Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison




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Part of the NVDA's problem was the collective cold shoulder offered by the local population. As Mao Tse-tung had preached during the Chinese civil war, revolutionary guerrillas were akin to fish thriving in the water of the community. Without water, went the metaphor, the fish could not survive. Given Tibet's sparse population, the Khampa guerrillas rarely encountered such figurative water. And when they did, central Tibetans -- influenced by antirebel proclamations from Lhasa and generations of prejudice -- saw them as less than brothers in arms. [23]

Facing these obstacles, Gompo Tashi in September ordered his task force on a long march out of central Tibet. By October, just as the first supply drop was landing at Drigu Tso, they arrived at the western edge of Kham. Cold and hungry after their trek through knee-deep snow, they hoped for a more friendly reception among their kin. Unfortunately for the NVDA, some of their number chose the opportunity to split from the cause and revert to banditry. Realizing that this would undercut any attempt at winning the locals' hearts and minds, Gompo Tashi had no choice but to put the anti-Chinese struggle on hold and instead spend time bringing his rogue members to justice. [24]

***

In southern Tibet, the NVDA was also in a state of flux. The guerrillas soon determined why so few people lived around the Drigu Tso: the winds coming off the lake were frigid during winter, and the soil did not support any agriculture. Looking for a more hospitable venue, the headquarters of the resistance shifted north to the more fertile Yarlung valley near the Brahmaputra. Lou, meanwhile, ventured with a rebel contingent to the village of Lhagyari, forty kilometers east of Yarlung. Tom briefly joined him there after his return from India, but the two soon relocated far south to an NVDA rear base at the village of Lhuntse Dzong, just forty-five kilometers from the Indian border.

While at Lhuntse Dzong, the pair got word in November that a second supply drop was in the works. Though otherwise inhospitable, the barren plains near Drigu Tso had worked perfectly as a drop zone the first time. Looking to repeat this success, the two agents agreed to take a reception committee to that area to greet the second flight. [25]

For this ST BARNUM reprise, the same C-118 and crew departed Kurmitola on an identical flight path. Without complications, olive-drab parachutes mushroomed in the plane's wake, and the supplies floated down to the waiting rebels.



NVDA areas of operation, 1958-1959

With the October and November drops, the guerrillas had now been provided with 18,000 pounds of weapons, ammunition, and communications gear. Although this should have been reason for cheer, their attention was instead fixated on a single yellow parachute used during the November shipment. Quickly appropriated by Tom and Lou, the bundle attached to this chute contained additional radios and a satchel of 300,000 Indian rupees to pay message couriers. Always game for a good conspiracy, the Tibetan rebels began bickering that the radio operators had actually received a small fortune in gold ingots -- hence the color of the chute -- and were not willing to share their bounty. [26]

Such destructive sniping was compounded by the arrival in December of Walt and a handful of stragglers from Lithang. He had been out of radio contact for half a year, and his sudden appearance was an intelligence windfall for the CIA. Walt, however, did not see it that way and had Tom relay his intense frustration over the radio. Infuriated with Washington's refusal to conduct a weapons drop for Lithang, the fiery Khampa reported that the resistance in that locale was crushed and his three Saipan-trained colleagues missing (only Dan was a known fatality; the fate of the other two was still unconfirmed at the time). "The CIA asked if he would return to Kham to verify their fate," recalls his brother, "but he said there was no hope and refused."

It was on that sour note -- with Walt sulking at Lhuntse Dzong and Gompo Tashi wrestling with the NVDA's self-inflicted wounds -- that 1958 drew to an inauspicious close.


VIRGINIA


Returning from his debriefing of Tom in the late summer of 1958, Frank Holober was still far from satisfied with the Tibet Task Force's communications arrangement. Ex filtrating an agent to India had worked once, but it was hardly a practical solution. A big part of the problem was rooted in the complexity of the Tibetan language. Consisting of thirty consonants and five vowels, it had been set down in a Sanskrit script with a less than perfect arrangement. Several symbols were often used for virtually identical sounds, resulting in numerous homophones: different spellings, different meanings, same pronunciation.

