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June 15, 1998

 

Accuracy In Media

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN NEWSSTAND.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CO-HOST: NEWSSTAND: tonight CNN & TIME.

"Valley of Death": the U.S. military and a top-secret target. American defectors.

JIM CATHY (ph), FORMER AIR FORCE RESUPPLY FOR SOG COMMANDOS: I believe they were turn-toads. I believe they were traitors.

ANNOUNCER: The U.S military and a top-secret weapons.

MICHAEL HAGEN, OPERATION TAILWIND VETERAN: Nerve gas. The government don't want it called that, but it was nerve gas.

GREENFIELD: The U.S. on a top-secret mission. Operation Tailwind.

JAY GRAVES (ph), FORMER SOG RECONNAISSANCE LEADER: Because they were using nerve gas in that shit and not telling anybody about it.

GREENFIELD: A mission in far away secret war, unreported, until now.

ROBERT VAN BUSKIRK, OPERATION TAILWIND VETERAN: They're shooting anything that moves. This was the "valley of death."

BERNARD SHAW, CO-HOST: The looking glass: the hypocrisy of the media.

MIKE MCCURRY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Don't twist my words. It's making it very clear what the president has said in his statement.

SHAW: And the hypocrisy of the viewing public.

GREENFIELD (on camera): You tell us that you're sick and tired of all that tabloid trash. So what's the hottest thing on talk TV? You got it -- Jerry Springer.

SHAW: "The Looking Glass" with Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: "Parents, Kids & Sex." Parents: afraid of the media's explicit message to their kids about sex.

TOM BERGGREN: My first grader leaned over to me and whispered and said what's getting laid?

GREENFIELD: Parents: afraid about what they're kids are learning about sex and what they're doing about it.

UNIDENTIFIED TEENAGER #1: A father can lock me up until a closet until I turn 18.

GREENFIELD: Parents: afraid of talking with their kids about it.

JEANNINE RUSHTON, WEST VALLEY TEEN CENTER: I've seen more communication about birth control.

GREENFIELD: A new CNN & TIME poll, about the contradictions and the concerns of parents when it comes down to their kids and sex.

ANNOUNCER: CNN, "Time," with Jeff Greenfield and Bernard Shaw. CNN, "Time": two of the world's leading news organizations on special assignment.

GREENFIELD: This is Manhattan's Greeley Square. It's named after Horace Greeley, one of America's great newpapermen.

SHAW: We thought we'd come to a place that honors journalism's past to begin a new venture of our own.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: This is CNN & TIME. It's a joint venture between television's first all news network and the first weekly news magazine. Now we haven't reinvented the wheel here. Watching us broadcast is not going to save your life or change your world forever.

SHAW: What this broadcast will do, if we've done our job right, is to bring into focus people and events that altered and illuminate our time. Sound familiar? It's line from an old CBS news show, and it's a pretty good definition of what good journalism is about.  Whether we're looking at the abuse of power, an appreciation of excellence, or the way we live now, we hope you find CNN & TIME worth your time. We'll begin in just a moment.

ANNOUNCER: NEWSSTAND: CNN & TIME.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: Earlier this year, the United States nearly went to Iraq over chemical and biological weapons. Now CNN & TIME, after an eight month investigation report that the United States military used lethal nerve gas during the Vietnam War.

SHAW: It was 1970. President Nixon had a pledged a no first use policy onnerve gas, part of his commitment to the Geneva protocol limiting chemical weapons use.  The U.S. had signed a treaty restricting chemical weapons, but the Senate had not ratified it.  Now, Peter Arnett has the story of Operation Tailwind: a raid into Laos, which according to military officials with knowledge of the mission called two top secrets: dropping nerve gas on a mission to kill American defectors.

GREENFIELD: The exclusive photos that accompany this report were provided by the commandos who carried out this raid. They are seen here publicly for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(singing): There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

PETER ARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the men of Operation Tailwind.

VAN BUSKIRK: Our motto in special forces was kill them all and let God sort them out.

(singing): There's a man with a gun over there.

ARNETT: Tailwind voices the U.S. government never wanted to you hear.

