Forward Leaning

It’s really going to be a challenge to come up with the right phrases to describe the military confrontations that characterize the first half of the 21st Century.  The 20th Century was simple, you had World Wars, theaters of operation, etc.  You had the Cold War, which was a lot hotter than most folks realized at the time – that’s in my next book – and you had the undeclared warfare described in Shadow Warfare. But what do we call what’s happening now?   We have Putin reasserting a nationalist confrontation with the West, and even scarier some far right Russian types who appear to be pure racist Russo-Fascist and who want to see America destroyed to protest Russia (they also want Russian ethnic cleansing,  it all sounds revoltingly familiar).   You have Access Denial issues in the Pacific and the seemingly irrational North Korean leadership. Many of the old school military elements of the Cold War are resurfacing,  but with new missions.  Its striking to see a Cold War era B-52 in a maritime interdiction role in the western pacific, flying escort for a Navy carrier group.

And what are we going to do about al Qaeda, and ISIS which this week is now just IS and is building a new denied area all to itself.  In Shadow Warfare we predicted that one wave of the future was going to be the growth of military assistance missions, not large scale but relatively small scale missions to help any government in Asia or Africa threatened by Jihad insurgency.  That’s one prediction that seems to be pretty much right on and this week we see military missions returning to Baghdad – and soon to Kurdistan.  It all has the look and feel of the 20th Century American response to what was perceived as the global Communist conspiracy.  Perhaps it should, and in fact there may be a lot more reality to the national security threat of the radical jihadi ideology/religion than there ever truly was from a global communist movement – much of which was actually nationalism in action rather than true revolutionary Marxism.

I still don’t know what to call any of these various confrontations and conflicts but they are out there and very real.  If  you want to see the most current military assistance groups now forming, check out the following link, at least the geography will be familiar.

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Other Boots on the Ground Ch 25

If you don’t yet have “Shadow Warfare” and want to get a bit more of a feel for it, the editorial staff at Russ Baker’s news outlet have written about it a bit and with permission have posted all of Chapter 25. Thad chapter addresses what happens when you start to “prioritize” covert warfare. And as you will see if we ever get my next book out,  when you take professional military folks out of military actions – like say the defense of the country in 2001 – and hand it over to private companies, or agencies like the FAA or the State Department and their “managers”, well it can have a real downside.

If you would like to read the full chapter its online at the following link:





Where the Benghazi hearings won’t go

Russ Baker was good enough to use a short essay I provided  on the new Benghazi hearings in his news columns and I thought blog readers might find it interesting.  You can find it at the link below:

Those of you who may be reading Shadow Warfare will find the Benghazi hearings all too familiar by this point, if you are not reading it and are old enough – recall the Congressional response to the exposure of massive military operations in Laos and Cambodia, shock and outrage…..except of course it was all for show.

– Larry


Boots on the Ground in Africa

First, my apologies for not posting here much recently.  I’d deep into the final sections of my next book, at the moment dealing with both the failures in interdiction and failures in response during the attacks on America in 2001. As you can understand, its a big subject, there are tons of sources – some more than a little contradictory – and its taking a good bit of time to wrap my head around how to properly explore the subject in the broader historical context of surprise attacks.  I think it will be worth it though, lots of lessons to be learned, but it takes a lot of my limited concentration.

I’d hope to get some discussion going here on Shadow Warfare but either nobody has actually read it – or finished it – or they are in information overload.  I know its sold a few thousand copies and its made it into about 250 libraries, including some important military schools, in the first three months so perhaps some comment will show up soon.

In the interim, I thought I would bring your attention to some current shadow warfare events in Africa, many of which are a projection of the trends we identified in Shadow Warfare. Africa is definitely going to be the next arena of counter-insurgency, just as Syria will be for clandestine operations and the Western Pacific will be for access denial.  African counter-insurgency poses the same risk for getting into deep with sustaining essentially insupportable regimes – corrupt and dictatorial – that the United States fell into in Latin America in the 70/80’s.  The interesting thing is, this time its not just the United States that is exposed to that risk, its France, and China.  Yes, China.  China’s low profile involvement in Africa has escaped a lot of discussion but its there and growing.  For those interested in the developing story of new boots on the ground in Africa, I would recommend the following:

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Boko Haram and the Girls – The Larger Story

