Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990
The 1950s and early 1960s were the heyday of covert action, in part because the determination to wage a cold war at every level coincided, perhaps ironically, with the fruition of U. S. efforts to develop functioning structures of international law designed to halt intervention, aggression, and international conflict. The immediate aftermath of World War II saw dramatic advances in the development of international law and of machinery for its monitoring, promotion, and implementation. Its principal framework and forum was the United Nations, the successor to Woodrow Wilson’s stillborn League of Nations (and inheritor of its enormous Peace Palace overlooking Lake Geneva). A better basis was thus established for the regulation of international relations in war and peace.
Overt intervention, therefore, could no longer be justified on the simple grounds of realpolitik but had to be rationalized in the terms of the new international order. In the 1960s, a formula would be found the doctrine of counterinsurgencythrough which a new kind of intervention would become a permanent and ostensibly “legal” feature of everyday international relationsand, of course, an alternative to the major wars unacceptable in the nuclear age. In the 1950s, however, intervention was generally more crude, an outright disregard for the new international standards through clandestinity.
Although the waging of the Cold War frequently involved contravening the new standards of international law, domestic and diplomatic realities required explanation of every foreign-policy initiative as at least consistent with the ideals of international law, if not central to its very survival. Having effectively outlawed armed intervention, “counterintervention” became the norm. The use of proxies to this end, in turn, required recourse to legal gymnastics, and the use of propaganda as a palliative to improprieties. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy rejected a 1961 legal brief that held the Bay of Pigs invasion to be in violation of international law and the United States’ own neutrality laws, on the grounds that those involved were “patriots” (the “freedom fighters” of the 1960s, prefiguring those of the 1980s)and that times had changed:
The neutrality laws. . . are among the oldest laws in our statute books.... Clearly they were not designed for the kind of situation which exists in the world today.... No activities engaged in by Cuban patriots which have been brought to our attention appear to be violations of our neutrality laws.1
Similarly ambivalent views of the merits and demerits of international law have long been a feature in U. S. foreign policy. At the turn of the century, Admiral Mahan urged placing the United States above the developing framework of international law. In an 1899 article on the first of the Hague peace conferences of the same year, Mahan argued that the principle of international arbitration, “this most humane impulse,” threatened compulsion “to vitally impair the moral freedom, and the consequent moral responsibility, which are the distinguishing glory of the rational man, and of the sovereign state.”2 Mahan’s thesis was not that might makes right, but that the exercise of might faithful to duty and conscience was a moral obligation. The failure to go to war, to act, was to him as immoral as a war waged without conviction “Nor is this... vitiated by the fact that war is made at times upon mistaken conviction.”3 International law, then, must not in extremis be permitted to interfere with a nation’s conviction as to what is (its) right.4 The virtue is in the act and in the resolution to act on conviction however misguided, whatever the consequences. The weight of responsibility, then, remains on the nation’s leaders to correctly interpret interest and to act accordingly.
Ethics in Mahan’s view of international affairsand warwere entirely subordinate to national interests; and because interests were a matter of convictions, the will to war was an ethical sufficiency unto itself. Foreign affairs after Mahan, however, required adjustment to the consensus of American policymakers that it was, after all, in the national interest to introduce order into international relations through a framework of law. It was immediately after the creation of the United Nations that American leaders found it necessaryas a matter of interestto break the new rules they publicly lauded. In doing so, they developed new systems by which to evade accountability for lawbreakingincluding an enormous apparatus for covert interventionand, by means of extraordinary effort, to present the United States’ actions, whatever their nature, as in accord with international law.
The public statements of Cold War policy define American military involvement overseas strictly in terms of counteraggression: intervention is preferably on the invitation of a threatened, legal government, to counter a projection of Soviet militaryand ideologicalpower. Policymakers of the early Cold War, the 1960s proponents of counterinsurgency, and the Reagan administration each projected military power by means of formulations that “transcended” or circumvented the spirit, and often the letter, of international law. The deployment of the covert paramilitary apparatus of the Eisenhower administration’s Central Intelligence Agency on the one hand, and the abortive American invasion of Cuba three months after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration on the other, exemplify the ethical conundrum of Cold War covert action and democratic idealsand bear directly on the revival of unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency doctrine in the 1980s.
The United States’ venture into the field of unconventional warfare generally defined in terms of “guerrilla” and assorted covert operations in enemy-occupied or influenced territory, began with President Franklin Roosevelt’s creation, in duly 1941, of the first autonomous American intelligence agency. The Office of Coordinator of Information (COI) later to become the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), held an expanding brief that by 1945 ranged from espionage and intelligence to behind-the-lines operations with indigenous guerrilla resistance forces. To an extraordinary extent the path taken by the COI-OSS (and later by its successor the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]) can be attributed to its director, World War I veteran Colonel William J. Donovan. Donovan, in turn, drew on his own familiarity with the British system, and his admiration for the coordination by the British of “intelligence activities with psychological warfare and special operations.” The British successfully combined “propaganda efforts with the ‘unorthodox’ operations of sabotage, subversion, and guerrilla warfare”through the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) and Special Operations Executive (SOE)in coordination with the Secret Intelligence Service’s intelligence and counterintelligence activities.6
Donovan had proposed in 1941 to match or excel the British in their covert management of political skulduggery overseas, but to combine into one central agency the intelligence, psychological warfare, and special operations functions. Army historian Alfred H. Paddock summarizes Donovan’s broad approach to psychological warfare: “Intelligence penetration” provides a basis for strategic planning and propaganda, to be followed by special operations, “in the form of sabotage and subversion, followed by commando-like raids, guerrilla actions, and behind-the-lines resistance movements.” The combined effort was to prepare for allied invasion; the unified operation thus representing “a new instrument of war.”7
In June 1942, the COI was dissolved and the OSS emerged, with Donovan at its head, under the authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Most of the COI’s wartime propaganda function had been hived off to a new civilian Office of War Information (OWI). The OSS’s psychological warfare (psy-war) responsibilities, however, covered those wartime propaganda functions considered inappropriate to the public operations of the OWIparticularly “black” and “gray” propaganda operations, wherein authorship was wrongly attributed to enemy sources (black) or simply concealed (gray). Psy-war fell within the OSS Special Operations branchalong with guerrilla warfare.8 In OSS parlance, special operations covered “espionage, counterintelligence in foreign nations, sabotage, commando raids, guerrilla and partisan-group activity... various other forms of psychological warfare and underground operations”9a definition that would remain largely unchanged into the 1990s.
The OSS was the United States’ principal unconventional warfare agency during the war, but drew on the regular services for most of its personnel. Although a civilian organization, subordination to the JCS ensured the institutional military support that OSS unconventional warfare initiatives required, although the military still questioned the wisdom of a major investment in wartime “guerrilla” activities. The OSS received its operational charter for unconventional with JCS Directive 155/4D, December 23, 1942, assigning it responsibility for guerrilla warfare. It specified that OSS personnel were to serve as the “organizers, fomenters and operational nuclei of guerrilla units.”’’’ The army provided the bulk of the OSS’s people, totaling 4,097 in November 1943, and 8,360 by May 1945; the OSS maximum personnel level, according to the War Report of the OSS, reached 13,000 in December 1944, with some 7,500 overseas.11
The Operational Groups (OGs) were created in May 1943 as an OSS branch, and put under a separate command in November 1944. OG personnel were trained for behind-the-lines commando operations, but unlike the army Rangers and conventional commandos, their primary task was to organize and work with indigenous resistance groups. In that respect, the OSS Operational Groups would provide a prototype for the organization of the Special Forces in the 1950s.12 Their particular role was outlined in a 1944 OSS manual: “OG personnel activate guerrillas as military organizations to engage enemy forces. They always operate in uniform as military units and are not primarily concerned with individual acts of sabotage.”’) Commandos, in contrast, performed the relatively straightforward task of stealthy hit-and-run destruction, more or less what Winston Churchill demanded in the early days of the war: “Enterprises must be prepared, with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts, first of all on the ‘butcher and bolt’ policy... leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.”’14
OSS unconventional warfare operations were carried out in Europe in conjunction with the British, coordinated by a joint headquarters set up between the OSS and the Special Operations Executive in 1943 (and in 1944 renamed “Special Forces Headquarters”). Operations in occupied Europe included liaison and assistance work with the French resistance, and for the Normandy invasion the infiltration of French-speaking OGs and “Jedburgh” Teams, consisting of a British or American officer, a French officer, and a radio operator, who were parachuted in to coordinate local Maquis actions with the Allied invasion force.
