By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
[Another] confidential source was a former senior military officer who provided CNN with information, on background, which provided a level of support for the truth of the broadcast. We have reviewed notes of what was said by the source. It is doubtless supportive of the broadcast but with some of the same problems we have seen elsewhere: a producer overstating her case to the source and a source responding a positively but with ambiguity to the producer. In one exchange, for example, the producer told the source that she had a letter from the Defense Department that said "that the men on the ground in Tailwind say that CBU-15 was accurate and effective every time" it was used in the Tailwind mission. In response to that, the source said:
Well, I guess that's right. It does sound like multiple delivery. It could have been on more than one airplane. It means more than one aircraft were used on that particular mission.
The source is tantalizingly close to providing confirmation. But the source is always a half step away from doing so with clarity. On the one hand, the source does state that CBU-15 was used "in a covert operation in Laos." On the other, the source may be responding in a hypothetical fashion. Such responses are not irrelevant. We repeat that they may properly be viewed as a whole as being supportive of the broadcast, but they are sufficiently ambiguous that they cannot be said to provide the full-scale support for the broadcast that should have been demanded before it aired.
Men of Operation Tailwind
Captain Eugene McCarley . . . led the SOG Operation in Laos. [In the broadcast] Arnett states that McCarley told CNN off camera that the use of nerve gas on Tailwind was "very possible." In an interview with us McCarley has denounced his treatment on the broadcast. He states that after saying that the use of the nerve gas "was possible," he then said that it had never been used by any of his troops, in fact, was not in the Vietnamese Theater at all. He said, as well, that the mission had nothing to do with killing American defectors.
McCarley is obviously a particularly important figure in Operation Tailwind. As the ground leader of the operation, his views were entitled to significant weight (although, of course, CNN was not obliged to accept his statements over those of others). Minimizing McCarley's views on the broadcast [is unacceptable]. Given the fact that he led the mission, we do not believe that McCarley's views, even if rejected by CNN, were given sufficient prominence.
The same is true of others who repeatedly rejected the notion that nerve gas had been used. Both Don Feld and Art Bishop, the two pilots who flew the A-1s that dropped the gas in question, denied that they dropped nerve gas. Gary Michael "Doc" Rose, the medic awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (and nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor) for his participation in Tailwind . . . told a CNN producer on three occasions that the gas used in Tailwind was not GB nerve gas.
Once again, we acknowledge that it is all too easy to second-guess editorial decisions after scrutiny is directed at a broadcast. But once again, we conclude that the two pilots who flew the planes that dropped whatever gas was used and the medic on the ground - all opponents of the broadcast's claims - deserved greater prominence.
The on-the-ground figure who dominated the CNN broadcast was [Lieutenant] Robert Van Buskirk: the first participant in Operation Tailwind to appear on the program, the single individual most shown in it. Van Buskirk was second in command of Operation Tailwind (to Captain McCarley). In the broadcast, Van Buskirk is used to support both themes of the broadcast. As regards the use of nerve gas, he is shown saying that "sleeping gas" was slang for "nerve gas"; then seen telling a story about how he was warned to take his gas mask before participating in Tailwind because "this stuff . . . can kill you"; then shown describing his call for gas to protect his men and himself ("I said I want the bad of the bad"); then shown describing his symptoms ("I am running, I am shooting. And quickly, I am throwing up. I am unable to breathe"); and finally seen describing the carnage caused by the gas. As regards the mission of Tailwind, he is shown describing his own killing of two Caucasians - one described by him as a blond-haired, English-speaking GI - found in the enemy base camp in Laos. He also describes hearing of about a dozen to 15 bodies that looked like Americans who were killed in Tailwind's assault on the base camp.
Of all the participants in the program, Van Buskirk has become the most controversial. Since the broadcast (and after the sustained criticism of him by SOG veterans) he has asserted he was not a source for sarin. He has acknowledged he was a source with respect to "possible defectors." And he has, in spectacularly self-destructive fashion, stated that he had repressed-memory syndrome, which he only overcame while speaking with [CNN producer April] Oliver.
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