16/ The Morris Russian Document
Compilation by Serge Thion
As the American policy under President Clinton was slowly moving toward the restoration of normal diplomatic relations, the "discovery" of a so-called Vietnamese document in the Moscow archives, indicating that a large number of American prisoners would have been given to the Soviets and would have remained unaccounted for, exploded like a bomb. Harping of the already vivacious myth of surviving prisoners of war in Vietnam (The Rambo syndrome), the story highly increased confusion and was instrumental to postpone by one or two years the resumption of normal diplomatic ties between Hanoi and Washington. This last-ditch attempt to torpedo the return, to normalcy, twenty years after the war had been finished, has not yet been clarified. Although to many informed observers, the fraudulent nature of the alleged document was obvious from the very beginning, the fact remain that the operative who allegedly unearthed the document is no one else than Stephen J. Morris, a well know figure, specialized in anticommunist propaganda, but quite unknown in the field of either Russian or Indochinese scholarship. This document could only be forged by CIA-type experts and the Russian archive employee who is supposed to have given the document to Morris has been apparently fired.
First, here is how the beginning of the story has been told by another maniac of anticommunism, who nevertheless finds the story a bit hard to swallow, Douglas Pike:
Extract from Indochina Chronology, 12, 2, April-June 1993, University of California at Berkeley, presumably written by Douglas Pike, p. 18-19.
The incendiary document unearthed in a Moscow archive in mid-January has grave implications for future U.S.-Vietnamese relations.
It was found by Stephen Morris, Australian born Soviet/Russian scholar while researching a book under the auspices of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Cold War International History Project (Washington, D.C.).
The 30-page document purports to be a wideranging intelligence briefing (four pages devoted to U.S. Vietnam War POWs) authored by PAVN Lt. Gen. Tran Van Quang for the Hanoi Politburo. It is not clear whether the original was a transcript or simply notes taken at some briefing. We do not know if there was an original Vietnamese version. It may have been a report written originally in Russian, presumably by the KGB in Hanoi working from Vietnamese assets.
In any case the document states clearly that Hanoi was holding (as of September 15, 1972) a total of 1,205 American POW's (at the Paris talks at the time Lê Duc Tho was admitting to 368). In Operation Homecoming the following March Hanoi released 591 POW's saying that was all it had. The central question then assuming the document is genuine and numbers contained not clerical error is what happened to the 614?
In analytical terms the document in its present form is what can be called Irishman's evidence: chock full of omissions. The all important not yet answered question about it is: what is it exactly'? It seems reasonably certain that the document is authentic, but authentic what? What is its color?
Is it white, the source stated correctly, hence exactly what it appears to be?
Is it grey, actually with no exact original attribution/source established, beyond being Russian acquired (i.e. obtained from some Vietnamese but not Gen. Quang)?
Or is it a black document, ostensibly from one source when actually from another? In this case we must round up the usual suspects and evaluate them for means, opportunity and motive (latter presumably to spoil improving U.S.-Vietnamese relations). They are, in descending order of probable guilt: China; emigre Vietnamese in Moscow; the U.S. Rambo crowd.
Manufacture of black documents by all governments is common in this century, going back at least to the Zimmermann letter of World War I (which the British still deny). In Vietnam during the war years and later it was virtually a cottage industry. It abounds even today in Orange county.
There is also the possibility the document is a bowdlerized, expurgated mishmash compilation of intelligence, assembled from various KGB sources, put together by a Russian with little knowledge of either Vietnamese or the Vietnam War. But genuine, in the sense it is not black.
If the original was in Vietnamese (which then went into Russian and now English) nothing conclusive can he said about it until we have that version in our hands (this, assuming it exists in Vietnamese). Until then it is not even possible to classify it as black.
Morris found the document in the CPSU Central Committee archive which, apparently, got it (either complete or partial version) from the GRU (Soviet military) Central Intelligence Office archive. Moscow abounds with archives: in addition to these two other major archives are: the USSR Government/ Russian Federation Archive (Roskomarkhiv); the CPSU Politburo Archive and the CPSU General Secretary (such as Gorbachev) Archive. The Central Committee archivist who gave the document to Morris was fired, chiefly because he had not found it earlier and sent it to the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission to Search For U.S. MIA/POW (co-chaired by U.S. Amb. Malcolm Toon and Russian Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov) which has for several years now been scouring Russia for information on missing American military.
The two versions we have, Russian and English, are shot through with errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, and factually incorrect data (all too common with Vietnam War documentation); some of this can be attributable to poor translation. If it is in fact a black document, it is amateurish to the extreme, one that could not be expected to fool anyone knowledgeable about the subject (which is an argument for its authenticity).
