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U.S.-Sponsored Terrorism

The CIA has its own good book for Christian soldiers

Sandinist fighters, counter-revolutionaries, Honduras, armed, financed, Washington

Sandinist fighters stand at the ready to rebuff the regular assaults of the counter-revolutionaries entrenched in Honduras, armed and financed by Washington, in January of 1984.

Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images


ONE OF THE LEAST ATTRACTIVE QUALITIES ABOUT US Americans is our stubborn belief that we are the innocents of the world. America plays fair. America is generous and aboveboard in its actions toward others. Yet in spite of these good intentions, we are constantly bombarded with hostile invectives and attacked by fanatics using devious terror tactics.

From time to time, when we are confronted by incontrovertible evidence that America plays dirty too, most citizens instinctively seem to deny its meaning. It must be a mistake. That cannot be us. We Americans are for democracy and fair play; we are opposed to terrorism and deceit. Any deviation from our high moral standards must be a temporary aberration.

This drama of collective denial was played out again recently when a CIA guerrilla-training manual became public. It spelled out the tactics our government is sponsoring in its not very secret war against the government of Nicaragua. The manual recommends, among other things, the assassination of public officials, selective terrorist killings of peasants, kidnapping, the employment of professional criminals for special “jobs” and clandestine agitation that will provoke “a fury of justified violence.”

None of these revelations ought to shock anyone. After all, these are familiar tactics the CIA has employed around the world for more than thirty years in dozens of secret wars cloaked by the agency euphemism “covert action.” Some past CIA efforts employed saboteurs, highly placed political accomplices, terrorists and assassins, including even Mafia hit men. Other covert actions fielded irregular armies. The purpose was to overthrow unfriendly governments, either by political disruption or military defeat. In Nicaragua, the CIA is doing all of the above.

Official Washington, bloated with hypocrisy, pretended to be shocked by the manual. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, acted so surprised that I thought he might burst. The press always cooperates in these charades by asking its own innocent questions. Did the president know about this nasty business? No, the White House responds, the president was shocked. Did the top-level officials of the CIA know? No, they were shocked too. Eventually, the blame settles on some lower-rung agency bureaucrat who, it is said, “got carried away.” This is the mechanism by which we absolve ourselves of responsibility for the crimes the CIA is committing in our behalf.

But this time there is one important difference: the CIA campaign to destroy the Sandinista government is still going on. In the past, the hard proof of CIA crimes usually did not surface until long after the dirty deeds had been done. We innocent Americans could tell ourselves that, if only we had known, we would have spoken out against these sordid methods, the assassination plots or terror tactics or secret armies. In the case of Nicaragua, we know now, while the campaign is still under way. This time, Americans can no longer claim innocence.

So the CIA manual should be properly read as a study guide for American citizens, to educate all of us on the reality of our current secret war. The manual provides valuable insights into the nature of the army we are sponsoring, the contras, some 12,000 to 15,000 guerrillas along the Honduran border. It explains how we can effectively use terrorism as an adjunct to combat. Perhaps most important, the manual suggests how the CIA expects to triumph ultimately and displace the Sandinista government. With this script in hand, all of us can now follow the action in the months ahead and see if “our side” is winning.


THE MOST COMFORTING INSIGHT WE LEARN FROM THE CIA MANUAL is that our war against Nicaragua is actually a religious struggle, a “Christian and democratic crusade”-fought by “Christian guerrillas” who rally to the slogan “God, homeland and democracy.” The CIA instructions repeatedly emphasize the Christian spirituality of the “freedom fighters”: “With God and patriotism, we will overcome communism.” “We are different. We are Christians. We consider God a witness to our words.”

