"TAILWIND"

 

REBUTTAL TO THE ABRAMS/KOHLER REPORT

 

This rebuttal responds to the "Report on CNN Broadcast ‘Valley of Death’" by attorneys Floyd Abrams and David Kohler dated July 2, 1998 (the "AK Report"). The AK Report, prepared in less than two weeks, on our eight month investigation contains numerous significant inaccuracies, mistakes and omissions. The AK Report is thin on detail, and shows a weak and superficial understanding of the facts upon which the broadcast was based. It makes unsupported propositions regarding the credibility of sources, appears to rely on third party reporting, virtually ignores the most significant confirming and corroborating statements from sources, and repeatedly proposes ambiguities which are at odds with any common sense reading of the interview transcripts.

 

Before broadcast, CNN’s top management gave both Tailwind stories (aired on June 7 and June 14, 1998) and their producers its full backing and support. They then withdrew that support and fired us. These actions have profound and far reaching implications for this kind of difficult and serious journalism. We hope that every thoughtful journalist with an interest in this controversy will take the time to read both the AK Report and this response in full before coming to any conclusions.

 

 

The most serious problems with the AK Report fall into three main categories, and the following represent the most significant of its deficiencies, which are more fully enumerated in the body of our response:

 

1. METHOD OF PREPARATION OF THE AK REPORT

 

(a) INDEPENDENCE. The AK Report has been widely touted as an "independent" report. One glance at the cover confirms that it is nothing of the sort. The co-author of the AK Report is David Kohler, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of CNN. The other co-author, Floyd Abrams, was hired and paid by CNN.

 

(b) CONFLICT OF INTEREST. David Kohler, the co-author of the AK Report, has a glaring conflict of interest, not only because he reports to members of CNN senior management who approved the Tailwind broadcasts, but also because he himself reviewed and approved both broadcasts and involved himself in the editorial decisions on those broadcasts as CNN General Counsel. Mr. Kohler involved himself in the editorial decisions at CNN CEO Tom Johnson’s request in order, according to Mr. Kohler, to provide Mr. Johnson with comfort about the broadcasts.

 

The AK Report itself suggests that it is designed to absolve CNN management, including Mr. Kohler, of any responsibility. Following a brief introduction, the AK Report states that "[s]ince this report is highly critical of the reporting on Operation Tailwind, it may be useful to set forth at the outset precisely what information CNN news management understood supported the underlying conclusions of the broadcast." (emphasis added.) Not only does the AK Report fail to "precisely" set forth all of the information contained in the briefing book prepared for CNN’s senior management, but it does not explain why in a report highly critical of the reporting of a broadcast "it may be useful" to set forth management’s understanding of the broadcast. Management’s understanding is relevant only if the report was designed to absolve management of responsibility.

 

(c) FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS. For nearly two weeks following the second broadcast we were gagged by CNN from talking to the press. During that time, CNN hired Floyd Abrams, we were told, to counsel us on First Amendment rights and the protection of our confidential sources. We met with Mr. Abrams for an aggregate combined total of less than three hours over a three-day period (June 23, 24 and 25), largely to discuss confidential sources. During this period, patently inaccurate factual statements were widely circulating in the press that have now become accepted as established fact by the journalistic community, the public, and, in some instances, even by the authors of the AK Report. At Mr. Kohler’s request, we provided a 19-page memorandum responding to some of the criticisms that had been made of the broadcast in the press. This memorandum did not address, and was not intended to address, many aspects of our sourcing.

 

Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler told us that we would be interviewed after they had reviewed the transcripts and videotapes upon which the broadcast was based. We were never interviewed as promised. Mr. Abrams has attempted to dodge their failure to interview us by saying he and Mr. Kohler relied on their brief meetings with us and the 19-page memorandum. Neither their brief meetings with us before they reviewed the transcripts nor the 19-page memorandum could in any way match interviewing us directly after the transcripts were read and the tapes screened. This defies any notion of a fair and complete investigation.

 

Finally, Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler broke their commitment to allow us to comment and object to the draft of their report before it was released.

 

We were tried, convicted and sentenced in a closed proceeding that failed any test of fairness or due process. Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler broke their word throughout the investigation. We were star chambered.

 

(d) HASTE. Over the course of eight months, our reporting generated thousands of pages of transcripts and many videotaped interviews. The AK Report took less than two weeks. This is not enough time to make a proper assessment of the information we received, as this Rebuttal will show. We do not know how much of the written material the authors of the AK Report reviewed (they do not say), but to our knowledge, of all the videotaped interviews, Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler only requested to see those with Admiral Moorer and Lieutenant Van Buskirk. If so, this is inadequate. Any review of Captain McCarley’s videotaped interview, for example, makes clear the manner in which he answered our questions and casts a red light on his credibility that is not evident from a mere review of his transcripts.

 

(e) NO JOURNALISTIC REVIEW. The authors of the AK report are both attorneys, not journalists. Prior to the issuance of the AK Report, we requested that a journalism dean replace Mr. Kohler and be appointed as a co-author, but this request was ignored. Much of CNN’s post-retraction coverage has concentrated on the assertion that the broadcast did not have "proof." Since when is this the journalistic standard? Even in a criminal court of law the standard is not absolute proof, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A review of this Rebuttal will show that we had an enormous amount of confirming, corroborating and supporting information for the broadcast, sufficient to justify its going to air.

 

(f) BREACH OF CONFIDENCES. In the AK Report, against our vigorous protests, Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler have disclosed sources in breach of confidentiality obligations undertaken by us on behalf of CNN in the course of our investigation. CNN and Messrs. Abrams and Kohler thus knowingly broke one of the most important tenets of journalism — protect your sources.

 

 

2. MAJOR DEFICIENCIES OF THE AK REPORT

 

The AK Report is littered with thin analysis, misstatements and inaccuracies. We list some examples below.

 

(a) SELECTIVE INFORMATION. The AK Report virtually ignores much of the most important information and attempts to discredit the many important sources that supported the story. At the same time, it ignores information that undermines the credibility or statements of three men on the mission whose statements the AK Report characterizes as denying the story. In fact, any review of the statements made by these sources prior to broadcast will show that their statements were self-contradictory and in many instances supported the story. We will cite five examples of the presentation of selective information by the AK Report, but there are many more set forth in this Rebuttal.

 

Moorer’s May Interview: The AK Report devotes a full 12 of its 54 pages to quotes from the first off-camera interview with Admiral Moorer in December 1997, and the follow up on-camera interview the very next month, in January 1998. The quotes are set forth non-sequentially in the AK Report, which substantially distorts their content. However, the AK Report virtually ignores the third and most important interview with the Admiral in May 1998, referring to it in only a single paragraph on page 29 of the AK Report. In that third off-camera interview with April Oliver, Admiral Moorer was asked whether killing defectors was the mission in Tailwind and replied "I have no doubt about that." In that interview, he also clearly and unambiguously confirmed that sarin nerve gas was "by and large" available for search and rescue missions, that it was "definitely available" in the Vietnam War and that it saved American lives in Laos. None of these confirmations are even given passing mention in the AK Report which concludes that none of Moorer’s statements are "sufficiently clear to be relied upon as a true confirmation or anything like it." We have consequently felt it necessary to quote Admiral Moorer’s actual words extensively in this Rebuttal. (We invite journalists to read the quotes from that interview, not referenced by the AK Report, which are set forth on pages 14 to 19 of this Rebuttal.)

 

Moorer’s Pre-Broadcast Approval and Post-Broadcast Statement: Six days before the broadcast aired, after his three interviews, Admiral Moorer read and approved the script of the broadcast which plainly states that he confirms that nerve gas was used and that defectors were the target. This extraordinary final approval by Admiral Moorer exceeds any normal journalistic standard of confirmation. Even after the controversy over the story broke, Admiral Moorer stated three more times that he did indeed confirm to April Oliver that sarin nerve gas was used on Tailwind and more widely on search and rescue missions. These three further confirmations took place in the presence of both Jack Smith and April Oliver and are reflected in their notes of that meeting. Incredibly, the AK Report refers to Moorer’s approval of the script as a "potential confirmation." The day after the initial broadcast, the Pentagon faxed Admiral Moorer a statement headed, "Statement by Admiral Thomas Moorer, USN (ret.)" which said "In my discussions with CNN, I did not confirm the use of Sarin gas by U.S. military forces during Operation Tailwind." (emphasis added.) Admiral Moorer amended this statement to say "I did not authorize the use of Sarin gas by U.S. military forces during Operation Tailwind." (emphasis added.) The AK Report makes no mention of this. Clearly, Admiral Moorer himself believed that he had confirmed the use of sarin gas on Tailwind to CNN, even though the authors of the AK Report resolutely do not.

 

Captain McCarley’s Credibility: Captain McCarley was the commanding officer of the commando company on the ground and appeared and spoke five times during the initial broadcast. The AK Report states that more prominence should have been given to Captain McCarley. The AK Report ignores totally the facts (1) that because McCarley was wounded early Van Buskirk, not McCarley, led the attack on the base camp, called for the gas (the "baddest of the bad"), and was chosen to brief General Creighton Abrams on the operation, (2) that McCarley made numerous contradictory statements regarding the gas, including "[i]t very well could have been nerve gas," not referred to in the AK Report, and (3) that McCarley stands ready to deny that the US military was ever in Laos at all, stating in an on-camera interview that:

 

"IF OPERATING ACROSS BORDER [INTO LAOS] IS CONSIDERED UNETHICAL OR DENIABLE, THEN I RECKON I’M DENYING IT."

 

In other words, McCarley stands ready to deny everything relating to operations in Laos by the U.S. military. This pronouncement, nowhere referred to in the AK Report, cuts to the very heart of McCarley’s lack of credibility on Tailwind. It is worthy of note, given the allegations that we "fell in love with the story" and minimized contradictory information, that we chose not to emphatically discredit McCarley and omitted from the broadcast his statement of deniability of all matters pertaining to Laos.

 

Medic Rose’s Credibility: Similarly, the AK Report states that our failure to use the medic, Gary Rose, in the broadcast is "troubling." The AK Report uncritically refers to Rose’s post-broadcast remarks that the gas was CS tear gas. As with McCarley, information undermining Rose’s credibility on this issue is entirely ignored by the AK Report. In fact, Rose initially adamantly denied that any gas at all was used at all on extraction from Operation Tailwind and stated that the only reason he donned his gas mask on the extraction was to protect his face from "crap" kicked up by the helicopter’s blades. In that initial interview, Rose said that earlier on in the day, prior to extraction, there had been a liquid gas that "burned like hell" and may have been a liquid version of CS. In later conversations, he changed his position, saying that the gas was "incapacitating," that a liquid gas was used on extraction that was "a lot stronger" than CS gas, and was definitely not CS gas. He said "it was awful stuff." Rose also said that he was not saying the gas couldn’t be GB, that maybe he was far enough away to not get a heavy dose of it, that his physiology might be somewhat resistant to it and that the tall elephant grass might have filtered it out. This was the state of Rose’s information at the time of the broadcast. Against this background, we decided not to invite Rose for an on-camera interview because of his inconsistency. In addition, in the week preceding the broadcast, Rose told the Associate Producer of the broadcast that he wouldn’t have known what the gas was since he came to the landing zone last as he was with all the wounded. Furthermore, in a post-broadcast conversation with that Associate Producer, he made no complaint other than that we had shown the wrong gas mask on the broadcast (the masks they had used had internal, not external, filters). Rose then proceeded to volunteer that the broadcast had reminded him that he was told to take extra atropine (the sarin nerve gas antidote) with him on the mission. Later still after the broadcast, he finally came to the position mentioned uncritically and without context in the AK Report that this was, in fact, tear gas. Reading the AK Report, one would believe that Rose’s statements were clear, consistent and credible. They were none of these.

 

Pilot Bishop’s Statements: One of the Tailwind pilots, Art Bishop stated that he believes he dropped tear gas, not nerve gas. The AK Report states that the pilot Art Bishop "strongly disputed" the proposition that he might not have known what gas he was flying. However, in an e-mail to April Oliver (not referenced by the AK Report), Bishop states, "it could have been popcorn" that he was flying on Tailwind. Two Air Force commanders told us that the pilots would have no need to know what they were carrying. In an off-camera interview, Bishop also says in relation to the possibility that someone was flying nerve gas, "Who am I to say it isn’t true." He goes on to say, ""as I recall the story we were given was that it was tear gas. If we had nerve gas at NKP, it would have been really hard to take care of. I never heard about it. Course there was tight security there. And you can never really go by what you are told." We included Bishop’s statement that he was briefed and believed it was tear gas in the report sent to CNN in Atlanta. Against our most forceful protests, Bishop’s statement was taken out of our final cut by CNN executives in Atlanta due to the time constraints resulting from Rick Kaplan’s insertion of a contextual paragraph at the beginning of the broadcast. Substance was sacrificed by Atlanta management for Mr. Kaplan’s attempt at color.

 

(b) UNSUPPORTED PROPOSITIONS. The AK Report’s authors attack the information given by important confirming sources, not based on what the sources said, but based on unsupported attacks on the sources’ credibility and one-sided interpretations of what the sources said.

 

Moorer’s Mental Awareness: The AK Report says that Admiral Moorer "will be 87 next month," "lives in an assisted-care retirement home" and that the authors have "concerns about his age." The clear insinuation is that Admiral Moorer is somehow mentally impaired by reason of his age and where he lives. For the record, Admiral Moorer lives with his wife in a luxurious and elegant retirement home. He is healthy and active enough to play golf. April Oliver has spent many hours with Admiral Moorer, not on the telephone, but in person in dignified and courteous interviews. She has found him to be totally lucid with excellent recall of the events of the time. Any reading of the transcripts or review of his interview on videotape makes that self-evident. Even the AK Report concedes that Admiral Moorer’s "memory remains satisfactory." His recollection of the statements he had made to Oliver was so accurate, in fact, that he was able to challenge the one word in the draft text of the broadcast with which he took issue. The Admiral correctly recalled that he had not used the word "scores" to describe the number of American defectors in Vietnam — he in fact had said that "[23] is too low and [300] too high." He subsequently agreed that "scores" was an acceptable paraphrase. Admiral Moorer’s telephone manner does not lend itself to the quick-reaction daily journalism that requires an immediate five second soundbite, and it is hardly surprising that he has not been called on by CNN to comment on "ongoing issues" since the early 1990s as he has been retired for over twenty years. Contrary to the AK Report, this is not a "credibility issue." We invite journalists to read Moorer’s statements and review his videotaped interview and reach their own conclusions as to his clarity of mind and memory. If the authors of the AK Report have any evidence at all that suggests that Admiral Moorer is mentally infirm or feeble, they should abide by the same standards they espouse in the AK Report and come forward with it. Otherwise, they should not seek to discredit him with this type of insinuation, which has taken on a life of its own in the press.

 

Van Buskirk’s Repressed Memory: The AK Report states as uncontroverted fact that Lieutenant Van Buskirk "has, in spectacularly self-destructive fashion, stated that he had repressed memory syndrome which he only overcame while speaking with Oliver." The AK Report goes on to state that "recent reports that [Van Buskirk] attributes to repressed memory his previous failure to recall the encounter with defectors as he now describes it makes continued reliance upon him all the more problematic." This allegation appears to arise from a third party report by Newsweek magazine. Van Buskirk calls it "hogwash."

 

We do not know, but would be interested to learn, what steps were taken by the authors of the AK Report to confirm the accuracy of Newsweek’s report. We would hope that they checked this allegation thoroughly before setting it forth in a publicly issued report with such radical consequences, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case. Elementary inquiries or investigation would have raised serious questions about the allegation’s accuracy.

 

The notes from the first cold call made by Oliver to Van Buskirk in October 1997 make it clear that he did not suffer from repressed memory. In that call he references both his killing of a Caucasian who cursed at him in perfect English and the use of a lethal nerve gas. In that initial cold call, Van Buskirk stated that the Caucasian who cursed in English was a "Russian adviser," but in later conversations stated that he believed then and now that the Caucasian was, in fact, an American. This is not something he might be thought likely to reveal in an initial cold call given, as he later revealed, that his commander had told him not to discuss the incident, not to include the killing in his after action report and that the Caucasian was probably a Russian with perfect English.

 

Newsweek reporter, Evan Thomas, wrote the article alleging that Van Buskirk suffered from repressed memory. We have been told by Thomas that Van Buskirk answered affirmatively a question put to him by Thomas in which Thomas (not Van Buskirk) introduced the term repressed memory. By the AK Report’s own standards (which it appears to apply selectively), and by any reasonable standard, this falls far short of being a statement by Van Buskirk that he suffers from "repressed memory."

 

Our "Deeply Held Beliefs." The authors of the AK Report state, without any support whatsoever, that the "thesis" of the Tailwind broadcast reflected our "deeply held beliefs." Messrs. Abrams and Kohler have never spoken to us about this proposition of theirs which we find to be an offensive slur on our journalistic integrity. We did not have a "thesis" with respect to Tailwind. The broadcast reflected deeply researched reporting rather than our beliefs. We reported what numerous men all along the chain of command told us.

 

(c) ONE-SIDED INTERPRETATIONS. The AK Report is littered with one-sided interpretations. We will cite three examples here:

 

What McCarley Said: The AK Report cites the accuracy of April Oliver’s notes with great approval, and, indeed, relies "upon many of those passages as a basis for our criticism of the broadcast." McCarley is the only interviewee to our knowledge who denies he said what is in Oliver’s contemporaneous notes of his interview. Rather than acknowledging that McCarley’s denials cast doubts upon his credibility, and notwithstanding the authors’ willingness to pass judgment on the credibility of Van Buskirk and Moorer on far less evidence, the authors of the AK Report feel "unable to pass judgment" on this issue. Further and even more egregiously, despite this purported inability to pass judgment, the AK Report goes on to set forth McCarley’s post-broadcast position without referencing and contrasting that position to Oliver’s contemporaneous notes. These notes include McCarley’s statements:

 

"It very well could have been nerve gas." "It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that a lethal nerve gas was used." "It is very possible [that nerve gas was used]. I can’t confirm or deny. I would have no problems with it being used."

 

None of these statements is referenced anywhere in the AK Report.

 

Van Buskirk’s Book: The authors conclude that Van Buskirk’s book mentions a gas, "arguably in terms inconsistent with sarin." Although we place no weight on the description of the gas in the book (which is about Van Buskirk’s voyage of personal discovery and devotes only one chapter of 25 pages describing the events of Operation Tailwind), the gas symptoms actually described there (nausea, bending over and vomiting) are more consistent with sarin, and more arguably inconsistent with tear gas dispersed in an open area.

 

Confidential Source: Taking another example, we invite journalists to read the quotes from a confidential source set forth on pages 26 and 27 of this Rebuttal (and in the AK Report, pp. 36 — 38), and to ask themselves whether any fair reading of that passage demonstrates the source "may be responding in a hypothetical fashion" as the authors conclude. This is an extraordinary conclusion.

 

(d) MISREPRESENTATIONS: The AK Report contains a number of misrepresentations of information. One flagrant example is set forth in this introduction.

 

Van Buskirk’s Supposed Reference in Early Interviews to Tear Gas: The AK Report states that in early interviews:

 

"Van Buskirk repeatedly refers to the gas as CBU-19 which, as he acknowledges, was a tear gas weapon."

 

In later interviews, the AK Report states, "[Van Buskirk] appears to become more certain of the lethal nature of the gas used." This, they conclude, damages his credibility. This is an extraordinary misrepresentation of what Van Buskirk said in his early interviews, and calls into question the bona fides of the AK Report. The following are some quotes from Van Buskirk in his initial cold call interview with April Oliver:

 

"I didn’t really talk about the gas [in my book] because it was too top secret. It was delivered in CBU-19s." "That stuff they put in the CBU-19s it made us sick." "The rest of the enemy all died from the gas." "Oh, yeah, it was lethal war gas. Course they don’t tell us too much."

 

In the same initial cold call interview, he also describes the symptoms of those exposed to the gas in some detail, including a description of the enemy "laying down to die."

 

"My unit puked their brains out. We all got amoebic dysentery. Everyone’s nose ran and all this mucous started coming out of everyone’s nostrils. Lots of enemy started having seizures…."

 

These are not tear gas symptoms.

 

It is absolutely clear that in this initial cold call Van Buskirk is talking about a lethal gas. He is not talking about tear gas and later changing his story to lethal gas, as the AK Report asserts.

