Monday, March 24, 2008

Tibet and the March 10 commemoration of the CIA's 1959 'uprising'

By Gary Wilson

24/03/08 "
Workers World" -- - Has Tibet become the front line of a new national liberation struggle? Or is something else happening there?

The U.S. news media are filled with stories about events unfolding in Tibet. Each news report, however, seems to include a note that much of what they are reporting cannot be confirmed. The sources of the reports are shadowy and unknown. If past practice is any indicator, it is likely that the U.S. State Department and the CIA are their primary sources.

One frequently quoted source is John Ackerly. Who is Ackerly? As president of the International Campaign for Tibet, he and his group appear to work closely with the U.S. government, both the State Department and Congress, as part of its operations concerning Tibet. During the Cold War, Ackerly’s Washington-based job was to work with “dissidents” in Eastern Europe, particularly Romania in 1978-80.

A private international security agency in Washington, Harbor Lane Associates, lists Ackerly and the International Campaign for Tibet as its clients, along with former CIA Director and U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former Pentagon chief William Cohen.

AP, Reuters and the other Western news agencies all quote Ackerly as a major source for exaggerated reports about the clashes that have just occurred in Tibet. For example, MSNBC on March 15 reported:

“John Ackerly, of the International Campaign for Tibet, a group that supports demands for Tibetan autonomy, said in an e-mailed statement he feared ‘hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested and are being interrogated and tortured.’”

Qiangba Puncog, a Tibetan who is chair of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, described the situation quite differently at a March 17 press briefing in Beijing.

According to, China’s state Web site, the Tibetan leader said that allies of the exiled Dalai Lama on March 14 “engaged in reckless beating, looting, smashing and burning and their activities soon spread to other parts of the city. These people focused on street-side shops, primary and middle schools, hospitals, banks, power and communications facilities and media organizations. They set fire to passing vehicles, they chased after and beat passengers on the street, and they launched assaults on shops, telecommunication service outlets and government buildings. Their behavior has caused severe damage to the life and property of local people, and seriously undermined law and order in Lhasa.

“‘Thirteen innocent civilians were burned or stabbed to death in the riot in Lhasa on March 14, and 61 police were injured, six of them seriously wounded,’ said Qiangba Puncog.

“Statistics also show that rioters set fire to more than 300 locations, including residential houses and 214 shops, and smashed and burned 56 vehicles. ...

“Qiangba Puncog also claimed that security personnel did not carry or use any lethal weapons in dealing with the riot last Friday. ...

“The violence was the result of a conspiracy between domestic and overseas groups that advocate ‘Tibet independence,’ according to Qiangba Puncog. ‘The Dalai clique masterminded, planned and carefully organized the riot.’

“According to Qiangba Puncog, on March 10, 49 years ago, the slave owners of old Tibet launched an armed rebellion aimed at splitting the country. That rebellion was quickly quelled. Every year since 1959, some separatists inside and outside China have held activities around the day of the rebellion. ...

“Any secessionist attempt to sabotage Tibet’s stability will not gain people’s support and is doomed to fail, he said.”

Meeting in New Delhi

Whatever is taking place in Tibet has long been in preparation. A conference was held in New Delhi, India, last June by “Friends of Tibet.” It was described as a conference for the breakaway of Tibet.

The news site reported at the time that the conference was told “how the Olympics could provide the one chance for Tibetans to come out and protest.” A call was issued for worldwide protests, a march of exiles from India to Tibet, and protests within Tibet—all tied to the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

This was followed by a call this past January for an “uprising” in Tibet, issued by organizations based in India. The news report from Jan. 25 said that the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” was established Jan. 4 to focus on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The beginning date for the “uprising” was to be March 10.

At the time the call was issued, U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford was meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky made a similar visit to Dharamsala last November. Dobriansky is also a member of the neocon Project for a New American Century. She has been involved in the so-called color revolutions in Eastern Europe. reports that the Tibet “Uprising” group’s statement says they are acting “in the spirit of the 1959 Uprising.”

The 1959 uprising

Knowing more about the 1959 “uprising” might help in understanding today’s events in Tibet.