In Asia, OSS unconventional warfare operations included the exploits of Detachment 101 in Burma, where over three years U.S. Army personnel organized and led a force of some 10,000 Kachin tribesmen in guerrilla operations against the Japanese in 1943-1945, and another operation in tandem with British “guerrillas” working with Karen tribesmen (the “Chindits”) during the same period. The Kachin experience in leading mercenary tribesmen in guerrilla operations would provide a model for later CIA paramilitary adventures with the mountain peoples of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Only in the Pacific theater was the OSS excluded from unconventional warfare operations, at the insistence of General Douglas MacArthur. In the Philippine Islands, however, stay-behind U.S. Army officers raised and led indigenous guerrilla forces to harry the Japanese occupation forces, and gathered intelligence information for the eventual American return to the islands. In the aftermath of the war, army officers who were tried and tested in the Philippine guerrilla field joined former OSS officers to develop the doctrine and organization for unconventional warfare.
On 1 October 1945 Harry Truman broke up the OSS, rejecting General Donovan’s proposal (made to Roosevelt shortly before his death in April of that year) to transform the OSS into a permanent “general intelligence service.”15 The OSS Research and Analysis branch was put under State Department control, while remnants of the Secret Intelligence and Special Operations branches moved to the War Department, placed within a newly established Strategic Services Unit (SSU).16 The rebuilding of a centralized agency along OSS lines began shortly afterward, despite Truman’s apparent concern at its “totalitarian” implications. A Central Intelligence Group (CIG) was set up in January 1946 as a relatively powerless coordinating body with a staff of less than 100; by year end, under the direction of General Hoyt Vandenberg, its staff grew to some 400. In August 1946, Vandenberg moved further toward reassembling the OSS, or something very much like it, bringing the some 1,000 personnel of the Strategic Services Unit to the CIG. Appropriately renamed Office of Special Operations (OSO), the new resources would provide the institutional basis for a renewal of unconventional warfare activitiesin peacetime. After the National Security Act of 1947 transformed the CIG into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the apparatus only awaited a clarification of its mandate.
The political go-ahead for covert, unconventional warfare initiatives was a matter of time and the anxiety of the incipient Cold War. Already in late 1946, Robert P. Patterson, Secretary of War, proposed “a study of ways in which psychological warfare might be used in Europe”; and in late December 1946 a joint State-War-Navy committee drew up guidelines for such operations. 17 A consensus was found that primary responsibility for covert action in “political” warfare should fall to the new civilian intelligence resources; a military role, however, remained an option.
In September 1947, a State Department proposal was forwarded to the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressing the perceived imbalance in the Soviet Union-versus-United States Cold War equation. A paper prepared by Charles Thayer and Franklin Lindsayboth longtime State Department personnel and OSS veterans who had worked with partisans in Yugoslaviaeloquently proposed meeting the Soviets “on their own terms,” and urged the establishment of a “guerrilla warfare school and a guerrilla warfare corps” under the newly established Defense Department. IM The proposal was endorsed and forwarded by George Kennan. Kennan’s letter to Secretary of Defense Forrestal expressed the now-classic rationale of political warfare:
I think we have to face the fact that Russian successes have been gained in many areas by irregular and underground methods. I do not think the American people would ever approve of policies which rely fundamentally on similar methods for their effectiveness. I do feel, however, that there arc cases where it might be essential to our security to fight fire with fire.19
The proposal prompted a series of studies of guerrilla warfare for the Joint Chiefs, and a JCS position paper for the Secretary of Defense (17 August 1948), concluding that the United States should have the means to support foreign resistance movements in guerrilla warfare, and that peacetime responsibility in this regard should be that of the CIA. Recommending that “a separate guerrilla warfare school and corps should not be established,” the JCS conceded, however, that personnel could be trained in existing service schools and be “on call for introduction into countries to organize, direct, and lead native guerrillas.”20
In the early years of the Cold War, the military questioned the propriety of the armed services’ participation in either covert action or guerrilla warfare. While the military saw the utility of friendly “guerrilla” forces working in conjunction with regular forces in wartime, there was something unsavory about the new peacetime warfare, and they preferred to maintain their distance. Training for future “guerrilla” warfare was seen as something that could be arranged through existing service schools, without the creation of either a “guerrilla” curriculum, or a “guerrilla” elite.
The military agreed, with apparent relief, to national security directives, in December 1947 and June 1948, giving the CIA primary responsibility for conducting psychological and unconventional including guerrillawarfare activities.21 Army distaste at involvement in “unsoldierly” covert activities extended even to the oversight procedure. In June 1948, Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall took a strong position against army involvement even with the covert action monitoring committee: “He did not want a representative of the Army to be a member of the special services group... and further that he does not want the Army to get into covert activities or even to know anything about it.”22 Other views prevailed and an officer was provided.
The CIA mandate to take up the cudgel in the Cold War has been dated to the first meeting, on 19 December 1947, of the National Security Council (which, like the CIA and the JCS, also stemmed from the National Security Act). NSC 4/A, the memorandum ordering the CIA to undertake covert “psychological operations,” however, called only for the fiddling of an electionto ensure the defeat of the Communist Party in Italy in 1948.23
A broader mandate for a standing covert action apparatus and permanent program followed in dune 1948. NSC 10/2 established a CIA covert action armobscurely called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC)and ordered it to respond in kind to the “vicious covert activities of the USSR, its satellite countries and Communist groups.”24 NSC 10/2 of 18 June 1948 was the CIA’s covert action charter, citing as its tasks:
Any covert activities related to propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to under ground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.25
With the shift in the ClA’s orientation toward covert operations, NSC 10/2 stimulated a recruitment drive to bring into the fold many of the OSS people with special operations experience, with a growing influx of personnel with “guerrilla” warfare expertise from late 1948, and after the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950.26
The drafters of NSC 10/2 clearly envisioned the new sphere of activity as falling outside the scope of international law, its objectively military aspects blind the laws and usages of war. The limits of covert action were defined by NSC 10/2 in terms of appearances, not substance, with the enunciation of the now-familiar yardstick of “plausible deniability. “ Covert action was to be “so planned and conducted that any U. S. government responsibility for them was not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered, the U. S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”27 Thus, by dune 1948, the CIA had both the organization and the mandate for the broad range of activities of which the public would only begin to be aware in the aftermath of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
The U. S. Army’s experience in fighting guerrillas before World War II was extensive, from the Indian wars to the neocolonial conquest of the Philippines, but reference to guerrilla warfare was largely absent from its formal doctrine. Because of the army’s relative success in fighting guerrillas by conventional means, it remained no more than an afterthought in the larger body of conventional doctrine. The Marines, by contrast, took the matter more seriously, and produced their Small Wars Manual in 1940, providing a comprehensive guide to counterinsurgency tactics based on the Marines’ own experience as an international constabulary.
The Marines’ doctrine, in 1940, was predicated on overt intervention and political control: either through out-and-out military government or through a more complex neocolonial form of intervention. In that respect it was perhaps more realistic than the army’s counterinsurgency doctrine to comeinsofar as it was more directly concerned with establishing control (and a system of order) than with sustaining a mythology of selfless aid to brothers in need. The Marines’ doctrine was also similar to the contemporary colonial doctrine of the French and British military.
The development of its doctrine after 1940 also built on the Corps’ familiarity with overseas operations, and the particular skills of some of its officers. Marine Captain (later Brigadier General) Samuel B. Griffith is credited with a major contribution to the analysis of modem guerrilla warfare through his translation of some of Mao Zedong’s writings.29 Similarly, Marine training materials immediately after World War II, and articles in the Marine Corps Gazette included some of the most sensible, nonideological writing on guerrilla warfare produced in the military establishment. The revision of the Small Wars Manual produced in draft form in 1962, Fleet Marine Force Manual-21 (FMFM-21), was, like its antecedent, accurately described by the Marines themselves as a “nuts-and-bolts” manual, which incorporated the practical lessons of the British in Malaya and the U.S. Army in the Philippines.30
Postwar army doctrine was of a parentage quite distinct from that of the Marines. The principal influence stemmed from the World War II experience of commando and partisan special operationsand a fascination with the potential application of “political warfare,” “psychological warfare,” or “special warfare” in the early years of the Cold War. Offensive guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency after World War II were seen as a “special” vocation that was not really appropriate for the conventional armed forces. From the late 1940s, the definition of problems related to guerrilla warfare, and the solutions, fell largely to veterans of the OSS, and of the army’s own work with behind-the-lines guerrillas in the Philippines, China, and southern Europe.31 The consolidation in 1951 of the army’s unconventional warfare “assets” under the Office of Psychological Warfare provided the medium through which doctrine was formulated and plans prepared to put it into practice.
