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Glass writes: "Before President Barack Obama authorized clandestine operations to defeat Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2013, he asked the CIA to write the history of its secret wars."

Mike Pompeo. (photo: Drew Angerer/NYT)
Mike Pompeo. (photo: Drew Angerer/NYT)

World War Two's Covert Ops Are Failing in the Post-War World

By Charles Glass, Reader Supported News

08 October 18


efore President Barack Obama authorized clandestine operations to defeat Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2013, he asked the CIA to write the history of its secret wars. The classified document, say those who have read it, is a record of failure from Albania to Cuba to Angola to Nicaragua. Yet Obama went ahead with the covert program for Syria, which the CIA ran from Turkey and Jordan. Like its predecessors, Operation Timber Sycamore failed. It neither toppled Assad nor prevented Salafi jihadi fanatics from dominating the Syrian opposition. President Trump cancelled the program in July last year, but he is not immune to the siren call of another secret war – in his case, against Iran with as much chance of a positive outcome as Syria.

Why the fascination with arming foreign insurgents and proxy armies to fight wars that the US won’t fight itself? “We’re busily training, you know, local troops to fight local militants, why do we think we have this aptitude for creating armies?” Andrew Bacevich, a retired army colonel and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, once told me. “I don’t know. It sure as hell didn’t work in Vietnam.” Two reasons stand out. One is that, as Bacevich explained, insurgencies are wars “on the cheap,” not only in dollars but in assuring the public that American soldiers’ lives are not in danger. It is also a midway point between invasion and doing nothing. And most American presidents, faced with an opportunity to undermine rival states, want to do something.

It all started in Syria, where Britain conducted a successful insurgency against Ottoman Turkey from 1916 to 1918. The famed leader of the Arab rebels was Lawrence of Arabia, whose Seven Pillars of Wisdom remains required reading for any operative embarking on clandestine warfare. Lawrence became the inspiration for Britain’s first secret warfare organization, Special Operations Executive (SOE).

SOE came into being in the summer of 1940, because Britain lacked resources to fight on alone after the German conquest of Belgium, Holland and France. Winston Churchill created the office of “ungentlemanly warfare” on 19 July “to coordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas.” The British would train, arm and finance local insurgents to harass the Germans, as well as their Italian and Japanese allies, in all countries under Axis occupation. SOE’s first director of operations, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins, who became overall chief in 1943, wrote the Art of Guerrilla Warfare and the Partisan Leader’s Handbook, based on what he called “Lawrence’s epic campaign.” What he instigated was, by SOE’s admission, “terrorism” on the Axis.

SOE mobilized mountain tribes in Burma, communist and royalist rebels in Yugoslavia, and disparate anti-Nazis in France. It also encouraged the US to establish its own covert operations unit, which became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Gubbins assigned Major Bill Brooker to train the Americans at top-secret Camp X in the Canadian woods, telling him, “We think the Americans are going to come into the war and they have to learn all about this stuff.” One American official wondered, “What type of training was required to make an American un-American enough to stick the enemy in the back?” Camp X, which opened three days after Pearl Harbor, instructed more than 500 inexperienced Americans in the dark arts of partisan recruitment, sabotage, assassination, secrecy and communications.

The entrance of the Soviet Union and the US into the war against Germany altered the balance in Britain’s favor and changed SOE’s covert mission in Europe from harassment to support for an Allied invasion of the Continent. When Britain and the US invaded Italy and then France, SOE-backed guerrilla units diverted German resources away from advancing Allied armies. Resistance was not decisive, but it saved Allied troops’ lives and shortened the war.

SOE and OSS claimed numerous achievements, due to effective leadership by men and women who knew the countries they worked in, spoke the language, lived among their fighters and observed strict security. One of the best was George Starr, who set up operations in southwest France and slowly grew his WHEELWRIGHT resistance network from one small district to the entire region. His forces helped to impede Germany’s Second SS Panzer Division from reaching the Normandy landing beaches by seventeen crucial days. The beachhead was secure when the battered division arrived. SOE critics, including George’s brother and fellow SOE operative John Starr, recorded fatal errors. The most famous was succumbing to false German radio signals, supposedly from SOE operators, that lured scores of British agents to their deaths.

