Surprise Attack

I’ve mentioned my forthcoming book, Surprise Attack, a few times but since it is now available for pre-order I wanted to give it a bit more formal introduction.  In researching and writing Shadow Warfare, I became intrigued with the fact of how much new historical information has become available over the past decade or so. That includes not only government document releases and a huge amount of oral history but records from non-traditional sources ranging from professional and historical journals.  Deep internet searches have made a range of sources visible which previously were only known to specialists in certain areas  – my recent blog posts in regard to new findings in regard to the Navy and Joint Chiefs role in regard to the Trinidad and Zapata plans for landings in Cuba are an example. The first clue to that was an article in a very special interest naval history journal.   As it turns out military unit histories and unit journals are a prime source of information generally not visible or used in past works.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the Shadow Warfare research, was how much information accepted as “common knowledge” in regard to events of the last few decades is called into question by the facts now available – or can be seen to represent political worldviews or agendas rather than real history.  It’s clear that to some extent talk radio and TV as well as internet social media have fueled  that situation – if only there were built in “fact checkers” for  such things the world might be a saner place. My own experience suggests that over 90% of the “news” emails I get via social media have an agenda and are either only partially true or totally false.  Another aspect of the problem is that “contemporary” books often come into the market weeks or months after current events. Given that the full history of virtually any significant event – especially one with political ramifications – takes years and sometimes decades to become truly visible (since the real primary sources remain protected either by national security classification, legal concerns or just simple CYA) such books are at best “first cuts” at real history.  Problem is, that those books remain on the market for years and continue to have an impact long after new information is available.

Stu Wexler and I went to great lengths in Shadow Warfare to use as many of the very latest sources available and to be as balanced as possible about historical events, issues and activities which are politically sensitive. This gained us some attention from reviewers who noted that such balance is not necessarily found in much of what goes into print these days – but much less in the way of attention or plaudits from media folks who want something truly sensational or something that is playing to a particular “base” and therefore guarantees immediate viewers, listeners, acceptance and endorsement.   In any event, when we finished with Shadow Warfare, which addresses the covert and clandestine history of the last 60 years, I decided I would take a deep breath and begin to dig into the more conventional side of America’s military history.  I’ve long been immersed in Cold War history, but given what we had found in looking at the new data on the covert/clandestine side, it seemed that a fresh look might offer some new and potentially different insights.

The result of that effort will be available in early fall.  Surprise Attack delves into the evolution of  threat and warnings intelligence, of planning and preparedness against conventional, nuclear and terror attacks and most especially into a study of how well everything works under the stress of actual attacks and crises. It devotes considerable attention to the performance of the upper levels of both military and civilian command, especially the evolution and effectiveness of what is known as national command authority.  And while I try to maintain the same degree of “balance” as in Shadow Warfare, readers will find much which will be considered controversial and not necessarily comfortable.  Which of course is what good history tries to do, it doesn’t sell as many books as certain other approaches but that’s just the way it goes.

If any of this piques your interest, be the first person on  your block to pre-order Surprise Attack, it won’t cost you anything now and it would make my publisher really happy.  Just check out my web site for the appropriate links:




Return of the Nukes

While the strategic (megaton class) nuclear weapons never went away, for a short and hopeful time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it appeared that the era of integrating nuclear weaponry into combined military formations was ending – as were the concepts of “limited” nuclear exchanges and “controlled” nuclear war fighting (concepts discussed and even “war gamed” during both the Clinton and Reagan Administrations). We were moving back to the basics of mutual assured destruction – which had actually worked for the U.S. and Russia and appeared to be working for newer nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan. The “nuclear option” was being left to politics in Washington and not bandied about during regional military confrontations.
As far as the United States was concerned, it turned its attention to precision guided munitions, and highly explosive but conventional cruise missiles. Tactical nukes and even intermediate range nuclear missiles began to be taken out of the arsenal. Things had come a long way from the “Pentomic” Army divisions of the 1950’s or from the atomic IRBM’s of the 1980’s – which had convinced the Soviets the West was preparing for a preemptive, decapitation strike. That sort of thing has been a Soviet concern since the US placed IRBM’s in Turkey in the early 1960’s, within range of their command centers and Khrushchev’s vacation dacha.
Of course more modem talks about American “global strike” hypersonic missiles sounds a bit too similar, but such precision weapons would not have nearly the decapitation potential of the earlier high kiloton and megaton class IRBM’s. Unfortunately, as of 2015, it appears that under President Putin, Russia is in the process of returning to yesteryear, when strategic (read nuclear capable) weapons systems are routinely deployed in Russian military exercises and Putin himself talks blithely about going on nuclear alert for confrontations such as in the Crimea. Specifically Putin said that he was prepared to put the entire Russian nuclear force on alert to respond as needed to any challenged to the annexation of the Crimea.

