Dino L. Carluccio
March 22, 1999
Thank you for that kind introduction.
You know, I'm also proud to be a member of the Sons of The American Legion, Squadron #176 in Springfield, Virginia. Going on my second year now. It's great to be part of the Legion family in this special way.
Senator Smith had hoped to be with you again personally this afternoon, as he has done several times in the past, but unfortunately, about two months ago he scheduled field hearings in Colorado Springs for this morning as the Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He will not be back until late this evening, and then in the morning the Senate turns to the debate about the situation in Kosovo. Senator Smith is the sponsor of a resolution prohibiting the sending of US personnel into Kosovo without a Congressional resolution authorizing it. This is a very serious and rapidly developing situation as many of you probably know from the news reports over the weekend and earlier this afternoon. And it's one that raises some very serious questions that we hope our Government is really prepared to deal with, more effectively than it has done in the past, if we should start losing personnel in the skies above Kosovo, and even on the ground there.
This afternoon, I want to focus on past military conflicts, and the outstanding issues concerning POWs and MIAs that still remain from these past wars in which many of you, served. Maybe, if time gets too short on us, I'll do what we often do on Capitol Hill, and submit my entire statement for the record, Mr. Chairman, and briefly summarize it here.
You'll notice my terminology is POWs and MIAs -- those whose status was either "captured" or truly unknown, that is "missing in action" when the cease-fires were reached and the rest of our troops came home.
I say that because I'm sure you've heard a lot from one of your previous speakers this afternoon, General Tucker from our Pacific theatre, about the fine work his young men and women are doing trying to excavate crash sites in Southeast Asia and looking for material evidence --and I've said this before, and I'll say it again --they are indeed a group of very dedicated individuals representing the very best ideals and principles of our military -- but I'd just ask you to remember, that a lot of their work deals with recovering remains from the battlefield of servicemen whom we KNOW died during the Vietnam War -- in fact, they were listed as killed in action body not recovered by their Commanders at the time, and now, after all these years, we are finally getting to these crash sites and battlefields.
But I want to spend more time this afternoon talking about Prisoners of War and personnel who became Missing in Action in areas controlled by the enemy whose fate are still unknown, despite all the efforts by General Tucker and his predecessors. These are the most tormenting cases of all -- these are the men whose families are still in anguish, suffering from tremendous uncertainty-these are the cases that keep the POW/MIA issue alive and burning in the hearts and minds of so many Americans, as well it should be kept alive. And I thank organizations like The American Legion which frankly leads all the other veterans groups combined in keeping this issue on the front burner.
The topic I'm focusing on this afternoon is the need for more legislative action with respect to the POW/MIA issue, so we can feel more confident than many of us do right now, that our Government leaders are doing the best job they possibly can to address our concerns, by making sure this issue does not take a back seat to other issues like trade and the almighty dollar, as so often is the case. As Senator Smith often likes to say when he speaks to veterans, you fought to protect our freedom and our God-given human rights -you didn't fight for the latest Dow Jones average, or the IMF.
So that's really the first newsworthy announcement I have for you this afternoon -- and that is that Senator Smith has concluded that it's necessary for him to introduce new and comprehensive legislation on the POW/MIA issue. He's come to that conclusion reluctantly because one always hopes that it shouldn't take a new law to require the best possible effort to account for our missing soldiers. One would hope that an Administration would develop and implement policies on their own to absolutely ensure that the job is going to get done. But that has not been the case with this Administration, and if a new law is what it takes to get the job done, then that is what Sen. Smith is going to try to do, and with your help, I think we can get the job done.
We are only in the early draft stages right now, and we hope at some point between the end of the Congressional Easter recess and prior to Memorial Day, we will have this legislation introduced and the list of cosponsors will start growing. We expect that the name of the bill is going to be the POW/MIA Full Disclosure and Accounting Act of 1999. I can tell you that right now. And if we're lucky, and we work closely on this with others who share our concerns, maybe we can get this bill passed prior to your annual summer convention in Anaheim, California, and Senator Smith can come out there and tell you the good news in person.
I thought what I'd do is go around the world briefly, since there are several nations which hold many of the answers we seek -- whether it's the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, etc... As I discuss where we are, from Senator Smith's perspective, with the accounting efforts in these different regions of the world, I think you'll understand why we need more legislation, and what the legislation will entail.
