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calendar   Wednesday - December 22, 2010

AN OBIT … AMERICAN DERRING DO, A YANK AMERICANS MOST LIKELY NEVER HEARD OF.

A very unusual obit and bio ...

Once upon a time guys like this actually did exist. And this one is one of ours.

An American ...

I’d be willing to bet not many newspaper in the USA would give him this much space. For those who don’t know btw ... Brit papers like The Telegraph, are HUGE. They are larger in actual size then those found in USA. Pages are 23 inches long by almost 15 wide. And they gave this fellow most of one page.

(A side note. This will be my only post today.)

Frank Bessac

Frank Bessac, who died on December 6 aged 88, was one of two survivors of an epic and ill-fated trip led by the CIA in the early days of the Cold War which took him from the borders of Mongolia to the Tibetan capital Lhasa amid Great Game-style efforts to stymie communists both in China and in Russia.

Bessac, who went on to become a social anthropologist, had officially resigned as a spy by the time he undertook the journey. But his companion on the trip was a CIA officer believed by some to have been ordered to arm the Tibetans against the insurgent Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

A Mandarin speaker, Bessac had himself joined the CIA on its formation in 1947, gathering intelligence on both Nationalist and Communist activity as China descended into civil war. He was considered for a senior role in the organisation, but left when he discovered that this meant working covertly and would stop him pursuing a new-found interest in Mongolia. Instead, he studied Classical Chinese and Mongolian at Fu Ren University, Peking, where he wore the robes of a Chinese scholar.

In spring 1948 Bessac and Prince De, a descendant of Genghis Khan, distributed food aid for the US State Department’s Mongol Branch of the China Relief Mission, for which Bessac was made an honorary Mongol and a Knight of Genghis Khan. In September he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and decided to deepen his knowledge of Mongolian and the life of the pastoral nomad.

Early in 1949 he travelled to Dingyaunying, near Lanzhou, central China, where he settled and engaged a language teacher. In August he attended a congress, summoned by Prince De, which proclaimed the formation of a provisional Mongolian Republic. But within days the whole area became engulfed in fighting between the Nationalists and Communists, and Bessac was forced to flee. After travelling 200 miles north-west by camel to Shandan, he hitched a ride on a truck to Hami, then travelled by air to the remote western city of Urumqi, where he was astonished to be met by a car flying the Stars and Stripes.

The car belonged to the American vice-consul, Douglas Mackiernan, who was about to evacuate the city after the closure of the consulate. Mackiernan was, in fact, an undercover CIA agent who was in the region principally to spy on the first Soviet atom bomb test, which was eventually staged across the border from Urumqi at Semipalatinsk on August 29 1949.

When Mackiernan used Bessac’s old code word, it was clear that he knew Bessac had been a CIA man too. Mackiernan asked him whether he would be interested in helping Osman Bator, the anti-Communist Kazakh leader of Chinese Turkestan. Feeling that it would be “interesting to spend time in a Kazakh camp while trying to get a better deal for them with the communists or help them escape to Tibet”, Bessac agreed. On September 27 1949, having picked up three White Russian refugees as they left, the two Americans duly drove out of Urumqi in a Jeep.

They soon abandoned the Jeep and joined Osman Bator and his Kazakh horsemen at their winter camp by Barko, north of Hami (“Left Urumchi on September 27 1949 and arrived about two weeks later in company of Ozman Bator’s Kazak Hordes,” Mackiernan noted in his log).

But it was clear that the Chinese Communists knew their location, so Mackiernan, Bessac and the White Russians set off once again, this time ostensibly to save their own necks from the advancing “Reds”. Despite apparent alternative routes of escape, they headed south on horse and camelback on a year-long, 2,000-mile trek across almost uninhabited and unmapped territory out of Communist-controlled areas and towards Tibet.

In later life Bessac was concerned to rebut suggestions that he himself had been working for the CIA in Tibet, but the murky story of why Mackiernan opted to head there was a potential embarrassment for the Americans, and information about the expedition was classified. If Mackiernan had been dispatched to stoke Tibetan national resistance to Chinese Communists, Bessac claimed to his dying day that he had not been privy to the plotting.

The group crossed the edge of the Kara (or Black Gobi) desert, at times struggling to find water. After covering 500 miles in 30 days, they met a local Kazakh leader, Hussein Taiji, with whom they were to spend the winter. “Reached Timerlik Bulak at about 10.00am,” Mackiernan noted in his journal. “Royal welcome by Kussaim Tadji who had yurt all ready for us. [He] has the largest yurt I have ever seen.”

On March 20 the following year they bought new horses and camels and set off on a route never before travelled by any Westerner.

About a month after setting out, however, they had a fatal encounter. Arriving at a Tibetan border post near Shegarkhung Lung on April 29, they decided to make camp. While Bessac went over to the border post with gifts, six guards on horseback approached. Bessac heard shots and saw his four companions with arms raised. Four of the horsemen dismounted and again opened fire. Mackiernan and two of the Russians were killed and the third Russian was shot in the leg.

ALL THE REST IS HERE AT THE TELEGRAPH


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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 12/22/2010 at 09:34 AM   
Filed Under: • OBITITUARIES •  
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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