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

The Kennedy Crusade

A Dynamic National Strategy To Defeat the Communists

As the Eisenhower administration’s Cuban and Congolese operations ground inexorably into 1961, the new president moved rapidly to make his own mark on the Cold War, building on the experience of the 1950s, but with a difference. Kennedy was not content to rely on the covert stratagems of the CIA; rather, he was determined to wage the Cold War on a far broader front. While the CIA retained its paramilitary role, despite the turn of events at the Bay of Pigs, the regular armed forces were charged with taking up the paramilitary, unconventional cudgel of the Cold War in ways almost unthinkable before. The Eisenhower emphasis on offensive, unconventional, covert war against undesirable governments was matched by Kennedy’s overt and covert war against the internal enemies of friendly governments. This latter task, the counterinsurgency dimension of political warfare, became a principal public plank of Kennedy’s foreign policy.

The Kennedy counterinsurgency program initially turned the foreign policy establishment upside down in a flurry of seminars, counterinsurgency courses, bureaucratic upheavals, and frantic formulation of unfamiliar policy. This counterinsurgency orientation, however, was not implemented at the expense of its hitherto more prominent twin, offensive unconventional warfare. The Kennedy administration was virtually launched with the Cuba-bound landing craft that set out in April 1961, and efforts to meddle with standing governments there and in the Congo were lasting highlights of those three short years. It was initiatives in developing a broad counterinsurgency policy, though, that dominated the Kennedy years: A doctrine, infrastructure, and program of counterinsurgency was developed almost overnight. The counterinsurgency era, in terms of the military and the intelligence establishments, began with Kennedy and faded away with the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam. The program, drawing in part on the same resources developed for unconventional warfare, provided a new and integrated approach to a neglected theater of the Cold War.

Kennedy’s preoccupation with insurgency dated from the late 1950s, and a school of thought then already gaining prominence, which “identified low-profile, ‘brushfire’ wars under Soviet sponsorship as a major new threat to the world balance of power.”1 Kennedy’s personal contact with the problems involved dated from considerably earlier-most strikingly, his 1951 visit to Indochina, a congressional junket of considerable educational, and historical, impact. A combination of distaste for European colonialism with a Cold War view of the Soviet threat appears prominently in his subsequent congressional speeches. Perhaps most illustrative was a 1958 speech anticipating his famous presidential speeches on guerrilla war, in which he identified the new threat as “Sputnik diplomacy, limited brush-fire wars, indirect non-overt aggression, intimidation and subversion, internal revolution.”2 By Inauguration Day 1961, Kennedy’s personal commitment to a stepped up, integrated guerrilla/counterguerrilla program was clear.

Kennedy’s concern to confront guerrilla warfare has frequently been viewed as a response to Nikita Khrushchev’s rhetorical support for “wars of liberation.” Khrushchev’s January 1961 speech, just after Kennedy’s Inauguration, is considered particularly crucial in galvanizing the new president into a program of action) Khrushchev’s rhetoric, however, was probably rather less important than the current concern over troubles with communists in Laos and in Vietnam, ideological doubts regarding African decolonization, and unfinished business in Cuba-where efforts were underway to slap down the first successful communist revolution in America’s “backyard.” Notwithstanding the public preoccupation with Khrushchev’s “wars of liberation,” Douglas Blaufarb observes there was little evidence that the post-Stalin Soviets were actually “fomenting or encouraging” communist parties to launch insurgencies. While those insurgencies that did emerge had Soviet propaganda support if not matériel as well, there was neither the interest nor the necessary influence to launch insurgencies by remote control: “In actual fact . . . the Soviet Union by the late fifties had no voice in determining the policies of the Vietnamese Communists or of Castro and his group, to cite the two insurgencies which caused most concern in Washington.”4

The record of National Security Council meetings in Kennedy’s first months in office suggests much of his thinking and that of his circle had already crystallized some time before-and indeed that the Defense Department under Eisenhower had done much of the ground work, including detailed proposals that Kennedy would adopt for the buildup of the Special Forces. The NSC meeting of 1 February 1961, ten days after Kennedy’s Inauguration, discussed a (still-classified) Limited War Task Force report that provided a basis for immediate action. Preparations for a major Eisenhower exercise in “limited war,” the Bay of Pigs invasion, were then gathering steam; the Kennedy administration followed through against its better judgment. Some of the recommendations in the Task Force report for “an expanded guerrilla program” were adopted and incorporated in a National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM 2), including budgetary provisions for “the addition of some 3,000 men to the Army’s Special Forces and a budget augmentation of $19 million.”5

The Special Forces would undertake both its traditional offensive unconventional warfare role and a new, explicit counterinsurgency role, “for use in situations short of limited war, such as subbelligerency and overt insurgency as well as in limited war situations.”6 Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara was subsequently directed to reprogram $100 million from existing defense programs “to expand and reorient existing forces for ‘paramilitary and sub-limited or unconventional wars,’ such as require guerrilla fighters with special skills and foreign language fluency.”7

On the diplomatic front, the preeminence of counterinsurgency in foreign policy was set out in the president’s May 1961 directive to American ambassadors overseas: “We are living in a critical moment in history. Powerful destructive forces are challenging the universal values which, for centuries, have inspired men of good will in all parts of the world.”8 Although the universal values in question were not spelled out, the president was explicit in laying down the law on the civil-military pecking order in the counterinsurgency campaign. Ambassadors were advised that their writ extended to control of all American programs in their assigned countries except those involving “United States military forces operating in the field where such forces are under the command of a United States area military commander.”9 Although ambassadors were outside the chain of command-which went through the joint Chiefs of Staff-they were nevertheless advised to “work closely with the appropriate area commander.” At the beginning of his administration, Eisenhower, in a similar directive, exempted the CIA from the ambassadors’ authority.”

