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Full-text: July 1 1992, Iran Air Flight 655 (July 3 1988, 290 victims)

ABC News
ABC News Nightline
Ted Koppel {NPR}
Managing Editor


The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War

July 1, 1992

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Four years ago this week—

A tragedy in the Persian Gulf.

The shooting down of an Iranian Airbus.

By the USS Vincennes.

The lives of 290 civilians lost.

And the inevitable question:

How could this have happened?

There was the “official” story.

George H.W. Bush (U.S. Vice President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20) [July 14, 1988]:

“One thing is clear, and that is that the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

An official story—

Of the American warship as victim.

At the right place.

At the right time.

Minding its own business.

Richard S. Williamson (Assistant Secretary of State, International Organization Affairs, 1988-1989) [July 13, 1988]:

“The ship was, at the time of the incident, in international waters.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

It was official.

And untrue.

Tonight, the real story of what happened.

And why.

On July 3rd, 1988.

And why the U.S. government tried to cover it up.


The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War.

Announcer. This is an ABC News Nightline/Newsweek magazine special investigation.

Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

Ted Koppel. Governments lie.

They do it all the time.

And, much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the U.S. government is no exception.

There were times when we may have believed otherwise.

But after Vietnam and Watergate, we know better.

Still, unlike most countries in the world, when our government lies to us, there tend to be consequences:

Congressional hearings.

Special prosecutors.

Investigative reports.

And, unlike most countries in the world — in which there’s no real expectation that the truth will out — Americans really do believe that sooner or later, however painful the truth may be, those who know it will ultimately tell it.

Before this program is over tonight, we will have told you what we’ve uncovered over the past few months, working with Newsweek magazine, about this country’s war against Iran.

It wasn’t a full-scale war.

It was certainly never a declared war.

But the United States did so much to ensure that Iraq would not lose its war against Iran that the Reagan and Bush administrations became allies to Saddam Hussein.

And when a U.S. ship accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger plane, the U.S. government covered up the truth, to prevent that alliance from becoming fully known.

It was another July 4th weekend, four years ago, almost to the day, that an American warship, the USS Vincennes, shot down an unarmed civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf.

It was a terrible accident.

Indisputably a case of mistaken identity.

Granted, there was no love lost between the United States and Iran.

But the U.S. Navy does not deliberately target a civilian Airbus.

There were 290 men, women and children who died on that plane.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

And the videotape of bodies floating amid the wreckage was a horrifying reminder of how easily the United States could become involved in the bloody war that continued to rage between Iran and Iraq.

On the record, the United States was trying to remain neutral, although clear warnings had gone out that the U.S. would not stand idly by while Iranian gunboats harassed international shipping. Nor would the U.S. Navy permit mines to be planted in international waters.

Ted Koppel (on camera).

On that hazy Sunday morning of July 3rd, in fact, the Aegis cruiser Vincennes and the frigate Montgomery were on patrol in the Gulf, when a helicopter from the Vincennes came under fire from Iranian gunboats, while on a reconnaissance mission.

We have reconstructed what happened next, from audio and video tapes, recorded aboard those two U.S. Navy ships, and from the first TV interview granted by the captain of the USS Vincennes since the incident.

Loudspeaker. General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations.

Seaman. One at 350’s inbound, it’s coming inbound fast.

William C. Rogers III (former Commanding Officer, USS Vincennes, Captain, U.S. Navy, Retired). The small craft turned in our direction.

Seaman. I’ve got a visual on the bow camera [unintelligible].

Captain Rogers. As they turned and began to maneuver and close us fairly high speed and on erratic courses, we asked permission to fire a warning shot. The bridge reported that they were firing at us, and indicated that we were taking this small craft under fire. We were maneuvering rapidly because, first place, my desire was to keep them at arm’s length, if you will. We were engaging, it essentially was barrage fire. We were shifting targets as rapidly as we could, and Montgomery at the same time was directed to engage the small craft, which they did.

George Emerson (Gunnery Officer, USS Montgomery, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy). We fired at this contact, 10 rounds, got an explosion that covered or obscured the target with smoke, and the target seemed to disappear. It’s very difficult, when you’ve never been in a combat situation, to know what has actually transpired, until maybe just a few seconds after the event has transpired.

Captain Rogers. Several minutes into this, we were notified that we have an aircraft departure from Bandar Abbas. Did not really become of tactical concern till it was around 47 miles away, primarily because aircraft flew in the Gulf. It was pointed out at this point that the aircraft was essentially inbound on what looked to be a closed constant bearing decreasing range, and we were monitoring it.

Seaman. Still inbound.

Captain Rogers. The aircraft was warned, warned a number of times, continued to close. Time is a demon here. If I have a long time to sort things out, you’re going to take more time to look at this and more time to look at that.

But when you don’t have time, you basically take what you have, and you’re—

At some point in time, you have to make the decision. I was having—

I had difficulty at 20 miles. I just did not want to shoot. I could not believe that this was really happening to us. So I held my fire.

When the aircraft reached a little over 10 miles, at that point in time I either make the decision then, or I don’t make it at all, because I reach minimum weapons range.

And the decision was made at that, and it intercepted and killed the aircraft.

1st Seaman. Oh, dead. We hit it. We have got it. That was a dead on.

2nd Seaman. Relax, relax, keep the noise down. Knock it off !

Captain Rogers. I thought it was a tactical aircraft.

Did I think it was absolutely an F-14, or an F-4, or a Fokker D-27?

I don’t know.

I thought it was a tactical aircraft engaged in support of the ongoing surface action.

That’s what I thought.

Otherwise, I would have certainly never released two standard missiles at it.

George Emerson (Gunnery Officer, USS Montgomery, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy). It seemed, to most people, that for the amount of wreckage that was seen falling, it probably wasn’t an F-14, although no one could be sure.

And that happened maybe 20 minutes later, by the time we collected the information and said, “Well, it might not have been an F-14.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Within a matter of hours, it became clear that the aircraft downed by the Vincennes was not a warplane, but a commercial airliner with what later turned out to be 290 civilians on board.

Captain Rogers . The decision, I’m—

I think probably was proper.

Unfortunately, innocent people’s lives were lost, and I think that is something that I will live with the rest of my life.

It’s something that I regret.

But my overall and overriding responsibility at the time was to my ship and my crew, and I think I executed that as I had been sworn to do.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

That same Sunday, July 3rd, Admiral William Crowe, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with reporters at the Pentagon to brief them on the incident.

First reports, as Admiral Crowe would later note, are almost always wrong.

William J. Crowe Jr. (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral, U.S. Navy) [July 3, 1988]:

The suspect aircraft was outside the prescribed commercial air corridor.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

That was wrong. The aircraft was flying well within the commercial air corridor.

William J. Crowe Jr. More importantly, the aircraft headed directly for Vincennes, on a constant bearing, at high speed, approximately 450 knots.