 

[Note: At a meeting in October 1997 after the initial cold call, Van Buskirk took April Oliver aside and told her that the call sign wasn’t 19, it was more like CBU 15 or 16. The confusion may have arisen because of the military’s subordinate designation of sarin nerve gas, BLU-19.]

 

 

 

3. ONE-SIDED REPORTING?

 

Perhaps the strongest single criticism of the broadcast by the AK Report was that CNN presented views consistent with its own conclusions and neglected or minimized conflicting views. The AK Report accuses us of being guilty of "journalistic overkill," a baseless accusation that we totally reject. The Tailwind broadcasts were based upon confirmations, corroborations and additional support from our multiple sources, including soldiers on the ground, pilots and senior commanders in a position to know what transpired in Operation Tailwind. These sources spoke clearly and openly in spite of having every reason for denial.

 

The AK Report authors feel competent to judge, without having interviewed either of us on the subject and ignoring indications to the contrary (such as our refusal to emphatically discredit Captain McCarley with his own words and our attempts to include the pilot, Bishop), that the broadcast reflected our "deeply held beliefs." This has led to unfounded allegations in the media (and even, most extraordinarily, from Rick Kaplan, President of CNN America, who approved the broadcast) that we "fell in love with the story." This is simply not true. We are experienced journalists who are agnostics with respect to each and every story we report. In September 1997, April Oliver produced a story very favorable to the Studies and Observations Group ("SOG") which was widely greeted with approval by the US military. After that broadcast, a Pentagon press official called to compliment the program as a tribute to men of courage. We repeat - in the Tailwind broadcasts we intentionally omitted information that would have destroyed the credibility of McCarley. In addition, we included Bishop’s statement in the final cut sent to Atlanta. With this story, as with others, we followed the leads where they took us and uncovered the confirming, corroborating and supporting information upon which the story was based.

 

We have always been aware of contradictory information regarding nerve gas and defectors. We sought interviews with many who might contradict the story, including former National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger (he did not return our calls or letters), former CIA Director Richard Helms (who said he did not know anything about it), former SOG commander, John Sadler (who told us our request, one of four, was in the trash can), and a former CIA station chief (who did not want to go on camera). Had any of these potential sources spoken, their views would have been aired. (A list of those approached is set forth in Attachment 1 to this Rebuttal).

 

We provided a 156-page briefing book summarizing for senior CNN management the sourcing basis for the broadcast. That briefing book contained a 35-page section discussing those individuals who claimed either that nerve gas was not used or that the mission was not to kill American defectors. We made it clear to CNN management that the report would be very controversial and we wrote a three page memorandum to management at CNN and Time magazine specifically outlining the individuals and groups likely to criticize the broadcast. We requested one hour in which to present the story, both pro and con, in a fuller form, but were told by the broadcast’s executive producer and first deputy that it would have to be a magazine report running fourteen minutes. In the end it was given eighteen minutes.

 

The briefing book was sent to Executive Producer, Pamela Hill, in Atlanta for distribution to CNN senior management, including CNN CEO, Tom Johnson, CNN America President, Rick Kaplan, and CNN Senior Vice President and General Counsel and co-author of the AK Report, David Kohler. All were fully aware of the controversial nature of the story and the likely outcry and nevertheless approved the broadcast.

 

As the newly emerging criticisms of the story built after the broadcast, Rick Kaplan on Thursday, June 18, 1998 said that we should now produce a one-hour broadcast to present the opposing views of Tailwind. We stood ready with our colleagues on NewsStand to produce that broadcast. Rick Kaplan subsequently directed us to drop that project.

 

In a June 18 meeting, Rick Kaplan said this was a public relations problem, not a journalism problem and that he did not want this controversy to progress to congressional hearings with "3,000" members of the establishment on one side of the room and CNN and members of the Special Forces on the other. During that same meeting, Kaplan and Johnson expressed their concern about the pressure they were receiving from Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell and the threat of a cable boycott by veterans groups.

 

During that time, Kaplan and Johnson gagged us from publicly defending the broadcast, and pulled Pamela Hill and Jack Smith from a scheduled appearance on CNN’s "Reliable Sources" program. Nevertheless, CNN continued to air unopposed criticism about the broadcast without any fairness or balance on the "Reliable Sources" program and with a news report from the Special Forces convention.

 

During the same period, Tom Johnson ordered us to the Pentagon to assist the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office with its investigation of Operation Tailwind. That meeting took place on Monday, June 22.

 

In the end, we were fired.

 

We stand by our reporting and producing of both Tailwind stories.

 

 

 

 

CONTENT OF THE AK REPORT

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The AK Report sets forth its basic conclusion "that although the broadcast was prepared after exhaustive research, was rooted in considerable supportive data, and reflected the deeply held beliefs of the CNN journalists who prepared it, the central thesis of the broadcast could not be sustained at the time of the broadcast itself and cannot be sustained now" and that "CNN’s conclusion that United States troops used nerve gas during the Vietnamese conflict on a mission in Laos designed to kill American defectors is insupportable." (AK Report, pp. 1-2, emphasis added).

 

The AK Report’s conclusions misrepresent the story. The story neither contained a thesis, nor reached a conclusion. Rather, consistent with our role as journalists, our report told the stories that were told to us. Throughout our report, we made clear that the story was based on statements by soldiers, airmen and military officials.

 

Furthermore, we, the producers of the story, disagree with the AK Report’s conclusion and with numerous particulars set forth in the AK Report. The AK Report is based on an inadequate and one-sided investigation and a misrepresentation of the information relied on by us. We are journalists. We followed up on leads, took them wherever they led us, and received confirmation, corroboration and support for the two central points of the broadcast: the use of nerve gas on Operation Tailwind and the mission of killing American defectors. This was not the argument of a thesis or the statement of a conclusion; it was what the men with knowledge of the operation and the secret war in Laos told us. As the AK Report notes:

 

"Men engaging in such activities, even under orders, would be unlikely to disclose them. When those same people have been trained to participate in black operations and to conceal those operations long after they were concluded, the process of newsgathering about them is all the more difficult." (AK Report, p. 4)

 

Following the shallow conclusions of the AK Report and CNN’s actions, such reporting will henceforth be far more difficult.

 

 

ADMIRAL THOMAS MOORER

 

Admiral Moorer by his words and actions stands as a confirming source for the use of nerve gas on Tailwind and the killing of defectors as the mission’s objective. Any sequential, common sense reading of Admiral Moorer’s three interviews makes that perfectly clear.

 

A sequential reading of Admiral Moorer’s transcripts shows that when he first met with April Oliver he was uncertain how much he wanted to cooperate or divulge. In his second interview, he provided more information and gave the following confirmation:

 

"Q. So isn’t it fair to say in light of all this, everything we’ve talked about, that Tailwind proved that CBU-15 GB is an effective weapon?

 

A. Yes, I think, but I think that was already known. Otherwise it never would have been manufactured."

 

Then, in his third interview in May 1998, Admiral Moorer provided still further information and added a further chain of confirmations (these are set forth below, since they are not referenced in the AK Report).

 

Admiral Moorer became a four-square confirming source on June 2, 1998, when, in the presence of April Oliver, he read and approved the script which plainly stated that he confirmed nerve gas use and killing defectors. This final approval by Admiral Moorer exceeds any normal journalistic standard of confirmation.

 

Admiral Moorer read and approved the story.

 

Admiral Moorer stands as a confirming source.

 

 

Admiral Moorer’s Credibility

 

The authors of the AK Report state that Admiral Moorer, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of Tailwind "will be 87 next month" and "lives in an assisted-care retirement home." They state that "CNN itself ceased calling on Admiral Moorer to appear to comment on ongoing issues in the early 1990s, and CNN’s Pentagon correspondent raised this credibility issue before the broadcast." [emphasis added] The AK Report goes on to state that the authors have "concerns about his age." (AK Report, p15)

 

This is an extraordinary character assassination which seems to be based on nothing more than Moorer’s age and a consequent unsubstantiated "credibility issue." Admiral Moorer has been retired for over twenty years. It is therefore hardly surprising that he has not been asked to comment on "ongoing issues" since the early 1990s. In addition, Admiral Moorer does not have a telephone manner for the type of quick-reaction daily journalism that requires an immediate five second soundbite.

 

We would be very interested to hear any evidence the authors of the AK Report have relating to Admiral Moorer’s credibility or mental capacity. If they have none, they should not seek to discredit him with this type of malignant insinuation, which has taken on a life of its own in the press.

 

April Oliver spent many hours with Admiral Moorer, nearly all of it in person, and found him to be totally lucid with excellent recall of the events during the Vietnam War. Even the authors of the AK Report concede that "his memory remains satisfactory." In addition, he is healthy and strong enough to play golf.

 

His memory and lucidity are in fact excellent, as any reading of his statements or review of his videotaped interview will show. His recollection of the statements he had made to Oliver were so accurate that he challenged the one word with which he took issue in the script of the broadcast. The Admiral correctly recalled that he had not used the word "scores" to describe the number of American defectors in Vietnam — he in fact had said that "[23] is too low and [300] too high." After discussing the word "scores" with Oliver, he confirmed that scores accurately reflected his estimate of the numbers of defectors.

 

The simple truth is that Admiral Moorer is a highly respected and distinguished retired military commander who was running the war in Vietnam at the time of Operation Tailwind and has excellent recall of the events of the time.

 

What Admiral Moorer Said

 

The AK Report states that Admiral Moorer was not "the powerful advocate for the program’s central thesis that it repeatedly suggests." The AK Report states that "[v]iewed as a whole, Admiral Moorer simply does not come close to offering the sort of support for the conclusions offered by CNN that the program asserts that he does." (AK Report, p. 16).

 

The AK Report then proceeds to quote at length (AK Report, pp. 16-28) from April Oliver’s initial interviews with Admiral Moorer (one off camera in December 1997, and the second on camera in January 1998). It quotes these passages out of sequential order so that their meaning is distorted. The AK Report concludes that "[t]aken as a whole, these passages cannot be said to constitute confirmation of the CNN broadcast." (AK Report, p. 24). These passages include Admiral Moorer’s confirming statement set forth above, and nothing that precedes or follows such statement indicates that this was not a confirmation. This dismissal of Admiral Moorer’s confirmation of the use of nerve gas and the killing of defectors is a conclusion lacking an explanation.

 

We did not, however, rely solely on this confirmation. We also relied on Admiral Moorer’s May off-camera interview and his reading and approval of the CNN script and the Time story to present him as a confirming source for our report. These are barely referenced in the AK Report. It is worthy of note, also, that even after the controversy arose after the broadcast, Admiral Moorer reaffirmed his confirmations three more times orally and once more in a written statement.

 

Certain confirmations received from Admiral Moorer were referenced in the AK Report. Others were not.

 

 

Confirmations by Admiral Moorer Referenced in the AK Report

 

The AK Report gives only passing reference to the following important exchange from the January 1998 interview, which is Admiral Moorer’s on-camera confirmation (emphasis added):

 

"Q. So isn’t it fair to say in light of all this, everything we’ve talked about, that Tailwind proved that CBU-15 GB is an effective weapon?

 

A. Yes, I think, but I think that was already known. Otherwise it never would have been manufactured."

 

 

The AK Report also gives only passing reference to Moorer’s statement in his May 1998 interview when asked whether "killing these defectors" was the mission, "Yeah, I have no doubt about that." The full exchange (not quoted in the AK Report) is as follows;

 

"Q. So killing these defectors was the mission? And it was done to protect American lives?

 

A. Yeah, I have no doubt about that. Now I was not looking through the field glasses. But I assume the information was corroborated somewhere and that the recon teams saw what they saw.

 

Q. And then the correct decision in your view was to eliminate them?

 

A. Yeah.

 

Q. Why not capture them?

 

A. Well you would have to examine that possibility. You would have to see if it was possible to capture them and bring them out. If it was impossible, then you can’t leave them out there. You would have to eliminate them.

 

Q. And elimination was successful in this case?

 

A. Yes. But again I do not remember exactly, but I do not think there was just one such incident. That there was a large group makes it a big incident. But again I do not remember the specifics of this action. I was aware of the fact that there was this objective in Laos."

 

 

Confirmations by Admiral Moorer Not Referenced in the AK Report

 

The following exchanges were inexplicably totally omitted from the AK Report, which quoted other portions of interviews liberally and with the AK Report’s subjective emphasis:

 

From the December 1997 off-camera interview, the AK Report quoted an extract of the following exchange, which we have set forth more fully here, with the sections selected by the AK Report in italics and the section omitted by the AK Report underlined. (AK Report, p. 27-28):

 

"Q. I think there is [sic] some historic issues at play here. If the US used nerve gas in combat in Vietnam, it is worthy to report. And it has some important policy implications for today, with the debate over the chemical weapons convention.

 

A. Treaties will never stop people from using this weapon. But you have said the important word — history. And that I can respect.

 

You have to use every resource in your command to win. The U.S. is the garden spot of the world and people here don’t understand how others live, or what it can take to win. I would have used any weapon, any tactic and any move to defend the security of the United States.

 

Q. So that would include GB, weaponized in the U.S. arsenal. We know there was four million pounds of it manufactured…and that it was stored at NKP.

 

A. (Nods yes). But you are not going to report that we were using some illegal weapon are you…because remember it wasn’t technically illegal yet…"

 

The following segment DIRECTLY follows the section quoted by the AK Report at the bottom of page 28 of the AK Report, but gives a very different impression to the selective quotes used by the AK Report:

 

"Q. Let me ask you this, in the interest of history, do you think it was a mistake not to get it [the use of nerve gas in Vietnam] out in the open earlier….It is seen as so taboo now, and it is hard for people even to discuss…

 

A. No! Not at all! And of course it is not so unique. The Germans used chlorine and other chemicals. The public at large found that horrible. And they would find this horrible too. I don’t think it should have come out any earlier.

 

Q. We are going to report the U.S. used nerve gas in combat during Tailwind. Will we be correct in saying this was the first time the U.S. used it?

 

A. You might want to qualify that a bit.

 

Q. How?

 

A. Well, I am not so familiar with the European theater. But I think there might have been a few isolated pockets where poison gas was used.

 

Q. You mean in World War II?

 

A. Yes.

 

Q. Really?

 

A. Yes, I think so.

 

Q. So we would be okay in saying first time in the Vietnam war?

 

A. Yes, I think so."

 

Incredibly, the AK Report makes no reference to this.

 

And later, in the May interview:

 

"Q. So you didn’t know the details about this operation before?

 

A. I did not before. Afterwards, yeah.

 

Q. Was it your understanding that the SOG team achieved their objective?

 

A. I don’t know about [the word] "achieve." I knew about the problem. And I knew when the operation was finished. I didn’t analyze the details. There was no hooray, hooray, we’ve won again.

 

Q. Now, about the mission completed. It’s got to be a difficult choice. On the one hand, those defectors are somebody’s father or child. On the other hand they are a huge military headache and need to be taken care of. Is there a moral choice here, any ambivalence?

 

A. I think the second attitude you describe is more like it. When you go into a fight it is life or death. You can’t ease up on an operation. You can’t go in with sentiment. You can’t go in with no drive and aggression. If you are going in and need to do a job, you really have to put your heart and soul into it. Otherwise you might get yourself killed if you are fighting only halfway. I suspect in general you participate tooth and nail.

 

Q. So you were aware the problem had been taken care of?

 

A. I don’t think I was ever given an after action report about that particular incident. After all these were only 10 or 15 soldiers out of 100,-000 or so. I do not remember the specifics. I do remember that it was executed, and it was finished.

 

Q. How can you be sure there were not POWs there? The hatchet force team was told to go in and shoot anything that moves. They wouldn’t be told that if there were POWs there, would they?

 

A. Now you are getting into the rules of engagement. Every combat force gets information on the rules of engagement. We had terrible rules of engagement during the Vietnam War. The rules of engagement tell you who to shoot and who not to shoot. Sometimes it comes down that alright, all targets are okay.

 

Q. And it must have been concluded that the target in this case were all defectors and not POWs?

 

A. Let’s say that they were evaluated and the conclusion was reached that they were defectors.

 

Q. On this specific operation [Tailwind]?

 

A. Yeah.

 

Q. Is our number of about 15 defectors killed about right?

 

A. I do not know for sure. You will have to talk to someone who was there. I do not know if there were 20 or 15. But there was a group."

 

Bear in mind that none of this was referred to in the AK Report which stated that "Admiral Moorer simply does not come close to offering the sort of support for the conclusions offered by CNN that the program asserts that he does."

 

From later in the May interview (the following passage is also NOT referenced by the AK Report):

 

"Q. We’ve been told, including by Singlaub [Major General John K. Singlaub, the chief SOG commanding officer in Saigon from 1966 to 1968], that killing defectors, that defectors were always a top priority target for SOG.

 

A. Yes, I think so. You can rely on Singlaub. He was heavy into this from the start. He would have no reason to misinform you. You can believe him. (see quotes from Singlaub below on page 62 of this Rebuttal).

 

Q. But the conventional forces might be more apt to take a defector prisoner [than SOG]…

 

A. It’s on a case by case basis. You get into the PR game here. You can’t have soldiers writing home, dear mom, yesterday I saw a defector and he was American but we had to shoot him. That would hit the papers sooner or later and LBJ would be mad.

 

Q. So a big PR problem?

 

A. Sure.

 

Q. So this was sensitive.

 

A. It’s very sensitive subject matter. Many mothers and fathers do not believe their sons would defect. If you kill a defector it’s a big PR problem.

 

Q. Because of the PR problem with defectors, that is why this operation [Tailwind] was given to a black operation like SOG?

 

A. Yeah.

 

Q. Isn’t [it] unusual to conduct such a large operation against a large group of defectors?

 

A. Yeah."

 

Later in the May interview the following exchange occurs:

 

"Q. I know this is a bit exacting, but I just want to make sure we know what we are talking about here. CBU-15 is GB is sarin is nerve gas. Agreed?

 

A. I think everybody knows that.

 

Q. Not everybody. Not some of the men on the ground. They know GB but they don’t know it’s sarin. Think they are just playacting?

 

A. I think everyone associated with those kinds of weapons knows their effects."

 

Moorer goes on to demonstrate a detailed operational knowledge of the tactics deployed in using sarin nerve gas on search and rescue ("SAR") missions.

 

The interview then goes on:

 

"Q. One pilot told me he flew the weapon [sarin nerve gas] 15 different times. There are 60 or so pilots at NKP who fly A1s. Could this weapon have been used more than a hundred times?

 

A. I don’t have the figure.

 

Q. But it was used a lot?

 

A. Then again did that pilot use it every time he flew it.

 

Q. I don’t know.

 

A. Well I can comfortably say that if a pilot was involved in a SAR operation, then he probably flew it. I think it could be useful in a lot of these operations. I am not aware of how many times it was used."

 

And later in the interview:

 

"Q. But it was always available on SARs?

 

A. By and large it was available yup. Whether or not it could be carried as easily as a 500 pound bomb, I don’t know."

 

The following exchange then takes place:

 

"Q. We have heard the weapon [sarin nerve gas] was generally available from ‘69 to ‘70….

 

A. I do not know the exact dates of the weapon in the area. I am not aware specifically. Let me say this. It was definitely available in the Vietnam War. This is a much bigger operation than you realize. It takes authorization to move the weapon into southeast Asia. That is only one step. And there are many steps to make it available to the pilots."

 

Moorer goes on to state, that "[I]f the weapon could save American lives, I would never hesitate to use it" and the following exchange takes place:

 

"Q. And it did save American lives in Laos.

 

A. Yes, uh hum.

 

Q How many American lives were saved by this weapon [sarin nerve gas]?

 

A. I would not want to speculate on that.

 

Q. Estimate? 100 or more?

 

A. Well, it wasn’t used every time a helicopter was shot down. I don’t know.

 

Q. Was it ever used in South Vietnam?

 

A. I do not recall using it in South Vietnam."

 

NONE of these passages is even referenced in the AK Report. In fact, the AK Report incorrectly states in a footnote on page 32 (emphasis added):

 

"As noted earlier, Admiral Moorer said that he believed that chemical weapons should be available for use in wartime, not that CBU-15 [sarin nerve gas] had been used. (emphasis added)." This is incorrect: see quotes from Admiral Moorer on pages 13 to 19 of this Rebuttal.

