Monday, April 08, 2013

 

Wikileaks 2: Mayaguez incident, Cambodia, S. Vietnam, Japan


Why I'm so curious about the Mayaguez incident

I am particularly interested in reading through the cables related to the Mayaguez incident because I was actually monitoring it at the time from my shortwave rig in our home in a suburb of Tokyo. 

And I was a shortwave junky with a budget able to support my habit. Deprived of the ability to hear WBAI because we were in Japan, I just had to get my news somehow.

On the roof of our house was a three-element rotating beam antenna that was so suspicious-looking that we had been buzzed a couple of times by helicopters.

Inside my “shack” I had one of the best Japanese shortwave receivers available at the time, a JRC-505 for amateur radio freaks. It was surpassed only by its successor, the JRC-515, which I lusted over, but nevermind. I also had one of the first computerized RTTY decoders. I could pick up and print any signal that came my way, even those altered to prevent eavesdropping.

In fact, the very first time I fired it up, in came a telegram from Prince Noradom Sihanouk, in French, to his son studying in Hong Kong. The telegram had been sent from Pyongyang, N. Korea.

From our spot in Japan, we were at the very edge of all the action. And I was tuned in.

When the Mayaguez was captured, wire services reported constantly via shortwave. That’s how it was done in those days. So I eagerly followed the first-hand reports (kind of a 1970s version of Twitter). I might have had better reception than the news bureaus back in the USA.

What I thought I heard was that Cambodia freed the ship and then we pounded the port from the air. That’s not what the news reports said the next day. Now, it’s very possible that I heard a repeat broadcast, that was common. In other words, I probably got it wrong. But there was no way to check at that time.

I hope to learn more by reading through these cables.

by Larry Geller

This is the story of the capture and freeing of the Mayaguez from a port in Cambodia. Imagine that you are sitting home following the action on Twitter.

But first, there is no program on TV with more dynamism and charge than this diplomatic cable, part of the trove of “Kissinger” cables just posted by Wikileaks. It is titled “MAY 14 EA PRESS SUMMARY”. Click the link to read it. I can’t snip from it, it’s all over the place.


The availability of the diplomatic cables that Wikileaks has posted present a great opportunity to re-create the timeline of history. It’s as if there were tweets back then.

At the time of the above cable, the US was faced with multiple challenges in Asia. Most immediately, a direct challenge to our ability to exert influence in the region.

The situation then resembles the current North Korean crisis we now face. Do we understand and use diplomacy, or do we rain death and destruction from the air?

Cambodia had seized the US merchant ship Mayaguez and its crew of 40 Americans. But the above cable ranges much more widely than just the Mayaguez situation. I recommend it in particular for younger folks who were not even alive at the time. It’s drama, it’s danger, it’s history.

Continuing. The Cambodians held the ship. China urged the US to follow diplomatic channels to free it. But would we listen? No, we were making preparations to free the ship by force. The cables tell the story. Here’s only a few that came up in my search:

Thailand strongly admonished the US not to use any of its bases in that country to attack Cambodia.

PRIME MINISTER KHUKRIT PRAMOT, OBVIOUSLY CONCERNED BY PRESS STATEMENTS FROM THE U.S. THREATENING THE USE OF FORCE TO FREE THE MAYAGUEZ, SUMMONED ME MAY 13 TO SEEK INFORMATION ON THE STATUS OF THE SHIP. I SUMMARIZED THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE TO US, LARGELY FROM WIRE SERVICE REPORTS.

KHUKRIT STRESSED THAT FROM THE THAI GOVERNMENT STANDPOINT ANY RETALIATION SHOULD BE PURELY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CAMBODIA AND SHOULD NOT IN ANY WAY INVOLVE THAILAND. I ASKED IF HE WAS REFERRING TO USE OF U.S. MILITARY ASSETS IN THAILAND. HE SAID HE DEFINITELY WAS. I TOLD HIM THAT IN LINE WITH ESTABLISHED PROCEDURES WE WOULD INFORM THE RTG BEFORE ANY ACTION INVOLVING THAI-BASED PLANES WAS UNDERTAKEN.

Note that the US ambassador didn’t exactly say that the US would not use the bases, only that the Thai government would be informed.

Meanwhile, Japan was antsy about the use of bases on its territory,  but US troops had already departed from Okinawa heading towards the region. And then, if I’m reading the cables correctly, the Government of Japan (“GOJ”) wanted the US to say that it had been informed in advance of US plans to use the Okinawa bases.

Meanwhile, not all of the world regarded US threats to Cambodia with favor.

SEPTEL PROVIDES FULL TEXT OF MOST VIRULENT ZAMBIAN PRESS ATTACK BY FAR ON AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IN OUR MEMORY. JUNE 1 SUNDAY TIMES PAGE ONE "COMMENT" COLUMN CHARACTERIZES PRESIDENT FORD AND SECRETARY KISSINGER AS "PRANCING AROUND EUROPE LIKE A PAIR OF 'SICK' COMEDIANS" BOASTING ABOUT THE "SHAMEFUL MAYAGUEZ AFFAIR"; EUROPEANS WHO ARE "NOT SICKENED BY THIS SPECTACLE...NEED TO HAVE THEIR HEADS EXAMINED."

