The SSC Final Report:
|The Bush administration released a "roadmap outlining four phases leading to normalization of relations between Vietnam and the US. The Republican right wing went crazy. The mental midget trio of Bob Smith, Jesse Helms, and Charles Grassley -- orchestrated by Billy Hendon -- set out to destroy the roadmap.|
|First, they engineered the production of a Senate Foreign Relations report on the US POW issue. The report was filled with pseudohistory, misrepresentations, and falsehood. In fact, the principle author of the report eventually admitted falsifying much of the report.|
|Next, they set up a howl to form a Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs.|
|Then, as if by magic, three phony photographs surfaced, purporting to show US POWs still being held prisoner in SEAsia. The appearance of these photos got nationwide media attention and spooked the Senate. In spite of the fact that all three photos were quickly shown to be phony, the Senate rolled over and formed the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs. The members who would eventually attend all of the meetings and become the main players were John Kerry (D, MA; chairman), Bob Smith (R, NH; vice-chair), and John McCain (R, AZ). Smith and McCain quickly became bitter enemies and neither of them disguised their disdain for the other. Kerry was often called upon to act as referee.|
Am I stating here that this was a set-up in response to the "roadmap?" Look at the sequence of events and decide for yourself.
- The Republican right was opposed to relations with Vietnam -- they wanted to re-fight the war.
- Bush releases the roadmap and it is welcomed by the US business and foreign policy communities and by mnost of Congress. Smith, Helms, and Grassley are among the Republican neanderthals who oppose the roadmap.
- Helms places several associates of Hendon on the minority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and they produce a seriously flawed report that claims that US POWs were abandoned in Vietnam.
- Three phony photos appear, each of them associated with Hendon associates.
Oh, well, the SSC was underway. The committee staff was an interesting story. Bob Smith appointed Billy Hendon to the staff and Hendon brought along several of his favorite MIA cult members. Kerry and other members of the SSC called in some serious people as their contribution to the staff. Thus, the staff had a split between serious researchers and analysts and a small group of clowns formed around Hendon. Fairly quickly, Hendon was fired for leaking classified information and some of his friends were kicked out, too. Still, there were enough "activists" on the staff to ensure that the wackiest ideas became a focus of investigation. Chief among these were Dino Carluccio (Smith's assistant) and John McCreary, an analyst from the Defense Intelligence Agency who DIA was only to happy to lend to the SSC to get him out of DIA's hair. While Hendon was no longer on the staff, he still had major influence -- he basically pulled the strings on Bob Smith and daily issued instructions to the Smith group on the staff.
The result of this split in the staff, and the influence of the "activists," was two-fold.
|First, wacky people whose claims had been refuted long ago were given the opportunity to
appear before the SSC and tell their stories as though their claims were worth listening
to. As a result, bogus claims received as much attention as fact. Those
pressing bogus claims included:|
|Second, these wacky claims were written into the SSC final report.|
The SSC was in session from summer 1991 until its final report was published in early 1993. I will not recount the history of the SSC; I posted the entire final report on this site -- here is a link to the SSC Final Report .
In the following portion of this article, I will take specific claims that the MIA "activist" cult makes about the final report and contrast those claims to the actual words from the report. Here goes.
Quotes from the SSC report are in this typeface and are set off by horizontal lines.
These are the two overarching questions -- were live US POWs left behind and are US POWs still alive in captivity in SEAsia --or anywhere else for that matter. The SSC Final Report provides the committee's answer to this question.
If you read the MIA activist web sites, you will find claims such as these.
|"The SSC final report, on page 6, concluded that 100 US POWs were abandoned at the end of the war and are known to be alive."|
|"The SSC concluded that US POWs are still alive in Vietnam."|
|"The SSC found that over 100 Americans are in prisons in Laos and Vietnam."|
|And similar claims that the SSC concluded that US POWs were abandoned and are still alive.|
The following is quoted from the executive summary of the SSC Final Report.
Americans "Last Known Alive" in Southeast Asia
Information available to our negotiators and government officials responsible for the repatriation of prisoners indicated that a group of approximately 100 American civilians and servicemen expected to return at Operation Homecoming did not. Some of these men were known to have been taken captive; some were known only to have survived their incidents; others were thought likely to have survived. The White House expected that these individuals would be accounted for by our adversaries, either as alive or dead, when the war came to an end.
Because they were not accounted for then, despite our protests, nor in the period immediately following when the trail was freshest and the evidence strongest, twenty years of agony over this issue began. This was the moment when the POW/MIA controversy was born.
