I was referred to you by one of the many people I have been networking with in an attempt to interject some factual information into the debate concerning the CNN allegations surrounding "Operation Tailwind." First allow me to give you a short explanation of who I am and what my interest is.
I am an SF VN veteran from 9/69 to 10/71. I served in MACV-SOG at Command and Control NORTH during 1970-71. I am listed in Sherman's "Who's Who in MACV-SOG."
In September 1997, Peter Arnett / April Oliver produced a program on MACV-SOG during which they hired a talking head "chemical expert" to pronounce that SOG veterans were WAR CRIMINALS for the use of a non-lethal chemical agent.
Then 1st Lt. Robert Van Buskirk
My interest is to get the entire array of facts out in the open.
The following information has been verified during the course of my investigations and can be independently corroborated. Please contact me if you are concerned with a factual examination of this controversy.
Tom Marzullo Englewood, CO 80112 ******************************
In the Special Forces community, Van Buskirk developed a reputation for deceit and unreliability. There are witnesses who can testify to his behavior while assigned to SF and MACV-SOG.
In the early 1980's, he wrote the fiscally unsuccessful book "Operation Tailwind" where there was no mention of the alleged American deserters or a plan to kill them. This story was revived by April Oliver and Peter Arnett of CNN with the expressed purpose of branding the United States as a user of lethal chemical weapons. This is from their own e-mails and conversations with me and others and the previous MACV-SOG related CNN Impact program broadcast of September 1997 where April Oliver had a hired "chemical weapons expert" to declare MACV-SOG veterans "War Criminals" for the use of non-lethal weapons.
Speculation and suppositions by some member's of the mission ground personnel were inserted as to make these appear that this was direct admission of the use of lethal chemical agent. Again, there was no preceding question shown on screen that tied the answer shown on screen to Tailwind.
One of the MACV-SOG veterans (J. Graves) interviewed on camera by CNN has been contacted and has strenuously protested the out of context and inappropriate use of some scant seconds of his comments taken from over 7½ hours of interview time. He is willing to come on the air to rebut the misleading use of his words by CNN's Arnett/Oliver.
Air crews of helicopters used in the extraction were not provided with any respiratory protection of any kind. If any lethal or incapacitating chemical agents (such as those alleged) had been used, the effects on the pilots would have been such that is highly probable that none of these aircraft entering the LZ (landing zone) would have made it back to base. There were no plans for decontamination of these aircraft after return from the mission as is an absolutely basic requirement in handling chemical agents.
The M-17 mask shown was incorrect. The mask shown was a early prototype used in the 1950's and early 1960's. The M-17 mask specified in the CNN show was a black, full face mask without external filter cartridges and was the standard mask issued to virtually all US forces during the mid-1960s and onward (with a few modifications). Looking at any riot control situation in archival footage during the late 1960's and early 1970's where the National Guard was employed will give an excellent view of this type mask. All conventional forces in SVN were issued the standard M-17 mask.
Foreign prisoners were a assigned a higher priority than North Vietnamese. The recovery of any Americans had the highest priority of all mission objectives. This policy was disseminated at all operational levels of MACV-SOG and was one of the points stressed in the Reconnaissance Team Leaders School (1-0 course) conducted at Camp Long Thanh.
According to Van Buskirk, no effort was made to determine if the alleged "American defectors" were in fact, Eastern Bloc Caucasians. This most rudimentary of intelligence requirements is alleged to have been ignored by the MACV-SOG team. No other ground personnel confirm his allegations.
The personnel on the ground were virtually all wounded in some way by conventional weapons. Despite these open wounds and lacking any respiratory protection, there were absolutely no fatalities from chemical agents among them or the also completely unprotected air crew who landed in the center of this "nerve gas contaminated" LZ. Why? Please refer to the technical section on the various chemical agents listed below for more complete information.
BZ is an odorless, colorless, tasteless incapacitating agent that has a range of effects and is not very predictable. It can be lethal in high concentrations in an enclosed space to a person not wearing respiratory protection.
