The "Cuban Program": Misrepresentations Galore
Summary: This article is being written in early September 1999. I wish that it were not necessary to write this article, but, the purposeful misrepresentations and personal attacks that I describe below cannot go unchallenged. This article is a complicated story so please read carefully. This story started when a USN (Reserve) officer was assigned to the Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) then decided that he and he alone had the answer to the MIA issue. He ingratiated himself with a member of Congress and began to spread malicious stories about a long-time Defense Department analyst. The substantial misrepresentations of fact promulgated by the USN(R) officer are now to be found in three different venues, and not by accident, I believe.
The "Cuban Program"
When the US POWs returned from captivity in Vietnam in 1973, they were debriefed about their experiences. One chilling story emerged. I read the files on this incident during my tenure in the Defense Intelligence Agency but that was a decade ago and my memory of the details is not really clear, but, here goes.
The Defense Intelligence Agency identified a group of Caucasian interrogators who we
believe were Cubans that beat and tortured a group of 19 of our POWs -- leading to the
death of one of the 19 men -- between August 1967 and July 1968. That
Commander William "Chip" Beck
In the early 1990s, several new organizations were formed within the Department of Defense to deal with various aspects of the MIA issue, mainly to supply information to the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs. In forming these organizations, various DoD elements were tasked to provide people to staff these new organizations. A mixture of active and reserve military and civilians were dispatched from their parent organizations to support the MIA work. One of the individuals assigned to the DPMO by his parent service was Navy Reserve Commander William "Chip" Beck.
From the minute he walked into DPMO, Beck determined -- without one bit of analysis on his part -- that (1) US POWs were abandoned, worldwide, from WW II, Korea, and Vietnam; and, (2) he was the man to rescue them.
Beck craves to be part of some grand adventure. However, he does not have the discipline to study a matter, learn the details of that matter, and develop a coherent approach to the matter at hand. Beck has neither the patience nor the talent to learn and observe the nuts and bolts details of the intelligence profession. Instead, he absorbs himself in what intelligence professionals refer to as FLABS -- Folk Lore And Bull Shit.
Beck At DPMO
Beck never made any effort to learn the details of the POW/MIA issue. From the
minute he arrived in DPMO, he decided on a conclusion he wished were true: that we
left POWs behind in Southeast Asia. On this premise, he constructed a theory about
an international Communist conspiracy to exploit our POWs. He then constructed an
elaborate -- and amateurish -- scheme of clandestine activities to expose this alleged
conspiracy. Essentially, he proposed a very expensive scheme by which Beck would
employ (with taxpayer money) and control old cronies and persons who have made a
profession or hobby of exploiting the MIA issue; persons who could be expected to give
their first allegiance to Beck rather than any assigned
Very shortly after Beck came to DPMO his immediate supervisor recognized he
Congressman (now former) Bob Dornan
Former Representative Bob Dornan is one of the most rabid of the conservative Republican mad dogs. Among those he hates is the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro. In my association with Dornan, I learned quickly that he prefers showmanship and bombast to diligent study of an issue and he surrounds himself with similar mental midgets. Dornan got the attention of rich, conservative Republicans in southern California as a result of his local radio talk show on which he espoused their favorite lines. Bankrolled by these folks, Dornan was elected to Congress. Even in a Congress with some wild personalities, "B-1" Bob Dornan stands out as a character.
Cashing Checks for the Virgin Mary
The House Banking scandal embarrassed a number of politicians, including Newt Gingrich (who bounced 22 checks), but Dornan deserves a prize for the best cheesy excuse in all of politics. He said that he wrote the check he bounced to pay for a grotto of the Virgin Mary in his back yard. He won re-election to his heavily Catholic district.
Dornan punched Democratic Congressman Tom Downey, a Democrat from Long Island, on the floor of the House of Representatives. Granted, that's a lot more entertaining than your average congressional debate, but many people consider it over the top.
Top Gun or Wannabe?
Dornan was a fighter pilot who flew several varied aircraft and worked in Air Force Intelligence. He has claimed that he was a "shit-hot fighter pilot", and builds up his military history. He has described himself as fighting in Vietnam, though his active service was actually before that. His work in Vietnam was as a combat photographer, no cakewalk but not fighting either.
