Hmong Heroes May Have Seen CIA Nod for Coup

Sunday, September 28, 2008

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Evidence is mounting that at least some of the 11 men indicted in California last year for allegedly planning the overthrow of the government of Laos may have believed their plan had the tacit approval or even the outright support of the CIA.

Documents filed in federal court in Sacramento last week show that in 2004 a retired CIA employee held detailed discussions about a military intervention in Laos with one of the key defendants in the case, General Vang Pao, an aging Hmong leader who fought an American-backed secret war against the Laotian government in the 1960s and 1970s.

According to an FBI report, the former CIA operative, Michael Spak, told prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case last summer that he talked with the general for three to four hours about military tactics and provided him with written cost estimates and "talking points" for a military campaign.

Mr. Spak, who faces no charges, said the general wanted to work with the Lao government to ease the suffering of the Hmong people. The ex-CIA man said he told the general that some military pressure on Vientiane was essential.

"In response to Vang Pao's ideas, Spak told him that political pressure alone had no chance of working," the FBI report said. "Spak recommended a two-pronged approach to pressure the Lao government including both a political and military track. He described the military track as consisting of direct and indirect sabotage and small-scale military engagements."

The former CIA officer also "recommended" buying explosives in Thailand or through his own security firm, Virtual Defense and Development International Inc., the FBI memo said.

Mr. Spak told the lawyers that he advised the general that the firm would get involved only if the American government approved. "Spak offered to discuss the military approach with his contacts in the CIA, and Vang Pao agreed," according to the FBI report on Mr. Spak's interview.

Mr. Spak said that soon after the February 2004 meeting he reached out to a CIA contact who routed the inquiry to an officer on the agency's Southeast Asia desk. "Good luck" was the message Mr. Spak said he got back from the contact. In a point that could be important to the general's defense, the former CIA operative said he never advised the general about the dismissive reply from Langley.

Mr. Spak told The New York Sun that some aspects of the FBI report were not accurate, but he declined to elaborate and said he did not have time to discuss the matter further last night.

Defense lawyers allege that the undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent who conducted the sting operation stoked the defendants' perceptions that the CIA and other government agencies would take part in the coup attempt. "I'm willing to bet ... that the CIA is aware of what's going on there," the agent told an Army veteran who allegedly played a key role in the plot, Harrison Jack, according to a transcript of a secretly taped March 2007 conversation. "They're going to know when to come in." The agent also talked about flying prisoners of war back to America on a C-5 military transport and speculated about which air force base would be best suited to receive it.

"Travis or Beale. Beale would probably be better," the ATF agent told Mr. Jack, according to the transcripts.

Another Hmong defendant, Lo Cha Thao, boasted of meeting with high-level CIA officials and told Mr. Jack in phone calls that the agency was ready to jump in. "The CIA gave us a mission to go and find the exact heartbeat of the country. ... We got the top guy, like the CIA guy, giving under the table strategies," Lo Cha Thao said, according to surveillance transcripts. "They are waiting on us and they mobilized everything over there already. They're just waiting for our call."

Prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, but one told a judge at a hearing last year that the talk about the CIA's participation was fantasy.

"There was no CIA involvement or any other federal government involvement in this case other than the investigation by ATF and the FBI," a prosecutor, Robert Twiss, said. "This is a complete fabrication by the defendants carried forward from Lo Cha Thao to Harrison Jack."

Mr. Twiss also told the court that the agent's talk about the CIA was idle speculation. "The snippets you saw don't suggest any CIA activity. What it suggests is two guys who are Defense Department veterans talking about things Defense Department veterans talk about. ... Virtually everyone in this room has speculated as to national defense policy, what the CIA will do here or there, what the Army will do. This is a completely usual, not unusual, discussion," he said.

Defense lawyers did not return calls seeking comment for this article, but a lawyer for Lo Cha Thao has said publicly that the meeting with the top CIA officials never occurred. In a joint court filing last week seeking more information on any CIA contacts and on American policy toward Laos, defense attorneys said their clients might not be guilty if they thought their plan had official approval. "To the degree a defendant believed that such consent existed, he had no intent to engage in a criminal conspiracy," the lawyers wrote. Arguments of entrapment and "defense of others" are also possible, the filing said.

