THE CIA STORY - 


IN THE BEGINNING
1961-   The CIA saw an opportunity to promote itself on a new level supporting paramilitary operations rather that just as an intelligence gathering service.  Tony POE the trainer arrives in LAO to train the Hmong.  He was not impressed by the LAO lowland culture, which was festooned with more politics, grandeur and rhetoric than the straight forward savvy the Hmong highland people had.

Bill Lair, our operative for Operation Momentum  learns of the Hmong from the early CIA that the Hmong were the most effective fighters.  They never gave ground, they could live off the land, great ambushers, fiercely independent and freely valued distance from any authority.  They protected their culture, mobility, their own language but did not have a written language, and worshipped their own gods.

TEAMWORK
A lack of teamwork, and poor cohesion. The wealthy lowland leaders thought the Hmong should bow to them.  They considered the Hmong savages (thus the term Meio in Chinese is used by the Lowlanders as a sign of disrespect)   On the other hand the Hmong, Yao, Khmu had little use for the Lowlanders as defining them as lazy, poor fighters and some of these prejudices still exist today.  The low landers and many wealthy Laotian leaders considered the Hmong as lesser people, in some places, this exists today.  I have sat in meetings and heard it with my own ears, after they all smiled and left the room.

Even the French Colonials who initially trained the Royal Army thought the Lowlanders would create more obstacles than good and compared the Hmong to the Maquis French guerrillas who fought the Nazi’s and the lowlanders were good for parades and their generals had nice houses, and a nice lifestyle.  One French aristocrat said about Indochina, “ The Vietnamese plant rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Laotians listen to it grow.


TONY POE - THE TRAINER

Real Name -Anthony Poshepny and additional story provided by 

Anthony Poshepny was born in Long Beach, CA, on September 18, 1924. His family is said to have been immigrants from Hungary. His father was a naval officer reportedly somehow caught up in the scapegoating that followed Pearl Harbor. 

Po himself joined the Marines in December 1942, dropping out of high school shortly after his 18th birthday. His performance in training was such that he was invited to join a USMC special warfare unit, the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion, then being organized by Lt.Col Victor Krulak.**

Poshepny rose to sergeant in the Marines and led a machine gun section in the 27th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima, where he was wounded in action and received the Silver Star. He recovered in time to participate in the Occupation of Japan.

He was recruited into the CIA. He was a member of the first class to receive all its training at the then-new facility of Camp Peary, finishing in 1953. Po was then sent to Korea where, at the tail-end of the war there, he worked under Jack Singlaub on infiltration operations to islands off the North Korean coast.

His first exposure to Southeast Asia came in the wake of Korea, when he was sent to Thailand to work with CIA programs in that country. It was here that Po decided he would be above all a field man—and among his distinctions is that he is not known ever to have served a headquarters/desk tour. After five years in Thailand, with CIA ramping up a paramilitary operation in Indonesia, Po became a PM (political-military) officer dealing with some of the CIA-supported agent teams. 

That experience, in turn, led to his assignment to the Tibet PM program, where he helped train Khamba guerrillas at Camp Hale, Colorado, and accompanied several of these CIA agent teams to their launch point at Dacca. He recalled the Khamba as “the best people I ever worked with.” He also trained Chinese Nationalist commando teams for missions onto the mainland.

Tony Po returned to Southeast Asia with a brief assignment in northern Cambodia training anti-communist partisans. Then it was to Pa Dong, Laos, in March 1961 to work with the Hmong. He was then transferred to Long Tieng. Hating paperwork and preferring the field, Po was content that a younger officer, Vincent Lawrence, served as base chief with himself as underling. He ran field missions with the Hmong partisans. After the Geneva Accords of 1962, which was to have removed all U.S. field operatives from the country, Lawrence and Po remained at Long Tieng anyway to coordinate with Vang Pao. Poshepny is said to have had shifting relations with Vang Pao and there were reportedly multiple incidents where the two almost came to blows or even drawn guns. Lawrence remained the head CIA man.

Poshepny had a checkered reputation with senior CIA officers for a number of reasons. One was that during the period of post-Geneva fictive neutrality, he reportedly continued to go out on field missions. During his career Po would be wounded about a dozen times, including losing some fingers to a booby-trap that killed a fellow officer. On another occasion he shouldered a wounded Hmong fighter and carried him about 30 km back to camp for the doctors to see him. His difficulties with Vang Pao gradually increased and created a second problem. His drinking also did not help.

