Gulf of Tonkin Incident: Military Investigation
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Military Intelligence Organizations
Military Intelligence is a division of military the purpose of which is to exploit the number of information collected and analysis techniques in order to provide guidance and directions to commanders in support of the crucial decisions made by them. They do it by performing an analysis and assessment of the available data which they gathers from wide range of sources, guiding and directing the commanders to make decisions or respond to focused questions as part of their operational campaign. The collected information is first identified and then incorporated into the process of intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.
Military Intelligence Organizations have played their role in resolving conflicts in any nation. Discusses here is the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the role of U.S. Military Intelligence Organizations to resolve it. The incident took place on August 2 & 4 1964 (Kim, 1999). This was the incident that helped the America’s involvement in Vietnam War.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident Overview
When President Lyndon b. took over charge of the country after the death of President John F. Kennedy, he became worried about the South Vietnam’s ability to keep away the Communist Viet Cong guerillas that were actively operating at that time in the country. In order to follow the established policy of containment, the Secretary of Defense at that time Robert McNamara started to increase the military aid to South Vietnam (Trueman, 2000). Many Norwegian built fast patrol boats (PTFs) were purchased and sent to South Vietnam. These PTFs helped in conducting a series of attacks on coastal areas of South Vietnam as part of Operation 34A. 34A was originally began by Central Intelligence Agency in 1961, it was a extremely classified program of the covert operations against North Vietnam. Due to several early failed attacks, in 1964 it was transferred to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group, and the focus of it was shifted towards maritime operations. In due course of time, U.S. Navy was also instructed to conduct Desoto patrols off the North Vietnam.
The Desoto Patrols consisted of the American warships cruising in international waters in order to conduct electronic surveillance operations (Shane, 2001). As a result of 34A and the Desoto Patrols, the ships offshore were made able to collect important information about the North Vietnamese Military capabilities.
The First Attack
On July 31, 1964 the destroyer USS Maddox conducted the Desoto Patrol off North Vietnam (Paterson, 2008). Under the operational command of Captain John J. Herrick, it steamed through the Gulf of Tonkin collecting intelligence information. This mission was accompanied by several 34A attacks including many big attacks on two islands of North Vietnam. The Government of North Vietnam decided to strike the USS Maddox and on August 2, three Soviet built P-4 Motor torpedo boats were dispatched to attack the destroyer. About twenty-eight miles cruising in international waters, the torpedo caught the USS Maddox. In the meanwhile, Herrick requested for air support from the U.S. Air Force. The request was granted and the four F-8 Crusaders were sent towards the Maddox position. Herrick also ordered to fire the three warning shots if the torpedo reaches a range of 10,000 yards of ship. These warning shots were fired and the P-4s launched their first torpedo attack. The Maddox scored fire on P-4s and was just being hit by one 14.5 millimeter machine gun bullet. Soon after fifteen minutes, the F- crusades arrived to rescue the Maddox and started hitting the targeted fires on North Vietnamese boats, damaging the two and leaving the third one dead in the waters. The attack was retreated and the Maddox returned to join its friends but the Desoto mission was continued as per orders of the commander in the Pacific.
The Second Attack
On August 4, the American radars, sonar and radio signals were received of another North Vietnam attacks. Taking evasive action, the U.S. Maddox fired on numerous radar signals targets. After this incident (Parados, 2004), Herrick was not sure that his ship was attacked by the North Vietnam. Reporting at 1:27 AM Washington times that due to freak weather, the radar and sonar signals did report some of the enemy ships but nothing has been visualized by the Maddox. After suggesting the complete evaluation of the affair conducted by the U.S military intelligence, Herrick radioed a request asking for a complete reconnaissance in daylight by the aircrafts. But the American aircrafts flying over the area failed to find out any North Vietnam ship.
Although there were doubts about the second attack, those present on Maddox were convinced that the attack did happen. This along with the flawed signals intelligence from the National Security Agency led the forces to attack retaliatory airstrikes against North Vietnam. On August 5, the Operation Pierce Arrow saw aircrafts from USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation strike and attack about thirty North Vietnam vessels. Although the subsequent research and records prove that the second attack didn’t happen. This was also reinforced by the statements from the retired Vietnamese Defense Minister who admitted the August 2 attack but denied the second attack.
After ordering the airstrikes, soon Johnson went on to address the nation on television regarding the incident. He in his address requested the passage of a resolution, which expresses the unity and determination of the United States in support of their freedom and in the hope to protect peace in the Southeast Asia (Cohen & Solomon, 1994). He also argued that he didn’t want a wider war, and said that United States would continue to protect its national interests. As approved on August 6, 1964, the Southeast Asia (Gulf of Tonkin) Resolution, gave Johnson the power to use military intelligence and force in the region without requiring a declaration of war. Later on over the next few years, Johnson used this resolution to rapidly escalate the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Intelligence has fulfilled the wider ranging and very important functions in different section including security, diplomacy and statecraft (Augustin, 2009). However in past few years, the role of military intelligence in resolution of conflicts has expanded and broadened its range and now it forms the core element of conflict management policies and procedures. Ancient Greece is the first democracy in the world. It has established several institutions that served as intelligence services. Proxenia were the upper class citizens of Greece who served as top class agents. They used to collect information and even executed the assassinations if required. The Heralds collected the public and private information. Both were protected by the Law of Greece and only the Heralds used to get the rewards of bringing good news back to the nation. Greece impressive political and military achievements really lacked the true intelligence system like today. Although they didn’t have the proper intelligence system like today but still they had the intelligence cycle existed in their military endeavors.
