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THE PHOENIX PROGRAM

EPILOGUE

In the opinion of Stan Fulcher (who in 1972 was the Binh Dinh Province Phoenix coordinator and whose experiences are recounted in Chapter 2, "Phoenix was a creation of the old-boy network, a group of guys at highest level -- Colby and that crowd -- who thought they were Lawrence of Arabia." [1]

Indeed, the Phoenix program in South Vietnam was set up by Americans on American assumptions, in support of American policies. Unfortunately America's allies in South Vietnam were people whose prosperity depended on American patronage and who therefore implemented a policy they knew could not be applied to their culture. In the process the definition of the Vietcong infrastructure was misinterpreted to mean any Vietnamese citizen, and Phoenix was broadened from a rifle shot attack against the "organizational hierarchy" into a shotgun method of population control.

It happened, Fulcher said ruefully, because "any policy can find supporting intelligence," meaning "the Phoenix Directorate used computers to skew the statistical evaluation of the VCI. Dead Vietnamese became VCI, and they lucked out the other five percent of the time, getting real VCI in ambushes." As Fulcher explained it, "The Vietnamese lied to us; we lied to the directorate; and the directorate made it into documented fact .... It was a war that became distorted through our ability to create fiction. But really, there were only economic reasons for our supporting the fascists in Vietnam, just like we did in Iran."

Professor Huy agrees, asserting that America "betrayed the ideals of freedom and democracy in Vietnam." Furthermore, writes Huy, "American politicians have not yet changed their policy. What happened later in Iran was a repetition of what happened in South Vietnam. Almost the same people applied the same policy with the same principles and the same spirit. It is amazing that some people are still wondering why the same result occurred." [2]

"It's the problem of supporting personalities rather than democratic institutions," Fulcher explained, noting that in Vietnam the issue was not the Vietcong versus the Army of South Vietnam, but land reform and government corruption. "The Vietnamese were victims of our corruption," Fulcher said emphatically. "We smothered them with money. It's the same thing you see in Central America today. You can't take a Salvadoran colonel in a patron army without the corruption he brings along.

"With consolidation we could have had control," Fulcher concluded, "and Phoenix was the culmination of the attempt to solidify control." But the warlords and corrupt politicians we supported in Vietnam refused to sacrifice even a tiny share of their empires for the greater good of Vietnam, and thus were incapable of countering what was a homogeneous, nationalist-inspired insurgency.

In any event, defeat in Vietnam did not repress the impulses that powered America to third world intervention in the first place; it simply drove them elsewhere. Nowhere is this more evident than in El Salvador, where Lieutenant Colonel Stan Fulcher served from 1974 till 1977 as an intelligence adviser with the U.S. Military Group. In El Salvador Fulcher saw the same "old boys" who had run the war in South Vietnam. Only in El Salvador, because of the vast reduction in the CIA's paramilitary forces instigated by the Carter administration, these officials effected their policies through proxies from allied countries. For example, Fulcher watched while Israeli agents taught El Salvador's major landowners how to organize criminals into vigilante death squads, which, using intelligence from Salvador's military and security forces, murdered labor leaders and other opponents of the oligarchy. Likewise, Fulcher watched while Taiwanese military officers taught Kuomintang political warfare techniques at El Salvador's Command and General Staff College: Phoenix-related subjects such as population control through psychological warfare, the development and control of agents provocateurs, the development of political cadres within the officer corps, and the placement of military officers in the civilian security forces. He also saw political prisoners put in insane asylums -- facilities he described as being "like Hogarth's paintings."

While other Americans smuggled weapons and funds to the death squads, Fulcher, who was outraged by what he saw, organized at his home a study group of young military officers who supported land reform, nationalization of the banks, and civilian control of the military. In 1979 these same reformist officers staged a successful but short-lived coup, as a result of which the Salvadoran National Security Agency (ANSESAL), which had been formed by the CIA in 1962, was disbanded and reorganized as the National Intelligence Agency (ANI).

