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.

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:54 am

Chapter 8: Dumra

The unmarked C-118 materialized out of the western skies and landed at Peterson Field well after nightfall. Though bustling by day- -- it doubled as both an air force base and the municipal airport for Colorado Springs -- Peterson was sufficiently quiet after hours to allow for a discreet transfer of twenty Tibetans from their plane to a bus with covered windows. Two hundred eight kilometers later, they were at the gates of Camp Hale.

Stepping out in the predawn chill, the Tibetans were at home. Compared with the heat of East Pakistan and Okinawa, Hale was refreshingly brisk. Even in late May, the temperature dipped below freezing at night, and snow capped the surrounding mountains. "It looked and felt like Tibet," remarked interpreter Tashi Choedak. [1]

On hand to greet the new arrivals were CIA paramilitary instructors Fosmire, Poe, and Smith. Also present were the six Lithang Khampas who had shifted from Peary to Hale less than two weeks earlier. Conspicuous by his absence was the interpreter for the Lithang group, Lhamo Tsering, who -- in order to maintain compartmentalization in the clandestine project -- had been quietly whisked away to Peterson without a farewell.

The six Khampa holdovers were combined with the seventeen new students, and a training cycle for all twenty-three began the following day. Each Tibetan was given an American first name to ease identification. American names were also assigned to each of the three young translators: Tashi Choedak now went by "Mark"; Tamding Tsephel, a former medical student and the nephew of Gompo Tashi, became "Bill"; and the short, expressive Pema Wangdu was dubbed "Pete."

The interpreting skills of the three immediately came into play during an opening primer in radio operations. Ray Stark, one of two agency communications instructors assigned to Hale, discovered the Tibetans to be surprisingly astute. "Maybe it was the memorization and meditation associated with their Buddhist training," he later speculated. "They picked up codes fast and were a lot sharper than most people gave them credit." [2]

After two weeks, the seven best students from among the newcomers continued with an advanced radio class. For the remainder, intensive physical conditioning began. Given their mountain upbringing, the Tibetans already had tremendous lower body strength ("They could walk uphill all day," noted Tony Poe), but their upper body strength lagged far behind. Because they would need strong arms and chests for things like pulling shroud lines to maneuver their parachutes, CIA officer Jack Wall was charged with correcting this physical shortcoming.

A former smoke jumper, Wall had been working on CIA paramilitary operations in Asia since the Korean War. Initiating a comprehensive exercise and self-defense regimen for the Tibetans, he and the other instructors found them to be a competitive bunch. During a class on pistol disarming techniques, for example, the star student from the Peary contingent -- a spirited Khampa named "Donald" -- took on a newly arrived Amdowa. "Donald had a certain devilment in his eyes," recalls lead instructor Fosmire, "and he began striking his opponent with the pistol butt and cut his forehead." Fosmire promptly cut the class to let tempers settle.

Weaponry training followed. Significantly, the CIA had decided that the element of plausible deniability was now less important than improved firepower. This meant that students could now be provided with the U.S.-made MI Garand in lieu of the earlier British selection. Officially phased out of U.S. arsenals just two years earlier, the self-loading Garand was a quantum leap in sophistication over the bolt-operated Lee-Enfield. Honing their skills on a makeshift range, all the Tibetans soon became proficient shooters.

As on Saipan, the CIA officers found their trainees to be an endearing study in extremes. "They really enjoyed blowing things up during demolition class," said radio expert Stark, "but when they caught a fly in their mess hall, they would hold it in their cupped palms and let it loose outside"' [3]

As on Saipan, too, the CIA instructors found that they were learning from the Tibetans as much as they were imparting. This became especially apparent when the students were taken into the snowy hills and divided into two teams: one tasked with setting up an intercepting ambush, the second group with attempting to evade. Ditching snowshoes provided by the Americans, the Tibetans instinctively marched where the sun had baked a crust on the snow. In the most powdery conditions, they used a traditional trail-breaking method whereby scouts at the head of the column would bind their legs with rags and broken branches. As they threw themselves forward, they would compress a narrow path in the snow for the others to follow. Conforming to the lay of the land, this serpentine trail was all but impossible to spot except for direct overhead observation. [4]

Tom Fosmire, the first training chief at Camp Hale

Particularly remarkable about the Tibetans was their lack of fear of heights. "They would nonchalantly step off the sides of a ravine with barely a thought, " said Stark. On one occasion when a Khampa stumbled and came within a step of falling to his death, his countrymen reacted not with horror but with shrieks of laughter over the embarrassing faux pas. [5]

Such lighthearted innocence remained the hallmark of the Tibetans through-out the weeks of tough instruction. Not once did they register anger; indeed, the students considered it humorous when the Americans displayed emotion. Continued Stark, "They would intentionally leave doors open to get a rise out of me. I told them that when I visited them in a free Tibet, I was going to rip their tent flaps off. They thought this was hysterical."

This rapport made an otherwise hardship assignment easier. "We were completely self-contained at Hale to maintain secrecy," explained Fosmire. Besides running a full schedule of classes, the handful of instructors took turns cooking, cleaning clothes, and even driving the buses and snowplows. Only Sunday afternoons were designated as leisure time.

Theoretically, the CIA contingent could turn to Hale's parent base -- Fort Carson in Colorado Springs -- for support. To help with initial liaison between the training team and top brass in Carson, two U.S. Army colonels on long-term assignment to the CIA were dispatched to Colorado. The first, Gilbert Layton, had served in armored reconnaissance squadrons through 1946, then was sent on a string of agency assignments to places like Saipan and Turkey. The second, Gil Strickler, had been a logistician for General George Patton in World War II.

As it turned out, Layton and Strickler were barely needed. Soon after settling into Hale, the CIA paramilitary instructors took it upon themselves to smuggle in Brigadier General Richard Risden, the commandant from Carson, and offer him an impromptu briefing on their project. Reveling in the cloak-and-dagger nature of the program, Risden was smitten. Said Fosmire, "After that, he gave us anything we wanted."

Overview of Camp Hale. (Courtesy Roger MacCarthy)

One of the immediate results of the general's largesse was the provision of war mules. During World War II, Carson had been the processing center for hundreds of wild mules that were broken and trained in hauling field artillery. At the end of 1956, however, these beasts of burden were officially replaced by helicopters. Of the handful still left at the Carson stables, four were shipped to the CIA team at Hale to see if they could be adapted to carry arms for the guerrilla trainees.

A C-I30 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, having its USAF tail markings removed prior to an overflight of Tibet

Placed in charge of the resurrected mule program was Tony Poe. Very quickly, he found them to be ornery subjects. "They had been idle for years," he recalls, "and would bite and kick the Americans when we tried to tame them." By contrast, the Tibetans had no such trouble. "The Khampas talked softly to them for hours as if they were human," said Poe. "They had them domesticated in no time."

As training progressed through summer, guest instructors made an occasional appearance. Ken Knaus offered lectures on international relations and psychological warfare themes. Geshe Wangyal, who was ailing and needed bottled oxygen in Hale's thin air, coached the students in history and linguistics. He also gave the camp a native title: Dumra, Tibetan for "garden." (Hale was called "The Ranch" by the CIA trainers, a play on Camp Peary's nickname of "The Farm.") [7]

By late June, the project also got a fourth paramilitary instructor. Albert "Zeke" Zilaitis, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, had had his heart set on a career in professional football after playing for Saint Francis College in Pennsylvania. But when he did not make the cut at rookie camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he opted for the CIA. The choice turned out to be a good one, as he proved himself an able adviser in Thailand alongside Fosmire and Poe. [8]

Zilaitis's arrival coincided with the start of heavy weapons instruction. Among the systems introduced to the Tibetans were bazookas, mortars, recoilless rifles, and. 30-caliber light machine guns. Also making a debut at Hale was a consignment of five-inch rockets, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Intrigued by their possible use for long-distance harassment, Zilaitis promptly loaded the rocket noses with high explosives, fitted wires to a car battery, and began firing them from a makeshift trough. Although the rocket trajectory could be slightly altered by bending the rear fins, accuracy was almost nil. Predictably, one veered off course and struck a transcontinental telegraph cable hanging across the valley, causing significant monetary loss and a flurry of angry messages from headquarters. Earning the name "Werner von Zilaitis" for the mishap, he quietly retired the remainder of the projectiles. [9]

The cable incident unnerved headquarters not so much because transcontinental cable traffic had been cut but because the operation had almost been exposed when telegraph crews arrived to make repairs. Secrecy was also threatened by crews servicing power lines through the camp, as well as by the occasional shepherd directing sheep across the valley. All these threats begged for measures to mask the camp's activities. As a first step, a platoon of military policemen was sent from Carson for perimeter patrol. Second, a cover story was concocted with the help of the Defense Atomic Support Agency (DASA) in Washington, D.C. During a 15 July news conference, Rear Admiral Edward Parker, DASA chief, claimed that his agency was carrying out a top-secret testing program at Hale. The program would not include setting off nuclear weapons, he assured the press. The following day, the Denver Post ran the story on its front page. As an aside, DASA informed the Public Service Company of Colorado that it needed to give a day's notice before crewmen serviced power lines near the camp. [10]

Unfortunately, the CIA's smoke screen did not extend to Carson and nearby Peterson Field. This became apparent in late summer, when the Hale instructors began the airborne phase of training. The agency had discreetly arranged to use a weather service C-47 based at Peterson to drop the students over a remote corner of Carson. The intention was to load the Tibetans into a bus with blackened windows and drive down to Colorado Springs late on Friday night, do the jump shortly after midnight, and head home before sunrise. [11]

The plan was sound, except for one crucial detail. CIA headquarters had forgotten to inform the civil aviation authorities of their impending nocturnal activity. On the night the first flight was flown, airport officials spotted a low-level aircraft on radar and assumed that it was in trouble. As this pattern continued over the next two weekends, wild rumors spread through the community; concerned and suspicious, the authorities demanded answers. In short order, phone calls were placed from Washington, and promises were made to give notification before all future night flights. [12]

By that time, the Tibetans had completed three jumps without mishap, and their training officially came to an end. For graduation, Zilaitis went to neighboring Leadville and ordered nine kegs of beer. To the surprise of the proprietors, he came back later that night with empties and asked for five more. [13]


Elsewhere within the CIA, the debate on how to return the Tibetans to their homeland had been raging for weeks. Following the earlier ST WHALE flights, the agency had firmly concluded that its DC-6 derivative, the C-118, was in need of retirement. "It might have been good for Pan Am," one CAT pilot later commented, "but it was not a war bird." [14]

Beyond this general consensus, however, there had been considerable disagreement over the C-118's replacement. George Doole, a former airline executive co-opted by the agency to oversee its aviation proprietaries, had initially decided that the DC-7C cargo plane was a good pick. At first glance, the choice appeared sound. An extended version of the DC-6 series, the DC-7C had been warmly welcomed by civilian airlines for its ability to complete nonstop Atlantic flights.

Confident in the DC-7'S abilities, Doole had acquired one airframe in Miami and initiated training runs over the Atlantic. Very quickly, however, word came back that the plane was burning out engines at an alarming rate. "It was really no more reliable than the DC-6 at high altitudes," concluded CIA air branch officer Gar Thorsrud. [15]

Thorsrud, in fact, already had his eye on a better candidate. Back in 1951, the USAF had scoped the requirement for a rugged workhorse that could land in primitive conditions. The result -- the C- 30 Hercules -- was nothing short of revolutionary. Blending propellers and jet power, it combined good speed and range and had double the payload of the C-118. Moreover, its rear ramp was specially designed for airdrops, and its reversible props allowed for quick stops on small fields. The Hercules reached USAF squadrons to rave reviews in late 1956, and the USAF almost immediately started production of a B model with an improved engine and better systems reliability.

There was one problem with the Hercules, however. In exclusive service with the USAF for less than three years, it could not be mistaken for anything other than an American military aircraft. If one were ever lost over unfriendly territory, plausible deniability would be impossible. But following the earlier decision to replace British rifles with American ones, plausible deniability for the Tibet project was now subject to exception.

Thorsrud, for one, thought that the upgrade in aircraft capability outweighed the risk of exposure. Bypassing Doole, he took his proposal directly to Des FitzGerald, who in turn placed a call to General Graves Erskine. A thirty-six-year veteran of the Marine Corps (he had led the assaults on both Iwo Jima and Guam), Erskine had been serving since 1953 in a newly formed slot as assistant secretary of defense in charge of the Office of Special Operations. An innovation of the Eisenhower administration, this post commanded great influence in allocating military support for the CIA's various cold war skirmishes. Armed with statistics supplied by Thorsrud, FitzGerald made a convincing pitch. Once Erskine gave his blessing, the Pentagon agreed to lend its new cargo carrier. [16]

The order was relayed to Sewart Air Force Base in Tennessee (which hosted one of the USAF's original Hercules squadrons), where the local wing commander, Colonel George Norman, was petitioned for loan of a single airframe and volunteer crew. The cover story: aviators were needed in Colorado Springs to give weekend joyrides to the first batch of graduates from the new Air Force Academy.

In short order, six airmen took up the offer. What was remarkable about the bunch was their lack of experience. Volunteering as aircraft commander was First Lieutenant Billie Mills, who had signed on precisely because he wanted to chalk up more hours in the Hercules. His equally green copilot, Captain Milt Chorn, had a desk assignment and merely wanted time in the cockpit to earn flight pay. [17]

Their assignment, they soon discovered, had nothing to do with an academy boondoggle. Met on the Peterson tarmac by Thorsrud, they were ordered to sign secrecy documents and given a skimpy mission brief. Palleted supply bundles were to be loaded into the back of the C-13O, instructed Thorsrud, and then dropped on ground signals in the mountains around Hale.

Upon hearing their real purpose, Mills protested. His colleagues were essentially rookies, he argued, and had never performed drops in mountainous terrain. Before he put them and his plane at risk, the lieutenant requested a telephone to ask the advice of his superiors at Sewart. In the meantime, Thorsrud got on a different phone and relayed the gist of the crew's lament to Erskine's office at the Pentagon. By the time Mills got Tennessee on the line, his wing commander, Colonel Norman, was engaged in a urgent call from Washington. Though far from happy about having some of his more inexperienced men on loan to the CIA, the colonel was ordered to be cooperative. "Be careful," the colonel curtly told Mills, "and don't let them kill you." [18]

Over the following week, the Sewart aviators made flights over Colorado to boost their self- confidence. After that, the practice drops began. Jim McElroy, the agency's logistics chief from Okinawa, was temporarily deployed to Peterson to help rig loads. Once the pallets were packed inside the Hercules, the USAF crew was simply told to drop them to unknown persons setting signal fires near Hale; if they did not see the correct signal, they were to abort. [19]

After several days of this, Thorsrud eagerly lobbied to begin the next phase of Hercules trials. To confirm the suitability of the C-130 for long-distance airdrops, the agency had mapped out a circuitous route covering 2,419 kilometers (1,500 miles) of mountainous terrain leading to a small ground target at Hale. The entire flight was to be done at low level (much of it at less than 500 feet) with a full cargo load. The idea was to have the terrain mask the aircraft from radar; only if there was trouble would the crew bounce up to 606 meters (2,000 feet), above the highest terrain feature. Further, the CIA planners allowed for just a ten-second variance between flight checkpoints, and a thirty-second variance over the drop zone. As if that were not enough, the return journey was to be flown with one of the plane's four engines shut down.

Because Mills and his men had performed well during the flights to date -- and because the CIA did not want to bring a second crew into confidence -- the agency argued that they be retained on the project. The USAF again agreed, albeit reluctantly. Mills was also less than enthusiastic, as he knew that the CIA stipulations placed the C-130 at its performance limits. In the end, however, the flight went off without a hitch.

Now that the USAF crew had proved the concept, there remained the task of transitioning the CIA's own pilots for the actual mission. Earlier in July, the agency's Far East proprietary, Civil Air Transport, had changed its corporate identity and been renamed Air America. Despite the name change, its roster still included Doc Johnson, William Welk, and the rest of the team that had performed the initial C-118 drops over Tibet. Called to Colorado on short notice, they were turned over to the USAF crew for instruction.

Upon meeting the seasoned Air America aviators, Lieutenant Mills stood in awe. "Some of them had 20,000 hours," he recalls, "against my 1,000 hours in multi-engined aircraft." Despite the mismatch, the two contingents got on well working in the cockpit. They were instructed to stage from Colorado to points west. During their low-level return trek, a mountaintop post at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada would be actively seeking them on radar. "On the first attempt," remembers Mills, "Nellis reported spotting US for just fifteen minutes out of three hours." [20]

The next day they repeated the flight, but this time with the added challenge of having their electronic Identification Friend-Foe signaler turned on. Rising to the occasion, the Air America pilots masterfully hugged the terrain. "It was a breathtaking flight," said Mills. "Nellis tracked us for just eight minutes."


After nearly a month of Stateside training, Doc Johnson and his men were sent back to the Far East at the beginning of September. The Tibetans at Hale had also graduated, and the skies over their homeland were set to clear. Thus, the race was on to perform the first C-130 parachute infiltration as soon as the weather and lunar conditions proved cooperative. According to the CIA's original plan, the agents were supposed to link up with the NVDA and provide a multiplier training effect. But having lost its eyes inside Tibet back in April, the agency had no timely intelligence on the current location of resistance pockets, if any.

An attempt had been made to rectify this shortcoming early that summer. On his rushed return from Hale in May, Lhamo Tsering had paused briefly at the CIA's Okinawa safe house and met with a motley ensemble of seven Tibetans -- all medical rejects or academic washouts from the two contingents in the United States. Of these, he selected four and escorted them back to East Pakistan, then across the border to India. [21]

Meeting up with the group in Darjeeling, Gyalo Thondup chose three to conduct an overland infiltration into Tibet to determine the disposition of the NVDA. Because the PLA was believed to be blocking most of the passes along the NEFA and Sikkim frontier, the team was to skirt west of the Kanchenjunga massif and enter Tibet via a trading route in eastern Nepal.

As it turned out, the mission did not last long. They had barely crossed the border when the agents ran headlong into a PLA patrol. Two of the three were killed instantly; the third went on the run and did not make it back to Darjeeling for several months. [22]

Still without eyes, the CIA had little recourse but to sift through the rumors circulating among Tibetan refugee camps in India. From these sources came apocryphal tales of an isolated NVDA band 19O kilometers north of Lhasa near the shores of the Nam Tso, Tibet's second largest saltwater lake. If true, the stories were dated by at least several weeks. But they reflected a certain logic: just as the lake's serenity had long made it a favorite destination for religious pilgrims, that same isolation made Nam Tso a good pick for a guerrilla redoubt.

With no better options coming to the fore, the CIA on 3 and 4 September directed its U-2 spy planes to make a pair of high-altitude passes over the Nam Tso; a third overflight was conducted on 9 September. Air America's Hercules crew was then summoned to Kadena to view the photographs and pinpoint a drop zone. Pending good weather, the mission was set for the full moon cycle during the third week of the month. [23]


Back at Hale, the CIA instructors had taken aside the original Lithang Khampas -- who by that time had been training for more than ten months -- and briefed them on their impending Nam Tso mission. As their number had been attrited down to six, the decision was made to augment them with a single commando from the follow-on contingent. Before departing Colorado, all were coached in the use of the "L Pill," an innocuously titled cyanide ampoule cushioned inside a small sawdust-filled box. In the event of severe injury during the parachute jump, or some other dire contingency, the agent merely had to place the pill in his mouth and bite; death was guaranteed within seconds. [24]

At the beginning of the third week of September, Fosmire loaded the seven Tibetans into Hale's shielded bus and ferried them to Colorado Springs in the dead of night. The Pentagon's Office of Special Operations had already made tentative arrangements for ten Asia-based C 130s to be set aside for what was vaguely described as a "classified general-war alert standby mission." For this initial flight, however, the decision was made to have Lieutenant Mills and his crew bring their own Hercules from Sewart. [25]

The USAF airmen and Gar Thorsrud were waiting on the Peterson tarmac as the bus pulled close to the C-130's rear ramp. All but the cockpit windows had been covered with makeshift curtains, as much to prevent prying eyes from peering in as to prevent the passengers from looking out. With the Tibetans, Fosmire, and Thorsrud taking their places in the back, the Hercules lifted off and headed west for McClelland Air Force Base near Sacramento, California. Pausing just long enough to take on more fuel, they were back in the air and en route to Hickam Air Force Base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for another refuel.

What had been a clockwork operation to that point quickly ground to a halt as the Hercules blew an engine shortly after take-off from Hawaii. Making an emergency return to Hickam, the crew was informed that repairs promised to be extensive and lengthy. The ST BARNUM team was now in a bind: not only would the delay make them miss their lunar window of opportunity, but it would be hard to conceal seven Asians on base for any length of time without risk of exposure.

Thinking quickly, Thorsrud relayed a call to General Erskine's Office of Special Operations. Answering on the other end was Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Fletcher Prouty, a former air transport pilot and the office's senior air force liaison. Invoking the highest national security concerns, Prouty promptly placed a call to Hickam and lit a fire under the resident top brass. In short order, one of the base's senior officers rushed out to the plane. "He was in an unmistakable deference mode," said Thorsrud. A new C-13O from Hickam's own inventory was quickly substituted for the stricken Sewart airframe, and the mission was again underway." [26]

Upon reaching Okinawa, the C-13O was joined by Doc Johnson and his Air America crew, who took their places behind the USAF aviators. Boarding, too, were smoke jumpers William Demmons, Andy Andersen, and Art Jukkala, all assigned as kickers on this maiden Hercules flight. Squeezed in among the passengers was 13,500 pounds of palleted supplies; though far short of the C-13O's full potential, this was still an increase over the C-118.

Two others joined the flight as well. Baba Lekshi and Temba Tileh, both Khampas from the contingent that had ex filtrated to Hale in May, had been deemed too old to endure the stress of paramilitary training. Left behind at the Kadena safe house for the previous four months, they were now ordered to join the Nam Tso team as its eighth and ninth members.

On 18 September, the crowded Hercules proceeded southeast to Thailand and landed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, a former imperial Japanese airfield about 130 kilometers north of Bangkok. Instead of Kurmitola, the CIA intended to stage all future Tibet infiltrations from Takhli, an option made possible by the C-130's extended range. Primitive (it sported two runways -- one concrete, one dirt), remote (a single nearby village numbered 300 inhabitants), and backed by a supportive government in Bangkok, Takhli had all the necessary ingredients for a discreet launch site. Moreover, Tibet flights launching from Takhli entailed a less risky overflight of remote Burma rather than India. East Pakistan's Kurmitola would still be available, but only for emergency diverts.

Shortly before midnight, Fosmire, Thorsrud, and the USAF crew stood on the Takhli runway to bid farewell. With Doc Johnson at the controls, the C-I30 roared down the airstrip and disappeared into the northern sky.


Staring at the radar console, navigator Jim Keck called course corrections as the C-130 took a direct bearing up Burma's Salween valley. Leaving Burmese airspace and skirting easternmost India, the Hercules arced west toward the southern extreme of the Tibetan plateau. The flight to the drop zone promised to be a trying seven hours each way.

Though the C-130 was infinitely more comfortable than the C-118, at no point did Keck feel the tension ease. Part of this was due to the navigational challenges of the mission. Part, too, was anxiety over the ad hoc emergency precautions taken by Air America. A quick review of their on- board survival kit, for instance, found it to be stocked with items such as a life raft, dye markers, and fishhooks -- all of questionable value in the mountains. Equally irrelevant was the lecture they had received by an expert nutritionist on eating herbs and bark, none of which grew at high altitude. Worse, they had been warned that a hefty white man parachuting from a disabled plane in the thin air would likely end up with broken legs. Lamented Keck, "They issued us each a silenced .22-caliber pistol and told us we were better off riding the plane in." [27]

All this was little comfort as Keck directed the plane around Lhasa and north toward the Nam Tso. Before long, the surface of the lake could be seen reflecting moonlight in the distance. Already, the nine agents had taken up positions in front of the right door, while a string of table-sized pallets was maneuvered along rollers leading out the left.

In the final minutes before the drop, the three kickers put on oxygen masks and pulled open the doors. Cold air sliced through the cabin as the airplane slowed to 120 knots with flaps down. With the plane's nose edging skyward and the green light flashing, Tibetans and cargo exited without incident. Cutting a tight circle over the Nam Tso, the Hercules was quickly on its way back to Takhli.


Remaining in Thailand, Tom Fosmire ventured down to the CIA station in Bangkok to await initial radio contact from his agents. Team leader Ngawang Phunjung, who had gone by the call sign "Nathan" while in the United States, had consistently impressed the agency instructors during training. "He had a good sense about him," opined Fosmire. [28]

But good sense or not, the days ticked by without Nathan coming on the air. After a week of fruitless waiting -- and amid speculation that the team might have accidentally landed in the lake and drowned -- a dejected Fosmire headed back toward the mountains of Colorado.
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:55 am

Chapter 9: Hitting Their Stride

Nathan and his eight teammates hit the ground running -- literally. The C-130 had landed them nearly a day's march from the planned drop zone and dangerously close to a PLA encampment. Frightened of detection, they immediately fled toward their intended target without pausing to recover any supply bundles, including the radio.

Over the ensuing days, their comedy of errors continued. Chancing upon some locals, Nathan learned that the resistance they sought had dispersed half a year earlier. Then when they tried to enter a village for refuge, the residents eyed their light complexions (the result of frequent classroom sessions over the previous ten months) and suspected them of being Chinese provocateurs. On the run from their own countrymen, the tired and hungry agents saw little choice but to avoid the thick PLA defenses sure to be found farther south near Lhasa and instead head west toward the Nepal border, some 500 kilometers away. [1]

None of this was known to the CIA's planners, who were busy preparing for the next round of airborne infiltrations. Once again, they had to generate a list of potential drop zones without the benefit of current intelligence inside the country. One possibility had surfaced back in early June when the head of the Tibet Task Force, Roger MacCarthy, had ventured to Darjeeling to debrief NVDA chief Gompo Tashi.

A former air force Morse operator, MacCarthy had begun his CIA career in 1952 when he answered an agency call for radio communicators. Known for his gregarious nature, he had been dispatched to Western Enterprises on Taiwan the following year and sufficiently impressed his superiors to qualify for junior officer training upon his Stateside return. Posted to Saipan after that, he was first exposed to the Tibet project while serving on the island as an instructor for the initial Khampa cadre in 1957. Deeply touched by their struggle, the thirty-two-year-old MacCarthy was quick to seize the opportunity to assume command of the Tibet Task Force from Frank Holober, who departed for an assignment in Japan just before the Dalai Lama's flight to exile in March 1959.

Arriving in Darjeeling by way of Calcutta, MacCarthy was waiting inside a safe house when Gompo Tashi arrived in formal Western attire. He offered the Tibetan two cartons of Marlboros and two bottles of Scotch to break the ice. The general readily accepted the gifts and launched into a detailed diatribe about himself and his family's background. With Lhamo Tsering (who had recently returned from Camp Hale) providing translations, the Khampa leader spoke with sincerity and passion. "He showed me his scars from battle," said McCarthy, "and recited where they occurred like a road map." [2]

Over the course of three days, the CIA officer and rebel leader reviewed details of the NVDA campaign to date. Gompo Tashi was honest about the resistance's shortcomings -- including bad behavior and defeats -- but overall, he thought the NVDA had done well. He was saddened, however, that he had not started organizing earlier. Apologizing for their poor guerrilla tactics, he noted his frustration in trying to convince other chieftains that a fifty-man point was excessive and could be seen from the air.

In the end, Gompo Tashi had no ready answer about the future course of the resistance. Losses were costly, he conceded, and replacements were not readily available. Given the PLA's air capabilities, it was impossible to do much more than ambushes and interdiction of convoys and perhaps some sabotage. He was optimistic about running such missions from enclaves in Nepal, but more guarded about similar strikes staged out of NEFA.

Gompo Tashi let something else slip as well. In his detailed recitation of NVDA activities, he recounted how he had operated with success along the westernmost edge of Kham in December 1958. Particularly around the town of Pembar, a supportive Khampa populace had allowed the resistance to keep the area free of Chinese. Though this information was dated, the location appealed to the CIA on another count: situated near the south bank of the Salween, Pembar was within striking distance of the drivable road the Chinese had constructed between Chamdo and Lhasa. Cutting traffic there would accomplish the same goals as the earlier stillborn effort, ST WHALE.

Brainstorming further leads, the CIA came up with two other drop zone candidates. The first of these, deeper in Kham, was chosen in order to better exploit the ethnic background of most of the Hale students. Using the same logic, a third target was selected in southern Amdo in order to milk value from the three Amdowas in the contingent. To map out the exact routes to and from these locations, a U-2 overflight was sanctioned on 4 November to cover Tibet, China, and Burma.

Roger MacCarthy, head of the Tibet Task Force. (Courtesy Roger MacCarthy)

Back at Hale, the sixteen remaining graduates were briefed on their upcoming mission. Six would be dropped at Pembar, the CIA told them, five would land farther east in Kham, and another five would parachute inside Amdo. With the full moon falling at midmonth, the agents were rushed through Okinawa late in the second week of November on their way to Thailand. Escorting them this time was Zeke Zilaitis. Special permission had also been extended for Ray Stark to make the trip. Failure to contact the Nam Tso team, and a lingering suspicion that the agency's Thai-based communications officers might not have been sufficiently attentive to pick up a faint transmission out of Tibet, led Stark to vow to stay in Bangkok and personally "guarantee" to raise this latest group over the airwaves.

Once at Takhli, the Tibetans waited until last light on the day before the full moon. At that point, they were then given an eleventh-hour change of plans: all three teams would jump at Pembar from a single plane, the CIA had decided, rather than using three separate drop zones; the Amdo and Kham teams would travel to their final destinations from Pembar on foot. This brightened the agents considerably, as they appreciated the psychological security of infiltrating as one. Waving good-bye to Zilaitis on the tarmac, they boarded a lone C-130 and disappeared toward the Burmese frontier.


Inside the Hercules, twenty-one-year-old Donyo Pandatsang adjusted the cyanide ampoule encased in fine wire mesh that was strapped to his forearm. Answering to the name "Bruce" while at Hale, he had spoken no English when he arrived in Colorado but showed great natural aptitude and went on to advanced radio training. He was selected as team leader for the six men designated to remain at Pembar.

Now lined up in front of the right cabin door, Bruce was petrified. "We had no idea about the fate of the Nam Tso team," he later recounted, "and none of us were natives of the Pembar area." But to his own surprise, as soon as he launched himself into the slipsteam, all fear vanished. With the sound of the plane fast receding, Bruce was overwhelmed by the prospect of being home. Dangling from the risers, he could clearly see that he was heading for a valley with snowcaps glistening on either side. His one complaint: "They told us we would land in a forest, but there was nothing but rocks." [3]

Working in the moonlight, Bruce and his colleagues quickly located their supply pallets, including one that had to be fished from a river. Later that same night, they encountered locals from a small nearby village who had come to investigate the noise. Not only did the locals appear friendly, but they said that many Khampas were still living in the area.

With this positive news, Bruce assembled his radio the following morning and tapped out a short message. His handlers at the Tibet Task Force now knew that the team was alive.


Down in Bangkok, Ray Stark had taken up residence in the CIA's secure radio room inside the U.S. embassy. Though he had quiet confidence in the abilities of the agents he had trained, there was an element of anxiety about going out on a limb and guaranteeing contact.

The anxiety did not last long. When Bruce's string of Morse came over the air the morning after infiltration, the local agency radiomen were shaking with excitement. "They could barely copy the message," recalled the elated instructor.

His mission complete for the moment, Stark awarded himself two weeks' leave in Hong Kong and Tokyo on his way back to Colorado.


It did not take long for word to spread around Pembar about the arrival of the CIA-trained cadre. As would-be guerrillas flocked to the scene, the agents knew that this rousing reception was a double-edged sword. Just as when Wangdu had landed in Kham in 1957, some of the Khampas came with no weapons; others came with an assortment of rifles but no bullets. Three different calibers of ammunition were in heavy demand, and expectations were high for the CIA to deliver.

Back in Washington, the Tibet Task Force weighed the radioed requests for supplies. That a supportive public was itching to take up arms against the Chinese was a good thing, and much of the wish list emanating from Pembar (with the exception of pistol silencers) fell within reason. Approval was quickly secured for a single Hercules to be packed with pallets at Kadena and staged through Takhli during the next full moon in mid-December. Unlike the two earlier drops, the C-130's expansive rear ramp would be used instead of the smaller side doors; this would allow more supplies to be dispatched in less time.

