Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990
The outrage over the Beirut bombing of October 1983 prompted both the invasion of Grenada and the proliferation of U.S. covert counterterror operations. One of the provisions of the 1983 Anti-Terrorism Act was the renewal of overt police assistance. The object of the new legislation, unlike the stared objective of earlier programs, was explicitly political in nature: the violence to be opposed was political violence, political terrorism. For the first time, Congress approved a program explicitly aimed at better political policing overseasresponding to the popular sentiment against international terrorism that was fueled by the Reagan administration.
The Reagan administration’s renewal of major police assistance programs to counterinsurgency states began even before changes in the law were pushed through the way was opened tor the U.S. military to provide police assistance on a large scale simply by stressing the paramilitary nature of the police to be assisted and by redefining their primary tasks as essentially military in nature. The militarization of the Third World police, which had been a concealed consequence of U.S. assistance in the 1960s, was in the 1980s turned into a virtue: their militarized status made it possible to provide aid denied thus far to those forces stuck in the mold of the civil police tradition.
A series of legislative initiatives facilitated the administration’s broader objective: renewing an assistance program that could openly deal with nonmilitary police and intelligence agencies. At the top of the bill were initiatives promoted as part of the campaign against terrorism. The Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATA) was approved by Congress in November 1983, its stated objective to enhance, through training and equipment, the ability of the law enforcement personnel of friendly foreign governments to deter and counter terrorism, with an emphasis on bomb detection and disposal, management of hostage situations physical security, and other matters relating to the detection, deterrence and prevention of acts of terrorism, the resolution of terrorist incidents and the apprehension of those involved in such acts.”1 The initial appropriations were modest, a mere $5 million for each of the two subsequent fiscal years; this would be nearly doubled, to $9.8 million a year later.2 The increase was justified as a provision to improve airport security (a precaution about which no one could complain) and, for the first time, to permit the provision of certain commodities from the munitions list of military and police supplies requiring export clearance from the Department of Commerce.3
Considerable efforts were made by congressional human rights watchdogs in the 1980s to prevent an across-the-board revival of the defunct Public Safety program, wrapped in the flag of antiterrorism. Congress was to be notified in advance of countries programmed for assistance; respect for human rights was to be a factor in their eligibility and annual reporting On program activity was required.4 The act also limited overseas training by U.S. government personnel to no more than thirty consecutive daysapparently to prevent the repetition of the earlier cozy relationship of Public Safety’s in-country advisers with foreign political police. Despite this, the ATA program appears to have been intended to maximize the opportunities to exert an influence very similar to that of its predecessor.
The act required that training be provided almost exclusively in the United States, and it set out a three-stage program. Top security officers were first to attend a two-week seminar and visit a range of U. S. security agencies, from FBI to TEA and municipal police departments. A U.S. delegation was then to visit overseas counterparts and thrash out a detailed program. And, finally, foreign officers would begin training at establishments in the United States. Unlike Public Safety, when all began their instruction at Washington’s International Police Academy (IPA), training would be provided by several agencies in many different placesa procedure that might reduce the clubbishness among participants but could also make monitoring the program more difficult.5 Within two years, Congress had been notified of the intention to develop programs with 70 countries and that 1,456 foreign officers had received training in the United States.6
A companion to ATA cloaked police assistance in another program designed to improve the administration of justice overseas. The legislative foundation for a program to assist the Administration of Justice (AOJ) was laid in 1985, with an addition to the Foreign Assistance Act. Section 534, which was limited to Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasized the provision of training and material assistance for the court systems and legal profession and the “revision and modernization of legal codes and procedures.”7 It opened another door to police assistance by authorizing, “notwithstanding section 660 of this Act, programs to enhance investigative capabilities, conducted under judicial or prosecutorial control.”8
The new legislation authorized the allocation to the program of up to $20 million yearly until September 1987. The police assistance aspect of the program was set apart as the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), with some 10 percent of the overall funding.9 The program was defended by the administration as a necessary corollary to the work with lawyers, laws, and the courts. A State Department letter to Congress claimed: “Helping Central American governments improve their courts . . . will not have full impact on criminal justice if the courts are not presented with well-developed cases by police investigators.” The rule of law would suffer “no matter how much the courts may improve” so long as police investigators lacked training in “basic investigative skills.”10
Congress attempted to prevent the use of AOJ funds to train political police in the kind of investigative skills that had brought the Public Safety program into disreputesuch as tortureby adding a rider specifying that funds would only be used to improve police capabilities where investigations were “conducted under judicial or prosecutorial control. ” The intention was to foster court-directed judicial police, without backing either the enforcement side of policing or the monitoring of civilians, that is, “intelligence. ” The matter of police eligibility for assistance rapidly became a bone of contention when the administration’s classification of foreign police forces falling under “judicial or prosecutorial control” proved to be arbitrary. The administration AOJ training for Salvadoran National Guard investigation officers to irate congressmen by claiming, apparently with a straight face, that the Guard was actually under the control of the courts.11 Congressional aides knew better: The National Guard was (and is) technically a part of the Salvadoran army
At its inception the legislation seemed to have the potential to do some gooda sensitive program to reinforce the very fabric of the legal system might have made some contribution to making the rule of law a reality. The Judiciary working in conflict situations often lack even the most basic of resources, from office furniture and photocopiers to the vehicles required to make on-the-spot inspections. Antiquated legal procedures, too, may well be improved by a concerted effort to review and reform them. Higher wages, improved infrastructure, better training and improved procedures, however, could hardly by themselves make the Judiciary independent, particularly in a state dominated by military institutions committed to circumventing the law in order to crush insurgency.
The conundrum of assistance for the administration of justice in counterinsurgency states revolves around the fiction that counterterror atrocities against subversives and suspected subversives are somehow aberrations distinct from the “lawful” counterinsurgent program Catching up with mysterious “death squads,” then, could be presented as a problem for ordinary crime control (and aid to this end sold to Congress and public opinion as a signal of human rights awareness). The essential premise is that human rights abuse is a somehow natural phenomenon: a consequence of private initiative, personal pathology, ignorance, or accident. Counterinsurgent terror on a large scale is, however, rarely the work of either renegades or civilian psychopaths; indeed solitaries and off-base auxiliaries who go freelance, and against the grain of policy, are themselves promptly dealt with, extralegally, by the counterinsurgent apparatus.
Another rationale for assistance in the administration of justice was that the terror tactics of the security services are a natural response to the incompetence (or betrayal) of the courts. A long-standing argument was made that the failure of courts to hold, prosecute, and convict suspected subversives poses insuperable obstacles to the counterinsurgent. In the context of the counterinsurgency state, criticism of the weak judiciary in the 1960s, as in the 198Os, was presented as a prime impetus behind counter/error: a terrible, swift sword cutting through the dithering and corruption of the courts to bring instant justice. A 1967 Public Safety report, for example, suggested that the Guatemalan army “bypassed the courts,” summarily executing “suspected guerrillas and supporters,” because they could have no confidence in justice being done otherwise: “Guatemalan Army officers significantly remark that the first suspects captured were turned over to the courts but. . . obtained their freedom.” This, they said, was “bad for their forces” morale.” Counterterror was the solution to the morale problem: “Thereafter the number of guerrillas turned over to the courts seemed to diminish somewhat.”12
Similarly, a 1965 Pentagon study on relations with Latin American armies reflected the notion that the law itself, let alone the courts, was among the main “handicaps” to counterinsurgency. The civilians, it suggested, returned the guerrillas to the street moments after the soldiers rounded them up: “[Many. . . legal systems require courts to free prisoners, even notorious guerrillas . . . unless witnesses can testify they actually saw the accused commit the crime.”13 Counterterror posed a shortcut solution to that problem; a better legal system could develop in its own good time.
