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Shadow Warfare Coming in March

Larry Hancock's next book, co-authored with Stuart Wexler, is called Shadow Warfare: The History of America's Undeclared Wars and will be published by Counterpoint in March. It is available for pre-order on amazon.com.

Larry's expertise on covert operations related to the JFK assassination and the "secret war" against Cuba has been applied to a broader field in this book, covering shadow warfare and deniable operations from President Truman to the present day. His acclaimed first book, Someone Would Have Talked, was followed up by Nexus: The CIA and Political Assassination. Larry Hancock and Stuart Wexler also teamed up to write The Awful Grace of God on the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Larry Hancock was recently interviewed about the new book at JFK Lancer's JFK Conversations with Alan Dale. See also Larry's blog where he is currently writing on topics related to the book.

The Mary Ferrell Foundation is pleased to present a preview of this book - the full Introduction is presented below:

Introduction to Shadow Warfare:

Hot war and Cold War, covert operations and shadow warfare. Some of it public, some of it secret, and some of it very real but ostensibly “deniable.”

The “hot” side of the Cold War was always in the news. In the 1950s the Korean conflict saw a large American military contingent deployed as part of a UN force to the Korean peninsula, to block the subjugation of a democratic south by the communist north. American combat personnel made up the vast majority of the 341,000-man UN force, a force coming from some twenty-one nations. And by the time of the final truce, American forces had suffered more than 125,000 dead and wounded in combat. There were reporters on the ground, combat photography in the newsreels, and the veterans returned to write extensively about their experiences in Korea.

Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, the Vietnam conflict was covered as another instance of communist territorial aggression, combat pitting the communist north against the anticommunist south——with the American fear that countries across Southeast Asia could begin falling to communism like dominoes. That combat was the first to be covered on the nightly television news and Americans watched that very hot war for almost a decade. Vietnam escalated to full-scale warfare including Army, Air Force, and Naval deployments. The conflict lasted far longer than Korea, involving over half a million American personnel. Combat in and around Vietnam left far more than twice the American dead and wounded than that in Korea. Because the American effort in Vietnam ended in defeat and public embarrassment, it took longer for even individual combat stories to make it into print. Still, at the time, the “hot” side of the Cold War seemed easy enough to understand, win or lose—even if the complex ideological and political agendas in play required some years for a more accurate and penetrating historical analysis.

The “cold” side of the Cold War seemed equally visible, focused on nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union; immediately following the Second Word War the U.S. Army Air Force prepared contingency plans for an atomic strike on the Soviets and ultimately, with both sides having nuclear arsenals, the strategy of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) emerged. [1] It would be decades before Americans learned the actual number of atomic weapons involved in the nuclear confrontation. The knowledge of an inventory of over ten thousand atomic warheads in the U.S. stockpile alone would have been staggering. The public was also not generally aware that each year, beginning under President Eisenhower, a special subcommittee of the National Security Council briefed senior government officials on their evaluations of the likelihood of a Soviet preemptive atomic strike on America. On occasion those discussions also turned to the subject of the possible necessity of a preemptive American atomic attack on the Soviets. [2]

During most of the Cold War, secrets—military secrets—were not a bad thing, they were accepted as a fact of life. The country was only a few years out of a bloody world war and military security was engrained in the population. Still, there was lots of popular media coverage of the military. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was omnipresent during the Cold War era. Books such as SAC: The Strategic Air Command, published as early as 1958, gave extensive details on the force including the numbers of both its personnel and its aircraft. [3] The level of SAC operations was indeed tremendous; in a random sample of sixty days in 1955, SAC had some 1,353 planes engaged on “war maneuvers.” Every three minutes of every day, seven days a week, both day and night, a SAC aircraft was engaged in midair refueling and aircraft accidents. Accidents and crashes came with that level of preparedness and SAC’s airmen suffered ongoing deaths and injuries, especially among bomber and tanker crews. [4]

The North American Air Defense Command [5] was another extremely visible—and comforting—element of the Cold War. Children became used to seeing NORAD track Santa Claus around the world on Christmas Eve; if NORAD could handle that, the American public assumed that the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line, the Pine Tree Line, the Offshore Line, and eventually BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) and SPASUR (U.S. Naval Space Command Space Surveillance system) could track any incoming enemy aircraft or missiles. All of those organizations, systems, and related weapons were frequently and extensively described in the press, and in a host of constantly updated books. [6] The Air Force was also willing and eager to actively promote its atomic defensive capabilities. In 1957 a U.S. News & World Report interview with the Air Defense Command’s chief, General Earle Partridge, discussed the use of atomic weapons in air defense—those atomic interceptor missiles would come to include warheads ranging from 1.5-kiloton missiles (launched from F-89 jet interceptors) to the 6.5-kiloton warhead (approximately half the size of the Hiroshima bomb) on high-altitude Bomarc antiaircraft missiles deployed around major American cities.

