The Dalai Lama’s Secret and Other Reporting Adventures
Stories from a Cold War Correspondent
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Anyone who has wandered around the world watching interesting
events as a journalist accumulates lots of stories to tell. Here are some
stories from twenty-seven years in journalism.
Most of them focus on specific events that I reported—or was otherwise involved in, such as thwarting a Soviet blackmail scheme. A few are more sweeping accounts of times and places, such as reporting parts of several wars with only a few forays into being a jungle-slogging war correspondent. These pieces were written over many years as stand-alone “anecdotes,” so there is a little overlap...
1. A Gubernatorial Push
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A boyhood fascination with world war ii started my interest
in world affairs that turned into a desire to become a foreign correspondent. It
seemed to be an exciting world out there. So it proved to be. Before I became
a foreign correspondent, however, my journalism got a push from a governor
of Louisiana—an angry, not a friendly, push.
In third grade in the Louisiana State University “lab school,” those youngsters who were doing well in various subjects were sometimes allowed to read quietly in a corner by open windows—this was before air conditioning. I was reading one morning when newsboys came by outside shouting, “Extra!” It was May 10, 1940, and Nazi Germany had invaded the Low Countries. That is my...
2. Riding the Buses in Montgomery
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The phone in my little garage apartment woke me up about 4:30
on Sunday morning. I recognized the voice of an acquaintance who sold insurance
in Montgomery, Alabama, but was somewhat of a local character because
of his insomniac habit of cruising around town in the wee hours listening to the
police radio. He also liked to hang around with reporters and had been nice to
me the few times we had met. All he said was, “There’s a bomb at King’s house.”
It was January 28, 1957. A month earlier a boycott of Montgomery city buses had been ended by those residents who at the time identified themselves as Negroes. The boycott to protest racial segregation practices on the buses had...
3. Killing the Long-Haired Lama
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The cables from london were angry. the first one came in the wee hours of the morning of Saturday, March 21, 1959. The overnight messenger who dozed in the New Delhi bureau of the Associated Press received a phone call from the Indian government communications office, and he pedaled his bicycle over to Eastern Court to pick up the cable. Then he woke Rangaswamy Satakopan, the AP’s invaluable reporter who lived with his wife and their nephew in rooms off one side of the office. Swamy read the cable and started calling Indian journalist friends, seeking information, but could get little at that hour...
4. The Dalai Lama’s Treasure
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The 26th of january is one of india’s grandest holidays.
This is not to be confused with the anniversary of the end of British rule. That is celebrated on August 15, the date in 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed that India had made “a tryst with destiny. . . . At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” On each subsequent August 15, in the coolness just after dawn before another blistering day, the current prime minister mounts the parapet of Moghul emperor Shah Jahan’s seventeenth-century Red Fort in old Delhi. The prime minister repeats Nehru’s unfurling there on the first day of independence of the green, white, and orange national flag before a crowd stretching back into Chandi...
5. Behind the Himalayas
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The trail was narrow and twisting, often disappearing into areas of landslides, where travelers had to pick their way over loose stones on steep slopes high above the Kali Gandak River. It was so difficult and dangerous that even sure-footed mules that carried freight in other rugged parts of the Himalayas— in Tibet, Bhutan, India, and here in Nepal—could not use this trail. Only human porters carried cooking oil, matches, kerosene, and other products of the industrial world to people eking out near-subsistence livelihoods beyond where the river slashed between two of the world’s highest peaks. These barefoot men returned, their heavy packs rising high off their backs, with wool, rock salt, yak skins, and other products of the Tibetan frontier...
6. Climbing Cho Oyu
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The himalayas have always fascinated mankind. their lofty,
snow-covered summits were considered in many of the ancient cultures that
flourished and faded below them to be the abode of the gods.
About the time in the middle of the nineteenth century that young men from the English leisure class invented modern mountain climbing on vacations in the Alps, British surveyors and their Indian assistants discovered that European scientists had for two centuries been wrong in thinking that Chimborazo in Ecuador’s Andes was the world’s tallest mountain. Its dormant volcanic cone is only 6,310 meters (20,701 feet) high. The Survey of India found that a number of peaks in the Himalayas reached much farther above sea level. The...