GB or "Sarin" (the pre-WWII German name for the chemical) is a non-persistent nerve agent that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. An extremely small exposure is quite sufficient to cause significant muscular spasms and renders the affected persons helpless in much less than an hour. Inhalation and exposure to mucous membranes or wounds is the most common route by which it enters the body.
Van Buskirk reported on the program that he knew that there was a chemical agent employed at the LZ because he "could see" the wisps of vapor coming into the area. This is highly unusual because the type of chemical agent alleged by CNN and Van Buskirk is known to be odorless, colorless and tasteless. This makes it impossible to detect by a person using their five senses, until they begin to notice symptoms of exposure. The wisps of vapor noted by Van Buskirk therefore cannot possibly be from the chemical agents alleged. Smoke from fires set by tracer bullets fired by supporting aircraft would be the most likely cause (standard ammunition for these weapons uses a tracer every fifth shot). It also could have come from the standard White Phosphorus (WP) smoke rockets typically used to mark targets by US aircraft that were heavily supporting this MACV-SOG mission.
Van Buskirk and other ground personnel also reported the targeted "village" as being quiet and deserted. Van Buskirk asserts that this is positive proof of the employment of chemical agents, yet he and the others also state that it took their company three days of fighting to reach the targeted village. This correlation does not make sense as it ignores the three days the North Vietnamese had at their disposal to evacuate the village in an orderly manner. Generous amounts of loud gunfire will frighten away or silence almost all jungle creatures, so that is a more reasonable alternative explanation than the use of lethal chemical agents given the total lack of obviously undamaged, but dead bodies and the stated facts that they were under enemy fire while in the enemy camp.
Peoples Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) official history of its operations on the HCM trail (it bears their classification of Secret), PAVN's official history of its Chemical Command, and PAVN's official history of the 968th Volunteer Infantry Division (which was responsible for defense of the region in question) contain not the slightest hint that the US ever used lethal gas against PAVN forces. PAVN's concerns about our use of chemical agents was limited to our use of CS gas - - an agent each US soldier was exposed to during basic training and that many saw used in combat operations in SVN
The history of PAVN's Chemical Command notes the importance of capturing American chemical munitions (e.g., CS grenades) and equipment (e.g., gas masks) to support Hanoi's "political and diplomatic struggle" (i.e., for propaganda purposes). It is absurd to think that Hanoi would have remained silent if we had used lethal chemicals.
Remember, Peter Arnett was CNN's "Man in Baghdad" during that war and as such was available to the Iraqi's for consultation with their agencies into follow-up actions after the war.
When our young military personnel of DESERT SHIELD/ DESERT STORM ended that conflict early, CNN had to return $1.34 Billion, yes billion, worth of already collected advertising revenues, for the next 90 days. Remember that, according to the press, this was expected to be a long war, and every advertiser wanted to be on the "THIS IS CNN" broadcast.
While the person who reported this to me was at FORSCOM, Ft McPherson, Atlanta, GA, he met some of their people and they told him that the CNN higher ups were pissed, and would get even. One of the most poignant comments they made was "dead soldiers sell", when he asked what it meant, they said that the desert was the ideal environment for their cameramen, no messy foliage to cover the bodies and the blood, it would be right there for their cameramen to send back live. Dead bad guys don't count, they need dead US troops to make their editorial comments about, to start the American people to get mad and then they could obtain additional ratings and revenues covering the demonstrations. These CNN representatives said that the more American dead the higher the ratings. When the person making this report disclosed to them that he was in the military, they became highly distressed and immediately silent.
In consideration of the above facts, it is reasonable to implement a public investigation into the financial and political ties between the CNN/TIME media conglomerate and the government of Iraq. This is a money trail that clamors to be followed. At the very least this broadcast is an attempt by a US-based, multinational media conglomerate to adversely affect US foreign policy.