MIA Facts Site

Gritz,
Nhomarrath
and Silliness

Enter our hero, James (Bo) Gritz, LTC (not Colonel) US Army, retired. His name is pronounced with a long i, not with a short i as in "grits," which is a staple of the diet of a true Southerner. Grits is a noble food and the entire family of hominy, grits, and corn meal are slandered by association with Gritz.

I will not go into Gritz's background very deeply. He was an SF office in Vietnam, garnered a lot of decorations. There are several claims that Gritz was the most decorated officer of the war.

In his file is the report of an investigation by the Adjutant of the 5th Special Forces Group. It seems that Major Gritz had been recommended for the second award of the Legion of Merit. The XO of the 5th Group thought this a bit strange, that a Major would be receiving a second LOM so he had the Adjutant look into Gritz's awards. The investigation found that, in every case, Gritz's award recommendations had been submitted a long time after the action, in most cases after the deadline for submission had expired.  There were overlapping awards -- that is, Bo received two or more awards for the same period or the same action. And, there were several other problems with the awards.  The Adjutant recommended that (1) the LOM recommendation be disapproved because it was submitted over a month late, and (2) that the Group tighten up its awards procedures.  To read this memo, click here.

For those who want to pursue the Gritz story in more detail, check out Susan Katz Keating's book, Prisoners of Hope. Also, in the mid-1980s, Soldier of Fortune magazine ran most of one issue on Gritz, entitled "Hero or Huckster." (Bob Brown, editor and publisher of SOF, is not a real fan of Bo's.)   Here is a collection of links to articles about Gritz.

Bo Gritz Links
Medals Rained from the Heavens The Mission He Was Never On A Legend In His Own Mind Bo's Photos

So, Get On With the Story

In late 1980, a source reported to the CIA that US POWs might be held in an area of southern Laos.  CIA passed this report to DIA with the comment that the source's reliability was questionable.  Just to be safe, DIA ordered satellite imagery to be taken of known prison facilities in that area of Laos.  In early 1981, US imagery satellites took a shot of a known prison camp in Laos at a place called Nomarrath. (Variant spellings: Gnomarrat, Nhomarrat) One imagery analyst claimed that he observed:

  1. The letters "B-52" spelled out using either piled up logs or brush, or stamped out in the ground;
  2. Tools with handles too long to be used by Caucasians; and,
  3. People seated cross-legged on the ground who would have to be Caucasians because SEAsians all squat, not sit cross-legged.

There were two problems with this assessment:

  1. The system that took the shot was an experimental system that was having some problems with definition and was later shut off; and,
  2. Several other imagery analysts looked at the same view and concluded that the first guy had made a bad call.

A Navy Admiral in DIA was briefed as to the two views by the imagery analysts. He concluded that it was best to be safe than sorry so he started to crank up an operation to investigate this place on the ground. In the course of doing this, the imagery was briefed to members of Congress and was shared with certain US Special Operations units. The sharing of this information lead to three results.

FIRST. Some of Gritz's friends in the SF command leaked to him the fact of this imagery.

SECOND. The imagery became the worst kept secret in Washington. It was all over Congress and the knowledge of this imagery later led to all sorts of rumors and myths.

THIRD. A serious operation took place. More about it later.

Gritz's "Rescue Operation"

Gritz had a friend who was running a classified US Army unit. Gritz went to this guy, who had heard of the imagery, and told him that he (Gritz) had contacts in Thailand and Laos who would make it possible for him to run a rescue operation, but, he needed some specialized help.

Now, when one wants to run a covert or clandestine intelligence operations, there a lots of hoops to jump through. The first thing that has to be done is to write up the proposal and submit it through several channels. Depending on the nature of the operation, it needs to get some combination of clearance from the Pentagon, the military services, CIA, State, NSA, and the White House. Gritz's friend did two things: (1) He submitted a proposal through channels, and,  (2) He gave Bo some camera equipment and a letter of introduction to a Defense contractor who supplied specialized commo gear; Bo got the commo gear.

