The story of the conquest of Tibet is amazing! It could do with a book on its own (Khampa horseback warriors by the thousands, Hordes of PLA with early soviet-supplied air support and studebaker truck transport towing US-made 105mm, CIA trained Tibetans parachuting back into Tibet from eastern-European crewed Flying fortresses….etc)
Most people think of Tibetans as kind and peaceful. While that is true for many regions of Tibet, it isn’t necessarily true of the Tibetans from Kham. Kham Tibetans have long been known as a violent group of bandits terrorizing the Tibetan Plateau on horseback. In his book “Seven Years in Tibet” Heinrich Harrer described Kham Tibetans as forcing their way into nomad tents stealing anything of value. He also reported that they would sometimes kill pilgrims, monks and nuns. Even today, it is rare to find a Kham man without a large knife (more like a sword) on his side. It was these same people that gave the communist government of China the most resistance. Long after the Tibetans of Lhasa gave up, the Tibetans of Kham continued to fight. The Chinese who live in the Kham region are often fearful of Kham Tibetans.
The initial People’s Liberation Army invasion of Tibet in 1950 met little resistance in the heart of the country. The 14th Dalai Lama, on the urging of his elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, proposed reforms including limitation on the land holdings of the monasteries, abolishing of debt bondage and other government and tax reforms as a response to the invasion. These were designed to forestall expected revolutionary initiatives of the Communists. However these ideas found little support among the entrenched Tibetan power structure. The Chinese leadership were wary of being able to control Gyalo but had determined to support him as a vehicle to advance consolidation of their control of the region. Their plan was to re-educate him in Beijing. Seeing that he would fail in his project he fled to India in 1952 eventually locating in Darjeeling near Kalimpong on the, now Chinese, Tibetan border.
Gyalo Thondup has represented that he appealed to the Nationalist Chinese and the United States for aid in resisting the Communist Chinese occupation and together with others in the Darjeeling/Kalimpoing area formed a small resistance group. Other leaders included Tsipon Shakabpa, who participated in the 1947 trade delegation and Khenchung Lobsang Gyaltsen, a monk who was the Tibetan trade representative in Kalimpong. Communications were established with the Tibetan officials in Lhasa and with the aid of its publisher, the Tibetan language newspaper, The Tibetan Mirror, began to cover events within Tibet. The CIA whose contacts in the area were through the Royal family of Sikkim is sceptical about Gyalo’s claims but was in contact with him in August, 1952. Gyalo was also in contact with Bhola Nath Mullik, director of the India’s intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau from 1953 on.
The United States, engaged as it was in a war with the Chinese who had intervened in the Korean War, was receptive to aiding any Tibetan resistance movement. When in the summer of 1956 rebellions broke out in Amdo and Kham the CIA got back into contact with Gyalo. There was a small group of refugees from the fighting in Kalimpong, mostly from wealthy trading families, who were eager to resist the Chinese. In early 1957 Gyalo selected eight candidates from the group for CIA training for scouting missions into Tibet in order to assess the nature of Tibetan resistance. They were trained at the CIA’s training facility on Saipan, the Saipan Training Center, and dropped in two groups by parachute back into Tibet in 1958. The first group, dropped near Lhasa, traveled there and requested that the Dalai Lama request aid from the United States for their movement. That request was refused by the Dalai Lama but the CIA continued their support. The second group was inserted near Litang in Kham and made contact with a Tibetan resistance group. However that group was soon attacked and all but one of the inserted group killed. He managed to find his way to central Tibet where a resistance force was mobilizing.
The Tibetans’ tendency was to form large groups complete with their herds and families and were an easy mark for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. They also welcomed battles with large deployments of Chinese soldiers during which they suffered heavy casualties. Thus they were unsuccessful in conducting traditional guerrilla warfare. This failure led to their ultimate retreat into India in 1959.
Neither the Republic of China nor the People’s Republic of China have ever renounced China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet. The Chinese Communist government led by Mao Zedong which came to power in October lost little time in asserting its claim to Tibet. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army entered the Tibetan area of Chamdo, crushing resistance from the ill-equipped Tibetan army. In 1951, Chinese representatives in Beijing presented Tibetan representatives with a Seventeen Point Agreement which affirms China’s sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later
The Chinese government at first attempted to reform Tibet’s social or religious system in Ü-Tsang. Eastern Kham and Amdo were incorporated in the provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai respectively. Western Kham was put under the Chamdo Military Committee. In these areas, land reform was implemented. This involved communist agitators designating “landlords” — sometimes arbitrarily chosen — for public humiliation in “struggle sessions.”
The Chinese built highways that reached Lhasa, and which then extended the Indian, Nepalese and Pakistani borders. The traditional Tibetan aristocracy and government remained in place and were subsidized by the Chinese government. During the 1950s, however, Chinese rule grew more oppressive with respect to the lamas, who saw that their social and political power would eventually be broken by Communist rule. Prior to 1959, Tibet’s land was worked by serfs which represented a majority of the Tibetans.
