US skewed evidence of 1964 Tonkin attack: document
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence officials in 1964
skewed evidence of an attack on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf
of Tonkin to support claims of communist aggression that led to
a massive escalation of the Vietnam War, according to a newly
declassified government document.
An article by a National Security Agency historian,
released by the NSA this week along with intelligence reports
and other related documents, said officials at the spy agency
withheld nearly 90 percent of intelligence on the August 4,
1964, incident to back allegations of a North Vietnamese
“It is not simply that there is a different story as to
what happened. It is that no attack happened that night,” NSA
historian Robert Hanyok wrote.
Hanyok’s article, which appeared in a classified NSA
publication in 2001, was based on a review of newly discovered
signals intelligence documents from 41 years ago.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident gave President Lyndon Johnson
carte blanche for a huge U.S. military buildup in Southeast
Asia that led to the deaths of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers
and over 2 million Vietnamese civilians.
The New York Times reported Friday that some intelligence
officials believe the NSA delayed the release of the Hanyok
article to avoid comparisons between skewed Vietnam
intelligence and flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq.
But NSA spokesman Don Weber said there was no delay. The
agency only waited so it could also make public the raw
material Hanyok used in composing his history, he said.
Officials at NSA, the spy agency that monitors transmission
signals, provided the Johnson administration only with signals
intelligence that supported claims of an attack. The reports
were also flawed by severe analytic errors and contained
unexplained translation changes, the article said.
In fact, Johnson’s main proof that the August 4 attack
occurred proved to be a “conjunction of two unrelated messages
into one translation,” the article stated.
“Information was presented in such a manner as to preclude
responsible decisionmakers in the Johnson administration from
having the complete and objective narrative,” said the article,
which was among hundreds of documents on the Gulf of Tonkin
released by the NSA.
“The conclusion that would have been drawn from a review of
all … evidence would have been that the North Vietnamese not
only did not attack, but were uncertain as to the location of
the (U.S.) ships.”
Historians have long suspected that government reports of
the 1964 attack were fabricated. Robert McNamara, Johnson’s
defense secretary, said during a visit to Vietnam a decade ago
that he had come to believe the attack did not occur.