THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and James

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and James

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:47 am

THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET
by Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison
© by the University Press of Kansas

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations
Preface
1. Contact
2. Tightrope
3. The Prodigal Son
4. Saipan
5. Four Rivers, Six Ranges
6. Virginia
7. Whale
8. Dumra
9. Hitting Their Stride
10. Markham
11. Mustang
12. Favored Son
13. Chakrata
14. Oak Tree
15. The Joelikote Boys
16. Omens
17. Revolution
18. Civil War
19. A Pass Too Far
Epilogue
Notes
Index
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

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List of Maps and Illustrations

• Map of Tibet
• Map of Sikkim
• Wangdu Gyatotsang, leader of the Saipan-trained team dropped in Kham
• Geshe Wangyal, the CIA's Mongolian translator
• The communications shed at Murmitola airfield, East Pakistan
• CAT-piloted C-118 at Kurmitola, East Pakistan
• NVDA areas of operation, 1958-1959
• Tom Fosmire, the first training chief at Camp Hale
• Overview of Camp Hale
• A C-130 at Kadena airbase, Okinawa, having its USAF tail markings removed
• Roger MacCarthy, head of the Tibet Task Force
• Insignia for Detachment 2/1045th Operational Evaluation and Training Camp
• Training officer Sam Poss stands over the burned administration building at Camp Hale
• Kham region showing the extent of Chinese highway construction
• Map of Nepal
• Baba Yeshi, the first commander of Mustang
• Map of India
• T.J. Thompson with Tibetan student riggers, Agra airbase
• Map of the Indian frontier
• Twin Helio STOL plane during USAF trials
• Map of Tibet from China's perspective
• Tucker Gougelmann, the CIA's senior paramilitary adviser in India
• Hank Booth with top SFF marksmen
• Mustang officers Gen Dawa, Gen Gyurme, and Rara
• Lhamo Tsering at Mustang
• Map of the location of the sixteen guerilla companies in Mustang
• Mustang guerrillas practice with a recoilless rifle
• Mustang guerrillas in training
• SFF members during the Bangladesh campaign
• The Dalai Lama and the Major General Uban review the SFF at Chakrata
• The Dalai Lama addresses the SFF
• The Annapurna Guest House, Pokhara, built with CIA rehabilitation funds
• Tibetan paratroopers during the first freefall course
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:48 am

Preface

"Though a hundred Khampas die," goes a Tibetan proverb, "there are still a thousand Khampa children." While it is true that a disproportionate number of Khampa tribesmen have died in the revolts since the middle of the twentieth century, defiance against Chinese subjugation has become a defining characteristic of Tibetans from all clans and ethnic backgrounds.

The following is a story of how the U.S. government, primarily through the Central Intelligence Agency, came to harness, nurture, and encourage that defiance in one of the most remote covert campaigns of the cold war. This is not the first time that it has been told. Indeed, some of the details--such as apocryphal tales of CIA case officers chanting Tibetan Buddhist mantras to seek solace--have become cliche. Two former CIA officials have even published books on Tibet after clearing the agency's vetting process.

This take on the Tibet story is different. As much as possible, it is told on the record, through the people who managed and fought in the program: from CIA case officers to Tibetan agents to Indian intelligence officials to proprietary aircrews. Many are going public for the first time; many, too, are offering details never before revealed.

It was our intent to tell the story objectively from all angles, especially from the Tibetans' viewpoint. Through their own words and deeds, it becomes possible to cut down the inflated caricatures many Westerners have been fast to paint and thus see the Tibetans as they should be seen: as fallible mortals replete with moments of defeatism, selfishness, and brutal infighting.

Telling the story in this manner is important for several reasons. First, the Tibet saga is an important chapter in the CIA's paramilitary history. In Tibet, new kinds of equipment--aircraft and parachutes, for example--were combat tested under the most extreme conditions imaginable. New communications techniques were tried and perfected. For many of the case officers involved in this process, the Tibet campaign was a defining moment. Not only did the Tibetans win over U.S. officials with their infectious enthusiasm, but the lessons learned in Tibet were used by these officers during subsequent CIA campaigns in places like Laos and Vietnam. Tibet, therefore, became a vital cold war proving ground for CIA case officers and their spy craft.

Second, the story told in these pages is properly placed in the context of the country where most of its programs were staged: India. In past renditions of the Tibet campaign, India's role gets barely a mention, if at all. In reality, Tibet led Washington and New Delhi to become secret partners over the course of several U.S. administrations; even when relations appeared to be particularly strained during the era of Richard Nixon, there remained a discreet undercurrent of intelligence cooperation. With an understanding of this secretive dimension to Indo-U.S. ties, American involvement in the subcontinent suddenly appears far more nuanced and pragmatic.

Finally, the CIA's secret campaign in Tibet was a vital part of contemporary Tibetan history. Though the agency's assistance was small in absolute terms--the Dalai Lama's older brother, Gyalo Thondup, has since derided it as "a provocation, not genuine help"-- it proved pivotal during several key moments. Were it not for the CIA's radio agents, for example, the Dalai Lama might not have arrived safely in exile. And in his early years on Indian soil, the Dalai Lama relied on CIA assistance to get settled. Though the CIA-supported guerrilla army in Mustang proved ineffectual on the ground, the mere fact that there were Tibetan troops under arms was a significant boost to morale in the refugee community. All these factors helped carry the diaspora and its leadership through the darkest years of exile when their cause might otherwise have been forgotten. That the free Tibetan community has been able to survive and even thrive--arguably, the Tibetan issue has a higher profile today than at any time since the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama--is owed in no small part to the secret assistance channeled by the United States.

This book is based on both written sources and extensive oral interviews. The written sources were gathered primarily from the Foreign Relations of the United States series, as well as releases in the Declassified Documents Reference System and relevant media transcripts recorded by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. For oral sources, Tashi Choedak and Roger McCarthy were particularly helpful in arranging initial contacts with several key participants. Others that deserve special mention are Dale Andrade, Chue Lam, Harry Pugh, MacAlan Thompson, John Dori, and Tom Timmons. John Cross assisted with locating sources in Nepal. Frank Miller generously provided documents on the People's Liberation Army in Tibet.

As with the two other books we coauthored, the attention to detail in these pages is a reflection of James Morrison and his passion for history. Sadly, it is the last time we can appreciate his talents. Before the publication of this work, Jim passed away. With his passing, I lost a dear friend and colleague who can never be replaced. I truly hope this meets his exacting expectations, and it is in his memory that this book is lovingly dedicated.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

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Chapter 1: Contact

Even after stripping away centuries of myth and cliche, Tibet still invites hyperbole. This is largely due to its being situated on real estate best described by superlatives. Averaging almost five kilometers above sea level and covering an area the size of the American Southwest, it is surrounded by some of the planet's highest mountain ranges: the Himalayas to the south, the Karakoram to the west, the Kunlun to the north. Within these imposing natural borders, most of northern and western Tibet -- a third of the country -- is a barren mountain desert of wind-blown dunes crusted with salt deposits. Life in these parts is barely present, nor welcome. In the northeast -- in a zone known among Tibetans as the province of Amdo -- the terrain is akin to the Mongolian steppes, with its grassy veneer sustaining a sparse population of hardy alpine animals. In the southeast quadrant known as Kham, Tibet drops slightly in altitude, and the topography devolves into the exaggerated slopes, impossibly narrow valleys, and gnarled conifers normally associated with Chinese watercolors.

It is the central plateau, however, that has become synonymous with the landscape of Tibet. Encompassing the provinces of U and Tsang, it is a harsh, rocky land of hypnotic beauty where, because of the altitude, light seems to intensify color and detail. Here is a world where animal life copes through unique adaptations: an indigenous breed of horse with double the lung capacity of its low-land cousins, or a species of beetle containing a glycerol "antifreeze" that lets it function in the snow.[1]

The cultures of Tibet reflect these various ecosystems. In the northern and western deserts, the parched, frigid dunes have traditionally kept the region free of human habitation, save for transient trade caravans. To the northeast, the sparse population of Amdo finds little recourse on the steppes other than to eke out a living as seminomadic herdsmen -- or marauding bandits that prey on the same. In the southeast, residents of Kham make the most of river valleys, using them for both pastureland and terraced agricultural plots. Tall for Asians and often lacking the Mongoloid eye fold (giving them a passing resemblance to American Indians), Khampas have earned a reputation for being clannish, courageous, and socially unpolished. This has not stopped them from making their mark as accomplished traders, plying their goods in China, India, and other parts of Tibet. [2]

Once again, it is in the central plateau where stereotypical Tibetan culture can be found. Clustered around arable meadows, inhabitants of this zone focus on animal husbandry and growing the most robust of crops, such as barley. Central Tibetans at one time also boasted a formidable martial spirit; in the late eighth century, they conquered territory as far south as the Indian plains and as far west as the Muslim lands of the Middle East. Although such prowess has since been replaced by spiritual introspection, central Tibetans have maintained a lock on the country's political power. Dominating the thin upper strata of Tibet's religious bureaucracy and lay aristocracy, they often assume a pampered, elitist air toward the more rural Khampas and Amdowas.

Despite such diversity, all the peoples of Tibet share two basic historical truths. The first is the prominent role of religion in daily life. All Tibetans are believed to have descended from nomadic tribes in the eastern part of central Asia. However, it is not their common ethnic stock but rather a shared devotion to a unique brand of Buddhism -- blending metaphysical teachings from India and indigenous Bon shamanism -- that has lent them a unifying identity. With its rich pantheon of demigods and demons filling a complex cosmology, Tibetan Buddhism is a superstitious and highly ritualized set of beliefs that permeates society. Traditionally, more than a quarter of Tibet's male population -- usually one son in every household -- chose a life of religious celibacy. Within this number, specialized monks came to serve in such diverse roles as servants and athletes. Their sprawling monasteries not only doubled as houses of worship and learning centers but also held sway over vast manorial estates that managed the bulk of national economic output. Three-quarters of the national budget, in turn, was dedicated to education for the priesthood and maintenance of religious institutions. [3]

Religion even came to replace Tibet's need for more traditional forms of diplomacy. Beginning with the Mongols in 1207 -- and succeeded by the Manchus in the eighteenth century -- there arose an enduring priest-patron symbiosis whereby the suzerain of mainland Asia was largely held at bay in exchange for Tibetan spiritual tutelage.

The second historical truth is that geography has been Tibet's savior. Occupying a strategic crossroads at the heart of the Eurasian landmass, Tibet has been coveted for centuries by surrounding empires. As a consequence, despite its priest-patron accommodation with the suzerain, it has repeatedly suffered the humiliation of occupation by various neighbors.

Subjugation of the Tibetan population is a wholly different matter. Owing to its high altitude, invaders from the lowlands invariably weaken in Tibet's thin air. Aside from more lasting incursions onto the edge of the Amdo plains or across the Kham river valleys, foreign expeditions against the central plateau soon found the cost of sustaining a military presence prohibitive, affording the Tibetan heartland extended periods of de facto independence.

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The Historical Divisions of Tibet

By the start of the twentieth century, however, these historical truths were under pressure. The Manchu dynasty, crumbling from within and fraying at the periphery, had its nominal control over Tibet challenged in 1904 by a British expedition staging from India (England, vying with Russia for imperial influence, wanted to extract trading privileges from the Tibetan government). Looking to salvage at least the appearance of authority, the Manchus geared up for a military drive onto the plateau and by 1910 were occupying the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

Just as quickly, Tibet won a reprieve. In 1911, the Han Chinese -- who constituted the majority of the population under Manchu domination -- rebelled against their non-Han dynastic overlords. The following year, the last Manchu emperor abdicated the throne and was replaced by a provisional Chinese republican government. Almost overnight, imperial garrisons across the former empire started to revolt, enticing some of the frontier territories to proclaim independence. This put Tibet in a fix. For centuries, Tibetans had had few qualms about their priest-patron quid pro quo with the Mongols and Manchus. But now facing a secular republican regime, Tibetans felt no compulsion to continue this arrangement with the Han Chinese. Seizing the opportunity, they declared full autonomy and evicted the Chinese garrison in Lhasa. At the same time, Chinese troops in Kham began deserting their posts en masse.

Unfortunately for Lhasa, it was not to be a velvet divorce. Suddenly empowered, the republicans had little intention of forfeiting the irredentist claims of their predecessors. Briefly regrouping in neighboring Szechwan Province, the Chinese headed back into Kham. With equal determination, they dispatched a second task force on a southwest bearing from Amdo toward the Tibetan heartland. This latter move came easily for the republicans. Since the eighteenth century, much of Amdo had fallen under the control of local chieftains -- primarily Hiu Muslims -- loyal to the Manchu empire. Now these Hiu were encouraged by the republicans not only to directly impose their will across Amdo but also to send troops toward central Tibet.

Facing twin threats, the Tibetans looked to fight back -- not with religion, as in the past, but by force of arms. The trouble was that Tibet had nothing approaching a military force in the modern sense of the term. For generations, Lhasa had seen little need for a standing army. Among the 3,000 men it retained as a glorified border force, the weaponry was antiquated and training virtually nil. This was especially true of the officer corps, where senior rank was doled out as a favor to nobility.

Scrambling to bolster this paltry force, Tibet approached the British in India and found a mildly sympathetic ear. A shipment of new rifles was rushed across the Himalayas; despite the limited number of weapons, they proved a decisive factor when Lhasa not only stopped China's offensive in Kham but actually pushed it back in some sectors. A cease-fire was called in 1918, with Kham bisected into Chinese and Tibetan sectors of influence along the Yangtze River. Along the Amdo frontier, too, an accommodation was reached with the Hiu.

The truce was not to last. In 1928, Chiang Kai-shek's regimented Kuomintang party took the reins of power within the republican government. Stoking Han nationalist sentiment, the Kuomintang reemphasized the goal of a unified China -- including Tibet. To realize this goal in part, that same year it announced plans to formally absorb Amdo and Kham as the new Chinese provinces of Tsing-hai and Sikang, respectively.

In the case of Amdo, Muslim warlord Ma Pu-fang -- a loyalist from the early days of the republic -- immediately complied with Kuomintang wishes and assumed the seat as Tsinghai governor. In Kham, consolidation was more difficult. Using Khampa clan rivalries as a pretext for intervention, the Chinese were involved in skirmishes during 1930. After a slow start, they gained momentum and by 1932 were making headway across tl1e zone.

Once again, the Tibetans won a reprieve. Facing an imperial Japanese invasion of Chinese Nationalist territory in Manchuria, and not wanting to be distracted by a Tibetan sideshow, the Kuomintang allowed the Kham battle lines to once again settle along the Yangtze. By the mid-1930s, most of Tibet was again enjoying de facto independence.

For the next decade, the country's isolation served it well. While most of the world was consumed in World War II, Tibet shrewdly walked a neutralist tightrope and emerged unscathed with its traditional way of life intact. lt was by no means a perfect existence, however. Tibet's legions of monks were not above internecine struggles that sometimes degenerated into divisive, bloody skirmishes. The religious bureaucracy oversaw a primitive criminal code -- major crimes were punishable by mutilation -- and enforced economic monopolies that made for an exceedingly wide social gap. Moreover, Tibet's spiritual leaders had shunned the introduction of most Western innovations because they feared that modernity would erode their central standing in society. Tibet, as a result, was the ultimate dichotomy: a nation pushing the envelope in terms of philosophical and spiritual sophistication, yet consciously miring itself in the technology of the Middle Ages. [4]

All this changed in early 1949. To the east of Tibet, a festering civil war in China -- pitting Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Nationalists against communist insurgents under Mao Tse-tung -- was fast coming to a head. Though better equipped, the Nationalists were riddled with corruption and petty rivalries. By that fall, their defenses were crumbling under the combined weight of ineptitude and relentless communist pressure. Looking to regroup, the Kuomintang leadership escaped with 400,000of its troops to the island sanctuary of Taiwan.

The communists lost no time filling the void. On 1 October, a victorious Chairman Mao formally inaugurated the People's Republic of China (PRC) from a new capital in Beijing. Its grip, however, was far from consolidated. Besides facing Nationalist strongholds on Taiwan and on the tropical island of Hainan to the south, the PRC saw itself as heir to the Kuomintang claim over Tibet. Making no secret of its intentions, on 1 January 1950 communist state radio declared that the liberation of all three -- Taiwan, Hainan, and Tibet -- was the goal of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the upcoming calendar year.

Of these objectives, Hainan -- separated from China by a small strait and home to only a modest Nationalist presence -- was the easiest to realize. The communists placed elements of four divisions aboard junks and sailed them to the island in April 1950. With little effort, Hainan was soon occupied.

The other targets posed major challenges. To conquer Taiwan, the PLA not only had to cross a far larger strait but also had to contend with Chiang Kai-shek's concentrated defenses. Counting only limited amphibious and airborne forces in its ranks, the communists -- for the time being -- could do little besides verbal saber rattling.

Tibet posed a different set of difficulties. Like the Mongols, Manchus, and Nationalists before them, the PLA had to confront both distance and altitude to reach the central Tibetan plateau. With no drivable roads or airfields, trucks and transport aircraft were of little help.

Still, there were compelling reasons for the PLA to go forward with a land-grab against Tibet. For one thing, the communists had already absorbed Amdo. They had also secured a solid foothold in eastern Kham, and the communists outnumbered Tibetan troops across the Yangtze by a ratio of ten to one. For another thing, the Kham citizenry was far from united. Though intensely devout toward Tibet's religious hierarchy on a spiritual level, most Khampas were prone to interclan rivalries and were loyal to only their families, villages, or -- at most -- districts. A sense of binding nationalist affinity toward Lhasa was usually lacking -- in no way helped by the ill-concealed chauvinism on the part of many central Tibetans. Khampas, as a result, were apt to fall behind whichever side -- Lhasa or Beijing -- offered the most attractive terms for absentee rule.

Nobody epitomized Khampa fence-straddling more than the wealthy Pandatsang family. Led by three brothers who had grown rich on Tibet's lucrative wool trade, the Pandatsangs were as renowned for their commercial skills as for their fiery politicking. The eldest and most orthodox sibling, Yangpel, held several senior Tibetan government titles and lived in the northeastern Indian town of Kalimpong to help run the resident Tibetan trade mission. The second brother, Ragpa, was the family ideologue who initially advocated Tibetan autonomy within republican China (which made him exceedingly unpopular in Lhasa), then tried to ingratiate himself with the advancing communists. Coming full circle, in mid-1950 he was secretly sounding out an accommodation with the Tibetan authorities west of the Yangtze. The youngest brother, Topgyay, was a charismatic firebrand and former officer in the Tibetan military who had led a failed putsch against Lhasa in 1934; he was now hedging the family's bets by offering Beijing support for any PLA invasion of western Kham.

Such waffling was not limited to the Pandatsangs or even the Khampas. Indeed, the PRC could take comfort in the fact that half measures and general confusion had characterized the Tibet policy of key foreign powers for decades. England, for one, paid lip service to "Tibetan autonomy under Chinese suzerainty" but remained cool to giving Lhasa all the aid it wanted or needed. India (which gained its independence from England in 1947) also spoke sympathetically about autonomy but had difficulty embracing Tibet with gestures more substantive than symbolic. [5]

Whereas British and Indian policy on Tibet often meandered between word and deed, it was nothing compared with the mental whiplash caused by the divergent views within the U.S. government. Not until World War II did Washington seriously explore the implications of a U.S. Tibet relationship, Almost immediately, this resulted in a schism among policy-making bodies. On one side was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's wartime spy agency, and the U.S. mission in New Delhi, both of which advocated good-faith gestures toward Lhasa. This mind-set was behind the December 1942 visit to Tibet by two OSS officers -- Captain Ilya Tolstoy and Lieutenant Brooke Dolan -- ostensibly to survey an Allied supply route to China through Tibetan territory. Opposing such moves were top State Department officials who, out of deference to America's Chinese allies, did not want to stray from U.S. recognition of what the Kuomintang declared was its sovereign jurisdiction.

For the duration of World War II, these two camps pursued separate and often conflicting agendas. For a brief period after the Allied victory, OSS pragmatism fully gave way to the countervailing pro-China bias. But by the summer of 1949, with Kuomintang defeat in the Chinese civil war seen as increasingly likely, the United States belatedly entertained thoughts of a policy shift. The impetus for this rethinking came from American diplomats in both India and China, who suggested that the United States weigh the advantages of courting Tibet before control was forfeited to the communists.

Back in Washington, policy makers were not swayed. Even when members of the Tibetan cabinet made a desperate plea for U.S. assistance in gaining membership in the United Nations that December, Secretary of State Dean Acheson flatly discouraged the idea, for fear that it might force Beijing's hand and result in a quick takeover. Although Washington might not have liked the idea of losing Tibet to communism, it appeared loath to do anything to stop it. [6]

None of this was lost on the PRC. By the beginning of 1950, the PLA had secretly charged its Southwest Military Command with the task of consolidating control across Kham. After massing east of the Yangtze early that spring, patrols crossed the river in late May. Apparently intent only on testing Tibetan resolve, the Chinese soon halted the probes and resumed a riverside stare-down.

Beijing had reason to pace its moves. Within a month after the May incursion into Kham, the other side of Asia grew hot as North Korean troops spilled into South Korea. For the next few months, communist columns sliced easily through the southern defenses and nearly reached the bottom of the peninsula. But after winning a United Nations mandate of support, U.S.-led reinforcements rushed to the front and by 1 October had the North Korean army reeling back toward the PRC border.

For Beijing, the turn of events in Korea was both a setback to the worldwide communist movement and a direct threat to its frontier. Throughout the month of September, statements out of the PRC grew increasingly shrill with each defeat of its North Korean ally. But with world attention now focused on East Asia, North Korea's misfortunes created an opportunity in Tibet. At the end of the first week of October, China ordered 20,000 of its troops to "realize the peaceful liberation of Tibet." [7]

In Lhasa, the Chinese incursion shook Tibet's authorities to the core. Although vastly outnumbered, the Tibetan army theoretically could have exploited Kham's rugged topography to force a protracted guerrilla campaign. Squandering this advantage, it chose instead a strategy that hinged on the conventional goal of defending the town of Chamdo. It was hardly an enlightened choice. Situated on the western bank of the Mekong headwaters, Chamdo was isolated and exposed. This allowed the PLA to traverse the Mekong at multiple points and easily cut the town's avenues of retreat. On 19 October, after a pathetic defensive showing by the local garrison, Chamdo surrendered to Chinese control. After the Tibetan commissioner-general was taken prisoner, he promptly signed over the rest of Kham to the PRC.

Though Tibet was on the ropes, the world barely took notice. This was because within a week after Chamdo fell, Beijing made good on its saber rattling and dispatched a massive intervention force to the Korean peninsula. Staggered by waves of PLA infantry, United Nations troops were forced to retreat south.

With global attention fixed on Korea, the PLA pondered its next move in Tibet. Although China could take satisfaction in how easily it had taken Kham, the Korean conflict had forced the PRC to push forward its timetable and initiate the Tibet operation before adequate preparations were complete. For example, Tibet still lacked a transportation network to support a military occupation of the central plateau. Moreover, it was late in the season, and the combination of snow and altitude would work against the PLA's lowland troops. For the interim, then, Beijing's rule hinged on co-opting Tibet's existing monastic structure. In particular, it needed to secure support from the kingdom's most powerful figure, the Dalai Lama.

If religion is the lifeblood of Tibet, the Dalai Lama is its heart. A by-product of Tibet's priest-patron relationship with the Mongols, the title of Dalai Lama originated in the sixteenth century when a prominent monk, or lama, met ranking Mongol chieftain Altan Khan. In an inspired exchange, the lama declared that the Mongol was an incarnation of a great warlord from an earlier time, while he himself was the incarnation of that warlord's spiritual adviser. By flattering the khan in this manner, the lama was looking to win critical Mongol support for his particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The khan was duly impressed and bestowed the monk with the title Dalai -- a partial Mongolian translation of the lama's name -- and he was thereafter known as the Dalai Lama. [8]

In naming himself an incarnation, the Dalai Lama was not breaking new theological ground. Already, the practice was entrenched among prominent Tibetan monasteries for reasons of statecraft. By using divination to identify a child as the reborn spirit of a recently deceased -- and celibate -- senior lama, the sects could retain a sense of order in the succession process for their chief abbots. The Dalai Lama took this a step further, posthumously naming two earlier monastic leaders as his first and second incarnations.

When the third Dalai Lama died, a search commenced for his reborn soul. Having already won considerable favor with the Mongols, the sect looked to cement that support by shrewdly naming Altan Khan's great-grandson as the fourth incarnation. The tactic worked: by the time the fifth Dalai Lama came to power, he was able to count on firm Mongol backing to spread both his religious and his temporal authority across Tibet.

The fifth Dalai Lama then asked his subjects to make an extraordinary leap of faith. Besides calling himself an incarnation of previous sect leaders, he boldly declared himself the earthly manifestation of one of Tibet's most popular divinities, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Again, this had precedent: many other Asian rulers of the period -- in Cambodia and Indonesia, for example -- claimed similar celestial authority.

Coming to the fore during a golden era in Tibet's history, the fifth Dalai Lama fit easily into the role of god-king. Subsequent Dalai Lamas, however, did not have it so good. Several were murdered in their prime, and most retained power for only a few short years. Most, too, oversaw only theological decisions; political control remained firmly in the hands of a powerful bureaucracy.

It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that the Dalai Lama -- by then in his thirteenth incarnation -- again became Tibet's undisputed religious and temporal leader. By all measures, it was a critical juncture in Tibetan history. Coming off a decade of self-imposed isolation, the country had devolved into a technological backwater. Moreover, several foreign powers -- the British, Manchus, and even Russians -- were all anxiously knocking at its gates.

Faced with these developments, Tibet's conservative bureaucracy had few answers. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, in contrast, met the challenge by offering a relatively warm welcome to the introduction of modern innovations. He also proved a canny survivor, twice eluding capture by fleeing abroad during a pair of short-lived foreign invasions.

By the time the thirteenth Dalai Lama died in 1933, he left behind a mixed legacy. Despite early momentum, most of his attempts at modernization were ultimately stymied by the religious elite. The country, as a result, had yet to emerge from its primeval status. Still, Tibet was arguably enjoying greater independence than at any time over the last few centuries.

It was with this benchmark fresh in Tibetan minds that religious search parties scoured the kingdom for the Dalai Lama's reborn spirit. In 1937, their quest came to an end. In a small Amdo farming village, a precocious two-year-old was identified as their ruler's fourteenth incarnation. After being brought to the capital -- where he immediately became the subject of national adulation -- the boy began intensive monastic schooling. Under normal circumstances, he would have continued his studies until the age of eighteen before being formally invested with secular authority. But after Beijing's invasion of Kham in October 1950, Tibet feared an imminent move against the central plateau. Desperate, the Tibetan government waived three years of preparation and on 17 November officially recognized the fifteen-year-old Dalai Lama as the kingdom's supreme ruler.

Though bright and energetic, the youthful leader was a most unlikely savior. Despite being better read than most of his cloistered predecessors, he was unversed in diplomacy and had no ready solution to counter the approaching Chinese juggernaut. Compounding his quandary was the fact that his ecclesiastical court of advisers was divided on how to deal with the PRC. Many senior lamas were inclined to negotiate away most of Lhasa's trappings of autonomy -- in economic, national security, and foreign policy, for example -- in exchange for a free hand in internal affairs. Such thinking was understandable, given that recent Tibetan history was rife with examples of Lhasa's muddling through unscathed from similar foreign threats.

Other Tibetan officials -- led by Thupten Woyden Phala, a close assistant of the Dalai Lama, and Surkhang Shape, one of the country's few foreign envoys -- were far less willing to concede their newfound freedoms. This faction had been behind the appeal for support at the United Nations in late 1949. Ignored the first time, Tibet again petitioned the world body in November 1950 to take up its case against Beijing's aggression. Once more, however, Tibet received little sympathy. Finding deaf ears among the international community and fearful of capture if he remained in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama responded in the tradition of his immediate predecessor: he fled the capital. Disguised as a layman and escorted by an entourage of 200, he stole out of Lhasa on the night of 20 December (1950) and worked his way south toward the border town of Yatung, just twenty-four kilometers from the princely protectorate of Sikkim.

