Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher (photo taken about 1991)
Saddam was telling truth of missing Gulf War pilot
AP - 11/28/2009 03:25:58
By PAMELA HESS
Saddam was telling truth in missing Gulf War pilot Photo By AP
Saddam Hussein was telling the truth, this time. The United States just didn't believe him.
So it took the most powerful military in the world 18 years to find the remains of the only U.S. Navy pilot shot down in an aerial battle in the 1991 Gulf War.
Michael "Scott" Speicher's bones lay 18 inches deep in Iraqi sand, more or less right where a group of Iraqis had led an American search team in 1995.
The search for Speicher was frustrated by two wars, mysteriously switched remains, Iraqi duplicity and a final tip from a young nomad in Anbar province.
U.S. officials often were blinded by the same myopia that tainted prewar intelligence -- the American conviction that Hussein's government lied about everything. As it turned out, the Iraqis lied, but sometimes they told the truth.
For more than a decade, speculation swirled that the 33-year-old Speicher, a lieutenant commander when he went missing, had been captured alive. That was disproved by the team that found and confirmed his remains.
"He wasn't captured or tortured," said Thomas Brown, chief of the Intelligence Community POW/MIA analytic cell at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Brown, who worked on Speicher's case for 15 years, described to The Associated Press in an exclusive interview how the threads leading to the pilot got so tangled.
Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG 100 miles west of Baghdad on Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the war to drive Saddam's invading forces from Kuwait. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced the pilot's death as the first casualty of the war, but no search and rescue effort was launched.
When the war ended that March, the U.S. demanded the return of Speicher's remains. But because of a data glitch, the U.S. erroneously pinpointed his crash site south of Baghdad.
The Iraqis were puzzled. They knew an F-18 had been shot down west of the capital. But they followed the botched U.S. coordinates and searched for Speicher's plane in the south, finding nothing.
The search was soon complicated by the Iraqi discovery of a different crash site -- of a downed Air Force A-10 fighter. The Iraqis brought the unidentified American A-10 pilot's remains to a Basrah hospital for safekeeping, labeling them "Mickel" for a clumsy translation of what might have been the pilot's belt buckle manufactured by McDonnell Douglas.
Just before those remains were to be handed over to the U.S., Shiites rebelling against Saddam seized the hospital, forcing Iraqi officials to make a hasty gamble.
If they didn't turn over the pilot's remains, they would be in violation of the U.N. resolution ending the war, and the war would not be officially over. So the Iraqis instead handed over to American authorities a 4-pound piece of another cadaver and said it belonged to "Mickel."
U.S. officials already had accounted for the dead A-10 pilot, so the unidentified remains stumped them. Were they Speicher's?
By May 1991, DNA tests ruled that out. Iraq was being duplicitous, but the U.S. couldn't figure out what was behind the switch.
Rumors from Hussein's inner circle about the "Mickel" remains began to morph into whispering that the Iraqis held a live American pilot. The rumors were picked up by U.S. intelligence.
Two years later, in 1993, Speicher's crash site was found by a party of Qatari falcon hunters. Brown believes the Iraqis already had identified the crash site but failed to come forward out of fear they would be accused of covering it up. So instead, the Iraqis led the Qatari hunters to the site, Brown said, so they would "stumble" on the wreckage.
The hunters gave the U.S. Embassy in Qatar a piece of a plane containing a serial number that matched Speicher's F-18.
U.S. military officials began planning an operation to retrieve Speicher's remains. The plan was dropped in 1995 when the Red Cross secured permission from Iraq for a humanitarian search team to excavate the crash site.
Shepherded by Iraqi officials, the search team was led by a local Bedouin boy to Speicher's half-buried flight suit. Nearby were expended flares, part of an ejection seat and pieces of a life raft. But the searchers found no remains. They left suspicious, convinced that they had been set up even though Brown now says Saddam's government was telling the truth about the site.
In January 2001, President Bill Clinton changed Speicher's status from killed in action to missing, echoing U.S. belief he could be alive. An intelligence assessment said Speicher probably had survived the crash and Iraq was either holding him prisoner or hiding his remains.
In the summer of 2002, as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq, new intelligence intercepts suggested Speicher was being moved between dozens of secret sites inside Iraq.
Before the 2003 invasion, "we were positive we were getting him back," said Buddy Harris, a Speicher friend who later married the pilot's widow. "We were getting ready to go over and meet with him. We had the whole family prepped, with psychologists ready to help."
At least three different times, based on U.S. government information, Speicher's relatives thought they were getting him back, Harris said.
Brown believes the Iraqi government was trying to convince President George W. Bush that Speicher was still alive to protect Saddam from being targeted when the invasion came.
If that was the motivation, it backfired. Bush used Speicher's case as more evidence that Saddam had to be ousted. After Bush cited Speicher in his September 2002 speech at the United Nations, the rumors of Speicher's movements abruptly stopped, Brown said.
After the U.S. invasion, intelligence analysts searching for Speicher entered the Hakmiya jail in central Baghdad and dug up the grounds. They found remains, but none that matched Speicher's DNA.
They did find a jail cell wall that appeared to be marked with the initials "M.S.S." -- and wondered if they had been scratched by the missing pilot.
The Army dismantled the wall section and sent it back to the U.S. for testing. That same summer a soldier discovered similar initials and what appeared to be a date-- 9-15-94 -- scratched into an I-beam in a parking garage in Tikrit. The FBI cut down the beam and sent it to the Smithsonian Institution for testing.
But the markings turned out to be more false leads. The museum determined the Tikrit initials were made with a special ink reserved for Iraqi religious groups -- and an American prisoner would not likely have had access to such sacred ink. While other "M.S.S." markings were found all over Iraq, the analysts were never able to tie them to Speicher.
The searchers continued to press every lead. For six years, soldiers and Marines deployed in Anbar were told to ask people there if they had heard anything about the missing American pilot.
The instructions finally paid off last July. A sheik told Marines of a Bedouin who remembered a burial 20 years earlier. The sheik couldn't recall the exact location, but it was enough for the Marines. They returned to the old site that had frustrated the Red Cross searchers and with 100 men, bulldozers and back hoes, they turned over four football fields worth of desert, 4 feet deep.
The earth yielded another piece of a pilot's flight suit and a jaw bone. The teeth matched the missing pilot's dental records. Michael Scott Speicher, who reached the rank of captain because he kept receiving promotions while his status was unknown, had been there all along, Brown said.
The U.S. now says the case is closed, but Speicher's family, from outside Jacksonville, Fla., is still unconvinced that he died in the crash.
Buddy Harris says the ending is too neat, meant to whitewash the Pentagon's failure to launch a search and rescue mission in 1991.
"Too many people want to tie it into a nice little bow here," Harris says. "Their motive wasn't Scott Speicher, it was to get this thing done."
On the Net:
Defense Department news release: http://tinyurl.com/lyk3ua
(This version CORRECTS that Speicher was a Navy pilot, not an Air Force pilot.)
George W. Bush and his inner circle, photographed in the Cabinet Room of the White House in December 2001. From left: Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, the president, National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, C.I.A. director George Tenet (seated), and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Decades; generations later_ this kind of experience and many similar experiences of devastating loss within families does continue its affects on many levels. That is for all concerned, within the family of a service man who is 'sent into harms' way, in service to (our) government.'