The administration moved rapidly to ensure political and budgetary support for a counterinsurgency program and to expand the limited capability for unconventional warfare, which would soon be tested at the Bay of Pigs. The president’s message to Congress on 28 March was his seminal statement on counterinsurgency, and it established the political and military terms of his policy.12 He discussed guerrilla warfare in the larger context of limited wars. Kennedy’s definition of the threat was eloquent and more than comprehensive:

The free world’s security can be endangered not only by a nuclear attack, but also by being nibbled away at the periphery ... by forces of subversion, infiltration, intimidation, indirect or non-overt aggression, internal revolution, diplomatic blackmail, guerrilla warfare or a series of limited wars.13

America’s duty, Kennedy declared, was to go beyond containment, to respond to the threat in kind. He noted that since 1945, “nonnuclear wars, and sublimited or guerrilla warfare” had represented “the most active and constant threat to free world security.” Although Kennedy conceded that “the main burden of local defense against overt attack, subversion and guerrilla warfare must rest on local populations and forces,” he insisted on an American obligation to contribute “in the form of strong, highly mobile forces trained in this type of warfare.” Kennedy had in mind something more elaborate than today’s Rapid Reaction Forces: In addition to airmobile and sealift capacity and the forward deployment of troops, the United States required “a greater ability to deal with guerrilla forces, insurrections, and subversion.”

Kennedy recognized the limitations of the armed forces’ past experience with “guerrilla warfare”-a military preoccupation with guerrilla partisans (ours or the adversary’s) in conventional warfarenoting:

Much of our effort to create guerrilla and antiguerrilla capabilities has in the past been aimed at general war. We must be ready now to deal with any size of force, including small externally supported bands of men; and we must help train local forces to be equally effective.14

The counterinsurgency theme was further developed, and the policy was vigorously backed. In a speech before a special joint session on 25 May 1961, President Kennedy requested an additional $1.9 billion: $535 million for foreign aid to “perimeter countries directly threatened by overt invasion, almost half a billion to strengthen the army and Marines, and the balance for the space program. He defined the program thus:

[T]heir aggression is more often concealed than open. They have fired no missiles; and their troops are seldom seen. They send arms, agitators, aid, technicians and propaganda to every troubled area. But where fighting is required it is usually done by others, by guerrillas striking at night, by assassins striking alone . . . by subversives and saboteurs and insurrectionists, who in some cases control whole areas inside of independent nations.15

Kennedy’s push for a reinvigorated activist role in the Cold War prompted an immediate response from Congress. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was enacted to “promote the foreign policy, security and general welfare of the United States by assisting people of the world in their efforts toward economic development and internal and external security and for other purposes.”16 Section 501 of the act summarized its security dimension, foreign assistance aimed at

improving the ability of friendly countries and international organizations to deter or, if necessary, defeat Communist or Communist-supported aggression, facilitating arrangements for individual and collective security, assisting friendly countries to maintain internal security and stability in the developing friendly countries essential to their more rapid social, economic, and political progress.

The Inner Circles

The Bay of Pigs fiasco and the inquiry conducted by a special group chaired by General Maxwell Taylor led to a reexamination of the coordination of the U.S. unconventional warfare/counterinsurgency effort. Upon assuming office, Kennedy dissolved the Operations Coordinating Board, the interagency board with advisory and supervisory functions on national security affairs-with a reputation for meddling and red tape-that had monitored the implementation of NSC decisions under Eisenhower.17

The Taylor Committee, which had included Attorney General Robert Kennedy, CIA Director Allen Dulles (who resigned soon afterward), and Admiral Arleigh Burke, recommended the creation of a new high-level coordinating committee with a special brief for counterinsurgency. The committee that emergedthe Special Group (Counterinsurgency) -was established in January 1962 by NSAM 124: “To assure the use of US resources with maximum effectiveness in preventing and resisting subversive insurgency in friendly countries.”18 The president’s military adviser, General Maxwell Taylor, who chaired the group, called it “a sort of Joint Chiefs of Staff for the control for all agencies involved in counterinsurgency.”19

The Special Group (CI)’s larger task was to ensure that all agencies of government became part of the integrated reorientation toward counterinsurgency. Its brief was

to recommend actions to obtain recognition ... that subversive insurgency (“wars of liberation”) is a new and dangerous form of politicomilitary conflict for which the US must prepare with the same seriousness of purpose as for the conventional warfare of the past. Verify that this sense of urgency is reflected in the organization, training, equipment and doctrine of the US Armed Forces and in the political, economic, intelligence and military aid programs conducted abroad by State, Defense, AID [Agency for International Development], USIA [U.S. Information Agency], and CIA.”20

The more specific oversight functions, modeled on previous procedures for oversight of covert actions, centered on designated target countries, which NSAM 124 initially limited to Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand. To the original list, by July 1962, the Special Group (CI) had added “cognizance” of Cambodia, Burma, Iran, Cameroons, Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia.” How were these trouble spots singled out? Gilpatric describes an ad hoc approach that was little different from that used for covert operations planning in general:

Well, usually either State or the agency, or once in a while, AID or Defense would come up with a program which some desk officer ... had homed in on. It wasn’t a very scientific process .... It really reflected what was happening in the world at a particular time and what particular area offices were interested in. And I often felt that it was too sporadic and hit or miss. No one was sitting back trying to spot in some objective, comprehensive sense, problem areas before they erupted. They just came up, and there was a reaction.22

The membership of the group included Director of CIA John McCone, the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff L. L. Lemnitzer, Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Undersecretary of State U. Alexis Johnson, and the chiefs of AID and the USIA. Despite its top-heavy nature and a working rule that only the principals themselves-not stand-ins-would attend, meetings were normally held every Thursday afternoon in the Executive Office Building only a short tunnel away from the White House. An additional member, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, joined the group shortly after its inception and became a principal channel for the president’s own views. As Gilpatric later recalled:

