Federal agents conducted a series of raids across California to shut down a private army that intended to conduct a coup d’etat against the Communist government of Laos. General Vang Pao, a former CIA client in Laos, wanted to purchase explosives to conduct a terrorist attack on Vientiane and remove the Communists he failed to defeat decades ago:
The ageing former leader of the CIA’s “Secret Army” in Laos was in an American prison last night, accused of mounting a coup against his and Washington’s old Communist enemy. General Vang Pao, 77, and nine other people were arrested in dawn raids by more than 200 federal agents in dawn raids across California.
The detentions were the culmination of ‘Operation Tarnished Eagle’, a six-month investigation into an attempt to bring down Laos’ Communist government.
According to prosecutors Vang Pao and his co-conspirators planned to spend almost USD 10 million (pounds 5 million) on weaponry including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, mines and C-4 explosives.
They were recruiting a mercenary force to attack government buildings in the Lao capital Vientiane and “reduce them to rubble,” they said.
How much has the world changed since Pao’s defeat in 1975? Ventiane remains Communist, but is only one of five outright Communist dictatorships left in the world, according to the Telegraph. They remain isolated and disengaged, still fighting internally against the Hmong, who oppose their brutal rule. Many Hmong migrated to the US; in fact, a fair number of them live in the Twin Cities.
Thirty years ago, the US would likely have provided assistance to Pao for fighting Communists. Now, however, we have no reason to target the Laotians militarily, and we certainly cannot allow Pao or any other asylum-seekers to use the US as a base for what appears to be terrorism. The cause may have some nobility, but the tactics appear unacceptable — and we simply cannot have private armies assembling in our nation for an attack on another nation. If we tolerated that, we would be responsible for the act of war just as if our own military had conducted it.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. Raising $10 million is no easy feat. Where did he get the money, and who else was involved in this proto-insurgency?