SUMMARY: This article gives the background of the CNN/TIME story about Operation Tailwind, and also gives a chronological account of that journalistic debacle. It is the most concise account I have seen, and puts all the events in perspective. The preparer is an ex-SOG warrior who has been researching this for over 8 months.
We strongly urge the readers to provide this info to their local media – radio, printed press and TV to counter the BS that CNN put out and to counter the continuing lies being put out by fired CNN producers Smith and Oliver. Also please use this to keep pressure on CNN and cause them to make a proper apology.
What was the MACV-Studies and Observations Group (SOG) unit involved in Operation Tailwind?
MACV-SOG was a military unit that was tasked to gather military intelligence on and to harass the North Vietnamese in their sanctuaries and supply routes through North Vietnam, the Demilitarized zone (DMZ), Laos and Cambodia. Because of the border crossing aspect of the operations assigned to them, the existence and nature of SOG was classified as top secret,but the operations were of a regular military nature conducted by American led, indigenous soldiers.
The American soldiers assigned to SOG were mostly drawn from the 5th Special Forces Group, where their the assignment was labeled as Special Operations Augmentation. All aspects of the SOG operations are carefully documented as this information is needed not only by military planners, but also by the soldiers who have to survive the next incursion into enemy territory. MACV-SOG had three "Command and Controls" designated South (CCS), Central (CCC) and North (CCN).
Each C&C had a reconnaissance company and two interdiction companies, sometimes known as a "Hatchet Force." The unit assigned to Operation Tailwind was Command and Control Central CCC). Interdiction Company "B" alone was assigned to Tailwind, there was no participation by any reconnaissance team or other ground unit.
What was the MACV-SOG policy towards prisoners and Americans found in enemy territory?
SOG doctrine put the capture of enemy prisoners and return of Americans from enemy hands as the highest mission goal over all others assigned. If this were to be achieved, the team must be pulled out as fast as possible. As an enticement, the SOG soldiers are offered a reward if they can capture a foreign NVA advisor or return an American. The reward is 30 days of special leave, free airplane tickets anywhere you would like to visit on that leave, ten thousand dollars tax free in cash and your choice of assignments anywhere in the world. In a unit where the official casualty rate is 140% suffered by only about half of the total people assigned, this was more than a reward, it meant you got to survive.
JULY 1970 - KONTUM, REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM
Operational orders arrive at MACV-SOG, CCC to plan a company size operation to penetrate twice as deep into the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply network as had ever been done before. Major Henry Gole, the intelligence officer plans the operation with a two-fold goal: 1) to disrupt the flow of supplies to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), capture prisoners and destroy supplies and equipment, and; 2) to draw off NVA forces so that two battalions of royalist Laotian troops that have been pinned down can break out to escape annihilation. "B" company is assigned to complete the mission.
SEPT 11-14, 1970 - CHAVAN, LAOS
CCC's "B" company is inserted into the area by helicopter and almost immediately is heavily engaged by the NVA. There is no SOG reconnaissance team put into the area. Close air support is the deciding factor that allows the unit to survive the intense attacks. Over the next three days,"B" company fights its way to what was found to be a regimental headquarters area, where it captures documents and destroys supplies.
Every soldier in the SOG unit is wounded during the battle and six die from gunshots or shrapnel. The indigenous soldiers carry the only kind of gas mask available that will fit them and it is only good for the non-lethal riot agents like CS (tear gas). The 16 Americans carry the standard M-17 gas masks (these automatically come with 2 atropine styrettes right from the regular Army supply depot).
Many masks are lost or damaged and most soldiers wear none at all. Almost completely out of ammunition, the SOG unit is pulled out at the last moment under heavy enemy fire as Skyraider aircraft drop large quantities of powdered CS riot agent (tear gas) and bombs while strafing enemy positions.
The "B" company commander, Capt. Gene McCarley is wounded in the mouth and, being unable to speak, assigns a platoon leader, Robert Van Buskirk,to give the briefing in to MACV commander, Gen. C. Abrams in Saigon. Van Buskirk is awarded 1 of the 5 Silver Stars, the medic Sgt. Rose is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
1971, BAD TOLTZ, WEST GERMANY
Robert Van Buskirk is arrested by the West German authorities and the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for aiding terrorists and arms trafficking. Held in Germany's Mannheim prison for 18 months, he is given a choice to either leave Germany forever or face charges and a long prison sentence.
He chooses to leave Germany and returns to the US where, after leaving the military, he enters a spiral of substance abuse until 1974,when he experiences what he claims is a religious awakening.
