Thursday, June 25, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
[False-Flagging Iraq series]
June 25 2009

When two British Special Forces soldiers were arrested in Basra on September 19 2005, many questions were raised. Among the most important is the nature of the mission they were on that brought them into violent confrontation with their erstwhile allies, the local police, and in turn brought the local British forces smashing through the police and the local "lynch mob" to get them back, killing around a dozen Iraqis along the way. This had better be good...

We know the two men were (believed to be) part of the UK Army Special Air Service (SAS), an elite force famous for bold raids behind enemy lines and operating under the motto “Who Dares, Wins.” If so, what were they daring to do on this day? A Basra official, Mohammed al-Abadi, complained the soldiers “refused to say what their mission was and suggested that we ask their commander.” [1] To my knowledge, they never got an answer from above either. Different solutions to the riddle have been offered in the days afterwards, before the issue went into longtime hibernation mode. Below I’ll explore the four broad categories of theory.

1) False-Flagging Basra
The first category was the first we heard in detail - those peculiar locals saw the darkest version, that the SAS men were involved in false flag terrorism. Those with known grudges were the most vocal; Sheik Hassan al-Zarqani, a spokesman for rebel leader Moqtada al-Sadr, issued a press release saying “we believe these soldiers were planning an attack on a market or other civilian targets,” that this attack was to be a car-bombing, that they were “disguised as members of the Mehdi Army” (Sadr’s own group), and that the police refused to release the imposters since “they were considered to be planning terrorist attacks.” [2]

Many others far from the fray have concluded – or alluded to - the same; one critic called it “a clear instance of a foreign power attempting to fabricate a terrorist attack. Why else would the soldiers be dressed as Arabs if not to frame them? Why have a car laden with explosives if you don't plan to use them for destructive purposes?” [3] There are of course other reasons to dress like someone besides framing them, and other reasons – if few – for driving an explosive car. There’s no direct evidence I’m aware of for a booby-trapped car. There IS evidence of people stating this as fact, and for same people already believing the Coalition was behind the public bombings (this “previous reports confirm” or “prior-bias weakens” question will get its own post later).

There may have been a bomb as “reported” after all, with the evidence hushed-up afterwards, but I’m leaning the other way – the later lack of clues reveals the first reports were probably just opinionated propaganda. These reports being false doesn’t rule out some other planned provocation, which they were armed enough for, but absent a bomb there’s less reason to suspect such. Therefore, this case as I understand it does little to directly support the coalition false-flag theory.

2) Routine Intelligence Work
The UK Telegraph reported initially “the SAS men are thought to have been on a close observation patrol when they were stopped at a checkpoint.” The same piece explains how “soldiers have been told not to stop if challenged while working under-cover, as insurgents often masquerade as police officers.” [4] It would seem unlikely they were told to shoot while not stopping, although it seems that’s what they did. It makes perfect sense however that soldiers decked out as militants should not stop for possible militants disguised as police – especially since they’d already shot one of the real, militia-sympathizing Basra police officers.

Another paper, The Scotsman reported that “that the soldiers were part of an "undercover special forces detachment" in Basra to "bridge the intelligence void” and “gather human intelligence during counter-terrorist missions."” [5] One diplomat told the Guardian "We explained clearly to the authorities that they were British forces on a run-of-the mill observation mission." [6] Of course to observe out in the world It helps to blend in, hence the wigs and gauzy stuff; light-skinned as they were, Chechens might have been a good cover. Then they just panicked and started shooting at militia-police.

These are all boring missions that hardly seem worthy of such a cloak and dagger moment as 9/19. Sometimes however reality is just that – the boring choice. That hasn’t kept some from offering some enhanced versions…

3) Special Missions That Make Neat Political Points
Other sources narrow down the intelligence mission to Investigating a police-militia link, police corruption, torture, cat mutilations, and other such evils. The Herald: “Sources say the British soldiers […] were looking at infiltration of the city’s police by the followers of the outspoken Shi’ite cleric, Moqtada al Sadr.” [7] The Times, September 21: “The two soldiers are believed to have been investigating a corrupt police unit in Basra who were colluding with Shia militia leaders. Some of the men who later interrogated them are believed to be part of this same unit.” [8] Indeed, their mission proved spectacularly successful in flushing out such links, even though it seems to have gone terribly awry to do so.

In October, the Telegraph reported they finally “can reveal […] the real story,” which was that the soldiers were “spying on a senior police commander who was torturing prisoners with an electric drill.” That's certainly horrifying, and the paper described their mission as investigating “who was behind the reign of terror" at the very jail they wound up inside of. Brigadier John Lorimer, the man who oversaw the soldiers’ controversial rescue, told the paper the jail he ordered smashed down was a “very nasty place.” [9] A good way to find out what happens in the jail is to go inside it, but this was apparently not the plan, or else the costly rescue mission would not be called in to stop the process.

Another story with broader political implications and some detail to support it, was stopping roadside bombs coming in from Iran. The Sunday Times reported on the 25th, just four days after revealing their militia-police-corruption mission, that the soldiers were really “engaged in a “secret war” against insurgents bringing sophisticated bombs into the country from Iran.” [10] The deadly new bombs were made in a known Iranian style, meaning they must be from Iran. Therefore, “a 24-strong SAS team has been working out of Basra to provide a safety net to stop the bombers getting into the city from Iran,” said one source. “The aim is to identify routes used by insurgents and either capture or kill them.” [11] This system involved remote surveillance by human and electronic sensors along the routes into Basra. The Times graphic does show them headed towards the desert outside of town. “A source” also told the Times the pair was en route to another patrol to bring them “more tools and fire power” (which might explain their overabundance of weaponry) and to stop and do some surveillance, sort of along the way. [12]

Or perhaps their real mission, concealed by these more mundane stories, is the case made by the News Herlad Review on the 23rd that these “brave soldiers” were looking for the missing Weapons of Mass Destruction the war was first based on, and in the process:
“searching for clues of a suspected axis between Saddam Hussein’s regime, Al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere, corrupt police, Iranians, North Koreans, and Satan himself. Sources say the men were startlingly close to finding the missing link. when the devil’s minions closed in and took them to the local prison, which is believed to house one of the portals to Hell used to communicate master plans.” [13]

4) None of the Above
For my money, I’m going with “none of the above/undecided.” Of course any of the non-sinister mission types given above, could very well have caused the initial arrest situation, if natural mistrust and anxiety, perhaps some sloppiness, or simple bad luck enter the picture. However, given their hanging around police facilities and openness with firearms, it seems quite possible they were supposed to be arrested - like a dye marker injected into a system to gauge how it works.

My own hunch, or interesting hypothesis anyway, is that the mission these men were on was something involving competing interests, power and leverage, and an acutely uncertain level of trust. The trust of course failed badly however you slice it, which brings me to a point made by Micheal Keefer, writing for the Center for Research on Globalization:
"To remove these men from any danger of interrogation by their own supposed allies in the government the British are propping up […] tends, if anything, to support the view that this episode involved something much darker and more serious than a mere flare-up of bad tempers at a check-point." [14]
Hardly anyone would disagree there was more to it than that; it’s the origins of the ominous intentions over which opinions differ. I’m seeing at least some darkness on both sides, if more acutely within the Basra police; in fact I feel queasy thinking of all the others passing through their hands without an armored division being sent to fetch them back. And that’s even without believing the drill torture stories.

