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While a great deal of information has surfaced over the years about the Central Intelligence Agency's worldwide covert operations activities, little is known about how deeply the CIA was involved in Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s. "It is impossible at this writing," John Prados noted in his 1986 book, Presidents' Secret Wars, "to give a detailed analysis of the Washington decision making for Tibet. The appropriate records remain security classified. If not for the courts, in fact, the entire discussion of Tibet in the Marchetti and Marks book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, would have been deleted by Agency censors."
We are forced to read accounts of the conflict in Tibet closely to get some insights into how involved some of the yeti searchers may have been. Let's start with one critical incident, the escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet. There are denials, for example, of the rumors circulating that Tom Slick and Peter Byrne were responsible, in some fashion, for the safe passage of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa. Since the time of Tom Slick's first official yeti reconnaissance of eastern Nepal in 1957, in which he was actually a member of the trek, the rumors of his expeditions' involvement in spying have been rampant. The New York Times even saw fit to publish an article reporting on the Russians' promotion of this story in an item entitled: "Soviet Sees Espionage in U. S. Snowman Hunt." The April 27,1957 piece claimed Slick was behind an effort to subvert the Chinese, and free Tibet.
What can we find in the record about the Dalai Lama's rescue? Who was behind the exit or with the Dalai Lama? Fletcher Prouty, an Air Force colonel who supervised secret air missions for the Office of Special Operations, has written: "This fantastic escape and its major significance have been buried in the lore of the CIA as one of those successes that are not talked about. The Dalai Lama would have never been saved without the CIA" (Prouty, 1973). On March 17, 1959, all three groups, the Dalai Lama, his immediate family and senior advisors escaped from Lhasa. Tenzin Gyatso the Dalai Lama] was disguised as a common soldier of the guard.... The best information [about the fleeing Dalai Lama] came from the CIA.... The CIA was so well informed because it had furnished an American radio operator, who traveled with the Dalai Lama's party...There may have been other CIA agents with the party as well" (Prados, 1986). Who were these individuals?
George Patterson might know. Remember, he is the guy who had the mysterious meeting with an American tourist" during 1955 in which parts of the CIA's war in Tibet were mapped out. Patterson, who used the cover of being a missionary (but drank, smoked and chased women with the best of the guys) was part of a unique foray into Tibet in 1964. Setting out secretly with Adrian Cowell, a British filmmaker, Patterson took off from Nepal to coordinate and film an attack on a Chinese convoy by Tibetan Khamba commandos. Patterson and Cowell were successful, but upon their return they were briefly jailed in India, and their film was suppressed and not shown for two years.
Now here's the interesting part: Who helped them get into Tibet? None other than Peter Byrne, Tom Slick's man in Nepal.
And who has written the most concerning the Patterson incident without saying too much in depth about it? None other than Michel Peissel. In his book, The Secret War in Tibet (1973), Peissel mysteriously kept his references to the CIA to only four small mentions in this 258-page book. Peissel discussed a good deal about the secret war in Tibet but strangely never mentioned some amazing points now well-known (due to recent CIA limited releases of information), such as the fact that the small kingdom of Mustang was the CIA-run base of Tibetan guerrilla operations. Peissel revealed that he first went to the area in the spring of 1959 with aa letter of recommendation from Thubtan Norbu, the brother of the Dalai Lama, to the Prime Minister of Bhutan.... I was off to meet Jigme Dorji, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, in the small border town of Kalimpong" (Peissel, 1966). We, of course, understand a little bit more about the importance of Kalimpong in the espionage game, as was mentioned above.
Also, we now have some facts about Thubtan Norbu. The eldest brother of the Dalai Lama was connected to the "American Society for a Free Asia," a CIA-funded organization that sponsored a series of visits to and lectures in the United States by Norbu, beginning in 1956 (Prados, 1986). Secretly, the Dalai Lama's family was very involved with the CIA in fighting the Chinese. Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's second-eldest brother, based in Darjeeling, established an intelligence gathering operation with the CIA in 1951. Six years later, he upgraded it to an advanced CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose members were introduced to commando techniques on Guam for example, and then parachuted back into Tibet (Avedon 1984). What was Peissel's connection to the CIA? It's difficult to say.
Peissel was apparently able to obtain much "Tibet file" (as he called it) information from American and British intelligence contacts. He even reveals names that sound familiar- such as "Nyma Tsering," said to be one of the most trusted officers among the Tibetan guerrillas. Tibetan names in English are merely rough transliterations, often in different spellings. So we are not surprised to find the Sherpa "Nima Tenzing" on Slick's 1957 and 1958 expeditions, and the same individual "Nima Tshering" on Hillary's 1960 expedition. Was this person also the aforementioned "Nyma Tsering?" Were Peissel's connections woven into the espionage network?
This is the same Michel Peissel who wrote a yeti-debunking article for Argosy magazine in 1960 entitled "The Abominable Snow Job." Peissel mentioned that the subject of his 1966 book, Boris Lissanevitch, had been given a tranquilizer gun by the Tom Slick expedition. Peissel half-jokingly wrote that the "Indians thought Boris a Russian agent, the Russians thought him an American agent, and the Americans, a Russian agent" (Peissel, 1966). It is interesting that Peissel would show up in the Tibetan area to investigate the abominable snowman, during the critical time of the Dalai Lama's escape. Slowly, over the years, he revealed his deeper covert operations links.
Adrian Cowell, for his part, turned up in Burma in the mid-1960s filming guerrilla opium armies (McCoy, 1972) and recently has been involved in Brazilian projects. But Cowell's official biography in Contemporary Authors neglected to mention his Tibetan adventures with Patterson.
Something strange is going on here.