The Nature of Clandestine Operations
A LIGHT PLANE SKIMMED THE TREE-TOPS OF THE dense hardwood forest of northern Maine. It dipped from view, and was gone. To anyone who might have been watching, the lake where the plane landed was too small for any pontoon equipped plane. However, the landing was safe, and the plane taxied toward two men sitting in a small inflated boat. One of them had been winding the hand crank of a small generator. The other was tuning a transceiver. As the plane approached, the pilot cut the throttle, and the men paddled to the nearest float and climbed aboard. The pilot reported that he had picked up the homing beacon several times at distances of from thirty to sixty miles. He could have gotten more range, but the flight plan called for a low altitude flight, so he had to do the best he could from tree-top height. The beacon, newly modified to give a stronger signal, satisfied them. Further testing would take place at Norfolk. The men stowed the gear aboard the plane and deflated the raft. The co-pilot, who spoke no English, helped them up. The pilot restarted the engine and gunned the throttle to take them to the far side of the pond.
With everything ready for take-off and the plane heavy with four men aboard, the pilot waited for a slight breeze, which would put ripples on the water and help them get off more quickly. A technician would have noted that large leading-edge slats on this plane were extended before take-off and that the large trailing flaps were also down for maximum lift. With the breeze, some steady ripples, and a full throttle, the pilot let the plane accelerate for about twelve seconds and then lifted it clear. Once off the water, he began an easy spiral climb to get up and out of the tree-lined valley.
A month of special training had paid off. The new Helio "Courier" had proven itself to be the best and most rugged short-field plane available. The floats were not too heavy, and the plane handled well on the water. Most important, the new co-pilot had transitioned quickly and had handled the plane like an old pro. He needed more instrument work for weather flying, and he needed some navigational experience. He would get that training at Norfolk. He had liked flying in Maine, and he reported that "it looked like my homeland". After a short hop, the plane landed on Moosehead Lake, and everyone went back to Greenville to prepare to close the camp.
In Germany, hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and repatriated refugees had been interrogated and debriefed as they came through the military processing centers. A small fraction of this horde of people, fleeing the Communists and the reprisals of their own countrymen, possessed information that was useful intelligence. This select group was turned over to professional interrogators who worked for military intelligence and the CIA. Only the very best were reserved for CIA questioning; and these were screened carefully to assure accuracy and integrity and to spot the inevitable planted agent. Among this group, the Agency had found several who had given evidence of a military buildup by the early 1950s, of a very special nature far north of Moscow. This intelligence had been screened, evaluated, and analyzed to see what it meant. About the best that the refugees and defectors could provide was that new interceptor fighter bases were being built farther north than ever seen before and a vast array of radars, indicating the development of a sophisticated air defense network, was being installed.
One day, a young Polish defector, who claimed to have been a pilot, turned himself in, and after careful screening and background checking, he was brought to the "safe house" not far from the I. G. Farben building in Frankfurt for further interrogation. In the course of this work, he said he had made several trips as a co-pilot delivering cargo to the new construction sites at these fighter bases in the Soviet northwest. As if to prove his point, he said he could find his way back there anytime.
Clandestine operations take form through such small and unexpected leads. The agent who had been working with this pilot was not on the Directorate of Intelligence side. He was a member of the Central European staff of DD/P, the special operations staff of the Agency. Up to the time of that last statement he had been interested only in a secret intelligence project designed to obtain all the information it could get on Soviet air defenses. That evening when he stopped at the officers club in Frankfurt, he met a few other agents who were visiting from Washington. He mentioned the chance remark of the Polish pilot.
A few months earlier, there had been a meeting in the Pentagon in the Air Force Plans offices, where the vast Air Resupply and Communications program was managed. These special Air Force units, called ARC Wings, were stationed in strategic locations all over the world. Included among their special classified missions was the task of providing wartime support of the CIA. Several CIA men attended the meeting in the Pentagon, and when it broke up, one of them stayed behind to ask the Air Force pilots what they thought was the best light plane for rugged, special-operations-type business. One of the officers reported that a small company, consisting for the most part of ex-Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautical engineering men, was building and flying a plane called the Helio Courier. If it was really as good as it was reported to be, it might be the plane the CIA wanted.
About one week later, a man reported to the Helio Aircraft Corporation in Norwood, Massachusetts, to learn more about this plane. He gave his true name, showed the identification of a U.S. Air Force civilian employee, and said he worked in Air Force headquarters. He spent several days with the Helio company and returned with an enthusiastic report. He actually worked for the Air Division of the DD/P in the CIA, and his boss at that time was an Air Force colonel on duty with the CIA.
After proper testing and evaluation, the CIA decided to purchase several of these aircraft. However, the Air Force had none of these planes, and the plane could not be purchased by the Air Force for the CIA because it could not be "covered" unless there were others like it in the Air Force. The CIA decided to buy these planes anyway and set up a civilian cover unit for them putting them under commercial cover. At the same time the agent in Frankfurt was talking with the Polish pilot, these same aircraft had just been delivered to the CIA and were being shaken down for special operations work.
