POW INFORMATION--WHAT SHOULD BE CLASSIFIED -- HON. ROBERT C. SMITH (Extension of Remarks - February 01, 1990)
HON. ROBERT C. SMITH
in the House of Representatives
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 1990
- Mr. SMITH of New Hampshire. Mr. Speaker, as many of my House colleagues are undoubtedly aware, I have spent a great deal of time during the last 6 years working to account for our missing U.S. service personnel in Southeast Asia. As a member of the House POW/MIA task force, I have met with officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency on numerous occasions to discuss specific POW cases in detail. I have also taken two separate trips to Southeast Asia on official congressional fact-finding missions--always going with one agenda--in search of our missing military and civilian personnel. Each time I have been there, I have spent several days of negotiations with top Vietnamese officials on this issue. Additionally, I continue to work with the families of missing servicemen, helping them to get answers from the Government on their missing loved ones.
- Mr. Speaker, in view of responsible legislation I have recently co-introduced to declassify information on American prisoners of war from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, I feel it is important to point out to my House colleagues and to the American public exactly what is and what is not classified on this important matter. Only in this way will we gain a better understanding as to why H.R. 3603 is so urgently needed.
- Yes, there is a large quantity of information currently in the public domain regarding POW's and MIA's. Indeed if someone were to ask a Government official for information on the whereabouts of POW's, we could not assume that he or she is requesting access to classified information. On the contrary, many Government officials, including myself, frequently provide to the public upon request declassified information on POW's. In fact, if someone were to write me requesting specific information on POW's, I could literally send them a wheelbarrow of intelligence information, including live-sighting reports, maps, layouts, and so on, and so on. Moreover, my amendment to the House Intelligence Authorization Act in 1988 now requires the Department of Defense to provide to a missing servicemember's family all live-sigthing reports received which correlate to their loved one. And yes, family members are perfectly free and legal under our laws to release this information to the general public, as it is already in the public domain when it gets to the family.
- Additionally, the Department of Defense also publishes for the general public a POW/MIA Fact Book which provides examples of evidence of the capture of U.S. personnel in Southeast Asia, along with spcecific details on the last known whereabouts of missing servicemen based on hard evidence. This hard evidence is drawn from post-capture photography, United States or indigenous eyewitnesses to capture or detention, and intelligence reports such as live-sightings by refugees in addition to maps and layouts of POW camps.
- Finally, the U.S. Government continues to share classified information with Vietnamese and Loatian officials in an effort to gain the fullest possible accounting of our POW's from this war. In the words of General Vessey, the President's Special Emissary to Southeast Asia, this information involves `discrepancy cases in which Americans were known to have survived the incident in which they were involved and we believed they came into Vietnamese hands and probably were prisoners of the Vietnamese.'
- However, Mr. Speaker, the Defense Intelligence Agency, our chief agency responsible for gathering and analyzing information on missing servicemen, has testified before the Congress that they do not have conclusive evidence that Americans are still being held against their will in Southeast Asia. This is despite the fact that we know many American servicemen were taken prisoners and did not return during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
- At the same time, the President of the United States and representatives at the State Department and Defense Department maintain that the abundance of intelligence information received concerning POW's `precludes' ruling out the possibility that American servicemen are still alive in Southeast Asia.
- Mr. Speaker, there is plenty of POW intelligence information legally being circulated in the public domain. H.R. 3603 will protect us from jeopardizing the safety of Americans still held against their will. It also will protect us from compromising our national security and is consistent with President Reagan's 1982 Executive order regarding what should and should not be classified by our Government. Indeed, only information that would truly damage our national security and endanger the safety of American POW's should remain classified.
- Already, more than 60 of my colleagues have joined Representative Denny Smith and myself in supporting the public's inherent right to see all information on POW's from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Only with the participation of the America people in this process and only once we have seen all the information on this issue will we ever achieve the fullest possible accounting of our missing men.