Presidential emissary Gen. John Vessey was dispatched to Hanoi (April 18-19), and returned with a half dozen SRV documents. These included a PAVN Air Defense Service compilation of USAF shootdowns; some U.S. POW hospital records; a report by the PAVN General Political Directorate Foreign Enemy Dich Vân (proselytizing) section, part of the Tuyen Huân (Agit-prop) department (responsible for keeping POW records, among other things). Also with what Hanoi called a "POW Census". For years Hanoi defectors and others have told of a complete POW record, called the Green Book or Blue Book (xanh can mean either) It appears the "census" is not the Green Book, if in fact it actually exists. These documents are to be released (expected in July) by the Pentagon along with the U.S. intelligence community's collective judgement on the Russian document itself.
Hanoi officials initially appeared bewildered by the whole affair. This was followed by outrage, much of it directed at Moscow. A flurry of statements followed which shook down into Hanoi's four-point position: a) that 22 joint U.S.-Vietnam searches since 1988 have found no evidence of live American POW's; b) that earlier similar documents have all proven fakes; c) that the "Quang document" is a forgery by persons serving their own private agendas; and d) that Vietnam will continue to do its best to resolve the fate of the MIA's.
Morris says he found two other highly sensitive documents in the same archive, one a KGB report on Vietnamese Politburo factional infighting, the other an evaluation of PAVN military strategy being employed circa 1972 (the Easter Offensive period). Presumably this means the archive contains much additional Hanoi Politburo level material, itself somewhat doubtful since Hanoi officials never trusted the Soviets and frequently lied to them. If such material is there we can expect eventually it will surface.
Still hanging ominously in the air is the almost unthinkable suggestion that Hanoi massacred some 600 American POW's in the final days of the Vietnam War. If the Russian document were both authentic and the numbers offered factually correct there could hardly be any other explanation. It would be the ultimate damning indictment of Hanoi's wartime leadership, and would blow U.S.-Vietnam relations out of the water until the next century. But with something so monstrous it seems inevitable that by this time 20 years later some corroborative evidence would have surfaced, if only in the form of stories passed through the Vietnamese word of mouth mill. Someone would have talked. The word would have gotten out.
To settle the matter what is needed is extended on-the-scene researchers scouring Vietnam for eye witnesses. But this will not be possible until the U.S. establishes formal diplomatic relations with Vietnam and doors open to permit such research by Americans.
President Clinton at an April 23 press conference, in answer to the question, is the document a fraud, replied "I do not know whether that (Hanoi claim of fraud) is right or has any basis in fact." Which is the only sensible answer to the question as things stand at the quarter's end.
Sources. [ALL DATES: 1993] Story was broken April 11 by Celestine Bohlen, New York Times Moscow bureau (published April 12). English translation available from U.S. Department of Defense Public Affairs Office; excerpts carried by New York Times, April 12. Hanoi reaction: "MIA Document a Fabrication," SRV UNMPR 10/BC, April 12; SRV UNMPR 13/BC, April 20 (includes material on Vessey visit) and SRV UNMPR 14/BC, a point by point critique of document listing errors and inconsistencies. Gen. John Vessey Pentagon briefing April 21 transcript from Federal News Service (620 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045, Tel: 202/347-1400). He judges it to be "a genuine Russian document" but inaccurate (a "number of inconsistencies"). For analysis see: "Vietnam The Unfinished Business" by George Carver (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, retired CIA) in Wall Street Journal, May 20; also editorial, same date. For discussion background, see Neil Sheehan, "Letter from Vietnam: Prisoners of the Past", The New Yorker, May 24, who argues that "despite sound reasons to end the embargo and make peace with Vietnam, the POW/MIA lobby has made Bill Clinton and U.S. foreign policy captive to ghosts of the war"; "Research and Destroy: Origins of Vietnam War POW Document Remains Obscure," by Nayan Chanda in FEER, May 6; see also passim the National League of Families Update Line (and Update) (tel.: 202/659-0133) which takes a cautious attitude since its chief concern is learning what happened to the missing. Useful is League Newsletter June 21 "Chronology of POW/MIA Commitments (and Preelection Commitments) by President Clinton/Clinton Administration: March 1992-May 31, 1993."