As this was taking place, American diplomats in neighboring India did what they could to monitor the Dalai Lama's movements. Perhaps none took a greater interest than the U.S. ambassador to India, Loy Henderson. Dubbed a "quintessential Cold Warrior" by one Foreign Service officer under his watch, Henderson had long harbored deep concern for Tibet, especially the threat of PRC control extending across the Himalayas. As far back as the summer of 1949 he had lobbied for a more proactive U.S. policy toward Lhasa to offset this feared Chinese advance, including sending a U.S. envoy from India to the Tibetan capital and leaving behind a small diplomatic mission. [9]

Despite the ambassador's expressed urgency, Washington dragged its feet on approving any bold moves. Frustrated, Ambassador Henderson felt that the stakes were growing too high to afford continued neglect, especially after the Dalai Lama reached Yatung in early 1951. Unless there was some immediate future indication of moral and military support from abroad, he cabled Washington on 12 January, the youthful monarch might leave his kingdom and render ineffective any future resistance to Chinese rule. [10]

But if the exile of the Dalai Lama posed problems, Henderson saw it as preferable to having him return to Lhasa. To prevent the latter, the ambassador took the initiative in March to pen a letter to the monarch. Written on Indian-made stationery and lacking a signature -- thereby affording the United States plausible deniability if it was intercepted -- the note implored the Tibetan leader not to move back to the capital for fear that he would be manipulated by Beijing. The letter further urged the Dalai Lama to seek refuge overseas, preferably in the predominantly Buddhist nation of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Informing Washington of the note after it had been written, Henderson was in for a surprise. Finally coming around to his way of thinking, the State Department lent its approval to the scheme, with only minor editorial changes. Two copies of the anonymous appeal were eventually printed: one carried to Yatung by Heinrich Harrer, the Dalai Lama's Austrian tutor who had fled Lhasa shortly before the monarch's departure, and the second turned over to a Tibetan dignitary in Kalimpong during Mid-May. Those forwarding the letter were told to discreetly convey that it came from the U.S. ambassador.

The Dalai Lama did not take long to respond. On 24 May, his personal representative sought out U.S. diplomats in Calcutta to clarify several points regarding potential exile. Among other things, the monarch wanted to know if Washington would grant him asylum in America and if the United States would extend military aid to a theoretical anti-Chinese resistance movement after his departure from Tibetan soil. He also wanted permission for his oldest brother, Thubten Norbu, to visit the United States.

Before the United States could respond, a shock came over the airwaves on 26 May. Three months earlier, the Dalai Lama had dispatched two groups of officials to China in a desperate bid to appease Beijing and keep the Kham invasion force at bay. Arriving in the Chinese capital by mid-April, neither group had been authorized by the Dalai Lama to make binding decisions on the kingdom's behalf. Despite this, several weeks of stressful talks took their toll: on 23 May, all the Tibetan emissaries lent their names to a seventeen-point agreement with China that virtually wiped out any prospect of an autonomous Tibetan identity.

When news of the pact was broadcast three days later over Chinese state radio, it was a devastating blow to the Dalai lama. Knowing that the monarch would be under mounting pressure to formulate a response to Beijing, Henderson received approval on 2 June to grant U.S. asylum to the Dalai Lama and a 100-man entourage -- provided both India and Ceylon proved unreceptive. Washington was also prepared to provide military aid if India was amenable to transshipment. Finally, Henderson was authorized to extend U.S. visas to Thubten Norbu and a single servant, though both had to pay their own expenses while in America.

Given the fast pace of events, the embassy decided to send a U.S. diplomat to Kalimpong to deal directly with Tibetan officials at their resident trade mission. These officials were shuttling to and from the Dalai Lama's redoubt at Yatung, and this offered the fastest means of negotiating with the isolated monarch. Because Kalimpong fell within the purview of the American consulate general in Calcutta, Vice Consul Nicholas Thacher was chosen for the job. [11]

There was a major stumbling block with such indirect diplomacy, however. The United States was looking to advance its Tibet policy in a third country, and that country -- India -- had its own national interests at heart. Despite being condemned by Beijing in 1949 as the "dregs of humanity," New Delhi was doing its best to remain on good terms with China. This precluded Indian officials from being taken into Washington's confidence. Thacher, therefore, needed to negotiate in the shadows.

With little time to concoct an elaborate charade, the American vice consul prepared for the long drive from Calcutta. Taking along his wife, young child, and nanny as cover, Thacher was to explain his Kalimpong trip as a holiday respite if questioned by Indian authorities. Before leaving, he was coached in the use of a primitive code based on the local scenery. Because his only means of communicating from Kalimpong was via telegraph -- no doubt monitored by Indian intelligence -- he would rely on this code to send updates to the Calcutta consulate.

Heading north, Thacher and his family drove thirteen hours to the hill station of Darjeeling. Like other British hill resorts, Darjeeling had been a summer capital for British colonial administrators looking to escape the sweltering low-lands. Like other hill stations, too, the town had earned fame as a recreation center for the social elite; its grand lodges and scenic gardens were set against the breathtaking backdrop of Kanchenjunga, the world's third tallest mountain. Darjeeling was further renowned for producing the champagne of teas; picked from Chinese bushes grown on the surrounding estates, British connoisseurs rated the local leaves as the best in the subcontinent.

Driving another fifty kilometers east, Thacher pulled into Kalimpong on 15 June. Compared with Darjeeling and its amenities, Kalimpong ranked as a minor resort. Still, the town factored prominently in the trans-Himalayan economy because for generations it had served as the final destination for mule caravans hauling products -- primarily wool -- from Tibet. At any given time, there was a significant community of Tibetan merchants in town, making it a logical site for that country's only overseas trade office.

After dropping off his family at an inn run by Scottish expatriates, Thacher had little trouble locating the Tibetan mission. Entering, he introduced himself in English to the ensemble of officials. Sizing up the lone youthful diplomat, they reacted with collective disappointment. "They were expecting more, " he surmised. [12]

Given few specific instructions, Thacher set about explaining the U.S. offer to grant asylum and material assistance. Very quickly, the vice consul was struck by the lack of realism displayed by Lhasa's envoys. "There was a sense of the absurd," he later commented. "They were talking wistfully in terms of America providing them with tanks and aircraft." Thacher did his best to downplay expectations before taking his leave and making his way to the telegraph office to send a coded report to Calcutta. "It probably amused the Indian intelligence officers who were monitoring the transmissions," said Thacher. "They never raised the issue with us, probably because they thought it would not amount to much and was not worth the trouble of souring Indo-U.S. relations." [13]

If this was the case, the Indians were right. Hearing of the latest U.S. promises, the Tibetans found little reason for cheer. The offer of U.S. asylum, for example, was to be granted only if Asian options were exhausted, even though the Dalai Lama was adamant that he wanted exile only in America. Military aid, too, was moot, because it was contingent on Indian approval -- a near impossibility, given New Delhi's desire to maintain cordial ties with China.

Twenty-nine years old, Thubten Norbu was an important Tibetan religious figure in his own right. As a child, he had been named the incarnation of a famed fifteenth-century monk. Studying at the expansive Kumbum monastery not far from his home village in Amdo, Norbu had risen to chief abbot by 1949. When Amdo was occupied by the PLA that fall, he came under intense Chinese pressure to lobby his brother on Beijing's behalf. Feigning compliance, he ventured to Lhasa in November 1950. But rather than sell the PRC, he presented a graphic report of Chinese excesses in Amdo. [14]

Because Beijing no doubt viewed Norbu's act as treachery, the Dalai Lama was anxious to see his brother leave Tibet. He succeeded up to a point, spiriting Norbu to Kalimpong by the first week of June 1951. But with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru doing his best to remain warm with the Chinese, there was ample reason to suspect that the Indian authorities would soon make life uncomfortable for him. The promise of a U.S. visa offered the chance for a timely exit from the subcontinent.

Just when Norbu's departure seemed secure, however, complications arose. Neither he nor his accompanying servant had passports, and they had fled Tibet with insufficient funds to pay for extended overseas travel. Thus, both of them needed to quickly secure some form of sponsorship.

At that point, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stepped forward with a ready solution. By coincidence only weeks earlier the agency had inaugurated the perfect vehicle for discreetly channeling financial support to persons like the Dalai Lama's brother. On 18 May, the San Francisco-based Committee for a Free Asia (CFA) had been formally unveiled to the public as a means to "render effective assistance to Asians in advancing personal and national liberty throughout their homelands." The committee's charter further declared its intention to assist noncommunist travelers, refugees, and exiles in order to "strengthen Asian resistance to communism." Left unsaid was the fact that the committee was made possible by financial assistance from the CIA. [15]

The plight of Thubten Norbu meshed perfectly with the committee's goals. On 18 June, the embassy in New Delhi was informed that full sponsorship of Norbu's U.S. visit would be assumed by the CFA. If quizzed by the press, Norbu would allegedly be seeking medical treatment for rheumatism of the legs and might also use the opportunity to take English language classes at the University of California at Berkeley, near the committee's headquarters. [16]

With the sponsorship issue resolved and using temporary Indian identification papers (New Delhi, eager to avoid diplomatic embarrassment, had facilitated a quick departure), Norbu arrived in Calcutta on 24 June with plans to catch a flight to the United States within two weeks. Before leaving, he met with members of the U.S. consulate and was informed that Washington would support a third Tibetan appeal to the United Nations, provided the Dalai Lama publicly disavowed the 23 May agreement with China. Norbu assured the diplomats that his brother, despite his curious silence to date, did not approve of the May pact and was still intent on seeking overseas asylum. [17]

As scheduled, Norbu departed India on 5 July. Accompanying him was his loyal servant Jentzen Thondup. Two years Norbu's senior, Jentzen hailed from a neighboring village in Amdo and had tended to his master since the latter's schooling at Kumbum. Neither spoke much English, though they carried a guide-book written forty-two years earlier by an Indian Baptist missionary. Landing in London in transit, they reportedly answered questions at the immigration counter with such inappropriate retorts as, "There are a great many landlords under the British." [18]

From London, the pair continued to New York. Getting off the plane, they were shocked to be greeted by a white man speaking their native Amdo dialect. Their chaperone, Robert Ekvall, had a fascinating personal history. Born in 1898 on the China-Tibet border near Amdo, Ekvall had grown up speaking Chinese and Tibetan. After primary school, he worked as a missionary among the Chinese, Muslims, and Tibetans in that area. In 1944, he joined the U.S. Army as a China area expert and served in that country as a military attache near the end of the civil war. Given his unique linguistic ability and cultural sensitivity, Ekvall was put on retainer by the CFA to assist Norbu for the duration of his stay in America.

As his first order of business, Ekvall escorted Norbu and Jentzen for a night's rest at New York's posh Waldorf-Astoria. Reporters curious about the new arrivals were fed the bromide about Norbu's rheumatism and intended study at Berkeley. In reality, the Tibetans were whisked the following day to Washington for meetings with State Department and CIA officials.

Norbu had arrived at a critical juncture. By the close of June, Thacher and his family had concluded their faux vacation and returned to Calcutta. In order to maintain coverage in Kalimpong, Thacher was to be replaced by another consulate official. Given that assignment was Robert Linn, head of the small CIA base in Calcutta.

By chance, several weeks earlier, Linn had happened across a key Tibetan contact. While exploring Calcutta by foot, he had taken note of an Asian woman and three men dressed in ornate ethnic attire who had taken up residence near the consulate. Striking up a conversation with the group, Linn received a windfall when he learned that the woman was Tsering Dolma, the elder sister of Norbu and the Dalai Lama. She had been in Calcutta since early 1950 seeking medical treatment. [19]

When Linn got orders to proceed to Kalimpong, he immediately sought out Tsering Dolma, who agreed to escort him and assist with introductions. Despite her company, however, he found the Kalimpong crowd of little help in swaying the teenage monarch and his conservative courtesans across the border at Yatung. On 11 July, Linn passed word to the Calcutta consulate that the Dalai Lama intended to return to Lhasa in ten days. [20]

With time running short, officials in Washington imposed on Norbu to translate a message for the Dalai Lama into Tibetan. This, along with two more unsigned letters prepared by the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, was quickly forwarded to Yatung. Embassy officials even flirted with fanciful plans for Heinrich Harrer, the monarch's former tutor, and George Patterson, an affable Scottish missionary who had once preached in Kham, to effectively kidnap the Dalai Lama and bundle him off to India.

All these efforts were to no avail. On 21 July, the monarch heeded advice channeled under trance by the state oracle and departed Yatung on a slow caravan back to the Tibetan capital. Still unwilling to concede defeat, American diplomats continued to smuggle unsigned messages to the Dalai Lama while he was en route. Trying a slightly more bold tack, Ambassador Henderson received approval on 10 September to write a signed note on official government letterhead. Tibetan representatives in India were allowed to briefly view the document the following week and verbally convey its contents to their leader. The United States, read this last message, was now prepared to publicly support Tibetan autonomy. In addition, Washington vowed to assist an anti-Chinese resistance movement with such material as may be "feasible under existing political and physical conditions."

Even if the Dalai Lama's interest was piqued by the latest round of promises, it was probably too late for him to act. He arrived in Lhasa during mid-August, and PLA troops were sighted in the capital by early the following month. On 28 September, the Tibetan national assembly convened to debate the controversial seventeen-point agreement signed the previous May. Less than one month later, confirmation was sent to Mao Tse-tung that the kingdom accepted the accord. Tibet was now officially part of the People's Republic of China.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:49 am

Chapter 2: Tightrope

On 13 February 1952, Thubten Norbu and his chaperone-cum-translator Robert Ekvall arrived at Foggy Bottom for a meeting with the new assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, John Allison. The reason for the tryst was the arrival of a secret letter from the Dalai lama addressed to his eldest brother.

Messages from the Tibetan leader had come before, but nothing like this. In marked contrast to the urgency of earlier communications, the Dalai lama was now subdued and measured. Four months after the Tibetan government had conceded on the seventeen-point agreement with Beijing, the monarch was now clearly hedging his bets. The Chinese were thus far being "correct and careful," he wrote, and he was determined to treat them in kind. As if to offset any perceived tilt toward Beijing, the letter instructed Norbu to maintain contact with U.S. officials and not allow for any "misunderstandings."

That Tibet's spiritual leader was writing in such pragmatic terms was not necessarily bad news at the upper echelons of the State Department. It had been senior department officials, after all, who had kept Ambassador Henderson at bay for so long. Now using the Dalai lama's own sentiments as cover, Allison had no need to apologize when he assured Norbu that the United States remained sympathetic but noncommittal. Allison went further, advocating that the United States not invite undue attention to Tibet by making any public statements. [1]

Although Allison was effectively writing off Tibet, Norbu saw it otherwise. Judging from the pleasantries exchanged around the room, he logically concluded that the Americans concurred with the Dalai lama's approach. Offering thanks to Allison, he departed.

It would be another three months before Norbu was back in contact, this time offering a decidedly different spin on events in his homeland. Allegedly tapping his own private sources, he claimed that the Dalai lama was continuing with a long-term master plan to appear compliant with China's wishes while secretly organizing resistance against them. Tibetans in the capital, he claimed, had recently sworn oaths of allegiance to the Dalai lama and affirmed their opposition to the Chinese.

Hearing this news, State Department officials in Washington admitted that they had little ability to verify its validity. Norbu, after all, had a vested interest in making it sound as if his brother were playing the Chinese according to a clever script, not the other way around. Still, the department's China desk thought that there was enough circumstantial evidence indicating that the Chinese in Tibet were encountering difficulties. On the pretext that the United States should allow China to make further missteps, the desk counseled continued restraint from both public statements and attempts to contact persons in Tibet who might be making the first move toward organizing an anticommunist resistance. Taking a pen to the margin of the source text, Assistant Secretary of State Allison wrote, "I agree." [2]

With those words, any residual thoughts of an activist Tibet policy by Washington entered into full remission. Plans to come to Lhasa's defense -- overtly or covertly, verbally or physically -- were shelved. Norbu himself lost relevance; in short order he left Washington for a brief English course at Berkeley before traveling to Japan for the 1952 conference of the Buddhist World Fellowship. While in Tokyo, both Norbu's sponsorship by the Committee for a Free Asia and his Indian identification papers expired. [3] In a telling rejection, his application for readmission to the United States was turned down, stranding the Dalai Lama's sibling in Japan as a gilded refugee.

Although Washington had no intention of coming to Tibet's assistance, it still needed to keep apprised of events in the region. In the summer of 1952, however, Tibet was more inaccessible than ever. Much as Ambassador Henderson had lamented a year earlier, most reports forwarded from the New Delhi embassy were either unreliable extracts from the Indian press or "wishfully warped" official views from the government of India. [4] One notable exception was the unique window provided by the princely state of Sikkim.

A sparse populated cluster of mountains roughly half the size of Connecticut, Sikkim appeared to be an unlikely font of information. But squeezed among India to the south, Nepal to the west, Tibet to the north, and Bhutan to the southeast, it sat at the crossroads of the Himalayas. Sikkim also possessed several key mountain passes linking the Indian lowlands to the Tibetan plateau. These features attracted the attention of the British, who absorbed the territory in 1817 as an appendage to their vast Indian holdings.

Over the next 130 years, the British afforded Sikkim semiautonomous status and allowed its royals to remain in effective control. Since the 16th century, a line of chogyal, or "heavenly kings," had been both temporal and spiritual rulers of the state. Devotees of the same stylized form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet, these Sikkimese kings presided over an elite caste with its share of palace intrigue -- some of it deadly. In the 18th century, for example, a half sister of the reigning chogyal helped assassinate the king by opening an artery as he rested in a hot tub; she was later strangled with a scarf for her treachery.

It was with this traditional system of leadership intact that Sikkim approached the mid 20th century. By 1947, however, its future was suddenly in doubt. The British were gone, and a new set of Indian authorities had come to power in New Delhi. Although the princely states were theoretically entitled to declare their independence, in reality, the Indian leadership was making every attempt to entice them into a federal republic.

Sikkim was one such case. Beginning in 1947 and continuing for the next three years, its royals scrambled to salvage some form of autonomy that would safeguard their exalted status. Unfortunately for Sikkim, its reigning monarch, Maharaja Tashi Namgyal (Britain had insisted on the change from chogyal to the lesser term maharaja, or prince, to keep Sikkim's leader on a par with other rulers across the subcontinent), was hardly in a position to negotiate. An inscrutable recluse, he frittered away most of his time painting and meditating. [5]

The job of negotiating with the Indians went to the prince's son and heir apparent, Palden Thondup. Commonly known as the maharaja kumar, or crown prince, he was a relative newcomer to politics. Recognized at birth as the reincarnation of his late uncle, he appeared destined for a monastic life. But after the untimely death of his elder brother during World War II, he suddenly moved up the succession ladder and was thrust into government service.

Charming and well educated -- he had spent time at a British college -- the crown prince quickly assumed all governing responsibilities from his father. In 1947, he ventured to New Delhi to initiate talks with the Indian government. Through force of personality, he was able to win a three-year stay on any decision about Sikkim's integration into the republic. In early 1950, he again ventured to New Delhi. If anything, his audience had grown more fickle in the interim. The previous year, the Indian government had granted generous autonomy to the neighboring kingdom of Bhutan, and it was reluctant to make concessions to yet another Himalayan territory.

Undeterred, the crown prince, then only twenty-seven years old, persisted with a convincing legal pitch that the special privileges extended by the British set Sikkim apart from the other princely states. The result was a December treaty whereby the protectorate of Sikkim was free to manage domestic matters but allowed India to regulate its foreign affairs, defense, and trade.

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Sikkim

The Sikkimese royals saw leeway in this pact. Though prohibited from making independent foreign policy, they believed that it was still within their right to retain a degree of international personality. This held obvious appeal for the United States, which appreciated Sikkim's unique perspective on Himalayan events, on account of its royals being related by blood and marriage to the elite in neighboring Bhutan and Tibet. But it also meant walking a fine diplomatic tightrope, as American contact with the Sikkimese ran the risk of agitating India. In the spring of 1951, the U.S. consulate in Calcutta gingerly tested the waters. The Chinese had already invaded Kham, and Larry Dalley, a young CIA officer who had arrived in the city the previous fall under cover of vice consul, was eager to collect good intelligence on events across the border. He knew that two members of Sikkim's royal family frequented Calcutta and would be good sources of information.

The first, Pema Tseudeun, was the older sister of the crown prince. Popularly known by the name Kukula, she was the stunning, urbane archetype of a Himalayan princess. Her contact with American officials actually dated back to 1942, when she had been in Lhasa as the teenage wife of a Tibetan nobleman. OSS officers Tolstoy and Dolan had just arrived in the Tibetan capital that December and were preparing to present a gift from President Franklin Roosevelt to the young Dalai Lama. The gift was in a plain box, and the two Americans were scrambling to find suitable wrapping. "I came forward," she recalls, "and donated the bright red ribbon in my hair." [7]

For the next eight years, Kukula had it good. Married into the powerful Phunkang family (her father-in-law was a cabinet official), she now had considerable holdings in Lhasa. After the Chinese invasion of Kham, however, all was in jeopardy. Leaving many of her possessions back in Tibet, she fled to the safety of Sikkim. There she became a close adviser to the crown prince, accompanying her brother to New Delhi that December to finalize their state's treaty with India.

The second royal in Calcutta, Pema Choki, was Kukula's younger sister. Better known as Princess Kula, she was every bit as beautiful and sophisticated as her sibling. Kula was also married to a Tibetan of high status; her father-in-Iaw, Yutok Dzaza, had been a ranking official at the trade mission in Kalimpong. Both Kukula and Kula were regulars on the Indian diplomatic circuit. "They came to many of the consulate's social functions," remembers Nicholas Thacher, "and were known for their ability to perform all of the latest dance numbers." [8]

Not all of that contact, CIA officer Dalley determined, was social. After arranging for a meeting with Princess Kukula at his apartment, he asked her if she thought the Tibetans might need anything during their current crisis. Kukula suggested that they could use ammunition and said that she would bring a sample of what they needed to their next meeting. True to her word. the princess appeared at Dalley's apartment bearing a round for a British Lee-Enfield rifle. She also mentioned that waves of Tibetan traders came to India almost quarterly to get treatment for venereal disease (a scourge in Tibet) and to pick up food shipments for import. Particularly popular at the time were tins of New Zealand fruits packed in heavy syrup.

Based on this information, Dalley devised a plan to substitute bullets for the fruit. He went as far as pouching Kukula's bullet and a sample tin label to CIA headquarters -- all to no avail. "They laughed at the scheme," he recalls. [9]

Later that spring, the U.S. consulate in Calcutta again turned to the Sikkimese royals for help. At the time, the Dalai Lama was holed up in the border town of Yatung, and CIA officer Robert Linn was brainstorming ways of facilitating indirect contact with the monarch. Two of those he asked to assist in passing notes were Kukula and Kula. Although the Tibetan leader ultimately elected not to go into exile, it was not for want of trying on the part of the princesses. [10]

One year later, Sikkim's royals once more proved their willingness to help. In June 1952, Kukula approached the consulate with an oral message from the Dalai Lama. She had just returned from a visit to her in-laws in Lhasa, and although she had not personally seen the Dalai Lama, she had been given information from Kula's father-in-Iaw, Yutok Dzaza, who had been in Lhasa at the same time, circulating among senior government circles. [11] Kukula quoted the Dalai Lama as saying that when the time was propitious for liberation, he hoped the United States would give material aid and moral support. Kukula also passed observations about food shortages in Lhasa and about the desperate conditions of the vast majority of Chinese troops in that city. [12]

To maintain the flow of such useful information, the consulate continued its discreet courtship of the Sikkimese sisters. Part of the task fell to Gary Soulen, the ranking Foreign Service officer in Calcutta. In September 1952, Soulen obtained Indian approval to visit Sikkim for a nature trek. Venturing as far as the Natu pass on the Tibetan frontier, Princess Kukula accompanied him on the trip and imparted more anecdotes about the situation in Lhasa. [13]

CIA officials, too, were looking to make inroads. Kenneth Millian, who replaced Larry Dalley in October 1952 under cover as vice consul, counted the Sikkimese as one of his primary targets. By that time, however, the Indians were doing everything in their power to obstruct contact. On one of the rare occasions when he got permission to visit the Sikkimese capital of Gangtok, for example, New Delhi leaked a false report to the press that the American vice president -- not vice consul -- was scheduled to make an appearance. As a result, entire villages turned out expecting to see Richard Nixon. "Discreet contact," lamented Millian, "became all but impossible." [14]

Occasional trysts with the Sikkimese were conducted by another CIA officer in Calcutta, John Turner. Born of American parents in India, Turner spent his formative years attending school in Darjeeling. He then went to college in the United States, followed by a stint in the army and induction into the agency in 1948. For his first overseas CIA assignment, he was chosen in May 1952 to succeed Robert Linn as the senior CIA officer in Calcutta. Given his cultural background and fluency in Hindi, Turner was well suited for the job. "I felt very much at home," he later commented.

The Sikkimese, Turner found, needed no prompting to maintain contact "They offered us tidbits of intelligence to try and influence U.S. policy," he concluded. "They were never on the payroll; they were not that sort of people." Some of the best tidbits came from the crown prince himself. "He was not the kind of person comfortable in dark alleys," quipped Turner. "He would make open, official visits to the consulate, and was the guest of honor with the consul general." [15]

As an aside to these visits, the prince would pass Turner relevant information about Tibet. One such meeting took place in the spring of 1954 immediately after the crown prince's return from a trip to Lhasa. While in the Tibetan capital, the prince had spoken with the Dalai lama, whom he found unhappy but resigned to his fate. Even more revealing, the Chinese had feted their Sikkimese guest by showing off their new Damshung airfield north of Lhasa and had motored him along a fresh stretch of road leading into Kham. Turner found the debriefing so informative that he recorded the entire session and sent a voluminous report back to Washington. [16]

In retrospect, the crown prince had been made privy to the twin pillars behind Beijing's strategy for absorbing Tibet. Ever since it had first invaded western Kham in late 1950, the PLA knew that it could not sustain its presence without a modern logistical network. As the Chinese worked feverishly to complete this, they retained the existing monastic structure -- including the Dalai lama -- and attempted to woo Tibet's lay aristocracy. They were fairly successful in winning support from the latter, especially since many aristocrats profited from the sudden influx of needy Chinese troops and administrators. [17]

This soft sell was not without its problems. In 1952, the Dalai lama was pressured into firing his dual prime ministers over alleged anti-Chinese sentiment. There were also food shortages due to the presence of the occupying troops, as well as the affront they represented to Tibetan prestige. Various forms of nonviolent resistance -- anonymous posters and sarcastic street rhymes were the preferred outlets -- were already becoming commonplace in Lhasa.

Still, both the Tibetans and the Chinese had seen fit to abide by an unofficial truce. This lasted up until Beijing's transportation network was nearing completion. With the new option of rushing reinforcements to the Tibetan plateau, the PLA had the flexibility of eclipsing carrot with stick.

Beijing wasted no time driving the point home. Just weeks after the crown prince's 1954 visit, the Dalai Lama was invited to the Chinese capital, ostensibly to lead the Tibetan delegation to the inauguration ceremonies for the PRC's new constitution. Though many members of his inner circle were suspicious of Chinese intentions, the young monarch -- still determined to work within the system -- had little choice but to heed the call. He even made it a family affair, bringing along his mother, three siblings, and a brother-in-law.

On 11 July, the Dalai Lama and his 500-person entourage departed Lhasa. Where possible, they took stretches of the partially finished road that wove east through Kham. Once in Beijing, the visit started out well. Partial to socialist precepts, the Dalai Lama had few qualms with China's economic direction; he had already voiced support for radical land reforms at home, although the landed aristocracy and religious elite had successfully thwarted implementation. The Dalai Lama was also treated with respect by the upper echelons of China's communist hierarchy; Mao Tse-tung, in particular, doted on the teenage monarch.

But it was Mao who made a major gaff that would cloud the entire trip. Taking the Dalai Lama aside to impart a bit of fatherly wisdom, the chairman likened religion to poison. To a person who devoted his life to cultivating his spiritual side -- and whose people believed that he had one foot firmly in the celestial world -- this was blasphemy of the highest order.

Worse was to come. By the time the Dalai Lama headed home in the spring of 1955, the road leading from Kham to Lhasa was fully finished. A second route from Amdo to the capital was also complete. No longer feeling the need to be tolerant, the Chinese introduced atheist doctrine in Tibetan schools. The PLA also started disarming villagers in eastern Tibet prior to the implementation of harsh agrarian collectivization; as firearms were a cultural fixture in Kham and Amdo, their removal struck at a tenet of Tibetan tradition. As the Dalai Lama wove his way west, several Khampa leaders presented his entourage with petitions complaining of Beijing's heavy-handed ways.

