• Share
  • Read Later

On a Saturday morning in April 1992, Theodore G. Schweitzer powered up his optical scanning machine in a corner room of Hanoi's Central Military Museum. Vietnamese officials had approved his use of the scanner to copy documents for a book he was writing on the museum's war archives. Schweitzer had convinced them that he was a private American researcher, which was part of the truth. The part he left out was that he was also working for U.S. intelligence.

A museum curator handed Schweitzer a faded red ledger. Its 208 pages contained a surprise: the index for a vast archive of documents, photos and military artifacts concerning every American taken, dead or alive, during the Vietnam War. The ``Red Book,'' as it was called by the Vietnamese, turned out to be the key to discovering the fate of some of the 2,211 service members the U.S. listed as missing in action in Indochina. Schweitzer worked quickly to scan the pages, storing the images on a thin magnetic tape in his machine. Back at his hotel, he telexed a U.S. intelligence officer in Bangkok that he had found a ``very beautiful bird with many beautiful feathers,'' code words signaling he had the index. Schweitzer made two copies of the original tape. He wound one into a tight spool the size of a coin and inserted it into a slit cut into his sneakers; he transferred the other onto an audio cassette and slipped it into his Walkman. Inspectors at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport did not discover either tape before Schweitzer boarded a flight to Bangkok. The operation, code named ``Swamp Ranger,'' was a success.

Vietnam and the U.S. are about to open liaison offices in each other's capitals, another step toward healing the wounds of a war fought more than two decades ago. In a new book, Inside Hanoi's Secret Archives, author Malcolm McConnell recounts how Schweitzer helped speed that process--and how the former librarian for an international school in Bangkok became a covert U.S. operative who helped break the diplomatic logjam over the missing service members. The U.S. Defense Department had assumed all along that Hanoi was keeping detailed records on captured U.S. soldiers, though Vietnamese officials insisted that most of the archives had been destroyed by termites. The Red Book information Schweitzer sneaked out provided proof that Hanoi had been lying. ``He opened the door for us,'' Colonel Joseph Schlatter of the Pentagon's office for prisoners of war told Time. ``He gave us the material to go to the Vietnamese and lay out the facts they had been denying for some time.''

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3