• Afghanistan War
    Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam: How the U.S. Has Resettled Its Wartime Allies
    The United States has granted tens of thousands of special visas to Afghans who aided U.S. forces, but many others are still waiting. How does this compare with previous efforts?
  • Southeast Asia
    A Review of “Under Beijing’s Shadow: Southeast Asia's China Challenge” by Murray Hiebert
    Hunter Marston is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University. His research focuses on great power competition in Southeast Asia. According to recent surveys of Southeast Asia, China is now the most influential strategic and political power in the region. Yet China’s rise has been so rapid and consequential that few book-length studies have captured the complexity of Beijing’s expanding regional influence. The new book by Murray Hiebert of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Bower Group Asia, Under Beijing’s Shadow: Southeast Asia's China Challenge, fills this gap and shows in significant detail how Southeast Asian states are responding to China’s rise. Given his decades working in the region as a foreign correspondent and political analyst, Hiebert is well-suited for this challenge, and the result offers valuable insights on issues related to Southeast Asia, China, and broader rivalries in the region. The book portrays a region riven by a diversity of views toward China; this diversity prevents any unified response to China’s growing influence over Southeast Asia. As Hiebert shows, Southeast Asian states are of two minds regarding China: on the one hand, they are deeply dependent on China’s rise for their own economic growth and keen to continue trade with Beijing. On the other hand, they are increasingly nervous about China’s growing economic, diplomatic, and military power, its more assertive diplomacy, and its willingness to use its might unilaterally to get its way in the South China Sea—and potentially other parts of the region as well. Hiebert punctures several myths about the China-Southeast Asia relationship. For one, although media reports often portray mainland Southeast Asian states as close to China, or even as satellite states of Beijing, Hiebert offers a different view. He suggests, with considerably detailed country case studies, that mainland Southeast Asian states are not so easy to pigeonhole. China has constructed innumerable dams upstream on the Mekong, choking off much-needed water as countries down river face droughts as a result of climate change. At the same time, Chinese companies—in joint ventures with Southeast Asian corporations in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia—are building massive hydropower projects on the lower Mekong, leading to increased salt water flooding and environmental degradation. These dams have badly damaged the Mekong’s flow and often stopped the seasonal flow of rich nutrients essential to the cultivation of rice and other crops, and the fish which feed the populations of Southeast Asia. In so doing, they have angered many residents of mainland Southeast Asian states, even though governments like Cambodia and Laos and Myanmar remain highly dependent on Chinese aid, investment, and diplomatic support. Hiebert also gives ample coverage to the depth of nationalism within modern Myanmar, and how it is facile to say that Myanmar also has become some kind of satellite state of China. There is enormous resistance within Myanmar toward China’s proposed Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, which the previous government of President Thein Sein suspended in 2011 due to popular pressures. At the same time, China has covertly supported ethnic insurgents on Myanmar’s northern periphery, sometimes providing arms and munitions, a reality that has not gone unnoticed by Myanmar’s military, which views dependency on China as a “national emergency.” In addition, Hiebert shows that Southeast Asian hedging strategies, playing for time and keeping their options open, provides some grounds for believing that the region will not be totally dominated by Beijing. The ambiguity of Southeast Asian loyalties means that Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states have not made up their minds to side with Beijing. Hiebert argues that many of these states—even Cambodia and Laos, which seem to have less leverage to resist China’s influence and cash—will continue to avoid making stark choices. Malaysia also likely will continue to hedge. It has generally failed to respond to China’s provocations in the South China Sea or has done so quietly, believing that its “special relationship” would protect it from the bullying tactics to which China has subjected Vietnam and the Philippines. However, Hiebert notes Kuala Lumpur’s missile tests in July 2019, after China deployed a Coast Guard vessel near Luconia Shoal on Malaysia’s continental shelf. Later that year, Kuala Lumpur submitted claims to an extended continental shelf in that area to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. In fact, Hiebert’s account leaves open the possibility that Malaysia is standing up to China more often than it appears to outsiders. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, visited China four times during his first five years in office and has solicited major Chinese investment, even as Jakarta has pushed back against Beijing’s increased assertiveness in the North Natuna Sea. Indonesia’s economic dependence on China imposes limits to Jokowi’s willingness to stand up to China, but even he has often pursued a hedging strategy. The book also provides an even-keeled examination of Washington’s regional treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines, frequently described as tilting toward Beijing. Hiebert makes a compelling case that Thailand is still hedging against China, despite prevailing counterarguments regarding Thai foreign policy. Of the Philippines, he notes, “It is far from certain that Duterte’s sharp pivot toward China marks a long-term Philippine trend.” Interestingly, Hiebert predicts that Manila will swing back to an anti-China foreign policy after Duterte’s term ends in 2022 and a future administration in Manila seeks to rebalance relations with the regional powers. Second, Hiebert makes a compelling case that ASEAN should stop competing amongst itself and enhance cooperation, especially by strengthening dialogue on how to deal with China. As Hiebert points out, the main obstacle to deeper cooperation is the fact that Southeast Asian states often have varying levels of threat perceptions toward China and also often have different needs from the United States, the other major regional power along with Japan. Vietnam, for instance, has in recent years deepened its security cooperation with the United States, allowing a U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, to dock at Danang for a week in 2018, for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War. There also has been speculation that Hanoi may file legal arbitration against Beijing’s maritime claims, and Hanoi has fostered military-to-military cooperation with Washington in other ways as well. Cambodia, on the other hand, has been all too willing to support Beijing’s interests. Under the increasingly authoritarian leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Beijing has often facilitated China’s goals in Southeast Asia, dividing ASEAN. As Hiebert makes clear, Beijing knows how to cater its aid to Phnom Penh’s needs based on Western actions such as sanctions in response to unfair elections. Still, many Cambodians remain wary of China’s expanding influence in their country. Numerous Cambodians resent Hun Sen’s reliance on Chinese investment, which has transformed Sihanoukville into a Chinese outpost and may grant Beijing a naval base in the country. Sophal Ear, a political scientist at Occidental College, also warns about the risks of taking on unsustainable levels of Chinese debt: in 2018 roughly 48 percent of Cambodia’s $7.6 billion foreign debt was owed to China. Finally, Hiebert turns to the question of what all this regional complexity means for Washington, which has displayed a mixture of heavy-handed demands for regional fealty and ambivalence toward Southeast Asia. The Trump administration’s reduced interaction with the region has fed a perception in Southeast Asia of Washington’s declining influence. Hiebert provides a strong case for why and how the United States should restore its attention to the region and refocus its strategy toward Southeast Asia., including by regularly attending regional summits and increasing funding for much-needed physical infrastructure, including in the Mekong basin countries.
  • Southeast Asia
    What’s Behind Mainland Southeast Asia’s Surprising Success Against COVID-19
    With the exception of Thailand, the five countries of mainland Southeast Asia are some of the poorest in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the World Bank, Cambodia has a per capita GDP of around $1,600, while Myanmar’s is roughly $1,400. Laos and Vietnam fare only marginally better, each at around $2,500. Their political systems run the gamut from semi-democracies to authoritarian one-party states. Yet despite some initial missteps, they have all largely suppressed COVID-19, proving far more effective in addressing the pandemic than most developed countries, including the United States. Vietnam, a country of roughly 95 million people, has reported a handful of deaths and only 784 total cases, as of Sunday. It has seen a recent surge, centered on the coastal city of Da Nang, but even that outbreak remains small by global comparison. Its neighbors have done nearly as well. Thailand, which has a population of just under 70 million, has not had locally transmitted cases in weeks, and only around 3,300 cases in total. Many aspects of life are returning to normal in the capital, Bangkok, and in other parts of the kingdom. By comparison, Florida, with a population of around 21 million people, has recently been averaging about 6,600 new cases per day. Cambodia, meanwhile, has had only around 200 confirmed cases, and is even allowing in Americans, a risk few countries are willing to take right now. Laos and Myanmar have had only 20 and 358 confirmed cases, respectively. While the real number of cases is likely higher in all of these countries, their performance still stands out as a bright spot in the global fight against the coronavirus. Many of their maritime Southeast Asian neighbors, particularly the Philippines and Indonesia, are struggling with high caseloads. Few observers predicted mainland Southeast Asia’s success against COVID-19. Back in February, I criticized the region’s initial response to the pandemic; even several months later, I did not imagine how effective these countries would be in containing the virus. While Vietnam quickly responded to COVID-19 with border closures, lockdowns and a major public health