On the ground, the Tibetan agents had assembled a veritable fleet of mules at the designated drop zone. Six enormous dung bonfires were lit in an enormous "L" shape and, like clockwork, the C- 30 materialized overhead. Moments later, bundles hit earth. Inside each were stacks of cardboard boxes with four rifles apiece. As per their training at Hale, the agents had affixed ropes to the mule saddles, allowing two boxes to be quickly secured to each animal. Within two hours, the entire drop zone had been cleared.

Nearly all the 200-plus Garand rifles were distributed to local guerrilla volunteers. Fifty rifles, however, were earmarked for a band of Khampas selected to escort the five agents destined to shift from Pembar to Amdo. As planned, those five crossed the Salween at year's end and proceeded 150 kilometers northwest. Still 80 kilometers short of Amdo's Jyekundo district, the team came upon a fertile resistance presence and decided to go no further. With this second guerrilla network running by the start of 1959, at long last the task force was beginning to hit its stride.


On the diplomatic front, too, the struggle for Tibet was heating up. Back on 23 April, the Dalai Lama had sent his oral message to the U.S. government through Gyalo Thondup, reaffirming his determination to support the resistance of his people. He made two requests of Washington at that time: recognize his soon-to-be-formed government in exile, and continue to supply the resistance. He reiterated these themes in a formal scroll, a summary of which reached the White House by 16 June. In this, the Dalai Lama further suggested that Tibetan independence be a prerequisite for Beijing's entry into the United Nations.

Pressed to compose an answer, the Department of State begged caution. The Dalai Lama should not publicly ask for recognition of a government in exile, urged one Foggy Bottom draft, unless he was assured of a warm international response. If he made an appeal to the United Nations, State Department policy makers felt that the United States should appropriately assist; if not, the United States should not take the lead in pressing Tibet's case in the international arena.

And taking a page from sweeteners offered earlier in the decade, they believed that the United States should offer a stipend and help the Dalai Lama find asylum elsewhere if India gave him the boot.

Eisenhower was of a mind to agree with such circular diplomatic niceties. When a final response was orally relayed back to the monarch on 18 June, it mouthed sympathy for the Tibetan cause with few commitments. Addressing the Dalai Lama as the "rightful leader of the Tibetan people," it even managed to dance around the earlier semantics surrounding suzerainty, sovereignty, and independence.

Not surprisingly, word quickly came back that neither the Dalai Lama nor Gyalo Thondup was pleased with Washington's limp platitudes. The monarch was especially keen to elicit stronger U.S. support, given his growing strains with Nehru (the Indian leader was insistent that the Dalai Lama work quietly for autonomy, while the Tibetan leader spent the summer threatening to make a bold declaration of independence), and Washington's less than full assurances did nothing to bolster his leverage with New Delhi.

Perhaps the only good news, from the Tibetan perspective, was the U.S. government's willingness to act as a background cheerleader for Tibet's case at the United Nations. This gained momentum on 25 July, when the International Commission of Jurists published a 208-page preliminary report entitled "The Question of Tibet and the Rule of Law." Distributed to the United Nations Secretariat and all delegations, it laid the basis for the Tibet issue to be included on the agenda for that fall's United Nations session.

Seizing this opportunity, Gyalo Thondup hired Ernest Gross, a former State Department legal adviser and alternate delegate to three United Nations General Assemblies, to represent Tibet. Unlike Lhasa's earlier flirtations with the United Nations -- when it was roundly ignored at the beginning of the decade -- this time the experienced Gross proved an adept lobbyist. With co-sponsorship from Ireland and Malaya, a Tibet resolution was scheduled for a hearing in front of the full assembly during mid-October.

Behind the scenes, the Tibet Task Force crafted several covert efforts to support the upcoming vote. In one of these, Lowell Thomas, Jr., who had traveled with his famous father through Tibet in 1949 and become an impassioned advocate of Tibetan independence, was fed intelligence supplied by CIA guerrilla contacts. Some of this information was incorporated into his highly sympathetic book The Silent War in Tibet, published by Doubleday on 8 October.

Later that same week, the 12 October edition of Life International included an article entitled "Asia's Odd New Battlegrounds." In it were six drawings, ostensibly made by "refugees," graphically depicting Chinese excesses against Tibet. Left unsaid was the fact that the drawings had actually been made by the agent trainees at Camp Hale as part of sketching drills during a class on intelligence collection. The best of these drawings had been presented by the Hale staff to Des FitzGerald, who took them to CIA Director Dulles, who in turn phoned C. D. Jackson, the conservative Life International publisher (and former member of the Eisenhower election campaign), with a request that they be incorporated in a supportive article. [4]

All this culminated in passage of a United Nations resolution on 21 October deploring China's violations of human rights in Tibet. The vote was forty-five in favor, nine opposed, and twenty-six abstentions. Besides the numeric victory, there were other reasons for cheer. Though short of the declaration of independence wanted by the Dalai Lama, the vote served to keep the Tibetan case alive before the international community. Moreover, the experience had proved invaluable for Gyalo Thondup. Far from the uninspiring introvert witnessed by earlier case officers in India, a far more confident and dynamic Gyalo had emerged at the United Nations.

Gyalo could be stubborn as well. Not willing to lose momentum after the resolution, Gross immediately formulated plans for the first overseas trip by the Dalai Lama. Using the same lobbying skills that had been successful in the halls of the United Nations, he persuaded the National Council of Christians and Jews to call a conference for the spring of 1960 with the Dalai Lama as principal speaker. The venue would be the Peter Cooper Union in New York, followed by an unofficial reception hosted by Eisenhower in Washington.

All that remained was a pledge of cooperation from Gyalo and the Dalai Lama. To the shock of U.S. officials, however, both opposed the trip because it would set a precedent for an unofficial reception in the Dalai Lama's capacity as a religious leader. Though by late 1959 the monarch had temporarily shelved plans to set up a government in exile (because of ongoing opposition from India), he refused to prejudice future claims to independence in return for what he deemed was a short-term advantage. On the diplomatic front, at least, this prime opportunity ultimately wafted away.


For the agents back in Tibet, the task force was taking steps to ratchet up its resupply operations. Through December 1959, these flights had been limited to one Air America aircrew flying a single mission during each full moon phase. Since the lunar window of opportunity could not be expanded, the only other option was to increase the number of sorties flown. In anticipation of this, Air America in early December allocated additional personnel for C-130 operations. In several cases, some of its more experienced pilots were brought into the program to serve functions other than flying the plane. Captains Ron Sutphin and Harry Hudson, for example, were given quick code training in Japan before being assigned as radio operators; another pilot, Jack Stilts, was named a flight mechanic. [5]

More C-130 flights also meant the need for more kickers. Efforts to secure these personnel began in November 1959 when two Montana smoke jumpers -- Miles Johnson and John Lewis -- were beckoned to Washington for background security checks. John Greaney, the task force officer who had first scouted Camp Hale, reserved rooms under false names at the Roger Smith Hotel in order to conduct confidential interviews with the prospects.

The following month, half a dozen more smoke jumpers were invited to the capital. Shep Johnson, Miles's younger brother, was among them. A former marine and Korean War veteran, he had been tending cattle at a snowy Idaho ranch when he got an urgent message to come to the phone. "I thought my mother was sick," he recalls, "but it was another smoke jumper saying that I was needed in Washington. The next day I bought a sports coat and flew to D.C., where I met some of the CIA officers, including Gar [Thorsrud]. We spent ten days looking over maps. Then they gave me an advance in pay; it was the first time I had handled a $100 bill." [6]

By the full moon cycle of January 1960, nearly a dozen smoke jumpers were assembled on Okinawa. Four kickers were selected to go on that month's maiden flight: two from the new contingent, and two veterans from earlier flights. The mission took place as scheduled and without complications, prompting the ST BARNUM planners to reduce the number of kickers to two for the month's second resupply flight.

During this encore, a single Tibetan agent was scheduled to jump along with the supplies. That agent, a reserved twenty-eight-year-old Khampa monk named Kalden, had been one of the washouts from the Lithang contingent that had parachuted at Nam Tso. Kalden had been sitting idle at the Kadena safe house for the past sixteen months while the CIA debated what to do with him. That decision: drop him at Pembar.

As the Hercules made its final approach toward the drop zone, radioman Keck and flight mechanic Stiles came into the cabin to help push pallets out the rear. One of the two kickers, Andy Andersen, was positioned close to the edge of the ramp alongside the lone Tibetan. Not secured by a tether, Andersen instead wore a special small parachute set high on the shoulder to keep the waist clear and eliminate the possibility of getting snagged while pushing the cargo. [7]

When the green light went on, Kalden got a tap on his shoulder as the signal to leap off the ramp. For the first time, a Tibetan balked. Turning his back on the black void, the monk grabbed Andersen in an unwelcome embrace. All too aware of his precarious position, the kicker spun the agent around and heaved him ahead of the exiting cargo. Reaching backward in a final act of desperation, the Tibetan snatched the radio headset off Andersen's head. Trailing a thirty-foot cord in hand, he disappeared into the night sky. [8]

Down at the drop zone, Kalden landed to a reception committee of eleven fellow agents and hundreds of Khampa guerrillas. He came with orders to join the five agents meant to shift farther east into Kham, though plans for that movement were now on hold. Remaining at Pembar, the twelve took stock of their growing inventory. Included in the pallets were a pair of machine guns on anti-aircraft mounts and a large stock of TNT. None of these items were rated as particularly relevant by the Tibetans, though they did go out of their way to use the explosives to down a nearby bridge. More popular were the hundreds of Garands and a carbine variant stacked inside the bundles, both of which were magnets for new recruits.

Sensing that it had arrived at a winning formula, the Tibet Task Force planned more of the same for February 1960. Helping to coordinate the ongoing resupply effort from Kadena was U.S. Air Force Major Harry "Heinie" Aderholt. No stranger to the CIA, Aderholt had been seconded to Camp Peary for three years starting in 1951 to help set up an air branch at the agency's new training facility. After a six-year interlude with the Tactical Air Command beginning in 1954, he was again detailed to the CIA in January 1960, this time as commander of the Kadena-based Detachment 2, 1045th Operational Evaluation and Training Group.

Aderholt's Detachment 2 had a long and convoluted relationship with the Tibet project. Its lineage could be traced back to the long-disbanded Asia-based ARC wing, a portion of which had been retained as the 322nd Squadron's Detachment 1. When that squadron was dissolved in late 1957, its secret cell (renamed Detachment 2 of the 313th Air Division) remained at Kadena and continued to receive orders for CIA-sanctioned flights, such as the C-118 personnel ex filtrations from Kurmitola. Its C-118 was also loaned for CAT-piloted flights into Tibet.

Insignia for Detachment 2 / 1045th Operational Evaluation and Training Group, the outfit that coordinated C-130 support for the Tibet project. (Courtesy Harry Aderholt)

By the time Aderholt arrived, there had been two significant changes to the detachment. First, whereas the earlier arrangement had been a partnership between the agency and the air force, the CIA now fully controlled Detachment 2 in all but name. The agency went so far as to remove the Kadena unit from the 313th Air Division and place it under its own cover organization, the 1045th Operational Evaluation and Training Group, ostensibly headquartered at Washington's Bolling Field. Second, Detachment 2 was no longer in the business of flying classified flights on behalf of the CIA. Rather, it now acted as the CIA's on-site management team to coordinate Air America and U.S. Air Force assets and personnel in support of the agency's cold war ventures in Asia.

Aderholt tackled his new assignment with breathless vigor and initiated several fast changes. His immediate predecessor in command of the detachment, Major Arthur Dittrich, was a longtime CIA hand in Asia, having helped coordinate covert flights into mainland China during the Korean War. But whereas Dittrich had preferred to err on the side of caution and limit C-130 payloads to 13,500 pounds, Aderholt elected to push the envelope by packing up to 26,000 pounds of cargo per ship.

Aderholt also took steps to upgrade the primitive conditions at Takhli Air Base. Where once only native huts had stood, he cleared out the old imperial Japanese living areas and erected new elevated quarters. This move was warmly welcomed by the Air America crews, who had taken to heart Takhli's reputed claim of being home to more king cobras than anywhere else on the planet.

By the March full moon, the C-130 crews had amassed sufficient Tibet experience to begin staging two aircraft per night. There was the occasional gaffe -- such as when Captain Harry Hudson accidentally left his survival belt atop a pallet, resulting in a costly loss when the gold sovereigns inside went out the rear -- and periodic bouts with Murphy's Law -- such as the frequent glitches with the aircraft's temperamental radar, forcing the navigator to rely on celestial fixes. But ST BARNUM was generally running on schedule. [9]

The news got even better when the Nam Tso team -- on the run since September 1959 -- reached the Nepalese border and couriered word to Darjeeling that it wanted a resupply. Lhamo Tsering, who had been deputized by Gyalo Thondup to manage agent operations from India on a daily basis, quickly relayed the request to the Tibet Task Force. Rejecting the plea, the CIA instead ordered the team to ex filtrate via East Pakistan to Okinawa. Re-armed with carbines and recoilless rifles, Nathan and six of his men (due to failing physical health, the two older agents remained behind at Kadena) were loaded back aboard a Hercules and dropped during the March full moon to augment the five-man Amdo team that had shifted from Pembar. [10]

Not until the next month, April, did the CIA's luck finally run out. It started out well enough, with two Hercules flights set for the beginning of the lunar cycle. The first plane, with Doc Johnson as pilot and Jack Stiles serving as first officer, departed without incident at last light. The second, teaming William Welk and Al Judkins, left Takhli fifteen minutes later.

Halfway to the target, things turned sour. Hitting an unexpectedly heavy head wind, Jim Keck, one of two navigators in the lead plane, took a radar fix and determined that they were more than forty-five minutes behind schedule. Hearing this, Doc Johnson added power, and by the time they approached the drop zone, they were only four minutes late.

Head winds, however, were just part of their problem. Although April is traditionally rain free in Tibet, 1960 proved the exception to the rule. As the Hercules overflew the location where bonfires should have been, all the crew saw was a thick blanket of clouds. Circling once in frustration, Johnson made the decision to return home. As they had burned an inordinate amount of fuel to make up for lost time on the way into Tibet, his colleagues in the cockpit were keen to dump their cargo to lighten the plane for the remainder of the journey. But reasoning that the same strong head winds would provide equally strong tailwinds, Johnson insisted on keeping the payload aboard.

That decision was nearly fatal. By the time they arrived near Takhli at 5: 30 the next morning, their fuel supply was almost exhausted. Worse, April is the hottest month in Thailand, coming less than two months before the summer monsoon, and farmers in the central part of the kingdom traditionally slash and burn their fields then, prior to planting a new crop. This throws into the sky a layer of haze the color and consistency of chocolate milk, which is exactly what the crew saw as they searched frantically for the lights of Takhli. Jack Stiles, who was taking his turn at the controls for the return leg, put the plane into a tight turn for a second pass. Two of the engines immediately begin to sputter, then coughed back to life as the Hercules rolled out. The engines started to die again during a third pass, prompting Stiles to order crew members in the rear to put on their parachutes and bailout. "It was probably not a bad idea," said Andy Andersen, one of two kickers on the flight, "but none of us moved." [11]

Listening from the tarmac, Heinie Aderholt acted in desperation. Locating a flare gun, he began firing red star clusters into the sky. The idea worked: spotting a red glow lighting the bottom of the haze, the crew took the plunge and emerged in clear skies near the airfield. Only one engine was still running by the time they taxied to the end of the runway. "My jaw was sore," remembers navigator Keck, "from all the sticks of gum I was chewing." [12]

Hard luck, too, plagued the second flight of the night. Captain elk also hit a head wind and found the drop zone covered with clouds. Like Doc Johnson, he elected to return with his payload aboard. Unlike Johnson, however, he believed that the emergency facilities at Kurmitola were closer. The CIA retained a skeleton technical crew in East Pakistan for just such contingencies and had even erected a non directional beacon to help pilots vector toward the strip. Normally, this would have been sufficient, since April in East Pakistan is generally a month with humid temperatures but clear skies.

But in yet another exception to the rule, Kurmitola that night was hit by an unseasonably early thunderstorm. Al Judkins was at the controls, and as he dipped the Hercules for a landing, there was almost zero visibility. At the last moment, the hangar flashed in the windshield, prompting Judkins to reflexively jerk back on the controls to avoid a collision. Doing what it could to help, the CIA team rushed several jeeps out onto the tarmac, their headlights barely cutting into the pounding rain.

As Judkins nosed downward for a second attempt, kickers Miles Johnson and Richard "Paper Legs" Peterson braced for the worst. After a night of jinxes, they finally got a break. As a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, the crew got a clear glimpse of the airstrip ahead and aligned the plane. Landing hard, they taxied to the hangar with little more than fumes left in the gas tanks. [13]

Though it had nearly lost two aircraft, ST BARNUM barely flinched. On the following night, the same Takhli crew was rescheduled to deliver its payload. Fearful of running into the same meteorological complications, the airmen brainstormed ways of carrying more fuel as an emergency reserve. Besides the internal wing tanks, they were already slinging two extra pontoon tanks, as well as a special 2,000-gallon bladder -- nicknamed a Tokyo Tank -- inside the cabin itself. But even with these, the crew could not fly an evasive route to the target, could not loiter, and, as the previous flights had dramatically proved, could not afford to hit a strong head wind.

Showing some lateral thinking, they came up with an offbeat solution. Reasoning that fuel is denser when chilled, the Air America crew topped its tanks on the night of the mission and circled Takhli at 9,091 meters (30,000) feet. After determining that the gas was sufficiently cold -- and dense -- they landed and began packing more fuel into the extra tank space. Wet burlap was draped across the wings to keep the tanks cool. Whether because of this or because the crew did not encounter another head wind, the mission made it to Tibet and back with fuel to spare. [14]


A key link in the CIA's Tibet supply program was a modest apartment just north of the Washington city limits. By that time, Geshe Wangyal had raised too many eyebrows roaming outside the original Zebra safe house in his robes. "He would go into a Chinese restaurant," recalls Tom Fosmire, "and the staff would all start bowing." [15]

To avoid uncomfortable questions from neighbors, the CIA elected to shift its elegant interpreter to a new safe house farther outside the capital. Shortly thereafter, the venerable Geshe, eager to spend more time with his Buddhist disciples, gracefully exited the program for a permanent return to New Jersey.

Though sad to see him go, the CIA had already located a willing replacement. Tsing-po Yu, a recent Chinese immigrant who had lived part of his life in Tibet and spoke the language like a native, began daily commutes to the new safe house and proved adept at squeezing meaning from the Tibet transmissions. The CIA, in turn, provided him with a salary and an occasional favor. When his wife, a waitress at a local Chinese eatery, was being seduced by a cook, the agency arranged for immigration officials to raid the establishment and deport seven illegal employees (including the problematic suitor). [16]

Because of his marital troubles and the long hours spent translating, Yu had been granted leave during April when the two Tibet overflights had their brushes with disaster. Filling in as his temporary replacement was Mark, one of the three Tibetans serving as translators at Hale. Alongside Mark was case officer John Gilhooley. Having recently come off a tour in Burma, Gilhooley was holding the headquarters job with the Tibet Task Force between field assignments.

Each morning, the young Tibetan would begin the process of converting incoming number groups into coherent messages, which Gilhooley would then convey to task force chief Roger McCarthy. Return messages would go through the same process in reverse. Mark enjoyed the work but could feel the growing sense of urgency among all those involved. There was good reason for this: the approaching May rains on the Tibetan plateau would make further resupply flights all but impossible until autumn. In order to deliver as much equipment as possible before the weather proved prohibitive, three C-130 flights were launched on two consecutive nights at the end of the April lunar cycle. [17]

In the end, even this proved insufficient. Over the previous two months, Pembar had been experiencing frequent probes by PLA infantry. Just as the April full moon was waning, Beijing got serious. Pamphlets were dropped from aircraft warning the rebels to cease contact with the foreign reactionaries. After that, groups of five aircraft began bombing runs while long-range artillery was brought forward. The guerrillas -- conservatively estimated at a couple of thousand -- suffered horrific casualties.

The PLA was not finished. Placing blocking forces on three sides of the guerrilla concentration, the Chinese set the forests on fire to flush out the remaining partisans. Keeping together, the twelve CIA-trained agents made an escape bid. Rather than running south toward India -- as the PLA might have expected -- they attempted to evade north across the Salween. "We thought it might be colder near Amdo," said Bruce, "and the Chinese would not be able to tolerate the cold." [18]

But as they approached the river, its swift waters proved too hard to ford. Complicating matters, their horses were growing weak from insufficient food and were hobbled by broken horseshoes. Abandoning their steeds, the dozen decided to reverse direction and weave their way toward the southern border on foot. After a month of harrowing encounters with the PLA, only five survivors reached Indian soil. [19]

The losses were even more horrific for the Amdo contingent. After overrunning Pembar, the PLA shifted its full attention northwest near the end of April. Under withering fire, Nathan, leader of the Amdo augmentation team, radioed frantic messages that tank-led columns were closing on their position. [20]

With few options available, the Tibet Task Force sanctioned an emergency C-130 drop for the evening of 1 May. This promised to be doubly risky: not only was the PLA massing in the area around the drop zone, but the moonless night would make navigation much more complicated. Captain Neese Hicks, who had been given a quick tutorial in codes before being assigned as a radioman for the project, was ready to board the Hercules at last light. Before he could do so, Major Aderholt rushed over to the crew and told them that the mission was scrubbed. [21]

Aderholt did not elaborate, but the reason for the abort was a mishap in another CIA operation. That morning, a U-2 spy plane had departed from an airfield in Pakistan for an overflight of the Soviet Union. En route, Soviet air defense batteries had fired multiple surface-to-air missiles in a shotgun configuration, disabling the aircraft with one of the concussion blasts. Although the exact fate of the plane and its pilot was not yet known to the CIA (it was several days before Moscow revealed that the crewman, Francis Gary Powers, had been captured alive), Washington quickly flashed a blanket prohibition against all further aerial penetrations of the communist bloc. [22]

With its hands tied by the senior policy makers in the Eisenhower administration, the Tibet Task Force was powerless to help its Tibetans in their greatest hour of need. The radio near Amdo soon fell silent. None of the twelve agents ever reached India. [23]
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:56 am

Chapter 10: Markham

Back on 4 February, just as the Tibet Task Force thought it had settled on a winning formula, CIA Director Dulles ventured to the White House to brief top administration officials on the agency's Tibet operation to date. He closed with an appeal for continuation of the project. His audience was complicit in its silence, with only President Eisenhower wondering aloud if the net results merited the effort involved. Might not stoking the resistance, he posed, only invite greater Chinese repression? Des FitzGerald, who had joined Dulles for the briefing, spoke directly to the president's concern. There could be no greater brutality, he assured those at the table, than that already inflicted on the Tibetans. [1]

Still playing devil's advocate, Eisenhower turned to Secretary of State Christian Herter and asked if his department held any reservations. Far from it, responded Herter. Not only could the Tibetans offer" serious harassment" of the Chinese, but a successful resistance would keep "the spark alive in the entire area." Suitably convinced, Eisenhower granted his consent for continuation of the Tibet operation. [2]

On the heels of the president's approval, Lhamo Tsering began canvassing Darjeeling for a new batch of recruits. In short order, he assembled half a dozen suitable Khampas. Departing India on 22 March, the candidates followed the well-worn route through East Pakistan, pausing in Kadena for thorough physical exams. By 2 April, they were in Colorado, joining fifteen of their countrymen who had arrived the previous November. [3]

Hale had changed little over the previous year of training. Still in charge was Tom Fosmire. Zeke Zilaitis, back to experimenting with rockets, had been promoted to his deputy. Gil Strickler, Patton's former logistician, made irregular visits to assist with support from Fort Carson.

In the field, Tony Poe and Billy Smith remained as tactical instructors. Joining them was Don Cesare, a former marine captain with a taste for chewing tobacco. This was not Cesare's debut with the agency; he had previously served as a security officer for the U-2 spy plane program. [4]

Other new faces included Joe Slavin and William Toler, two active-duty cooks seconded from the U.S. Army. They were warmly welcomed not only for their culinary talents but also for the fact that they freed the CIA officers from kitchen duties. A third newcomer, Harry Gordon, doubled as both project physician and medical instructor for select Tibetan students.

Making the occasional appearance was another of Roger McCarthy's logistical assistants on the Tibet Task Force, Harry Archer. A Virginia Military Institute graduate from a moneyed family, Archer had entered the Marine Corps in 1953 for a two-year stint. After switching to the CIA, he served an initial tour on Saipan with McCarthy. The two again came together on the Tibet project, where Archer earned a reputation as a "gadget man."

"Harry would go to Abercrombie & Fitch," said fellow task force member John Greaney, referring to the exclusive Manhattan outlet for pricey camping equipment, "and procure the latest in cold- weather gear, knives, and boots." Not all the purchases were appropriate. "He got us a bunch of thumb saws," recalls Fosmire, "even though there was no wood near most of our Tibet drop zones."

Given his marine background, it was Archer who lobbied for the Tibetans to be rotated from Hale to the Marine Corps School at Quantico, Virginia, for a change of pace. There was sound logic behind Archer's proposal: Quantico at the time had a special cell that trained various foreign groups in guerrilla warfare and small-unit tactics. The school also had a pack-mule course where the marine instructors could teach slinging a 75mm recoilless rifle, one of the more cumbersome weapons being dropped inside Tibet. [5]

Escorted by McCarthy, an initial group of twelve Tibetans was flown directly to the airstrip at Quantico in early 1960. There a five-man marine team -- which was not privy to the students' nationality -- put them through two weeks of instruction on everything from caches to camouflage. Mark and Pete were on hand to provide translations.

Near the end of the cycle, the marines planned an elaborate ambush exercise in which they would play the part of aggressors. On the night before the drill was to start, however, six inches of snow hit northern Virginia. Improvising, the aggressors grabbed white bed sheets and threw them over their ambush position. "The exercise went off perfectly," said Sergeant Willard "Sam" Poss, "and we were able to show the students the need for versatility." [6]

Impressed by the training at Quantico, McCarthy sent a request up the chain of command for the loan of two instructors. The Marine Corps was agreeable, releasing both Poss and Staff Sergeant Robert Laber that spring for temporary duty in Colorado. A Korean War veteran, Laber had been involved in the final combat actions of that conflict; he had since served as a heavy machine gun instructor before joining Quantico's special training cell.

Training officer Sam Poss stands over the burned wreck of the administration building at Camp Hale fo1lowing an electrical short circuit. (Courtesy Sam Poss)

Upon their arrival at Hale, the two marines were in awe of the base's diverse mini-armory, comprising both Western and communist bloc weaponry. "We were to teach the Tibetans how to use these and maneuver in a combat situation," said Poss. "This meant overcoming their first instinct, which was to stand in a line and fire everything they had until their bullets were finished, then pick up some rocks." [7]

Initially, Poss focused on map reading. Since the Tibetans were weak in mathematics, special maps were adapted from dated World Airway charts. Printed on cloth, they were simplified for the Tibetans by making both magnetic north and true north the same.

Laber, meanwhile, spent his time at the rifle range. As both a former machine gun instructor and a mortar section leader, he focused on developing skills with both these weapons. Because Fosmire and Zilaitis insisted on keeping the training as authentic as possible, blanks were never used. This resulted in an embarrassing breach of security midway through the dry summer. As Laber watched the Tibetans blaze away one afternoon with white phosphorus rounds, one ricocheted into the tress. In minutes, an entire hillside was in flames.

The CIA staff was now in a quandary. They could not cope with the fire themselves, but inviting the Forest Service into the camp could expose the project. There was really no choice. The Tibetans were rushed back to their quarters and quarantined before the gates were opened to allow in the fire trucks. It eventually took an entire week to bring the blaze under control. The firefighters were instructed not to ask too many questions, though they did remark that "strange inscriptions" in a foreign language had been carved into some rocks. [8]

That incident aside, the Tibetans made good progress through late summer. Groups of students were taken for overnight forays into the hills with the tactical instructors, where they would call in mountaintop resupply drops -- including a leaflet printing press developed by the task force's resident scholar, Ken Knaus -- and radio regular updates back to Ray Stark at base. And after word got back that the Amdo contingent had been overrun with tanks, an old Sherman was donated by Fort Carson for the students to practice both driving and disabling. [9]

As graduation approached, the Tibetans were scheduled to showcase their skills to a headquarters delegation led by Des FitzGerald. Joining him was Gyalo Thondup, who was in the United States for what was becoming an annual tour for consultations and to bolster international support at the United Nations. The Hale staff had assembled some stands for their guests and spent days rehearsing their demonstration. Recalls Fosmire: "It ended with a mad minute attack on a 'Chinese' camp. All of the weapons were used, even mortars. One camouflaged Tibetan with a Bren was hiding near the reviewing stand and surprised everyone. When the last mortar round landed, they looted the camp."

FitzGerald was delighted with the performance of what was widely recognized as his favorite project. Given his own wartime experience in Burma, he took the opportunity to quiz the Hale staff. "He was particularly interested and impressed with our cache training," remembers Cesare. [10]

Although FitzGerald might have been deeply committed to it, trouble loomed for the Tibet project. For one thing, all the airborne teams operating inside Tibet during the first quarter of 1960 were wiped out by late spring; sending more agents according to the same script no longer seemed an enlightened idea. For another thing, the Eisenhower administration was dragging its feet on lifting the prohibition against overflights put in place after the downing of the U-2 in May. Not only was Eisenhower still smarting from the diplomatic fallout from that incident, but Washington was now backdrop to a tight presidential race between Vice President Richard Nixon and Democratic Senator John Kennedy. Political prudence dictated that potentially embarrassing covert action -- particularly overflights -- be put on hold until after the November election. [11]

The delay came at a bad time for the Tibet Task Force. The late fall was good parachuting weather over Tibet. Moreover, there was concern that morale among the Tibetans at Hale might fray if they got stranded for an extended period. To keep them occupied, U.S. Army engineers were dispatched to build a gymnasium alongside their Quonset huts. The CIA also procured reels of television westerns and showed them every night. A favorite was Cheyenne, then still in the midst of its eight-year run with the hulking Clint Walker in the title role of an adventurer roaming the post-Civil War West. Said Cesare, "The Tibetans even began imitatingWalker's mannerisms around camp." [12]

The CIA instructors, too, were growing bored with the tedious weeks of waiting. Billy Smith had already taken an opportunity for reassignment. A gruff Tony Poe, who was losing patience with some of his fellow officers, and disappointed that many of the Tibetans had taken up the habit of cigarette smoking, left near year's end. The two marines also made plans for a return to Quantico. [13]

But the biggest blow came when Tom Fosmire elected to join McCarthy back at the task force desk in Washington. As the figurative heart of the training project since its inception, he had connected with the Tibetans more than any other CIA officer. Much of this had come about while sitting around the campfire at night swapping tales and bonding with his students. He recalls: "The Tibetans talked about going on annual trade caravans into India. There was much competition to be the first caravan of the season, because their goods were in highest demand and they made the most money. This meant surviving things like avalanches and bandits. They told me that once Tibet was free, they were going to take me on the biggest caravan ever into Lhasa."

On the night before Fosmire was set to leave, he assembled all the Tibetans and made the announcement. Instantly, tears began to flow. Even when he tried to assure them that he would be working on the program from Washington, it did no good. "We were all crying like babies," said translator Mark. Choked with emotion, Fosmire took a twenty-minute walk to clear his head. "We made a note never to tell them again when one of us was leaving." [14]


With morale already low following Fosmire's departure, the project took another hit in early November. By one of the closest margins in recent presidential history, John Kennedy came out the winner. Although he had been given a pair of confidential CIA briefings by CIA Director Dulles prior to the election, Tibet had not been broached with the youthful nominee. "I'll brief Nixon," Eisenhower was rumored to have told top agency officials regarding Tibet, "but if the other guy wins, you've got to do it." [15]

When Dulles again got a chance to speak with President-Elect Kennedy on 18 November, ten days after the vote, Tibet was penciled on the agenda, but it never came up in conversation. Instead, the showdown with Cuba, and the agency's plans to launch an invasion of that island, dominated their talk. Even after Kennedy was inaugurated in early January 1961, other foreign policy items grabbed the early spotlight. Besides Cuba, the deteriorating situations in Laos and South Vietnam were making headlines, relegating Tibet far down the priorities list.