During that same time frame, a hint of the dissatisfaction brewing in Kham reached the U.S. consulate in Calcutta via a different channel. John Turner, the CIA base chief, had been approached by George Patterson for an urgent meeting in the town of Kalimpong. Patterson, the Scottish missionary who had volunteered his services to the consulate in the past, was making the pitch on behalf of Ragpa Pandatsang, the same activist from the wealthy Kham trading family who had been alternately flirting with Lhasa and Beijing since 1950. Ragpa had done reasonably well for himself under the Chinese -- he was a senior official in the town of Markham -- but in a characteristic twist, he was now venturing to India to quietly sound out noncommunist options.

Based on middleman Patterson's request, Turner made his way to Kalimpong. By that time, the hill town had drawn a sizable roster of eclectic expatriates. One permanent fixture, Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, was a physical anthropologist who spent his time measuring skulls. There was also Dennis Conan Doyle, who made a brief appearance in an unsuccessful bid to contact the spirit of his late father, Arthur. Joining them were die-hard followers of the late Madame Helena Blavatsky, the debunked Ukrainian psychic whose nonsensical Theosophist religion had the unenviable distinction of being one of the tenets of the Nazi's Aryan master race thesis. [18]

Arriving at a house owned by the Pandatsang family, Turner waited outside. Perfectly timed, Ragpa materialized from out of the dawn mist on the back of a Tibetan pony. "He was apparently on his morning gallop," recalls Turner, "and he cut quite a figure." Dismounting, the Khampa greeted the CIA case officer. Patterson, who had befriended the Pandatsang family during his missionary days in Kham, was on hand to act as translator. After brief pleasantries, Ragpa touched lightly on the fact that the Khampas were looking for assistance in resisting the Chinese, including armaments. Without exchanging anything further of substance, he remounted the horse and melted back into the hills. Said Turner, "It was a surreal moment." [19]

Although Ragpa's approach to the CIA went nowhere (as did similar meetings he had with Indian officials and Tibetan trade representatives in Kalimpong), his hint about armed resistance proved prophetic. By the close of 1955, the combination of factors simmering over the previous year -- atheist indoctrination, forceful disarming of the population, rapid collectivization -- sparked a wave of violence in eastern Tibet. True to their brigand reputation, nomads from the Golok region of Amdo were the first to unleash their fury on PLA garrisons across that province. [21]

Eastern Kham followed suit in early 1956. Whereas the Amdo revolt was spontaneous and unorganized, the Khampas were more deliberate. Many of their pon (clan chieftains) had already taken to the hills after the PLA demanded compliance with agrarian reforms. With the chieftain from the town of Lithang (also spelled Litang) taking the lead, a coordinated attack was planned for the eighteenth day of the first lunar phase of the year. Although preemptive Chinese arrests threw off that timetable by four days, some twenty-three clan leaders ultimately responded to the call and laid siege to a string of isolated Chinese posts. [22]

The PLA responded in force. That February, Beijing dispatched several of its massive Tupolev-4 bombers over the Tibetan plateau. Because of their poor performance at high altitudes, the planes flew uncomfortably close to the terrain. This allowed guerrillas to fire down from ridgelines on the large, slow aircraft; one Tupolev returned to base with seventeen bullet holes. [24]

Still, thousands of Khampas and Amdowas died in the ensuing air campaign, buying time for the PLA to deploy ground reinforcements and retake lost garrisons. Particularly hard hit was Lithang; its grand monastery, home to 5,000 monks, was razed.

As this was taking place, the Dalai Lama faced mounting challenges on the political front. While in Beijing during 1955, he had been informed by Mao that a Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet (PCART) would be formed to codify Tibet's status under the seventeen-point agreement. The committee was inaugurated in Lhasa during April 1956, with the Dalai Lama as chairman; the majority of PCART members, however, were either directly or indirectly named by the PRC. In this way, Beijing effectively bypassed both Tibet's cabinet and the National Assembly.

Between Beijing's PCART ploy and news filtering into the capital of Chinese brutality in the east, the Dalai Lama was fast reaching his breaking point by mid-1956. Just shy of his twenty-first birthday, he had already entertained thoughts of withdrawing from all secular life. It was at this critical juncture that his earlier foreign guest, the crown prince of Sikkim, made a return visit to Lhasa.

The crown prince was on more than a courtesy call. Back in April 1954, New Delhi had signed a landmark agreement with Beijing regarding trade with the "Tibet region of China." Building on India's desired role as arbitrator between East and West, as well as Nehru's own self-styled image as a champion for peace, New Delhi had intended the treaty as a means of blunting Chinese actions in Tibet by moral containment. But with reports of the harsh Chinese policy in eastern Tibet reaching India, the tack did not seem to be working. [25]

Disturbed by Beijing's lack of restraint, Nehru suddenly developed some backbone. By coincidence, the 2,500-year anniversary of the birth of Buddha was to be celebrated during the fourth lunar month of 1957. Special events to mark that date, known as the Buddha Jayanti, were scheduled across India beginning in late 1956. If the Dalai Lama could be enticed to travel to India for the occasion, New Delhi felt that this would symbolically underscore its interest in the well- being of Tibet and its leader. Because he already had good rapport with the Dalai Lama, and because he was president of the Indian Maha Bodhi Society (an organization that represented Buddhists across the Indian subcontinent), the crown prince was tasked by Nehru to deliver the invitation.

Upon receiving his Sikkimese guest and hearing the news, the Dalai Lama was ecstatic. For a Tibetan, a pilgrimage to India -- especially one that coincided with the Buddha Jayanti -- had all the connotations of a visit to the holy sites of Rome or Mecca. But more important, it would allow him to air his concerns directly to Nehru and perhaps offset Chinese influence. Perhaps, too, he could finally make good on his earlier contemplation of exile. Some of his minders, in fact, were convinced that the latter could be arranged, despite the fact that no nation, India included, had given any solid guarantee of asylum. [26]

Having delivered the invitation, the crown prince returned to India and on 28 June made his way to the U.S. consulate in Calcutta. Speaking directly with the senior diplomat, Consul General Robert Reams, he noted the apparent desire of the Dalai lama to leave his country. The crown prince also relayed stories reaching Lhasa about horrific fighting taking place in eastern Tibet, offering Washington hearsay evidence that anti-Chinese resistance had escalated into armed rebellion. Noting the apparent lack of weapons among the insurgents, the prince astutely suggested channeling arms from East Pakistan (presumably via Sikkim) to Tibet. And in a more fanciful departure, he wondered aloud if the United States could "exfiltrate" Tibetans from Burma and Thailand -- ostensibly while on religious pilgrimages -- and give them artillery and antiaircraft training. [27]

The United States was clearly unprepared for this turn of events. For more than four years, Washington's Tibet policy had basically been to have no policy. Now the specter of the Dalai lama's exile had returned. Complicating matters, the Tibetans had shifted from passive resistance to an armed struggle. For nearly four weeks, Foggy Bottom contemplated a response. When it finally came on 24 July, it was remarkable for its lack of originality. Falling back on the waffle perfected in 1951, Washington was prepared to extend a shifty promise of asylum, provided the Dalai Lama first asked India for help. No response was made to the crown prince's musings about arms and training.

It was unlikely that the U.S. offer would ever be put to the test. Hearing of the Buddha Jayanti invitation, senior Chinese authorities in Lhasa immediately threw water on the plan. Claiming that the Dalai Lama would have a tight schedule for upcoming PCART activities, they made clear their opposition to any foreign travel.

If the young monarch was frustrated, so too was India's Nehru. It was his prestige on the line following the 1954 treaty on Tibet. Moreover, with reports now beginning to circulate about the extent of the destruction in eastern Tibet, he felt the need to make a stand. [28] On 1 October, Nehru telegraphed an official invitation to the Dalai Lama to supplement the one forwarded earlier by the crown prince. Grudgingly, Beijing considered the new appeal from its treaty partner, and exactly one month later, the Chinese conceded. Tibet's young leader would be leaving his country.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:50 am

Chapter 3: The Prodigal Son

During the second week of September 1956, CIA officer John Hoskins arrived at Calcutta's Dum Dum Airport to a blast of late summer heat. At twenty-nine, he had already spent two years recruiting agents in Japan and another four shuttling between Washington desk assignments and vigorous tradecraft instruction. [1] Now assigned to the Calcutta consulate, his new post was an experiment of sorts. The CIA's Far East Division had just gotten permission to station its officers at any diplomatic mission where overseas Chinese were found in numbers. This meant superimposing Far East Division personnel outside of their home turf -- in this case, in India of the Near East Division. [2]

In Calcutta, Hoskins could choose from a wealth of Chinese targets. Topping the list was the PRC's consulate and the People's Bank of China branch, both of which had been opened following the 1954 Sino-Indian trade agreement. In addition, some 30,000 Chinese expatriates -- three-quarters of all those living in India -- made their homes in and around the city.

Hoskins landed the secondary assignment of preening non-Chinese sources in the Himalayan states along the Tibetan border. Just as case officer Kenneth Millian had found out four years earlier, however, the Indians went out of their way to obstruct such efforts. "Overseas Chinese were fair game for penetration," recalls Hoskins, "but the others were considered under Indian hegemony." [3] This was driven home when Mary Hawthorne, a CIA officer assigned to Calcutta, allowed Jigme Thondup (a Bhutanese royal who later became prime minister) and his family to spend the night at her apartment. When the Indians learned of the incident, their outcry was so shrill that Hawthorne was forbidden by her superiors to attempt any similar invitations. [4]

Mindful of Indian surveillance, Hoskins made plans for an exceedingly discreet approach to establish his own ties with Princess Kukula of Sikkim. As she was known to have an affinity for equestrian events, he first considered making an overture at the Tibetan pony races held in Darjeeling. But because the crowds were small and whites were sure to attract notice, Hoskins instead opted to wait until she came to Calcutta for one of the city's thoroughbred competitions. Blending with the event's large number of Western spectators, he approached the princess. But Kukula, Hoskins found, had more reservations than in the past. "She wanted to keep contacts strictly social," he concluded. "She was not serious about getting involved."

As things turned out, the services of the Sikkimese royals would soon prove redundant. When the United States learned that the Dalai Lama had gotten permission in early November to attend the Buddha Jayanti celebrations, the CIA scrambled to bypass Sikkim and establish direct links with Tibetan sources close to the monarch. [5]

None were closer than the Dalai Lama's two brothers in exile. The eldest, Thubten Norbu, already had a history of indirect contact with the agency via the Committee for a Free Asia. After he had been unceremoniously dropped from CFA funding in 1952, both he and his servant, Jentzen Thondup, had become stateless refugees in Japan. Not until 1955, following repeated appeals channeled through Church World Services, did he and Jentzen finally get new Indian identity cards and U.S. visas. Settling in New Jersey, Norbu began to earn a modest income teaching Tibetan to a handful of students as part of a noncredited course at Columbia University.

The other brother, Gyalo Thondup, was residing in Darjeeling. Six years Norbu's junior, Gyalo was the proverbial prodigal son. The problem was, he was the figurative son to a number of fathers. He was the only one of five male siblings not directed toward a monastic life. As a teen, he had befriended members of the Chinese mission in Lhasa and yearned to study in China. Although this was not a popular decision among the more xenophobic members of his family, Gyalo got his wish in 1947 when he and a brother-in-law arrived at the Kuomintang capital of Nanking and enrolled in college.

Two years later, Gyalo, then twenty-one, veered further toward China when he married fellow student Zhu Dan. Not only was his wife ethnic Chinese, but her father, retired General Chu Shi- kuei, had been a key Kuomintang officer during the early days of the republic. Because of both his relationship to General Chu and the fact that he was the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo was feted in Nanking by no less than Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

The good times were not to last. With the communists closing in on Nanking during the final months of China's civil war, Gyalo and his wife fled in mid-1949 to the safer climes of India. Once again because of his relationship to the Dalai Lama, he was added to the invitation list for various diplomatic events and even got an audience with Prime Minister Nehru.

That October, Gyalo briefly ventured to the Tibetan enclave at Kalimpong before settling for seven months in Calcutta. While there, his father-in-law, General Chu, attempted to make contact with the Tibetan government. With the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan, Chu had astutely shifted loyalty to the People's Republic and was now tasked by Beijing to arrange a meeting between Tibetan and PRC officials at a neutral site, possibly Hong Kong. [6]

Conversant in Chinese and linked to both the Dalai Lama and General Chu, Gyalo was a logical intermediary for the Hong Kong talks. The British, however, were dragging their feet on providing visas to the Tibetan delegation. Unable to gain quick entry to the crown colony, Gyalo made what he intended to be a brief diversion to the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. But Chiang Kai- shek, no doubt anxious to keep Gyalo away from General Chu and the PRC, had other plans. Smothering the royal sibling with largesse, Chiang kept Gyalo in Taipei for the next sixteen months. Only after a desperate letter to U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson requesting American diplomatic intervention did the ROC relent and give Gyalo an exit permit.

After arriving in Washington in September 1951, Gyalo continued to dabble in diplomacy. Within a month of his arrival, he was called to a meeting at the State Department. Significantly, Gyalo's Chinese wife was at his side during the encounter. Because of the couple's close ties to Chiang, department representatives assumed that details of their talk would quickly be passed to the Kuomintang Nationalists. [7]

Gyalo, in fact, was not a stooge of Taipei, Beijing, or, for that matter, Washington. Despite State Department efforts to secure him a scholarship at Stanford University, he hurriedly departed the United States in February 1952 for the Indian subcontinent. Leaving his wife behind, he then trekked back to Lhasa after a six- year absence.

By that time, Beijing had a secure foothold in the Tibetan capital. Upon meeting this wayward member of the royal family, the local PRC representatives were pleased. As a Chinese speaker married to one of their own, Gyalo was perceived as a natural ally. Yet again, however, he would prove a disappointment. After showing some interest in promoting a bold land reform program championed by the Dalai Lama, Gyalo once more grew restive. In late spring, he secretly met with the Indian consul in Lhasa, and after promising to refrain from politicking, he was given permission to resettle in India. [8]

Although not exactly endearing himself to anyone with his frequent moves, Gyalo was not burning bridges either. Noting his recent return to Darjeeling, the U.S. embassy in early August 1952 cautiously considered establishing contact. Calcutta's Consul General Gary Soulen saw an opportunity in early September while returning from his Sikkim trek with Princess Kukula. Pausing in Darjeeling, Soulen stayed long enough for Gyalo to pass on the latest information from his contacts within the Tibetan merchant community. [9]

Although he had promised to refrain from exile politics, Gyalo saw no conflict in courting senior Indian officials. In particular, he sought a meeting with India's spymaster Bhola Nath Mullik. As head of Indian intelligence, Mullik presided over an organization with deep colonial roots. Established in 1887 as the central Special Branch, it had been organized by the British to keep tabs on the rising tide of Indian nationalism. Despite several redesignations before arriving at the title Intelligence Bureau, anticolonialists remained its primary target for the next sixty years.

Upon independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru appointed the bureau's first Indian director. Rather than suppressing nationalists, the organization now had to contend with communal violence and early problems with India's erstwhile Muslim brothers now living in the bisected nation of Pakistan.

Three years later, Mullik became the bureau's second director. A police officer since the age of twenty-two, the taciturn Mullik was known for his boundless energy (he often worked sixteen-hour days), close ties to Nehru, healthy suspicion of China, and (rare for a senior Indian official) predisposition against communism. Almost immediately, the Tibetan frontier became his top concern. This followed Beijing's invasion of Kham that October, which meant that India's military planners now had to contend with a hypothetical front besides Pakistan. Moreover, the tribal regions of northeastern India were far from integrated, and revolutionaries in those areas could now easily receive Chinese support. The previous year, in fact, the bureau had held a conference on risks associated with Chinese infiltration. [10]

Despite Mullik's concerns, Nehru was prone to downplay the potential Chinese threat. Not only did he think it ludicrous to prepare for a full-scale Chinese attack, but he saw real benefits in cultivating Beijing to offset Pakistan's emerging strategy of anticommunist cooperation with the West. "It was Nehru's idealism against hard-headed Chinese realism," said one Intelligence Bureau official. "Mullik injected healthy suspicions."

Astute enough to hedge his bets, Nehru allowed Mullik some leeway in improving security along the border and collecting intelligence on Chinese forces in Tibet. To accomplish this, Mullik expanded the number of Indian frontier posts strung across the Himalayas. In addition, he sought contact with Tibetans living in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong enclaves. Not only could these Tibetans be tapped for information, but a symbolic visit by a senior official like Mullik would lift morale at a time when their homeland was being subjugated. Such contact, moreover, could give New Delhi advance warning of any subversive activity in Tibet being staged from Indian soil. [11]

Of all the Tibetan expatriates, Mullik had his eye on Gyalo Thondup. Besides having an insider's perspective of the high offices in Lhasa, Gyalo had already passed word of his desire for a meeting. Prior to his departure for his first visit to Darjeeling in the spring of 1953, Mullik asked for -- and quickly received -- permission from the prime minister to include the Dalai Lama's brother on his itinerary. Their subsequent exchange of views went well, as did their tete-a-tete during Mullik's second visit to Darjeeling in 1954. [12]

Apart from such occasional contact with Indian intelligence, Gyalo spent much of the next two years removed from the tribulations in his homeland. To earn a living, he ironically began exporting Indian tea and whiskey to Chinese troops and administrators in Tibet. For leisure, he and his family were frequent guests at the Gymkhana Club. Part of an exclusive resort chain that was once a playpen for the subcontinent's colonial elite, the Gymkhana's Darjeeling branch was situated amid terraced gardens against the picturesque backdrop of Kanchenjunga. A regular on the tennis courts, the Dalai Lama 's brother was the local champion. [13]

In the summer of 1956, Gyalo's respite came to an abrupt end. The senior abbot and governor from the Tibetan town of Gyantse had recently made his escape to India and in July wrote a short report about China's excesses. Gyalo repackaged the letter in English and mailed copies to the Indian media, several diplomatic missions, and selected world leaders. One of these arrived in early September at the U.S. embassy in the Pakistani capital of Karachi, and from there was disseminated to the American mission in New Delhi and consulate in Calcutta. [14]

Although the letter was less than accurate on several counts, it served two important purposes. First, it corroborated the reports of China's brutality provided by the crown prince of Sikkim in June. Second, it brought Gyalo back to the attention of Washington as a concerned activist. For the past four years, there had been virtually no contact between him and American diplomats in India. In particular, he was completely unknown among CIA officers in Calcutta. [15]

This was set to change, and quickly. Once word reached India in early November that the Dalai Lama would be attending the Buddha Jayanti, John Hoskins got an urgent cable from headquarters. Put aside your efforts against the Chinese community, he was told, and make immediate contact with Gyalo. A quick check indicated Gyalo's predilection for tennis, so Hoskins got a racket and headed north to Darjeeling. After arranging to get paired with Gyalo for a doubles match, the CIA officer wasted no time in quietly introducing himself.

First impressions are lasting ones, and Hoskins was not exactly wowed by Gyalo's persona. "There was a lot of submissiveness rather than dynamism," he noted. At their first meeting, little was discussed apart from reaching an understanding that, to avoid Indian intelligence coverage in Darjeeling, future contact would be made in Calcutta using proper countersurveillance measures.

Later that same month, the Dalai Lama and a fifty-strong delegation departed Lhasa by car. Switching to horses at the Sikkimese border, the royal entourage was met on the other side by both Gyalo and Norbu, who had rushed to India from his teaching assignment in New York. The party was whisked through Gangtok and down to the closest Indian airfield near the town of Siliguri, and by 25 November the monarch was being met by Nehru on the tarmac of New Delhi's Palam Airport. [16]

By coincidence, three days after the Dalai Lama's arrival in New Delhi, Chinese premier Zhou En- Lai began a twelve-day stop in India as part of a five-country South Asian tour. Keeping with diplomatic protocol, the young Tibetan leader was on hand to greet Zhou at the airport. The two then held a private meeting, at which time the elderly Chinese statesman lectured the Dalai Lama on the necessity of returning to his homeland.

Zhou was not alone in his appeal. As eager as Nehru was to offset Chinese influence in Tibet, he, too, was against the Dalai Lama's seeking asylum -- especially on Indian soil. This was partly because India wanted to maintain good relations with China. This was also because New Delhi did not want to go it alone, and not a single country to date had recognized Tibetan independence. Fearing that the monarch's brothers would have an unhealthy effect on any decision, Indian officials in the capital did all in their power to keep Gyalo and Norbu segregated from their royal sibling. [17]

The Dalai Lama hardly needed convincing from his brothers, however. During his first private session with Nehru, he openly hinted about not going back to Lhasa. He also requested that the issue of Tibetan independence be taken up by Nehru and President Dwight Eisenhower at their upcoming summit in Washington in December. Nehru was not entirely surprised by all this: Gyalo had already sought out Mullik and told the Indian intelligence chief in no uncertain terms that his brother would opt for exile. [18]

As India's leadership digested these developments, the Dalai Lama departed the capital for an exhausting schedule of Buddha Jayanti festivities. He was still in the midst of this tour when Zhou returned to New Delhi for an encore visit on 30 December. In the interim, Nehru had had his Washington meeting with Eisenhower, and the Chinese premier had scheduled the stop specifically to discuss the outcome of that summit. As it turned out, however, Tibet was a major topic of conversation. In particular, Nehru used the opportunity to press Zhou about tempering China's harsh military and agrarian policies on the Tibetan plateau.

Tibet was clearly shaping into a litmus test for Sino-Indian relations. Anxious to broker a deal that would assuage both Lhasa and Beijing, Nehru summoned the Dalai Lama from his pilgrimage and underscored to the Tibetan leader that Indian asylum was not in the cards. But if that was bitter news, Zhou had earlier proposed a sweetener. While noting that China was ready to use force to stamp out resistance, he claimed that Mao now recognized the folly of rapid collectivization and pledged to delay further revolutionary reforms in Tibet.

Zhou and his senior comrades were by now gravely concerned over permanently losing the Dalai Lama. Leaving nothing to chance, Zhou was back in New Delhi on 24 January 1957 for his third visit in as many months.

Despite Beijing's lobbying, Gyalo and Norbu were still insistent that their brother choose exile. Torn over his future, the twenty-one-year-old monarch had already departed Calcutta on 22 January for Kalimpong, which by then was home to a growing number of disaffected Tibetan elite. Once there, he did what Tibet's leaders had done countless other times when confronted with a hard decision: he consulted the state oracle. Two official soothsayers happened to be traveling with his delegation; using time-honored -- if unscientific -- methods, the pair went into a trance on cue and recited their sagely advice. Return to Lhasa, they channeled. [19]

As far as the Dalai Lama was concerned, the ruling of his oracles was incontrovertible, and the decision was made all the easier by the fact that nobody seemed anxious to give him refuge. Flouting the suggestions of his brothers, he declared his intention to go home. He crossed into Sikkim in early March and was compelled to remain in Gangtok until heavy snows melted from the mountain passes. There, he finalized plans to set out for Lhasa by month's end.

Prior to November 1956, Tibet had never ranged far from the bottom of the priority watch list for those in the Far East Division at CIA headquarters in Washington. The agency had no officer assigned solely to Tibetan affairs; it, along with Mongolia and other peripheral ethnic regions under PRC control, barely factored as a minor addendum to the activities of William Broe's China Branch.

But as soon as the Dalai Lama received permission to attend the Buddha Jayanti, Broe felt it prudent to show heightened interest. Looking for a junior officer to spare, he soon settled on John Reagan. Twenty-eight years old, Reagan had joined the agency upon graduation from Boston College in 1951. He was soon in Asia, where he spent the next twenty-four months working on paramilitary projects in Korea. Switching to China Branch, he served two more years in Japan as part of the CIA's penetration effort against the PRC. Returning to the United States in 1955, Reagan divided the next twelve months between Chinese language training and trips to New York City to practice tradecraft against United Nations delegates.

As the branch's new man on Tibet, Reagan initially did little more than forward instructions for John Hoskins to make contact with Gyalo. He was silent on further guidance, primarily because senior U.S. policy makers had not yet ironed out a coherent framework for dealing with Lhasa. In earlier meetings between CIA and State Department officials during the summer of 1956, there had been those who felt that the Dalai Lama should flee to another Buddhist nation to offer a rallying cry for anticommunist Buddhists across Asia. Others, primarily inside the agency, believed that he could play a more important role as a rallying symbol in Lhasa among his fellow Tibetans. This eas still the CIA's operating assumption in late 1956: once the Dalai Lama was in India, the prevailing mood at agency headquarters was that he should eventually go home. [20]

Gyalo, meantime, was telling Hoskins that his brother had every intention of seeking asylum. With the Dalai Lama apparently intent on staying away from his homeland -- and therefore not conforming to the agency's preferred scenario of rallying his people from Lhasa -- Reagan was largely idle during most of the Dalai Lama's four-month absence from Tibet. [21]

Eventually, however, the CIA looked to hedge its bets. Since the second half of 1956, a band of twenty-seven young Khampa men -- some still in their late teens -- had been growing restive in the enclave of Kalimpong. Most came from relatively wealthy trading families and had been spirited to India to protect them from the instability in their native province. Full of vigor, the entire group had ventured to New Delhi shortly before the Dalai Lama's Buddha Jayanti pilgrimage to conduct street protests. Once the Dalai Lama arrived, they sought a brief audience to make an impassioned plea for Lhasa's intercession against the Chinese offensive in Kham.

To their disappointment, the Dalai Lama counseled patience. "His Holiness only said things would settle down," recalls one of the Khampas. Undaunted, the twenty-seven young men shadowed the monarch during several of the Buddha Jayanti commemorative events. By early January 1957, this took them to Bodh Gaya, the city in eastern India where the historical Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment. While there, the Dalai Lama's older brother, Thubten Norbu, approached the Khampas and asked if he could take their individual photographs as a souvenir. Although it was an odd request, they complied. [22]

For the next few weeks, nothing happened. Frustrated by the Dalai Lama's repeated rebuffs, the Khampas sulked back to Kalimpong. Several Chinese traders were in town, some of whom were rumored to have links to the Nationalist regime on Taiwan. Desperate, the Khampas sounded them out on the possibility of covert assistance from Taipei. It was at that point that Gyalo Thondup arrived and requested a meeting with all twenty-seven. For most of the young Khampas, it was the first time they had spoken with the Dalai Lama's lay brother. As they listened attentively, Gyalo lectured them to steer clear of the Kuomintang. "The United Sates," he told them cryptically, "is a better choice." [23]

Less than a week later, the Dalai Lama arrived in Kalimpong, the oracles had their channeling session, and things changed dramatically. With the monarch's return journey now imminent, John Reagan in Washington scrambled to script a program of action. At its core, the plan called for a unilateral capability to determine how much armed resistance activity really existed in Tibet; further commitments could then be weighed accordingly.

The CIA had good reason to act with prudence. It already had a long and growing list of embarrassing failures while working with resistance groups behind communist lines. Perhaps none had been more painful than its experience against the PRC. There the agency's efforts had taken two tracks. The first was a collaborative effort with the Kuomintang government on Taiwan. Clinging to its dream of reconquering the mainland, the ROC in 1950 claimed to control a million guerrillas inside the People's Republic. Although a February 1951 Pentagon study placed the figure at no more than 600,000 -- only half of which were thought to be nominally loyal to the ROC -- Washington saw fit to support these insurgents as a means of appeasing a key Asian ally while at the same time possibly diverting Beijing's attention from the conflict on the Korean peninsula. [24]

To funnel covert American assistance to the ROC, the CIA established a shell company in Pittsburgh known as Western Enterprises (WE). In September 1951, WE's newly appointed chief, Raymond Peers, arrived on Taiwan with a planeload of advisers. A U.S. Army colonel who had earned accolades during World War II as chief of the famed OSS Detachment 101 in Burma, Peers quickly initiated a number of paramilitary efforts. A large portion of his resources was directed toward airborne operations, including retraining the ROC's 1,50O-man parachute regiment. Other WE advisers, meanwhile, were tasked with putting ROC action and intelligence teams through an airborne course. [25]

To deploy these operatives, WE turned to the agency's Far East air proprietary, Civil Air Transport (CAT). By the spring of 1952, CAT planes were dropping teams and singletons on the mainland, as well as supplies to resistance groups that the ROC claimed were already active on the ground. Some of the penetrations ranged as far as Tibet's Amdo region, where the ROC alleged it had contact with Muslim insurgents. [26]

Concurrently, the agency in April 1951 initiated a unilateral third-force effort using anticommunist Chinese unaffiliated with the ROC. Allocated enough arms and ammunition for 200,000 guerrillas, the CIA recruited many of these third-force operatives from Hong Kong, trained them in Japan and Saipan, and inserted them in CAT planes via air bases in South Korea. [27]

By the spring of 1953, both the ROC program and third-force effort were in their second years. Although the Pentagon's top brass (groping for ways to pressure Beijing during Korean cease-fire negotiations) were wistfully talking in terms of "sparking a coordinated anti-communist resistance movement throughout China," those running the CIA's infiltration program could hardly have been so optimistic. "None of the Taiwan agents we dropped were successful," said one WE adviser. The third-force tally was just as bad: all its operatives were either killed or taken prisoner, and CAT lost one plane during an attempted exfiltration that resulted in the capture of two CIA officers. [28]

That summer, an armistice sent the Korean conflict into remission. This provided the CIA with convenient cover to reassess its third-force track. Although it elected to maintain a China Base at Yokosuka, Japan, this unit was to handle primarily agent penetrations and low-level destabilization efforts; support for broader unilateral resistance got the ax.