With April 1964, when the Laotian operation went back into high gear, came reports of Po paying bounties for severed heads and ears of alleged Pathet Lao guerrillas. When the CIA Station questioned his body counts, he told the partisans to cut off the ears of dead enemies, which he kept in a plastic bag. When Poshepny considered he had enough he forwarded them to Embassy Vientiane. “I used to staple them to the reports,” Po joked. “There were bushels of ears at headquarters.” He admits to “distributing” at least two. 

Another time a village that had shot at Po’s aircraft was threatened by the airdrop of a severed head. The outraged headman managed to get the tail number of the Air America aircraft and complained to Embassy Vientiane. The ambassador was forced to apologize to the villagers. “if you do everything according to the orders, you’d be in a straightjacket. You have to break the monotony sometimes,” Po is quoted as saying.

Among Po’s peculiarities was that he maintained a mail subscription to the Wall Street Journal. During breaks on patrol he would pull out the paper and plan how to make a killing in the market. Lawrence, whose family included Wall Street traders and knew the difficulty of that, was amused. 

Poshepny had also been a teetotaler until he became a drunk and that weighed on him. His attitude to the drug trade was another issue. According to a former USAID worker Po refused to allow opium onto his aircraft and once threatened to throw out of the plane a Lao soldier found to have a kilo of powder. On the other hand he ignored the burgeoning heroin factories, Vang Pao’s stock, or Laotian General Ouane Rattikone’s officers from using U.S. facilities and equipment to plan and manage their traffic.

His CIA cryptonym was reportedly “UPIN” and his cover “Air Operations Officer, Continental Air Services.”

After he took an enemy round in the stomach in January 1965, and one-too-many confrontations with Vang Pao, Poshepny was transferred up-country, to the land of Yao tribesmen. There he met and married his tribal princess. Until 1970 he continued to run patrols into the southwestern PRC and against the “Chinese Road,” which the Chinese were constructing to connect to Pathet Lao territory. One story from this period is that he thought of putting teams into the PRC to exploit a rich seam of gold he had heard about from a man who had mined the ore and then escaped down the Mekong. 

An Air America pilot got the ore sample assayed and found it to be copper-iron pyrite. A researcher who visited the area reported the Yao thought “Mr. Tony” was a drinker and an authoritarian commander and a mercurial leader, who could threaten and bribe to get his way, but would walk tribesmen into the ground.

In 1970 Poshepny moved to Thailand to run a guerrilla training facility there. He closed out the camp in 1974 and retired from the CIA a year later. He remained in Thailand as a gentleman farmer for many years. In February 1984 he attended the first overseas reunion (since WW2) of American Legion Post No. 1, which had originally been established at Shanghai in the early 1920s. He returned to California in the 1990s.*** Anthony Poshepny died peacefully in his sleep on June 27, 2003. He is not recorded to have earned any CIA medals.

The National Security Archive has filed a series of FOIA requests for information about Tony Po, but has not yet received documents in response.


VANG PAO - BORN LEADER
Vang Pao enters the scene at age fourteen, a natural born leader and fighter and an ability to win recruits, over the next few years he grows in power and rank and now has a Hmong Army of trained jungle fighters working with him.

Vang, a Hmong, was born on 8 December 1929 in a Hmong village named Nonghet, in the northeastern region of Laos, where his father, Neng Chu Vang, was a county leader.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 5.01.22 PM

Vang began his early life as a farmer until Japanese forces invaded and occupied French Indochina in World War II. His father sent him away to school from the age of 10 to 14/15 before he launched his military career, joining the French Military to protect fellow Hmong during the Japanese invasion.

While taking an entrance examination, the captain who was the proctor realized that Vang knew almost no written French. The captain dictated the answers to Vang so he could join the army. 

The term "Mèo Maquis" was originally used by Free French and Allied intelligence officers to describe the Hmong resistance forces working against the Japanese forces occupying Indochina and China during World War II. After World War II, the French GCMA authorities recruited Vang as a lieutenant during the First Indochina War to combat the Viet Minh.