Ironically, the argument of judicial incompetence would also be made in the 1980s to explain the impunity of counterterrorists before the law. One of the recurring issues in the debate on human rights in El Salvador and Guatemala, for example, is whether police and military personnel can be brought to book if the judiciary is too frightened or corrupt to act. The answer proposed is more U.S. assistancefor the police and military, to train them to be better citizens and professional counterinsurgents, and for the judicial establishment, to teach judges, prosecutors, and investigators essential skills, and how to resist blandishments and intimidation. All well and goodexcept for the problem of the institutional doctrine and policy behind counter/error.
Should the incompetence of the courts, rather than the political will of the military, be the real barrier to bringing the military’s own mass murderers to justice, there was an easy solution in most of the counterinsurgency states. Military wrongdoers could be brought before the military’s own courtsmost armed forces cultivated by the United States jealously guard the jurisdiction of their own courts over military, and often police and paramilitary, personnel. The failure of the military courts to punish even the more blatant lawbreakers is more difficult to explain away as a matter of poor training, legal technicalities, and intimidation A review of the record of the military courts in the counterinsurgency states most renowned for human rights abuses will show that atrocities, as a rule, are simply not dealt with either as crimes or disciplinary offenses requiring investigation or prosecution.
If the armed forces of the counterinsurgency states had the least interest in taking to task the murderers among them they would do so counterterror and covert forces, like any conventional military outfit observe as a basic Imperative the maintenance of discipline, cohesion and purpose. As a consequence, they tend to punish only those crime! and offenses that threaten the unit. What is more, in an unconventional or covert organization, punishment may be meted out by the same extralegal methods as those employed against their adversaries: the threat or reality of torture, mutilation, or death. The harshest punishment is often reserved for those who undermine the institution’s purpose from within by resisting their share of dirty work (which in a later period, when war crimes trials might take place, could make their counterparts vulnerable); or those whose disobedience suggests a disaffection, and by extension common cause with the enemy. Counterterror is no work for an undisciplined military or paramilitary force; it can only be sustained where discipline is absolute, where breaking ranks means a broken head. The counterterrorist cannot risk being compromised by an undisciplined underling or colleague; like organized crime, unconventional military hermetism must be absolute, enforced by absolute sanctions.
In most of the counterinsurgency states, police and military personnel have remained almost exclusively within the jurisdiction of the military courts and military law. No one has suggested that the failure of military justice systems to bring to account torturers within their ranks or to proceed against military mass murderers was a consequence either of courtroom technicalities or lack of legal training. Whereas the military courts could prosecute and punish torture, “disappearance,” and mass murder, but refuse to do so, they often also refuse to deliver suspects to the jurisdiction of civilian courtseven when civilian prosecutors have assembled damning evidence against them. The apparatus of civilian justice, feeble or not, incompetent or not, has been largely irrelevant to military discipline, even when exercising limited jurisdiction over military personnel, so long as counterterror and tactical lawlessness have remained elements of military strategy. Improving the civil courts, so long as military institutions shelter the counterterrorist, offers a remedy to programmatic counterterror.
The root of the problem is that the conduct of a “dirty war” by the armed forces is not a consequence of feeble judicial structures or of the inadequacies of the civil policethough it can certainly feed upon, and be shielded by, these failings. Security assistance creates a vicious cycle: On the one hand, the argument goes, a well-trained police and a more competent judiciary would be able to crack down on the “death squads,” thereby justifying U.S. training and support; on the other hand, it was U.S. assistance that helped create the “death squads” in the first place. The proposals to enforce human rights by judicial and police assistance help to mask the much larger program of lethal contributions to the dirty war. Individual prosecutors and courageous magistrates may, and indeed sometimes do, make brave efforts to bring the counterterrorist to justice, although they do so at their peril. But whenever the tactics of counterinsurgent terror are the product of the collective will of the armed forces, the administration of justice and the rule of law will continue to be sacrificed to the generalized lawlessness of a dominant branch of the government itself.
The 1980s renewal of aid expressly designed for El Salvador’s police was delayed for a time by the alacrity with which the United States’ allies there murdered American nuns and officials. In the first years of the decade, when tens of thousands of civilians were murdered by military and paramilitary forces, Congress balked at overt police aid. The administration had, after all, elected to pin part of the blame for the “death squad” phenomenon on a few renegades in the paramilitary police services (a lightning rod to deflect criticism from the armed forces). While the bulk of the blame for killing leftists continued to be laid on a shadowy “extreme right,” the police bore the blame for killings that could not otherwise be explained away, perpetuating the fiction of the military’s noninvolvement. The Treasury Police, a force that did indeed perform much of the dirty work, took much of the flak. The fact that the police were commanded by army regulars was simply ignored.
The proscription of police assistance under Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act was successively (and, in the end, simultaneously) circumvented by lending the police military assistance, creating new police units under a judicial aid program, andin the wake of the Zona Rosa attack off off-duty U. S. Marinesby a “waiver” agreed to by Congress in August 1985 permitting police assistance in El Salvador and Honduras.14 The 1985 measure also lifted the ban on police assistance for countries with a “longstanding democratic tradition,” no standing army, and “10 record of gross and persistent human rights abuse.15 (This strengthened the legal basis of aid programs already In progress in Costa Rica and the small nations of the Eastern Caribbean.) Human rights training was not part of the curriculum, although some National Police trainees received a module on “police-community relations.” 16 The military curricula, like those of ATA, failed to cover the students” correct response to an illegal order and excluded consideration of political rights. A Defense Department official claimed, “Our guys aren’t qualified to teach” political rights; apparently, “the judicial system, rather than the police, is expected to determine which political activities are legally permissible.”17
Police assistance under the Anti-Terrorism Act was modest in scale compared to aid provided through the military.18 ATA training, however, began in a manner reminiscent of the outlawed Public Safety assistance program. The first group of Salvadoran trainees brought to the United States for training was found to include three officers well known to human rights monitors as among the army’s top administrators of “death squad” terror. Congressional fears that the program might lead to charges that the United States was rewarding state terroristsor helping them to improve their criminal skillshad resulted in pledges that the U. S. embassy would screen participants “to exclude suspected abusers of human rights.” Apparently the administration ignored the agreement. Senator Tom Harkin, a critic of ATA, exploded: “We’re training hard-core killers to be more efficient.”19
The State Department’s counterterrorism chief Bob Oakley piously chastised Senator Harkin for presuming “to pronounce publicly a guilty sentence. . . without specifyingnames, dates, placeswhat they were guilty of.” 20 Oakley’s own “background check” found that “no one we have been able to talk to has even heard rumors” of anything like the allegations made. “There is nothing,” he insisted, to suggest that any of the individuals have “a past record of torture, killings or similar rights abuses.”21 Yet, a simple review of human rights reporting since 1979 would have substantiated claims that the army battalions, brigades, and police units in which the trainees had command responsibilities were among the most enthusiastic in sowing counterinsurgent terror. A more honest response was attributed by the Los Angeles Times to another State Department official: “There could be some truth in it, but I doubt anyone can ever prove it. These guys were in the National Guard when it was doing some very nasty things, but in a country where every officer’s bad record has been erased, how do you know?”22
Consorting with state terrorists could hardly be explained away by inadequate record keeping at the U.S. embassy in San Salvador. The Salvadorans on the guest list who raised the hackles of human rights monitors were former commanders and acting or former intelligence chiefs of units with a clear and bloody track record over many years They included:
Col. José Dionisio Hernandcz. in 1986 National Guard chief of staff, who was one of the small group of officers who had been involved in the administration of counterinsurgency terror since 1979; his past assignments include service as third in command of the National Guard; as commander of Army Garrison Number 6 in Sonsonate frown November 1983 to February 1986; appointed Deputy Director of the National Guard in February 1986;23
Lt. Col. José Adolfo Medrano, intelligence chief of the National Guard and a top army chief throughout the years of the terror Of the early 1980s and long before; a graduate of the International Police Academy’s first course, in 1963, when it was still based at Fort Davis in the Canal Zone;
Major Baltazar Lopez Cortes, a former National Guard intelligence chief;
Captain Victor Cartagena Martinez, intelligence chief of the Treasury Police, previously intelligence chief of the Second brigade and company commander of the “Arce” rapid response battalion in San Miguel (Cartagena was also the object of rather personal charges: former prisoners of the Treasury Police claimed he had directly participated in beating them and subjecting them to electric shocks).24
The first of the ATA classes of twenty Salvadoran “police chiefs”army officers of the rank of lieutenant or abovebegan training in the United States in late June 1986. By the end of the year seventy-six officers had completed courses. Although the antiterrorism curriculum was to have included instruction in “human rights and internal discipline,” the substance of this remains obscure. A spokesman of the State Department’s Office of Counter-Terrorism, which runs ATA, said, for example, that the course instructors “‘stay away’ from discussing political rights, such as which rallies or newspapers should be judged legal, because That’s a political question not handled by the police.” 25
The major programs of assistance for the Salvadoran National Guard, National Police, and Treasury Police were provided under the military assistance program, as the units involved were to perform military functions. The term “military,” in this context, was applied to anything expressly dealing with counterinsurgency and, subsequently, antiterrorism. In the 1960s, the police function was at least nominally distinguished from that of the military vis-a-vis counterinsurgency, though in practice it was largely neglected and wholly subordinated to the unconventional warfare prerogatives of the military.