Not until a snowy day in mid-February did things begin to change. Fosmire, who had been minding the quiet Tibet desk through the winter, remembers: "Bill Broe, the deputy chief of the Far East Division, stormed into the office with ice in his hair. He took off his jacket and waved a slip of paper. It was our permission to resume." [16]

That permission followed from a 14 February decision by Kennedy's top foreign policy advisers -- his so-called Special Group -- to continue the covert Tibet operation started under the previous administration. [17]

It had been almost a year since the last agent drop. With clear skies over Tibet, the task force moved to seize the moment. Even though the earlier airborne teams had met with only limited success -- and the concept of blind drops had been a complete bust during other agency operations in places such as China, Albania, and Ukraine -- plans were drawn up for yet another parachute infiltration. [18]

The CIA's Tibet officers had reason to ignore their poor airborne track record and opt for the same tired formula. One of its agent trainees at Hale, a young Khampa named Yeshi Wangyal, was easily among the most capable Tibetans to pass through its gates. Known as "Tim" during his tenure in Colorado, he hailed from the town of Markham. Located between the Mekong and Yangtze Rivers, Markham had repeatedly attracted attention during years past. Early in the twentieth century, it had been the scene of seesaw battles as Chinese and Tibetan armies wrestled for control of Kham, with the Han more often than not coming up short. Markham had still been under Lhasa's sphere of influence in 1950, but it fell as one of the initial targets of the PLA invasion. This did little to extinguish the zeal of the town's residents. Although the Kham of neighboring Lithang may have headlined the top ranks of the Chushi Gangdruk resistance when it formed in 1956, sons of Markham were among the budding rebellion's other prominent partisans. [19]

The Kham region showing the extent of Chinese highway construction, circa 1960

Markham was significant on other counts. For one thing, it sat at the terminus of a second drivable road the Chinese were building across Kham, and the CIA remained committed to disrupting Beijing's logistical flow. For another thing, not only were guerrillas around Markham still confounding the Chinese as of late 1960 (according to reports reaching India), but one of the rebel chieftains was none other than Tim's father. Therefore, parachuting Tim back into his hometown would not exactly be a blind drop.

To increase Tim's chances of success, he was allowed to pick his own team-mates from among the candidates at Hale. Selected as deputy team leader was Bhusang, a thirty-two-year-old former medical student from Lhasa who went by the call sign "Ken." Five others -- Aaron, Collin, Duke, Luke, and Phillip -- also made the cut. [20]

During the last week of March 1961, the seven began their long return journey from Colorado. Escorting them was translator Mark and CIA officer Zilaitis, who had been promoted to training chief following Fosmire's departure. After a three-night delay at Takhli due to unseasonably bad weather, the team boarded a C-130A as the sun set on 31 March. [21] Mark, who was the same age as Tim and had grown close to him during training, was bawling on the tarmac. Tim, his voice choked, passed on a request for Lhamo Tsering to take care of his young bride. [22]

Inside the cockpit, the Air America crew refamiliarized themselves with the controls. It had been nearly a year since they flew the last Hercules drop, and the company had few aviators to spare, given its busy flying schedule for the rapidly expanding CIA operation in nearby Laos. Smoke jumpers, too, were at a premium, with only Miles Johnson and Paper Legs Peterson assigned to Asia in early 1961; all their fellow smoke jumpers-cum-kickers were in Latin America working on the imminent CIA paramilitary invasion of Cuba. [23]

Roaring down the runway, the aircraft rose slowly on its journey toward Kham. At 2300 hours, under a full moon, the green light flashed in the cabin. Seven men and cargo exited the side doors. The battle for Markham was about to heat up.


Assembling on the ground undetected, the agents had no problem locating their supplies. Though this might have been cause for celebration, Tim was far from happy. Landing among rocks, one of his teammates, Aaron, was cringing in pain with a dislocated shoulder. Worse, by sunrise he made the unwelcome discovery that the Hercules had significantly overshot the intended drop zone. Their current position, he calculated, was due west of the town of Gonjo. Like Markham, numerous skirmishes had been fought around Gonjo during the first half of the twentieth century as the Chinese and Tibetans vied for control. The difference, Tim noted with concern, was that Gonjo was more than 100 kilometers north of his hometown.

Resting through the afternoon of the second day, the team prepared for the long walk south. Given Aaron's shoulder, their supplies were divided among the six healthy members. The remaining evidence of their drop -- parachutes and rigging materials -- was placed atop a pyre of wood and brush. They struck a match to the tinder and then set off at dusk up the first mountain between them and Markham. [24]

By dawn on the third day, the team had reached the summit. Looking back, they could still see smoke hanging in the air from their bonfire. It was not until the next morning, after putting sufficient space between themselves and the drop zone, that the agents paused to send an initial radio message back to the Tibet Task Force, reporting the navigational error and their intended movement.

Even though the agents were tired and hungry, their journey over the first five days was trouble free. On day six, things started to change. Pausing near sunset, they spied ten PLA soldiers and a Khampa guide in the process of concealing an observation post near the crest of a nearby hill. Not knowing if this was a coincidence or if their presence was suspected, Tim ordered the team to detour into the bush and cache those supplies not deemed vital, such as a mimeograph machine and an inflatable rubber raft the CIA had provided for crossing the rivers that bracketed Markham.

Patrolling forward, Tim and Ken made a two-man reconnaissance over the next hill and detected no other Chinese. The team continued its trek under cover of darkness. After one week of slow, careful movement, they could at last see Markham in the distance. Between them was a green valley pockmarked with the black, rounded tents used by herdsmen and traders. Though their goal was almost within reach, by that point, the agents had completely exhausted their rations and were thinking of little other than their stomachs. Leaving four members behind, Tim, Aaron, and Phillip crept toward the nearest tent in a bid to procure food.

At the last moment, Tim called a halt. By sheer coincidence, he recognized the occupant as a servant of his father. Approaching cautiously, Tim offered greetings and asked the servant of his father's whereabouts. The news was heart wrenching: he had been killed during a battle with the Chinese a few months earlier. Two other local chieftains had inherited his command, said the servant, and had continued to resist near Markham until their food stocks were depleted; both were now hiding with their guerrillas in the neighboring hills. When asked, the servant admitted that locals had heard the aircraft that dropped Tim, and the Chinese had deployed patrols as a result. [25]

Tim knew that he needed to act with discretion, if not suspicion. But still without rations, he imposed on the servant to convey a request for one of the rebel leaders to rendezvous with tea bricks, yak butter, and tsampa (ground roasted barley, a Tibetan staple). This meeting took place as scheduled, and although Tim received warm embraces and the customary deference afforded the son of a martyred chieftain, there was no mistaking an undercurrent of strain.

By day ten, the team arranged for a meeting with another local chief. Again, pleasantries were tempered by palatable tension. It was fast becoming apparent that the agents were seen by some as an invitation for a Chinese crackdown. Persisting, Tim was finally taken to the forest redoubt where the remnants of his father's guerrilla band were holed up. Women and children were among the weary partisans, including Tim's sister. They were a sad sight, with food in short supply and footwear in tatters.

Tim used the opportunity to pass on statements of encouragement from the Dalai Lama, and he tried to breathe life back into his crowd by speaking about the material support he was set to receive from the United States. As proof, he sent four of his agents to the cache site to recover their hidden supplies. On the way back, they left leaflets urging all tsampa-eaters (a euphemism for Tibetans, as opposed to Han rice-eaters) to remain vigilant against Chinese attack.

Over the following week, the rebel chieftains weighed Tim's exhortation back to arms and then called an emergency meeting in his absence. Despite the promise of foreign support, more than five years of fighting had taken a heavy toll. Exile was now utmost on their minds, not ratcheting up the war against China.

Deputy team leader Ken, who was present at the meeting, tried to stem the tide. Their orders, he noted, were to ex filtrate only after exhausting all means of resistance. The rebels were hardly swayed; they were intent on heading for India.

By that time, the team had been on the ground for twenty-four days. After the conclusion of the emergency session, a radio message was sent notifying the Tibet Task Force about the impending rebel exodus from the hills around Markham. When no immediate reply was forthcoming, the agents saw little choice but to join them.

They did not get far. News of the team had invariably spread across the Markham countryside, and it was only a matter of time before local informants tipped off the PLA. Together with pro-communist Khampa militiamen, Chinese troops closed in on the guerrilla concentration just as they started to move. Nine separate engagements were fought over the course of the first day. The agents sought refuge deeper in the forest, but not before the Chinese onslaught killed Collin and Duke. Cranking up their radio, the survivors had time to tap out a brief message. Recalls Mark, who was helping with translations in Washington at the time, "It was an SOS."

Taking along fewer than two dozen guerrillas and dependents, the remaining team members slipped through the PLA cordon and for a time shook off their pursuers. Over the next three days, they attempted to rest. But again, their hunger pangs were overwhelming. After nearly running into a Chinese patrol the following morning, they left the forest to approach a lone herdsman. Upon seeing the guerrillas, the shepherd turned over a yak and hurried from the scene. Ignoring tradecraft, the famished agents butchered and cooked the animal on the spot, then ate until they were full.

The PLA was not far behind. Having corralled the rebels toward a mountain, the Chinese repeated their Pembar strategy of establishing blocking positions and flushing them out by setting the forest ablaze. With no alternatives, the agents and a handful of partisans left the protection of the trees and scurried up the bare slope in the dark. The Chinese had already circled atop the summit, allowing no escape.

As the sun rose, Ken took account of their bleak situation. "It was like a dream, unreal," he later commented. Squeezed behind boulders, Tim's sister and two other children could be heard weeping loudly. Aaron and Luke were huddled behind another rocky outcropping, Tim and Phillip behind a third. As the Chinese leapfrogged closer, they fired an occasional rifle shot and called for surrender. "Eat shit!" the Tibetans yelled back defiantly.

By 1000 hours, the Chinese had maneuvered within a stone's throw. Surging forward, they grabbed the three bawling children. Ken fingered the cyanide ampoule hanging from a necklace around his neck. The previous night, the agents had agreed to commit suicide after firing their last shot. Seeing no movement from Aaron and Luke, Ken assumed that both had already taken their lives.

Craning his head toward his remaining colleagues, Ken caught a glimpse of Tim frantically motioning toward his ampoule with sign language. Uncertain if this was a call to commit suicide in unison, Ken tentatively placed the cyanide in his cheek. Seconds later, a Chinese soldier leaped from behind and planted a rifle butt on the back of his skull. Knocked unconscious before he could bite down on the ampoule, Ken was bound and led away to a prison cell in Markham. He was the only survivor of the seven and would not see freedom for another seventeen years.


Although the CIA did not have immediate confirmation of the fate of Tim and his team, the desperate tone of their last radio message spoke volumes. It was glaringly apparent: the task force needed a new strategy.
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:57 am

Chapter 11: Mustang

Well before the parachute drop at Markham, the seeds of a new Tibet strategy were germinating. The impetus for this had come from NVDA [National Volunteer Defence Army/Chushi Gangdruk] chief Gompo Tashi and from Lhamo Tsering, Gyalo Thondup's able lieutenant in Darjeeling, who watched with concern as thousands of able-bodied Tibetan men were siphoned from Indian refugee camps and channeled into road construction gangs to help offset mounting aid costs. Some 4,000 ended up in Sikkim alone, where they were overseen by a special relief committee headed by Princess Kukula. [1]

Dispersing Tibetan manpower in this way put the two leaders in a quandary. Although having the refugees work on road construction was better than letting them languish in camps, employing large numbers of men as laborers sapped energy from the dream of retaking their homeland. Many of the displaced still clung to the hope of a resurgent NVDA, particularly older partisans who itched for the chance to take up arms one more time.

Although neither Gompo Tashi nor Lhamo Tsering were opposed to the idea of a reborn guerrilla army, there was a serious geopolitical hurdle to overcome. To properly refit any irregulars, they needed a secure staging area. Given Nehru's continued desire to refrain from provoking the Chinese leadership, use of India for this purpose was out of the question. Similarly, Bhutan and Sikkim were too firmly under India's thumb to consider their territory as host for a significant paramilitary endeavor.

By default, that left Nepal. A lone Hindu kingdom in the Buddhist Himalayas, Nepal was a study in selective nonalignment. For the first eight years of India's independence, Kathmandu had tempered its neutrality with a pro-Indian bias. At the same time, Nepal liked to think of Tibet (with considerable hyperbole) as a kind of vassal and not as part of China.

But in 1955, with the death of mild King Tribhuwan and the rise of bolder son Mahendra, change was in the air. In an attempt to break what he saw as overdependence on India and to diversify the kingdom's foreign policy, the new king established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1956 and signed a Sino-Nepalese trade agreement that same year.

Although Kathmandu had moved a small step closer to Beijing -- and now recognized the PRC's hold over Tibet -- Gompo Tashi and Lhamo Tsering still had good reason to see Nepal as an attractive stepping-stone into their homeland. First, transportation difficulties and sharp ethnic differences meant that Kathmandu's grip barely reached outside the capital. Second, Nepal was already home to a large number of recent Tibetan arrivals. Estimates placed the number of refugees at 20,000 during the first two years of the Dalai Lama's exile. Of these, many were from the western reaches of Tibet and sought sanctuary in Nepal's most remote border areas, where Kathmandu's writ was rarely heard, much less acknowledged. [2]

Third, one corner of Nepal -- the enclave of Mustang -- was for all intents and purposes part of Tibet. The highest kingdom in the world (with an average altitude of 3,758 feet), Mustang encompassed 1,943 square kilometers of arid gorges and cliffs centered along Nepal's northern border. Surrounded on three sides by Tibet, its population and culture were entirely Tibetan Buddhist. It had never been conquered by Nepal and, located north of the Himalayas, intuitively should have been incorporated under Lhasa's control. But after an eighteenth-century debt swap among highland royalty, Mustang passed to Nepal as a loose tributary. [3]

Nepal could be forgiven for hardly noticing its new territorial addition. Led by its own line of kings dating back to the fourteenth century, Mustang consisted of just twelve large villages and the walled capital of Lo Monthang [Manthang], where a modest palace was centered in a maze of temples and homes for 800 residents. Though it had once been prosperous -- thanks to its command over the salt trade into western Tibet -- Mustang had degenerated into a backwater after competing principalities to the south broke that monopoly in 1890.

Despite its impoverishment, Mustang retained something more important: its autonomy. Even when Kathmandu insisted on the disbandment of other royal fiefdoms within its borders, Mustang alone was allowed to keep its king. In return for a token annual tribute of two horses and forty-five British pounds, Lo Monthang [Manthang] enjoyed near complete leeway in running its own affairs. [4]

Besides its quasi-independence, there were other reasons for Lhamo Tsering and Gompo Tashi to favor Mustang. First, it was there that the Lithang Khampa team had fled in late 1959 after its abortive mission to Nam Tso; in messages sent back to Darjeeling, the agents had reported that their ethnic kin were generally supportive. Second, the border between Mustang and Tibet did not have any high passes blocked by snow in winter. Third, although its climate was dry and the land largely infertile, there was a handful of valleys with enough tree cover to camouflage a guerrilla encampment during the summer. Fourth, its remote location kept it out of range of foreign visitors; only one Western interloper had ever set foot in the region as of 1960. And if that were not enough, a divination arranged by the two leaders confirmed the choice of Mustang as a good one. [5]


Although Gompo Tashi and Lhamo Tsering (who, it was understood, carried Gyalo's consent) were swayed that Mustang was a sure bet for a guerrilla sanctuary, the United States had to be convinced. Traveling to Calcutta in February 1960 to meet with CIA liaison officers, the two lobbied for support of their Nepal plan. At the time, Washington's relations with Kathmandu could only be described as cool and proper. This was largely due to King Mahendra's engagement policy of playing off the major powers, milking aid from all but not endearing himself to any. Had the United States requested permission from Mahendra to use Mustang, it is unlikely that it would have been granted. [6]

But the question was never asked. Just as Gompo Tashi and Lhamo Tsering had calculated, poor transportation and communication networks severely curtailed the Nepalese government's extent of control. "Most ministers had never seen their own country," noted one American aid worker who served there in 1960." [7] Concluded Ralph Redford, the CIA station chief in Kathmandu, "The king's permission was not necessarily required." [8]

Once word of the pitch from the two Tibetans reached Washington, the CIA's task force officers quickly concurred that a modest guerrilla operation staged from Mustang had merit and would not irreparably harm U.S.-Nepal relations. Gompo Tashi was given approval in March to begin the process of identifying candidates to lead the paramilitary force.

Rushing north to Kalimpong, the ailing chieftain beckoned seven senior NVDA officers for three days of intense discussion. Informed of the pending Mustang operation, they were told to choose a field commander from among their number. Even for a people used to a challenging lifestyle, the assignment promised to be a hardship tour. Gompo Tashi, though the logical choice, was ineligible because he required too much rest and care. Similarly, six others withdrew themselves from consideration due to age or poor fitness or because they had dependents.

The only one remaining, forty-three-year-old Baba Yeshi, received their unanimous support. As suggested by his name, Baba Yeshi hailed from the central Kham town of Raba (now called Bathang). Due to its relatively low altitude, Bathang was an early target for Han colonization and had even attracted French missionaries during the early twentieth century. The locals had strongly resisted these ethnic and religious incursions. The missionaries ultimately withdrew after several priests were executed, but the Chinese battled back and held on until mid century.

By the time of the 1956 uprising, the Khampas of Bathang were primed to explode. Among the first to revolt, they courted a harsh PLA response. Chinese aircraft rained down bombs, paying special attention to monasteries. One such destroyed temple was the home of Raba Yeshi, who had entered the priesthood at age eight and took his vows at eighteen. Though from a poor family, the monk had shown a talent for trading cloth and had amassed respectable savings. Predicting more Chinese attacks to come, he gathered his inventory and made his way to the safer climes of Kalimpong.

The respite was not to last. By mid-1958, word of the newly christened NVDA quickly filtered down to India. Prodded by other exiles, Baba Yeshi agreed to return to Tibet on the pretext of a pilgrimage. His real purpose was to help raid an armory near the Nepalese border. He attempted to do so, but the Tibetan army held firm and refused to release the weapons. Dejected, he headed toward Drigu Tso lake to link up with Gompo Tashi, only to find that the chieftain had already shifted to the north.

Baba Yeshi, the first commander of Mustang. (Courtesy Roger MacCarthy)

He remained in the vicinity of Drigu Tso, and by the fall of 1958, Baba Yeshi was elected leader of a large, albeit quiet, NVDA sector. By his own admission, they accomplished little. "I had no military background," he later recounted, "and just one in ten of my guerrillas had a weapon." Their biggest excitement came the following spring, when they received couriered orders to secure the area north of the lake during the passage of the fleeing Dalai Lama. [9]

Not until after the Dalai Lama reached India did Baba Yeshi at long last rendezvous with Gompo Tashi. But by that time, the NVDA chief was also on his way to exile. Baba Yeshi joined him and crossed the border, where he stewed in a refugee camp for the next eight months.

Frustrated by the boredom and the heat, the monk finally saw an opportunity for action in December 1959. With Eisenhower set to make the first visit to India by a U.S. president, he and fourteen other Khampa leaders rushed down to New Delhi and stood along Eisenhower's motorcade route in an attempt to hand him a letter calling for U.S. support. Not surprisingly, the Khampas came nowhere close to getting an audience with the visiting dignitary. Dejected again, Baba Yeshi returning to the steaming refugee camp and was still there when he got the call from Gompo Tashi to come to Kalimpong.

When he learned of the impending Mustang operation -- and got the unanimous support of his peers to lead it -- Baba Yeshi was more than a little apprehensive. He was the first to admit that he had no formal military training. And despite his years studying Buddhist scripture, his writing skills were poor.

There was also the controversy surrounding his hometown, Bathang. Owing to its long occupation by the Chinese, Bathang was infamous for its Khampa sympathizers and informants. Bathang also hosted a large number of Muslim Hiu, many of whom had assisted Beijing in battles against tile Tibetan resistance. This, plus petty rivalries with neighboring towns such as Lithang, gave Bathang residents the reputation for being antagonistic toward their countrymen. [10]

But Baba Yeshi had other qualities that offset such deficiencies. In a culture not known for oratory, he was renowned as an articulate public speaker who exuded emotion and could even bring up tears on cue. As a monk, he had no dependents. And he was also known for his keen ability to anticipate and resolve problems within his ranks. "He was nicknamed Cat," said one of his subordinates, "because he would pounce on trouble like catching a mouse." [11]

Upon confirmation of Baba Yeshi as overall leader, Gompo Tashi and Lhamo Tsering made the rounds of the various refugee camps to select another two dozen candidates to serve as a U.S.-trained officer cadre for the guerrilla force. The choice was limited to NVDA veterans without dependents and in good physical condition. To maximize clan coverage, no more than two men were chosen from each large district (such as Lithang), and only one from small districts. [12]

When the final cut was made in May, twenty-seven candidates had assembled in Darjeeling. Reflecting the composition of the NVDA, as well as the makeup of the refugee pool, only two were from Amdo; the rest were from Kham. Most were in their mid-thirties, although four were close to fifty years of age. They were told the nature of their assignment in general terms, but not the location. [13]

Before getting to Mustang, there remained the matter of training. Escorted by Lhamo Tsering to the East Pakistan frontier, the twenty-seven approached the rain-swollen river defining the border. They crossed it with difficulty and were deluged by heavy June rains for the entire bus and train ride to Dacca. Not until one week later were they back in their element among the mountains of Colorado. [14]

As leader of the Mustang force, Baba Yeshi had a whirlwind schedule prior to departure for the front. First was a plane ride to meet CIA representatives in Calcutta, followed by a stop in Darjeeling for an audience with Gyalo Thondup. After that was a trip to Siliguri to rendezvous with two CIA-trained Tibetan radio operators. [15]

Then came the long trek into Nepal. From Siliguri, the monk and two radiomen -- plus a Tibetan guide provided by Gyalo -- took a train west to the Indian city of Gorakhpur, then a bus north to Kathmandu. There they rented a room near the huge Swayambhunath stupa, one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in Nepal, situated atop a hillock on the capital's western outskirts.

For two weeks, they waited near the stupa. Unknown to the Tibetans, a storm brewing within the CIA was causing delays. So as not to burden Baba Yeshi with heavy equipment during his trip into Nepal, the Tibet Task Force had intended to pass him three radio sets after his arrival in Kathmandu. Kenneth "Clay" Cathey, a CIA officer based in Calcutta, had been charged with overseeing the transfer. Helping him would be Ray Stark, the former Hale radio instructor beckoned from an assignment in Manila. [16]

Unfortunately for Cathey and Stark, the CIA station in Nepal was doing all it could to stymie the transfer plan. Backed by Near East Division colleagues in New Delhi and at headquarters, station chief Redford opposed the scheme because he did not want to risk exposure on his home turf. Only after explicit instructions from the office of Director Dulles did the Nepal embassy reluctantly cooperate.

Following this high-level directive, the three radios arrived in Kathmandu in a diplomatic pouch. To make them portable, Stark helped break them into forty smaller loads. Cathey then procured some plain burlap and, because the station chief refused to lend his men to assist, was forced to spend an extra day wrapping the equipment on his own.

By that time, Lhamo Tsering and another Tibetan radioman had arrived in Kathmandu to help with the radio delivery. Because it was too risky to have Baba Yeshi come to the embassy, they needed to bring the gear to him. The station chief, still intent on obstructing the plan, insisted on using a taxi, but Cathey eventually persevered in getting loan of an embassy jeep.

That night, Cathey, Lhamo Tsering, and the radioman drove with the dissembled communication equipment to a darkened corner of the Swayambhunath stupa. Baba Yeshi, his two radiomen, and eighteen more Khampas that had joined the party made the rendezvous. There they split in two, with a pair of the radiomen and twelve of the Khampas securing the radios on their backs and setting off on foot in the direction of Mustang.

After giving them a five-day lead, Baba Yeshi, the remaining radioman, and six other Khampas attempted to get plane tickets for Pokhara, 130 kilometers west of Kathmandu and just south of Mustang. But to Baba Yeshi's chagrin, the sales representatives for Royal Nepal Airlines were extremely suspicious, even after the monk showed Tibetan documents that "proved" they were heading to Pokhara to help fellow refugees.

Such suspicion was understandable. Tibetan exiles were doing all they could to leave Pokhara, not the other way around. There was also the matter of increased tensions along the Sino-Nepalese frontier. Beijing had recently closed its border to grazing on the Chinese side, previously a common practice among Nepalese herders. More seriously, a PLA patrol had crossed the border into Mustang during June, apparently believing that it had spotted Khampa guerrillas. In the ensuing skirmish, they killed a Nepalese soldier and took ten civilians prisoner, sending a wave of panic through Lo Monthang. [17]

Ten days later they were still without plane tickets, and Baba Yeshi and his men thought it prudent to leave the Nepalese capital. Making their way back to Gorakhpur, they took a train northeast along the border, then recrossed into Nepal from the frontier town of Bhadwar. From there, it was a five-day trek on foot to Pokhara. Fearful that the Nepalese authorities might have been alerted, they wasted no time walking another four days up narrow paths to the village of Tukuche.

In a kingdom full of breathtaking vistas, Tukuche ranked high among them. Situated in a gap in the Himalayas where the Kali Gandaki River flows through the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Mountains, it is bracketed by canyon walls rising five kilometers on either side. By the time Baba Yeshi arrived there, the party that had departed Kathmandu on foot was already waiting in tents and had established radio contact with Darjeeling. [18]

Hearing of the successful rendezvous at Tukuche, Lhamo Tsering assembled the first group of guerrilla prospects from the Indian refugee camps. Earlier, Gompo Tashi had talked in terms of eventually building a 2,100-man force, but the CIA had approved support for only 400. Making the selection at Darjeeling, Lhamo Tsering gave each approved recruit a pair of shoes and a small rupee stipend to pay for food on the trip through Nepal. It was a relatively old crowd, with most close to forty years of age. Nearly all were Khampas.

Very quickly, word of the recruitment flashed among the refugees. What was supposed to be a clandestine shift of personnel suddenly became a very public one. On 1 August, the Indian media in Calcutta reported on the mysterious exodus of Tibetan men out of Sikkim. By early fall, Lhamo Tsering's 400 approved candidates were joined in Nepal by 200 unapproved Tibetans; several hundred others were on the way. [19]

With Tukuche fast growing crowded, Baba Yeshi sent three men north to make a ten-day reconnaissance trek for suitable locations inside Mustang. By October, they had returned with a pair of recommendations. The first was Yara, little more than a cluster of earthen huts situated in a fertile valley dotted with conifers and tucked under a massive cliff honeycombed with caves. The second, twelve kilometers southwest of Yara, was Tangya. Sited in one of the lowest valleys in Mustang, it was packed with barley fields and, like Yara, was in the shadow of an imposing cliff eroded like the flutes of an organ. Both were east of the Kali Gandaki and several days' hike from the other major villages in Mustang. [20]

Baba Yeshi started dispatching recruits to the Yara valley. In November, he himself made the shift from Tukuche to Tangya. With no weapons, a handful of tents, and little food, the prospective guerrillas and their leader settled in for the long, cold winter. [21]


On the other side of the world at Camp Hale, the Mustang leadership cadre spent the winter of 1960-1961 training alongside the agent team destined for Markham. Despite the advanced age of several in the group, the twenty-seven were put through all their paramilitary paces. No problems were encountered -- with one near-fatal exception. Prior to making actual airborne jumps at Fort Carson, the Tibetans practiced in a training rig at Hale nicknamed Suspended Agony. It consisted of webbing hanging from a makeshift iron frame, and the students needed to climb a ramp to get into the parachute harness.

Suspended Agony had worked well with earlier classes, but by the time the Mustang group arrived, it was showing its age. Unfortunately for Namgyal, a forty-five-year-old Bathang native who went by the call sign "Sampson," the iron frame decided to snap while he was in it. Dropping two meters to the ground, Sampson collapsed as the metal sliced into his forehead, exposing his skull. [22]

The CIA instructors rushed to the side of the unconscious Sampson, loaded him into a station wagon, and sped him to the army hospital at Fort Carson. There the doctors did not give him a good prognosis. "There was no way we could bring the body back to Tibet," said Sam Poss, "so talk shifted to getting lime and burying him back at Hale." But it never came to that. Showing far more resilience than the doctors thought possible, Sampson made a miraculous recovery. Returning to Hale, he eventually completed his airborne training in the spring of 1961.

By that time, his peers had graduated and been fully briefed on their impending mission to Mustang. The CIA's task force officers had been particularly impressed by Lobsang Jamba, a forty-year-old Lithang Khampa using the call sign "Sally." According to revised plans, Sally would parachute into Mustang and assume the role of field commander inside Tibet; Baba Yeshi, meanwhile, would be relegated to administrative chief at the Tangya rear base. [23]

Back in Nepal, Baba Yeshi had not yet been informed of this new leadership arrangement. His attention had been fixated on the dire food situation at his guerrilla camp. As longtime Mustang residents well knew, the infertile kingdom could not stockpile enough food to feed all its people through winter. For that reason, just 35 percent of the population of Lo Monthang (primarily the elderly) remained in town year-round; the remainder migrated for the coldest months down to Pokhara. [24]

When Baba Yeshi showed up at Tangya in November 1960, neither he nor his men at Yara had brought any food with them. They also carried little cash to purchase tsampa and other essentials. And even if they had brought money, more than 1,000 would-be guerrillas had assembled at Yara by year's end, far out-stripping the amount of staples that valley could produce. Very quickly, malnutrition reached critical levels. In desperation, more than a few boiled shoe leather for a meal. [25]

Compounding matters, the CIA still did not have permission to make a supply drop, due to the prohibition against overflights following the U-2 affair. And if that were not enough, the new Kennedy administration was divided over whether the Mustang plan should even proceed. Heading the resistance was the new U.S. ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith. A Canadian immigrant, Galbraith was an influential name in liberal circles. As a former Harvard professor of Keynesian economics, price czar during World War II, and editor of Fortune magazine, he had been an adviser to all Democratic presidents since Franklin Roosevelt. A prolific writer, Galbraith was renowned for his eloquent prose. He was also known for his grand ego, and as part of Kennedy's Harvard brain trust, he considered himself a logical pick for secretary of state.

But Kennedy had other ideas. It was widely known that both he and Galbraith shared a strong pro- India bias. As senator, Kennedy had spoken of India as a key to Asia. An economically strong India, went his argument, would be an essential showpiece for democracy in the Third World and a fitting challenge to Chinese communism in Asia. Although Eisenhower had stopped seeing Indian neutralism as evil by 1958, and his 1959 trip to New Delhi had been a resounding success, Kennedy felt that his predecessor had all but lost India through the misplaced goal of cultivating Pakistan. [26]

Based on this conviction, Kennedy was quick to place several well-known India supporters in important positions. Chester Bowles, a former ambassador in New Delhi, had been his foreign policy adviser during the campaign. Phillips Talbot, a scholar-journalist who specialized in things Indian, became assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs. And on 29 March 1961, Galbraith was appointed the new ambassador to India.