campaign, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia were slow to stop all travel to and from China, the initial source of the epidemic, and some of their officials shared misinformation about the virus. Thailand, however, soon righted its approach. It imposed a state of emergency in late March, and launched a national task force to combat COVID-19. While the Thai government has used the state of emergency to suppress dissent—authorities arrested multiple opposition activists last week—it also appears to have helped slow the virus’s spread. Moreover, early lockdowns in Vietnam and Thailand probably helped smaller countries in the region like Cambodia, which did not impose restrictions quickly but may have benefited from having fewer travelers from its neighbors. More recently, mainland Southeast Asian countries have been world leaders in getting near-universal compliance with mask wearing, in many cases very early in the pandemic. At least 95 percent of Thais and 94 percent of Vietnamese wear masks in public. In some cases, like Vietnam, this is because the government imposes tough fines on anyone not wearing a mask in public. Other states have relied more on longstanding social norms promoting the use of face masks when sick. Countries in the region, even the repressive ones, have also displayed impressive levels of transparency about COVID-19 and the government response—even while they stifle dissent and limit the flow of information about topics other than the virus. In Vietnam, where the ruling Communist Party controls all aspects of political life, the Ministry of Health is putting case information online. Laos has embarked on a national public information campaign that is extremely transparent by the standards of one of the most autocratic one-party states in the world. To be sure, Vietnam’s response has built on years of “efforts to improve governance and central-local government policy coordination,” as Edmund Malesky and Trang Nguyen note in a recent report for the Brookings Institution. Many governments in mainland Southeast Asia have also worked to ensure that their coronavirus response measures impose minimal financial costs on their populations—critical moves to getting broad public buy-in. As Nguyen and Malesky note, Vietnam’s policy is to cover most costs for citizens related to the response to COVID-19, including quarantines, coronavirus tests and hospitalizations. Cambodia, in turn, has relied on aid from the World Bank and other overseas entities to help ensure that people are not opting out of COVID-19 restrictions due to an inability to bear the cost. Some of these strategies should be replicable in other developing countries, given enough political will. Masks are cheap and effective, and many other states could copy the combination of pressure and skillful public campaigns to get as many people to wear masks. Other hybrid or authoritarian states would do well to heed Vietnam’s example, which has shown that transparency about COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily endanger the state’s dominance over politics. In other words, if they come clean with their publics about the spread of COVID-19 and their responses to it, they are not necessarily setting themselves up for a broader political backlash. Likewise, other developing countries may be able to copy efforts from mainland Southeast Asia to ensure that COVID-19 quarantines and treatment remain free or highly inexpensive, which is the best way to get people to take tests, isolate and go for treatment. Beyond these clear strategies, some residents of the region, including several medical researchers, have suggested that mainland Southeast Asia may have benefited from unique cultural practices that make contagion less likely. For instance, many people in mainland Southeast Asia do not greet each other with handshakes or hugs, but instead with a palms-pressed-together gesture, while standing apart from the other person. Taweesin Visanuyothin, the COVID-19 spokesperson for Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, told the New York Times that Thailand’s success “has to do with culture. Thai people do not have body contact when we greet each other.” However, in large, packed cities like Bangkok, Yangon and Ho Chi Minh City, people walk close together, jam into buses and other public transportation, and generally come quite close to each other. They may greet each other without body contact, but the sheer size of these places makes it hard to practice real social distancing. Thus, the true reasons for these countries’ success in containing the virus likely have more to do with their policy responses. Other researchers speculate that some people in mainland Southeast Asia may have some natural immunity to COVID-19. In one study from southern Thailand, more than 90 percent of people who tested positive for COVID-19 remained asymptomatic, a much higher share than normal. The reasons for this finding, however, remain unclear. One thing that is certain is that Thailand and its neighbors, which have had experience fighting other infectious diseases like SARS and dengue fever, have collectively emerged as a rare pocket of resilience in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As similarly low-to-middle-income countries in Latin America are hit hard by the coronavirus, and nations across Africa brace for a surge in cases, their governments could benefit from looking eastward and taking lessons from mainland Southeast Asia’s response.
