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Was CIA Involvement In Tibet Just?

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The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the United States of America’s backbone for collecting and analysing foreign information which is used for counterintelligence, counter terrorism and paramilitary operations. The origins of the CIA date back to 1941 but was under a different name Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) which only lasted 337 days before being shut down. Created after the outbreak of world war two the OCI delft with intelligence that was being collected with no real direction of coordination by the Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the State Department and the Army, but was closed in 1942 and then renamed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) 1942 – 1945.

The OSS specialities were to collect and analyse strategic information and conduct unconventional paramilitary operations, with basses in north Africa, Europe, china, Burma and India, it also had the capabilities for counterintelligence by utilizing military, diplomatic and non-official cover.

The OSS was later shut down at the end of World War Two but the counterintelligence branch and the secret intelligence where merged together to create the Strategic Services Unit (SSU) 1945 – 1946.

SSU was a temporary solution while the government created a new agency. The SSU took over post that the OSS had obtained in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Chungking, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Rangoon this was only temporary though until a more permanent solution could be put in place. The OSS continued on with the work that OSS continuing paramilitary operations and counterintelligence, at this time a new group was being formed call the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) which offered to the best SSU employees.

The SSU was later shut down and the CIG took over their operations. The CIG worked in coordinating, disseminating and evaluating intelligence, they were also allowed to conduct independent operations and research this allowed them to obtain their own information and just receive it from other agencies. The CIG later became the main source for the US government for strategic warning and clandestine operations.

The SSU later became an independent department and renamed itself the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 1947 to present. The CIA mission was to advise the National Security Council on matters related to national security, make recommend recommendations to the National Security Council regarding the coordination of intelligence activities and departments, correlate and evaluate intelligence and provide appropriate dissemination, and perform other functions that the National Security Council from time to time will direct. They carried on with the work the GIC was doing such as paramilitary operations and counterintelligence (Central Intelligence Agency, 2007).


Tibet in the 1950s was a small peaceful country located near China, Nepal and India sitting in a remote place in the world, with flat plains and mountains areas their culture reflects the area they live in.

Tibet has never had a easy time keeping invaders away in 1544 the moguls invaded Tibet and appoint the first Delia lama and let the country live in autonomy, They lived under Mongols rule for about 70 years until in 1717 when the Dzungar (Oirot) Mongols attacked Lhasa raping and pillaging but where beaten back by the Chinese Emperor Kangxi who re-established the Delia lamas rule. Later in 1724 china sent a commissioner to run Tibet and annexed two of Tibet’s province’s Kham and Amdo which lead to an uprising in 1750 against the commissioner but was quickly stopped by a Chinese garrison which was stationed in Lhasa. Later china appointed their commissioner to oversee all selections of the Delia and other senior lamas which created more outrage in an already unstable country.

In 1850s Russia and the British empire both gained an interest in Tibet both trying to gain more control in central Asia which lead to the Tibetan government to close all borders and ban foreigners. Later in 1904, Britain moved into Tibet on a military expedition forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to Mongolia and force the Tibetan government to sign a trading agreement which kept Russia at bay. Later, Britain and Russia recognised China’s control over Tibet which lead to Britain signing an agreement to never annex Tibet. In 1912 Tibet declared independence from China forcing Chinese troops that were stationed in Lhasa to leave and live in relative peace with minimal interference from China and Britain for 36 years.

Their religion Buddhism which the Indians and Nepalese brought to Tibet in the 17th century talks of peace and tranquillity and trying g to live an enlightened life this reflected in their art, music and literature which all link back to their Buddhist beliefs but it doesn’t mean Tibet was a great country. Tibet at the time was still living of the feudal system, which was quite medieval and unfair, this has been acknowledged by the Dalia lama and the people of Tibet:


the upper class which was built up of religious leaders, high government officials, and nobility which also had some way relations to a religious leader. The highest of all people was the Delia lama which was treated like a king with power in all sectors of the government and religion and had major influence over the population.


The next rank was the taxpayer families who owned large amounts of land and main service was to pay taxes and to provide corvée which is form of unpaid unfree labour which had a set amount of days a year they had to work which could be done by humans and/or animals (Childs, 2003).

Householders were made up of peasants who owned small plots of land administered and controlled by the government and aristocratic families. Unlike the taxpayers, land could not be inherited by the family, but the householders only had to pay a very small amount of tax and were only obligated to do corvée by the district authorities (Goldstein, 1987).

The lowest of the middle class was the human lease peasants which unlike the householders or taxpayers where not intituled to any land but where able to lease land from taxpayers and a payment take on some of their corvée work, they also had the ability to go wherever they liked and to take up any trade or craft they wanted to. They were sometimes required to do some corvée work in cases of special occasion (Goldstein, 1987).

