Phoenix And The Anatomy Of Terror
Ledeen is seriously proposing that the Bush Administration conduct a counter-terror campaign against its political opposition in America, through its nascent domestic political police force, the OHS. But this impending attack has yet to begin, and there is still time to prepare for the repression to come. And one very good way of preparing is by putting the current “emergency” situation in an historical context. Doing that is the object this article, in order to provide the potential dissident (Left, Right, or otherwise) with a better understanding of the challenges he or she will be facing in the future.
While the OHS appeared immediately after the tragic events of 11 September, like a rabbit pulled from a magician’s star-spangled hat, it’s important to understand that it has been at least four years in the making. Based on studies and predictions that a catastrophic terror attack was inevitable, the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century (co-haired by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman) had proposed an OHS-type entity in January 2001. But the original concept for a domestic counter-terror, internal security program is much older, and was first designed and formalized 35 years ago by members of the CIA’s Saigon station.
The CIA believed that in order to win the Vietnam War, it had to destroy the political and administrative organization–what it called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI)–that managed the insurgency. The CIA based this belief on the assumption that opposing ideological factions were battling for the loyalty of the complacent Vietnamese masses, and that the VCI were winning the war for the hearts of minds of the masses through the use of armed propaganda and “selective terror,” meaning the cold-blooded murder and mutilation of government officials.
In response, the CIA created its first official counter-terror program in 1964, as CIA Station Chief Peer DeSilva explained it in his autobiography, Sub Rosa, “to bring danger and death” to the VCI who were managing the reign of terror.
DeSilva’s statement is the key to understanding that language, or more precisely “information management,” is the most important weapon in political warfare. This becomes self-evident when one realizes that, by DeSilva’s definition, counter-terrorism is just another word for terrorism. They mean exactly the same thing, except that counter-terrorism is justifiable terrorism because it’s aimed at “them” not “us”.
“Us” in 1964 included our proxy, the Government of Vietnam, and in order to provide the GVN with “internal security,” the CIA, along with the initiation of its counter-terror program, began constructing a gulag archipelago of secret interrogation centers in South Vietnam’s 44 provinces. (These fortresses, which were surrounded by high walls and gun towers, and equipped with “real time” communication systems to CIA central in Saigon, were built by Pacific Architects and Engineers.) Four regional centers also were built, and an existing national interrogation center was modernized in Saigon. The interrogation centers were staffed by South Vietnam’s plainclothes secret policemen, and advised and funded by undercover CIA “liaison” officers.
The Vietnamese secret police, which functioned like the FBI in America, established a nation-wide informant network to identify VCI and their sympathizers. Informants were recruited in every district, village, and hamlet in Vietnam. On the basis of an accusation made by a single anonymous informant, a VCI suspect or sympathizer could be arrested and detained indefinitely under the An Tri (administrative detention) Laws. As is happening everyday in Israel, and has been widely proposed as the only viable means of dealing with the threat of terror in America, suspects and sympathizers were put in an interrogation center and tortured until they confessed, informed, died, or were sent to Stalinist internal security tribunals (like Bush is proposing) for disposition.
Backed by the Pentagon’s overwhelming firepower, the CIA, with its counter-terror and interrogation center programs, was a formidable foe. And yet the Viet Cong insurgents, armed only with sticks and stones, steadily gained popular support; and by 1966, the CIA’s brain trust had concluded that the problem was organizational, not conceptual. The perceived problem was that the gritty “covert action” officers, who advised the paramilitary counter-terror teams, were not properly sharing intelligence with the CIA’s refined “liaison” officers, who advised the secret police at the torture centers. Nor was there any way of coordinating intelligence among any of the other, 25 some-odd entities–including the U.S. army, navy and air force–that were involved in every aspect of the war in South Vietnam.
The solution concocted by the organizational geniuses in the CIA’s Saigon station was ICEX–the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation Program. Created in June 1967, ICEX was directed by senior CIA officer Evan J. Parker. A veteran of OSS Detachment 101, Parker had served in Burma in the Second World War, and after joining the CIA, served his first tour in Vietnam in 1950, working closely with France’s leading expert in counter-insurgency and opium smuggling, Colonel Roger Trinquier. Parker managed a staff of CIA and military officers in Saigon. As part of a support program authorized by President Lyndon Johnson, Parker, with CIA station chief Lou Lapham, also supervised 44 CIA contract officers–one for each province–who were assigned as ICEX field officers. ICEX was soon renamed the sexier-sounding Phoenix Program, and the 44 Phoenix advisors began coordinating the Counter-Terror and Interrogation Center Programs, as well as all other intelligence, security, and counter-insurgency programs in their provinces. Phoenix centers were eventually established in almost every district in South Vietnam, and from the district offices, secret policemen and counter-terror teams conducted operations in almost every village and hamlet.
Phoenix Director Evan Parker was the overall coordinator in Saigon, just as Tom Ridge is the overall OHS coordinator in Washington. Like Phoenix, the OHS will likely establish field offices in the 50 states, and all of America’s major cities.
In order to achieve its elusive goal of “internal security,” the OHS, like Phoenix, will need to extend its informant net into every American town. Inevitably, every town will probably be required to form an OHS Committee, which, like the traditional Zoning and Education committees, will be composed of average citizens. The chair of the OHS Committee, however, will be selected for his or her “loyalty” and ability to process “confidential” reports sent by concerned citizens (informants) about the activities of the Bush Administration’s political opponents. Perhaps once every week these reports will be forwarded to the OHS committee at the county level. The county committee will review the reports and send the most urgent ones to the state committee. At each level, OHS Committees are more likely to be staffed by avid Bush supporters. In other words, the reports will pass through an ideological filter. The prime suspects identified at Ridge’s national OHS headquarters will not be flag wavers, but peace activists, feminists, environmentalists, people opposing globalization, liberals and Leftists–in short, anyone posing a political challenge to the reactionary right wing and the internal security forces that are firmly in its grip.
