Opportunity Lost: Pseudo Ops

Selous Scouts cap badgeMaybe they actually did this, and it’s just so successfully compartmented that the usual folks read-on on classified stuff, like Snowden and his FSB bosses, the New York Times staff, and random schmoes on the Internet, have never heard of it. But we suspect one of the great errors in the early US response to the GWOT (Global War On Tourism) was a failure to implement pseudo ops against islamic terrorists.

To most American students of war and insurgency, “pseudo ops” mean the Selous Scouts of Rhodesia, especially as recounted in the unit’s founding commander’s, the late Ron Reid-Daly’s, memoirs. The Scouts were the Rhodesian Army’s one truly mixed-race unit, and they incorporated large numbers of turned insurgents. While they trained intensively in bushcraft, and maintained a cover as a tracking unit, their prime raison d’être was to impersonate ZANLA and ZIPRA terrorist groups for the purposes of both intelligence gathering and combat operations. The psychological effect was profound, although late in the war, the terrorists and their allies in the global Left succeeded in sticking labels on the Scouts in the western media, even as they had their greatest successes against enemy camps.

But the Scouts’ pseudo ops did not spring fully-formed from the brow of Zeus. Reid-Daly was taken with the idea of pseudo-ops because of the tactic’s success in previous British and Commonwealth insurgencies, especially against the Mau Mau tribal revolt in Kenya and the Malayan Insurgency, where pseudo terrorists controlled by Special Branch police were highly effective.

cline_report_coverThis Strategic Studies Institute paper by Lawrence E. Cline, a former intelligence officer, examines the history and practice of pseudo operations in depth. Along with the Rhodesian and other Commonwealth experience, he looks at the Huk rising and French and Portuguese experience in their restive colonies, all of which spawned greater or lesser efforts at pseudo gangs. Unfortunately he has little to say about US and RVN pseudo operations (such as Operation Roadrunner) in Vietnam. Still, it is a very worthwhile paper.

Cline identifies three factors as necessary:

  1. A system of incentives (Carrot and/or Stick) to encourage enemy Gs to defect;
  2. Weakness of enemy command and control infrastructure. Paradoxically, the Scouts’ success might not have been as great had their enemy had radio; they took down many networks via their couriers. A courier and dispatch system is necessarily slower and more unreliable than radio.
  3. A government-side structure that can respond to the intel developed by the pseudo groups, and that can deconflict the pseudo groups and conventional forces without blowing the pseudo’s cover. (Ideally, the conventional units don’t know why some areas are no-go or no-shoot zones.

His Lessons Learned include:

  1. Money counts (for inducing defections);
  2. The alternative to cooperation can be dire (both Kenya and Rhodesia hanged convicted terrorists, encouraging captives to change sides; the stick was as good as the carrot at producing turncoats whose coats stayed turned. It came down to leadership in the pseudo units);
  3. Coordination is critical (in Kenya and Rhodesia, areas were restricted to conventional forces whilst pseudo gangs were operating therein, and this worked most of the time);
  4. Breaking guerrilla communications is key. (Once you’re the Man In The Middle of their courier system, you have them by the short and curlies);
  5. Effective of pseudo ops depends on the effectiveness of the force their intel goes to;
  6. The role of turned guerrillas is crucial. (That conforms to Vietnam experience, also. You need both tactical intel from cooperating Gs, including recognition signs and paroles, but also you need them to train your fake Gs to look like Gs, and it’s best of all if you can add turned Gs to your anti-G operations).

It is surprising, but clear in the historical record, that once turned, Gs almost never turn back; they bond to their mixed units of fellow turncoats and government soldiers. (We think there are more exceptions to this in the Vietnam record, if Cline cares to look for them).

All in all, a fascinating look at a brilliant, sophisticated, and currently neglected tactic. It has an excellent bibliography and is well (and unintrusively) footnoted. Best read in conjunction with Selous Scout memoirs.

