The intelligence community is set up to minimize needless
duplication without endangering the longstanding policy that the
intelligence agencies should be competitive in their assessments.
A key document approvved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board
(NFIB) is a directive, approved and published annually by the
Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) that establishes the
budgetary and collection priorities for all the agencies.
This document is the product of a formal mechanism and is the
official statement of priority for all members of the intelligence
community. For example, for most of the post-war world, topics
dealing with the capabilities of the former Soviet Union to attack
the U.S. and NATO have had a number-one priority assigned the
Board. Thus, Soviet affairs have enjoyed primacy in all claims for
budgets, resources, collection and publication.
Regarding the POW/MIA issue, Lt. Gen. Perroots testified that he
succeeded in having the NFIB assign a number-one priority to the
POW issue for the first time only in 1985, as an exception to
national policy. In the same hearing former National Security
Council staff member Richard Childress testified that in 1983,
during the first Reagan Administration, he was the first to have
the intelligence community raise the national intelligence priority
of the POW issue from seven, where it had been since the end of the
Vietnam War in 1975.
The information-handling process in the intelligence industry,
simplistically, consists of collection of information, processing,
analysis, and dissemination of finished or semi-finished
intelligence. The information flow is controlled at every stage by
normal organizational functions, including management, budgeting,
quality control, training, assignment of priorities and allocation
of resources. Although agencies have much latitude in their
internal management, the end results are governed by the Board-
approved national intelligence priorities.
There are two ways in which individual agencies can pursue
important national intelligence objectives with others acting only
in a supporting role. On occasion and for subjects requiring
special expertise or reflecting narrow interest, the NFIB may
designate an agency to take the lead. In his deposition, Rear
Admiral Thomas Brooks (USN-Ret.) indicated that the Navy has the
lead on a number of nationally important intelligence issues.
Without a formal statement of national priority, collection,
analysis and publication on a topic might still occur by exception.
Thus, an agency might retain a small analytical effort on a subject
of its own interest, by justifying it against some other national
priority. A senior official of the National Security Agency (NSA)
testified in his deposition that NSA maintained a residual
collection effort against Southeast Asia between 1975 and 1978,
based on the Soviet interest in the region as manifest by its
occupation of naval facilities at Cam Ranh Bay and the priority
attached to Soviet matters. The expenditures for this effort were
justified, according to the senior official, neither by the
military capabilities of Vietnam, which had a million-man army at
the time, nor by the POW/MIA issue.
The Defense Department's primacy on POW issues came about by
directive from William Casey, belatedly, in 1985.
Intelligence and Intelligence Analysis
Intelligence is often defined by the source from which the
information is obtained. Human intelligence (HUMINT) refers to
information observed and reported by human beings. All live-
sighting reports, whether first- or second-hand, are human source
reports. Technical collection of electronic signals (SIGINT)
includes information obtained by eavesdropping on radio
conversations. Imagery intelligence (IMINT) includes photography,
including pictures or images obtained by various means, including
by a person taking pictures with a hand-held camera.
There are many techniques for performing intelligence analysis,
which is the term used to describe the process of endeavoring to
understand the larger meaning of information obtained secretly. All
intelligence information consists of two parts: the source and the
content. Both must be analyzed in evaluating the larger meaning of
secret information by means of separate techniques. For this
reason, intelligence agencies normally separate the evaluation of
sources from the analysis of the content to avoid the dangers of
bias and conflict of interest.
One common intelligence analytical practice is to compare
information obtained in each of these separate channels to
determine whether the channels corroborate each other. This
matching is the simplest and easiest form of analysis, and matches
are seldom precise. More sophisticated analytical techniques
include pattern analysis, cause-and-effect analysis, cost-benefit
analysis, the use of probabilities and utilities, and a variety of
advanced computer modeling techniques.
Intelligence information, by its very nature, is a glimpse of
reality. It is never conclusive because the methods of acquisition
are surreptitious. On the other hand, the probabilities of reality
that can be established by intelligence information are necessary
and sufficient to enable national decision-makers to make
reasonable judgments about courses of action. While intellience
information is never complete, good intelligence often has made the
difference between life and death, victory and defeat.
Regarding the quality of information obtained on the POWs,
successive retired senior CIA officiers involved in collection
activities in Southeast Asia have testified that the sources of
information of POWs were not materially different from those used
for obtaining information on other topics. Often they were
the same people. Thus, a single human source might report on
military developments as well as on POW matters in the same report.
Many files provided by the intelligence agencies included reports
of this nature.
Investigating the Intelligence Agencies' Performance
The intelligence investigators determined that any evaluation of
DoD's work had to be best understood in the context of the
intelligence community's support of the DoD. The accuracy of this
judgment was reflected in the testimony of former DIA Directors Lt.
Gen. James Williams and Perroots and present DIA Director, Lt. Gen.
James Clapper. This investigation was conducted primarily
through the deposition of key intelligence officials in light of
intelligence administrative documents found in the files of the
Intelligence Community Support of the POW Effort
The Committee's investigation discovered that the normal processes
of the U.S. intelligence community have not been followed in the
intelligence aspects of the POW/MIA issue. In depositions, former
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Admiral Inman and a former
senior CIA official testified that the POW issue was considered
exclusively the province of DoD;all other agencies played a
supporting role only. The CIA officer stated that it was his
understanding that it was usual to defer to DoD in POW/MIA
issues. No official could recall just how this grant of
exclusivity was made, but none could recall a formal determination.
