Friday, December 02, 2005

US skewed evidence of 1964 Tonkin attack

Yahoo! News
US skewed evidence of 1964 Tonkin attack: document

U.S. intelligence officials in 1964 skewed evidence of an attack on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to support claims of communist aggression that led to a massive escalation of the Vietnam War, according to a newly declassified government document.

An article by a National Security Agency historian, released by the NSA this week along with intelligence reports and other related documents, said officials at the spy agency withheld nearly 90 percent of intelligence on the August 4, 1964, incident to back allegations of a North Vietnamese attack.

"It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened. It is that no attack happened that night," NSA historian Robert Hanyok wrote.

Hanyok's article, which appeared in a classified NSA publication in 2001, was based on a review of newly discovered signals intelligence documents from 41 years ago.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident gave President Lyndon Johnson carte blanche for a huge U.S. military buildup in Southeast Asia that led to the deaths of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers and over 2 million Vietnamese civilians.

The New York Times reported Friday that some intelligence officials believe the NSA delayed the release of the Hanyok article to avoid comparisons between skewed Vietnam intelligence and flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq.

But NSA spokesman Don Weber said there was no delay. The agency only waited so it could also make public the raw material Hanyok used in composing his history, he said.

Officials at NSA, the spy agency that monitors transmission signals, provided the Johnson administration only with signals intelligence that supported claims of an attack. The reports were also flawed by severe analytic errors and contained unexplained translation changes, the article said.

In fact, Johnson's main proof that the August 4 attack occurred proved to be a "conjunction of two unrelated messages into one translation," the article stated.

"Information was presented in such a manner as to preclude responsible decisionmakers in the Johnson administration from having the complete and objective narrative," said the article, which was among hundreds of documents on the Gulf of Tonkin released by the NSA.

"The conclusion that would have been drawn from a review of all ... evidence would have been that the North Vietnamese not only did not attack, but were uncertain as to the location of the (U.S.) ships."

Historians have long suspected that government reports of the 1964 attack were fabricated. Robert McNamara, Johnson's defense secretary, said during a visit to Vietnam a decade ago that he had come to believe the attack did not occur.