If you are interested in a discussion of Shadow Warfare, you might want to check out part or all of an extended interview which Alan Dale did with me and which is now available online at the following link:
Alan had read a good bit of the book galley so we were able to have a good discussion, although it is hard to capture the full scope of the book even in an hour interview (yes, I realize that’s the author talking, an hour may be more than the average human can stand). In wrestling with how to talk about the book I finally decided that one of the major challenges is that Shadow Warfare was really written at four fairly distinct levels.
The first level is very “operational” and is deals with practices, terminology and the legal underpinnings of covert action. It discusses both the concrete aspects of the National Security Act of 1947, its implementation and the issues of “understandings” between the CIA and the Department of Justice and the pursuit (often an exercise in futility) of deniability, past the end of the Cold War which spawned the concept and well into the 21st Century. A good deal of attention is paid to the trade-craft of deniablity, from the logistics of weapons sourcing and shipment to the creation and operation of proprietary, notional and affiliated commercial entities.
The second level is largely about people, its the story of CIA shadow warriors, with many familiar names and a number of brand new ones. Several had careers ranging over three decades, but in at least one instance the individual’s service went from WWII to Afghanistan following 9/11. And of course the action list does not encompass just Agency employees, deniable assets and surrogates are equally important. And as time and operations continue, the book deals again and again with the issue of recognizing “sanctioned” vs. “unsanctioned” actions – even for the individuals involved. It becomes clear that “deniablity” has considerable downside, even for the shadow warriors themselves.
The third level is a more detailed story of “surrogate” groups, the rebels, exiles, indigenous fighters and finally the “contractors” involved in both regime change and regime preservation. A focus on the early decades of the Cold War tends to create a picture of covert action and undeclared warfare in terms of regime change, overthrowing targeted regimes or covertly blocking communist expansion (often confused with nationalism and anti-colonialism). The longer view leads into a great deal more study of regime preservation, military assistance programs, counter insurgency and infrastructure warfare. And in many cases that longer view is an especially bloody one.
Finally, the fourth level is an effort to move upwards, to a much broader picture of the politics and decision making which leads to covert action as the solution to international problems. Its a study in presidential character, influences and power brokers – one in which the president’s themselves sometimes seem to take second stage compared to their most trusted advisers, whether those advisers are in the CIA, the State Department or within the commercial sector. Contrary to popular opinion, covert action is not always the first choice (as it seems to be in a lot of action stories and movies) and many presidents have viewed it as a last choice. We discuss the indication that President Kennedy in particular was beginning to view it generally not being worth the energy and resources it demands (and generally unproductive as well) in the months prior to his assassination. On the other hand readers will probably be surprised at how many times Presidential (and National Security Adviser) positions overrode serious objections to covert operations from both the CIA and military to covert operation. At the highest level we also deal with Congressional oversight, its evolution and related issues – not to give away the story too much but our conclusion is that it generally doesn’t work because that ineffectual oversight is actually very much to the benefit of Congressional politics.
And now I realize that after all that I didn’t even mention what happens when President’s decide to go outside the entire political system, and even to foreign funding for covert action. That gets to be a really scary story in itself and one responsible for our many of our contemporary woes. But I suppose if nothing else this post shows why I could easily go on for an hour interview and still come up way short on covering the book – and the subject.
— Happy New Year, Larry