In World War II, SOE was a partial success. Although the British shut it down when the Americans dismantled OSS right after the war, the seductiveness of special operations à la SOE and OSS lingered. In the post-war world, it has been a disaster. The British absorbed former SOE agents into its traditional spy agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) also known as MI-6. OSS veterans formed the backbone of the CIA that President Harry Truman established in 1947. Both organizations existed to collect intelligence, but they nonetheless conducted operations that included assassination and clandestine war. Historian of espionage Phillip Knightley wrote that mixing the two “made it inevitable that intelligence also involved covert action, and covert action now meant American intervention in countries with which the United States was not at war.”

Intervention never stopped. The British and Americans infiltrated guerrilla bands into the Soviet Union and its satellites, in Truman’s words, to roll back communism. They sometimes employed former Nazis, notably in the Ukraine where they armed fascist nationalists against the Russians in a disastrous campaign that left most of its participants dead, wounded or captured. The joint Anglo-American Operation Valuable infiltrated rebels into Albania to overthrow dictator Enver Hoxha, a former SOE ally during World War II. Most of them were immediately killed or taken prisoner. Frank Wisner, the CIA point man in Albania, told Kim Philby, the SIS operative secretly working for the Soviets, “We’ll get it right next time.” They didn’t.

Attempts to use insurgents in the three Soviet-occupied Baltic nations led not only to failure but to 75,000 civilian casualties. The infiltration of thousands of guerrillas into North Korea likely affected the North’s decision to invade South Korea in June 1950. CIA support of rebellious colonels in Indonesia five years later did not prevent their total defeat by the Indonesian Army. The 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba is well known, as is the clandestine Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. CIA director and OSS veteran William Casey ran the illegal war over Congressional objections using Saudi money and funds from the illegal sale of arms to Iran. The CIA covert war in Afghanistan led to a mujahideen victory over the Soviets, but it produced the chaos and civil war that led to the creation of the Taliban, the hosting of Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and the longest war in American history.

In 2011, a revolt erupted in Syria. The US, which was witnessing the tragic consequences of its intervention in Libya, was reluctant to use its military again. The halfway house between quick victory by Assad, backed by allies Russia and Iran, and American invasion was a covert operation. This was supposed to be different from the failed missions catalogued in the CIA study Obama commissioned. It wasn’t. The CIA’s bid to emulate Lawrence on the master’s old terrain failed. Why?

Lawrence had advantages that the CIA lacked. First, the British Army under General Edmund Allenby invaded Palestine and Syria from Egypt. Lawrence’s ill-equipped tribesmen, who on their own could not have defeated the Ottomans, served as Allenby’s right flank as his forces advance north. The CIA had no invading American army to support in Syria, denying their rebels a clear objective. Second, Lawrence fought alongside his men, while most CIA operatives remained at base in Turkey and Jordan. Third, Lawrence’s strategy was not to hold territory that his irregulars could not defend. Syria’s rebels did that again and again.

Lawrence, writing the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1929, explained that a guerrilla force had to be “an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like gas … never giving the enemy a target.” He felt that “battles were a mistake,” a lesson the CIA neglected to teach the Syrian rebels. The next edition of the CIA’s covert ops history will have to include the $1 billion disaster in Syria.

Does that mean an end to secret wars? Rudy Giuliani’s recent calls for regime change in Iran, combined with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of an Iran Action Group, indicate that lessons remain unlearned. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is funding the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK), a Shiite mirror image of Al Qaeda, that seeks to overthrow the Iranian regime. The MeK was an ally of Saddam in the Iran-Iraq War, massacred Kurds in 1991 and was until recently on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. If Syria was a disaster, Iran could be a catastrophe.