The attorney general, the president’s brother, certainly took on himself the role of being the prime mover. He attended practically every meeting of this group. He had more to say. He did more prodding, and he did more in the way of critical analysis and obviously did a lot of homework in this area outside of just going to meetings. And I don’t know just how this assignment came about, but it was almost a regular occurrence that after the meetings of the Group ... the attorney general would go across the street to the White House and report to his brother. So we were all ... very conscious of the fact that this was an extremely high priority matter.24

Robert Kennedy’s advocacy role reflected the larger advocacy role played by the group itself. In April 1962, White House Intelligence Adviser R. W. Komer (later head of pacification in Vietnam, responsible for Operation PHOENIX) advised Bundy that the effect had already been noticeable: “This Group has already performed a real service in the pushing, prodding, and coordinating so essential to getting and keeping counterinsurgency activity underway.”25 And indeed the scope of counterinsurgency programs throughout the foreign policy establishment within a year of its creation was a tribute to its effectiveness.”26

A principal task of the Special Group (CI) was to push the development of counterinsurgency training, civilian and military, of Americans and foreign nationals. NSAM 131 (13 March 1962) set out objectives that required training in counterinsurgency for all officer-grade personnel with potential assignments dealing with counterinsurgency in the Departments of State and Defense, AID, CIA, and USIA. Progress reports over the next six months outlined the activity in each of the agencies toward developing course material, including an interdepartmental seminar conducted by the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.27

The CIA’s Spring 1962 progress report on compliance with the order illustrates the lead the paramilitary specialists had in the counterinsurgency scramble, noting that, on reviewing the present “training inventory and content,” it was clear that the CIA was “in relatively good position to adjust to NSAM 131, since most of its courses already include considerable counterinsurgency material on such subjects as Communist doctrine, operations, subversion.” In 1962, the CIA was considerably ahead of the armed forces in developing doctrine and training for counterinsurgency (the CIA’s field manuals, however, are still considerably less accessible than those of the military): “CIA’s staff is now working to develop and add needed additional counterinsurgency content in 17 courses over broad range, such as ‘Clandestine Political Warfare,’ ‘Air Operations,’ ‘Information Reporting,’ etc....”28

Another top-level Special Group had been established in 1961 as the presidential monitoring committee for covert action; at other times since its inception, this apparatus of executive control over the CIA has been known as the “54-12,” “303,” or more recently, the “40” Committee (taken from the numbers of the presidential directives). The membership was much the same as the Special Group (Cl).29 Sometimes known by its subgroup, the “Mongoose Committee” that coordinated post-Bay of Pigs efforts to murder Cuban officials and overthrow that government, Kennedy’s Special Group (5412 Committee) had rather larger responsibilities. Special Group (5412) had been assigned major tasks according to the Taylor committee’s recommendations, and it became to offensive unconventional warfare what the Special Group (CI) was to counterinsurgency.

As a direct consequence of the Taylor report, NSAM 56 (28 June 1961) had required an assessment of “possible future requirements in the field of unconventional warfare and paramilitary operations,” and “to consider various areas in the world where the implementation of our policy may require indigenous paramilitary forces.” A first step was “to inventory the paramilitary assets we have in the United States Armed Forces.”” NSAM 57, issued the same day, assigned the Special Group (5412) responsibility for “paramilitary operations,” which, until the Special Group (CI) was established, included some of the covert aspects of counterinsurgency.32 A paramilitary operation was defined as

one which by its tactics and its requirements in military type personnel, equipment and training approximates a conventional military operation. It may be undertaken in support of a rebel group seeking to overthrow a government hostile to us. The U. S. may render assistance to such operations overtly, covertly or by a combination of both methods. In size these operations may vary from the infiltration of a squad of guerrillas to a military operation such as the Cuban invasion.33

For each operation, Special Group (5412 Committee) was to assign responsibilities for “planning, interdepartmental coordination and for execution to the Task Force, department or individual best qualified.”34 The group would itself play the major part in ensuring the conduct of paramilitary operations “with maximum effectiveness and flexibility within the context of the Cold War.”35

Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, a member of the Special Group (5412), later described it as having been “principally concerned with what kinds of efforts could be undertaken, largely by the CIA, to undermine the Castro regime. And after the Bay of Pigs, every effort and activity by the agency was reviewed by this group and reported to the president.”36 The group had, however, global responsibilities as well, monitoring CIA-sponsored activities in Italy, Brazil, Finland, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, among others. Gilpatric recalls:

[T]hat group also took jurisdiction over the programs in other countries where CIA was putting in money or resources in support of at least a quasi-political objective .... [W]herever there was the possibility of any major flak developing, any embarrassment to our government, this group had to review the program, and it had to be reported to the president with either a recommendation or-well, if it was turned down, it wouldn’t get recorded, as a rule....37

The complementary and sometimes overlapping roles of the two Special Groups provided an ideal mechanism for supervising the two-track approach to the Cold War: offensive unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency. Again, Gilpatric describes its function: “There was, in effect, a split between what I would call the 54-12 group, the Mac[George] Bundy group, and the CI group, with the former having jurisdiction over what was being done directly against Castro, and the other with what was being done to forestall Castro from infiltrating or having some impact on other countries.