The failure of our Vietnam war adversaries to account for these "last known alive" Americans meant that families who had had good reason to expect the return of their loved ones instead had cause for renewed grief. Amidst their sorrow, the nation hailed the war's end; the President said that all our POWs are "on the way home"; and the Defense Department, following standard procedures, began declaring missing men dead. Still, the governments in Southeast Asia did not cooperate, and the answers that these families deserved did not come. In 1976, the Montgomery Committee concluded that because there was no evidence that missing Americans had survived, they must be dead. In 1977, a Defense Department official said that the distinction between Americans still listed as "POW" and those listed as "missing" had become "academic". Nixon, Ford and Carter Administration officials all dismissed the possibility that American POWs had survived in Southeast Asia after Operation Homecoming.
This Committee has uncovered evidence that precludes it from taking the same view. We acknowledge that there is no proof that U.S. POWs survived, but neither is there proof that all of those who did not return had died. There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number, after Operation Homecoming:
First, there are the Americans known or thought possibly to have been alive in captivity who did not come back; we cannot dismiss the chance that some of these known prisoners remained captive past Operation Homecoming.
Second, leaders of the Pathet Lao claimed throughout the war that they were holding American prisoners in Laos. Those claims were believed--and, up to a point, validated--at the time; they cannot be dismissed summarily today.
Third, U.S. defense and intelligence officials hoped that forty or forty-one prisoners captured in Laos would be released at Operation Homecoming, instead of the twelve who were actually repatriated. These reports were taken seriously enough at the time to prompt recommendations by some officials for military action aimed at gaining the release of the additional prisoners thought to be held.
Fourth, information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies during the last 19 years, in the form of live-sighting, hearsay, and other intelligence reports, raises questions about the possibility that a small number of unidentified U.S. POWs who did not return may have survived in captivity.
Finally, even after Operation Homecoming and returnee de-briefs, more than 70 Americans were officially listed as POWs based on information gathered prior to the signing of the peace agreement; while the remains of many of these Americans have been repatriated, the fates of some continue unknown to this day.
Given the Committee's findings, the question arises as to whether it is fair to say that American POWs were knowingly abandoned in Southeast Asia after the war. The answer to that question is clearly no. American officials did not have certain knowledge that any specific prisoner or prisoners were being left behind. But there remains the troubling question of whether the Americans who were expected to return but did not were, as a group, shunted aside and discounted by government and population alike. The answer to that question is essentially yes.
And there you have it. There is no definitive statement by the SSC that US POWs were abandoned at the end of the war and are still alive today. In fact, the SSC's conclusion in this regard is exactly what the US government's position has been for years: There are cases in which men were last known alive, there are cases in which men may have survived their loss, and there are men known or suspected to have been captured about whom we have not received or developed sufficient information to make a definitive conclusion about their fates. In light of this uncertainty, we cannot rule out the possibility that some of them remain alive. This position is hardly an finding that men are still alive in SEAsia -- it is nothing more than a prudent position in view of uncertainty.
The important thing to remember now is that the SSC was in session summer 1991 through January 1993. The report, then, is based on information that today -- October 2000 - is almost ten years old. Since the late 1980s, US investigators have had broad access to information that we did not have at the time of the SSC hearings. US search teams regularly go into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia where they excavate crash and grave sites and recover remains. US investigators and researchers have excellent access to the records of our former adversaries. For ten years US researchers have conducted an oral history program in which they are interviewing former enemy soldiers as to their contact with Americans.
The result of this extensive access to the battlefields and to our former adversaries is that many of the losses that were "discrepancies" or "last known alive" at the end of the war -- the cases on which the committee's conclusion is based -- have been resolved and it is clear that these men died in their loss incidents, died in captivity, or died evading capture. Thus, if the SSC were to review the evidence today, they would likely reach a different conclusion.
At any rate, the SSC did NOT conclude that US POWs were abandoned in 1973 and were still alive at the time of the committee's work.
The MIA cult frequently charges that there is a deep conspiracy to cover up the existence of US POWs, to lie to families, to mislead families, to reward those officials who cooperate with the conspiracy and to punish those who do not. The SSC investigated the idea of a conspiracy to hide the truth.
The activists have nothing to say about this. That is, when the MIA "activist" cult shouts about the "cover up and conspiracy," they say nothing about the conclusions of the SSC.
This is what the report says about the conspiracy theory -- and when you read this, you will see why the "activists" do not quote from the SSC report regarding their conspiracy claims. The following quote is from the executive summary.