Given the poor educational background of the Khampa students, homophones were just one reason they were having such difficulty composing coherent radio messages. To help overcome this, the CIA's instructors on Saipan had developed a telecode booklet listing common Tibetan words and phrases, each transliterated into the Roman alphabet and assigned a five-digit number group. For words that did not exist in Tibetan -- like "bazooka " -- English was used. All that remained was for the Khampa radiomen to encrypt the number groups with a one-time pad and transmit.

Although the telecode booklet was a good start, problems persisted. Not knowing how much radio traffic it would receive, the CIA had included only the most basic vocabulary. When they needed to express words not contained in the book -- which was often -- the agents usually picked the wrong spelling.

Each time one of the resultant garbled messages was received at the agency's communications facility on Okinawa and relayed to Washington, Holober was faced with the frustrating process of deciphering its meaning. In need of a native speaker to interpret on a phonetic basis, he frequently solicited assistance from the venerable Geshe Wangyal. "Geshe-la would take a train from New Jersey and stay at a safe house near the Zebra Restaurant off Wisconsin Avenue," said one CIA officer, using the monk's nickname. "It was stocked with beer, which he would drink to 'ward off colds.'" But even with Geshe Wangyal's linguistic skills, second-guessing the Khampa messages was a trying art. Remembers the same officer: "He would study the messages and frown in concentration: 'I think the boys are saying. ...'" [1]

Looking ahead, Holober recognized that one way to reduce such problems in the future would be to have a telecode list with more words. To accomplish this, both he and Geshe Wangyal patiently expanded the booklet over the course of 1958. By fall, it was starting to approximate a full-fledged book. [2]

That same autumn, Holober's task force was augmented by a pair of officers. One of them, Thomas Fosmire, was a twenty-eight-year-old former sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division who had made his CIA debut launching sabotage and agent teams from small boats during the Korean War. Although this maritime effort was successful when it came to lightning raids, Fosmire soon wrote off attempts at longer-term infiltrations. "Getting an agent into a closed society was hard enough," he said, "but sometimes it was as simple as them tracking the footprints in the snow coming off the beach." [3]

Following the Korean armistice, Fosmire served in Thailand as an adviser to the Thai border police at four different training camps stretched across the kingdom. The last of these was Hua Hin, home of the elite border police paratroopers. Following a 1957 army-led coup, however, the police paratroopers were blacklisted by the coup leaders and confined to base. Along with his troops, Fosmire idly counted the weeks.

Not until January 1958 did the situation begin to change. That month, the paratroopers requested permission to send a contingent to the Philippines to train as an air-sea recovery team. Given the unit's intended humanitarian mandate, the proposal was approved. Escorting the unit as case officer was Fosmire.

The interlude did not last long. One month after arriving in the Philippines, Fosmire got an emergency call to act as a kicker during a covert airdrop in neighboring Indonesia. Continuing on with the Indonesia assignment, he was secretly posted to the island of Sulawesi, where he advised antigovernment rebels through late spring.

When the Indonesia operation was forced to close prematurely -- in large part because a CAT pilot had been shot down and captured -- Fosmire was at a professional low. Emotionally tied to the Indonesian rebels, he desperately wanted to assist them in their hour of need. Headquarters was committed to divorcing itself from the effort, however, and instead sidelined him with a temporary job in Saipan as the escort officer for a Filipino counterinsurgency team in training. [4]

By the late summer of 1958, Fosmire was back in Washington and landed the slot on Holober's task force. For the first few weeks, he shuttled around the capital to elicit help in refining the Tibetan radio code. Particularly helpful was a female OSS veteran renowned in the intelligence community for her innovative approach to encryption. "I scribbled notes as she spoke," recalls Fosmire, "trying to pretend I understood what she was saying."

Not long after, the task force received a visit from the CIA's Far East Division chief, Desmond FitzGerald. Though new to the post, FitzGerald was not unfamiliar with Asia. A Harvard-trained Wall Street lawyer before World War II, he had served as liaison officer to a Nationalist Chinese battalion in the steamy jungles of Burma between 1943 and 1945. Though sometimes prone to offensive elitism commensurate with his Boston upbringing and Ivy League education, he had relished the hardships of his Burma combat experience and had come to appreciate the abilities of Asian allies when they were properly supplied and led.

