Monday, April 14, 2008

CIA Covert Operations in Tibet

Here's a good article about the CIA's covert ops in Tibet during the late 50s and 60s:

A widespread popular revolt finally broke out in February 1956, after the Chinese bombed ancient monasteries at Chatreng and Litang, killing thousands of monks and civilians massed there for protection. Given the growing military might of Tibet’s occupiers, Gompo Tashi and the meagerly equipped Chushi Gandrug knew they were going to need outside support. Consequently, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, who had already been approached by the CIA, contacted the Americans. The Americans, he found, were quite intrigued with the prospect of supporting the Tibetans as part of a global anti-Communist campaign. If nothing else, their resistance would be one more way to create a ‘running sore for the reds,’ as one CIA man put it, even though at the top levels of the U.S. administration there was no pretense of commitment to Tibetan independence. Gompo Tashi’s guerrillas were excited at the prospect of American support. They knew little about the United States, but judging from the Communist propaganda they received, this faraway country was China’s greatest enemy.

Then one pitch-black night in the spring of 1957 six men from Gompo Tashi’s group found themselves spirited away by the CIA, whereupon they encountered with amazement their first airplane — for which the Tibetans had to invent a new word, namdu, or’sky boat’ — and saw their first white man. After an unimaginable flight in the unimaginable machine, six very bewildered Tibetans landed in Saipan for training, though most had no idea where on earth Saipan might be. Over the next five months the Tibetans were trained in modern weapons and guerrilla tactics. They were also trained in espionage and codes, and in the operation of the hand-cranked radio transmitter/receiver.
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By fall of 1957, Tibetans who had never seen a sky boat were jumping out of one in the cold light of a full moon over Tibet. One of the first jumpers, Athar Norbu, remembered: ‘We could see the Tsangpo River below us gleaming in the dark. There were no clouds. It was a clear night. Happiness surged through me…[as] we went rattling out of the plane.’ In Lhasa, Athar Norbu and a fellow guerrilla made contact with Gompo Tashi. This ultrasecret project was code-named ‘ST Circus.’ The CIA was now in the fight.

In the summer of 1958, Gompo Tashi established new headquarters at Triguthang in southern Tibet, where thousands of men had gathered in a pan-Tibetan resistance force. In an effort to be more inclusive, they renamed their movement Tensung Dhanglang Magar (Voluntary Force for the Defense of Buddhism). Two CIA-trained Tibetans watched it all, radioing back to the United States. In July the CIA made its first arms drop into Tibet — mostly of untraceable old Lee-Enfield rifles...
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Thrilled by the success of the two radio operators in central Tibet, the CIA built a top-secret facility at Camp Hale, Colo., former home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. The Tibetans loved Camp Hale’s 10,000-foot Rocky Mountain peaks, alpine air and dense forests — reminiscent of home — and called the camp Dhumra, or ‘the Garden.’ Life at Camp Hale was Spartan, the training rigid and thorough. When the Tibetans got on the plane for their return flight homeward, each team carried the same things — its personal weapons, wireless sets and a cyanide capsule strapped onto each man’s left wrist.

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