Now given that the Ukraine has no nukes (they gave them up based on Russian assurances of non-intervention) and that there was no chance in the world NATO or anyone else was going to intervene with conventional forces, much less nukes – what was the man thinking? Moving his strategic forces to alert would have likely forced the US to move up its defense condition and at that point accidents can begin to happen. It’s tempting to view his remarks as typical Putin hardball (I don’t think the man postures; it’s his true nature) but if we take a look at the massive Russian military maneuvers going on as I write, it appears that he has moved to routinely deploy strategic (nuclear) platforms in them all.
In a very real sense, Putin is now using his forces in much the same way that Reagan did early in his administration – to the point that Russian strike aircraft are openly staging mock attacks in Europe and against American Naval forces in multiple locations. In the 1980’s the Russians began to worry if Reagan himself was stable or if he was trying to provoke a controlled exchange which he felt the American’s could win, ending the “evil empire”. We now know that the early 80’s were a far scarier time that we ever knew at the time.
Unfortunately, the same thing may be going on now. There are clear signs that the Russians are cheating on nuclear arms treaties, with the implications that they are restoring their ability (which had gone away with an earlier class of IRBM’s) to effectively neutralize Western Europe with intermediate range atomic cruise missiles and to deploy entirely new types of highly flexible strategic weapons systems.
And President Putin has no hesitation to talk constantly about foreign enemies, enemies constantly attempting to literally destroy Russia with all sorts of plots and conspiracies. He talks not of just political jockeying on his borders (which might not be totally untrue) but thrusts at the heart of the nation itself. Russian sovereignty itself is touted as being at risk.
For those of us who grew up at the height of the cold war, there is an eerie familiarity to all of this. While it didn’t mean disaster then, there was always an elevated risk – and if nothing else nuclear posturing certainly elevates the stress levels in international relationships. There is some good evidence to think that President Reagan may not have fully appreciated the impact certain of his remarks and even jokes about “pressing the button” may have had. On the other hand, President Putin seems to rather enjoy the impact of his remarks. I’m pretty sure neither is a good thing.


A prominent American Senator suggests that the possession of a single atomic bomb by Iran would be a bigger threat to the United States and the world than ISIS/Daesh and the international jihadi insurgency. The Republican Congress appears to agree with him and in an almost unprecedented move rather than simply waiting to vote down any international arms restriction treaty with Iran – the traditional approach – Congress has now directly inserted itself into the negotiations aimed towards at least limiting Iran’s atomic weapons development.

At the same time a respected international security analyst presents details of the ongoing escalation of global jihadi revolutionary activity and focuses on the fact that the America Congress will most likely push for an expanded Authorization of Military Force that targets groups affiliated with ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq. Of course Congress has failed to act on any such authorization for over half a year, but if they do it appears that it will be expansive.

While that is going on the President of Russia, immersed in a huge military buildup, admits that he lied about the Crimea and personally orchestrated the covert military action which led to Russia retaking that territory from the Ukraine. There also seems little doubt that with his success, Putin will be tempted towards similar covert actions against numerous small nations on Russia’s western borders, nations that were well entrenched within the Soviet Union, a relationship that he clearly wants to restore.

Inside Russia Putin continues to be roundly applauded for his actions and after decades of losing allies and being embarrassed by rebuffs from its former client states from Serbia in 1999, to Georgia, to Iraq and Syria, the Russia popular attitude towards the U.S. is seen as worse than at almost any time during the Cold War – “We don’t like the Americans, and it’s because they’re pushy, they think they’re unique and they have had no regard for anyone else.” No doubt the Russian attitude will not be improved if America does begin providing lethal aid to the Ukraine.

