CIA Releases Film on Blown China Spy Mission

In 1952, a failed covert rescue attempt by two American CIA officers left them stranded in China for close to two decades. The CIA has finally released a documentary detailing the ordeal faced by John Downey and Richard Fecteau during their imprisonment in China. From ABC News:

The documentary covers the saga of agents John Downey and Richard Fecteau who were captured by the Chinese after their plane was shot down during a classified mission in November 1952. According to the CIA’s account — which is in part reenacted in the movie — their original mission was to “retrieve an agent” from the Chinese mainland through the daring Skyhook system — using a hook attached to the plane to literally snag a person directly off the ground and reel them into the plane.

But before the operation could be carried out, Downey and Fecteau were betrayed by their contacts on the ground and flew straight into an ambush. Two pilots were killed when the plane was battered by waiting anti-aircraft fire and crashed, but Downey and Fecteau survived. The pair was taken into Chinese custody where they would spend the next 20 years, though for the first two even the CIA did not know they were alive. When they discovered their men were alive, CIA stuck with a preplanned cover story and disavowed any knowledge of the agents.

“[It was] U.S. policy that there would be no bargaining, no concessions, and no recognition of the Communist Chinese,” the CIA said.

It wasn’t until December 1971 that Fecteau was released, followed by Downey 15 months later, due to what the agency called “warming relations” between the U.S. and China.

More details on the plot of “Extraordinary Fidelity”, from the Associated Press:

A big theme of the film is the behind-the-scenes efforts by CIA officials in Washington, throughout the men’s imprisonment, to keep their financial affairs in order and provide assistance to their families.

It features re-enactments of important scenes, including the ambush and the men’s harsh interrogations at the hands of the Chinese. Some portions were filmed at a former insane asylum in Petersburg, Va.; Fecteau and Downey themselves talk at length about their imprisonment.

The film was produced by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and first shown almost a year ago at CIA headquarters.

The CIA planned to show the movie to the public Thursday night at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.


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