Report of the
Senate Select Committee
The purpose of this investigation was to determine what, if any,
official U.S. covert operations may have been launched after 1973,
or specifically after Operation Homecoming, to confirm the presence
of live American POWs in Southeast Asia, and what intelligence
information may have been available that necessitated the need for
There have been numerous allegations made of possible clandestine
intelligence or military operations conducted by the U.S.
government into Southeast Asia. Many of these allegations contend
that such official operations succeeded in returning with
confirmation of live POWs in captivity, but that information was
kept secret from the American public. In May 1981, the Washington
Post and other newspapers printed a story of an official incursion
into Laos by American sponsored mercenaries, to confirm the
presence of POWs at a specific camp monitored by U.S. Intelligence.
In addition, there have been several unofficial operations mounted
by private groups, attempting to penetrate Laos in search of POWs
and allegations that some of these attempts were secretly
sanctioned by the U.S. Government.
This Committee held a closed hearing on October 16 into the
circumstances of the alleged 1981 covert operation reported by the
Washington Post. The Committee has spent many months, and
conducted numerous depositions of present and former officials to
determine exactly what occurred in this case. Because of the level
of classification of some of this material, and in order to protect
current operations and capabilities, the details of this case
remain classified. Much of the intelligence information, however,
leading up to this event may be ultimately declassified.
The investigation into unofficial or "private" operations focused
primarily on whether there was official U.S. government sanction or
support for any of these operations. Other aspects of these
private forays were examined under a separate Committee
investigation pertaining to oversight of private POW/MIA
organizations and their activities. The private operation commonly
known as "Grand Eagle" has been investigated, in regard to
government support of that private initiative. We have obtained,
enough documentation from Army intelligence files to allow the
Committee to draw rather conclusive findings regarding official U.S
support for that operation.
The Committee has identified only one official operation mounted
after 1973, to confirm the presence of American POWs in Southeast
Asia; this makes the distinction between major cross-border
intelligence, military or paramilitary type operations and normal
intelligence operations involving collection agents or clandestine
sources. There have been numerous intelligence operations
involving individual sources or collection agents, with
requirements relating to the POW problem.
The Intelligence relating to the 1981 operation was perhaps the
most compelling and multiple source intelligence ever made
available to intelligence officials and policy-makers of "possible"
live American POWs still in captivity up until that time. The
actions of U.S. officials in response to this intelligence attest
to the quality and quantity of that intelligence.
The U.S. intelligence community had several human intelligence
sources reporting the presence of American POWs held in a
particular area in Laos from 1979 through early 1981. One of these
was a sensitive source with unusually good access. That particular
source provided a series of reports, indicating possibly up to 30
Americans working at a detention camp in Laos. The source
indicated the prisoners were periodically moved from, then back to
the camp on work details. Based on the HUMINT reporting, the
intelligence community was able to locate a detention facility
through overhead photography near a Lao village in late 1980.
A second-hand DIA source, in November 1979, reported the camp held
an American POW named "Ltc. Paul W. Mercland." DIA stated in a
briefing to the HFAC on 25 June 1981, that although they could not
correlate a "Mercland" to any missing Americans, there was a Paul
W. Bannon lost in Laos in 1969. Lt. Gen. Tighe, then Director of
DIA was at that briefing and told its members that "Mercland" could
have been a mispronunciation of "American" and speculated that
"Bannon" may have been inadvertently dropped as the information was
passed out by the source. The secondary source passed a polygraph
test given by DIA.
Admiral Tuttle, who was Deputy Director of DIA at the time,
testified in his deposition that he also recalled SIGINT reports
referring to American POWs at a detention camp in Laos. NSA has not
been able to confirm Admiral Tuttle's memory of SIGINT reporting of
Americans in Laos. Among the declassified reports found at NSA,
however, was a copy of an intercept that originated from a allied
government, that did report the movement of American POWs from
Attepeu in late December 1980. This report, which was deemed to be
unreliable by CIA at the time, was remarkably similar to an
independent HUMINT report within days of intercept, that the
American POWs, who had been working at Attepeu, were being moved
back to a detention camp in Laos.
In late December 1980, what appeared to be the number "52"
scratched in the row crop area within the compound was detected on
photography. CIA, in a Jan. 6, 1981 "Spot Report" stated:
analysis of further imagery of 30 December 1980 located
what appears to be the number "52," possibly followed by
the letter "K," traced on the ground in an agricultural
plot insider 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.
