The CIA has long resisted efforts to disclose information about its Tibetan operations.
In 1993, then-CIA Director R. James Woolsey promised to declassify and release the records of six CIA covert operations during the Cold War, involving France, Italy, Indonesia, Laos, North Korea and Tibet. But this year, CIA Director George J. Tenet said the agency did not have the money or personnel to do this for the foreseeable future.
The Tibet documents were released not by the CIA but by the State Department, which has responsibility for regularly publishing documents that show the history of U.S. foreign policy.
Warren W. Smith Jr., author of a recent book on the history of Tibet, said he believes that the newly published documents are the first to describe the CIA's Tibetan operations.
Until now, information about the CIA plans has come from "[Tibetan] exiles and a few old CIA agents," Smith said. "None of the agents involved would know detailed information about things like the budget."
The CIA was not the only intelligence service to support the Tibetans. India also helped, and, according to Smith's book, Indian intelligence officials even organized a Tibetan unit within the Indian army.
The newly published documents show, however, that Tibetan leaders sometimes complained to Washington that they weren't getting sufficient backing from India.
The documents provide no details about the $180,000-a-year subsidy to the Dalai Lama. But they suggest that the money was used to pay for the staff and other costs of supporting his activities on behalf of the Tibetan people.
The same 1964 memo speaks of "continuing the support subsidy to the Dalai Lama's entourage at Dharamsala," the city in northern India that has served as the Dalai Lama's headquarters and the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Eisenhower Team Gave Initial Approval
A brief internal history of the CIA's Tibet operations shows that the Eisenhower administration first formally approved covert support to the Tibetan resistance in September 1958, at a time when the Tibetans were conducting guerrilla raids against Chinese army units.
The U.S. intelligence operations were overseen in Washington by the executive branch's top-secret "303 Committee." On May 20, 1959, only a few weeks after the unsuccessful Tibetan revolt, the 303 Committee approved the first covert support specifically for the Dalai Lama, who had just arrived in India. These covert CIA programs were re-approved several times during the 1960s.
In 1964, the CIA decided that one of the main problems facing the Tibetans was "a lack of trained officers equipped with linguistic and administrative abilities." As a result, it decided to educate 20 Tibetans. "Cornell University has tentatively agreed to provide facilities for their education," the CIA explains in one memo.
The Cornell program did not last long. In 1967, after Ramparts magazine disclosed that the CIA had been secretly funding the activities of the National Student Assn. in the United States, the CIA restricted its activities on U.S. university campuses.
The files show that the Tibetans were keeping close track of U.S. policy toward China. In fact, they sometimes had a better sense of what the U.S. was about to do about China than did the rest of the world.
On Dec. 6, 1968, a month after Richard Nixon was elected president but before he took office, the Dalai Lama's brother told a senior State Department official that the Tibetan exiles were afraid "of an accommodation the United States might make with the Chinese Communists."
Undersecretary of State Eugene V. Rostow told him not to worry. Rostow said that "we [the United States] would not make any accommodation with the Chinese Communists at the expense of Tibet."
Over the next four years, the Nixon administration carried out its opening to China, and the CIA's Tibetan operations were shut down.
Now, more than a quarter of a century later, the U.S. government is providing some financial support for Tibetans, but openly and through other channels.
In recent years, Congress has approved about $2 million annually in funding for Tibetan exiles in India. Congress has also urged the administration to spend another $2 million for democracy activities among the Tibetans.