the Wanderling


Operation Hat began shortly after China's first nuclear bomb test in 1964. The US CIA, with the cooperation of the Indian government, planned an expedition to the Himalayas to plant a nuclear-powered monitoring station on the summit of 26,600-ft-high Nanda Devi, from where it would eavesdrop on the Chinese nuclear test program in over-the-border Xinjiang Province.

The Agency recruited several top US civilian climbers who, together with four of India's best climbers from the 1962 Everest expedition, formed the cadre of the ill-fated Operation Hat. Far from succeeding in eavesdropping on the top-secret Lop Nor nuclear test site, Operation Hat was destined to threaten one of the world's great rivers with plutonium contamination.

The US climbers and their Indian colleagues set out up the south face of Nanda Devi in the autumn of 1965. A squad of porters carried the disassembled monitoring station, together with its SNAP power pack, on their backs. The SNAP - Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power - generator was a nuclear battery originally developed for the American civil and military space programs.[1] Shaped like a cone, SNAP was fuelled by between one and eight pounds of plutonium, was small enough to be carried by one man, and would power the monitoring station until its task was completed. The CIA would then send a second expedition to retrieve the station, SNAP and all.

Operation Hat ran into the first of its many difficulties when the expedition encountered severe weather and rock conditions. 2,000 ft from Nanda Devi's summit, the climbers decided to turn back, but not before they'd cached the monitoring station which would await their return - when conditions improved.

The Operation Hat climbers ventured back up Nanda Devi in the spring of 1966, but were dumbfounded to discover that a winter avalanche had swept the spy station from the mountainside. The vital SNAP generator, and its plutonium, were now entombed under a mound of rock and snow the size of a Giza pyramid. The CIA and its Indian government partner were in a quandary. The southern slope of Nanda Devi, where SNAP lay buried, is a major source of headwater for the Ganges, the sacred river of 500 million Hindus. A holy bathing place for pilgrims was just a few km downstream from the SNAP site. If SNAP were to break open under the weight of the avalanche, there was a real risk that the hallowed waters of the Ganges would be polluted with deadly plutonium, and both the Agency and the Indian government would face the wrath of millions of people.

Over the next two years, expeditions to locate and recover SNAP returned empty-handed. Eventually, after water sampling of the Ganges revealed no contamination, the decision was made to abandon SNAP in the hope that it would remain intact and that Operation Hat would remain a secret.

The secret of the lost SNAP was kept until May 1978 when the US journalist Howard Kohn revealed the existence of Operation Hat in Outside magazine. In a masterly-worded nonstatement to the Indian Parliament, Prime Minister Morarji Desai tried to defuse the danger of SNAP: 'The indirect evidence so far is that the safety precautions built into the nuclear-fuelled power pack may be as effective as has been claimed and, if so, pollution effects may not take place in the future.'(The Times, 18.4.78.)

In 1967, Operation Hat finally scored a success. A second SNAP- powered spy station was placed on, and eventually retrieved from, the slopes of nearby Nanda Kot mountain. The first SNAP is still there, entombed under thousands of tons of rubble. Many nuclear experts disagree with Morarjii Desai. They say that the SNAP generator will eventually corrode and disintegrate, releasing plutonium into the headwaters of one of the world's great rivers.[2]

The above information on Operation Hat is an excerpt from THE NUCLEAR AGE: THE HIDDEN HISTORY by John May (1989).








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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

Footnote [1]

SNAP 19C - Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power

The only known account of the SNAP 19C to have filtered down to the public level with any amount of credibility is found in a 94 page scientific study commissioned by the one time Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai (1896-1995). In the report, 9 pages are set aside describing the device, which breaks down briefly into the following:

The SNAP 19C is composed of five elements: a hot fuel block, radioactive fuel capsules placed in its core, thermometric generators mounted around it, insulation material, and the blocks outer casing.

The fuel, an alloy of Plutonium and Strontium Pu-238, Pu-239, and Sr-90 is divided in seven capsules. Each capsule has an inner cladding of tantalum (0.5 mm thick) with sufficient void space for accumulation of helium gas, the gas emitted on radioactive decay. The heavy-walled outer cladding of the capsule is of a 2.5 mm thick alloy, Haynes-25, which is composed of cobalt, nickel, chromium and tungsten, and possesses high temperature and corrosion resistant properties as well as high structural strength. The fuel capsules were installed in a hexagonal graphite block along with other accessories like thermocouples, thermal insulation material etc.

The overall components used for the Nanda Devi monitoring station was divided into component parts from an overall combined weight of 275 pounds, the segments then back-carried by the climbers as evenly as possible along with any other necessary support equipment.

