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Context of 'September 18, 1967: US Announces Launch of Anti-Ballistic Missile System'

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South Vietnamese gun boats attack the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me as part of operation OPLAN 34A. Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official working under US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, will later describe 34A as a “100 percent US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with… foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam], CIA and CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet]; some people in the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam] had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.” [Ellsberg, 2003 Sources: Daniel Ellsberg]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee hold closed hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attacks (see August 2, 1964) (see August 4, 1964). Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had received a tip from an unnamed Pentagon insider (not Daniel Ellsberg), asks US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara if the torpedo attacks might have been a response to operation OPLAN 34A which had conducted attacks on the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me on July 31 (see July 31, 1964). The Senator raises the possibility that the North Vietnamese may have thought the ship was supporting OPLAN 34A’s attacks. Morse suggests that McNamara should inquire as to the exact location of the Maddox on those days and what its true mission was. McNamara responds: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any…. The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times. I did not have knowledge at the time of the attack on the island. There is no connection between this patrol and any action of South Vietnam.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971; Herring, 1986, pp. 122; Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: Wayne Morse, Robert McNamara, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Three stages of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) flight.Three stages of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) flight. [Source: Missile Defense Agency]Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announces the US decision to deploy what he calls a “thin” anti-ballistic missile system, named “Sentinel,” designed to protect American targets against an accidental Soviet missile launch or a limited Chinese long-range ballistic missile attack. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The system is launched in response to a similar system deployed by the Soviet Union to protect Moscow and Leningrad. [Time, 6/5/1968] The system is based on a series of long-range radar installations and anti-missile missiles deployed in key areas throughout the US. It is designed as much to protect the Johnson administration from criticism leveled by hardline Republicans that it is “soft” on the Soviet-Chinese nuclear threat as it is to provide real protection from Soviet or Chinese missiles. The system will never be completed (see 1969-1976), though by some accounts, its limited rollout does encourage the Soviet Union to renew arms negotiations with the US. In 1968, Time magazine will observe, “The fact is that Sentinel was intended less as a truly effective defense system than as an expensive propaganda gesture for Soviet consumption.” [Time, 6/5/1968; Schwartz, 1998, pp. 286-288]

Entity Tags: Robert McNamara, Sentinel

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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