The toll on families literally left behind is untenable. With this contemporary event of affecting yet another generation with the loss that must not be repeated, I enact my personal warning. A warning for all those who blind themselves in some romantic idea about heroism_ just beware what you worship. I am saying romantic here; as in blind to the facts. Just take care that no matter your intention(s) responding to any calls throughout the land that always surge and then whip into the wild-eyed froth of national patriotism_ that the devastation in its wake lasts for generations in each family. What I offer in personal parallel is only a glimpse into my own family story, and it is told only from my emerging perspective. We are a family which never came back together after the knock: "We regret to inform you..." came to our door on August 12, 1966:
Last First Middle Rank EO Srv Birth Incident Home of Record St Panel
Date Date Location
WRYE, BLAIR CHARLTON COL. O6 F 19290523 19790416 MIRROR LAKE, NH 09E 131
WRYE, BLAIR CHARLTON
Remains Returned 13 September 1990
Name: Blair Charlton Wrye
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Unit: TDY to 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
Date of Birth: 23 May 1929
Home City of Record: Auburndale MA
Date of Loss: 12 August 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212600N 1062000E (UF595790)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
REMARKS: A/C LOST - NO CONTACT
SYNOPSIS: The RF101 first saw action in Vietnam in late 1961, flying photo
missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the primary communist supply line
through southern Laos, and the Plain of Jars to the northwest where Soviet
transports were delivering supplies to communist troops. The Voodoo later
began conducting reconnaissance over South Vietnam as well.
The RF101C was an outstanding reconnaissance craft, and although it looked
"hot" and was fast enough (max. speed 1000 mph) to leave a MiG-17 far
behind, it could not race away from the faster MiG-21, and was gradually
phased out and replaced by the Phantom II with its greater speed and
superior surveillance technology.
Maj. Blair C. Wrye was a pilot assigned to the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance
Squadron at Udorn, Thailand. On August 12, 1966, he was assigned a solo
reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. The last contact with the
aircraft was a radar reading approximately 110 miles from Udorn.
It was assumed that Wrye's aircraft was shot down somewhere over his target
area, and his loss coordinates are listed as in Nam Ha Province about 5
miles east of the city of Nam Dinh. Wrye's family knew there was a very good chance that he had been captured, and waited for the war to end. In 1973, however, when 591 American prisoners of war were released from Hanoi, Wrye was not among them. The Vietnamese denied any knowledge of him.
As the years passed, reports began to flow in to the U.S. regarding the
roughly 3000 Americans unaccounted for at the end of the war. By 1991 well
over 10,000 reports have been received, convincing many authorities that
hundreds of Americans are still alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.
Whether Wrye survived to be captured is not known. What seems certain,
however, is that we owe those who are alive our best efforts to bring them
Blair C. Wrye was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the period he was
maintained Missing in Action. His remains were returned to U.S. control on
September 13, 1990.
U.S. concealing its own evidence on MIA pilots
Star Tribune/ Wednesday/March 15/1995..."If the imagery contains no evidence of distress signals, why does the Defense Department go to such pains to protect it?"
U.S. concealing its own evidence on MIA pilots
By Robert P. Thompson
The closer one looks at a myth, the more obvious its falsity. This is especially true concerning the deception surrounding the POW/MIA issue.
One of many threads in this cloak of deceit is the government's cynical claim of openness and public access to documents relating to the POW/MIA issue. The telling reality is that all distress signal imagery remains classified TOP SECRET even as government damage control specialists attempt to thwart any closer examination of what they might contain, which is, according to the Defense Department, nothing.
If the imagery contains no evidence of distress signals, why does the Defense Department go to such pains to protect it?
In his Dec. 6 Counterpoint to my Aug. 5 News With a View article, Gen. James Wold said I had "alleged" in an interview the existence of pilot distress symbols "associated with American servicemen." I refer to the Jan. 13, 1993 "Report of the Select Committee On POW/MIA Affairs United States Senate":
"This consultant had detected, with '100 percent confidence' a 'faint GX2527' in a photograph of a prison facility in Vietnam taken in June, 1992. This number correlates to the primary and back-up distress symbols and authenticator number of a pilot lost in Laos in 1969."
"At Dong Mang (Dong Vai) prison, on June 1992 photography, he observed what he believed to be a 'GX2527' etched in a field near the prison. He rated this at 100 percent level of confidence in his initial report, and did not change his position during the joint review. JSSA (Joint Services Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Agency) has confirmed that '2527' matches the authenticator number of a serviceman still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia."
The number belongs to Air Force Maj. Peter Richard Matthes, who became an MIA statistic when his aircraft was shot down over Laos, Nov. 24, 1969.
The consultant in question, retired Col. Lorenzo Burroughs, was the deputy director and head of the National Photographic Interpretation Center and pioneered satellite imagery analysis methods. The report clearly states that the "primary and back-up distress symbols and authenticator number" match a missing pilot. Gen. Wold claims that "the letters 'GX' have no known correlation to any American unaccounted for in Southeast Asia." This is an outright contradiction of the findings of the Senate Select Committee, which further advises:
"(B)ecause the number corresponds to a specific individual, the Committee agrees that the benefit of doubt should go to that possible individual, certainly enough to warrant a 'by- name' request by an appropriately high ranking U.S. official to the Vietnamese government, for information on that missing serviceman. In making that request, it should be emphasized to the Vietnamese that there is a basis for questioning whether he could be alive."
Wold wrote: "Each of the symbols referred to by Mr. Thompson has been thoroughly investigated by imagery experts." From the Senate Select Committee report:
"During its investigation, the Committee was surprised by statements from DIA and CIA imagery analysts directly involved in POW/MIA work that they were not very knowledgeable about the military's E&E signals, or, in some cases, even aware of the program. These analysts were not even tasked to look for such information prior to April, 1992. The Committee concluded that there had not been a purposeful effort to search for distress signals, or a written formal requirement for symbols, after the end of the war."
In an April 27, 1993, "Dateline" interview on NBC, Burroughs and Sen. Bob Smith, vice chairman of the Senate select committee, were questioned about "GX 2527." The following excerpts are from that remarkable yet ignored interview:
Dateline: "When was that symbol made?"
Burroughs: "I would anticipate that from the shape of it, that it was not older than a year."
Dateline: "And that signature corresponds to a pilot's distress code?"
Burroughs: "Absolutely. There's no question in my mind about it."
Smith: "I saw it. I'm not an expert, don't claim to be, but I saw the letters and the numbers
clearly, no question about it in my mind, as clearly as I could see my own name written, I know that I saw a 'GX 2527'."
The final question goes back to Burroughs:
Dateline: "What are the chances of the symbol 'GX 2527' somehow sort of appearing out there naturally?"
Burroughs: "It is a - absolutely zero."
The odds that this symbol is somehow "coincidental," as Gen. Wold asserts, are astronomically absurd. The markings on the photograph could have been "AAA123" or "Z99999" or over 2 billion other possibilities. The scientific formula to determine just how many possibilities, confirmed with a University of Minnesota math professor, is as follows: 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 = 2,176,782,336. Coincidence? You might as well say the Tooth Fairy did it. DNA evidence, with a potential "human match" of one in 89 million, considered valid evidence in many courts, pales in comparison to the above calculations. The sentence imposed on Matthes should be overturned, and his release demanded immediately.
