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Left Behind in Laos?
Uncovering the Coverup
By Zalin Grant
Top of The List
Vietnam War Classics
POWs and MIAs
World Silence


The question lingers.

There's no sure answer, no certainty, except to those who have chosen a position. If you were against the war, your answer is most likely to be no, not possible, absurd, why would they hold them?, makes no sense, just a pipedream of people who couldn't--wouldn't--admit the United States lost the war.

But listen:

I was against the war. Long before most people. And here is the way I saw it.

It goes back, I'm convinced, to the secret letter Henry Kissinger sent the North Vietnamese, dated February 1, 1973, signed by President Richard Nixon. It promised the communist regime upward of $3.25 billion in war reparations, or "reconstruction aid," as a final exasperated ploy to get Hanoi to sign the peace agreements without further stalling. Nixon was under the gun to get out of the war once and for all.

The letter had seven numbered clauses. The first stated: "The Government of the United States of America will contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without any political conditions."

The other six clauses had to do with the amount and type of aid, and discussed setting up a Joint Economic Commission to administer the aid program.

Attached to, but separate from, the letter was a one-sentence amendment: "It is understood that the recommendations of the Joint Economic Commission mentioned in the President's note to the Prime Minister will be implemented by each member in accordance with its own constitutional provisions."

Though it's not certain that Henry Kissinger, White House national security adviser and chief negotiator of the peace agreements, actually sent the amendment to the North Vietnamese, the addendum was a clever, not to say devious, piece of work. For it allowed Kissinger and Nixon to claim, when the contents of the letter were revealed two years later, despite their efforts to keep it secret, that the amendment meant that the $3.25 billion was contingent upon congressional approval which, under the political circumstances prevailing at the time, was like writing someone a multi-billion dollar insurance policy and then adding in fine print at the end, "This policy is valid except in cases of illness, injury, or death by any cause." Indeed, Congress later passed a law that forbade direct aid to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The reason for Nixon's and Kissinger's attempts to keep the letter secret (it was read by the North Vietnamese to a U.S. Congressional delegation visiting Hanoi in 1975, minus the amendment, and then pried out of the State Department) was not difficult to fathom. It was one thing to think the Vietnamese would turn over all American prisoners of war at the time of the cease-fire if they had nothing further to gain but the agreed-upon withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from South Vietnam, and quite another to believe they would give everybody back--their only insurance, in effect--if they had been promised a definite sum of money, particularly if that sum amounted to three times their GNP.

The North Vietnamese were not so stupid as to get caught holding back American prisoners of war from the Hanoi Hilton or one of the other detention camps in North Vietnam. But the scenario was set in Laos for them to carry out a little blackmail, to get their money without ever having to admit they had not returned all the POWs.

Laos gave the Vietnamese what the Nixon administration liked to call, when plotting its own devious moves, "plausible deniability."

It stemmed from the fact that Laos was treated by both sides as a separate conflict from the Vietnam War. Washington maintained the charade of Laos's independence and "neutrality" by using the CIA to run the ground war, while downplaying the heavy bombing by the U.S. Air Force, to the point of claiming for some years that planes lost in Laos were shot down over North Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese, for their part, held to the fiction that they had no troops in Laos and promoted the myth that the Pathet Lao guerrillas were fraternal allies completely independent of Hanoi, rather than the order-taking puppets they were.

Consequently, when the 1973 Vietnam cease-fire was signed, 528 Americans were listed as missing in action in Laos, and no POWs were returned, except nine who had been moved directly to Hanoi immediately after their capture. The fate of the 528 presumably would be determined when the Laotian conflict was resolved.

But the Americans held in Laos disappeared without a trace, as if into a black hole. Based on statistical probability alone, it was highly unlikely that they had all died or been killed at the time they were shot down.

In fact, the Pentagon had more than statistical probability to go on. It had detailed intelligence, including 300 reports (97 from CIA) and even photographs, that indicated some of them had been held in prison camps or caves in northern Laos, near North Vietnam's border, a hundred miles or so from Hanoi.

And a high-ranking Pathet Lao official had announced to his American visitors in 1969 that his guerrilla group was holding more than 158 American POWs. Given the number of missing in action and the realistic likelihood that many of them were in fact dead, this figure sounded about right.

Therefore, it was not farfetched to speculate that the Vietnamese intended to use the American POWs in Laos as leverage to make sure that Washington coughed up the $3.25 billion in war reparations that had been promised them--according to the first clause of the secret Nixon-Kissinger letter--"without any political conditions."