There is at least one aspect of the POW/MIA controversy that should be laid to rest conclusively with this investigation and that is the issue of conspiracy.
Allegations have been made in the past that our government has had a "mindset to debunk" reports that American prisoners have been sighted in Southeast Asia. Our Committee found reason to take those allegations seriously. But we also found in some quarters a "mindset to accuse" that has given birth to vast and implausible theories of conspiracy and conscious betrayal. Those theories are without foundation.
Yes, there have been failures of policy, priority and process. Over the years, until this investigation, the Executive branch's penchant for secrecy and classification contributed greatly to perceptions of conspiracy. In retrospect, a more open policy would have been better. But America's government too closely reflects America's people to have permitted the knowing and willful abandonment of U.S. POWs and a subsequent coverup spanning almost 20 years and involving literally thousands of people.
The POW/MIA issue is too important and too personal for us to allow it to be driven by theory; it must be driven by fact. Witness after witness was asked by our Committee if they believed in, or had evidence of, a conspiracy either to leave POWs behind or to conceal knowledge of their fates--and no evidence was produced. The isolated bits of information out of which some have constructed whole labyrinths of intrigue and deception have not withstood the tests of objective investigation; and the vast archives of secret U.S. documents that some felt contained incriminating evidence have been thoroughly examined by the Committee only to find that the conspiracy cupboard is bare.
The quest for the fullest possible accounting of our Vietnam-era POW/MIAs must continue, but if our efforts are to be effective and fair to families, they must go forward within the context of reality, not fiction.
Read that again: ". . . documents that some felt contained incriminating evidence have been thoroughly examined by the Committee only to find that the conspiracy cupboard is bare. "
This is why the activists do not use the SSC report to support their conspiracy claims. We should ask the MIA activists cult this obvious question: If the SSC report on the live POW question is worth quoting, why do you not also quote the committee's findings on the "cover-up-and-conspiracy" theory? But, logical consistency has never been their strong point.
The activists like to claim that there is clear evidence in the signal intelligence -- the radio intercepts -- that prove US POWs were abandoned, were taken to the USSR or China, and are still alive. However, as with the conspiracy claim, the activists refrain from using the SSC report to support their position.
One of the activists' heroes is former USAF Master Sergeant Jerry Mooney. Mooney was a signal intelligence analyst who, during the Vietnam War, served a tour of duty at an analysis center in Guam, not in Vietnam. His job was to do long-term analysis of the Vietnamese logistic and transport system. Mooney has become notable because of two of his claims:
- Mooney claims that he developed information that tracked US POWs from SEAsia to the USSR. He coined the phrase "Moscow Bound" -- he claimed that he even marked a list of missing men as "MB" based on his signals analysis.
- Mooney is the individual who claims that the crew of Baron 52, an EC-47Q electronic recon aircraft lost in February 1972, was captured and taken to Moscow.
Neither of these claims has any merit but try to tell that to the cultists.
Mooney remained concerned about the POW-MIA issue after his retirement from the U.S. Air Force. He permitted Committee investigators and NSA officials to review the extensive information that he has collected since his retirement. He reconstructed some of the information from memory, and because his NSA working aids apparently no longer exist, it was impossible to check his recollections against his Vietnam War-era information.
However, it was possible to check his "reconstructed information" against war-time SIGINT reports. Each one of Mooney's allegations was investigated by NSA, and a corresponding all-source investigation was conducted by DIA. Neither agency was able to confirm any of Mooney's allegations, particularly those involving the suspected movement of American POWs to the Soviet Union.
Interestingly, as part of his research he has identified several names of members of the foreign news media who had access to U.S. prisoners. If contacted, these individuals might be able to provide additional information on U.S. POW's. The Committee believes that this would be an appropriate task as part of an intelligence community open-source collection effort. In any event, Mooney's material has allowed Committee investigators to bring together a great deal of material as an additional check on the information that NSA has on hand. His efforts on behalf of the POW-MIA issue are greatly appreciated.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mooney. Basically, the SSC found that Mooney had no useful information and was not able to support any of his claims. Further, the SSC found numerous people who worked the same material as Mooney who testified that Mooney was way off base.
The "activists" do not quote the SSC report on Mooney for obvious reasons.
