INTERIM REPORT ON POW/MIA'S (Senate - October 27, 1990)
Mr. HELMS. Mr. President, as ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I have today sent an interim report to the Republican members of that committee on the sensitive topic of our POW /MIA's . This report has been prepared by minority staff members of the committee for the minority members. It is a preliminary report, with preliminary findings, on an investigation which has been in progress for 1 year.
Mr. President, this report is particularly significant because it is the first time that the Department of Defense [DOD] has permitted any outside oversight of its process of accounting for POW /MIA's . DOD has in its files 1,400 so-called live-sighting reports, but it has never acknowledged that any of these reports pertained to living American personnel. The reports are in general classified, but not highly classified. Nevertheless, DOD has asserted that the reports are too sensitive for oversight even by properly cleared and trained professional personnel.
To its credit, DOD finally relented, and allowed outside professionals on the minority committee staff to examine the files under very stringent conditions of access. Only about one-third of the files have been examined so far, but already the investigators have found serious errors in the methodology of DIA analysts in a disturbingly large number of cases.
Other preliminary findings include the following:
First, after the return of 591 POW's in Operation Homecoming in 1973, the Department of State and DOD publicly declared that no more POW's remained alive in Southeast Asia.
Second, nevertheless, a year later, DOD analysts still believed that POW's were alive in Southeast Asia.
Third, DOD analysts systematically rejected, or declared not pertinent, vitually all of the 1,400 live-sighting reports in its files.
Fourth, having declared beforehand in 1973 that no prisoners remained alive, DOD subsequently made case-by-case determinations that each name on the POW /MIA list should be presumed dead, based upon the rejection of the live-sighting reports and other evidence.
Fifth, in contrast to DOD's disinterest in confirming live-sighting reports, DOD has placed a disproportionate emphasis on identifying supposed sets of POW remains, resulting in a significant percentage of misidentifications. DOD seems more interested in finding dead POW's than living POW's .
Sixth, because U.S. covert military operations in Southeast Asia have never been revealed, it is impossible to determine whether any U.S. military personnel involved might be added to the list of known POW /MIA's . Participants in covert operations who were interviewed think that the number of covert POW /MIA's might be as large as the public list.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the interim report of the minority staff of the Committee on Foreign Relations be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks, along with my cover letter transmitting it to Republican members of the committee.
There being no objection, the report was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
Committee on Foreign Relations,
Washington, DC, October 26, 1990.
Dear Republican Colleague: Enclosed is an Interim Report prepared by the Minority Staff of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the U.S. Government's handling of the POW /MIA matter. This summary document represents a year of intensive investigation, culminating in a major breakthrough in the careful examination of DIA live-sighting reports on POW /MIAs --the first time in 17 years that an independent branch of the government has had an opportunity to make an objective evaluation of the methods used in accounting for those categorized as POW /MIAs in Southeast Asia.
On October 17, 1990, the Foreign Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Cao Thac addressed a coffee at the Foreign Relations Committee and attended by Senators of the Committee as well as invited guests. In my opinion, the Department of State's invitation to Thac to visit the United States was inappropriate at a time when the Executive Branch is still unwilling to address the hard issue of living American POWs still being held captive in Southeast Asia.
The thrust of Thac's address was to call for the acceleration of the time table for renewal of relations between the governments of Vietnam and the United States. Thac indicated that the resolution of the POW /MIA issue is one of two major areas of contention. Furthermore, Thac stated that he had agreed to all terms levied by the President through his special envoy, General John Vessey USA (Ret.). But in re-stating the terms to which he had agreed, Thac never once mentioned that the issue of living American POWs in Vietnam had been addressed.
The position of the Executive Branch is that there is `no evidence' that living Americans exist in SE Asia, nor were any left after American prisoners were returned in 1973.
Nevertheless, public opinion polls continue to suggest that 62 percent of the American people believe that U.S. POW /MIAs are still alive in Vietnam, and 84 percent of Vietnam veterans believe so. Clearly the U.S. Government no longer maintains credibility on this issue.
For this reason, a year ago, I assigned an investigation on the Minority Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to conduct a staff investigation of the handling of the POW /MIA issue by the U.S. Government. These investigators are highly trained professionals, with a total of more than 68 years of investigative experience in the Executive Branch, including criminal investigative experience, as well as more than 17 years of experience in intelligence analysis. All served in Vietnam and are knowledgeable about the history, geography, and language of that unfortunate country.
The investigation has proceeded quietly, and without public fanfare. But much remains to be done. Information developed in the course of the inquiry was the result of the following methods: (1) face-to-face and telephonic interviews; (2) review of various classified and unclassified official documents; (3) corroborative information from government and private sources; and (4) historical research. This report is in all respects an interim report: It is incomplete and it is a summary report of conclusions which must be further tested.
The Committee on Foreign Relations has authority to engage in oversight of POW /MIA issues implicit in its broad mandate to study and review foreign policy. Senate Rule 25.1j specifically refers to the Committee on Foreign Relations matters dealing with: `[11.] Intervention abroad and declarations of war,' and `[15.] Protection of United States citizens abroad and expatriation.'