A Newsweek article sharply attacked his claims of military fame. In "little more than a year of active-duty service and a reserve stint," the magazine said, he crashed three jets and one helicopter -- "one wreck shy of the dubious distinction 'Black Ace.'" When asked for comment, he told Newsweek "You can write it up any fucking way you want." (NOTE: Newsweek's claims are a bit suspect themselves. The notion of the Black Ace is bizarre on it's face -- how many people would survive 4 crashes to qualify for a fifth? )
According to a sympathetic biography of Dornan by Andrew Sears, an MIT student, he joined the Air Force in 1953 and began flying "as soon as he earned his silver wings", until 1958. It appears Newsweek underplayed the length of his service; they certainly minimized 17 years of reserve and guard duty as "a reserve stint." Clearly he crashed a lot; even the sympathetic biography says "He survived two jet fighter emergency parachute ejections as well as two 'dead stick' forced landings (F-100 jet fighter and H-13 solo helicopter)."
He served on the Intelligence Committee when still in Congress, and -- more productively -- also flew mercy flights into Biafra in the 1960s.
Dornan Holds Hearings
Following the Republican Congressional victories in 1994, Dornan became chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. Dornan used this position to hold hearings on the MIA issue. At the same time, writer Al Santoli joined Dornan's staff and CDR Beck ingratiated himself with Dornan. Dornan's office flooded the DPMO with requests for information, most of which were detailed requests requiring large amounts of analytic time to answer. The goal of these requests had nothing to do with accounting for missing Americans. Instead, DPMO analysts concluded that Mr. Santoli was working on another book and was using them to do his research. Also, it became clear that the goal of these folks on or around Dornan's staff was to attack anyone who dared question or disagree with them. Mr. Bob Destatte -- whose bio is in documents linked to this page -- is one of their major targets. Two different chiefs of DPMO -- Jim Wold and now Bob Jones -- encountered the wrath of Dornan and Smith when they tried to move Beck out.
Beck, Dornan, and the Attack on a DPMO Analyst
I am not certain of the course of events, but, by reading between the lines, this is how I reconstruct things. After Beck had been in DPMO for a short while, he concocted his theory of a worldwide Commie conspiracy to interrogate and hold forever US POWs. I suspect that he encountered the "Cuban program" and determined that here was one of the smoking guns that he needed. When he learned that DPMO was satisfied that the US government had done as much as possible to locate those responsible for the "Cuban program," he took the files to Dornan as "proof" of DPMO incompetence or worse.
Dornan's Special Orders Speech
If you watch C-SPAN, you will frequently see members of the House or the Senate speaking to an empty chamber , or to a chamber populated only by one or two other members. These speeches are known as "special order" speeches. They are made after regular daily sessions and their content is entered into the Congressional Record. The special order speeches sometimes are used for mischief -- for delivering unfounded and outrageous statements that would never be permitted during normal sessions. (For example, the Republicans -- with Dornan as the designated pit bull -- used special order speeches to trash Bill Clinton prior to the 1996 election. It was in the special order speeches that Dornan reported that Clinton, while a student at Oxford College in England, traveled to Moscow. Dornan then speculated that Clinton took part in anti-war activities in England and Moscow. While he offered no proof, his special order speech statements became a matter of gospel among the Clinton-bashers.)
On August 2, 1996, Dornan made a special order speech that focused largely on the "Cuban program." In this speech, Dornan made a number of attacks on Bob Destatte. Specifically, Dornan:
The Department of Defense Responds
Former Congressman Billy Hendon, one of the most destructive forces in the MIA issue, once described to me his method of operation. Hendon bragged that he could make the American public believe anything he wished it to believe on the POW/MIA issue, or any other issue. He explained that he only needed to make it controversial to oppose him, because, in Hendon's words, people in uniform and public servants "don't have the balls" to confront him out of fear that the controversy will harm their careers. Thus, said Hendon, he can make the most reckless and outrageous charges, knowing that he will not be called into question. And, when people see him going unchallenged, they assume that he is correct. Dornan, Beck, and several others -- Senator Bob Smith comes to mind -- have learned this lesson well. In this case, however, the Department of Defense -- specifically, DASD Jim Wold -- had enough.
