THE CIA'S SECRET WAR IN TIBET -- WHALE
|Chapter 7: Whale
For John Waller, Tibet was more than an intelligence target -- it was an obsession. As a twenty- year-old fresh out of college, he had landed himself a slot with the OSS in North Africa during World War II, eventually rising to deputy Middle East theater chief for counterespionage. But it was the land farther east -- above the high Himalayas -- that drew his constant attention. "I was attracted to that part of Central Asia," he later commented, "precisely because few others paid much attention to it." 
Joining the CIA after the war, Waller continued his private infatuation with Tibet, using his time in Washington to absorb whatever material he could find on the subject at the Library of Congress. It was only after being posted to New Delhi as the deputy station chief in January 1955 that he was forced to put aside this glorified hobby and focus on domestic Indian matters.
The following year, Tibet was back in the news, and India had front-row seats. When the Dalai Lama visited New Delhi in late 1956 and the Indian government threw a diplomatic roast in his honor, it was Waller who attended as the sole embassy representative. Perhaps appropriately, when the Tibetan leader headed home the following spring, Waller, too, took his leave of India and returned to Washington for a headquarters assignment.
Not until March 1959, after receiving word that the Dalai Lama was stealing toward the Indian border for apparent exile, did Waller receive emergency orders to rush back to the subcontinent. Once in India, he wasted no time making his way to Calcutta and linking up with fellow CIA officer John Hoskins. Together they drove to Darjeeling.
By that time, word had already leaked that Tibet's monarch was en route to the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA; India's euphemism for the rugged buffer it administered along the Tibetan frontier between Bhutan and Burma) and from there would presumably make his way down to the tropical lowlands of Assam state. The story had more than its share of drama, and nearly 200 representatives from the international press descended on Tezpur, a normally sleepy tea planters' town in Assam that was along the Dalai Lama's likely egress.
"It was a media circus at Tezpur," recalled Waller. The Tezpur Station Club, once a private reserve for British tea planters, had newsmen packed into its rooms, curled up on its lobby chairs, and sprawled across its billiard tables. Among them were several Waller had befriended during his New Delhi assignment. He discreetly established contact, looking to tap information without the risk of going to Assam himself. "The last thing in the world we wanted to do was go to the border and be seen with the Dalai Lama," he later explained. 
An even better channel was the Dalai Lama's own brother, Gyalo Thondup. From Darjeeling, Gyalo had made contact with Hoskins before racing east to intercept the monarch's entourage. On 18 April, the siblings met in a village forty-eight kilometers north of Tezpur. It was there during private conversation that the Dalai Lama laid out all that had happened in the weeks since crossing into India.
Things had started out well enough, Gyalo learned. Still weak from dysentery, Tibet's leader had taken five days to move from the ill-defined Tibetan border down to Towang. There he was given a moving reception by some 300 monks at Towang's resident monastery, the largest outside of Tibet. The group was hardly out of danger, however (the latest Chinese maps laid claim to NEFA), and a detachment from India's paramilitary Assam Rifles had deployed along the frontier in case the PLA was intent on pursuit. 
While in Towang, the Dalai Lama had his first meeting with a junior Indian political official. That official informed the monarch that he would act as escort to Bomdila, a larger town seventy kilometers farther south, where the Dalai Lama could discuss important issues with P. N. Menon, the official from the Ministry of External Affairs who had served as his liaison officer during his 1956-1957 visit to India, and A. K. Dave, a China expert from the Intelligence Bureau.
By the end of the second week of April, the Dalai Lama had reached Bomdila and made immediate contact with Menon and Dave. Just as quickly, their talks grew heated. Counseling moderation, Menon urged the monarch to refrain from any mention of an independent government in exile during his initial public statement, which he would presumably make upon confronting the mob of newsmen at Tezpur. At this, the Dalai Lama bristled. His press announcement had already been penned, he said, and he was determined to push for independence. The monarch told Menon defiantly that if New Delhi insisted that he accept the limited role of prominent religious leader, perhaps he should not accept Nehru's offer of asylum.
Clearly unsatisfied, the Dalai Lama departed Bomdila by jeep on 18 April and was finally able to meet Gyalo and relay his early frustration with New Delhi. The Dalai Lama also used the opportunity to pass his brother a verbal message to the U.S. government, reaffirming his determination to support the resistance of his people and asking Washington to recognize his exiled government and supply those who were continuing the resistance.
Together, the brothers made their way down to Tezpur, where the Dalai Lama was briefly overwhelmed by the flood of journalists and the carnival atmosphere. By 23 April, Gyalo was able to quietly pass a detailed update to Hoskins and Waller, including a paraphrased account of the Dalai Lama's request. 
Suddenly showing more backbone than any time in the past, the twenty-three-year-old Tibetan leader was upsetting apple-carts all over. India, in particular, was in a fix. On the one hand, New Delhi hinted at its sympathy for the rebels inside Tibet. The Indians, moreover, were probably not wholly naive about Gyalo's clandestine activities over the previous years. Gossip, after all, flowed freely in the Tibetan refugee community. In addition, the Indians had a prime window into activities in Darjeeling beginning in late 1956, when Gyalo hired an Indian (a former Morse operator and government employee who had served at India's consulate in Lhasa) to give English lessons to six Tibetans he was preening as future translators and assistants. Only a fool or an innocent would believe that this tutor kept what he saw and heard from his former bosses. 
On the other hand, India had long seen an advantage in its delicate dance with China vis-a-vis Tibet. As recently as 30 March 1959 -- just a day before the Dalai Lama crossed into India -- Nehru had reaffirmed his desire for good relations with Beijing. Now that Tibet's exiled leader was speaking in terms of independence instead of autonomy -- and with rumors of thousands of guerrillas fleeing for sanctuary in India -- the earlier status quo was no longer viable. 
The Dalai Lama's assertive posturing also had Washington scrambling for an appropriate response. Throughout the month of April, the U.S. government took pains to ensure that it did not appear to be instigating or exploiting the revolt for cold war profit. If such a perception arose, there was fear that Nehru might lash out against both the United States and the Tibetans. This even applied to U.S. aid for Tibetan refugees; to avoid the impression that it was being offered for political rather than humanitarian reasons, no supplies were to be sent unless requested by India, and preferably for indirect distribution through the Indians themselves. 
Unwilling to take a lead role, Washington hinged its response on Asians themselves confronting China's aggression. To a degree, this strategy bore fruit. According to a U.S. Information Agency survey in early April, no recent communist event, including the harsh Soviet measures in Hungary during 1956, had provoked more public condemnation in South and Southeast Asia than China's actions against Tibet. By month's end, neutral Asian states were generally reacting favorably from a "free world point of view," even though India was not as forceful as Washington might have liked. President Eisenhower even talked wistfully in terms of regional arch rivals India and Pakistan coming to a better understanding against a common Chinese foe. 
Behind the scenes, however, some U.S. policy makers were chafing to do more. Serious talk to this effect had started in late March during the final days before the Dalai Lama left Tibetan soil. Following a fast-paced exchange of memorandums between CIA Director Dulles and Eisenhower's senior NSC staffer Gordon Gray, presidential approval was extended on 1 April for continued para- military action in support of the Tibetan resistance. Dulles assured the president that such action fell within existing policy authorizations and that the United States was not exposing itself to an open-ended commitment. 
The trouble was, any commitment -- much less an open-ended one -- was becoming all but impossible to plan. After seeing the Dalai Lama off at the border, the CIA's pair of radio agents had headed north to seek out Gompo Tashi. They had not yet reached Lhuntse Dzong when the Khampa chieftain found them. Notified of his promotion to general, Gompo Tashi hardly had time to celebrate. With PLA forces closing for a two-pronged attack, and guerrilla morale low, Tom and Lou took to the radio to relay desperate pleas for food and ammunition. 
