Newly Released NSA Documents Show That China Captured American Soldiers
During The Vietnam War
Dec. 15, 2014, 2:37 PM
During the US campaign in Vietnam, over a thousand service members were
classified as prisoners or war (POW) or missing in action (MIA). Generally,
those who went missing were killed or captured by the North Vietnamese.
But in a few instances, as Robert Beckhusen recounts at War is Boring
-american-warplanes-521fb522369f> , Americans were captured or went MIA when
their planes were shot down in or near Chinese airspace. Beijing’s role in
the conflict is becoming increasingly apparent as the NSA releases signals
intelligence (SIGINT) documents from Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
For instance, on September 2o, 1965, US Air Force Captain Philip E. Smith
accidentally flew over the Chinese island of Hainan after his navigation equipment stopped working and he became lost in heavy cloud cover. A Chinese MiG-19 intercepted and shot down Philips due to his violation of Chinese territory.
According to NSA SIGINT reports, intercepted Chinese communications
indicated that Beijing knew the identity of the plane that had been shot
down and even recovered its pilot. One Chinese message stated that “On 20
September 1965, the Chinese Naval Air Force brought down a US imperialist
F-104 fighter plane at one stroke over Haikou area of Hainan Island,
capturing alive the pilot, a US captain.” American POW ChinaScreenshot/NSA
In another incident, Chinese MiGs were credited with the downing of a US
aircraft, leading to the capture of Lt. Junior Grade Terrence M. Murphy and
a second pilot whose name is redacted. The US aircraft downed one Chinese
MiG before crashing into an unidentified body of water with both pilots’
At the time, Communist China and the US did not have diplomatic relations
since the US considered nationalist Taiwan to be China’s sole legitimate
government. This may have made these confrontations more likely and made it
harder for the US to negotiate for captured personnel by keeping the US and
China on a mutually hostile footing.
The US also entered the war in Vietnam with the partial objective of
countering the influence of China in a country that seemed ripe for a
communist takeover. The direct confrontations the NSA documents were perhaps
a logical consequence of the US’s involvement in the conflict at all.
In an analysis of both incidents, the NSA released a report on Dec. 11
titled “Shootdown of US Aircraft Over Hainan Island
s/doc_73.pdf> .” The report notes that “as many as ten CHICOM fighters
[redacted] reacted to the hostile aircraft over Hainan Island. [redacted]
this reaction to have been an aggressive one clearly intent upon downing the
The report goes on to mention that the shoot down was a sharp departure from
past policy, possibly signaling a more active Chinese policy of engagement
against the US in the region.
As China began to play a more active role against US aircraft in the region,
Beijing also captured American ground troops in Laos, according to the
report “Communist Chinese Capture American Soldiers in Laos; Laotian Refugee
Reports s/doc_08.pdf> .”
The report states that “[t]he Red Chinese went back to Shwe Hsaing ((B)),
Laos and encamped at a site six miles from Shwe Hsaing. It is reported that
(B percent Red) Chinese from that encampment (B percent captured) two
The NSA compiled the documents from over 7.5 million reports in the early
1990s in a bid to “assist in resolving the POW/MIA issue.” The agency is now
releasing a trove of 1,600 of these documents over the coming months and released the
first 170 of them on Dec. 11.