Who’s in Charge Here?

The Invisible Government

by David Wise, by Thomas B. Ross
Random House, 361 pp., $5.95

One must acknowledge that Mr. Goldwater has made a felicitous contribution to our political language by his reference to Washington as the Land of Oz. The Senator’s six-shooter, for once, is unerringly on target—Washington, like Oz, is physically divided into four parts, and somewhere on the wilder outskirts of Munchkin Country lies the CIA and its director, John A. McCone, a true Wizard of Oz, whose specialty is dirty tricks.

So accustomed has the world become to these dirty tricks that not a government seems to fall without the CIA getting some part of the blame or credit. Denials are brushed aside with a knowing smile. As soon as those cabalistic initials “CIA” are uttered, the world is prepared to believe nothing and suspect everything—the very phrase “official version” has become synonymous with a possible lie. And for good reason.

Messrs. Wise and Ross, on the last page of their interesting book, quote these bland assurances:

U-2: “There were absolutely no—N-O—no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace. There never has been.”—Lincoln White, State Department spokesman

Bay of Pigs: “The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future. The answer to that question is no.”—Secretary of State Rusk

The Guatemala Putsch of 1954: “The situation is being cured by the Guatemalans themselves.”—Secretary of State Dulles

Small wonder, surely, that so many were so suspicious when the destroyer Maddox was fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin. South Vietnam, after all, has enjoyed the most favored attention of the Wizard’s apprentices. The week of crisis was not over before it was learned that the initial attack on the Maddox was not quite so simple as it seemed. On August 7, the conservative Washington Star published an account by its Pentagon correspondent, Richard Fryklund, that threw new light on the incident.

According to Fryklund, on August 1 the South Vietnamese were in Tonkin Gulf, landing guerrilla raiders on the island of Hon Me, some ten miles from the coast of North Vietnam. These guerrilla raids are gray operations which run counter to nominal policy in Saigon and Washington. On this particular day, the “American advisors” in South Vietnam who coordinate the raids failed to notify the Seventh Fleet of the operation.

Hence on the fateful Saturday the Maddox was on a wholly unrelated mission when she happened to sail near Hon Me Island (which is, incidentally, about thirty miles from the PT boat bore that was subsequently the target of a U.S. reprisal raid). Evidently, the North Vietnamese thought the Maddox had been shelling the island or had been escorting the South Vietnamese raiding vessels. The attack followed. This background helps to explain why the US at first sought to minimize the incident, believing that the attack sprang from an error.

On August 9, another troubling item appeared, this time in the New York Herald Tribune in a story by Beverly …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.