Policy into Doctrine

Over a year after the counterinsurgency era began, the Special Group (CI) approved a thirty-page “Overseas Internal Defense Policy” (NSAM 182), a first effort at a comprehensive statement of “a doctrine for countering subversive insurgency where it exists and to prevent its outbreak in those countries not yet threatened, yet having weak and vulnerable societies.””’ The doctrine was outlined in broad strokes, a rough statement of political and philosophical premises accompanied by an assignment of general functions to each of the relevant agencies. The CIA’s role and “the tactical employment of U.S. Armed Forces” were outside its scope.40 The primary task addressed was an effective response to wars of “national liberation.” Communist insurgency, the paper argued, combined doctrine and experience, hence necessitated an effective blueprint for counteraction:

A most pressing U.S. national security problem now, and for the foreseeable future, is the continuing threat presented by communist inspired, supported, or directed insurgency, defined as subversive insurgency. Many years of experience with the techniques of subversion and insurgency have provided the communists with a comprehensive, tested doctrine for conquest from within. Our task is to fashion on an urgent basis an effective plan of action to combat this critical communist threat.41

The political scenario sketched was that of a starkly polarized world with no room for neutrals: The proliferation of “indirect aggression through the use of subversion and insurgency . . . is related directly to the fact that the world is dominated by two overwhelmingly strong centers of power . . . [which] tend to become involved directly or indirectly in most of the critical situations that occur throughout the world.”42 Because one must prevail in every theater, there could be no complacency in the free world. The strategy toward latent or incipient “subversive insurgency” in free countries-”whether they are proWestern, or basically neutral”-was to eliminate it, “lest it provide a communist foothold and escalate into active insurgency.”43 In a discussion of non-communist insurgency,” NSAM 182 notes: “The U.S. does not wish to assume a stance against revolution per se, as an historical means of change. The right of peoples to change their governments, economic systems and social structures by revolution is recognized in international law.”44 But the paper, recalling Alfred Thayer Mahan, emphasizes the United States’ right to act for or against a revolution in accord with its own interests:

[T]he use of force to overthrow certain types of government is not always contrary to U.S. interests. A change brought about through force by non-communist elements may be preferable to prolonged deterioration of governmental effectiveness or to a continuation of a situation where increasing discontent and repression interact, thus building toward a more dangerous climax. Each case of latent, incipient, or active non-communist insurgency must therefore be examined on its merits in the light of U.S. interests.

The chairman of the interdepartmental group that drafted the policy paper, Charles Maechling, Jr., later described NSAM 182 as “a somewhat simplistic document” precisely because of the almost knee-jerk categorization of Marxist-influenced insurgencies in a single class. Little attention was paid to the nature of the governments involved or the domestic causes of unrest: “It treated each revolutionary movement in a foreign society as if it were a clearly articulated military force instead of the apex of a pyramid deeply embedded in society.”46

NSAM 182 recommends that the use of U.S. forces abroad be “as limited as the achievements of its objectives permit and only ancillary to the indigenous effort,”47 to avoid not only the appearance of neocolonialism, but, more practically, assuming the full burden of the countless wars envisioned by the United States as well. “It is important for the U.S. to remain in the background, and where possible, to limit its support to training, advice and materiel, lest it prejudice the local government effort and expose the U.S. unnecessarily to the charges of intervention and colonialism.48 Where necessary, of course, U.S. troops would themselves go in: “[A] clear demonstration of U.S. willingness to help may be an important factor in strengthening morale and local will to resist.”49

The 1962 policy characterized Magsaysay’s Philippine campaign as a model for counterinsurgency and suggested a similar integration of reform measures with the use of force. The task was to create spacethrough military means-within which reforms could be carried out Magsaysay-style: “U.S. programs should be designed to make the indigenous military response as rapid and incisive as possible while parallel reforms are directed at ameliorating the conditions contributing to the insurgent outbreak.

The development dimension of the Kennedy administration’s counterinsurgency doctrine was influenced by economist Walt Rostow, a principal adviser on counterinsurgency, whose theory of stages of economic growth postulated an evolutionary process through which states would achieve economic “growth” (the predecessor buzzword to “development”) and political maturity.51 Rostow had the opportunity to make the world a laboratory to test his theories when he served as a principal adviser on counterinsurgency to Kennedy; his economic theories, however, went out with the 1960s.

Rostow’s thesis was that economic development proceeded in stages, set apart by periods of political instability when governments are susceptible to communism subversion and takeover. U.S.backed counterinsurgency was, in Rostow’s view, required to “protect the developmental process in strategically important client-states, especially during periods of their maximum vulnerability to communist takeover, which were supposed to coincide with the transition from one stage to another.”52 This was, of course, fully consistent with Kennan’s view of a battlefield of constantly shifting pressure points, the myriad fronts of the Cold War, to which the United States had to adapt.

In accord with Rostow’s “stages of growth” theory, by reinforcing threatened nations militarily at critical junctures, their economic development too would be boosted. The American government’s advisory programs on “development” would become a virtual industry in the counterinsurgency states, although its “reform” component made little impact anywhere. The 1962 draft doctrine of NSAM 182, as a consequence, articulated a policy combining internal defense and development for the first time:

Anticipating, preventing and defeating communist-directed insurgency requires a blend of civil and military capabilities and actions to which each U.S. agency . must contribute. The safeguarding of the developmental process requires carefully evaluated intelligence, the ability to penetrate the enemy’s organizations, and the training of adequate and balanced military and police forces. These, as well as bilateral and multilateral developmental assistance, advice, and information programs, are all indispensable components of an effective internal defense program.

Little thought appears to have been given to those situations in which the allies assisted were simply unwilling to go along with the script. As Maechling observes, the policy offered little political guidance as to when the United States should take action, and, on the development front, it established “no criteria laying down conditions that had to be met by the host country before the aid programs could become operative. Nor was there any reference to U.S. social and economic goals for the country concerned. “54 The policy failed to enunciate what the United States wanted for the world, declaring only what it did not want.

