Foreign Relations subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Affairs
Testimony of Dr. Stephen J. Morris - July 14, 1993
The 1972 Soviet G.R.U. Document on American Prisoners of War being Held in North Vietnam
An Evaluation by Dr. Stephen J. Morris Visiting Scholar
Center for International Affairs - Harvard University
2. Genesis of my discovery of the Soviet G.R.U. document.
3. Evaluation of the Soviet G.R.U. document: Its Institutional and Archival Context.
4. Evaluation of the Soviet G.R.U. document: Its Consistency or Inconsistency With Established Evidence.
5. Responses to the Soviet G.R.U. document: The Bureaucracy and General Vessey.
INTRODUCTION: The 1972 Russian document on American Prisoners of War being held in North Vietnam is the most important document on the subject which has ever been released to the American government and the people. Its significance lies in the fact that it was a top secret document of the former Soviet Union's Armed Forces Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye Razvedivatelnoye Upravleniey --- GRU) the military intelligence arm of what as then the closest ally and patron of the communist party and government of North Vietnam. It purports to be the transcript of a report by a Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnamese People's Army, Lieutenant General Tran Van Quang, to the Politburo of the Vietnam Workers' [Communist] Party, on September 15, 1972. In spite of the massive intelligence gathering and analysis undertaken by the United States' own Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency for nearly thirty years, no other document of this sensitivity on this subject has ever been publicized, and almost certainly ever been acquired, by the U.S. government.
If the most fundamental information in the document is true, then the government of Vietnam has at best been holding hostage for twenty years, and has at worst murdered, over seven hundred American prisoners of war. These prisoners were people that the government of North Vietnam had promised to return under the terms of the Paris Peace Agreements, which North Vietnam had solemnly signed on January 27, 1973. Although we have abundant evidence of other massive violations of the Paris Peace Agreement, and in fact of every other international peace agreement the Vietnamese communist leaders have ever signed --- most notably the Geneva agreement of 1954 ending hostilities in Indochina and the Geneva Agreement of 1962 on Laos --- this would be the only case where Hanoi's treaty violation involved the holding hostage and possible murder of American citizens.
Thus an objective evaluation of the accuracy of the information in the document is of fundamental importance for the formulation of American policy towards Vietnam. Unfortunately, as I will discuss later, some of those within the permanent bureaucracy of the Departments of State and Defense who have been the President's special emissary to Hanoi General John Vessey, have pursued their assignment with inappropriate prejudice. Their prejudiced evaluations have involved distortions of what the document says, and what the evidence is that is relevant to evaluating the document. These distortions may hamper the U.S. Administration's judgment of the accuracy of the document and hence the broader policy questions that must be addressed.
2. Genesis of My Discovery of the Soviet G.R.U. Document:
I have been working for some time on three separate but interconnected book-length projects: the origins of Vietnam's decision to invade Cambodia, a history of American intervention in Vietnam, and the Soviet-Vietnamese relationship during the Comintern years. A manuscript of the first topic was completed in the summer of 1992, and submitted to university presses for consideration. At no time had I planned any research on the subject of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. Until I discovered the now famous Soviet G.R.U. document I have never written any newspaper or magazine articles which addressed this topic in more than fleeting manner. The POW/MIA issue is simply not my area of professional scholarly interest.
My initial archival work in Moscow was undertaken during October 1972 on my own at the pre-1953 Central Committee Archive. There I was working with Comintern documents concerning the history of the Soviet-Vietnamese relationship during the 1930s. While working at that archive I met an American researcher Katherine Weathersby, who was associated with the Cold War History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars in Washington D.C. She informed me of the Cold War History Project, and of the access to the post-1953 Central Committee archive granted to Wilson Center affiliates. She also informed me that nobody working with the Wilson Center was working on matters related to Vietnam or Cambodia, but that people not associated with the Wilson Center, or some other major foreign institution-based project, had great difficulty in gaining access to any actual documents.