After Operation Homecoming in 1973, virtually every intelligence
official from whom the Committee received testimony confirmed that
the collection of intelligence on POWs was not a high- priority
issue. Despite repeated Presidential statements about the issue's
importance, Lt. Gen. Perroots confirmed that the POW/MIA issue was
first listed as priority "one" as a national intelligence objective
only beginning in 1986 -- as an exception to policy. The low
priority resulted in no demands on the intelligence community to
provide resources to this issue for most of the period after the
The Committee was provided with only one national intelligence
estimate concerning Vietnam and its policy towards the POWs. The
Community produced no inter-agency assessments nor any joint
studies of the issue. In his deposition, Rear Admiral
Brooks, a former director of the DIA POW/MIA analytical effort and
former Director of Naval Intelligence, stated that during his time
as an intelligence official, there was no written inter-agency or
Intelligence Community studies of any kind. Dr. Schlesinger said
that in his time as Director of Central Intelligence in 1973, he
ordered the Intelligence Community to write the first National
Intelligence Estimate on Vietnam of any kind in over a
The September 1987 Special National Intelligence Estimate is the
only discussion of the intentions of Vietnam regarding POWs.
Admiral Inman states that during hie tenure as Deputy Director of
Central Intelligence, no national intelligence assessments of this
issue were requested or written.
Central Intelligence Agency Actions
The Central Intelligence Agency management retained no formal
responsibility for POW/MIA collection and analysis and has deferred
completely to the Department of Defense. CIA maintained no
analytical effort on this topic after the Vietnam war. The
organizations that had performed this work were disbanded. This
may be the only supposedly national-level issue in which CIA has
taken this position.
The Directorate of Operations maintained a residual effort for a
short time after the war, but this has long since been disbanded.
Responsibility for follow-up collection actions fell to specific
area desk officers and was a function of personal interest. One
such officer in the mid-1980s was highly diligent in following up
reports of prisoner sightings.
Collection and Special Operations after Homecoming
The testimony provided by retired officials indicated CIA field
officers knew to report information on POW/MIAs. The
investigations found that in the 19 years since Homecoming, CIA
executed one collection operation, conducted one special follow-up
operation, and considered, but rejected, a third special follow-up
The investigation found no evidence that any live-sighting leads in
the 1970s resulted in a single follow-up operation by the Central
Intelligence Agency. Former senior officials based overseas stated
that they found no intelligence reporting on this topic to be
credible. However, one official admitted that a large amount of
data was destroyed in 1975 to prevent it from being lost to the
enemy. Copies of this information allegedly are still held in
CIA Primacy in Laos and Information Sharing
All intelligence officers who testified to the Committee, including
Ernie Brace who was a contract pilot held longer than any other
POW, stated that CIA had the dominant intelligence interest in
Laos. All information is provided to the Department of Defense.
On the other hand, CIA retained no analysts assigned to analyze
POW/MIA information. A former senior CIA officer admitted that
this arrangement produced an anomaly whereby CIA collectors and
desk officers were ostensibly accountable to DIA intelligence
analysts regarding the quality of the reporting.
Analysis or Lack of It
The investigation found only one study of the POW/MIA issue written
by CIA, and that was in the mid-1980s and concerned Vietnamese
policy towards the U.S. That study was written by a political
affairs analyst. The Directorate of Intelligence at CIA has no
POW/MIA analysts. The first recent background studies written by
the CIA relevant to the POW issue were two on prisons in Laos and
Vietnam. These were done at the behest of the Select
CIA's supporting role, management attitudes and of formal tasking
reflect lukewarm support for the POW/MIA effort. The intelligence
files do not suggest an aggressive posture in collecting
information nor great diligence in following up. Since 1981, the
POW/MIA intelligence topic has made virtually no demands for
resources of any kind on "the President's intelligence agency."
The Role of the Defense Intelligence Agency
The Defense Intelligence Agency's intelligence role in POW-MIA
affairs is extensive. According to testimony provided by the
Secretary of Defense, DIA is at the center of the two-tier approach
used by his Department to determine the fate of U.S. service
members missing in Southeast Asia. As part of the first tier, the
Defense Intelligence Agency investigates and analyzes current
reports of Americans being held against their will. These are
called live-sighting reports.
The Secretary noted that as part of the second tier, the Defense
Department relies "heavily" on DIA's analysis to reach a final
conclusion on the fate of each service member for whom there has
not been a final accounting. In this category, they emphasize
service members who were last known alive after being reported lost
or for whom the U.S. Government believes that the governments of
Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam should be able to provide additional
information as to the service member's status. These are called
DIA's Management Issues
As of Nov. 23, 1992, DoD had received 1,629 first-hand live-
sighting reports, most of which described real events; 85 remained
unresolved but were being investigated. It must be noted that
each report does not necessarily correlate to a different missing
service member. Numerous reports are traceable to the same
individual. Nonetheless, the Secretary stated that 109 reports
remained under active investigation by the Defense Intelligence
Agency. In his testimony, the Acting Director of DIA identified the
Agency's role in these live-sighting cases: DIA determines "the
facts pertinent to the report and follows them to their logical
conclusion." According to him, during the process DIA "is to keep
policy and decision-makers and the families informed." DIA's
Executive Director noted to Committee Members that DIA supports
POW-MIA families directly, and also assists POW-MIA organizations.
