Private Efforts Section,
One of the most active grassroots efforts during the past decade
has been that of Vietnam War activists. They have pressed
successfully on several fronts, and it is these activists, and the
families of unaccounted-for servicemen that have kept the POW/MIA
issue at the forefront of public attention. At times, private
groups have prodded the Government to act, at times (such as at the
Committee's formation) they have demanded investigations into the
Government's actions. Most of these activities have been both
altruistic and effective; some have been well-intentioned, but have
not served POW/MIA families; and a few have been outright scams of
the most reprehensible kind.
To examine private-sector POW/MIA activities, the Committee
documented a wide range of public-awareness campaigns and other
activities, investigated recent reconnaissance and rescue
operations conducted overseas, reviewed the role of various groups
in distributing photographs purporting to depict POWs in Southeast
Asia after Operation Homecoming, and reviewed professional
fundraising conducted in the name of various POW/MIA organizations.
Public Awareness Campaigns
Many private organizations engage in a range of successful public-
awareness campaigns designed to educate the public about the
POW/MIA issue. These efforts include rallies, marches, educational
forums, newsletters and newspapers, television and radio programs,
holiday ceremonies, the sale of memorabilia (such as POW bracelets
and t-shirts), the creation of memorials and parks to honor
POW/MIAs, foot races, and vigils. Some have funded scholarships for
the families of POW/MIAs; others have sponsored legislative
initiatives across the country. The accomplishments of these
organizations are too extensive to be fully explored in this
report, but a summary of the achievements of several organizations
is included in this chapter.
During the Committee's year-long investigation, a reconnaissance
and rescue operation known as "Team Falcon," was undertaken by the
private sector, ostensibly to locate and rescue American POWs
believed to be held in Laos. Lauded at first by activists, it was
disavowed by them when it was determined that contributors were
misled, money lost, participants duped, and no POW was identified,
located or repatriated.
The Committee also examined a reconnaissance and rescue operation
known as Skyhook II, led by former Congressman John LeBoutillier.
It learned that U.S. Government officials illegally attempted to
provide handguns for members of the Lao Resistance associated with
Skyhook II. It also found that other U.S. Government officials
helped to solicit funds for Skyhook II; and that money raised was
funnelled through a Bangkok bank account.
The Committee reviewed certain activities conducted by Lt. Col.
James "Bo" Gritz (USA, Ret.) and found that, despite Government
attempts to repudiate and minimize its involvement with Gritz, the
Government sanctioned, encouraged, funded, approved, and provided
logistical support to some of his overseas reconnaissance and
rescue operations. Those operations serve as additional evidence of
how Government attempts to use the private sector in clandestine
overseas operations can go awry.
Another activity of great concern to the Committee was the
distribution of fraudulent reports of live POWs. These reports,
usually attributable to notoriously unreliable agents in Southeast
Asia with proven track records of failure, were cited by private
groups as evidence of live POWs and incorporated into fundraising
appeals. In some cases, fundraisers themselves concocted fantasies
loosely based on these agents' reports and peddled them as verified
facts. In no instance did any overseas agent locate a live POW or
produce reliable evidence that U.S. servicemen are in captivity in
The most readily believed stories were accompanied by photographs.
The Committee's investigation of several of these photographs
revealed evidence of fraud in several instances, including those
circulated in 1991 that allegedly depicted Donald Carr, Daniel V.
Borah, John L. Robertson, Larry J. Stevens, and Albro Lundy.
The Committee's investigation revealed that millions of dollars
have been raised for the POW/MIA cause, but the bulk of the funds
are frequently retained by the professional fundraisers hired by
certain POW/MIA organizations. Heart-wrenching statements purport
to confirm that POWs are alive in Southeast Asia and that their
rescue by a private group is imminent are the basis for the appeals
-- but donors are virtually precluded from learning how their
contributions are spent:
. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has almost no incentive to
audit financial reports of non-profit organizations: non-
profit status is granted on the condition that the
organization give donors basic information about its
operations -- but, once obtained, non-profit status also means
the IRS won't collect revenue by looking closely enough at the
organization to see that it is keeping its promise.
. The Supreme Court has held that certain aspects of charitable
fundraising are protected by the First Amendment
guarantees. Accordingly, state and federal regulators
face substantial barriers to regulating the claims of non-
profit organizations that operate both within states and
across state lines.
