NEW REVELATIONS ON THE POW/MIA ISSUE
LARRY KING LIVE - TRANSCRIPT # 805 APRIL 15,1993
Beckel: Welcome back to Larry King Live.
The POW/MIA issue has exploded again, thanks to papers from Hanoi uncovered by Harvard researcher Stephen Morris. Morris found them in Moscow at a communist party archives(Document "1205"). If they're real, they seem to show Vietnam was less than candid about the fate of more than 600 Americas. The news comes amid talk in Washington about improving relations with Hanoi and opening up trade.
Billy Hendon is a former congressman from North Carolina, now an investigator with the POW Publicity Fund. Also here - Republican Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire. He co-chaired the Senate Select committee on POW/MIA Affairs.
Bob Smith, you're considered one of the experts in this field, by far. Your committee reached the conclusion, I believe, that, as of today, there were no living Americans in Vietnam. What does this revelation do? One, do you believe this revelation to be true? And secondly, what does it do to the findings of your committee?
Sen. Robert Smith (R), New Hampshire: Well, first of all, the committee did not reach that conclusion. There were a couple of dissenting views - Senator Grassley and myself.
Beckel: O.K. I stand corrected, Senator.
Smith: We did conclude that there was evidence that American POWs remained behind, and I inserted, along with Senator Grassley, some views - some very specific, strong views -- of why I felt that there still were.
Beckel: Do you believe this to be a real document, and this is a true story?
Smith: There's absolutely no question about the authenticity of the document. General Volkogonov , who is Boris Yeltsin's right-hand man, has authenticated the document. He has said he's absolutely positive of it. Former Secretary Kissinger said that he believed it was authentic. Mr. Brzezinski has said that he believed it was authentic. I've read the document through and through, and everything in there that I know about the issue, in terms of the contemporary information, says it's authentic. I've no doubt in my mind.
Beckel: O.K. Billy Hendon, you've been on this issue for a long time. This probably comes as no surprise to you, I take it.
Bill Hendon, POW Publicity Fund: None, whatsoever. I've read most of the intelligence, because I was a consultant in the Pentagon. I was a consultant on Bob Smith's staff for the committee.
Hendon: And I worked, of course, in Congress on this. That document is rock-solid. There is no question, Bob. It is corroborated by intelligence all over the place in our files, but one particular file - A defector in 1979 came out from the very - the ministry of national defense POW headquarters operation -- a very solid source. He said, "Hey;, they told us repeatedly, they've got 700 American prisoners that they held back for reparation for - their strategic asset, they called it." There can be no question about the authenticity. And the numbers - Don't let the numbers scare you. When I was up working for Bob Smith, we did an informal poll among the investigators. I'll tell you, of the five intelligence investigators, the numbers were more than a hundred alive last year, 250 alive last year, 650, 650, 850.
Beckel: Billy, you've been critical of the findings of this committee that's worked on it.
Hendon: Very critical. Not of my buddy, Bob smith - He did the best he could, but he was out-voted consistently.
Beckel: O.K., let me ask you both -- let me start with you Bob -- if this document is real -- and you both believe is it -- what do you think has happened to these 600 missing Americans?
Smith: Well, I don't know at this point what happened to them, but I can tell you that, based on the intelligence information that I have seen, the live sighting reports -- which certainly were extremely prevalent from 1975 through 1981, and some after that, and still some today -- that the indications are that these people could be alive, absolutely.
So, you know, this is a dramatic document. I mean, I could not believe it when I read it. I've been on the issue for nine years in the Congress and I have been waiting to see this. This is a communist-government to communist-government document. And in the document, as Mr. Hendon just said, they are talking in there about how they're going to do it, about how they're going to hold back prisoners. And the reason they're holding back prisoners is to be sure that they get what they want, which is money and so forth. It's right there in black and white.
Beckel: Billy, certainly, all 600 of these people could not be alive -- I guess they could. I mean, they're not all that old. I guess they would be -- what? -- in their 50s and - late 40s, early 50s now?
Hendon: I'll tell you who is alive -
Beckel: Do you believe - How many of those people, do you think, are alive of that 600?
Hendon: Well, I just went over that. The investigators that worked on the committee --
Beckel: But you had three different numbers for me.
Beckel: Give me a number.
