The Terrorism Account Goes Underground
As noted earlier, terrorism and counter-terrorism are the same thing, and as Michael McClintock notes in Instruments of Statecraft, CIA instructors in the early 1970s “trained students in making criminal terrorist devices and in assassination methods.” A four-week course took place at the Border Patrol Academy in Los Fresnos, Texas, where students were given courses in terrorist concepts, fabrication of terrorist devices, and assassination weapons. As McClintock notes, the Los Fresnos “Bomb School” officials offered courses “not in bomb disposal but in bomb making.”
It is critically important to understand that members of the CIA’s paramilitary Special Operations Divisions are the people who provide this instruction, and that they themselves are the world’s leading experts in the various tools of the terror trade.
The abolition of the Bomb School in 1974, however, did not deter the CIA’s terror experts, and they devised other methods of training foreign secret policemen and paramilitaries to terrorize communist insurgents. Much of the training took at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, or was conducted by the SOD’s stable of counter-terrorists, working undercover as private consultants.
Nor did the CIA’s unilateral terror operations cease with Nixon’s resignation, in utter disgrace, in August 1974, nor did it abate with the ascension of America’s first “unpresident” Gerald Ford. Not even a series of Congressional investigations into CIA abuses, starting in 1974 and continuing through 1977, could keep the CIA from making its appointed rounds. And it’s no coincidence that the current President’s father, in one brief year, oversaw one of the CIA’s most horrendous terror campaigns.
CIA terror activities flourished from January 1976 until January 1977 under DCI George H. W. Bush, with much of the terror taking place in Latin America, through a network of proxy foreign intelligence service united under Operation Condor (the CIA’s version of Phoenix in South America) and operating closely with several CIA-supported anti-Castro Cuban terrorist groups, including CNM (Cuban Nationalist Movement), CORU (Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations) and Omega Seven. Two Cuban terrorists with direct ties to the CIA, Luis Posada Carrilles and Dr. Orlando Bosch, blew a Cuban plane out of the sky in October 1976, killing 73 people. But the CIA never pursued either man, and neither was ever convicted of the crime. On the contrary, the CIA protected them, because both were involved, through DCI Bush, his Assistant Deputy Director of Operations, Ted Shackley, and the Chilean secret service, DINA, in the 21 September 1976 assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in downtown Washington, D.C. As in most other terror incidents committed by the CIA’s assets while Bush was DCI, that crime too has gone unpunished.
The ITG continued to exist under DCI Bush, but only in an analytical capacity, and Bush’s anti-terrorism expert, Ted Shackley, managed actual counter-terror operations out of his hip pocket. Having managed the CIA’s counter-terror and interrogation center programs in Vietnam, as chief of station from 1969 through 1971, Shackley was well qualified for the anti-terrorism job. He was aware of where the effort needed to be directed, and terrorist training camps in Libya, Angola, and Iran ranked high on his list of targets, along with established terrorist organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
But Shackley and Bush were painfully aware that Gerald Ford was considered illegitimate by the American public, and was destined to lose the 1976 elections to whatever candidate the Democrats threw at the Republicans. And so in mid-1976 they began contracting the important work to mercenaries and SOD operators who voluntarily retired or resigned. It was arranged for these contractors to obtain employment in a few select foreign intelligence services, and several proprietary oil equipment, shipping and computer consulting companies established by veteran CIA agent, and notorious “rogue elephant,” Edwin P. Wilson. Having resigned from the CIA in 1971 to pursue million dollar business ventures in several terrorist-infected nations around the world, and having been fired from the Office of Naval Intelligence’s super secret Task Force 157 in April 1976, Wilson was the perfect deniable “deep cover” agent.
Thus in mid-1976, at the direction of DCI Bush and ADDO Shackley, the secret government’s counter-terror apparatus, manifest as a private enterprise owned and operated by “Death Merchant” Wilson and his unsavory associates (including Shackley himself, CIA officer Tom Clines, Hussem Salem, and perhaps, as a silent partner, Air Force General Richard Secord, in EATSCO–the Egyptian American Transport and Services Company), began its slow and steady descent off the CIA’s organizational chart.
As a result of this shell game, little changed when President Jimmy Carter named Admiral Stansfield Turner as his Director of Central Intelligence. In response to negative publicity about the CIA’s reign of terror under Bush, and his right wing predecessors, and in response to Carter’s policy of stressing “Human Rights” over covert action, Turner drastically reduced the SOD in size, firing 600 employees in what became known as the Halloween Massacre of October 1977. Turner also scraped Air America, the CIA’s private air force, and named James Glerum, a former executive with Air America, as Evan Parker’s replacement as head of the SOD.
But Turner’s purge merely earned Carter the same degree of hatred the national security elite naturally felt toward Clinton, and thanks to the off-the-shelf “Enterprise” established by Bush and Shackley, the purge failed to curb CIA abuses. Holding their hatred close to their hearts, those CIA terror experts still on the payroll burrowed deep within the labyrinth at Langley headquarters, and began courting their right wing supporters in the media, academia, private enterprise, and the Republican Party. To assure Carter’s defeat in the 1980 elections, they instructed their domestic assets in the intricacies of political warfare–Phoenix-related skills such as population control through psychological warfare, discrediting and compromising one’s political enemies through covert actions, the development of political cadre within the officer corps, the placement of indoctrinated military officers in control of civilian security forces like the OHS, and, of course, selective terror and assassination.
Psychological operations were especially important in the covert political war being waged by the right wing during the Carter Administration. In the shadows of this propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the American public, the CIA’s privateers mounted covert actions below the radar of top Carter Administration officials. They forged secret alliances with proxy nations, such as Israel and Taiwan, which taught Latin American landowners how to organize criminals into vigilante death squads, which then murdered and terrorized labor leaders, Human Rights activists, and all other enemies of the various oligarchies, including our own. To compensate for the reduction in size of the SOD and the loss of the CIA’s air force, the military branches began beefing up their own terror capabilities. The Army assembled Delta Force, the Air Force formed its own special operations unit, and the Navy organized SEAL Team Six.
In these ways the national security elite was able to subvert Carter’s Human Rights policy, just as they were able to characterize Clinton as immoral and unpatriotic, and establish the basis of public mistrust that would enable them to drive Carter from office through a disingenuous political and psychological warfare campaign in 1980. 9
The Office of Terrorism
This is an historical overview, and in order to fully inform potential dissidents and subjects of homeland insecurity, it is necessary to pause and go back in time, briefly.
By late 1977, when Howard Bane was assigned as chief of the CIA’s new Office of Terrorism, the threat of international terrorism had captured the imagination of the world. Terror incidents had been increasing since the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Israeli Army, anticipating an attack by its neighbors, occupied vast tracks of Palestinian territory. (The Six Day, notably, occurred simultaneously with the birth of Phoenix and Chaos.) In response to the Israeli land grab, Wadi Haddad formed the Popular Front of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which itself was formed in 1964).
Popular Front terrorists staged the world’s first major terrorist act in 1968, hijacking an El Al 707 passenger aircraft en route from Rome to Tel Aviv, and forcing it to land in Algiers. After a month of negotiations the passengers were released unharmed. But no land was returned to the Palestinians and instead, the Israelis started bombing Palestinian terrorist training camps in Jordan. The cycle of violence escalated and on 6 September 1970, in an event that hauntingly resembled that of 11 September, Haddad ordered the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners bound for New York. 10
In February 1972 a Popular Front team hijacked a Lufthansa airliner with 172 passengers, including Joseph Kennedy, son of the late Robert Kennedy. Again there were negotiations, and a ransom was paid, and Kennedy and the other hostages were released. But the policy of negotiating with terrorists began to lose its appeal after Palestinian terrorists seized a group of Israeli athletes and their coaches at the Munich Olympics. The situation ended with a gun battle in which nine Israeli athletes and five terrorists were killed.
Meanwhile, more and more dissident groups began to adopt terror as a method of waging political war. Chief among them were the PLO’s Black September, Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang, France’s Action-Direct, and Italy’s Red Brigade. Carlos the Jackal became a famous terrorist for hire and held OPEC hostage in 1976. By 1977 the notion of state-sponsored terrorism had also emerged, and was attributed to Libya and Iraq, both of which were said to have Soviet backing.
As a result, DCI Turner directed Howard Bane to organize the CIA against the new threat of terrorism. But according to Bane, counter-terrorism was a “hot potato” and a “low priority,” and because of the seemingly endless Congressional investigations into CIA abuses, Turner was “hung up” on the definition of terror. He was insisting that CIA officers refer to counter-insurgency as “low intensity warfare,” and in his effort to polish up the CIA’s image, Turner renamed the ITG the Office of Terrorism.
Again, it was just a shell game, and the Bush-Shackley Enterprise continued to operate off the reservation.
In the meantime, Bane moved into the Chaos office in Langley’s basement, in the room behind the vault door. An avid proponent of covert action, he’d served as chief of the North Africa Division, and as chief of station at The Hague prior to his return to headquarters in late 1977. He was nearing the end of his career, and was expecting to be named head of a division, and he approached his new assignment with all the energy of a man seeking to enshrine his legacy.
As Bane describes it, the Chaos office was a windowless room as large as the ground floor of a house, divided into cubicles. Ten to twelve little old ladies running around in tennis shoes, all the operations were compartmentalized, and there was a “vault mentality.” Little was happening. The acting chief was the ITG operations officer, and his job was mainly following U.S. citizens overseas.
So Bane summoned everyone to a staff meeting and said, “Let’s advertise ourselves to divisions.” He set up a reference system to service each of the divisions, and each little old lady became an expert in regard to a particular geographical area. Next Bane started meeting with his counterparts at State, Treasury, the FBI, the Pentagon, the White House and the National Security Agency. As the Office of Terrorism began to serve a visible function, Bane was able to move it from the basement vault to a fourth floor suite with windows. The office received new computers, and the old girls started entering profiles of the world’s new terrorists into it. Bane was awarded an operations officer, and recruited several disgruntled CIA officers, who began to replace the women as his liaison officers to the divisions. And he began working closely with SOD chief Jim Glerum to beef up the operational forces at his command.
Delta Force had been created by U.S. Army colonel Charles Beckwith in response to the numerous, well-publicized terrorist incidents that occurred in the 1970s. Delta, and later the Navy’s elite counter-terrorist unit, SEAL Team Six, were to serve as the CIA’s front line forces in the nascent war against terror. Within the context of the new strategy of low intensity warfare, the Office of Terrorism and the anti-terror experts in the CIA’s SOD and Delta Force had adopted a new lexicon, in which anti-terrorism was the term for broad policy, and counter-terrorism was used in regard to specific, immediate actions.
Bane sought and acquired a bigger budget, and started improving and developing the government’s formal technological counter-terror capabilities — things like silenced weapons and covert eavesdropping equipment for use in hostage rescues. Bane also worked to obtain a fleet of black helicopters for use by counter-terror units. His own original contribution was a Crisis Management Training Program team, composed of a psychiatrist and a few case officers, which advised U.S. and foreign law enforcement officers on how to negotiate with, and outwit, terrorists.
After all this, Bane set up a two-man intelligence unit at Delta headquarters at Fort Bragg, and hooked them up to his office computer. At this point Delta became a “customer” of CIA intelligence. Bane’s Office of Terrorism also sent daily reports, which profiled known terrorists and their activities, to the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI. Very quietly his unit began to coordinate actual counter-terror operations. “Say someone in Frankfurt had access to the Red Army,” Bane explains. “Then Delta would send a team.”
Bane’s Office of Terrorism handled each incident on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether or not it was defined as “international terrorism,” meaning the terrorists crossed borders or had foreign support, or “domestic terrorism,” in which case the terrorists were operating within their own country. If the incident related to domestic terrorism, the CIA’s Office of Terrorism could not get involved, unless specifically authorized through a presidential executive order called a “finding.”
The need for a “finding” was a nagging bureaucratic stumbling block, and as an example, Bane cites the time Colombia’s M19 terror group took 20 foreign diplomats, including the American ambassador, hostage at a party at the Dominican Embassy. Thinking the trans-national nature of the incident qualified it as “international terror,” Bane, with the approval of the State Department’s terrorism unit, launched a Delta operation in conjunction with the CIA’s new SOD chief, Rudy Enders. Bane provided intelligence on the terrorists while Enders and his assistant, Burr Smith, provided Delta with the equipment it needed to stage a rescue operation. Meanwhile the Crisis Management Team assembled in Florida, and prepared to jump into Colombia.
But the operation came to a screeching halt when the CIA’s Assistant Deputy Director of Operations, John Stein, was forced to reveal the operation to Turner’s Deputy Director of Operations, John McMahon.
As Bane recalls, McMahon asked him, “Are you trying to send us all to jail?” McMahon then put the operation on hold until Carter issued a finding. Bane was forced to call his officers back to Langley, where they waited while ‘the lawyers” met with members of Carter’s national Security Council staff. Only after the lawyers gave their approval did Carter issue the required “finding.”
In another situation Bane was not allowed to help mount a covert action to rescue Italy’s Prime Minister Aldo Moro, because Moro’s Red Brigade captors were Italian nationals, and were deemed to be operating domestically.
“Colby,” Bane sighs, “felt that covert action should be equated with intelligence. He said it was better than sending in Marines.”
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.