1983, VAN BUSKIRK'S BOOK "OPERATION TAILWIND" PUBLISHED
Van Buskirk publishes a book that focuses mainly on his life but has some mention of Operation Tailwind. In this book, he makes no mention of American defectors or enemy Caucasians at all, nor does he mention anything that would suggest nerve gas. No action is taken against Van Buskirk for the book's release.
AUGUST 1997, MCLEAN, VIRGINIA
April Oliver meets with two SOG veterans (one of them is the president of the Special Operations Association) in Charlie's restaurant in McLean,Virginia. There she begins by introducing two topics: "How many times did you call in B-52 bombers on your own men," and; "How many times did you use nerve gas?" Never does she ask, "Did you?"
SEPTEMBER 1997, CNN "IMPACT" PROGRAM
A segment on SOG airs on CNN's "Impact" program, jointly produced by Arnett and Oliver. The program alleges SOG called in USAF bombers to kill their own men. The program also alleges that SOG soldiers are "war criminals." One of the SOG veterans, Tom Marzullo, watching the show with his family,is offended enough to follow up and eventually finds out that Oliver is contacting other SOG veterans.
OCTOBER 1997, ENGLEWOOD, COLORADO
April Oliver is contacted by e-mail by Tom Marzullo to set up a telephone interview. During the telephone interview, Oliver plainly says that she has Department of Defense documents right in front of her that prove the US used nerve gas in Laos. She is told that if that is true, she already has her story and she should go with it now. Then she is asked why does she need to talk to SOG veterans if she has that? She declines to display the documents and, in the ensuing conversation, reveals that the focus of her interest is a September 1970, company sized mission, run out of CCC, called "Operation Tailwind", that was written about by Robert Van Buskirk.
The president of the Special Operations Association (SOA) is told about the CNN plans to smear the United States and SOG as users of nerve gas. He is told of the immense damage these allegations will cause internationally, domestically, and to all US Vietnam veterans, but particularly SOG veterans.
He refuses to warn the SOA membership that CNN may be preparing to make the allegations and flatly refuses to have anything to do with an independent investigation into Tailwind.
OCTOBER 1997 TO APRIL 1998, INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
Tom Marzullo begins a self-funded, independent investigation on his own initiative. The investigation of the operation is based on interviews of SOG personnel and documentation. Van Buskirk's 1983 book is reviewed and his personal history is assembled from documentation and interviews of people who knew him in SOG. Van Buskirk is described as untrustworthy and a "glory hound" by his peers. Van Buskirk's 1983 book is found to be a financial disappointment.
OCTOBER 1997 TO MAY 1998, CNN INVESTIGATION
CNN contacts and interviews Robert Van Buskirk who has a sudden recovery of a "suppressed memory" of killing Americans and of nerve gas while in front of the CNN cameras. (Van Buskirk is to later claim in interviews after the story airs that the CNN crew suggested these events to him earlier in their conversations with him)CNN contacts and interviews virtually all the other SOG soldiers who were on Operation Tailwind.
Oliver and her staff are told repeatedly that no nerve gas could have been used because many of the US soldiers on the mission had been exposed without gas masks and none died, therefore it was CS riot agent (tear gas). CNN is also told, by the SOG team's medic, that the indigenous SOG soldiers had no protection at all from nerve gas and that none of them died from it either. None of the SOG soldiers (except Van Buskirk who has the sudden on-camera "recovered memory") say there were Americans at the headquarters area they entered on the last day.
All the other SOG soldiers are first lied to, then badgered by CNN to change their story. All refuse, saying that they know what they saw and did, and that is the only thing they will testify to. One of the SOG veterans (M. Orozco) who was right next to Van Buskirk the whole of the last two days of Tailwind, and who strongly denies any Caucasians of any kind were found in the NVA camp, is accused by CNN's interviewer of being a drunk at the end of the interview before the interviewer ends the conversation.
The ground commander of the SOG soldiers is videotaped for six hours where he repeatedly tells CNN that there were no Americans or Caucasians found at the NVA camp and the only chemical used was CS riot agent, definitely not nerve gas. None of the negative interview results are considered, used, nor mentioned by CNN.
CNN interviews Jay Graves, at the time of Tailwind, an instructor at the training school for reconnaissance team leaders in SOG (AKA "one-zero school") at camp Long Thanh in the southern III corps region. During over seven hours of videotaped interviews, Graves attempts to tell them of the SOG policies towards prisoners and Americans found in enemy territory.Graves tells CNN he was never assigned to CCC and did not participate in Tailwind in any manner. The definitive reference book, "Who's Who in MACV-SOG", developed from military orders and awards, does not list Graves as assigned to CCC or SOG during Tailwind.
