CIA honours spies jailed in China for 20 years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 3:35am


CIA director John Brennan has acknowledged two former intelligence agents who spent more than 20 years jailed in China after their plane was shot down.

John Downey and Richard Fecteau were awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the CIA's highest honour, during a ceremony last month, the CIA said yesterday.

During a mission in November 1952, the men were trying to retrieve an agent from Chinese territory by flying a plane close to the ground so they could hook on. "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 told they 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.

They were freed in unexplained circumstances when the US, under president Richard Nixon, and China were engaged in a warming in their relations.