36 MIN READ
Over the years, quite a few foreigners have been dubbed as old Nepal hands, but few merit the designation more than Major Dudley Spain, who lived and worked in Nepal from 1957 to 1983. During this long period, he became a confidant of the Nepali royal family and well known in Kathmandu society. He was a serving officer in the Brigade of Gurkhas for the first seven years of his time in Nepal, after which, on retirement from the army in 1964, he worked in the British Embassy for 14 years. For five years starting in 1978, he was the Nepal Director for Save The Children Fund (UK). After his return to the UK in 1983, he was a frequent visitor to Nepal, with regular access to the palace, up until his death in 2006, aged 88.
Dudley Spain’s first appointment in Kathmandu came in 1958, as the British Embassy Liaison Officer for the British Gurkha Recruiting Depot at Dharan and the Jogbani-to-Dharan road. In 1960, he accompanied King Mahendra during his state visit to Britain. On his return to Nepal he wrote a detailed account of the visit, which he rated as a great success. The report currently lies buried in a thick Foreign Office file, one of at least four in the National Archives which cover the visit. After he left the army in early 1964, Dudley Spain was appointed to the post of Information Officer in the British Embassy. Research on a totally different subject unexpectedly shed interesting light on the specific nature of his responsibilities.
Khampas in Mustang
My research interest at the time was Khampas in Mustang in the early 1960s and, as they feature in this story, it is worth giving the background on how they came to this remote area of northern Nepal. The Chushi Gangdrug (Four Rivers, Six Ranges) army had been formed in 1958 to bring together all the Tibetan resistance groups fighting the Chinese army, the PLA. Supported by air-delivered arms from the CIA, they fought bravely and well, but by mid-1960, having taken heavy casualties from a fully mobilized PLA that was supported by artillery and fighter ground attack aircraft, they had been forced to withdraw into northern India. A large number found work in road-building gangs in Sikkim. After much discussion between their leaders and the CIA, the latter gave approval to continue the armed resistance using Mustang as a base area.
The agreed plan was to move to Mustang in increments of three hundred. This first group would then move across the border into Tibet to find a safe area to establish a base where they could receive shipments of arms and operate as guerrillas. Only after doing so, would the next increment be sent, first to Mustang and then into Tibet. This exercise would be repeated until there were seven independently operating bases. This plan went awry almost immediately as large numbers of former Chushi Gangdrug fighters started to make their way independently to Mustang. Over the winter of 1960/61, more than two thousand were jammed into makeshift camps in Mustang, creating serious political and logistical problems for the US government support. [For details, see article by John Kenneth Knaus, “Official Policies and Covert Programs: The U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the Tibetan Resistance”, published in the Journal of War Studies in 2003.]
The arrival of 2000 outsiders in the middle of winter must have caused severe hardship for local residents as well as for the new arrivals. It took some time for the CIA to set up the major logistic effort that was necessary to sustain such a large group in an area as difficult to get to as Mustang.
The first CIA air-drop of weapons took place in April 1961, with a second following in December 1961. In each case, two Hercules aircraft delivered the weapons to a drop zone 10 kilometers inside Tibet, just across the border from Mustang. The weapons were mainly of Second World War vintage.
The Indians were not officially notified of any of this CIA support. The first raid from Mustang into Tibet took place in September 1961. A second major raid into Tibet in October 1961 led to the ambush of a jeep carrying a PLA regimental commander. The many secret papers in his satchel proved to be a rich source of intelligence.
From the outset, keeping the operation secret was difficult. The exodus from India and the reported destination as Mustang were widely reported in the Indian press. On February 3, 1962, an article in The New York Times quoted a Nepali foreign ministry spokesman as saying that unidentified aircraft had been dropping arms to about 4,000 Khampas in Mustang. The same article noted that official Indian sources were expressing apprehension that “an anti-Chinese military build-up” on Nepal’s northern border could lead to China sending troops into Nepal.
