Operation TAILWIND


Excerpts from 1970 Command History

Studies and Observations Group, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam


Excerpts from Annex B of the 1970 Command History of MACSOG describe the group's activities relating to Operation TAILWIND. The Archive is posting these excerpts in response to the great interest in the retracted CNN report alleging U.S. military use of nerve gas against U.S. defectors in Laos during the Vietnam war.

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The document was provided by National Security Archive Senior Fellow Dr. John Prados, who is director of the Archive's Vietnam project. The Gelman Library, George Washington University, 2130 H Street, NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20037

Tuesday  13 Feb 2001  13:48:55 -0500
Ex-Green Berets See Red on Revived Story
"The Nation"
to Renew Tailwind Charges
Former Green Berets are irate that a left-wing magazine is trying to give credibility to CNN's retracted Tailwind story that charged Army and Air Force troops with war crimes during the Vietnam War. "Nobody in the Special Forces community is going to cooperate," said Rudi Gresham, a former Green Beret who spearheaded the counterattack against the CNN broadcast in 1998.

"We cooperated with the Defense Department, not with somebody who has an advanced agenda. We felt totally vindicated by the DoD report. CNN did the retraction. We felt it's been thoroughly investigated," he said. "For a left-wing magazine to unscramble something that never, ever happened is a waste of time."
The Nation magazine signed a contract with Steve Weinberg to take a new look at CNN's "Valley of Death" broadcast.

In it, the network contended that a secret commando unit, Studies and Observation Group (SOG), used lethal sarin nerve gas and killed U.S. defectors and innocent civilians in Laos during Operation Tailwind in 1970. A Pentagon probe later rebutted the charge and CNN retracted the story.  Mr. Weinberg, a free-lance investigative reporter who teaches at the University of Missouri, said he has talked with the show's two producers, April Oliver and Jack Smith, and read their documents.

"Based on the paper trail, I think it looks like a really solid piece of journalism," Mr. Weinberg said in an interview. "Obviously, I think there's a good possibility that the conventional wisdom is wrong, or I wouldn't be doing this."  Mr. Weinberg, who once headed a professional association called Investigative Reporters and Editors, said he still wants to talk with those who actually went on the Tailwind mission, but that task could be difficult.

Other former Special Forces soldiers besides Mr. Gresham are urging colleagues not to talk.  Said Jimmy Dean, administrator of the 7,500-member Special Forces Association, "It's all a matter of public record. That's where he needs to go. But you and I both know that the liberal magazines aren't going to give up on this. They shouldn't talk to anybody, particularly this fellow who wants to prove it was used."  Immediately after CNN aired "Valley of Death," Tailwind veterans surfaced to denounce the sarin gas charges. They said two of CNN's sources who were said to have been on the mission were, in fact, never there.

A former SOG commando denied he had confirmed the use of sarin to CNN, as did retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.  Adm. Moorer, then 87, was interviewed for hours by the producers, who claim he confirmed the story in an off-camera remark. In a court deposition, Adm. Moorer again denied sarin gas was used.

Air Force pilots said they dropped tear gas canisters - not deadly sarin - during helicopter extraction missions to help SOG members escape the enemy.
CNN President Tom Johnson, after an internal investigation led by lawyer Floyd Abrams, retracted the story and apologized in July 1998. Two weeks later, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the Pentagon "found absolutely no evidence" to back the CNN report.  "My particular objection to this particular report is that allegations were made that these gentlemen . . . deliberately set out to kill American soldiers and to do so with a lethal nerve gas.

"Before you make such a charge, you must have overpowering evidence to prove that before such a report is released," Mr. Cohen said.  Mr. Weinberg declined to discuss which Oliver-Smith papers led him to believe they exhibited a "solid piece of journalism."  There are "lots and lots of reasons to believe that sarin gas might have been used," he said. "But what went down those four days, I'm not sure any journalist will ever know for sure."

Of contracting with a leftist magazine, he said, "I know it has a reputation as a politicized magazine, but I would never follow a political line. I went to them because they were the first ones that said yes. Lots of others said no."  Mr. Weinberg also said he will review reams of documents contained in a series of libel lawsuits filed over the Tailwind broadcast. CNN has settled lawsuits from nine former Tailwind soldiers. At least two cases against the network remain.

The network also reached a financial settlement with Ms. Oliver, who, along with Mr. Smith, was fired by CNN. Mr. Smith, a longtime network newsman, teaches at Loyola University of Chicago. He also is suing CNN, charging defamation and wrongful dismissal.  To this day, Ms. Oliver and Mr. Smith stand by their story.

Nation Managing Editor Karen Rothmyer said the magazine has no preconceived notion of what the Weinberg story will say.  "He's a very careful reporter," she said. "He came to me and said that he felt that all the material had not been thoroughly looked at. . . . He felt the whole thing had been a rush to judgment."

(Copyright 2001)