At first blush that Russian view sounds awfully harsh – but then you remember that at some recent American political events it’s been expressed that any candidate that does not campaign on a platform of America being unique and exceptional should not even be considered for election.

And while ISIS, Russia and America are taking all the headlines, China is pursuing an extremely pragmatic, subtle and effective international diplomatic initiative. Unlike the United States, its focus has not been on military allies and coordination – as illustrated in huge exercise such as RIMPAC – but on financial ties, what China describes as economic partnerships rather than alliances. That approach has been increasingly successful across Africa and Latin America.

In fact Beijing’s pragmatism illustrates the extent to which the U.S. is actually in a “unique” (if not exceptional) position. While the U.S. has routinely felt compelled to organize multi-nation coalitions to deal with what it sees as moral imperatives or true security threats – the invasion of Kuwait, the Bosnian genocide, the revolution in Libya, the Syrian brutalities, the rise of ISIS – both Beijing and Moscow have used veto power at the United Nations to block UN military action (such as in Korea) and continue to coordinate and support each other; China’s decision to escalate its business deals with Russia despite Western economic sanctions is one example, as are there mutual trade and military relations with Iran. Both Russia and China remain heavily focused on increasing their military capability to deal with their borders and buffer zones and on pragmatic international alliances which tend to mitigate American initiatives and what they see as dominance.

So where am I going with all this other than to depress you on a Monday? The answer is that in a somewhat oblique way it introduces a concept called “mirroring” that I explore extensively in my upcoming book Surprise Attack. While I’ve made it clear in earlier posts that I tend to be a bit on the “hawkish” side, it’s obvious over the longer term that if one nation becomes too “dominant”, despite all its intentions (even if they are good ones) it creates a growing “push back”, an urge to craft effective military or economic deterrence. That push back is in turn mirrored by the dominant nation and what ensues is mutual escalation….not a good thing. It’s a concept that deserves a lot of thought and a lot of discussion but one that needs to be proved in before I go much further than this…and that will need to wait for the book to actually come out.

National Security Disconnects

With virtually no media attention, we are seeing what is either a watershed moment or at least a significant disconnect in the manner in which national security is being treated in American politics. At least for the past century, the national security “card” had always served as a powerful device to rally political support – to cast the opponent as being “weak” or inattentive to security concerns. That has played out regardless of party, JFK used Cuban security issues as a major issue in his election campaign, LBJ used the Tonkin Gulf incident and his response to position himself against a Goldwater security initiative in their presidential contest. A focus on issues of national security have also been a frequent tactic in Republican political efforts against Democratic Administrations, especially those giving priority to domestic and social issues.

As a corollary, Shadow Warfare deals with the ongoing issue of Presidents balancing the political risks of overtly dealing overtly and publically with what they perceive to be national security threats with a lack of domestic support – and choosing covert and clandestine action as an alternative. That has led to periodic Congressional chastisement of President’s and at least minimal efforts to ensure that the Commander in Chief obtains Congressional approval for overseas military actions.

In short, national security issues and threats have been a foundation for political positioning, with all parties trying to claim the high ground of being most sensitive to threats and most directly involved with actions, legislation and spending to deal with them. The greatest risk to a sitting President has often been seen as not being aggressive enough on national security – or on occasion – being seen as dismissive of Congress by independently pursuing their own security initiatives.

Yet as we enter 2015, we see calls from a Democratic administration for more military spending – and a call for congressional legislation on expanded military authorization and budgets to deal with jihadi terrorism movements such as ISIS. We even see requests for military spending to address a resurgent Russian nationalism and President Putin’s obvious ability to convince his nation to endure whatever privation is necessary to fully fund a major Russian military buildup.

On the Republican side, we see constant warnings on the threat of ISIS, on the risk of terrorism on American soil, demands to provide lethal military support to the Ukraine – yet no legislation to address any of those issues and no response to Presidential proposals on each of them. Instead we see a Republican effort to actually defund Homeland Security – based on concerns over purely domestic issues such as immigration and healthcare. The Republicans appear to have abandoned national security as a primary issue and the Democrats are left with it by default – yet they show no particular enthusiasm for using it in the manner of times past.

