Malfeasance in the Search
for American POW/MIAs
by Joseph D. Douglass Jr.
The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs was chartered in August 1991 to investigate what happened to the American servicemen who never returned from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Its Chairman was Senator John Kerry (MA) and its Vice Chairman, Senator Robert Smith (NH). As explained in their final report, the Select Committee "was created, in short, to pursue the truth, at home and overseas."
Before their final report, dated January 25, 1993, was even distributed, their conclusions and investigatory practices had come under sharp attack. The Select Committee effort was widely characterized as just another in a long series of U.S. government whitewashes.
Notwithstanding a wide variety of information on American soldiers left behind, the Select Committee could only find a "possibility" than a "small number" of American , POW/MIAs might have been left behind in Vietnam, which was their principal focus. They were unable to find any former U.S. official who had any "certain knowledge," whatever that is, that any American servicemen were left behind. And if some were, they concluded, it was as much the American public's fault as it was the government's!
With respect to the number "held in the former Soviet Union after WWII, the Korean War and Cold War incidents," the Select Committee only found evidence that "some U.S. POWs were held." Lt. Col. Philip Corso testified that he knew from intelligence reports that 900 to 1,200 Americans had been identified on trains headed to Soviet labor camps during the Korean War. The Senate Select Committee's "some" appears to be a number well in excess of 900!
While the Select Committee repeatedly emphasized the importance of full disclosure and the need to declassify all relevant documents and create an open record, their message was not very convincing because this was not the way the most critical items of information were handled. The records on the movement of POWs from North Korea to the Soviet Union ,were not released. The Committee did not subpoena the only non-political witness of a crucial White House conversation. No mechanism was established to retrieve important intelligence documents, such as former POW or defector debriefings, e.g. the debriefing of the North Vietnamese defector Dr. Dang Tan. While the Committee's final report states that "All committee documents are available through the National Archives," nothing could be further from the truth. Many file cabinets filled with documents have never reached the archives or been released to the American public. There is no question. Selective release, not full release, has been and still is the ,de facto practice of the Select Committee.
The revealing question that emerged during the course of the Committee's investigation is: How can evidence or information be found
1) if there is no sincere effort to find it, 2) if it is deliberately ignored when present, or 3) if people avoid looking for it, particularly when told precisely where to look? Every time a major lead is identified or important clue is uncovered, the operating priorities are to attempt to discredit the information, release it in such a way as to minimize its impact, avoid any effort to assemble all relevant and related material, and, if all else fails, investigate in such a way as to minimize the possibility of uncovering anything of embarrassment to either the U.S. government or the various communist and ex-communist governments.
This, as it turns out, is the crux of the problem. Significant data has been extremely slow to emerge because the people in charge did not and still do not want to know. Such data would upset other higher priority political agendas, as for example the pursuit of business and economic interests in Vietnam, the funneling of massive amounts of financial assistance to Russia, and the continuing desire of government officials and the "establishment" to sweep the crimes of socialist regimes under the rug.
There is at present probably no better example of the information and intelligence problem than that presented by five independent yet closely related items of information, four of which only surfaced in 1993 after the Select Committee had closed its doors and one of which the Select Committee deliberately classified secret before closing its doors.
Shortly after the Select Committee's final report was printed and released, a Harvard academician, Dr. Stephen Morris, who was in Moscow conducting research on Soviet-North Vietnam relations unearthed a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) translation of a North Vietnamese military intelligence briefing given by General-Lieutenant Chan Van Kuang (also spelt Tran Van Quang), to their Politburo on 15 September 1972. Kuang is believed to have been deputy chief of staff for military intelligence.
Among other subjects, the briefing provided details on the number of American POWs that North Vietnam then held in prison. This number was significantly higher, Kuang told the Politburo, than the number of American POWs the North Vietnamese government had publicly acknowledged they held. The North Vietnamese intended to withhold hundreds of POWs to serve a variety of policy interests. According to the numbers presented by Kuang, over 700 Americans in North Vietnam prisons were not released in 1973 at Operation Homecoming.
The U.S. government's approach to this document, as explained by Dr. Morris at the National Alliance of Families conference on July 16, 1993, was first to try and discredit the, document, second to classify it, third to leak it to the Vietnamese and Russians so that they could help discredit it, and fourth, to take no action to exploit its potential use in unearthing other revealing documentation.
Less than a month after the above GRU document surfaced, Congressional staff familiar with the POW/MIA documentation retrieved portions of a 1979 DIA debriefing of a North Vietnamese Army defector, Lt. Colonel Le Dinh. Le Dinh had stated that "about 700 American POWs" were held captive in North Vietnam for strategic bargaining and reparations purposes after Operation Homecoming.
Le Dinh was assessed by DIA at the time he was debriefed to be both knowledgeable and credible. Le Dinh also stated that the Americans were divided into the same three categories mentioned by General Kuang: progressives, neutrals, and reactionaries.
On May 26, 1993, Senator Kerry released a batch of interrelated CIA and State Department memos, intelligence reports, and cable traffic. These documents were from 1970 and 1971. They concerned a North Vietnamese Army doctor, Dang Tan, who defected to the South in September 1969.
