Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs:
Mission Statement
Obviously, even the fullest possible accounting for U.S. POW/MIAs will leave some questions unanswered. Investigations can uncover information, but not create it. If, for example, neither friend nor foe had certain knowledge at the time about the fate of a pilot lost over water, there is little likelihood that the Committee or any other investigative unit could, at this distance in time, establish that certainty.

But the Committee was not created with the expectation of final, definitive, case-by-case answers. That is a task that may well be beyond mortal power to achieve, and that only the Executive branch has the resources to attempt. Rather, the Committee's job was to investigate the events, policies and knowledge that have guided U.S. Government POW/MIA related actions over the past 20 years and to do so in order to advance the following goals:

. to determine whether there is evidence that American POWs survived Operation Homecoming and, if so, whether there is evidence that some may remain alive in captivity;

. to ensure the adequacy of government procedures for following up on live-sighting reports and other POW/MIA related information;

. to de-mystify the POW/MIA accounting process so that the families and the public can better understand the meaning behind the numbers and statistics used in discussions of the issue;

. to establish an open, comprehensive record, and to provide for the broad declassification of POW/MIA materials in order to enable both the Committee and the public to make informed judgments about questions of policy, process and fact;

. to lend added weight to Executive branch efforts to obtain cooperation from foreign governments in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in accounting for missing Americans;

. to review the activities of private organizations who participate in fundraising and educational efforts related to the POW/MIA issue; and

. to examine, to the extent time and resources permit, unresolved issues pertaining to missing Americans from World War II, Korea and the Cold War.

De-Mystifying the Process

Nothing has done more to fuel suspicion about the government's handling of the POW/MIA issue than the fact that so many documents related to those efforts have remained classified for so long. Rightly or wrongly, the secrecy--especially about live-sighting reports and critical internal reviews of Defense Intelligence Agency procedures--have fed the perception that government officials have something to hide. This perception increased in the months prior to the Committee's creation because of evidence that some Congressional inquiries may have been responded to with inaccurate or incomplete information and because then Congressman Bob Smith and Senator Charles Grassley had enormous difficulty in prior years in gaining DOD permission to review classified POW/MIA related materials.

As a result, the Committee sought from the beginning to work with the Executive Branch to make public all information relevant to the POW/MIA issue, except that related directly to the sources and methods of gathering intelligence. The Committee agreed that "source and methods" must be kept confidential in order to maintain America's ability to gather new information and track leads in the future. The Committee's goal was to "de-mystify" the POW/MIA issue and to lay before the public a complete picture of what the U.S. Government knows. The Committee generally succeeded in this objective. A full description of the efforts made to obtain the de- classification and public release of documents is included in chapter entitled "Declassification."

Accountability and Response

A major investigative priority of the Committee was to examine the U.S. Government's ability and willingness to respond rapidly to possible evidence that live Americans may still be held against their will in Southeast Asia. The Committee also sought to gain greater cooperation from the governments of Southeast Asia in efforts to obtain answers to questions about specific missing Americans. These "process-oriented" issues go to the heart of U.S. priorities. For example, a bureaucracy that assumes that all American POWs are dead may not respond as energetically to an unconfirmed, but possibly credible, report that a POW has been sighted as a bureaucracy that assumes Americans may still be alive. Similarly, an Administration that attaches a genuinely high priority to POW/MIA issues is likely to devote greater resources of intelligence and response than an Administration that does not. The evolution of U.S. government policies and procedures from Operation Homecoming to the present are discussed in the "Accountability" chapter of this report.

Building a Public Record

Beyond the questions of process, there exist the fundamental questions of fact. The Committee understood from the outset that it could not expect to answer every question, but that it had a responsibility to pursue as comprehensive an investigation as possible. To this end, the Committee conducted more than 1000 interviews; took more than 200 sworn depositions; held more 200 hours of public hearings; reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, files, and reports; studied large quantities of intelligence information, including raw intelligence; posted a full-time investigator to Moscow; and sent Member delegations to Russia, North Korea and four times to Southeast Asia.

The Committee's goal was to identify and explore every promising avenue of investigation. To this end, the Chairman and Vice- chairman sent personal letters to the primary next of kin of all Vietnam-era POW/MIAs, and to all returned POWs, seeking information and advice. During televised public hearings, Members of the Committee have repeatedly invited all those with information concerning a POW/MIA related matter to come forward and share that information with the Committee. The Committee has also solicited suggestions from veterans organizations, activist and family groups, current and former U.S. officials and from the public at large with respect to possible witnesses and areas of investigation.

The final judge and jury of U.S. Government actions on the POW/MIA issue is not this Committee; it is the American people. As previous POW/MIA related inquiries have shown, it does not matter much what the official view is if the public does not generally understand and share that view. As a result, the Committee made a conscious effort to combine its behind-the-scenes investigative work with public hearings so that the public would learn--almost contemporaneously with the Committee--about various aspects of the POW/MIA issue. For the same reason, the Committee made every effort to avoid holding hearings in executive session and to provide for the declassification of Committee-generated documents, such as depositions. The goal from the outset has been to create a comprehensive and unbiased public record that would be available for families, journalists, historians and citizens to review and make their own best judgments about the facts. This report is an important part of that record.