It’s hard to find the larger story in most of what is being written about the current kidnap and rescue operations in Nigeria. There is even little backstory connecting the Nigerian experience to the major news stories of Islamic insurgency in Mali and Algeria less than a year ago.
The Nigerian tragedy is being covered largely in terms of an ineffectual and corrupt central government, misusing its huge oil revenues, leaving its northern region in poverty and chaos, receptive to any alternative to a negligent central government and open to a brutal insurgency – one growing stronger and accumulating enough power to attack at will, even in the nation’s capital. Other than the issue of Nigerian oil, the exactly the same could have been written about Mali in 2013, leading up to international intervention to drive the insurgency back from its advance on the capital.
One of the few indications there is a larger story can be found in minor references to the fact that the kidnapped girls have been divided into smaller groups and taken across the Nigerian border into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Another is that the current Boko Haram leader is a Sharia law student, having studied at the Borno State College of Islamic and Legal and Islamic Studies. The college played a major role in supporting the adoption of the Sharia penal code in Nigeria’s northern states beginning in 1999. The larger story is that there had been a radicalization of Islam across all of northern Africa, that radicalization has created a loose network of groups with the common goal of replacing each nation’s relatively open and loosely enforced system of Sharia law with a much more conservative and aggressively enforced legal system – comparable to the strict enforcement found in such Arab countries as Saudi Arabia.
Two factors have rapidly accelerated the growth and networking of these groups. The first has been the very well-funded work of Muslim non-governmental organizations such as the World Muslim League, the World Assembly for Muslim Youth and the Federation of Islamic Schools. Many of the North African schools have been staffed with extremely puritanical African Muslim, trained in the Middle East – often supported by extensive scholarship programs. The second was the very early, equally well funded outreach begun by Osama bin Laden, first working out of the Sudan. His efforts included a well-organized effort to “seed” radical organizers across North Africa, supplementing them with experienced fighters and arms smugglers – such experience being greatly desired by all the nascent insurgencies. His first targets included the more northern states such as Libya and Egypt but also included Somalia, demonstrating his understanding of the opportunity for a pan-African radical movement.
The larger story is also one of a loosely networked pan-Africa insurgency, one in which Al Qaeda itself had been subsumed into a much broader threat to a host of established regimes. Many of those regimes would be objectively considered as either corrupt or at best little concerned with their more remote and poverty stricken territories. With money from wealthy, fundamentalist sponsors on the Arabian Peninsula, with major opportunities for self-funding though extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, and with the religious fervor of their cause, the insurgencies have become a multi-national threat to regimes from Somalia in the Horn of Africa, across Chad and Nigeria and westward to Mali, Mauritania and Algeria. The radical Islamic insurgency has evolved to become literally an international security threat – and the international community is responding. The underlying problem with that response is that it may put nations such as the United States, France and Britain in the position of providing military assistance to corrupt and essentially dictatorial governments – in the same fashion that those same nations often came to the assistance of brutal dictatorships facing communist insurgencies during the Cold War. The United States has more than a little of such bad experiences, in Shadow Warfare we explore the ramifications of military assistance and counter insurgency involvement with a number of Latin American dictatorships, especially those in the Southern Cone during the genesis of the Condor program.
For those wishing to explore current events in Africa in more depth than the current media treatment, I recommend the following War is Boring essay – the United States is going to have to tread the same fine line the French are facing.

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I hope anyone who listened to the Leonard Lopate interview enjoyed it – I continue to do more radio interviews with a two hour session tonight. Two hour interviews can get a bit tiring but hosts that do them are usually pretty lively and the discussion is broad so that helps.

Mr. Lopate asked some excellent questions and it was challenging to keep on top of them, dealing with deep questions in a span of 40 minutes is almost as much of a challenge as a two hour session.  In responding to his questions I realized that while potential readers may view Shadow Warfare as a tutorial on covert operations – which it is – or as a weighty “tome” on the history of the evolution of clandestine action – which it is – that most would not think of it in terms of a political commentary. Of course knowing that my co-author is a political science and government teacher, just finishing up his Masters work, you might suspect that links between deniable action and “governance” might creep into a 600 page book.

Well they do, but not unintentionally.  One of our goals for the book is to examine how the practice of deniable military action is linked to the American political system, not just in terms of the politics and personalities of the presidents who turn to it, and the trusted advisers who advocate it and persuade them to go covert, but in terms of the broader system.  As things turned out, our focus on covert warfare offers a large number of insights into our our three part system of governance works events are occurring outside of the public’s view.  Those insights are not especially comforting. One thing that becomes crystal clear is that the national security is brandished as a political weapon by all political parties and virtually all politicians far beyond the realm of logic or actual data. Perhaps my favorite is the speech by a Texas Congressman advocating the overthrow of a progressive but elected president in Guatemala becasue his land reform initiatives clearly suggested that the end result would be bombers attacking the oil refinements in his district; he was from Houston.   I assume he meant Soviet bombers since Guatemala had none itself.   Awarding him the lead in such things is difficult because there is strong competition, such as Henry Kissinger s remark that a country ought not be allowed to go Communist simply becasue its citizens voted for for it and were obviously too ill informed or just plain stupid to take care of themselves (Henry was exaggerating a bit there, again the country in question was leaning slightly socialist at most). Then again Henry has always been a person who felt he knew what was best, geopolitics being ascendent and collateral damage not being a primary concern.

