MIA Facts Site

Section VI:  An Analysis of Garwood's "Live Sightings"

Introduction. The preceding five sections were a reprint of the report on the case of former USMC Private Robert Garwood that was prepared for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence. If you have not read that report, go to the MIA Facts Site Table of Contents and select Section I of the Garwood report to get started. Note that the report is long -- five sections -- and it is not exactly exciting reading. You may want to download all sections and read at your leisure. The five sections of the report were quoted from the ASD/C3I report; I claim no credit for for writing the preceding five sections. However, this section, dealing with Garwood's claims of having seen US POWs in Vietnam after Operation Homecoming, is my own creation.

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When Garwood returned to the US in March 1979, he was questioned by USMC and Navy investigators as well as being questioned by two members of Congress, Lester Wolff and Ben Gilman (Wolff and Gilman were chair and vice-chair of the House Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs.) In each of these interviews, Garwood stated that he had no first-hand knowledge of US POWs in Vietnam and that he had not seen any US POWs in Vietnam. He also stated that he had not seen another American since 1969, when he left South Vietnam and went North.

In December 1984, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Bill Paul based on interviews with Garwood. In this article, Paul reported, Garwood's claims to have seen American POWs in Vietnam at various times after Operation Homecoming, 1973. These revelations, of course, caused considerable immediate stir.

DIA Blocked From Debriefing Garwood

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had primary responsibility for investigating these claims. For several years, DIA had to work without benefit of talking directly with Garwood. His 1981 court-martial conviction for collaborating with the enemy and for striking another American POW was immediately appealed through the military court system and then into the civil court system. From the time of his return in 1979, Garwood's defense attorneys and the USMC prosecuting attorneys refused every DIA request to debrief Garwood. They were concerned that the DIA debriefing would, in some way, create legal problems for either the defense or the prosecution. After the WSJ article was published, Garwood's attorneys refused to permit DIA to talk with Garwood, even after DIA assured the attorneys that the sole topic of debriefings would be the "live sightings."

In December 1985, the US Supreme Court declined to review the Garwood case, thereby letting stand Garwood's conviction. Immediately after this decision, Garwood's attorneys contacted DIA to arrange an interview. This interview, which took place in February 1986, lasted less than three hours and Garwood essentially re-stated his claims that were reported in the WSJ article. Following this interview with DIA, Garwood refused further contact with DIA. He was not interviewed by DIA again until September 1987. He was interviewed two more times by DIA: February 1988 and November 1990.

In the 1987 and 1988 interviews, Garwood was questioned extensively about his claims to have seen US POWs in Vietnam after 1973.  In each interview, the interviewers walked Garwood through each of his claimed sightings several times.  While Garwood told the basic outline of his six claimed sightings in each case, his description of the details varied widely every time he was questioned about a "sighting."  During one debriefing session, Garwood forgot about one of his claims, stating that he had not encountered Americans at that particular location.

Requiring a source to repeat, several times, the "Five Ws and an H" ( who, what, when, where, why, and how ) is a common debriefing technique.  If a source is being truthful, the details will remain consistent; if a source cannot supply a detail, he will not be able to supply it, no matter how many times you go over the story.  If a source is making it up, the details will stray all over the place.

Here is an important element of the Garwood story that I have never stated publicly before.  One of the debriefers, the one who spent the most time with Garwood told me that he interviewed "two Garwoods."

bulletWhen Garwood was talking about the early days of his captivity, the time when he was held with Eisenbraun and Grissett, Garwood was truthful and emotional.
bulletWhen the scene shifted and Garwood started talking about his experiences after 1967 -- the time when it was clear that he had started his collaboration -- he became evasive and nervous and could not sustain a story, switching from story to story, confusing details, even forgetting important points of a story.