He was the only ethnic Hmong to attain the rank of General officer in the Royal Lao Army, and he was loyal to the King of Laos while remaining a champion of the Hmong people. 

During the 1960s/70s, he commanded the Secret Army, also known as the Hmong Army, a highly-effective Central Intelligence Agency-trained and supported force that fought against the Pathet Lao and People's Army of Vietnam.

Vang's ethnic Hmong and Laotian veterans and their refugee families who served in the US "Secret Army" were eventually granted the status of political refugees by the United Nations because of persecution and genocide by the Lao Marxist government and communist Vietnam who took control in 1975. 

The Lao and Hmong refugees were allowed to resettle in the United States, France, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Many of Vang’s former veterans formed the Lao Veterans of America, Inc. and the Lao Veterans of America Institute, with offices in Fresno, California, Washington, DC and other locales.


JAMES WILLIAM LAIR  (BILL)
Bill Lair was the architect of paramilitary operations in Laos (1961-1973) and the hands-on boss in those operations' spectacularly successful early years. Through his own diligence and field experience, he discovered principles – eternal truths, if you like – of organizing indigenous forces overseas. His career and his insights could (and should) inspire future practitioners of this little-known art.

He joined in 1951 out of Texas A&M and was in the first class at the Farm. In 1956 he was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit by Allen Dulles for creating an "indigenous military organization of battalion strength." This was a hand-picked Thai special operations force known as the PARU (Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit), which he created from scratch. The Paru were parachutists, jungle fighters, and paramilitary instructors. Each man was cross-trained in a second skill, as a medic, radio operator, or as a civil affairs specialist to help build indigenous popular support. Each Paru officer got advanced military training at Fort Benning and spoke some English. When civil war broke out in Thailand's neighbor Laos, Lair arranged for Paru teams to guide the underperforming Royal Laotian Army into recapturing the Laotian national capital of Vientiane, without attracting notice to the Agency role.

After ten years in Asia, Lair's peak period was about to begin. It was in Thailand's interest as well as America's to prevent a communist takeover of Laos, a weak landlocked kingdom that also bordered China and North Vietnam. Lair was in a position to play a unique role: He was a favorite of the Agency's Far East chief, Desmond FitzGerald. With headquarters' enthusiastic blessing he was also a uniformed colonel in the Royal Thai Police. He had married a woman from the Thai aristocracy. He had cultivated a friendship with the Thai king, Thailand's ultimate behind-the-scenes player. Most importantly, Lair had 400 Thai Paru who were personally loyal to him. In that setting, they were far more effective than Green Berets, because they were racially identical to the Laotians and thus invisible in the field.

For several years, Lair and his Thai Paru officers had been tracking a Laotian military officer from the Hmong ethnic minority, named Vang Pao. When the Laotian civil war worsened, Lair and the Paru sought out Vang Pao in the mountains. Lair proposed a three-way paramilitary alliance, the Hmong to provide the manpower, the Paru to provide the instructors and radio net, and the U.S.to provide the weapons, funding and strategic direction. Within three months the Hmong controlled most of northeastern Laos with a force of 5,000 guerillas. Remarkably, there was not a single American on the ground in that initial period, except for Lair himself, making daily visits to the Hmong and to his Paru teams.

The program grew. A few years later, a Hmong force of about 20,000 men were militarily holding their own against the North Vietnamese army in Laos. They were supported by about 400 Thai Paru and a dozen Agency officers in the field – and this in a country the size of California. The budget was a miniscule $20 million. For this, in 1965, Lair was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal for organizing "the majority of a population element into a paramilitary force well exceeding division size." (The Hmong operation itself was called YC Momentum and the irregular forces elsewhere in Laos were known as YC Hope.)

Lair's greatest achievement was organizing the Thai Paru and getting the Paru, in turn, to help organize the Hmong of Laos – a double play of great finesse. He succeeded because he understood the local cultures in depth, and because he had a knack for choosing capable indigenous leaders and encouraging them to think they were in charge. Humble, hard-working, and extraordinarily effective, Lair believed in leading from the rear.  The Sam Neua battle a brilliant victory for the Hmong

Around 1966, the Laos paramilitary operations began to merge with the greater Vietnam war, and guerrilla tactics began to give way to a reliance on airpower. To bolster the Hmong, Lair had one of his Paru – a licensed pilot – give a dozen Hmong soldiers flying lessons. Within a few years, Hmong were piloting their own little air force of propeller-driven attack planes on bombing missions. Not bad for a tribe that previously hadn't even used the wheel!