One day in October I visited that archive and asked permission to do research there. I was told by archive officials that I could look at the Opisi (the folio catalogues of the documents) but not at the documents themselves. After discussing my situation with Weathersby and another researcher there, I decided that is I was to have real access to the post-1953 archive then I would have to acquire affiliation with and support from the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project.
At the end of October I returned to the United States, and in November I made contact with Professor William Taubmann, a member of the Board of Advisers, and James Hershberg, the coordinator of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project. They expressed strong interest in having me associated with their project, which was focused upon a conference of American and Russian scholars which would be held in Moscow in January 1993. But because of technicalities associated with the contract signed with the Russian archive, they could not guarantee my access. Nevertheless, in late November Hershberg sent a letter to the Archive requesting that I be added to the list of scholars working on the Project, and that I be given the same access to the archive as other scholars.
I arrived back in Moscow on November 29 and arrived at the archive on November 20. There I was given an official pass for admission to the archive, and permission to request materials on my topics of research interest, which were the history of American involvement in Vietnam, and the origins of the Vietnamese decision to invade Cambodia. Although the archivists knew of my areas of research interest in late November, they did not know which files I would be requesting until the day I actually made the specific request. Since my own decision about what files I would be requesting depended upon my preliminary reading of the Opisi (the folio catalogues), I did not know which files I would be requesting virtually until the day I requested them.
The normal procedure was for a request for files to be made in the reading hall of the archive. After being located by staff, the file would be screened by a senior archivist named Yuri Konstantinovich Maalov. He had the right to reject any particular request. It should be noted however that all the files that I requested to see had not yet been officially declassified, and all were marked secret or top secret. This was true not only for me but for all researchers with the Wilson Center Project. Maalov refused to allow me to see only two or three of the files that I requested during the time that I was working there. However he did make my life and the life of other researchers difficult by his attempts to stop my access at certain times (reversed after protests from Taubmann and hershberg), and his periodic reneging on verbal agreements with me and with other Wilson Center scholars. While most of the archive staff were extremely polite and helpful, Maalov impressed most of us as an old line communist apparatchik who was uncomfortable with the new liberal atmosphere of Yeltsin's Russia.
The first two weeks of my work were devoted to a search for files relevant to my first topic --- the origins of Vietnam's decision to invade Cambodia. I requested files for the years 1976, 1977 and 1978. Then in mid-December I decided to request file related to my second book project --- the history of American intervention in Vietnam. I knew that I might not have time to research the entire historical period covered by my book before my archival access was terminated (I was told at various times mid-January and late-January would see the end of access for Wilson Center affiliates. This was later extended through the summer of 1993.) Thus I had to make a choice of what years to study. The years 1972 and 1973 were my first choice because they were pivotal years of the war, poorly studied and written about by Western scholars and journalists. More important these years were central to one of the main arguments of my second book (on the history of American intervention in Vietnam), an argument which deals with President Nixon's policy of "Vietnamisation" of the war.
As with my other topic, all of the files requested came from the Central Committee Department dealing with "Communist and Workers' Parties in Socialist Countries," i.e. the department dealing with ruling communist parties. 1) Most of the files I requested originated in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, and most were reports from the Soviet Embassy in Hanoi. A very few files were KGB field reports or analyses (of a very low level of sensitivity), and a few others were reports of the Soviet Army General Staff, including those of the Military Intelligence Directorate (G.R.U.). Most KGB or G.R.U. reports on a particular country would not make their way to the Central Committee Departments. The most significant of these would probably have been sent directly to the Soviet politburo, whose archives are in the Kremlin (The Presidential Archives), and which are currently inaccessible to all foreigners and all but a few Russian officials.
