Spy agency faked key Vietnam War data
By Francis Harris
One of America’s spy agencies faked key intelligence used to justify its intervention in the Vietnam War, it was disclosed yesterday.
But the revelation was kept secret by the National Security Agency, partly because of fears that it would boost criticism of the intelligence services over the war in Iraq.
According to material uncovered by the NSA’s own historian, Robert Hanyok, middle-ranking officers altered material relating to the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Two US destroyers, Maddox and Turner Joy, were attacked by North Vietnamese craft in the gulf on Aug 2 1964.
Two days later, amid bad weather and considerable confusion in the US chain of command, Maddox reported that she had been fired on a second time.
Although its commander soon cast doubt on the reports, signals intelligence reported that the North Vietnamese admitted “we sacrificed two ships”.
In revenge President Lyndon Johnson ordered air raids against North Vietnamese naval facilities and Congress authorised “all necessary steps including the use of armed force” to defend South Vietnam.
But Mr Hanyok found that timings on key intelligence intercepts had been changed and the “two ships” probably referred to the loss of two sailors in the first attack.
He blamed middle-ranking staff who realised the NSA’s mistakes almost immediately but covered them up, not for political reasons, but to hide the original mistakes.
At the time, senior administration officials cited the faked paperwork in testimony before Congress.
It has even been suggested that President Johnson was so keen to deploy troops that he fabricated the whole episode. More than 58,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese died in the ensuing conflict.