FitzGerald returned to Wall Street after the war, but a pronounced idealistic streak led him to dabble in politics while investigating corruption in New York's official circles. Though he had just purchased a new brownstone and seemed ready to settle in New York City, a phone call from another former lawyer, Frank Wisner, changed his mind. An OSS veteran from the European theater, Wisner had been mandated in 1948 to run a small covert action agency innocently titled the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). Wisner intended the OPC to take an activist role in confronting communist subversion, and he wanted FitzGerald on his team. [5]

Enthusiastic, FitzGerald readily agreed and was soon named executive officer in the OPC's Far East Division. By that time, the Korean War had started, and Wisner was groping for ways to divert Beijing's attention from the Korean peninsula. OPC's Hong Kong chief suggested harnessing the thousands of Nationalist Chinese troops that had been pushed across the Burmese border during the Chinese civil war. He believed that if properly supplied, this Kuomintang legion could be redirected against the PRC's southern underbelly.

Hearing of this scheme, FitzGerald was smitten. Sickened by tales of Chinese communist excesses, he saw merit in taking on the PRC by fomenting guerrilla uprisings. The idea also matched his somewhat romantic, British-style approach of co-opting locals -- such as the Gurkhas from Nepal -- as allies. Moreover, his own experiences in Burma left him with an appreciation for unconventional Chinese operations in that sector. [6]

With FitzGerald's strong hand, the Burma operation kicked off in February 1951. But despite great expectations and generous CIA supply drops through spring, the project proved an embarrassing failure. Try as they might, each Nationalist foray into Yunnan Province was immediately repelled by PLA reinforcements. Unable to keep revelations about U.S. logistical support out of the press, Washington had no choice but to pull the plug.

Although the Burma operation accomplished little, FitzGerald's career hardly suffered -- quite the opposite. Forgiving superiors saw fit to approve of his tenacity and drive, regardless of the results. In 1952, with the OPC having been absorbed into the CIA mainstream, he retained his position as deputy of the Far East Division.

Despite his significant influence within the division (he was acting chief for extended periods), FitzGerald yearned to make a mark in the field. He got his wish in 1954 when he was assigned as head of the agency's China Base, located within the U.S. naval compound in Japan's port of Yokosuka. Unfortunately for FitzGerald, China Base was a poor vehicle for recognition. As the designated mechanism to coordinate the CIA's regionwide efforts to penetrate and destabilize the PRC, the base was mandated to conduct projects in any number of Asian nations along China's periphery. But other station chiefs did not relish the idea of an outside mission running operations on their turf. Worse, many of China Base's agent sources were exposed as con artists and frauds. After a scathing internal CIA review, China Base closed its doors in the summer of 1956. [7]

Although FitzGerald did not deserve full blame for the failings of China Base -- he had inherited an ongoing operation -- its funeral occurred on his watch. Inevitably, FitzGerald had his share of detractors. "Des was a dilettante," said fellow Far East hand James Lilley, "who plucked out good things to serve his own purpose." However, he also had a strong friend and mentor in former OPC chief and now top CIA operations officer Frank Wisner. [8]

Under Wisner's wing, FitzGerald was next assigned as head of the agency's Psychological and Paramilitary Operations Staff. Though an impressive title, this was actually a hollow desk slot. Not until mid-1958, following a shake-up in the aftermath of the Indonesian debacle, did he get word that he was taking over the Far East Division.

At the time of FitzGerald's promotion, it would have been hard not to focus on the revolt in Tibet. In many ways, the two were a perfect match. After years of frustrating attempts to hobble the PRC from within, FitzGerald had a verifiable case of active and ongoing resistance. And for a man with a romantic sense of chivalry, the rugged Khampas delivered in spades. He soon came to identify with the Tibet project more than with any other agency operation in the Far East. "FitzGerald personally came down to the office," remembers Tom Fosmire. "He told us, 'We're going to do it."' [9]

With this cryptic statement, FitzGerald was giving final authority to proceed with training for the second Tibetan contingent. This time, however, it was decided to offer instruction at a location more similar to their home environment than the tropical climes of Saipan. The closest elevation to Tibet in the continental United States is in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado. That same state hosts the country's highest incorporated city, Leadville, at 3,162 meters (10,430 feet). Once bloated with 40,000 residents during the silver boom of the late nineteenth century, Leadville's population in 1958 barely exceeded 4,000. While such tranquility held appeal for the CIA, of even greater interest was the secluded valley thirty-two kilometers to its west. There, strung along a ten- kilometer stretch of the Eagle River, stood Camp Hale.