Ted Koppel. At the time it was shot down, the Iranian aircraft was actually turning slowly away from the Vincennes. Its top speed, a relatively minor point, was 385 knots.

William J. Crowe Jr. There were electronic indications on Vincennes that led it to believe that the aircraft was an F-14.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

The only electronic emission from the plane was its correct transponder signal, identifying it as a commercial aircraft.

William J. Crowe Jr. Decreasing in altitude as it neared the ship.

Ted Koppel. That, too, was wrong. The aircraft had been steadily climbing from liftoff and was still gaining altitude at the time of missile impact.

“ Ronald Reagan. The plane began lowering its altitude.”

“Questions and Answers with President Reagan Regarding USS Vincennes Shooting Down of Iranian Aircraft” (White House, south lawn, 12pm EDT, Monday July 4 1988, on return from a weekend at Camp David (FNS: Federal News Service transcript 19880704z0052, text), reported, Merrill Hartson, “Reagan Scoffs At Iranian Charge of 'Cold-Blooded Murder'” (AP: Associated Press, July 4 1988, 1:16pm EDT, AP880704-0133).
CJHjr comment: This is a smoking gun, indicating a criminal conspiracy, among his trusted advisers, who lied to Ronald Reagan — George H.W. Bush (VP), John Negroponte (NSA), Colin Powell (NSA deputy) — to enable Reagan (their innocent agent) to speak with conviction, convey this, and their other lies, to the public, and to Congress — a criminal felony, 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a) (false statements/omissions).

Reagan might have signaled he wanted to be lied to, or they knew, from long experience, that was his nature, and if so, then by that signal, by his method of operation (inviting lies, never investigating, punishing them), Reagan joined the criminal conspiracy, a willfully blind member.

But Reagan himself (a professional actor) might have lied, after they told him the truth, Reagan endorsing their plan, and ordering it, a package of lies, to be mouthed by collection of characters, some of them knowing liars, some of them willfully blind liars, some of them innocent deceived agents of the liars-on-orders.

Either is possible, I believe it’s the former, they lied to Reagan, knowing Reagan wanted to be lied to, as other events in his 8-year presidency suggest to me, and they also lied to others (e.g., Crowe), that Reagan ordered them to lie, a thoroughly corrupt, dishonest, criminal, gang.

Conceivably, the military conspired to lie to their civilian masters, a criminal conspiracy among Rogers, Crowe, and others. A film crew on board, who filmed the attack, a few military commanders might have hatched a plot, to kill an Iranian miitary plane, as a Fourth of July extravaganza, to their greater glory.

But lying about it afterwards, that’s dicey (unless they lie on orders)

As may be, but as reporting afterwards, including telephone chat, less likely in my opinion, because they knew, that very many witnesses knew the truth, many dozens of people, with access to the many recordings of the computer link-11 messages, for example (e.g., the aircraft carrier, the Pentagon), auto-reporting the climbing radar target, the NSA recordings and such. If they lied, then they lied on orders, I imagine, to enable their civilian master liars to pretend they were misinformed, if later challenged.

The least likely explanation is an honest mistake, during the many hours before Crowe first uttered this lie to the public. This would indicate a military, and a separately reporting intelligence community, so recklessly incompetent, it would be a prima facie criminal act, to entrust any of them with weapons-release authority.

Charles Judson Harwood Jr. (June 5 2009)

We know all these things now because the information was later retrieved through a detailed analysis of a tape made by the USS Vincennes’ own Aegis radar tracking system.

And indeed, over the days and weeks to come, corrections would be made.

But two critical issues were never addressed in public, not truthfully, at least.

Where, precisely, was the Vincennes at the time of the shootdown?

And what was she doing there?

The official response to those two questions has been a tissue of lies, fabrications, half-truths and omissions.

When we come back, the story you didn’t hear four years ago.

( – commercial break 1 – )

Ted Koppel. In July of 1988, the country was, as it is now, in the middle of a presidential campaign.

Whatever the public’s feelings toward Iran might have been, the shooting down of a civilian airliner, the deaths of 290 civilians, were both a tragedy and potentially a political embarrassment.

Two points had to be made.

The captain of the Vincennes was not to blame.

It was the fault of the Iranians.

That message was carried to the United Nations 11 days after the incident by then-Vice President Bush.

George H.W. Bush (U.S. Vice President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20), formal prepared statement, to the U.N. Security Council, New York City, July 14 1988 [July 14, 1988]:

“One thing is clear, and that is that the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense.

This tragic accident occurred against a backdrop of repeated, unjustified, unprovoked and unlawful Iranian attacks against U.S. merchant shipping and armed forces.

And it occurred in the midst of a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels against a neutral vessel and subsequently against the Vincennes when she came to the aid of the innocent ship in distress.”

Subject: Iran Air, U.N. Security Council meeting 2818 (U.N. Headquarters, New York City, Thursday July 14 1988, 11:00am-1:00pm), U.N. Doc. S/PV.2818 (“Provisional Verbatim Record of the Two Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighteenth Meeting”) (61 pages) {9.7mb.pdf}, C-Span video 3376-1 {2:08:34, 144296342}, broadcast July 14, 17 1988.  CJHjr

Ted Koppel. As we will show you, much, if not most, of what you just heard was untrue.

But that was certainly the party line.

The international community, the American public, the U.S. Congress were all led to believe that what happened that day occurred in and over international waters and was directly provoked by the Iranians.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

President Reagan, in his letter to Congress, regarding the incident:


Ronald Reagan (U.S. President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20) [July 4 1988] {copy}:

“On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes and the USS Elmer Montgomery were operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz.”

Ted Koppel (on camera).

As indeed they were.

Earlier in the day.

Later in the day.

But not at the time of the shootdown itself.

But if the President merely “misdirected” Congress, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Williamson was left to carry the actual lie.

Richard S. Williamson [July 13 1988]:

“The ship was, at the time of the incident, in international waters, outside the zone of exclusion declared by Iran.”

Richard S. Williamson (Assistant Secretary of State, International Organization Affairs, 1988-1989), prepared statement, to the U.N. ICAO: International Civil Aviation Organization, Montreal, July 13 1988, printed, “Assistant Secretary Williamson, ICAO Council, Montreal, July 13, 1988” in “Middle East, Iranian Airbus Tragedy” (Department of State Bulletin, volume 88, number 2138, September 1988, pages 38-43, at 39-42) (“The official monthly record of United States foreign policy”) {3 issues, July.-Sept., 1.61mb.txt, 23.84mb.pdf, source} {SuDoc: S 1.3, LCCN: 39026945, ISSN: 0041-7610, OCLC: 1639364, GPOcat, WorldCat}.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Where the Vincennes was makes a lot of difference.

Iranian gunboats, for example, firing on U.S. warships in international waters would be the aggressors.

Doing so in their own territorial waters would be another matter altogether.

So where did Secretary Williamson get his information?

Richard S. Williamson. The sources of the information were the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Department and the National Security Council.

