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By David Guyatt


American Air Force pilot, Lt. Colonel David L. Hrdlicka, flew the lead plane in a flight of four F105 fighter/bombers that departed Takhli Air Base on the morning of 18 May 1965.  The aircraft has been ordered to interdict and bomb a segment of road at Sam Neua, Laos.  Hrdlicka's aircraft was hit by groundfire during his bombing attack forcing him to eject.  He parachuted safely to the ground where he was captured by communist Pathet Lao forces.

 Colonel Hrdlicka's flight into captivity has become a remarkable story for a number of reasons.  Not least is the fact that he has been officially reported as "Killed in Action," but has also died in captivity on a number of distinct and separate occasions.  But each time Hrdlicka manages to survive - embarrassing certain "elements" in his government who wish he would have the grace to stay dead.  Today, the US Government says the doughty airman definitely died in 1966, or 1967 - but also thinks it might have been 1968.  They believe his death resulted from illness, malnutrition, shooting or possibly a combination of all three.

 Despite this, Hrdlicka was seen alive in 1989.  A letter on America's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) letterhead in my possession states that Hrdlicka - identified as "D. Herlicka" was seen in the "tri-border" area of Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia.  Moreover, a US State Department cable dated April 1991, says Hrdlicka was being held in captivity by Brigadier General Chaeng Chaiwong, Commander of the 11th Lao Army Regiment stationed in Kham Moname Province.  The cable goes on to identify General Chaeng as "involved in narcotics trafficking."

 David Hrdlicka is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds of Americans who have been officially abandoned by their government to a fate worse than death.  They are known by their captors as "Pearls."  This stems from France's military involvement in Southeast Asia, where upwards of 20,000 French prisoners were held prisoner after the French left the region in retreat.  Over the next twenty years, these prisoners were secretly sold back to France piecemeal. 

 The US, however, appears to be playing another sort of game entirely.  Rather than trying to rescue their prisoners, they were planning to forget them hoping they'd die.  More disturbing still, elite Special Forces troops were tasked with locating and assassinating some American prisoners of war.  The soldiers were part of the US Army's Intelligence Support Activity - or ISA for short - and had been commandeered by a very secretive arm of the CIA known simply as "The Activity.

 One American target of assassination was Marine Private Bobby Garwood.  On 28 September 1965, Garwood was ambushed and captured near Marble Mountain at China Beach - a short distance from Da Nang.  Garwood, aged nineteen at the time, had only 12 days left of his tour in Vietnam, but was to spend a further fourteen years in captivity.  The Marine eventually managed to escape by passing a message to a neutral diplomat that was later broadcast, world-wide, by the BBC.  Subsequent embarrassment forced the Vietnamese government to release Garwood who, instead of being brought home to a heroes welcome, was charged with desertion, for aiding and abetting the enemy and striking a fellow American prisoner.  These were later found to be trumped up charges but for years Garwood was shunned at home. 

 Investigators learned that Garwood was one of the prisoners who had been ordered to be killed in captivity.  The order was given to a former member of the US Army's super secret Special Operations Group (SOG).  SOG was assigned elite Special Forces to engage in a variety of special warfare operations throughout the Vietnam war and included Search, Locate & Annihilate Missions (SLAM).  Fortunately for Garwood, his would be executioners were unable to find where he was being held. 

 The reason why so many American POWs like Bobby Garwood were left behind in the first place is also disturbing.  For years rumours persisted that a secret clause of the Paris Peace accord negotiated by Henry Kissinger on behalf of President Nixon, concerned an agreement where the United States promised to pay North Vietnam $4 billion in reparations.  Insiders say this agreement was immediately reneged upon by America and a decision reached making official US policy of the lie that there were no live POW's remaining in the region.

 The story of the $4 billion deal received a powerful boost when Richard V. Allen, former National Security Adviser to President Reagan, gave evidence in 1992, before a US Senate Select Committee investigating the POW/MIA issue.  Allen told Senators of an offer made in 1981 by "Vietnam, through a third country, to free live Americans held since the end of the Vietnam War."  In return, Allen said, the US government should pay Hanoi the $4 billion due them under the agreement reached in 1973.  Asked how many servicemen were still being held prisoner, Allen responded "Dozens, hundreds."  He added that the consensus in the White House was against agreeing to such a move.  This included then Vice President George Bush who said it was "a lost cause," according to a report published by the Washington Times.  The newspaper also reported that CIA Director, Bill Casey typified the Vietnamese suggestion as "blackmail."

 Richard Allen's testimony was supported by an unnamed Secret Service agent on duty in the White House at the time the discussion took place.  The agent was subpoenaed to testify before Congress to corroborate Allen's testimony, but the move was blocked at a high level.  Then, two weeks after his own testimony was given, Richard Allen issued a statement saying "it appears… there never was a 1981 meeting about the return of POW/MIAs for $4 billion."

 Allen's surprise retraction and the political blocking of the Secret Service agent's corroborating testimony caused shockwaves throughout the nation.  Investigators and families with a missing relative began to ask what was really going on.  Their efforts were impeded at every turn, but they persisted.  Assistance arrived in the form of a seminal book called "Kiss the Boys Goodbye" published in 1990 by Bloomsbury.  The book, jointly-authored by husband and wife team Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson, broke the grip of secrecy that had surrounded the POW issue for the previous twenty years. 

