Skip to comments.Extraordinary Fidelity: Two CIA Prisoners in China, 1952–73
Posted on 04/14/2007 7:50:43 AM PDT by Valin
This article draws extensively on operational files and other internal CIA records that of necessity remain classified. Because the true story of these two CIA officers is compelling and has been distorted in many public accounts, it is retold here in as much detail as possible, despite minimal source citations. Whenever possible, references to open sources are made in the footnotes.
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Beijings capture, imprisonment, and eventual release of CIA officers John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau is an amazing story that too few know about today. Shot down over Communist China on their first operational mission in 1952, these young men spent the next two decades imprisoned, often in solitary confinement, while their government officially denied they were CIA officers. Fecteau was released in 1971, Downey in 1973. They came home to an America vastly different from the place they had left, but both adjusted surprisingly well and continue to live full lives.
Even though Downey and Fecteau were welcomed back as heroes by the CIA family more than 30 years ago and their story has been covered in open literaturealbeit in short and generally flawed accounts institutional memory regarding these brave officers has dimmed. Their ordeal is not well known among todays officers, judging by the surprise and wonder CIA historians encounter when relating it in internal lectures and training courses.
This story is important as a part of US intelligence history because it demonstrates the risks of operations (and the consequences of operational error), the qualities of character necessary to endure hardship, and the potential damage to reputations through the persistence of false stories about past events. Above all, the saga of John Downey and Richard Fecteau is about remarkable faithfulness, shown not only by the men who were deprived of their freedom, but also by an Agency that never gave up hope. While it was through operational misjudgments that these two spent much of their adulthood in Chinese prisons, the Agency, at least in part, redeemed itself through its later care for the men from whom years had been stolen......
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Incredible American patriots!
I’m just glad their Chinese captors didn’t call them Mr. Bean. :-)
British sailors they were not. Great story, thanks for posting!
What an extraordinary story.
I read every word.....it all boils down to the last paragraph and esp its last sentence:
John Downey, 22 when he began his captivity and almost 43 when released, is now 76. Richard Fecteau, 25 when shot down and 44 on his return, will be 80 next August. Their story, and the lessons we derive from it, will long outlive them. Their experience in China teaches many things: the importance of good decisions in the field and the costs of bad ones; the ability of men to say its not over when life seems to be at an end; the resilience to get through a bad day7,000 times in a row; and the strength gained from faith that one is still cared about. But their experience back home is also inspirational, for it teaches us that perhaps the most enduring lesson of all is the absolute necessity of making every day lived in freedom count.
Thank you for posting this inspiring article.
What a story! Thanks for posting!
It's a shame that the CIA or any of the series of administrations in office throughout the captivity could not have just sucked it up, lost some face, and admitted something closer to the truth instead of sticking to that moronic commercial flight cover story. It sounds like these two men might have been released with the captured B29 crew in 1955 if the CIA had greater integrity. Similar honesty helped secured the release of Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets during this same period. These men deserved better from their superiors.
I just read this and planned to post it ... until I saw you had done the same.
A great tale about two terrific men.
Bump for a highly deserving post.
Great story, was just about to post it myself until I saw you’d beaten me to it.
Great story, was just about to post it myself until I saw youd beaten me to it.
Please feel free. It’s been awhile and I’m sure others would like to see it.