7. Stumbling Over a Policeman’s Severed Head
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The two main rivers that drain spring’s snow melt and summer’s monsoon rains from the Himalayas and their foothills and carry this vast volume of water across the north Indian plains are the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. They mingle their waters in a shifting network of channels before reaching the Bay of Bengal. This large, fertile delta area and some adjacent plains, known collectively as Bengal, has supported many prosperous empires over the centuries. So it was natural that in 1696 English merchant adventurers of the East India Company set up a delta headquarters seventy miles up from the Bay of Bengal on the westernmost of the rivers’ navigable channels, the Hooghly...
8. Counting Crowds
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The distinguished-looking, but at the same time obviously fit and tough, Secret Service agent was clearly harried and a little distressed. He was also impressed. Nothing in a lot of years spent protecting presidents of the United States had quite prepared him for this. “I’ve never seen a crowd like this,” said the head of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s security detail, James Rowley. He was looking out at the multitude of Indians gathered at the Ram Lila grounds, an open space named from Hindu mythology, where British-built New Delhi adjoined the old Moghul city of Delhi...
9. Into Bhutan by Mule
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As each archer took his position and began to bend his long bow with great effort, leaning forward so that his knee-length, wrap-around gho drooped from its dagger-carrying belt, the singing girls launched into their smiling songs. Intended to rattle opposing teams’ archers by good-naturedly denigrating their sexual prowess and more intimate physical attributes—in terms that local officials considered too embarrassing to translate for visitors— the lilting songs by local beauties in kiras with bright homespun aprons were part of the festive atmosphere of the contest. Arrows whispered in high trajectories and came down some 150 yards away on the circular target with impressive...
10. Mail from the Nagas
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“Has today’s mail come in yet?”
The question asked privately among Western journalists did not have the usual meaning. No postman was expected to deliver letters to a group of foreign correspondents visiting the jungled hills of northeastern India where Naga tribes live.
This mail was a tragic record of the suffering of these people scattered along India’s border with Burma (now called Myanmar). The mail was delivered surreptitiously at irregular intervals. It gave the correspondents an aspect of the story of Nagaland that we were not hearing from Indian officials on a tour that they conducted, or from the Naga spokesmen whom they delegated to speak...
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11. Left Off the Earth
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As the leader of the united national party, dudley s. senanayake
had just won a narrow victory in the March 1960 parliamentary elections, so I
went to interview him on his plans as prime minister. A friendly, Westernized
politician with whom I had talked several times while reporting the election
campaign, he received me warmly at his bungalow on the outskirts of Colombo,
capital of the Indian Ocean island then known as Ceylon.
Dudley, as everyone called him, and I talked about the prospects for his government with the UNP holding the most seats of any party in the 151-seat Parliament, but only fifty. Sitting across from him at an office desk, I noticed on...
12. Tiger Hunting with Queen Elizabeth
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One of the high points of king george v’s visit to his british
Indian empire in 1911 was a side trip to hunt wild game. Accompanied by a
large entourage, the king visited the separate, but British-influenced, nation
of Nepal. He was a guest of the Rana family of hereditary prime ministers who
controlled the Himalayan country while keeping its king as a figurehead.
George V spent two weeks in Nepal’s Terai, the jungled area at the northern edge of the vast Indian plains just under the first folds of the upthrusting Himalayan mountains. In elaborate tent encampments in the wilderness, the royal party dined from fine china set on white linen. The king, a crack shot...
13. Punitive Expedition
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It was routine journalism: giving a current angle to a longrunning
news story. The report was cabled from New Delhi to London for
onward transmission to the Associated Press headquarters in New York for
worldwide distribution. I began, “India rushed troops today to its northeast
to reinforce its army as Chinese soldiers continued pushing down through the
Himalayas toward the Assam plains.”
