Did Dalai Lama Receive Money From The CIA?

The 14th Dalai Lama FEP

By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

The Dalai Lama is the most venerated figure amongst Tibetans all over the world. But as it is understood, with fame comes secrecy. And according to a couple of documents released by US Intelligence in 1998, the Dalai Lama’s administration may have received money from the CIA – a sum of $1.7 million per year in the 1960s, to be exact.


This money was supposed to fund the Tibetan resistance movement. It was claimed that the head of the Tibetans, the Lama himself, supposedly received an annual subsidy of around $180,000, however this claim was later denied by his administration as Chicago Tribune reports. This money issued to the Tibetans was a major part of the worldwide effort of the CIA to undermine Communist governments globally during the Cold War. It has also been noted that the government committee that went on to approve the operations in Tibet was also the one to authorize the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. 


These documents were published by the State Department in 1998, which does illustrate and highlight the situation that is currently in Tibet. This also sheds some light on the accusations levied against the Dalai Lama for being a foreign espionage agent by the Chinese Government. The program that the CIA approved also supported the presence and training of the Tibetan guerillas in Nepal. They were trained at a covert military training site in Colorado. Several other steps that the CIA took involved promoting the causes of the Lama in Geneva and New York, facilitating the education of the operatives at the prestigious Cornell University- and providing supplies that were used for reconnaissance. 

The CIA Interference In Dalai Lama’s Rebel Against Chinese Oppression Was Governed by Ulterior Purposes

One memo that was written up by a top officer in the US intelligence and which was published along with the other documents stated that the main purpose of this program was to make sure that the idea of an autonomous Tibet was still alive. They needed to make sure that both the people in the hilly country, as well as the world outside, didn’t lose courage in the face of possible political developments inside the CCCP. The historical documents that have been released recently do provide insider details into the covert program that lasted for over a decade. At the time the operation was approved, the CIA was looking for opportunities to sabotage the hold Mao had over China. On the other hand, the exiles from Tibet were looking toward keeping their movement alive and sought help as they fled the country after the 1959 revolt against Chinese rule that was ultimately unsuccessful. 

The LA Times also speaks about how the support from the CIA towards the Tibetans ended in the early part of the next decade. This was due to the diplomatic administrable opening to China by then-President Richard Nixon. This has been affirmed by the writings of former officials in the CIA, independent scholars, and also the writings of Dalai Lama. In his autobiography, the Venerable Lama wrote that the support received from the US intelligence was not a result of the latter truly being sympathetic to the Tibetan cause. Rather, they provided help because of their own anti-Communist policies- and the fact that Tibet was as close as they could get to China without any repercussions. 

While the relationship between the US intelligence and the Tibetan rebels was supposed to be mutually beneficial- it was anything but. Some files- which were published by the CIA- highlighted how the collaboration was not an ideal one. In a memo, a CIA official rued that the Tibetans weren’t constitutionally designed towards conspiratorial proficiency. In light of such a turbulent period of the partnership, the CIA thought it feasible to maintain a record of the budget figures in a memo that was dated 9th January 1964. This was written simply to justify the continued spending of tax money to fund this clandestine operation. 

A $1.7 Million Budget Was Allocated For The Tibetans- Which Was Stopped After A Few Years

The document reads, “Support of 2,100 Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal: $500,000. Subsidy to the Dalai Lama: $180,000.” The document also lists several other expenditures- after which it concludes to a sum of $1,735,000. The files after that provide evidence that this request was approved without any delay. Interestingly, further records indicate that these expenses continued for up to four more years- till 1968. After that, the CIA decided to put a stop to the training program for the Tibetans inside the country. This resulted in the budget being cut to just under $1.2 million per year. 

In the autobiography of Dalai Lama, published as “Freedom in Exile”, the head of the community explained that his brothers had met with the CIA during a trip that they took to India back in 1956. The CIA had offered to help in their struggle- not because they actually were sympathetic towards Tibetan independence, but because they wanted to destabilize all the Communist governments around the world. The Lama lamented that his brothers kept this information from him because they knew what his reaction would have been. In the book, he wrote about how the rebels that had been trained and equipped by the CIA had also conducted multiple raids in their own land after being situated in a base camp in Nepal. The Lama believes that the effect of these operations, “only resulted in more suffering for the people of Tibet. Worse, these activities gave the Chinese government the opportunity to blame the efforts of those seeking to regain Tibetan independence on the activities of foreign powers- whereas, of course, it was an entirely Tibetan initiative.

As it turns out, the personal representative of the Dalai Lama in Washington, Lodi Gyari himself did not possess any information about the subsidy that the Lama received from the CIA every year. But as far as the interference of the CIA goes in training and equipping the rebels, Gyari admitted that this is not a secret for anyone- and they would never deny it. On the other hand, the CIA had also turned away from disclosing any and all information about its operations in Tibet and a few other countries. 


A 1998 report from the Chicago Tribune does shed some light on the controversy regarding the Dalai Lama receiving subsidies from the CIA. The administration did admit that the CIA had funded the entire operation with a sum of $1.7 million per year, but categorically denied all reports that the leader of the Tibetan citizens had been benefitting a sum of $180,000 per year. The funds put forth by the CIA were entirely allocated towards the training of the volunteers- along with guerrilla operations against the Chinese. In a statement, the Tibetan government-in-exile mentioned that the annual subsidy to the Dalai Lama was actually used to set up multiple offices in New York, and Geneva.

Image credit: Yancho Sabev, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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