Thus it happened quite by chance that this agent told his friends in Germany that the CIA had just the plane that could make the flight, if they could get the Polish pilot sufficiently trained for it and if they could get the operation approved "through the Old Man". They knew "Air Division" would back them. It wanted more action than border flying and training exercises. They counted on the approval of Richard Helms and Frank Wisner (both men at that time were in DD/P; Wisner was the chief) and felt sure General Cabell would go along with the idea, since the Air Force could use any information it could get about the Russian air defenses, to support the growing B-52 strategic bomber flight budget. They knew the ultimate decision would be up to Allen Dulles.
During the next weeks the agent in Frankfurt worked very hard with the young Pole to see just how much he knew, whether he really knew the Soviet Union, and whether he really could fly an airplane. Everything seemed to work out, the information the Pole gave him checked out with everything the Frankfurt station could get.
With this under way, the Frankfurt station agent kept a friend in Washington informed of all developments. Between them, they kept feeding "business" messages, designed to heat up the subject of "new Soviet air defenses", into intelligence channels. Everything possible was done to increase intelligence communications traffic on this subject. The Air Force intelligence office at U.S. Air Forces, Europe headquarters (USAFE), in Weisbaden was put on the task. It quite willingly picked up the ball because that headquarters had a very active border flying activity, and this would give them something to do besides dropping leaflets and furnishing tens of thousands of weather balloons. USAFE increased its traffic on this subject to the U.S. Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs and to the Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha.
At the same time, the Frankfurt station agent arranged to have the Air Force group at the Weisbaden air base set up a light-plane flight reorientation course for the Polish pilot. An Air Force light plane was made available and to the relief of everyone, the Pole proved to be a good pilot. It was easier get him through the refresher course than it had been to get the plane for him.
If this mission were to operate into the Soviet Union, the pilot must never know who was supporting him. Therefore, he was told that a German air operator had a Polish pilot and a plane and that they would give him some refresher flying so that he could seek employment. He was never told that he was being prepared to fly to the Soviet Union. The Air Force plane was put into the hangar and stripped of all USAF identity. Then German instrument decals were put in the cockpit and a Polish pilot, one whom the Agency had ready at a special billet in Greece, was transferred to the Frankfurt station.
Every day, the Polish defector would be driven to the airfield for his lesson. The older, CIA "stateless" pilot, not only gave him transition flying but tried in every way to test the newer man and to break his story. But the facts held up, and the young pilot proved to be sincere and reliable.
With this success, the idea of the project had begun to take shape. Air Division plotted several flight plans from a secret location in Norway into the Soviet Union. Because the Courier performed so well on water, and a water landing at an "unknown" destination seemed to offer the most chance for success, it had been decided to operate from a water departure point to a water destination. Also, each flight plan called for a low "under radar canopy" tree-top level pattern.
Long-range, low-level navigation is difficult because visibility pilotage purposes is reduced to a narrow track. This was doubly true for this flight, because any radio aid that might exist was limited and hostile. Border electronic information flights had pinpointed some radio fixes that could be used; but even at best these were quite unreliable. A Loran navigation fix would be ideal; but none was in operation that far north. This was overcome by having the U.S. Navy agree to put a Loran-carrying ship in the far north as part of a "NATO exercise". This would give a good, reliable, and secret navigational and code signal system for most of the flight. The mission plane would not be required to make any transmissions in order to use Loran for navigational purposes. It would simply receive the signals it needed.
Meanwhile, Air Division did not wish to pin all of its hopes on the young Pole. He would fly the plane, but an agent would be trained to help him navigate and to serve as a helper for the two-man team that would be infiltrated into Russia. A series of long-range navigation missions was set up and all systems thoroughly tested.
By this time DD/P had accepted the proposal and had become its sponsor. The U.S. Air Force and Navy had been fully sounded out, and they went along with the idea. At that point, a meeting was set up in the OSO/OSD office to soften up any possible opposition and to prepare for the crucial vote of the Secretary of Defense in the NSC Special Group meeting. Since the operation would have a vital military intelligence tie-in, the OSD vote was just about assured. This was the period of the Allen W. Dulles-John Foster Dulles partnership; so no meeting was scheduled at the Department of State. "The Old Man will handle that" was sufficient to assure that vote at the NSC. With all of this preparation, it was no problem for DD/P Wisner to sell the idea to General Cabell. The way was cleared for the meeting with Allen Dulles.