The abuse allegations and other political points above – police-militia-Iran links - were also floated on this story’s current whether or not that was an original reason. In particular the charges of militia sympathies and cooperation were well-proven by the incident, as it was reported. Of course the strangely blatant murder of a militia-police-link-reporting journalist by militia-police-link-assassins the very same day sure didn’t help. [15] Who decided the timing on that? The earlier murder of militia-police-link-reporter Steven Vincent had already set the trend in August. [16] The British army’s later destruction in late 2006 of another Basra jail - by bombs – exposed torture and inhumane conditions inside, strengthening the narrative further. [17] But the case of 9/19 above all, involving such a stark contrast between “allies” as well as a man on fire, is what brought to a head in the British mind the hopeless depths of Basra’s wickedness and thence to the plans for withdrawal.

If those two guys being on some alleged psychological operation doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s worth asking if the normal rules really apply in this case. The original suspicions of bombing had the intent of retaining control through fake terror – Gladio in Mesopotamia. In the end what happened served brilliantly to tilt the scale towards the British relinquishing responsibility for the south of Iraq. And it may even have been intended that way. If you’re going to leave anyway, why not make a few points towards your myth of “why we gave up in Iraq” on your departure?
[1, 4] Blomfield, Adrian and Thomas Harding “Troops free SAS men from jail.” The Telegraph. September 20 2005.
[2, 14] Keefer, Michael. "Were British Special Forces Soldiers Planting Bombs in Basra? Suspicions Strengthened by Earlier Reports." Center for Research on Globalization. September 25 2005.
[3] Hutaff, Matt. “Fake Terrorism Is a Coalition's Best Friend.” The Simon. September 20 2005.
[5] Ahmed, Nafeez. “Caught red-handed: British Undercover Operatives in Iraq. Zarqawi, eat your heart out.” The Raw Story. September 23 2005.
[6] Mansour, Osama and Michael Howard. "Britain refuses apology and compensation for Iraqis caught up in Basra riots." The Guardian. September 26 2005.
[7] Nimmo, Kurt. “British “Pseudo-Gang” Terrorists Exposed in Basra.” Another Day in the Empire. September 20 2005.
[8] McGrory, Daniel. “Police station raid was diversion as SAS squad rescued comrades.” The Sunday Times. September 21 2005.
[9] Rayment, Sean. “Captured SAS men 'spying on drill torturer.'”The Telegraph. October 16 2005.
[10, 11, 12] Smith, Michael and Ali Rifat. “SAS in secret war against Iranian agents.” The Sunday Times. September 25, 2005.
[13] Don’t be silly; of course I made it up. But it does seem to fit the pattern, doesn’t it?
[15] Knickmeyer, Elen and Jonathan Finer. “British Smash Into Iraqi Jail To Free 2 Detained Soldiers.” Washington Post Foreign Service. Tuesday, September 20, 2005; Page A01.
[16] Worth, Robert F. “Reporter Working for Times Abducted and Slain in Iraq .” New York Times. September 20 2005.
[17] Santora, Marc. “British Soldiers Storm Iraqi Jail, Citing Torture.” New York Times. December 26 2006.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
[USS Liberty series]
First posted June 20 2009
Major re-write 7/12/09

Note: This article has been re-written since my original copy of the Jerusalem Post transcript was fraudulent I had previously made a central point of discrepancies between this and Cristol’s version, but the actual article from its original source does not have the same differences. The altered re-post and its contradictory implications are covered at another post now.

As parts one and two covered, memories from the American side of the event have perhaps exclusively stated the air attack on the Liberty revealed reports of the American flag flying over the ship. Some cite the attack commencing despite this, some called off due to it. I’ve mentioned how Israeli military sources insist this was not the case at all, with no mention of the flag until well after both the air attack and torpedo assault were finished. The American claims are based on intercepts passed through Air Force intelligence channels, but no one has been able to show a recording or transcript to back up their memories. The Israelis, on the other hand, have produced both recordings and transcripts of (at least part of) the attack.

The tapes they’ve got are apparently normal procedural recordings of conversations between air units and their ground controllers. For decades these were held tightly in military circles, used in official investigations, sometimes quoted in these reports, and therefore present as hints in other works. Accident advocate Aharon Jay Cristol (a Florida judge) explains how England’s Thames TV produced a documentary in 1986, first talking with the survivors, then speaking with IDF personnel, expecting the standard “no comment.” Instead, a few there, including Lt. Col. Matti Greenberg, achieved a PR coup by sharing some of their records, including “transcriptions and translations of audiotape of the attack.” This decision, as Cristol writes, unexpectedly changed the whole approach of the film from critical over to neutral-leaning-to-accident. [Cristol pp 175-76]

A select few people outside the military loop have been allowed to actually hear the tapes, as well as getting transcripts. Judge Cristol was among these, sitting in on a June 1990 session that included several Hebrew linguists and original air controllers. He repeated the privilege on September 7 2001, in a similar session. He published his transcript and notes in 2002 as appendix 2 in The Liberty Incident [pp 209-223]. The tape he listened to ran nearly eight hours, from 13:43 until 21:30, with the last entry dealing with the Liberty at 18:57. I’ll cover the details of what it says below.

By the time Cristol’s version was published, James Bamford had re-invigorated the controversy with new evidence in Body of Secrets, released in 2001. Bamford’s charges that the flag was seen and the attack continued anyway snowballed over the following years, and the IDF again looked for a coup, offering paper copies and a listen to Jerusalem Post writer Arieh O’Sullivan. His article featuring another much shorter version of the transcript was published in the Post in June 2004. (full re-post here) It was accompanied by supporting thoughts and a controversial interview with lead attack pilot Yiftah Specter, in which he accused the survivors of (perhaps) being anti-Semitic, and being pretty dishonest considering they should be dead.

This widely-read version only runs from 13:50 up to 14:14 and the calling-off of the air attack. The transcript was compiled in this case anyway from two tapes, one air-to-ground (pilots and controllers), and the other ground-to-ground (chief and regional air controllers). The audiotapes themselves were not released,” he wrote, but only “a mix of the two tapes into one transcript, which explains the time overlaps.”

For reference, the parties on the tapes are chief air controllers at Air Control South, Air Control Central, and at General HQ in Tel Aviv (“Menachem,” “Robert,” and “Kislev”) Other regular players include deputies for these men and the attacking forces; lead Mirage jets commanded by Specter and code-named “Kursa,” and the second wave napalm-carrying jets designated “Royal.” A planned third wave with iron bombs is oddly tagged “Nixon,” mentioned but not in the discussion. The Motor Torpedo Boats are even represented with one boat in communication with Kursa – this shows as “Migdal” in the transcript.

Between all these, in twenty-four minutes, there is no mention of a flag, except in the negative (no flag reported at attack's end). There is a peculiarly high number of random mentions of the word “American” or “Americans,’ but these could not have been triggered by flag reports unless those came in on another line or were edited out.

The first of these pops out of nowhere at 13:54, about two minutes before the shooting started, when weapons system officer Lazar Karni (L.K.) injects as his only line “what is this, Americans?” This is fairly well agreed on by both transcripts for time and content. As I wrote earlier, with no flag in sight, O’Sullivan explains this was “a hunch”, and Cristol cites the man’s testimony as making a valid logic point worthy of blurting and then of being “immediately retracted.” The “American” lines following this begin immediately:





L.K.: What is that? Americans?

LK What is this? Americans?


Shimon: What Americans?

Shimon: Where are Americans?


Kislev: Robert, what did you say?

KISLEV Robert, what are you saying?


