This. The infamous series of reports officially admitting to & describing secret illegal activities conducted by the CIA between 1959 and 1973. Most of these were declassified & released in 2007 due to FIFAs filed by the National Security Archive. These are copies of the original photocopied “secret” level memos & reports compiled at the behest of former CIA director Schlesinger as a result of enormous Watergate backlash (& initially “broken” as a NY Times front page feature in 1974) & this heavily redacted 700-page “book” was delivered to William Colby when he replaced Schlesinger. It is preceded by a short summary literally stating that the “Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s.” This was delivered to Congress members many years before being declassified.
The contents are controversial for many reasons & many are obvious. The CIA officially admitted to 18 “issues,” some of which were fairly well known yet officially unconfirmed in some sectors (well above the rumor level). (I forget the reason, but these 18 issues were then reduced to only 8 in the attachments to the memo introducing this book–these documents.) Some then-suspected & later publicly infamous examples included the Nosenko defection, Project MOCKINGBIRD, assassination plots/attempts against Castro (shock!) and possibly as well as African & South American leaders, and moving on, illegal domestic surveillance of specific targets & more. Among traditional “conspiracy theories” addressed, these documents validate the numerous accusations of the Mafia’s direct involvement with/in CIA attempts to assassinate Castro — rumors long denied. Such admissions led to later further “embarrassing” revelations about the COINTELPRO program, the Church Committee, lesser known programs, various black ops activities (allegedly influencing American culture as seen in films like Apocalypse Now) & an untold number of potential human rights violations — particularly in South America — that included everything from (potentially lethal) torture (the infamous “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare,” modified several known times [yet rumored by some to have been modified several more times] provides a formal example of various strategies that, IMO, mirror Ho’s numerous effective tactics such as emphasizing the importance of the political component along with the military while engaging in unconventional warfare. Some of the changes made in revisions included replacing the term “removing” selected targets to instead “neutralize” them, how to frame the narrative to the local peasants after shooting a specific individual, & while discussing the illegality of certain actions, providing helpful suggestions such as “… professional criminals will be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs” — a section deleted in later versions of the manual, as well as selecting a person (presumably unknowing) to possibly die during a demonstration & thus create a martyr & “a situation which should be taken advantage of immediately against the regime so as to create greater conflicts.” [This section was also modified in later versions of this manual, which was written specifically for “freedom commandos” in a very well known country which was literally identified on the first page of the Preface itself.] to psyops to working with liaisons from friendly agencies to finding reliable interpreters & much more.
The memo refers to only 8 issues (and one would think a couple seem benign, which naturally is shocking…) yet within the 700+ pages, one finds documented mention of other known and unknown spurious and/or illicit programs such as Operation Phoenix. (The claims made by Director Colby in a Memo to Lloyd Shearer, Editor of Parade Magazine on January 10, 1972 would seem to literally contradict the reality of what has become known about that program in South Vietnam. The director states emphatically that the CIA “does not and has not used political assassination as a weapon.” Which can be interpreted in many ways and I’m confident the director consulted with lawyers about that wording to ensure what was literally said in that statement would hold up as accurate in court. My personal theory. However, one might surmise from mountains of plausible evidence over a much larger period of time than was studied for this report — and note the director does not put a timeframe around that assertion, so he must be 100% accurate throughout the entirety of the CIA’s existence, technically. Which seems to be quite doubtful to me, but I have no personal knowledge, so again, merely a theory. The second of three sections involves plausible denial as the director attempts to shift responsibility for “running” Operation Phoenix from the CIA to the Government of