Whereas the objective of Marine counterinsurgency doctrine (and other patently colonial doctrine) was to impose a rule of law (however unjust) adapting tried and proven organization, weaponry, and tactics to subdue recalcitrants, postwar doctrine developed around the wartime concepts of unconventional warfare, secret operations, and a preference for expediency over law. The shapers of postwar military doctrine were many of the same officers who had participated in the free-form no- holds-barred tactics of partisan resistance warfare against the Germans and the Japanese. In the immediate postwar period, the object was to develop a capability for unconventional warfare to meet the Soviet threatnot to counter insurgencies but to encourage and support resistance movements to combat Soviet occupation forces in Eastern Europe.
The Korean War stimulated a reassessment of the threat of guerrilla warfare within the mainstream military, if not a radical reappraisal of its nature A popular article in the Combat Forces Journal of September 1950 drew on the ongoing Korean experience, warning that “your air force won’t help you against guerrillas in a war of no fronts... for the Asiatic irregulars operate to blast and kill behind the lines” (a lesson on air power that was disregarded in the Vietnam later counterinsurgency wars).32 The author, Major Robert B. Rigg, like many army officers, had had personal experience with “guerrillas,” and observed that “the problem isn’t new.” He had observed Chinese communists in combat “from both sides of the lines during the China Civil War and spent two months in a Red prison for having viewed them too closely,” and in 1943 had accompanied the Iraqi army in a campaign against the “Barzani Kurds, also guerrilla fighters.”
Riggs saw the remedy largely in a combination of various traditional military tactics (as in the Philippine system of military posts), and praised in particular the experience of the British and Indian armies on the Northwest Frontier. There was no option between “protective” and “punitive” measures: “Only a combination of both will win.”33 An accompanying photograph, showing a prisoner apparently being given the “third degree” is captioned:
When you capture a guerrilla put him through the interrogation wringer quickly so as to act the benefit of every bit of information you squeeze out of him. This Chinese Communist irregular is getting some bitter tea from Nationalist S-2s.34
Riggs decried the army’s failure to produce an official manual on guerrilla warfare, while observing that what little material was available concentrated on organizing guerrillas, not fighting them: “Much has been written unofficially about partisan warfare from the standpoint of their use. But there is little in the way of organized doctrine on how to combat effectively the military plague of resistance from irregulars.”35
The army had in fact circulated, in draft form, its first effort toward a consolidated counterguerrilla doctrine shortly before the outbreak of war in Korea, and published it in its field- manual series in February 1951 as FM 31-20, Operations Against Guerrilla Forces.36 The manual drew extensively on the experiences of its authors, Lieutenant Colonel Russell W. Volckmann and other American wartime guerrillas, and outlined largely conventional tactics through which an American occupation forceand military governmentscould deal with a World War II style guerrilla movement sponsored by a rival great power.
Mainstream army doctrine for counterinsurgency was, for a time still largely traditional. The doctrine sketched in the 1950s manuals was not particularly different from that followed by the Indian fighters of the nineteenth century and the army in the Philippines at the turn of the century. Punitive action, intended to punish and to coerce an uncooperative population, was still an option. The “counterguerrilla,” or counterorganization concept, in turn, drew on the army’s prior use of local “scouts” in the American West and the Philippinesforces with the same skills and local knowledge as the adversary and consequently able to fight the adversary with its own methods.
The Indian wars analogy with “modern” counterinsurgency was occasionally made even in U. S. military journals. A November 1960 article equates the communist guerrilla with the nineteenth- century Apache, and matches the tactics of General George Crook (“who was to subdue and effectively rule the Apache Indians”) with then-current army doctrine.37 The outline of each aspect of the Apache campaign is followed by an excerpt from “instructional material” then in use at the Army Command and General Staff College, in order to show that “the current USA CGSC antiguerrilla doctrine and the methods used by General Crook are virtually identical.... They will work as well against any known present-day guerrilla force.” The use of “native troops,” recruited from Indian peoples hostile to the Apaches, or Apache renegades, was of particular importance. (The excerpt from doctrine is in the right-hand column.)
Crook realized that no American soldier would be able to compete with the Apache warriors On a man-to-man basis in the field of endurance.... Recognizing the problem, Crook recruited scouts on a scale never before employed in order that he would have fighting troops with the necessary individual endurance and “know how” to fight Indians on their own terms. Navahos, limes, and friendly Apaches were hired. . .
Whenever feasible, Allied troops native to the area should be employed against hostile resistance elements....
When feasible, special antiguerrilla units are organized, equipped,and trained to combat guerrilla forces by using guerrilla methods....
Under many conditions they arc more effective than large conventional troops units.38
The army’s understanding of pacification and psychological warfare is described further in the threatening terms of the colonial officer: The population must be told very clearly, so that there is no misunderstanding, that they must submit. (“He also told them the alternative if they would not move peacefully to a reservationthat he would hunt them down and kill them.”) The warning given, in turn, must be supported by actionthe premise being that the insurgent respects frankness (and of course will recognize the compelling argument of overwhelming force). 39 The revised doctrine of the 1960s redefined the terms of punitive action in terms more acceptable to the postwar world of democratization and decolonization. Counterinsurgency went more fully into the area of special warfare and covert action.
The new doctrine of counterinsurgency was an offshoot of the postwar doctrine of unconventional warfare, applying the offensive tactics of unconventional warfare to internal war. The Joint Chiefs of Staff definition in the 1960s as in the 1990s held unconventional warfare to encompass the related fields of guerrilla warfare and subversion, in enemy or enemy-controlled territory. Counterinsurgency applied similar norms and means to territories considered threatened by the enemy.
Special warfare doctrine began with the wreckage of the OSS and the first serious consideration in 1947 of a permanent military capability to undertake the kind of initiatives only then assigned to the newborn CIA. In 1’347, a secret army review of wartime behind-the-lines operations A Study of Special and Subversive Operations, concentrated on the organization, tactics, and operations of U. S.- supported partisans or “guerrillas.” This experience was duly reflected in 1960s manuals on offensive guerrilla warfare. The study also recommended a review of counterguerrilla measures and enumerated many of the options that were subsequently incorporated into the secret repertoire of the American counterinsurgent. Defensive measures “against an active underground” required “an efficient intelligence system, reliable communications,... fast mobile columns, radio direction finders, restrictions on the civilian use of radio, and very tight security....”40 Going on the offensive required active measures to cut off the guerrillas from local support and to hold the people accountable for guerrilla action:
Countermeasures include the control of movement of civilians, rendering civilian cooperation with our forces desirable, eliminating guerrilla sources of supply, the holding of hostages, reprisals against civilians, punitive expeditions, and transporting civilians on trains and columns to guaranty [sic] safe passage.... In general means must be devised to remove any guerrilla logistic support, to alienate the civilian population from the guerrillas, to isolate the underground, and to prevent support of them by air, sea, or land.41
The tactics considered in 1947 generally fell within the range of Special Forces doctrine in the 1950s: the later written doctrine, however, more explicitly ratified the utilityand legitimacyof terror tactics for the American guerrilla and counterguerrilla.
An institutional antipathy to “guerrilla warfare”as unmilitary and not particularly effectiveas well as an aversion to elite units in the U.S. military establishment hindered the development of special operations forces in the early days of the Cold War. The military’s reluctance to organize “guerrilla” forces prevailed until the Korean War; the military side of unconventional warfare fell principally within the ill-defined discipline of psychological warfare. In practice, psychological warfare in the Cold War came increasingly to be synonymous with special operations (its propaganda dimension became secondary)and special operations meant covert action.42
The military’s definitions of terms were often as confusing as the terms themselves were redundant, a problem of which the military was itself not unaware. Decades later, Brigadier General Joseph C. Lutz, commander of the army’s First Special Forces Command in the 1980s, told a conference on special operations that he was
still amazed at the lack of understanding in the community of what it is we are actually talking about.... [S]pecial forces, special operations, special warfare, unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, partisan warfare, paramilitary operations, revolutionary warfare, proxies, surrogates, low-intensity conflict, and escape and evasion.... We have really serious problems with definitions.43
The ambiguity, elasticity, and overlap of definitions was, in some ways, indeed a problem to the extent that it contributed to muddy thinking within the military itself. However, from the 1940s into the 1990s, it has also had certain advantages as military institutions have sought to obscure the real nature of some of their less conventional disciplines and programs.
In the 1940s, special operations were classed by the military under the inherently misleading discipline psychological warfare. After 1960, the army used the term “special warfare” much as the cold warriors of the 1940s had used “political warfare.” Special warfare was the generic term that covered both the special operations and the propaganda side of 1940s and 1960s “psychological warfare.” Although the OSS had applied the term special operations broadly to its clandestine behind-the-lines operations, special operations before the Korean War referred to night combat, jungle operations, winter operations, and other specialized responses to unusual combat circumstancesand not “unconventional” operations at all.
