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
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
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.