The last nation I'm going to talk about is, unfortunately, the United States of America, where we still have a lot of work to do with respect to declassification of documents and improving our foreign policy to help us get more answers.
You may be surprised that this is the first country I wanted to discuss. A lot of people probably don't recall that the very first U.S. pilot we lost in the skies over Iraq (southwest of Baghdad) on the first night of the Gulf War in January 1991 is still unaccounted for. His name is Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher from Jacksonville, Florida and a native of Kansas City, Missouri. He was a Navy F-18 pilot stationed on the U.S.S. Saratoga in the Gulf region when the war started. He has two young children, who are now 11 and 9 years old.
We've been actively looking into this case since 1995, and I wanted to let you know the latest action we've taken -which was only this past Friday. Together with Senator Rod Grams, we have asked the President to intensify his efforts to gain an accounting from the Government of Iraq for Commander Speicher because the evidence indicates the Saddam Hussein knows more than he has revealed to date about this pilot's fate.
We have also asked the Secretary of the Navy to change Commander Speicher's official status from killed in action back to his original status which was missing in action. Why have we done this? Because the evidence we have examined from our Government indicates substantial doubt as to whether Commander Speicher actually perished in his aircraft, as some had believed back in 1991 when the war ended, and there was no trace of him. But there is now a significant question as to his ultimate fate, and say that after having reviewed with Senator Smith what we've been able to gather to date from our Intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense.
But what's even more disturbing is that our Government has known all of this for several years now, yet the President has never instructed his Administration to use all available options to demand an accounting from the Government of Iraq. In fact, requests by Department of Defense officials to have this matter further pursued have been placed on hold by this Administration for three years now "because of the state of U.S.-Iraqi bilateral relations." That's the official reason we're told. That's unacceptable to Senator Smith, and based on the latest briefing we received on this matter two weeks ago, that is why he's now contacted the President and the Secretary of the Navy.
Let me say that we are prepared to deal with this further, if necessary, with the forthcoming legislation I just discussed, both in terms of our policy toward Baghdad, and the actual accounting effort for Commander Speicher. I brought copies this afternoon of our letters to President Clinton and the Secretary of the Navy because I knew the Legion would probably share our concerns.
Now let me turn to Russia, and the areas of the former Soviet Union.
As many of you know, Senator Smith helped establish the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POWs and MIAs back in 1992. He has continued to serve as a member of the Joint Commission since that time. And in 1997, he was appointed as the US Chairman of the Commission's Vietnam War Working Group. Incidentally, the Korean War Working Group is chaired by Congressman Sam Johnson --a fighter pilot from both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who spend over 6 years as a POW in Hanoi. I don't think you can find better people to chair these two working groups and to be the leaders in the efforts to get answers from the Russians.
However, they can't do it by themselves. In the final analysis, we need better support from the President all the way down to the lower levels of the State Department and the Defense Department. And that's going to be part of the bill Senator Smith will be introducing -- to require better support that is not subject to other foreign policy considerations. Let's just work to investigate and get the facts about our POWs and MIAs, and then we can let our foreign policy be based on what those facts show. Unfortunately, I think many in this Administration are worried about pursuing what the facts might show because it may interfere with their foreign policy agenda.
Now, in terms of the Russians, during the last year, there have been ups and downs in terms of getting answers. On the up side, since Senator Smith's last trip to Moscow this past November, we have been able to obtain more than 10,000 military records from the Russians that concern the shootdowns of American aircraft during the Korean War. So far, our staff analysts on the Commission have made about 40 correlations to still unaccounted for serviceman from the Korean War based on these Soviet-era records. The work continues, but we are satisfied that we will bring some answers to the families of these men who have waited decades not knowing what happened to their loved ones.
However, on the downside, with regard to the Korean War, we are still at a standstill with the Russians concerning the transfer of some U.S. POWs from North Korea either through China, and on into the Soviet Union, or directly from North Korea into Soviet territory. We believe the evidence we have gathered to date indicates a strong probability that some US POWs were, in fact, transferred to the Soviet Union during the Korean War, and never heard from again. This was an unanimous conclusion of all the Commissioners on the U.S. side back in 1996, and it was presented to President Clinton. In March of last year, we jointly asked the President to pursue this matter with President Yeltsin because we felt this was the only way to get past the current standstill, with the Russians telling us they have no evidence, and yet we have obtained very substantial evidence from interviews with former Soviet veterans, and from our own U.S. intelligence holdings.
