In 1950 China brutally annexed Tibet, removing its government and forcing its people under strict Communist rule. Nine years later, a bloody uprising resulted in thousands of casualties.
China forced Tibet’s spiritual leader and head of state – the Dalai Lama – and 80,000 Tibetans to flee to Northern India, where they have remained in exile ever since. But in the last two decades evidence has emerged indicating the CIA were behind this failed coup. Additionally, in their quest to crush the perceived Communist threat, the agency successfully lured the Dalai Lama into working for them as a double agent. For the latter half of the twentieth century, the world was in the grip of the Cold War. This was the clash of two starkly different belief systems: Communism and Capitalism.
Instability reigned as governments fought to influence other countries and spread their ideological values – and their power – by any means possible. The CIA were one of the most active forces in the battle to squash Communism.
In 1954 for example, the CIA engineered a coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in the name of fighting Communism. Named Operation PBSUCCESS, the program involved training, funding and arming almost 500 Guatemalan rebels to overthrow the government. Other uprisings in which the CIA allegedly played an undercover role include Brazil, Chile, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, the Congo and Iran.
China was amongst the most formidable foreign Communist threats. It soon became a prime target for the CIA, to curb its influence in South-East Asia.
The Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape to India could not have been possible without CIA assistance. Indeed, his escape party included CIA agents with the advanced radio technology required to evade Chinese detection. In 1998, a haul of declassified documents indicated that huge sums of money had been secretly funneled to the Dalai Lama’s exiled administration at the height of the Cold War.
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.
These funds were given on the understanding they would be used for specific political actions directed by the CIA According to a declassified CIA memorandum from 1968, “The program consists of political action, propaganda, paramilitary and intelligence operations, appropriately coordinated with and supported by [redacted].” It also confirms that a decade previously in 1958 the CIA sanctioned its “covert support to the Tibetan resistance.” It is estimated that between 170 and 240 Tibetans were recruited by the CIA for special training, which allegedly required “reconnaissance operations, sabotage, guerilla tactics, data encoding and radio operator skills” for infiltrating the Chinese regime
If the CIA program did start in 1958, this is shocking because the uprising that forced the Dalai Lama out of Tibet was not until the following year. More intriguing still, the Dalai Lama’s spokespeople claim that money set aside for the leader himself was used to set up lobbying centers in Geneva and New York.
Yet, there is no record of those lobbying centers being set up in those cities during the period. While the millions of dollars given by the CIA seems to have disappeared, historians suggest it was used to train the Tibetans in espionage. These agents were then employed to infiltrate China’s burgeoning nuclear program.
As the US fought to develop the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, it needed a way to keep tabs on its enemies. The Tibetans provided this opportunity. However, while CIA money may have been given to the Dalai Lama and his administration, there is little to suggest they agreed to collude with the CIA, or ever worked for them.
The declassified dossier notes that “”The Tibetans by nature did not appear to be congenitally inclined toward conspiratorial proficiency.” The Dalai Lama even addresses these accusations in his 1990 autobiography. He admits that two of his brothers communicated with the CIA in 1965, and asked them to help overthrow the Chinese occupation. He writes the CIA agreed to assist “not because they cared about Tibetan independence, but as part of their worldwide efforts to destabilize all Communist governments.” Importantly, he says he did not know about this deal at the time.
There is no information to specifically contradict this claim. The CIA may have masterminded the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. But even this alliance suggests that the Tibetans worked with – not for – the CIA. If anything, the CIA were effectively working for the Tibetans to quell the rising Communist tide. In 1998 Lodi Gyari – the Dalai Lama’s spokesman – described the CIA’s support for the Tibetan cause as “an open secret.”
But he said they never backed the Dalai Lama financially. There are unsettling historical links between the CIA and the exiled Tibetan government. Though the Dalai Lama claims not to have known about their secret alliance, we have nothing but his word to go on. We might not yet have the evidence to prove he worked on behalf of the CIA. But there does seems to be more than meets the eye in this international relationship.
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