William Young, the CIA agent who is credited with allegedly discovering Long Cheng in northern Laos, a remote valley which became a top secret CIA air base in 1965 – and soon after the busiest airport in the world – shot himself in Chiang Mai, Thailand a few days ago.
During the making of the feature documentary The Most Secret Place on Earth – The CIA´s Covert War in Laos, director Marc Eberle and myself tried several times to interview Mr. Young, to no avail. Apparently he felt that he´d been burnt in a previous interview and no longer trusted journalists. He was found at home with a revolver in one hand and a crucifix in the other.
Young came from a long line of zealous US patriots. His grandfather did untold damage in British occupied Burma by converting legions of hill tribe (ethnic minority) people to Christianity, while his father Harold, another missionary, also worked for the CIA and engaged in spy missions into China (The US tried to invade China by using hill tribe proxies and CIA case officers several times in the 1950s and were repulsed by Mao´s communist forces). It was father Harold who secured young William the job with the agency.
When Bill Young allegedly found Long Cheng for the CIA, Laos was officially neutral and for the following decade, the US bombed, killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians in this small landlocked Southeast Asian nation, while lying to the US public about American involvement in Southeast Asia. Long Cheng was never marked on any map, despite reaching a population of some 40.000 people by the late 1960s – all paid for with American tax money while the American public and Congress were kept in the dark.
The use of proxies to fight (largely phantom) regiments of communists has since turned into standard covert US military practice and is still used today in America´s foreign wars. Laos became the template for many of the countless war crimes the US has committed around the world since the 1960s. And William Young pioneered this strategy with customary secret agent flair – he is quoted as saying that Long Cheng had everything a serviceman could ask for to fight a war…brothels, casinos, bars and a church.
Young will be honored by the ethnic minorities he “dedicated” his life to, most notably the Lahu, many of whom live in northern Thailand. His detractors will see him as yet another pawn in the cold war US killing game which set Southeast Asia on fire in the 1960s and 1970s and cost the lives of more than four million people. Including, eventually, Mr Young´s. Long before his retirement in Chiang Mai, the agency fell out with William Young over its policies and he was let go.
No doubt, many voices will call Mr. Young an American hero and cold war fighter, similar to Tony Poe, another Lao operative who paid his hill tribe soldiers cold hard cash for bringing in enemy ears, of which he made necklaces. Like Tony Poe, who died some years ago in a San Francisco nursing home, and who became the template for Marlon Brando´s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Mr. Young should rather be remembered as yet another misguided opportunist, who went into the killing business for America and was eventually dumped for his efforts.
Today, the US allegedly employs similar agents in Afghanistan and case officers still recruit locals to do targeted assassinations of people America does not like. As in Laos, the US is allegedly involved in the drug trade in Afghanistan (Part of the CIA’s Lao war effort was financed with heroin. As a consequence more than a third of US servicemen in Vietnam became junkies and by the end of US engagement in Southeast Asia, 70% of the world’s heroin came fro the region. Today, 90% of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan) will fail politically and militarily in Afghanistan, but perhaps it does not matter…the war machine grinds on, the arms manufacturers are happy and American parents will be left with both sorrow and pride, when their young boys die in the line of duty for their country – brothels, bars and churches forever!
This week, Edward Loxton writes in The First Post that Young´s last ambition was to have a Hollywood film made on his exploits. The fact that the movie never got made, allegedly contributed to his decision to commit suicide. Now that is an American reason to kill oneself.
But it’s not over till it’s over. Today, William Young’s second cousin, Markus Young, allegedly runs a Christian orphanage in Mae Sai on the Thai Burmese border for children of the Wa, an ethnic community credited with producing vast amounts of metha-amphetamines, which are imported into Thailand. Interesting to note how US military aggression and missionary activities tend to go hand in hand. Western imperialism has often been driven forward by Christians and is likely to be spearheaded by Christian missionaries cum intelligence operatives in the future.
Now why did Thomas Fuller in his misguided, patchy and somewhat misleading NY Times obit fail to mention any of this, I wonder? No wonder the paper has already posted a correction.
For a feature length account of the US Secret War in Laos, watch The Most Secret Place on Earth – The CIA´s Covert War in Laos by Marc Eberle. Screenplay by Tom Vater/Marc Eberle.
6 thoughts on “William Young is dead – Former CIA agent shoots himself in Chiang Mai”
Ah yes, because Baptist missionary kids always die with “crucifixes in their hands.” Anyone even remotely familiary with religious dominations knows this story stinks to high Heaven.
I got to know Bill Young quite well in the early 1970s. At the time he lived with his mother and father in Chiangmai in a wonderful house and compound. Eventually I would buy his mother’s powder blue VW bug and enjoyed visiting Harold, his father, at the Zoo where he held court. I travelled with Bill extensively to visit the Red Lahu. His linguistic competencies were superb as was his knowledge of jungle, woods, animals, and survival. Prof Chet Gorman, a close friend, hired Bill to handle his logistics and crew as they hunted for archeological sites in the Northwest of Thailand. Chet reported that in the most remote areas he had ever entered he would be met in the morning with bacon, eggs, and pancakes with syrup! Bill Young was organized, thoughtful, and amazingly capable guy mentally and physically in those days. Most of all, he could talk and describe and analyze complex political and ethnic situations.
But there was the dark side and you did not want to cross him. We eventually had a falling out over some unremarkable thing and I respectfully started avoiding him. But I would not be honest if I did not add that Bill Young was a philosophic chap at heart, quite sophisticated, charismatic, and reflective. That is how he came across to me. I saw many acts of generosity and advice given to Lahu and Shan visitors.
Eventually, I would write up the arrest of a major Opium Smuggler that appeared in Paul Rock’s, Drugs and Politics and Bill helped with much of the research.
I knew Bill Young well, worked with him and think his time on earth was at the best he could do. I spent two tours in Vietnam and then later came to Thailand and met up with Bill as his parents knew mine. We did some travelling and I enjoyed him and hope that God gives him consideration.
I now reside in Thailand.
please take a look at the following document, most notably page 39….
and for slightly more conservative estimates here…
There are other studies and it may be worth your while getting hold of Alfred McCoy´s book “The Politics of Heroin: The CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.”
Many thanks for your comment.
I did not say that all these soldiers returned to the US as junkies, though quite a few did, unfortunately.
But there was a time in the war in Vietnam when up to 30% of servicemen used heroin. I am not in my office at the moment but will dig up the exact quotes and figures and post them here in a week or two.
An interesting analysis (especially about the confluence between evangelism and military aggression) but I do think your claim that by wars end 30% of the US service men were junkies is hyperbole. Clearly many people came back from Nam with a jones but to say a third of them were junkies is overstatement. That number has never been validated in any study of drug addiction I have read and does not conform to my observations of friends who came back from Vietnam.
Vietnam was a traumatising event for many soldiers who got a tour courtesy of the US government but I don’t think that many came back as junkies.