Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990

Counterterror and Counterorganization

The Terror Option

Nonnuclear terror in the 1950s was a feature of the army’s doctrines of psychological warfare and the related fields of unconventional warfare and special operations, but it had yet to find formal application to counterinsurgency. The study of terror had, of course, long been a concern of Brigadier General McClure’s psychological warfare establishment (the OCPW) and the object of specialist research contracts throughout the 1950s. Memoranda of discussions in May 1951 between McClure’s aides and the Operations Research Office (ORO)—a research office at Johns Hopkins University on exclusive contract to defense agencies—report agreement “that an investigation of methods for inducing terror should have high priority.”1 A discussion on Project POWOW’s schedule for 1952 observes the limitations on ORO’s capabilities for supervising “the developmental phases” of research on terror with existing facilities, and it recommends the recruitment of “properly qualified social psychologists for... this work.”2

The army’s psychological warfare establishment continued its efforts to quantify terror in subsequent decades, both in the context of counterinsurgency and in conventional warfare. The 1965 U.S. Army manual Psychological Operations, US Army Doctrine (FM 33-1, May 1965), for example, provides explicit instructions on the role of psychological operations in counterinsurgency. The selection of weapons exclusively for their “fear effect”—those particularly effective in inducing terror—is a particular psy-ops role, and had been a long-standing object of research.3 Specialists would counsel tactical commanders on selecting appropriate weaponry, with these guidelines:

Insurgents are sensitive of their own lack of heavy ordnance and have great respect for that usually available to the friendly forces. Napalm, aerial bombs, rockets, and artillery are examples.... In many situations, the tactical commander may select the type of ordnance to be employed solely based on the psychological effect it will have on the guerrilla force. historically, the employment of napalm has produced psychological effects on guerrilla forces.4

The assessment of terror weapons is also systematized. The manual includes a guide in the form of a checklist for the interrogation of captives “to determine fear effects” of a long list of ordnance available, from napalm to white phosphorus mortar and artillery shells, to strafing from the air. Respondents are invited to indicate “Weapon Attack Observed”; “Experienced”; and “Feared Most.” But the terror/counterterror equation of unconventional and counterinsurgency operations was distinguished in doctrine from the larger issue of terror raised by modem ordnance and aerial bombardment. “Terror” and “counterterror” generally referred to the more personal terror of the operative on the ground, the terror of assassination and abduction, the knife and the gun. The latter was an outgrowth of unconventional warfare and embraced skills and tactics forbidden under the rules of war, from assassination to hostage—taking.5 The assignment of counterguerrilla training and responsibility to Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare School in the mid-1950s effectively isolated counterinsurgency from the mainstream of military tradition in peacekeeping (a tradition that was itself problematic). Counterinsurgency was left to the elite commandos of the Cold War, the rationale being that guerrillas were best fought by (our) guerrillas.

Army field manuals on psychological operations provide considerable insight into the role of terror as employed by U.S. guerrillas in unconventional warfare. The 1962 Psychological Operations manual (FM 33-5), for example, defines unconventional warfare as “inherently psychological,” so that “planning for special forces operations” must include a psy-war dimension at each stage. Psy-war has a particular role to play visa-vis “enemy civilians”:

Civilians in the operational area may be supporting their own government or collaborating with an enemy occupation force. An isolation program designed to instill doubt and fear may be carried out, and a positive political action program designed to elicit active support of the guerrillas also may be effected. If these programs fail, it may become necessary to take more aggressive action in the form of harsh treatment or even abductions. The abduction and harsh treatment of key enemy civilians can weaken the collaborators’ belief in the strength and power of their military forces.6

The potential political repercussions of such tactics are acknowledged: “This approach, fraught with propaganda and political dangers, should be used only after all other appeal means have failed. And when used, they [sic] must be made to appear as though initiated and effected by the guerrillas themselves to reduce the possibility of reprisals against civilians.7

The 1965 Psychological Operations manual (FM 33-1) notes that unconventional warfare operations against the enemy should aim at multiplying the impact of each action and creating an atmosphere of fear: “The elusive hit and run guerrilla can be built into a phantom image that is far beyond his actual potential. Care should be taken not to overplay ferocity.”8 Officers are warned, however, against “temptations [that] might arise to secure quick, local successes at the expense of national policy and established directives.” In addition to terrorizing enemy guerrillas, psy-ops personnel are instructed to reassure the rest of the population, “through a well thought-out propaganda effort,” of their benevolence: “US forces must be clothed in the cloak of respectability, and be pictured as being the champions of a just cause.”9

The imagery of fear presented in FM 33-1 could well fit the description of a clandestine “death squad”; indeed, a similar reference to terror operations—as a “phantom image”—appeared at about the same time in the journal of the army of El Salvador’s School of Command and General Staff, but in the context of counterinsurgency.’10 Major Roberto Monge, in his article “Guerrillas and Counter-guerrillas,” similarly describes army terror and counterterror actions as designed to create uncertainty and fear, “creating a kind of phantom presence,” with precisely the same warning that “counter—guerrilla” forces should be “cloaked in respectability”: “[I]t is... important that the army itself should not openly appear to be an instructor of guerrillas, because demagogues would take advantage of this to ascribe distorted ends to the army.”11

Over the next decade, the Salvadoran armed forces would put into practice the counterterror formula and build a model counterinsurgency state.

By 1960, army Special Forces doctrine had already begun to crudely adapt unconventional warfare doctrine to counterinsurgency; in the decade to come, a more sophisticated rationale for counterinsurgent terror emerged. No longer confined to the shadowy world of the CIA and covert Green Beret operations, a hygienic concept of counterterror— terror to fight terror—emerged in the service magazines, in a rash of books on counterinsurgency, and in the training materials of the mainstream military.

The theorists of the Cold War established the philosophical justification for terror and counterterror that would be unleashed on the Cold War world. The theorists of the Kennedy administration extended the philosophical rationale of terror from the international arena of unconventional warfare to the domestic theaters of insurgency/counterinsurgency. The essential premise was the same: The adversary had a virtually unbeatable formula—and timetable—for world domination, and he fought dirty. The United States, in order to survive, had to respond in kind.

The military journals of the 1960s, notably the Army Command and General Staff College’s Military Review, were replete with arguments for a “special” response to the new threat of insurgency. Although most of what is published in the Military Review appears as signed articles, the journal was described by Fort Leavenworth’s commander as a medium “for the dissemination of Department of the Army doctrine” and as “a sounding board for new ideas.”12 Similar to the long series of French articles on guerre révolutionnaire published in American journals through the 1950s, the army’s articles centered on unconventional, counterinsurgency, and political warfare. A March 1961 Military Review article, “A Proposal for Political Warfare,” is representative: It describes the means to “conclusively deter all-out aggression, parry limited war gambits, cope with guerrilla activity, and... to mount counterrevolutionary offensives in countries subverted to [sic] communism”:

Political warfare is a sustained effort... to seize, preserve, or extend power, against a defined ideological enemy, through all acts short of a shooting war by regular military forces, but not excluding the threat of such a war. Political warfare, in short, is warfare—not public relations.... It embraces diverse forms of coercion and violence including strikes and riots, economic sanctions, subsidies for guerrilla or proxy warfare and, when necessary, kidnapping or assassination of enemy elites.13

A 1966 Military Review article outlining the theoretical framework of “counterterror” was reprinted in the Guatemalan army’s own Revista Militar de Guatemala in October that year, just as a state of siege was declared and the army launched the first of its (since ceaseless) waves of political killings.14 Military commentators called the 1966—1967 Guatemala campaign “el contra-terror”: Some 8,000 people were slaughtered in two provinces alone over the next six months.15 As antiterrorism experts Brian Jenkins and César Sereseres later wrote, “the objective of the ‘counterterror’ was to frighten everyone from collaborating with the guerrilla movement.”16

In “To Beat the Guerrillas at their Own Game” (Military Review, December 1963), intelligence officer (Naval Reserve) Albert L. Fisher outlines the premise of counterinsurgency terror at its most basic level:17

This is the tactic of intimidating, kidnapping, or assassinating carefully selected members of the opposition in a manner that will reap the maximum psychological benefit. It is an activity which, if used at the wrong time and the wrong place for the wrong purpose, will probably have serious negative results.

