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Journal of Cold War Studies 3.1 (2001) 143-144

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Book Review

Raiders of the China Coast:
CIA Covert Operations During the Korean War

Frank Holober, Raiders of the China Coast: CIA Covert Operations During the Korean War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999. 253 pp. $32.95.

This memoir by a former paramilitary case officer of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provides a detailed account of one of the agency's many covert attempts to divert Beijing's attention from the battlefield on the Korean peninsula during the early 1950s. Following China's entry into the Korean War in October-November 1950, the United States sought to harass the Communists on the mainland without expanding the war. Covert operations seemed to be the answer. The CIA backed the abortive attempt by Nationalist General Li Mi to invade Yunnan province from Burma and pursued equally futile schemes to encourage and organize guerrillas within China.

Raiders of the China Coast covers the most successful portion--at least in the tactical sense--of the secret war against Beijing. Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists retained control of some 50 islands off the coast of the mainland after fleeing to Taiwan in 1949. Although President Harry Truman "neutralized" the Formosan Straits in June [End Page 143] 1950, these islands lay beyond the protection of the Seventh Fleet. In March 1951 CIA paramilitary specialists began arriving in Taiwan under the commercial cover of Western Enterprises, Incorporated (WEI), an import-export firm. Their primary task was to train, advise, and provide logistical support for the thousands of guerrillas on the Nationalist-held offshore islands.

Frank Holober, the author of this volume, arrived in Taiwan in June 1951. Assigned to Quemoy, the largest of the offshore islands, he became one of a handful of CIA officers who worked closely with Nationalist intelligence agencies to prepare the guerrillas for offensive operations against the mainland.

The CIA's original plans called for the guerrillas to land on the Chinese coast and then quickly march inland to link up with the hordes of Nationalist supporters believed to be located in nearby mountainous areas. At a minimum, the guerrillas would establish coastal enclaves that would serve as rallying points for local anti-Communist Chinese. In September 1951 the first 200-man island guerrilla unit set off for the mainland. The men landed without opposition, but they were quickly surrounded and destroyed by Chinese Red army forces as they headed toward the mountains. Few if any local residents flocked to their banner. The hordes of anti-Communists proved mythical. In light of these realities, the CIA turned to hit-and-run attacks on the mainland as an alternative to this more ambitious scheme.

Over the next two years the CIA-supported guerrillas launched a number of raids against mainland targets and achieved some sporadic successes. Twice, in December 1951 and October 1952, guerrillas assaulted Nan-jih Island, midway between Amoy and Foochow, and soundly defeated local Communist forces. The impact of these raids, however, remains problematic. Beijing initially ignored them, but as the Korean War reached its inconclusive end in 1953, the Communists began to respond, and the raids ended. WEI shifted its emphasis to intelligence collection before it gave way to a new cover organization--the Naval Auxiliary Communications Center--in 1955.

On the whole, Holober judges the guerrilla project a success. It did not cost much, "plausible deniability" was more or less maintained, and U.S. losses were minimal (one CIA officer suffered a minor gunshot wound). The operation may even have had an impact on Chinese policy, but without access to Communist records this cannot be substantiated.

Historians of the Cold War will find little new in this volume. The general outline of the story (if not the extent of American involvement), and even some of the details, have been known since Peter Kalisher published an article on the subject in Colliers in 1953. What this book provides is the flavor and atmosphere of CIA paramilitary projects in...