MIA Facts Site

Where are the
"Hundreds" of Americans
Who Were in the Soviet Gulag?

 

This is a long article -- I'll provide the details then go into the background.

bulletThe short version is that, in February 2005, Mr. Norm Kass of DPMO announced to the world that as many as "hundreds" of Americans were held in the Soviet Gulag. 
bulletThis is at complete variance with everything we knew at the time I left DPMO -- no evidence of US prisoners of war held in the Soviet Union; a few American citizens held in the Gulag for various reasons, most having to do with violations of Soviet law; and, after WW II some American citizens fighting with the German army were held in Soviet prisons. 
bulletWell, now here we are in January 2006 and I have heard not a single word of follow-up to Mr. Kass's claim. 
bulletIt seems to me that, after a year, Mr. Kass and his merry men should be able to tell us the names and condition of at least a few of these "hundreds" of Americans -- and maybe he could tell us what's being done to bring them home?? 
bulletDon't lie awake nights waiting to hear more -- there is no more -- what we have here is another example of the fundamental incompetence of Norm Kass and his people in DPMO.


"Hundreds" of Americans in the USSR

The "National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Missing" is a fringe, activist "family" group that is convinced that US POWs remain captive in Vietnam, Laos, China, and the USSR.  While they pitch themselves as representing "MIA families," most of their membership is self-appointed activists, dingbats, and assorted charlatans.   Their "annual meetings" attract 30 - 40 people at best and consist of panel discussions led by the same tired old conspiracy-theorists who have spun their same tired old conspiracies for 20 years or more.

The Alliance maintains a website on which they publish various bogus claims.  They also publish a newsletter; they apparently try to put out a newsletter each month.   And this finally brings us to the point at hand.  Here is a quote from the 12 February 2005 Alliance newsletter (NOTE:  The "Joint Commission Support Directorate" -- JCSD -- is the old TFR) :

 

QUOTE

Feb 12, 2005
 

CONFIRMED! Yesterday, the Joint Commission Support Directorate (JCSD) issued the 5th revision of their Gulag Study. According to the report; “Americans, including American servicemen, were imprisoned in the former Soviet Union...."
 

Not maybe.... not thought to be.... not believed to be..... WERE IMPRISONED!
 

During a CNN interview, when asked about the number of American’s held, JCSD executive secretary Norman Kass responded; “I personally would be comfortable saying that the number is in the hundreds."

-- continued --

( Read the entire issue of the newsletter here:  http://www.nationalalliance.org/  -- click on the link to the newsletter and find the edition for 12 February 2005. )

END QUOTE

I find it interesting to review the Alliance newsletters -- the 12 Feb 2005 newsletter is filled with the "hundreds" of Americans in the Gulag.  The 19 Feb 2005 newsletter makes mention of the claim; there is a newsletter dated in March with a link to parts of the DPMO study, and one April newsletter makes brief mention of the "hundreds" of Americans.  Then silence.  Nothing.  In fact, the Alliance held their annual meeting in June -- a later newsletter reporting on this meeting had not a word about the "hundreds" of Americans in the Soviet Gulag.  What happened?

So -- where are they???

The point of this article is:  WHERE ARE THEY?  This article is being written on 9 January 2006.  Almost one year ago Mr. Kass and his analysts proclaimed to the world that they knew of "hundreds" of “Americans, including American servicemen, were imprisoned in the former Soviet Union...."

Well, o-o-o-kay.  So -- after a year -- tell us more -- maybe Mr. Kass and his merry men could tell us -
bulletnames? 
bulletcurrent status? 
bulletwhat's being done to bring them home?

As I said earlier -- don't lose sleep waiting for the next breathtaking revelation.

NOTE:  On 9 January 2006 I sent an e-mail to Ms. Lynn O'Shea, whose address appears on the Alliance website as their contact person.  I asked her to answer the question of what has happened in the past year.  I'll post her answer right here -- if she answers.  UPDATE, 6 February 2006:  I received a response from Ms. O'Shea.  All she did was refer me to the Alliance website.  Nothing of any substance there.

Background

Now that you know where we stand today, let's look at the background of this affair.

Questions about US personnel in the USSR

One of the questions that we constantly tried to answer when I was involved in the POW-MIA issue was that of the role of the Soviet Union.  There were questions as to whether or not US prisoners from WW II, Korea, the Cold War, or the Vietnam War had been taken to the Soviet Union and never released.  In spite of the fact that the Soviet Union had been the top priority target for US intelligence since the 1920's, not a single bit of evidence had been found that such was the case.

