On March 25, 2008, Mr. Kenneth Conboy, the book -CIA's Secret War in Tibet's only author alive, readily accepted an exclusive interview by People's Daily staff editor Dr. Liu Chao. The following are excerpts from Dr. Liu's exclusive interview with Mr. Kenneth Conboy, as well as some excerpts from his renowned book.
Background : the Book and its Authors
In 2002, the Kansas University Press published a ground-breaking book entitled CIA's Secret War in Tibet, which revealed in vivid detail the top-secret and still little-known, decade-long "war at the roof of the world," during which the CIA fostered, trained and supplied a tenacious Tibetan resistance force to help them struggle against China. However, the US government has always denied sponsoring Tibetan rebels and exiled Tibetan communities to destabilize Chinese rule and has kept the CIA operations in Tibet in secret, largely because the US government had stuck to the policy of non-recognizance of Tibetan independence prior to the Communist victory in China, and the Nationalist Government in Taiwan insisted that Tibet belonged to China even after the Communists' victory on the Mainland.
Cover of the book, provided by Mr. Kenneth Conboy
Mr. Kenneth Conboy and Mr. James Morrison, the two authors of the book, took great pains to interview CIA agents, Taiwanese spies and Nepalese agents to add to the accuracy of the history accounts recorded in the book. It was due to their perseverance and seriousness that enabled the book to won high acclaim from academics and common readers alike. Book critics gave the book high marks. John Prados, author of Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II Through the Persian Gulf described the book as "the inside story of one of the CIA's most tragic covert operations… this is the stuff of a great yarn, which the authors tell in engaging detail." David F. Rudgers, author of Creating the Secret State: Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943–1947, praises the book as "a masterful account of how the CIA sought to play the 'new great game' on the roof of the world." And William M. Leary, author of Perilous Missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA Covert Operations in Asia, recommends the book as "an excellent and impressive study of a major CIA covert operation during the Cold War."Exclusive Interview with Mr. Kenneth Conboy, Author of CIA's Secret War in China
Mr. Kenneth Conboy is noted author, expert on Southeast Asian terrorism, and Country Manager for Risk Management Advisory in Indonesia. He is responsible for all Indonesian operations for RMA Indonesia, in which capacity he manages risk and security management projects and confidential investigations spanning Indonesia and neighboring countries. Prior to moving to RMA Indonesia, he was Southeast Asian policy analyst and Deputy Director for the Asian Studies Center in Washington, DC, and wrote research papers for the U.S. Congress on U.S. security and economic relations with the countries of Southeast Asia. Mr. Conboy obtained his degrees from the Georgetown University and the John-Hopkins University, and he also studied in the Sophia University in Tokyo.
Mr. Conboy is the author of 15 books on intelligence operations and Southeast Asia, including Spies in the Himalayas: Secret Missions and Perilous Climbs, which revealed the little-known intelligence episode that, after China detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1964, the CIA started a joint American-Indian effort to plant a nuclear-powered sensing device on a high Himalayan peak in order to listen into China and monitor its missile launches. He has had numerous articles published in such newspapers as "The Wall Street Journal". He has been frequently quoted in dozens of news outlets around the world, including "The New York Times," the Associated Press, and CNN.Editor:
Dear Mr. Conboy, what inspired your writing of this book? Given the huge impact brought about by the publication of your book, did you annoy the CIA and some Tibetans who stick to an opposite version of the historical facts in your book? Were your co-author and you ever afraid of being portrayed as "Red China sympathizers"?Kenneth Conboy:
I had written several books on Cold War operations in Asia, including places like Laos, North Vietnam, and Indonesia. Tibet was one of the larger Cold War operations that took place in Asia, so my co-author and I gravitated toward that subject. From a historical perspective, I saw the Tibet book as a challenge to research and write because many of the actors were spread across the globe.