[No one answers]

(quickly disregarding the comment, Kislev moves on)

O’Sullivan noted how at some point “suddenly, in the middle of the attack, an unknown voice cuts in from the side: "What is this? What about the Americans?" The similar line attributed to “Shimon” is neither unknown nor “in the middle of the attack.” Was this line left out of the paper version? 

We know that not every transmission was heard; at 1400 and 1401 at least Cristol notes (presumably mundane) transmissions from Royal flight missed or blocked and not present in the audio. Others were left out due to being on the non-included channel 19; right before the 1357 mark “Shimon” asks “Robert” to have Royal call in on channel 19. The conversation they have is not included in the tapes or transcripts. Cristol noted: “At this time Royal […] is arguing with his controller about the fact that he is carrying napalm, not iron bombs.” [p 213] It’s not clear how he knows that’s what the argument was about – but I already noted no flag reports unless they were on another line. And here is just such a moment, about a minute into the air attack when the pilots first got up close.

The next point of interest is where the Post version ends, with a slight time offset between the two versions and a slight translation difference as well but no substantial disagreement.





Menachem: Kislev, what country?



Kislev: Possibly American



X[no 1414]X


MENACHEM: Kislev, what country?


X[no 1414]X

KISLEV: Apparently American


Shimon: Kislev, maybe you know which countries are around here. …

X[ends 1414]X


This itself is an odd statement, as no one is supposed to have reported a flag, nor to have understood the hull number to be anything other than non-Arab (or an Arab ruse?). Some discrepancy in tape mixing or transcription is most likely reason for the one-minute maximum time difference, but Cristol’s 14:14 slot being empty could suggest no dialogue there, for at least a minute, and certainly no shouting. This is interesting because a later slot cryptically refers to someone’s "theory” I’m now curious about:
Unknownn: Robert, did you hear my theory? Just when the navy saw we’re getting them off, they began shouting.
Robert: Kiselv shouted “Americans.” [It was Kislev at 1414].

The brackets are Cristol’s notes – it would seem likely he’s referring to the earlier “possibly” line and this means nothing but citing the wrong minute. It may also be a case of the transcripts not matching the tapes he heard. The 1413 line was apparently not a shout, but witnesses told Cristol that shortly after hearing the hull number at 1412, Kislev had blurted out “damnit! The navy has f---ed us again.” [p 47] This line is definitely not in either transcript, so perhaps his shout included both this and the word “Americans.”

At any rate, Cristol notes “Kislev remembers that, at 1412, he concluded that the target of Kursa and Royal Flights was American. It is clear, however, from the recordings that during the remainder of that afternoon, as the tragedy was unfolding and he was listening to the radio traffic on his headset, he changed his mind several times, still thinking that the ship might be Egyptian.” [p 47] Indeed, as the torpedo boats re-identified and attacked the Liberty at 14:35 and machine gunned it for some minutes after, Kislev was apparently done with shouting about the damn navy fucking them over the American ID. My own impression is he seems unconvinced, but going with the flow as “Robert” and “Shimon” at Air Control central lead them all back to Egyptian ID, which isn’t fully abandoned for another half-hour, until it’s quite clear the navy had failed to sink it anyway.

That the transcripts are incomplete relative to the tapes may be taken to indicate the tapes themselves are complete and unaltered. There’s nothing in there proving that at all, and the fact that they contain none of the flag reports mentioned by American listeners is evidence in fact that they aren’t complete. One of the attack-the-flag transcript witnesses commented on O’Sullivan’s version "There is simply no way that [is] the same as what I saw. […] The fact that the Israeli pilots clearly identified the ship as American and asked for further instructions from ground control appears to be a missing part of that Jerusalem Post article." [Crewdson]

Taking his source seriously, John Crewdson wrote in his Chicago Tribune article how O’Sullivan “said the Israeli Air Force tapes he listened to contained blank spaces,” and that “he assumed those blank spaces occurred while Israeli pilots were conducting their strafing runs and had nothing to communicate.” [Crewdson] Perhaps this was an unjustified assumption, but to be fair, O’Sullivan also had the advantage of hearing the gaps. But then, realistic gaps can be created in a professional remix operation. What to conclude?

- Cristol, A. Jay. The Liberty Incident” The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship. Brassey's Inc. 2002.
- O’Sullivan, Arieh. “Liberty Revisited: The Attack." Jerusalem Post. June 4, 2004. Features, page 20. Verified by JPost archive, 7/11/09.
- Crewdson, John. "New revelations in attack on American spy ship." Chicago Tribune. October 2 2007. (Additional material published Dec 2). Page 4.,0,1050179.story?page=4

Friday, June 19, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 18 2009

For quick reference, I present a post based entirely on an informative graphic published by the Times online about the "SAS rescue" of September 19 2005. First, my own maps I created based on theirs and satellite imagery, and then a timeline of the events marked on their map. This will serve as a basic run-down of the battle of the police station, from the British official perspective. It's the only one I've seen yet that offers times for much of anything, so Ive been using it as a source. My respects to its creators.

Above: Greater Basra, with British HQ locations, initial arrest, and later rescue locations indicated. (right-click, new window for larger view). Below: detail of the prison area and militia house the soldiers were rescued from.

Early on Monday Two British undercover soldiers are stopped at a checkpoint and arrested by the police.
10:40 Monday The soldiers put out an emergency call to say that they are in trouble. Troops are dispatched to assist them.
15:15 Cordon put into place around police station
16:30 Mob gathers, petrol bombs are thrown and two Warrior armored personnel carriers set on fire
19:26 More violence Known agitators seen leading another mob towards police station
20:50 Intelligence revealed that the soldiers have been moved away from the police station.
21:00 Decision is taken to attack the police compound and search for the two men
22:00 Force detached to search nearby villa. They force entry and, after a gunfight, rescue the soldiers.
0200 Yesterday Operation complete. Two freed prisoners flown to Baghdad for debriefing and three British soldiers treated for injuries.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 17 2009

In charge of security for the mostly-Shiite southern city of Basra, the British military enjoyed a generally placid command relative to, say, the Sunni triangle. Relations started worsening, however, in autumn of 2005, starting with three British soldiers killed in the first weeks of September. Several coalition arrests of prominent spiritual leaders on the 18th increased tensions, spurring protests and possibly further problems. The burden was shared, thankfully, with the Coalition’s Iraqi partners in peace and stability, like the Basra police force, who were also on guard as the morning of Monday, September 19 2005 drew up over them.

Accounts differ or are vague on almost all details about the events of that morning, starting at a time I’ve seen best narrowed down to “before dawn.” [1] The troubles began with two occupants of a well-used white car, similar to a later model Toyota Cressida. The car’s direction of travel is not clear from available sources, nor the location of this crossing-of-paths; it’s alternately been described as a police station or a police checkpoint. We do know that the two men inside sported traditional gauzy Arab shirts, short beards, curly black hair and some kind of head scarves, in an unspecified style. Of course these were disguises; they were really British Special Forces soldiers, generally reported as SAS, doing something undercover.

