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The Making of a Monster: CIA Covert Operations

Guest DangerousDan

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Guest DangerousDan


“The Systemic and Conditioned Dehumanizing and Psychological Conditioning of Covert Operatives is perhaps the most heinous of our government’s presently functioning operational programs that must be made to cease and desist if this nation is to survive.”

LTC Daniel Marvin, US Army Special Forces (Retired). Author of Expendable Elite – One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare

It was in 1979, during a nationally broadcast ABC television show produced by John Marks, that former OSS officer Colonel George White brazenly asserted, “I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, rape and pillage with the blessings of all the highest?”

Colonel White was one of the founders of the CIA. Was this an aberration or accepted modus operandi? I believe the latter to be true, and I believe there has been little or no change in attitude, direction or application of resources used by the Central Intelligence Agency or its Special Operations partners (foreign and domestic) in the conduct of covert operations who utilize illegal, immoral, even heinous methods to attain the desired result. It is that the end justifies the means.

There is no doubt in my mind that those in authority within our government who direct and/or manage covert operations were involved in and knowledgeable of what specific interrogation parameters had been promulgated for use in Iraq.

Those of us within Special Forces (US Army Green Berets or Navy SEAL Team personnel) who from time to time were involved as I was in CIA directed covert operations, understood that the Geneva Conventions and the International Rules of Land Warfare would be “set aside” as necessary to successfully engage in “independent operations.” Functioning within the parameters of CIA “overview” and using the “compartmentalized” approach to command channels, there were occasions when the sensitive nature of the mission demanded that personnel become “invisible” even to the extent of being given a separate identity, dropped from the rolls and treated as if they didn’t exist in response to “outside” queries, even from close relatives. That likely doesn’t make sense unless you have experienced such an operation and have been “socially engineered” to appreciate the unconventional intricacies and psychological adjustments accepted among those who are engaged in and understand the rationale behind the good, bad and ugly of covert operations.

In my book, Expendable Elite – One Soldier’s Journey Into Covert Warfare, I acquaint the reader with an Independent, compartmentalized operation that I commanded in 1965/1966 with a mission to clear and defend 30 miles of South Vietnam’s border with Cambodia and to secure and protect An Phu District with its 64,000 Buddhist Hoa Haos and about 200 Chams. My forces included a US Army Special Forces “A Team” (A-424), an ARVN Special Forces “A Team” (A-147) and six 132 man companies of Buddhist Hoa Hao civilian irregular fighters. An Phu District was located in the IV Corps delta area.

My role included the covert mission to deny the enemy their sanctuaries close to the border by pushing him back into Cambodia and using the principle of “Hot Pursuit” to counterattack and destroy him no matter where he fled to. As commander of that “independent” operation, I worked with my experienced counterpart, ARVN Green Beret Major Phoi Van Le, as a team, pushing the enemy out of our district and across the border into Cambodia.

During those seven months of independent operations (27 December 1965 through 3 August 1966 the enemy outnumbered our forces four to one, but the courage and military ability of the Hoa Hao forces allowed us to win the many battles and emerge as the most secure area in South Vietnam.

During Special Warfare training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the Spring of 1964 we were taught various interrogation techniques, to include those designed to fit the need in conventional, unconventional and covert warfare. The circumstances surrounding the time and place of interrogation dictated what method would best be used to achieve optimum results. I quickly learned that the techniques of the interrogator, when time was short and friendly lives were at stake, included what could be considered as torture and not permitted by the Geneva Convention, such as the electrical shock technique. The need to glean important tactical and order of battle intelligence outweighed concern for the person being interrogated. It was war and war is an ugly thing.

Information received from the South Vietnamese Minister of Defense by Major Phoi Van Le in the Fall of 1965 and related to me, left no doubt in my mind that it was President Lyndon B. Johnson himself who had authorized the enemy sanctuaries inside Cambodia, and not the Saigon government. Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson visited Special Forces Team B-24 in Chau Phu, South Vietnam on 3 August 1966 to receive a tactical briefing by LTC Donald E. Brewer, CO of B-24, with each of Brewer’s staff and A Team COs present. During the briefing General Johnson made it perfectly clear in any of our minds that President Johnson was lying to the American people and to the world telling them that “there were no safe havens for the enemy in Cambodia.” Chapter 15 of my book covers this meeting in detail.

Why did our government permit the enemy sanctuaries? Why did our government permit the enemy the “protected” use of the Mekong River to resupply that same enemy with guns and ammunition to attack and kill our forces and innocent civilians? Why didn’t General William C. Westmoreland, knowing those to be fact, cave under the pressure of political compromise and do nothing to demand an end to those sanctuaries?

General Westmoreland commanded all allied forces in South Vietnam whose very lives were put in greater jeopardy by virtue of the enemy having safe havens to return to after attacking our forces. I know for a fact that all military and civilian casualties in An Phu District of South Vietnam during my stay there were due to our government aiding and abetting the enemy. Simple and horrible, but true. Every death and injury was from the enemy attacking from inside Cambodia.

