was
      during this time
      that the wild melee of radar and sonar observations
      and heavy gunfire
      occurred, and that Commander Stockdale's aircraft saw
      nothing. The
      next of the NSA intercepts is recorded at 04/1630Z. It
      summarized the
      North Vietnamese reporting about having shot at
      aircraft and observing
      one fall into the sea, with "an enemy vessel perhaps
      wounded." An
      amplification message followed at 04/1644Z admitting
      "we sacrificed
      two comrades," and specifying they had fired at two
      aircraft. That
      matched the events of August 2, when there had been
      exchanges between
      the Vietnamese torpedo boats and U.S. planes, and when
      the Maddox had
      been hit by at least some small-caliber cannon shells
      from the North
      Vietnamese torpedo boats. The reports did not match
      the facts of
      August 4, when no boats had passed beneath the U.S.
      planes to shoot at
      them. The history of U.S. destroyers carried on the
      Navy's official
      website no longer contains any reference to a naval
      engagement having
      occurred on August 4.

      The last two messages in this set (05/0438Z, 05/0627Z)
      show the North
      Vietnamese Swatow boats to have regrouped at Hon Me
      island with a
      couple of torpedo boats and to have received orders
      for some action to
      be carried out in the northern Gulf of Tonkin in the
      afternoon of
      August 5. By that time Captain Herrick's DeSoto Patrol
      had cleared the
      Gulf and was no longer a factor.

      An equally plausible construction of the events
      pictured in these
      intercepts is that the North Vietnamese, in the face
      of the 34-A
      maritime raids and sudden appearance of a heavy U.S.
      warship, ordered
      their Swatow patrol boats to rendezvous at Hon Me with
      torpedo boats in preparation for defensive action
      against the U.S.
      destroyers, by then gone. It is not probable that the
      Vietnamese, who knew from official U.S. statements
      that Captain
      Herrick had been reinforced, would have sent their
      Swatow boats, with
      no armament capable of sinking a destroyer
      (machineguns and light
      cannon only, no torpedoes), against the strengthened
      U.S. destroyer
      force. The intercepts themselves confirm that the
      torpedo boat T-333,
      the only survivor of the August 2 battle, was not
      ready to sail at the
      critical moment on August 4, when Hanoi could have set
      up a battle for
      that day.


      Among the most prophetic and disturbing statements in
      the declassified
      record are those by national security adviser McGeorge
      Bundy, at the
      White House staff meeting at 8 a.m. on August 5, 1964.
      Bundy told the
      staff, according to the memorandum for the record
      drafted by military
      aide William Y. Smith: "On the first attack, the
      evidence would be
      pretty good. On the second one the amount of evidence
      we have today is
      less than we had yesterday. This resulted primarily
      from correlating
      bits and pieces of information eliminating double
      counting and
      mistaken signals. This much seemed certain: There was
      an attack. How
      many PT boats were involved, how many torpedoes were
      fired, etc. - all
      this was still somewhat uncertain. This matter may be
      of some
      importance since Hanoi has denied making the second
      attack." We now
      know this denial was accurate and Washington's claims
      were not, and
      that senior officials knew of the "double counting and
      signals." But when new staffer Douglass Cater -
      attending his first
      morning meeting on August 5, 1964 - questioned the
      need for a
      Congressional resolution, "Bundy, in reply, jokingly
      told him perhaps
      the matter should not be thought through too far. For
      his own part, he
      welcomed the recent events as justification for a
      resolution the
      Administration had wanted for some time."

      Change a few of the words in these quotes - perhaps
      "weapons of mass destruction" for "PT boats" and
      "torpedoes," and
      "Baghdad" for "Hanoi" - and the parallels with today
      become all too apt.

      This new evidence permits us to view more accurately
      the internal
      deliberations of the Johnson administration.
      Especially in combination
      with LBJ's telephone conversations with McNamara,
      recently made
      available to the public with transcriptions, the
      material clearly
      shows Washington rushing to a judgment on events in
      the Tonkin Gulf,
      which it seized upon as evidence in support of its
      intention to escalate the conflict in Vietnam. Those
      who questioned
      the veracity of the Johnson administration's
      description of the Gulf
      of Tonkin incident at the time were right to do so.
      The manipulation
      of this international situation for the
      administration's political
      purpose of obtaining a congressional authorization for
      the use of
      force bears considerable similarity to the manner in
      which the Bush
      administration manipulated intelligence regarding the
      possibility that
      Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction to gain its
      own legislative
      approval for war against that country. (Note 16) In
      both cases, truth
      became the first casualty. In both cases, the
      consequences far
      outweighed anything anticipated by the presidents


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