The response from the Administration has been disappointing, in terms of helping us in this area. We asked the Director of Central Intelligence for an assessment of the reporting on transfer, and we were told no, it's not worth the CIA's time. We asked the President to raise this with President Yeltsin, and again, we heard nothing back. This is distressful because we can't to it on our own, with one Senator and one Congressman.
So this will be another focus of our legislation -to make it the policy of the United States Government, by law, to press the Russian Government, in a serious way at the highest levels, on the transfer issue with respect to the Korean War.
With regard to our Vietnam War inquiries to the Russians, some of you may recall that in 1993, we managed to obtain from the Russian Government copies of two Soviet military intelligence reports from the Vietnam War I can tell you that since 1993, every piece of information the Russians have provided, from the current head of Russian military intelligence on down through the ranks, confirms that the Soviets judged these reports to be reliable in the early 1970s --that is to say, North Vietnam did, in fact, hold more US POWs than those who came home.
Who were these POWs, and what happened to them? We still don't have answers from the Vietnamese, and once again, unfortunately, this Administration has not done nearly enough to press the Communist leadership in Hanoi. In fact, the Administration prefers instead to discount what the Russians have given us. The view of the Clinton Administration is that they know more about the situation in Hanoi during the Vietnam War than the Soviet Union did. I doubt any of you would accept that kind of view. Senator Smith certainly does not, and I'll discuss this more when I get to Vietnam in just a bit.
The last major issue Senator Smith is still pursuing with the Russians concerns whether any Vietnam-era U.S. POWs could have been transferred to the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. As some of you may know, last year, there was a Russian general, a close confidant of President Yeltsin, who died in late 1995. He was the co-chairman of our Commission. After he died, he donated his personal papers and research to the Library of Congress here in Washington because he wanted his information to get out to the West, and the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, was a close friend of his and fellow historian.
In January 1998 (over a year ago), Senator Smith reached an agreement with the Librarian of Congress to allow our Commission's Vietnam War Working Group analysts to review General Volkogonov's papers. What we found was a significant notation in these papers by this Russian general which ended up being published by the General's daughter in a book last year about the General's work.
According to this notation from General Volkogonov in 1994, he had discovered in the Soviet archives, a KGB plan at the end of the 1960s to "transfer knowledgeable Americans to the USSR for intelligence purposes." He writes that that he approached the head of the KGB in the 1990s who showed him an actual copy of the plan, but claimed it was never implemented. Volkogonov was skeptical and writes that this remained a secret which he was unable to penetrate and therefore he did not formally broach this with the American side. He said he was putting this into his personal notes in the hopes that it would find its way into his new book, which, as I said, was finally published last year, three years after his death. Incidentally, the head of the KGB in the early 1990s that General Volkogonov met with is Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov is now the Prime Minister of Russia, who was scheduled to meet with President Clinton and Vice-president Gore later this week.
After this discovery of these notes last year, Senator Smith briefed his fellow Commissioners on the U.S. side, and together we formally contacted President Clinton in writing last March -- one year ago this past week -- and we asked President Clinton for his personal assistance in seeking help directly from President Yeltsin concerning this KGB plan. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.
Nonetheless, Senator Smith has continued to pursue this the Russians, including this past November in Moscow, when we discussed this matter in detail with Russian officials, including the former head of the KGB in the late 1960s. We were told that while there may have been such a mission to transfer Vietnam-era U.S. POWs from North Vietnam to the Soviet Union as part of a general KGB plan in the late 1960s, such a plan was never implemented. In other words, we were told the same thing General Volkogonov was told by his Russian colleagues. He was skeptical with this response, and so are we.
You know, there's an old saying, as President Reagan used to say, "trust but verify." And that's where we are right now with the Russians -- we've asked for contemporaneous documentation from the late 1960s proving that the plan was never implemented as the Russians claim. We can't just accept their word at face value. The issue is too important, especially in view of the fact that there has been some evidence through the years, picked up by our Intelligence Community, indicating that some US POWs may have indeed been transferred. This has always been, and it continues to be, an open issue for us. We are hoping that the White House will finally and directly corner the Russian Prime Minister with specific questions on this matter.
With regard to Eastern Europe, some of you may have seen in the news two weeks ago, that three Eastern Europe -former Soviet Bloc nations -- Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, have now been formally admitted into NATO -- the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
When the Senate ratified this treaty expansion last year, Senator Smith and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas offered an amendment which passed 97-0 requiring Presidential certification that these three countries were providing full access to their former Communist Party archives and letting us interview personnel with regard to the POW/MIA issue.
