Volume 5 Number 1-4
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Government Manipulation and Distortion of History, Part II
Louis Wolf, Director of Research, Covert Action Quarterly
"General" Vang Pao, the CIA's Hmong lieutenant warlord whose forces came from forced conscription, was (and still is) perceived as a military officer, not a traditional leader. For example at one point during the height of the "secret" war, when he had three thousand fighters, he prepared a list of five thousand names for the CIA in order to get the extra money from the Agency. "Were it not for the CIA, he would not have been a leader at all," one Hmong asserted to me. Even the nearly $200,000 in cash that Vang Pao laid out for the four hundred-acre farm in Missoula, Montana where he fled in 1975, was provided to him by the CIA.
Nowadays he is largely discredited and distrusted among the US Hmong population scattered in several centers across the country, who are still being "visited" by Vang Pao and his lieutenants. They are told bluntly that they must give money toward Vang Pao's stated intent to bring about the "liberation" of Laos and, if they don't pay the money demanded, are explicitly threatened that their family members at home and in refugee camps in Thailand will be starved to death. Vang Pao is presently the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in California stemming from his lucrative campaign of intimidation against Lao Americans.
Long Tieng in northern Xieng Khouang Province was virtually uninhabited prior to 1962, but became the CIA's and Vang Pao's central operations base and grew directly in proportion to the CIA's "secret" war and the profitability of the "Golden Triangle" opium trade. By 1969, some 30,000 Hmong lived in Long Tieng, making it the second largest city in Laos. During the heyday of the war, there was an annual opium production in Laos of 100-150 tons, with more than seventy-five percent of the poppy fields cultivated by the Hmong who for the most part were under Vang Pao's control. It therefore was no coincidence that the CIA protected him, the poppy fields and, most of all, the Long Tieng base, from either inquisitive US Congress members or the occasional overcurious media person.
Under the direction of the very large CIA station at the Embassy, as well as the "Program Office" and the "Requirements Office" at the American "Compound," was Air America, the CIA-owned and staffed airline proprietary. Based at a highly-secured area of Vientiane's Wattay Airport, with dozens of mostly American pilots and Asian (Thai, Filipino, Taiwanese, or others) maintenance personnel, and with a fleet of hundreds of mostly World War II cargo aircraft and newer small planes, the pilots used a network of remote, CIA-secured dirt landing strips throughout selected northern and southern provinces, in areas where the political control of the Royal Lao Government was either contested or nonexistent. It was no secret in Laos that Air America planes carried rice, lumber, guns, bullets, grenades, and opium--whatever the "Customer" needed transported. Some pilots were able to double or triple their income by flying their special cargo for the handful of top US-backed generals involved in the opium trade. This was hardly surprising as the company's dual mottoes were: "You call, We haul," and "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime."
The official US presence in Laos, especially big in Vientiane, Thakhek, Pakse, and Savannakhet, and in pockets elsewhere, was obtrusively large. There was the "Compound" (physically separate from the Embassy) in which several hundred State Department, Agency for International Development, Pentagon and some CIA bureaucrats toiled, where the well-stocked and always busy commissary was located, and where the bar and aquamarine swimming pool were found. There was the bustling Motor Pool, that handled and maintained the US Mission's accumulated assemblage of cars, jeeps and trucks of every description. The degree of US control over everyday life in the country was demonstrated by the fact that Laos's currency--the kip--was closely overseen by a tightly-knit corps of "economists" in Vientiane and Washington.
I personally recall the AID "rice specialist" who in 1965 accompanied the Lao minister of agriculture to a village rice program where I was assigned north of Paksane in the Mekong River valley. As I watched in amazement, the American "expert" proceeded to put his credentials in permanent question by guiding the Lao official to a field, exclaiming proudly that what we were looking at was an example of the new US-created "miracle rice" being developed at a Ford Foundation-sponsored institute in the Philippines and which was then under experimentation in the country. This "rice" strain, the American rice expert advised, is so strong that it withstands the winds, rodents, and insect pests, and with its super high yield at harvest time, has a potential to feed everyone in the country.
The official and I exchanged glances and I saw him smiling quietly while trying his best to keep diplomatically silent. However the all-knowing American persisted, so finally the minister had to explain that in fact the "rice" was a common weed.
History is surely sufficiently important that it be recorded accurately, devoid of the filters and the outright misinformation or disinformation that is routinely introduced--by this government and others--into the stream of knowledge. Present and future generations are entitled to know the real history.
1 Sean Gervasi, "CIA Covert Propaganda Capability," CovertAction Information Bulletin (hereafter CAIB), Number 7 (December 1979-January 1980): 19.
2 "Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States," June 1975. Headed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, one of its other seven members was, ironically, Ronald Reagan.
3 "Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities," U.S. Senate, 1975 and 1976.
4 Carl Bernstein, "The CIA and the Media," Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977.
5 "The CIA and the Media," Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives, December 1977-April 1978.
6 One such regulation, issued by Jimmy Carter's DCI, Stansfield Turner on November 30, 1977, nevertheless authorized "regular liaison with representatives of the news media." These internal memoranda listing some "no-no's" have not stopped one small but key part of these activities aimed at U.S. media. CAIB learned in 1979 that a few chosen journalists--less than ten of them--regularly "receive briefings from the CIA, in printed form, delivered to them by courier, and known to contain a mixture of classified and nonclassified material." Our source informed us that in some instances, "recipients of these printed briefings have simply put their own byline on the stories, which are printed almost verbatim by their newspaper." [They are also occasionally aired in some form on electronic media.] See "CIA Relations with Media--Official and Otherwise," CAIB, Number 7 (December 1979-January 1980): 21.