Wold wrote, "With regard to the purported 'SEREX' symbol, no employee of the Defense Department has ever observed the word 'SEREX' on any satellite imagery or photography maintained by the United States Government."
From the Senate committee report: "They (JSSA analysts) correlated 19 of those authenticator numbers with numbers belonging to Americans still listed as missing in Southeast Asia. They also identified what appeared to be a name scratched in a field near a prison compound, in a 1992 photo." The significance of this possible symbol is reflected in testimony received during the committee's hearing on symbols:
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "Mr. Dussault, did you also think that you saw [sic] faintly scratched in the field?"
Dussault: "Yes, sir."
Grassley: "Did you see, 72 TA 88?"
Dussault: "Yes, sir. To my recollection that's what I saw."
Grassley: "When you saw 72 TA 88, did it, match a person that was missing?"
Dussault: "Sir, again, we are talking a year, two letters, TA - and those are E&E code letters that applied during 1972."
Grassley: "When you found the name, though, did it match when that person went down?"
Dussault: "Yes, sir."
The symbol in question, which Dussault was asked during questioning not to mention, was later revealed to be the "SEREX" symbol. Dussault is not only a Defense Department employee but is the deputy director of JSSA, the Pentagon unit tasked with the responsibility of devising distress signals, training pilots how to use them, and interpreting evidence of distress signals. Dussault, who had also been schooled in photo imagery, was interviewed by Sydney Schanberg for a New York Newsday article in 1994:
"Dussault came across the SEREX photo on Aug. 13, 1992, while at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters. He had been invited there to brief CIA photo interpreters on his area of expertise - distress signals." Dussault described the before and after in testimony to the Senate committee: "The ClA guys ... said look we saw the numbers. They admitting seeing the same numbers I did. When I circled it, they were right there and they said 'yeah, we saw it."' Listed clearly, on the official Missing-In-Action Report is the name: Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Henry M. SEREX.
Gen. Wold claimed, "To our knowledge, the letters 'TA' were never used as an official evasion and escape or distress symbol during the war in Southeast Asia." Dussault said otherwise in his questioning before the Senate committee above. Furthermore, two recently declassified Defense Department documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act clearly show "T" as the very first code listed under the heading of "PRIMARY E&E CODELETTERS" and "A" the very first code listed under the heading "BACK-UP E&E CODE LETTERS."
Regarding the "WRYE" symbol and its correlation to Air Force Col. Blair C. Wrye, Wold wrote that "on Sept. 13, 1990, his were among 20 remains returned by the Vietnamese." He failed to mention that the photo with the 'WRYE' symbol was taken in 1988.
The evidence is strongest in the Matthes case. The astronomical odds of a "coincidence" clearly constitute proof well beyond, what should be required to motivate the president to perform his constitutional duty, for an American who was ordered into harm's way in the service to his country. Matthes and the other men abandoned to a life of unimaginable misery should not be made to pay for the failures of the men in high places who sent them there or for a nation steeped in denial.
In the political world, where this case must ultimately be decided, it's the numbers of calls and letters to your senators, representatives, White House and media that count. Let's send a signal that can't be ignored.
Robert P. Thompson, a senior quality assurance analyst from Apple Valley, was a Marine in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
American Spectator Archive - Correspondence
Jane Trammell Peachtree City, Georgia Page 34 of the February issue was of particular interest for its reference to Air Force Captain Blair C. Wrye, an MIA. ...
search.opinionarchives.com/Summary/AmericanSpectator/V27I6P10-1.htm - 35k –
The MIA Cover-Up
THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR "The MIA Cover-Up"
By John Corry
Seeking to normalize relations with Vietnam, President Clinton, along with supine politicians and a feckless press, would like the public to forget the MIA issue. But evidence continues to emerge that far more men were left behind than has been reported--and that some may be alive today. by John Corry
John Corry is The American Spectator's regular Presswatch columnist and author of the new book, My Times: Adventures in the News Trade (Grosset/G.P. Putnam's Sons).
As shown by the enclosed Casualty Data Summary, a total of 1,303 American personnel remain officially unaccounted-for after the completion of Operation Homecoming.... Of the 1,303 personnel, the debriefs of the returnees contain information that approximately 100 of them are probably dead. ---Defense Intelligence Agency memorandum to Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements, May 22, 1973
The intelligence indicates that American prisoners of war have been held continuously after Operation Homecoming and remain[ed] in captivity in Vietnam and Laos as late as 1989. ---unpublished report by Senate investigators, April 9, 1992
HANOI, Vietnam (Reuter)--US. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord said Tuesday as conclusively as anyone can, that there are no U.S. prisoners of war (POWs) being held in Vietnam . . . . "There has never been evidence uncovered of someone being held alive," he told a news conference after talks with Vietnamese officials. --December 14,1993
A terrible truth is now emerging: Recently declassified documents and other sources show that America's MIA-POW policy has been disfigured by denials, half-truths, and evasions. More important, they also suggest that American prisoners are still crying out in Vietnam. For two decades, a cover-up has been in progress, sustained not so much by conspiracy as by government ineptitude, a bureaucratic unwillingness to draw obvious conclusions from incontrovertible facts, and a failure of national resolve. It is now certain that we left men behind in Southeast Asia-not merely the handful we now unofficially acknowledge in Laos, but in numbers reaching well into the hundreds in Vietnam. It is equally certain that American officials ignored evidence of this at the time.
To understand the moral catastrophe we must go back twenty-one years. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, a senior member of the Hanoi Politburo, signed the Paris Peace Accords ending the Vietnam war on January 23, 1973. "We have been told that no American prisoners are held in Cambodia," Kissinger told reporters the next day. "American prisoners held in North Vietnam and Laos will be returned to us in Hanoi." One week later, however, President Nixon sent a secret letter to Premier Pham Van Dong of North Vietnam, reflecting an unpublicized understanding reached by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. Nixon told Pham that the United States would "contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam," in an amount that would "fall in the range of $3.25 billion of grant aid over five years." He also said that "other forms of aid ... could fall in the range of I to 1.5 billion dollars."
Sen. John Kerry, the committee chairman, told one of the investigators that if the report ever leaked out, "you'll wish you'd never been born."
None of the aid was ever extended, and even the existence of the letter was not disclosed until years later. If the aid had been extended, however, Vietnam might have returned all its prisoners. The precedent was clear. The Vietminh guerrillas of the 1950s had held back an unknown number of French soldiers after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. France quietly ransomed them back with government aid. Moreover, a 1969 study by the Rand Corporation had said that "a quid pro quo that the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] is likely to demand-and one that the United States may want to consider accepting-is the payment of reparations to North Vietnam in exchange for US. prisoners."
The study went on to say that the United States could avoid the appearance of paying reparations if it publicly labeled them "part of the U.S. contribution to a postwar recovery program." Nixon's letter, of course, offered just such a contribution. The study concluded as follows:
It would be unduly optimistic to believe that the DRV and the Vietcong will release all US. prisoners immediately after conclusion of an agreement in the expectation that the United States will meet its military, political or monetary commitments. More likely, they will insist on awaiting concrete evidence of US. concessions before releasing the majority of American prisoners.
