|Defector's web still tangling |
Officer who fled Prague in 1968 remains controversial
By Katerina Zachovalova
Seven years after his death at the age of 70, Jan Sejna,
a well-connected ex-general in the Czechoslovak Army who escaped to
the United States in 1968, remains a man of controversy.
most Czech officials and historians, Sejna was a liar who made up
his claims implicating Czechoslovakia in conducting medical
experiments on U.S. prisoners from the Korean and Vietnam wars and
in serving as a transit country for prisoners on their way to the
Sejna, a poorly educated son of farmers,
climbed quickly up the military career ladder. He joined the army in
1950. Eighteen years later, a protege of then-President Antonin
Novotny and a close associate of the president's son, Antonin Jr.,
Gen. Sejna was a chief of staff and the chief Communist Party
secretary at the Defense Ministry. He was also a member of the
"I never liked these sort of people,"
Lubomir Strougal, 80, a former top communist politician said of
Sejna, who exercised his ambitions through an extensive network of
connections. "It was typical of him to go after yet another post."
Gen. Sejna carried out President Novotny's policy of
installing uneducated workers into offices at the ministry,
according to Vojtech Mencl, a historian who in 1968 was the rector
at the Military Political Academy. Sejna, a short chubby man,
described by Mencl as jolly and entertaining, was admired by those
he helped and hated by those he left behind.
feelings toward him were more escalated than toward anybody else,"
said Mencl, 81.
Not long after conservative President
Novotny was sidetracked by reform communists in January 1968, a
scandal erupted around his favorate general. Sejna was, among other
fraud charges, accused of embezzling approximately 300,000 Kcs by
selling state-owned clover seed on the black market.
Nicknamed a "seed general" in his native country, Sejna
defected to the United States just before being stripped of his
In the decades after Sejna fled
Czechoslovakia via Hungary, Yugoslavia and Italy, he worked for the
CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), providing them with
credible information from behind the Iron Curtain.
should be noted that the source did submit to the polygraph
examination during which no deception was indicated," reads a DIA
memo dated April 27, 1992, on Sejna's initial POW debriefing.
Nevertheless, suspicions grew within the agencies over the
trustworthiness of those claims.
According to Joseph D.
Douglass, the author of Sejna's memoir, Betrayed: Missing
American P.O.W.s, the former general has never made anything up.
"He does not gain anything by it because nobody wants to
hear what he has to say anyway," Douglass said, referring to the
cold welcome Sejna's claims received by the government and the
intelligence agencies. "The reaction was to discredit him, and to
discredit his reputation on Capitol Hill, and to set people against
But Sejna was not completely honest in what he had
said. In a Sept. 17, 1996 statement before the House National
Security Committee, he mentioned that he escaped Czechoslovakia with
his son and his son's girlfriend. But the young woman was in fact
the general's girlfriend, according to his Czech military
counter-intelligence file and a former neighbor.
Kass, the executive secretary of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission
for POW/MIAs, the dispute about Sejna's credibility is not relevant
to the ongoing investigation.
"We don't take a position on
what he said other than to say it is a starting point for conducting
our work," Kass said by telephone from his Pentagon office. "We are
not saying we are there to validate what he said. We are saying that
we have reports, and by the way there are more sources than Jan
Sejna that lead us to conclude that there should be a serious
inquiry into the facts."