American POWs Kept Behind After the Korean War

What Happened to Them?

Joe Schlatter
Letter to Senator from Col. Joseph "Joe" Schlatter

Cover Ups, Corrections & Criticism

  • Is there a POW/MIA conspiracy or cover up by the US government?
We (meaning former government experts, researchers and family members with whom I work closely + myself) do not believe there's a "conspiracy," meaning a group of government officials that knows the whole truth about the POWs but keeps it hidden.
The evidence does show a "cover up" of certain information, meaning continued efforts to withhold information that contradicts long-stated official positions and the use of inaccurate and sometimes dishonest statements to support the "status quo" or "official line" (see below). A combination of intentional and bureaucratic inertia has kept important information -- including that contradicting the "official line" -- classified for decades. Repeated government and media investigations have pointed out serious shortcomings, lack of candor and a "mindset to debunk" among American POW/MIA officials and organizations.
Especially involving US POWs not returned from the Korean and Cold Wars, and those reportedly shipped to third countries during the Vietnam War, we believe the government downplayed the evidence to avoid -- as bureaucracies tend to do -- creating a new problem it couldn't solve and one that interfered with its then-current priority of focusing on those lost during the Vietnam War.
There is also no doubt the government has kept critical information classified (some POW/MIA documents still secret after more than 50 years) and lied, "quibbled" or passed on unresearched and erroneous assertions about the facts.

For example, in 1989, the official then in effect the top expert and spokesman for the U.S. government on POW/MIAs reported to a U.S. Senator that: "There is no evidence that any U.S. personnel were not released from captivity in Korea." [underline ours; this official was Col. Joseph Schlatter, Chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Special Office for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. See Col. Schlatter's letter above and more about his continued claims of "no evidence" below.]

Of course, at the time Col. Schlatter was publicly denying the existence of any evidence, significant such evidence was still being kept classified in Pentagon and other government files, including information on the case of the "Ashley Five" U.S. Air Force POWs who actually spoke over the radio with U.S. officials to confirm their captivity at the "end of hostilities," and whose captivity was confirmed by their communist captors, but who were never returned. See more here.

As we and others began revealing such evidence, the Pentagon decided to put forward a higher-ranking debunker. In 1990 the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), then the lead agency on POW/MIA efforts, was asked by Congress to respond to our reports. 

Rear Admiral Ronald Marryott, one of America's top intelligence officials, testified: "(T)here are no intelligence indicators that US personnel from the Korean conflict were not returned to US control at the end of the war."  He added: “Likewise, the Soviet Union has been the central focus of US and Allied intelligence activities for most of this century, and China has been watched for almost 50 years. I believe this scrutiny would have likewise revealed at least a hint of American prisoners held in either country had they been taken there. Again, no such evidence has ever surfaced.”





As a cursory reading of this Web site, our book, the Senate POW/MIA investigation and many other sources reveals, the Admiral's "official line" was false. This was provably true when even when Marryott first gave his testimony. After all, the US general in command at the end of the Korean War had even admitted it: "I was in a quandry. The question to me was, 'How do you get these people back without pointing a gun at the communists?' When you have no gun threatening the Reds, there is no way to demand and enforce compliance from them," conceded General Mark Clark, Commander-in-Chief of UN and US forces. The State Department had officially (and unsuccessfully) asked Moscow to return US POWs it had taken from Korea (and during the Cold War). 




Since Marryott's false testimony in 1990, much more -- and more detailed -- information has been made public showing there was indeed a "hint" US POWs were kept by the enemy. Just one example, released only in recent years, was the then-secret 1954 request by the US Air Force Chief of Staff to the CIA to recover an “apparently substantial number of U. S. military personnel captured in the course of the Korean War (who) are still being held prisoners by the Communist Forces.” [See that memo below.]

"Mark Sauter...has found letters and memos in public records that show repeated efforts to limit or block the circulation of information on United States servicemen or women taken into custody and thought to be in Soviet hands after several wars," the New York Times reported in 1992.

Since Marryott's false testimony in 1990, much more -- and more detailed -- information has been made public showing there was indeed a "hint" US POWs were kept by the enemy. Just one example, released only in recent years, was the then-secret 1954 request by the US Air Force Chief of Staff to the CIA to recover an “apparently substantial number of U. S. military personnel captured in the course of the Korean War (who) are still being held prisoners by the Communist Forces.” [See that memo below.]
"Mark Sauter...has found letters and memos in public records that show repeated efforts to limit or block the circulation of information on United States servicemen or women taken into custody and thought to be in Soviet hands after several wars," the New York Times reported in 1992.


