We were impressed by your thoughtful May 14 review of our book, "Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon--Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil." However, a few corrections are in order to avoid any misperceptions over what we reported about the Wycliffe Bible Translators, known abroad as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, or SIL.
The statement that surplus U.S. aircraft were "illegally transferred by the military" to SIL is incorrect. The transfer was sanctioned by a law passed by Congress in 1958, amending the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949. The legislation, H.R. 776, was promoted by SIL's founder, William Cameron Townsend; in fact, it was called "Townsend's Bill." Although this legislation could be subjected to constitutional challenge on the grounds of separation of church and state, it apparently never has been.
The statement that "SIL was heavily implicated in spying for the CIA from Vietnam and Laos to Amazonia" is a claim we never made. SIL was not, as far as we know, active in Laos. Apparently the reviewer confused SIL with other fundamentalist missionaries who were involved with the CIA operations in Laos, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam.
This is not to say that SIL was not involved in counterinsurgency, which has both a "soft" and a "hard" side, involving propaganda, "community development" programs and spying as well as police training and military operations. Counterinsurgency operations were not confined to the CIA, but were coordinated by "country teams" in U.S. embassies consisting of representatives from the diplomatic corps, USIA and AID as well as military attaches and the CIA station's officers.
Sometimes, as with USIA and CIA in propaganda operations, the roles played by the various agencies overlapped; other times, knowledge of CIA projects was compartmentalized to give the ambassador and his career diplomats plausible deniability. Because CIA records are highly classified, proof of witting collaboration with the CIA often can only be obtained in the field until documents are declassified or testimony is taken by Congress. CIA use of missionaries did take place. And SIL's activities in remote areas where rebellions occurred, along with its eagerness to be useful to both host governments and the U.S. government during the Cold War--as detailed in numerous and specific examples in our book--made it particularly vulnerable to intelligence gatherers involved in counterinsurgency. (This May 29 letter went astray.)
GERARD COLBY & CHARLOTTE DENNETT, ST. ALBANS, VT.