Much like Leadville, Camp Hale was a shadow of its former self. Activated in 1942, the camp at its peak had 1,022 buildings in support of 15,000 troops. On the surrounding slopes, the 10th Mountain Division learned skiing, rock climbing, and cold weather survival skills -- often in temperatures that dipped to thirty degrees below zero. Their training was put to good use when the division made a daring climb up Italy's Riva Ridge in February 1945, surprising the Nazis on top. For the next two months, they pursued the Axis forces across the Alps before Germany surrendered. [10]

Despite its contribution to the war effort, Hale was destined to be a peace-time casualty. Nazi prisoners (400 of the most incorrigible members of Rommel's Afrika Korps had been confined at Hale) were assigned to dismantle the camp shortly after the war, and they nearly succeeded. Only a handful of buildings was left standing, and they were used periodically through the early 1950s to train ski troops. By the middle of the decade, however, the Pentagon saw little need to maintain specialist ski formations. The camp -- what was left of it -- was shuttered and abandoned.

All of this suited the CIA perfectly. In the early fall, the job of reconnoitering the Hale facilities was given to the task force's second new officer, John Greaney. A lawyer by education, Greaney had attempted to prepare himself for the Tibet assignment by perusing the CIA's files and learning what he could about the mountain kingdom. The agency, he soon concluded, knew precious little. "I tried to get permission to go to Austria and speak with Heinrich Harrer," he remembers, referring to the Dalai Lama's longtime tutor, "but the idea was rejected." [11]

As consolation, Greaney got a plane ticket to Colorado. Armed with the highest-level government permission, he received excellent cooperation from the U.S. Army officers at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, which retained administrative control over Hale. Unfortunately for the CIA, the camp's best remaining buildings were within sight of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. From a security point of view, there was a better area further down the valley, but that would entail laying sewage and water pipes for several kilometers. Since Hale was already frozen under early snows, construction of the pipes promised to be slow. The agency, Greaney concluded, would need an alternative site for the interim.

The task of finding an alternative fell to Tom Fosmire. Shopping around for an existing facility, he took a trip in September to the CIA's expansive training base at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Virginia -- nicknamed "The Farm." He presented the camp personnel with a request for temporary use of a remote locale within the grounds.

Eyeing Fosmire's youth -- and perceived lack of clout -- the staff could barely conceal their boredom. Stalking out, he promised to report their lack of cooperation directly to Des FitzGerald. The threat worked. "A lanky, enthusiastic young officer caught up with me," recalls Fosmire, "and said he had a friend at Fort Eustis that could scrounge up some spare Quonset huts." Assembled in a desolate, wooded corner of Peary, the Tibet Task Force soon had its temporary training site in place.

Task accomplished, Fosmire returned to Washington and was on hand when the first C-118 supply drop was performed near the Drigu Tso. Crowded in the Zebra safe house with Geshe Wangyal, he waited patiently for the monk to make sense of the first radio message following the drop. As the Mongolian fretted for what seemed an eternity, Fosmire finally exploded and asked whether they had recovered the supplies or not. "Yes," he told the relieved case officer, "but they forgot to say 'thank you.'"

Taking leave of the capital, Fosmire next rushed to Kurmitola for the arrival of the second Tibetan contingent. Like the first group, these trainees had crossed the border with Gyalo's cook and rendezvoused with a train bound for Dacca. Also like the first group, they consisted of Lithang Khampas -- ten, this time -- recruited from the Kalimpong refugee community. The leader of the ten, Ngawang Phunjung, was a nephew of Gompo Tashi (as was Walt from the first group). Because the first two translators -- Norbu and Jentzen -- had quit the program, Gyalo dispatched his own assistant, Lhamo Tsering, to act in that capacity. [12]

As the Tibetans filed aboard the C-118, Fosmire recalls his first impressions. "Two were really just kids," he said. "They all had an earthy smell of leather and smoke." [13]

The plane was quickly on its way to Okinawa, and the flight was uneventful, save for the entire native contingent getting airsick. Once at Kadena, they were hustled aboard a bus with blackened windows and taken to a three-bedroom safe house within the CIA compound. Simple food -- stew, potatoes, bread -- had been prearranged on a table. "They quickly consumed all the bread," remembers Fosmire. "I made a mental note to order more for the next meal."

