CHARLIE ROSE Transcript #2197
 

July 6, 1998

CHARLIE ROSE, Host:  Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight, a look at the
controversial CNN documentary, ``Valley of Death,'' which alleged the use
of nerve gas by Americans in the Vietnam War.
        We'll talk to two of the producers.  We'll also talk to Floyd Abrams, the
New York attorney who did a study that suggested there was not enough
evidence to support the conclusions.
        CNN later retracted the story.
        We'll hear from Floyd Abrams, from the two producers, and also from
Jonathan Alter of Newsweek magazine and NBC News.
FLOYD ABRAMS, Constitutional Lawyer:  I concluded that there was
insufficient evidence on any level to go with this story, that -- when you
read and when you saw the outtakes of the people relied upon by the
producers of the program -- that the story was
n't there.
CHARLIE ROSE:  [to April Oliver] --you want to make what point?
APRIL OLIVER, Television Producer:  I absolutely do stand by the story.
I'm so delighted to be able to speak out now after having been muzzled by
CNN for three weeks.
        Part of the great frustration for me in all of this has been that CNN
asked us not to speak to the press when the criticism started.
        This turned into a much bigger controversy-- [appears to be distracted by
Jack Smith waving his hand] This turned into a much bigger controversy than
it ever would have been had they let us speak out and defend our reporting.
JACK SMITH, Television Producer:  This was a star-chamber proceeding to
underwrite a corporate whitewash at CNN to kill this story, to lynch it,
and to hang out the two reporters on it.
JONATHAN ALTER, ``Newsweek'':  --is that you confused a great deal of
sincere, hard work over a long period of time with a tremendous amount
invested in the broadcast-- you confused that with actually getting the
very hard documentary evidence--
CHARLIE ROSE:  And in his first interview on television the perspective of
retired Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, a military adviser to CNN who resigned in
protest over the airing of the documentary.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH, Retired, Military Analyst:  And no matter how they
spin it or talk about it or justify it or build up some theory, it's just
not true in any dimension.  And it's a terrible charge.
        And that's another thing that concerns me.  CNN has done great damage to
the United States foreign policy, great damage to this country, great
damage to credibility of the military, and great damage to themselves.
CHARLIE ROSE:  April Oliver, Jack Smith, Floyd Abrams, Jonathan Alter, and
Perry Smith, when we continue.

Principals Disagree over CNN Retraction on Nerve Gas

CHARLIE ROSE:  CNN had a controversial broadcast called ``Valley of the
Death,'' that was part of a new series of broadcasts on CNN.
        There was much controversy about it.  They then had Floyd Abrams take a
look at the broadcast.  After that he issued a report and CNN then said--
and Time magazine then said that they wanted to issue a retraction.
        We want to talk about some of the issues that came out of that this
evening with some of the people involved.
        Joining me now in New York, constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams; Newsweek's
Jonathan Alter, who's also a media critic; in Washington, producers April
Oliver and Jack Smith.
        I begin with Floyd Abrams.
        Tell me how you got involved in this that led to a 60-page report, that
led to a CNN and Time magazine retraction.
FLOYD ABRAMS, Constitutional Lawyer:  CNN broadcast a very controversial
report which basically claimed that during the war in Vietnam in 1970 the
U.S. had used nerve gas in Laos as part of a mission to kill American
defectors there.
        It's a very important charge.  It was very controversial.  A lot of people
said it wasn't true.  A number of people said it was true.  And CNN asked
me to have a look at it, to be an independent observer, to come in and ask
any questions, talk to anyone
 I wanted, look at the outtakes -- the unused part of the broadcast --
scripts, anyone I wanted to talk to.
        And they promised me basically that whatever I said they'd put on the air.
 Period.
        I did that-- I spent a few weeks in Washington.  I spoke with April Oliver
and Jack Smith.  They were very helpful.  They prepared a memo for me,
answering the various criticisms made of the broadcast and which I relied
upon a lot.
        I spoke to a lot of people on the phone, a lot of the people around and
about this mission in Laos.  There was a mission.  There's no doubt about
it.  Gas was used.  There's no doubt about it.
        The question is whether it was nerve gas.
        I concluded that there was insufficient evidence on any level to go with
this story, that -- when you read and when you saw the outtakes of the
people relied upon by the producers of the program -- that the story wasn't
there.
        That when you read, for example, and you watched Admiral Moorer, the
former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the man who in 1970 was running
the Armed Forces of the United States and upon whom they had relied
extensively, that the confirmation that th
e producers believed was present was not present, that there was a lot of
vagueness in what he said, a lot of ambiguity and that, taken as a whole,
it was not a confirmation in a broadcast in which the American public was
told he'd confirmed.
        And in general then I concluded that there was insufficient material for
the broadcast to have gone on the air, insufficient basis to sustain the
broadcast today, that the broadcast wasn't fair, that the broadcast had not
taken account sufficiently of t
he views of people who disagreed with the thesis of the producers.
        In particular -- the two pilots who dropped the gas, the medic on the
ground who was in the area where the gas was dropped, the commander of the
raid.
        That, taken everything together, my conclusion was that the broadcast was
simply insupportable.
CHARLIE ROSE:  CNN then said what to you?
FLOYD ABRAMS:  At that point CNN didn't say much more to me.  I prepared a
report.  I submitted it to CNN.  And CNN said to American public and in
particular to the people engaged in this operation that they were sorry,
that they had made a mistake, that
 they should not have run the broadcast, and that they retracted the
broadcast.
CHARLIE ROSE:  One point is clear from what I have read in your report and
what others have said.
        You say that the broadcast was not supported by the evidence.  You do not
say that it was not true.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  That's correct.  I didn't pass on--
CHARLIE ROSE:  What's the difference in those two?
FLOYD ABRAMS:  The difference is that, if you want to take the position in
a national broadcast that that which every president of the United States
has said starting in 1970 is a lie -- that is to say, every president has
said we've never used nerve gas
 -- you really better have the evidence.  You really ought to have it
solid, not leads, not suggestions, not hints, not nuanced statements here
and there, but really on-the-record, solid evidence to reach that conclusion.
        I didn't reach a conclusion in this report.  I have a view now, but I
didn't reach a conclusion in this report as to whether if more work was
done that they could gather enough evidence to make it a newsworthy-- to
make it a solid enough program.
CHARLIE ROSE:  What conclusion have you reached now?
