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February 14, 1971 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-02-14

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Sunday, February 14, 1971

THE MICHIGAN GAILY

Page Seven

Sunday, February 14, 1971 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

J ..

Applications now being taken to fill:
1 vacancy on Student Government Council
(member-at-large seat)
4 openings on 'U' Cellar Board of Directors
{Bookstore policy board)
3 Student openings on University Council
proposes uniform conduct rules and investigates procedures concerning
police on campus
Pick up applications and sign up for interviews at 1546 Student Activities
Building (For 'U' Cellar Board-also can get applications at 'U' Cellar)
APPLICATIONS DUE TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16

SON TAY PRISONER RESCUE ATTEMPT

In telligence

for raid six months old

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By SEYMOUR M. HERSH
WASHINGTON - The White
House relied on basic military in-
telligence that was at least six
months old in approving the un-
successful commando raid last
November on the Son Tay prison-
er of war camp inside North Viet-
nam.
Interviews over the past two
months revealed that the Penta-
gon's first information about the
Son Tay camp, 23 miles west of
Hanoi, was supplied by a former
North Vietnamese prison guard
who was either captured or de-
fected during the U.S.-South
Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia
in May, 1970.
The guard, whose capture was
considered highly classified in-
formation, provided military in-
telligence teams with invaluable
information about the location,
operation and construction of the
Son Tay prison. The detailed in-
formation even included what
kind of locks were on the cell
doors and where they were lo-
cated.
By July, the interrogation of
the prison guard had been com-
pleted and the Air Force was or-
dered to initiate a series of
aerial overflights over the Son
Tay prison.
Amazingly, at no time before
the actual invasion of the pri-
son--on Nov. 20, six months after
the guard's capture-was the
military able to establish any
further proof that Americans
were, in fact, being detained in-
side Son Tay.
In essence, the high-risk oper-
ation was staged-with approval
frnm Prpsidpnt Nixon-althouh h

The cloak-and-dagger opera-
tion was code-named the Joint
Contingency Task Group Ivory
Coast. and training began in Au-
gust at the Elgin Air Force Base
in Florida. Optimism was rising
inside the government; it was the
first time that the military had
e s t a b li s h e d an intelligence
'book" on a POW camp that was
not inside the Hanoi city limits.
But there were many basic in-
telligence problems that were
never overcome. For one thing,
no one had established beyond a
reasonable doubt that the Son
Tay prison was holding Ameri-
cans.
"We had a hypothesis based on
various sources of information,"
said one analyst who worked on
the project, "but as far as being
able to say, 'Hey. there go two
more guys into the camp', well,
There were, apparently, only
a few cautious doubts raised-
largely because the high secrecy
of the operation kept details
away from many officials who
might have pointed out more
vigorously the fact that the mil-
itary was planning a high-risk
raid on the basis of evidence
indicating that weeds and grass,
had been trampled.
The 101-man joint Air Force-
Army commando team took olf
in helicopters from its base in
Thailand early on Nov. 20. Ac-
cording to many published ac-
counts, the team arrived unde-
tected and landed inside the
small Son Tay compound.
No prisoners were found, but
the men noticed that most of
the open space inside the prison
was being used by the North
we couldn't."
Vietnamese for a carefully cul-
tivated vegetable garden.
Intelligence a n a 1 y s t s later
concluded during postmortems
on the raid that the "well-worn
look," which had become so
c I e a r 1 y discernible after the

U.S. prisoner of war in Yietnam at Christmas

The DIA's photo analysts
somehow interpreted what turned
out to be a vegetable garden
growing inside the Son Tay com-
pound as evidence that many
American prisoners were inside
the area.
One clue to the inadequacy of
the overall American intelligence
operation inside North Vietnam
emerged from the simple fact
that the Pentagon learned about
the Son Tay camp from tne cap-
tured guard. The Son Tay area,
had, in fact, long been known to
the intelligence community and