Minarcin was, like Mooney, a SIGINT analyst during the war. He claimed to have information similar to Mooney's. Minarcin even claimed to have seen a photo showing four men off Baron 52 in captivity. He showed the photo to the committee, complete with tears as he described his former comrades being led off to Moscow. Problem is that the photo he showed was a photo of four US POWs who were captured years before Baron 52 was lost; US intell obtained the photo from the East European communist press years before the loss of Baron 52.
Barry Toll was a former US Army sergeant who had served a tour as an intelligence staff member on the airborne command post -- the "doomsday aircraft" operating out of Langley AFB, Virginia. Toll claimed to have had midnight conversations with Richard Nixon, and he claimed to have seen briefing material about US POWs still alive in SEAsia. Toll's stories are bogus -- he was under investigation by the Defense Intelligence Agency when he got out of the Army, he later served time for cocaine trafficking. Read about Toll here.
The Committee found no evidence to corroborate claims by Terrell Minarcin; sources Minarcin suggested investigators interview and others said his claims were unfounded. Although Barry Toll did occupy the position of Intelligence NCO on the CINCLANT Airborne Command Post and did have access to sensitive message traffic, Committee investigators were unable to locate any former crew members of his team who could corroborate the messages he claims to have seen. His former Army JAG lawyer did corroborate partly his allegations that DIA continued to monitor his whereabouts after his military discharge.
What the committee really found out about Minarcin and Toll was not in their final report because the activist staffers kept it out. It's not that witnesses could not be found to support Minarcin or Toll, it's that witness after witness who served with these men refuted everything that Minarcin and Toll claimed. You will never hear the activists use the SSC report when they talk about Minarcin and Toll.
First, before reading further, you need to read these articles:
Article about claims that "evader symbols" or "pilot authenticator codes" were seen in imagery of Vietnam in the early 1990s. Testimony by Assistant Secretary of Defense Duane Andrews on the imagery topic. A letter written in response to one MIA "activist" who insists that "pilot authenticator codes" were seen in imagery of Vietnam in the early 1990s.
Those three articles will lay out the whole story. After reading the articles, come back here and read what the SSC report said about the imagery question.
The intelligence community must respond more rapidly to potential ground-to-air signals identified on overhead imagery. If a possible symbol is the work of a POW, it is vital we visit that site immediately.
. It is strongly recommended that an interagency task group of experienced imagery analysts be formed to review all available imagery of prisons or suspect detention areas in Vietnam and Laos, after 1973, for indications of possible distress symbols.
. DIA and CIA should establish a closer and more formalized working relationship with JSSA. JSSA should be consulted immediately, whenever suspect symbols or questionable markings appear on imagery.
. It is recommended that JSSA be permitted to attend IAG meetings, in an advisory capacity as an additional representative of the Joint Staff.
. Pilot distress symbols should, immediately, be designated a priority collection requirement for Southeast Asia.
. All imagery analysts with responsibilities pertaining to POW/MIA analysis, should be thoroughly briefed and preferably trained in SERE techniques and methods.
. In the case of the "GX 2527" because the number corresponds to a specific individual, the Committee agrees that the benefit of doubt should go to that possible individual, certainly enough to warrant a "by-name" request by an appropriately high ranking U.S. official to the Vietnamese government, for information on that missing serviceman. In making that request, it should be emphasized to the Vietnamese that there is a basis for questioning whether he could be alive.
These symbols have been energetically pursued and explained to the satisfaction of all reasonable critics, some Members believe. It is also germane to point out that some inexperienced analysts also have been able to find "symbols" in Africa, in the state of Utah; they also can be seen in vestiges of the photo-development process.
These "symbols" are in fact indicators which are not man-made, not on the ground and have no realistic basis in fact. Professional examinations have found all of these so-called "symbols" to be invalid.
In addition, some Members agree that the treatment of the "USA/possible K" symbol, the "1953/1973 TH" symbol, and the alleged "52" at a site in Laos are misleading in the extreme. The Report does not describe the extensive investigations conducted by the U.S. intelligence community into these symbols and the findings which relate to the probable origins of these symbols. Specifically, the December 1992 on-site investigation of the "USA" symbol determined that the symbol was not a distress signal and had nothing to do with missing Americans. Some Members believe that the results of the investigation determined that the symbol was made by Hmong tribe members from Ban Houei Hin Dam village, Huoa Phan Province, Laos.
Note that the SSC completely avoided answering the question as to whether or not the imagery was definitive.
When the "activists" refer to the SSC report regarding imagery, the only thing they bring up is this recommendation: "It is strongly recommended that an interagency task group of experienced imagery analysts be formed to review all available imagery of prisons or suspect detention areas in Vietnam and Laos, after 1973, for indications of possible distress symbols."