The term “Special Forces Operations” was apparently first adopted by the board of officers detailed to draft the Organization and Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare manual (FM 31-21 of 1951). According to a memorandum by Russell Volckmann, the board applied the term broadly to “operations conducted for a military purpose in enemy-controlled territory beyond the combat zone.”44 The 14 October 1953, Department of the Army statement of policy, The Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare (Army Special Forces Program), defined the term as “operations conducted within or behind the enemy lines for military purposes.”45
At the inception of the Cold War, psychological warfare, however defined, was an area in which many military professionals were uncomfortable, despite its recognized importance during the war years. Many officers wanted to have “nothing at all” to do with it, believing “it was not ‘real soldiering.’ “ Others recognized its value as a resource to be husbanded. Army Chief of Staff Dwight Eisenhower instructed the army in June 1947 “to take those steps that are necessary to keep alive the arts of psychological warfare and of cover and deception and that there should continue in being a nucleus of personnel capable of handling these arts in case an emergency arises.”46
Although most psy-war personnel were demobilized immediately after the war, a nucleus remained, as did several eloquent advocates for a revival of psy-war to meet the new threats of the Cold War. Principal among them was Brigadier General Robert McClure, head of psy-war in the European theater in World War II. In June 1946, McClure had pressed army headquarters for a top- level psychological warfare division and was roundly rebuffed.47 In November, however, he succeeded in moving psy-war within the army’s organizational system, from G-2, intelligence, to G-3, operations.48 In a dune 1947 paper, McClure recommended renewing research efforts of psy-war, rebuilding a psychological warfare division at army headquarters, bringing together a voluntary “mixed military-civilian group... charged with studying psychological warfare policies and practices during the war,” and establishing a training program in the military schools system.49 Although no dramatic organizational changes followed McClure’s effort to put psy-war on the military agenda, others in the military concurred with his views. The chief of information of the army’s Plans and Operations pressed for even more immediate action on the psy-war front than McClure had proposed, “in view of Russia’s all-out use of the PW weapon against the interests of the U.S.” In an argument similar to Kennan’s logic of fighting “fire with fire,” he stressed that psy-war should not be held back, considering “the present de facto state of ‘undeclared emergency’ or ‘cold war’ which exists vis-à-vis Russia.” The United States could respond in kind “in the field of ideological or psychological warfare.”50
The army’s eventual move into the unconventional warfare field was through the existing framework of psychological warfare. Wartime psy-war concepts were sufficiently broad to embrace the whole field of special, or covert operations, in line with OSS chief Donovan’s “all encompassing concept” of psy-war, combining intelligence, special operations, and propaganda functions. As such, the development of an unconventional warfare capacity with a consolidated psy-war organization made sense to the Joins Chiefs.51
The military’s arm’s-length position on covert action was gradually modified in the course of 1949, with the assignment of army officers to assist the CIA in developing training programs in guerrilla warfare, and, in November, the creation of a JCS agency, awkwardly named the Joint Subsidiary Plans Division (JSPD), to collaborate with the CIA (and other civilian bodies) in the areas of “psychological warfare and covert operations.” Its staff of fourteen was divided into teams: team A dealt with “Psychological-Ideological Warfare,” team Z with “1) NSC 1()/2 and 1()/5 matters; 2) Covert-Clandestine-Unconventional Warfare matters; 3) Escape and Evasion Operations; 4) Para-Military Operations; 5) Guerrilla Operations; 6) Preparation and Coordination of Plans; and 7) Special studies.”52
The outbreak of war in Korea on 25 June 1950 revitalized military interest in psychological warfare, and ill particular, military capability for unconventional warfarealthough the innovations it catalyzed would come too late to influence the course of that conflict. A Psychological Warfare Division was established within the Army General Staff (in G-3) in September 1950, headed by Brigadier General Robert McClure. The division was to have a relatively large staff and was supported by a crash training program initiated in conjunction with Georgetown University.53 On 15 January 1951, McClure’s outfit was recognized as the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (OCPW), an autonomous Special Staff Division working directly with the chief of staff (the first of its kind).54
Brigadier McClure moved rapidly to organize his “agency” into separate propaganda, unconventional warfare, and support divisionsand to obtain a charter authorizing a special operations role through which to wage unconventional warfare. Army Special Regulation 10-250-1 (22 May 1951) provided the latter, defining a mission to “formulate and develop psychological and special operations plans for the Army in consonance with established policies for and supervise the execution of Department of the Army programs in these fields.”55 “Propaganda planning” was undertaken by Psychological Operations, while administrative, personnel, training, logistics, and research matters were handled by a Requirements Division. Activities concerning special operations were fully compartmentalized: “All planning in connection with covert operations, in view of its particular sensitivity, is segregated in a Special Operations Division...”56 The definition of special operations, in turn, was much as it is in the 1990s:
[T]hose conducted within or behind enemy lines for a military purpose, with the primary objective of organizing indigenous resistance potential and exploiting this potential to serve our military objectives. Such operations include: organization and conduct of guerrilla warfare; covert political, economic, and psychological warfare; subversion and sabotage; the infiltration of agents into the enemy’s sphere of influence; anti-guerrilla warfare and escape and evasion activities carried on by Special Operations units and agencies.57
In May 1952, OCPW chief McClure presided over the opening of the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The center provided the institutional foundation for rebuilding a psy-war propaganda capabilityand provided the home base for what became the Army Special Forces. Colonel Charles Karlstad was named the first commander of the center and of the adjoining Psychological Warfare School.58
McClure’s OCPW and the center at Fort Bragg reclaimed for the army a major role in the covert side of the Cold War. In 1951, the OCPW’s Special Operations Division had been rapidly staffed with veterans of U.S. guerrilla warfare venturesnotably Colonel Wendell Fertig, who commanded Filipino guerrillas on Mindanao, and Colonel Aaron Bank, a former OSS agent with the French Maquis. McClure had detailed an officer to screen OSS files made available by General Donovan, and find some 3,500 names of personnel with experience in “guerrilla” operations. Some 1,500 were found “still available” and, where possible, “ordered to active duty” under McClure’s command.59 Other key staff included army officers who since June 1950 had been involved in joint army-CIA special operations in Korea. Principal among them was Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann, another veteran of guerrilla warfare in the Philippines (North Luzon), who in 1950 and 1951 “planned and directed behind-the-lines operations in North Korea.”60
The OCPW and the Psychological Warfare Center initially paid considerable attention to the traditional meaning of psychological warfare of developing propaganda and “nonlethal” means of influencing enemy behavior. The emphasis gradually shifted, however, so that by 1960 the psy-war component of the work at the Psychological Warfare Center was by far subordinate to the concern with special operations and Special Forces. The files of the chief of psy-war for the 1951-1954 period (now in part declassified) are replete with psy-war studies and proposals along fairly conventional lines, ranging from developmental work on better loudspeakers, airborne leaflet delivery systems, and broadcasting technology, to harebrained schemes based on the pseudo- sociological unraveling of stereotypical “weaknesses” or foibles of particular ethnic groups. Some of the latter came from unsolicited suggestions from the public, which received serious attention (and polite responses).61
Although General McClure appears to have been equally committed to psy-war per se as to his special operations establishment, other principal figures in OCPW and the early years at Fort Bragg later recalled the combination as having been essentially a marriage of bureaucratic convenience. Colonel Bank, the Special Forces’ first commander, complained that in “all the time I was on the staff of PSYWAR (OCPW) I never saw any paper of any kind that indicates Special Forces operations is a part of psychological warfare.” That not withstanding, “it is our concept that Special Forces operations is a part of unconventional warfare.” This clearly made little sense to Bank: “Just because OCPW is responsible for the monitoring and supervision of planning and conduct of psychological warfare and special forces operations does not mean that they have to be the same.”62
Alfred Paddock has examined the organization of the special operations establishment in terms of institutional interests and initiatives, and the army’s resistance to involvement in “unmilitary” roles. Paddock attributes the creation of the Special Forces to General McClure’s bringing in unconventional warfare “through the back door of the psychological warfare house.” The Special Operations Division, while under the psy-war rubric, “gave unconventional warfare advocates like Bank and Volckmann the official platform from which to ‘sell’ the Army on the need for Special Forces units.”63 The shift to an emphasis on special operations appears to have begun by mid-1953, when the Office of Psychological Strategy, hitherto the point of liaison between the psy-war/unconventional warfare establishment and the Secretary of Defense was dissolved and replaced by an Office of Special Operations.64
The Army Special Forces were an integral part of the army’s Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, and paralleled in their own development the formulation of doctrine there. The elaboration of unconventional warfare doctrine coincided with the expansion and deployment of Special Forces, first to the European command, and later successively into Asia in the 1980s and Latin America in the 1960s. The Special Forces experience of the 1980s in turn fundamentally influenced the later development of counterinsurgency doctrine. The armed forces’ “special” forces were organized in order to establish and assist a particular kind of guerrillaa partisan force dependent on a sponsoring powerand not as counterinsurgency forces. It was considerably later in the 1960s, that the two roles were combined in the same forces with dramatic consequences for the development of doctrine and the conduct of counterinsurgency.