FLOYD ABRAMS:  I'm totally unpersuaded that we used nerve gas, and reading
the materials that I have, talking to the people that I have, reading the
best shot -- really -- of the producers -- a memo that they did for me at
my request which, let me tell y
ou, I hoped would persuade me so I could defend this broadcast, which is
what I do for a living, is to defend the press usually -- that it just
didn't stand up.
        And I am wholly unpersuaded that the United States did this.  Maybe
someday there'll be some evidence of a firmer, harder nature.  But it isn't
there now.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Was there any pressure brought to bear on you of any kind in
the report that you made?
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not.
        I think nothing would have pleased the folks at CNN more -- certainly
nothing would have pleased me more than to come back and say, ``The
broadcast is terrific.  It's all true.  It's all sustainable.''
        There was no pressure.  It was entirely up to me to decided what to write.
 In fact, for the first -- probably -- three or four days I worked on it, I
was proceeding on the assumption that it would all sort-of fall out and I
could write a report finally
, when I was finished with my work, defending the broadcast.
CHARLIE ROSE:  ``Not perfect, but defensible.''
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me go to Washington.  April Oliver is there, producer on
this.  Jack Smith, who I think for the lack of a better word was
supervising this effort -- Jack Smith, I should say, is an old friend of
mine and was bureau chief at CBS when I
worked there.
        April Oliver-- tell-- you stand by your story, and you wanna make what point?
APRIL OLIVER, Television Producer:  I absolutely do stand by the story.
I'm so delighted to be able to speak out now, after having been muzzled by
CNN for three weeks.
        Part of the great frustration for me in all of this has been that CNN
asked us not to speak to the press when the criticism started.
        This turned into a much bigger controversy-- [appears to be distracted by
Jack Smith waving his hand] This turned into a much bigger controversy than
it ever would have been had they let us speak out and defend our reporting.
        We had the answers.  There were very specious allegations in the press
that turned this into sort of a media frenzy -- mistruths and
misinformation, such as ``one drop of sarin on skin kills you.''  It does
not.  Mis--
CHARLIE ROSE:  But let me go to the essence, if I can interrupt you, you
stand by the story to extent that sarin gas was used and that the intent
was to use sarin gas against American defectors who were held in Laos?
APRIL OLIVER:  That's actually a nuance that's not quite correct there --
the second statement.
        We do report that sarin gas was used in this mission, but we report that
it was used on a village-base-camp where defectors were believed to be
held.  We don't know that the defectors actually died from the gas.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Or that the defectors were actually American there at the camp?
APRIL OLIVER:  We have been told by several sources that there were
Americans there at the camp, and in fact the reconnaissance teams who were
sent out in advance of this particular mission were there specifically to
spot for Americans.
        I'd like to address Floyd Abrams' point about Admiral Moorer because it's
absolutely crucial and it's part of the reason that I have a great deal of
trouble with his report.
        Admiral Moorer read every single line of this script six days before the
broadcast.  He had only one objection to one word, and that word was the
word ``scores'' for the number of defectors during the Vietnam War.
        He looked at me, and he said, ``I didn't use that word.''
        I said, ``Yes, sir, you right.  You said, `Someplace between 23 and 300,'
and I thought `scores' about accurate to sum up this estimate.''
        In Floyd Abrams' report, he just gives a glancing blow to the fact that
Admiral Moorer read this script and approved it.  Not only did he read the
CNN script, he then read a Time magazine article draft in which both of
them say that he confirmed the use
 of sarin on this mission.
        Secondly, Floyd Abrams also gives very glancing attention to the fact
that, even after the controversy exploded in the courageous admiral's face,
we went out to see him, to talk to him about why he was wavering in the
press.  And he looked at me, and he
 said, ``Young lady, people just don't understand today the context of the
times back then.  They just-- they just don't understand.''
        And then he went on to say, ``Look, by appearing on your program and doing
so in an official capacity, people think that I authorized this.  I did not
authorize this.''
CHARLIE ROSE:  Do you think that Admiral Moorer is-- for the lack of a
better word, today-- that the information that he gave you that you used
came of someone fully recognizable of the import of what he said and with
no question that he was suggesting s
arin gas was used.
APRIL OLIVER:  Even Admiral-- Even Floyd Abrams' own report and his own
vetting of all the transcripts and the material, says Admiral Moorer is of
sound mind and sound body, according to-- according to his own words, that
``from every appearance he is a
very lucid gentleman.''
        For me, there is no question.
        In my third interview with Admiral Moorer, which was off-camera, which
again was neglected and just given a glancing blow in Floyd Abrams' report,
he confirms the wider use of sarin nerve gas.
        I explicitly asked him, ``General--'' Or ``Admiral, I want to ask you and
just make sure that CBU-15 is GB is sarin nerve gas.''
        And he looks at me and gives me sort of a dismissive look and says,
``Young lady, I think everybody knows that.''
CHARLIE ROSE:  That it was sarin gas and not tear gas?
APRIL OLIVER:  Oh-- no, we're talking about the specific weapon in question
here.
        Admiral Moorer, as you will see on the broadcast-- if you looked at the
broadcast, there is no issue that CBU-15 is a top-secret weapon that
Admiral Moorer was fully versed in and in some respects proud of in the
sense that he believes that it had the a
bility to save American lives in extremis situations.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me hear from-- I'll come to Jack Smith in just a second.
 Just let me hear from Floyd Abrams on the issue of Admiral Moorer.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Admiral Moorer said a lot of different things.  That's the
truth.  He sort-of confirmed sometimes, and he clearly didn't confirm
sometimes.  The same Admiral Moorer that April Smith's talking about said--
APRIL OLIVER:  But he--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --said, ``So you are aware sarin was used?''
        Answer, ``I am not confirming to you that it was used.''
APRIL OLIVER:  But that was an earlier interview--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  ``You told me that.''
APRIL OLIVER:  --Floyd.  Floyd, that was an earlier interview.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  It's the same admiral--
APRIL OLIVER:  And it's not fair to go back to an interview--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --talking to you.
APRIL OLIVER:  It's not fair to go back to an interview-- There is a
reporting cycle, and -- as any reporter knows -- particularly when you're
investigating a ``black'' operation [Floyd Abrams mouths inaudible comment
to Charlie] that at the beginning th
ere's refusals, denials, there's layers of cover-story.  And, of course,
people are gonna be coy at the beginning.  You establish a relationship
with a source.
