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Honoring CIA and Tibet Veterans at Camp Hale

September 21, 2010

Todd Stein
Blog Internation Campaign for Tibet (ICT)
September 15, 2010

I had the pleasure of attending last Friday an event to commemorate
the training of Tibetan freedom fighters by the Central Intelligence
Agency in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The occasion was the unveiling of a plaque at Camp Hale, Colorado. It reads:

 From 1958 to 1964, CampHale played an important role as a training
site for Tibetan Freedom Fighters.  Trained by the CIA, many of these
brave men lost their lives in the struggle for freedom.

"They were the best and bravest of their generation, and we wept
together when they were killed fighting alongside their countrymen."

(Orphans of the Cold War, by John Kenneth Knaus)

This plaque is dedicated to their memory.

The ceremony occurred on a beautiful, crisp and sunny day in the
mountains of central Colorado, a site chosen because of its
similarity to eastern Tibet, where the trained Tibetans eventually
parachuted into. I can see why the Tibetans called the place "dumra,"
or garden.

* See fact sheet on Camp Hale and the CIA training program

* Read coverage in Vail Daily, Summit Daily News, and the ICT press release

* Voice of America will cover the event on its 9/15 and 9/17 Kunleng program

* Radio Free Asia is also expected to cover the event

It was very touching to see the veterans of that era, both CIA
trainers and Tibetan trainees, reconnect and embrace after so many
years. There were only a handful in attendance, as many have passed
on or had health issues that prevented their traveling. But many
descendents and friends of the veterans came and shared the veterans'
stories. Their presence and their remarks are a testament to how much
the Tibetan operation meant to the participants. It gave the American
trainers a life-long appreciation for the Tibetans' spirit and
determination to fight for their cultural survival.

Much has changed since that era. The time of armed resistance has
long passed. Tibetans have committed to a non-violent approach in the
cause for freedom. U.S. government support for Tibetans is now overt,
in the form of humanitarian assistance and development aid, as well
as political support for the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue to resolve the
Tibet issue.  The U.S. and China have a complex and interdependent

But this chapter in history is a fact, and is an undeniable part of
U.S-Tibetan relations that dates back to President Roosevelt's letter
to the current Dalai Lama in 1942.  It was a convergence of
contemporary interests: U.S. aims with Communist China and the
Tibetans' desire to fight for their homeland. The CIA is still
secretive about its Tibet program. But the history of that era is
increasingly being written about by academics, journalists, and those
who participated in it, both Tibetan and American (see selected
reading list below). And this plaque now provides some public
recognition of the CIA-Tibet connection.

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado presided over the ceremony and led the
effort with the U.S. Forest Service to install the plaque.  Ken
Knaus, a CIA veteran and author of a book on this topic, had the
original idea for a commemoration at Camp Hale.  Lisa Cathey, the
daughter of trainer Clay Cathey and leader of a documentary project
on this history, helped put the event together.

Selected further information:

Avedon, John, In Exile from the Land of Snows, 1984.

Dunham, Mikel, Buddha's Warriors: The Story of the CIA-Backed Tibetan
Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Communist Invasion, and the Ultimate
Fall of Tibet, 2004.

Knaus, Ken, Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle
for Survival, 1999.

McCarthy, Roger, Tears of the Lotus, Accounts of Tibetan Resistance
to the Chinese Invasion, 1950-1962, 1997

McGranahan, Carole, Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories
of a Forgotten War, 2010.

Shadow Circus, a documentary film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

CIA in TIBET (, a documentary film project by Lisa Cathey.
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