The key document is a memo dated 10 May 1971 from CIA Director Helms to Presidential Assistant Henry Kissinger, with copies to Secretary of State Rogers, Secretary of Defense Laird, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Moorer, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Sullivan. The memo warns the officials about an imminent press conference of North Vietnamese Army defector, Dr. Dang Tan. Attached to Helm's memo was copy of an 8 May 1972 cable from the CIA Saigon Station that presented background on the press conference and crucial extracts from Dr. Tan's prepared statement.
According to the cable, the GVN Central Intelligence Organization had arranged to surface Dr. Tan at a press conference on 11 May 1971 0900 local time. Quotes taken from Dr. Tan's prepared statement that are included in the cable follow:
"American POW's...are being treated as commodities."
"Hanoi's representatives in Paris [state] that NVN now holds only 367 American POW's in captivity. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is untrue. I know that already by mid-1967, when I departed NVN, over 800 American POW's were then in captivity in NVN." [When pressed by news men, Tan stated that the official number used in Hanoi was 1000, but that he believed this was high. His estimate was over 800. Additionally, Tan stated that as many as 500 American POWs had "disappeared."]
"The Politburo policies require that these Americans be exploited, intensively as possible."
"NVN, in violation of the laws and regulations which apply to POW's, has permitted other Communist bloc countries to exploit these American POW's including Communist China, the USSR, Cuba, Czechoslovakia and other countries."
"American POW's have been taken to other Communist countries."
"All types of methods are employed to extract information from the POW's. This goes beyond the normal brainwashing and political indoctrination and includes the use of different drugs to weaken their will"
"The ruthless interrogation and exploitation of American POW's is inhumane."
His information, Tan explains, came from official briefings and discussions with officials and individuals who were directly involved in the exploitation of American POWs.
The CIA Saigon Station cable also identifies additional information from Tan that was reported in the Chinh Luan newspaper on March 20, 1971, sourced to Tin Viet News Services. That information included statements that the exploitation of American POW's was set forth in a North Vietnamese treaty and that POW's were removed from North Vietnam and sent to China and Russia for further exploitation.
Among the documents Kerry released were six CIA intelligence reports on Tan's debriefing and one CIA memo from George Carver to William Sullivan at the State Department, same subject, all from 1970. In none of these documents from 1970 as released by Kerry is there any mention of any of the items of information that the CIA Saigon Station and Director Helms found so sensitive in May 1971 when Tan was about to "go public." This is astounding! Why was none of this information included in any of the intelligence reports that were distributed long before Tan's press conference? Did the CIA people who originally debriefed Tan not question him about the most important subjects? Was the information considered embarrassing to the communists and thus not reported in the formal intelligence reports? Were only the debriefings of Tan that did not contain politically sensitive information released? Were there no follow-up debriefings after Tan's sensitive information surfaced in the Tin Viet News Service on March 20, 1971, or after his statement was written in preparation for the May 11 press conference? Why did Helms wait until May 10 to inform other key officials, when it would appear that the CIA station almost certainly knew of the impending "revelations" at least two months earlier, or why were earlier CIA notices on Tan's information to the White House not released? Why was not a transcript of Tan's press conference and of the Tin Viet news release included in the documents Kerry released? Were there no Army or DIA assessments of Tan's information, or were they simply not released? As best this "release" can be reconstructed, it seems that the material was identified by a State Department employee searching the files for information on POW/MIAs, not by the CIA or DoD. How could the CIA have missed this documentation on Tan's information in its search for POW-related material, and, in the attachment to Helm's memo, why did the CIA attempt to "pass off" Tan's press conference as a CIO (South Vietnamese Central Intelligence Organization, which worked-hand- in-glove with the CIA) initiative? What is clear is that the friends and families of POW/MIAs, and the American public generally, are being treated as the proverbial mushroom by all branches of the Federal government.
Kerry evidently released the material found in the State Department files. Nothing released by Kerry indicates any interest in 1971 or today in debriefing Dr. Tan further about any aspect of his information that was so obviously sensitive as to cause CIA Director Helms to warn Kissinger, Laird, Rogers, Moore, and Sullivan about its impending release. This is another extremely serious omission because at that time, and today, there was at least one obvious such source who was and still is able to shed light on what Tan had seen happening. That individual is General Major Jan Sejna.
At the time of Tan's information, 1967, Sejna was a top Czech official-- chief of staff to the Czech Minister of Defense among other positions. He defected to the United States on February 25, 1968. Sejna was known within the intelligence community, White House, and State Department to have had the highest level access to Czech and Czech-Soviet plans, operations, and deliberations. Sejna had official knowledge of Czech-North Vietnam treaties respecting the use of POWs that Tan mentioned and of the movement of American POWs to "other communist countries," including Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and China, and their "exploitation." During the 1970 CIA debriefings of Tan and continuing until 1975, Sejna was working for the counter-intelligence department in the CIA Operations Directorate. No one asked him about Tan's revelations, either in 1971 when they became highly publicized or in 1993 following Senator Kerry's release. Was this an inadvertent oversight or was it simply business as usual? What ever the reason, as will soon become appreciated, it was a gross error.