That’s why it was—

The process is set up so that in all these cases, those relevant agencies sign off.

And so if there are misstatements of fact, there—

They had to intentionally approve it.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

And indeed, to this very day, the captain of the Vincennes, Will Rogers, insists that his ship was well outside Iran’s territorial waters.

Captain Rogers. Through the maneuvering, the surface engagement, the missile launch, I thought we were outside of Iranian territorial waters.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci makes the same claim, to this day.

Frank C. Carlucci (Secretary of Defense, Nov. 23 1987-1989 Jan. 20).

The exact location, as best we could tell, was in international waters, but if somebody has better evidence, they can certainly produce it.

Ted Koppel. For several months now, ABC News Nightline and Newsweek magazine have been investigating just that question.

Where was the Vincennes at the time of the shootdown?

And why would the entire executive branch of government, from the President on down, become involved in a cover-up concerning the location of that ship?

Until a couple of weeks ago, locating the Vincennes in international waters was a position stoutly defended by Admiral William Crowe, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Ted Koppel (interviewing). But if I were to ask you today, was the Vincennes in international waters at the time that she shot down the Airbus—

William J. Crowe Jr. Yes, she was.

Ted Koppel. In international waters?

William J. Crowe Jr. No, no, no.

She was in Iran’s territorial waters.

Ted Koppel. Let me ask you again.

Where was the Vincennes at the time that she shot down the Airbus?

William J. Crowe Jr. She was in Iran territorial waters.

John Barry (Newsweek correspondent). The first and most basic thing that they covered up was where the Vincennes was when the whole thing happened.

And that cover-up starts with the very first chart that was ever produced of the event.

And if you look at that chart, what you see is that there was a large and imposing silhouette of the Vincennes, and that’s not where the Vincennes was.

If you then look a little higher up the chart, you can see that there’s a tiny brown mark, it’ll be a little bit like a launch, which says, I think, “encounter with gunboats.”

That’s where the Vincennes was.

But you’re invited to believe by the chart that it’s where the gunboats were.

Not so.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

The Iranian gunboats on that particular day — during their gun battles with the Vincennes the Montgomery and the helicopter from the Vincennes — the Iranian gunboats, during the actual shooting, were in Iranian territorial waters.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained the testimony of the Vincennes’ own navigator, that his ship had crossed into Iranian waters before she opened fire on the gunboats.


“I relayed down to the Tactical Action Officer at some point — I’m not sure if it was when we crossed the 12-nautical-mile limit or not — that we are now inside the 12-nautical-mile point.

I did that a couple of times later on, also to let him know that we were still within Iranian territorial waters.”

End quote.

Query:Tactical Action Officer”?

That’s Victor Guillory (Lieutenant Commander). The second in combat command. The only person on the warship authorized to release weapons, besides Captain Rogers (Commanding Officer).

Victor Guillory (TAO) was seated directly next to Captain Rogers (CO). On his right hand. In the Vincennes Combat Information Center.

Source: DoD Report (July 28 1988), ¶ b(2), page 30 (Watch Organization, weapons release authority), second sentence, silently redacted by the DoD from the copy (page 20) released to the public on August 19 1988: “Only the CO/TAO have weapons release authority on USS Vincennes.” And see, Vincennes CIC Plan (Combat Information Center), top-left: CO, TAO (image widths: 640px, 800px, 1024px, 1280px), source, DoD Report, page 42, and page 29a of the more redacted August 19 1988 version.  CJHjr

And if you listen carefully to this videotape — shot on the bridge of Vincennes during the engagement — it is possible to hear the quartermaster giving the ship’s location to the same navigator.

Quartermaster. Nine-point-three [9.3].

Navigator. Nine-point-three [9.3] miles from Larak?

Quartermaster. No. Qeshm.

Navigator. T.A.O., Bridge.

We’re about 9.3 miles from Qeshm Island.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Qeshm Island is Iranian, so the Vincennes was almost three miles inside Iran’s 12-mile territorial limit.

The Montgomery was even further inside.

{Chart widths: 620px, 780px, 1000px, 1263px, 1580px}

“ All U.S. naval vessels prior to the engagement with Iranian small boats were in international waters. The ICAO investigation determined that at 6:10 a.m. the position of the three U.S. ships was as follows:

USS Vincennes26 26 N, 056 02 E.

USS Elmer Montgomery— 5 nautical miles northwest of the USS Vincennes

USS Sides— 18 nautical miles northeast of the USS Vincennes

See ICAO Report, Appendix A, p. A-1.

These positions are all outside of Iranian territorial waters.

* * *

[D]uring the 17 minute engagement it became necessary for the USS Vincennes, in defending itself, to maneuver into waters claimed by Iran as territorial waters. ...

At the time the USS Vincennes fired its surface-to-air missiles (6:54 UTC), it was located at 26 30 47 N, 056 00 57 E.”

“Preliminary Objections by the United States of America” {7.25mb.pdf, source}, pages 24 n.1, 27, 27 n.1 (March 4 1991), Iran v. United States (“Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988”) (U.N. I.C.J.: International Court of Justice, The Hague, filed, May 17 1989) {70kb.pdf, source, 437kb.pdf, source}, discontinued on settlement, February 22 1996) {115.1kb.pdf, source, 248.7kb.pdf, source}.

The important bearing northwest was concealed by U.S. military officers from their report.

For the significance of this prima facie criminal lie of omission, see belowCJHjr

Ted Koppel (on camera).

But, surely, the Reagan-Bush administration wouldn’t have engaged in a massive cover-up just to protect the reputation of one Navy captain.

There had to be more at stake, and there was.

Remember Vice President Bush’s description of the incident at the U.N.?

George H.W. Bush (U.S. Vice President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20), formal prepared statement, to the U.N. Security Council, New York City, July 14 1988 [July 14, 1988]:

“It occurred in the midst of a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels against a neutral vessel and subsequently against the Vincennes when she came to the aid of the innocent ship in distress.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

The official Navy investigation was conducted by Admiral William Fogarty.

Before Congress, Fogarty added to the Vice President’s account.

William M. Fogarty (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Director of Policy and Plans, U.S. Central Command, head of the investigative team).

“During the early morning of three July, a Pakistani merchant was also harassed.

She also issued a distress call.

Soon thereafter, explosions were heard in the vicinity of a Liberian merchant, where numerous Iranian gunboats were gathered.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

But Admiral Fogarty must have forgotten what he wrote in his own official report for the Navy.

That there were no distress calls that day.


“ Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. We got no requests from the merchant ships.”

DoD Press Briefing, July 3 1988.

“ Admiral William M. Fogarty. No merchant vessels requested assistance.”

DoD Report, ¶ 2(e), p.37/25 (July 28 1988).  CJHjr

We checked with the captain of the Pakistani merchant ship.

He tells us that he issued no distress call that day.

Nor was he harassed.

