Special Operations

Well folks, Shadow Warfare should be going out via Amazon to pre-orders some  time this week so hopefully once folks begin reading it, readers can drop me notes and I can get some good topical responses going.  As readers of my other books know, I’m always happy to take questions and chat and the best way to reach me is by email at:


I thought I would take this opportunity to bring up some of the military side of Shadow Warfare, something I really haven’t posted on much here.  While the book focuses on clandestine action, one of the things that becomes clear in reviewing the history of the subject is that beginning in the late 1960′s, the linkages between covert action and military Special Operations began to evolve dramatically.  To some extent that was a result of the engagements in South East Asia, including covert military action in Laos and the integration of the American military into the Phoenix infrastructure warfare program in South Vietnam.  Actually it was initally kicked off by JFK’s handing off covert operations in North Vietnam to the military, the CIA’s efforts having been totally ineffective to that point. However, much less obvious and possibly much more important for the long run, would be the use of Special Operations personnel in Latin America, both in conjunction with military assistance counter terrorism programs and later in support of the Reagan administration clandestine warfare in Nicaragua.

Shadow Warfare traces special operations though JFK’s first effort to turn it into tool for localized and limited strategic use (much against all the wishes and inclinations of the Pentagon) to its revival under the Carter Administration and the rebuilding of its capabilities and weapons – which had advanced during Vietnam but which were essentially all thrown away with the return to a Cold War, major force focus in the administrations that immediately followed the end of that conflict. It’s a really fascinating story with the Pentagon virtually tossing away brand new and organizations, personnel and weapons as they returned to their comfort zone of carrier groups, bomber and missile squadrons and tank corps. Later it would all be rebuilt, but once again over Pentagon objection, with Presidents and actually Congress intervening to build an entirely new structure for military special operations.

That structure would just be coming into place as jihad terror was spawned following the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan.  Even at that point it was not only being rebuilt but essentially rearmed with a series of weapons which would allow long range operations.  During the Clinton Administration, the military were called on twice to conduct operations against bin Laden, in the Sudan and in Afghanistan – on both occasions they had to respond that they lacked the ability to do what Clinton wanted although if he chose, they could conduct full scale military operations (which would have looked a lot like invasions). 

Special Operations capabilities only escalated on virtually a logarithmic scale following first the CIA’s covert entry into Afghanistan following 9/11 and later with the creation of the Global anti-terror group Task Forces operating across the western Pacific and Africa.  Certainly I had no idea how this had all developed, and actually what current capabilities were until I began research for the book – even though I am admittedly a bit of a military “geek”. 

Shadow Warfare does make a serious effort to develop the military side of clandestine action, to the extent of describing what we call “gray warfare”, the true merger of intelligence and tactical military action. Its the sort of integration which would have been impossible before the technology and particularly the communications which came to exist during the decade of the 1990′s.  And of course this is still very much a contemporary story, not covered that much by the mainstream media but much more effectively by the military and intelligence reporting being done by some very fine sites on the internet.  The following is an example of such reporting:


I’m sure I’ll be referring to a number of such sites in the dialogs about Shadow Warfare – and they are proving extremely valuable in the research that I’ve been doing for my next project…what,  you thought I was going to take a break…grin

  — Larry





Risky Business

We have a chapter titled “Risky Business” in Shadow Warfare; we use it to present and discuss a variety of problems which affect individuals actually engaged in covert/clandestine action.  One of those problem areas involves the legal risks of clandestine agency employees.  Those risks range the gamut, some of them are relatively minor and spring from using aliases in domestic activities with insufficiently backstopped identities.  Its one thing to have the right “pocket litter” but using the wrong name at the wrong time can lead to legal problems.

Things can get far more serious though, especially if an employee accepts an order which turns out to be illegal. Given that some directives are pretty vague to begin with, and that headquarters officers often don’t fully understand (or sometimes avoid) the details of their team leader’s field operations, matters can get quite sticky. And if course headquarters is more than willing to disassociate itself from questionable actions which become public. Its hard to defend yourself when all the orders were verbal and there is no paper trail.  Of course things are even worse when the illegality of the orders goes all the way back to the Commander in Chief and the CIC’s order is based in a written opinion from the administration’s legal staff within the Justice Department. I’ve noted the point that for practical purposes those opinions do tend to stand until legally challenged in court or addressed by new Congressional legislation.  Fighting illegal orders can be a time consuming and lengthy process.

