Former POW/MIA Affairs Chief Gave Congress Outline of U.S. Government's Road Map To Betrayal Of America's POW/MIAs
The following article is taken from a statement by Bill Bell (pictured right) which he gave before the Vietnam Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 18, 1998.
Prior to 1989 our government's most important issue concerning Vietnam was the achievement of a viable settlement in war torn Cambodia.
Subsequent to the withdrawal of a politically acceptable number of Vietnamese forces from that country our focus shifted to the accounting for our missing and dead from the Vietnam War.
At that time the policy of the Bush Administration dictated that the recovery of missing American servicemen was a matter of the "highest national priority."
This high priority supported a strategy of strict reciprocity at the national level, and a high quality investigative effort on the ground in Vietnam. This proactive, yet cautious approach to addressing the important POW/MIA issue precipitated Vietnam's realization that no matter how difficult the effort, our persistence and perseverance would not diminish and only genuine cooperation would be acceptable by our government.
These factors enabled our personnel on the ground in Vietnam to make considerable progress without large expenditures of government funds. Trade and commercial ties were never a matter of consideration, because we were determined not to fall in the same expensive and ultimately futile rut left by the French [Despite the substantial political and economic concessions the French have made to Hanoi since 1954, France has never received a full accounting for its missing and dead.].
This strategy meshed well with our long term goal of a full accounting for our servicemen because Vietnam did not have financial incentive to retard progress on this important national issue.
Moreover, due to the coincidental collapse of the Soviet Union, Vietnam also realized that significant economic assistance from its wartime allies would not be forthcoming. These conditions served to create a rare window of opportunity for our negotiators to elicit cooperation from Vietnam in not only accounting for our missing men, but the important human rights aspect as well.
But Vietnamese Communists are well known for several attributes, not the least of which are cunning, tenacity and a high threshold for pain.
During the war years although the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) constantly spouted rhetoric concerning freedom and democracy, its primary goal was reunification of the country under totalitarian control by the Communist Party.
After accomplishing its initial objective Hanoi's Politburo even changed the name of the country from a "democratic" to a "socialist" republic. The word for democracy "dan chu" quickly disappeared from letterheads of all official government and party correspondence. Dictionaries printed by the government did not even include the word "da dang" (multi-party).
After reunification Hanoi's design changed to development of the economy under the continued totalitarian control of the VCP. In assessing the outlook for reconstruction and development Hanoi's strategists came to the realization that although genuine cooperation on POW/MIA accounting would hasten the pace of relations and significant progress on human rights would bring economic benefits, such cooperation would inherently lead to a weakening of totalitarian control by (VCP).
Faced with this dilemma, Hanoi's leadership turned to its highest-level decision-making body with responsibility for military affairs, intelligence, counterintelligence, foreign policy, economics, industry and strategic deception, the National Defense Council (NDC), for salvation.
The NDC of Vietnam is modeled on similar organizations of the People's Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. I believe that those responsible for safeguarding missile and satellite technology will not find that thought comforting.
In planning and implementing strategic deception, the most important organ in the communist system is the Proselytizing Department, which operates under the authority of the NDC.
This department is a very secretive and subtle organization, and for the U.S. intelligence community, it is perhaps the least understood element of the Communist apparatus. The basic mission of the organization is penetration and subversion.
During the war years the Proselytizing Department enjoyed considerable success in exploiting the anti-war movement in the U.S. and other countries around the world. Wartime Communist leaders have since expressed the opinion that the proselytizing effort, both in America and on an international scale, made the most important contribution toward winning the war.
The concept by which the Proselytizing Department operates is quite simple: Obtain the active participation of a small segment of the population in order to gain the passive acceptance of the population as a whole. At the local level active participation can be obtained through intimidation.
For example, during wartime years when armed propaganda teams were employed, if a member of a village chief's family were abducted, one of his ears would be sent to the family. Unless the village chief performed the deed requested of him by the communist forces, the head of the family member would soon follow.
In dealing with foreign populations, however, active participation is more often achieved by subtle means. This includes playing on the emotions of a family whose loved one is being held prisoner-of-war, or by exploiting character defects, especially monetary greed, or what in intelligence terms is called "a penchant for wealth."