. The emotions surrounding the POW/MIA issue, until recently,
have effectively dissuaded Congressional oversight and news
coverage of shady operations: it is far easier to tell the
story of a POW/MIA family's anguish than to examine the groups
who prey on that anguish.
In its efforts to learn more about rumors of live Americans held in
captivity in Southeast Asia, the U.S. Government considered working
with Lao resistance forces. In August 1981, DIA's assessment of
the Lao resistance included the following:
Although the [Lao resistance] is weak, it does offer the
potential for supporting U.S. MIA efforts. A
recommendation would be to pursue both overt pressure on
the LPDR and their Soviet and Vietnamese supporters and
covert efforts through [Lao resistance] forces. On
balance, unless Hanoi and Vientiane change their
established MIA accounting policies dramatically, the
potential for success appears greater utilizing a covert
action program. However, the "risks" inherent with such
a program are also greater.
There is no "one" Lao resistance group/element. The
movement is fragmented with the most stable elements
being among the northern tribesman and the Lao People's
National United Liberation Front (LPNULF), a loose
coalition of various resistance elements. Other
fragmented resistance elements operating in Laos include
the Lao Liberation Movement (LLM) and the "21-18 Group,"
a formation of political elements. Although total
strength of the resistance in Laos is estimated at 6,000-
8,000, it does not pose a near-term threat to the
stability of the current regime. The resistance lacks a
dependable support base and there is little coordination
between resistance groups. Without a significant
increase in external aid accompanied by improved
discipline and organization, the Lao resistance will
remain nothing more than a minor irritant to the Lao
People's Democratic Republic and a poor single focus for
U.S. MIA efforts.
The resistance movements have gained a limited amount of
sympathy and support by propagandizing and recruiting at
the village level. They have not yet, however, been able
to establish secure bases of operation within Laos. They
primarily operate from base camps along the Thai-Lao
border and, less commonly, the Lao-China border area. In
the northernmost provinces, aid is provided to the Hmong,
Yao, and Kmou tribesmen by China. In the panhandle
region, Democratic Kampuchean (DK) resistance elements,
supported by the Thai, provide nominal aid to La
resistance forces. The Thai also provide assistance and
direction to select resistance elements in the central
Regarding actual MIA-related activity, Lao resistance
elements could travel through government controlled areas
in search of U.S. crash/grave sites and could provide
information concerning the locations of such sites.
These operations could be covertly accomplished employing
small reconnaissance teams to avoid detection by LPDR or
Vietnamese military forces. The small covert team
concept appears feasible if the resistance element was
strongly motivated and the U.S. interests represented by
trusted indigenous personnel.
There is possibility that the LPDR or SRV intelligence
services have infiltrated the resistance movement. The
likelihood of a penetration is greater among the ethnic
Lao resistance elements than with the tribesmen whose
ethnic association is closer and whose long-standing
animosity toward Lao and Vietnamese is traditional. The
non-tribal Lao resistance elements are more susceptible
to infiltration due to the fragmented nature of their
movements and their varying ethnic, social, and political
composition and objectives. These same weaknesses are
the primary reason we see no near-term chance of success
for unification of the Lao resistance movements.
Although the Committee found no clear evidence that the U.S.
Government actually worked directly with Lao resistance forces, the
Committee did obtain evidence of indirect efforts by the U.S.
Government to fund Lao resistance elements in the hopes that those
elements would provide information concerning the possible
existence of POWs in Laos. This is ironic because, as set forth
later in this chapter, the Committee found evidence that Lao
resistance forces have been responsible for the dissemination of
false and misleading information concerning the existence of POWs
in Southeast Asia.
Questions About U.S. Government Involvement
with Private Efforts to Fund Lao Resistance
The Committee received evidence in the form of depositions,
documents and affidavits indicating that in 1982, officials
of the National Security Council apparently had approved a proposed
project intended to raise private funds for POW/MIA-related
activities in Laos that ultimately resulted in funds being received
by the Lao resistance. It was alleged that Richard T. Childress,
a former member of the NSC responsible for Southeast Asia, Ann
Mills Griffiths, Executive Director of the National League of
Families, and former Congressman John LeBoutillier participated in
raising these funds. The project ultimately would become known as
Both Griffiths and Childress were fully cooperative with the
Committee's investigation and both strongly deny any allegation or
implication that they helped raise funds for Lao resistance groups.