Hendon: Oh, it's in the hundreds, no question; in the mid-hundreds -- 400,500,600. But I'll tell you who is alive, all right? Satellites picked up on the 5th of June, 1992, at the Dong Vai Prison, which is off of Route 183, just north of Hongai (sp?), OK? -- at Dong Mang Vietnam -- They picked up in the field-- Senator Smith knows all about this, all right? They picked up "GX2527", which is a secret known only to the person who put it down and his base, all right? -- a secret four-digit authenticator for a missing pilot named Air Force Lieutenant Matthes , all right? He went out, out of that prison-- We were watching the prison because we had solid evidence that Americans were in there, all right? That's why the satellite was looking. And Matthes put his number down, O.K.? -- out in the yard -- no question.
Right up the road from there, in another field, in 1992 in June, here it says a number"72TA88." That's supposed to be "'72 Tango-Alpha," which was the escape and evader, And right above that, "S-E-R-E-X" all right? "SEREX" What does that mean? Go check the list. Major Serex, lost off an EB-66 over the DMZ on the 2nd of April, 1972 -- He's out putting his name down right outside the prison wall, 20 years later.
Beckel: All right, we're going to take a break, and I'm going to ask Senator Smith how they got away with this for all these years. We'll be back in a moment with more on the long-running MIA drama. This is Larry King Live in Washington. Don't go away.
George Stephanopoulos, White House Communications Director: (At news conference) We're going to continue to look into this matter, and look into the report, and have a complete review. But the President's determined not to move forward on normalization with Vietnam until there is a full accounting of the POWs and MlAs.
Beckel: Welcome back to Larry King Live.
We're talking about new POW evidence from Hanoi with Billy Hendon of the POW Publicity Fund and Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire.
Senator, how is it, after all these years, that this information has not gotten out, that people have reached the conclusion like other of your colleagues on this committee that there were not people alive in Vietnam, and yet there seems to be a lot of evidence coming forward -- not just this, other things -- that, in fact, there are people alive there? How has it been covered up this long?
Smith: Well, here's the situation. When we had witness after witness come before the committee -- Mel Laird came to the committee and said he was shocked when he saw the list. Kissinger said he was shocked when he saw the list -- words to that effect. Jim Schlesinger said it. Admiral Moore (sp?) Said it, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time. This is no surprise. This document is one piece, one small piece, of the puzzle. And to anybody who's worked the issue, either inside the Pentagon or outside, as Billy Hendon and I and others have, it's not a surprise, it's not a shock. It all falls into place.
We've got intelligence. The problem is -- You asked the question about the committee. Some people on the committee kind of put the evidence level at being a man walking out. Well, one did walk out in 1979 and they discredited him - Robert Garwood . So the point is, that's the issue.
Beckel: O.K., let's go out to the phones now. We're getting lots of calls.
Ludlow, Massachusetts - Hello, Massachusetts.
4th Caller: (Ludlow, Massachusetts) Hi. Senator Smith, I'd like to know when you're going to stop torturing these poor MIA families with the false hope that there's people alive there?
Beckel: O.K., listen, let me interject here, ask both of you this question. Bob, it was directed at you. All these stories come out and then hope rises again, I'm sure, in these many families of missing-in-action POWs. How confident do you feel in this information and do you worry about raising expectations that can't be met; that is to say, they may be released some day?
Hendon: Well, when a man's out in a prison yard and we're watching the prison with our satellites because we hear that the Americans are in there from human intelligence sources; and these guys go out and put their secret four-digit authenticator or their name down in the grass -- all right? -- you're not raising anybody's hopes. I mean, that's what the photograph says.
Beckel: Go ahead, Bob.
Smith: Well, let me just say this. The question was hostile and I respect that. It's a democracy. But let me just say this to the gentleman. If I were a missing POW and I'd been over there for 23 years -- go ahead and raise my hopes, do something. And I didn't go find the document. Billy Hendon didn't go find the document. It was found by a Harvard professor who was looking for something else in a research project and it was in the Soviet archives. And thank God for the Russians, who are being very cooperative -- Boris Yeltsin, at least, and General Volkagonov. So that's how the document was found. The document speaks for itself, l'm not interpreting it. The document's out in the press.
Beckel: O.K., back to the phones. Los Angeles, California -- Hello, Los Angeles.
5th Caller: (Los Angeles, California) Yes, my question is this. Given the aversion of our President to the military and the fact that the Congress has known about this for over 30 years, is there any hope that we can get these guys back home?
Beckel: Bob, how about Clinton's role in all this?
Smith: Well, I want to say, as far as the President today, I want to compliment the President because he gave Vessey marching orders today in which he said, "There'll be nothing -- We're not going to change our policy toward Vietnam, period, until this issue is resolved, until a full accounting takes place." I hope he keeps his word on that, and I respect him for saying it.