"The Pentagon’s effort to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is so inept, mismanaged and wasteful that it risks descending from 'dysfunction to total failure,' according to an internal study suppressed by military officials," the Associated Press (AP) reported in 2013, noting the Pentagon's top POW/MIA official was again claiming there was "no evidence" US POWs had been taken to the Soviet Union, despite numerous reports of just that from Pentagon investigators working in the former Soviet Union. That AP story, which includes a kind reference to us, can be read here.



Then there's plain ignorance... In recent years, POW/MIA family members have complained the "revolving doors" of top Pentagon POW/MIA officials -- combined with continued reorganizations of their offices -- have led to "on-the-job" training for top officials, who enter their posts with little knowledge of the issue and leave long before they're expert. See the video below of a top Pentagon official trying to answer our questions about Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.
Since Marryott's false testimony in 1990, much more -- and more detailed -- information has been made public showing there was indeed a "hint" US POWs were kept by the enemy. Just one example, released only in recent years, was the then-secret 1954 request by the US Air Force Chief of Staff to the CIA to recover an “apparently substantial number of U. S. military personnel captured in the course of the Korean War (who) are still being held prisoners by the Communist Forces.” [See that memo below.]
"Mark Sauter...has found letters and memos in public records that show repeated efforts to limit or block the circulation of information on United States servicemen or women taken into custody and thought to be in Soviet hands after several wars," the New York Times reported in 1992.


"The Pentagon’s effort to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is so inept, mismanaged and wasteful that it risks descending from 'dysfunction to total failure,' according to an internal study suppressed by military officials," the Associated Press (AP) reported in 2013, noting the Pentagon's top POW/MIA official was again claiming there was "no evidence" US POWs had been taken to the Soviet Union, despite numerous reports of just that from Pentagon investigators working in the former Soviet Union. That AP story, which includes a kind reference to us, can be read here.



Then there's plain ignorance... In recent years, POW/MIA family members have complained the "revolving doors" of top Pentagon POW/MIA officials -- combined with continued reorganizations of their offices -- have led to "on-the-job" training for top officials, who enter their posts with little knowledge of the issue and leave long before they're expert. See the video below of a top Pentagon official trying to answer our questions about Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.

"The Pentagon’s effort to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is so inept, mismanaged and wasteful that it risks descending from 'dysfunction to total failure,' according to an internal study suppressed by military officials," the Associated Press (AP) reported in 2013, noting the Pentagon's top POW/MIA official was again claiming there was "no evidence" US POWs had been taken to the Soviet Union, despite numerous reports of just that from Pentagon investigators working in the former Soviet Union. That AP story, which includes a kind reference to us, can be read here.

Then there's plain ignorance... In recent years, POW/MIA family members have complained the "revolving doors" of top Pentagon POW/MIA officials -- combined with continued reorganizations of their offices -- have led to "on-the-job" training for top officials, who enter their posts with little knowledge of the issue and leave long before they're expert. See the video below of a top Pentagon official trying to answer our questions about Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.



  • Have you ever made mistakes in your research and reporting? Do you have critics?
Of course: After 25+ years of investigating this subject, we've made some errors and vexed some people.
The information you see on this Web site reflects our updated analysis of the various issues we investigate. When we started researching the fate of Korean & Cold POW/MIAs in 1989, much of the information now on these pages was still classified (and in some cases, denied by senior officials). We had to force it out of the government via the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, US investigators had not yet begun to search for POW/MIA information in the former-Soviet Union and post it and other POW info online. The vast findings of the Senate Select Committee had not been released. Critically, when we started there was no "Google," which made finding and double-checking information much more difficult. 
Over the years, we've updated our analysis, including that conducted on deadline in the early 1990s. This includes removing information that turned out to be incorrect and updating our analysis and assumptions. For example, early in our work we quoted two men who claimed to have first-hand information on certain POW issues. In these two cases, we later learned the men had lied (one had even forged his military records),  The information these two provided was not crucial on its own and did not change our overall analysis, which was then backed by declassified records and other sources and has been supported by the testimony of former Soviet military officers and many other sources since then. But those sources were bad -- we adjusted accordingly. [Any errors are my responsibility alone.]
This experience and the emergence of the Internet encouraged our practice of posting our evidence online for all to see. We also attempt to obtain verification from the government wherever we can concerning information from individuals, especially information not corroborated by third-party records, and try to be transparent in our description of source vetting.
We also review critiques of our findings and solicit feedback from experts. For example, one of the US government's former top experts on North Vietnam provides us feedback on specific issues and sources via email. He has asked not to be named, but his insights have led us to view certain information in new ways and had a significant impact on our analysis of certain issues. If you have suggestions or corrections, please email investigator (at) kpows.com