7 Robert Parry, Fooling America, (New York: Morrow & Co., 1991.)
8 From text of the State of the Union message, Washington Post, January 30, 1991: A14.
9 Barton Gellman, "Cheney, Powell Inscribe a Bomb to Saddam," Washington Post, February 11, 1991.
10 "International Demonstrations," CAIB, Number 37 (Summer 1991): 6.
11 Washington Post, December 27, 1990.
12 In just the first 21 days of Operation Desert Storm, the tonnage surpassed all that was dropped during the whole of World War II.
13 For more on the technology used in Operation Desert Storm, and the consequences in both Iraq and the U.S., see Paul Rogers, "The Myth of the Clean War," (and other articles), CAIB, Number 37 (Summer 1991): 26-30. For analysis of the illnesses now suffered by Gulf War veterans, see Tod Ensign, "Gulf War Syndrome: Guinea Pigs & Disposable GIs," CovertAction Quarterly (previously CAIB), Number 43 (Winter 1992-93): 19-25.
14 Michael Gordon, "G.I.'s Recall Destruction of Powerful Iraqi Force," New York Times, April 8, 1991: A6.
15 John Gaskell, "Strippers set for Gulf `Love Boat,'" Washington Times, January 7, 1991.
16 New York Times, April 8, 1991.
17 A few such photos did escape the U.S. government censors. See for example, CAIB, Number 37 (Summer 1991): 11, 27, 35; Lies Of Our Times, July 1991: 17; and Lies Of Our Times, July-August 1991: 6.
18 Wishing to provide readers at least a starting point of essential reading on Laos, the writer offers the following. Given alphabetically by author, this listing is by no means comprehensive. Nina S. Adams and Alfred W. McCoy, Laos: War and Revolution, New York: Harper Colophon, 1970; Fred Branfman, Voices From the Plain of Jars, New York: Harper & Row, 1972; Wilfred Burchett, Mekong Upstream, Hanoi: Red River Publishing, 1957, The Furtive War: The U.S. in Laos and Vietnam, New York: International, 1963, and The Second Indochina War, New York: International, 1970; Jacqui Chagnon and Roger Rumpf, articles in Southeast Asia Chronicle (Berkeley, Calif.), "The Search for Yellow Rain," (June 1983), and "Decades of Division for the Lao Hmong," and "From Mud Huts to Gravel Roads," (both October 1983); Nayan Chanda, Brother Enemy: The War After the War-A History of Indochina After the Fall of Saigon, New York: Macmillan, 1986; Arthur J. Dommen, Conflict in Laos: The Politics of Neutralization, New York: Praeger, 1971, and Laos: Keystone of Indochina, Boulder, Colo., Westview, 1985; Grant Evans, The Yellow Rainmakers: Are Chemical Weapons Being Used in Southeast Asia?, London: Verso, 1983; Bernard B. Fall, "The Laos Tangle," in International Journal (Toronto), Vol. 16, No. 2, Spring 1961; Walt Haney, "The Pentagon Papers and U.S. Involvement in Laos," in The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam, Vol. V (the Senator Gravel Edition), Boston: Beacon, 1971; Edward S. Herman, "The Wall Street Journal as Propaganda Agency: Yellow Rain and the El Mozote Massacre," in CAIB, Number 43 (Winter 1992-93); Alfred W. McCoy, with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P. Adams, III, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, Harper & Row, 1972; Christopher Robbins, Air America: The Story of the CIA's Secret Airlines, New York: Putnam, 1979, and The Ravens: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos, New York: Crown, 1987; Peter Dale Scott, "Laos: The Story Nixon Won't Tell," in New York Review of Books, April 9, 1970; Charles A. Stevenson, The End of Nowhere: American Policy Toward Laos Since 1965, Boston: Beacon, 1972; and Hugh Toye, Laos: Buffer State or Battleground?, London: Oxford University Press, 1968.
19 Richard Severo, "Air Force Report on Vietnam War Says Laos Was Secretly Sprayed," New York Times, January 25, 1982. This spraying campaign might explain why there are many Lao women giving birth contemporarily to babies with too few fingers, with one eye, without certain internal organs, and with other bizarre deformities.
This paper was delivered to the American Historical Association annual conference, panel on "The Politics and Perils of Access to Private and Public Documents," December 29, 1992, Washington, DC.
Louis Wolf worked two jobs as alternative service as a conscientious objector to military service: (a) Inner city Job Training Officer, Flanner House, Indianapolis, 1964; (b) Rural Development Worker, International Voluntary Services, Laos, 1964-1967. Free-lance Reporter, 1966-1967, Laos. Correspondent, Dispatch News Service International, American Report, Philippines, 1969-1972. Freelance writer and researcher on CIA operations in Western Europe, London, 1972-1977. Correspondent, Transnational Features Service, 1976-1988. Cofounder, coeditor and research director, CovertAction Information Bulletin, 1978-present. Coeditor, Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe, (Lyle Stuart, 1978); coeditor, Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa (Lyle Stuart, 1980).