Friday, May 18, 2018

Post-publication Reflections on The Gunpowder Prince: How Marine Corps Captain Mirza Munir Baig Saved Khe Sanh.

For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, 'It might have been'.
- John Greenleaf Whittier

I have gone over in my mind countless times the thought of what Captain Mirza Munir “Harry” Baig might have accomplished had he survived all his dangerous counterintelligence missions in Southeast Asia, and the tragic circumstances of his death in 1971 at age thirty-nine. Harry’s short life and career included him honing his remarkable intellect while obtaining a law degree from Trinity College in Cambridge, England, and an MBA from McGill University in Montréal, Canada, before entering the U.S. Marine Corps in 1958—as a lowly private. Given the rapid and lofty trajectory of his accomplishments, there is a good chance Baig would have risen to positions of great responsibly within the U.S. intelligence community.

His mother, Juliette Jamil, was a member of a well-connected Anatolian family and had studied at the American University in Beirut under special patronage of King Faud of Egypt. Her brother, Selim Jamil, had gained notoriety for his assistance to the American army during the First World War, and later conducted highly sensitive missions working with the U.S. State Department and Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) during the Second World War. Harry’s father, General Osman Baig, was the son of British colonial knight Sir Abbas Ali Baig, who was a personal friend of King George V. Osman had commanded an Indian Colonial Army division guarding the strategic Khyber Pass during the Second World War, and later became a versatile and highly respected Pakistani diplomat. Osman’s brother (Harry’s uncle), Mirza Rashid Ali Baig, was an Indian soldier, scholar and diplomat, who had, among his many later duties, served as India’s ambassador to The Philippines and Iran. Rashid authored several influential books under the name M. R. A. Baig, including The Muslim Dilemma in India, Viking House, 1974.

Harry’s father-in-law, Count Nicholas de Rochefort, appears to have recruited him into the intelligence business.  As a member of one of France's oldest families, with ancestor Guy de Rochefort earning fame during the First Crusade in 1095, Nicholas served as a captain in the French Army during the Second World War. He was captured by German forces and later escaped and rejoined Allied forces. After the war, de Rochefort, who spoke five languages, edited a periodical in Morocco before beginning a lecture tour in the United States in 1949. Five years later, he renounced his French citizenship and title and became a U.S. citizen. Now, an expert on psychological warfare, Nicholas served on the faculty of the American University, and as a research analyst at the Library of Congress for the Agency for International Development (USAID) which maintained a close working relationship with the CIA. Harry’s brother, Taimur, would graduate from Harvard and become an executive with the World Bank.

In addition to these several unique, widespread and highly placed connections, by the early 1970’s, Harry had developed a stellar reputation within the world of counterintelligence, as well as a close connection to the then-Deputy Director of the CIA, General Robert Cushman. Combined, it is easy to conjecture how effective a player Harry might have been in helping detangle the religious, cultural and political mechanisms causing widespread volatility in the Middle East and South Asia during the latter half of the twentieth century.

More similar to John le Carré’s fictional character, the eccentric George Smiley, than he was to Ian Fleming’s macho James Bond; Mirza Munir Baig would have, as he had in South Vietnam, particularly at Khe Sanh in 1968, continued to employ his matchless genius, cunning and self-discipline in the world’s most dangerous locales to protect his adopted country from harm until the day his luck ran out—which, as Fate would have it, was far too soon.

1 comment:

  1. Mike, I wonder if Baig appears in any Cushman papers, if such a thing exists. DO you think the Marie Corps historians might be able to track Baig down in the Quantico archives? - Dan Moore


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I have several Irish forbearers, including my maternal grandmother, Lizzie Connor, who, as a young girl, along with her mother, Kitty, arri...