Kerry also released a variety of CIA and State Department cables from May 10-12, 1971, respecting Tan's press conference. All are concerned with State Department efforts to have selected items deleted from Tan's statement as follows:
1. HQS HAS INSTRUCTED CERTAIN PORTIONS DOCTOR DANG TAN STATEMENT RELATING TO AMERICAN POWS BE EXCISED FROM TEXT. REQUEST DELETE FOLLOWING QUOTES:
A. 15TH PARA OF STATEMENT, FIRST TWO SENTENCES BEGINNING: "CONCERNING THE TOPIC OF AMERICAN POWS..." ENDING: "...ABOUT 800 IN CAPTIVITY IN LATE 1967."
B. 16TH PARA OF STATEMENT, 5TH SENTENCE: "AND THE USE OF DRUGS TO WEAKEN THE WILL OF THE POWS. I KNOW OF THIS BECAUSE OF MY MEDICAL BACKGROUND."
Dr. Tan was also "instructed to make no comment, answer no questions re American POW issue at 7 May preliminary interviews." The State Department did not want any numbers surfaced that were different from the official Hanoi position insofar as that would produce discrepancies that would be difficult to explain, failing that, with limiting the damage caused by Tan's statement. That is the extent of the evident State Department and CIA interest as reflected in the released cables: cover up and damage limiting. Again, no concern is expressed anywhere in any of the cables that Tan's information should be examined and investigated through other sources, nor is there any suggestion that this might have been done.
Three months after the Dang Tan material surfaced, another North Vietnamese document was "found" in the Russian archives. This document was from December 1970. It was a Vietnamese document that stated that 735 Americans were held captive in North Vietnam in December 1970, and that only the names of 368 of them were being released. The difference were to be retained until after the Americans had withdrawn. This document further confirms the fact that hundreds of American POWs were never released in Operation Homecoming. This, however, is only the beginning of the story.
The Select Committee final report shows very clearly that U.S. officials were expecting well over 2,000 POWs to be returned during Operation Homecoming. At that time, DIA listed 667 Americans as POWs and 1,986 as MIA, and many CIA and so-called "black" operations personnel who were missing were not included in the lists. Moreover, Dr. Tan had said he believed that the numbers held in 1967 were in excess of 800, and that the official numbers used in Hanoi at that time were in the vicinity of 1,000. Because the numbers in the 1970 and 1971 North Vietnamese documents were considerably lower than what U.S. officials believed to be the case and considerably lower than Dr. Tan's figures, the second half of the story concerns the disappearance of hundreds of POWs from North Vietnam. What happened to the hundreds of American POWs who vanished from the North Vietnamese "lists"? According to Dr. Tan, they "disappeared." Were these the ones who were turned over to other communist countries for "exploitation"? This is where General Sejna's information becomes so important in helping us to understand the truth about what happened.
In July 1992, I personally informed the Select Committee and the OSD POW/MIA Affairs Office -- both in writing and in person -- about the existence of Jan Sejna and the nature of his first-hand information on what happened to American POWs from both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
I also explained that they could not begin to understand the breadth of Sejna's knowledge by simply questioning him for several hours or taking his deposition under oath. It was essential, I stated over and over, to conduct a detailed debriefing. A serious debriefing, I tried to explain, would take several months to a year to complete. I had worked with Sejna repeatedly in the past and knew from experience what was involved. Recapturing someone's knowledge that goes back twenty-five to thirty-five years is not a simple process. It requires patience and time to revisit each event from many different directions to recapture the whole picture. Only then, after the whole picture has been assembled, could an informed decision be made on how to proceed. It would be a gross mistake, I repeatedly stressed, to take any actions based on his information, including actions to confirm or extend his information, until after all his knowledge had been recaptured and analyzed.
Over the summer of 1992, it became quite evident that, as in the case of Dr. Tan, no one in the U.S. Government wanted to know what Sejna knew, except to limit damage or to warn others about the possible surfacing of Sejna's knowledge. Sejna, then a DIA employee, was questioned several times about what I said he knew, then placed without notice or choice on a polygraph for a full day, and then subjected to several more rounds of questioning. Following the polygraph, he was told in confidence that he had passed the poly. DIA and CIA then went back to review Sejna's original 1968 debriefings to learn what he might have said then. DIA confronted him with what they said was a statement by him that he new nothing. But there was a serious flaw in their claim. The Czech transcription they showed Sejna was old Czech, not the Czech Sejna knew. Sejna challenged them and asked to hear the recording tapes. First they said they were destroyed. Then they said it would take a few days to find the tapes. That was over a year ago. They never did produce the tapes!
While this search was underway, CIA, evidently at DIA's request, went to the Czech foreign intelligence ministry and asked them if they could confirm what Sejna was saying, thus placing the entire KGB network on the alert. From a security point of view, this action was inexcusable. It could even be regarded as bordering on treason. At that time it was known that the KGB was obstructing the U.S. Task Force Russia search of Soviet archives by finding and silencing potential witnesses.
