Meet Colonel Ray Sitton, the single source in one of the thinnest of Seymour Hersh’s thinly sourced claims: that Henry Kissinger had not only presided over the secret and illegal carpet bombing of Cambodia but also organized a vast conspiracy—what participants described as an elaborate “double bookkeeping” protocol—designed to keep the bombing hidden from Congress and the public.
Here’s Sitton’s description of being tracked down by Hersh, in the early 1980s:
One day 2 years or so ago, I had a call from Seymour Hersh on leave from The New York Times, the guy who blew the whistle on My Lai. Seymour Hersh said, “I would like you to have breakfast with me in the dining room of the Hyatt Arlington,’ where I was staying at the time, ‘tomorrow morning.’ Could you do that? I have something I need to discuss with you?’ Yes, I could. I went down to breakfast with him. We chatted for a while. He brought in a huge sheaf of papers. He said, ‘In case you wonder how I found your name and your identity, here.’ He picked up that stack of papers and put it on top of the breakfast table. He had a copy of every piece of paper I ever generated on this project that he had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and, of course, on the bottom of every one of them, the drafter’s name was Col Ray B. Sitton. That’s how he found me. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe he had been able to get those things.”
Before getting into what “those things” were, some background: the US bombed Cambodia, a sovereign nation Washington was not at war with, from 1965 to 1973. When Nixon and Kissinger entered the White House in early 1969, they greatly intensified (in terms of bombing rate and amount of munitions dropped) and expanded (in terms of extent of territory targeted) the air assault. They did so both because Cambodia reportedly housed the headquarters of the National Liberation Front and because they wanted to send a message to Hanoi that Nixon was “mad” and unpredictable. Between 1969 and 1973, the US dropped at least 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, killing over 100,000 Khmer civilians, according to Ben Kiernan, the founding director of Yale’s Cambodian Genocide Program. Broadly speaking, Nixon’s and Kissinger’s Cambodia bombing comprised two named operations. The first, Operation Menu, ran from March 18, 1969, to May 1970. The second, Operation Freedom Deal, ran from May 1970 to August 1973. Menu was the phase that was most secret, carried out with the deception protocol put into place by Kissinger. Freedom was less covert, justified by requests for support from the Cambodian government to fight the growing insurgency. Still, the extent and intensity of Freedom Deal was under-reported in the US press, which was often fed confusing and mixed messages by the administration.