The agent from the Frankfurt station flew into Washington on a "deep water" flight -- a clandestine flight with a cover flight plan and no customs intervention -- on a ClA-owned U.S. Air Force C-l18 transport, with the Polish pilot as a passenger. The Pole was kept at a "safe house" near Andrews Air Force Base, just a few miles from Washington. The Frankfurt station agent attended the meeting with Dulles, as did General Cabell, Wisner, and a few others. The idea was accepted by Mr. Dulles, and he asked his executive to put it on the agenda for the next Special Group meeting. That evening, before his usual tennis game on his backyard court, Allen Dulles dropped by his brothers secluded house just off Massachusetts Avenue and discussed the operation with him. Foster agreed that Eisenhower would go along with it. He walked over to the wall lined with book shelves and picked up the special white telephone that connected directly with the White House operator. All he said was, "Is the man busy?"
Foster Dulles opened with, "Boss, how did you do at Burning Tree today? . . . well, six holes is better than nothing . . . Yes, I've been talking here with Allen. He has a proposal he wants to clear with you. He feels it is very important, and it will lift the morale of Franks [Wisner] boys. You know, since Korea and Guatemala you havent had them doing much. Will you see him tomorrow morning? Fine. Hows Mamie, O.K. boss, I'll speak to Allen... 9:30... Thank you; good night." There was not much left to do. The flight would be scheduled.
First, the Polish pilot was given a briefing on his cover story. He was "being employed by a foreign company to do some bush-flying, and he would get some training with one of their men in the United States". The "company" man was the CIA agent from Air Division; he would be the mission commander. Shortly after their first meeting they were flown to Maine, where they met the pilot -- also an Agency employee -- of the Courier. The plane had a cover company name on it and a special FAA registry number, which would never show on official FAA records if it were to be challenged. The flight indoctrination concentrated on float techniques, short-field landing and take-off, and low-level, long-range navigation. The Agency mission commander had been trained to take the Loran fixes for navigation.
When the pilot had passed all of his flying tests, he was introduced to the two-man "stay-behind" team. These men would be infiltrated on one flight and then recovered on another. These "passengers" went about their business by themselves and were always, except on the flights, accompanied by a case officer. It seemed that they did not speak English, and they made no attempt to speak to the Polish pilot. If this mission failed and any of them were interrogated, they would know nothing about one another.
At Norfolk, the final phase of training took place. A secluded cove near the mouth of the York River on Chesapeake Bay had a very small section roped off to simulate the tiny landing area they expected to find in Russia as target of this infiltration mission. Day after day, the pilot practiced from that tree-bordered cove so that he would be instinctively used to flying that way. Short take-off and landing (STOL) flying is a real high order skill, and he needed all the training he could get. The next thing he needed was long-range navigation experience -- much of it over water and out of sight of land. Flight plans, as much as possible like the one he would fly from Norway into Russia, were set up. He flew these at extended range day after day until he could hit his target accurately. The Agency man helped him with Loran navigation and taught him how to fly in such a manner that he would conserve his fuel. On the real flight he would have to get in and out of Russia without refueling, and he would have very little reserve. The next step was to ask the Frankfurt station liaison officer, who had contact with the British intelligence service, to set up a meeting somewhere in England for the Polish pilot and a very reliable, high-level Russian defector who was being debriefed secretly at that time. The British agreed to the meeting and suggested it be held at the CIA sub-base near the U.S. Air Force base of the Air Resupply and Communications Wing stationed in England. Thus the meeting would be very secret and could be covered adequately by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force.
Finally, everything was ready. The Courier was left at Norfolk because another new plane had been built for this flight, one with absolutely no identification markings of any kind -- no paint, no decals, no serial numbers. Even the tires, battery, radio parts, etc., were either stripped clean or had been purchased from various foreign sources. If this plane were lost in Russia, no matter what the Russians might try to charge, this Government would say nothing at all, and if pressed, would deny everything. The plane had been totally sanitized from the start.
The new plane had its wings removed and was placed aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane. All of the mission personnel were placed aboard the same plane and flown from Andrews Field on a black flight to England. There, at the same base where the pilot had first met the Soviet defector, a final briefing was held. At this time the pilot was told what he was really going to do. He agreed to go ahead and was briefed by the Russian, along with Agency personnel. Later, the same Russian briefed the two passengers separately. They knew what to do.
A few days later, the whole team was flown to an airfield in northern Norway. The Oslo CIA station chief had cleared the operation with the contact man in the Norwegian Government. He was told about the flight and given only a cover story about the real reason for it. Foster Dulles had told the American ambassador as little as possible; he had simply been "informed". If by some chance any of the stateless personnel were compromised by a take-off crash or other incident, the ambassador would be prepared to act. Otherwise, he had no role to play.
The mission commander led the whole team through the entire exercise on several dry runs until they all knew their roles perfectly. The U.S. Navy, British Navy, and a Norwegian ship or two were participating in a NATO northern exercise. Fleets of transport aircraft flew from various northern bases back and forth over the Arctic, making obvious use of the Loran network. All was in readiness. Border reconnaissance flights were intensified out of Athens and Weisbaden. RB-47 high altitude flights were stepped up off Murmansk. Then, with a report of good weather and clear skies, the Courier left Norway with its four occupants and secret equipment.
