Cuba's End Game in Vietnam
According to a DIA "asset", after the signing of the cease-fire on January 21, 1973, 4,000 Cuban army engineers arrived in Hanoi. They helped rebuild the Phuc Yen/Da Phuc Airfield North of Hanoi where, according to intelligence reports, American POWs were used as technicians after the war. Later, the Cubans disappeared into the mountains of the north and constructed and eqvuipped secret bases about 100 km from the Chinese border between Monkai and Laokai. Here, the Soviets equipped the bases with mobile launch ramps, medium-range strategic missiles, possibly with tactical nuclear warheads, capable of hitting population centers in the southern part of China.(17) This is the same area where the above mentioned POW camp containing American prisoners "disappeared, guards and all."(25)
Units of this same Cuban engineering contingent were building the airfield in Grenada when Americans overran the island. U.S. military intelligence captured reams of documents and photographs relating to this unit's operations in Vietnam. However, no evidence has surfaced that these documents were ever analyzed for information on POWs by DPMO or any intelligence agency.
In the spirit of communist solidarity, Hanoi reciprocated for Cuba's assistance during the Vietnam war by sending U.S. arms and ammunition, captured in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, to South America to fuel the "revolution" directed by the Cubans there. As agents of the Soviets, and continuing their belief in the communist internationale, the Cuban government expanded its role in the communist internationale.
The Cubans sent troops to Angola. In 1975, Vivo again surfaces in Angola posing as a journalist. Vivo "interviewed" western mercenaries who were put on trail in a "kangaroo court" in yet another slanted propaganda coup against the U.S. One of the mercenaries was an American who's body has yet to be recovered.(13)
Evidently, Cuba's partnership with Vietnam in subversive activities against the U.S. has continued. In 1996, Jane's Defense Weekly reported that "Vietnam has been training Cuban Special Forces troops to undertake limited attacks in the USA... .... Havana's strategy in pursuing such training is to attack the staging and supply areas for U.S. forces preparing to invade Cuba. .... The training program is focused on seaborne and underwater operations, roughly comparable to those assigned to U.S. Navy Seals. .... The political objective would be to bring the reality of warfare to the American public and so exert domestic pressure on Washington."(37)
Vietnam and Cuba are closely linked by their belief in exporting international communism. Hanoi praised Cuba for its shootdown of two American planes and denounced the Helms-Burton Bill as "Insolent!" Hanoi recently reaffirmed the unswerving solidarity of the communist party, the government and people of Vietnam with the Cuban revolution.(38)
The behavior of "Fidel", "Chico" and "Pancho" in the torture and murder of Americans is beyond the pale and is clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of Prisoners of War, which North Vietnam signed. Allowing these Cubans to go unpunished sets an ugly precedent, and adds to America's growing "paper tiger" image. Although the Cubans' crimes are smaller in number, they are no less than some of the war criminals that are being tried in Bosnia.
If the communist regime in Hanoi was fully cooperating in resolving the POW/MIA issue as President Clinton, Senator John McCain, and Ambassador Pete Peterson profess, the Vietnamese communists would have turned over to the U.S. the names of the Cubans who tortured and killed American POWs in the "Cuban Program." Full cooperation by the communist government in Hanoi includes the full disclosure of the true identities and roles of these Cuban "diplomats", who were "advisors" to the Hanoi prison system, and were directly responsible for the murder, torture, and severe disablement of American POWs.
Although the "Cuban Program" was reviewed by the Department of Defense's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office (DPMO), its analysis was incomplete. DPMO's chief analyst Robert Destatte's claims that the "Vietnamese's story is plausible and fully consistent with what DPMO knows about the conduct of the Cubans in question" are ludicrous and grossly incompetent. DPMO's analysis of the "Cuban Program" is glaringly incomplete, indicating either incompetence, negligence, or an attempt at political correctness in keeping with our present policy toward Cuba.
DPMO did not thoroughly, nor competently, analyze the documentation they presented to Congress, and other related material including:
DPMO maintains, as did the defunct Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, that there is no conclusive evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam after "Operation Homecoming" in March 1973. However, eyewitness reports, such as Col. Odell's, and numerous intelligence documents, belie these claims. Pentagon officials weren't the only ones who wanted to keep this secret, and it wasn't only because of third-country diplomatic ramifications. The Nixon Administration, and chief negotiator Henry Kissinger, in particular, wanted to hide the fact that POWs had been left behind in their haste to close the chapter on the Vietnam War.
There are numerous intelligence reports of a group of American POWs seen north of Hanoi, who were suffering from severe war wounds or mental disorders. They were still being held because the communists feared their release would have an unfavorable impact on public opinion. It is very likely that these POWs are the ones who simply disappeared at Monkai and Laokai, for conspicuously absent from the Operation Homecoming release in 1973 were POWs suffering from severe war wounds (amputees) and mental illnesses.
