MIA Facts Site

The Smith-Obassy Videotape Caper:
All the Bad Actors in One Place

 

Summary.  In late 1985-early 1986, a "POW rescue" caper developed around claims made by Mark Smith, Major, US Army (retired) that he had a videotape showing several live US POWs.  Before this phony story ended, it involved a large group of bad actors and fools, including Smith, Senator (then representative) Bob Smith, Billy Hendon, Ted Sampley and an international criminal, Robin Gregson.  This is a long and bizarre story -- here it comes.

First, the actors

The main characters in this story are a who's-who of dumbasses surrounding the MIA issue.  They are:

bulletMark Smith, Major, US Army, (Retired).  If you are not familiar with Mark Smith, you can read about him here.
bulletWilliam "Just Call Me Billy" Hendon, former member of Congress.
bulletSenator Bob Smith (R, NH); at the time of this caper Smith was a Representative.
bulletTed Sampley, publisher of a third-rate "veterans" newspaper; claims to be a former Special Forces trooper.
bulletAnd others who will pop up in the telling of this story.

Now for the story

Late 1985

Mark Smith and a sergeant who worked for him in Korea named McIntyre had, by this time, returned to the States with their claims of having discovered information about live US POWs being held in Southeast Asia.  The short version of the story is this.   Smith and McIntyre were assigned to the Army's Special Forces Detachment - Korea, which did some training in Thailand.  While in Thailand, they picked up several of the phony stories about US POWs that are rampant around the refugee camps in Thailand.  They reported these tales to Army intelligence and were told that the stories were bogus.  This did not deter Smith -- he proceeded to produce an "operations plan" for rescuing these POWs; his plan was tossed out by his commanding general.  Meanwhile, Smith returned to the States and was retired from active duty; the whole story is told at this link.

Smith kept coming up with "live POW" tales, one came from a Laotian who told Smith that he was on his way to pick up two US POWs and he would sell the men to Smith for a few million dollars. Reluctantly, the US Defense Intelligence Agency invited Smith and McIntyre to come to Washington for debriefing.  At that point, DIA told these two that their stories were bogus.  Smith and McIntyre, however, were invigorated by their trip to D.C. as it confirmed their own self-importance.

In September 1985, Smith and McIntyre filed suit against Ronald Reagan, Casper Weinberger, George Schultz, and other US officials, accusing them of failing to act to rescue known US POWs.  The suit was later dismissed but at the time it was filed, it was a major social event in the MIA "activist" cult.  Sampley tried to generate public awareness of the suit -- he called several journalists, telling them that because of information developed by Smith and McIntyre, the Army's Delta Force had been put on alert to rescue POWs.  Sampley followed this up with "leaks" to reporters that Special Forces had rescued US POWs who were being debriefed in Thailand.   It was all horseshit.

"John Obassy"

In December 1985, Smith announced that he had an affidavit from an international businessman, using the pseudonym John Obassy, stating that he had firsthand knowledge of US POWs in Laos.  Obassy claimed that he had been in Laos in October 1985 where he had observed thirty-nine Americans working as slaves in a gold mining operation.   Here is what Obassy had to say:

QUOTE

"Each person had at least three armed guards on them. . . . I personally spoke with these people, who confirmed to me that they had been left behind . . .They were afraid to leave their sanctuary areas in Laos. . . . My true identity has been made known to the attorney who took this affidavit, Mr. Mark L. Waple, and to a United States Congressman."

END QUOTE

Waple is still an attorney around Fayetteville, NC where he has a lucrative ambulance-chasing practice, encouraging soldiers to sue and bring other actions against the Army.  The Congressman was Billy Hendon.

In January 1986, Smith and McIntyre appeared before a Senate committee where they stated they had positive proof of US POWs and that they would deliver this proof to the Committee on Veterans Affairs within a week.  While they did not disclose their proof, Sampley let slip stories that the proof was a videotape showing US POWs.  The tape was said to be in the possession of Obassy who was in either Southeast Asia or the Middle East.  Smith admitted that he had seen only portions of the videotape and that he had not seen any portions that showed US POWs.

Meanwhile -- and I do not want to get ahead of this story -- analysts within the DIA Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs got on the case.  Within 24 hours of Smith's announcement about the videotape and his revelation of the name "John Obassy," we had discovered "Obassy's" true identity and we were on the trail of the videotape.

Smith Reports on the Tape

Congress was not amused and told Smith to put up or shut up.  Smith set out to find the videotape.

Smith gave this description of how he managed to view the videotape.  First, he claims to have attended a "secret international summit" at the Cactus Hotel in Cyprus, then he went to East Beirut where he finally saw the videotape at a secret Israeli Mossad headquarters in Beirut, accompanied by Mossad's chief of intelligence for Syria and Lebanon.  ( No, I have not been drinking and, no, I am not making this up.  This is exactly what Smith told Congress. )  Smith said the opening scenes of the tape showed Obassy talking with senior Vietnamese officials, along with officials from an unnamed third country.  The Vietnamese were then shown leading troops into northern Laos where they linked up with Pathet Lao troops.

