THE 1983-1984 COVER-UP: How It Was Structured, How It Was Sustained

The newspaper Army Times reported that on 9 July 1982 … Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger told POW/MIA family members gathered in the Washington area for the 13th annual meeting of the National League of Families that the administration had changed official government policy on the POW/MIA issue and that "[w]e [now] proceed under the assumption that at least some Americans are still held captive by the Indochinese Communists." The Times said Weinberger cited "over 400 first-hand sightings" as reason for the change and told the families that determining the fate of their loved ones was now "a matter of the highest national priority."

Soon after Weinberger’s speech, his statement on POWs was formally adopted as official U.S. policy and disseminated in written form throughout the government.

From An Enormous Crime, Chapter 21 
By early 1983, just six months after he had delivered the electrifying news about live prisoners to the POW/MIA families, Cap Weinberger and other top administration officials charged with finding and freeing the Indochina POWs faced an awful dilemma. A media firestorm had erupted in early February when members of a team of former Green Berets had been arrested in Thailand after returning from an unsuccessful POW rescue mission into Laos. Administration officials were first embarrassed when early press reports suggested that President Reagan himself had authorized the mission — and then horrified when the Washington Post quoted one of the Green Berets as saying the President had promised prior to the mission that if the team brought out one live POW he would "start World War III to get the rest." Adding to the dilemma was the rapidly deteriorating military situation in Central America, where Russian- and Cuban-trained leftist rebels had pro-democracy, pro-U.S. forces on the run in El Salvador and Honduras and the Russians were reportedly making preparations to install nuclear tipped IRBMs in Nicaragua. (See An Enormous Crime, Chapter 22.) By late winter the situation was so desperate for America and her allies that many believed U.S. troops would have to enter the war if the region was to be saved. And therein, of course, lay the dilemma: how could Weinberger send American servicemen to fight in the jungles of Central America while publicly acknowledging that other American servicemen were still being held against their will in the jungles of Southeast Asia ten years after Operation Homecoming?

Genuinely fearing that the POW/MIA issue might develop into a full-blown hostage crisis, and acutely aware of the negative impact such a crisis would have on the administration’s ability to project American power and influence into the rapidly deteriorating situation in Central America, top administration officials decided to shut down one "matter of the highest national priority"—their fledgling effort to free the Indochina POWs—and focus their efforts on another—saving Central America.

By early spring 1983 the plan had been finalized: to avoid the possibility of another hostage crisis, the administration would secretly end the hunt for live POWs and substitute in its place a highly publicized—and politically, much safer - effort to recover remains. From here on out, progress in the effort to account for Americans missing in Southeast Asia would be measured in terms of crash sites excavated and remains recovered; not, as Ronald Reagan had originally intended, POWs rescued or otherwise repatriated.

The task of abandoning the live POWs only months after declaring their release a "matter of the highest national priority" would prove challenging, and for two important reasons. First, the hopes and expectations of the POW/MIA families had been at stratospheric levels since Weinberger had made his announcement about living POWs the previous July, and administration officials knew it would be hell to pay if the families ever figured out what the administration was up to. Second, credible intelligence about living POWs continued pouring into the Pentagon, and because this intelligence mirrored that which had led Weinberger and company to assume that POWs were still being held captive, dismissing it would be no easy task.

The critically important job of keeping the families both in the dark and on the reservation was tasked to the Politico-Military Affairs staff at the NSC. What that effort involved and how it was implemented and the incredibly damaging impact it had on the live prisoner issue from mid-1983 on is discussed in detail in An Enormous Crime, beginning in Chapter 22. The equally-important job of dismissing, manipulating, assailing and ultimately destroying the value of the intelligence fell to DIA. How the DIA analysts and managers and those who oversaw their work went about doing this is discussed in detail in the following pages.

The managers and analysts at DIA’s Special Office for POWs and MIAs and those who oversaw their work were in no mood in the spring of 1983—and hadn’t been since war’s end, for that matter—to do or say anything that might give U.S. officials reason to commit what most in the Office believed would be the ultimate act of national humiliation, i.e., paying the Communists the billions of dollars in reconstruction aid Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon had promised them at Paris at war’s end (see An Enormous Crime, Chapter 6) if they would release the POWs in return. And so when the word came down the chain of command in the spring of 1983 that the matter of live POWs had become politically radioactive and the policy people now wanted the entire matter to just go away, declassified DIA records show the managers and analysts and those who oversaw their work were more than ready, willing and able to do the job.

When Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs intelligence investigators gained first-ever access to the Special Office analysts’ working files in 1992, they discovered that the analysts and managers had officially ruled that none of the scores of eyewitness sightings of live POWs received after mid-1983 were actually sightings of live POWs—not one. Senate investigators found that the analysts and managers had accomplished this remarkable feat by determining that each eyewitness who had reported seeing American prisoners in captivity after the war was either (1) lying or (2) confused, and had not actually seen American prisoners held captive after the war—but instead had seen either American prisoners who had been released at Operation Homecoming, American missionaries, European tourists, Russian soldiers, Amerasians and/or other individuals “who might be confused with Americans.” How could that be, the Senate investigators wondered—and then quickly found that the answers lay deep in the analysts' super-secret working files—in their meeting notes, their memcons and phonecons and desk memoranda; in hurriedly-scribbled MFRs and in carefully typed, formal ones; on a Post-it note® here - in a letter to a CIA official there; in handwritten briefing notes in one file - in the actual Vu-Graphs used in classified briefings in another.

Enormous Crime co-author Bill Hendon, a fulltime intelligence investigator assigned to the Select Committee in 1992, found that the actions taken by the DIA analysts and managers during their investigations of just 14 intelligence reports DIA had received during the period from mid-1983 until the end of 1984and one earlier CIA intelligence report that re-surfaced during the period - offered stark testimony to just how far DIA went after mid-1983 to discredit the intelligence on live POWs and/or the sources who provided it. These now-declassified intelligence reports and documents from the DIA analysts’ working files are presented in detail below. Numbered 1-15 in order of their receipt by DIA and shown on the accompanying map entitled "The 1983-84 Cover-up, 15 Selected Cases," these reports involved (1) American POWs seen carrying logs at the Dong Tien lumber market on the Plain of Reeds in southern Vietnam in 1978; (2) English-speaking Caucasian prisoners reportedly seen in 1982 inside a jungle prison near Cua Rao in Nghe Tinh Province in northern Vietnam; (3) American POWs seen in the Ban Nok jail just east of the Plain of Jars in northern Laos in 1978; (4) American POWs reportedly transferred from the Cam Thuy maximum security prison in Thanh Hoa Province in northern Vietnam to the Dong Vai maximum security prison north of Hon Gai in 1982; (5) American POWs seen inside the Lam Son prison in Thanh Hoa Province in northern Vietnam in 1980-81; (6) American POWs reportedly being moved around Nghe Tinh Province in northern Vietnam during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; (7) American POWs reportedly held at a newly constructed prison facility at Lien Mac in the northwest Hanoi suburbs during 1983; (8) American POWs seen getting off of a Prisons Management Department bus inside the K-4 prison at Xuan Loc in Long Khanh Province in southern Vietnam in 1979; (9) western Caucasian prisoners rumored to be American POWs seen being escorted under guard into the U-Minh Forest (Palm Forest of Darkness) in southern Vietnam in 1978; (10) American POWs seen under guard near the Ham Tan reeducation camp complex in southern Vietnam in 1983; (11) American POWs seen returning from field labor in Long Khanh Province in southern Vietnam in 1983; (12) Major Kane and other American POWs reportedly seen on a chain gang just south of Hoa Binh province town in northern Vietnam in 1983; (13) American POWs confined with Australian and Lao POWs at a work camp SSW of Yen Bai in northern Vietnam in 1977; (14) the American POWs seen by Robert Garwood at five separate locations in Northern Vietnam from 1973-1978 and (15) an explosive CIA report that had quoted a senior Vietnamese diplomat as saying just prior to his March 1977 talks in Hanoi with Carter envoy Leonard Woodcock that the SRV was still holding American POWs (See An Enormous Crime, Chapter 16).

The 1983-84 Cover-up
[click to enlarge] (©2007 Hendon/Anderer)

Each declassified document cited in the following 15 cases is available to the reader in its entirety in the endnote hyperlinks. To reach and read each footnoted intelligence document, simply click on the colored endnote number in the text and then click [view].

Here is how the cover-up of the intelligence that began in mid-1983 and continues to this day was structured and sustained:

[NEXT: (1) The American POWs Seen Carrying Logs at the Dong Tien Lumber Market on the Plain of Reeds in Southern Vietnam in 1978.] Home