The "52" was observed over a period of time. DIA imagery analysts
in 1981, stated in an Imagery Analysis Memorandum dated February 23
1981 that "the number '52' is still visible with no change. The
lack of change indicates that the numerals may have been dug into
the earth." This contradicts current DIA analysis, provided
during the Committee's Oct. 15, 1992 hearing that because the "52"
changed shape in different photographs, it therefore is
questionable as an intentional symbol.
The "sensitive" HUMINT source reported that the American POWs had
been moved to Vietnam for security reasons by the end of January
1981. Imagery analysts reported the "52" had begun to fade away by
February. Other aspects of the intelligence and actions taken to
confirm the presence of Americans at the camp remain classified.
A report of a sighting of one possible Caucasian at the suspect
camp was received by CIA, but not reported outside the agency. CIA
has been unable to answer exactly why this was not reported to DoD,
State and the White House, but contend it must they must have had
a valid reason why it was not. They have speculated that they may
have determined the possible Caucasian was a Chinese prisoner, or
that the reporters were fabricating.
The CIA and others conducted an investigation in 1981. A key Lao
member of the investigation testified to the Committee in closed
session that some members of the Lao resistance tried to persuade
him that he saw an American at the suspected camp. He told them he
could not say that.
Later in 1981, the intelligence community interviewed a refugee who
was at a camp similar to a detention camp in Laos and saw no
Americans or Europeans. They admit, however, they are not certain
it was the same camp, and it was during a different period than
when the American POWs were allegedly detained there.
Efforts taken by the intelligence community and the U.S. military
to investigate and prepare for the possibility of a rescue of live
American prisoners were extensive. President Reagan and his
National Security Advisor, Richard Allen were aware of this
intelligence and the actions taken. It had the highest national
The intelligence community's actions to confirm the presence of
American POWs at this camp were inconclusive. Steps were underway
to resume efforts to obtain a conclusive answer, when a press leak
killed any further efforts.
Private Operations with Official Support
On the question of official U.S. support being provided to the
private operation known as "Grand Eagle," U.S. Army intelligence
documentation confirms that a component of Army intelligence did in
fact provide a long range camera, polygraph and other equipment and
financial support to Mr. Gritz in support of his group. This
equipment and financial support, however, was provided in advance
of that intelligence component receiving full approval to provide
such support, and in fact the request (or CIOP proposal) was
ultimately denied. The equipment and money had, however, already
been released. (Army contact reports.)
The Committee also became aware of allegations of off-line U.S.
Government (NSC) support to private organizations in regard to
fundraising and movement of funds to indigenous rebel groups.
Allegedly, this activity was related indirectly to the POW issue or
used as a cover for providing financial support to resistance
groups using non-appropriated funds. Due to time constraints, the
Committee was unable pursue these reports. This is discussed in
some detail in the chapter on private fund-raising.
In 1982, the U.S. Government monitored the communications of a
private organization operating from Thailand, attempting to
undertake a private foray into Laos in search of POWs. DoD
requested a determination from Justice Department as to the
legality of monitoring the communications of American citizens
abroad. This was in fact carried out. (NSA file documents
forwarded to Committee.)
The Role of the National Security Agency
Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is one of the principal sources of
information used by intelligence analysts. Successful interception
of communications (COMINT) -- a component of SIGINT -- provides an
analyst with an important insight into the knowledge of the sender
and receiver of an intercepted message. As is the case with the
other sources of intelligence information (the so-called "INT's"),
an intercepted message does not necessarily indicate that the
actual contents of the message are true. On the one hand, the
sender may purposely be sending an incorrect message to mislead any
foreign intelligence agency that might be attempting to intercept
messages. And on the other hand, the sender may not be
transmitting accurate information simply because he or she does not
have either a complete picture or understand the true circumstances
surrounding the contents of the message. For this reason, COMINT
is an important intelligence source, but it is only one source.
