I don’t know what the truth is. But I do know that, nearly twenty years ago, William Stevenson, author of the huge spy best-seller A Man Called Intrepid, and his co-author and wife Monika Jensen, were privately expressing puzzlement at finding in their research for their Kiss the Boys Goodbye: The Shocking Story of Abandoned U.S. Prisoners of War in Vietnam, that McCain had emerged as an opponent of efforts to solve the MIA conundrum.
I suspected the McCain's awareness of the need to parry a possible "October Surprise" was the reason for his jarring and unnecessary reference to breaking under torture in his acceptance speech.
I still don't know what the truth is. But this, from Schanberg's article, might be a place to start:
On November 11, 1992, Dolores Alfond, the sister of missing airman Capt. Victor Apodaca and chair of the National Alliance of Families, an organization of relatives of POW/MIAs, testified at one of the Senate committee's public hearings. She asked for information about data the government had gathered from electronic devices used in a classified program known as PAVE SPIKE.
The devices were motion sensors, dropped by air, designed to pick up enemy troop movements. Shaped on one end like a spike with an electronic pod and antenna on top, they were designed to stick in the ground as they fell. Air Force planes would drop them along the Ho Chi Minh trail and other supply routes. The devices, though primarily sensors, also had rescue capabilities. Someone on the ground–a downed airman or a prisoner on a labor gang –could manually enter data into the sensor. All data were regularly collected electronically by US planes flying overhead. Alfond stated, without any challenge or contradiction by the committee, that in 1974, a year after the supposedly complete return of prisoners, the gathered data showed that a person or people had manually entered into the sensors–as US pilots had been trained to do–"no less than 20 authenticator numbers that corresponded exactly to the classified authenticator numbers of 20 US POWs who were lost in Laos." Alfond added, according to the transcript: "This PAVE SPIKE intelligence is seamless, but the committee has not discussed it or released what it knows about PAVE SPIKE."
McCain attended that committee hearing specifically to confront Alfond because of her criticism of the panel's work. He bellowed and berated her for quite a while. His face turning anger-pink, he accused her of "denigrating" his "patriotism." The bullying had its effect–she began to cry.
After a pause Alfond recovered and tried to respond to his scorching tirade, but McCain simply turned away and stormed out of the room. The PAVE SPIKE file has never been declassified. We still don't know anything about those twenty POWs.
That hearing must have been recorded. If it confirms Schanberg's account, McCain has questions to answer.
And while we're at it, what about declassifyng that PAVE SPIKE file?