The focus of the inquiry has centered on the following questions:
1. Does the U.S. Government possess valid information concerning living POWs in Southeast Asia?
2. Has the U.S. Government failed to act on information concerning living POWs in Southeast Asia?
3. Has the U.S. Government acted improperly to intimidate, coerce, or discredit sources which have valid information concerning living POWs in Southeast Asia?
I believe that the investigators have come to valid conclusions, although of course much of the material they reviewed remains classified. Moreover, I believe that the American people have the right to see that this inquiry is pursued to a proper conclusion.
I am deeply grateful for the enormous contribution of Senator Chuck Grassley who, out of his deep concern for American service personnel, joined me at the very beginning and supported and encouraged it at every step.
One year ago, the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations assigned members of the Minority Staff to investigate the following three questions:
(1) Whether the United States Government has received and still possesses valid information concerning living prisoners of war/missing in action--POW /MIAs --in Southeast Asia;
(2) Whether the U.S. Government has failed to act on such information; and,
(3) Whether the U.S. Government has acted improperly to intimidate and discredit sources of such information.
The primary purpose of this investigation has been, and will continue to be, to determine whether the U.S. government has handled the question in a truthful and effective manner. But if it results in a determination that even one POW may still be alive, it will result in a dividend of blessings.
The inquiry remains on-going. It is based not only on the review of thousands of classified and non-classified documents, but also upon hundreds of telephonic and face-to-face interviews with government officials and those affected by their decisions with regard to POW /MIAs . A full report will require much additional investigation and analysis. The following, however, represents an interim report at the conclusion of one year's work. It allows the presentation of some preliminary conclusions.
The U.S. Government states it has no evidence that POWs were left behind in Southeast Asia. The official policy asserts that it is open to investigation of all reports. For example, the official Department of Defense (DOD) POW -MIA Fact Book, issued July, 1990, states:
`Although we have thus far been unable to prove that Americans are still detained against their will, the information available to us, precludes ruling out that possibility. Actions to investigate live sighting reports receive and will continue to receive necessary priority and resources based on the assumption that at least some Americans are still held captive. Should any report prove true, we will take appropriate action to ensure the return of those involved.'
Notwithstanding this professed openness to new evidence, the U.S. Government has insisted since April 12, 1973, that it has no evidence of living POWs . In fact, on that date--at the conclusion of Operation Homecoming, which brought home 591 POWs --Dr. Roger Shields, then Assistant Secretary of Defense, stated that the DOD had `no evidence that there were any more POWs still alive in all of Indochina.'
This assertion has been consistent. For example, last July, Col. Joseph A. Schlatter, then chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Special Office for POW /MIAs , was saying that `If we look at everything we collected during the war and everything we've collected since the war, we don't find any evidence that Americans are captive.'
Furthermore, as late as October, 1990, an unnamed `senior State Department official' was quoted in the press as saying the U.S. Government has `no evidence' of living American prisoners in Southeast Asia.
However, to say that the U.S. Government has `no evidence' is not the same as saying that no evidence exists. After all, there have been nearly 11,700 reports relating to POW /MIAs over the years, including 1,400 firsthand, live-sighting reports. The question is whether every single one of these reports can be dismissed from the category of credible evidence.
The U.S. Government position makes sense only if every single one of these reports can be shown to have been fabricated, erroneous, or not relating directly to a POW /MIA --for example, some reports may relate to Europeans in the area. In fact, DIA analysts have have rejected the evidence of all these reports, except for a small pool of less than 150 still considered `unresolved.'
The preliminary conclusions presented by staff for review by Senators are as follows:
(1) After the conclusion of Operation Homecoming in April, 1973, brought the return of the 591 POWs , official U.S. Government policy internally adopted and acted upon the presumption that all other POWs were dead, despite public assertions that the government was still open to investigating the possibility of discovering the existence of living prisoners.
(2) Following the adoption of an internal policy in April, 1973, that all POW /MIAs were presumed dead, the U.S. Government, convened commission in each military service to consider each case on the POW /MIA list in order to make a statutory declaration of presumption of death.
(3) While there is no reason to believe that the majority, if not most, of the declarations of presumptive death are incorrect, staff review of livesighting reports files at DIA found a disturbing pattern of arbitrary rejection of evidence that connected a sighting to a specific POW /MIA or U.S. POW /MIAs in general.
(4) The pattern of arbitrary rejection resulted in a declaration of presumptive finding of death for every such individual case, except one.
(5) The internal policy that all POW /MIAs were presumed dead resulted in an emphasis on finding and identifying remains of dead personnel, rather than searching for living POW /MIAs .
(6) The desire to identify specific sets of remains with specific names on the POW /MIA list led DOD to an exaggeration of the capabilities of forensic science, and identification based on dubious presumptions and illogical deductions rather than actual physical identification--a process which resulted in numerous misidentifications of remains.