On December 14, 1992 I requested ten files dealing with the year 1972. Among these was a file of the Soviet General Staff, which contained the now-famous Quang report. The set of requests was vetted and approved by Maalov on December 15, and I received them in the Archive reading hall on December 16. The twenty four hour period between my submitting my request, and the request being approved without qualification, was not enough for any single person to have carefully read the entire set of ten files. (The Soviet Army file which contained the Quang document was 208 pages long). Thus I have concluded that the archive officials did not read the entire set of documents that I had requested before approving them, and almost certainly did not know that the files that they were allowing me to see contained information about American prisoners of war.
Because I was backed up with work reading previously ordered files, I was not able to read the 1972 Soviet Army file until early January 1993. I did not know that there was any information in this file about American POWs until I read the last section of the very last document in the file --- which was the G.R.U. translation of the Quang report of September 15, 1972 --- on or about January 8 or 11, 1993.
1.) This Department should not be confused with the International Department whose area of responsibility was relations with non-ruling communist parties.
3.) EVALUATION OF THE SOVIET G.R.U. DOCUMENT:Its Institutional and Archival Context
The document found in the archives of the former Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is a document of the Soviet Military Intelligence, the G.R.U. It is purportedly the Russian translation of the Vietnamese transcript of a report by Lieutenant General Tran Van Quang to the politburo of the Vietnam Workers' [Communist] Party (VWP). Quang was described as a Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, and the report was dated September 15, 1972.
The document does not only deal with the issue of American prisoners of war being held in North Vietnam. That subject is addressed in only eight pages towards the end of the twenty five page document. The document also deals with two other issues: the attempt of the Vietnamese communists to seduce disgruntled South Vietnamese generals and politicians into joining a coalition government with the communists; and the dispatch of a team of 406 Vietnamese communist assassins to South Vietnam to carry out a campaign of terrorist subversion against the southern government.
The document was located in a file of the Soviet General Staff which contained other documents all dated and pertaining to events occurring during the year 1972. The other documents in the files included another report by General Quang to the VWP politburo, dated June 26, 1972, a condensed transcript of speeches by VWP secretariat member to Huu, and various intelligence analyses of and reports on political, military and economic conditions in Vietnam.
In contrast with the files containing documents of the Soviet Foreign Ministry for the year 1972, the files of the Soviet military contained information of a highly sensitive nature. As an illustration one can refer to the Political Report for 1972 of the Soviet Embassy in North Vietnam. It bemoans the fact that "The Vietnamese comrades, as before, avoid transmitting to us information about internal party life." The military file from 1972, by contrast, contains many nuggets of information about the VWP's "internal party life." What this illustrates is the fact that during 1972 the Soviet and Vietnamese parties and governments kept some distance at a formal level, but ties between the Soviet and Vietnamese military were potentially intimate on an informal level. Having read the entire Soviet military file I am compelled to conclude that the Soviet military's G.R.U. had a Vietnamese agent placed at a very high level of the Vietnamese party. This conclusion is important for evaluating the nature of the document which is at issue.
Furthermore, the style of the document authored by Quang is clearly that of an oral report, not a written speech. This is most apparent in the section of the document in which Quang carefully recites statistical data with a total lack of concern for sentence structure. One is therefore left with the likelihood that the document at issue is the translation of a transcript of written notes from, or a tape recording of, a speech by General Quang. In the context of the previous discussion it is likely that the translation was undertaken by a G.R.U. case officer from the notes or tape recording provided by a highly placed Vietnamese agent. This assumption is absolutely vital for evaluating the factual accuracy of the document. For it entails, among other things, that Quang's speech was prepared for a Vietnamese politburo audience, but not for a Soviet audience.
The final fact of relevance for evaluating the document is the endorsement of its authenticity and value by the then head of the Soviet G.R.U., General Pyotr Ivashutin, and the member of the secretariat of the former CPSU responsible for relations with ruling communist parties, Konstantin Katushev.