For hours the plane skimmed the waves, staying below radar surveillance. U.S. ELINT monitors listened for increased "alert level" activities. All were silent. Suddenly in the Loran carrier wave, a final "all clear" signal was given. It was a simple code flashed in microseconds and unintelligible to all but the most sophisticated equipment. Then the Courier turned to the southeast and toward landfall. The barren coastline rose quickly. A heavy, dark forest grew right to the sea. The horizon was low and rolling as the plane sped on its way. Although the plane lands at a very slow speed, it cruises at a relatively high speed, even with floats. Just as dawn broke gray and heavy, they neared the destination. The only identifiable landmark they had passed was a single-track railroad cutting a long straight furrow through the forest. After the railroad there was a stream that led to the pond where they would land. The pilot made only the slightest half-turn pattern, cut the power, dropped full flaps, and slipped over some pine trees and landed with an easy splash. They were down. The Maine short-landing techniques had paid off.
With the engine off they paddled the plane to the shore, where they hastily concealed it with netting and evergreen branches. The stay-behind team unloaded all of its gear and moved well into the woods. The pilot and the mission commander slept. Later in the twilight of the brief northern day, the crew waved to the men on shore, and the Courier flashed across the pond, up over the trees, and away into the darkness. An hour after crossing the coastline, the M/C flashed a simple signal on the carrier wave. Right away, a "welcome" flash came back on Loran and an "all clear" radio signal, which meant destination weather was all right. A few hours later, the plane landed in Norway.
The training had paid off. Ten days later, the stay-behind team was recovered. This time they had helped the pilot by using the hand-cranked generator to put out a signal to guide him to the pond. All four men returned to the base in Norway. The M/C was debriefed in England, with certain British agents present. Then he flew back to Washington. The two infiltrated team men were not seen again by anyone of the early group, and the young Pole was transferred to his new civilian job in Athens.
The instrument team made their secret intelligence report to the appropriate staff sections of DD/I in the old CIA buildings near the reflecting pool beside the Mall in Washington. Their report was properly evaluated, analyzed, and disseminated to the military. They had heard, aurally and electronically, much fighter aircraft traffic and had picked up radar signals, which they had recorded. This team and the M/C received -- silently -- the highest award the CIA can give. In their profession the fact of the award was known; but elsewhere, even the award itself was a classified subject.
Meanwhile, certain very closed and select meetings were being held in the Agencys inner sanctum in a nondescript office building in the "H" Street NW area of downtown Washington. Designated need-to-know staff members from the CIA, the White House, Defense, State, the NSA, and the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) had a number of sessions with the men who had been in the USSR. Their report was of great value. This whole fighter-base-radar-defense operation was real. But it was itself all part of another layer of cover story. These two men of the stay-behind team had recorded a Soviet nuclear explosion. They had, by unexpectedly lucky timing, actually witnessed the faraway glow of that tremendous explosion, and they had left in Russia very sensitive earth-sounding sensors, which would give limited but valuable signals whenever they were activated by further Soviet nuclear tests.
As in the case of other CIA undercover missions, most of what was known, even by those who knew that a plane had been flown into and back from Russia, was a cover story. State and Defense had benefited from the Air Defense intelligence. The real story, all of the facts, were reserved for the inner team of the CIA and for their co-workers secreted throughout the Government. This flight into Russia was for them simply a step on the road to Indonesia, to Cuba, to Tibet, and ultimately to Vietnam.
This had been a well-rehearsed and well-developed small operation, in the style and manner of true covert intelligence work. When the leaders of the U.S. Government use such operations for positive purposes, they may be expected to do some good. When they are repeated too frequently, when they grow too large, and when they are poorly developed and directed, they are harmful and they destroy any good that might ever come from them.
The operation described was real; but it was not a single operation and it did not happen exactly as described. Even though it took place many years ago and the significance of that project has been lost in time, some of the people involved are still in the business and some of the places used may still be used from time to time. It serves to demonstrate how a really professional special operation can be done, as contrasted with some of the haphazard and careless missions that are often carried out by some of the irresponsible non-professionals who so easily slip under the cloak of secrecy.
For example, we have said that the country involved was Norway. This was selected because the U-2 did not use Norway on certain flights over the Soviet Union. In most cases, the host country is told the truth, or at least all the truth that is known at the time of the first briefing. In a case such as this one, the station chief in Norway would tell his counterpart that we were preparing an operation in which a plane would be sent into Russia with a team and then would return there ten days later to pick them up.
Since the Norwegians share NATO secrets, it is possible they would be promised some of the data acquired. In this case, where the flight had more than ordinary significance, the Norwegians might only be told about the Air Defense mission and not about the nuclear weapons test. The host country might wish to have a representative at the scene before departure to satisfy itself that should the plane crash in Russia and be found there, nothing on it should give evidence that it had taken off from Norway.