By the mid-1950s there was unrest in eastern Kham and Amdo, where land reform had been implemented in full. These rebellions eventually spread into western Kham and Ü-Tsang. In 1959 (at the time of the Great Leap Forward in China), the Chinese authorities treated the Dalai Lama, by now an adult, with open impiety. In some parts of the country Chinese Communists tried to establish rural communes, as was happening in the whole of China. These events triggered riots in Lhasa, and then a full-scale rebellion occurred.
The Tibetan resistance movement began with isolated resistance to PRC control in the late 1950s. Initially there was considerable success and with CIA support and aid much of southern Tibet fell into Tibetan hands, but in 1959 with the occupation of Lhasa resistance forces withdrew into Nepal. Operations continued from the semi-independent Kingdom of Mustang with a force of 2000 rebels, many of them trained at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado, USA. In 1969, on the eve of Kissinger’s overtures to China, support was withdrawn and the Nepalese government dismantled the operation.
Qamdo (Chamdo) was invaded by Communist Troops not more than a year after their control of mainland China.This occurred in October 1950, and by May 1951 the Tibetan government conceded to the Chinese and gave up their independence.They signed a treaty that gave the Dalai Lama (who was 15 at the time) domestic power, but any affairs related to foreign matters or the military was to be deferred to the Chinese government.Improvements were made to communications in Tibet, as well as improving transportation – military highways and airfields were built in a number of areas in the region.
Thing began heating up around 1956, when a committee was established to plan for Tibet’s constitution as an autonomous region of China.This caused some rebellions in Sichuan province against the Chinese by ethnic Tibetans.The Dalai Lama was in India at the time and threatened to stay away from Tibet.When the Chinese government halted the process of transferring Tibet into a socialist region, the Dalai Lama returned, even though the eastern rebellion hadn’t been stopped.Things didn’t improve, especially with the US’s CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) involvement.By 1959, with the CIA’s help, the rebellion escalated into a revolt in Lhasa that lasted until 1971.Although it lasted over 10 years, after 1959 it wasn’t really considered to be a threat by the Chinese, just an annoyance.During this time the Dalai Lama went back to India, and the acting head of the region became the Panchen Lama.Tibetans fled the region in the tens of thousands, with most going to India and others going to Nepal and Bhutan.Tibet formally became an autonomous region of China in 1965 and was reorganized to become a socialist region.
Intermountain Airlines also known as Intermountain Aviation and Intermountain Airways was a CIA airline front company. Intermountain performed covert operations for the CIA in Southeast Asia and elsewhere during the Vietnam War era.
Intermountain’s main base of operations was Marana Army Air Field near Tucson, Arizona. In 1975 it was bought by Evergreen International Aviation, a company also believed by many to be connected with the CIA. Other CIA “proprietary” airlines such as Air America and Air Asia also operated out of Marana during the Vietnam War years.
Intermountain’s best known operation was “Operation Coldfeet” in which intelligence operatives were dropped in the Arctic to reconnoiter an abandoned Soviet drift station and then recovered by using a Fulton Skyhook recovery system mounted on an Intermountain B-17 Flying Fortress. The modified B-17G, N809Z, can be seen at the end of the film Thunderball, and had previously operated out of Clark Air Base, the Philippines, in an all-black scheme for the CIA for agent insertions and other unspecified covert operations in Southeast Asia.
Intermountain is also believed to have been involved in the delivery of a number of A-26 Invader bombers to be flown by Cuban exile pilots supporting the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
During its years in operation Intermountain used several types of aircraft, including the Curtiss C-46 Commando, the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and the B-17 Flying Fortress.
The CIA and USAF had a couple B-17′s that they used to make supply drops into Laos and Vietnam while the French where still there.
The reason that aircraft was picked was they thought it looked more “Soviet” then other aircraft types available.
The Fulton Skyhook STAR System
The Post War B-17 Flying Fortress
by Scott A. Thompson
Operation Cold Feet
A Secret War On The Roof Of The World
Spooks, Monks And The Cia’s Covert Gamble In Tibet
Updated: 12:19 PM ET Jan 10, 2008
In 1958, the Dalai Lama was a 23-year-old god-king on the verge of losing his realm. The Chinese communists were closing in, and Tibet’s spiritual leader was desperate. That’s when he first heard that the Central Intelligence Agency was stepping up its activities in his domain. The Dalai Lama’s lord chamberlain arranged a meeting for him with two CIA-trained guerrillas, so they could demonstrate their skills. The Tibetan warriors pulled out a bazooka, fired it, then took 15 minutes to reload before they fired again. His Holiness was incredulous.
“Will you shoot once and then ask the enemy to wait 15 minutes?” he asked his disciples. “Impossible.” But the lord chamberlain and other advisers were enthusiastic. Although the Dalai Lama would have to flee into exile in India, freedom fighters were already battling China’s Army, and they had direct radio contact with the CIA. “They gave the impression that once I arrived in India, great support would come from the United States,” the Dalai Lama told NEWSWEEK in an earlier interview. “It’s a sad, sad story.”
