CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

Laos

H - L

Halliday, John T. Flying through Midnight: A Pilot's Dramatic Story of His Secret Missions over Laos during the Vietnam War. New York: Scribner, 2005.

A former Raven and RF-4 pilot, Polifka, Air & Space Power Journal 21.4 (Winter 2007), "found so many errors in fact in the first 100 pages" that he "began to doubt that Halliday was ever in Southeast Asia. The fact that he was indeed there makes things even worse." There are dozens of "questionable recollections in this book [that] will make any veteran of that time and place wonder about the author’s veracity."

Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War in Laos, 1942-1992. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Yang, FILS 12.1, sees Tragic Mountains as a "depressing yet accurate tale.... When the last stronghold at Long Chieng fell after a long siege, the Hmong waited for U.S. evacuation planes that never came."

Tovar, IJI&C 8.2 ("B. Hugh Tovar was the Central Intelligence Agency's senior representative in Laos from September 1970 until May 1973."), asks: "What kind of case does Hamilton-Merritt make for [her] fiercely critical review of the American role in Laos? She makes a good one, but there are serious flaws in her presentation. Her primary achievement is to give the Hmong a voice.... To contend, however,... that the U.S. Mission ... forced the action ... and callously exploited Hmong willingness to fight is to misconstrue the way things worked in Laos.... [T]he Lao had reasons of their own for fighting, and those reasons were not always congruent with American interests. The Lao authorities ... shared the decisionmaking and often, in the face of U.S. objections, called the shots on what they wanted done....

"Factual inaccuracies abound, and in the absence of documentation the recollections of her sources have to be taken at face value. Policy issues are treated loosely, if at all.... Operations in central and south Laos are given no attention.... Hamilton-Merritt's use of the word betrayal is too strong.... Despite the upheaval in U.S. policy that accompanied the debacle in South Vietnam, the United States tried hard to cushion its impact on the Hmong."

Hannah, Norman B. The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1987.

Treverton, FA 67 (Spring 1988), sees this as a "truly reflective and personally disinterested criticism[] of American strategy in the Vietnam War." Hannah aserts that "there was never institutional advocacy leading to a systematic look at the possibility he stresses, a cordon sanitaire below the 17th parallel and across to the Mekong. This concept remains by far the most plausible strategic 'might-have-been' of the war, and it is here argued in a thorough and balanced manner, with many wise comments on decision-making that are always fair and never make things seem easier than they were. The result is a superb and original contribution."

Holm, Richard L. "No Drums, No Bugles: Recollections of a Case Officer in Laos, 1962-1964." Studies in Intelligence 47, no. 1 (2003): 1-17. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol47no1/article01.html.

This is an excellent firsthand, tactical look at one piece of the early effort in Laos (January 1962-July 1964) by a long-serving and highly regarded CIA officer in his first action. Holm's thoughts looking backward are in line with those of many who served in that fragment of the war in Southeast Asia:

"Now, some 35 years later, I lament many of the unintended results of our efforts.... The ignorance and the arrogance of Americans arriving in Southeast Asia during that period were contributing factors. We came to help, but we had only minimal understanding of the history, culture, and politics of the people we wanted to aid.... US policies in Laos are largely responsible for the disaster that befell the Hmong..... Their way of life has been destroyed. They can never return to Laos. In the end, our policymakers failed to assume the moral responsibility that we owed to those who worked so closely with us during those tumultuous years."

Jacobs, Seth. The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

From publisher: "The Universe Unraveling is a provocative reinterpretation of U.S.-Laos relations in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Seth Jacobs argues that Laos boasted several advantages over South Vietnam as a battlefield, notably its thousand-mile border with Thailand, whose leader was willing to allow Washington to use his nation as a base from which to attack the communist Pathet Lao."

Carter, JAH (Mar. 2013), sees this work as "a fine answer to the paucity of scholarship dealing with the countries surrounding Vietnam and their relationship with the United States.... The thread that runs through the text is the tragic combination of American ignorance and arrogance that characterized so much of what is called nation building during the Cold War."