Garwood Talks to Friendly Audiences

During the periods when he was refusing to be interviewed by DIA, Garwood was not standing silent. In fact, he made himself available to talk with virtually anyone except DIA, provided he was speaking to friendly audience. At the same time that he was avoiding DIA, Garwood:

bulletThrough his attorney, requested immunity for any criminal actions he may have committed in the period 1970 - 1979 (immunity was denied);
bulletAppeared on Sixty Minutes where he claimed that he had never been debriefed (in fact he had been debriefed by the USMC and by two members of Congress within days of his return to the US);
bulletTestified before the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, where he claimed that he had not been debriefed;
bulletWas interviewed by USAF LT GEN Gene Tighe (Retired), former Director of DIA;
bulletDenounced the book Conversations With the Enemy (Later, it would be determined that, at the time he denounced the book, Garwood was in negotiations with producers of what would become a made-for-TV movie, "The Last POW?: The Bobby Garwood Story." Because the movie is considerably at variance with the book, speculation is that Garwood denounced the book to make the movie more saleable.);
bulletAppeared at various POW-MIA rallies, sometime wearing a USMC lieutenant's gold bar. At many of these rallies, Garwood spoke, claiming to have seen US POWs after 1973. He was frequently applauded.

What DIA Knew

Garwood's avoidance of speaking with DIA did not have any real impact on DIA's ability to investigate his claimed sightings. In fact, DIA had considerable information on every area where Garwood claimed to have seen US POWs.

For years, DIA had collected information from refugees; from former South Vietnamese military officers who had been incarcerated in "re-education" camps in North Vietnam; from former Ops Groups 34A commandos who had been imprisoned in North Vietnam; and from all-source intelligence collection activities, including controlled sources, signal intelligence, and overhead imagery and photography.

For example, when Garwood claimed to have encountered US POWs at a compound on Ly Nam De Street in Hanoi, DIA had no problem re-visiting some two dozen sources who had lived near, worked in, or regularly visited in the compound. These people, as well as newly-developed sources, provided conclusive reports that refuted Garwood's Ly Nam De sighting.

When Garwood fnally sat down to be debriefed by DIA, he destroyed his credibility. In every case, Garwood was not able to sustain his story, even under the simplest of interviews. That is, when he was asked to describe a sighting, he could not do so consistently -- and this was the case regarding every one of his claims. With each repitition of a sighting, he changed the circumstances of the sighting, changed the number of US POWs he claimed to have seen, and was inconsistent regarding every element of every claim. At one point during his 1988 interviews, he completely forgot one of his sighting stories.

Garwood's claims that he saw US POWs in Vietnam after Operation Homecoming in 1973 are bogus. 

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The Environment of Garwood's "Live Sightings"

Garwood and the Yen Bai "Re-education Camp" System

Before reading about Garwood's claims to have seen Americans in captivity in Vietnam after 1973, you first need to understand a little about Garwood's activities during his 1970 - 1979 stay in North Vietnam.

When South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam in April 1975, the North Vietnamese knew that they had to ensure that no organized resistance to their rule would arise from the defeated southerners.  The North Vietnamese moved swiftly.  They "arrested" virtually the entire South Vietnamese army ( the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, ARVN  ) by turning former ARVN military bases into prison camps.  That is, all ARVN personnel were ordered to return to their bases where they were guarded by victorious North Vietnamese troops ( I will hereafter refer to the North Vietnamese Army as the NVA, not as the PAVN -- People's Army of Vietnam ).  NVA security officers then sorted out the ARVN.

bulletEnlisted men, generally, were held for a while then sent home where they had to report to local Communist security offices to undergo "re-education" to cleanse them of their  non-Communist ideas.  By keeping these former troops under loose surveillance and making them report to the local security office, the Communist were able to keep track of former ARVN troops.
bulletCompany grade officers -- lieutenants and captains -- were held more formally, in local prisons or in areas of the ilitary bases where they were initially held for screening.  After a few months, they too were released to go home where they were watched by and reported to Communist security officers.
bulletField grade officers -- in the rank of major and above -- were shipped to North Vietnam where they were incarcerated in "re-education" camps.  If you have a world atlas, turn to the map of northern Vietnam and follow the Red River NW out of Hanoi toward China to the town of Yen Bai.  The ARVN officers -- tens of thousands of them -- were taken to Yen Bai then distributed throughout the countryside were they were held from early 1976 until the mid- to late- 1980s.  The camps were a combination of old French prisons, NVA bases, and camps that the ARVN prisoners built from scratch.  In the camps, they underwent deprivation, some torture, hard labor, and political indoctrination.  The goal of the Communists was to render these men harmless as a future resistance force.  It worked.
bulletARVN and South Vietnamese of all ranks who had been part of intelligence, security, and police forces were sent to re-ed camps, most of them near Yen Bai.