There certainly were Cold War secrets, matters not necessarily related to weapons development or defensive capabilities—and not shared with the press. SAC’s first known nuclear weapons accident was in February, 1950, when a B-36 bomber simulating a nuclear attack under Artic conditions experienced mechanical problems and severe icing and was forced to ditch off the coast of British Columbia; its Mark IV nuclear bomb was jettisoned from eight thousand feet and reportedly the high explosives triggers detonated with no nuclear explosion. That accident was only the first of that year, with crashes in the Manzano Mountains east of Albuquerque (no damage to the weapons on board; the crash was following takeoff), the forced jettisoning of a nuclear bomb over the St. Lawrence River in Canada, and the crash during takeoff of a B-29 with an atomic weapons on board at an Air Base outside San Francisco. That aircraft was carrying weapons to be deployed in possible support of the Korean action and the crash not only killed twelve of the twenty crew members but also the following explosion of the bombs’ conventional explosive triggers killed another seven people on the ground and produced significant radioactive contamination on the airfield.

In 1958 a fully armed B-47 caught fire on the runway at a SAC base in Morocco and produced a considerable amount of local contamination. In 1957, a 19-megaton hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in an uninhabited area near Albuquerque; the conventional explosives detonated, producing a twelve–foot-deep crater some twenty-five feet across; some radioactive contamination did result. Later years would see accidents in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1968. As with the previous incidents, some contamination occurred, some bombs were recovered, some were not, and SAC servicemen lost their lives. Almost all these accidents received little or no press at the time and some were only revealed decades later. [7]

The American public also knew little of such military incidents over our and our allies’ territory, including the closely-held secrets of Air Force reconnaissance, conducted not only in international airspace and waters, but directly over Russia itself. In July, 1960, Time magazine headlined the return of two Air Force servicemen who had survived after their RB-47 aircraft had been downed by a Russian fighter in international waters, over the Barents Sea, off Murmansk. Only two of the six-man crew survived, spending seven months in Lubyanka prison before being returned to America. The incident was tragic and definitely served to harden public opinion towards the Soviets.

But there was a good deal more to the overall picture of American aircraft around and over Soviet territory than made it into the Time article. Behind that single story were literally hundreds of signals of intelligence and reconnaissance missions flown by Air Force and Navy aircraft, not only around the borders of the Soviet Union, but for years, directly over Soviet territory, including major cities and military facilities. As early as 1954 a single RB-47 Stratojet had cruised directly over Murmansk, the largest city and major port in northwestern Russia, at 40,000 feet, on a photo intelligence mission targeting several key Soviet airfields. MIG fighters made a series of attacks against the American aircraft, which in turn responded with fire from its own tail cannon. After surviving attacks by several MIG flights, the Stratojet finally took a hit into its wing and fuselage, causing serious damage and loss of fuel. The RB-47 managed to make its way back across Norway to its home field in England, but sounds of the air battle were heard in northern Finland and the report was even repeated in a U.S. newspaper —the Air Force responded by saying that it had no planes in that area. [8]

In 1956 an SAC aerial intelligence effort, Project Homerun, dramatically escalated flights over the Soviet Union. Some 21 RB-47’s, supported by 28 tankers, flew 156 missions over a route covering a 3,500-mile stretch of Soviet territory. In the final effort of that year, SAC flew a formation of six bombers over Soviet facilities in eastern Siberia with the Soviets totally unable to intercept them. The RB-47 formation took off from Thule, Greenland, and flew over the North Pole and across Soviet territory, landing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. [9] SAC Commander General LeMay had made a definite point to the Soviets: SAC was unstoppable. [10] [11]

America had Cold War military secrets and it had other secrets as well; it took decades for activities and incidents such as those above to emerge. This book is about another class of secrets that also have been revealed—the covert and clandestine warfare operations that not only occurred during the Cold War but continued after its end, into the current “War on Terror.” That part of the Cold War, involving undeclared, covert, deniable warfare—organized by American intelligence officers but carried out by others—has been perhaps best and most bluntly characterized by a well-known military officer who personally participated in activities ranging from Vietnam and Laos to Iran and Nicaragua:

“In a tactical sense, that’s what the Cold War was about; the two major powers fencing, and taking their lumps, through proxies, with the local people picking up the tab, at least in terms of bloodshed.”