An abnormal, disproportionate number of Americans captured in Laos were never released. Although the CIA has acknowledged that approximately 600 men are missing in action in Laos, given the nature of the "Secret War," it is reasonable to presume that the number could be much higher. The fact that out of the 600 acknowledged missing in Laos, only 10 persons survived is unbelievable. Only 10 were released. When the North Vietnamese communists negotiated the treaty to end the IndoChina War with the French in 1954, they never acknowledged the capture of POWs in Laos. A 1969 RAND report warned that when the U.S. negotiated with the dogmatic Vietnamese communists, they would most likely again deny that they captured any American POWs in Laos. U.S. intelligence showed that over 82% of American losses in Laos were in areas under total control of the North Vietnamese.
American POWs captured in Laos were likely candidates for "transfer" to other Soviet Bloc countries, such as Cuba, since the Vietnamese considered them as "free commodities."
Much of DOD's analysis of POW camps and evaluations of live sighting reports are based on the time-frame that the camps were occupied by POWs who returned in 1973. Therefore, if a live sighting pertains to a period of time that does not correspond to the time it was occupied by returned POWs, it is most often disregarded or debunked. Also, the analysts often failed to take into consideration the fact that many of these camps were vast complexes with annexes often hundreds of kilometers apart that have the same name as the main camp. An excellent example is the Son Tay POW camps, one north of Hanoi and the other south of Hanoi. Thus, if a live sighting report correlates to the name of a camp but the coordinates are different from the main camp, the live sighting may be discounted. This is what happened in the case of most of the Thanh Tri complex and Ba Vi Prison live sighting reports.
DPMO analysts, and DOD's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (which conducts on-the-ground investigation of live sighting reports in Vietnam), discredits most live sighting reports by providing the names of the sources to the Vietnamese communist secret services weeks before interviews--a violation of good intelligence procedures, who subsequently disappear or are coerced; or by simply discrediting the sources because they had been political prisoners. However, DPMO's Bob Destatte uses these same sources (political prisoners) to vilify "Bobby" Garwood, a detainee who was courtmartialed for collaboration with the Vietnamese communists and reported live sightings of Americans in Vietnam. If many of the reports are "triangulated," several live-sightings from unrelated sources are very similar--too much so to be mere coincidence (e.g., "white buffalos").
For some unfathomable reason, DOD sent pilots, who had worked in top-secret projects such as the atomic energy program, on tactical bombing missions over North Vietnam only to be shot down and captured. The loss of a great many planes over North Vietnam could have been easily avoided. According to National Security Council advisor William Stearman (1971-76 & 1981-93), "One of the untold scandals of the Vietnam War was the refusal of battleship foes [i.e., within the Pentagon] to follow an expert panel's advice and deploy them to Vietnam until it was too late. Of all the targets struck by air in North Vietnam, with a loss of 1,067 aircraft and air crews, 80 percent could have been taken out by a battleship's 16-inch guns without endangering American lives or aircraft."(39)
The loss of pilots was further exacerbated by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's Dr. Strangelove-like obsession of directing targets to be bombed at the same time every day. To some, it seemed as if DOD, led by McNamara, was intentionally aiding the communists by providing them with some of our best and brightest military minds [e.g., one F-111 pilot was shot down over North Vietnam shortly after leaving the Gemini space program.] Concurrently the Soviet equivalent to the Gemini program made quantum leaps over the next two years in the area of the F-111 pilot's specialty. An F-111 capsule was found in a Russian museum by U.S. investigators. There are several other similar examples of vast improvement in communist technologies after the capture of these pilots. According to DIA's "asset", the American POWs were "a gold mine of information to brief ... specialists in the technologies used by the enemy."
Michael D. Benge*
2300 Pimmit Drive, #604-W
Falls Church, VA 22043
Tel: (703) 698-8256 (H)
(202) 712-4043 (W)
October 4, 1999
*The author spent 11 years in Vietnam, over five years as a prisoner of war--1968-73, and is a diligent follower of the affairs of the region. While serving as a civilian Foreign Service Officer, he was captured in South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese, and held in numerous camps in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam. He spent 27 months in solitary confinement and one year in a "black box." For efforts in rescuing several Americans before being captured, he received the Department of State's highest award for heroism and a second one for valor. He is an active Board Member of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Servicemen.
1. United States Air Force. June 1975. Special Exploitation Program for SEASIA PWs, 1967-1968. Rep. No. A10-2, Series: 700/JP-1.
23. CIA Memorandum From: Deputy Director for Operations For: Director, Defense Intelligence Agency. dated 28 Jan (illegible). Subj: Identification of "Fidel", Cuban Interrogator of U.S. Prisoners of War in North Vietnam.
3.The Washington Times. Oct. 21, 1992. Ex-POW describes "broken" cellmates left in Indochina. Washington, DC
4. The Washington Star. April 3, 1973. POWs Tortured by "Fidel". Washington. DC.
5. DPMO. Sept. 11, 1996. Cuban Program Information. Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) Compiled for Congressional Hearings.