HAGEN: Nerve gas. The government don't want it called that, but it was nerve gas.

ARNETT: Pictures of Tailwind. A black operation so secret even those who carried it out did not know all the details.

CAPT. EUGENE MCCARLEY, FORMER TAILWIND COMMANDER: What was dropped from there, that was a decision way above my level.

GRAVES: This thing has been buried so deep for so long.

ARNETT: Buried 28 years ago during America's secret war in Laos.

VAN BUSKIRK: Death. This was the valley of death.  How many of you realize that God is a spirit?

ARNETT: Today Robert Van Buskirk is a born again Christian, taking his ministry into prisons.

VAN BUSKIRK: He's going to set you free, son. You know that, don't you.

ARNETT: Back in 1970, he was First Lieutenant Van Buskirk. Nineteen seventy: President Nixon was commander in chief; Henry Kissinger, national security adviser. A time of division and turbulence. Four hundred thousand troops still in Vietnam. The invasion of Cambodia, protests in Washington and throughout the   country; and the killing of anti-war students at Kent State University by Ohio national guardsmen. Nineteen seventy: Van Buskirk was a platoon leader on Tailwind with orders to kill everything in sight, including American defectors.

VAN BUSKIRK: It was pretty well understood that if you came across a defector and could prove it to yourself beyond a reasonable doubt, do it. Under any circumstance, kill them. It wasn't about bringing them back. It was to kill them.

ARNETT: Tailwind: the largest, deepest raid into Laos by the U.S. military. Leading the so-called hatchet force, Captain Eugene McCarley.

MCCARLEY: We would go into Laos, blow up some bridges, destroy anything we came up on.

ARNETT: These soldiers were part of SOG: the Studies and Observations Group, a small, elite unit of special forces. SOG commandos carried out black operations against unusual targets using unusual weapons. They fought with no rules, were pledged to secrecy, everything was deniable. Both McCarley and Van Buskirk told CNN they were promised anything in the U.S. arsenal to complete Tailwind's mission; anything except nuclear weapons.  The arsenal included a special weapon known as sleeping gas.

VAN BUSKIRK: Sleeping gas was a slang for nerve gas. In other words, when you got hit with sleeping gas, you were going to sleep forever.

ARNETT (on camera): NEWSTAND: CNN & TIME contacted over 200 people, from corporals to generals, including dozens who fought or flew in the Tailwind mission.  According to military officials with knowledge of the mission, Tailwind held two of the U.S. military's top secrets. The first: the sleeping gas was indeed nerve gas -- deadly sarin, what the U.S. military calls GB.  These military sources told CNN that during Tailwind, nerve gas was dropped on a village base camp believed to hold American defectors, and then again to get the SOG team out, the first confirmed use of nerve gas in combat by the U.S. military.  The second secret: the hunting and killing of American defectors was a high priority on SOG missions, including Tailwind.

(voice-over): Jay Graves was a SOG Reconaissance Team leader, dropped into Laos several days before the Tailwind commando team. His mission:

GRAVES: Take photos if we could, establish IDs on people, without going in the camp.

ARNETT: From this position, his Recon team spotted several Americans: round eyes, either POW's or defectors.

GRAVES: We saw some round eyed people. We don't know whether they were prisoners or whatever.

ARNETT: Graves radioed in the sighting. He was told to hide and wait for the hatchet boss. Back at the SOG base in Cantoum (ph), the Tailwind commandos prepared for their mission. Van Buskirk said an Air Force colonel privately warned him about the lethal gas.

VAN BUSKIRK: You sure you take your gas mask. This stuff can really hurt you. It can kill you.

ARNETT: Captain McCarley told CNN off camera the use of nerve gas on Tailwind was quote "very possible." Later on camera he said:

MCCARLEY: I never, ever considered the use of lethal gas, not on any of my operations.

ARNETT: Nevertheless, McCarley said he equipped all of his men with special gas masks, call M-17's, designed to protect against lethal gas. The SOG commandos were also issued atropine, a nerve gas anecdote.  McCarley also suggested lethal gas was always an option.