The geopolitical analysis in the military’s own doctrine in the Kennedy years largely matched the 1962 model approved by the Special Group (CI), although the military lagged somewhat in incorporating the new view of the insurgent guerrilla into its mainstream field manuals. The analytical model of the enemy guerrilla was based on the American “guerrillas”-and World War II partisans-as irregular forces subordinated to a great power. This model, of course, by emphasizing the significance of external sponsors, provided a convenient rationale for American intervention in guerrilla conflicts involving friendly governments. Curiously, although army doctrine downplayed the significance of guerrilla warfare conducted without backing by, and subordination to, conventional armies in the 1950s, it appears to have been only during the course of 1961 that doctrine came to assume as a fundamental premise that hostile guerrilla warfare was almost by definition an extension of Soviet power. The May 1961 field manual Operations Against Irregular Forces, for example, retained the 1950s view of the unsponsored guerrilla as a relatively minor threat, and it made no reference to Soviet sponsorship of guerrilla warfare. In contrast, the manual outlines varying factors in the “Ideological Basis for Resistance” in a fairly objective manner:

The fundamental cause of large-scale resistance movements stems from the dissatisfaction of some portion of the population, whether real, imagined, or incited, with the prevailing political, social, or economic conditions. This dissatisfaction is usually centered around a desire for one or more of the following: 1) National independence. 2) Relief from actual or alleged oppression. 3) Elimination of foreign occupation or exploitanon. 4) Economic or social improvement. 5) Elimination of corruption. 6) Religious exprcssion.55

In 1961, however, military doctrine was determined by political fiat. In the wake of the Kennedy speeches on guerrilla warfare as Soviet aggression, top officials, civilian and military alike, ratified the position in speeches, articles, and policy papers. In an address in February 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara took as a point of departure Khrushchev’s 6 January 1961 speech: According to McNarnara, Khrushchev predicted that “liberation wars and popular uprisings will continue to exist as long as imperialism exists . . . . Such wars are not only admissible but inevitable . . . . We recognize such wars. We help and will help the people striving for their independence. “56 But McNamara responds: “What Chairman Khrushchev describes as wars of liberation and popular uprisings, I prefer to describe as subversion and covert aggression. “57 The American response was to invert the Soviet posture: The phenomena described by the Soviets were henceforth en bloc inimical to the United States and deserving of an appropriate response, what McNamara called “The Third Challenge”-[W]e shall have to deal with the problems of “wars of liberation.” These wars are often not wars at all. In these conflicts, the force of world Communism operates in a twilight zone between political subversion and quasi-military action. Their military tactics are those of the sniper, the ambush, and the raid. Their political tactics are terror, extortion, and assassination. We must help the people of the threatened nations to resist.58

The new analytical model of the guerrilla as Soviet proxy became the norm after 1961, appearing, for example, in a section devoted to “Unconventional Warfare” in the army’s 1962 Field Service Regulations: Operations .59 The manual emphasized the importance of offensive (American) guerrilla operations in a world of ideological warfare, while stressing the equal importance of “counter-unconventional war.” Just as U. S. unconventional warfare was defined as the conduct of offensive guerrilla operations within enemy spheres of influence, guerrilla activity in the United States’ sphere was, by definition, seen as a projection of Soviet unconventional warfare. In an attitude seemingly drawing from the Korean and World War II experiences, in which guerrillas fought as adjuncts to conventional forces and shifting front lines could convert today’s partisan into tomorrow’s counterguerrilla, “our” guerrillas could be deployed against adversary guerrillas: “Enemy unconventional warfare operations must be countered. Measures include . . . the use of combat troops or friendly guerrillas in an antiguerrilla role.”60

The Other Side of the Coin

“Counterinsurgency” in the 1960s meant both measures to combat insurgency and the export of a kind of insurgency, a guerrilla threat of America’s own devising. The rationale, as in the early Cold War, was that in order to stand against an enemy that fought dirty, the U.S. must take up the same methods. In his own speeches and interviews, Kennedy stopped short of affirming that Americans should “fight dirty,” but posed the matter as a dilemma. In an April 1961 interview, he asked how “an open, non-conspiratorial society ... can compete with a secret, conspiratorial society using all the instruments of subversion?”61 Others were less discreet.

The orientation toward guerrilla tactics is exemplified by the previously cited “think” paper circulated in March 1961 by the army chief of Research and Development (R&D), which called for greater military attention to tasks hitherto left largely to the intelligence people. The proposals read very much like the rash of “counterterrorism” proposals made by members of the Reagan administration in 1983:62

To turn the guerrilla warfare coin over, we must find a way to overthrow a Communist regime in power short of general war and even short of limited war. I still see no reason why we should accept a tyrant government in Laos, Belgian Congo, or any Latin American country. If they can afford a million dollars on propaganda alone in Latin America, and support a Communist government in our back yard, we can support free governments in Eastern Europe or any other area dominated by Communists. Again, this can be an indigenous operation supported by the tremendous psychological prestige of the United States .... We can provide military assistance to an anti-Communist revolution. But there, too, we need a doctrine in the Army.

The 1961 R&D paper acknowledges the doctrinal antecedents for Cold War intervention, and it envisions a doctrine integrating conventional and unconventional warfare resources to pursue unconventional objectives. Existing doctrine, which considered the role of pro-U.S. “guerrillas” as that of partisans working with conventional forces, would be modified. The proposal differs only slightly from the Bay of Pigs scenario, but the army, not the CIA, would play the predominant role:

I would visualize the doctrine as not much different from present doctrine for special forces. Infiltrate into resistance areas; develop a military base through recruiting, training and equipment and eventually expand the operation to military action if necessary to overthrow the regime. Again, the Army could develop such a doctrine and such units as we have for the nuclear weapons. Where and when we use either is a matter of national policy decision. But the Army should have both weapons in the arsenal.63

The doctrine of the 1960s in fact evolved away from the American “guerrilla” supporting conventional operations, and toward a concept not far from that mooted in those early days of the Kennedy administration. Primary control of army forces dedicated to such tasks, however, stayed primarily with the CIA (despite guidelines introduced after the Bay of Pigs invasion to bring in army control of large paramilitary operations). An equally important principle of army unconventional warfare doctrine developed in the Kennedy years concerned the relative roles of U. S. and indigenous forces in both counterinsurgency and efforts to overthrow “hostile” regimes. In World War II and in the Korean War, indigenous forces were deployed primarily in holding actions awaiting the arrival of U.S. conventional forces. The new approach emphasized both the practical and political advantage of minimizing the direct involvement of U.S. combat forces in unconventional warfare.