Shortly before his departure for New Delhi, the ambassador-designate went to CIA headquarters for a briefing on intelligence operations in India, as well as on the fledgling guerrilla force in neighboring Nepal. Heading the briefing was Richard Bissell, chief of covert operations, who, like Galbraith, had once been an Ivy League professor of economics. Joining Bissell was Far East chief Des FitzGerald, the Tibet operation's most die-hard and senior proponent, and James Critchfield, FitzGerald's counterpart in the Near East Division. [27]

After reviewing the CIA's planned budget for throwing India's upcoming elections, Galbraith was not amused. But it was upon hearing the details of the Mustang scheme that Galbraith became livid. Pushing back his chair, he stood up and glared at the CIA officers. "This sounds like the Rover Boys at loose ends," said the soon-to-be diplomat before stalking out. [28]

Galbraith's seething opposition was apparently grounded in his belief that the Tibet operation's benefits -- especially from the Mustang component -- did not outweigh the risk of harm to Indo-U.S. relations. He was especially sensitive to U.S. violations of Indian airspace in the extreme northeast during resupply flights, which he felt were as potentially destructive as the U-2 affair. Galbraith further claimed that his predecessor, Ellsworth Bunker, strongly shared his opposition. [29]

The new ambassador was overstating fears, if not inventing a few. Had Ambassador Bunker indeed been opposed during his tenure, he had never protested too loudly. The Indians, too, seemed more than willing to turn a blind eye on the CIA's cavorting with the Tibetans. In 1960, B. N. Mullik, head of the Indian Intelligence Bureau, and Richard Helms, the CIA's chief of operations for the Directorate of Plans, had met discreetly during an Interpol conference in Hawaii; at that time, Mullik said that he endorsed the agency's efforts and wanted U.S. overflights to continue. [30] Galbraith's real opposition, suspected several in the CIA, was based as much on genuine diplomatic concerns as on his anti-CIA slant, especially toward an operation initiated during the previous Republican administration. [31]

But Galbraith was hardly alone. Even within the CIA, opposition to the Tibet project was evident. This had less to do with arguments over the operation's potential yield than turf battles between the agency's geographic divisions. At the level of division chief, there was little friction between the Far East's FitzGerald and the Near East's Critchfield. For his part, Critchfield was largely indifferent toward Tibet. A longtime Europe hand (he had started his agency career handling Reinhard Gehlen, the former Nazi general co-opted by the CIA for his anticommunist intelligence network) , Critchfield was an Asia novice when he was picked by Dulles in late 1959 to command the Near East. [32]

By that time, the Tibet Task Force was already making regular use of India and East Pakistan. "I had zero veto power over the Tibet operation," Critchfield recalled, "even when it involved overflights of India." Only when Tibetan trainees were set to pass through Near East territory in East Pakistan was he given a courtesy alert. [33]

Although Critchfield did not find this particularly problematic, the same could not be said for others in his division. Heading that list was the CIA station chief in New Delhi, Harry Rositzke. The Harvard-educated professor and OSS alumni had been in India since May 1957. "Rositzke was strong minded, fast talking, and thought of himself as a world thinker," said one case officer who served under him. "He seemed to envision himself going back to Harvard one day, not as an agency career man." [34]

The ambitious Rositzke did not appreciate hosting part of an operation that earned him no credit in Washington but would leave him reaping bad publicity if things went sour. "The Far East Division got all the kudos," said one India case officer, "but the Near East Division risked the potential embarrassment." [35]

Rositzke's displeasure with this arrangement was focused squarely on the Far East Division's liaison officer in Calcutta, John Hoskins. Since 1956, Hoskins had been point man for dealings with Gyalo Thondup. As long as those dealings were low-key, New Delhi station had not complained too loudly. But once the Dalai Lama went into exile and the Tibet Task Force shifted into high gear, New Delhi's fear of a diplomatic incident rose accordingly. Insistent that Hoskins minimize any risk taking, the New Delhi station lobbied against his right to dispatch cables directly to headquarters. As a compromise, it was agreed that Hoskins would channel his communications through New Delhi, although Rositzke was not allowed to alter or edit the contents.

Despite striking this deal, Hoskins could not help but feel that he was under growing pressure. Even though he ultimately answered to the Far East Division, it was the Calcutta chief of base -- a Near East officer -- who wrote his annual performance reviews, which carried a lot of weight when it came to promotions. Fearful that his career would suffer, he approached the Near East Division in the summer of 1959 and asked if he could keep his Calcutta post but transfer under its mantle. With the request quickly approved, Hoskins continued to handle Gyalo, but now under Rositzke' s complete control.

Having lost its own representative in Calcutta, the Far East Division was not about to concede in the turf war. In order to keep tabs on Hoskins, in September 1959 it insisted on assigning a Far East officer to the New Delhi embassy. That officer, Howard Bane, was senior to Hoskins and in theory would act as the primary point of contact with Gyalo. In addition, the CIA had started contributing a stipend for the Dalai Lama and his entourage -- "providing them with rice and robes," said Hoskins -- and Bane was in charge of the purse. [36]

Very quickly, Bane began to experience the same pressures Hoskins had endured before his transfer. Located within the same embassy as the assertive Rositzke, Bane realized that his career interests hinged on keeping the peace with the station chief. His muted cables back to the Far East Division reflected this accommodation.

Back in Washington, FitzGerald fumed over not having an aggressive division representative in India. In February 1960, he used his pull with Dulles and successfully lobbied for the stationing of yet another officer, this time to Calcutta to fill the gap left by Hoskins. Chosen for the post was Vanderbilt doctoral graduate Clay Cathey. So as not to repeat the "loss" of Bane, Cathey was briefed "up to his eyeballs" by Tibet Task Force officers McCarthy and Greaney prior to his departure the following month. "They reminded me that I worked for the Far East Division," he said, "and not to do anything just because the Near East tells me to."

As had the others before him, Cathey quickly felt the strain of the interdivision rift over Tibet. Though he remained true to his division ("He was the only one who supplied us with good information," said Greaney), Rositzke did not make the job easy. Every three months, the station chief ordered him to New Delhi for an intense grilling session. Cathey was extremely cautious about what he said, having been warned that the testy former Harvard professor would use whatever he could to shut down the project. "Rositzke did not see himself as a career man," explained Cathey, "so even if the Tibet program held favor with Dulles, he felt no need to please the director. " [37]


Despite simmering opposition from the likes of Rositzke and Galbraith, President Kennedy in the second week of March 1961 approved an initial supply drop to Mustang. It was scheduled for the end of the month during the full moon phase and would total 29,000 pounds of arms and ammunition for 400 men. The bulk of the load was to consist of bolt-action Springfield rifles, plus forty Bren light machine guns and a mix of forty MI Garands and carbines.

Also included in the drop would be seven Hale graduates. Four were from the pool of twenty-seven Mustang leaders, including field commander-designate Sally. The remaining three were radiomen, all ethnic Khampas. [38] They flew to Okinawa on the same plane as the Markham team and then waited a week on the island for weather conditions along the Nepal border to clear. Not until the last day of March did they continue on to Takhli. Sally remembers his final briefing: "The CIA said that the Chinese might have gotten to the drop zone. If so, I was to use my Sten submachine gun. If I finished those bullets, I was to use my pistol. If that was finished, I was to bite my cyanide." [39]

Back at Tangya, Baba Yeshi's radiomen had already received word of the impending drop. Eight hundred men, led by Baba Yeshi himself, shifted fifteen kilometers northeast to the border, then another ten kilometers deeper into Tibet. Given the snow and terrain, this translated into a two-day trek. As they had no beasts of burden, 600 of this number were to act as porters; the remaining 200, having borrowed a handful of antiquated rifles from local herders, were to act as a paltry security force in the event of a PLA attack. [40]

Once at the designated drop zone, the reception committee arranged piles of yak dung to serve as fuel for flame signals. Unfortunately for them, atmospheric conditions frustrated further radio contact with Takhli for two days. With the seven agents and supplies grounded in Thailand for an extra forty-eight hours, dozens among the 800 suffered frostbite.

Not until the evening of 2 April did the radio prove cooperative, and an all-clear signal was conveyed to the launch site. Due to the large size of the load, supplies had been divided between two Hercules transports. Even then, the seven agents barely had room to sit as they boarded the first aircraft. This, combined with the extreme distance, made for an exhausting albeit uneventful flight. Sighting the flame signals on the ground, the Air America crews continued deeper into Tibet, then circled around for a second pass.

In the rear, a nervous Sally was the first out the door. Landing in snow up to his waist, he worked quickly to get clear of the pallets that followed. Porters soon swarmed over the bundles, securing them on their backs before beginning the arduous journey back to Mustang.


Although the drop was a success -- and the Indians had not indicated any knowledge of, much less displeasure with, the brief intrusion into their airspace- -- Ambassador Galbraith was more determined than ever to close the Mustang project. Traveling to Washington in May, he played on his rapport with Kennedy (who was already incensed with Dulles over the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April) to lobby the president for an end to what he saw as CIA interference. But even though the ambassador was able to stop most of the agency's covert operations inside India, he failed to put a damper on the Tibet project. [41]

Ironically, Galbraith was about to get an unlikely ally in the form of the Pakistani government. During the course of the Eisenhower presidency, the CIA had enjoyed cordial ties with Karachi. This included permission to use not only East Pakistani territory for the Tibet operation but also an airfield near the city of Peshawar as a U-2 launch site. Even when it was publicly revealed that the U-2 downed in May 1960 had originated from that airfield, Karachi hardly registered any protest over the resultant embarrassment.

But these warm ties looked set to change with the election of Kennedy and the pro-India bias he brought to office. Pakistani concerns seemed confirmed in April 1961 when Washington pledged a staggering $1 billion in economic aid for India's upcoming five-year development plan. Even more troubling for Karachi, the new administration, citing a threat from China, agreed to sell 350 tanks to New Delhi at low rates.

Pakistan wanted to retaliate, but it saw few ready options. It could not slam the door on Washington's military and economic assistance, because there were few alternative sources of aid that matched U.S. largesse. And it would do no good to withhold permission to use the Peshawar air base, because U-2 flights were still suspended. With little other choice, the Pakistanis closed their border for the Tibet project.

For the Tibet Task Force, the timing could not have been worse. Twenty-three Mustang leaders (the four others had jumped on 2 April) were still at Hale awaiting word to return. Because the onset of the monsoon season prevented further parachute drops until late in the year, the CIA had intended to smuggle them through East Pakistan and let them enter Nepal on foot. With Karachi's change of heart, however, they were stranded in Colorado.

As it turned out, the agency saw a brief window of opportunity midway through summer. Despite his strong leanings toward India, Kennedy was unwilling to completely write off Pakistan. He had invited President Ayub Khan to Washington for a weeklong visit beginning 11 July. On the day of his arrival, the polished Pakistani leader and his daughter were the guests of honor at picturesque Mount Vernon.

Seated between Kennedy and wife Jacqueline, Khan was feted during a spectacular dinner. Afterward, the two leaders took a stroll on the lawns of the estate. Taking advantage of the moment, Kennedy conveyed a personal plea from CIA Director Dulles to reopen the border. Caught up in the atmospherics, Ayub relented and agreed to let ten more Tibetans pass through his territory.

Wasting little time, the CIA had the Tibetans through East Pakistan and into Mustang by August. There they found that eight companies had been formed in the Yara vicinity, each numbering less than 100 men. Half of this number were issued rifles from the first weapons drop; the remainder were designated as support personnel. Eight of the Hale graduates took charge as company commanders; the rest were to act as trainers and headquarters staff.

Despite this promising start, problems quickly ensued. First, several of the Khampas were caught stealing animals and jewelry on the Chinese side of the border; this sent a chill through the local Mustang community, which was already beginning to have second thoughts about an armed Khampa presence in its midst. [42] Second, Baba Yeshi had not responded well to the CIA's plan for him to share authority with Sally. Outmaneuvering the Hale-trained officer, he made it clear that he was in complete control of both administration and field operations.

Not that there were any field operations to command. Despite the influx of 400 weapons and couriered cash from Gyalo Thondup, allowing for the purchase of horses, the guerrillas stood fast inside Mustang. Not until September did seven guerrillas on horseback head northeast into Tibet. As the Chinese had declared the border area off-limits to herders, they found the region completely devoid of population. Moving over the course of four nights, they eventually came upon a small PLA outpost on the south bank of the Brahmaputra. While two tended to the horses, the remaining five guerrillas ambushed a Chinese patrol and killed several (estimates ranged between eight and thirteen) before racing back to Nepal. [43]

Upon receiving a radio message with the results of Mustang's baptism by fire, the CIA was less than impressed. No photographs had been taken as proof of the supposed ambush, and no weapons were retrieved. And as this had been the first and only operation in the six months since the weapons drop, the guerrillas were not exactly setting a breakneck pace.

Realizing that he had to do better for an encore, Baba Yeshi gathered his officers and outlined plans for a forty-man foray. Their target would be any vehicle plying the trans Tibet road running between Lhasa and Xinjiang. Completed in 1957 and of questionable quality, it was the only route connecting PLA border garrisons along a 2,400-kilometer stretch.

Chosen to lead the incursion was thirty-five-year-old Rara, a Lithang native known by the call sign "Ross" during his stint at Hale. Since arriving via East Pakistan in August, he had assumed command of a company at Yara. For the road ambush, he assembled a composite unit by soliciting five men and five horses from each of the eight companies. They were all armed with a mix of Garands and carbines; in addition, Ross took a camera to document their foray.

Heading north from Mustang on 21 October, the guerrillas traveled for three days before crossing the frozen Brahmaputra and coming upon the Xinjiang road. Keeping their horses concealed, the Tibetans deployed in an extended line among the boulders of an adjacent hill. There they sat in the biting cold for an entire day. Not until 1400 hours on 25 October did the sound ofa distant automobile break the silence. From the west, a lone olive-drab jeep came into view. Due to encroaching sand dunes, it could manage only a crawl along the clogged roadbed. Ross, who was at the closest end of the ambush, signaled the three guerrillas at his side to hold their fire until the vehicle was within range. [44]

Taking aim with his carbine, Ross initiated the attack. Bullets ripped through the windshield, the driver's head snapped back, and the jeep veered to a halt on the shoulder. Two others in the front seat -- one male, one female -- slumped as their bodies were riddled by gunfire. Leaving the safety of the boulders, Ross exchanged his weapon for the camera. But as he moved forward to take photographs, gunfire began to pour from the rear of the jeep. Ross dove for cover while the three other guerrillas resumed their fusillade toward the back of the vehicle. After a minute, they converged on the now silent target and removed four dead Chinese.

Putting his Hale training into practice, Ross wasted no time recovering three Chinese-made Type 56 carbines and a machine gun. He also took a large leather case from the front seat. The bodies were laid on the ground and stripped of uniforms, shoes, socks, and watches. After setting the jeep on fire, Ross blew a whistle as the signal for the rest of the guerrillas strung along the ridgeline to rendezvous near their horses.

Three days later, the forty guerrillas were safely back in Mustang. Although photographs of the ambush were a bust (Ross had forgotten to take off the lens cap), the leather case looked promising. Baba Yeshi assigned two couriers to deliver the satchel to Lhamo Tsering in Darjeeling, who then personally carried it to Clay Cathey in Calcutta.

When the case was opened, Cathey found himself staring at 1,600 pages of documents. Once Lhamo Tsering began preliminary translations of a sampling, the CIA officer determined that most of the material was classified up to top secret. "I sent a long cable listing some of the report titles," recalls Cathey. "A day later, headquarters sent a message saying it could be a gold mine."

Once the satchel was back in Washington -- Cathey had strapped it in an adjacent seat aboard a Pan Am flight -- the CIA quickly realized that its initial assessment was correct. The male passenger in the front seat of the jeep, it turned out, had been a PLA regimental commander assigned to Tibet. Among the documents he was carrying were more than two dozen issues of a classified PLA journal entitled Bulletin of Activities. Intended for internal use among senior army cadre, the bulletins dealt frankly with problems plaguing the PLA. Some, for example, detailed food shortages and other economic problems, [45] others spoke of the lack of combat experience among junior officers, and still others reported on armed rebellions in the provinces.

From the satchel documents, the CIA also learned that the People's Militia, a paramilitary unit that reportedly totaled more than 1 million, was in reality a paper organization. Yet another document discussed the intensity of the Sino-Soviet rivalry, and others listed communication codes. In the end, more than 100 CIA reports were generated from these papers. "This single haul became the basic staple of intelligence on the Chinese army," concluded Cathey.

Better still, the Chinese did not know that the documents were missing, because the Tibetans had razed the jeep. Not until August 1963 did their existence become public knowledge after the CIA reached an agreement with scholars at Stanford University to help with the laborious translation. Although the source of the documents was not revealed, the agency threw the academics off the scent by hinting that they had been captured by the ROC navy from intercepted communist junks. [46]

The CIA was ecstatic over its intelligence windfall, but Ambassador Galbraith did not share in the celebration. Persistent in his determination to put a stop to Mustang and further supply overflights, he fired off a series of scathing cables to Washington during November 1961. To add further punch, he made special note of Kennedy's 27 May letter to all American ambassadors charging each with responsibility for operations of the entire U.S. diplomatic mission. Implicit in this was his prerogative to cancel what he deemed an objectionable CIA operation. [47]

Still, Galbraith could barely make headway. With the documents in the jeep satchel just beginning to be digested in Washington, the Tibet Task Force now had tangible proof of the operation's benefits. Armed with this, they secured final approval in early December for another pair of Hercules drops. For the guerrillas at Mustang, the omens were starting to look good.
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:57 am

Chapter 12: Favored Son

Lyle Brown had been busy kicking cargo to guerrilla outposts in the highlands of northeastern Laos when he got the call to report to Takhli in early December. Fresh to Southeast Asia after a tour training Cuban paratroopers for the Bay of Pigs, he exemplified the rugged ideals that the CIA saw in the aerial firefighting community. "We were good under adverse conditions," he reflected. "We didn't need a martini, but would be just as happy with some C-rations and a cup of coffee around a campfire." [1]

Linking up with Tibet veterans Shep Johnson and Andy Andersen, Brown squeezed into the back of a packed Hercules piloted by Air America's Bill Welk. Behind them on the flight line was a similarly loaded C-130 with another three smoke jumpers. [2] Following the same flight path as the previous Mustang mission, the pair of aircraft skirted the Tibet-Nepal border. From several kilometers away, the pilots could see an enormous blazing "I" not far from the drop zone used seven months earlier.

On the ground, Lobsang Jamba, cyanide ampoule dangling roguishly from a cord around his neck, was among the 400-man reception party. They had arrived at the prescribed location two days earlier but had radioed an eleventh-hour delay to Thailand because the original time had coincided with nine bad omens converging on the Tibetan calendar. "The next day there fortunately were ten good omens to ward them off," he recalled. [3]

Better prepared this time than they had been in April, the Tibetans had brought along sixty mules and horses. As pallets impacted the snow, the guerrillas descended on the bundles and divided them among pack animals and porters.

By week's end, they were back in Mustang and taking inventory. Besides 600 Garands, the load included eight 60mm mortars, eight 75mm recoilless rifles, and some Bren light machine guns. "There was also a color catalog," said one Tibetan officer, "showing photos of what would come in the future." [4]

The extra weapons were sorely needed to keep pace with the fast-expanding Mustang force. Doubling on paper, it now counted sixteen light companies, nearly all commanded by Hale graduates. Between the contents of the first and second drops, half of each company was armed with rifles. Each company, too, received a single Bren and either a mortar or a recoilless rifle. Those not issued rifles or assigned to the twelve-man heavy weapons squad were given a single grenade. In that way, each guerrilla was armed in some fashion.

Although these developments gave the CIA cause for cheer, the same could not be said for the situation back in Colorado. With more than a dozen Mustang leaders still languishing at Hale, the agency had planned to whisk them back to Asia during the first week of December and appeal to Pakistan once more for permission to use its territory as a conduit.

Almost from the start, plans went awry. Late on the night of 6 December, Hale instructor Don Cesare had gotten behind the wheel of the camp's bus and loaded the remaining Tibetans. As had been done many times in the recent past, Cesare intended to get them to Peterson Field by 0600 hours the next morning and inside a waiting C-124 Globemaster well before most of Colorado Springs awoke. But snow-packed roads had conspired against him, forcing two prolonged stops en route.

By the time he pulled into the airport, he was two hours behind schedule. An early-morning crowd had already arrived for work, including the operators of a flying school that owned a hangar near the parked C-124. Afraid of public exposure, the CIA had brought along a squad of overzealous military policemen, who promptly detained sixty-five civilians at gunpoint and ordered a pair of telephone repairmen off some nearby poles.

If that were not enough to raise eyebrows, things quickly worsened. At the local police office, Sheriff Earl Sullivan received a sketchy telephoned account of the bizarre happenings at Peterson. Mindful that there had been a killing at the air base the previous fall, Sullivan issued shotguns to his two deputies and raced to the field at breakneck speed. Amazingly, they too were ordered to halt at the airport entrance by military policemen, who explained that the C-124 was being loaded with classified material. [5]

The cover story hardly held up to scrutiny. By the following day, a local radio station had it partially right when it reported that forty-five Orientals had been spotted wearing military clothes near the transport plane. That same afternoon, a front-page story in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph entitled "Gestapo Tactics at Peterson Field Bring Apology from Army" noted that Asians in battle fatigues had disembarked from a bus with curtains over the windows. [6]

The wire services picked up the story, and it soon got the attention of the Washington bureau of the New York Times. When a correspondent called the Pentagon for comment, he was phoned back by a flustered official from the office of Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Almost without prompting, the official relayed details of the Hale operation, then pleaded with the journalist to drop the story. The gamble worked: by taking the correspondent into its confidence, the Pentagon had made it ethically difficult for the reporter to reveal the story. By the following week, the Peterson episode had been quietly forgotten. [7]

The CIA thus narrowly avoided embarrassing exposure, but for the Tibetans in the C-124, the frustration was only beginning. Cesare escorted them as far as Okinawa, where what was intended as a brief transit stop extended into days and then weeks. The reason for this was to be found at the southern end of the subcontinent, where Indian troops had invaded and annexed the small Portuguese enclave of Goa during the third week of December. Although the United States voiced criticism of this action -- privately, Kennedy was amused that Nehru, a long-time proponent of peaceful coexistence, had seen fit to launch a military offensive -- Pakistan's Ayub Khan was hardly satisfied. If Washington could refuse to help when a European ally suffered at India's hand, Khan was more doubtful than ever that the youthful U.S. president would come to Pakistan's aid in a pinch.

As U.S.-Pakistani relations plunged to a new low, use of East Pakistan for the Tibet project was well and truly out of the cards. Rather than retracing his steps back to the vacant Camp Hale, Cesare diverted his Tibetans to a remote corner of the CIA complex on the island of Saipan. With no chance for overland infiltration anytime soon, he stocked up on movies and began looking for new subject matter -- how to drive jeeps and trucks, for instance -- to keep his students preoccupied for the long wait ahead. [8]


Infiltration of the Mustang leaders was not the only part of the Tibet project on hold. In a concession to Ambassador Galbraith, Kennedy had given the nod to the December supply drop only on the condition that future drops would include the participation of the Indian government. Such support, knew the CIA, was a long shot. Although Indian spymaster Mullik quietly reaffirmed his tacit approval of the agency's efforts in 1961, and had earlier claimed that Nehru held similar beliefs, his influence with the aging prime minister was more than offset by India's ambitious and abrasive defense minister, Krishna Menon. [9]

Known for his frequent baiting of the West, Menon was a devout Fabian socialist whose take on nonalignment fell decidedly left of center. As India's longtime representative to the United Nations, he had gone out of his way to sabotage Gyalo's efforts at winning votes sympathetic to Tibet. As defense minister, he was openly biased toward purchases of Soviet hardware, even when his generals requested Western alternatives. And given his soft stance toward China -- as well as his close links with Nehru -- Indo-U.S. cooperation on the Tibet front was an impossibility as long as Menon enjoyed his pronounced clout.

Unable to meet Kennedy's requirement of Indian participation, the CIA knew that additional drops to Mustang were out of the question for the time being. The Tibet Task Force, as a result, came to reflect the resupply stand-down. With Hale vacant and no new students scheduled for arrival, all the camp's instructors had been reassigned, with the exception of Cesare at Saipan. The last two Hale-based Tibetan translators were sent to language class at Georgetown University as a reward for services rendered. Roger McCarthy had already left his seat as head of the task force in December 1961 for an assignment on Taiwan, leaving Ken Knaus to assume command over a shadow of the former program. "There was talk of even closing down the task force all together," remembers Cesare. [10]

Coincidentally, there was also a changing of the guard on the subcontinent. During May 1962, India station chief Harry Rositzke finished his tour and was replaced by David Blee. Like Rositzke, Blee was an OSS veteran with service in both the South Asian and Southeast Asian theaters. Blee, too, was a Harvard (and Stanford) graduate and had practiced law for a year before joining the agency at its inception.

Arriving along with Blee was a new deputy station chief, William Grimsley. On his second India tour (he had been posted to New Delhi between 1956 and 1958), Grimsley had found himself embroiled in the Tibet turf-war even before his departure from Washington. Three months earlier, in February 1962, Richard Bissell, the head of covert operations, had belatedly fallen as the last major casualty of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Promoted in Bissell's place was his operations officer and longtime rival, Richard Helms. Known for his instinctive caution and political acumen, Helms saw the divisional rivalries over Tibet as an internal sore that needed resolution and closure. Reflecting the realities on the ground -- that paramilitary activity inside Tibet was almost nil, and liaison with the Tibetan leadership took place on Indian soil -- the new covert operations chief was inclined to favor ceding more control to the Near East Division.

Following from this decision, Grimsley was called into Helms's office and given a second hat. Although a residual Tibet Task Force would remain under the Far East Division, Grimsley would take over from the departing Howard Bane as the primary Tibet case officer in India. This move effectively put Tibet operations directly under the control of the Near East, something Des FitzGerald was sure to protest. Afraid of intentional media exposure by detractors from within the Far East Division, Helms charged James Angleton, the CIA's infamous mole hunter and counterintelligence chief, with leak control. "I was personally briefed by Angleton," said Grimsley, "to report any resistance from Far East types to the conversion." [11]

Though largely emasculated, the Tibet Task Force was not yet out. In June 1962, officers from the task force traveled to Darjeeling to rendezvous with Mustang commander Baba Yeshi. To start on a good note, they congratulated the chieftain for the previous year's jeep ambush and offered an Omega chronograph in appreciation. But as talk shifted to the future, the secret tryst proved a bust. Speaking for his Tibetans, Baba Yeshi demanded a long list of supplies before his men would shift their action inside Tibet. As far as the CIA was concerned, it wanted the guerrillas to start launching reconnaissance teams north of the Brahmaputra without further preconditions. "It was basically a chicken or the egg scenario " said task force chief Knaus.

With no promises offered by either camp, the CIA men returned to Washington with little hope. "Guerrilla harassment continues," read an agency assessment prepared at month's end, "but poses no serious threat to [Beijing's] control." It even noted signs of reduced popular discontent against the Chinese. [12]

Based on this sentiment and after further consultations at the highest levels of government, the Kennedy administration in late summer decided that the entire future of the Mustang resistance- -- not merely supply drops -- would hinge on the unlikely prospect of active, not tacit, Indian support.

Baba Yeshi, meanwhile, went back to his perch at Mustang. There his men poured their energies into improving their respective tent camps. Eight of the companies had set up quarters in a line along the eastern side of the Kali Gandaki; the remainder ran in a mirror arrangement on the opposite side of the river. Aside from this, they did little else, not launching even a single foray following the previous October's satchel snatch. [13]

For all intents and purposes, the epitaph to the Tibet project was ready to be scripted.


On the evening of Saturday, 8 September, Brigadier John Dalvi was soaking in a hot bath when the phone rang. As commander of India's 7th Infantry Brigade, he was charged with defense of the western NEFA sector, which encompassed the exfiltration route used by the Dalai Lama in 1959. That very afternoon, he had played a round of golf at the newly laid course at Tezpur, the same tea planters' town in Assam where the international media had awaited the arrival of the exiled monarch three years earlier.

Stirred from his moment of relaxation, Dalvi at first tried to ignore the incessant ringing. But having a premonition that it might be important, he wrested himself from the tub. It was a wise choice. On the other end of the phone was his deputy assistant adjutant calling from Towang, the town where the Dalai Lama had first paused after crossing from Tibet. Dalvi listened as the adjutant passed on a frantic message from a nearby outpost. Six hundred Chinese soldiers had surrounded the position earlier that day, cutting bridges and threatening the water supply. They needed help, and they needed it fast. [14]

Though Dalvi was shocked by the incursion, the Chinese maneuvers in NEFA were not wholly unexpected. Ever since the PLA had invaded Tibet, China and India had been bickering about the delineation of their common border. Basing their claims on a 1914 treaty -- of which Tibet was a party -- India placed its NEFA boundary generally along the Himalayan watershed. China at times appeared ready to accept this but had most recently produced maps that showed much of NEFA under its control. Complicating matters was a second area of contested territory at the westernmost extreme of the Indo Tibet border along the desolate Ladakh Range.

For India, NEFA was of strategic concern. It was home to 800,000 primitive tribesmen, and most of NEFA's residents were ethnically and culturally closer to the Tibetans than to the people of the Indian plains. Sharing few bonds with the rest of the country, they often regarded lowlanders with suspicion. The Indian government was cognizant of this and had been trying to win their favor with comprehensive development projects, but budgetary constraints sharply limited realization of these plans. And with the poor economic situation compounded by the disruption of trade following China's closure of the Indo-Tibet border -- as well as the rumor mill spinning apocryphal tales of laudable progress inside Tibet -- India was correctly concerned about loyalties in this part of the country. [15]

By contrast, India's Ladakh claim -- based on "historical truths," said New Delhi -- was grounded more in prestige than in strategic value. Due to the high altitude (much of it over 4,850 meters) the area was home to just a handful of nomads. Moreover, land access was virtually impossible from the Indian side. The Chinese enjoyed easier access and had already constructed part of their important road link between Xinjiang and Lhasa across the disputed Ladakh zone.

Slowly at first, the two sides had resorted to arms to press their conflicting claims. The first known PLA incursion took place in September 1958 when Chinese troops arrested an Indian police patrol in Ladakh (the police were attempting to reconnoiter the true alignment of the Xinjiang-Tibet road). The following year, after the exile of the Dalai Lama, the frontier heated up after the Indians sent soldiers directly up to the Himalayan watershed; previously, they had been bivouacked well behind that line. The Chinese, in return, sent parries to both NEFA and Ladakh, including an October 1959 attack in the west that killed nine Indians.

Though the Indian military raised a cry at that time, Defense Minister Menon would hear none of it. Labeling the army chief a pro-Western alarmist, he preferred to focus attention on the threat posed by Pakistan. Intimidated by the brash defense chief, the generals took to quietly improving their readiness along the Tibet frontier. Following road and rail construction, an increase in air transport capabilities, and the deployment of more troops at key locations along the border, the top brass was increasingly confident of its ability to deal with Beijing. Reflecting this confidence, in the spring of 1962, India began deploying more patrols and establishing new forward posts in Ladakh -- behind Chinese positions, but still inside Indian-claimed territory. [16]

By mid-1962, however, India's military leaders began wondering whether they were overextended. Their fears seemed justified when Dalvi's report about the Towang attack reached New Delhi. But to the shock and dismay of the field commanders in NEFA, Menon, preoccupied with preparations for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly session later in September, was keen to dismiss the incident as nothing more serious than the minor incursions of previous years.

One month later, there could be no mistaking Chinese intent. On 20 October, PLA troops rolled down from the Himalayas and smashed Indian outposts across a wide front. Better acclimated to the altitude, properly stocked from nearby roads, and outnumbering the Indians eight to one, the PLA held every key advantage and showed it. "We were flabbergasted," said one National Security Council staffer, "when the Chinese wiped the floor with the Indians." [17]


No two Indian officials felt the heat from the losses more than Defense Minister Menon and the chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul. Both were inextricably linked: Menon had been instrumental in getting Kaul his senior post, catapulting him over better-qualified generals in the process. This was partly because Kaul was regarded as less pro-Western than many of his peers, lending him the same political mind-set as the defense minister. Menon was also well aware that Kaul shared Kashmiri roots with Nehru, who viewed the general as a protege and trusted confidant.

Stung by the resultant whispers of nepotism, Kaul had tried to bolster his image by taking personal charge of a newly created corps set to expel the Chinese from NEFA. Not only had this fallen apart during the third week of October, but Kaul had earlier been stricken with a lung infection and sat out the bleakest days in bed in New Delhi. Humiliated and ill, the general sought out Menon to brainstorm ways of salvaging the desperate situation in the Himalayas -- and their careers.

One solution, they felt, was to create a guerrilla force that could strike deep behind Chinese lines. Because the Chinese were coming from Tibet, members of that ethnic group were the logical guerrillas of choice. Finding volunteers would not be a problem; both knew that there was no shortage of Tibetans on Indian soil, and virtually all were vehemently anti-Chinese and would not hesitate to take up arms for their own patriotic reasons.

