Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990
While Kennedy’s advocacy of aggressive counterinsurgency was not entirely out of line with existing trends in the foreign policy establishment (and the geopolitical view of the time), the memoirs of White House insiders suggest his fascination with this type of warfare included a considerable element of pure romanticism. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., later described Kennedy’s reading of Mao, Guevara, and the army’s own guerrilla warfare manuals, and his fascination with the Special Forces as the kind of counterguerrilla force to match Mao’s and Che’s models.1 Roger Hilsman, similarly, recounts conversations in which the president described the need for development of new tactics, “which he hoped the Special Forces would do,”2 while Charles Maechling later observed that “both he and his brother tended to see them as the prime ingredient of the counterinsurgency recipe.”3 Roswell Gilpatric refers to Kennedy’s delving into the subject as having been stimulated by his reading “some Marine magazine about Green Beret type activity.”4
Several insiders have remarked on Kennedy’s virtual adoption of the Special Forces, getting personally involved in assessing their training and even their basic equipment. The new president’s relationship with the Special Forces began when he discovered, to his dismay, that it numbered only 1,000 men.5 the spring of 1961, he ordered its forces doubled, its resources accordingly augmented, and he approved that the commandancy of Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center (and of the Special Forces) be held by a general officer (the high command had consistently resisted such proposals in the 1950s).6 As a consequence, Fort Bragg’s commander, William P. Yarborough, became a Brigadier General (and apparently a close friend of the president as well).7 Theodore Sorensen described the level of personal interest as having extended to every aspect of the Special Forces: Kennedy “personally supervised the selection of new equipmentthe replacement of heavy, noisy combat boots with sneakers, for example, and when the sneakers proved vulnerable to bamboo spikes, their reinforcement with flexible steel inner soles.”8
The president’s personal advocacy of Special Forces perks was clinched by his visit to Fort Bragg in the fall of 1961.9 That December he clashed with his Joint Chiefs on the seemingly minor point of whether the Special Forces should wear distinctive green berets like those of the elite British Commandos. The army said no, it was not regulation headgear, and elite units were undesirable; but Special Forces got their berets anyway.’’ They also won the honor of being the first American troops to play an operational role in South Vietnam.
The fascination with commando-type units showed by Kennedy Churchill, and other leaders has been a continuing factor of military organizationindeed, its influence has increased over time, as international conflict on other than a limited scale became largely a matter of management. Elite units provided their civilian leaders with a kind of heroic relief from the base reality of waging war:
Elite Units appeal to the romantic’s conception of war because they present to him a picture not complicated by the thousands of dreary tasks required to field an army or fight a war. The unit’s tastes seem heroic, for they require hand-to-hand combat rather than mere button-pushing. The requirements demanded of the unit’s members arc heroic, for they emphasize stamina, coolness under fire, and audacitynot technical virtuosity. The elite unit cultivates a romantic image through its eccentricities of dress and customcolorful berets, special insignia, and so forth.11
It was in this context that Special Forces, “a hitherto obscure collection of East European emigres now elevated to elite status,” became Kennedy’s “favorite unit.”12
Romantic or not, it was perhaps logical for Kennedy to choose one of the most eliteand secretiveof military units as the cornerstone of his counterinsurgency program. Kennedy’s visit to Fort Bragg, his orders for the force’s immediate expansion, and his permission for them to wear the green beret show just how attractive this rough-and-ready approach to ‘‘unconventional’’ warfare was to him. Although much has been made of the president’s conflicts with the military over counterinsurgency, there appears to have been little dissent over the pivotal role of the Special Warfare establishment in the new policy.13 Dissent in this regard arose only over the Special Forces’ privileged status in the military.
It is significant that the army’s Special Forceselite practitioners of violence, not diplomatic civil affairs officerswere the crux of the counterinsurgency realignment. It is also significant that, despite the army’s privilege of fielding the prime counterinsurgency force, it was content to place its forces in Indochina under CIA command, well insulated from army regulars. The modification of the ClA/Special Forces arrangement in Indochina began after the Taylor Committee’s report recommending a shift of major responsibility for training and directing paramilitary forces from the CIA to the Pentagon.14 The phased transfer of the Special Forces’ major program in Vietnam from CIA to Defense Department control, called Operation SWITCHBACK, was agreed upon in July 1962 and completed one year later.15 The Special Forces continued, however, to provide a manpower tool for CIA paramilitary training and operations in Indochina and elsewhere in the Third World.