The 1961 “leak” of the army Research and Development paper provoked some Pentagon spokesmen to turn to damage control through their own media outlets. A source cited in a New York Times piece on 31 May declared flatly that the United States was not “embarking on a global subversion program, thus aping the Soviet Union. “64 It continued, however, to express support for a U.S. “guerrilla” capability, but downplayed the importance of guerrilla warfare: “[A]lthough guerrilla capabilities for meeting guerrilla tactics in remote areas of the world undoubtedly are desirable, there should be no confusion about the Communist threat of subversion and guerrilla harassments and the Communist threat of real military takeovers.”

It was perhaps natural that the Kennedy administration would welcome a secret “unconventional” weapon with which to confront “Communist subversion” in the 1960s, much as Truman’s had opted enthusiastically for a paramilitary CIA in 1947-1948. In a sense, the two periods shared a similar lack of confidence in facing world events. The Kennedy administration’s response to the success of the Cuban Revolution and revolutionary trends elsewhere was much like Truman’s early Cold War experiences with Greece and Korea; indeed, in a haunting speech, the Pacific Commander, General Collins, said in September 1962 that “Kennedy’s decision to ‘support as necessary’ the South Vietnamese against Communist insurgency [was] to Asia ‘what the earlier decision on insurgency in Greece was to Europe.’”65 In both cases, the mobilization of overt military force was combined with a reassessment of the options for the extension of military power through covert means. Not long before Kennedy found himself faced with the responsibility of command, Harry Truman spoke up-in a manner that should have rung alarm bellsabout the CIA’s tilt toward operations (State Director of Intelligence and Research Roger Hilsman’s memoirs suggest Kennedy was well aware of Truman’s hindsight):

For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government .... Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue .... We have grown up as a nation ... respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.66

Similar, rather more specific qualms over what the CIA had become were expressed by George Kennan in the 1980s:

In the years immediately following the Second World War the practices of the Stalin regime ... were so far-reaching and presented so great an apparent danger ... that our government felt itself justified in setting up facilities for clandestine defensive operations of its own .... As one of those who, at the time, favored the decision to set up such facilities, I regret today, in light of the experience of the intervening years, that the decision was taken. Operations of this nature are not in character for this country .... [S]uch operations should not be allowed to become a regular and routine feature of the governmental process, cast in the concrete of unquestioned habit of institutionalized bureaucracy. It is there that the dangers lie.67

Kennan, who had long before criticized the implementation of his “containment” concept as a primarily military doctrine (as contrasted with a doctrine of political balance), was responding to the Reagan administration’s threats of “counterterrorism” retaliation in the 1980s.6 8 The 1980s, like the 1960s, found governments tempted to use unacceptable means to achieve seemingly desirable ends: Kennan noted, “It is not surprising . . . that among the reactions evoked has been a demand that fire should be fought with fire, that the countries threatened by acts of this nature [terrorism] should respond with similar efforts.” In Kennan’s analysis, however, by forsaking moral standards even temporarily, “we are deprived of our strongest armor and our most effective weapon.”69

The Kennedy administration, despite qualms over the political costs of covert operations (a lesson rubbed in at the Bay of Pigs), decided to make no significant change in the CIA mandate or structure, restricting its autonomy solely with respect to certain paramilitary operations involving predominantly Defense Department resources. The failure to rein in the CIA’s operational role was compounded by a deliberate policy to bring the regular armed forces into the unconventional theater on a grand scale. The result was a fusion of the two: The CIA’s paramilitary specialists working in a more integrated fashion with the military’s own multipurpose unconventional warriors.