Experienced analysts use it with other intelligence sources in
order to derive a more complete intelligence picture of a set of
circumstances. COMINT is one part of a complete all-source
Successful and unsuccessful SIGINT operations are closely guarded
secrets. Obviously, when the capabilities of a foreign power to
intercept communications becomes known, it is very easy to cut off
this source of intelligence. Alternative methods of communications
can be used, radio frequencies can easily be changed, encryption
devices can be used or altered. Even though the Vietnam War lies
twenty years behind us, there remains a strong tendency by the
Intelligence Community to want to keep information developed from
signals intelligence carefully controlled. The Committee
continually ran into difficulties in trying to discuss this type of
information during its open sessions. Nevertheless, Committee
Members and Committee investigators were able to obtain relevant
information during classified briefings and hearings as well as
during its open sessions. Significantly, much important
information has been declassified as a result of the Committee's
National Security Agency's Responsibilities
SIGINT was a source of information on U.S. POW's and MIA's both
during the War and during the years afterward. In a prepared
statement to the Committee, senior NSA officials indicated that no
mission had a "higher priority" than information pertaining to
downed fliers or captured Americans. Committee investigators found
that special reporting categories were established within both
intelligence and operational channels to ensure that there was a
rapid and clearly identifiable flow of information concerning
downed fliers and prisoners.
The same NSA officials believed that there were approximately 2,000
SIGINT reports throughout the period of the focus of the
Committee's interest concerning the loss, capture, or status of
U.S. personnel in Southeast Asia. They stated that these reports
allowed intelligence analysts during the war to develop some
information that some crew members of downed aircraft did not
survive the shootdown. Other reports provided information on the
initial capture and subsequent movements of prisoners by a
capturing unit. The officials emphasized that all of the SIGINT
information was manually processed during the war years which
indicated to the Committee that retrieval and correlation of
information was then quite different and more difficult than it is
today using automated databases. The data from the Vietnam War era
still is manually processed.
After the fall of Saigon, the National Security Agency and the
military service components that support it largely dismantled
their collection efforts in Southeast Asia. The elaborate
collection capabilities that supported the war essentially ceased
or were relocated to other trouble spots around the world. The
analytical organizations that monitored signals intelligence in
the region were also disbanded or sharply reduced as personnel were
transferred to other assignments.
U.S. collection capabilities were further diminished during this
period as Vietnam and Laos developed secure landline communications
to replace the radio networks used during time of war. If officials
in either country were communicating about live U.S. POWs, the
likelihood that these communications would be detected by the U.S.
had become remote. However, during this period, the NSA did receive
third party intercepts concerning the reported presence of American
POWs in Laos.
As a result of the Committee's efforts and a new retrieval strategy
initiated at NSA, more than 4,500 reports were later identified
that pertained to POW/MIAs. An NSA study showed that 878 of these
reports could be correlated to possible POW/MIAs; 448 of these
could be considered "resolved cases." That is, either an
individual returned to U.S. control during Operation Homecoming or
human remains were returned. By using all-source analysis, DIA
further refined the conclusions that could be reached on individual
cases based upon NSA's information. From this analysis, it is
clear that many of the original, on-the-spot NSA analyses were
understandably in error.
But in fact, the Committee found that NSA end-product reports were
not used regularly to evaluate the POW/MIA situation until 1977. It
was not until 1984 that the collection of information on POW/MIAs
was formally established as a matter of highest priority for
SIGINT. There was insufficient all-source information available to
NSA at the time to make either a correct or final judgment.
Nonetheless, four reports correlated to individuals as being last
known alive and in captivity and seven reports indicated
individuals whose status was unknown.
In conducting its review of NSA files, the Committee examined more
than 3,000 post-war reports and 90 boxes of wartime files. The
Committee discovered that previous surveys of NSA files for POW/MIA
related information had been limited to the agency's automated data
base. Hundreds of thousands of hard copy documents, memoranda, raw
reports, operational messages and possibly tapes from both the
wartime and post-war periods remain unreviewed in various archives
and storage facilities. Most troubling, NSA failed to locate for
investigators any wartime analyst files related specifically to
tracking POWs, despite the fact that tracking POWs was a known
priority at the time. This failure made it impossible for the
Committee to confirm some information on downed pilots that was
provided by NSA employee Jerry Mooney.
The Committee believes that DIA's review of NSA's correlations
highlights the weakness of single source intelligence analysis.
Many of the NSA reports indicating possible capture of an
unaccounted-for American were, based on returnee debriefs and other
intelligence sources, actually related to a fellow crew member who
was captured and eventually repatriated to the U.S. Furthermore,
according to DIA's analysis, many of NSA's original correlations
were incorrect. Often several aircraft were lost at the same time
within a short distance of each other, and because the NSA reports
rarely identified specific locations, crew members who survived the
shootdown and later were rescued frequently were mistaken for
Moreover, Vietnamese units often exaggerated the number of aircraft
shot down and the number of U.S. pilots subsequently captured.
