MIA Facts Site

Report of the
Senate Select Committee
POW-MIA Affairs:
Section 14

Possible POW Signals

Because a photograph of a possible pilot E&E symbol equates to a
form of physical evidence, this investigation examined
possibilities, to which a tangible comparison could be made to
known facts. As a hypothetical example, would a four digit number
seen on a photographic print from the mid-1980's, and which matches
a classified authenticator number of a pilot listed as MIA,
constitute evidence of a living POW? This was a critical question
to be addressed by this investigation.

If a POW still were being held captive in Southeast Asia after
Operation Homecoming, he would, inter alia, rely upon his survival
training to attempt to communicate with potential rescuers. This
assumption led investigators to an examination of "overhead
imagery" -- photographic copies of images obtained by various
collection methods as viewed from an aerial perspective-- to
determine if symbols were being written on the ground in Southeast
Asia after Operation Homecoming. Not only was the existence of the
symbols important to the Committee, the Committee was also
interested in follow-up actions taken by the Government to any
symbols that had been detected.

It rapidly became quite clear that part of the answer to the
existence of symbols lay in "imagery interpretation" or "imagery
analysis." Because of the technical characteristics of the form of
collection, the resolution -- or precision of detail -- of the
objects shown on an image can lead different viewers to different
interpretations of what is depicted. The interpretations are based
partly on scientific analysis -- the measurement of the size of an
object, for example -- and partly on subjective reasoning. All-
source analysis helps to put an object's origins into context.

In several aerial photographs of Southeast Asia, Committee
investigators detected the appearance of suspicious markings on the
ground that could have been made by people wishing to signal their
presence to an airborne viewer. The significance of this to the
POW issue was immediately obvious. The Committee asked JSSA to
determine if the markings corresponded to symbols provided to
pilots during the war. During the course of this evaluation, JSSA
identified what appeared to be additional symbols and numbers, some
of which corresponded to authenticator numbers, escape and evasion
symbols, western-style surnames, or numbers relevant to years of
the Vietnam War.

The Committee was faced with two principal arguments put forward by
DIA. First, while DIA concludes that two symbols clearly existed
on the ground, DIA's analysis concluded that the remaining markings
were unintentional phenomena of man, nature or the photo process.
For example, DIA resolved that some of the possible symbols were
the results of a combination of thickened rice paddy dike walls,
shadows, burn marks in field, tree, logs, and rice residue from
stacking of harvested rice. JSSA testified that the use of
thickened rice paddy walls, burn marks, logs, trees, man-made-
objects such as stone walls and leaving rice residue in the ground
as a means to leave a signal, are consistent with SERE training. On
the two symbols which DIA concluded were intentional symbols, the
1973 "TH" photo and the 1988 "USA - possible K," DIA cannot explain
their origin.

It was thus necessary for the Committee to determine if such
symbols would be consistent with standard methods and training
taught to pilots during the war. In this regard, the Committee has
received written assessments from the proponent agency for training
the creation of pilot distress signals, the Joint Services SERE
Agency (JSSA), as well as testimony in depositions and hearings,
whether these symbols appear to be consistent with SERE training.

JSSA was not asked to perform photo interpretation, only to assess
whether the possible symbols seen on photos match known distress
symbols used during the war and judge if they appeared to conform
to methods of manufacture taught to pilot during survival training.

As the Committee learned during the course of its investigation,
these judgements became very problematic. The fundamental problem
was to determine if the symbols actually existed as markings on the
ground. Nevertheless, JSSA personnel identified what appeared to
be other symbols on the print, including a number of 4-digit
authenticator numbers at sites of possible symbols detected by DIA.

They correlated 19 of those authenticator numbers with numbers
belonging to Americans still missing in Southeast Asia. They also
identified what appeared to be a name scratched in a field near a
prison compound, in a 1992 photo. The significance of this
possible symbol is reflected in testimony received during the
Committee's hearing on symbols:

Senator Grassley: Mr. Dussault, did you also think that
you saw faintly scratched in the field?

Mr. Dussault: Yes, sir.

Senator Grassley: Without telling us the name, did you
try to match it with the names on the missing list?

Mr. Dussault: About three days later, yes, sir. At first
I didn't realize it was a name.

Senator Grassley: Did it match any names?

Mr. Dussault: To my recollection, it did.

Senator Grassley: Did you see, 72 TA 88?

Mr. Dussault: Yes, sir. To my recollection that's what
I saw.

Senator Grassley: How did you interpret that?

Mr. Dussault: At first, my first interpretation of that
is -- 72 was the year the guy went down. TA was his E&E
code letters. And 88 could have been the year he arrived
there or the year he left. And that was my
interpretation. I don't know if that's even close.
That's just speculation.

. . . . Senator Grassley: When you saw 72 TA 88, did it
match a person that was missing?

Mr. Dussault: Sir, again, we are talking a year, two
letters, TA -- and those are E&E code letters that
applied during 1972.

Senator Grassley: when you found the name, though, did it
match when that person went down?

Mr. Dussault: Yes, sir.