The president also clearly saw a second, more complex dimension to counterinsurgency beyond Special Forces “tactics.” observing (in Roger Hilsman’s account) that “new political tactics also had to be devised, and. . . the twothe military and the politicalhad to be meshed together and blended.”16 But this was the long-term objective; the Special Forces were the immediate answer.
It was over the political dimension of counterinsurgency that Kennedy’s fervorand advocates like Edward Lansdaleclashed with military reluctance to take on “unmilitary” tasks or to see insurgency as a problem that could not be dealt with through strictly military meats. A 7 November 1962 speech by General Earle G. Wheeler, later army chief of staff and, under President Johnson, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, exemplifies the military’s acceptance of counterinsurgency’s military side alone. Vietnam, said Wheeler, was a matter for “military action”: “Despite the fact that the conflict is conducted as guerrilla warfare . . . it is nonetheless a military action.... It is fashionable in some quarters to say that the problems in Southeast Asia are primarily political and economic rather than military. I do not agree. The essence of the problem in Vietnam is military.”17
There was some discussion in the Kennedy White House over whether the unconventional warriors’ approach to counterinsurgency was indeed the best (or only) road to travel. There was also an element of interservice competition for a share of counterinsurgency appropriations. In a July 1962 report on the military response to the president’s call “to add ‘still another military dimension’ to our national arsenal,”Joint Chiefs chairman L. L. Lemnitzer described the creation “of a procession of units . . . for counterinsurgency purposes”:
Special forces units comprised of selected and highly skilled volunteers, trained and targeted on specific threatened areas; psychological warfare units; sea-air-land unconventional warfare teams; counterinsurgency aviation forces designed for rapid world-wide deployment. . . and naval technical assistance teams. In all, a total of 41 special organizations of 12 different types, involving about 7,500 men, have been created expressly for the counterinsurgency task.18
The Marine Corps in particular responded to the call for a beefed-up counterinsurgency program by maintaining that its experience and oganization made it uniquely qualified to take the lead in the effort. As Gilpatric observed, “The marinescertainly in terms of public relationsmade the most noise, were most covalent in their concern about this, and they were most insistent that they had more proficiency in this area than the army units.”19 The official Marine position, according to Lt. Gen. Munn, USMC deputy commandant, was that there was no need to become “guerrillas” to fight guerrillas: “Counter-guerrilla operations are neither new nor sensational to the Marines.... Probably no force In the world is better equipped and organized for counterguerrilla operations than the U.S. Marine Corps.”20
The Marines’ say in counterinsurgency, however limited, was facilitated by the appointment of Major General Victor Krulak in 1961 to fill the new post as Joint Chiefs’ Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities.21 Once it became clear that counterinsurgency was to stay, the Marines fought in vain to fully recover their former counterguerrilla role, while the navy and air force moved rapidly to carve out their own role it the field and ensure a slice of the new budget as well. The navy produced the SEALs, combat paratrooper frogmen who could do everything the Special Forces could do and more. The air force was rather more ambitious, establishing its First Air Commando Group in April 1961, and inaugurating its own Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida the following year. General Curtis LeMay, then air force chief of staff, described the center’s role as “the mission of training and developing techniques for counterinsurgency forces . . . [building on] our experience with this kind of operation over the past 20 years in Korea, the Philippines, World War II, and South Vietnam.”22 A First Combat Application Group at Eglin was assigned “the development, testing, and evaluation of new tactics and equipment for counterinsurgency use.” The Air Commando Group provided training for just the kind of covert operations the CIA would require:
low-level drop techniques for both personnel and cargo, close air supportin daylight or darkfor counterguerrilla forces, rapid deployment . . . the use of flares . . . the cutting off of retreat routes by use of antipersonnel weapons, the staking out from air of areas of suspected enemy activity, interdiction raids, destruction of supply points, and the use of psychological operations such as harassment and counter-information programs.23
Although the air force, navy, and Marine Corps continued to play a role in the counterinsurgency sphere, the realities of the military pecking order ensured that the army promptly moved to take the lead as the discipline became fashionable. The army Special Forces continued to provide the principal manpower pool for unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency, while the Special Warfare Center retained military responsibility for the formulation of doctrine (a task shared with the Special Group [CI]). The army reinforced its preeminence through the creation of a top-level bureaucratic infrastructure to deal with the three sisters of special warfare: counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, and psychological operations. A Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Special Warfare Activities was appointed; a Special Warfare Division under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations was raised to Directorate status; and finally, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Continental Army Command (CON ARC) was given responsibility for the Special Warfare Center and all Special Warfare training and doctrine.24
A July 1962 (secret) interagency cable for action to seven U. S. diplomatic posts (and for information to all others), announcing the creation and function of the Special Group (Cl), outlined its view of “subversive insurgency or indirect aggression”:
The history of insurgent movements makes clear that their effectiveness has been in large part related to 1) their ability to obtain support from part of the population; and 2) their ability to employ minimum force to create widespread insecurity. In some cases, communists’ so-called “wars of Liberation” have emerged from a base established by earlier subversion and infiltration. In others, the communists have captured nationalistic revolutionary movements.
