Summary. In the early 1990s, during the tenure of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIAs, a witness appeared who told a story about US POWs from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Major General Jan Sejna, a defector who had fled from Czechoslovakia to the US in 1968, claimed that he knew of a program whereby US POWs from Korea and Vietnam were used in medical experiments in Korea, Russia, and Czechoslovakia. Sejna's story was made more believable by the fact that he had served for years as a consultant to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), a position he still held when he made his claims. His revelations are a major element of the MIA "activists' " gospel.
Sejna's story is a fabrication. Carefully crafted, skillfully presented, but a fabrication nonetheless. The Sejna saga started just after his defection when he was asked by the CIA if he had any knowledge of American POWs. His response was that he knew nothing about US POWs. He was asked the same question in different forms at different times, each time with the same response.
As with most other things related to the MIA issue, Sejna's story is not simple. I will compress it to a few facts and considerations here.
I will not relate all of Sejna's story here. If you wish to search for it, it can be found at various home pages and websites run by MIA "activists" and "activist organizations." Simply stated, Sejna claimed that he observed US POWs from Vietnam as they were moved through safe houses and other locations controlled by Czech intelligence on their way to the Soviet Union where they were the subject of medical experiments. He also claimed that he knew of similar activities carried out with US POWs from Korea.
To support his story, he provided details intended to add credibility. He named Czech and Soviet intelligence officers who were involved in this business. He described safe houses and other locations where US POWs were kept or passed through.
More to the Story
There are a couple of more things you need to know about Sejna. First, he was employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency as a consultant before and during the time he was telling this tale. Second, Sejna had a long and close association with an individual in the Washington, DC, area, Mr. Joseph Douglass. Douglass is a writer who produced a book entitled Red Cocaine that purports to lay bare the facts of a vast worldwide narcotics trafficking network that was controlled by the Soviets. Would you believe that Sejna was Douglass' main source for Red Cocaine?
Sejna and DIA
When Sejna defected in 1968, he was debriefed by the CIA. Afterwards, he needed some form of livelihood. As a Czech general officer, and at his age, there was not much for him to do. So, as happened with a lot of folks like Sejna, he was signed up as a "consultant" to one of the US intelligence agencies. Because of his experience in the Czech military and because of his connections with Czech leaders, his insights were important to US analysis of Czechoslovakian, Warsaw Pact, and Soviet affairs.
Sejna and Douglass
I do not know Mr. Douglass and have never read his book, Red Cocaine. All I know of him and of the book is what I have heard from a couple of people close to the case. Red Cocaine describes a network that moves cocaine and other drugs around the world into the US and the other western democracies. The book claims that this network is run by the Soviets and it is part of their grand scheme to lay low the United States. The main source for the book is Sejna.
One would expect that such revelations would have caused a huge stir in Washington and lead to major disruptions in US - USSR relations. Nothing of the sort happened because analysis determined that the book was flawed and that most of its claims could not be substantiated.
Douglass was also a promoter of Sejna's story about US POWs. Sejna did not testify publicly before the SSC; he provided a deposition. Later, Sejna testified publicly in hearings held by Congressman Robert Dornan.
Enough. Let's Examine the Story
"No. No, I have not heard anyone talking about it."
After Sejna fled Czechoslovakia in 1968 ( just before the Soviet invasion to put an end
to the Prague Spring democracy movement ), he was debriefed extensively by US
intelligence. This exchange is quoted from Sejna's March 23, 1968 debriefing:
So, in the midst of the Vietnam War, immediately after he defected, when his knowledge of activities inside the Soviet empire would be fresh, Sejna stated unequivocally that he knew nothing about US POWs.
Sejna's Storytelling Method
I have read the version of Sejna's story that is posted on the WWW and it is a coherent, believable story. However, when he was telling the story, it was an entirely different matter.
First, of course, is Sejna's statement in his 1968 debriefing in which he denied any knowledge of US POWs. Then, when he started telling his story, an pattern developed. I was present at only one of Sejna's debriefings but I have had extensive conversations with the analysts who debriefed him and who worked to analyze and investigate his claims.