        He gave me the hard confirms at the end of the process.  To undercut those
hard confirms, you went back to the initial interview, which was a
getting-to-know-you interview.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  He never gave you--
APRIL OLIVER:  I was a hard--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --a hard confirmed about anything.  What he said was--
APRIL OLIVER:  I gave me a--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --sometimes he said ``yes,'' sometimes he said, in effect,
``I don't know what you're talking about.''  You believe it's all a
cover-story.  You've decided that all of this is make-believe unless he
says what you think he should be saying-
-
APRIL OLIVER:  No, sir, he--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --and that's the problem with the broadcasts.
APRIL OLIVER:  He read-- he read the script.  I am not a true believer.  I
am a journalist, and I'm a fact-finder.  And I went into this report not
knowing what the gas was and not knowing what the mission was.
        I worked hard.  I worked diligently, and I worked for eight months on this
project, and I went in with no assumptions.  So, I challenge your
characterization of me as a true believer.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Before I go-- before I go to Jonathan Alter.
        Jack Smith, are you and April Oliver at one about this broadcast?  Do you
both believe it was true?  You stand by the broadcast?  And there is no
difference in terms of your perspective on this broadcast and her prospective?
JACK SMITH, Television Producer:  Charlie, we stand by the broadcast.  We
stand by the facts that were reported in the broadcast.
        But I must turn to Mr. Abrams' report because he went on at some length,
and at the outset the viewers need to know this -- that the Abrams-Kohler
report is tainted from the very beginning.
        This is not Floyd Abrams' report solo.  This Floyd Abrams report done in
conjunction with David Kohler, who is the corporate counsel for CNN, who
reports directly to management.
        He was the co-investigator with Mr. Abrams on this report.
        Now, it must be understood by the viewers that Mr. Kohler approved both
the scripts that were aired on CNN on Tailwind mission.  He went beyond
approving both scripts.  He came down and joined in the editorial process
of the script-writing on both broad
casts.
        I am shocked that Mr. Abrams didn't ask Mr. Kohler to recuse himself from
this process because Mr. Kohler's presence as a co-investigator with the
full power that was given to Mr. Abrams allowed him to continue in this
star-chamber proceeding.
        Mr. Kohler's presence, make no mistake about it, taints this report.
        Furthermore, this report is tainted because Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler both
said to April Oliver and I that we would be interviewed-- we would be
interviewed by Mr. Kohler and Mr. Abrams after they had read the
transcripts and watched the tapes of the in
terviews.
        And we kept pressing them from Sunday night, when they returned from
taking a weekend off, we pressed them.  We called them Sunday night, ``We
want to come down for our interviews that you have-- that you have told us
you will give us.''
        We called that--
        They said, ``We'll have you down tomorrow morning.''
        We called them Monday.  We called 'em Monday afternoon.  They kept putting
us off.  They put us off.
        They misled us, and they deceived us.  And in the end they lied to us.
Mr. Abrams and Mr. Kohler-- Mr. Kohler told us at 1 o'clock in the morning
-- 1a.m. on Wednesday night that that report would not be issued -- Mr.
Abrams' and Mr. Kohler's report wo
uld not be issued 'til April Oliver and I had an opportunity to respond to
it, to read it, to read the draft report, and come back with our objections
and comments.
        We set a date, and we had a pledge from Mr. Kohler that that would be
accomplished at noon on Thursday -- noon on Thursday.
CHARLIE ROSE:  [crosstalk] you do not feel like you had a fair hearing at--
JACK SMITH:  Charlie, they released the bloody report on noon on Thursday.
We never got a hearing on it.
        Floyd Abrams says we were interviewed.  Now, he's talkin' that-- he says
in his report he interviewed us.
        He never interviewed us.  Now, he's sayin' on television-- he just said it
earlier, ``We spoke to 'em.''
        That's right.  They spoke to us.  They never interviewed us.
        This was a star-chamber proceeding to underwrite a corporate whitewash at
CNN to kill this story, to lynch it, and to hang out the two reporters on it.
APRIL OLIVER:  They simply couldn't take the controversy, but the
controversy is partly their fault 'cause they wouldn't let us respond.
There were so many things that were so inaccurate at the press-- had they
only let us defend our reporting--
        One of the great frustrations for me is that it took enormous courage for
the men that did appear on camera to come forward.  Some of them have gone
through death threats.
        They've all broken secrecy pledges.  I took great courage for these men to
stand forward, and for them to watch CNN lie low, have a complete lack of
guts, lack of courage, to stand up for a story that was so thoroughly
vetted by management for so many w
eeks before broadcast.
        I mean, why should they step forward if CNN doesn't have the fundamental
courage to stand by its story?
CHARLIE ROSE:  What should-- before I go to Mr. Abrams, what should CNN
have done if they decided that the report could not be supported by the
evidence?  If that was the decision reached, what should they have done?
JACK SMITH:  Well, what they should have done, Charlie, was this.
        First of all, after the two broadcasts aired, Rick Kaplan said, ``OK,
let's get ready to perform-- to produce a broadcast that will give us the
opposing views of what was reported on the first couple of broadcasts.''
        We were ready to go on that.  The Special Forces Association had their
meeting down in Albuquerque.  They were-- They were criticizing the report.
 The criticism was rolling in from the Special Operations groups.
        We could have put that on on television in a minute.  But Rick Kaplan sat
in his office and said he was afraid of congressional hearings.  He did not
want any further reporting to go on on this story.
        He wanted it to end.  Tom Johnson wanted it to end.  The pressure was
coming in.  And the front end of the pressure-brigade -- Henry Kissinger,
Nixon's national security adviser, who ran the secret war in Cambodia, who
certainly had his fingerprints on
the secret war in Laos; Henry Kissinger, first on the phone to Tom
Johnson-- one of the first on the phones, demanding that this story be
retracted.
APRIL OLIVER:  I--
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me hear from Floyd Abrams--
APRIL OLIVER:  I-- I--
JACK SMITH:  He wouldn't interview with us, Charlie.
CHARLIE ROSE:  [crosstalk] before we leave too much on the table, and then
I gotta hear from Jon Alter-- then I come back to you.
        Floyd Abrams.
JACK SMITH:  And--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Well, I suppose the first thing I'd say--
CHARLIE ROSE:  ``Star chamber'' is a very--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Yeah, it's--
CHARLIE ROSE:  --laden word, Jack.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Yeah, it's a shame.  That-- that--
JACK SMITH:  Hey, Floyd--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --that--
JACK SMITH:  Floyd, you didn't interview us.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  After all this time, Jack did not offer a single example of
anything that was not true in the report, instead simple personal attacks.