 

We find that conclusion extraordinary on any fair and full reading of the transcripts, even without regard to Admiral Moorer’s pre- and post-broadcast approvals, and his later statement in which he said:

 

"I did not authorize the use of Sarin gas by U.S. military forces during Operation Tailwind in Laos in September 1970. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, I had no documents, operational orders, after action reports or knowledge of the use of Sarin. However, later, in general discussions, I learned of the operation, including verbal statements indicating the use of Sarin on the Tailwind mission."

 

 

Admiral Moorer’s Approval of the Broadcast

 

Supplementing all of Admiral Moorer’s prior confirmations in his interviews is his subsequent approval of the entire script for the broadcast, an extraordinary journalistic step to assure accuracy. The script Admiral Moorer read clearly states that "Moorer confirmed that nerve gas was used in Tailwind" and that "Moorer acknowledged in an off-camera interview that Tailwind’s target was indeed defectors." This approval took place six days before the broadcast, and Admiral Moorer spent approximately twenty to thirty minutes reviewing both the script and the Time magazine article prior to approving them.

 

The AK Report states that "Moorer now claims he had it in his hands for ‘about five minutes - - I thumbed through it, but I didn’t read it.’" That is simply not accurate and we are unaware of the circumstances in which and the person to whom Admiral Moorer allegedly made this statement. Messrs. Abrams and Kohler should state who gave them that information. Was it Moorer himself? Or is it another third party report? Admiral Moorer did in fact spend approximately 20 to 30 minutes reading the script and the Time magazine article. Admiral Moorer’s careful reading of the script is evidenced by his comment regarding the use of the word "scores," before agreeing that this was an appropriate way to paraphrase his response.

 

After Admiral Moorer had reviewed and approved the script, April Oliver offered to bring a final cut of the TV report for him to screen before it went to air. Admiral Moorer replied that that was not necessary.

 

What more definitive confirmation can there be than a confirmation of the accuracy of the script by a source reading and agreeing with its content? This is given passing and dismissive reference in the AK Report as a "potential confirmation." As any journalist knows, when a source is given a read-back of what he says and agrees with its accuracy, that constitutes a hard confirmation.

 

Admiral Moorer was contacted by the Pentagon after the broadcast. On Monday, June 8, 1998, the day after the broadcast aired, the Pentagon faxed him a statement, headed "Statement by Admiral Thomas Moorer, USN (ret.)," which said:

 

"In my discussions with CNN I did not confirm the use of sarin gas by U.S. military forces during Operation Tailwind in Laos in September 1970. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, I had no documents, operational orders, after action reports or knowledge of the use of Sarin."

 

In our presence, Admiral Moorer amended this statement to say:

 

"I did not authorize the use of Sarin gas [rather than the suggested wording on the Pentagon fax, "In my discussions with CNN I did not confirm the use of Sarin gas…"] by U.S. military forces during Operation Tailwind in Laos in September 1970. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, I had no documents, operational orders, after action reports or knowledge of the use of Sarin. However, I later learned of the operation, including the use of nerve gas on the mission."

 

Clearly Admiral Moorer himself knew that he had confirmed the use of sarin gas to CNN, even if the authors of the AK Report do not. The authors of the AK Report inexplicably make no reference to this amendment.

 

After Admiral Moorer had amended the statement to read as set forth above, he went to make a telephone call with the revised fax in hand. When he returned, we observed that he had penned in the word "rumors" in the statement wile he was gone. After discussing what he had heard about the use of Sarin on Tailwind, Admiral Moorer agreed that these were not "rumors."

 

Admiral Moorer then re-drafted the statement, amending this sentence to read:

 

"However, later, in general discussions I learned of the operation, including verbal statements indicating the use of Sarin on the Tailwind mission."

 

At this post-broadcast meeting with us on June 8, 1998, Admiral Moorer AGAIN three times reconfirmed that sarin nerve gas was used on Operation Tailwind and more widely for search and rescue missions.

 

Jack Smith’s notes of that meeting with Admiral Moorer, after the broadcast had aired and Moorer had been in contact with the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office, include the following passages:

 

"AM [Admiral Moorer] said that based on our report people he was hearing from were construing that he confirmed the use of sarin on TW [Tailwind] and in the SARs [Search and Rescue missions] as his authorizing its use on these missions, i.e., that he gave the orders directly to drop the gas.

 

This he did not do — directly order or authorize its use he told us. The order for its use came from "the commanders on the ground in the theater in the heat of battle." AM said he only came to learn of sarin being used at a later date while he was still the Chman of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff].

 

AM said that since it was 28 years ago he could not remember who at the time told him that sarin had been used.

 

AM three times during our time with him said he did indeed confirm to AO [April Oliver] that sarin NG [nerve gas] was used on TW and more widely for S&Rs. AM emphasized that because he was the one on camera confirming the use of sarin, people were construing that he was the commander who authorized its use and ordered it dropped and that was what was bothering him because he was not the commander who was directly involved on TW — again he repeated it was the commander on the ground who gave the order. AM said people would now believe that he gave the order to drop poison gas.

 

AO and I reviewed w. AM that he had read carefully the script which had written in it that he confirmed that nerve gas was used in TW. AM agreed that he had confirmed it and had read his confirmation in the script and agreed with the accuracy of that statement when he read it before we broadcast the story.

 

But now he was being construed to be the one who ordered the poison gas dropped and he wanted to clarify that he was NOT — so he gave us the statement — the written statement — which is attached."

 

With respect to Admiral Moorer’s insertion of the word "rumors" in his statement, Jack Smith’s notes of the meeting of June 8, 1998 include the following:

 

"I said didn’t his people — officers — report to him the use of sarin. He said not in the strictest definition of a military report. He said the topic of nerve gas being used was talked about and discussed but not strictly in a military sense formally reported. I said to him that would not constitute rumors & AM agreed. AM said there were verbal statements regarding the use of sarin NG and his statement so reflects."

 

Against this background, the authors of the AK Report state that Admiral Moorer’s pre-broadcast review of the script and the post-broadcast statement must be given "some weight," but conclude that Admiral Moorer "simply does not come close to offering the sort of support for the conclusions offered by CNN that the program asserts that he does" and that he "never provided sufficient support for the broadcast to justify treating him as a confirming source." (AK Report, p. 16 and p. 31). The AK Report continues that, "Our conclusion, therefore, is that the substance of Admiral Moorer’s interviews do not confirm ‘that nerve gas was used in Tailwind’ or that the Tailwind ‘target was indeed defectors.’" (AK Report, p. 31).

 

 

 

In CNN’s retraction broadcast on July 5, Mr. Abrams said:

 

"..taken as a whole, I think the answer is, no, he did not confirm, and I think that was one of the greatest flaws of the broadcast."

 

This is a mistaken conclusion without foundation in the facts given the repeated confirmations provided by Admiral Moorer on these issues. We object to the selective information presented non-sequentially in the AK Report and to the disregard of Admiral Moorer’s support for, indeed, his confirmation of, our broadcast. According to any reasonable standard, his statements in his interviews, his pre-broadcast review and approval of the script of the broadcast and his post-broadcast statements and confirmations constitute substantial support for our use of Admiral Moorer as a confirming source for both of the key points of the broadcast, as well as for the additional point that sarin gas was widely available for search and rescue operations.

 

 

CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES

 

As noted in the AK Report, in order to continue to protect the confidentiality of the confidential sources supporting the broadcast, certain information about confidential sources was not set forth in detail in the AK Report. (AK Report, p.1). Likewise, in order to protect our confidential sources, we will not provide specific information regarding such sources in this document.

 

The AK Report states that:

 

"confidential sources confirmed, to one degree or another, the validity of CNN’s broadcast. Taken together, they provided CNN’s journalists and news management with a good deal of comfort with respect to the accuracy of the broadcast. While that assessment was warranted to some degree, when the complete record is examined, the degree of reliance was perilous." (AK Report, p. 31)

 

MILITARY OFFICIAL

 

This confidential source is a military official who the AK Report acknowledges "has been highly placed for years," (AK Report, p. 31) and, in the words of the AK Report itself, is "particularly knowledgeable about chemical weaponry, [and] intimately familiar with nerve agents." (AK Report, p. 7). This source also has detailed knowledge of Operation Tailwind and SOG operations. He reviewed and approved the script for the Tailwind broadcast. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

This confidential source was the original lead for the story. In a telephone call in September 1997, he acknowledged that an "agent" stronger than BZ (a hallucinogenic gas) was used in a mission to assist with the extraction of SOG commandos. He stated that "[g]iven the enemy’s nature, it [using this agent] was not an unscrupulous thing to do" thereby suggesting the forbidden nature of the weapon used. He said that the mission was more fully described in a book by John Plaster, a SOG veteran, and gave the chapter reference, which led us to the Tailwind operation.

 

This confidential source, like Admiral Moorer, ultimately reviewed and approved the script for the Tailwind broadcast, giving the "thumbs up" signal a number of times as he read it, including in particular with respect to the use of CBU-15 on Operation Tailwind.

 

With respect to this confidential source, the AK Report states that "[w]e have no doubt that the encouragement of this source properly gave all at CNN a sense of solidity about the story. This is particularly so since the source read the text of the broadcast in the presence of the producer and indicated specific approval of the references to CBU-15." (AK Report, p. 32, emphasis added). The AK Report, however, proceeds to state that "[t]here are serious weaknesses in this confirmation..." (AK Report, p.32).

 

The AK Report attempts to undercut the value of this source’s confirmation of the script of the broadcast by inaccurately suggesting that this source provided only "advice and guidance." In fact he provided specific confirmation that GB (sarin nerve gas) was used on Operation Tailwind and that killing defectors was always part of SOG’s mission.

 

The AK Report goes on to make the following two assertions.

 

First, the AK Report claims that "[t]he source, during [his final May 1998] meeting, appeared to be reasoning to the conclusion that it was not BZ used and that ‘it had to be nerve agent used,’ not basing his support on actual knowledge." (AK Report, p. 33).

 

This conclusion is inconsistent with the fact that this source was the original lead for the story, telling April Oliver months before this purported reasoning that an agent stronger than BZ was used on the mission. Moreover, the fact that during his final May 1998 meeting the source used non-verbal hand signals (i.e., thumbs up) to indicate his approval of the script of the broadcast suggests that the source was concerned that he was being taped and that he should be cautious in his verbal statements.

 

No reference is made to the following exchange from the May 1998 meeting in the AK Report (emphasis added):

 

"Q. Offensive use of nerve agent unusual?

 

A. I know of only one instance of this, this one [Tailwind]. There could be others but I don’t think it was widespread. (emphasis added)"

 

This exchange represents actual knowledge, not reasoning.

 

Another exchange suggests knowledge of the specifics of Tailwind (quoting from notes of the final May 1998 meeting):

 

"Q. And the CH3 got shot down that was supposed to get the chopper out - [i.e., the helicopter carrying Colonel Shungle that went down during Operation Tailwind]

 

A. Oh you know about that too."

 

Second, the AK Report states that "the reference to Admiral Moorer’s interview (which we have concluded cannot be viewed as constituting confirmation) itself may be said to have tainted the source’s ability to view the matter with the same distance that might otherwise have been the case." (AK Report, p. 33) The exchange at issue with the confidential source was as follows:

 

"Q. [Moorer] says that offensive use was justifiable because it saved American lives.

 

A. That is probably true."

 

We do not agree with the AK Report’s view that the source "may" have been tainted by this reference, for a number of reasons.

 

First, it does not sit with the fact that in an earlier conversation with April Oliver in September 1997, the source acknowledged that an agent stronger than BZ (hallucinogenic gas) was used on this mission and that its use was "not an unscrupulous thing to do." This was before Oliver had conducted any interview of Moorer, let alone had the opportunity to "taint" the source with any mention of it.

 

Second, during the meeting with Oliver in which she referenced Moorer’s position on offensive use, the source had already confirmed that GB, not BZ, was used on Tailwind, before Oliver made the reference to Admiral Moorer.

 

Third, Admiral Moorer’s statement mentioned to the confidential source was a general statement regarding the justification of the offensive use of nerve gas, not a reference to Moorer’s confirmation that it was used on Operation Tailwind, as suggested by the AK Report.

 

Fourth, this was a very well placed source who would be unlikely to be influenced so easily by such a brief and unspecific exchange. He is in a position to know the details of chemical weapons use in Laos and elsewhere during the Vietnam War, and his depth of knowledge was confirmed by SOG sources.

 

Finally, the representation by Oliver regarding Moorer’s position was accurate. This accuracy is shown, for example, by the following exchange from the May, 1998 interview with Admiral Moorer:

 

Q: And so prepping the camp with gas was part of the battle plan?

 

A: Fundamentally, what you described is aimed at saving American lives. I have no problem with it. So is collecting intelligence, eliminating defectors. I come back to the point — if an operation is necessary to keep the losses of Americans to an absolute minimum, and if that capability ensures a significant reduction or elimination of American casualties, I'd use it."

 

The AK Report states that "[a]t the very least, the degree of actual knowledge possessed by the source should have been probed in more depth." (AK Report, p. 33). Again, this source was in a very well placed position to have factual knowledge about chemical weapons use during the war in Vietnam and Laos. In the words of the AK Report itself, this source, "particularly knowledgeable about chemical weaponry, was intimately familiar with nerve agents." (AK Report, p7).

 

We mention the following other exchanges with this source not referred to in the AK Report, because they are relevant to the general SOG mission to kill defectors and to the wider use of CBU-15 (sarin nerve gas). These took place in the interview in May 1998 in which the source gave a thumbs up to the Tailwind script.

 

When asked whether getting defectors was a part of the SOG mission, the source replied:

 

"It’s a no brainer. You want to kill defectors. They are a huge embarrassment, particularly in context of the times with the antiwar movement. And they can be a big military problem, with the codes and language, and working with the

radios. . . ."

 

With respect to killing everything that moves:

 

"What that guy Van Buskirk tells you about anything that moves, no rules of engagement, is right on target. People don’t understand how callous we were in SOG. There were simply no rules."

 

With respect to CBU-15 being available for search and rescue missions:

 

"A. That’s my understanding. You want to make sure the pilot is upwind. And why not use it, if it gives him a chance. He’s only one guy, there’s lots of enemy. If you don’t use it, the pilot gets taken, the equipment gets captured. I don’t see anything wrong with it; the pilot has got to know it’s coming, and will scramble to the high ground and cover his face if he can. If he doesn’t make it, he wouldn’t have made it anyway.

 

Q. One A1 pilot told me he was involved in SAR operations and used it as many as 15 times. Multiply that by as many as 60 pilots.

 

A. I don’t know for sure how widespread it was though, it may be wider than I realize. Even in SOG, it may have been used more than I know. My friend, [name intentionally omitted] has told me of one use on a SOG operation. But he didn’t know it was nerve agent beforehand."

 

This kind of information is not being revealed because of the reference by Oliver to Admiral Moorer’s statement that the use of CBU-15 is justifiable to save American lives. Nor does it demonstrate any "reasoning" on the part of the source. It demonstrates knowledge.

 

 

FORMER SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL

 

This confidential source is a former senior military official, intimately familiar with SOG operations and Tailwind. His intimate knowledge is confirmed by multiple other sources. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

With respect to this confidential source, the AK Report states that what was said by the source "is doubtless supportive of the broadcast but with some of the same problems we have seen elsewhere - - a producer overstating her case to the source and a source responding positively but with ambiguity to the producer." (AK Report, p. 34). As an example for this assertion, the AK Report quotes from an exchange that included a reference to letter from the Defense Department. The AK Report states that "the reference to it in an exchange with the source may well have affected the source’s view of the matter." (AK Report, p. 36).

 

As noted in the AK Report, this exchange occurred after the source had given April Oliver a "good deal of information indicating that he knew a good deal about Tailwind." (AK Report, p. 35.). In particular, in an earlier interview prior to any mention of the letter, this source confirmed that CBU-15 was used to prep the area in Tailwind, and that "Yes, absolutely" it was effective.

 

Furthermore, given the highly placed status of this source, we strongly believe that the reference to the letter did not affect the source’s view of the matter. The AK Report itself states that this source was a "former high ranking officer intimately familiar with SOG." (AK Report, p7). Had he requested to see a copy of the letter, we would have shown it to him.

 

With respect to the Defense Department letter itself, no reliance was placed on it by us for the broadcast, because, based on the copy we were given, we were unable to determine definitively whether the reference was to CBU-15 or CBU-25 or something else. The digits are too unclear to rely on them.

 

The AK Report assesses the source’s confirmation with the following statement:

 

"On the one hand, the source does state that CBU-15 was used in a ‘covert operation in Laos.’ On the other, the source may be responding in a hypothetical fashion. Then again, the source’s general refusal to answer questions directly may reflect nothing more than the special care used by people trained in ‘plausible deniability’ never to put themselves in a position where they can be damaged by the attribution of views to them." (AK Report, p. 38).

 

The particular exchange at issue is as follows from the May 1998 interview (we set it out in full, although it is also set out in the AK Report because the AK Report’s conclusions with respect to it are so far fetched) (emphasis added):

 

Q. Was Tailwind unique in the large number of lives that CBU-15 saved?

 

A. It was unique because of the agents used. I don’t think you can say it was unique because of the large number of lives saved. It would not have been used unless it had given us a significant advantage.

 

Q. And when you mean agent, you mean CBU-15, GB, right?

 

A. Remember it was a major decision to escalate to decide use of that agent. It was not risk free. But it was felt that it was unlikely that the NVA would complain. They were not supposed to be in Laos. They were unlikely to come to the United Nations and complain about the weapon.

 

Q. Because it would expose them being in Laos. That’s interesting. I have been scratching my head about that, about why they didn’t say something about this.

 

A. Well the NVA said the only troops they had in Laos were the Viet Cong. We frequently complained about how Sihanouk and others were in fact giving sanctuary to the NVA.

 

Q. Again we are on background here. So it was decided then that the agent CBU-15/GB could be used because the Vietnamese were unlikely to complain.

 

A. Yes, in a covert operation in Laos.

 

Q. Moorer has told us on camera that he never made a point of counting up the number of times CBU-15 was used. What do you make of that statement?

 

A. That it was used on missions at other times than on Tailwind is what I would interpret that as meaning.

 

Q. Do you know how many times?

 

A. Nope. I don’t know of anyone who would know that accurately.

 

Q. He has told us that the weapon was by and large available for search and rescues….was the weapon commonly available for SARs. Is that your understanding?

 

A. [Intentionally omitted — would indicate the source’s identity]

 

Q. Well I tried to pin Moorer down on dates. We have talked to about thirty A1 pilots at this point and they talk about using it from 1969 to early 1971. Were you aware of it being used on SAR missions at this time?

 

A. No I do not know of any use of it. [sentence omitted because would reveal sources identity].

 

Q. But we have already established that you know of the use of CBU-15 in this specific instance, on Tailwind. You have told me that in this conversation and before.

 

A. I am prepared to accept that. That’s something you seem to have right. You have enough basis to use that.

 

The AK Report concludes that "the source does state that CBU-15 was used ‘in a covert operation in Laos,’" but that "the source may be responding in a hypothetical fashion." (AK Report, p. 38). Any common sense reading of that exchange tells one that the source’s response was not hypothetical, and this kind of strained reading by the authors of the AK Report casts doubt upon their even-handedness.

 

The AK Report proceeds to state that:

 

"[t]he problem is that the source’s responses, although supportive, are ambiguous. They are, possibly deliberately, blurry. Such responses are not irrelevant. We repeat that they may properly be viewed as a whole as being supportive of the broadcast, but they are sufficiently ambiguous that they cannot be said to provide the full scale support for the broadcast that should have been demanded before it aired." (AK Report, p. 38).

 

We disagree with the AK Report. This source confirms that CBU-15 was used on Operation Tailwind and that the target of Tailwind was defectors (see also the confirmation set forth below, again not referenced in the AK Report).

 

After April Oliver reaffirmed that the interview was on "background," ["background" assures the source of confidentiality with respect to attribution] the May 1998 interview continued as follows (these exchanges are not referenced by the AK Report):

 

"Q. So the GB was available in Laos.

 

A. No, not in Laos, in Thailand. Both those bases [NKP and Udorn] are in Thailand.

 

Q. Right of course. I meant based in Thailand for use on SARs in Laos.

 

A. And North Vietnam. Sometimes American pilots would be shot down in the border area. They were always targets of attack along the Ho Chi Minh Trail."

