On Friday, the New York Times reported on the release of "hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which played a critical role in significantly expanding the American commitment to the Vietnam War." -- Most significantly, the documents released included a 2001 study of the Gulf of Tonkin incident by historian Robert J. Hanyok that had been classified, apparently for political reasons. -- The Hanyok study shows that no second North Vietnamese attack on American ships occurred on Aug. 4, 1964, despite the fact that, as Daniel Ellsberg has written, "The president's announcement and McNamara's press conference late in the evening of August 4 informed the American public that the North Vietnamese, for the second time in two days, had attacked U.S. warships on 'routine patrol in international waters'; that this was clearly a 'deliberate' pattern of 'naked aggression'; that the evidence for the second attack, like the first, was 'unequivocal'; that the attack had been unprovoked'; and that the United States, by responding in order to deter any repetition, intended no wider war. By midnight on the fourth, or within a day or two, I knew that each one of these assurances was false" (Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers [New York: Viking, 2002], p. 12). -- The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on Aug. 7, 1964, was a response to these false claims, and was the basis for the Johnson administration's vast expansion of the Vietnam War in the following months and years. -- On Thursday, John Prados of the National Security Archive at GWU commented on the material and the long struggle, now finally successful, to have it released; see the original for important links. -- A brief excerpt from Hanyok's 55-page study, published in Cryptologic Quarterly, is reproduced below. ...
VIETNAM WAR INTELLIGENCE 'DELIBERATELY SKEWED,' SECRET STUDY
By Scott Shane
New York Times
December 2, 2005
WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency has released hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which played a critical role in significantly expanding the American commitment to the Vietnam War.
The material, posted on the Internet overnight Wednesday, included one of the largest collections of secret intercepted communications ever made available. The most provocative document is a 2001 article in which an agency historian argued that the agency's intelligence officers "deliberately skewed" the evidence passed on to policy makers and the public to falsely suggest that North Vietnamese ships had attacked American destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964.
Based on the assertion that such an attack had occurred, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered airstrikes on North Vietnam and Congress passed a broad resolution authorizing military action.
The historian, Robert J. Hanyok, wrote the article in an internal publication and it was classified top secret despite the fact that it dealt with events in 1964. Word of Mr. Hanyok's findings leaked to historians outside the agency, who requested the article under the Freedom of Information Act in 2003.
Some intelligence officials said they believed the article's release was delayed because the agency was wary of comparisons between the roles of flawed intelligence in the Vietnam War and in the war in Iraq. Mr. Hanyok declined to comment on Wednesday. But Don Weber, an agency spokesman, denied that any political consideration was involved.
"There was never a decision not to release the history" written by Mr. Hanyok, Mr. Weber said. On the contrary, he said, the release was delayed because the agency wanted to make public the raw material Mr. Hanyok used for his research.
"The goal here is to allow people to wade through all that information and draw their own conclusions," he said.
Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, called the release of the document "terrific," noting that the eavesdropping material known as signals intelligence, or sigint, is the most secret information the government has.
"N.S.A. may be the most close-mouthed of all U.S. government agencies," said Mr. Blanton, whose organization has published on the Web many collections of previously secret documents. "The release of such a large amount of sigint is unprecedented."
In his 2001 article, an elaborate piece of detective work, Mr. 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 policy makers.
"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."
Edwin E. Moïse, a historian at Clemson University who wrote a book on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, said the agency did the right thing in making public Mr. Hanyok's damning case. "A lot of people at the agency haven't been happy that communications intelligence was used to support a wrong conclusion," he said.
Agency employees worked late Wednesday to meet a self-imposed end-of-November deadline, posting the intercepts, oral history interviews with retired agency officials and internal reports on the agency's Web site at www.nsa.gov/vietnam /index.cfm.
The agency, based at Fort Meade, Md., intercepts foreign communications, like phone calls, e-mail messages and faxes, and is charged with protecting the security of American government communications. With more than 30,000 employees, including codebreakers, computer experts, and linguists, it is the largest American intelligence agency.
