WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- A former intelligence officer and White House aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower testified yesterday that Mr. Eisenhower agreed to suppress U.S. intelligence information about the fate of at least 900 servicemen who were secretly transferred to the Soviet Union after their capture during the Korean War.
Philip Corso, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in army intelligence and later on the National Security Council from 1953-57, said he prepared a 1954 report, based on eyewitness accounts by defectors and other sources, that indicated that between 900 and 1,200 U.S. prisoners of war from Korea were turned over to the Soviets by the Chinese and North Koreans and confined in Siberia.
Mr. Corso, whose voice nearly cracked with emotion when he spoke of "living with this information for nearly 40 years," said that Mr. Eisenhower decided to withhold the information from the families be cause he agreed that "the POWs should be given up for dead because the Soviets would never relinquish them."
Concern that revelations about the true fate of the men could lead to war with the Soviet Union apparently underlay Mr. Eisenhower's decision, Mr. Corso added.
Mr. Corso's allegations were disputed by Department of Defense officials who said that there was no evidence in U.S. files to indicate that POWs from Korea had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union.
The testimony was the highlight of two days of hearings by a special Senate committee investigating the fate of the United States' missing servicemen.
Officially, 8,177 Americans are still listed as missing in Korea. That is nearly four times the number who remain unaccounted for in Vietnam. The true number of "discrepancy" cases, however -- those involving servicemen who were known either to have been captured or lost in North Korean territory -- is 389, according to Pentagon figures.
This smaller figure represents the number of cases "about whom the North Koreans should have knowledge," Alan Ptak, deputy assistant secretary of state for POW-MIA affairs, told the committee.
Mr. Ptak said that nothing it has uncovered so far amounts to "conclusive evidence" that POWs from either Vietnam or Korea were transferred to Soviet prison camps.
That judgment, however, was sharply disputed by Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., the committee's vice chairman.