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5 July 1998: Add Wash Post background story

4 July 1998

Date: Sat, 4 Jul 1998 04:56:50 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: CIA's China Spies Honored
From: (Anonymous)

Associated Press, Friday 03 July 1998, 2:24 AM EDT 

CIA Honors Its China Spies
By Robert Burns, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The same day President Clinton began his nine-day 
journey through China, two retired CIA spies returned to the spy 
agency's headquarters for a rousing reminder of their very different 
experience in China. 

In a private ceremony not announced by the CIA, John "Jack" T. Downey 
and Richard G. Fecteau each received a prestigious Director's Medal 
for surviving two "dark decades" in Chinese prisons - the longest any 
CIA officers have been held captive abroad and lived to tell about it. 

"True legends," CIA Director George Tenet called them at last 
Thursday's ceremony, which was not open to the public. A transcript of 
Tenet's remarks was provided by the CIA this week when asked by The 
Associated Press. 

"You demonstrated heroism of a whole other magnitude during those dark 
decades of captivity," Tenet told an audience that included members of 
the two men's families. 

"Your story, simply put, is one of the most remarkable in the 50-year 
history of the Central Intelligence Agency," he said in presenting the 
medals in recognition of "extraordinary fidelity and essential 

Fecteau and Downey actually returned more than 25 years ago, and Tenet 
did not say why the CIA presented the awards now. Spokesman Tom 
Crispell said the idea evolved as part of the agency's 50th 
anniversary celebrations. 

With the Korean War in full swing, Fecteau, of Lynn, Mass., and 
Downey, of New Britain, Conn., were in a CIA-operated aircraft trying 
to pick up an anti-communist Chinese agent when they were shot out of 
the sky over Manchuria on Nov. 29, 1952. 

China, which fought on North Korea's side against the U.S.-backed 
South Koreans, captured the two CIA men and convicted them of spying 
two years later at a trial that drew strong protests from President 
Eisenhower's administration. 

Downey was 22. Fecteau was 25. 

For years, while Fecteau and Downey sat in prison in Beijing, the U.S. 
government stuck to its story: The two were civilian Army employees 
lost on a "routine flight" from Seoul, South Korea, to Japan. 

"Utterly false," the State Department said of China's espionage 

The government said it presumed the men had perished in a crash. For 
years, their personnel files at CIA headquarters listed Fecteau and 
Downey as serving on "special detail" abroad at "official station 

By the early 1970s, as President Nixon made his historic opening to 
China, the men's long nightmare came to an end. Fecteau was released 
in December 1971 after serving 19 years of his 20-year sentence. 
Downey, who got a life sentence, was set free in March 1973, the year 
after Nixon's visit to Beijing. 

James Lilley, a retired CIA officer and Yale classmate of Downey's who 
served as U.S. ambassador in both Seoul and Beijing, said Downey was 
released after Nixon publicly admitted he had been on a CIA operation. 
Lilley was among the speakers at last week's ceremony. 

"It's a good idea to tell the younger generation (at CIA) that some of 
the older guys who worked in that agency were heroes," Lilley said in 
an interview Thursday. 

Both Fecteau and Downey retired from the CIA after their return. 
Fecteau, who was released first, became assistant director of 
athletics at his alma mater, Boston University. 

Downey, who once called his 20 years in prison "a crashing bore," 
entered Harvard Law School at age 43 and since 1987 has been a judge 
in Connecticut. 

Downey readily acknowledged that his Chinese tormentors succeeded in 
forcing him to tell all. "I would say I revealed about every bit of 
information I had," he told reporters the day after he returned home, 
according to a New York Times account. 