A key role for a mirror image of the terror of “armed propaganda” had, in fact, become a part of U.S. unconventional warfare doctrine, reflected both in the routine tactics of U. S. “guerrilla” forces, and in written doctrine. The most recent manifestation of unconventional warfare doctrine to reach the public was the 1983 Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare manual issued to contra forces by the CIA. Its content confirms the continuing acceptance of counterterror tactics by U.S. military and paramilitary forces specializing in psychological, political, and unconventional warfare.18

Selective versus Mass Counterterror

The army’s stated position was that terror was useful and legitimate so long as it was selective and discriminate. The 320-page U.S. Army Hand- book of Counterinsurgency Guidelines (1966) outlines an imaginary counterinsurgency scenano—complete with maps and population profiles— and specifies the range of counterinsurgency tactics available, including terror.19 Perhaps prophetically, the maps of the apocryphal republic of “Centralia,” host of the simulated insurgency, show an area very much like the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Its population combines the characteristics of several Central American countries, but is closest to that of Belize: Some 50 percent of the people are black, English-speaking Creoles in the coastal area, while 25 percent of the population are Spanish—speaking ladinos, people of mixed ancestry (Nicaragua also has a large Creole population on its Atlantic coast). A large Indian population speaks Kekchi (a Guatemalan language). Inland of “Centralia” is the revolutionary state of “Montanya.” 20 In the scenario, the Creole population dominate the economy, higher education, government, and the armed forces. Ladino immigrants from Montanya form the focus of the insurgency, with cross-border support; the “Indigenes” are exploited and recruited by the insurgents.

To guide the counterinsurgency planner, the army handbook outlines model counterinsurgency programs based on interviews with twenty-one experienced counterinsurgents. An analytical breakdown of “solution concepts by nature of operations” found that all but one of the respondents opted for “Military/Civil Control” measures to improve internal security, enforce control measures, and carry out military engagements. Five, in contrast, also chose to carry out “Political” operations, defined as those concerning legislation, administration (including population records), and the judiciary.21 All of the experts opted for “Psychological” operations, defined as including “Persuasion (Positive Attitude Actions)” and “Harassment (Intimidation, Terroristic Threats).“22

The range of approaches by the twenty-one experts to the intimidation and terrorism side of psychological warfare are not specified in the 1966 study. Only one respondent advised “prohibit[ing] government counter-terror. “23 Others propose terror operations that could be blamed on the insurgents. An intelligence officer with Vietnam experience proposed to test a theory that pseudosubversive terrorism would induce the local population to seek government protection:

Using a pseudo-insurgent force, the govemment generates incidents among the population. These incidents are used to indicate to the people the need for government-sponsored population control for protection of the villagers. By doing this the government establishes their representatives in the areas to enable destruction of the insurgent force and carrying out longer—range objectives.24

To support the strategy, the proposal went on, a specialist in propaganda was needed “to handle possible charges by the insurgents that the government is causing the incidents.”25 The organization side of the operation was to progress from a “pseudo-insurgent” force of twenty to the establishment of self-defense corps, the “hiring” of a covert, mercenary counterterror squad, and the posting of “bounties for insurgents.”

In the meantime, our side could use and teach terror tactics to foreign irregulars without particular concern over the selectivity with which the lessons were applied. A 1962 Special Warfare School text, “Concepts for U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Activities,” outlined the training curricula for overseas allies: “guerrilla warfare, propaganda, subversion, intelligence and counter-intelligence, terrorist activities, civic action, and conventional combat operations.”26

The counterinsurgent rationale for terror assumed two things: that terror was expedient, and terror was the primary weapon of subversive guerrillas. The latter consideration provided an added moral dimension to the former: Our side could use terror to rapidly and efficiently overcome the greater terror of the adversary.

The argument was based on a doctrinal understanding of the role of terrorism in guerrilla warfare. The description of (enemy) guerrilla tactics in the May 1961 field manual Operations Against Irregular Forces, from hostage-taking to counterfeiting, differs relatively little from the range of tactics available to American guerrillas as of 1961. “Overt irregular activities” included

terrorism by assassination, bombing, armed robbery, torture, mutilation, and kidnaping; provocation of incidents, reprisals, and holding of hostages; and denial activities, such as arson, flooding, demolition, use of chemical or biological agents, or other acts designed to prevent use of an installation, area, product, or facility.27

Covert irregular activities included

espionage, sabotage, dissemination of propaganda and rumors, delaying or misdirecting orders, issuing false or misleading orders or reports, assassination, extortion, blackmail, theft, counterfeiting, and identifying individuals for terroristic attack. 28

Although the 1961 manual departs from 1950s concepts of the guerrilla as a partisan working directly with an external, conventional armed force, the range of actions—from arson to chemical and biological warfare—was beyond the capabilities of any insurgent movement other than the Special Forces “guerrillas.”29 The 1961 manual also fails to consider the political side of guerrilla organization, assuming the recruitment of insurgents to be entirely through coercion and deception. Under-grounds, we are told, attempt, “through nonviolent persuasion, to indoctrinate and gain the participation of groups of the population who are easily deceived by promises and, through coercion by terror tactics, to force others to participate. “30

A 1969 manual, Civil Affairs Operations (FM 41-10), depicts terrorism as central to every aspect of guerrilla activity:

Persuasion, indoctrination, and organization are all reinforced with the use of terror. The murder of a village chief or a tax collector can serve the insurgent cause in several ways. First, it demonstrates its power to kill selected individuals of its choice, which may help to persuade people that safety lies with adherence to the insurgent cause. Second, each such act weakens the government.... Third, it causes fear in other functionanes.... Mass terror is used to demonstrate the weakness of the government, its inability to protect its people, or to incite blind and brutal reprisals by govemment forces which may drive the uncommitted to the side of the insurgents.31

In a 1962 article, Franklin Lindsay argues that counterterronsm is essential to defend a suspect population against the terrorism of the enemy. In Malaya and the Philippines, he recounts, a political program was needed to win back the civil population, one that would protect them from communist violence and reprisals, and “match force with force”32 (which he explains in his analysis of communist methods): “{T]he Communists go far beyond political indoctrination. Once they have a fanatically dedicated minority, they begin the application of systematic terror to ensure that the masses of the people will be brought under, and kept under, complete Communist control.”33 Lindsay, like the French theorists of guerre révolutionnaire, also observes that government and adversary alike “must try to organize the civil population into a tightly disciplined force, and, through propaganda and police activities, try to break the grip exercised by the adversary. “34 In this battle, Lindsay, like many of his contemporaries, maintained that terror was the decisive lever of the insurgent, and that force must be met in kind: “[W]hen two forces are contending for the loyalty of, and control over, the civilian population, the side which uses violent reprisals most aggressively will dominate most of the people, even though their sympathies may lie in the other direction.”

As in the army doctrine of the 1960s, Lindsay prescribes a counter-terror that is selective, and indeed morally discriminating, punishing only the “guilty.” But the basic premise remains that terror is effective: The most violent reprisals are indeed the most effective weapon in gaining control over the population. Lindsay—and other Cold Warriors— pegged their analysis to the effectiveness of communist terror, which, they argued, had to be met in kind.

The emphasis on selectivity was a principal qualifier in writing by American counterinsurgents—and American allies—that served to legitimize terror. The standard argument was that American terror would be used only to suppress or preempt a greater systematic terror—understood to be intrinsic to the communist system. The utilitarian terror of the counterinsurgent was a means to an end, an unpleasant solution to a greater problem. For the counterinsurgent apologists, terror was like Drano, nasty stuff for clearing drains, to be used only when necessary. This approach was taken by Douglas Pike, the director of U.S. psychological warfare programs in Vietnam, and considered the leading American authority on “terror” during the Vietnam War.35 In his widely read booklet The Vietcong Strategy of Terror, he acknowledged that terror is not unknown to our side, but

there is an essential difference in such acts between the two sides, one of outcome or result.... [T]error is integral in all the communist tactics and programs and communists could not rid themselves of it even if they wanted to. Meanwhile, [our] side firmly believes, even though its members do not always behave accordingly, that there is a vested interest in abstaining from such acts.36

The army’s emphasis on selectivity raises one question: How can standard operating procedures of U.S. forces—or of their protégés abroad—quantify an “acceptable” measure of terror in domestic affairs (if such a measure exists)? The difficulty of drawing the line on terror tactics once they have been initiated is illustrated in the 1966 Army Handbook of Counterinsurgency Guidelines. Expert counterinsurgents who were requested to prepare a model program to defeat insurgency in “Centralia” were limited by three constraints:

  1. You must select those objectives most likely to successfully counter the insurgency while leaving your government in power....

  2. You may not employ mass counter-terror (as opposed to selective counter—terror) against the civilian population, i.e., genocide is not an alternative.

  3. You must maintain, to the greatest extent possible, production on the area’s plantations, because continuation of this production is vital to Centralia’s economy. 37

But where does one draw the line between selective terror and genocide?

Terror as a Practical Discipline

Some of the most explicit instruction in the American techniques of terror are provided in the U.S. Army’s training materials on psychological warfare. The Department of the Army’s two-volume reference work on psychological warfare, Army Pamphlet 525-7-1 (April 1976), brings together a vast collection of psy-ops lore, including descriptions of classic counterterror techniques and analyses of the practical application of terror. Some of the more dramatic terror techniques described are attributed to General Edward Lansdale. Further insight into the practice of psy-ops terror can be found in the private papers of General Lansdale.