File FO 371/170877
While scanning through the list of Foreign Office files in the UK’s National Archives for information on Khampas in Nepal, I spotted a file: FO 371/170877. It was dated 1963 but, unusually, there was no title to indicate its contents. The relevant entry simply said: “This record is closed and retained by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] under Section 3.4 of the Public Records Act.” This meant that the file had been retained by the FCO rather than transferred to the National Archives. This part of the Public Records Act was not repealed or altered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which came into force in 2005 but I knew that under FOIA I had a right to ask the FCO to consider releasing it to the National Archives as an open file. I submitted my request on September 19, 2013 saying, “I clearly have no idea what is in the file since the National Archives states that ‘This record has no title’. There may have been ‘a special reason’ [to quote from the Public Records Act] for its original retention but it is very hard to imagine that the sensitivities which originally dictated that decision could be relevant now over fifty years after the material in the file was first produced.”
On Oct 11, 2013, the FCO responded as follows:
Thank you for your email of the 19 September requesting access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for information from the following file on Nepal retained by Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) FO 371/170877.
I am pleased to be able to tell you that the review of the file FO 371/170877 has determined that most of the material can now be released. A copy of the releasable information will be sent to you through the post. However, there are a number of redactions that have been made under Section 27 (2) of the FOIA.
(Note: Section 27(2) of the FOIA states that “Information is also exempt information if it is confidential information obtained from a State other than the United Kingdom or from an international organization or international court.”)
The FCO subsequently sent me a copy of the file. This image below shows the top of the front page to which the other documents in the file were attached. Note for later reference, FN 1691/2G, at the top right hand corner. The file consisted of six documents which will be elaborated on shortly.
As can be seen, the file was entitled, “Conversation with Inspector General of Police about Intelligence requirements and Counter subversion.” The FCO covering letter stated:
Section 27 is a qualified exemption and is subject to the balance of the public interest. This means that a public interest test must be carried out to determine whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information, as set out below.
In favour of release: we acknowledge that disclosure of information relating to UK relations with the country concerned would add to the understanding and knowledge of this subject. There is a public interest in a greater understanding of the UK's foreign relations and the information could also aid the public to a better historical understanding of the UK’s conduct overseas.
In favour of withholding: release of the redacted material would prejudice relations between the UK and the countries concerned. [Emphasis mine]
Our conclusion is that in this case, release would be prejudicial to the UK’s relations with the countries concerned and would therefore not be in the public interest.
The letter indicated that if I was not satisfied, I could ask for an internal review. So, what information was in the six documents?
Document 1 is a set of minutes dated November 22, 1963, by J D Laughton, an FCO official. It consisted of comments by FCO officials on information provided by the Inspector General of Police [IGP] P S Lama, which were available in the version of Document 3 provided to me. Six minor redactions had been made and, judging from context, I could not see how any of them could possibly be interpreted as falling under section 27(2) of the FOIA.
Document 2 is a covering letter dated October 17, 1963, to Document 3 from P C Petrie, the Charge d’Affaires in the British Embassy, Kathmandu, to C M MacLehose, Head of the Far Eastern Department at the FCO. The first two paragraphs read:
I enclose a record of a recent conversation with the Nepalese Inspector-General of Police. I believe that it may contain some new, or at least up-to-date, information about communist subversion here and Nepalese attempts to deal with it.
To me the most interesting points were [one line redacted] and P S Lama’s own request for British assistance. The latter coincides very neatly with our intention, which I do not think that P S Lama knows about, to establish an Information Officer here; and I would be most grateful if you would consider passing a copy of this letter and enclosure to John Drinkall in IRD [Information Research Department].
