Sarin Story Hits a Nerve

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WASHINGTON: A joint TIME-CNN report that claims the U.S. military dropped sarin nerve gas some 20 times during the Vietnam war has caused something of a stir in the corridors of power. Defense Secretary William Cohen asked his staff to hunt for evidence of sarin deployment Monday, while Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.) of the House Intelligence Committee -- himself a Vietnam vet -- said he found the story "absolutely stunning and appalling if it is substantiated." Skaggs launched his own inquiry to attempt just that.

In this case, however, evidence is a little hard to come by. "Black Ops" don't leave paper trails, and that allows for official deniability. Cohen's Vietnam-era predecessor, Melvin Laird, claims the U.S. shipped a "small amount" of sarin to Saigon in 1967, but never used it. "I have no recollection of any operation like that," Laird told reporters Monday. "It doesn't seem logical to me." As for retired admiral Thomas Moorer, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who told CNN reporter Peter Arnett that President Nixon had approved the use of sarin -- well, Moorer backed away from his off-camera comments late Monday, saying he "only heard rumors that it'd been used." Given the nebulous nature of the so-called "secret" war in Laos and North Vietnam, rumor may be as good as it gets.