If guerrillas seize a town and decide not to kill captured Sandinista sympathizers, the manual states that they should explain to the peasants that this is “due to the generosity of the Christian guerrillas.” On the other hand, if they do kill a local leader, the guerrillas should regretfully explain their actions:

“Make the town see that he was an enemy of the people and that they shot him because the guerrillas recognized as their first duty the protection of citizens. The commando tried to detain the informant without firing because he, like all Christian guerrillas, espouses nonviolence. . . . Make the population see that if the Sandinistas had ended the represssion, the corruption backed by foreign powers, et cetera, the freedom commandos would not have had to brandish National Affairs arms against brother Nicaraguans, which goes against our Christian sentiments.”

Linking Christ with killing may sound odd, but it is a well-known tactic of fascist movements around the world, from Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco to the Lebanese Christian Phalangists. The CIA, as any historian would confirm, has often collaborated with fascist groups, from recruiting European Nazis after World War II to supporting the goose-stepping military regimes of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina, both of which murdered citizens in the name of Christ. The CIA manual makes learned references to Aristotle, Socrates and other great thinkers of Western civilization, but it also speaks with admiration of the fifth-column tactics of Hitler:

“The comandante will remember that this type of operation, such as the fifth column, was used in the first part of the Second World War and, through infiltration and subversion tactics, allowed the Germans to penetrate the target countries before the invasions. They managed to enter Poland, Belgium, Holland and France in a month and Norway in a week.”


OUR “CHRISTIAN GUERRILLAS” IN NICARAGUA are repeatedly admonished by the CIA manual to be friendly and helpful to those peasants whose towns and villages they occupy. As with Vietnam, this is fundamentally a battle for “hearts and minds.” Guerrillas should be “respectful and courteous” and help with the chores. When lecturing the peasants in ideology, they should sing folk songs and tell heroic tales. They should always try to “be simple and concise. . . . Use lively examples. . . . Use the appropriate tone of voice. . . . Above all, be natural.”

The manual, written in the banal and bloodless prose of a bureaucrat, is certainly not as stirring as the poetic aphorisms of Mao or the romanticism of Ché Guevara. But the author has borrowed from the Etactics of every important revolutionary movement of the last forty years, including the Sandinistas themselves. The lessons in this textbook echo Castro and the Viet Cong and also the CIA’s own counterinsurgency efforts in Vietnam, the famous Phoenix program, which “neutralized” more than 20,000 people in its time.

The CIA, like these earlier insurgent movements, makes a crucial distinction about terrorism: “implicit terror” is to be used always. It starts with something as simple as letting young men in the village handle the guerrillas’ weapons (unloaded, of course), knowing “the population, without saying it aloud, feels terror that the weapons may be used against them.”

“Explicit terror” is to be invoked only with great care. When occupying a town or a small city, guerrillas may employ what the manual calls “selective use of violence for propaganda effects.” This includes plans “to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, police and state-security officials. For psychological purposes, it is necessary to take extreme precautions, and it is absolutely necessary to gather together the population affected, so that they will be present, take part in the act and formulate accusations against the oppressors.”

The villagers should be encouraged to “give the names of the Sandinista informants, who will be removed together with the other officials of the government of repression.” Alternately, the guerrillas may stage public tribunals to “shame, ridicule and humiliate the ‘personal symbols’ of the government of repression. . . .” Or they may simply kidnap the officials and replace them with others who are cooperative.

Unfortunately, the CIA etiquette for assassination is sometimes abandoned by our guerrillas in the heat of the moment, according to American witnesses who have visited Nicaraguan villages raided by the contras. Scores of clergymen and others have come home with these stories of random violence, but they are largely ignored, dismissed as naive sympathizers who have been taken in by enemy propaganda. Their chilling stories, however, match the contents of the training manual and then some.

Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister and peace activist, spoke to the peasants of a Nicaraguan border town that had recently been visited by the Christian guerrillas. “One mother told me how she was gathered in a house with all of her family –– her sons and daughters and sons-in-law. The contras came and ordered all the men outside. They promised they wouldn’t be harmed. In the next moment, she heard gunfire. In one horrible moment, she lost all of her sons and sons-in-law.” Another woman told her thirteen-year-old daughter to go to a shelter when the contras came. Instead, the girl went running back for her puppy. “They not only killed her,” said Wallis. “They did what they often do, according to the people of these villages. They cut off her head.”