In 2002 a book titled “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet” was published by the University Press of Kansas. The two authors—Kenneth Conboy of the Heritage Foundation and James Morrison, an Army veteran trainer for the CIA—proudly detail how the CIA set up and ran Tibet’s so-called resistance movement. The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA payroll and approved the CIA’s plans for the armed uprising.

The CIA put the Dalai Lama’s brother, Gyalo Thodup, in charge of the bloody 1959 armed attack. A contra army was trained by the CIA in Colorado and then dropped by U.S. Air Force planes into Tibet.

The 1959 attack was a CIA planned and organized coup attempt, much like the later Bay of Pigs invasion of socialist Cuba. The purpose was to overthrow the existing Tibetan government and weaken the Chinese Revolution while tying the people of Tibet to U.S. imperialist interests. What does that say about today’s March uprising, that’s done in the same spirit?

Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World

Further Commentary:

For centuries the high Tibetan plateau has constituted a key strategic position within the region—long under Chinese patronage, and then after the Chinese revolution of 1911, used by the British in India as a buffer against China and Russia. Soon after Mao's peasant armies took power in Beijing in 1949, the Chinese army seized Tibet and in 1951 it was formally incorporated into China.

But the Chinese Stalinists were unable to create a stable social base for their rule. Beijing invariably approached religious and cultural questions in Tibet with the heavy hand of the state bureaucrat imbued with Chinese chauvinism. Incapable of eliminating social inequality, poverty and cultural backwardness, Chinese policy has in varying degrees combined brutal repression with pandering to Tibetan Buddhism in an effort to create its own officially sanctioned hierarchy of lamas through which to manipulate local politics.

China's brutish behaviour in Tibet created oppositional tendencies. Throughout the Cold War, the US was able to exploit as a means of putting pressure on Beijing. While not diplomatically recognising the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, US administrations have in the past provided diplomatic, financial and even military assistance to the Tibetan priesthood. After China's takeover of Tibet in 1950, the CIA financed and trained Tibetans to engage in espionage and guerrilla activities against the Chinese authorities.

Details of the CIA's operations in Tibet have recently begun to leak out as former operatives have began to publicly reminisce about their Cold War exploits. An article in the US-based Newsweek magazine last August pointed out that the CIA's activities began as far back as 1956. While the Dalai Lama, keen to preserve his image as a man of peace, claims not to have been directly involved, his elder brother Gyalo Thondup was at the centre of the operations. According to the magazine's report: “Gyalo Thondup now says he didn't inform his exalted sibling about all of his intelligence connections at the time: ‘This was a very dirty business'.”

The Newsweek article explained: “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 minelaying. Between 1957 and 1960, the CIA dropped more than 400 tonnes of cargo to the resistance. Yet nine out 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.”

These activities culminated in an abortive uprising in Tibet in 1959, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Chinese security forces. The Dalai Lama, his close associates and thousands of other Tibetans fled to Nepal and India and established a government-in-exile, which received US and CIA support throughout the 1960s. “By the mid-60s,” Newsweek explained, “the Tibet operation was costing Washington $1.7 million a year, according to intelligence documents. That included $500,000 subsidy to support 2,100 guerrillas based in Nepal and $180,000 worth of ‘subsidy to the Dalai Lama'.”

Following Washington's rapprochement with Beijing in 1972, overt support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan guerrillas dried up. The Newsweek article quoted the rather bitter remarks of the Dalai Lama: “They [the CIA] gave the impression that once I arrived in India, great support would come from the United States. It's a sad, sad story... The US help was very, very limited.” By 1974, the Dalai Lama was forced to publicly call for an end to armed resistance in Tibet.

While the US and other Western powers have been wary about alienating Beijing by associating too closely with the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, neither have they dropped completely what could still be a useful political tool. It was no doubt for past services rendered that the Dalai Lama was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He continues to receive “unofficial” audiences with political leaders and to bathe in the invariably reverential adulation of the international media.

Tibet along with Taiwan has always been a political hobbyhorse of the extreme right in the US, particularly in the Republican Party. The anti-China lobby wields considerable influence within both the Democrat and Republican parties and as the presidential campaign heats up it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Tibet along with US-China relations as a whole will surface as an issue. m22.shtml

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