Reference Information Paper 90

A Finding Aid to Records Relating to American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War Era, 1960-1994

Table of Contents

Part VIII: Documents Collected and Declassified under the McCain Bill and E.O. 12812

[For more information about the records described in Part VIII, contact the Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408. Telephone: 202-357-5350]

VIII.1 During recent years both the legislative and executive branches of government have resorted to extraordinary measures to provide better access to the records relating to American POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War. While these measures have greatly increased access they have, in some ways, added to the complexity of the documentation. This section discusses these measures and their effects.

The McCain Bill

    VIII.2 Senator John McCain sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act of 1991 (authorizing funds for fiscal year 1992/93) that was passed and later became known as the McCain Bill. The measure required the Department of Defense to declassify any record, live sighting report, or other information relating to the location, treatment, or condition of any Vietnam-era POW/MIA. It also required that the declassified material be made available in a suitable library-like facility within the Washington, DC, area for public review and photocopying. The declassification of Department of Defense material was to be completed before March 1, 1992.

    VIII.3 The Department of Defense complied with the McCain legislation by sending copies of the declassified materials to the Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, where they have been microfilmed and indexed and made available to the public in the microfilm publication, "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia." The creation of the microfilm, and the complex data base that indexes it, became a time consuming project, and other contemporaneous POW/MIA-related events demanded more rapid release of relevant documentation.

The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs

    VIII.4 The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs was created in 1991 to examine and make available evidence of any living Americans left behind in Southeast Asia following the departure of U.S. forces. On July 1, 1992, the committee sent a letter to President Bush asking for his aid in achieving declassification of pertinent documenta- tion. In part, the letter read:

      We are writing to request that you issue an executive order to declassify and publicly release all documents, files and other materials in the Government's possession that relate to American POWs and MIAs lost in Southeast Asia.

      Mistrust and suspicion of the Government's role and actions on POW/MIA matters through the years have hindered efforts to resolve questions related to our lost American servicemen, and we believe declassifying documents will begin to provide POW/MIA families the answers they need and deserve.

      Pursuant to Section 1082 of the FY 1992-93 National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has begun to declassify certain documents, but the effort targets only a fraction of POW/MIA materials in the Government's possession. We believe it is in the interests of all those concerned to achieve much broader declassification, and have attached a list of documents that encompasses the full range of information that we believe should be released as expeditiously as possible. We reserve the right to add to our request should we desire additional documents needed to complete our investigation.

      We understand that for reasons of national security some materials to be released to the public require redaction. However, our investigation has convinced us that the vast majority of materials related to the POW/MIA issue not protected by the National Security Classification System could be released to the public in full with absolutely no harm or risk to national security or to the families' right to privacy . . .3

Executive Order 12812

    VIII.5 On July 22, 1992, President Bush signed Executive Order 12812, which provided for the expedited declassification of POW/MIA related documents. The order reads in part as follows:

      . . . by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order as follows:

      Section 1. All Executive departments and agencies shall expeditiously review all documents, files, and other materials pertaining to American POWs and MIAs lost in Southeast Asia for the purposes of declassification in accordance with the standards and procedures of Executive Order 12356.

      Section 2. All Executive departments and agencies shall make publicly available documents, files, and other materials declassified pursuant to section 1, except for those the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of returnees, family members or POWs and MIAs, or other persons, or would impair the deliberative processes of the Executive branch.4

    Executive Order 12812 has broader application than the McCain Bill, covering all documents, files, and other materials pertaining to American POWs and MIAs in Southeast Asia from all executive agencies and departments.

Presidential Decision Directive NSC-8

    VIII.6 Executive Order 12812 provided no specific deadline for completion of its requirements; but on June 10, 1993, President Clinton issued NSC-8 directing executive departments and agencies to complete their review, declassification, and release of all documents and files relating to American POWs and MIAs missing in Southeast Asia by November 11, 1993. When it became clear that the complex indexing and microfilming project undertaken by the Federal Research Division would not enable agencies to comply with the November 1993 deadline, the Library of Congress began a second microfilming activity, specifically intended to meet this need. This second publication, entitled "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection in Microform," is being produced by the Photoduplication Service of the Library of Congress, and now consists of over 550 rolls of film.

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Office

    VIII.7 In responding to the requirements of the McCain Bill and E.O. 12812, many executive branch agencies culled relevant documents from file series, and copied them so that the copies could be reviewed and redacted or released. Redacted or released copies could then be provided to the Library of Congress for filming. The Department of Defense centralized its efforts in a department-wide Central Documentation Office (CDO), established in December 1991. The Office, reorganized in July 1993 and renamed the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO), collected copies of documents from all military departments.