The two major requirements of intelligence services are democratic control and the effectiveness of the actions and activities (Augustin, 2009). African countries always had difficulties in managing and creating the solid intelligence systems. The territory of the Sahara Dessert is always problematic so the military intelligence related to that area is restricted. In 1997, the African countries created a security sector reform whose purpose was to try and narrow the challenges and constraints of developing a proper military intelligence system in the area. The main challenges that African countries are facing these days include the legacy of the African socialism and colonialism, autocratic military and security services and the unknown and informal activities of the military intelligence services. Gambia established the National Intelligence Agency in order to protect the regime.
The unsuccessful attempts of Eisenhower and Kennedy to remove Castro from the power are considered as the failed military intelligence actions (Augustin, 2009). According to them the biggest threat to democracy is the communism. In Cuba, the America supported the Batista leading anti-communist government. After Castro being elected to power, he started quickly eliminating his enemies. And started to nationalize the economy and created knots with the USSR. His actions made it clear by 1960 that he was following the communism path for the Cuba. Eisenhower tried to remove the Castro from power by training Anti-Castro forces and sneaking them into Cuba. They began to target the Cuban sugar fields and the CIA developed an assassination program to eliminate Castro. Although such attempts were failed again and again, Kennedy tried to invade the Cuba by the Bay of Pigs operation but that was again a failure. This was all due to the strong military intelligence of Castro which saved him from all the American attacks.
The Shah of Iran has a weak legitimacy and had lot of enemies (Augustin, 2009), ], so to overcome them in 1957, he formed the SAVAK, a national intelligence and security organization. The SAVAK served a tool to torture and eliminated anyone who could prove as a threat to the Shah and his dynasty. No open opposition was allowed against the institution in Iran during Shah Regime, but with the passage of time the resistance of people became worst. Khomeini got exiled to Iraq and then to France because of his increasing popularity and threat to his life. In 1977, censorship law was introduced in Iran in order to retain the Shah’s power but due to his detachment from the public, the public dismissed him and Khomeini came to power after the over throw of the Shah of Iran .In 1980 under the rule of Reagan (Augustin, 2009), The U.S. Intelligence Community realized a need for more intense intervention in Central America in order to stop the communist expansion. El Salvador’s military government was the only potential barrier against the communism in the Central America. The DIA also tried to help the government of El Salvador to assist them fight against the leftist group called as FMLN. The DIA worked and operated with the direct military intelligence information sharing and between 1987 to 1989 a guerilla attack was made by the FMLN which surprised the El Salvador and the American armies. This also showed that how little the U.S support helped. Over all the defense of the El Salvador is considered as the failure in the history of the U.S. military intelligence.
Intelligence is basically the sociological phenomenon that is used for the information gathering and to ensure the prevention of hostility (Augustin, 2009). It is important to differentiate between the intelligence that has been existed in any nation and the intelligence that is established as a result of state concept. Intelligence cycle, covert actions and counter intelligence are all the components necessary for decision making process. Intelligence focuses on the hostility both in democracies and non-democracies tenures. Intelligence in democratic system must have strong relations with the citizens and must work under a legal framework. The functions and scope of working of intelligence agencies must be clarified and their methods of working and sources of information must be protected. However intelligence in the non-democratic system concentrates more on internal opposition rather than external threats. So the intelligence is outside of the scope of legal framework in non-democratic system while intelligence in democracies should only be used to measure level of democracy in the country.
In 1960, the Egyptian forces entered in Sinai which was a big surprise to Israel (Augustin, 2009). The IDF couldn’t respond in time and it lead to the result that intelligence was needed for an earlier warning of possible Egyptian attack. The methods or tools for an earlier warning were HUMINT, the SIGINT and the VISINT. The 1960 rotten affair and the 1973 Vom Kippur war failure show failure of the intelligence system and a need for strong intelligence system.
 Sankt Augustin (2009), Intelligence and Democracies in Conflict and Peace, retrieved from, http://www.kas.de/israel/en/publications/18450/
 Tom Kim (1999), The Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964, retrieved from, http://www.thenagain.info/webchron/usa/GulfTonkin.html
 Chris Trueman (2000), Gulf of Tonkin 1964, retrieved from http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/gulf_tonkin_1964.htm
 Scot Shane (2001), The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, retrieved from http://911review.com/precedent/century/tonkin.html
 Lieutenant Commander Pat Paterson, U.S. Navy (2008), The Truth about Tonkin, retrieved from http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2008-02/truth-about-tonkin
 Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon (1994), 30-Years anniversary, Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War, retrieved from http://fair.org/media-beat-column/30-year-anniversary-tonkin-gulf-lie-launched-vietnam-war/
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