As for the Liberian merchant ship, she is referred to on official Navy charts as the Stoval.

Newsweek reporter John Barry checked Liberian registry and international shipping records.

There is no evidence that any such ship exists.

“ Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. Like Newsweek, I am unable to find the Stoval in the Liberian registry.”

House Hearing, p.14 (July 21 1992).  CJHjr

John Barry (Newsweek correspondent). The truth, we are told, is that this phantom vessel, Stoval, didn’t exist.

Because it was a decoy.

It had no existence, other than some radio transmissions.

And it was a decoy which had been organized by U.S. forces in the Gulf to lure out the Iranian gunboats from the islands in the Strait of Hormuz, so that these gunboats would come south to attack this helpless Liberian tanker and would instead find themselves confronted by U.S. warships and armed U.S. helicopters.

And that was the operation which was going on that day, and into which the Vincennes charged its way.

( – commercial break 2 – )

Ted Koppel. As our investigation scrutinized the Navy’s official report of the Vincennes, more and more inconsistencies became apparent.

The whole chain of events, remember, was set in motion when an armed reconnaissance helicopter from the Vincennes was sent to investigate a distress call from a merchant ship.

That call, it now appears, never happened.

And, the helicopter, which seems — on Admiral Crowe’s chart — to be in international airspace, was not.

“ Ronald Reagan. [T]he Vincennes sent a Mark III LAMPS Helicopter on investigative patrol in international airspace to assess the situation.”

Report to Congress, July 4 1988 {copy}.


18 U.S.C. § 1001(a). False Statements/Omissions:

“ (a)  Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully —

(1)  falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

(2)  makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or

(3)  makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”

18 U.S.C. § 1515(a)(3)(B). Misleading Conduct:

“ (3)  the term “misleading conduct” means — ...

(B)  intentionally omitting information from a statement and thereby causing a portion of such statement to be misleading, or intentionally concealing a material fact, and thereby creating a false impression by such statement ...”

18 U.S.C. § 2. Principals

“ (a)  Whoever commits an offense...or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.”

18 U.S.C. § 371. Conspiracy:

“ If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”



John Barry (Newsweek correspondent). The fact is that the helicopter was nowhere near where it is positioned on that particular chart.

What we’ve discovered is that the Vincennes helicopter, when it was fired upon by Iranian gunboats — if it was fired upon by Iranian gunboats — and there’s some dispute about that — that when that happened, in fact, the Vincennes helicopter was itself in Iranian airspace, over Iranian territorial waters.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Roger Charles is a former Marine lieutenant colonel who served with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has been investigating the USS Vincennes incidents for several years, and was a consultant on this investigation.

Roger Charles (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marines, retired), ABC News consultant.

What we know, beyond any doubt, is that there was a provocation.

That the United States forces enticed, in fact, entrapped the Iranian gunboats into a situation where we could then say that there’s been a hostile action by them, the firing on the helicopter.

And that then allowed — under this kind of specious rule of loosened hot pursuit — us to take military action.

So what was presented on the surface side, before the Airbus took off and got involved, as an attack by Iranian gunboats on U.S. ships, is, in reality, demonstrably provable now that we attacked the gunboats.


{Chart widths: 620px, 780px, 1000px, 1263px, 1580px}

“ 0610  USS Vincennes in position 26 26 N, 056 02 E.

USS Montgomery approximately 5 NM to the north-west {315°}.

26-29-31 N, 55-58-01 E
(26.492 N, 55.967 E).  CJHjr

USS Sides approximately 18 NM to the north-east.

0615 USS Vincenneshelicopter in a position 8 to 10 NM north {0°/360°} of USS Montgomery is fired upon by small boats.

8 n.miles: 26-37-31 N, 55-58-01 E
(26.625 N, 55.967 E).
4.2 n.miles offshore Iran (Qeshm Island).
3.2 n.miles offshore Iran (Hangam Island).

10 n.miles: 26-39-31 N, 55-58-01 E
(26.659 N, 55.967 E).
2.5 n.miles offshore Iran (Qeshm Island).
2.8 n.miles offshore Iran (Hangam Island).


* * *

0654:22  USS Vincennes, first missile launch followed by the second missile. ...

IR655 approximate position 26 40 06 N, 056 02 41 E.

USS Vincennes is at position 26 30 47 N, 056 00 57 E, track 058 degrees, speed 22 kt.

8.9 n.miles offshore Iran (Hangam Island)CJHjr

USS Montgomery approximate position 26 31 N, 055 55 12 E, track 132 degrees, speed 17 kt.

6.5 n.miles offshore Iran (Hangam Island). At that same track and speed, ten minutes earlier, when the Montgomery opened fire on the small boats (0643Z): 3.6 n.miles offshore Iran. Though it likely changed course and speed during that 10 minutes.  CJHjr

* * *

2.11.7  Positions of USS Vincennes and IR655. The position of USS Vincennes at the time of missile launch based on the AEGIS-system data was given as 26 30 47 N, 056 00 57 E and that of flight IR655 as 26 40 06 N, 056 02 41 E.”

ICAO Report, pp. A-1, A-11, 19 (Nov. 7 1988)


The Montgomery’s bearing northwest from the Vincennes puts the U.S. military helicopter about 9 n.miles deep inside Iran’s territorial waters.

Senior U.S. military officers concealed this bearing from their Report, both the public version and the classified version. (DoD Report, ¶ b.(2), p.35/23). They revealed it to the U.N. ICAO investigators (above). And U.S. Justice Department lawyers ratifed this bearing in their brief in the U.N. International Court of Justice.

Yet, in public, senior U.S. military officers continued to pretend — even after this broadcast — that the Montgomery was south of the Vincennes.

“ Les Aspin, Chairman. Where was the Montgomery at this point? ... At the point that the helicopter was fired upon.

Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. It was near the Vincennes, about 8 or 10 miles south.”

House Hearing, p.19 (July 21 1992).

While continuing to conceal — all the while — the automatically recorded SINS logs (Ship’s Inertial Navigation System), and Link 11 messages, which document all the positions. Both in the tape recordings onboard each ship and, in real time, via satellite broadcasts. Tape recorded at the Pentagon. And the aircraft carrier. And the AWACS. And the E2C Hawkeye. And the NSA listening station on the Musandam Peninsula.

“ Ship’s movements are automatically recorded by computer programs for applications such as gun laying calculations and Link 11 position reporting.”

Electronics Technician, Volume 5–Navigation Systems, Chapter 1, Surface Navigation Systems, p.1-1 {1373kb.pdf} (Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center, Pensacola Florida, NETPDTC 1550/41 (Rev 4-00), April 1994).  CJHjr


Senior U.S. military officers purposely concealed the positions of their warships, and their helicopter, from the public.

And for good reason.

The small boats — a military force — were lawfully entitled to fire warning shots, to enforce the integrity of their territorial boundaries, from an unlawful invasion by an armed military helicopter, of a hostile foreign power.

