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Master spy’s secrets revealedDeclassified documents on the activities of KMT General Dai Li bring wartime intrigue out of the shadows, say historians in Taiwan and the mainlandMinnie Chan in Taipei23 October 2011Six books containing formerly classified documents about Kuomintang spymaster General Dai Li during the second Sino-Japanese war have shed light on many mysteries surrounding one of the world’s largest intelligence apparatuses.The books contain copies of documents handwritten by Dai, including his orders to underlings and telegrams and letters to his boss, Chiang Kai-shek.Dai, who died in a plane crash on March 17, 1946, was infamous on the mainland because of his brutality towards the Communists during the 1940s. He was described by historian Frederick Wakeman as “China’s Himmler” because he led an 18,000-member spy system - the world’s largest espionage organisation during the Second World War.Wu Shu-feng, a researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Historica who worked on the project, said 15,000 pages of archival material had been edited into to six books, three already published and three due out by the end of the year.All the archival material declassified by the island’s intelligence authorities would be opened to the public in April, she added.The project was given the go-ahead by the Ministry of National Defence’s military intelligence bureau after it decided to declassify part of its archival material about the Kuomintang’s campaign against invading Japanese forces.Dai founded the KMT’s intelligence apparatus, instituting the Military Affairs Commission (also known as Juntong), a front for the bureau, in 1938.The books confirm long-held speculation that some Chinese spies working for the Japanese were recruited by the KMT as double agents. Some were executed by the KMT as traitors after Japan lost the war.One famous double agent was Ding Muocun, who was executed by the Nationalist government in 1947. The Juntong once sent female spy Zheng Pingru to assassinate Ding, but the attempt failed. The story became the basis for a romantic novella, Lust, Caution, by Eileen Chang, which was later turned into a film by director Ang Lee.Dai’s documents also detail the Juntong’s intelligence battles with the Japanese army, including how it helped the KMT army’s logistics troop snap up military supplies such as cotton and petrol on the international market, and how the two sides forged each other’s banknotes in attempts to disrupt their rival’s financial systems.He also worked with the United States to gather intelligence against Japan during the war. The declassified documents confirm that the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) let Dai head the Sino-American Co-operation Organisation to force US Navy Rear Admiral Milton Miles to listen to Dai. Wu said the move to marginalise Miles was prompted by the poor relations between the US Navy in Asia and the OSS.Academia Historica director Lu Fang-shang said espionage was crucial to the victory against Japan but its historical role had been underplayed because related archival material had always been classified top secret.“Since this year is the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution, or the establishment of the Republic of China by the Kuomintang, the military intelligence bureau decided to declassify part of its archival material covering the anti-Japanese war to let historians study the first-hand data, which we believe will help them make an objective evaluation of the Kuomintang’s secret-police system as well as Dai Li,” Lu said.In a preface to the books, Taiwanese Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu writes: “General Dai contributed his whole life to our country, but he has had a mixed reception and even been slandered since his death several decades ago ... with almost all books circulating in public published by the mainland authorities.”
The ministry hoped the declassification of Dai’s handwritten documents and other related material would help rectify the historical disrepute that Dai was held in, Kao wrote. He said the books would be a useful supplement to Chiang’s diaries, which Chiang’s family gave to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California in 2005 and which have since been made public.Mainland historians have welcomed the declassification of the first-hand records about Dai and his secret system, saying it will help perfect the Communist Party’s view of history and also aid modern historical research.Wu Haiyong, a research fellow at the Party History Research Office affiliated with the Communist Party’s Shanghai municipal committee, said he was looking forward to reading the archival material on how Dai’s men recruited Communist Party founders such as Zhou Fohai.Zhou worked for Chiang as an undercover agent in the Japanese puppet regime during the war. He received a life sentence in 1945 and died in a Nanjing jail three years later.Professor Yuan Weishi, a historian at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou who has studied Chiang and the KMT’s history on the mainland before 1949, said: “Chiang’s political thinking would not be detailed in his diaries, but Dai’s secret documents could reflect his policies and measures because Dai was his key aide.”However, both Yuan and Wu said that publishing Dai’s documents would not help restore his reputation on the mainland.Yuan said Dai’s loyalty to Chiang and his role in the assassination of a great number of political dissidents, including Communist Party members, remained a lingering stigma.
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