When it became evident that the Select Committee was about to take his deposition, the DIA POW office subjected Sejna to two four-hour hostile questioning sessions, that began with their accusing him of lying and withholding information, which was when the issue of the transcript of his original debriefing, noted above, first arose. Never was his permission to submit to questioning sought and never was he asked to help in the POW/MIA search. DIA's only evident interest was to learn what Sejna was likely to tell the Select Committee if and when he was called so that they could better protect their own backsides. Turns out, a DIA analyst had talked at some length to Sejna years earlier about his knowledge of POWs, and several DIA officials had been informed about Sejna's knowledge of Soviet medical experiments on American POWs during the Korean War in the fall of 1986, but there was no serious effort to further debrief Sejna or investigate this information following these disclosures.
An internal Select Committee memo dated October 30, 1992, by staff member John McCreary, himself a lawyer and intelligence analyst on leave from DIA, states that CIA attempted to discredit Sejna even before his testimony was taken and that the U.S. Chairman of the Joint U.S.-Russia Investigation Commission, which was set up to guide the Task Force Russia search of Russian archives for information on American POWs, when informed of the nature of Sejna's information, "called for his dismissal." To use McCreary's words, "As of this writing, we do not know what Sejna knows or will say under oath, yet his testimony has already been written off. This anticipatory discrediting of a Select Committee potential witness is tantamount to tampering with the evidence."
On November 19, selected lawyers on the Select Committee staff took Sejna's deposition in secret. Only four other people were allowed to be present, Sejna's lawyer and representatives from OSD, DIA, and CIA. The latter three asked that his deposition be classified and not released, which is precisely what the Select Committee did. Sejna, through his attorney, repeatedly asked to review a transcript of his testimony. This is a normal curtesy extended to individuals providing information. In Sejna's case, it was most important because the deposition was taken in English, and Sejna's command of the English language is not in any sense precise or up to "court room standards." Mistakes are common. Review and re-review are essential to eliminate inadvertent errors. The Select Committee refused to allow him to review his testimony.
Less than a month after his deposition was taken, a U.S. task force, headed by Malcolm Toon, traveled to Prague to ask the current officials what they knew about Sejna's "allegations," making certain, as described by one member of the entourage, that all the Czech officials knew precisely who the source was, i.e. the former Czech official Jan Sejna, and that the U.S. officials found his story hard to believe. This action, taken before there was any knowledge of the full extent of Sejna's knowledge, like the CIA action, was not designed to learn the truth, but to put the issue to bed. Because there had been no serious debriefing of Sejna, aside from what little had been gleaned during a half dozen or so questioning sessions, there was no real strategy to capture or exploit Sejna's information. He had not even been asked who to see, or what organizations to visit because they (DIA) did not want Sejna to know they were going to Prague to check his story out with the current Czech officials. Obviously, there was no interest in involving Sejna in the effort to confirm and exploit his information in tracking down missing American servicemen -- and who better than him to involve? Underscoring Sejna's importance, no Czech official had anything disparaging to say about Sejna and the Minister of Interior said Sejna's information should not be discounted because the communists were capable of anything.
These are but a sampling of the actions undertaken to discredit Sejna and sabotage his information. Other acts include misrepresenting and falsifying intelligence, character assassination, and blocking proposed efforts to conduct a thorough debriefing of Sejna.
Additionally, while one of the leading concerns of the Select Committee's investigation was malfeasance of various executive agencies (State Department, DoD, DIA, CIA, and NSC staff) involved in recovering missing American servicemen, the most critical portions of the investigation were turned over to those same executive agencies who were the objects of the investigation! This is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. John McCreary of the Select Committee staff also wrote an internal memorandum in which he accused the Staff Director of compromising the Senate investigation by leaking sensitive information to various agencies of the executive branch and, in so doing, of endangering the lives and livelihood of witnesses. An excellent example of this is the behind the scenes joint efforts to discredit Sejna and bottle-up his knowledge. Notwithstanding all their magnanimous claims to the contrary, in no sense of the word can the Select Committee's investigation be said to have been independent, thorough, objective, or focused on getting the truth out.
In the case of Sejna's information, what is uncontestable, the real "bottom-line" essence, is that several different U.S. government agencies with means and authority knew about the nature of Sejna's information yet none of them made any effort to have him debriefed to learn the whole story. The question is not one of confirmation or checking out his story. The question is why the stonewall refusal to carefully assemble his complete story in the first place. Why?...is the critical question that demands an answer.
At present, there seems to be only one reasonable conclusion: they did not want to know -- beyond that necessary to recognize how great a threat he presented to the conventional wisdom and to be able later to say, "But we did question him and were unable to confirm what he had to say."
To understand why this deliberate failure to debrief Jan Sejna is so important, it is necessary to present a sampling of his information. Over the past year, I have debriefed Sejna for several dozen hours on his knowledge of events related to the fate of American POWs. This estimate of "several dozen hours" deserves qualification, because Sejna is no stranger to me. We have worked together on a wide variety of projects over the past fifteen years, which is how I knew of his knowledge of events concerning American POWs in the first place. Thus, the several dozen hours comes on top of thousands of hours of previous debriefings, the majority of which are highly relevant to the POW issue because they deal with integrally related topics such as Communist organization and decision making, chemical and biological warfare, Soviet political and military strategy, Soviet control over satellite intelligence operations, mind control and narcotic drug developments, intelligence operations undertaken against the free world, strategic deception, and long-range plans.
Sejna's Knowledge Concerning the Fate of American POWs
During both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Soviet Union, assisted by Czechoslovakia, used over a thousand American POWs as guinea pigs in military medical intelligence experiments.
Experiments were run to determine the limits of physiological and psychological stress the captive GIs could endure. The Soviets justified these tests, Sejna explained, on the need to determine how well the Americans could stand up to the rigors of all-out war.
American and South Korean and South Vietnamese POWs were exposed to chemical warfare agents and biological warfare organisms to test their susceptibility to the different agents and organisms. The Soviets wanted to learn if the American GIs were any more, or less, vulnerable than the Soviet soldiers to the experimental agents they were developing. The Soviets also wanted to know if there were any differences between the races -- black, white, Hispanic and Asian -- in their biochemical vulnerability to the agents.
The captive GIs were also used as subjects in testing the effectiveness of military intelligence drugs, including a wide variety of mind-control and behavior-modification drugs, which, incidentally, were used during the Korean War to cause American servicemen to speak out on the evils of capitalism and on the benefits of communism.
The Soviets exposed GIs to atomic radiation to determine how much radiation was needed to kill or incapacitate a man. Tests to determine the long-term consequences of sub-lethal dose levels also were run. Lethal doses were administered and then the GIs were watched to determine how long soldiers could function and to learn if there were any drugs that could be used to prolong their ability to perform military tasks before permanently succumbing to the radiation.
Finally, autopsies were performed on the servicemen who did not survive the experiments to determine ethnic differences in biochemical makeup and to verify the effects of different drugs and biological organisms on the body, the heart and brain in particular.
Czechoslovakia's participation began early in the Korean War. The Soviets directed the Czechs to build an experimental hospital in North Korea. Ostensibly, the hospital was built to test new medical procedures for treating military casualties and for training young military doctors. This was its overt mission. Covertly, the hospital served as a test bed in which captive American and South Korean servicemen were used as guinea pigs in the types of medical experiments described above. The Czechs also built a crematorium in North Korea to dispose of the remains. Sejna discussed the operation with the deputy director of military intelligence for strategic intelligence who was in charge of intelligence operations in North Korea at the time and with the doctor who actually ran the experimental hospital in North Korea.
The hospital was designed to handle two hundred "patients." In operation, the hospital was often overcrowded. One year six hundred patients were treated. The hospital was so crowded that two patients were often required to share one bed. Sejna never encountered any indication in any report or discussion that suggested that any of these hundreds of POW "patients" were ever returned back to the North Koreans.
In 1954, after the armistice was in effect, the Soviets decided to terminate operations in North Korea and turn the hospital over to the North Koreans. The roughly one hundred remaining American POWs were shipped back to the Soviet Union for long-term and more sophisticated experiments. For example, one of the experiments was to determine the long-term effects of sub-lethal doses of atomic radiation. To the Soviets, "long-term" usually meant several decades; fifty years was typical. In the case of the sub-lethal radiation effects, the Soviet interest included effects of radiation on the soldiers' reproductive organs and on their subsequent children and grandchildren.
The POWs were shipped by air, with a stop over in Prague, where the GIs were first examined for fitness before being sent on to various experimental medical test facilities in the Soviet Union. The stop over lasted typically about a week. The purpose of the stop over was for security to "break the trail" so that the Soviets could subsequently deny any claims that POWs were shipped to the U.S.S.R. from North Korea. This is also why the experimental hospital was a "Czech" hospital. These deceptions were all part of a carefully designed plan to mask the movement of GIs to the Soviet Union and mislead people about what was really happening and who was responsible.
The same things happened during the Vietnam War, except on a larger scale and with greater control exercised by the host country. Planning for the operation began in 1960 when the North Vietnamese came to Moscow, Prague, and other East European capitals seeking military aid so that they could intensify their war against South Vietnam. As a quid pro quo, the North Vietnamese agreed to provide American POWs to the Soviets for medical research. Plans were drawn up by a joint Czech-Soviet-NVN military counter-intelligence team to secretly move selected Americans captured in Vietnam to the Soviet Union, again, through Czechoslovakia. The first small-scale test movement occurred in August 1961. Additional transfers were made in 1962, and the first full scale operation took place in 1963.
In late 1963, a formal Soviet-North Vietnamese agreement for military assistance was negotiated. Operating under this agreement, the Soviets instructed the other Warsaw Pact countries on the nature of the assistance each would provide to North Vietnam. Soviet General Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, personally directed the Czechs to negotiate arrangements with the North Vietnamese including, among other things, agreements on the use of POWs.
