From President to Ambassador, Cabinet Officer to Commanding General, and from Senator to executive assistant-all these men have their sources of information and guidance. Most of this information and guidance is the result of carefully laid schemes and ploys of pressure groups.In this influential coterie one of the most interesting and effective roles is that played by the behind the scenes, faceless, nameless, ubiquitous briefing officer.
He is the man who sees the President, the Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff almost daily, and who carries with him the most skillfully detailed information. He is trained by years of experience in the precise way to present that information to assure its effectiveness. He comes away day after day knowing more and more about the man he has been briefing and about what it is that the truly influential pressure groups at the center of power and authority are really trying to tell these key decision makers. In Washington, where such decisions shape and shake the world, the role of the regular briefing officer is critical.
Leaders of government and of the great power centers regularly leak information of all kinds to columnists, television and radio commentators, and to other media masters with the hope that the material will surface and thus influence the President, the Secretary, the Congress, and the public. Those other inside pressure groups with their own briefing officers have direct access to the top men; they do not have to rely upon the media, although they make great use of it. They are safe and assured in the knowledge that they can get to the decision maker directly. They need no middleman other than the briefing officer. Such departments as Defense, State, and the CIA use this technique most effectively.
For nine consecutive, long years during those crucial days from 1955 through January 1, 1964, I was one of those briefing officers. I had the unique assignment of being the "Focal Point" officer for contacts between the CIA and the Department of Defense on matters pertaining to the military support of the Special Operations of that Agency. In that capacity I worked with Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles, several Secretaries of Defense, and Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as many others in key governmental places. My work took me to more than sixty countries and to CIA offices and covert activities all over the world--from such hot spots as Saigon and to such remote places as the South Pole. Yes, there have been secret operations in Antarctica.
It was my job not only to brief these men, but to brief them from the point of view of the CIA so that I might win approval of the projects presented and of the accompanying requests for support from the military in terms of money, manpower, facilities, and materials. I was, during this time, perhaps the best informed "Focal Point" officer among the few who operated in this very special area. The role of the briefing officer is quiet, effective, and most influential; and, in the CIA, specialized in the high art of top level indoctrination.
It cannot be expected that a John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, a Richard Nixon, or a following President will have experienced and learned all the things that may arise to confront him during his busy official life in the White House. It cannot be expected that a Robert McNamara or a Melvin Laird, a Dean Rusk or a William Rogers, etc. comes fully equipped to high office, aware of all matters pertaining to what they will encounter in their relationship with the Congo or Cuba, Vietnam or Pakistan, and China or Russia and the emerging new nations. These men learn about these places and the many things that face them from day to day from an endless and unceasing procession of briefing officers.
Henry Kissinger was a briefing officer. General John Vogt was one of the best. Desmond Fitzgerald, Tracy Barnes, Ed Lansdale, and "Brute" Krulak, in their own specialties, were top-flight briefing officers on subjects that until the publication of the "Pentagon Papers," few people had ever seen in print or had ever even contemplated.
(You can imagine my surprise when I read the June 13, 1971, issue of the Sunday New York Times and saw there among the "Pentagon Papers" a number of basic information papers that had been in my own files in the Joint Chiefs of Staff area of the Pentagon. Most of the papers of that period had been source documents from which I had prepared dozens -- even hundreds -- of briefings, for all kinds of projects, to be given to top Pentagon officers. Not only had many of those papers been in my files, but I had either written many of them myself or had written certain of the source documents used by the men who did.)
The briefing officer, with the staff officer, writes the basic papers. He researches the papers. He has been selected because he has the required knowledge and experience. He has been to the countries and to the places involved. He may know the principals in the case well. He is supposed to be the best man available for that special job. In my own case, I had been on many special assignments dating back to the Cairo and Teheran conferences of late 1943 that first brought together the "Big Four" of the Allied nations of WW II: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Chiang Kai-shek and Joseph Stalin.
The briefing officer reads all of the messages, regardless of classification. He talks to a number of other highly qualified men. He may even have staff specialists spread out all over the world upon whom he may call at any time for information. Working in support of the "Focal Point" office, which I headed, there were hundreds of experts and agents concealed in military commands throughout the world who were part of a network I had been directed to establish in 1955-1956 as a stipulation of National Security Council directive 5412, March 1954.