America has a long tradition of expecting military personnel to decline illegal orders and the right of challenge is dealt with in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There are protocols for rejecting illegal orders and UCMJ training is required for all service people. That works reasonably well for some things, less for others. To reject an order based on a personal view of its constitutionally leads into the legal quagmire outlined above.  Its unclear to what extent there is similar protection for clandestine agency employees but based on remarks in published statements by former employees, even senior officers, it appears that in some instances its far from satisfactory.

A good example of dealing with questionable orders can be found in the book The Interrogator / An Education by former CIA officer Glen Carle.  The book reflects Carle’s difficulties in dealing with what would appear to be illegal orders involving rendition and interrogation, orders which clearly violated the basic Agency training and instruction he had originally been given but which came about due to new directives issued by the George W. Bush administration following the attacks of 9/11.  I would highly recommend Carle’s book for a variety of reasons including the fact that it represents a successful case study in how an individual can become an effective “whistle blower” without suffering extreme legal consequences.


I wish I could offer a solution to such legal quandaries,  I’d even like to talk to Mr. Carle about it but unfortunately my previous attempts to get him to elaborate on his identification of David Phillips as Maurice Bishop may have poisoned the well a bit in that regard.  Of course now that Anthony Veciana had publicly stated the same identification of Phillips as Bishop it should not be a big deal.  What I would recommend is that Mr. Carle follow in the footsteps of David Phillips following retirement but in a bit of a different fashion.

I would suggest that there needs to be a contemporary association for former clandestine service officers that could perform mentoring for officers who have legal issues with their orders. Of course since the agency would frown on direct contact so advice would have to be strictly “hands off”.  But perhaps a web site simply offering advice and examples of how to and how not to get the word out, strictly in accordance with Agency legal guidelines might be in order (and yes I know the CIA would put it on the NSA target list, sigh).  Mr. Carle did it with his book so it can be done and no doubt the relevant agency polices could be referenced in order to make it all strictly “legal”.  Perhaps the Agency itself might make a new initiative in cleaning up its own house and addressing its image – after all, with stories such as told in the link above, recruiting ethical employees might be getting more challenging.

Of course further Congressional legislative action to protect ethical employees of all agencies would be a good thing as well.  As I’ve mentioned, whining about any given administration is pointless when the fix is really getting legislation and legal code that works on an ongoing basis.  But strangely, even among the legislators that you would most to expect to be concerned about protecting personal rights I’ve seen no statements and no bills being offered – if I missed it, somebody let me know.

– Larry




As we begin to get some posts and discussion on Shadow Warfare, I’m sure I’ll be wading into some controversial areas and no doubt on occasion be forced to state my own opinions – something we really tried not to do in the book, in a quest for balance.  The book does cover a number of contemporary and controversial subjects including “targeted” killing – which SW shows to be a practice of long standing associated with covert action – and for that matter the issue of targeting American citizens considered to be terror threats for capture, or killing in the event that is not possible.

Targeting American citizens in foreign countries and more particularly in locations with virtually non-existent central government and legal systems (such as Somali and Yemen) remains a subject of ongoing debate and media coverage – coming up in headlines and articles again this week:


The author of the article in this link is nationally known and someone with far more knowledge and experience than I would ever claim, however two things jumped out at me when reading the article.  First in discussing Anwar al Awlaki, his characterization lacks a few details – including the fact that in a public broadcast Awlaki described himself as a “traitor to America”, that he openly praised terror attacks on Americans and called for volunteers for jihad attacks on America and Americans. I’m not going into the pro and con arguments about Awlaki’s history, mistreatment etc, that’s covered at length in other sources but Bergan’s description seemed a bit limited and also made no historical reference to the treatment of Americans who broadcast propaganda for the Germans and Japanese during WWII.

Bergan also leaves out a bit of historical context, including the fact that one of the first actions following the attacks of 9/11 was for President G.W. Bush to issue covert action Executive Finding which declared that the CIA had blanket approval to conduct covert action against Al Qaeda leadership and associates – that direction allowed for the hunting, capture and killing (if capture was not feasible).   That finding remains in effect until overturned by a new finding or preempted by Congressional legislation.  One of the fundamental points relating to findings is that they exist and are required in order to inform Congress of covert acting. That gives them various opportunities to respond to actions which they feel should not be supported – although as we detail in SW Congress virtually never does that.

