Ed's Blog

"Some people know everything, but that's all they know."

THE POW/MIA DILEMMA

bowe-bergdahl

The Pentagon’s activities to account for over 80,000 Americans missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War was back in the news last week. This time it was about an internal report by Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) employee Paul Cole. In it, Cole asserts that DoD’s POW/MIA accounting is so inept, mismanaged and wasteful that it risks descending from “dysfunctional to total failure.” When I read this, it was déjà vu all over again. (Read the full column at EWRoss.ccom)

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21 Responses

  1. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    What do they not get about, ‘Leave no Man Behind’? This current administration cares only about our enemy combatants.

    By Paul Rivers

  2. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    This is disgraceful Ed, we can never forget or leave behind our brave soldiers, both men and women. Unfortunately, with Obama at the helm, this won’t even be considered a problem.

    By Michael Talley

  3. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    It was my privilege to be the first member of our family to visit the grave of my Grandmother’s favourite brother who died at Iringa, Tanzania during the First World War. In another corner of the neat Common War Graves Commission cemetery are the graves of some equally young German boys who died in the same battle. I was able to send a photo to an aged aunt who remembered that he had been secretly engaged before leaving for war.

    The tragedy of soldiers who go missing in action is a sharp reminder of the price servicemen and women pay for political decisions, whether right or wrong. The tragedy is not only confined to the USA, many other nations share the prolonged agony and trauma.

    The actions as outlined by Ed above must be lauded, and one hopes that all that can be done will be done to give closure to the families, and to acknowledge the supreme sacrifice that was made by these men and women..

    By Coen Van Wyk

  4. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    A detailed and thoughtful article on the subject.

    By Peter Kassebaum

  5. James Kelly says:

    Ed has made a real contribution to discussion of this old but significant issue. Jim Kelly

    • EWRoss says:

      Thanks much Jim. All the best.

    • Ann Mills- says:

      You’re correct, Jim, it IS and “old but significant” and and, most importantly, is the right thing to do to stand behidni those who serve our country, as well as signaling those serving today that we are here fo rthem as well. Best, Ann

      PS: It looked pretty accurate as well, except that Al Ptak was the first DASD..

  6. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    What pisses me off is that N. Korea is basically holding our MIA’s hostage until we pay them a sum of cash; then we’re allowed to go to a battle sight and hopefully find the remains of missing US Servicemen. This apparently has been their policy through many administrations; so it’s not a Democrat or Republican thing, it’s just plain jacked up.

    By Richard Flagg

  7. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    Pow/MIA issues fall putside f the realm of most intelligence agencies. In another thread I told of working on the IC POW/MIA Analytic cell at DIA. The small analytic team was eventually misunderstood, mismanaged, and dismember by those in charge who could never see the big picture. It involved more than updating data bases and the processes fell out of the normal way of doing standard business. Another issues was overclassification which prevented usable information to protect combat forces from getting to operational commanders. Local country situational awarenes on treatment of captives were locked up in safes in the local intelligence shop. So, who is doing this now and who is tracking captives today within the IC? Your guess is as good as mine.

    By Roland St. Germain

  8. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    Ed, Good article. I too worked POW/MIA Issues while a civilian senior analyst at DIA. I was in the IC POW/MIA Analytic Cell during both Gulf “contingency operations” and Afghanistan. I helped track the seven civilians in Afghanistan when we went after the Taliban. Helped to keep them safe (No bomb areas) while working with our co-alition allies. I also tracked the three American captives (Keith, Bob and Mark) in Colomiba taken after their plane went down by the FARC. It is a tough job and the internal politics involved were tremendous. Last I heard, DIA dismantled the 12-15 analysts and technicians working the issues and sent them elsewhere. DIA staffed the cell and therfore owned the cell and disbanded the cell even though it was commissioned by congress and labeled an IC entity. The SES in charge treated the group as his own personal entity and as long as it scored browny points through intelligence analysis, he kept it going. However, because of poor management practices, he forced the good ones out and kept the non producer “yes men” till he could not justify the cell through DIA funding. He refused to see the big picture.
    By Roland St. Germain

    • Reposted from LinkedIn says:

      One reason DPMO was formed in 1993 and DIA POW/MIA analysts were transferred to DPMO is because DIA always saw POW/MIA accounting as a second tier priority. Also it didn’t like the controversy and felt that it sullied DIA’s reputation. DPMO, however, never had responsiblity for tracking live POWs, that remaind operational commander’s and the intelligence communities job. Thanks for your comment. All the best.