In government official writing, the man who really writes the paper--or more properly, the men whose original work and words are put together to become the final paper--are rarely, if ever, the men whose names appear on that paper. A paper attributed to Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara or Dean Rusk, of the Kennedy era, would not, in almost all instances, have been written by them; but more than likely would have been assembled from information gathered from the Departments of Defense and State and from CIA sources and put into final language by such a man as General Victor H. Krulak, who was among the best of that breed of official writers.
From l955 through 1963, if some official wanted a briefing on a highly classified subject involving the CIA, I would be one of those called upon to prepare the material and to make the briefing. At the same time, if the CIA wanted support from the Air Force for some covert operation, I was the officer who had been officially designated to provide this special operational support to the CIA.
If I was contacted by the CIA to provide support for an operation which I believed the Secretary of Defense had not been previously informed of, I would see to it that he got the necessary briefing from the CIA or from my office and that any other Chief of Staff who might be involved would get a similar briefing. In this unusual business I found rather frequently that the CIA would be well on its way into some operation that would later require military support before the Secretary and the Chiefs had been informed.
During preparations for one of the most important of these operations, covered in some detail in this book, I recall briefing the chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, on the subject of the largest clandestine special operation that the CIA had ever mounted up to that time: and then hearing him say to the other Chiefs, "I just can't believe it. I never knew that."
Here was the nation's highest ranking military officer, the man who would be held responsible for the operation should it fail or become compromised, and he had not been told enough about it to know just how it was being handled. Such is the nature of the game as played by the "Secret Team."
I have written for several magazines on this subject, among them the Armed Forces Journal, The New Republic, the Empire Magazine of the Denver Sunday Post, and The Washington Monthly. It was for this latter publication that I wrote "The Secret Team", an article that appeared in the May 1970 issue and that led to the development of this book.
With the publication of the "Pentagon Papers" on June 13,1971, interest in this subject area was heightened and served to underscore my conviction that the scope of that article must be broadened into a book.
Within days of The New York Times publication of those "Pentagon Papers," certain editorial personnel with the BBC-TV program, "Twenty-Four Hours", recalling my "Secret Team" article, invited me to appear on a series on TV with, among others, Daniel Ellsberg. They felt that my experience with the Secret Team would provide material for an excellent companion piece to the newly released "Pentagon Papers," which were to be the primary topic of the discussions. I flew to London and made a number of programs for BBC-TV and Radio. Legal problems and the possible consequences of his departure from the country at that time precluded the simultaneous appearance of Daniel Ellsberg. The programs got wide reception and served to underscore how important the subject of the "Pentagon Papers" is throughout the world.
I have not chosen to reveal and to expose "unreleased" classified documents; but I do believe that those that have been revealed, both in the "Pentagon Papers" and elsewhere, need to be interpreted and fully explained. I am interested in setting forth and explaining what "secrecy" and the "cult of containment" really mean and what they have done to our way of life and to our country. Furthermore, I want to correct any disinformation that may have been given by those who have tried to write on these subjects in other related histories.
I have lived this type of work; I know what happened and how it happened. I have known countless men who participated in one way or another in these unusual events of Twentieth Century history. Many of these men have been and still are members of the Secret Team. It also explains why much of it has been pure propaganda and close to nationwide "brainwashing" of the American public. I intend to interpret and clarify these events by analyzing information already in the public domain. There is plenty.
Few concepts during this half century have been as important, as controversial, as misunderstood, and as misinterpreted as secrecy in Government. No idea during this period has had a greater impact upon Americans and upon the American way of life than that of the containment of Communism. Both are inseparably intertwined and have nurtured each other in a blind Pavlovian way. Understanding their relationship is a matter of fundamental importance.
Much has been written on these subjects and on their vast supporting infrastructure, generally known as the "intelligence community." Some of this historical writing has suffered from a serious lack of inside knowledge and experience. Most of this writing has been done by men who know something about the subject, by men who have researched and learned something about the subject, and in a few cases by men who had some experience with the subject. Rarely is there enough factual experience on the part of the writer. On the other hand, the Government and other special interests have paid writers huge amounts to write about this subject as they want it done, not truthfully. Thus our history is seriously warped and biased by such work.