He emphasized that DIA's role is intelligence support and not
In a prepared statement to the Committee, the Principal Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
indicated that DIA's role in assisting service casualty officers in
their responsibility to keep families informed has been
"problematic." According to him, Casualty Affairs Officers from
each of the Military Services are responsible for discussing
individual cases of POW's or MIA's with family members. He added
that DIA personnel "are not trained for family outreach." The
Committee agrees with his comment that DIA is an intelligence
collection and analysis organization and family outreach programs
are not an appropriate function for its personnel to perform.
The Committee believes that the Department of Defense must make
every effort to ensure that properly trained personnel provide the
necessary and fundamentally important interaction with family
members. It is no secret to members of the military services, or to
families, that casualty affairs has traditionally been a backwater
and has not received the kind of priority it deserves. At a
minimum, personnel must undergo sensitivity training before
undertaking these sensitive positions.
DIA supports the Pacific Command's Joint Task Force - Full
Accounting efforts to resolve POW/MIA cases, according to the
Secretary of Defense. He testified to the Committee that DIA
prepares a case file that provides "detailed explanations of the
incident of loss, biographic data, search and rescue efforts, and
other information that will assist Vietnamese and U.S.
investigators in focusing on a particular case." DIA then becomes
the focal point for analyzing all data that is received and for
making a recommendation to the Department on whether further
investigation of a particular case is required.
The Chief of DIA's Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs supported
this in his statements to the Committee. He said that DIA
maintains a single database which includes refugee camp reporting,
first hand live-sighting reports, Department of State cables,
National Security Agency reports, and Central Intelligence Agency
reports. But during its review, Committee investigators found
instances where relevant information may not have been provided to
DIA on a timely basis. The Committee has not been able to identify
a specific procedural cause for the problem, but believes that it
is important enough to warrant continued review by the Executive
In addition, Committee investigators were unable to find a single,
comprehensive database for all relevant intelligence information on
POW's and MIA's. While DIA may feel that it possesses this single
database, investigators continued to find information from
different sources that DIA apparently did not have on hand.
Moreover, there is no single location for the consolidation of all
Intelligence Community files pertaining to POW's and MIA's. The
Committee believes that since the original reason for maintaining
separate files in separate agencies -- that is, to support
different policy-makers who required different information for
different reasons -- no longer exists, it is important to bring
together all previous intelligence information into one location
and to continue to add to these same files as new intelligence
information is developed.
In his testimony, DIA's Executive Director noted several additional
DIA roles. According to him, the Agency provides intelligence
support for operations conducted to recover human remains.
Additionally, DIA supports POW-MIA activities handled by others in
the executive and legislative branches. For example, the
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
testified that at least from his perspective, the POW/MIA Inter-
Agency Group relies "very extensively" on DIA.
DIA also attempts to keep track of the location where useful
information might be found in Vietnamese files. In testimony
before the Committee, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General John W. Vessey, Jr. (U.S. Army - retired), testified that
DIA has studied the problem of determining which Vietnamese units
might possess information on missing Americans and knows which
records the Vietnamese needed to produce in order to satisfy the
search of the Vietnamese historical record. It is clear from the
information available to the Committee that DIA's focus on this
part of the historical record has been extremely important and
quite useful. There is anecdotal information which indicates that
even the Vietnamese have benefitted from the information DIA has
told them that exists in their own files.
In his testimony, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command,
Control, Communications, and Intelligence (ASD-C3I) stated that he
had staff responsibility within the Department of Defense for
overseeing the operations of DIA. He indicated that POW-MIA
matters are now "treated as one of the highest priorities in the
collection of intelligence." This attitude was echoed by testimony
of the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Security Affairs; unfortunately, these lofty words
never were translated into real action.
Several witnesses provided a different perspective on the priority
that DIA has placed upon the POW-MIA issue. From their testimony,
it is clear that priorities have changed throughout the period
following the Vietnam War. While the history of these changes is
addressed in more detail in the section of the Committee's report
titled, "Change in Intelligence Priorities," the question of
prioritization often arose in the more general context of DIA's
ability to discharge its responsibilities. In that regard, DIA has
conducted several internal reviews to assess its handling of its
DIA Internal Criticisms
Witnesses described to the Committee several DIA internal reviews
of the Agency's support for POW-MIA affairs. The reviews
identified shortcomings and provided recommendations for
improvement. Significantly, several recurring themes are found in
each of the reviews.
In February 1983, the DIA's Inspector General conducted a routine
inspection of the POW-MIA Office as part of its overall annual
inspection schedule for the entire Agency. According to the
Inspection Team Chief at the time, the IG's Office found that the
POW-MIA office was "overexposed to outside pressures" and that it
was not organized for efficient operations. The Team Chief
remembered that DIA's senior management focussed on taking
corrective actions to the problems that his inspection team
The Inspector General's Office conducted another investigation of
the POW-MIA Office in late-1984 and early-1985. The investigators
were trying to determine if inappropriate procedures were being
used to deal with people who reported information concerning POW's
and missing in action. It had been alleged that valuable
information was being lost because people who had come forward were
being discouraged from offering further assistance.