Accounts and reports differ on just what happened between the soldiers and the police attempting to halt them. It’s agreed by all that the men in the car fired shots at the police, but all other details remain murky. The first reports from Iraqi authorities were that at least two people had been shot, one fatally and one not. Later reports, for the most part, repeated these. Whether both were police or one civilian, and if so which was killed - variations have been reported. BBC's first is typical; the charge was "allegedly shooting dead a policeman and wounding another." [2]

About a week after the incident, “Iraqi police involved in their arrest” gave a Sydney Morning Herald reporter “detailed accounts of last Monday's events.” The article itself is a gratuitously slanted piece, taking every chance to imply that one of the thousand lurid Arab evils permeating the Basra system had to exculpate the Brits entirely (see below). Nonetheless, it cites:
Captain Ahmed al-Shimari, who was on duty last Monday, said the soldiers had been spotted taking photographs from a car. Three officers, Fadil Hadi, Allah al-Bazuni and Qutayba Sa'ami, ran towards the car. Mr Hadi fired two warning shots and the soldiers returned fire, hitting Mr Sa'ami in the leg. [3]

According to this version, that was the only injury caused by the soldiers. All reports of a death were errors – or worse – from hostile local officials. But whatever the details, somehow the two men were apprehended alive and taken to the local police station for questioning. By then it was discovered that under their terrorist-like garb the men were quite Caucasian – Chechens? One Basra official said “they refused to say what their mission was and suggested that we ask their commander.” [4] The closest they had to identification on them said the same thing – laminated cards saying "In an emergency, please call US and UK forces,” providing different phone numbers for Basra and two other cities in southern Iraq. [5]

A graphic provided by Times Online (London) indicates it wasn’t until 10:40 am – apparently with their “one phone call” – that the soldiers put in an emergency call to headquarters. [6] Soon British forces were talking with the Basra police captains and local officials; they acknowledged the two as their own, and negotiations for their release began, as a military detachment was assembled to back up their bargaining position.

In the meantime, the two were held at the jail compound in southwest Basra, about midway between British military HQ and the Coldstream Guards HQ. In a room with yellow chipped-paint walls they sat hands-bound on an ugly “granite look” aggregate floor, as Arab news cameramen were allowed in to film them (see images above). [7] The two men were apparently beaten or injured in capture, though not badly, sporting bandaged heads. I would presume the blood staining the lighter haired guy’s pants is his own. Note the darker-haired guy has a black scarf around his neck; in later shots this is removed and he’s clearly been doused with water. Both carry an air of defiance, a thin smirk of nonchalance. I think they look pretty scared.

Also on display was their confiscated tool kit, including among a car jack, various rucksacks and plastic cases, BBC’s Reporter Richard Galpin acknowledged “assault rifles, a light machine gun, an anti-tank weapon, radio gear and medical kit.” Speaking with British forces, Galpin passed on that “this is thought to be standard kit for the SAS operating in such a theatre of operations.” [8] I'm not sure if that's ridiculous or not, but it seems a bit much for what a British diplomat in Basra told the authorities was "a run-of-the mill observation mission." [9] But hey, you never know when you'll run into an Al Qaeda tank.

Top: whole cache as shown by basra police. Middle right: shirts and wigs the soldiers used for disguise. Rest: close-ups of weapons. Right-click, new window for larger views.

There is little disagreement over the above weaponry, but the most important variable for understanding what happened that day, and what the police were thinking, is the possibility that the car was rigged with heavy explosives. Official British and friendly sources only acknowledge this has been reported. China’s Xinhua news agency reported on the 19th, citing an unnamed source at the Iraqi Interior ministry (which oversees the police), “the two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives.” [10] Fattah al-Shaykh, member of the Iraqi National Assembly, told Al Jazeera as the crisis began of the “booby-trapped car laden with ammunition [that] was meant to explode in the centre of the city of Basra in the popular market.” [11]

Sheik Hassan al-Zarqani, a spokesperson for Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, quickly issued a press release telling the world "what our police found in their car was very disturbing — weapons, explosives and a remote control detonator […] These are the weapons of terrorists. We believe these soldiers were planning an attack on a market or other civilian targets, and thanks be to God they were stopped and countless lives were saved." Zarqani further alleged the disguise the men affected had been of Sadr’s militia, the Medhi (Mahdi) Army, and that they were to bear the blame for the planned bombing. [12] Zarqani’s release also addressed the British demands for the bombers’ release: “The police refused as they were considered to be planning terrorist attacks, and as they were disguised as members of the Mehdi Army, the police wanted to know who their target was.” [13]

Many readers will deny these sources out-of-hand, and they do seem to have an untrustworthy bias-to-information ratio. I’m not so sure what the police or courts there said about the alleged bomb, and on what evidence. There are no photos or video taken of a bomb. One photograph connected by one researcher to this story [below] shows the car cordoned off by military vehicles as if it were dangerous itself. This photo was posted by researcher Sara Meyer shortly after the events, and I can’t find another source. It was coupled with an explanation, un-sourced, how the car “was later removed by the British.” [14]

There was at the time little to clarify what was the intent of the SAS men – “they refused to say what their mission was” and their commanders weren’t adding much. Similar but more open disagreement surrounds the intent of the police. They claimed to be holding suspicious men engaged in violent criminal behavior, and that fits a lot of the facts. However by parading cameras by them and such, one may sense a little more enthusiasm than simply protecting public safety would explain. The British military took the view – and quite firmly – that the Basra police force was infiltrated by anti-coalition militia sympathizers. Among the charges, the Sydney Morning Herald’s article named Police Captain Yasser al-Bahadli, “a known Mahdi Army sympathizer” as the overseer of the men’s captivity. [15] Their stated belief was thus that their soldiers were in grave danger of falling into enemy hands and must be released.

This concern could of course conceal some other motive for demanding their release, but whatever the case, the Ministry of Defense explained to home audiences how a seven-person military legal team had been dispatched to the prison to try and work things out that way. [16] Preparation for a larger extra-legal military effort were also set in motion. One diplomat, Karen McLuskie, told the Guardian "we explained clearly to the authorities that they were British forces on a run-of-the mill observation mission." [17] Certainly along the way they reminded their colleagues that “under Iraqi law,” as the BBC reported, “the soldiers should have been handed over to coalition authorities.” [18] The Brits pulled strings with the national government in Baghdad and reportedly got the Interior ministry, responsible for police, to issue an order for their Basra people to release the men. It would seem that this order was ignored by the involved locals.

Probably around this time, Brigadier John Lorimer "had good reason to believe that the lives of the soldiers were at risk,” as he told the BBC, and he decided to get “near the police station to help ensure their safety by providing a cordon.” [19] By a quarter after three a small force under Lorimer’s command was at the scene, and a security cordon established around the compound. [20].

In the meantime, anger in the streets had grown, based on whatever people had heard about the soldiers at the jail. It’s difficult to say if the reportedly slain officer, or the planned bombing, or simply the attempts of the British to circumvent Basra justice, was most paramount in anyone’s mind. The Independent reported “one witness said Iraqis were driving through the streets with loudhailers demanding that the soldiers should be kept in the police station, and then jailed.” [21] But some potent combination of factors mobilized dozens – then hundreds - to the jail for a spontaneous citizen’s assembly (or militia-sponsored mob, depending which side of Operation Iraqi Freedom you’re on). The villain Captain Yasser al-Bahadli, watched as the British tanks and roiling crowd gathered ouside the station, the Herald’s article reports, and “put out word two "Israelis" had been arrested - certain death had the mob reached them.” [22]