Many people have been so concerned about what has been happening to our Government that they have dedicated themselves to investigating and exposing its evils. Unfortunately, a number of these writers have been dupes of those cleverer than they or with sinister reasons for concealing knowledge. They have written what they thought was the truth, only to find out (if they ever did find out) that they had been fed a lot of contrived cover stories and just plain hogwash. In this book I have taken extracts from some of this writing and, line by line, have shown how it has been manipulated to give a semblance of truth while at the same time being contrived and false.
Nevertheless, there have been some excellent books in this broad area. But many of these books suffer from various effects of the dread disease of secrecy and from its equally severe corollary illness called "cover" (the CIA's official euphemism for not telling the truth).
The man who has not lived in the secrecy and intelligence environment--really lived in it and fully experienced it--cannot write accurately about it. There is no substitute for the day to day living of a life in which he tells his best friends and acquaintances, his family and his everyday contacts one story while he lives another. The man who must depend upon research and investigation inevitably falls victim to the many pitfalls of the secret world and of the "cover story" world with its lies and counter-lies.
A good example of this is the work of Les Gelb and his Pentagon associates on the official version of the purloined "Pentagon Papers." That very title is the biggest cover story (no pun intended) of them all; so very few of those papers were really of Pentagon origin. The fact that I had many of them in my office of Special Operations in Joint Staff area, and that most of them had been in the files of the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs did not validate the locale of their origin. They were "working copies" and not originals. Notice how few were signed by true military officers.
It is significant to note that the historical record that has been called the "Pentagon Papers" was actually a formal government-funded "study of the history of United States involvement in Vietnam from World War II to the present" i.e. 1945 to 1968. On June 17, 1967 the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara directed that work. A task force consisting of "six times six professionals" under the direction of Leslie H. Gelb produced "37 studies and 15 collections of documents in 43 volumes" that were presented on January 15, 1969 to the then-Secretary of Defense, Clark M. Clifford by Mr. Gelb with the words from Herman Melville's Moby Dick:
"This is a world of chance, free will, and necessity-all interweavingly working together as one: chance by turn rules either and had the last featuring blow at events."
As you may recall, this treasure trove of TOP SECRET papers was delivered to the New York Times, and other newspapers in mid-June, 1971, by a then-unknown "Hippie" of that period. His name was Daniel Ellsberg. What few people have learned since that time is the fact that both Daniel Ellsberg, who pirated these highly classified papers, and Leslie Gelb the Director of that Task Force, had worked in that same office of International Security Affairs (ISA).
The "misappropriation" of those documents was not the work of some "true patriots" as Noam Chomsky wrote in 1972. Rather it was an inside job. That ISA office had been the home of many of the "big names" of the Vietnam War period, among them Paul H. Nitze, John T. McNaughton, Paul C. Warnke and William Bundy, among others. The fact that I had many of them in my office, that I had worked with them, and that I had written parts of some of them proves that they were not genuine Pentagon papers, because my work at that time was devoted to support of the CIA. The same is true of General Krulak, William Bundy, and to a degree, Maxwell Taylor among others.
To look at this matter in another way, the man who has lived and experienced this unnatural existence becomes even more a victim of its unreality. He becomes enmeshed beyond all control upon the horns of a cruel dilemma. On the one hand, his whole working life has been dedicated to the cause of secrecy and to its protection by means of cover stories (lies). In this pursuit he has given of himself time after time to pledges, briefings, oaths, and deep personal conviction regarding the significance of that work. Even if he would talk and write, his life has been so interwoven into the fabric of the real and the unreal, the actual and the cover story, that he would be least likely to present the absolutely correct data.
On the other hand, as a professional he would have been subjected to such cellurization and compartmentalization each time he became involved in any real "deep" operation that he would not have known the whole story anyhow. This compartalization is very real. I have worked on projects with many CIA men so unaware of the entire operation that they had no realization and awareness of the roles of other CIA men working on the same project.
