National Alliance of
For the Return of America's Missing Servicemen
+World War II+Korean War+Cold War+Vietnam+
Dolores Apodaca-Alfond, National Chairperson
Lynn M. O'Shea, NYS Director
What The Government Doesn't Want You To Know About mt-DNA Testing
This Page is dedicated to Kenny Plumadore, Mark Judge, William Berry, the Unknown of Yreka California, the Men of Operation Kingfisher, wherever they are, Victor J. Apodaca and Michael J. Blassie.
MAY THE TRUTH BRING THEM HOME
This is perhaps one of the most important issues of Bits 'n' Pieces ever done. It certainly took the longest to prepare and was one of the hardest to write. Today, we will tell you why mt-DNA testing must be banned as the PRIMARY means of identifying missing servicemen. We will also tell you why mt-DNA testing can be a useful tool as a Secondary or confirming means of identification.
We delayed this report for several reasons. First, we realized we were in over our heads on the technology. So we checked, double checked and triple checked all information. Second, we hoped the Marine Corp, the Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CIL-HI) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) would correct their errors. Lastly, in December of 1997, Steven S. Honigman, General Council of the Navy, contacted Mary Judge Jellison to discuss the case. We briefly hoped the U.S. government was about to take responsibility for their errors and grant Mrs. Judge-Jellison's demands, for records and independent testing of all remains.
Instead, he offered Mary Judge Jellison a financial settlement, of $25,000.00, to relinquish the remains in the Indiana grave, she believes are her son's. Her reply "my son is not for sale." Several days later, the offer was upped to $50,000.00. That offer was also refused. A third phone call withdrew all financial offers with the comment ''this isn't about money." Instead, she was offered CIL-HI (AFDIL) testing on the Indiana remains with no provision for independent testing or release of records. Again, she refused.
In the September 6th, 1997, edition of Bits 'N' Pieces, we said that the next time we wrote about this case it would bring embarrassment to the Marine Corp, CIL-HIi and AFDIL. We weren't bluffing.
The National Alliance has always been against the use of mt-DNA testing, as the primary means of identification of remains Our practical experience, in the case of L/Cpl. Mark Judge, raised serious concerns about the application of mt-DNA testing. These concerns are confirmed by a Department of Defense (DoD) study titled "Defense Science Board Task Force on THE USE OF DNA TECHNOLOGY FOR IDENTIFICATION OF ANCIENT REMAINS" dated July, 1995. This study shows that strict scientific guidelines must be followed. Our research shows these guidelines are ignored in order to produce an identification. We know, for a fact:
1) mt-DNA testing is only 100% conclusive in proving a NO MATCH and offers only a statistical probability of a match.
2) the database categorized in racial and ethnic backgrounds does not meet guidelines set forth by the Department of Defense, i.e.: 500 blood samples or bases in each category compared to actual bases of 233 or less (example: a base or samples of 90 for Hispanics.)
3) There is no database (blood samples) for Native Americans or Asians.
a) Guidelines set forth by the Department of Defense are very clear regarding the absolute need for an Asian database.
b) The study does not mention a database for Native Americans.
Also confirmed by the DoD study is the fact that two non-related individuals can match in a mt-DNA test. Granted, the chances are slim. However, when the lack of a complete database is factored in, this fact takes on a new importance.
Used as a primary means of identification, with no evidence other than the statement of the Vietnamese, mt-DNA testing offers only a probability as to the identification. Following the DoD guidelines that probability may be as high as 99%. However, the guidelines as set forth by DoD are totally ignored.
The accuracy of an identification depends on the completeness of the database and quality control in the laboratory. We can't speak for the quality control in the lab, but we can tell you about their database.
During the June 1997 meeting of the National Alliance of Fmilies Mr. James Canick, of AFDIL, confirmed that the database does not meet the scientific guidelines. According to the DoD guidelines a complete database with a 500 Blood sample average, offers an accuracy of 99%.
Logically, the statistical probability of an accurate identification is reduced as the database is reduced.
a) Statistically a database of half, or 250, would offer an accuracy of 48.5%. <
b) Half the database again, for a base of 125, would bring the accuracy level down to 24.75%.