Wikipedia offers the following:


SNAP-19(B) was developed for the Nimbus-B satellite. 'The SNAP 19 generators are fueled with plutonium 238 and employ lead telluride thermoelectric couples for energy conversion. Each of the electrically paralleled generators produces approximately 30 watts at beginning of life. Each generator ... weighs less than 35 pounds and is ... 6-1/2 inches in diameter by 10-3/4 inches high. [extended by] six fins.' Nimbus 3 used a SNAP-19B (with the recovered fuel from the Nimbus-B1 attempt).

SNAP-19s powered Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions. They used P and N doped 'TAGS' thermoelectric elements.

Modified SNAP-19s were used for the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers.


Footnote [2]


Operation Hat itself did not start formally with actual 'boots-on-the-ground' personnel until shortly after China's first nuclear device was set off in 1964. However, the seed for the operation was planted five years earlier when it was first discovered China had established a Nuclear Test Base at Lop Nor in October of 1959 with Soviet assistance. By then U.S. covert operations into Tibet and the Himalayas were well on their way, re the following from the link so cited at the bottom of the paragraphs:

"Almost the very second Poe and I made eye contact we recognized each other, Poe asking, 'What the hell are you doing here?,' with my response at nearly the exact same instant being, 'I thought you were in Tibet.'

"The last I saw Poe was in 1959 or 1960. He was in Colorado at an old onetime World War II U.S. Army facility called Camp Hale, training covertly off the books, a bunch of Tibetans to fight the Chinese. At the time I was a real civilian yet to be drafted, working instead for a small offshoot of a a major aerospace company involved with the then super-secret U-2 project. The person I worked for directly, called Harry the Man, was the top high altitude breathing equipment person in the world.

"Apparently in October of 1959 it was confirmed that China, with Soviet assistance, had established a nuclear test base at Lop Nor with all intentions of testing a nuclear device. U-2 flights over China were becoming extremely dangerous, so powers that be thought if they could put a monitoring station on top of some Himalayan mountain with a clear shot towards Lop Nor they could gather all the information they needed. Before a decision was made as to what mountain would be selected, it was a given it would be at a very high altitude. The same powers wanted to ensure that already existent equipment necessary to accomplish the mission could be modified, if need be, to operate in the rarified atmosphere OR if equipment could be designed to allow it to do so without modification. Enter Harry the Man. We were both at Area 51 at Groom Lake when the call came through for Harry to meet with some people at Camp Hale. I went along and while there met Tony Poe."

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Sometime around I think, June of 2000 or so, and with me not knowing he was edging towards the end of his days, I drove to Northern California to see Tony Poe --- for no other reason than to just offer him my overall well wishes and thank him for some advice he had given me once many, many years before. To say the least I was a tad set aback from the robust young man he had been when I saw him last and how he was. How he was, was in bad shape, although holding on. A compound of aggregate conditions caused by heavy drinking and diabetes began to add up and to take their toll, even to the point he had to have a leg amputated. Toward the end it got to the point he was scheduled to have his remaining leg amputated as well, but died just prior. Even though we talked and he was cordial I know he didn't remember me, just another faceless G.I. that had passed through his life at one time or the other and I felt a sort of emptiness about it because I listened to the advice he gave me and always felt a great sense of gratitude. Yet, when I sat there across from the old warrior looking into his eyes, talking to him and expressing my appreciation for what he had done, I knew he had no idea who I was or how once upon a time, however briefly, I fit into his life. It was a long drive home.

Poe had dropped out of high school to join the Marines when World War II started. He finished high school via a correspondence course and after the war graduated from San Jose State in 1950 with a degree in history and English, although in how he presented himself you would never know it. We crossed paths at Camp Hale, but it was later in Long Tieng --- and I have been told Poe never offered sage advice to anybody --- he told me to get out of this shit while I still had a chance and never look back. Go to college, make something of yourself, don't fuck up your life like I have. Your'e a cartoonist. Draw pictures. Make people laugh. Within four months of my discharge I started college and the following happened, of which I have always attributed to Tony:

"I settled in using Redondo as a central base of operations while commuting back and forth to college attempting to grab off an undergraduate degree on the G.I. Bill, and of which I was eventually able to do.

"After receiving a B.A. along with a California Secondary Teaching Credential, which required an additional fifth year beyond a bachelors as well as student teaching, I matriculated into graduate school."


Not long after meeting Tony Poe in Laos, who would become notorious in legend and lore of the Secret War there, I also met of all things under the same circumstances, an actual real-life Peace Corps Volunteer who in his own right, unknown to him at the time, would become more than just a footnote in the war.