Similarly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the
overlap of multiple reporting of the same reported shootdown by
adjacent Vietnamese units or nearby observers. In any event, doubt
concerning the final outcome of an individual incident will always
exist in some cases because signals intelligence can never provide
sufficient evidence in all cases to provide conclusive proof of the
specific date, time, and place of capture -- or death. SIGINT can
add to the quality of the analysis, but it can rarely provide
SIGINT and DIA Individual Case Files
The recent NSA identification of numerous relevant reports that are
in addition to the 2,000 reported to the Committee in January 1992
appears to be important new information. The Committee cannot make
a determination that this information will alter the status of any
unaccounted-for U.S. personnel. NSA and DIA analysts now have
completed a review of the additional reports and have found no new
information to change the status of any missing person.
The Committee does believe, however, that pertinent reports should
be placed in each individual's case file and redacted only if
absolutely necessary. Having continued to emphasize to this
Committee the importance of all-source intelligence analysis, DIA
must ensure that all sources are made available to the analysts and
investigators who have the responsibility for resolving cases both
in the field and at headquarters. It is not clear to the Committee
why this has not already happened in all cases.
Post-1973 Reports of Intercepts on Possible POWs
As mentioned in the Committee's Executive Summary, by the late
1970's, the level of U.S. Government intelligence collection in
Southeast Asia was far less than it was during the war. However,
between 1979 and the mid-1980's, various unconfirmed reports
relating to possible American POWs in Laos were collected.
As examples, in December, 1979, a third-party intercept was
received indicating that three U.S. prisoners were being moved from
Muoung Vieng Sai to Muong Attopeu to work in the mines. In
December 1980, a third-party intercept indicated that 20 American
POWs were about to be moved from Oudom Sai province to Vientiane.
In 1984, an intercept referred to the movement of 23 unidentified
prisoners from Muong Sepone prison to the Tha Vang Center in Laos.
In the 1984 report, NSA noted that this number corresponded with
collateral information concerning the presence of 23 American POWs
at a camp in Southen Laos.
Finally, in 1986, an intercept referring to the movement of
unidentified "prisoners of war" to Nong Tha, Laos raised questions
at NSA, because "the Lao do not normally refer to captured Thai
soldiers or Lao expatriates as "prisoners of war." The Committee
notes that these and other reports have raised questions concerning
the possibility that American POWs might have been present in Laos
after 1973. The Committee cautions, however, that none of the
reports have been judged to be accurate by either the National
Security Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency.
An NSA Analyst's View
The Committee was fortunate to have Senior Master Sergeant Jerry L.
Mooney (USAF-Ret.) come forward and provide important insights into
the problems associated with analyzing SIGINT information
concerning POW's and MIA's. He has had a long association with the
issue, both while assigned to the National Security Agency and also
following his retirement from the Air Force. In closed and open
Committee sessions, he gave an analyst's viewpoint which helped to
bring into focus many of the problems associated with SIGINT's
relationship to the POW-MIA issue.
Mooney stated that while assigned to the Vietnam branch of NSA, he
maintained detailed files concerning losses of U.S. aircraft and
the names of downed crew members. He did this through personal
interest and because he was assigned the task by his superiors.
His efforts were well known to his colleagues and supervisors. In
the words of one supervisor, "If you wanted to know about POW-MIA's
or AAA [anti-aircraft artillery], you wanted Jerry Mooney. He was
the guy because he was the gatherer of information."
Unfortunately, Mooney's personal files are no longer available.
According to Mooney and some of his colleagues, he developed his
"working aids" in order to correlate SIGINT information with loss
reports given by U.S. units. Witnesses disagreed over whether he
maintained lists of information or kept the information in a file
box of index cards. The difference between the two methods appears
inconsequential. In either case, he maintained information that he
felt undoubtedly would be useful when a final accounting was made
of crew members from lost aircraft. But since these files were
working aids for an individual analyst, they did not become part of
the archival material maintained by NSA.
NSA archivists reported to the Committee that Mooney's files were
no different than the personal working aids developed by the
thousands of analysts who have worked at NSA over the years.
According to the archivists, his personal working files would have
been destroyed upon his departure because they were not part of the
official NSA reporting process, and because NSA was not responsible
for maintaining historical information that correlated SIGINT with
U.S. loss reports. Furthermore, because of the sensitive nature of
their primary source -- SIGINT -- Mooney's files could not be
maintained separate from the normal archival process.