The armed forces’ approach to “guerrilla” (and later “counterguerrilla”) doctrine and development was predictably cautious. Having acknowledged a military role in “guerrilla” warfare, the armed forces remained reluctant to assign its conventional forces to an unconventional task. As a consequence, the Special Forces were well insulated from conventional units. They provided a resource for unconventional warfare and a laboratory for the development of doctrine. “Unconventional warfare,” characterized “for Joint Usage” in military dictionaries, meant operations utilizing irregular forces and tactics in the enemy’s sphere of influence, and was to be the principal domain of the army Special Forces.
In its broader sense, and that of popular usage, unconventional warfare referred to a way of warfare, not a class of conflict; as Colonel Karlstad observed ill a foreword to a service booklet on the new center, the Psychological Warfare and Special Forces departments “instruct in the unconventional weapons and tactics with which our modern army must be equipped to function effectively against enemy forces.”65 Unconventional warfare, then, was both a kind of war and a range of tactics; the Special Forces were to become the adepts in their application.
Commando and other irregular formations have traditionally been a minor interest to the military establishmentas much because of the odd-man-out organizational structure as of their limited utility. The elite commando, guerrilla, and counterguerrilla forces attached to modern armies have antecedents in light infantry units of armies in the past.66 Their function has primarily been that of”skirmishers and raiders,” their tactical doctrine emphasizing “small-unit actions, mobility, surprise, and close-quarters combat.” The United States, like the British, fielded commandos attached to the regular armed services and to the wartime intelligence services. The U.S. Army’s Ranger Battalions served primarily as raiding and commando forces during World War II but suffered enormous casualties when deployed in conventional set-piece battles, and were disbanded as separate units after the Korean war.67 Ranger training remained a specialist option for officers and enlisted men; in 1974, Ranger unitswearing black beretswere reestablished.68 The forces of the OSS Operational Groups, like the later Special Forces, were distinguished from commandos, Rangers, and other strike forces by the complexity of their respective roles and their political nature. In military terms, their roles were envisioned as both tactical and strategic Alfred Paddock describes a 1948 proposal to establish an army Ranger Group, combining Ranger and OSS concepts that ignored the distinction: “It attempted to lump together missions and capabilities of Rangers and Commandos with those of Special Operations and Operational Group elements of OSS. It combined the tactical with the strategic. The mission statement said ‘OSS,’ but the title was ‘Ranger.’”69 A 1947 Department of the Army study of “Special and Subversive Operations” outlined the distinction as drawn by General Donovan: “It was his conception that Rangers should operate in front of enemy lines, whereas SOG’s [Special Operations Groups] should operate behind enemy lines.”70 A more complex distinction was required to define military tasks in a war without fronts.
Colonel Aaron Bank, an OSS veteran and the first commander of the postwar Special Forces, stated that Special Forces “actually... have no connection with ranger-type organizations since their mission and operations are far more complex, time consuming, require much deeper penetration and initially are often of a strategic nature.” (Bank also recognized the difficulty in ensuring equal emphasis in training to the more subtle, or complex, areas of the Special Forces role, observing that “these are easily neglected in favor of more exciting guerrilla tactics.”71)
The tactics/strategy distinction has been part of military thought since at least the eighteenth century, and even then it found application in the field of “guerrilla” warfare. The classical writers wrote of small war, or guerrilla war, as a warfare of tactics subordinate to larger, conventional conflicts waged by regular troopsa small part of a larger strategy, bent to the attainment of conventional ends. Karl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military strategist, explained that tactics, in essence, concern “the use of armed forces in the engagement; strategy, the use of engagements for the object of the war.”72 The tactical operation, then, is complete in itself, while the strategic, which may involve more than the use of force alone, affects the outcome of the conflict. The blurring of the distinction, however, and the glamorization of the strategic mission are characteristic of the treatment of elite forces, be they commandos or the kind of special forces Colonel Bank described. Churchill’s romantic view of the British Commandos, much like Kennedy’s view of the Special Forces, is reflected, for example, in his paean to the March 1942 St. Nazaire Commando raid: “here was a deed of glory intimately involved in high strategy.”73
In the field of counterinsurgency warfare, the strategy/tactics distinction took on perhaps even more significance. The tactics of guerrilla/counterguerrilla warfare were nominally to have been part, and only a part, of an integrated political strategy. In counterinsurgency war, though, a strategy of establishing governmental control and winning hearts and minds was not always well served by unconventional tactics.
French and, later, American military doctrine assigned principal tasks in counterinsurgency to elite forces and devised for them tactics that mimicked guerrilla tactics. Taken out of their strategic context, these tactics lost their significance or were strategically counterproductive. The larger strategyand the nonlethal side of counterinsurgencyoften went by the board. Even in the French army in the Algerian War (1954 - 1962), in the “period of domination” of its doctrine of guerre revolutionnaire, by 1956 many army officers of all ranks “agreed only with the tactical concepts of the doctrine, and either ignored or rejected their wider, nonmilitary implications”; noncoms and privates, moreover, “were even less convinced.”74
The organizational structure of the Special Forces was designed for adaptability. Each Special Forces group would represent “a pool of manpower from which units or combinations of units could be drawn to execute specific unconventional warfare missions.” The baseline unit was the operational detachment, a team of from twelve to fifteen, which could be deployed singly or in combination. Unlike a Ranger unit, a division, or a brigade, “the Special Forces Group was not designed to be employed as a tactical entity... but rather was constructed around a cellular concept in which each area, district, and regimental detachment was viewed as a separate and distinct operating unit.”75
In March 1952, when the establishment of the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg was authorized, provision was made for separate Psychological Warfare and Special Forces departments and the creation of a first Special Forces unitthe “Tenth” Special Forces Group. Activated in May 1952, the plans called for its development in three increments of 600 men, all volunteers fitting a demanding elite profile.76 Recruitment from army units around the country proceeded slowly in part because of stringent security requirements.77
Early provision was also made for Special Forces personnel, once cleared, to remain on call even after completing their tours of duty or leaving the service. The personnel section of the OCPW was to coordinate screening, selection, and assignment of personnel and to “maintain rosters of individuals with PsyWar and UW [unconventional warfare] experience, to include civilian and inactive military personnel.”78 Reassignment of officers from Special Forces units back into conventional postings was frowned upon; rather, a policy was implemented “to insure that PsyWar and SF [Special Forces] trained and experienced personnel follow, to the extent permitted by overall D/A [Department of the Army] policy, a career pattern in their fields.”79
Special Forces training proposals in May 1951 called for recruits to master weapons skills, demolitions, “sabotage. . . and the establishment of sabotage nets,” “organization of guerrilla units their development... into Special Forces units,” “guerrilla tactics,” “subversion and propaganda, “ and a range of other “skills.”80 A 1952 precis added “anti-guerrilla warfare in areas overrun by friendly forces” to the repertoires Studies on guerrilla tactics, training, and equipment on file at the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare are still largely classified. Studies of specialized equipment in the 1954 files included “Use of Non-Standard Items for Explosives,” “Special Allowance of Demolition and Sabotage Materials,” and “Dirty Trick Devices.”82 Other manuals and training materials used in the early years of Special Forces but still classified, included a manual entitled Covert Paramilitary Training Course (ca. 1952), The Sabotage Manual (1954), the Para-Military Manual Field Handbook (FM 54-80()-1, May 1954), and such tantalizing titles as Power Moves Involved in the Overthrow of an Unfriendly Government.83
The planners of the Special Forces had envisioned their primary task as preparation for war in Europea Third World War with the Soviet Union as the adversary. A series of studies was undertaken in 1951 to consider the nature and role of the army’s unconventional warfare units and the special role to be played by emigres recruited under the terms of the 1951 Lodge bill. Studies dealing with “the utilization of Lodge Bill recruits and US personnel in EUCOM [European Command],” approved by the Joins Chiefs in 1951, envisioned Special Forces as an asset to prepare against an inevitable second “D-Day”: “The studies contemplate that these individuals will be ready on D-Day to exploit the guerrilla potential within the enemy’s sphere of influence.”84
A 1953 study that examined the organizational requirements for the Special Forces’ behind-the- lines role in war in Europe advised the incorporation of a heavy administrative capability to provide logistical support for the American “guerrillas.”85 This, of course was in accord with the fundamental concept that “guerrilla” forces could survive only with massive external support. The force would require “officers and enlisted technicians... to meet the ‘A’ day mission of organizing and exploiting guerrilla forces to conduct operations behind the enemy lines in support of conventional Military Forces.” These were to include ‘‘demolitions experts... to train indigenous guerrilla forces in use of explosives and in incendiaries, operational techniques involving demolitions, and planning and conduct of sabotage”; communications specialists; and experts in “small unit tactics. . . to train indigenous guerrilla forces in tactics and techniques of the hit-and-run operations which characterize guerrilla operations.86
The Tenth Special Forces Group, authorized strength 1,713, was deployed to Bad Tolz, West Germany, in November 1953 to await its active role in the expected D-Day clash with the Warsaw Pact.87 “The period immediately following ‘D’ day is considered of vital importance.... Therefore, it is imperative that prior to ‘D’ day Special Forces field detachments be organized, equipped and trained for infiltration into operational areas.”88 They would remain on alert awaiting the outbreak of hostilities, while providing cadre for the training of a second such group at Fort Bragg (the “77th”), and in 1957after the first major shift from the hypnotic European theaterfor the “First” Group, activated in Okinawa.