Some of the classic counterterror “pranks” outlined in DA Pam 525-7-1 are described by Lansdale as examples of the use of humorous “pranks” in psychological warfare. Lansdale’s accounts are particularly disturbing for the gratification he takes in describing macabre tactical psy-war (terrorist) techniques. The lesson for the Philippine army, of course, was that the murder and mutilation of prisoners, if carried out for psychological effect, was a legitimate tactic in a dirty war. Lansdale believed, above all, that the ends justified the means, and that risks were to be taken; and his psy-war tactics continue to be taught.

One common tactic attributed to Lansdale, the “Eye of God,” dated from his experience in the Philippines in the 1950s, but found application in the 1960s in Vietnam. The method varied from aircraft equipped with loudspeakers, through which known guerrilla personnel would be addressed by name, to marking the homes of suspected insurgent sympathizers to show they were potential targets. For the latter method, Lansdale was inspired by “the ancient Egyptian practice of painting watchful guardian eyes over the tombs of the pharaohs. . . to scare away grave robbers”:38

I made some sketches until I recaptured the essence of its forbidding look, and I handed over the final drawing to the Philippine Army with suggestions for its use. It was mainly useful in towns where some of the inhabitants were known to be helping the Huks secretly. The army would warn these people that they were under suspicion. At night. . . a psywar team would creep into town and paint an eye on a wall facing the house of each suspect. The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect. 39

A similar tactic emerged in Vietnam in the early 1960s and was more overtly an instrument of official terror: those marked with the “Eye of God” were the victims or potential victims of army “death squads.” The United States Information Services (USIS) obliged with the necessary printing services. A description of the operation, dubbed Operation BLACK EYE, appears in a September 1966 Department of the Army study (Army Pamphlet 550-104). The 1966 account suggests a modus operandi remarkably similar to one only then emerging in the repertoire of Central American “death squads,” where the “eye” would be substituted with the mark of a “white hand” on the doors of suspected dissidents:

Selected Vietnamese troops were organized into terror squads and assigned the task of working with rural agents in penetrating Viet Cong— held areas. Within a short time Viet Cong leaders—key members of the clandestine infrastructure—began to die mysteriously and violently in their beds. On each of the bodies was a piece of paper printed with a grotesque human eye. The appearance of “the eye” soon represented a serious threat. The paper eyes, 50,000 copies of which were printed by the U.S. Information Service in Saigon, turned up not only on corpses but as warnings on the doors of houses suspected of occasionally harboring Viet Cong agents. The eyes came to mean that “big brother is watching you.” The mere presence of “the eye” induced members of the Viet Cong to sleep anywhere but in their own beds. It was an eerie, uncertain threat. 40

The 1966 army study cited Operation BLACK EYE as an example of the “phrasing of a threat” in psychological warfare. The tactic, in contrast to the emphasis on specific targeting in Ed Lansdale’s examples, exemplified “generalized or uncertain threat” intended to disconcert the populace at large:

The generalized threats do not delineate behavior or specify demands and consequences; these are left to the imagination of the threatened individual. Uncertain threats are used to create terror among the populace.... The threatener captures attention at a point when persons under stress are desperately searching to eliminate uncertainty and ambiguity. He may suggest escape routes and alternatives, and make compliance demands which are readily accepted in order to eliminate the uncertainty of the threat and reduce terror. Occasionally, terrorists do not even seek compliance to specific demands, but rather hope to cause ‘flight” or psychological and morale breakdown of a population.41

The study also observed that generalized terror “seems to have limited effectiveness over a period of time,” reaching “a point of diminishing returns” when the population either “breaks” or “focuses hostility on some objective it perceives, correctly or not, as the source of threat.”42 In the absence of Filipino vampires—the medium of another Lansdale gambit—the army origin of the threat (if not the USIS role) in Vietnam’s Operation BLACK EYE presumably became common knowledge rather promptly.

One “practical” risk of dirty war, whether “black” psy-war tactics or the too—public proliferation of torture and murder, is that the use of these tactics neutralizes any conceivable effort to win hearts and minds, while the influence exerted through sheer terror alone is limited in time and scope. In practice, a scenario in which an army patrol enters a village, interrogates suspects under torture, and then distributes chewing gum and shows civil affairs films is not that far-fetched—variations have occurred from the Philippines in the 1950s to Central America in the 1990s. Some of the more astute French guerre révolutionnaire theorists have recognized the problem. Galula, in his study Counterinsurgency Warfare, suggests a way out through speed and specialization. The counter-insurgent operation to wipe out the guerrilla infrastructure in a civil population “can not fail to have unpleasant aspects” and so should be undertaken by forces unassociated with the normal pacification forces. Although Galula does not define “elimination” as murder, the formula might be interpreted as a rationale for covert “death squads”:43

[E]limination of the agents must be achieved quickly and decisively. But who can ever guarantee that mistakes will not be made.... All these reasons demand that the operation be conducted by professionals, by an organization that must in no way be confused with the counterinsurgent personnel working to win the support of the population.

But how to disassociate the various parts of the whole? The Galula formula, like Colonel Lansdale’s penchant for playing on superstition, overestimates the gullibility of the civil population. Colonel Lansdale, moreover, fails even to address the problem of army identification with “counterterrorism,” while advocating unbridled innovation in tactical psy-war methods that need not stop short at selective, exemplary violence and murder in the development of tactical psy-war ideas.

Counterorganization for Counterinsurgency

The concept of counterorganization, like counterterror, ostensibly mimics communist insurgent methods.44 The counterterror concept is simplicity itself, that is, the ends justify the means: Fire is best fought by fire. Counterorganization, in contrast, was a concept rather more complex. The colonial (or neocolonial) antecedents of U.S. counterterror doctrine can be found in the use of terror by colonial regimes and invading armies: There was an essential conviction that the punitive violence and terror of “occupying” powers was effective. The antecedents of counterorganization could be more openly acknowledged. A range of options based on historical experience could be set out with less dissimulation by the counterinsurgency planner.

Counterorganization along insurgent lines was composed of three distinct elements. Voluntary civilian counterguerrilla irregulars were most frequently employed in counterterror, and were able to mimic and match local guerrilla forces. Elite Special Forces—style commandos were to be organized to match elite guerrilla forces and to organize and lead indigenous irregulars. The third element was an incorporation of the (ostensibly passive) population into local, defensive forces through which they could be isolated—and alienated—from the insurgents. All components of the new counterinsurgency apparatus were to be tied together through improved, centralized intelligence and command structures.

Although the potential of U.S. forces was stressed, the objective in counterinsurgency was to assist the host country’s own nationals to wage the war with the insurgents. Counterorganization provided a blue-print through which the local civilian population could be integrated into the host country effort. Civilians could be organized into elite covert strike forces using “guerrilla” tactics, into paramilitary formations performing static guard duty, or vast organizations combining political and paramilitary aspects. Participation could be voluntary or obligatory, enforced by a range of coercive alternatives. The doctrine provided for the mobilization of sympathetic social sectors on the counterinsurgent’s behalf and an organizational basis through which a neutral—or suspect—population could be regimented and controlled. The military definition of “paramilitary”—forces or groups “distinct from the regular armed forces of any country but resembling them in organization, equipment, training, or mission”—was itself rather vague.45 In practical usage, it came to apply to everything from home guard—style militias to the counterguerrilla “death squad.”

Organizational methods drew on the United States’ past experience as an occupying power and in situations comparable to modern guerrilla—counterguerrilla warfare: the American Revolution, the Indian wars, the Civil War and the perennial wars of expansion and intervention into Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific. The lessons learned were capped by the army’s experience as executor of guerrilla and counter-guerrilla operations during World War II and its aftermath in Greece, Korea, and the Philippines. Counterorganization planners drew also on the experience of the other great powers, from the colonial experiences of France and Britain to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, where modern armies were confronted with the largest guerrilla partisan movement in history.46 The adoption of Special Forces and CIA paramilitary tactics for counterinsurgency brought with it the organizational formulae applied to offensive “guerrilla-style” operations in the first decades of the Cold War.

The influence of U.S. doctrine on military organization could be observed in the internal security systems of allied counterinsurgency states around the world, from South Vietnam to the Philippines to Central America.47 The doctrine also provided for its implementation by allied governments:

Even when the military forces of the host country are not organized in accord with the United States military system, the doctrine developed and tested by United States agencies can prove useful in many of the world’s nations. The Chiefs of Mission and brigade commanders should encourage the military chiefs of the host country to adopt organizations similar to those that have been proven to be efficient in countering guerrilla forces.48

The Elite Option

Although the Special Forces were the army’s preeminent specialists in paramilitary, sabotage, and terror operations, until 1961 these forces served primarily as a manpower pool for covert operations directed by the CIA. Since the first proposals for military training in unconventional warfare in the 1940s, which coincided with the CIA’s development as a military (although technically, paramilitary) agency, there were predictable territorial disputes between the CIA and the military. The CIA’s institutional clashes with the armed forces were particularly acute at the time of the creation of the psychological warfare and Special Forces establishment at Fort Bragg, over the presumption of CIA chiefs that the agency in effect constituted a fourth (and autonomous) military service.49 (A perhaps obvious suggestion that the armed forces should have a fourth, unconventional branch has since then been a perennial but persistent nonstarter.)

