Lost in the jungle?
Just call home !
On the Guestbook page of this web site, an individual
signing the name "Paul Rifenberg" left the following message (July 4, 2000):
Okay, Colonel. . .I have a question for you. During the Senate
Select Committee hearings, testimony was given that spike sensor pods were air-dropped
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Their primary function was to be used as motion detectors, to
sense troop and equipment movements. However, they could also be used by American pilots
who had been shot down to manually enter their pilot authenticator codes while they were
evading capture, or even during an escape attempt. The testimony reported that no fewer
than 20 (twenty) such manual entries were made. Could you enlighten us as to how many of
those "cries for help" were made SINCE the end of hostilities, and how many of
those pilots were actually recovered ? If your answer is that that is classified
information, why hasn't it been de-classified now ? Just curious. . .I am sure others are
I sent an e-mail message to Mr. Rifenberg asking him to cite for me the name of the
individual making this claim and to provide me with a copy of the testimony in question.
As is usual with the MIA activists when challenged to provide facts, Mr. Rifenberg
responded with a bit of fancy footwork. Here is his answer to me:
QUOTE (E-mail from RifenbergP@aol.com,
I didn't ask you to believe or disbelieve anything. I simply posed a
question. I wasn't the one who testified to the sensor pods. In fact, the
individual who brought the subject up during the hearings was making an inquiry
then, just as I am now. In both instances, no one admitted to to anything.
If it is your position that no downed pilot, at any time, ever manually
entered his pilot authenticator code into one of those sensors, then that is
your official answer. Why don't you print your response on your message
board, so others can be similarly enlightened ?
Well, the give you the short answer, yes, Mr. Rifenberg, it
is my position that no downed pilot -- or anyone else for that matter -- entered his
"authenticator code" into a "sensor pod." Now,
let's get on to the long answer.
(Let's insert here that I spent a couple of hours searching the final
report of the Senate Select Committee -- I found no mention of such
statments, testimony, or claims as referred to by Mr. Rifenberg.)
The Sensor War
The Vietnam War saw the introduction of a lot of technology to the battlefield -- some
of it worked, some did not. One type of technology that worked and that would later
be developed into far more advanced devices was that of unattended sensors.
Basically, the problem was how to monitor areas or points for enemy activity.
Ideally, US recon teams would watch trails, base camps, and the like for enemy
activity. However, given the remote nature of the jungles of Indochina, the finite number
of troops available for use in recon, and the fact that putting troops out into
enemy-controlled territory often proved fatal to troops, perhaps there is a better way to
monitor areas for enemy activity.
Department of Defense researchers had for years used remote sensing devices to monitor
areas of interest. The most common use of remote sensors is sonobuoys. Picture a
buoy floating in the ocean with a sensitive directional microphone coupled to a radio
transmitter, all powered by a water-activated battery. The buoy transmits to a
monitoring station every sound that it hears. Trained specialists listening to these
sounds can tell the difference between a pod of whales and a Russian submarine. Now,
this is a very simplistic description of the sonobuoy but that's about the size of it.
The US has for years maintained a network of sophisticated listening devices on the
ocean surface and ocean floor to track Soviet submarines. For a good account of this
activity, read the book Blind Man's
Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by Sherry Sontag.
Why not use the same principle to monitor activity in areas on land where we do not
want to risk putting men, or to provide 24-hour monitoring of areas where we occasionally
insert men? Why not indeed.
Sensors in Vietnam
I served three years in the field artillery, including a tour of duty in Vietnam as an
artilleryman. I then transferred to Army intelligence where, in one of my
assignments, I was part of a team that evaluated one aspect of the use of unattended
ground sensors in Vietnam. During that project, I gained some understanding of the sensor
war in Vietnam.
In Indochina, US forces employed several types of unattended ground sensors. The
idea was to:
- build a sensing device that would detect movement, sound, or even infra-red emissions
(heat from vehicle engines);
- camouflage that device so it looked like a normal piece of vegetation;
- deposit the device into an area of known or suspected enemy activity;
- monitor the device for activation;
- take some sort of action when the sensor was activated.
Types of Sensors
There were several types of unattended ground sensors deployed in Indochina.