The paper is freely downloadable at the Strategic Studies Institute’s site. Click the “PDF” to download it.

29 thoughts on “Opportunity Lost: Pseudo Ops

  1. Doug

    How do you get around all the virgins you can deflower and other pseudo promises of a better life?
    Thats pretty attractive stuff compared to goat lovin’.
    I’m not being negative about it, but what kind of incentives today on this mortal plane are powerful enough to persuade a jihadi to turncoat?

    Me thinks the leaders of islam have created the psychological catch 22’s that defeats any tempting alternative to a martyrs death. It is almost like they came up with the ultimate offer you can’t refuse. They box you in with every shade of apostasy imaginable. Then there is the ultimate extortion nature of islam.
    Not to mention the whole range of dhimmitude. All you have to do is look at the current POTUS to see how insidious that is, how deceit and lies are as honorable as they need to be if the means justify the ends.

    Besides, why go to the trouble. History gives ample evidence crusades where rather effective against such a neurotic ideology.

  2. SPEMack

    In my expert Poli-Sci major turned infantry officer opinion, I don’t think Pseudo Ops would be effective against radical islamists simply because there culture isn’t advanced enough to recognize any “carrot” we may offer as worth giving up all they are promised by their Imams.


    1. Hognose Post author

      The Rhodesian answer to their equivalent was to suborn the spirit mediums that many people in the tribal trust lands relied upon. All we’d have to deploy is an equal and opposite mullah (some of our Arab allies are actually very artful with this).

  3. ToastieTheCoastie

    Wasn’t this done in Afghanistan? I thought the SF was dropping in and buying off local lords with pallets full of cash (and viagra)?

  4. W. Fleetwood

    A couple of points, for what they may be worth.

    Reid-Daley would cherry pick NCOs from the Rodesian African Rifles, and the Regiments recruit classes graduating out of Depot. This meant a prospective Turned Terr could be linked to a guy his own age, speaking the same dialect, from his home territory, and quite possibly a member of his own family/clan. Once those two became Combat Comrades you were good, at least as long as you don’t lose the war, and even then they will usually stick together and take care of each other.

    The conventional forces (show of hands please) know damned good and well what a no-go, no-fire, no-pursuit area means. The Pseudo Teams need a cover in depth, such as an very public Police dog and pony, beer and skittles, we love you guys, really we do, “county fair” to operate behind. Actually, getting the regulars to stay clear is pretty straightforward. Getting the Pseudos to stay inside their own damn lines is a lot harder. And getting the Air Force to not blast away at all those little tiny ants with little tiny rifles is an endless challenge, and uphill all the way.

    Also, we should note that the units cited above were Police or Military in origin and control and really should be emulated to the extent possible. But, if you go down that same road an intersection or two further you will find yourself shaking hands with Los PEPEs and the Squadrons de la Muerte, who are for sure effective, but come with some big time problems.

    Again, for what it’s worth. Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  5. Tom Kratman

    Suspect you’re right about the VC, not least because, IIRC, there’s some reason to suspect the VC and NVA sent people in deliberately to (seem to be) turn(ed). It’s such an obvious move, really, and not all that easy to defend against.

  6. Cannoneer No. 4

    The Scouts were the Rhodesian Army’s one truly mixed-race unitand they incorporated large numbers of turned insurgents.

    Racially integrated is the term I suspect you are looking for. Mixed-race units existed in the Guard Force, composed of soldiers of mixed African-European ancestry referred to pejoratively as Goffles. Or so I learned from Soldier of Fortune sometime around 1978.

  7. james n

    Reading how these tactics had proved successful in previous British and Commonwealth insurgencies, such as the Mau Mau in Kenya, kinda made me think of Northern Ireland. Especially when operated by Special Branch. As more and more details of our dirty little war emerge over the years, its often difficult to work out who was really fighting for or against who, and what was real and what was pseudo ops. The history of units such as the MRF, the FRU, and the Det where all up to stuff like this, in competition with Special Branch. Reading this article an awful lot of things made a lot more sense from the days of the Troubles.