I would know of this because inevitably somewhere along the line both groups would come to the Department of Defense for hardware support. I actually designed a special office in the Pentagon with but one door off the corridor. Inside, it had a single room with one secretary. However, off her office there was one more door that led to two more offices with a third doorway leading to yet another office, which was concealed by the door from the secretary's room. I had to do this because at times we had CIA groups with us who were now allowed to meet each other, and who most certainly would not have been there had they known that the others were there. (For the record, the office was 4D1000--it may have been changed by now; but it had remained that way for many years.)
Another group of writers, about the world of secrecy, are the "masters"--men like Allen W. Dulles, Lyman Kirkpatrick, Peer de Silva and Chester Cooper. My own choice of the best of these are Peer de Silva and Lyman Kirkpatrick. These are thoroughly professional intelligence officers who have chosen a career of high-level intelligence operations. Their writing is correct and informative--to a degree beyond that which most readers will be able to translate and comprehend at first reading; yet they are properly circumspect and guarded and very cleverly protective of their profession.
There is another category of writer and self-proclaimed authority on the subjects of secrecy, intelligence, and containment. This man is the suave, professional parasite who gains a reputation as a real reporter by disseminating the scraps and "Golden Apples" thrown to him by the great men who use him. This writer seldom knows and rarely cares that many of the scraps from which he draws his material have been planted, that they are controlled leaks, and that he is being used, and glorified as he is being used, by the inside secret intelligence community.
Allen Dulles had a penchant for cultivating a number of such writers with big names and inviting them to his table for a medieval style luncheon in that great room across the hall from his own offices in the old CIA headquarters on the hill overlooking Foggy Bottom. Here, he would discuss openly and all too freely the same subjects that only hours before had been carefully discussed in the secret inner chambers of the operational side of that quiet Agency. In the hands of Allen Dulles, "secrecy" was simply a chameleon device to be used as he saw fit and to be applied to lesser men according to his schemes. It is quite fantastic to find people like Daniel Ellsberg being charged with leaking official secrets simply because the label on the piece of paper said "TOP SECRET," when the substance of many of the words written on those same papers was patently untrue and no more than a cover story. Except for the fact that they were official "lies", these papers had no basis in fact, and therefore no basis to be graded TOP SECRET or any other degree of classification. Allen Dulles would tell similar cover stories to his coterie of writers, and not long thereafter they would appear in print in some of the most prestigious papers and magazines in the country, totally unclassified, and of course, cleverly untrue.
Lastly there is the writer from outside this country who has gained his inside information from sources in another country. These sources are no doubt reliable; they know exactly what has taken place -- as in Guatemala during the Bay of Pigs era -- and they can speak with some freedom. In other cases, the best of these sources have been from behind the Iron Curtain.
In every case, the chance for complete information is very small, and the hope that in time researchers, students, and historians will be able to ferret out truth from untruth, real from unreal, and story from cover story is at best a very slim one. Certainly, history teaches us that one truth will add to and enhance another; but let us not forget that one lie added to another lie will demolish everything. This is the important point.
Consider the past half century. How many major events--really major events--have there been that simply do not ring true? How many times has the entire world been shaken by alarms of major significance, only to find that the events either did not happen at all, or if they did, that they had happened in a manner quite unlike the original story? The war in Vietnam is undoubtedly the best example of this. Why is it that after more than thirty years of clandestine and overt involvement in Indochina, no one had been able to make a logical case for what we had been doing there and to explain adequately why we had become involved; and what our real and valid objectives in that part of the world were?
The mystery behind all of this lies in the area we know as "Clandestine activity", "intelligence operations", "secrecy", and "cover stories", used on a national and international scale. It is the object of this book to bring reality and understanding into this vast unknown area.
L. FLETCHER PROUTY
Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret'd)
- Special Operations is a name given in most cases, but not always, to any clandestine, covert, undercover, or secret operations by the government or by someone, U.S. citizen or a foreign national . . . even in special cases a stateless professional, or U.S. or foreign activity or organization. It is usually secret and highly classified. It is to be differentiated from Secret intelligence and in a very parochial sense from Secret or Special Intelligence Operations.
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