The Dalai Lama and the CIA
Written by Loren Coleman   
Sunday, 23 March 2008 03:29

The Dalai Lama getting a Congressional medal from Mr. Danger

The Dalai Lama, Slick Denials and the CIA
by Loren Coleman

While a great deal of information has surfaced over the years about the Central Intelligence Agency's worldwide covert operations activities, little is known about how deeply the CIA was involved in Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s....

"It is impossible at this writing," John Prados noted in his 1986 book,

Presidents' Secret Wars, "to give a detailed analysis of the Washington

decision making for Tibet. The appropriate records remain security

classified. If not for the courts, in fact, the entire discussion of Tibet in

the Marchetti and Marks book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence,

would have been deleted by Agency censors."

We are forced to read accounts of the conflict in Tibet closely to get

some insights into how involved some of the yeti searchers may have

been. Let's start with one critical incident, the escape of the Dalai Lama

from Tibet. There are denials, for example, of the rumors circulating that

 Tom Slick and Peter Byrne were responsible, in some fashion, for the

safe passage of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa. Since the time of Tom Slick's

 first official yeti reconnaissance of eastern Nepal in 1957, in which he

was actually a member of the trek, the rumors of his expeditions'

involvement in spying have been rampant. The New York Times

even saw fit to publish an article reporting on the Russians' promotion

of this story in an item entitled: "Soviet Sees Espionage in U. S.

Snowman Hunt." The April 27,1957 piece claimed Slick was behind an

effort to subvert the Chinese, and free Tibet.

What can we find in the record about the Dalai Lama's rescue? Who was

 behind the exit or with the Dalai Lama? Fletcher Prouty, an Air Force

colonel who supervised secret air missions for the Office of Special

 Operations, has written: "This fantastic escape and its major

significance have been buried in the lore of the CIA as one of those

successes that are not talked about. The Dalai Lama would have

 never been saved without the CIA" (Prouty, 1973). On March 17, 1959,

 all three groups, the Dalai Lama, his immediate family and senior

advisors escaped from Lhasa. Tenzin Gyatso the Dalai Lama] was

disguised as a common soldier of the guard.... The best information

[about the fleeing Dalai Lama] came from the CIA.... The CIA was

so well informed because it had furnished an American radio operator,

who traveled with the Dalai Lama's party...There may have been

other CIA agents with the party as well" (Prados, 1986). Who were

these individuals?

George Patterson might know. Remember, he is the guy who had

the mysterious meeting with an American tourist" during 1955 in which

 parts of the CIA's war in Tibet were mapped out. Patterson, who used

 the cover of being a missionary (but drank, smoked and chased women

 with the best of the guys) was part of a unique foray into Tibet in 1964

. Setting out secretly with Adrian Cowell, a British filmmaker, Patterson

took off from Nepal to coordinate and film an attack on a

Chinese convoy by Tibetan Khamba commandos. Patterson and Cowell

 were successful, but upon their return they were briefly jailed in India

, and their film was suppressed and not shown for two years.

Now here's the interesting part: Who helped them get into Tibet?

None other than Peter Byrne, Tom Slick's man in Nepal.

And who has written the most concerning the Patterson incident without

 saying too much in depth about it? None other than Michel Peissel. In

his book, The Secret War in Tibet (1973), Peissel mysteriously kept his

references to the CIA to only four small mentions in this 258-page

book. Peissel discussed a good deal about the secret war in Tibet but

strangely never mentioned some amazing points now well-known (due

to recent CIA limited releases of information), such as the fact that

the small kingdom of Mustang was the CIA-run base of Tibetan guerrilla

operations. Peissel revealed that he first went to the area in the

spring of 1959 with aa letter of recommendation from Thubtan Norbu,

the brother of the Dalai Lama, to the Prime Minister of Bhutan.... I

was off to meet Jigme Dorji, the Prime Minister of Bhutan,

in the small border town of Kalimpong" (Peissel, 1966). We, of course,

understand a little bit more about the importance of Kalimpong

in the espionage game, as was mentioned above.

Also, we now have some facts about Thubtan Norbu. The eldest brother

of the Dalai Lama was connected to the "American Society for a Free

Asia," a CIA-funded organization that sponsored a series of visits to

and lectures in the United States by Norbu, beginning in 1956 (Prados,

 1986). Secretly, the Dalai Lama's family was very involved with the

CIA in fighting the Chinese. Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's second-

eldest brother, based in Darjeeling, established an intelligence

gathering operation with the CIA in 1951. Six years later, he

upgraded it to an advanced CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose

members were introduced to commando techniques on Guam for

example, and then parachuted back into Tibet (Avedon 1984). What was

 Peissel's connection to the CIA? It's difficult to say.