  • Southeast Asia
    Last Days of the Mighty Mekong: A Review
    By Nicholas Borroz The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, takes the reader on a journey from glaciers in China to rice fields in Vietnam, stopping along the way in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The book describes how unsustainable human society’s current relationship is with the Mekong, which he defines not just as a river but as a complex ecological system that includes glaciers, lakes, deltas, and other smaller rivers in the region. The Mekong is important globally in terms of biodiversity—thirteen times more fish are caught annually from the Mekong than from all of North America’s lakes and rivers combined. It is also important strategically—the Mekong starts in China and flows through mainland Southeast Asia, an economically dynamic region where Beijing is increasingly the dominant external power. The Mekong has become increasingly important to trade as well, as the river has been made more navigable (controversially) through efforts by China to dredge rapids and remove rocks, among other strategies. Eyler demonstrates, through a mix of anecdotes and analysis, how economic development projects that fail to consider ecological consequences are, ultimately, unsustainable—such projects increasingly threaten the long-term health of the river and its basin. In the context of the Mekong, he shows, the impact on the river can occur locally, when a Cambodian fishing community for instance overfishes and depletes fish stocks, thus destroying its livelihood. It can happen on a national scale—for instance, when the Vietnamese government builds water management infrastructure that interrupts sedimentation distribution cycles, thus undermining the national agricultural sector the infrastructure is supposed to support. This damage also can happen on a regional scale. Thailand’s energy demands, for instance, are one reason for dam-building in Laos, and these dams ultimately damage biodiversity both in Laos and Thailand. Eyler shows that unsustainable economic development is destroying both the Mekong’s biodiversity and also the ways of life of communities along and near the river. Eyler cites numerous indicators that biodiversity is on the wane, such as declining Mekong Giant Catfish populations and the changing compositions of cyprinid harvests. To explain the community destruction threat, he provides numerous sobering examples, particularly in China and Cambodia, of ill-designed relocation programs that have hurt displaced communities’ societies and economies. Although all of the countries in the Mekong basin have, in various ways, undermined the river’s long-term viability, Eyler places the most blame on China for the Mekong’s dire future. As he notes early in the book, the Chinese model of economic development “is defined by top-down, investment-led capitalism at the expense of protecting communities and natural biodiversity.” At the end of the book, he circles back to his core claim, after reviewing a mountain of evidence, and reaffirms that China’s model of development is the Mekong’s biggest threat. Not only does dam-building in China (where the river is called the Lancang) disrupt the Mekong further downstream, but Chinese outbound investment and tourism to Southeast Asia potentially lead to harmful economic development projects in other countries. Eyler implies that economic development projects—which often proceed in the Mekong basin after weak or nonexistent environmental impact studies—must do much more to consider potential ecological and societal consequences before they are approved by regional governments. Only in this way, he notes, will the region’s states avoid catastrophe for the river basin. He provides a few examples of relatively sustainable economic development in the river basin. He does not, however, propose a clear, concrete plan for how states—either upstream China or downstream less powerful states—can enforce this shift. Nor does he explain how the region could more broadly avoid greater long-term damage to the health of the river and the people who depend on it. Perhaps he does not offer further recommendations because he sees little reason to believe China will reconsider the ecological and societal consequences of its dam-building activities, or seriously consult other stakeholders in the Mekong basin. Nicholas Borroz is an international business doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland.