The order came into the Czech Defense Council through its secretariat, which Sejna headed. The GIs had been most useful in the past, Khrushchev explained, and there were many new drugs and chemical and biological warfare agents in development that needed testing. Arrangements were negotiated with the North Vietnamese in 1964, with a supplementary agreement negotiated in 1965. These agreements expanded and formalized the arrangement for the movement of POWs to the Soviet Union through Czechoslovakia, and set forth the procedures for experimenting on American and South Vietnamese POWs in North Vietnam.
As soon as experiments on U.S. POWs had commenced in North Vietnam, negotiations were held with the Laotians to gain their participation as well. The Czech/Soviet agreement for the use of POWs for medical experiments was negotiated with General Sin Ka-po. Laos was generally more complicated than North Vietnam because of the government instabilities. Thus, most arrangements were run through the Party system rather than through the government. There were two "hospital" facilities where experiments were performed in Laos. The Czech doctors described the conditions at these facilities as "primitive." This was not bad, reasoned the Soviets, because combat was often conducted in primitive conditions and, thus, operating under such conditions was good experience.
In North Vietnam, the Soviet and Czech doctors served as "advisors." Because of North Vietnamese insistence, North Vietnamese doctors performed the actual experiments. The Soviets and Czechs provided the instructions and analyzed the results. In Laos, both Soviet and Czech doctors worked directly on the patients. Generally, there were three Czech military doctors in Laos, five to seven in North Vietnam, and a larger number of Soviet doctors in both locations. The usual tour of duty for the Czech doctors was six months. All doctors who worked on this program first had to pass detailed special background investigations, involving both Czech and Soviet military counter-intelligence agencies, before their participation was approved.
With respect to the POWs moved to the Soviet Union, the process began with a Soviet request that would identify the desired nature of the specimens; that is, race, age, soldiers or officers, and overall numbers desired. North Vietnamese military counter-intelligence would then swing into action and make their selection -- not from POW camps, but from the next groups of Americans that were captured. The selection of new captives as candidates for the process sealed their fate. They were immediately moved into an entirely separate and dedicated POW handling system. Then the selection process began. The POWs were interrogated by a joint Soviet-North Vietnamese team to assess whether each selectee might be expected to cause problems or not. Those where there was concern were to be killed. Those who passed the test were shipped, first to Prague, and then to the Soviet Union.
Up until his defection in 1968, General Sejna was knowledgeable about the shipments and personally monitored portions of the operation. There were generally two or three shipments of POWs each year, always by airplane. While the airplanes always were manned by the Soviet military, for security and deception purposes the planes always bore the insignia of some country other than the U.S.S.R.; for example, Bulgaria, or Rumania, or Hungary. The flights used the secure Czech military airbase at Zatek, which was roughly forty kilometers from Prague. From the airbase, the POWs were taken in special buses to highly secure military counter-intelligence barracks in Prague.
Normally, twenty to twenty-five POWs constituted a "shipment." On one occasion, in the fall of 1966, there was a large shipment of about sixty POWs. A second exception was at least one special small shipment comprised of only two or three POWs. In this latter case, the POWs were housed at the military intelligence villa on Korejska street in Prague. While most of the POWs were American, there were exceptions. Sejna recalls that, prior to his departure, two Australians were processed and sent, along with the American POWs, to the Soviet Union.
Beginning in 1956, Czech doctors and scientists were recruited to assist the Soviets in the POW experiments carried out in the Soviet Union. In response to a Soviet request, the Czech Defense Council approved the use of Czech doctors and scientists for the project. These experiments were conducted under the organizing authority of the Soviet Military Health Administration, although it was ultimately the KGB that controlled security and made final decisions. The project was highly classified and operated within a carefully orchestrated deception plan. Under this plan, the doctors and scientists were simply on leave to study nuclear warfare medicine at the Moscow Institute for Nuclear Medicine. A curriculum was established, courses developed, and instructors selected -- but all were fakes. The doctors went to Moscow, from which point they dispersed into three groups, one of which stayed at the institute to help with the study of the effects nuclear radiation on the POWs. One of the nuclear experiments involved subjecting the Americans to actual nuclear detonations and then studying the psychological and physiological effects of atomic radiation, blast, and thermal radiation on the soldiers' ability to function.
The Soviet medical experiment program was expanded in 1962, in preparation for the POWs that the Soviets anticipated would be provided by the North Vietnamese. The Soviets did not know how long the war the North Vietnamese were about to launch would last and wanted to exploit the American POWs as fast as they could get them. In preparation for this activity the Czechs reviewed their own scientific capabilities and chemical and biological warfare agent development programs to learn where and how programs could be accelerated. During this review process, the Czech scientists argued that their hands were tied because of the delays in getting research results back from the Soviets. They were also at a disadvantage, they argued, because they were unable to directly monitor the tests, and had reason to question the results provided by the Soviets.