After examining some 70 years of covert action, it becomes pretty clear that its largely driven by an administration’s calculus that it cannot build a case to take to Congress which would lead to anything other than a political fire storm.  That makes some sense given that national security is probably the most frequent challenge offered by either party against the sitting administration. In a rather strange fashion this often severely constrains administrations in terms of their political response, simply because they cannot talk about the real state of national security without compromising projects or intelligence. In some instances, if they do try to do so confidentially, history shows that the Congressmen involved are not unknown to use that information for political purposes as opportunity permits. The reality of the situation is that presidents tend to isolate themselves – and become isolated by Congress – on national security issues simply because the subject is so commonly used for political jousting.  Perhaps the most dramatic example of this I’m now aware of comes from my current book in progress rather than Shadow Warfare – where the Eisenhower Administration was literally forced to continue a huge bomber building program and an even more expensive air defense effort when it knew that the presumed “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union did not exist.  Ike’s choices were either to expose the nations dramatic new intelligence assets or to let his administration be battered for being weak on air defense, he was basically forced into military spending he knew was not truly justified by reality. But to

While the issue of national security political gamesmanship may not surprise anyone today, I suspect the number of actual incidents we detail in Shadow Warfare will.  But for those not surprised by the linkage between national security, Congressional hypocrisy and administration  excess (Iran-Contra being only one example of that) perhaps the level of compromise of the third element of our system of governance, the legal element, may be a bit of a shock. Basically it all comes back to the national security acts of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the acts which restructured the military, created new intelligence agencies and which produced the legal code required to make a great number of actions that were illegal under civil code, legal for the intelligence agencies.   The fact that the personnel of an intelligence agency, as fundamental to their primary mission, had to have legal protection for acts – carried out while the nation was not in a state of war – ranging from burglary, kidnapping and theft up to murder placed had the overall legal system in a real quandary.  The decision that protection of sources and methods might override even legal violations of employees – doing things not approved by the mission – had to override legal prosecutions stretched it even further. And its possible to argue that the decision that protecting non-employees – assets, informants, surrogates – from prosecution for illegal activities, in the name of national security and to protect sources and methods, may well have stretched it past breaking.

Beyond that, the fact that Congress itself has not revisited the national security act of 1947, and the fact that it refuses to pursue legal challenges to a number of questionable opinions on national security matters provided by the staff of various Attorney’s General, says a great deal about the state of current governance. So does the fact that the only fundamental legislation ever passed to restrict deniable action merely calls on the President to inform Congress of the action speaks to itself. That leaves Congress in the enviable state of being able to simply sit and wait until the action goes wrong, using it as political fodder, or to quietly leak it to the media, hoping for political points on the front end.  Not that Congress ever leads national security or intelligence information….

But enough of that, if  you have the book this will all become clear – I hope – and I need to rest for that two hour interview,    Larry








NPR podcast on Monday

Hi folks, just wanted to let everyone know that Stu and I will be on the Leonard Lopate show tomorrow, Monday May 5th.  The show airs at 11 am Central time but will be archived as well.  You can access the broadcast though the following options:

It should be interesting, Mr. Lopate covers a broad range of topics including writer and author interviews and the dialog will likely be broader than my more recent interviews which have generally been with hosts very much  focused on covert and clandestine operations.

I haven’t seen any posts here from readers of Shadow Warfare, perhaps its too early – after all it is a 600 page book.

Shadow Warfare has done well in library sales and at retail but not nearly well enough in Amazon sales – not sure why.  Given how much time went into digging out the actual details of intelligence agency operations, especially those of the Plans and Operations folks, I would have expected more people wanting to dig into that area.  Its also surprising that there seems to be little media interest in the deep background of contemporary covert and special operations, including those in the war on terror (now in transition from being referred to as overseas contingency operations to a variety of ops using “shield
in their descriptor).   I suppose I shouldn’t be too frustrated though.  In Shadow Warfare we present a Benghazi scenario relating covert Libyan activities to Syria.  A couple of months ago Seymour Hersh did much the same thing and drew virtually no comment.  Given his history and reputation, if he gets ignored I don’t feel too bad.  It appears various political agendas hold sway over that subject.