The fourth paragraph of this letter brought in the Dudley Spain connection:
But when we do have an Information Officer with an IRD slant the Inspector General of Police would be one of his most useful contacts; and at that point we could no doubt imply that that we are responding to S P Lama’s request for assistance. This conversation therefore seems to strengthen even further the case for having an Information Officer here before long, and I hope that the rather sketchy indications I have so far sent IPD [Information Policy Department] and IRD have been sufficient for them to allocate funds for the next financial year. At present I am waiting for a chance to make an offer to Major Dudley Spain, who has been unable to come to Kathmandu since I arrived but is expected next week.
Some elaboration at this stage might be useful. The UK clearly planned to establish an Information Officer “with an IRD slant” and therefore found it very convenient when IGP Lama made his request. Information Officers in British embassies work overtly, under the direction of the Information Policy Department (IPD) of the Foreign Office, to try to ensure that UK policy is properly understood and is reflected in the local media of the country they are based in. The Information Research Department (IRD), founded in 1948, was a covert anti-communist propaganda unit within the FCO, and was funded from the clandestine budget of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. It was closed by the then Foreign Secretary, David Owen, in 1977.
Correspondence in another file (FO 1110/1670) indicated that the need for an IRD officer was judged to be compelling and that Dudley Spain was the ideal man for the job. He was appointed as Information Officer in early 1964, after he retired from the army. His salary and allowances were paid by IRD. It is not clear how long this arrangement lasted. A minute in the file, signed by John Drinkall, the head of IRD, commented that, “the sooner Major Spain gets to Nepal the better”.
Document 3 is a two and half page record of a conversation P C Petrie had with IGP P S Lama, on October 12, 1963, during a private dinner party hosted by him. The other person present was Brigadier Gordon Richardson, Commander of the British Gurkhas Depot, Dharan. Petrie described the evening’s conversation as “the most interesting I have had in Kathmandu.” He continues:
Before dinner the IGP spoke about his troubles with the Khampas in the Mustang area, whose numbers he gave as 6-8000. It had been expected that these Khampas would spend their time raiding across the border into Tibet: PS Lama hinted that [two and half lines redacted] But during the last six months these Khampas had turned to looting and robbing on the Nepalese side: the Nepalese government did not have the security forces to deal with them and the situation was becoming difficult.
The 6000-8000 figure given by Lama raises doubts about the quality of the intelligence he had about what was going on in Mustang at this time. A British officer, Malcolm Meerendonk, visited Jomsom in the summer of 1963 and reported that the movement of Nepal Police was very restricted because of the dominance of Khampas in the area. In a dispatch dated Febraury 13, 1962, L A Scopes, the then British ambassador, stated that the Chinese ambassador, Mr Chang Shih-chieh, had told him, quite accurately, that there were 2000 armed Khampas in Mustang. [FO 371/166568] In the same dispatch, Scopes wrote, “Mr. Chang denies warmly that any pressure has been on the Nepalese government, whose difficulties he understands perfectly. Far from admitting that Peking is pressing Nepal to end the menace or to allow Chinese troops to enter the Mustang area for this purpose, he states that he has had not even had any conversation or correspondence with the Nepalese Ministry of Defence on the subject”. It may be of interest, therefore, to record when the first official protest by the Chinese to the Nepal government was made. In a dispatch dated September 11, 1963, the British ambassador reported that, “the Acting Secretary of the Nepalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me last week that he had just received, ‘for the first time’, a sharp protest from the Chinese Embassy about some Khampa raids in the Mustang area across the Tibetan border.”
After dinner, Lama gave his assessment of the danger to Nepal from communist subversion and elaborated on his request for UK assistance:
P S Lama said that what he really needed was somebody in the British Embassy who could advise him about known Communist agents who entered Nepal from Hong Kong or Singapore and Malaya. He suggested that an officer should be appointed to the embassy who would ostensibly have other functions, but who would ‘work with’ P S Lama ‘for two or three hours a week’ on the above lines. He said that such an arrangement would only be known to the IGP, to the King, and to his Principal Military Secretary.