Several Indian newspapers, as well as military sources talking to me and other foreign correspondents, had been reporting for several days that commercial airliners had been commandeered to fly troops to the threatened northeast. So there was nothing new in the lead of my story, which summarized the...
14. Of Royalty and Royal Weddings
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“You understand,” the courtier said, “that his majesty does not
give interviews. He cannot be quoted. This is just an informal conversation
for your background information.” But, I asked, can’t I use indirect quotes to
describe what His Majesty said in an informal conversation? Well, yes, this
This was a discussion that I had twice just a year apart on the fascinating fringes of the Indian subcontinent, in Nepal and Afghanistan. In both cases, I was, according to royal officials and local journalists, the first foreign correspondent to be granted the privilege of “an informal conversation” with a monarch who had recently assumed direct responsibility for his government...
15. One Horse, Many Horses
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He looked so lonely, often standing off on the side of diplomatic
cocktail parties by himself. I decided that, between conversations with
various Indian officials and foreign diplomats who might yield some useful
tidbits of information, I would go over and talk with him.
He was the ambassador to India from the Mongolian People’s Republic. India was one of the few nations that had diplomatic relations with the big East Asian country as part of its friendship with the Soviet Union, which so tightly controlled Mongolia that most nations ignored its claim to an independent existence. Mongolia used India as one of the few countries to which it could...
16. Denying Khrushchev
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For a quarter of a century, the only way to get ahead in the Soviet Union was to please Stalin. The brutal rule of a paranoid dictator, who remained isolated from the reality of personal contact with his people, was implemented by a generation of future Soviet leaders who acquired bloody hands that they later tried to hide in the white gloves of statesmanship. Most of them seemed to have had any humanity crushed in the process. They became such colorless, bureaucratically reclusive success stories as Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov, who was known as an austere Communist ideologist after most people had forgotten his role as the butcher of Lithuania and in other atrocities. For them...
17. Wrecking Receiving Lines
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This is the story of how i thwarted a soviet practice of giving
prominence in Moscow to the Viet Cong early in the Vietnam War period, and
as a result caused the Soviet government to abandon its use of diplomatic receiving
Since the development of special rules for the exchange of representatives among medieval Italian city states, diplomacy has become swaddled in ritual. Some of the rules by which diplomats live are codified in international agreements, such as diplomatic immunity. Others are only accepted in practice but nonetheless held almost sacred by most protocol-conscious members of foreign services...
18. Blocking Blackmail
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He sounded insistent, almost pleading. “I must see you,” he said
on the phone. “Can we have lunch today?” Perhaps he only wanted to repay
my hospitality of a couple of weeks earlier when he first came to Moscow. But
there was something more urgent in his voice. I agreed to meet him at the Hotel
Nacional for lunch in the second-floor dining room that looked out across
Manege Square at the Kremlin. It was one of the few restaurants in Moscow
easily accessible to Westerners in the 1960s.
He was one of the most prominent journalists in a small West European nation that was a staunch member of NATO. He edited a major newspaper, wrote a popular column, and frequently appeared as a television commentator. Everyone in the country knew him, and he knew everyone, with access to top...
19. Stabbed in the Back
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The launch of a spacecraft was big news in Moscow in 1964 when
the space race with the United States was deemed of worldwide importance.
Six Soviet space flights beginning with Yuri Gagarin’s on April 12, 1961, had
each carried one person. Now, Voskhod—the name means “sunrise”—took
three men into orbit on Monday, October 12, 1964, for what was proclaimed
to be “a long flight.”
This meant an even busier time than usual for the Associated Press bureau in Moscow. The three-man bureau was shorthanded. George Syvertsen, the correspondent with the most Moscow experience, was on vacation and about to pick up a new car for the bureau in Helsinki and drive it down to Moscow...
20. Bombed in Moscow
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It was a delightful Christmas. our sons were at ages, three and
a half and two and a half, when Christmas is magical, Santa Claus very real, his
presents wondrous, and life freshly exciting every morning—an excitement
in which parents revel. The pleasant day ended with a warmly friendly dinner
across town with another family with small children.
Then the bomb went off.