Between 1968 and 1972 the Vietnamese communists shifted from neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute to a pro-Soviet foreign policy position. After 1969 the Vietnamese military abandoned its reliance upon key elements of the Chinese military doctrine of people's war, and reoriented its thinking in line with the military doctrine of the Soviet Union. The Vietnamese army received enormous quantities of equipment from the Soviet military arsenal and reequipped itself as a modern conventional army. More friendly relations evolved between the Soviet and Vietnamese communist parties, and between Soviet military advisers and Vietnamese military officers. Ivashutin by that time had held his most important post for twelve years. Given that experience Ivashutin's judgment carries considerable weight, as does Katushev's.
As trained communists, Ivashutin and Katushev were men who were well schooled in the arts of political disinformation and deception in general. They were most unlikely to have been fooled by any effort in that direction on the part of the Vietnamese. And remember, on the basis of our previous discussion, that the document was probably passed by a Vietnamese agent, and that the file contains other documents which were the result, in part, of efforts by one or more Vietnamese agents. What motive could a Vietnamese agent have had for deceiving the Soviets, given the risks he or she was taking? Specifically, the contact the agent had with a G.R.U. officer was in itself a betrayal of the party's trust, and dangerous for the agent's own personal well-being.
All of these considerations lead one to conclude that the original Vietnamese source of the Russian document was probably an authentic Vietnamese transcript (notes or tape recording) of an oral report by General Quang to his politburo. In the absence of contradictory evidence we have no good reason to believe otherwise.
But the original Vietnamese transcript was translated into Russian, with some editorial comments by the Russians. Might not some errors have crept in at this stage of the transmission of the document to Moscow? This possibility cannot be ruled out. It may provide us with some basis for evaluating the extent and significance of any factual mistakes in the Russian document.
Finally we don't know what was the political status of the G.R.U.'s Vietnamese agent. Was it a member of the VWP politburo, or a senior member of the secretariat? Or was it merely a junior secretariat staff member, such as a notetaker? Knowing the answer to that question would help us evaluate the significance of other contentious points in the document (such as General Quang's title).
4. EVALUATION OF THE SOVIET G.R.U. DOCUMENT: Its Consistency with or Inconsistency with other Established Evidence
The most fundamental starting point for any evaluation of the Soviet G.R.U. document is to recognize that the Pentagon' data base on Vietnam POWs/MIAs rests heavily upon information supplied by those former prisoners who returned to the United States during Operation Homecoming. If, as the G.R.U. document states, there was a separate prison system, of which the returnees knew nothing --- holding people separately --- then the Pentagon data base cannot be used for a conclusive evaluation of the G.R.U. document. This is true not only for quantitative data (number of prisoners, numbers of each rank) but also for qualitative data (the mixing of ranks, special training and other characteristics of the prisoners). The frequent refrain of Pentagon officials --- that "nobody who came back reported this" --- is simply irrelevant.
Furthermore, the challenge to the quality of Pentagon intelligence by Russian sources must be taken seriously. After all who was politically and physically closer to the Vietnamese communists in 1972 --- Soviet or American military intelligence?
Does this mean that the Russian document is completely accurate? Not at all. General Quang may have been misled by his subordinates on many aspects of the POWs. The names in the document were garbled, and the ranks and level of training of the prisoners may have been inflated. This could reflect incompetence or attempts to impress superiors by lower level commanders and interrogators. Prisoners may have misinformed interrogators in order to secure better treatment for themselves.
Nevertheless some key factual aspects of the document have already been confirmed. As the document predicted, three prisoners were released within days. The document's claim that prisoners were placed in one of three political categories was reported long ago on Admiral Stockdale's prison memoir "In Love and War." (p. 254) These political categorizations did not entail physical separation, though some, not all, in the "reactionary" category may have been kept in a separate camp system. And the assertion that some prisoners had undertaken cosmonaut training is confirmed by the case of now Admiral Robert Harper Shumaker, a Navy flier shot down in 1965 and returned in 1973.