In a dramatic contrast, President Putin of Russia has revived the national security card in a comprehensive and literally overwhelming fashion. His strident message of a growing threat to Russia and the need for patriotism as a primary and driving national requirement appears have served him and his power base in an exceptionally successful fashion. In fact it has worked so well for that he has been able to deploy internal Russian media with the sort of blunt propaganda messages not often seen from a major power since Joseph Stalin – or Adolph Hitler. And by all accounts, according to Russian public polling, even the most outrageous messages are proving quite effective.

It may not be that the world has actually turned upside down, it is far too early to tell. However if you are a social studies, political science or history teacher, you certainly have a great deal of current events material to stimulate discussion in your classes – the only problem is that few of those classes are a priority for the standardized testing which will receive all your student’s attention at this point in time. Still, it might be good for a couple of minutes of student attention.

Oh, and if you thought I was being a bit harsh in regard to President Putin, you might want to actually search and read some of the statements and articles appearing in the Russian media over the last few months….or seriously think about the history of Putin regimes with their critics, a brief history of that is available at:



The Same Old Mistakes


The threat was real and fundamental. The believers showed no sign of allowing any group or state to pursue self-determination – just the opposite, its world view demanded that all must share its beliefs and those who did not must be swept into the dustbin of history. In a number of instances that translated to mass murder on the order of genocide. It was truly ruthless in imposing its views on any territories which it occupied and its reach was global. Clearly its intent was world domination, that was inherent it its leaders world views and their followers were seen to be fanatic in pursuit of their leader’s orders. The immediate risk was that they would dominate most of the Middle East, much of SW Asia and would then look towards Europe. What was equally frightening was their ability to project influence and advance their agenda in territories removed from its own direct military control. There appeared to be no way to stop them and the crisis seemed overwhelming.

All that sounds frighteningly contemporary, yet that verbiage is not about jihadi terrorism, radical Islam or ISIS. It is all excerpted from a very insightful book, The National Security, written by Norman Graebner and his book describes America’s earliest view of the international Communist conspiracy, sponsored by the Soviet Union in the years immediately following World War II – Grabner was writing about remarks actually made at the highest circles of American leadership circa 1945-1948. .

And here we are in 2015, debating the source and causes of a brand new threat – which sounds in many ways virtually identical. The risk is that we will once again commit the same errors we made so often during the Cold War, which meant treating every area of confrontation the same – and assuming it all has a single root cause. Of course there is a common mantra in play, all today’s jihadi militants are happy to wave the black flag – to posture for psychological impact and in pursuit of obtaining weapons and money from ISIS, al Qaeda or wealthy pan-national, Islamists of any stripe.

The same could be said of many of the Communist movements during the decades of the Cold War. Play the “International”, wave the red flag, focus on the brotherhood of the struggle – and look from money and support from Moscow or later from Red China. It was great for recruiting and its claim to moral superiority allowed an outreach to the most progressive and liberal elements in all the Western nations; just as today many of ISIS recruits are middle class, professionals or children of very well to do parents, the same was true for many of the recruits of World Communism.

Of course in many instances it was all just a gambit, where leaders could twist the ideology to their own purposes of local political power, nationalism, anti-colonialism, revolution against the established classes, etc. There were instances in which the leaders were truly fanatic, that produced the most violence and ongoing massacres – whether it was Stalin’s or Mao’s purges, or the raw lust for killing seen with the Simba’s in the Congo, Shining Path in Peru, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Those groups all recited the Communist class mantra while on the rampage.

The point of all this is that we show no signs of applying our history with this type of threat to today’s violence. Some of it is most definitely about religious fanaticism on the order of “we are coming to kill and enslave non-believers”. Calling those individuals “terrorists” is off the mark, thinking of them as driven by economic deprivation is as well. Fanaticism exists on its own terms and needs to be recognized and dealt with as such it demands extreme measures. However, there certainly are local ethnic, political, economic and governance issues driving the jihadi movement, especially across much of Africa. And we are not likely to effectively deal with it all in the short term of a single AUMF – especially if we cannot differentiate between all the different groups visibly waving the black flag. Some of it is absolutely about religion and domination, much of it is simply skilled opportunism for the fanatics. And, sorry Mr. President, none of it is about “terrorism”, terrorism is a tool, a tactic – in my view it should be used as a verb, not a noun. It tells us what groups or individuals are capable of but that is as in “terror of the deed”.  We need a finer level of differentiation when we are talking about the nature and motives of the different groups – it appears that a large number of the atrocities in Iraq are done under the black flag but really are the settling of old personal and ethic grudges among Arabs or between Arabs and Kurds.  In that case ISIS is an enabler for long term problems in the region, which are not going to be settled by our simplistic support of a central government in Baghdad. Perhaps the first step for all our leaders is to grasp that distinction and to begin using the right words. Words are powerful things and if you are using the wrong ones you have a very fundamental problem.