Cooperative ventures with the ROC were not so easily nixed. Although Taipei had tempered its claims somewhat, it still pegged loyal mainland guerrilla strength at 650,000 insurgents. By contrast, a November 1953 estimate by the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) put the figure closer to 50,000. Despite this huge discrepancy, the NSC still advocated continued covert assistance to the ROC in order to develop anticommunist guerrillas for resistance and intelligence. Even temporary guerrilla successes, the council reasoned, might set off waves of defections and stiffen passive resistance. [29]

Chiang Kai-shek could not have agreed more. Eager to vastly increase the scope of guerrilla support, the generalissimo in 1954 asked Washington for some 30,000 parachutes. Turned down the first time, he made further high-priority appeals over the next two years. These parachutes were needed for an ambitious plan to drop 100-man units near major PRC population centers. Hoping to set off a chain of uprisings, Chiang optimistically talked in terms of uprooting Chinese communism in as little as two years. [30]

Hearing these plans, Washington patiently counseled against the proposed airborne blitz. On a more modest level, however, the CIA's assistance program continued unabated. In this, success was more elusive than ever. Despite inserting an average of two Nationalist agents a month through the mid-1950s, the ROC operatives were still being killed or captured in short order. [31]

Reasons for the lack of success against the People's Republic were legion. First, the infiltration program took at face value some of Taipei's claims about contact with a vast network of anticommunists on the mainland. In reality, such claims were wildly exaggerated, and precious little was known about events in the PRC countryside; even top PRC leaders were prone to mysteriously disappear from public view for months on end. [32] Second, in the unlikely event such resistance existed, the logistical challenge of maintaining support to these guerrilla pockets outstripped what could realistically be staged by Taiwan and the CIA. Third, the CIA's recent experience against the Soviet Union and its satellites had shown the folly of abetting insurgents in a tightly controlled police state; Beijing's omnipresent militia and party network were no less daunting. [33] Finally, even though the PRC's ruthless experimentation in social engineering had no doubt bred detractors by the score, the corruption of the Kuomintang regime hardly endeared Taipei to any disenchanted masses on the mainland.

Although these reasons might have made covert operations against the PRC a study in frustration, Tibet appeared to be different. Unlike many of Taipei's wishful claims about other areas of the mainland, Tibet had a resistance movement corroborated by multiple, albeit dated, sources. What the CIA needed was timely data that could give a current and accurate picture of this resistance. And given the historical animosity between Tibetans and lowland Chinese, the agency needed to gather this information without resort to ROC assistance.

In February 1957, John Hoskins was ordered by Washington to immediately identify eight Tibetan candidates for external training as a pilot team that would infiltrate their homeland and assess the state of resistance. Gyalo, who had been in Kalimpong making an eleventh-hour bid to convince his brother to seek asylum, was given responsibility for screening candidates among the Tibetan refugees already in India. Although the twenty-seven Khampas did not know it, Gyalo intended to make the selection from their ranks. Using the photographs taken by Norbu at Bodh Gaya, he sought guidance from two senior Khampas in town, both of whom hailed from the extended family of Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang, a prominent trader of Tibetan wool, deer horns, and musk.

With their assistance, Gyalo soon settled on his first pick. Wangdu Gyato-tsang, age twenty-seven, had been born to an affluent Khampa family from the town of Lithang. He was well connected: Gompo Tashi was his uncle, as was one of the senior Khampas helping Gyalo with the selection. Wangdu also had the right disposition for the task at hand. Despite being schooled at the Lithang monastery from the age of ten, he did not exactly conform to monastic life. "He was hot tempered from childhood," recalls younger brother Kalsang.

Image
Wangdu Gyatotsang (right), leader of the Saipan-trained team dropped in Kham, with his two brothers. (Courtesy Kalsang Gyatotsang)

A sampling of this temper came at age seventeen during a trip to the Tibetan town of Menling. Out of deference to the local chieftain, it was decreed that hats, firearms, and horse bells would be removed in front of the chief's residence. It was raining, however, so Wangdu continued wearing his cap. Spying this violation, the chieftain's bodyguard strode up and knocked the Khampa on the head. Without flinching, the young monk drew his pistol and shot the guard dead. [34]

On account of his family connections, Wangdu was spared punishment. In 1956, his family ties again came into play following the PLA's devastating attack on the Lithang monastery. On orders from uncle Gompo Tashi, Wangdu and his younger brother were bundled off to the safer environs of Kalimpong.

When approached by Gyalo, Wangdu immediately volunteered for the mission. Within days, five other Khampas were singled out (Washington now wanted a total of six trainees, not eight), but only Wangdu was given any hint of the impending assignment. Four were from Lithang; of these, three were Wangdu's close acquaintances, and one was his family servant. The fifth was a friend from the nearby town of Bathang (also spelled Batang). All were still on hand to attend the Dalai Lama's final open-air blessing in a Kalimpong soccer field shortly before the monarch headed back toward Tibet.

With the Dalai Lama en route to Lhasa, attention shifted in early March to smuggling the six Khampas out of India for training. This was easier said than done. Because of Nehru's determination to maintain cordial Sino-Indian ties, New Delhi's complicity remained out of the question. Moreover, the Khampas were refugees without proper identification, discounting overt travel via commercial airliner or boat. Brainstorming covert alternatives, several came to mind. "There was some talk in the Calcutta consulate about floating them off the Indian coast," said Gyalo, "then having them picked up by submarine." Consideration was also given to issuing fake Nepalese passports. [35]

A better option harkened back to a suggestion made by the crown prince of Sikkim regarding exfiltration via East Pakistan. The idea held merit: since 1954, Washington and Karachi (which governed both the East and West Pakistani territories on either side of lndia) had forged cordial military and diplomatic ties. A military sales pact had been signed by the United States and Pakistan that May, and both had agreed to join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in September; the following year, Pakistan became a member of the U.S.-supported Baghdad Pact. This was all part of a chain of alliances intended by the United States to contain the spread of communism. By 1956, Pakistan had become America's "most allied ally in Asia." [36]

In reality, Karachi had signed the treaties for reasons other than those intended by Washington. Although it was true that Pakistan had some emerging concerns about communism (China claimed some Pakistani territory on its maps, for example, and even raided border villages in 1954 to discourage grazing on its land), its main motivation was to open the spigot of American military assistance, which Karachi desperately wanted to bolster its armed forces against threats from New Delhi.

Different motivations aside, U.S.-Pakistan relations were genuinely warm, and the U.S. embassy enjoyed good access to the top echelons of government. Even before the CIA was sure that the Khampa training was going to proceed, the agency's station chief in Karachi, L. Eugene Milligan, had broached the exfiltration scheme with senior Pakistani officials. Taking his case directly to President Iskandar Mizra, Milligan asked if -- hypothetically speaking -- Tibetans could be allowed to cross the northern border of East Pakistan, then be discreetly transported to the abandoned Kurmitola airstrip north of Dacca. [37]

Milligan could make his pitch knowing that the CIA had particularly good relations in East Pakistan. Since mid-1954, the agency had been allowed to maintain a single case officer at the Dacca consulate. That officer, twenty-eight-year-old Walter Cox, had nurtured close links with most of East Pakistan's civilian and military authorities, helped in part when he coordinated a generous airlift of U.S. humanitarian assistance following severe floods in August 1954. [38]

Based on this spirit of cooperation, Mizra gave Milligan his consent. When Washington's final approval for the exfiltration came in February 1957, the station chief quickly assigned a Karachi- based case officer, Edward McAllister, to coordinate the operation from Dacca. Forty-three years old, McAllister was an experienced Asia hand. Schooled in China through his university years, he had gone back to the United States in 1932 and worked for nearly a decade as a fire insurance underwriter and public health inspector. Lured by the challenges of the war in Europe, he joined the British army in 1941, then transferred in 1943 to the U.S. Army.

At war's end, McAllister's linguistic skills made him a natural for what became an extended army assignment in postwar China. By 1949, he was serving as an assistant military attache during the final months of the civil war. Leaving the armed forces in 1954 with the rank of major, McAllister signed on with the CIA. He entered the Far East Division and -- like Hoskins in Calcutta -- was posted to Karachi as the division's local representative assigned to penetrate the Chinese community.

Joining McAllister for the assignment in Dacca was John Reagan, who had flown in from Washington for the duration of the exfiltration. One potential hitch remained: although McAllister was fluent in Chinese (and Reagan knew the basics), neither officer shared a common language with the Khampas. They were desperate for an interpreter, but there were few qualified candidates. Gyalo himself was ineligible because he needed to run the operation from the Indian side and could not afford the diplomatic heat if he got caught on the border. Norbu could not risk the embarrassment of exposure either. While little other choice, a call was placed to Norbu's long-time servant Jentzen Thondup, who was patiently awaiting his master's return at their apartment in New Jersey.

"I got on the phone," remembers Jentzen, "with somebody who said he was from the CIA." A quiet, elderly man showed up at the house later that day, and the pair were soon winging their way to the subcontinent. [39]

It was 2:00 in the afternoon when Wangdu came to the house of twenty-seven- year-old Athar and told him they were departing that night for training in a foreign country. Like Wangdu, Athar (many Khampas go by only one name) was an alumnus of the Lithang monastery and had been one of the twenty-seven who lobbied the Dalai Lama during the Buddha Jayanti. A total of six Khampas, he was told, would be making the trip.

Athar's first reaction was shock. To maintain secrecy, none of the trainees (other than Wangdu) had been aware that preparations had reached such an advanced stage. His next reaction was disappointment. "Six was too few," he later recalled. "I thought we needed at least ten of us." [40]

With little time for debate, the six ate and changed into Indian clothes. All identification was left behind. At 9:00 that evening, they gathered on a dark road outside town. Like clockwork, Gyalo arrived at the wheel of a jeep and loaded them into the rear. In the passenger's seat was Gyalo's cook, Gelung, who was designated to escort the group across the Pakistani border. Gelung was a good choice on two counts: not only could he speak Hindi, which might come in handy if they encountered Indian authorities, but he was the only one among them who knew how to read a compass.

In silence, they drove south to the town of Siliguri, then another twenty kilometers to the East Pakistan frontier. As the road narrowed near the entrance to a tea plantation, the jeep ground to a halt and the passengers off-loaded. As Gyalo reversed direction and returned north, Gelung led the Khampas down a foot trail through the plantation. Walking until nearly dawn, they approached a large river. Studying his compass, Gelung calculated that the opposite side was Pakistani territory. In contrast to the tension along the Indo-Pakistani border in the west -- where the two nations had clashed over the contested region of Kashmir -- much of the 3,225-kilometer East Pakistan frontier was undefended.

The group found a suitable fording point and waded to the far shore. Moving forty-five meters inland, they came across a small road. While they waited without speaking, three soldiers materialized out of the dawn mist. Because they appeared to be armed and dressed like Indian troops, the Khampas began to panic, but Gelung rose and walked forward. Removing a flashlight from his pack, he flicked it on for a moment. Seconds later, the troops returned the signal. Gelung waved at the others to follow, and the Khampas approached the patrol and offered greetings. To their surprise, one of the soldiers was Norbu's servant Jentzen; the rest were Pakistanis. His work done, Gelung bid them farewell and retraced his steps across the river and back to India, while Jentzen, the Pakistanis, and the six Khampas walked a short distance to a covered jeep.

After riding for an hour, the group came upon an isolated cottage framed by thickets. Inside, CIA officer McAllister was waiting with hot tea and biscuits. As Jentzen attempted to translate pleasantries in halting English, they finished their refreshments and were directed to a bigger jeep. They rode for the next five hours, not stopping until they reached a railway station. Surrounded by supposed Pakistani military guards -- giving them the outward appearance of a prison gang -- the Tibetans were hustled aboard a train and seated alone in the first-class compartment.

Heading south, they took the train to the outskirts of Dacca There they were off-loaded to a truck and driven to a safe house near Kurmitola. "The heat was really affecting us," remembers Athar, "so we kept the cold water running in the shower and took turns going underneath." Sweltering, they spent the next two days hidden away from prying eyes. [41]

For covert airlift needs in Asia, the CIA relied almost exclusively on its proprietary, Civil Air Transport. A handful of assignments, however, went to a special unit within the U.S. Air Force (USAF). This unit dated back to 1951, when the USAF saw the need to pluck aircrews out of the Soviet countryside after dropping nuclear ordnance and running out of fuel on the way home. Given the innocuous title of Air Resupply and Communications (ARC) wings, these recovery units were outfitted with an exotic mix of converted B-29 bombers, seaplanes, helicopters, and transports. For global coverage, three ARC wings were formed: one in the United States as reserve, one in Libya for European assignments, and one at Clark Air Base in the Philippines for Asian missions. [42]

Almost immediately, the activities of the ARC wings grew beyond their pilot recovery role. Their training was expanded to include various aerial aspects of unconventional warfare, and they became fluent in leaflet drops, agent insertions, and the resupply of guerrillas behind communist lines. The Clark-based ARC wing -- which in 1954 shifted to Kadena Air Base on the U.S.-controlled island of Okinawa -- was especially active, being used on psychological warfare flights over the Korean peninsula, the PRC, and French Indochina.

In September 1956, all ARC wings were formally disbanded. But electing to keep the Kadena unit intact, the USAF merely changed its name to the equally ambiguous 322nd Troop Carrier Squadron, Medium (Special). In line with the last word of this extended title, the 322nd Squadron continued to focus on unconventional contingencies; its B-29s, in particular, were kept busy performing simulated low-level parachute drops. [43]

During that time frame, CIA air operations across Asia were being run out of Tokyo. To facilitate liaison between Tokyo and the special squadron on Okinawa, two agency officers were posted to Kadena. Although the entire 322nd Squadron was qualified to fly covert operations, the most sensitive missions went to a small subset of airmen assigned to its Detachment 1. These crews flew a pair of C-54s and a lone C-118, all provided courtesy of the CIA.

Though little different from a civilian DC-6 transport on the outside, the 322nd Squadron's C-118 was an engineering marvel. "It was pieced together from so many different serial-numbered parts," recalls squadron pilot Herbert Dagg, "that it would have been untraceable if it went down." The plane also had removable tail numbers, which were sometimes changed multiple times during CIA- sponsored flights. To add to the intentional confusion, crews were required to file false flight plans and fly circuitous routes to mask points of origin and destination. [44]

Outside eyes were not the only ones the CIA was out to fool. The detachment's own aircrews were kept in the dark as to the identity of their agency passengers. All the windows were blackened, and curtains were always drawn between the cockpit and the cabin. Crews were required to use only the front door; passengers used only the rear. "I never even knew if the personnel we flew were Asians," said squadron member Justin Shires. [45]

Such was the case when the detachment got orders to fly the C-118 to Kurmitola. With perfect timing, a covered truck approached from the rear and stopped at the plane's back door. Six small figures dashed up the stairs, followed by Jentzen and John Reagan. Throttling the engines back up, the crew taxied down the runway and disappeared into the eastern skies.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:51 am

Chapter 4: Saipan

After a brief refueling stop in Bangkok, the Khampas were again aloft and heading over the South China Sea. Curving north, they arrived at Kadena and were taken to the small CIA compound on the air base for a three-day physical examination. Doctors found them to have well-developed chests and musculature -- no surprise, given their active lifestyles at high altitude. Notable was their low, even pulse rates. A brief aptitude test showed that although none spoke any English, they exhibited good native intelligence. "Being merchants," noted one CIA case officer, "most had a certain sophistication stemming from their contact across the region." [1]

While still on Okinawa, the group was met by the Dalai Lama's brother Norbu, who joined them on the C-118 as they took to the air and veered Southeast. Four hours later, they descended toward a teardrop-shaped island in the middle of the western Pacific. Though the Tibetans were never told the location -- some would later speculate it was Guam -- they had actually arrived at the U.S. trust territory of Saipan. [2]

Situated on the southern end of the Northern Mariana Islands chain, Saipan was of volcanic origin and had an equally violent history of human habitation. Its original population -- seafarers from the Indonesian archipelago -- was virtually wiped out by Spanish colonialists. Later sold to Germany and subsequently administered by Japan as part of a League of Nations mandate, the island -- though no larger than the city of San Francisco -- had taken on extraordinary strategic significance by the time of World War II. This was because Allied strategy in the Pacific hinged on the premise that the Japanese would not surrender until their homeland was invaded. According to Allied estimates, such an invasion would cost an estimated 1 million American lives and needed the support of a concerted air campaign. For this, Washington required a staging base where its bombers could launch and return safely; the Marianas chain, the U.S. top brass calculated, fell within the necessary range.

Before the Allies could move in, however, there remained the thorny problem of removing nearly 32,000 Japanese defenders firmly entrenched on the island. In June 1944, one week after the landings at Normandy, 535 U.S. naval vessels closed on Saipan. In what was to become one of the most hotly contested battles in the Pacific, they blasted the island from afar before putting ashore 71,000 troops.

The Japanese were not intimidated. Having already zeroed their heavy weapons on likely beachheads, they ravaged the landing columns. Some 3,100 U.S. servicemen died; another 13,100 were wounded or missing.

Despite such heavy Allied casualties, the Japanese had it worse. Overwhelmed by the size of the invasion force, some 29,500 defenders perished in the month-long battle to control the island. Of these, hundreds jumped to their deaths off the northern cliffs rather than face the shame of capture.

Once in Allied hands, the Marianas were quickly transformed into their intended role as a staging base for air strikes against Japan. It was from there, in fact, that a B-29 began its run to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Nine days later, Japan surrendered.

Following World War II, the United States remained on hand to administer the Northern Mariana Islands. In July 1947, this role was codified under a trustee-ship agreement with the new United Nations, which specifically gave the U.S. Navy responsibility for the chain. In practice, this trusteeship translated into an exceedingly small U.S. presence. With Japan's wartime population either dead or repatriated, the chain boasted few settlements of any note; only Saipan hosted anything approaching the size of a town. Even its airfields -- which had once been so critical during the War -- now fell largely dormant after being vastly overshadowed by the sprawling U.S. military bases in neighboring Guam and the Philippines.

For the CIA, however, the tranquility of the Marianas held appeal. Looking for a discreet locale to build a Far East camp to instruct agents and commandos from friendly nations, the agency in 1950 established the Saipan Training Station. Officially known by the cover title Naval Technical Training Unit, Saipan station took up much of the island's northern peninsula and featured numerous segregated compounds where groups of Asian trainees from various nations could spend several months in isolation. "We did not even let two classes from the same country know one another," underscored one case officer. [3]

The course work offered at Saipan station ran the gamut of unconventional warfare and espionage tradecraft. By 1956, Chinese Nationalists, Koreans, Lao, and Vietnamese had passed through its gates for commando instruction; a Thai class had been coached as frogmen; and other Vietnamese had been preened to form their own version of the CIA. In some cases, classes consisted of just one or two key individuals who were going to blend into their central government structure. "There were no standard lessons," said one CIA officer. "Each cycle was custom tailored." [4]

None of the prospective trainees presented more of a challenge than the newly arrived Tibetans. The six recruits were to act as the CIA's eyes and ears back inside Tibet, John Reagan explained to the resident instructor cadre. This necessitated that they absorb not only communications and reporting skills but also a general knowledge of guerrilla warfare techniques, as well as a limited understanding of tradecraft. Although such a broad curriculum would normally require a full year, Saipan station was told to ready the subjects in a quarter of that time. [5]

Under such strict time constraints, three different CIA training teams were assembled to begin instruction. The first team offered the Khampas an extremely rudimentary course on classic espionage tactics. The second started coaching them in Morse communications and use of the RS- shortwave radio and its hand-cranked generator. The final team initiated a primer on guerrilla warfare and paramilitary operations.

Very quickly, problems became apparent. Having had almost no schooling, the Khampas had trouble with such essential concepts as the twenty-four-hour clock. They also had difficulty quantifying distances and numbers. Precise reporting would be vital once they were back in the field, emphasized one agency officer, "but too often they tended to use vague descriptions such as 'many' or 'some."' [6]

To overcome some of these challenges, the CIA instructors had to rely on visual demonstrations. "We had to physically show them," said one trainer, "not simply use a classroom." To clarify the construction of ground signals for an aerial resupply, for example, scaffolding was assembled atop the island's northern cliffs. Below, firepots were arranged on the beach so the Tibetans could visualize how they would appear from the air. [7]

Communications training proved even more difficult. The main stumbling block: Khampas traditionally received little formal language instruction. The six students, who were barely able to read or write, could hardly be expected to transmit coherent radio messages. Not realizing the seriousness of this critical deficiency until nearly halfway through the training cycle, the CIA instructors scrambled to find someone who could teach basic Tibetan grammar. Norbu, who was acting as primary interpreter for the other course work, could not be spared for double duty. Neither could Jentzen, Who in any event was weak in language skills.

Enter Geshe Wangyal.

As a result of the unique symbiosis between Tibetan lamas and Mongol khans during centuries past, Tibetan Buddhism had converts spread across the Mongolian steppes of Central Asia. Some of these Mongolians, being a nomadic people, had wandered far with their adopted religion. By the early seventeenth century, one such band had settled in the Kalmykia region of Russia just north of the Caspian Sea.

Image
Geshe Wangyal, the CIA's Mongolian translator. (Courtesy Joshua Culter)

As an ethnic and religious anomaly, the Mongolians were initially ignored by their host country. By the early twentieth century, however, their mastery of Tibetan Buddhism eventually brought them to the attention of the Russian czars. Looking to outwit the British in the great game of colonial competition, the Russians sought to use a particularly gifted Mongolian monk named Agvan Dorzhiev to court favor with Lhasa.

The task proved deceptively easy. A true scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, Dorzhiev (who hailed from a displaced Mongolian clan in Siberia) not only won an introduction to the thirteenth Dalai Lama but also was retained as a palace tutor and confidant for ten years. Through this inside connection, the relationship between Tibet and Russia had the makings of a close alliance. In 1904, however, chances for this were dashed when the Dalai Lama briefly fled to Mongolia following a British incursion from India. Dorzhiev was dispatched to plead for emergency Russian support, but he returned with nothing more than moral encouragement. Having just been humiliated in the Russo-Japanese War, the czar had little time to spare for Tibet.

The Russians never had a chance to make amends. In 1917, the czar was overthrown by Bolshevik communists, and Russia became the Soviet Union. By that time, Dorzhiev had settled among his ethnic relatives in Kalmykia and opened a pair of monastic schools. Tibet never strayed far from his mind, however, and shortly after the Bolshevik revolution he personally selected several of his best pupils to continue their studies in Lhasa. Among them was a prodigy named Wangyal. [8]

Born in 1901, Wangyal had started monastic life at age six. He was known for his ability to memorize several pages of Buddhist text in a single sitting, and he regularly excelled in class. Switching briefly to medical school, he again took top honors before reverting back to religious course work following the untimely death of his professor.

After being selected to study in Lhasa, Wangyal learned that he would be part of a larger expedition with ulterior motives. As the Bolsheviks still harbored the czarist desire to court Tibet, one of his co-travelers was a communist functionary who intended to offer Lhasa weapons as a sign of good faith. Having Moscow's obvious blessing did not ease the physical challenges of journeying to the Tibetan plateau. What was expected to take four months instead took fourteen and claimed the life of one apprentice in a blinding snowstorm.

Once in Lhasa, Wangyal enrolled at the prestigious Drepung Monastic University. Located on a high ridge eight kilometers west of the capital, Drepung had once been the largest monastery in the world (its population in the seventeenth century was a staggering 10,000 monks), Setting his sights high, the newly arrived Mongolian intended to become geshe (doctor of divinity) -- a title that can take up to thirty-five years of study to achieve. [9]

Rigorous study was not Wangyal's only challenge. He ran short of finances and was forced to leave Lhasa in 1932 to seek funds at home. Planning to return by way of China, he got as far as Beijing before hearing stories of Soviet repression back in Kalmykia. This led him to look for an alternative source of financing in Beijing, and eventually he was able to earn a good living translating Tibetan texts.

By 1935, Wangyal had amassed enough cash and headed back toward Tibet via India. Making his way to Calcutta, he had a chance meeting with Sir Charles Bell, a senior British colonial official and noted Tibetan scholar who, ironically, had earlier displaced Agvan Dorzhiev as the closest foreign confidant of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Given his linguistic skills -- Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and a smattering of English -- Wangyal was hired as Bell's translator during an extended tour of China and Manchuria.

Following these exhaustive travels -- including a four-month visit to England -- Wangyal finally made it to Lhasa. There he earned his geshe degree after just nine years of study. Though this was an impressive scholastic accomplishment, he found himself under a cloud of suspicion. His foreign heritage, coupled with extended time spent in China and service to the British, did not sit well among the xenophobes of the Tibetan court.

Not fully welcome in the homeland of his religion, Geshe Wangyal limited his time in Lhasa to the summer months. Winters were spent in Kalimpong, where he displayed pronounced entrepreneurial skills as a trader. Although this was financially rewarding, he yearned to open his own religious school. Stonewalled in Tibet, he instead targeted Beijing -- only to cancel those plans when the communists came to power in 1949. Figuring that he would give Tibet a second chance, he again ventured to Lhasa but was forced to flee upon hearing that the PLA was approaching the Tibetan capital in late 1951. [10]

Back in Kalimpong, Geshe Wangyal grew restless. China, Tibet, Mongolia, and his native Kalmykia were all under communist occupation, but wasting away the months in tiny Kalimpong lacked both mental and spiritual stimulation.

There was one attractive alternative, however. In late 1951, the United States accepted 800 Kalmyk Mongolians who had been languishing in refugee camps since the end of World War II. These refugees were drawn from two waves that had fled the Soviet Union during the preceding decades. The first had departed Kalmykia shortly after the Bolshevik revolution; the second left in late 1943 after Joseph Stalin adopted a ruthless line against minorities and started deporting the Mongolians to Siberia aboard cattle cars. Once in the United States, the older wave of emigres settled around Philadelphia. The newer ones -- no more than seventy families -- established a small but vibrant community near Freewood Acres, New Jersey. [11]

Hearing of this, Geshe Wangyal contemplated a move to the United States. His first several visa applications were rejected, and it was not until mid-1954, following introductions by a British acquaintance, that the U.S. vice consul in Calcutta processed his papers with a favorable recommendation. [12]

Arriving on American soil in February 1955, Geshe Wangyal found that word of his religious accomplishments in Tibet had already made him famous among his fellow Kalmyk Mongolians. With an instant audience, he opened a modest temple in a converted New Jersey garage.

Geshe Wangal's fame was not limited to his ethnic home crowd. As the first (and to that time, only) qualified scholar of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States, he soon came in contact with Norbu, who at the time was also living in New Jersey and teaching Tibetan at Columbia University. Out of mutual respect between geshe and incarnation, Norbu was given an honorary chair at the New Jersey temple.

The two cooperated in another way as well. Following Norbu's lead, Geshe Wangyal began teaching languages -- first Mongolian, then Tibetan -- at Columbia University in 1956. Having dissected Tibetan grammar during years of poring over Buddhist texts, he had a particularly deep appreciation for its written form. His extended time as Bell's interpreter had left him with reasonably good English skills. The U.S. government, for one, found his linguistic talents more than adequate: among his first Tibetan students at Columbia were two from the U.S. Army. [13]

Given this background, Geshe Wangyal was the perfect choice to instruct the Khampas about their own language. Having already been indirectly exposed to the U.S. government while teaching the army students -- and after being informed that Norbu was already involved -- the monk offered his cooperation and was soon en route to Saipan.