Also: "The 'Smoking Gun' Appears Proving Hundreds of POW's Abandoned to Hanoi" and "The Gen. Tran Van Quang Report" in U.S. Veteran Dispatch May-June. "Prisoners of Lore: Why the Myth of Vietnam POW-MIA's Won't Die" by Thomas Lippman in Washington Post, April 25 (reason: it is a matter of faith, and one person's myth is another's religion). "Dealing with the Haunting Legacy" by Al Santoli in Washington Times, April 30. "Vietnamese Too, Are Haunted by MIA's" by Phu Bui (Oakland school teacher) in San Jose Mercury News April 23 (writing about his Saigon school mates who went into ARVN and became MIA's). Highly interesting is the CNN April 14 interview with Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov (of the U.S./Russian Commission on Search U.S. MIA/POW's).
Finally, "the Vietnamese Know How to Count", by Stephen Morris, Washington Post April 18 (replying to skeptics' charges).
Nobody in his right mind believes today that the document has any authenticity. Two years of further research both in the Moscow archives and in the Hanoi archives have swept aside any remaining doubt. We are still confronted with the question of who forged the document. Was it Morris himself or was he just an instrument of the forgers?
Steve Graw, of Cornell University Southeast Asia Program has kindly drawn my attention on a book written by H. Bruce Franklin's "MIA or Mythmaking in America", Rutgers University Press, 1993, where he writes (p. 192-195): (I incorporated the footnotes in the body of the text, in brackets):
In early April, 1993, the Clinton Administration was exploring some quiet, timid steps toward normalization, such as allowing the lMF meeting scheduled later that month to release funds to Vietnam. "Bill Clinton may be on the verge of finally ending the Vietnam War," declared the April 12 Wall Street Journal, which went on to warn, however, of "an orchestrated campaign" to stop him.(64: "Clinton Prepares to Relax Policy on Vietnam as U.S. Business Urges Access to New Market," Wall Street Journal, April 12, 1993.)
Right on cue, in the same day's New York Times came a sensational front-page story: "Files Said to Show Hanoi Lied in '72 on Prisoner Totals": a "top secret" document "discovered" in Moscow by "Harvard researcher" Stephen J. Morris "has been authenticated by leading experts" (all unnamed) as a Russian translation of a September 15, 1972, report to Hanoi's Politburo. This so-called "smoking gun" supposedly "proves" Vietnam withheld "hundreds" of U.S. POWs. For an "expert" opinion, the Times turned to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the main man responsible for persuading Jimmy Carter not to normalize relations with Vietnam in 1978. Since, as Brzezinski well knows, there are no live U.S. POWs in Vietnam, he offered an explanation which was sooner or later destined to become part of the POW/MIA mythology: "the great likelihood is that the Vietnamese took hundreds of American officers out and shot them in cold blood, in a massacre like the one in the Katyn woods." (65. "U.S. to Press Hanoi to Explain '72 P.O.W. Report," New York Times, April 13, 1993.)
In a replay of the phony photos of July 1991, the "smoking gun" now exploded as the lead story on every TV network, including PBS, whose balanced coverage showcased a MacNeil/Lehrer panel consisting of three disinterested "experts" Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, and Morris himself. (66 MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour, April 13, 1993.) Brzezinski's Katyn massacre scenario was repeated in newspaper editorials across the country. Headlines blared "North Vietnam Kept 700 POWs after War: 'Smoking Gun' File Exposes '20 Years of Duplicity"'; "Viets May Have Lied about POWs in 1972"; "POWs: The Awful Truth?"; "We Can't Set Up Ties with Killers of Our POWs." (67 Washington Times, April 12; USA Today, April 12; Washington Post, April 15;Jersey Journal, April 18, 1993 (respectively).)
In the bizarre history of the POW/MIA myth, this document is one of the grossest frauds. Its purported author, identified in the document as "General Lieutenant Tran Van Quang," "the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the VPA," did not hold this position until 1974. More important, not a single one of its "facts" about POWs conforms to the historical record. (68 References are to a photocopy of the English- language text sent by fax from the Moscow bureau of the New York Times to the Times foreign desk with a cover letter referring to it as a "Sept 15, 1972 Vietnamese Top Secret report, recently discovered in Soviet Communist Party archives" confirming that Vietnam was holding on to far more US POWs than it had pubicly (sic) admitted." I am grateful to Times reporter Steven A. Holmes for this copy. )
This alleged report to the Hanoi Politburo claims that as of September 15, 1972, North Vietnam was holding 1,205 "American prisoners of war" in "11 prisons": "Earlier there were 4 main prisons, but, after the attempt of the Americans to liberate their prisoners of war in Son Tay, we increased the number of prisons to 11. In each of these is held approximately 100 American prisoners of war." The historical record shows just the opposite. As a result of the November 1970 raid on Son Tay, the Vietnamese reduced the number of POW camps, moving all U.S. POWs from the thirteen facilities where they had been housed into six prisons, with almost all concentrated in three (nicknamed by the POWs "Hanoi Hilton," "Zoo," and "Plantation").(69 The history of all thirteen camps, together with aerial photos of each, is given in "Americans Missing in Southeast Asia," Hearings before the House Select Committee on Missing Persons in Southeast Asia, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session, Part 3, February 4-March 31, 1976, 313-37.) No high Vietnamese official would be ignorant of this fact, which alone proves the "report" is spurious.