There are three factual claims made by the document which are matters of contention. One is General Quang's precise rank. Was he Lieutenant General in 1972, as the document claims, or was he at that time only Major General, as the Vietnamese communists claim? Did General Quang hold the position of Deputy Chief of Staff, as the document claims, or was he serving in that capacity only during 1959-60 and from 1974 on, as the Vietnamese communists subsequently claimed? And was a 23rd plenum of the Vietnamese Politburo held in 1972 as the document claims, or was it held in 1974 as the Vietnamese communists have subsequently claimed? These are matters about which the independent evidence is mixed.
The former U.S. Embassy Saigon's 1972 report on the membership of the Central Military Committee lists Quang as Deputy Chief of Staff, while a biographical report from Vietnam dated November 1992 lists him as holding a field command but not the deputy Chief of staff position. Yet he could have held both positions. There were always several deputy chiefs of staff, and some of these also held field commands. In 1972 the most prominent of these was Lieutenant General Hoang Van Thai, the head of COSVN, the biggest field command of all. The 1992 North Vietnamese publication's not listing of Quang in a deputy chief's position may reflect the post's lesser significance relative to the field command rather than that he did not hold it.
The only incontrovertible error in the Russian document --- the conflation for General Ngo Dzu with politician Truong Dinh Dzu into a nonexistent "General Ngo Dinh Dzu" -- is almost certainly the error of the Soviet military intelligence officer who translated the report. Note that this error does not appear in the section of the document dealing with the American POWs, but in an earlier section which discusses Hanoi's attempts to lure disgruntled South Vietnamese politicians into a coalition government with the communists. But while the Soviet GRU case officer may have performed badly in editing his translation -- confused about which Mr. Dzu General Quang was referring to --- he obviously made an honest mistake, and an understandable one. After all, three of the other four people who were listed as being objects of Hanoi's political interest were generals. And the G.R.U. case officer would almost certainly have been more familiar with South Vietnamese generals than with South Vietnamese politicians. But who could he have been trying to fool by inventing a "General Ngo Dinh Dzu?" There is no reason to conclude from this mistake that either the GRU officer or his Vietnamese agent fabricated any information in the document. Nor should they lead us to reject as unreliable all the other information in the document.
We must distinguish between what data was primary and what was secondary in the report. The most basic facts are that a senior North Vietnamese General told his politburo that they were holding hundreds more American prisoners than the number they had told the world about; and that the Hanoi politburo planned to use these prisoners as a device to extract military, political and economic concessions from the USA. These are matters of clear meaning which are not easily subject to linguistic ambiguity or error.
This was Hanoi's secret policy. It means that Hanoi almost certainly held back hundreds of prisoners in 1973. And there is independent corroboration of the numbers. In 1979 a Vietnamese communist defector named Le Dinh told the DIA that in the mid-1970s his colleagues had spoken of holding seven hundred American prisoners as a strategic bargaining asset.
Why has this card never been played, some have asked? Perhaps the prisoners were executed in 1975, after the unexpected collapse of South Vietnam. Or perhaps some prisoners are still being held as the very last card, in case the attempt to seduce normalization through economic offers to American corporations should not suffice in Washington.
5. RESPONSE TO THE RUSSIAN DOCUMENT: the U.S. Bureaucracy and General Vessey.
The official Defense Department view of the Soviet G.R.U. document (labelled by the D.O.D. as the "1205 Document") was presented in the D.O.D. Newsletter of July 1993. It is worth quoting the key passage summarizing their evaluation:
The "1205 document" appears most credible in its first section, about political operations planned for South Vietnam. The report, however, also contains numerous errors and inconsistencies, particularly on the section on POWs While portions of the document are plausible, evidence in support of its claims to be an accurate summary of the POW situation in 1972 are far outweighed by errors, omissions, and propaganda that detract from its credibility. As additional information becomes available, the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies will continue to assess the document. At this point our bottom line judgment is that the document and the information contained in it suggesting the Vietnamese held more than 600 POWs is not accurate.
