Summary. The MIA issue has been troubled for many years by a fairly large body of fraudulent and deliberately erroneous reporting from various sources. While one would expect a certain level of error in reporting from an area of the world that is still largely closed to U.S. observers, what we are talking about here is deliberately false information that purports to provide facts about missing Americans. The article here is a reprint of one written by Mr. Sedgwick D. Tourison -- Wick Tourison -- and posted on the soc.history.war.vietnam newsgroup.
Back in the 1980s, the POW/MIA community was treated to a barrage of stories about live American POWs in Vietnam reportedly pulling ox-carts as slave laborers, repairing jet aircraft, in bamboo cages... the list was endless. One large body of stories, never with names, largely hearsay reports, came from Colonel Jack Bailey (USAF, Ret.). The stories went on for some years, accompanied by appeals for money, some of it to support his boat, the Akuna or Akuna II, that would be off the coast of Vietnam to rescue the American POWs. Similar stories have appeared from various individuals other than Col. Bailey and his associate another USAF Lt. Col. (Ret.), and the photographs and sensational exposes have been largely responsible for energizing the community, about that there is no doubt. On top of it all, are the claims of thousands of first hand live sightings and offered proof positive that DIA was covering up evidence of live POWs, a situation that the Administration was sitting on and refusing to act, one again abandoning our servicemen to certain death. Well, let's take a look at just a small slice of this pie and YOU be the judge. Although some of these stories may be old hat, there is a new generation out there that I think needs to be reminded of them as this debate goes on.
Jack Bailey, LTC, USAF (Ret.)
During 1992, the Senate Select Committee looked into the claims of some of the more visible reporters, particularly Col. Bailey. The inquiry was not to debunk Colonel Bailey, but to get at the truth. Were there live POWs? Who were they? Where were they? A lot of money had been raised by Colonel Bailey and not one POW had ever been identified or produced, but the appeal letters went on, and on, and on... The Select Committee staff contacted and interviewed the firm that handled the direct mail and telephone marketing for Colonel Bailey. From the firm's employees and the firms records, the Committee learned that the stories about live POWs that led to over a million dollars being contributed to Col. Bailey's venture was not based on any information that the firm received from Colonel Bailey. In fact, the stories had been made up, totally, by the marketing firm's employees! The transcript of all depositions is in the files of the SSC staff investigators and is described at some length in the final report of the SSC.
This represented one of the most sordid displays of financial piracy in the 1980s, claiming to have information and soliciting contributions for an effort that many were led to believe was based on solid evidence, as the direct marketers claimed. It was all a hoax.
Capt. Eugene "Red" McDaniel (USN, Ret.)
Then we had the story of the Three Amigos brought forth in 1991 by various individuals, most notable Capt. Eugene "Red" McDaniel (USN, Ret.), himself a former POW. I believe that many of us will recall the television spectaculars during and before July 1991, a sad time when several families each claimed that the individual in the photograph was their missing loved one. I appeared on CNN Newsmaker Sunday in July 1991 with Capt. McDaniel, from the CNN studio in Washington, DC, and with the daughter of an MIA in California at the other end of the link. My comment, on air, was that the three men in the picture didn't look like POWs that I had ever seen in Southeast Asia, and I had some experience in that regard. But, they looked more like Russians.
The truth of the matter was that the photograph depicted three Russian bakers and was lifted from a cover of a magazine at the Soviet Cultural Mission in Phnom Penh, doctored to produce gibberish on the retouched photograph to suggest that the impossible might be true. Families were exploited, as was the entire community.
Then came the photograph of the American in captivity in Cambodia, standing there holding a placard, appealing for help. That turned out to be another scam when the individual in the photograph walked into the American Embassy in Bangkok to describe how a Thai national had persuaded him to take part in the scam.
At the same time came a photograph of another American, this time in Laos. That debacle turned out to be the crude work of a West German bird smuggler living in Thailand and like the other frauds, died on the vine. Of course, there was the photograph of a MACSOG officer lost over South Laos, supposedly still alive. Careful examination determined that his twenty year or so old picture had been doctored, obviously by someone who knew quite a bit about doctoring pictures. In the 1980s came a grainy picture of someone in Vietnam, a someone whose picture first made it into Thailand and into the hands of an American involved in refugee work. Later, a letter surfaced in rather pidgin English. Those who believed that the individual in the picture just might be an American rationalized the pidgin English by explaining that he'd been in captivity so long that he'd forgotten his own native language. Yeah, right. Not even Garwood forgot his native tongue.
In the mid-1980s there was the incredible expose, again with photographs, about an American that Capt. McDaniel correlated to a missing airman. Again, it came up a dry hole but another family, and the issue, was torn apart by photographs that seemed to offer evidence of a massive government cover-up. And of course, the money came rolling in to the Capt. McDaniel's non-profit corporation that was originally chartered to help register servicemen to vote, wasn't raising much in the way of funds, but took off like a roman candle once Capt. McDaniel joined their group and redirected its effort to the POW/MIA issue.