The Norwegian Government would be asked to participate in the NATO exercise that was laid on to provide cover for the use of LORAN navigation equipment and generally to soften up the Soviet attention to activity in the area. For this the Norwegians would be permitted to bill the United States for all out-of-pocket costs incident to such activity. In other words, the United States would pay for any part of the exercise that the Norwegians could not have paid for had they not participated in it. This can run into an appreciable amount of money and equipment.
Norway might ask for and could expect to be granted assurances that in the event the exercise was uncovered for any reason, the United States would positively ignore and if necessary deny any participation in it and would guarantee that no mention be made of Norway in any event. (This did not happen in the case of the Powers U-2 flight, and Norway and Pakistan were forced to make their own embarrassing public statements.) It might also require that, in the event the plane was detected and had to flee the area, it would fly away from Norway to an alternate landing near a U.S. ship or submarine. In other words, Norway or any other host country would have a lot to say about their own involvement.
This, of course, varies a lot with the country and the situation. If by some chance we were helping one country against a traditional enemy and our special operation was inadvertently discovered, the country being helped would be glad to have its enemy know that the United States was helping it. As a matter of fact, such a situation usually leads to a so-called "inadvertent" disclosure, so anxious is the first country to let the second country know that the United States is on its side. But this would not have been the case in our example.
There would also be some arrangements that involved the minor participation of the West German Government and the British. Each of these countries would be handled separately, if possible, to keep the primary mission from being exposed. This is not possible sometimes, and the responsible agent may have to brief his counterpart in West Germany and in England.
None of these matters alone seems too important. The ST usually briefs the higher staffs of the Government piecemeal, and so they rarely get to see the whole picture as it accumulates. The opposite is true overseas. In this rather modest exercise, three foreign countries plus the Soviet Union were involved -- and we perhaps should add a fourth, because certain crewmen had been kept in security isolation in Greece. In many ways knowledge by other countries is as important a consideration as any other. From that date on which they become involved on, each of those countries will know that the United States is actively involved in clandestine operations and that it is willing to involve other countries with it in these endeavors. From that day on, it will be impossible to convince any one of those countries again that the United States does not become engaged regularly in such actions.
As time went on, and other countries were involved in other minor events, such as the use of a seemingly clean national commercial airline to do some camera spying or other clandestine project, the list grew, until by 1971 there were very few countries anywhere in the world that had not at one time or other been somehow engaged in clandestine operations with this Government. The significant thing here is that though all these other countries know this, and the Soviet Union and its community of nations know it too, the shield of secrecy spun by the ST here in the United States keeps much of this information from our own eyes, ears, and minds. Then, when we hear other nations speaking quite openly of the things this Government does that are not exactly aboveboard, there are those who would say, "Those foreigners are always saying untrue and malicious things about us." In reality, they are doing nothing more than referring to things that each of them knows we have done, because each of them has at one time or other been involved with us.
This brings up another facet of this kind of operation. In many of these countries, governments are overthrown in fast succession and quite unpredictably. What happens to the members of the inner circle of a government that was once in power and shared secrets with us, now that it has been overthrown, and these same men are in exile or at least powerless in their own country? Do they just forget all these past events? They not only remember those events, but they capitalize on their knowledge in many ways. Some are quite sophisticated, and they bide their time until they have a chance to contact the man who used to contact them when they were in power. Now they whisper that the new "in" government is "Communist-oriented" and that with a little help they can get back in power.
Others are less sophisticated and more direct. They make deals where they can to uncover other actions and networks in what they think is a loyal effort to help their old cause against the current government, not caring about the exposure of the United States, whether that matters to them at all or not. And there are others who use their information for open blackmail. Some collect, and some disappear.
The same is true of those who are voted out of office. They have known the inner workings of government. When someone tries to say that things were not quite as they were, many of these men, hoping to make a political comeback, are forced to reveal things that they have known.
There have been a number of cases where this information about third government participation with the United States in special operations has led to subtle, legal blackmail. Each government gets foreign military aid according to a carefully worked out schedule. A number of governments have used the CIA relationships they have established to plead for and to gain by heavy-handed methods hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment that they could not have gotten otherwise.
In summary, there are few if any men in government, from the NSC on down through the executive branch, or in the Congress, who have had the opportunity to put enough of these events together to see how heavy and oppressive twenty or more years of accumulated clandestine operations can be. When a new Assistant Secretary of Defense or Assistant Secretary of State can say in public something like, "The United States has no combat troops in Laos, and it has not had any there, and it will not have any there," at least fifteen or twenty other nations can listen and recall that they have at one time or other directly participated in actions that involved American combat troops in Laos; or, since this is intended as an example only, in some other country. In many such cases the person who makes such a statement is known either to be uninformed or lying.
