Long Chen: Film Reveals CIA's 'Most Secret Place on Earth'

Discussion in 'Laos - General Discussion Forum' started by DavidFL, Aug 23, 2008.

  1. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    2008-0822 - IPS - LAOS: Film Reveals CIA's 'Most Secret Place on Earth'


    Inter Press Service News Agency
    Friday, August 22, 2008

    Film Reveals CIA's 'Most Secret Place on Earth'

    Andrew Nette

    PHNOM PENH, Aug 22 (IPS) - It was known as the ‘secret war’, a covert operation waged by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the sixties and early seventies against communist guerrillas in Laos.
    And the most secret location in this clandestine war was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, in central Laos, a place that remain off limits even today.

    A new film, ‘The Most Secret Place on Earth’, to be released in cinemas across Europe later this year, explores this little known conflict.

    The film, which previewed for the first time in Phnom Penh in mid-August, includes images of Long Chen shot by the first Western camera crew to enter the base since the communists took control of the country in 1975.

    "I first got the idea to do the film when I visited the Plain of Jars in Laos in 2002," recalled Marc Eberle,36, the German director in an interview with IPS.

    "You could still see the craters from the air bombing and unexploded ordnance was everywhere."

    "Then I heard about Long Chen and the fact that no one had got there since the war and I thought, how do I visit and how do I make a film about it?"

    Little is known about the Lao conflict despite the fact that it remains the largest and most expensive paramilitary operation ever run by the U.S.

    It was completely run by the CIA using largely civilian pilots from the agency’s own airline, Air America, and mercenaries recruited from the Hmong, an ethnic tribe living in mountainous areas in central and northern Laos.

    Despite being the centre of the covert operation and, at its peak, one of the world’s busiest airports with a population of 50,000 people, Long Chen’s location was never marked on any map.

    "I found it bizarre that at one time this was the second biggest city in Laos and it was completely secret," Eberle says.

    Long Chen remains off limits to foreigners and most Lao due to clashes with remnants of the CIA’s Hmong army. Until recently it formed part of a special administrative zone under the direct control of the Lao army.

    Renewed interest in the Laos’ secret war was briefly rekindled in 2003 when two Western journalists made contact with members of the Hmong resistance, the first white people they had seen since the CIA abandoned them 27 years ago.

    Although pictures from the encounter were printed in Time Asia and won a world press award, U.S. media failed to pick up the story and it died.

    The decades-old conflict again made headlines last year when U.S. authorities arrested 78 year-old Vang Pao, the head of the CIA’s Hmong forces in the sixties, and indicted him on terrorism charges relating to his alleged involvement in a plot to over throw the Lao government.

    Eberle also believes what happened in Laos in the sixties is relevant in that it shares strong parallels with the conflict in Iraq.

    "Laos was the progenitor of the way America fights wars in the 21st century," he says.

    "Outsourcing the war to private companies, gathering public support by falsifying intelligence and documents, embedded journalism and automated warfare including the use of so-called ‘smart weapons’, all these methods were first tested in Laos."

    The conflict began in the late fifties, as Washington sought to counter communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies who had began building the Ho Chi Minh trail through the jungles running down the eastern border of Laos.

    The operation was placed under CIA control to get around Laos’ supposed political neutrality and the conditions set by the Geneva Accords.

    Vang Pao, then an officer in the Royal Lao Army, was recruited in 1960 to lead the Hmong troops drafted to fight the communists, which at the peak of the fighting numbered up to 30,000.

    The largest of hundreds of airstrips built by the CIA throughout Laos, Long Chen was established soon after.

    The Most Secret Place examines the conflict through the stories of players involved in the covert, diplomatic and military aspects of the conflict, including former diplomats, CIA officers and Air America pilots.

    It also draws on critics such as Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and a reporter in Laos at the time, and Fred Branfman, an aid worker turned anti-war activist who worked to expose the conflict.

    Ordinary Lao people at the receiving end of the world’s most technologically sophisticated military machine get a chance to tell their story.