 To understand some of Garwood's "live-sightings," it is important to understand about the re-ed camps and Garwood's role in them.  Consider:

bulletThe spread of stories and information through the re-ed camps.
bulletGarwood's job in the camps.
bulletGarwood's freedom of movement around the Hanoi area

The spread of stories and information through the re-ed camps

The ARVN officer corps, especially at the field grade ranks, was fairly tightly-knit.  For example, officers from I Corps knew one another quite well, ditto for the other ARVN corps areas.  ARVN Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps officers, because of the small sizes of those services, knew each other.

The NVA were concerned that this crowd of leaders would organize themselves into resistance forces and escape or make life difficult for the NVA running the camps.  To preclude this, the NVA constantly moved prisoners around.  Without warning, prisoners in one camp would be collected and sent to other camps while the same thing was going on at other camps.  This shuffling around of the ARVN re-ed camp inmates had the desired effect of keeping their internal organization broken up, but, it had another unintended effect.  Prisoners who were moved from one camp to another would talk with their fellow inmates in their new camp and knowledge of what was going on in one camp spread quickly throughout the entire Yen Bai re-ed camp system.  Let me give an example.

Beginning in the early 1980s, ARVN were released from re-ed.  They made their way back home to the former South Vietnam and many of them eventually left Vietnam as illegal refugees (the "boat people") or by legal means.  U. S. Department of Defense agencies had interviewers in refugee camps throughout SEAsia and we interviewed the refugees coming out of Vietnam, Laos, and Caombodia.  We were especially interested in refugees who had been in the re-ed camps and we interviewed them by the hundreds.  We picked up a story from the former re-ed inmates about a "special prison" with some "special category prisoners" in an area NW of Yen Bai.  No one knew any real details of this but many of them had heard of such a place.  We used satellite imagery to search for anything that could be a prison camp in the area and used other intelligence means to try to figure out what they were talking about.

Then, in the late 1980s, a couple of guys showed up in the refugee stream who had what we were looking for.  It seems that, beginning in the late 1950s, the US CIA ran an operation that would later be known as Operation 34A.  When Vietnam was partitioned into north and south in 1954, many non-Communists, mostly Catholics, from the north fled south.  Young men from this northerner population were recruited by the South Vietnamese CIA as agents to infiltrate back into North Vietnam for espionage and sabotage purposes.  The US CIA was in this up to their necks and the whole thing was later dumped onto the US Army Special Forces to operate.  The problem is that the operation was penetrated from the start.  The agents -- both singleton and teams -- were wrapped up as soon as they hit the ground in the north.  Because they were native northerners, they were not treated as POWs, instead, they were tried as traitors and spies, were sentenced to long prison terms, and were incarcerated in a special group of prisons NW of Yen Bai.  The two guys who came out in the late 1980s were the first of a number ( I believe it was 50 or so ) 34Alpha commandos who were eventually interviewed by US intelligence.  Wick Tourison has written a good book on the subject, Project Alpha, ISBN 0-312-96262-2, Sedgwick D. Tourison, Jr., paperback.  ( Hard copy title:  Secret War, Secret Army. )

The importance of this flow of information among the inmates of the re-ed camp system  is that nothing happened in and around the Yen Bai re-ed camps that was not known throughout the camps because of this constant moving around of inmates. Thus, DIA had a firm grip on events, people, organization, command structure, and every other aspect of the Yen Bai re-education camp system well before Garwood sat down to be interviewed by DIA.  And, the story that emerges from the Yen Bai re-ed camp system is that there was one and only one American there:  Bobby Garwood and he was not a prisoner.  (There was another foreigner there, a Thai, Mr. Son, who was sometimes seen accompanying Garwood.)

Garwood's job in the camps

No matter how much he denies it, Garwood was an active-duty member of the NVA.   Two US POWs who had been held with Garwood and released in January 1968, reported that Garwood had been commiissioned as a lietuenant in the NVA.  ARVN coming out of the re-ed camps have identified him as an NVA enlisted soldier.  

When the re-ed camp system was established in the Yen Bai area, Garwood was a member of the NVA unit ( a division-level unit ) that ran the camps.  He lived in a small house outside the gate of one of the main camps and he worked throughout the camp system as a mechanic.  He repaired generators, water pumps, and electrical systems.  He ran movie projectors to show propaganda movies to the inmates and he is reported by some inmates to have given political indoctirnation lectures. He drove a truck around the Hanoi area, picking up and delivering supplies and equipment.

Garwood's activities in the camp system were well-known to the ARVN prisoners because they were astounded to see an American in their midst.  Virtually every one of the former re-ed inmates we interviewed said that his initial reaction upon encountering Garwood was shock -- they could not understand who this American was and what he was doing there.

Unanimously and without exception the re-ed inmates who reported having seen, spoken to, or otherwise encountered Garwood in the Yen Bai camps, described a man who lived and moved freely and who was a member of the NVA camp staff.  When I left active duty in early 1995, we had received over 400 individual reports from ARVn who had seen or spoken too Garwood in the Yen Bai camps.  Their descriptions of him and his activities were identical.

Garwood's Freedom of Movement Around the Hanoi Area

In addition to working at the Yen Bai camp system, Garwood also traveled a good bit around the Hanoi area.  In his book, Conversations With the Enemy, Garwood describes his assignment as a truck driver hauling equipment and supplies to, from, and around Yen Bai, Hanoi, and the Gia Lam military airport.

 Garwood was deeply involved in the black market.  Scarce consumer goods were available at the few hotels and shops in Hanoi that carried special stocks for foreigners and privileged Vietnamese.

Because he was a foreigner and because he had access to many areas in and around Hanoi, Garwood was able to collect money from his fellow soldiers and other people; get into the foreigner hotels and shops in Hanoi; purchase scarce, imported consumer goods, and sell them on the black market, splitting the profits with his "investors."  Garwood describes this system in Conversations With the Enemy.  The Vietnamese told US investigators that they were glad to see Garwood leave in 1979 because of his black market activities and his womanizing.   ( In fact, several of the ARVN who knew Garwood from the Yen Bai re-ed camps, told of him having various women living with him in his house near Yen Bai. )

In downtown Hanoi there are numerous military installations.  Vietnam has no "Pentagon" as such.  Instead, senior military offices are clustered around the city.  There are two areas that Garwood frequented.  One is a group of military offices and housing areas around number 17 Ly Nam De Street and another is a military office at number 3 Duong Thanh Street.

bullet17 Ly Nam De.  Actually, this address is a bit misleading.  The addresses in question are a number of buildings between 15 and 20 Ly Nam De.  This complex includes
bulletTransient quarters where NVA personnel coming from outside Hanoi ate and slept while in Hanoi.  Foreign military personnel were also quartered here, often for weeks or more at a time.
bulletThe headquarters of the NVA movie-making organization.
bulletThe NVA supreme military court.
bulletA two-story apartment building that served as housing for NVA colonels and generals.
bullet3 Duong Thanh Street.  This address housed a military unit that coordinated Vietnamese and foreign military personnel visiting Hanoi.
bulletGarwood tells of checking into this office everytime he went to Hanoi; here he would pick up vouchers for housing and meals.  He would then go to 17 Ly Nam De where he would eat and sleep while in Hanoi.
bulletThe mortician states that the unit at 3 Duong Thanh was where he would receive his instructions to go to a military cemetery and process US remains.
bulletUS intelligence has considerable information on the activities and personnel at both 17 Ly Nam De and 3 Duong Thanh.

In addition to his frequent visits to these two locations, Garwood had some degree of freedom of movement in and out of military installations around the Hanoi area. There were present in Vietnam Soviet bloc military advisors -- Russians, East Germans, Czechs, etc.  They were concentrated in the Hanoi area.  While some were there on long-term assignments, others came in and out on temporary duty assignments.  We know that the compound on Ly Nam De Street was used to house transient Soviet bloc personnel.  Thus, Garwood would have encountered these people in his traveling around the Hanoi area.