There is a good story about American Army troops in Laos. About fifteen years ago an agreement had been reached whereby the U.S. Government would take over certain training functions and the French would leave. Some French were to remain as advisers in government and as a training cadre with the armed forces of Laos. By a local agreement worked out with the Government of Laos and with the senior French officials there, a Military Aid Program was established, calling for the delivery of large quantities of U.S.-manufactured military weapons. However, the use of many of these weapons was dependent upon a degree of training and sophistication beyond the ability of the Laotian army. The American ambassador volunteered that he could arrange for American civilian training personnel to come to Laos for the sole purpose of training the armed forces of that country on American equipment. This offer was accepted, and it was broadened to include military matters, which at that time were included in the general concept of civic action. This gave these U.S. training personnel broader responsibilities, to include such things as irrigation, village hygiene and sanitation, rudimentary school-building construction, and related tasks, all in addition to the regular weapons orientation. It also included basic electronics work and communications indoctrination of a low order of skill. By the time this whole program had been packaged, the requirement for instructors had grown to several hundred. Although this entire endeavor had the appearance of being entirely overt and coming under the responsibility of the ambassador, it was his invisible staff of CIA men who had worked up the idea to counteract French influence, which was admittedly at a low ebb following the defeat at Dien Bien Phu. In those days there was as much animosity between the CIA and the French as between the CIA and the Pathet Lao. The CIA team got the military assistance program approved and the equipment destined for Laos. The next thing was to get the civilian instructors. To accomplish this task, they beefed up their own staff with a number of new men and then turned to the Army for volunteers, who would be sheep-dipped and sent to Laos as "civilians".
(The term "sheep-dipped" appears in The New York Times version of the Pentagon Papers without clarification. It is an intricate Army-devised process by which a man who is in the service as a full career soldier or officer agrees to go through all the legal and official motions of resigning from the service. Then, rather than actually being released, his records are pulled from the Army personnel files and transferred to a special Army intelligence file. Substitute but nonetheless real-appearing records are then processed, and the man "leaves" the service. He is encouraged to write to friends and give a cover reason why he got out. He goes to his bank and charge card services and changes his status to civilian, and does the hundreds of other official and personal things that any man would do if he really had gotten out of the service. Meanwhile, his real Army records are kept in secrecy, but not forgotten. If his contemporaries get promoted, he gets promoted. All of the things that can be done for his hidden records to keep him even with his peers are done. Some very real problems arise in the event he gets killed or captured as a prisoner. There are problems with insurance and with benefits his wife would receive had he remained in the service. At this point, sheep-dipping gets really complicated, and each case is handled quite separately.)
In this instance the Army readied several hundred sheep-dipped officers and enlisted men for duty in Laos. They were hired by a private company created by the CIA, and they were called "White Star" teams. The total number of men involved was kept a secret from all parties, and the teams were infiltrated and entered the country at the airport in Vietiane. Others came in overland by other points of entry. Some came in on clandestine cargo flights. Finally, the last group made a ceremonial entrance into Laos by commercial air, most likely on the prime ministers own airline, Air Laos. They were met at the airport by an official party from the American embassy and were accompanied by Laotian and French officials. This small overt party contained all of the higher ranking White Star party. In customary order of precedence -- reverse order of rank -- everyone had disembarked from the plane except the senior official who, of course, was known simply as a civilian. Then he appeared at the door of the plane and looked out over the scene and at the welcoming party at the foot of the stairs. His eyes rested on American officials he had known before, during the long days of his special training and indoctrination, upon Laotians he had heard of by name but whom he was to meet for the first time, and upon French officials whom he had not expected to see at the plane. He expected that the White Star teams under his leadership would replace the French in the favor of the host Laotians in a short time. And then he saw the figure of a ranking French officer. Their eyes met for the first time in more than a decade. Of all the men, this sheep-dipped Army colonel, John A. Heintges, could have met at the steps of a plane in Vietiane, Laos, the one whom he saw was the same French officer with whom he had spent years in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Months of preparatory cover work went up in smoke. French intelligence there were able to match the cover story "official record" of this "civilian" with his known true role with the U.S. Army Special Forces once they discovered his identity. The White Star team bubble burst even before it got started.
Here again is an example that adds up, along with so many others, to prove that what may be called clandestine and what may be treated with deep secrecy in the never-never land of "Secret Team Washington" is really not so secret and so undercover out in the cold factual world. There have been so many generals and admirals from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force who have either been serving on assignment with the CIA, or who were really CIA career men serving on a cover military assignment, or mixes of both, and who have worked in Southeast Asia during the past twenty years, all as a primary duty with the CIA, that it would be no wonder at all that the officials of governments from Korea to Pakistan could certainly be excused for not knowing whom or what they were dealing with every time they came upon a senior-grade military man.
This is no place to name their names, but even a quick scan of the Pentagon Papers will fill a whole page with these names. For example, Air Marshall Ky of Vietnam may not know to this day that some of his closest early friends in the U.S. Air Force were not really with the USAF; and Colonel Thieu, now President Thieu, could be excused if he never really knew whether most of the generals who were closest to him were really Agency men or U.S. military men on Agency assignments. The record is now so public about Ngo Dinh Diems tutelage at the hands of Magsaysays creator Edward G. Lansdale that it certainly may be redundant to point out that Lansdale was serving the CIA in the Philippines and in South Vietnam. His case was quite special even in that role, because he served a special inner sanctum of the Agency and not the regular Agent section. Some of his greatest problems in Southeast Asia were the result of mix-ups, not with Communists or with the French, whom he detested and who had similar feelings for him, but with other members of the Agencys clandestine staff, who either did not know who he was at first, or if they did know, would not accept him. The little "White-Star" team episode was very modest with respect to its attempt at the big game of clandestine operations.
