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Declassified Documents: Smokejumpers Assisted CIA Covert Ops


The National Smokejumper Association will bring its 75th anniversary celebration to Missoula, Mont., in mid-July, when fire season is historically at its height in the region. At its gathering, the association will take time to remember the men and women who have given their lives to jump (literally) into danger—following a tradition that dates back to July 1940, when firefighters were dropped into a wildfire on the Nez Perce National Forest.

This morning's Missoulian reveals a fascinating layer of smokejumping history: Its involvement in highly classified covert operations. Recently declassified documents chronicle how smokejumpers were recruited to assist the CIA in Tibetan resistance movements against the People's Republic of China during the 1950s and '60s.

"For a long time, the guys that did it were told they couldn't talk about it," Bob KcKean, a spokesman for the anniversary event, told the Missoulian. "But there's quite a few people right around Missoula and Helena [Mont.] and around the country who were involved, and they're starting to die off right now. A lot of their stories will go to the grave."

The latest issue of Smokejumper Magazine lists 96 smokejumpers who had CIA experience. In addition to the Tibetan operation, the Missoulian reports that smokejumper/CIA agents worked in Vietnam, Laos, India, the Congo, Cuba and numerous South American countries.