However, prosecutors said some defendants were warned that it was illegal to plot such a coup from America.

A former federal prosecutor, Laurie Levenson, said the 78-year-old former general might prevail at the trial, which is not expected until next year. "Even if you thought the government was in the right, there's a sympathy factor from the jury," she said, adding that jurors were sure to ask, "At one point he was a friend. Why are you going after him now?"

Mr. Spak's dealings with the general have not been previously reported. However, portions of the ATF surveillance transcripts appeared in the New York Times in May.



Laos, Thailand Crisis: 31 Hmong Arrested Following Renewed LPDR Military Attacks

Monday, September 22, 2008

Following recent attacks last week in the Phou Bia Mountain area of Laos, the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR) has arrested a group of 31 Hmong civilians and religious and political dissidents, including women and children.

( - Washington, D.C., September 17, 2008 - The Lao Human Rights Council, Inc. the Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ), non- governmental organizations and policymakers in Washington, D.C. are receiving increased reports of fresh new military and security force attacks against Laotian and Hmong civilians and political and religious dissident groups in Laos. Following recent attacks last week, the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic ( LPDR ) has arrested a group of 31 Hmong civilians and religious and political dissidents, including women and children. The arrests following a renewed effort by the LPDR regime to starve, attack and kill Hmong living independently from the one-party authoritarian regime in the Phou Bia mountain area and elsewhere in Laos.

“The Lao military continues to launch heavy military and security force attacks at Hmong in the Phou Bia mountain area of Laos; and their military and security forces have recently arrested seven ( 7 ) Hmong families totaling 31 innocent Hmong people,” stated Vaughn Vang, Executive Director of the Hmong Lao Human Rights Council, Inc. ( HLHRC ).

Author and Southeast Asian scholar Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, who testified in the U.S. Congress earlier this year about the current Laotian and Hmong refugee crisis, documents the plight of the Hmong people in her award winning book Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos. ( Indiana University Press ). The 15th anniversary of the publication of Tragic Mountains is being marked this year.

“On September 9, 2008, Mr. Thong Xue’s group of Hmong civilians and dissident religious and political members were brutally arrested,“ stated Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. “Most of the group of the 31 Lao-Hmong arrested by the Lao military and security forces last week at Phou Bia mountain area were women, children and the elderly.”

“Seven Lao-Hmong civilian families totaling 31 Hmong in hiding in the area of Haav Qhuav ( Dry River ) Phou Bia, Laos had managed to somehow survive for many years and courageously defended their families, holding out until just this month from continued and repeated heavy LPDR military and security force attacks and a campaign of calculated, mass starvation, but the poor Hmong families finally surrendered at gunpoint to the government soldiers,” continued Smith.

Smith stated further: “We believe that these Lao Hmong families, which includes 31 individuals, will likely face rape, torture, execution or death at the hands of the LPDR military and security forces that have done the very same thing in recent weeks and months to so many Laotian and Hmong people, including the massacre and mutilation of women and children; This group of 31 Hmong people represents the tragic tip of the iceberg in terms of the shear numbers, scale and scope of this Darfur and Bosnia-like crisis where so many innocent Laotian and Hmong people are being arrested, abducted and killed by the LPDR regime.”

“The Lao military and security forces have arrested Mr. Thong Xiong’s group which includes seven ( 7 ) families totaling 31 Hmong in hiding in the area of Haav Qhuav ( Dry River ) Phou Bia, Laos, continued Vaughn Vang of the HLHRC. “The head of these families are: Mrs. Vang Kou; Mrs. Lor Yeng; Mrs. Tong Khue; Mrs. Chong Ser; Mrs. Yang Lue; Mrs. Tong Xeng and Mrs. Nhia Xyum Moua.”