Special Forces deployment in the Pacific theater in 1956 began on a minor scale, in great secrecy, with the assignment of seven-man Mobile Training Teams to military advisory groups in Taiwan, Thailand, and South Vietnam.’ Their task was to train counterpart forces in the “tactics and techniques” of unconventional warfare. The Special Forces presence in Asia expanded dramatically in June 1957 with the organization of the First (i.e., third) Special Forces Group based in Okinawa, with an initial force level of sixteen officers and ninety-six enlisted men.90 Training remained a principal task: The object was to train in unconventional warfare counterparts who would provide a nucleus for Special Forces units in their home countries.
In 1957 a fifty-man cadre was trained over six months in Taiwan, and assistance given the Chinese Nationalists in setting up their own Special Forces center at Lung Tan.91 The Nationalists had earlier had extensive contact with the CIA as well as with Psychological Warfare officers at the Far East Command and the Fort Bragg center. The psy-war-unconventional warfare establishment hosted Nationalist officers in visits to Fort Bragg as early as 1953, including Chiang Kai-shek’s son, and received for “research, analysis and evaluation purposes” information on unconventional warfare tactics employed by the Nationalists in their occasional incursions into mainland China.92 A psy-war report on a meeting with Lt. Gen. Cheng Kai-meng, chief of Mainland Operations, outlined measures taken, many of which would appear in the United States’ own unconventional warfare repertoire. On the propaganda side, the Nationalists were adopting a traditional form of Peking drama for radio broadcasts, “inserting anti-communist material therein”a dramatic but not particularly original psy-war effort. On the direct action side, efforts were underway utilize the Chinese secret societies for Nationalist purposes (as the Vietnamese Binh Xuyen sect would later be used in Saigon), and “assassination as a means toward intimidation has been effected.”93
A former Special Forces officer has described the deployment of the first small units in the Pacific as a peripheraland unpopularelement of the then-strategic projection of an impending nuclear conflict: a “pickup-the-pieces” sideline in a contest envisioned as depending upon tactical nuclear weapons. “Secretive special mission units were an unwelcome complication to the high- ranking officers at Pacific Command, who were told to program them into war plans to organize behind-the-lines guerrilla fighters after nuclear exchanges.” The strategic role remained unchanged throughout the 1950s: Special Forces were intended to supplement “the general scheme of atomic warfare” by preparing for insertion into enemy-held territory to organize partisans “capable of resistance and disrupting rear areas.”94 In practical terms, the Special Forces’ principal task was to train Asian forces in the methods developed for action behind enemy lines. These forces, in turn, were to apply the unconventional tactics and techniques at home.
The basing of a major Special Forces resource in Latin America, the third world region to become a center of unconventional warfare activities, awaited the Cuban Revolution and coincided with the expansion of Special Forces’ assigned role to make counterinsurgency a priority task. The nature of that role was influenced by the overthrow of Guatemala’s elected president in 1954 and the failed invasion of Cuba of April 1961. A major U.S. military-paramilitary role in a fourth region, Africa, began in the 1960s in the Congo, but reached its full-blown form of textbook unconventional warfare in the 1970s with the collapse of the Portuguese empire in Africa.
Unconventional warfare in practice became the American form of covert war: American offensives for American prerogatives against adversary or ambiguous governments or blacklisted groups or personalities whether or not a partisan movement existed, or indigenous “partisans” could be borrowed or bought for the task. The American unconventional warriors were themselves to be the sole foreigners involved in the scenarios to come. The tactics they utilized, from murder to hostage taking, were those historically used by partisans resisting foreign occupationbut the targets were the people of the countries themselves. Special responsibility for review of guerrilla warfare manuals and doctrine was assigned to the Fort Bragg center in 1952. A review process for the 1951 manual on “guerrilla operations,” for example, was coordinated there in 1953 and drew considerable fire from at least one military department concerned with the laws of war. A paragraph on “hostage taking” in particular prompted a proposal that the manual be withdrawn:
The inference which may be drawn from this paragraph is in violation of Section IV Hague 1907, negates provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and could prejudice responsible persons before an international tribunal. Deletion of this paragraph and all references in the manual to the right to take or “eliminate” hostages should be deleted. [sic]
Because of the impact of those sections of this manual dealing with hostages and the treatment of such, it is considered appropriate to consider the withdrawal of the manual.95
The revised FM 31-21, Guerrilla Warfare, deleted only part of the reference to hostages: A list of “measures to control an unfriendly population and minimize its ability to collaborate with hostile guerrillas” includes “taking hostages.”96
The psy-war center’s brief on the review of military manuals extended, however, beyond the strictly limited range of materials published on its own specialty. Its critique of the draft revision of the field manual on the Law of Land Warfare (FM 27-10), for example, suggested concern that certain Special Forces operations were too clearly proscribed by its interpretation of the law. The clause outlawing assassination, for example, was too broad: “The distinction between assassination of an enemy (which is prohibited) and attacks on individual soldiers or officers of the enemy wherever they may be (which is permissible) is obscure.”97 And the reference to the status of “guerrillas” and “spies” was of concern insofar as it would rebound on the status of Special Forces personnel (and their allies) engaged in unconventional warfare:
The effect... is to suggest that guerrillas and spies are classed as unlawful belligerents....
[T]he question arises of the status of guerrilla forces operating in support of a government-in- exile.... It appears that the manual gives no recognition to any distinctions other than guerrillas (unlawful belligerents) and regular (i.e., conventional) forces. The status of what, for lack of a better term, may be called “irregular military forces” appears to be undefined and unprotected. The draft seems to have been written with an eye to guaranteeing U.S. rights to protect itself against enemy guerrillas without consideration of the U. S. interest in guaranteeing some rights of protection to friendly guerrillas. To the extent permitted by international law, this aspect of the matter should also be considered....98
(Another aspect of the status of “irregular military forces” that should have been considered was the applicability of the laws of war to the Central Intelligence Agency. Can a CIA officer be held accountable for a war crime?)