It is well known from our research on the U.S.-Russia Commission that personnel from these countries were all over North Korea, North Vietnam, and Laos when our troops were fighting there. They even built and ran hospitals in these countries where we believe, and in some cases, know for a fact that American POWs were present. Moreover, we believe they could very well have been privy to Communist party secrets in Pyongyang, Moscow, and Hanoi with respect to the handling of US POWs. And, I would note, that Senator Smith had traveled to two of these countries before the Senate took up NATO last year to pursue the POW issue, so we had laid the groundwork in passing the message that we were serious about their cooperation.
So there was a perfect opportunity last year, because of the overwhelming vote in favor of Senator Smith's amendment, for President Clinton to send a clear message to these three countries that wanted to join NATO that their full cooperation on POW/MIA issues were an essential condition. After all, if we're going to pledge to put American military lives on the line for any of these three countries, through NATO, then the least they can do is help us account for our American military personnel whose very lives remain in question.
But you know what happened -- just three weeks after the Senate vote last April, President Clinton went ahead and simply certified with his signature that these three countries were providing full access to their archives -- he didn't even ask our Commission that had been working on this matter for our input. And what was amazing was that NONE of these countries had provided us access to their old Communist Party Central Committee and Politburo records. But the President certified it anyway -- he didn't want it to get in the way, even though we had an unanimous Senate vote.
At this point, in the wake of the NATO admission, the best we can do now is make clear to these three countries that their cooperation is still essential, in terms of our bilateral relationship and any foreign and military aid from American taxpayers. So we expect to have language in our new bill that will make this central to our policies toward Eastern Europe. This is critically important, because already, we have obtained leads from this part of the world that we are trying to pursue, and we need to keep the pressure on our new allies in this area of the world.
Let me now shift to North Korea and our unaccounted for POWs and MIAs from the Korean Conflict. Some of you may recall that Senator Smith was the first United States Senator to set foot in North Korea in 1991 when we brought back 11 sets of remains of U.S. soldiers. We went there again in 1992, this time to Pyongyang, where we gained access to their war museum -- an experience in communist propaganda that I shall never forget. Our sole purpose for making the trip was the POW issue -and I still find it amazing and really heartbreaking for those POW/MIA families, that we were the first U.S. officials to make such a trip after 40 years.
But even more amazing and disturbing was that the United States had no clear and workable policy to gain an accounting for POWs and MIAs lost in North Korea when we made these trips in the early 1990s, and frankly, I still do not think we have a policy focused on getting the answers we are entitled to, and I'll give you some examples as to why I say that. And I'll preface these examples by letting you know that the legislation we are drafting is going to focus on our policy toward North Korea and the accounting effort there, which I strongly believe is misdirected and misguided at the moment.
For instance, for several years now, it's been public knowledge that four U.S. servicemen who allegedly defected to North Korea in the 1960s are still alive in North Korea, and our Government has know this for well over a decade, and they never bothered to let Senator Smith know when we went to Pyongyang in 1992 and were asking about any American servicemen in any category living in North Korea. We were particularly concerned about the so-called "VNR's" -a category you probably haven't heard before -it stands for voluntary non-repatriates --the North also referred to them as "POWs not for direct repatriation" under the Armistice Agreement. Presumably, these were men who allegedly did not exercise their right to be repatriated. Who were these POWs, what were their nationalities? We still don't know.
Anyway, with respect to these four servicemen who "allegedly" defected, I say "allegedly" because I've just recently seen evidence in U.S. Army intelligence reports from the 1960s that they may have been "kidnapped" by North Korean infiltrators across the DMZ to be used for propaganda purposes. But whether they were kidnapped or whether they truly defected, North Korea has refused to grant the United States, and even the families of these four men, access, even just to interview them. The reason we felt they should be interviewed, frankly, is for what they might know about any U.S. POWs who were not repatriated by North Korea during Operation Big Switch in 1953. There is no U.S. policy right now that makes this failure on North Korea's part to produce these men a guiding factor in our relations with Pyongyang.