But who would lead such a force? They needed a senior Indian officer who could win the confidence of the Tibetans, embracing their independent nature and promoting a semblance of discipline without resort to a rigid army code. And he would need to have a bent for the unconventional -- something that was in short supply in the Indian military, as the trench mentality in the Himalayas had dramatically proved. [18]

As they scoured the roster of available officers, one name caught their eye. Brigadier Sujan Singh Uban, until recently the commander of the 26th Artillery Brigade in Kashmir, was in New Delhi after having just processed his retirement papers. Forty-eight years old, he had been an artilleryman all his career, first under the British colonial system and then with the Indian military after independence. Normally, this would have provided little room for innovation, but Uban had spent much time with mountain units and was familiar with fighting at high altitudes. And during a stint as an artillery instructor for jungle warfare units, he had earned the nickname "Mad Sikh" for his flair and drive. That small detail was enough for Menon and Kaul, who flashed an urgent message summoning the brigadier.

On 26 October, Uban was sitting in the defense minister's office. The situation on the border -- and the status of Menon and Kaul -- had already reached a critical point. With the Chinese still inside Indian territory, Uban was given sketchy details of the proposed behind-the-lines guerrilla mission. Working with the Tibetans would not be easy, warned Kaul. Disciplining them, he said, would be like taming wild tigers. As a sweetener, the brigadier was promised a second star in due course. Uban was hooked; he grabbed the assignment without hesitation. [19]

Now that the guerrilla force had a leader, there remained the job of signing on Tibetan volunteers. To help, the Indians sent an emissary from the Intelligence Bureau to Darjeeling to fetch the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Thondup. After years of attempting to court the Indians -- who were often sympathetic but never committal -- Gyalo relished the moment as he sat in front of a select group of senior intelligence and military officials in the capital. Speaking in theoretical terms, his hosts asked whether he could organize the needed volunteers. Of course, replied Gyalo. When asked how many, he conjured a robust, round figure. Five thousand, he said. [20]

Next came a key question. Would Gyalo prefer that the Intelligence Bureau or the Ministry of Defense be involved? Based on his earlier contact with Mullik and his current cooperation with the CIA (through Lhamo Tsering), the decision was easy. "Not Defense," was his indirect answer. [21]


Despite India's woes -- and its newfound interest in the Tibetans -- most of Washington took little notice. Half a world away in the waters around Cuba, nuclear brinkmanship was being taken to the limit as President Kennedy demanded a withdrawal of Soviet missiles from that island. Not until 28 October did the world breathe a sigh of relief when Moscow agreed to withdraw its weaponry. With that crisis over, the Sino-Indian conflict belatedly leapfrogged to the top of Washington's foreign policy agenda.

The very next day, Prime Minister Nehru made an unequivocal request for U.S. military assistance. For the tired, beaten leader, it was a humbling overture. It was an admission not only that his central belief in peaceful coexistence with the PRC was irrevocably shattered but also that his cordial relationship with the Soviet Union had proved hollow. Due to the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviets had been forced to side with China vis-a-vis India so as not to alienate a needed communist ally in their moment of danger. Not only did Moscow backpedal on its earlier promise to sell MiG-21 jets to India, but on 29 October it openly declared that it would recognize Chinese territorial claims and extend no arms at all to India. [22]

Immediately, Washington stepped into the fray and responded generously to Nehru's appeal for assistance. By 2 November, the USAF was using Europe-based Boeing 707 transports to fly eight missions into India every day for a week. Each plane was packed with basic infantry equipment to refit the soldiers streaming off the Himalayas, who in most cases were outfitted with more primitive gear than had been afforded the CIA's Tibetan guerrillas. These supplies were later ferried by USAF C-130 transports to smaller airfields near the frontier battle lines. [23]

Still, the aid did not turn the tide. On 14 November, an Indian counterattack in NEFA was soundly routed. Three days later, the entire NEFA line collapsed, giving China virtual control over 64,000 square kilometers of territory. By 19 November, leaders in New Delhi genuinely feared an attack on Calcutta, prompting Nehru to take the extraordinary step of sending two secret back-channel messages to Kennedy pleading for a pair of bomber squadrons flown by U.S. pilots.

India's infantrymen and Nehru's pride were not the only casualties of the conflict. Back on 28 October, America's bete noire, the discredited Krishna Menon, had tendered his resignation. With him out of the way and the situation on the frontier critical, Kennedy gathered some of his best and brightest on 19 November to discuss the war in the Himalayas. Among those present were secretary of Defense McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Averell Harriman. At seventy-two, Harriman was one of America's most respected diplomats and politicians. The former governor had worked closely with the Indians in the past, having appealed to Nehru the previous year to assist in formulating a negotiated end to the looming superpower rivalry in Laos. Significantly, too, throughout the summer of 1962, Harriman had been a lone senior voice in the State Department supporting the CIA's argument for ongoing paramilitary operations out of Mustang.

Discussed at the 19 November meeting was increased U.S. military assistance to India and options for a show of force in the region. Also mentioned was the possibility of using the CIA's Tibetan guerrillas. John McCone, a wealthy and opinionated Republican chosen by Kennedy to replace CIA Director Dulles after the Bay of Pigs, was on hand to brief the president on such covert matters. Joining McCone was Des FitzGerald, the Far East chief; James Critchfield, head of the Near East Division, was touring Beirut at the time. [24]

By meeting's end, it was decided that Harriman would lead a high-powered delegation to New Delhi to more fully assess India's needs. General Paul Adams, chief of the U.S. Strike Command, was to head the military component. From the CIA, Des FitzGerald won a seat on the mission, as did the head of the Tibet Task Force, Ken Knaus. Rendezvousing with them in India would be Critchfield, who received an emergency cable to depart Lebanon immediately for the subcontinent.

On 21 November, Harriman's entourage departed Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Although the Chinese declared a unilateral cease-fire while the group was en route, the situation was still tense when it reached New Delhi the following day. Without pause, Ambassador Galbraith ushered Harriman into the first of four meetings with Nehru. The end results of these discussions were plans for a major three-phase military aid package encompassing material support, help with domestic defense production, and possible assistance with air defenses.

As a covert aside to Harriman's talks, the CIA representatives on the delegation held their own sessions with Indian intelligence czar Mullik. This was a first, as Galbraith had previously taken great pains to downscale the agency's activities inside India to all but benign reporting functions. As recently as 5 November, he had objected to projected CIA plans due to the risk of exposure. But in a 13 November letter to Kennedy, the ambassador had a qualified change of heart, noting that Menon's departure was a turning point to begin working with the Indians on "sensitive matters." [25]

Both the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau were quick to seize the opportunity. "I went into a huddle with Mullik and Des," recalls Critchfield, "and we started coming up with all these schemes against the Chinese." Most of their ideas centered around use of the Tibetans. "The Indians were interested in the Tibet program because of its intelligence collection value," said station chief David Blee, who sat in on some of the meetings. "Mullik was particularly interested in paramilitary operations." [26] There was good reason for this: following Menon's resignation, and Gyalo Thondup's stated preference, the Intelligence Bureau had been placed in charge of the 5,000 Tibetan guerrillas forming under Brigadier Uban.

Mullik was cautious as well. Although he was well connected to the Nehru family and had the prime minister's full approval to talk with the CIA, he knew that the Indian populace was fickle, and until recently, anti-Americanism had been a popular mantra. It was perhaps only a matter of time before the barometer would swing back and make open Indo-U.S. cooperation political suicide. To offer some protection against this, Mullik and one of his close deputies, M. I. Hooja, made a special request during a session with FitzGerald and Blee. "They made us promise that our involvement," said Blee, "would remain secret forever." [27]

By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and Intelligence Bureau had arrived at a rough division of labor. The Indians, with CIA support from the Near East Division, would work together in developing Uban's 5,000-strong tactical guerrilla force. The CIA's Far East Division, meantime, would unilaterally create a strategic long-range resistance movement inside Tibet. The Mustang contingent would also remain under the CIA's unilateral control.

All this would depend on final approval by the highest levels of the Kennedy administration. Meanwhile, the CIA arranged for a sign of good faith. A single crew was selected from the agency's air proprietaries in Taiwan and Japan, then dispatched to Takhli aboard a DC-6 transport. Loaded with an assortment of military aid, the plane made three shuttles between Thailand and the Charbatia airfield near the city of Bhubaneswar in India's eastern state of Orissa. A relic of World War II, Charbatia had fallen into a severe state of disrepair. More remarkable than its poor condition were the precautions taken to keep the CIA's largesse a secret from the die-hard Soviet supporters among New Delhi's political elite. "We flew the last few miles just fifty feet above the ground to avoid radar," said pilot Neese Hicks. "We would land at dawn, eat a fast breakfast, and be back in the air toward Takhli." [28]

By the last week of November, the CIA representatives from the Harriman delegation were back in Washington and making their pitch before the Special Group. Though they could now count on Indian participation -- which had been a prerequisite for future support to the Mustang group -- they had a tough sell. CIA Director McCone, for one, was a pronounced skeptic with relatively little interest in covert paramilitary operations. Citing the example of Mustang (which had done precious little over the past year), he was dubious about the utility of developing a tactical guerrilla force that the United States could not ultimately control. And although officials in New Delhi believed that limited war with China might continue intermittently over a number of years, he questioned what would happen in the event of Sino-Indian rapprochement. Would the CIA have to cut its support to the guerrillas and the resistance in midstream? [29]

There was also sharp criticism from the Pentagon, but for a different reason. General Maxwell Taylor, the president's military adviser who had recently taken over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tore into Critchfield for not informing the Department of Defense about the ongoing paramilitary program at Mustang. Many upcoming contingencies might hinge on the Mustang guerrillas, chided Taylor, and the Pentagon's representatives on the Harriman mission had only belatedly found out about Mustang's existence while in India. Many suspected that Taylor's umbrage was because he had lobbied hard over the past year to have CIA paramilitary operations revert to Defense Department control, and he was livid at finding a holdout.

Despite the comments from the likes of McCone and Taylor, the chance of making significant inroads with the Indians -- and giving a bigger headache to Beijing -- was too good to pass up. On 13 December, the Kennedy administration approved training assistance to Uban's tactical guerrilla force. At the same time, the Tibet Task Force drew up plans to reopen Hale and school at least 125 candidates for the long-range resistance movement. Commented task force chief Knaus, "We had suddenly gone from stepchild to favored son." [30]
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:58 am

Chapter 13: Chakrata

Jamba Kalden was a latecomer to the resistance. A successful Khampa trader from Chamdo -- the first town captured by the PLA during the invasion of October 1950 -- he had repeatedly turned a deaf ear to early recruitment calls from the NVDA. Not until early 1959, with tension in Lhasa reaching the breaking point, did he feel compelled to visit the capital. There the sight of raucous crowds surrounding the Dalai Lama's Norbulingka summer palace proved infectious, drawing the thirty-nine-year-old businessman into the midst of the swelling anti-Chinese protests.

It was to prove a short and painful introduction to civil disobedience. On the morning of 20 March, two days after the Dalai Lama fled for the border, the PLA began shelling the palace. By that afternoon, hundreds of Tibetans lay dead or wounded. Attempting to evade the closing Chinese cordon, Jamba Kalden took a bullet to the thigh and was promptly arrested. He was confined to a small Lhasa cell while he nursed his wound, and not until summer was the injury sufficiently healed for him to be assigned to one of the prisoner gangs the Chinese had dispatched to various construction sites near the capital.

Jamba Kalden did not take well to forced labor. His once impressive physique turned gaunt from the hard work and meager rations, and he began planning his escape toward year's end. Not until 17 January 1960 did he find the opportunity to slip away from his minders. He and two fellow prisoners made their way through blinding winter snowstorms toward the southern border. In May they reached Bhutan; two months later, they crossed into India.

By that time, the Dalai Lama and his entourage had taken up residence in the town of Dharamsala. Situated 725 kilometers northwest of New Delhi in the Himalayan foothills, Dharamsala -- literally, "rest house" -- was once a traditional stop for Hindu pilgrims. By 1855, it had become a flourishing hill station for the British, only to see its popularity plummet after a devastating 1905 earthquake. Its last bloc of residents, a handful of Muslims, left for newly created Pakistan in 1947.

For the Indian government, Dharamsala's remote location and lack of population were now its major selling points. Since the Dalai Lama had crossed onto Indian soil, he had made his temporary quarters near another former hill station, Mussoorie. But because Mussoorie was just a short drive from New Delhi, the monarch enjoyed easy access to the media limelight. Influential leaders such as Krishna Menon cringed at the young Tibetan's frequent and sympathetic contact with the press, leading them to propose more permanent -- and distant -- quarters at Dharamsala. With little choice, the Tibetan leader made the move in April 1960.

If the Indians thought that Dharamsala was the answer to stifling the Dalai Lama, they were sadly mistaken. Using its isolation to his advantage, he converted the town into his de facto capital, then made good on his threats over the past year and began creating a government in exile. Part of this involved reforming the cabinet offices that previously existed in Lhasa. It also involved preparation of a draft constitution.
At the same time, a straw vote was held in each of the main refugee camps over the summer. From this rudimentary selection process, thirteen representatives were chosen: three from each province, plus one for each of the four Tibetan Buddhist sects.

Jamba Kalden arrived in Dharamsala as the thirteen delegates were convening for the first time in September 1960. In deference to his relative wealth and influential position back in Chamdo, he was anointed as a key adviser to the nascent government. He was still serving in this capacity in late October 1962 when Gyalo Thondup came looking for 5,000 volunteers to fill Brigadier Uban's tactical guerrilla force.

Gyalo's task was not particularly complicated. As with the Mustang contingent, he was partial toward recruiting Khampas. Finding willing takers was no problem, as the patriotic call to duty -- and the chance for meaningful employment -- held great appeal among the refugee population. With word quickly spreading, volunteers by the thousands stepped forward over the ensuing weeks.

We had been some time on the way when a man came towards us wearing clothes which struck us as unusual. He spoke a dialect different from that of the local nomads. He asked us curiously whence? and whither? and we told him our pilgrimage story. He left us unmolested and went on his way. It was clear to us that we had made the acquaintance of our first Khampa.

A few hours later we saw in the distance two men on small ponies, wearing the same sort of clothes. We slowly began to feel uncomfortable and went on without waiting for them. Long after dark we came across a tent. Here we were lucky as it was inhabited by a pleasant nomad family, who hospitably invited us to come in and gave us a special fireplace for ourselves.

In the evening we got talking about the robbers. They were, it seems, a regular plague. Our host had lived long enough in the district to make an epic about them. He proudly showed us a Mannlicher rifle for which he had paid a fortune to a Khampa — five hundred sheep, no less! But the robber bands in the neighbourhood considered this payment as a sort of tribute and had left him in peace ever since.

He told us something about the life of the robbers. They lived in groups in three or four tents which serve as headquarters for their campaigns. These are conducted as follows: heavily armed with rifles and swords they force their way into a nomad’s tent and insist on hospitable entertainment on the most lavish scale available. The nomad in terror brings out everything he has. The Khampas fill their bellies and their pockets and taking a few cattle with them, for good measure, disappear into the wide-open spaces. They repeat the performance at another tent every day till the whole region has been skinned. Then they move their headquarters and begin again somewhere else. The nomads, who have no arms, resign themselves to their fate, and the Government is powerless to protect them in these remote regions. However, if once in a way a district officer gets the better of these footpads in a skirmish, he is not the loser by it for he has a right to all the booty. Savage punishment is meted out to the evildoers, who normally have their arms hacked off. But this does not cure the Khampas of their lawlessness. Stories were told of the cruelty with which they sometimes put their victims to death. They go so far as to slaughter pilgrims and wandering monks and nuns. A disturbing conversation for us! What would we not have given to be able to buy our host’s Mannlicher! But we had no money and not even the most primitive weapons. The tent-poles we carried did not impress even the sheep-dogs.

Next morning we went on our way, not without misgivings, which increased when we saw a man with a gun, who seemed to be stalking us from the hillside. Nevertheless we kept straight on our course, and the man eventually disappeared. In the evening we found more tents — first a single one and then a cluster of others.

We called to the people in the first tent. A family of nomads came out. They refused with expressions of horror to admit us and pointed distractedly to the other tents. There was nothing for it but to go on. We were no little surprised to receive a friendly welcome at the next tent. Everyone came out. They fingered our things and helped us to unload — a thing which no nomads had ever done — and suddenly it dawned on us that they were Khampas. We had walked like mice into the trap. The inhabitants of the tent were two men, a woman and a half-grown youngster. We had to put a good face on a poor situation. At least we were on our guard and hoped that politeness, foresight and diplomacy would help us to find a way out of the mess.

We had hardly sat down by the fire when the tent began to fill with visitors from the neighbouring tents, come to see the strangers. We had our hands full trying to keep our baggage together. The people were as pressing and inquisitive as gipsies. When they had heard that we were pilgrims they urgently recommended us to take one of the men, a particularly good guide, with us on our journey to Lhasa. He wanted us to go by a road somewhat to the south of our route and, according to him, much easier to travel. We exchanged glances. The man was short and powerful and carried a long sword in his belt. Not a type to inspire confidence. However, we accepted his offer and agreed on his pay. There was nothing else to do, for if we got on the wrong side of them they might butcher us out of hand.

The visitors from the other tents gradually drifted away and we prepared to go to bed. One of our two hosts insisted on using my rucksack as a pillow and I had the utmost difficulty in keeping it by me. They probably thought that it contained a pistol. If they did, that suited our book and I hoped to increase their suspicion by my behaviour. At last he stopped bothering me. We remained awake and on our guard all through the night. That was not very difficult, though we were very weary, because the woman muttered prayers without ceasing. It occurred to me that she was praying in advance for forgiveness for the crime her husband intended to commit against us the next day. We were glad when day broke. At first everything seemed peaceful. I exchanged a pocket mirror for some yak’s brains, which we cooked for breakfast. Then we began to get ready to go. Our hosts followed our movements with glowering faces and looked like attacking me when I handed our packs out of the tent to Aufschnaiter. However, we shook them off and loaded our yak. We looked out for our guide but to our relief he was nowhere to be seen. The Khampa family advised us urgently to keep to the southern road, as the nomads from that region were making up a pilgrim caravan to Lhasa. We promised to do so and started off in all haste.

We had gone a few hundred yards when I noticed that my dog was not there. He usually came running after us without being called. As we looked round we saw three men coming after us. They soon caught us up and told us that they too were on the way to the tents of the nomad pilgrims and pointed to a distant pillar of smoke. That looked to us very suspicious as we had never seen such smoke-pillars over the nomad tents. When we asked about the dog they said that he had stayed behind in the tent. One of us could go and fetch him. Now we saw their plan. Our lives were at stake. They had kept the dog back in order to have a chance of separating Aufschnaiter and me, as they lacked the courage to attack us both at the same time. And probably they had companions waiting where the smoke was rising. If we went there we would be heavily outnumbered and they could dispose of us with ease. No one would ever know anything about our disappearance. We were now very sorry not to have listened to the well-meant warnings of the nomads.

As though we suspected nothing we went on a short way in the same direction, talking rapidly to one another. The two men were now on either side of us while the boy walked behind. Stealing a glance to right and left we estimated our chances, if it came to a fight. The two men wore double sheepskin cloaks, as the robbers do, to protect them against knife-thrusts, and long swords were stuck in their belts. Their faces had an expression of lamb-like innocence.

Something had to happen. Aufschnaiter thought we ought first to change our direction, so as not to walk blindly into a trap. No sooner said than done. Still speaking, we abruptly turned away.

The Khampas stopped for a moment in surprise; but in a moment rejoined us and barred our way, asking us, in none too friendly tones, where we were going. “To fetch the dog,” we answered curtly. Our manner of speaking seemed to intimidate them. They saw that we were prepared to go to any lengths, so they let us go and after staring after us for a while they hurriedly went on their way, probably to inform their accomplices.

When we got near the tents, the woman came to meet us leading the dog on a leash. After a friendly greeting we went on, but this time we followed the road by which we had come to the robber camp. There was now no question of going forward — we had to retrace our steps. Unarmed as we were, to continue would have meant certain death. After a forced march we arrived in the evening at the home of the friendly family with whom we had stayed two nights before. They were not surprised to hear of our experiences and told us that the Khampas’ encampment was called Gyak Bongra, a name which inspired fear throughout the countryside. After this adventure it was a blessing to be able to spend a peaceful night with friendly people.

Next morning we worked out our new travel-plan. There was nothing for it but to take the hard road which led through uninhabited country. We bought more meat from the nomads, as we should probably be a week before seeing a soul.

To avoid going back to Labrang Trova we took a short cut entailing a laborious and steep ascent but leading, as we hoped, to the route we meant to follow. Halfway up the steep slope we turned to look at the view and saw, to our horror, two men following us in the distance. No doubt they were Khampas. They had probably visited the nomads and been told which direction we had taken.

What were we to do? We said nothing, but later confessed to one another that we had silently made up our minds to sell our lives as dearly as possible. We tried at first to speed up our pace, but we could not go faster than our yak, who seemed to us to be moving at a snail’s pace. We kept on looking back, but could not be sure whether our pursuers were coming up on us or not. We fully realised how heavily handicapped we were by our lack of arms. We had only tent-poles and stones to defend ourselves with against their sharp swords. To have a chance we must depend on our wits. ... So we marched on for an hour which seemed endless, panting with exertion and constantly turning round. Then we saw that the two men had sat down. We hurried on towards the top of the ridge, looking as we went for a place which would, if need be, serve as good fighting ground. The two men got up, seemed to be taking counsel together and then we saw them turn round and go back. We breathed again and drove our yak on so that we might soon be out of sight over the far side of the mountain.

When we reached the crest of the ridge we understood why our two pursuers had preferred to turn back. Before us lay the loneliest landscape I had ever seen. A sea of snowy mountain heights stretched onwards endlessly. In the far distance were the Transhimalayas and like a gap in a row of teeth was the pass which we calculated would lead us to the road we aimed at. First put on the map by Sven Hedin, this pass — the Selala — leads to Shigatse. Being uncertain whether the Khampas had really given up the pursuit, we went on marching even after nightfall. Luckily the moon was high and, with the snow, gave us plenty of light. We could even see the distant ranges.

I shall never forget that night march. I have never been through an experience which placed such a strain on the body and the spirit. Our escape from the Khampas was due to the desolation of the region, the nature of which brought us new obstacles to surmount. It was a good thing that I had long ago thrown away my thermometer. Here it would certainly have marked — 30 degrees as that was the lowest it could record. But that was certainly more than the reality. Sven Hedin registered —40 degrees hereabouts at this season of the year.

-- Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

Gyalo also sought four political leaders who could act as the force's indigenous officer cadre. Given his seniority, ethnicity, and proven aptitude in Dharamsala over the previous two years, Jamba Kalden was an easy first pick.

By early November, an initial contingent of Tibetans, led by Jamba Kalden, was dispatched to the hill town of Dehra Dun. Once popular with Indian princes because of its mild climate, it later served as a key British educational center and military base. More recently it was host to the Indian military academy, a number of regimental barracks, and several prestigious boarding schools.

Jamba Kalden had little time to appreciate Dehra Dun's climatic appeal. On hand to meet the Tibetans was Brigadier Uban and a skeleton staff of officers on loan from the army. While a transit tent camp was set up on the edge of town to process the 5,000 promised volunteers, on 14 November the Indian cadre and four political leaders shifted ninety-two kilometers northwest to the village of Chakrata.


Situated along a ridge and surrounded by forest glades, Chakrata had been chosen for good reason. Home to a thriving population of panthers and bears, it had once boasted two training centers for a pair of Gurkha regiments. Since 1960, however, both regiments had relocated to more favorable climes. [1] With almost no local residents and a set of vacant cantonments, Chakrata had both the ready facilities and the seclusion needed for the covert Tibetan project. Uban and his team settled in to await the arrival of the rest of the 5,000 volunteers by year's end and began mapping out the process of molding them into effective guerrillas.


For intelligence chief Mullik, the Chakrata project signaled a new sense of militancy regarding Tibet. This was communicated in strong fashion on 29 December when Mullik -- through Gyalo Thondup -- told the Dalai Lama that New Delhi had now adopted a covert policy of supporting the eventual liberation of his homeland.

Although the U.S. government did not match this with a similar pledge, the CIA wasted no time making good on its promise to help with the various Tibetan paramilitary schemes. As a start, Jim McElroy -- the same logistics expert who had been involved with ST CIRCUS since its inception, overseeing the air supply process from Okinawa and later helping with similar requirements at Camp Hale -- was dispatched to India in early January 1963. He was escorted by Intelligence Bureau representatives to the Paratroopers Training School at Agra, just a few kilometers from the breathtaking Taj Mahal palace. Because aerial methods would be the likely method of supporting behind-the-lines operations against the PLA, McElroy began an assessment of the school's parachute inventory to fully understand India's air delivery capabilities. He also started preliminary training of some Tibetan riggers drawn from Chakrata.

McElroy's deployment paved the way for more substantial assistance. Stepping forward as liaison in the process was forty-seven-year-old Indian statesman Biju Patnaik. Everything about Patnaik, who stood over two meters tall, was larger than life. The son of a state minister from the eastern state of Orissa, he had courted adventure from a young age. At sixteen, he had bicycled across the subcontinent on a whim. Six years later, he earned his pilot's license at the Delhi Flying Club. Joining the Royal Air Force at the advent of World War II, he earned accolades after evacuating stranded British families from Burma. Other flights took him to the Soviet Union and Iran.

Patnaik also made a name for himself as an ardent nationalist. Following in his parents' footsteps -- both of them were renowned patriots -- he bristled under the British yoke. Sometimes his resistance methods were unorthodox. Once while flying a colonial officer from a remote post in India's western desert region, he overheard the European use a condescending tone while questioning his skills in the cockpit. Patnaik landed the plane on a desolate stretch of parched earth and let the critical Englishman walk. [2]

For actions like this, Patnaik ultimately served almost four years in prison. He was released shortly before Indian independence and looked for a way to convert his passion for flying into a business. Banding together with some fellow pilots, he purchased a dozen aging transports and founded a charter company based in Calcutta. He dubbed the venture Kalinga Air Lines, taking its name from an ancient kingdom in his native Orissa.

Almost immediately, Patnaik landed a risky contract. Revolutionaries in the Indonesian archipelago were in the midst of their independence struggle, but because of a tight Dutch blockade, they were finding it hard to smuggle in arms and other essentials. Along with several other foreign companies, Kalinga Air Lines began charter flights on their behalf. It was Patnaik himself who evaded Dutch fighters to carry Muhammad Hatta (later Indonesia's first vice president) on a diplomatic mission to drum up support in South Asia.

It was also through Kalinga Air Lines that Patnaik had his first brush with Tibet. By the mid- 1950s, he was looking to expand the airline through the acquisition of a French medium-range transport, the Nord Noratlas. He intended to use this plane for shuttles between Lhasa and Calcutta, having already purchased exclusive rights to this route. Before the first flight, however, diplomatic ties between India and China soured; Patnaik's license into Lhasa was canceled, and the air route never opened.

Other ventures were more successful. Patnaik established a string of profitable industries across eastern India. And, like his father, he entered the government bureaucracy and eventually rose to chief minister -- akin to governor -- of his native Orissa. [3]

In November 1962 -- during the darkest days of the Chinese invasion of NEFA -- Patnaik's patriotic zeal, taste for adventure, and brush with Tibet would all come together. As the PLA sliced through Indian lines, he rushed to New Delhi with an idea. The Chinese had overextended themselves in India, he reasoned, and therefore were vulnerable to a guerrilla resistance effort inside Assam.

Given Patnaik's stature in Orissa, he was able to take his concept directly to Nehru. The prime minister listened and liked what he heard. By reputation, Patnaik had the charisma to carry out such an effort. At the very least, having the chief minister of one state take the lead in offering assistance to another state was good press.

Patnaik was not the only one thinking along these lines. On 20 November, Mullik had notified Nehru that he wanted to quit his post as director of the Intelligence Bureau in order to focus on organizing a resistance movement in the event the Chinese pushed further into Assam. Nehru refused to accept his spy-master's resignation and instead directed him toward Patnaik, with the suggestion that they pool their talent.

Meeting later that same afternoon, the spy and the minister became quick allies. Although their resistance plans took on less urgency the next day, after Beijing announced a unilateral cease-fire, Patnaik offered critical help in other arenas. Later that month, when the CIA wanted to use its aircraft to quietly deliver three planeloads of supplies to India as a sign of good faith, it was Patnaik who arranged for the discreet use of the Charbatia airfield in Orissa. And in December, after the CIA notified New Delhi of its impending paramilitary support program, he was the one dispatched to Washington on behalf of Nehru and Mullik to negotiate details of the assistance package.

Upon his arrival in the U.S. capital, Patnaik's primary point of contact was Robert "Moose" Marrero. Thirty-two years old and of Puerto Rican ancestry, Marrero was aptly nicknamed: like Patnaik, he stood over two meters tall and weighed 102 kilos. He was also an aviator, having flown helicopters for the U.S. Marines before leaving military service in 1957 to join the CIA as an air operations specialist.

As the two pilots conversed, they recognized the need for a thorough review of the airlift requirements for warfare in the high Himalayas. They also saw the need to train and equip a covert airlift cell outside of the Indian military chain of command that could operate along the Indo-Tibetan frontier.

While Patnaik was discussing these aviation issues in Washington, the CIA's Near East Division was forging ahead with assistance for the Tibetans at Chakrata. Initially, the Pentagon also muscled its way into the act and in February 1963 penned plans to send a 106-man U.S. Army Special Forces detachment that would offer "overt, but hopefully unpublicized" training in guerrilla tactics and unconventional warfare. The CIA, meanwhile, came up with a competing plan that involved no more than eight of its advisers on a six-month temporary duty assignment. Significantly, the CIA envisioned its officers living and messing alongside the Tibetans, minimizing the need for logistical support. Given Indian sensitivities and the unlikely prospect of keeping an overt U.S. military detachment unpublicized, the CIA scheme won. [4]

Heading the CIA team would be forty-five-year-old Wayne Sanford. No stranger to CIA paramilitary operations, Sanford had achieved a stellar service record in the U.S. Marine Corps. Commissioned in 1942, he had participated in nearly all the major Pacific battles and earned two Purple Hearts in the process -- one for a bullet to the shoulder at Guadalcanal, and the second for a shot to the face at Tarawa.

Remaining in the Marine Corps after the war, Sanford was preparing for combat on the Korean peninsula in 1950 when fate intervened. Before he reached the front, a presidential directive was issued stating that anyone with two Purple Hearts was exempt from combat. Coincidentally, the CIA was scouting the ranks of the military for talent to support its burgeoning paramilitary effort on Taiwan. Getting a temporary release from active duty, Sanford was whisked to the ROC under civilian cover.

For his first CIA assignment, Sanford spent the next eighteen months commanding a small agency team on Da Chen, an ROC-controlled islet far to the north of Taiwan. Part of the CIA operation at Da Chen involved eavesdropping on PRC communications. Another part involved coastal interdiction, for which they had a single PT boat. Modified with three Rolls Royce engines, self- sealing tanks, and radar, the vessel was impressive for its time. The ship's captain, Larry "Sinbad the Sailor" Sinclair, had made a name for himself by boldly attacking Japanese ships in Filipino waters during World War II; he continued the same daring act against the PRC from Da Chen.

Eventually, the Chinese took notice. In methodical fashion, the communists occupied the islets on either side of Da Chen. Then shortly before Sanford's tour was set to finish, a flotilla of armed junks surrounded the CIA bastion, and bombers spent a day dropping iron from the sky. That night, the agency radiomen intercepted instructions for the bombers to redouble their attack at sunrise. Not liking the odds, Sanford ordered his CIA officers and remaining ROC troops -- thirty- seven in all -- into the PT boat. Switching on the radar, Sinclair ran the junk blockade under cover of darkness and carried them safely to the northern coast of Taiwan. [5]

Returning to Washington, Sanford spent the rest of the decade on assignment at CIA headquarters. In October 1959, he ostensibly returned to active duty and was posted to the U.S. embassy in London as part of the vaguely titled Joint Planning Staff. In reality, the staff was a fusion of the CIA and the Pentagon; its members were to work on plans to counter various communist offensives across Eurasia. One such tabletop exercise involved a hypothetical Chinese invasion of South Asia. [6]

By now a marine colonel, Sanford was still in London when the Chinese attack materialized and CIA paramilitary support for India was approved in principle in December 1962. Early the following year, after the CIA received specific approval to send eight advisers to Chakrata, Sanford was selected to oversee the effort. He would do so from an office at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi while acting under the official title of special assistant to Ambassador Galbraith. As this would be an overt posting with the full knowledge of the Indian government, both he and the seven other paramilitary advisers would remain segregated from David Blee's CIA station.

