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Below is the letter Reed Irvine sent to Richard Kaplan, the President of CNN.
Reed Irvine is Chairman of the Board, CEO and founder of Accuracy in Media, a non-profit organization working since 1969 to combat media bias through such means as print, radio and television.
The establishment media are questioning Matt Drudge's right to claim to be a journalist because he "published" a story about Sidney Blumenthal that turned out to be false. Drudge admitted his error and apologized the day after he put the Blumenthal story in his report. I hope that after you examine the evidence laid out in this letter you will follow Matt Drudge's example and retract the false charges about Operation Tailwind made in the segment titled "Valley of Death" on NewsStand CNN/TIME on Sunday, June 7 and essentially repeated on June 14 and issue an apology. I would go further and suggest that those responsible for this journalistic atrocity should be given their walking papers.
CNN took the story of an incredibly dangerous operation in which the Special Forces exhibited the courage, stamina and skill for which they are famous and converted it into a defamatory attack on the Army, the Special Forces and the United States. You made three charges:
1. The purpose of the operation was to find and kill American defectors working with the enemy in Laos.
Comment: We have talked to seven of the men who were on the Tailwind team. All deny that the mission had anything to do with finding and killing American defectors. All agree that the purpose of the mission was to blow up a bridge and disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The idea was to create a diversion that would relieve pressure being put on CIA-backed Hmong tribesmen by the North Vietnamese army. They also say that the base camp they destroyed on the fourth day was stumbled upon by accident when they were trying to get to the landing zone where helicopters were to evacuate them.
To justify the charge that the mission was to kill Americans, you rely on a statement by James Cathey, who claims to have been an Air Force enlisted man in charge of coordinating resupply of the Tailwind team. His claim to have done this from on the ground in Laos is considered ludicrous by Special Forces veterans, but that aside, he was in no position to know the purpose of the mission, and he admitted that what he told you was only speculation. You have not named a single person who is in a position to know the purpose of the mission who has confirmed Cathey's speculation. Inexcusably, you failed to report that those who were in a position to know all reject it.
2. Deadly sarin nerve gas was used against a village, killing women and children.
Comment: You do not cite a single source for either the claim that sarin was dropped on this "village" or that women and children lived there. No one who was there that I have talked to saw any women or children. I am told that the word for this camp in Vietnamese is binh tram. That translates as logistical sub-headquarters and they were located all along the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was not a village. No one that I have interviewed believed that the camp had been bombed, strafed and gassed the night before they discovered it. The Tailwind team camped overnight very close to the camp. One said as close as 200 yards. They discovered it because they heard dogs barking. They moved in, shot up the camp and killed everyone who did not escape by fleeing. Had there been any bombing, strafing or gassing the night before, not only would they have known it, but they would have been in grave danger of being killed by it. That alone is evidence that it didn't happen.
3. Sarin was dropped on North Vietnamese troops who were trying to prevent the evacuation of our commandos, many of whom lacked usable gas masks and inhaled the lethal gas that drifted in their direction.
Comment: This charge is supported by only one member of the Tailwind team that I have spoken to, Michael Hagen. He insists that the gas was sarin because in recent years he has experienced serious health problems that his doctor says are the result of exposure to organo-phosphates, which is what sarin is. Hagen is bitter because the government refuses to accept this diagnosis. He says some of the other team members have experienced health problems which his doctor also attributes to organo-phosphate exposure. He mentioned Jim Brevelle, who had already told me that he was sure the gas was CS. Sarin is regarded as an effective weapon because it is supposed to kill quickly, not 30 years after exposure. Gen. Walt Busbee, the Pentagon's expert in chemical weapons, says that tracking of those who have survived exposure to sarin shows that they do not experience any long-lasting effects. Your program did not explain why Hagen is so certain that he was exposed to sarin. Why? Did the producers fear that this would hurt the credibility of the one member of the team they were relying on to make their case?
Robert Van Buskirk appeared to support the claim that nerve gas was used, but he pointed out to me that he did not say that on your program. The transcript supports his denial. There is only an implication that he believes it was nerve gas. He is shown making a statement that implies that he was warned that lethal gas would be used, but in my taped interview, he says he was told that the gas would be CBU-17, tear gas. You showed him saying that after the gas was dropped, he looked down into the valley and could see only bodies that "they were not fighting anymore." He points out that he never said they were dead. He acknowledged that the symptoms he experienced were similar to those caused by CS.
Jay Graves appeared to lend credence to the charge that nerve gas was used, but Graves, who was not part of the SOG team, told me he had no knowledge of the use of nerve gas in Operation Tailwind. He said the CNN interviewer insisted that the use of nerve gas was taught at the Special Forces school where he was an instructor, but he said that was false. Graves appears to have been tricked into making it appear that he confirmed the use of sarin in Tailwind. Here is how it was done.
ARNETT: Tell me. What was the call sign for the sleeping gas used on Tailwind?
GRAVES: GB. We started calling it knockout gas, then it was GB, then they changed it to something else, which I can understand why they was doing it now.
ARNETT: Why were they doing it?
GRAVES: Cause they was using nerve gas in that shit and not telling anybody about it. (The word "shit" was omitted from the transcript. posted on your web page.)
That sounds like confirmation, but Graves claims he was talking about a period long after Tailwind. I believe that in replying, he focused on the question about the call sign for "sleeping gas," not on the words "used on Tailwind." I am sure it never occurred to him that CNN would treat his answer as confirmation of something about which he had denied any knowledge.
The transcript shows that this same tactic was used to get Adm. Moorer's "confirmation" of the use of nerve gas.
OLIVER: So isn't it fair to say that Tailwind proves that CBU-15 GB (a cluster bomb filled with sarin) was an effective weapon?
MOORER: Yes, but I think that was already known. Otherwise it never would have been manufactured.
This was the only basis I can find for Arnett's claim that "Moorer confirmed that nerve gas was used in Tailwind." Adm. Moorer says he made it clear that he was not involved with Tailwind. He told me, "That was all handled by the CIA. I have never seen an operation order, never seen a battle plan, had no authority to release the use of gas. Later, I heard rumors to the effect, and I told these reporters that they ought to go talk to the people that were there." Oliver must have asked him if he knew if sarin was used in Tailwind. His answer to that question was not used on the program because it did not provide the confirmation Oliver wanted. The question about the sarin cluster bomb being effective was obviously a trick question just like the one used on Jay Graves.
Your charge that sarin was used in Operation Tailwind brought this comment from Prof. E.W. Pfeiffer, author of the book Chemical Warfare in Vietnam: "My impression of that piece is that it is a total hoax....I can't understand why a well-respected reporter like Peter Arnett would have anything to do with that." Pfeiffer, an opponent of the Vietnam War who visited North Vietnam as a guest of the government in 1970, points out that if there had been any credible evidence that we used sarin, North Vietnam would have made the world aware of it. He also is very impressed by the fact that the same gas that your program suggests caused the Vietnamese to drop like flies, was inhaled by those Americans whose gas masks had been damaged or lost and by the Montagnards, most of whom were not equipped with gas masks. Not a single one of them died from poison gas. The initial symptoms of CS and sarin are very similar. Inhale CS and you think you are going to die, but you don't. Inhale sarin and you die, unless you get prompt treatment. That is the proof that the gas that caused some of our men to vomit and choke was CS, not sarin.
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