Smith stated:  "They came together and then I saw them put the prisoners on the road and start marching them down the road."

He described a group of American and Korean POWs:  "They were handcuffed, had ankle shackles with bars between the ankles, had to march in step because each had a steel collar around their neck with rags wrapped on their necks to prevent further injury.   Between the necks of each prisoner was a wooden pole which was about four feet long -- long enough to prevent the prisoners from reaching out to touch the prisoner in front or behind.  Each was handcuffed."

Smith continued by saying that the men were being forced to dig trenches in a gold mining operation.  In spite of their outdoor work, Smith said they had pale skins and were clean shaven.  Smith also claimed that the Americans were guarded by another American who wore a blue hat and sunglasses.  Smith further reported that there were about a thousand other POWs spread out along a road, carrying various tools and cooking utensils.

All this is included in a memo that Smith gave to Billy Hendon who passed it to Bob Smith.  On January 27, 1985, Hendon and Smith (Bob) took their information to the White House where they gave it to Vice-President George Bush.  They also delivered a memo from Mark Waple to President Reagan.  Waple said Obassy would allow the US government to view the tape only after he had been "convinced of our sincerity."   Waple asked for a meeting between himself, Reagan, McIntyre, Mark Smith, and Hendon.  VP Bush pointed out that Waple had just filed suit against Reagan -- Waple wrote that he was willing to hold in abeyance the suit.  Bush sent the whole mess to national security advisor John Poindexter and asked that he have someone look into it.

Unknown to Smith, Smith, Hendon, and Waple, Poindexter passed the letters and memos to Army Colonel Dick Childress, Director of Asian Affairs on the NSC, who turned to DIA.   We told Dick what we had discovered about "Obassy," about his true identity, and about the non-existent videotape.

The Rescue Plan

After not hearing from the White House for a month, in late February 1985, Waple sent a second letter to Reagan.  This one sounded like something out of a cheap movie plot.   In this letter, Waple stated that for $4.2 million, cash, Obassy would release the videotape.

Obassy wanted Smith, Smith, Hendon, and Senator Dennis DeConcini to take the cash to LA International Airport where they would be directed to a waiting commercial airliner.   There would be no other passengers and one of the pilots would be selected by Mark Smith.  Waple said that the rest of the crew could be selected by the US government -- he assumed they would all be "agents," which was fine "as long as they are under deep civilian cover."  (  Wipe that grin off your face -- I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. )  The plane would fly to Southeast Asia, with their destination being provided after they were airborne.

Upon landing in SEAsia, the passengers would be taken by helicopter to another undisclosed location, to view the video.  If the Americans were satisfied, they could then buy the videotape, along with other unspecified "evidence."  Waple wanted an immediate response and gave a deadline of March 3.

It  Gets Really Bizarre

Representative Bob Smith called the Director of DIA, LTGEN Leonard Perroots, USAF.   He was not available so Smith talked with Army Brigadier General Jim Shufelt, my boss.  Smith repeated the deal and asked for a meeting in Hendon's office.  In a few days, a meeting was held in Hendon's office attended by:  Hendon, Smith, Smith, Generals Perroots and Shufelt, and the DIA General Counsel.  Hendon opened by telling everyone that he had great confidence in Mark Smith and he knew that Smith was telling the truth.

One of the generals asked what would happen if the US did not pay the money.   Smith answered that the POWs would be released regardless (!!) but in a way to embarrass the US.  Then, Mark Smith and Hendon both claimed that -- get this -- they knew the names of the US POWs shown on the videotape but would not reveal the names.   At that point, Perroots and Shufelt both expressed disgust that a member of Congress (Hendon) and a former POW (Smith) would withhold such valuable information.   ( I should point out here that neither Smith nor Hendon has ever revealed the names of the POWs they "know" are being held. )

While Perroots and Shufelt recognized a scam, they decided to go along.  $4.2 million was placed in escrow in the Bank of Singapore.

The Senate Committee Calls Smith's Bluff

Finally, the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee got busy.  To this point, here is what had transpired:

bulletMark Smith and McIntyre had ignored repeated requests to present the evidence that they had promised -- not just the videotape, but also photographs, maps, etc.
bulletThe affidavit by LTC Bob Howard, Smith's former commander, had been a bust.  Howard said that while he believed Smith and McIntyre had seen evidence on POWs, the "evidence" was all based on secondhand information.
bulletThe Committee staff was privately expressing disbelief about the entire videotape story.