  1. Douglas Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: US Doctrine and Performance 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977), p. 18. Blaufarb is a former CIA officer and analyst.
  2. Blaufarb, p. 18, citing Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,A Thousand Days (London: André Deutsch, 1965), p. 282.
  3. Ibid. Blaufarb describes this as a “routine speech which reiterated a by now standard formula,” and he cites Schlcsmger on the “conspicuous impression” that the speech and Khrushchev’s “bellicose confidence” had on Kennedy.
  4. Ibid. Blaufarb adds that while there was “sonic substance to the fears that lay behind the policy of counterinsurgency, the actual position in the Communist movement on ‘wars of national liberation’ was far more complex and ambiguous than Washington realized.”
  5. A comment on proposals made in the Defense Paper, that was “part of the Defense Limited War Task Force Report,” by Defense Secretary Robert S. MacNamara is made in a Memorandum, 1 February 1961, filed with the National Security Action Memorandum (N SAM 2), “Development of Counter Guerrilla Forces,” 3 February 1961, Kennedy Library, National Security Council, Box 328. Most of the NSAM 2 file remains classified.
  6. Ibid.
  7. New York Times, 26 May 1961; cited in David E. Brown, “The Politics of Counterinsurgency” (unpublished course paper, Harvard University, Spring 1970), p. 14.
  8. “Responsibilities of Chiefs of American Diplomatic Missions,” Memorandum from the President for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (27 May 1961), Federal Register, vol. 26, no. 222, 17 November 1961.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1964), p. 78, 81. Hilsman notes that Eiseiihower sent two letters to ambassadors at the beginning of his term, one much like Kennedy’s 29 May 1961 letter, and a second exempting the CIA. He adds that a proposal for a similar “second letter’’ was under consideration by Kennedy just as the Bay of Pigs operation went forward; as an apparent consequence of that disaster, Kennedy did not accept the proposal.
  12. John F. Kennedy, “Defense Policy and the Budget: Message of President Kennedy to the Congress, March 28, 1961,’’ in Richard P. Stcbbuis, ed., Documents on Ameri can Foreign Relations, 1961 (New York: Council on Foreign Relations/Harper and Row, 1962), pp. 51-63.
  13. Ibid., p. 60. Other versions of the speech refer to “lunatic blackmail” rather than “diplomatic”; see Willard F. Barber and C. Neale Ronning, Internal Security and Military Power: Counterinsurgency and Civic Action in Latin America (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1966), p. 31, citing the Congressional Record.
  14. Ibid., p. 61. Two other recommendations were made: to expand research on non nuclear weapons and to increase flexibility of conventional forces.
  15. “Urgent National Needs: Special Message Delivered by President Kennedy to the Congress, May 25, 1961,” in Richard P. Stebbins, ed., Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1961 (New York: Council on Foreign Relations/Harper, 1962), pp. 70-82, and New York Times (26 May 1961), cited in Brown, The Politics of Counterinsurgency, p. 14. The president further cited a statistic of the assassination of 4,000 civil officers in Vietnam during the previous twelve months. Also cited in Douglas Pike, Viet Cong: The Organization and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966), p. 33.
  16. Public Law 87-197, 87th Congress, 5. 1983.
  17. Barber and Running, Internal Security and Military Power, p. 94.
  18. Memorandum to the Members of the Special Group: Subject: Establishment of the Special Group (Counter-Insurgency), 2 January 1962, NSAM 124. Carrollton Press (1974-900C).
  19. Cited in Barber and Ronning, Internal Security and Military Power, p. 97. Taylor had resigned as army chief ofstaff under President Eisenhower, according to one source, “because he thought the new doctrines of counterinsurgency were being slighted” (Barnett, p. 244).
  20. Memorandum to the Members of the Special Group, NSAM 124.
  21. Department of State to All American Diplomatic Posts, “A Joint State/Defense/ AID/USIA Message,” 6 July 1962 (declassified through Freedom of Information Act, 1979).
  22. Roswell Gilpatric, Second Oral History Interview, with Dennis J. O’Brien for the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Series, 27 May 1970, p. 42.
  23. Barber and Running, Internal Security and Military Power, p. 97.
  24. Gilpatric, Second Oral History Interview, 27 May 1970, p. 37. Gilpatric also suggests this telling-tales approach was less onerous than it might sound, as Robert Kennedy made a tremendous effort to get to the heart of Special Group discussions and to go away with a clear view of positions taken. He was active in “getting behind . . . the official, formal findings of the group, the actual report, to get to the individual reactions of the members, particularly where there was any division.” Gilpatric (p. 40) also credits him with having been uneasy about “this question of training of police forces-not necessarily to counter subversion from outside the country, but from really revolutionary situations developing within the countryhow far would it be appropriate for the United States to train and support, otherwise help, police type actions . . . . Where do you draw the line?” Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (New York: Pocket Books, 1979), pp 169-70, also notes RFK’s energizing role, but adds that “Taylor was in undisputed charge.”
  25. Memorandum, Robert W. Komer to McGeorge Bundy, 10 April 1962. Carrollton Press (1974:901 A). Komer’s memo was motivated by the impending meeting of 12 April, which was to discuss the group’s jurisdiction over civic action and police programs. Komer’s view was that “there is a real need for the Cl Group to retain a direct overseer’s role in keeping tabs on these programs,” and that this had been envisaged in “its charter-NSAM 124”: “In the civic action and police fields in particular, we still face an uphill battle since both are regarded as marginal to the main tasks of the agencies concerned....”
  26. The development of military counterinsurgency resources is discussed in chapter 7.
  27. State launched the “National Interdepartmental Seminar on Problems of Development and Internal Defense” on 10 June 1962, a five-week course repeated six or seven times a year. Average classes numbered sixty-five and were generally made up of high-ranking civilian and military officers. See Barber and Ronning, Internal Security and Military Power, pp. 142-43; see also a preliminary report on development of the course (known as “the short course”), “Implementation of NSAM 131: Subject: Training Objectives for Counter-Insurgency” (undated), which describes the procedure of the interagency Committee on Training Objectives of the Special Group, which developed the course under the chairmanship of Walt Rostow (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSAM 131, Tabs A-C, Training Objectives, Part lI) For a good account of the course, and a critical analysis of its value, see Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era, pp. 6971.
  28. “Implementation of NSAM 131,” p. 2.
  29. The Special Group (5412) was the new administration’s continuation of Eisenhower’s covert action group, the 54-12 Committee, its name deriving from National Security Council directive (NSC)-5412, titled “National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations.” Sec John Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II to Iranscam (New York: Quill, William Morrow, 1986), pp. 108-13. Gilpatric, Second Oral History Interview, 27 May 1970, p. 39, reports that it was chaired by McGeorgc Bundy and brought together an Undersecretary of State (U. Alexis Johnson through much of the period), the head of the CIA, and the chair of the joint Chiefs of Staff. The committee reported to the president but did not include the president’s brother as a member.
