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Born in New York City to what he describes as “a very privileged childhood…in every possible way,” J. Vinton (“Vint”) Lawrence attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Princeton University. Recruited by the CIA, he was sent to Laos in the very early days of “Operation Momentum,” the campaign to train and arm the Hmong to fight against Communist forces. Arriving in Laos in February 1962, Lawrence was sized up by Bill Lair, worked under Lair’s lieutenant Pat Landry to train some of the first groups of Hmong soldiers, and ultimately became one of only two CIA operatives (along with the infamous Anthony Poshepny, a.k.a. Tony Poe) to remain behind in Laos once the 1962 Geneva Accords were put in force. He lived with General Vang Pao, serving as a constant companion and sounding board. (As Roger Warner has written, Vang Pao considered Bill Lair an older brother and Vint Lawrence a younger one.) Living in a jungle in isolation from the outside world for nearly two years, Lawrence in many ways served as the conduit between the Hmong and the US. Given the amount of time he spent with them, Lawrence became an amateur anthropologist and folklorist, asking numerous Hmong leaders and villagers to help him understand their culture. After two tours in Laos, Lawrence was told he would not be allowed to return for a third (to save him from being killed or “going native”—that is, so sympathizing with the Hmong that he might never return). After a short period working first for William Colby and then Paul Nitze, Lawrence opted for a civilian life and has never looked back, unless to assist authors like Roger Warner, Keith Quincy, or Zalin Grant.

This interview was conducted by Dr. Paul Hillmer, with the aid of Vint's wife Anne Garrels (former ABC, NBC, and National Public Radio correspondent), in July 2006 as preliminary research for his book, A People's History of the Hmong.