 

And later:

 

"Q. We have a 1971 manual of chemical weapons and one of the things that is most impressive is the vast array of weaponized sarin in the arsenal. It comes in all forms, CBUs, clam shells, mortars. Was it ever used in these other forms besides CBUs?

 

A. Not that I know of. It was not used in rockets. Honest John had gone out by then. But it was available in artillery shells. There were medium sized howitzers that had chemical grounds.

 

Q. But there was no artillery in Laos.

 

A. There was artillery in Vietnam. But we did not take artillery in on covert ops. We might take a small mortar in some cases. I do not think they carried chemicals however.

 

Q. Sounds kind of dicey to carry on the ground. So the preferred delivery would by air? [sic]

 

A. Yes, we had control of the air. We could fly low and slow. We didn’t have to worry about radar and MIGs in Laos.

 

Q. So CBUs delivered by A1s.

 

A. Yeah that’s right.

 

Q. And the agent we are talking about here is CBU-15/GB?

 

A. Right."

 

And later after Oliver again reaffirms that the source is a "blind" source:

 

Q. So you understood the target of Tailwind to be defectors, and not POWs?

 

A. Defectors, yeah."

 

And later:

 

"Q. Just one last time, your own personal understanding of Tailwind is that it was a mission in which CBU-15, GB, was used at least twice on the village base camp and on extraction, and that the target was a group of American defectors.

 

A. You are not going to use my name on this are you?

 

Q. No, sir, you are on background as a senior military official.

 

A. Yeah. That’s my view."

 

 

 

THE MEN OF OPERATION TAILWIND

 

The AK Report begins with the following acknowledgement: "Men engaging in such activities [use of nerve gas and killing defectors], even under orders, would be unlikely to disclose them. When those same people have been trained to participate in "black" operations and to conceal those operations long after they were concluded, the process of newsgathering about them is all the more difficult." (AK Report, p. 4).

 

EUGENE McCARLEY

 

Captain Eugene McCarley was the commander of the commando company, called a hatchet force, on Operation Tailwind. The authors of the AK Report state that "McCarley was the leader of the unit being described and had flatly denied the thrust of the broadcast. His views were entitled to more prominent treatment." The AK Report states that "in an interview with us (and in numerous other interviews since the broadcast) McCarley has denounced his treatment on the broadcast. He states that after saying that the use of nerve gas ‘was possible,’ he then said that it had never been used by any of his troops, in fact, was not in the Vietnamese theater at all. He said, as well, that the mission had nothing to do with killing American defectors." (AK Report, pp39-40).

 

It should be noted that the authors of the AK Report did not, to our knowledge, screen the videotaped interview with McCarley. If true (and we cannot know for certain because we were denied the opportunity to meet with Messrs. Abrams and Kohler after they screened the tapes), we find this surprising, given the amount of emphasis they place on his information. That videotape shows many extraordinarily long pauses taken by McCarley in responding to questions, and his averting his eyes, which are not evident by reference only to the transcript of the interview.

 

The AK Report, while making unsubstantiated criticisms of the credibility of Admiral Moorer and Lt. Robert Van Buskirk, makes no reference at all to the state of Captain McCarley’s credibility with respect to Tailwind. The AK Report also states that "as the ground leader of the operation, [McCarley’s] views were entitled to significant weight" but does not address the fact that McCarley was not the de facto leader of the operation because he was wounded early in the mission. Finally, the AK Report misrepresents the certainty and consistency of McCarley’s statements.

 

 

McCarley’s Credibility

 

The AK Report selectively ignores certain facts regarding the credibility of McCarley’s statements. If McCarley had claimed that nerve gas was used and defectors were targeted and we had used him as much as we did (five times), the AK Report would have crucified us.

 

First, Van Buskirk, not McCarley, was the de facto leader of the mission because McCarley was wounded early on. It was Van Buskirk who led the attack on the base camp, called for the gas and was chosen to brief General Creighton Abrams on the operation. Van Buskirk is described by Corporal Craig Schmidt as the "key guy."

 

Second, Captain McCarley, by his own admission, stands ready to deny that the US military was ever in Laos, stating in the videotaped interview with him that:

 

"if operating across border [into Laos] is considered unethical or deniable, then I reckon I’m denying it."

 

This statement of adherence to SOG’s code of deniability cuts to the heart of McCarley’s lack of credibility on Tailwind and is not even mentioned in the AK Report.

 

Third, McCarley has, since the broadcast, made a number of easily demonstrable (by reference to the tapes and transcripts) misrepresentations about being taken out of context as well as inconsistent statements regarding the mission itself (some of them to Messrs. Abrams and Kohler who cite them in the AK Report). For example, he has asserted that atropine (the nerve gas antidote) was not carried on the mission, which is inconsistent with the information given by Rose and others on the mission.

 

It is worthy of note, given CNN’s allegations that we "fell in love with the story" and minimized contradictory information, that we chose not to emphatically discredit McCarley, omitting these statements and inconsistencies from the broadcast. It is also significant to note that the AK Report, while erroneously emphasizing Admiral Moorer’s age and Captain Van Buskirk’s purported (and debunked) "repressed memory syndrome" does not consider that these issues relating to McCarley’s credibility merit even a mention. McCarley by his own words will deny anything and everything that happened in Laos, in keeping with the SOG practice of plausible deniability.

 

McCarley apparently now also denies making certain statements which are reflected in April Oliver’s contemporaneous notes (AK Report, pp. 39-40.) Incredibly, despite these clear indications of McCarley’s lack of credibility with respect to Operation Tailwind and Mr. Abrams’ and Mr. Kohler’s willingness to make many judgments on credibility issues in their report, the AK Report states that:

 

"[w]hat McCarley said to the CNN producer and she to him is a matter of credibility about which we are unable to pass judgment. This is one of the few cases in which the producer’s notes — which totally support her version of what was said to her off camera — are flatly inconsistent with what an individual who has been interviewed claimed she said." (AK Report, p. 40)

 

This claimed inability to pass judgment is starkly at odds with the judgment passed on Van Buskirk and Moorer and inconsistent with the AK Report’s earlier conclusion that:

 

"[W]e do not believe it can reasonably be suggested that any of the information on which the broadcast was based was fabricated or non-existent. Contemporaneous notes made by the principal producer, April Oliver, are not only consistent with typed notes that she prepared immediately after her interviews, but in almost all cases with the later recollections of the individuals interviewed. The accuracy of the notes is strongly supported, as well, by the fact that they contain many passages which suggest less than complete or definitive confirmation of the broadcast by its sources and much inconsistent information. We rely upon many of those passages as a basis for our criticism of the broadcast." (AK Report, pp. 4-5)

 

But not, apparently as a basis of criticism of McCarley’s credibility.

 

Despite this purported inability to pass judgment on this issue, the AK Report sets forth McCarley’s post-broadcast complaints and statements and characterizes these statements as a flat denial without contrasting that position to Oliver’s contemporaneous notes or referencing what McCarley actually said according to those notes. Some of McCarley’s statements not referenced in the AK Report are set forth below.

 

 

What McCarley Said

 

Mr. Abrams said in CNN’s retraction broadcast on July 5, 1998:

 

"He’s not just a dissenter. I mean, this is the commander of the operation, saying, in so many words, ‘It wasn’t nerve gas.’ And your audience wouldn’t know that from this broadcast."

 

This representation of what McCarley said, by Mr. Abrams, is extraordinarily inaccurate. [Note: Mr. Abrams’ statement is also inconsistent with Mr. Abrams’ view, expressed in the CNN Retraction broadcast, that, "worst of all," Van Buskirk didn’t know what he was talking about with respect to the gas because he was on the ground.]

 

In April Oliver’s first cold call to Captain McCarley in September 1997, McCarley said:

 

"It’s very possible [it was nerve gas]." "I really don’t know what it was but the gas did the job." "It very well could have been nerve gas. We would have used anything to get out." "It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that a lethal nerve gas was used." "It is very possible [that nerve gas was used]. I can’t confirm or deny. I would have no problems with it being used. People all trash Vietnam vets so. But I think we would have used any weapon to get out alive."

 

In his on-camera interview in October 1997, McCarley referred to the gas as something like pepper spray. About a week after that interview, he called April Oliver saying that he didn’t want the on-camera interview used, and that the gas was stronger than pepper spray. This was an incapacitating gas, not a lethal gas.

 

None of this is referenced in the AK Report, which characterizes McCarley as "flatly den[ying] the thrust of the broadcast."

 

We do not suggest, and the broadcast did not suggest, that McCarley confirms that nerve gas was used, but it is clear that his statements were self-contradictory, inconclusive and destructive to his credibility on the subject. To include in the broadcast his statement that "I never, ever considered the use of lethal gas, not on any of my operations," without any reference to the contradictory statements set forth above would have been inaccurate and misleading. We therefore included the statement that McCarley told CNN off camera that the use of nerve gas on Tailwind was very possible and that on camera later he said, "I never ever considered the use of lethal gas, not on any of my operations." We believe this is a fair and balanced treatment of what he said with respect to nerve gas.

 

With respect to defectors, the broadcast stated that, "To this day, Captain McCarley denies Tailwind’s mission was to kill defectors, saying his orders were to draw enemy troops away from CIA mercenaries embattled nearby," and showed McCarley saying, "[w]e weren’t looking for any village. We had no idea that one was there and we stumbled upon it by accident." Again, this is a fair and balanced treatment of what Captain McCarley told us about defectors.

 

Notwithstanding all of the doubts about McCarley’s answers, and his self-expressed willingness to deny that the U.S. military was operating in Laos, we reported his views five times during the first eighteen minute report.

 

 

ART BISHOP

 

Art Bishop was one of the A1 pilots on Tailwind who dropped gas. Tailwind was the only mission on which he dropped gas.

 

The AK Report states that Bishop "strongly disputed" the proposition that he might not have known what weapons he was flying, basing that on his on-camera statement to us that:

 

"In my opinion it was just as I was briefed — tear gas."

 

However, in an e-mail to April Oliver (not referenced by the AK Report), Bishop states with respect to what was in the CBUs he dropped:

 

"it could have been popcorn."

 

In addition, two Air Force commanders told us that the pilots would not have had a need to know what they were carrying.

 

Bishop says in relation to the possibility that someone was flying nerve gas:

 

"Who am I to say it isn’t true."

 

He goes on to say:

 

"as I recall the story we were given was that it was tear gas. If we had nerve gas at NKP, it would have been really hard to take care of. I never heard about it. Course there was tight security there. And you can never really go by what you are told."

 

Nevertheless, we agree with the AK Report that Bishop’s statement should have been included in the first broadcast. His statement that he believed the gas was just as he was briefed — tear gas - WAS included by us in the final cut of the story in Washington D.C. which we fed to CNN in Atlanta. In the face of our vigorous protests, it was taken out by NewsStand executive and senior producers in order to preserve a paragraph Rick Kaplan insisted be inserted dealing with the domestic turmoil of 1970. That was a major executive mistake and weakened the fairness and balance of the story.

 

Bishop’s statement was finally included in the second Tailwind broadcast on June 14, 1998.

 

 

GARY ROSE

 

Rose was the medic on Tailwind. The AK Report quotes Rose’s post-broadcast remark that:

 

"[I]t burned like CS [tear gas] in the eyes, my throat felt like CS, and my skin felt like CS….once you are exposed to it, there is no question in your mind what it is."

 

The AK Report completely omits reference that, pre-broadcast, Rose initially adamantly denied that any gas at all was used on extraction from Operation Tailwind and that the only reason he donned his gas mask on the extraction was to protect his face from "crap" kicked up by the helicopter’s blades. In that initial interview, Rose said that earlier on in the day, prior to extraction, there had been a liquid gas that "burned like hell" and may have been a liquid version of CS. In subsequent interviews, Rose changed his position, saying that the gas was "incapacitating," that a liquid gas was used on extraction that was "a lot stronger" than CS tear gas, and that the gas was definitely not CS tear gas." He said "it was awful stuff." Rose also told our Associate Producer Amy Kasarda that he was not saying the gas couldn’t be GB, that maybe he was far enough away not to get a heavy dose of it, that his physiology might be somewhat resistant to it and that the tall elephant grass might have filtered it out. That was the state of Rose’s information at the time of the broadcast.

 

In the week preceding the broadcast, Rose told associate producer Amy Kasarda that he wouldn’t have known what the gas was since he came to the landing zone last as he was with all the wounded (also omitted from the AK Report).

 

After the broadcast, on June 7, 1998, Amy Kasarda called Rose to hear his reaction to the story. Rose’s only complaint about the CNN broadcast was that it had shown a picture of the wrong gas mask. The ones they wore on Tailwind had internal filters, whereas we showed a picture of an earlier mask that had external filters. In the words of a June 25, 1998 memorandum on Rose by Amy Kasarda, "[h]e had no critique of any other aspect of the show. In fact he volunteered a supporting statement:

 

"You know," Rose said, "I hadn’t remembered until your broadcast, but it seems to me I was told to take extra atropine [the sarin nerve gas antidote] with me on this mission." (This statement is also not referenced in the AK Report.)

 

He told her that he was "keeping his head down" and not telling anyone he was even on the mission.

 

Later still, well after the broadcast was aired, he finally came to the position quoted uncritically by the AK Report.

 

Finally, it is worth noting the weak analysis of the AK Report with respect to Rose’s position in Tailwind. Rose told us that he was last to the landing zone with the wounded, and therefore, by his own admission, would be among the least likely to know what the gas was. Nevertheless, the AK Report confidently states, without referencing this, that "given [Rose’s] role, one might fairly have expected Rose to be in the best position to know the signs of sarin gas and to have been cognizant of its use."

 

Given Rose’s inconsistencies, we did not consider Rose to be interviewed on camera for the broadcast. Again, had he stated that nerve gas was used, given his inconsistencies, the AK Report would doubtless have subjected us to heavy criticism had we used him. As it is, despite his self-contradictions, it subjects us to criticism for not using him.

 

 

ROBERT VAN BUSKIRK

 

Robert Van Buskirk was the First Lieutenant on the SOG hatchet force on Operation Tailwind. The AK Report states that "Van Buskirk was second in command of Operation Tailwind (to Captain McCarley)" but does not refer to the fact that due to McCarley’s early wounding, Van Buskirk was the de facto leader of Operation Tailwind. As the AK Report states, there are "indications that are in favor of using him as a source. He won a Silver Star for his participation in Tailwind, personally briefed General Abrams on that mission, is articulate and by virtue of his involvement a knowledgeable source for information about Tailwind." (AK Report, p. 46). Even Captain McCarley praises Van Buskirk’s valor on this mission.

 

Van Buskirk’s Credibility

 

The AK Report goes on to state, however, that there are a number of problems with Van Buskirk as a source, both pre- and post-broadcast. "When taken together….it was unacceptable to ignore his medical history, the inconsistency between his book and what he said on air, and the ambiguity in his recollections of the gas. Whatever can be said for using him before June 7, the added weight of evidence uncovered since the broadcast seriously diminishes any further reasonable reliance on him." (AK Report, p46, emphasis added).

 

For the record, there is no ambiguity at all with respect to Van Buskirk’s recollection of the gas. This is a totally unfounded statement by the AK Report which we deal with under (a) and (b) below.

 

Other than this alleged ambiguity, the issue here, therefore, seems to be, not the ambiguity or insufficiency - there was none - of Van Buskirk’s information, but his credibility.

 

The AK Report raises five issues of concern (AK Report, pp. 44-45):

 

(a) His book does not mention the use of poison gas or his killing of Americans or Russians in Laos.

 

The book referred to was written by Van Buskirk in 1983, and chronicles Van Buskirk’s voyage of personal discovery towards Christianity. It devotes only one 25-page chapter out of its 216 pages to describe the events of Operation Tailwind, and was distributed to prisons across the United States as part of Van Buskirk’s prison ministry. Van Buskirk has stated that, "I didn’t write this book to embarrass my country; I love my country. I just wrote it to tell how much God had to deal with in saving my life." This suggests that an accurate and complete description of Operation Tailwind was not essential (or, arguably, even desirable) in the book, which is about Van Buskirk’s personal redemption.

 

In our initial cold call to Van Buskirk in October 1997, before anyone knew where the story might lead, Van Buskirk said with regard to his book, "It was all about Tailwind, that is why it was so risky, cause it was still top secret." With regard to the gas dropped on Tailwind, he referred, unprompted, to a conversation he had had regarding the use of "lethal nerve gas" on Tailwind and said, "I didn’t really talk about the gas [in my book] because it was too top secret."

 

The authors of the AK Report state that Van Buskirk’s book mentions a gas, "arguably in terms inconsistent with sarin." The relevant passage in the book says, "…I immediately became sick. The gas was a nauseous kind, and I soon found myself wandering among dozens of other vomiting soldiers. They were friend and foe. When one is bent over sick, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other." This description is inconclusive as to whether the gas might be sarin or tear gas, but is presented by the authors of the AK Report as being "arguably…inconsistent with sarin." It is more arguably inconsistent with tear gas disbursed in an open rice paddy. The description in the book is obviously too incomplete to support any conclusion. Nevertheless, the AK Report uses it to support its conclusion.

 

All of Van Buskirk’s full descriptions of the symptoms of the gas in his interviews with us are more supportive of sarin than tear gas and have been clear and consistent throughout. "My unit puked their brains out. We all got amoebic dysentery. Everyone’s nose ran and all this mucous started coming out of everybody’s nostrils. Lots of enemy started having seizures."

 

The chapter dealing with Tailwind does not mention the killing of Americans on the mission. Van Buskirk told us that he did not mention this because he wanted to limit the gore contained in the book, which he was to use in his prison ministry.

 

(b) Van Buskirk initially referred to the gas as CBU 19 (tear gas) and his later assertion that this was a lethal gas may well have been encouraged by some of the questioning of him. The soundbite of Van Buskirk saying "sleeping gas…was slang for nerve gas" overstates the certainty of his knowledge.

 

The AK Report states that in early interviews, Van Buskirk repeatedly refers to the gas as CBU-19 (tear gas), and that, "[w]hile in later interviews he appears to become more certain of the lethal nature of the gas used his certainty may well have been colored by some of the questioning of him."

 

Encouraged by Questioning

 

The allegation that Van Buskirk was "encouraged by questioning" is easily refuted on a cursory examination of the initial cold call interview of Van Buskirk. Our first cold call to Van Buskirk demonstrates that a charge that Van Buskirk was "encouraged by questioning" is absolutely baseless. The following is a full list of the questions asked on that call:

 

"Q. You were in SOG?

 

Q. Tell me about your book.

 

Q. How come you wrote a book on Tailwind?

 

Q. How was the gas delivered? Did you write about the gas in your book?

 

Q. Do you remember the code name?

 

Q. Was the code name tar heels…or pod pai?

 

Q. You sure it was lethal war gas — not incapacitating gas? [This question was asked after Van Buskirk stated, "The rest of the enemy all died from the gas."]

 

Q. Do you know where the gas came from?

 

Q. Did they give you an antidote?

 

Q. What was McCarley’s role?

 

Q. Have you ever been approached by a journalist?

 

Q. How do I know you are the real Black Sapper?

 

Q. Any remorse?

 

Q. Reaction to Plaster?

 

Q. Could you divert a B-52?

 

Q. Any surprise at what we reported re: the B-52s?

 

Q. Anybody else?

 

Q. Ever feel bad about civilians?"

 

To state the obvious, none of these questions give "encouragement" to talk about a lethal gas. Van Buskirk offers the word "gas" before it is ever mentioned by the questioner.

 

Nevertheless, in answer to these questions on the initial cold call, Van Buskirk provided a lot of relevant information about a "lethal" gas (some of which is set forth below), much of it was later corroborated by other sources. It is also clear that he did not provide this information because of encouraging questions asked of him. This is another unfounded assertion by the AK Report.

 

Reference to CBU-19 (tear gas)

 

The AK Report’s assertion that Van Buskirk’s initially referred to the gas as tear gas, when his statements in his initial interview are read, is an extraordinary misrepresentation of what he said.