According to the DoD study, and Mr. Canick, AFDIL should have databases (blood samples) on the following ethnic/racial categories: U.S. Caucasian, European Caucasian, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, African, Hispanic and Asian. Within each ethnic/racial category there should be a database (blood samples) of 500 each category. Actual figures are substantially lower as shown in the chart below.
|Ethnic/Racial||Recommended Database||Actual *|
* Actual Figures as of 30 August 1996
Using the above chart, the average recommended database is 500. The average for the actual AFDIL database is 106. The DoD guideline states a database of 500 is needed for a 99% accuracy rating. A database of 106 would give an accuracy rating of roughly 21.2%. This 21.2% figure hardly inspires confidence, especially when attempts are made to identify POW/MIAs whose ethnic racial background are either not represented, i.e. Asia or Native American, or very poorly represented, i.e. African - American and Hispanic.
The following quotes are taken from the DoD study titled "Defense Science Board Task Force on THE USE OF DNA TECHNOLOGY FOR IDENTIFICATION OF ANCIENT REMAINS." The information in this fifty-seven (57) page report, dated July 1995, is extremely important.
"...The Task Force finds that the present probability of coincidental matches between MT-DNA control region sequences is no more than a few percent. Once sequences from 500 members of a population have been determined, precise statements about the chance of a false association of a set of remains with a family will be able to be made. Published data may be of value, but samples will be needed from Southeast Asian populations...."
AFDIL can not determine the "chance of a false association of a set of remains with a family" until 500 databases in each racial/ethnic category is obtained. Tests conducted prior to achieving a 500 database offers results that are highly questionable. The Department of Defense is presenting families with mt-DNA identifications, based on questionable remains and a substandard and incomplete database.
"...Moreover, to allow for the possibility of non-U.S. remains being typed, and to allow for the genetic differences within the U.S. population, sequences should be collected from the major groups, Caucasian, African - American, Hispanic and Asian. As data accumulate, it will become evident if there are substantial mitochondrial differences among different Asian countries, or with the racial groups...."
Our readers are familiar with the case of L/Cpl. Kenneth Plumadore, Mark Judge and William Berry, USMC. The Vietnamese returned a full set of remains, in 1986. According to the Vietnamese the remains were of the Marine captured at Con Thien in September, 1967. That would have been Plumadore, the only acknowledged MIA from the incident. CIL-HI immediately found that the remains were not those of L/Cpl. Plumadore.
No identification of this full set of remains could be made forensically or dentally. In fact, CIL-HI had determined that a "probable dental exclusion eliminated Mark Judge as the CIL-HI remains. Yet, 1994, representatives of the U.S. Marine Corp. notified the family of Mark Judge that there had been a wartime mis-identification of remains. Mark's mother, Mary Jellison, was told Mark had been captured and died in the Vinh Linh hospital in North Vietnam. Buried in Mark's grave, the Marines said, was L/Cpl. William Berry. Kenneth Plumadore, they said, was in William Berry's grave.
During 1994, there was a ban on the use of mt-DNA as the primary means of identification. This ban was in effect due to prior questionable test results. A one time waiver was obtained and mt-DNA testing was done on the remains once thought to be Kenneth Plumadore. Samples from four (4) different bones, including the skull were tested. The Judge family was assured, in 1994, of a perfect match, due to "unique" sequencing found in both mother and son. For many reasons, the family fought the identification.
After several challenges and FOIA requests from the Judge-Jellison family, AFDIL, in March of 1997, re-examined the test results, for this case. As a result of that re-examination, the test results were changed. Of the unique sequence AFDIL wrote on March 21, 1997, "As stated in the 17 Oct 94 report the Jellison family sequence was not found when compared to 271 population samples, and "less than one percent of the general population would be expected to carry this MT-DNA sequence." This statement was made without confidence limits associated with it. In order to place 95% confidence intervals around this estimate (i.e., you would expect your estimate to be correct 95% of the time), we would have to compare the Judge sequence to approximately 500 U.S. Caucasians. Thus, the statement could be considered misleading and we are preparing an addendum report to retract it."