It was circa 1964 and the first time I ever met a Peace Corps Volunteer, active or otherwise --- which wasn't unusual considering the Peace Corps had only been founded the year before I was drafted. So said, he had to be one of the very first volunteers, and I have to admit there was something that impressed me about him. We were about the same age. He had already gone off to college, graduated, and joined the Peace Corps, an organization I had barely heard of, doing great humanitarian things by teaching barely educated indigenous folk, and here I was standing there with my face hanging out and hadn't done shit with my life.

The volunteer's name was Don Sjostrom, from Washington state and like me, pushing age-wise toward his mid-20's. He taught English somewhere in the center hinterlands of Thailand at a place called Yasothon. He was going to finish his Peace Corps tour of duty soon and was being recruited by USAID. They had brought him up to Laos to show him around a little to see if he might be interested when we crossed paths. Even though Sjostrom had been living under corrugated tin-roof Southeast Asia conditions in Thailand for many months, I'm sure even then the early wild west Terry and the Pirates atmosphere of Long Tieng was something of a shock.

On January 6, 1967 after leaving the Peace Corps and joining up with USAID Don Sjostrom, a civilian with no military training, in the midst of an attack, while trying to secure a machine gun nest defending Lima Site 36 at Na Khang, he was shot dead bigger than shit by North Vietnamese Regulars, taking one round right between the eyes.

So, why was I there? Primarily because, as found in The Code Maker, The Zen Maker, unlike almost everybody else in the world, the military discovered, after I was caught by the ASA, that with almost a miniscule amount of practice, I had an uncanny ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what I sent, was totally undistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating. Except for a few minor exceptions the rest is still secret.(see)







"It was only when I was told some people have even heard what they thought was Morse code that my ears perked up. I was at one time in the military a notorious code sender of some repute, thought by some of my superiors to have been on par with the infamous Confederate guerilla telegrapher George A. Ellsworth or, thought just as equally if not more so, by the Army Security Agency as ready for the stockade. So said, on par or ready for the stockade, after hearing about the Morse code being heard I wanted to spend a night on the ghost plane, an idea that was easier said than done."


In the footnote sub-titled How I Got There (Part II) as found in The Code Maker, The Zen Maker, I write that after ending up in the far northern reaches of South Vietnam at a location not far from the DMZ I was met by a company spook and a nom-com with the Army Security Agency, both implying they were out of an I Corps communication intelligence facility in Phu Bai.

What always seemed to be the case for me in those days, being immersed in a quasi typical need-to-know or eyes-only status situation, since it was just the spook, nom-com and me, and we were out in the middle of nowhere I asked what was going on. The spook pulled me aside putting his arm around my shoulder saying it could be a day or two before we pulled out, depending on the weather at this end and the other end. I asked if we going into North Vietnam. He answered, close. The same way he couldn't clarify in those days, I still can't clarify in these days. What I am getting at is, even though I am revealing the military had a very special need for my talents duplicating and sending Morse code totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating, I am still not at liberty to tell for what use that talent was so needed and any implementation thereof, although the following may be of some insight:

When I was in an U.S. Army hospital there was a fellow GI in the bed next to me, a sergeant E-7 who had been on a mercy mission to retrieve some wounded GIs along with the pilot and crew of a helicopter that was bringing them in when it crashed. The retrieval helicopter he was on was pulled out of the sky as well as they approached the crash site of the downed Dustoff. He ended up in arm and leg tractions and covered head to toe in a plaster cast except for various openings to see, breath, put in food and drink and let it back out when the need occurred. The first few days I was hooked up to a bunch of IVs and unconscious, but after that I was able to get out of bed, walk to the john, feed myself, that sort of thing. I sat next to the bed of the sergeant and read to him and BS, sometimes late into the night.

After establishing a certain rapport and trust with him we began talking about everything under the sun. He had been in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was actually even an escaped Prisoner of War (WW II). While I was there, General Wheeler, a two star general, came to see him. Initially, since I had a strong interest personally, the sergeant E-7 and I started from the beginning, slowly walking our way through World War II --- although we jumped back and forth a lot between subjects and topics. The following is what I told him about myself and his response, something the two of us went into, his response, that's a little long to get into here:

"I told the badly wounded medic that I had been a member embedded within a special communication team on a covert mission that crossed over several miles deep into sovereign Chinese territory. Because it involved already in place strung wires and telephone poles, a couple of us, of which I was one, were just about on the edge of being caught out in the open during the daylight hours by a Chinese Red Army truck convoy when, out of nowhere, coming in behind us at about tree top level was a World War II vintage prop machine, it's engine screaming like crazy all the while strafing the shit out of the road in front of the convoy, scattering it all directions and making it turn around and retreat towards where it came from. He said it was a Ghost Ship, a Phantom P-40 that shows up out of nowhere, usually on 'our' side, and disappears just as quickly. Although he had never seen it as it usually never operated as far east as Vietnam, he and others had long heard of it. He also said I was the first, first-person witness he had talked to that had actually seen it."