But the concessions, or aid programs, were not forthcoming. There was no possibility they ever could be. Nixon would soon be undone by Watergate, and Congress wanted no more of the war. In the delirium of the time, some thirty senators had even called for unilateral withdrawal from Southeast Asia, without the imposition of any conditions on North Vietnam. Hanoi would be trusted to return all its prisoners. When it did release 591 POWs, in Operation Homecoming in March 1973, however, it was apparent that something was wrong. Hundreds of hospital beds had been set aside for the returnees; it had been assumed many would need medical attention. The 591 returnees, though, included no amputees or burn cases; there was no one maimed, disfigured, or blind. It is reasonable to believe that the most afflicted POWs either remained in Vietnam, or were murdered.
Nonetheless, no questions were publicly raised about this or, indeed, any other substantive matter, and on March 29 President Nixon addressed the nation on television. "For the first time in twelve years, no American military forces are in Vietnam," he declared. "All of our American POWs are on their way home." Few seemed to hear what he said moments later: "There are still some problem areas. The provisions of the agreement all missing in action . . .have not been complied with . . . . We shall insist that North Vietnam comply with the agreement."
But we did not insist; for one thing, we had no "leverage" to do so. Congress had walked away from the war. In May, the Senate rejected a Republican amendment that would have allowed continued bombing if Nixon certified that North Vietnam was not trying to account for all the missing in action. Certainly, there already was evidence that men had been left behind. The Casualty Data Summary mentioned in the Defense Intelligence Agency memorandum at the top of this story, for example, notes that, besides the 1,200 or so men whose fate was unknown after Operation Homecoming, 65 were still held as prisoners: 29 in North Vietnam, 27 in South Vietnam, five in Cambodia, and four in Laos. Moreover, there was general agreement that the figure for Laos represented only a fraction of the real total. Several declassified documents suggest the number should have been in the hundreds. A March 1973 memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, "There are approximately 350 U.S. military and civilian POW/MlAs in Laos." An earlier memo to Henry Kissinger says that some 215 of the 350 "were lost under circumstances that the enemy probably has information regarding their fate." No information was ever forthcoming, however, and only twelve prisoners returned from Laos.
Thus, even from the beginning, the POW issue was shrouded in ambiguity. There are, though, some salient facts. The Defense Intelligence Agency memorandum cited above says 1,303 men were still unaccounted for after Operation Homecoming, and that the debriefings of the returned POWs indicated that approximately 100 of them were probably dead. Therefore, some 1,200 might still have been alive. (A later Pentagon document gives a precise number of 1,278.) The possibility that they were alive, how- ever, was ignored, and even misrepresented. A deposition given in 1992 by Dr. Frank Shields, the former head of the Pentagon's POW/MIA Task Force, to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs is instructive. In the deposition, Shields describes an April 1973 meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements, who had summoned him to his office to discuss the Pentagon's public posture on men missing in action:
DR. SHIELDS: He [Clements] indicated to me that he believed that there were no Americans alive in Indochina. And I said: I don't believe that you could say that ... I told him that he could not say that. And he said: You didn't hear what I said. And I said: You can't say that. And I thought he was probably going to fire me ... QUESTION: What did you interpret that to mean, "you didn't hear me"? DR. SHIELDS: That I was fighting the problem. You remember that there were a lot of people at the time who wanted to declare victory, okay? And I think that maybe at that point in time he believed that we had what we had, and that was all we were going to get, and that there was no one there.
That Colonel Hynds was captured alive seems indisputable; the Pentagon, however, has always listed a Col. Wallace Gurley Hynds as killed in action.
This meant that even though there was no evidence to prove that some 1,200 men-or, to use the exact figure, 1,278 men-were dead, the Pentagon would assume they were. Intentional or not, it was the beginning of the cover-up, and it would have a far-reaching effect. The tacit assumption that the men were dead would harden into official policy. Henceforth, all official figures on POWs and MIAs would be suspect. The grotesque part, though, is that even the figure of 1,200-or 1,278-might have been too low. As an intelligence estimate, it was worthless.
That was because in addition to the 1,278 MIAs about whom the Pentagon had no firm information, an almost equal number of MIAs had been declared dead. Most were classified as KIA/BNR, or killed in action/body not recovered. Over the years, however, a growing body of evidence has cast those early KIA/BNR figures in doubt. More men were left alive than we thought. Ironically, much of the evidence about this is now coming from the Vietnamese. In 1991, American investigators from the Joint Casualty Resolution Commission were allowed to visit a Vietnamese military museum in Vinh City in Nghe Tinh province. In their written report, the investigators say they were shown items from the museum's collection, and then given a two-page excerpt from the museum's register. Then they were allowed to examine the register itself. They took notes on information in the register that was "pertinent to significant exhibit items they had been allowed to examine." Their report continues:
The entire register was then reviewed for entries concerning additional items of interest. During this process, it was noted that a number of items mentioned in the register excerpt did not appear in the register. In addition, there were numerous gaps in the register where items that had been examined by the team were not included. This suggests that the register viewed by the team was not original as claimed by the museum staff, but in fact had been selectively recopied from an original at some time in the past. The team also noted that certain items of high interest that appeared in the register were not available for examination. Museum officials claimed that these items were not available because they had been lost, destroyed or lent to other museums.
Characteristically, the Vietnamese were trying to hide something. The investigators were shown pre-selected items. Then they were shown not the register that listed all the items, but instead an excerpt from the register. Apparently, they insisted then on examining the entire register, and when they did, they discovered it was a fake. Moreover, "certain items of high interest" that were supposed to be in the museum were missing.
The investigators, however, listed in their report the items they were able to see, literally translating the museum's own descriptions. They found, for example, "a flag used to request food used by the American colonel pilot Hynds, Wallace G., and was captured at Ha Tinh," and "bandit pilot identification card number FR 15792 of Hynds, Wallace Gouley and was captured alive in Ha Tinh on 28-5-1965."
That Colonel Hynds was captured alive seems indisputable; the Pentagon, however, has always listed a Col. Wallace Gurley Hynds as killed in action. There are six other men whose names were found in that one provincial museum who were all listed as being captured alive, although the Pentagon had declared them all dead.
The inescapable conclusion is that MIA lists were flawed from the outset. More men were captured alive than anyone thought. Recently declassified transcripts of the conversations of Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners, monitored by the National Security Agency, reinforce the conclusion. The gunners talk of American planes being brought down, and of their pilots being captured by soldiers or villagers. The National Security Agency has correlated the transcripts with the names of the pilots. Although the Vietnamese themselves talk about the pilots being captured alive, at least some of them were classified by the Pentagon as "presumptive finding of death," or "killed in action/body not recovered."
The indications that a large number of men were left behind after 1973 have become compelling. A North Vietnamese military doctor, who defected to the South in 1971, told American officials that Hanoi was holding hundreds more prisoners than it had acknowledged. In 1979, another Vietnamese Communist defector told the Defense Intelligence Agency that in the mid-1970s Vietnamese officials had talked about holding 700 American prisoners as "bargaining assets."
The 700 figure cannot be dismissed; neither can the idea of bargaining assets. Last April, Stephen J. Morris , a Harvard scholar, disclosed that he had found the Russian translation of a 1972 report by Lieut. Gen. Tran Van Quang in Communist Party archives in Moscow. Quang said that North Vietnam was holding 1,205 American prisoners- 614 more than it released the next year. Last September, the Pentagon itself released the translation of an account of a Vietnamese Communist Party meeting held in late 1970 or early 1971. It quoted a Vietnamese official as saying that Vietnam held 735 "American aviator POWs," although it had acknowledged holding only 368.
