POW-MIA panel probes satellite photos for evidence of messages from GIs

October 08, 1992|By Barbara Crossette | Barbara Crossette,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee investigating the fate of Americans still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War has turned its attention to reports that satellite photography may have picked up messages from prisoners as late as 1988.

The panel, the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs, plans to hold hearings on this issue Oct. 15 and 16 but has not decided how much will be open to the public, Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., the committee chairman, said yesterday.

The committee has been holding closed intelligence briefings on the issue, and many once-classified government documents have been made public.

The photographs under investigation, analyzed in newly released Pentagon and CIA documents, seemed to show letters or symbols marked on the ground or incorporated in building markings. The signs appear to match those that service personnel were told to use to identify their locations in captivity.

Some analysts accept that the symbols may be a military code, but say they have no evidence that Americans created them. Vietnam has insisted since 1973 that all U.S. prisoners of war, including those in Laos, were returned that year.

The two most compelling cases of apparent messages involve markings spotted on the roof of the Dong Mang prison camp, near Cam Pha in northern Vietnam, in May 1976, and the letters "USA" and possibly "K" --an assigned code -- seen on a rice field near Sam Neua, Laos, in 1988.

In the field in Laos, a photograph in January 1988 picked up "USA" in 11-foot-tall letters over an area where it had not been the previous autumn and would not be the following spring. The "K" seemed an older marking.

Missing Americans were known to have disappeared in the area. But U.S.-backed anti-government Laotians also operated there, and U.S. officials in Southeast Asia suspect the letters could have been dug into The ground by the rebels, some of whom have close ties with Americans who have been active in the POW-MIA issue.

Yesterday, the committee released closed-door testimony given July 1 by Ross Perot, the businessman and candidate for president. A large part related to trips to Vietnam and Laos in 1969 and 1970.

Mr. Perot told the committee counsel that on several occasions between 1969 and 1987 he had discussed possible trades of money or equipment for prisoners.

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