The Rosett Report

Operation Tarnished Eagle -- and Laos, Iran and North Korea

It’s a wild season. I stepped away for a few days, and have returned to a sky-high stack of everything from farce to horror, including — and this is just for starters — the 32-page UN whitewash/audit of the UN Development Program and other UN agencies in North Korea; the indictment of cash-in-the-freezer congressman William Jefferson; Iran’s latest threat to destroy Israel; assorted details of the plot to blow up JFK airport, and accompanying accounts of how this story — presumably of special interest to New Yorkers — was buried Sunday on page umpteen of the New York Times. The list goes on…

But amid all this, let’s spare a thought for Laos. The breaking news also includes accounts of nine people arrested and charged in the U.S. with allegedly plotting to violently overthrow the government of Laos. Most of those arrested are Hmong, a Laotian ethnic minority. During the Vietnam war, the Hmong worked and fought as allies of the U.S. against the communist takeover of Indochina. When the communists won, many Hmong fled to asylum in places such as France, Thailand, Australia, and the U.S. Those who remained in Laos paid a terrible price. Some were butchered, some imprisoned, many driven from their homes by a government that to this day qualifies as one of the worst on earth. In the rankings of New York-based Freedom House, the regime in Laos is just a slight notch above North Korea and Syria, listed as roughly on a par with the governments of Belarus and Zimbabwe. Repressive, retrograde and responsible for thuggish policies that in the midst of the Asian economic miracle have kept the annual income of the six million people of Laos below $500 per capita, the regime of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party is one that richly deserves to fall.

But the U.S. has peaceful relations these days with the government of Laos, and the U.S. government must uphold our own country’s laws. The Hmong arrested in this case, after a six-month undercover investigation dubbed “Operation Tarnished Eagle,” were living in the U.S. while allegedly trying to assemble an arsenal meant to bring down the regime in Vientiane. Their alleged co-conspirator, Harrison Jack, is a retired U.S. military officer and West Point graduate, who served in Southeast Asia in the 1970s. You can read all about it in the criminal complaint, and the press release in which U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott explains that “The United States cannot provide a safe harbor to those plotting to overthrow a government with whom we are at peace.”

Legally, it makes sense. U.S. authorities are praising their colleagues for the “exceptional investigative effort” by which the alleged violent threat to the government of Laos has been “neutralized.” But pull back for the global picture, and it’s a strange scene. Private parties in the U.S. face charges carrying the penalty of life in prison for allegedly conspiring to bring down a regime that for more than three decades has enslaved a country we once fought to protect. Meanwhile, our politicians are busy appeasing, negotiating with, and kow-towing to officials of North Korea and Iran — regimes busy amassing apocalyptic arsenals with announced aims that include, respectively, subjugating democratic South Korea and annihilating democratic Israel.

One could argue this is a false and absurd comparison. Obviously, Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are not residents of the U.S., not subject to our laws, and there are large distinctions between private persons allegedly conspiring in California and state officials plotting mass murder in foreign capitals. And yet, comparisons do come to mind, and they are sickening.