According to Mooney and his NSA supervisor, the Vietnam branch of
NSA was never asked to provide an overall list of their assessment
of POW-MIA personnel prior to Operation Homecoming. The Committee
finds this surprising. Even though NSA was not the Lead Agency for
maintaining information on POW's and MIA's, it appears that it
would have been routine for a senior Government official to have
directed an Intelligence Community-wide search for information
relevant to POW's and MIA's. NSA's information could have been
useful both for the U.S. negotiators at the peace talks and for
those responsible for supervising the final repatriation of U.S.
Because the inter-agency process of the Intelligence Community is
subject to the same flaws in information flow as any large
organization, the Committee tasked NSA to examine whether Mooney's
files could have been important. Analysis indicates that with few
exceptions -- involving personnel declared as KIA/BNR -- all
relevant SIGINT was part of the casualty folders of missing
While SIGINT was used during the war to place personnel in the POW
category, only a handful who were ever confirmed by SIGINT as
actually being POWs did not return at Operation Homecoming. The
review requested by the Committee failed to identify any instance
where the appropriate SIGINT indicating capture had not been
associated with the missing individual prior to Homecoming,
although there was one instance resulting from the Committee's
review in which an additional piece of information was located and
added to an individual's file.
In fact, it was standard procedure during war-time for analysts at
field intercept stations to put "analyst notes or comments" at the
bottom of SIGINT reports to list potential loss candidates who
might or might not correlate to the incident described in an
intercept. While one can surmise that greater involvement by NSA
could have somehow helped during the Homecoming accounting process,
the fact remains that three separate reviews of SIGINT materials by
NSA and DIA have failed to uncover any significant SIGINT materials
missed or omitted relating to possible POWs.
Mooney remained concerned about the POW-MIA issue after his
retirement from the U.S. Air Force. He permitted Committee
investigators and NSA officials to review the extensive information
that he has collected since his retirement. He reconstructed some
of the information from memory, and because his NSA working aids
apparently no longer exist, it was impossible to check his
recollections against his Vietnam War-era information.
However, it was possible to check his "reconstructed information"
against war-time SIGINT reports. Each one of Mooney's allegations
was investigated by NSA, and a corresponding all-source
investigation was conducted by DIA. Neither agency was able to
confirm any of Mooney's allegations, particularly those involving
the suspected movement of American POWs to the Soviet Union.
Interestingly, as part of his research he has identified several
names of members of the foreign news media who had access to U.S.
prisoners. If contacted, these individuals might be able to
provide additional information on U.S. POW's. The Committee
believes that this would be an appropriate task as part of an
intelligence community open-source collection effort. In any
event, Mooney's material has allowed Committee investigators to
bring together a great deal of material as an additional check on
the information that NSA has on hand. His efforts on behalf of the
POW-MIA issue are greatly appreciated.
NSA and Baron 52
During the Committee's August, 1992 hearing, the Vice Chairman
raised the subject of NSA reports disseminated on February 5, 1973,
the same day that an EC-47Q aircraft with 8 U.S. servicemen was
shot down by North Vietnamese units in Laos. The aircraft has been
referred to as "Baron 52." The Vice Chairman expressed concern
over the substance of the intelligence reports and the incident, in
general, in view of the fact that it occurred after the signing of
the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam.
During the same hearing, DIA analyst Robert Destatte disputed the
contention that the intercepted information pertained to the EC-47.
Mr. Destatte also attacked the May, 1973 NSA report possibly
correlating the traffic to the EC-47 stating the report was the
"musings" of NSA analyst Mr. Jerry Mooney. Finally, Mr. Destatte
contended he had spoken with one of the SAR team members, Mr. Ron
Schofield, who he said discarded the possiblity that anyone could
have survived from Baron 52. According to his testimony, Mooney
believed at the time of the incident that four of the eight crew
members survived the shootdown.
In January 1992, Mooney noted in his testimony that at the time the
incident was reported, an unnamed DIA analyst agreed with him on
the telephone that the four crew members were "gone forever." The
inference in Mooney's testimony was that because of the sensitive
nature of the aircraft's mission, captured crew members had been
taken to the USSR.
Under questioning by one Committee Member during the January
hearing, Mooney admitted that he never had "direct information"
that American POW's were taken to the Soviet Union. In response to
another Committee member's question, he said that he "saw no
evidence that they [prisoners] went to the Soviet Union." On
several occasions during his testimony he said that he believed
that American prisoners had been taken there, but he was unable to
provide any conclusive proof to the Committee to support his
Responding to a Committee inquiry, in October 1992 DIA provided a
detailed examination of many issues surrounding the Baron 52
incident. Enclosed with the examination were declassified
translations of the enemy report that has led several people to
different interpretations of the fate of the crew of Baron 52. Some
believe that four crew members survived; DIA disagrees.