This reorganization did not put an end to the death squads. Instead, the landowners and fascist military officers moved to Miami and Guatemala, where they formed a political front called Arena, to which they channeled funds for the purpose of eliminating the reformers. Chosen to head Arena was Major Roberto d'Aubuisson, a former member of ANSESAL who transferred its files to general staff headquarters, where they were used to compile blacklists. Operating out of Guatemala, D'Aubuisson's death squads murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero and El Salvador's attorney general in early 1980. In December of that year six members of El Salvador's executive council were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a death squad, and the death squads began a rampage which included the murders in January 1981 of Jose Rodolfo Viera, the head of the land distribution program, along with Viera's American advisers, Michael Hammer and Mark Pearlman.

At this time, according to Salvadoran Army officer Ricardo Castro, [3] death squad supervision passed to Department 5, the civil affairs branch of the Salvadoran general staff. "Department 5 suddenly started coordinating everything," said Castro, a West Point graduate with a master's degree in engineering. Formed in the mid-1970's by the CIA, Department 5, Castro explained, became "the political intelligence apparatus within the general staff." Although it was designed as an investigative, not an operating, agency, Department 5 had "a large paramilitary force of people dressed in civilian clothes," and because it targeted civilians, "They can knock someone off all by themselves, or capture them."

When military as opposed to political targets were involved, Department 2, the intelligence branch of the general staff, would send information gathered from its informant nets to Department 3 (operations), which then dispatched a death squad of its own. Whether the people to be killed were guerrillas or civilians, Castro explained, "the rich people -- the leading citizens of the community -- traditionally have a great deal of input. Whatever bothers them, if they've got someone who just came into their ranch or their farm and they consider them a bad influence, they just send a messenger to the commander."

In March 1981 Castro himself began leading death squad operations. Using a modus operandi perfected in Vietnam, orders were always verbal and the soldiers in the death squads shucked their uniforms and dressed as left-wing guerrillas. "Basically," said Castro, "you come in after patrolling or whatever ... and then you're told that at a certain hour you will have to go get up the troops and go do something .... They already know what the mission is. They happen just about every night, or they used to.

"Normally," Castro added, "you eliminate everyone .... We usually go in with ... an informant who is part of the patrol and who has turned these people in. When you turn somebody in," Castro noted, "part of your obligation is to show us where they are and identify them. We would go in and knock on people's houses. They'd come out of their houses and we'd always tell them we were the Left and we're here because you don't want to cooperate with us or whatever. And then they were eliminated, always with machetes."

In late 1981, with the government of El Salvador back in the hands of the fascist military, the death squads were moved under the Salvadoran security forces, which generally operated in urban areas and pretended to be and/or used the services of right-wing vigilantes. Castro told of death squads within the treasury police [i] killing teachers and of death squads within the National Guard killing mayors and nuns -- all with the approval of the general staff.

Castro also worked as translator to a series of CIA advisers at general staff headquarters. One course he translated was on interrogation. It was taught by a CIA officer who suggested electric shock and presented architectural plans for a PIC-like prison to be built at the cavalry regiment headquarters. "It was going to become a secret jail," recalled Castro, who was enlisted by Department 5 to begin engineering work.

According to Castro, the CIA interrogation instructor also advised the general staff on mounting death squad operations in foreign countries, especially Honduras, and was complicit in these operations insofar as he provided El Salvador's Secret Service with files and photos of Salvadorans in the United States.

***

As in Vietnam, the proliferation of political assassinations in El Salvador had a ripple effect, which ended in the massacring of innocent civilians. Castro told how in November 1981 a number of civilians were killed following a sweep by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion. Said Castro: "[T]here were 24 women and children captured, and they were assassinated right smack in front of me -- just one by one, in cold blood." Counterterror-style, the mutilated corpses were left behind as a warning to leftist guerrillas.

