NOTE TO READER: This article is a non-fiction narrative of events and personalities compiled from saved e-mails, photographs, and my personal diary. This article should not be a read as a criticism of Mark Stokes or those who participated in the “cabal” as I have termed it. This article is a testament of great affection and respect for him and those who formed a last stand against Chinese military hegemony against Taiwan. Though it seems in vain today.
17 July 2022
Part One: Big Trouble In Little China
The Early Days
By Wendell Minnick (Whiskey Mike)
Left-to-Right: Taiwan Navy Captain (N2) Winston Li (李豫明), Wendell Minnick, and Mark Stokes in My Place Pub in the Combat Zone in the mid-2000s while working for Jane’s Defence Weekly.
17 JULY 2022
TAIPEI - One of the common jokes amongst US Pentagon staffers visiting Taiwan in the 2000s was this quip over beers in the dark corners of the sleazy Combat Zone bar district: “We are not here…”, which usually included a snarky smile.
The U.S. government’s 1979 decision to switch diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing forced the U.S. State Department to shutter the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Congress created a non-profit entity, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), to serve as the de facto U.S. embassy. All diplomatic personnel moved to the abandoned U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) (1951-1978) building on Xinyi Road.
The U.S. Taiwan Defense Command (USTDC), bulldozed, became a park. Retired U.S. military officers on contracts replaced active duty defense attachés under the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
Many of the AIT contractors were lethargic, jaded, and spent most of their time looking for better jobs in the defense industry via Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, etc. A way of double dipping their military pensions with a cozy defense industry job. AIT was nothing more than a stepping stone to a bigger paycheck. And why not? The Cold War was over and history does not repeat itself, not really anyway, but it does rhyme.
When the U.S. military left in 1979, the bar girls cried themselves to sleep. But a change was on the horizon and a deluge of Western businessmen replaced the young, but poor, troops. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Taiwan’s industrial output exploded and became one of the Four Asian Tigers, which included Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore.
The principle whorehouses were the Mayflower and the Charlie Brown where U.S. businessmen would get their girls written up on restaurant receipts as “dinner for two” for their expense accounts. The girls quickly forgot about the troops that had left a few years before, and began focusing on drunk, obnoxious Western businessmen with money to throw away.
Taipei was wild. The late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, worked as an erotic dancer in the early 1980s.
During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, AIT military contractors largely ignored a possible conflict with China. After all, everyone in Asia seemed content on making toys and electronics for the West. Thanks to their Taiwanese business brethren the economic boom pulled China into a capitalistic mindset. Gone, supposedly, was the insane side of Chinese Communism via the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward; killing between 50-70 million people. Ancient and forgotten history.
Everything was quiet. AIT was happy. They did nothing and nothing got done. But to be based in Taiwan via the U.S. State Department was a step down in your career. Taiwan was the island of misfit toys. China was where the action was and AIT got the losers from State. What the old China hands in colonial Hong Kong used to call FILTH (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong).
The Taiwan military suffered the indignities of AIT ignoring their security fears after the U.S. began dumping drunkards and Peter Pan types on Taiwan. In many ways, Taiwan was the mythical island Neverland with plenty of piracy (IP theft) and a pretty little Taiwanese bargirl serving as Tinker Bell with the magic to cure their unhappy marriage, career disaster, mid-life crisis.
The old AIT building where it was forbidden to fly the U.S. flag until the 2000s. After the U.S. Embassy was closed, AIT served as the de facto embassy and moved into the old U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) building on Xinyi Road. It was a pathetic image of U.S. diplomatic power in Taiwan after 1979. It was finally moved from here to a new $280 million compound in the upscale Neihu District in 2018. Author photo.
Then a huge Black Swan landed on the island.
China decided to create a crisis. After all, in China’s logic: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” - Sun-Tzu. China got it wrong. You do not create crisis, you only look for opportunity within a crisis. But whatever…China created the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis and miscalculated the American response.
The U.S. Navy sent two Aircraft Carrier Task Forces to the area as a show of force as China launched ten Dong Feng 15 (M-9) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) north and south of the island.
Author’s collection. “March Madness 96” commemorative patch for the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis (Third Taiwan Strait Crisis) from July 21, 1995 to March 23, 1996. The U.S. sent two aircraft carrier groups to the area. The patch lists only two USS Navy assets: Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) and USS Independence (CV-62). On the top is the triangle insignia for the CVW-5. At the bottom is the First Navy Jack flag with a rattlesnake with gold scales and the “Don’t Tread On Me” slogan against red and white stripes. “It’s The Only Game In Town” with four dice at bottom.