  9. Reposted from LinkedIn says:

    Unfortunately, the emphasis is not on the POW/MIA issue at this time in the US government. It takes time, effort and money along with good intelligence and analysis. The Intelligence Community POW/MIA Analytic Cell at DIA has been reported as disbanded. Since the effort did not fall under the classical intelligence collection and data base building methodology for military unit and equipment analysis, it was never understood by management. They never got the big picture and relegated the effort as a nice to do if it is ever required. I know, I was part of that analytical cell for a number of years. Due to the lack of understanding and mismanagement, they drove the good analyst out and promoted the place holders and yes men and women. It is so typical of DIA.

    By Roland St. Germain

  10. Bill Jordan says:

    It’s symptomatic of a non-functioning, ill-informed Congress to mandate ‘200 identifications annually’ and remain stonily silent on the return of the only US serviceman remaining in captivity, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, US Army, of Hailey, Idaho. Every conflict this nation has engaged in ended–whether positively, like WWII and Desert Storm–or inconclusively, such as Korea and Vietnam, with the return of U.S. POW’s. Now that Iraq and Afghanistan are winding up with conclusions to be written in history, it’s time for Congress to tell the Executive branch–and our adversaries–that hostilities won’t end in Afghanistan until this young American paratrooper, held for over three years, is safely returned.

    Bill Jordan

  11. garyzaetz says:

    I take strong issue with Ed Ross’ contention that “Congress has set an unrealistic goal of 200 remains recoveries per year. JPAC is highly unlikely to meet that goal, not because of incompetence but because of reality.” On the contrary, the reality is that, according to reliable estimates, at least a third of our 80,000 missing in action are potentially recoverable, certainly a significant number. According to Project Homecoming, JPAC has a HUGE backlog of credible reports on locations around the world where there’s a high probability that remains of World War II and other conflicts’ war dead can be found. Moreover, the recent Congressional hearings held by Rep. Wilson and Senator McCaskill demonstrate clearly that if the goal of 200 identified per year is not attained, it is primarily because of Pentagon incompetence and disorganization, and secondarily because the military puts such a low priority on recovering the remains of our war dead. The goal of 200 is very realistic, if the Pentagon cleans up the ineptitude and disorganization which even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concedes to exist.

    • Bill Jordan says:

      Very attainable? You couldn’t get 200 identifications a year if you had 400 physical anthropologists working on it. There are reviews of the identification process from the peer level up thru luminaries in anthropology/archaeology.

      CILHI has been sued over hasty identifications beginning with the AC130 shot down over Laos during the war. Mitochondrial DnA is a wonderful tool, but not the panacea everyone thinks it is. Most identifications come from painstaking rearranging bone parts to get a reasonable assumption of age, race, sex and stature, and that’s just to get started. Think putting together a giant puzzle that’s been buried in the most acidic soil in the world.

      The ‘low priority’ you cite resulted in the deaths of 16 soldiers and civilians–US and Vietnamese–a deade ago when their helicopter crashed in fog. I guess they had their priorities mixed up.

      Congress needs to go back to whatever planet they descended from or stop playing Angry Birds on their laptops and start reading the bills they’re voting on and talking to people who have been waist deep in muck in Vietnam or struggling up a mountain in Tibet to reach a crash site..

      And you, Mr. garyzaetz, probably need to change the brand of Kool-Aid you’ve been drinking.

  12. Frank Miller says:

    Ed, Just getting to this excellent article. Thanks for the reminders. Not included, for those readers who remain interested, were the sacrifices made by elements under DPMO and its predecessor organizations. JCRC had people killed in the 1970’s during recovery missions while the war was still going on, and of course JTF-FA Detachment Two in Hanoi lost seven Americans and nine Vietnamese at once in that tragic helicopter crash in April 2001.