     —General Richard Secord

Covert warfare, as explored in this work, is not simply secret military action, “black operations,” sabotage, “dirty tricks,” or intelligence collection. On occasion it was something of a far greater magnitude, involving the commitment of large-scale American resources to secret military action against another country. Yet even on those occasions, the declared intention was that it had to be deniable—the actual combat was not to be carried out by identifiable American service members. Instead, surrogate fighters would be involved and as far as possible any American funding or involvement would be concealed or at a minimum obscured. The actual combat might be bloody, but the goal was to obtain results without visible American military involvement in the actual fighting.

We will be detailing the operational history of American involvement in shadow warfare, examining how surrogate actions have been authorized and practiced, the types and techniques of deniability (and their effectiveness), and the consequences of successive presidents’ uses of the practice. We will also delve into a number of unanticipated consequences of these activities. Of course the practice of covert warfare was certainly not unique to the United States; and other powers including the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba were actively involved in such activities around the globe. In a number of instances, surrogates plus military advisors and even regular military units from America’s Cold War opponents were mutually engaged in active combat—with active denial from all parties involved.

United States involvement in covert, surrogate warfare differed in one critical aspect—American deniability was not simply an artifice for foreign relations; it was equally important for domestic consumption. Time after time, the administrations involved chose covert over declared warfare —at times due to a lack of support by Congress and at other times due to a perceived lack of support from the general public. In numerous instances this led to a level of operational dysfunction unique to the American efforts, a problem not encountered in either Moscow or Havana.

We will find that the practice of deniability did work, at least to some extent, in several operations. In many other instances the complex and expensive practice of deniability seemed questionable even at the time—even to the covert operations professionals charged with making it happen.

“We’re going to mount a secret operation in the Caribbean with tanks?”

     —David Phillips, CIA Plans/Operations Directorate, commenting after his first briefing on what was to become the disastrous landing at the Bay of Pigs

Given that the Cuban exile force landed on the beach, coming off World War II –era landing craft, being accompanied by a tank brigade carried in by tank landing craft and supported by parachute landings and both troop and transport aircraft, Phillips’s concern can certainly be appreciated. That operation was arguably the least deniable and most disastrous in some forty years of American surrogate warfare. On the other hand, as late as 2002, we will still find American CIA officers going into Afghanistan covertly, to organize attacks against Al-Qaeda after America itself had been attacked—yet in 2001, as in all the cold, hot, covert, and clandestine military actions in between, the United States Congress still had not formally declared a state of war.

But there were many other operations, many other surrogates, and for some of them, at the time, the denials generally worked. At least they worked domestically and politically. On other occasions the denials worked far better than the military operations themselves. This book is an exploration of America’s conduct of surrogate warfare before, during, and after the Cold War. Readers will be introduced to the details of both the “practice” and “tradecraft” of shadow warfare—how to “cover elephants with handkerchiefs,” as the covert operations saying goes. Not only operations and practices are explored but also a number of individual participants, both CIA and military—some involved with covert operations over three decades and three continents. But beyond the Cold War, and covert, deniable warfare, we continue by tracing the evolution of the next generation of American military action—a new and very different type of warfare dramatically accelerated by the global war against terror. Today’s contemporary military and counterterrorism activities have become much less deniable, instead representing a combination of low-profile military assistance, clandestine operations, and extremely advanced intelligence and communications technologies. The story of the new generation of American military capabilities and contemporary activities conduct is one that actually started long before 2001 and the attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington, D.C. We will explore that evolution in detail, through the most contemporary global events.