 

Statements made by Van Buskirk in the initial cold call in answer to the questions listed above include the following:

 

"It was all about Tailwind, that is why it was so risky, cause it was still top secret." "You know they teach Tailwind now down at Fort Bragg as the way to do a SLAM operation behind enemy lines. In the end we just tore the enemy apart. I just don’t know how much they teach the gas." "this CIA guy chased me down a few years ago and told me…..’I know that the U.S. has only used lethal nerve gas twice in its history, and one of the times was on the date, I think it was September 13, 1970, mentioned in your book, but I didn’t know on what operation until I read your book.’" "I didn’t really talk about the gas [in my book] because it was too top secret. It was delivered in CBU-19s. Lots of guys had lost their gas masks so it was real risky. Mine had been shot full of holes. Our casualties were 100%. And boy was that briefing interesting with Abrams. There was a CIA agent in that briefing. But it came off, no glitches. And there was this Air Force Colonel in there screaming, ‘This is insane, we’re not flying this stuff.’" "That stuff they put in the CBU-19s it made us sick. The enemy was off on the hilltop, and started to come down on us. We had no choice. I had no choice. We were dead meat so I called out for the baddest of the bad. The rotors of the choppers kept it off us, and pushed it away from us." … "The rest of the enemy all died from the gas." "Oh, yeah, it was lethal war gas. Course they don’t tell us too much…" "It came out of NKP. An A1E was carrying it." "It wasn’t no incapacitating gas in that CBU-19."

 

He also describes the symptoms of those exposed to the gas in some detail, including a description of the enemy "laying down to die."

 

"My unit puked their brains out. We all got amoebic dysentery. Everyone’s nose ran and all this mucous started coming out of everyone’s nostrils. Lots of enemy started having seizures…."

 

These are not tear gas symptoms.

 

Contrary to the AK Report’s assertion that Van Buskirk is talking about CBU-19 (tear gas) in his initial interviews, it is absolutely clear that he is talking about a lethal gas. He is not talking about tear gas. This kind of misrepresentation by the AK Report calls into question its bona fides.

 

At a meeting later in early October 1997 after the initial cold call but before his on camera interview, Van Buskirk took April Oliver aside and told her that the call sign wasn’t 19, it was more like CBU 15 or 16. The confusion may have arisen because of the military’s subordinate designation of sarin nerve gas is BLU-19.

 

The Soundbite

 

The soundbite used in the broadcast regarding Van Buskirk’s knowledge of the gas was Van Buskirk’s statement that "sleeping gas….was a slang for nerve gas." This immediately followed correspondent Peter Arnett’s statement that "[t]he arsenal included a special weapon known as ‘sleeping gas.’" CBU-15 was indeed a part of the US arsenal, evidenced by the weapons manuals obtained by us. Van Buskirk’s statement simply ties in the slang "sleeping gas" to a nerve agent. We do not know what knowledge this misrepresents.

 

(c) Van Buskirk disclosed that he had been treated for a nervous disorder for ten years and was taking prescription drugs.

 

As it does with Admiral Moorer, the AK Report attacks Van Buskirk’s credibility with insinuation. Many soldiers were treated for nervous disorders after Vietnam. This does not mean they are unreliable sources. In any event, Van Buskirk was not suffering from a nervous disorder or taking such medication during 1970 when Operation Tailwind occurred or during 1997-98 when he was interviewed by CNN.

 

(d) There are "recent reports" that Van Buskirk attributes to repressed memory his previous failure to recall the encounter with defectors. Also, in early interviews [the first cold call and the first on-camera interview in October 1997] he describes the killing of Caucasians as involving Russians.

 

The AK Report states as uncontroverted fact that Lieutenant Van Buskirk has stated "in spectacularly self-destructive fashion" that he had repressed memory syndrome which he only overcame while speaking with Oliver. This assertion is based on a so-called failure to recall the encounter with two Americans in early interviews with Oliver. The allegation stems from a third party report by Newsweek. We do not know what steps were taken by the authors of the AK Report to confirm the accuracy of that report. Elementary inquiries would have raised serious questions about its accuracy.

 

Van Buskirk does in fact raise the encounter with a Caucasian in the fox hole in the first cold call with Oliver in October 1997 in the following terms:

 

"And I saw a white guy running through it. And he jumped in a foxhole. When I told him to come out he said in perfect English fuck you. And I called for air. It was a Russian adviser."

 

This cold call predates the on-camera interview cited by Newsweek as the interview in which Van Buskirk overcame his purported repressed memory.

 

Van Buskirk obviously remembers the incident clearly and the use of perfect English by the Caucasian. Would he be likely to mention his later stated belief that this was an American in an initial cold call? Unlikely, given that, as Van Buskirk told us in a telephone interview in April 8, 1998, his colonel had told him "to leave out all mention of killing an American in the camp from my briefing notes." The colonel told him, he said, to "forget this ever happened. It will not be written down…..He was probably a Russian who spoke perfect English." Unlike the authors of the AK Report, we do not find this to be anywhere close to being "repressed memory syndrome."

 

Van Buskirk has been clear and consistent throughout from the first moment forward with regard to this memory.

 

Van Buskirk denies the allegation that he suffers from repressed memory syndrome, calling it "hogwash." It simply does not fit with the facts. In all of our interviews with Van Buskirk he never once mentioned repressed memory.

 

We have been told by Evan Thomas, the Newsweek reporter, that Van Buskirk answered affirmatively a question put to him by Thomas, in which Thomas (not Van Buskirk) introduced the term repressed memory. By the AK Report’s own standards (which it appears to apply selectively), and any reasonable standard, this falls far short of being a statement by Van Buskirk that he suffers from "repressed memory syndrome."

 

 

(e) Every interview he has given since the broadcast has made him seem still less reliable.

 

The AK Report states that "[s]ince the broadcast (and after the sustained criticism of him by SOG veterans) [Van Buskirk] has asserted he was not a source for sarin." The AK Report does not say to whom he made this alleged assertion. It seems that the AK Report is again relying on third party reporting, in this instance a Fox newscast on June 25, 1998. In that newscast the following exchange takes place between Van Buskirk and a Fox reporter:

 

"Q. And did you ever tell anyone that you used the nerve agent sarin on Operation Tailwind?

 

A. No, sir. I never used the word "sarin." The only thing that I did say was prior to their investigation — I’d received a phone call from a former CIA officer who said that we had used a ‘lethal war gas’ — that’s the only term I used besides CBU-19.

 

Q. A ‘lethal war gas’ which is not necessarily a nerve agent.

 

A. That’s correct."

 

As Van Buskirk makes clear in this interview, his point is that, while he referred to a lethal gas and its properties, he never used the word "sarin."

 

 

What Van Buskirk Said

We interviewed Van Buskirk on numerous occasions, including three times in October 1997, twice in April 1998 and once in May 1998. The following are extracts from well over one hundred pages of interview transcripts. In those interviews, Van Buskirk told us that a lethal gas was used, that immediately prior to Operation Tailwind an Air Force Colonel advised him the gas could "kill you," that the effects of the gas included convulsions, vomiting and death, and that years after the operation a former CIA employee advised him that September 14, 1970 was the first time that the U.S. had used lethal nerve gas.

 

The following are extracts from Van Buskirk’s statements to April Oliver and Peter Arnett:

 

From the initial cold call telephone interview with April Oliver in October 1997 (please note, again, there is no sign of repressed memory in this initial cold call):

 

Van Buskirk: "The enemy was off on the hilltop, and started to come down on us. We had no choice. I had no choice. We were dead meat so I called out for the baddest of the bad. The rotors of the choppers kept it off of us, and pushed it away from us…….What the enemy wasn’t expecting was gas. They didn’t have masks. They didn’t know what to do. We knew it was coming so we were prepared. It came in close, but we were on the edge of it, it hit right in the middle of the enemy. It was the only way I could create an LZ out of this rice paddy that was about to swarm with enemy. The only other option would have been to call for airstrikes on ourselves.

 

Immediately everyone was puking and the enemy laid down to die. There were 150 men or so lying down on the distance of about three football fields. And so we made this LZ out of a rice paddy. I called for it. I got it. I made the determination. We had had it, we were all injured and we were out of ammo. There was just no way we were going to get out. I called in the gas. We had to get out because of the weather.

 

This was something that Singlaub, Shungle and Sadler thought up as an act of love for us. They wanted us to know that everything that the U.S. had in the arsenal would be available to us. And frankly, if I hadn’t of called for it, I knew an Arc Light [B-52 bomber strike] was coming to take us all out."

 

And later in the same initial cold call:

 

Q. Are you sure it was lethal war gas — not incapacitating gas?

 

A. Oh yeah, it was lethal war gas. Course they don’t tell us too much The CIA guy who wrote that book will know what the chemicals were. Singlaub will know. You should go to Singlaub at the end of this and see if he will ‘fess up.

 

Q. Do you know where the gas came from?

 

A. It came out of NKP. An A1E was carrying it.

 

Q. Did they give you an antidote?

 

A. I don’t remember that. My unit puked their brains out. We all got amoebic dysentery. Everyone’s nose ran and all this mucous started coming out of everyone’s nostrils. Lots of enemy started having seizures…."

 

Later still from this initial cold call comes the following exchange, which is relevant to the proposition put forward by Newsweek that Van Buskirk suffered from repressed memory which he only overcame while speaking to Oliver.

 

"Q. Ever feel bad about civilians?

 

A. I’m a fighter. My orders were if it was alive, kill it. If it defecated, kill it. If it breathed oxygen, kill it. But my friend [name intentionally omitted] had a nervous breakdown over it. There was this one enemy encampment that we found. And I saw a white guy running through it. And he jumped in a foxhole. When I told him to come out he said in perfect English fuck you. And I called for air. It was a Russian adviser. I got his ring and all his stuff….There was no such thing as probable enemy. Anything that was alive was to be killed. And you know we were fighting everybody out there: Chinese, Russian, NVA and Pathet Lao. We had it all."

 

From an on-camera interview with Peter Arnett on May 5, 1998:

 

"Q. So what was this stuff? Tell us about it.

 

A. Well, we had been briefed and told that it was sleeping gas, and this stuff would incapacitate you. You know, the name of the game for Special Forces was weapons systems. And in looking back, some people might call it CBU-19, which was a mild tear gas. Well, that’s not going to do much good in the middle of a firefight when people are pumped on adrenaline and taking rounds in it, and not even feeling it. The enemy was known to fill themselves full of morphine and heroin before the fight, so you need something to knock them out. BLU-19, that was supposedly a pretty potent and deadly gas. And so all we knew is whatever was the worst of the worst, the bad of the bad, we had it. And they’d give it to us, they’d give us whatever we had to have to stay alive."

 

Van Buskirk also told us that an Air Force colonel took him aside after the pre-mission briefing:

 

"[H]e got me aside, when he realized who — I was the only son of an Air Force colonel who he apparently knew, and you know, it was kind of like — he was kind of like the dad saying, ‘Now, son, don’t drink and drive, because if you do you’re going to get hurt,’ You know, as a youngster you kind of ignore it. Oh, I can do it and get away with it. And he said, ‘Son, make sure you take your gas mask, because if you had to use this stuff, it can really hurt you.’ So, I took it as a serious warning, and I made sure that Super Drunk, my platoon sergeant, that we had a gas mask for every single Montagnard. And I know, for example, in some platoons not everybody had one, but I made sure all 55 of my men had a mask, and that’s one of the things I inspected."

 

Q. So tell us again the colonel, when he pulled aside, tell us again this sequence, this Air Force guy, after the briefing, and then, you know, there was some — what did he say to you?

 

A. Well, there was this Air Force colonel who, I believe was the same one that was balding and his head would get redder every time they would show him a chart of the known, fixed anti-aircraft positions, and he was sliding further and further down on his chair. And he eventually said, ‘I’m not going to fly — we’re not flying this.’ And we came to understand that possibly the first delay was because he didn’t want to put the pilots and Air Force personnel in that much known harm’s way.

 

"But at one point in time he got me aside, because he realized that I’m the only son of an Air Force colonel, who apparently he knew — my dad was in Saigon at the time. And he said, ‘Now be sure you take your gas mask with you.’ And he said, ‘This stuff can really hurt you; as a matter of fact, it can kill you.’"

 

Van Buskirk stated that a Military Intelligence Officer in Saigon "told me that we had turncoats. And we were to kill our own, but that we had no need to know that." "[W]e were told if it was alive, kill it, if it moved, kill it. Do not bring back prisoners for any reason."

 

We will set forth Van Buskirk’s statements regarding the two possible defectors in some detail, since it is referred to in citing the "repressed memory syndrome" proposition. When asked in the on-camera interview on May 5, 1998 what convinced him that the two Caucasians in the spider hole were Americans, Van Buskirk said:

 

"Peter, I was as close almost as you and I are and that young man looked right at me. I mean he looked right at me, but he looked through me, looked past me. It’s what I later came to know as the 1,000 yard stare. I had never seen the 1,000 yard stare. I later learned what it is. But he looked at me, through me. It was the saddest look. It’s the only face that I’ve kept from Tailwind. In other words, all the gore and all the blood and I stuck my head in one hootch and that’s all I saw, and all the stuff that would give nightmares to a soldier is gone from my spirit. I don’t have any nightmares or remembrances other than that young man’s face, the second one. And I remember it this day as if it was yesterday. He had piercing blue eyes, was a Caucasian. He had long, blond hair. And he looked the saddest look I’ve ever seen in my life. And his English was perfect."

 

Asked to describe what preceded that moment, Van Buskirk goes on:

 

"I see a longshadow, a Caucasian, a man over five foot tall which puts him in a whole new league, waist up, going in a hole. You know, young, early twenties. US type fatigues. No markers, no patches. I mean, just in an instant, this is a GI, government issue. What’s he doing here? Hair’s too long. He needs a haircut. What is this, you know.

 

"And I’m looking. Now all this is happening in an instant. This is all that’s stayed with me, from all these years. The rest of it’s gone. And then I see out of the corner, from the oblique, here comes another one running, fatigues, US type issue, pockets on the pants. Early 20s. Blond hair. And it looks like he’s running off a beach in California. Needs a haircut. This is a GI. Boots on. Not a prisoner. No shackles, no chains, nothing. And he’s running fast, he’s healthy. He’s moving.

 

"And me, I’m going to catch him. He’s a prize, you know. And I’m thinking for myself, my orders are to kill it if it moves, but this is one of my own. And I attempt to run him down. He’s just a little quicker than I am. I knew in my spirit that these were Americans. But I was able to be convinced after the Russian insignia was given to me later and my colonel got a hold of me and said, ‘Look, they’re Russians. They speak English better than we do.’ And he told me about World War II and the Germans and how they wear our uniforms. And I bought the lie."

 

Van Buskirk goes on:

 

"…our motto in Special Forces was two fold. One, we kill for peace. And two, kill them all and let God sort them out. So this is the mindset that I’m operating under. But I’d also been a high school English teacher just two some years — you know, two years and some months before, so there’s some humanity in there, and I guess the humanity is trying to win over the soldier.

 

"So when I knelt down, I knelt down because I missed him, and identified myself, because here I am with no dog tags, no markings, no unit insignia, no rank. You know I’m — no ID card, no dog tags. He doesn’t know who I am. And so I identified myself. I said, ‘I’m Lieutenant Van Buskirk, 5th Special Forces. I’ll take you home.’

 

"And what he said, it crushed me. You know, he said the word, and he said, you know, ‘FU.’ Perfect English. No accent. And I’m a linguist. I understand languages. There was no accent in that man’s voice. This was an American in my opinion. And I so stated on my after action report. But my commander says, ‘Listen, this was a Russian.’

 

Q. So you’re kneeling there and he defies you basically?

 

A. Yes.

 

Q. What do you do then?

 

A. I say, ‘No, FU.’ And the soldier came back. And I said, ‘I’m going to count to three and I’m going to mark this with a Willy Pete.’ He knew what a Willy Pete [sic] — anybody in the military knew what a white phosphorous grenade is. And my radioman’s right — he’s caught up with me by now, so you can hear my PRC-25, you can hear the FAC above, you can hear all that. I mean he’s right below my feet in the hole.

 

"And so I grab the handset and I called the FAC and I said, "I’ll mark the center of the camp with a Willy Pete.’ I counted to three, out loud. Now, no sign from him. I’m sure that he was heading in the tunnel, trying to get away. And I dropped the Willy Pete, ran backwards and it went off and shot up through this triple

canopy. . . . "

 

"Q. Tell us what you thought this man was, and why you killed him.

 

A. Well, I thought he was a defector, a turncoat for several reasons. One, he had his boots. Now, what we’d been trained is the first thing the enemy did when they captured us is took our boots, because we’re a soft footed people. We couldn’t walk anywhere. We couldn’t go anywhere barefooted. So we couldn’t run away if we didn’t have our boots, not in the jungle. So by the fact that he had his boots, it told me that he wasn’t a prisoner. Second, he ran fast. He was healthy. There’s nothing wrong with him. Third, his hair. It was too long to be a current GI, but it wasn’t that long. I mean, everything about him just smelled and looked and I sensed American. His fatigues weren’t NVA. And they were the old rip-stop, OD green fatigues. I could spot the pants with the side pockets. No unit markings, but they were there. I mean there was no doubt in my mind that he was a turncoat, and I was going to give him a chance to surrender. And obviously he didn’t want to. Obviously he knew what was waiting for him at the other end. There would be a court martial and justice and prison. So he told me exactly what he thought of me, what I could do. And I said, "No, it’s FU.""

 

"My orders were fulfilled. My orders were if it’s alive, kill it, and I did exactly what I was ordered to do. And I had no shame or fear in putting in an after action report, because I told exactly what I saw, what we counted and what happened. And that was sterilized."

 

Van Buskirk’s statement regarding his chase of the blond Caucasian is corroborated by Mike Hagen, who said in an off-camera interview in June 1998:

 

"I saw Van Buskirk running after the blond guy."

 

In addition, Jimmy Lucas said in an on-camera interview:

 

"I’ve heard of that [a blond person being sighted], but I never saw it…I heard that somebody saw him, but I can’t say, I can’t remember who…"

 

CNN’s NewsStand broadcast its retraction report on July 5, 1998. That retraction broadcast itself contains many misrepresentations and inconsistencies, including some with respect to Van Buskirk. We mention one of them in this Rebuttal only because it was made by Floyd Abrams, one of the authors of the AK Report.

 

On the retraction broadcast, Mr. Abrams states with respect to Van Buskirk:

 

"And worst of all, worst of everything, he didn’t know what he was talking about. He’s not a guy who would know if it was nerve gas or sleeping gas or tear gas. He was on the ground."

 

This is an incredible statement by Mr. Abrams. If he believes it, then he must reach the same conclusion regarding every commando on the ground, including McCarley and Rose.

 

Although Mr. Abrams on television claims it to be "worst of all," Abrams and Kohler had nothing to say about this in the AK Report. To the contrary, the AK Report states that "indications are in favor of using him as a source. He won a Silver Star for his participation in Tailwind, personally briefed General Abrams on that mission, is articulate and by virtue of his involvement a knowledgeable source for information about Tailwind," before the AK Report makes the leap to criticize his general credibility.

 

Mr. Abrams’ statement on the CNN retraction broadcast is also self-contradictory in other ways. In the CNN retraction broadcast, Abrams goes on to say about McCarley, who was wounded early and did not engage in much of the fighting:

 

"this is the commander of the operation saying, in so many words, ‘It wasn’t nerve gas,’ [another over-simplified misrepresentation by Mr. Abrams] and your audience wouldn’t know that from this broadcast."

 

Which is it, Mr. Abrams? Is the information given by the fighting men on the ground relevant or not?

 

Regardless of Mr. Abrams’ dismissal of Van Buskirk because he was "on the ground", the soldiers on the ground are the eyewitnesses, and therefore are obviously best placed to describe their experiences. Furthermore, Van Buskirk, on the ground was the de facto leader of the operation and was the commando who called for the gas, the "baddest of the bad." Finally, Van Buskirk had been told about a lethal gas and, like Captain McCarley, had been briefed that any weapon in the U.S. arsenal would be available to him except nuclear weapons.

 

 

JAY GRAVES

 

Jay Graves was on the SOG reconnaissance team for Tailwind. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

The Tailwind broadcast contained the following passage:

 

"Arnett: Jay Graves was a SOG reconnaissance team leader, dropped into Laos several days before the Tailwind commando team. His mission:

 

Graves: Take photos — if we could, establish ID on people without going in the camp.