  30. Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, pp. 169-80, discusses the Special Group(s) in the context of the plans to overthrow the Castro government, but does not distinguish the Special Group (5412) by name. He describes a second committee, the Special Group Augmented (SGA), which was established to oversee Operation MONGOOSE. Powers describes a routine in which at the conclusion of meetings of “the fifteen members” of the Special Group (CI) at Taylor’s office, half the members would remain (those also on the SCA) to discuss the Cuba plans; and at the conclusion of that meeting, “the three members of the Special Group for overseeing covert operations would hold its meeting.” The plans for overthrowing Castro, in this account, would be discussed in each meeting. Gilpatric’s account (Second Oral History Interview, 27 May 1970), illustrates the clear division of responsibilities between Special Group (CI) and Special Group (5412). An early task of the Special Group (5412), indeed, noted in Maxwell Taylor’s memorandum to members of the Special Group of 2 January 1962 (Carrollton Press, 1974-900C), was to advise that the role and function of the new Special Group (CI) was to be discussed “at the next meeting of the Special 5412 Group.”
  31. McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to Secretary of Defense, Subject: Evaluation of Paramilitary Requirements, 28 June 1961, NSAM 56. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC, Memos/Minutes, Box 330.
  32. McGeorge Bundy to Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, The Director, CIA. “Responsibility for Paramilitary Operations,” NSAM 57, 28 June 1961. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC, Memos/Minutes, Box 330.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid. The interdepartmental memorandum on paramilitary responsibilities refers to the “Strategic Resources Group” (SRG); the secret NSAM 57 states only that the recommendation was approved by the president, and that the “Special Group (5412 Committee) will perform the functions assigned . . . to the Strategic Resources Group.”
  35. Ibid.
  36. Gilpatric, Second Oral History Interview, 27 May 1970, p. 38.
  37. Ibid., p. 39; Gilpatric also notes that like the Special Group (CI), members could not delegate attendance: “Either the principals were there, or we didn’t have a meeting.”
  38. Ibid., p. 40.
  39. Maxwell D. Taylor, Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, Subject: Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 13 August 1962; transmittal memorandum for the doctrine paper promulgated as NSAM 182, “U.S. Internal Defense Policy.” Kennedy Library, NSF, NSAM 182, Box 338.
  40. Ibid. However, a separate top-secret document covered the role of the CIA.
  41. Ibid., p. 1.
  42. Ibid., p. 2.
  43. Ibid., p. 1.
  44. Ibid., p. 12.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Charles Maechling, Jr., “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: The Role of Strategic Theory,” Parameters 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1984), pp. 32-41. Maechling was a naval officer in World War II and an aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he served as Director for Internal Defense in PoliticoMilitary Affairs, as Staff Director of the National Security Council, and with the Special Group (CI). As a columnist today, he is one of the few counterinsurgency insiders to regularly inject an informed and critical commentary on United States flirtations with unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency.
  47. Maxwell D. Taylor, Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, Subject: Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 13 August 1962, p. 12.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Ibid., pp. 13-14.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Walt W. Rostow, Stages of Economic Growth, 2d ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Rostow’s theories of “stages of economic growth” and on economic “take-off’ were first set out in articles in the late 1950s. See “The Stages of Economic Growth,” The Economic History Review 12 (August 1959), and “The Take-Off into Self-Sustained Growth,” The Economic Journal 66 (March 1956).
  52. Maechling, “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency,” p. 33.
  53. Ibid., p. 13. The development side of the policy also included a call for the increasing of the capability of “Country Teams” to examine the big picture of a local situation in developing an integrated civil-military program. A further role was to make local elites see reason on the reform issue: “Assist the local government, together with the society’s constructive, non-communist leaders, to see the relation of insurgency to socio-economic development, and the blend of political and military measures required for an adequate internal defense.”
  54. Ibid., p. 34.
  55. U. S. Department of the Army, Operations Against Irregular Forces, FM 31-15 (Wash ington, D.C., May 1961), pp. 4-5.
  56. Robert S. McNamara, address before the American Bar Foundation, Chicago, 17 February 1962, in U.S. Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Information, Special Warfare U.S. Army (Washington, D.C., 1963; no further publishing data provided), p. 12.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid., p. 13.
  59. Field Service Regulations: Operations (1962), p. 130, in Larry E. Cable, Conflict of Myths: The Development of American Counter-Insurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 1986), p. 119. Cable observes that unconventional warfare received mention in the Operations manual for the first time in 1962. See also Lt. Col. Frank A. Gleason, Jr., “Unconventional Forces-The Commander’s Untapped Resources,” Military Review (October 1959), pp. 25-33, for a summary of then-current doctrine on unconventional warfare; a quotation from Major General Orlando C. Troxel, Jr., follows the article: “Unconventional warfare is no longer limited to spontaneous and poorly supported guerrilla efforts which succeed only if favored by the genius of local leadership and plain luck.”
  60. Cable, Conflict of Myths, p. 119.
  61. James Reston, New York Times, 24 April 1961, cited in Brown, “The Politics of Counterinsurgency,” p. 13 (see note 7, above).
  62. “Some Comments on Guerrilla Warfare,” enclosure to Memorandum for Directors, Office and Division Chiefs, from Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau, Chief of Research and Development, Headquarters, Department of the Army. Subject: Guerrilla Warfare, 20 March 1961. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Box 325, Staff Memos, Walt W. Rostow, 3/61, p. 4. This is apparently the same paper that prompted a major public debate after being leaked to the Wall Street Journal. Louis Kraar’s 24 May 1961 Journal story, “Unconventional War: Some Officials Urge Sabotage, Subversion inside Red Bloc,” described the paper as an “unofficial” memorandum circulated by the army chief of Research and Development to top officers.
  63. “Some Comments on Guerrilla Warfare,” enclosure to Memorandum, from Trudeau. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Box 325, Staff Memos, Walt W. Rostow, 3/61, p. 5.
  64. Jack Raymond, “Taylor Favoring Cut in CIA Role,” Neu’ York Times, 31 May 1961; cited in Brown, “The Politics of Counterinsurgency,” pp. 15-16.
  65. New York Times, 28 September 1962; cited in Brown, “The Politics of Counterinsurgency,” p. 36.
  66. Harry S Truman, in the New York Times, 9 May 1958; cited in Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 63 (see note 11, above).
  67. George Kennan, “Morality and Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs (Winter 1986_85) reprinted in Parameters 16, no. 1 (Spring 1986), p. 80.
  68. Current views of Kennan (an “erstwhile cold warrior turned peacemonger,” or “a seeker after balance in world affairs”) are discussed in a review by Harry F. Nelson, Jr., U.S. State Department, of Barton Gellman, Contending with Kennan: Toward a Philosophy of American Power (Praeger: New York, 1984), in Parameters 15, no. 1 (Spring 1985).
  69. Kennan, “Morality and Foreign Policy,” p. 80.