September 17, 1996: The Documents Disappear
Dornan held an open hearing on September 17, 1996; the "Cuban program" was on the agenda. Destatte was told to prepare a written statement regarding Dornan's misrepresentations on the Cuban program, his attacks on Destatte and others, and Dornan's other various misrepresentations of fact. As required by Congress, several (I think the number is 25) copies of Destatte's written statement were given to Dornan's staffers and the same number of copies were placed on the press table in the hearing room. Remember, this was an OPEN hearing.
As DPMO personnel were enroute to the hearing, they learned that Dornan had contacted DPMO management and had "exploded" over the Destatte statement. They also learned that Dornan's staff had taken all copies of the statement from the public table (Does the word "censorship mean anything here?). In the interest of peace, Destatte was not permitted to enter his prepared written statement into the record.
The Documents Reappear
Now, however, it appears that truth has emerged. Last week (August - September 1999) I obtained copies of the record of the September 17, 1996 hearing. Somehow, Bob Destatte's written statement with all attachments -- the statement that Dornan's staff removed from public access -- was included in the official record of the hearings and is now a matter of public record. If you would like to read the record, here is the reference (you'll have to get it from the US Government Printing Office):
The important parts of this record are:
I have posted these documents at this link .
Finally, here is an article I wrote about the Dornan hearings -- such as they were.
Beck's Letter to the Editor
I urge that readers of this article go to this link: Chip Beck's Fantasies. The article there was written earlier and it contains a letter written by Beck to the Miami Herald regarding the "Cuban program." Is it sheer accident that the charges made against Bob Destatte by Dornan in his special orders speech in 1996 are the same as those made by Beck in this letter of August 1999?
Santoli Gets in His Shots
On August 15, 1999, the Washington Times (newspaper) ran a review by Al Santoli of the book Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961 - 1973, by Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, Naval Institute Press. The entire review, and a response by the author (Rochester) is reproduced at this link. In the context of the attack on Bob Destatte over the Cuban Program, however, I wish to quote one passage from Santoli's review of Honor Bound:
Now, isn't this something. Here we have a member of Congress (Dornan in his special orders speech), CDR Beck, and now Mr. Santoli all arriving at the same conclusion regarding Bob Destatte. How do you suppose that may have happened?
How Did the Statement Get Into the Record?
If Dornan's staff removed Destatte's written statement from the hearing room, and if Destatte agreed to not present the written statement at the hearing, how then did the statement get into the public record? I have two theories, which are examined below:
Dornan may have put the statement into the record
Frankly, I was surprised and a bit disappointed when I learned from friends in DPMO that Dornan was on the attack against Destatte and DPMO. When I joined the DIA Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs in 1986, we were being attacked frequently and maliciously by Billy Hendon. Often, when we were summoned to Hendon's office for his Wednesday Afternoon Follies, Bob Dornan was one of the members present. Dornan was a voice of reason through this whole affair. When Hendon would get too far off the planet, Dornan would calm him down, ask us a few well-chose questions, and mediate. From time to time, Dornan would ask for an individual briefing and at no time did he question anything we told him.
I recall one incident that revealed to me the concern that Dornan had for the MIA issue on a personal level. One of the charlatans working around the refugee camps in Thailand surfaced a phony story about a US MIA being alive in Laos. Dornan had known the missing man, had helped his wife when the guy became missing, and still maintained close contact with the family. Dornan also had talked with eyewitnesses to the man's loss and he knew that the guy did not survive his crash. Dornan became enraged that a retired USAF officer would spread such phony stories and asked that he personally deliver this story to the widow so he could explain the source of this nonsense.
Dornan and Destatte
Dornan had nearly 15 years of experience with Bob Destatte. Dornan is a very busy man and, as with all members of Congress, he has little time to study an issue in depth. He relies on his staff to do that and to brief him on the details -- and it only takes one staffer who is either not competent or who has his own ax to grind to lead a member of Congress out on a limb. I suspect that Dornan's attack on Destatte was fed to him by Beck. After reading Destatte's written statement and hearing Destatte's oral testimony, I would not be surprised to find that Dornan realized that he had been led out onto a very weak limb. He needed to get off the limb and, as chairman of the subcommittee, he was responsible to ensure a complete and accurate record.