 What they revealed was shocking.  Despite signing the 1973 peace accord the US continued to engage in a secret war in Southeast Asia.  In fact, the US government had intensified its activity in Cambodia and Laos by using local "proxy" forces and others including mercenaries and US servicemen.  This secret war continued right up to the early 1990's. 

 In order to keep its continuing military role in the region totally secret, a decision was taken to seek unofficial sources of funding for the conflict.  This would avoid the requirement to approach the US Senate Oversight Committee for money.  Instead, the region's traditional opium growing and harvesting ability was tapped.  Intense efforts were made to vastly increase opium production and to use this to make heroin.  This, in turn, was shipped from the Golden Triangle region of Laos, Thailand and Burma to Australia, Europe and, of course, the US - the biggest drug market of them all.

 Once the narcotic money had been laundered by CIA banks including the notorious Australian based Nugan Hand bank, it could be used to pay mercenaries and purchase the necessary stocks of weapons needed to keep fighting.  The only problem was that this "activity" was directed and controlled by a shadowy group of American military, intelligence and government bureaucrats who possessed no legal authority from the President or the Senate to conduct their secret war.  In effect, they were a "parallel government" - a rogue group who believed they knew best and who possessed sufficient power to conduct a war which they believed should never have been lost.  For them, Nixon's peace with Vietnam was one of the biggest betrayals of American history.  Wholly distrustful of politicians and the democratic process, the group effected a secret partial coup d'etat of America behind the scenes. 

 The existence of live American POW's threatened to blow their secret war wide open by revealing the group's deep involvement in the drugs and weapons trade.  This, in turn, would have also revealed their very presence as manipulators behind the political scenes. 

 Despite the wide publicity given to this story, US POWs continue to be held against their will and the US government continues to profess that there are no "live" prisoners from the Vietnam era.

 Drugs and "Human Garbage

 The use of drugs to finance a secret war in Southeast Asia was not an invention of the United States.  Years earlier, the French were dependent on the revenue earned from the Opium trade to keep their military control over Indochina intact.  "Operation X," remained one of France's most sensitive state secrets for decades and was sanctioned by French Military Intelligence arm, SDECE.  On the ground, the drug traffick was organised and controlled by Corsican, Captain Antoine Savani, head of the 2eme Bureau of Military Intelligence, located in Saigon.  The rationale was that the drugs trade would save the dignity of France by helping to keep her far-flung territories.  This, as one knowledgeable former intelligence agent revealed was that to "Save France, you had to destroy the human garbage.  If the garbage sustained its drug addiction by spending huge amounts of money, and if that money financed the wars in Indochina against communism - well, then you get some benefit from the human garbage!"

 Ross Perot and the POW issue

Multi-billionaire and one-time presidential hopeful, Ross Perot continues to have a deep rooted interest in the POW story.  Perot is famous for planning a successful and daring commando type raid to rescue his staff held hostage in Tehran.  A close friend of Nancy Reagan, he had been given special presidential authority to act as a "special investigator" on the POW/MIA issue.  But as Perot soon discovered, great wealth and special access to the most powerful man in the world was not enough.  His efforts to learn the truth about American POW's was blocked at every turn.  Perot also strongly suspected that Vice President George Bush was working to inhibit his access and involvement.  Asked one day by VP Bush how his investigation was going, Perot snapped " Well, George, I go in looking for prisoners, but I spend all my time discovering the government has been moving drugs around the world and is involved in arms deals… I can't get at the prisoners because of the corruption among our own covert people."

The Secret US Prison Facility For Repatriated POWs

 Father Charles Shelton, a USAF Catholic chaplain was accused of homosexuality by another airman.  The charge was believed to be malicious and designed to stop the chaplain from talking about Vietnam POWs.  Shelton had been asked to counsel a sergeant based in the Philippines.  The sergeant revealed his involvement in a special medical evacuation mission that had taken place in early 1986.  A C-130 transport plane had flown in great secrecy to Haiphong, Vietnam.  Two other aircraft had flown to Hanoi.  The aircraft had their USAF markings removed and replaced by Red Crosses.  The planes returned to the Philippines carrying a total of 86 men.  They were taken to a USAF hospital and placed in a "classified" ward.  All were Caucasian and all weighed below one hundred pounds.  A few died soon after their evacuation, due to sickness.  Another witness who briefly worked in the ward said some of the inmates told her they were "prisoners-of-war from Vietnam."  One of them said "he'd never see civilisation again."  They had been prisoners of the Vietnamese government and now were prisoners of the American government.

  Edwin Wilson, the "Group" and making money

 CIA agent, Edwin Wilson was sentenced to life for selling C-4 plastic explosive and weapons to Libya for use by terrorists.  Many observers feel his arrest was contrived to get him out the way and to keep him silent.  Wilson was one of the insiders of what he called the "Group."  Interviewed by Monika Jensen-Stevenson at Marion Penitentiary, Illinois, Wilson explained he would tell the whole story on the drug connection providing he received a guarantee of immunity.  This had to come from a foreign government as "They'd wipe me out otherwise."  Wilson explained how the group was formed.  All believed in covert warfare and felt betrayed by Nixon's 1973 peace accords.  Thereafter, they formulated "unofficial policy that said that sentiment must never again get in the way of fighting communism."  The group soon formed a "second tier" of government, they enacted policy as they saw fit.  Along the way, however, personal enrichment began to take precedence.  "It's time we made some money," Wilson recalled other members of the group saying.  After that POWs were viewed as dangerous to "U.S. national security" and were to be abandoned or killed to ensure their silence.


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