Intelligence Community Assessment

In testimony on October 15, 1992, the Assistant Secretary of
Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (ASD
C3I) provided the results of DIA's assessment. During his
testimony, he emphasized several points which helped to clarify the
importance of experience in understanding overhead imagery.

He noted that the photograph used for the original analysis was a
poor medium from which to draw conclusions. Imagery analysts do
not use photographs. Instead they analyze the medium used by the
imagery collector. These media are either film or digital
representations. When other media -- such as photographs -- are
derived from the original form and used for analysis, new
information is entered into the image because a photograph
represents an "averaging" of the information contained in the
original medium. This could provide a potentially false view of
what was originally collected by the aerial platform.

The ASD C3I also noted that imagery analysts use several important
tools to assist their analysis: high technology high resolution
work stations, laser light, or powerful optics. Since some of this
technology is classified, he mentioned that during the Committee's
open hearing, line drawings would be used to approximate the images
that DIA analyzed. In a classified session, however, Committee
Members had the opportunity to view the original imagery. With
this background, the ASD C3I testified to DIA's assessment of the
suspicious markings found on the photographs.

According to the ASD C3I, two sets of symbols are clearly man-made.

The first is the symbol, 1973 TH, taken on July 10, 1973, on the
Plain of Jars in Laos. Some interpreters believe that the "TH"
could be a "TA" and the 1973 could be "1573." DIA attempted to
correlate the four different interpretations (1973 TH, 1973 TA,
1573 TH, 1573 TA) to classic distress symbols, escape and evasion
symbols, or personal authenticator numbers. Although there was no
exact correlation, the ASD C3I offered several alternatives as
possible explanations for the ground symbols. These included:
markings made by the crew of a CIA-operated aircraft downed eight
kilometers from the site on May 7, 1973; symbols made by Thai
personnel captured in the area by Pathet Lao forces; markings made
by members of the crew of an U.S. AC-130 gunship downed 300 miles
away in southern Laos in December 1972. DIA believes that none of
the alternatives are definitive and has concluded that "the origin
and meaning of this symbol is unexplained and probably will remain

According to DIA, the second obviously man-made symbol is a USA and
potential K image taken on January 22, 1988 in a rice paddy in
northern Laos near Sam Neua. The ASD C3I testified that CIA
discovered the symbols on the image in December 1988 and
immediately brought them to DIA's attention. By then, the symbols
were no longer visible on the ground, but, according to the ASD
C3I, "investigative steps were promptly taken." In the period
since the testimony, DIA has furnished information to the Committee
which indicates that in November 1992, a joint DoD investigation
team has discovered a reasonable explanation for the symbols that
existed in January 1988.

The investigation team traveled to the rice paddy in November 1992
where the symbols had been seen four years previously. Permission
was granted two days after requesting it from the Government of
Laos; it was the DIA that "sat on" the investigation for four
years. They interviewed the owner of the field who revealed that
his son had "made the USA symbol by copying it from an envelope
because he liked the shape of the letters." The envelope had
contained correspondence to the owner sent by a family relative
living in Colorado in the United States. The owner explained that
the 1988 envelope no longer existed, but he produced two recent
letters from his relatives in Colorado. The investigators also
talked to the son who confirmed his father's explanation and noted
that in addition to the USA symbol, he also had made a stick figure
of an airplane and "a symbol he called a dragon head." The son
said that he made the symbols by forming arm loads of rice straw
into shapes of the letters or symbols and setting them on fire.
The investigation team accepted the explanation and noted that
local Lao officials seemed surprised by the revelations of the two

According to the ASD C3I, DIA discounted all of the other symbols.
Explanations of the various suspicious markings varied
considerably. Some were discounted because all-source analysts
believed that there was no evidence that American prisoners were
being held in the area at the time the symbol was made. Other
markings were attributed to: shadows; trees; combinations of
shadows, bushes and trees; natural scarring of the ground;
limestone outcroppings and logs. In his testimony, the ASD C3I
emphasized that JSSA personnel are trainers and are not responsible
for and have little experience in accounting for MIA's. Moreover,
they are not imagery interpreters, do not have imagery
interpretation equipment, and do not have access to intelligence
information that would enable them to conduct all-source analysis.
While well-intentioned, their original identifications lacked the
experience and training essential to making such judgments.

JSSA Findings

JSSA, formerly the Air Force Intelligence Support Agency, has been
the DoD executive agent for POW code of conduct, survival, evasion,
resistance and escape training. In 1991, Secretary Cheney
designated JSSA the "executive agent for DoD U.S. POW/MIA matters
and is responsible for developing, in coordination with the
services and DoD agencies" a new DoD directive on managing the
services escape, resistance functions and related code-of-conduct
issues. It is JSSA that devises pilot distress symbols and trains
how to employ them.

JSSA, as documented in written evaluations, deposition and
testimony before the Committee, indicated that the 1973 "TH," the
1975 roof-top markings, the 1981 possible 52K," the 1987 possible
"arrow P', the 1988 "USA possible K," the possible 1988 markings at
Mouang Tan, and the possible name and associated numbers at Dong
Mang in 1992 are consistent with standard SERE training, and
expected actions that could be taken by a POW in captivity, or
having escaped detention. They did not address whether the symbols
are shadows, photographic anomalies or unintentional markings, only
that they appear consistent with known symbols and methods.

