Scott Barnes a "Rambo" of sorts who says he saw American prisoners of war in Laos in 1981 - thinks U.S. officials murdered and lied to cover up the use of chemical and biological weapons in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War.
The U.S. Army says he's a liar. But it would not provide documents requested by the Deseret News - with the help of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - that would help prove or disprove Barnes' claims.Barnes, of Kernville, Calif., contacted the Deseret News about his claims because of numerous recent stories in the paper about chemical and biologic arms in Utah. Barnes said he hoped the newspaper had contacts who could back his story.
The newspaper asked the Army for records about chemical arms shipped to Southeast Asia since the Vietnam war, and for records of an investigation into a suicide by an Army general who Barnes says was remorseful about the use of chemical arms. A reply letter from the Army essentially ignored those requests and simply called Barnes a liar.
In other words, it is still Barnes' word against the Army's - and each says the other is not credible. The Deseret News is continuing with a Freedom of Information Act request for more information and has talked with others who have looked at Barnes' claims.
Following is what the newspaper has found. First, here is Barnes' story and the evidence he claims:
Barnes said that he and another CIA operative saw and photographed two American prisoners of war in a camp in Laos in 1981. But he says the CIA had really wanted his mission to fail so that Americans would think that no POWs remained. Barnes says the CIA destroyed their film, left the prisoners behind and warned him not to talk about what he had seen.
Barnes said he went public after others associated with the mission died mysteriously or made misleading public claims about him. He wrote a book about it called "Bohica," which was the code name of the mission, and testified at Senate hearings on Intelligence Support Activity on Jan. 28, 1986.
David Taylor, a producer for the British Broadcasting Corp. in Washington, D.C., told the Deseret News that he examined and believes Barnes' claims that he went to Laos and saw what he believed to be POWS, and said Barnes passed his network's lie detector and "truth serum" tests with flying colors.
But he also warned, "investigate whatever he tells you about chemical arms because he has contacts that might have provided the information. But you can't use him as the primary source without just being laughed at" because of the way Washington officials have discredited him.
Barnes said his 1981 mission became tied to possible chemical and biologic warfare because CIA operatives bought information from Laotian Hmong tribesmen by offering gas masks and atropine, a drug antidote for nerve agent GB.
He said he also witnessed Hmong leaders living in the United States saying they would cooperate with the CIA only if it promised to distribute atropine and other goods to their friends in Laos because of nerve gas threats.
Barnes said his 1981 mission distributed 500 atropine self-injection kits, and 300 to 400 gas masks.
"The United States never claimed that the Soviets or others were using chemical warfare in Laos. So why were we giving out so much atropine - unless maybe that the United States was conducting tests there," he said.
A 1972 treaty bans the use of chemical weapons.
The United States has claimed that the Soviets were using "Yellow Rain" in Laos and Kampuchea, a form of biologic - not chemical - warfare where yellow toxins derived from living organisms were supposedly dropped from airplanes onto villages like rain.
But many U.S. scientists and scientific organizations claim yellow rain was a natural phenomenon, and that the government has not proven biologic arms use by the Soviets. Some have written that what the government says is yellow rain residue could actually be feces from bees in the jungle.
Barnes says the United States may have made up the story about yellow rain to cover for its own chemical arms use there. He said natives died too fast after attacks for their deaths to have been caused by biologic arms - which normally take hours and days to kill instead of seconds or minutes.
Barnes also says that a Col. Paul Nuck who he says was stationed at Dugway Proving Ground in the early 1980s (but whose existence the Deseret News cannot verify) told him that the Army had dumped in Southeast Asia many of its aging chemical weapons that were leaking in hopes of avoiding a panic about unsafe conditions back home.
Barnes said he was told that the dumping included 1,000 old M-55 rockets loaded with nerve agent VX - the same substance that killed 6,000 sheep in Utah's Skull Valley in 1969. Those leaking rockets were supposedly shipped to Southeast Asia from Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Of note, Tooele Army Depot now has 784 leaking arms in special containment cases - most of which are M-55s.
Barnes also said Nuck claimed the United States had considered use of biologic weapons in Southeast Asia, such as contaminating the Ho Chi Minh Trail with spores that cause the disease anthrax.
