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The Counter-Terror Network
The CIA’s counter-terror network, as established by William Casey, was a direct descendant of the counter-intelligence special operations unit, CHAOS, formed by James Angleton in August 1967, specifically to spy on the New Left and other radical political groups in the anti-war and civil rights movements. From its earliest beginnings, Chaos was distinguished from other CIA operations by its secure communications system, its super inaccessibility and “compartmentalization,” it’s inter-connected domestic and international mandate, and its essentially political nature. All of this was permissible in so far as Chaos was a “special” counter-intelligence function designed to ferret out the plans and strategies of foreign intelligence services.
As we know, the CIA underwent a major reorganization in 1974 after William Colby fired counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, and exposed the CIA’s “family jewels” at a Congressional Hearing conducted by Representative Otis Pike (D-NY). Chaos became the International Terrorism Group, and the repository of some of the “hip pocket” operations that forced Angleton from the Agency. The ITG remained buried in the bowels of the CIA until it was resurrected as Howard Bane’s Office of Terrorism in late 1977. The Iran hostage crisis and the disaster of Desert One enabled Ronald Reagan to steal the presidency, denounce Carter’s Human Rights crusade, and initiate a new foreign policy based on combating terrorism.
In 1981, Reagan’s Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, saw the political possibilities of turning Buckley’s Office of Domestic Terrorism into a “back-channel” mechanism, like Chaos under Angleton and Ober, for conducting secret “hip pocket” operations outside the normal chain of command. And thus was born The Counter-Terror Network that exists until today, as the official manifestation of the off-the-shelf Enterprise formed by Bush and Shackley back in 1976. 13
The ultimate object of Reagan Administration policy was the destruction of the Soviet Union through the application of “low-intensity warfare” in Afghanistan; counter-terror in the Middle East, and pro-active terror in Latin America. Effecting this policy involved a number of illegal covert actions, and so Casey had to run his Counter-Terror Network outside of the CIA itself, through a cabal of secret agents throughout the government, acting under his direction through a group of veteran CIA officers who embrace the same essentially fascist world view. Like Chaos, The Counter-Terror Network had a secure communications system, as Peter Dale Scott observed, “that excluded other bureaucrats with opposing viewpoints.”
As Scott notes, “The counter-terrorism network even had its own special worldwide antiterrorist computer network, codenamed Flashboard, by which members could communicate exclusively with each other and their collaborators abroad.”
Casey laid the groundwork for this Counter-Terror Network in 1981, when he appointed David Whipple as the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for counter-terrorism. A veteran CIA officer with extensive service in the Far East, Whipple had been serving as the CIA’s station chief in Switzerland, where he’d conducted successful counter-terror operations, before being summoned back to headquarters to take on the job as Casey’s NIO for counter-terrorism.
According to Whipple, Casey’s staff consisted of 16 NIOs, eight of whom were responsible for geographical divisions, while the other eight were responsible for issues, such as narcotics, counter-intelligence, nuclear weapons, economics, and in Whipple’s case, counter-terror. Under Casey’s direction, every government agency established a counter-terror office as part of this secret apparatus. Whipple as NIO coordinated them all, collating all the information they provided at CIA headquarters. In consultation with Casey, Whipple assisted the CIA’s division chiefs, making sure their station chiefs were properly handling counter-terror issues in their designated areas.
Whipple maintained the Office of Domestic Terrorism after Buckley departed, through a staff that included an operations chief, intelligence analysts, photo interpreters, and several case officers. Because it had the authority to access any division’s files and to co-opt its most precious penetration agents, the ODT was resisted by the divisions–especially by the Near East Division, which was on the front lines of the war against terrorism. Thus in 1983 Casey sent Buckley to Beirut to personally oversee counter-intelligence operations there. And he conscripted Oliver North, a doe-eyed Marine lieutenant colonel assigned to the National Security Council, as his penetration agent inside the NSC. Notably, Whipple served as North’s case officer in this monumental misadventure.
A Vietnam veteran, cut from the same erratic mold as Liddy and Buckley, North came from nowhere and in 1982 was the NSC staff coordinator for crisis management. According to Scott, Vice President Bush was in overall charge as chair of the Cabinet-level Crisis Management Committee. Starting in February 1983, North, according to Scott, developed a secret Crisis Management Center, and REX 84, “a plan to suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad.”