As evening approached, the CIA officer gathered his new subjects. Bubbling with excitement, the Tibetans ended up talking all night. Even with most of the nuances lost in Lhamo Tsering's spotty translations, Fosmire was struck by their sincerity and devotion. "They moved you in their direction," he concluded.

The next morning, all ten students began a battery of medical tests. Two of the Khampas were found to have tuberculosis and ordered to remain at the safe house. The remaining eight, plus Lhamo Tsering, reboarded the C-118 and, several refueling stops later, got off at a strip inside the confines of The Farm.

By that time, a November dusting had left Peary under a veil of snow. With the weather to their liking, the Tibetans faced a tough schedule of class and field work. Fosmire was to personally oversee the cycle. He would be assisted by a new arrival to the project, William "Billy the Kid" Smith. The nickname was apropos: the cherubic Smith was fresh out of the U.S. Army and on his first agency assignment. [14]

Together, Fosmire and Smith began teaching seven days a week. Their initial focus was on classroom drills, especially map reading. Additional specialist instructors came to the site as needed. These included several radio experts, the longest serving of whom was Ray Stark. Formerly a radio operator on merchant ships running the dangerous Murmansk gauntlet to the Soviet Union during World War II, Stark later attended Saint John's College in Maryland before joining the agency. Although he had served the previous two years in Japan, this was his first exposure to Asian students. [15]

Fosmire also received help from yet another of the Dalai Lama's older brothers, Lobsang Samten. A gentle sort, the twenty-five-year-old Lobsang had already suffered one nervous breakdown. Briefly serving as lord chamberlain in Lhasa, he had escorted the Dalai Lama to India during the Buddha Jayanti and decided not to return. Instead, he had made his way to the United States, and the CIA had arranged for him to study English at Washington's Georgetown University. When this did not prove to his liking, the agency periodically drove him down to Peary to help with translations. "He was never really in the resistance mood," said Greaney. "He preferred to come over to my house and play with the kids."

By chance, Lobsang was at The Farm when another instructor made a guest appearance. A philosophy major at Stanford University, John "Ken" Knaus, age thirty-five, had begun government service as a Chinese linguist for First Army headquarters in southern China during World War II. When the war drew to a close, he debated either a return to academia or a career as a diplomat. Hedging his bets, he passed the Foreign Service exam and then went back to Stanford. He was still there in 1951, on the verge of earning his doctorate, when the Korean War broke out arid his army commission was activated. Facing the next two years in the military -- probably in the Korean theater -- Knaus rushed to Washington to try to reserve a slot in the Foreign Service until after his return. In response, a State Department counselor coldly told him to visit again if he made it back from Korea.

On a whim, Knaus stopped by CIA headquarters on the way to buy his army uniform. When he revealed that he was a Chinese linguist, the recruiter listened with piqued interest. Within forty-five minutes, he was hired.

Given his China credentials and academic background, Knaus was put to work on some of the agency's more cerebral Asian endeavors. Between 1954 and 1956, he was seconded to the U.S. Information Agency as a China policy officer. In this role, he helped publish in Hong Kong a small booklet entitled "What Is Communism in China?" Full of cold war rhetoric, it was intended as a primer for Asian newspaper editors.

By 1958, Knaus was back in the CIA mainstream and tasked with setting up the China segment offered at the School of International Communism in Arlington, Virginia. A CIA front, the school trained foreign cadres about the evils of socialist totalitarianism. He was still serving on its staff at year's end when the call came to lecture a class of Tibetans about the Chinese system.

