Uncle Sam and Pol Pot
By John Pilger
Covert Action Quarterly Fall 1997
The US not only helped create conditions that brought Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge to power in 1975, but actively supported the genocidal force, politically and financially. By January 1980, the US was secretly funding Pol Pots exiled forces on the Thai border. The extent of this support-$85 million from 1980 to 1986-was revealed six years later in correspondence between congressional lawyer Jonathan Winer, then counsel to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Winer said the information had come from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). When copies of his letter were circulated, the Reagan administration was furious. Then, without adequately explaining why, Winer repudiated the statistics, while not disputing that they had come from the CRS. In a second letter to Noam Chomsky, however, Winer repeated the original charge, which, he confirmed to me, was “absolutely correct.” Washington also backed the Khmer Rouge through the United Nations, which provided Pol Pot’s vehicle of return. Although the Khmer Rouge government ceased to exist in January 1979, when the Vietnamese army drove it out, its representatives continued to occupy Cambodia’s UN seat. Their right to do so was defended and promoted by Washington as an extension of the Cold War, as a mechanism for US revenge on Vietnam, and as part of its new alliance with China (Pol Pot’s principal underwriter and Vietnam’s ancient foe). In 1981, President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said, “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot.” The US, he added, “winked publicly” as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge through Thailand.
As a cover for its secret war against Cambodia, Washington set up the Kampuchean Emergency Group (KEG) in the US embassy in Bangkok and on the Thai-Cambodian border. KEG’s job was to “monitor” the distribution of Western humanitarian supplies sent to the refugee camps in Thai land and to ensure that Khmer Rouge bases were fed. Working through “Task Force 80? of the Thai Army, which had liaison officers with the Khmer Rouge, the Americans ensured a constant flow of UN supplies. Two US relief aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown, later wrote, “The US Government insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed … the US preferred that the Khmer Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally known relief operation.”
In 1980, under US pressure, the World Food Program handed over food worth $12 million to the Thai army to pass on to the Khmer Rouge. According to former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke “20,000 to 40 000 Pol Pot guerrillas benefited.” This aid helped restore the Khmer Rouge to a fighting force, based in Thailand, from which it de stabilized Cambodia for more than a decade.
Although ostensibly a State Department operation, KEG’s principals were intelligence officers with long experience in Indochina. In the early 1980s it was run by Michael Eiland, whose career underscored the continuity of American intervention in Indochina. In 1969-70, he was operations officer of a clandestine Special Forces group code-named “Daniel Boone,” which was responsible for the reconnaissance of the US bombing of Cambodia. By 1980, Col. Eiland was running KEG out of the US embassy in Bangkok, where it was de scribed as a “humanitarian” organization. Responsible for interpreting satellite surveillance photos of Cambodia, Eiland became a valued source for some of Bangkok’s resident Western press corps, who referred to him in their reports as a “Western analyst.” Eiland’s “humanitarian” duties led to his appointment as Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief in charge of the South east Asia Region, one of the most important positions in US espionage.
In November 1980, the just elected Reagan administration and the Khmer Rouge made direct contact when Dr. Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA, secretly visited a Khmer Rouge operational headquarters inside Cambodia. Cline was then a foreign policy adviser on President-elect Reagan’s transitional team. Within a year, according to Washington sources, 50 CIA agents were running Washington’s Cambodia operation from Thailand. The dividing line between the international relief operation and the US war became more and more confused. For example, a Defense Intelligence Agency colonel was appointed “security liaison officer” between the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO) and the Displaced Persons Protection Unit (DPPU). In Washington, sources revealed him as a link between the US government and the Khmer Rouge.