The letter continued "In reviewing the 17 Oct 94 data, we reported that the 02A sequence was unique in the database of 100 unrelated British Caucasians. When doing the current database search on the 741 sequences, 02A matches one British Caucasian. This finding does not have any bearing on the conclusion drawn in this case, but does marginally decrease the significance of the match between sample 02A and the Jellison family references."
"In addition, given the position of 16354 in the sequence for sample 01A (Skull) should be designated an "N", a new database search was performed, and 64 of 741 sequences matched. Thus, this significantly decrease the weight of the match between 01A and the Jellison family references..."
The unique sequences of mother and son in 1994 became, in 1997, a match to 64 other individuals in the database or a match to 8.6% of the database. In AFDIL's own words "this significantly decreases the weight of the match between 01A (Skull) and the Jellison family references." Information contained in backup documentation accompanying the letter, show that the match to individuals in the database breaks down as follows:
U.S. Caucasians - 27; European Caucasian - 15; African-American - 2; Afro-Caribbean - 10; African - 5; and Hispanic - 5 for a total of 64 database matches.
Simply put the skull of the CIL-HI remains once thought to be Mark Judge actually match 63 other POW/MIA families in the AFDIL data base. Who is this serviceman? where is Mark Judge, Kenny Plumadore, and William Berry? Who is the hero exhumed from the California grave?
If you are a family member who has contributed blood for the mt-DNA data base, you may want to contact your Casualty Officer to see if you might be a match to the Skull identified as Mark Judge.
A less publicized mt-DNA case is that of Air Force Captain Victor J. Apodaca. On July 13th, 1988, the Vietnamese returned a box with the name association "Apodaca Victor J. Jr." The Vietnamese also returned a mutilated dog tag (of questionable origin) a plastic map overlay and non-human bones.
In April of 1989 the Vietnamese returned another box with the name association "Apodaca Victor." According to the Vietnamese the remains were "collected in Ho Chi Minh City" (formerly Saigon.) "Collected," in this case, means turned in by a "remains trader." Apodaca was lost over North Vietnam. This means that the remains traveled quite a distance to end up in Ho Chi Minh City.
Message traffic, dated September 22, 1989, issued by the Commander Joint Casualty Resolution Center, Barbers Point, Hawaii, refers to the two remains repatriations. Referencing Victor Apodaca the message reads: "recovered from remains dealers. Repatriated to the U.S. twice with dog tag. The U.S. side reports the remains were animal bones." Today, those "animal bones" are undergoing mt-DNA testing with the goal of identifying them as Victor Apodaca.
Publicly, CIL-HI and the DoD represent mt-DNA testing as a great technical achievement, allowing them to identify missing servicemen from the smallest of bone fragments.
What they say privately is quite different. A memo dated August 23, 1996, shows just how unsure CIL-HI is about the accuracy of mt-DNA testing. According to the memo "AFDIL has extracted and sequenced mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) from samples taken from remains associated with REFNO 0727 (Apodaca). A unique sequence has been extracted indicating the possibility of an individual identification. Reference specimens from the Apodaca family have been compared with and matches the sequence from the bone sample associated with REFNO 0727."
What is the confidence level in this so called match? Captain Apodaca's ethnic/racial background is Hispanic/Native American. There is no database for Native Americans at AFDIL and the Hispanic database is 90 or 18% of the required 500. What database did AFDIL use to find their so called match?
As disturbing as this information is, it is not as disconcerting as the balance of the information contained in the memo. The memo directs the Air Force to contact the family of Lt. Jon Busch, the pilot of the aircraft and request a blood sample from them. According to the memo "Reference specimens from the Busch family are requested to exclude any possibility of the remains being those of Lt. Busch."
For those unaware, the remains of Lt. Jon Busch were returned, identified, and buried over nine years ago. Why is CIL-HI concerned about the possibility that the bone fragment which supposedly matches the Apodaca sample, could be that of Lt. Busch?