The Proselytizing Department is also responsible for both agitation-propaganda and the exploitation of U.S. POWs. This includes the remains and personal effects of American servicemen killed during the performance of their duties.
By the time of the 1986 Party Congress, Hanoi's National Defense Council had outlined a plan for development of the economy while feigning cooperation on POW/MIA and human rights. This plan was veiled as "an opening to the West" and "renovation," what the Vietnamese call "doi moi."
In order to implement this plan, seasoned cadre from the Proselytizing Department were gradually transferred to positions dealing with individuals and organizations in the U.S. involved in commerce, human rights and veterans affairs.
For example, Senior Proselytizing cadre Nguyen Chinh was transferred from Region 5 in Central Vietnam to Hanoi where he was assigned as the Deputy Director of Religious Affairs dealing with U.S. officials concerned with human rights.
Cadre Nguyen Hung Tri, who had been one of numerous cadre responsible for the interrogation and exploitation of American prisoners in the South, was reassigned as Director of the Export Section of the National Petroleum Import-Export Department.
LTG Tran Van Quang, the former Chief of the Proselytizing Department, was reassigned as head of the National Veterans Organization dealing with so-called "Veterans Initiatives" of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).
Cadre Dang Thuan Hoa, who was also responsible for the interrogation and exploitation of American prisoners in southern Vietnam during the war, was reassigned to the Commercial Affairs Office in Ho Chi Minh City dealing with American businessmen seeking to invest in projects there.
Members of the Proselytizing Department's office in Central Vietnam were transferred to the State Petroleum Organization and shortly thereafter a plan to build an oil refinery in that area was announced.
Ultimately, hundreds of cadre from Vietnam's Proselytizing Department were reassigned to positions placing them in direct contact with Americans in the targeted "influence groups."
After sufficient proselytizing cadre were in place, Vietnam still faced one major obstacle, hard currency to finance the overall operation.
Hanoi's strategists then devised a plan whereby large sums of hard currency could be collected. By forcing hundreds of thousands of its citizens to flee the country Hanoi was able to quickly establish a large community of overseas Vietnamese. Most of those departing under this program were required to transfer all personal and real property, as well as cash assets, to communist control.
To manage this potential source of future revenue, Hanoi reassigned its former UN Ambassador in New York and Vice Foreign Minister, Ho Liem (aka Hoang Bich Son) as Chairman of the Committee for Overseas Vietnamese.
Overseas Vietnamese then began to send money home to support relatives remaining in Vietnam. Hard currency mailed from the U.S., Canada, France, England, Australia and other countries back to Vietnam was intercepted by the Communist Party and converted into Vietnamese "dong" at a very unfavorable rate.
Overseas Vietnamese seeking to return home for visitation, including emergency situations, were required to pay exorbitant visa issuance fees in hard currency to the relevant Vietnamese Embassy prior to commencement of travel.
Unfortunately for the Vietnamese people at home, however, visa fees are not a problem because they cannot even acquire a passport to temporarily travel abroad. As a basis for comparison, in America and other democratic countries, it is far more simple to file for social security disability than for a Vietnamese citizen to obtain a passport.
In much the same manner as the French experience on POW/MIA accounting, to develop yet another source of revenue Hanoi used its Proselytizing Department to create an illusion of profitable business opportunities, a "last frontier" if you will, in Vietnam.
This skillful deception, which included what appeared to be very lucrative contracts to be implemented as soon as the Trade Embargo was lifted, resulted in increased pressure from the business community on U.S. politicians to rapidly remove the POW/MIA issue as an obstacle to the development of trade ties, regardless of the actual rate of progress in accounting for our men.
To accomplish this feat, the Proselytizing Department worked hand-in-hand with key members of the U.S. business community, some members of Congress and veterans organizations to convince our military leaders that the best way to resolve the issue was a rapid expansion of our POW/MIA accounting effort in the field.