In December 1981 Castro met Major Pineda of Department 5, who was operating in Morazan Province. "They had two towns of about three hundred people each," Castro recalled, "and they were interrogating them to see what they knew. Since I had translated in the class and knew something about interrogations, he said they might want me to help. The Major told me that after the interrogation, they were going to kill them all." Said Castro: "I later found out, they did go in and kill them after all."

In August 1982 Castro traveled to Washington on behalf of a group of young Salvadoran officers concerned about corruption and demoralization within the army rank and file. Castro told a CIA officer in Washington about the death squads. The CIA officer said, "We know all that." Nothing was done.

This hands-off policy reflected a maturation in the thinking of the CIA. In the aftermath of Vietnam the CIA set up a special section to study terrorism and third world instability. The "terrorism account" was given to DIOCC creator Bob Wall by ICEX's first director, Evan Parker, who was then deputy director of the CIA's paramilitary Special Operations Division (SOD). In analyzing the problem of terrorism, Wall brought in Foreign Intelligence experts, who determined that the CIA could not reasonably expect to penetrate terrorist groups -- like the VCI or the Palestine Liberation Organization -- which were "homogeneous." As a result of this determination, the CIA then separated its antiterrorist activities from its counterinsurgency activities, which it renamed "low-intensity warfare."

By 1980 paramilitary expert Rudy Enders was chief of the Special Operations Division, and Enders in turn passed the "terrorism account" to former senior PRU adviser William Buckley, who created a military staffed antiterrorism unit in 1981 under the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command.

Meanwhile, El Salvador had emerged as the perfect place to test the CIA's new theory of low-intensity warfare. In March 1983 Vice President George Bush's national security adviser, former III Corps region officer in charge Donald Gregg, wrote to President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, Robert MacFarlane, saying, "Rudy Enders ... went to El Salvador in 1981 to do a survey and develop plans for effective anti-guerrilla operations. He came back and endorsed the attached plan." [5] The Pink Plan, written by former PRU adviser Felix Rodriguez, was to launch mobile air strikes with "minimum U.S. participation" at leftist rebels. Rodriguez said the plan would "Be ideal for the pacification effort in El Salvador and Guatemala." [6]

Shortly after proposing the Pink Plan, Gregg introduced Rodriguez to George Bush [ii] and Oliver North. Rodriguez was sent to El Salvador, where, as an adviser to Department 5, he organized a "high-bird, low-bird" Pink Team, leading the missions himself and using the same techniques he had developed while serving as Gregg's deputy in charge of the PRU in Vietnam. As in Vietnam, civilian security services joined with Department 5 (civil affairs) and Department 2 (intelligence) to provide Department 3 (operations) with information on the location of guerrillas, whose hideouts were bombed by U.S. warplanes, then ravaged in Phoenix-style cordon and search operations in which PRU-type teams hunted enemy cadres in their homes. Rodriguez played the role of coordinator. At the time Colonel Adolfo Blandon commanded Departments 2 and 5.

According to reporter Dennis Volkman, Blandon was advised by a Cuban-American from the consular section of the American Embassy, who met regularly with U.S. military advisers to Departments 2 and 5 in San Salvador. [7]

General Paul Gorman, who commanded U.S. forces in Central America in the mid-1980's, defined this new type of counterinsurgency operation as "a form of warfare repugnant to Americans, a conflict which involves innocents, in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicit object." [8]

Gorman could have been alluding to Operation Phoenix, launched by the Salvadoran Army in January 1986. As reported in the Boston Globe, Operation Phoenix began with the military dropping waves of 750-pound bombs over Guazapa volcano, "a defiant symbol of persistence by a few thousand rebels against government forces that outnumber them 10 to one and are backed by the purse and arsenal of the U.S." [9] Next came planes with leaflets and bullhorns offering the rebels rewards for their rifles and safe passage to refugee camps. Meanwhile, thirty-five hundred troops swept the volcano in a tightening circle, burning crops, destroying hideouts, interrogating civilian detainees, and hunting enemy cadres.