Despite all this, the authorities behaved as if all was under control and proceeding normally - A provincial council spokesman for Basra, Nnadhim al-Jabari, announced that the two captured soldiers “were likely to go before an Iraqi court,” the Independent reported. [23] But al-Jabari didn’t have all the facts; as it turns out, the suspects would not go in front of the judge. Eventually they went home, but where exactly they went in the following hours is of great interest and some mystery.
[1, 4, 7, 21, 23] McCormack, Helen. "The day that Iraqi anger exploded in the face of the British occupiers." The Independent. September 20, 2005.
[2, 8, 16] BBC news. "Iraq probe into soldier incident." 20 September 2005.
[3, 15, 22] Rayment, Sean with special sorrespondents. “Britons had visions of their throats being cut.” Sydney Morning Herald. September 26 2005.
[5, 9, 17] Mansour, Osama and Michael Howard. "Britain refuses apology and compensation for Iraqis caught up in Basra riots." The Guardian. September 26 2005.
[6, 20],,7374-1790311,00.html
[10] Xinhuanet. "Iraqi police detain two British soldiers in Basra." September 19 2005.
[11] Chossudovsky, Michel. “British "Undercover Soldiers" Caught driving Booby Trapped Car.” (Text of report by Qatari Al-Jazeera satellite TV on 19 September)
[12, 13] Keefer, Michael. "Were British Special Forces Soldiers Planting Bombs in Basra? Suspicions Strengthened by Earlier Reports."
[14] Meyer, Sara. Basra Shadowlands. Index Research.
October 19 2005.
[18, 19] BBC News. "UK soldiers 'freed from militia'"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 10 2009

Since it’s all I have to offer anyway, I will momentarily skip out on further analysis and state my opinions on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Okay, I’ll cite a few supports, but the point is this might suffice as my final post on the subject, which is quick, since I’ve only put up three previously. I'm not even tempted to make any cool graphics for this one, after looking at the endless nonsensical scribbles Edwin E. Moïse had to wade through to re-construct the reality behind the two-hour circus of blunders.

From a cursory skim of some of the evidence, I find the faint possibility that some real vessels firing real torpedoes were involved, at least in the first part of the reported two-hour attack. This is the only aspect that might mean anything new; it would to me strongly imply a false flag operation involving RVN torpedo boats on a heavily-modified OPLAN 34-A raid. However, such a possibility raises many questions, and my guess is that it would not hold enough water to bother looking into it.

Aside from this intriguing distant possibility, I see little need to examine the actual non-events of August 4, 1964. All reputable and most non-reputable sources by now agree, from the overwhelming body of evidence, that no attack took place where one was claimed and aggressively pushed as the pretext for an endlessly escalating yet endlessly losing war of choice. Among all the surviving then-experts at NSA, CIA, Pentagon, various fleet commands, etc., one can find no surviving belief in the reality of this history-making engagement. Moïse’s Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War cites “profoundly disturbing” attempts by the U.S. Navy, as late as 1986, to pass the alleged attack off as real with an impressive-looking official history. [p xii] By now however even the Navy has given up the cause; as researcher John Prados explained in 2004, “the history of U.S. destroyers carried on the Navy's official website no longer contains any reference to a naval engagement having occurred on August 4.” [Prados]

Remaining questions encompass the area of unprovables – what did the active parties think and believe as they set this faux pas into motion? Opinions will differ, as mine and Moïse’s do; he feels the second attack reports were “not a deliberate fabrication” by the United States, as the North Vietnamese charged at the time. “I was quite sure that President Johnson had been making an honest mistake when he bombed the DRV in “retaliation” for an action the DRV had not committed.” [p xv] That author admits being embarrassed explaining this view to his Vietnamese hosts, who surely rolled their eyes, mentally at least. I’m not convinced he really believes that interpretation, what with former White House advisors and top generals and the like to interview, it might serve one well to avoid making such bold accusations – even if they seem warranted.

Of course he was also speaking with much of the epically befuddled destroyer crews who honestly believed the string of BS they reported that night. He doesn’t seem to feel anyone consciously made up anything, and proceeds examining how such massively erred reports originated absent any dishonesty. I’ve already expressed the possibility that the destroyer crews consciously made up the attack, and this would explain the consistency of error that reigned during the two hours an impossible attack was being reported. This is not a case I’ve seen anyone else make, and of course it’s entirely possible that an amazing string of errors in the tense climate triggered the hysteria after all. As the Pentagon set about constructing the story they’d stick with, the pressure from Washington to deliver an attack may have effected the crew only subconsciously, making their continued misinformation just more honest mistakes. Human memory can be, or can be presumed to be, infinitely strange.

Whatever the mindset behind the reports, it’s the pressure from above that matters - the suction of retaliation already in progress, that pulled out a bit more evidence, to the extent it even mattered once the wind was blowing that way. The force of that shift is clearly illustrated by President Johnson’s haste to hit back before figuring out whether there was really an engagement or not on August 4. The first draft of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was done up and discussed with some in Congress within nine hours of the first reports, and retaliatory air strikes underway five hours after that. And those were considered far behind schedule.

The military moved along the path blazed by the President’s decisive headlong rush to war. From what I’ve read, they did this with private reservations about the pretext, but otherwise with gusto and enthusiasm and no outward doubt. The first order of business was too get hostilities opened, the second to establish their collective cover story for the pretext, which wound up being a half-ass amalgamation of carefully screened evidence. This is the essence of fabrication, in its original sense. Separate threads were somehow brought together and were consciously woven by a pre-designated pattern; a “fabric” was undeniably formed, and a major and brutal war was then sewn from that fabric.

But was it deliberate? Moïse found “no evidence,” nor any “reason to suppose” anyone in the Washington leadership had any doubts about the incident during the crucial three days between its occurrence and the passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. He did find evidence that President Johnson had passed from doubts about the attack’s veracity to little doubt it was all bogus within “a few days” of the incident, with his famous “flying fish” comment. [p. 210-211] Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara was initially and for a long time publicly certain their pretext was sound, privately expressing some doubts years later, and only deciding out loud that it was probably not real in 1995. He was clearly aware from at least mid-September 1964 that the President didn’t believe his own case, according to recorded conversations between the two declassified in 2001.

My opinion is if these people were inclined to any caution, they must have at least suspected the attack was unreal, grossly exaggerated, unverified, or something other than what they presented it as. Downplaying genuine doubts and presenting something other than what happened is, in a sense anyway, “deliberate fabrication.” Again, there is no way to prove whether LBJ, MacNamara, any of their subordinates or advisers or the generals and planners and escalators or the destroyer crews themselves knew they were selling bullshit. They might have honestly thought it was something wholesome and real, not realizing the stink. In my opinion, it all comes down to how fucking stupid you believe these guys were.

Moïse, Edwin E. “Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War.” Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina Press). 1997. 255 pages
Prados, John. Essay: 40th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. National Security Archive, George Washington University. Posted August 4 2004.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 9 2009

In his 1997 book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, Edwin E. Moïse made an excruciatingly thorough examination of all available information and found “no evidence,” nor any “reason to suppose” President Johnson or Defense Secretary MacNamara had any doubts about the reported incident during the crucial three days before passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. [p 210] Of course the evidence was always ambiguous, contradictory, and unlikely at best, and all the doubts they needed were available to such high officials from the get-go. Instead, as Moïse writes:
“McGeorge Bundy has said that President Johnson decided at an early hour on August 4 – from his description of the timing, this might even have been before the shooting started, when all Johnson had were reports that the destroyers might be attacked – to use the incident as an occasion to get Congress to pass what was to become known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. […] Johnson had made up his mind. He had done so without first asking whether it was absolutely certain that an attack had actually occurred. [...] MacNamara [in seeking verification of the attack] was “asking on behalf of a president who had already committed himself to having a resolution and a speech and had the air time.”" [p 209]

Retaliatory bombing is serious, and should only be done based on verifiable, logical evidence of something to retaliate for. Very few if any doubts should be allowed, not “many,” as Commander Herrick warned along with his report. If you wait for daylight to look for evidence, as Herrick recommended, but find none, that should strengthen, not weaken, the doubts. Some solid visual contacts at least should be required, some damage to the ships verified as not caused by the other ship. Something resembling what the DRV was even capable of might be a good benchmark, and another that the August 4 reports failed to meet.