The 1980s approach to police training dropped the pretense of the civil police’s independence from the military, perhaps partly because of the constraints on training ordinary police, but essentially because the changing view of insurgency lent itself to a military and paramilitary response alien to the concept of a civil police. The State Department’s October l 986 notification of the intent to reprogram military aid for the police in El Salvador stressed this:
Counterterrorism in El Salvador combines police and military techniques to meet a threat which combines elements of guerrilla warfare with open criminality, both in urban and rural areas.... The training curriculum composed entirely of military techniques, responds to the quasi-military nature of the Salvadoran terrorist threat.26
A U.S. Embassy official told an American delegation in 1986: “You have to recognize that every policeman in El Salvador has a double mission: law enforcement, and a counterguerrilla mission. What the [U.S. Military Group] is focusing on is the military role.”27 It was not, therefore, particularly duplicitous to use military assistance to train policemen: The police status of the national bodies was in part, itself a polite fiction (as was the suggestion that only the police, and not the military, manned the “death squad” units).
The U. S. Military Group trained and outfitted some 2,800 policemen between 1982 and 1984, including six police infantry battalions of the National Police and one each of the National Guard and Treasury Police. The quasi-legal argument explaining this was that these units were engaged primarily in military activities “and do not perform regular police duties.” Similarly, a fifty-man Salvadoran SWAT teamthe Special Anti-terrorism Commando, comprised of police from the three forces was trained in 1984 by the Defense Department on the grounds that its rapid response antiterrorism brief was “military” in nature. Congressional critics saw their worst suspicions confirmed when the team first went into action in June 1985. Ordered in to break up a hospital workers’ strike, the squad beat and handcuffed medical staff and patients, halted surgery in progress (one patient died), and, in a classic mistaken identity gaffe, shot dead four undercover National Police officers. Union leaders were dragged off to jail for illegal strike action.29
After August 1985, military training of police was to be justified by reference to Section 660(d). Despite the “waiver” on Section 660 restrictions, the U.S. military continued, as before, to be the main trainers of the Salvadoran police. The only change in an eight-week course for police on “field counterinsurgency tactics” taught by military advisers was its expansion to twelve weeks and the addition of specialized training in hostage-rescue skills.30 Day-to-day advisory assistance comparable to the CIA’s Public Safety assignments was provided by the appointment of a member of the Military Group to advise each of the three police services (it cannot be ruled out that they, too, may have been seconded from the CIA).31
By 1985, the expanding program also began to bring regional security services and their leading personalities together under U. S. sponsorship. Congressional investigators subsequently found that Central American security chieftains were being flown out to secret “planning” meetings in Miami.32 Alarm bells might well have rung at the coincidence of the meeting’s stated focus on “investigations” and the attendance of regional political police figures, such as El Salvador’s Colonel Reinaldo López Nuila.33 It was, after all, the “Investigations Advisers” of the Public Safety program who worked directly with the political police in Central Americaunder the auspices of the CIA, not AID. An August 1986 congressional caucus report noted that, in addition to the “well-motivated but largely unproductive efforts to strengthen the Salvadoran judicial system,” U.S. programs “based on questionable interpretations of law” had trained over 4,000 police officers.34
Congressional resistance eventually restrained the efforts to expand security assistance throughout Central America. By August 1985, assistance was proceeding overtly along four tracks: military aid, police aid under 660(d) waivers, special programs under ATA, and Administration of Justice programs.35 A proposal to introduce a fifth track, through an omnibus Central American Counterterrorism Act, was under discussion as early as the spring of 1985. The proposal would have funded a combined five-country military/police assistance budget of $53 million. The $26 million “Law Enforcement” section was to have earmarked $12 million for El Salvadorand a contentious $3 million for Guatemala, a country still in the congressional eye for having taken the “death squad” formula to the limit.
Congressional watchdogs were particularly concerned with the elimination in the draft act of provision for the congressional oversight committees’ veto power over reprogramming military assistance funds to El Salvador and Honduras and the renewal of police aid to Guatemala They were also worried that the antiterror bandwagon was being used to propose transfers of arms that were particularly useful for state terrornotably submachine guns and sniper rifles “with day and night scopes” for El Salvador. Representative Buddy MacKay expressed a widely held skepticism regarding the human rights situation in Guatemala and Panama:
It is not persuasive to me to say we are going to have an election in Guatemala . . . when I can read in the weekly news magazines that that is cosmetic, that whoever serves there is going to serve at the leave of the military.... [A]nd it is not persuasive to me to say let’s train some people in Panama to combat terrorism, when the terrorist is the mall that is running the army.37
The administration may have jumped too soon, tempted by the antiterrorist opportunity opened by Salvadoran guerrillas when they attached U.S. Marines in June that year. Congress had already been stampeded into waiving bans on police aid to El Salvador on 11 July. This time the Congress held fastthe Central American Counterterrorism Act was defeated.
The new buzzword, international terrorism, brought an emotional charge that “insurgency” or “subversion” or even “revolution” could never match. No American could rightfully oppose a program to combat International terrorismand few in Congress thought very long or very hard about the means being proposed to do so. The antiterrorism campaign served to rehabilitate the idea of police assistance precisely in the areas in which the Public Safety Program had been most harshly criticized. From its inception in 1956 to its dissolution in 1975, Public Safety had presented its primary mission, at least for public Consumption, as the development of conventional civil police capabilities. Revelations of the close association of some of its advisers with local political police and intelligence agencies were enormously embarrassing. In the proposals for renewed police assistance, the emphasis was unashamedly placed on political investigation and intelligence, with the police role in special operations a close second. The U.S. public in the 1960s was uneasy about the way such aid to counter subversion and insurgency could shade into repression of a much broader nature. The 1980s formula, which identified the worldwide nemesis as terrorism, was made considerably more palatable.
The legislative initiatives of 1983 opened the way for a 1960s-style campaign to beef up the overseas security assistance program. They also avoided the human rights requirements for assistance to the counterinsurgency states under the terms of the Foreign Assistance Act. The resulting programs of advice and assistance would serve to disseminate a rehabilitated U. S. military doctrine combining counterinsurgency and unconventional warfarethe doctrine of low-intensity conflict. It would retain most of the worst characteristics of previous counterinsurgency doctrine while dropping its better features. The implementation of the unconventional aspects of the doctrine, moreover, would be spurred by a foreign policy that legitimized the tactics of reprisal and retaliation in kind in political warfare.