Sensors could be divided into categories depending on sensing
method and construction.
|Seismic. These sensors contained seismic detectors. That
is, they detected movement in the earth -- similar to earthquake detectors -- such as
vehicle(s) moving past or footsteps. Seismic devices required a small spike to be
driven into the ground; this spike contained the sensing element. If the ground
moved, the sensing element moved and activated a radio transmitter that transmitted a
beep, alerting the monitor to the fact that something was moving near the sensor location.|
|Acoustic. Acoustic sensors are similar to sonobuoys -- they
contain one or more sensitive microphones attached to a transmitter and they transmit
whatever sounds they pick up.|
|Infra-red. These sensors are sensitive to changes in ambient
temperature. If a warm body -- human, truck engine, water buffalo, tiger -- came
close to the sensor, it sensed the rise in air temperature and caused an internal radio
transmitter to transmit a beep.|
Sensors came in various sizes and shapes.
|Sensor pods. These devices were fairly large. As I recall,
they were 6 to 8 inches in diameter, 3 to 4 feet long, and contained one or more
microphones or other sensing device, a radio transmitter, a battery, and an antenna.
|The device was in a metal canister, painted with camouflage paint. The antenna was
built to look like a small sapling or jungle plant. |
|Pods contained acoustic sensors (microphones) and seismic sensors. Useable life
was battery life.|
|The canister had a pointed end, was dropped from an airplane, and would (hopefully) bury
itself in the ground, leaving the microphone exposed and burying the seismic detector.
The transmitter would transmit any sounds or ground vibrations that it picked up to
aircraft or other monitoring station.|
|The idea was to drop several of these along a road or trail -- hoping that the dropping
aircraft could get them delivered -- then monitor their output. When sounds such as
truck engines were heard or when heavy seismic activity was detected, then artillery or
air strikes could be called in on the area.|
|Scatterable sensors. |
|These were small devices, mostly seismic. |
|They consisted of a seismic detector, a transmitter, and internal antenna, and a battery
in a fiberglass or plastic case made to look like a broken branch, a big leaf, or other
piece of forest litter. One type of sensor was designed to look like -- I am not kidding
-- animal droppings. (Most of these things were Seismic Intrusion Detectors
-- SIDs. These latter types were immediately named "TURDSID" by the guys
|They were usually delivered by air, just dump a batch of them out along a trail, road,
or in a suspected base camp area.|
|Because they were small, their batteries were small and transmitters were small.
Battery life was not long -- a few days.|
|As an artillery forward observer, I operated with infantry units. One unit had
some test sensors that were used in perimeter security. The sensor consisted of a
small box containing a battery, transmitter, and antenna. Attached to it were
several (four, I believe) long wires, each with a seismic stake on the end. The
stake was about the size of a tent peg. There was also a receiver, tuned to the
frequency of the transmitter. The idea was that the sensor box would be put, say,
along a trail leading to an ambush site and the spikes pushed into the ground. Each
spike transmitted a different beep. When something came down the trail, it would
activate the seismic sensors, a distinctive beep would be transmitted to the receiver, and
people in the ambush would know where the movement was.|
|Here's a photo of one type of sensor |
This is an "ADSID" -- Air Delivered Seismic Intrusion
Detector -- it detected movement in the ground and broadcast a signal to a monitoring
station, either airborne or ground-based, alerting the monitors to movement. This
device is 31 inches long and weighs approximately 26 pounds. Battery life was from
two to 45 days, depending on mode of operation settings.
The principal employment of sensors was along roads and trails used by North Vietnamese
forces. A lot of sensors were dumped along the "Ho Chi Minh Trial" in
Laos. Remember, the Ho Chi Minh Trial was NOT a big, single superhighway along which
moved PAVN supplies and troops. Instead, the Trail was a network of jungle roads,
trails, footpaths, bicycle paths, and the like. If we bombed out a section, PAVN
either rebuilt it or moved to the other side of the river or mountain. Because Mr.
Rifenberg has claimed that downed US aircrews entered their "authenticator
codes" into these sensors, let's focus on employment of sensors along the Trail.
The vast majority of sensors deployed along the Trail were airdropped. That is,
an aircraft -- usually a high-performance aircraft such as an F-4 or F-105 -- flew along a
known or suspected portion of the trail and dropped out one or more sensors, thereby
seeding the area with sensing devices. Other aircraft -- usually aircraft on
electronic surveillance missions -- would listen in on the frequencies of the sensors and
report any activations.
Excellent website dealing with the sensor operations
Check out this page: http://home.att.net/~c.jeppeson/igloo_white.html
The idea does not work
Mr. Rifenberg would have use believe that these sensor pods had some sort of device
whereby a downed US aviator could walk up to the sensor, open a trap door, and punch in a
code. Sort of like making a telephone call saying "Come get me."