Barnes said Nuck had also worked with the late Brig. Gen. Bobby Robinson, who committed suicide at his home in Fairfax, Va., and was one of those who supposedly had known and approved of Barnes' mission to Laos. Barnes claims contacts told him Robinson had been feeling remorse for his involvement with chemical/biologic arms in Southeast Asia. Barnes said Robinson's death was also suspicious enough that he wonders whether he was actually murdered.
Barnes said the CIA operative who saw the POWs with him, Jerry Daniels, died just weeks after the mission from carbon-monoxide poisoning - which he also says is suspicious. Barnes said his life has also been threatened several times because of his comments about the mission.
He says he lost his job, his wife, his credibility and most of his life's savings because of his claims. He says that is a sign of how strongly he believes in them.
When the Deseret News requested documents that could back up his claims - such as information about shipments of atropine and chemical weapons to Southeast Asia - the Army essentially ignored those requests and instead just sent a letter calling Barnes a liar.
The Deseret News had also asked for reports on the investigation of Robinson's suicide. The Army did say the general left no suicide note, and that it had already released the report on the investigation into his death to another newspaper. But it did not send the Deseret News that report.
The Deseret News has since filed a formal Freedom of Information request for that and other data to support or refute Barnes' claims.
What the Army did say about Barnes in a letter from Lt. Col. John W. Slawson of the Army's Congressional Inquiry Division follows:
"Mr. Barnes is very familiar to the Department of Defense. For the past several years, he has been recounting varying renditions of his story to anyone who will listen. In one of his versions, Mr. Barnes claimed that his group that allegedly went into Laos was ordered to execute U.S. POWs - whom he described as U.S. agents captured after planting yellow rain canisters in Laos.
"In a more recent version, he claims to have seen Vietnam War POWs, but was told to kill them as part of an alleged drug smuggling plot by U.S. government officials. . . . Those allegations received wide attention and, upon review, were found to be entirely without merit.
"A thorough investigation of his claims has failed to disclose any evidence that Mr. Barnes was ever included in any U.S. government missions into Laos. Although he was in Thailand in 1981 with associates of POW adventurer James `Bo' Gritz, the group was not sponsored or supported by the U.S. government. Additionally, the other participants totally refute Mr. Barnes' story, as they never planned or attempted to enter Laos."
The Army's letter says that the BBC tape of Barnes supposedly testifying during a sodium amytal, or "truth serum," test contains no proof that Barnes was actually given the serum, and said the serum doesn't guarantee a person will tell the truth anyway.
The letter adds, "Mr. Barnes has portrayed himself as a former Green Beret, a military intelligence agent, a drug enforcement agent and a CIA agent. He did serve in the U.S. Army during 1973-74, but he was never a member of the U.S. Special Forces nor did he serve in Southeast Asia. With the exception of his limited military service, he has never been an employee of the U.S. government or in any way been associated with a U.S. intelligence organization."
Barnes said he never made most of the claims in the Army's letter, and that it is simply full of misinformation meant to discredit him because the public would be upset if it found out that the Army knew POWs were being held but was doing nothing to rescue them.
Barnes said because of such personal attacks, he has tried to provide as much documentation as possible to support his claims. For example, his book "Bohica" uses 253 pages to tell his story and almost twice as many to show photocopies of his notebooks and other information he has obtained that support his claims.
The Deseret News has also tried other methods to verify or refute some of Barnes' claims. Some hurt his cause, and others may help - but not much.
For example, the Deseret News cannot find the Col. Nuck that Barnes says provided him information about chemical arms in Southeast Asia.
Old Tooele County directories do not include his name. Kathleen Whitaker, public affairs officer at Dugway, said she talked to several old-timers at Dugway and no one remembers him.
And a worldwide army personnel locating service at Ft. Hamilton, Ind., told the Deseret News it could not verify whether such an officer exists unless it is provided with his social security number - which the Deseret News does not have.
Also, the Deseret News talked to Che-Chue Yang, a local leader of Hmong refugees who works for Utah Job Service, and he said he knows of no refugees who personally were in any chemical or biologic arms attacks.