This expansion consisted primarily of so-called "activities," which included field cursory investigations and excavations of crash sites. These "activities" resulted in the rental of Russian supplied helicopters, real property rentals, the payment of salaries for cadre of the Proselytizing Department participating in the endeavor, drivers, laborers, organization fees, landing fees, damages caused by excavations and a host of other charges. I believe that by simultaneously exploiting emigration and the accounting for missing American servicemen Hanoi has managed to accumulate a considerable amount of hard currency.
Such revenue gathering practices continue today as these hearings are being held, and quite frankly I believe they generate far more funds than what Export-Import Bank financing could provide.
In 1991 the U.S. Senate established the Senate Select Committee for POW/MIA Affairs. The Chairman of this Committee, Senator John Kerry appointed his Legislative Assistant, Ms Francis Zwenig, as the Chief of Staff for the Committee.
During the life of the Committee Senator Kerry worked most closely with Representative Douglas "Pete" Peterson to authorize funding for the new, expanded effort to account for missing American servicemen in Vietnam.
As a result of these joint efforts, in January 1992 the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was formed by the U.S. Pacific Command. In order to gain acceptance of the new plan in Vietnam Senator Kerry also coordinated his efforts with fellow committee member, Senator John McCain (R- AZ).
In implementing Senator Kerry and Representative Peterson's plan, Ms Zwenig worked closely with Ms. Virginia Foote, the President of the U.S./Vietnam Trade Council, Allen "Gunner" Kent, former Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Mr Kenneth Steadman, at that time the Director of National Security of the VFW.
As the Committee moved toward adjournment it became increasingly obvious that rather than account for missing American servicemen, the primary goal of the Committee was to remove the POW/MIA issue from the path of U.S./Vietnam relations.
Members of the Committee pledged to continue to monitor the issue, but in reality only Senator Bob Smith[R-NH] kept his promise to the MIA family members and veterans here at home.
During the time that key members of the POW/MIA Select Committee maneuvered to remove the Trade Embargo, large scale investors in Asia, who would ultimately become large scale campaign contributors in America began to support the activities of members of the Committee designed to create investment opportunities in Vietnam.
In 1992, with a one-on-one limousine ride, Presidential candidate Bill Clinton began his relationship with Mr James Riady, a citizen of Indonesia and resident alien of the United States. Mr Riady is the son of Mochtar Riady who heads the multi-billion dollar Lippo Group.
Acting on behalf of the Lippo Group Mr Riady formed a partnership with Mr Jackson Stephens, Chairman of Stephens Investment Inc., in order to purchase the Worthen Bank in Little Rock, AR. Mr Riady was subsequently installed as the director of the bank. Mr Riady then used his position to contribute or loan some $700,000.00 to President Clinton's campaign.
Family friends and business partners of the Riadys, Ariel and Soraya Wiriadinata, also contributed $425,000.00 to the Clinton campaign. Rather than explain the source of these monies by testifying in congressional hearings, the Wiriadinatas have since returned to Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Worthen Bank in Little Rock also owned the Hong Kong Chinese Bank where Mr John Huang was employed. Mr Huang was later transferred from Hong Kong to Los Angeles where he became head of Lippo's affiliate there.
Records since made available to investigating committees of Congress indicate that in conjunction with his transfer to the U.S. Mr Huang was awarded a $700,000.00 bonus by the Lippo Group. Considering the position held by Mr Huang and the circumstances of his employment, the alleged bonus has raised questions regarding the intended purpose of the relatively large amount of cash, and whether or not it was properly declared for entry into the U.S.
Moreover, in November 1992, China Resources Holding Company, a front organization for the Intelligence and Security Services of the Communist Party of China, purchased a controlling interest in the Hong Kong Chinese Bank. This transaction made available an even larger amount of money to Mr Huang in the U.S.
During his election campaign President Clinton pledged to the American people that if elected he "would not normalize relations with any country that is at all suspected of withholding information" on missing Americans.
After the election of President Clinton Mr John Huang was appointed as a Deputy Assistant Secretary under Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in a "Top Secret" trade post. When Mr Huang assumed his new position at the Commerce Department the very first meeting he held in his new office was oriented toward developing increased commercial relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Hearings held by the Senate Committee investigating campaign financing revealed that during the time he worked in the Commerce Department under Ron Brown, John Huang maintained steady contact with Mr A. Vernon Weaver, the Vice-President of Stephens Investment in Washington, D.C.