Beyond the serious language hurdle, the CIA staff on Saipan harbored a more fundamental concern about their Tibetan subjects. The Khampas were Buddhists, and nearly all of them had spent some time as monks. Their instructors wondered whether they would hesitate to kill a fellow human being. For Eli Popovich, chief of the seven paramilitary instructors, this was driven home during an incident early in training. A veteran of OSS operations in Burma and the Balkans, Popovich had been addressing his class when one of the Khampas came forward and pushed him. "I had been standing on an anthill," recalls Popovich, "and he didn't want me interfering with another living entity." [14]

It would take another incident -- also involving ants -- to put the Tibetan attitude toward life and death into better perspective. One morning, case officer Harry Mustakos heard a commotion coming from the latrine, where trainee Tashi (now called "Dick"; each Khampa had an American name on Saipan) was attending to cleaning duties. Beckoned by Norbu, Mustakos rushed in to find both Tibetans hunched over a column of ants crossing from a crack in the wall toward the urinal. "What can we do about these creatures?" Norbu pleaded.

With class set to start in minutes, Mustakos gave them a quick answer. "You can carefully sweep them up and drop them outside, " he said, "or you can continue swabbing the deck as though they weren't there."

The CIA officer left the room to let the two Tibetans discuss a solution. Dick's voice could soon be heard reciting a Buddhist mantra as he rhythmically swung the mop across the trespassing column. "Pragmatism prevailed," concluded Mustakos. [15]

Indeed, the CIA was fast coming to realize that the Khampas had few reservations about taking the life of a Chinese invader. "Their ideas on what weapons should be dropped were starting to get extravagant," remembers Mustakos. "Machine guns for each of their friends, they said, plus artillery batteries would be nice." [16]

Of the six Khampas, Wangdu -- now known as "Walt" -- led the cry for more sophisticated weaponry. Partly, this reflected Walt's hot temper. Partly, too, it was a face-saving gesture to compensate for his low scores in Morse training. "He was near the bottom of the class," said fellow trainee Athar, who now went by the name "Tom." "He began complaining that he wanted to train with bigger guns, not waste time on radios." [17]

For the CIA, this posed a dilemma. Walt's demands for heavier firepower conflicted with its need for skilled agents who would observe and report -- not rush to the offensive. Gingerly, the agency trainers attempted to downplay Tibetan expectations. Said Tom, "They explained that it would be too hard to let us carry artillery pieces into Tibet." [18]

The Khampas were not the only ones who required massaging. The two interpreters -- Norbu and Jentzen -- offered their own set of challenges. Like many Asian societies, Tibet was composed of clearly defined strata, with the religious elite and aristocracy at the top and the warrior and merchant classes well below. On Saipan, this translated into one set of quarters for the interpreters (and, later, Geshe Wangyal) and a different barracks for the students. For the proud Khampas, this arrangement was palatable in the case of Norbu, whose religious standing and family ties demanded reverence. Jentzen, by contrast, was viewed merely as Norbu's servant, who was elite only by association. "His English was not too good," sniffed Tom. [19]

For his part, Norbu did not much care for the cloistered life on Saipan. Limited to a single classroom building and pair of sleeping quarters, the Tibetans were rarely allowed to leave their isolated corner of the training base. Moreover, cooks and cleaning crews were forbidden in the name of operational secrecy. As a result, all present -- trainees as well as interpreters -- were required to rotate chores and eat the same meals. As an incarnation and brother of the Dalai Lama, Norbu found this too much to take and at one point refused the food. The CIA cadre was not amused. "If you don't eat it," said Mustakos sternly, "the students won't eat it." Norbu eventually backed down and consumed his proletarian meal.

The Khampas, by contrast, offered no complaints about the Spartan conditions. With rare exceptions, their health rarely faltered. One scare occurred when trainee Tsawang Dorje -- now going by the name "Sam" -- suffered a ruptured appendix. A few weeks later, the same hapless agent accidentally shot himself in the foot with a pistol. Both incidents required emergency trips to Okinawa, and both resulted in fast recoveries.

On another occasion, Lhotse- -- his name now Americanized to "Lou" -- caught a bad case of dysentery. By chance, CIA Director Allen Dulles was passing through Saipan during a Far East tour and had along his personal physician. From the latter, the local doctor was able to obtain a new drug and get Lou started on a course of treatment. Concerned, the CIA instructors checked with Lou daily to determine if his bowel purges continued.

"Shit today?" they asked. To this, the afflicted agent repeated the words in the affirmative. Convinced that the medication was not taking effect, the CIA instructors sent Lou and an interpreter to the hospital for closer observation. There they learned that Lou had already returned to normal and had merely been reciting the phrase to showcase his newfound command of select English words. [20]

Such medical emergencies aside, the Khampas were shaping up to be model students. "They were new to us," said Mustakos. "Culturally and psychologically, we were learning from them as much as they were learning from us." Sometimes this led to conclusions that bordered on the comical. The Tibetans, for example, saw American omnipotence in seemingly unrelated events. Each night at sundown, the CIA advisers sprayed the compound with an insecticide-dispensing unit mounted on a jeep. This awed the Tibetans, who viewed the routine as proof that the United States was a powerful country. Said case officer Mustakos, "They noted that we had devised ways of killing big things -- like people -- by using the weapons with which we were training, and even killing little things -- like mosquitoes -- with the DDT fogger." [21]

Such innocent observations only served to endear the Tibetans to their CIA instructors. One of the most impressed was Roger McCarthy. Thirty years old, the gregarious McCarthy had joined the CIA in 1952 as a communications specialist for Western Enterprises. Promoted to case officer, he arrived in Saipan in 1956 and had just completed a paramilitary training cycle for six members of the Lao intelligence service prior to the arrival of the Tibetans. "The Lao would get frightened during nighttime operations," he recalls, "and hold each other's hands." The Tibetans, by contrast, were of entirely different mettle. "They were brave and honest and strong," said McCarthy. "Basically, everything we respect in a man." [22]

Training officer Mustakos shared similar sentiments about the rugged Khampas. This was underscored during close-quarter combat instruction when he tossed a traditional short Tibetan sword to Lou and told him to attack. "I learned from that," said Mustakos, "to find out if knife fighting was native lore before trying it again."

After a month-long extension to allow Geshe Wangyal to complete his language instruction, training for the Khampas was all but finished by mid-September. To properly outfit them for their return, an urgent request had been flashed back to India for six sets of used Tibetan peasant garb, knives, and coins. Once Gyalo gathered the items, he rushed down to Calcutta and notified his case officer, John Hoskins. Smuggled into the consulate, the unwashed, reeking load was divided into half a dozen diplomatic pouches and posted to Saipan. [23]

Other preparations were well under way for insertion of the agents back into Tibet. To save time -- and avoid the diplomatic and physical hazards of walking back through Indian territory -- the CIA intended to drop them inside their homeland by parachute. As CIA headquarters had given the cryptonym ST CIRCUS to the emerging Tibet Task Force, this aerial portion of the project retained the same theme and was code-named ST BARNUM. [24]

Airborne infiltration posed a whole range of difficulties. First, it required a discreet staging base within range of Tibet; just as during ex filtration, East Pakistan was the optimal choice. Second, the flight would necessarily be conducted at night, which meant that the plane needed both clear weather and a full moon to negotiate its way to the drop zone. Fortunately, both weather patterns and moon phases were predictable. In East Pakistan, the annual monsoon season came to a close in October, and over Tibet, the clearest skies could be found in October and November. Factoring in a full moon, this meant that premium conditions were most likely to occur during a six-day window beginning 6 October and during another six-day window starting 5 November. [25]

An even greater challenge was determining where in Tibet the agents would be inserted. From the moment the Khampas arrived in Saipan, part of that station's mandate had been to help select drop zones. During debriefings of the trainees, each was quizzed about his hometown, where he had traveled, what routes he had taken, names of villages along the way, and people he had met. Starting from crude route tracings, the CIA instructors slowly added village names, terrain features, and distance notations.

Concurrently, CIA headquarters assigned the Far East Division's air branch to flesh out the details for ST BARNUM. Heading the task was the branch's deputy, Gar Thorsrud. No stranger to covert air support, Thorsrud had been a student at the University of Montana when first approached by a CIA recruiter in the summer of 1951. The recruiter was looking for smoke jumpers, the unique breed of firefighters employed by the U.S. Forest Service. During the dry summer months, these jumpers were on call at rural airstrips across the western half of the United States. When a forest fire flared, they donned parachutes and dropped in small teams ahead of the advancing flames. Using shovels and saws to cut firebreaks, they were responsible for saving thousands of acres of woodland.

For the CIA, smoke jumpers were attractive on a number of counts. Not only were they fit and adventurous, but the job entailed learning the basics about parachuting and air delivery techniques. Smoke jumpers, in fact, were on the leading edge with equipment such as steerable chutes and skills such as rough-terrain jumping. Moreover, many -- like Thorsrud -- were promising college students who volunteered for the task during summer break.

In the spring of 1951, just after his graduation, Thorsrud and another smoke jumper were asked to report early to train a pair of CIA officers in rough terrain parachuting techniques. Upon completion, both were offered CIA employment subject to a security review. By that fall, another eight were recruited and passed the review.

By year's end, the Montana smoke-jumping contingent had departed for the Far East. Once there, they were briefed by agency case officers. Indigenous teams and singleton agents were being readied for insertion into China and North Korea, they were told. Because of their parachuting background, the smoke jumpers were assigned to act as jump masters and "kickers," the descriptive term used for cargo handlers who pushed parachute-equipped supply pallets out the back of transport aircraft.

For the next two years, Taiwan-based smoke jumpers helped deliver agents and kick bundles behind communist lines. Thorsrud was involved in some of the deepest penetrations to supply Muslim guerrillas in western China. But at the end of the Korean War, nearly all the jumpers resigned from the agency for more mundane civilian assignments. Among them was Thorsrud, who joined the Air National Guard for pilot training in anticipation of a career with an airline.

It was not to be. In the summer of 1956, Thorsrud was again contacted by the agency and asked to rejoin the Far East Division's air branch. Weighed against a career as a commercial pilot, the CIA post won.

Once he was handed the Tibet assignment, one of Thorsrud's first tasks was to sort out the issue of drop zones. Although the CIA had a special office for worldwide overhead imagery, the files on Tibet were exceedingly thin. Satellites did not yet exist, and the U-2 spy plane -- which had been penetrating the Soviet bloc for just a little over a year -- had flown only a single Tibet overflight on 21 August 1957. Apart from this, few current photographic and cartographic resources were to be found in the agency's archives. [26]

Digging deeper, Thorsrud eventually came up with some useful, albeit dated, photographs. These came from the 1904 British military expedition that had pushed its way into Lhasa to seek a trade agreement. The best shot was a photo of the Brahmaputra River, clearly showing the dunes and extensive wash along its northern bank after flood stage. Just sixty kilometers southeast of the Tibetan capital, this sandy expanse was selected as the site for the first drop.

Based on information coming from Saipan, a second drop zone was chosen near Molha Khashar, a tiny village of two dozen families just outside Lithang. Besides being the hometown of Walt's family, Molha Khashar was reputed to be an area of armed Khampa resistance. [27]

With two drop zones selected, Thorsrud now had to decide on planes and crews. Within the agency's own Asian proprietary -- Taiwan-based CAT -- there was more than sufficient talent. During the Korean War, U.S. crewmen flying for CAT had conducted dozens of drop missions and intelligence-collection flights over mainland China. But after a CAT C-47 was downed over the PRC in November 1952 -- followed by the crash of a covert USAF flight over China in January 1953 -- U.S. crews were forbidden to fly agent infiltrations over the mainland.

An Asian alternative could be found within the ranks of the ROC air force. Back in 1952, five Nationalist pilots and two mechanics had been sent to Japan under CIA auspices. There they began training in low-level flights and drop techniques. By the middle of the following year, the contingent returned home as the cadre of a new Special Mission Team. Initially supplied with a single B-26 and two B-17s on loan from Western Enterprises, the team did not see action until February 1954. That month, the B-26 dropped leaflets over Shanghai to disrupt the fourth anniversary celebrations of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty. That flight was deemed a success, and the team was flying an average of one mainland infiltration per month by the time Thorsrud was planning the Tibet assignment. Its missions included not only leaflet, supply, and agent drops but also electronic-signal collection flights to gather data about the PRC's air defenses. [28]

Although there was no denying the competence of the Nationalist Chinese, their participation was ruled out. This was because the ROC still entertained the notion that Tibet was part of greater China, a position that earned them the scorn of most Tibetans. If Taipei was brought into the fold and word leaked, it would undercut the CIA's relations with the Tibetan resistance.

With Americans and Nationalist Chinese precluded, Thorsrud searched for another option. He eventually found one in an unlikely place. Back in 1949, the CIA had hired two Czech airmen when it needed a deniable crew to drop Ukrainian agents into their homeland. These Czechs had earlier distinguished themselves while flying for the British during the Battle of Britain and had remained in England after their homeland fell to communism. In a variation on this theme, the CIA and British intelligence had jointly prepared a paramilitary operation the following year to unseat the communist government in Albania. Again looking for foreign aircrews, the British had suggested tapping the large pool of Polish veterans in England who had performed brilliantly during World War II. Thus, six stateless Poles from within that community had been hired and dispatched to a staging base in Athens, Greece, for the Albanian assignment.

Pleased with the results, the CIA in 1955 again turned to stateless Poles when it needed crews for a covert operation running out of Wiesbaden, Germany. Using modified P2V Neptune antisubmarine aircraft, missions were flown along the Soviet frontier to collect electronic intelligence. Although Americans piloted many of these flights, two of the planes were flown with Polish crews and used for actual penetrations of Soviet airspace.

It was from this seasoned Polish contingent at Wiesbaden -- code-named Ostiary -- that the Far East Division requested the loan of two five-man crews to perform the Tibetan assignment. The first was to be headed by Captain Franciszek Czekalski, the thirty-six-year-old leader of the Wiesbaden Poles. The second was under Captain Jan Drobny, a former flying sergeant who had flown special wartime drop missions to the anti-Axis resistance movement in Poland.

After gaining agency approval to use Ostiary, Thorsrud had to decide on an infiltration plane. By 1957, the workhorse for covert China overflights from Taiwan was the B-17. The four-engined Flying Fortress had been a fixture of the European theater during World War II. For the CIA's missions over mainland China its ROC-based bombers had been stripped of all weapons and national markings, painted black, and modified with engine mufflers to shield the exhaust. Given its range and maneuverability, it was deemed suitable for ST BARNUM.

In mid-September, the finalized plan was sent to CIA Director Dulles for his signature. Upon his consent, a Taiwan-based B-17 was flown to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. [29] Piloting the bomber was Robert Kleyla, one of the officers managing the CIA air fleet in the ROC. Once at Clark, he met up with the two Ostiary crews escorted by their Wiesbaden case officer, Monty Ballew. Though none of the Europeans had ever flown a B-17, they took to the bomber quickly. Acting as instructor, Kleyla gave the Polish captains what turned out to be a pro forma checkout. "They already were well qualified in four engines," he summed up. [30]

Their transition complete, the Ostiary contingent loaded into the lone bomber and ferried it to Okinawa. There they married up with the Tibetans, who had arrived to start airborne training. Much preparation and experimentation had gone into this phase of the operation. Leading the effort was James McElroy, head of the CIA's aerial resupply section at Kadena Air Base. Eighteen years old when he enlisted in 1946, McElroy had been a U.S. Army parachute rigger until seconded to the CIA in 1951. He now oversaw a section of four Americans and ninety Okinawans who were responsible for parachute delivery operations in support of CIA operations across the Far East. [31]

Just prior to the arrival of the Tibetans, McElroy had been contacted by Saipan station with two requests. First, they wanted a parachute with high maneuverability. Second, they needed a system to ensure that a large supply bundle would remain with the jumper. McElroy was told that the drop zone was at an elevation of 4,545 meters (15,000 feet) with no elaboration on the destination.

For the maneuverable parachute, McElroy took a page from the smoke jumpers. During the early 1940s, they had developed a twenty-eight-foot flat-surface chute with modified slots and tails that gave them sufficient steering ability to maneuver near the edge of firestorms. Inspired by this, McElroy back in 1953 had tried to work similar modifications into the military's standard thirty- five-foot T-10 chute. The results had been disappointing, though in hindsight, he realized that the problem was failure to compensate with sufficiently large slots for the bigger army T-10.

This time, McElroy used the same proportions as the smoke jumper prototypes. The new chutes, with bigger slots and longer tails, were tested by McElroy and Saipan training officer Roger McCarthy. After four jumps, they concluded that the modified T-10s had the required steerability.

For the second request -- keeping the bundle close to the jumper -- McElroy had something much more revolutionary in mind. Harkening back to the end of World War II, he recalled seeing a magazine photograph of a row of connected bundles streaming out the door of a C-47. "I wasn't sure if it was ever used in combat," he said, "but I wanted to try something similar." Sketching out his concept, McElroy envisioned a nylon line running from the chest of the jumper to the supply pallet. Static lines would deploy chutes on both the pallet and the parachutist, with a 91-meter line keeping the two connected. If one of the two chutes failed to deploy, the line was designed to break if overstressed. McElroy was confident that the system would work -- at least on paper.

Once the Tibetans arrived, they were given a primer on landing techniques and then outfitted with the modified chutes. Fearless of heights after years of peering off tall canyons, they exited the plane without hesitation. Much to the case officer's delight, they even used the steerable rigs to chase one another in the air. Three jumps later, all were declared qualified.

By that time, they were into the first days of October, and optimal moon and weather conditions were set to begin over Tibet. Before leaving Kadena, the resupply section loaded bundles inside the B-17. Each of the two Tibetan teams would get a single bundle weighing no more than 114 kilos (250 pounds). Included inside was radio gear, extra crystals, and personal weapons. To get this bundle off the drop zone as fast as possible, the CIA logisticians had broken the gear down into 36- kilo (80-pound) segments and placed them inside special pouched vests similar to those used by newspaper delivery men. [32]

Once their supplies were secured on board, the Tibetans, along with a handful of CIA case officers and both Ostiary crews, took the B-17 to East Pakistan. As with their earlier C-118 ex filtration, the black, unmarked bomber was cleared to land at the unused airstrip at Kurmitola, thirteen kilometers north of Dacca. An Allied runway during World War II, the Kurmitola field was 1,060 meters long, 45 meters wide, and almost 2 meters thick -- all of hand-laid brick. Adjacent to the strip was a hangar with open ends, some empty brick buildings with tin roofs in bad repair, and little else. Because East Pakistan's main north-south road had been built across the center of the runway at a right angle, soldiers from the nearby cantonment were directed to divert traffic at a discreet distance while the B-17 was present. [33]

Image
The communications shed at Kurmitola airfield, East Pakistan; the lightning rod at right is where a CIA technician was electrocuted. (Courtesy Walter Cox)

As the bomber landed and the case officers disembarked, they were immediately hit by two bits of bad news. First, they learned that a CIA communications technician -- dispatched to Kurmitola the previous week to establish a secure radio link -- had been electrocuted while erecting an antenna. Second, they got word that the Soviets had just bested America and successfully launched the first satellite into Earth orbit. [34]

With little time to ponder these developments, the officers immediately set about preparing the B-17 for its drop. Captain Czekalski's five-man team was selected to crew the plane; no Americans were to be on board. To minimize exposure over Tibet, the Poles would conduct both drops on the same flight. Because the plane would need to overfly Indian territory without permission, they had to factor in the radar at Calcutta. Gar Thorsrud had already done his homework and knew that the Indian system had no compensation feature and could be defeated if the B-17 used the Himalayan massif as a radar screen. Flying north over Sikkim, the crew would go as far as the Brahmaputra for the first drop, cut east across the Tibetan plateau to Kham for the second drop, then veer southwest through Indian territory back to East Pakistan. "It would be an easy flight for the Poles," concluded Thorsrud. [35]

Inside the B-17, two supply loads were positioned near the 1.4-meter (54 inch) hatch -- known as a "joe hole" -- located in the bclly of the cabin. The Polish loadmaster for the flight, "Big Mac" Korczowski, reviewed with Roger McCarthy the procedure of placing each bundle over the hole and securing it with restraints.

After a one-day delay (because it was considered inauspicious according to the Tibetan calendar), all six Khampas boarded the aircraft. [36] As Kurmitola had no runway lights, flame pots framed the edges of the runway. Before the plane could take off, however, the weather closed in, and the mission was scrubbed. Three more days of overcast followed, and tension was beginning to mount as the full moon entered its final day.

With just one more chance, the weather finally proved cooperative, and the mission was given the green light. As the Tibetans filed inside the plane and their Buddhist prayers echoed through the cabin, they turned one last time to case officer Mustakos and offered up a Christian tradition. "I had taught them the sign of the cross," said Mustakos, "and now they sought a double blessing."

Lifting off from Kurmitola, Czekalski put the B-17 on a northern heading over the Sikkim corridor. With the Himalayas bathed in a celestial glow, the Ostiary crew climbed over the range and negotiated their way onto the Tibetan plateau.

Inside their homeland for the first time in over a year, the agents readied themselves for the first jump. Despite the altitude and unprcssurized cabin, the Tibetans were not using oxygen bottles; a lifetime of mountain living had acclimatized them to the thin air.

As moonlight reflected off the distant Brahmaputra, two of the agents Tom and Lou, now given the radio call signs Budwood 1 and Budwood 2 -- maneuvered toward the joe hole. Selected as the jumper to be connected to the bundle, Tom adjusted a short section of line near his chest; the remaining 91 meters was rolled and covered with elastic loops on the side of the supplies. "I carried a knife at my side," recalled Tom, "just in case something went wrong."

As the B-17 came over the Brahmaputra, the cockpit crew flashed a signal in the cabin. Facing forward with his feet near the hole, Tom watched as Big Mac yanked the restraints on the supplies. Once the load disappeared out the hatch, the line began to play out from the side of the bundle. A second later, Tom dropped into the void.

The sound of the bomber fast receded, followed by the sound of a dog barking. As Tom looked about to get his bearings, he eyed the bundle and its white cargo chute floating before him. The jumper-to-supply line system was working perfectly. Lou, meanwhile, used his steerable T-10 to follow in Tom's wake toward the approaching sandbank. [37]

Inside the B-17, navigator Franciszek Kot wasted no time plotting an eastern course, while Big Mac hauled the second bundle over the joe hole. When they came upon Kham, however, they found that clear skies had given way to a solid cloud bank. Without any sophisticated navigational systems aboard, the crew had little choice but to abort the second drop and head back to East Pakistan. By that time, the full moon phase had run its course; any further attempts at infiltration would have to wait until the next lunar cycle.

Back inside Tibet, Lou and Tom landed without incident on the wind-blown dunes north of the Brahmaputra. Freeing themselves from their parachute harnesses, they both unstrapped the 9mm Sten submachine guns fixed to their chests and peered into the darkness. Although there was a small settlement of three families just 364 meters (400 yards) away, they received no indication that they had been detected.

Turning their attention to the supply bundle, they broke open the load and started removing the prepacked vests. Since the area around the drop zone consisted of soft earth, they decided to dig seven holes and cache most of their supplies in the immediate vicinity. Before doing so, both changed into traditional Tibetan garb and retained one pistol and one grenade apiece. They also kept one RS-1 radio set and buried the spare.

The next morning, Tom and Lou wandered through the nearby village. Because nomads and traders are common throughout Tibet, the sudden appearance of two strangers aroused no undue suspicion. Mingling with the locals, they overheard talk about their plane passing overhead in the night. None of the villagers suspected that any parachutists had landed, so the pair felt safe waiting two days in the vicinity before taking their radio to the top of an adjacent hill. To their dismay, however, they found that the set had sustained damage in the drop. "The light on the transmitter was very faint," recalled Tom, who had graduated as best radioman among the six trainees. "I tapped a few words but had no way of knowing if it was actually sent." [38]

Leaving the malfunctioning set behind, the pair decided to follow the Brahmaputra. After trekking along its bank for a few hours, they eventually came upon a secluded riverside village near Samye. Pivotal in the history of Tibet, Samye was the site of the monastery where Buddhism was officially inaugurated as the state religion. Because it hosted a constant stream of pilgrims, the arrival of the two outsiders again aroused no attention. "I had the grenade and pistol in my pockets just in case," remembers Tom.

After purchasing horses and some food, the agents reversed direction east toward the Woka valley. Riddled with caves and hot springs, Woka was renowned for its shrines and other meditation sites. But before they could reach this area, the agents chanced upon a band of seven Khampa pilgrims heading toward the Tibetan capital. Tom and Lou were in for a shock. Two of the approaching pilgrims were friends from among their own group of young Khampas that had tailed the Dalai Lama during the Buddha Jayanti. Taking the pair aside, the agents swore them to secrecy and asked that they deliver messages to prominent Khampa trader Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang and Lou's own younger brother, both residing in Lhasa.

As the Khampa entourage continued toward the capital, Tom and Lou returned to their drop zone and unearthed the spare RS-1. Finding it in good working order, the pair tapped out several sentences, briefly outlining their activities over the past ten days.

***

For Irving "Frank" Holober, ten days had been a long wait. A thirty-three-year-old Harvard graduate, he had been serving as head of the Tibet Task Force since late July 1957. Like his predecessor John Reagan, Holober was a China specialist: three years at headquarters as a Chinese translator, then a tour with Western Enterprises, where he helped channel support to Muslims in Amdo. Following that had been a three-year sojourn in Indonesia before assuming Reagan's slot.

From the start, Holober had been beset with problems. Reports were coming in from Saipan that Norbu resented the harsh conditions, especially being forced to eat the same food as the students. As soon as the training cycle concluded, the incarnation and his servant promptly quit the program.

Of far greater concern was the fate of Lou and Tom. From the moment the two agents jumped from the B-17, the CIA had been straining to hear word from their pilot team. After a week had passed, there was growing fear that the pair was lost. With little to do, Geshe Wangyal had been temporarily released from service to return to his New Jersey ministry. As an emergency stopgap, Holober had arranged for help from the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. intelligence organization charged with communications intercepts. Based at Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA agreed to loan the CIA its sole Tibetan linguist, Stuart Buck. [39]

Buck had his work cut out for him. While on Saipan, Geshe Wangyal had taught his Tibetan students a remedial code in which their native script was roughly adapted to the Roman alphabet. But because the six Khampas were not fluent in their own written language, spelling errors in Tibetan were compounded by an inexact Roman transliteration. This is exactly what happened when Tom's message was flashed to CIA headquarters. Trying to make sense of the poor spelling, Buck threw up his hands. "It basically says, 'I'm alive.'"

That was all Holober needed to know. "The entire Far East Division," he recalls, "was electrified." [40]

At Clark Air Base, the Ostiary crews had also been playing a waiting game. Sitting out the remainder of October while the moon ran its phases, they married up with the four remaining Tibetans and moved back to Kurmitola during the first week of November. This time the weather was fully cooperative as the B-17 made a moonlit departure for Kham. [41]

Catching sight of the Lithang River -- which ran past the town of the same name -- the crew dropped low over the hills. As they arrived over what they believed was the vicinity of Molha Khashar, the cockpit flashed a signal to the cabin.

Just as the agents lined up behind the joe hole, Dick hyperventilated and collapsed on the cabin floor. As the loadmaster pulled him to the side, the other three readied themselves for the jump. Repeating the procedure used in the first drop, restraints were pulled from the supply bundle, and it disappeared through the hatch. On the other end of the belly line went Sam, followed by the remaining two agents in quick succession. Reversing course, the B-17 headed back toward East Pakistan with the unconscious Dick still aboard.

Unlike Tom and Lou -- who had landed on a desolate sand flat -- the three Kham agents came down in a hillside of conifers. Landing without injury, they cached their supplies and ascended to the top of a nearby mountain under cover of darkness. There they heard gunfire in the distance as the PLA dueled with Khampa guerrillas.

As dawn broke, Walt took his bearings. To his dismay, he found that the plane had overshot their intended drop zone by some fourteen kilometers. Walking along the high ground into the afternoon, they spotted a lone Khampa tending to five Tibetan ponies. The herdsman was visibly apprehensive as the agents approached, though he eventually agreed to escort them to a guerrilla encampment on a neighboring hill.