Back in Washington, the rest of the team took shape. Another former marine, John Magerowski, was fast to grab a berth. So was Harry Mustakos, who had worked with the Tibetans on Saipan in 1957 and served with Sanford on Da Chen. Former smoke jumper and Intermountain Aviation (a CIA proprietary) rigger Thomas "T. J." Thompson was to replace Jim McElroy at Agra. Two other training officers were selected from the United States, and a third was diverted from an assignment in Turkey. The last slot went to former U.S. Army airborne officer Charles "Ken" Seifarth, who had been in South Vietnam conducting jump class for agents destined to infiltrate the communist north. [7]

By mid-April, the eight had assembled in New Delhi. If they expected war greetings from their CIA colleagues in the embassy, it did not happen. "We were neither welcomed nor wanted by the station chief," recalls Mustakos. For Sanford, this was eventually seen as a plus. "Blee gave me a free hand," he remembered, "but Galbraith wanted detailed weekly briefings on everything we did." [8]

At the outset, there was little for Sanford to report. Waiting for their gear to arrive (they had ordered plenty of cold-weather clothing), the team members spent their first days agreeing on a syllabus for the upcoming six months. One week later, their supplies arrived, and six of the advisers left Sanford in New Delhi for the chilled air of Chakrata. The last member, Thompson, alone went to Agra.

Once the CIA advisers arrived at the mountain training site, Brigadier Uba gave them a fast tour. A ridgeline ran east to west, with Chakrata occupying saddle in the middle. Centered in the saddle was a polo field that fell off sharp to the south for 600 meters, then less sharply for another 300 meters. North of the field was a scattering of stone houses and shops, all remnants of the colonial era and now home to a handful of hill tribesmen who populated the village.

To the immediate west of the saddle was an old but sound stone Anglican church. Farther west were stone bungalows previously used by British officers and their dependents. Most of the bungalows were similar, differing only in the number of bedrooms. Each had eighteen-inch stone walls, narrow windows, fireplaces in each room, stone floors, and a solarium facing south to trap the heat on cold days and warm the rest of the drafty house. Each CIA adviser and India officer took a bungalow, with the largest going to Brigadier Uban. [9]

East of the saddle was a series of stone barracks built by the British a century earlier and more recently used by the two Gurkha regiments. These were now holding the Tibetan recruits. There was also a longer stone building once used as a hospital, a firing range, and a walled cemetery overgrown by cedar. The epitaphs in the cemetery read like a history of Chakrata's harsh past. The oldest grave was for a British corporal killed in 1857 while blasting on the original construction. Different regiments were represented through the years, their soldiers the victims of either sickness or various campaigns to expand or secure the borders. There was also a gut-wrenching trio of headstones dated within one month of one another, all children of a British sergeant and his wife." Myself the father of three," said Mustakos, "I stood there heartsick at the despair that must have attended the young couple in having their family destroyed." [10]

Once fully settled, the CIA team was introduced to its guerrilla students. By that time, the Chakrata project had been given an official name. A decade earlier, Brigadier Uban had had a posting in command of the 22nd Mountain Regiment in Assam. Borrowing that number, he gave his Tibetans the ambiguous title of "Establishment 22."

In reviewing Establishment 22, the Americans were immediately struck by the age of the Tibetans. Although there was a sprinkling of younger recruits, nearly half were older than forty-five; some were even approaching sixty. Jamba Kalden, the chief political leader, was practically a child at forty-three. As had happened with the Mustang guerrillas, the older generation, itching for a final swing at the Chinese, had used its seniority to edge out younger candidates during the recruitment drive in the refugee camps. [11]

With much material to cover, the CIA advisers reviewed what the Indian staff had accomplished over the previous few months. Uban had initially focused his efforts on instilling a modicum of discipline, which he feared might be an impossible task. To his relief, this fear proved unfounded. The Tibetans immediately controlled their propensity for drinking and gambling at his behest; the brigadier encouraged dancing and chanting as preferable substitutes to fill their leisure time. [12]

The Indians had also started a strict regimen of physical exercise, including extended marches across the nearby hills. Because the weather varied widely -- snow blanketed the northern slopes, but the spring sun was starting to bake the south -- special care was taken to avoid pneumonia. In addition to exercise, the Indians had offered a sampling of tactical instruction. But most of it, the CIA team found, reflected a conventional mind-set. "We had to unteach quite a bit," said Mustakos. [13]

This combination -- strict exercise and a crash course in guerrilla tactics -- continued through the first week of May. At that point, classes were put on temporary hold in order to initiate airborne training. Plans called for nearly all members of Establishment 22 to be qualified as paratroopers. This made tactical sense: if the Tibetans were to operate behind Chinese lines, the logical means of infiltrating them to the other side of the Himalayas would be by parachute.

T. J. Thompson with two Tibetan student riggers, Agra airbase, summer 1963. (Courtesy T. I. Thompson)

When told of the news, the Tibetans were extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of jumping. There was a major problem, however. Establishment 22 remained a secret not only from the general Indian public but also from the bulk of the Indian military. The only airborne training facilities in India were at Agra, where the CIA's T. J. Thompson was discreetly training a dozen Tibetan riggers. Because the Agra school ran jump training for the Indian army's airborne brigade, Thompson had been forced to keep the twelve well concealed. But doing the same for thousands of Tibetans would be impossible; unless careful steps were taken, the project could be exposed.

Part of the CIA's dilemma was solved by the season. The weather in the Indian lowlands during May was starting to get oppressively hot, making the dusty Agra drop zones less than popular with the airborne brigade. Most of the Tibetan jumps were intentionally scheduled around noon -- the least popular time slot, because the sun was directly overhead. The Intelligence Bureau also arranged for the Tibetans to use crude barracks in a distant corner of the air base, further reducing the chance of an encounter with inquisitive paratroopers.

As an added precaution, a member of Brigadier Uban's staff went to an insignia shop and placed an order for cap badges. Each badge featured crossed kukri knife blades with the number 12 above. The reason: after independence from the British, the Indian army had inherited seven regiments of famed Gurkhas recruited from neighboring Nepal. Along with four more regiments that transferred to the British army, the regiments were numbered sequentially, with the last being the 11th Gorkha (the Indian spelling of Gurkha) Rifles. On the assumption that most lowland Indians would be unable to differentiate between the Asian features of a Gurkha and those of a Tibetan, Establishment 22 was given the fictitious cover designation "12th Gorkha Rifles" for the duration of its stay at Agra. [14]

To oversee the airborne phase of instruction, Ken Seifarth relocated to Agra. Five jumps were planned for each candidate, including one performed at night. Because of the limited size of the barracks at the air base, the Tibetans would rotate down to the lowlands in 100-man cycles. With up to three jumps conducted each day, the entire qualification process was expected to stretch through the summer.

All was going according to plan until the evening before the first contingent was scheduled to jump. At that point, a message arrived reminding Uban that the Indian military would not accept liability for anyone older than thirty-five parachuting; in the event of death or injury, the government would not pay compensation. This put Uban in a major fix. It was vital for his staff to share training hazards with their students, and he had assumed that his officers -- none of whom were airborne qualified -- would jump alongside the Tibetans. But although they had all completed the ground phase of instruction (which had intentionally been kept simple, such as leaping off ledges into piles of hay), his men had been under the impression that they would not have to jump from an aircraft. Their lack of enthusiasm was now reinforced by the government's denial of compensation. When Uban asked for volunteers to accompany the guerrilla trainees, not a single Indian officer stepped forward. [15]

For Uban, it was now a question of retaining the confidence of the Tibetans or relinquishing his command. Looking to get special permission for government risk coverage, he phoned Mullik that evening. The intelligence director, however, was not at home. Taking what he considered the only other option, Uban gathered his officers for an emergency session. Although he had no prior parachute training, he told his men that he intended to be the first one out of the lead aircraft. This challenge proved hard to ignore. When the brigadier again asked for volunteers, every officer stepped forward.

Uban now faced a new problem. With the first jump set for early the next morning, he had a single evening to learn the basics. He summoned a pair of CIA advisers to his room in Agra's Clarkes Shiraz Hotel. Using the limited resources at hand, they put the tea table in the middle of the room and watched as the brigadier rolled uncomfortably across the floor.

Imaging the likely result of an actual jump, Seifarth spoke his mind. At forty-seven years old, he was a generation older than his CIA teammates and just a year younger than Uban. Drawing on the close rapport they had developed over the previous weeks, he implored the brigadier to reconsider. [16]

The next morning, 11 May, a C-119 Flying Boxcar crossed the skies over Agra. As the twin-tailed transport aircraft came over the drop zone, Uban was the first out the door, Seifarth the second. Landing without incident, the brigadier belatedly received a return call from Mullik. "Don't jump," said the intelligence chief. "Too late," was the response. [17]

In the weeks that followed, the rest of Establishment 22 clamored for their opportunity to leap from an aircraft. "Even cooks and drivers demanded to go," recalled Uban. Nobody was rejected for age or health reasons, including one Tibetan who had lost an eye and another who was so small that he had to strap a sandbag to his chest to deploy the chute properly. [18]

Nehru, meanwhile, was receiving regular updates on the progress at Chakrata. During autumn, with the deployment of the eight-man CIA team almost finished, he was invited to make an inspection visit to the hill camp. The Intelligence Bureau also passed a request asking the prime minister to use the opportunity to address the guerrillas directly. Nehru was sympathetic but cautious. The thought of the prime minister addressing Tibetan combatants on Indian soil had the makings of a diplomatic disaster if word leaked. Afraid of adverse publicity, he agreed to visit the camp but refused to give a speech.

Hearing this news, Uban had the men of Establishment 22 undergo a fast lesson in parade drill. The effort paid off. Though stiff and formal when he arrived on 14 November, Nehru was visibly moved when he saw the Tibetans in formation. And knowing that the prime minister was soft for roses, Uban presented him with a brilliant red blossom plucked from a garden he had planted on the side of his stone bungalow. Nehru buckled. Asking for a microphone, the prime minister poured forth some ad hoc and heartfelt comments to the guerrillas. "He said that India backed them," said Uban, "and vowed they would one day return to an independent country." [19]
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:59 am

Chapter 14: Oak Tree

For the eight Indians -- six from the Indian air force, two from the Intelligence Bureau -- even a van ride had become an abject lesson in the finer points of tradecraft. Sent to Washington in mid- March 1963, they were to be the cadre for the covert airlift cell conjured earlier by Biju Patnaik and Bob Marrero. For the first two weeks, Marrero, who was playing host, arranged for briefings at a row of CIA buildings near the Tidal Basin.

By the beginning of April, the venue was set to change. A van pulled up to their Washington hotel in the dead of night, and the eight Indians plus Marrero piled into the back. All the windows were sealed, and the Indians soon lost their bearings as the vehicle drove for an hour. When they finally stopped, the rear doors opened nearly flush against a second set of doors. Hurried through, they took seats in another windowless cabin tucked inside the belly of an aircraft. [1]

Landing at an undisclosed airfield -- only years later would they learn that it was inside Camp Peary -- the Indians were taken to an isolated barracks. Over the next month, a steady stream of nameless officers lectured on the full gamut of intelligence and paramilitary topics. There were surreal touches throughout: their meals were prepared by unseen cooks, and they would return to their rooms to find clothes pressed by unseen launderers.

The leader of the eight Indians, Colonel Laloo Grewal, had a solid reputation as a pioneer within the air force. A turbaned Sikh, he had been commissioned as a fighter pilot in 1943 and flew over 100 sorties during World War II in the skies over Burma. Immediately after independence in 1947, he was among the first transport pilots to arrive at the combat zone when India and Pakistan came to blows over Kashmir. And in 1952, he was in the first class of Indian aviators selected to head to the United States for transition training on the C-119 transport. When the call went out for a dynamic air force officer to manage a secret aviation unit under the auspices of the Intelligence Bureau and CIA, Grewal was the immediate choice.

Following the training stint at Peary, six of the students returned to New Delhi. The two most senior members, Grewal included, remained for several additional weeks of specialized aviation instruction. Marrero, meanwhile, made arrangements in May to head for India to conduct the comprehensive air survey broached with Biju Patnaik in their December 1962 meeting. Joining Marrero would be the same CIA air operations officer who had been involved with the earliest drops into Tibet, Gar Thorsrud.

Much had happened to Thorsrud since his last involvement with Tibet. In the spring of 1961, he was briefly involved in Latin America. Later that summer he shifted to Phoenix, Arizona, and was named president of a new CIA front, Intermountain Aviation. [2]

Among CIA air proprietaries, Intermountain was in the forefront of innovation. With its main operational base at Marana Air Park near Tucson, Arizona, the company specialized in developing new aerial support techniques. It was Intermountain, for example, that worked at perfecting the Fulton Skyhook, a recovery method that whisked agents from the ground using an aircraft with a special yoke on its nose. Intermountain experts also experimented with the Timberline parachute configuration (a resupply bundle with extra-long suspension lines to allow penetration of tall jungle canopy) and the Ground Impact system (a parachute with a retainer ring that did not blossom until the last moment, allowing for pinpoint drops on pinnacle peaks). [3]

It was this eye for innovation that Thorsrud carried with him to India. For three months, he and Marrero were escorted from the Himalayan frontier to the airborne school at Agra to the Tibetan training site at Chakrata. Much of their time was spent near the weathered airstrip at Charbatia, where they were feted by the affable Patnaik. He offered use of Charbatia as the principal site for a clandestine air support operation and immediately secured funds from the prime minister for reconstruction of the runway. Patnaik also donated steel furniture from one of his factories, cleared out his Kalinga Air Lines offices to serve as a makeshift officers' quarters, and even loaned two of his Kalinga captains. "He was Nehru's fix-it guy," said Thorsrud. "He got things done."

Returning to New Delhi after nearly three months, the two CIA men were directed to a hotel room for a meeting with a representative of the Intelligence Bureau, T. M. Subramanian. Known for his Hindu piety and strict vegetarian diet, Subramanian had been serving as the bureau's liaison officer at Agra since November, where he had been paymaster for amenities offered to the USAF crewmen rushing military gear to India. He was also one of the two intelligence officers who had been trained at Camp Peary during April.

In the ensuing discussions between the CIA aviators and Subramanian, both sides spoke in general terms about the best options for building India's covert aviation capabilities. In one area the American officers stood firm: the United States would not assist with the procurement of spare parts, either directly or indirectly, for the many Soviet aircraft in the Indian inventory. [4]

A subject not discussed was which U.S. aircraft would be the backbone for the envisioned covert unit. Earlier in the spring, this had been the subject of serious debate within the CIA. Wayne Sanford, the senior paramilitary officer in New Delhi, had initially proposed selection of the C-119. This made sense for several reasons. First, more than fifty C-119 airframes had been in the Indian inventory since 1952; it was therefore well known to the Indian pilots and mechanics. Second, beginning in November 1962, the Indians had ordered special kits to add a single turbojet atop the center wing section of half their C-119 fleet. The added thrust from this turbojet, tested in the field over the previous months, allowed converted planes to operate at high altitudes and fly heavy loads out of small fields. The United States pledged in May 1963 to send another two dozen Flying Boxcars to India from reserve USAF squadrons. [5]

Other CIA officials in Washington, however, were keen to present the Indians with the C-46 Commando. A workhorse during World War II, the C-46 had proved its ability to surmount the Himalayas while flying the famed "Hump" route between India and China. More important, other CIA operations in Asia -- primarily in Laos -- were making use of the C-46, and the agency had a number of airframes readily available.

There were drawbacks with the C-46, however. It was notoriously difficult to handle. Moreover, the Indians did not operate the C-46 in their fleet, which meant that the pilots and mechanics would need a period of transition. When CIA headquarters sent over a USAF officer to sing the praises of the C-46 in overly simplistic terms, Grewal cut the conversation short. Recalls Sanford, "He flatly told the U.S. officer that he had been around C-46s longer than the American had been in the air force." [6[

In the end, however, the Indians could not protest CIA largesse too loudly. When Marrero and Thorsrud had their meeting with Subramanian, selection of the C-46 was an unstated fait accompli. The next day, Subramanian returned to the two CIA officers with a verbatim copy of the hotel discussion. "Either he had a photographic memory," said Thorsrud, "or somebody was listening in and taking notes." Both Americans signed the aide-memoire as a working basis for cooperation. [7]

As a final order of business, Marrero asked for an audience with Mullik. With the Charbatia air base -- now code-named Oak Tree 1 -- still in the midst of reconstruction, the first aircraft deliveries would not take place until early autumn. This did not dampen Marrero's enthusiasm as he recounted the list of possible cooperative ventures over the months ahead. The aloof Mullik replied with an indifferent stare. "Bob, we will call you when we need you." [8]

Despite Mullik's lack of warmth, efforts to create the covert air unit went ahead on schedule. On 7 September 1963, the Intelligence Bureau officially created the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) as a front to coordinate aviation cooperation with the CIA. Colonel Grewal was named the first ARC operations manager at the newly completed Charbatia airfield. He was given full latitude to handpick his pilots, all of whom would take leave from the military and belong -- both administratively and operationally -- to the ARC for the period of their assignment.

In New Delhi, veteran intelligence officer Rameshwar Nath Kao took the helm as the first ARC director. A Kashmiri Brahman like Nehru, forty-five-year-old Kao was a spy in the classic sense. Tall and fair skinned, he was a dapper dresser with impeccable schooling; he was a Persian scholar and spoke fluent Farsi. Dignified and sophisticated, he had long impressed the officers at the CIA's New Delhi station. "I had the opportunity to drive with him from Kathmandu back to India," recalled one CIA official. "At each bridge we crossed, he would recount its technical specifications in comparison to its ability to support the heaviest tank in the Chinese inventory." [9]

To assist Kao and Grewal, the CIA dispatched Edward Rector to Charbatia in the role of air operations adviser. Qualified as a U.S. Navy dive-bomber pilot in 1940, Rector had joined Claire Chennault's famed Flying Tigers the following year. He would later score that unit's first kill of a Japanese aircraft and go on to become an ace. After switching to the U.S. Army Air Forces (later the U.S. Air Force), he retired as a colonel in January 1962.

Rector came to Oak Tree with considerable Indian experience. During his Flying Tigers days, he had transited the subcontinent. And in late 1962, following his retirement from military service, he had gone to India on a Pentagon contract to coordinate USAF C-130 flights carrying emergency assistance to the front lines during the war with China.

Now serving with the CIA, Rector was on hand for the initial four aircraft deliveries within a week of ARC's creation. First to arrive at Oak Tree was a pair of C-46D Commandos; inside each was a disassembled U-10Helio Courier. A five-seat light aircraft, the Helio Courier had already won praise for its short takeoff and landing (STOL) ability in the paramilitary campaign the CIA was sponsoring in Laos. Without exaggeration, it could operate from primitive runways no longer than a soccer field. More aircraft deliveries followed, totaling eight C-46 transports and four Helio Couriers by early 1964.

Under Rector's watch, the CIA arranged for the loan of some of the best pilots from its Air America roster to act as instructors for the ARC crews. Heading the C-46 conversion team was Bill Welk, a veteran of the Tibet overflights. For the Helio Courier, Air America Captain James Rhyne was dispatched to Oak Tree for a four-month tour. During this same period, T. J. Thompson, who had been assisting with the Tibetans' jump training at Agra, began work on a major parachute facility -- complete with dehumidifiers, drying towers, and storage space at Charbatia. "By the time it was finished," said Thompson, "it was larger than the facilities used by the U.S. Army in Germany." [10]

Under the tutelage of the Air America pilots, the ARC aircrew contingent, including two captains on a one-year loan from Kalinga Air Lines, proved quick studies. By the close of 1963, transition training was nearly complete. For a graduation exercise, a demonstration was planned at Charbatia for 2 January 1964. Among the attendees would be Nehru himself.

Arriving on the assigned day, the prime minister took center seat in a rattan chair with a parasol shading his head. On cue, a silver C-46 (ARC planes bore only small tail numbers and Indian civil markings) materialized over Charbatia and dropped bags of rice and a paratrooper. Then a Helio Courier roared in and came to a stop in an impossibly small grassy patch in front of the reviewing stand. An "agent," hiding in nearby bushes with a bag of "documents," rushed aboard the Helio. Showcasing its STOL ability, the plane shot upward from the grass and over the stands. Nehru, at once impressed and confused, turned to the ARC and CIA officials in attendance and asked, "What was that?" [11]


While the CIA assistance at Chakrata and Charbatia was transpiring under the auspices of the Near East Division, a separate Tibet program had been taking shape since December 1962 under the Far East Division. This program called for the training and infiltration of at least 125 Tibetan agents. But whereas the Near East Division was giving support to what were essentially Indian projects, the roles were reversed for the Far East Division's project -- at least as it was originally conceived: the Indians would provide some minor assistance, but the Far East Division would call the shots.

It was not long before the CIA saw the inherent weakness of this arrangement. India, after all, would be party to the recruitment of Tibetan agents on its soil and would likely be expected to provide rear bases and staging areas. This greatly bothered the Special Group (as had been the case with Uban's Chakrata force), which was leery of authorizing paramilitary assistance to a project potentially subject to an Indian veto, especially if New Delhi grew weary and withdrew its commitment following a future rapprochement with Beijing.

To allay the Special Group's concerns, the CIA worked safeguards into the Tibetan agent program. Agent training would focus on producing self-sufficient three-man radio teams that could infiltrate Tibet, find support, and build a local underground that could feed and shelter them for extended periods without having to rely on lines of supply from India.

Just as with Establishment 22, Gyalo Thondup was quick to buy into the program and went off to recruit. The CIA, meanwhile, reopened Camp Hale to handle the expected influx. Scrambling to piece together an instructor staff, it found a willing volunteer in Bruce Walker, the great-grandson of Methodist missionaries in China. Walker's moneyed parents were family friends of Frank Wisner, the CIA's influential deputy director for plans between 1952 and 1958. Joining the agency with Wisner as his mentor, Walker spent his first four years in Latin America before joining the Tibet Task Force in January 1960. Once there, he proved adept at winning choice assignments. The agency paid for him to spend almost a year at the University of Washington's newly organized Tibet program to learn that country's language and history. In March 1962, the CIA again sponsored him for language classes, this time at Sikkim's Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. [12]

By the time Walker returned to the United States in the fall of 1962, he had the basics of spoken Tibetan in hand. Given its investment in his education, the CIA rushed him to Hale to prepare the camp for the first wave of Tibetans. Ken Knaus, chief of the Tibet Task Force in Washington, would again be on hand to offer occasional lectures. There was also a stream of smoke jumpers -- including brothers Miles and Shep Johnson -- available for parachute instruction. The USAF even provided experts to teach survival tips. Overall command of the training would be held by Robert Eschbach, an OSS veteran.

In India, meanwhile, a search had commenced for suitable translators. All but one of the previous Tibetans serving in that role were unavailable. One of the new candidates, Wangchuk Tsering, was the nephew of a former trade commissioner at Kalimpong. An English student since 1956, he had been writing for the Tibetan Freedom Press in Darjeeling when Gyalo made a recruitment pitch in December 1962. Along with forty-five agent trainees, Wangchuk immediately left for New Delhi in a bus. Unlike the earlier shadowy ex filtrations across the East Pakistan frontier, this time they departed with Indian escorts from the capital's Palam Airport. [13]

By February 1963, four groups totaling 135 Tibetans (ten more than originally planned) had arrived at Hale. Gyalo had been instructed to restrict these recruits to the younger generation, unlike the crowd of seniors at Mustang and Establishment 22. Although the Khampas were still the overwhelming majority, 5 percent were from Amdo, and another 5 percent were from central Tibet. There was even a pair of Golok tribesmen from the Amdo plains who spoke an unintelligible dialect. "We used the same written language," said interpreter Wangchuk (now going by the call sign "Arnold"), "so all instructions we're given to them on paper." [14]

On the political front, Gyalo arrived in the United States during late spring and called on Michael Forrestal, then special assistant to the President. Through Forrestal, the Dalai Lama's brother was told that Kennedy offered his deepest sympathy on behalf of the American people for the plight of the Tibetans. In time-honored doublespeak, Kennedy also said that the U.S. government desired to do what it could within the limits of practical and political circumstances to improve the Tibetans' fortunes. This was the fullest statement of U.S. support to that time.

As scheduled, the Hale training concluded by June 1963. Before the Tibetans could return, however, the CIA shifted the goalposts. Although the Special Group had earlier argued that the Tibetan agents should be more self-reliant -- and therefore less vulnerable to any future chill in New Delhi -- the agency was suddenly taking the exact opposite tack and looking to hook New Delhi into more meaningful cooperation. Specifically, the CIA wanted to use the covert airlift unit at Charbatia for infiltration. A new operational plan now called for the dispatch of five teams by Indian aircraft and twenty-nine teams overland to the area between Lhasa and the border with Bhutan.

Notified of the revised scheme, New Delhi balked. Though not rejecting the plan outright, the Indians indicated a strong reluctance to participate in any air-drops at the present time. "They wanted us to do the drops," said paramilitary adviser Wayne Sanford, "and not incur Chinese wrath if one was downed." [15]

For the CIA instructors at Hale, India's reluctance translated into delays in returning their students to Tibet. Tibetans had been stranded in Colorado once before (when Pakistan had closed its border), but this time the problem was exacerbated by the large size of the contingent. Realizing that boredom would soon set in and morale would suffer, the staff quickly expanded the curriculum to include classes on tradecraft such as wiretapping and lectures on Marxist Leninism and the new Tibetan constitution. Walker even arranged for Dr. Terrell Wylie, who headed the Tibet program at the University of Washington and was fluent in the language, to speak to the agents on Tibetan history at a makeshift outdoor amphitheater. [16]

By early autumn, the Tibetans could absorb no more and were clearly growing impatient. One of the Khampa students, Cheme Namgyal (known by the call sign "Conrad"), was famed among his peers for having been in a rebel band that downed a Chinese bomber in 1956 with machine guns. Eager to do battle with the PLA again, he was frustrated with the delays. "We ended up playing lots and lots of volleyball," he recalls. [17]

After further negotiations, a breakthrough finally came in September 1963. Still looking to draw New Delhi into a substantial role, the CIA now had India's agreement to open a joint operations center in New Delhi that would direct the dispatch of agents into Tibet and monitor their activities. The revised plan scrapped parachute insertions in favor of overland infiltrations and called for about twenty singleton resident agents in Tibet, plus (to sweeten its appeal to New Delhi) a pair of road-watch teams "to report possible Chinese Communist build-ups" and another six "border watch communications teams" to take up positions along the frontier. Radio reports from the agents and teams would be received at a new communications center to be built at Charbatia. With the first group of forty Hale graduates scheduled to return to India in November, the secret struggle for Tibet was starting to simmer. [18]
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 3:59 am

Chapter 15: The Joelikote Boys

As the CIA's covert program for Tibet regained momentum toward the end of 1963, strict compartmentalization among its component projects fell by the wayside. This had become readily apparent to Wayne Sanford, who extended his tour in October to remain as the U.S. embassy's resident CIA paramilitary adviser responsible for ongoing assistance to Establishment 22. One of his first duties after extending his tour was to escort T. M. Subramanian, the intelligence officer now working under ARC, to Camp Hale. Some of the Hale trainees, it had been decided, would be redirected from agent operations to Uban's guerrillas at Chakrata. [1]

The nuances in this were significant. Establishment 22 was an Indian operation supported by the Near East Division. The Hale agent training, however, had originally been conceived as a unilateral Far East Division project with limited Indian exposure. Now the assets from one division's program were being transferred to another -- and the Indians were full partners on both.

Much the same thing had happened to the guerrilla army at Mustang. When first launched by the Far East Division, the Mustang operation had been conducted behind India's back. During the Harriman mission, however, Mullik had been fully briefed, and discussions over the best way of jointly running the guerrillas soon followed.

The CIA and Intelligence Bureau, it was discovered, held widely disparate views on Mustang, which was home to 2,030 Tibetan irregulars as of early 1963. Less than half of them had been properly equipped during the two previous CIA airdrops. Realizing that the unarmed men were a ball and chain on the rest, the agency devised a plan to parachute weapons to an additional 700 men sent to ten drop zones inside Tibet. The purpose of this was twofold. First, it would force them to leave their Mustang sanctuary and take up a string of positions inside their homeland. Second, it would go far toward rectifying the disparity between armed and unarmed volunteers.

When this plan was taken to Mullik, his reaction was poor. Just as the Indians had balked at aerial infiltration for the Hale agents, they preferred no Mustang drops by Indian aircraft (ARC was close to formation at the time), for fear of provoking the Chinese. When the CIA proposed that U.S. aircraft do the job -- but insisted on Indian landing rights -- New Delhi was again reticent.

Frustrated, the CIA in the early fall of 1963 hastily arranged for an airlift company to be established inside Nepal. Allocated a pair of Bell 47G helicopters and two U.S. rotary-wing pilots -- one of whom was released from Air America for the job -- the Kathmandu-based entity, called Air Ventures, theoretically could have solved the airdrop problem by choppering supplies to collection points near Mustang.

As it turned out, there was no need for Air Ventures to fly any covert missions. By September, at the same time agreement was reached on establishing a joint operations center in New Delhi, the CIA and Intelligence Bureau came up with a new plan for the unarmed men at Mustang to be reassigned to Establishment 22 at Chakrata. It was also agreed that nonlethal supplies for the armed portion of Mustang -- which was estimated at no more than 835 guerrillas -- would go overland through India and be coordinated through the New Delhi center. In addition, some of the Hale graduates would go to Mustang to assist with radio operations. Once again, distinctions between the various Tibet projects were becoming blurred. [2]

During the same month, CIA officers beckoned Mustang leader Baba Yeshi to New Delhi to gain his approval for the reassignment scheme. Unfortunately for the agency, the chieftain was not happy when he was told that his force would be more than halved. With Lhamo Tsering providing translations, talks remained deadlocked for the next week. Opting to seek the counsel of Khampa leader Gompo Tashi, they shifted the debate to Calcutta. Gompo Tashi had recently returned there after half a year in a London hospital, where he had sought relief from lingering war injuries. Still weak, he refused to take sides. [3]

Defiantly, Baba Yeshi went back to Mustang. From the perspective of a Khampa tribal leader, his reluctance to downsize Mustang was both understandable and predictable. In true chieftain fashion, he had spent the previous two years patiently padding his command. The results on several fronts were laudable. The bleak food situation, for example, had been fully rectified. With occasional funds channeled by the CIA, a small team of Khampas purchased meat, butter, and rice at Pokhara and sent the supplies north on pack animals. Baba Yeshi's Khampas also procured local barley for a tsampa mill they established in the Mustang village of Kagbeni. His men were eating; malnourishment was a thing of the past. [4]

The quality of his fighters was also improving. Unlike Mustang's first wave of aged recruits, the steady stream of trainees arriving in Mustang during 1963 were either in their late teens or young adults. Many hailed from central Tibet, providing a more representative mix than the previous Khampa-dominated ranks.

Because most of the young arrivals came with no previous guerrilla experience, the Mustang leadership had spent much of 1963 institutionalizing its training procedures. A more formal camp was set up at Tangya to offer between three and six months of drills in rock climbing, river crossing, partisan warfare, and simple tradecraft. Graduates were then posted to one of Mustang's sixteen guerrilla companies, each of which had a Hale-trained instructor for refresher courses. [5]

Baba Yeshi had made some personalized gains as well. Because his headquarters at Tangya was uncomfortable during the coldest months, in 1963 he focused considerable energy on establishing a new winter base at the village of Kaisang. Located seven kilometers southeast of Jomsom, Kaisang was tucked at the base of the massive Annapurna. More than just a beautiful vista, the new base included a comfortable two-floor house for Baba Yeshi; it had a vegetable garden, Tibetan mastiffs chained to the front gate, and a Tibetan flag fluttering from a tall staff. Ten guards patrolled the perimeter, screening guerrilla subordinates who wished an audience with their commandant.