On those occasions when it may be necessary to kill villagers at random, the CIA manual instructs the guerrillas to “explain to the population that in the first place this is being done to protect them, the people, and not themselves [the guerrillas]. Admit frankly and publicly that this is an ‘act of the democratic guerrilla movement’ with appropriate explanations. . . . Explain that if that citizen had managed to escape, he would have alerted the enemy that is near the town or city, and they would carry out acts of reprisal, such as rapes, pillage, destruction, captures, et cetera, in this way terrorizing the inhabitants of the place for having given attention and hospitalities to the guerrillas. . . . This death would have been avoided if justice and freedom existed in Nicaragua, which is exactly the objective of the democratic guerrilla.”

This logic of violence imposed upon innocent civilians is the essence of terrorism. No one has defined it more precisely than Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Reagan administration’s ambassador to the United Nations:

“A terrorist,” she explained, “engages in violence in violation of law against people who do not understand themselves to be at war. The victims of terrorist attacks are unarmed, undefended and unwary. The crucial point is that they conceive of themselves as civilians. They do not understand that they are regarded by the terrorists as belligerents in an ongoing war. . . . It is absolute war because its goal is the absolute destruction of the old society.”

Kirkpatrick, like other American officials, does not regard the terrorism sponsored by the CIA in Nicaragua as comparable to the violence directed at Americans in the Middle East. The attacks against us are done by Muslim fanatics; our violence is committed by Christian freedom fighters. Both, of course, are versions of what the president likes to condemn: “state-sponsored terrorism.”

But Kirkpatrick has a special reason to avoid this comparison. The contras have named one of their terrorist battalions the Jeane Kirkpatrick Task Force.


THE MOST EXCITING SECTION OF THE manual is the description of how the CIA expects to win –– a mass uprising of citizens agitated by secret guerrilla cadres, which produces violent demonstrations. At the proper moment, when the Sandinista regime is most vulnerable, the mass protests will be accompanied by sudden shocks –– not specified in this training manual –– which will force the government into collapse. Our innocent senators and congressmen have been living with the fiction that the $19 million a year they had been providing the CIA for covert operations in Central America was not being used to overthrow the Sandinista government. After reading this manual, however, no one can continue to believe that official lie anymore than one can believe that the Reagan administration will abandon the Christian guerrillas simply because Congress, before adjourning last month, temporarily cut off those funds, at least until February 1985, when a new vote can be taken. The CIA does not abandon its soldiers when the prospects for victory are looking so good.

The victory will not depend upon overt military combat so much as on an infrastructure for general violence. “With too much frequency,” the CIA warns, “we see guerrilla warfare only from the point of view of combat actions. This view is erroneous and extremely dangerous. Combat actions are not the key to victory in guerrilla warfare, but rather form part of one of the six basic efforts. There is no priority in any of the efforts; rather, they should progress in a parallel manner.”

This is how the victory will occur: “The development and control of the cover organizations in guerrilla warfare will give our movement the ability to create a whiplash effect within the population, when the order for fusion is given. When the infiltration and internal subjective control have been developed parallel to other guerrilla activities, a comandante will literally be able to shake up the Sandinista structure and replace it.”

These are the events we can follow in the news to see if the CIA is achieving its goals. Before the mass uprising can occur, the movement’s undercover agents must create and secretly guide many “front organizations” of discontented citizens in towns and cities, organizing “cells” made up of disappointed politicians displaced by the Sandinistas, businessmen fearful of socialist government, intellectuals deprived of free expression. But the most important organizing weapon will be the impact of shortages of food and other commodities on the general population. These shortages are induced in part by the U.S. economic sanctions, the same tactic that helped bring down the socialist Salvador Allende in Chile more than a decade ago. The recommended slogan for the organizers is “tortillas and red beans,” the peasant equivalent of bread and butter.