Beckel: O.K., Billy, we were talking in the break. We're all over the world with this show. If you had something to say to the people in Hanoi, what would it be?
Hendon: Well, in 1979, Robert Garwood, who Bob mentioned, slipped a note to the Swedish Ambassador, Tom Churning (sp?), who was at the Tong Loy (sp?) Hotel in February 1979. It said, "Get me out of here." The Vietnamese had denied having anyone alive in any status, all right? -- any Americans. The U.S. made a demand for Garwood's release and in a heartbeat he was on a plane out of here, because we knew he was there and we demanded his release, all right:
These two men whose names are down in that yard, all right? -- Lieutenant Matthes and Major Serex - I say to the leaders of Vietnam, listen, we can work this thing out. You all are having a tough time with this new document and with this issue. We're having a tough time with our people being held. We know you've got them. We hold you responsible for their safety. Don't harm these men, but give us Major Serex and give us Lieutenant -- I'm sorry can't -
Beckel: O.K., fine, let's go back --
Hendon: That's what I'd say to them.
Beckel: All right. Now, let's go back to the phones.
Columbia, Maryland - Hello, Columbia.
6th Caller: (Columbia, Maryland) Yes, I've got a question for the Senator. We know that these people have been over. I spent three tours in Vietnam. I'd like to know why we are leaving our men there for so long?
Smith: Well, there's no excuse for it. I mean, we now have a document that the Soviets had in their archives that was provided to them by the Vietnamese. And this General Tran Van Quang, by the way, who the Vietnamese in their denial - vehement denial - said that he was a field commander, he didn't -- This guy was not only the deputy chief in charge out there, he's been given great credibility. He's been acclaimed as a hero in Vietnam. I've got a copy of a paper to prove that. He was knowledgeable, wrote a lot of papers on the situation between Vietnam and the United States and the armed forces. So this is a factual document and all it does, as I said before, is fill in - It's one more piece of the puzzle.
I can't say to you why did we leave people behind. I don't think that we handled it right in Paris. We were lied to. The blame belongs, for the most part, in my personal opinion -- I speak for myself -- on the Vietnamese. They lied to our people in Paris and they're lying today.
Beckel: O.K., let's go back to the phones. East Bank, West Virginia -- West Virginia, hello.
7th Caller: (East Bank, West Virginia) Yes, hello. Thanks a lot, Senator. At least some folks up there are paying attention. I, like the earlier caller, served several tours in Vietnam. And you and I both know who interrogated our POWs - the KGB.
Beckel: O.K., what about that, Billy? The irony of all this is -- the allegations have been, in any event -- that even some POWs may have been sent from Hanoi to then the Soviet Union and now it's the Russians that give us this piece of information. What about the KGB interrogating American prisoners during the war?
Hendon: Well, that's something that's not my specialty. Perhaps Bob knows more about that. But I can tell you this. They have hundreds of our prisoners. That's what the intelligence says. That's what the intelligence investigators and the committee said and I was one from his office assigned to it -- tried to get out with this report, O.K.? We couldn't get it out. But they've got a boatload of our guys. Whether some went to the Soviet Union, I believe they did, but I don't have the evidence on that.
Beckel: O.K., in the few moments --
Smith: We could not --
Beckel: Go ahead, quickly.
Smith: Real quickly, Bob -- We could not absolutely confirm any interrogation directly by Soviets. We';ve got some information to that effect, but we could not come to that conclusion on the committee.
Beckel: O.K., in fairness to people, other people on your committee --
Smith: Doesn't say it didn't happen.
Beckel: ... who have said this, there are lots of people who believe there is nobody alive in Vietnam. But as we wrap up here tonight, I want to know your view. If there are, when, would you tell us, would you expect to see -- if, in fact, there are people alive -- our soldiers alive in Vietnam? Do you see this as an imminent breakthrough?
Smith: Well, it's certainly -- It's a breakthrough in the sense of the doubters, I guess -
Beckel: But do you expect to see American prisoners coming out of Vietnam?
Smith: I'm going to assume -- I assume American prisoners are alive. Based on the intelligence I've seen and now the admission of the communists, I assume there are people alive.
Beckel: Billy, what about you?
Hendon: If we get serious, if the President gets serious -- new team, new look, fresh new approach. Sit down and work this thing out. They've got them. There's no doubt., They've got them.
Beckel: O.K., I want to thank both Senator Smith and Billy Hendon for the latest on POWs and missing-in-action. These two men have spent a long time looking into this issue.
We'll be back in a moment. Don't go away. This is Larry King Live.