 

Arnett: From this position, his recon team (emphasis added) spotted several Americans, roundeyes — either POWs or defectors.

 

Graves: We saw some round-eyed people. We don’t know whether they’re prisoners or whatever."

 

The AK Report states that the omission of Graves’ statements that it was someone else on his team who saw these people and that there was no way to tell whether they were Americans "made it appear that Graves’ recollections were more certain than they actually were." The AK Report does not refer to Arnett’s introduction, which makes it clear that it was Graves’ recon team, rather than Graves himself, that saw the Caucasians. We do not believe, as the AK Report proposes, that the broadcast suggests that Graves himself saw Caucasians. In addition, Graves’ recollection is clear and certain that two American members of his recon team saw these people and photographed them. He states that members of his team took pictures and that they estimated there were 14 to 20 round-eyes in the camp. Graves told us that the recon team was sent to find Americans, that his team members said they saw Americans and that Graves radioed in "Affirmative." His statements are corroborated by the statements of Cathey (who saw 10-15 of what he believed were American defectors, because there was no sign of restraint), Van Buskirk (who chased two Caucasians into a hole) and Hagen (who saw Van Buskirk chasing a blond Caucasian). As discussed below, the AK Report does not take issue with any of Cathey’s statements.

 

Graves’ statement that there was no way to tell whether the roundeyes sighted were Americans is likewise not inconsistent with what was broadcast, which included his statement that, "we don’t know whether they’re prisoners or whatever."

 

With respect to defectors, Graves stated that "Hell, yes," American defectors were always a primary target of SOG.

 

"A. Those sons of bitches gave up to the enemy. Nine out of ten of them are not coming back, cause they will resist you."

 

And later:

 

"Q. So it’s better to kill them than to waste American lives court-marshalling them?

 

A. If they resist you. Why should we kill ourselves getting that worthless piece of shit. We have no need for those assholes. Hell they had a $50,000 bounty on each of us. Turnabout is fair play.

 

Q. But you were briefed at times to kill defectors?

 

A. Hell yes. They were the dirtiest bastards of all."

 

Graves learned of the use of the "sleeping" or "knockout" gas immediately after Operation Tailwind when he returned to the base and "[e]verybody was talking about the knockout gas."

This is the relevant passage:

 

"Q. So GB is killer gas that puts you to sleep?

 

A. That’s what we came to believe after sitting there and listening. We would come back and talk afterwards. They definitely used gas, and they wanted to keep it real secret. Course they lied to us about everything. It burns my ass. Everybody was talking about the knockout gas after the mission. That’s why I requested it at the House of Ten."

 

And later:

 

"Q. In the end you understood that the hatchet force got pulled out with GB?

 

A. Yup, GB. Course they called it sleeping gas. And then they tried to call it nothing but tear gas, probably cause everyone was talking about all the casualties and all, and they wanted to cover up."

 

And later:

 

"Q. But how did you know what sleep gas was?

 

A. You are never given anything till after the fact. They did not tell us squat. Not unless you had a need to know."

 

The following exchange from the Graves interview was used on the broadcast:

 

"GB, we started calling it knockout gas, and then it was GB, and then they changed it to something else....which I can understand why they was doing it now.

 

Q. Why were they doing it?

 

A. Because they were using nerve gas in that shit and not telling anybody about it."

 

This was supported by descriptions given to Graves of the symptoms experienced by those subject to the gas.

 

"Q. And you say people were knocked out?

 

A. Yeah, just out, and they said that some of them, they thought was coming back. Some of the medics said that they went over and started treating them, and they said it just got worse.

 

Q. (off mike)

 

A. Yeah, they looked like they was going to recover from it, and then they just — well, it was just — the guys hadn’t ever seen nerve gas, what it does to the body. It’s a pretty horrible thing."

 

The AK Report states that Graves’ knowledge that the call sign for the gas used in Tailwind was GB "was likely based on hearsay." The AK Report fails to note that Graves was a chemical containment officer after the Vietnam War and gained knowledge of the codename for the sleeping gas (i.e., GB) from a chemical officer.

 

In response to a question as to whether he ever used sleeping gas, Graves states as follows:

 

"Never used it myself, but we were taught its tactics. I think it was taught at the inner compound. It was one of those things like the Phoenix Program. Real hush hush. People didn’t talk about it much."

 

The following quote is from Graves’ on-camera interview, after he says he had heard only in the last month that "knockout gas" had sarin in it:

 

"That’s all we was told, knockout gas and GB. And they’re one and the same, and it kind of got to going, well, I didn’t believe some of these guys that was getting trained in that. And they said they were using it, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. And then the way that you had to use it, you had to put it on request, like ordering it up from a doctor’s pharmacy office. I mean, the control of it, it was more than I wanted to handle."

 

And later from the same interview:

"Q. Well, what did you learn later when you were a chemical officer sleeping gas really was? What did you learn later about what sleeping gas really was?

A. Well, it kind of came to our attention it got evaded and evaded and evaded, and people saying this, and that it was just a rumor, and then when you tried to check out, it was nerve gas."

 

 

JIM CATHEY

 

Pastor Jim Cathey was a member of the "rat pack,’ an Air Force NCO directing resupply for SOG during Tailwind. The AK Report makes little reference to the information given by Cathey. Cathey’s credibility is not attacked by the AK Report. The following are some exchanges:

 

(from March 23, 1998 off-camera interview)

 

"Q. What was your understanding of the mission, you mention a village they were supposed to get rid of.

 

A. Partly to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. There was also supposed to be a stockpile of ammunition that could have been used against U.S. forces. The main thing was to destroy it. But there was this village, that as far as we knew, people had heard it had VC, not regulars but real Viet Cong that came and went as they pleased. Laos was supposedly neutral. But they were there, and so were the Russians. We called them longshadows. We were supposed to take out any roundeye Caucasian, what we called longshadows, if they were walking loose.

 

Q. Could that include American defectors?

 

A. Yes, if they were walking loose. Anyone with round eyes. They were sure the Russians were there.

 

 

(from April 28, 1998 on-camera interview)

 

"Q. So you do believe there were American defectors out there?

 

A. Yes, I do.

 

Q. Could you say that in a statement?

 

A. Yes, I think I can. I believe there were American defectors in that group of people in that village, because there was no — no sign of any kind of restraint. They walked around as though they were part of the bunch. And that’s the reason I don’t have any regrets whatsoever about what happened in that village.

 

Q. They’re enemy.

 

A. They’re enemy. Exactly."

 

 

 

CRAIG SCHMIDT

 

Craig Schmidt was a member of the SOG Tailwind hatchet force and was awarded the Silver Star for his part in Tailwind. He has no direct knowledge whether the gas used was nerve gas, but acknowledges that sleeping gas is GB, and describes the symptoms experienced from the "periphery" of the gas drop, stating that this was not CS (tear gas). He also confirms the general SOG objective to kill defectors. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

From an April 1998 off-camera interview:

 

"Q. Ever hear of sleeping gas?

 

A. Yup.

 

Q. Same thing as GB?

 

A. Uh, hum.

 

Q. But sleeping gas was used on Tailwind…Does it surprise you to learn it was nerve gas?

 

A. No, not at all. It probably was nerve gas. What would be surprising is if they ever admitted it.

 

And later in that same interview:

 

Q. So the gas doesn’t surprise you, that it was nerve gas?

 

A. No, not at all. There was a huge emphasis on yards [Montagnards] and the gas preparation before we went out. To make sure that everyone had a gas mask or to share them. All Americans had theirs and held on to them.

 

Q. This was not CS?

 

A. Oh no. CS and CN [are] still easy to work in. The enemy was far too used to it. It would have been a big mistake to use CS. No, the gas was no surprise….

 

And later:

 

Q. How did the gas feel?

 

A. Sticky, wet.

 

Q. No distinct color?

 

A. No. There was a goodly amount of it. It didn’t come from the jets. I am sure it came in from the A1s who came in close.

 

Q. It worked immediately?

 

A. Oh yeah. Profusion from eyes, nose, everything got sticky. We turned our sleeves down to cover ourselves up as much as possible. We were not in the direct path of the gas. They did a nice job dropping it. We were on the periphery…

 

And later:

 

Q. McCarley says the gas used was just like pepper spray.

 

A. I guarantee you it was not pepper spray. Van Buskirk is your best source.

 

Q. But you knew it at the time as sleeping gas?

 

A. Yes. We knew it as sleeping gas. We knew its impact was far greater than CS. CS you can work through. But not this.

 

Q. This wasn’t a white powder?

 

A. No. This had a wet feel. It was clear and wet, totally different."

 

From the May 1998 off-camera interview:

 

"Q. Is it fair to say that in SOG you always wanted to kill defectors?

 

A. Oh yeah, you wanted to take them out. A defector is a defector.

 

Q. Were Salt and Pepper [defector code names] fair game?

 

A. Oh yeah, they were fair game, unofficially of course."

 

 

 

JIMMY LUCAS

 

Jimmy Lucas was a member of the SOG Tailwind hatchet force. His statements are consistent with the use of gas stronger than tear gas and confirm the SOG objective on Tailwind was to kill defectors ("word got around that’s what we were going in for"). His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

 

 

MIKE HAGEN

 

Mike Hagen was a SOG sergeant on Tailwind. His statement corroborates the use of nerve gas on Tailwind and confirms the general SOG objective to kill defectors. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

The following are extracts of his statements:

 

"Q. If you had to estimate how many roundeyes in hootches, what would you say?

 

A. I would say there was like six of them [it is not clear whether Hagen saw them himself — he says elsewhere that he didn’t attempt to ID roundeyes and that "we" found them after we went through the village]"

 

With respect to defectors, he says:

 

"We would sacrifice anything to get that sucker [defector]. ‘Cause they were so hated. I mean we would cut off their heads, even if the body was too damaged to get it out. ‘Cause we hated them so much. If you cut off hands, they could still be alive. But you can’t live without a head can you?"

 

And later:

 

"Q. But killing defectors was always a primary target?

 

A. Oh yeah, if you ever saw an American, you went after him at all costs."

 

With respect to the gas, Hagen made these statements:

 

"The Montagnards were getting sick, they were vomiting and going into convulsions. I started to get nauseated…" "I got very sick. I fell to the ground, started going into convulsions." "It wasn’t a type of gas, say, a smoke barrage, to hide what you are doing — it was there to immobilize the people on the ground.’

_______________________

 

"The Yards are starting to panic, a lot of them for some reason. I don’t know if it was panic or if their gas masks were hurt, or what the problem was, but they were getting sick, they were vomiting, going into convulsions. I could see a lot of the enemy people on the ground going into convulsions, uh which we walked over ‘em, uh I started getting nauseated."

 

_______________________

 

"…it was majorly effective. Yeah, they were, they [the enemy] were on the ground. They were alive I assume, at that particular time, but they were gone. I mean they had thrown up. They were in convulsions on the ground. No sign, I mean I didn’t start to take medical things on them, and check if their eyes dilated or not, but I don’t think too many of them got up and walked away. I don’t think it was what the Government wants to call it, an incapacitating agent, to where they can come through and sort out the good from the bad."

 

 

"It was tasteless, odorless, you could barely see it."

_________________

 

"After the second helicopter, I started feeling it, I was getting dizzy, I was getting nauseated, I was throwing up, I would lift the gas mask and throw up. Uh, the second helicopter came in, I started helping guys into it and then I fell to the ground. And I don’t remember a whole lot after that."

 

"…we were taught at Fort Bragg, that was part of the training. They put you through CS thing, so you know what it is. They teach you mustard gas. They teach you all forms of gas, not specifically for us using them, but if you encounter them….

__________________

 

Q. So you knew it wasn’t just CS.

 

A. Oh, yeah. It was definitely obvious it wasn’t CS gas."

__________________

 

"Q. So what type of gas are you talking about here?

 

A. Nerve gas. The Government don’t want it called that. They want to call it an incapacitating agent, or some other form. But it was nerve gas. I got exposed to it, ‘cause when I was shot, it went through my mask."

 

 

SOG RECON TEAM COMMANDO 1

This commando was a Recon team member on Tailwind and was pulled out of Operation Tailwind before the hatchet team arrived. His credibility is not attacked by the AK Report.

 

The following are extracts from his statements:

 

"Q. Did you hear that there were POWs in the area?

 

A. We had heard that there were Americans there…I had heard and seen pictures…there were Caucasians there.

 

Q. Did you think they were defectors or POWs?

 

A. We were informed that there were POWs…we had seen pictures.

 

Q. I have heard some mention of Russians or a Russian who was there, turning POWs over to the other side.

 

A. As far as Russians — we believed it… We were led to believe that Russians were prominent in the area. You know any Caucasian really stood out in the area. A blond tall person would really stand out.

 

Q. What did the pictures of the pictures . . . of the POWs show?

 

A. POWs tied in rope…tied neck to neck — in flight overalls, which were very distinctive."

 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF M-17 GAS MASKS

 

The Tailwind broadcast noted that, "McCarley said he equipped his men with special gas masks...called M-17s designed to protect against lethal gas." The AK Report states that "the failure [of the broadcast] to disclose the standard nature of these masks to the viewer gave McCarley’s remarks more supportive weight than was justified." However, the statements made by various participants give strong support to the notion that, while they may have been standard issue, the emphasis placed on the use of these masks for this mission was unusual and notable. It is also clear that the masks were not always carried on SOG missions.

 

Van Buskirk stated that an Air Force Colonel had told him before the mission

 

"[b]e sure that you take your gas masks. This stuff can really hurt you. It can kill you. So I insisted that when I briefed my troops, my platoon sergeant, Jim Brevelle, I said, ‘You make sure that we all have our masks.’ Now carrying gas masks was really SOP, standard operating procedure, but not everybody always carried, sometimes you would opt to bring more ammo. But I made sure that all my men all had M-17 masks."

 

Hagen states that those running the mission "made a point that we took our gas masks. . . it was, it was unusual." Lucas recalls the Montagnards being trained to use their gas masks and says that "it was unusual for the Montagnards or us to carry gas masks." Schmidt said there was "huge" emphasis on the gas preparation before they went out.

 

The authors of the AK Report criticize the broadcast because it did not note the "standard nature of these masks," and barely make reference to the corroborative information set forth above. The use of McCarley’s statement is warranted, taking into account the corroborative statements of men on the mission.

 

 

THE REFERENCE TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN

 

The AK Report states that the broadcast "touches on the possibility of non combatants — women and children — being killed" and that "[t]his statement was juxtaposed with — and thus implicitly supported by — a statement by [Mike] Hagen that the majority of the people that were there [in the base camp] were not combat personnel." The AK Report states that Hagen’s full statement, referring to a transportation unit, gives a very different impression to the portion aired.

 

A review of the relevant portion of the broadcast shows that the statement about women and children being killed was NOT in fact juxtaposed with Hagen’s statement, which did not immediately precede it and which related not to the dead, but to the limited defense by enemy soldiers in the the ten minute battle. In addition, the statement that the majority of the people that were there were not combat personnel does not imply that the balance were women and children. Hagen’s statement was not misused.

 

The relevant passage is as follows:

 

"Arnett: The commandos wiped out the camp in approximately 10 minutes.

 

Hagen: The majority of the people that were there were not combat personnel. The few infantry people that they had we overran immediately. We basically destroyed everything there.

 

McCarley: ["Capt. Eugene McCarley — Tailwind Commander" - title appears on screen] And as we were going through it, there were the dead bodies. The count was ninety something, upwards of one hundred.

 

Arnett: Including women and children."

 

Statements from our sources, not specifically referenced in the broadcast, confirm, corroborate or support that women and children were casualties of Operation Tailwind.

 

For example, in his first cold call in October 1997, Van Buskirk says:

 

"But my friend [name intentionally omitted] was at that camp. He saw a lot of shit that the Montagnards did. Women who had golf ball size grenades stuck in their throats. He never got over it. [Name intentionally omitted] was just stricken, he started to cry. It broke him…."

 

"There was no such thing as a probable enemy. Anything that was alive was to be killed."

 

Van Buskirk also says:

 

"I know there were two women nurses and three kids. The Montagnards did shove mini grenades down the children’s throats. But they were told anything that moves, kill it."

 

Graves says in his on-camera interview in April 1998:

 

"Q. How many people total were killed in that village, to your knowledge?

 

A. To my knowledge, I have no idea. But just from listening to what I heard from everybody else, I’d say there was probably at least 100 people. Maybe more.

 

Q. And these were women and children?

 

A. That was everybody; women, children, good guys, bad guys, Montagnards."

 

And off camera, the following exchange took place:

 

"Q. So the cover up is of?

 

A. That gas was used. That women and children died in the village. That Yards [Montagnards] died. . . . It was a total fuckup."

 

In his on-camera interview in November 1997, Lucas acknowledges that there were women and children in the camp on-camera:

 

"Q. Now, two people at least have told me that there were women and children.

 

A: Right, there were women and children. But as far as, you know, the people with me, the women and children had, you know, as a matter of fact, they were standing — just all they were doing was standing around, and so we just, you know, we just burnt - - we burn the hootches down, because they, you know, they were in our way."

 

After stating that "if you don’t get resistance, you know, women and children out in the rice paddy or something, and you don’t get any resistance, you know, there’s no use to fire on them," Lucas proceeds: "I was - - I was told, but I can’t believe that anybody would have, you know, would have killed women and children. If it was, it was they were firing into the hootches and everything and killed, which has been done a lot."

 

And later:

 

"Q. So these women and kids were headed for the hills?

 

A: Everybody.

 

Q: How many?

 

A. I can’t say. I saw 30, anywhere from 20 to 30 people. Some women, some children - - some women children just standing around, and some men, you know standing around, and some that were, you know, armed and running.

 

Q. I’m told that you all just went through as a killing force through the village.

 

A. Right. We were protecting ourselves. We had to. We didn’t have time to stop and ask, you know, are you friendly or are you NVA. Our mission was at that time to get to the choppers and get out. That was my mission. That was everybody’s mission in that group, to my knowledge, was to get to the LZ and get out of there. You know, what we run up against, nobody knew where we were. So we were lucky to get through it.

 

Q. And so anything in your path is fair game?

 

A. Right. That’s the way I felt.

 

Q. And there’s no regrets?

 

A. No."

 

 

 

 

DEFECTORS, POWs OR RUSSIANS

 

The AK Report states that "[t]he sources supporting the notion of Caucasians in the base camp did not always tell consistent stories." The AK Report continues, "Perhaps because the confidential sources discussed defectors, the broadcast largely assumes the sightings were of American defectors (with a brief reference and a question concerning the possibility of them being POWs)." (AK Report, p 49).

 

Not only is the AK Report wrong in its assertion (we did not assume anything), but it misrepresents the broadcast.

 

Contrary to the AK Report’s statement, the report that sources told us they saw Caucasians in the base camp was not a "notion." It was based on Van Buskirk, Cathey and Hagen’s first hand statements of their sighting of Caucasians, the report that Graves received from his recon team and Admiral Moorer’s statement on this issue.

 

The broadcast introduced the sighting of Caucasians in the village base camp with the following two statements:

 

"Arnett: From this position, [Graves’] recon team spotted several Americans, roundeyes…either POWs or defectors.

 

Graves: We saw some roundeyed people. We don’t know whether they’re prisoners or whatever."

 

Thus the broadcast indicates the uncertainty on this issue, and from the very beginning raises the possibility that the Caucasians might have been POWs. Furthermore, at the end of the broadcast, Arnett asks are "military officials sure no POWs were killed?"

 

The relevant information we received from our sources can be summarized as follows. With respect to clear statements that there were American defectors, there is Van Buskirk’s account of his encounter with the unrestrained Caucasians wearing GI issue, one of whom cursed at Van Buskirk with no accent and his statement that he had no doubt this was an American and Hagen’s statement that he saw one of these Caucasians running. There is also Cathey’s statement that he saw Caucasians that he believed were American defectors because of the lack of restraint. Finally, there are Admiral Moorer’s statements with regard to the defectors killed on Operation Tailwind, which statements are set forth on pages 15-16. In addition, there was Lucas’ supporting statement there was no thought that the roundeyes were POWs rather than defectors. Lucas also said that the talk upon departure was that defectors were the target. Admiral Moorer and a confidential source also told us the target was defectors.

 

To the possibility that the men were POWs, there is Graves’ statement that his recon team saw restrained Caucasians.

