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