The inspectors found that:
"There was no indication that DIA interviewers used any
procedures that intentionally downgraded, humiliated,
embarrassed or abused the witness.
There was no evidence to suggest that any truly
knowledgeable witness could be discouraged by DIA methods
for making information known.
. . . these allegations of mistreatment were judged to be
responses from individuals who had attempted to use the
PW/MIA issue for their own purposes.
. . . there can be no improvement to the worsening
situation [regarding relations with members of Congress
or with the public] until the policy and public relations
interface is inserted between the DIA and the rest of the
There was evidence that DIA had been and continued to be
manipulated on the PW/MIA issue by entities outside the
In early 1985, DIA conducted an additional internal review by
having other Agency analysts critique the work of the POW-MIA
Office. These analysts concluded that the Office's analytic effort
was of high quality. They also commented that the Office's
perceived need to respond to numerous outside requests diminished
its analytic activities. Moreover, they believed that an
"inordinate" amount of time was being spent on a "legalistic
approach to evidence and analysis" but that outside interest in the
issue probably made this expenditure of time necessary. They also
believed that HUMINT in the field could be improved by adding
In September 1985, DIA's Assistant Deputy Director for Collection
Management, Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, (USN-Ret.) prepared an
internal DIA memo critical of the POW/MIA effort. This memo was
prompted by approximately four months of experience during which he
had responsibility for DIA's support of POW-MIA issues. In his
testimony, Admiral Brooks related that during the period when he
had POW-MIA responsibility at DIA, he had been surprised by the
small number of people who were dedicated to analyzing POW-MIA
questions since it was supposed to be the Nation's number one
priority. He was also disappointed by the analytic process, the
way that files were kept, and the lack of disciplined analytic
In March 1986, Col. Kimball M. Gaines (USAF-Ret.) led an internal
task force at DIA which also was highly critical of the POW/MIA
effort. Col. Gaines and his task force made the following findings:
. unhealthy attitudes;
. almost total lack of management -- working hard but not
. haphazard approach to problems and functions;
. too much direct exposure of the working-level analysts;
. inadequate planning, internal communication, and written
. database is a wasteland;
. working files unprofessional, sloppy, incomplete, no standard
. no disciplined, coherent, collection management effort;
. too much detective work, not enough analysis;
. not nearly enough admin[istrative] and intelligence technician
. significant ADP [automated data processing] deficiencies.
Other senior DIA witnesses commented on the Agency's performance.
In his testimony to the Committee, Lieutenant General Leonard
Perroots (USAF-Ret.), the Director of DIA from 1985-1989,
summarized his findings concerning DIA's handling of the POW-MIA
effort. Concerned about how well DIA was fulfilling its
responsibilities during his tenure, he had directed two separate
reviews of DIA's POW-MIA procedures.
A major valid criticism was that insufficient resources
were being expended to adequately do the collecting,
analysis, and follow-up mission. . . .this was especially
true from '73 to '85.
Another valid criticism. . . is the over-classification
of information on this subject.
Another valid criticism that we ultimately fixed was the
criticism that there was insufficient coordination among
the intelligence agencies to ensure an effective database
and integrated collection and analysis effort.
Another valid criticism was the lack of an adequate
follow-up effort within the intelligence community. The
National collection priority for POW/MIA prior to 1985
ranged from priority 7 to priority 3. We raised it to
Another valid criticism: DIA was too involved in
activities which detracted from its primary mission . .
. some of this was the result of our efforts to respond
to every query from every source, whether it be the
Congress, the press, the League of Families, or just
Another valid criticism. . . is that we not always
adequately conducted timely follow-up of reports.
General Perroots emphasized that there was never a conspiracy to
cover-up information concerning prisoners or missing in action. He
also emphasized that during his tenure, he worked hard to ensure
that there was not a mindset to debunk intelligence reports of live
Americans being held in Southeast Asia.
In his testimony to the Committee, General James A. Williams,
Director of DIA from 1981 to 1985, also emphasized that there was
"no mindset to debunk consciously and there was certainly no effort
to cover up." Similarly, the 1983 DIA IG inspection team
concluded that "analytical work in the PW/MIA office was being
conducted on the assumption that some Americans were still held
captive in Southeast Asia."
The testimony of Col. Joe Schlatter, the head of DIA's POW-MIA
Office from 1987 to 1990 was especially noteworthy. He had been
part of an official review of DIA's effort prior to becoming head
of the office. During his earlier review, he reached two important
conclusions that he later found to be false:
Earlier, he believed that DIA's analytical process was flawed
and that there was a mindset to debunk on the part of the
After becoming head of the office, he determined that the
analytic process was not flawed because the answers to the
important questions could only come from files or officials of
the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Furthermore, he found that
a mindset to debunk did not exist. During his testimony, he
also noted that the recommendations of the most critical
reports of DIA's efforts were implemented.
