At one time in 1961, the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was offered a bribe of $3.3 million (equivalent of $25 million today) by a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent to keep hush about an unsuccessful operation.
Lee, in his infinite badass-dom, turned down the offer and went ballistic on America.
In a report on the New York Times published in 1965 — and recently uncovered on Reddit’s /r/Singapore — Lee had uncovered a CIA plot and refused to kowtow to the American agency, despite Singapore being a young, fragile state during the ’60s.
Apparently, a CIA agent had been caught trying to purchase information from Singapore intelligence officials. He then offered Lee $3.3 million for personal and political use if the failed affair was kept under wraps.
Thinking more about the future of his country, Lee refused, and asked instead for $33 million in formal economic-development aid for Singapore.
It was only in 1965 that Lee brought the incident to light when he launched a public tirade against the United States which included chiding the “insensitivity” of Americans in Asia and declaring how he would never let Americans take over the British in maintaining a military base in Singapore. He also recalled the failed espionage attempt by the CIA.
His charges were immediately denied by US Ambassador to Malaysia James D. Bell and the State Department. Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey vehemently denied allegations of CIA involvement.
Angered by the denials, Lee escorted reporters into his office and whipped out files stamped with “top secret” and produced a letter of apology written by Secretary of State Dean Rusk — dated Apr 15, 1961, during the Kennedy Administration — where he apologized for the espionage attempt and indicated plans to discipline the offending intelligence agents.
The bribe had been offered in January of 1961, just before President Kennedy took office. Inheriting the issue when he took over Eisenhower’s administration, President Kennedy had offered compensation to Lee in the form of foreign aid.
Lee also threatened to release full reports and documents relating to the CIA plot, even planning to play tape recordings of interrogations and meetings on Singapore radio should the American government continue denying the allegations.
“If the Americans go on denying, I will have to disclose further details, which may sound like James Bond and Goldfinger, only not as good but putrid and grotesque enough,” the displeased Lee said.
Embarrassed by their mistakes, State Department spokesman McCloskey quickly retracted his statements, and quite possibly learned that you should never, ever mess with Lee Kuan Yew.
“The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny,” Lee reportedly said.
“They are not dealing with Ngo Dinh Diem or Syngman Rhee. You do not buy and sell this Government.”
And that is why, folks, Singapore was in perfectly good hands with Lee Kuan Yew.