Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chasing shadows in Dharamsala

A Chinese national, Lei Xun, was arrested in December 2008 in Dharamsala, the seat in exile of the Dalai Lama in India, for spying and acting as an agent provocateur. Reports received by TibetInfoNet about the case reveal persistent, albeit unsuccessful, and at times clumsy, efforts to produce or, if need be, fabricate evidence that would expose the Dalai Lama as the mastermind behind the Tibetan unrest in spring 2008. It appears that the undercover operation was planned on the basis of negative preconceptions about the Tibetan exile society rather than any accurate information. The case also points to the anxiety of the security forces in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) who ordered the operation to come up with some success after their failure to predict and contain the unprecedented disturbances across Tibet in spring 2008.
Lei Xun, a native of Sichuan province, joined the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Special Operations Ground Force (Chin: Lujun Tezhong Budui) in Nanjing in 1995, where he was trained in the Surveillance Department (Chin: Zhencha Budui). In 1997, he moved to the People's Armed Police (PAP) Traffic Unit in Chengdu where he remained until 2000. During this period, he was transferred to Kongpo/Nyingtri (Chin: Gongbu/Lingzhi) prefecture in the TAR. He was compelled to leave the PAP in 2006 on disciplinary grounds. It seems likely that Lei Xun's subsequent attachment to undercover operations formed part of a special probation scheme used by the Chinese authorities "to make amends for previous faults by performing good services" (Chin: jiang gong bu guo).
Soon after the Lhasa riots of 14 March 2008, Lei was assigned by the Domestic Security Division (Chin: Guonei Anquan Zongdui/Guobao Zongdui) of the TAR Public Security Bureau (PSB) the task of identifying purported underground Tibetan exile networks in Lhasa and penetrate them in order to gather information on the planning and execution of violent activities inside Tibet. The Domestic Security Division operates directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security (Chin: Gong An Bu), and the TAR wing of the PSB oversees the affairs of Tibetan exiles. Four officials were directly involved in assigning Lei his tasks:
Peng Xi Long, deputy chief of the TAR PSB; Pemba, a Tibetan official in charge of Tibetan exile affairs in the Dram area (Chin: Zhangmu, Nep: Khasa), the gateway between Tibet and Nepal;Dondrub, another Tibetan in charge of Tibetan exile affairs in Nepal; and Wangyal, a third Tibetan, who oversees both Nepal and the areas along the Nepalese border and as such is the line manager of the other two.
Both Wangyal and Dhondup are based in Lhasa. Lei Xun was provided with handsome remuneration for the task in Lhasa, on a par with a senior company manager.
It seems that because his search for clandestine activities in Lhasa that originated from Tibetan exiles was unsuccessful, Lei Xun was sent via Kathmandu to Dharamsala. He first visited the Himalayan town in May 2008 for 10 days, during which he managed to have an audience with the Dalai Lama. He paid two further short visits in August 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics, and in October 2008. Lei made his ultimate visit on 11 December 2008. A three-member support team had reached Dharamsala about three months prior to this, allegedly to help facilitate his return to China. His superiors assured him that he would be safe in Nepal but if he faced any problems in India, he would have to get in touch with the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi.
On his first visit, Lei made contact with a member of staff of the Branch Security Office of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) who, due to his knowledge of the Chinese language, is frequently tasked with escorting Chinese visitors around Dharamsala. Lei presented himself as a devoted follower of the Dalai Lama and expressed the desire to meet with the Tibetan leader personally. As part of his cover, he claimed that he had taken out a substantial loan to make the journey by mortgaging his home and other property. Lei sweet-talked the CTA staff into establishing contact with one of the Dalai Lama's Chinese translator, as well as a section secretary in the office of the Dalai Lama.
Lei returned from his first visit with no evidence of any of the Tibetan readiness for violence that his commissioners back in Lhasa had alleged. He brought with him some documents, including the statement of the Dalai Lama to the Chinese people issued publicly on 28 March 2008, various statements made by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which the Chinese authorities accuse of fomenting violence in Tibet, and pamphlets relating to the ‘Return March to Tibet' organised by pro-independence groups in spring 2008. All of these documents had been in the public domain and had been made available on the Internet for many weeks.
To lend credence to the suspicions of his superiors in Lhasa and ease the pressure to find agents of the 'Dalai clique' in Tibet, Lei passed on information about a Tibetan monk from Lithang, who was in Dharamsala in May 2008 to attend the Dalai Lama's teachings. He accused him of working undercover for the CTA's Department of Security, making the monk's return to Tibet impossible.
In an apparent move to fabricate the direct involvement of the Dalai Lama in financing activities in Tibet, Lei requested a substantial donation from the Tibetan leader, allegedly to build schools and create a charitable organisation for the welfare of Tibetan children in Tibet. It has been alleged that he even threatened to commit suicide if he was not given the funds.
Following his return to China, and in what appears to be an increasingly desperate attempt to produce evidence for an elusive Tibetan terrorist plot, Lei undertook more direct attempts to entwine members of the Dalai Lama's entourage in subversive schemes that involved violence. He called the Chinese translator, whom he had met in Dharamsala, and told him of a plan to form a terrorist organisation in China and assassinate Hu Jintao. Despite being rebuffed and advised that the Dalai Lama's commitment to non-violence clearly prevents indulging in such activities, Lei was persistent; he called again and spoke of a plan to target the Qinghai-Tibet railway in a bomb attack.
On his second visit, Lei was tasked to gather information pertaining to the possibility of any exiled Tibetans launching violent activities inside Tibet, and any plans for this. On his return to Lhasa Lei, in an apparent bid to cover his failure in finding any subversive activities amongst Tibetans, played up the incidents of an armed attack on Chinese police by Uighur groups in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, and bomb blasts in Yunnan and Shanghai during this period, in which security agencies suspected Tibetan involvement. He conveyed to his handlers that Tibetans had attempted to sabotage the Olympic Games and planned a violent attack. To support his claims he supplied videos of protests rallies held by Tibetans involved in the 'Return March to Tibet' campaign, whose declared goal was to enter Tibet.
After Lei Xun's third, very brief visit to Dharamsala, the Chinese authorities seem to have started losing patience with him because of the lack of any convincing proof of Tibetans planning sabotage and pressed him to come up with evidence. On 11 December 2008, Lei landed at Gaggal airport, close to Dharamsala, and inferred to the translator, who he seems to have considered as his main contact, that he was on a special assignment for the Chinese government and needed some "important information". Lei Xun was unmasked soon thereafter and taken into police custody, before appearing in court on 22 December 2008 and held on remand.
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