The crisis quickly proved that AIT military contractors were unreliable and forced the Pentagon to begin reevaluating the military relationship between Taiwan after discovering that AIT was useless.
During the crisis, the Pentagon wanted the phone numbers for all senior officials of the Taiwan military to coordinate the U.S. Pacific Command’s response, but AIT military contractors could not provide them. They simply had ignored the requirements of their own jobs for various reasons: assumptions that China’s economy was where American policy was focused, too busy looking for a better job, or had fallen in love with a local bargirl.
The Pentagon grew even more alarmed when it learned that the Taiwan military had dubbed AIT: “Assholes in Taiwan.”
The Pentagon also began to realize that U.S. think tankers who came to Taiwan over the years and churned out report after report after report on the Taiwan military were imbeciles. The revolving door of Washington think tankers in and out of the State Department had gotten the entire China-Taiwan military picture wrong. If it had been art it would have been the surreal Salvador Dali painting The Great Masturbator (1929).
It was time for a shake-up and new blood.
Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis of March 8th 1996. Often dubbed the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (July 21, 1995 to March 23, 1996). The patch only mentions ships listed for the March 8th missile launch: CVA-62 USS Independence, CG-52 USS Bunker Hill, DD-975 USS O’Brien, DD-966 USS Hewitt, and the FFG-41 USS McClusky. Author collection.
The man who got the job was none other than Mark Stokes. Between 1997 and 2004, he served as Senior Country Director for China and Taiwan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
The man was an outlier within the Pentagon. Known as a party animal with an inexhaustible hunger to torment the Chinese Communist Party. He seemed too dangerous for Washington’s cautious policy wonks and groupthinkers who bent the knee to Beijing’s every demand.
He was a trickster with unilateral approaches to problem solving that came out of his training by the CIA and DIA in preparation for his attaché assignment in Beijing.
At the CIA’s Camp Peary (the Farm), Stokes and the other students were given a most unusual book. Not one on assassination, or kidnapping, or secret codes, but a book on how to make friends: Michael Brooks’ Instant Rapport (1990). The book changed Stokes. The lessons the book introduced were already a perfect fit for his personality. He studied it like a Bible-thumper.
Then he put it to work serving as the Assistant Air Attaché in the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from 1992 to 1995. China’s secret police arrested Stokes twice, only for him to stroll through the front door without a scratch. On one occasion, while in the interrogation room, his hosts took his camera out of the bag and, in a fit of rage, beat it to a mangled heap with a hammer. He simply sat there amused.
His mission in China was to identify China’s Second Artillery Corps nuclear missile command, control, communication (C3) facilities, launch sites, research and testing facilities, and the locations of the residence of senior military leaders.
Stokes used numerous tricks. He wandered about Chinese military bases with an English studies book looking for a mysterious Li Rui-quan that no one seemed to know. Confused soldiers simply pointed him in a new direction, and off he went. Base security was lax back then.
On other occasions, Stokes rode in taxis all day pretending to be a visiting businessman. The taxi driver would show him all the secret facilities and the commander’s home, and to Stokes’ amusement, his mistresses’ home. And the taxi drivers were talkers. They had driven military officials around over the years and heard juicy gossip. Once Stokes exhausted a taxi driver’s expertise, he would just change taxis.
Each time Stokes located a primary target for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, he would snap photographs and mark the site with GPS, sending it all back to the U.S. intelligence community (IC) for analysis.
The result was a rare award given to him in 1994. What insiders jokingly refer to as the CIA’s Spook of the Year Award (Exceptional Collector National Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Award). It is a decoration awarded annually by the Director of Central Intelligence to individuals for improved HUMINT collection and the reporting of information that is of significant value to the IC. The only others to receive the award while serving in the DAO in Beijing were Karl Eikenberry and Kenneth Allen.
After returning to the U.S., from 1995 to May 1997, he served as a strategic planner within the U.S. Air Force Plans and Operations Directorate where his data became primary and secondary targets for nuclear strikes; unclear if the mistresses’ homes will survive a nuclear war.
China had misread the man. Stokes was not a bumbling flat-footed drunk, but a monster that created the first genuine existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party.
Then in 1997, Stokes became even more dangerous to Beijing.
As the OSD’s China/Taiwan Senior Country Director, Stokes brought delegations to Taiwan from all over the Pentagon to evaluate Taiwan’s defense needs. Active duty military personnel, now on the ground in Taiwan under his mentorship, found a goldmine of unused military potential.
