Gulf of Tonkin Intelligence 'Deliberately Skewed'
December 2, 2005 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Gulf of Tonkin Intelligence 'Deliberately Skewed'
The National Security Agency has released hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that played a critical role near the beginning of the Vietnam War. ... The most provocative document is a 2001 article [PDF] in which an agency historian argued that the agency's intelligence officers "deliberately skewed" the evidence passed on to policymakers on the crucial question of whether North Vietnamese ships attacked U.S. destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964. Based on the mistaken belief that such an attack had occurred, President Lyndon Johnson ordered air strikes on North Vietnam, and Congress passed a broad resolution authorizing military action.
[more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (22 comments total)

 
More from the San Francisco Chronicle article:
In his 2001 article, an elaborate piece of detective work, Hanyok wrote that 90 percent of the intercepts of North Vietnamese communications relevant to the supposed Aug. 4, 1964, attack were omitted from the major agency documents going to policymakers.

"The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened," he wrote. "So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred."
posted by kirkaracha at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2005


Vietnam is beginning to look more and more like Iraq every day.
posted by justkevin at 10:02 AM on December 2, 2005


it is interesting to note that LBJ died depressed and alone in his Texas ranch, his reputation destroyed and his name stained forever -- he spent his (very few) twilight years surrounded by all those ghosts, bitterly cursing "that bitch of a war"
posted by matteo at 10:03 AM on December 2, 2005


I thought it was already established that the Gulf of Tonkin intelligence was skewed. Interesting reading nonetheless.
posted by goatdog at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2005


What I don't like, if the argument is that Iraq = Vietnam II, is that this absolves President Johnson of responsibility for his actions — and by extension, Bush Jr. — and pushes it upon a faceless bureaucratic organization that people are all too happy to blame anyway (CIA).

This removes the historic contribution of private (military) contractors from the Vietnam equation — and likewise for Iraq, though there Bush/Cheney added energy concerns to the mix.

The timing of these reports, and the conclusions they beg, seems too pat.
posted by Rothko at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2005


Second verse, same as the first!
posted by BobFrapples at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2005


this just in: politicians lie
posted by yonation at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2005


it is interesting to note that LBJ...

... actually seems to have understood early in the game what he was getting into, which makes him simultaneously more tragic and more worthy of condemnation. Also probably explains the "depressed and alone" part....
posted by lodurr at 10:46 AM on December 2, 2005


Rothko, I don't disagree that it's a troubling possibility. But: We know that Johnson continued to escalate the war long after he knew it couldn't be won. He's not absolved in the minds of anyone who actually listened to any of those tapes that were released recently.

Also, we do need to be wary of the simplistic 'Vietraq' comparison. For one thing, Johnson was a hell of a lot smarter than Bush: He called the tune for his hounds (or so he thought), not the other way around. He knew the war was un-winnable early on, and lied to our faces; Bush himself AFAICS is "merely" delusional. For another, Vietnam at least started small and under-radar; Iraq started huge and in full view. Vietnam was a stack of little (or at most, medium) lies, played for a relatively small audience and low starting stakes; Iraq has been played for a big audience for really big and long-term stakes. I have some faith that the difference will not be as easy to gloss over as all that.
posted by lodurr at 10:55 AM on December 2, 2005


if the argument is that Iraq = Vietnam II, is that this absolves President Johnson of responsibility for his actions — and by extension, Bush Jr. — and pushes it upon a faceless bureaucratic organization that people are all too happy to blame anyway (CIA).

That's a fair enough concern, but I don't think that's the issue re Iraq. There, the reporting indicates that the intelligence agencies were the manipulatees, not the manipulators. Bush Jr may have been a victim of his underlings' spin, but I don't think that exonerates him.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2005


According to the interview with Defense Secretary McNamara in Errol Morris's excellent film, "The Fog of War", there were two incidents of unprovoked attacks on US Ships in international waters within a week of each other.

The first incident apparently did happen, there was fragments of North Vietnamese shell fragments recovered.

The second incident, that which the resolution was based on, did not, as your FPP indicates, happen.