While we do not know Lt. Busch's racial/ethnic background, we do know he is not Hispanic / Native American. Yet, CIL-HI is concerned about the possibility that the remains could be those of Lt. Busch. Clearly, CIL-HI is concerned about the AFDIL "match" and not willing to make a formal identification of the remains until they can rule out Lt. Busch.
This alone calls into question the use of mt-DNA testing as the primary means of identification. It can only exclude possibilities. If the Busch family blood sample proves not to match the AFDIL results for this bone fragment, then by default this bone will become Victor Apodaca. Can we allow CIL-HI and AFDIL to bury Victor Apodaca because the blood sample does not match Jon Busch?
The Department of Defense is using inadequate and unscientific methods to "identified" our questionable remains, as our Prisoners and Missing. The use of mt-DNA testing, without a proper database has given the Defense Department a new method to creatively account for our missing servicemen.
The National Alliance of Families can no longer remain silent on this issue as families are misled to believe that the finest scientific methods are used to identify their loved ones; when in many cases the identification is actually based on process of elimination. As a primary means of identification mt-DNA testing as it is applied today is useless and should be banned.
While we strongly object to the use of mt-DNA testing as the primary means of identification, we do believe with the proper database it can be a useful tool in confirming an identity, when forensic, dental or circumstantial evidence is available. The perfect example of its use as a confirming tool, is the case of 1Lt. Michael J. Blassie, buried as the "Unknown Soldier" of the Vietnam War.
The remains "believed to be" those of Lt. Blassie were recovered in late 1972. According to documentation shown on CBS Evening News, the remains were recovered with an identification card and some money. Also recovered were remnants of a flight suit, parachute, a 1 man life raft, and pistol holster. Only three men were lost within a 2,500 mile radius of the remains recovery. Two were from a helicopter and the other was fighter pilot Michael J. Blassie. Since an identification card was found naming Lt. Blassie, and helicopter crews do not carry parachutes, a reasonable assumption would be that the remains were those of Michael Blassie. The use of mt-DNA testing, in this case, will either show the remains are not those of Michael Blassie or offer a probability that they are Lt. Blassie. In this case with the strong circumstantial evidence identifying and pointing to the identity of Lt. Blassie, mt-DNA testing could provide an answer.
With regard to the case of Lt. Blassie, much more needs to be said but not today. We thank CBS for their excellent reporting. We especially thank Ted Sampley, publisher and editor, of the U.S. Veteran Dispatch for his reporting of this story in July of 1994. Ted got a lead anD ran with it. Almost 4 years later he was proven to be 100% correct.
As this story is reported in the days and weeks ahead, don't believe reports that the entombment of Michael Blassie, as the Vietnam "Unknown Soldier" was a "mistake." It was calculated, planned and therefore sanctioned by the Department of Defense. When they needed an "Unknown Solder" they made one. When they need controversial POW/MIAs declared dead and identified, they do so on far less evidence than they had to prove Michael Blassie's identity.
From the POW/MIA Weekly Update, January 21, 1998 - "The Department of Defense is reviewing information relating to the interment of remains of a Vietnam War unknown at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery."
"The review will determine if there is sufficient credible evidence to make a recommendation on two key questions: 1) does current science enable us, with confidence to take steps that could help identify the remains in the Tomb; and 2) do the circumstances surrounding the loss incident of the individual possibly believed to be interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns warrant mitochondrial DNA testing? DPMO officials have stated that this review will be done in a measured, methodical manner, to ensure the decisions carefully weigh the competing interests of our commitment to the families of the missing, and the sanctity of the Tomb as hallowed ground, and the ability of DNA testing to identify remains once considered unidentifiable."
To Whomever Wrote this Update - Thank You. You have just retracted your position on the use of mt-DNA testing as a primary means of identification. We would estimate 80% to 90% of the identifications made over the last two years were based on mt-DNA testin. Many of those identifications were on remains previously considered unidentifiable. Yet, the ability to identify the "unknown" is questioned. Are mt-dna test results accurate only when it suits the Pentagon's purposes?
