MIA Facts Site

March 2014 DoD ""overhaul" of the Pentagon agencies "responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of war dead."
 

You'll excuse me if I don't jump on this bandwagon!!!

 

In March 2014, SECDEF Charles Hagel ordered an "overhaul of the Pentagon agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead."

Big Deal.  New guy on the block succumbs to the blandishments of the Executive Director of the National League of Families, which, combined with a couple of specious "reports" about how screwed up things are, causes SECDEF to over-react.  Of course, we shouldn't be surprised . . . SECDEF Hagel has no knowledge of the "MIA issue: -- what it is, how it got here -- so, in true bureaucratic fashion, he decides to REORGANIZE!!

 

The following is an annotated copy of SECEF Hagel's press release in which he orders the "overhaul" of the Pentagon agencies "responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of war dead.

Hagel Orders Overhaul of POW/MIA Identification Agencies

By Nick Simeone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that he’s ordered an overhaul of the Pentagon agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead.

The reorganization seeks to consolidate the mission, improve efficiency and increase the number of remains identified by the two key agencies charged with POW-MIA accounting efforts -- the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.

Last month, the defense secretary directed Michael Lumpkin, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, to provide him with recommendations on how to reorganize the two organizations into a single, streamlined unit with oversight for the entire mission.

“These steps will help improve the accounting mission, increase the number of identifications of our missing, provide greater transparency for their families and expand our case file system to include all missing personnel,” Hagel said.

COMMENT: Is the SECDEF saying the current system does not include files on “all missing personnel?” How does he define “all missing personnel:” Vietnam War, Cold War, Korean War, WWII, WWI, Civil War ?????  Where is he getting this information??  "Files" on missing men from WWII, Korean War, Cold War, and the Vietnam War are in several readily-accessible locations . . . anyone who is familiar with the issue knows this.

As for increasing the number of identification of missing, see comments below.

An armed forces medical examiner working for the yet-to-be-named agency will be the sole DOD identification authority and will oversee operations of the central identification laboratory in Hawaii as well as those in Omaha, Neb., and Dayton, Ohio.

“By consolidating functions, we will resolve issues of duplication and inefficiency and build a stronger, more transparent and more responsive organization,” Hagel stressed.

In explaining why the reorganization was necessary, Lumpkin told reporters it had become clear that the department needed a “paradigm shift” from what some have called “outdated, institutionalized thinking and behavior that didn’t deliver the number of remains accounted for that we had hoped.”

COMMENT: So he’s complaining that the current system doesn’t deliver the number of identifications hoped for? Identifying remains that have lain on battlefields for decades cannot be ordered by direction from a Deputy Secretary. Identification is a scientific process; is he proposing to make it otherwise?

“ . . . what some have called ‘outdated, institutionalized thinking and behavior that didn’t deliver the number of remains accounted for that we had hoped.’ “ And who are these “some?” Once again, we see the emphasis on increasing the number of remains identified – see comments below.

“As of next year, Congress has mandated the department have the capacity to identify up to 200 sets of remains a year, but last year the DOD agencies only identified 70 sets,” he said.

COMMENT: “. . . Congress has mandated the department have the capacity to identify up to 200 sets of remains a year. . .” This is nonsense. The number of remains that can be identified is a function of:

1. How many remains are recovered. After all, we can’t identify remains that have not been recovered and returned to the lab.

2. The science of identification. If DNA cannot be recovered from remains, identification is extremely difficult. Identification from loss incident details along with the characteristics of bones and teeth can be done but is a slow, tedious process. And what about identification of remains when next-of-kin cannot be located, or, refuse to provide DNA samples?

Does the Secretary propose that scientific processes be tossed aside in the interest of getting the numbers up?

Lumpkin said the new agency will maintain a single database of records related to missing Americans instead of the multiple databases currently in use. In addition, he said, proposals will be developed for expanding partnerships with private organizations already working to recover and identify remains to “fully embrace progressive science.”

COMMENT: “. . . (expand) partnerships with private organizations already working to recover and identify remains. . . ?” This is not a smart move.

In the first place, some of the “private organizations” are – to put it mildly – dingbats. Does SECDEF want DoD in partnership with organizations that claim US POWs are still alive in Vietnam or Russia or China?

How does SECDEF propose to ensure chain of custody of remains recovered by private organizations? Is DoD comfortable with the recovery processes used by private organizations?

Will the private organization participate in the identification process? If so, who will certify their scientific capabilities?

What does SECDEF propose to do when a family refuses to accept identification of remains recovered by a private organization?

It is clear to me that the people in the SECDEF's office who are now dealing with the "MIA issue" know nothing about the "private organizations." If they did, they'd understand that about 99% of them are comprised of dingbats, wackadoodles, and wannabees.  The other 1% revel in the notoriety of being able to sit down with the SECDEF and have him or another senior DoD official attend their annual meeting.

No date has been set for when the new agency will be stood up, but the undersecretary said it would be led by a civilian appointed by the president.

“This is a top priority for the Department of Defense. There is no greater sacrifice a service member can make than by dying for this country and we want to honor these heroes by bringing them home,” Lumpkin said.

COMMENT: It's clear from this announcement the SECDEF's office has lost its institutional memory on the "MIA issue."  They know nothing about the many charlatans, dingbats, and wackadoodles who comprise the "private organizations" with which they propose to form "relationships.  They know nothing about the information the US Government has, where this info is, how to gain access to it.  They know nothing about the recovery and identification of remains. But, what the hell . . . we're talking about the SECDEF and USDP . . . why should we expect them to know any details and history??