Of course the whole question of enemy combatants and the treatment of American citizens who either give aid and comfort to the “enemy” or support attacks against America or Americans could easily be resolved if Congress had or would yet declare war on radical jihadi terrorists (yes I know the wording might be a bit complex but I have to believe that we do have an adequate supply of lawyers for such tasks).

Barring that, Congress could rise up and revisit the Authorization for Use of Military Force that it provided President Bush at his request immediately following 9/11. That AUMF continues in force to the present  – and at this point is beginning to look rather like the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, legislation passed in response to a very specific incident and never intended to be just to support military action for over a decade.  Its rather ironic in that Congress was requested to pass the AUMF legislation and that the move was endorsed by comparing it to the Tonkin Gulf resolution was came to be viewed as a presidential “blank check”.

Depending on how you look at the dates, the AUMF is actually on the verge of passing the time span of the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which was eventually repealed.  To this point I’ve seen no sign that Congress even remembers it, much less has considered new legislation to replace it.

– obviously the overall issue is far more complex than this and as one of the publishing industry reviews about to come out on SW points out, our coverage of constitutional and legal issues should be sufficient to “sate” readers interested in those areas….     Larry








I did an hour long radio interview with Jeff Bushman a couple of evenings ago and will post a link to it once its on YouTube.   At this point Alan has been able to read through much of the galley copy of Shadow Warfare that I’d sent him and among other things we explored a couple of the things that stood out to him.

One of the points that repeats itself over and over again in the book is that in terms of covert action, different government agencies are often in considerable conflict with each other and that can lead to both dysfunction and mission failure.  Most readers will immediately think of the State Debarment’s embarrassment at the UN over the Bay of Pigs or perhaps the conflicts between CIA and State in Laos, but perhaps most especially in Vietnam. In South Vietnam, from the earliest days the CIA compromised and most likely doomed State Debarment initiatives towards a compromise government.  More recently the specter of Colin Powell being hung out to dry at the U.N. over extremely poor intelligence analysis (well OK, not analysis but “agendas”) comes to mind.

What doesn’t come to mind but what Shadow Warfare highlights is the number of times that the situation reversed itself, when the State Department, Secretary’s of State and National Security Advisers moved forward with covert actions that the CIA consistently opposed as unwarranted or doomed from the beginning.   That happened on a number of occasions during the Nixon and Reagan Administrations, ranging across both Latin America and Africa. What emerges from such conflicts is that the best intelligence analysis in the world can easily be neutered by worldviews and agendas being carried forward by the principals at the Cabinet level.  The reality is that when a Cabinet officer has the ear of the President and the President’s endorsement, intelligence analysis begins to swerve to a supportive view – its much like the President going to the Attorney General and asking for a legal opinion to justify an action he has in mind.  On occasion, and more so in certain administrations, an objective legal opinion comes back.  But more likely, and more recently, what is produced is a legal justification.  In SW we review some of the opinions that Eisenhower got that actually convinced him not to do certain things; we also review opinions given to G.W. Bush which were rather obviously simply “enablers”.

Another point that Alan and I discussed is that in the 21st Century, we have moved to the point at which much of the legal code supporting covert action in the war on terror has become a real issue. That code is based in the National Security Act of 1947 – clearly formed and justified by the Cold War military confrontation with the Communist bloc. It seems pretty obvious that the context of the terror threat in the 21st Century is different, yet there seems to be no Congressional move to revisit fundamentally critical legislation, and legal code that now is quite questionable as applied to acting military personnel, not to mention a host of government security contractors.  Conflicts over issues of preemptive action and mass domestic surveillance could be addressed at its most basic level with new national security legislation. – “could” being the operative word.

Of course Shadow Warfare deals with a host of actions at the operational level and there is plenty of detail about trade-craft and personnel, but it also raises a number of fundamental issues and questions that are very much contemporary and should be subjects of media and political dialog….sandwiched in between detailed latest entertainment world coverage of course…

- Larry







Smoking Gun

Readers of SWHT and NEXUS are aware that they present some pretty tightly focused scenarios for both the JFK conspiracy and the coverup; with SWHT being more detailed on the coverup and NEXUS on the origins, nature and individuals involved in the actual Dallas attack itself.  Unfortunately because of the size (and depth I suppose) of SWHT, certain key things get missed even by repeat readers.  Bill Simpich and I had a discussion of that the other day.  Bill is wrapping up the final chapter of his new boolork – hopefully everyone is following it chapter by chapter on the Mary Ferrell web site.  One of the things he called me about was to discuss what we both feel is a “smoking gun” event that further points the figure at some of the key figures involved in the Kennedy assassination.