According to the information provided to the Committee, the initial
declassified translation of the enemy's February 5, 1973 report
states: "GROUP IS HOLDING FOUR PILOTS CAPTIVE AND THE GROUP
IS REQUESTING ORDERS CONCERNING WHAT TO DO WITH THEM." According
to DIA, soon after the enemy report was received, a second, more
careful translation was made, and it stated, "GROUP HAS FOUR
PIRATES THEY ARE GOING FROM 44 TO 93 THEY ARE HAVING
DIFFICULTIES MOVING ALONG THE ROAD."
According to information provided to the Committee, this report
with its two translations were the only sources of enemy
information that led Mooney to issue an informal message on May 2,
1973. His message states:
1. HAVE REVIEWED ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION CONCERNING
THE FOUR FLIERS MENTIONED IN THE 5 FEB MESSAGE AND NO
ADDITIONAL REFLECTIONS OR AMPLIFYING INFORMATION
CONCERNING THE DISPOSITION OF THE FLIERS WERE REVEALED.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION AND CONSIDERATION THE FOLLOWING IS
A RECAP OF THE INTERCEPT AND SOME OTHER OBSERVATIONS
CONCERNING THIS SUBJECT.
2. FOUR FLIERS, WHOSE NATIONALITY WAS NOT DISCLOSED,
WERE LOCATED ON 5 FEB IN THE GENERAL AREA NORTH OF MOUNG
NONG. THE FLIERS WERE TO BE TRANSFERRED FROM "44,"
A PROBABLE REFERENCE TO KILOMETER MARKER 44 ON ROUTE 914
(XD 495254 16-30N 106-25E) TO "93," A PROBABLE REFERENCE
TO KILOMETER MARKER 93 ON ROUTE 1032 (XD 549505, 16-43N
106-27E), AND WERE APPARENTLY EN ROUTE TO WEST OF
THE DMZ IN LAOS, TWO PERSONS WERE TO BE
CONTACTED CONCERNING MOVEMENT OF THE POWS AND IF PROBLEMS
WERE ENCOUNTERED, HIGH HQS WAS TO BE NOTIFIED
TO SUPPLY "WAYS AND MEANS" ( REFERENCES TO
TRUCKS) TO MOVE THE FLIERS. SUFFICIENT WATER WAS TO BE
GIVEN TO THE FLIERS.
THERE HAD BEEN SOME DIFFICULTIES IN
TRANSPORTING THE FLIERS AND ASKED TO SEE IF THESE
PROBLEMS HAD BEEN RESOLVED SO MOVEMENT COULD CONTINUE.
THE PERSON ALSO ASKED THAT HE BE NOTIFIED OF
THEIR TIME OF DEPARTURE AS HE WAS WAITING FOR THEM.
ALTHOUGH THE INITIAL LOCATION GIVEN , IS SOME
65 KM FROM THE CRASH SITE IT IS POSSIBLE THAT AT LEAST
PART OF THE CREW WERE ABLE TO BAIL OUT PRIOR TO THE CRASH
AND THEREFORE COULD HAVE BEEN CLOSER TO THIS POINT THAN
THE CRASH SITE WHEN THEY WERE CAPTURED. FURTHER, SINCE
VEHICLE TRANSPORTATION WAS INDICATED, RAPID MOVEMENT IS
REASONABLE. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THESE FOUR FLIERS WERE
PART OF THE CREW OF THE EC-47.
Since Mooney's May 1973 message refers to a single enemy February
5, 1973 report and the translations of the report available to the
Committee appear complete, the Committee finds it difficult to
arrive at the same conclusions reached by Mooney in his May 1973
message. For example, it appears that the enemy report contains no
information concerning the pilots being located near Moung Nong.
It does not mention water being given to the fliers. It does not
refer to the supply of "ways and means," making Mooney's conclusion
concerning trucks pure conjecture.
