Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, who quit as CNN’s military adviser in protest of Peter Arnett’s report alleging the U.S. murdered defectors and used nerve gas during the Vietnam War, is now being forced into silence by the network at the threat of a lawsuit, WorldNetDaily has learned.
Smith protested to CNN’s top executives that he was deliberately excluded from the production process of the special program on “Operation Tailwind” called, “The Valley of Death,” airing June 7. After the program, Smith demanded of Chief Executive Officer Tom Johnson that CNN retract the central allegations and issue letters of apology to veterans whose testimony had been misrepresented. When his demand was rejected, Smith resigned.
“There was a time when CNN had quite high standards,” Smith wrote. “The downhill slide in the past year has been frightening.”
Smith had served as a consultant to CNN since the Persian Gulf War.
“I had tried very hard for a week to convince (top executives) to do a major retraction, but to no avail,” said Smith. “Lots of people at CNN were solidly with me on this, but not the top bosses and the team that put that terrible special together. There is an outside chance that my resigning in protest may finally get attention — only time will tell.”
But that was before Smith was told by CNN lawyers, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. The official word from CNN’s public relations department is that Smith has “retired.” The network is also telling some who ask about the general’s departure that he was, indeed, “the military consultant on the Tailwind story.”
On June 15, Smith went public with his resignation in a letter to his West Point classmates:
“I wanted you all to know that I have just quit CNN,” he wrote. “For a solid week I tried to convince the top bosses that the special last Sunday night was profoundly wrong. I have not been able to do so.”
His resignation and decision to speak out were prompted, Smith wrote, by a letter he received from a Vietnam vet at Fort Benning.
“So many of the men of SOG (Studies and Observations Group) that ran those dangerous missions are dying now as a result of the wounds received, the diseases that ran through them, malaria, dengue, etc., the physical abuse one’s body had to absorb in the performance of duties, that this (the CNN special) is having a terrible effect on them,” the letter read. “Please don’t let their last thoughts be that once again their sacrifices were in vain, and that the press can once again crucify us as they did 30 years ago.”
Smith’s letter to classmates continued: “There is an outside chance that my resigning in protest will finally get the attention of the top guy and he will run a full retraction. A few of his people snuck this special by him — a real sad story. You might be interested in knowing that a lot of the lower level troops at CNN were with me on this.”
Smith urged Johnson to handwrite personal letters of apology to the military men who tried so hard to convince Arnett, and co-producer April Oliver, that their premise for the story was wrong.
“This is the very least you can do for these brave and honest Americans,” he wrote in a letter to the top CNN executive.
His letter continued: “I think it is very important to remind you, Tom, that there were two very special types of Air Force personnel in Southeast Asia. Their primary mission was to save lives of downed crewmen or of infiltration teams in great distress. They often took very great risks; many were shot down and killed. These two groups were the A-1 Sandies and Spads and the Jolly Greens. The only time I wept with joy during my 180 combat missions was the moment the Jollies and the Sandies rescued my leader who was shot down and badly wounded over Laos.
“On 14 September, 1970, two A-1 pilots, at great risk to their lives, were largely responsible for saving over 100 lives,” he continued. “CNN has accused the most heroic of the heroic of using lethal gas to kill fellow Americans. The only analogy I can think of would be if CNN accused two Medal of Honor winners with extreme cowardice — it is that bad, Tom.”
On Tuesday, June 16, Smith confirmed in an e-mail that CNN officials were attempting to silence him in his public criticism of the network. Most consultants in similar situations sign confidentiality agreements that would prevent them from such criticism. Before taking off for vacation and refusing several interview requests, Smith e-mailed a friend who has warned of likely efforts by CNN to intimidate through threats of a lawsuit. He said: “It has already happened. I am welcoming a chance. What a great trial that would be.”
CNN’s report alleged the U.S. government used lethal nerve gas during a mission to kill American defectors in Laos in 1970. Arnett claimed to have based his report on eight months of work and 200 interviews. Yet, the sensational charges hung primarily on the claims of one man — Lt. Robert Van Buskirk, a platoon leader in “Operation Tailwind.” Van Buskirk recalled throwing a white phosphorus grenade down a hole to kill two suspected U.S. defectors during the 1970 mission. He also claimed to have witnessed the use of the nerve agent Sarin gas on a base camp used by a group of defectors.
Doubts were cast upon the claims when another Vietnam Special Forces vet, Tom Marzullo, pointed out that Van Buskirk had authored a book in 1983 called “Operation Tailwind,” in which he made no mention of the defectors or the Sarin gas. Van Buskirk’s superiors also discounted his story.
CNN also failed to mention that shortly after his tour of duty in Vietnam, Van Buskirk was arrested by U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division officials in Germany for arms trafficking and forced to leave the military.
Other troops and officers involved in the mission have come forward to criticize Van Buskirk, Arnett’s CNN special and the notion that nerve gas was used. Even the historical records of the North Vietnamese army make no claims that the U.S. ever deployed lethal chemical weapons in its conduct of the war or in the Laotian incursion.
Arnett served as CNN’s “Man in Baghdad” during the Persian Gulf War. He was granted unusual access to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In a report last September, Arnett also suggested U.S. Special Forces had used chemical weapons on the battlefield in Vietnam. Some media critics and commentators have characterized his reports from Baghdad and Southeast Asia as “anti-American” in tone.