(7) Despite adherence to internal policies and public statements after April, 1973 that `no evidence' existed of living POWs , DIA authoritatively concluded as late as April, 1974 that several hundred living POW /MIAs were still held captive in South East Asia.
(8) Although the Pathet Lao declared on April 3, 1973, that Laotian Communist forces were holding American POWs and were prepared to give an accounting, nine days later a DOD spokesman declared that there were no more American prisoners anywhere in South East Asia. No POWs held by Laotian Communist forces ever returned. The evidence indicates that the U.S. Government made a decision to abandon U.S. citizens still in the custody of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, at the conclusion of U.S. involvement in the Second Indochina War.
(9) U.S. casualties, including POW /MIAs in South East Asia, resulting from covert or cross border operation, may not be included on the list of those missing.
(10) The executive branch has failed to address adequately the concerns of the family members of the POW /MIAs , and has profoundly mishandled the POW /MIA problem.
DEFINITION OF POW /MIA
The subject of POW /MIAs requires some definitions. After the Second Indochina War--popularly known as the Vietnam War, even though Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia saw U.S. combat action--hundreds of POWs returned alive, notably in Operation Homecoming, which concluded in April, 1973
Those who did not return home are classified by the Department of Defense into two categories: POW /MIAs --that is, those for whom there is some documentation that they were captured but never repatriated; and KIA/BNRs--that is, those believed to have been killed in action, but whose bodies were not recovered. For the latter, there is no evidence of their death except DOD's evaluation of the circumstances, even though no physical evidence of death may be available.
In April, 1973, DOD reported that 2,383 personnel were unaccounted
for: 1,259 POW /MIAs , and 1,124 KIA/BNRs. This study assumes that both categories of the unaccounted for deserve review. Since 1973, DOD has announced the return of 280 sets of remains, diminishing the over-all number by that amount.
In addition, there could well be an equal number of military personnel missing in action from various U.S. covert actions during the war. Since DOD files on covert actions have not been opened, and the participants in such actions never publicly identified, this inquiry could not establish any number for covert POW /MIAs . However, public source books and interviews with participants suggest that the issue of covert operations adds a substantial, but unknown, dimension of the MIA question which has received no scrutiny.
REVIEW OF LIVE-SIGHTING DOCUMENTS
In this inquiry, staff has reviewed hundreds of U.S. Government classified, declassified, and open-source documents. In addition, Senator Grassley and Committee Minority staff were given access to, and have reviewed personally, hundreds of classified live-sighting reports (accounts by Southeast Asians of live POWs in Southeast Asia) in the files of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). According to DIA, this is the first time that either a United States Senator or any United States Congressional Committee staff have been given access to the raw intelligence contained in the 1,400 live-sighting reports.
Out of the 1,400 live-sighting reports, approximately 1,200 are considered by DIA to be `resolved.' Each of the so-called `resolved' sightings was resolved by concluding that the live-sighting report did not pertain to U.S. POWs present after April 1979. Staff felt that in some cases such a conclusion was correct, but that in many it was not supported by the facts.
Staff began by first examining so-called resolved cases in order to study DIA methodology by which a conclusion of `resolution' was reached. Since the guidelines set by DIA for access to the files were extremely restrictive, the time available allowed review of only about one-quarter of the so-called `resolved' cases, and none of those in the category of `unresolved.' Nevertheless, staff concluded that a significant number of the `resolved' cases reviewed showed that the DIA methodology was faulty, or that the evidence did not support the DIA conclusion in the case, or both.
The information collected and reviewed to date by the staff shows that the position held by the United States Government--namely, that no evidence exists that Americans are still being held against their will--cannot be supported. Rather, the information uncovered during this inquiry provides enough corroboration to cast doubt upon the veracity of the U.S. Government's conclusion.
Without revealing classified information, staff believes that the review of the classified live-sighting reports reinforces that doubt. Although more information remains to be reviewed, the evidence this inquiry has thus far uncovered shows that:
(1) Living U.S. citizens, military and civilian, were held in Southeast Asia against their will after the U.S. Government's statement on April 13, 1973, that no prisoners remained alive; and
(2) The information available to the U.S. Government does not rule out the probability that U.S. citizens are stil being held in Southeast Asia.
In fact, classified and unclassified information all confirm one startling fact: That DOD in April, 1974, concluded beyond a doubt that several hundred living American POW's remained in captivity in Southeast Asia. This was a full year after DOD spokesmen were saying publicly that no prisoners remained alive.
Evidence uncovered in the several hundred cases reviewed thus far clearly demonstrates that, in a disturbing number of cases, DOD made significant errors in drawing conclusions about live-sighting reports, the presumed deaths of individuals, or about individuals that were unaccounted for at the conclusion of the war. Although many cases were resolved correctly
based upon the files, there were too many errors apparent to rule out the need to undertake and complete the review of the `unresolved' cases.
Staff also concluded that DOD spent an excessive amount of effort in discrediting live-sighting reports, while exaggerating or mishandling forensic data in order to confirm a presumptive finding of death. DOD appeared to be more anxious to declare a presumptive finding of death than in following up reports of sightings with creative investigative work.