If the money arrived on schedule, so might the American POWs from Laos. The Vietnamese would be able to claim in the face of world opinion that the two happenings were absolutely unrelated. And if the money didn't arrive--well, Hanoi could afford to wait and see what time would bring.

From the beginning, however, Nixon and Kissinger refused to play the game. Undoubtedly they knew they could never get Congress to give Hanoi $3.25 billion. And they probably considered the secret letter, all along, as a trick to get the Vietnamese to sign the peace accords without further stalling.

So Nixon and Kissinger moved quickly to remove the POW/MIA question as a potentially damaging political issue. As far as they were concerned, all prisoners of war had returned from Indochina. Let the nation celebrate and forget.

In January 1973, Nixon and Kissinger assured the POW/MIA families that an accounting of all Americans who died or did not come back would be accomplished within the same 60-day period that the living POWs were returned from North Vietnam. Then, less than two weeks after the last POW arrived in the United States, the Pentagon announced that the remaining 2,500 MIAs would be reclassified as dead within the year--this despite the fact that the Pentagon still carried 138 of them as POWs, meaning strong evidence, including in some cases photographs and tape recordings, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the men were alive and in North Vietnamese hands after their capture, and were not listed as dead by Hanoi.

The Pentagon's move stunned the POW/MIA families. The U.S. government's treatment of the families had been disgraceful from the earliest days of the war. They had been lied to, at times harassed by FBI agents when they took positions against the war, and treated in general with a sugar-coated contempt. More than one POW wife said, "We were made to feel as if we had done something wrong by having husbands who were captured."

The families were often treated even worse by antiwar activists, who called their husbands and fathers "war criminals," harassed them with greater fervor than FBI agents, and lost no chance to manipulate them in scoring points against the administration's Vietnam policy.

The National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia was formed in 1969, not out of support for the U.S. government, but out of frustration that the Nixon administration was doing little to insure that their captured relatives were receiving proper attention. The National League clumsily tried to launch a publicity campaign to bring attention to the question. The families gained support from a Texas billionaire named H. Ross Perot, then 39, who loaded a group of the wives on chartered airplanes for a whirlwind tour of Asia and Paris in late 1969 and early 1970, in an attempt to force Hanoi to come clean on the POW question. The trip was not successful, although it did focus international attention on the POW issue--and on Ross Perot.

The Nixon administration was surprised by the success of the POW wives in gaining publicity, and quickly moved to take advantage of it. From then on, the Nixon administration relentlessly hammered Hanoi with the charge of being "inhumane" to American prisoners of war.

In one of the endless ironies of the POW/MIA question, the administration's cynical use of the issue did in fact gain better treatment for the POWs and probably resulted in saving the lives of some prisoners. Under international pressure, Hanoi improved the living conditions of POWs in the jungles of South Vietnam, where a number had already died of malnutrition, and lessened the torture of those held in North Vietnam.

Like the Nixon administration, the antiwar movement realized the emotional potential of the POW/MIA issue. Some of the dozens of loosely organized antiwar groups measured up--or down--to Nixon and Kissinger in using the issue for their own perceived higher goal. At the instigation of Hanoi, the Committee of Liaison, co-chaired by Cora Weiss and David Dellinger, was formed to pass on POW letters to family members, more often than not including propaganda tracts written by the committee.

Yet neither the Nixon administration nor the antiwar movement was on hand in 1973 to support the families of the MIAs who were about to be declared dead without further investigation. If anything united the two opposing groups who had fought so bitterly during the war, it was a unanimous feeling of indifference about the fate of the MIAs. The prowar elements were not about to give in to North Vietnamese demands for war reparations, and the antiwar elements were not going to do anything to challenge people they considered the aggrieved party and heroes of the conflict.

So it was with a feeling of isolation that the National League of Families filed a lawsuit against the United States government in 1973 to keep their relatives from arbitrarily being declared dead without further inquiry. A federal court agreed with the families and issued a restraining order to stop the Pentagon from reclassifying the MIAs. From there the families turned to Congress to resolve their plight.

Slowly, without much help from the journalism establishment, which also wanted to be done with questions concerning Vietnam, the families were able to muster enough political support to force a congressional investigation of the issue.