    Although there is a short interview with Vang Pao, the one aspect of the story not adequately dealt with is the plight of the Hmong, who bore the brunt of some of the most savage fighting. With the exception of senior officers like Vang Pao and their families, the Hmong fighters were abandoned when the U.S. pulled out.

    One of the most interesting aspects of ‘The Most Secret Place’ is that it incorporates previously unused footage Eberle managed to collect, including film of actual combat missions and day-to-day life at Long Chen.

    This was gathered from myriad sources, including the U.S. National Film Archive and footage held by television stations from across Europe.

    "The CIA had just declassified a whole lot of material so that helped as well," he says. "The most important source was the guys who were over there filming with their little Super 8 cameras, often illegally."

    This film’s analysis sets it apart from other books and documentaries on the subject, most of which justify the conflict, lauding the CIA operatives and their Air America pilots as heroes.

    The reality, as Alfred McCoy says towards the end of the film, was very different. "We destroyed a whole civilisation, we wiped it off the map. We incinerated, atomised human remains in this air war and what happened in the end? We lost."

    The covert nature of the conflict meant that U.S. forces were able to ignore virtually all the rules of engagement operating in Vietnam. Every building was a potential target and the civilian toll was huge.

    The situation grew worse in 1970 when U.S. President Nixon authorised massive B-52 bombing strikes on Laos, which remained classified information until many years later.

    American planes dropped an average of one planeload of bombs on targets in Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country on earth per capita in the history of warfare.

    Eberle remains cagey about exactly how he managed to gain access to film at Long Chen. "It was a matter of having the right contacts," he says.

    The last film crew to try and get there were caught and convicted to 15 years prison, although they were eventually freed after four weeks due to international pressure.

    "After we went another UK crew tried to get there but they were caught and deported," he adds.

    "There are some places in the world that have a different energy and Long Chen is one of these. You look down the runway and think this is the place were it all happened. The planes took off from here and bombed all those people."

    The film, which contains aerial footage of the base as well as shots from the ground, shows Long Chen today as an overgrown airstrip surrounded by heavily forested mountains.

    "It’s just an army outpost now. A small village, a couple of hundred people, soldiers and their families."

    The buildings, including Californian bungalows and a number of other structures designed in sixties style, largely lie vacant and derelict.

    "The golden age of Long Chen is over. It used to be the high-tech oasis for spooks in Laos. There were allegedly more antennas there than trees. Now they do not even have power."

    The 2007 arrest of Vang Pao in California, along with eight other Hmong and a former U.S. army ranger who served in Vietnam, on charges of allegedly plotting to topple the Lao government, has highlighted the current state of Hmong resistance inside Laos.

    Eberle believes, as do many other observers in Laos, that the resistance is on its last legs.

    "There are still some groups but they are not organised. They are certainly not politically or militarily organised. They are remnants, the children and grandchildren of those involved in the war who are scared to come out of the jungle because they have never known anything else."

    "Whether Vang Pao is guilty or not of the charges he is facing, one thing that is true is that he and other expatriate Hmong have used these people as pawns," maintains Eberle.

    "Vang Pao has also got millions [of dollars] out of the Hmong community in the U.S. under the guise of liberating their homeland."

    The decline in the resistance has been accompanied by talk of opening up Long Chen and the area around it to tourism.

    "I do not see that happening in the next few years. It is still far too sensitive on the part of the Lao government," says Eberle. "They are also keen not to risk unsettling relations with the Americans by opening it up."

    "It is the last chapter of the Vietnam War and both governments have an interest in making sure it is forgotten."
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  3. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

    David ,
    Very interesting clip.......I find this whole saga quite mind blowing and after our recent visit to Laos, quite unfathomable.
    I realise it was a very complicated issue at the time but the incredible ignorance and arrogance of the US leaders during that period created so much ongoing suffering , that they should be made accountable.
    Obviously it could never happen , but a " crimes against humanity " trial would seem justified .
    The wholesale massacre of so many innocent people and the destruction of such a beautiful country should not be allowed to slide under the radar screen.
    At the very least the US should remove all the " scrap metal " they dropped across the country. I found it interesting that most of the people involved in removal of UXO were not Americans.
    Hope the film gives a few people a wake up call to the reality of US military.
  4. pseacraft

    pseacraft Ol'Timer

    So we have two films coming out that cover this similar topic? That's great as I am reading about this period. I have stumbled on a lot of interesting information on Col "Bull" Simon on another forum where his daughter was posting and learning a great deal about her father from those who knew him best. I worked with and still work with several people who were involved one way or another in various activities of the secret war. Very intriguing stuff.