While the Kennedy administration sought to bring the armed forces more fully into control of the unconventional side of war, which hitherto had been left to the CIA, there was no actual shift in general responsibilities for the waging of special warfare. Although the military would provide the manpower, its special warfare adepts would in the majority of cases be on detached duty, under CIA operational control.

An alternative to increased reliance on (and resources for) special operations forces as a multipurpose resource would have been to recognize the Special Forces for what they are: elite warriors, not masters of hearts and minds. To do so might have relieved some of the conventional military establishment’s concerns over the Special Forces’ role as an elite, political corps (a problem exacerbated by their association with the CIA). Commandos and elites (like the French Paras) are less menacing when used as a tool applied to circumscribed operation—rather than administrators of open-ended political programs—with as little scope for deliberation possible. This was not to be the case. Counterinsurgency in the 1960s was to rely largely on elite forces and the CIA’s paramilitary specialists: the covert gravy train of semiprivate contractors, reservists, and temporary duty specialists in the guise of mercenaries. The aim was to attain the tactical objective, regardless of political complexities. This concentration of counterinsurgency responsibilities with special operations forces would be reaffirmed and increased in the 1980s, and it continues unchallenged on into the 1990s.

The Special Forces were the guerrilla and counterguerrilla model. Their primary tasks were to “train, advise and provide operational support to Special Forces units of the host country,” and, with them or unilaterally, to organize, train, advise, and support paramilitary forces. The Vietnam role of Special Forces, adapted from earlier operations in Laos, established the prototype: They were “primarily committed to providing training, operational advice, and assistance to indigenous paramilitary forces” 50 while also providing manpower for covert cross-border operations—’ ‘special operations”—into Laos and Cambodia, and for the Project DELTA counterguerrilla force.51 Confidence in the potential of Special Forces—style units to “turn around” a sticky situation waxed and waned as counterinsurgency moved in and out and again into fashion from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In the 1960s, Special Forces doctrine, like the larger counterinsurgency doctrine, emphasized a combination of military and political dimensions. The political dimension in both was secondary. Although the need to teach “political skills” was stressed,52 the counterinsurgents remained stuck—like other advocates of special warfare to date—in a mindset whereby political “skills” of dissimulation, cosmetic artifice, and manipulation take the place of meaningful governance or reform. The political dimension of insurgency was viewed as a challenge to be met through mimicry and neutralized through the multipurpose skills and tactics of psychological warfare. Fundamentally, this (still-current) approach requires only the cosmetic skills to make the counterinsurgent less obnoxious at the local level (and tolerant of imperfect allies): language training, cultural awareness courses, and rudimentary sociology. The political aspect was reduced to interpersonal skills, tactics, and strategies that could be adapted to any scenano.

The practical use of Special Forces’ political skills was in their organization of local civilian counterguerrilla irregulars. These forces and their immediate families were the primary object of their limited “hearts and minds” effort.53 To a large extent, however, in Vietnam and elsewhere, Special Forces and their local allies acted as unilateral U.S. assets oblivious to the larger political dimensions of counterinsurgency (beyond those essential to keeping their particular units viable).

The Special Forces’ emphasis on the shadowy, sharp, and deadly side of counterinsurgency at the expense of its civil dimension was neither widely observed nor the object of particular criticism. The fiction that Special Forces can be both Rambo-style warriors and sensitive development workers who can diagnose and defuse internal unrest through civic action has yet to be dispelled. Some of the counterinsurgent theorists of the late 1960s even suggested an increased deployment of Special Forces as strictly tactical antipersonnel forces, jettisoning even the theoretical responsibility for “hearts and minds” work with the population. In a 1967 Hudson Institute paper, Raymond Gastil proposes a new look at defeating insurgencies with “small numbers of troops with low firepower,” and suggests using “elite Special Forces—type units which operate like guerrillas.” Ideally, “such units might be completely free from responsibilities to protect anything or to train or help anybody. Their mission might be only to find, destroy, or capture enemy units and their logistics.”54

Gastil suggests two alternatives for the integration of special units into the overall counterinsurgency program. The more conventional one would have the forces “develop contacts with the people, or some people,” providing medical or food aid (described as “simple civic action projects”) as a means of inducing them to cooperate with local intelligence sources. This approach, however, was seen as coming “dangerously close to taking on responsibility for the defense of the local people,” resulting in “the perhaps overly static employment of Special Forces which has characterized Vietnam.”55 In practice, Special Forces responsibilities for the protection of local populations in Vietnam were limited almost exclusively to the defense of the Montagnard communities that provided their irregular troops and adjoined their fortified camps.

Gastil’s preferred alternative is for Special Forces to serve as a lethal shadow force that drifts through the contested territory, “keeping out of the sight of the people as much as possible.” Gastil posits the counterguerrilla strike force as a somehow aloof and antiseptic monitor at the grass roots that, without difficulty or compunction, would identify and eliminate the guerrillas. The political, or public relations, dimension of counterinsurgency disappears altogether, much as in the 1980s operational doctrine of low-intensity conflict. Better training, logistics, provisions for rest periods, and traditional American “professionalism” would give the special units the edge over the insurgents and the preferably neutral population. In Gastil’s scenario, “elite units would treat the local people with respect, but be friends to no one. If necessary, they might occasionally demand intelligence from the people as might seem a natural prerogative of an armed band.”

Isolating U.S. forces from the corruption and intrigues of the host country, moreover, was seen as an advantage to their taking over a major role in “pacification.” Gastil observes that the South Vietnamese army had “always been poor at pacification and fairly good in major battles, and I think this may characterize many developing nations.... The national forces of underdeveloped countries are often poorly or irregularly paid, and have traditions of general exploitation.” The elite American formula, consequently, is the easy alternative to cleaning up the host country forces. By Gastil’s analysis, Americans are, for the most part, professional and impersonal in war: “American troops are well— paid, and do not need to exploit the local people, except perhaps sexually.56

The Paramilitary Option: Controlling the Counterorganization

The counterorganization formula required civilian irregular forces, placed under the command and control of the regular armed forces. Guidelines on command, control, and recruitment were intended to ensure that the civilians armed and organized for counterinsurgency would not ultimately turn against their sponsors. The recruitment base was a pnme consideration: The counterinsurgent sought recruits among social sectors that could be trusted. American doctrine (like that of the French and British) stressed the selection of locals known to be loyal to the government; military reservists and veterans were considered most preferable.

Regarding paramilitary organization, American doctrine since the advent of the Cold War had always reflected a traditional military distrust of armed civilians, of any ilk. The paramilitary TEA battalions of Cold War Greece, the counterguerrillas of the Philippines, and the diverse paramilitary formations of Latin America since 1961 all used active and reserve military personnel to control civilian irregulars. In Colombia, where the irregular forces are an integral part of the national defense establishment, officers or NCOs command and train paramilitary units.58

Once recruits passed security checks, their training was to cover three areas: combat tactics, regional defense tactics, and “psychological indoctrination”59 —if only to ensure that they did not go renegade and become indistinguishable from subversive guerrillas. Paramilitary commanders were to be chosen from prominent locals, “whose loyalty [to the host government] is unquestionable. “60 Forces required for an offensive role as counterguerrillas had to meet special criteria. Counterguerrillas were expected to have local knowledge of the territory and special skills associated with carrying out guerrilla operations. Equally important for the counterguerrilla, however, was motivation. Recruits preferably had either a preexistent motivation to join the counterinsurgent effort or a disposition to become motivated, whether by financial incentives, long-standing ethnic, religious, or class antagonisms, or other inducements.

After 1966, field manuals distinguished between paramilitary forces, which included nationally organized but locally based self-defense forces, and irregular forces, which were smaller, composed from a more select recruitment base, more motivated, and more adaptable to offensive deployment.61 The paramilitary/irregular distinction continues to be drawn in 1980s manuals: The 1981 manual on Command, Control, and Support of Special Forces Operations (FM 31—22) discusses advisory assistance for “host country” paramilitary and irregular forces.62 Despite the nominal distinction, either could serve as the nuclei of offensive coun— terguerrilla, counterterrorist forces.