Petrie adds, “P S Lama then said….[seven and half lines redacted ] He implied that British collaboration would be more welcome to him.”
The next paragraph read:
I asked PS Lama from whom his request came – had he consulted the King about it? P S Lama said that he had not consulted the King before he made his arrangement [one and half lines redacted] The King had replied ‘you are the Inspector General of Police, and you must do what you consider best for your department and the country’. He expected that he would get the same answer if he consulted the King again: I did not encourage him to do so.
Document 4 is a five-paragraph letter from T J O’Brien, an official at the British High Commission in New Delhi, to E J Emery, an official at the Commonwealth Relations Office in London, dated November 18, 1963. This was written in response to comments attributed to P S Lama in Document 3. O’Brien’s main concern was with the envisaged scope of the Information Officer’s appointment in the Kathmandu embassy. He warned that what had been approved was “a discreet and limited brief covering information work” and that it must not expand to take in work “which could satisfactorily be carried out only by a representative of the friends” — embassy speak for a Secret Intelligence Service/MI6 officer.
Significant redactions appear in the third paragraph of the letter: “On details, Lama is reported as having hinted he knew…[Ten lines redacted]
Document 5 is a short two-paragraph letter from E J Emery to T J O’Brien dated February 13, 1964, commenting on Document 4.
Emery writes, “Your letter of 18th November mentions you having reported recently a categoric denial [two lines redacted] The only such denial I can find on our files is John Bank’s letter of 20th July, and the ‘denial’ mentioned thereon cannot really be described as categoric. Had you anything else in mind?”
Document 6 is a short two-paragraph letter from T J O’Brien to E J Emery dated March 2, 1964, in response to the letter that is Document 5.
The first paragraph of the letter reads, “Thank you for your letter of SEA 55/56/2 of February 13th about. [One line redacted]
Request for an Internal Review
So, what did Lama ‘hint’ at the dinner party? It was obvious from context, and from material in other open FCO files, that most of the redactions related to Khampas in Mustang, and specifically about whether the US or India were supporting them. I knew it had to be the US and I assumed that Lama would know that.
As I was interested in the subject, I sent an eight-page submission to the FCO on October 16, 2013, asking for an internal review of the decision to withhold the redacted material. I made a supporting submission on October 23, 2013. In both submissions I highlighted the amount of material that was now in the public domain about Khampas in Mustang and US support for them.
I also submitted a copy of a Minute [taken from File FO 371/176120] from our ambassador in Kathmandu dated August 10, 1964, in which the same P S Lama, whose utterances on the same subject were redacted in FO 371/170877, speaks openly about United States support for Khampas. This included naming a CIA officer who handed over sophisticated equipment to Khampas who were on their way into Tibet via Kathmandu, after their return from training in Colorado. I gave other examples, from open FCO files in the National Archives, of P S Lama privately passing other sensitive information on Khampas to British embassy officials in Kathmandu.
I also sent the FCO a link to a US State Department memorandum dated January 9, 1964, which was released in 1998. This memorandum gave budget figures to cover “the cost of the Tibetan Program for FY 1964”. It specified, among other items, $500,000 allocated for “Support of 2100 Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal;” $400,000 allocated for “Expenses of covert training site in Colorado;” $185,000 for “Black air transportation of Tibetan trainees from Colorado to India;” and $125,000 for the operating expenses of “equipment and supplies to reconnaissance teams, caching program, air resupply.”
I particularly highlighted the following extract:
The Special Group approved the continuation of CIA controlled Tibetan Operations [one line of text redacted] Previous operations had gone to support isolated Tibetan resistance groups within Tibet and to the creation of a paramilitary force on the Nepal/Tibet border of approximately 2,000 men, 800 of whom were armed by [less than one line of text redacted] airdrop in January 1961.