If you have SWHT, I’d refer you to Chapter 9,  page 126 which starts a discussion of “A political H bomb”.  This is in the chapter on John Roselli and it begins in 1966, years after the murder of the president, with Roselli himself still  under FBI surveillance and with Hoover still putting on pressure to deport him as an illegal alien.  Its probably safe to say that at that point the last thing in the world Roselli should or would want is to raise his profile with any government agency.  Yet what it does, beginning in December of 1966 is to expose himself as a major potential political problem to a host of figures involving not only the FBI and CIA but President Johnson and ultimately the public via Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson.

What he does is detailed in the book, but essentially its to offer concrete information that President Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, that the conspiracy involved CIA trained Cuban exiles who had been prepared and were being used by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro inside Cuba.  Given that Roselli was personally involved in multiple assassination efforts, using Cuban exiles, for several years, that would seem to give him a good deal of credibility on the subject – indeed Johnson took it seriously enough to call in the CIA Director and force him to spill the details on the assassination project, something Nixon himself attempted without success during his administration.

Of course Roselli did put just a bit of spin on the story, claiming that the Cuban exiles had been captured inside Cuba and sent back by Castro to kill Kennedy under his direction – now exactly how Roselli would know that is a good question, how Castro would control them another and what happened to them afterwards an equally good question.  Strangely, nobody seems to have asked Roselli such questions – not then and apparently not even later during his congressional committee interviews.  Well at least when I wrote SWHT it seemed nobody had; more recently new research suggests that following his effort to promote the story, the CIA took Johnny into a safehouse in Maryland and held a chat with him that lasted some two weeks.

But even more interesting than that, is that Bill Simpich has turned up the point that Jack Anderson and Pearson eventually received corroboration of the Roselli story – from none other than William Harvey, the man who worked with Roselli on the assassination projects.  Roselli and Harvey had become close, much to the dismay of the CIA but for Harvey to actually confirm the assassination story is a really big deal; we can only wonder what the CIA thought about that.

Now – to the even larger question, the smoking gun – why in the world would first Roselli and then William Harvey, bring such a story to Earl Warren, the Secret Service, the FBI, the White House and the press (all of which other than the press showed no interest at all).   And why in the late winter of 1966.  The answer is that the Garrison investigation was just getting into swing but was very closely held at that point.  The only outsider who knew about it, and who would later blow it to the press, was Bernardo de Torres, the private investigator Garrison’s people were referred to in Miami to chase down exile leads to the assassination.

What stimulated John Roselli to a very risky outreach, what led William Harvey to back him up in a preemptive strike supporting conspiracy, but a very special “Castro used CIA trained Cuban exiles” to kill JFK scenario.  I’d suggest the two were warned by their gatekeepers in Miami and decided they had best move to take control of the situation by getting ahead of Garrison and also by making key folks in Washington extremely nervous.  The details of how they did that and exactly how nervous Johnson became are in SWHT.  My point is that in this case, rather than constantly looking for the “smoking gun” in the TSBD,  taking a broader view of the assassination can be very useful.

Alan Dale and I are doing some further work on this matter and hopefully before too long we may be able to record a  discussion of the Roselli/Harvey/Angleton connection and explore Roselli’s very strange public outreach on conspiracy in much more detail.

– Larry




Interview Guide

The interview with Brent was a lengthy one, on the order of two hours and I have to say its a real challenge to talk about four books, written over a period of some six  years and totaling somewhat more than 1,200 pages without sort of losing your place or failing to remember a name here or there…   Looking back on it I recall one little misstep in citing the wrong country for a particular operation, we’ll see if anyone notices.    The interview itself is online and you can listen though it all at:


We spent about an hour on the MLK conspiracy, which most folks seem to pass by these days.  Brent did give me the opportunity to bring up a number of issues with James Earl Ray and then connect him to the actual conspiracy – in which he may have been a patsy but not in the way a great number of people have come to believe.  We also talked about the issues of evidence which raise a number of questions about his being the actual shooter and how poorly the evidence taken into official record would have stood up in a contested court appearance – but with Ray’s guilty plea that never happened. In any event, that’s the story we tell in detail in The Awful Grace of God and its way to complex to go further here – an hour with Brent barely scratched the surface.

The King dialog did surface the systemic problem we face in all the major political assassinations of the 60′s though – once the FBI and the prosecution have a suspect with even a bare minimum of evidential connection, that’s the end of the true investigation and from then on everything swings to supporting the case against the the individual in custody.  Neither the prosecution nor the defense has any points to be gained by introducing the subject of conspiracy; for the prosecution it merely diverts the jury and for the defense it would raise the issue of intent and premeditation which risks upping the sentence in a conviction.

Following the MLK dialog, we spent some time talking about the reality of CIA assassination activities vs. what you see in the movies and action novels.  Its far more complex, much more legally deniable and generally has far fewer special effects and outrageous weapons than you see in the movies and books…just way too dull for the entertainment industry.  Still, how it all gets initiated is pretty scary and we discussed that at some length.

Finally we did get to delve a bit into Shadow Warfare, talking about some of the long term trends and whether or not covert action is the same today as it was in the Cold War – generally it isn’t in the War on Terror but there are a few exceptions, like Benghazi, where deniablity still comes into play.  Given the length and breadth of Shadow Warfare we sort of ran out of time, especially after taking too much time on Iran-Contra and the issue of drugs as related to covert missions.

In any event, if you get a chance to listen I hope  you enjoy it.  Larry

Tuesday Interview King and Shadow Warfare


For those interested, I will be doing a radio interview with Brent Holland this Tuesday, Jan 21 from 8 to 10 pm Eastern time.

Brent is a great host and this time we will discuss conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the research behind  The Awful Grace of God, which deals with a series of attempts  to kill Dr. King, which culminated in the shooting in Memphis.

Following that we will then move into a discussion of the Shadow Warfare, in particular areas such as covert action relating to Iran-Contra which Brent himself has studied at some length.  That should be timely as Shadow Warfare should be coming out of the printer and into distribution within a couple of weeks.

If you would like to follow the interview live you can join it at the link below; afterwards it will be archived on YouTube.  I hope  you will join us for at least for part of the two hour session.







Situational Awareness

I started to title this post “hypocrisy” but then decided that might be a bit harsh – largely because I’m no longer sure if a good deal of the current events commentary I read is really based in any significant historical context.  Perhaps its just that people writing much of today’s current events articles or issuing public political comments find history books a bit of a bore.

In this particular regard my comments have to do with all the public outrage about American intelligence collection, even to the extent of using advanced technology in that effort.    Now I’m not going to get into a dialog about current practices here, perhaps in yet another book down the road, but the degree of shock and surprise over such things is somewhat humorous since virtually any and every nation has engaged in such tactics to the extent to which is is capable.  Of course its pretty obvious that potential commercial or even military rivals have always collected information on each other – and not just military information. That’s a constant even in ancient history.

In the early decades of the 20th Century such work was most often done by the various diplomatic embassies exchanged between nations. A good number of such missions had military attaches assigned to monitor both hostile and friendly forces and capabilities. However even the diplomatic core personnel were tasked with picking up information – and sharing it with allies on occasion. As an example, American State Department attaches in 1920′s and 1930′s Japan, both diplomatic and military, were quite involved in collecting information, in particular on the Japanese Navy – beginning following WWI and long before the Japanese Navy or Japan moved into being perceived as a strategic threat in the Pacific.  Of course the Japanese were not naive about such things and John Prados writes about the entertaining episode of a large 1920′s Japanese automobile left parked continuously across from the American embassy for some two years – so long its tires went flat .  The Japanese monitored traffic into and out of the American embassy as well as movements of embassy personnel, occasionally expelling staff who did too much traveling and asked too many questions.  The car contained sensitive cameras and Prados relates the incident in which a reporter was encouraged to approach the car – resulting in several Japanese police jumped out to prevent picture taking of the car with flat tires. The most amusing thing was that it had been so hot in the car that they were all in their underwear at the time.

Of course just being active and sharing information with other embassies produced intelligence – as an example, as early as January, 1941 a Peruvian diplomatic staff member passed word to the U.S. that the Japanese had begun planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  The information was promptly shared with American Naval Intelligence who evaluated it as improbable.  Similar foreign contacts provided early warning of the German attack on Russia, which President Roosevelt arranged to have shared with Stalin via third party contacts – and Stalin chose to ignore it.

For those who have read deeply about spy games in Mexico City circa 1963 the Japanese photo car story may recall the horror from the FBI and CIA  about releasing any photos that might have shown Lee Oswald – or anyone else – entering or leaving the Soviet or Cuban embassies there. A number of memos suggest they were terribly distressed that it might expose the fact that the U.S. was monitoring other nation’s facilities – just as every nation’s staff in Mexico City was doing to the other and the Mexican security personnel were doing to them all. After all, that same year the CIA and FBI had busted an American offering information to the Cubans – using photo, electronic intel and even human intel from inside the Cuban embassy to do so – and the FBI has major 24 hour surveillance running on Soviet attaches known to be working assets performing intelligence work inside the U.S.  There is no doubt that neither the Cubans or Soviets were unaware of American intelligence activities targeting their diplomatic facilities.

But certainly such intelligence efforts at  “situational awareness” went far beyond basic monitoring and diplomatic courtesies.  Sometimes even your international friends won’t tell you what they have heard or are investigating, just as  you have your own secrets.  Which leads to expanded intelligence efforts of all sorts – ranging from simply making arrangements to obtain telegrams from cooperative international carriers, to opening mail, to cracking diplomatic and military codes – the diplomatic codes  were often easier and changed less routinely.  Even monitoring changes in commercial arrangements or other day to day activities can provide strategic intelligence.  So – code breaking is a standard precipice  as are efforts to buy, swipe or otherwise obtain other nation’s code books.  As early as 1921, Americans had mastered certain key Japanese diplomatic codes, which proved very useful in the mufti-nation battleship force negotiations of the time.

The question is, did that sort of thing ever stop or even moderate, perhaps after the Allied victories of WWII?  Would anyone have suspected it would during the Cold War, or perhaps during the emergence of state sponsored and then non-state terrorist networks?  I’d say any commentator or any national politician figure who thought it had – or would – would be pretty naive.  Again, I’m not debating points of escalation or abuse but rather the reality of a demand of intentional situational awareness as far as intelligence collection goes. In that regard we can fast forward a bit to certain incidents of 1963, covered in appendix F, Another Rumor of Someone Would Have Talked.  In that chapter I describe the electronic intercepts being conducted against international communications across Europe, performed by US Air Force staff under direction of the NSA.  Separate stations handled military intercepts targeting the Soviets but Kirknewton was a commercial and diplomatic collection station.  How did I know that, simply because American defectors had disclosed the secrets of the NSAEchelon operations, across Europe and even in the Middle East. Some of those defectors had even gone to Moscow and held news conferences – quite some time ago and long before contemporary events.

Bottom line, such practices have and no doubt will occur, its headline news on occasion and then it fades away until the next time.  It seems it would almost be better that it were openly stated and made a subject of continuing, realistic oversight, to ensure that there are some constraints over the collection of and use of personal information – at least domestically.  However I would ask anyone who had seriously read about the operation of global terror networks, and their quite sophisticated methods of not only communication and financial transactions, if it is reasonable not to pursue some level of global intelligence collection. Certainly it has been proven that the terrorists are quite keen at embedding themselves in both neutral and friendly nations and that a good number of even supposedly allied nations (Saudi Arabia comes to mind) have been woefully  uncooperative in operational intelligence activities. If you don’t believe me on that one, read Against All Enemies, mentioned in my last post.

- no doubt its a challenging subject, but its certainly not a new one,   Larry






One of the points we develop in Shadow Warfare is exactly how complex – and how conflicted – the legality of covert operations is in the real world of multiple legal contexts.  And things get even more complex in the world of counter terrorism.

I’ve previously posted on the existence of various “understandings” between the Department of Justice, specifically the Attorney General,  and the CIA.  The reason those understandings came to be is simply  that CIA clandestine officers routinely need to conduct missions involving activities which may be illegal under both civil and military code.  Those missions are sanctioned under the code and sanctions of the National Security Act of 1947, which acknowledged that a number of activities – ranging from burglary, armed robbery, theft, and even murder – were going to have to be necessary in the cold war actions against Communist agents and designated foreign intelligence “targets”.  As regime change and regime maintenance became the order of the day, different types of normally criminal acts were also conducted under the authorization of that legislation.  When you consider yourself to be at war, even if its a cold war, the normal civil legal code simply does not work.  That’s is true for the uniformed military and associated services which are subject to the Uniform Military Code.  The National Security Act and its related code extended protection for acts which go well beyond what is sanctioned by the UCMJ – which of course does allow for actions such as murder since that is the nature of conventional warfare.