CNN contacts and interviews the Marine helicopter pilots who uniformly say that no nerve gas could have been used because they were wearing no gas masks and the CS riot agent (tear gas) got in to the aircraft's cockpit. They tell CNN that they would have died there if it had been a nerve agent, so it is impossible for it to have been used.
CNN contacts and interviews the USAF pilots of the A1E and A1H Skyraider aircraft. The A1E (Fat Face) aircraft are the only type configured to drop Cluster Bomb Units (CBU). Art Bishop, an A1E pilot who flew the day of the extraction (September 14th) is interviewed by CNN's Peter Arnett, after Arnett confers with April Oliver on how to structure the interview questions.
(Arnett has since denied any part in the development of the story). Bishop and all the other Skyraider pilots tell Arnett and Oliver that there was no nerve gas and that only CS riot agent (tear gas) was used during Tailwind. Bishop provides his 1970 operational diary to CNN along with a typed transcript. The diary contains an entry for September 14, 1970 and describes the mission and the use of tear gas only. (CNN and Floyd Abrams will later describe the diary as illegible and not useful).
CNN interviews Admiral Moorer (USN, Ret.), the former Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the period of Operation Tailwind. Adm. Moorer is 87 years old and in a nursing home. CNN asks the Admiral a series of hypothetical and general questions concerning the use of nerve gas and other weapons.
CNN interviews James W. Cathey, a retired USAF NCO, who is brought to CNN by Van Buskirk. (Cathey is a contemporary associate of Van Buskirk in their prison ministry businesses). Cathey claims to have been on the ground, with five other USAF "controllers" with a SOG reconnaissance team. No documentation or verification is provided to CNN to back his claims.
Note: Cathey's performance report, for the period that includes Tailwind,states he is the administrative NCO for a USAF Logistics unit at the Bien Hoa air base, some hundreds of miles south of the Tailwind operational area in Laos. The service record contains no record of a top secret security clearance, any combat training, or any awards for the period of Operation Tailwind.
CNN approaches Gen. Walter Busbee (US Army Chemical Corps, Ret.), an internationally respected expert on chemical warfare to evaluate the possibility of the use of nerve gas during Tailwind. Busbee's evaluation is that if nerve gas had been used, a very large number of the SOG unit would have been killed by it at the very least. As there were no chemical casualties, the likelihood of nerve gas having been used is virtually nil.
CNN discards this evaluation in favor of that of Amy Smithson, a director of a group that lobbies against the proliferation of chemical weapons whose experience and education is in government affairs. The CNN production crew, aided by The president of CNN and staff,successfully keeps the Tailwind story away from CNN's military advisor,Gen. Perry Smith (USAF, Ret.), and he is not allowed access to any of the evidence collected or the raw interviews.
JUNE 7, 1994 PREMIER OF CNN/TIME "NEWSSTAND" PROGRAM
The introduction of the Flagship program talks in glowing terms, stating: "What this broadcast will do, if we've done our job right, is to bring into focus people and events that alter and illuminate our times. Sound familiar? Its a line from an old CBS news show and it's a pretty definition of what good journalism is about, whether we are looking at the abuse of power, an appreciation of excellence, or the way we live now."
During the lead segment, titled the "Valley of Death," CNN/TIME alleges to the use of nerve gas by the US during 1970 in Laos, saying that the targets of the deadly attack, by Special Forces soldiers assigned to MACV-SOG, are American defectors and that, during the raid, women and children are murdered, a non-scripted last minute addition from Arnett.
Snippets of answers from Admiral Moorer, McCarley, Graves and Hagen are pasted into place after the program announcer's statements. The specific questions, that they had made their responses to, do not appear on camera or audio but the announcer's preceding statements are displayed to appear as though they are the questions the replies were given to.
Hours before the broadcast, Gen. Perry Smith (USAF, Ret.) is finally allowed to see the script, and expresses serious reservations about the story. The story is aired without his input or review.
JUNE 8, 1998 TIME MAGAZINE
TIME magazine prints an article, written by Arnett and Oliver, that repeats the charges. TIME will later claim not to have conducted any investigation of their own.
JUNE 8, 1998 THE FIRST REBUTTAL
Tom Marzullo sends out the first factual rebuttal of the CNN/TIME allegations on the Internet, based on the body of research already gathered, and includes a review of North Vietnamese Army unit histories provided by an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Using telephone, fax, and computers, veterans of all eras begin the task of finding information and documents, and talking with persons shown on the CNN/TIME Newsstand program.