Knaus jotted down some general points for a speech and made his way down to Peary. Upon seeing the Dalai Lama's own brother -- and recognizing Lobsang's likely firsthand knowledge of regional events -- he tore up his notes. "What I had to say to them," he later said, "was about as applicable as the Punic Wars." [16]

Self-deprecation aside, Knaus's visit was a welcome respite from a curriculum that, by early 1959, had grown more physical as tough paramilitary training eclipsed classroom activities. To help in the field, a third paramilitary officer joined Fosmire and Smith in February. That officer, Anthony "Tony Poe" Poshepny, age thirty-four, knew his material. A state-ranked college golfer at San Jose before joining the U.S. Marines, he had received a string of Purple Hearts from Iwo Jima and other Pacific battles. Leaving the corps after the war, he came to Washington in 1951 to apply for a job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The bureau's recruiter eyed his combat record and instead steered him across town to the CIA.

Poe was quickly added to the agency's rolls, and his paramilitary career over the ensuing seven years mirrored that of Fosmire: small boats in Korea, police training in Thailand, assisting rebels in Indonesia. After a daring submarine escape from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, he had spent the second half of 1958 giving guerrilla instruction to Chinese Nationalist teams on Taiwan and Saipan. [17]

Poe left the Far East for Peary and was on hand as the Tibetans were being readied for a series of field exercises. For one of these, the instructor cadre prevailed on the Peary staff to give permission to use a secure lake area. Wielding an assortment of British weapons ("The Tibetans loved the Bren and Lee-Enfield," recalls Fosmire), the students infiltrated by night and liberally doused the vicinity with explosive charges, accidentally damaging several boats in the process. As the camp's fire department rushed to the scene, the Tibetans raced away in the opposite direction inside a blacked-out van. [18]

By March, the exercises were over, and the training cycle was fast drawing to a close. Already, spring weather had turned parts of Peary into a swamp and unleashed hordes of mosquitoes. Work at Camp Hale had been completed, and the Tibetans warmly welcomed the news that they would soon be switching to a new, colder locale for what was supposed to be just a few weeks, according to their original schedule, before proceeding back to their homeland.

***

Although the Tibetans at Peary did not know it yet, their final days at Williamsburg coincided with monumental changes in Lhasa as the Tibetan government and the Chinese overlords maneuvered toward a painful showdown. The catalyst for this came in January 1959 as the NVDA reinstilled discipline in its ranks and began gearing up for renewed operations around the headwaters of the Salween in western Kham. For the previous month, Gompo Tashi had been lobbying local chieftains and was pleased with their professed support. Emboldened, he planned twin strikes on PLA strongholds sitting astride the Chinese-built road leading to Lhasa. Each assault would involve multiple prongs, including the participation of 800 horsemen from NVDA headquarters in Yarlung. Gyalo Thondup had even dispatched two Khampas from India -- one was Lhamo Tsering's nephew -- with a movie camera to make a propaganda film of the operation.

In planning such coordinated pincers, Gompo Tashi was expecting far too much of his guerrilla army. His own forces had no radio, limiting communications with Yarlung to the occasional message courier. And even if the Yarlung horsemen were intent on joining the battle, it entailed an extended winter trek across the heart of the Tibetan plateau.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when Gompo Tashi ultimately launched his raids, the Yarlung column never materialized. Worse from the NVDA's perspective, the PLA rushed in reinforcements along the road to both locales. Although the Chinese absorbed heavy casualties, neither site fell to the Tibetans. [19]

The NVDA had far better luck with its subsequent recruitment drives in Kham. Some 7,000 recruits joined its cause, and a personal appeal from Gompo Tashi to the local governor enabled his insurgents to walk away with nearly the entire inventory of a government armory. On a roll, 130 guerrillas headed north and laid siege to a PLA outpost near the headwaters of the Mekong. Fighting raged for a month, and it was only after Chinese airpower bloodied the rebels in late February that the NVDA was forced to withdraw and nurse its wounds.

In the immediate aftermath of this last battle, Gompo Tashi huddled with his lieutenants for a war council. Although the Tibetans had inflicted more casualties than they had received, this was not particularly problematic for the PLA, given China's enormous reservoir of manpower. Anticipating the arrival of major Chinese reinforcements come spring, the council made the strategic decision to temporarily abandon Kham and begin shifting the majority of its troops toward Yarlung.