I took great pains to remain neutral in the book, and to show the shortcomings of all the sides involved. I have not been portrayed as a sympathizer to any side. I leave it to my reader to determine who deserves sympathy. Editor:
Why was CIA interested in Tibet but kept their actions in secret? What do you think prompted the CIA to sponsor Tibetan resistance to China? Did the CIA decide to do so out of its own interests or, as some claimed, upon the request by the Tibetans?Kenneth Conboy:
Because the U.S. government did not have diplomatic relations with Tibet, the Cold War operation in that region remained covert and was handled by CIA. Why did CIA sponsor the resistance? The resistance, in fact, was already in existence when the U.S. government stepped in. The U.S. government helped support the existing Tibetan resistance initially in an attempt to marginally expand their capabilities so that they might more effectively snipe at the PRC (and in an area that, for Beijing, would be relatively difficult to defend because of distances involved). Later, the operation was aimed in part to gather intelligence on what was then a very closed society inside China. Yet another part of the operation was aimed at bolstering India following the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
Did the U.S. government do so for its own interests, or upon the request of the Tibetans? It was a bit of both.Editor:
On http://time-blog.com/china_blog/, TIME magazine Beijing Chief Simon Elegant replied today to my Letter to Editor on Tibet's shared history with China. Did you take such history facts into account as your wrote the book? Do you share my opinion that the kind of Tibet Western media portray to ordinary Westerners is somewhat distorted, or at least could have been more unprejudiced/truthful?Kenneth Conboy:
In my book, I detail the type of society that existed in Tibet prior to the early fifties. I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves what Tibet was like during that timeframe, and how it historically interacted with China.Editor:
You wrote in your prelude "That the free Tibetan community has been able to survive and even thrive--arguably, the Tibetan issue has a higher profile today than at any time since the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama--is owed in no small part to the secret assistance channeled by the United States." Why do you think so? What strategic goals do they hope to achieve through this? If "containing Communist expansion" was politically right, why did it have to remain secret?Kenneth Conboy:
Had it not been for the assistance of the U.S., especially on a symbolic level, it is hard to imagine that the Tibetan Diaspora would have been able to remain coherent and focused during the sixties and into the early seventies. By the seventies, the free Tibet community was sufficiently developed to go from strength to strength.
What strategic goals were accomplished? As you note, there was an overriding concern about containing communism, especially following the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Why did it remain covert? In large part, the operation had to remain covert because it was staged from countries that, for a variety of reasons, did not want their involvement made public.Editor:
How did your co-author, James Morrison, contribute to the collection of facts and writing of your book? How did the two of you ensure first-hand interviews of CIA principals as well as Tibetan, Nepalese and Taiwanese agents to make your auguments more compelling and your history accounts most accurate?Kenneth Conboy:
The late James Morrison was an outstanding military historian. He focused on collecting research material within the U.S., while I focused outside the U.S. How did we gain first-hand interviews? One word: persistence. In addition, we did not operate to any deadline, so we were free to take our time to track down leads.Original Excerpts from the Book:
"In 1928, Chiang Kai-shek's regimented Kuomintang party took the reins of power within the republican government. The Kuomintang reemphasized the goal of a unified China -- including Tibet. To realize this goal in part, that same year it announced plans to formally absorb Amdo and Kham as the new Chinese provinces of Tsing-hai and Sikang, respectively.
On 1 October 1949, a victorious Chairman Mao formally inaugurated the People's Republic of China (PRC) from a new capital in Beijing.The PRC saw itself as heir to the Kuomintang claim over Tibet. Making no secret of its intentions, on 1 January 1950 communist state radio declared that the liberation of all three -- Taiwan, Hainan, and Tibet -- was the goal of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the upcoming calendar year."
"During World War II, top State Department officials, out of deference to America's Chinese allies, did not want to stray from U.S. recognition of what the Kuomintang declared was its sovereign jurisdiction (Tibet). But by the summer of 1949, with Kuomintang defeat in the Chinese civil war seen as increasingly likely, the United States belatedly entertained thoughts of a policy shift. The impetus for this rethinking came from American diplomats in both India and China, who suggested that the United States weigh the advantages of courting Tibet before control was forfeited to the communists.
Back in Washington, policy makers were not swayed. Even when members of the Tibetan cabinet made a desperate plea for U.S. assistance in gaining membership in the United Nations that December, Secretary of State Dean Acheson flatly discouraged the idea".
"(In July 1950,) US Embassy officials even flirted with fanciful plans for Heinrich Harrer, the monarch's former tutor, and George Patterson, an affable Scottish missionary who had once preached in Kham, to effectively kidnap the Dalai Lama and bundle him off to India
"the Dalai Lama he had already voiced support for radical land reforms at home, although the landed aristocracy and religious elite had successfully thwarted implementation. During that same time frame, a hint of the dissatisfaction brewing in Kham reached the U.S. consulate in Calcutta via a different channel."
"In the fall of 1964, an initial group of four Tibetans arrived at the Cornell campus for nine months of course work. 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.
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 Sam ten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland.The New York Office of Tibet, which included three Cornell graduates, concentrated on winning support for the Tibetan cause at the United Nations."By People's Daily Staff Editor Liu Chao