One of those identified was Capt. Robert Young - In the words of DPMO "By 1996, through the advances in mitochondrial DNA technology, the remains previously turned over in 1989 were determined to be those of Young." No chain of custody exists from the time of death to repatriation. The remains returned were commingled and we would assume in very poor condition.
The "in process" identification of Victor J. Apocada based on a bone which was originally reported as non-human strains believably. In spite of this, AFDIL reports a family match.
Now the Defense POW/MIA Office expresses doubt regarding the "ability of DNA testing to identify remains once considered unidentifiable." We would remind DPMO that the remains believed to be Lt. Blassie spent very little time exposed to the elements, as they were recovered within months of loss. From recovery to entombment the remains were housed in U.S. facilities.
Now, before the next DPMO Weekly Update is issued offering a possible explaination as to why mt-DNA testing can not be used, in this case, we would remind them of AFDIL Representative James Cannick's briefing at last years Alliance Meeting.
It is AFDIL who should make the determination as to the use of mt-DNA testing in this case.
When asked about the ability to extract mt-DNA from a bone, Mr. Cannick stated: "By looking at a bone, if you would bring a bone into us and say, Hey, can you get DNA from this, I would not say yes or no. We really don't know until we try."
In later questioning Mr. Cannick stated that the condition of the bone does not determine the ability to extract mt-DNA. Referring to bone samples, Mr. Cannick said: "We've had some that often look really bad where we've gotten results and other that, you would expect to get results where you don't."
In the past, DPMO has represented mt-DNA technology as the finest science available to bury questionable remains, that otherwise might be forever unidentified. Yet, now they wish us to believe they must question the science by asking "does current science enable us, with confidence to take steps that could help identify the remains in the Tomb.."
Finally, DPMO speaks of "competing interests of our commitment to the families of the missing, the sanctity of the Tomb, as hallowed ground and the ability of DNA testing to identify remains once considered unidentifiable."
We have the highest respect for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
However, the "competing interests" have won out over the interests of the families for far too long. The United States Government, now has the opportunity to end the uncertainty of one family. The Tomb of the Vietnam Unknown must be exhumed. If the remains prove to be Michael Blassie, he must be returned to his family.
We wish to thank Patricia Plumadore, sister of L/CPL. Kenneth L. Plumadore POW/MIA September 21, 1967, for her invaluable assistance in putting together this information on mt-DNA testing. She was skeptical of the science; when we were willing to believe it. It was through her efforts that AFDIL reviewed the original test results on the CIL-HI remains once thought to be those of Mark Judge. Thanks to her efforts, we know that identification would not stand in a court of law.
Please give this fax the widest possible distribution.
Send it to your Senators, Congressmen, Veterans Organizations
and Local Media. Our Prisoners and Missing deserve better
and so do their families.
What did CIL-HI and/or the Pentagon Know and
When did they know it?
According to the Pentagon's Comprehensive Case review, prepared in compliance with the 1995 National Defense Authorization Act, they knew remains "believed to be" Lt. Michael J. Blassie were recovered.
From the Case Review - "On 31 October 1972, an ARVN Recon Patrol recovered what was thought to be 1 LT. Blassie's partial remains at coordinates TX716906. The ARVN Platoon Leader, LT. Phan Thua Duc, reported that the remains were found in a stream approximately one meter wide and the ejection east was 10m away. The recovered items consisted of..... a small portion of a nomex flight suit, a raft, ammo pouch and part of a parachute, Though the area was heavily forested, LT. Duo did not recall seeing any part of the chute in the trees. In addition, 1LT. Blassie's ID Card, MACV Form 5 and 1000$RVN/$5.00 MPC was recovered. The remains and personal effects were evacuated from An Loc to the USA Mortuary at Ton Son Nhut. The mortuary claimed there was insufficient remains for a positive Identification and the personal effects (ID Card, MACV Form 5 and currency) were lost in transit. There were three witnesses to the existence and shipment of 1LT. Blassie's personal effects: a Col. FNU Evans, Senior Advisor in the 18th ARVN Division, his S-3 Maj FNU Darnell and an un-named medic. These two officers and the medic who placed the remains an the aircraft (name unk) were requested to make statements to that effect and forward them to the mortuary. There is no record of any statements of this type. Though it is quite possible these remains are 1LT. Blassie, he is still being carried as KIA body not recovered....."