In fact, Mr Huang was provided a cost-free office with telephone, facsimile and photocopy machine in the Stephens Building across the street from the Commerce Department. During the same time frame, Secretary Brown became the subject of a Justice Department investigation concerning allegations he accepted a $700,000.00 bribe for his assistance in lobbying President Clinton to lift the Trade Embargo against Vietnam.
The reports indicating that Mr Riady loaned the Clinton campaign $700,000.00, that John Huang received a $700,000.00 bonus from the Lippo Group, and that former Commerce Secretary Brown received a $700,000.00 bribe may be coincidental, but considering the positions of those involved and their relationship to each other, I seriously doubt that this is the case.
After repeated denials to the press, Secretary Brown did admit to having three meetings with Mr Nguyen Van Hao, a Vietnamese who was actively lobbying on behalf of Vietnam to have the Trade Embargo lifted. Mr A. Vernon Weaver was subsequently appointed as the U.S. Representative to the European Economic Union. The investigation of Mr Brown was terminated when he died on April 4, 1996 in an airplane crash while on an economic mission to Europe.
After expanded accounting efforts were initiated in Vietnam senior U.S. officials first began praising Vietnam for its cooperation in accounting for our missing men during January 1994 when Admiral Charles Larson, at that time the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Forces, returned from an inspection trip to Vietnam.
It was Admiral Larson who first stated publicly that Vietnamese cooperation in accounting for missing Americans was "excellent across all fronts." Admiral Larson was a four star Admiral at the time and pending retirement because there were no four star slots available in the U.S. Navy.
Based on Admiral Larson's assessment, in February 1994 President Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam.
Amazingly, between the time that President Clinton made his pledge that he would not normalize relations with Vietnam until there was a full accounting and the time he lifted the Trade Embargo only two Americans had been accounted for in Vietnam.
Lifting the embargo opened the door for the multi-billion dollar corporation, Lippo Group with American business partners, such as Stephens Investment of Little Rock, AR to conduct business in Vietnam. Mr A. Vernon Weaver, at that time the Vice-President for Operations in the Pacific Rim of Stephens Investment and a member of the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Naval Academy was instrumental in arranging an upgrade of the position of Commandant of the U.S. Naval Academy from two stars to four stars.
Former U.S. Navy officers, Senators John Kerry and John McCain supported this reorganization. Rather than the planned retirement, Admiral Larson was quickly transferred to begin a four year tour at the Naval Academy.
President Clinton then appointed VFW Commander-in-Chief, Allen "Gunner" Kent of the VFW to a senior position in the Veterans Administration (VA).
After working on the transition team of former Secretary Ron Brown at the Commerce Department, Ms Francis Zwenig was appointed as Vice-President of the U.S. Vietnam Trade Council.
Shortly thereafter, the Council took control of the Mekong Digest, formerly the Vietnam Forum of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A friend of both President Clinton and Senator John Kerry and fellow anti-war activist from Georgia, Mr Charles Searcy, was appointed as a humanitarian aid representative for Vietnam, on a project jointly funded by the U.S. Government and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation headed by Mr Robert Muller, also a well-known anti-war activist. Vietnam then announced that it would issue its first real estate license to Senator John Kerry's cousin, Mr Stuart Forbes, CEO of the Boston-based Colliers International.
Representative "Pete" Peterson was appointed by President Clinton as Ambassador to Vietnam.
Senator John McCain became Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Mr John Huang, was ultimately appointed as Vice-Chairman of the national fund-raising committee of the Democratic Party. Mr Huang's fund raising efforts included a visit by Vice President Gore to a Buddhist Temple in California headed by Vietnamese born Summa Ching Hai, a long time associate of both Huang and Little Rock, AR restaurant owner Charlie Trii.
Highly classified documents of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP), recently declassified in the National Archives, indicate that the Religious Proselytizing Department of the VCP, code named V.417, successfully infiltrated cadre into the Buddhist Sect in the former Republic of Vietnam during the 1960's.