Peissel was apparently able to obtain much "Tibet file" (as he called

it) information from American and British intelligence contacts. He

even reveals names that sound familiar- such as "Nyma Tsering,"

said to be one of the most trusted officers among the Tibetan

guerrillas. Tibetan names in English are merely rough transliterations,

often in different spellings. So we are not surprised to find the Sherpa

"Nima Tenzing" on Slick's 1957 and 1958 expeditions, and the

same individual "Nima Tshering" on Hillary's 1960 expedition. Was this

 person also the aforementioned "Nyma Tsering?" Were Peissel's

connections woven into the espionage network?

This is the same Michel Peissel who wrote a yeti-debunking article for

Argosy magazine in 1960 entitled "The Abominable Snow Job." Peissel

mentioned that the subject of his 1966 book, Boris Lissanevitch, had

been given a tranquilizer gun by the Tom Slick expedition. Peissel

half-jokingly wrote that the "Indians thought Boris a Russian agent

, the Russians thought him an American agent, and the Americans, a

Russian agent" (Peissel, 1966). It is interesting that Peissel would

show up in the Tibetan area to investigate the abominable snowman,

during the critical time of the Dalai Lama's escape. Slowly, over the

years, he revealed his deeper covert operations links.

Adrian Cowell, for his part, turned up in Burma in the mid-1960s

filming guerrilla opium armies (McCoy, 1972) and recently has been

involved in Brazilian projects. But Cowell's official biography in

Contemporary Authors neglected to mention his Tibetan adventures with


Something strange is going on here.
Copies of Loren Coleman's book, Tom Slick and the Search for the

Yeti, are available from Steamshovel Press.

link to]

The Dalai Lama is one of those people I’ve always just sort of

uncritically accepted. I never gave him much more thought than being

this sort of vaguely pleasant dude with a robe and a smile and a

massively successful franchise in contemporary spiritual markets.

Recently, I came across some rather public information about him

and his past which puts that all in quite a different perspective. He’s a

CIA man!
Communist China asserted it’s claim on Tibet in 1950, and for the first

 few years allowed the Lamas to maintain local control. According to

Wikipedia, “Prior to Chinese rule, over 700,000 of Tibet’s population

of 1.2 million were in serfdom” - working on lands owned by the lamas,

under a feudal society of warlords and even slavery. This system

continued for a few years after the Chinese takeover, ruled comfortably

 by the lamas - that is, until the Chinese instituted a policy of land

reform and redistribution in accord with communist principles. Then

things started to get hairy:

In 1956 the Dalai Lama, fearing that the Chinese government would

soon move on Lhasa, issued an appeal for gold and jewels to construct

 another throne for himself. This, he argued, would help rid Tibet of

 “bad omens'’. One hundred and twenty tons were collected. When the

Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he was preceded by more than 60 tons

 of treasure.

Makes the esteemed Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, sound slightly less

spiritual, doesn’t it? (Here’s a fun photo of the young Dalai Lama

feasting beside Mao Zedong)

Anyway, the dam broke in 1959 with an unsuccessful “popular” uprising

 against the Chinese occupation. This came after several years of

CIA-backed training and funding of Tibetan revolutionary forces.

Starting in 1955 the CIA began to build a counter-revolutionary army

in Tibet, much like the contras in Nicaragua and, more recently, the

financing and training of the KLA in Kosovo.

In the Aug. 16 Newsweek magazine, an article entitled “A secret war

on the roof of the world–spooks, monks and the CIA’s covert gamble

in Tibet” describes details of the CIA operation from 1957 to 1965.

Similarly, a major article in the Jan. 25, 1997, Chicago Tribune

described the special training of Tibetan mercenaries at Camp Hale in

the Rocky Mountains in Colorado throughout the 1950s.

These mercenaries were then parachuted into Tibet. According to the

famous “Pentagon Papers,” there were at least 700 of these flights in

the 1950s. Air Force C-130s were used, as later in Vietnam, to drop

ammunition and submachine guns. There were also special bases in

 Guam and Okinawa for training Tibetan soldiers.

A Vancouver paper continues:

But apparently the guerrilla army never did more than engage in border

 skirmishing. As early as 1964, in fact, its effectiveness and efficiency

 were called into question by the CIA, which nevertheless stuck with

the plan. Funds to pay this army were funnelled through the Dalai

Lama and his organization, which received US$1.7 million a year, later

reduced to $1.2 million. (Of this, the Dalai Lama himself was paid

$186,000 a year. But no one has ever suggested that he pocketed it.

The money was used to operate his exiled government’s offices in

Geneva and New York.) The last year in which the stipend was paid

out was 1974. By then, of course, U.S. policy had changed to one of

embracing China, not antagonizing it.

From Rediff:

Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s personal representative in Washington,

 said last week in response to queries from the Times that he had no

knowledge of the CIA’s $ 180,000-a-year subsidy or how the money was


“I have no clue whatsoever,” Gyari said. Speaking more generally of

the CIA’s past support for the Tibetans, Gyari acknowledged: “It is an

open secret. We do not deny it.”