MCCARLEY: They might have had some of these other gases available or standing by with the Air Force, but as I understand it, these gases -- these CBU lethal gases are an Air Force ordinance and are in their arsenal.

ARNETT: CNN has obtained a copy of a 1971 manual of chemical weapons in the U.S. military arsenal. It shows a vast array of nerve gas weapons, containing the nerve agent G-B, more commonly known as Sarin. Sarin, the same lethal nerve gas used three years ago in a terrorist subway attack in Japan. Admiral Thomas Moorer was chairman of the joint chiefs in 1970. He spoke with CNN producer April Oliver.

APRIL OLIVER, CNN PRODUCER: Morally, you would have no objection to lethal gas being used if it protected American interests.

ADM. THOMAS MOORER, (RET.), U.S. NAVY: I would be willing to use any weapon and any tactic to save the lives of American soldiers.

ARNETT: Oliver asked Admiral Moorer about a special weapon the military called CBU-15, a cluster bomb unit that was filled with GB, sarin nerve gas. Moorer confirmed that nerve gas was used in Tailwind.

OLIVER: So, CBU-15 was a top secret weapon?

MOORER: When it was it should of been. Let me put it that way.

OLIVER: What's your understanding of how often it was applied during this war?

MOORER: Well, I don't have any figures to tell you how many times. I never made a point of counting that up. I'm sure that you can find out that from those that used them.

OLIVER: So isn't it fair to say that Tailwind proved, that CBU- 15 G-B is an effective weapon?

MOORER: Yes, I think -- but I think that was already known, otherwise it never would have been manufactured.

CATHY: Because as far as I'm concerned the Bible is our way to know Jesus.

ARNETT: Today, Jim Cathy is a Baptist preacher. On Tailwind he was in charge of Air Force resupply for the SOG commandos. On the ground one day ahead of them, he spent five hours closely observing the village base camp. Through the binoculars he spotted 10 to 15 long shadows, Caucasians, much taller than Loasians and Vietnamese.

CATHY: I believe there were American defectors in that group of people in that village, because there was no sign of any kind of restraint. In retrospect, I believe that mission was to wipe out those long shadows.

MOORER: I'm sure that there were some defectors. There are always defectors.

ARNETT: Admiral Moorer acknowledged an off-camera interview that Tailwind's target was, indeed, defectors. While he would give no firm estimate, Moorer indicated scores of U.S. military had defected during the war. Other senior military officials also confirm that Tailwind's objective was a group of defectors collaborating with the enemy.

(on camera): These officials say the Tailwind mission was not unique. For SOG, defectors were always considered a target of opportunity, to be eliminated.

(voice-over): Former SOG commander John Singlaub told CNN: "It may be more important to your survival to kill the defector, than to kill a Vietnamese or Russian."  American defectors' knowledge of communications and tactics can be damaging. Singlaub argued, "it's better to kill defectors than to risk lives trying to capture them."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: In a moment, we'll return to Peter Arnett's report on Operation Tailwind. How it began and, according to our sources, how nerve gas was used and how American defectors were targeted.

SHAW: There's no doubt that Vietnam was a milestone in our recent history, one that haunts us to this day. It's a fitting topic to begin our look at one of the most familiar departments of "Time" magazine, Milestones.

ANNOUNCER: CNN and "Time" Milestones.

SHAW: Died: Colonel Oran K. Henderson, the commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade. Henderson was the highest ranking officer ever tried for the infamous My Lai Massacre, charged with failing to investigate the killings of more than 175 Vietnamese men, women and children. Henderson was acquitted. Oran Henderson was 77.

GREENFIELD: Celebrated, Jerry Mathers birthday. Say it Ain't So, the "Beavers" hit middle age. Jerry Mathers is 50.

SHAW: Died: Sylvester Ritter.

SYLVESTER RITTER: You know, the last time I faced you, Cactus Jack, I had a white tuxedo on.

SHAW: Better known as the Junkyard Dog, Ritter thrilled pro wrestling fans with his trademark dog collar and head butts. Killed in a car accident. Sylvester Ritter was 45.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: Twenty-eight years, the United States was fight the war in Vietnam with a home front was deeply divided, and where the military in Vietnam was grappling with reports about American defectors. A top secret effort, "Operation Tailwind," was, launch sources say, to find and kill those defectors by virtually means necessary.