Sitting in Kaisang with hundreds of loyalists under arms, Baba Yeshi had few local rivals for power. The thinly spread royal Nepalese armed forces maintained almost no presence around Mustang. Even Mustang's royalty, greatly weakened by internecine fighting during 1964, was increasingly deferential toward its Tibetan guests. In a telling gesture, the crown prince of Lo Monthang (his brother, the king, had died under mysterious circumstances earlier that year) traveled by horseback to Kaisang to attend a Tibetan cultural show hosted by the Mustang guerrilla leader. [6]

Against these gains, precious little had been done to progress the war inside Tibet. In theory, the guerrillas intended to concentrate their cross-border forays during the winter, when the frozen Brahmaputra was easily fordable and the Chinese were less likely to patrol. In reality, hardly any guerrilla activities emanated from Mustang at any time of year. During all of 1963 and most of 1964, not a single truck was ambushed (land mines were occasionally laid, without any known success), and no PLA outposts were attacked. [7]

One notable exception took place in mid-1964. Two years earlier, a ten-man guerrilla team had been dispatched 130 kilometers east of Mustang to establish a lone outpost in the mountainous Nepalese border region known as Tsum. Led by a thirty-two-year-old Khampa named Tendar, they had among them a single Bren machine gun and a mix of M1 carbines and rifles. Without a radio or ready source of supplies, however, little offensive action was attempted. During their few overnight forays into Tibet, Tendar and his men had seen truck traffic only once and had never inflicted any damage. [8]

In early June 1964, their dry spell was set to end. Without warning, three white men bearing camera equipment appeared at the remote camp. The spokesman among the three was none other than George Patterson, the former missionary who had taught in Kham during the early 1950s and had since become an international advocate for the Tibetan cause. Patterson was now leading a British television team seeking footage of a guerrilla attack against the PLA. Speaking in the Kham dialect, the ex-missionary pleaded with Tendar to stage a raid for the cameras. [9]

Hearing Patterson's pitch, the guerrilla leader was torn. He would have preferred to ask permission from his guerrilla superiors at Mustang, but Tendar was handed two sealed envelopes that the missionary said were letters of support from senior Tibetan officials. Still uncertain, Tendar went to a nearby temple and cast dice. The dice were unequivocal: they told him to stage the mission.

Instructed by the fates, Tendar on 6 June began a day-long journey across the border with eight fellow guerrillas and the three foreigners. They split into four groups on a ridgeline overlooking a border road. Coincidentally, four trucks came into view that same afternoon. Tendar, in the closest group, fired his carbine at the front seat of the lead truck. After a spirited attack -- which provided plenty of good camera footage -- the guerrillas left behind three riddled vehicles and an estimated eight Chinese casualties. One Khampa was seriously injured in the face and shoulder but managed to get back to Tsum. [10]

It did not take long for word of the truck ambush to spread. In the mistaken belief that Baba Yeshi had invited the cameramen along to court unauthorized publicity, CIA officers in India couriered a reprimand and stopped the flow of funds for half a year. Tendar, meanwhile, was recalled to Mustang to face a round of criticism and reassignment to an administrative job. Together, these negative repercussions were ample incentive for a return to inactivity. Said one senior guerrilla, "We went on existing for the sake of existence." [11]


With Mustang relegated to a sideshow, the focus of joint Indo-U.S. cooperation shifted to the agent program. To monitor this effort, the New Delhi joint operations center -- dubbed the Special Center -- was formally established in November 1963. To house the site, Intelligence Bureau officers arranged to rent a modest villa in the F block of the posh Haus Khaz residential neighborhood. [12]

Ken Knaus, the first CIA representative to the Special Center, arrived in India during the final week of November. Although Knaus had the perfect background for the role -- he had been heading the Tibet Task Force for almost two years -- the assignment raised some eyebrows because it resurrected an earlier turf war.

When CIA assistance was still being provided without India's complicity, the Near East Division -- in the form of deputy station chief Bill Grimsley -- had assumed responsibility for coordinating the effort out of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Now a Far East Division representative, Knaus was back on Indian soil. According to colleagues within the division, his welcome from peers at the embassy was somewhat muted. [13]

Knaus faced another opening hurdle as well. In previous years, the Tibet Task Force had counted on strong headquarters support from the Far East Division's dynamic chief, Des FitzGerald. Knaus, in fact, was one of his personal favorites. In January 1963, however, FitzGerald transferred from the Far East slot to oversee the ongoing paramilitary campaign against Cuba. His replacement, William Colby, not only was consumed by the escalating conflict in Vietnam but also was developing a pronounced aversion toward agent operations behind communist lines. [14]

Despite all this, Knaus spent his first month focusing on the center's impending operations. On 4 January 1964, he was joined by a sharp Bombay native nicknamed Rabi. A math major in college, Rabi had joined the police force upon graduation but soon switched to the Intelligence Bureau. He had been assigned to its China section and spent many years operating from remote outposts in Assam and NEFA. Now chosen as the Indian representative to the Special Center, he internally transferred to the ARC. More than merely an airlift unit, the ARC was now acting as the section of the Intelligence Bureau that would work alongside the CIA on joint efforts with the Tibet agents and guerrillas at Mustang.

In April, Knaus and Rabi were joined by a Tibetan representative, Kesang Kunga. A soft-spoken former district governor and monk, Kesang -- better known as Kay Kay -- came from a landed family in central Tibet. After fleeing to India, he had risen to chief editor at the Tibetan press facilities in Darjeeling. From there he oversaw the printing of Freedom, a newsweekly distributed among the refugee camps. He had been personally chosen by Gyalo Thondup to represent Tibetan interests at the Special Center.

Under Kay-Kay was a small team of Tibetan assistants. Three members were former Hale translators. There was also a pool of eight Hale graduates from the 1963 training class; half provided radio assistance at the Special Center, and the other half performed similar tasks at the radio relay center being set up at Charbatia.

One of the Special Center's biggest challenges was keeping its New Delhi activities secret from the Indian public. In the midst of residential housing, the presence of foreign nationals -- both the Tibetans and Knaus -- was certain to draw attention. To guard against this, Knaus (who normally came to the center three times a week) was shielded in the back of a jeep until he was inside the garage. Similar precautions were taken with the Tibetans, who were ferried between a dormitory and the center in a blacked-out van. "We were not allowed to step outside," said one Tibetan officer, "until 1972."

By the time Kay-Kay got his assignment in the spring of 1964, most of the 135 agent trainees had returned to India from Hale. [15] Two dozen were diverted to Establishment 22 at Chakrata, and another eight manned the radio sets at Charbatia and the Special Center. The remainder -- slightly more than 100 -- were taken to a holding camp outside the village of Joelikote near the popular hill station of Nainital. Built close to the shores of a mountain lake and surrounded by pine and oak forests, Joelikote once hosted Colonel Jim Corbett, the famed hunter who tracked some of the most infamous man-eating tigers and leopards on record (two were credited with killing more than 400 villagers apiece). [16]

As the agents assembled at Joelikote -- where Rabi promptly dubbed them "The Joelikote Boys" -- they were divided into radio teams, each designated by a letter of the alphabet. The size of the teams varied, with some numbering as few as two agents and several with as many as five; contrary to the previous year's plan to dispatch lone operatives, none would be going as singletons. As their main purpose would be to radio back social, political, economic, and military information, the CIA provided radios ranging from the durable RS-1 to the RS-48 (a high-speed-burst model originally developed for use in Southeast Asia) and a sophisticated miniature set with a burst capability and solar cells. The teams would also be charged with gauging the extent of local resistance; when appropriate, they were to spread propaganda and extend a network of sympathizers. Although they were not to engage in sabotage or other attacks, the agents would carry pistols (Canadian-made Brownings to afford the United States plausible deniability) for self- defense.

During April, the first wave of ten radio teams began moving from Joelikote to launch sites along the border. Team A, consisting of two agents, took up a position in the Sikkimese capital of Gangtok. Team B, also two men, filed into the famed colonial summer capital of Shimla. Just eighty kilometers from Establishment 22 at Chakrata, Shimla had not changed much since the days the British had ruled one-fifth of humankind from this small Himalayan settlement. Three teams -- D, V, and Z -- were sent to Tuting, a NEFA backwater already host to 2,000 Tibetan refugees. Two others -- T and Y -- crossed into easternmost Nepal and established a camp outside the village of Walung. Another two teams went to Mustang to provide Baba Yeshi's guerrillas with improved radio links to Charbatia. [17]

The tenth set of agents -- two men known as Team Q -- headed into the kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese, though ethnic kin, harbored mixed feelings toward the Tibetans. With only a small population of its own, Bhutan had attempted to discourage further refugee arrivals after the first influx of 3,000. Then in April 1964, the country's prime minister was killed by unknown assailants. Coincidentally, this happened at the same time Team Q was crossing the border, sparking unfounded rumors that the Tibetans were attempting to overthrow the kingdom. As the rumors escalated into diplomatic protests, the two agents were quietly withdrawn, and Bhutan was never again contemplated as a launch site. [18]

Aside from the stillborn Team Q and the two others at Mustang, the other seven teams had been briefed on targets before departing Joelikote. These had been generated by the CIA and Intelligence Bureau; Knaus had access to the latest intelligence for this purpose, including satellite imagery. He and Rabi then consulted with Kay-Kay, who endorsed the missions. All involved testing the waters inside Tibet to determine whether an underground could, or did, exist. [19]

During the same month the teams headed for the border, Gyalo Thondup established a political party in India. Called Cho Kha Sum ("Defense of Religion by the Three Regions," a reference to Kham, Amdo, and U Tsang), the party promoted the liberal ideals found in the Tibetan constitution that had been promulgated by the Dalai Lama the previous spring. Part of Gyalo's intent was to develop a political consciousness among the Tibetan diaspora. But even more important, the party was designed to reinforce a message of noncommunist nationalism that the agent teams would be taking to potential underground members inside Tibet. Gyalo even arranged for a party newsletter to be printed, copies of which would be carried and distributed by the teams in their homeland.

Getting the agents to actually cross the frontier was a wholly different matter. By early summer, three of the teams -- in Sikkim, Shimla, and Walling -- had done little more than warm their launch sites. A second set of agents in Walung, Team Y, had better luck. One of its members, a young Khampa going by the call sign "Clyde," headed alone across the Nangpa pass for a survey. He took a feeder trail north for fifty kilometers and approached the Tibetan town of Tingri. Located along the traditional route linking Kathmandu and Lhasa, Tingri was a popular resting place for an assortment of pilgrims and traders; as a result, Clyde's Kham origins attracted little attention. Better still, Tingri was surrounded by cave hermitages that offered good concealment. [20]

The Indian frontier

Returning to Walling with this information, Clyde briefed his four teammates. Three -- Robert, Dennie, and team leader Reg -- were fellow Khampas; the last -- Grant -- was from Amdo. Following the same route used during the survey, the five arrived at the caves and set up camp.

Tingri, they discovered, was ripe for an underground. Venturing into town to procure supplies, the team took volunteers back to its redoubt for ad hoc leadership training. They debriefed the locals for items of intelligence value and used their solar-powered burst radio to send two messages a week back to Charbatia. Settling into a routine, they prepared to wait out the approaching winter from the vantage of their cave.

Good luck was also experienced by the three teams operating from the border village of Tuting. Team D, consisting of four Khampas, arrived at its launch site with one Browning pistol apiece and a single survival rifle. Their target was the town of Pemako, eighty kilometers to the northeast. Renowned among Tibetans as a "hidden heaven" because of its mild weather and ring of surrounding mountains, this area had been the destination of many Khampas fleeing the Chinese invasion in 1950. The PLA, by contrast, had barely penetrated the vicinity because no roads could be built due to the harsh topography and abundant precipitation. [21]

That same rainfall made the trip for Team D a slog. Covering only part of the distance to their target by late in the year, most of the agents were ready to return to the relatively appealing creature comforts in Tuting. Just one member, Nolan, chose to stay for the winter. Wishing him luck, his colleagues promised to meet again in the spring of 1965. [22]

Much the same experience was recounted by the five men of Team Z. Targeted toward Pemako, they conducted a series of shallow forays to contact border villagers and collect data on PLA patrols. Finally making a deeper infiltration near year's end, they encountered some sympathizers and the makings of an underground. By that time, most of the agents were eager to return before the approaching winter. Just as with Team D, one of its members, Chris, elected to stay through spring with his embryonic partisan movement. [23]

The final group of agents from Turing, Team V, was targeted eighty kilometers west toward the town of Meilling. Located along the banks of the Brahmaputra, this low-lying region featured high rainfall and lush forests. Many locals in the area, though conversant in Tibetan, were animists, with their own unique language and style of dress.

Despite such ethnic differences, one of Team V's members, Stuart, had a number of relatives living in the vicinity. With their assistance, the team was able to contact a loose underground of resisters. Shielded by these sympathizers -- who even helped them steal some PLA supplies when their cache was exhausted -- the five men of Team V radioed back their intent to remain through the winter.


Reviewing their progress in November 1964, Knaus, Rabi, and Kay-Kay had some reason for cheer. Of the ten teams dispatched to date, four had at least some of their members still inside Tibet. All four, too, had identified sympathetic countrymen. Encouraged by these results, the Special Center representatives penned plans to launch a second round of nine teams the following spring, when the mountain passes would be free of snow. Slowly, the secret war for Tibet was shifting from simmer to low boil.
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 4:01 am

Chapter 16: Omens

On the afternoon of 16 October 1964, the arid desert soil around Lop Nur in central Xinjiang Province rippled from the effect of a twenty-kiloton blast. "This is a major achievement of the Chinese people," read the immediate press communique out of Beijing, "in their struggle to oppose the U.S. imperialist policy of nuclear blackmail." [1]

The detonation had not been unexpected. For the past few months, the United States had been closely tracking China's nuclear program using everything from satellite photographs to a worldwide analysis of media statements made by Chinese diplomats. India, still smarting from the 1962 war, had supported this collection effort by allowing the CIA to use Charbatia in April to secretly stage U-2 flights over Xinjiang. By late September, there were enough indications for senior officials in Washington to publicly predict the blast three weeks prior to the event. [2]

Such forewarning did nothing to dampen anxiety in New Delhi. This resulted in a windfall of sorts for the Tibet project, with the CIA using the Indians' more permissive attitude to push for a series of covert initiatives aimed at raising Tibet's worldwide profile. The first such scheme was an effort to recruit and train a cadre of Tibetan officers for use as administrators and foreign representatives. An advisory committee of U.S. academics and retired diplomats was established to oversee this project, with Cornell University agreeing to play host and the CIA footing the bill.

In the fall of 1964, an initial group of four Tibetans arrived at the Cornell campus for nine months of course work in linguistics, comparative government, economics, and anthropology. Among the four were former Hale translators Bill and Mark; both had been at Georgetown University over the previous two years honing their English skills. A second group, totaling eight Tibetans, arrived in the fall of the following year. Included was former Hale translator Thinlay "Rocky" Paljor and Lobsang Tsultrim, the nephew of one of the Dalai Lama's bodyguards. As a teenager, Lobsang had joined the entourage that fled Tibet with the monarch in 1959. Midway through the semester, half of the class was quietly taken down to Silver Spring, Maryland, where they were kept in a CIA safe house for a month of spy-craft instruction; all eight later reassembled, completed their studies at Cornell, and went back to India together. [3]

These first dozen Cornell-trained Tibetans were put to immediate use. Three were assigned to the Special Center. Others were posted to one of the CIA-supported Tibet representative offices in New Delhi, Geneva, and New York. The New Delhi mission -- officially known as the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- was headed by a former Tibetan finance minister and charged with maintaining contact with the various embassies in the Indian capital. The Office of Tibet in Geneva, led by the Dalai Lama 's older brother Lobsang Samten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland. [4]

The New York Office of Tibet, which included three Cornell graduates, formally opened in April 1964 following a U.S. visit by Gyalo Thondup. This office concentrated on winning support for the Tibetan cause at the United Nations, which was becoming an increasingly difficult prospect. In December 1965, Gyalo was successful in pushing a resolution on Tibet through the General Assembly for the third time, but some twenty-six nations -- including Nepal and Pakistan -- joined the ranks of those supporting China on the issue. [5]

During a break from lobbying at the United Nations, Gyalo had ventured down to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials. Among them was Des FitzGerald; one of the strongest advocates of the Tibet program within the CIA, he had since left his Cuba assignment and in the spring of 1965 was promoted to deputy director of plans, putting him in charge of all agency covert operations. FitzGerald used the opportunity to invite Gyalo to dinner at the elite Federalist Club. Joining them was Frank Holober, who had returned from an unpaid sabbatical in September 1965 to take over the vacant Tibet Task Force desk within the China Branch. Remembers Holober, "Des loved Gyalo, fawned over him. He would say, 'In an independent country, you would be the perfect foreign minister.'"

Gyalo proved his abilities in another CIA-supported venture. Because the Dalai Lama had long desired the creation of a central Tibetan cultural institution, the agency supplied Gyalo with secret funds to assemble a collection of wall hangings -- called thankas -- and other art treasures from all the major Tibetan Buddhist sects. A plot of land was secured in the heart of New Delhi, and the Tibet House -- consisting of a museum, library, and emporium -- was officially opened in October 1965 by the Indian minister of education and the Dalai Lama. It remains a major attraction to this day.


India's more permissive attitude allowed for increasingly sensitive Indo-U.S. intelligence operations. Some efforts were in conjunction with the Republic of China on Taiwan, which was one of the few nations that equaled even surpassed India and the United States in its seething opposition to Beijing. Taipei, for example, was allowed to station Chinese translators at Charbatia to monitor PRC radio traffic. ROC intelligence officers were even permitted to open remote listening outposts along the Indo Tibetan frontier. This last effort was highly compartmentalized, even within the CIA staff in India. Wayne Sanford, the agency's paramilitary officer in New Delhi, was shocked when Indian officials escorted him to one of the border sites. He recalls, "Subramanian took me to the main listening post on October 10 (1965] , which is the big Ten Ten holiday on Taiwan. The Chinese commander saw me and asked if I had ever been on Da Chen island. I said, 'Yup.' He then asked if I had been aboard a PT evacuation boat from Da Chen. I said, 'Yup.' We then got drunk together to catch up on old times." [6]

Another sensitive project combined the CIA, the Intelligence Bureau, and the top mountain climbers from both nations. Conceived in late 1964 following the first PRC atomic test, this operation cal1ed for placement of a nuclear-powered sensor atop Kanchenjunga, the third tallest mountain bordering Sikkim and Nepal. From its vantage atop the Himalayas, the sensor would theoretically relay telemetry data from intermediate-range ballistic missiles the Chinese were developing at test sites in Xinjiang. Because Kanchenjunga was later deemed too challenging -- it is one of the world's hardest peaks to scale, even without the extra weight of sensitive equipment -- the target was shifted in 1965 to India's Nanda Devi. That October, a device was carried near the summit, but before the climbers had a chance to activate its generator, worsening weather forced them to secure the equipment in a crevice until they could return the following spring. [7]

Some of the most tangible Indo-U.S. cooperation was in the expansion of the ARC fleet at Charbatia. By 1964, a total of ten C-46 transports and four Helio STOL planes had been delivered to the Indians. [8] Late that year, they were augmented by two more STOL airframes that were a unique adaptation of the Helio. Known as the Twin Helio, these planes looked exactly like the single-engine version, but with two propellers placed above and forward of the wings. Developed in 1960 with the CIA's war in Laos in mind, the Twin Helio's engine's placement allowed for unrestricted lateral visibility and reduced the possibility of propeller damage from debris at primitive airstrips. Only five were ever built, with one field-tested in Bolivia during the summer of 1964 and another handed over to the CIA's quasi-proprietary in Nepal, Air Ventures, in August. [9]

A Twin Helio STOL plane during USAF trials in 1961; this aircraft was later turned over to ARC. (Courtesy Harry Aderholt)

Of the planes delivered to the ARC, several received further modifications in India. To provide for an eavesdropping capability, CIA technicians in 1964 transformed one of the C-46 airframes into an electronic intelligence (ELINT) platform. This plane flew regular orbits along the Himalayas, recording Chinese telecommunications signals from inside Tibet. For some of the nine remaining C- 6 transports, ARC became a test bed during 1966 for a unique adaptation. Much like the jet packs strapped to the C-119 Flying Boxcars during 1962, four 1,000-pound rocket boosters were placed on the bottom of the C-46 fuselages to allow heavy loads to be safely carried from some of India's highest airfields. [10]

Such cooperation, however, masked tension under the surface. At the highest levels of government, problems were evident by early 1964. Following the assassination of John Kennedy the previous November, the new administration of President Lyndon Johnson withheld approval of a five-year military assistance package negotiated by his predecessor. Not helping matters was the fact that Johnson was increasingly consumed by the Vietnam War, leaving him little time to thoughtfully contemplate South Asia.

During the following year, bilateral strains were exacerbated by the Indo-Pakistan conflict that autumn. Pakistan initiated hostilities in August when it attempted to seize the contested Kashmir by infiltrating thousands of guerrillas. After that effort faltered, Karachi crossed the frontier with tanks. India responded in kind, leading to some of the bloodiest armor battles since World War II.

For the next month, the United States remained in the background as the subcontinent teetered on the edge of all-out war. Relying on the United Nations to broker a cease-fire, Washington did little apart from cut the flow of additional weapons to Pakistan. By effectively walking away from the region, the Johnson administration infuriated both sides: India was incensed because Pakistan had used U.S. weapons; Pakistan felt betrayed because the United States, a treaty partner, had not come to its assistance. Although the special U.S. Pakistani alliance was now effectively dead, no points had been scored with India. [11]

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, was patiently working overtime to mend fences with New Delhi. In September 1964, it signed a deal not only to sell India the MiG-21 jet but also to allow mass production in Indian factories. The Soviets even impinged on areas of cooperation between the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau. During 1965, Moscow offered -- and New Delhi accepted -- a pair of Mi-4 helicopters for the ARC.


Nobody was more concerned about the deterioration of Indo U .S. relations than Ambassador Chester Bowles. No stranger to the subcontinent -- having served as ambassador to India a decade earlier -- Bowles had replaced Galbraith in the summer of 1963. The two differed in several important ways. Galbraith, the consummate Kennedy insider, left India on a high note after winning military assistance in New Delhi's hour of need. Bowles, by contrast, was a relative outsider (he reportedly made Kennedy "uncomfortable") who arrived just as the post-November 1962 honeymoon had run its course. [12] The two also differed in their attitude toward the CIA. Initially a die-hard opponent of CIA activities on his diplomatic turf, Galbraith had reversed his position during the 1962 war to become an open -- if not outspoken -- proponent of the agency's activities in the subcontinent. [13]

Bowles, who inherited the CIA's cooperative ventures already in progress, was largely silent about the agency during his first two years in New Delhi. Wayne Sanford, the CIA paramilitary officer who had provided regular updates for Galbraith, had not even met Bowles for a briefing by the summer of 1965. [14]

But with Indo-U.S. tension gaining momentum, Bowles became more conscious of the damage being done to bilateral intelligence cooperation. In a bid to reverse the estrangement, he lent his support to a September 1965 CIA proposal to provide the ARC with three C-130 transports, an aircraft the Indians had been eyeing for five years. The offer came at a particularly opportune time. At Charbatia, Ed Rector had finished his tour and been replaced as air adviser by Moose Marrero, who had a long history of contact with Biju Patnaik and the original ARC cadre.

As it turned out, Marrero's past ties had only minimal effect. The C-130 deal encountered repeated delays, largely because the irate Indians did not want to remain vulnerable to a fickle U.S. spare- parts pipeline. In a telling request, they even asked Marrero to vacate Oak Tree and relocate to an office at the U.S. embassy compound in New Delhi.

Still attempting damage control, the CIA in early 1966 offered a quiet continuation of supplies for its paramilitary projects. As Washington had officially cut all arms shipments to India and Pakistan following the 1965 Kashmir fighting, this was a significant, albeit secret, exception. Four flights were scheduled, all to be conducted by a CIA-operated 727 jet transport staging between Okinawa and Charbatia.

The Indians listened to the offer and consented. But in a reprise of conditions imposed on the DC- flights of 1962, the government insisted that the flights into Oak Tree be made at low level to avoid radar -- and to avoid any resultant publicity from the resurgent anti-American chorus in New Delhi political circles. [15]


The ARC operation at Charbatia was not the only CIA project encountering difficulties. Throughout 1964, Intelligence Bureau director Mullik had been pushing for infiltration of all the Hale-trained agents to establish an underground movement within Tibet. By year's end, the Special Center saw its limited inroads -- elements of four teams operating inside their homeland -- as a glass half full.

Mullik, by contrast, saw it as a glass half empty. Whereas he had once held excessive expectations of a Tibet-wide underground creating untold headaches for China, he now saw the limitations of overland infiltrations -- especially by Khampa agents moving into areas where they did not have family or clan support. By the beginning of 1965, Mullik lashed out, claiming that the Tibetans were being coddled by the CIA.

Part of the problem was that Mullik himself was vulnerable and under pressure. In May 1964, ailing Prime Minister Nehru had died in his sleep, denying the fourteen-year spymaster of his powerful patron. That October, colleagues (and competitors) saw the chance to ease Mullik out of the top intelligence slot. They succeeded, but only to a degree. Although he gave up his hat as bureau director, he retained unofficial control over joint paramilitary operations with the CIA. That position -- which was officially titled director general of security in February 1965 -- answered directly to the prime minister and oversaw the ARC base at Charbatia, the Special Center, Establishment 22, and the sensor mission of Nanda Devi. [16]

With Mullik growing impatient, the Special Center readied its agents for a second season inside Tibet. Arriving in late 1964 as the new CIA representative at the center was John Gilhooley, the same Far East Division officer who had briefly worked at the Tibet Task Force's Washington office in 1960. The Indian and Tibetan officials at the center warmed to their new American counterpart. "He was a free spirit, very good-natured," said Rabi. [17]

Cordial personal ties aside, little could spare Gilhooley from the dark news filtering in from Tibet. As soon as the snows cleared in early 1965, members of Team D had departed Tuting and headed back across the border to rendezvous with Nolan, the teammate they had left behind for the winter. Only then did they discover that he had already died of exposure. The remaining three agents returned to India and did not attempt another infiltration. [18]

Much the same was encountered by Team Z. Departing Turing to fetch Chris, they learned that he had been rounded up during a winter PLA sweep. Radio intercepts monitored at Charbatia later revealed that Chris had refused to answer questions during an interrogation and been executed.

Team Z's bad luck did not stop there. Entering a village later that summer, the men were sheltered in a hut by seemingly sympathetic locals. While they rested, however, the residents alerted nearby Chinese militiamen. As the PLA started firing at the hut, the team broke through the rear planks and fled into the forest. One of the agents, Tex, died from a bullet wound before reaching the Indian border. [19]

Better longevity was experienced by the members of Team V, all five of whom had successfully braved the winter near Menling. By the spring of 1965, four elected to return to India, but Stuart, who had relatives in the area, stayed and was given permission to lead his own group of agents, appropriately titled Team VI. Two new members -- Maurice and Terrence -- were dispatched from Tuting for a linkup.

By that time, Stuart was living in his sister's house north of the Brahmaputra. During his regular crossings of the river, he used boats in order to avoid Chinese troops guarding the bridges. The new agents, however, chose the bridge option, ran into a PLA checkpoint, and panicked. Drawing their Brownings, they got into a brief firefight before being arrested. The PLA quickly isolated Maurice and forced him to send a radio message back to India claiming that he had arrived safely. This was a ploy used to good effect by the Chinese, Soviets, and North Vietnamese; by capturing radiomen and forcing them to continue sending messages, communist intelligence agencies duped the CIA and allied services into sending more agents and supplies, with both deadly and embarrassing results. In the case of North Vietnam, some turned agents continued radio play for as long as a decade. [20]

The Chinese were not as fortunate with Maurice. On his first message back, the Tibetan included a simple but effective duress code; he used his real name. This was repeated in two subsequent transmissions, after which his handlers ceased contact for fear the Chinese would triangulate the signals coming from Charbatia and expose the base to the press. A warning was then flashed to Stuart, who was able to get back to India.

Team Y, the last of the 1964 teams still inside Tibet, had a similar experience. After successfully living alongside sympathizers near Tingri through the winter, the five agents lobbied the Special Center in early 1965 for permission to rotate back to India. Agreeing to replace them in phases, the center authorized two of the veterans -- Robert and Dennie -- to make their way out to Walung.

At that point, the Special Center was in for a rude surprise. Due to operational compartmentalization, it was unaware that Establishment 22 had started running its own fledgling cross-border program. Using Tibetan guerrillas from Chakrata, a pilot team had been staged from Walung with a mandate to contact sympathizers near Tingri.

It came at a bad time. To great fanfare, the Chinese were preparing to inaugurate the Tibetan Autonomous Region that fall. After nine years of ruling Tibet under the PCART, the name change signified that Beijing deemed the Communist Party organs in the region fully operational. To coincide, the Chinese began a more forceful program of suppression, purging Tibetan collaborators, establishing communes, and increasing military patrols. Not only was the Establishment 22 team caught in one of these sweeps, but Robert and Dennie ran headlong into the dragnet as well. [21]

Ditching their supplies, both agents veered deeper into the hills as they evaded toward the Nangpa pass on the Nepalese border. Unfortunately for the two, the Nangpa is notoriously treacherous through late spring. Given its high elevation, it is not uncommon for entire caravans to be wiped out from slow suffocation as piercing winds blast fine powdery snow into the nose and mouth. Dennie ultimately reached Nepal; Robert did not.

Back at Tingri, the rest of Team Y faced the same Chinese patrols. Two replacement agents had already arrived by that time. In need of supplies, team leader Reg left their cave retreat to procure food. Captured upon entering a village, he was forced to lead the PLA back to the team's redoubt. In the ensuing firefight, all were killed except for the lone Amdo agent, Grant. A subsequent sweep rounded up the dozens of sympathizers they had trained over the previous year.

Tibet, from China's perspective

The news was equally bleak for the new teams launched in 1965. At Shimla, the two-man Team C endured a deadly comedy of errors during its first infiltration attempt. Looking to cross a river swollen by the spring thaw, agent Howard fell in and drowned. His partner, Irving, spent the next three days looking for a better fording point, Cold and hungry, he chanced upon an old woman and her son tending a flock. They led him to an isolated sheep enclosure, then alerted the militia. Irving was soon heading for Lhasa in shackles. [22]

Another trio of agents, Team X, was deployed to easternmost India and targeted against the town of Dzayul, renowned as an entomologist's dream because of its rare endemic butterflies. The CIA was eyeing Dzayul because the surrounding forests supposedly hosted displaced Burmese insurgents who could potentially be harnessed against the Chinese. Team X, however, found nobody of interest and came back.

More bizarre was the tale of Team U. The five-man team staged from Towang, the same border town that had factored into the Dalai Lama's 1959 escape and the 1962 war. Three members headed north from Towang toward Cona, where one of the agents had family. Upon reaching their target, they were immediately reported by the agent's own brother. Arrested and bundled off to Lhasa, they were not mistreated but instead were shown films of captured ROC agents, then photos of the captured and killed members of Team Y. After less than a month of propaganda sessions, all three were given some Chinese currency and escorted to the border. After a final warning about "reactionary India," they were allowed to cross unmolested. [23]

Sometimes the agents were their own worst enemy. The two members of Team F, which staged from Walung to Tingri, constantly quarreled with each other and with local sympathizers. After the more argumentative of the pair was replaced by a fresh agent, the two rushed to cache supplies for the coming winter.

A final pair of Tibetans, Team S, also reached Tingri during the second half of 1965. These two agents, Thad and Troy, had better rapport with the locals than did their peers in Team F. So good was their rapport, in fact, that a local sympathizer offered them shelter in his house until spring. It was with these two Tingri teams in place that the Special Center awaited its third season during the 1966 thaw. [24]


Although the Special Center's agent program had little to boast about, it looked positively dynamic compared with the paramilitary army festering in Mustang. A big part of Mustang's problem was that it was being managed from afar without any direct oversight. The Special Center had assumed handling of the program, but none of its officers had ever actually visited Mustang. The closest they got was when CIA representative Ken Knaus twice visited Pokhara in 1964 to meet Mustang officers, With no on-site presence, the agency and Intelligence Bureau had to rely on infrequent reporting by the Tibetan guerillas themselves. From what little was offered, it was readily apparent that the by-product from Mustang was practically nil. [25]

For the taciturn Mullik, disenchantment with Mustang was starting to run deep. By late 1964, he was alternating between extremes -- first insisting that the guerrillas be given a major injection of airdropped supplies, later throwing up his arms and demanding that they all be brought down to India and merged with Establishment 22.

In January 1965, the pendulum swung back -- with a twist. Now Mullik was proposing that Mustang be given two airdrops to equip its unarmed volunteers. These weapons would be given on the condition that the guerrillas shift inside Tibet to two operating locations. The first was astride the route between Kathmandu and Lhasa. The second was along the Chinese border road running west from Lhasa toward Xinjiang via the contested Ladakh region.

