Overt Ops Part III

Unconventional Warfare in Practice

10th December 2011

In Part I of this series we saw how in recent news events references to covert operations are distinctly overt.  In Part II we explored how Western state doctrine of small-scale warfare has become increasingly open in its advocation of the use of terrorism.  In this part we will see that the same trend that occured in the theory also occured in the practice of unconventional warfare. 

Though state spies and secret agents are as old as the state itself, formal intelligence services are essentially a 20th century creation.  Following from this, we have little documentation predating World War Two against which to test the hypothesis of increasingly bloody and overt black ops.  Therefore this analysis necessarily begins with World War Two and proceeds forwards historically from there to see how the same trend found in the FM training manual series can also be found in the records of real life operations. 

We begin, therefore, by examining the case of Mutt and Jeff, whose story I covered in 7/7: Crime and Prejudice.  They were two Norwegians, recruited during the Nazi occupation of Norway to come to Britain to spy and commit acts of sabotage.  Upon their arrival they gave themselves up to the British authorities and became double agents.  Their main role was to send disinformation to their Nazi handlers, to misdirect and confuse their war effort. 

Among the methods used to try to maintain the Germans' faith in Mutt and Jeff were false flag acts of sabotage.  The British security services bombed various locations, and told Mutt and Jeff to take the credit for the attacks in their radio messages back to Germany.  This worked extremely well, and ensured that the Germans believed the sabotage was authentic and effective.  This process also involved deceiving the British police who were investigating the attacks, as detailed in the MI5 files on Mutt and Jeff available at the British National Archives.  I purchased copies of this files and have put together a 34-page summary dossier on the case, available in the WW2 section of the Covert Ops document archive. 

What is crucial for this discussion is that though the bombings were real, they were on a small scale and no people were injured or killed as a result.  These were bloodless covert ops, with deception rather than violence being the primary aim.  Nonetheless, as the final document in the dossier shows, there was discussion in secret meetings of using faked acts of sabotage to provide a 'security stimulus' to the British public. 

Only a few years later the Western security services had progressed from faked acts of sabotage to using false flag terrorism.  In 1953 MI6 and the CIA conspired to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran Mohammed Mossadeq.  Part of the plot was to try to fragment Mossadeq's wide base of popular support, and to pitch the different political factions in Iran against one another.  This created the desired instability and enabled the 'regime change' aspect of the operation whereby the pro-US Shah was installed as head of state, and the somewhat democratic system replaced with an aristocratic hierarchy. 

According the CIA's internal history of the operation they used false flag bombings to create a conflict between the Tudeh (Communist) Party and the Islamic religious leaders:

CIA agents gave serious attention to alarming the religious leaders at Tehran by issuing black propaganda in the name of the Tudeh Party, threatening these leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mossadeq.  Threatening phone calls were also made to them, in the name of the Tudeh, and one of several planned sham bombings of the houses of these leaders was carried out.
- CIA Clandestine Service History, "Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August 1953"

It isn't certain whether anyone was killed in this bombing, and it appears only one of several planned bombings was actually carried out, but it shows a progression from the methods employed in the previous decade during World War 2.  In Appendix E of the CIA's history, available via the link above, the report calls for an expansion of the CIA's ability to conduct clandestine paramilitary ops, and for such operations to be used more frequently in place of overt military power. 

The CIA spent most of the rest of the 1950s overthrowing governments and generally causing havoc, that is, until the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.  In trying to replicate the successful coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the CIA prepared a small army of Cuban refugees who invaded Cuba in April 1961.  As covered in my history of E Howard Hunt and in the first section of 7/7: Seeds of Deconstruction, the invasion failed and while President Kennedy publicly took the blame he privately blamed the CIA.  Reponsibility for covert action against Cuba was formally turned over to the Pentagon though in reality the CIA kept their hands on the wheel. 

Out of this process came Northwoods, the US military's plan to stage a series of false flag events, including terrorist attacks in major US cities, which would then be blamed on Castro in order to justify a full-scale invasion.  You can read more about this in the Operation Northwoods document collection, here.  The files do not make clear whether people would be killed in these staged attacks, though the fact that they do not make any definitive statements suggests that they were easy either way.  Some of the plans were actually carried out, but most were not.  Nonetheless, this shows that the ideas which the security services were considering were increasingly violent, and increasingly directed towards their own citizens, both physically and psychologically. 

Then we got Gladio.  While no internal histories of the Gladio operations are available (they may not even exist), the available documents make clear that false flag terrorist tactics had moved beyond the mere planning stage, and were being used for more than simple pretexts for foreign wars.  As I explained in the Gladio document collection, here, the 'smoking gun' FM 30-31B may indeed have orginally been a Soviet forgery, but it was found in the possession of Gladio operative Licio Gelli, who explained that he had been given it by a friend in the CIA.  As such, even if it did begin life as a forgery, it became an authentic training and policy document.  It reads:

There may be times when Host Country Governments show passivity or indecision in the face of communist subversion and according to the interpretation of the US secret services do not react with sufficient effectiveness. Most often such situations come about when the revolutionaries temporarily renounce the use of force and thus hope to gain an advantage, as the leaders of the host country wrongly consider the situation to be secure. US army intelligence must have the means of launching special operations which will convince Host Country Governments and public opinion of the reality of the insurgent danger.

To this end, U.S. Army intelligence should seek to penetrate the insurgency by means of agents on special assignment, with the task of forming special action groups among the more radical elements of the insurgency. When the kind of situation envisaged above arises, these groups, acting under U.S. Army intelligence control, should be used to launch violent or nonviolent actions according to the nature of the case. Such actions could include those described in FM 30-31 as characterizing Phase II and III of insurgency.

In cases where the infiltration of such agents into the insurgent leadership has not been effectively implemented, it may help towards the achievement of the above ends to utilize ultra-leftist organizations.
- FM 30-31B

As readers of Part II of this series will likely notice, these same basic ideas can be found in many other manuals in the FM series, particularly in the more recent editions.  The fundamental shift in what is said in this document compared to the earlier ones is that not only does it advocate false flag terrorism, it explicitly advocates violence, against civilians, for the purpose of manipulating domestic political opinion.  This is not about overthrowing foreign governments, or creating pretexts for invasions, it is about killing people to force the public into believing what you want them to believe.  This is perhaps the most horrific form of political violence - when the state directly or indirectly attacks its own citizens to make them scared and to encourage them to think a certain way. 

As such, we can see in real life covert operations on the ground the same trend that we can see in the training doctrine of military secret agents - the trend of such operations becoming more uncompromisingly bloody, arrogant, and obvious.  Covert ops are now so widely and openly used that it is a misnomer to even call them 'covert ops'.  That is why this article series is called Overt Ops, became I believe we are living in a time when the official strategy has changed.  No longer do our political leaders deny the use of terrorism, sabotage, assassination and so on.  Such denials are no longer sufficient to silence the questions and the questioners. 

In Part IV of this series, intended to be the final part, we will look at why this apparent shift has taken place, and what its implications are for those researchers and activists who are working in this field.