Two former Commanders in Chief, Pacific Armed Forces (CINCPAC), have served with or are now serving as directors of Air America. This huge overt/covert airline is properly listed in Dun and Bradstreet and in many public telephone books; so it is not unusual to find high-ranking admirals serving on its board of directors. However, when some of these directors call on old friends in the DOD at times when Air America is bidding on a U.S. Air Force aircraft maintenance contract or on a Navy air transport contract carrier contract in the Pacific, they attend the meeting as Admiral this or Admiral that, but when the chips are down someone adeptly slips the word that the "CIA is asking no favors, remember, but all it does ask is a fair competitive position." These admirals do their job for the CIA like any other agent. By the same token, when ranking officers travel throughout the Pacific on what appears to everyone, and of course especially to officials of the host countries, to be U.S. defense establishment business, no one should be surprised if, in later years, these same host countries begin to wise up and think that almost everyone they meet must be CIA.
This is not a sometime thing; it involves a large number of senior officers up to and including those wearing four stars. It certainly prime exponent stretches credulity not to expect that in this whole string of Asian nations, not one of which can ever be faulted on the grounds of being both clever and wily, someone would take advantage of the CIA-versus-the-overt-military-establishment-routine for his own ends. Chiang Kai-Shek has been the prime exponent and recipient of the many advantages of this game. Marshall Sarit of Thailand was not far behind, and Ngo Dinh Diem knew how to play both sides against each other for his own ends, until finally even his own creators let go of the string, and he fell.
The example of the small flight operation into Russia shows something else that enters into peacetime special operations as carried out by the ST. The law and the NSC directives that followed did not authorize the CIA to build up forces sufficient to carry out such operations. However, when the NSC did direct an operation, there were no such limitations on that senior authority concerning money, manpower, and materials. The NSC could stipulate that the Agency perform such tasks with civilian resources. It could further stipulate that the CIA perform the operation with civilian mercenary non-U.S. personnel. Or it could permit the Agency to utilize the obvious resources of the U.S. military establishment up to the point of the actual flight. This became a customary procedure, at least in the days up to about l955 or 1956.
During these fledgling days, the precocious Agency made good use of the military. As in this flight, it gave them all kinds of tasks as enumerated. Not only would the CIA enlist direct assistance with the words that "NSC 5412/2 has directed this exercise and its support by the military"; but it would convene meetings in the Pentagon, in the Paris headquarters of U.S. Forces in Europe, in Army headquarters at Heidelburg, Air Force headquarters in Weisbaden, and Navy headquarters in London, all to churn up the idea and let these headquarters vie with each other in seeing how far they could go out of their way to "support" this exercise, which they knew only as a code name or at best as a plausible cover story. In response to the magic of the CIA relationship, the services would come up with all kinds of support, often beyond the dreams and expectations of the Agency. This had a double-barreled effect. It made a given clandestine operation much larger in its overt supporting areas than originally visualized. It led also within all of the services to a growing capability, often overlapping, which had the effect of creating a very large submerged infrastructure, ready, willing, and eager to become involved again and again with the glamorous CIA. We shall go into this in more detail later.
There are things in every really clandestine exercise that must be done in an expert manner. In the example, we saw that the Agency used non-U.S. nationals for certain hard-core assignments. One man, the pilot, was in a sense fortunate. The CIA happened to find him among thousands of displaced persons. However, one of the pilots who trained him was a real stateless or "multi-national" person. Also, the two infiltrated instrumentation experts were non-nationals. This type of person places a real burden on the Agency, and special attention is given to them and to their welfare and maintenance. It is one thing to use a young Polish pilot for one air mission; but what does the Agency do with such a man year in and year out? Such people do exist, and such people do some important and very specialized work. It may not be "James Bond" all the time; but it has its moments. In between these moments, there are many problems to be solved -- among them such things as a place to live, marriage, family, schools, vacations. Saying that they exist is sufficient for the purposes of this book. What is done with them both during operations and during the dull intervals in between would take another book.
Another area of activity that lies underneath much of the commonplace activity of the Agency has to do with the interminable processing, evaluating, analyzing, and utilization of intelligence of all kinds. It is important to query hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and to get warehouses full of information, only if that information can be used. There are times when the Agency is nonplused by its own cleverness and resources.
There are countless other facets of clandestine operations. It is ridiculous for the Agency and for the rest of the Government to deny them, and it is equally erroneous for those who know nothing about them to speculate about their real character and meaning.
