One of the broader topics addressed in Shadow Warfare is the development and evolution of covert action as an element in counter-insurgency warfare. In its earliest forms – from the Philippines to post WWII Germany, with the military fully in charge of operations against insurgent activity. there was little distinction between military operations and counter insurgency. We discuss and quote a number of senior Army officers with little enthusiasm for the need for any special skills or tactics in such activities; not surprisingly those same commanders had little interest in the area of special operations. One of President Kennedy’s most serous challenges in moving towards low intensity, counter insurgency support for US supported regimes was the lack of Army interest in either counter insurgency or special operations.
Many readers will likely be surprised that the tipping point in regard to counter insurgency was not necessarily in Vietnam, regardless of the massive efforts undertaken there. Actually the tipping point, the operations that dramatically elevated the perceived impact of counter insurgency was in Latin America. Just as the apparent success of PBSUCCESS in Guatemala had dramatically escalated Washington’s respect for (and reliance on) covert regime change operations, a handful of highly successful operations in Latin America dramatically raised the perceived value of merging covert CIA support with well established Military Assistance and training programs. While Vietnam would see CIA intelligence and administrative work merging with special operations combat personnel in the ultimately unsuccessful Phoenix project, Latin America would see a string of successful (and even more bloody) counter insurgency projects emerge during the late 1960’s – continuing through the next two decades.
Understanding those operations is critical to tracing the development of American counter insurgency-practices which continue in contemporary warfare – and appreciating when they work and when they don’t, as well as the consequences of the operations themselves. However, readers familiar with JFK research may be quite surprised by the extent to which familiar names such as Ted Shackley, David Phillips, David Morales, Tony Sforza reappear in the emergence of “regime preservation” activities in Central and Southern America. Equally surprising is the resurgence of Cuban secret war fighters such as Felix Rodriquez, Rafael Quintero, Louis Posada and others. In fact it’s probably not a particular stretch to make the point that the impact of these individuals, in particular Rodriquez and Morales, was a major factor in shaping the anti-Communist counter-insurgency programs of a number of Central and Southern Cone nations – almost all of which evolved – at least for a time – into extremely violent but effective military dictatorships.
The intelligence techniques, known as “infrastructure warfare” brought to Latin America had first been tested in Vietnam, in the Southern Cone they would evolve into Condor in the Southern Cone, it produced “death squads” there – later Central America would evolve its own death squads in conjunction with the secret war in Nicaragua and counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador. And once you finish Shadow Warfare you may not be surprised, though possibly a bit depressed, to see a couple of familiar names from those counter insurgency activities show up in Iraq decades later. Then again, it seems that being “forward leaning” is hardly ever a career limiting factor in covert action, even some individuals who face criminal charges in regard to such operations are sometimes recycled within future, more supportive administrations.