In February 1954, the responsibility for preparation and revision of the field manuals on guerrilla and counterguerrilla warfare was assigned to the Psychological Warfare School.99 The psy-war school welcomed the transfer of responsibilities for offensive guerrilla warfare, but argued that “the tactics, doctrine and the conduct of anti-guerrilla operations is not the responsibility or mission of Special Forces.”100 The 4 March 1954 response of the chief of Army Field Forces, however, clinched Fort Bragg’s expanded role. The psy-war school from that date assumed responsibility for all matters concerning guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency as “the primary agency for the development of doctrine, tactics, techniques, and training literature pertaining to guerrilla warfare.”101
The “characteristics of guerrilla warfare” outlined in the revised Guerrilla Warfare manual (FM 31-21) are those of the “sponsored guerrilla” in conventional conflict. “‘I There is, astonishingly, no reference to revolutionary guerrilla warfare outside the scenario of conventional international conflict:
Usually it is conducted to hinder, harass, sabotage, or delay operations of enemy forces. Guerrilla operations are useful in destroying signal communications, gaining information, disrupting lines of communications, destroying. . . installations, and assisting the combat operations of friendly conventional forces.103
The organization, support, and deployment of a “guerrilla” force is outlined from the perspective of the external power. A “strong local leader” will generally serve as a focal point for recruitment, while “a conventional force may infiltrate qualified personnel to serve as military and technical advisers.”104 “External logistical support comes from a sponsoring power” to the extent determined by “the existing plans and capabilities of the sponsor....”105 Also, “raiding activities should be coordinated with the strategic bombing program of conventional forces so that guerrilla forces attack targets that are not suitable for air action.”106 As in later manuals, a significant section is devoted to the demobilization of American guerrillas when their usefulness is at an end: “Units kept in existence past their period of usefulness become a liability to the conventional forces and a source of potential trouble....”107
Although the manual stresses the importance of support from the civilian populationparticularly for intelligence purposesits prescriptions in this respect are relatively vague. Later manuals on guerrilla warfare define terror as the major factor in civilian control. The 1955 manual, for example, prescribes taking “action” against the recalcitrant:
Guerrillas seek to insure support and loyal cooperation by exercising control over civilians. To achieve this control, guerrilla policies and measures may include1) Dissemination of propaganda; 2) Action against individuals and communities that fail to cooperate; 3) Organization and regimentation of civilians.... Guerrillas publish orders and policies and act to enforce them in an effort to discourage collaboration.108
The “strict discipline” of a guerrilla organization, in contrast with the popular conception of moderate anarchy, “far surpasses the discipline found in conventional units. It is enforced by quick and severe action without recourse to formal investigations and trials.”109
The writers of the manual were principally concerned with the actions through which guerrillas prevented civilian collaboration with an enemy occupation force. Similarly, the laws of land warfare are considered in the context of resistance to a foreign occupation force, outlining the conditions under which partisan forces are eligible for prisoner-of-war status if captured.110 In practice, however, guerrillas “vary considerably in their respect for the rules of warfare” and may or may not wear distinctive insignia.111 And in practice, guerrilla warfare was considered outside the law, thus to be dealt with outside the law (a significant message for the American in either the guerrilla or the counterguerrilla role). “The guerrilla may be executed if captured... and civilians who aid them may be subject to severe penalties if detected.” An earlier draft read simply “The guerrilla expects death....”112
The manual also considers the legal of collaborators with a enemy force:
Land Warfare and the Guerrilla Traitor: The rules of land warfare are specific about the status of an individual who engages in or assists guerrilla operations in support of an enemy of his own country. Such an individual is classed as a traitor and is subject to punishment, including death. A traitor may be tried and punished even though captured long after the commission of his offense.113
The prerogatives of an occupation force under the law of land warfare set the terms of the manual’s counterguerrilla section: counterguerrilla action is predicated on a U.S. occupation of the territory in question, under the terms of a (temporary) military government.114 The guerrilla, in turn, is envisioned as a counterpart of the U. S.-organized guerrilla: a sponsored or dependent guerrilla. The counterguerrilla objective is defined accordingly, and has remained more or less the same in doctrine to the present:
a. Isolate guerrilla forces from the civilian population...;
b. Deny guerrilla forces contact with and support from friendly forces or a sympathetic sponsoring power;
c. Destroy the guerrilla forces.115
In counterguerrilla operations by U. S. occupation forces, the civilian population is classified as “enemy nationals.” Here again, the Korean experience of wandering front lines (and the presence of North Korea/ Chinese-sponsored guerrillas throughout) appears to have influenced the formulation of doctrine. “Friendly elements of the population of occupied areas should be used as much as possible to conserve conventional forces. Enemy nationals [i.e., any Korean civilian] may be employed actively” as intelligence agents, informers, civil functionaries, local police and security forces, labor and service units, and in special “antiguerrilla combat units.” The counterinsurgent is to treat the locals warily, however, because “the premature organization and exploitation of such force may invite treachery”; counterintelligence units must identify “those enemy nationals upon whom he safely can rely.”116 Having done so, the counterinsurgent has the option of organizing local “guerrillas” on their own terms: “A friendly guerrilla force then may be organized to combat hostile guerrilla forces.”117
Some of the most elaborate doctrinal guidance on unconventional warfare has emerged in the training materials prepared for army maneuvers. The participation by Special Forces units in maneuverswar games with conventional forces contributed to the development of the American style of special warfare. The intent was to familiarize commanders with the kind of unconventional operations the adversary, dubbed “Aggressor,” would launch. “Aggressor” was the name applied to units playing the role of Soviet Bloc forces; Aggressor warfare was defined in a body of doctrine modeled on the American conception of Soviet doctrine.
A series of army field manuals defined the order of battle, tactics, and strategies of the Aggressor in conventional warfare, including nuclear and biological scenarios, as well as insurgency. The Aggressor-warfare manuals enter into elaborate detail, from describing the uniforms and weaponry of Aggressor forces, conventional and unconventional, to outlining the (more or less imaginary) geography, politics, and indeed history of the Aggressor nation and its sphere of influence. The field manuals, prepared at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, were used for maneuvers and war games by U. S. armed forces, with Special Forces units trained in Aggressor tactics playing the role of the adversary. The manuals on Aggressor insurgency define the tactics that enemy guerrillas are expected to employ, yet they are seemingly indistinguishable from Special Forces unconventional warfare tactics in general.
The Special Forces’ role in Aggressor-maneuver warfare was, as explained in a January 1952 instruction, “to make the United States Forces guerrilla conscious and trained in anti-guerrilla tactics,” and to show the possibilities “of the use of friendly guerrilla forces.”118 Special Forces were to organize “guerrilla groups... behind the United States lines,” and carry out missions “in accordance with the principles of guerrilla warfare, i. e., surprise, maximum shock action, sudden disengagement.”119 Special limitations on Special Forces tactics for maneuver purposes include a ban on “propaganda of any type that might have permanent deleterious effect on troops” and a modification of Special Forces doctrine on the treatment of captives:
Normally the guerrilla force would not take any prisoners. However, in the event that personnel of the opposing force accidentally uncover an operational base, the guerillas would be forced to take them prisoner under maneuver conditions.... Such prisoners will have to be specially handled in order to maintain the security of the guerrillas.120
That the model of the subversive guerrilla was closer to that of the U. S. Army’s own Special Forces than that of Mao’s Red Army is suggested by both the record of action and written doctrine. The general concordance between the tactics of American unconventional warfare doctrine and that ascribed to the subversive guerrilla breaks down primarily in the way in which political and ethical values are assigned in the subversive model. The model of insurgent doctrine presented in the field manuals on Aggressor-maneuver warfare provides a model for, or a reflection of, the doctrine governing America’s own “guerrillas.” Designed as a “training vehicle” for operations in “limited and cold wars,” the 1967 edition of the Handbook on Aggressor Insurgent War (Department of the Army, Headquarters, FM 30-104, September 1967), provides one of the most comprehensive manuals of “communist” guerrilla tactics, as understood by the U. S. Army. It outlines “the strategy of ‘Aggressor’ insurgency and discusses its sociological, economic, political, psychological operations, and other military doctrines.”121
Much of the manual is devoted to a practical examination of the application of Aggressor strategy and tactics in insurgent warfare. The rationale is that to fight Aggressor insurgents one must understand and be able to mimictheir tactics. The manual purports to elucidate “insurgent activities” so that American forces can respond in kind, presenting a mirror image of Aggressor doctrine. Training in Aggressor insurgent tactics, in turn, was to be adapted to the counterinsurgency mission:
The purpose... is to present a practical application of the doctrine outlined.... As a means of application, an “Aggressor” war is conducted in the fictitious nation of New Freeland.... An understanding of the insurgent activities presented will enable individuals or units to apply the doctrine, with modifications, to internal defense/internal development in any part of the world.122
For “with modifications” read “turn the tactics on their heads”: American were to employ the same doctrineinsofar as its tactical elements were considered effectiveto further American purposes.
The importance of Aggressor insurgent doctrine to Special Forces training supports only obliquely the argument that the top American counterinsurgents were remade in the image of the enemy. The actual practice of Special Forces in operations around the world and the standing orders for specific assignments that have emerged provide more compelling evidence. The verbatim incorporation of recommended terror tactics from the 1967 Aggressor manual into the 1983 Psychological Operations manual issued to the Nicaraguan contras makes the connection more concrete. Aggressor insurgent tactics are American tactics. The image in the mirror is us.