        Let me just-- one thing-- we spoke with them -- they may have their own
definition of ``interview'' -- at length at the CNN offices in Washington
for a three-day period.
        April Oliver was very helpful.  She answered all our questions.  So did
Jack Smith.  I asked them, because I thought it would be very helpful to
me, to prepare in writing even more definitively their responses to the
criticisms of the broadcast.
        They did it.  They had a 19-page document they wrote for me to help me
write my report, dealing with 47 separate criticisms of the broadcast.  It
was a very helpful document.  It is a direct response by them to the
criticisms that were voiced.  We took
it very seriously.
APRIL OLIVER:  But not to your criticisms, Floyd.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Now, if they choose to say--
APRIL OLIVER:  Not to yours.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --that--
CHARLIE ROSE:  One second, April, I've gotta hear everybody and--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  You know, if they choose to believe that, if one comes out
against them, if one finds that the broadcast is seriously flawed, that's
because we, too, are part of a plot and that we, too, are not saying what
we believe, but we, too, are cov
ering up for whoever -- Henry Kissinger, someone at CNN, whatever.  You
know, I can't deal with that except to say it's not true.
APRIL OLIVER:  I'd like to--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  I know what I did, and I know why I did it.  And it does not
speak well for either of them that we have to have a conspiracy theory to
respond--
JACK SMITH:  Hey, Floyd--  Mr. Abrams--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --to respond--
JACK SMITH:  That's outrageous.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --to this report--
JACK SMITH:  That's outrageous.  Just let me--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --which is a serious--
JACK SMITH:  Let me present one question to you, Mr. Abrams.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --study of what happened.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Jack--
JACK SMITH:  Why didn't you ask David Kohler to recuse himself from this
investigation?
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Because he was very helpful to have on the investigation.
He had given legal clearance to this.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Jon Alter-- you--
JONATHAN ALTER, ``Newsweek'':  I'm sure--
CHARLIE ROSE:  --are looking at this from a wider view.
JONATHAN ALTER:  I'm sure there was a lot of pressure from the Henry
Kissingers of the world, but that does not go to the substance of the
broadcast and of the report.
        There were actually other things in Floyd Abrams' report which I found
very disturbing and that had been reported in Newsweek and some of the
other criticism of this broadcast earlier.
        For instance, Mr. Buskirk, who was a major source for these charges wrote
a book about his experience in Southeast Asia--
CHARLIE ROSE:  About Operation Tailwind.
JONATHAN ALTER:  --in which he did not mention this.  And he later said
that it was-- his memory of the gas-- nerve gas was a function of recovered
memory.
        Now, as I understand it, April Oliver says that his explanation for that
is that he couldn't include it in his book because it was secret at the
time, but at the time his book came out it was quite a long period after
the war.
        So, it does raise a question that a supervising producer or attorney
should have asked -- why do we now know more about why Buskirk did not
raise this issue before?
        Another person cited in the broadcast was not himself an eyewitness.  He
was operating on hearsay about the use of the nerve gas, which was also
something that should have raised red flags with the supervising producers.
        The question of whether there were not full body suits, not just gas masks--
APRIL OLIVER:  That's another inaccuracy.
JONATHAN ALTER:  --should have raised questions.
APRIL OLIVER:  Full-body suits are not necessary for sarin, Jonathan.  You
gotta do your homework before you come out on national--
JONATHAN ALTER:  Well-- wait a minute-- wait a minute-- there's--
APRIL OLIVER:  --television.  There is--
JONATHAN ALTER:  There's a significant amount of disagreement about whether
it is--
APRIL OLIVER:  Sarin is a respiratory--
JONATHAN ALTER:  --whether a full-body--
APRIL OLIVER:  --gas.  Look at Tokyo--
JONATHAN ALTER:  --full-body mask would be--
APRIL OLIVER:  Look at Tokyo in--
JONATHAN ALTER:  --helpful or not.
APRIL OLIVER:  Look at Tokyo in 1995 -- 2,000 people were exposed to sarin,
12 people died.
        Part of the problem with this story is there's a lot of very armchair
critics--
JONATHAN ALTER:  But--
APRIL OLIVER:  --criticizing who haven't done their homework--
JONATHAN ALTER:  April, April-- let's--
APRIL OLIVER:  --on what these various chemicals are--
JONATHAN ALTER:  Let's go to the question of homework 'cause this is my
central point, something you'd said earlier, that you had worked on this
broadcast for eight months.
        I think what happened here -- and this is-- I don't know that this
happened, but this is my sense of--
APRIL OLIVER:  From the armchair.
JONATHAN ALTER:  --the human interplay-- what?  What was that?  This is my
sense of the human interplay at work here is that you confused a great deal
of sincere, hard work over a long period of time with a tremendous amount
invested in the broadcast-- y
ou confused that with actually getting the very hard documentary evidence
that you need to go ahead with a charge of this kind.
APRIL OLIVER:  Documentary evidence?  In a ``black operation,'' Jonathan?
You don't know what a ``black operation'' is.  There is no documentary--
JONATHAN ALTER:  Excuse me, I do know what a ``black operation'' is.
APRIL OLIVER:  There is no paper trail.
JONATHAN ALTER:  And there are documents on everything that has ever take
place in the government.
APRIL OLIVER:  There is no paper trail.  They killed it off a long time
ago.  I'd like to go back to this issue of the report--
JONATHAN ALTER:  Well, that raises the bar for you to get over then.
APRIL OLIVER:  Then let me go back to two points that are very important on
the Abrams report.  One is this idea of ``sins of omission.''
        ``Well, they put this in, but they didn't put that in.  They put Van
Buskirk in, but they didn't talk about this book.  They put Van Buskirk in,
but they didn't talk about his medical issues.''
        We requested from CNN management one hour to do this properly.  We
understood that the subject was volatile, and we wanted to have more nuance
and more layers of fact.
        CNN management turned us down on that.  I mean, that is-- that is for them
to--
JONATHAN ALTER:  The real mistake of CNN--
APRIL OLIVER:  OK.  Let me-- let--
JONATHAN ALTER:  I agree with you that CNN management has--
APRIL OLIVER:  Let me-- Can I finish on this?