Senior U.S. military officers may have disclosed the positions in secret classified exhibits to their report. Locked up in a distant, secured, guarded, high security room, which no member of any Congressional staff was allowed to see. And no Member of Congress was allowed to look at, except alone, or allowed to copy, or make notes of, or speak about, afterwards. See Dana Priest, “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence Criticized{pf} (Washington Post, April 27 2004).

And, some Members of Congress may have participated in the official conspiracy to lie to the public.

And, in the official prima facie criminal conspiracy to lie to Congress. Knowingly, and willfully, with “specific intent.” Themselves lying to Congress, as principals. Knowingly and willfully permitting witnesses to conceal this material fact from their testimony.

Concealing this material fact from the U.S. Government institution charged with the responsibility of acknowledging wrongdoing by the United States of America, and authorizing payment of money to the victims.

Then, still more than two months before Pan Am 103 (December 21 1988, 270 victims).

A foreseeable, promised, apparent, international countermeasure, against the stubborn refusal of the United States to admit its wrongdoing; punish those responsible; correct its prima facie criminal Rules of Engagement; correct its negligent operational protocols; correct its negligent equipping and negligent training of its crews; and pay damages to the victims, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, for its $30 million aircraft, owned by its state-owned corporation, Iran Air.  CJHjr

“ Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. Several exhibits included navigational data — that is, logs, et cetera — which were used to reconstruct the incident.

When the report was redacted for public release, that information was withheld for two reasons:

  It could help define our rules of engagement in ways we did not want to disclose at that time, and especially the fact that our rules under certain circumstances permitted entry into territorial waters.

  We were also concerned about the possibility of Iranian retaliation and didn’t want to throw gasoline on the flames which we believed might follow the Vincennes incident. ...

Nevertheless, the classified report and the redacted unclassified version were transmitted to both the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees. ...

Again, I believe the congressional members and staff must have believed it more beneficial not to disclose the classified material at that time.

Very shortly after the shootdown, the International Civil Aviation Organization, colloquially known as ICAO, inaugurated an investigation of the incident, conducted by five people from neutral countries. ...

All of the navigational data from the classified report was to be revealed during the deliberations. ...

The report cited the correct latitude and longitude of the Vincennes at the time of firing and included an easily understood chart portraying the Vincennes position.

This information was furnished by the United States, as the chart made clear. ...

Perhaps at the time of the ICAO release — the international environment had then calmed and the terrorist activity in the Gulf had ceased — we should have declassified the ship’s position and issued a press release pointing out Vincennes’ location within Iranian waters at the time of firing.

With the prescience of 20-20 hindsight, I wish we had done that.”

House Hearing, pp.10-11 (July 21 1992).

Ted Koppel. But that still leaves the Airbus itself.

Wasn’t there any way to correctly identify it for what it was?

Admiral Fogarty’s report notes {800kb.html} that the preferred method of identifying an incoming aircraft is to send another plane up to meet it.

But — the admiral told Congress — there were no available aircraft close enough to do that.

William M. Fogarty (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Director of Policy and Plans, U.S. Central Command, head of the investigative team).

“No, sir, there were no aircraft that were in the area of the Vincennes.”

Robert J. Kelly (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Vice Director for Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff).

“They were about, as I recall, some 250 miles from the scene.”

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

The commanding officer of the U.S. aircraft carrier Forrestal contradicts that statement.

The Forrestal was stationed just outside the Gulf.

Her skipper claims — and his logs confirm — that he launched his fighter aircraft before the time stated in the Fogarty report, that they were in a position to assist the Vincennes within a couple of minutes.

Investigator. And where are your aircraft at that point, in relation to the Vincennes?

John A. Pieno Jr. (former Commanding Officer, USS Forrestal, July 1987-1989 Feb., Captain, U.S. Navy, retired),

As I recall, the point Alpha, which is the holding point, was about roughly 50 miles from the center of the Straits of Hormuz.

And that’s roughly where the Vincennes was operating, so—

Possibly a little bit less.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

And, indeed, if you look closely at one of the Aegis photographs used by Admiral Fogarty in his briefing, it appears these are the aircraft down here in the corner.

Captain Pieno says he was never interviewed by Admiral Fogarty’s investigators.

“ Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. At that time the F-14s were 58 miles away, orbiting at 390 knots.”

House Hearing, July 21 1992, p.13CJHjr

David R. Carlson (former Commanding Officer, USS Sides, Captain, U.S. Navy).

At the time of the incident itself, we were about 36,000 yards away from the Vincennes, roughly 18 nautical miles to the northeast of Vincennes, and we were under their direct tactical control.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Captain David Carlson was commander of the USS Sides.

David R. Carlson. My problem with the entire affair has never been what Captain Rogers’ decision was.

Any Naval officer, almost any Naval officer, placed in that situation for the minute or so before the shootdown, given the information that he had available, would probably have made that decision.

The problem that I’ve always had with it is, why was he there?

How come the information was the way it was?

Ted Koppel. Captain Carlson puts his finger on the key questions.

Why would the Navy, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House all participate in such an elaborate cover-up to protect the reputation of one Navy captain?

Roger Charles (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marines, retired), ABC News consultant.

The full disclosure of what happened with the Vincennes would have brought about the disclosure of a secret war, the United States as an active military participant on the side of the Iraqis, fighting the Iranians.

Ted Koppel. We’ll have that part of the story when we come back.

( – commercial break 3 – )

Ted Koppel. Remember the Stark?

The USS Stark, the Navy frigate that was hit by Iraqi missiles the year before the Vincennes incident?


Thirty-seven American sailors were killed.

Grant Sharp (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy), Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Attack on the USS Stark (FFG 31) on 17 May 1987 {1.28mb.pdf, source} (addressed to Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command, June 12 1987).

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

At a memorial service in their honor, President Reagan reminded us how important the Persian Gulf and its oil are to America’s national interest.

Ronald Reagan (U.S. President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20) [May 22, 1987].

Peace is at stake here.

And so, too, is our own nation’s security.

And our freedom.

Were a hostile power ever to dominate this strategic region and its resources, it would become a choke point for freedom.

That of our allies and our own.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Peace, security, freedom, at stake.

A gloves-off warning to that “hostile power” that it won’t be allowed to dominate the Persian Gulf.

Well, you’d expect the President to be outraged, after Iraqi missiles killed 37 American sailors.

Except that the President’s warning wasn’t directed at Iraq.

Ronald Reagan [May 29, 1987] {copy}.

Mark this point well.

The use of the vital sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians.

Ted Koppel. You heard correctly.


Not Iraq.

In fact, privately, behind the scenes, the Stark incident brought the United States and Iraq closer together, would make them, ultimately, covert allies in the war against Iran.

James H. Webb Jr. (U.S. Secretary of the Navy, 1987-1988).

Ironically, it probably brought us closer to Iraq, because after that Iraq allowed American teams to come in and talk about deconfliction and to share intelligence information and this sort of thing.

