The recent serious allegations of CNN broadcasting fake news aren’t new for the Atlanta-based cable network. On June 7, 1998, in an effort to compete with CBS’s popular 60 Minutes program, CNN launched a new program called NewsStand. It aired a story entitled “Valley of Death,” which alleged that 16 Green Berets and 120 indigenous troops on a top-secret mission deep inside Laos had destroyed a village, killed women and children, and had directed U.S. aircraft to drop lethal sarin nerve gas on U.S. war defectors. The next day, Time Magazine repeated the allegations in a news story headlined “Did the U.S. Drop Nerve Gas?” It was written by CNN Producer April Oliver and CNN International Correspondent Peter Arnett, who produced the CNN story that aired June 7.
The broadcast and Time article stemmed from one of the most successful operations conducted during the eight-year secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War, codenamed “Operation Tailwind”, run under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG.
It was conducted south of the Bolovens Plateau in southern Laos 47 years ago. Led by Green Beret Captain Eugene McCarley, 15 Green Berets and 120 Montagnard mercenaries executed a hair-raising, four-day mission deep inside enemy territory to take the pressure off of a CIA operation farther west in Laos dubbed Operation Gauntlet, with a diversionary operation along Highway 165 on the plateau made against the communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Operation Tailwind not only succeeded in diverting NVA assets and hundreds of soldiers from the CIA battlefield, but it netted one of the largest intelligence coups by a Green Beret team in the secret war’s history.
Operation Tailwind went down in the annals of SOG history as one of the most successful operations because of its unique nature and because it was conducted beyond the area routinely authorized for SOG operations in Laos. This was a success due in large part to the aggressive leadership of McCarley, a SOG veteran who had run SOG reconnaissance missions into Laos, and the relentless day-and-night air cover provided to the Green Berets by Air Force SPADs, F-4 Phantom jets, C-119K Stingers, C-130E Spectre gunships, forward air controllers, Marine Corps Cobra gunships, and heavy transport CH-53D Sikorsky helicopters. In 2015, SOFREP produced a six-part series on Operation Tailwind that focused on the valor of the men involved in the secret mission.