Vaughn Vang stated further: “Currently the LPDR soldiers are holding these innocent Hmong men, women and children in Haav Qhuav ( Dry River ) until the soldiers have arrested the rest of the innocent Hmong in hiding which at that time the soldier will likely kill these innocent women and children quickly in Haav Qhuav ( Dry River ) in the mountains of Phou Bia, Laos in the next few days or weeks.”

Vaughn Vang concluded: “These innocent Hmong men, women and children appeal to the United Nations, the United States and the world community to urge the LPDR government to spare the lives of these 31 Hmong people. The LPDR should immediately and unconditionally release these 31 Hmong people that it has unfairly arrested and prove to the international community that the Lao government will abide by international law and the spirit and letter of H.Res. 1273 and H.Res. 402, as introduced in the U.S. Congress, and cease its human rights violations and attacks against the freedom-loving Laotian and Hmong people.”

Anna Jones
Center for Public Policy Analysis
2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Suite #212
Washington, D.C. 20006 USA

Tele. ( 202 ) 543-1444



Update on Vang Pao and Company's charge of overthrowing Laos

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Laos coup cases sputters to life

From Denny Walsh:

The long-dormant docket in the prosecution of 11 men accused of plotting the violent overthrow of the communist regime in Laos sputtered to life Monday with the filing of defense motions seeking disclosure of government records.

Two motions ask U. S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd to order prosecutors to turn over grand jury records and any citizen complaints and findings of misconduct against the case's investigators.

The grand jury records sought generally relate to the procedural aspects of the impaneling and operation of the jury that indicted the defendants, as opposed to records relating to the substance of the jury's investigation.

A third motion asks Drozd to order all investigators' notes preserved.The 10 Hmong and a retired Army lieutenant colonel were first charged June 4, 2007, in a criminal complaint, and later indicted by a federal grand jury in Sacramento.

Prosecutors have until Oct. 27 to respond to the motions, and defense lawyers will have until Nov. 19 to reply. A hearing before Drozd is set for Dec. 8.



Murders of 6 kids are all but forgotten

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

By Rubén Rosario Article

Last Updated: 09/06/2008 09:57:15 PM CDT

Pat Hogan will never forget the day he dug a mass grave wide enough to fit the bodies of six children side by side.

It was Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13, 1998. Hogan, then a grounds worker and now the superintendent of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Maplewood, remembers being called in as he was getting ready to watch the Vikings-Rams game.

Instead, he listened to the game on the radio as he dug the final resting place for the victims — all siblings — of one of the worst mass murders in Minnesota, certainly in St. Paul, in recent memory.

"It is a sight I hope to never see again,'' Hogan recalled last week after he took me to the grassy burial site.

The kids — three boys and three girls, ages 5 to 11 — are on Lot 134, Block 33 on the cemetery's northwest corner, between the "Anderson" and "Hang'' graves.

I could not get there without Hogan's help. Ten years later, there are no markers, no headstones, nothing to identify who these children were and where they lie. I believe many people have walked over them without knowing it.

They deserve better, even now. They deserved far better than the fate that awaited them Sept. 3, 1998, as they played outside their apartment at 1541 Timberlake Road in St. Paul.

One by one, each was called to come inside by their then24-year-old mother, Khoua Her.

A child bride of Hmong descent by 12 and a former Thailand refugee camp resident, Khoua Her was reeling from personal, financial and emotional setbacks that included undiagnosed depression.

She was separated from her husband, the children's primary caretaker, whom she had accused of assaulting her on numerous occasions. She had lost her job as an assistant at a suburban marketing firm and was dependent on public assistance. Other than in-laws, she had no family here.

She was also dating a 17-year-old reputed gangster, a teenager who later told police about a bizarre suicide pact the two had agreed to carry out once he got out of jail.


There is no greater or stronger love, bond or blind trust than that of a child toward a parent.

Khoua Her, regardless of her very real demons, betrayed that trust in a stunningly violent and tragic way.

Using the ruse that she wanted to play hide-and-seek inside the home with them, Khoua Her called in her oldest first.

Eleven-year-old Koua Eai Hang was first to die, according to court documents. He was found at the top of the landing of Apartment G's second floor, a black cloth wrapped tightly around his neck.