What are the "errors, omissions and propaganda that detract from "the credibility of the Soviet G.R.U. document? The D.O.D. does not feel it worthwhile to cite any of them. Presumably the American people, especially M.I.A. family members, are expected to take the DOD's evaluation of the evidence on trust. So let us examine what available written and verbal statements by D.O.D. members, the public statements by General Vessey (apparently based upon briefings by D.O.D. and State Department bureaucrats), and the State Department intelligence unit's report show us about how they evaluated the evidence.
On April 12th, after publication of key extracts of the document in the New York Times, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) Special Office on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, Robert Sheetz, wrote a memorandum to the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, Ed Ross. The memorandum stated: "DIA believes that this document is referring to both the U.S. POWs and to allied POWs, particularly ARVN commandos. The confusion probably lies in a inaccurate translation from Vietnamese to Russian."
Sheetz's analysis is preposterous. Anybody remotely familiar with published and secret Vietnamese communist documents knows that Hanoi always distinguished allied from American troops as "puppets." The use of such distinctive terms as "American" (My in Vietnamese, amerikanyets in Russian) and "puppet" (nguy in Vietnamese, Marionyetka in Russian) is so frequent in communist writings as to make their confusion by any competent translator inconceivable. In an earlier report to the Politburo dated June 26, 1972, Quang drew the distinction frequently. Clearly, his use of the term "1205 amerikantsi" in September could refer only to 1205 Americans.
For the previous month before Russian document became public, and before the DIA had actually seen the document, this had been the DIA's and the DOD's unofficial interpretation of the document. It continued to be such through the medium of off-the-record press briefings for another week, until my article in the Washington Post ("The Vietnamese Know How to Count" April 18, 1993) of Quang's earlier speech and its terminology caused the DOD to drop this indefensible line of argument.
On April 18, General John Vessey led a mission to Hanoi on behalf of President Clinton, to pursue the POW/MIA issue. The materials received by the Vessey mission --- old documents suddenly "discovered" by Hanoi officials after the revelation from Moscow --- did not address the charges in the Russian document because they do not discuss the fate of those servicemen still unaccounted for. And because they are accounting records of the known prison system, they can neither confirm nor falsify the claim of the Russian document that there was a separate prison system.
More disturbing was Vessey's public statements. In Hanoi he said "I have no reason to disbelieve" General Quang's denial that he had ever made the report contained in the Russian document. But what did Vessey expect Quang to say? After all, if the Russian document is accurate, then General Quang is complicit in a huge crime. Even if General Vessey had known nothing about General Quang's past, common sense should have suggested that any criminal suspect's mere denial of guilt is not sufficient ground for suggesting innocence. Yet Quang and his alleged accomplices do have a record by which we can evaluate his denial. Not only has he been a senior figure in a regime which has slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens in peacetime as well as war. He has served a regime which for twenty years denied that it was controlling, supplying and eventually directly participating in the war in South Vietnam. He has served a regime which for over ten years denied that it had military forces stationed in the independent nations of Laos and Cambodia. A candid listener might have accurately commented "I have no reason to believe" General Quang's denial. A true diplomat would have just said nothing.
Equally disturbing was General Vessey's attempts to textual analysis. This was not his assignment. But he undertook the task anyway. His purpose was to show that the document was not accurate. Yet although he had ten days to examine the document before he spoke publicly, he still managed to misrepresent its contents.
On the day after his return from Hanoi Vessey stated that the document claims that American prisoners were segregated according to their political views, which is inconsistent with what we know from returnees. Not so. The document suggest that Hanoi divided the prisoners up analytically, not physically.
Vessey states that the document wrongly claims that prisoners were released according to their political views, when in fact release in 1973 was in accordance with date of capture. But Vessey is confused. Only the final process of release of those already selected was in accordance with date of capture, not the criterion of selection of who would be released. Moreover, since Vessey does not possess the Vietnamese list of who was in each political category, how can he know whether or not the batch of 591 finally released in 1973 did not include the 368 Hanoi deemed political "progressives?"