  • Southeast Asia
    In Southeast Asia, Belt and Road Attracts Takers, But Skepticism is Rising
    Since China’s Belt and Road Initiative was formally launched in 2013, Southeast Asia has been one of the major priorities of the infrastructure investment project. Beijing launched a new high-speed railway from Kunming to Laos (a line that is supposed to eventually stretch through Southeast Asia), a high-speed rail link connecting Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and multiple other projects throughout the region. The giant infrastructure project still has many fans in Southeast Asian governments, and in Southeast Asian private companies. Laos’ government is pushing forward with the $5.8 billion railway, which it has touted as critical to transforming Laos into a transport hub for the region, to spark growth in parts of the landlocked state, and also to boost tourism in the country. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, at the recent Future of Asia conference held in Tokyo, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith touted the rail as a project “of great importance” to the country’s development, downplaying concerns raised by some financial institutions of the railway’s potential debt burden; Laos could wind up assuming most of the cost of the $5.8 billion project, and piling up unsustainable amounts of debt. Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, among other Southeast Asian leaders, has continued assiduously wooing Belt and Road projects and other infrastructure investments from Beijing. Indonesian president Joko Widodo, too, apparently continues to see Chinese infrastructure investment and financing as critical to his plans to upgrade Indonesia’s aging physical infrastructure. But in recent months, leaders and publics in some Southeast Asian states have become worried about the potential downsides of Belt and Road investments. Leaders in Southeast Asia are surely aware of the situation last year in Sri Lanka, in which the country, increasingly dependent on Chinese financing, wound up giving China a 99-year lease on the important port of Hambantota, in order to get a reduction in Sri Lanka’s debts. As the Nikkei noted, even International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde warned, in April, that some Belt and Road projects—mostly delivered through loans and not grants—could wind up saddling recipient developing countries with debt traps, unable to repay Chinese state firms and lenders back in the long run. Such concerns in Southeast Asia about Belt and Road remained relatively muted until recently; many countries do indeed need infrastructure investment, did not want to alienate their biggest trading partner, and were waiting to see how Belt and Road’s specific initiatives developed. But now, several of the largest Southeast Asian states—countries with close trade ties with Beijing—are voicing concerns. Before the Malaysian opposition’s surprise victory in May elections, now-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed to take a new look at many China-backed projects in Malaysia, including the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore rail line, to scrutinize how much they benefit Malaysia, how essential they are, and whether they involve wasteful spending. Although Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, who may be the next prime minister after Mahathir, have promised to maintain a strong relationship with China—Malaysia is China’s biggest trading partner in Southeast Asia—they are still expected to review multiple deals with Beijing. In Thailand too, a country that has become much closer to China economically and strategically over the past decade, some government leaders appear to be reassessing the value of Belt and Road projects. Thailand had promised to link up its eastern seaboard development project with Belt and Road initiatives, and also had welcomed the high speed line. But other countries’ Belt and Road debt problems, and the potential high cost and high debt associated with the rail line, could have soured the junta government on these Chinese initiatives. Construction has finally started on the rail line through Thailand, but this month the Thai government announced that it was, with other Southeast Asian states, considering launching a regional investment fund. The fund may be similar in some ways to Belt and Road (albeit on a much smaller scale)—a possible sign that Thailand wants to promote modest Belt and Road alternatives. The region’s smallest states, like Laos, have become so heavily dependent on China that they may feel they have no choice but to accept Belt and Road projects and other China-backed initiatives, even if they come with debt worries. But larger, more powerful economies may, at this point, be ending their honeymoon with Belt and Road.
  • Laos
    A Great Place to Have a War
    In his book A Great Place to Have a War, Joshua Kurlantzick tells the story of the CIA’s covert war in Laos during the Vietnam War. He examines how the country became, surprisingly, a U.S. policy priority, and analyzes why and how the CIA was able to build the war into one of the biggest covert operations in U.S. history. He further uses the Laos war as a prism to examine the CIA’s operations in the global war on terror today.
  • Laos
    'A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA'
    Joshua Kurlantzick discusses his new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA.