Sejna's story grew by stages. When he first told his story, it was simple with a lot of holes and blank spaces. Initially, he had only heard some rumors of US POWs from Korea and medical experiments. When analysts told him that there were some parts of his story that did not check out, he filled in the holes and each time the story became more and more complete.
Sejna would be debriefed; in his debriefing he would describe all sorts of events, people, and places. US analysts would check out the story in various ways. We would compare what he told us to facts that we had verified previously. We would have US personnel in Czechoslovakia check out locations he had described. In doing this, we would find big holes and errors in the story. Debriefers would confront Sejna with these errors in his story and he would tell another story, correcting the errors or explaining them away.
Through this process of Sejna telling the story, US intelligence checking it out and challenging him, Sejna refining his story, his claims developed to their finished form. He went from his 1968 denials, to a simple story about having heard rumors, to detailed knowledge of activities, people, and places. In every subsequent debriefing, his story became more and more complete as he refined it to correct the flaws on which he had been challenged.
Thus, the story that Sejna finally told, the one that he related to the Dornan hearings and the one that is on the "activist" network, is a carefully crafted fabrication that Sejna perfected after several months of practice.
Why Would Sejna Lie?
Simple. To keep his job. Consider the following.
Sejna was not, as is claimed by the "activists," a Czech intelligence officer. Instead, he was a political officer -- a Communist Party hack -- attached to the Czech General Staff. During his 1968 debriefing, he stated that he knew nothing about intelligence matters. (( Page 1, memorandum cited above. )) His specialty was Communist party affairs. (( No one has ever proved it, but this position probably gave him prior warning that the Soviets were preparing to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- just enough warning for him to get out. ))
Sejna was hired by DIA as a consultant because his position wold have given him
insights into how things worked within Czechoslovakia, the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet
Union. He would have had some value in providing assistance to analysts who were
wrestling with such matters.
I am just cynical enough to figure that what he does is create something that makes him valuable. Could this explain Red Cocaine? What better way to make yourself important to the US government -- again -- than by spilling the beans on the Evil Empire's drug trafficking?
Then comes the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the whole Soviet Empire. The Communist government in Czechoslovakia is replaced by a fairly democratic anti-Communist government and Sejna's information is worthless.
Now, he really has a problem. No sweat. Just become an expert on US POWs and he's back on the payroll. (( Actually, he was always on the payroll. DIA kept him on because, well, they did not want to throw the old guy out. ))
We should not overlook the fact that Sejna maintains a close association with a "writer" -- who looks a lot like many others who are trying to be the next Woodward or Bernstein. (( Is this cynicism or what? ))
One of Sejna's Stories
I will not go into chapter and verse of Sejna's stories here but there is one tale that I would like to share with you. In telling of how US POWs from Vietnam were moved into and through Czechoslovakia, Sejna described a Czech intelligence safe house in Prague where US POWs would reside temporarily. He described the place in some detail -- the address, the exterior, even the paneling on the walls inside.
The US has an embassy in Prague. In each embassy there is a US Defense Attaché Office that is filled with military intelligence folks and there are rumors that each embassy has a CIA station. Probably just rumors.
Personnel in the attaché office live in rented homes, on the local economy. Because the defense attaché office is a legal intelligence operation, there are certain counterintelligence actions that are taken to protect attaché personnel. One thing that the counterintell folks do is keep track of what is going on in buildings that surround official residences. Simply put, we want to make certain that no one is using a building across the street from the attaché's home as an eavesdropping center.
The safe house that Sejna described -- the one that he claimed was a transit point for US POWs being hauled through Prague -- is located right next door to the US Defense Attaché's official residence. As such, that building would have been under considerable scrutiny by US counterintelligence and there simply is no way that US POWs would have transited that building unobserved.
This is one of the most egregious of the many major flaws in Sejna's story. It is not the only one -- his tales are replete with similar foolishness.