Ted Koppel. U.S. military officers were stationed in Baghdad.

Initially to help keep Iraqi planes from hitting any more U.S. ships.

But the end result was that the United States helped Iraq conduct long-range strikes against key Iranian targets, using U.S. ships as navigational aids.

“We became,” as one senior U.S. officer told us, “forward air controllers for the Iraqi air force.”

The intelligence-sharing relationship between Washington and Baghdad expanded.

In fact, as we reported a few weeks ago, critical targeting information was carried to the Iraqi capital on a weekly basis by U.S. military personnel.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

At the time, as I say, Iran was on a roll, and our very active use of force in the Gulf certainly put us, temporarily, on the side of the lesser wolf, Iraq.

Ted Koppel. At some point in late 1986 or early ’87, an alarming piece of intelligence fell into U.S. hands.

Michael A. Palmer (Naval Historian, Professor and Chair, History Department, East Carolina University, Greenville North Carolina).

There were invasion plans that apparently had made their way into American hands through some fashion, I don’t know how, that indicated that there was at least—

The Iranians were at least planning to invade Kuwait.

Robert B. Oakley (National Security Council, Assistant to the President for Middle East and South Asia, Jan. 1 1987-1988 Aug.).

They apparently had a plan to use small boats and things to attack Bubiyan Island, and we were trying to help the Kuwaitis, once we’d made the decision that they were worth helping.

Michael A. Palmer And I think Kuwait is the key to the occasion.

I mean, if you look ahead to 1990 and ’91, with the Gulf war, you can see the lengths to which we were willing to go to save Kuwait.

We were never willing to risk war with Iran to save Baghdad.

We were willing to risk war — and did risk war — with Iran, and fight an undeclared naval war with Iran, to save Kuwait.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Much of what the United States did to save Kuwait is a matter of public record. There was, first of all, the reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers in the summer of 1987. Those tankers would henceforth sail the Gulf under the American flag, and under U.S. Navy protection. That was called Operation Earnest Will {1069kb.pdf}.

The USS Stark incident was fresh in everyone’s mind.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Crowe, had flown out to the Gulf to brief his naval commanders on a new set of rules of engagement.

William J. Crowe Jr. It was necessary for us to have rules of engagement that permitted us to—

Perhaps not take the first shot, but fire the first shot.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

A year later, the commander of the Vincennes would implement those new rules with tragic consequences.

But in July of 1987, Operation Earnest Will had just begun. The U.S. Navy was sailing its first convoy through the Persian Gulf.

On that very first mission, the U.S. ship Bridgeton hit a mine that had been laid in its path by Iranian gunboats.

William J. Crowe Jr. The most worrisome or troublesome moment of the entire evolution was the Bridgeton mining, and I thought if the— If this is an indication of what the Iranians are going to do, that yes, we may be involved in a real sea war here.

John Barry (Newsweek correspondent). They thought the Congress was going to shut down the whole reflagging operation. And so what happened was, that the administration decided to initiate what amounted to a secret war.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

The Pentagon dispatched Special Operations helicopters to the Gulf, eventually including this new, heavily armed model developed especially for the mission.

They can operate at night. Until they fired, they were exceptionally quiet, nearly invisible.

These Army helicopters, flown by Army pilots, operated off Navy ships, probing the night for Iranian gunboats called “boghammers.”

William J. Crowe Jr. When we were sailing a convoy, we preceded all the convoys with wide helicopter coverage.

And if we found a bug in armor at night in the path, off to the bow, something that looked threatening, we usually took him out.

Dan Curry (Helicopter Pilot, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army). They didn’t know exactly where we were, or where we were coming from.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

Well, there was very much a war at night.

And we controlled the night.

The Iranians used darkness to try to lay their mines safely, secretly, and we were intent on denying that.

And we used special operations capabilities.

And, I think, successfully.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Sometimes publicly, sometimes not.

In September of ’87, when Army helicopters nicknamed “Little Birds” caught the Iranian minelayer Iran AJR in the act, it suited the White House to go public.

Robert B. Oakley (National Security Council, Assistant to the President for Middle East and South Asia, Jan. 1 1987-1988 Aug.).

Little Birds were primarily to detect and to stop the minelaying, and the great success was when they found an Iranian minelayer heading out from one of the Iranian ports, tracked it out to the middle of the Gulf, photographed it in the middle of the night.

And the minelaying ship didn’t know the Little Bird was sitting there.

Michael A. Palmer (Naval Historian, Professor and Chair, History Department, East Carolina University, Greenville North Carolina).

At about the same time, an Iranian diplomat at the U.N. was denying that they were responsible for the mining.

So it was really meant to embarrass them and make them look as bad as possible.

And they caught them red-handed, laying the mines.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

In that instance, the White House wanted and sought maximum publicity for what the U.S. military was doing in the Gulf.

But listen to what the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee had to say, following a classified briefing on the Iran AJR incident.

Sam Nunn (U.S. Senator, Georgia). Now that we’ve had hostile acts, then we’re in a different situation.

And we would have to hear from the administration, as to whether they have any good argument, why the War Powers Act should not be invoked.

Ted Koppel. So when the Navy captured another Iranian minelaying ship only a few weeks later, nothing was said.

Indeed, we know about it now only because the command history of the USS LaSalle, the Mid-East flagship, tells us, quote:

“The vessel Rakish was disabled by U.S. forces and a prize crew was sent aboard the vessel and escorted Iranian crew members aboard LaSalle for further transfer.”

It was a very successful mission. A U.S. military aircraft flew the Iranian crew to Oman, where it was picked up, under cover of night, by an Iranian aircraft. It would have made a great story, but it might also have triggered a massive fight with Congress, so nothing was revealed about that mission, or a great many others.

More unreported stories from the Gulf when we come back.

( – commercial break 4 – )

Ted Koppel. For all the American public and the U.S. Congress knew in late ’87, early ’88, the U.S. military was playing a rather passive role in the Gulf. (voice-over):

Operations were restricted to escorting and protecting commercial traffic through international waters.

Certainly, the United States wasn’t doing anything that could be seen as provoking Iran.

So when, on April 14th of 1988, the USS Samuel Roberts nearly broke in two, after hitting a newly laid Iranian mine, the United States had every reason, so it seemed, to retaliate in a major way.

The operation, code-named “Praying Mantis,” was the biggest U.S. Naval engagement since World War II.

On April 18th, U.S. Special Forces seized and destroyed Iranian oil platforms in the Gulf, and then U.S. forces proceeded to sink not just an Iranian destroyer, but half of Iran’s navy.

Frank C. Carlucci (Secretary of Defense, Nov. 23 1987-1989 Jan. 20).

When the minelaying became intolerable, we tried to respond proportionately, and the President authorized an attack on the oil platforms.

And that’s what led to the firefight, which resulted in the destruction of about half the Iranian navy in 24 hours.

