NTTU Saipan

Since the start of the year I have been working on an article about militarization in the Marianas Islands. It is for a special edition of Micronesian Educator edited by Tiara Na'puti and Lisa Natividad. I'm excited at the prospect of writing it, but my schedule over the past year has been tough, in addition to family drama and other setbacks. I've been coming back and forth to it in my notebooks every month, but until now I haven't been able to really try to finish it. I spent Christmas Day typing up my scattered notes and drafts.

The article is an attempt to talk about militarization, military increases, military strategy in a Marianas wide context, and the ways it divides, unities, takes and stimulates. One of the most interesting sections is on the CIA training that took place in Saipan from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The facility was known as the Naval Technical Training Unit or NTTU and it trained anti-communist operatives to destabilize and sabotage regimes that were communist or suspected of going communist.

Below are two articles about it and other covert-Cold War related activities in the Trust Territory from The Saipan Tribune.


Cold War covert activities on Saipan, elsewhere in the region
by William H. Stewart
The Saipan Tribune
December 21, 2004
Part 1 of 2

I have been interested in the history of the Northern Marianas and especially a period in the ‘50s and early ‘60s for which very few specifics are known. This was the period on Saipan when the Central Intelligence Agency under the cover of the U.S. Navy operated a facility known as the Naval Tactical Training Unit or NTTU. Physical verification of their presence is still very much in evidence on Capitol Hill (then known as Army Hill) such as the administration building, service station, staff housing, bachelor officer quarters, snack-bar, barber shop, post office, a theater—auditorium and the recreational facility “TopaTapi” night club.

The entire Marpi area from what is now the vicinity of the Nikko Hotel northward and the Kagman Peninsula were among the areas on Saipan where access was restricted to only NTTU personnel and their trainees. At Kagman the organization operated its own airfield for transporting personnel to be trained. Portions of the landing strip can still be seen in the vicinity of the Lao Lao Bay Golf Course.
The cost of this infrastructure in 1951 dollars was approximately $30 million. The replacement cost today would exceed $221 million. With the exception of the housing—all serve different uses today from those of the Cold War/NTTU era.

If you were born after 1950 and lived in the United States you probably recall the survival drills conducted at your school. It was a time when the Cold War turned hot with the conflict on the Korean Peninsula, with saber rattling extending throughout that decade and into the ‘60s when, in 1961, President Kennedy inherited the CIA’s planned invasion of Cuba. It was a period when the Berlin Wall was erected and when the U.S.S.R. detonated a hydrogen bomb. By 1962, the Cuban missile crisis had brought the world to the brink of atomic war and elsewhere in Southeast Asia the number of U.S. military advisers to Vietnam was rapidly being increased.

The United States was involved in unconventional-warfare (UW) in Southeast Asia and the training base on Saipan was vital for that mission. This is evident in excerpts from a memorandum (1) from Brig. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale, Pentagon expert on guerrilla warfare, to Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, President Kennedy’s military adviser, on “Resources for Unconventional Warfare, SE. Asia.” Copies were sent to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and his brother Allen W. Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence. The memo was in response to a request for information on unconventional-warfare resources in Southeast Asia and was compiled within the Department of Defense and the CIA. It stated: “CIA maintains a field training station on the island of Saipan located approximately 160 miles northeast of Guam in the Marianas Islands. The installation is under Navy cover and is known as the Naval Technical Training Unit. The primary mission of the Saipan Training Station is to provide physical facilities and competent instructor personnel to fulfill a variety of training requirements including intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques. Training is performed in support of CIA activities conducted throughout the Far East area.