A second example -- right now, as we speak, in that same war museum Senator Smith and I visited in 1992, there are military I.D. cards of American servicemen who were listed as "missing in action" during the Korean War. I don't know how many of you know this, but our Government has known it for several years now. This is direct evidence that North Korea knows what happened to these MIAs. Yet, we wait, and we wait, and we wait for North Korea to respond. I guess our policy is to wait forever, wait for the families of these men to pass away, wait for their comrades in arms in organizations like the Legion to pass on, wait until there's no one left to stand up for these men who deserve to be fully accounted for. And if the policy is not just to wait and wait and wait for North Korea to respond, then what is the policy? As far as I can tell, there is none. North Korea is not being held accountable.
Nor are they being held accountable for live-sighting reports from the late 1960s, through the 1970s, through the 1980s, and through the 1990s, where defectors, communist bloc personnel, and other intelligence sources claimed to have seen American POWs from the Korean War still alive in North Korea --working on a collective farm, teaching English at military foreign language institutes in Pyongyang, and so on, and so on --these are just examples. I've read these reports, one of the sources gave testimony to the Senate, believe me, it's troublesome information. Probably shocking for many of you to even consider that this could have indeed taken place.
But we'll never know if we don't fully investigate these intelligence reports and hold North Korea accountable. That's my point. You may have seen in the news in recent weeks that South Korea is openly holding North Korea accountable for their POWs -- they maintain that over 200 of their POWs are still being held in North Korea from the Korean War period, and they are appealing to international humanitarian organizations for help to get these men repatriated. Why are we silent? Why have we been more focused on getting an excavation team into North Korea to visit a few crash sites these last three years? We haven't even visited the former POW camps in North Korea where some of our returned POWs buried their campmates. We know the locations. Why not put insist on retrieving these remains and transferring them to an American Battlefields Commission cemetery where their families can visit and put flowers on the grave? How much longer must the families wait?
Some of you may have heard that Peace Talks are underway between North Korea, South Korea, China, and the United States to replace the 1953 Armistice with an actual Peace Treaty. One would think that this is a logical time for the United States to insist that POW/MIA accounting provisions be part of any such Peace Treaty. But, you know, the silence from the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House has been deafening on what would seem to be a logical thing to do.
Senator Smith is going to consider making this a condition in our comprehensive legislation for any Peace Talks with North Korea, and we're also going to consider tying it to any establishment of diplomatic relations or embargo relation with North Korea. We would welcome your support on this.
Now let me turn to China, especially since we're talking about the Korean War. Frankly, China, in my judgment, holds more of the answers about the majority of our 8,000 unaccounted for personnel than North Korea or even Russia. We've been told that by the North Koreans and the Russians in the course of our meetings with them, and we think it's probably true. The Chinese ran the U.S. POW camps on both sides of the Yalu River. We've heard enough evidence, and have seen enough evidence to indicate this. Moreover, there are reams and reams of CIA and Air Force special intelligence reports from the 1950s indicating that US POWs were being held in China. There is also evidence that the Defense Department has had for several years now which indicates that, like North Korea, there are military ID cards of unaccounted for American servicemen on display in the Chinese military museum in Dandong (Antung) China -a museum that is closed to the general public.
When Senator Smith helped write the Final Report of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1993, we had an unanimous recommendation in there that the Administration set up a China POW/MIA Task Force similar to the Task Force Russia we had set up to staff our work on the Joint U.S.-Russia POW/MIA Commission. The recommendation was ignored. The State Department kept saying they didn't want to "overload the circuit" with China. Imagine that, we're talking about American POWs, and the State Department thinks it's too much to put on the table with the Chinese.
Well, as some of you may recall, Senator Smith successfully passed an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization bill for 1995 requiring the Secretary of Defense this time to raise Korean War POW/MIA Accounting with the Chinese Minister of Defense. Three weeks after the bill was signed into law, the Secretary of Defense went to China to meet with the Chinese Minister of Defense who is a General who fought against us in the Korean War, so he knows something about this from his personal experience as well. Now that there was a law, do you think the subject came up? You guessed it, no. But we pressed on, and contacted the new Secretary of Defense in January 1997, former Senator William Cohen from Maine --a good friend and colleague of Senator Smith's. To his credit, he did bring the issue up with the Chinese, in the context of making this a subject for military to military discussions. The only problem has been that the Chinese military is not interested in discussing Korean War POWs.
So where are we? This past February, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, Robert Jones, went to China. The purpose of the trip was Korean War POW/MIA Accounting. The Communist Chinese military, which holds the records on US POWs from the Korean War, didn't even see him while he was there to talk about this issue. Instead, he met with a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, and no significant progress was made. The trip was a failure.