The 1967 Stability Operations manual (FM 31-23) characterized irregulars as being organized from groups or agglomerates that generally already exist and can be co-opted, such as “political parties, trade unions, fraternal organizations, and isolated ethnic minority groups.”63 “Tribal groups,” in particular, were found to be particularly useful “for limited tactical operations, such as patrolling, trail watching, border surveillance, and... ambushing and raiding insurgent forces and bases. “64 Special reference was made to the necessity of central control of “irregular” forces, precisely because of their tendency to operate outside normal lines of command:

Irregular forces are not standardized and their structures generally parallel those of the multiple groups from which they are formed. In view of the many types of organizations represented in irregular forces and [their] varied capabilities the training, assignment, and supervision of these forces must be centralized to prevent confusion, duplication of effort, and their possible misuse.65

As with other forces, command and control, ideally, was to be bolstered, “whenever feasible,” by the recruitment of “former military, paramilitary, and police personnel... to form cadres for these units.” The system required, however, a delegation of considerable authority “at the lowest levels”: “When situated in remote areas, hamlet, tribal, or village chiefs normally command these forces. Broad, general missions are assigned by HG [host country] authorities and operations are coordinated within... the Area Coordination Center.”66 A caveat on decentralized control, however, contrasts the advantages of using ho— mogenous, close-knit social groups as irregulars with the dangers of infiltration:

In conducting their operations, irregular forces must be particularly security conscious.... [M]any of these forces are organized around societal groups which have been targets for insurgent penetration.... On the other hand, since members of irregular forces usually are more closely united through common group interests, they can more effectively detect and prevent subversion and espionage than can armed or paramilitary forces. For the same reason they are in an excellent position to collect information regarding local insurgent activities. 67

The manual, however, overlooked another possibility: that a social group incorporated wholesale into a counterinsurgency campaign— whether a political group or a tribal community—may opt to pursue its own interests by defecting en masse or otherwise following its own agenda in the conduct of its counterinsurgency campaigning.

The primacy of control was a lesson well learned from the experiences of colonial powers. Although the French in Indochina had some success with essentially mercenary tribal irregulars, and in Algeria with Muslim auxiliaries, the limitations of this kind of counterorganization were also duly noted by American counterinsurgents.68 The French propensity to recruit anyone from gangsters to warlords led in 1956 to an arrangement in Algeria with Muslim leader Bel Haj—”Kobus”—who was to operate as a “counterguerrilla” at the head of his own force, initially of 200 and later 600 men. Known as “Force K” (for Kobus), the unit was organized for clandestine operations through the head of the Special Administrative Section at Lamartine.69 Initially backed by 100 paratroopers as operational support and guarantors of good behavior,”70 Force K was largely on its own in an area southwest of Algiers after August 1957. Although Force K was considered a cost-effective force that could compete with the National Liberation Front (FLN) in its limited area, its political reliability was less than satisfactory. Two years after its formation, on 28 April 1958, Kobus and his principal lieutenants were murdered, and most of the force went over to the FLN (some 145 men escaped and returned to the French side).71

Another Muslim leader, Mohammed Bellounis, at the head of over 3,000 men, was recruited in May 1957 to provide the French with intelligence and fight the FLN in the southern Atlas Mountains in exchange for arms and supplies.72 The force, designated the “Southern Algerian Commandos,” was highly rated as a means to fight the FLN on its own terms. Although in January 1958 Bellounis was honored with the rank of “Brigadier General” (much like the leader of Saigon’s Binh Xuyen), the agreement began to fall apart that spring of 1958 as Bellounis pursued his own agenda, renaming the force the “National Army of the Algerian People.” In July 1958, a French army offensive dispersed the “National Army.” Although hundreds were killed, the majority appear to have gone over to the FLN, along with some 1,500 rifles. Mohammed Bellounis was captured alive by the French but was “shot while trying to escape.73

The lesson learned by American analysts was that local counterguerrilla forces could be effective in “fighting fire with fire” and in dominating sparsely populated areas, but that political unreliability could neutralize any advantages they might offer: Marine Corps analyst Lt. Col. John McCuen concluded in his 1966 study, however, that with adequate safeguards, groups such as those raised in Algeria could represent significant assets:

The military and political potential demonstrated... seems sufficiently important in the domination of underpopulated areas that the governing authorities should devise some effective means of political control. A cardinal rule is that close military and political supervision must be maintained.... The leadership for counter-guerrillas must be carefully chosen for their proven reliability....74

The 1960s organization of U. S.-led Montagnard irregulars in South Vietnam did not depart dramatically from the French pattern. The constitutional fragility of such arrangements, too, was reconfirmed in the series of revolts by the Montagnard forces.

Counterorganization for “Self-Defense”

The premise that revolutionary insurgents won support through terror and intimidation logically encouraged a “self-defense” dimension to counterinsurgency. A stated rationale of counterorganization was that local people, if armed and organized, would play a major part in defending themselves from guerrilla depredations.75 This remains a feature of the doctrine of counterinsurgency. The 1984 report of the Kissinger Commission on Central America reaffirms as a basic tenet of U.S. doctrine that “local popular militias must be formed throughout the country (with whatever minimal training is feasible and with only the simplest weapons) to prevent the insurgents from using terror to extract obedience.”76 (That local units of El Salvador’s government militia, the Civil Defense groups, came to be known popularly in many areas as “death squads” for using “terror to extract obedience” in precisely the manner ascribed to the other guerrillas goes unaddressed in the commission report.) A more recent joint-services study also stresses “the importance of building self-defense forces,” and that any U.S. doctrine should adequately reflect “the role of civil defense issues and the requirement to involve the population in its own defense. “77

The “self-defense” rationale is certainly unquestionable in situations where an adversary does in fact prey on the general population. This, however, has rarely been the case. Because simply arming the masses was generally ruled out, given the very nature of insurgency, a fallback position was to arm a segment of the population—those minority sectors that could be readily mobilized and discretely controlled. Although the “self-defense” principle has been cited in many counterinsurgency states as the rationale for paramilitary organization, the grass-roots, community wide systems of self-defense were the exception rather than the rule. The organization and arming of “the people” was inconceivable to elites dedicated to keeping the people at bay. The armed and motivated paramilitary forces were generally composed of social sectors quite distinct from the mass of the population. For elite and other minority sectors, there was often a very real element of “self-defense” involved.

The counterguerrilla, the friendly guerrilla to combat subversive guerrillas, was often distinguished in doctrine and practice from organizations set up on a home guard or political militia basis. The May 1961 field manual Operations Against Irregular Forces (FM 31—15), for example, distinguishes between local civil self-defense units—for strictly defensive purposes—and “friendly guerrilla units” with which to wage guerrilla offensives.78 Maximum use was to be made of “local individuals... sympathetic to the friendly cause” and subject to “suitable screening to satisfy security requirements.”79 Those with “experience or training as soldiers, police, or guerrillas, should be organized into auxiliary police, and village self-defense units,” while counterguerrilla guerrillas “may be effectively employed in extended combat patrol harassing missions. “80

The 1963 manual on US Army Counterinsurgency Forces (FM 31-22) distinguished between “Self Defense Units,” “normally... the primary paramilitary force” charged with local security, and “Civil Defense Groups,” which were to play the counterinsurgent role. The two groups differed in their “origin, status, and method of management and support”; the latter were recruited from “primitive tribes in distant and remote areas, people in rural areas, minority ethnic groups, and miscellaneous groups such as workmen’s militia, youth organizations and female auxiliaries.” Special attention was given to the utility of “primitive tribal groups” as resources for “hunter-killer teams.”8 ’ Another manual, the 1963 Special Warfare School Guide for Counter-Insurgency Planning (Special Text, ST 31-176), retains the self—defense/civil defense distinction, although both are envisioned as carrying out limited offensive actions; in practice, the distinction, and the “self-defense” role itself, often went by the board.

ST 31-176 was one of the key counterinsurgency training papers of the 1960s.82 The Colombian army’s 1969 counterguerrilla combat manual cites ST 31-176 in a syllabus of counterinsurgency texts and incorporates similar detailed recommendations on how to “organize the civil population militarily, so that it can protect itself against the actions of the guerrillas and support the combat operations.”83 Counterorganization included civil defense networks on a national scale, with local contingents responsible for counterguerrilla action where necessary and prepared for other emergency situations such as natural disasters. The self-defense group (junta de auto-defensa) was described as “an organization of a military nature made up of select civilian personnel from the combat zone who are trained and equipped to carry out actions against groups of guerrillas.”84 In line with the advice of U.S. Army Special Forces chief General Yarborough, preventative action was part of the Colombians’ counterinsurgency brief: Groups could “be organized in areas in which no problems of violence have arisen [so as] to prevent the formation of armed groups, or where insurgent groups have been destroyed... to repulse them should they reappear.”88

Forbidden Zones

The norms of unconventional warfare and prescriptions for special organization were sometimes invoked in accord with a concept of forbidden zones or “remote areas.” McCuen’s Art of Counter-Revolutionary War suggests rough and ready “guerrilla” organizations were particularly appropriate in sparsely populated areas.86 U.S. doctrine by the mid-1960s defined “remote areas as those remote from government control, as well as areas that are geographically remote—mountains, swamps, or border areas. The 1967 Stability Operations field manual (FM 31-23) distinguished “remote areas as particularly appropriate theaters for operations for Special Forces-style units and civilian irregulars working with them—an approach consistent with the then-current experience of Special Forces work with minorities in Vietnam.87 The objective is described in unconventional warfare terms as organizing “resistance” to the insurgency:

The remote area campaign is undertaken in contested areas to establish HG [Host Country] strongholds or in areas under partial insurgent control. These areas usually are populated by ethnic, religious, or other isolated minority groups; however, remote area campaigns may be conducted in areas devoid of civilian populations. Remote area operations are conducted by specially trained and selected units.

