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September 07, 2007

John Kerry In 1971 On Wartime "Intelligence"

With all the time spent debunking the flood of misleading claims from the Pentagon about Iraq (such as the excellent Washington Monthly piece "The Myth of AQI"), I'm surprised no one has quoted John Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony on Vietnam:

SENATOR SYMINGTON: Mr. Kerry, from your experience in Vietnam do you think it is possible for the President or Congress to get accurate and undistorted information through official military channels?...

KERRY: I had direct experience with that. Senator, I had direct experience with that and I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission, and including the GDA, gunfire damage assessments, in which we would say, maybe 15 sampans sunk or whatever it was. And I often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures.

The intelligence missions themselves are based on very, very flimsy information. Several friends of mine were intelligence officers and I think you should have them in sometime to testify. Once in Saigon I was visiting this friend of mine and he gave me a complete rundown on how the entire intelligence system should be re-set up on all of its problems, namely, that you give a young guy a certain amount of money, he goes out, sets up his own contacts under the table, gets intelligence, comes in. It is not reliable; everybody is feeding each other double intelligence, and I think that is what comes back to this country.

I also think men in the military, sir, as do men in many other things, have a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see. And this is a very serious thing because I know on several visits- Secretary Laird came to Vietnam once and they staged an entire invasion for him. When the initial force at Dang Tam, it was the 9th Infantry when it was still there- when the initial recon platoon went out and met with resistance, they changed the entire operation the night before and sent them down into the South China Seas so they would not run into resistance and the Secretary would have a chance to see how smoothly the war was going.

I know General Wheeler came over at one point and major in Saigon escorted him around. General Wheeler went out to the field and saw 12 pacification leaders and asked about 10 of them how things were going and they all said, "It is really going pretty badly." The 11th one said, "It couldn't be better, General. We are really doing the thing here to win the war." And the General said, "I am finally glad to find somebody who knows what he is talking about." (Laughter)

This is the kind of problem that you have. I think that the intelligence which finally reaches the White House does have serious problems with it in that I think you know full well, I know certainly from my experience, I served as aide to an admiral in my last days in the Navy before I was discharged, and I have seen exactly what the response is up the echelon, the chain of command, and how things get distorted and people say to the man above him what is needed to be said, to keep everybody happy, and so I don't- I think the entire thing is distorted.

The strangest thing is that as far as I know, even Kerry himself hasn't referenced this.

Posted at September 7, 2007 11:17 AM | TrackBack

Seems to me Kerry's done his level best to blot out that entire period of his life.

Posted by: buermann at September 7, 2007 12:05 PM

God, you can just hear the French accent coming through those words. It's sickening.

And Kerry can't speak out along these lines now, because he is afraid of what the Navy records will REALLY show about his war wounds.

(Please note that the above is intended as sarcastic wingnuttery and not the real thing. Just to be clear.)

Posted by: Lame Man at September 7, 2007 01:51 PM

Kerry 2007 would reference it, if he was in any way familiar with the thoughts, words, and actions of Kerry 1971.

Posted by: PartisanJ at September 7, 2007 03:51 PM

What PartisanJ said. Kerry was one of the culprits in letting the stabbed-in-the-back meme take hold once he got into Congress, exactly because he seemed almost to disown his pre-Congressional self -- he did nothing to fight that with the truth that the war was wrong, was based on lies. (Not 'a mistake'; so his unwillingness to call things by their proper names started even when he was still on the outside.)

Posted by: Nell at September 7, 2007 04:11 PM

I doubt you are really surprised, Jon. As you and other bloggers have pointed out so well, the media and Washington insiders can't, on their own, even remember how many times they've accepted variations of the tired lines about "the critical next few months" in Iraq, or how there are early indications that we've just "turned the corner." See also Paul Krugman's latest column on how the Bushies are successfully using Petraeus the same way they used Colin Powell:

If the enlightened elite can't even remember the lessons from anytime in the last five years, can you expect them to remember the lessons from a generation ago? (not to mention from our long-ago occupation of the Philippines, Nicaragua etc. before any of these folks were alive?)

Posted by: Whistler Blue at September 7, 2007 04:21 PM

John Kerry is not out to save the universe or us for that matter. I don’t think that Kerry has forgotten the lessons of the past. Watching dem Dems after attaining their majority in Congress I think it is quite clear that they are part of the problem not the solution. I mean c’mon – just about everything I have been reading on this site, Arthur Silber, Tom Engelhardt, Dennis Perrin and others has made that painfully clear. Why on earth would Kerry suddenly change and start telling the truth?

Posted by: rob payne at September 7, 2007 05:46 PM

I think that Kerry's history is more nuanced (uh-oh, there's a word!) than Nell's comment indicates. I admire pre-Congress 1971 Kerry for what he said in the Winter Soldier hearings, but I also admire BCCI-era Kerry quite a lot. Hardly anyone said anything about Kerry, BCCI, and Iran-Contra during the 2004 election (Tom Engelhardt being where I learned about it), but in the late eighties he was simultaneously an elected official and fighting the good fight.

So it's my opinion that in a healthier media system, it might be possible for John Kerry or somebody like him to actually fight for us. I point this out just because I don't think utter despondency is always called for. There are positive examples to be found - including Kerry in '71 AND later.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at September 7, 2007 06:39 PM

Aaron Datesman writes: "Hardly anyone said anything about Kerry, BCCI, and Iran-Contra during the 2004 election."

Least of all, Kerry himself.

I've always wondered, why not? And the answer I've always come to is: Kerry, having become entrenched in the Establishment, by 2004 was loathe to challenge it overmuch -- which pursuing Iran/Contra & BCCI would most certainly have done.

I think too few people have yet realized that what we fondly refer to as our "government", is in fact a massive and powerful criminal syndicate, complete with the iron-clad rules of omerta.

There is nothing that Kerry can say now, that will blot out the betrayal of his failing to speak the full truth of what he most assuredly knew in 2004.

Posted by: rebecca at September 7, 2007 09:36 PM

I am not surprised that Kerry has not referenced this testimony. If i remember correctly, Bill Clinton protested the Veitnam war. Yet he not only launched military operations in the Balkans, he also bombed Iraq on a daily basis for the length of his administration. I would assume that Mrs. Clinton shared his belief about the right and wrong of war back in the heady days of youth, but she is all about the Iraq conflict. She might even nuke Iran.

There is a certain dark humor to watching draft dodgers and anti-war protesters prosecute a war...

Posted by: elephantrider at September 8, 2007 07:31 AM

@Aaron D: You're right about BCCI, and also he did much valuable slogging to defuse POW-MIA nuttiness.

But he clearly saw that to fulfil his ambitions, it would be necessary to act as if none of that ever happened.

Posted by: Nell at September 8, 2007 12:24 PM

Oops. It appears that Jon may not be worse than a million Hitlers. He's proved himself empathetic enough to have changed the format of link text to something much more noticeable -- but apparently not for the completely oblivious among us.

(Thanks, Jonathan; we geezers are especially grateful.)

Posted by: Nell at September 8, 2007 03:10 PM

``The crucial ideological points appear to be that it's impermissible to describe anything U.S. personnel do as a war crime, and that the Viet Nam war has to be seen as a well-intentioned effort to spread democracy that went bad.''

It's not so much that it is impermissible but that no one wants to be the bearer of bad news that gets shot.

Posted by: Feeder of Felines at September 9, 2007 04:29 AM