A century before Britain sent Lawrence into Syria, Wellington’s army supported Spanish partisans against Napoleon’s occupation of their country. The Spaniards won in 1814, returning King Ferdinand VII to his throne in Madrid. One of the monarch’s first acts was to restore the Inquisition. As the Syria war heads towards a conclusion in Idlib, the US can take solace that its jihadis did not conquer Syria and turn it into a base of the global holy war.

© Charles Glass 2018

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Charles Glass has covered Syria since 1973 and is the author of the newly released They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France (Penguin Press). your social media marketing partner


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+49 # tedrey 2018-10-08 13:50
Yes, some of us, over the years, have figured this all out. We have been vilified, harrassed, and called 'conspiracy theorists" for trying to educate our fellow citizens. American don't want to believe that their nation since the 2nd World War has been as vile, murdurous, and deceitful as any of the nations it has made its enemies, and as brainwashed by lying propaganda as any of them . . . but it has; under both parties, by the way.. It's good to find a summary of so many of its sins in one place, but who will read this? Some of you, I hope, carefully. It's all verifiable.
+9 # economagic 2018-10-08 19:48
And of course it goes back not only before the 2nd World War and even the 1st, at least to the Spanish-America n War ("Hearst's War), which initiated our noble interventions in the Philippines as well as some skullduggery by Teddy R. involving Korea, Japan, and Russia, which laid some of the groundwork for the attack on Pearl Harbor forty years later.
+42 # librarian1984 2018-10-08 14:08
A billion $ for a failed secret war in Syria? I'd love to see an accounting of how much ALL the CIA secret wars cost us. Of course they cost us in many ways, including the backlash from many countries, but just how much in dollars.

Let's compare that to what else we could have bought instead -- college for our kids, healthcare for ALL our citizens, infratsructure improvements, etc.

How is it that Obama and so many others decide THIS kind of crap is where we should devote our resources, but we have to fight for clean water and decent wages?

And why is it that even intelligent leaders can't look at the evidence to see this DOES NOT WORK?

Priorities are majorly fucked up. We need leaders with ethics, wisdom and backbone -- and we need them yesterday.
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-08 19:39
Obama was a CIA asset. Both his mother and father were CIA. Obama was recruited into the CIA in college. All this is really well explained in Wayne Madsen's book, "The Manufacturing of a President: The CIA's Insertion of Barack H. Obama, Jr. into the White House."

But of course, as Tedrey says, Madsen is vilified as a conspiracy nut. No one wants to hear the truth. The CIA "owns" the presidency. They were the origin of the Russiagate soft-coup against Trump because Trump is not their boy. Hillary was.

Someday, Americans will get woke. It may be a long time, however.
0 # ericlipps 2018-10-10 06:57
Obama was a CIA asset. Both his mother and father were CIA. Obama was recruited into the CIA in college. All this is really well explained in Wayne Madsen's book, "The Manufacturing of a President: The CIA's Insertion of Barack H. Obama, Jr. into the White House."

But of course, as Tedrey says, Madsen is vilified as a conspiracy nut.
Gee, I wonder why? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Now, on to how the international Jewish bankers' conspiracy controls the CIA.
+1 # dbrize 2018-10-10 11:44
Quoting ericlipps:
Obama was a CIA asset. Both his mother and father were CIA. Obama was recruited into the CIA in college. All this is really well explained in Wayne Madsen's book, "The Manufacturing of a President: The CIA's Insertion of Barack H. Obama, Jr. into the White House."

But of course, as Tedrey says, Madsen is vilified as a conspiracy nut.

Gee, I wonder why? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Now, on to how the international Jewish bankers' conspiracy controls the CIA.
Cha-Ching. Another driveby hit for the account. Is there a quota?
Bonuses? Any restrictions? Do you have to run them by someone first? C’mon ericlipps, share the wealth.
0 # Benign Observer 2018-10-10 14:18
We know for sure he's not paid to respond to rebuttals.