This is absolute rubbish. Consider a few facts.
- How is the downed US airman to know where the sensor is located? These
things were dropped from fast-moving aircraft and their location was in a general area,
not a specific, known point on the ground. Please don't try to tell me that every
aircrew member carried with him the latest listing of grid coordinates of sensor pods --
it's just not that precise.
- How is the US airman to know how to find the sensor? If you are going to find
something -- in the jungle, in a city, in your own home -- you must first know two pieces
of information: exactly where you are and exactly where the item
you are seeking is located. Knowing where you are, and knowing where your target is,
you then know which direction and how far to travel. Would someone please tell
me how a downed airman knows exactly where he is and exactly where a sensor would be
located? Remember, we are talking here about the 1960's and early 1970's -- long
before the advent of the GPS satellites and receivers. Downed aircrews knew what
country they were in and generally where they thought they were -- no one knew his
position with any precision, certainly not with sufficient precision to find a tiny device
hidden and camouflaged in the jungle -- and he did not know the location of the device to
- Why go looking for trouble? Remember, sensors were dropped in areas of known or
suspected enemy activity. Why in the world would a downed aircrew go walking into an
area of known or suspected enemy activity in search of something that he is not going to
locate? Downed aircrews were doing their best to avoid enemy activity, not walk into
- Finally, sensors did not have such a capability.
So, to answer Mr. Rifenberg:
The idea that downed US aircrews -- or any other US personnel lost in enemy controlled
territory -- located an unattended sensor and made a long-distance phone call for help is
ludicrous. I don't doubt that someone somewhere has claimed that he knows that such
happened and that he personally monitored these calls for help. Never happened.
Update (October 29, 2000)
The plot has now become thicker. In early October, Mr. Rich Daly, another MIA
"activist" -- from Minnesota -- came up on the newsgroup alt.war.pow-mia.
Daly tells the following tale:
|In a Congressional hearing -- not further identified -- Delores Alfond (founder and
director of the National Alliance for POW-MIA Families, a regular source of bogus stories)
stated that she had a report, or that she had heard -- Daly was not certain which -- about
"pilot authenticator codes" from missing US personnel having been broadcast by
unattended ground sensors in SEAsia as late at the mid-1970s.|
|According to Daly, Senator McCain stated that he had "seen a report about
this" but that it was classified.|
|Daly stated that such a report had not been located and that "DIA" had denied
that any such report existed. This fact -- if it is a fact -- in Daly's mind proves
that it happened and that there is a cover-up in progress.|
Now, Daly is convinced that US personnel, lost in SEAsia, were locating these sensors
in the mid-1970s, entering their "authenticator codes" into the sensors, and
waiting for rescue. Daly's posts to alt.war.pow-mia generated a lot of responses
from folks trying to tell him that such claims are total nonsense. Anyone who is
interested is welcome to go to deja.com and search for alt.war.pow-mia or for Rich Daly.
In one of his newsgroup articles, Daly mentions having interviewed former US Army Major
Mark Smith for "six hours" and that Smith told him
about the sensor activations in the mid-1970's. Now there's a reliable source for
It is also interesting to note that the original question to me regarding "pilot
authenticator codes" and sensors came from Paul Rifenberg, who, when I asked for
details replied, in part: "In fact, the individual who brought the
subject up during the hearings was making an inquiry
then, just as I am now. In both instances, no one admitted to to anything."
Rifenberg says ". . . no one admitted to anything." Daly
says that McCain said that he had seen a report. These clowns really need to talk to
each other and get their stories straight.
If -- and this is a big "if"
-- McCain said anything about sensors, I doubt he said he had seen such a report.
In fact, he could not have seen a report about "pilot authenticator
codes" being heard over sensors because such a thing never happened. McCain may
have commented about having seen a report on sensor operations in Vietnam. I suspect
that, if McCain said anything at all, it was a case of "what the Senator meant to say
was . . . "
The sensor program had nothing to do with the search for missing US personnel; the
devices were not capable of having an individual enter his "authenticator code"
or any other information into the sensor; and, no one lost in the jungle could find one of
these things anyway. Not to mention that battery life was from 2 to 45 days.
Not likely that in the mid-1970's anyone was sending signals from sensors that had been
dropped years previous. None of this, however, will deter Daly, Rifenberg, Alfond,
or other true believers.
Posted July 5, 2000.