But with the US Air Force playing a greater and greater role in Laos, and with more and more Americans coming in to manage and direct a war in a part of the world they didn't understand, in 1968 Lair decided to transfer out. In the following years, the U.S.-supported irregular forces in Laos rose to 30,000 strong from a quilt work of ethnic groups. In 1975, Laos went the way of its neighbors South Vietnam and Cambodia, and a communist regime took over. But the communists, their resources and energies depleted, never crossed the Mekong River in significant numbers into Thailand. Thailand retained its independence, and thus one of the main goals of the Laos operation was achieved.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 5.04.14 PM

In retirement in his native Texas, Lair stayed on excellent terms with his Thai Paru – and with the Hmong, who began coming to the US as refugees and are now the third largest tribe in America, after the Cherokee and Navaho. He made many return trips to Thailand and Laos, and to Hmong-American communities. 

Adjusting to the US has been hard for older Hmong, who come from a culture of shamans, and who believe that every tree, rock, and gust of wind is inhabited by spirits. Nevertheless, the Hmong also recognize that living in the US has offered them greater opportunities than growing rice in the mountains of Laos. And in their ceremonies here, they consistently asked Bill Lair to be the guest of honor, and introduced him as the “ Father" of their people.   Bill Lair, in short, had a great life and a remarkable career.  In this picture he is here with Vang Pao still fighting the war.  


WILLIAM HEALY SULLIVAN - AMBASSADOR TO LAO

Sullivan was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, and graduated from Brown University as salutatorian and Class Orator of the class of 1943. His senior address was on America’s duty to “aid in repairing not only the damage suffered by our Allies, but also that sustained by our enemies.”

After graduation, he entered the Navy and served as a gunnery officer on a destroyer, the USS Hambleton. The Hambleton escorted North Atlantic convoys, and served off North Africa and Italy before participating in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the invasion of Okinawa. He had the senior watch on the Hambleton when it entered Yokohama harbor for the Japanese surrender.

After obtaining a joint graduate degree from Harvard University and the Fletcher School at Tufts University under the GI Bill, Sullivan joined the Foreign Service and was posted to Bangkok, Thailand. 

During that tour, he was in brief communication with the Viet Cong, who were in exile in northern Thailand. His subsequent assignments were to Calcutta, India, Tokyo, Japan, Naples and Rome, Italy, and The Hague, Netherlands.

His habit of speaking his mind with force and candor grated on more than one superior, and for years he languished in the lower grades. Then, in the Kennedy administration, he was assigned to the office of W. Averell Harriman, the Assistant Secretary for the Far East. Harriman, no admirer of blandness, immediately recognized his abilities.

Sullivan served as Harriman’s deputy at Geneva negotiations about the future of Laos in 1961 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  When the Vietnam War heated up, he served briefly as deputy chief of mission to the US Embassy in Saigon.

In 1964, Sullivan began his tenure as Ambassador to Laos. During his service in Laos, Sullivan broached negotiations with the North Vietnamese, capitalizing on his prior contacts with the Viet Cong in Thailand nearly 20 years previously, for the initiation of the Paris Peace Talks that ended the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Pursuant to an order by President Kennedy, all US military operations in Laos were under the direct supervision of the Ambassador.  As Ambassador to Laos during Project 404, and as a former gunnery officer he also personally directed the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in order to minimize civilian casualties. This civilian control and the restriction on military operations rankled the military.    

After he left Laos, Sullivan returned to Washington to coordinate the US participation in the Paris Peace Talks.  Thereafter, he was appointed Ambassador to the Philippines. South Vietnam fell while he in the Philippines, and Sullivan orchestrated the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people through that nation. 

He was able to persuade President Marcos to permit the fleeing South Vietnamese navy to land, despite a demand from the new Communist Vietnamese government for its return, by arguing that the ships were in fact US property after the fall of the South Vietnamese government, as a result of the terms of their sale to that state.


THE CIA
A secretive spying network from inception.
A transformational enterprise till 2001 with paramilitary operations.
Targeted killing operations begin in 2010.



Storyline©Copyright 07-2017 aljacobsladder.com