JONATHAN ALTER:  --a lot to answer for here.  Just because--
APRIL OLIVER:  OK-- the pilots-- the pilots--
JONATHAN ALTER:  --were making this case, doesn't mean we're absolving CNN
management.
APRIL OLIVER:  The pilot that Mr. Abrams says we should have put in -- Art
Bishop -- was in.  He was in our piece, as Mr. Abrams knows--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  For half a line and disparaged by you, correct?
APRIL OLIVER:  Not-- not disparaged--
JACK SMITH:  Not disparaged at all.
APRIL OLIVER:  --at all.  He was in there to uphold his position that it
was just tear gas used.  And we were proud and happy to put him in.  He was
another skeptical voice on top of the skeptical voice that already existed
-- Captain McCarley -- who was
 allowed to say that it was an accident that they stumbled on that village--
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me raise these questions--
APRIL OLIVER:  --and who was also allowed to say that he would never use
lethal gas on any of his missions.  We had the criticism in the piece.  It
was there.  It's inaccurate and flawed to say that it wasn't there.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me go to one important point, which is Perry Smith,
military consultant to CNN -- protested loudly, resigned before the fact,
will appear on this broadcast later -- what-- why would he resign?  Why
would he have such fundamental differ
ences with your report?
JACK SMITH:  Well, Charlie, let me address that one-- I don't know General
Smith very well at all.  I've only talked to him once or twice when he was
a guest when I was doing some broadcasts.
        So, I don't know him.  He called us -- April and I -- on, I think it was
the Saturday before the broadcast, and he ran through several questions
with us, and I must say that he was quite rude to April in that
conversation.  You can ask him about that wh
en he comes on.  I was on that conversation, so that's my take on it.
        He virtually ignored me during that conversation, tossing most of his
questions to April.  But he provided us with nothing at that point that
would take the broadcast in another direction.
        We had in the report at that time McCarley denying that gas was used,
McCarley denying that defectors were killed.
        We had Pilot Art Bishop in the broadcast, in final cut, saying that he
only dropped tear gas.  We had put balance into the story.  The story
reported from our sources, from the men on the mission, from the people in
the chain of command -- this was thei
r story to us -- that sarin nerve gas dropped and defectors were killed.
        And that's what we reported.
        McCarley was the nay-sayer on that.  Art Bishop was the nay-sayer on that.
 He was cut out of the first broadcast.  That's an Atlanta call -- mistaken
call.  We fought for it.
        Rick Kaplan had put some colorful paragraph in the front half of the
broadcast, and they wanted to preserve that so they knocked Art Bishop out.
 Bum call.
        Bishop was in a week later in the second broadcast.
CHARLIE ROSE:  All right.
        Let me ask a couple of questions of April within the context of this as
well.  Did Rick Kaplan tell you, April, that this was not a journalistic
problem, it was a public-relations problem, as was reported in today's--
APRIL OLIVER:  He said that in a group meeting with the producers after the
controversy started to kick up, and it was in the same--
CHARLIE ROSE:  After the Abrams' report or before?
APRIL OLIVER:  No, before the Abrams' report, when we were first starting
to get a slow build in the press that, you know, people were gonna fight
this report and fight it hard.
        He said that this was a-- ``this is not a journalism problem, this is a
public relations problem.  And, boy, I don't want this train goin' to
congressional hearings 'cause we're gonna have 3,000 upright establishment
people on one side of the room, and
then our bunch of Special Forces guys on the other side of the room, and
that won't look good for CNN.''
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me ask this--
APRIL OLIVER:  Now, our feeling about that is we welcomed congressional
investigation on this.  This is a serious matter.  It is a pity that this
media frenzy has put the focus on the media story--
CHARLIE ROSE:  But this is not so much a media frenzy -- is it? -- as much
as it is genuine expressions by people in the military and other places
that the story is wrong--
APRIL OLIVER:  But you--
CHARLIE ROSE:  I mean, that's not a media frenzy-- a media frenzy may
develop after you have such a powerful story rebutted by people who see it
very differently and feel like it's a serious journalistic mistake-- to
make the point.
APRIL OLIVER:  You know, ``black operations'' are very highly
compartmented.  Very many of the good and honorable people, like I'm sure
General Perry Smith is, can stand up there and say, ``It couldn't have
happened.  I know it couldn't have happened.''
        But they would have no way to know whether it happened or not.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  April Oliver is quite right in saying the reports about a
so-called ``black operation''-- it's hard to gather information about
that-- that's perfectly true.  That requires more, not less, care and a
sense of sureness that you're getting i
t right when you broadcast it.
        Let me offer one example.
        The broadcast makes clear, very persuasively, this operation can't occur
without presidential approval.  There is no support in the broadcast at all
for the proposition that there was presidential approval.  None.
APRIL OLIVER:  --Moorer--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  There is the assumption that because the producers have
concluded-- or CNN concluded that nerve gas was used, therefore there must
have been presidential approval.
        There are a lot of people still around from 1970 who worked in the White
House.  And there is nothing, nothing on the record, nothing so far as we
can find, off the record, but in any event nothing--
APRIL OLIVER:  Mr. Abrams-- did you read--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --they used--
APRIL OLIVER:  --did you read Al Haig's--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  --which could support the proposition--
CHARLIE ROSE:  April, you can't talk over him because we will not be able
to hear.  I'll come to you.  I promise you.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  There is nothing which supports the proposition that in 1970
the White House approved this.  And that is an essential ingredient of it.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me just raise the additional point-- Jack Smith, you
were fired by CNN, correct?
JACK SMITH:  That's correct.
CHARLIE ROSE:  April Oliver?
JACK SMITH:  They asked me to resign.
CHARLIE ROSE:  April?
JACK SMITH:  I refused to resign.
APRIL OLIVER:  That's correct.
CHARLIE ROSE:  You refused to resign?
APRIL OLIVER:  We both did.
JACK SMITH:  Why should we resign?  We stand by the story.
CHARLIE ROSE:  April?
APRIL OLIVER:  The--  We stand by the story.  CNN management stood by the
story until the slow build of criticism in the press that we were not
allowed to counter with our facts.  It's an extraordinarily chilling
message to any investigative journalist.
JONATHAN ALTER:  Why don't you put your notes on-line, April?  Put all your
notes on-line, everything that you've got, and let a lot of different
people judge how convincing your reporting was in terms of reaching the
conclusions that you reached.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Yeah, all the people can judge whether you should have gone
ahead.