Responding, the CIA loaded a C-118 with supply pallets and rushed it to Kurmitola during mid- April. By that time, however, the area around Lhuntse Dzong was on the verge of collapse. With the plane still on the tarmac, Tom and Lou broke for the border. Gompo Tashi and a band of Khampa guerrillas had preceded them by a few days, handing in their weapons to Indian guards on 29 April and crossing into the sanctuary of NEFA. 
With the NVDA in southern Tibet in full disarray and having lost its radio link on the scene, the CIA took two interim measures. First, it delayed plans to infiltrate the team of Lithang Khampas that had been training in the United States since the fall of 1958. As of the close of April, the team (now attrited to six members; two others had washed out because of poor mental aptitude) was on the verge of shifting to new quarters at Colorado's Camp Hale. The Khampas had originally been scheduled to parachute into their homeland by late May, but plans for the drop were now on hold, pending more information on the disposition of the resistance.
As a second measure, yet another contingent of Tibetans was to be selected by Gyalo from among the refugee community for training in the United States. The recruitment pool was now far larger than at any time in the past. By early April, the number of displaced Tibetans reaching India had grown from a trickle to a steady stream; 6,000 of the new arrivals were crowded inside hastily constructed bamboo huts near Bomdila, and another 1,000 lived in similar arrangements at a transit camp close to Sikkim. From these, eighteen young men -- fifteen Khampas and three Amdowas -- made the cut. Joining them as translators were three of the Tibetans Gyalo had sponsored for English lessons over the previous three years. 
Although Gyalo had been heavily involved in ex filtrating the two previous groups of trainees, he was now occupied with shadowing the Dalai Lama. There was no time for him to escort the third contingent along the underground railroad into East Pakistan, so the recruits were instructed to make their own way from Darjeeling to Siliguri for a rendezvous with Gyalo's cook Gelung.
As planned, the contingent linked up on the outskirts of Siliguri. Their intention was to turn south and walk the distance to the border. Unfortunately for the Tibetans, the presence of nearly two dozen Orientals marching along the roadside attracted the attention of the local Indian authorities. A police jeep drove slowly past, then returned a second time. Fearful of capture, the Tibetans slipped into the adjacent forest for a night's sleep. At daybreak they returned to the road to continue their journey and ran straight into a police roadblock.
They were placed under arrest, but Gelung, the only Hindi speaker in the bunch, came up with a plausible alibi. They were Tibetan refugees, he explained truthfully, and they had heard that there were jobs available in East Pakistan. After smoothing their story with a modest bribe (one of the Khampas was carrying a pocketful of rupees; several others were carrying Tibetan knives), they were sent back to Darjeeling with a reprimand. 
Several weeks later, in mid-May, the group again set out for East Pakistan. This time, Gyalo made himself available to drive some of them down to the Siliguri city limits; the remainder took the train. The group now consisted of twenty-three members: the eighteen young recruits (average age, twenty-two) and three translators, plus two older Khampas in their mid-forties. With compass in hand, Gelung successfully navigated them around Siliguri proper and across the frontier. A Pakistani officer met them on the other side, loaded them on a truck, and took them to a train car sitting on a desolate section of track. A locomotive soon arrived, hooked up with the car, and carried the group down to Dacca.
Shuttled from the train to Kurmitola aboard a bus with black curtains on the windows, the Tibetans were deposited at the rear door of the USAF's unmarked C-118. Inside to greet them was Tony Poe. "My first impression was that the Americans were so big," recalled one of the interpreters, Tashi Choedak. "I was stunned by his height." 
After a refueling stop at Clark Air Base, Poe took the Tibetans to Okinawa. There they were crowded inside a safe house and taken away in trios for the standard battery of physical exams and aptitude tests. Because the two older Khampas were deemed unfit to undergo the rigors of paramilitary training, they were ordered to remain behind on Okinawa. One of the younger Khampas was belatedly rejected as too frail for parachute infiltration. For the remaining twenty, Camp Hale awaited.
With two Tibetan contingents in the United States by late May, the Tibet Task Force was making headway in developing a trained cadre that would have a multiplier effect for an active resistance movement. But with the CIA's sketchy intelligence indicating that the NVDA had been soundly thrashed, there was a good chance that there might not be much resistance for them to multiply. The PLA was making a "very effective military showing," Dulles admitted during the 23 April NSC briefing, including good use of veterans from the Korean War and combat aircraft. The rebel forces, he concluded, were "pretty well knocked to pieces." 
China's effective showing was only half the story. Exuding little that was unconventional, the Tibetans guerrillas were consistently fighting in large concentrations, planning overly complex maneuvers, and failing to milk the advantage of their superior knowledge of the local terrain. 
Particularly frustrating from the U.S. perspective was the relative ease with which the PLA was overcoming the serious logistical challenges of feeding and arming thousands of Chinese infantrymen pushing across the Tibetan plateau. It took twenty-two trucks of equipment, fuel, and other essentials, the Pentagon estimated, for every one truck that reached PLA fighting forces close to the Indian border. This was an incredible logistical burden, yet it was being accomplished with virtually no harassment. 
The cost to Beijing, reasoned the policy makers in Washington, could be substantially increased if the supply flow was disrupted. In theory, this was not all that difficult to plan. There were only three drivable roads leading to the plateau. The first, which the Dalai Lama had used during his 1954-1955 trip to China, meandered west from Szechwan through the hills of Kham to Lhasa. A second road ran from the Tibetan capital to Xinjiang Province in a wide arc along the Indian frontier. Completed in October 1957, it had been built in secret and had portions that dipped into Indian-claimed territory; because traveling this path constituted an exhaustive trek over an excessive distance, it was not heavily used. The final road extended from the city of Xining diagonally across Amdo (officially known as Tsinghai Province) before plunging south toward Lhasa. Completed in 1955, this single-lane, graveled byway crossed swamps and long stretches of terrifying terrain, but it seemed to be a favored route for convoys supplying the PLA in Tibet. 
On 1 May, these roads had been the subject of discussion during a closed-door session between State Department officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Questioning whether the United States was doing all it could, the USAF chief of staff, General Thomas White, broached the possibility of using airpower to deny ground access from China. That same month, Thomas S. Gates, the newly appointed deputy secretary of defense, chaired a classified Pentagon meeting on aid to Tibet. Again, the possibility of closing the roads with jet strikes was raised but rejected as too risky, given that the Eisenhower administration had no intention of going to war with Beijing over Lhasa. 
Instead of using jets, a more palatable solution was to have an indigenous sabotage team parachute in near the target. There were several options to consider. For one, the CIA already had the Lithang Khampas waiting patiently at Camp Hale, all of whom were versed in demolitions. However, these agents would have been ethnically out of place in the Amdo outback, and in any event, they were being held in reserve for a mission alongside the NVDA resistance.
A second option involved the considerable resources found in the Republic of China on Taiwan. For as long as Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had been in Taipei, he had been pleading for a chance to attack the mainland with airborne forces. By 1956, Chiang was fixated on a scheme to drop hundreds of paratroopers across the PRC, thereby sparking multiple guerrilla battles among an oppressed population supposedly desperate for liberation.
Just as during Chiang's earlier lobbying, his U.S. sponsors listened with more concern than sympathy. Washington felt that Taipei was clinging to an unduly optimistic estimate of its appeal inside the PRC, making the proposed airborne assault all but doomed to failure. Moreover, it doubted that any other Asian nation took Chiang's dream of retaking the mainland seriously, and few would be willing to voice support following a provocative attack by scores of paratroopers. 
Still, the United States sensed the generalissimo's growing frustration and wanted to offer him visible proof that it had not given up hope of his eventual return. To appease its ally, in October 1957 the United States approved a plan for the Pentagon to begin unconventional warfare and airborne training for a select group of 3,000 ROC troops. The catch: they could not be used against the mainland without U.S. consent. 
Though this was seen as a move in the right direction, Taipei was hardly satisfied. No sooner had the 3,000 commandos been officially inaugurated as the 1st Special Forces Group in January 1958 when a second group -- not supported by U.S. military assistance -- was unilaterally raised two months later. Chiang, in fact, was insistent on having a legion of 30,000 paratroopers and did not readily accept Washington's stipulation about bilateral consent over their use. 
On a parallel track, the CIA had never stopped turning out a much more modest number of airborne agents for Taiwan. Drawn from the various ethnic groups that had fled to the ROC, some of these agents were grouped on paper as the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army, a verbosely titled liberation force that Taipei claimed to be assembling for its retake of the mainland.  Unlike the Special Forces -- whose use in an airborne blitz was almost certain to meet a U.S. veto -- the salvation army was fair game for small-scale infiltrations. In mid-1958, the ROC turned to these agents when it resumed covert inserts, primarily into the PRC's southern and southeastern provinces. 
Just as with similar efforts in previous years, these latest infiltrations were less than successful. Between July and December, dozens of agents were dispatched by parachute, boat, or overland via Hong Kong, Macao, and (indirectly) Saigon. Most were apparently killed or captured in a matter of days, or even hours. 
All this must have frustrated Generalissimo Chiang, especially given the mounting evidence of genuine, even spreading, dissent on the mainland. The majority of this activity was concentrated along the PRC's periphery, where ethnic minorities were revolting against things such as economic collectivization and Beijing's campaign to have Mandarin replace local languages. Besides Tibetans, the disaffected included Mongolians, Turkic Muslims, and the Hiu. 
Beijing viewed the Hiu with particular concern. Unlike the Turkic minority in Xinjiang, who saw themselves as a separate people who happened to live within the PRC's borders, the Hiu thought of themselves as Chinese who happened to be Muslims. They were heavily represented across the north-central provinces; this included the eastern half of Amdo, an area of Tibet that was proving to be rich in exploitable mineral resources. 
Dissent among the Hiu was not exactly a new phenomenon. The community was roughly split: some had easily bent to communist rule, and their horsemen had even proved instrumental in defeating the 1956 rebellions in Amdo and Kham; others had actively resisted Beijing, launching four minor rebellions between 1950 and the summer of 1958. Particularly problematic from Beijing's perspective was Ma Chen-wu, a relatively wealthy Sufi mystic who had an enormous local following. Prone to hyperbole, the Chinese media had dubbed him "more poisonous than a viper and a scorpion" before he was arrested that October as part of a concerted campaign to "eliminate the black sheep of Islamic circles." 
Learning of the 1958 rebellion, the ROC had made a concerted effort to exploit the Hiu dissent by including Muslim guerrillas among the teams being trained by the CIA. There was no shortage of recruits, as many members of the more prominent Hiu clans had fled to Taiwan. Even one of former warlord Ma Pu-feng's many sons was among the novice agents. Tony Poe, later of the Tibet program, was one of their training officers. His assessment was not particularly positive: "My teams were primarily Muslims, but with Han Chinese leaders. We were jumping about five to six times a day, and exercising in the mountains of western Taiwan. It was mostly ambush training against convoys and railheads. The idea was completely unworkable because the Muslims told me they would kill the Han as soon as they landed."
Poe was not one to mince words, and his critical assessment did little to endear him to the CIA station chief in Taipei, Ray Cline. A senior OSS official during World War II, Cline had returned to Harvard for his doctorate before joining the CIA. Initially an intelligence analyst, he had been selected as Dulles's private secretary during the director's 1956 world tour. As an apparent reward for a job well done, Cline was given abbreviated agent training in late 1957 and arrived at the ROC slot early the following year.
Seeing Cline as a desk-bound academic with little appreciation for the nuances of unconventional warfare, Poe continued his haranguing of the Muslim training effort. Word of the friction eventually made it back to Des FitzGerald -- by then head of the Far East Division -- who transferred Poe to the Tibet training program in the United States. 
The Hiu agents, meanwhile, remained on Taiwan through the spring of 1959. By that time, events in Tibet were creating unforeseen opportunities in the minds of the ROC leadership. During late March, immediately after the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, Chiang Kai-shek offered public support to his "fellow countrymen" in Tibet and called for accelerated aid to mainland revolutionary movements. Other ROC officials claimed that radios had been supplied that month at the request of the NVDA, and additional forms of assistance were reportedly being considered. 
In reality, the ROC's connection to the Tibetan resistance was all but non-existent. Although intelligence agents from Taiwan had been floating in and out of the refugee community in Kalimpong since at least 1956, they had been largely ineffective in winning recruits.  And aside from a token $15,000 in refugee assistance provided by Taipei during May, there was no paramilitary aid extended to, or requested by, the NVDA. 
The problem, recognized U.S. officials, was that the Tibetan revolt was not so much anticommunist as it was anti-Chinese. The Tibetans were antagonistic to all Chinese, noted U.S. Ambassador to Taipei Everett Drumright, regardless of political affiliation. Still, with Chiang's long-standing request for more action on the mainland given newfound urgency by the upsurge in Tibetan resistance, key U.S. foreign policy makers on 25 March had given the green light for exploratory discussions with the ROC regarding enhanced covert operations against the PRC. Drumright, who attended the meeting, advocated increased support to Taipei, provided there were no joint activities in Tibet. 
Drumright's proviso meshed perfectly with conclusions drawn earlier by the CIA. From the onset of ST CIRCUS, the agency had taken great pains to exclude the ROC from its Tibetan operations. But there was no denying a convergence of interests, especially with regard to closing the logistical corridor across Amdo. Taking exception on this single occasion, the agency in May made plans for a joint project code-named ST WHALE.
The agents for ST WHALE would be drawn from the contingent of Hiu Mulims trained earlier by Tony Poe. Four were selected as a pilot team, which was scheduled to drop near the Qaidam Basin in the central part of Amdo -- within easy striking distance of the road to Lhasa. Although none of the Tibet Task Force's assets would be exposed to Taiwan, there was a hitch. The ROC's elite aviators from its Special Mission Team, which had long been handling airborne infiltrations across the mainland, had taken a beating over the previous year due to better PRC defenses strung along the coastal provinces. Its converted B-26 bombers did not have sufficient fuel for an Amdo mission and, in any event, had been eliminated from the agent-dropping role in March 1959 after taking losses. The B-26s were supposed to be replaced by the sophisticated P2 V-7 , but crews for this new plane had not yet graduated from the final stages of U.S. training. This left the venerable B-17, which had neither the speed nor the range to elude aerial interception and perform the round- trip from Taiwan to Amdo.
To assist, the CIA arranged to lend ST WHALE some of the aerial delivery methods it had used for ST BARNUM. Just as with the cargo drops to the NVDA, the Hiu would jump from the same CAT-piloted unmarked C-118. Significantly, that plane had recently been modified with pressurized doors, providing the crew with a quantum leap in comfort due to its now sealed cabin. As during the Tibet missions, the aircraft would stage through Kurmitola, putting it within closer range of Amdo and allowing the aircraft to circumvent the PRC's concentrated defenses along the coast. 
Because the team would be left to its own devices on the ground, it was important that it bring adequate supplies. The problem was turned over to the CIA's logistical guru on Okinawa, Jim McElroy. He intended to use the jumper to-bundle system perfected during the 1957 jumps into Tibet. This time around the lead parachutist would be connected to 5,000 pounds of supplies lashed to a plywood pallet. Inside the bundle would be everything from jerked meat to gold ingots and coral beads for trading.
To study the topography around the target area, the CIA was granted presidential approval for two U-2 overflights of Tibet and China on 12 and 14 May.  Shortly thereafter, the C-118 headed for Kurmitola. Most of the crew -- Doc Johnson at the controls, Jim Keck as navigator, Bob Aubrey at the radio, and Bill Lively as flight mechanic -- had experience on the supply drops the previous fall. In the copilot's seat was Truman "Barney" Barnes, a World War II ace with five confirmed Japanese kills in his P-38. In the rear, Richard "Paper Legs" Peterson was assigned as the kicker. One of two smoke jumpers seconded to the CIA at the close of 1958, Peterson had been sitting idle at Okinawa until ordered in April 1959 to give some additional parachute training to the Hiu team before escorting it to East Pakistan. 
Upon arrival at Kurmitola, the crew and agents waited at the austere base for the order to launch. Fighting off boredom, Barnes asked for permission to visit his sister-in-law, a Holy Cross sister running an orphanage in Dacca, but his request was denied by the CIA support team in the interest of secrecy. The mood was already tense, and it was not helped when Johnson and Colonel Weltman -- the CIA air operations officer from Tokyo -- got into an argument over stolen liquor. 
As soon as the weather and lunar conditions proved cooperative, the C-118 was airborne and heading northeast over NEFA, Kham, and the Amdo steppes. Upon seeing the moon reflected on the surface of Koko Nor -- the largest lake in all of Tibet and China -- the crew turned west for 160 kilometers. The drop zone, which had been identified in overhead imagery, proved difficult to pinpoint from the cockpit. "There were two forks in a river," recalls Barnes. "We thought we were at the right one and gave the signal." 
In the cabin, Peterson, Keck, and Lively were all waiting near the bundle. There had been problems earlier in the flight when they belatedly realized that the parachute harnesses did not easily fit over the padded jackets worn by the agents. Three of the Hiu eventually made the squeeze; the fourth was forced to take his jacket off. "I held on to his jacket, " said Lively, "and motioned that I would throw it out the door after he jumped." 
There was another concern as well. As Peterson maneuvered the bundle along the rollers toward the door, one of the packing straps caught on a piece of steel. With the pallet hopelessly stuck and time pressing, he pulled out a knife and sliced off the tie. "In the back of my mind," he remembers, "I became concerned the bundle would not deploy its chute properly."
The jumper connected to the pallet, meanwhile, was also having ill-timed second thoughts. As the supplies roared out of the cabin and the cord started to play out from his chest, he stood firm. Reaching forward, Peterson grabbed the reluctant agent by the chute and heaved him out the door. "I'll never forget the look of raw terror," said Keck, "in the brief second before he disappeared into the dark."
With no further hesitation, the other three Muslims leaped from the plane. As promised, Lively stepped forward to release the jacket of the last agent into the slipstream. The plane then turned south and reached Kurmitola without incident.
Within a week, the four Hiu made brief radio contact with Taiwan. Encouraged, the same C-118 crew was summoned the next month for a repeat performance. This time around, they were to drop only supplies; McElroy had rigged almost 8,000 pounds on a single pallet.
Heading north from Kurmitola during the full moon phase, Doc Johnson came upon a ground signal and activated the green light in the cabin, Like clockwork, the bundle roared out the side, and the C-118 returned to East Pakistan. Refueling, the crew then turned east and flew for an hour before one of the engines gave a loud mechanical cough and ground to a halt. Limping along at reduced altitude, Johnson diverted to Bangkok for repairs. "If it had happened during the supply drop," said copilot Barnes, "we would have never made it back across the Himalayas."
The ST WHALE agents, it seems, were not nearly as lucky. When their handlers raised them over the radio and asked if they had received the supplies, the Hiu claimed that no cargo had come. Livid, the CIA case officers grilled the C-118 crew over the accuracy of the drop. Very quickly, however, doubt fell on the team itself. Communications intercepts later indicated that the agents had been captured early on, and the radio operator doubled. ST WHALE was quietly shelved, and no additional Hiu saboteurs were dropped inside Amdo. The PLA truck convoys to the Tibetan front remained on schedule.