I pointed out to the FCO that it would be harder to get a more emphatic public acknowledgment of US support for Khampas in Mustang. However, the main argument in the submission was based on what I believed to be the FCO’s wrong interpretation of section 27 (2) of the FOIA, which clearly refers to “confidential information obtained from a state.” I specifically asked the FCO to explain how such a clear statement could be used to cover what some foreign national, acting in a private capacity, “hints” about what he thinks another state might or might not be doing? Such an interpretation of section 27 (2) of the FOIA, I argued, must fall outside both the letter and spirit of this section of the FOIA.
On February 6, 2014, the FCO informed me that the internal review had concluded that some of the withheld material could now be disclosed. I was provided with a new copy of FO 371/170877. A quick check revealed that “the withheld material now disclosed” amounted to 30 additional, mostly unconnected, words. The FCO again confirmed that the material which remained redacted was exempt from disclosure on the basis of Section 27(2) of FOIA.
Complaint to the Information Commissioner
In sum, all that I submitted, including my questions concerning the applicability of section 27(2), were ignored. On May 8, 2014, I wrote to the Information Commissioner — an independent public body responsible for upholding information rights and data privacy — to complain about the FCO’s decision to withhold the remaining information contained in file 371/170877 on the basis of section 27(2) of FOIA. I also complained about the FCO’s tardy handling of my request for an internal review. I subsequently complained about the amount of time it took the FCO to engage with the Commissioner’s investigation of my complaint.
To back up the complaint, I included the eight pages I had submitted to the FCO as part of my request for an internal review. I also enclosed a list of further references to other open files in the National Archives where PS Lama is quoted as privately passing additional highly sensitive information about Khampas to British officials.
A month later, I was contacted by the Case Officer at the ICO. His letter concluded:
I have now contacted the FCO in relation to your complaint and have asked it to provide me with unredacted copies of the six documents in the file. I have also asked the FCO to provide me with submissions to support its application of section 27(2), particularly in light of your various points of complaint. Once I have received a response from the FCO I will contact you again and provide you with an update on the progress of my investigation.
As the process went on, FCO officials kept changing their arguments and, quite properly, the Case Officer kept passing them to me with an invitation to respond, which I did, most willingly and in full measure.
I sensed that the investigation was going in the right direction when the FCO refused to send the papers to the Case Officer on the grounds that they were so sensitive that they had to be viewed in situ. This introduced a long delay. I told the Case Officer that I was familiar with such stringent security considerations relating to, for example, very sensitive information concerning the UK's independent nuclear deterrent but I doubted very much if we were remotely near such territory.
My confidence in the outcome of my complaint increased considerably when I was informed that the FCO had shifted its defence to claiming that because the information was given at a private dinner party it enjoyed some special protection. In my comments to the Case Officer, I disputed, as a point of principle, the contention that information provided at a private venue and private function should be considered to be confidential forever. Many open files at the National Archives, I suggested, must be littered with examples of such discussions. I also pointed to a number of examples of discussions contained in the related files which, although not occurring at a private dinner party, were nevertheless clearly confidential. Finally, I highlighted the inconsistency of the FCO in redacting ten lines of what was discussed at the dinner party while leaving untouched two pages containing what appeared to be equally sensitive information.
The Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice
On January 20, 2015, nine months after the submission of my complaint, the Information Commissioner published his Decision Notice on the case. It held that except for a few lines which hid the names of two CIA officers, all other redactions should be removed. This screenshot from the ICO website gives the summary of the Decision Notice:
The full text of the Decision Notice makes for interesting reading. It shows both the increasingly spurious reasons the FCO advanced for maintaining the redactions, and the rigor with which the Information Commissioner exposes them as, essentially, not worth the paper they are written on. The Commissioner clearly paid close attention to my arguments, and impressively turned the FCO's own arguments against itself. This section of the article highlights some key points from the Decision Notice.