APRIL OLIVER:  A number of our confirmations, as you well know, are
confidential.  We cannot put confidential sources on-line.  We cannot-- I
mean, that is the--
JONATHAN ALTER:  This is the major problem that you just put your finger on
the major problem.  We use confidential sources all the time in journalism,
but there's a strong argument that we use them too often, and this is one
of those stories, where -- e
ven though it's a ``black operation,'' it's very sensitive, very hard to
get information -- you really need the whistle-blowers who will come
forward, take all the public abuse from the establishment because the
threshold is higher--
APRIL OLIVER:  I think that--
JONATHAN ALTER:  And you should have known that going in.
APRIL OLIVER:  I think that--  well, wait a second, I think that Admiral
Moorer reading the script and giving it the sign-off is a pretty darn good
public source.
        In addition, even after the controversy--
FLOYD ABRAMS:  As was-- [crosstalk]
APRIL OLIVER:  --exploded in his face he signed a statement saying that he
was aware of sarin gas--
JACK SMITH:  No.
        No, he did sign it.  He gave us a statement.
APRIL OLIVER:  He gave us a statement.
JACK SMITH:  We asked him--
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let me-- there are a couple of other things I need to go to.
 One is that, according to Time magazine, they had their-- Time magazine
had their Pentagon correspondent investigate this story along with the
Abrams investigation and that repo
rter concluded, according to Time, that there was not supporting evidence
for the charges you make.
JACK SMITH:  Well, we had enough invest--
CHARLIE ROSE:  Time magazine, not Floyd Abrams.
JACK SMITH:  Right.  I under-- I understand.  We had enough investigators
around, Charlie, to support a Spanish inquisition.
        First, we had the Time magazine chap comes over from the Pentagon with one
of their senior editors under the pretense that they are coming over to
join us in reporting on this story-- to join us in reporting on this story.
        Only at the meeting with April, which I couldn't attend because I had to
deal with some other matters on this topic-- only at that meeting does
April discover-- and I had told her ``give Time every note we have'' just
as we did with Mr. Abrams-- only th
en does April find out that the beat reporter at the Pentagon for Time
magazine is now being given the investigator's wand to investigate our report.
        How ludicrous can that be?  To have a beat reporter investigate a story we
broke?
CHARLIE ROSE:  I--
        Jack, in the interest of time--
JACK SMITH:  [unintelligible]
CHARLIE ROSE:  In real time, I have to go to another point.  Peter Arnett--
there has been some controversy about that because Peter Arnett was not
fired.  He was reprimanded.
        The explanation is that Peter Arnett was not really involved very much.
He was in Baghdad reporting on Iraq and, therefore, should have been
subject to a different kind of consequence than you were.  Then there's
been additional stories came forward th
at said he did one of the-- or two of the significant interviews and did more.
        What's your point?
APRIL OLIVER:  I have great respect for Peter Arnett.  He is a fine
journalist.  And he would not have been associated with this project at all
if he didn't believe that it was credible based on his Vietnam experience,
based on his own experience of brea
king stories having to do with poison gas in Vietnam.
        He was one of the first to report the use of vomiting gas in Vietnam in
1967, I believe.
        Peter is a fine journalist.  He certainly did participate and did three of
the principal interviews.
CHARLIE ROSE:  April Oliver and Jack Smith, I thank you for-- I hope you
feel like you've had a chance to make some points that you wanted to make
in the swirl of this controversy.
        I thank you very much for coming.
JACK SMITH:  Thanks, Charlie.
APRIL OLIVER:  Thank you.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Thank you, Floyd Abrams, for coming.
FLOYD ABRAMS:  Thank you, Charlie.
CHARLIE ROSE:  I know you-- a lot went into this report -- 60 pages that
you prepared.
        Jon Alter, thank you very much for coming--
JONATHAN ALTER:  Thanks, Charlie.
CHARLIE ROSE:  --sitting here with me.
        When we come back, we will hear from Perry Smith, from Columbia, South
Carolina, to talk about his perspective on this -- both as a soldier and as
consultant to CNN before he resigned.
        Back in a moment.  Stay with us.

Military Analyst Found Technical Evidence Against Sarin

CHARLIE ROSE:  Joining me now from Columbia, South Carolina, where he has
driven up from Augusta, Georgia, is Major General Perry Smith.
        He is-- formerly was an adviser to CNN, and he resigned in protest over
the broadcast of ``Valley of Death.''
        And I am pleased to have him here at the conclusion of this broadcast.
        He did not hear the preceding segments, I must say, but we're pleased to
have him here to give me an overview as to-- at this day, on this July 6,
how he sees this story and what has happened, and his own role.
        General Smith, thank you.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH, Retired, Military Analyst:  [crosstalk]
CHARLIE ROSE:  Give me a sense of what you said to CNN before you resigned.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Well, I tried-- when I figured out that this story
was wrong, I tried to get Tom Johnson, the CEO, to do a retraction.  And I
worked on him for about three days.
        And it was clear that he was gonna support his team.  I just couldn't
stand it from an ethical point of view because I knew the story was badly
untrue, and so I had then to resign in protest.
        And I did that on Sunday morning on the 14th of June.
CHARLIE ROSE:  You resigned based on what specifics?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Well, everything about the story was wrong.  I
figured out that it could not have been that gas would have fallen off
those airplanes because I was able to check the munitions and logistics
records.
        I talked to both pilots.  They had gone out and pre-flighted the
airplanes.  They knew what was hangin' on those airplanes.
        And so I-- once I knew that the gas was CS gas and not sarin gas that was
on those airplanes, I knew the story had to be wrong.  And, if there was no
sarin gas, there was basically no story.
        I was less confident about the defectors, but I was pretty sure that was
wrong, too.
        So, I had hard evidence from both the pilots and the logistics and
munitions records that there was no nerve gas at the base.  There were no
load crews trained to handle nerve gas.  They did not carry nerve gas,
therefore they did not drop nerve gas.
        And I thought the best people to tell me whether it was nerve gas or not
were not the people on the ground that were under heavy combat, but the
people who actually carried the munitions and dropped the munitions.
        So, with that assurity, I then went to Tom.  He would not retract.  I then
resigned in protest, and then since that time I have still worked very hard
with CNN to try to get them to do the retraction.
        And then eventually they brought in Floyd Abrams and he did a nice job and
the retraction took place.  It was a complete retraction and an apology.