Some of the first efforts to raise the level of assistance to friendly foreign police forces under the Reagan administration were made in the Caribbean and in Central America. The approach in most cases was to train small paramilitary forces (and sometimes create them from scratch) as if they were military formations. U.S. security assistance in the Caribbean before the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program began centered on Puerto Rico as a training center and a source of U.S. personnel. Since 1980, the 12,000-man Puerto Rican National Guard, one of the best trained, best-equipped American national guard units, had provided training to the paramilitary security services of Barbados, Dominica, and Jamaican.38 The use of U.S. military forces to train regional paramilitary security units was one way to bypass the Public Safety training ban. In December 1981, after an attempted coup in Dominica, Congress authorized a $1 million fund to assist the defense forces of the small islands of the eastern Caribbean, even though most of those governments preferred small police forces to standing armies of any size.
This training of police by the U.S. military proceeded side-by-side with the training of the same forces by the FBI. FBI training for Caribbean police was permissible under the Justice Department waivers for certain kinds of instruction. A pilot training program was established by the FBI in Puerto Rico during 1982 to train police officers from the U. S. and the Caribbean “in basic criminal invest) dative matters.”39 Now known as the FBI’s Caribbean Police School, it provided two four-week sessions annually, from 1982 to 1984, training “137 mid-management officers,” including 21 from the U.S. Army and Navy, and 80 from sixteen foreign countries.40 (Statistics on its work after 1984 are not available.) The combined paramilitary police force of Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Antigua, Saint Vincent, and Saint Lucia, which joined the U.S. task force in the wake of the Grenada invasion, had all enjoyed American tutelage.
Training in the Caribbean increased after the October 1983 Grenada operation. The British promptly detailed a team of police advisers, supported by a Senior Superintendent from Barbados (and a modest budget of “750,000) to rebuild Grenada’s police force in the civil police tradition.41The United States was reluctant to surrender its newfound influence in the region to the British, however, and proceeded with its own style of police assistance. The objective was to establish a regional paramilitary force with the capability to preempt Grenada-style “crises” should leftists threaten to take power anywhere in the Caribbean. To that end, Congress agreed to waive restrictions on police training in the Caribbean, and the president authorized a $15 million program.42
In February 1984, nearly 100 Army Special Forces eight-man teams were reported to be operating in the area, organizing paramilitary “Special Service Units” on Grenada’s neighbors Saint Kitts-Nevis, Antigua, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, and Barbuda.43 A year later 160 Grenadian police recruits, too, underwent Special Forces training. The best would join “an 80-man paramilitary force that will wear combat fatigues and carry M-16 rifles”Grenada’s own Special Services Unit (SSU).44 The irony of sending Special Forces teams to train Caribbean police was largely missed by the United States” press. The New York Times reported that “they are teaching police recruits . . . a variety of skills useful to either a soldier or a policeman.”45 The peculiar attitude of the United States” unconventional warriors toward the rule of law apparently disturbed no one: perhaps because they were not even aware of the nature of special warfare and the orientation of special operations forces at the time.
This paramilitary project was Washington’s top priority in the region. Each of the microstates of the eastern Caribbean was to have an SSU and to work in conjunction with the small conventional army of Barbados in a Regional Security System (only Trinidad refused to join). By the end of 1985, the United States had trained and equipped SSUs on each of the islands with an explicit countersubversion, counterinsurgency brief: that is, “to provide their governments, most of which do not have armies, with extra muscle for dealing with insurgencies and external attack.”46
The first test of the new forces of the “Eastern Caribbean Security System” came in 1985 with regional maneuvers to “liberate” Saint Lucia. Military exercises, code-named “Exotic Palm, ‘simulated’ a situation in which a member-nation of the regional security system is threatened by insurgents, and needs assistance.”47 Participants included the Special Forces” proteges from Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts-Nevis, and Grenada.48 A disturbing detail that tends to confirm the aggressive nature of Special Forces training was the Saint Lucia SSU’s war games assignment: working with U.S. Navy SEALs to play the part of left-wing guerrillas. This implies that at least basic offensive unconventional warfare skills were passed on to these police recruits, perhaps through training in the “Aggressor” guerrilla tactics used in maneuver warfare. A year later, in “Ocean Venture ’86,” Grenada was “liberated” for a second time. As in the previous exercise, U.S. airborne troops operated in conjunction with eastern Caribbean forces from “the special service units set up with US support.”49
The antiterrorism rationale for security assistance opened the way to revived programs of U.S. police and military assistance to the region. Often the distinction was almost academic. Costa Rica’s Civil Guard (the country boasts of having no standing army since 1948) was one of the first paramilitary police forces to enjoy the increased attention from the United States in the Reagan years.50 After 1981, diplomatic and economic pressure virtually forced the Costa Ricans to abjure neutrality and take sides in the war on Nicaraguaand to prepare to take up arms in the fight.51 Although Costa Rica has no army, U.S. assistance to its police was military in substance (and itemized as such in the federal budget), and was provided by the army’s Green Berets. Like the specialist CIA trainers of the old Public Safety program, they were hardly representative of the civil police tradition.
U.S. military involvement in Costa Rica grew rapidly during Reagan’s first term. Military assistance levels rose from $300,000 in 1981 to $11 million in 1985.52 At times the enthusiasm of U.S. officials for Costa Rican projects outstripped that of their Costa Rican counterparts, who, after all, had the sometimes difficult task of ensuring continued domestic support from an electorate jealous of its country’s sovereignty as well as its democratic, neutralist tradition. In November 1983, U.S. Defense Undersecretary Fred Ikle visited classified projects along Costa Rica’s northern with Nicaragua, and let slip that l,00 U.S. , engineers would arrive there before Christmas to build roads and a defensive infrastructure. The resulting uproar in Costa Rica obliged then-Presidcut Luis Alberto Monge to cancel the project. Costa Rican sources had reported the presence of a fifteen-n1an U. S. Army unit that was working on an airstrip in the north coast area even before Ikle’s visit, blat the prospect of l, 000 such soldiers dampened the Costa Rican goodwill considerably.53 The State Department apparently dates the real “breakthrough” in Costa Rica to a formal request for $7.6 million of military aid in the spring of 1984about three times the previous aid levels.54 A classified report urged that the request be granted in order to push Costa Rica “more explicitly and publicly into the anti-Sandinista camp.”55 The document did warn of the “public relations danger” that the United States would be accused of militarizing Costa Rica. The report’s solution was “to keep the spotlight on Nicaragua as the aggressor.”56
The politicking over Costa Rica’s neutrality seems to have had a covert action backdrop. Popular disapproval of Green Beret trainers was mitigated by a series of border incidents involving Nicaraguan troops, contras, and Costa Ricans along the San Juan River. Nicaraguan patrol craft on the river sometimes strayed up Costa Rican tributaries, and Costa Rican rivercraft were sometimes fired on from the Nicaraguan shore. On 31 May 1985, as protests at the arrival of U. S. Green Berets peaked, two Costa Rican Civil Guards were killed under suspicious circumstances at the border post in Las Crucitas. Such incidents readily fueled anti-Nicaraguan sentin1ent in Costa Rica. Two months later, two British mercenaries, Peter Glibbery and John Daviesapparently employed as CIA contract agents to work at the Costa Rican end of the contra networkclaimed convincingly that these clashes may have been staged by the United States.57
Doubts as to the official version of the incident at Las Crucitas were expressed soon after it was reported. President Monge had responded to the events with suspicious haste, denouncing a “premeditated attack” by the Nicaraguans and placing an instant freeze on relations. Minister of Public Security Benjamin Piza Carranza made an immediate public call on the United States to speed up arms shipments (the first arrived within ten days). The United States, in turn, allegedly tendered a suspiciously impromptu offer to send troops.58 Former president Pepe Figueras, a harsh critic of the Sandinistas, openly expressed his skepticism: “I don’t think it has been aufficiently proved that the attackers were the Sandinistas. I think it’s part of a ploy concocted internationally.”59