CNN's Peter Arnett picks up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): September 11, 1970, with long shadows, round eyes, pinpointed, the hatchet force team of 16 Americans leading about 140 mountain yard (ph) mercenaries departed from launch site at Deato (ph), South Vietnam, lying about 60 miles deep into Laos. Taking heavy enemy fire, they landed several miles from the village base camp.

Michale Hagen was a platoon sergeant on "Tailwind."

HAGEN: We have casualties before we even hit the ground.

ARNETT: Enemy every where to the SOG company, moving consistently, with fire fights, day and night. Squad leader Jim Lukus (ph).

JIM LUKUS: When the gun (INAUDIBLE) shot down, we never would have expected to come out. I didn't.

ARNETT: It took three days to get to near the village base camp with a man believed to be defector had been spotted. American war planes bombing and strafing, drove the enemy away from the existed SOG team. The ground fighting subsided. According to military officials, during the evening, American planes gassed the camp with death sarin nerve gas, dropping the special weapon, CBU15. Then the next morning, Van Buskirk led the assault.

VAN BUSKIRK: I was on the offensive. I had already been wounded. I wasn't in a good mood.

ARNETT: Firing automatic weapons and tossing grenades into the hooches, the commandos met little resistance. Suddenly, Van Buskirk spotted two occasions, one went down to a spider hole, the second ran toward it.

VAN BUSKIRK: Early 20s, blond hair. Looks like he's running off a beach in California, needs a hair cut. This is a G.I., boots on, not a prisoner, no shekels, no chains, nothing.

ARNETT: Van Buskirk held his fire and raced the man to the spider hole, try to grab him, but missed. The man slid into the hole. Van Buskirk shouted...

VAN BUSKIRK: I'm Lieutenant Van Buskirk, fifth (ph) special forces. I'll take you home. Come on now. And perfect English with no accent, he said, F you. But he said the word. And I said, no, F you.

ARNETT: Convinced they were defectors, Van Buskirk threw white phosphorus grenade down the hole. He believed both men were killed instantly. The commandos wiped out the camp in approximately 10 minutes.

HAGEN: The majority of the people that were there were not combat personnel, the few infantry people that they had, we overran immediately. We basically destroyed everything that was there.

MCCARLEY: And as we were going through it, there were the dead bodies. The count was 90 some, up to 100.

ARNETT: Including women and children, then mountain yard fighters reported this to Hagen and Van Buskirk.

VAN BUSKIRK: Booku (ph) round eyes, meaning in the hooches.

ARNETT: Bodies that look like Americans.

VAN BUSKIRK: Dozen, 15, maybe 20.

ARNETT: Van Buskirk looked inside only one hooch. He says the dead look like Hamburger meat.

VAN BUSKIRK: When I into the hooch, it was a mess, this pieces of human beings.

ARNETT: According to several commandos, the bodies thought to be American defectors were not identified, and no bodies were brought out. Later, Van Buskirk says a SOG colonel and keeping with SOG's code of deniability ordered him delete his description of killing two American defectors from his after action report.

VAN BUSKIRK: I was told the best thing would be just take that out of the after action report. It's wasn't humane. And I did.

ARNETT: To this day, Captain McCarley denies Tailwind's mission was to kill defectors, saying his orders were to draw enemy troops away from CIA mercenaries in battle nearby.

MCCARLEY: We were looking for the village, we had no idea what was there. And we stumbled upon by accident.

ARNETT: But several formal senior military officials have confirmed to CNN that the village and the defectors were Tailwind's objective. With the camp overrun, it was time to get out quickly. More enemy troops were gathering on the nearby ridge with antiaircraft guns. The SOG team wounded and low on ammunition, moved through tall elephant grass towards the landing zone beneath the ridge line. The enemy began to charge. Desperate, the commandos called for gas.

VAN BUSKIRK: I said I want the bad of the bad.

MCCARLEY: We were told to put on the funny faces, because war -- they said we're coming in with gas.