By nightfall, the three agents had successfully linked up with the rebel band, which coincidentally included Walt's older brother. Together, they headed back to their cache site and retrieved their gear, and just forty-eight hours after infiltration, they radioed word of their safe arrival. ST CIRCUS was off to a good start.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:52 am

Chapter 5: Four Rivers, Six Ranges

On any given day for centuries past, the dusty alleys of Lhasa were crammed with monks, courtesans, pilgrims, and traders. By late 1957, however, these traditional residents were all but eclipsed by something new -- the war refugee. As a result of the fierce guerrilla battles waged over the past two years, more than 10,000 displaced Khampas and Amdowas had pitched tents in the hills and plains surrounding the capital; many more had fled their villages for sanctuary in the countryside. In a vast country with just 3 million people -- and with the normal population of Lhasa standing at only 10,000 -- this was a demographic shift of significant proportions. [1]

Lost among these refugees, Lou and Tom looked like just two more destitute Khampas making their way toward the capital when they departed Woka in November. This was not too far from the truth: on the ground for a month, they had spent nearly all the Tibetan and Chinese coins from their supply bundles. Pausing sixty kilometers east of the capital, the agents were in for a pleasant surprise. Already awaiting them was Lou's younger brother, who had received the earlier message asking for a rendezvous. Better still, he had come with enough Chinese currency to allow Tom and Lou to buy a tent and pitch it on the outskirts of the village.

As a Lithang Khampa from a reputable family, Lou's younger brother had been living within the vast Lhasa household of Lithang's most accomplished citizen, Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang. The Khampa leader had also received a message from the agents and arrived less than a week later with a small band of assistants.

Fifty-two years old, Gompo Tashi was unique among Khampas. Though a native of Lithang, he hailed from a family of savvy businessmen who had made a profound mark in Lhasa due to their generous annual donations to Buddhist causes. Gompo Tashi had followed this example, amassing considerable wealth as a trader and continuing the family tradition of religious largesse. From a young age, he also displayed legendary bravery in confronting the bandit gangs that haunted his district.

Taken together, this put him in a category apart from his peers. Unlike Kham's conservative hereditary chieftains, Gompo Tashi was far more worldly (he had made a pilgrimage to India and Nepal in 1942) and could appreciate the benefits of modernity and the wider implications of Chinese hegemony. And unlike other successful Kham traders, such as the Pandatsang family, he was less Machiavellian and more principled when it came to support for the central government. This gave him a foot in both camps: his seniority and reputation won respect among the Khampas, while his generosity guaranteed influence within the Lhasa power struc0ture.

There was one sore point, however. As his kinsmen were fighting and dying in Kham, Gompo Tashi rarely strayed far from his comfortable residence in the capital. He was not part of the fledgling resistance movement, nor did he field any fighters of his own. Not until December 1956, half a year after his native Lithang was struck by PLA bombers, did he begin to test the waters of armed dissent. This he did by proxy: three of his employees were dispatched to Kham, each with a letter signed by Gompo Tashi urging the disparate guerrilla bands to unite in a common struggle against the Chinese. [2]

Apart from this move, Gompo Tashi did little for the next year. Things were complicated by the fact that the Khampas themselves -- despite China's shoddy treatment -- were not all sour toward Beijing. In a classic display of clan rivalry, one prominent chieftain from the town of Bathang visited the capital and lectured his fellow Khampas on the benefits of cooperation with the Chinese authorities; he later made a similar pitch to influential monks in Lhasa's biggest monasteries. [3]

Having suffered some of the PLA's worst excesses, Khampas from Gompo Tashi's Lithang were less inclined to compromise. They assumed that he shared their anti-Chinese sentiment, and it was through him that they funneled multiple petitions in early 1957 seeking military assistance from Lhasa.

Despite the pitched struggle being waged in Kham, Lhasa was not listening. Instead, residents in the capital were fully preoccupied with the Dalai Lama's return from India on 1 April. [4] To affirm their collective support for his leadership, they set about preparing a special offering in the shape of a solid gold throne encrusted with gems. Given his past history of donations, Gompo Tashi was selected as a lead fund-raiser and set out for Kham to solicit contributions.

When the throne was officially presented on 4 July, the celebration was deemed a rousing success. Though this did little to help the guerrillas in eastern Tibet, Gompo Tashi's trip to Kham had given him ample opportunity to discuss resistance activities with his kinsmen. It also afforded him occasional audiences with Thupten Woyden Phala. A tall and dignified monk, Phala had long been a confidant of the Dalai Lama. His official promotion to lord chamberlain -- a combination personal secretary and head of the household staff -- late the previous year meant that his access to the monarch was without peer. [5]

Not only was Phala a direct conduit to the highest echelon of power; he was also known to have little tolerance for the Chinese. An ardent nationalist, he had been among the most vocal proponents lobbying for the Dalai Lama to seek exile in 1950. And during the early months of 1957, he had strongly sided with Gyalo and Norbu in trying to keep the monarch from returning to Tibet.

By the time Lou and Tom were ready to parachute to the banks of the Brahmaputra, the CIA knew enough about Phala's influence and nationalist disposition to make him a primary target for the two agents. After their rendezvous with Gompo Tashi in November, the agents sought his aid in arranging a meeting with Phala. As that would take time, the Khampa leader suggested that they wait at a location closer to Lhasa. Departing shortly thereafter, he left behind two assistants to help procure supplies.

As suggested, the agents soon moved to the village of Pempo. Twenty-six kilometers northeast of the capital, Pempo was known for its rich agriculture and cottage industry that produced glazed pots for the Lhasa markets. Resuming radio contact from there, Tom was instructed by the CIA to briefly venture farther north into the hills overlooking the Damshung airfield. Once there, he befriended some nomads, determined that the base was rarely used, and returned to Pempo to report his findings over the RS-1. [6]

By the close of 1957, the pair was again on the move. Continuing their counterclockwise trek around the capital, they reached the famed Drepung monastery, where Geshe Wangyal had studied. They stopped there for less than a week -- during which time they resided inside the complex disguised as pilgrims -- and then shifted to the northern city limits of Lhasa near the similarly immense Sera monastery. Pitching a tent among hundreds of others inhabited by student monks, they couriered a coded message into the capital requesting a second meeting with Gompo Tashi.

It did not take long for a response. To avoid possible Chinese surveillance, the Khampa patriarch agreed to a weekend meeting at a park inside Lhasa. Bringing along food, they lost themselves among the throngs of holidaying residents. The agents used the opportunity to again request help in arranging an audience with Phala, and Gompo Tashi promised to pursue the matter.

Their persistence eventually paid off. Two months later, Gompo Tashi sent a messenger to Sera with two sets of monk's robes. The agents were given instructions to proceed to the north gate of the Norbulingka, the walled, forty-hectare enclave on the western outskirts of Lhasa that housed the Dalai lama's summer palace. Waiting at a cottage inside the gate was Gompo Tashi, who escorted them to Phala's residence.

Sitting in front of the Dalai Lama's confidant, the agents were immediately peppered with questions about their training. Firing back, they quizzed the lord chamberlain about what kind of help Lhasa needed or wanted. They also asked Phala to make an official request for U.S. assistance.

It would prove to be an impossible sell. Whatever Phala's personal views on the subject, the Dalai Lama was determined not to provoke Beijing. This meant restraint from offering the rebels any moral backing, much less material assistance. A die-hard pacifist, the Dalai Lama had even opposed the relatively benign Mimang Tsongdu -- "People's Party" -- an underground ensemble of Lhasa-based laymen, activist monks, and minor government officials who had been practicing civil disobedience against the Chinese. Echoing his master, Phala kept his distance from any resistance movement. "He was completely noncommittal," recalled Tom. "He also said the Chinese were playing off the Tibetan noblemen and nobody trusted each other anymore."

As they prepared to leave, the agents suggested that Phala might want to provide a written message that could be conveyed to Washington. They also asked to see the Dalai Lama at a future date, noting that his brother Norbu had suggested this during their training on Saipan. Phala promised to do his best on both counts.

Neither proved forthcoming. After two months of waiting at Sera without further contact, it became clear that Phala had gotten cold feet. "The ClA kept asking for updates, " said Tom, "but there was no news to give."

Worse for the agents, they had no source of income and were constantly living off handouts from family members in Lhasa. (While in Saipan, the CIA had said that it would attempt to smuggle money to them via Phala, but the lord chamberlain truthfully professed that he had not received any such funds.)

Hungry and frustrated, the pair finally received permission for a second meeting with Phala at the Norbulingka in late March 1958. Like the first encounter, they found the lord chamberlain less than warm; he remained silent about providing any written or verbal appeals to the U.S. government. He also rebuffed their second request for a personal blessing from the Dalai Lama, noting that the monarch was surrounded by minders, and secrecy could not be assured. As consolation, he offered some religious relics purportedly from the spiritual leader. [7]

Gompo Tashi, meantime, was growing impatient with Lhasa's waffling. He was especially concerned when the Chinese authorities announced plans to perform a census around the capital and expel any Khampas or Amdowas who had lived there for less than ten years. Although he did not fall into that category, Gompo Tashi was sufficiently worried to seek advice from the influential state oracle of the Nechung monastery. This particular oracle, say Tibetans, was regularly possessed by one of the more important spirits in their cosmology, and his entranced advice held immense sway over decisions of the Lhasa government.

During his channeling session with Gompo Tashi, the oracle was unequivocal. The Khampa leader should leave Lhasa, he said, no later than the Buddha Jayanti celebrations on the seventh day of the fourth lunar month. When asked what direction Gompo should take, the oracle answered south, toward Drigu Tso lake.

With the decision made for him, Gompo Tashi quietly earmarked pack animals, employees, weapons, and a major slice of his family earnings for the guerrillas in Kham. He also urged the CIA radiomen to remain in Lhasa and stay in contact with one of Phala's assistants. But after a meeting with that assistant who showed no more backbone than his superior, Tom and Lou elected to join Gompo Tashi in the exodus. [8]

As the date of the Buddha Jayanti approached in mid-April, the Khampa chieftain finalized his departure plans. Knowing that most of the city's residents traditionally made a brief pilgrimage to a monastery across the river from Lhasa on the day after the Buddha Jayanti, he decided to camouflage his exit among those crowds.

So, too, would the CIA's agents. Dressed as lamas and with their gear stowed on two mules, they skirted the capital on the prescribed day and waited south of the river. They were met by a band of Gompo Tashi's servants bearing extra horses -- but not Gompo Tashi himself -- and their small caravan headed south. A day later, the Khampa leader stylishly rendezvoused with them on a British motorcycle, which he promptly exchanged for a less flashy equestrian mount.

Continuing south, they made good time to the banks of the Brahmaputra River. They crossed the river on a wooden ferry and then pushed south in the direction of the Drigu Tso. Unfortunately, Gompo Tashi carried a poor map and was taking pains to stay clear of major trails in order to avoid PLA patrols. As a result, when they arrived at a major body of water and made inquiries with the locals, they found that they had inadvertently arrived at Lake Yamdrok -- fifty-five kilometers west of their intended destination.

Pausing for the moment, Gompo Tashi sent a scout party east to reconnoiter the Drigu Tso. The scouts returned with reports that the lake was surrounded by flatland and populated by only a handful of nomads. Satisfied that the oracle had made a good choice, the Khampa leader dispatched his servants across the plateau with a request that resistance members of all Tibetan ethnic persuasions congregate at the Drigu Tso in a month's time. Meanwhile, he took Lou and Tom farther south toward the Bhutanese border to procure adequate grain supplies for the upcoming guerrilla rendezvous.

***

Far to the east, Walt could speak firsthand about the state of the resistance. From the moment he and his two fellow agents landed in November 1957, they were immersed in the heart of the Kham guerrilla movement. Due to district rivalries, that movement had never developed a unified province-wide command structure. Twenty-three Khampa clans, however, were fighting together under the common title of the Volunteer Army to Defend Buddhism. By early 1958, this functional name had given way to a geographic one: Chushi Gangdruk -- "Four Rivers, Six Ranges" -- a reference to the major rivers (Mekong, Salween, Yangtze, and Yalung) and mountains that ran across Kham.

In Walt's own band, 500 Chushi Gangdruk rebels were focused on expelling the Chinese around Lithang. Things started out well enough, including the unexpected arrival of the final Saipan-trained student, Dick. After hyperventilating in the rear of the B-17, Dick had been off-loaded in Dacca and smuggled overland back to Darjeeling. Once there, Gyalo Thondup had matched him up with another able-bodied Khampa and sent both on horseback to Tibet via Sikkim.

After making his way to Lithang, Dick presented a letter from Gyalo pledging imminent support. This was welcome news for Walt; almost from the moment he had landed, he had been sending multiple radio requests for weapons and ammunition. Now armed with Gyalo's letter, he generated considerable excitement among the insurgents and succeeded in attracting new recruits. [9]

Walt's ethnic kin were not the only ones taking notice of his recruitment activity. Due to the relatively low altitude and easy access along the new byways completed in 1956, the PLA had been able to shift 150,000 soldiers to eastern Tibet by the end of 1957. Specifically targeted against southern Kham were hordes of Hiu Muslim cavalrymen, who had already been used to devastating effect against a sister rebellion on the steppes of Amdo.

In the ensuing mismatch of numbers, the fate of Chushi Gangdruk was a foregone conclusion. By mid-1958, Walt's servant Thondup, known as "Dan" while on Saipan, took a bullet to the head. A month later, Sam fell victim to an ambush. Shortly thereafter, Dick was shot. With three of the four Saipan students lost, Walt and the remnants of his band had little choice but to abandon Lithang and begin a fighting withdrawal toward central Tibet.

Walt was not alone. By the summer of 1958, waves of Khampa refugees and defeated rebels were heading west toward Lhasa. Of these, some diverted south to the banks of the Drigu Tso, where on 16 June Gompo Tashi arrived to oversee the inauguration ceremony for a unified resistance movement dubbed the National Volunteer Defense Army (NVDA). With 1,500 guerrillas in attendance and Gompo Tashi named titular head by acclamation, the previous flag of the Chushi Gangdruk (a mythical snow lion on a blue background) was replaced by a new NVDA standard featuring crossed Tibetan swords on a yellow field. Tom was on hand to take photographs of the occasion; the roll of film was then couriered out to Gyalo in India. [10]

The reason for the name change was more than semantic. Although the NVDA was overwhelmingly composed of Khampas, Gompo Tashi intentionally sought to break from the regional overtones of Chushi Gangdruk and present a name and image that would appeal to all Tibetans.

As this was transpiring, Tom and Lou duly radioed updates back to the CIA. Much of their reporting consisted of requests for weapons and ammunition, both of which were in short supply. When none were forthcoming, Gompo Tashi took matters into his own hands and departed NVDA headquarters in August to lead a raid against an isolated Chinese garrison southwest of the capital. There, it was hoped, they could make off with a haul of armaments at little risk.

In the ensuing series of battles, the NVDA was less than successful. Word of its first impending attack had apparently been leaked, and the scout party walked into an ambush. Withdrawing after a three-day fight, they promptly walked into a second ambush. Continuing on a western heading, they next attempted to raid an armory of the Tibetan army.

There, the NVDA was exposed to the rude ironies of its nationalist struggle. Though it might have shared much common ground with the NVDA, the small Tibetan army, like the central government to which it answered, remained publicly opposed to the anti-Chinese resistance and took pains not to assist the resistance in any way. This was done in part to avoid angering Bejjing, which was already pressuring Lhasa to take up arms against the insurgents. In part, too, it was due to lingering ethnic prejudices: the NVDA, like Chushi Gangdruk before it, could not shake the Khampa brigand stereotype held by many central Tibetans. This became painfully apparent when Gompo Tashi and his guerrillas approached the government armory. Anticipating the raid, Lhasa had secretly ordered the weapons shifted to a nearby monastery. Eventually learning of the ruse, the NVDA leaned on the local monks but found their audience to be less than receptive. Only after many days of cajoling did the religious officials reluctantly open their stores to the resistance fighters. [11]

***

Back in Washington, updates from their radio operators in Tibet left the CIA far from satiated. Most of the messages were being sent by Tom; although he had been the best Morse code student among the Saipan graduates, his grammatical shortcomings limited most transmissions to only a few clauses. "It was okay from an operational point of view, " said Tibet Task Force chief Frank Holober, "but wanting from an intelligence standpoint." [12]

The agency was particularly reluctant to commit weaponry without a better understanding of the NVDA and where it was headed. Short of visiting Tibet, the only way to get this was to fully debrief one of the agents. For that purpose, word was sent back for Tom to make his way to India. Taking loan of a horse, the agent traveled for ten days toward the Sikkimese frontier, slipped past a PLA border ambush, and made his way to Darjeeling. [13]

Once there, Tom lost little time locating Gyalo and his personal assistant, Lhamo Tsering. Six years Gyalo's senior, Lhamo was Gyalo's distant relative from Amdo. Lhamo had fought in a Chinese youth militia unit against the Japanese, and shortly after returning to Amdo, Gyalo's mother had tasked him with chaperoning her son while the latter was studying in Nanking. Save for Gyalo's time on Taiwan and in the United States, the two had not been separated since. [14]

To assist Tom during the debriefing, Lhamo Tsering accompanied the Kham agent down to Calcutta. There they secretly rendezvoused with CIA officer John Hoskins, who had the pair lie in the back of his car as he shuttled them to a safe house. Inside was Frank Holober, who had prepared a list of detailed questions. Although Lhamo spoke passable English, he and Holober found that they shared more linguistic common ground using Mandarin. Over the ensuing week, the CIA officer translated questions into Chinese for Lhamo, who would pose them to Tom during the afternoon and present his answers the following morning.

Holober also used the opportunity to meet Gyalo. Much like the earlier assessment by Hoskins, Holober was not overly impressed by the Dalai Lama's brother. "I did the briefing," he recalls, "and Gyalo did a lot of nodding." [15]

There were other concerns as well. By that time, the team in Lithang had ceased radio transmissions and been declared missing. The apparent loss of its agents came at a critical juncture, as the CIA did not wish a repeat of the 1956 Hungarian rebellion, when ill-prepared activists proved easy fodder for Soviet cannons. "We wanted to create cells like the Communist Party," said Holober, "not a full-blown resistance that would be snuffed." [16]

But it was too late for that. Based on Tom's observations, the resistance was up and running and would continue with or without CIA support. Despite the Hungarian precedent, the agency concluded that the Tibetan rebels were one of the best things it had going behind communist lines. Accordingly, a decision was made in the late summer of 1958 to proceed with limited material support. The agency also decided in principle to train a second group of Tibetans. Unlike the first contingent -- which was theoretically to act as eyes and ears -- the second wave would be coached as guerrilla instructors to help the resistance multiply exponentially.

***

To provide material assistance to the NVDA, aerial methods were the agency's only viable option. Just as during the ST BARNUM insertions the previous year, range dictated that the plane stage from East Pakistan, and the same meteorological considerations called for the supply drop to coincide with the clear skies and full moon of mid-October.

There would also be significant differences from the earlier missions. Although the stateless Poles had performed exceptionally well during the first two Tibetan flights, they had suffered fatalities during a subsequent CIA operation in Indonesia and lobbied to permanently leave Asia for their previous posting in Germany.

With Ostiary out of the running -- and Taiwan's airmen still politically unacceptable -- the officers at the Far East Division's air branch saw little choice but to propose the use of Americans. The idea held more risk than ever. During the Indonesia operation in May, a CAT pilot had been downed and captured -- a fiasco that helped end the agency's entire paramilitary operation in that country. The following month, a USAF C-118 had been brought down by MiG fighters along the Soviet border during an attempted reconnaissance flight, heaping yet more egg on Washington's face.

Despite these embarrassments, the ST BARNUM planners persisted and won permission to use a CAT aircrew for Tibet. Given the depth of multiengine experience in the CAT ranks, this opened up the possibility of flying a larger plane with more cargo capability than the B-17. During the Indonesian operation, CAT had used its C-54 Skymaster, the military version of the four-engine DC-4. Opting for something even bigger, ST BARNUM eyed the sanitized USAF C-118 that had been handling covert flights out of Okinawa. [17]

Once this choice was approved, the aircraft was outfitted with a set of rollers curving out its oversized rear door. This allowed for a much larger bundle than could be squeezed through the joe hole of the B-17. This also meant that the mission would need a larger complement of crewmen to disgorge the load over the drop zone. Searching for suitable candidates, the CIA soon discovered that kickers had become a rare commodity in Asia. Ever since CAT had stopped flying drops over the Chinese mainland in late 1952, nearly all the smoke jumpers on the agency's rolls had been sent packing. The situation had grown so desperate that several case officers had been pressed into service as cargo handlers during a series of covert airdrops over Indonesia in early 1958.

With time pressing, the CIA returned in the fall of 1958 to the smoke jumper community. The September rains had brought an abrupt end to the summer fire season in the western United States, and many were readily available. From Washington, Gar Thorsrud asked his brother -- himself a smoke jumper in Missoula, Montana -- to contact three colleagues for the sensitive assignment. In short order, Roland "Andy" Andersen, William Demmons, and Ray Schenck were in the nation's capital for a security check and briefing. "It was perfect," remembers Anderson, "because we could do Asian operations during the winter and spring, then be home for smoke jumping in the summer." [18]

As the three kickers made their way to Okinawa, the head of the CIA air operations office in Tokyo, Colonel William Weltman, was informed of the selection of a CAT aircrew. Relying heavily on Taiwan-based pilots he knew from social circles, CAT vice president Robert Rousselot had finalized picks for his so-called First Team. As pilot and copilot he named Merrill "Doc" Johnson and William Welk. Both these aviators had been among a small group of CAT aviators who had performed with distinction during deep mainland penetrations in 1952. Chosen as flight engineer was Bill Lively, the navigator slot went to James Keck, and the radioman was Bob Aubrey.

Waiting at Okinawa until the full moon phase in mid-October, Weltman personally entered the cockpit to ferry the C-118 down to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Pausing long enough for Weltman to make a symbolic transfer to Doc Johnson -- and for the kickers to get a bad sunburn scraping off all remaining markings on the plane -- the First Team then proceeded toward East Pakistan. [19]

As had been the case during the B-17 flights, the First Team found that Kurmitola airfield held few amenities. "We spent the night on cots in an open hangar," recalls Thorsrud, who had arrived from Washington to oversee the mission. Several crew members sighted snakes in the rafters, and local guards repeated apocryphal tales of a man-eating tiger outside the base perimeter.

Image
CAT-piloted C-118 at Kurmitola, East Pakistan. (Courtesy Gar Thorsrud)

All of this paled next to the dangers associated with the C-118 itself. Because it was not designed to open inward during flight, the rear door was temporarily removed at Kurmitola. The plane, as a result, would be flying unpressurized for the duration of the mission. Not only did this mean an uncomfortably cold cock-pit and cabin, but the crew would need to use oxygen masks to keep from passing out in the thin air over the Tibetan plateau. Worse, the C-118's four engines barely had enough power to clear the Himalayas; if one engine shut down en route, they had little hope of getting home.

The challenges continued to mount once they got airborne the next morning. Following the same route taken during the first Ostiary mission, navigator Keck was shocked by the poor World War II-era maps they had been given. "Once over the Himalayas," he said, "the charts just showed big sections of brown and tan with no data." [20]

To compensate, Keck climbed into the plane's glass dome atop the fuselage to take a celestial reading. While he was there, disaster nearly struck. To facilitate movement, he and the rest of the crew had been outfitted with walk-around oxygen bottles. As he ascended into the dome, however, the bottle's three-meter tube was accidentally pinched. Unaware of the blockage and slowly lapsing into unconsciousness, Keck nonchalantly told the cockpit that he was going to take a nap. Only through the fast action of the flight engineer was the tube unkinked and Keck's senses restored. [21]

Once the plane approached the Drigu Tso drop zone, Keck, Aubrey, and Lively all converged in the cabin to offer assistance manhandling the loads down the rollers. As instructed by Lou (Tom was still en route from India), local guerrillas had lit a huge flaming cross on the ground. This had been done with a unique Tibetan twist: instead of wood -- a precious commodity at high altitudes -- the signal had been constructed from more plentiful horse and yak dung.

Sighting the fire, Johnson activated a green light in the cabin. As the plane nosed upward, this was the cue for the kickers to remove the final stops on the pallets and give them a gravity-assisted push. With static lines connected to a beam fitted to the ceiling, the supplies thundered down the conveyor and out the door. Olive canopies blossomed in the plane's wake, and the bundles floated toward the waiting guerrillas.

Converging on the pallets, the Tibetans broke them open to find two hundred .303 Lee-Enfield rifles and ammunition. A bolt-action rifle that had seen heavy action during World War I, the vintage Lee-Enfield had two advantages. First, it had been a staple of the Tibetan army since 1914. It could therefore be assumed that the Tibetans had mastered its use and maintenance. Second, it was of British origin and had been liberally supplied to regional armies such as those of India and Pakistan; the United States, as a result, was afforded plausible deniability.

Although the guerrillas had no qualms about the choice of weapon, they did question the quantities provided. Almost immediately, they leaned on Tom (who had just completed his return trek from India) to radio an appeal for a second drop. [22]

Elsewhere in the field, not all was going well for the NVDA. After strong-arming weapons from the monastery in August, Gompo Tashi and his guerrillas now wielded a mixed selection of mortars, machine guns, and rifles. Working their way clockwise around Lhasa, they eventually approached the PLA's Damshung airfield north of the capital. Despite a string of tactical wins along the way -- a truck ambushed here, an outpost overrun there -- the Khampa tactics were generally not working. Part of this was due to the fact that Gompo Tashi was maneuvering his rebels by the hundreds, nearly all of them on horseback. Although it might have been possible to conceal these numbers in the conifer forests of southern Kham, it was not feasible in the barren hills of central Tibet.

The Chinese, as a result, almost always knew where the NVDA was and when it would be coming. Theoretically, the guerrillas should have been able to set the pace of battle and dictate their targets; instead, they were almost always on the run and being corralled by their opponents in a very conventional manner. Bringing spotter planes and field artillery into play, the PLA outnumbered and outgunned the main rebel concentration as it neared Damshung. Peppered with shrapnel, a wounded Gompo Tashi soon ordered a retreat to the east.

Part of the NVDA's problem was the collective cold shoulder offered by the local population. As Mao Tse-tung had preached during the Chinese civil war, revolutionary guerrillas were akin to fish thriving in the water of the community. Without water, went the metaphor, the fish could not survive. Given Tibet's sparse population, the Khampa guerrillas rarely encountered such figurative water. And when they did, central Tibetans -- influenced by antirebel proclamations from Lhasa and generations of prejudice -- saw them as less than brothers in arms. [23]

Facing these obstacles, Gompo Tashi in September ordered his task force on a long march out of central Tibet. By October, just as the first supply drop was landing at Drigu Tso, they arrived at the western edge of Kham. Cold and hungry after their trek through knee-deep snow, they hoped for a more friendly reception among their kin. Unfortunately for the NVDA, some of their number chose the opportunity to split from the cause and revert to banditry. Realizing that this would undercut any attempt at winning the locals' hearts and minds, Gompo Tashi had no choice but to put the anti-Chinese struggle on hold and instead spend time bringing his rogue members to justice. [24]

***

In southern Tibet, the NVDA was also in a state of flux. The guerrillas soon determined why so few people lived around the Drigu Tso: the winds coming off the lake were frigid during winter, and the soil did not support any agriculture. Looking for a more hospitable venue, the headquarters of the resistance shifted north to the more fertile Yarlung valley near the Brahmaputra. Lou, meanwhile, ventured with a rebel contingent to the village of Lhagyari, forty kilometers east of Yarlung. Tom briefly joined him there after his return from India, but the two soon relocated far south to an NVDA rear base at the village of Lhuntse Dzong, just forty-five kilometers from the Indian border.

While at Lhuntse Dzong, the pair got word in November that a second supply drop was in the works. Though otherwise inhospitable, the barren plains near Drigu Tso had worked perfectly as a drop zone the first time. Looking to repeat this success, the two agents agreed to take a reception committee to that area to greet the second flight. [25]

For this ST BARNUM reprise, the same C-118 and crew departed Kurmitola on an identical flight path. Without complications, olive-drab parachutes mushroomed in the plane's wake, and the supplies floated down to the waiting rebels.