"After Action Report of Fact Finding Mission to An Loc 19-20 Nov. 1972 - two members of the USA Mortuary, Saigon, CPT L. Dickson and SSG E. McKinzie visited An Loc to collect information on unresolved loss cases. Part of the effort was an interview with ARVN 2LT Phan Thua Duc and and investigation into the loss of 1LT. Blassie's personal effects during remains evacuation from An Loc to the mortuary at Tan Son Nhut. On 31 October 1972, LT. Duc and his platoon recovered partial remains and personal effects believed to be 1LT. Blassie at coordinates XT716904. During shipment, the personal effects (Blassie's Military ID, his MACV Form 5 and the currency) were lost, misplaced or stolen. Tan Son Nhut Mortuary could not make a positive ID due to the limited amount of remains. The part of the report referencing 1 LT. Blassie's case ended with a request for the witnesses who had seen the ID Card and Form 5 to make written statements to that effect and forward them to the Mortuary. MAJ. Lundy, Deputy JPRC, was advised of the missing items upon return and his assistance was requested in locating them...."
"... There are three American Soldiers who claim to have seen 1LT Blassie's ID card and MACV Form 5 in conjuction with the remains recovered by ARVN Lt. Duc....:"
"....They were requested to make statements to that fact and forward them to the mortuary. There is no record of these statements in DPMO files. Prior to archival research, it may be more efficient to try locating and contacting Col. Evans and Maj. Darnell to confirm or deny the existence of the documents in question. If the statements were never made in 1972, both officers should be interviewed and affidavits prepared."
The case review ended by stating "Prior to any other effort the remains recovered in October of 1972 must be located, examined and, if possible, tested CILHI may at the least, be able to determine if the bones are those of an American. DPMO has no record beyond the 1972 statement that remains are not sufficient for identification. The witness statements from the American Soldiers who examined the remains should also be located to verify the identification media found with the remains. These individuals should be contacted first to determine If the statements were, in fact, prepared and forwarded to the Ton Son Nhut Mortuary as requested in November 1972..."
Information contained in this Case Review raises more questions. While the case reviews were not released to the families until December 1995, they were completed in the Summer of 1995. That's 2 1/2 years ago. What has DPMO done to located Col. Evans, Major Darnell and the un-named medic.?
Clearly, the reason DPMO can not find records dated after 1972 is the fact that all records relating to Lt. Blassie's remains were destroyed when he was designated Vietnam's Unknown Soldier. The destruction of records relating to the Unknown is in keeping with tradition established with the selection and entombment of the World War I Unknown Soldier. Nothing should be read into the motives for the destruction of these records other than tradition.
HOWEVER, if those records contained statements of Col. Evans, Major Darnell and the un-named medic, those who made the decision to declare the probable remains of Lt. Blassie "Unknown" should be investigated at the highest level. Documentation from 1972 was available to DPMO in 1995 leading them to the names of Col. Evans, Major Darnell and the existence of the un-named medic. One must assume this same documentation existed in the file compiled on the remains believed to be Michael Blassie. Did CIL-HI attempt to locate Col. Evans and Major Darnell prior to declaring the remains believed to be Michael Blassie, "Unknown."
What did CIL-HI and/or the Pentagon Know and When did they know it? CBS worked on the story for seven months. They knew. Ted Sampley worked on the story over 4 years. He knew.
What did CIL-HI and/or the Pentagon Know and When did they know it? Take a trip to your local library. Ask for "A Missing Plane," by Susan Sheehan. The hardcover edition was published by G. P. Putnam and Sons in OCTOBER, 1986. Check pages 109 - 112.
What did CIL-HI and/or the Pentagon Know and When did they know it?They knew from the very beginning. A deliberate decision was made to declare the remains believed to be Michael Blassie, "Unknown."
Please give this information the widest possible distribution.
Fax to your Senator and Congressmen and local media.