In regard to those markings which DIA assessed to be thickened rice
paddy walls, burn marks or residue from rice stacks, JSSA had
indicated that any of these would be reasonable methods of
clandestinely manufactured symbols and are consistent with SERE
practices. Even the clever use of shadows can be used to cast
symbols, during certain times of the day. The potential use of
natural geographic features to produce symbols, or even portions of
symbols, is in fact a method JSSA uses to train pilots under the
most restricted types of conditions.

Although downed pilots ideally would be able to construct signals
large enough to be seen from any passing aircraft or satellite, it
is the individual's security situation on the ground that dictates
how blatant or discreet he must be in the signal's construction.
Whether a detainee, under close or continuous observation, or an
evader hiding in an area of high enemy activity, either would
probably have to muster all his ingenuity to construct a symbol.
Accepting the premise that intentional symbols may be scarcely
visible or a clever mixture of natural and manmade objects has
contributed to the extremely difficult task of confirming the
presence of several alleged symbols.

Conversely, one reasonable criticism of the "USA" symbol, is the
question of how a POW could have made such a blatant symbol while
under detention. The "USA" is clear and unmistakable, while the
possible "K" nearby is faint. Of course, assuming the symbols to
be legitimate and not a hoax, the "USA K" would not necessarily
have to be made by a POW, who was at that time under detention. In
theory, it could have been made by an escapee or the boy who
allegedly made the USA because he liked the shape of the letters.
However, in its June 29, 1992 written analysis of the "USA" symbol,
JSSA outlined a possible scenario in which the symbol could have
been made by a POW under detention:

If an American crew member were living in this area and
part of a labor force working these {redacted} and was
part of the {redacted} where he definitely could have
made a "K" in the marshalling area by repeatedly walking
the same path and ensuring he stacked {redacted} where he
needed them to create a "K." If the crew member happened
to become frustrated after receiving no response to his
"K" signal, it is reasonable to expect him to make
progressively more blatant signals, including a "USA."

JSSA goes on to state that:

"While some may consider it unwise to use blatant
signals, history has shown that sometimes such signals
are the only ones that get the appropriate attention."
DIA determined that with the exception of the "USA" and the 1973
"TH" that all other possible symbols were the result of
unintentional acts of man, nature, or photographic anomalies. This
gap between what appears on photographic prints as consistent with
known SERE training and what disappears on the light table, or
appears as shadows or vegetation, is why an independent evaluation
was required by the Committee.

Intelligence Community Search for Evader Symbols Since 1973

This is the first Congressional investigation to inquire into this
aspect of the POW issue. No other Congressional investigative
committee or body has conducted a general investigation into the
possibility that markings observed on the ground may be evidence of
live POWs in Southeast Asia.

The Committee was rather surprised to find that neither DIA or CIA
imagery analysts were familiar with Vietnam pilot distress symbols,
or had a requirement to look for possible symbols, prior to the
Committee's inquiry. This was confirmed under oath by imagery
analysts from both agencies. Both agencies have since been briefed
on the symbols program by JSSA, and now possess this, but there was
no evidence to indicate the intelligence community was attuned to
watch for possible signals in Southeast Asia after Operation

In the deposition of Warren Gray, an all-source analyst at DIA, was
the statement that DIA imagery analysts have always looked for
evader signals. This statement, is inconsistent, however, with
interviews and depositions of DIA and CIA imagery analysts.

Chuck Knapper, DIA imagery analyst, stated he was unfamiliar with
distress symbols before committee investigators asked him about
symbols in an interview, in April of 1992. Mr. Knapper is
DIA's principal imagery analyst (one of two) dedicated to the DIA's
POW imagery task.

He also stated under oath, that although Committee investigators
suggested he contact JSSA to become educated in the distress symbol
program, he did not arrange for such a briefing until June.
During his deposition he was asked:

"So for the first six to seven months that you were
working POW imagery analysis you were not familiar with
evader symbols?"

Knapper answered, "That's correct."

In response to the question whether he had been looking
for evader symbols in the photography before he met with
JSSA he replied, " I was not."

When asked if his predecessor had ever given him the
indication that evader symbols were something DIA was
looking for in prior years, Knapper indicated that he had

The Committee found a similar lack of knowledge on pilot distress
symbols at CIA, both in interviews and depositions. In a meeting
with members of CIA's Office of Imagery Analysis (OIA), analysts
admitted they were unfamiliar with distress symbols and had no
records or tables of symbols used during the war. Unlike DIA, the
analysts at CIA admitted they should have been aware of the
program, and expressed sincere interest in receiving as much
information as possible. Acting on the suggestion by the
Committee, CIA immediately arranged a briefing by JSSA and
distributed tables of Vietnam ear evader symbols to their analysts.

In a subsequent deposition, Roger Eggert, a CIA imagery analyst,
confirmed what had been learned in interviews regarding his
agency's lack of knowledge about this program. He was asked:

"Were pilot distress symbols something that you had ever
studied before spring of this year?"