You would think Deputy Assistant Secretary Jones would have come back to Washington, and made it known that the Chinese military was not cooperating with requests for assistance on Korean War US POWs. Instead, he came back and approved a press release praising the Chinese for their cooperation, and blurring the fact that they had turned him down cold. The actual quote from the press release read "The Chinese have pledged continued cooperation. We are grateful for their continued assistance in this humanitarian mission." Now why was that written that way? Why would someone mislead the American people, our veterans, and the MIA families this way? I don't know, but I do know that we should not allow that kind of behavior to continue not just by the Chinese, but by our own Government? And that is why we are considering with Senator Smith's forthcoming legislation making full disclosure by China about our POWs and missing soldiers from the Korean War a condition for aid and normal relations, like MFN, with Beijing.
We hear a lot of talk about human rights in China. Let's make sure this Administration does not forget about the human rights of American soldiers who sacrificed their freedom and their lives under Communist Chinese control.
Let me now turn to that tiny landlocked country that shares its northern border with China -- Laos. Laos also wants normal trade relations with the United States right now, and the State Department has been poised to try to push it through the Congress, and some in Congress want to move ahead and give them that MFN status. I'm not convinced that this should be done this way, with no strings attached, nor is Senator Smith. And we made our position known to the our Ambassador to Laos last summer, and I want to commend The American Legion for taking a similar view.
I spent a lot of time when I spoke to your national convention in Salt Lake City in September 1996, focusing on the POW question as it pertains to Laos, so I'm not going to dwell on it now. But let's remember the central question here -- What happened to the American POWs who were captured in northern Laos and held by North Vietnamese and/or Pathet Lao communist forces? None of the American POWs captured and held in northern Laos starting in the mid-1990s have ever been returned or even accounted for. None. The evidence was convincing during the war.
How could the Vietnamese and the Lao not know what happened to these Americans? They were held in the caves in the backyard of the Pathet Lao, and several of them, according to CIA and DIA wartime intelligence reports, were subsequently moved into North Vietnam's backyard? So how could they not know what happened to these POWs under their direct control?
Remember, in 1973, President Nixon said, in a secret cable to the Communist side, that it was "inconceivable" that there were not more POWs from Laos being returned, other than the nine U.S. personnel on the list turned over in Paris. (And those 9 people had all been immediately moved to North Vietnam following their capture, and none of them had been held in northern Laos in the Pathet Lao strongholds -- specifically the Sam Neua area.) so President Nixon said it was inconceivable that there were not more POWs -- that's a quote.
Retired General Richard Secord, who knew this issue inside and out, since he was in Laos during the war running the air war and tracking POWs -- he told our Senate Select Committee in 1992 that it was "absurd" to think that all the American POWs captured in Laos had been returned. That was his quote. "Absurd."
Admiral DePoix, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1973, said that the list of the nine U.S. personnel from Laos on the POW list was "ridiculously low." That was his quote --"ridiculously low."
And all of this led the Secretary of Defense to recommend in 1973 that the State Department tell the Communist side "unequivocally," and I'm quoting here, "that we still hold them responsible for the release of U.S. prisoners being held in Laos...the U.S. will no longer play games with the POW issue in Laos. The Pathet Lao should be told that we know they hold U.S. prisoners, and we demand their immediate release." End quote. So we had words like absurd, inconceivable, ridiculous, no longer going to play games -- that's what our government told the communists after the acknowledged POWs were released in 1973.
But my point here is the same that I made to your convention in 1996 -- we still haven't seen words like absurd, inconceivable, ridiculous, used by our government in recent years concerning the continued claim by Communist officials in Vietnam and Laos that all the POWs were released in 1973 and they can't account for any other POWs. The Communist government in Laos, and even in Hanoi, has to be held accountable for these American POWs, and that is why we will incorporate this problem into Senator Smith's forthcoming legislation -- it will be a condition in the development of our economic relations with Laos, as it should be.