A Few More Questions
Why Wait So Long?
Sejna departed Czechoslovakia in 1968 and came directly to the US. If he really did have information about US POWs from Vietnam or Korea, why did he not say so during his initial debriefings? After all, this was the height of the Vietnam War -- it was in all the newspapers -- and he would have to have known that the US government was interested in all aspects of the war. He was asked specifically if he knew anything about US POWs from Vietnam. He denied any knowledge.
Sejna was a consultant to DIA in 1973 when the war ended and the US POWs came home. This was a major social event and he could not have missed it. Why did he not say something then? He was in DIA, he could have brought up the topic with his co-workers. He said nothing.
Jan Sejna had several opportunities to reveal his knowledge -- if he had any. He took none of those opportunities. He waited until his career was at an end, when he had no value of any kind to US intelligence. Then he brought up what he hoped would be his meal ticket.
What About the Czechs?
Let's not forget some other important actors in this affair -- the past and current Czech governments. Remember, in the collapse of the Evil Empire, the Communist governments of Eastern Europe were replaced with governments that may not have been Jeffersonian democrats but they sure as hell were anti-Communist. The West was, and in some cases still is, treated to all sorts of revelations about the evils done by the bad guys who were in charge. US TV was filled with special tours of formerly secret places, presented by the new governments to show just how crooked and evil the Commies were.
If the Czech communist government had been involved in medical experiments on US POWs, just how valuable would that information be to the new government? Revealing this fact, and cooperating with the US would solidify our friendship. The new Czech government could help identify the US POWs who were involved, thereby ending the uncertainty of their families. Be revealing this dastardly program, the new Czech government had everything to gain and nothing to lose. In fact, the new and current Czech government cooperated with US MIA investigators.
Yet, in spite of continuing US - Czech investigations into the matter, there is nothing there. Why not? Because there is nothing there.
Let us now turn our attention to the subject of defectors.
I assume that most readers recall the years of the Cold War. We were the Good Guys and the Soviet Union, with its East European "satellites" was the Evil Empire. It had almost religious overtones. Everything about Them was evil. Everything about Us was good.
When an official from Their side saw the light and defected to Our side, it was as though the individual had come to Jesus. The popular media welcomed defectors as saved souls who threw off the chains that bound them to the Great Evil and came to the altar of democracy.
Fortunately US intelligence has a different view of defectors. Don't ever forget that this person whom we call a defector is, to the country from which he fled, a traitor. How do we feel about Americans, Brits, and others from the Western democracies who defected to the Evil Empire? You get the picture.
The fact is that a defector, no matter which direction he or she fled, has proven, by the simple act of defecting, that he/she is capable of great treachery. During the Cold War the defector frequently was a senior official from one of the Communist states. Here you have a person who benefited from the best his system had to offer -- as a party member, he could shop in special stores and shops, could travel, his children went to better schools, and he had access to apartments and hospitals that the common folks did not have. Yet, for some reason, this person turned his back on the system that nurtured him, and he betrayed that system. Now, because he came in our direction, we figure he is a good guy. But, we should not lose sight of the fact that this guy has proven what he is capable of and it ain't pretty.
Now, folks, you may be put off by what I have just said but remember one thing. In the intelligence business, we are dealing with serious matters. A defector may give us information that goes directly to the senior decision makers and that information may be used in making vital decisions. There is no room for error at this level so you had best keep your bullshit filter finely tuned.
Sejna was a defector. He fled Prague, leaving behind his friends and associates, just before Soviet tanks rumbled into town. As a Communist political officer, he may have known what was coming. He had proven what he was capable of doing. I believe, that in telling his POW story, he did it again -- he ran to save himself.
At this point, I do not need to wind your watch for you. I really believe most folks can figure it out. General Jan Sejna's tale about US POWs from Korea and Vietnam being taken to the Soviet Union, or to anywhere else for that matter, is a fabrication. Sejna revealed everything he knew about US POWs in his 1968 debriefing: nothing.