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The lower division consisted of people known as the untouchables who took on work that was deemed “unclean” these contained of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, prostitutes, executioners, corps disposers, butchers, and fishermen. They were seen as dirty and polluting, and it was impossible for someone in the untouchables to try and escape the untouchable status (French, 2002). The lower division also contained household servants which was hereditary and was made up by 5% of the population (permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China, 2014).

Introduction to the CIA in Tibet

During the 1950s the world was engulfed by the cold war with a seemingly everlasting arms race and proxy wars. During this time the CIA took part in questionable experiments and missions such as Project MKUltra where they experimented on unwitting US and Canadian citizens with LSD, electroshock therapy, mescaline and other substances to perform phycological torture. They also had a clandestine operation called AIR America in which they used this airline to send CIA operatives to areas that normal military presence was not possible.

In the 1950s, the CIA had a vested interest in monitoring newly formed Communist activities in China. At this time China had made aggressive movements towards Tibet, a small country between China, Nepal and India. Occupation of Tibet would offer China an abundant amount of natural resources including copper, lithium, gold and silver which had not been disturbed by the Tibetans due to it going against Buddhism and Buddhist beliefs. It would also offer a strategic foot hold in the region. China’s ‘reason’ for ‘liberating’ the Tibetan people was to free them from an oppressive feudal system that Tibet had in place and a claim that historically, Tibet had always been part of China. The CIA saw this as a power move, in which China would gain an extremely important strategic advantage in the area if WWIII was to break out. The CIA could see that it would almost be impossible to drive the Chinese out without a full-scale war but it was also a great opportunity to use Tibetan resistance fighters to “create annoyance” for the Chinese government in a cost-efficient way without endangering any of their employees (Halpenr, 1998). They then used the Tibetan resistance fighters to engage in a war of intelligence-gathering and guerrilla warfare.


The lead up to the invasion of Tibet came after failed attempts of diplomacy in the early 1950s by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The PRC offered a three-point proposal that Tibet be regarded as part of China, that China be responsible for Tibet’s defence, and that China be responsible for Tibet’s trade and foreign relations. Tibet declined the offer. Tibetan government official, Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa, who was involved in the diplomacy efforts declared ‘Tibet will remain independent as it is at present, and we will continue to have very close ‘priest-patron’ relations with China. Also, there is no need to liberate Tibet from imperialism, since there are no British, American or Guomindang imperialists in Tibet, and Tibet is ruled and protected by the Dalai Lama (not any foreign power) (Shakabpa, year).

In late 1950, according to sources, 40,000 to 80,000 troops from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) moved across the border in five different places entering Chamdo and easily defeating the small Tibetan army that was stationed there (HISTORY TODAY, 2000). This was not to invade Tibet but to capture the Tibetan army and to put pressure on the government to send negotiators to Beijing. The PLA released captured prisoners sending them to Lhasa to negotiate a peaceful liberation of Tibet with the Dalai Lama and government officials. Later the Tibetan government reached out to El Salvador to help them pass through a complaint to the UN but both India and the United Kingdom dismissed the motion (Claude Arpi, 2008). It is also stated in Tibet and China (Background Paper) that plenty of countries had taken notices of China’s invasion of Tibet with press from Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, the Philippines, Japan, and the United Arab Republic had all published their thoughts on the matter of the invasion with most of them being uncritical about communism before the events of the invasion of Tibet, some even comparing the CCP to ‘the new imperialism’. This bad press would end up badly damaging the reputation of the CCP who were trying to set themselves up as the communist champions of freedom for years. (CIA, 1959)

In 1951, Tibetan negotiators were sent to Beijing to talk with Chinese officials. While they were there, the Chinese government pressured them into signing their terms of agreement, even though the Tibetan negotiators were not allowed to sign anything on behalf of the country. The terms they signed were a 17-point agreement which gave the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) total political control over Tibet. In late 1951 the PLA marched into Lhasa signifying the end of a culture. Following these events, the Chinese government ruled Tibet with an iron fist, destroying religious buildings, imprisoning and killing monks and community leaders.

In 1956 small militias formed in the Tibetan province of Kham which at the time was outside of the Tibetan autonomous region, the area that the PRC had total control over. This militia was made up of people that were against China’s new frontier of land reforms in Tibet(CIA, 1959) they planned an armed uprising and attacked a Chinese government agency killing Chinese officials they continued fighting but soon realized that they would need support from an outside supporter. Around this time the CIA gained interest from the activities the CCP engaged in from the beginning of the invasion of Tibet. The CIA sent in a paramilitary team from the Special Activities Division (SAD) who were deployed in Tibet to train Chushi Gangdruk in the use of modern weaponry, guerrilla tactics, espionage, codes, and operation of hand-cranked radio transmitter/receivers. small militias later joined to form the Chushi Gangdruk which was a united force of Tibetan freedom fighters. The CIA later opened a training facility that was stationed at Camp Hale, Colorado USA, code-named ST Circus. The Colorado terrain was mountainous and provided a reasonable simulation of the areas in which the Tibetan fighters would do their combat and intelligence-gathering. The men they trained at Camp Hale were then airdropped back into Tibet to meet with other guerrillas and to continue training them. They continued to carry out successful raids on Chinese positions and destroying communication lines creating confusion and chaos for the Chinese troops.