In Lhasa, meanwhile, the PLA's top representatives were fuming. Not only was rebel activity on the rise in Kham, but when the Dalai Lama returned to his summer palace on 5 March (he had been studying in nearby monasteries since mid-1958 for an exhaustive battery of religious exams), thousands of Tibetan citizens spontaneously formed a protective cordon around the Norbulingka. They had taken this measure because word had leaked that the Chinese were insisting that the Dalai Lama attend a performance by a visiting dance troupe at their military compound in Lhasa -- but without his normal contingent of bodyguards. Convinced that this was a ploy to kidnap their leader, the masses had formed a human shield around his palace.

For the twenty-three-year-old Dalai Lama, the situation had an air of the absurd. Rebels were roaming the countryside, the capital was a tinderbox, and the Chinese were irate over his nonattendance at a cultural show. Sensing that the end was drawing near, on 12 March he called for the Nechung oracle to determine whether he should stay in Lhasa. While in a trance, the medium replied in the affirmative. This was not exactly the answer the Dalai Lama wanted, so another form of divination -- a roll of the dice, literally -- was sought. As luck would have it, the results were the same.

Outside the palace, tempers were growing short. Over the next four days, the crowds kept their raucous vigil around the Norbulingka while the Chinese, not humored by the Dalai Lama's procrastination over the dance troupe invitation, were insisting that he commit to a date. The oracle was again summoned; apparently of a conservative bent, the entranced medium would not budge from his earlier ruling.

Not until 17 March, during the third channeling session in a week, did the oracle buckle. "Leave tonight," was his entranced message. The dice, too, cooperated, giving identical advice. [20]

The Dalai Lama hardly needed prompting. At nightfall, he stole out of Lhasa on the back of a pony while disguised as a peasant. With him were his mother, younger brother, sister, and a coterie of tutors and counsels. Just prior to this, the lord chamberlain had composed a message for the Indian consul general broaching the possibility of exile. He also dispatched a courier to Yarlung with a note for the NVDA to prepare a reception committee. Although that message had yet to reach Yarlung, Phala had arranged for a small band of rebel escorts to wait on the riverbank opposite Lhasa as the Dalai Lama's party crossed in a yak-skin coracle. Pausing briefly for a final glimpse of the lights flickering in his capital, the Tibetan leader pressed south. [21]

Back in Lhasa, neither the Chinese nor the crowds outside the Norbulingka were yet aware of the Dalai Lama's flight. His departure proved timely, for within a day after his departure, the citizenry broke into full-scale rioting. In this they were supported by the Tibetan army, which had belatedly thrown off its gloves and was attempting to seize strategic points around the capital. Responding in kind, the PLA dropped the last vestiges of restraint and on 20 March started shelling the Norbulingka. Just four days later, the resisters were in full flight from the city.

***

For the better part of a week, the location of the Dalai Lama and his escape party was a mystery to the outside world. The first to get a hint of his fate was the CIA; this came after the lord chamberlain's message to Yarlung was forwarded by courier on horseback to Tom and Lou at the NVDA rear base in Lhuntse Dzong. [22] Upon reading this, Tom took his radio set and, together with a small band of guerrillas, sprinted to intercept the Dalai Lama near the Chongye valley, thirty kilometers north of the Drigu Tso. Lou followed in his wake with another group hauling the bulk of the weapons received during the second weapons drop.

On 25 March, eight days after he departed Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and his followers arrived at Chongye and linked up with Tom's advance NVDA party. While there, the Tibetan leader was enlightened about the CIA supply drops and the RS-1 radio, which was kept hidden. Discreetly taking his leave, Tom returned to the radio and keyed a message to Okinawa. Tibet's god-king, he informed the agency, was alive and well.

***

Geshe Wangyal had been summoned from New Jersey to the capital to help the CIA stay abreast of the Dalai Lama's movements. As each of Tom's transmissions arrived via Okinawa, strings of number groups were carried over to the safe house for the sagely monk to extract meanings both stated and implied. For the next week, Tom's brief updates were at the top of Eisenhower's daily Current Intelligence Bulletin. "He was the best informed person in the world," said CIA officer John Greaney.