It was during this interlude, between the time of the signing of the cease-fire and the opening of the congressional investigation, that I personally began to understand what the families were up against. My awakening came as the result of a meeting I had with Henry Kissinger in November 1973, along with three other journalists--Walter Cronkite of CBS, Peter Arnett of the Associated Press, and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nearly 20 newsmen of various nationalities, including several Americans, were captured on the roads in Cambodia in early 1970, mainly by Hanoi-directed units of the Viet Cong. A committee of journalists was formed, headed by Walter Cronkite, to collect information on their capture and to try to free them.

The weight of our evidence, which was fragmentary and carefully stated, indicated that some of the newsmen were still alive three years after their capture and that Hanoi clearly had knowledge of their fate. We were at the White House to turn over the information to Henry Kissinger and to ask him to intercede with North Vietnam.

Walter Cronkite began his war reporting in World War II; Peter Arnett won a Pulitzer prize in Vietnam; Dick Dudman, a veteran Washington correspondent, had been captured on a trip to Cambodia and had endured some weeks as a prisoner of the communists; I had done my ROTC-required military service as a Vietnamese-speaking army intelligence officer, then worked for Time magazine and later for The New Republic, putting in five years in the war zone.

This is merely to suggest that none of us were babes-in-the-woods when it came to analyzing the actions of the Asian communists and the U.S. government.

Nor were we gripped by the emotions of the issue. I, for example, had collected much of the committee's information by interviewing hundreds of captured Viet Cong and several thousand Saigon troops who had been held in Cambodia as POWs. Yet I made no secret of my belief that some of the newsmen had shown poor professional judgment which had resulted in their capture. Nevertheless, as colleagues and friends, it was our duty to try to help them.

Henry Kissinger appeared persuaded by our evidence and the likelihood that some of the newsmen were still in communist hands. He promised us he would make representations to Hanoi in the strongest way. Thus the four of us battle-grizzled reporters were as shocked as the youngest and most naïve POW wife when we got a look at the letter Kissinger sent the North Vietnamese.

It read:

"A group of American journalists representing many members of their profession from all political persuasions, have come to me to inquire if anything further could be done to determine the fate of some of their colleagues who have been missing in Cambodia. Investigations and searches that they have conducted independently have led them to believe that their colleagues might be alive. They asked me whether the DRV [North Vietnam] was in a position to assist in this matter. I told them that we had no basis for believing these American journalists were alive, or that the DRV was in a position to assist. Nevertheless, I told them I would make one further inquiry...."

No basis for believing the Americans were alive?

That was certainly not what he told us. Kissinger's letter was a clear invitation to the North Vietnamese to deny, as they did, that they knew anything about the newsmen. The normally unflappable Cronkite was outraged. So were the rest of us. Cronkite tried, without success, to get an explanation out of Kissinger for what we felt was a double cross.*

[Footnote: Fifteen years later, on April 20, 1988, Colonel Joseph Schlatter, head of DIA's POW/MIA office, testified before Congress that a number of the post-1975 "unresolved" first-hand sighting reports of Caucasians still being held in Indochina pertained to journalists captured in Cambodia. The classification "unresolved" was as close as DIA came to conceding that an intelligence report about unaccounted-for MIAs could be true.]

In fact, the possible explanation did not become clear until two years later, when the secret Nixon-Kissinger promise of $3.25 billion to the North Vietnamese was revealed. If Kissinger had made a strong approach to Hanoi about the newsmen, the communists might have replied with a reminder of the secret letter, might have even sent a copy to the Cronkite committee, which was in touch with the North Vietnamese through other channels. And that, as we say in the business, would have made a damn good story.

As it happened, the journalists who were concerned about their missing colleagues were forced, like the POW wives, to stake their hopes on the House committee specially formed to investigate the question of the missing in action in Indochina. And that is when the MIA issue really turned political.

People who knew and liked U.S. Representative G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery, Democrat of Mississippi, simply shook their heads when asked about his role in investigating the POW/MIA question. Although it was a fairly safe bet that Sonny Montgomery would never be enshrined in a Pantheon of Great Thinkers who have walked the halls of the U.S. Capitol, his colleagues knew him as a gentleman of courtly Southern manners who possessed an integrity that matched the scale of anyone in Congress. He was considered a supporter of the military and proudly wore his stars as a general of the National Guard.