Its Center for Cryptologic History, where Mr. Hanyok works, has published studies of the role of signals intelligence in many major episodes in American history, including Pearl Harbor, the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis. Among its most extensive projects was publishing and annotating Soviet diplomatic messages from the 1940's decoded by agency codebreakers in a program called Venona.
TONKIN GULF INTELLIGENCE 'SKEWED' ACCORDING TO OFFICIAL HISTORY AND INTERCEPTS
** Newly Declassified National Security Agency Documents Show Analysts Made "SIGINT fit the claim" of North Vietnamese Attack **
National Security Archive
Electronic Briefing Book No. 132 -- Update
December 1, 2005
For more information contact:
John Prados -- 202/994-7000
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The largest U.S. intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, today declassified over 140 formerly top secret documents -- histories, chronologies, signals intelligence [SIGINT] reports, and oral history interviews -- on the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Included in the release is a controversial article by Agency historian Robert J. Hanyok on SIGINT and the Tonkin Gulf which confirms what historians have long argued: that there was no second attack on U.S. ships in Tonkin on August 4, 1964. According to National Security Archive research fellow John Prados, "the American people have long deserved to know the full truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The National Security Agency is to be commended for releasing this piece of the puzzle. The parallels between the faulty intelligence on Tonkin Gulf and the manipulated intelligence used to justify the Iraq War make it all the more worthwhile to re-examine the events of August 1964 in light of new evidence." Last year, Prados edited a National Security Archive briefing book which published for the first time some of the key intercepts from the Gulf of Tonkin crisis.
The National Security Agency has long resisted the declassification of material on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, despite efforts by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Carl Marcy (who had prepared a staff study on the August 4 incident), former Deputy Director Louis Tordella, and John Prados to push for declassification of key documents. Today's release is largely due to the perseverance of FOIA requester Matthew M. Aid, who requested the Hanyok study in April 2004 and brought the issue to the attention of the New York Times when he learned that senior National Security Agency officials were trying to block release of the documents. New York Times reporter Scott Shane wrote that higher-level officials at the NSA were "fearful that [declassification] might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq." The glaring light of publicity encouraged the Agency's leaders finally to approve declassification of the documents.
Hanyok's article, "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964," originally published in the National Security Agency's classified journal Cryptologic Quarterly in early 2001, provides a comprehensive SIGINT-based account "of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin." Using this evidence, Hanyok argues that the SIGINT confirms that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, on August 2, 1964, although under questionable circumstances. The SIGINT also shows, according to Hanyok, that a second attack, on August 4, 1964, by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. ships, did not occur despite claims to the contrary by the Johnson administration. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara treated Agency SIGINT reports as vital evidence of a second attack and used this claim to support retaliatory air strikes and to buttress the administration's request for a Congressional resolution that would give the White House freedom of action in Vietnam.
Hanyok further argues that Agency officials had "mishandled" SIGINT concerning the events of August 4 and provided top level officials with "skewed" intelligence supporting claims of an August 4 attack. "The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack occurred." Key pieces of evidence are missing from the Agency's archives, such as the original decrypted Vietnamese text of a document that played an important role in the White House's case. Hanyok has not found a "smoking gun" to demonstrate a cover-up but believes that the evidence suggests "an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin." Senior officials at the Agency, the Pentagon, and the White House were none the wiser about the gaps in the intelligence. Hanyok's conclusions have sparked controversy among old Agency hands but his research confirms the insight of journalist I.F. Stone, who questioned the second attack only weeks after the events. Hanyok's article is part of a larger study on the National Security Agency and the Vietnam War, "Spartans in Darkness," which is the subject of a pending FOIA request by the National Security Archive.
