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September 16, 1998


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Declassified documents shed new light on American support to Dalai Lama

Arthur J Pais in New York

Just as the United States Congress, following intense pro-Tibet lobbying by the likes of movie star Richard Gere, has urged the administration to spend annually $ 2 million in support of the Tibetan exiles, in addition to the $ 2 million annually in funding for Tibetan exiles in India, comes a revelation that could embarrass the Tibetan cause.

The Central Intelligence Agency has stoutly refused to discuss its involvement in the Tibetan struggle but the story in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times blows the lid off the Tibetan operation.

The declassified historical documents provide the first inside details of the CIA's decade-long covert programme to support the Tibetan independence movement. Part of the efforts was enlisting prestigious universities as Cornell in creating Tibetan study programmes. At the time of the intelligence operation, the CIA was seeking to weaken Mao Zedong's hold over China. And the Tibetan exiles were looking for help to keep their movement alive after the Dalai Lama and his people following an unsuccessful 1959 revolt against Chinese rule.

The assistance ended in 1970 when Richard Nixon embraced China as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Though the United States officials including Al Gore, the Vice President, have privately met with the Dalai Lama, officially America has adopted a hands-off policy on Tibet while dealing with China. Even then the Chinese have been upset over a handful of recent American movies including Kundan dealing with the Tibet story and the fall of the Dalai Lama's forces.

A detailed story in The Los Angeles Times says for much of the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $ 1.7 million a year for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $ 180,000 for the Dalai Lama. The newspaper quoted newly released US intelligence documents.

Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's personal representative in Washington, said last week in response to queries from the Times that he had no knowledge of the CIA's $ 180,000-a-year subsidy or how the money was spent.

"I have no clue whatsoever," Gyari said. Speaking more generally of the CIA's past support for the Tibetans, Gyari acknowledged: "It is an open secret. We do not deny it."

The money for the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama was part of the CIA's worldwide effort during the height of the Cold War to undermine Communist governments, particularly in the Soviet Union and China. In fact, the US government committee that approved the Tibetan operations also authorised the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Times said.

The CIA documents contradict several things the Dalai Lama wrote in his autobiography, Freedom In Exile, published eight years ago.

The Dalai Lama wrote that the cut-off in the 1970s showed that the assistance from the Americans "had been a reflection of their anti-Communist policies rather than genuine support for the restoration of Tibetan independence".

The newly published files show that the collaboration between US intelligence and the Tibetans was less than ideal, The Los Angeles Times said.

"The Tibetans by nature did not appear to be congenitally inclined toward conspiratorial proficiency," a top CIA official says ruefully in one memo.

The budget figures for the CIA's Tibetan programme are contained in a memo dated January 9, 1964. It was evidently written to help justify continued funding for the clandestine intelligence operation, the newspaper added.

"Support of 2,100 Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal: $ 500,000," the document says. "Subsidy to the Dalai Lama: $ 180,000." After listing several other costs, it concludes: "Total: $ 1,735,000." The files show that this budget request was approved soon afterward.

A later document indicates that these annual expenses continued at the same level for four more years, until 1968. At that point, the CIA scrubbed its training programmes for Tibetans inside the United States and cut the budget for the entire programme to just below $ 1.2 million a year.

The Dalai Lama explained in his autobiography that his two brothers made contact with the CIA during a trip to India in 1956. The CIA agreed to help, "not because they cared about Tibetan independence, but as part of their worldwide efforts to destabilise all Communist governments," the Dalai Lama wrote.

"Naturally, my brothers judged it wise to keep this information from me. They knew what my reaction would have been."

The Dalai Lama also noted in his autobiography that the CIA had trained and equipped Tibetan guerrillas who conducted raids into Tibet from a base camp in Nepal.

The effect of these operations "only resulted in more suffering for the people of Tibet. Worse, these activities gave the Chinese government the opportunity to blame the efforts of those seeking to regain Tibetan independence on the activities of foreign powers -- whereas, of course, it was an entirely Tibetan initiative".

The documents, published last month by the State Department, illustrate the historical background of the situation in Tibet today, in which China continues to accuse the Dalai Lama of being an agent of foreign forces seeking to separate Tibet from China, the Times said.

The programme encompassed support of Tibetan guerrillas in Nepal, a covert military training site in Colorado, 'Tibet Houses' established to promote Tibetan causes in New York and Geneva, education for Tibetan operatives at Cornell University and supplies for reconnaissance teams.

"The purpose of the programme ... is to keep the political concept of an autonomous Tibet alive within Tibet and among foreign nations, principally India, and to build a capability for resistance against possible political developments inside Communist China," explains one memo written by top US intelligence officials.

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