“In addition to the facilities described, CIA maintains a small ship of approximately 500 tons displacement and 140 feet in length. This vessel is used presently to provide surface transportation between Guam and Saipan. It has an American Captain and First Mate and a Philippine crew, and is operated under the cover of a commercial corporation with home offices in Baltimore, Maryland. Both the ship and the corporation have a potentially wider paramilitary application both in the Far East area and elsewhere.” (1)

Long time Saipan resident and former NTTU employee John Wilson recalled the vessel, Four Winds, was eventually sold to one of Saipan’s leading businessmen.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States constructed military bases extending from South Korea and Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and throughout Europe. The United States had thousands of overseas military installations, which circled the Soviet Union and China.
Considering the confrontation and clash of national objectives between the differing ideological participants of the Cold War during the ‘50s and ‘60s, it’s not too difficult to look back at what might have transpired in the region from the point of view of covert activities—at least on the part of one of the national competitors. Saipan provided the United States with an ideal location for covert training in the black art of sabotage and insurgency. The island was isolated and access was easily controlled and limited only to the military—plus the island was close to Asia—the region of interest and the source of recruits to be trained. These elements made the island a natural choice for locating the secret training activity. One couldn’t ask for better circumstances from which to carry out a covert project away from the prying eyes of any adversary, the media and Congress. Saipan’s extreme distance from the United States in the 1950’s was a mind numbing, bone crushing propeller flight of 9 and 1/2 hours from San Francisco to Honolulu; Hawaii to Wake: 9—1/2 hours; Wake to Saipan: 8 hours.

In those days the local population was exhausted by war and had little interest or knowledge of the world beyond the horizon. This added to the attraction of the island for NTTU’s clandestine purpose. Short wave radio and the Voice of America were the principle windows on the world for the local population. Indeed, less than 10 years after the NTTU packed up and left the island in the early ‘60s, black and white taped CBS coaxial televised news with Walter Cronkite was still 10 days late in reaching the island by air.

While I have no proof of the following, it has been alleged that during those uncertain years Washington was accused of supporting a revolution that brought the authoritarian regime of General Sukarto to power in Indonesia. The Agency helped break the power of the leftist Huks and was successful in helping elect Ramon Magsaysay president of the Philippines and later embrace Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. During the Eisenhower administration, a puppet government was established in South Vietnam. After Mao’s revolution it was alleged the CIA trained rebels to infiltrate China, Manchuria, and Tibet in an attempt to destabilize the region.

Paraphrasing John Prados’ comments in his book, President’s Secret Wars (2), the United States provided military aid to French Indochina and placed Diem in power and ran operations in the Far East in the 1950s which involved covert operations against communist insurgents in Thailand and the Philippines.

To be continued

Sources: (1) “The Pentagon Papers”, Gravel Edition, Volume 2; (2) Prados, John, “President’s Secret Wars”, William Morrow Company, New York, 1986; Mr. John Wilson, Sr., NTTU-1959—‘62 and various unidentified sources from internet web sites including:;

Editor’s Note: During the 1955—‘67 period of the Cold War, the author studied the “economics of national security” at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now National Defense University) and is the recipient of the Cold War Certificate of Recognition from the Defense Department for service with American embassies in Africa and Asia. He later served with the Trust Territory and CNMI governments and is an occasional contributor to this paper.


Cold War covert activities on Saipan, elsewhere in the region
by William H. Stewart
The Saipan Tribune
December 22, 2004
Part 2 of 2

Nationals from several Asian countries were trained covertly on Saipan by the NTTU. The Marianas, as part of Micronesia, was only one group within the eleven United Nations’ trusteeships that had evolved out of the flames of World War II and, as such, technically fell under the purview of the U.N.
Unlike the other ten trusteeship areas, the Northern Marianas and the rest of Micronesia were administered by the United States through the Security Council where the U.S. not only had veto power but could conveniently observe the Counsel’s monitoring efforts of American stewardship of one of its several wards.

One might wonder what the U.N. had to do with the issue since some would consider United States presence in the islands following VJ Day the undisputed privilege of the victor in war. Simply and basically stated, the U.S. point of view was: You can’t take something from someone if you never recognized they owned it in the first place.

