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MIA efforts by the US called ‘dysfunctional’

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s effort to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is so inept, mismanaged, and wasteful that it risks descending from ‘‘dysfunction to total failure,’’ according to an internal study suppressed by military officials.

Largely beyond the public spotlight, the decades-old pursuit of bones and other MIA evidence is sluggish, often duplicative, and subjected to too little scientific rigor, the report says.

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The Associated Press obtained a copy of the internal study after Freedom of Information Act requests for it by others were denied.

The report paints a picture of a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a military-run group known as JPAC and headed by a two-star general, as woefully inept and even corrupt. The command is digging up too few clues on former battlefields, relying on inaccurate databases, and engaging in expensive ‘‘boondoggles’’ in Europe, the study concludes.

In North Korea, the JPAC was snookered into digging up remains between 1996 and 2000 that the North Koreans apparently had taken out of storage and planted in former American fighting positions, the report said. Washington paid the North Koreans hundreds of thousands of dollars to ‘‘support’’ these excavations.

Some recovered bones had been drilled or cut, suggesting they had been used by the North Koreans to make a lab skeleton. Some of those remains have since been identified, but their compromised condition added time and expense and ‘‘cast doubt over all of the evidence recovered’’ in North Korea, the study said. This practice of ‘‘salting’’ recovery sites was confirmed to the Associated Press by one US participant.

JPAC’s leaders authorized the study of its inner workings, but the then-commanding general, Army Major General Stephen Tom, disavowed it and suppressed the findings when they were presented by the researcher last year. Now retired, Tom banned its use ‘‘for any purpose,’’ saying the probe went beyond its intended scope.

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