Welcoming the Taliban with Open Arms: Defectors and Deception in Afghanistan

Email Print



Last week the U.S. Government began floating the idea of welcoming
low and mid-level Taliban defectors into its war on terror against
Al Qaeda. After waging an eight-year "dirty war" against
the Taliban, U.S. military commanders and politicians are publicly
acknowledging their "insurgent" enemy is actually part of
the "fabric" of Afghan society.

U.S. and NATO
officials are also offering bribes from a billion-dollar "Peace
and Reintegration Trust Fund
" to Taliban fighters to defect.

Taliban leaders
have condemned the buyout strategy as a "trick" to divide
and conquer its forces, and said that offers of reconciliation were
futile without a withdrawal of foreign troops.

This billion
dollar buyout may, indeed, seem a bizarre reversal of fortunes,
but only if one believes the U.S. genuinely wants reconciliation
with the Taliban. In reality, defectors programs like the one proposed
for Afghanistan are an essential part of the traditional U.S. pacification
policy. For example, the so-called Chieu Hoi "Open Arms"
program is touted by military historians as having produced positive
results throughout the Vietnam War by offering "clemency to

Make no mistake
about it: this too is propaganda. Defector "amnesty" or
"clemency" or "open arms" programs are aggressive
CIA intelligence operations and have nothing to do with reconciliation.

As former DCI
William Colby told me, CIA political action teams in Vietnam (like
Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan) employed defectors
whose job was to "go around the countryside and indicate to
the people that they used to be Vietcong and that the government
has received them and taken them in, and that the Chieu Hoi program
does exist as a way of VC currently on the other side to rally.
[Defectors] contact people like the families of known VC,"
Colby said, "and provide them with transportation to defector
and refugee centers."

Master spy
Colby would certainly agree that information management — language
— is the essence of political warfare in general and defector programs
in particular. The first step in either case is concocting a slogan
that appeals to the sensibilities of the targeted audience, which
is why defectors programs are given names like "amnesty"
or "clemency" or "open arms."

Such cleverly
crafted slogans need have no basis in reality. Instead, by appealing
to American (not Vietnamese or Afghan) sensibilities (or lack thereof),
these slogans serve as the first step in creating deniability for
the CIA's roll in organizing repression.

During Senate
hearings into CIA assassination plots against foreign leaders, deniability
was defined by the CIA’s deputy director of operations Richard Bissell
as "the use of circumlocution and euphemism in discussions
where precise definitions would expose covert actions and bring
them to an end."

Apart from
using circumlocution and euphemism, and Madison Avenue style slogans,
the CIA creates deniability, and thus garners public approval, by
composing and planting distorted articles in foreign and domestic
newspapers. It also composes “official” communiqués which
appear to have originated within, for example, the Karzai government
in Afghanistan.

To ensure the
deniability necessary for public support of its repressive policies,
the CIA conducts covert action under cover of Civic Action programs
that are advertised as fostering freedom, patriotism, brotherhood,
and democracy.

Likewise, the
Taliban defector buyout program is said to foster reconciliation.

In CIA jargon
this manipulation of language is called "black propaganda"
and is the job of political and psychological (PP) warfare officers
in the covert action branch. "PP" officers played a major
role in packaging the Phoenix Program for sale to the American public
as a program designed “to protect the people from terrorism.””

CIA disinformation
campaigns persuade predisposed Americans to offer their tax dollars
to pay for the massive military and aid programs that support the
CIA’s covert action programs. The proposed billion-dollar Taliban
defector program is just such a case.


After arranging
for deniability, the CIA will launch a covert action program like
the Taliban defector program only if it has "intelligence
potential." Such a program must be able to produce information
on an enemy’s political, military, and economic infrastructure or
it will not be undertaken. The CIA after all, is not a "reconciliation"

And defectors
have superlative "intelligence potential."

Not only are
defectors valued for their ability to sap the enemy’s fighting strength
and morale, but having worked on the inside, they are an accurate
and timely source of intelligence on enemy unit strength and location.
They also serve as guides and trackers, and after defecting, many
are immediately returned to their area of operations with a reaction
force to locate hidden enemy arms or food caches.