How the CIA took the Dalai Lama’s disciples under its wing is one of the most exotic episodes in the annals of Western intelligence. The intimate details of Operation ST CIRCUS are only just now emerging, as retired spooks publish memoirs and graying guerrillas publicly contemplate the violent karma of their past. Tibetan veterans still fondly recall training secretly in Colorado with Americans they knew as “Mr. Ken” or “Mr. Mac,” then parachuting into Tibet out of the silver C-130s they called “sky ships.” Their operations scored spectacular intelligence coups–including, NEWSWEEK has learned, early hints that China was developing the atomic bomb.
Yet the Dalai Lama, a devout pacifist, was reluctant to cooperate with the CIA from the start. Washington’s bureaucratic spymasters never really understood these maroon-robed idealists from the roof of the world. Some spies had an ethos that rarely allowed them to see beyond the next intelligence bonanza; the Tibetans were fighting for their eternal freedom. The spies and the monks did share common goals, especially the defeat of the communist Chinese. But looking back now–when Beijing’s grip on Tibet is as tight as ever–many Tibetans and some ex-CIA operatives believe that this story was always destined to be a tragedy. “What began as a pure Tibetan resistance looked quite different when the CIA came in, making it easy for China to discredit it as ‘Western imperialist activities’,” says the Dalai Lama. “And the U.S. help was very, very limited.”
The covert war began as far back as 1956, three years before the Dalai Lama, disguised as a bodyguard, mounted a horse and fled to India after a failed Tibetan uprising. Chinese commissars had annexed the Tibetan areas of Kham and Amdo. Then they told the Tibetan Khampas, a mountain people famous for horsemanship and sharpshooting, to surrender their guns. The Khampas resisted, and with advice from the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, they turned to the CIA for help. Gyalo Thondup now says he didn’t inform his exalted sibling about all of his intelligence connections at the time: “This was very dirty business.”
U.S. officials were entralled by the fierce Khampas, many of whom wore pictures of the Dalai Lama in tiny silver amulets around their necks, charms they believed could ward off bullets. CIA agents saw them as “can-do guys,” says John Kenneth Knaus, who handled Tibetan matters at the CIA from 1958 to 1965. “We romanticized them… They were orphans seeking to be adopted.” Under a full moon in October 1957, the first two-man team of CIA-trained Tibetans took off from a grass airstrip in East Pakistan. They rode in a B-17 “sanitized” of all markings. The parachutists were Athar Norbu and another Tibetan named Lhotse–”Tom” and “Lou” to their handlers. They were equipped with dried beef and radios, signal mirrors and submachine guns. They landed smack on target, 60 miles from Lhasa, and quickly hooked up with a local resistance leader and several thousand guerrillas. But many of the fighters were surrounded and starving only a few months later. “We kept hoping the CIA would drop us some weapons, but they never came,” recalls one survivor. “I went 15 days without food–even shoe leather tasted delicious.” The CIA didn’t give up. Beginning in 1958, American operatives trained about 300 Tibetans at Camp Hale in Colorado. The trainees were schooled in spy photography and sabotage, Morse code and mine-laying. Between 1957 and 1960, the CIA dropped more than 400 tons of cargo to the resistance. Yet nine out of 10 guerrillas who fought in Tibet were killed by the Chinese or committed suicide to evade capture, according to an article by aerospace historian William Leary in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine. One veteran guerrilla said the parachute drops were like “throwing meat into a tiger’s mouth.”
Under the Kennedy administration, the CIA moved the covert program to Mustang, a remote kingdom in Nepal surrounded by China on three sides. The guerrillas ran hit-and-run operations into Tibet. In one of several key raids into Tibet during the early ’60s, commandos ambushed a military convoy and made off with a bulging stash of bloodstained documents. Among the captured “work papers” were Beijing’s plans to move many more troops into Tibet, and documents that provided the first concrete evidence of the Sino-Soviet rift. “It was one of the single greatest intelligence hauls in history,” says Knaus, who recently published a book on Tibet called “Orphans of the Cold War.” The Tibetans provided human intelligence and other important “insights into China’s… early efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability,” a former U.S. operative told NEWSWEEK.
By the mid-’60s, the Tibet operation was costing Washington $1.7 million a year, according to intelligence documents. That included $500,000 to support 2,100 guerrillas based in Nepal and $180,000 worth of “subsidy to the Dalai Lama.” But it was at this time also that Washington became disillusioned with the operation, which had no hope of reversing the Chinese occupation, and scaled back. After the United States cut its support, Beijing pressured Nepal to close the Mustang camps. From his exile in Dharmsala, the Dalai Lama wanted it to end. In July 1974 he sent a 20-minute-long recorded message asking the fighters, now led by a CIA-trained Khampa named Wangdu, to surrender their weapons to local Nepalese authorities. Wangdu and a handful of bodyguards tried to escape and made their last stand against Nepalese soldiers only 20 miles from the Indian border. At nearly 18,000 feet, where the air is thin and a man can see forever, all but one died in a barrage of gunfire.
Wangdu’s death marked the end of the CIA-trained guerrilla movement, but Chinese authorities have long memories. They heatedly opposed the Kosovo war, for instance, because they fear future U.S. intervention in their own separatist hot spots. As they fret about Taiwan, Xinjiang and, yes, even Tibet, they can’t help but recall the secret war they fought four decades ago over the high Himalayas.