"Note has been made of the presence of Ellsworth in the Cincinnati office, and his service with the Confederate guerrilla Morgan, for whom he tapped Federal wires, read military messages, sent false ones, and did serious mischief generally. It is well known that one operator can recognize another by the way in which he makes his signals --- it is his style of handwriting. Ellsworth possessed in a remarkable degree the skill of imitating these peculiarities, and thus he deceived the Union operators easily."


John Hunt Morgan was a Civil War general infamous as the leader of southern guerrilla force known as the Morgan Raiders. A major part of Morgan's success that entrenched him into the historic annals of war was his successful use of telegraphy as an integral part of his military operations. He did so by recruiting into his Raiders a certain telegraph operator named George A. Ellsworth, known as Lightning, a savant telegrapher of unusual genius.

Ellsworth is known for being able to listen to another telegraph operator for just a few minutes and then mimicking that other operator's "fist" to a perfection. For the most part all telegraphers send with a distinct style, known as a fist, which other telegraphers can recognize as easily as they are able to recognize a familiar voice. Ellsworth would tap into a telegraph line used by Union forces and copy military dispatches transmitted on that line. By tapping the wire, Ellsworth's instruments became a part of the line and he could then, by blocking the downstream or incoming code at his point of entry, rewrite or send misleading or false messages downstream with the other-end recipient, listening to the fist, assuming the sender was a familiar.(see)

In July 1862 during Morgan's First Kentucky Raid, his CSA cavalry stopped in Midway, Kentucky and seized the telegraph office immediately sending false messages to Union commanders in the area. What took place at Midway is best described in Ellsworth's own words as found in History of Morgan's Cavalry, Chapter VIII, page 192, linked below. Ellsworth is quoted as saying:

"At this place I surprised the operator, who was quietly sitting on the platform in front of his office, enjoying himself hugely. Little did he suspect that the much-dreaded Morgan was in his vicinity. I demanded of him to call Lexington and inquire the time of day, which he did. This I did for the purpose of getting his style of handling the 'key' in writing dispatches. My first impression of his style, from noting the paper in the instrument, was confirmed. He was, to use a telegraphic term, a 'plug' operator. I adopted his style of telegraphing, and commenced operations. In this office I found a signal book, which proved very useful. It contained the calls of all the offices. Dispatch after dispatch was going to and from Lexington, Georgetown, Paris and Frankfort, all containing something in reference to Morgan. On commencing operations, I discovered that there were two wires on the line along this railroad. One was what we term a 'through wire,' running direct from Lexington to Frankfort, and not entering any of the way offices. I found that all military messages were sent over that line. As it did not enter Midway office I ordered it to be cut, thus forcing Lexington on to the wire that did run through the office. I tested the line and found, by applying the ground wire, it made no difference with the circuit; and, as Lexington was Head-Quarters, I cut Frankfort off."





"Any mention by me of Terry and the Pirates is typically made to draw an analogy to whatever I am writing about and the exotic-like underbelly-type milieu, real or not, that exemplified the Asian atmosphere Terry and his companions, pirates or otherwise, operated in. I have always carried a certain fondness for that type of milieu and because of that fondness have been drawn to such odd-ball fictional characters and stories like Dan Duryea in China Smith and of course Terry and the Pirates as well as real life places such as Rangoon, Burma; Bangkok, Thailand; and Chiang Mai."


A lot of people who read the paragraph-quote just before the above graphic referencing Terry and the Pirates, say I hold not much more than a standard stereotypical romanticized westerner's view of the Asian atmosphere and the milieu that I imply exists. To them I say they most likely have never been to Mong La or read my account on me going to or being in Mong La as found in the Phyllis Davis link. However, for me, real or not to other people, I started early on in my fondness for and becoming accustomed to being in and around what I call a Terry and the Pirates type milieu, re the experiences at the El Rey club so cited above while I was still in high school.