The only way to interpret Sonny Montgomery's role in the POW/MIA question (Interpret is the word: I tried repeatedly to interview him, but his press secretary turned me down, saying "Sonny doesn't like to talk about it anymore.") is to assume that he sincerely believed the United States should forget about the Vietnam War and move on, an attitude shared by millions of Americans, not all of them by any means unsympathetic to the pain of the families of the missing in action.

Sonny Montgomery and the staff of his House Select Committee on MIAs decided to do America a favor and end the question by declaring that all the missing in action were dead and that a proper accounting of their remains, except in few cases, would be impossible.

The conclusions of his committee, arrived at in 1976, was based on, Montgomery said, an "exhaustive" intelligence investigation. Which was simply b.s. There was hardly any investigation and the one carried out was at best perfunctory.

The only objective conclusion to be reached after an examination of the facts should have been one of a standoff: The families could not prove that any of their relatives were alive, but neither could the U.S. government or Sonny Montgomery prove that they were all dead.

Jimmy Carter, the new president in 1977 agreed with his fellow Southerner, and in one of his first acts of diplomacy sent a commission headed by United Auto Workers President Leonard Woodcock to tell Hanoi that he was turning a new page in the good book, and that he hoped to normalize relations with Vietnam.

The peace-and-reconciliation strategy, developed by Carter and his Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Richard Holbrooke, was based on the premise that good deeds would reap their own rewards which would result, among other things, in an accounting by Hanoi of the MIAs and a return of any American remains. Carter paved the way for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's admission to the United Nations, began steps to establish diplomatic ties, and then ordered the Pentagon, over the objections of the families, to start once again reclassifying all the MIAs as dead.

The Vietnamese communists looked on the Sunday School diplomacy of Carter with unhurried interest, to ascertain just how much they might gain from this new American attitude. From the day the 1973 peace agreements were signed, the Vietnamese had said over and over that the MIA question could be resolved only when the $3.25 billion Nixon-Kissinger had promised them was in hand.

Henry Kissinger, when called upon in 1977 to explain his negotiating techniques, declared that the promises established by the secret letter were null and void because the money was contingent upon congressional approval, or because the North Vietnamese had not adhered to the terms of the peace agreements, or because...etcetera...etcetera.

The Carter administration's hope for an MIA accounting through normalization ended in late 1978 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The administration shifted gears and adopted a hard-line policy that effectively ended any immediate hope of resolving the issue. No American remains were returned from Vietnam from 1978 to 1981. Not that the issue was getting much attention from the American public, except by the families and a few MIA buffs who began to charge that the government was engaged in a cover-up.

The believers in a conspiracy were answered by Sonny Montgomery who, besides heading the 1976 House Select Committee that declared all American MIAs dead, had served as a key member of the Woodcock Commission. Leonard Woodcock himself was cautious in stating the conclusions of his commission, which had spent barely three days in Hanoi and 24 hours in Laos. But Sonny Montgomery was once again vocal in declaring that no Americans were still alive. Montgomery went further by stating his belief that the Vietnamese would never be able to provide the remains of more than 100 to a 150 of the American dead.

Sonny Montgomery was following the line first encouraged by Henry Kissinger. But Kissinger, now out of government and in the consulting business, was indicating privately that the official line was a sham.

"Of course the Vietnamese have several hundred [MIA] cases they could account for immediately," Kissinger told Congressman Robert Dornan, an MIA activist. "I resist using the word `warehousing,' but in a sense they have this information, if not the boxes of bones, warehoused, to be used for political purposes."

Did Kissinger base his assessment on secret intelligence reports or simply on personal speculation? In either case he proved to be right. And "warehousing" turned out to be the appropriate word. Some months later, in November 1979, one of the most credible sources ever to surface on the MIA question appeared in the United States to testify that the communists had warehoused hundreds of American remains in Hanoi.

The source was a Vietnamese of Chinese extraction who was expelled from North Vietnam during the anti-Chinese hysteria of the late nineteen-seventies. He had been a professional mortician in Hanoi since 1951, was known to the French government, and had been photographed by Americans when the communists turned over two MIA remains to Senator George McGovern.

The mortician told a congressional investigating subcommittee that he had processed 452 remains of American servicemen. Subtracting the 26 already returned by Hanoi, that meant the communists were holding on to at least 426 remains. Another refugee, whose credibility was not so easily established, claimed the Vietnamese had warehoused 600 additional remains in Haiphong. The mortician described the professional procedures the Vietnamese used from the moment an American aircraft was shot down until the time, in the event the pilot was killed, that his remains were placed in a box.