        And I think Tom Johnson has handled that particularly well.
CHARLIE ROSE:  You have heard from Mr. Johnson and others at CNN, since the
Abrams report and since the retraction?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  That's correct.
        Tom Johnson has talked to me on the phone.  And he sent me a note.  In
both cases he apologized for not bringing me in before the story-- brought
in-- and he also felt that, if he had brought me in and given me a little
time, that I probably could have
headed the story off and we-- And CNN would not have made this huge mistake.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Let's assume that the story was wrong as you believe it was--
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Sure.
CHARLIE ROSE:  We just had the two producers vehemently say they stand by
their story.  Assuming that there was no sarin gas, assuming that there
were not American defectors there and other reasons that you found to
disassociate yourself from the broadca
st and to urge CNN not to broadcast it, why do you think two reporters and
producers got to the point that they found themselves?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Well, first of all, I think they developed a
hypothesis that sarin gas was used, and they tried very hard to develop
that hypothesis.  But what they didn't do is the didn't spend a major
effort trying to disconfirm the hypothesis.

        If you do any research, whether the research for a Ph.D. dissertation or a
book or for television, you should spend a little bit of time doing an
attempt to say, ``OK, maybe I'm wrong.  Let's try to prove that I'm wrong.''
        And I see no effort there in that regard.
        The second thing was they don't really understand the military and the
combat side of the military.  They had some documents, and they had some
interviews from people that weren't at the combat area.
        When I was over there flying over Laos the year before, oftentimes senior
people from Washington or from Saigon would come up and they thought they
knew what we were doin', but they didn't.
        They were thought we were droppin' a certain ordnance, but we weren't
because we didn't have the fuses or we didn't have the ordnance or we
didn't have the launchers or whatever.  And so where you find out what
happens in combat is you gotta go to the c
ombat unit.
        And the combat unit was at NKP, Nakhon Phenom in Thailand, you-- I went to
that unit.  I talked to the people that were there before, after, during--
the pilots involved.  And I was convinced that there was no story.  That it
was-- it just didn't take p
lace.
        And, even if the president had ordered it -- and I don't think he did --
the pilots could not have carried it out.  And, if they had been asked to
carry it out--
CHARLIE ROSE:  Why couldn't they have carried it out?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  They could not have because there was no nerve gas
on the base.  There were no nerve gas storage facilities.  Nobody was in
chemical suits to load the munitions.  None of that would fit together.
And, if they'd been told that the
y were gonna drop nerve gas on innocent civilians and on their own troops,
they would have refused to go because that would have been violation of the
Geneva Convention, national policy, the Nuremburg Codes, and all that.
        So, it just didn't track in any dimension.  And that's why I was convinced
that the story was wrong.
CHARLIE ROSE:  You know what some are saying-- those who listen to you and
they read about this-- they're saying, ``It's the establishment closing
ranks to present a story that they cannot and do not want to believe about
America.''
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  That assumes that, Charlie, a huge conspiracy that
would include thousands of people that would keep secret things for 28
years and continue to keep secrets.
        Now that might occur in the old Soviet Union, and that probably would
occur in Nazi Germany, but that just doesn't occur in America.
        People talk.  They go to bars.  They get drunk.  They share stories.
Somewhere along the line, somebody would have blown open that story long
before this.
        And, to assume that there's a great conspiracy of people who are-- somehow
are tryin' to hole and cover this up, people in government and out of
government, the entire--
CHARLIE ROSE:  I don't think they are making that argument so much that
there's a great conspiracy.  They are saying that people are stepping
forward to say, you know, to close-- to support the fact that there has
been and should be a retraction.
        They seem to be arguing that the facts are-- that they found the facts
that they put in their broadcast, and secondly they seem to be arguing that
this was a ``black box'' kind of operation-- or what's the term you use?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Yeah-- the ``back--''
        Let me talk about that a little bit, Charlie, because I kept trying to
figure out why they thought those two pilots from NKP would lie.  Those
pilots were not cleared for any ``black'' programs.  They were just kind of
dirt-road fighter pilots whose job
 was to save lives of people in danger.
        And they weren't cleared for any compartmentalized programs.  They weren't
cleared for plausible deniability.  I kept saying, ``Why would they lie?
Why would they lie?''  And there was no reason that they would lie.
        And so I think that they assumed they were involved in ``black'' programs
when they were not.
        Another thing that was a real problem for them is they had a piece of
documentation, which was a thank-you letter from the major commander in
the-- at 7th Air Force, back to one of the pilots, thankin' him for doin'
this thing and mentioning there was C
BU-something, and it was hard to read.
        But you can't rely on thank-you letters.  I got a number of thank-you
letters when I flew in the war from various generals for wonderful work I
had done, and they were almost always wrong.
        They had the wrong mission, the wrong date, the wrong ordnance.  Thank-you
letters are not real good documentation.  Where you do is you go to the
specific OpRep munition-type records and they're real solid.
        And I went to them, and I got them, and they prove that it was-- it was--
it was definitely CS gas or tear gas and not sarin gas.  So, the story-- no
matter how they spin it or talk about it or justify it or build up some
theory, it's just not true in a
ny dimension.  And it's a terrible charge.
        And that's another thing that concerns me.  CNN has done great damage to
the United States foreign policy, great damage to this country, great
damage to credibility of the military, and great damage to themselves.
        This is a very serious thing, and I'm concerned about that, and I'm
concerned about CNN getting back on track.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Well, they say that they've instituted standards now, and
they have who-- committees that are in place to make sure this kind of
thing couldn't happen again.
        Are you convinced yourself, looking back, that you screamed loud enough?
That you did everything you could to stop this broadcast because you
believed it would do the damage that you just cited?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Oh, Charlie, I made a lot of mistakes along the
way.  I didn't get into it quick enough.  I didn't-- I didn't pick up on
the promos.  I was on a trip.  I didn't know what was goin' on.  I didn't
argue hard enough and tough enough
with Tom Johnson before the show went on.
        And then it took me three days to figure out it was-- it was, in fact, a
bad story.  So, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I think maybe I
could have headed it off if, instead of going on my trip, I'd driven to
Atlanta on that Wednesday before
 the show and just sat down with 'em and said, ``This doesn't sound right
at all to me, and let's sit down and let's see if we've got somethin'
here.''  And that was-- that was a considerable mistake on my part.