According to the document, officers were segregated by rank: 16 colonels "we are holding together," "we are also holding 104 American lieutenant colonels in one place," and "235 majors are concentrated in two places." Since no released POW ever experienced such segregation by rank and since such numbers of officers of these ranks are not missing, this is logically impossible.
The "report" states "until now we published a list of only 368 prisoners of war, the remainder we have not revealed." However, in August 1972 North Vietnam had disclosed that it was holding not 368 Americans but 383. (70 "War Foes to Bring 3 Prisoners Home," New York Times, September 3, 1972.) The constant use of the term "prisoners of war" is another interesting slip. Hanoi tenaciously refused to designate its captives as prisoners of war. This was a major issue from 1969 right through the signing of the January 1973 Paris Peace Accord, which refers to "captured American military personnel," never "prisoners of war." An even more revealing failure to take a Vietnamese point of view appears in the list of demands related to U.S. POWs. Not even mentioned is the one demand Hanoi kept insisting must be linked to the release of U.S. POWs: the release of thousands of political prisoners held by the Saigon regime. (71 Gareth Porter, A Peace Denied: The United States, Vietnam, and the Paris Agreement (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), 128.)
There are many other absurdities, such as asserting that all Americans captured in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were being held in North Vietnam and claiming that the POWs included "three cosmonauts" and "368 holding progressive views" who would be released before the 372 "holding a neutralist position" and the 465 "holding reactionary views." Indeed, the astonishing aspect of this latest scam is that such a blatantly bogus document could be taken seriously.
Those determined to keep the Vietnam War going apparently believe that America's faith in the POW/MIA myth is so zealous that phony POW "evidence" no longer needs even a veneer of plausibility. Perhaps they are right. This clumsy hoax stalled the normalization process, and a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted between April 17 and 20, 1993, indicated that once again two-thirds of Americans believe that U.S. POWs "are still being held in Southeast Asia." (72 Wall Street Journal, April 23, 1993.)
The poll did not measure how many of the other third believe in Brzezinski's fable of hundreds of American officers being massacred in "cold blood." Though conveniently disposing of the chimera of live POWs -- which eventually would be biologically impossible anyhow -- this scenario may become the primary fantasy preventing true closure of the Vietnam War.
Some day the embargo will be over and possibly for the first time ever there will be normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. But the last chapter of the Vietnam War cannot be written so long as millions of Americans remain possessed by the POW/MIA myth. (end of extract)
What is then quite clear is that it is not possible to describe Mr. Morris as a honest man. And it seems the Wall Street Journal accepts articles which a based on nothing else than political bitterness and the will to create nuisances. Other observers seem to be prepared to belittle Morris' role and depict him as a victim of manipulations. This is the argument of Susan Katz Keating in her book, Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the MIA/POW Myth in America, NY: Random House, 1994. Keating writes that Morris was a dupe for the CIA and that it was a CIA agent in Moscow who planted the document so that Morris would find it.
She writes (p. 243) : « In June 1994 [we] learned that the forgery was actually the work of the CIA. The agency created the document as part of an effort to force Vietnam to release additional information on MlAs. The CIA specifically wanted a copy of the Vietnamese "Blue Book," a handwritten record of the wartime whereabouts and eventual fate of American POWs. The phony and inflammatory Quang document was deliberately placed where an unwitting Morris would find it. The spy agency gambled that Morris would publicize the document and that the Vietnamese would go to great lengths to prove it false. The ploy worked. Soon after the Quang document was made public, Vietnamese officials gave the CIA a copy of the coveted "Blue Book." » But in order to believe that, she must discard the way Morris violently insisted the document was true. We know of many writers who made themselves conscious allies of their government secret services. Without even mentionning the period of WWII, we just have to remember the infamous Yellow Rain of Mr Seagrave or the book about the Bulgarian connection in the attempt to assassinate the Pope, written by a Mrs Sterling, and many other cases. Mr Morris is just one in this rather large crowd, and the least clever of them all.