 

Graves said there were two separate sightings of Americans;

 

"one at the beginning by [Dennis]. And then the next day as we ground hogged, I think it was the next day, we took the photo, that is the other guy on my team that got the snap. The first sighting they were tied up, but in the pictures they were not."

 

Although the Caucasians in the camp may or may not have included one or more Russians, our sources strongly supported the report that the Caucasians included Americans. For example, Cathey said that the large size of the Caucasian group indicated that, even if they included Russians, they were not all Russians and included Americans. We did in fact have a reference to the possibility that these were Russians in an early draft of the script, but this was taken out at the direction of NewsStand’s deputy executive producer, Jim Connor, and executive producer, Pamela Hill, because of time constraints.

 

Given what our sources told us and the time constraints of the broadcast, we believe that our broadcast included a fair and balanced portrayal of the information we obtained. The introduction of this issue by Arnett, the statements used by the men of Tailwind, together with the statement that the question remains whether military officials were sure no POWs were killed, fairly reflects the conflict as to whether the Caucasians sighted were defectors or POWs.

 

 

OTHER CORROBORATIVE INFORMATION

 

The AK Report does not specify what other corroborative information the authors reviewed. They conclude that this information "certainly provided some ancillary support for the broadcast" although "its weight does not cure the deficiencies" discussed elsewhere in the AK Report.

 

Since only one paragraph of the AK Report refers to our corroborative information, we will set forth some of the other corroborative information here, beginning with certain A1 pilots who will remain nameless due to the pressure and threats that have been brought to bear on our sources since the Tailwind stories went on the air.

 

Of approximately two dozen pilots we interviewed, five describe nerve gas or killer gas or GB as available for SARs; three that insist that the available special last resort gas was CBU-15 (the deadly sarin nerve gas weapon) and five say that the special gas available was sleeping gas or simply a powerful last resort gas which was not tear gas. These pilots include the following four.

 

PILOT 1

 

Pilot 1 was one of the pilots who flew on Tailwind. Tailwind was the only mission on which he flew gas. The AK Report does not attack his credibility.

 

Pilot 1 said it is unlikely that he dropped nerve gas. However he stated that:

 

"[the gas dropped] was a bit more potent than tear gas. It was very debilitating and gave us the runs, as well as burning of the eyes and throat".

 

He states that he would be "pissed, embarrassed and disappointed" if it was in fact nerve gas, since he was briefed it was tear gas.

 

In February 1998, Pilot 1 stated:

 

"…after our runs we could hear [the men on the ground] puking and choking…Yes, we dropped CS-Gas a form of tear gas that I think was in powder form in canisters that came out of the bottom of the dispensers."

 

Later, when April Oliver interviewed Pilot 1, Pilot 1 said:

 

"I was told it was CS gas. I knew what CS was. Planes would load and stand and wait with CS for SAR. I basically only had that one munition. It was CS tear gas. It was a little more powerful perhaps, but the retching is consistent with CS. It was in powder form."

 

Later in the same interview, he states:

 

"Well, there was this other gas we were briefed about. It was maybe sleeping gas. I could see that maybe it was loaded for Son Tay. They loaded and flew a lot of strange things. A select few people were alerted for that rescue. I have no doubt that if that weapon would have been available they would have been given access to whatever weapon they had. I have no doubt that that weapon was there on base. I never flew gas before or after. But to fly lethal gas would be absolutely inconsistent with procedure, and with my concept of use as a pilot.

 

"I was a little surprised, however…I looked up CS on the internet before meeting with you. I was surprised to see it listed as a tear gas. But to drop lethal gas would be totally inconsistent with my training. CS was dropped in rescues. CS was a last ditch effort on SAR missions."

 

He later states:

 

"I was there. My airplane dropped the thing. I was briefed it was CS, it came from a dispenser consistent with CS. I did not take a gas mask. I could hear them coughing, choking, spitting and retching. It was debilitating….If what you are saying is true there is a conspiracy here. That conspiracy put me at risk."

 

He also states:

 

"I was briefed about the three gases. I was briefed that something like what you describe that might be available. But I was not briefed for a specific mission with it."

 

He later states:

 

"I am certain we had the gas you describe. I will not dispute we loaded it. I will not dispute it was flown from time to time. But whether we used it or not I cannot comment, I don’t know that even from bar talk."

 

When asked what his understanding was of what CS tear gas does, Pilot 1 replied:

 

"From what I heard it can be debilitating. It can incapacitate. It causes tearing, retching. But I was surprised to find out it was tear gas. I thought CS was more powerful."

 

We asked Pilot 1 to speak to the camera, but he refused.

 

 

PILOT 2 — COMMAND RANK

 

Pilot 2 was a command rank pilot based at the top secret NKP airbase in Thailand. He flew in support of Tailwind and provided substantial corroborative information. The AK Report does not attack his credibility.

 

Pilot 2 confirmed that GB was "sleeping gas," and was stored at NKP. Pilot 2 stated that:

 

"[p]robably two canisters were put on each SAR aircraft for each mission. Very seldom was it used. Not very often. The last batch of GB I personally dropped. It was pretty good stuff. It had a nickname, grubby is what we called it. It also had a special [one word] call sign."

 

"Q. You said you personally dropped it [GB]?

 

A. I dropped it probably 3 or 4 times."

 

We examined Pilot 2’s flight logs, which clearly stated that he flew a "grubby" mission three times on one day on a SAR in [date intentionally omitted to prevent identification] 1970. His log also showed that he flew on Tailwind on September 13, 1970, the failed extraction day. He could not swear that he actually dropped it on either day, but he stated that he was certain he has used it. He stated that it would not be carried on every SAR. "Things would have to have gotten grim, there would have to be a lot of troops down there, then we would say let’s try some of this stuff," according to Pilot 2.

 

He agreed that it was a colorless gas and that it incapacitated real fast, including the tearing in eyes, vomiting, then losing consciousness.

 

"We did not have extensive briefings on it. It was kinda hush hush."

 

After he had made the statements set forth above, Oliver and Smith visited the source’s home. During that visit, he tried to backtrack from acknowledging specifically that the gas was GB. He said that the higher ups preferred them not to know exactly what the stuff was, in case they got shot down and were captured. This would provide them a greater measure of protection from enemy interrogation. He said they NEVER used tear gas in SAR situations, because CS tear gas simply didn’t work. It wasn’t effective, they didn’t bother with it.

 

"I flew 160 missions and never carried tear gas….I never dropped tear gas, no tear gas."

 

"This gas incapacitated the enemy quickly and would get the job done…the FACS told us what to do, we were under the control of the FACS…The pilots merely needed to know where to place it, not what it was. Everything was strictly on a need to know basis, and pilots didn’t need to know the exact chemical makeup of the stuff."

 

He also said a pilot wouldn’t be able to tell exactly what was inside the dispenser system.

 

This pilot declined to be interviewed on camera for legal reasons and due to the situation in Iraq.

 

 

PILOT 3

 

Pilot 3 was an A1 pilot at NKP in 1970 and became a FAC. The AK Report does not attack his credibility.

 

"Q. What can you tell me about incapacitating gas?

 

A. We used it all the time on SAR. It was nerve gas. I don’t know whether it was very classified. It was definitely used. Incapacitating agent would do the job on extractions.

 

Q. Was that nerve agent GB?

 

A. Oh I don’t know. Something like laughing gas. We had no need to know its exact chemical composition.

 

Q. We’ve been told that incapacitating gas was GB, sarin, a lethal nerve gas.

 

A. Oh I don’t know nothing like that. But where we used it was on SAR. It was when we had a friendly down and he was really surrounded.

 

Q. I’ve been told that in a situation like that the nerve gas would be used, then a medic sent down to search the bodies for the roundeyes.

 

A. Yup, we would send a paramedic down in a gas mask, and he would look for the pilot. The PJ [paramedic] was so if the pilot was incapacitated too the medic could treat him fast. The bodies would be laying out flopping there like dead bugs. But we were told this agent would not kill you.

 

Q. We are researching a story in which we have been told that a nerve agent was used to recover a very large group of friendlies…it happened after you left NKP.

 

A. There’s plenty of testimony that we did use nerve gas out there in Laos. There are a lot of guys who live around here who will tell you that. We did use exactly that. Nerve gas. What kind of nerve gas, I don’t exactly know. This was all classified. Those technical details.

 

And later:

 

Q. What did it look like from the air?

 

A. Not like smoke. Not white… I would have to say that the gas was sort of colorless."

 

Later in the same interview:

 

"A. We used it [nerve gas]. I can’t deny it. But you might want to qualify how we used it…..we used it differently from Saddam Hussein, to save our own people. In the military you are asked to do things. You get orders from above. There were limits to our use. It was in the best interests of our own people, is what we used it for.

 

Q. But what was this nerve gas?

 

A. I don’t know the chemical formula for it. What was explained to us was that it was not really lethal. I know exactly how it was used. I never carried an antidote. . . the decision for its use would come from Saigon. . . The only time we used it was on SAR, search and rescue, to secure an area. We were told that it was non lethal, but that the survivor might have to be treated with an antidote. The PJ had an antidote….Yes, this nerve gas was used. But it was done so sparingly. The situation would have to be bad and the gas would be really effective…..On SAR, the nerve gas was an agent available. It was used with discretion. Access to it was controlled. Its code name was classified."

 

Later in the same interview:

 

"Q. How many times did you fly it?

 

A. I used it in a year’s time maybe 15 times. I flew with no breaks.

 

Q. GB is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause choking, vomiting, and convulsions, then knock you out, possibly death.

 

A. That sounds like it."

 

 

 

PILOT 4

 

Pilot 4 was an A1 pilot based at NKP in 1970 but was not on the ground at NKP during Tailwind. Pilot 4 admitted to using tear gas and a very strong nauseous type of incapacitating gas.

 

According to Pilot 4:

 

"CBU-15 is the magic number."

 

We know from U.S. military weapons manuals and Moorer’s statements (not quoted here) that CBU-15 is a weapon dedicated to sarin nerve gas. Pilot 4 stated:

 

"We didn’t talk about it much. Hardly anyone even mentioned the gas."

 

Pilot 4 stated that he put a paramedic down in a gas mask once with CBU-15 on the ground and retrieved a very sick pilot.

 

 

 

 

JOHN K. SINGLAUB

 

As reported in the Tailwind story, Major General John K. Singlaub, who was the chief SOG commanding officer in Saigon from 1966 to 1968, stated that killing defectors was part of SOG’s mission. Moorer, as noted above, said of Singlaub with respect to defectors being a top priority target for SOG:

 

"You can rely on Singlaub. He was heavy into this from the start. He would have no reason to misinform you. You can believe him."

 

The following exchanges took place with Major General Singlaub:

 

"Q. So what are your options when confronted with defectors?

 

A. You are reaching a logical conclusion. I would certainly hate to risk men’s lives by going in and capturing them. It would be easier to go in with firepower and kill them."

 

Singlaub made the following statement during a telephone interview in April, 1998:

 

"[I]t may be more important to your survival to kill the defector than to kill the Vietnamese or Russian. Americans can use the fact that they are Americans with their accent and knowing on the radio what to do. That can be damaging."

 

Oliver called Singlaub again a week later and re-read to him the above statement, and asked:

 

"Q. I just want to make sure I got this right, that’s what was said wasn’t it?

 

A. Yeah, that’s right. Of course killing defectors was not in our formal mission statement. Our mission was to return evaders, escapees and POWs."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIKE SHEPPARD

 

Mike Sheppard was the SOG reconnaissance leader, based at Dac To during Tailwind. Sheppard told us that he did advance reconnaissance for Operation Tailwind in August, 1970. The AK Report does not attack his credibility.

 

In a telephone interview in April 1998, the following exchange took place:

 

"A. Well we always had atropine [the nerve agent antidote] and we almost always had the special masks. On most if not all my operations I carried atropine. We were instructed in the use of it. But yes they were equipped with all that.

 

Q. What was your understanding of this gas?

 

A. To be very truthful, I don’t know the science of it all. But I know we had gases that were used to immobilize people.

 

Q. So this stuff couldn’t be CS, could it?

 

A. No it was not CS. We did use CS, my men used CS in Laos and North Vietnam on missions where there were dogs tracking us. CS powder would be very effective because it would drive the dogs crazy and really slow them down.

 

Q. So this other gas though, the sleep gas, was not CS.

 

A. No, that’s right.

 

Q. And then there is BZ, another incapacitant that causes hallucinations and takes [a] while to work, that’s not what this stuff was, was it?

 

A. No, I have heard about it, but I have never used that.

 

Q. And it’s not VX, which kills to the touch…

 

A. No.

 

Q. That leaves one weapon left in the arsenal, GB, which causes vision problems, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, respiration problems, then convulsions, sometimes death depending on the dosage.

 

A. Well, I don’t know if people would die or not. But there was a gas. And that is exactly how it was described to us. And it would be available to us under desperate situations. And I know it was in fact used. It was used in certain situations where the American was in danger of being captured."

 

Q. And it was used in Tailwind?

 

A. Yes.

 

Q. How effective was it?

 

A. I understand it was very effective. In Tailwind it did knock people down and incapacitate them. It caused them to lose consciousness and go into convulsions.

 

Sheppard goes on to say that SOG used this gas more than once. It was "much more stronger [sic] than CS. It had a lot of different effects from CS." "…people used to call this incapacitating gas nerve gas. Because it attacked the central nervous system."

 

And later:

 

Q. So how often was the special gas used?

 

A. I heard about it. The only time I can confirm for certain it was used was Tailwind. [He later confirmed the use of sleeping gas in the hatchet force mission in the spring]. There were rumors of these other deep penetrations where we would have to go in after downed pilots, where it was used."

 

Sheppard was briefed at a top secret school for SOG recon team leaders about a powerful gas available for last resort on covert operations. He said in a June, 1998 on-camera interview that:

 

"It would affect the central nervous system, vomiting, convulsions. Loss of your bowels and loss of other bodily functions….There were different terminologies used for that gas….the term nerve gas was never used that I know of….the term was drop dead gas, called sleep gas, knock down gas. . . We were told that the gas would knock someone down for a period extending up to eight hours…..We were told that it took White House approval to use this gas because of the secret nature of this type of weapon."

 

None of Sheppard’s information is referenced in the AK Report.

 

 

SOG RECON TEAM COMMANDO 2

 

SOG Recon Team Commando 2 was on the SOG reconnaissance team at Kontum. This is from a telephone conversation with Oliver on March 23, 1998:

 

"A: You are the lady calling about Tailwind. About the gas.

 

Q. Yup.

 

A. Yeah I heard about that. They used a gas, the incapacitating one. What were the call letters? GB, that was it. That’s the shit. The explosive bowels, vomiting, passout gas. I never saw it, never used it but I was briefed all about it. That’s what happened on Tailwind, the word was, the stuff really works. They gave us those special masks for recon, the M-17, cause you don’t want to be huffing this stuff yourself.

 

Q. So it was an effective weapon?

 

A. Yup. In my opinion we didn’t use it enough. We should have used it more. It could have saved far more lives. When I was working for [name intentionally omitted to protect identification of source] I was always asking for him to call it in. but you had to have a six hour lead time to get approval to use it. And that six hour lead time made it practically useless, it would often be too late………If you are working inside SOG then you know about all kinds of crazy things. But there has been a telephone tree warning broadcast about you. We were told if you called not to talk about the gas. But I thought that was off the wall. I am an old man. I don’t have secrets. You are doing a public service by trying to get the truth.

 

Q. So you are sure the gas was GB, the knockout gas?

 

A. Oh yeah. That’s what they taught us at the One Zero school. And [name intentionally omitted to protect identification of source] was always after me to make sure we had the right filters to make sure our gas masks work, he would send me to the supply room because we didn’t want to be breathing it."

 

And later:

 

A. "I wasn’t on the mission but I have heard other people solemnly talk about it. About how well the gas worked. And that they knew it worked. Because of that big operation in the fall of ‘70. It was a large situation and a lot of folks got out cause of it."

 

SOG Recon Team Commando 2 also confirmed that he heard the object of Tailwind was "prisoner recovery, American turncoats."

 

 

JOHN SNIPES

 

John Snipes flew as a marine chopper crew chief on Tailwind. He came forward after the initial broadcast to tell us in an on-camera interview:

"They told us that it would not be tear gas, it was some other kind of gas, what they called knockout gas. That it would put you to sleep."

 

"Afterwards they told us that to use the gas, that they had to wake up President Nixon to get him to sign off on it."

 

While the information on possible White House approval is speculation, it goes to the belief of these men that this gas was not tear gas.

 

FORT BRAGG SOURCE

 

This source spent his entire career within Special Forces and is intimately familiar with the procedures of SOG. He was based out of Kontum in 1970.

 

This source confirmed that "sleeping gas" was GB. He had never used it, although he had used "BX" [possibly a reference to VX]. He "wouldn’t doubt" that nerve agent was used to get downed pilots out on SAR "if that’s what the A1 Sandy pilots told you." He gave hearsay statements that GB had been used on Tailwind.

 

"Q. So you agree that sleep gas was GB and that was nerve agent?

 

A. Yes.

 

And later:

 

Q. But sleeping gas was a weapon you are familiar with — its use was top secret…

 

A. Right, everything was cellular…Unless you have a need to know, they don’t tell you."

 

Regarding defectors, this source states that, despite the PR issues:

 

"Hell, no, we wouldn’t capture them [defectors]. It’s a no mercy situation…If I’d been there [on Tailwind] it would have been one of my proudest moments. Cause those defectors were causing recon people to die….Our biggest enemy in Vietnam was defectors."

 

 

 

 

THE EXPERT SUPPORT

 

The AK Report states that "sources recounted a variety of symptoms ranging from [vomiting, convulsing, falling quickly to the ground], dry heaves, burning skin, diarrhea, dermatitis, choking, spitting, and mucous discharge from eyes and mouth." (AK Report, p51). The symptoms described and summarized in the AK Report bear very little resemblance to the symptoms of tear gas used in an open area, according to the experts we interviewed. This inconsistency with tear gas is not mentioned in the AK Report, which focuses instead on the precision necessary to make a "definitive diagnosis." The broadcast never implied that the expert opinion constituted a "definitive diagnosis." It said that the gas described by the commandos fits the description of sarin nerve gas." This is absolutely true of the symptoms described and we do not believe that these descriptions can be ignored. The broadcast was an accurate reflection of the opinions of the experts we consulted and their opinions in turn were based on an accurate portrayal of the symptoms described by the men on the ground.

 

For the record, the symptoms described by the SOG team members are set forth in Attachment 2 to this Rebuttal, together with a summary of the views given by each the experts we approached.

 

In addition, the AK Report distrusts the quality of the information given by a "wounded commando" in this situation. On that basis, one could take the view that any statements given by those on the ground subject to the gas should be discounted completely (Mr. Abrams has expressed this view in a television interview). We do not take that view.

 

This was a story based largely on the experience of the soldiers on the ground. We find it extraordinary that lawyers, from the comfort of a law office 28 years after the event, would directly undercut the commandos' firsthand accounts. Firsthand information is the heart of any journalistic endeavor.

 

 

RESPONSE TO THE AK REPORT’S CONCLUSION

 

The AK Report reaches three basic conclusions.

 

First, that the CNN broadcast was not fair. It is always a challenge to produce a piece that everyone will believe is balanced and fair, particularly where, as in this case, there were severe time constraints imposed. Nevertheless, we believe that the broadcast was fair and balanced in relation to the large preponderance of the information provided to us. Much of the contradictory information presented so uncritically by the authors of the AK Report, were they to examine it in any kind of detail (as we have done over the course of many months), is ambiguous and self contradictory. We believe now, as we did at the time of broadcast, that such a serious, controversial and complex subject deserved far more time than was given to it. Unfortunately this was not a decision that was ours to make. In the week following the original broadcast, we aired a second broadcast which provided the viewer with more information on both sides. At the direction of Rick Kaplan, we stood ready to prepare a third, hour-long broadcast which would have been devoted to those with opposing views and therefore would have provided even more fairness and balance. Rick Kaplan then killed his own idea which we stood ready to carry out.

 

Second, the AK Report states that "journalistic errors led inexorably to more errors." Only two examples are given of "journalistic errors," both flawed.