Most revealing is that the FCO never once quoted the correct section of the Freedom of Information Act in support of their assertion that release of the information would jeopardize the UK's relations with another country. To quote from the Decision Notice:
However, section 27(2) exemption cannot be engaged simply on the basis that disclosure would prejudice relations with another State. Rather it is section 27(1)(a) of FOIA that provides an exemption for information if its disclosure would, or would be likely, to prejudice relations with another State. The FCO has not cited this exemption.” [Para 27]
The redactions made in Document 1 were given short shrift:
[In] the Commissioner’s opinion the information redacted from document 1 consists simply of the comments of UK officials about information provided by PS Lama at the dinner party in question. However, the information in question which the officials are commenting on does not form part of the information that has been redacted from document 3. Rather it consists of comments by UK officials on information provided by PS Lama that has already disclosed in the version document 3 that has been provided to the complaint. Therefore, in the Commissioner’s opinion it cannot be argued that the information redacted from document 1 is information which is confidential for the purpose of section 27(2)”. [Para 31]
The Decision Notice had the following to say on the FCO’s request to examine the file in situ:
In its response the FCO explained that it required a representative of the Commissioner’s office to view the withheld information at it offices given its sensitivity. In response the Commissioner explained that he would prefer to be provided with a copy of the information and in an exchange of emails, culminating on 25 September 2014, he provided the FCO with details of the process he had in place for the secure storage and viewing of such information. In an email of the same date, the FCO confirmed that it would now send the withheld information to the Commissioner. The Commissioner received a copy of the withheld information on 31 October 2014. [Para 43]
The FCO’s delay in responding to the request for the file led to the following censure:
The Commissioner aims to conclude 90% of the complaints he receives within 6 months of receipt. The delay in the FCO providing him with a response to his letter of 3 July, and then its delay in providing him with a copy of the withheld information, impaired the Commissioner’s ability to conclude this complaint within that timeframe. [Para 44]
The Commissioner also dismissed FCO’s contention that special protection should be given to the information because it was shared at a private dinner party:
The Commissioner agrees with the complainant that the disclosure of document 3 in a redacted form undermines the FCO’s application of section 27(2) to withhold the remaining information... [He] notes that the FCO has only redacted a relatively small amount of information from document 3. In other words, it has disclosed the majority of the information provided to the UK officials by PS Lama during the course of the dinner party... Furthermore, the FCO’s submissions to the Commissioner do not comment on the difference, or potential difference, between the content of the disclosed information and the redacted information.” [Para 32]
The ICO’s guideline for carrying out internal reviews is 20 working days for most reviews and 40 days for complex cases. The time the FCO took in this case led the Information Commissioner to make the following criticism:
It therefore took the FCO 78 working days to complete its internal review. The Commissioner considers this to be unsatisfactory. In the future he expects the FCO to ensure that internal reviews are completed within the timeframes set out within his guidance. [Para 41]
What information was redacted?
Within the time limit stipulated of 35 calendar days from the date of the decision notice, the FCO sent me the file again, following the ICO’s order to remove the specified redactions. These are highlighted below in italics.
The six minor redactions had been removed, all of which referred to the intelligence support the US was giving to Nepal, and the need for the UK to consult with the US before responding to any separate request.
Paragraph 2: “To me the most interesting points were the details about American intelligence relations with the Nepalese and PS Lama’s own request for British assistance.”
Paragraph 2: “Before dinner the IGP spoke about his troubles with the Khampas in the Mustang area, whose numbers he gave as 6-8000. It had been expected that these Khampas would spend their time raiding across the border into Tibet: PS Lama hinted that he knew the Indians were supplying them for this purpose [one line still redacted].”
Paragraph 6: “P S Lama then said that he already had an arrangement with the Americans [Two and half lines still redacted ] P S Lama thought that they were both from the CIA, but did not seem very definite about this. He implied that British collaboration would be more welcome to him.