Image
NVDA areas of operation, 1958-1959

With the October and November drops, the guerrillas had now been provided with 18,000 pounds of weapons, ammunition, and communications gear. Although this should have been reason for cheer, their attention was instead fixated on a single yellow parachute used during the November shipment. Quickly appropriated by Tom and Lou, the bundle attached to this chute contained additional radios and a satchel of 300,000 Indian rupees to pay message couriers. Always game for a good conspiracy, the Tibetan rebels began bickering that the radio operators had actually received a small fortune in gold ingots -- hence the color of the chute -- and were not willing to share their bounty. [26]

Such destructive sniping was compounded by the arrival in December of Walt and a handful of stragglers from Lithang. He had been out of radio contact for half a year, and his sudden appearance was an intelligence windfall for the CIA. Walt, however, did not see it that way and had Tom relay his intense frustration over the radio. Infuriated with Washington's refusal to conduct a weapons drop for Lithang, the fiery Khampa reported that the resistance in that locale was crushed and his three Saipan-trained colleagues missing (only Dan was a known fatality; the fate of the other two was still unconfirmed at the time). "The CIA asked if he would return to Kham to verify their fate," recalls his brother, "but he said there was no hope and refused."

It was on that sour note -- with Walt sulking at Lhuntse Dzong and Gompo Tashi wrestling with the NVDA's self-inflicted wounds -- that 1958 drew to an inauspicious close.
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:52 am

Chapter 6: Virginia

Returning from his debriefing of Tom in the late summer of 1958, Frank Holober was still far from satisfied with the Tibet Task Force's communications arrangement. Ex filtrating an agent to India had worked once, but it was hardly a practical solution. A big part of the problem was rooted in the complexity of the Tibetan language. Consisting of thirty consonants and five vowels, it had been set down in a Sanskrit script with a less than perfect arrangement. Several symbols were often used for virtually identical sounds, resulting in numerous homophones: different spellings, different meanings, same pronunciation.

Given the poor educational background of the Khampa students, homophones were just one reason they were having such difficulty composing coherent radio messages. To help overcome this, the CIA's instructors on Saipan had developed a telecode booklet listing common Tibetan words and phrases, each transliterated into the Roman alphabet and assigned a five-digit number group. For words that did not exist in Tibetan -- like "bazooka " -- English was used. All that remained was for the Khampa radiomen to encrypt the number groups with a one-time pad and transmit.

Although the telecode booklet was a good start, problems persisted. Not knowing how much radio traffic it would receive, the CIA had included only the most basic vocabulary. When they needed to express words not contained in the book -- which was often -- the agents usually picked the wrong spelling.

Each time one of the resultant garbled messages was received at the agency's communications facility on Okinawa and relayed to Washington, Holober was faced with the frustrating process of deciphering its meaning. In need of a native speaker to interpret on a phonetic basis, he frequently solicited assistance from the venerable Geshe Wangyal. "Geshe-la would take a train from New Jersey and stay at a safe house near the Zebra Restaurant off Wisconsin Avenue," said one CIA officer, using the monk's nickname. "It was stocked with beer, which he would drink to 'ward off colds.'" But even with Geshe Wangyal's linguistic skills, second-guessing the Khampa messages was a trying art. Remembers the same officer: "He would study the messages and frown in concentration: 'I think the boys are saying. ...'" [1]

Looking ahead, Holober recognized that one way to reduce such problems in the future would be to have a telecode list with more words. To accomplish this, both he and Geshe Wangyal patiently expanded the booklet over the course of 1958. By fall, it was starting to approximate a full-fledged book. [2]

That same autumn, Holober's task force was augmented by a pair of officers. One of them, Thomas Fosmire, was a twenty-eight-year-old former sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division who had made his CIA debut launching sabotage and agent teams from small boats during the Korean War. Although this maritime effort was successful when it came to lightning raids, Fosmire soon wrote off attempts at longer-term infiltrations. "Getting an agent into a closed society was hard enough," he said, "but sometimes it was as simple as them tracking the footprints in the snow coming off the beach." [3]

Following the Korean armistice, Fosmire served in Thailand as an adviser to the Thai border police at four different training camps stretched across the kingdom. The last of these was Hua Hin, home of the elite border police paratroopers. Following a 1957 army-led coup, however, the police paratroopers were blacklisted by the coup leaders and confined to base. Along with his troops, Fosmire idly counted the weeks.

Not until January 1958 did the situation begin to change. That month, the paratroopers requested permission to send a contingent to the Philippines to train as an air-sea recovery team. Given the unit's intended humanitarian mandate, the proposal was approved. Escorting the unit as case officer was Fosmire.

The interlude did not last long. One month after arriving in the Philippines, Fosmire got an emergency call to act as a kicker during a covert airdrop in neighboring Indonesia. Continuing on with the Indonesia assignment, he was secretly posted to the island of Sulawesi, where he advised antigovernment rebels through late spring.

When the Indonesia operation was forced to close prematurely -- in large part because a CAT pilot had been shot down and captured -- Fosmire was at a professional low. Emotionally tied to the Indonesian rebels, he desperately wanted to assist them in their hour of need. Headquarters was committed to divorcing itself from the effort, however, and instead sidelined him with a temporary job in Saipan as the escort officer for a Filipino counterinsurgency team in training. [4]

By the late summer of 1958, Fosmire was back in Washington and landed the slot on Holober's task force. For the first few weeks, he shuttled around the capital to elicit help in refining the Tibetan radio code. Particularly helpful was a female OSS veteran renowned in the intelligence community for her innovative approach to encryption. "I scribbled notes as she spoke," recalls Fosmire, "trying to pretend I understood what she was saying."

Not long after, the task force received a visit from the CIA's Far East Division chief, Desmond FitzGerald. Though new to the post, FitzGerald was not unfamiliar with Asia. A Harvard-trained Wall Street lawyer before World War II, he had served as liaison officer to a Nationalist Chinese battalion in the steamy jungles of Burma between 1943 and 1945. Though sometimes prone to offensive elitism commensurate with his Boston upbringing and Ivy League education, he had relished the hardships of his Burma combat experience and had come to appreciate the abilities of Asian allies when they were properly supplied and led.

FitzGerald returned to Wall Street after the war, but a pronounced idealistic streak led him to dabble in politics while investigating corruption in New York's official circles. Though he had just purchased a new brownstone and seemed ready to settle in New York City, a phone call from another former lawyer, Frank Wisner, changed his mind. An OSS veteran from the European theater, Wisner had been mandated in 1948 to run a small covert action agency innocently titled the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). Wisner intended the OPC to take an activist role in confronting communist subversion, and he wanted FitzGerald on his team. [5]

Enthusiastic, FitzGerald readily agreed and was soon named executive officer in the OPC's Far East Division. By that time, the Korean War had started, and Wisner was groping for ways to divert Beijing's attention from the Korean peninsula. OPC's Hong Kong chief suggested harnessing the thousands of Nationalist Chinese troops that had been pushed across the Burmese border during the Chinese civil war. He believed that if properly supplied, this Kuomintang legion could be redirected against the PRC's southern underbelly.

Hearing of this scheme, FitzGerald was smitten. Sickened by tales of Chinese communist excesses, he saw merit in taking on the PRC by fomenting guerrilla uprisings. The idea also matched his somewhat romantic, British-style approach of co-opting locals -- such as the Gurkhas from Nepal -- as allies. Moreover, his own experiences in Burma left him with an appreciation for unconventional Chinese operations in that sector. [6]

With FitzGerald's strong hand, the Burma operation kicked off in February 1951. But despite great expectations and generous CIA supply drops through spring, the project proved an embarrassing failure. Try as they might, each Nationalist foray into Yunnan Province was immediately repelled by PLA reinforcements. Unable to keep revelations about U.S. logistical support out of the press, Washington had no choice but to pull the plug.

Although the Burma operation accomplished little, FitzGerald's career hardly suffered -- quite the opposite. Forgiving superiors saw fit to approve of his tenacity and drive, regardless of the results. In 1952, with the OPC having been absorbed into the CIA mainstream, he retained his position as deputy of the Far East Division.

Despite his significant influence within the division (he was acting chief for extended periods), FitzGerald yearned to make a mark in the field. He got his wish in 1954 when he was assigned as head of the agency's China Base, located within the U.S. naval compound in Japan's port of Yokosuka. Unfortunately for FitzGerald, China Base was a poor vehicle for recognition. As the designated mechanism to coordinate the CIA's regionwide efforts to penetrate and destabilize the PRC, the base was mandated to conduct projects in any number of Asian nations along China's periphery. But other station chiefs did not relish the idea of an outside mission running operations on their turf. Worse, many of China Base's agent sources were exposed as con artists and frauds. After a scathing internal CIA review, China Base closed its doors in the summer of 1956. [7]

Although FitzGerald did not deserve full blame for the failings of China Base -- he had inherited an ongoing operation -- its funeral occurred on his watch. Inevitably, FitzGerald had his share of detractors. "Des was a dilettante," said fellow Far East hand James Lilley, "who plucked out good things to serve his own purpose." However, he also had a strong friend and mentor in former OPC chief and now top CIA operations officer Frank Wisner. [8]

Under Wisner's wing, FitzGerald was next assigned as head of the agency's Psychological and Paramilitary Operations Staff. Though an impressive title, this was actually a hollow desk slot. Not until mid-1958, following a shake-up in the aftermath of the Indonesian debacle, did he get word that he was taking over the Far East Division.

At the time of FitzGerald's promotion, it would have been hard not to focus on the revolt in Tibet. In many ways, the two were a perfect match. After years of frustrating attempts to hobble the PRC from within, FitzGerald had a verifiable case of active and ongoing resistance. And for a man with a romantic sense of chivalry, the rugged Khampas delivered in spades. He soon came to identify with the Tibet project more than with any other agency operation in the Far East. "FitzGerald personally came down to the office," remembers Tom Fosmire. "He told us, 'We're going to do it."' [9]

With this cryptic statement, FitzGerald was giving final authority to proceed with training for the second Tibetan contingent. This time, however, it was decided to offer instruction at a location more similar to their home environment than the tropical climes of Saipan. The closest elevation to Tibet in the continental United States is in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado. That same state hosts the country's highest incorporated city, Leadville, at 3,162 meters (10,430 feet). Once bloated with 40,000 residents during the silver boom of the late nineteenth century, Leadville's population in 1958 barely exceeded 4,000. While such tranquility held appeal for the CIA, of even greater interest was the secluded valley thirty-two kilometers to its west. There, strung along a ten- kilometer stretch of the Eagle River, stood Camp Hale.

Much like Leadville, Camp Hale was a shadow of its former self. Activated in 1942, the camp at its peak had 1,022 buildings in support of 15,000 troops. On the surrounding slopes, the 10th Mountain Division learned skiing, rock climbing, and cold weather survival skills -- often in temperatures that dipped to thirty degrees below zero. Their training was put to good use when the division made a daring climb up Italy's Riva Ridge in February 1945, surprising the Nazis on top. For the next two months, they pursued the Axis forces across the Alps before Germany surrendered. [10]

Despite its contribution to the war effort, Hale was destined to be a peace-time casualty. Nazi prisoners (400 of the most incorrigible members of Rommel's Afrika Korps had been confined at Hale) were assigned to dismantle the camp shortly after the war, and they nearly succeeded. Only a handful of buildings was left standing, and they were used periodically through the early 1950s to train ski troops. By the middle of the decade, however, the Pentagon saw little need to maintain specialist ski formations. The camp -- what was left of it -- was shuttered and abandoned.

All of this suited the CIA perfectly. In the early fall, the job of reconnoitering the Hale facilities was given to the task force's second new officer, John Greaney. A lawyer by education, Greaney had attempted to prepare himself for the Tibet assignment by perusing the CIA's files and learning what he could about the mountain kingdom. The agency, he soon concluded, knew precious little. "I tried to get permission to go to Austria and speak with Heinrich Harrer," he remembers, referring to the Dalai Lama's longtime tutor, "but the idea was rejected." [11]

As consolation, Greaney got a plane ticket to Colorado. Armed with the highest-level government permission, he received excellent cooperation from the U.S. Army officers at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, which retained administrative control over Hale. Unfortunately for the CIA, the camp's best remaining buildings were within sight of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. From a security point of view, there was a better area further down the valley, but that would entail laying sewage and water pipes for several kilometers. Since Hale was already frozen under early snows, construction of the pipes promised to be slow. The agency, Greaney concluded, would need an alternative site for the interim.

The task of finding an alternative fell to Tom Fosmire. Shopping around for an existing facility, he took a trip in September to the CIA's expansive training base at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Virginia -- nicknamed "The Farm." He presented the camp personnel with a request for temporary use of a remote locale within the grounds.

Eyeing Fosmire's youth -- and perceived lack of clout -- the staff could barely conceal their boredom. Stalking out, he promised to report their lack of cooperation directly to Des FitzGerald. The threat worked. "A lanky, enthusiastic young officer caught up with me," recalls Fosmire, "and said he had a friend at Fort Eustis that could scrounge up some spare Quonset huts." Assembled in a desolate, wooded corner of Peary, the Tibet Task Force soon had its temporary training site in place.

Task accomplished, Fosmire returned to Washington and was on hand when the first C-118 supply drop was performed near the Drigu Tso. Crowded in the Zebra safe house with Geshe Wangyal, he waited patiently for the monk to make sense of the first radio message following the drop. As the Mongolian fretted for what seemed an eternity, Fosmire finally exploded and asked whether they had recovered the supplies or not. "Yes," he told the relieved case officer, "but they forgot to say 'thank you.'"

Taking leave of the capital, Fosmire next rushed to Kurmitola for the arrival of the second Tibetan contingent. Like the first group, these trainees had crossed the border with Gyalo's cook and rendezvoused with a train bound for Dacca. Also like the first group, they consisted of Lithang Khampas -- ten, this time -- recruited from the Kalimpong refugee community. The leader of the ten, Ngawang Phunjung, was a nephew of Gompo Tashi (as was Walt from the first group). Because the first two translators -- Norbu and Jentzen -- had quit the program, Gyalo dispatched his own assistant, Lhamo Tsering, to act in that capacity. [12]

As the Tibetans filed aboard the C-118, Fosmire recalls his first impressions. "Two were really just kids," he said. "They all had an earthy smell of leather and smoke." [13]

The plane was quickly on its way to Okinawa, and the flight was uneventful, save for the entire native contingent getting airsick. Once at Kadena, they were hustled aboard a bus with blackened windows and taken to a three-bedroom safe house within the CIA compound. Simple food -- stew, potatoes, bread -- had been prearranged on a table. "They quickly consumed all the bread," remembers Fosmire. "I made a mental note to order more for the next meal."

As evening approached, the CIA officer gathered his new subjects. Bubbling with excitement, the Tibetans ended up talking all night. Even with most of the nuances lost in Lhamo Tsering's spotty translations, Fosmire was struck by their sincerity and devotion. "They moved you in their direction," he concluded.

The next morning, all ten students began a battery of medical tests. Two of the Khampas were found to have tuberculosis and ordered to remain at the safe house. The remaining eight, plus Lhamo Tsering, reboarded the C-118 and, several refueling stops later, got off at a strip inside the confines of The Farm.

By that time, a November dusting had left Peary under a veil of snow. With the weather to their liking, the Tibetans faced a tough schedule of class and field work. Fosmire was to personally oversee the cycle. He would be assisted by a new arrival to the project, William "Billy the Kid" Smith. The nickname was apropos: the cherubic Smith was fresh out of the U.S. Army and on his first agency assignment. [14]

Together, Fosmire and Smith began teaching seven days a week. Their initial focus was on classroom drills, especially map reading. Additional specialist instructors came to the site as needed. These included several radio experts, the longest serving of whom was Ray Stark. Formerly a radio operator on merchant ships running the dangerous Murmansk gauntlet to the Soviet Union during World War II, Stark later attended Saint John's College in Maryland before joining the agency. Although he had served the previous two years in Japan, this was his first exposure to Asian students. [15]

Fosmire also received help from yet another of the Dalai Lama's older brothers, Lobsang Samten. A gentle sort, the twenty-five-year-old Lobsang had already suffered one nervous breakdown. Briefly serving as lord chamberlain in Lhasa, he had escorted the Dalai Lama to India during the Buddha Jayanti and decided not to return. Instead, he had made his way to the United States, and the CIA had arranged for him to study English at Washington's Georgetown University. When this did not prove to his liking, the agency periodically drove him down to Peary to help with translations. "He was never really in the resistance mood," said Greaney. "He preferred to come over to my house and play with the kids."

By chance, Lobsang was at The Farm when another instructor made a guest appearance. A philosophy major at Stanford University, John "Ken" Knaus, age thirty-five, had begun government service as a Chinese linguist for First Army headquarters in southern China during World War II. When the war drew to a close, he debated either a return to academia or a career as a diplomat. Hedging his bets, he passed the Foreign Service exam and then went back to Stanford. He was still there in 1951, on the verge of earning his doctorate, when the Korean War broke out arid his army commission was activated. Facing the next two years in the military -- probably in the Korean theater -- Knaus rushed to Washington to try to reserve a slot in the Foreign Service until after his return. In response, a State Department counselor coldly told him to visit again if he made it back from Korea.

On a whim, Knaus stopped by CIA headquarters on the way to buy his army uniform. When he revealed that he was a Chinese linguist, the recruiter listened with piqued interest. Within forty-five minutes, he was hired.

Given his China credentials and academic background, Knaus was put to work on some of the agency's more cerebral Asian endeavors. Between 1954 and 1956, he was seconded to the U.S. Information Agency as a China policy officer. In this role, he helped publish in Hong Kong a small booklet entitled "What Is Communism in China?" Full of cold war rhetoric, it was intended as a primer for Asian newspaper editors.

By 1958, Knaus was back in the CIA mainstream and tasked with setting up the China segment offered at the School of International Communism in Arlington, Virginia. A CIA front, the school trained foreign cadres about the evils of socialist totalitarianism. He was still serving on its staff at year's end when the call came to lecture a class of Tibetans about the Chinese system.

Knaus jotted down some general points for a speech and made his way down to Peary. Upon seeing the Dalai Lama's own brother -- and recognizing Lobsang's likely firsthand knowledge of regional events -- he tore up his notes. "What I had to say to them," he later said, "was about as applicable as the Punic Wars." [16]

Self-deprecation aside, Knaus's visit was a welcome respite from a curriculum that, by early 1959, had grown more physical as tough paramilitary training eclipsed classroom activities. To help in the field, a third paramilitary officer joined Fosmire and Smith in February. That officer, Anthony "Tony Poe" Poshepny, age thirty-four, knew his material. A state-ranked college golfer at San Jose before joining the U.S. Marines, he had received a string of Purple Hearts from Iwo Jima and other Pacific battles. Leaving the corps after the war, he came to Washington in 1951 to apply for a job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The bureau's recruiter eyed his combat record and instead steered him across town to the CIA.

Poe was quickly added to the agency's rolls, and his paramilitary career over the ensuing seven years mirrored that of Fosmire: small boats in Korea, police training in Thailand, assisting rebels in Indonesia. After a daring submarine escape from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, he had spent the second half of 1958 giving guerrilla instruction to Chinese Nationalist teams on Taiwan and Saipan. [17]

Poe left the Far East for Peary and was on hand as the Tibetans were being readied for a series of field exercises. For one of these, the instructor cadre prevailed on the Peary staff to give permission to use a secure lake area. Wielding an assortment of British weapons ("The Tibetans loved the Bren and Lee-Enfield," recalls Fosmire), the students infiltrated by night and liberally doused the vicinity with explosive charges, accidentally damaging several boats in the process. As the camp's fire department rushed to the scene, the Tibetans raced away in the opposite direction inside a blacked-out van. [18]

By March, the exercises were over, and the training cycle was fast drawing to a close. Already, spring weather had turned parts of Peary into a swamp and unleashed hordes of mosquitoes. Work at Camp Hale had been completed, and the Tibetans warmly welcomed the news that they would soon be switching to a new, colder locale for what was supposed to be just a few weeks, according to their original schedule, before proceeding back to their homeland.

***

Although the Tibetans at Peary did not know it yet, their final days at Williamsburg coincided with monumental changes in Lhasa as the Tibetan government and the Chinese overlords maneuvered toward a painful showdown. The catalyst for this came in January 1959 as the NVDA reinstilled discipline in its ranks and began gearing up for renewed operations around the headwaters of the Salween in western Kham. For the previous month, Gompo Tashi had been lobbying local chieftains and was pleased with their professed support. Emboldened, he planned twin strikes on PLA strongholds sitting astride the Chinese-built road leading to Lhasa. Each assault would involve multiple prongs, including the participation of 800 horsemen from NVDA headquarters in Yarlung. Gyalo Thondup had even dispatched two Khampas from India -- one was Lhamo Tsering's nephew -- with a movie camera to make a propaganda film of the operation.

In planning such coordinated pincers, Gompo Tashi was expecting far too much of his guerrilla army. His own forces had no radio, limiting communications with Yarlung to the occasional message courier. And even if the Yarlung horsemen were intent on joining the battle, it entailed an extended winter trek across the heart of the Tibetan plateau.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when Gompo Tashi ultimately launched his raids, the Yarlung column never materialized. Worse from the NVDA's perspective, the PLA rushed in reinforcements along the road to both locales. Although the Chinese absorbed heavy casualties, neither site fell to the Tibetans. [19]

The NVDA had far better luck with its subsequent recruitment drives in Kham. Some 7,000 recruits joined its cause, and a personal appeal from Gompo Tashi to the local governor enabled his insurgents to walk away with nearly the entire inventory of a government armory. On a roll, 130 guerrillas headed north and laid siege to a PLA outpost near the headwaters of the Mekong. Fighting raged for a month, and it was only after Chinese airpower bloodied the rebels in late February that the NVDA was forced to withdraw and nurse its wounds.

In the immediate aftermath of this last battle, Gompo Tashi huddled with his lieutenants for a war council. Although the Tibetans had inflicted more casualties than they had received, this was not particularly problematic for the PLA, given China's enormous reservoir of manpower. Anticipating the arrival of major Chinese reinforcements come spring, the council made the strategic decision to temporarily abandon Kham and begin shifting the majority of its troops toward Yarlung.

In Lhasa, meanwhile, the PLA's top representatives were fuming. Not only was rebel activity on the rise in Kham, but when the Dalai Lama returned to his summer palace on 5 March (he had been studying in nearby monasteries since mid-1958 for an exhaustive battery of religious exams), thousands of Tibetan citizens spontaneously formed a protective cordon around the Norbulingka. They had taken this measure because word had leaked that the Chinese were insisting that the Dalai Lama attend a performance by a visiting dance troupe at their military compound in Lhasa -- but without his normal contingent of bodyguards. Convinced that this was a ploy to kidnap their leader, the masses had formed a human shield around his palace.

For the twenty-three-year-old Dalai Lama, the situation had an air of the absurd. Rebels were roaming the countryside, the capital was a tinderbox, and the Chinese were irate over his nonattendance at a cultural show. Sensing that the end was drawing near, on 12 March he called for the Nechung oracle to determine whether he should stay in Lhasa. While in a trance, the medium replied in the affirmative. This was not exactly the answer the Dalai Lama wanted, so another form of divination -- a roll of the dice, literally -- was sought. As luck would have it, the results were the same.

Outside the palace, tempers were growing short. Over the next four days, the crowds kept their raucous vigil around the Norbulingka while the Chinese, not humored by the Dalai Lama's procrastination over the dance troupe invitation, were insisting that he commit to a date. The oracle was again summoned; apparently of a conservative bent, the entranced medium would not budge from his earlier ruling.

Not until 17 March, during the third channeling session in a week, did the oracle buckle. "Leave tonight," was his entranced message. The dice, too, cooperated, giving identical advice. [20]

The Dalai Lama hardly needed prompting. At nightfall, he stole out of Lhasa on the back of a pony while disguised as a peasant. With him were his mother, younger brother, sister, and a coterie of tutors and counsels. Just prior to this, the lord chamberlain had composed a message for the Indian consul general broaching the possibility of exile. He also dispatched a courier to Yarlung with a note for the NVDA to prepare a reception committee. Although that message had yet to reach Yarlung, Phala had arranged for a small band of rebel escorts to wait on the riverbank opposite Lhasa as the Dalai Lama's party crossed in a yak-skin coracle. Pausing briefly for a final glimpse of the lights flickering in his capital, the Tibetan leader pressed south. [21]

Back in Lhasa, neither the Chinese nor the crowds outside the Norbulingka were yet aware of the Dalai Lama's flight. His departure proved timely, for within a day after his departure, the citizenry broke into full-scale rioting. In this they were supported by the Tibetan army, which had belatedly thrown off its gloves and was attempting to seize strategic points around the capital. Responding in kind, the PLA dropped the last vestiges of restraint and on 20 March started shelling the Norbulingka. Just four days later, the resisters were in full flight from the city.

***

For the better part of a week, the location of the Dalai Lama and his escape party was a mystery to the outside world. The first to get a hint of his fate was the CIA; this came after the lord chamberlain's message to Yarlung was forwarded by courier on horseback to Tom and Lou at the NVDA rear base in Lhuntse Dzong. [22] Upon reading this, Tom took his radio set and, together with a small band of guerrillas, sprinted to intercept the Dalai Lama near the Chongye valley, thirty kilometers north of the Drigu Tso. Lou followed in his wake with another group hauling the bulk of the weapons received during the second weapons drop.

On 25 March, eight days after he departed Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and his followers arrived at Chongye and linked up with Tom's advance NVDA party. While there, the Tibetan leader was enlightened about the CIA supply drops and the RS-1 radio, which was kept hidden. Discreetly taking his leave, Tom returned to the radio and keyed a message to Okinawa. Tibet's god-king, he informed the agency, was alive and well.

***

Geshe Wangyal had been summoned from New Jersey to the capital to help the CIA stay abreast of the Dalai Lama's movements. As each of Tom's transmissions arrived via Okinawa, strings of number groups were carried over to the safe house for the sagely monk to extract meanings both stated and implied. For the next week, Tom's brief updates were at the top of Eisenhower's daily Current Intelligence Bulletin. "He was the best informed person in the world," said CIA officer John Greaney.

By 27 March, Washington time, the U.S. president knew that the Dalai Lama had already reached the NVDA rear base at Lhuntse Dzong. The monarch initially intended to wait there and negotiate his return to Lhasa, just as he had done from Yatung in 1951. But when he turned on his transistor that morning and heard that Beijing had formally dissolved the Tibetan government, chances for a temporary in-country exile began wafting away.

Defiant, the Dalai Lama gathered his entourage inside the village's hilltop fort. Repudiating the seventeen-point agreement, he cut orders for the reestablishment of the Tibetan government just disbanded by China. Though largely hollow, the move lifted spirits. Looking to celebrate with what means were at hand, Lou promptly unveiled a 57mm recoilless rifle (from the second airdrop) and fired three rounds into a nearby cliff. [23]

With his bridges figuratively burned, the Dalai Lama knew that it was only a matter of time before the PLA closed on his position. Unfortunately for him, his counselors were offering little coherent advice. During the hours after the ceremony in the fort, Phala approached the CIA agents and groped for options, including a request to have the United States dispatch a plane to Lhuntse Dzong. Remembering Phala's past indecision, the agents asked that he commit himself on paper to a single plan before radioing Okinawa.

As it turned out, Phala's hand was forced that very night. Radio reports indicated that there was heavy fighting in Lhasa, and an NVDA courier arrived at the camp with news that the PLA was massing for a push across southern Tibet. Unable to sleep, the lord chamberlain woke the agents at 2:00 the next morning, 29 March, and asked that they forward an immediate plea for Indian asylum. Returning to their set, the agents lit a butter lamp, cranked up the generator, and relayed the message. "If India refused," Tom summed up, "we were in a bad position." [24]

It was Saturday night, 28 March, when John Greaney was summoned from a downtown restaurant to the safe house on Wisconsin Avenue. He waited at Geshe Wangyal's side as the monk translated the appeal. Realizing the gravity of this development, Greaney telephoned his boss.

The Dalai Lama's move was not unexpected, and the agency already had an inkling that India would give its nod. Two days earlier, CIA Director Dulles had informed the rest of the NSC that Prime Minister Nehru had privately hinted his support of asylum for the Dalai Lama, but not for the fleeing armed rebels, for fear of provoking incursions by the PLA. [25]

At the same time, policy makers in Washington had come to the conclusion that the Dalai Lama's exile was in the United States' interest. [26] Given its radio link at the scene, the CIA was the logical intermediary to facilitate Indian approval. No time was wasted; at 1:00 in the morning on Sunday, 29 March, a message was sent from Washington to the CIA's New Delhi station asking that it relay the plea directly to Nehru.

