MOSCOW -- A Russian official says he has received death threats for helping in the effort to locate American servicemen held illegally in the former Soviet Union since World War II.
The official, who asked that his name not be made public, said yesterday he and members of his family have received anonymous telephone calls warning him to stop cooperating with the joint U.S.-Russian Commission on POW/MIAs.
The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs plans hearings today on reports of Americans missing in Southeast Asia.
The callers told the Russian his "throat would be slit" if he failed to heed the warnings.
The official speculated that intelligence agents from the KGB -- the former Soviet Union's counterpart to the CIA -- were behind the threats.
These intelligence agents reportedly fear revelations about U.S. POWs could damage on-going intelligence operations and expose former Soviet officials to negative legal or public relations consequences.
Several Russian and Vietnamese officials have reported that Russian intelligence agencies have specific information -- still not released -- concerning the fate of lost Americans in Indochina.
In the past week, three current and former Russian officials, including a senior military officer, said American POWs were kept in Vietnam long after the United States ended formal participation in the war in 1973.
Almost 100 Americans were still alive in 1988, and some have likely survived to the present day, a senior Russian officer told a reporter.
Another Russian official told investigators from the U.S. Senate that he saw American prisoners in Vietnam during 1987. "He saw a group being escorted under guard," a Senate investigator said.
A third Russian, then serving with the KGB, reportedly met U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam during 1974 and 1975. "He allegedly befriended them," said the investigator.
The new reports support a controversial claim by retired KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin that Soviet intelligence interviewed U.S. POWs in Vietnam during the late 1970s, years after all U.S. prisoners were supposed to have been returned.
Vietnam has said it released all U.S. POWs by March 1973, but a previously classified 1986 memo by a top Defense Intelligence Agency official concluded: "There are still live Americans in Southeast Asia."
The Senate committee was to hear eyewitness accounts of U.S. prisoners in Southeast Asia.
Most of the reports come from Asian refugees. Although a number of the Asians passed lie-detector tests on their sightings, the Defense Intelligence Agency has claimed some of the refugees really saw Russian advisers but mistakenly reported them as U.S. POWs.
A Senate investigator said the new Russian reports confirm that many whites seen in Vietnam over recent years were really U.S. prisoners and not Eastern European advisers.