Col. Peck requested relief from his position as chief of the
POW/MIA office on Feb. 12, 1991 because of frustrations over the
management and activities of the office. Peck's letter restates
most of the criticisms contained in earlier reviews, including
extensive outside interference in the operations of the office. In
his valedictory letter, Peck drew seven conclusions, including that
people were abandoned, that the office is manipulated, that the
League's director is an impediment to DIA's POW/MIA work, and that
DIA is used as "the fall guy" to cover the tracks of others.
Ronald Knecht, Special Assistant for Command, Control,
Communications and Intelligence, headed a management review of
Peck's allegations in April 1991. A small, senior management team
examined files, conducted interviews, and reviewed past reports on
the organization. The team found that Peck was not qualified as an
intelligence manager and was "too close to the Vietnam POW/MIA
issue to be objective."
However, "the management inquiry team could not find any facts that
support Col. Peck's various allegations of impropriety in the
POW/MIA resolution process," the report added. Peck had been warned
several times by the DIA's Director, Lt. Gen. Harry E. Soyster,
about his managerial shortcomings.
The DIA has essentially assumed Lead Agency responsibility within
the Intelligence Community for POW/MIA affairs. Since the
Military Services are primarily responsible for maintaining liaison
with family members of POWs or MIAs and since DIA is the primary
coordinating agency for defense intelligence matters, DIA's central
role in providing intelligence support for POW-MIA affairs is
understandable. But this role has created some problems.
On the one hand, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency is
not routinely responsible for coordinating the efforts of the
Intelligence Community. This responsibility belongs to the
Director of Central Intelligence. While the Director of DIA has
access to the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination
systems of the Intelligence Community, his focus traditionally has
been -- and should remain -- on supporting the Department of
Defense. Numerous examples arose as a result of the Committee's
investigation where intelligence activities outside of the
Department of Defense produced relevant information on POW's and
MIA's. It appears most of this information eventually found its
way to the appropriate personnel within DIA. Timeliness and the
requirements of all-source analysis, however, demand that relevant
intelligence information is available for immediate analysis and
action if necessary. It is imperative that the Intelligence
Community's activities on behalf of POW-MIA affairs be streamlined
On the other hand, the closeness of DIA to the Military Services
has drawn the Agency into a relationship with family members for
which its personnel are untrained and unprepared. As a result,
some family members have focused their frustrations on the Agency.
Objective intelligence support and a sensitive understanding of
family member attitudes are very difficult roles for a single
agency to perform. Intelligence analysis demands a rigorous
examination of ambiguous information. Family member liaison
demands a sympathetic viewpoint tempered by a sense of realism.
DIA has experienced great difficulty in bringing the two
Part of the reason for the sense of frustration felt by some family
members over DIA's performance can be found in DIA's own internal
investigations. Their self-generated internal reviews have created
a lot of the criticisms which others have since echoed. These
critiques reveal recurring themes: a diffusion of the POW-MIA
effort among several agencies; diffusion of DIA's own effort;
excessive influence by activities outside of the U.S. Government;
disagreements over analytical judgments; defensiveness when
confronted by external criticisms. Frustration also has arisen
because external expectations have exceeded DIA's ability to
provide many of the conclusive answers that some believe are
possible. As the current DIA Director noted in his testimony, ."
. . intelligence, given its inherent limitations, simply on its own
cannot resolve these issues [e.g., the ultimate fate of
POW/MIA's]." With the new openness in Southeast Asia, intelligence
analysis is no longer the driving force behind U.S. efforts to
account for missing servicemen.
The Committee believes that the Secretary of Defense must continue
to improve procedures so that relevant intelligence information is
acted upon quickly by the Department, that it is provided to family
members on a timely basis, and that family members are part of a
competent outreach program. The Committee further believes that
effective Intelligence Community support of POW-MIA affairs could
be improved significantly by the creation of an inter-agency
"Center for POW-MIA Affairs" under the Director of Central
Intelligence. The Committee envisions that this center would be
created from existing Intelligence Community resources and would be
staffed periodically by many of the same intelligence personnel who
are currently spread throughout the Community. Effective and
efficient intelligence support will continue to be fundamentally
important to the POW-MIA effort for the foreseeable future.
There should be consideration given about the direct intelligence
support of the POW function being moved from DIA to a more
appropriate spot -- perhaps to CINCPAC to support the Joint Task
Force - Full Accounting in a more timely fashion.
For the past 20 years, there has been nothing more tantalizing for
POW/MIA families than reports that Americans have been seen alive
in Southeast Asia, and nothing more frustrating than the failure of
these reports to become manifest in the form of a returning
American -- with the single exception of Robert Garwood in 1979.
The sheer number of first-hand live-sighting reports, almost 1,600
since the end of the war, has convinced many Americans that U.S.
POWs must have been left behind and may still be alive. Other
Americans have concluded sadly that our failure, after repeated
efforts, to locate any of these alleged POWs means that the reports
are probably not true.
Because of its importance as possible evidence that U.S. POWs are
alive, and also because of its contribution to the ongoing
controversy over the POW/MIA issue, live-sighting reports were a
central focus of the Committee's investigation. Committee Members
and staff investigators spent thousands of hours going over DIA
files; hundreds of requests were made to DIA for additional
documents and information; several staff and Member briefings were
conducted on the subject; and two full days of public hearings were
A live-sighting report is just that -- a report that an American
may have been seen alive in Southeast Asia in circumstances which
are not readily explained. The report could come from anyone -- a
refugee, a boat person, a former political prisoner, a diplomat, a
traveler -- who is or has been in a position to make such an
observation. The information could be firsthand or hearsay; it
could involve one American or many; it could be detailed or vague;
it could be recent or as far back as the end of the war.