If one wants to avoid an honest mistake, a little time should be allowed to figure out questions like the above. But the President had his plan and his timeline; having been handed the attack reports conveniently at the working day’s beginning, he committed to go to war with it, to have strikes underway and announced live on national TV before too much of the nation was asleep for the night.

To fit this schedule, LBJ put immense pressure on the Defense Department to gather any verification possible and prepare counter-strikes for launch as early as possible. The military scrambled, complting a surface scan for evidence of a battle (negative), bringing in a second aircraft carrier, flying in extra jets, fueling, arming, target selection, pre-reconaissance, rules of engagement, so on. MacNamara and Johnson grew impatient as the evening deepened over the eastern seaboards and stated threatening their westward audiences. [p 214-16]

Once the air attacks were apparently, arguably, underway enough, the President was on the air at 11:37pm – about fourteen hours after first learning of the alleged attack. He announced to the world:
“[R]enewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply. […] That reply is being given as I speak to you tonight. Air action is now in execution…”

In fact, the attacks were about to begin, and LBJ jumping the gun to make the late news slot put the retaliatory mission in jeopardy. In fact, Vietnamese records reveal that whatever defenses they did erect against the air strikes were based on interception of this speech, which aired live well before the planes were in striking range, and just before the first radar readings were reported. [p 222]

That haste had only limited effect on the mission’s success and losses, but the brinksmanship is telling. Politics dictating military strategy Is nothing new, but it didn’t just set the timing of retaliation – it also guided what the military would have to “decide” about what happened in the Gulf that night.

Once the first 24 hours had passed, it may have seemed to some that their job, aside from executing retaliation, was to find support for the vital war effort and the President’s snap decisions. There was certainly no order to this effect, but reality is capable of writing its own script once decided on and set in motion. The belli was rolling, and the casus would have to justify it, and the alternative may have looked rather ugly and dangerous to career military men.

Evidence was gathered, mostly at the hands of skilled Pentagon lawyers who “redebriefed” all classes of witnesses extracting legally admissible clues [p 186-187] Defense Department, Joint Chiefs, Pacific Fleet, etc. had their initial doubts, but allowed them to be quickly corrected by partial sightings, supporting intercepts (some just doctored together), more testimony and recollections and opinions leaning towards a genuine engagement, and most importantly “the flow.”

Johnson’s haste, which set the tempo of all this, might be effected by his famous engagement at the time in pressing domestic issues. All summer had been consumed with passing the Civil Rights Bill and related issues of the Freedom Summer era. Some in the south took it as a bit like a war, and three enemy agents – civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwermer - had suspiciously disappeared in Mississippi in late June. News that their bodies had been found by the FBI task force there reached the President on the night of the 4th, as he was waiting to announce the air strikes. [p. 216]

The episode of their killing – as fictitiously portrayed in 1988 movie Mississippi Burning - offers an interesting metaphor for what happened in Washington a month later. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but I recall in the dead of night, the assassins with their police powers catch the three men driving alone on a back road and get them pulled over, unjustly harass them on some bogus explanation, and then begin the brutal violence. It’s painfully obvious this is the kind of infringement that gets you in trouble if witnesses talk about it. At this point it becomes clear they have passed all possibility of turning back on the course they’ve set, and one participant drawls with sinister pleasure something to the effect “well, we’re in it now boys!” However it really happened, the killers shot all three men dead, hid the bodies, concoct alibis and flaunted the feds, essentially declaring a war they would eventually lose.
Source: Moïse, Edwin E. “Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War.” Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina Press). 1997. 255 pages

Friday, June 5, 2009


[Tonkin Gulf Incident series
Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 5 2009
last update 6/5 3am

It’s impossible to understand the Gulf of Tonkin Incident without first knowing the chain of decisions that brought two American ships into the place and the mindset necessary for the non-events that triggered a war. This mission was a “Desoto patrol,” a recent invention dating back to early 1962. As NSA historian Robert Hanyok later explained, these missions had twin objectives: “to collect intelligence in support of the embarked commander and higher level authorities and to assert freedom of navigation in international waters.” [1]

In a Desoto patrol, an unescorted destroyer, detached from the seventh fleet, sails as far as possible into enemy waters, flaunting their concept of territory while collecting intelligence for eventual hostile use. The first such mission was carried out by USS DeHaven, captained by RADM. James W. Montgomery, who later wrote of his experience penetrating the defenses of the People’s Republic of China. [2] Whether by direct order or prerogative allowed by the mission, they ignored all warnings, including the “serious” and “last” kind, each time answering with the ship’s name only. As the tense situation dragged on for days, it became essentially a high-stakes game of chicken with the risk of triggering a major war. There were psych-outs and elevated blood pressure on both sides of the coast line, but luckily (??) no shots were fired before the DeHaven finally left. Montgomery explained the importance of such a dangerous mission:
“The special operation was a then highly-classified intelligence gathering and probing excursion by USS DeHAVEN into waters that had not been visited by Pacific Fleet men-of-war since the late 1940s.” [3]

Desoto is of course the name of a famous Spanish explorer and Conquistador, which seems apt since these patrols were meant for re-exploring closed-off foreign territories, in support of Imperialist ambitions against Communist Asia. Montgomery however cites the name origin as an acronym for his own mission: “DEHAVEN Special Operations off TsingtaO” (DESOTO), which would better read DESOOT if that had the same resonance. [4] Whatever its name, the endeavor had the effect of forcing China to swallow its pride and keep swallowing ‘til it choked, as well as learning some nifty tidbits.

As Washington fretted over the devolving situation in Vietnam in 1964, direct military leverage against North Vietnam (DRV) was being considered. As William Rust explained for an excellent 1984 article in US News and World Report, the idea was to curb the North’s example to and support for the rebellious parts of the Capitalist-ruled, U.S.-supported South Vietnam. The principles for possible war were laid out by National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy on May 25; an initial strategy of "selected and carefully graduated military force” if push were to come to shove. [5] This decision was passed from the White House to the Pentagon, who set to working out specific details.