    Looking forward to getting my hands on this film.

    Thanks for the info!

  5. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Anyone seen this film or got a DVD copy?
    I heard in Laos that it was not well received - what a surprise - & that Xaysomboune is even more "restricted."
  6. mactbkk

    mactbkk Ol'Timer


    I saw the film at the FCCT in Bangkok on 15 August. Surprised me as it wasn't as "bad" as I thought it'd be. The worst part was Al McCoy and his time worn accusations about CIA and Air America official involvement in the opium trade. How do you prove a negative??

    Some 10 days later the wife & I went up to Xaysomboun/Moung Cha/LS-113 and stayed at the Phou Bia Hotel. This via Toyota 4-wheel 4-door pickup, sorry. We've stayed at the Phou Bia several times over the last two years but this was the first time something "interesting" happened. Three police (not sure if "police" as not in uniform, army?) came by at 0130 hrs, knocked on the door, and asked to see our passports. Handed them over for inspection, they said thanks, all very politely, and departed. End of incident, if that's what it was.

    Next morning back to the market for breakfast and on to Houy Kham and Long Tieng.

    Oh, yes, back to the movie. Have heard that it'll be available for sale sometime in 2009 after it's played the TV circuit in Europe. It also may be shown, with additional footage, again at the FCCT in January or February.

    Mac, down in Thanyaburi
  7. jimoi

    jimoi Ol'Timer

    Local sources around the area that were involved with this film are telling me they and certain folks that wear green and pose for photos that hang in offices around Laos are not happy at all with the final cut. What was proposed to them is not what is being shown.

    More restrictive? You bet. Latest word from my contact in Phonsavan is not encouraging.

    Laos has over 15,000 KM of navigable track/road. I am still an advocate of letting this area cool out for some time before reasonable attempts by business operators in Laos to open it up for tourism. Attempts and upsetting the army up there don't help anyone and are a waste of time. Do you want to donate books to a school? Email me as there are other places more in need of aide and assistance across the country.

    I guess there will be other riders that go up to LS 20A in the future and some will have limited success. Why is it that some people see the need to piss on an electric fence when the field is vast and wide?

    I'd like to set up a huge run to ride around to off road sections near Phonsavan - all off road and all off track. I'll run sweep/follow and we'll take on ground not covered before - should be a blast. Same same but different.
  8. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    This isn't RemoteAsia's innovative de-mining contract, is it?? :shock:

    Still would like to see the film tho...
  9. mat.ward

    mat.ward Ol'Timer

    Yes Rodie, I vote for him riding sweep - he can put his tires where his mouth his... MAG motorbike division.
  10. [quote quote="jimoi
    Do you want to donate books to a school? Email me as there are other places more in need of aide and assistance across the country.
    Quote from Jimoi

    Donating books is a good idea.Especially books that deal with learning how to defuse American bombs.
    I'm not being sarcastic, I really mean it.

  11. Pgt066

    Pgt066 Ol'Timer

    Nice to see some truely slanted views on the above post, and on that article about the movie. Funny how niether the quote above, nor that director ever mentioned what the NVA Communists, and the Pathet Lao did to the local population. No mention of how the French colonists exploited this place, and then ran. Similar to Vietnam. No mention that the NVA Communists INVADED this peaceful country. America was trying to help them defend their home.

    America is always the first to be expected to help people, and first to have the finger pointed at. All you guys enjoying Thailand today, should be thanking America dearly for helping to keep Communism out of your retirement playground. The Thai's definately did not do it by themselves! The domino theory would have been in full effect if America was not involved in Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam could all be as modern as Thailand if they were not set back 30 years or more by Communism.

    No mention of how these Communists are still hunting down the Hmong, and making them go "missing". How about that for "Crimes against Humanity".
  12. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer

    This is replaying at the FCC Bangkok this November 2010.. For any one that is interested.