Shadow Warfare presents extensive detail on both the practices and tradecraft of covert operations, over some seventy years around the world. Covert operations in Latin America, Africa, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific are examined and profiled. Beyond that, you will find an exploration of the personalities and activities of a number of the individuals involved in those operations. However the book’s overall goal is even more ambitious, addressing both the character and concerns of the senior decision makers who made the determination to go to conventional military action, or to go covert and deniable. We will examine the legal and political context for their decisions as well as the concerns and risks that arise—including a host of unintended consequences and risks not only for the deciders but for the individuals receiving the marching orders. When national security appears to be on the line, it would seem that the most obvious solution would be to turn to conventional military action. The fundamental question would seem to be why American presidents consistently turned to covert solutions.


[1] Secretary of State John Foster Dulles provided an overview of the military strategy that would come to be described as Mutual Assured Destruction in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on January 12, 1954. The speech was titled “Evolution of Foreign Policy” and focused to a considerable extent on the economics of the strategy. Dulles pointed out that one of the basic “maneuvers” of world communism was forcing its opponents to overextend themselves—in essence, “bankrupting” them. A very similar strategy would actually be stated decades later by Osama bin Laden, in declaring that jihadi strategy was to force the Western nations to overextend and bankrupt themselves in their response to continual Al-Qaeda attacks.

[2] The average citizen also didn’t realize that each year, beginning under President Eisenhower, a special subcommittee of the National Security Council (the Net Evaluation Subcommittee) briefed senior government officials on “integrated evaluations of the net capabilities of the USSR, in the event of general war, to inflict direct injury upon the continental U.S. and key U.S. installations overseas, and to provide a continual watch for changes which would significantly alter those net capabilities.” The evaluation was also to include assessments of a potential preemptive atomic strike by the Soviets. On occasion the Net Evaluation Subcommittee reports also led to discussion of the possibility and desirability of a preemptive first strike on the Soviets. National Security Council Directive 5511, Directive on a Net Evaluation Subcommittee, February 14, 1955, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950–1955, The Intelligence Community 1950–1955, Document 207, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian; James Galbraith, “Did the U.S. Military Plan a Nuclear First Strike for 1963?”, The American Prospect, December 19, 2001.



[3] Richard G. Hubler, SAC: The Strategic Air Command (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1958); Norman Polmar, ed., Strategic Air Command: People, Aircraft, and Missiles, Office of the Historian of the Strategic Air Command under the direction of John T. Bohn (Annapolis: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, Inc., 1979).

[4] Ibid., 123, 149.

[5] In 1981 NORAD was designated as the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

[6] Marian Talmadge and Iris Gilmore, NORAD: The North American Air Defense Command, (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1967); Guarding What You Value Most: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Celebrating 50 Years (U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, 2008).

[7] James Oskins and Michael Maggelet, Broken Arrow—The Declassified History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents (Lulu.com, 2008).

[8] William E. Burrows, By Any Means Necessary: America’s Secret Air War in the Cold War, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001) 181–186, 201–202; Curtis Peebles, Shadow Flights: America’s Secret Air War Against the Soviet Union (Novato, CA: Presidio, 2001) 53–54.

[9] Curtis Peebles, Shadow Flights, 127.

[10] These secret Air Force intelligence missions reflected a surveillance commitment far beyond the more publicly known but numerically limited U-2 flights; they also produced a far greater number of incidents in which American aircraft were shot down, with the loss of entire crews ranging from three to sixteen or more servicemen. The full scope of the missions and the individual stories of a great number of the crews are described in By Any Means Necessary by William Burrows, Shadow Flights by Curtis Peebles, and The Price of Vigilance: Attacks on American Surveillance Flights by Larry Tart and Robert Keefe. The Price of Vigilance documents more than a dozen such incidents from 1950 through 1965 and records the number of American aircrew killed or missing in each accident. Thanks to these authors and others such as Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, who addressed the Navy’s secret submarine war in Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, we have also begun to truly understand the secret side of the Cold War and the military casualties it produced.

[11] The concept of mutual U.S.–Soviet aerial inspections was initially proposed in 1955, rejected by the Soviet Union and eventually reintroduced by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. An actual treaty on aerial inspections was negotiated between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and signed in 1992. Flights began in 2002 and since then some 34 parties have joined the pact. As of September 3, 2013, one thousand inspection missions had been flown.

[12] Richard Secord with Jay Wurts, Honored and Betrayed: Irangate, Covert Affairs, and the Secret War in Laos, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992), 48.

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