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U.S. Warns of Hanoi ‘Misinformation’ in Attempt to Divert Search for MIAs

Times Staff Writer

Pentagon officials charged Thursday that the Vietnamese government may be orchestrating a “misinformation” campaign to divert U.S. officials from investigating unsubstantiated reports that captured American servicemen have been spotted in Indochina.

“This misinformation effort has been successful in diverting DIA assets from the investigation of live sighting reports,” Cmdr. Thomas A. Brooks, a high-ranking official of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We have devoted many thousands of man-hours to processing and evaluating these ‘dog-tag’ reports--time better spent elsewhere.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard L. Armitage cited an upsurge in the last three years of claims by Vietnamese refugees that they have seen U.S. dog tags or other items that could have belonged to dead American soldiers whose remains have not been recovered.

Data From Dog Tags

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In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, Armitage said many refugees have accurately related such information as names, service numbers, blood types and religions, all of which could have been obtained from GI dog tags.

To date, he said, American officials have received 843 such reports from refugees and have linked more than 70% of them to Americans who have safely returned to the United States. Another 20% have related information about dead GIs whose remains have already been recovered, Armitage said.

He said Vietnamese authorities might purposely be showing the refugees dog tags that were discarded, lost or taken from GIs before the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia a decade ago.

“We are convinced that some of these refugees are unwitting accomplices in this program and are unknowingly serving Vietnam’s purposes, whatever they may be, by passing information they believe is factual,” Armitage said.

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Deception Discussed

Armitage did not specify what he thought Hanoi officials might hope to accomplish by such a deception. But Brooks suggested a Vietnamese plot to force his agency to run down phony information so that it could not adequately probe reports of Americans still being held.

Of the nearly 2,500 Americans still listed as missing in action from the Indochina war, the Pentagon officially presumes all but one to be dead.

He is Air Force Capt. Charles Shelton, who was shot down over Laos in 1965 and thought to have been captured by Pathet Lao forces.

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But reports persist, often from relatives of missing servicemen or from mercenaries who have been in contact with refugees and others who remained in Vietnam and Laos after 1975, that Americans have been spotted alive in Vietnam or Laos.

63 Alleged Sightings

Brooks said that his agency is looking into 63 alleged sightings of Americans being held in captivity. But many are secondhand, he said, and many others are based on vague information or involve sightings of missing Americans that purportedly occurred before 1975.

The Reagan Administration continues play down specific stories about Americans being spotted in captivity while refusing to rule out the possibility entirely. Although the White House has not accused Hanoi of holding Americans, it has complained that Vietnam is dragging its feet in aiding the search for GI remains, and it has ruled out discussion of establishing diplomatic relations until more progress is made.

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Lt. Gen. Eugene F. Tighe Jr, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director, repeated to the subcommittee his recent claims that at least 50 to 60 Americans may still be held captive in Vietnam. Tighe conceded that he has obtained no new information on possible prisoners since his retirement four years ago, but he said his assessment is based on “high-quality human intelligence” obtained during his tenure as director.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Thursday that another in a series of consultative meetings between U.S. and Vietnamese officials on efforts to locate the missing Americans will be held in Hanoi next week.


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