The KGB, with its penchant for security, did not want anyone to learn where the POWs were held, and this included the Czech scientists who up till then operated solely through their Soviet intermediaries. The complaints of the Czech scientists, coupled with the Soviet request to place more resources on the experiments, prompted a Czech Defense Council recommendation that President Novotny take the issue directly to Khrushchev. Accordingly, a letter from Novotny to Khrushchev was prepared in Sejna's secretariat. The letter explained that better access to the POWs was required to speed up the Czech research. Following this letter, conditions improved. While the Czechs were still not allowed to go to the locations where the American POWs were held, the POWs were brought to the Czechs so that they could observe first-hand the results of the experiments.
In reviewing the events described above, one should not interpret the Soviet experiments as reflecting any special animosity towards Americans, insofar as the Soviets treated their own people in the same manner. In 1945, Dr. Walter Hirsch, a German chemical warfare (CW) specialist and head of German CW ordinance development, prepared a comprehensive summation of Soviet chemical and biological warfare activities based on detailed information from German intelligence, interrogations of Soviet POWs, captured documents, and German scientists and technicians who worked on joint German-Soviet programs. He explained that the manufacture of CW agents was conducted under the "strict supervision" of the NKVD, which was the KGB predecessor, and that CW agents were "tried on political prisoners in most inhuman ways without any consideration whatsoever." Biological warfare testing facilities were deliberately established close to prison camps that then supplied the "human experimental subjects."
The Soviets also used unsuspecting university students as guinea pigs, as reported in U.S. Congressional hearings in 1976. University students were considered ideal experimental subjects because they were the right age, healthy, and near campus hospitals where the results of the experiments could be covertly monitored.
Nothing about this should be considered shocking, upon slight reflection. This is simply the nature of communism. This is no more shocking than the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians, the Katyn massacre, or the slaughter of millions in the Gulag. The list is endless.
The American POWs from Korea and Vietnam were used because it was important to the Soviets to identify any ethnic or racial differences that might affect the effectiveness of the drugs and chemical and biological warfare agents under development -- and differences were identified. Most important, many of the chemical warfare agents were in the nature of mind-control and behavior-modification drugs and these needed to be tested on American minds. Finally, the POWs were useful because the POWs were seen as a good supply of human specimens that would be difficult to trace. Because this Soviet practice pre-dates the Korean War, it likely also involved American prisoners during and following World War II.
In addition to serving as guinea pigs for the Soviet medical intelligence program, the American GIs were also used by the Chinese. The Chinese had their own medical experiment program during the Korean War. The North Koreans provided American POWs to the Chinese as well as to the Soviets. The Chinese and Soviets shared data on the various experiments and their results. The Soviets criticized the Chinese program as being too extreme. That is, the Chinese were strictly focused on the use of weapons of mass destruction. In contrast, the Soviet interest was more focused on the development of new drugs and their use to triumph over the enemy without war.
Czech military intelligence was also aware of the continuation of the Chinese medical research using American POWs during the Vietnam War. Czech military intelligence had identified the movement of American POWs in Chinese trucks or buses headed toward the Chinese boarder. Additionally, a senior Czech military intelligence officer who was undercover in China as a military attache reported on a Chinese request to share information on continued medical test programs. The Chinese official complained to the Czech "attache" that even if there were developing antagonisms between their two countries, some cooperative activities should continue, for example, he suggested, the joint research on American POWs. We are continuing this research, he said, and asked, why don't we continue to share results of this research? There is no reason to keep your program secret. We know the American POWs are being sent to the Soviet Union for research. Information exchange on these research programs would be of use to both our countries.
As in the case of the information on Tan, Sejna's information raises more questions than it answers. Why has the U.S. Government -- all branches -- avoided the process of debriefing General Sejna in detail? Why did the Select Committee not even release an expurgated version of Sejna's testimony? How can the whole five hours be classified? Whose interests are really served by not releasing the information?
Lessons Learned, if Any
Sejna's testimony might be brushed aside except that his credentials are impeccable -- he was in a position to know. Sejna is the highest placed communist official ever to defect to the West, and the only one who was actually a member of the decision-making hierarchy. Prior to his defection, General Major Sejna was the chief of staff to the Minister of Defense, a member of the Minister's Kollegium, first secretary of the Party at the Ministry, a member of the directing party group of the Presidium of the National Assembly and of the bureau at the Main Political Administration, and working secretary of the Defense Council (a.k.a. Military Committee), which was the top decision-making body for defense, intelligence, and counter-intelligence. The Defense Council out-ranked the Politburo in these areas. It was the Defense Council that made the decisions on the POW operation, monitored progress, controlled information, and cleared people for access and participation.
That is, General Sejna was in the cat-bird's seat with extraordinary access into political and intelligence operations of the greatest sensitivity, including those using U.S. POWs. He participated in reviews of intelligence plans -- including the experiments in the Soviet Union that used American POWs from the Korean and Vietnam Wars and in which Czech doctors were assigned (at Soviet direction) to participate -- and in negotiations with foreign countries, and in discussions with Soviet and other communist officials of the highest level; for example, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Suslov, Ponomarev, and Grechko from the Soviet Union and similar officials from all other communist countries around the world, including Vietnam, China, Laos, and North Korea. Equally important, he has an exceptionally fine memory. He is able to recall meetings, people, conversations, and reports from thirty years ago, often almost as though they had happened only last week. His book, We Will Bury You (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1982) provides an excellent example of his contacts, knowledge, insight, and memory. His information has always been of the highest quality and he has repeatedly passed polygraph tests.