Vessey states that the document claims that senior officers were segregated from others in the camps. But the document is highly ambiguous here. One passage might seem to be suggesting that. But the total number of senior officers Quang claims were held in four separate prisons is less than the total number of senior officers that he admits, elsewhere in the document, to be holding. Reading the whole document carefully, one could conclude that 355 senior officers were segregated while others were mixed with lower ranks. (The ambiguity on this point may be a result of the G.R.U. officer, in translating the document into Russian, missing key linguistic distinctions in the original Vietnamese handwritten notes or the tape recording.)
Next Vessey points (correctly for once) to a claim by the document that after the Son Tay raid the prisoners were dispersed into several different camps. Not so, says, Vessey. What happened after the Son Tay raid was that prisoners were concentrated in fewer camps, not dispersed. Yet actual Pentagon evidence from returnees turns out to be neither of concentration nor of great dispersal. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency's report of the POW camp system, declassified by the Senate Select Committee last year, shows that on the day before the Son Tay raid it knows of five camps operating, and on the day before Quang's 1972 report it knows of six camps operating. Thus even the Pentagon's returnee-limited data base decisively contradicts Vessey more than it does information in the Russian document. But in any case, it cannot refute with certainty the claim made by General Quang. For logic dictates that any U.S. evidence of concentration or dispersal of prisoners after the Son Tay raid could only be based upon the Pentagon's evidence from those who came home in 1973, not on the evidence of patterns of relocation of the larger total prison population claimed by the Quang document.
Finally Vessey asserts that there could not have been 1,205 prisoners held because neither the returnees nor U.S. intelligence knew of a separate prison system. But if there was a separate prison system for non-returnees, why should the returnees have been expected to know of it? Furthermore, U.S. intelligence on Vietnam can hardly be assumed to have been either omniscient or infallible. Recall that with half a million American lives at stake in 1968, U.S. intelligence failed to predict the Tet Offensive. Omniscient and infallible --- NO. Incompetent --- MAYBE. General Vessey is a dedicated public servant and a diplomat. But the qualities most necessary for solving the MIA problem are those of a criminal investigator and a judge. General Vessey's early public rush to judgment suggested his preference for the role of defense attorney for the suspects.
Vessey's fatuous misrepresentations of the document continued to be expressed by government bureaucrats, including DOD's Ed Ross, over subsequent weeks. 2) This is not surprising since Vessey almost certainly did not read the document himself, and based his presentation to the President and the public on briefing papers provided by bureaucrats, who included the DOD's Ed Ross, the State Department's Ken Quinn, and others. The lie that I acquired the Soviet G.R.U. document by paying a large sum of money to a senior Russian archivist -- a lie concocted by hard line conservative Russian archivists in order to justify limiting all western scholarly access to Russian documents --- was disseminated by Ross to MIA family members 3), and by an anonymous "Pentagon Source" to the journalist Nayan Chanda of the Far Eastern Economic Review. 4).
2) e.g. Ed Ross's speech to the Northeast Regional conference of the National League of Families at the end of April, 1993.
3) At the Northeastern Regional Conference of the national League of Families, at Newport Rhode Island. April 30, 1993.
4) "Research and Destroy." Far Eastern Economic Review. 6 May 1993. My letter in response was savagely cut of some of the most damning criticisms of Chanda's unprofessional journalistic practices in reporting the story, and published in the FEER 15 July, 1993.
The other major source of criticism of the Soviet G.R.U. document comes from the State Department's intelligence unit. Its report dated April 29, 1993 is characterized by pretense bordering on fraud. It states at the beginning:
The tone, the use of the first person, and even the content of the "Quang Report" are out of character for a briefing report to an elite body, particularly the Politburo. It is much more like a pep talk than a report to the leadership. The closest comparable documents of the era were captured or acquired in South Vietnam. These policy directives and reports generally contained quite detailed discussion of the situation, strategy and tactics. A cursory review of those on hand reveals that, despite the rhetoric, they were more informative and frank about problems than the document in question.
