Shame on you! Your growing practice of falsely accusing public officials of serious misconduct, based on such things as "a source intimately involved," without ever giving the slandered individual a chance to face this "source" is very unfair to the individual, confuses and undermines the confidence of the public, and makes it progressively difficult to recruit competent personnel for government service.

In this case I refer to Jack Anderson's statement, "A suspicion confirmed" on Dec. 29. The subject was the Son Tay prison raid of 11 years ago. I was personally responsible for the planning and execution of the Son Tay prison raid and followed the entire process, minute by minute. Here are the facts:

Early on the morning Nov. 21, 1970, the day of the operation, I was informed by our intelligence sources that a letter from a prisoner of war in another prison camp could possibly imply that, from hearsay, there was a possibility that the POWs in Son Tay may have been moved or were going to be moved in the future. In short, the information was very vague, unconfirmed and single-source.

Henry Kissinger, Dick Helms and I met immediately with the secretary of defense, Mel Laird, to discuss the matter, since the operation was scheduled to start in just a few minutes. I urged that we proceed with the operation for two reasons: first, I was confident that the operation was so well planned and the personnel so well trained that the mission would be successful and entail small risk; second, for many months I had been appalled and saddened by the attitude of the press and the public alike, which showed negative or, at best, little concern over the prolonged confinement and daily torture of young Americans who had been simply carrying out their orders when captured. I felt that this unfortunate attitude would be reversed if a significant number of the POWs could return home.

Not once during our discussions was the subject of politics brought up. The decision was made to proceed. Not until the coded signal, "Negative Egg Vine," was received from our forces in Son Tay did we learn for sure that the POWs had been previously moved. The execution of the operation was according to plan. Not one man was lost and the only injury was a sprained ankle, not due to enemy action.

Anderson's assertion that the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew that "there were no American POWs at Son Tay" and that, nevertheless, we participated in a combat operation risking the lives of our personnel for reasons of domestic politics constitutes a personal insult to each one of us. I invite Anderson, his associates and, above all, the "source intimately involved" (if there is such an individual) to meet with me in public and settle this matter once and for all, in the presence of your best reporters.

The American people are entitled to no less.