The remedies proposed were two-tracked, but for practical reasons were presented as long- and short-term. Reform was ultimately required, but for immediate action the imperative was to reinforce police and military institutions:
[T]here are at least two lines of defense: a) the development of measures designed to eliminate causes of discontent or to immunize the population from appeals to conspiracy and violence; and b) the development of effective police and/or military capabilities to maintain internal security.
Actions pursuant to a) above are largely long-term in character, and usually involve correction of basic social, political and economic injustices. However, in a country confronted with an internal security threat shorter-range actions may reduce both the effectiveness of insurgent and subversive operations and communist appeals to the population for the instigation or support of violence. 25
The security-now, reform-later approach would continue to the present. The July 1962 cable instructed embassy “Country Teams” in Caracas Guatemala, Phnom Penh, Quito, Rangoon, Tehran, and Yaounde to prepare “Country Internal Defense Plans” through which “US internal defense programs and activities are integrated and unified . . . or which provide long-range guidance for assisting such countries in maintaining their internal security.”26 A two-page model outline for the plans included “a definitive statement of subject country’s vulnerabilities,” an overall statement of “Policy and Objectives,” and detailed breakdowns elaborating on “Course of Action” and “Resources Requirements” in the fields of development, civic action, and security assistance.27
The military’s training schools responded to Kennedy’s initiatives with “substantial adjustments to the curricula,” including the introduction of new courses, and the introduction of officers’ study tours “to areas where counterinsurgency actions are underway.28 A 21 July 1962 Joint Chiefs’ paper on “Counterinsurgency Accomplishments since 1 January 1961” reported nine new specialized officers’ courses, from which 2,099 students graduated, and the introduction of “freshly prepared counterinsurgency instruction” in all military curricula.29 Over 1,000 officers were detailed for language training with an explicit counterinsurgency purpose, while sixty-three senior officers had been sent on tours of “areas of active or incipient insurgency.” For the enlisted man, twenty-five new courses had been created (from “training in guerrilla warfare, psychological warfare, underwater demolitions . . . to language training”) in which more than 510,000 troops were trained.30
The development of counterinsurgency training for foreign personnel also advanced considerably. The Joint Chiefs reported more than 14,000 students from sixty-five countries had attended U.S. military schools during the previous eighteen months, “in the process of meeting the counterinsurgency education and training requirements of our allies.”31 Training took place in scores of continental U.S. bases and schools, as well as at overseas facilities in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Germany. The curriculum, however, was generally based on the Special Forces’ previous field, unconventional (that is, guerrilla) warfare; the first explicitly counterinsurgency course opened at Okinawa in May 1962, with the first course in Vietnamese starting the following August.32 Latin American students studied guerrilla tactics at the U. S. Army Caribbean School (renamed the “Army School of the Americas” on 1 July 1963) at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone.33 A ten-week counterinsurgency course was being taught at Fort Gulick at least as early as July 1961, and possibly before.34 Some 1,400 students graduated each year from the School of the Americas in the early 1960s, most of them Latin Americans.35 45,000 Latin Americansincluding the leaders of many subsequent military governmentswould graduate before the school was transferred to Panamanian control in September 1984.36
Overseas counterinsurgency training was undertaken largely by the army’s Special Forces: In 1961, only the CIA and the Special Forces were prepared with a rudimentary doctrine and the requisite gung ho readiness U.S. training of foreign personnel alternated between “guerrilla tactics” and “counterguerrilla tactics,” skills that in practice became indistinguishable..