5a. Ibid. p.57.
5b.Ibid. pp.150-154, 243.
6. CIA. 21 January 1976. Memorandum for the Record, DOC:F86-12-64.
7. Heller, B.L., Com. Oct. 21, 1997. Cuban Interrogation Program. PW/MIA Branch, Resources and Installations Division, Directorate for Intelligence Research.
8. Personal communication with Congressman Bob Dornan.
9. Personal communication with former congressional staff considered an expert in Cuban affairs. Confidential.
10.Hubble, J.B. 1976. P.O.W. Readers Digest Press.
11.TIME At Last the Story Can Be Told. April 9, 1973. pp.19,20,25&26.
12.Destatte, R. July 3, 1996. Subj: RE: Cuban Vietnam Operations. DPMO Email To: Daniel M. Baughman, LTC; William G. Beck.
13.Beck, C., CDR USNR (ret). March-April 1997. The Gatekeepers and the Connection: Cuba and America's POWs. U.S. Veteran Dispatch.
14.Brown, J.M.G. Undated. Untitled. Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.
14a.Cable. Department of Defense. R 211023Z AUG 80. FROM: USDAO Bangkok. Subj: Response to Request for Interview of Prisoner In Bangkok Immigration Jail.
15.Department of State Cable. Nassau 00104 051014Z. Re: 051825Z Feb.71.
16. Personal communication. Confidential.
17.American Embassy/Paris. Oct. 18, 1979. Post-1975 Vietnam: POWs in Vietnam. Report.
18. CIA. Sept. 1970. Personal Views on Possible North Vietnamese Refusal to Comply Fully with Terms of a Prisoner Exchange Agreement. Intelligence Information Report.
19. FBIS. 11/12/68. Five Committees Report from Second Genocide Symposium. Article: Havana, Granma, Spanish, October 21, 1968, p3. Sum. No. 46,845.
20. FBIS. May 5, 8 & 9, 1967. Material on Russel 'War Crimes' Tribunal.
21.FBIS. 6 Feb 70. GRANMA Publishes Interview Witn U.S. POW McCain. GRANMA 4 Jan 70, p.7. Havana.
22.Vivo, Raul Valdes. 1990. El Gran Secreto: Cubanos en el Camino Ho Chi Minh. Editora Politica. La Habana.
23.National Security Agency. 0310233Z Nov. 83. SigNet 3071025.
24.State Department. Oct. 10, 1979. Selected POWs in Vietnam. no. 181733Z.
25.Personal communication with Garnett "Bill" Bell, former Chief, DOD/POW/MIA Office in Hanoi.
26.Sauter, M. and J. Sanders. The Men We Left Behind. National Press Books. 1993. pp.212-213.
28. Personal communication with Commander William G. Beck, DPMO.
29.Bell, G.E. September 19, 1996. Testimony. House National Security committee Military Personnel Subcommittee.
30. CIA Report. Training of Negroes in Cuba. Attachment to memorandum to The Honorable Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President, from Thomas H. Karamessines, Deputy Director for Plans.
31, DIA source. Personal communication. Confidential.
32.CIA. Nov. 17, 1975. North Viet-Nam: The Responsibilities of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Intelligence and Security Services in the Exploitation of American Prisoners of War.
33.Sejna, J. September 17, 1996. Statement Before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House National Security Committee.
34.CIA. Sept 29, 1982. Hospital 198/The Medical Department of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Ministry of Interior (BVN); Treatment of BVN Personnel at Facilities which had Soviet, East German, Czechoslovak, and Cuban Medical Specialists.
JCRC/Bangkok Reporting Cable. North Vietnam, pre-1975: Vietnam Cuba Hospital/Place Names Obtained During Third Joint Search Effort. Doc. No. 240947zfeb89.
35. Rochester, S.I. and F. Kiley. 1998. Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, DC. p.400.
36. Personal communication with next of kin, confidential.
37. Jane's Defence Weekly. March 6, 1965. Cuban special forces prepare for US attack.
38. FBIS-EAS-96-046 Vietnam. SRV Papers Back Cuban Downing of U.S. Airplanes. March 7, 1996. FBIS-ESA-96-053 Vietnam. SRV Daily Calls Helms-Burton Bill on Cuba "Insolent". March 19, 1996. FBIS-EAS-96-077 Vietnam. SRV: Le Kha Phieu Reaffirms Solidarity With Cuba. April 19, 1996.
39. Stearman, William Lloyd. A Misguided Missile Ship: Old Battleships Would Do a Better Job Than a Pricey New Boat. The Washington Post. July 7, 1996.
Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. Untitled. JAN-28-92 TUE 10:27. p.29.
Commander Bruce Heller, Chief, PW/MIA Branch, Resources and Installations Division, Directorate for Intelligence Research. 21 Oct. 1977. "Cuban" Interrogation Program. Memorandum.
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