DIA killed the proposal immediately because we knew what he was referring to, we knew of his association with Gritz, and we knew that Gritz's "operatives" were a collection of scam artists.  The proposal went no further because DIA killed it.

It was from this completely unauthorized action that Gritz continues to claim that he had US government support for his operation. When DIA killed the proposal, the guy tried to get the cameras and commo gear back from Gritz; he could not.

Show Me The Money

Now, Bo needed money. He was able to raise several tens of thousands from two sources. First, he scammed an MIA father out of close to $40,000. Then, he went to a church in Oklahoma, told them the story in his best evangelistic style, and got $25,000 from them. Bo promised that he would invite the minister of the church to Thailand to welcome the POWs that he was about to rescue.

Training Begins

Bo then went to a cheerleading camp in Florida (I am not making this up), invited in a few reporters and some old SF buddies (many of whom left when they saw what was going one), two MIA daughters, and started to plan and train for his secret operation. With the reporters there looking on.

In the course of my assignments in the MIA office, I met three guys who were invited by Bo to take part in this operation. Each of them told me that he was excited, went to Florida, saw what was going on, and left, figuring the Bo had finally lost his compass. Eventually, Bo got a group to Thailand where they recruited some Laotian resistance troops, bought some weapons, and set out to rescue the POWs from what was now called -- and is still known in some circles as -- Fort Apache.

The Rescue: Gritz's Version

Gritz tells this story. After extensive training, they got into some small boats on the bank of the Mekong and headed for Laos, on the opposite shore. They infiltrated into Laos, moved through the jungle, avoiding Laotian army patrols, found the POW camp, rushed in, and rescued two US POWs. Then, as they were moving back to Thailand, they were jumped by Commie troops and they had to leave the rescued POWs behind (That's the way Bo tells it, I am not making this up.).  Of course, Bob did not bother to get any names or other identifying data.

The Rescue: The Facts

The facts are a bit different. These facts were gleaned from some of the Americans who later dropped out of the caper and from several Laotian refugees who were recruited into the raiding party and were later interviewed by US intelligence. They did, in fact, get into three small boats and head across the Mekong. Bo wished them well and waited in a hotel on the Thai side of the border. When the first boat landed, the troops scrambled up the bank of the river right into the waiting arms of Commie troops. The second and third boats were warned off, exchanged some shots with the Commie troops, and got back to the Thai side of the border. The guys who were captured spent several years in prison. As they were released, DIA eventually located them in refugee camps and rescued them. They were not  complimentary of the man they called "Bogritz."

That's it. No US government support, no rescued POWs left behind, Gritz did not even cross the Mekong with his troops. He did go back to the Oklahoma church, tell them his bullshit story and ask for a "prayer bridge" to get the US POWs out.

Try Again

Over the years, Gritz tried to put on several other operations. Some of them were nothing more than dreams, some of them actually resulted in people going to Thailand, rounding up some troops and weapons, and mucking about on the Thai-Lao border. These operations have had several names, all assigned by Gritz: Operation Lazarus, Operation Lazarus Omega, Operation Velvet Hammer.

Follow Up On Nomarrath

But what about Nomarrath and the imagery?

As I said above, an admiral in DIA wanted to crank up an operation. A recon team of "indigenous" troops (Thai special forces) made their way into Laos and found the Nomarrath camp. They sat in the jungle outside the camp for several days, even penetrated the outer perimeter. They brought back a large quantity of photographs they had taken. They did not observe any Caucasians in the camp and the photographs showed only Asians. (Their handheld, ground-level photos were compared to satellite imagery just for double-check and verification; those guys really were there.) (Note:   Contrary to claims being made in July 2000 by certain "MIA activist" groups, there was no signal intelligence concerning Nomarrath -- just the one unreliable CIA source report and the imagery on which opinions varied.)