His answer: "No."

"Was it anything - were pilot distress symbols anything
that you ever looked for in any of your imagery analysis
before spring of this year?"

His answer: "No."

This lack of knowledge about pilot distress symbols is but another
example of bureaucratic jealousies or incompetent coordination in
critically important analyses.

Contrary to the suggestion of some Committee investigators that
"there had not been a purposeful effort to search for distress
symbols," some Senators agreed that there has indeed been such an
effort. In fact, the two alleged E&E signals given most prominence
by the Committee were discovered by U.S. Government imagery
analysts. The Committee believes that a recommendation to review
old photography, starting from 1973, would divert substantial
effort from current operations, would duplicate efforts that have
been in place for years, and would cause the expenditure of large
amounts of manpower and money with no expectation of success.

Some Members also agreed that JSSA has no imagery analysts
available, has no intelligence collection or analysis capability,
and has no background in current intelligence operations or
analysis relative to the POW/MIA issue. JSSA was not consulted
because it was not in a position to offer assistance or

The Report states that JSSA concluded that the four symbols in
question were consistent with the SERE methods and actions expected
of downed pilots; some Members agreed that this statement is
misleading to the point it reflects adversely on JSSA. The symbols
in question are consistent with expected actions only because they
are symbols, they assert. These "symbols" do not relate to any
evader signal in use during the Vietnam War.

Another indicator that DIA has done little to address the
possibility of distress symbols appearing on photography is its
inability to account for the Army's, Navy's or Marine Corps' pilot
authenticator numbers. JSSA still preserves those for the Air
Force. As recorded in the hearing of October 15, DIA does not know
what happened to the numbers.

This is a significant failure for several reasons. First, it
supports the theory that DIA has never taken the possibility of
symbols seriously. Mr. Andrews' contention, in the hearing of
October 15, that authenticator numbers were not meant to be laid
out on the ground is misleading. Authenticator numbers were
intended to be used as a means for pilots to identify themselves,
primarily over their survival radio, immediately after shoot-down.
This was a safeguard against deceptive enemy radio broadcasts,
attempting to lure rescue helicopters into an ambush.

In reality, authenticator numbers were used through a number of
different media during the war, including ground signals. The
"1973, 1573 or 1933 TH" symbol is a probable example of an
authenticator being used as a signal, in conjunction with that
individual's primary and backup evader symbols.

In theory, therefore, if a POW still living in captivity, were to
attempt to communicate by ground signal, smuggling out a note, or
by whatever means possible, and he used his personal authenticator
number to confirm his identity, the U.S. Government would be unable
to provide such confirmation, if his number happened to be among
those numbers DIA cannot locate.

DIA Investigation of Possible Symbols

DIA attempted to investigate the 1973 "TH" and 1988 "USA" and, in
fact, still consider both as open investigations. DIA became aware
of the 1973 photograph in 1976 and the "USA" symbol nearly one year
after it was taken. The delay in receiving these photos for
evaluation must be attributed to DIA inaction and a passive
approach to indications of the possibility of live Americans.

The area of the USA site had not been visited before the Committee
delegation landed in that valley in April 1992, nearly four years
later. According to the testimony of DIA's POW Operations Chief,
no other investigation or site visit was undertaken for the other
symbols prior to 1992. The possible "arrow and P" symbols
detected on 1987 imagery near Ban Nampo, Laos were not discovered
until a 1992 review of old imagery, responding to a Committee
request. This site is currently under DIA investigation.

DIA Investigation of the "1973 TH" Symbol. A series of low-level
photographs clearly showing a set of four digit numbers, followed
by the probable letters "TH" or "TA" was first imaged on May 20,
1973, in north central Laos. The site was apparently imaged again,
with the numbers and letters still visible, as late as 10 July
1973. DIA did not receive the film, taken by a low-level
reconnaissance platform, until 1976. JSSA first received the
photograph for review in the mid-1980s.

Some have referred to the photograph as the "Thomas Hart" symbol,
because of the "TH" letters stomped in the tall elephant grass.
Both DIA and JSSA rule out the possibility that Captain Hart could
have traveled some 300 miles from the crash site of his AC-130
aircraft to the location of the "TH" symbol. DIA believes that the
symbol was possibly made by one of Emmet Kay's Hmong crew members
who went down with Kay's civilian aircraft on 7 May 1973, some 8
kilometers away. Because Emmet Kay has confirmed he did not make
the symbol, DIA has made several attempts to locate Kay's former
crew members, but has been unable to substantiate that any one of
them made the symbol.

JSSA contends that it is unlikely the symbol, a possible
authenticator number followed by a possible primary and back-up
distress symbol, was manufactured by Emmet Kay or any of his crew.
First, he and his crew members were captured in a relatively short
period of time, and it would have been difficult to travel 8
Kilometers to the site of the symbol. Second, non-U.S. employees
were not permitted access to classified authenticator numbers and
distress symbols. And most importantly, JSSA notes that all were
captured within three hours, yet someone had to maintain the "TH"
symbol by continuously keeping the elephant grass stomped down,
until at least 10 July when it was still clearly visible, nearly
two months later.