Smith and McIntyre were subpoenaed to appear on March 15; they did not show and the hearing was cancelled.  By this time, McIntyre had dropped out of the affair, telling DIA interviewers that the information he and Smith had was "not much."

Mark Smith missed the meeting because, on March 15, he, Bob Smith, Waple, and Hendon were in Singapore where "John Obassy" was being held in jail on fraud charges -- he had been convicted of conspiring to cheat a local businessman out of $40,000.  Hendon bailed him out with money supplied by Ross Perot.

Finally, Obassy, Waple, Hendon, and Smith traveled to Fayetteville, NC where Obassy permitted Waple and Hendon to see the tape -- but not the portions showing POWs.

"Obassy" Exposed

About this time, Susan Katz-Keating got in on the act.  Keating was a reporter for the Washington Times who started out as something of a true believer in live US POWs and a government cover-up.  However, the deeper she dug, and the more she associated with the likes of Smith, Smith, Hendon, Waple, and Sampley, the more she realized that this was a vast mythology -- she had a total about-face and set about exposing the scams.  ( Read her book Prisoners of Hope. )

Within 24 hours of the videotape story surfacing, DIA analysts had determined the true identity of "John Obassy."  Now, Keating reached the same conclusion -- independently -- and she blew the whistle on him in a Washington Times article.   "John Obassy" was actually Robin Gregson.    Gregson was a British citizen, a con man well known to British and Thai police and on the Interpol watch list.  He worked on the fringe of the illicit drug and gem trade.  In addition to the conviction in Singapore, he had been convicted of fraud in 1984 and was the subject of an active international warrant for fraud.  He was in the US, not to deliver a videotape, but to hide from Thai police.

When Keating exposed Gregson/Obassy in the Times, Billy Hendon called her, shouting that she had signed a death warrant for US POWs.  Keating told me later that she received a lot of hate-filled phone calls from "activists," including Ted Sampley and some family members.

Obassy/Gregson, in a message delivered through Mark Smith, claimed that he was so upset at having been exposed that he burned the videotape.  None of the confederacy of dunces -- Smith, Hendon, Smith, Waple, Sampley -- expressed any concern over Gregson's destruction of what would have been certain evidence of US POWs, instead, they attacked Keating for exposing Gregson.  Later, in a totally bizarre turn of events, Mark Smith claimed that he had the tape after all and would deliver it to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The tape emerges -- or does it?

Events had caught up with the bullshit artists.  Smith, Smith, Hendon, Waple, Sampley, Gregson/Obassy -- the whole crowd now had to find some answers.  The Senate Committee set a hearing for June 25, 1986, 9: 00 a.m.  The room was packed with the usual suspects.  Jack Bailey, retired USAF lieutenant colonel, himself a major scam artist, buzzed around the room telling folks that he had seen the tape -- at least he was sober for the hearing.  At ten minutes past nine, Chairman Frank Murkowski announced that Mark Smith had not appeared and could not be found -- he adjourned the meeting, issued a subpoena for Smith and directed the US Marshals Service to find Smith and bring him in.  In his comments to the audience in the committee room, Murkowski said: "Gregson has refused to provide anything.  Whether Major Smith ever had anything at all is something my colleagues and I should consider."  ( Perceptive man. )

"Lightweight Stuff"

Smith did not ignore the second subpoena, this one served by a couple of US Marshals.   He and McIntyre appeared at the next hearing, a few days later -- finally they were to produce their evidence.  And they did.  They produced:

bulletA National Geographic map of Southeast Asia, showing Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and parts of Malaysia and Burma.   On the map were drawn circles, each encompassing approximately 100 square miles.  Smith stated that these were general areas where his sources told him US POWs might be located.
bulletPhotocopies of three photographs.  These photographs depicted one and two men.  The men were smiling, dressed in jeans and short-sleeved shirts, wearing sunglasses.  They were standing on the bank of a large river, their backs to the river.  There was no sign of restraint or guards.  One photo showed one of the men holding a rifle and smiling for the camera.  Smith said: "These photographs were provided to me by a source in Thailand and depict, according to the source, who I consider to be reliable, Americans who were left in Southeast Asia at the conclusion of the Vietnam War."  And he said it with a straight face.

Members of the Committee were not impressed or amused.  Senator Alan Simpson (R, WY) was pissed:  "I've never seen such lightweight stuff in my life.  I don't know what you're up to, but I can tell you it's not savory."  At that point, Smith got red in the face and invited Simpson outside to settle it man-to-man.   Simpson laughed at him.

In a final effort to salvage something, Smith claimed that he could get the original photos plus some classified POW files that he claimed he stole from the Army.  He never delivered a thing. 

A few weeks later, the lawsuit was dismissed.

Epilogue

And so the tale is told -- and it's not a pretty one.  Please allow me to philosophize for a few paragraphs.