The point is that every live-sighting report is important because
it is potential evidence that a U.S. POW may have survived; until
recently, these reports were not treated as important, and accorded
a high priority by DIA, however.
Conversely, there is a significant difference between a live-
sighting report about a Caucasian and one that positively
identifies an American, which admittedly is difficult at any
difference. Other identifying information increases the credibility
of any live-sighting report; however, all of these reports must be
A majority of the live-sighting reports received by U.S.
authorities have come from Southeast Asian refugees, many of whom
were interviewed at refugee camps in Thailand or Hong Kong. In
addition to reports of actual sightings of Americans, other
evidence of live or missing Americans is investigated, as well.
This includes reports of the location of airplane crash sites or
the discovery of dog tags used as military identification by
American soldiers. The total number of first-hand and hearsay live-
sighting reports and other related reports is more than 15,000
Of the 15,000 total, approximately 1,650 are first-hand live-
sighting reports. According to DIA, more than 70 percent of these
reports have been judged accurate and relate to individuals who
returned at Operation Homecoming, to American civilians stranded in
Vietnam in 1975, to Robert Garwood, or to individuals whose remains
have subsequently been returned. Fewer than 100 first-hand live-
sighting reports remain under active investigation. Of these,
approximately 60 involve Americans reported to be in a captive
environment. With the exception of two deserters and Garwood, none
of the reports have been correlated to an American military POW or
MIA alive in Vietnam after Operation Homecoming.
At least since the early 1980's, the handling of live-sighting
reports has been one of the most controversial aspects of the
POW/MIA issue. During 1985 and 1986, three separate internal DIA
reviews criticized the agency's procedures, including its
methodology for analyzing reports, evaluating sources and following
In 1986, for example, a Task Force headed by Gen. Eugene Tighe
. . . Over the years, the perceived mission of the PW/MIA
center at DIA has changed, officially and unofficially,
from analysis of the intelligence flowing into DIA on
this issue to 'resolving the issue' whereby doubt is cast
on the veracity of the intelligence.
The modus operandi of the PW/MIA center evolved toward
undue emphasis in establishing source bona fides, at the
expense of analyzing, from every angle, information
provided by these sources. . . an example of the effort
is one case where four years were spent trying to prove
that a re-education camp which was a key part of one
live-sighting report did not exist (this to disprove the
report), only to find that the camp did indeed exist.
During the intervening years, the report was not analyzed
for its contribution to the overall issue. . .
There is a total absence of rigorous, standard,
disciplined, professional, administrative procedures. .
A. . . basic problem is the bias in expectations that
refugees are not reliable reporters unless proven to be
so. . . yet refugee accounts are the major database. . .
The refugee community that has provided the bulk of the
eyewitness reports strikes us as possibly the finest
human intelligence database in the U.S. post World War II
experience. . . .
Since the Tighe report and other critical reviews were written, the
DIA POW/MIA office has expanded substantially, working conditions
have improved and the ability to conduct meaningful intelligence
collection activities overseas has increased. The United States now
has live-sighting investigators stationed permanently in Bangkok
and Hanoi and expects to have similar positions filled soon in Laos
Throughout the past year, the U.S. has been negotiating with the
Vietnamese concerning the extent to which the American
investigators would be able to carry out short-notice inspections
of prisons and other facilities in order to follow up on live-
sighting reports. Efforts to develop a formal agreement with the
Government of Laos are ongoing. The Cambodian Government has no
objections to U.S. investigators traveling within that country, but
there is no guarantee of protection in areas controlled by the
It is important to note that live-sighting investigations are
conducted jointly with Vietnamese and Cambodian officials. They are
an effort to learn more and an opportunity to reach people who may
provide additional information; they are not "Rambo" missions
conducted covertly. Indeed, the presence of Americans in remote
areas -- especially when they must fly or drive in -- often creates
such a stir that surprise is all but impossible. The argument
always can be made that a prisoner was hidden at the last moment,
but these are sovereign nations and the U.S. must work with the
agreements reached with them about access to their people and
sites. In sum, the Committee agrees with DoD that it is better to
take the opportunity to conduct live-sighting investigations than
to ignore it -- in the hope that U.S. investigators will be able to
piece together information, and reach out to citizens.
During its first year in operation, the Joint Task Force - Full
Accounting received 81 live-sighting reports, 34 of Americans said
to be in captivity and 47 said to be living freely. Of the total,
64 were in Vietnam (23 captive, 41 free), five were in Laos (four
captive, one free), and 12 in Cambodia (seven captive, five free).
The JTF-FA conducted 40 advance-notice investigations, and 16
short-notice investigations; all but one of each were in Vietnam
(Laos has not yet granted permission to conduct joint live-sighting
investigations). In all, 99 live-sighting reports remain
unresolved; 59 are reported to be living in captivity and 40
freely. Of these, 82 are in Vietnam (46 captive, 36 free); six are
in Laos (all reported in captivity), and 11 are in Cambodia (seven
captive, four freely).
