U.S. concealing its own evidence on MIA pilots
Star Tribune/ Wednesday/March 15/1995..."If the imagery contains no evidence of distress signals, why does the Defense Department go to such pains to protect it?"
U.S. concealing its own
evidence on MIA pilots

By Robert P. Thompson

The closer one looks at a myth, the more obvious its falsity. This is especially true concerning the deception surrounding the POW/MIA issue.

One of many threads in this cloak of deceit is the government's cynical claim of openness and public access to documents relating to the POW/MIA issue. The telling reality is that all distress signal imagery remains classified TOP SECRET even as government damage control specialists attempt to thwart any closer examination of what they might contain, which is, according to the Defense Department, nothing.

If the imagery contains no evidence of distress signals, why does the Defense Department go to such pains to protect it?

In his Dec. 6 Counterpoint to my Aug. 5 News With a View article, Gen. James Wold said I had "alleged" in an interview the existence of pilot distress symbols "associated with American servicemen." I refer to the Jan. 13, 1993 "Report of the Select Committee On POW/MIA Affairs United States Senate":

"This consultant had detected, with '100 percent confidence' a 'faint GX2527' in a photograph of a prison facility in Vietnam taken in June, 1992. This number correlates to the primary and back-up distress symbols and authenticator number of a pilot lost in Laos in 1969."

"At Dong Mang (Dong Vai) prison, on June 1992 photography, he observed what he believed to be a 'GX2527' etched in a field near the prison. He rated this at 100 percent level of confidence in his initial report, and did not change his position during the joint review. JSSA (Joint Services Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Agency) has confirmed that '2527' matches the authenticator number of a serviceman still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia."

The number belongs to Air Force Maj. Peter Richard Matthes, who became an MIA statistic when his aircraft was shot down over Laos, Nov. 24, 1969.

The consultant in question, retired Col. Lorenzo Burroughs, was the deputy director and head of the National Photographic Interpretation Center and pioneered satellite imagery analysis methods. The report clearly states that the "primary and back-up distress symbols and authenticator number" match a missing pilot. Gen. Wold claims that "the letters 'GX' have no known correlation to any American unaccounted for in Southeast Asia." This is an outright contradiction of the findings of the Senate Select Committee, which further advises:
"(B)ecause the number corresponds to a specific individual, the Committee agrees that the benefit of doubt should go to that possible individual, certainly enough to warrant a 'by- name' request by an appropriately high ranking U.S. official to the Vietnamese government, for information on that missing serviceman. In making that request, it should be emphasized to the Vietnamese that there is a basis for questioning whether he could be alive."

Wold wrote: "Each of the symbols referred to by Mr. Thompson has been thoroughly investigated by imagery experts." From the Senate Select Committee report:

"During its investigation, the Committee was surprised by statements from DIA and CIA imagery analysts directly involved in POW/MIA work that they were not very knowledgeable about the military's E&E signals, or, in some cases, even aware of the program. These analysts were not even tasked to look for such information prior to April, 1992. The Committee concluded that there had not been a purposeful effort to search for distress signals, or a written formal requirement for symbols, after the end of the war."

In an April 27, 1993, "Dateline" interview on NBC, Burroughs and Sen. Bob Smith, vice chairman of the Senate select committee, were questioned about "GX 2527." The following excerpts are from that remarkable yet ignored interview:

Dateline: "When was that symbol made?"

Burroughs: "I would anticipate that from the shape of it, that it was not older than a year."

Dateline: "And that signature corresponds to a pilot's distress code?"

Burroughs: "Absolutely. There's no question in my mind about it."

Smith: "I saw it. I'm not an expert, don't claim to be, but I saw the letters and the numbers clearly, no question about it in my mind, as clearly as I could see my own name written, I know that I saw a 'GX 2527'."

The final question goes back to Burroughs:

Dateline: "What are the chances of the symbol 'GX 2527' somehow sort of appearing out there naturally?"