        On the other hand, the CNN folks probably should have called me.  I am
there their military analyst, and they cut me completely out of this
program.  So, mistakes were made on their side also.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Why did they do that?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Well, that is-- you're gonna have to ask people
like Rick Kaplan-- you're gonna have to ask April.  I don't know because
I've gotten maybe a thousand calls or so in the last seven years, Charlie,
on all kinds of issues CNN's inter
ested in.
        Sometimes they want me to quietly check.  Sometimes they want me to really
go out on my brain-trust and check a lot.  They never called me.  And, if
they thought they had done really thorough research, why didn't they call a
military analyst who had fou
ght in the war, had flown over Laos a lot just the year before, had been a
weapons and tactics officer?  Why did they didn't bring me I just don't
understand.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Do you think it could happen again?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Yes, I think it could happen again.  There are a
lot of pressures to have big scoops.  There are very aggressive journalists
out there.  There are some people who are willing to believe that military
people lie to them a lot, whic
h I don't think is true, and they're looking for that great scoop, that
great opportunity to really make a splash, and so it could happen again.
        And I'm worried about CNN.  I think Tom Johnson's taking some good steps,
although he has to take some additional steps to get the house in order.
CNN has a great reputation around the world.
        We need a CNN to reach the world.  As Colin Powell told me recently, he
said, ``Look, Perry, CNN was the network of record'' -- the network of
record -- ``for the Gulf War.''  And he says, ``And look at what they have
done.''
        Colin Powell is very upset about that.  Andy Goodpastor is very-- I just
talked to Schwarzkopf this afternoon.  He is very upset about it.  There's
some serious-minded people in this country who are very, very worried about
this kind of journalism, part
icularly out of CNN.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Do they believe it has lingering consequences?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Absolutely.  I've talked to-- the secretary of
defense called me.  The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has called me.
CHARLIE ROSE:  And what do they say to you?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  They all have--
        Excuse me?
CHARLIE ROSE:  What do they say to you when they call?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  They said they were both overseas when this thing
broke, and it did serious damage to American foreign policy because now
Saddam Hussein and others can call Americans ``hypocrites'' for talking
about lethal gas-- And they were ver
y upset.
        Now, they were just complaining to me.  They knew I didn't have anything
to do with it, but--
        So, serious people in government and out of government have raised some
concerns, and I think CNN now understands it was a huge mistake.  And I'm
really pleased that they're moving in the direction of making corrections.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Well, some-- many people say that CNN should be applauded
because they went outside and got Floyd Abrams and because -- whatever the
mistakes might have been made in the process -- that they should applauded
now because they got Floyd Abra
ms to make an analysis and to issue a report.
        They're listening to you.  They're calling you.  And that they have-- they
have said, ``We were wrong.''  That ``we got this thing wrong.  There was
not supporting evidence,'' and so therefore the lesson is strong and
significant.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  It is-- it is, Charlie, but they haven't gone far
enough.  There are some people that were deeply involved in this story that
have not been asked to leave.  I frankly do not think it's fair to fire
April Oliver and not fire Peter
Arnett, who was the lead reporter, who did a lot of the interviewing, who
had that great experience in Vietnam and should have known better-- I can't
understand why Peter Arnett still is working for CNN.
        I think that needs to happen.  And, in addition, you know, they fired the
lieutenants and the majors, but I haven't seen the colonels and the
generals come to court yet.  I think there's gonna have to be a decision
about a senior person involved in this
 story who'll have to also leave CNN.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Should Rick Kaplan be fired?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  I-- I-- I can't make that judgment because I don't
know who were the key people in this, but he would certainly be one to be
looked at very seriously.
CHARLIE ROSE:  When you talk to CNN, do they want you to come back?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  No one has asked me to come back.  I am very, very
disinclined to come back.  I permanently have ended my relationship with
CNN.  I have no desire to do anything with CNN or any other network on any
kind of a regular basis.
        However, Charlie, I've gotta tell you.  Recently a very senior officer in
the Pentagon told me and asked me if I would be willing to go back to CNN
because he thinks that CNN needs me back and needs to have its credibility
re-established and by my retur
ning perhaps that could help.
        And, since he asked me that, I now at least would consider it if I was
asked to come back.
CHARLIE ROSE:  I thought we'd made strides in the understanding between the
military and the larger community.  Are you suggesting that we haven't gone
far enough in terms of -- whether it's journalistic community or whatever
community it is -- of unders
tanding the military and vice versa -- the military understanding the
larger community.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  It's a wonderful question, and the relationship
between the military and the media is terribly important, and it was in
terrible shape at the latter part of the Vietnam War and afterwards.
        It came back strongly during the Gulf War.  The media reported fairly.
The military did very well.  And that relationship began to warm up.  There
were bridges that were built between the media and the military.
        This is a big setback, but it is-- it is-- and it's a big mistake, but
it's only one mistake.  And I think it can be repaired.  The military today
now is very skeptical about the network that they really trusted -- called
CNN.  They're very skeptical ab
out it.
        And they're looking for actions beyond apologies.  They're looking for
actions like the ending of the contract with Peter Arnett.
        And then they would have to watch it very carefully to make sure that it
reported fairly for a considerable period of time before it could give the
trust to CNN that had-- it had given to CNN over the last few years.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Could this have gone on without people in the military at
the highest level knowing about it?  If you accept what the report by the
producers argued?
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  No, no.  It could not have gone on-- you see, the
SOG group actually did not work for General Abrams, who is a commander on
the scene.  They worked through the CIA and through some special channels,
but-- General Abrams, who was t
he commander of MACV at the time had to support the SOG with a lot of his
own forces, so he had to be involved.  And he had--
        A man of very high integrity, and I talked to his aides.  And, by the way,
April and Jack did not interview a lot of really key people that I
interviewed.  I asked 'em--
        For instance, the number-one aide to Abrams was never talked to by them.
And they were cleared for all the ``black'' programs, and they said,
``absolutely, it could not have happened,'' because they would have known
about it.
        And Abrams would not have allowed it to happen because of his great
feeling for the common soldier.  Abrams was one of the great American
heroes of the highest quality, and he would never have approved the use of
nerve gas against our own people.
CHARLIE ROSE:  General Smith, thank you very much for joining us, for
coming over from Augusta, to Columbia, South Carolina, for appearance on
this broadcast.
        I appreciate it very much.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH:  Thank you very much, Charlie.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Major General Perry Smith.
        Thank you for joining us.  We'll see you next time.
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