JSSA also notes that the 20 May 1973 photograph, which had the best
resolution among the photos, seems to reveal the number to more
probably be a "1933." JSSA stated in their 15 October testimony
that they would compare this number with these authenticator
numbers still available, to determine if a specific name could be
matched. DIA's investigation of this symbol remains open, although
determining the fate of its maker after so many years is remote.

DIA Investigation of the "USA" and Possible "K" Symbols. In
December of 1988, CIA discovered what clearly appeared to be a
large "USA" etched into a rice paddy near the northern Lao village
of Sam Neua. It was discovered in a routine search not related to
the POW issue, nearly a year after the photograph was taken. It
was referred immediately to DIA for evaluation.

DIA imagery analysts determined that the "USA" was man-made and
made intentionally to be seen from the air. It measured 37.5 feet
by 13.5 feet. Beneath the "USA" some scarring was noted that "may
be interpreted as the letter "K" or the numbers "31" or "34,"
according to a 23 December 1988 DIA imagery analysis. Lack of
recent coverage prior to the January 1988 photograph prevented DIA
from determining how long the symbol may have been present.

The Committee investigation found no evidence that DIA originally
considered the possibility that the possible "K," beneath the USA,
might be a pilot distress symbol. Though the "USA" does not
conform to any recognized evader symbols used during the war, "K"
was in fact a legitimate symbol.

The appearance of a possible appendage on the "K" seen near Sam
Neua, which conforms to a classified symbol used during the war,
should have triggered a far more aggressive and timely response to
investigate the symbol's origins. In fact, however, not one
document in DIA's files dating from 1988 and 1989, mentioned the
possibility that the "K" could have been a pilot distress symbol.

When shown the photograph, for the first time in 1992 by Committee
investigators, members of JSSA were previously unaware of the
photo's existence and moved to the conclusion that the "K" could
possibly be a valid distress signal. Mr. Erickson and Mr. Dussault
of JSSA restated this opinion in testimony during the hearing of
October 15:

Chairman Kerry: Now, with respect to the K up there, it
has been referred to occasionally as a walking K. Without
getting into great details about walking, does that
appear to be a walking K?

Mr. Erickson, JSSA: To me, it does.

Chairman Kerry: It does?

Mr. Erickson: Yes, it does.

Chairman Kerry: And it has the walking appearance,
whatever that extra -- I don't want to get into
any classified area. Do you believe it's
distinctly a K?

Mr. Dussault, JSSA: It to me looks like a K, and that's
how I think we ought to consider it. . . . . . ..

Mr. Dussault went on explain why the "USA," though not
conforming to known distress signals, should not be

Mr. Dussault: Sir, in our training we try to bring out
the bottom line, and that is communicate any way you can
who you are and that you're there. And if the individual
has tried a particular method and it hasn't worked, try
something else. And in this case, in my mind, it's a
possibility that the individual may have tried over the
last 15 years various signals. None of those got any
attention, so he's going to go with a blatant USA.

Chairman Kerry: Fair enough. Mr. Secretary (Andrews),
do you have any comment on any of this?

Mr. Andrews: No,I don't have a disagreement with Mr.

Chairman Kerry: So, you people would accept what they
have said as the possibilities and, in fact, you are
treating it that way. Is that correct?

Mr. Andrews: Absolutely. We don't rule out that it was
made by someone deliberately trying to make a K.

The Committee was unable to resolve its concern over DIA's failure
to bring JSSA in to evaluate the "USA" photo, at the earliest stage
of DIA's investigation. When DIA was asked in writing to explain
why JSSA had not been shown the "USA and possible K" in 1988, DIA
responded in a 23 July 1992 memorandum, signed by Mr. Robert
Sheetz, DIA, that:
It is the judgement of DIA that the possible "K" evader
symbol is most likely not an evader symbol, but is merely
the spoil created when the USA letters were constructed
by scraping away harvested rice stubble to expose the
bare earth. . . . Having judged that the supposed letter
K was most likely not an evader symbol and lacking other
confirmation that U.S. POWs could be held in the area,
DIA did not involve JSSA.

This explanation failed to allay Committee concern, when DIA
imagery analyst, Mr. Chuck Knapper, testified in a deposition that
the conclusion that the "K" was created by dumping rice spoil, was
new analysis from his own evaluation completed in 1992. His
analysis thus differed from original DIA analysis in 1988, which
referred to the possible "K" as ground scarring, not spoil. This
raises the obvious question of how DIA could dismiss the possible
"K" as an evader symbol in 1988 because it was merely spoil, as Mr.
Sheetz described it, when DIA did not conclude it was spoil until
1992. Therefore, the question as to why JSSA was not shown the
photo in 1988, has not been answered satisfactorily.

Through much of the Committee's investigation of the USA symbol,
DIA implied that the "USA" symbol was possibly made at the
direction of a POW activist operating from Bangkok. DIA admits
this has not been substantiated by any evidence, but offers one
plausible explanation. As previously mentioned, in late November
1992, however, a U.S. defense team again visited the site of the
USA symbol. On that visit they talked to a farmer and his son who
stated he made the USA symbol in the rice paddy, based on postal
marking on an envelope mailed from relatives in the U.S. It should
be noted that the son said he made the symbols by burning piles of
rice stalks, versus either dumping spoil or digging.

