The Riddle of the Task Force Russia 294 Report
By Merle L. Pribbenow
During the course of Senate hearings more than two decades ago, a major controversy erupted around allegations that a small number of Vietnam-era American prisoners of war (POWs) might have targeted by the Soviets for interrogation/exploitation—namely, POWs who had specialized in highly technical operations such as electronic warfare and electronic intelligence-gathering activities. It was even alleged that some POWs may have been spirited away to the Soviet Union so that the Soviets could take advantage of their technical knowledge and expertise. Yet, despite the sensational testimony before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIAs in the early 1990s, and a number of books and articles published on the subject, in the end public debate subsided among all but the most fixated POW/MIA activists.
Ironically, one of the most telling documents surfaced after the controversy was all but over. In June 1994, just one year after the Select Committee on POW/MIAs issued its final report, an American investigator conducting interviews in the former Soviet Union obtained a remarkable document from a former Soviet air defense officer who had served in North Vietnam for a year (1966-1967) as a senior advisor to the North Vietnamese Air Defense Command. The investigator was working for Task Force Russia (TFR), a Department of Defense organization formed in the early 1990s to find information about American personnel missing in action (MIA) from the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars. And the document he uncovered consisted of several pages of hand-written notes from the retired Soviet officer’s personal notebook that recorded the results from the interrogation of Americans captured from two US aircraft shot down over North Vietnam in February 1967. The aircraft were an EB-66C, an electronic reconnaissance/electronic counter-measures aircraft that conducted long-range electronic jamming of North Vietnamese air defense radars, and an F-105F “Wild Weasel” aircraft assigned to locate and attack North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites using sophisticated anti-radar Shrike missiles. The EB-66C had been shot down on 4 February 1967 and the F-105F on 18 February 1967; three of the six EB-66C crewmen were captured by the North Vietnamese, as were both of the F-105F crewmen.
The notebook covered only 15 days in February 1967, and was just a small part of a massive journal that the Soviet officer had kept during his two-year tour in North Vietnam. The Soviet officer told the TFR investigator that he had destroyed all the other portions of his journal at the end of his tour; this particular notebook had survived purely by chance. Even then, the officer refused to give the entire notebook to the American investigator, agreeing to part only with those pages that described the take from the interrogation. The pages were translated into English and disseminated to Pentagon analysts as the “Task Force Russia 294” report or TFR 294. Eventually the translated TFR 294 document and associated cables describing the investigator’s interviews with the source were declassified and posted on a Library of Congress website where they became available to the general public.
The pages do not provide the names of the US airmen who underwent interrogation, or the identity/nationality of the interrogator. But in the initial interview of the Soviet officer and during several follow-up interviews, the Soviet officer insisted that the information had been given to him by the North Vietnamese in response to questions that the Soviets had submitted. The Soviet officer further claimed that neither he nor other Soviet officers were ever allowed to participate in interrogations of American POWs.