The caper demonstrated US government efforts and abilities

This caper demonstrated that the US government is willing to go to any ends to track down a story, no matter how wacky, in the possibility that it is for real.  Within 24 hours of Smith surfacing the Obassy alias, DIA analysts had determined Obassy/Gregson's true identity and within 72 hours we were certain that there was no videotape or it was a faked job, produced in Thailand.  Still, consider what we did:

bulletMet with Smith, Hendon, Waple, and Smith every time they wanted a meeting.
bulletPut $4.2 million in escrow in a Singapore bank as requested by Obassy/Gregson.

In spite of the fact that we felt early on that this was a scam, we played it out to the end.

Who did these idiots think they were dealing with?

This caper also demonstrates just how stupid Mark Smith, Billy Hendon, Bob Smith, Mark Waple, Ted Sampley, and the lot of them are.  Did they think that we would not check out their stories?  Did they think that US government agencies would not talk to each other?

bulletI'll say it again:  Within 24 hours, we knew Obassy/Gregson's true identity. 
bulletWhen Smith told his story about traveling to Cyprus, then to Lebanon and meeting with Israeli Mossad agents, CIA went to Mossad to confirm the story.  Mossad reported that none of their people knew anything about this affair.  They knew Gregson's name only because he was on various international watch lists.
bulletOne of the people involved in this caper was talking back channel to DIA and he told us that the whole story was nonsense.

We -- DIA and CIA -- fed everything we knew and discovered to the NSC, the White House, Murkowski and his committee, and to each other.  Thus, when Smith, Hendon, Waple, Smith, et al talked with anyone on the government side, the person they were talking with knew the facts and knew that what they were hearing was bullshit.  Murkowski went into the hearing knowing that there was no tape and that Smith had no evidence.

Hendon's bar bill

I cannot conclude this story without telling about Hendon's bar bill.  Hendon, Mark Smith, Bob Smith, and Mark Waple went to Singapore.  They returned and Hendon and Bob Smith asked for a meeting with LTG Perroots, Director, DIA.  Hendon told Perroots that he had seen parts of the videotape, that "Obassy's" information was good -- then Hendon gave LTG Perroots his receipts and asked that DIA pay for the trip.  Hendon wanted us to pay -- for everyone -- air fare, hotels, meals, the works.  He even included his almost $1,000 bar bill  ($350 for one evening) -- not bad for three days.  General Perroots handed it back to Billy, suggesting that he have Congress pay for it.

What does this prove?

One can argue -- as some have -- that Mark Smith, Hendon, Bob Smith, and the like had no way to judge if Gregson's story was true -- they did the right thing in bringing their information to DIA, White House, and the Senate.  True.  But let's look at how they did this:

bulletThey constantly played "I've got a secret."  Every meeting with them was like a game of hide-and-seek; they never volunteered information, it had to be pried from them.
bulletConsider the Smith-Hendon claim that they knew the names of the men in the video but they would not reveal the names.  Does no one see anything wrong here?  These are supposed to be men who care about families, yet, they did everything possible to jerk families around.
bulletEven when they were shown that their information was bogus, they kept pressing it.   Mark Smith had been told time and again that the information he picked up in Thailand was phony -- yet he kept peddling it, claiming that he was a lone hero fighting against the bureaucracy.

When your information is shown time and again to be false, when everything you do involves shadowy characters with criminal backgrounds, when reasonable people with no reason to doubt you determine that your "evidence" is "lightweight stuff"  -- when all that happens over and over, anyone with half a brain -- if he or she is honest -- can't help but do some self-examination.  And that's the nub of the matter -- if one is honest.  Mark Smith, Billy Hendon, Bob Smith, Ted Sampley -- none of these and none of many others in what I call the "MIA cult" are honest.  It's a game to them.  It's a way to get in the spotlight.  There is always an audience out there who will listen in rapt, worshipful attention to a Mark Smith or a Billy Hendon spout his foolishness -- and that's what it's about.  They give not one damn about missing men -- they want someone to watch them.   It shows up everywhere.

bulletTed Sampley can't get an audience any other way so he carries out a vendetta against John McCain.
bulletEarl Hopper is a sad old geezer but when he tells his tale about his son's loss, he is a star.
bulletDave Murray of New Jersey, Bob Necci with his Advocacy and Intelligence Index -- all are little men with little minds but they have figured out how to get attention.  Never mind that they spread lies and misrepresentations -- it gets them their 15 minutes.
bulletBilly Hendon is a loser -- but he used the MIA issue to keep himself employed and to keep the donations rolling in.  Ditto for Red McDaniel, Bill Bell, Jack Bailey, and the like.

This videotape caper took place in 1985 - 1986 -- a long time ago.  Nothing has changed, except that the size of their audience has dropped dramatically. Still, these clowns learned that they could command attention and in the following years, they played it for all it was worth.

December 5, 2000