Here again, I'm glad the American Legion's view of Hanoi's cooperation is the same as Senator Smith's. Simply put, there has not been full disclosure by Hanoi about unaccounted for American POWs and MIAs. The facts speak for themselves. We have not had access to relevant POW information in the Communist Party Central Committee, Politburo, or Secretariat level records from the war. We have not had access to prison records where our U.S. POWs were known to have been held, and even suspected to have been held, during the war. We have not had full access to Vietnamese wartime reporting on American POWs captured along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and at other locations in Laos, such as Lima Site 85, where several U.S. personnel remain unaccounted for. And we have not had a convincing or satisfactory response from the Vietnamese Government about the documents we found in Russian archives that I mentioned earlier which indicate Hanoi held more U.S. POWs than they repatriated.
Despite all of this, the President continues to certify to Congress that Hanoi is fully cooperating in good faith. As you may recall, this Presidential certification is necessary in order for funds to be spent for diplomatic relations. So, we're really not surprised that the President keeps making this inaccurate certification in order to advance his normalization agenda with Vietnam. But it really is a sad commentary on our foreign policy toward Vietnam, and our commitment to the POW/MIA issue. Remember this when you hear the rhetoric about how this is our highest national priority with repeat to Vietnam.
Some of you will remember the last time Senator Smith spoke to your mid-winter convention was two years ago when the Senate was considering whether to confirm a U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. As a condition for letting that nomination go through the Senate, a deal was reached with the White House in which they agreed to do what's called a national intelligence estimate on the Vietnam POW/MIA issue, with special emphasis on those documents from Soviet archives.
That formal assessment, led by the CIA, was completed last year, and the full results of that assessment, which have not been declassified, raise very serious and troubling questions about the thoroughness and objectivity of the collection and analysis done by our U.S. Intelligence Community. Senator Smith wrote a classified 200-page assessment of what the Director of Central Intelligence came out with. We believe their research was either shoddy or reflected a predetermined effort to discredit relevant information.
I'm pleased to announce this afternoon that the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama and Senator Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, have now formally called on the Inspectors General of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense to conduct an independent investigation and to respond to the charges contained in our classified 200-page report, which I wish I could speak about in more detail, but, unfortunately, I cannot at this time.
We asked last November for all of this to be declassified, but so far, we haven't received a response to that request. So this may end up being another part of our comprehensive legislation as well, which frankly brings me to my final subject this afternoon -- declassification and disclosure of U.S. Government POW/MIA reports -this is under the country -United States of America -the last nation on our world tour.
PUBLIC DISCLOSURE AND ACCESS TO U.S. POW/MIA RECORDS:
Many of you know that Senator Smith has made extensive efforts through the years, both when he was a Congressman, and since coming to the Senate, concerning release of POW/MIA reports. We passed an amendment to the Intelligence bill for 1989 requiring the release of POW/MIA reports to the families of our unaccounted for servicemen. During the Senate Select Committee investigation in 1992, we succeeded in getting an Executive Order issued mandating the review and release of POW/MIA reports that didn't involve our national security. In 1996, Senator Smith amended the so-called McCain bill to make it applicable to Korean War records as well, and to clarify how that process should work.
Despite all of these efforts, as many of you know, many POW/MIA reports collected by our intelligence agencies have yet to be processed for declassification. Over the last few years, Senator Smith and I have seen several such reports in classified form, and we are aware of several hundred other such reports that have not been released, including records held by CIA, and records that we uncovered or obtained during our Senate investigation in 1992. The reasons cited are multifold -- we've been told it's a question of resources; we've been told there are sensitive sources or methods which preclude even putting out a redacted report; we've been told the reports could adversely affect our foreign policy, and they even specifically referenced normalization of relations with Vietnam at one point. Can you believe that? But what's even more amazing, is that we are told none of these still-classified reports are credible and convincing. So why are they afraid to let you see them?
Regardless of their reasons or motives, we are now convinced that the laws governing release of POW/MIA intelligence reports need to be revised, and this is going to be a major feature of our forthcoming legislation. As I said, we hope to name our bill the POW/MIA Full Disclosure and Accounting Act of 1999 -- not just full disclosure by communist governments abroad, but by our own Government as well. And this should be done in such a way that it's made easier than it is now for a family member, fellow veteran, or researcher to go to an office, and pull up a POW/MIA database on a computer, and then search it for information. The Library of Congress and the National Archives have made some efforts in this area, but we think we can do an even better job, and that legislation will help set the guidelines and the organizational structure for getting this done.
As always, the Legion's input on all of the issues I have discussed this afternoon will continue to be solicited by our office. I'm grateful for the excellent working relationship we have had through the years, and I look forward to any questions.