Fort Gulick was host to a battalion of the Seventh Special Forces (SF) Group in 1961; by the end of 1963, the activation of the 1,100-man Eighth SF Group provided a manpower pool for both training and covert operations in the Americas. The First SF Group, established on Okinawa in 1957, with detachments from the Fort Bragg-based Seventh, covered the Far East, including training detachments in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and elsewhere. The Tenth SF Group provided training in Germany. The Fifth, established in September 1961, became the Southeast Asia specialists, conducting the bulk of on-the-spot counterinsurgency/guerrilla warfare training in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.37
The primary Special Forces training establishment was the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. The center provided Special Warfare training for foreign officers, as well as for personnel from the United States’ four service branches. More than 800 foreign officers graduated from courses there between 1952 and 1963.38 A January 1962 paper reports the expansion of the student capacity at the Special Warfare Center from 527 in 1961 to 1,212 in 1962. An outline of the school’s counterinsurgency courses reflected a continued 1950s emphasis on “guerrilla” warfare as resistance movements and offensive operations:
a) The Counterinsurgency Operations Course (6 weeks) is a comprehensive study of resistance movements to include analysis of causative factors . . . and the doctrinal principles, theories, tactics, and techniques applicable to military actions in countering or nullifying the development and spread of insurgency.... b) The Special Warfare Staff Officer Course (2 weeks) provides orientation on the same basic organization for Special Forces operations and the tactics and techniques of guerrilla force organization, development utilization, operations, and demobilization; psychological operations, guerilla and counterguerrilla practical exercise. c) The Special Forces Officer Course (6 weeks) includes organization of the Special Forces effort; guerrilla forces development; air and amphibious operations; guerrilla tactics.... 39
The new counterinsurgents remained concerned primarily with what they did best: the organization, of tame guerrillas for unconventional warfare. There was no question that such forces would suffice to combat revolutionary insurgencies as well as to combat standing governments and conventional armed forces.
The Special Forces training of foreign forces was performed largely abroad, in host countries. The Special Forces developed a structure and a program that was seemingly effective in imparting their own peculiar skills and doctrine on the indigenous forces. The principal medium of instruction was the Mobile Training Team (MTT), generally comprised of ten enlisted men and two officers; also called the combat/training “A” Team, this remains the standard operational unit of the force. The July 1962 Joint Chiefs’ project report said a total of seventy-nine counterinsurgency MTTs (made up of “1512 US military men,” not all of them Special Forces) were then operating in nineteen countries “threatened by insurgency situations.” Fifty MTTs were in Southeast Asia and twenty in Latin America.40 At the same time, 3,327 officers and men had been deployed to Vietnam as part of the military assistance program, and 367 to Thailand.41 The military trainers worked with both conventional forces and the civilian paramilitary irregulars that would become a mainstay of counterinsurgency.
A country-by-country breakdown of “counterinsurgency training personnel” in the field, provided to the Special Group (CI) in June 1962, offers insight into U.S. priorities, although the report does not make clear whether MTT personnel were included in the tally. In the Near East and Africa regions personnel were in place only in Iran (7) and Turkey (12).42 In the Far East, in addition to trainers in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, small contingents were present in Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan.43 In the Americas, trouble spots included Bolivia (16 advisers), Colombia (16), Ecuador (5), El Salvador (X), Guatemala (9), and Venezuela (7).44 The numbers of training missions by short-term teams may be the most significant guide to quantifying overseas training during that era; one source reported that between 1962 and 1967 more than 600 Special Forces MTTs were dispatched in Latin America from Fort Gulick.45
The Secretary of the Army described the potential of the Special Forces MTTs in 1963 in terms of training foreign “guerrilla” forces: “[A] detachment . . . consisting of ten enlisted personnel and two officers can effectively organize, control, and assist in the operations of a foreign guerrilla force of more than one thousand melt.” The total number of foreign trainees through all parts of the military counterinsurgency effort as of July 1962 was estimated at “several hundred thousand.”47How well, and at what they were trained, were matters not addressed.