Burroughs: "It is a - absolutely zero."

The odds that this symbol is somehow "coincidental," as Gen. Wold asserts, are astronomically absurd. The markings on the photograph could have been "AAA123" or "Z99999" or over 2 billion other possibilities. The scientific formula to determine just how many possibilities, confirmed with a University of Minnesota math professor, is as follows: 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 = 2,176,782,336. Coincidence? You might as well say the Tooth Fairy did it. DNA evidence, with a potential "human match" of one in 89 million, considered valid evidence in many courts, pales in comparison to the above calculations. The sentence imposed on Matthes should be overturned, and his release demanded immediately.

Wold wrote, "With regard to the purported 'SEREX' symbol, no employee of the Defense Department has ever observed the word 'SEREX' on any satellite imagery or photography maintained by the United States Government."

From the Senate committee report: "They (JSSA analysts) correlated 19 of those authenticator numbers with numbers belonging to Americans still listed as missing in Southeast Asia. They also identified what appeared to be a name scratched in a field near a prison compound, in a 1992 photo." The significance of this possible symbol is reflected in testimony received during the committee's hearing on symbols:

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "Mr. Dussault, did you also think that you saw [sic] faintly scratched in the field?"

Dussault: "Yes, sir."

Grassley: "Did you see, 72 TA 88?"

Dussault: "Yes, sir. To my recollection that's what I saw."

Grassley: "When you saw 72 TA 88, did it, match a person that was missing?"

Dussault: "Sir, again, we are talking a year, two letters, TA - and those are E&E code letters that applied during 1972."

Grassley: "When you found the name, though, did it match when that person went down?"

Dussault: "Yes, sir."

The symbol in question, which Dussault was asked during questioning not to mention, was later revealed to be the "SEREX" symbol. Dussault is not only a Defense Department employee but is the deputy director of JSSA, the Pentagon unit tasked with the responsibility of devising distress signals, training pilots how to use them, and interpreting evidence of distress signals. Dussault, who had also been schooled in photo imagery, was interviewed by Sydney Schanberg for a New York Newsday article in 1994:

"Dussault came across the SEREX photo on Aug. 13, 1992, while at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters. He had been invited there to brief CIA photo interpreters on his area of expertise - distress signals." Dussault described the before and after in testimony to the Senate committee: "The ClA guys ... said look we saw the numbers. They admitting seeing the same numbers I did. When I circled it, they were right there and they said 'yeah, we saw it."' Listed clearly, on the official Missing-In-Action Report is the name: Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Henry M. SEREX.

Gen. Wold claimed, "To our knowledge, the letters 'TA' were never used as an official evasion and escape or distress symbol during the war in Southeast Asia." Dussault said otherwise in his questioning before the Senate committee above. Furthermore, two recently declassified Defense Department documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act clearly show "T" as the very first code listed under the heading of "PRIMARY E&E CODELETTERS" and "A" the very first code listed under the heading "BACK-UP E&E CODE LETTERS."

Regarding the "WRYE" symbol and its correlation to Air Force Col. Blair C. Wrye, Wold wrote that "on Sept. 13, 1990, his were among 20 remains returned by the Vietnamese." He failed to mention that the photo with the 'WRYE' symbol was taken in 1988.

The evidence is strongest in the Matthes case. The astronomical odds of a "coincidence" clearly constitute proof well beyond, what should be required to motivate the president to perform his constitutional duty, for an American who was ordered into harm's way in the service to his country. Matthes and the other men abandoned to a life of unimaginable misery should not be made to pay for the failures of the men in high places who sent them there or for a nation steeped in denial.

In the political world, where this case must ultimately be decided, it's the numbers of calls and letters to your senators, representatives, White House and media that count. Let's send a signal that can't be ignored.

Robert P. Thompson,
a senior quality assurance analyst from Apple Valley,
was a Marine in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.