Beneath the Streets of Hanoi,
Right There in Ho's Tomb --
In the early 1990s, Senator Bob Smith seized on some reports
from a number of refugees who claimed that they know of American POWs being held in an
underground prison, in downtown Hanoi, underneath Ho Chi Minh's tomb. Several of
these reports surfaced but, when we tracked them down, we found that they were the
invention of one source who had started the rumor and it spread, taking on a life of its
own. Senator Smith did as he normally does: He claimed that there are XX
reports from YY sources, therefore, it must be true. There are not now and there
were not then any US POWs held in underground prisons beneath Hanoi or under Ho's tomb.
Reuters news service carried two stories, one a report of Smith's claims and the other
an interview with the Russian ambassador on the topic of US POWs underneath Hanoi.
On a few occasions, I have heard Smith or his supporters claiming that the Russian
ambassador admitted that the area under Ho's tomb was secure, thereby supporting their
claim. Read the following documents and make up your own mind.
I have in my files two documents:
- A copy of the August 4, 1992, Reuters report on Smith's claims.
- A copy of an internal Reuters document that is a report of their interview with the
Russian ambassador on August 15, 1992, and, the Reuters quote of a BBC interview with the
I scanned both of these documents and converted them to text, to avoid posting the big
jpeg files from the scan. Below are the two documents quoted in their entirety.
TEXT OF REUTERS STORY, AUGUST 4, 1992
TEXT OF REUTERS STORY, 4 AUG 92:
HANOI MAY HAVE HELD POWS UNDERGROUND - SENATOR By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Aug 4, Reuter - A key U.S. senator, citing
unconfirmed reports from intelligence sources, charged on Tuesday that Vietnam hold
American prisoners of war into the late 1980s in a secret underground detention centre in
Hanoi, beside the tomb of independence leader Ho Chi Minh.
Senator Bob Smith, vice chairman of the Select
Committee on POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing in Action) Affairs, said 70 separate
sources, 22 purporting to have first-hand knowledge and 408 (sic; should be 48) citing
hearsay, had filled in details of the alleged construction and operation of the facility
over the past 16 years.
"The story of American POWs in these areas long after
the war sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel," Smith, a Republican, said
at the start of A committee hearing on "live-sighting" reports.
"But these reports are not from fictitious people --
they are real people telling us what they have seen and heard," he said.
The United States currently lists 2,266 Americans as missing
or killed in action with no body recovered as a result of the war in Indochina.
Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat, said in his opening
statement the committee and the Defence Department after reviewing a previous estimate,
now agreed that "valid questions" remained about the fate of 43 Americans who
Unanswered questions about the fate of missing Americans is
the sole big obstacle to a lifting of the U.S. embargo against Hanoi imposed in 1964 and
the start of normal relations.
Smith said the purported prison was allegedly constructed
"in the heart of Hanoi under the feet of visiting dignitaries."
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, one of Hanoi's most popular
attractions, lies across a park from a compound that includes Vietnam's Defence Ministry,
army headquarters and residential quarters for senior officers. The Hanoi compound is
known to U.S. intelligence as the "Citadel."
Smith said the ultimate source of most of his information
about the alleged prison were construction workers claiming to have worked on it and
people claiming to be associated with knowledgeable senior Vietnamese army officials.
He did not say what he believed happened to any such
American POWs, but cited sources as saying they were held "well into the late
The U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which has
primary responsibility-for following up such reports, said it had no evidence to
"sustain a believe that U.S. POWs were detained after Operation Homecoming in this
A total of 591 Americans were released in Operation
Homecoming, the repatriation of POWs after the Paris Peace Accords were signed January 27,
REUTER JW ZM BEH
END TEXT OF REUTERS STORY, AUGUST 4, 1992
Following the publication of Smith's claims, the Reuters reporter in Hanoi
interviewed the Russian ambassador. Here is the text of that interview.
BEGIN TEXT OF INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR, AUGUST 15 1992
PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF BRIEFING
BY RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR RASHID KHAMIDOULINE IN HANOI TO
REUTERS AND THE BBC -- ON 15 AUGUST 1992
(NOTE: This is for information only and may not be
quoted or published without permission from Reuters in Hanoi.)