The Salvadoran officer in charge of Operation Phoenix said, "We have three goals. Get rid of the idea that Guazapa belongs to the terrorists; to reactivate idle land; and to convince the masa (the people) we are different from the reality they've been told." And, he added, "By removing the masa from Guazapa, officials hope to disrupt the rebels' vital network of rural support."

In a Public Broadcasting System documentary titled Enough Crying of Tears, Operation Phoenix was described as wiping out entire villages.

***

In the wake of Vietnam, the CIA not only defined antiterrorism apart from counterinsurgency but also separated counterterrorism (defined as "bold and swift action to undo what terrorists have recently done") from antiterrorism, which is the broad spectrum and includes psywar campaigns against countries the United States brands as "terrorist." The best example is Nicaragua, where the CIA mined harbors and inserted insurgents, called contras, who systematically tortured and massacred civilians and assassinated government officials.

When in 1983 tales of contra atrocities began reaching congressional ears, CIA Director William Casey sent CIA officer John Kirkpatrick (an alias) to contra headquarters in Honduras to clean up their act. In October 1983 former Green Beret Kirkpatrick returned to Washington, where he copied a U.S. Special Forces manual issued at Fort Bragg in 1968. He then returned to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where the manual was printed in Spanish. It was titled Tayacan: Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare.

Kirkpatrick was an older man who dressed entirely in black in order "to inspire a cult of death among the fighting men," writes James Dickey in With the Contras. "Kirkpatrick thought he knew quite a bit about his end of a paramilitary operation: the psychology of it .... He knew about those special circumstances when an assassination might be unavoidable, even appropriate. He knew from studying the methods of the Communists everywhere, and from his own experience in Vietnam and from what he learned from the Phoenix program there, how you could make even an accidental killing work in your favor. But he also knew what My Lai could do, and the way one massacre could destroy your credibility." [10]

Dickey describes Tayacan as "a little book with a cover in the blue and white of the Nicaraguan flag. The graphic motif was rows of heads with large holes through them. Targets. It looked as if they were targets for snipers. But the idea was to target their minds." [11]

Indeed, Tayacan was based entirely on Frank Scotton's motivational indoctrination principles. The goal was to organize the contras into armed propaganda teams that would persuade the people to stage a general uprising. As stated in Tayacan, this was to be done through psychological operations, by reaching beyond the "territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the 'political animal' that Aristotle defined." For once his mind has been reached, the "political animal has been defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets."

Central to the CIA's doctrine of psychological operations is the "compulsion of people with arms," the notion of "implicit terror," that "the people are internally 'aware' that the weapons can be used against them." There are also times, Tayacan adds, when "explicit terror" is required to compel the people to change their minds. Using a modus operandi perfected by the Vietcong, Tayacan instructs its armed propaganda teams to gather the villagers together, cut all communication with the outside world, then desecrate symbols of the government while being courteous to the people so as to get the names of government informants and officials, who are then brought before a people's tribunal. Lastly, the team's political cadre gives a prepared speech explaining that force is necessary to give the people power over the government and that the ensuing execution is being done to protect the people and is an act of democracy.

Tayacan specifically calls for "neutralizing" judges, police officials, and state security officials. It also says that "professional criminals should be hired to carry out specific, selective jobs."

What Tayacan represents, of course, is Ralph Johnson's doctrine of Contre Coup having come full circle, emerging from the Phoenix program in Vietnam as the Phoenix concept of "explicit terrorism" disguised as antiterrorism.

