Spies on the Mekong: CIA Clandestine Operations in Laos

Kenneth Conboy

The first detailed look at the CIA's clandestine operations in Laos during the Cold War.
Publication date:
December 2021
Publisher :
Casemate Publishers
Illustration :
maps and photographs
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ISBN : 9781636240190

Dimensions : 228 X 152 mm
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• During the Vietnam War, clandestine operations in Laos were often undertaken in support of the wider Indochina campaign, and an analysis of these operations adds to a better understanding of the CIA's contribution during the war
• Some operations were tied to America's over-arching Cold War struggle; for example, against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact
• Many of the CIA personalities in Laos went on to prominence within the Agency and factored in major operations outside of Southeast Asia

During the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency's biggest and longest paramilitary operation was in the tiny kingdom of Laos. Hundreds of advisors and support personnel trained and led guerrilla formations across the mountainous Laotian countryside, as well as running smaller road-watch and agent teams that stretched from the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the Chinese frontier. Added to this number were hundreds of contract personnel providing covert aviation services.

It was dangerous work. On the Memorial Wall at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, nine stars are dedicated to officers who perished in Laos. On top of this are more than one hundred from propriety airlines killed in aviation mishaps between 1961 and 1973. Combined, this grim casualty figure is orders of magnitude larger than any other CIA paramilitary operation.

But for the Foreign Intelligence officers at Langley, Laos was more than a paramilitary battleground. Because of its geographic location as a buffer state, as well as its trifurcated political structure, Laos was a unique Cold War melting pot. All three of the Lao political factions, including the communist Pathet Lao, had representation in Vientiane. The Soviet Union had an extremely active embassy in the capital, while the People's Republic of China - though in the throes of the Cultural Revolution - had multiple diplomatic outposts across the kingdom. So, too, did both North and South Vietnam. All of this made Laos fertile ground for clandestine operations. This book comprehensively details the cloak-and-dagger side of the war in Laos for the first time, from agent recruitments to servicing dead-drops in Vientiane.


...sheds light brighter than any spy fiction on an important aspect of the Indochina experience.
John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975

People in the book—friends and foes—come through clearly in Conboy's thoughtful vignettes about them. He presents backgrounds of many men and a few women in a manner that personalizes each—for good or for bad. Some of them practically walk off the page and greet the reader.
The VVA Veteran

...a masterful book on the secret exploits of the Central Intelligence Agency […] This is is a "must read” for anyone interested in the Indochina Wars and some operations that have never been recorded before.
Barry Broman, author of Risk Taker, Spy Maker