More ominously, he said that the communists intended to do exactly what they had done with the remains of French servicemen for twenty years after the French war ended in 1954: barter bones for cash.

The mortician's testimony persuaded even the most skeptical that the Vietnamese had been lying all the time about the unavailability of further remains and the impossibility of giving a more detailed accounting of the MIAs. And if they were lying about that, it didn't require a great leap of logic for many people to suspect they also might be lying about not holding live POWs. The number of Americans who believed POWs were left behind and believed there was a cover-up going on in Washington began to increase.

Ironically, the charges of a cover-up began to grow at precisely the moment the country elected the first president since the Vietnam War who appeared genuinely dedicated to trying to resolve the issue. Ronald Reagan had spoken out about MIAs as California's governor, and his administration quickly moved to give the question the kind of priority it had never before received.

Instead of basing its policy on the presumption that all MIAs were dead, as had preceding administrations, the Reagan administration declared that no one could exclude the possibility that some Americans were still alive.

The two Reagan administration officials primarily responsible for developing MIA policy over the long-term were Richard L. Armitage and Richard Childress. Rich Armitage was a bald, bullet-shaped Annapolis graduate who had resigned his commission and failed as a businessman in Bangkok, then caught on with Senator Bob Dole and afterward was appointed an assistant secretary in the Pentagon.

Armitage had served in Vietnam, as had the smoother and more handsome Dick Childress, an army lieutenant colonel and contact point for the issue on the National Security Council. There was an element of re-fighting the Vietnam War, this time to win, in the attitude of both men toward the MIA problem.

(Later, when I asked Armitage why the administration didn't just give the Vietnamese the promised Nixon money in an attempt to resolve the question, he exploded, "Well, fuck them!")

Both Armitage and Childress showed sharp claws in the unending political catfights that arose over the cover-up issue, quick to bat down anyone who tried to trespass on what they considered their turf. When a move was made to appoint Ross Perot head of a presidential commission to try to clear up the MIA question, Armitage and Childress went all out to defeat the attempt. They considered Perot a loose cannon and a threat with republican political aspirations of his own.

Yet, for all of that, no two officials worked harder than Armitage and Childress to bring the MIA question to the forefront of American consciousness. And even given the serpentine politics that entwined the issue, it was stretching reason to believe that either one of them was involved in a cover-up. They had, in fact, brought the director of the National League of Families, Ann Mills Griffiths, whose pilot-brother was missing, into the administration's policy planning and diplomatic moves concerning the issue--unlike Jimmy Carter, who had refused to include her in the Woodcock Commission because he believed a family member would be "too emotional."

Ann Griffiths, in her forties at the time, was anything but emotional--an attractive, hardworking divorcée who was as much a political operator as Armitage and Childress, and who was blunt-spoken to the point of calling Pentagon officers who fell for Vietnamese propaganda ploys "incredibly naïve" and those who believed in a cover-up "liars and crazies." Her attitude toward life could be perceived by the sign taped to her desk, "Thank You For Smoking," which she did exuberantly, while drinking endless cups of coffee, refilled without asking by her young four-woman staff.

Eventually, Griffiths herself was linked to a cover-up by some of the conspiratorialists because she had been given access to government secrets concerning the MIAs, thus, they said, had been coöpted. The National League of Families was bitterly split between those who believed the government was doing everything realistically possible to resolve the issue and those convinced that a cover-up was going on.

The belief that Americans had been left behind in Indochina was given its biggest boost in June 1985 when retired Lieutenant General Eugene Tighe, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before a congressional subcommittee that he was convinced U.S. POWs were still alive, and said, "The human reporting that came out of Southeast Asia on live Americans held there against their will was among the most detailed of human reporting I have ever seen." General Tighe charged that DIA's analysts had developed "a mind-set to debunk" what he considered very credible reports on the POWs.

Tighe's testimony confirmed what some observers had suspected all along: that DIA had done a perfectly lousy job in collecting, analyzing, and acting on information about POWs still held. For Tighe had been the DIA official most closely connected with the problem during the seven critical years from 1974 to 1981. If DIA analysts had a negative mind-set, why hadn't he fired or transferred them? And why didn't he speak out about this "most detailed of human reporting" before he retired in 1981?