It is instructive to hear how people responded to Tayacan. Contra defector Edgar Chamorro, who leaked the manual to the American press in 1984, used language lifted from Robert Komer when he said Tayacan author John Kirkpatrick "didn't want us to use a shotgun approach; he wanted us to select our targets." [12]

Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia said the word "neutralize" could be interpreted by reasonable people to mean "assassination." [13]

"It does not mean assassination," William Colby said on the October 28, 1984, David Brinkley Show; "it means take the person out of action." [14] Ronald Reagan agreed and said that "neutralize" meant "remove from office." When asked how that could be done without violence, Reagan said, "You just say to the fellow that's sitting there in the office, you're not in the office anymore." [15]

Duane Clarridge, the CIA officer in charge of operations against Nicaragua at the time Tayacan was printed, acknowledged that "civilians and Sandinista officials in the provinces, as well as heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors and judges," had been killed by the contras. But, he added, "These events don't constitute assassinations because as far as we are concerned assassinations are only those of heads of state." [16]

***

Eden Pastora was not a head of state; he was the head of the southern branch of the contras -- until May 31, 1984, when an attempt was made on his life at La Penca, Costa Rica, where he was preparing to announce his withdrawal from the contra force. When asked whom he blamed for the attempt on his life, Pastora responded, "We now believe the order came from Oliver North." When asked whom he held ultimately responsible, Pastora replied, "I could get killed for saying this, but it would have to be Vice-President George Bush." [17]

Is Pastora's accusation totally outrageous? Perhaps not when one considers that in May 1984, in El Salvador, Felix Rodriguez was facilitating the contra resupply effort for Oliver North. Or that the person initially chosen by North to resupply the contras was former SOG commander John Singlaub, who in doing so worked with Soldier of Fortune publisher Robert Brown, creator in 1974 of Phoenix Associates. Or that one mercenary group operating in Nicaragua actually called itself the Phoenix Battalion.

There is another disturbing connection in the La Penca bombing. On the night before the bomb went off, Oliver North's liaison to the contras, Rob Owen, was meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, with the CIA station chief, Joe Fernandez. Rob Owen is the brother of Dwight Owen, who was killed in an ambush by the same Vietcong outfit that was supplied by the villagers of My Lai.

Consider also that Tom Polgar, former Saigon station chief, was chief investigator for the Senate Select Committee probing the Iran-contra affair. In the February 1986 issue of Legal Times, Donald Gregg is quoted as saying that Polgar "wanted to assure me that [the hearings] would not be a repeat of the Pike and Church investigations." When George Bush was director of central intelligence in 1976, Gregg was his representative before the congressional committees that were investigating the CIA's role in criminal activities, including the attempted assassinations of foreign leaders. At the time Gregg presented the committees with an ultimatum: Back off or face martial law. Polgar, it seems, likewise derailed another round of executive-legislative brinkmanship.

In 1985 Tom Polgar was a consultant on George Bush's Task Force on Combating Terrorism, along with Oliver North and John Poindexter.

What these "old Phoenix boys" all have in common is that they profit from antiterrorism by selling weapons and supplies to repressive governments and insurgent groups like the contras. Their legacy is a trail of ashes across the third world.

And where can Phoenix be found today? Wherever governments of the left or the right use military and security forces to enforce their ideologies under the aegis of antiterrorism. Look for Phoenix wherever police check-points ring major cities, wherever paramilitary police units patrol in armored cars, and wherever military forces are conducting counterinsurgent operations. Look for Phoenix wherever emergency decrees are used to suspend due process, wherever dissidents are interned indefinitely in detention camps, and wherever dissidents are rounded up and deported. Look for Phoenix wherever security forces use informants to identify dissidents, wherever security forces keep files and computerized blacklists on dissidents, wherever security forces conduct secret investigations and surveillance on dissidents, wherever security forces, or thugs in their hire, harass and murder dissidents, and wherever such activities go unreported by the press.

But most of all, look for Phoenix in the imaginations of ideologues obsessed with security, who seek to impose their way of thinking on everyone else.

_______________

Notes:

i. Under Colonel Nicolas Carranza, who, according to the Center for National Security Studies, was recruited by the CIA in the late 1970's at a cost of ninety thousand dollars a year. [4]

ii. In 1983 Bush journeyed to El Salvador and arranged to have the most prominent death squad leaders sent to diplomatic posts abroad. By 1987 nine of eleven were back.

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