Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa

Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa

by Thomas Laird
     
 

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Into Tibet is the incredible story of a 1949-1950 American undercover expedition led by America's first atomic agent, Douglas S. Mackiernan -- a covert attempt to arm the Tibetans and to recognize Tibet's independence months before China invaded. Thomas Laird reveals how the clash between the State Department and the CIA, as well as unguided actions by field agents

Overview

Into Tibet is the incredible story of a 1949-1950 American undercover expedition led by America's first atomic agent, Douglas S. Mackiernan -- a covert attempt to arm the Tibetans and to recognize Tibet's independence months before China invaded. Thomas Laird reveals how the clash between the State Department and the CIA, as well as unguided actions by field agents, hastened the Chinese invasion of Tibet. A gripping narrative of survival, courage, and intrigue among the nomads, princes, and warring armies of inner Asia, Into Tibet rewrites the accepted history behind the Chinese invasion of Tibet. 8 pages of black-and-white photographs are featured.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Laird, a journalist for Asiaweek who has lived for many years in Nepal, traces the story of two CIA agents, Douglas Mackiernan and Frank Bessac, sent on an intelligence expedition to Tibet in 1949-1950, at the height of U.S. concern about the Soviet Union's atomic experiments and the spread of communism in China. Mackiernan (who was killed during the mission, the first undercover CIA agent to die in the line of duty) and Bessac, with several other cohorts, trekked through Tibet on foot, gathering atomic intelligence and establishing regional contacts. The mission was part of a U.S. attempt to arm Tibet, and Laird argues that the American presence may have precipitated China's invasion of the country, which the U.S. abruptly abandoned (cutting off covert funding) after establishing diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s. Focusing on the heart-stopping details of the expedition itself, Laird gives the now familiar story of callous CIA manipulation an absorbing twist. The need for lengthy historical context, however, results in a number of digressions on subjects such as the Tibetan earthquake of 1950 that disrupt an already meandering story and, in their brevity, are often simplistic. Further, much of the source material remains classified, forcing Laird to speculate a great deal. This (perhaps unavoidable) approach raises questions of whether Laird has the whole story. Although the adventures make for interesting reading, a lack of critical facts and focus undermine this account. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
In 1950, forces from Communist China poured into Tibet in order to "liberate" it from American and British influence. Since then, that remote land had been a protectorate of the People's Republic and few of today's students realize that it was once an inaccessible and romantic kingdom forbidden to foreigners. The invasion took place as the Cold War was approaching its height and China was in an expansionist phase. Tibet would serve as a buffer state and, being deliberately undeveloped, would be fertile ground to demonstrate the benefits from a progressive socialist state. The US, also operating in a Cold War matrix, determined to head off its adversary, and its CIA felt equal to any subversive task. Unfortunately for its goals, the Agency was still operating in a WW II mode. Placing undercover agents in hostile territory worked well with French and Yugoslav partisans, but not in other situations. The story of an ill-organized expedition, plagued by inter-governmental rivalries and wild-hair individuals, is gripping reading. The ultimate disaster—things turned out very, very badly indeed—makes a grim object lesson for operatives and for policy makers. Laird is well positioned to write a book of this nature. A writer and photographer who lived for three decades in Nepal, he knows well the High Himalayas and its people. More importantly, he has a larger view of Tibetan culture and politics and mores than, apparently, the CIA had. This book is a good insight into the twilight world of espionage as well as a fascinating portrait of a fragile corner of the world at a crucial point in its history. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002,Grove, 364p. illus. bibliog. index.,
Kirkus Reviews
An initially promising but poorly executed expose of Cold War spookery in the high Himalayas. Asiaweek correspondent Laird turns up an intriguing tale of a secret CIA-sponsored expedition (details of which are still largely classified) into Tibet just before the Chinese invasion of 1950. Neither altruism nor defense of democracy prompted the American mission, which put five spies on the ground at considerable risk to themselves; instead, Laird suggests, the CIA was rushing to locate Asia's uranium reserves and convince their owners to side with America, then enjoying a brief postwar monopoly on the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The CIA's involvement in Tibet was ironic, Laird shows, since the State Department had hitherto evinced little interest in the remote nations of Central Asia and had effectively encouraged one-time ally China to expand beyond its borders and acquire whatever territory it wished. The American spies of 1949-50, Laird writes, had only mixed success, and some of them were killed. The Tibetan guerrillas funded by the CIA after the Chinese invasion fared still worse. Abandoned when the US and China established diplomatic relations in the early 1970s, hundreds of guerrillas died as a result, Laird charges: "collateral damage of American actions, which America now denies ever happened." This story isn't exactly new (Life magazine reported some of it in 1950), but it has long been forgotten. Unfortunately, Laird's narrative is ill-developed, less a cohesive narrative than a movie treatment that jumps from subject to subject in very short chapters. The author relies on hearsay and speculation as much as hard fact ("naturally the agents in the field never viewed their workthis cynically, but those who sent them there may have"), and his prose is awash in ellipses and non sequiturs ("because of a childhood spent in Mexico and Brazil he spoke German and Spanish fluently"). Of some interest to Cold War buffs, though general readers will do better to wait for the History Channel special.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802139993
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
04/05/2003
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
730,582
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.00(d)

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