    Which is why I read this blog. Every day. Thanks Hognose.

    Incidentally I’ve met and had a very interesting chat with a former Selous Scout, very interesting guy. Tough as old boots, and had seen and done some crazy stuff. Wish I’d read this article first though, shame.

    1. archy

      ***Reading how these tactics had proved successful in previous British and Commonwealth insurgencies, such as the Mau Mau in Kenya, kinda made me think of Northern Ireland. ***

      It right well ought to. *Bloody Frank* Kitson cut his teeth during the MauMau era counterinsurgency in Kenya, with one of the agents he reportedly turned being one Barack Hussein Obama, Sr, following which he attended advanced studies during the *Malayan Emergency* [not characterized as a *war* since Lloyds of London wouldn’t have paid off wartime insurance claims] Later in his career, he handled the false flag and *pseudo gang* ops for the Brits and had operational control of the British 1 Paras on
      Londonderry’s Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972. The highly trained and disciplined paras reportedly *panicked* and shot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest march, with thirteen killed outright and another dying four-and-a-half months later from injuries received that day. Several of those killed were attempting to give first aid to others who had been wounded, with in excess of 100 rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. There was a report of an IRA sniper working that day; was a cover story, or an actual IRA or RUC shooter? Or, perhaps, one of Frank Kitson’s *pseudogang* operators…. In any event: The military consequences of Kitson’s approach were that the Provisional IRA rapidly developed from a faction of a largely defunct IRA in early 1970 to a national liberation movement for many northern Catholics by spring 1972 (the deadliest year). That it took another twenty years for the political process to move towards a settlement tells us that the sharp polarisation that gave rise to the PIRA in 1970–2 had a profound and lasting effect on the course of the Troubles. At the Saville Enquiry Kitson’s memory of events was poor, but he was sure that there was no insurgency when he arrived in Belfast in late 1970. By the time of his departure in April 1972 the Catholic community was in all-out revolt. [James Hughes, “Frank Kitson in Northern Ireland and the ‘British way’ of counterinsurgency” http://www.historyireland.com/volume-22/frank-kitson-northern-ireland-british-way-counterinsurgency/

  8. Doug

    What’s the sense of screwing around with theses maniacs.
    What happened to waging total war on your avowed enemies?
    This isn’t a bunch of skinny half starved bushmen running through the african velt.
    It is existential war the musloids have declared.
    Arrest every politician in DC for treason. Most if not all are affiliated in some way through corruption or ideology with the House of Saud or the Muslim Brotherhood. That takes care of half the problem.
    A couple of battalions and every A-10 Warthog that flies. Start at one end of the Levant.
    Daesh needs territory if it is to be the Caliphate. Any insurgency requires territory to be viable.
    Disrupt and deny them land, they are at a severe disadvantage at every level. All their resources dry up. The states who fund them have to start from scratch. And everyone is going broke on that score. Then go after the runners and stragglers. The disruption of their lines of communication force them to use less secure methods of organization. They are stateless to begin with. Without territory their choices become severely limited. Like cockroaches when the lights go on.
    Aside from that, Daesh has had to the luxury and choice of fighting on their terms.

  9. robroysimmons

    Dennis Kroukamp’s book is what you are looking for, quite expensive on Kindle but since I find the Bush War very interesting I thought it worth the price.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I’ve had the paperback, says Amazon, since 2011. Since I already have the hard copy from Amazon, it’s $2.99 on Kindle (Free would be better, but I can live with $3). Croukamp with a “C” by the way.

      ETA. Isn’t Crouks the recce guy who gets nearly a chapter in Reid-Daly’s Top Secret War?