The Committee has asked DIA what follow-up actions would be taken
to confirm the validity of the farmer's, and his son's story, and
if they considered the USA case closed. In a letter dated
December 17, 1992, forwarded by CDO, DIA responded that:

None of the previous actions underway to investigate the
area of the symbol have been halted; as a matter of fact,
classified, sensitive collection actions remain active
and will be expanded as a means by which to check into
the background and credibility of the rice farmer and his
sons, and may well be expanded to cover all Lao officials
introduced to the DoD team that investigated the symbol.
. . . . . No one ever said the symbol was fraudulent or
that the case is closed.

Changing DIA Analysis of the Possible Symbols. The Committee found
it interesting that current DIA analysis often contradicts earlier
DIA or CIA analyses, particularly in cases when previous analysis
lends credence to the validity of a symbol's authenticity. DIA
attributes this to "reevaluations." There are no cases where DIA
changed its analysis in the opposite direction. There are two
principal examples of this.

On the 1975 Dong Mang roof-markings, where a possible "K" was
spelled out in morse-code, DIA dismissed the possibility that this
facility would hold Americans by calling it a reeducation facility,
that held primarily ARVN prisoners in the late seventies. Their
determination was based on refugee reporting. DIA supported their
contention that the facility would not hold sensitive American
prisoners by showing the Committee a photograph of the facility
with its front gate open.

CIA, however, noted in 1976 that the facility was "unique" in the
way it was constructed:

Walls within the compound physically and visually
segregated the prisoners. . . . It is secluded in a
relatively remote area and has an access control point on
the road leading to the camp. . . . The visual
segregation of the prisoners indicates this was not a
forced labor camp.

CIA went on to note that the "only other known prison that used
internally walled compounds to segregate prisoners was the former
POW compound at Dan Hoi."

In the case of the "52" seen inside a prison garden at a camp in
Laos in 1980, DIA states in 1992 that the "52" probably did not
exist because of "variations in the size and structure of the
possible numbers from observation to observation." This,
however, directly contradicts DIA's own analysis from 1980/81,
which states in a February 23, 1981, compilation of imagery read-
outs over a number of days, that "the number "52" is still visible
with no change. . . .this lack of change indicates that the
numerals may have been dug into the earth."

CIA analysis at the time is summarized in an extract from a Jan. 6,
1981 "Spot report":

Analysis of further imagery of 30 December 1980 located
what appears to be the number "52," possibly followed
agricultural plot inside the outer perimeter of the above
facility. DIA is unable to ascribe any particular
significance to the number, but "K" was given to U.S.
pilots as a ground distress signal. It is thus
conceivable that this represents an attempt by a prisoner
to signal to any aircraft that might pass overhead."

In referring to the "52" symbol in testimony before the Committee,
Assistant Secretary Andrews stated that when you look at the "total
all-source picture, then I believe that it is not an unexplained
symbol." It is noteworthy that multiple reports of possible POWs
under detention in this vicinity, including other intelligence
sources, met the priority requirement to look for this camp on
imagery. (See Covert Operations Section.)

In conjunction with multiple HUMINT reports pointing to POWS being
interned here, it was the discovery of the symbols in the camp's
garden that energized the intelligence community and triggered a
serious reaction by our government, the details of which can not be
discussed in an unclassified format. The actions taken do
not correspond to intelligence information deemed to be low in
confidence. Andrews' conclusion in 1992 clearly was not shared by
the Intelligence Community in 1981.

Committee Independent Imagery Analysis

The Committee hired two consultants, with years of experience in
the field of imagery intelligence, to provide an independent
evaluation of those possible symbols presenting the most
controversy. Each conducted his own analysis independent of the
other and arrived at his own individual conclusion. DIA provided
each consultant work space and the necessary equipment in which to
perform his analysis, primarily through the use of the IDEX-2 and
Zoom-500 work stations.

In addition to being asked to evaluate the "USA possible K" at Sam
Neua, the "Arrow P" at Ban Nampo, and the "A5" "LO" markings at
Muang Tan, all of which had been previously identified by DIA, the
consultants were asked to evaluate the alleged numbers and markings
seen by JSSA on prints. This included numerous numbers in the
Muang Tan area, JSSA believed to be possible authenticator numbers,
and the name and numbers seen in a field outside Dong Mang (Dong
Vai) prison, in which JSSA matched to the name of a MIA.

After his initial evaluation, each consultant presented his
findings in a written report to the Committee. A second evaluation
was performed by each consultant on possible symbols where
differences arose. Those symbols on which reconciliation could be
achieved, and those where it could not, were then presented to the
Committee in a joint report, outlining each consultant's rationale
for his final position. Although a consensus was reached on the
majority of symbols, key differences remained.

Committee's Independent Consultants. Because DIA asserts these
authenticator numbers and names identified by JSSA disappear when
enlarged or put on the light table, the Committee employed two
independent photography consultants to determine why these
"symbols" appear on the prints and if they, in fact, exist.