The others, called into the home in descending order by age, were found similarly strangled around the split-level apartment in the Mc-Donough public housing complex. They were Samson Hang, 9; Nali Hang, 8; Tang Lung, 7; A-ee, 6; and Tang Kee Hang, 5.

That's how they were laid to rest, inside child-size Monticello vaults, west to east, oldest to youngest.

Officials discovered the bodies after Khoua Her, who had put on a red ceremonial dress and wrapped an extension cord around her neck in a feeble suicide attempt before she called police to alert them to the parental slaughter.

Hundreds of mourners attended the burial the day after Hogan dug his hole. They prayed for the dead kids. They brought flowers and other mementos. Then they left

Khoua Her's attorney planned an insanity defense before the woman pleaded guilty to murder. She owned up to the crime. She was sentenced Jan. 8, 1999, to 50 years in state prison. The earliest she can walk out of the Shakopee Prison for Women is Jan. 5, 2032 — 24 years from now. If that happens, she still would have to satisfy terms of her probation until 2048.

On the day of her sentencing, before she was sent to prison, she talked nonstop for nearly two hours about the struggles in her life. But she never expressed in those two hours any real remorse for killing her children. I know. I was there.

"There will be no mention that Koua Eai kicked around a soccer ball and played marbles with neighborhood kids. No one will record for history that Nali loved to read or write, or that the kids kept a turtle and pigeons as pets, or what kind of aspirations they had,'' I wrote in a column published the next day.

"That's the true tragedy here.''

Still is, a decade later.


But there is always some positive to such a negative. We can spin it divine or natural or how we like.

The case brought to light, both locally and nationally, the culturally muffled taboo subjects of mental and domestic violence facing St. Paul and especially the nation's Hmong community entering a second generation of existence in 21st-century America.

By no means was this tragedy culturally exclusive. This is a universal problem.

"I truly believe that (the killings) ultimately ended up saving a lot of children as well as women, because it did bring to light, like never before, issues that were also affecting the American community at large," said Ilean Her (no direct relation to Khoua Her), executive director of the St. Paul-based Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

Hogan recalls that Khoua Her called the cemetery a few years ago from prison.

"She was simply inquiring about the procedure and cost of marking the graves," Hogan said. Nothing came of the phone call.

"The Hmong community places the memorializatio n of their loved ones in very high regard and spares little expense in marking the grave,'' Hogan confided. "Some of the most beautiful and expensive markers and monuments here at Forest Lawn are on the graves of Hmong people."

Hogan has seen few visitors at the unmarked gravesite in recent years. Those he has seen, when he has looked up from his office, have been uniformed St. Paul cops.

"We've picked up flowers over the years that the cops have put down,'' Hogan said.

John Vomastek, a St. Paul police commander and head of the homicide squad at the time of the 1998 killings, has no idea which cops showed up at the burial site.

"I don't know who those officers are. But I did not even know we were doing that,'' Vomastek told me last week. "Maybe it's just these guys are still struggling with that, because it was a really sad day."


But someone — relative, cop or other — remembered these kids last week.

Hogan and I discovered candy placed atop the unmarked graves Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the mass killings.

There were three cellophane packages, each containing two white-frosted devil's-food cakes with dark chocolate stripes. Multicolored candy balls, also wrapped in cellophane, had been placed nearby.

Hogan and Ilean Her both explained that the items signaled an offering to help feed and nourish the departed in the afterlife.

"The vaults were smaller than others because some of these kids were really young,'' Hogan said. "It's just a heart-breaking thing to see."

Elsewhere, a ceremony took place. The apartment where the murders occurred was "cleansed'' of the dead kids' spirits by Hmong spiritual elders and converted into a St. Paul public housing police substation in 2000.

At the gravesite Wednesday, I said a prayer for the kids as well as for their mom and then headed downtown, where the political circus, and the police presence making sure it would not be disrupted, was in full swing.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at or 651-228-5454.