These dissidents should first be recruited as “social crusaders” and not informed of their organization’s connection with the contras unless their reliability is fully established. If a “target” for recruitment refuses to join, the manual suggests: “It will be indicated to him that if he fails to cooperate or to carry out future orders, he will be exposed to actions of reprisal by the police or soldiers of the regime. The notification of the police, denouncing a target who does not want to join the guerrillas can be carried out easily, when it becomes necessary, through a letter with false statements by citizens who are not implicated in the movement.”

At the moment of climax, all these front groups will unite in public protest –– a declaration of “fusion” –– and fill the streets with marches and rallies, inviting repression from the Sandinista police. “Our psychological-war team should prepare in advance a hostile mental attitude among the target groups, so that at the decisive moment they can turn their furor into violence, demanding the rights that have been trampled upon by the regime.”

These protest marchers, surging through the streets of Managua, will be clandestinely manipulated in their slogans and their actions by a cadre of several hundred “key agitators,” communicating minute by minute with a nearby comandante, who “will be able to send orders to change passwords or slogans or any other unforeseen thing, even eventually to incite violence if he desires it.”

The agitators will be reinforced by “shock troops.” The manual says, “These men should be equipped with weapons (knives, razors, chains, clubs, bludgeons) and should march slightly behind the innocent and gullible participants. They should carry their weapons hidden. They will enter into action only as ‘reinforcements,’ if the guerrilla agitators are attacked by the police. They will enter the scene quickly, violently and by surprise. . . .”

The only missing piece in this scenario for victory is exactly how the CIA intends to provide the final shocks that will topple the Sandinistas. It does not take much imagination to figure that out. Since 1981, CIA-sponsored saboteurs have created major disruptions in the Nicaraguan economy, blowing up an oil-storage facility, bombing Managua from the air, mining the harbors of three port cities. Therefore, at the appropriate moment, widespread sabotage can be invoked, perhaps accompanied by a full-scale contra invasion from Honduras.

If the contra units are inadequate in combat, they might be reinforced by the Honduran army, which has 20,000 troops, and the Honduran air force, which has fifteen jet fighter planes, thirty support planes and twenty helicopters. Behind the Honduran troops, ready for action only if they are absolutely needed for victory, are the American forces who man the U.S. support bases they have built in Honduras. Nicaragua has a larger army, but it could not prevent aerial bombing. Its air force consists only of three helicopters and three aging training jets, according to Jay Peterzell of the Center for National Security Studies, author of Reagan’s Secret Wars.

This balance of power helps explain why the Sandinistas would like very much to obtain some MiG fighters from Cuba or the Soviet Union. If they do, however, that action might become the provocation that unleashes the CIA’s fury.


WILL AMERICA TRIUMPH OVER THE Marxists of Managua and restore that benighted nation to the true church of right-wing authoritarians? Offhand, I would think it is quite likely. Perhaps not next month, perhaps not even next year, but the forces we have set in motion can wage a war of attrition and deprivation that could eventually tear apart the Sandinistas’ revolution. That government, surrounded by threats and real violence, cooperates by raising the level of its own domestic repression.

Most Americans would probably cheer this victory, given the mood of new patriotism across the land. Most Americans, I imagine, will feel more secure, once our secret war is won and the Sandinistas are eliminated by a “spontaneous uprising” of the Nicaraguan people.

But this will not necessarily bring an end to terrorism. Sooner or later, our adversaries are going to recognize that, while Americans will support a dirty little war in someone else’s country, we do not have much stomach for random bloodshed when it is Americans who are being killed. We have not had much experience with terrorism up close, but government officials are beginning to worry about it. At the moment, the government is more concerned about attacks by Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. Still, the Capitol and the White House are already surrounded by ominous-looking barricades. We may win the war in Nicaragua and discover that enemy survivors have found another battlefield on which to continue the fight –– the streets and homes and public buildings of the United States.

In This Article: Coverwall

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