The detention of a group of mercenaries at a Costa Rican contra camp on 24 Aprilincluding the two British, as well as a Frenchman and an Americanwas a consequence of Costa Rica’s playing several hands at once. Three of the detainees who spoke to the press said they were “unpaid volunteers” with the contras “southern front who had operated in the area with the active support of the local Civil Guard “until the same men apologetically arrested them, explaining that there had been a change of orders.”60 The government had previously straddled the fence on several occasions, authorizing contra airstrips while briefly detaining high-profile contra leaders in San Jose (with publicity geared to demonstrate they were not hosting the southern front’s forces). Previously, those detained were quietly releasedand sometimes left the country for a “cooling-off” period. Glibbery and Davies were recruited through the ostensibly private, Alabama-based Civilian Military Assistance (CMA) after an assignment in South Africa. They began to talk to the press when their expected release failed to come through.61
The July 1985 interviews leveled allegations that were embarrassing to both Costa Rica and the United States. The Civil Guard, it seemed, had on 26 March delivered a supply of arms to the contras, including 72 Brazilian-made grenades. 62 of more concern to the CIA were Glibbery’s and [Davies’s claim that contra supply routes ran through military channels at Ilopango airport in San Salvador to airstrips near Costa Rica’s border with Nicaraguaincluding the one on American John Hull’s ranch (claims subsequently confirn1ed during the Iran-contra hearings). Most sensational was their allegation that CIA instructions discussed not long before their arrest included “plans . . . to fabricate a border incident, shelling the Costa Rican town of Los Chiles and “planting” bodies of Nicaraguan soldiers, to provoke US intervention.”63
The major training programs for Costa Rica took offin the spring of 1985. By then an arms supply effort had equipped the police with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, grenade launchers, and, in a single shipment in April 1985, 4,000 M16 rifles. In February 1985, 45 Costa Rican guardsmen left for the U.S. Regional Training Center in Honduras to attcud a two-month counterinsurgency course to prepare them to become instructors.64 In May 1985, a 24-man Special Forces Mobile Training Team arrived in Costa Rice to train the Civil Guard’s Batallon Relampagothe “Lightning Battalion.”65 The Nation’s account of the graduation of the battalion’s A and B companies after three months of training by Green Berets in 1985 notes wryly that anyone at the ceremony “would recognize the 375 men for what they are, soldiers.” Militarization (or “paramilitarization”), it seems, was part and parcel of U.S. security assistance. Richard J. Walton reported:
They were trained by elite combat troops to counter subversion and guerrilla warfare, and they were trained not with Police Specials but with M-16s, .50 caliber and M-60 machine guns, and anti-tank weapons.... Minister of Public Security Benjamin Piza Carranza. . . told me he would like to see the entire 5,500 man force receive similar instruction.67
The entire 750-man Lightning Battalion was trained along lines similar to those of El Salvador’s rapid response battalions, which were also trained by the Special Forces. A second elite force of 400 police officers underwent training in 1985, with an explicitly “anti-terrorist” brief, the affiliations of the U.S. trainers involved was not revealed. Minister of the Presidency Danilo Jimenez said only that the antiterrorist force was being trained by “Israeli and US agents.”68
Another Costa Rican innovation that smacked of the counterinsurgency state was the organization of a paramilitary militiaa civilian defense body suspiciously reminiscent of El Salvador’s infamous ORDENin late 1982. OPEN, the Organization for National Emergencies, was officially described as a civilian volunteer organization to support regular security forces “in national emergencies” and “to defend democracy”; it was administered by the Ministry of Security.69 Like ORDEN, OPEN’s members, in the words of Vice-Minister of Security Johnny Campos, ”must be “citizens of proven democratic faith.” They must sign a declaration professing their belief in democracy. Communists are not permitted to join. “7” Civil Guard Lt. Col. Carlos Zeledon stressed that OPEN was different from the previous National Reserve or National Guard, in that it was “more civil in character.”70It might be added that it was more political in character as wella matter much discussed in Costa Rica, where the possibility that extremist right-wing groups would infiltrate the group was recognized.
In early February 1983, authorities announced that some 10,000 citizens had been preparing over the previous two months to participate in OPEN; their training included “self-defense use of light weapons, and emergency rescue techniques.”72 Campos refused to say whether the United States assisted in the creation of OPEN, claiming the matter was a “state secret.”73
Costa Rica did not become a military staging area for the United States along Honduran lines; it did, however, provide a safe rear area dotted with airstrips and supply dumpsfor contra incursions into Nicaragua, until the Iran-contra scandal gave Monge’s successor, Oscar Arias Sanchez, a pretext to curtail assistance to the Contras. Costa Rica’s cooperation with the United States’ regional plans w as closely related to the economic squeeze put on Monge when he assumed office in 1982. Costa Rica had been in a debt crisis since the late 1970s, and had become increasingly dependent on U.S. financial aid.74 This aidmuch of it with strings attachedjumped from $16 million in 1980 to $200 million in 1983; the threat to pull the plug on aid was an increasingly significant factor in the bilateral relationship.75
The threats came out in the open after President Arias began to backpeddle from Monge’s commitments to U. S. policy shortly after his election in February 1986. He moved to shut down the contra supply base on John Hull’s ranch near the Nicaraguan border (Hull would later receive further media attention in the context of the Iran-contra hearings when allegations emerged that CIA contract pilots used his ranch to bring in guns and take out narcotics). Arias ordered the airstrip there closed and the U.S. operations in the area curtailed; some contras were actually detained for a short time.
The Tower Commission report describes the NSC response to news on 9 September 1986 of the airfield closure and of an impending Costa Rican announcement of the action. In a conference call, NSC staffer Oliver North, State Department’s Elliot Abrams, and Ambassador Louis Tambs decided to limit the damage through economic bullying: “North said that they had decided North would call Costa Rican President Arias and tell him if the press conference went forward the US would cancel $80 million in promised AID assistance and Arias” upcoming visit with President Reagan.”76 North also told the commission that both Tambs and Abrams had “reinforced this message with Arias,” and that National Security Adviser William Poindexter had supported the initiative. North’s NSC field team in Central America had advised a similarly heavy-handed approach in a coded transmission on 10 September informing Washington that the airfieldcode-named “Plantation”had been raided. The text reflects a typical Yankee disdain for presidents of smaller republics who get in the United States” way:
COSTA RICAN SECURITY forces raided Plantation yesterday and impounded 77 drums of gas. Rumors [redacted] apprehension for questioning denied late last night. One raiding official who claims saw facilities for 400 men at site arrested [redacted] .... Alert Ollie Pres. Arias will attend Reagan’s dinner in New York Sept. 22nd. Boy needs to be straightened out by heavy weights.77
The story did not end with the airstrip contretemps. Arias stuck to his guns on the closure and announced it to the media; Washington responded as threatened, cutting unilateral grants and loans, and blocking aid from international financial institutions.78 Arias did not buckle under U.S. pressure, however, and eventually put through his own regional peace plan (to Washington’s dismay), which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.
The offensive component of political warfare had been a covert side of U.S. policy since the 1940s. In the 198()s, it was made public in formal policy statements. The Reagan administration entered office determined to roll back revolution around the world, and said so quite openly. El Salvador was the primary theater of operations to crush a revolution in the making. Nicaragua was to be the showcase operation of spoiling and reversing a successful revolution through concerted unconventional warfare. Propaganda efforts to justify covert intervention in Nicaragua would go some way toward distracting the U.S. public’s attention from the all-out warfare in El Salvador and the tens of thousands of political killings by U. S. allies there.