It may appear to be an oversimplification to say it; but an Agency career develops a thick skin, which is occupational, and this thick skin includes an extra set of eyelids which pop over the eyeball of the mind when the man discovers himself in a situation where he finds he should not be.
It is said that the tens of thousands of Japanese who live on one block in a city such as Tokyo develop the ability to live in close proximity, separated one house from the other, usually by no more than a few scant inches and by rice-paper walls and windows. Without question, families in a given area hear each other and all the usual household noises; yet they all maintain that they hear nothing of what goes on in the neighbors house. The idea is that they are supposed to hear nothing; so they hear nothing. This same mental process that permits the disciplined brain to separate out sounds one from another is not unusual in many other cases. It applies in a sense to people who spend their lives in highly classified work. They actually learn to shut out and to avoid seeking out what the other person is doing. As a result, many of the real agent careerists and the staff personnel who support them really do not know what other offices are doing, and they dont care to know.
This blocking-out process may not apply in a majority of cases, but it is true in many. In other cases, there are men who have spent their lives in the Agency who have never really had any direct contact with actual missions because of the nature of their work and because those who were involved in operations kept such information from them. Therefore, some of these old-timers really do not know what is going on. They may think that they do because they have always been aware of activity of one kind or other, and they have heard the usual rumors of what has been taking place. This is often more of a handicap than a help, because if the man has not actually gotten out on the operation he may have heard a very well laid out cover story and thought it was real. He would have no way to know otherwise. Examples of this in other walks of life are not hard to find. When Ford changes its model lines and is introducing some really new design or engineering feature that it wants to keep secret, it will put several teams at work designing the next model car. At certain check points of development, these teams are told, "Fine, now go ahead with what you are doing, to the next stage." Thus, unknown to each other and to the fairly large staffs who support them, more than one team believes its new model is the one that the company has selected. Only at the last moment, when it is too late for them to continue the bluff and too late for a competitor to gain from discovery of the new design or feature, is the unneeded team told that their model has not been selected and that their work was necessary cover to conceal the real design. It is better to have some teams actually living and believing the cover story than to have some just play-acting the cover story. This leaves the final operational go-ahead options open until the very last moment and assures that if there are leaks, the other side will have the problem of finding out whether the operation they have discovered is real or planned deception.
This situation was practiced quite widely during the Bay of Pigs operation. Some units thought they were going to be involved in the exercise, but they never were. This had one odd result right in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A team of ranking officers thought that they were working on part of the Cuban operation. They were very active and thought that the things they were doing were really happening and that their work was being used by the CIA. It turned out that all the things they did were dummy activities and that the Agency never even intended to use them. It was a sort of Agency cover and deception operation against a part of our own forces. The military were never told that what they had been working on was not used, and later during the review of the Bay of Pigs operation, the senior officers of that task actually appeared before the Presidents Review Board and testified concerning what they had done. Their testimony was so realistic that it was taken as the real thing, and no one ever spoke up to clarify the matter. Apparently, it was in the best interest of the ST to let it go as it did; it only served further to implicate the military in the Bay of Pigs, when in reality they had very little to do with any part of it. This was a very strange turn of events, and exposes another aspect of the strange ways of clandestine operations. When this country permits itself to enter the dream world of covert operations, it creates a national Frankenstein of such proportions that major factions within the Government do not know how something happened, who authorized it, and why it was done. The system begins to run itself from the moment of data input. From the agents first bit of information to the emergence of a clandestine operation, everything is constructed entirely out of response-mechanisms to the ever-claimed threat of Communism. Therefore, the system must do something anti-Communist. Nowhere was there anything built in to say "Stop".
Lyman Kirkpatrick writing so intelligently and from an inside position of real administrative experience said that "President Kennedy paid for the abandoning of the NSC at the Bay of Pigs. He had allowed himself and his principal advisors to be made the captives of the proponents of the plan.... If the President had insisted that the deliberations on the operation be conducted within the framework of an NSC system, with appropriate staff work and review, there would have been a much greater chance that he would have received a more realistic appraisal of its chances for success [or failure]."
This could not have been set in words with more truth and impact. Again we see the bugaboo of CIA secrecy -- it precludes the employment of normal and experienced supporting staff action. In the area of covert operations it is especially important to have someone of high authority in the position to say "No" when "No" is called for. President Kennedy did not convene the Security Council, which might have helped him, and President Johnsons greatest failing was that even though he may have from time to time convened the Council, it was by that time made up of few responsible men and several irresponsible people who more than frequently tended to go along with the ST on everything and left the final decision up to the President who could not and did not say "No".
The discussion in this chapter is intended to serve as an introduction to the world of clandestine operations. We have discussed at some length the first four duties of the CIA as spelled out in the language of the National Security Act of 1947. It remains to look at the fifth duty, the one that the Agency and the ST use to establish that it was the intention of the Congress and of the President to permit the Agency to become involved in the area of clandestine operations as a regular function.
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