For those that want to take this further and read an experienced view of the subject, I recommend the following:


Use of Force AUMF 2015

Readers of Shadow Warfare will recall that we extensively explored the initial Authorization of Military Force following 9/11which created what appeared to be an open ended military authorization for the President to use any and all military means to engage and eliminate the terror groups which had conducted or enabled the attacks on America of 2001. We also delved into the actual legislative rework of the initial legislation which constrained in well beyond the point that President GWB had initially requested. That sort of background is really critical in following American’s “anti-terror” efforts since 2001 and to appreciating the arguments that are following President Obama’s request for additional legislation to focus resource constrained and time limited military action in a fight against ISIS.
I’ve noticed that a few reporters really have caught on and are highlighting the point that President Obama already has the authority for a military campaign against ISIS in context of the previous AUMF – as long as you consider ISIS an al Qaeda derivative or demonstrate that any of the former generation of terrorists are involved with or supporting ISIS. Essentially this new legislation would give Congress an opportunity to at least show its official support for military action against ISIS – since following their outcry for the same last fall, they have done nothing at all on their own the issue which they declared an national security emergency months ago.
So, let’s make it clear that this is primarily a political exercise and secondarily, an example of temptation to middle with military action in the worst tradition of combat micromanagement. Some will note that for a good while the Obama Administration and in particular its NSC have gotten a lot of heat for micromanagement combat against ISIS – in my opinion deservedly so. But now, Congress is going to spend its time on arguing limits on military action in the AUMF – which of course amount to another type of political management of war fighting.
It pains me to sound more and more hawkish but as a Vietnam era vet (not a Vietnam vet, just of that time frame) I’m very sensitive to the fact that you do not win wars through political management. If you want a good lesson on how to win wars, study up on the relationship between FDR and his generals. So I’m back to the proposition that AUMF’s really are a political exercise but have the potential for constraining the war fighting in a fashion which will either prolong it or very possibly obstruct it. Another AUMF just continues to dump all the decisions on the President so Congress has no skin in the game – they take a pass on their real responsibility (which constitutionally is that of declaring war) and just toss the ball to somebody else. Or in this case it’s President Obama’s effort to at least get Congress to put some legislation in place rather than just shooting off its mouth.
All of this maneuvering allows all parties to avoid two basic issues. First, you should not be fighting at all unless you declare war. Second, the thought of a time limited AUMF simply targeting ISIS ignores all the larger strategic implications of jihadi political/geographic movements throughout the Middle East and Africa. We are still tackling that piecemeal, group by group, country by country, with JSOC and military assistance programs. More fundamentally, it appears that neither the administration nor Congress wants to dig far enough to address the core issues of opposing jihadi territorial expansion in the fashion that the U.S. Opposed Communist regime territorial expansion during the Cold War.
Of course if you have read Shadow Warfare you know my view of that decades long effort is pretty critical – primarily since America was often unable to differentiate nationalism from a communist manifesto nor separate populist movements from truly brutal communist regimes such as the Khmer Rouge – the folks who operated on a genocidal level (unfortunately some of the dictatorships that America supported operated on a level of murder that equated to class based genocide). If we don’t really study the current trends in Africa, we may be cursed by the same lack of clarity and the same mistaken interventions.
My view is that the President’s request to Congress will produce immense debate and media dialog. And that will allow all parties to avoid the much harder issues that should be discussed.

Henry Kissinger

It’s my practice not to use this blog for “personality” posts. However, I do allow myself the latitude of occasionally bemoaning the failings in both knowledge and action of the American Congress. By the way, has anybody seen that Congressional action on legislation supporting or defining the overall military campaign against ISIS ….or an updated AUMF for the President….or perhaps any meaningful discussion of the global jihadi situation…if you have let me know, I missed it.