Library of Congress Microfilm Publication "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia"

    VIII.8 The "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia" is a microfilm document collection that is indexed by an automated "Prisoner-of-War/Missing-In-Action (PWMIA) Database" (PWMIA Database). Both the microfilm and the data base, developed to comply with the requirements of the McCain Bill, are products of the Library of Congress, Federal Research Division (LC-FRD). The microfilm reproduces POW/MIA documentation sent to LC-FRD by the Central Documentation Office of the Department of Defense and its successor the DPMO. As of September 1995, the LC-FRD had prepared 430 rolls of covering documents in the following categories: 1) documents requested under the FOIA by the National League of Families of American POW/MIA in Southeast Asia; 2) fifteen volumes of "Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia," and additional volumes of Refugee Reports; 3) source files (containing first-hand and hearsay reports of live sightings, grave sightings, and crash sightings), camp files, and reports and evaluations of these reports by Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts; 4) service casualty files; 5) JCRC Archive documents; 6) DIA documents; and 7) other Defense Department documents.

    VIII.9 The automated PWMIA Database provides item-level access to the POW/MIA documents reproduced on "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia." The data base record for each microfilmed document consists of the following fields: microfilm roll number, source number, volume, page number, country code, name of subject, key words, type of document, date of document, date of information, intelligence information report number, from, section, category, and comments.

    VIII.10 Copies of the microfilmed "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information Relating to Missing Americans in Southeast Asia" can be obtained by writing to the Photodupli- cation Service, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540, by telephoning (202) 707-5640, or by faxing (202) 707-1771. The PWMIA Database is accessible through the Internet on the World Wide Web at the Library of Congress Home Page, http:\\

Library of Congress Microfilm Publication: "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection in Microform"

    VIII.11 The "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection in Microform" was produced by the Library of Congress, Photoduplication Service (LC-PDS), in compliance with the mandate of Executive Order 12812 to make POW/MIA materials available to researchers. The primary purpose of this second Library of Congress filming activity has been to make POW/MIA material available to the public as quickly as possible. The documents in the collection were filmed in the order received at LC-PDS. A "Guide to the Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection in Microform," prepared by LC-PDS, lists these documents in the order filmed. By September 1995, 578 microfilm rolls had been completed and their contents listed in the "Guide".

    VIII.12 The bulk of the "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection" consists of material that is similar to or duplicative of that filmed as part of "Correlated and Uncorrelated Information." This material includes live sightings and other types of sighting files; military casualty files; internal Defense Department documents; POW/MIA-related correspondence, memorandums, reports, and other communications from military and civilian agencies of the Federal Government; intelligence files; depositions and other records from the Senate Select Committee; files on POW camps; and files from the Joint Casualty Resolution Center. Rolls 542 through 545 contain reproductions of photographs taken in the archives and museums of Southeast Asia (including the Hanoi Archives) by the members of the Joint Task Force - Full Accounting, a Defense Department organization. The filmed photographs depict objects, such as parts from downed airplanes or articles of clothing; identification documents, such as dog tags or social security cards; and photographed photographs, such as images of downed pilots at the time of capture.

    VIII.13 The first 530 rolls of the "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection in Microform" have been indexed, but not by the Library of Congress. The available index, an automated data base entitled the Vietnam-Era Archives Index (VEA Index), was prepared by the Center for Legislative Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration. The VEA Index references 15,332 documents in 10 series including 11,903 source files, 1,701 casualty files, 182 Army intelligence files, 504 Army personnel files, 651 camp sighting files, and 66 depositions. It also includes 175 entries that reference collections of papers from high-level government officials. Plans call for periodic updates to the data base to include citations to documents on additional rolls of "Vietnam-Era Documentation Collection" film.

    VIII.14 Researchers may obtain access to this microfilm publication by several methods. They may examine the microfilm at the Library of Congress Microform Reading Room in the Jefferson Building, or at the National Archives Microfilm Reading Room in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. They may examine individual rolls of microfilm at local libraries through interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress. Researchers may also purchase part or all of the collection from the Library of Congress. Paper or microfilm copies of filmed documents, the Library of Congress guide to these documents, or printouts from the VEA Index can be ordered by writing to the Photoduplication Service, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540, by telephoning (202) 707-5640, or by faxing (202) 707-1771. Access to the VEA Index is also available at the Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408.


3. Senate Report 103-1, Final Report of the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, p. 238.

4. Executive Order 12812, "Declassification and Release of Materials Pertaining to Prisoners of War and Missing in Action."

Note: Compiled by Charles E. Schamel. Published by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, 1996.

Web version prepared 1999. Additions and changes incorporated in the Web version are between brackets [] and in italics.

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