In its first year, JTF-FA had provided families with 1,906 new or
requested pieces of information, and 143 live-sighting reports have
been resolved, passing muster with the Inter-Agency Group charged
with reviewing them.
In testimony before the Select Committee, Mr. Robert Sheetz, Chief
of the DIA's POW/MIA office explained his agency's methodology for
evaluating live-sighting reports:
The cycle begins with collection of the (live-sighting)
information and preparation of an initial report. . .
When we receive the report, it is promptly entered into
our database, and an analyst is assigned responsibility
for conducting immediate initial analysis. This first
analytical look includes a complete search of all our
databases to determine if we have any prior reporting
that might shed light on this report. We look at all
reports from the same geographic area. We look for
similarities in stories. We check not only human source
reporting, but also information from other sources
available to us. When relevant, we consult special
sources, such as our prison database. Once the analyst
has completed first stage analysis, he or she determines
whether additional follow-up is necessary and, if so,
what that follow-up should be.
. . . . it may be necessary to reinterview the source to
ask additional questions or to clarify certain issues. It
may also be necessary to interview additional people, for
example, persons identified by the source himself or
other persons who have come from the same village or been
interned in the same prison. . .
Within the last year. . . DIA has finally been able to
employ an additional collection method, sending personnel
into Indochina to investigate reports on the ground.
. . . . as additional information is completed, findings
are collected, and the report is reanalyzed. During this
phase, we may decide to collect additional information,
sending the report back to the collection phase. At some
point, however, analysts in this second, more detailed
stage of analysis, determine that sufficient information
has been collected to evaluate the report.
In the evaluation and validation stage, our analysts
prepare a formal evaluation that summarizes the report,
outlines other information collected, provides our
analysis of the total, and indicates how the report was
evaluated. These summary findings are first reviewed in-
house by other analysts and management.
If approved, the summary findings are presented to a
formal review panel made up of members of the
intelligence community, including representatives from
the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency,
the Military Intelligence Services, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Security Affairs. . .
The outcome of our approved evaluations are disseminated.
. . all go into our information base. All reports
correlated to unaccounted for persons are forwarded to
the appropriate service casualty offices for release to
the next of kin. Cases of high interest are briefed to
the inter-agency group during DIA's weekly briefings to
that body. Unusually significant cases are briefed to the
Congressional oversight committees and to Members of
Congress on a regular basis.
During the Select Committee's hearings, DIA officials cautioned
about reliance on a single source of information and stressed its
own reliance on "all-source" intelligence for evaluating the
validity of live-sighting reports. These sources include human
intelligence, signals intelligence, imagery or photographic
intelligence and information provided by other agencies of the U.S.
During its investigation, the Committee sought to evaluate
carefully some of the past criticisms that have been made of DIA
methodology. These include allegations about a so-called "mindset
to debunk" live-sighting reports, an over-emphasis on evaluating
the source as opposed to the content of a report, a failure to
correlate reports involving the same geographic area and a failure
to follow up more rigorously on hearsay reports.
The examination of intelligence concentrated on the live-sighting
intelligence reports. In the course of the investigation, over
2,000 sources were actually examined page by page by the
investigators. Over 1,300 of these reports have been declassified
and all will be in the ensuing weeks.
The Committee engaged in a spirited and lengthy debate on live-
sighting analysis -- its methodology and meaning. In fact, the
review and analysis of live-sighting reports consumed more time and
staff resources than any other single issue.
The Committee concentrated on two differing approaches for analysis
of the live-sighting reports: one, put forward by a group of
Committee investigators, called a "Cluster Analysis," and the other
articulated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Both approaches
are described and commented on below so that readers can judge for
themselves on this contentious question. The Committee divided
over the validity of these approaches -- ten senators finding the
Committee approach sufficient only to raise additional questions
but meaningless in its capacity to make a judgment that a POW
remained alive. Two senators believe that the cluster analysis
provides evidence Americans remained alive until 1989.
Cluster Analysis Methodology
Some investigators adopted a suggestion that put forward a
Memorandum written by Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, when he
directed the DIA POW office that recommended plotting the live-
sighting reports on a map to see how they cluster. It was
believed that the key advantage of this analytical technique was as
an alternative method for reaching analytical judgements based on
this information contained in a selection of the best sighting
The live-sighting intelligence investigation began in earnest in
February 1992, when the Department of Defense Central Document
Office began sending live-sighting files in redacted form -- to
protect intelligence sources and methods and to honor source
requests for confidentiality -- to the Office of Senate Security.
In March, Room B-78 in the Russell Senate Office Building was
cleared for storing materials up to the secret classification
because the Office of Senate Security ran out of space to store the
files referred by DIA. Most of the analysis of live-sighting files
was performed in this room until it was closed in June because of
a security breach.
A printout of a DIA database containing summary information on
15,559 live-sighting reports received since 1973 was a vital tool
in accomplishing the analysis. The summary is sufficiently
detailed to enable significant correlations in the information even
without having the actual file. Thus, work on assembling
information, refining the universe of data, and working towards
building the cluster map could proceed without the actual files.