The two consultants' analyses reaffirmed the conclusion that
imagery analysis is an art as well as a science. It often fell to
professional judgement calls on whether faint traces or textures
seen on the image were intentionally made, or the normal
photographic anomalies common to film processing and mixtures of
natural shading and ground vegetation. The principal problem
centered on determining whether extremely faint appearances, could
have been aged symbols made weeks or months before the image, or
possibly discreet attempts to place a symbol, simply because the
maker would have been risking his life to construct a more blatant
signal. To accept the premise that a POW under detention would
only construct large block letters is limiting and would seriously
undercut any attempt to conduct an open-minded evaluation.

Both consultants discounted most of the symbols identified by JSSA
personnel at Mouang Tan. Most of these were attributed to tonal
textures of the imagery media, naturally occurring configurations
of terrain, vegetation, soil texture, farming products, and man-
made objects (such as buildings). One consultant put a 30 percent
probability of the "K" near the "USA" being intentionally man-made
as a symbol, while the other assessed a less than 20 percent
probability that it was a legitimate symbol.

One consultant initially identified two other suspicious looking
markings. He later discounted these as intentional distress
symbols for the same reasons as he discounted those identified
previously. He noted that even dedicated analysts might initially
be led astray by the imagery.

The "fuzziness" of the paper prints and the eye-catching
nature of the shadows provided the environment for a
dedicated analyst to visualize what he hoped to see
through the integration of the random objects -- similar
to a "connect-the-dots" puzzle or interpreting a
Rorschach test ink blot.

He also added comments concerning the use of shadows to create a
symbol on the ground:

The reason that shadow identification is necessary is
that they change relative to the terrain, based on the
time of day, season, and the taking parameters of the
image collection system; therefore, they cannot be used
to produce symbols.

The second consultant gave a 60 percent call of confidence on a
portion of a possible name seen by JSSA at Mouang Tan. In his
final report, he identified seven markings that in his opinion
represented either purposefully made symbols or merited further
analysis and "special processing." Several of these were possible
markings not previously detected by JSSA.

At Dong Mang (Dong Vai) prison, on June 1992 photography, he
observed what he believed to be a "GX 2527" etched in a field near
the prison. He rated this at 100 percent level of confidence in
his initial report, and did not change his position during the
joint review. JSSA has confirmed that "2527" matches the
authenticator number of a serviceman still unaccounted for in
Southeast Asia. In the same vicinity, he also found a possible
name, in which he originally gave a 70 percent confidence call.
His position remained unchanged after the joint review.

He also identified what he believed to bee the number "1285",
possibly followed by a "K" or "2", and "2852" followed by an "X" in
1988 photography of the Sam Neua site. He originally attributed a
50 percent confidence level to those possible symbols, however he
determined they were not purposeful symbols in the joint review.

Review of these symbols by the other consultant did not result in
agreement. His opinion attributed the symbols to shadows,
vegetation or man-made features, such as walls. Nonetheless, the
joint review did result in the negation of several other symbols
including the "NT 2222", which had been originally identified by
JSSA and initially given a 50 percent level of confidence by one

Since his conclusions left open to question the interpretations of
several markings, the Committee requested DIA to conduct a final
review of the relevant imagery. For this review, the Committee
asked DIA to include analysts from the National Photographic
Interpretation Center and CIA.

The special task force reported its findings and conclusions to the
Committee in late December 1992. Six analysts, ranging in
experience from six to 25 years (for an average of over 19 years of
imagery analytical experience) and representing the CIA's Office of
Imagery Analysis, DIA's Office of Imagery Analysis, and the
National Photographic Interpretation Center, sought to reconcile
the final differences between the two outside consultants. The six
task force members agreed that, "none of the suspect symbols could
be identified as intentionally prepared man-made markings."

Their conclusions on each of the six unreconciled symbols were:

Reported Symbol GX 2527: The consensus of the team was
that although portions of what could be interpreted as
letters/numbers were observed in the field, they appeared
to be too haphazard and ill-defined to be a man-made
distress signals.

Reported Symbol PAI/RA1: The consensus of the team was
that some of the letters could be discerned; however, the
team concluded that they were probably a combination of
trails and vegetation and not intentionally prepared man-
made markings.

Reported Symbol 232?: The team had great difficulty in
confirming the presence of these numbers, leading to the
conclusion that whatever was present was a natural
configuration and not intentionally prepared man-made

Reported Symbols 1104 and WRYE: The team was able to
discern portions of what could be interpreted as letters
and numbers; however, the team concluded that these
'symbols' were probably a result of a combination of
shadows and vegetation along the side of the road/trail
and not intentionally prepared man-made markings.

Reported Symbol VASYA: The team concluded that it was
extremely difficult to discern this 'symbol' and judged
that it was a combination of shadows and vegetation on
the edge of a field and not intentionally prepared man-
made markings.
Reported Symbol 14192: After a detailed review of the
area in question all of the team members concluded that
the recorded symbol could not be identified on the

Once again the Committee was confronted with an Intelligence
Community consensus countered by a few dissenting opinions.