 

I wrote a letter to Acting USDP Michael Lumpkin -- here it is.

15 May 2014 

Honorable Michael D. Lumpkin
Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400 

Under Secretary Lumpkin: 

I am writing to express my concerns over the recently-announced plan to overhaul the Department’s agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead. 

I am Joe Schlatter, Colonel, US Army (Retired).  From 1986 until 1990 I was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency Special Office for Prisoners and Missing, first as chief of the Analysis Branch, later as Director of the Office.  From mid-1993 until my retirement in early 1995 I was Deputy Director of the Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office (DPMO).  While my experience is almost entirely with missing personnel from the Vietnam War, I am familiar with the issues involving those missing from the Cold War, Korean War, and World War II. 

I have read Secretary Hagel’s comments of 31 March 2014 in which he announced the reorganization and I am concerned over two elements of the Secretary’s directions:  (1) proposed partnerships with private organizations, and, (2) the emphasis on increasing the number of identifications.  

In my opinion, the Department should not enter into any policy, planning, or operational relationships with any private organizations for the following reasons. 

  1. I know no other way to say this:  Many of the private organizations with which I dealt and that are still active are comprised of conspiracy theorists, dingbats, wackadoodles, and “wannabe” soldiers of fortune.  Many private organizations are convinced that hundreds of prisoners were abandoned in Southeast Asia, where they remain in captivity today, 40 years after the end of our involvement.  Others will tell you that hundreds of Americans from Korea were taken to China or Russia.  These organizations have nothing to contribute to the recovery and identification of war dead; in fact, partnering with these organizations would be highly detrimental to the Department’s mission.  I am concerned that, over the years, DoD’s experience with these self-promoting groups has been lost and the Department will find itself giving legitimacy to fringe groups.
     
  1. How does the Department propose to ensure the quality of work done by private organizations?  How will the Department ensure chain of custody of recovered remains?  Because recovery operations take place in foreign countries, how will we ensure private organizations do not interfere with US relations with those countries?

The second matter addressed by the Secretary was the number and rate of identifications.  I am concerned that an emphasis on increasing the number of identifications to meet an arbitrary goal will lead to inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent conclusions. 

  1. Identifications cannot be made until remains are recovered, thus, the rate of identifications is dependent on the rate of recovery operations.  These operations are conducted in foreign countries, often under extreme environmental and weather conditions.  Locations where remains can be found – e.g.:  aircraft crash sites – are difficult to locate due to passage of time, human activity (farming, spread of population), and inaccurate initial locating data.  Unless recovery operations are increased in both frequency and success, there will be no increase in identifications.
     
  1. Identifications are complex matters, based not only on physical evidence – DNA, skeletal or dental comparisons – but also on circumstances of loss and material recovered with remains.  For these reasons, chain of custody of remains and associated material is critical and should be the sole responsibility of the Department.

Finally, I understand the impetus for the Secretary’s action is an internal report from the Joint Personnel Accounting Center (JPAC) and a report from the US Senate.  Having been the subject of several outside investigations, special investigations, and special reports, I can attest that, while usually well-intentioned, many such reports or investigations are not based on reality.

 

Thank you for your attention to my concerns. 

Very truly yours, 

 

Joseph A. Schlatter, Jr.

Colonel, US Army (Retired)

As of late July 2014, I have received no reply from Secretary Lumpkin or anyone else.  Not surprising.  Folks in high positions don't like to be told they don't know what they are doing.

Draft DoD IG report -- June-July 2014

Meanwhile, I discovered a "leaked" draft DoD IG report on the MIA recovery effort.  Read the article for yourself.  I note the author of the article did not provide a link to the full report -- all we know about it is what she tells us.

However, one item did catch my attention; here's a quote from the ProPublica article:

The report says the Pentagon needs to develop a policy to address the nearly 10,000 unidentified servicemembers who have been buried as "unknowns" in American cemeteries around the world. It also calls for realistic prioritization of the 83,000 total MIAs, including "uniform criteria and policies across conflicts to categorize and declare a MIA service member as not likely to be recoverable." About 50,000 were lost at sea in downed ships or aircraft, making their remains unlikely to be found. Failing to acknowledge that prevents objectives from being set, in both accomplishment and for efforts like collecting family DNA reference samples, the IG said.

"If DoD established policy criteria to make a "non-recoverable" determination, many MIA cases could be re-categorized and the families notified that DoD will no longer actively pursue these cases," the report states.

Now there's a breath of fresh air.  I am not aware of a single previous DoD document of any kind that recognizes the fact that the bulk of those "missing in action" will never be recovered.  In fact, I have said this time and again -- The constant emphasis on "we are doing everything we can -- we will work to achieve the 'fullest possible accounting' "-- and similar platitudes from senior DoD and administration officials has done nothing but raise false hopes that someday, somehow, almost every missing man will be "accounted for." 

Here's a proposal I put forward on this website years ago.  Of course, I'm an old retired colonel -- been out of the Army since 1995 -- what do I know about anything?

Still, I doubt that much will come of this latest flurry of investigations, reports, announcements, and suggestions.  It's not that the organization is flawed, it's not that the science is wrong, it's not that the people working on this matter are incompetent.  It's that war has its own calculus.