Special Forces—type host country forces—or U.S. Army Special Forces operating unilaterally—are recommended as the principal means of conducting operations, with offensive stages defined in terms similar to those of the 1965 Special Forces standing orders (see p. 227). 88 Having established a secure base, the force goes about successively “destroying, dispersing or clearing insurgent tactical forces from the area; neutralizing or destroying the insurgent infrastructure; and establishing or re-establishing the government.”89

The remote area formula depends ultimately on singling out a section of the local population to be organized and turned against the insurgent. The tactical force required was to be recruited typically from “tribal, religious, racial, or political minorities. “84 In Vietnam, border and mountain areas were inhabited by indigenous peoples available for cooptation, while other ethnic and religious minorities provided a recruitment pool for civilian irregulars elsewhere in the country. Throughout the Vietnam War, much of the country could to an extent have been considered remote areas. The political ramifications of minority recruiting for unconventional operations went undiscussed in the 1967—and later—manuals:

Success of a given... operation is more assured if there is a segment of the resident population willing to support the remote area program.... Operations can best be undertaken in areas under insurgent control if the remote area force contains personnel indigenous to the operational area who can influence the local population.91

A final variation on the remote area concept, adapted from the experience of the European colonial powers, was the designation of certain areas as “forbidden zones or no—go areas.92 These were to incorporate elements of counterorganization and to serve as theaters for unrestricted unconventional warfare. McCuen defines the concept as involving the clearance of an area of civilians, systematic population control to prevent their return, and the subsequent deployment of mobile counterguerrilla forces with “complete freedom of action”; without having “to worry about killing or wounding innocent people. . . [government forces] can destroy anything that moves.”93 A 1965 field manual refers to areas “typified by a population that openly supplies and willingly supports the insurgent.” These were subject to clearance through fear alone, what Vietnam planners called “generating” refugees:

They are called free areas to indicate that free use may be made of aerial bombs, artillery, and other ordnance on targets of opportunity.... [Psyopsi themes should inform the population that guerrilla activity is the cause of their hardship. Stress should be placed on the desirability of relocating to government-controlled areas.94

The clearance of a zone could also be selective, with those left in place vetted for political loyalty and integrated into irregular paramilitary formations. Population groups could be relocated in order to isolate those “of doubtful sympathy” and to create a “friendly population buffer” of civilians “sympathetic to host country and U.S. forces.”95 Loyalists relocated to the contested area could then provide friendly “self-defense” forces.96 Guatemala in the 1980s again serves to illustrate the full potential of U.S. doctrine: Large expanses of the highland areas of the northwest were designated forbidden zones for the Indian population during the first years of the decade; the government systematically cleared them out by either killing or confining them, or driving them across the border into Mexico. The consolidation phase of the operation was characterized by the creation of “friendly population buffers.” Peasants from other regions were brought into depopulated areas and authorized to take over the abandoned lands and communities of the former inhabitants—in return for political support and participation in “civilian self—defense patrols. “97

Arming Some of the People

Counterguerrilla forces, as distinguished from those dedicated to static defense, would be the elite of the counterorganization. As a rule they would be recruited from social sectors set apart from the majority by economic privilege, ideological disposition, religion, race, or ethnic origin. They would either be predisposed to react against communist insurgency, receptive to American indoctrination, or simply mercenary.

How to assess and mobilize the human resources available to be turned against the adversary? The 1967 Stability Operations manual suggests that the social sciences hold the key to counterorganization and stresses the deep religious, ethnic, and other divisions (“cleavages”) to be found in most “developing countries”: “[A]n attempt must be made to isolate the actual or potential ‘units of cleavage’ which are to be found in the country under survey. Generally, the vulnerabilities which develop from population cleavages arise from suspicion, rivalry, and antagonism on an intergroup level.”98 That done, the counterinsurgent must then guard against the insurgent’s own exploitation of existing divisions while himself adapting social tensions to counterinsurgent purpose.

Counterorganization often involved the more reactionary social sectors that felt threatened by the insurgency (or by the social, racial, or religious group identified with the insurgency) and needed little encouragement to exercise violence against their social adversaries. In numerous counterinsurgency states, the composition of the counterorganizations—the political groups, local elites, religious or ethnic minorities who took on special tasks and powers—served to exacerbate the violence of government operations. Counterorganization could serve to ignite simmering passions of class, race, religion, or ideology, and turn the energies released to counterinsurgent purpose (with the consequent intercommunal violence sometimes spinning out of control). The combination of counterterror with counterorganization could result in enormous levels of violence.

In theory, the counterorganization was often defined explicitly as appealing naturally to local elites—or those who enjoy the good life. Even in situations such as in Vietnam, where rural elites showed little disposition to put their own lives on the line, American planners saw the ideal counterorganization as elite—based, with “counterterror” as its natural function. A secret June 1964 directive on combined U. S./Government of South Vietnam pacification efforts laid down the counterorganization objective for eight critical provinces:

The first priority after the military have cleared an area is to bring about the selection of an able man for that area, who will in turn go about creating a basically civilian counter—terrorist organization on the precinct level precinct” is the smallest practicable political subdivision, just above the block or the apartment house in numbers of people. Selected military, paramilitary and governmental persons must support this organization. It will be created from among the young elite which exists everywhere; those who have a stake in the community because they have a family, own a house or a piece of land, are ambitious to get ahead inbusiness, profession or politics.

In practice, however, South Vietnam’s local militia forces were rarely elite-based. The principal offensive counterterrorist organizations of Vietnam were typically composed of members of ethnic and religious minorities, reinforced by members of Saigon’s criminal underworld.100 Ideally, the counterorganization was to have been manned by right-thinking patriots eager to fight back against the communists; reality was often quite different. A booklet for Vietnamese “cadre” of the American “Rural Reconstruction” program outlines operational guidelines through which “action cells” were to set up village self-defense militias.101 Cadre were to conduct “secret investigations to select good elements” as militia leaders: individuals who were free of corruption, above political suspicion, physically fit, and “bearing hatred against the communists out of personal spite or interest.”102

The American elite, or “petty-elite,” formula is remarkably similar to that made by French guerre révolutionnaire theorist Roger Trinquier in his Modern Warfare:

First, we designate an energetic and intelligent man in each city who will, with one or more reliable assistants, build the projected organization with a minimum of help from the authorities... . The designated leader divides the city into districts... [and] sub—districts.... The essential quality of a potential sub-district leader is that he have firm attachments in the sub—district (a business or shop, affluence, a large family).103

Trinquier’s formula for counterorganization did not depend exclusively on the well-to-do: The counterinsurgent could appeal equally, and with perhaps greater success, to fortune-seekers eager to improve their lot. Rather than being drawn from an elite class, militias often recruited the outcasts, the déclassé, the lumpenproletariat:

We need cadres first, and they are easy to find.... They are doubtless more attracted to the benefits they expect than by our country itself, but this attachment can be unflagging if we are resolved to accept it and are firm in our intentions and objectives. We know also that, in troubled periods, self-interest and ambition have always been powerful incentives for dynamic individuals who want to move out of their rut and get somewhere. 104

In Trinquier’s plan, the government would organize cadres within receptive sectors of the population, while forcibly subduing the majority through intimidation: “We will limit ourselves to forming an active elite and introducing it as leaven into the mass to produce action at the desired moment.”105 The formula could be applied either in counterinsurgency or in unconventional warfare. It required recruits who were not motivated by high idealism, but rather by the sheer desire to get ahead in life.



  1. Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare, Psywar 385 (10 May 1951), “Comments on ‘Proposed Program for Project POWOW, FY 1951,’ “Colonel Stanley, Memo for General McClure, 10 May 1951 (digest), comments on discussion with Dr. Kenall and Colonel Sacks on program.

  2. Ibid. Alfred H. Paddock, US Army Special Warfare: Its Origins (Washington, D.C.! Fort MeNair: National Defense University, 1982), p. 117, adds that studies and manuals produced by ORO in the 1950s covered the full range of psychological warfare, including basic reference works, “manuals for use by psychological warfare operators in specific countries,” and “field operations research in Korea.” ORO’s contract work on psy-war was subsequently taken up by the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO) in Alexandria, Virginia, and, as it concerned covert operations and counterinsurgency, the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at American University.