Desoto patrols had been carried out regularly in the interim, including along the North Vietnamese coast, but at this time it was decided to expand them; on July 15, Rust reports, the commander of the Pacific Fleet proposed new missions to gauge DRV coastal defenses. [6] The article cites this as being Admiral Ulyses S. Grant Sharp, but according to some sources, he had been replaced with Adm. Thomas H. Moorer nearly a month prior. [7] So whichever Admiral or on whatever date, the ensuing activity was certainly overseen, and enthusiastically, by Adm. Moorer. Earlier, when he had commanded the Seventh Fleet, he issued a directive in early 1963 “broadening the conduct of the Desoto Patrols,” writes merchant marine researcher Steve Edwards. Moorer also “relaxed the restrictions on approach distances,” allowing ships as close as four nautical miles from enemy land, which is key to what happened the following August. [8]

Again, the objectives here were to “collect intelligence and to assert freedom of navigation in international waters.” [9] The first appears to have some possible merit in this case, which I’ll discuss below, but the second, asserting “rights” as with the first such mission is troubling. In fact they had no right, as Rust reported for US News:
“The instruction to approach no closer than 8 nautical miles to the coast, and 4 miles to the offshore islands, had a provocative edge: Although Hanoi had never publicly announced the width of its territorial waters, naval-intelligence officials suspected that Hanoi would claim the 12-mile limit observed by other Communist nations. In effect, the Maddox had the delicate task of stimulating coastal defenses without provoking an attack. [10]

The danger in agitating defenses is clear; just recall that the best sort of defense is often though to be offense. NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok may have been saying the same thing (depending on what was redacted here), while tying it together with the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) mission:
“U.S. intercept sites in the area were alerted to the real reason for the Desoto missions, which was to stimulate and record North Vietnamese [***** redacted text *****] reactions in support of the U.S. SIGINT effort.” [11 emph. in original, but italics]

Presenting the two aspects more separately, CINCPAC Sharp later explained the first objective "was to update our overall intelligence picture in case we had to operate against North Vietnam.” [12] The first strikes following the non-events of August 4 were by aerial bombardment, as they had likely decided from the start. This only seems natural and hardly worthy of mention, except that coastal defense information seems only slightly related to the planned operations.

Determining what kind of radar and anti-aircraft installations they have along the shore might prove useful, if they ever had the go-ahead to start bombing. In the meantime however, the gathering of peripheral information for potential air strikes risked a deadly incident that would necessitate… ahhh, well now it makes sense. Their dual mission could, if found intolerable enough, trigger a third and hidden aspect of the Desoto mission – to start a war. Only from this highly cynical point of view does a continued patrol regimen seem like an indisputably good idea. Rust explains how it was accepted:
“The Joint Chiefs and civilian authorities promptly approved Desoto; on July 17, the destroyer Maddox received orders to locate and identify radar transmitters, collect navigational information and conduct electronic surveillance along the North Vietnamese shoreline.” [13]
The ship was equipped with special listening booths attached to the deck – small trailers filled with equipment and room for the Naval Security Group detachment “whose presence defined this cruise as a DeSoto Patrol,” writes National Security Archive-associated researcher John Prados. [14] She set off from Taiwan, the patrol course was set, and Maddox got to work in Tonkin Gulf on July 31.

Recalling the observations above about the delicate art of stimulating defenses without eliciting an attack, the Maddox’s passes of the gulf were always in the shadow of yet further provocations - confusing commando sneak attacks designed in part to stimulate communications to spy on. [15] If not by design, these ventures also wound up increasing the likelihood of a challenge to an American destroyer’s right to be there (up to and including attack with intent to sink).

The rubric for these extra missions was something usually called “OPLAN 34-A.” These were joint ventures with South Vietnamese and other forces to cause “pinprick” damages to the DRV. Activities ranged from espionage to covert land strikes and, relevant here, coastal attacks by swift patrol boat raids in the dead of night. The United States generally has denied any involvement in these "purely Vietnamese" operations, but of course it was the Pentagon that coined the 34-A name, and at the very least they favored and promoted the strikes, and kept close track of their effects.

Desoto patrols and 34-A actions were in fact seen as feeding each other in a cycle. NSA’s Hanyok describes one side: “in early July, General Westmoreland requested more intelligence on Hanoi's forces which were capable of defending against an expanded OPLAN-34A program. […in response…] Admiral Sharp, CINCPAC, issued a new directive for a Desoto patrol whose purpose was "determining DRV coastal patrol activity." [16] John Prados shows the other: “In fact the mission of the Maddox was specifically to record North Vietnamese radar and other electronic emissions which could be expected to spike after a 34-A raid.” [17] More raids = better intel = better raids = more intel = what???

The Maddox was ordered to stay close to the coast, and as close as four miles from any of the gulf islands. Including Hon Me, attacked by South Vietnamese commandos on July 30, followed by nearby strikes on August 1 and 2. Maddox captain John Herrick was at first not even informed how much more difficult his balancing act had been made, and was completely surprised in the afternoon of August 2 when three highly-stimulated DRV PT (patrol/torpedo) boats shot out from behind Hon Me and gave chase.

The boats were small with smaller guns of minimal range, but their torpedoes were potentially lethal even to a destroyer. In this case, the Americans flinched and ran, shooting back along the way. The PT boats were no match for the destroyer’s five-inch guns and the air cover swiftly arriving from the USS Ticonderoga. Between defensive actions and orders from on high to cancel the unapproved and stupid attack, it ended with no American deaths or injuries and no damage to the Maddox, compared to 2/3 of the attacking force being sent to the bottom. There was thus little actual danger of a follow-on attack, but that was probably not as clear the men of the Maddox.

Prados notes that the battle of August 2 took place in International Waters, but noted that “the North Vietnamese made the logical connection that the 34-A raids and the destroyer's appearance were related.” [18] And of course they were closely related – evil conjoined twins of each other in fact. Herrick was therefore finally told about the 34-A missions around his beat, and that more were planned. He asked to have the patrol cancelled as an “unacceptable risk.” Admiral Moorer ordered it continued a essential to “adequately demonstrate United States’ resolve to assert our legitimate rights in these international waters.” [19]

President Johnson was following the events, concurred with Moorer, and personally suggested the patrol be beefed-up with a second destroyer – USS Turner Joy - perhaps to make the babies feel safer. [20] At the same time, the president had decided against moving too hastily on one attack alone; Eric Alterman writes “despite some tough talk directed at subordinates, Johnson decided to hold off on a full-fledged retaliatory attack,” hoping to convey “an impression of firm resolution as a contrast to the perceived trigger-happiness of his expected opponent Barry Goldwater.” [21] However, he was determined to appear and be “firm as hell” if the Vietnamese continued to act this way, which of course they probably wouldn’t.

Since not backing down was the order of the day, more OPLAN 34-A raids were executed on the night of August 3 in advance of the next day’s Desoto patrol. Steve Edwards describes how around 1500 four patrol/torpedo boats left Da Nang “with South Vietnamese commandos and Norwegian mercenary boat crews.” Around midnight they carried out their missions to “bombard a North Vietnamese radar installation at Vinh Son and a security post on the south bank of the Ron River.” [22]

“By 0730 all MACSOG 34-A operators were breakfasting at the compound in Da Nang,” Edwards writes, and from there the stage was set for the fateful day of August 4 as the two destroyers again moved in for a nerve-wracking day. [23] At the other end of it, they would be sending reports halfway around the world that would give the White House its second apparent “unprovoked’ attack, to which there could only be one answer, and it would keep being delivered for about a decade.