A December 1954 National Security Council Action Memorandum ordered a study both of U.S. programs designed to “strengthen the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries” and of the development of a coordinated effort to assist foreign police as the “first line of defense” against subversion.48 NSC 1290-D provided the basis for an “Overseas Internal Security Program,” and the rationalization of the then-disjointed Defense Department police programs in Irate, Korea Costa Rice, and the Philippines; CIA programs in Turkey, Thailand and Indonesia; and a small program of the International Cooperation Administration (ICA). A reordering of tasks placed principal civil police programs under ICA auspices (although Defense retained major roles with paramilitary police forces), the creation of ICA’s Public Safety Program, with other police assistance tasks remaining in the purview of Defense and CIA.49
The first of Public Safety’s programs was set up in 1955 in Sukarno’s Indonesia and followed by the end of that year with programs in South Korea, Iran, and Cambodia.50 By 1958, programs were in place in twenty-one countries; and by mid-1961, twenty-seven, with ten in Latin America and eight TTI the Far East.51 Low budgets and lack of bureaucratic support (and lack of sustained executive enthusiasm) limited the scope of the program, and its budget actually declined between 1958 and 1961 to less than 514 million.52
Rather more substantial programs during the 1950s were run by or cloaked, covert activities by the CIA (including a $25 million project with Michigan State University to run a covert police training program in South Vietnam between 1955 and 1959).53 A secret 1962 report described long-standing unilateral CIA police programs and participation in interagency assistance: “The Agency has personnel integrated in AID police programs in ten of the 17 countries....” Its tasks since the 1950s had covered areas of police assistance subsequently brought under the counterinsurgency brief: “CIA has the responsibility? implicit in its charter, for strengthening the countersubversive capability of foreign police forces . . .”; “CIA provides the latest information on developments in Sino-Soviet strategy and techniques to its personnel in the AID police programs who are working as advisors in the counterinsurgency, Counterespionage, counterguerrilla, and other countersubversive fields”; “CIA financed and directed police assistance programs it Turkey, Thailand and Indonesia which had overt as well as covert aspects and which sought to develop investigative mechanisms capable of detecting subversive individuals and organizations, collecting and collating information . . . and neutralizing their effort.54
Although the Eisenhower administration’s overseas internal security programs emphasized old-style military assistance, and, secondarily, the covert programs of the CIA, a foundation for a beefed-up police assistance program was established in the 1960s. The boost in police assistance after 1961, however, coincided with a conceptual shift in the role of the military itself. The 1950s view that the police were best suited to confront subversion shifted in the 1960s to a view that only the militarybacked by the policecould completely meet the subversive challenge. A 1959 report to the National Security Council had stressed that the functions of the police programs were quite different from the military: “The Overseas Internal Security Program meets a separate and distinct countersubversive need . . . insofar as it is directed toward the objective of countering Communist subversion. “ In the l 960s, subversion was defined as just another form of external aggression.