Meanwhile, the US does not appear to think any more highly of Prince Sihanouk than it ever did. Remember, we’re not much into diplomacy:

WALDHEIM SAID SIHANOUK IS USELESS CHANNEL IN HIS VIEW BECAUSE SIHANOUK'S REPRESENTATIVES ARE SEEKING INFORMATION FROM UN OFFICIALS ABOUT CONDITIONS IN CAMBODIA.

And here we have Kissinger himself agreeing to the face-saving coverup that the Japanese government wanted:

1. GOJ MAY CONFIRM THAT USG INFORMED IT OF MARINE ALERT IN ADVANCE.

2. MOVEMENT OF MARINES WAS NOT, OF COURSE, CONTRARY TO OUR UNDERTAKINGS UNDER SECURITY TREATY, AND GOJ MAY QUOTE USG TO THAT EFFECT IF DESIRED. WE WOULD PREFER, HOWEVER, THAT STATEMENT IN THIS REGARD BE MADE BY GOJ ON ITS OWN SECRET SECRET PAGE 02 STATE 112209 OR AT LEAST STATING ITS AGREEMENT THAT NO VIOLATION WAS INVOLVED OF OUR UNDERSTANDINGS ON PRIOR CONSULTATION.

This cable, in Spanish, seems to have the undertone that the US is reacting as it is because it doesn’t want to be seen as a repeated loser. My Spanish isn’t what it used to be, and Google Translate wasn’t too clear. Interesting.

Moving on, we see that the US didn’t care too much about the Thai government admonishment not to use bases on Thai territory—or else, maybe they worked something out. And US warplanes were in the sky above the seized ship.

PRES APPLIES DIPLOMATIC AND MIL PRESSURE TO WIN RELEASE OF "MAYAGUEZ," SEEKS HELP OF CHINA AND ALERTS MARINES ON OKINAWA. DOD SOURCES INDICATE CAMBODIA PLANNED AMBUSH (UPI, CHITRIB). FORD DISPATCHES 150 MARINES TO THAILAND AS PART OF APPARENT SHOW OF FORCE. MAYAGUEZ BEGINS MOVING UNCLASSIFIED PAGE 02 STATE 112728 AGAIN AFTER SPENDING MOST OF DAY OFF ISLAND 30 MILES FROM CAMBODIAN COAST. USAF PLANES KEEP VESSEL UNDER SURVEILLANCE, WHILE USN AIRCRAFT SLIGHTLY DAMAGED BY SMALL-ARMS FIRE THAT GREETED SEVERAL FLIGHTS; 1,000 MORE MARINES EXPECTED FLY FROM OKINAWA TO UTAPAO. USS "CORAL SEA" HEADED FOR GULF OF THAILAND.

Finally, Kissinger informs US diplomatic missions that the US has taken military action and has freed the ship.

THE USG HAS TRIED THROUGH VARIOUS DIPLOMATIC MEANS TO SE- CURE THE RELEASE OF THE SHIP AND ITS CREW. SUCH EFFORTS, INCLUDING A DIRECT APPEAL TO THE CAMBODIAN GOVERNMENT, HAD BEEN TO NO AVAIL. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES THE USG ON MAY 14 (WASHINGTON TIME) TOOK APPROPRIATE MILITARY ACTION TO SECURE THE RELEASE OF THE SHIP AND ITS CREW AND TO ASSURE THE SUCCESS OF THE OPERATION. THIS ACTION IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH ARTICLE 51 OF THE U.N. CHARTER. THE OPERATION HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED, THE SHIP HAS BEEN RECOVERED, AND THE CREW RELEASED. KISSINGER

Now, how to handle Thailand?

STRICTLY FOR YOUR INFORMATION, SOME OF THE HELICOPTERS INVOLVED IN THE OPERATIONS AND THE MARINES IN THEM CAME FROM THAI BASES. OTHER MARINES AND HELICOPTERS WILL REMAIN IN THAILAND FOR THE TIME BEING UNTIL WE KNOW THAT THE OPERATION HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED. YOU SHOULD INFORM THE THAI THAT WHEN WE ARE FULLY ASSURED THAT THE OPERATION HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED WE PLAN TO REMOVE THE REMAINING MARINES FROM THAILAND. KISSINGER

And how did the Thais take this? Here’s one of several news summaries in this cable:

THE MAY 15 "BANGKOK POST" EDITORIAL (REF C) SAYS THAT THE U.S. MOVE MAY WELL JEOPARDIZE THE "RATIONAL READJUSTMENT OF RELATIONS BETWEEN OUR TWO COUNTRIES" AS THAILAND IS TURNING AWAY FROM RELIANCE ON AMERICAN COMMITMENTS TOWARDS A MORE BALANCED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SUPERPOWERS. PAISAN'S COMMENTARY ADDS: "ITS'S HIGH TIME THAT THE U.S. RECONSIDERED ITS ENTIRE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THAILAND. THE PATTERN OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT HERE HAS BEEN SUCH THAT THE COUNTRY WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE ANY FURTHER INTERVENTION AND EXPLOITA- TION BY THE U.S. WHICH APPEARS TO BE HAVING DIFFICULTY IN ADJUSTING TO THE CHANGE OF CLIMATE."