Garwood Never Talks to the Americans He Claims to See

Note as you read  Garwood's claims to have seen US POWs in Vietnam after 1973 that at no time does Garwood ever claim to have spoken to the men he claims to have seen.  He never attempts to establish any sort of communciations with them.  This fact alone calls into question his stories.  If you were in Vietnam, all by yourself, thinking that all the US POWs had gone home and, suddenly, you encountered a group of American prisoners, would you not try to communicate with them in some way?  Note as you read Garwood's stories that there are several instances when he could have said something to someone.  He never has made any claim that he tried to communicate with these alleged other Americans.

A Word About Analyzing Stories from Human Sources
In almost every one of his "live sightings," Garwood tells various stories -- that is, he cannot keep his stories straight.  He claims that a sighting occurred during one month, then, the next time he is asked, he says it happened at a different time, several months or more than a year removed.  Other details vary widely in each sighting claim:  the numbers of US POWs vary; his reaons for being where he was vary; details of the surroundings vary.

The fact that Garwood cannot maintain a consistent story is important.  Any experienced interviewer or interrogator will tell you that a source who cannot keep straight major details of a story is not telling the truth.

Usually, when the source cannot consistently relate the details of a story, there probably is an element of truth in the story but the details are fabricated.  This is true because the source probably has visited the place or has observed some activity or people at the location of his claim.  But, because what he really saw or experienced and what he is telling are quite different, he cannot consistently sort out fact from fiction and he cannot aconsistently recall the fabricated details.  In such a situation, the source will consistently describe the location and will be inconsistent in his description of what he saw.

The Bottom Line

In many of Garwood's claims to have seen US POWs in Vietnam, there is an element of truth.  Garwood is describing a place or an incident that he has seen or heard about.  But, his claims to have seen US POWs at these places or under these circumstances, are bogus. Note that of Garwood's six claimed sightings of Americans:

bulletthree of them occur in places where Soviet bloc advisors and technicans were known to be stationed and working ( Ly Nam De, Duong Thanh, and Gia Lam);
bulletone describes a prison where American civilians were held from time to time after 1973  ( Bat Bat );
bulletone describes an incident that involved only ARVN prisoners (the Yen Bai railroad sighting);
bulletonly one appears to be fabricated from whole cloth (the island fortress).

Thus, the conclusion is that Garwood took stories that had an element of truth and embellished that truth, changing the identities of the people involved from Soviet bloc personnel and ARVN to US POWs.

A Menu of the "Live Sightings

The following table is a menu linked to each of Garwood's claimed sightings of US POWs in Vietnam after 1973.  Click on the link to read the claim and the analysis.  Information in parentheses indicates variations in the stories that Garwood told.

Thach Ba Lake and the Island Fortress

Garwood claimed that he saw  (20, 30, 40, 30 - 40, as many as 60 )    US POWs in      ( September 1977, October 1977, mid-December 1977, March 1978 )      at an installation on an island in Thach Ba Lake, NW of Hanoi.

Yen Bai rail crossing -- the boxcar sighting

Garwood maintains that he saw 30 - 40 English-speaking POWs  exit a train containing numerous boxcars of South Vietnamese prisoners.  He claims that he was (100 yards away, 200 yards away, very close to) the boxcars housing the Vietnamese and US POWs.

Bat Bat Prison

Garwood claims to have seen approximately 20 US POWs in the Bat Bat prison complex during the summer and fall of 1973, after Operation Homecoming.

17 Ly Nam De Street

Garwood claims :  (1) to have seen an individual with ". . . a bearded face, deep sunken eyes, and thinning hair . . ." peering at him from a room at 17 Ly Nam De Street; (2) to have heard the voices of several men who he "later confirmed to be Americans" at the same address.  (Take your pick of (1) or (2); the story varies from telling to telling.)

3 Duong Thanh Street

Garwood claims that he saw the same bearded face here that he had seen at Ly Nam De Street three months earlier.

Gia Lam Airport Warehouse

Garwood claims that he saw five or six US POWs at this facility who were stacking, loading, and unloading material at various times between 1973 and 1979.


Finally, nothing associated with the MIA issue is as simple as it seems.  The Garwood "live sightings" do not have a simple origin.  Click here for my theory on the Hendon Connection .