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David Quam Productions: Area man produces program about CIA operatives

Bemidji, an area famous for Paul and Babe statues, tall pines and sky blue waters, has a quality that is much less known.

The area is a safe zone for retired CIA agents, especially those who remain under an oath of secrecy. Bemidji was isolated from Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

David Quam, who operates a private video company under the title David Quam Productions, has made a program about three of these CIA operatives. "The CIA Among Us" will air at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on Lakeland Public Television's "Through the Lens" series.

"I got the idea because I was surprised to find out how many (CIA) people were retired here," Quam said.

Two of the men Quam interviewed agreed to tell their stories on condition of anonymity. He blanked out their faces and disguised their voices. The third interview subject, Henri Verbrugghen, could openly tell his story of flying supplies in to the Hmong who were fighting Pathet Lao communists during the Vietnam War.

The first agent told of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and said much was known ahead of time about the Russian plan to aim missiles from Cuba at the United States.

The next agent told of being recruited by an Army officer to conduct intelligence surveys of back country Vietnam and report on activities. However, he and his partner didn't have the usual Army backup and equipment.

"It's only over the years I realized it was something very different from the Army," he said.

Verbrugghen was a pilot for Air America. He spent more than three years flying out of Vientiane, Laos, with cargos of "hard rice," the pilots' slang for armaments, and "soft rice," which was actual foodstuffs for the Hmong allies of the United States against the communists.

Verbrugghen said the work was exciting at times and risky, but he most appreciated the camaraderie that developed among the pilots, men who knew they were doing something constructive that the military couldn't accomplish.

He also described the efforts to rescue Hmong refugees from the Pathet Lao. He said they jammed the planes with 150 standees held upright in rows by strapping. People were so desperate that those left behind would throw their babies through the cargo doors to people on the planes, hoping that, even if they died, someone would take care of their children.

Quam said he wanted to tell the stories of some of the people now living in Beltrami County who served their country in ways most people have not heard about.