What the former director didn't say was that the whole DIA approach to the MIAs during the early years was farcical. Only five to eight officers worked on the matter at DIA headquarters in the Pentagon, and Tighe tried at one time to cut back on that number. The impressive sounding Joint Casualty Resolution Center in Bangkok, which was the on-scene collection agency for Indochina, had a staff of three, no secretary, and not even a car. And with all the thousands of refugees flowing out of Indochina who were potential sources of information, DIA processed only an average of thirty reports a year during the four critical years, 1975-78. DIA finally gave more attention and resources to the problem beginning in 1979, after Congress held the agency's feet to the fire. But important and irretrievable time had been lost.

Standing logic on its head, the cover-up believers, instead of running General Tighe out of town on a rail for his self-confessed incompetence, actually hailed him as a hero for revealing the truth about the "conspiracy." The conspiratorialists, some of whom vehemently disagreed with each other, had grown to influential proportions by 1991. They included assorted ex-army and intelligence officers, two former congressmen, an ex-POW and navy captain plus many others. Although no one should question these men's motives too quickly on such a complicated and emotional issue, the plain truth was that a number of them had used the issue to raise substantial sums of money.

One man who apparently believed in a cover-up and who obviously couldn't be suspected of taking advantage of the problem to enrich himself was Ross Perot. But Ann Griffiths and the orthodox branch of the National League of Families feared that if Perot were allowed to take control of solving the problem he might go to Hanoi, throw his gazillions on the table, and then if no quick response came from the Vietnamese, declare all the MIAs dead and the issue closed--and move on to his next America-saving project, leaving the families abandoned with no recourse after their 20-year quest for a resolution.

While Ross Perot's move-any-mountain-slash-all-red-tape approach was wholly admirable, he did indeed appear to have a short attention span.

With so much money being bandied about by the freelancers who were trying to solve the problem in their own way, alleged sightings of Americans in Indochina suddenly skyrocketed, going from thirty a year shortly after the war was over to 1200 reports by 1985. Many of those were phony dog tag reports inspired by the Vietnamese communists themselves to confuse and distract the intelligence agencies, perhaps out of mischief or perhaps because they were feeling the heat of the chase.

After one group floated balloons from Thailand to Laos announcing a million dollar reward for information on POWs, the only surprise was not that many dirt-poor Asian farmers began to report seeing missing Americans but that Elvis wasn't included in the sightings. One hustler, taking time off from his job of flimflamming tourists in Bangkok, hired an Australian to pose as a POW in the jungle and then offered to sell the video to the U.S. government for several millions, a scam that actually got as far as the negotiating stage.

Yet, after the money-making scams were exposed, after the doctored photos were discarded, after the fabricated reports were discounted, and after all the waffling qualifiers known to government were attached to the remaining information--still, the weight of evidence strongly indicated that some American POWs had been left behind.

Who were they? Where were they? How many?

Couldn't be determined. But there, they seemed to be.

Still, why a cover-up?

One theory advanced by conspiracy believers was that it would "embarrass" government officials to admit POWs were alive and abandoned for more than twenty-five years. But if ever two individuals seemed born to be embarrass proof, they were named Nixon and Kissinger. And who couldn't imagine Ronald Reagan, upon receipt of a live POW, making one of his lump-in-the-throat speeches that would have stirred a spontaneous movement to repeal the amendment prohibiting a third presidential term? And wouldn't George Bush, if a POW release had taken place during his term, have declared that he was out of the loop and knew nothing about it, but, hey, let's all bow a sec and thank God they are home. Bill Clinton? Well, fill in your own blanks here.

Another theory was that the CIA feared its alleged dealings in the opium trade in Laos might be revealed if a POW were allowed to return home. But the CIA's involvement with opium was an old charge and hardly seemed a compelling reason for a cover-up. After all, who would be surprised to learn at this late date that the CIA had signed a blood contract with the Devil himself to smuggle dope, kill whales, and overthrow Christianity?

Actually, the CIA had never shown much of an interest either way in the MIA question. Instead, the agency appeared quietly content to let DIA bounce the tarbaby on its knee. What the conspiratorialists seemed unable to accept was that if any Americans were left behind, as the weight of evidence suggested they were, it was because of a "cover-up" based on indifference, ignorance, and incompetence--not because of a narrowed-down conspiracy from which the people of the United States could find a satisfaction and catharsis in watching those responsible be hanged.

Finally, of course, it dwindles into the lingering question, we are back where we began.

Will the question ever be answered?

Who knows?

Stranger things have happened in Indochina.

Next Book: Presumed Dead