Cable on enemy strength halted by Westmoreland, his intelligence chief says

A retired two-star general says Gen. William C. Westmoreland suppressed a 1967 cable showing greater enemy strength in Vietnam because it would have been a ``political bombshell'' if it had reached Washington. Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChristian, who served two years as General Westmoreland's chief intelligence officer, testified Wednesday that in May 1967 he showed the general a cable he was going to send to Washington. Testifying on behalf of CBS in Westmoreland's $120 million libel suit against the network, General McChristian said the document reported communist strength in Vietnam was much greater than had previously been believed.

``He read it, he looked up -- looked at me -- and said, `If I send this cable to Washington, it will create a political bombshell,''' McChristian said. ``He said, `No, leave it with me, I want to go over it.' . . . The only concern he expressed to me was a political concern.''

CBS charged in ``The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,'' that Westmoreland, a four-star general and commander of US forces in Vietnam 1964-68, at first suppressed the cable, then ordered his staff to take a hard line with the CIA to keep the higher strength estimates from reaching Congress, the American public, and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On cross-examination Wednesday, Westmoreland's lawyer noted that McChristian did not quote Westmoreland as predicting a ``political bombshell'' when he was interviewed in 1981 for the documentary. McChristian testified Wednesday that during the interview, ``I didn't want to quote General Westmoreland. I didn't want to bring out any dirty laundry in public.''

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