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the only known facts were those was frequently photographed.
supplied by the former prison The Central Intelligence Agen-
camp guard. cy (CIA) also had been unable
Yet, there was no available to develop any solid information
N TUNt evidence indicating that the mili- about prisoned of war camp:.
tary planners "knew" that the Beginning in the mid-1960s, it had
Son Tay camp did not contain attempted unsuccessfully to in-
prisoners, as Sen. J. W. Ful- filtrate highly trained teams of
bright, (D-Ark.), chairman of the South Vietnamese into North
Senate Foreign Relations Com- Vietnam.
mittee, has publicly charged. Most of the groups-known in
What does emerge from an ex- the intelligence community as
tensive investigation into the Son "Bell Teams"-were dropped by
Tay raid is a serious indictment parachute in the Red River Del-
of the practices and operation of ta, northwest of Hanoi, but
the Defense Intelligence Agency quickly became, as a form'er
(DIA), which was in charge of agent said, "ground up like ham-
intelligence for the mission. burger."
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"They'd get wrapped up in two
or three days," he added. large-
ly due to the high state of inter-
nal security in the North.
In July, 1970, the military
asked the CIA for any informa-
tion it had on the physical make-
up of Son Tay, but that apparent-
ly was the extent of the CIA's
involvement.
The raid on Son Tay was to be
an all-military affair, with over-
all direction and planning coming
from the Pentagon's counterin-
surgency office and intelligence
coming from photo interpretation
supplied by DIA.
The early reconnaissance pho-
tographs of the prison camp in-
dicated that it was still in -heavy
use and were highly encouraging
to the men in the Pentagon. A
highly skilled team was carefully
assembled; men were handpick-
ed from offices throughout tho
Pentagon and assigned to the
secret operation.
The planning was rigidly bu-
reaucraticized for security rea-
sons: one group of men worked
on means for getting the rescue
team safely in and out of North
Vietnam; another group did the
day-by-day analysis to deter-
mine a crucial fact-were the
pilots there?
The evidence that the photo in-
terpreters viewed as encourag-
ing, however, was far from defi-
nite proof that the captured pilots
were at Son Tay.
One man who worked en the
Son Tay project, attempting to
explain its failure, argued that
photo reconnaissance is not an
exact science at all, despite the
wide-spread beliefs of the gen-
eral public so conditioned to de-
scriptions of miraculous close-ups
from "eye in the sky" cameras
100 miles up. The source added:
"Take that photograph of the
crowd on the elipse during the

March on Washington (the anti-
war demonstration in November,
1969)-it was an Air Force pic-
ture published in a lot of news-
papers. Now, don't ask anybody
to break down how many of the
people were Negroes and how
many were Caucasians. We just
can't do it. But after they left,
you sure could tell that they were
there-the grass would be all
trampled."
A similarly trampled appear-
ance was evident in what seemed
to be a grassy area inside the
tiny Son Tay compound.
The aerial photographs aiso
established that the guard towers
and basic layout of Son Thy
were very similar in design to
that of the POW camps inside
Hanoi. It was agreed-without

ever seeing an identifiable pri-
soner-that the Son Tay facility
was an active POW camp for
Americans.
Sometime in the July-August
period, the military got ,a shock
when during a period of heavy
flooding of the Red River Delta,
the camp suddenly was vacated.
The changing geography of the
camp was apparent; the train-
pled look disappeared.
When thesflood waters receded,
the geography changed again--
much to everyone's relief-and
the courtyard suddenly took on
"that well-worn look," as one
analyst described it. By now ,it
was August and the White House
was approached.
Briefings were presented to
President Nixon and Henry Kis-
singer, the President's advisor
on national security affairs. 'ihe
President was, according to later
White House accounts, "enthu-
siastic" about the idea and au-
thorized full-scale planning and
training for a search and rescue
mission.

July -. August flooding, m i g h t
have been a result of the gar-
dening efforts.
Even more disturbing was the
fact that the prisoners could
have been transferred from Son
Tay in August, just after the
flooding began and just as the
commando, team began its ardu-
ous training for a mission al-
ready doomed.
During a little-noticed news
conference at Eglin Air Force
base in early December, Brig.
Gen. LeRoy Manor, head of the
Commando t e a m, told news-
men: "We weren't able to tell
exactly when they moved the
prisoners of war. . . I say it
could have been about three
months. And this is a judgment,
and I have nothing absolutely
definite to base this on."
In fact, the Pentagon had no
way of knowing if American
prisoners had been inside the
camp at all-even before the
flooding - since the captured
guard last worked there early in
1970.
Copyright 1971, Reporters News Service

Christopher
Tunrnord
"Crisis in American
Values: The
Countryside"

mmmmmmmmmeni

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