A number of questions remain open regarding the issue of possible
POW distress symbols. The 1988 "USA" and 1973 "TH" symbols remain
unresolved, according to DIA, and they do not dispute they were
man-made. Regarding the "K" next to the "USA", Assistant Secretary
Duane Andrews, stated in testimony on 15 October 1992, that "We
don't rule out that it (K) was made by someone deliberately trying
to make a K." The Committee, further notes the inconsistency
between past and present DIA analysis on the "52 possible K" symbol
at a detention camp in Laos.

The Committee cannot conclude, based on its investigation and the
guidance of imagery experts, that U.S. POWs in Southeast Asia have
attempted to signal their status to aerial observers. This has
been a particularly important part of the Committee's review
because the logic of the investigation was clear. Prisoners held
against their will might conclude that the best hope for obtaining
outside help would begin by them being detected from the air.
During their survival training, Air Force - and some Army, Navy and
Marine Corps -- pilots were taught how to construct signals using
readily available material. These symbols might be visible on
imagery obtained by the U.S. Intelligence Community. Therefore,
this imagery needed to be examined in detail.

For example, CIA had noted the USA symbol found on imagery taken in
Laos and provided it to DIA for further review. DIA's evaluation
confirmed the symbol but could not determine its origin. It is
important to note, however, the relatively long period between the
collection of the imagery and its provision to DIA: January -
December 1988. This severely hindered any immediate follow-up
action that DIA could take.

The symbol probably disappeared with the end of the seasonal rice
harvest. Its maker, if a prisoner, might have been moved in the
period between its construction and its discovery. But it took too
long to resolve the symbol's origin. While the Committee
recognizes that the changing political climate on the POW/MIA issue
that is occurring between the Lao and United States Governments
largely assisted in allowing DIA to investigate the symbol on the
ground in Laos, four years is excessive. The Intelligence
Community must respond more rapidly to potential ground-to-air
signals identified on overhead imagery.

Comments concerning JSSA's survival training on ground-to-air
signalling is beyond the purview of this Committee. Nonetheless,
it must comment on the techniques that are being trained. The use
of naturally occurring objects to construct signals is
fundamentally sound. But the severe difficulty of definitively
identifying these signals on overhead imagery is equally obvious.
On those images in which the Committee was interested, experienced
imagery analysts disagreed with each other's analyses. In
addition, the Committee has been shown overhead imagery of areas
around the world on which these symbols appear to exist. The
relationship of these other symbols to U.S. POWs is extremely
tenuous at best. It appears incontrovertible that large-scale
alphanumeric combinations exist naturally. These natural
occurrences can be quite misleading to any rescue attempts. They
certainly caused the Committee to become concerned over POWs
signalling their presence in Southeast Asia. JSSA must deal with
this in the development and conduct of its training programs on
ground-to-air signalling.


The intelligence community must respond more rapidly to potential
ground-to-air signals identified on overhead imagery. If a
possible symbol is the work of a POW, it is vital we visit that
site immediately.

. It is strongly recommended that an interagency task group of
experienced imagery analysts be formed to review all available
imagery of prisons or suspect detention areas in Vietnam and
Laos, after 1973, for indications of possible distress

. DIA and CIA should establish a closer and more formalized
working relationship with JSSA. JSSA should be consulted
immediately, whenever suspect symbols or questionable markings
appear on imagery.

. It is recommended that JSSA be permitted to attend IAG
meetings, in an advisory capacity as an additional
representative of the Joint Staff.

. Pilot distress symbols should, immediately, be designated a
priority collection requirement for Southeast Asia.

. All imagery analysts with responsibilities pertaining to
POW/MIA analysis, should be thoroughly briefed and preferably
trained in SERE techniques and methods.

. In the case of the "GX 2527" because the number corresponds to
a specific individual, the Committee agrees that the benefit
of doubt should go to that possible individual, certainly
enough to warrant a "by-name" request by an appropriately high
ranking U.S. official to the Vietnamese government, for
information on that missing serviceman. In making that
request, it should be emphasized to the Vietnamese that there
is a basis for questioning whether he could be alive.

These symbols have been energetically pursued and explained to the
satisfaction of all reasonable critics, some Members believe. It
is also germane to point out that some inexperienced analysts also
have been able to find "symbols" in Africa, in the state of Utah;
they also can be seen in vestiges of the photo-development process.
These "symbols" are in fact indicators which are not man-made, not
on the ground and have no realistic basis in fact. Professional
examinations have found all of these so-called "symbols" to be

In addition, some Members agree that the treatment of the
"USA/possible K" symbol, the "1953/1973 TH" symbol, and the alleged
"52" at a site in Laos are misleading in the extreme. The Report
does not describe the extensive investigations conducted by the
U.S. intelligence community into these symbols and the findings
which relate to the probable origins of these symbols.

Specifically, the December 1992 on-site investigation of the "USA"
symbol determined that the symbol was not a distress signal and had
nothing to do with missing Americans. Some Members believe that
the results of the investigation determined that the symbol was
made by Hmong tribe members from Ban Houei Hin Dam village, Huoa
Phan Province, Laos.

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