“ 68. The Court notes that the attacks on the Salman and Nasr platforms were not an isolated operation, aimed simply at the oil installations, as had been the case with the attacks of 19 October 1987; they formed part of a much more extensive military action, designated “Operation Praying Mantis”, conducted by the United States against what it regarded as “legitimate military targets”; armed force was used, and damage done to a number of targets, including the destruction of two Iranian frigates and other Iranian naval vessels and aircraft.

* * *

125. The Court, (1) By fourteen votes to two, Finds that the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on 19 October 1987 and 18 April 1988 cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America under ... the 1955 Treaty ... as interpreted in the light of international law on the use of force.”

Iran v. United States (“Oil Platforms”) (U.N. International Court of Justice, The Hague, case 90) (“the world court”), judgment (merits), 2003 I.C.J. 161 {29.1mb.pdf, source, summary} (November 6 2003), announced, “Decision of the Court” (ICJ press release 2003/38, November 6 2003) {copy, source, source}CJHjr

Ted Koppel. Pretty quick reaction, right?

The Samuel Roberts is mined on April 14th, half the Iranian navy is taken out on the 18th.

What was not known at the time is that Special Forces, including U.S. Navy SEALS, had been operational in the Gulf for months.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

One of their roles was to assist the explosive ordnance disposal and the identification and elimination of mines, but beyond that, I don’t think I’d want to speak about what the SEALS were doing.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

Another secret unit was Task Force 118, a night-attack helicopter unit.

Investigator. Three of your people got air medals.

Edmund Hughes (Commander, Task Force 118, Lieutenant Colonel).

Yes, sir.

Investigator. Why?

What was that for?

Edmund Hughes. That’s what—

Something I can’t tell you about.

I can tell you they earned them.

But I can’t tell you what they did to earn them.

Ted Koppel. What had been in progress for months was a low-intensity covert war.

On which Congress had not been fully informed.

Listen to how, even now, former Defense Secretary Carlucci bobs and weaves around that one:

Investigator. So, in many ways, we were at war.

Frank C. Carlucci (Secretary of Defense, Nov. 23 1987-1989 Jan. 20).

Oh, yes.

I don’t think there’s any question that—

Well, “war”—

And you get into semantic issues here.

The military would call it more an “engagement.”

Or a “firefight”—

Investigator. Limited war?

Frank C. Carlucci. We were having problems with the War Powers Act.

So I hesitate to use the term “war.”

But there’s no question it was a “conflict.”

“ The Court is not prepared to read out of the Constitution the clause granting to the Congress, and to it alone, the authority “to declare war”.”

Dellums v. Bush, 752 F.Supp. 1141, 1146 (D.D.C., Dec. 13 1990)

Jennifer K. Elsea, Richard F. Grimmett, Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications (CRS RL31133, March 8 2007, updating January 14 2003).

Richard F. Grimmett, The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty-Four Years (CRS RL32267, March 10 2008, updating March 11 2004).

Richard F. Grimmett, War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance (CRS RL33532, February 2 2009, updating July 11 2006).  CJHjr

Ted Koppel. Even Washington’s allies in the Gulf, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, didn’t want to be too closely associated with what the United States was doing.

So they refused U.S. combat forces’ permission to use Kuwaiti or Saudi military bases.

The U.S. Navy adapted.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

You will recall that we had a rather controversial base, called a barge, in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

It would give us a platform from which to launch those Special Operations aircraft that you referred to.

And we’d be able to surveil absolutely silently, all-weather, at night, and to prosecute their targets, should it become necessary.

And they did this.

Robert B. Oakley (National Security Council, Assistant to the President for Middle East and South Asia, Jan. 1 1987-1988 Aug.).

Occasionally, one would take actions to preempt.

If we felt they were coming out with small boats, then one would try to destroy the concentration of small boats, before they could get too far out.

Richard L. Armitage. It certainly was very much to our liking if we were able to trick them out into—

And trick them into identifying themselves, exposing themselves, and make themselves vulnerable to our fire.

Michael A. Palmer (Naval Historian, Professor and Chair, History Department, East Carolina University, Greenville North Carolina).

One of the ways that they would try to attract the Iranians out were to take a pair of Mark III patrol boats and put them end to end in a column, close enough together that they would look like one blip on an Iranian radar.

So at a distance it would look like the—

Somewhat like the profile of a tanker, a small tanker.

The idea is to get them to attack us, rather than to attack a Liberian tanker, or a Greek tanker, or someone else’s.

Ted Koppel. Does any of that sound at all familiar?

Remember that hazy Sunday morning, July 3rd of 1988?

That, too, was a day when a ship said to be a Liberian tanker, the Stoval, was reported under attack by Iranian gunboats.

That was the U.S. Navy’s account.

But the Stoval has never been found, exists in no registry.

That was a day when the USS Montgomery and the USS Vincennes were said to be responding to distress calls from a Pakistani merchant ship being harassed by Iranian gunboats.

Only the captain tells us there was no harassment that day.

Nor did he issue any distress signal.

The official logs of the USS Montgomery are classified.

Not in general, mind you.

Just for that day.

We do not know if she was engaged in luring Iranian gunboats into the kind of ambush that was very much a part of Special Operations in those days.

We do know that both ships, the Montgomery and the Vincennes, were in Iranian waters when the fight began on the water, and when the Iranian Airbus flew overhead.

( – commercial break 5 – )

Ted Koppel. In the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration, desperate to get American hostages back from Lebanon, authorized the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran, and then took the profits and used them to support the Contras in Nicaragua.

That came to be known as the Iran/Contra scandal.

It was, in more ways than one, one of the great diversions of the 1980s.

In reality, throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s, U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein and the government of Iraq dwarfed anything this country did for Iran.

As we’ve been reporting for more than a year now, the Reagan/Bush administrations permitted — and frequently encouraged — the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.

What we didn’t fully understand was how those programs fit into the larger Washington/Baghdad alliance against Iran.

We didn’t know, for example, that there were actually U.S. contingency plans for an attack against the Iranian mainland.

Admiral Ace Lyons was commander of the Pacific fleet.

James A. “Ace” Lyons Jr. (Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral, U.S. Navy).

We were prepared — as I would say at the time — to drill them back to the fourth century.

And I felt we stood a good chance of sufficiently weakening the Khomeini regime, that it would have collapsed.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

The decision was made not to completely obliterate Iran.

We didn’t want a naked Iran.

We wanted a calm, quiet, peaceful Iran.

However, had things not gone well in the Gulf, I’ve no doubt that we would have put those plans into effect.

Ted Koppel (voice-over).

One reason why that U.S. attack against Iran never became necessary is because the Iraqis were able to do the job.

But they did it with a great deal of American help.

U.S. intelligence enabled the Iraqi general staff to successfully plan and execute the retaking of the crucial Faw peninsula.

Nightline got that information from a now-retired senior U.S. intelligence officer.