Hmong traditioinal funerals (shaman)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hmong people have a culture built on animistic beliefs and a strong faith that after death the soul reincarnates in a possibility of many forms such as humans, plants, rocks and ghosts (Goetz par. 1, 12). Death is often considered the most important time for practicing rituals in the Hmong community because without practicing the necessary rituals the soul will roam for eternity. Hmong culture has been around for thousands of years and some of the rituals have slightly changed due to immigration and urbanization. Throughout time rituals have always varied from tribe to tribe therefore there is no one-way of performing the pre-funeral rituals, the burial rituals and the post burial rituals. However, the differences are minor and are aimed at achieving the same goal of reincarnation.

The Pre Funeral

The funeral is the most elaborate of all Hmong rituals. The overall goal of the performed rituals is to guide the soul back to the placental jacket that it will wear on the journey to the after life (Conquergood, par. 6). After death the body is bathed by the sons of the deceased while extended family members are notified and begin to travel to the home of the dead relative (Tapp 81). After the body is washed it dressed in only new ceremonial burial clothes. If the deceased is male he will be dressed in women’s clothes and if the deceased is female she will be dressed in men’s clothing ( Another important aspect of burial clothing is the hand-made hemp shoes that help the soul across the caterpillar river and over the green worm mountain on the quest for their ancestors (“Death”).

Music is also used as a tool for helping the soul on the journey to the afterlife. The first song played is called, “Showing The Way” and illustrates the origins of man and the world, which must be revisited for the soul to pass to its next life. Once the body is prepared for its journey it is positioned on a table with items that will be necessary for the voyage into the afterlife. “A bottle of alcohol and a cooked chicken in the two halves of a gourd, together with a boiled egg, a crossbow, a knife and a paper umbrella, will be placed by the head of the corpse” (Tapp 83). Incense serves a dual purpose in the presentation of the body. It is not only an offering but also masks the smell of the decaying body and is set at the feet of the deceased (Tapp 83).

Funerals in the Hmong culture can last anywhere from three to twelve days depending on a number of variables. The main factor in determining the length of the funeral is the person’s status within the community. For instance, the head of the village would have a twelve-day funeral (Tapp 83). Another variable that alters the length of the funerals is present day laws. Western laws regarding treatment of cadavers and animal sacrificing have resulted in a change from the traditional ceremony (Falk, par. 12). The final variable concerning funeral duration is the way in which the deceased has passed. For infants and victims of violent deaths the body is disposed of with haste and little fuss because there are strong beliefs among the Hmong people that these deaths create negative spirits (Tapp 81). An essential part of the mourning process is the three daily meals prepared by the men in the family. At each meal the ceremonial dish, laig dab that is composed of pork and rice, is offered to the deceased body by the eldest son, while the reed pipe instrument, called the qeej, plays a ceremonial song (Tapp 84). Another offering made to the spirit of the deceased is a daily animal sacrifice. Traditionally, the sacrifice has been a pig, however due to local laws it is often replaced with a chicken (Falk, par. 12). Once the offerings have been finished a lamp is lit on the dead body and male relatives retreat outside to fire three shots into the air to scare any evil spirits that may attack the house during this time of turmoil (“Death”).

Reincarnation is a pillar of the Hmong faith. During the ceremonies it is culturally taboo to show distress, as the ceremony is not about the death of the person but the rebirth of the soul and a new life (Goetz, par. 12). The main reason the funeral rituals are performed is so that the dead will be reborn into the same family. If the rituals are not performed properly the Hmong fear that the soul will be punished by returning as a lesser form or in a different family (Tapp 84). One ritual that must be completed is the payment of the deceased debts. Any debts unpaid are thought to negatively impact the living family along with the deceased party (“Death”). The final ritual before the burial is the second sacred song. This song is called, “The Song of Expiring Life” and informs the deceased they have passed on and need to begin the journey to the placental jacket and into the spirit world (Cha 73).