The theoretical side of offensive counterrevolutionary warfare had been worked over for decades by backroom Cold Warriors: Some of the Reagan team’s policymakers had been working to this end for many years, and the more innovative ones would find the opportunity to put Into practice their own theories from decades before. Among them was Central America policymaker Constantine Menges. In a 1968 paper he prepared as a RAND Corporation strategist, Menges set the stage for his 1980s role in waging the unconventional war On Nicaragua. In “Democratic Revolutionary Insurgency as an Alternative Strategy” (March 1968), he elaborates On the organization of U. S.-backed “insurgency” against revolutionary regimes. The tactics, in his assessment,
would be precisely the same as those immortalized by the Viet Minh and Viet Cong: systematic assassination of key communist officials at all levels of government; selective recruitment of cadre elements; efficient use of limited external material assistance; incessantly “political” warfare, meaning establishment of model governments in areas free of communist government control; attacks on communist military units known to be demoralized and the like.79
Menges’s 1968 paper acknowledges that sonic allies are not really worth saving, and it reserves the Option to dump so-called allied regimes that are potential liabilities. The preferred contingency, however, Is to maintain moderate backing for an ally while preparing for the morning after its fall. The “unsuitable” allies that had outlived their usefulness could be propped discreetly, but the United States would not go out on a limb to save them. The primary effort was to go toward selecting and protecting a more congenial successor. This was in practice the approach taken during the rapid decline of El Salvador’s General Romero, and it was also applicable as the Marcos regime progressively lost its grip. The long fall of the Somozas was an occasion in which all the options were covereddiplomatic tut-tutting and estrangement cloaked backdoor U.S. training and a green light to Israeli arms shipments. And even as Somoza flew out, a last-ditch deal was being frantically promoted to form an Inter-American peace force. If the installation of a more acceptable moderate was unrealistic, and an undesirable revolutionary regime seemed inevitable, preparations were in order for a future campaign of guerrilla insurgency.
The preparations to be made before the collapse, as outlined by Menges, were to include setting up a U. S.-backed “revolutionary” force to act when the time was ripe: “Thus it might be feasible to do nothing to prevent a communist movement from seizing power against a government we consider ‘unsuitable,’ but meanwhile make efforts to encourage the formation of an underground movement which will emerge later.” The underground movement would “snake its move” within six mouths to a year, time enough for the revolutionary government to have won “that massive unpopularity . . . which usually follow[s].”81 And so, as Somoza and friends fled, preparations for life after Somoza went into high gear.
The covert and unilateral preparation for unconventional war on the territory of allied nations was not a particularly novel idea. The development of local, U.S.-controlled assets as resources against future crises was one aspect of the 1962 Special Forces mission to Colombia discussed earlier, while the ClA’s high-level assets in Central America (notably in Panama’s Manuel Noriega) have more recently been in the news. The doctrine and practice was to make some preparation for unconventional warfare In the counterinsurgency states, against the possibility that friendly governments could (and in some cases, should) collapse. This could be done as part of U. S. military assistance and training programs within the country as well as through joint contingency planning with the host government.
A major role of U.S. special operations forces was to prepare and encourage host governments to take unconventional measures to combat subversion and insurgency before it was too late. There was also a secondary tracknot always known to the head of the host govenrnmentfor preemptive special warfare operations: If the host was unsuccessful in quashing prorevolutionary stirrings, or collapsed altogether, U. S. assets in the country could be called upon. Brigadier General Joseph C. Lutz, commander of the First Special Forces Command explained that special operations forces gave us “the capability of being introduced into a given country, being established on the ground with contacts, maybe even with our own intelligence networks,” in anticipation of later needs. This, he confided, “is the secret of the peacetime to wartime transition.”82 The strategy assumed that the United States could carry out undercover organization (and operations) overseas virtually at willif not in pursuit of a particular objective, then simply as tramming exercises and insurance. This could explain why U. S. military personnel were detailed to help the Costa Ricans build roads along the Nicaraguan border, and more recently, ostensibly to fight drug traffickers In Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.
The long-term placement of U.S. assets through special operations was secondary to the prime objective of helping allied governments develop counterinsurgency states that would preclude any insurgency. The tactics of unconventional warfare were encouraged as legitimate tools to preempt serious threats. The United States’ instruction in illicit counterinsurgency, however, coincided with a second, more public track of U. S. foreign policy: pressuring these self-same governments to professionalize their police and armed forces and to respect human rights. The advisers In unconventional warfare, moreover, could not decide the critical threshold at which the host government would turn to the Illegal tactics of unconventional warfare, the extent to which such tactics would be used, or the timetable of its action. U.S. doctrine at every level encouraged military counterparts to consider domestic political problems as an aspect of global political warfarein the same light as the international skulduggery of spies and commando raids. The nonviolent political oppositionif labeled ideologically suspectwas fair game. The unrestrained use of unconventional warfare tactics by host governments, as if the enemy had already taken control, was perhaps inevitable.
As an allied counterinsurgency state turned Increasingly to the unlimited terror of unconventional warfare, the United States still had several Options. It could extend unrestricted support to its threatened ally, or it could covertly support one or more of the contending factions for power. Alternatively, the U.S. response to a government on its way out could be to organize a third force, an autonomous insurgent movement that would nominally fight the old regime while setting out to hamstring and supplant its principal adversary. Menges called this “Triangle Warfare”: that is, “the fomenting of a national revolutionary insurgency that would draw upon the best persons within the major social institutions, and unite them in a cohesive movement opposed to both the corrupt government and the communist insurgency.”83 In the postcollapse situation, then, U.S.-backed rivals to undesirable revolutionary movements could keep up the fight, unencumbered by any association with the old regime.
Menges suggests that the United States’ position improves as the communist movement becomes more dangerous and the government weakens, with “the disruptions and intrinsic tragedies of a country In the throes of communist insurgency . . . made to work in favor of the ultimate victory of the U. S.-supported democratic revolutionary movement.” Terror and counterterror would create the preconditions for a third contender to move in, pick up the pieces, and assume control:
All the brutality of the struggle between the rival terror machines might therefore serve to reinforce the desire of many for some other alternativea third choice.... The effective democratic revolutionary movement could enter the open battle late, fight against two weakened and tired opponents, and gain more strength and support with every offensive action taken against both the Communists and the legal regime.
A more common alternative to the “triangle” approach has been applied to collapsing regimes with still-viable armed forces: nurturing selected factions within military establishment capable of leading palace coups, and providing the new faces to revive and remodel old systems. The “reformist” coups in El Salvador in 1979, Guatemala in 1982, and the Philippines in 1985 could all be interpreted as variations on this theme. The coup option provides a means to avoid (or deflate) “mass participation, uprisings, disturbances and the like,” while “leaving some kind of government intact.” Although the coup is usually the only option the United States will consider, the transfer of power offers little in the way of a remedy to the political problems that may have led to unrest. Menges points out that the “coup alternative . . . often leaves the successor regime quite constrained as to new policy alternatives” an analysis Corazon Aquino might appreciate.
In practice, U.S. policymakers found that backing a third force between the unsuitable and the unacceptable was preferable to taking chances with mercenaries and volatile paramilitary forces, but such options were foreclosed in situations in which authentic revolutionary movements had already swept the traditional armies from the field.
In Nicaragua and Angola, the “triangle warfare” model was applicable. In Angola, the United States backed first Holden Roberto’s FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) and then FNLA and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) as alternatives to the Soviet-backed MPLA (the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola); the geometry of intervention was made rather more complex by the addition of Zaire, South Africa, and odds and ends of “assistance” from the European powers. The Nicaraguan example began after the first year of the revolutionary government, when Eden PastoraComandante Zerosplit with the government and set up as a guerrilla leader on his own. As leader of the Tercerista faction of the FSLN (roughly, “the third way”), Pastora’s band would be a natural for recruitment and assistance by the United States. The arrangement ultimately broke down on two scores: U. S. war managers distrusted Pastora and, in the words of Newsweek, “alienated the only group likely to attract widespread support in Nicaragua.” Even worse, the United States selected the rump of the National Guard as the backbone of its campaign, “supporting the only wrong, the only truly evil alternative.” 87 Even though Pastora was, ultimately, brought on board, the romance ended prematurely when Pastora balked at taking orders and at direct collaboration with the former National Guard officers running the main contra forces. On 30 May 1984, a bomb exploded at a Pastora press conference in a shack along the San Juan River, killing two journalists and severely injuring others. Pastora escaped with his life, but his usefulness to the counterrevolution was terminated.
A favorite U.S. option in the 1980s was to bring; the forces of third countries into U.S. unconventional warfare offensivesunder their own or false colors, on a cash-down or voluntary basis. The motives (and rewards) varied. Theodore Shackley cites as a model the assistance lent to the ClA’s Meo program by an elite paramilitary unit from Thailand.88 Shackley’s 1981 proposals suggest that he saw no political problem in hiring outside forces, a logic that could also apply to U. S. contract forces in unconventional roles: “Selectively employ ‘volunteers’ as combat troops or advisers. The supply of high-quality manpower is limited in any country.... The volunteers can be reservists from a neighboring country who have just finished tours of active military duty and are hired to fight on fixed contract terms.”89
A 1986 paper from another RAND analyst, Charles Wolf, concurred with Shackley and proposed to do formally what in practice occurred covertly: induce Third World allies to provide counterinsurgency/counterrevolutionary forces to operate shoulder-to-shoulderor stand in forU.S. forces in third-country scenarios.90 “Cooperative Forces” would be drawn from Third World “countries and movements” for the advancement of mutual interests, notably “pluralism, human rights, ‘open’ societies and containment and reversal of the Soviet Union’s empire in the third world.”91 The reference to “movements” may well refer to such Cold War dinosaurs as the World Anti-Communist League or to the range of American oddball organizations called in to help out with the contra embargo-busting campaign. Wolf identifies likely “cooperative” candidates as including Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina in the Americas. He distinguishes between our “cooperative” forces and the enemy’s proxies or surrogates: “Proxies act at the behest of a controlling power, which bears all the accompanying costs. Cooperative forces act from mutual interest, and share in the cost, responsibilities and decision making.”92 Cooperative forces would be on call with counterinsurgency services “at the invitation of beleaguered third world countries.” And in the proinsurgency field, they would include “the forces of ‘front line’ states willing to provide support for the insurgent local forces” throughout the world.93
The proxy option was particularly appealing at the time because it mirrored yet another of the alleged methods of the Soviets, who were seen as past masters of “surrogate” forces acting at their behest, the Cubans in Angola being the prime example. Wolf’s proposal appears to have been adopted intact by the “low-intensity” schoola recommendation phrased in much the same terms appeared in the 1988 report of the blue-ribbon Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy. The commission’s report lauded what it saw as the Soviet achievement in the field (with a fairly indiscriminate list of supposed surrogates) and recommended work with our own Third World allies “at developing ‘cooperative forces.’” It ruefully admitted that
we have a lot to leant from the Soviets in this regard. Soviet efforts to advance and defend their interests in less developed countries are typically supported by a familiar cast of charactersCubans, Nicaraguans, Vietnamese, North Koreans, East Europeans. These cooperating forces are led and financed by Moscow.... The entire operation carries enormous advantages for the Soviet Union, both in minimizing its own risks of confrontation with the West and in making available troops that blend readily into the environment.94
Ideally, the American project would result in “mobile forces available for duty in particular regions, or even outside them.” In the process participating allies would be able to “improve their military capabilities and perhaps their regional political and economic influence.”95
The third-party option was actually used extensively in covert actions well before the idea was bandied around in public. Argentinian and Israeli advisers played a major role in the organization of the unconventional war on Nicaragua and in the covert counterterror bloodbath in Guatemala between 1979 and 1982. Argentinian trainers based in Honduras were on the job with the U.S. advisers at the inception of the program to build an irregular army for the war on Nicaragua. Although Israel’s role in the region was even more extensive, not all of the Israeli offers of help were taken up. A May 1986 exchange of computer memoranda at the National Security Council between Lt. Col. North and Admiral Poindexter illustrates the Israelis’ eagerness to gain political capital through such exchanges:
DEF[ense]MIN[istcr Yitzhak] RABlN SENT HIS MIL[itary]AIDE TO SEE ME WITH THE FOLLOWING OFFER: THE ISRAELIS W[oul]D BE WILLING TO PUT 20-50 SPANISH SPEAKING MILITARY TRAINERS/ADVISORS INTO THE DRF [Democratic Revolutionary Forces] IF WE WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. THEY W[oul]D DO THIS IN CONCERT WITH AN ISRAELI PLAN TO SELL THE KFIR FlGHTER TO HONDURAS.. .. RABIN WANT TO MEET W/ME PRIVATELY IN N. Y. TO DISCUSS DETAILS. MY IMPRESSION IS THAT THEY ARE PREPARED TO MOVE QUICKLY ON THIS IF WE DO DESIRE. ABRAMS LIKES THE IDEA.96
The interchange of counterterror personnel between El Salvador and Guatemala, and the role of the ubiquitous CIA Cubans in both countries is rather less known. The November 1980 “Dissent Paper on El Salvador and Central America,” a twenty-nine-page paper attributed to the State Department’s “dissent channel”but officially disavowedis one quasi-official source that reports that better “communication and cooperation among armed forces and paramilitary organizations” in Guatemala and Honduras was a key part of U.S. strategy on El Salvador and Nicaragua.97 Contingency plans for regional intervention in 1980 reportedly included the creation of “a paramilitary strike force of former members of the Nicaraguan National Guard, anti-Castro Cubans, Guatemalan military personnel and mercenaries,”98 although it was said to be impossible to substantiate “charges that CIA has been promoting and encouraging” this.99
The February and March 1982 Washington Post exclusives that revealed parts of the Reagan administration’s covert action plans in Nicaragua tended to substantiate the CIA parentage of a multinational, but unilateral, regional paramilitary program.100 The Post’s analysis of National Security Council records on the November 1981 presidential finding read very much like the November 198() Dissent Paper. The action plan provided for the “conduct of political and paramilitary operations against the Cuban presence and Cuban-Sandinista support structure in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America.” 101 The “formation and training of local paramilitary “action teams” was proposed for intelligence collection and “to engage in paramilitary and political operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere.”102
On the noncovert side the 1988 report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy suggested third-party involvement in El Salvador was a starting point for broader regional cooperation: “The war . . . became a model of sorts for cooperative efforts: under American leadership other Latin American countries proved willing to offer military training.”103 Second-government involvement in El Salvador was, In fact relatively small in scale although possibly significant in the intelligence field. One of the more surprising partnerships was Venezuela’s secret provision of a twelve-man mobile training team in 1982 to assist in the organization of 350-man hunter-killer cazadora battalion modeled on similar units set up in Venezuela in the 1960s.104 In 1985 Venezuelan trainers were revealed to be working with the intelligence officers of Salvadoran security servicesservices that U. S. trainers were banned from assisting. A Salvadoran officer confirmed that “the Venezuelans are picking up where the United States is not allowed to train,” after human rights workers received reports that uniformed Venezuelans had supervised the Interrogation of political prisoners.105
Argentine counterinsurgents, too, are credited with having lent assistance at the inception of the Salvadorans’ own “dirty war” in 19801981. Former Salvadoran security chief Colonel Roberto Santivanez who emerged from shadowy retirement in the United States to be interviewed In 1985, was one source on the Argentine connection. Argentine advisers, he said, working with “unemployed” former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen, had been involved in setting up the clandestine Infrastructure for counterterror “death squad” operations in the Immediate aftermath of the October 1979 coup. Santivanez credits these “cooperative forces” with having actively promoted a decentralized system for “death squad” targeting of subversives at the local level while identifying the National Police, National Guard, and Treasury Police as those responsible for the bulk of the killings. “it The grass-roots intelligence system onto which the “death squad” campaign of killings was grafted was based on the preexistent structure of ORDEN, the paramilitary network of some 100,000 members set up by the armed forces explicitly for counterinsurgency in the 1960s.107
The Dissent Paper lends further credence to a role for “cooperative forces” In some of the stickier areas of Salvadoran counterinsurgency. “The most solid bloc of support” reportedly came from the Southern Cone, with Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay providing training and advisers on “Intelligence, urban and rural counter-insurgency, and logistics. Argentina is held to have become the second largest trainer of Salvadoran officers after the United States.”