Vietnam. In this, that’s almost certainly an accurate statement, but many would argue only technically and not functionally in any feasible way. It’s common for many military advisors (and associated advisors) of many nations, including the US, to set programs up for training purposes to get local/sovereign governments, militaries, agencies, contractors, rebels, etc., to do the work themselves for this very reason — to be able to legally deny responsibility for any potentially illegal activity that could result in negativities, whether human rights abuse charges or an outright act of war (the US was not supposed to be allowed to enter Cambodia, for instance, as well as Laos — at least until 1965 in Laos. Officially. “Officially.” But just because the US couldn’t legally go certain places didn’t mean locals trained by the US couldn’t, etc. Yet then there’s the little thorny issue that “official” sometimes doesn’t translate to “literal,” for whatever that tidbit’s worth. You can look it up. Last, Colby’s 3rd point is a strong assertion that Operation Phoenix was not a “program of assassination,” and admitted VC members died but typically resisting police arrest and relatively few at that. Well, this is not universally agreed upon, but there has been enough evidence, eye witness accounts from both CIA and US military involved, not to say Vietnamese as well, that it’s hard to put a completely accurate number to things, but first — yes, I would agree with Director Colby’s statement that “Operation Phoenix is not a program of assassination.” Director Colby is exhibiting skills he no doubt learned while attending Columbia Law School, and which most law school students regardless of the institution learn — everything depends on the words you use and the way they are arranged. It’s how you “frame the narrative.” Yes, I went to law school as well and I spent 12 years working in the legal field. I’m not the sharpest person out there, and not nearly as much as Mr. Colby was, but I can usually argue any topic I want or am faced with using the most bizarre, unlikely, fantastical arguments or assertions and yet make my case over and over because of how I frame my words, how I present my case. You don’t gain admission to a postgraduate level leading scientific “academy” that REQUIRES either an MD or PhD in one very narrow medical/scientific field, as well as some 20 years of experience — part clinical, part research — when you have earned degrees, including a terminal degree, and when you have over 30 years of professional experience — but NONE that have anything to do with that specific scientific field unless you can do your due diligence, build a case and frame your argument in a convincing enough fashion to be basically the lone person ever admitted without any required credentials. Because I DO/DID meet the standards in terms of multiple degrees, including a terminal degree, and while my 30 years of work experience weren’t all in that one narrow specialty, I can make a case I’ve often made which is basically simply because I lacked the official job TITLE of “X” didn’t/doesn’t mean I didn’t do that job. In point of fact, there were times when I did little BUT that job for any number of roles and companies while often wearing many hats, without the specific title (and often the salary to go with it). Moreover, I was able to show over 100 medical/scientific postgrad-level books I’ve read and researched over the years to the point where I have literally taught small lessons and classes to scientists and surgeons in that field, and I HAVE worked in other medical/science fields and published at the peer review level, and much more, and I provided evidence over a period of weeks, provided a detailed personal research proposal, which I literally had been working on just on my own — cause I’m weird like that — and it worked! And that’s worked dozens of times and I’ve never lied and it’s always been legitimate. One other example. How do you gain admission to a narrow, highly focused professional organization with tight high-level admission criteria when you lack any degree in that one field and the org requires multiple degrees in it, as well as the required 20+ years of verifiable work experience at a very senior level — again, verifiable — when you never had that job title, nor those official responsibilities? Same method. I have more degrees than they require, but in other fields of study. I never had that job title, but I did in related fields and have been a professional member of a major professional organization of that related high-tech field for decades, and I was able to prove that while not having that title, I nonetheless fulfilled such a role in nearly every company for which I worked for over two decades. Case closed.