Paragraph 7: “I asked PS Lama from whom his request came – had he consulted the King about it? P S Lama said that he had not consulted the King before he made his arrangement with the Americans. [He did not say from which side the initiative for this came, but I imagine from the Americans] The King had replied ‘you are the Inspector General of Police, and you must do what you consider best for your department and the country’. He expected that he would get the same answer if he consulted the King again: I did not encourage him to do so.
Paragraph 3: “On details, Lama is reported as having “hinted he knew that the Indians were supplying the Khampas in the Mustang area for raids in Tibet"; we have reported recently a categoric denial from External Affairs that the Indians were doing so, and, even if this cannot be taken at its face value, we are at a loss to think why the Indians should waste resources in paying Khampas to needle the Chinese, a proceeding likely to provoke the Nepalese also and hardly consistent with their military policy towards China on the Sino-Indian border. It seems a good deal more likely to us that this is a story devised by the Chinese to embarrass the Indians vis-à-vis the Nepalese; it seems that they succeed.
Paragraph 2: Your letter of 18th November mentions your having reported recently a categoric denial from the Indian External Affairs Department that the Indians were supplying the Khampas. The only such denial I can find on our files is John Banks’ letter of 20th July, and the ‘denial’ mentioned therein cannot really be described as categoric. Had you something else in mind?
Paragraph 1: Thank you for your letter SEA 55/56/2 of February 13 about the Indian connection with the Khampas.
Assessment of information released
Fifty-three years on from the events described, the information revealed by these previous redactions is unremarkable and, from the point of view of my research interest, rather disappointing. So much for the FCO’s claim that “it required a representative of the Commissioner’s office to view the withheld information at it offices given its sensitivity.”
However, there is one glaring revelation. All the redactions which the FCO fought so tenaciously to protect are linked to IGP Lama telling the two people at the dinner party that it was the Indians who were supporting the Khampas in Mustang. This was incorrect. From start to finish, the Khampas in Mustang were supported exclusively by the CIA, as I highlighted to the FCO in my request for an internal review.
Before the Indo-China War of 1962 (October 20 – November 21), India had not been officially informed of the CIA support to the Mustang force, although the Indian military checkpost at Jomsom must have had some idea of what was going on. During the war, India started to recruit Tibetan refugees in India to form a guerrilla force of 5,000 to operate behind Chinese lines. (Later known as “Establishment 22” and later still as the “Special Frontier Force.”) After the war, during a meeting was held in Delhi on November 21, 1962, with a US delegation led by Averell Harriman, it was agreed that the Indians, with CIA support, would work together to develop the new 5000-strong tactical guerrilla force. The Mustang force would remain under the CIA’s unilateral control and, in addition, the CIA would unilaterally create a strategic long-range resistance force to operate inside Tibet.
This required bringing more Tibetans to Colorado for training. The aim was to produce self-sufficient three or four-man radio teams that would infiltrate overland into Tibet to report intelligence and organize underground groups that would resist Chinese rule. The plan would also create two “road-watch teams” to report possible Chinese Communist build-ups and another six “border watch communications teams” to take up positions along the frontier. In September 1963, the CIA obtained India’s agreement to open a joint operations centre in New Delhi that would direct the dispatch of agents into Tibet and monitor their activities. Some of these teams were inserted through northeast Nepal, but they were separate from the Mustang force, which remained, as it had from the outset, exclusively under CIA control for operations and logistical support.
Where is File FO 371/170877 now?
Following the publication of the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice, dated 20 January 2015, the FCO should have released FO 371/170877 to the National Archives. But, as I was to find out, a researcher trying to locate it on the National Archives Discovery webpage could easily be misled. Typing in FO 371/170877 on the National Archive’s search engine takes one to this page.