The money for the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama was part of the CIA’s

worldwide effort during the height of the Cold War to undermine

Communist governments, particularly in the Soviet Union and

China. In fact, the US government committee that approved the

Tibetan operations also authorised the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion

of Cuba, the Times said.

One of the best points in this whole thing though is this:

Puerto Rico has about the same size population as Tibet. Puerto Rico

has been a U.S. colony for over 100 years. It has had many great and

dynamic leaders. Why aren’t there similar movies, posters and

concerts bankrolled for Puerto Rico’s leaders, just to take one example?

You could change Puerto Rico to any other country of your choice. The

fact remains that we only support freedom and self-determination when

 it serves our national interest.

link to]

Dalai Lama's Links to CIA Still Stir Debate
By George Fetherling
Two sorts of people were offended by Oliver Stone's film JFK.

American patriots were outraged at the suggestion by Stone's main

character that Lyndon Johnson was complicit in John F. Kennedy's

murder. The others, deeply involved in North America's fast-growing

spirituality industry, gasped with disbelief when the unnamed U.S.

intelligence veteran played by Donald Sutherland, reminiscing about the

 old days of the CIA, said, "Tibet '59, we got the Dalai Lama out--we

were good, very good."

Followers of the 14th Dalai Lama, including such Buddhist theologians

as Richard Gere and Harrison Ford, have often tried to ignore the long

-time links between their exiled leader and the CIA. Doing so credibly

, however, becomes harder each year.

When the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950, it found

Tibet much as it always had been: an unforgiving and feudal society

where there were still warlords and even slaves. The Dalai Lama,

who visits Vancouver April 18 to 20 (details at www.dalailamavancouver.

org/), lived as the monarch in his 1,000-room palace in Lhasa

without interference from the new occupiers of his country, which had

often been invaded in earlier times and just as often had invaded others.

But some of his subjects did rise up, unsuccessfully and with CIA help.

Rebelliousness grew until 1959, when the Dalai Lama himself joined

in a more general revolt. It failed. He fled across the border into India.

Probably the first public revelation about supposed CIA help in the

flight itself came in 1961 with the publication of Tibet Is My

Country: The Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the

Dalai Lama. But the phrasing in this as-told-to book, translated from

Tibetan to English via German, was ambiguous. Many were left to

argue whether the springing of the Dalai Lama was actually a CIA

covert op or if, as the CIA claimed, its people became aware of the

escape only when it was already under way--though by then they long

had American operatives at work inside Tibet.

In his 1995 The Very Best Men, Evan Thomas, Newsweek's expert

 on the intelligence community, described the Dalai Lama and a CIA

operative "racing down the runway of a remote mountain strip, a step

ahead of the blazing guns" of the Chinese army. But in Orphans of the

 Cold War (1999), John Kenneth Knaus, one of the CIA's point men in

Tibet, said CIA help was limited to radio contact (as shown in Martin

Scorsese's 1997 film Kundun). That version was echoed in The Dragon

 in the Land of Snows by Tsering Shakya (also 1999). Many

arguments still turn on this point. What's become a lot less debatable

 is what the Dalai Lama and the CIA did next--together.

In the early 1960s, the CIA moved from dropping its own agents into

Tibet to training a brigade of 2,000 Tibetan exiles, using secret

bases in the Colorado Rockies and elsewhere. The band was

supposed to invade occupied Tibet from Nepal. The Dalai Lama

admitted as much in his 1990 autobiography Freedom in Exile, which

sold one million copies and was the first of his many lucrative

bestsellers (two in the past two years alone).

But apparently the guerrilla army never did more than engage in border

 skirmishing. As early as 1964, in fact, its effectiveness and efficiency

 were called into question by the CIA, which nevertheless stuck with

 the plan. Funds to pay this army were funnelled through the Dalai

Lama and his organization, which received US$1.7 million a year, later

reduced to $1.2 million. (Of this, the Dalai Lama himself was paid

$186,000 a year. But no one has ever suggested that he pocketed it.

The money was used to operate his exiled government's offices in

Geneva and New York.) The last year in which the stipend was paid

out was 1974. By then, of course, U.S. policy had changed to one of

embracing China, not antagonizing it.

Much of this information became public in 1997 in the far-right Chicago

Tribune, of all places, confirming what Maoists had been charging

for decades. In 1998 both the Los Angeles Times and the New York

Times added further details, using newly declassified agency documents.

Now the debate may be shifting. One former CIA agent named Ralph

McGehee, admittedly a professional thorn in the side of his former

employer, alleges that the CIA has been a prime funder of the Dalai

Lama's media profile as a symbol of meditative peace and Buddhist

mindfulness. But the North American image of a spiritually pure

Tibet--the Shangri-la idea that's been building ever since Lost Horizon,

 the 1933 novel by James Hilton, who got the idea from photos in

National Geographic--can also be viewed in other terms.