MY most serious felony... almost!

LSJohn

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For several years I was immersed in a project to repatriate US POWs captured in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War but never released. Why they were never released and how I know is too much for this journal, but if you're interested the best short explanation was written by Sydney Schanberg, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter and author of The Killing Fields. He detailed the product of his years-long investigation in 2008, and reproduced it as Chapter 6 of his last book, Beyond the Killing Fields. Here's a brief excerpt:

There exists a telling mass of official documents, radio intercepts, witness depositions, satellite photos of rescue symbols that pilots were trained to use, electronic messages from the ground containing the individual code numbers given to airmen, a rescue mission by a Special Forces unit that was aborted twice by Washington and even sworn testimony by two defense secretaries that "men were left behind." This imposing body of evidence suggests that a large number–probably hundreds–of the US prisoners held in Vietnam were not returned when the peace treaty was signed in January 1973 and Hanoi released 591 men, among them Navy combat pilot John S. McCain.

The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What’s more, the Pentagon’s POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of "debunking" POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible. The pressure from the families and Vietnam veterans finally produced the creation, in late 1991, of a Senate "Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs." The chair was John Kerry, but McCain, as a POW, was its most pivotal member. In the end, the committee became part of the debunking machine.
[despite stellar work by some committee staff members who were over-ruled by Kerry and McCain in the final report. ed.]

Included in the evidence that McCain and his government allies suppressed or tried to discredit is a transcript of a senior North Vietnamese general’s briefing of the Hanoi Politburo, discovered in Soviet archives by an American scholar in the 1990s. The briefing took place only four months before the 1973 peace accords. The general, Tran Van Quang, told the Politburo members that Hanoi was holding 1,205 American prisoners but would keep many of them at war’s end as leverage to ensure getting reparations from Washington.


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When I saw Tran Van Quang's number of 1205 in the early 90s, it rang a bell. I had always figured that holding prisoners for leverage would likely be the product of a 50/50 calculation. They released 591 in Feb-Mar '73. Of course "reparations" were never paid (although secretly promised by Nixon in a letter to North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong immediately prior to the signing of the "Paris Peace Accords;" this secret promise was made public when the Carter administration released the full content of the letter.)

John McCain figures prominently in the POW story, and not on the right side of it, but he is not otherwise relevant to the story I will tell.

In 1986 I became acquainted with a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, an ethnic Vietnamese who had founded a religious university in South Vietnam before the "Vietnamese Civil War" that we call the Vietnam War. He was in the leadership of several organizations of ex-pat Vietnamese whose prime objective was overthrowing the Communist government there. As part of that effort, believing that giving that government an international black eye by showing its cruel holding of Prisoners of War for years after wars end, he and many of his associates were eager to aid our efforts. Similarly, I was eager to aid in theirs.

After many months of close interaction with "Dr. Le," he took me into his confidence regarding a plan he had devised but lacked the resources to implement. He wanted to counterfeit Vietnamese currency in quantity massive enough to create internal hyper-inflation to ultimately destroy it. The many ways this could advance his prime objective is complex, but in the early days, his 200 ex-pat associates who were going to secretly return to Vietnam to physically inject the currency could use it to purchase the myriad of goods and services that would aid the clandestine internal resistance movement. Most important to me, I could envision possibilities for bribing officials at several possible levels to take steps that would result in the freedom of at least a small number of US POWs. If those men could ever gain access to Western media to tell their stories it could break a decade+ logjam that was keeping them and their comrades captive.

Counterfeiting of the colorful Vietnamese Dong had been made vastly easier with the production of high-resolution multi-color photocopiers, but they were still extremely expensive at that time. Several would be needed to produce the volume of copies desired.

I was put in touch with William Colby, former director of the CIA. He was supportive. In the course of three conversations, I asked him how he thought violations of US law involved in such a project would be viewed by the Justice Department. He said, "I wouldn't worry about it."

Colby put me in touch with Major General(ret) Edward Lansdale, a famous or notorious figure depending upon whom you ask. Lansdale was reputed to be the model for the anti-hero in "The Ugly American" a book and movie about the US diplomatic corps in Southeast Asia in the 50s.

He was nominally US Air Force, functionally a diplomat who negotiated from an "Or Else" position, and finally a spook attached at the hip to CIA. He was a long time henchman of CIA Director Allen Dulles who was fired by JFK. Interestingly, several people claim to have seen Lansdale in Dealy Plaza on that day, and Dulles, whom Kennedy had made an enemy, was put on the Warren Commission, which most of you probably know officially concluded that "lone wolf" Lee Oswald acted alone.

Lansdale was a strong supporter of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, admittedly as the best of several poor alternatives. Diem was assassinated, allegedly by order of JFK. Diem's immediate successor, Duong Van Minh, was head of the "Military Revolutionary Council" and was purportedly/apparently hated by Lansdale. So, both Lansdale and Dulles had Diem and the Bay of Pigs to make them "dissapointed" with Kennedy. You take it from there.

Back to the counterfeiting project, Lansdale thought it was a good idea, but said that his health would not allow him to be much help. (He was mid-80s at that time and died less than a year later.)

This brings us to the "Almost" in my title. At this point I lost touch with Dr. Le. I was told by associates that he had gone to Laos with a group intending to infiltrate South Vietnam, specifically Saigon. My contacts either did not know the purpose or just would not tell me.

I did not pursue the earlier plan and never saw any evidence that anyone else did either.
 
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