The series of NSC Action Memoranda with which the counterinsurgency era was launched it 1961 required the evaluation of U.S. capabilities to deal with all aspects of foreign internal defense, from economic assistance to police and paramilitary requirements. Major initiatives to create a high-energy police assistance program awaited NSAM l14 (November 1961), which set into motion a review and reorganization of Public Safety, and NSAM 177 (August 1962), which assigned to AID principal responsibility for a new, integrated program; the new-look Public Safety Program was run by a semi-autonomous Office of Public Safety (OPS) within AlD.55 By 1968, its peak year, OPS fielded 458 advisers in thirty-four countries, with a budget of $55.1 million.56 From its inception in November 1962 to its demise in 1975, the program trained some 7,500 senior officers in U.S. facilities, and anywhere from 500,000 to over a million foreign police overseas.57 NSAM 177 set out the basic policy through which police assistance was declared an essential contribution to “the freedom and viability of Third World countries.”58 The policy was based on a study prepared by an interagency working group chaired by Byron Engle, identified in the final report as the representative of the CIA. Engle, who later vigorously denied charges of CIA influence on police assistance, headed OPS from its inception in November 1962 until April 1973.59 The objective of police assistant was defined as twofold: to help friendly governments maintain law an order, and, more to the point, to counter “Communist inspired or exploited subversion and insurgency.”60
Public Safety’s formal brief provided for direct grants of security equipment, from weaponry to communications equipment; for training overseas and in the United States; and for stationing Public Safety advisers overseas to organize training programs and provide advice and technical assistance to foreign counterparts.61 Secondary programs included assistance in prison design, management, and building programsincluding the infamous Vietnamese Con Son prison of the “Tiger Cages.”62
The Public Safety Program did not entirely neglect assistance in conventional law enforcement; but its emphasis tended toward counterinsurgency doctrine. As a consequence, it became best known as a conduit for CIA training, assistance, and operational advice to foreign political police, and for linking the United States to the jailers, torturers, and murderers of the most repressive of “free world” regimes. Public Safety would reach the headlines through congressional inquiries in the 1970s into programs in Latin America and Southeast Asia and into evidence of its instruction in torture (which was inconclusive) and the fabrication and use of terrorist devices and assassination weapons (which was proven beyond doubt), as well as its key role in the best-known assassination program of them all, Vietnam’s Operation PHOENIX.
The training dimension was filled by both advisers based in or sent temporarily to, the target countries and programs in U.S. facilities. In September 1961, the president had instructed AID to set up a police academy it Latin America; bureaucratic delays had been cleared away by Special Group (CI) intervention so that an Inter-American Police Academy was opened in July 1962 at Fort Davis in the Panama Canal Zone, and in its two years of existence graduated 725 officers.63 The Canal Zone School was phased out after the establishment in Washington of the International Police Academy (IPA), in 1963. The IPA’s seventeen-week General Course was followed by four-week courses in specialized areas, from VIP protection to the “Technical Investigation Course.” All IDA students also attended a session at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg (renamed Institute for Military Assistance [IMA] in January 1969). A twenty-two-hour curriculum for the Fort Bragg end of IPA covered “Counterguerrilla Tactical Operations,” “Subversive Insurgent Methodology,” “Populace and Resources Control,” and other areas, including an “ ‘A’ Detachment Demonstration.”64
An AID insider offered his own impressions of the school to Brookings Institution analyst Ernest Lefever in 1972, as Lefever began an AID-commissioned study of Public Safety:65
Atmosphere of the I.P.A. One gets the same feel about the I.P.A. that one gets at a social function at the South African Embassy when the conversation turns to apartheid. All the people with whom I came in contact are professionals.... The over-all AID/USDS [Department of State] attitude to IPA/OPS has these men puzzled. An example referred to wets that of Brazil. One of the largest programs, the Brazilian program of instruction was terminated with the rise of the famous “Death Squads,” the fear was obviously a political one in this case, but these men would have been happier if the U. S. had sent them in to help the Brazilian police “clean up.”
The same observer suggested that the attitude of Public Safety advisers toward the internal affairs of the countries in which they work must be a consequence of their civilian, police backgroundsa suggestion that could equally hold for CIA officers:
Could it be that the ethic of the military man not to become embroiled in such matters [as the Brazilian “death squads”] does not obtain in the case of police officers? I got the impression that these are men who like many of their counterparts in this country are not too particular about legal niceties when the going gets rough.66
In practice, OPS advisers were in large partat least outside Southeast Asiareal technicians in the more mundane skills of law enforcement, from fingerprinting to traffic control. But the worm was in the apple: The CIA retained its normal use of police programs as cover for its own advisory personnel and skewed the overall impact of Public Safety by far toward the political police side of law enforcement. The role of CIA advisers within OPS contingents in Central America and Vietnam, where they advised the top intelligence and political police agencies responsible for programs of “death squad” killings, was a decisive one.67 Similarly, the CIA instructors in the OPS training programs in the United States and Panama played a major role in instilling a counterinsurgent orientation among foreign police.