We did find a few Americans in Soviet prisons. 

bulletDuring the Cold War, a few Americans were seized when their reconnaissance aircraft were shot down in Soviet territorial waters or over Soviet territory.  All of these people either were released or died in prison -- none were in Soviet hands for more than a few months.
bulletAlso during the Cold War a few Americans were arrested by the Soviets and charged with spying.  These people were sentenced to prison terms -- some of them were later released, or exchanged for Soviet spies in our hands -- some may have died in prison, though I do not recall any details.
bulletAt the end of WW II, there was a small number of Americans with strange stories.  As I recall, all of these were men who had been born in Germany, their parents emigrated to the US, these men joined the US Army and were fighting in Europe.  They were captured by the Germans and when Soviet troops liberated German POW camps, they suspected these men were spies and moved them to prisons in the Soviet Union.  As I recall, the number of these people was very small -- on the order of a dozen or so.  Eventually, all were released -- some remained in the USSR, married and raise families; some returned to Germany or the US.

Except for these limited cases, we found no Americans from WW II, Korea, Cold War, or Vietnam being held in the Soviet Union -- and we found no evidence of such men having been held previously.  The Soviets simply did not have any US prisoners of war from these conflicts.

Task Force Russia

I served in the Defense Intelligence Agency Special Office for Prisoners of War from 1986 to 1990 at which time I was assigned to Japan.  I returned to the office in July 1993 -- however -- the organization had changed.  The DIA office was moved from DIA to the staff of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and re-named "The Defense Prisoner of War - Missing Personnel Office" (DPMO for short).

Shortly before I returned from Japan, and in response to pressure from Congress, DPMO added an office to review cases of men lost during the Cold War and to investigate the question of US POWs in the Soviet Union.  This organization was initially an Army outfit -- Task Force Russia (TFR).  TFR was formed at the direction of the SECDEF.  The military services were directed to cough up people from their intelligence organizations to staff TFR -- and that's where the fun began.

When a special organization such as TFR is formed and other organizations are tasked to supply bodies to staff the new organization, a strange thing happens.  The organizations who have been tasked to provide people are not about to send their superstars to this new, unknown organization, so, the people who are volunteered for this task tend to be the sick, lame, and lazy.  In the case of TFR, some of the folks who came to form TFR also were analysts who had worked on the Soviet Union for years and who had definite mindsets -- essentially, they had made up their minds that the Evil Empire had US prisoners in the Gulag and they were itching for the chance to prove it.

My experiences with the Soviet anaylsts

As I look back on my experience with the people who were TFR, now incorporated into DPMO, a few special cases come to mind -- Norm Kass, Ralph Peters, and Pete _____ whose last name I don't recall.

The analysts in general

Most of the people who made up TFR were intelligence analysts who had worked on the Soviet Union most or all of their careers.  I was quickly convinced -- and remained convinced to this day -- that most of these people came to TFR (and DPMO) for two reasons: (1) their parent organization wanted to be rid of them, and, (2) they wanted a chance to prove that the Soviets were evil.  In almost every meeting I had with these people in which we discussed information and intelligence and what it told us, it was clear to me that they had their minds made up that the Soviets either had held or were holding a large number of US POWs from WW II, Korea, the Cold War, and Vietnam -- their minds were made up, they just wanted to find proof.   And this mindset led these analysts to make serious errors in judgement.

Another situation I encountered was that of TFR members who were pursuing personal agendas.  Because of the collapse of the USSR and the general opening to the US, TFR was able to send analysts and researchers into the former Soviet Union.  Obviously, we needed Russian linguists -- and what better place to find them than in first- and second-generation Americans who had immigrated to the US from the Soviet Union.  There were at least two men who were in TFR when I arrived who clearly had personal motives for joining TFR -- specifically, they were interested in getting to Russia and setting up personal businesses, or, they wanted to assist friends or family to set up businesses in Russia.  I was alerted to what these two men were doing by a friend of mine in the US Defense Attaché Office in Moscow and I was able to send these people back to their parent units, though not without a lot of pissing and moaning.

Norm Kass

After a period of independent operation, TFR was incorporated into DPMO and placed under the leadership of Mr. Norm Kass.  I served in DPMO from July 1993 until I retired in April 1995.  During that time, I had many occasions to work with Norm, both in groups and one-on-one.  Mr. Kass is a smart man, delightful to talk with, intelligent and witty, and dedicated to his work -- BUT -- he is very gullible and not capable of managing other people.

