|US decorates two intel agents jailed in China for 20 years
Director of the CIA John Brennan recognized two former American intelligence agents who spent more than 20 years jailed in China after their plane was shot down, the agency announced Monday.
The two agents, John Downey and Richard Fecteau were awarded the “Distinguished Intelligence Cross,'' the CIA's highest honor, during a ceremony held on an unspecified date in November, the CIA said in a statement.
During a mission in November 1952, the two men were trying to retrieve an agent from Chinese territory, by flying a plane close to the ground allowing him to hook on, AFP reports.
“The agent, who unbeknownst to CIA had been compromised by the Chinese, had promised valuable information in clandestine messages to his Agency handlers,'' the agency recounted in its statement.
When the plane swooped down to grab him, “Chinese anti-aircraft fire erupted,'' bringing down the plane.
Two members of the team were killed, but Downey and Fecteau survived -- though when weeks passed with no contact, the CIA assumed they had died.
Their families were sent letters claiming the men had died in an accident on a commercial flight.
It was only two years later, when Chinese authorities began a public trial, that the CIA discovered the two men were still alive. The Chinese court sentenced Downey to life in prison and Fecteau to 20 years.
While jailed, Fecteau was interrogated, asked to provide names of fellow CIA agents, but he resisted.
“Fecteau provided plenty of physical descriptions and names, all which happened to belong to members of the Boston University football team,'' the statement said.
“Both men remained in captivity until their release in the early 1970s,'' the CIA said, without explaining the date or the circumstances of their release.
At that time, the United States, under president Richard Nixon, and China were engaged in a warming in their diplomatic relations as the two faced a common enemy, the USSR – a rapprochement cemented when Nixon visited Peking (Beijing) in February 1972.