CHINA, TIBET, AND THE MARSHALL ISLANDS
CHINA AND TIBET. Desmond Fitzgerald and Frank Wisner ran CIA operations in the Far East in the 1950s. He handled covert operations in China and Korea as well as covert actions against communist insurgents in Thailand and the Philippines. The CIA purchased Civil Air Transport (CAT) for $950,000 and based it in Taiwan which soon became the agency's center for clandestine operations in Asia for the following 20 years.
During the 1950s 300 operators were assigned to Taiwan to provide guerrilla training radio broadcasts, air drops, balloon surveillance, and propaganda. In 1951 the OPC sent up air balloons which carried 300 million leaflets which weighed a total of 400 tons. The balloons were released in West Germany and carried pro-Western messages into Eastern bloc countries.
The CIA's front company in Taipei was named Western Enterprises. Over 8,500 guerrillas were trained, and they carried out 18 raids and conducted acts of sabotage in China. CAT planes dropped 75 million anti-communist leaflets.
In the early 1950s, Chinese agents were also trained on Saipan and then parachuted into the Manchurian provinces of Liaoning and Kirin. The goal of "Team Wen" was to infiltrate among the Manchurians and to attempt to encourage them to revolt. A CIA plane attempted to retrieve the first group of Team Wen insurgents, but the aircraft was shot down as it approached the pick-up area. The pilots were killed, and the infiltrators were captured. Of the 212 agents who parachuted into China between 1951 and 1953, none returned. One hundred and one were killed and 111 were captured.
Two years after Mao's revolution, President Truman tried to persuade the Dalai Lama to leave Tibetfor exile, hoping that he could serve the anti-Chinese cause more effectively outisde his native country. The CIA offered to provide him financial support as part of the deal. However, the Dalai Lama decided instead to stay in Tibet in his attempt to work for sovereignty.
While CIA-trained rebels were operating in China, the agency began focusing its attention upon Tibet in 1956. The CIA actively backed the Tibetan cause with arms, military training, money, and air support. In February 1956 the CIA coordinated several attacks in various parts of eastern Tibet. At the same time, The American Society for a Free Asia, funded by the CIA, attempted to gain American support by lobbying against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. In October 1957 the first of numerous two-man teams of CIA-trained Tibetans left from Pakistan and parachuted from unmarked B-17s into the mountains of Tibet. After China annexed the Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo, an uprising failed in 1959, and the Dalai Lama escaped to India when he disguised himself as a bodyguard.
The CIA used Taiwan as a training base for recruits. Then they were sent through India and along the mountainous trails into Tibet. CIA made air drops to provide the rebels with supplies. Although these were covert operations by the CIA, it put the United States squarely in confrontation with Mao's China. The Chinese responded by sending bombers to strike rebel positions, and the People's Liberation Army was dispatched to defend the roads into the mountains of Tibet.
The CIA also used training facilities for Tibetans in Colorado to return to the mountains of their homeland. They were trained in intelligence operations which included photography and sabotage. Approximately 300 Tibetans were trained in Colorado and then flown to Tibet where they parachuted into the country-side.
By 1957 it was estimated that 80,000 Tibetans were fighting with the main partisan group and that another 10,000 people opposed Chinese occupation. Between 1958 and 1961, the CIA dropped 400 tons of supplies to these resistance groups. Their survival rate was extremely low, and the only living member of the first mission, Bapa Legshay, has described the operation as "like throwing meat into the mouth of a tiger. ...We had made up our minds to die. We had been given cyanide capsules so that we wouldn't be caught alive by the Chinese."
In March 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, after an unsuccessful revolt against China. In Orphans of the Cold War, author and former CIA operative John Kenneth Knaus Knaus said: "The Tibetans came up with figures (in 1951) for how much money was needed to sustain him and a government (in exile.) In 1959 his flight into exile wasn't voluntary, but we (the CIA) lived up to that commitment." Knaus maintained that the CIA's subsidies to the Dalai Lama lasted until 1974. The Dalai Lama was disguised as one of his own bodyguards. Accompanied by his senior officials, he rode on horseback towards the border with India.
The CIA's clandestine role in Tibet took a turn in 1960 after Francis Gary Powers' U-2 plane was shot out of the skies over the Soviet Union. The Eisenhower administration issued an order terminating CIA drops to the Tibetan resistance fighters. Over 2,000 guerrillas were stranded in the mountains with nothing to eat.
When the Kennedy administration moved into he White House, the CIA moved its Tibetan intelligence operations to Mustang, a remote region of Nepal. From there the agency ran sabotage teams to hit Chinese military units in Tibet. The CIA-trained fighters became regimented like an army, and their raids into Tibet were stepped up. The most successful raid, on the Xinjiang-Lhasa highway in 1961, resulted in the capture of a significant haul of documents.
In 1993 then-CIA Director R. James Woolsey told Congress that the files on the agency's activities in Tibet and several other of its covert operations of the Cold War would be opened. But the CIA reneged on this promise, claiming it did not have enough resources. In Fall 1998 the Los Angeles Times reported that recently declassified documents showed that the CIA provided an annual subsidy of $180,000 to the Dalai Lama from the late 1950s through the 1960s. Additionally, the agency shelled out about $1.7 million aper year to subsidize the resistance fighters.
But the efforts of the CIA ended in failure, as China maintained its grip on Tibet. By the end of the 1960s, the CIA ended the effort, abandoning the Tibetans. Desmond Fitzgerald, a senior CIA official, told a Tibetan aide, "Please arrange in your next reincarnation to be the prime minister of a country where we can do more to help you." Then CIA support began to diminish in the 1970s. In July 1974 the Dalai Lama persuaded resistance leaders to surrender their weapons to Nepal authorities. That brought an end to the agency's Mustang operations.
Until recently, it was assumed that the CIA pulled out of its operations in Tibet as a result of President Nixon's rapprochement with China. Some believe that Nixon cut t a deal with the Chinese on Tibetan issue. But Knaus said that he found no evidence of such a deal. Knaus wrote that by 1969, "the decision had already been made to abandon Mustang (the headquarters in Nepal for the Tibetan guerrillas) for operational and not geopolitical reasons." Knaus claimed that CIA officials decided that the Tibetan guerrillas were too fragile to continue to wage its secessionist movement, and consequently the CIA terminated its operations in Tibet.
Nevertheless, the CIA misled the Tibetans into thinking they had American support for the establishment of an independent Tibet. Knaus wrote: "The Americans who negotiated (with the Dalai Lama's brother) in 1956 probably did make promises to back Tibetan independence -- promises that were never honored. The negotiators were for the most part operations officers who may well have been swept up in the optimism of their own plans, not legal experts schooled in the differences among independence, autonomy and self-determination." Knaus continued by writing that the CIA was motivated only by idealism.