Griffiths has asserted that:
The truth is that money which went to Thailand was
solicited and spent by John LeBoutillier, not by the
White House, in his attempt to gain proof of live
prisoners...LeBoutillier asked for a valid non-profit
group which could accept contributions and disperse them
in support of his efforts to seek information and
evidence of living U.S. POWs. Since it was not a League
project and knowing that Support Our POW/MIAs still
retained that status, I contacted Betty Bartels about the
Betty agreed to receive and disperse the funds, based on
LeBoutillier's assurance as a sitting Member of Congress
that nothing illegal would be undertaken and that the
efforts were not counter to U.S. Government policy or
law; however, neither the League nor Betty knew how the
funds were spent.
In his Jan. 8, 1993 letter to Sens. Kerry and Smith, Childress
Apparently the press has a staff draft of the SSC report
that alleges I, as a member of the NSC staff, supported
the Lao resistance and facilitated gun-running. I
labeled it as a smear and warned against publication.
As noted in my deposition, which appears to have been
ignored in the draft report, to the contrary, I
personally intervened with Congressmen Hendon and
LeBoutillier in 1982 and indicated the White House could
not deal with them if such activities were contemplated.
We learned of this through a State Department cable that
alleged Congressman LeBoutillier's representatives
intended on raising a private army. I asked for and
received a letter from Mr. LeBoutillier which was
distributed in the government that he and his
representatives would desist from such activities. I
have never even met Congressman LeBoutillier's "agents,"
and they attempted to interfere directly in our
negotiations with Laos, a matter of record.
Further, I ensured that official U.S. government
intelligence activities would not use Lao resistance
personnel, discouraged support for the Lao resistance by
other groups (again it is a matter of record), deleted
known resistance personnel from White House public
events, and negotiated a joint communique with the Lao
government that the U.S. would respect their
independence, neutrality and territorial integrity due to
their concerns over the Lao resistance and potential U.S.
support. This was done to build the requisite trust
between our governments to make POW/MIA cooperation
I covered in my deposition the events surrounding
Congressman LeBoutillier's requests of DEA and their
subsequent disconnect with him due to some involvement
with arms. I did not learn of the arms angle until later
when called by Mr. LeBoutillier's attorney, ATF and
subsequently DEA. I was informed earlier by DEA that the
initiative could not be approved due to DEA budget
restrictions. Mr. LeBoutillier asked me about arms on
one occasion and I turned him down flat. That too is in
I request that this letter be made a part of the record
or appropriate corrections be made to reflect what
actually transpired. Such blatant inaccuracies and
omissions smack of an apparent attempt by someone on the
Committee Staff with agendas other than the issue. If
true, it will certainly detract from what all hoped would
be an objective report on a serious national issue that
does not fuel more domestic attacks and allow
concentration where it belongs, on Hanoi.
In August 1982, a 501(c)(3) (tax-exempt) POW/MIA organization known
as Support Our POW/MIAs, Inc. (SOP), headed by Betty Bartels, began
receiving tax-deductible donations, which were then transferred to
bank accounts in Southeast Asia and elsewhere for the Skyhook II
project. Thereafter, as set forth below, approximately $200,000 was
raised from various donors for the Skyhook II effort.
Approximately $156,000 of the donations were wire-transferred by
SOP to a Bangkok bank account in the name of Mushtaq Ahmed Diwan
upon instructions communicated to SOP by Griffiths. Information
provided to the Committee indicates that Diwan is a friend or
associate of Col. Al Shinkle (USAF, Ret.) and that the $156,000
transferred to the Diwan account was subsequently provided to Lao
resistance forces, presumably to fund efforts on their part to
locate, identify and repatriate American POWs.
The chronology of SOP's involvement in the "Diwan Project" is well-
documented in contemporaneous notes kept by Betty Bartels.
According to those notes, Griffiths telephoned Bartels and
requested SOP's federal tax number and the names of the members of
SOP's board of directors.
June 22, 1982
. . . Ann wanted to use the [SOP] bank account to deposit
some funds, from undisclosed sources, and later cable the
funds to a bank account out of the country. Ann
requested that I check with our bank how funds could be
telegraphed overseas, i.e., by telephone call, in person,
by mail, etc.
10 July 1982
I met with Ann Griffiths and Carol Bates in their room in
the Stouffers hotel. There was no one else present. I
was assured by both Ann and Carol that this project was
completely 'legal' and involved nothing that was against
the State Dept. policies, DoD policies, etc. . . . I was
given permission to discuss this plan with my husband,
George Bartels and ask not to discuss it with anyone
else. I was again reminded that it was most important
this entire matter be kept in strictest confidence; that
the National League of Families Boards were not aware of
this. Only a U.S. Senator, to remain unnamed, and the
White House, Ann, Carol and myself were aware.
Errol Bond, SOP's Vice President and accountant, testified that he:
assumed that Dick Childress was involved because Ann had
indicated that it [the Diwan funding] had the blessing of
the White House.
Bond further testified that it was his understanding that the
approval for the project:
. . . probably came from the President or somebody
telling Dick Childress to go ahead.
Thereafter, commencing on August 2, 1982 and continuing through
1985, SOP received checks totaling approximately $200,000 and
deposited them into its account at Security Pacific National Bank
in Palm Desert, California. During this period, Bartels would
telephone Griffiths and advise her of the receipt of the various
checks and Griffiths would, by telephone, instruct Betty Bartels to
wire-transfer the funds to certain accounts. Pursuant to
instructions received from Griffiths, SOP wire-transferred these
funds to certain accounts. Most of the money, approximately
$156,000, was transferred to an account at Bank of America,
Bangkok, in the name of Mushtaq Ahmed Diwan. A smaller portion was
transferred to an account at Chemical Bank in New York in the name
of Narinder S. Saluja.
Narinder Saluja resides in Bangkok and was interviewed by the
Committee via telephone in November 1992. He informed the staff
that when monies were deposited in his New York account at Chemical
Bank as described above, he would then transfer a like amount in
cash to Shinkle in Bangkok. Saluja claims that Shinkle asked him
to use his bank account as a conduit for money because Saluja had
businesses in New York and Bangkok, enabling him to transfer money
The Committee received evidence that most of these contributions
discussed above were solicited by Bert Hurlbut, a Texas oilman who
is convinced that live POWs remained in Southeast Asia. Hurlbut
testified that Griffiths asked him in 1982 to raise private funds
to try to bring POWs back from Southeast Asia. According to
Hurlbut, he agreed to assist and was told that a tax-deductible
foundation had been founded in California to handle the money;
information about the account came via Griffiths. Hurlbut
was led to believe that the project had the blessing of Judge Clark
and Richard Childress at the NSC.
The money Hurlbut raised was transferred to the Bangkok account of
Mushtaq Ahmed Diwan and then given to Shinkle and Patrick
Khamvongsa. According to DIA, Patrick Khamvongsa is a former
member of the Royal Lao Air Force with ties to Phoumi Nosavan and
other members of the Lao resistance. In 1984, Patrick began to
work for Brig. Gen. Heine Aderholt (Ret.).
Evidence and depositions received by the Committee indicate that
the funds transferred to the Diwan account went to a Lao resistance
group for operations. Bond testified that he learned in 1987
that some of the funds had been used to buy arms and ammunition for
the Lao resistance. U.S. intelligence agents contacted
Hurlbut about his activities, but he was not asked to cease
fundraising for the Lao operations. During that time,
Hurlbut was an active member of the World Anti- Communist League
and an associate of Gen. John Singlaub (Ret.) during the time
Singlaub was actively raising funds and providing equipment to the
Staff notes from a June 21, 1990 telephone interview with Shinkle
in connection with the work of a prior Committee state:
. . . Shinkle was asked if he had ever received any
money through a bank account bearing the name Mushtaq
Ahmed Diwan. Shinkle stated that he had. He continued
by stating that he received approximately $154,000.00
from this account. He believed the exact amount was
$153,212.00. The money was obtained through donations by
former Congressman John LeBoutillier. The arrangement
for the monies to be received in the Diwan account was
done by Ann Mills Griffiths and Richard Childress. The
account was established by a friend of his who is of
Indian origin that he has known for some years. When
asked what he spent the money on, Shinkle replied "Field
Operations." The money [was] used to buy boots, field
packs and other items for resistance groups in Laos. . .
