from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


Between 1957 and 1965, Laotian governments came and went at a frantic pace, with the CIA sponsoring at least one coup a year. The problem was a leftist group called the Pathet Lao which kept getting enough votes to be included in coalition governments.

If the Pathet Lao or other leftists were voted into office, there'd either be a right-wing coup or the legislature would be dissolved, with future elections canceled if possible. If there was an election, the CIA would stuff ballot boxes, run propaganda campaigns and bribe legislators to try to get their candidates elected.

But the CIA didn't rely primarily on such namby-pamby techniques. Starting in the late 1950s, they recruited a mercenary force of some 40,000 men to attack Pathet Lao forces. Known as the Armee Clandestine ("secret army"), about half its members were from Thailand; the rest came from Taiwan, South Korea and other US client states. Despite the size of the Armee Clandestine, the Pathet Lao had enough support in the countryside to withstand it.

By 1964, after another CIA coup succeeded in installing a right-wing puppet, the Pathet Lao was completely frozen out of the electoral process. They'd begun receiving aid from the neighboring North Vietnamese, who were concerned about ClA-backed sabotage and assassination teams operating from Laotian territory. When the Pathet Lao made significant advances, the US military got directly-although secretly-involved.

From 1965 to 1973, the US dropped over two million tons of bombs on Laos, far more than all sides dropped in World War II. The bombing was so ferocious that over a quarter of the population became refugees, with many people living in caves for years at a time.

Since this CIA-run war in Laos was "secret," it only received a fraction of the attention given to the war in Vietnam. The secrecy proved unfortunate for many of the US soldiers involved.

If killed, they were listed as casualties of the Vietnam war. But when the Pathet Lao finally took power in 1975, no prisoner exchange treaty was signed, because we couldn't admit we'd been running a secret war in Laos.

Many of the Americans known to have been captured alive in Laos were involved in drug trafficking with the Armee Clandestine. If any are still alive, the CIA would have a considerable interest in denying their existence.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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