According to the Chairman of the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia Vietnamese Association, some of the cadre mentioned in the documents have since arrived in the U.S. as refugees. These same cadre, currently in leadership positions in the Buddhist Sect in California, now profess to be staunch anti-communists.
Testimony from members of the staff at the temple involved in the fund-raising, as well as numerous others involved, indicate that those participating in the scheme of Huang were well aware that the sole purpose of the visit by the Vice President was to raise money for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
In fact, the only person involved who has publicly claimed to be unaware that the event was a fund raiser is Vice President Gore himself.
Although considerable questions remain unanswered some of the key people involved, Mr John Huang, Admiral Larson, Ms Virginia Foote, Ms Francis Zwenig or Mr A. Vernon Weaver have never testified in Congress.
More recently the Justice Department has authorized the appointment of an additional Special Counsel to investigate allegations of illegal business transactions between Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Vanessa Weaver.
Hopefully, this investigation will uncover additional leads for Congressional Committees to follow in the days ahead.
Contrary to the glowing assessments by the Clinton Administration, MIA family member organizations have maintained that Vietnam could rapidly account for many more missing servicemen if it made the political decision to do so.
I believe that there is ample evidence in U.S. files that Vietnam does possess this capability.
Against opposition by MIA family member organizations and major veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition, American Veterans, and the Disabled American Veterans, President Clinton recently waived the Jackson-Vanik Act in order to provide monetary benefits to Vietnam.
Such benefits include Export-Import Bank financing and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance.
Obviously, both important steps are directed at obtaining Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for Vietnam.
During my tour as Chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs in Hanoi I was constantly mindful of the French experience in Vietnam.
I was also painfully aware of the plight of some 70 million Vietnamese citizens regarding basic human rights. Relying on a wealth of information contained in U.S. Government files and based on my own experiences in dealing with Vietnam over many years I carefully evaluated the actual level of cooperation rendered by Vietnam on a routine basis.
I truthfully and accurately reported those assessments to my superiors. At times, my candidness during congressional hearings here in Washington, D.C. resulted in my being denied a re-entry visa to return Vietnam from those hearings, and it was only intervention by your prestigious body that enabled me to resume my duties in Hanoi.
Today I do not have to be concerned about how my remarks will be received by my superiors here in the U.S. Government, or by the Communist Party in Hanoi.
Hopefully, I have provided some insight concerning how our political process can be manipulated by foreign entities. I am optimistic that this information, as well as information to be provided by witnesses involved in other aspects of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, will help your Committee convince our leadership that profit must not come before principle in the development of commercial ties with the Vietnam.
Organizations lobbying for increased financial benefits to Vietnam, especially Overseas Private Investment Corporation insurance are well aware that the Communist Party of Vietnam, not the government of Vietnam runs that country.
They are clamoring for your Committee to move ahead in U.S.-Vietnam relations.
They are telling the families of the missing men that they should trust the Communist Party to provide an honest accounting.
They are telling the Vietnamese people that they should trust the Communist Party in future progress for human rights.
Mr Chairman, if these lobbyists have so much trust in the Communist Party of Vietnam, then why do they need government sponsored insurance such as OPIC to protect their investments?
You may recall that during the Proselytizing Department's campaign to rapidly normalize relations while feigning improvement on POW/MIA accounting and human rights glib statements such as "it's the economy stupid," and "Vietnam is not a war, it's a country" were often attributed to a number of government officials and members of Congress returning from fact finding missions to Vietnam.
I hope your Committee will agree that statements such as "it's the missing servicemen and human rights stupid," and "Vietnam is not a war, it's a socialist republic" are far more appropriate statements to make.
That concludes my testimony, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to testify before your distinguished Committee.
Garnett"Bill" Bell, a former infantryman during the war, is a retired Department of Defense official. While a member of the Four Party Joint Military Commission in Saigon during the final days of the war, he was in charge of liaison with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Delegations. After being evacuated from the U.S. Embassy by helicopter on 30 April 1875, he returned to Hanoi as Chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs. He is a life member of the Veterans of Foreign wars (VFW), the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) and the Combat Infantrymen's Association (CIA).
Bill Bell chuyen