278. Memorandum Prepared for the 40 Committee1


  • Status Report on Support to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Operations

1. Summary

CIA Tibetan activities, utilizing followers of the Dalai Lama, have included in addition to guerrilla support a program of political, propaganda, and intelligence operations. These activities are designed to impair the international influence of Communist China by support to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiles in maintaining the concept of an autonomous Tibet, [4 lines of source text not declassified].

From its inception the Tibetan operations program has been coordinated with the Department of State and appropriate U.S. Ambassadors. Since 1959 these activities have been approved and reviewed by predecessor bodies of the 40 Committee and were most recently endorsed by the 303 Committee in March 1968.2

Funds programmed for these Tibetan operations (other than guerrilla resistance support) have been gradually reduced from over $500,000 yearly before 1969 to $363,000 proposed for FY 1971.3

[Page 1147]

2. Status Report

(a) Background

Following up earlier U.S. support to his followers in Tibet, upon the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959 we instituted a covert subsidy to him and his immediate entourage, and funds and guidance to maintain Tibetan social and political institutions in India and abroad. With Indian asylum and U.S. support, the idea of Tibet as an ethnic and cultural entity with a widely-acknowledged claim to freedom from Chinese Communist rule has survived. The figure of the Dalai Lama, still revered as the spiritual leader of his people, has been effective as a reminder of the threat Communist China represents to its neighbors and to non-Chinese minorities. The existence of a free Tibet in exile has also helped to expose the hollowness of Communist China’s pretensions to sponsoring “national liberation” movements around the world.

In the years after the Dalai Lama’s escape, our Tibetan political operations have been built round efforts to gain support for the Tibetan cause [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Propaganda operations have aimed to enlarge world awareness of and sympathy for the Tibetans. Intelligence operations have aimed to place reporting agents within Tibet to gather political and military information. [61/2 lines of source text not declassified]

(b) Policy Approvals

In April 1959 the Special Group (5412) approved CIA support to the Tibetan resistance movement, and in May 1959 approved our covert support to the Dalai Lama. Status reports on Tibetan political, psychological and intelligence operations were reviewed and endorsed by the Committee in February 1964 and March 1968.4

(c) Developments During Fiscal Year 1970

During the past year our efforts to foster the continued existence of a Tibetan entity and exploit it against Communist China have been abetted by significant developments in both Indian and Soviet attitudes. Resolutions favoring Tibetan rights, which succeeded in the United Nations in 1959, 1961 and 1965, had been opposed by the USSR and India either abstained or withheld active support. The persistent efforts of the Dalai Lama and his brother Gyalo Thondup have lately been rewarded by growing support from Indian officials. Perhaps more significant has been the approach of senior Soviet diplomats to Gyalo Thondup proposing joint Soviet-Tibetan intelligence operations into [Page 1148] Sinkiang and Tibet. The Soviets also stated that the USSR would consider abstaining from voting against any resolution in the United Nations censuring China on human rights in Tibet. Thondup has remained interested but non-committal to Soviet overtures for joint operations.

We have continued to pay a [dollar amount not declassified] yearly direct subsidy to the Dalai Lama and his entourage to maintain him in India where he strives to keep alive the will, the culture, and the religious traditions of his people in exile. He does not account to us for this sum and it is not used in our Tibetan operations. In addition to the Dalai Lama’s subsidy, we have funded political and propaganda activities of the Tibetans. [31/2 lines of source text not declassified]

The first class of young Tibetans graduated from a training course in administration which we sponsored [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] last year. Some are administering the Tibetan Bureau in New Delhi, which conducts the Dalai Lama’s business with the Indian Government. Others are working for its cultural center in New Delhi which serves Tibetologists and has become an important tourist attraction. The Tibetan Bureau also publishes an English language newspaper which has been distributed internationally to institutions to publicize the Tibetan cause abroad.

The New York Office of Tibet has continued to keep the Tibetan cause before international leaders, and to treat with organizations interested in refugees and relief. A well-known international lawyer, formerly a member of the U.S. United Nations delegation, continues to assist the Tibetans in New York [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. An Office of Tibet in Geneva serves Tibetan refugees in Europe, arranges scholarships and vocational training, and treats with international refugee agencies.

For intelligence collection on the Chinese presence in Tibet we have worked [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] independently with Tibetan leaders [11/2 lines of source text not declassified]. Our independent operations with Tibetans [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] have concentrated on attempts to place resident agents in Tibet. Chinese security in the border area and travel controls within Tibet have made such agent operations extremely hazardous. CIA-trained radio teams of Tibetans along the Nepal border of Tibet have continued to report [3 lines of source text not declassified] continues in radio contact with these teams as well as the paramilitary resistance force in the Mustang valley of Nepal.

(d) Planned Continuation of Program

The Tibetans will continue to seek Government of India support for a new resolution in the United Nations in the hope of recording a Soviet abstention against China. [91/2 lines of source text not declassified] We shall continue the subsidy to the Dalai Lama at its past level, but [Page 1149] shall somewhat reduce funds for other activities. Intelligence collection costs are being reduced [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] by eliminating unproductive agent personnel.

3. Alternatives

At the present time the effectiveness of the Dalai Lama’s presence in exile is maintained by [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] U.S. subsidy [71/2 lines of source text not declassified]. The U.S. alone provides all the costs of promoting the Tibetan cause internationally [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. A withdrawal of U.S. support to the Tibetans would reduce but not eliminate the effectiveness of the Dalai Lama’s presence in exile; however, the Tibetan cause as a world issue would probably fade rapidly because the Indian Government, as the only reasonable alternative source of support, would not likely undertake the foreign exchange costs involved. The Tibetans would no longer willingly provide the personnel and expertise required by our unilateral and joint intelligence efforts [1 line of source text not declassified].

Elimination of the intelligence collection operations would not seriously diminish coverage of Western China for U.S. needs, [3 lines of source text not declassified].

4. Risks and Contingency Planning

[81/2 lines of source text not declassified] The risk of public disclosure of CIA subsidy to the Dalai Lama is small. CIA support to the Dalai Lama is assumed by the Chinese, and there is some evidence that the Chinese have tried to put pressure on the King of Nepal to inhibit U.S. and [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] operations. However, the King has not found these operations to be intolerable, and therefore we do not regard them as jeopardizing U.S.-Nepal relations.

5. Coordination

This proposal was coordinated in September 1970 with State Department officials Messrs. Christopher Van Hollen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schneider, Country Director for India, and Alfred Jenkins, Director for Asian Communist Affairs. They agreed to its submission to the Committee.

6. Costs

The total cost of the proposed Tibetan operations for Fiscal Year 1971 will be $363,000 [4 lines of source text not declassified] These funds have been programmed by CIA for Fiscal Year 1971.

7. Recommendation

It is recommended that the 40 Committee endorse the continuation of the subsidy to the Dalai Lama and support to other Tibetan operations, and approve the funding level.

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, Tibet. Secret; Eyes Only. A handwritten note on the first page reads: “Approved by the 40 Committee on 31 March 1971.” This issue was discussed briefly at the March 31 meeting of the 40 Committee held in San Clemente, California. According to the minutes of the meeting, Kissinger asked, “Does this have any direct benefit to us?” U. Alexis Johnson replied, “It keeps him [the Dalai Lama] alive.” David Blee of CIA added, “It helps in Buddhist countries.” Kissinger then asked what would happen if the Dalai Lama died. Blee replied that a committee of lamas would meet to find a new Dalai Lama. Kissinger asked, “He will be one of the people outside Tibet?” Blee replied, “Yes, They have lots of people outside. The program this year amounts to $363,000. It will go down to $263,000 in FY 72.” Johnson, representing the Department of State, said, “We have no problem with this.” Kissinger asked if everyone agreed on this item, and the minutes indicate that “All agreed.” The 40 Committee also discussed Tibetan paramilitary forces at this meeting and approved a CIA proposal to continue to reduce the forces from 1,800 to 300 over the next 3 years (see Document 273). (Minutes of the 40 Committee meeting, March 31; National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, 303/40 Committee Files, 1971 Minutes) The CIA report on U.S.-supported paramilitary activities in the region is in Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 40 Committee Files, 1971.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXX, Document 342.
  3. In an April 6 memorandum to Van Hollen, David T. Schneider wrote that the reduction in the Tibetan operation would not be as fast or as extensive as he and others in the Department of State had recommended. “I am distressed at his outcome and will be discussing with EA what, if anything, we can do to pick up the pieces.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 19 TIBET)
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXX, Document 337.