We had just returned from dinner after 9 p.m. in the light green Volkswagen Beetle in which Monica ran around Moscow with Keith and Neal looking over her shoulder from seats attached in the back. Someone up the one staircase of our large building where apartments were occupied by Western diplomats and...
21. China’s Most Despicable
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The message from Beijing was sent twice to make sure it got
through clearly: “Hong Kong journalists are a despicable bunch, and Bradsher is
the most despicable of them all. He will never be allowed to visit China again.”
A British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent first brought the message down to Hong Kong in the spring of 1974. A week or so later, a Canadian correspondent brought the same message to the British Crown Colony. Both had heard it from officials of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s press office while on reporting assignments in Beijing...
22. Birth of a Nation
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The war was over, they had won, and the young guerrilla fighter
known as “the tiger of Tangail” seemed intent on improving his reputation as
part of claiming a political role in his new country.
During almost nine months of struggle against the Pakistani Army and its local supporters, Abdul Quadir Siddiqui had become known as a ruthless, even vicious warrior who took no quarter. The former student leader had headed a band of mukhti bahini, as the guerrilla “liberation forces” were named in Bengali, based in the Madhupur Jungle region in Tangail district. The band operated some fifty miles northwest of Dhaka, capital of the area that had been...
23. Reporting Vietnam
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Dusty, very dusty, as the armored personnel carriers churned
through the ill-kempt trees of an abandoned rubber plantation and out into
fields where rice would be planted when the monsoon rains soon arrived.
Truckloads of American soldiers followed them, together with a gaggle of
We were looking for Communist forces fighting the American-backed South Vietnamese government. Units of the North Vietnamese Army, known as the NVA and sometimes mixed with or disguised as indigenous southern Viet Cong guerrillas, were known to be operating from here in northeastern Cambodia. We...
24. Riding the Dangerous Roads
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It seemed to be a good opportunity to see how the war against
the Khmer Rouge was going in a part of the country not normally accessible to
outsiders. The Cambodian general’s plan was to drive up there in a military convoy
to survey the situation, talking to his local commanders and maybe looking
at fighting in the area, and then return to Phnom Penh the same afternoon.
The handful of Western correspondents who lived in Phnom Penh and covered the war full-time for news agencies and a few newspapers rarely ventured outside the capital unless protected by accompanying military convoys. Too many journalists had been killed or had disappeared on Cambodian highways...
25. Shoeshines at Jaffa Gate
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It got to be a family joke at home in Arlington, Virginia: every
time I needed a good shoeshine, I would fly to Israel to visit an elderly Muslim
man sitting just inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s walled old city. He gave
excellent shines. I needed a lot of shines from 1977 to 1980, one of the times
when the United States was deeply involved in trying to bring peace to the
As the diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Star, I made numerous reporting trips to the region. Some were exploratory trips on my own, some to report specific developments plus adding background articles, and some were covering visits by U.S. officials: in the press plane accompanying President...
26. Hazards of Journalism
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Sabahuddin Kushkaki was banned from journalism in Afghanistan and later cast into prison with other prominent Afghans, few of whom survived. Jan Petranek was banned from Czechoslovak journalism, banished to a menial job, and badly injured in an apparent assassination attempt. Armando Doronila was banned from journalism in the Philippines and forced to emigrate. George Syvertsen was killed by a Khmer Rouge rocket in Cambodia, and Welles Hangen was captured by the Khmer Rouge and later beaten to death. Larry Burrows was photographing from a helicopter shot down in Laos. Michel...
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The dark-paneled lounge of an elite men’s club in london’s pall
Mall, with sherry offered by quietly discreet servants, was the classic setting in
olden days for recruiting an Englishman for Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence
Service. The whoops and hollers of a children’s swimming meet that I was timing
on a rainy Saturday morning in August 1981 was the setting for my unexpected
recruitment by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The latest owner of the Washington Star, the Time Inc. media empire, had just announced that it would close the money-losing paper in two weeks. Under other owners for a century, the Evening Star, as it was long known, had been a...
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Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013