Then Cong. Bill Hendon (R-NC) came to the DIA Director in 1986 with a film he claimed had come from a British character whose INTERPOL rap sheet read like a list of groceries at your neighborhood food store. Demanding several million dollars from the DIA Director, or else he'd state that the director was refusing to ante up with the cash for a bonafide film showing US POWs digging in the mines in Laos.... Well, to make a long story short, the film never saw the light of day and to this very day, 13 years after the film ostensibly surfaced through Robin Gregson and then to Cong. Hendon, we have yet to learn the name of anyone in that alleged film.
Dr. Larry Ward
In the summer of 1984, if my memory still serves me, Dr. Larry Ward testified before the Congress about the stories that even he had listened to, and had wanted to believe. Dr. Ward described how the carrot in front of the horse asked him, and others, to just wait a little bit more, they were almost there. But, Dr. Ward found that in the end, nothing was ever produced and the community should take heed. Of course, it was Dr. Ward who, feeding information to a National Security Council staff member and the National League of Families, managed to create the largest body of POW/MIA disinformation fostered on Washington, more than any other individual, filling a complete file drawer in DIA's POW/MIA Office about a character by the name of Johny King. Scores of live sighting reports about Johny were dutifully investigated, thousands of hours were devoted to report after report. That is, until Johny left Vietnam as a boat person and it turned out he as a Montagnard and not an American POW, a jet pilot ostensibly shot down during the later years of the war and held back in 1973, finally released from prison in 1979 to wander South Vietnam's delta and tell his story of how he, Johny, was one of the MIAs. Yeah, right.
Soldier of Fortune Magazine
Then we have Soldier of Fortune and its venture into the fray in 1981, learning within two years that it was a dry hole, but in the meantime beginning an effort that was responsible for spreading more bunk than Carter ever sold liver pills. At one point, SOF went to General Vang Pao and worked out a deal. SOF would help Vang Pao push the story of Yellow Rain and in return, Vang Pao would provide SOF with reported sightings of American POWs in Laos where Vang Pao's Hmong were able to move. What did Vang Pao produce? Nothing.
Who Were Some of the Reports About ?
Just who was among the first thousand or so reports in DIA as of 1984? The overwhelming number were hearsay reports about someone, anyone, and there were reports about gravesites, dog tag reports, you name it. They were not all first hand live sighting reports but these kinds of reports did account for about a third of the total.
Another third were dog tag reports and those we eventually linked conclusively to the state security sector of Vietnam's Ministry of Interior office in Ho Chi Minh City. The rest were stories about prisons, graves, hearsay.
Reports correlated to Robert Garwood accounted for nearly a third
of the first hand live sightings. The remainder were
conclusively correlated to an interesting group of individuals, none of whom had ever been
a POW or an MIA as of 1973.
Of course, there were the fabrications. But, the bottom line on the fabrications is that they accounted for less than 10 percent of the total reports. The fabrications were demonstrably false but each report took hundreds of man hours to address in a professional manner, not willy nilly, not let's throw a dart on the dart board and see what we'll call it. Each of us had our analysis attacked by his or her peers and there was no quarter. You had either gone the extra mile and equated the report to a specific named individual or your analysis was deemed shoody.
As to the hoaxes, in 1992 the Senate Select Committee staff asked DIA to what degree the late Mrs. Le Thi Anh and her colleague, a California publisher, Viet Dinh Phuong, had contributed. DIA's response that these two individuals were responsible for more fabrications than any other individual reporter to DIA. For about 4 years prior to 1985, Mrs. Le Thi Anh had, through her employer, the National League of Families, almost paralyzed DIA's POW/MIA office with report after report that always seemed so promissing at first. All were fabrications. That's what there was, and what was declassified starting in 1992. Some of you may have forgotten.
I could describe Laos as well and could recount a similar litany there too. I'm not talking gross numbers, or generalities, I'm talking specific cases that I and other analysts/intelligence officers had to deal with day in and day out. So, when someone suggests that DIA was just sitting on its hands engaged in a cover up, the truth was far from that. Each report was checked out, regardless of how bizarre it seemed. These stories are typical of hundreds and hundreds of reports that make up the body of what was called the "first hand live sightings" that seemed to offer so much and turned up nothing, for two decades. And, claims that these reports that successive DIA directors refused to declassify added to the public misperception that where there was smoke there was fire. It was these reports that Cong. Hendon and others used to attack the Reagan Administration and particularly DIA, and the individual analysts, for not caring. Again, the truth was quite the opposite. Now, a cynic might say hey, enough already. I think we're being had. Because, when all's said and done, there never was any first hand live sightings of live POWs after 1973, not really. Take it or leave it, it's up to you.
- - Sedgwick Tourison