'Driveby' is a good word for several of the commenters who show up just in time to sow discord before an election or, like eric, who zing but never discuss.
0 # Caliban 2018-10-11 01:12
"C’mon ericlipps, share the wealth"

#ericlipps's "wealth" appears to be plain common sense. But it's not clear that #Rodion Raskolnikov or #dbrize either want this quality of mind or would know what to do with it if came visiting.
+2 # dbrize 2018-10-11 11:51
Good one caliban. Speaking of common sense, here is an important note for both you and Eric:

“The interspacial cosmic void produces experiential phenoma necessary for the development of non local photons”
Professor Irwin Corey
0 # Caliban 2018-10-11 16:35
Thanks, #dbrize -- Corey is the Authority, after all.
+2 # librarian1984 2018-10-11 12:15
Sometimes my kids make fun of me as a deep state CT, etc, but I've been around a while now and invariably, years down the line, my 'crazy' beliefs are proved to be too optimistic.

They are doing things right now that we don't have a clue about, things that would horrify us.

There are five drone wars being conducted in Africa. Even war whore Lindsy Graham doesn't know where all the troops are.

Remember when we found out they were torturing in black sites, or were eavesdropping on people in their own homes using our own devices?

It's naive to think they aren't still up to unthinkable deeds that have bitter consequences for our country.

Give a bunch of paranoid sociopaths unlimited money and no oversight and you get shitstorms.

Even more sympathetic national security observers say Congress has failed abysmally in its oversight function -- and when they DO attempt oversight, what happens? John Brennan and his ilk surveil Congress, perjure themselves about it -- and then are treated like heroes and visionaries by the desperate left.
+4 # economagic 2018-10-09 04:01
Oh, it works just fine for those the leaders serve, and hence for the leaders themselves. Let's not forget that Obama was supported from his time in the Illinois legislature by Hyatt Hotels heiress, One Percenter, and Chicago Gold Coaster Penny Pritzker, number 192 on Forbes' 400 the last time I looked. At 192 out of some 320,000,000, that puts her well into the 0.0001 percent, literally one in a million.
+10 # ktony 2018-10-09 05:43
Quoting librarian1984:
And why is it that even intelligent leaders can't look at the evidence to see this DOES NOT WORK?.....

Actually, they work quite well for the Military Industrial Intelligence (sic) Complex. Those billions neatly land in the bank accounts of stock holders who invest in arms merchants.

Part of the aim is to keep providing a "need" for more weapons. Some other intentions are resource-hoggin g, and power for its own corrupting sake.

Gotta keep the home folks hornswoggled into paying against their own interests to fatten the already obscenely wealthy.
+5 # Blackjack 2018-10-08 17:32
Could it be that it's the money again? After all, this country's economic backbone rests on the sale, distribution of, and use of military armaments. Like so many things, it's all about money and attempts at face-saving. Leaders with "ethics, wisdom, and backbone" are few and far between. Bernie is one, Heidi Heitkamp is another. But do the rest of us pay attention to them or instead listen to the brazen bluster of the bullies? Or acquiesce to the stubborn cowardice of those who don't think the rewards of moral and ethical action is worth the sacrifice involved in achieving it.
+8 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-08 19:14
In Zbignew Brzezinski's book, The Grand Chessboard, he points out that overthrowing governments, re-arranging national borders, forcing populations to be refugees, destroying nations, building nations -- are just the only things of interest to a certain class of people. These covert ops are just exactly what they want to do. They do not care if they are failures or if millions of people are killed. They are running the world.

I've read many books on the origins of the CIA and on the people who created it. All of them were the type that Brzezinski describes (and that he was). Failure means nothing to them.