Back in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his entourage had not waited for an answer. Leaving Lhuntse Dzong and riding for a day, they reached a village just four hours from the Indian frontier. Huddling that night inside their tent during a torrential downpour, the CIA agents turned on their radio and learned of New Delhi's official consent via Washington. [27]

Tom and Lou waited until early the next morning for the rains to lighten and then made a dash to Phala's tent and passed on the news. For the first time, they saw the lord chamberlain break into a wide smile.

The Dalai Lama, though haggard after almost two weeks on the road and weakened by a bout of dysentery, was visibly elated. Finally granted a special audience with their leader, the two agents were given a blessing. With little on hand to give as mementos, the god-king offered each a single red coral bead and a braided necklace fashioned, ironically, out of strips of silk salvaged from parachutes from the second supply drop. [28]

The following day, 31 March, some of the fittest members of the Dalai Lama's party went forward toward the border. In one of his last acts on Tibetan soil, the monarch penned a document conveying the rank of general to Gompo Tashi. The next morning, after bidding farewell to his NVDA escorts and the CIA radiomen, he and the rest of his eighty-person entourage worked their way south over the final stretch to India's lush, steaming Assam lowlands. [29]

Watching their leader depart, Tom and Lou broke out their radio set and tapped an impassioned update. "The Dalai Lama and his officials arrived safely at the Indian border," they told their CIA handlers. "You must help us as soon as possible," they added, "and send us weapons for 30,000 men by airplane. " [30]
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Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:53 am

Chapter 7: Whale

For John Waller, Tibet was more than an intelligence target -- it was an obsession. As a twenty- year-old fresh out of college, he had landed himself a slot with the OSS in North Africa during World War II, eventually rising to deputy Middle East theater chief for counterespionage. But it was the land farther east -- above the high Himalayas -- that drew his constant attention. "I was attracted to that part of Central Asia," he later commented, "precisely because few others paid much attention to it." [1]

Joining the CIA after the war, Waller continued his private infatuation with Tibet, using his time in Washington to absorb whatever material he could find on the subject at the Library of Congress. It was only after being posted to New Delhi as the deputy station chief in January 1955 that he was forced to put aside this glorified hobby and focus on domestic Indian matters.

The following year, Tibet was back in the news, and India had front-row seats. When the Dalai Lama visited New Delhi in late 1956 and the Indian government threw a diplomatic roast in his honor, it was Waller who attended as the sole embassy representative. Perhaps appropriately, when the Tibetan leader headed home the following spring, Waller, too, took his leave of India and returned to Washington for a headquarters assignment.

Not until March 1959, after receiving word that the Dalai Lama was stealing toward the Indian border for apparent exile, did Waller receive emergency orders to rush back to the subcontinent. Once in India, he wasted no time making his way to Calcutta and linking up with fellow CIA officer John Hoskins. Together they drove to Darjeeling.

By that time, word had already leaked that Tibet's monarch was en route to the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA; India's euphemism for the rugged buffer it administered along the Tibetan frontier between Bhutan and Burma) and from there would presumably make his way down to the tropical lowlands of Assam state. The story had more than its share of drama, and nearly 200 representatives from the international press descended on Tezpur, a normally sleepy tea planters' town in Assam that was along the Dalai Lama's likely egress.

"It was a media circus at Tezpur," recalled Waller. The Tezpur Station Club, once a private reserve for British tea planters, had newsmen packed into its rooms, curled up on its lobby chairs, and sprawled across its billiard tables. Among them were several Waller had befriended during his New Delhi assignment. He discreetly established contact, looking to tap information without the risk of going to Assam himself. "The last thing in the world we wanted to do was go to the border and be seen with the Dalai Lama," he later explained. [2]

An even better channel was the Dalai Lama's own brother, Gyalo Thondup. From Darjeeling, Gyalo had made contact with Hoskins before racing east to intercept the monarch's entourage. On 18 April, the siblings met in a village forty-eight kilometers north of Tezpur. It was there during private conversation that the Dalai Lama laid out all that had happened in the weeks since crossing into India.

Things had started out well enough, Gyalo learned. Still weak from dysentery, Tibet's leader had taken five days to move from the ill-defined Tibetan border down to Towang. There he was given a moving reception by some 300 monks at Towang's resident monastery, the largest outside of Tibet. The group was hardly out of danger, however (the latest Chinese maps laid claim to NEFA), and a detachment from India's paramilitary Assam Rifles had deployed along the frontier in case the PLA was intent on pursuit. [3]

While in Towang, the Dalai Lama had his first meeting with a junior Indian political official. That official informed the monarch that he would act as escort to Bomdila, a larger town seventy kilometers farther south, where the Dalai Lama could discuss important issues with P. N. Menon, the official from the Ministry of External Affairs who had served as his liaison officer during his 1956-1957 visit to India, and A. K. Dave, a China expert from the Intelligence Bureau.

By the end of the second week of April, the Dalai Lama had reached Bomdila and made immediate contact with Menon and Dave. Just as quickly, their talks grew heated. Counseling moderation, Menon urged the monarch to refrain from any mention of an independent government in exile during his initial public statement, which he would presumably make upon confronting the mob of newsmen at Tezpur. At this, the Dalai Lama bristled. His press announcement had already been penned, he said, and he was determined to push for independence. The monarch told Menon defiantly that if New Delhi insisted that he accept the limited role of prominent religious leader, perhaps he should not accept Nehru's offer of asylum.

Clearly unsatisfied, the Dalai Lama departed Bomdila by jeep on 18 April and was finally able to meet Gyalo and relay his early frustration with New Delhi. The Dalai Lama also used the opportunity to pass his brother a verbal message to the U.S. government, reaffirming his determination to support the resistance of his people and asking Washington to recognize his exiled government and supply those who were continuing the resistance.

Together, the brothers made their way down to Tezpur, where the Dalai Lama was briefly overwhelmed by the flood of journalists and the carnival atmosphere. By 23 April, Gyalo was able to quietly pass a detailed update to Hoskins and Waller, including a paraphrased account of the Dalai Lama's request. [4]

Suddenly showing more backbone than any time in the past, the twenty-three-year-old Tibetan leader was upsetting apple-carts all over. India, in particular, was in a fix. On the one hand, New Delhi hinted at its sympathy for the rebels inside Tibet. The Indians, moreover, were probably not wholly naive about Gyalo's clandestine activities over the previous years. Gossip, after all, flowed freely in the Tibetan refugee community. In addition, the Indians had a prime window into activities in Darjeeling beginning in late 1956, when Gyalo hired an Indian (a former Morse operator and government employee who had served at India's consulate in Lhasa) to give English lessons to six Tibetans he was preening as future translators and assistants. Only a fool or an innocent would believe that this tutor kept what he saw and heard from his former bosses. [5]

On the other hand, India had long seen an advantage in its delicate dance with China vis-a-vis Tibet. As recently as 30 March 1959 -- just a day before the Dalai Lama crossed into India -- Nehru had reaffirmed his desire for good relations with Beijing. Now that Tibet's exiled leader was speaking in terms of independence instead of autonomy -- and with rumors of thousands of guerrillas fleeing for sanctuary in India -- the earlier status quo was no longer viable. [6]

The Dalai Lama's assertive posturing also had Washington scrambling for an appropriate response. Throughout the month of April, the U.S. government took pains to ensure that it did not appear to be instigating or exploiting the revolt for cold war profit. If such a perception arose, there was fear that Nehru might lash out against both the United States and the Tibetans. This even applied to U.S. aid for Tibetan refugees; to avoid the impression that it was being offered for political rather than humanitarian reasons, no supplies were to be sent unless requested by India, and preferably for indirect distribution through the Indians themselves. [7]

Unwilling to take a lead role, Washington hinged its response on Asians themselves confronting China's aggression. To a degree, this strategy bore fruit. According to a U.S. Information Agency survey in early April, no recent communist event, including the harsh Soviet measures in Hungary during 1956, had provoked more public condemnation in South and Southeast Asia than China's actions against Tibet. By month's end, neutral Asian states were generally reacting favorably from a "free world point of view," even though India was not as forceful as Washington might have liked. President Eisenhower even talked wistfully in terms of regional arch rivals India and Pakistan coming to a better understanding against a common Chinese foe. [8]

Behind the scenes, however, some U.S. policy makers were chafing to do more. Serious talk to this effect had started in late March during the final days before the Dalai Lama left Tibetan soil. Following a fast-paced exchange of memorandums between CIA Director Dulles and Eisenhower's senior NSC staffer Gordon Gray, presidential approval was extended on 1 April for continued para- military action in support of the Tibetan resistance. Dulles assured the president that such action fell within existing policy authorizations and that the United States was not exposing itself to an open-ended commitment. [9]

The trouble was, any commitment -- much less an open-ended one -- was becoming all but impossible to plan. After seeing the Dalai Lama off at the border, the CIA's pair of radio agents had headed north to seek out Gompo Tashi. They had not yet reached Lhuntse Dzong when the Khampa chieftain found them. Notified of his promotion to general, Gompo Tashi hardly had time to celebrate. With PLA forces closing for a two-pronged attack, and guerrilla morale low, Tom and Lou took to the radio to relay desperate pleas for food and ammunition. [10]

Responding, the CIA loaded a C-118 with supply pallets and rushed it to Kurmitola during mid- April. By that time, however, the area around Lhuntse Dzong was on the verge of collapse. With the plane still on the tarmac, Tom and Lou broke for the border. Gompo Tashi and a band of Khampa guerrillas had preceded them by a few days, handing in their weapons to Indian guards on 29 April and crossing into the sanctuary of NEFA. [11]

With the NVDA in southern Tibet in full disarray and having lost its radio link on the scene, the CIA took two interim measures. First, it delayed plans to infiltrate the team of Lithang Khampas that had been training in the United States since the fall of 1958. As of the close of April, the team (now attrited to six members; two others had washed out because of poor mental aptitude) was on the verge of shifting to new quarters at Colorado's Camp Hale. The Khampas had originally been scheduled to parachute into their homeland by late May, but plans for the drop were now on hold, pending more information on the disposition of the resistance.

As a second measure, yet another contingent of Tibetans was to be selected by Gyalo from among the refugee community for training in the United States. The recruitment pool was now far larger than at any time in the past. By early April, the number of displaced Tibetans reaching India had grown from a trickle to a steady stream; 6,000 of the new arrivals were crowded inside hastily constructed bamboo huts near Bomdila, and another 1,000 lived in similar arrangements at a transit camp close to Sikkim. From these, eighteen young men -- fifteen Khampas and three Amdowas -- made the cut. Joining them as translators were three of the Tibetans Gyalo had sponsored for English lessons over the previous three years. [12]

Although Gyalo had been heavily involved in ex filtrating the two previous groups of trainees, he was now occupied with shadowing the Dalai Lama. There was no time for him to escort the third contingent along the underground railroad into East Pakistan, so the recruits were instructed to make their own way from Darjeeling to Siliguri for a rendezvous with Gyalo's cook Gelung.

As planned, the contingent linked up on the outskirts of Siliguri. Their intention was to turn south and walk the distance to the border. Unfortunately for the Tibetans, the presence of nearly two dozen Orientals marching along the roadside attracted the attention of the local Indian authorities. A police jeep drove slowly past, then returned a second time. Fearful of capture, the Tibetans slipped into the adjacent forest for a night's sleep. At daybreak they returned to the road to continue their journey and ran straight into a police roadblock.

They were placed under arrest, but Gelung, the only Hindi speaker in the bunch, came up with a plausible alibi. They were Tibetan refugees, he explained truthfully, and they had heard that there were jobs available in East Pakistan. After smoothing their story with a modest bribe (one of the Khampas was carrying a pocketful of rupees; several others were carrying Tibetan knives), they were sent back to Darjeeling with a reprimand. [13]

Several weeks later, in mid-May, the group again set out for East Pakistan. This time, Gyalo made himself available to drive some of them down to the Siliguri city limits; the remainder took the train. The group now consisted of twenty-three members: the eighteen young recruits (average age, twenty-two) and three translators, plus two older Khampas in their mid-forties. With compass in hand, Gelung successfully navigated them around Siliguri proper and across the frontier. A Pakistani officer met them on the other side, loaded them on a truck, and took them to a train car sitting on a desolate section of track. A locomotive soon arrived, hooked up with the car, and carried the group down to Dacca.

Shuttled from the train to Kurmitola aboard a bus with black curtains on the windows, the Tibetans were deposited at the rear door of the USAF's unmarked C-118. Inside to greet them was Tony Poe. "My first impression was that the Americans were so big," recalled one of the interpreters, Tashi Choedak. "I was stunned by his height." [14]

After a refueling stop at Clark Air Base, Poe took the Tibetans to Okinawa. There they were crowded inside a safe house and taken away in trios for the standard battery of physical exams and aptitude tests. Because the two older Khampas were deemed unfit to undergo the rigors of paramilitary training, they were ordered to remain behind on Okinawa. One of the younger Khampas was belatedly rejected as too frail for parachute infiltration. For the remaining twenty, Camp Hale awaited.

With two Tibetan contingents in the United States by late May, the Tibet Task Force was making headway in developing a trained cadre that would have a multiplier effect for an active resistance movement. But with the CIA's sketchy intelligence indicating that the NVDA had been soundly thrashed, there was a good chance that there might not be much resistance for them to multiply. The PLA was making a "very effective military showing," Dulles admitted during the 23 April NSC briefing, including good use of veterans from the Korean War and combat aircraft. The rebel forces, he concluded, were "pretty well knocked to pieces." [15]

China's effective showing was only half the story. Exuding little that was unconventional, the Tibetans guerrillas were consistently fighting in large concentrations, planning overly complex maneuvers, and failing to milk the advantage of their superior knowledge of the local terrain. [16]

Particularly frustrating from the U.S. perspective was the relative ease with which the PLA was overcoming the serious logistical challenges of feeding and arming thousands of Chinese infantrymen pushing across the Tibetan plateau. It took twenty-two trucks of equipment, fuel, and other essentials, the Pentagon estimated, for every one truck that reached PLA fighting forces close to the Indian border. This was an incredible logistical burden, yet it was being accomplished with virtually no harassment. [17]

The cost to Beijing, reasoned the policy makers in Washington, could be substantially increased if the supply flow was disrupted. In theory, this was not all that difficult to plan. There were only three drivable roads leading to the plateau. The first, which the Dalai Lama had used during his 1954-1955 trip to China, meandered west from Szechwan through the hills of Kham to Lhasa. A second road ran from the Tibetan capital to Xinjiang Province in a wide arc along the Indian frontier. Completed in October 1957, it had been built in secret and had portions that dipped into Indian-claimed territory; because traveling this path constituted an exhaustive trek over an excessive distance, it was not heavily used. The final road extended from the city of Xining diagonally across Amdo (officially known as Tsinghai Province) before plunging south toward Lhasa. Completed in 1955, this single-lane, graveled byway crossed swamps and long stretches of terrifying terrain, but it seemed to be a favored route for convoys supplying the PLA in Tibet. [18]

On 1 May, these roads had been the subject of discussion during a closed-door session between State Department officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Questioning whether the United States was doing all it could, the USAF chief of staff, General Thomas White, broached the possibility of using airpower to deny ground access from China. That same month, Thomas S. Gates, the newly appointed deputy secretary of defense, chaired a classified Pentagon meeting on aid to Tibet. Again, the possibility of closing the roads with jet strikes was raised but rejected as too risky, given that the Eisenhower administration had no intention of going to war with Beijing over Lhasa. [19]

Instead of using jets, a more palatable solution was to have an indigenous sabotage team parachute in near the target. There were several options to consider. For one, the CIA already had the Lithang Khampas waiting patiently at Camp Hale, all of whom were versed in demolitions. However, these agents would have been ethnically out of place in the Amdo outback, and in any event, they were being held in reserve for a mission alongside the NVDA resistance.

A second option involved the considerable resources found in the Republic of China on Taiwan. For as long as Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had been in Taipei, he had been pleading for a chance to attack the mainland with airborne forces. By 1956, Chiang was fixated on a scheme to drop hundreds of paratroopers across the PRC, thereby sparking multiple guerrilla battles among an oppressed population supposedly desperate for liberation.

Just as during Chiang's earlier lobbying, his U.S. sponsors listened with more concern than sympathy. Washington felt that Taipei was clinging to an unduly optimistic estimate of its appeal inside the PRC, making the proposed airborne assault all but doomed to failure. Moreover, it doubted that any other Asian nation took Chiang's dream of retaking the mainland seriously, and few would be willing to voice support following a provocative attack by scores of paratroopers. [20]

Still, the United States sensed the generalissimo's growing frustration and wanted to offer him visible proof that it had not given up hope of his eventual return. To appease its ally, in October 1957 the United States approved a plan for the Pentagon to begin unconventional warfare and airborne training for a select group of 3,000 ROC troops. The catch: they could not be used against the mainland without U.S. consent. [21]

Though this was seen as a move in the right direction, Taipei was hardly satisfied. No sooner had the 3,000 commandos been officially inaugurated as the 1st Special Forces Group in January 1958 when a second group -- not supported by U.S. military assistance -- was unilaterally raised two months later. Chiang, in fact, was insistent on having a legion of 30,000 paratroopers and did not readily accept Washington's stipulation about bilateral consent over their use. [22]

On a parallel track, the CIA had never stopped turning out a much more modest number of airborne agents for Taiwan. Drawn from the various ethnic groups that had fled to the ROC, some of these agents were grouped on paper as the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army, a verbosely titled liberation force that Taipei claimed to be assembling for its retake of the mainland. [23] Unlike the Special Forces -- whose use in an airborne blitz was almost certain to meet a U.S. veto -- the salvation army was fair game for small-scale infiltrations. In mid-1958, the ROC turned to these agents when it resumed covert inserts, primarily into the PRC's southern and southeastern provinces. [24]

Just as with similar efforts in previous years, these latest infiltrations were less than successful. Between July and December, dozens of agents were dispatched by parachute, boat, or overland via Hong Kong, Macao, and (indirectly) Saigon. Most were apparently killed or captured in a matter of days, or even hours. [25]

All this must have frustrated Generalissimo Chiang, especially given the mounting evidence of genuine, even spreading, dissent on the mainland. The majority of this activity was concentrated along the PRC's periphery, where ethnic minorities were revolting against things such as economic collectivization and Beijing's campaign to have Mandarin replace local languages. Besides Tibetans, the disaffected included Mongolians, Turkic Muslims, and the Hiu. [26]

Beijing viewed the Hiu with particular concern. Unlike the Turkic minority in Xinjiang, who saw themselves as a separate people who happened to live within the PRC's borders, the Hiu thought of themselves as Chinese who happened to be Muslims. They were heavily represented across the north-central provinces; this included the eastern half of Amdo, an area of Tibet that was proving to be rich in exploitable mineral resources. [27]

Dissent among the Hiu was not exactly a new phenomenon. The community was roughly split: some had easily bent to communist rule, and their horsemen had even proved instrumental in defeating the 1956 rebellions in Amdo and Kham; others had actively resisted Beijing, launching four minor rebellions between 1950 and the summer of 1958. Particularly problematic from Beijing's perspective was Ma Chen-wu, a relatively wealthy Sufi mystic who had an enormous local following. Prone to hyperbole, the Chinese media had dubbed him "more poisonous than a viper and a scorpion" before he was arrested that October as part of a concerted campaign to "eliminate the black sheep of Islamic circles." [28]

Learning of the 1958 rebellion, the ROC had made a concerted effort to exploit the Hiu dissent by including Muslim guerrillas among the teams being trained by the CIA. There was no shortage of recruits, as many members of the more prominent Hiu clans had fled to Taiwan. Even one of former warlord Ma Pu-feng's many sons was among the novice agents. Tony Poe, later of the Tibet program, was one of their training officers. His assessment was not particularly positive: "My teams were primarily Muslims, but with Han Chinese leaders. We were jumping about five to six times a day, and exercising in the mountains of western Taiwan. It was mostly ambush training against convoys and railheads. The idea was completely unworkable because the Muslims told me they would kill the Han as soon as they landed."

Poe was not one to mince words, and his critical assessment did little to endear him to the CIA station chief in Taipei, Ray Cline. A senior OSS official during World War II, Cline had returned to Harvard for his doctorate before joining the CIA. Initially an intelligence analyst, he had been selected as Dulles's private secretary during the director's 1956 world tour. As an apparent reward for a job well done, Cline was given abbreviated agent training in late 1957 and arrived at the ROC slot early the following year.

Seeing Cline as a desk-bound academic with little appreciation for the nuances of unconventional warfare, Poe continued his haranguing of the Muslim training effort. Word of the friction eventually made it back to Des FitzGerald -- by then head of the Far East Division -- who transferred Poe to the Tibet training program in the United States. [29]

The Hiu agents, meanwhile, remained on Taiwan through the spring of 1959. By that time, events in Tibet were creating unforeseen opportunities in the minds of the ROC leadership. During late March, immediately after the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, Chiang Kai-shek offered public support to his "fellow countrymen" in Tibet and called for accelerated aid to mainland revolutionary movements. Other ROC officials claimed that radios had been supplied that month at the request of the NVDA, and additional forms of assistance were reportedly being considered. [30]

In reality, the ROC's connection to the Tibetan resistance was all but non-existent. Although intelligence agents from Taiwan had been floating in and out of the refugee community in Kalimpong since at least 1956, they had been largely ineffective in winning recruits. [31] And aside from a token $15,000 in refugee assistance provided by Taipei during May, there was no paramilitary aid extended to, or requested by, the NVDA. [32]

The problem, recognized U.S. officials, was that the Tibetan revolt was not so much anticommunist as it was anti-Chinese. The Tibetans were antagonistic to all Chinese, noted U.S. Ambassador to Taipei Everett Drumright, regardless of political affiliation. Still, with Chiang's long-standing request for more action on the mainland given newfound urgency by the upsurge in Tibetan resistance, key U.S. foreign policy makers on 25 March had given the green light for exploratory discussions with the ROC regarding enhanced covert operations against the PRC. Drumright, who attended the meeting, advocated increased support to Taipei, provided there were no joint activities in Tibet. [33]

Drumright's proviso meshed perfectly with conclusions drawn earlier by the CIA. From the onset of ST CIRCUS, the agency had taken great pains to exclude the ROC from its Tibetan operations. But there was no denying a convergence of interests, especially with regard to closing the logistical corridor across Amdo. Taking exception on this single occasion, the agency in May made plans for a joint project code-named ST WHALE.

The agents for ST WHALE would be drawn from the contingent of Hiu Mulims trained earlier by Tony Poe. Four were selected as a pilot team, which was scheduled to drop near the Qaidam Basin in the central part of Amdo -- within easy striking distance of the road to Lhasa. Although none of the Tibet Task Force's assets would be exposed to Taiwan, there was a hitch. The ROC's elite aviators from its Special Mission Team, which had long been handling airborne infiltrations across the mainland, had taken a beating over the previous year due to better PRC defenses strung along the coastal provinces. Its converted B-26 bombers did not have sufficient fuel for an Amdo mission and, in any event, had been eliminated from the agent-dropping role in March 1959 after taking losses. The B-26s were supposed to be replaced by the sophisticated P2 V-7 , but crews for this new plane had not yet graduated from the final stages of U.S. training. This left the venerable B-17, which had neither the speed nor the range to elude aerial interception and perform the round- trip from Taiwan to Amdo.

To assist, the CIA arranged to lend ST WHALE some of the aerial delivery methods it had used for ST BARNUM. Just as with the cargo drops to the NVDA, the Hiu would jump from the same CAT-piloted unmarked C-118. Significantly, that plane had recently been modified with pressurized doors, providing the crew with a quantum leap in comfort due to its now sealed cabin. As during the Tibet missions, the aircraft would stage through Kurmitola, putting it within closer range of Amdo and allowing the aircraft to circumvent the PRC's concentrated defenses along the coast. [34]

Because the team would be left to its own devices on the ground, it was important that it bring adequate supplies. The problem was turned over to the CIA's logistical guru on Okinawa, Jim McElroy. He intended to use the jumper to-bundle system perfected during the 1957 jumps into Tibet. This time around the lead parachutist would be connected to 5,000 pounds of supplies lashed to a plywood pallet. Inside the bundle would be everything from jerked meat to gold ingots and coral beads for trading.

To study the topography around the target area, the CIA was granted presidential approval for two U-2 overflights of Tibet and China on 12 and 14 May. [35] Shortly thereafter, the C-118 headed for Kurmitola. Most of the crew -- Doc Johnson at the controls, Jim Keck as navigator, Bob Aubrey at the radio, and Bill Lively as flight mechanic -- had experience on the supply drops the previous fall. In the copilot's seat was Truman "Barney" Barnes, a World War II ace with five confirmed Japanese kills in his P-38. In the rear, Richard "Paper Legs" Peterson was assigned as the kicker. One of two smoke jumpers seconded to the CIA at the close of 1958, Peterson had been sitting idle at Okinawa until ordered in April 1959 to give some additional parachute training to the Hiu team before escorting it to East Pakistan. [36]

Upon arrival at Kurmitola, the crew and agents waited at the austere base for the order to launch. Fighting off boredom, Barnes asked for permission to visit his sister-in-law, a Holy Cross sister running an orphanage in Dacca, but his request was denied by the CIA support team in the interest of secrecy. The mood was already tense, and it was not helped when Johnson and Colonel Weltman -- the CIA air operations officer from Tokyo -- got into an argument over stolen liquor. [37]

As soon as the weather and lunar conditions proved cooperative, the C-118 was airborne and heading northeast over NEFA, Kham, and the Amdo steppes. Upon seeing the moon reflected on the surface of Koko Nor -- the largest lake in all of Tibet and China -- the crew turned west for 160 kilometers. The drop zone, which had been identified in overhead imagery, proved difficult to pinpoint from the cockpit. "There were two forks in a river," recalls Barnes. "We thought we were at the right one and gave the signal." [38]

In the cabin, Peterson, Keck, and Lively were all waiting near the bundle. There had been problems earlier in the flight when they belatedly realized that the parachute harnesses did not easily fit over the padded jackets worn by the agents. Three of the Hiu eventually made the squeeze; the fourth was forced to take his jacket off. "I held on to his jacket, " said Lively, "and motioned that I would throw it out the door after he jumped." [39]

There was another concern as well. As Peterson maneuvered the bundle along the rollers toward the door, one of the packing straps caught on a piece of steel. With the pallet hopelessly stuck and time pressing, he pulled out a knife and sliced off the tie. "In the back of my mind," he remembers, "I became concerned the bundle would not deploy its chute properly."

The jumper connected to the pallet, meanwhile, was also having ill-timed second thoughts. As the supplies roared out of the cabin and the cord started to play out from his chest, he stood firm. Reaching forward, Peterson grabbed the reluctant agent by the chute and heaved him out the door. "I'll never forget the look of raw terror," said Keck, "in the brief second before he disappeared into the dark."

With no further hesitation, the other three Muslims leaped from the plane. As promised, Lively stepped forward to release the jacket of the last agent into the slipstream. The plane then turned south and reached Kurmitola without incident.

Within a week, the four Hiu made brief radio contact with Taiwan. Encouraged, the same C-118 crew was summoned the next month for a repeat performance. This time around, they were to drop only supplies; McElroy had rigged almost 8,000 pounds on a single pallet.

Heading north from Kurmitola during the full moon phase, Doc Johnson came upon a ground signal and activated the green light in the cabin, Like clockwork, the bundle roared out the side, and the C-118 returned to East Pakistan. Refueling, the crew then turned east and flew for an hour before one of the engines gave a loud mechanical cough and ground to a halt. Limping along at reduced altitude, Johnson diverted to Bangkok for repairs. "If it had happened during the supply drop," said copilot Barnes, "we would have never made it back across the Himalayas."

The ST WHALE agents, it seems, were not nearly as lucky. When their handlers raised them over the radio and asked if they had received the supplies, the Hiu claimed that no cargo had come. Livid, the CIA case officers grilled the C-118 crew over the accuracy of the drop. Very quickly, however, doubt fell on the team itself. Communications intercepts later indicated that the agents had been captured early on, and the radio operator doubled. ST WHALE was quietly shelved, and no additional Hiu saboteurs were dropped inside Amdo. The PLA truck convoys to the Tibetan front remained on schedule. [40]
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