VAN BUSKIRK: Tallyho, come in high, gas is coming.

ARNETT: Quickly, two low flying A-1 sky raid swooped in and dropped gas.

VAN BUSKIRK: And it started coming. Pu-pu-pu...

ARNETT: The gas hit away from the commandos near the base of the ridge on top of the advancing enemy, a direct hit. Unprepared without masks, the enemy was affected immediately.

HAGEN: They had thrown up. They were in convulsions on the ground. I don't think too many of them got up and walked away.

ARNETT: As the commandos struggled to get out, some of the gas spread across the elephant grass into the landing zone.

HAGEN: It was tasteless, odorless. You can barely see it.

ARNETT: As the choppers descended, their blaze helped disperse the drifting gas. Hagen and many commandos were without gas masks. Lost or damage in the fighting, Van Buskirk discarded his.

VAN BUSKIRK: I'm running. I'm shooting. And quickly, I'm throwing up. I'm unable to breath.

ARNETT: To reach the choppers, Hagen says some of the commandos had to climb over enemy bodies.

VAN BUSKIRK: I look down into this valley, all I see is bodies. They do not fight anymore. They no longer combat us.

ARNETT: All 16 Americans were wounded but got out alive.

HAGEN: Without the gas, we would never make it out.

ARNETT: As many as 60 mountain yards were killed, nearly all the rest wounded. Hagen has no doubts about what the gas was.

HAGEN: Nerve gas. The government don't want to call it that. They want to call it incapacitating agent or some form, but it was nerve gas.

ARNETT: SOG Recon Jay Graves agrees.

GRAVES: You tell me that what was the code sign for the gas used on Tailwind. GB -- now the gas name is GB, then they change it to something else, which I can understand why they are doing now.

ARNETT: Why were they doing it?

GRAVES: Because they were using never gas in that shit, not tell anybody about it.

ARNETT: Even a pilot who dropped gas to get the commandos out said he was briefed it was just tear gas. But chemical experts CNN consulted said tear gas is not consistent with the enemy symptoms observed by the SOG team, vomiting, convulsing, and falling quickly to the ground unconscious.

MAY SMITHSON, THE HENRY L. STIMSON CENTER: Those are symptoms that I would associate with exposure to a nerve agent, not exposure to something like tear gas. With tear gas, an individual cries. With never agent, the individual that's exposed is very like to die.

ARNETT: Admiral Moorer has told CNN that GB, sarin nerve gas was, quote, "by and large available for many rescue attempts." He also told CNN, quote, "this is a much bigger operation than you realize." A-1 sky raid pilots, other SOG veterans and former senior military officials all tell of GB being dropped on more than 20 missions in Laos and North Vietnam.

(on camera): Questions remain, exactly how many times has the U.S. militarysecretly used nerve gas? On Tailwind, just who were the defectors killed? Are military officers sure no POWs were killed? Just how many defectors were there in Laos? And ultimately, who authorized the operation?

(voice-over): Admiral Moorer said the Nixon White House national security team had to approve nerve gas use. He also said that the CIA had partial responsibility for Tailwind. Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Ledd (ph) said that while he had no recollection of GB sarin nerve gas being used, quote, "I do not dispute what Admiral Moorer has to say on this matter." And Admiral Moorer told CNN he is speaking out now because of his respect for history. Tailwind, sighted by military officials who confirm the use of nerve gas in combat by the United States on a hunt kill raid for American defectors, a top secret battle in a valley of death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: CNN submitted a freedom of information at request on Operation Tailwind to the Pentagon some seven months ago. As of this day, we have had no response to that request. The chairman to the joint chief of staff, General Henry Shelton, declined our request for an on camera interview, so did Secretary of Defense William Cohen.  On Friday, the Pentagon notified CNN and "Time" that the army had no documentary evidence to support CNN's claim that lethal nerve gas of any type was used in Operation Tailwind. The Pentagon also asserted that during the Vietnam War, there were only tow known American military defectors. And today, despite a new international treaty restricting the use of chemical weapons, more than 13 million pounds of the nerve gas sarin remain in the American stock pile.

1998, Accuracy In Media, All Rights Reserved