Before reading the following section, I recommend you read this article on the "live sighting" reports.
You will find claims all over the activist websites, publications, speeches, and other pronouncements that "thousands of live-sighting reports" prove that US POWs were abandoned and are still alive.
As long as live-sighting reports remain under investigation, they constitute a measure of potential evidence that US POWs may have been left behind and survived in captivity, at least for a time. It is also possible that one or more of DIA's past report evaluations is incorrect. As rigorous as the current analytical process appears to be, it remains dependent at times on deductions that, although highly logical, are still less than 100% certain.
Examples of this are cases where DIA has correlated sightings to Soviet advisers because advisers were present in an area or discounted reports because multiple other refugees from a particular area have reported seeing no U.S. POWs. The existence of a small degree of uncertainty is inevitable in making such judgments and a small degree of uncertainty is all that is -- or should be -- required to ensure that the live-sighting followup process continues to be taken very seriously and that evaluations be done with enormous care.
Arriving at a firm judgment about the overall significance of live-sighting reports is complicated by several factors. Many such reports are obvious fabrications. Others are so vague as to make meaningful follow-up impossible. Nailing down specific information about incidents that may have occurred ten or fifteen or more years ago is, at best, extremely difficult. And as mentioned above, analytical judgments, even when professionally arrived at, often retain an element of subjectivity.
Another complicating factor in assessing live-sighting reports is the frequent need for foreign country cooperation. In that sense, the U.S. Government's official investigators are caught in what is perhaps the ultimate "Catch-22". If an apparently credible report should be received concerning the possible presence of Americans in Vietnam or Laos, cooperation from the governments of those countries may well be required to check the report out. But the very process of asking permission jeopardizes the credibility of the investigation. As a result, the DIA supplements its official requests with other means of gathering information, but these other methods may be relatively slow and uncertain. One routine but increasingly available method of gaining information consists simply of talking to average Vietnamese in their own cities and villages. The presence of full time American investigators in Hanoi and hopefully, in Laos and Cambodia, as well, should augment the amount of information collected by this method.
The Committee notes that political changes particularly in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam and Laos, have greatly expanded the number of Caucasians living or traveling freely in southeast Asia. This creates a likelihood that there will be a rising number of well-intentioned, but inaccurate, reports concerning possible American POWs. It is important that procedures be established so that the limited resources of DIA investigators are not squandered on reports that obviously do not pertain to possible U.S. POW/MIAs.
It is DIA's judgment that the live-sighting reports they have received and evaluated do not constitute "evidence" that any U.S. POWs remained in captivity in southeast Asia after the war, although the possibility that this did occur cannot be ruled out. There was considerable discussion by Committee Members during the course of its investigation about DIA's use of the term "evidence" in that statement. Some Members felt that the number and detail of live-sighting reports clearly constituted "evidence" that Americans were left behind, even if serious questions about the validity of individual reports had been raised. Other Members agreed with DIA that a large number of reports does not necessarily signify anything if there are strong reasons to discount each of the reports. No Committee Member would argue that existing reports constitute hard proof that American POWs remained behind or are still being held captive in southeast Asia.
The Committee investigation also found that:
. There is no evidence that officials or investigators from DIA have concealed or covered up information concerning the possible presence of live Americans in Southeast Asia.
. The current DIA staff, especially those based in southeast Asia, deserve credit for an enormous and steadily increasing amount of work performed under very difficult and uncomfortable conditions.
. In order to ensure objectivity, there must be a continued and conscious effort on the part of DIA leadership to maintain an attitude among analysts that presumes the possible survival of U.S. POWs in southeast Asia to the present day.
. The DIA should routinely review its analytical methods for the purpose of ensuring the most rigorous possible, all-source, evaluation of live-sighting reports, including hearsay reports where feasible.
. Continued emphasis should be placed on establishing a strong, on the ground, live-sighting investigatory capability in Laos and Cambodia and on expanding that capability within Vietnam.
. The highest priority should continue to be given to credible reports that live Americans are currently being held.
The SSC conclusions on the "live sightings" do not support any of the claims by the activists.
It's time to end this article.
Here is my point: The MIA "activist" cult selectively refers to the final report by the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs to support their bogus claims. They do not use the SSC report where it does not support or where it refutes them.
Rather than accept someone else's word for it, I recommend that interested folks read the SSC report for yourself.
October 28, 2000