  3. The Operations Research Office (Johns Hopkins University) conducted interviews of North Korean and Chinese POWs to assess the relative terror of different weapons. Peter Watson, in War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1980), p. 154, summarizes their findings. Artillery was the “most feared”; aircraft, especially strafing, the “second most feared.” Watson’s chapter 9, “The Psychological Effects of Weapons,” also reviews research conducted on civilian fears from World War II to the Vietnam War period.

  4. U.S. Department of the Army, Psychological Operations, US Army Doctrine, FM 33-1 (May 1965), p. 44, “Coordination of PSYOP with Weapons Employment.”

  5. See, for example, the definition published in conjunction with Slavko N. Bjelajac’s “Soviet Unconventional Warfare Capabilities,” Military Review (November 1960): “Unconventional warfare (UW) is a combination of guerrilla warfare, subversion, industrial, and military sabotage; assassinations, psychological warfare, and numerous other activities and acts.”

  6. U.S. Department of the Army, Psychological Operations, FM33-5 (1962), p. 115.

  7. Ibid., pp. 115—16.

  8. U.S. Department of the Army, Psychological Operations, US Army Doctrine, FM 33-1 (May 1965), pp. 54—55, “Unconventional Warfare Psychological Operations.”

  9. Ibid., p. 55.

  10. Major Roberto Mongc, “Guerrillas and Counterguerrillas,” Revista de la Escuela de Comando y Estado Mayor, August 1964, in Michael McClintock, The American Connection, vol. 1, State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador (London: Zed, 1985), pp. 213—14.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Major General Harold K. Johnson, “Message from the Commandant,” U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Military Review (October 1960), p. 1. The same editorial notes that the journal, through its English, Spanish, and Portuguese editions, reaches thousands of subscribers in more than sixty countries.

  13. Frank R. Barnett, “A Proposal for Political Warfare,” Military Review (March1961). Barnett is identified as Director of Research of the Richardson Foundation, Inc., and program director of the Institute for American Strategy. In the 1980s, he headed the National Strategy Information Center, Inc.

  14. Brig. Gen. Michael Calvert (U.K.), “El Patron de la Guerra de Guerrillas,” Revista Militar de Guatemala (October—November 1966), pp. 50—58 (reprinted from Military Review, July 1966). Calvert, writing from his own experience in the British army, argues that the German approach to counterterror was too clumsy. Insurgency required a more refined, selective approach. His Guatemalan and American readers may have missed some of the subtlety.

  15. Michael MeClintock, The American Connection, vol. 2, State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala (London: Zed, 1985), pp. 84—85.

  16. Brian Jenkins and Cesar D. Sereseres, “U.S. Military Assistance and the Guatemalan Armed Forces: The Limits of Military Involvement in Latin America, “June 1976 (typescript). The authors also noted the broad brush with which terror was applied: “Blacklists were compiled which included not only those suspected of working with the guerrillas but also those suspected of Communist leanings.”

  17. Albert L. Fisher, “To Beat the Guerrillas at Their Own Game,” Military Review (December 1963), pp. 81—86. Most of the December 1963 issue is devoted to counterinsurgency.

  18. Operaciones Sicol6gicas en Guerra de Guerrillas, “por Tayacán” Photocopies of the original text have been widely circulated. The manual has been published in Spanish by Editorial Fundamentos (Madrid, 1985) entitled Manuales de sabotaje y guerra psicol6gica de la CIA para derrocar al Gobierno Sandinista (the Fundamentos edition also includes a facsimile of the earlier United States sabotage manual issued to the contras, Manual del Combatientepor la Libertad. Quotations in English are cited from Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare (New York: Vintage, 1985), with essays by Joanne Omang and Aryeh Nejer.

  19. Headquarters, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Handbook of Counterinsurgency Guidelines for Area Commanders, An Analysis of Criteria. Department of the Army Pamphlet no. 550-100 (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, January 1966). The handbook was prepared for the army by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of the American University, with writing completed in February 1965. The research and writing contract, one of many classified projects undertaken by Washington-based agencies, was coded “TASK TACO, SUBTASK, Non-material Factors in Counterguerrilla Operations.”

  20. Appendix B (pp. 223—39) establishes the counterinsurgency scenario; Appendix C (pp. 241—78) discusses the counterinsurgent options.

  21. Ibid., p. 153.

  22. “The vast majority of the solutions specified were of a dual nature, that is both military and psychological. Proposed economic, social and political actions were primarily designed to achieve psychological objectives” (ibid., pp. 140—41, 153).

  23. Ibid., p. 252. He was identified as a researcher in psychological operations.

  24. Ibid., p. 265.

  25. Ibid., p. 267.

  26. U.S. Army Special Warfare School, Concepts for U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Activities (Fort Bragg, 1962) (mimeograph), p. II-K-8 (Bohannan Papers, Box 18, Hoover Institution Archive, Stanford).

  27. U.S. Department of the Army, Operations Against Irregular Forces, FM 31-15 (May1961), pp. 6—7.

  28. Ibid., p. 7.

  29. For current Special Forces skills, see chapter 18, “Direct Action and the Lexicon of Terror,” and John M. Collins, U.S. and Soviet Special Operations, Draft Committee Print for Special Operations Panel, House Armed Services Committee (Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress: Washington, D.C., 23 December 1986), in particular Annex A(2), “Special Tasks and Skills,” pp. 82—89.

  30. Ibid., pp. 9—10.

  31. Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army, Civil Affairs Operations, FM 41—10 (Washington, D.C., 20 October 1969), pp. 7—3.

  32. Franklin A. Lindsay, “Unconventional Warfare,” Foreign Affairs (January 1962), p. 269.

  33. Ibid., p. 267.

  34. Ibid., p. 265.

  35. Frances FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (New York: Vintage, 1973), p. 506. Pike’s listed posting was with the United States Information Agency.

  36. Douglas Pike, The Viet Cong Strategy of Terror (Saigon: U.S. Information Agency, 1970), pp. 505—6.

  37. Headquarters, U. S. Department of the Army, US Army Handbook of Counterinsurgency Guidelines for Area Commanders, p. 225.

  38. Edward Lansdale, “Practical Jokes,” in U.S. Department of the Army (Army Pamphlet 525-7-1), p. 770. Douglas Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977), p. 31, cites the tactic as an example of Lansdale’s psy-war work that “stressed imagination rather than technology and equipment.” Another cited was the straightforward system of offering rewards for information leading to the capture or killing of insurgents, and so dividing guerrilla groups and communities.

  39. Lansdale, “Practical Jokes,” in Army Pamphlet 525-7-1, p. 770.

  40. Department of the Army, Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies, Army Pamphlet 550-104 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, September 1966), p. 184.

  41. ibid., pp. 183—84.

  42. Ibid., p. 184.

  43. David Galula, Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964), p. 124.

  44. For a summary of the concept, see MeClintock, The American Connection, vol. 1, State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador, pp. 33—38. An American counterinsurgent’s-eye-view is provided in Lt. Col. (U.S. Army) JohnJ. McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War: The Strategy of Counter-Insurgency (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1966), particularly in chapters 5 (“Counter—organization”) and 6 (“Counter-terrorism”).

  45. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Publication No. 1, Dictionary of US Military Terms for Joint Usage, 1 December 1964 and 1 August 1968; JCS Pub 1, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 3 September 1974.

  46. U.S. Department of the Army (Major Edgar Howell), The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941—1944, Department of the Army Pamphlet 20-244 (Washington, D.C., August 1956), p. 203. The Soviet movement was “the greatest irregular resistance movement in the history of warfare. It combined all the classic elements of resistance movements of the past with modem means of communication and transportation and modem weapons, and at its peak involved a far greater number of men than had ever before been drawn into an irregular force.”

  47. Some of the prescribed structures, for example home guard—style formations, had colonial antecedents. But the American package of proposed innovations was adopted lock, stock, and barrel in the counterinsurgency states in the context of the 1960s American assistance programs.

  48. Translation from the Spanish by the author. U.S. Army School of the Americas, Operaci ones de Contraguerrilla, FM 31-16 (Fort Gulick, Panama, June 1968), p. 29. This is a version of FM 31-16 still used by Latin American officers in the late I 970s. A copy is held in the National Security Archive (Arnson papers) in Washington.

  49. See chapter 2, and Paddock, US Army Special Warfare, pp. 129—35 (see note 2, above).

  50. Special Forces worked primarily with “primitive tribes in distant and remote areas, people in remote areas, and minority ethnic and religious groups.” Department of the Army, Army Concept Team in Vietnam, “Employment of a Special Forces Group,” 25 April 1966, Carrollton Press, (R)204B, p. 1.