The wikipedia link in this posting discusses this in more detail, but it does add some shading to the narrative.
posted by extrabox at 11:59 AM on December 2, 2005


According to the interview with Defense Secretary McNamara in Errol Morris's excellent film, "The Fog of War",

I wasn't sure we were actually supposed to believe this, given the way in which McNamara is so steadily regretless in the movie.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:17 PM on December 2, 2005


I think this is the Bush administration trying to point at someone else for flawed intelligence to somehow absolve them of their own responsibility. (All right, this is a rephrasing of the above.) First, this has been around forever, now suddenly a special declassified report? Second, how about the way we skewed the Lusitania findings? Or, the "attack" on the Maine? This is replayed over and over, which again doesn't vaguely justify it, in fact, it should have been enough evidence to let us know that the intelligence for Iraq was rotten/fixed.
If you listen to the contemporary tapes (wire-tapping) that LBJ made of his phone calls, you can see even at the time of the second Gulf of Tonkin that he knew Vietnam would be his undoing. It is Bush's unfathomable stupidity that he chose to go in grinning.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:27 PM on December 2, 2005


Wait a minute, the Johnson administration lied to us?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2005


It does look like pretty much the same thing has happened again heading into the Iraq war, except as noted, the administration itself appears to be responsible for the intelligence being manipulated this time.
posted by caddis at 12:39 PM on December 2, 2005


LBJ=Hitler
posted by beautifulatrocities at 12:49 PM on December 2, 2005


In the "stop me if you've heard this one before" department:

Q: What is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam?

A: Bush had a plan to get out of Vietnam.
posted by edverb at 1:56 PM on December 2, 2005


Another parallel is that the American destroyers were trying to provoke an attack to provide an excuse for escalating the conflict, similar to how the US ramped up bombing in the no-fly zone before the invasion of Iraq.

This article has some excerpts from the contemporaneous diary of a naval reconnaissance aviator.

Slate looked at "what's true and what's a lie" in Fog of War:
Congress gave President Johnson carte blanche to go to war in August 1964 after reports that a North Vietnamese patrol boat had attacked the Maddox, a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. McNamara concedes that it now appears this attack didn't happen, but claims that he and Johnson honestly believed that it did at the time.

Two things are wrong with his account. First, the officers on the Maddox did send cables reporting a torpedo attack. But they also sent cables a few hours later, taking it all back and attributing the confusion to a misreading of sonar signals. (Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers, spent his first day as a Pentagon aide watching this cable traffic and compellingly recounts the sequence of events in his recent memoir, Secrets.)

Second, McNamara fails to mention that the Maddox itself had engaged in covert attacks on the North Vietnamese coastline. The ship's sonar officers thought they saw a torpedo attack in part because they were expecting one. This covert operation, known as "Plan 34A," was designed to provoke a North Vietnamese response, which would then provide an excuse for U.S. escalation.

Even at the time, McNamara misled outsiders on this operation. When he was asked about rumors of provocation during hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he replied, "Our Navy played no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any." Notice the careful wording: "South Vietnamese actions." Technically, he was telling the truth. There were no South Vietnamese actions. The provocations were entirely American.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:14 PM on December 2, 2005


That was damn funny edverb.

“What I don't like, if the argument is that Iraq = Vietnam II....” -posted by Rothko

I’d argue the reverse point as well. We can’t absolve the mechanisms. Since it’s already Godwinned (sarcastically), I’d argue that the mechanisms that enabled Hitler to do what he did were as at fault as Hitler himself. There were swellings of anti-semitism in Germany. They had their asses kicked in WWI and were unjustifiably being oppressed by treaties, etc.
Conditions were such that they enabled Hitler.
One could argue the same here. I have yet to see a kind of “white rose” society opposing Bushco. But I don’t think it’s bad enough to engage in active attempts on sabotage and assassination yet tho.

And LBJ may have had a sort of trade off thing going. “Give me civil rights and I’ll give you the war” sort of deal with the devil.
I’m the first to concede the man was a shitkicker through and through, but he wasn’t all bad - in comparison.
Neat scar too.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2005


I’ll add that I certainly see that those conditions were modulated and taken advantage of and that implies “someone” doing that.
The money is going somewhere isn’t it.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:18 PM on December 2, 2005


I don’t think it’s bad enough to engage in active attempts on sabotage and assassination yet

The Iraqis, understandably, are less patient.
More than 50 percent of those surveyed in the Gallup poll said attacks on US troops were "justified" or "sometimes justified," while only a quarter said they were never justified. (And given that the poll was taken by Americans, that's likely to be a significant underestimate).

Closer to home, though, I wonder how bad things would have to get before a significant number of Americans would feel that line has been crossed?
posted by cleardawn at 5:17 PM on December 2, 2005


I wonder how bad things would have to get before a significant number of Americans would feel that line has been crossed?

Yeah. That's kinda what I was asking.
So, you're a contrarian too, eh? "No, I'm not"

I'm not seeing any sort of active resistance in the U.S. beyond the standard sort. Not what I'd call "resistance."

Bad in what way? Death camp bad? It happened before didn't it?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:23 PM on December 2, 2005


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