Yes, I went on too long, but to prove a point. Director Colby is accurate in stating “Operation Phoenix” is not a program of assassination.” But look at the words used, the word choice. This wasn’t under questioning where one has to think on their feet. This was a letter sent to an editor in which Mr. Colby, and even colleagues — such as agency lawyers — would have had ample time to prepare to a legal, technically accurate way of responding to each of these issues while skirting admission to what may otherwise amount to the same. Because while it was not a “program of assassination,” there is little doubt that it WAS a program of A) intelligence gathering (typically under incredibly inhumane torture methods that left few survivors — but they weren’t “assassinated” and B) an official VC “Neutralization” program in which South Vietnamese PRUs went to villages in search of individuals on lists given to them daily labeling certain persons as VC they needed to find and “neutralize.” And am I making this up or writing in a subjectively critical fashion. No, I don’t believe so. Not only have I studied this program using articles, books, documents, etc., written and published by former CIA and US military professionals involved with the program, but I’ve read explicit accounts of aspects of it as reported by various South Vietnamese witnesses and survivors. And indeed, even straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak as one of the program’s major proponents who was so very publicly and who was one of the US provincial leaders (and yes, it wasn’t “run” by the CIA, but it WAS created and funded by the CIA, if not administered as well, which is merely splitting hairs with Colby’s choice of words in “run by”) — Col. Andrew R. Finlayson (Ret.), USMC who joined the program in a leadership role in the summer of 1969 under the umbrella of the CIA. He wrote an infamous piece called “ A Retrospective on Counterinsurgency Operations: The Tay Ninh Provincial Reconnaissance Unit and Its Role in the Phoenix Program, 1969-70″ that was published in a journal called Studies in Intelligence Vol. 51 No. 2, 2007. It’s not a household name journal because it has a very niche audience. But guess who reads Studies in Intelligence? You’re right — me! As I write, I’m looking at the cover of an issue titled “CIA and the Wars in Southeast Asia 1947-75” from the August 2016 issue. Fascinating. And beside it I have Col. Finlayson’s own article in its entirety, which I had already read and just read again. And despite claims of NON-government attribution in the journal as the material is “created by individuals other than US government employees,” the publisher of this journal is the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C. 20505. 🙂 Get that? I guess the only way the CIA can back that assertion up is by having Retired individuals “create” the material published in the journal because otherwise it’s nothing BUT US government and CIA-focused! That’s awesome. I like playing word games like that. The point is though that the colonel talks a good game and is a good PR manager for the program — for HIS territory, but can’t speak on behalf of the others. But it was very effective in his territory. I’d wager many would say it was extremely effective in its goals by any standard, so he has little to brag about. When your goals are detain (or shoot on sight), torture and torture to death in many cases, and “neutralize” “suspected” VC adversaries — and the word “neutralize” can take on so many meanings — you can afford to claim you’re not assassinating people and you can afford to even possibly claim those killed were largely “resisting police arrest” and then basically end your argument by saying that besides, the CIA’s “abuses” couldn’t possibly compare to “the Viet Cong’s conscious campaign of terrorism…” Beautiful. Lawyer-speak. Of course your opponent is much more vile than you, so you can admit to being vile — just not as bad as the other guy. You can say no assassinations, but admit to people getting “killed in the course of military operations” or “resisting police arrest” when you know — but the civilians don’t — that those two phrases merely mean having PRU squads headed by US CIA and military leaders go from village to village with a list of people to obtain and “neutralize,” resulting in a large majority being gunned down in the villages before ever making it back to get interrogated. Moreover, as has always been the case in such warfare, but as Americans only started learning then and didn’t really “get it” until decades later in the desert, various forms of unconventional warfare can complicate things because when you have to capture and detain specifically named persons in areas where there are no street addresses or phone numbers and worse, NO Uniforms so one can tell the difference between combatant and civilian, well as most people know by now, when you can’t tell ‘m apart, you just start shooting. (You never know who’s going to be the suicide bomber…) And with even the operators in this classified program getting daily body kill count quotas like the regular army units, there was pressure and temptation to just start producing bodies and label them whatever the adverserial label was for that day — Viet Cong, VCI, whatever. So the colonel is right in arguing Phoenix’s effectiveness. Between Tet and Phoenix, the VC were basically wiped out. But Colby plays a nice legal trick on the editor by his choice of words and his intentionally downplaying Methods of death (indiscriminate murder but not assassination could be one way of looking at it) so that they would be viewed as both understandable (in a war zone, not a prison) and even desirable (resisting arrest? They probably deserved it, especially since they were commie terrorists) and the icing on the cake was Colby’s assurances that there really weren’t that many “abuses” and besides the VC were SoMuchWorse!
