Washington, D.C., 1 December 2005 - The largest
U.S. intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, today
over 140 formerly top secret documents -- histories,
chronologies, signals intelligence [SIGINT] reports, and oral
history interviews -- on the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Included in the release is a controversial
article by Agency historian Robert J. Hanyok on SIGINT
and the Tonkin Gulf which confirms what historians have long argued:
that there was no second attack on U.S. ships in Tonkin on August
4, 1964. According to National Security Archive research fellow
John Prados, "the American people have long deserved to know
the full truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The National
Security Agency is to be commended for releasing this piece of
the puzzle. The parallels between the faulty intelligence on Tonkin
Gulf and the manipulated intelligence used to justify the Iraq
War make it all the more worthwhile to re-examine the events of
August 1964 in light of new evidence." Last year, Prados
edited a National Security Archive
briefing book which published for the first time
some of the key intercepts from the Gulf of Tonkin crisis.
The National Security Agency has long resisted the declassification
of material on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, despite efforts by
Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Carl Marcy (who had
prepared a staff
study on the August 4 incident); former Deputy Director
Louis Tordella, and John Prados to push for declassification of
key documents. Today's release is largely due to the perseverance
of FOIA requester Matthew M. Aid, who requested the Hanyok study
in April 2004 and brought the issue to the attention of The
New York Times when he learned that senior National Security
Agency officials were trying to block release of the documents.
reporter Scott Shane wrote that higher-level officials
at the NSA were "fearful that [declassification] might prompt
uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to
justify the war in Iraq." The glaring light of publicity
encouraged the Agency's leaders finally to approve declassification
of the documents.
Hanyok's article, "Skunks,
Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin
Mystery, 2-4 August 1964," originally published
in the National Security Agency's classified journal Cryptologic
Quarterly in early 2001, provides a comprehensive SIGINT-based
account "of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin." Using
this evidence, Hanyok argues that the SIGINT confirms that North
Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox,
on August 2, 1964, although under questionable circumstances.
The SIGINT also shows, according to Hanyok, that a second attack,
on August 4, 1964, by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. ships,
did not occur despite claims to the contrary by the Johnson administration.
President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara treated Agency
SIGINT reports as vital evidence of a second attack and used this
claim to support retaliatory air strikes and to buttress the administration's
request for a Congressional resolution that would give the White
House freedom of action in Vietnam.
Hanyok further argues that Agency officials had "mishandled"
SIGINT concerning the events of August 4 and provided top level
officials with "skewed" intelligence supporting claims
of an August 4 attack. "The overwhelming body of reports,
if used, would have told the story that no attack occurred."
Key pieces of evidence are missing from the Agency's archives,
such as the original decrypted Vietnamese text of a document that
played an important role in the White House's case. Hanyok has
not found a "smoking gun" to demonstrate a cover-up
but believes that the evidence suggests "an active effort
to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening
of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin." Senior officials at the
Agency, the Pentagon, and the White House were none the wiser
about the gaps in the intelligence. Hanyok's conclusions have
sparked controversy among old Agency hands but his research confirms
the insight of journalist I.F. Stone, who questioned the second
attack only weeks after the events. Hanyok's article is part of
a larger study on the National Security Agency and the Vietnam
War, "Spartans in Darkness," which is the subject of
a pending FOIA request by the National Security Archive.