Others defectors,
after being screened and interrogated by security officers, are
turned into double agents. Defectors who return to their former
positions inside enemy military units or political organizations
are, as Colby explained, provided with a “secure” means of contacting
their CIA case officer, to whom they feed information leading to
the arrest or ambush of enemy cadres, soldiers, and secret agents.

Defector programs
also provide CIA "talent scouts" with cover for recruiting
criminals into counter-terrorist and political action programs.
Burglars, arsonists, forgers, and smugglers have unique skills and
no compunctions about preparing wanted posters or conducting interrogations.

In Vietnam,
the entire Fifty-second Ranger Battalion was recruited from Saigon

With Obama's
surge and additional NATO forces providing cover for more expansive
CIA covert actions, CIA political and psychological warfare experts
are moving to the forefront of the occupation; and of course, their
Provincial Reconstruction Teams are, as noted in a previous article,
at the forefront of this "intelligence" surge. That is
why the Taliban defector buyout program is being launched now.

Let me repeat:
what makes such an intelligence operation "covert" is
not any false impression on the part of the Taliban, but rather
the CIA’s ability to deny its involvement in the defector buyout
program to the American public.

A Case Study

Under cover
of Civic Action, the CIA is waging a plausibly deniable dirty war
against the Taliban using black propaganda, defectors, criminals,
selective terror, indefinite detention and a slew of other devious
tactics disguised as bringing freedom and democracy, but in fact
designed to provide internal security for the puppet Karzai regime.

The CIA perfected
this practice in Vietnam, where it waged clandestine political and
psychological warfare with the U.S. Information Service (USIS).

the overseas branch of the U.S. Information Agency (which performed
the same propaganda and censorship functions inside America), the
USIS had as its raison d’être promotion of the “American way.”
In its crusade to convert the world into one big happy Chamber of
Commerce, the USIS employed all manner of "media," from
TVs, radios, and satellites to armed propaganda teams, wanted posters,
and terrorism.

Frank Scotton,
a CIA officer masquerading as an USIS officer, played a large role
in political and psychological operations (psyops) in Vietnam. A
graduate of American University’s College of International Relations,
Scotton received a government graduate assistantship to the East-West
Center at the University of Hawaii.

According to
legendary CIA officer Lucien Conein, it was there that Scotton was
recruited into the CIA.

About the
CIA-sponsored East-West Center, Scotton said, “It was a cover for
a training program in which Southeast Asians were brought to Hawaii
and trained to go back to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to create
agent nets.” After passing the Foreign Service exam, Scotton was
persuaded to join the USIS, which “dealt with people,” unlike the
State Department, which “observed from a distance.

After arriving
in Vietnam in 1961, and initiating his vast agent net, Scotton turned
his attention to "energizing” the Vietnamese through political
action that advanced American policies.

In looking
for individuals to mold into unilateral political cadres, Scotton
turned to the CIA’s defector program, which in April 1963 was placed
under cover of the Agency for International Development and named
the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty program.

There Scotton
found the raw material he needed to prove the viability of CIA political
action and psywar programs. Scotton worked with Vietnamese Special
Forces Captain Nguyen Tuy (a graduate of Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare
Center who commanded the Fourth Special Operations Detachment) and
Tuy’s case officer, U.S. Special Forces Captain Howard Walters in
Pleiku Province.

As part of
a pilot program designed to induce defectors, Scotton, Walters,
and Tuy set up an ambush deep in Vietcong territory and waited till
dark. When they spotted a VC unit, Scotton yelled in Vietnamese
through a bullhorn, “You are being misled! You are being lied to!
We promise you an education!” Then, full of purpose and allegory,
he shot a flare into the night sky and hollered, “Walk toward the

To his surprise,
two defectors did walk in, convincing him and his CIA bosses that
“a determined GVN unit could contest the VC in terms of combat and

Back in camp,
Scotton told the VC defectors that they had to divest themselves
of untruths. "We said that certainly the U.S. perpetrated war
crimes, but so did the VC [substitute Taliban]. We acknowledged
that theirs was the stronger force, but that didn’t mean that everything
they did was honorable and good and just.” In this manner, Scotton
indoctrinated cadres for his political action teams.