Just for the record, since it’s impossible to know how many deaths to attribute to Operation Phoenix, that doesn’t mean that haven’t been many attempts to do so on behalf of many different groups and the generally agreed upon minimal is about 25,000 killed and the Facts And Details site refers to Wikipedia in stating that between 1965 and 1972, “Phoenix operatives had ‘neutralized’ 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom 26,369 were killed.” I happen to know that Wiki got that info from MACV itself, ie., the US military/government. So as with all of the body count numbers there, how reliable are those? Col. Finlayson tries to justify the program’s effectiveness AND the raw deal it’d gotten in the press as a human rights criminal program by stating “only 14% of the VCI (their prey) killed under Phoenix were killed by PRUs” … while most of “the rest died in skirmished and raids involving South Vietnamese soldiers and police and the US military.”
Wow. I don’t know about you, but wow. If that’s not a prime example of “changing the narrative,” I don’t know what is. PRUs were “Provincial Reconnaissance Units” designed solely for the Phoenix program, described by Finlayson himself as “the most controversial element of Phoenix.” Paramilitary forces known as “Counter-Terror Teams.” Over 4,000 of them operated throughout South Vietnam and were originally under the individual command of US military officers until the end of 1969 when they were handed back to the CIA. The 18-men teams were heavily armed in addition to having state of the art med kits, radios, motorcycles and 4×4 Toyota trucks. The colonel’s original assessment was that they “lacked fire discipline,” which he doesn’t adequently define leaving readers to guess if that implies they were basically cowboys who started shooting at first sight until they ran out of ammo, thus accounting for a good portion of the 14% the colonel claims the PRUs were responsible for killing. Recall, the US government itself claimed over 81,000 people died under Phoenix, so if the PRUs “only” killed 14%, that would come close to 12,000 people. And that’s a number to be proud of, according to the colonel, since others did “most” of the rest of the killing. In other words, those other 70,000 dead people weren’t his fault so lay off him. Yes, it’s that damn simple. And yes, Colby did what any good lawyer would do and misrepresented facts by framing them in vague terms with zero specifics and comparing the assurance of a small (undefined) number of “abuses” and killed to the horror that the enemy doled out, allowing the American public to feel some relief from any war guilt they may have been feeling. And since this letter was written in 1972, a shitload of Americans were feeling shitty about a whole lot of things. So it was good to not feel shitty about one of those things, right?
Okay, I apologize for getting way off track, but I sometimes enjoy getting carried away. Retirement does that to you. You feel the need to babble incessantly at times, a fault my wife kindly reminds me I’m guilty of at times.
So going back to the original top of Family Jewels, I started to try and attach it as a “family member,” so to speak, of one of the infamous “CIA torture manuals,” in this case the “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare” manual, which I’ve had and studied for years. And I have the other torture manuals. But I have to be candid in stating I know those much better than Family Jewels for many reasons, but one is simply that I rarely have the time these days to read a 700-page tome with everything else I do so I’ve read bits and pieces of it and I’ve read a lot About most of it, which is where I got the info to spit out something about the CIA finding 18 “issues,” though only 8 are outlined in the memo. One issue that often is associated with all of these documents and manuals is training. Specifically the training the CIA does (and the military and now also private contractors, formerly referred to as mercenaries) for tens of thousands of international militaries and police units. And unfortunately with a number of those trained later being accused of human rights violations. Some have called it a “Culture.”