    Documentary on the CIA war in Laos
    'The Most Secret Place on Earth'

    with German film-maker Marc Eberle and American anti-war activist Fred Branfman

    6.45pm Mon, November 25, 2010


    The Vietnam War was the most intensely televised war ever. However, next door in neighboring Laos, the longest and largest air war in human history was underway, which eventually made Laos one of the most bombed countries on earth.

    The Secret War was the largest operation ever conducted by the CIA, yet it was conducted covertly and it is only in recent years that the true nature and scale of what occurred has been revealed. Critics call it the biggest war crime of the Vietnam War era and point to striking similarities to present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; similarities that were tested and set in motion back in Laos in the 1960s.

    In The Most Secret Place On Earth, key players of the Secret War: former CIA agents, American pilots, Laotian fighters and war reporters take us on a journey into the physical heart of the conflict: Top secret Long Cheng, where the CIA built its headquarters in 1962. It was from this base that the Secret War was largely planned and executed. As the war dragged on, Long Cheng became the busiest airbase in the world and a major centre for the global opium and heroin trade.

    We journey to Long Cheng, a site has been off limits to the outside world since the end of the war in 1975, as the film reconstructs the story of the operation and illustrates its relevance to current American conflicts.

    A shorter version of this film drew a packed house when shown at the club in August 2008, but we will show the long version (102 minutes) this time because of the high level of interest previously, and the fact it coincides with good news: the start of the Global Ban on Cluster Munitions and an international conference in Vientiane to set this historic treaty in action.

    Documentary maker Marc Eberle is flying from Phnom Penh for this event and will speak and answer questions about the film after it is shown. American anti-war activist Fred Branfman, who helped expose the "Secret War" in Laos to the US public back in the early 70s, will also fly in from Vientiane, and report on the latest developments in Laos following the start of the Cluster Munitions Treaty. (Fred has to fly out shortly after the movie, so it will be start at 7pm sharp after a short introduction.)

    For more information: http://www.tomvater.com/laos/the-most-s ... mber-22nd/
  13. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    This was broadcast recently on Aus TV and can be downloaded from various Bit Torrent sites.
    Polemical doc but fascinating archive along with recent [3 or so years ago] arial & ground views of Long Tien.
  14. pee

    pee Ol'Timer

    Thought politics were banned on this forum. As usual it doesn't apply to the old recycled red neck cliche.
  15. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Actually I have to agree with Pgt066, America is always expected to be the First to help every Country in the World when ever they get in Trouble or have some Natural disaster then Later they get Abused for it??? Hardly ever any Gratitude shown or even a Mere Thanks!!! Of Course on the other hand they have had some rather Dubious Dealings and Sponsored some very Controversial goings on all undercover and Clandestine of Course!!! Love them or leave them they have done a lot to Influence the way the World is today? Without them We would have all been Speaking German or Japanese, then We wouldn't have to worry about Communism as it wouldn't Exist!!!!
    But lets not speak Politics?
  16. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    Motorcycles and Trip reports............:thumbup:
  17. pee

    pee Ol'Timer

  18. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    I now have a copy of the film, so perhaps we can organize a GT Rider viewing somewhere in Chiang Mai.
  19. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    Great idea. I would very much like to see that.
  20. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

  21. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Fantastic Photos of a very Important Part of Asian History! Alot of other Links in that Article as well. Great Stuff.
  22. Auke

    Auke Ol'Timer

    One of these gents is a member of this forum - a few months ago they got permission to travel offroad from Xaysomboun via Long Tieng and Sam Thong to Phonsavan.
  23. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Schackster & Well, lets run this film at Euro Diner on Thursday 17th March or Friday 18th March at 7.30PM.
    Please confirm - Thursday or Friday.
  24. schackster

    schackster Ol'Timer

    Ok, Euro Diner it is on Thursday 17th March @ 7:30 PM.

    Please let us know via this thread if your coming
  25. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer

    Believe this will be on the History channel in April.. Saw a promo for it the other night.

    Can't wait to see it..

  26. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer

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