"The total number of American aviators in the SRV [Vietnam] is 735," the official declared. "As I have already said, we have published the names of 368 aviators. This is our diplomatic step. If the Americans agree to the withdrawal of all their troops from South Vietnam, we will, as a start, return these 368 people."
The Defense Department did not try to discredit the Vietnamese document, perhaps because it attracted so little attention in the press. It said only that it could not vouch for the document's authenticity or accuracy, and that it had come "from the files of the GRU-Soviet military intelligence." On the other hand, the Quang report that Morris had found in Moscow attracted a good deal of attention, and the Defense Department reacted accordingly. When extracts from the document were published in the press, the Pentagon attempted to have the full document classified. Eventually it said that "while portions of the document are plausible, evidence in support of its claims to be an accurate summary of the POW situation in 1972 are far outweighed by errors, omissions and propaganda that detract from its credibility."
In fact, the errors were not errors; they were really the weakest of quibbles-that the 1,205 prisoners, for example, included both American POWs and South Vietnamese commandos. (Morris replied that Vietnamese Communist documents always drew a distinction between American and South Vietnamese troops.)
In Hanoi, meanwhile, Gen. John Vessey, the presidential emissary to Vietnam on POW-MIA affairs, said he had spoken to General Quang and that Quang denied he had made the report. "I have no reason to disbelieve him," Vessey said, although he had no reason to believe him, either, and indeed one excellent reason to think Quang was lying. Quang could hardly admit that North Vietnam had held more prisoners than it had ever acknowledged. The only way Hanoi could account for them now would be to confess that it had lied in the past.
Quang could hardly admit that North Vietnam had held more prisoners than it had ever acknowledged. The only way Hanoi could account for them now would be to confess that it had lied in the past.
Vessey also attempted to discredit the document itself. It said that in 1970, after American forces had raided the prison camp at Son Tay, only twenty-three miles from Hanoi, North Vietnam had dispersed POWs among other camps. Vessey said this could not be correct. After Son Tay, he insisted, POWs were not dispersed among other camps, but instead were concentrated in fewer camps. He also said that North Vietnam could not have held 1,205 prisoners because that would have required it to have a separate prison system; and neither U.S. intelligence nor the POWs who returned from Vietnam, he said, were aware of such a system.
Vessey was making a strange argument. If Hanoi kept a separate prison system for the POWs who were not returned, the POWs who did return would hardly be aware of it. Both sets of POWs would have been held in separate places. It must also be noted now that Admiral James Stockdale, testifying before respectful senators at the POW/MIA hearings in 1992, also dismissed the idea of a separate prison system. Stockdale, who survived seven years as a prisoner, thought that after the Son Tay raid, all POWs were brought into the camps in Hanoi. He also described the "tap code" that POWs used to pass messages from cell to cell; through the tap code and other means, he said, the POWs were able to keep track of one another, thus assuring that none would be lost, murdered, or spirited away without their comrades' knowledge. Stockdale, who suffered severe torture and eventually inflicted a near fatal wound on himself to convince his captors that he would never accede to their propaganda demands, was sure no POW was left behind after Operation Homecoming; he was also sure there was no separate prison system.
Stockdale, though, was wrong. It is a mark of many good men who went to Vietnam and upheld the highest standards of courage, honor, and decency that they are unwilling to believe their country might have abandoned other good men. The empty rhetoric about "healing" the wounds from Vietnam, spoken so shamelessly by press, politicians, and old peace activists, might have some meaning now if it were directed toward Stockdale and those like him.
Reports from Communist defectors and other sources make it clear that the North Vietnamese were aware of the prisoners' tap code and could manipulate it as they chose, excising the names of some POWs and introducing false data about others. Moreover, while Stockdale and the other POWs in Hanoi thought they knew the names and locations of all the American prisoners, it is obvious they did not. Nine men captured in Laos spent years in the Hanoi prison system, separated from other POWs only by the width of stone walls, without the other POWs knowing they were there.
It is on the matter of a separate prison system that government orthodoxy about POWs begins to unravel completely. The boat people who fled Vietnam in the 1980s brought with them information about a prison system that was larger and more complex than we had known. Even before the arrival of the boat people, though, U.S. intelligence agencies suspected that Hanoi had held POWs outside the known prisoner system. The known system consisted of thirteen camps-eight outside of Hanoi and five within the city. One difficulty in tracking information about them is that a camp, or prison, may be referred to one way in a DIA report, say, and another in a POW debriefing. Xom Aplo, or Xom Ap Lo N-5 1, for instance, may be called Bat Bat, after a nearby village, or Briarpatch, or even Tic Tac Toe, which refers to the configuration of some of its buildings.
But some reports are clear enough. A CIA document, only recently declassified, suggests that POWs were held in camps other than the ones identified during the war. The CIA document is handwritten, unsigned, and undated, although the content indicates that it was put together several years after Operation Homecoming in 1973. That it is handwritten is suggestive; it indicates that someone in the CIA wanted to make certain information part of the permanent record, but did not want to attract much attention when he did.
The document begins:
In response to recent human source reporting on American POWs still in North Vietnam, we conducted a photographic study of selected prison/detention facilities in the northern portion of the country. Our study concentrated on comparing known American POW camps with various other detention camps. The purpose of our study was to determine if any signatures of American presence could be found at these other camps.... Our analysis did reveal some irregularities in the North Vietnamese prison system between 1970 and 1973. The irregularities do not provide conclusive evidence of American presence at other camps; however, this possibility cannot be disregarded, and precludes drawing a firm conclusion that all the camps which held American POWs have been identified.
The CIA analyst was only being cautious. He had gone back to look at old photographs to determine how many camps had reacted to the Son Tay raid in 1970 "by constructing new defensive positions such as AAA [anti- aircraft artillery] sites, AW [automatic weapon] positions, trenching and/or foxholes." The Son Tay raiders-Special Forces troopers, Army Rangers, and Air Force volunteers-had swooped in by helicopter on Son Tay, only twenty-three miles from Hanoi, in an attempt to rescue prisoners. Unfortunately, the prisoners had been moved to another camp, although the raid itself was a victory. Hundreds of North Vietnamese regulars were killed, while not a single raider was lost or injured, and all returned home safely. They had shown that American forces could strike within reach of downtown Hanoi.
The CIA study made the reasonable assumption that camps holding POWs would react to the Son Tay raid by immediately shoring up their defenses against the possibility of a similar helicopter attack-with new anti-aircraft gun positions, trenches, foxholes, and so on. Indeed, the study found that this is exactly what six camps that were known to be holding American prisoners did. More important, it also found that seven camps that were not known to be holding prisoners-Tuyen Quang, Ba Vi, Ban Puoi, Xam Tang, Chorn Lai, Coc Mi, and Xom Giong-reacted the same way.
Judging from this reaction "and the fact that several reports have been received recently stating that Americans are still being held in North Vietnam," the CIA again said cautiously, "the possibility of a second prison system for the detention of American POWs cannot be disregarded."
Of course it cannot; the only reasonable explanation of why the Vietnamese would have fortified the camps that way is that they were used to hold prisoners. In fact, the Defense Department had speculated along these same lines before the CIA did. The CIA study was made during the mid- or late 1970s; a Defense Department report, dated July 26, 1971, adds another camp to the list of places where North Vietnam probably held prisoners. Aerial photography revealed that new gun emplacements were also constructed at the Cam Chu prison immediately after the Son Tay raid. "It is reasoned," the report says, "that Hanoi was taking steps to thwart other possible SAR [search and rescue] efforts to rescue U.S. PWs."
No American, however, was repatriated from any of these camps during Operation Homecoming.
In the appalling history of POW-MIA policy, though, nothing is more scandalous than the issue of live sightings. Since 1975, the Defense Intelligence Agency has received more than 15,000 live-sighting reports about American prisoners in Southeast Asia. Approximately 1,650 of the reports are first-hand. That means a source says he has actually seen an American held in captivity, or under conditions that cannot be easily explained. The remainder of the reports are hearsay; a source says he has been told by someone else about an American, or many Americans, held in captivity. These live-sighting reports have come from many sources- refugees, defectors, diplomats, and travelers-with the preponderance from refugees. Many of the reports, even the ones that are hearsay, are quite specific, with physical details, exact locations, and an abundance of certifiable facts.
No live-sighting reporting, however, has ever been accepted as proof by the Defense Intelligence Agency that an MIA is still alive, or ever has been alive, in Southeast Asia. This defies the laws of probability. It also moves us into the area of culpable negligence. It is permissible now to wonder if the Defense Intelligence Agency has ever been seriously interested in uncovering the truth about our missing men, or whether it has always been an instrument in a cover-up.
Criticism of the DIA, much of it from MIA family members, became so harsh and insistent in the 1980s that the agency assigned a team to investigate itself. This led in 1986 to the Director's POW/MIA Task Force Report, or the Gaines Report, after Air Force Col. Kimball M. Gaines, who was its principal author. Consider the following excerpts, both dealing with live sightings:
When a case is being worked ... it is plainly evident that the emphasis is on the investigative side of the question in most cases, where the focus rests on debunking the source more than it does on the analysis of the information itself. It should be noted with trepidation that there are some 600 hearsay reports of live sightings backlogged ... which have not had any evaluation. And there is no actual proof that this class of report has any less potential for yielding some usable information than do the first-hand sighting reports. The implications of this are obvious to the casual observer, but do not seem to be appreciated by the experts.
There exists a mindset to debunk.... Within POW/MIA Division it has evolved over time as an investigative technique, whereby intense effort is initially focused on veracity of sources with a view toward discrediting them. This penchant has overridden the seeking of the corroborative data necessary to support the sighting. Reinforcing the mindset is the investigative audit trail, which has confirmed an inordinate number of originally promising sources to be fabricators.... In the main, sources who volunteer information have no ulterior motive, especially those relocated to the U.S. Sources were very young when they observed the event; others were in dire straits as a result of the war; and, in many cases, the sighting was a fleeting one. Therefore, sources should not be badgered when they volunteer information they do not recall well ... otherwise word gets around the refugee community and information dries up.
In other words, the DIA bullied those who came forth with information about MIAs; it called an "inordinate" number of them liars; it sought to discredit reports of live sightings. The Pentagon immediately classified the Gaines Report.
Keep in mind now what the report called the "mindset to debunk." It means an unwillingness to believe, and in the eight years since the Gaines Report, it has calcified into official policy. The DIA classifies live-sighting reports by category, ranging from 1A through 9B. The lower categories apply to reports still being evaluated; the upper categories apply to the final evaluations. Here are the categories for the final evaluations; no others are allowed:
4-This category represents an unresolved status. The analytical evaluation has been reviewed and approved by senior level management-no correlation or further action is possible. 5-This category is used only by managerial personnel and indicates difficulties exist in follow-up. 6-This category shows analytical evaluations reviewed and approved by senior level management which have been correlated to a known individual or incident. 6B-Analytical evaluations reviewed and approved by management which are determined to describe an unidentified individual who is not an American POW-MIA. 7-This represents camp information only. 8-This represents no POW-MIA information. At any time, the management can place a case in this category. 9-This category indicates the analytical evaluation is approved as a fabrication. 9B-This category indicates the analytical findings are approved by management as a possible fabrication.
Obviously, there is a missing category: one that accepts a live-sighting report as accurate. The DIA is programmed to discredit the possibility that anyone was left behind in Southeast Asia, or that any one remains there now. Its intellectual dishonesty has been stunning, and its investigative process a fraud. On occasion it has seemed criminal.
It is on the matter of a separate prison system that government orthodoxy about POWs begins to unravel completely.
In August 1987, a former South Vietnamese major turned up in Bangkok after being interned in Communist prisons, and was debriefed by the CIA. The major said that in December 1978, five years after Operation Homecoming, he had encountered an American in the Tan Lap prison in northern Vietnam. The American, he said, was lying down in a room near the camp dispensary where injured or sick prisoners were taken to rest. The major described the room and the building in which it was located precisely. He also described the American. According to the CIA report on the debriefing:
Source [the major] and the American were on the first floor. Source saw the American lying down inside this room. The American was alone. He was Caucasian, between 170 and centimeters tall and weighing about 70 kilograms. He had brown hair and a thick beard. He had a wound on his right ankle that was oozing blood and pus. The American wore some sort of military trousers and a dirty, tattered red and white striped shirt. Source asked the American in English, "What is your name?" The American replied, "Jackson." Jackson then said, "You will stay here a long time." When source saw Jackson's wound, source took six penicillin tablets which were hidden in the cuffs of his trousers and offered them to Jackson. Jackson took only four. Jackson added that "there were 16 of us; 15 have gone out already." . . . A vehicle came to the front of this rest area the same evening and Jackson was taken away.
The CIA station in Bangkok passed the major's story on to the DIA in Washington in August. Following bureaucratic protocol, it also asked the DIA for permission to polygraph the major. If he passed the polygraph, of course, it would authenticate his story. What happened then is detailed in the cable traffic between the defense attachÈ in the Bangkok Embassy and the DIA in Washington. Stony Beach is intelligence jargon for the DIA; SIRO refers to the CIA:
Bangkok to Washington, September: SIRO has transferred this case to Stony Beach, and strongly urges that source be polygraphed as soon as possible.... SIRO is very high on this source. The debriefer involved states source was very forthcoming, open, and seemed completely candid.... Bangkok to Washington, October: Source has expressed his willingness to be polygraphed.... If this is unacceptable ... please advise by immediate message, and if possible, provide a rationale for not polygraphing source which can be provided to SIRO.
Bangkok to Washington, October: Request your immediate attention to this case. It's possible SIRO may simply conduct the poly without your input. Bangkok to Washington, October: Can someone ...stay on top of this for us? Bangkok to Washington, October: We have been queried several times by SIRO on the status of this case. In each case we have replied we are awaiting guidance from our headquarters. After six weeks, this wearing a bit thin. Washington to Bangkok, October: Regret delay in response.... Liaison obligation ... may have forced our polygraph hand on this source.... Request major provide a complete and detailed description again of how these events ensued.... Bangkok to Washington, November: Source answered all questions in a direct manner. His answers were consistent when interviewed over a three-day period. Washington to Bangkok, November: Do not polygraph source ... on his reported live sightings until further notice. Bangkok to Washington, February, 1988: Please advise status our request to polygraph source. Washington to Bangkok, March: ... This source does not sustain the minimum level of plausibility that requires testing by polygraph....
In April, the DIA issued its official evaluation of the major's story; it called it a "fabrication." It said that former South Vietnamese commandos who had been in Tan Lap prison had never seen an American; therefore, the major could not have seen one, either. The DIA also said the man the major described could not have been wearing a red- striped shirt because "red-striped uniforms went out of use circa 1970." Furthermore, the DIA asserted:
A computer-assisted search of all missing personnel reveals only one unaccounted for individual whose first, middle or last name is Jackson; he was lost on 21 September 1969 under unusual circumstances from a medical treatment room within a hospital cantonment area in the 3d Marine Division area of South Vietnam. While we cannot preclude this individual from consideration, based on the above, it is likely that the source has fabricated his story.
Whatever the merits of the rest of the DIA's argument, the assertion that only one Jackson was missing was, if not a careless mistake, then certainly an outright lie. Besides the unfortunate Marine lost under unusual circumstances, three other Jacksons are missing in action. All three are classified as "KIA/body not recovered," and surely one of them is the man the major saw.
Tan Lap, where the major was held, has another distinction as well. It is one of five Vietnamese prisons--the others are Quyet Tien, Yen Bai, Ha Son Binh, and Thanh Hoa--where, according to reports from the boat people and others, POWs were buried in cemeteries in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The reports are credible; some are from former Vietnamese prisoners who say they dug the graves. Not one of the cemeteries, however, has been excavated by any of the teams now looking for MIA remains. Instead, the teams dig up old crash sites. The crash sites yield little or nothing; the cemeteries could yield a great deal--evidence, perhaps, about men who were murdered. It seems, though, that the Defense Department does not want to know.
The DIA's abysmal record led the six staff members on the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs who were charged with investigating intelligence reports to re-examine, in 1992, the 1,650 first-hand live-sighting reports. They dismissed the reports that seemed least plausible; they also dismissed the ones that had been correlated with known individuals, the Marine Robert Garwood, for example, who returned from Vietnam in 1979. Then they dismissed the reports in which the source said he had seen only a single man who might have been a prisoner. They reasoned that a single man, even if he appeared to be a prisoner, might have been a deserter or a straggler and not a POW.
That left the investigators with 929 first-hand live sightings, all involving two or more men allegedly seen in conditions indicating they were prisoners. The investigators then plotted the 929 sightings on a map of Southeast Asia, using pins to mark each one. Cambodia drew no pins; Laos and some areas of Vietnam drew only a few. Other areas of Vietnam, however, drew pins in clumps or clusters. In every place where there was a cluster, there was also a Vietnamese prison. The investigators, who, for technical reasons, were using live-sighting reports that extended only through 1989, drew an obvious conclusion: "that American prisoners of war have been held continuously after Operation Homecoming and remain[ed] in captivity in Vietnam and Laos as late as 1989."
The conclusion, however, was not welcomed by the DIA, or even by most members of the Senate committee. On the morning the investigators were scheduled to present their report to the senators, one senator's aide let the Pentagon know what the investigators intended to say. A team from the DIA immediately showed up to rebut their presentation. The investigators protested; their briefing was supposed to be closed to outsiders. In a remarkable display of bad judgment, however, the senators voted, 7 to 2, to allow the DIA to attend the briefing.
By all accounts, what followed was contentious. The investigators and the team from DIA shouted at each other. Several senators shouted, too. John Kerry, the committee chairman, told one of the investigators that if the report ever leaked out, "you'll wish you'd never been born." Senator Kerry wants to normalize relations with Vietnam. When the briefing was over, Frances Zwenig, the committee's staff director, ordered that all copies of the investigators' report be destroyed. She also said she wanted their computer files purged. Zwenig, who is now the executive assistant to United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright, also wants to normalize relations with Vietnam.
In its 1,123-page final report on the hearings, the committee reached an evasive conclusion: "We acknowledge that there is no proof that U.S. POWs survived, but neither is there proof that all of those who did not return had died. There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number, after Operation Homecoming."
The ambiguous language moves the cover-up to a higher plane. Buried in the 1,123 pages-and in thousands more pages of unpublished depositions-are pieces of information that sit like time bombs. Ambiguous language or not, the committee report confirms that satellite imagery has picked up the distress signals, and even the names, of downed American pilots on the ground. The distress signals--combinations of letters and numbers--appear in numerous photographs taken after, not before, Operation Homecoming. Characteristically, though, the Pentagon says they are not distress signals at all. Rather, it insists, they are combinations of lights, shadows, and vegetation that only appear to form GX2527, say, or 72TA88.
(The Pentagon's word is not reassuring. In 1988, the CIA discovered a large "USA" etched in a rice paddy in northern Laos, along with what appeared to be the letter "K," a symbol used by downed pilots. A full four years later, the Defense Department sent a team to investigate. The owner of the rice paddy, it reported, said his son had "made the USA symbol by copying it from an envelope because he liked the shape of the letters.")
The satellite imagery is compelling. The GX in GX2527, for instance, are distress letters; 2527 is the secret four-digit number of Air Force Maj. Peter Matthes, who has been missing since 1969. The Pentagon says that the GX2527, which showed up on the ground near Vietnam's Dong Vai prison in a photograph taken in June 1992, was not a man-made distress signal but a photographic anomaly. However, Larry Burroughs , a retired Air Force colonel who once headed the National Photographic Interpretation Center, the government's main imagery laboratory, insists it was man-made. Burroughs, who was brought in by the committee as a consultant, also found other, previously unidentified, distress signals among the satellite images. He also found the letters WRYE. The committee's final report dutifully notes this, but without indicating that WRYE is any more than a random collection of letters. In fact, Capt. Blair C. Wrye of the Air Force, shot down over North Vietnam on August 12, 1966, is an MIA.
Meanwhile, new information about the satellite imagery has come to light. It is now known, for example, that on June 5, 1992, a satellite picked up S-E-R-E-X, etched on the ground near Dong Vai prison. Major Henry M. Serex, an Air Force electronic warfare officer, was shot down over Vietnam on April 2, 1972. The Pentagon lists him as dead. The satellite pictures in themselves do not prove that anyone is still alive; some of the distress signals may have been made years ago. On the other hand, some of them may be new, and others perhaps are being carved out or etched into the ground even now. At the very least, they are further proof that a cover-up has been, and still is, in progress. We have broken faith with men who fought for their country, and we are being blighted by an ever-widening moral stain.
The American Spectator, February, 1994 All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Former Rep. Hendon Fighting for 'Forgotten' Soldiers
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Hundreds of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam and Laos were never freed by their captors – and many remain prisoners today.
That's the explosive report from former Congressman Bill Hendon, co-author with Elizabeth Stewart of the new book "An Enormous Crime – The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned in Southeast Asia."
The North Carolina Republican spent the last 25 years diligently digging into intelligence files in an effort to learn what really happened to those POWs.
In an exclusive interview with NewsMax, Hendon discussed what led him to devote much of his life to alerting his fellow Americans about the plight of these abandoned soldiers.
NewsMax: How did you get in involved in this matter?