This reasoning resulted from the fact that the U.S. government never recognized the islands as a permanent possession of any nation since they were taken from defeated Germany by the allied powers during World War I. Subsequently assigned to Japan under a mandate from the League of Nations, the islands’ status did not change after they were occupied by U.S. armed forces in 1944. Indeed, since their purchase by Germany from Spain in 1899, and their assignment to Japan for administration in 1920 by the League of Nations, the Northern Marianas had no political identity among the countries of the world.

From the time of Germany’s loss of the islands they were never regarded as a permanent colony within the exclusive sovereignty of any nation, except of course, by Japan when it left the League before the outbreak of war—but the U.S. never acknowledged Japan’s sovereignty.
At the conclusion of the war in the Pacific, the United States, not desiring to appear as having annexed the islands by virtue of “victor’s rights,” placed the islands under the supervision of the Security Council since the Marianas where considered to be within a strategic area of the western Pacific they were to be overseen through the Security Council where the United States had the power of policy rejection (i.e., interference).

This must not have been not lost on the CIA, also known as the “Company,” which eventually arranged for the construction of a base where trainees were later flown to Saipan at night by aircraft operated by Air America. As John Prados describes in President’s Secret Wars, the arrivals were blindfolded before being transported to the base and had no idea as to where they were and therefore could tell no one where they had been trained.

At the time the accommodations of the NTTU staff on Saipan resembled a transplanted California suburb. These accommodations are still very much in evidence. Compared with the standard of living and style of construction on the island 50 years ago, Army Hill’s (now Capitol Hill) facilities of concrete, typhoon-proof houses bore little resemblance to the rest of Saipan where the majority of structures were of wood and rusted corrugated metal roofs, many of which were situated along pot holed coral roads.

There were occasional crisis for the CIA personnel when NTTU activities had to be temporarily closed or disguised for the visits of United Nations trusteeship’s visiting inspection delegations. When they left, training was resumed and once completed, personnel would be returned to their respective operating stations for mission assignments. These included sabotage strikes at selected targets and commando raids according to what limited information that’s available.

During the 1950s a number of people were assigned to Taiwan to provide guerrilla training, engage in radio broadcasts and propaganda. The CIA operated in Taiwan under the cover of Western Enterprises, a front company.

Several thousand guerrillas were trained to carry out raids and acts of sabotage in China. Their aircraft dropped millions of anti-communist leaflets.

It has been alleged that in the early 50s, Chinese agents were also trained on Saipan and then parachuted into several Manchurian provinces to attempt to encourage Manchurians to revolt. While CIA-trained rebels were believed by some to be operating in China, the agency began focusing its attention on Tibet in 1956 and actively backed the Tibetan cause with arms, military training, money, and air support. The American Society for a Free Asia, funded by the CIA, attempted to gain American support by lobbying against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. In October 1957 the first of numerous two-man teams of CIA-trained Tibetans parachuted into the mountains of Tibet. After China annexed several Tibetan provinces, an uprising failed in 1959, and the Dalai Lama escaped to India.

In 1993, CIA Director R. James Woolsey told Congress that the files on the agency’s activities in Tibet and several other of its covert operations during the Cold War would be opened. But the CIA has so far failed to do so.

In 1997 during the 50th anniversary of founding of the CIA, the organization’s former director, (the former President) George H.W. Bush stated: “To those who say we no longer need a CIA, I say you’re nuts. To those who want to dismantle CIA or put it under some other department…you’re nuts, too. And to those who feel the right to know takes precedence over legitimate classification of documents, or over protecting our most precious asset, our people, the same to you. You’re nuts, and so’s the horse you came in on.” (William H. Stewart)

(1) Prados, John, “President’s Secret Wars”, William Morrow Company, New York, 1986. Mr. John Wilson, Sr., NTTU-1959 – ‘62 and various unidentified sources from internet web sites

Editor’s Note: During the 1955-‘67 period of the Cold War, the author studied the “economics of national security” at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now National Defense University) and is the recipient of the Cold War Certificate of Recognition from the Defense Department for service with American embassies in Africa and Asia. He later served with the Trust Territory and NMI Governments and is an occasional contributor to this paper.


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