Sound familiar? In light of the recent national emergency, it is not surprising that North’s plan called for “the round-up and internment of large numbers of both domestic dissidents (some twenty-six thousand) and aliens (perhaps as many as from three to four thousand), in camps such as the one in Oakdale, Louisiana.” And just as the vast majority of Congresspersons went along with the draconian anti-terror legislation passed on 29 October, Senator Daniel Inouye in 1986 cut-off all debate about North’s plan to suspend the Constitution when Congressman Jack Brooks raised the issue during the televised Iran-Contra Hearings.
North next formed a personal relationship with Vice President Bush in the winter of 1983, when they inspected El Salvador’s death squad commanders. After that North’s stock soared, and in April 1984 he created the Terrorist Incident Working Group (TWIG) specifically to rescue several American hostages, including Buckley, held in Lebanon. North became TWIG’s chairman, and in October 1985 he managed its first successful operation–the capture of the hijackers of the Achille Lauro.
A few months earlier, in June, after the hijacking of a TWA Flight 847 to Beirut, Bush created the Vice President’s Task Force on Combating Terrorism. According to Scott, as the NSC’s liaison to the Task Force, “North drafted a secret annex for its report which institutionalized and expanded his counter-terrorist powers, making himself the NSC coordinator of all counter-terrorist actions.”
On 20 January 1986, North’s efforts were crowned with National Security Decision Directive 207, making him chief coordinator of the Administration’s counter-terror program, and providing him with a secret office and staff known as the Office To Combat Terrorism. Working through the inter-agency Operations Sub-Group (OSG), North coordinated the secret Counter-Terror Network and Secord’s Enterprise in a series of mind-boggling illegal operations, including illegal arms sales to Iran through Israel’s counter-terrorism expert Amiram Nir; illegal Contra drug smuggling by through CIA asset Manuel Noriega in Panama, by a group of anti-Castro Cubans, all of whom were directly connected to Bush through his chief of operations, Donald Gregg, via Rudy Enders and Felix Rodriguez (all Phoenix Program veterans); illegal arms supply operations to the Contras through right wing domestic terror groups; and the repression of domestic dissent on a massive scale unmatched until the recent assaults mounted on the civil liberties of American citizens by fundamentalist Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. Congress.
As Scott notes, “the Office to Combat Terrorism became the means whereby North could coordinatethe propaganda activities of Carl “Spitz” Channel and Richard Miller (and) the closing of potential embarrassing investigations by other government agencies.”
The ranking members of this Counter-Terror Network included: Donald Gregg (Bush’s National Security Advisor); CIA officer Charles Allen (Whipple’s replacement as Casey’s Counter-Terror National Intelligence Officer in 1985); Robert Oakley at the State Department’s Office of Counter-Terrorism (a former CIA officer with experience in political operations in Vietnam, Oakley co-chair of North’s Operations Sub-Group until mid-1986); Richard Armitage (a member of the Enterprise) at the Defense Department, Lt. Gen. John Moellering at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, FBI Counter-Terror Chief, Oliver Revell, and, wonder of wonders, Michael Ledeen at the National Security Council.
The lynchpin between the Israelis and the Americans, Ledeen had proposed illegal arms sales to Iran in 1984 through Mossad double agent Manucher Ghorbanifar. The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, Clair George, considered Ghorbanifar totally unreliable, and as having only his personal financial interests, and Israel’s security, at heart. But George’s objections were neutralized in June 1985, when Bush formed the Terrorism Task Force, at which point the illegal arms sales went forward. And to assure that no one else in the CIA would obstruct Reagan’s secret policy, Casey in January 1986 conscripted veteran CIA officer Duane Clarridge into The Counter-Terror Network, as its de-facto security chief, and directed Clarridge to form the CIA’s Counter-Terror Center, which exists until today. 14
Under the current “unpresident” Bush, counter-terrorism is a mechanism to conduct illegal operations on behalf of his economic patrons, to circumvent Congress, and to his harass domestic critics. Counter-terrorism is the preferred political and psychological weapon of the radical right wing, and it was perfected in 1986 with the creation of the CIA’s Counter-Terror center
Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a man with an extensive background in terror, was well equipped for managing this job. A rabid right wing ideologue, he was chief of the CIA’s station in Turkey in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the fascist Grey Wolves went on a terror rampage, bombing, shooting and killing thousands of officials, journalists, students, lawyers, labor organizers, social democrats, left-wing activists and Kurds. Since then, Turkey’ military dictatorship has been one of America’s strongest allies.