The Burial

In the Hmong culture a death is an extremely important event. The burial process must be performed correctly in order to protect those living and the deceased from evil spirits that are present when there is a death. The first step in burial is sacrificing a number of oxen that are prepared by the descendents of the deceased for a feast that the entire village partakes in to pay homage to the dead (“Death”). The second step is removing the body from the house on a stretcher while “Song of Mounting The Way” is being played on the qeej (Tapp 84, 86, 87). A female from the village will then guide the funeral procession with a torch to “light the way” for the corpse (Tapp 85). Along the way the procession takes steps to confuse the evil spirits. This includes stopping, changing course frequently and disposing of the torch before the burial site is reached (“Death”). The traditional burial site is on the side of a mountain where the body is placed facing west. This is because Hmong people believe that west is the direction of death and if the head is facing the east it will be blinded by the sun (Tapp 86). The placement of the grave is determine by older members of the community and depends on age, sex and status (Tapp 85 & “Death”). Once the body has been laid in the ground and covered the stretcher used to transport the deceased to the burial site is destroyed while on lookers burn incense, symbolic paper and place stones on the grave (Tapp 85 & Falk 11). The final step of the burial is to construct a fence around the grave that protects the site from any harm (“Death”). The celebration will continue on the way back to the village and throughout the next three days through performing a variety of rituals that vary from tribe to tribe all with intent to honor the deceased (Tapp 85).

Post Burial

There is a thirteen-day mourning period in which the family of the deceased observes certain sacrifices in respect of the passed loved one. On this day a ritual is performed with intent to welcome the soul into it’s former home one last time before it begins the journey into the after life (Tapp 87).



Legislature OKs resolution urging protection of Hmong

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 5, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A4

The Hmong Human Rights Resolution – asking the U.S. government to protect Hmong in Thailand and Laos from communist persecution – has unanimously passed the Legislature.

The non-binding measure, Assembly Joint Resolution 36, was written by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, and 23 other legislators. It has been forwarded to Congress and President Bush. It asks the U.S. government to "take appropriate measures to ensure that the Hmong living

Hmong living in Laos were subjected to human rights violations "simply because they were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War," Jones said. Fearing retribution, thousands fled to the jungles and live in hiding.

Hmong living in Laos were subjected to human rights violations "simply because they were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War," Jones said. Fearing retribution, thousands fled to the jungles and live in hiding.

Jones' constituents include some 20,000 Hmong.

– Stephen Magagnini



Drowning victim identified - Hmong girl

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Authorities have confirmed that the body found late Tuesday in the Wisconsin River in Wausau is that of a missing 17-year-old.
Marathon County Medical Examiner John Larson said this morning that Hang Her of Wausau died from freshwater drowning. His body was found near an area between Isle of Ferns and Oak Island Park where Her was last seen.

Her was a senior at Wausau East High School.

Larson said a toxicology exam would be conducted, but alcohol or drugs were not thought to be a factor in the drowning. There are no plans for an autopsy.

Earlier in the afternoon, authorities on the scene would not confirm the identity of the missing teen, but Vue Her said that they were looking for his brother.

“Nothing like this has ever happened,” said a visibly distraught Vue Her, 18, referring to his seven siblings.

Lt. Steve Bahr of the Wausau Fire Department confirmed earlier in the day that a male was swimming in the area Tuesday and tried to cross from Isle of Ferns to Oak Island.

“He hit a point where he started bobbing, and his head started going down,” Kho Lor said, who was standing on the sandbar when she saw her friend go under.

Hang Her, Lor and four girls arrived at the park at 11 a.m. and went to the sandbar in the river. At some point, Lor said, Her left them and walked over to the Isle of Ferns. After walking along the shore, Her sat on a large log jutting out from the island, Lor, 16, said. He then got off the log and started swimming toward Oak Island.

Friends said they lost sight of Her at about 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.

The depth of the river in that area varies greatly toward the center, Bahr said. There are areas 2 feet deep and pockets up to 8 feet deep, he said.

Search crews fought a strong, southbound current in an area where the river bottom is uneven and rocky with many submerged logs, Bahr said.

Bahr, who has been with the Fire Department 13 years, could not recall a drowning in that area.

-- Reporters Brian Reisinger and Jeff Starck contributed to this report