Hendon: Like a lot of Americans I followed the war and the POWs held in North Vietnam closely. I wore a bracelet with the name of Jeremiah Denton on it. I didn't know who he was but I knew he was a POW in North Vietnam.
When the first plane landed [carrying returning POWs), my heart almost stopped when Adm. Jeremiah Denton was the first man off the plane. I called his son and told him I had seen his dad get off the plane and that I wanted to do something.
Then in 1980 I was elected to Congress with Ronald Reagan. [When Hendon met another newly elected Congressman, John LeBoutillier, he heard about a rescue mission that was planned in response to a message from imprisoned POWs seen from the air.]
LeBoutillier was on the Foreign Affairs Committee and when he heard about it he told me. We both joined the POW/MIA task force and we said, "Look, if these guys are really there we want to help."
[The rescue mission failed but it forced the two men to look deeper into the fate of American POWs in North Vietnam. That was the beginning, and Hendon recalled that from then on they never let up in trying to help the POWs still in North Vietnamese prisons.]
When we looked at the secret intelligence in the Pentagon – in addition to the rescue mission and all the satellite photography – we found out that this wasn't the only place where our guys were being held. They were all over the place over there, according to the intelligence. This was in 1981 and as we say at the end of the book, [reports are] continuing to pour in from Indochina.
I saw what was in our government files about missing prisoners and still-held prisoners, and if anybody saw what I saw they would have done the same thing I did.
NewsMax: You write with a sense of urgency and are convinced that there is a need for action. Do you believe that these men are still alive?
Hendon: We are convinced based on the intelligence and all that we have done over there that these guys are still alive and in prison. They're in underground prisons, caves. They are keeping these men alive. It's not like they are starving them to death – they are doing exactly the opposite.
These men have value. In one of the intelligence reports, the source said they were a living gold mine. And he went on to say that to lose one would be losing something of great value.
NewsMax: What is their value?
Hendon: The $4.75 billion [for reconstruction of North Vietnam, what amounted to ransom for the POWs], which they have continually called on the U.S. to pay into the 21st century.
The 4.75 billion was a deal, called for in the Paris peace accords, Article 21. It was confirmed by Nixon's secret letter. It was confirmed to them personally in Hanoi when the Vietnamese demanded that Kissinger come there and confirm it. He did. There was no question in anybody's mind.
Then right at the end of Operation Homecoming, the men were released in groups and when the last group was ready to come out, Watergate crashed down on Nixon. That was the beginning of the end for Nixon and the beginning of the end for the unreturned prisoners.
The Vietnamese were going to release them once they got their money. We promised to pay that $4.75 billion. They gave us half of our guys back and when they didn't get the money they kept the other half. The money was never even appropriated by Congress.
NewsMax: Has anyone who saw these men ever emerged?
Hendon: The repatriated deserter Garwood reported seeing POWs still held in North Vietnam. He said he saw a bunch of prisoners, about 80 or so at five different locations. At four of those locations we have corroborative intelligence where other sources independently reported American POWs. Garwood has to be a credible witness about that.
[According to Defense Department records, Robert R. Garwood disappeared from Da Nang, South Vietnam, in 1965. He was repatriated from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1979. In 1981 he was convicted of collaboration with the enemy. In December of 1984, Garwood reported live sightings of American POWs in Vietnam.]
We propose that President Bush appoint the highest level commission to go over there and try to make it right. We are firmly convinced and we believe readers will also be convinced, when they get through reading this book and the intelligence we are going to put on our Web site.
© NewsMax 2007. All rights reserved.
*** Wherever our family name is mentioned with any insinuation that we were ever consulted for the writing quoted above, rest assured we were not. Not ever, not even once. Revealing that on a whole other level there is another level of extreme called opportunism that also has its impacts on the family. I am referring here, to any written references made in a regard that reads as though we were actually spoken to by some investigating author or reporter_ again I repeat, we were not. Not even once.
I believe this photo may have been taken in the last state on American soil my father was assigned and lived before he was sent to Vietnam. If this is true then it is the state I intuitively migrated to in my early twenties, and have lived ever since. My father loved to ski; we were not living together as a family when he was given his orders for Vietnam. I was nine when I last saw him. Much later, I was a senior in high school when both my mother and I accidently discovered that my father had told only each one of us, he may be sent to Vietnam and that it was possible he might not come back. I am the oldest, my two younger brothers never knew anything from my father ahead of time.
It is obviously now more than thirty years after my own father's life became ensnared in the debacle that is_ national what? Certainly not sovereignty. Was it a sacrifice for our our freedom as a nation? Was it? I refer to Robert Strange McNamara...
From the fog of War, By: Robert McNamara:
"The lessons of Vietnam:
1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.
4. Our judgments of friend and foe, alike, reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.
5. We failed then — and have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces, and doctrine.
6. We failed, as well, to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
7. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement … before we initiated the action.
8. After the action got under way, and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course … we did not fully explain what was happening, and why we were doing what we did.
9. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.
10. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action … should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.
11. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions … At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.
Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.
The lessons of life:
1. Empathize with your enemy
2. Rationality will not save us
3. There's something beyond one's self
4. Maximize efficiency
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6. Get the data
7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10. Never say never
11. You can't change human nature"
How many Americans understand, let alone are even reasonable aware that the North Vietnamese were proactively engaged in their own governmental process, one part of which they presented their list of grievances to the French and to the UN (if I am not mistaken) in the late 1950's?! That this also is a country with its own history of struggle for autonomy and the right to self-rule?!
Before the cries of negative reaction spout their blame and chaos frenzy, read all that is here first and truly ponder the depths of implication. I am talking about plain responsibility. Know that even after more than thirty years, I am only just beginning to find information concerning my father's fate on the Internet, don't just jump to conclusions. That I was the same age range as the US Navy pilot Lt. Commander, and that I was a parent with my own child, when I first found out what had happened to my father. Finally.
That in the beginning of the nightmare life, I was a kid not even three weeks away from my thirteenth birthday when the dreaded knock came to the door. That our lives as a family changed so fast it'd make you head swim. That I am still picking up the pieces in more ways than you can imagine, WITHOUT living in the past, so my own life can work reasonably well in the present! On many levels my life does work well and on many significant levels it continues to not work as well as it can... that I am still working on it.
The cast of the Tim Robbins production, of Father Berringer's play of The Trial of the Cantonville Nine, speaks about war, Iraq, complacency, and relevance.
Take heed America, we must end this Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex, as Eisenhower warned. We must restore our democracy to a government by, for and OF the people... do you know what this means? To be a truly free democracy means no matter you education, no matter our cultural exposure, no matter your background_ YOUR VOICE MATTERS. And if one of your peers will not listen to you that you must not stop until you are heard because your story, your struggle, your commitment to right a wrong is of benefit to EVERYONE. Especially those who turn their backs on you, lock the gates of access and try to prevent you from getting your message where it can be recognized and heard and consequently will be most effective. Do NOT EVER stop
Barack Obama (The First 100-Days) used his first cabinet meeting to challenge his Cabinet Secretaries to search for cost-savings in their departments...
What kind of species of life are we human beings? More to the point, what kind of species of life do we spirits of the divine in human form want to be/express in the world, from here?
To the Speicher family, I wish you the closure you need to move on with your lives. I know that finding conscious inner peace is what our relatives caught in these duties want for those of us, they leave behind. Blessings on us all.