When I was in high school, the cypher I was, I don't think anyone even saw me, but I had another life. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year at Redondo Union High School while staying on my stepmother's ranch I had flown in a private plane with her to a casino called the El Rey Club in Searchlight, Nevada for some business she had with the owner. While there and totally unprovoked, a working girl, otherwise known as a "hostess," who apparently knew my stepmother somehow from the past, threw the contents of a half empty glass of ice water toward her, albeit missing her totally. When it appeared the woman was about to lunge toward my stepmother following the water mishap, Willie Martello, the casino owner, seeing my stepmother was pulling a nickel plated .25 semi-automatic Baby Browning out of her purse and with me ducking for cover, maintained the distance between the two by slightly nudging my stepmother around before she got close enough to use the pistol, saying he would take care of it. When summer was over I was back in school like nothing ever happened.

To me, the high school boy that I was, the El Rey Club was everything a casino should be. Noisy, low ceilings, smoke, friendly atmosphere with a slight need to watch your step, satisfying pay offs, and an ever present bevy of hostesses. It was also hard to squeeze through making it perfect for pickpockets and their like, dark, and owned and operated by a person who was a relatively cool dude. Pickpockets or similar preying types were not tolerated. If caught they could easily find themselves face down in the dirt someplace out of town with a broken leg or worse. Searchlight itself was a weird sort of a burg, a tiny little dump, sort of dead, but once you stepped into the El Rey it was another thing. Less wild west and more Terry and the Pirates.


At the end of the summer of 1953, roughly the same period of time as the above water-hostess-stepmother confrontation was going down at the El Rey Club and just as I was about to start the 10th grade or so, the August - September #6 issue of the comic book Mad came out. Inside #6 was a story, drawn by my all time favorite non-animator cartoonist Wallace Wood, that spoofed or satired big-time the long running comic strip Terry and the Pirates, with Wood in his spoofing, calling it Teddy and the Pirates.

Although I had followed Terry and the Pirates a good portion of my life, and knew how Milton Caniff, the artist-cartoonist of the strip, presented Terry's world that he and his so-called Pirates lived in, Wood's top-half opening drawing below, showing his version of an underbelly far east like milieu, real or not, that exemplified the Asian atmosphere along with the rest of the story hit me like a hammer, with me, the teenager that I was, sucking up his version as my version and as my version, the real version. Ten years later, thanks to Uncle Sam and his friendly Selective Service, found me in Rangoon, Saigon, and Chiang Mai, as well as other such places, even meeting warlords. Those ten years after high school, especially in and where I traveled, having gone from a teenager to an almost mid-twenties GI, my vision not only didn't wane, but was bolstered and grew. Notice the tommy guns, stabbings, hand grenades and exotic women. So too in the second panel, i.e., lower left hand corner, the two crashed P-40 Flying Tigers.

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The biggest draw for me to Terry and the Pirates besides the milieu and perhaps being in love with the Dragon Lady, was that the characters were eventually drawn into the events surrounding the China-Burma-India theater during World War II --- and especially so Milton Caniff's use of U.S. Army Air Force Curtiss-Wright P-40's carrying markings similar to the Flying Tigers, as found, for example, in the following Terry and the Pirates story:



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In writing about the TV and movie actress Phyllis Davis and the two of us being in Thailand together, I make reference to that same city, Mong La. I visited Mong La along the Chinese Myanmar border, comparing it to the wretchedness of the Star Wars city of Mos Eisley. I do so by including a section on her page titled MONG LA: Mos Eisley Spaceport or Mayberry, R.F.D.?. That same section also shows up on my Khun Sa page. Although I don't give specific dates as to when the events in the section actually occurred, it is implied quite clearly that they happened after Hurricane Ike, i.e., September 1, 2008 - September 15, 2008, but before Ms Davis' death September 27, 2013, many years after the mid-60s encounters between Khun Sa and myself. In the section I write:

"Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Luke Skywalker that he'd never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy in the whole galaxy than Mos Eisley spaceport."

Then I write that I guess neither of them ever heard of Mong La. Later, after leaving Mong La I go on to say:

"Not long after that we were in Panghsang with me introducing myself to Wei Hsueh-kang. He asked if I had the 'item.' I opened my phone and handed him the SIM card. He praised me for a job well done, saying everything he heard about me was true. Then he asked how it was I knew Khun Sa. I quickly explained to him the whole story saying I felt he was instrumental in saving my life."

Wei Hsueh-kang is probably the most notorious Southeast Asian warlord and drug kingpin around, with a $2M dollar FBI bounty on his head. Yet I sat there on a veranda with him along the Chinese-Burma border sipping drinks together. Next thing I know I am at the 140-million-baht Casino Club operating under the flagship of the Myawaddy Riverside Resort Complex on the Thai-Burma border meeting with Khun Sa's son.