Records of the Diwan bank account show that, during a portion of
the relevant period, a total of $578,689.42 was wire-transferred
into the account from a variety of sources from various banks
throughout the world. Other than as set forth above, the Committee
was unable to locate Diwan, or determine either the sources or
ultimate recipients of these funds.
In a deposition, Griffiths provided her account of the origins of
the Skyhook II project. She stated that in June 1982, LeBoutillier
sought to raise funds for a POW intelligence/rescue project which
ultimately would become known as Skyhook II. LeBoutillier would
discuss his proposed activity with both Griffiths and Childress.
Griffiths said she understood that LeBoutillier was interested in
obtaining intelligence information on live POWs and that it was his
intention to then provide that information to the Government.
Griffiths did not dispute the accuracy of Betty Bartels' SOP notes
which reflect that officials at the NSC approved of the proposed
project and that it was important that the existence of the project
be kept secret.
Griffiths agreed to help LeBoutillier by finding an existing
charitable organization which would receive tax-deductible
donations on behalf of LeBoutillier and then transfer those funds
to Southeast Asia for the proposed Skyhook II project. Accordingly,
she contacted an acquaintance who was an official of a dormant
California 501(c)(3) (tax-exempt) organization known as Save Our
POW/MIAs, Inc. Griffiths explained the situation to the official,
Betty Bartels, and it was agreed that SOP would receive donations
on behalf of LeBoutillier's project and then transfer those monies
to bank accounts as directed by Griffiths and/or LeBoutillier.
Approximately $200,000 was raised from a handful of private donors
who understood that their donations would be used to fund a
clandestine POW project in Southeast Asia which had "the blessing
of the White House."
Other Efforts Related to Lao Resistance Forces
The Committee learned of an attempt by LeBoutillier and others to
obtain Government identification, radios and 10 handguns for
Skyhook II's contacts within the Lao resistance movement.
Following discussions with officials of the Drug Enforcement
Administration and the NSC, LeBoutillier purchased the handguns in
Virginia in 1984 through an acquaintance. The handguns were
intended to be shipped to Thailand for Skyhook II. Prior to
purchasing the handguns, LeBoutillier had attempted to secure the
assistance of DEA in providing Government identification and radios
for Skyhook II's operations in Thailand. Although DEA apparently
took preliminary steps towards providing government identification
to Skyhook II's agents in Thailand, those efforts and any efforts
to provide radios apparently were short lived. In addition,
LeBoutillier sought DEA's assistance in transporting the handguns
After learning of the purchases of the handguns, the Bureau of
Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms conducted an investigation of possible
firearms violations. As a result of its investigation, ATF
recommended that LeBoutillier be prosecuted for firearms violations
related to his straw purchases of the handguns.
In 1986 the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Virginia
declined to prosecute, based in part upon the fact that there was
evidence that LeBoutillier's activities had been sanctioned by the
U.S. Government. The investigation failed to determine what
ultimately happened to the handguns.
Recent Reconnaissance and Rescue Missions
From at least the early 1980s, there have been several well-
publicized attempts by American citizens to locate and rescue POWs
believed to be held captive in Southeast Asia. Set forth below is
a description and analysis of two recent such missions. The first
was conducted in 1992. The second, conducted by three POW/MIA
activists from Florida, took place in 1988.
Team Falcon, a 1992 reconnaissance and rescue operation, raised
more than $60,000 from concerned citizens, including a POW/MIA
family member. It was a futile exercise, doomed to fail from its
inception because it lacked reliable information about the
existence and location of any POWs; second, the participants lacked
the technical and logistical resources needed to ensure a mission's
success; and because they relied almost exclusively upon an
individual, Phoumano Nosavan, who is notorious for providing false
information to POW hunters.
In late 1991, Ted Hendrickson and Charley Taylor, members of the
Arkansas POW/MIA Verification Task Force, planned a mission to
Southeast Asia to locate and rescue three American POWs.
Hendrickson and Taylor are retired Vietnam veterans who are
receiving 100 percent disability payments from the Veterans
Administration for health problems relating to Post-traumatic
Stress Disorder. They claimed that the mission was planned because
they received "intelligence information" from Howard Funkhouser of
Arkansas that purported to identify the location of live American
POW/MIA's in Southeast Asia. This information allegedly was
supplied to Funkhouser by two Lao Americans, Bo Novilay and Phet
Phayboun, yet this remains unclear. Funkhouser has written that
even at that time, he maintained his belief that there were no MIAs
Following a series of meetings in the Fall of 1991, Team Falcon was
formed and began soliciting money. Approximately $60,000 is known
to have been raised from a variety of private sources.