The choice of these two locations was understandable. In late 1961, the Chinese had offered to build for Nepal an all-weather road linking Kathmandu and the Nepalese border pass at Kodari, one of the few areas on the Tibet frontier not closed by winter snows. Work was continuing at a breakneck pace, with completion of the route expected by 1966. India, not surprisingly, was concerned about the road's military applications; by putting a concentration of guerrillas astride the approach from the Tibetan side, any PLA traffic could be halted. Similarly, a guerrilla pocket along the Xinjiang road would complicate Chinese efforts to reinforce Ladakh. [26]

As before, Mullik was reluctant to use the ARC to perform the supply drops. Knowing that the CIA would be equally reluctant to use its own assets -- that would defeat one of the main reasons for creating the ARC in the first place -- he offered two sweeteners. First, he promised that the U.S. aircraft could stage from Charbatia. Second, he would allow one ARC member to accompany the flights. This revised proposal went back to Washington and was put before the members of the 303 Committee (prior to June 1964, known as the Special Group); on 9 April, the committee lent its approval to the airdrop and Mustang redeployment scheme.

Mullik, it turned out, was a moving target. As soon as he was informed of Washington's consent, he reneged on the offer to allow an ARC crew member on the flights. The CIA fired back, insisting that the Indian member was a prerequisite for the missions to go ahead. To this, Mullik had a ready counteroffer: he would provide a cover story if the flight encountered problems.

As Mullik ducked and weaved, Ambassador Bowles urged the CIA to accept the proposal. Bowles was acutely aware that relations with New Delhi were already growing prickly on other fronts, and they were not helped when the unpredictable President Johnson unceremoniously canceled a summit that month with the Indian prime minister. Just as he would later support the stillborn C- 130 deal, the ambassador felt that a compromise with Mullik was a way to keep at least intelligence cooperation on a solid footing. The CIA agreed; the flights would proceed on an all-American basis.

Now that the mission was moving forward, the agency had to decide on planes and crews. Looking over the alternatives, the CIA had only limited options. One logical source of airlift assets was Air Ventures, the Kathmandu-based company. Back in 1963, the CIA had helped establish the company; two of the airline's pilots were on loan from the agency, and its lone Twin Helio airframe had been obtained with agency approval. But once the airline began operations, the CIA station in Nepal kept its distance; Air Ventures worked almost exclusively for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps. [27] Moreover, the Mustang guerrillas were being handled by New Delhi; in the interest of compartmentalization, the CIA station in Kathmandu was kept wholly segregated from the operation. [28]

Another logical source of air support was the CIA's considerable airlift presence in Southeast Asia. Heading that effort was the proprietary Air America, as well as select private companies such as Bird & Son, with which the agency had special contracts. Both flew airdrops under trying conditions as a matter of course. But because CIA paramilitary operations in Laos and South Vietnam were escalating by the month, aircraft were stretched thin; the CIA managers in those theaters, as a result, tightly guarded their assets. There was also the untidy matter of the press getting whiffs of the CIA's air operations in Southeast Asia; should one of these planes be downed in Tibet, a viable cover story would be that much harder to concoct.

By process of elimination, the assignment was sent all the way to Japan. There the CIA operated planes under yet another of its air proprietaries, Southern Air Transport (SAT). Unlike Air America, which frequented jungle airstrips and braved antiaircraft fire over places like Laos, SAT flew regular routes into major international airports. Its cargo was sometimes classified, but its method of operation was overt and conventional.

In handing the task to SAT, there was some reinventing of the wheel. Four kickers were diverted from Laos and sent to Okinawa for a week of USAF instruction in high-altitude missions, including time in a pressure chamber, turns on a centrifuge, and classes on cold-weather survival. The rest of the crew came from the SAT roster in Japan; none, with the exception of the primary radio operator, had been on the earlier Tibet flights.

Taking a page from the past, SAT decided that the drop aircraft would come from its DC-6 fleet. This was the civilian version of the C-118 that had performed the Tibet missions in 1958; the only difference was a smaller cargo door in the rear. Because the smaller door meant that the supply bundles would also need to be smaller, mechanics fitted the DC-6 with a Y-shaped roller system to double the number of pallets loaded down the length of its cabin; after the first row of cargo was kicked out the door, pallets from the second row would be kicked. It was further decided to carry all the supplies aboard a single plane, rather than fly two missions as originally proposed by Mullik.

In another refrain from the previous decade, SAT made a perfunctory attempt at sterilizing its plane. External markings were painted over, but the numbers quickly bled through the thin coat. Inside the plane, most -- but not all -- references to SAT were removed. "The safety belts in the cockpit still had the letters 'SAT' stitched into the material," noted auxiliary radioman Henri Verbrugghen. [29]

Early on 15 May, the DC-6 departed Okinawa and made a refueling stop at Takhli. The CIA logisticians had packed the cabin to capacity, leaving little room for the kickers. Based on requirements generated by the Special Center, most of the bundles were filled with ammunition and pistols, plus a small number of M1 carbines and solar-powered radios. There was also a pair of inflatable rubber boats, to be used for crossing the wide Brahmaputra during summer. Because of the large amount of supplies involved, it was decided to make the drop inside Nepal and within a few kilometers of Tangya rather than at the more distant Tibetan drop zones used during the previous supply missions.

Once at Oak Tree, the plane was taken into an ARC hangar for servicing away from prying eyes. Wayne Sanford had arranged for the provision of fuel and support for the crew. He had also requested the Indians to temporarily suppress their radar coverage along the corridor into Nepal during the final leg of the flight.

For two days, the weather proved uncooperative. Not until the night of 17 May was the full moon unfettered by cloud cover. Not wasting the moment, the heavy DC-6 raced down the runway and lifted slowly into the northern sky.


At Tangya, Baba Yeshi had gathered his officers earlier in the week for a major speech. He was a master of delivery, his voice rising and falling with emotion as he told his men that the CIA had decided to "give them enough weapons for the next fifteen years." A massive airdrop was to take place in a valley just east of their position, he said, and each company would be responsible for lifting its share off the drop zone. Although Baba Yeshi had been informed of the quid pro quo conjured in New Delhi -- weapons in exchange for a shift to positions astride the roads in Tibet -- this was not mentioned in his speech.

Not surprisingly, pulses began to race as word of the impending drop flashed through the guerrilla ranks. With soaring expectations, the officers hurriedly left Tangya to assemble the necessary teams of yaks, men, and mules. [30]


As the DC-6 headed north at low altitude, Captain Eddie Sims sent regular signals back to Oak Tree. After each one, Charbatia sent a return message confirming that he should continue the mission. Sims, who was in charge of senior pilots among all the Far East proprietaries, was held in particularly high regard by the crew on this flight. This stemmed from his role in settling a salary dispute shortly before departing Japan. As a cost-cutting measure, SAT had deemed that none of the DC-6 crew members were eligible for the bonus money regularly paid to Air America crews during paramilitary missions. After several crewmen threatened to walk out, Sims successfully lobbied management to have the extra pay reinstated.

Crossing central Nepal, Sims took the plane up to 4,848 meters (16,000 feet). The rear door was then opened, allowing frigid air to whip through the cabin. Sucking from oxygen bottles, two of the kickers positioned themselves near the exit; the other two moved to the back of the first row of bundles.

Looking for one final contact with Oak Tree, Sims sent his coded signal. The radioman listened for the customary response, but none came. Again Sims sent the signal, but only static crackled over the set. After several minutes of agonizing, Sims elected to proceed without the last clearance.

Ahead, a blazing letter signal lit the drop zone in a small bowl-shaped valley. Dropping into a steep bank, the DC-6 came atop the signal and then pulled up sharply. In the rear, the four kickers worked furiously to get the loads out the small door. Only a fraction had been disgorged when they had to halt to allow Sims to make a sharp turn and realign. It would take yet another pass before the entire cabin was emptied. [31]


On the ground in Mustang, the guerrillas spent the next day collecting bundles scattered across the drop zone, in the next valley, and in the one after that. Several were never found, and rumor had it that the two rubber boats were recovered by local residents and taken to the crown prince at Lo Monthang. [32]

Even more harsh than the complaints over the wide disbursement was the disgruntlement over the content of the bundles. Taking Baba Yeshi at his word, those assembled at the drop zone had expected a lavish amount of weapons, enough to fight for fifteen years. Dozens of yaks and mules had been organized in what was envisioned to be a major logistical effort. "Just one plane came," lamented officer Gen Gyurme, "and it delivered mostly bullets and pistols." [33]

Disillusioned, the company commanders took their allotments back to their respective camps and returned to their earlier inactivity. Radio messages were placed to Baba Yeshi over the following months, calling on him to make the shift inside Tibet, but all were answered with delays and excuses. By the end of that calendar year, few cross-border forays of any note had been staffed. As far as the U.S. and Indian representatives at the Special Center were concerned, Mustang was living on borrowed time. [35]
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET, by Kenneth Conboy and Jam

Postby admin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 4:02 am

Chapter 17: Revolution

The year had started on a most inauspicious note. On 10 January 1966, while in the Soviet city of Tashkent to negotiate an end to the Indo-Pakistan dispute in Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri suffered a fatal heart attack. As his body was flown home for cremation, party stalwarts in New Delhi looked to pick a second leader in as many years.

Their choice eventually fell on Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi. Then in her mid-forties, she had made few political ripples of her own. Looking somewhat awkward and shy in public, Mrs. Gandhi had been elevated to power precisely because party seniors thought her pliable.

President Johnson, for one, quickly found out otherwise. In March, Gandhi arrived in Washington on her first official foreign trip. Exuding both tact and charm, she earned Johnson's strong support for a major food aid package in exchange for market-oriented economic reforms. [1]

With the Washington summit a success surpassing all expectations, Indo-U.S. relations got back some of the luster lost during the previous year's Kashmir crisis. Sensing an opportunity, the CIA on 22 April asked the 303 Committee to approve a major $18 million Tibetan paramilitary package. Part of this was earmarked to maintain the Mustang force for a three-year term. The package also included two C-130 aircraft as ELINT platforms to augment the lone ARC C-46 flying in this role, as well as funding for a 5,000-man increase in Establishment 22. [2]

Most remarkable was the argument the CIA was using to justify its proposal. Moving beyond the lip service paid by Mullik in earlier years, the agency claimed that the Intelligence Bureau had drawn up plans in 1965 calling for the liberation of Tibet. Reading into this, the CIA suggested that India might be willing to commit Establishment 22 to a second front in the event circumstances in Vietnam sparked all-out hostilities between the United States and China.

In making a linkage between Tibet and Vietnam, the CIA was being politically astute. Rather than justifying the Tibetan operation solely on its own merits, the agency was now trying to loosely fix it to the coattails of Indochina policy -- a topic that resonated at the top of the Johnson administration agenda.

All this smacked of geopolitical fantasy. If Mullik, just a few months earlier, had balked at making airdrops to Mustang, it was a good bet that New Delhi would not willingly invite Beijing's wrath by sponsoring a Tibet front if the United States and China went to war over Vietnam. Even Ambassador Bowles, an ardent proponent of intelligence cooperation, quickly backpedaled on the Vietnam link. There was a "strong possibility" that India would be willing to commit its guerrilla forces against Tibet, he wrote in a secret cable on 28 April, but only if Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, or maybe Burma were attacked by China. [3]

There was another problem with the CIA's April proposal. With few exceptions, the projects it sought to maintain had been proved ineffectual. Confirming as much was Bruce Walker, the former Camp Hale officer who had arrived that spring to replace John Gilhooley as the new CIA representative at the Special Center. In many respects, Walker was presiding over a funeral. Making a token appearance at Hauz Khas once a week, he had few remaining agents to oversee. "The radio teams were experiencing major resistance from the population inside Tibet," he recalls. "We were being pushed back to the border." [4]

A good case in point was Team S. Agents Thad and Troy had started out well, identifying a sympathetic Tingri farmer and bivouacking at his house since the onset of snow the previous winter. Thad had gotten particularly close to his host's daughter; by early spring, her abdomen was starting to show the swell of pregnancy. This sparked rumors among suspicious neighbors, who reported the case to district officials.

Alerted to the possible presence of an outsider, a Tibetan bureaucrat arrived that May to investigate. Quizzed about his daughter's mysterious suitor, the farmer folded. He brought Thad out from hiding, and they took the bureaucrat into their confidence and begged him to keep the matter a secret. Feigning compliance, the official bade them farewell -- only to return that same night with a PLA squad. Thad was captured immediately; Troy, concealed in a haystack, surrendered after being prodded with a bayonet.

Giving the PLA the slip, the farmer managed to flee into the hills. Nearby was a cave inhabited by Team SI, which also consisted of two agents who had spent the winter near Tingri. Linking up, the three attempted to run south toward the Sikkimese border. Just short of the frontier, the trio encountered a PLA patrol and was felled in a hail of bullets.

That left just one pair of agents still inside their homeland. Team F, consisting of Taylor and Jerome, had occupied yet another Tingri cave since the previous year. Even though they kept contact with the locals to a minimum, word of suspicious movement in the hills eventually came to the attention of the Chinese. On 2 November 1966, the PLA moved in for an arrest. The Tibetans held them at bay with their pistols until they ran out of ammunition; both were subsequently captured and placed in a Lhasa prison.

As Team F's radio fell silent, the Special Center was at an impasse. After three seasons, the folly of attempting to infiltrate "black" radio teams (that is, teams without proper documentation or preparation to blend into the community) was evident. Earlier in the year, this growing realization had prompted the center to briefly flirt with a new kind of mission. Four agents were brought to the Indian capital from Joelikote and given instruction in the latest eavesdropping devices, with the intention of forming a special wiretap team. For practice, they climbed telephone poles around the Delhi cantonment area by night. [5]

In the end, the wiretap agents never saw service. In late November, the Special Center put team infiltrations into Tibet on hold. Aside from a handful of Hale-trained Tibetans used for translation tasks at Oak Tree, as well as the radio teams already inside Nepal, Joelikote was closed, and the remaining agents reverted back to refugee status. "I was saddened and embarrassed," said Indian representative Rabi, "to have been party to those young men getting killed."


The Special Center had also reached an impasse with its other main concern, the paramilitary force at Mustang. Despite the May 1965 arms drop, Baba Yeshi and his men had resisted all calls to relocate inside Tibet. Though frustrated, the CIA had continued financing the guerrillas for the remainder of that year. This funding flowed along a simple but effective underground railroad. Every month, a satchel of Indian rupees would be handed over by the agency representative at Hauz Khas. From there, two Tibetans and two Indian escorts would take the money to the Nepal frontier near Bhadwar. Meeting them were a pair of well-paid cyclo drivers also on the agency's payroll. They hid the cash under false seats and pedaled across the border, where they handed the money over to members of the Mustang force. The money would then go to Pokhara, where foodstuffs and textiles were purchased at the local market and shipped to the guerrillas via mule caravans.

By the time of the 303 Committee's April 1966 meeting, the CIA was still prepared to continue such funding for another three years. In addition, the agency had not ruled out more arms drops in the future. The catch: Baba Yeshi had one final chance to move his men inside Tibet.

Perhaps sensing that his financiers had run out of patience, the Mustang chieftain was jarred from complacency. Employing vintage theatrics, he gathered his headquarters staff in late spring and announced that he would personally lead a 400-man foray against the PLA. "We begged him not to do anything rash," said training officer Gen Gyurme. "Tears were flowing as he began his march out of Kaisang." [6]

Traveling north to Tangya, the chieftain and thirty of his loyalists canvassed the nearby guerrilla camps for more participants. Another thirty signed on, including one company commander. Though far short of the promised 400, sixty armed Tibetans on horseback cut an impressive sight as they steered their mounts toward the border. Once the posse reached the frontier, however, the operation began to fall apart. A fifteen-man reconnaissance party was sent forward to locate a suitable ambush site, and the rest of the guerrillas argued for two days over whether Baba Yeshi should actually lead the raid across the border. After his men pleaded with him to reconsider, the chieftain finally relented in a flourish. Armed with information from the reconnaissance team, thirty-five Tibetans eventually remounted and galloped into Tibet.

What ensued was a defining moment for the guerrilla force. Apparently alerted to the upcoming foray through their informant network, Chinese soldiers were waiting in ambush. Pinned in a valley, six Tibetans were shot dead, including the company commander. In addition, eight horses were killed and seven rifles lost. In its six years of existence, this was the greatest number of casualties suffered by the project. [7]

As word of the failed foray filtered back to New Delhi, the Special Center finally acknowledged the limitations of Mustang. On the pretext of not provoking a PLA cross-border strike into Nepal, the guerrillas were "enjoined from offensive action which might invite Chinese retaliation." Any activity in their homeland, they were told, would be limited to passive intelligence collection. The guerrilla leadership, never really enthusiastic about conducting aggressive raids, offered no resistance to their restricted mandate. [8]


By process of elimination, the only remaining Tibetan program with a modicum of promise was Establishment 22. Not only did this project have India's strong support, but it was the linchpin in the CIA's April pitch to the 303 Committee about a second front against China. [9] Even before the committee had time to respond, the agency was bringing in a new team of advisers to boost its level of assistance to Chakrata. Replacing Wayne Sanford in the U.S. embassy was Woodson "Woody" Johnson, a Colorado native who had served in a variety of intelligence and paramilitary assignments since joining the CIA in 1951. Working up-country alongside Establishment 22 was Zeke Zilaitis, the former Hale trainer with a taste for rockets, and Ken Seifarth, the airborne specialist on his encore tour with Brigadier Uban's guerrillas. [10]

Tucker Gougelmann, the CIA's senior paramilitary adviser in India

Boosting its representation a step further, the CIA that summer introduced forty-nine-year-old Tucker Gougelmann as the senior adviser for all paramilitary projects in India. A Columbia graduate, Gougelmann had gone from college to the Marine Corps back in 1940. A major by the summer of 1943, he was serving as intelligence officer for the marine airborne regiment before being seconded to a raider battalion during an amphibious landing at Vangunu Island in the Pacific. That transfer nearly sealed Gougelmann's fate. Just one day after landing, a sniper's bullet struck his upper left leg from the rear, ripping through nerve and bone. The wound was gangrenous by the time he was evacuated to a field clinic. Arriving in San Diego during late August, he was in and out of hospitals for the next three years. [11]

By June 1946, the doctors had done all they could for Gougelmann's stricken limb. He retired from the marines that month with a permanent limp and a new wife from a moneyed family in Oakland. Her father, owner of a racetrack and a fruit-canning company, wanted his son-in-law to inherit part of the business. Gougelmann, however, had his heart set on overseas travel. Leaving his spouse behind, he joined the foreign relief organization CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) as its Romanian representative. He would spend the next seventeen months in that country, the last being detained by Romania's newly empowered communist authorities. [12]

Released from jail after an international outcry, Gougelmann returned home to find that his wife had had their marriage annulled in his absence. Repeating the same formula, he married again -- this time a New York girl -- before leaving her behind to work for an aid organization in China. Again he was chased out by advancing communists, and he came home to a second divorce.

Given his passion for foreign adventure, Gougelmann joined the CIA in the fall of 1950. His first assignment was somewhat cloistered. Posted to a safe house on the outskirts of Munich, he served as an administrator for James Critchfield, then a case officer handling ex-Nazi spymaster Gehlen. "Tucker came with two pairs of highly polished paratrooper boots in a footlocker," recalled Critchfield, "and little else." [13]

Though competent in the office, Gougelmann longed for the field. He transferred to Korea in the midst of the conflict on that peninsula and served as a maritime case officer and later as chief of operations at a training base that turned out road-watching teams. "His leg did not stop him," said fellow adviser Don Stephens. "He was still able to climb the rugged mountains with his students." [14]

After returning from Korea with a refugee as his adopted daughter, Gougelmann served a stint as instructor at Camp Peary. Not until the summer of 1959 was he again overseas, this time posted as chief of station in Afghanistan. The assignment hardly suited the gruff former major. Arriving with his infamous footlocker and ready to do battle, he was instead channeled toward the cocktail circuit to keep tabs on the Soviets in a more classic espionage duel. "Tucker was devoid of any social graces," said fellow Afghan officer Alan Wolfe, "and ill at ease in such diplomatic settings." [15]

By the time his Kabul tour finished in the summer of 1962, Gougelmann was yearning for a return to paramilitary action. The Vietnam conflict was fast escalating at that time, and a choice slot had opened up in the coastal city of Da Nang. To put pressure on the communist government in Hanoi, the CIA was mandated to begin a maritime raiding campaign using an exotic mix of Swift boats, Norwegian mercenary skippers, and Vietnamese frogmen. For the next three years, Gougelmann led this effort, often with more flair than success. [16]

Gougelmann remained in Vietnam for another year, and it was then that he made his mark. While advising the South Vietnamese Special Branch -- a police-cum-intelligence organization focused on the communist infrastructure -- he organized a string of provincial interrogation centers. Despite his unpolished demeanor and proclivity for salty language, Gougelmann displayed a sharp, calculating mind in this role. "He could walk to an empty blackboard," said one fellow officer, "and start diagramming the local communist party ... from memory." [17]

By the time Gougelmann got his India assignment in mid-1966, he had a full plate. Part of his time was devoted to managing the mountaineering expeditions aimed at placing a nuclear-powered sensor atop the Nanda Devi summit. [18] Even more of Gougelmann's time was spent arranging assistance for the guerrillas at Chakrata. The Indians were eager to double the number of Tibetans at Establishment 22 and were even calling for the recruitment of Gurkhas into the unit. Reflecting bureaucratic creep, Director General of Security Mullik had come up with a new, more formal name for the outfit -- the Special Frontier Force, or SFF -- and had given Uban an office in New Delhi.

The SFF had matured considerably since its humble start. One hundred twenty-two guerrillas made up each of its companies, with five or six companies grouped into battalions commanded by Tibetan political leaders.

Though expanding the size of the SFF would be easy in one sense -- with thousands of idle refugees eager for meaningful employment -- there were problems. Most of the training was being handled by Uban's seasoned cadre; aside from perfunctory oversight provided by Seifarth and Zilaitis, the CIA was relegated to funding and bringing in the occasional instructor from Camp Peary for brief specialist courses. One such instructor, Henry "Hank" Booth, was dispatched in 1967 to offer a class in sniping. The six-week program went well, with the Tibetans proving themselves able shots with the 1903 Springfield rifle. For graduation, Uban held a small ceremony, during which Booth awarded his students a copy of the 1944 U.S. Army field manual for snipers.

What came next was a telling indictment of the relationship between the Tibetans and their Indian hosts. Late that same evening, a fellow CIA officer took Booth to a hill overlooking the SFF cantonment. Below were lights burning bright at five separate camps. The Tibetans were in the process of translating the field manual into Tibetan, with each camp doing a section of the manual. Multiple copies were being made -- including hand-drawn reproductions of the diagrams -- and exchanged by runners. By sunrise, as Booth departed for New Delhi, each unit had a complete copy of the book, and the Indians moved in to confiscate the manual. [19]

Hank Booth with the top SFF marksmen at his sniper course, December 1967. Standing at center is Jamba Kalden, the SFF's senior political leader.

Not helping the relationship between the Indians and the Tibetans was the decision to add Gurkhas to their ranks. The Indians saw this as a means of expanding the mandate and abilities of the force beyond things Tibetan. The Tibetans, however, bristled at the ethnic dilution of their unit. Brigadier Uban recognized the delicacy of juggling two different cultures. "The Tibetans were more ferocious," he reflected, "but the Gurkhas were more disciplined." [20]

Wayne Sanford, who had returned to India for another CIA tour in New Delhi, was less generous in his assessment of the Gurkhas. "We would kill off their leaders during training exercises," he said. "The Tibetans were natural fighters and would move the next best guy into the leader's slot and keep on operating; the Gurkhas were clueless without leadership." [21]

To keep peace within the force, a cap was set at no more than 100 Gurkhas. In addition, the two ethnicities would not be mixed; the Gurkhas would be segregated into their own "G Group" at Chakrata. Though given the same paramilitary training as in the previous SFF cycles, G Group was relegated primarily to base security and administration. [22]

The Tibetan majority, meanwhile, was being rotated along the Ladakh and NEFA border in company-size elements. Several ARC air bases were established specifically to support these SFF operations. In the northeast, the ARC staged from a primitive airstrip at Doomdoomah in Assam. For northwestern operations and airborne training, it used a larger air base built at Sarsawa, 132 kilometers south of Chakrata. [23]

To feed the remote SFF outposts along the border, the CIA had enlisted the Kellogg Company to help develop a special tsampa loaded with vitamins and other nutrients. Not only did this appeal to Tibetan tastes, but it allowed for healthy daily rations to be concentrated in small packages that could be airdropped from ARC planes. [24]

Not all the SFF missions were within India's frontier. Back in 1964, an Establishment 22 team had staged a brief but deadly foray from Nepal toward Tingri. In 1966, the force inherited the wiretap mandate originally conjured for the special team selected from Joelikote. There was good reason to target China's phones. Nearly all the communications between China and Tibet used over-ground lines supported by concrete or improvised wooden poles. The CIA, moreover, had already started a successful wiretap program in southern China using agent teams staging from Laos.

Placing the taps posed serious challenges. The lines paralleled the roads built across Tibet, most of which were a fair hike from the border. Once a tap was placed at the top of a pole, a wire needed to run to a concealed cassette recorder. Because the recording time on each cassette was limited, an agent had to remain nearby to change tapes and then bring them back to India for CIA analysis.

The SFF proved up to the task. In a project code-named GEM1NI, it began infiltrating from NEFA with recording gear during mid-1966. To supply the guerrillas while they filled the tapes, an ARC C-46 was dispatched to an airfield near Siliguri. Taking off during predawn hours, the plane would overfly the Sikkimese corridor and be at the team's position by daybreak. Flying with the rear door open, the kickers briefly took leave of their oxygen bottles and shawls to push the cargo into the slipstream. On the way home, they would hang a bag of soft drinks out the door in order to have chilled refreshments by the time they returned to base. [25]

The results of GEMINI were mixed. Although the SFF guerrillas were able to ex filtrate without loss of life, the project was put on hold near year's end after a Calcutta newspaper reported the mysterious flights over Sikkim. "We got miles of tapes," recalled New Delhi officer Angus Thuermer, "but much of it was useless, like Chinese talking about their families back home." Deputy chief of station Bill Grimsley was more upbeat in his assessment: "One never knows where the intelligence will lead in these matters." [26]

The 303 Committee apparently agreed. On 25 November, after repeated failed attempts during the first three quarters of the year, the CIA put a small portion of its $18 million Tibet package before the committee for endorsement. It totaled just $650,000, most of it going to pay for Mustang. This time, the policy makers offered their approval for the paramilitary program to proceed.


The Chinese, however, were not taking notice. In mid-1966, Beijing had reached a turning point. Its Great Leap campaign toward rapid industrialization and full-scale communism, launched by Chairman Mao with much fanfare late the previous decade, had been such a failure that its third Five-Year Plan had to be delayed three years. The country had also suffered a series of foreign policy setbacks, including the annihilation of the Communist Party in Indonesia -- which included some of China's closest political allies in Asia -- allowing an abortive September 1965 coup. And with Mao both aging and ailing, there were questions about who would succeed him.

Reacting against all this, Mao formally proclaimed a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in August 1966. In what was part ideological purge, part power struggle, part policy dispute, Mao steered the nation toward a destructive campaign of sophomoric Marxism and paranoid suspicion, ostensibly to "cleanse its rotten core." Leading the charge was disaffected youth gathered into a mass organization dubbed the Red Guard. These teenagers joined with the army and attacked allegedly anti-Mao elements in the Communist Party, then hit the party machine as a whole.

Three months before the Cultural Revolution was proclaimed, Red Guards had already started arriving in Lhasa from Beijing. As the revolution's goal was to wipe out divergent habits and cultures in order to make all of Chinese society conform to a communist ideal, minorities were a prime target. Tibetans, predictably, suffered tremendously. Thousands were jailed by marauding Red Guard gangs. Monasteries were emptied, monks publicly humiliated, scriptures burned, and priceless art treasures destroyed.

Belatedly realizing that he had lost control, Mao in January 1967 attempted to soften his rhetoric and asked the military to intervene. This had little effect in Tibet, where the empowered Red Guard took on the army in street battles across Lhasa through the spring and summer.


As China descended into this orgy of violence, India watched with understandable concern. With nobody in clear control of Beijing (Mao was prone to prolonged absences from the capital, apparently for fear of his life), the Chinese were more dangerous neighbors than ever. Making matters worse, they had successfully tested a nuclear-tipped medium-range ballistic missile in October 1966.

In years past, such conditions might have made India's covert Tibetan assets appear all the more relevant as both a border force and a potential tool to exploit China's turmoil. By the spring of 1967, however, New Delhi had irreversibly soured toward most of its joint paramilitary projects. After all, the black radio teams inside Tibet had already been canceled, and the Mustang force hardly inspired confidence.

The Indians were also nervous about media revelations concerning the CIA. In March 1967, Ramparts, a liberal U.S. magazine critical of the government, published an expose on covert CIA support for various private organizations, including the Asia Foundation (originally known as the Committee for a Free Asia). Because numerous U.S. educational and voluntary groups were active in India, this sparked an anti-CIA furor in the Indian parliament. [27]

Never openly embraced, the CIA now had few advocates on the subcontinent. Mullik, who had chaperoned the Tibet projects since the beginning of Indian involvement, had already given up his seat as director general of security in mid-1966. His replacement, Balbir Singh, had an independent and forceful personality but only limited clout with the prime minister. For her part, Mrs. Gandhi showed little appreciation for the agency or its assistance. "We became a tolerated annoyance," summed up Woody Johnson. [28]

If any tears were being shed at the CIA, they were of the crocodile variety. Back in June 1966, the director's slot had been filled by Richard Helms. Coming to the office with extensive experience managing clandestine intelligence collection, Helms was known to be highly skeptical of covert action like that attempted in Tibet. However, he was being counseled otherwise by Des FitzGerald, his deputy for operations and longtime proponent of activism in Tibet. Unfortunately, FitzGerald dropped dead while playing tennis in July 1967. "When Des died," said Near East chief James Critchfield, "the 'oomph' for the program quickly dissipated." [29]

Even before FitzGerald's death, the agency had taken measured steps to disengage itself from Tibet. In the wake of the March Ramparts revelations, President Johnson had approved a special committee headed by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach to study U.S. relationships with private organizations. Katzenbach's findings, released later that month, recommended against covert assistance to any American educational or private voluntary organization. [30]

Following this finding, the CIA terminated funding for the third cycle of eight Tibetans undergoing training at Cornell University. They were repatriated to Dharamsala in July, and no further students were accepted. Though the agency contemplated a continuation of the program on a smaller scale at a foreign university, this never came to fruition. [31]

Other changes came in rapid succession. In Washington, the Tibet desk, which had been under the Far East Division's China Branch ever since its establishment in 1956, was transferred to the Near East Division. John Rickard, one of four brothers born to missionary parents in Burma (three of whom went to work for the CIA) , headed the desk during this period and changed his divisional affiliation to reflect the shift. More than just semantics, the change underscored the fact that the remaining Tibetan paramilitary assets, with rare exception, would probably not be leaving Indian soil. Apart from a single representative at the Special Center, the Far East Division had been completely excised from the Tibet program. [32]

The CIA also reduced its links to the ARC. Although attrition was starting to take a toll on the planes delivered during 1963 and 1964 -- the latest casualty, a Twin Helio, crashed in 1967 -- no replacements were budgeted. More telling, after the CIA removed the C-130 from the limited proposal passed by the 303 Committee the previous November, the Indians opted in 1967 to add the Soviet An-12 transport as the new centerpiece for its ARC fleet. [33]

For the Tibetans, the biggest blow took place in the spring of 1967. Ever since arriving on Indian soil, the CIA had secretly channeled a stipend to the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Totaling $180,000 per fiscal year, the money was appreciated but not critical. Most of it was collected in the Charitable Trust of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which in turn was used for investments, donations, and relief work. To their credit, the Tibetans had worked hard to wean themselves off such handouts. "Financially underpinning the Dalai Lama's refugee programs was no longer warranted," said Grimsley. [34]

Gyalo did not see it that way. Sullen, he made the assumption that all money would soon be drying up. He was not wrong.
Site Admin
Posts: 31714
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Political Science

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests