The CIA Role in the Laotian Elections, 1967

One of my biggest operations involved ensuring a “favorable” outcome in the elections to the National Assembly in 1967. With more attention being focused on the war in Southeast Asia and with the National Assembly in Laos starting to play a larger political role in the country, we thought it was important for Vang Pao to have more of a say in the political governing of the country. We figured out whom to support without letting our fingerprints show. As part of our “nation building” effort in Laos, we pumped a relatively large amount of money to politicians who would listen to our advice. In the election, “friendly” politicians won fifty-four of fifty-seven seats. Ambassador Sullivan referred to me as Mr. Tammany Hall, an allusion to New York City’s prodigious Democratic vote-getting machine of the late nineteenth century.

With the CIA’s mission expanding so rapidly, our intelligence gathering and reporting efforts boomed. As CIA personnel, we had better access to parts of Laos than our State Department colleagues. In fact, few Foreign Service officers were even allowed to visit places like Long Tieng. The major exception was Ambassador Sullivan, who oversaw the whole military effort in Laos. But other than him, during my time in Laos, only a handful of State Department personnel made it up to Long Tieng. Sometimes, we were in the awkward position of “outreporting” our State Department colleagues in the embassy, who were supposed to be the experts in designated fields such as the Lao economy, politics, and culture. In some cases, their best sources for information turned out to be our paid agents. We had to be discreet in handling such touchy situations. Since I had worked with many of the Foreign Service officers at other posts in Asia, I was given the job of smoothing ruffled feathers. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed.

SOURCE: China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia, by James Lilley with Jeffrey Lilley (PublicAffairs, 2004), p. 120

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