There are also those who attack our work without communicating with us. One such critic -- who mentions us online and so merits a response -- is retired US Army Col. Joseph Schlatter, who spent much of his career in senior positions in the Pentagon POW/MIA establishment. In one way, we respect Col. Schlatter for his continued efforts to support the Pentagon's long-held positions on POW/MIA issues, many of which he helped formulate years ago.  Many if not most other former officials from these organizations drop out of the POW/MIA discussion once they leave their positions. Some of Schlatter's analysis is accurate and he is certainly correct to point out questionable information. 
We are less impressed with the Colonel's sometimes vicious ad hominem attacks on various people who disagree with Pentagon positions, including me and many others, such as our friend Sydney Schanberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and one of his generation's most respected reporters. Schanberg's reporting often contradicted the positions of Schlatter and the Pentagon. Schanberg, who recent passed away (see an obit here), provided the introduction to our most recent book (see picture of Syd below with link to some of his POW/MIA writing). Rather than attack Col. Schlatter's motives, as he does ours and those of many others, we will simply note the Colonel fails to deal with many of the facts on this site. In addition, during Col. Schlatter's  tenure the performance of the POW/MIA office was frequently criticized (by members of Congress, POW/MIA families, returned POWs, the media and others) and his own performance and statements proved controversial, in one case leading to a claim of "false testimony" by a Senator involving the Colonel and other US POW officials.  The Colonel also claims that only a fringe group believes US POWs were kept by the enemy/ies; In fact, this group includes everyone from two former Secretaries of Defense to various top ex-CIA and Pentagon experts, among many others.
  •  What is your current position on what happened to the POWs?
Based on everything that's been revealed over the past 25 years, I (Mark Sauter) believe the evidence shows: 
*Americans from the Korean War were held in secret prisons during the conflict. Some were alive in enemy hands at the end of the war and never returned. The multiple reports (some still classified) of their survival after the war, especially in North Korea and the Soviet Union, lead me to believe some were held there for years after the conflict ended in 1953.
*During the Cold War, some US aviators were captured and not returned by the Soviets and Chinese.
*Some Americans were held by the Soviets after World War 2. In my view, evidence revealed since the early-1990s does NOT support estimates that thousands of GIs were retained by the Soviets (as was reported in a book to which I contributed in the early 1990s). The Russians now admit some Americans were held, but say they were mostly Americans who fought for the Germans. But multiple reports of GIs held by the Red Army after their German POW camps were overrun have not been resolved and deserve investigation
*Regarding Vietnam, we agree with the 1993 Senate investigation that stated: "There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number (of US POWs), after Operation Homecoming (when all US prisoners were supposed to be returned)." We believe there evidence is very strong that at least a small number of Americans remain alive and are focused on investigating the evidence that more could have been held in a "separate camp" system during and after the war. 

  • Could any POWs still be alive?
We don't know. A recent story in the British media used some of our evidence about Americans held in North Korea and come to the conclusion that some are still alive. This part of the story was not based on our information. We told the reporter it was possible some Americans could still be alive, especially given the confirmed survival of South Korean POWs captured at the same time, but that the passage of time made such hopes dimmer and dimmer.


We have never stated that POWs remain alive in North Korea, Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union. We don't have such evidence, in part because the US government keeps classified information on the alleged survival of POWs, often for years after it's received. Sometimes, it claims the information is kept classified because it's still under investigation. We've been fighting to get such secret reports dating from 1979 (still under investigation?) to at least 1997 declassified. In other cases, including those involving alleged sightings in North Korea, the government has admitted it has classified information, but we don't know when the reports came in.


We look at it this way: Multiple reports indicate POWs from the various wars were held in secret and that some were alive for years after the conflicts ended.  Are they still alive? We don't know. But we also don't know they've all died. And that means there needs to be urgency in the effort to learn their fate and account for them. Plus, their families and the public deserve to know the full truth.



  • Could any POWs still be alive?

We don't know. A recent story in the British media used some of our evidence about Americans held in North Korea and come to the conclusion that some are still alive. This part of the story was not based on our information. We told the reporter it was possible some Americans could still be alive, especially given the confirmed survival of South Korean POWs captured at the same time, but that the passage of time made such hopes dimmer and dimmer.

We have never stated that POWs remain alive in North Korea, Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union. We don't have such evidence, in part because the US government keeps classified information on the alleged survival of POWs, often for years after it's received. Sometimes, it claims the information is kept classified because it's still under investigation. We've been fighting to get such secret reports dating from 1979 (still under investigation?) to at least 1997 declassified. In other cases, including those involving alleged sightings in North Korea, the government has admitted it has classified information, but we don't know when the reports came in.

We look at it this way: Multiple reports indicate POWs from the various wars were held in secret and that some were alive for years after the conflicts ended.  Are they still alive? We don't know. But we also don't know they've died. And no matter, the truth about their fate needs to come out.