Did Army undercount Viet Cong?

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Did top-level U.S. military officials conspire to suppress and alter critical intelligence on the enemy during the Vietnam war?

The charge is made by CBS News correspondent Mike Walace and producer reporter George Crile in a coming TV report. They say Gen. William Westmore and Presiden Lyndon Johnson gave the inaccurate figures to get him to commit 300,000 addtional soldiers to the war effort. The general denies the charge.

The intention of the alleged deception was to underestimate Viet Cong troop strength to beguile President and Congress into thinking that victory was within the US's grasp , CBS says. It was hoped that additional troops could be committed to finish off the war.$

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CBS contends the general told the President, the Congress, and the American people in 1967 that victory was close at hand, only to discover that both the CIA and his own intelligence chiefs had discovered evidence that the enemy had been underestimated by half; that the US was further away from winning the war than ever.

A series of CIA officials, members of Westmoreland's staff and Westmoreland himself, interviewed by CBS, have indicated that because the truth would have been, as Wallace puts it, ''a political bombshell,'' pressure was brought to bear to withhold the facts, underestimate the enemy figures, even reprogram computers so that the bad news would not reach the ears of the President.

Says Mr. Wallace, in ''The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,'' airing Jan. 23, 9:30-11 p.m.: General Westmoreland had ''won the intelligence war. And so instead of being told of an enemy army of more than half a million, the President, the Congress, and the American public were told there were only 248, 000 Viet Cong left.''

Presidential adviser George Allen says on the program that the general and those under his command feared that if the truth were told, ''it would have scuttled entirely the effort that had been going on . . . to convince the people that the administration's policy was on the right track.''

Thus, when the Tet offensive took place, just about everybody except Westmoreland and his intelligence staff were caught unprepared for the size of the attack, which the US eventually repelled.

After Tet, when the facts became known, Johnson's advisers urged him to begin pulling out of a war which seemingly could not be won. The President then withdrew from the race for renomination.

Says Wallace: ''The fighting went on . . . for seven more years, 27,000 more Americans were killed . . . over 100,000 more were wounded.''

Despite the CBS News evidence that a grave series of deceptions took place, despite the fact that General Westmoreland had ample opportunity to refute the allegations (which he denies), Mr. Wallace says that even now, Westmoreland still ''holds to his view that we won the war on the battlefield in Vietnam and only chose to lose it at home.''

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