The CNN/Time magazine allegations that our military conducted a secret operation to kill American defectors in Laos in 1970, using deadly nerve gas, are under investigation by the Pentagon, by Floyd Abrams, a noted lawyer hired by CNN, and by Time’s own reporters. We are recording this commentary 23 days after the charges were first aired, and we are satisfied that they have been thoroughly demolished. CNN claimed it investigated this story for eight months and interviewed over 200 people, but it does not have a single credible witness or document to support either one of its serious allegations.
CNN based its charge that nerve gas was used on a claim made by one of the veterans who is now suffering health problems and is trying to collect disability payments from the government by claiming that he was exposed to nerve gas. He got some support from another veteran sympathetic to his case who gave the impression on the CNN program that nerve gas was used. He has since pointed out that he never said that it was. He admits that he was told at the time that it was tear gas.
A third veteran, Jay Graves, who was shown on the program apparently confirming that nerve gas was used, has not only disavowed that claim, but The Washington Times reported on June 30 that he has now even denied that he was in Laos at the time of the operation.
Air Force Master Sergeant Jim Cathey, CNN’s only source for its claim that the purpose of the mission was to find and kill American defectors, has also been discredited . He claimed that he was plucked from an Air Force desk job in Vietnam and dropped into Laos with four other men at the time of the Tailwind operation to coordinate resupply of the four-day mission. He said that from a distance of one or two miles he had seen 10 to 15 tall men in a small Vietnamese army camp. He said he believed they were American defectors and that the purpose of Operation Tailwind was to kill these men.
That was the only basis for the claim that the purpose of the mission was to kill defectors. Cathey had no training that would qualify him for such a mission and his records show he was never given such an assignment. When asked to identify the men who were with him, he first told The Washington Times he could not remember them, but thirty minutes later he called back to say he remembered them well, but he wanted to protect their privacy.
Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had very promptly denied CNN’s claim that he had confirmed the use of nerve gas. He says he first heard that rumor from the CNN producer. He checked it out and has found that it was totally false. It took CNN’s military consultant, Perry Smith, three days to reach the same conclusion. The ground has crumbled under the CNN/Time story. They should retract their charges, apologize, and fire those responsible without further delay.