Nor does the Committee agree with the DIA belief that it was
unlikely that the enemy unit would have used kilometer markers as
reference points in this type of report because using them violated
basic operational security (OPSEC) practices. Other, similar types
of reports have been furnished to the Committee, and enemy units
used kilometer markers as reference points in those reports. But
the Committee concurs with DIA's view that even if the enemy report
referred to kilometer markers 44 and 93 -- which is speculative --
more detailed all-source intelligence information than that
available to Mooney would have been necessary in order to place the
theorized kilometer markers on routes 914 and 1032 in Laos.
For example, DIA conducted a terrain analysis and found that a
chain of mountains exists between the two routes identified by
Mooney in May 1973, and that the routes are headed in different
directions. Substantial distance exists between the Baron 52 crash
site and the spots determined by Mooney to be the locations of the
possible kilometer markers. Furthermore, the aircraft's speed and
reported flight path would not have brought it close to these
In addition, in order to ascertain that the numbers 44 and 93
contained in the enemy report referred to specific kilometer
markers, Mooney would have had to confirm that the kilometer
markers existed as landmarks in that war-torn country in February
1973 and were available to enemy units either as land navigation
aids or as reference points. Having evaluated the information
provided by Mooney and the intelligence information and analysis
provided by DIA, the Committee believes that Mooney's analytical
judgments regarding the Baron 52 incident are largely speculative
and unsubstantiated. There is no firm evidence that links the
Baron 52 crew to the single enemy report upon which Mooney
apparently based his analysis.
The Committee notes that it cannot prove or disprove whether or not
the intercepted information pertains to the capture of crewmembers
of the Baron 52. Evidence from the crashsite indicates that no
crewmembers survived, although there was a chance, however slim,
that crewmembers bailed out before the crash. Moreover, the
Committee notes that written documents dated in May, 1973 indicate
that Dr. Shields, NSA, and DIA representatives all believed that
there was a possibility Americans had been captured from this
incident. Finally, we note that during an October, 1992
deposition, Mr. Ron Schofield disputed Mr. Destatte's
characterization of his comments pertaining to this incident.
At publication time, an excavation of the Baron 52 crash site was
planned for January 1993. JTF-FA teams returned to Southeast Asia
on Jan. 2, 1993 to begin another 30 days' work.
Intelligence Support in Laos
During the Vietnam War, intelligence support for the U.S. effort in
Laos was different than for the other countries in the war-time
theater of operations. According to testimony by former Secretary
of Defense Melvin Laird, the Secretary had to rely upon
intelligence information from CIA and the Department of State. DIA
did not have much of a collection capability in Laos. He mentioned
that human intelligence reporting was weak. Secretary Laird
testified that he recommended a program to the U.S. Ambassador to
Laos which was designed to improve intelligence support there.
Additionally, in a memorandum dated September 9, 1971, Secretary
Laird articulated a concern to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, that poor intelligence support was
affecting the POW effort. He feared that the lack of reliable
intelligence was "hindering United States Government efforts to
recover prisoners of war and MIAs." There was an inference in the
memo that the U.S. embassy in Laos was reluctant to accept military
Ambassador MacMurtrie Godley, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, 1969-73,
denied in his testimony that any such reluctance existed. He noted
that a Military Intelligence team operating from Thailand had been
a problem because it was responsible for intelligence reporting
that often was inaccurate and required correction by the Embassy in
Vientiane. Under questioning by one Committee Member, he
indicated that the collection of information on POW's and MIA's in
Laos had "top" priority. He said that any intelligence assistance
that could be obtained at the time was most welcome. Under
additional questioning by the same Committee Member, however, the
Ambassador agreed that he turned down an offer by the Joint Chiefs
of Staff for additional intelligence assets. He was unable to
provide little explanation for his decision other than, "What would
you do with them?"
Committee staff reviewed declassified and unredacted material
relating to the U.S. Army's HUMINT Exploitation Team in Laos,
Project 5310-03-E. The staff did not review extensively either all
Attache archival reports or documents of Project 404, the
organization providing augmentation to the Attache system in Laos,
but did review hundreds of war-time HUMINT raw intelligence reports
received from Laos, many from this one team.
The dossier of the Exploitation Team, supplemented by intelligence
reports declassified by DIA in December 1978, provide evidence that
Ambassador Godley fully supported the U.S. military's presence in
Laos. There is direct evidence the Team's organization, mission,
and structure was appropriate to war-time conditions there.
However, there is also evidence that DIA was less than enthusiastic
about both the team and its operations.