  51. Ibid., p. 3.

  52. As, for example, in Franklin A. Lindsay, “Unconventional Warfare,” Foreign Af fairs (January 1962), pp. 264—74.

  53. To the outsider, the insider histories of Special Forces (and CIA’s paramilitary specialists) in Vietnam, in Central America, and elsewhere are remarkable for how little attention is given to the paramilitary irregular’s awareness of, or commitment to, a political objective. Having passed the first hurdle of recruitment, a largely mercenary transaction in the case of the Meos, the Montagnards, and others, the essential cement of the irregulars Special Forces actually led was camaraderie, not patriotism. See, for example, Shelby Stanton, The Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia, 1956—1975 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1986), and former Special Forces Sergeant Donald Duncan’s “I Quit,” Ramparts, Special Edition (25 January—7 February 1969), pp. 41—46, on the strength of camaraderie in the secret Project DELTA in Vietnam.

  54. “One to five A-force units might operate continuously, over a period of months, in an area ten miles on a side Elite hunter—killer forces would continue to be backed up with conventional firepower, however, (“reaction forces of air, artillery or troops”) once large enemy forces had been located. Raymond D. Gastil, “Counterinsurgency and South Viemam: Some Alternatives,” no. 2 in Four Papers on the Vietnamese Insurgency (Croton-on-Hudson: Hudson Institute), HI-878/2/l 1-RR, pp. 11-6, 7.

  55. Ibid., p. 11-8.

  56. Ibid. (emphasis added).

  57. MeCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War, p. 107.

  58. Rep6blica de Colombia, Comando del Ej&cito, Reglamento de Combate de Contraguerrillas, (2d ed., Reglamento EJC 3-10, Reservado) (Bogoni, approved through Disposicidn no. 005 of l969, Comandante General de las Fuerzas Militares), p. 319. A responsible army unit was also to provide arms and equipment and necessary documentation, including “safe-conduct passes.

  59. Ibid., p. 321.

  60. Ibid., p. 318.

  61. See, for example, U.S. Department of the Army, Counterguerrilla Operations manual, FM 31-16 (Washington, D.C., December 1967), pp. 13—14, and Stability Operations, FM 31-23 (Washington, D.C., December1967), pp. 97—105. The quesnon of size is addressed in FM 3 1-23 (p. 105), which notes that if the force becomes company or battalion size, it assumes “all of the aspects of a paramilitary force and may be employed, equipped, and organized as such.” Paramilitary forces m counterinsurgency were directed through the same chain of command as other regional military and police bodies; irregulars varied dramatically in organization and in their place in the chain of command. They could, for example, be under the control of the intelligence services or operate under the direct, autonomous control of elite Special Forces commands.

  62. U.S. Department of the Army, Command, Control, and Support of Special Forces Operations, FM 31-22 (Washington, D.C., 23 December 1981), pp. 2—7, 9—3. The manual supersedes TC 31-20-1 of22 October 1976 and is a “new-style” largeformat, easy—reading edition interspersed with large comic—book style drawings of chaps in Special Forces uniform.

  63. U.S. Department of the Army, Stability Operations, FM 31-23 (Washington, D.C., December 1967), pp. 103—4. The December 1967 manual Counterguerrilla Operations, FM 31—16, discusses irregulars in much the same terms, adding that “they may also be organized primarily to indoctrinate their members to support the government” (pp. 13—16).

  64. Ibid., p. 104.

  65. Ibid., p. 105.

  66. Ibid.

  67. Ibid.

  68. See, for example, McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War, pp. 239—45.

  69. Ibid., pp. 240—41; Paret, French Revolutionary Warfare from Indochina to Algeria: The Analysis of a Political and Military Doctrine (London: Pall Mall Press, for the Center of International Studies, Princeton University, 1964), p. 38. Both cite as the authoritative source on Algerian counterguerrillas “Une riposte ~ la guerre r6volu-tionnaire: Les contre—maquis,” in M. Déon L’Armée d’Algérie et la pacification (Paris, 1959).

  70. Paret, French Revolutionary Warfare, p. 38.

  71. Ibid.

  72. This account is based on the similar information in MeCuen, The Art of CounterRevolutionary War, pp. 244—45, and Paret, French Revolutionary Warfare, pp. 338—39.

  73. Ibid., p. 243.

  74. Ibid., p. 244, suggests that veterans in particular make “reliable” leaders.

  75. Ibid., p. 107.

  76. White House, Report of the National Bipartisan Committee on Central America, January 1984 (Washington, D.C., GPO), pp. 95—96.

  77. Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project Final Report, vol. 1, Analytical Review of Low Intensity Conflict (TRADOC: Fort Monroe, Va., 1 August 1986), pp. 10-3, 10—4; vol. 2, Low Intensity Conflict, Issues and Recommendations, presents data developed in the project.

  78. U.S. Department of the Army, Operations against Irregular Forces, FM 31—15 (Washington, D.C., May 1961), pp. 32—35.

  79. Ibid., pp. 35—36.

  80. Ibid., p. 35.

  81. U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Forces, FM 31-22 (Washington, D.C., November 1963), pp. 82—84.

  82. A facsimile of the mimeographed Spanish translation of ST 31—176 in use by the Guatemalan army was published in a 1968 collection of documents on Guatemalan counterinsurgency (Guatemala’s counterinsurgency system after 1966 fit the prescribed form to a tee). Department of the Army, School of Special Warfare, Guia para el planeamiento de Ia contrainsurgencia, Texto Especial 31—176 (Fort Bragg, NC., 1963), in Alejandro de Corro, CIDOC dossier 19, Guatemala, la violencia (Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC, 1968).

  83. Reglamento de Combate, especially pp. 316—31, “Operaciones para organizar a Ia poblaci6n civil” (“Operations to Organize the Civilian Population”), Section XX, p. 316.

  84. Ibid., p. 317.

  85. Ibid.

  86. McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War, p. 239. “The governing authorities can also make effective use of counter-guerrillas... to use counter—revolutionary guerrillas and win control of the population. (They) can form counter-guerrilla bands by sending military teams to rally, arm, train, and, if possible, lead minority or dissident groups in conducting guerrilla operations against the revolutionaries.

  87. U.S. Department of the Army, Stability Operations, FM 31-23 (December 1967), p. 61. “Stability Operations” was a short-lived euphemism for counterinsurgency, succeeded by “Internal Defense and Development” and today’s “Foreign Internal Defense.” FM 31—23 was issued with a revised Counterguerrilla Operations manual (FM 31-16, 24 March 1967) to supersede FM 31-15 of 31 May 1961.

  88. Ibid. Host countries, with U.S. help, “may organize units similar to the US Army Special Forces,” or, “The HC [host country] may desire that the US conduct a unilateral remote area campaign to provide a ‘bridge’ between the HC government and various tribal, religious, racial, or political minorities.” In Vietnam both aspects were attempted, but the “bridge”-building was unsuccessful.

  89. Ibid., p. 62.

  90. Ibid., p. 61.

  91. Ibid. The concept of remote bases as “islands” from which to gradually expand control is identical to that of the French “oil spot” (the French, however, would not have characterized their own role as “resistance” but rather as overcoming resistance).

  92. McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War, p. 238.

  93. Ibid. McCuen also cites some of the problems faced by the French in their use of the technique in Algeria—among them, the political and logistical problems inherent in relocating 300,000 people away from the Tunisian border.

  94. U.S. Department of the Army, Psychological Operations, U.S. Army Doctrine, FM 33-1 (May 1965), p. 32. The 1967 Stability Operations manual, p. 80, provides for residents to be relocated, while proclamations are made to the effect that all those subsequently found in the zone “are considered insurgent force elements.”

  95. U.S. Department of the Army, Counterguerrilla Operations, FM 31-16 (24 March 1967), p. 98.

  96. Ibid., and Stability Operations, FM 31-23, p. 80.

  97. See chapter 8, “The Medium and the Political Message.”

  98. Ibid., pp. 6, 61. Assessments on the ground were to cover: “political considerations... the motivations, ambitions, and influence of the existing leadership. A complete understanding of the theoretical and actual power strncture of the operational area... since actual control may rest with non—governmental religious, tribal, or other groups. Important sociological considerations are population size and distribution, basic racial stock, minority groups, social structure, religion and culture, all of which may be either a source of trouble or assistance.”

  99. Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Combined GVN—US Effort to Intensify Pacification Efforts in Critical Provinces,” 19 June 1964 (Carrollton Press Declassified Documents Reference Series, 1979:90A).

  100. Former Special Forces officer Shelby Stanton, The Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia, 1956—1975 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1986), pp. 47, 66 notes the role of Saigon gangsters plugged into the CIDG program.

  101. Bihn Dinh Province, Operational Guidelines of the Action Cell in the Rural Reconstruction Effort (Saigon, n.d.). An English translation accompanies the Vietnamese language booklet held in the Lansdale Papers, Box 25, Hoover Institution Archive, Stanford.

  102. Ibid., p. 9.

  103. Roger Trinquier, Modem Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, trans. David Lee (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964), pp. 31—32. First published in French as La Guerre Moderne (Paris: editions de la Table Ronde, l96l).

  104. Ibid.

  105. Ibid.