  13. D. M. Lewis says:

    Hello. I worked in DPMO from 2006-2012. I was a WWII research analyst in JCSD and a Korean War analyst in the Northeast Asia division of Research and Analysis. I am a licensed attorney, and a German and Russian linguist. I was hired for my language skills and my analytical skill. I know what the truth is behind the public lies. Paul Cole’s report does not even scratch the surface. The depths of corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse will never be known to the general public. I worked under two administrations, (Bush and Obama) and both were equally as careless with the POW/MIA programs. When you state a few boondoggles, well, I assure it is more than a few. I assure you that the competence level of the military officers and enlisted, as well as many of the civilians working in DPMO is compromised. Many are not competent to begin with, and those who are, or who develop competencies are abused into submitting to the party lines. Don’t be naïve fools and listen to the nonsense that is spouted publically. There are some successes right now, but those could have come two decades ago if the Pentagon leadership wanted it to happen.
    I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do not have to theorize, as I was there in the lair of the beast. From first hand, personal knowledge, I am telling you that the organization is corrupted, and there exists a conspiracy of silence that is enforced through bribes, threats, and abuse. Good people are beaten down or pushed out and others just bow their heads in blind obedience. It appears to be a common theme in the DoD. It is a practice that is repugnant to true Americans. Furthermore, the U.S. Congress only helps when it is in their own interest (e.g. to secure voting blocks or to influence public opinion). Its measures are also only half-hearted. Remember these words, the depths of corruption, deceit, and inveigling will likely never be revealed in this life.

    Sincerely,
    D. Milton Lewis J.D., LL.M.
    Attorney

    • Bill Jordan says:

      D. Milton, sorry you had a bad experience in DPMO. As an old JCRC hand, Principal Assistant to the SecDef for POW/MIA Affairs during the Desert Shield/Desert Storm time frame, first chief of staff of DPMO and the person who hired Paul Cole, and finally as the commander of CILHI, I saw only dedicated servicemen and civilians working a difficult issue with few easy answers.

      We had a few successes and some setbacks. We had frustrating negotiation sessions with some intractable opponents, especially the Lao and the North Koreans and every investigation and excavation was hard won.

      We negotiated, largely through the efforts of General John Vessey a series of investigations, recoveries and identification of servicemen lost in Indochina that are ongoing today. A no-nonsense general officer named Tom Needham stood up Joint Task Force–Full Accounting and brought USCINCPAC fully on board to support every facet of the mission.

      We also lost six Americans and seven Vietnamese in a tragic helicopter crash doing their job in marginal weather. Their losses were emblematic of the dangers that field soldiers and civilians in the issue faced in many remote and dangerous places.

      Task Force Russia and the JCSD started during my tenure and the people I dealt with, from the Defense Attache on down were dedicated professionals who were slowly but effectively prying open Russian files to shed some light on Cold War losses. This, like everything we did, was not easy and laced with frustration and bone-wearying difficulties, but their work resulted in far more results and successes than we had throughout the Cold War.

      So I’d be interested in hearing more of your experiences and impressions and your suggestions for setting some of the deficiencies you perceive on track.
      v/r
      Bill Jordan
      Colonel, US Army (Retired)

      • Milt says:

        Mr. Jordan:

        I’m not the only one who had a “bad experience” at DPMO/DPAA. During my 6 years there at least a half a dozen people were forced to resign, were fired, or quit out of frustration because they could/would not “play along to get along,” that is, they would not tolerate the incompetency or the corruption for the sake of a paycheck.

        Times have changed since you were there, and the dedicated professional turned into the entrenched bureaucrat and into the “lame duck” non-promotable Majors or LTCs. Half of the people there were power and money hungry military officers or civilians trying to get their next promotion or next pay raise, or set themselves up for a cushy civilian desk job after their military service. If you want to know the truth, check out the report done by the McKinsey group. It is climate survey done in 2009-2010. Good luck in getting a copy.

        DPMO, now DPAA, I am assured, has not changed since I was there and if anything, it has gotten worse.

        My suggestions for improvement, take it out of DoD entirely, have the family and veterans’ groups more closely involved in the decision making processes, and hold Congress accountable for the millions of dollars allotted to the mission annually.

      • P M Cole says:

        I was never “hired” by Colonel Wiliam Jordan. Please provide evidence to the contrary.

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