Individual participants in the mission also spent considerable sums
of their own money in connection with the effort.
The individuals primarily responsible for raising the money for the
operation were Hendrickson, Taylor and Ted McGarry. By alluding to
the possibility that they knew where POWs were being held, and
withholding details about the mission in the name of "security,"
these men appealed to the hopes and fears of potential donors.
Their urgent, emotional pleas extracted large sums of money with a
minimum of explanation or evidence to support their claims. This
demonstrates vividly the appeal of purported first hand live
The U.S. component of Team Falcon consisted of McGarry and Pam
Heidinger, who had rented a "safe house" in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
Their function was to maintain lines of communications between
Thailand and the U.S. operations and to arrange the logistics of
the POWs' entry into the United States following their "rescue."
Thousands of dollars were spent on phone bills, rent for the safe
house, food, travel, etc. Additionally, the Canadian Vietnam
Veterans of Toronto was asked to provide "security" at the airport
upon the POWs return from Southeast Asia; 20 Canadian veterans were
said to be available on 24 hours notice. Mike Gillhoolley,
Chairman of the Toronto group's POW/MIA committee made several
trips made between Canada and Arkansas and spent more than $9,000
on the Team Falcon project.
At the end of January, 1992, Hendrickson, Taylor, Ken Carr (MIA
Capt. Donald Carr's half-brother) and Baron Harris traveled to
Bangkok to begin the mission. They were preceded by Howard
Funkhouser and his two Lao-American friends, Bo Novilay and Phet
Phayboun. There are conflicting accounts regarding the role
these men played, but they returned to the U.S. in mid-February
having done little more than paper work in connection with a
POW/MIA search effort. Their departure left Team Falcon in
need of a translator/interpreter. McGarry contacted Khambang
Sibounheuang and asked him to go to Bangkok to meet the members of
Team Falcon. Khambang traveled to Bangkok in April 1992.
According to Khambang, he travelled to a village near the
Thailand/Laos border to assist Hendrickson and Carr in crossing the
border. Khambang did not accompany Hendrickson and Carr into Laos.
Poor planning, expired visas, and a lack of appropriate funding and
equipment caused several delays. According to Khambang, members of
Team Falcon spent approximately three days in Laos, no time in
Vietnam or Cambodia, and two-and-one-half months in Thailand.
Taylor claims that Team Falcon members Hendrickson and Carr spent
up to 6 days away from the safe house in Thailand, but it is
unclear where they were during those days. Team Falcon returned to
Arkansas on April 13, 1992.
An "After Action Report" summarizing Team Falcon's activities in
Southeast Asia was prepared by Team members in May 1992.
This account states, in part:
. . . there are American POW/MIA's from the Vietnam
conflict who are still alive in Southeast Asia.
While not imprisoned in the traditional sense -- Team
Falcon found no evidence whatsoever of the existence of
any current POW camps, cages, caves or other restricted
enclosures -- neither are these individuals free to
return home. . .
Team Falcon personally investigated over 50 of these
reports by actually visiting the alleged sites. We found
no evidence, either physical or by interviewing area
residents, that any of these sites currently serve as the
location of a POW camp or confinement area of any type.
. . In fact, we found no evidence whatsoever that there
is any POW camp, cage, cave or similar restricted
enclosure housing American POW/MIA's anywhere in
Southeast Asia at this time.
Based on the accounts of those who either contributed money or
participated directly or indirectly in Team Falcon, it would have
been impossible for the Team Falcon members to have investigated
the alleged POW camp sites, or the location know as "Site 85" as
claimed in the Report.
1988 Mission To Southeast Asia
Three POW/MIA activists from Florida, Ron Martin, Tim Williams and
Leonard Hood travelled to Thailand in 1988 for the purpose of
rescuing certain POW/MIAs from Laos. Martin testified that:
. . . [W]e got some intelligence through activists --
people who had been going back and forth for years and
building relationships with Free Lao, mostly, such as
Phoumono Nosavan, the son of General Phoumi, people like
that. And we had information that Tommy Hart, the son of
Vera Hart, and Morgan Donahue and one other person -- we
didn't know his name -- were near the border in
Savannakhet. So we went over initially expecting to
spend 2 weeks. And 2 months later we were still there.
. . And we were unsuccessful.
Like others who contacted Phoumono for assistance, Martin and his
colleagues paid him for information and assistance in their search
for missing American servicemen. Phoumono coordinates teams of
armed escorts for cross-border forays. Martin describes these
teams as follows:
These guys don't stay in camp. They're not regular
troops. When Phoumono puts together a group, he goes to
homes. And we picked up a number of them in a van-like
vehicle. You go to individual homes. They kiss their
wives goodbye. I mean, some of them live in huts and
real horrible conditions. And I think they probably paid
them maybe 500 bhat [approximately $25] to go. And
that's the way a lot of these people --that's the only
income they have. . . We crossed the Mekong with about
29 indigenous people. Then we went towards Savannakhet,
up and down hills, not on roads. We had no firefights.
We ran into no concentration of troops. We stayed hidden
mostly during the day. We only went about 70 klicks
[approximately 44 miles] into the country. . .
Martin further described the role of the 29 indigenous "troops"
hired by Phoumono:
[They were t]o be on call when Phoumono needed them. In
other words, when he would say, we're going to go check
out a POW camp in the Phong Sali area or something like
that, sometimes they would go, sometimes they wouldn't.
If they needed money, they would go. If they wanted to
feed their family, they would go. Perhaps if they found
a job, maybe they'll not go.
During their foray into Laos, Martin's team, along with Phoumono
and his 29 "troops," reached the point where the POWs were supposed
to have been. When they approached the supposed camp, Phoumono
insisted the group leave at once as there were too many enemy
troops in the area. Martin testified that he did not see any of
the troops but, not anxious for a confrontation, left the area.
Martin testified that his share of the expenses for the trip
(including travel, food, lodging, and payments to Phoumono) came to
Martin's experience is evidence that a cottage industry in POW/MIA
hunting has emerged in Southeast Asia as a result of the
willingness of U.S. citizens to pay for "intelligence" and "mission
support." For a few thousand dollars, people like Phoumono can
secure weapons and hire a small force of armed escorts. Martin and
others who have dealt with Phoumono have learned that his industry
is riddled with deception:
If you want me to tell you after hindsight, I wouldn't
believe Phoumono, I wouldn't trust Phoumono with
anything, to tell you the truth.
When asked why Phoumono provided false or misleading information,
It's got to be for money. It's the only reason I can
guess. Also, I guess it gives him a little power. Money
gives him a little power in his own community. That's
the only reason I could guess, because with his operation
he will certainly never regain Laos or become -- or gain
the status of his father, General Phoumi.
James "Bo" Gritz
James "Bo" Gritz' forays into Southeast Asia have been well
publicized in the media and in books, and he is regarded by
POW/MIA activists to be the inspiration for the "Rambo" movies.
An excerpt from a report prepared in February of 1988 and
distributed by the NSC in response to a congressional inquiry
James "Bo" Gritz is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who
became active in the POW/MIA issue during the late 1970s.
At that time, the issue did not have the policy priority
it does today. Relying on a variety of supporters, he
has attempted to put together several "rescue attempts"
in Laos based on unsubstantiated hearsay reports.
In the Spring of 1981, Mr. Gritz received considerable
publicity when he disclosed "Operation Velvet Hammer," a
POW-rescue venture sponsored by private citizens, and
some family members of Americans missing in Southeast
Asia. Operation Velvet Hammer was not connected in any
way with the U.S. Government. This effort, which was not
carried through, involved a "training camp" at a
"cheerleading academy" in Florida, among other things.
Later, Mr. Gritz was publicly disavowed by his associates
and supporters, the media and the National League of
Families. The legality of his fundraising was questioned
by vulnerable family members, one of whom lost $30,000.
After receiving adverse publicity, Mr. Gritz surfaced a
letter, which he alleged was from the late Lieutenant
General Harold Aaron, USA, former Deputy Director of the
Defense Intelligence Agency, implying a connection
between his activities and the Defense Intelligence
Agency. An FBI analysis of the letter revealed a number
of differences between the signatures on that letter and
that of General Aaron, inconsistencies in the language of
the letter, and other facts that led to the conclusion
that the letter is not authentic. General Aaron was not
alive when the letter surfaced.
