MIA Facts Site

1991:
It was quite a year

 

Summary.  1991 was a banner year in the MIA issue, especially for the "activist" cult.  However, the result of forces set in motion in 1991 was not exactly what the cult wanted.  Read on.

Setting the stage

Bush's roadmap

In April 1991, President Bush issued a "roadmap" for normalization of relations between the US and Vietnam.   The administration had been under pressure from several sides:

bulletForeign businesses were making inroads into Vietnam and American businesses were complaining to their Republican friends in the administration that they were being left out because of the continuing US embargo against Vietnam.
bulletIt was becoming clear that recovery of missing Americans would be possible only through a US presence in Vietnam and normal relations were the best way to get this process rolling.
bulletAny serious analysis of US-Vietnam relations and any serious review of the US position in East Asia made it clear that we needed normal relations with Vietnam.

The administration's roadmap outlined four phases, each somewhat contingent on some degree of Vietnamese cooperation in resolving MIA cases.  As part of the roadmap, an office for joint investigations of MIA cases was opened in Hanoi.

Thunder from the right

The right wing of the Republican party exploded, led by such geniuses as Jesse Helms, Charles Grassley, and Bob Smith.  In language and actions reminiscent of the "who lost China" nonsense of the 1950s, they attacked the roadmap and denounced any idea of normal relations with the Commies in Vietnam.  Because the case for normal relations with Vietnam was so strong,  the only reason they could find to oppose normalizing relations with Vietnam was the myth that Vietnam continued to hold US POWs -- so, they set about promoting that myth to the maximum extent.

The Senate "report"

The first thing Helms and Bob Smith did -- with considerable help from Billy Hendon -- was to put together a report released under the title An Examination of U. S. Policy Toward POW/MIAs.   The report was released in the name of all Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- it was a 100-page collection of pseudohistory, falsehood, misrepresentation, and distortion claiming that thousands of US POWs had been   abandoned in Vietnam, some were still alive, and their presence was concealed and betrayed by a vast Washington conspiracy.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Carl Ford testified before Congress that the report was so filled with inaccuracies that "to catalogue the inaccuracies would require a document of equal length."  The report's principal author, former Army warrant officer Tracy Usry, was publicly exposed in November 1991 as having falsified   much of the evidence about abandoned POWs. (Hearings before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, Part I of II, November 5, 6, 7, and 15, pages 443-447.)

One of the lies perpetrated in this report was that the US expected 5,000 POWs to be returned in 1973.  For the details of this false claim, read this article.

In spite of serious errors of fact, the "report" was still being mailed out as late as 1992 and it has become part of the MIA cult gospel.  More important, though, this report set the stage for the second act in the Smith-Helms-Grassley-Hendon drama.

The photos emerge, the SSC is formed

Phony photos

The next actions aimed at destroying movement toward normal US - Vietnam relations was the planting of bogus information claiming that US POWs were still in captivity.   Beginning on July 17, 1991, three photographs emerged from "sources" who claimed that these photos were of US POWs being held RIGHT NOW in SEAsia.  Each of these photos was quickly proven to be bogus, but, in the interim, the Senate, stampeded by the appearance of the photos and the "findings" in the "report," approved the formation of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. 

The photos were all the work of notorious MIA scam artists and each was used to blitz the public, thus helping to create the SSC.

bulletSenator Bob Smith provided one of the phony photos to the Pentagon, refusing to reveal his source.  He then went on the "Today" show to display the phony photo to a national TV audience.
bulletAnother of the photos was released by Eugene "Red" McDaniel, himself a returned POW, the head of the right-wing American Defense Institute -- McDaniel, since 1986, has promised the true believers that he will free US POWs as soon as they donate enough money.
bulletRetired USAF LTC Jack Bailey, source of several bogus reports, was the source of one of the photos.  He assaulted two ABC reporters when they confronted him with proof that his photo was a fake.

This article is a report on these phony photos, complete with copies of the photos.

The SSC

The "Helms Report" was trash and the photos were bogus, but, none of these facts interfered with the rush to form the SSC.  Smith, as vice-chair, loaded the staff with fanatics.  Dino Carluccio, Smith's chief of staff, was deputy staff director for the SSC.  Dino placed Billy Hendon on the staff.   An example of how Carluccio and Hendon operated came in October 1991 when Vietnamese defector Colonel Bui Tin arrived from Paris to testify.  Carluccio and Hendon intercepted him and tried to strong-arm him into testifying that US POWs remained in Vietnam, in spite of his repeated -- and later public -- denials.  Eventually, SSC Chairman John Kerry fired Carluccio and Hendon -- Bob Smith moved them back into his office.

The rest -- as we like to say -- is history.  The SSC droned on for over two years, issuing its final report in January 1993.  The SSC dissolved into nothing more than a parade of "yes-you-did, no-I-did-not" testimony from government witnesses and from those accusing the government witnesses of lies and cover-ups.  No attempt was made to investigate whether, IN FACT, there is a real MIA issue.   The answer,of course, is that there is not --no one is missing.  Men who did not return are dead -- they died in their loss incident, died evading capture, or died in captivity.  The only question is how many of their remains will be recovered.   The SSC never addressed this fundamental question.  Read this article for a report on the findings of the SSC; see this article for a link to the complete SSC report.

They did not count on this

I have often cautioned -- and been cautioned -- to be careful what you pray for, you may get it.  This is what happened also in 1991.  Remember that the Bush "roadmap" called for the establishment of a US MIA investigative office in Hanoi?  That's exactly what happened.  In fact, in 1991-1992, the entire US MIA structure was overhauled.

bulletUS researchers were placed in permanent assignments in Hanoi, Vientiane, and Phnom Phen where they started what would become productive research and analysis.
bulletSearches for war time records that reported on Americans in enemy hands or that reported on incidents from which Americans are missing.
bulletInterviews with former enemy personnel who had had contact with missing Americans.
bulletIdentification of local eye-witnesses to loss incidents.
bulletAn operational organization was formed in Hawaii -- the Joint Task Force -- Full Accounting is commanded by an Army brigadier general.  JTF-FA has over 150 people assigned; the organization's responsibility is to locate, search, evaluate, then excavate every crash or grave site in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
bulletThis work was completed in Cambodia in 1994.
bulletVietnam will be complete by 2002-3.
bulletLaos, because of the difficult terrain and lack of a road network, will take longer but work continues.

The result of this work has been that answers to the fates of missing men have been discovered.  This has had a serious impact on the MIA activist cult -- it seems that all their favorite stories are disappearing.  As war time records are analyzed, as crash sites are excavated, and as war time eyewitnesses are interviewed, we find that the men whom they claim were to be held forever or who were taken to the Soviet Union in fact died in their loss incidents.

Thus, while 1991 saw the wildly inaccurate Helms-Usry "report," the three bogus photos, and the SSC, it also planted the seeds for the ultimate resolution of most MIA loss incidents.  Something that the MIA cult does not want to see -- but they asked for it.

November 16, 2000