One aspect of this culture that seems to have been there from the beginning through the present is the military & police training of a rumored number of students numbering in the hundreds of thousands, largely through the School of Americas (SOA), now renamed, which trained military & police leaders from hundreds of countries since its creation in 1946 with a special emphasis on Latin American students & with a focus on counterinsurgency used to allegedly fight communism during the Cold War but since the dismantling of the Cold War, a new focus on illegal drug lords & gangs, who were allegedly rebranded “terrorists” after 9/11, but which resulted in autocratic countries led by so-called dictators, most accused by various organizations of being guilty of US-backed atrocities & human rights violations as it was alleged that many labeled whomever they wished (political opponents, unruly peasants, etc.) as “terrorists” to eliminate via infamous, feared “death squads.” Examples of such who were alleged graduates of SOA, newly American trained, include Argentine General Viola, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Guatemalan Colonel Alpirez (allegedly killed US citizens, among others), Honduran General Discua, Salvadoran Colonel Monterrosa, Guatemalan Colonel Osorio (convicted of murdering anthropologist Myrna Mack) & virtually all of the officers working for the most notorious of them all, Chilean General Pinochet, such a brazen “terrorist” that in 1976, two Chilean diplomats were assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC itself, stunning both the world & the US federal government. The fact that the Letelier political assassination was carried out by Chilean secret police in the US (through the South American Operation Condor project) has led some to question whether the CIA would have been aware of such activities, though I’m unaware of anything considered definitive on the part of anyone.
My point in belaboring that last mentioned aspect of the Family Jewels documents is that a major “issue” the CIA possibly found itself “guilty” of during a 25-year period could conceivably be representative of the agency’s entire history of its training international professionals, possibly through the present. That is purely speculative, but cannot be ruled out.
Ultimately while both scholars & critics (as well as victims) have been happy to have so much documented information released, a number of people have asserted that it’s difficult to believe that over a 25-year period, “only” 18 “issues” (let alone 8!) were found & self-reported by the CIA when skeptics assert there surely must be much more than “only” that many. I personally have no knowledge or theories regarding that as I am merely a student of history & remain absorbed in reading, research & analysis with documented histories of any number of subjects, as my weakness is that I’m interested in too much & thus spread myself too thin.
I could go on endlessly, but I’ve already devoted too much time & energy to this post. But both for anyone interested as well as to publicly emphasize that ALL of documents & information described & discussed herein is “open source,” declassified & identified as such, readily available to any interested parties at multiple sources & one only needs a search engine & several minutes to find, access & obtain this & additional documents at will. As I stated, I am a student of history & take such seriously. As a result, I view it as necessary, essential & intellectually honest to (re)learn the standard fare we all receive but to be honest & objective enough to find & learn about the warts & possible ugliness regarding not only world history but nationalistic history & thus to eventually gloss over the perennially regurgitated & THINK, because we aren’t used to doing that & it’s actually often discouraged in some areas. Thus I’ve pondered things my entire life & found myself wondering how Hawaii became a US state, because no one ever learns about that, or why did Puerto Rico become a US territory before 1900 yet while many residents have pressed for official statehood status, it hasn’t happened & yet Alaska & Hawaii flew by them many years later. Why? History indicates the participants in World War I were so exhausted & everything had become so futile that it was rumored that they were in the process of brokering a peace when US President Wilson entered the fray at the last minute (to some), resulting in an alleged unnecessary extension of the war with an alleged million additional deaths & if remotely true, why? For that matter, we don’t learn about additional Wilson-led adventures following the war, ones that might surprise some people were they too read of this history. And moving beyond the US, we rarely learn much of anything other than Western European history. That is fascinating but there’s more to the history of the world than just that. What about good Mr. Rhodes? Why the India/Pakistan partition when Britain released its former colony? Why do we not learn about the one tiny, backwards third world country to effectively defeat three of the greatest powers in the world, all within roughly a 3-4 decade period & initially lacking weapons, financing, infrastructure, technology, etc.? Why have we forgotten Gary F Powers? And on and on. There are so many questions and so many mysteries and so much fascinating information to be gleaned from history that I could have devoted my entire life to learning and only have gotten a fraction of the way there by this point. And now I’m going to cut it off early because despite being able to write more, I’ve been up all night doing this and it’s now morning and it’s time to start the coffee. I hope this post was informative and interesting for some and oddly, I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I was pinning a document on a Pinterest board when a popup appeared urging me to write something, and without my realizing what that would lead to, I did. And I’ll know better next time, but it was fun and gonna go now. Have a good day.