In the breakdown of the Communist world, new information -- or what purports to be -- keeps coming out. New leads demand investigation. New rays of hope dangle before those who never gave up the thought that of 2,267 U.S. servicemen listed as missing in action (MIA) in Vietnam up to 1973, some might walk out, or their remains be identified.
Respectful follow-up is needed for the new information presented to the Senate select committee investigating the issue, chaired by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Robert Smith of New Hampshire. The first thing to be noted is its contradictions.
A retired Soviet intelligence agency (KGB) counter-intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, has come in from the cold and written about his experiences. He testified this week that in 1978, five years after all U.S. servicemen were supposed to have been returned, he was aware of KGB agents interrogating three Americans in Vietnam. But he says he knew of none who was moved to the Soviet Union.
A retired U.S. Air Force non-commissioned officer who worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) until July 1984, Tech. Sgt. Terrell A. Minarcin, says he knew of 436 American prisoners of war shipped from Vietnam to the Soviet Union between January 1983 and July 1984. This information came from intercepted telecommunications of Vietnamese prison guards.
Neither of these accounts should be dismissed out of hand and both should be followed up. The Defense Department says that General Kalugin was unable to give the names of either the interrogated or the interrogators.
Senators Kerry and Smith have a great obligation to pursue these inquiries in a responsible way. Meanwhile, the sooner the United States gets diplomatic teams into Hanoi and the capitals of the former Soviet republics, the better the Defense Intelligence Agency can pursue every lead. Hanoi, which craves American trade and investment, now embargoed, swears it helps the U.S. investigate all reports and that all living prisoners of war were shipped back by April 1973.
And the sooner the U.S. has relations with Laos and Cambodia, the sooner it can pursue the reports of camps or kidnappings by gangs in those countries. Meanwhile, an open mind is the only kind that can analyze new information, whatever that information proves to be.