A major distinction between old-style counterinsurgency and the new doctrine of the 1980swhat Sam Sarkesian called “the new counterinsurgency era”was the quiet watering down of its reform and development dimension.109 Development and reform had traditionally been considered unmilitary (a matter for civilian agencies), unworkable (an impertinent interference with allied governments), and precipitous (impossible to achieve without having first crushed the insurgency). The 1986 low-intensity conflict Field Circular, FC100-20, continued to refer to Internal Defense and Development (IDAD) as a part of the philosophy of counterinsurgency, its definition dating from the 1960s counterinsurgency era: “the art and science of developing and using the political, economic, psychological, and military powers of a government, including all police and internal security forces, to prevent or defeat insurgency.110 The same manual makes only an oblique reference to problems of unattractive allies, merely asserting that the host government ”must clearly demonstrate that it is a better choice than the insurgent organization.”111
A more extensive acknowledgement of the political underpinnings of counterinsurgency was made in the 1986 joint-services study of lowintensity conflict.112 The study concludes that the existence of a well developed insurgency is often in itself evidence of a “legitimate crisis” in the society, with a likelihood that “political, social, and economic disparities” had provoked armed opposition. The solution to this problem, however, is seen to lie with the host government, which is expected to use military force carefully while defusing the more acute of the grievances that fuel it. The governing authority must both “discipline the use of force” and realize that “the true nature of the insurgent threat lies in its political claims and not in the military movement.113 Sound advice, but barely reflected in the training, equipment, and operational assistance provided to allied counterinsurgents. The report of the Joint Low-lntensity Conflict Project, like many products of committees, incorporates the practical and the philosophical on an equal footing. Operational doctrine does not.
The doctrine provides no formula, apart from the cosmetic device of civic action, through which to transform the political aspect of counterinsurgency analysis into programmatic action. On the contrary, the political mood of the Reagan administration was to abjure poetical pressures on ideological allies, however ruthless and authoritarian, in line with the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”and by elaboration, that one does not tell one’s friends how to live.” strictly military side of counterinsurgency, in contrast, is subject to immediate implementation with a modicum of training and equipment.
The stated commitment to democratization and development provided a fine gloss to the military contest with subversion, much as in the classic counterinsurgency doctrine of the 1960s. The extensive development programs of 1960s counterinsurgency, however, had been betrayed by their incomparability with the doctrine’s military dimension (and blocked or corrupted by the status quo in every theater). The doctrine of the 1980s revival restated the same analytical premises but largely eschewed a direct, hands-on military role in counterinsurgency’s political dimension. In the new operational doctrine, the U.S. forces’ lowintensity role largely shed the last of its reformist trappings in deference to programs of strictly military action. The Reagan administration gradually came around to recognizing that a regime with a reformist face was an asset In counterinsurgency (particularly with the American people) and, conversely, that an undisguised tyrant was a liability. In the 1980s revival, however, the U.S. military had progressively distanced itself from any role in the nation-building and reform stakes.
Even at the height of the 1960s counterinsurgency era, the military’s involvement in the political and economic side of counterinsurgency, from civic action to administrative reform, had continually bumped up against the practical matter of the military’s primary mission and expertise. In the 1980s, SOUTHCOM commander General Paul Gorman had growled about the old style as a product of“military hubris and political naivete which then afflicted our policies”and which, hopefully, “may never again be associated with U. S. policies for low intensity conflict.”115 The new, streamlined counterinsurgency was less ambitious, to the relief of the old-timers (with a few exceptions). Special Forces commander Brig. Gen. Joseph Lutz, while not opposing broad spectrum action by other agencies, remarked that “as a military operator I think we should focus on the military part of the equation.”116 For the Special Forcesand the mainstream militarycounterinsurgency was ultimately a military problem to be resolved through military operations.
The decline of the reform and development dimension in the Reagan era was a consequence of several factors. There was, as noted, ideological distaste for Interference with allies’ economic and political structures and a realpolitik argument that reform could actually be counterproductive.
There was also a return to the perennial argument that reform and development were impractical until after the military threat had been eliminated. Some military pundits argued that the development side of the equation was based on mistaken analysisand should be junked: “One of the myths that gained currency during the 1960s is that poverty causes insurgency. That belief had a corollary: that economic development sweeps insurgency away.”117 Colonel Rod Paschall argued that the corollary to the myth, that “economic development may be an important and laudable element in a government’s plan to deal with insurgency,” should also be swept away, observing that
history clearly indicates such efforts are not essential to success. Insurgencies have often been put down with repressive, brute force. Paradoxically, development pushed too far can sever the sometimes fragile threads of social stabilityas the Shah of Iran found out.... Additionally, economic development, hard enough to achieve in peace, is extremely difficult to produce in the midst of a guerrilla war.118
Even were a theoretical basis to support development as part and parcel of counterinsurgency, the constraints on the success of the “carrot” were implicit. Economic reforms were contingent on not rocking the free-market boat; democratization was constrained by an arrogant mistrust of the target population’s ability to decide on its own future in a satisfactory manner. As Henry Kissinger remarked in the course of covert action planning for Chile’s 1970 elections: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.119 The pursuit of both economic and political reform also flew in the face of the premise that the United States acted at the invitation of a host government which ran the show. Reforms in counterinsurgency states like Vietnam or El Salvador were incompatible with the interests of the domestic elites, civil and military. These local counterinsurgents were fighting largely to avoid just the kind of social and economic readjustments posited, albeit mildly, in U. S. doctrine. How could they accept even a limited land reform that would recognize the validity of the principle of social justice which insurgents espoused?
Similarly, how could national elites in the counterinsurgency states accept a real democratic process when they were convinced that it would bring precisely the changes demanded by the insurgents? That it would erase their privilege and, perhaps for the first time, make them accountable before the law for their actions? The hypocrisy of their American patrons with regard to the democratic process further hamstrung efforts to coax national elites to mend their undemocratic ways. The United States’ manipulation of elections and its vetoing of even the milder opinions of the Left in the counterinsurgency states has sent a clear and sharp and persistent message to reluctant democrats that democracy is not yet for everyone. U. S. efforts to ensure that the Christian Democrats won over the extremists of the Right in El Salvador’s 1984 elections was hardly an object lesson in democracyespecially when combined with pressures to ensure that the left-wing opposition supporting the insurgency be excluded by fear or electoral fiat from running candidates
The reluctance of the elites of the counterinsurgency states to get fully into the spirit of reform and development might have been overcome had the U.S. commitment to this been more robust. The reform dimension of special warfare fell flat precisely because it was seen by the U.S. counterinsurgent as a medium of psychological warfareas special warfare’s sugar coating. At best, reform was promoted as a special warfare tactic, not as a policy to promote justice and a better life in line with the values and standards of living Americans claim for themselves.