The investigators applied 16 filters to reduce the 15,559 to a
manageable universe relevant to the charter of the Senate Select
Committee -- to investigate intelligence reports on men alive and
in captivity after Operation Homecoming. Therefore, the
investigators' working data base was purged of all information
obtained after 1973 but which described sightings prior to
Operation Homecoming. This reduced the universe to about 6,600
sighting files, both hearsay and eyewitness accounts.
Application of other filters further reduced the working data pool
to about 1,500 reports. Filters used in this phase of reduction
included the following, all of which were rejected:
. information that DIA correlated to returned POWs or men known
to have died in captivity during the war, unless an
examination of the file proved that correlation to be not
. all reports of single individuals living freely or in
conditions that did not indicate captivity;
. reports of well-known individuals who returned alive after
1973, including Emmet Kay; the civilians captured during the
fall of South Vietnam; Robert Garwood; and civilians who were
captured by the Vietnamese after the war, such as those lost
in the wreck of the Glomar Java Sea;
. sightings of individuals who proved to be drug and gun
runners, smugglers and other scofflaws;
. sightings of men with wives and families;
. reports of men living singly without indications of captivity;
. reports from sources who retracted their story without
indications of coercion;
. reports of grave sites, dog-tags, and remains;
. reports equated plausibly to other Europeans, dead or alive;
. reports from sources who were clearly lying, based on a
careful review of the file.
As the final filter, the investigators rejected from the pool of
1,500 reports those that lacked specific locational information.
This reduced the pool to 928 reports that were posted to a large
map of Southeast Asia, based on the coordinates that were included
as an entry in the printout of the DIA data base.
Using the same data base, and applying the same filters, with the
same controls, the investigators worked so that any team of
investigators could at least replicate the result of this team and
understand how it conducted its analysis, even if it disagreed with
Review of the Live-Sighting Files and DIA Source Evaluations
The review of the actual files continued while the information for
the map was presented. The aim of the file review was twofold: to
act as a check in the validity of the baseline used to build the
data pool for the cluster analysis and to examine the quality of
the intelligence analysis and follow-up performed by the original
analysts. In order to preserve their own credibility, the
investigators judged that they could not accept a priori any
findings by Defense Department analysts as to the reliability of
the sources. The documents and information in the files either
supported or failed to support assessment of the source. In some
instances, files that had been accepted by the investigators for
inclusion in the cluster analysis were rejected for plotting based
on the review of the actual file. Others that had been rejected
were added, based on the contents of the files.
The investigators early on found that most of the so-called hearsay
source files contained few pieces of paper in them and little
follow-up. The most profitable files to examine were those labeled
first-hand live-sightings or eyewitness accounts. About 225 were
used in the cluster analysis. These files contained lots of paper
and lots of follow-up. Every one of the first-hand accounts posted
to the cluster map by the investigators had been determined to be
a fabrication or a mistaken identification. A key part of the
investigation was to determine whether these judgments had been
The guidelines for file review involved a simple test: whether the
documents in the file contained sufficient information for the
investigators to reach the same conclusion that was reached by the
original analyst. In other words, was the DIA analysis
legitimately replicable. Thus, when a source passed one or more
polygraph tests but was labeled a fabricator, such as source 995 in
Laos, a close examination of the documents in the file was
undertaken to determine whether the file contained evidence that
supported a finding of fabrication or mistaken identification of
the same quality as that provided by the source. Thus, an attempt
by the original analyst to refute the direct testimony of an
eyewitness by using generalized information, i.e. "We knew there
were Soviets in the area, he probably saw Soviets" was considered
insufficient reason to reject a report (Source 724).
Refutations based on general statements by inmates and others that
the did not hear of or see any U.S. POWs were accepted at face
value. The fact the many inmates did not see POWs, while few did
under special conditions, was not considered a sufficient basis to
reject a report of direct, eyewitness testimony by one of the few.
The investigators examined alleged discrepancies in various
accounts to determine whether they were fatal to the sighting
report as was often alleged. The litmus test was always
replicability based on the contents of the files provided by the
By clustering information based on military grid coordinates and
then organizing the information in each cluster chronologically,
the investigators were able to perform cross-referencing of
information. In one closed session briefing on 2 July 1992, the
investigators briefed the Members that intelligence reports showed
that POWs were taken into Laos from Vietnam at two periods, most
prominently during the buildup of tensions that led to the Chinese
invasion of northern Vietnam and in its aftermath. Defense
Department analysts present testified that "there was no evidence
that any POWs had ever been taken to Laos." The investigators read
a list of 12 Defense Department sources that contradicted that
statement. This disclosed a pattern of reporting from separate
sources that was otherwise apparent. None of the 12 files
contained any evidence that they had ever been cross referenced to
Similarly, the investigators found 13 source files in which the
source claimed to have seen POWs in the Hanoi Ministry of National
Defense Complex, known as the Citadel, or to have worked on
underground facilities used to house POWs. None of the files
showed indications that they had been matched or related to each
Key Events in the Investigation
Closed session briefings on the analytical approach used by the
investigators and on what the approach showed about the
intelligence were held on 9 April, on 12 May, and on 2 July
1992. Defense Department analysts were present at each session.
In preparation for the hearings on live-sightings, a final closed
session meeting was held on 29 July to enable the Defense
Department an opportunity to preview the hearing.