The Team's concept of operations began in 1970, when the Army
Attache, Lt. Col. Ed Duskin, invited an Army survey team to Laos to
explore what more could be done, particularly in the area of
POW/MIA intelligence. The Team concluded that experienced HUMINT
personnel were needed. Declassified messages demonstrate that a
recommendation to this effect was wholeheartedly supported by the
attache staff, the CIA station, and the Ambassador. The first U.S.
Army interrogation officer and a member of the initial survey
team arrived in Vientiane in March 1971. A field-grade team
officer arrived that summer. Two additional case officers arrived
in 1972 to augment the Team.
Operating within U.S. Embassy guidelines designed to downplay the
U.S. presence, the Team employed a small staff of locally hired and
Team-trained interrogators, including former North Vietnamese Army
Capt. Mai Dai Hap. Hap was the major contributor to the Rand
Corp.'s war-time study on Laos.
The Team operated as a joint U.S. effort with the Royal Lao Army
intelligence staff, which from the outset included daily contacts
with the Lao Army Headquarters and Military Region 5. By 1972, this
was expanded to include all other military regions in Laos, and was
done with close coordination and cooperation with CIA station
Beginning in 1971, the Team ensured all North Vietnamese Army and
Pathet Lao prisoners and defectors were interrogated in detail on
a wide variety of in-country, theater, and national intelligence
requirements. Declassified documents confirm that information on
U.S. POWs and MIAs was the first subject covered with all these
sources. This small Exploitation Team produced all military HUMINT
originated reports from Laos during 1971-75 and averaged one report
Every North Vietnamese Army and significant Pathet Lao soldier
arriving at Vientiane was interrogated in detail; however, with the
majority of U.S. POWs who survived into captivity being taken to
North Vietnam within a matter of days or weeks, there were no known
prison camps for U.S. POWs available for exploitation by the Joint
Personnel Recovery Center or U.S. led paramilitary forces.
The team's archival records confirm that the problem with war-time
HUMINT reporting in Laos was the lack of prisoners and defectors
(called ralliers by the North Vietnamese). For example, during
1964-74, there were slightly more than 150 North Vietnamese Army
POWs who reached Vientiane. The precise number of defectors may
have been a similar amount. This was a drop in the bucket from the
tens of thousands of North Vietnamese Army forces from Military
Region IV and the 559th Group operating the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
However, these prisoners and defectors were primarily from front-
line tactical units, had recently been rotated into Laos, and were
not from the rear-area logistical groups where most U.S. airmen
were lost. Thus, the prisoners and defectors often had more
information about aircraft losses over North Vietnam than over
The Pathet Lao saw little sustained combat after the mid-1960s,
being almost entirely a North Vietnamese Army-controlled effort,
and their force structure in Laos was negligible. It shrank to
almost nothing in southern Laos in 1972, when nearly the entire
South Laos Regional Command Headquarters, and all major subordinate
units, defected to the Royal Lao Government. A key ingredient in
Laos was its severe underpopulation -- less than four million
people. Laos was half the geographical size of Vietnam, with one-
tenth its population.
The Team did not operate in isolation to the remainder of the U.S.
intelligence organization in the region. The team regularly
coordinated with the Order of Battle Center in Udorn, Thailand;
intelligence exploitation centers in South Vietnam; and with both
Lao and Thai military intelligence officials. The Team was
withdrawn from Laos in the Spring of 1975, after local staff came
under increasing pressure from the Pathet Lao in Vientiane. The
project was terminated at the end of 1975.
Archival records of this Team confirm that the Team conducted its
first behind-the-lines agent operation in 1972. Other operations
followed later, and declassified documents confirm that DIA was
opposed to them, notwithstanding its objective to gather POW/MIA
All such agent operations had to be conducted from Thailand and
were suspended in 1975 upon the direction of the U.S. Ambassador.
The focus of these operations was POW/MIA intelligence from Pathet
Lao areas of Laos and from Hanoi in North Vietnam. They did not
take place for the obvious reason, demonstrated elsewhere in this
Report, that DIA and others at the national level no longer viewed
the subject as the nation's intelligence priority.
Other NSA Sources
The Committee found no evidence to corroborate claims by Terrell
Minarcin; sources Minarcin suggested investigators interview and
others said his claims were unfounded. Although Barry Toll did
occupy the position of Intelligence NCO on the CINCLANT Airborne
Command Post and did have access to sensitive message traffic,
Committee investigators were unable to locate any former crew
members of his team who could corroborate the messages he claims to
have seen. His former Army JAG lawyer did corroborate partly his
allegations that DIA continued to monitor his whereabouts after his