From SKUNKS, BOGIES, SILENT HOUNDS, AND FLYING FISH: THE GULF OF TONKIN
MYSTERY, 2-4 AUGUST 1964
By Robert J. Hanyok
From pages 2-3 & 49
[From pages 2-3]
The issue of whether the available SIGINT "proved" that there had been a second attack has been argued for years. In 1968, Robert McNamara testified before Senator William Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee's hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin that the supporting signals intelligence was "unimpeachable." On the other hand, in 1972 the deputy director of NSA, Louis Tordella, was quoted as saying that the 4 August intercepts pertained to the 2 August attacks. In a 1975 article in the NSA magazine Cryptolog, the Gulf of Tonkin incident was retold, but the SIGINT for the night of August 4 was not mentioned, except for the "military operations" intercept, and even then without comment. . . .
The research behind the new version which follows is based on the discovery of an enormous amount of never-before-used SIGINT material. This included 122 relevant SIGINT products, along with watch center notes, oral history interviews, and messages among the various SIGINT and military command centers involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incidents. Naturally, this flood of new information changed dramatically the story of that night of 4/5 August. The most important element is that it is now known what the North Vietnamese Navy was doing that night. And with this information a nearly complete story finally can be told.
Two startling findings emerged from the new research. First, it is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that *no attack* happened that night. Through a compound of analytic errors and an unwillingness to consider contrary evidence, American SIGINT elements in the region and at NSA HQs reported Hanoi's plans to attack the two ships of the Desoto patrol. Further analytic errors and an obscuring of other information led to publication of more "evidence." In truth, Hanoi's navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged on 2 August.
The second finding pertains to the handling of the SIGINT material related to the Gulf of Tonkin by individuals at NSA. Beginning with the period of the crisis in early August, into the days of the immediate aftermath, and continuing into October 1964, SIGINT information was presented in such a manner as to preclude responsible decisionmakers in the Johnson administration from having the complete and objective narrative of events from 4 August 1964. Instead, only SIGINT that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers was given to administration officials.
This mishandling of the SIGINT was not done in a manner that can be construed as conspiratorial, that is, with manufactured evidence and collusion at all levels. Rather, the objective of these individuals was to support the Navy's claim that the Desoto patrol had been deliberately attacked by the North Vietnamese. Yet, in order to substantiate that claim, all of the SIGINT could not be provided to the White House and the Defense and intelligence officials. The conclusion that would be drawn from a review of all SIGINT evidence would have been that the North Vietnamese not only did not attack, but were uncertain as to the location of the ships. . . .
[The final two paragraphs of the article (p. 49):]
The exact "how" and "why" for this effort to provide only the SIGINT that supported the claim of an attack remain unknown. There are no "smoking gun" memoranda or notes buried in the files that outline any plan or state a justification. Instead, the paper record speaks for itself on what happened: what few product (six) were actually uses, and how 90 percent of them were kept out of the chronology; how contradictory SIGINT evidence was answered both with speculation and fragments lifted from context; how the complete lack of Vietnamese C3I was not addressed; and, finally, how critical original Vietnamese text and subsequent product were no longer available. From this evidence, one can easily deduce the deliberate nature of these actions. And this observation makes sense, for there was a purpose to them: This was an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The question of why the NSA personnel handled the product the way they did will probably never be answered. The notion that they were under "pressure" to deliver the story that the administration wanted simply cannot be supported. If the participants are to be believed, and they were adamant in asserting this, they did not bend to the desires of administration officials. Also, such "environmental" factors as overworked crisis center personnel and lack of experienced linguists are, for the most part, not relevant when considering the entire period of the crisis and the follow-up. As we have seen, the effort to ensure that the only SIGINT publicized would be that which supported the contention that an attack had occurred continued long after the crisis ahd passed. While the product initially issued on the 4 August incident may be contentious, thin, and mistaken, what was issued in the Gulf of Tonkin summaries beginning late on 4 August was deliberately skewed to support the notion that there had been an attack. What was placed in the official chronology was even more selective. That the NSA personnel believed that the attack happened and rationalized the contradictory evidence away is probably all that is necessary to know in order to understand what was done. They walked alone in their counsels.