Date: Sun, 5 Jul 1998 07:16:28 -0700 (PDT) Subject: Interrupted Mission To: From: (Anonymous) The Washington Post, Wednesday, 24 June 1998, Page A17 An Interrupted Mission By Donald P. Gregg At dawn on Nov. 29, 1952, an unmarked CIA transport plane clawed its way into a gray and hostile sky. Taking off from a base in Korea, the aircraft was on a mission to drop supplies to a team of Chinese agents in Manchuria who had radioed for help, saying that they had lost most of their food when they had been parachuted into hostile territory a few days earlier. Aboard the rescue plane were Jack Downey and Dick Fecteau. They were helping to run a CIA agent-infiltration program, designed to report on the flow of Chinese Communist men and material into the Korean peninsula, where furious fighting still raged along what later became the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. The mission was doomed from the outset. The agent team had been captured by the Chinese and forced to send the SOS message. The drop zone was ringed by Chinese antiaircraft guns, and the plane was quickly shot down. The American pilots were killed, but Downey and Fecteau survived the crash and struggled free from the wreckage, to be tried and convicted by the Chinese for espionage. Downey, judged by the Chinese to be the senior survivor, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was 22 years old, 18 months out of Yale. Fecteau, newly arrived from the United States, received a 20-year sentence. I did not know Fecteau at all, but I knew Downey well, having gone through a six-month paramilitary training program with him. He was one of the most popular and respected members of our 40-man group. Another CIA colleague and I had dinner with Downey the night before his ill-fated mission. We both remember his excitement and enthusiasm about what lay ahead. For the next 20 years, as my life progressed normally, I thought often of Downey and Fecteau, trapped like flies in amber. The American dialogue with China was extremely limited in those days, even after an armistice agreement ended the fighting in Korea. Periodic meetings in Warsaw were the only chance for direct contacts with Chinese officials. Downey and Fecteau were always on the agenda for these meetings, but the years dragged on and the men remained in captivity. Fecteau eventually was set free after serving 19 years of his 20-year sentence. Finally, in March 1973, Downey was released by Beijing. This followed President Nixon's 1972 visit to China and an American admission that Downey had been on a CIA operation when shot down. Downey had served 20 years and four months in prison. A fine athlete in college, Downey had kept himself in strong physical and mental shape. Walking to freedom in Hong Kong, he was asked how he felt. He is reported to have said that he did not wish to sound like a male chauvinist, but he had noticed that women's skirts were shorter than when he had been captured. Downey credits his reading of Sports Illustrated with keeping him basically abreast of world developments. Nevertheless, he had much to catch up with. He wasted no time in putting his life back together. He was admitted to Harvard Law School in the fall of 1973. He met and married a Chinese textile designer studying in America, and they have a son. In 1983, on the 10th anniversary of his release, Downey and his family were invited back to China by the Beijing regime, a measure of the great respect the Chinese had developed for the man they held captive for more than two decades. He, his wife and his young son all accepted the invitation, and Downey speaks positively of the trip. Downey has served for many years as a judge of the Superior Court in the state of Connecticut. He remains rather laconic about his incarceration, saying that it taught him patience, and that it gives him added sympathy and concern for those he has to sentence to prison. He shows no bitterness toward life, and in his quiet way serves as an inspiration to his friends and CIA comrades. Whenever I address a high school or college audience of my CIA years, I am moved to speak of Downey. In this era of celebrity worship and instant self-gratification, his life is a shining example of how to deal gracefully with those unexpected tragedies that fate may hold in store for any of us. Tomorrow the CIA will honor Downey and Fecteau at a special ceremony at its Langley headquarters. (Fecteau's is also an admirable story. He went on to became assistant director of athletics at Boston University.) The CIA today is an embattled agency, struggling to right itself after shattering betrayals and seeking to redefine its mission in the post-Cold War era. It can hardly do better than to honor two men whose resilience, courage and integrity are hallmarks of their lives. It is these same virtues the CIA must seek to reclaim for itself. The writer was U.S. ambassador to Korea from 1989 to 1993. Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company [Note: Donald Gregg is also chairman of the board of The Korea Society in the US.]
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