In this instance I am bringing up a particular individual because it appears to me that recent remarks from Senator McCain once again reflect how limited Congressional knowledge of recent history – even among senior members who lived through it – can be. As a disclaimer I’m not urging that anyone shout at or revile Mr. Kissinger in public. However I do think that it’s time that his reputation and history is considered in light of the full historical record – which shows it to be something less positive than reflected in Senator McCain’s praise.

I will also admit that before I began researching Shadow Warfare, I had only a general sense that Kissinger record might have a bit of a darker side. Having served towards the last years of the Viet Nam war I had developed some discomfort in how the Nixon phase of that conflict had been managed and that sort of bled over to Mr. Kissinger. However, once I immersed myself in the actual records and history of the Laotian involvement, of the treatment of the Hmong, of the American personnel who were sacrificed in combat as literally a tool of political maneuvers and negotiations, my attitude began to harden.

What was a total surprise to me was Kissinger role in Latin America, his support and encouragement of military dictatorships, and a tacit acceptance of the practices that led to the growth of military death squads. It was discouraging to find actual records (which you can review in documents and oral history at the National Security Archives) which document his essentially advising Generals in Argentina that they needed to get their killing done before Congress came into session and constrained American aid – something they did, and then complained about when sanctioned because they felt they were only acting in accordance with the guidance they had received.

The Kissinger story gets even worse when you find his own State Department Staff and the CIA bringing him details on individuals, including American citizens, that the Condor Generals have targeted for assassination – and Kissinger takes a pass on warning the individuals or even officially chiding the governments involved.

Beyond Latin America, his story continues in Africa, in different nations but in particular in Angola. That particular experience exposes his apparent distain for the American Congress and for Congressional involvement in international relations. One can only wonder if Senator McCain would have responded with the same praise of Kissinger if he knew how the man actually viewed the institution of Congress in that respect?

In any event, Shadow Warfare taught me a lot about Mr. Kissinger, it’s available and cites sources – if you want to verify my remarks here. However I would also urge those who have read it to offer comments on this post and to chide me if they think I’m being too subjective, or too harsh.

Bay of Pigs Open Questions

This is an update on the ongoing work I’m doing, an extension of the Task Force Alpha post I made a couple of weeks ago. It’s proved to be quite challenging. I did obtain the oral history of Admiral Dennison, as CINC Atlantic, he had the primary command role in Navy support for the CIA landing operation designated Bumpy Road. It’s clear that I’m going to have to work all the research into a monograph, it’s far too lengthy a subject for a blog post. But for the moment, I’ll touch on a few things that jump out at me.
First, it is unclear whether the CIA actually prepared a written plan for the original Trinidad landing; if they did it and the critical Navy rules of engagement for it are missing. That means there is limited documentation available from the Eisenhower Administration and exactly what Ike might have verbally committed to is unclear. Given what remarks we do have from him there is reason to suspect that he would have much more readily bought into public Navy and Naval Air support for the landing; regardless of the B-26 operations being prepared by the CIA Air staff. As of December Ike had even made a remark about “provoking” Castro and using an event to trigger the landings – it’s quite possible he would have allowed the Navy to perform standard convoy duty and combat air patrols right into the landing area at Trinidad. That would almost certainly have led to Cuban attacks and full scale engagement by American forces.
It also has to be noted that despite the efforts of CIA apologists, the JCS staff did give some very solid warnings against the change from Trinidad to Zapata, the air consultants also advised that there was an 85% chance that the planned surprise air strike would not successfully take out the entire Cuban air force and warned that if a single armed Cuban air craft appeared over the landing that it would be able to successfully attack and very likely destroy or significantly jeopardize the entire landing. That warning seems never to have registered with the CIA and most certainly was not passed up to JFK.
The Navy CIA liaison for Bumpy Road was adamant that the initial Trinidad plan would have succeeded; unfortunately we don’t have any detailed comments on why he felt so strongly or what might have really changed in the transition between administrations. There certainly is some evidence that the official chain of communications from via the JCS and Admiral Dennison might have been supplemented by another chain going from Bissell to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Burke. I find it more than a little interesting that Admiral Burke apparently issued the order to the Navy command ship (the aircraft carrier Essex) at the Bay of Pigs (Zapata) for all ships records to be incinerated…before the Essex departed from the scene.
However, having said all that, the other thing that becomes more and more clear is that the Brigade Air Operations were far short of what would have been required to enable and sustain a successful landing and that Bissell and Cabell repeatedly failed to make the point clear to JFK…who was still under the impression that the Brigade could fade into the mountains and turn guerilla, a course of action virtually impossible from the Bay of Pigs and never part of the Brigade’s training or equipping. Even as the Brigade ships were coming under attack, Bissell and Cabell never explained the distinction to JFK.
I intend to continue this study as I have time and to prepare a study of it, for the time being it will have to remain an open issue and I will move on to other blog topics.