The fact that clandestine service personnel would have to perform acts and associate with individuals performing acts which were illegal under both civil and military code was addressed in the national security related code. For some reason there is often much talk of agency employees breaking laws, as if they were covered by civil codes in sanctioned operations. That simply is not the case – of course another question is exactly what is legally sanctioned and what isn’t. That is an issue that rises all the way up to the Commander in Chief and one which we discuss that at length in SW.  Beyond that there is the fact that to do their job, clandestine personnel in some missions have to associate with people who doing illegal things such as gun running and drug smuggling.  That is simply the nature of things in conducting “deniable” operations.  But that is also the point that the missions begin to produce some serious legal conflicts.

The “understandings” discussed in SW deal with verbal and sometimes minimally documented agreements between the Attorney General and the CIA Director in regard to missions and activities where personnel are going to be either associating with assets who may be doing illegal things – such as Contra drug activities in the secret war against Nicaragua under President Reagan. Understandings also addressed the issue of prosecuting unsanctioned, illegal activities by CIA officers where conventional legal action might expose “sources and methods” – that understanding came about in the early days of the agency.

But if you thing that makes things complex, and conflicted, matters get worse when you realize that such understandings are only at the very highest levels and exactly what gets communicated down the chain of command becomes extremely difficult to determine, with personnel simply assuming they are legally “covered” in sanctioned operations.

Recently I’ve come across another “understanding”,  this one much more recent and in the realm of counter-terrorism.   In his book “Against all Enemies”, counter terror and cyber warfare guru Richard Clarke writes of his early CT days under Bill Clinton, in which the Clinton Administration was really trying to move against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  Clinton had issued the required presidential security directives for Clarke to move forward with his NSC level counter-terrorism effort.  However he immediately ran into the legal obstacles related to domestic CT efforts.   First off the FBI really  had no files on Bin Laden or AQ simply because the FBI works criminal cases for the Justice Dept and there were no working crimes against either party.  But upon working his way up to the Attorney General, it was made clear to Clarke that even if they did  that “any information developed in a criminal investigation could not be shared with civilians” and that meant no sharing with either the NSC or the CIA for that matter.

For the record, I strongly recommend that everyone read Clarke’s book to introduce a little balance into your consideration of current affairs in regard to national security issues, it will also give you a good background in comparing current Congressional statements about counter terrorism with exactly what Congress did not do about it in the early days – and why.

In any event, Clarke eventually did reach an “understanding” with AG Janet Reno in which she stated that in the case of foreign terrorism related activities, the Bureau would at least be allowed to share information with a few very senior NSC personnel.  Reno agreed to put that into a memo of understanding – which never happened – but at least in some instances Clarke was able to use the “agreement” as leverage to pry out limited information.  The bottom line in all this is that quite often there are some very significant legal conflicts involved in virtually all “self defense” activities beyond that of simply declaring war and letting go with the weapons – and to date Congress has managed to ignore what has become an more and more complex matter in 21st Century affairs.  Operating against global terror in 2014 under legislation initially passed in 1947 to fight the Cold War against Communism, talk about “conflicted”.

– Larry














Rex Bradford has been good enough to post information about Shadow Warfare on the Mary Ferrell Foundation web site.  In particular,  MFF  – at the link below – now provides a link to the recent hour long interview with Alan Dale but Rex has also linked in the actual introduction to Shadow Warfare. If you would like to get a bit of feel as to how the book reads,  you might start there.


The introduction positions covert action and undeclared warfare in the context of a host of secret activities which began during the Cold War and which evolved into at least some of the “gray warfare” activities that are a part of the current war on terror.

If you have any questions at this point feel free to ask them via this blog, in the interim, I’m going to begin posting a variety of comments from some new work I’m doing which has to do with the other side of the coin – threats, warnings and responses during major national security crises and how well the plans to deal with them played out in real life.  For those who have followed this blog,  this is a much broader research into the sort of national security response we find occurring following President Kennedy’s assassination.  Its always very educational to compare what should have happened to what did – and its pretty clear that the events of November 22, 1963 should have led to a major study and revision to a series of plans having to do with “decapitation” of the national command authority.  So far, no sign that happened.

– Larry