Given Sejna's background, his proven track record of reliable information (For example, he was the first person to lay out in detail the Soviet operation for recruiting, training, funding, supplying, and supporting international terrorism, all of which has turned out to be 100 percent accurate.), and the enormous importance of his information respecting Soviet operations with American POWs, why has the U.S. government not debriefed him in detail and, still further, why have Defense and CIA officials blocked outside proposals to debrief him on this subject?
The issue is not Sejna's credibility or the difficulty in obtaining confirmation. The issue is why does the U.S. Government not want to know what Sejna knows from his own first-hand experience as a top-ranking Czech official???????
The Next Step
The Select Committee had hoped its investigation would close the books on the POW/MIA issue; or, as explained by its staff director, Francis Zwenig, to the Vietnamese during her visit in July, 1992, would "resolve" the problem and "bring this issue to a close." This is what millions of Americans also hoped would happen. But clearly, not only has this not happened, but the very assumptions on which the government's search efforts have been predicated have been brought into serious, perhaps fatal, question.
The Select Committee has finished its job, but the issue has not been closed by any stretch of the imagination. The question of what happened to the thousands of missing Americans still remains. If they died, how and why? Did they simply starve or succumb to disease in tiger cages or Laotian prison caves? How many POWs were retained, alive or dead, for their potential value in future diplomatic negotiations or for ransom?
What happened to the trainloads of American POWs that were identified as headed towards Soviet labor camps during the Korean War -- the 900 to 1,200 American POWs that Lt. Col. Philip Corso testified were abandoned by President Eisenhower following Corso's recommendation that he do so insofar as obtaining the POWs' freedom presented a political problem and because they probably would perish anyway? What happened to the hundreds of intelligence reports on the movement of POWs that Corso described?
What happened to all the data that Jerry Mooney, an analyst at NSA, had collected on the movement of American POWs who were identified as MB or "Moscow Bound." Mooney testified that they were following the movement of POWs, but that they lost them when they became airborne because strict communications security was exercised.
How many World War II American GIs were used as guinea pigs for chemical and biological warfare tests by the Japanese? Is it true that the U.S. Army agreed to remain silent about the fate of these POWs in return for the experimental data? Did the United States share this data with the Soviets?
What happened to the captive GIs that were used as guinea pigs or monkeys in cool-headed medical experiments by Soviet and East European military research doctors? How many died in Soviet military hospitals or related covert facilities? How many are still alive after having been chemically brainwashed and turned into conforming citizens without the slightest thought about escaping or returning home? What happened to those who were used to test the long-term effects of sub-lethal atomic radiation?
The very real task of learning what happened -- of addressing each of the above questions with a burning desire to learn the whole truth -- still remains to be tackled. It should now be clear that the two most basic assumptions that the current search efforts are based upon -- that joint, cooperative efforts with Russia and Vietnam and North Korea are the way to proceed and that the answers to what happened are to be found in Southeast Asia, rather than in Russia -- are not only invalid, they actually operate to prevent the truth from emerging. Learning what happened is not yet a question of diplomacy and legal niceties. It is a problem of intelligence collection and analysis carefully directed to find, not bury, the relevant facts.
How can the United States government even think of providing financial assistance to the various communist regimes and their former colleagues until all the information on what happened to all the U.S. servicemen who never returned is willingly released?
Is it the American way to call its youth to do battle, abandon them after the war, and then callously extend all efforts to "close the books" so that financial and business assistance can be given to those same regimes responsible for what happened to the missing servicemen? This is not a hypothetical question. This is exactly what has been and is still happening.
At this juncture, it seems equally clear that it is unrealistic to expect our government to mount a serious effort to learn what happened to all our missing sons and husbands. Too many sacred cows might be gored. A serious effort to learn what happened would interfere with government efforts to funnel billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Russia and other "former communist" countries, whose former bureaucracies, officials, and intelligence services are still very much alive and still lying, stealing, and running espionage and sabotage operations.
Perhaps the best remaining approach to learn what happened is through private intelligence efforts. The current approach of trying to pressure or shame Washington into taking action only plays into the hands of the government bureaucracies and individuals of influence who understand that the way to prevent embarrassments is by controlling the investigation. The efforts of the Select Committee are but another example of this process in action. The real function of the Select Committee was not to uncover the truth. It was to put the issue to bed so that normalization (read business and banking interests) could proceed.
Dr. Joseph D. Douglass Jr is a defense analyst and author.
His latest book, Red Cocaine, The Drugging of American (Atlanta, GA: Clarion House, 1990), examines KGB and GRU sponsored international narcotics trafficking operations.
Reprinted with permission ©Joseph D. Douglass