By 27 March, Washington time, the U.S. president knew that the Dalai Lama had already reached the NVDA rear base at Lhuntse Dzong. The monarch initially intended to wait there and negotiate his return to Lhasa, just as he had done from Yatung in 1951. But when he turned on his transistor that morning and heard that Beijing had formally dissolved the Tibetan government, chances for a temporary in-country exile began wafting away.

Defiant, the Dalai Lama gathered his entourage inside the village's hilltop fort. Repudiating the seventeen-point agreement, he cut orders for the reestablishment of the Tibetan government just disbanded by China. Though largely hollow, the move lifted spirits. Looking to celebrate with what means were at hand, Lou promptly unveiled a 57mm recoilless rifle (from the second airdrop) and fired three rounds into a nearby cliff. [23]

With his bridges figuratively burned, the Dalai Lama knew that it was only a matter of time before the PLA closed on his position. Unfortunately for him, his counselors were offering little coherent advice. During the hours after the ceremony in the fort, Phala approached the CIA agents and groped for options, including a request to have the United States dispatch a plane to Lhuntse Dzong. Remembering Phala's past indecision, the agents asked that he commit himself on paper to a single plan before radioing Okinawa.

As it turned out, Phala's hand was forced that very night. Radio reports indicated that there was heavy fighting in Lhasa, and an NVDA courier arrived at the camp with news that the PLA was massing for a push across southern Tibet. Unable to sleep, the lord chamberlain woke the agents at 2:00 the next morning, 29 March, and asked that they forward an immediate plea for Indian asylum. Returning to their set, the agents lit a butter lamp, cranked up the generator, and relayed the message. "If India refused," Tom summed up, "we were in a bad position." [24]

It was Saturday night, 28 March, when John Greaney was summoned from a downtown restaurant to the safe house on Wisconsin Avenue. He waited at Geshe Wangyal's side as the monk translated the appeal. Realizing the gravity of this development, Greaney telephoned his boss.

The Dalai Lama's move was not unexpected, and the agency already had an inkling that India would give its nod. Two days earlier, CIA Director Dulles had informed the rest of the NSC that Prime Minister Nehru had privately hinted his support of asylum for the Dalai Lama, but not for the fleeing armed rebels, for fear of provoking incursions by the PLA. [25]

At the same time, policy makers in Washington had come to the conclusion that the Dalai Lama's exile was in the United States' interest. [26] Given its radio link at the scene, the CIA was the logical intermediary to facilitate Indian approval. No time was wasted; at 1:00 in the morning on Sunday, 29 March, a message was sent from Washington to the CIA's New Delhi station asking that it relay the plea directly to Nehru.

Back in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his entourage had not waited for an answer. Leaving Lhuntse Dzong and riding for a day, they reached a village just four hours from the Indian frontier. Huddling that night inside their tent during a torrential downpour, the CIA agents turned on their radio and learned of New Delhi's official consent via Washington. [27]

Tom and Lou waited until early the next morning for the rains to lighten and then made a dash to Phala's tent and passed on the news. For the first time, they saw the lord chamberlain break into a wide smile.

The Dalai Lama, though haggard after almost two weeks on the road and weakened by a bout of dysentery, was visibly elated. Finally granted a special audience with their leader, the two agents were given a blessing. With little on hand to give as mementos, the god-king offered each a single red coral bead and a braided necklace fashioned, ironically, out of strips of silk salvaged from parachutes from the second supply drop. [28]

The following day, 31 March, some of the fittest members of the Dalai Lama's party went forward toward the border. In one of his last acts on Tibetan soil, the monarch penned a document conveying the rank of general to Gompo Tashi. The next morning, after bidding farewell to his NVDA escorts and the CIA radiomen, he and the rest of his eighty-person entourage worked their way south over the final stretch to India's lush, steaming Assam lowlands. [29]

Watching their leader depart, Tom and Lou broke out their radio set and tapped an impassioned update. "The Dalai Lama and his officials arrived safely at the Indian border," they told their CIA handlers. "You must help us as soon as possible," they added, "and send us weapons for 30,000 men by airplane." [30]

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