In 2001, Stokes and crew gave China its biggest headache ever. The Bush Administration released a $18 billion dollar arms deal.
Due to the earlier missile crisis with China, Taiwan was rated as the highest potential customer of the Patriot PAC-2 and later PAC-3 anti-missile defense systems.
There was also other requirements: early warning radar system (Surveillance Radar Program), based on the PAVE PAWS system used by the U.S. to detect incoming Soviet ballistic missiles during the Cold War; diesel submarines; and P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
It also included replacements or upgrades of existing equipment: E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, new AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles to replace the Marines Corps’ LVTP-5s, mid-life upgrades to the F-16A/B fighter aircraft, and the list went on and on.
U.S. defense contractors went nuts.
In response to the massive arms deal, in 2002, the first annual US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference was begun. The brainchild of the conference was a Scottish expat living in Washington, D.C. When Rupert Hammond-Chambers was elected president of the US-Taiwan Business Council (USTBC) in 2000, it was time to take his background in national security to use.
In the early 1990s, he worked for the Advanced Telecommunication Corporation (ATC), managing a variety of clients with business interests in the Caribbean and Latin America. Then in 1993, he joined The Center for Security Policy, a defense and foreign policy think tank in Washington, D.C., as the Associate for Development.
There should be no illusions about the USTBC. The Suite 1703 office is immediately next door to Suite 1700 of AIT’s Director of Political/Military Affairs, Defense Procurement Division. Here is where you, the reader, must read between the lines. If you do not believe in karma, there is a good bet you are right.
Another legend with genuine spooky credentials joined the campaign. A retired U.S. Army Colonel by the name of Larry Wortzel with intelligence credentials that few have ever matched in Asia, particularly on annoying Beijing.
After a 32-year military career in the Asia-Pacific, Wortzel retired in 1999. His next appointment would drive China crazy.
Larry Wortzel (left) in Taipei with Wendell Minnick. Author photograph. Circa 2020.
In 2001, as if God himself wanted to punish Beijing, Wortzel was made a Commissioner of the new U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission of the United States Congress. His term only expired at the end of 2020; covering 19-years of infuriating Chinese officials.
Wortzel’s past experience with China did not leave him opportunistic. From 1988 to 1990, Wortzel was an Assistant Army Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and witnessed and reported on the chaos leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the subsequent army crackdown. In 1995, he returned to the U.S. Embassy as the Army Attaché.
Wortzel was in Beijing during the entire buildup to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, but not near the Tiananmen Square, as some have suggested. Instead, Wortzel was in the vicinity of a PLA airfield that was the staging area for elements of the 54th Group Army and the 15th Airborne Army. When those forces began to move toward the center of the city and the square, Wortzel and a colleague got between their columns and moved toward the city center, breaking off near the U.S. Embassy to report and regroup.
Wortzel is only one of three U.S. military officers known to have jumped with China’s Airborne Corps. The three U.S. Army officers: Bernard Loeffke, Army Attaché, made a jump with the PLA Airborne in the early 1980s. Then John Leide, Army Attaché, and Wortzel, as Assistant Army Attaché, made a jump with the 15th Airborne Army in early 1989 in Kaifeng and were awarded PLA Airborne Wings (the U.S. Army would not let them wear the wings on their uniforms).
Wortzel was the perfect warrior-scholar to face off against China.
These early days, with Hammond-Chambers, Stokes, and Wortzel, drove Beijing nuts with new arms deals, policy changes, research reports outlining China’s military modernization with details of Chinese plans of armed hegemony over the region.
All of Beijing’s princelings, China’s Washington lobbyists, Panda-Huggers in the U.S. Congress, and fake NGOs spying for China in DC, could do nothing to stop them. So the Chinese just bitched, and bitched, and bitched…and it never made any difference. A virtual cabal was forming and it was beyond China’s ability to coerce, bribe, or even threaten.
And it was forming in the most unlikely of all places in Taipei. Not in the Ministry of National Defense or the Legislature or even AIT. No…it was forming in some of the raunchiest corners of the Combat Zone in the wee hours of the night; between the Witching Hour and the Devil’s Hour.
Above: Wendell Minnick in the Combat Zone with cigar. Author photograph.
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Midnight - 3:00am.
Boddingtons on draught!! My favourite tipple, from the land where proper beer is brewed and drunk.
Great reminiscences, BTW