The CIA answers to no one. No president has much of a clue what they are doing. It needs to be shut down. As this article so well points out, it has created waste and suffering all over the world and accomplished nothing that would be of benefit to a real human being.
+4 # candida 2018-10-08 23:29
And how many RSN readers are registering voters, poll watching, and otherwise getting involved to take back our voting process? Voting is necessary but not enough.
+4 # lfeuille 2018-10-08 23:59
Why the hell did obama authorize a secret war in Syria after reading a history of failure? He knew it was a mistake but did it anyway. Why didn't he just say no? He ended up supporting ISIS and Al Quida with this debacle. For a man who famously said "Don't do studip stuff" this was an exterely stupid act.
+3 # economagic 2018-10-09 16:11
As I have pointed out numerous times in these forums going back several years, Obama was sponsored and mentored even while serving in the Illinois legislature by a Hyatt Hotels heiress from Chicago's "Gold Coast," and a One Percenter, no. 192 on Forbes' List the last time I checked. That actually puts her in the top 0.0001 percent!

Hyatt is one of the worst hotel chains for the way it treats workers, and virtually all such chains are pretty bad. That answer your question (which I assume was rhetorical)?
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-11 14:54
Ife -- why don't you just read something on Obama and you will find out. Above I recommended Wayne Madsen's book, , "The Manufacturing of a President: The CIA's Insertion of Barack H. Obama, Jr. into the White House."

Obama's mother was CIA in Indonesia starting in the late 1960s. This was the time that the CIA overthrew the government of Ahmed Sukarno and installed a military dictatorship. Between 1965 and 1970, close to 2 million people were killed by the military in a massive suppression of the Indonesian communist party. Names were supplied by the CIA to the Indonesian military death squads. Obama's mother's work took her into villages and local populations. She would have known who the communist organizers were.

Obama invaded Syria because it was company and family business.

Too bad the truth of Obama is so little knows. But that is true for all CIA assets.
0 # tedrey 2019-03-12 06:07
And why didn't Obama make it public so that U.S. citizens could act and vote accordingly?
(Answer obvious?)
-1 # janie1893 2018-10-09 00:47
Librarian--the thing is that if these wars hadn't been created and abetted by the CIA, there would not have been the economy(money) to
send the kids to college or have universal healthcare. So, the wars are generated to make money, but not for you. Power is where it's at!
(and more money for the investors, the 1%)
+5 # economagic 2018-10-09 15:57
I'll take that as irony, since the money spent on these sham wars was actually stolen from universal health care and college for the 99 percent.
+4 # dascher 2018-10-10 08:32
The US' post WWII (1948-1959 ish) period of economic boom was fueled by several factors: the destruction of much of the manufacturing capability of the European (colonial) powers leaving the US with something like 40% of the world's manufacturing capacity; the transfer of traditional colonial power from the European powers to the US which was able to insert "friendly" "economic partners" in the majority of those colonies; the acceptance by the Europeans of US hegemony over most of the world to "protect" them from the "menaces" of the Soviet Union and China. The secret wars of the CIA were one of the several tactics used to accomplish the 2nd of these. The portrayal of the Soviet Union as an aggressive enemy ready to invade Europe with conventional weapons or destroy it with nukes was the tactic used to persuade the Europeans to "partner" with the US.
+2 # elkingo 2018-10-11 02:16
God, what insane stupid bullshit it all is. Why can't people be nice to one another? Capitalism.
+3 # DongiC 2018-10-11 02:34
Wow! What a thread. It is spellbinding. So many fine comments: dascher, economagic, ktony, BenignObserver, dBrize, ericlipps, Janie1983, librarian1984, tedrey, even RR is reasonable, and, of course, Charles Glass.

What an expose. It is lucid, insightful and right to the point. It makes so much sense. What do the super rich do? They rule. In the process they buy politicians giving them (the top .01%) control of both major parties in the USA. They make money and they defend their positions of power with fierce determination and they sure as hell will try to purchase security in this time of environmental challenge. They are cultural blood suckers seeking to maintain their elevated life styles. The average citizen is but a human resource to them. Someone to be exploited for their uncommon good.

We face a challenge of incredible difficulty trying to educate our fellow citizens to the danger of this social and economic virus coursing through our system. But, we must try. It is my great honor to fight with you and for you in this noble cause.

God bless us all. Let truth prevail.

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