MIA Facts Site

The "Categories: What They Do and Do Not Mean

  Summary.   In preparation for Operation Homecoming,  there were men who had been identified as being prisoners of war.  They had been seen in photographs released by Vietnam or other sources, or, they had been reported by POWs who had been released early.  There were other men who were suspected of being POWs and others about whom nothing was known.

The military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency knew that they needed some sort of analytic assessment as to who would return and what the Vietnamese could expect to know about those who did not return.  DIA had the services assess each missing man's case in an attempt to determine what the Vietnamese knew about the man.

This assessment led each missing man to be placed in one of five categories.  These categories have been substantially misrepresented over the years.  This article will describe the categories and how they are misrepresented.

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    In preparation for Operation Homecoming (the 1973 release of US POWs
from SEAsia), the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA) prepared an assessment of who was held as prisoner of war and what
we could expect the Vietnamese to know about missing men.  Some men had
been identified as being POWs: The Vietnamese and others had published
photographs of American prisoners, some men had communicated with their
families, and others were reported by POWs who had been released early.
In other cases, nothing was known about a missing man, other than the
facts of his loss incident.

It was important to assess what the Vietnamese could be expected to know about men who did not return because we had to have some sort of reasonable expectation of what to do in the dialogue about missing men that we thought would follow Homecoming.  That is, we should not expect them to be able to know the fate of a man lost when his aircraft failed to land on a carrier fifty miles at sea but they damned well ought to be able to tell us about a man who went down in the midst of a Vietnamese unit.

To this end, the military services and the DIA went through a process to assign men to a category.  This article describes the process, the categories, what they mean, and how the MIA activist community has twisted the categories.

What are the categories

Missing men were to be placed into one of five categories.  The
categories and their definitions follow.

CATEGORY ONE: Confirmed Enemy Knowledge

bullet Identified by the enemy by name, or,
bulletIdentified by reliable information received from releasee/escapee, or,
bulletReported through highly reliable intelligence sources, or,
bulletI. D. through analysis of all-source intelligence.


CATEGORY TWO:  Suspect Knowledge

bulletInvolved in the same incidents as individuals reported in Category One, or,
bullet Lost in areas or under such conditions that they may reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy, or,
bulletConnected with an incident that was discussed but not identified by name in the enemy news media, or,
bullet Probable identification through analysis of all-source intelligence.

CATEGORY THREE:  Doubtful Knowledge

bulletThis category includes personnel whose loss incident is such that it is doubtful that the enemy would have knowledge of the specific individuals.

CATEGORY FOUR:  Unknown Knowledge

bulletIndividuals whose time and place of loss are unknown.
bulletIndividuals who do not meet the criteria of Categories one through three.

CATEGORY FIVE:  Remains Unrecoverable

So, what does all this mean


The critical point to remember about the categories is that they are an
ATTEMPT TO ASSESS ENEMY KNOWLEDGEABLITY That is, we were trying to assess what the enemy would know about a man.


For example, a Radio Hanoi broadcast might state that a U. S. aircraft was shot down and the "pilots" (a normal Vietnamese usage) both died in the shoot-down.  The broadcast would then name the "pilots."  These men would be in category one -- confirmed knowledge -- because they had been mentioned by name in a Radio Hanoi broadcast, suggesting that the Vietnamese knew their fate.  There is no reason to believe they are POWs and their placement in category one does not mean that they were confirmed to be POWs.

Again, the categories are an attempt to assess Vietnamese knowledgeability.  The categories do not mean that a man was a confirmed POW, suspect POW, possible POW, etc.

Substantial misrepresentation

Most folks have never heard about these categories.

However, the categories are substantially misrepresented  in the MIA activist community.  The normal verbiage appearing on the MIA websites, in  the newsletters, on the radio shows, whenever some "MIA expert" speaks publicly, etc., is that such-and-such a missing man is a "category one confirmed POW," or, "a category two probable POW."  Some families even talk about their missing man as being a "category one confirmed POW."

It simply is not so.

Some interesting sidelights

When the categorization process was conducted, it was run by the military services.  DIA then reviewed the results.  That is, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps missing persons offices were provided with the categories and with an explanation of what they meant.  They were provided with some examples.  Then, they were requested to categorize all their missing men.

The services each formed task groups to do the categorization.  The task groups would have individuals review a man's file and place him in a category, then pass the file around for review by other task force members.  Several folks assessed each file.  No one knew what category the others had placed on a missing man.  When this process was finished, the results were passed to DIA.

In most cases, the categorizations by the services were fairly consistent and reasonable.  But, there were some serious problems in other cases.

bullet In some cases, men in the same loss incident were placed in different categories.  Why would the guy in the front seat be Cat 1 while the back-seater was Cat 3?
bulletGuys who had been named in radio broadcasts as having been killed in their shoot-down were placed in categories other than Cat 1.  Yet, if they were named as killed in a shoot down,  this means that the enemy knows their fate, thereby making them Cat 1.

In the end, the categories were considered as a place to start -- an interesting exercise. They were never used by DIA or the services as a definitive measure of enemy knowledgeability.  And, they were not designed to be nor were they used as a measure of "confirmed POW," "probable POW," "possible POW," etc.

So, the next time you hear someone talking about a "category one confirmed POW," "confirmed by DIA as a category one POW," call their hand on it.  I have found that when reasonable people hear the facts about the categories, they turn away from the nonsense.