The first instinct is to look at what it says about, “Closed extract: Jacket FN 1691/2G; record of a conversation on 12/10/1963.” FN 1691/2/G should be familiar: it is the reference at the top right hand corner of the first page of the six documents the FCO originally sent to me. The “record of conversation on 12/10/1963” must, therefore, relate to the same conversation with Inspector General of Police about Intelligence requirements and Counter-subversion which took place on October 12, 1963. It appears, therefore, that what the FCO previously designated as File FO 371/170877, with its six documents, has somehow metamorphosed into Jacket FN 1691/2G, though now given the reference of FO/371/170877/1. This view is reinforced by clicking on “Closed extract: Jacket FN 1691/2/G,” which brings one to the following page.
Again, this looks like the original FO 371/170877 file which, apparently, despite the judgements given in the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice, the FCO has determined must be kept closed until January 1, 2024. The same two exemptions which the Information Commissioner so comprehensively dismissed are apparently retained. However, common sense dictates that, after the publication of the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice, the FCO must have released to the National Archives the six-document file originally designated as FO 371/170877, despite this web page suggesting otherwise. So, where is it? Clicking on FO 371/170877 on the original search result takes one to the following page.
The original File FO 371/170877 had the meaningful and helpful description of, “Conversation with Inspector General of Police about Intelligence Requirements and Counter Subversion”. The file with the same designation is now given the abstract general description of “Intelligence and counter-subversion” which is far too vague to be helpful. The page states that it was retained by the FCO until 07 December 2016, when it was released to the National Archives, some 10 months after the ICO’s Decision Notice was published. But what documents does it contain? What new information might be in it?
There was only one way to find out. Early on the morning of June 27, 2017, I left our house in Oxford and left for the National Archives at Kew. I arrived some time after noon — a little agitated after having taken the Reading to Waterloo line to Richmond which rightly lived up to its reputation for being one of the slowest and most unreliable lines in England — but consoling myself that this was duty, in the battle for information.
After going through the usual security checks, I collected FO 371/170877 and walked to my reserved place in the reading room to study the file, noting immediately that it was particularly thin and in a newish-looking folder. When I opened the folder, this familiar page appeared:
A quick check showed that the file contained the same six documents which have been the subject of this article, with redactions removed as directed in the Decision Notice — and nothing else. The only material which had not been sent to me were very short handwritten comments on two "With Compliments" slips.
Having undergone this elaborate exercise, the first question which springs to mind is why the FCO, on the National Archives website, did not give the same description to FO 371/170877, as it had given in all previous correspondence with both me and the ICO; namely, ‘Conversation with Inspector General of Police about Intelligence Requirements and Counter Subversion’? Why the deliberate opaqueness? Why the apparent obfuscation? The same two questions apply to its apparent double, FO 371/170877/1 or ‘Jacket FN 1691/2G: record of conversation on 12/10/1963’. Record of a conversation about what and with whom? It is worth noting that the FN 1691/2G reference links it to the same conversation discussed at length in this article.
Some answers suggest themselves, none of which reflect well on the FCO; but they are of no consequence. All that matters is that an information battle was won, and FO 371/170877 is in the National Archives, and open for inspection.
As for Dudley Spain, doyen of old Nepal hands, he left his collection of extensive papers to the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. As yet, no reference has been found to what being an “Information Officer with an IRD slant” entailed. However, all those who knew him in Nepal at the time, when broached on the subject, voiced the same suspicion: there was more to what Dudley did than any of his mere job titles suggested.
Knaus, John Kenneth. “Official Policies and Covert Programs: The U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the Tibetan Resistance”. Journal of War Studies, 2003.
United States of America. “China Memorandum for the Special Group”, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXX. Office of the Historian.
United Kingdom, Decision Notice FS50540559 regarding Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) dated January 20, 2015. Information Commissioner's Office.
United Kingdom. “Intelligence and counter-subversion”. The National Archives.
United Kingdom. “Closed extract: Jacket FN 1691/2G: record of conversation on 12/10/1963”. The National Archives.
Sam Cowan Sam Cowan is a retired British general who knows Nepal well through his British Gurkha connections and extensive trekking in the country over many years.
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