In an echo of the debates over the discredited intelligence that helped make the case for the war in Iraq, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday released more than 1,100 pages of previously classified Vietnam-era transcripts that show senators of the time sharply questioning whether they had been deceived by the White House and the Pentagon over the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.
“If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, the consequences are very great,” Senator Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee, the father of the future vice president, said in March 1968 in a closed session of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Robert J. Hanyok, a retired National Security Agency historian, said Wednesday in an interview that “there were doubts, but nobody wanted to follow up on the doubts,” perhaps because “they felt they’d gone too far down the road.”
Mr. Hanyok concluded in 2001 that N.S.A. officers had deliberately falsified intercepted communications in the incident to make it look like the attack on Aug. 4, 1964, had occurred, although he said they acted not out of political motives but to cover up earlier errors.
Many historians say that President Johnson might have found reason to escalate military action against North Vietnam even without the Tonkin Gulf crisis, and that he apparently had his own doubts. Historians note that a few days after the supposed attack he told George W. Ball, the under secretary of state, “Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!”