The chief of
CIA covert action programs, Tom Donohue, recognized the value of
intelligence obtained through defectors, and authorized the establishment
of Chieu Hoi programs in each of South Vietnam's provinces. In typical
CIA style, there was nothing in writing, and nothing went through
the central government.

The CIA's security
officer would oversee the Chieu Hoi Program in any particular province
and select different defectors for different jobs, working with
agents at the district level and into the villages.

If a defector
had potential, the province security officer put him on an airplane
and sent him to the central CIA re-indoctrination center, where
he was plied with special attention and wowed with CIA gadgetry.
The food was spectacular, full of protein, and the bullets weren't
flying. The training was vigorous, but the defector was treated
for infections and put on weight. Other defectors then explained
the beauty of the American Way, and other applicable lessons of
the day.

This type brainwashing
is “precisely” what political warfare is all about: Having been
selected into a “special” program and given “special” treatment,
defectors are taught the corporate sales pitch, cross-trained as
interchangeable parts for efficiency, then given one last motivational
booster shot of schmaltz.

Scotton called
his program "motivational indoctrination."

is deadly serious business, and conducted secretly at high-security
CIA bases in Afghanistan. All defector-debriefing reports are certainly
sent to the CIA station in Kabul for analysis and collation. Translations
are, typically, never considered accurate unless read and confirmed
in the original language by the same person, but that rarely happens.
Likewise, interrogations conducted through defectors are rarely
considered reliable, for significant information is generally lost
or misrepresented. And thus, the defector program will likely be
exploited by Taliban secret agents, just as the Chieu Hoi program
was penetrated in Vietnam.

According to
Douglas McCollum, who monitored the Chieu Hoi program in three provinces
in Vietnam, "It was the biggest hole in the net. They’d come
in; we’d hold them, feed them, clothe them, get them a mat. Then
we’d release them, and they’d wander around the city for a while,
and then disappear."

What McCollom
is referring to, "the revolving door syndrome," is another
reason the CIA is turning to the Taliban buyout program at this
particular time, when Obama's surge will produce thousands of more
detainees and prisoners.

The CIA was
plagued in Vietnam, as it is in Afghanistan, by overcrowding in
prisons, and defector, interrogation, and detention centers. In
Vietnam by 1966 there was little space available in the prison system
for actual “Communist offenders.” And as more and more people were
captured and placed in pens, a large percentage was necessarily
squeezed out. Hence the revolving door.

and the Phoenix Program

In June 1967,
the CIA's Chieu Hoi defector program was incorporated within its
newly established Phoenix Program, as it was organized by CIA officer
Nelson Brickham, who appreciated Chieu Hoi as “one of the few areas
where police and paramilitary advisers cooperated.”

The Phoenix
program was designed to coordinate all intelligence programs in
South Vietnam so the CIA could more effectively identify and neutralize
Viet Cong political cadre. As Brickham said, "My motto was
to recruit them; if you can’t recruit them, defect them (that’s
Chieu Hoi); if you can’t defect them, capture them; if you can’t
capture them, kill them.”

Brickham also
emphasized that Chieu Hoi was a means for the CIA to develop "unilateral
penetrations unknown to the [South Vietnamese] police.”

In other words,
the Taliban defector buyout program will be conducted unilaterally
by the CIA, apart from the Karzai government.

From 1967 onwards,
all “rallied” VC cadre were included in Phoenix neutralization statistics,
and by 1969 more than a hundred thousand defectors had been
processed through 51 Chieu Hoi centers. The Chieu Hoi program was
managed from 1966 until March 1969 by Ogden Williams, and then by
Eugene P. Bable, a career CIA officer who had served in the Flying

The Phoenix
Program sought to resolve the "revolving door syndrome"
by arranging through the SIDE (Screening, Interrogation and Detention
of the Enemy) Program the construction of permanent detention facilities;
a registration system coordinated with Chieu Hoi programs; and judicial
reform aimed at the rapid disposal of pending cases, as devised
by Robert Harper, a lawyer on contract to the CIA.