[1, 11], Hanyok, Robert J. "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish:
The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964." Originally published in Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition. Declassified for general reading later, now available here:
[2-4] Montgomery, James W. Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret). The First DESOTO Patrol. Publish date not given.
[5, 6] [9-10, 12-13] Rust, William. "The "phantom battle" that led to war; can it happen again?" US News and World Report. July 23, 1984. Posted online December 3 2005.
[7] "U.S. Pacific Fleet." Wikipdia. Sub-heading "Commanders."
[8, 22-23] Edwards, Steve. Stalking the Enemy’s Coast [From PROCEEDINGS, February, 1992]
[14, 16-18] Prados, John. Essay: 40th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Poster August 4 2004.
[15, 19-21] Alterman, Eric. When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. Viking. 2004. pp 185-86

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
June 2 2009
last edit 6/5 2am

When I was debating Pearl Harbor at the JREF forum a few months back, Screw Loose Change co-creator “Brainster” countered any design for loss on FDR’s part with the observation that “zero US deaths on the USS Maddox led to [the war in] Vietnam.” “Too true!” I responded eagerly, knowing just enough about this incident, continuing:
“And look at how well that war went! Can you imagine if FDR had tried to base WWfrigginII on some fake out boat incident deep inside Japan's sphere of influence? You think hippies on campus caused a problem, right wingers have guns and such... I know it sounds a stretch to say the event shapes the war, but on some level it does, the question is how much.” [1]

This passing thought came back to a point when I learned – last night - that Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon insider-turned dissident who was among the chief actors in the war’s undoing - was there as it started on the wrong foot. In his memoirs he reveals he was the man at the Pentagon who first received Captain Herrick’s reports about the attack, opening his book on the war of lies with this episode, and so I’ll open my Tonkin Gulf inquiry here as well.
”On Tuesday morning, August 4, 1964, my first full day on my new job in the Pentagon, a courier came into the outer office with an urgent cable for my boss. He'd been running. The secretaries told him Assistant Secretary John McNaughton was out of the office; he was down the hall with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. They pointed him to me, his new Special Assistant. The courier handed me the cable and left. It was easy to see, as I read it, why he had been running.

It was from Captain John J. Herrick, the commodore of a two-destroyer flotilla in the Tonkin Gulf, off North Vietnam in the South China Sea. He said he was under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats and he had opened fire on them.

[…] Within ten minutes he was back to me with another cable from the same series: "Am under continuous torpedo attack." […] A few minutes later, Herrick reported another torpedo had run by him, and that two more were in the water. […] The messages were vivid. [...] "Have. . . successfully avoided at least six torpedoes."

Nine torpedoes had been fired at his ships, fourteen, twenty-six: the sea was awash with torpedoes. More attacking boats had been hit, at least one sunk. This action wasn't ending after forty minutes or an hour. It was going on, ships dodging and firing in choppy seas, planes overhead firing rockets at locations given them by the Turner Joy's radar, for an incredible two hours before the stream of continuous combat updates finally ended.”

I’m having a hard time locating any clear versions of these early communications besides snippets like these re-printed from obscure works, but their gist is clear – a major prolonged attack supported by many fast-moving reports.

About an hour after the last battle message, however, there came a “full stop,” Ellsberg recalls. “A message arrived that took back not quite all of it, but enough of it to put everything earlier in question.” [3] This follow-up message introducing doubts is more widely quoted and read thus:
“Review of action makes many recorded contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects and over-eager sonarman may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action.” [4]

Well this is certainly a bizarre thing to say after an hours-long battle one had barely survived. This incongruous uncertainty triggered what witer Eric Alterman called “a flurry of pointed inquiries from the highest levels of the Pentagon” [5] which in turn prompted another rosier report with more evidence of attack after all:
"Further recap reveals Turner Joy fired upon by small-caliber guns and illuminated by searchlight. Joy tracked two sets of contacts. Fired on 13 contacts. Claim positive hits 1, 1 sunk, probabe hits 3. Joy also reports no actual visual sightings or wake. Have no recap of aircraft sightings but seemed to be few. Entire action leaves many doubts except for apparent attempted ambush at beginning. Suggest thorough reconnaissance in daylight by aircraft.” [6]

Captain Herrick seems to be operating here in a world different from the three-dimensional one we all inhabit, and his words are less reflection of coherent truth than impressionist brush strokes suggesting a possible reality that could be taken or left. From my intuition and the moderate amount I know about this incident, he seems to be saying “we were viciously attacked, maybe, probably not, but maybe, definitely we think – look, we don’t know, if you think we did then we did. Check it out yourselves, if you want, but that’s our report. We got attacked. Can we go home now?”

Rendering an accurate translation takes a knowledge of context, foremost the “Desoto patrol” that had both Maddox and its danger-zone company Turner Joy sent again into this Gulf to spy and to defy attacks. This was carried out alongside “OPLAN 34A” provocations feeding off-Desoto intel and stirring up more. Some stimulated reactions, the President had already decided, could only be met with military firmness. Maddox had been attacked two days before, on August 2. LBJ seemed to feel he needed two such events in order to get firm while seeming well-justified, and the provoke-then-patrol system was continued.

The Maddox was given a partner, Turner Joy for the mission of the 4th and promised air cover. Herrick had been alerted of new 34A provocations, and received Pentagon warnings of another imminent attack, and yet his protests to just cancel it as an “unacceptable risk” were denied. Thus the captains of both ships were given every reason to both worry about torpedo strikes and sinking, and to think about why they were being exposed to such danger. It seems possible that this inspired them to simply imagine the inevitable attack hoping - perhaps unconsciously - that a false report would give the leadership what it wanted without the pain and death of a real attack. This is just an uniformed impression from a cynical blogger, but there it is.

President Johnson and his top aides all claimed to believe the attack reports, at least at first, when it mattered. But LBJ’s words on September 18 show he was aware there was no attack, that his own case upon which the war was escalating by his choice, was fraudulent. White House recordings, released in 2001, transcribed by Eric Alterman for his book When Presidents Lie. In a discussion with Secretary of Defense MacNamara, Johnson reminds him that “you just came in … a few weeks ago and said that “Damn, they are launching an attack on us – they are firing on us.” When we got through with all the firing we concluded maybe they hadn’t fired at all.” [7] This is both an accurate summary of what happened in the Gulf, and a metaphor for the larger movement of the national “we” and its reaction of retaliatory bombing and resolution-passing.

“I have found over the years that we see and we hear and we imagine a lot of things in the form of stacks and shots and people running at us,” he sad, apparently explaining why the erred reports both make sense and annoy him. It would “make us very vulnerable,” he told MacNamara, if it that were the case here, and the reported attack they were then starting a war over “just wasn’t true at all.” He shows signs of believing just this, while proceeding full-tilt in that vulnerability. “It looks like to me they would hear a shot or see a shot or do something before they get worked up […] I want to be tough where we … are justified being tough … But I sure want more caution on the part of these admirals and these destroyer commanders … about whether they are being fired on or not.” [8]

He seemed less concerned with the truthfulness of the reports than with their ambiguity. “I don't know why in the hell, some time or other, they can't be sure that they are being attacked.” There are only two alternatives to flase attack reports, and it’s not clear which he’s looking for – no attacks, as had been happening so far with Hanoi trying to avoid a confrontation, or true reports of real attacks. [9]

Finally, this bastard summoned the chutzpah to re-state himself thus: “I don’t want them just being some change o’life woman running up and saying that, by God, she was being raped just because a man walks into the room!” [10] This from the man who approved and endorsed the system that had their “women” regularly sent into rooms already crowded with leering, pornography-addled men (buzzed-to-drunk on liquor air-dropped just before their women arrived) – to “assert their right as women to go where they please” and study the psycho-sexual behavior of the "men" in the "room."

By God, the President doesn’t want to hear some prudish false charges. Under the circumstances, should a real rape be so hard to come by? Or at least a more convincing made-up one? Those Texas knuckles are aching to make contact with a genuine rapist’s face! If the guys in the Gulf made the call I outlined above, it worked in the end, and the beatings did commence, even if the chief was frustrated with his silly little "women."

[2], [3] Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers Chapter one.
[4, 5, 6] Alterman, Eric. When Presidents Lie. Viking. 2004.Page 188.
[7, 8, 9, 10] Alterman. pp 201-202.