The introductory passage suggests that the State Department has seen documents which are truly comparable with the Quang report --- i.e. top secret reports by a North Vietnamese general to the Hanoi politburo. After all, how else could they judge whether the tone, the use of the first person, etc. are "out of character" or not? Yes I have never heard of the United States acquiring such documents in South Vietnam. The most sensitive documents captured by the U.S. government during the war were from the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN). This was the operational field command center for the North Vietnamese. It was several steps below the Politburo. The only politburo or even Central Committee level documents acquired were officially published statements, not secret reports. Thus, without explicit citation by the State Department of a document of precisely this kind, it appears that the State Department's claim to have comparable documents with which to evaluate the Quang document is phony.
The most distinctive feature of the State Department report is its one sided determination to seek flaws in the Soviet document. There is no sign of any attempt to confirm major claims of the document. The reader is not told whether anything in the document is true. And there is no attempt to distinguish what is more important in the document's claims from what is less important.
Thus there can be no way for the uninformed reader to evaluate the seriousness of the State Department's criticisms.
The report is further distinguished by its lumping together of what it describes as "anomalies" (issues General Quang doesn't discuss that these U.S. State Department officials of 1993 felt he should have discussed) and "errors."
Of the fourteen points of criticism in the State Department document only five refer to purportedly blatant errors of fact (points 3, 4, 5, 8, 14). Whether they are actual errors of fact is questionable at least, especially point 5. And most of them are trivial relative to the issues under discussion. It is simply no big deal for the Vietnamese communist author to have reported wrongly General Duong Van Minh's official status of ten years earlier as Prime Minister when he was actually President. That was all secondary back-ground for the main point --- the content of the political discussions with him. The North Vietnamese often got minor details wrong, just as Russian an American officials do. Quang's report was not a scholarly dissertation at a major American university. It was a report, undertaken during the difficult conditions of war, of the tasks undertaken at the previous request of the Vietnamese Communist Party's politburo.
Many of the other "anomalies" would not have appeared anomalous to the State Department authors had they actually read other secret documents of this level of authority and secrecy. For example General Quang's report to the Politburo dated June 26, 1972, which I have read, deals with most of the issued State feels should have been discussed in its point 1.
This commentary gives some of the flavor of the intellectual pettiness of the State Department evaluation. None of its claims of error, even if true, are serious enough for anyone to question the reliability of the document as a whole. In particular, none of them give grounds for doubting that General Quang was reporting the actual policy of the Vietnamese communists --- to conceal from the outside world, and hold back at the time of the signing of a peace agreement, hundreds of American prisoners of war.
The Soviet G.R.U. document has failed to receive a thorough and objective evaluation from the bureaucratic agencies of the United States government, in particular the Departments of Defense and State. In part the U.S. government's evaluation is crippled by its lack of access to other relevant documents of this kind --- that is genuine Vietnamese communist politburo or military high command documents dealing with the American prisoners of war and their political role in Vietnamese communist policy. But that problem is potentially soluble through the possible further use of another source of Vietnamese documents and valuable intelligence reports -- the archives of the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow.
A more profound and possibly intractable problem which has crippled U.S. government evaluation has been the prejudice on the part of many senior U.S. government officials -- and the Presidential emissary General Vessey --- to totally reject the value of the Soviet G.R.U. document. As the previous discussion has shown, the criticisms at best show a lack of proportion and at worst a total incompetence in even reading the Soviet document.
What follows from this are the following general conclusions.
1. The U.S. government bureaucracy's internal evaluations do not support the Department of Defense's conclusion that the Soviet G.R.U. document lacks credibility on the question of American POWs.
2. President Clinton and the American people have been poorly served by those officials whom they have entrusted to evaluate the Soviet document.
3. Any further progress on evaluating not only the document under discussion, but also the more basic question of the fate of hundreds of American prisoners who may have been held back in 1973, would be best served by further INDEPENDENT scholarly research in the Russian archives.