What makes such a system especially dangerous is that Attorney General John Ashcroft has vowed to “arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated the law,” and has promised “airtight surveillance” of them–but he has yet to define what a suspected terrorist is. This is what happened in Vietnam too. There was never any consensus about the definition of a VCI sympathizer: at best, it was tacitly understood by the ideologues, and the security forces under there control, that a person was either “for us or against us.” Moreover, as the CIA’s internal security gurus espoused, it wasn’t enough just to be for us, passively: one had to be actively against them.
So the definition of a terrorist suspect is deliberately left open, paving the way for political repression. The anti-terror legislation passed by Congress and signed by Bush allows for secret searches of the homes of people who meet the nebulous criteria of “suspected terrorist.” No doubt these secret searches violate the Fourth Amendment, so Ashcroft, again lifting a page from the Phoenix playbook, has vowed to “employ new tools that ease administrative burdens.” Already around 1000 terrorist suspects have been arrested and detained indefinitely under these new administrative procedures.
In Vietnam, “administrative detention” was the legal nail on which the Phoenix Program hung. Under the An Tri administrative detention laws, supporting the VCI was a crime of status. It was exactly like being a Palestinian in Israel today: one is guilty of who one is, not what one does. Indeed, administrative detention was prescribed only in cases where there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict a person for a crime. One didn’t have to carry a weapon or shelter a VCI suspect. One’s thoughts were reason enough for the secret police to make a midnight arrest, no warrant required, or for the counter-terror teams to conduct an assassination. Simply advocating peace was punishable by indefinite detention, and due process was totally non-existent. There was no right to an attorney, no right to confront one’s accusers, no justice at all. Thus the system was a boondoggle for corrupt officials, especially those who sat on the internal security councils that disposed of suspects. As legendary CIA officer Lou Conein said, “Phoenix was a great blackmail scheme for the Government of Vietnam. “Do what I say, or you’re VC.’”
Anyone who expects anything different from the OHS is living in a dream world.
Four years after the Phoenix Program was initiated, on 15 July 1971, the New York Times revealed that 26,843 non-military Vietcong insurgents and sympathizers had been “neutralized” in the previous 14-month period. During Congressman Hearings that were being held at the time, Representative Ogden Reid (D-NY) asked William Colby, the CIA officer in overall charge of the Phoenix Program, “Are you certain that we know a loyal member of the VCI from a loyal member of the South Vietnamese citizenry?”
Colby said, “No.”
But the Nixon Administration, under the guidance of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, was prepared to defend its pet project, and when Congressman Paul McCloskey (R-CA) claimed that Phoenix violated that part of the Geneva Conventions guaranteeing protection to civilians in time of war, CIA legal experts argued that Article 3 applied “only to sentencing for crimes, and does not prohibit a state from interning civilians or subjecting them to emergency detention when such measures are necessary for the security or safety of the state.” Using the most advanced Orwellian terminology, they claimed that torture, summary execution, and indefinite detention, all carried out without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, were perfectly legal, precisely because they were the result of “administrative procedures” and did not involve a “criminal sentence.”
As noted, double-speak is at the very crux of the current counter-terror campaign in America, and it was through the Phoenix “internal security” Program that the CIA refined psychological warfare (psywar) into the political art form it is today. Because no one wanted to have his name on a Phoenix blacklist, or his face on a Phoenix Wanted Poster, and because fear of upsetting a Phoenix official was the most effective means of creating informers and defectors, the CIA launched an intensive publicity campaign called the Popular Information Program. Under the banner of “Protecting People from Terrorism,” Phoenix psywar teams crisscrossed the countryside, using CIA-supplied radios, leaflets, posters, TV shows, movies, banners, and loudspeakers mounted on trucks and sampans to spread the word.
The goal was to convince the public that only traitors didn’t support the government, and that its security forces were ubiquitous, like God; and thus a typical broadcast would say, “You know who you are, John Smith. We know where you live! We know you are a traitor and a lackey of the terrorists. Soon the soldiers and police will come to get you. Rally now, John Smith, before it’s too late!”
The Phoenix Directorate also produced a movie explaining how Phoenix “Helps Protect People From Terrorism,” and hundreds of thousands of cartoon books were distributed to the same end. As is happening in Afghanistan, where propaganda leaflets describe the Taliban as anti-Islamic, Phoenix leaflets portrayed Communism as a socially destructive force that violated traditional Confucian beliefs.
Last but not least, in keeping with the dictum that it wasn’t enough to passively support the government, that one had to actively seek out the enemy in order to prove one’s loyalty, the Phoenix Directorate taught village chiefs how to conduct classes on the spiritual value of government internal security programs.
One can expect exactly the same avalanche of propaganda, only in far more sophisticated form, from Tom Ridge and any OHS committees that are established across America. Think of it as a DARE Program, hinging on some vague definition of a suspected terrorist, but aimed at everyone, not just children.
Douglas Valentine writes frequently for CounterPunch. He is the author of The Phoenix Program, the only comprehensive account of the CIA’s torture and assassination operation in Vietnam, as well as TDY a chilling novel about the CIA and the drug trade.