Enough author whining, I hope you find tomorrow’s interview interesting if you decide to listen in….   Larry




Harvey and Angleton

It just so happens I’ll be giving a presentation to the DPUK research conference in Canterbury England this weekend. I’ll be calling in this time although I did it once in person and it was fantastic!  So for a moment I’ll go a bit retro and return to the subject of the CIA during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administration.  However, for those following Shadow Warfare, I just did an hour long interview with Len Osanic for Black Op Radio and you will find it archived at the link below:

In considering the context of the Kennedy assassination its critical to have an in depth understanding of the CIA during that period, on who worked in what part of the Agency and in particular what type of projects they worked on.  As an example, I recently saw a post describing Howard Hunt as a paramilitary officer….that is truly off the mark.  It is true he worked within the Plans Directorate and most specifically inside the P-P group, which included political action, propaganda and paramilitary.  Hunt’s specialty was political action, essentially courting and sustaining Agency surrogate groups – for short think “carrying the money”.  Comparing him to true paramilitary officers such as Rip Robertson would be a real stretch, even comparing him to paramilitary trainer, counter intelligence officer and operations specialist David Morales would be just flat wrong.

In talking of Angleton and Harvey, its important to understand that they shared some of the same jobs at different points -including counter intelligence – and both were some of the few officers fully aware of the Agencies’ technical services tools-  MKNAIOMI –  such as truth serums and various drugs and poisons. Both men were also very much connected to the Office of Security which in turn had its own connections to professional criminals such as smugglers, safe crackers and strong arm types.  Those are the kind of guys you need if you are breaking into embassies, kidnapping couriers and blackmailing the other side for code books and related cryptographic devices.

Most folks don’t know that after the Bay of Pigs, Angleton was designated to start a new CI project against Cuba – based on the huge failures of CI within Bissell’s project.  In that assignment he worked with David Morales and the AMOTS’s who Morales had trained to be the new Cuban intel service – assuming success in the landing. Afterwards they simply became an arm of JMWAVE and provided info including local surveillance activities.  Moraeles and the AMOTS were also involved in Mexico City where Angleton was making a major bid to establish a CI effort independent of the Chief of Station there.

Its also important to realize that both men were also involved in Cuban projects in a variety of ways. For example during the phase 2/Mongoose effort, Angleton actually worked with Harvey in restarting the Castro assassination project, first attempting to shop it to British intelligence and then going back to Roselli, first with poison then with rifles. In fact Angleton provided certain of his own non- US intelligence contacts inside Cuba to backstop Harvey’s Mongoose activities.

Circa 1963, Angleton and Harvey were at Headquarters together and despite what  you may have read elsewhere, the two men remained close (in the CIA “close” may mean friendly or it may simply mean mutual CYA).  After his retirement, Harvey remained personally close to a very limited number of former CIA associates, one was James Angleton, the other John Roselli.  Indeed Angleton corresponded with Harvey up to his death, and later with his widow.  His letters note the fact that the two men had things in common which never could be communicated.  It just so happened that Harvey had taken some of his CIA files with him after retirement, including one note that talks about consulting with Angleton about ZR Rifle.  Fortunately we do have many of those documents – even thought someone tried to burgle Harvey’s home twice after his death.

There is no doubt that James Angleton worked with and had William Harvey’s back….we can only wonder what it was they had in common that must never be discussed.



Big Opportunity Missed

That was the title for yesterday’s article on a major al Qaeda gathering in Yemen, you can read the article here:

In Shadow Warfare we spend a good deal of time on American counter terror task forces in the Horn of Africa including Somalia and Yemen, there is a lot of history there, especially in the years since the attacks of 2001. We also point out how truly dangerous those areas are in terms of potential attacks on the west and even the continental United States, several have failed and trickled out of the news but clearly they are still at war with the U.S. – as they officially declared twice in the mid-1990’s.

The thing is, the U.S. Congress still has not declared war on them and the current administration still operates under the 2001 military authorization legislation which was specifically crafted around hunting down those responsible for the attacks on Washington D.C. and Boston. The CNN headline seems to suggest that the U.S. should have massively attacked that gathering if we had only been aware of it – however there was little commentary about the legal limits imposed on such actions and I’m sure there would have been a hue and cry if it had happened, especially if any of those people were American citizens.

Bottom line, we are stuck in a Gulf of Tonkin time warp, legislation passed for a very focused purpose is still the only legal enabler for military action more than a decade after its passage – the same as in Vietnam.  Congress refuses to take up its responsibility then and is doing the same thing now.  On the other hand, the military is forced to proceed on its own mission, combating jihadi terror and insurgencies, woriking under immense legal constraints and in a true operational gray area.  Should it have stuck the gathering if it had known about it….being a bit hawkish my vote would be yes because I figure if someone declares war on you then you best respond….but my guess is that even if they did know and consider acting they might well have had to pass on it due to the immense  legal and PR reaction that would follow.  A bad way to fight a war….oh, I forgot, there’s a war only for one side…ooops.

On the other hand, if you want to see what the military is doing to prepare for such engagements, take a look at the following article on the logistics of military action in denied areas far from any sort of friendly territory:

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Well I’ve sort of been waiting for someone to read at least a bit of Shadow Warfare and send some questions my way for discussion.  I’ve found that writing on broader historical subjects  is a bit frustrating because it just doesn’t seem to generate as much excitement as writing about conspiracy topics – not that there is any lack of political “conspiracy” or even plots and villains in history.

I was doing a pre-interview to try and get on a talk radiuo show last week and even though I was talking about secret CIA and Justice Department understandings covering up drug smuggling, validating Webb’s Dark Alliance work etc, the response was more along the lines of – so give us sometime contemporary. Well I started in on the covert action project that was really behind Benghazi and the reply was that everyone else had already covered Benghazi – my response that they missed the real story sort of fell flat.  Then I moved on to  AFRICOM and gray warfare in Africa, SOCOM in Latin America and none of it was moving the entertainment/crowd response meter – so I’m guessing I won’t make it on that show.

In the interim, I’m continue to work on my next book project, a history of America and how it deals with surprise attacks. And as with Shadow Warfare, its a real learning experience, plus it establishes a broader context for the events we often discuss in regard to the JFK assassination. I’m afraid that by focusing so closely on what was happening in 62/63 many of us in JFK research failed to grasp that certain things that seemed unique, hence suspicious, were actually fairly routine in the broader historical picture.  For example, if you think JFK had special problems with his Generals, you should really dig into Truman and Eisenhower.  Both of the fired Generals and Eisenhower had major problems with the military over his ongoing attempts to cut military budgets. He faced several resignations, brought about some forced retirements and then when the former officers started writing nasty things about him, he wanted to Court Marshall them. As if that was bad enough,  you should read some of the remarks by Joint Chiefs of Staff members in regard to Johnson, how badly he would personally curse them out, how disdainful he was of them, etc.  The strange thing is that they just sat back and took it, really sort of pitiful when you go into the details.

All of which leads me – finally – to the subject of this post, preemption.  I’ve been reviewing the history of American nuclear targeting, the NET evaluation subcommittee of the NSC, the preparation of the SIOP and the entire subject of presidential policy on the idea of an American strike against the Soviet Union. Many readers may well be familiar with the subject in regard to JFK and certain meetings in 1961 and 1962. The impression given is that something novel happened and the CIA and military attempted to persuade JFK to go along with a surprise attack on the Soviets in 1963.  In some quarters, his negative reaction is given as sealing his fate and starting a track towards his murder.

The thing is, primary documents are largely lacking on the meetings and much of the commentary that has been presented is anecdotal and after the fact. Clearly JFK was repulsed by the subject the the overall prospect of any nuclear exchange. However in one of the only primary documents, it is clear that it was JFK himself who asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs if there had ever been any study of  a surprise attack on the Soviet Union, rather than a surprise attack on the U.S. by the Soviets – which was the focus of his briefing.  He was told that there had been and that under Eisenhower, since 1957, such studies had been made annually.  JFK requested briefings on them and that was about it.  As it turns out, the Joint Chiefs and in particular the Air Force – beginning immediately after the atomic tests at Bikini – had been maintaining that a nuclear attack was simply not survivable and that no defense was ever going to be enough to avoid national destruction.  The ongoing push for preemptive strikes had grown so strong under the Eisenhower administration that Ike had to issue a national policy statement that American would never strike first.  That position brought a very negative response from a number senior military personnel who sincerely thought the Soviets would indeed strike the U.S. at their earliest opportunity.

My own take of the meeting with JFK is that he himself brought up the subject of preemption and wanted details on estimated Soviet losses because the U.S. was entering into a short window of immense strategic advantage and it represented a huge opportunity for him to leverage it into new test ban and other disarmament or nuclear weapon limitations with the Soviets.  JFK simply thought outside the box about such matters and looked for new opportunities, such as his back-channel negotiations with Castro.  So, to make a long story short, there may well have been something “unique” in JFK himself raising the question of surprise attack against the Soviets, to begin gathering data for negotiations.  But in the broader context, military planning for preemptive strikes and presidential rejection of them was nothing at all new at the time the topic was discussed – Eisenhower had had his fill of it as far back as 1954.