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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

The CIA's Buddhist affair

March 20, 2009

Brett Popplewell, Staff Reporter
The Toronto Star
March 14, 2009

Around the world this week, as monks, exiles and
supporters of the Dalai Lama marked the 50th
anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising,
politicians and state-run media outlets in
Beijing preached at length about the Communist
Party's liberation of Tibetan slaves.

Meanwhile, in suburban Washington, John Kenneth
Knaus, a retired CIA officer who led a covert
command centre from New Delhi 50 years ago,
worked on a new book about 100 years of American
involvement in Tibet, including his own
experiences feeding weapons and supplies to monks and resistance fighters.

On March 10, 1959, thousands of Tibetans
surrounded the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa for
fear that their spiritual leader might soon be
abducted by the occupying force Mao Zedong had
maintained in Tibet since 1950. Soon, protesters
across the region were declaring Tibet's independence.

Seven days later the Dalai Lama was gone,
spirited out of the country on horseback to India.

Some estimate more than 85,000 Tibetans died in
the conflict that ensued as the Chinese army cracked down on the revolt.

Knaus had been working on the CIA's Tibetan file
since the mid-1950s. Before taking up his post in
New Delhi, he had helped train some 300 Tibetan
resistance fighters in Colorado.

He says no American operatives were ever dropped
into Tibet, though he says that in July 1958 and
February 1959, the CIA did airdrop guns, hand grenades and rounds of munitions.

"The Tibetan revolt was instituted by the
Tibetans and carried out by them," Knaus, 85,
said in a phone interview this week. "It was not a CIA operation in essence."

In 1954, the Dalai Lama paid a diplomatic visit
to Mao in Beijing. Soon after returning to Tibet
he found many of his people, including monks, armed and open in revolt.

"You had monks carrying guns," says Knaus.

"The Chinese were trying to take their guns away
from them. They (the Chinese) were really asking
for it. The revolt was self-generated, completely."

In 1957, the Dalai Lama's older brother, Gyalo
Thondup, recruited five men to be trained by the
CIA on the Pacific island of Saipan. They were
returned to Tibet to assess and organize the
resistance. "At the time it was thought that this
could make a difference," Knaus notes.

"The CIA had had a bitter experience by not being
able to supply any real support to the Hungarian
revolt a year earlier," when civilians in
Budapest rose up against Communist rule and
received encouragement and supplies from the CIA,
only to be crushed by the Soviets when the Red
Army rolled into the city. "So (the agency)
didn't want to raise any false hopes and false
expectations about what could be done in Tibet."

Knaus left the U.S. for New Delhi in 1960. Knaus
estimates that in the years that under his watch
he estimates, the CIA dropped 700,000 pounds of
supplies to Tibetan rebels. But he says that by
1968, with the U.S. caught up in Vietnam and with
the Chinese in control of the situation in Tibet,
the resistance seemed "no longer technically or
morally supportable," and the CIA withdrew its support.

In his 1999 book, Orphans of the Cold War:
America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival,
Knaus laments the failure of the operation. But
he says the essence of what the CIA-supported
resistance fought for lives on in the peaceful
protests sanctioned by the Dalai Lama and carried
out by hundreds of thousands around the world today.

Knaus, who worked at the American Embassy in
Ottawa for a time following his tenure in Asia,
has met the Dalai Lama in the years since the CIA
involvement in Tibet ceased. He says that
although the Dalai Lama knew of the CIA's
operations, he never gave them his blessing.

"The first time I met him in 1964, I didn't think
he was terribly anxious to see me," recalls Knaus.

"Then I realized that I represented him with this
moral dilemma. He knew that the CIA by then was
and had been providing arms to his people. But
he, as a Buddhist, it was a terrible, complete moral dilemma for him."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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