Over the years, DIA has located former officials of the Royal Lao Army and government who were imprisoned at Nomorrath. Some of these sources were held there at the very time the satellite imagery was being investigated and the recon team was doing their thing. These sources state that there were only Lao in Nomarrath, no foreigners, and certainly no Americans. They put the population of prisoners at between 30 and 45, varying from time to time.

Bottom Line

Bo Gritz is a huckster of the highest order. He never rescued anyone, never had any USG support. The guy who helped him got in big trouble for doing so.

But, here is where the mythology comes in. Gritz's claim, that he rescued two Americans and left them behind, has been picked up and replayed time and again in various guises. It is this bogus tale that is the origin of the claim by some MIA "activists" that a US agency ran an operation, rescued two Americans, and gave them back. Gritz's bogus tale is the source of the "Duck Soup" myth. In fact, this is the case for much of what passes as gospel within the MIA cult: A bogus story is started and takes on a life of its own, with variations. The Big Lie becomes truth.

I cannot tell you of the times I have been approached by some guy, often a veteran, sometimes a wannabe, who told me his tale of adventure. As I listened to his claim of having been on, or had a friend who was on, an operation that rescued one or two or three US POWs then was forced to abandon them, I knew that what I was listening to was nothing more than the re-telling of Gritz's original lie. And, in every case when I pressed him with a few simple questions, it became clear that the guy was lying to me.

Addendum (3 August 2000) -- Rampant Silliness

Recently (this is being written in August 2000), Congress passed the Defense Authorization Bill, which contained a provision that would allow DIA to keep the details of covert operations classified.  Certain "MIA activist" organizations have pounced on this provision, demanding that it be removed from the bill.  The following is snipped from the "POW-MIA Freedom Fighters" message board (2 August 2000).

QUOTE

. . .
The Senate 2001 Defense Authorization Bill S. 2549 passed last week. Section 1045 will allow the Defense Intellegence Agency (DIA) to keep covert operation files classified indefinitely. This will allow the Secretary of Defense to be  the one person to decide if covert operation files should be declassified. Once the decision is made they need not be reviewed for 10 years. Any surviving POW/MIA can't wait that long. This is bad law; this is the DIA trying to obtain more power equal to the CIA. Covert POW/MIA operation will be withheld for at least another 10 Years. The House version HR4205 does not yet have the section included.

The 1983 Nhom Marrott covert operation (reconnaissance) in Laos was based on NSA radio intercepts, Satellite information and Human intelligence. (
Note:  Wrong.)  The information obtained was from the DIA. The CIA had taken over the operation. (Note:  Wrong.)  The CIA has never acknowledged or released information on the operation. If the DIA had this law in effect in 1992 the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA affairs would not have been able to get this information released to the public. There are other covert operation involving POWs that are still hidden. Don't let them get away with this.
. . .
It is not too late to stop this intrusion on our right to access government information. In a free society we have the right, this bill will undermine our right under the Freedom of Information Act and make court cases more expensive. Don't wait until then, get on this now if you ever want to find the withheld POW/MIA information. Why does the DIA need to do this with all the secrecy protection they have.
. . .

END QUOTE

I'm confused

Now, I find this a bit confusing.  Here we have a gaggle of "MIA activists" who list among their goals:

QUOTE

Our goals, and what we are asking of our government, are:

  1. The timely, honest and thorough investigation of all live-sighting reports.

END QUOTE

Read the foregoing again.  This is what's happening:

bulletThey want to have access to classified details of sensitive operations aimed at investigating POW-MIA reports so they can publicize those details.
bulletWhen you publicize details of covert or clandestine operations, you ensure that those operations will fail. 
bulletBut these operations are doing exactly what these folks want done -- they are investigating reports.
bulletVery confusing -- they want the US intelligence agencies to do something but when US intell agencies do what they want, then they want to publicize what the intell agencies are doing, guaranteeing that the intell agencies will fail. 

And people wonder why I consider these "activists" to be clowns.

Last edited 3 August 2000.