Through Phoenix,
the CIA also began a policy of offering Chieu Hoi status to informers.

From the language
of the Phoenix reports, one could easily think that the Chieu Hoi
program was a great success. But many Chieu Hoi defectors simply
regurgitated the American line in order to win amnesty, make a quick
visit to their families, enjoy a few home-cooked meals, and then
return to the war for independence, fat and rested.

Chieu Hoi defectors were pariahs who were not accepted back in their

Jim Ward, the
senior CIA officer in charge of Phoenix in the Delta (1967–1969)
described Chieu Hoi as "a great program. Well done.”

Ward explained
that most Chieu Hoi advisers were from the U.S. Information Service,
although some were State Department or military officers.

describes the defection process as follows: Upon arriving at the
Chieu Hoi center, the defector was “interviewed” and, if he had
information on the VCI, was sent to the CIA's Province Interrogation
Center; if he had tactical military information, he was sent to
military interrogators.

came political indoctrination, lasting from 40–60 days, depending
on the individual. “They had a formal course,” said Ward. “They
were shown movies and given lectures on democracy.” Upon graduation
each was given an ID card, a meal, some money, and a chance to repent.
Political indoctrination was handled by defectors who said they
had been well treated by the Americans and had decided it was better
to live for a free Vietnam than to die for the totalitarian
North Vietnamese.

Hoi had lots of guys who had been with the enemy before,” Ward continued,
“who knew how to talk to these people and would persuade them to
join the Territorial Forces or the PRU.” Others joined armed propaganda
teams, which went back into VC territory to contact Vietcong families
and recruit more Vietcong defectors.

“The great
thing about the Chieu Hoi program,” Ward noted, “is that we didn’t
have to put people in jails or process them through the judicial
system, which was already overcrowded."

and Psychological Warfare

Despite his
praise for the Chieu Hoi program, Ward said that “Americans should
have been targeted only against the North Vietnamese and left the
South Vietnamese forces to handle the insurgency,” even though such
a strategy would have precluded Phoenix.

The same lesson
applies in Afghanistan. The U.S. has no legitimate reason to be
there, and thus it must rely on psychological ploys, rather than
any appeal to nationalism, to win the Afghanis over to the American
Way of doing things.

is how High Value Reward and bounty programs become business as
That is why the U.S. is instituting a defector program,
with a publicity campaign managed in the field by psyops teams replete
with radios, leaflets, posters, banners, TV shows, movies, comic
books falling from planes, and loudspeakers mounted on trucks to
spread the word.

January 22, 1970, thirty-eight thousand of these leaflets were dropped
over three villages in Go Vap District. Addressed to specific VCI
members, they read: “Since you have joined the NLF, what have you
done for your family or your village and hamlet? Or have you just
broken up the happiness of many families and destroyed houses and
land? Some people among you have been awakened recently, they have
deserted the Communist ranks and were received by the GVN and the
people with open arms and family affection. You should be ready
for the end if you remain in the Communist ranks. You will be dealing
with difficulties bigger from day to day and will suffer serious
failure when the ARVN expand strongly. You had better return to
your family where you will be guaranteed safety and helped to establish
a new life.

is how defectors will be created in Afghanistan as well. Psyops
leaflets aimed at creating defectors will portray the Taliban as
a socially disruptive force that can only be stopped by America.

But Americans
can only reach the Afghan “people” through “media” like leaflets
and loudspeakers — an indication of just how far removed the CIA
is from the reality of life in Afghanistan's rural villages.

And while the
CIA relies on cartoons to sell itself, the Taliban go from person
to person, proving that technology is no substitute for human contact.
Ultimately the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam for just this reason.

The Taliban
defector buyout program heralds just such a development in Afghanistan
— defeat — and nothing more.

Valentine [send him mail]
is author of The
Phoenix Program
Strength of the Wolf
and the new book Strength
of the Pack
Visit his website.

Email Print