The revelations in 1971 of the “counterterrorism” aspect of the CIA’s Operation PHOENIX, launched in Vietnam in 1967, funded in part by Public Safety, further fueled pressures for the closing of Public Safety and the change in attitude toward the Vietnam War.68 PHOENIX was an intelligence and operations apparatus and action plan designed to identify and “root out” the insurgent infrastructure in Vietnam; part of the system was a network of provincial interrogation centers built with OTIS funding. In 1971, CIA Director William Colby testified before Congress that 20,687 purported members of the “infrastructure” were killed under PHOENIX; the South Vietnamese government later cited a figure of 40,994 killed.69 Ex-CIA officer Frank Snepp described the original program as the violent end of an integrated rural program developed by analyst Robert Komer to combine development with repression; its “Rural Development” PHOENIX would “root out” the Vietcong political apparatus through counterterrorism.”70 Former PHOENIX adviser Wayne Cooper described it bluntly as an American program in which CIA officers “recruited, organized, supplied, and directly paid CT [counterterror] teams . . to use Viet Cong techniques of terrorassassination, ambushes, kidnappings, and intimidationagainst the VC leadership the ‘fight fire with fire’ rationale.”71
Publicly, however, AID officials maintained that state terror was the exclusive province of communist bloc nations. In his testimony to Congress in 1972, Public Safety chief Byron Engle stated:
There are nations, the governments of which use their police force as an instrument for political control and to repress the freedom of the people. I have in mind Communist bloc countries. Countries of the free world however, must use their police forces to protect the lives, property, and rights of the people.72
Another controversial CIA/OPS program exposed by congressional investigations in the early 1970s was the two-part “Technical Investigations Course” with CIA instructors who trained students in making coal terrorist devices and in assassination methods, sponsored by the IPA in Washington, the principal training establishment of OPS.73 A four-week “practical” session took place at the remote Border Patrol
Academy at Los Fresnos, Texas, in which AID taught a curriculum including “Terrorist Concepts; Terrorist Devices; Fabrication and Functioning of Devices; Improvised Triggering Devices; Incendiaries” and “Assassination Weapons: A discussion of various weapons which may be used by the assassin.”74
During congressional investigations led by Senator James Abourezk in 1973, AID officials admitted that the Los Fresnos sessionswhat the press would call the “Bomb School”offered lessons not in bomb disposal but in bomb-making: “The course is not designed to, nor does it prepare the student to be a bomb or explosive disposal technician....”75 “The thrust of the instruction ... introduces trainees to commercially available materials and home laboratory techniques . . . in the manufacture of explosives and incendiaries.... Different types of explosive devices and ‘booby-traps’ and their construction and use by terrorists are demonstrated.”76
An account citing former students in the course made plain its orientation toward the operational use of terrorist devices.77 The ostensible counterguerrillas were taught to use guerilla, or more accurately terrorist, tactics in carrying out their counterinsurgency missions back home. The “Bomb School” provided the same kind of training in unconventional warfare to civilians that the Special Forces provided military and paramilitary forces overseas; and indeed, according to one source, the CIA instructors of the course were actually Army Special Forces on CIA secondment.78 As in Special Forces training, “the students were called guerrillas, and they were told, This is what guerrillas do.” Also, “students were required to sign oaths of secrecy, and to live at the camp, under permanent guard.”79 The largest number of graduates was from Colombia (19), Guatemala (18), Uruguay (16), Thailand (10), Panama (7), and El Salvador (7); a total of 165 trainees was acknowledged by AID. 80
According to one ex-student, instructors acknowledged a combined counterinsurgency/unconventional warfare rationale behind the training; the United States wanted “stay-behind” assets inside threatened countries who could be turned against subversives at need: “The United States thinks that the moment will come when in each of the friendly countries, they could use a student of confidencewho has become a specialist in explosives; that is why the different governments have chosen their favorite persons.”81
It is apparent that IPA students were hand-picked at the home country end and systematically cultivated in the United States, considering the career patterns of many of them (although not the “bombers” in particular). The principal leaders of El Salvador’s intelligence establishment for example, including Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, are IPA graduates IPA graduates played prominent roles both there and in Guatemala in the that introduced counterterror “death squad” campaigns after 1966. Even in Honduras, where “death squad” killings are a recent phenomenon, an IPA connection has emerged. Amnesty International reported that from 1981 to 1984 killings and “disappearances” were carried out “selectively but systematically by the armed forces,” primarily by a Unit known as 3-16 Battalion headed by IPA graduate Major Alexander Hernandez.82 The 3-16 Battalion was set up in 1981 with American funding, assistance, and training.