After reading General Westmoreland’s book, A Soldier Reports, wherein he admits to his failing to provide our military what it needed to win that war while denying them the right to engage the enemy in “hot pursuit” no matter where they fled to by providing their enemy safe havens, I wondered how he could sleep at night. Did he have no conscience?

The American people think of General Westmoreland as a hero. I do not. I believe he should come forward and apologize to all Americans, South Vietnamese and their allies for purposely aiding and abetting those who killed and maimed the forces of democracy who fought to defend South Vietnam. Read his book and I feel certain you will agree. On page 218 he writes “The enemy’s obvious use of Cambodia as a sanctuary and refusal of Washington authorities to allow me to do anything about it was frustrating.” It may have frustrated General Westmoreland but it put a lot of our men in their graves or in long term rehabilitation. Follow: On page 222, General Westmoreland writes, “My every request to inform the world press of the enemy’s use of Cambodia was denied until late 1967...” Why didn’t he resign, tell the truth and demand that our military be allowed to win the war? Why did he play tennis every day in Saigon as his troops were being slaughtered by an enemy operating out of safe havens he and his superiors had provided?

How does all this relate to what is happening in Iraq? More than most would realize and more than President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and others in power are likely to admit. We all must support our troops as they are there risking their lives for this nation, but we need not support a President who ordered the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. It is Secretary Rumsfeld who denied General Tommy Franks the size of military force he asked for, wanting the ability to secure and rebuild the infrastructure in “taken” cities and villages as the main force moved on to destroy the enemy. It is now that the chain of command, from the interrogators and guards in those Iraqi prisons all the way to the White House, attempts to dishonor and perhaps destroy those few young soldiers who performed the rites of torture used to “soften” the enemy for interrogation though, in my judgment, they were taught and directed to do exactly as they did. I believe it to be systemic and I also believe in my heart that what they did was to follow orders.

My question is: What will our government do to find and punish those up the chain of command that authorized, and most likely directed the type of torture used in Iraqi prisons? I would venture to say that few, if any, at the top will suffer. I would suggest that Secretary Rumsfeld go before the American people and be honest with them, admitting what actions he had directed and why he had done so. Perhaps the average American will think a little different when he or she realizes that we are dealing with an enemy dedicated to rid the world of those who they refer to as “infidels” (Christians and Jews) based on Muhammad’s instructions which are clearly outlined in the Koran. Though the use of mortifying methods of body baring, sleep deprivation, forced sex, masturbation and illicit bonding is sickening, even heinous in the eyes of those who saw the pictures, would we rather they had pulled fingernails out, tore limbs from bodies, gouged out eyes, or cut one finger off at a time until the tongue is loosened? You be the judge!

Looking back to what I was taught as a covert warrior, what I performed in that role and what I now regret having done, I suggest that all of our departments, agencies and offices, with specific direction from the White House and the Congress, establish those rules of interrogation that respect the Geneva Convention except in the case of dealing with those who historically deny others their human rights, who engage in terror, and who kill or maim innocent men, women and children.

©LTC Daniel Marvin (USASF Ret’d)

Author of EXPENDABLE ELITE - One Soldier's Journey Into Covert Warfare

Please go to http://www.expendableelite.com/ for photos, book excerpts, etc.

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Thanks for a sample of your experiences. I remember talking to someone who was in the Special Boat Squadron, just before I went to work in Kuwait in 1983. He started talking about the way British forces had repelled the Iraqi invasion of 1961 … and I hadn't even heard that there'd been a war there then!

I wonder if the 'answer' for the US in Vietnam was a bit more bombing or a bit more torture of suspects to get information, though. It strikes me that you were up against nationalism, a force which would have resurrected itself no matter what military victories you achieved.

At the same time, you were up against the contradiction which, in my opinion, lies at the heart of any intervention into a foreign country in order to impose 'democracy'. Your leaders of the time found themselves in all sorts of entanglements with unsavoury local, regional and international characters, and these entanglements made it impossible for you to counter the appeal to nationalism which was all the North Vietnamese had to make. I can really understand why the Founding Fathers didn't want the fledgling USA to become involve in foreign entanglements!

A film I recommended my friends to watch in the run-up to the recent invasion of Iraq was The Three Kings (George Clooney as criminally-minded US soldier after the first war with Iraq). The film itself is a bit of a pot-boiler, in my opinion, but the scenes at the beginnning of the film were really instructive. Three Americans roll into a small Iraqi town just across the border and come across two guys in uniform beating up someone in civilian clothes. The Americans intervene to save the 'victim' … and it turns out that the guys in uniform are the pro-American resistance, and the 'victim' was the local Baathist security chief.

Later they come across an Iraqi in western clothes in an underground bunker who speaks fluent American and is really personable. Later on the same Iraqi manages to capture one of the Americans and starts torturing him. He'd learned the techniques from the Americans.

Pity the poor bloody footsoldier in a mess like that! But pity perhaps even more the millions of civilians who get caught up in it all!

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