A body-builder and certified member of the Old Boy clique that runs the CIA, Clarridge in August 1976 helped ADDO Ted Shackley recruit Albert Hakim, later a member of Secord’s Enterprise, to spy in Iran.15 (Shackley was soon thereafter forced into retirement due to his association with “rogue elephant” Ed Wilson, the CIA officer who sold tons of explosives to Libya.) Clarridge was serving as the CIA’s station chief in Rome when the Pope was shot, and was chief of Latin America Division from 1981 until 1984, when Nicaraguan harbors were mined and the psyops “murder manual” was distributed to the Contras, with his approval. In this capacity Clarridge helped Richard Secord move PLO weapons captured by Israeli forces during their bloody invasion of Lebanon, through Noriega in Panama, to the Contras.
Clarridge, as chief of the Europe Division, next played a pivotal role in the illegal Iran-Contra operation, by providing the back channel, through his station chief in Lisbon, that allowed North and Secord’s Enterprise to sell HAWK and TOW missiles to the Iranians, at a huge profit for Secord and his Israeli counterparts, in exchange for the release of several American hostages. The operation, which subverted the U.S. Constitution and the Bolland Amendments passed by Congress, made Ronald Reagan into the world’s biggest, but most adorable, liar.
According to Scott, “The intrigues of North, Secord, Clarridge and Oakley at this point showed a concern for politics rather than security.”
In that case, the political imperative was to gain the release of hostages, so that Reagan, who had sworn “never” to negotiate with terrorists, would not be unfavorably compared to Carter, or exposed as bold-faced liar, and so Bush would not lose the up-coming election. Gaining the release of the hostages, of course, involved the illegal arms sales to Iran, which itself was a flagrant flimflam by the Israelis and their agents in the U.S. Government. One of those Israeli agents, Michael Ledeen, while serving as a special assistant on terrorism at the State Department, made the original proposal in 1982 to divert money from arms sales to fund covert counter-terror operations. Ledeen also was responsible, while employed at the National Security Council in 1984, for convincing North and Secord to employ Mossad double agent and world-class swindler Manucher Ghorbanifar as the middleman between the Iranians, the Israelis, and the Americans. As the record shows, it was Ghorbanifar’s duplicity and avarice that led the entire misadventure to its ignoble conclusion.
The homeland thanks you, Michael Ledeen. You’re exactly the sort of corrupt public official we need advising the Bush regime on how to wage its counter-terror campaign against the Moslem world.
In an interview with this writer, Clarridge described the Counter-Terror Center, which has coordinated the CIA’s back-channel activities since its formation in 1986, as a central unit with members from the four directorates, operating under a committee at the National Security Council. With input from the different divisions, the Counter-Terror Center “divines” anti-terrorism policy, and then constructs entities that can conduct operations. It is not function of the U.S. Army Special Forces, according to Clarridge, but pieces together counter-terrorism “action teams”–commando squads trained to capture suspected terrorists and bring them to the United States to stand trial.
During his tenure from 1986 to 1988, Clarridge oversaw a massive increase in intelligence gathering on suspected terrorists, and developed new weapons for use against them. He worked especially closely with George W. H. Bush, much to his advantage. Indeed, after it was revealed that Clarridge had assisted North in the transfer of surface-to-air missiles to Iran, he was forced to resign from the CIA. He lied about it when called before Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, and was indicted on seven counts of perjury. But he never went to trial, thanks to a last minute pardon issued by Bush on December 24, 1992. Bush’s pardon provided blanket amnesty to Clarridge, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Casper Weinburger, Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, CIA officer Alan Fiers, and CIA officer Clair George.
Unlike Clinton, Bush received no criticism for his pardons, though they were far worse than anything Clinton ever did. For with those pardons, Bush assured that his role in the October Surprise, and the Iran-Contra Scandal, and many other crimes, would never be revealed.
The moral to this story is crystal clear: Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush created secret “counter-terror” cabals within their administrations to conduct illegal operations and harass their domestic political opponents. Under the aegis of counter-terrorism, the FBI since then has conducted extensive surveillance against every peace group that opposes any right wing Administration’s blatant terrorism.
Oliver North blamed Washington for losing the Vietnam War. His hatred of the peace movement was and is palpable, and it’s no coincidence that he exploited his power as chief of counter-terrorism to terrorize his domestic opponents. As Scott notes, North believes that “the most pressing problem is not in the Third World, but here at home in the struggle for the minds of the people.”
Thus, when Jack Terrell informed the Justice Department that North was involved in drug smuggling, North labeled Terrell a terrorist and sicced the FBI’s counter-terror unit on him. Like all the other rabid right wing ideologues presented in this essay, Oliver North was mostly concerned about his own personal power. But none of his abuses, or those of the Reagan and Bush regime were ever exposed, because, as McClintock notes, “the very notion of counter-terror as terrorism was forbidden, while circumlocution was the norm.” 16
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.