Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An escape to Tibet - truth finally revealed

T. Rees Shapiro (The Age, Austrailia)

Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

In 1949, as the Chinese revolution extended its grip to the western part of the country, Frank Bessac (scholar, spy, adventurer) escaped through deserts and mountains to Tibet, a journey of almost 3000 km. Doing so, he became one of the last Westerners to meet the Dalai Lama in his summer palace in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

The trek was shrouded in Cold War era secrecy and its leader, Douglas Mackiernan, who was shot and beheaded by Tibetan border guards, became the first Central Intelligence Agency [literal remnants of Nazi organization, protocols, and staff] operative killed in the line of duty, a fact only revealed in 2006.

At the time of the revolution Bessac was a Fulbright scholar studying in nationalist-controlled Inner Mongolia when communist forces began organizing raids.

He knew what was coming and, fleeing for his life, he embarked on an 11-month journey to seek asylum in Tibet.

Before the journey ended, three men in his party including Mackiernan, would be shot, beheaded and buried in shallow graves.

When the student made it back to the US, the story of his safe return made national headlines. His autobiographical account of the trip appeared in Life magazine and vividly portrayed his harrowing tale of survival.

But many details of the epic sojourn remained hidden for a half century, including the CIA status of Mackiernan.

For the rest of his life, Bessac retreated into obscurity and spent most of his career as a professor at the University of Montana.

He first became interested in Mongolian culture during World War II and served in China with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Expertly trained, he was part of a commando unit that parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue downed American pilots. More>>

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