In this case, then, my theory is that Dornan realized he should not have fired on Destatte and realized that he should produce a complete record -- so he had Destatte's complete written statement entered into the record.
The system worked
My second theory is that the system worked. The next time you watch a Congressional hearing on C-SPAN, watch for the stenographer. He/She is right there, seated up front, using a steno machine to take down the proceedings, verbatim. The stenographers are responsible for gathering all the testimony and including it in the record. It is entirely possible that the stenographer arrived early, picked up a copy of everything on the public table -- before Destatte's testimony was removed -- and produced a complete record.
What do I believe?
I want to believe that Bob Dornan saw to it that Destatte's statement was inserted.
The most important documents in this whole sad affair are Beck's letter to the editor and Bob Destatte's written statement, with enclosures. Read Beck's letter, then read Destatte's statement and the enclosures. You will see clearly that Beck has substantially misrepresented Bob Destatte's comments and has even misrepresented eyewitness statements by returned POWs.
The Big Lie
Why do this? Because they need to continue the Big Lie. The MIA "activist" crowd has lost, not only every battle, but the whole war -- it's just that they don't realize the fact. They recognize that every single claim they have thrown up has been refuted, found to be without merit, and ignored by the serious media. So, they turn to promulgating the Big Lie.
The Big Lie is based on the idea that, if you tell a lie long enough, have enough people tell it, and tell it loudly enough, it will eventually be accepted as truth. This attack on Bob Destatte is a classic Big Lie. Consider the course of events.
Beck can't get his way
Beck, seconded to DPMO, tries to convince all and sundry of his great-Commie conspiracy theory. It does not work -- except for a few like-minded lightweights.
So he finds a proxy
Beck sells Dornan on the idea -- or, more correctly -- at least one key member of Dornan's staff. The fact that Santoli is on Dornan's staff at the time should tell you something.
And the Congressional Record is established as the authority
Dornan makes charges against Destatte, August 2, 1996. Beck more than likely wrote the script. Now the charges against Destatte are part of the Congressional Record and that's important for the future of the Big Lie.
And the Big Lie spreads
Beck works with a writer at the Miami Herald to plant an article about the "Cuban program," parts of which attack Destatte. Beck then follows up with his letter, continuing the attack. Consider this quote from Beck's letter to the Herald -- and note that he cites Congress as his authority.
"A cadre within the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO), including the official credited with identifying the Cubans, actually stonewalled internal inquiries and hid the 'Cuban files' for nearly two decades. Bob Destatte initially lied about the file's existence and later its contents. His admission came only after he confused his lies and contradicted earlier denials. It took Congressional action to pry the files loose."
Santoli jumps on board with his claim, printed in the Washington Times (that's Rev. Sun Young Moon's newspaper). Santoli, too, cites Congress as the source of his attack on Destatte.
"On the other hand, the authors relied heavily on much-maligned Department of Defense sources such as Robert DeStatte, who was chastised by a Congressional oversight chairman for misdiagnosing the brutal Cuban interrogators in North Vietnam who savagely beat a number of Americans, resulting in at least two deaths, as 'an English language program that went awry.' "
And that, folks, is how it works. Plant the Big Lie in a source that is not subject to attack, hide in the shadow of that source, and hope that no one reveals the truth. Of course, in this case, the truth came out through Congressional sources -- the record of the hearing that, by publishing internal DPMO documents, reveals the fact that the Big Lie is exactly that.
This sad tale is a typical example of the perfidy, calumny, demagoguery, treachery, and misrepresentations that are the stock and trade of much of the MIA "activist" community.
Here are links to other articles in this series.
This just in -- January 19, 2000 -- Beck visits Cuba, sucks up to Cubans.
This article was published Sep. 5, 1999; updated on Sep. 6, 1999; and largely rewritten on Sep. 11, 1999.