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the written guidelines for when and with what force the American military may engage hostile forces. ROE drew a great deal of attention in regard to the SE Asian fighting and ROE restrictions undoubtedly cost American lives there.  I’ve become much more familiar with ROE and it appears as a major topic in my upcoming book, Surprise Attack.  As it turns out it is proved to be an extremely critical issue – and one generally ignored by the media – during the attacks on America on 9/11.  Its also a much more seminal issue all the way back to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the early Cold War administrations of Eisenhower and JFK.  And as I’m learning in further Bay of Pigs Study it may have been a key factor in the transition of that CIA operation against Cuba.

I’m obtaining more primary source material on the Bay of Pigs but one thing that has jumped out at me so far is that while JFK required written plans for the CIA operation – and forced a broad evaluation of them once his administration came into place, its unclear whether Eisenhower did the same.  He certainly met with the CIA officers in charge and got verbal descriptions, certain of his comments are a matter of record.  But to date I have been unable to locate a detailed written plan for the Trinidad operation as designed under the Eisenhower administration, or for that matter, the ROE for the Naval forces assigned.  I may just be missing it so far but even with what I’ve found its possible to reverse engineer a bit of it simply from examining the Mach and April ’61 changes to the proposed and JCS approved ROE.

One thing that quickly becomes evident is that both JFK and McNamara were quite concerned that the ROE being put in place by the Navy would to easily allow combat to begin between Cuban and possibly even Soviet forces and the American Navy.  Of course there was nothing strange about that, its clear the Navy had been assigned to escort the landing ships and support/protect them as a classic convoy operation. Standard military practice – but we find that it produced a series of urgent directives to the Joint Chiefs to modify the ROE and to ensure there were no combat engagements prior to the landing.  With those directives, what had been laid on as a standard convoy type escort for the Brigade landing group, literally up to some three miles of the landing – with authority to engage any hostile forces which threatened the Brigade-  turned into something very different.  Certainly if the Navy destroyers had moved in as close as initially authorized,  they would have taken Cuban fire and in return the Navy would have decimated the Cuban defense forces, including their aircraft.  But of course that would have quickly been seen as an American invasion. On April 7, direction from the President made it absolutely clear the ROE would be changed to reflect that US forces were to distance themselves by at least twenty miles and no engagement was authorized unless the landing craft were attacked up to that point – and then the landing would be aborted and the US forces would simply cover the landing force as it moved away from Cuba.

The core issue that shows up in all this is that Eisenhower was not nearly as concerned about American visibility in the operation as JFK was, leaving JFK inheriting a plan that was essentially not deniable, and trying to turn it into something that was in something like two months.  While it was impossible to control the total operation (after all it included landing tanks and a paratroop drop) it was possible to control the location and the ROE.  It also appears that concern over the Navy and its ROE was something that may have stuck with both McNamara and Bundy……leading to their focus on ROE during the Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation with the Admiral in charge of the Cuban blockade and JFK’s personal involvement with details of the Navy ROE, up to the point of what sort of explosives were to be used in interdicting Soviet submarines.

In the end, changes in ROE may have dramatically affected the CIA operation against Cuba, something obscured by all the attention given to the B-26 strikes, but whatever its impact there, the sensitivity to ROE may also have helped avert World War III only twelve months later.

