Preaching to the Choir

By Stephanie Parker

When it comes to keeping secrets, few do it better than the CIA. But this summer, the agency voluntarily released a few of its own. Still, at least one secret remains — the mysterious death of a Montana smokejumper on foreign shores.

For those who believe that we’re not alone in the universe, recently declassified documents concerning Area 51 tell a different story. The federal government acquired the site in 1955 to test new aircraft away from prying eyes. In 1989, a Las Vegas man claimed he worked at Area 51 studying alien aircraft, lead- ing to speculation that the approximately 575 square-mile site in the Nevada desert was actually an alien crash site. Since then, many UFO sightings have been reported there.

A more sobering declassification was the American involvement in Iran’s 1953 coup. While the U.S. government for years denied involvement in the overthrow of democrat- ically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, the CIA recently released documents confirming just that. Thanks to American aid, Mosaddegh was overthrown and imprisoned, and the monarchy of Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi ruled for the next 26 years.

Finally, the CIA admitted not only to turning a blind eye to Saddam Hussein using sarin gas against Iranians during the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq War, but also helping Hussein do it. The attack contributed to an Iraqi victory in that war.

In the meantime, the story of Jerry Daniels, a CIA officer who worked in Southeast Asia from the 1960s to 1980s, remains shrouded in secrecy. The Missoula man was beloved by the Hmong people of Laos and is now the subject of a book by Gayle Morrison, released in July 2013: “Hog’s Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA.”

Daniels died in Bangkok at age 40; the Thai government said the cause was a gas leak in his room. The U.S. government accepted the claim, but many are skeptical.

“His family was told that the casket was never to be opened,” Morrison said.

During a decade of research, Morrison never talked to anyone who had identified his body.

“There’s another dozen reasons why this is a peculiar situation,” she said. “There’s so many of these discrepancies.”

Toby Scott, one of Daniels’ CIA buddies, also found the circumstances of his death mysterious.

“I think it was probably him,” Scott said of the body in the closed casket, “but I don’t know what the cause of death was. Real weird that someone would die overseas and we don’t have an American autopsy.”

Although Scott and others confirm Daniels was a CIA operative, the agency does not. Many believe he died, but under different circumstances. Others propose he is still alive and claim to have seen him all over the world. In this mystery, no new information has come to light. That, according to Scott, is the CIA’s usual way.

“If you don’t have a need to know,” Scott says, “you don’t know.”

Stephanie Parker is a second-year graduate student in the Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism program at the University of Montana. Born and raised in New York City, she spends her free time cooking, eating, and going on Montana adventures so she can Instagram them.