In October 1981, a low-level Department of Defense
organization submitted a proposal for an operation that
included Mr. Gritz's participation in a collection
capacity. This proposal, submitted by an acquaintance of
Mr. Gritz in the organization, never rose above the first
level in the approval process. However, in unwarranted
anticipation of the concept being approved, the
organization prematurely provided Mr. Gritz with initial
travel funds and some equipment. following disapproval
of the proposal, this organization informed Mr. Gritz
that he did not enjoy any official support.
With this exception, there has been no U.S. Government
sanction, encouragement, funding or approval of Mr.
Gritz's activities by the White House or by any Executive
department or agency of the government. In fact, the
U.S. Government has attempted in every way to oppose his
activities and has advised him that he was operating
counter to Government policy. He has attempted to fund
his alleged POW rescue operations through use of a now
defunct tax-exempt veterans organization, thousands of
dollars reportedly donated by a religious organization,
and donations from MIA family members and other private
In 1983, Mr. Gritz commenced new activities with new
supporters, including Hollywood personalities. He made
his way to Thailand with a group of veterans and POW/MIA
daughters whom he placed in a "command headquarters."
From Thailand, he crossed a short way into Laos with a
faction of the Lao resistance and some veterans. After
confrontation with a rival Lao resistance group, Mr.
Gritz's group immediately left Laos. Mr. Gritz and his
party were arrested by the Thai Government, declared
persona non grata and expelled. Mr. Gritz's allegations
that he had evidence that POWs were being held and that
the U.S. Government supported his activities were exposed
as untrue in hearings conducted by the House Subcommittee
on Asian and Pacific Affairs in March 1983.
Following these events, Mr. Gritz produced "evidence"
implying to Congress and the public that he had proof
that a specific individual was held prisoner. It
subsequently was demonstrated that the "evidence"
consisted of altered documents. Mr. Gritz was
subsequently expelled from the Special Forces Association
and was the subject of media scrutiny. . .
Throughout his years of involvement, Mr. Gritz
contributed nothing of value to the POW/MIA issue. In
fact, his activities have been counterproductive.
Supposed MIA remains he turned in were determined to be
animal bones. His rescue "missions," based on faulty or
fabricated intelligence, have been assessed as being so
undermanned and poorly planned that they had virtually no
chance for success. His alleged foray into Laos was used
as a basis by that country to suspend government-to-
government cooperation on this issue for a year. He has
distributed leaflets in Southeast Asia that falsely claim
Presidential support for his activities and that falsely
describe himself as an active duty full Colonel. . . .
In his testimony, Gritz said he was covertly funded by the U.S.
Government for certain of his operations. With the consent of the
head of a POW/MIA organization known as United Vietnam Veterans
Organization (UVVO), Gritz opened a chapter of UVVO and established
a UVVO bank account at Tokai Bank in Playa Del Ray, California in
or about 1986. Gritz testified:
If I got the word to go on the operation, I said fine.
If the money shows up in this UVVO account, then we will
go. If it doesn't show up, we don't. And so the money,
if it showed up we went.
Where the money came from, I didn't know and didn't care.
As a matter of fact, when we trained Afghans we got our
checks from Stanford Technology. I didn't know what
Stanford Technology was, didn't give a hoot. It was just
standard procedure until, when Ollie North's thing
started coming around here's Stanford Technology is part
of Albert Hakkim's organization. So what does that mean?
Well, so we used UVVO as a depository where covert funds
could be placed for these operations.
Gritz further testified the covert payments from the Government
were received via a Florida bank account and that on one occasion
his wife picked up a cash payment of $25,000 at a Washington area
supermarket. Gritz' code name for these activities was
"Bear" and he testified he was in frequent contact with ISA and CIA
about his covert operations. In November 1992, the Committee
received declassified documents evidencing that the U.S. Army began
using Gritz in mid-1981; however, it appears this was done to track
his private activities to ensure they did not interfere with other
Much of Gritz' activities appear to bid for public attention.
While first avoiding Committee investigators' requests for a
deposition, and then pleading for an extension so he could finish
his presidential campaign, Gritz launched a mini call-in campaign
by supporters demanding that he be deposed.