(Ambassador Khamidouline was asked about unconfirmed reports
from U.S. intelligence sources, as described by U.S. Senator Bob Smith in Washington on 4
August 1992, of American prisoners of war being held into the late 1980s in a secret
underground detention centre in Hanoi, beside the tomb of Ho Chi Minh. See text of Reuter
4 Aug 92 story attached.)
"I've been involved in this region for 30 years. In
those 30 years I've never heard of the existence of such prisoners. Moreover, the
mausoleum was built with the assistance of Soviet experts. I'm sure that those experts
would have known about something like that.
"Now two Russian experts are there to preserve the body
of Ho Chi Minh at the request of the Vietnamese government. They would have known about
that, wouldn't they? ...
"Can you imagine that Americans could be held prisoners
held? That the Vietnamese would be so stupid?
'I've talked with so many Americans about this subject.
Those who are serious, who are not playing politics, who
are not playing with the emotion of the families, they know
these stories are not true.
"I can imagine one or more Americans, who, in theory,
could have said "Leave us here" (and would now be living with Vietnamese wife
and children). "But in reality I don't think there are any.
"There is an underground area beneath the mausoleum. It
is restricted. There is a lot of equipment, a cooling device. When we built that we put in
a triple generator system in came of an electricity black-out.
"The mausoleum officially opened at the end of August
1975. I attended. it was a very solemn ceremony ...
"The whole area around Huong Vuong (Street) was rebuilt
... it was much narrower before. It was more than doubled in width. They cut into the
Soviet ambassador's residential yard. They redid the whole complex.
"Construction began around 1970 or 71 or 72. The
architect of the mausoleum (a Soviet named Garold Liaskovich) "was awarded an
honourary hero's title by the Vietnamese.
(Khamidouline said it was basically sacrilegious for the
Vietnamese to hear of reports of Americans supposedly being held prisoner near the
"It (the mausoleum) is sacred for them.
"During the construction of the mausoleum, they redid
the whole Ba Dinh Square, so that trucks could go past without shaking the ground. It had
to be very solid.
"It (the construction) had to be very secret because
the war was still going on. It was very controlled.
'When I read that report" (Senator Smith's Aug 4
comments in Washington) "I thought, 'Where can you find such a thing?'
"The Americans, serious Americans, don't believe
there are Americans being held here. But to exploit the issue, the feelings of the
families ... Man is man. People always have hope. To play with peoples' sentiments, it's
not polite, it's not humane. "
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF BBC RADIO INTERVIEW
WITH RASHID KHAMIDOULINE -- ON 15 AUGUST 1992
Q- Do you believe there are American prisoners still being
held in Vietnam?
A- "Normally one would have to put that question to the
Vietnamese. But given the fact that I've been here a long time and that T have a rather
long experience, I am sure no live American prisoners exist. I am sure."
Q- Were there ever any American prisoners hold beneath the
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum?
A- "No. I don't think so. I am sure that that could not
be. And I am sure there is no so-called underground prison here in the centre of the city
and, above all, beneath the mausoleum. I am sure not.'
Q- Why are you so sure?
A- "For years I have been involved with Vietnam and
beyond that, the mausoleum of President Ho Chi Minh was built with the assistance and help
of Russian experts, so I would have heard something about that. But never, in all those
years and years, did I ever hear talk of the existence of some so-called underground
prison in that place. I don't think so. I am sure not."
Q- How far back does your experience with Vietnam go?
A- "I first set foot in Vietnam in August 1969. So 33
years ago. I began my diplomatic career in Hanoi on August 1960 as a trainee at the
embassy of Vietnam to the former Soviet Union. So one could figure that my diplomatic
career began in August 1960, 33 years ago."
Q- You are fluent in Vietnamese. Is it easy to keep a secret
in Vietnam, for example one about Americans being held prisoner after the war?
A- "I speak Vietnamese, I have many Vietnamese friends
that go back 32, 33 years, for example Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam is a
friend of mine from way back. There are many more Vietnamese friends. So, I think that
during that contact, during those conversations with them that were friendly and frank
that I would have heard something about any American prisoners. That's why, when I say
that I am sure there are none, I am basing that on my experience, my friendship with many
END TEXT OF INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR, AUGUST 15 1992