Mr. Kass is a first-generation American.  As I recall, his family fled Russia to escape the Soviets and that, in my view, was another problem.  He was -- as were many other analysts in TFR -- on a mission to prove just how evil the Soviets were.  I believe that Mr. Kass was also convinced that the Soviets had US POWs -- and he was out to prove it.

One of my worst experiences with Mr. Kass came in late 1994.  He had invited to DPMO a woman who represented an organization that was "working to find people lost in the Gulag."  I met with this woman and Mr. Kass.  Almost immediately she started telling me how her organization could help us find a certain American Air Force officer who was missing in Vietnam.  The problem was that there was clear evidence this man died in his shootdown -- later, his remains were recovered and identified.  It became clear to me that this woman had been fed a line of crap by the National Alliance and that Mr. Kass had led her to believe that DPMO would provide funding and other support to her organization.  I listened patiently, thanked her, and sent her on her way.  I would not be surprised to find now that she and her organization are still "working with" Mr. Kass.  This experience made it clear to me that Mr. Kass either was not able or was not willing to separate the bullshit artists from the people with real information.

Ralph Peters

Peters was an Army lieutenant colonel in TFR who later retired.  You may have heard of or seen LTC Peters -- he shows up on CNN as a "military affairs analyst."  He was written several books -- some fiction novels based mainly on Cold War themes and a couple of works in which he tries to identify future security threats to the US and proposes future US security policy.

LTC Peters was not a competent analyst.  He was more concerned about making contacts that would help him later than he was in doing his job. 

I observed LTC Peters' incompetence the first time I saw him in action.  Briefly -- a couple of TV producers working for BBC had produced a "documentary" titled We Can Keep You Forever that purported to reveal the facts of US POWs who had been held by the Vietnamese after the end of the war, some of whom may have been sent to the USSR.   The production was bullshit.  Every single "source" they used who claimed to know about US POWs was a phony who had been interviewed and investigated by DIA years ago.  In fact, I met with the producers before I left DIA and demonstrated to them that their sources were bogus -- their reply was, "Well, our show is in the can."  They clearly were not interested in facts.   When I returned from Japan in 1993, one of my first duties was to attend the annual family meetings.  At the National Alliance meeting, LTC Peters showed We Can Keep You Forever and introduced the video by stating that the producers were "fine journalists."  It was all I could do to keep from puking.  The producers were bullshit artists -- we had told them four years previous that their sources were phony, yet, they continued to promote their production -- and Peters fell for it.  Later, I learned that he had been told several times that the video was nonsense -- but he persisted in showing it.

Over the past few years I have read a lot of Peters' writings and watched him on CNN.  My opinion is that LTC Peters had made up his mind that the Soviets were evil, that they did indeed have US POWs in their Gulag, and he was going to prove it.  While I have not published a single book or article, and have not been called by CNN as a military affairs analyst, I have read widely and deeply on US national security issues, international developments, and current and future security challenges to the US -- I find LTC Peters' work to be tedious and shallow -- but someone up there loves him and he makes a great talking head.

Pete ____ (I don't recall his last name)

Pete was another of the Soviet analysts sent to TFR because his parent unit wanted him out of their hair -- in late 1993 I met an old friend of mine who was instrumental in sending Pete to TFR and he told me as much.

Pete was a pleasant guy, well-read on the Soviet Union and knowledgeable about the intelligence discipline.  He had one fiction novel to his credit -- a WW III novel based on the plains of Europe, drawing on some of his classified work.  But, he was one of the worst cases of people who had their minds made up and who were simply looking for facts to support their conclusions.

The fundamental problem

As I stated above, the fundamental problem I found with TFR -- and I have no reason to believe anything has changed -- was that the "analysts" had made up their minds that US prisoners had been taken to the Soviet Union beginning in WW II  and they were going to find the truth.  This pre-conception made them unskeptical and unquestioning -- they were ready to believe anything and, as a result, they produced conclusions that were as wrong as they were seductive.

UPDATE:  6 February 2006

Today I submitted to the Department of Defense a Freedom On Information Act request for all documents, etc., that led Mr. Kass to conclude that “I personally would be comfortable saying that the number  (of Americans imprisoned in the Soviet gulags during and after WW II and the Korean War) is in the hundreds."   I included in my request a request for a list of names of Americans that Kass believes were held.  As soon as I receive any documents, I'll post them on this site.  Don't hold your breath.