The Main IPA establishment came under further criticism at the congressional discovery of “theses” (generally a few pages in length) written by IPA students on the theme of torture.83 Madhar Bickmun Rana of Nepal offered a casual, if not cheerful, endorsement of torture’s efficacy:
[A]ttributions of the third degree are: hitting, slapping, preventing sleep, thumb screws, removal of finger nails, tightening metal bands around a person’s head.... [T]he advantages of torture are that it is quick, easy, no talent is needed, and it is very effective. The disadvantages are: even an innocent man will confess to a crime . . . [and] the interrogator could find himself in hot water if the victim dies.84
Colombian officer Gonzalo Wilches Sanchez (1965) wrote that both moral pressure and coercion were necessary in “innumerable cases . . . to obtain the truth the person knows,” and that it was in fact “more immoral to not carry out that duty, which in the end harms no one, or if so, harms only a person who owes something to society and justice. “ Wilches Sanchez asks rhetorically whether it would not be immoral “by not employing such coercion, to leave some innocent person condemned, or to free a delinquent who has placed himself outside the law?”85
Vietnamese police officer Lam Van Huu, in a 1969 paper on torture, distinguishes between interrogations intended to result in court cases and tactical interrogations in counterguerrilla warfare. In the former, “we have time to try a whole range of techniques and methods.” In the latter case, however, the ends justify the means: “What will be the fate of 100 men in our company if a battalion of enemies were ready to welcome us in the next village. It’s like sacrificing our 100 men in order to be humane towards an individual.”86
Lam Van Hun continues by outlining his “favored tortures”: “a. drugging (la narco-analyse): intravenous injection of [sodium] pentothal or scopolamine (sodium amytal) making the suspect lose his judgment. He is in a state almost without consciousness... .b. Hypnotism.... c. Polygraph or lie detector.”87
Perhaps the most damning essay was that of Vietnamese student Nguyen Van Thieu (1965), offering his special thanks to the United States for having “assisted the national police in technical and equipments aid to help an interrogator in his interrogation of communist prisoners to be more effective.”88
An investigation by the staff of syndicated columnist Jack Anderson found no direct evidence of the teaching of torture at IPA, but found evidence of what it called “an ambivalent attitude toward torture.”89 A Lesson Plan on interrogations taught police to question suspects in “soundproof, windowless rooms with ‘bare walls,’” and instructed them “to use such interrogation techniques as ‘emotional appeals,’ ‘exaggerating fears,’ and psychological ‘jolts,’ “ and to “observe the physical state of the subject.’ “ The curriculum included a film shown to all students which might have provided an opportunity for a less formal exchange of views on torture: “A film is shown and serves as a basis for discussion of improper, inhumane techniques of extracting information. OPS doctrine, which is unequivocally opposed to such techniques, will be clearly expressed.”90
The implication was that torture was encouraged tacitly, even as it was formally discouraged; moreover, a predilection to torture was reinforced by out-of-class bull sessions, along with the doctrinal message hammered home at every opportunity that subversion was to be fought with no holds barred.
The phasing out of the Public Safety Program began with the amendment of the Foreign Assistance Act in December 1973 (Section 112) to ban overseas training of foreign police personnel, with all Public Safety advisers to be recalled by 30 June 1974. And the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 (30 December 1974), Section 660, “Prohibiting Police Training, “ banned the use of funds as of 1 July 1975 “to provide training or advice, or to provide any financial support, for police, prisons, or other law enforcement forces for any foreign government or any program of internal intelligence or surveiliance on behalf of any foreign government within the United States or abroad.”91 The loopholes in the law, and the creeping restoration of broad-spectrum police training in the 1980s in precisely the area of political control with the catchphrase “counteterrorism” replacing “counterinsurgency,” which had occasioned the worst abuses of the earlier systemis discussed in chapter 16.