What’s so fascinating is the timing of that Iraqi campaign.

It began on April 17th, 1988, the day before Operation Praying Mantis began.

One of the most important Iraqi offensives of the war began the day before U.S. armed forces wiped out half of the Iranian Navy.

Richard L. Armitage (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, June 9 1983-1989 June 5).

I’m very comfortable initially with what we did.

Particularly when I recall that we did this in the face of almost overwhelming opposition of the Congress.

And, in retrospect, I think we have kept the Iranian wolf from exercising hegemony.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi wolf got well and itself exercised hegemony.

But our crystal ball was very muddy in 1987, just as our crystal ball today is very muddy concerning the future.

Ted Koppel. It may just be, in the current climate, that declaring Congress irrelevant to the conduct of foreign policy would gain a lot of support.

Maybe that’s the way U.S. foreign policy should be conducted.

By the executive branch.

With a minimum of consultation and a large dose of secrecy.

If Congress seems likely to disapprove, don’t tell ’em what you’re doing.

Of course, if and when things go wrong — as they ultimately did when Saddam’s forces invaded Kuwait — there’s no one to blame but the executive branch.

( – commercial break 6 – )

Ted Koppel. Tomorrow night on Nightline, a conversation with Vice President Dan Quayle.

That’s our report for tonight.

I’m Ted Koppel in Washington.

For all of us here, at ABC News, good night.

Announcer. This has been a Nightline special investigation, produced in cooperation with Newsweek magazine.

Copyright © 1992 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., All rights reserved.


Executive producer: Tom Bettag.
Senior producer: John Fielding.
Editorial producer: Tara Sonenshine.
Producers: Jay LaMonica, Leroy Sievers.
Editorial manager/correspondent: Ted Koppel.



Source: Lexis. Also available from Transcripts.TV. Names of the producers, from “ABC, PBS lead news Emmy nominees{pf} (Variety, July 22 1993) (Category: Investigative Journalism, Programs).

By CJHjr: Formatted (xhtml/css), bold-face, links, text {in braces}, text beside a green bar |, text in yellow boxes, highlighting, added paragraphing, full names of the speakers and their job titles (in italics).

This document: Ted Koppel (editor and anchor), “The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War” (ABC News, Nightline, July 1 1992, transcript).

This transcript was the topic of a U.S. Congressonal hearing, 3 weeks later, The July 3, 1988 Attack by the Vincennes on an Iranian Aircraft (July 21 1992), cited below.

Subsequently:Ted Koppel Signs Off: After 25 Years, Koppel Says Goodnight to 'Nightline'” (ABC News, November 22 2005). Howard Kurtz, “Ted Koppel and 'Nightline' Crew Turn Down HBO For Discovery Deal” (Washington Post, January 5 2006). David Bauder (Associated Press), “Ted Koppel Joins Discovery Channel” (CBS News, January 4 2006). Ted Koppel to Join NPR as Senior News Analyst (NPR: National Public Radio, January 12 2006). Norman Solomon, “Ted Koppel “Natural Fit” at NPR News and Longtime Booster of Henry Kissinger” (FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, January 16 2006).

Related documents:

IR655: DoD Press Briefings: “Defense Department Briefing on Current Developments in the Persian Gulf” (Pentagon, Sunday, July 3 1988), speaker: William J. Crowe Jr. (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff). “Defense Department Briefing Concerning the Report on the Shootdown of the Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes Aegis Cruiser” (Pentagon, Friday, August 19 1988, 11:00 a.m.), speakers: Frank C. Carlucci (Secretary of Defense), William J. Crowe Jr. (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff), William M. Fogarty (Rear Admiral, Director of Policy and Plans, U.S. Central Command), C-Span video 4065-1 {44:55, 50mb.rm}, broadcast 1988 August 19 8:04-8:49pm, August 20 7:10-7:55am (144327685).

IR655: Other Public Statements. Ronald W. Reagan (U.S. President, Jan. 20 1981-1989 Jan. 20).

William M. Fogarty (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Director of Policy and Plans, U.S. Central Command), Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988 {750kb} (July 28 1988), together with Endorsement (August 5 1988) by George B. Crist (General, U.S. Marine Corps, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command), Endorsement (August 18 1988) by William J. Crowe Jr. (Admiral, U.S. Navy, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff), Approvals (August 19 1988) by Frank C. Carlucci (Secretary of Defense) (U.S. Department of Defense, News Release No. 419-88, August 19 1988) {SuDoc: D 1.2/2:IR 1, OCLC: 18396562, 187357306, WorldCat, WorldCat}, and as partially declassified in 1993.

Investigation into the Downing of an Iranian Airliner by the U.S.S. “Vincennes” (U.S. Congress 100-2, Senate Armed Services Committee, Hearing, (9th Cir., No. 90-16107,, S. Hrg. 100-1035) {SuDoc: Y 4.AR 5/3:S.HRG.100-1035, CIS: 89 S201-17, LCCN: 89601978, OCLC: 18396562, 19707230, GPOcat, paper, microfiche, DL, WorldCat}, witnesses: William M. Fogarty, George N. Gee, Richard D. DeBobes, Robert J. Kelly.

Iran v. United States (“Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988”) (U.N. I.C.J.: International Court of Justice, The Hague, filed, May 17 1989) {437kb.pdf, source}, announced, “Iran brings a case against the United States” {70kb.pdf, source} (I.C.J., Communiqu, No. 89/6, May 17 1989), discontinued on settlement, “Order of 22 February 1996” {248.7kb.pdf, source}, 1996 I.C.J. 9 (February 22 1996), announced, “Case concerning the Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America), Discontinuance{source, copy, source} (I.C.J., Communiqua, No. 1996/6, February 23 1996), “Settlement Agreement” {115.1kb.pdf, source}, signed February 9 1996 (U.N. I.C.J.).

Nejad v. United States, 724 F.Supp. 753 (C.D. Cal., No. 89-cv-3991, Nov. 7 1989) (refused to adjudicate complaint of IR655 victims, their relatives).

The July 3, 1988 Attack by the Vincennes on an Iranian Aircraft (U.S. Congress 102-2, House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Investigations and Defense Policy Panel, Hearing, July 21 1992, Committee Serial H.A.S.C. No. 102-77) {SuDoc: Y 4.AR 5/2 A:991-92/77, CIS: 93 H201-21, LCCN: 93231140, OCLC: 28295879, GPOcat, paper, microfiche, DL, WorldCat}, C-Span video {2:11:00, July 22/25, 145315456, 27276-1, search}, witness: William J. Crowe Jr.

Koohi v. United States, 976 F.2d 1328 (9th Cir., No. 90-16107, Oct. 8 1992), cert. denied 508 U.S. 960 (June 7 1993) (refused to adjudicate complaint of IR655 victims, their relatives).

Commentary: An eye for an eye?


Charles Judson Harwood Jr.

Posted July 26 2004. Updated June 13 2009.


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