Kaufman, Marc. "U.S. Reverses, Lets Hmong Exiles Resettle; 15,000 War Refugees Allowed To Apply to Leave Thai Camp." Washington Post, 22 Dec. 2003, A3. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

"[T]he State Department has agreed to allow the last major group of Indochinese refugees from the Vietnam War era to apply for resettlement in the United States. The order is directed at about 15,000 Hmong refugees -- the remnants of the former CIA secret army of Laos -- who have been living with no legal status at a Buddhist temple north of Bangkok for more than a decade."

KCBD.com (Lubbock, TX). "CIA Releases Newly Declassified Assessments of Vietnam War-era Intelligence." 17 Mar. 2009. [http://www.kcbd.com]

On 13 March 2009, the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence released "six volumes of previously classified books detailing various aspects of the CIA's operations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the '60s and '70s. The works were distributed and discussed at a conference hosted by Texas Tech University's Vietnam Center and Archive. The documents [were] penned by CIA historian Thomas L. Ahern Jr."

Leary, William M. "CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974." Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000): 71-86. Excerpted and abridged in CIRA Newsletter, 25, no. 3 (Fall 2000), 39-46.

Clark comment: Although the emphasis is on air operations, from Civil Air Transport (CAT) to Air America, this is an excellent overview of CIA operations in Laos generally. Leary concludes that "[t]he exploits of CAT/Air America form a unique chapter in the history of air transport, one that deserves better than a misleading, mediocre movie" (the reference is to 1990s Air America).

Leary, William M. Perilous Missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA Covert Operations in Asia. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1984. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 2003.

According to Motley, IJI&C 1.1, Perilous Missions is an "important and penetrating account that unites CAT's airline history, intelligence activities, and the Cold War." CAT operated 1946-1959 when it became Air America. Tovar, IJI&C 8.3, calls it "a serious study of the operations of CIA proprietary airlines" (fn. 5).

For Goulden, Washington Times, 8 Jun. 2003, Leary's is a "sound work, based on CAT's corporate archives." It serves as "a palliative for the wild yarns circulated about CAT and its successor organization, Air America, over the years." Bath, NIPQ 20.2, gives this work a "highly recommended" rating. The new edition has "a helpful new preface that summarizes CIA's proprietary air operations subsequent to the transformation of CAT into Air America.... Perilous Missions remains the best study of CAT and CIA's early involvement in the air over Asia."

Le Gallo, André J. "Forgotten Heroes." Intelligencer 19, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2012): 21-22.

This is a brief tribute to those who fought the war in Laos -- CIA, Air America, Air Force Ravens, and the Hmong.

Linder, James C. "The War in Laos: The Fall of Lima Site 85." Studies in Intelligence 38, no. 5 (1995): 79-88. Reprinted as "The War in Laos: The Fall of Lima Site 85 in March 1968." Studies in Intelligence 59, no. 1 (Mar. 2015): 11-20.

Lima Site (Landing Site) 85 was built on Phou Phathi, a mountain sacred to the Hmong and Yao tribes, about 25 miles from the Pathet Lao capital of Samneua. A Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) station was built there by the U.S. Air Force in August 1966. The station was staffed by Air Force personnel in civilian clothing, and was guarded by 300 Thai mercenaries reinforced by 1,000 Hmong troops led by two CIA paramilitary officers.

The North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao began an offensive against the mountain in December 1967. The plan was to keep the Air Force technicians at the site until just prior to its fall; Ambassador Sullivan had sole authority for ordering the evacuation. The final push against the site began on March 10; evacuation was ordered the next morning. Seven Americans were evacuated alive; eleven died. The failure is at least partially attributable to lack of command and control on the ground and the decision not to arm and train the Air Force personnel in defense and evacuation under fire.

See Timothy N. Castle, One Day Too Long: Top Secret Site 85 and the Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); and Richard V. Secord, "Tragedy Strikes Laos Site 85," Air Commando Journal 1, no. 3 (Spring 2012): 9-11.

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