  • Asia
    A Lack of Oversight---Dating Back Decades
    Between 1961 and 1973, in a civil war in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Laos, the Central Intelligence Agency oversaw a massive paramilitary operation. CIA operatives, working with the U.S. embassy, Thai commandos, U.S. military advisors, and others, helped build an army of tens of thousands of anticommunist Laotians, mostly from the Hmong ethnic group. Perhaps most notably, the operation went on for most of the 1960s with limited interest from the U.S. Congress or the public. Reporters, mostly based in other Southeast Asian nations, had little ability to access the remote sites where the twilight war was being led. A handful of congresspeople and aides traveled to Laos for brief visits, and produced some thorough reports, but were often unable to get the CIA or the embassy to tell them much about the operation. In this way, the secret conflict in Laos---managed largely by the CIA, with minimal oversight by Congress and a U.S. public that cared little about the impacts of the war overseas---was a harbinger of today’s twilight global war on terror. For more on how the lack of oversight in Laos paved the way for today’s twilight war on terror, read my new article in The National.
  • Asia
    The Laos War and its Long-Term Impact on U.S. Relations with Southeast Asia
    In my new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, I examine how the covert war in Laos, during the 1960s and early 1970s, dramatically changed the Central Intelligence Agency. But the war also forever altered Laotian domestic politics, and Vientiane’s relationship with Washington. Within the country, the war’s effects continue to shape politics. After 1975, Laotian security forces usually viewed Hmong communities with suspicion, and harshly repressed all political activity, as the post-1975 Laotian government instituted one of the toughest authoritarian regimes in the world. Being isolated from the world, a consequence partly of the brutal war and of many foreign countries losing interest in Laos after the conflict, made it even easier for Vientiane to suppress dissent, as few journalists, diplomats, or other observers paid attention to what happened in the country. The few governments that remain close to Vientiane, like Vietnam and China, do not care about the Laotian government’s repressive tactics. The U.S. and Laos never fully rebuilt the level of bilateral ties that they enjoyed before 1975. But Laos vanished from the U.S. foreign policy radar and, by extension, the radar of many U.S. allies in Asia, like Australia and Thailand. For more on how the war impacted Laos’ domestic and foreign politics, see my new book adaptation in Nikkei Asian Review.
  • Asia
    Podcast: A Great Place to Have a War
    While Vietnam and Cambodia loom large in American memories of the Vietnam War, neighboring Laos recedes into the background. But during the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny, landlocked nation was the site of the CIA’s transformation from a loosely organized spy agency to a powerful paramilitary organization. On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, delves into the untold story of the war in Laos. In his popular new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, Kurlantzick relates the story of how the spread of communism in Laos became seen as a major national security threat in the Eisenhower administration. Through the tales of four individuals, he describes how a group of ethnic Hmong soldiers and American pilots were mobilized to combat the Pathet Lao. Despite the operation’s scale—the United States dropped over two million tons’ worth of bombs on the country—it was largely kept secret from both the American public and Congress. How was the government able to keep the fighting in Laos hidden for so long and why did the war become so deadly? Listen below to hear Kurlantzick’s account of the ways the war in Laos altered the CIA and how the United States should approach relations with the nation today.
  • Asia
    How the Laos War Transformed the CIA
    From 1961 until the early 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency undertook, in Laos, what remains the largest covert operation in the history of the United States. Tiny Laos, which had not even existed as a coherent entity twenty years earlier and which had a smaller population than Los Angeles, suddenly was propelled to the center of U.S. foreign policy universe, only to vanish completely from that radar fifteen years later. Before the Laos war, the Agency was a relatively small player in the policymaking apparatus, and one that did not focus on paramilitary operations. After Laos, the CIA had become a much larger actor in policymaking, and had developed extensive paramilitary expertise. In my new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, I tell the narrative history of the Laos secret war and how it transformed the CIA and changed U.S. foreign policy–making. I tell the story through the lives of four men central to the secret war: Hmong leader Vang Pao, who led a large portion of the Laotian anticommunist forces; U.S. Ambassador to Laos William Sullivan; the CIA’s primary Laos specialist when the operation was launched, William Lair; and, Tony Poe, a CIA case officer in Laos who went off the grid, built his own brutal private army in the jungle, and is believed to have been the inspiration for Marlon Brando’s Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now. For more on the book, go to: