Flight of the Phoenix From Vietnam to Homeland Security

“The implication or latent threat of force alone was sufficient to insure that the people would comply…”

William Colby, RIP

Imagine my surprise to learn that the Bruce Lawlor is serving as the Office of Homeland Security’s Senior Director for Protection and Prevention!

I say this in a blatantly exclamatory fashion because I interviewed Lawlor for my book, The Phoenix Program, back in 1988, when he was just a small town lawyer in Vermont. Poor Bruce. He’s always had big ambitions, and he’d run for attorney general of Vermont in 1984. But, as he told me with abiding bitterness, his political opponents exploited his self-proclaimed participation in the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam. The bastards had used that awful fact to launch a successful smear campaign against him. And yes, he’d lost the primary election as a result.

Nearly 20 years later Lawlor is still licking his wounds, and there’s no doubt that he holds a major general’s grudge against the pacifists and peaceniks who smeared him with Phoenix. So now I’m wondering, what’s he got in store for people like me?

Here We Go Again

Having former CIA Phoenix officers in important government positions is nothing new in America. I refer you to Congressman Rob Simmons, a friend of Lawlor’s, whom Lawlor describes as a “liberal”. Simmons, good liberal Episcopalian that he is, ran a CIA Province Interrogation Center in Vietnam. (See The Spook Who Would be a Congressman.)

Having potential war criminals in positions of power is nothing new, but I’m one of those people who believe that all former CIA officers–especially those involved in “extra-legal” counter-terror programs like Phoenix–should not be allowed to hold public office. I believe this, because the CIA is antithetical to democratic institutions. And that’s why I was so surprised to see, that the guy I knew as “Bruce”, is now Major General Lawlor, and a top-ranking official in the ominous Office of Homeland Security. By which I mean, he’s someone who has access to Ashcroft’s political blacklist, and he has control over the covert action teams that can be used to neutralize those dissidents.

To get right to the point, I have a sneaking suspicion that Lawlor, like Simmons, is still working for the CIA, and thus poses a major threat to democracy in America.

One of the reasons I have this crazy feeling, is that nowhere in any of Lawlor’s official looking, on-line biographies is there any mention of his CIA service. It’s like his biographers are deliberately trying to hide his CIA connection from us.

For example, The Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness, “a standing task force of leading practitioners and academic specialists concerned with terrorism and emergency management” (sponsored by Harvard’s JFK School of Government, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice), posted an official biography of Major General Bruce M. Lawlor. They mention that he was the “first” commanding general of the Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) located at Fort Monroe. This is extremely important, because the JTF-CS was formed specifically to provide “command and control over Department of Defense consequence management forces in support of a civilian Lead Federal Agency (the CIA?) following a weapon of mass destruction incident in the United States, its territories or possessions (italics added).”

This sounds an awful lot like a prelude to the terror attacks of 11 September, and I’ll raise the subject of the JTF-CS in a bit, but for now I’d like to point out that nowhere do Lawlor’s friends from Harvard (he’s a graduate of Harvard’s National Security Fellows Program) or the Departments of Defense and Justice, say that Lawlor was once a CIA officer. (Please see http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/ BCSIA/ESDP.nsf/www/Contact)

Likewise, in an earlier biography posted on the Internet, Lawlor was said to be “assigned as the Deputy Director, Operations, Readiness and Mobilization within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans in May 1998. As Deputy Director he monitors Army operations worldwide and oversees National Guard and Reserve Forces Integration efforts.”

This too is incredibly important, and relates directly to the terror attacks of 11 September, in so far as the National Guard and Reserves are integral parts of Northcom, the military component of the forthcoming Department of Homeland Security, which will manage the “pacification” of the American people. But before we get into that, let’s proceed with the problem of Lawlor’s official biographies. In this particular biography, which was posted in November 2000, it says “The General’s military service began in 1967. After service in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973, he received a Direct Commission in 1974 as an Intelligence Officer.”

Once again, and rather conspicuously, there is no mention that Lawlor was a CIA officer in Vietnam. In fact, you get the feeling that he was in the military. You might go so far as to say that the folks at Homeland Security are dissembling, in order to hide the fact that one of their most senior officers probably still is a CIA officer!

Why would Lawlor consent to this subterfuge, if, in fact, he is an honorable man?

The Phoenix Program

I first read about Lawlor in Everything We Had by Al Santoli. I was researching the Phoenix Program at the time, and Santoli’s interview with Lawlor was in a section titled “The Phoenix”. Santoli identified Lawlor as having been a CIA case officer in I Corps, from November 1971-December 1973, and he quoted Lawlor as saying that in order to win the Vietnam War, “what we had to do was get in and eliminate the ability of the VC to control or influence the people. That’s what pacification was all about. The buzzword was “root out.” We tried to go in and neutralize their political structure.”

For those who are unfamiliar with Phoenix and its jargon, “neutralize” meant to assassinate, imprison, or turn someone into a defector or double agent.

Lawlor apparently made some very provocative statements to Santoli, including this one: “We permitted the Vietnamese to corrupt the system and we did it because we basically were corrupt ourselves.” Lawlor’s position about Phoenix seemed to be that it was “an extermination program” that was “used to settle old scores.”

In an effort to find out if this was Lawlor’s position, I wrote to him and requested an interview. Lawlor agreed, and we did taped interviews, portions of which I included in my book, The Phoenix Program, between pages 407-411.

What Lawlor told me basically confirmed everything Santoli had attributed to him. Except there were some additional, startling details. To begin with, Lawlor told me that he joined the CIA in 1967, while he was getting his BA at George Washington University. The CIA hired him to work the night shift, and after he graduated, he was given the chance to become a regular CIA staff officer. He took the paramilitary course, which included instruction in weapons and military tactics, but he was also trained as a foreign intelligence officer, the kind who manages secret agents. After that he was assigned to the Vietnam Desk at Langley headquarters, where he received specialized training in agent operations in Vietnam, and took a language course in Vietnamese. During this time, Lawlor formed a rapport with the Vietnam Desk officer, Al Seal, and when Seal was assigned as the base chief in Danang, he asked that Lawlor accompany him. Lawlor, notably, was just as gung-ho about fighting the Viet Cong as John Kerrey. (See Bob Kerrey, the CIA and War Crimes.)

Lawlor arrived in Vietnam in November 1971 and was assigned as an undercover staff officer at the US Embassy’s translation section. He arrived in Danang a few weeks later, at the beginning of 1972, and was assigned to regional headquarters, in the counter-intelligence office. He worked at that job through the Easter Offensive of 1972, but then things changed dramatically. Lawlor became the Police Special Branch advisor in Quang Nam Province, in which capacity, in the summer of 1972, he did what Rob Simmons had done in nearby Quang Ngai Province; he organized the most aggressive Special Branch officers into a paramilitary Special Intelligence Force Unit that hunted members of the Viet Cong Infrastructure in the hamlets and villages. As advisor to the Special Branch, Lawlor also ran the Quang Nam Province Interrogation Center, and there got to know the CIA’s regional PRU advisor, Patry Loomis. Bored with merely filing reports, Lawlor jumped at the chance, when Loomis asked him if he’d like to out on some PRU operations. That’s when Lawlor started dressing in tiger fatigues and going out on ambushes, and traditional PRU “snuff and snatch” operations.

For those unfamiliar with Phoenix lexicon, the PRU–Provincial Reconnaissance Unit–Program was a unilateral CIA operation, formed by the CIA, paid by the CIA, and staffed by mercenary Vietnamese who worked for the CIA, often against the interests of their own government. The PRU were originally called “counter-terror teams” and, according to Nelson Brickham (the man who created the Phoenix program) their job was to go into VC areas “to do to them what they were doing to us.” Which means mutilating people, sticking their heads on poles after they were killed, killing the families of suspected VC terrorists or political chiefs, and other unconventional CIA terror tactics.

After the 1972 Easter Offensive the PRU were ostensibly placed under the jurisdiction of the Special Branch, and were renamed Special Reconnaissance Units. At this point the CIA still controlled the PRU purse strings, but it wasn’t providing as much money and as a result, it lost a certain amount of control over the PRU leadership. The top ranking Vietnamese PRU officers turned to graft, drug dealing, and shakedowns to make up the differential. Very bad things started happening. On one unforgettable occasion Lawlor walked into the Hoi An Interrogation Center and saw that a woman, who knew about the regional PRU chief’s dirty dealings, had been raped and murdered. Her body was stretched over a table. “All of a sudden,” Lawlor told me, “Mr. (Phan Van) Liem (the PRU chief) wants me to go on a mission with him, and the other PRU guys are telling me, ‘Don’t go!'”

This may seem a minor detail to the people at Homeland Security, or then again, it may be one reason why Lawlor’s resume is so lacking in CIA information. You see, all CIA Province Interrogation Center advisors were obligated to report any incidents of torture, murder, or abuse they witnessed. So, where’s Lawlor’s report?

I believe Lawlor probably filed a report. Back in those rough and tumble Phoenix fighting days he was a man of conscience. For example, when Seal was replaced as the CIA’s Regional Officer in Charge (ROIC) of I Corps, the new ROIC, Tom Flores, brought in a new staff. Having worked in the region’s counter-intelligence office, Lawlor knew that an NVA spy ring still existed in the area, and that one of these NVA agents was the girl friend of Flores’ operations chief. When Lawlor reported this to Flores, he was accused of having “gone native.” So Lawlor told the CIA’s security chief in Saigon, at which point his office furniture was confiscated and he was handed a ticket home.

“After that I became disillusioned,” Lawlor confessed. He tendered his resignation to Ted Shackley in 1974. “The agency betrayed us,” he said. “To go after the VCI, we had to believe it was okay. But we were too young to understand what happens when idealism cracks up against reality. We risked our lives to get information on the VCI, information we were told the President was going to read. Then guys who didn’t care gave it to superiors more interested in booze and broads.”

That’s what Bruce Lawlor said to me back in 1988. He was definitely embittered, but there’s something weird about him that makes him keep going back for more. When former Director of Central Intelligence William Colby heard that the Phoenix smear campaign had cost Lawlor the 1984 election in Vermont, he offered Lawlor his moral (as it was) support. Lawlor was summoned to Langley and interviewed for a job in the freewheeling Special Operations Division, which was then breaking every international law in places like Nicaragua and Afghanistan. But details of the “gone native” incident surfaced, and Lawlor was not, to his immense disappointment, rehired by the CIA.

Reprisal is the Name of the Homeland Security Game

People look for vindication in many different ways. Take, for example, the reaction of the right wing to America’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese. Phoenix creator Nelson Brickham compared that reaction to the frustration and bitterness of the German nation after the First World War. As we all know, that frustration and bitterness enabled Hitler to do his thing.

Since the terror attacks of 11 September, we’ve seen the same phenomena here in America. Symbolically, that traumatic event wiped the slate clean. As a result, all the moral and psychological prohibitions on the reactionary right have been lifted, and all the anger and frustrations it cultivated during the Vietnam War, and the Carter and Clinton Administrations, is poised to be unleashed under the aegis of counter-terrorism, not only on the usual suspects–foreign enemies sitting on vast oil reserves, suspected terrorists, and domestic dissidents–but on the unwitting, flag-waving American public as well.

I happen to believe that Bruce Lawlor is one of those frustrated, bitter people. And I believe that he subscribes to the fascist theories of Michael Ledeen. A former counter-terror expert in the corrupt Reagan Regime’s State Department and National Security Council, Ledeen in a 1 October 2001 article for the National Review blamed the terror attacks of 11 September on Bill Clinton, “for failing to properly organize our nation’s security apparatus.”

According to Ledeen, Clinton’s sneering lack of respect for security took “a terrible toll on the system, and (Tom) Ridge will not find it easy to instill a proper respect for proper secrecy, even in his own offices. It takes quite a while to stamp out corrupt habits of mind and action.”

Leeden’s solution to the problem of domestic terrorism is ideological. It is “to stamp out” the “corrupt habits of mind (italics added)” that are still lingering around, somewhere. In other words, the reactionary right wing, as represented by the fascist Bush Regime, with its ambitions for a military dictatorship, must impose its “proper” ideology through the institution of an official Thought Police–the current Office of Homeland Security and the forthcoming Department of Homeland Security. Stamping out, or pacification, is what is required to create the politically correct, security conscious, uniform American citizenry, marching in lockstep with their fellow flag waving TIPsters, that is necessary to win the tough eternal war on terror that lies ahead. It’s a matter of will power.

“This is time for the old motto, “kill them all, let God sort ’em out.” New times require new people with new standards,” Ledeen asserts. “The entire political world will understand it and applaud it. And it will give Tom Ridge a chance to succeed, and us to prevail.”

It’s obvious that many people with an axe to grind are jumping on the Homeland Security bandwagon. Knowing this, and fearing that Bruce Lawlor is of the Ledeen “reprisal” persuasion, I immediately tried to get an interview with him. I called his office at 202-456-5687 and spoke with his secretary. She said he would call me back, but he hasn’t responded.

I know he was angry with me after The Phoenix Program was published. He did not like how I portrayed the CIA, or him, personally. He was so upset he helped a CIA-nik write a rebuttal to my book. So I’m a little concerned, not just for myself, but for anyone who opposed the Vietnam War, and now opposes the Bush Regime’s blatantly fascist policies at home and abroad. So I’m writing this as an open letter to General Lawlor.

As far as I know, General Lawlor, we still live in a democracy. Although the Bush regime seems hell bent on using the uninvestigated terror attacks of 11 September as a pretext to turn America into a military dictatorship, we are not yet (as far as I know) under martial law. Public officials, like you, still have a responsibility to respond to our concerns. So speaking on behalf of people concerned by the gaping window of opportunity for the abuse of human rights and civil liberties presented by the corrupt Bush Regime, through its Homeland Security apparatus, here are the main questions that need to be answered:

Questions for Major General Bruce Lawlor

1) What happened in July 1995 to make you leave your law practice and go to the Army War College? Did the CIA have a role in that decision?

2) How did your education at the War College pave the way for your assignment as Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, from June to October 1996? CIA officers often go by the term “Special Assistant.” Were you serving as the CIA’s liaison to the Supreme Commander?

3) In May 1998 you got the very important job as Deputy Director of Readiness and Mobilization within the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans. Your job was managing the National Guard and Reserves around the world. Did the CIA help you get this job? How were you involved with the CIA in this position?

4) You were the first commander of the Joint Task Force, Civil Support at Fort Monroe. Your job was to work with civilians. Was this a CIA assignment? How were you involved with the CIA in this position? Was this assignment based in any way upon your Phoenix-related experiences as a CIA officer in Vietnam, and was it precisely that “Phoenix” sensibility that you brought, as your main qualification, to the job? What are your other qualifications? Who else bid for the job? Isn’t this where General Wayne Downing was assigned after 11 September, and if so, what was and is your relationship with him, and the CIA, in terms of formulating Homeland Security policy?

5) In a 24 March 2000 statement to Congress, you seemed to be preparing for the Homeland Security job you have now. In a way you predicted the calamitous events of 11 September. Did you, in fact, have any foreknowledge of those attacks?

6) In your statement to Congress you said that as Commanding General of the JTF-CS, you created Civil Support Teams to assist in case of a weapon of mass destruction incident. Formerly known as Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) teams, CSTs, you said, “are National Guard assets, and thus can function under state or federal authority. They are equipped with sophisticated communications systems that will enable local first responders to talk with neighboring jurisdictions or link up with federal centers of expertise. CSTs are also being equipped with state of the art detection equipment that will enable them to help local first responders quickly identify potential WMD agents.” That’s what you told Congress. Would you now please tell us what role the CIA plays in CST operations? It sounds like a great CIA cover outfit to me. Are they? Is there a Civil Support team near me? Will you allow me to observe how it functions?

7) In your role as Senior Director for Protection and Prevention at the Office of Homeland Security, what is your relationship with Northcom and the CIA? In fact, what is it that you do? Is it true that the Office of Homeland Security will be strategy-making part of the Homeland Security apparatus, and that the forthcoming Department of Homeland Security will be the tactical and operational part? What is the function of the Homeland Security Council, and what is your relationship with it? Can we have organization charts of these entities, including ones that show where the CIA is hiding it covert assets?

8) Last but not least, please explain the conspicuous absence of any reference to your CIA background in your official biographies. This seems to suggest that you are still CIA. Are you? And tell us, please, if you and others like intend to use your power to seek revenge against your political opponents?

Lingering Doubts

From mid 1972 through 1973 Bruce Lawlor ran the same sort of anti-terror programs that are now in vogue. The CIA has already launched a worldwide Phoenix Program. Is that why he got the Homeland Security job? Is that why the CIA finally let him back inside the fold? Did he promise to allow the CIA to use his Homeland Security programs as a cover to repress political dissent in America? Will he become one of those corrupt officials he hated in Vietnam, and use his power to take revenge on his personal enemies? Is that what Homeland Security is really all about?

Like most Americans, those of us who oppose the Bush Regime’s fascist policies are willing to participate in our own defense, if there is in fact a threat, and if in fact the CIA didn’t manufacture the threat. We just want honest forthright leaders whose first responsibility is to defend the liberties we cherish, and not to subvert them under the aegis of Homeland Security.

Douglas Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY, all of which are available through iUniverse.com. For information about Mr. Valentine and his books and articles, please visit his website at www.douglasvalentine.com

He can be reached at: redspruce@attbi.com


Douglas Valentine is the author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.