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"60 Minutes" Takes on "Three Cups of Tea"

By admin Published: April 15, 2011

Here's the official word from the show:

Some of the most inspiring and dramatic stories in the best-selling book, “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortenson, are not true, multiple sources tell 60 MINUTES as part of an investigation by correspondent Steve Kroft that will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, April 17 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

The stories in “Three Cups of Tea” have become the source of inspirational speeches Mortenson is paid to make and the partial basis for donations of nearly $60 million to the charity he founded. Steve Kroft’s investigation also reveals that Mortenson’s charity, Central Asia Institute, or CAI, has spent more money in the U.S. talking about education in Pakistan and Afghanistan than actually building and supporting schools there, according to an analysis of the organization’s last financial report. A charity watchdog group expresses concern that money donors have given to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is actually being used to promote Mortenson’s books.

Details of the report are after the jump.

The heart of Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” is the story of a failed attempt in 1993 to climb the world’s second-highest peak, K2. On the way down, Mortenson says, he got lost and stumbled, alone and exhausted, into a remote mountain village in Pakistan named Korphe. According to the book’s narrative, the villagers cared for him and he promised to return to build a school there. In a remote village in Pakistan, 60 MINUTES found Mortenson’s porters on that failed expedition. They say Mortenson didn’t get lost and stumble into Korphe on his way down from K2. He visited the village a year later.

That’s what famous author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, a former donor to Mortenson’s charity, says he found out, too. “It’s a beautiful story. And it’s a lie,” says Krakauer. “I have spoken to one of his [Mortenson’s] companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said, ‘Greg never heard of Korphe until a year later,’” Krakauer tells Kroft. Mortenson did eventually build a school in Korphe, Krakauer says, “But if you read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, ‘I am being taken for a ride here.’ ”

In “Three Cups of Tea,” Mortenson writes of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. In his second book, “Stones into Schools,” Mortenson publishes a photograph of his alleged captors. In television appearances, he has said he was kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban. 60 MINUTES located three of the men in the photo, all of whom denied that they were Taliban and denied that they had kidnapped Mortenson. One the men in the photo is the research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad, Mansur Khan Mahsud. He tells Kroft that he and the others in the photo were Mortenson’s protectors, not his kidnappers. “We treated him as a guest and took care of him,” says Mahsud. “This is totally false and he is lying.” Asked why Mortenson would lie about the trip, Mahsud replies, “To sell his book.”

Kroft also interviews Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, who raises serious questions about the financial management of CAI. In its fiscal 2009 financial report, CAI said it spent $1.7 million “on book-related expenses,” which is more than it spent on all of its schools in Pakistan that year. “You would hope that they would be spending a lot more on the schools in Pakistan than they would on book-related costs,” says Borochoff. “Why doesn’t Mr. Mortenson spend his own money on the book-related costs? He’s the one getting the revenues,” Borochoff tells Kroft.

60 MINUTES also checked on schools that CAI claims to have built in Pakistan and Afghanistan and found that some of them were empty, built by somebody else, or simply didn’t exist at all. The principals of a number of schools said they had not received any money from CAI in years.

Krakauer says a former board member of CAI told him he should stop giving money to Mortenson’s charity years ago. “In 2002, [Mortenson’s] board treasurer quit, resigned, along with the board president and two other board members…he said, in so many words, that Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine. That there’s no accounting. He has no receipts,” says Krakauer.

60 MINUTES asked Mortenson several times for an interview, but he has not responded. CAI’s two other board members also did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.

CAI has publicly released only one audited financial statement in its 14 years of existence. Says Borochoff, “It’s amazing that they could get away with that.”

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