Evolution of the Cuban Landings

In pursuing questions raised by the earlier article I posted on the Bay of Pigs and Task Force Alpha, I’ve made a much more detailed comparison of the information in the article and the best available chronology of the evolving operation – anyone interested should give the chronology a read:
I’m still pondering but it leads me to some preliminary observations. As late summer ’60, the Special Group (SG) was only being informed about plans, and expressed a lack of confidence in the success of guerrilla action alone. On October 31 CIA headquarters confirm the shift in planning to an amphibious landing by up to 1,500 exiles and on Nov. 8 the SG was informed of that shift….they did not approve anything at that point. On November 29 Eisenhower was also informed and enjoined those running the project to be more aggressive. On December 8 the SG did approve paramilitary trainers for the Brigade, an airstrip in Nicaragua and supply missions into Cuba.
On Dec 20 the Commander in Chief Atlantic (Denison) expressed his concern to the CIA about the operation and submitted 120 questions; only a dozen were answered. It’s important to note that the Navy liaison assigned to the project (Captain Scapa) was told only to talk to the CIA eg Bissell and to Chief of Naval Operations Burke – who was in turn briefed only by Bissell. That meant that CINCATLANT Denison was largely out of the direct CIA loop but apparently receiving orders and directives from the Joint Chiefs for rules of engagement for the forces that came to be assigned to support the amphibious and landing craft Scapa was involved with preparing.
On Jan 4, ’61 the CIA plan was documented and assumed strikes against Cuban air and naval forces. No specific details on given on the nature of those strikes but when JFK was briefed by Ike on Jan 19 he was told that Ike felt the operation must receive major US support, even if public. At that point Ike appears to have signed on to a non-deniable operation – the nature of that becomes more clear later but confusion appears to have already been in play because when Hawkins/Easterline briefed JCS reps on Jan 30 they stated that no over US military support was necessary. Ike had initially wanted the landing to occur by Jan 30 but clearly the preparations had lagged.
On Feb 8 JFK expressed the direction that he wanted an effort not requiring obvious support by US ships, planes and supply missions. The following day, CINCLANT Denison met with JFK and asked if he wanted a “bail out” option if the landing failed….JFK said definitely no to that, in that event the exiles were to disburse into guerrilla operations. By Feb 17 JFK has become firm that he would approve only a large scale infiltration, not the type of landing that had been prepared for Trinidad. Within a week JCS warned the CIA that if a single Castro plane appeared over the landing area it could well sink all or most of the landing force. And on March 11, JFK officially rejected the Trinidad landing.
The strange thing is that on March 24, naval support for the CIA operation was finalized (including rules of engagement) and included naval air cover over the landing site beginning at 0600 the day before the landing. It seems rather clear that at some level, the Navy had been planning for full air cover over the Trinidad landing for some time, although that is not really mentioned in any of the later Bay of Pigs inquiries. In March, Dennison also proposed expanding the initial Navy rules of engagement to involve US ships intervening if the Brigade landing ships were attacked and at risk. Clearly the Navy was actively promoting and preparing for overt military support of the landing……the question is whether or not Denison had discussed this level of detail with JFK in their meeting of Feb 9? The article previously posted refers to an oral history from Denison in which he states that the original plan which he had proceeded to implement for the Trinidad landing included naval air cover and combat air patrols for the landing but that was cancelled when the Trinidad plan was replaced by Zapata. If the Trinidad support plans had remained in place for Zapata the pre-landing B-26 strikes would have not been critical because with ground attack in place by the A-4’s as well as CAP, the surviving Cuban aircraft would quickly have been eliminated over the beachhead.
On April 1 the JCS approved Denison’s proposed rules of engagement (ROE), which seemingly would have provided active combat air cover and naval destroyer support if needed. On April 5 Task Force Alpha and the Essex sailed….the Essex had debarked all its normal ASW aircraft in preparation to take Navy A-4 attack jets on at sea – clearly reflecting the rules approved by the JCS. So on Arpil 5 the Navy seems to have been continuing preparations for the same type of air support which had originally been described by Denison. But on April 5 JFK directed that the ROE needed to specify that if the landings ships actually need protection, the landing was to abort! A major disconnect seems to be in play three weeks before the landing. And given JFK’s April 5 order, when Bissell and Cabell learned that only half of Castro’s air force had been destroyed in the pre-landing B-26 attack they should have either begun aborting the landing themselves or gone to JFK and clearly spelled out that was the only option unless the rules were changed.
The preceding thoughts are very preliminary and I may well be misreading or misunderstanding something in the chronology or article so if you are closely following this, please give them both a read and let me know where and how my reading is incorrect. ..thanks.