The Singapore government expressed its views through the Straits Times (snip):

"THE UNITED STATES HAS ACTED OVER THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT IN A WAY THAT MAKES ITS FRIENDS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA SHUDDER AND ITS ENEMIES SMILE. 3. "IT IS DIFFICULT TO SEE THE AIRLIFT OF 1,000 U.S. MARINES INTO U-TAPAO AIR BASE 110 MILES SOUTH OF BANGKOK AS ANYTHING BUT A TANTRUM BORN OF A MOOD, HURT PRIDE, AN APPARENT NEED TO PROVE THAT AMERICA CANNOT BE KICKED ABOUT. 4. "HERE IS COMPLETE INSENSITIVITY TO THAI WISHES AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN PUBLIC OPINION. A GREAT NATION DOES NOT ACT LIKE THIS. 5. "THE IMPRESSION HAS BEEN GIVEN THAT WASHINGTON WILL RIDE ROUGHSHOD OVER THE PROTESTS OF ITS ALLIES AND FRIENDS IN PURSUIT OF ITS POLICIES.

"IN ITS PRESENT MOOD OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND FAILURE, THERE IS A REAL DANGER THAT WASHINGTON WILL OVER-REACT--AS PRESIDENT KENNEDY DID IN VIETNAM AFTER HIS HUMILIATION IN THE BAY OF PIGS, AND AS PRESIDENT FORD HAS NOW DONE IN THE CASE OF THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT. 9. "AMERICAN STRENGTH IS UNQUESTIONED. IT MUST NOW SUMMON IT TO FIND AN ANSWER BASED ON DIPLOMATIC NEGOTIATION RATHER THAN RESORT TO THE GUN."

Of course, we never learned that lesson.

But the heck what the Thais think, or even Singapore. As long as Israel still loved us:

WE HAVE INFORMED MFA OF US ACTIONS RELATING TO THE CAMBODIAN SEIZURE OF THE US MERCHANT SHIP MAYAGUEZ. THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN REFTEL WAS RECEIVED WITHOUT COMMENT; HOWEVER, THERE IS NO QUESTION IN OUR MINDS THAT THE ISRAELI REACTION PUBLIC AND OFFICIAL WILL BE ON OF SUPPORT AND APPROVAL FOR THE MEASURES TAKEN BY THE USG

This has been a long saga, and it’s not over yet. I have not plowed my way through all of the cables. Let’s close with this example of US diplomacy at work:

RTG IS OBVIOUSLY SEEKING TO MINIMIZE DAMAGE THAT ENTIRE MAYAGUEZ EPISODE WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY CAUSE, NOT ONLY TO THAILAND'S RELATIONS WITH CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM, BUT ALSO TO THAI-US RELATIONS. ALTHOUGH WE RECONGIZE DIFFICULTY, WE URGE THAT U.S. OFFICIAL SPOKESMEN SEEK TO OBSCURE ORIGIN OF U.S. TACTICAL AIRCRAFT THAT SANK CAMBODIAN SHIPS.

Obscure we must. I think that’s referred to as diplomacy.

Thank you, Wikileaks.


How to read the cables efficiently

In researching your favorite topic using the search engine that Wikileaks has provided on their website, you may find it tedious going. There are hundreds of cables that will be returned in a search.

Some of them are “empty” either because the entry in the National Archives database referred to an item that was not electronically available, or because the cable text did not decode properly for some reason.

More importantly, many have become unavailable because the Obama administration is rapidly re-classifying what has been publicly available. Those are indicated in the database. I think the number is about 55,000 cables re-classified so far. By publishing them on its website, Wikileaks has thwarted that effort at least looking forward.

So here’s what I did.

1) Close all the tabs you have open in Firefox (or the faster fork of FIrefox, Pale Moon).

2) Load the Linky add-on and reboot to install it. This add-on will load all the links on a page. This is the real time-saver. Also load Session Manager if you don’t already have a way to save your session.

3) Do your search on Wikileaks. At the bottom of the page is a button that will allow you to add 500 more. So add as many as you like.

4) Wait a little to see that they are loading. The Wikileaks site is already overloaded, and this method that I’m describing probably pounds them a little.

5) Save your session for safety.

6) Execute the Linky add-on. If it’s not on a toolbar, you’ll have to put it there. Select the option to load all links into tabs.

7) A dialogue box will allow you to uncheck the links you don’t want, at the top and the bottom of the box. Use the shift key to un-select a group at a time. The ones you want have “cable” in the URL.

8) Let Linky rip. Have a cup of tea while the tabs load.

9) Check to see that the tabs are or have loaded. Again, save your session.

10) Now you can do the research just by clicking on the next tab. Close any tabs that don’t have a live document in them if you wish.



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