 

First:

 

"The determination that Admiral Moorer had confirmed themes of their story when he had not led the producers to assert to a significant confidential source [the "Military Official"] that Moorer backed the story. The result is that we cannot know to what degree the source was influenced in his own answers by the reference to Moorer." (AK Report, pp 53-54).

 

The AK Report totally misstates what the producer told the confidential source about Admiral Moorer. In fact the producer did not tell the confidential source that Moorer had "backed the story" at all. Rather, she stated in her last meeting with this confidential source, after he had already given her substantial information (including that the gas used was GB), that Admiral Moorer spoke with her for seven hours and that Moorer "says that offensive use was justifiable because it saved American lives."

 

It follows that the AK Report’s conclusion that the authors "cannot know to what degree the source was influenced in his own answers by the reference to Moorer" reflects either a disingenuous approach by the authors or a careless reading of the transcripts.

 

The second purported "journalistic error" cited by the AK Report is April Oliver’s reference to a Defense Department document as stating "that CBU-15 was ‘accurate and effective’ in its use in Operation Tailwind was itself based on a probable misreading of that letter." The AK Report concludes that "[t]he impact [of this letter] on the source cannot be known to us. What we must conclude, however, is that anything the source said thereafter of a confirming nature must be significantly discounted."

 

April Oliver did not refer to this letter in an attempt to have the source confirm that nerve gas was used — the source had already confirmed that. In particular, prior to any mention of the letter, this source confirmed that CBU-15 was used to prep the area in Tailwind, and that "Yes, absolutely" it was effective.

 

Given the highly placed status of this source, we strongly believe that the reference to the letter did not affect the source’s view of the matter. The AK Report itself states that this source was a "former high ranking officer intimately familiar with SOG." (AK Report, p7).

 

The AK report does not cite any other examples to support its conclusion that "journalistic errors led inexorably to more errors."

 

Finally, the AK Report concludes that the "degree of confidence - - approaching certainty - - of the CNN journalists who prepared the broadcast of the conclusions offered in it contributed greatly to the journalistic flaws identified in the report." Since the authors of the AK Report have never interviewed either of us about our views, our degree of confidence or our certainty, it is extraordinary that they should make this totally unfounded assertion, which we consider a personal attack on our journalistic integrity. We presented the information given to us by our sources, from the men on the ground to the very top of the chain of command.

 

The AK Report concludes that this:

 

"was not a broadcast the was lacking in substantial supportive materials" but states that "those materials….were far too inconclusive to justify the conclusions reached."

 

It further concludes that the broadcast was aired:

 

"without sufficient justification and in the face of substantial persuasive information to the contrary."

 

The authors do not specify, but presumably the "substantial persuasive information to the contrary" is that provided by McCarley, Rose and Bishop. We do not believe that any independent investigation could have come to the conclusion that there was "substantial persuasive information to the contrary."

 

The CNN Retraction broadcast on July 5, 1998 concludes:

 

"The question isn’t, was nerve gas used. The journalistic question is, can you prove nerve gas was used. Our story didn’t have that proof."

 

The AK Report never expressly raises proof as the standard this story had to meet. Rather, the proof standard was introduced by CNN management after the story was broadcast. CNN has now raised the bar for going with a story to a level at or above the criminal justice system’s standard, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

 

METHOD OF PREPARATION OF THE AK REPORT

 

The AK Report was prepared by the well known attorney, Floyd Abrams, and CNN’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, David Kohler, over an eleven day period from June 22 to July 2, 1998. Mr. Kohler is a member of, and reports to, CNN’s senior management. We stand absolutely by our reporting, and would welcome any truly independent and thorough review of the information upon which the broadcast was based. We believe it is unacceptable to rely on a review co-authored by a CNN executive who reports directly to CNN’s senior management, which, due to corporate pressures, was predisposed from the outset of the investigation to retract. The AK Report is not independent, is fraught with conflicts of interest on the part of its co-author, David Kohler and is thereby tainted.

 

The AK Report itself suggests that it was designed to absolve CNN management, including Mr. Kohler, of any responsibility. Following a brief introduction, the AK Report states that "[s]ince this report is highly critical of the reporting on Operation Tailwind, it may be useful to set forth at the outset precisely what information CNN news management understood supported the underlying conclusions of the broadcast." (emphasis added.) Not only does the AK Report fail to "precisely" set forth all of the information contained in the briefing book prepared for CNN’s senior management, but it does not explain why in a report highly critical of the reporting of a broadcast "it may be useful" to set forth management’s understanding of the broadcast. Management’s understanding is relevant only if the report was designed to absolve management of responsibility.

 

The amount of time devoted to the preparation of the AK Report was inadequate. The result is that the AK Report suffers from hasty and sloppy lawyering. During the course of our eight month investigation, we generated thousands of pages of information, together with numerous videotaped interviews. It is not at all clear from the AK Report that Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler reviewed all of this material (as we did during the course of our eight month investigation). In their report Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler merely state that "[I]n the course of our review, we have had access to the information relied upon by the CNN journalists in their preparation of the broadcast…" (AK Report, p. 1) They do not state that they reviewed all such information. We have been told by CNN employees that they screened only the videotaped interviews of Van Buskirk and Moorer. How many, and which, tapes and transcripts did they review? We do not know, because despite broken promises to the contrary and any reasonable notion of an independent investigation, we were never provided an opportunity to meet with Mr. Abrams or Mr. Kohler to be interviewed about the transcripts and tapes.

 

Finally, the AK Report was a rush to judgment as evidenced by Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler, not allowing us to comment, object and correct their errors in the AK Report before it was finalized and released, despite their promises that we would have the opportunity to do so. Mr. Abrams’ and Mr. Kohler's haste begat a sloppy and reckless report that resulted in an unforgivable violation–the disclosure of sources promised confidentiality.

 

ATTACHMENT 1

 

PEOPLE APPROACHED WHO DECLINED INTERVIEWS

 

 

Pilot 1: Declined on-camera interview. Concerned about legal implications of a report that he dropped gas.

 

Glen Radke, SOG Colonel: Vehemently denied nerve gas was used. Declined an on-camera interview.

Henry Kissinger, National Security Adviser: Refused multiple requests to be interviewed, on or off camera.

 

A memorandum to Mr. Kissinger dated May 21, 1998 from his assistant regarding such requests states that:

 

"[p]reviously you [Kissinger] wrote, ‘Do not accept blackmail. Answer is now definitely no.’"

 

At the bottom of the memorandum, Mr. Kissinger checked the statement that he again declines the interview. Mr. Kissinger provided a copy of the memorandum to CNN CEO Tom Johnson on June 19, 1998. We did not attempt to blackmail Mr. Kissinger into being interviewed.

 

Richard Helms, CIA Director: Said he didn’t know anything about it, talk with his staff.

 

A Former CIA Station Chief in Laos: Said he could not confirm or deny SOG’s use of chemicals, but swore the CIA would never use nerve gas. Called the blow up bridge/diversion for CIA mission of Tailwind a pretty thin cover story.

 

Morris Adair, SOG veteran: We arranged an on-camera interview, had to cancel it due to a scheduling conflict. We called him twice again, but he did not return the calls. Over dinner he had described the glandular profusion the gas caused, but said he didn’t really want to talk about the gas on camera.

 

John Sadler, Chief SOG: Approached four times, twice on paper, twice on the telephone. Told us our request was in the trash can.

 

Retired U.S. Air Force General: Requested that he stay on background. Told us on background that pilots would not need to know what they were carrying, only where to place it. When Oliver showed him what the A1 pilots were telling us regarding incapacitating gas, he told us to stick with it, we had a good story, the problem was timing with Saddam Hussein. He has now gone on record against the story.

 

Alexander Haig: Oliver met with him in his office. He did not deny such a mission with poison gas was possible, but said it would not be an approved mission. He said we would never get anyone in this town to admit it. We invited him to say that on camera and he responded, "Hell, no."

 

Abrams’ Military Intelligence Official: Said Abrams did not oversee Tailwind. Said he did not know much about it. Did not want to go on camera.

 

Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Declined our request for an on-camera interview. His press officer initially said that Tailwind was too much of a "briar patch" to speak about and that he knew no one at the Pentagon who would volunteer for such "hazardous duty."

 

Wliiam Cohen, Secretary of Defense: Declined our request for an on-camera interview.

 

 

In addition, in late 1997, we filed FOIA requests on relevant information and did not receive a response from the Pentagon until after the broadcast.

 

We did not approach SOG veteran John Plaster for an interview because he had previously accused April Oliver of being a "baby f…ing homosexual."

 

 

 

 

 

ATTACHMENT 2

 

CHEMICAL EXPERTS

 

The AK report acknowledges that scientific experts were consulted during the course of the producers' research who offered "supportive expert opinion" that sarin nerve gas was used on Tailwind.

 

Given the time constraints of the broadcast, we were unable to outline on camera all the supportive chemical expert data we had obtained. Below, however, is a summary of the reporting which led to the report that the symptoms and nature of the gas fit the description of sarin nerve gas.

 

We were advised by the experts of two important matters. First, that sarin nerve gas at the prevailing temperatures in Laos is NOT LETHAL THROUGH THE SKIN. An M-17 gas mask is sufficient protection, and full body suits are not required for protection. Another point, consistent among the chemical researchers, is that no such thing as "sleeping gas" (a non lethal chemical that knocks a combatant out, so that they can wake up again) exists today in the U.S. arsenal, and certainly did not exist in the U.S. arsenal in 1970. Both of these facts are supported by the Pentagon's own expert on chemical weapons, General Walt Busbee, who confirmed them to CNN on camera.

 

WHAT THE COMMANDOS HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE GAS AND SYMPTOMS

 

1) Van Buskirk. Van Buskirk was consistent throughout the eight month reporting process, describing the gas alternatively as a "lethal war gas" or sleeping gas.

 

Describing its properties, he said on camera that "this wasn't a powder, this was a fog. This was a liquid. I quickly put my sleeves down." He also indicated it was dropped at the base of the ridgeline, closer to the enemy.

 

"Our noses were running, we were getting sick, we were vomiting."

 

"I am vomiting, my nose is running, I've got mucus, mucus coming out of my men's nose. They are sick and having a hard time breathing....It was very aggressive. I don't know the chemical makeup of tear gas. Whatever it was it was bad, and people were sick and wanted to get away from it at any cost."

 

"Every single American that I can remember was in the latrine on the johns with terrible diarrhea. We were terribly sick."

 

"I knew this was the best, the worst, the baddest stuff we could use. I had heard about sleep gas, my understanding of sleep gas was it makes the enemy go asleep."

 

 

 

 

 

2) Mike Hagen. Hagen described the following symptoms:

 

"They (the Montagnards) were getting sick; they're vomiting, going into convulsions. I could see a lot of the enemy people laying on the ground going into convulsions.....I fell to the ground, I started going into convulsions.:

 

"To me, it was more of a very, very light, light fog. It was tasteless, odorless, you could barely see it."

 

3) Jimmy Lucas. Lucas states that he "remember[s] the people wearing gas masks. I don't remember the effects of the gas." He explains that, since he was on the first chopper out with Captain McCarley, the other commandos who were rescued after him are in a better position to describe the nature of the gas.

 

4) Jim Brevelle. Brevelle says the only thing he knows "for sure" that was used was CS tear gas. But then he suggests a "super-duper tear gas" may have been used on the ridgeline to incapacitate the enemy’s gun fire.

 

"It was a liquidy fog. No question. It hung in there real good. I recall no powder about it. Most of the Americans had their masks. We were maybe 1500 feet from the source of the explosion."

 

"It was incapacitating gas."

 

"I kept wondering why we weren't being blown away, why the mortars were not coming. They should have murdered us out on the knoll. There is no question that the gas hit that ridge, it affected the enemy. It was the only time I ever wore my gas mask in Vietnam other than to test it."

 

"I never could figure out why those guys up on the ridge didn't take us out. I know they had big 50 caliber guns. Course maybe the reason they didn't shoot was that they were all dead from the gas."

 

"I frankly don't care if poison gas was used. Whatever it was, I am here today because of it."

 

5) Gary Rose.

 

As noted in the Rebuttal, Rose’s statements regarding the gas are inconsistent. Given such inconsistencies, we decided to disregard his statements given before the broadcast, which suggested that the gas was a "lot stronger than tear gas." Since then he has stated that the gas was tear gas. We do not find him to be credible on this issue.

 

6) Craig Schmidt.

 

Schmidt denies adamantly that the gas looked or behaved like the white powder CS tear gas.

 

"It would have been a big mistake to use CS."

 

"(It felt) "sticky, wet."

 

Schmidt claims there was no distinct color, and that it worked immediately.

 

"Profusion from eyes, nose, everything got sticky."

 

He claims the SOG commandos were on the periphery of the gas drop.

 

"I guarantee you it was not pepper spray.....We knew it as sleeping gas. We knew its impact was far greater than CS. CS you can work through. But not this."

 

7) Captain McCarley.

 

As noted elsewhere, Captain McCarley has been inconsistent on the nature and effects of the gas. On the first cold call, he described it as very possibly nerve gas. On camera, he described it as more like pepper spray. He said "it burned my nostrils, it burned my eyes." In a third interaction, he said he had been wrong to call it pepper spray, that it was an incapacitating gas, but that doesn't mean it was lethal. During his on-camera interview, when he maintained it was like pepper spray, he described the gas as being more like a clear fog, than a white powder gas like CS.

 

"It didn't really look like anything.....It wasn't powder definitely. I mean, it left no residue on you."

 

8) Morris Adair.

 

In a private meeting in North Carolina, Adair described the gas as having more powerful effects than he had ever seen with a gas. He described a massive glandular profusion from the nose and mouth of Montagnards who were unprotected, but declined to be more specific as to further symptoms. He tentatively agreed to an interview, then failed to return phone calls to reschedule the appointment.

 

9) Manuel Orozco

 

Volunteered that a special gas or napalm-like substance was used to rescue the SOG commandos, even before the producer asked the gas question. Mr. Orozco failed to return phone calls after that first call, and did not seem to want to pursue the matter.

 

 

 

 

WHAT THE EXPERTS WE CONSULTED SAID ABOUT THE GAS AND SYMPTOMS

 

1) Matt Meselson.

 

A Harvard biochemist, he was consulted by phone multiple times during the eight month course of our research. He consistently told us the same thing: that atropine is a nerve gas antidote, and that GB would cause many of the symptoms the men described. He also consistently denied that there was any gas that has ever existed that could be called a "sleeping gas" or "knockout" gas. In a June 10th on-camera interview, he stated:

 

"GB causes vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, difficulty in vision, muscular twitching, convulsions, partial paralysis and death."

 

"CS (tear gas) causes a stinging sensation on the skin and it causes --makes you want to close your eyes. But it doesn't cause convulsions. It doesn't cause diarrhea. It doesn't cause all your glands of your autonomic nervous system to secrete. And it certainly doesn't cause death."

 

(GB symptoms are) "you defecate, you urinate, difficulty in vision, difficulty in breathing. Then convulsions, then paralysis and then death."

 

"Pure sarin has no odor whatever. And it's a liquid a more or less colorless liquid that evaporates as water does [it is therefore not persistent]."

 

(So-a drop won't kill you?) "No, not on your skin."

 

He stated that a low dose (for those not in the immediate drop zone) would lead to "nausea, some twitching, some convulsions."

 

2) Dr. Fred Sidell

 

The AK report puts much stock in the views of chemical expert Dr. Fred Sidell. Dr. Fred Sidell was contacted early in our research. But he insisted he was not the best source for information on offensive chemical weapons during the Vietnam era, and instead recommended that the producers speak with a retired Aberdeen chemical researcher named Bill Dee. We did precisely that, and Dee became a crucial source for us during our research. Dr. Sidell made the following points to us.

 

Dr. Sidell argued it could not have been sarin because he did not believe sarin was in theater during the Vietnam War. (Since our broadcast, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird has told the AP that sarin was shipped there in 1967.)

 

Re: nerve agent. "Stuff comes running from your nose, you fall to your knees, you go unconscious and then convulse," and "Sarin is a nerve agent, it would make you awfully sick."

 

Dr. Sidell does not believe you would be able to board a helicopter after unprotected exposure to a nerve agent.

 

3) Amy Smithson

 

Amy Smithson of the Stimson Center was seen on camera during the Tailwind report. She is frequently used by CNN as an on camera expert on chemical weaponry. She was consulted several times by Associate Producer Amy Kasarda during the course of our broadcast. She says that the vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions are "symptoms that I would associate with exposure to a nerve agent, not exposure to something like tear gas." Her testimony was largely consistent with chemical experts Robinson, Dee, and Meselson.

 

 

 

4) Dr. Julian Robinson

 

Dr. Robinson is a very highly regarded British chemical weapons expert. He told CNN that CS would look totally different from GB. You would see CS tear gas burning on the battlefield. No commando described this to the producers. He also said that GB is dispersed as a liquid with an explosive, and with very little smoke. This was consistent with the descriptions from the commandos.

 

He flatly said that CS tear gas is NOT nauseating nor incapacitating.

 

"If CS did fall into those categories, it would be under the same 'no first use' category that harsher gases were in."

 

"In field trials during this era, the U.S. military discovered you would have trouble using CS in battle conditions because it would be nearly impossible to get it to a useful concentration."

 

To the question "what gases cause you to lose consciousness and vomit within minutes?" Dr Robinson said that "description is spot-on for nerve gas."

 

5) Bill Dee

 

Bill Dee was involved in weaponizing chemicals for offensive use during the Vietnam War. He was the researcher that Dr. Fred Sidell suggested would know the most about this issue. He formerly worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He told CNN:

 

GB is a liquid, CS is a powder. GB would create a liquid-like fog. CS would create a particle cloud. GB was aerosolized, but it would be released by explosives. Tear gas would not be released by an exploding munition.

 

No strength of CS tear gas will do the same as GB (Sarin).

 

CS tear gas is a relatively tame compound, it only irritates the mucus membranes.

 

You really cannot get CS up to a high enough concentration outdoors to provoke serious reactions.

 

You would not have anybody dying from CS - absolutely impossible. Convulsions, and even vomiting --outdoors --is unlikely.

 

CS is not a knockout gas, no way. You recover immediately from CS in open air. It is quite discernible as CS by its odor and its white color.

 

Atropine does no good for CS.

 

Sarin evaporates faster than water. No, it will not kill through the skin.

 

No combination of tear gases cause diarrhea.

 

Only four gases were weaponized in the U.S. inventory at this time: CS tear gas, BZ hallucinogen, GB sarin and VX nerve gas. Large quantities of GB sarin were weaponized because it responded well to atropine, and was considered a non persistent nerve gas.

 

You can progress as far as convulsions after exposure to GB, and still revive, even without an atropine injection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"TAILWIND"

 

 

 

REBUTTAL TO THE ABRAMS/KOHLER REPORT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Oliver

 

 

 

 

July 22, 1998

Jack Smith

 

 

 

 

 

"TAILWIND"

 

REBUTTAL TO THE ABRAMS/KOHLER REPORT

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction to Rebuttal 1

 

CONTENT OF THE AK REPORT

 

Introduction 11

 

Admiral Thomas Moorer 11

Admiral Moorer’s Credibility 12

What Admiral Moorer Said 13

Confirmations Referenced in the AK Report 13

Confirmations Not Referenced in the AK Report 14

Admiral Moorer’s Approval of the Broadcast 19

 

Confidential Sources 22

Military Official 22

Former Senior Military Official 25

 

The Men of Operation Tailwind 29

McCarley 29

McCarley’s Credibility 30

What McCarley Said 31

Bishop 32

Rose 33

Van Buskirk 34

Van Buskirk’s Credibility 34

What Van Buskirk Said 40

Graves 45

Cathey 48

Schmidt 49

Lucas 50

Hagen 51

SOG Recon Team Commando 1 52

 

The Significance of M-17 Gas Masks 53

 

The Reference to Women and Children 53

 

Defectors, POWs or Russians 56

 

Other Corroborative Information 57

Pilot 1 57

Pilot 2 — Command Rank 59

Pilot 3 60

Pilot 4 61

John K. Singlaub 62

Sheppard 63

SOG Recon Team Commando 2 64

Snipes 65

Fort Bragg Source 65

 

The Expert Support 66

 

Response to the AK Report’s Conclusion 67

 

Method of Preparation of the AK Report 69

 

Attachments

Attachment 1 — People Approached Who Declined Interviews

Attachment 2 — Chemical Experts