In 1959 one of the largest uprisings against the Chinese government occurred. It was sparked by the fear that the Chinese government was plotting to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing. 300,000 Tibetans lined the walls around the summer palace where the Dalia lama was staying. The Chinese aimed artillery at the palace forcing the Dalia lama to have a clandestine departure from the palace disguised as a soldier. They left Tibet where they met up with two guerrilla soldiers who had been trained by the CIA. The soldiers were in contact with the CIA in efforts to gain access to India, which were successful, and this is where the Dalai lama went into exile. It is reported that over 100,000 of the Dalia Lama followers fled to India and Nepal after this event. The Dalia Lama has been quite clear of what he thinks about the CIA stating that CIA involvement “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” and ‘not because they (the CIA) cared about Tibetan independence, but as part of their worldwide efforts to destabilize all Communist activities (His Holiness the Dalia Lama, 1998).

Two days after the Dalai lama’s escape, Lhasa was thrown into chaos with the Chinese army firing artillery at the city, killing thousands of men, women and children. It is reported that 80,000 to 90,000 people were killed. There was a small rebellion that also started in Lhasa who started putting up barricades and fortifying their positions, the rebels also sent a request for help from the Indian counsel but were left to fend for themselves. The fighting was fierce with the rebel forces greatly outnumbered. The combat was close quarters and after brutal fighting in the streets the rebellion was eventually crushed by the PLA.

Following the uprising in Lhasa the CIA parachuted four groups of Camp Hale trainees to meet up with the Tibetan resistance all these men where eventual killed or captured along with thousands of Khamba resistance fighters and their families. By January 1960 the CIA parachuted the fourth and last team into Tibet. Along with these air drops, the CIA also provided pallets of lethal aid to the resistance including rifles, mortars, grenades, and machine guns. This last team would be unsuccessful with their mission within a month all but one of the original team was dead along with another 4,000 Khamba freedom fighters (Sengupta,hh)

After the unsuccessful missions the CIA moved the remain Tibetan freedom fighters to a new area of operations in mustang Nepal. Where about 2,000 Tibetan resistance fighters stationed themselves. These resistance fighters were underarmed under fed and fighting for survival due to a lack of air drops from the CIA. During this time, the Tibetan resistance fighters carried out a series of raids on the Chinese supply-line to great effect. During one of these raids, the Tibetans captured what is thought to be the biggest intelligence haul in the history of the CIA which became known as the “blue satchel raid”. The bag contained Chinese government documents that revealed their troubles moving forward with the spread of communism through Tibet. It gave the CIA great insight into how the Chinese government were fragile in this new land. They were also the first Chinese government documents that the CIA had ever obtained that were authentic and not forged or given by a rouge agent. This was a turning point for the activities of the Tibetan resistance fighters, because now they had received a new orders from the CIA instead of fighting the Chinese invaders they were now tasked with collecting intelligence for the CIA, the Tibetan resistance fighters disobeyed theses orders and in the winter months they would attack Chinese convoys and outposts to great effect.

The “blue-satchel raid” was a great example of how the CIA were using the Tibetan freedom fighters for their own interests. But as the years passed without any bases established inside Tibet and no new intelligence, US enthusiasm over the Mustang fighters dwindled and already sparse and insufficient arms drops ceased in 1965, leaving an aging and barely armed guerrilla force in dire straits. The 25 small teams of Colorado-trained Tibetans who were sent into Tibet from 1964 to 1967 on fact-finding missions had no better luck. Only two were able to operate in-country for more than two months, finding no support from compatriots. The end of the program was signified when president Nixon visited china to build a stronger American- Chinese relation.

Gyalo Thondup who was the second oldest brother of the Dalia Lama and also worked closely to the promised to make Tibet independent from China in exchange for Thondup’s support in organizing guerrilla units to fight against the People’s Liberation Army. He stated that “America didn’t want to help Tibet. It just wanted to make trouble for China. It had no far-sighted policy for Tibet[…]The Americans promised to help make Tibet an independent country. All those promises were broken…I can’t say the CIA help was useful…it really provoked the Chinese [and] led to reprisals. I feel very sorry for this.” (the Wall Street Journal, 2009)

A small group continued to operate at Mustang until the Nepalese government under pressure from Chinese officials came with force to shut it down, the remaining rebels refused to surrender until the Dalai Lama sent them a recorded message telling them too stand down. They handed in their weapons and surrender.

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Was CIA Involvement In Tibet Just? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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