The Pistol-Packing Bishop: Chiang Mai. Tuesday, 5 March 1991

Seth Kammerer, his wife Hatsue and son Henry with the author circa 1991.

(Written in the present tense while I was in Chiang Mai.)

I’d first heard about Chiang Mai from an old college friend, Seth Kammerer, who’d lived here, as had his older sister, an anthropologist running an HIV clinic for the hill tribes. In our casual correspondence, he talked about backpackers, money changers, drug dealers, and soldiers of fortune.

I met Seth in 1969. He’d been busted for drugs with 42 other Bard College students in April 1968 and summarily expelled. He was hanging around SUNY New Paltz where I was an absentee student. His family lived outside town in an old farmhouse among the corn fields and apple orchards. The kitchen and living room dated to Revolutionary War days, as did the stately black walnut tree beside the house.

Seth’s mom was permissive and we could come and go as we pleased. His father Herbert was an aloof, imposing man about six-five, 300 pounds, with a handlebar mustache. Herbert was an art professor at SUNY New Paltz, a world-class sculptor who shaped large terra cotta figures. He’d been a conscientious objector in WW2 and was confined in a POW camp in the US.

Olaf (upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat ‘there is some shit I will not eat’[1]

I didn’t understand such things back then. I didn’t understand that, allegorically, like Olaf and my father, we’re all prisoners of war. Like Seth, I was interested only in sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll. We drove to Vassar in his vintage green Ford pickup looking for girls. On Easter Sunday 1970, we took LSD and trudged through foot deep snow to the Mohonk cliffs to watch the sun rise over the Hudson River Valley, while peeling and eating Easter eggs his mother had dyed purple and yellow.

Seth was six-four, 225 pounds, a gentle giant who looked like Adonis. In the early 1970’s I went to San Francisco and he moved to New York City where he shared a cavernous loft with two modern dancers. When I got back, he’d hardened. He’d been in a bar on Canal Street and a motorcycle gang had beaten him up. Because he was sweet and sensitive, big and handsome, he was always targeted by sadists, especially the short ones. So he studied Shōrinji Kempo in Japan and became a mercenary in the Far East, as well as a bit player in Kung Fu flicks, usually as a thug with a Tommy gun but no speaking lines. And he became a runner.

The word “runner” is part of travelers’ language. Like all words used in high frequency it has multiple meanings but is generally understood as a person who secretly carries things from one country to another: currency, information, commodities, whatever. The runner derives his life sustaining properties from this import export business outside the establishment. Fear and the feeling that something is hanging in the air are the signs of a runner. Why do people gravitate to running? Its violent and unhealthy. But it’s also a free ride.

Seth had two journalist friends living in Thailand, John McBeth and Jon Alpert. In 1991, while employed by NBC, Alpert was the first US journalist to bring back uncensored video footage from the Gulf War. The footage, which focused on civilian casualties, was cancelled three hours before it was to be aired and Alpert was fired. McBeth, who lived in Chiang Mai, famously said that journalism cannot be taught at school. And it cannot. Journalists at Columbia are taught the assumptions of our freewheeling capitalist society, where everything is for sale, even their souls, which they hawk for a seat at the table.

When we reconnected in 1985, Seth had just been released from a dungeon in Manila and was heading home to his wife Hatsu in Tokyo. Through his contacts in Japan, he helped me research his Shorinji Kempo master Doshin So’s connections to the opium trade in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Real name Nakamo Michiomi, Doshin So was a member of the ultranationalist Black Dragon Society. While making maps for the Japanese military, So studied Kungfu under militant Chinese monks at the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng City. All martial arts under heaven, it is said, originate at the Shaolin Temple, built in 495 AD amid the Song mountains in bandit-ridden Henan province. Shaolin practitioners trace their origins and inner “Qigong” powers to the thunder-god Vajrapani in Tibet. A manifestation of Indra, the Hindu god of rain, Vajrapani is one of the earliest Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism.

Bishop Thomas Megan.

As fate would have it, a pistol packing Catholic bishop, Thomas M. Megan, ran an agent net in Henan Province, including Dengfeng City, throughout WW2.[2] The personification of the Church militant, Megan had arrived in China from Iowa in 1926 as part of the Divine Word Society mission. In 1936 he was placed in charge of building hospitals in Henan Province and in 1937 was made an apostolic bishop in Muslim-populated Xinxiang city. In 1940, at the behest of the Vatican’s Congregation of Propaganda, Megan placed the Divine Word’s YMCA-style “Tu Tao Tuan” youth organization at the disposal of his friend, KMT intelligence chief, and big-time drug trafficker, General Tai Li. Megan became a card-carrying Nationalist Chinese agent and, with his fervent catechist followers, conducted operations with Tai Li’s agents inside Japan’s “inner zone” – the geographic triangle formed by Sian, Beijing and Haizhou. Megan almost certainly knew of Black Dragon agent Doshin So.

In 1944, Megan operated out of a Seventh Day Adventist compound in Huayin, 45 miles east of Sian where the OSS was located. A birthplace of Chinese civilization, Sian was the starting point of the Silk Road and site of the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Megan joined the OSS and worked with KMT agents to advance the OSS “Dragon Plan” to obtain intelligence and run psyops against both the Japanese and Communists, as well as operations into Manchuria – all of which he did, until the Soviets chased him out.[3]

In April 1945, under OSS officers Gustav Krause in Sian and Paul Helliwell in Kunming, Megan launched Operation Phoenix into Northeast China. Phoenix relied on Megan’s Catholic youth corps and Du Yue-sheng’s Green Gang, which had partnered with Japanese occupation forces in the lucrative blackmarket, including narcotics. Megan’s assets, including Korean gangsters and exiles, penetrated Japan’s inner zone in China where they spied on the Black Dragons, Japan’s drug-addicted Chinese “puppet” rulers, Mao’s communists, and the major smugglers along the porous Henan borders. Phoenix is credited as the most successful OSS operation in China.

According to Seth and another one my sources, the CIA arranged for Doshin So’s return to Japan where, after WW2, he established his Shorinji Temple on Shikoku Island, in part as a training center for CIA-employed Ninja assassins.

In February 1994, my good friend Seth was hit on the head with a crowbar by a triad enemy. He was in a coma for weeks and lost his gross motor skills. When his wife Hatsu died of stomach cancer a few years later, Seth was expelled from Japan and admitted to a Lutheran hospital in Brooklyn where he remained in a wheelchair until his death in 2010.

“One wonders,” my astrologer friend Helen Poole says, “and then wonders some more.”


1. E. E. Cummings, “I sing of Olaf glad and big” (1931).

2. Edward J Wojniak SVD, Atomic Apostle (Divine Word Publications) – for a book review see The Catholic Standard and Times, Volume 63, Number 14, 27 December 1957.

3. See letter from Everett F. Drumright in The Amerasia Papers, ps. 472-3, re: Megan vouching for Tai Li in Sian in March 1944, proposing how to wean “puppet officials” away from the Japanese, and the importance of stopping the drug traffic through Jieshou on the Henan-Anhwei border.

This is excerpted from Pisces Moon: the Dark Arts of Empire.

Douglas Valentine is the author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.