Although first introduced in the 1950s, Aggressor warfare field manuals for guerrilla warfare continued to represent state of the art unconventional warfare as practiced by the United States into the 1990s. Aggressor doctrine provided the basis for the United States’ analysis of enemy guerrilla threat, but more significantly, presented a concept of “real-world” guerrillas as a model for the United States’ own guerrillas. The 1967 manual provides a model for American forces engaged in aggressive unconventional warfare; many of its terms of reference appear in Special Forces literature outside the framework of Aggressor-maneuver warfare. Perhaps not surprisingly, the norms of Aggressor guerrilla warfare were already adapted for instruction of Americans and their allies in real-world unconventional warfare in the 1950s. Lesson Plan 643 on “Armed Psyop,” dated April 1968, from the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, like the 1967 Aggressor manual, could also have been a prototype for the Psychological Operations manual distributed to the contras.123 Appropriation of Aggressor insurgent doctrine was not limited to the 1983 CIA contra manual; it also appeared in Special Forces training materials prepared not for maneuver warfare but for American and counterpart forces, engaged in real-time operations, to take unconventional warfare into the real world.
The army’s 1967 FM 30-1()4 defined “psychological operations” to include “communicative acts such as propaganda as well as physical acts of murder, assassination, or a simple show of forces which are intended to influence the minds and behavior of people.”124 Aggressor’s particularly ruthless approach and its caricature of most real political insurgencies is epitomized by its prescriptions under the heading “Mob Violence “ The 1983 contra manual incorporates some of the text of FM 30-104; taking into account the discrepancies of translation, is almost word for word.125
The Aggressor insurgent is seen to use terror without hesitation to win the support of those who remain neutral:
In those villages which did not desire to assist, threat, terror, and coercion cells were then employed. One of the most used procedures was terrorism. A special terrorist cell would enter a village, kill the Chief, and hang his body in the village square for everyone to see. This tactic had three major accomplishments. First, the villagers were apt to change their minds. Second, news of the disaster had considerable effect on the attitude of neighboring villages. Third, it made the villagers feel totally at the insurgent’s mercy and underlined the inability of the government authorities to protect them. . . 126
The contra manual, too, exalts the guerrilla’s use of terror as a means to induce a feeling of helplessness among the population and to communicate the impotence of the government:
Explicit and Implicit Terror. A guerrilla force always involves implicit terror because the population, without saying it aloud, feels terror that the weapons may be used against them. However, if the terror does not become explicit, positive results can be expected.... If the government police cannot put an end to the guerrilla activities, the population will lose confidence in the government, which has the inherent mission of guaranteeing the safety of citizens. However, the guerrillas should be careful not to become an explicit terror, because this would result in a loss of popular support.127
The contra manual does not elaborate or quantify the fine line between tactical terrorwith which to weaken the government by endangering the population’s safetyand counterproductive explicit terror. The distinction might be that made by the U. S. Army between “selective” and “mass” terror, or again between terror as overt or covert action. FM 30-104, for example, attempts to do so:
Aggressor advocates the selective use of terror as opposed to mass terror. The assassination of a government official will lead some people to refrain from seeking public office.... Likewise, the assassination of a village leader will make it difficult to obtain another leader enabling the insurgent movement to have more freedom of action. Such actions display the government’s inability to protect its officials, causing the populace to lose respect for the government 128
The acceptabilityor unacceptabilityof terror is outlined in the contra manual, like earlier army manuals, entirely in the terms of psychological impact, without regard for ethics or international law. In general, guerrilla actions endangering the public are to provide the strategic background to other tactical initiatives to undermine the government. The manual advises the elaborate explanation of the use of armed force involving the noncombatant population: The people are to be told actions were taken “to protect them, the people.... That this action, although it is not desirable, is necessary because the final objective of the insurrection is a free and democratic society.” The necessary evil, finally, will “cease to exist when the ‘forces of justice’ of our movement assume control. “
Less attention is given to the circumstances justifying lethal force, which are sketched in broad strokes in the 19X3 manual, than to the explanation and justification of such killings whatever the circumstances:
If, for example, it should be necessary... to have to fire on a citizen who was trying to leave the town or city in which the guerrillas are carrying out armed propaganda... the following is recommended:
- Explain that if that citizen had managed to escape, he would have alerted the enemy....
- If a guerrilla fires at an individual, make the town see that he was an enemy of the people, and that they shot him because the guerrillas recognized as their first duty the protection of citizens.
The manual provides further useful explanations for the killing of informers:
- The commando tried to detain the informant without firing because he, like all Christian guerrillas, espouses nonviolence. Firing at the Sandinista informant, although it is against his own will, was necessary to prevent the repression of the Sandinista government against innocent people.
- Make the population see that it was the repressive system that was the cause of this situation, what really killed the informer....
- Make the population see... this death would have been avoided if justice and freedom existed in Nicaragua, which is exactly the objective of the democratic guerrilla.129
“Armed Propaganda” teams are counseled on the use of force in towns and villages. Should the team encounter hostility from “one or two men,” the threat “can be overcome by eliminating the enemy in a rapid and effective manner.”130 Should there be little opposition, the force should do, among other things, the following:
- Destroy the military or police installations and remove the survivors to a “public place.”
- Cut all the outside lines of communication. . .
- Set up ambushes in order to delay reinforcements. .
- Kidnap all officials or agents of the Sandinista government and replace them in “public places” with military or civilian persons trusted by our movement.
The manual’s guidance on “implicit and explicit” terror is followed by a fairly explicit section on selective assassination (or execution) and propaganda; it explains what is to become of those officials kidnapped and taken to a “public place” after a capture of a village:
Selective Use of Violence for Propagandistic Effects
It is possible to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, mesta judges (a kind of rural justice of the peace), police and State Security Officials, CDS [Sandinista Defense Committee] chiefs, etc. For psychological purposes it is necessary to take extreme precautions, and It is absolutely necessary to gather together the population affected so that they will be present, take part in the act, and formulate accusations against the oppressor.
American unconventional war doctrine also figured in another text called Psychological Operations, which surfaced after longtime CIA asset General Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama jumped the track and became Washington’s designated enemy. Like the manual prepared for Nicaraguan contras the Panamanian text became the object of criticism (and ridicule) in the 1980s. Unlike the Nicaraguan manual, its roots in American doctrine went largely unremarked. The Panamanian Defense Forces had published the eighty-page manual in 1975. Ostensibly authored by Noriega,, it may have been approved (or even ghostwritten) by the American advisers then close to defense chiefs there. The text drew extensively on American Army unconventional warfare material including Paul Linebarger’s 1948 classic Psychological Warfare, which advised the student of psy-war that the problems “for the future are problems of how better to apply it, not of whether to apply it.”131
The Panamanian manual, drafted when Noriega was Panama’s intelligence chief, drew the attention of reporters hungry for dirt on Noriega for its peculiar treatment of another world leader known for a notoriously bad press. The headline NORIEGA’S MODEL: GENGHIS KHAN was not entirely off base. Noriega had illustrated basic principles of psychological warfare with the Mongol experiencelaying open his own rise to power to later ridicule: “Genghis Khan may have been a tough man to revere. But to General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the marauding... conqueror is a mentor [ranking] as ‘the real father of psychological warfare’....”132 Noriega found that the Great Khan had, by using spies and enemy agents “better than anyone, employed the technique of the rumor... and with it ensured the conquest of half the world with only a handful of men.”133 Noriega also observed that one should use “ ‘astuteness before threats or violence,’ “ while being prepared “to ‘exterminate’ enemies in a ‘cold and calculating’ way if necessary.” The media critics appear to have been unaware that the young Noriega of 1975 had lifted the Genghis Khan analysis almost intact from U. S. Army instructional materialPaul Linebarger’s study of psy-war.
Linebarger’s classic had praised Genghis Khan for his use of “black propaganda” in his review of psychological warfare in history: the Mongols “had used espionage to plan their campaigns and deliberately used rumor and other means to exaggerate accounts of their own huge numbers, stupidity, and ferocity.”134 Noriega’s reference to extermination may also be drawn from Linebargeralthough Linebarger’s references to terror and extermination occur largely in the context of ideological war. The key to success was seen as a readiness to use ruthless force and to root out “stubborn individuals.”135 Clearly, this was applicable to the counterinsurgency state’s war against communismbut writ small, it might have seemed to legitimize the ruthless tactics of a two-bit opportunist concerned largely with staying on top.
Noriega had indeed himself used principles of psy-war in subduing opponents at homeand to present himself to his American friends as both compliant and rather stupid (neither of which was the case). American military experts consulted by the media when Noriega’s paper came to light shrugged it off as “a perversion of what General Noriega learned in... ‘psy-ops’ courses in Panama earlier in his career.”136 In fact, Noriega’s write-up appears to have been fairly faithful to the approach taken in the classics of the U. S. Army’s psychological warfare syllabus. The real model for Noriega and other ex-alumni of American training in the counterinsurgency states was American doctrine. Although the tenets of psychological warfare set out by Linebarger and others were envisioned for wartime situations, they were tailor-made for application at home when passed through the counterinsurgency filter.