      1. robroysimmons

        I paid top dollar when I spotted it on Amazon, I was in a Rhodesian phase I guess. If he made the Col’s it might have been for what not to do. Crouks was chastised when he crawled back from the Moz for violating procedure, and Old Crouks was sore about it and damned near death when he was being told he screwed up. Memory fails me now but Crouks either went to be a Pseudo after that or back to the RLI, but anyway it was a hell of ride, and now he is enjoying the democracy of the RSA.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Now that I think of it, the recce guy was named Schoolie (for short) or something like that; the issue he had with the command was that he wanted to work alone, meaning completely solo, and the Col. would not have it and made him select and train a partner. He chose an African guy.

          There’s a post on that in the back of my mind somewhere: team size versus team survival. Especially as the world gets more urbanized, it’s harder to sneak and peek without getting spotted. Until you get spotted, it’s advantageous to recon with the fewest men possible (the military will never tolerate just one… it’s against the DNA. Although SF has, for clandestine operations, in the past, and certain JSOC elements still select people with the possibility in mind). But once you get spotted it’s advantageous to have as many men as possible (more eyes in more directions, more guns, all in all more firepower and staying power until you can get reinforced or extracted). It also depends on terrain and mobility. We found a short ODA (usually about 8 men) a good recon element whether on foot or in mobility equipment in the desert environment. In a wooded/urbanized environment a recon was best done by a third to a quarter of a full ODA (3-4 men). In Vietnam, LRRPS ran with six guys and Marine recon with about double that. SOG, which ran deeper in the denied area and had its own dedicated reaction forces (Bright Light and Hatchet Forces) ran with from four to eight guys, of whom two to three were Americans. Project Delta (only related to the later SFOD-D by name) ran with four to six Americans. While Beckwith was in command, he sometimes did not attempt to extract compromised teams and just took their pin off the map and used the lift that might have extracted them to make new insertions instead, which is one reason few men from his Vietnam command volunteered for his later SOF command.

          I think that the Scouts were able to run two and three man recons in part because their enemy was poorly trained, and the terrain provided decent cover and concealment, making the better-trained and fitter Scouts much more able to evade contact once made than a SOG team up against the well-oiled counterreconnaissance machine of Group 559 along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Which is good, because they did not have the communications and air support the American unit had ten years earlier. “Floppy” marksmanship in particular was not up to the NVA standard, and often only the leader of a “stick” would have the arcane knowledge of how to work the RPD light machine gun.

          This also may be part of why Scout tactics didn’t map directly to SWA or southern Angola. Terrain’s a lot more open.

          1. robroysimmons

            One last snippet, one of the PHs on my hunt in SA told me his uncle was Recce and a KIA in the war.

          2. Hognose Post author

            Hunting in Africa! Not only do I envy you, but my 8 year old self, reading a book about great white hunters that I still remember, envies you. I hope it was an experience to treasure forever.

          3. robroysimmons

            The last, last snippet, if you want to part with a few shekels I can give a hearty recommendation for a booking agent, and a safari operator.

          4. archy

            While Beckwith was in command, he sometimes did not attempt to extract compromised teams and just took their pin off the map and used the lift that might have extracted them to make new insertions instead, which is one reason few men from his Vietnam command volunteered for his later SOF command***

            If I recall correctly, Delta ran something like 300% casualties after CB took over after leading the reaction force when SFOD A-217 at Plei Me and 400-plus CIDG strikers were hit by 3 NVA regiments in October 1965. But 1st BDE, 1CAV also responded, and from there on *Big Army* was in the NVA-fighting game, and half a month later the newly-formed and newly-arrived 1st Cav would be in the fight of its life at Ia Drang,.

            It gt real busy after that.

  10. Kirk

    There’s a serious lack of creativity in our intelligence organizations, of late.

    I think I mentioned the trouble I had getting across the idea of using Q-ships, against the IED emplacers in Iraq. There’s tons of stuff in routine operations we could be doing, but just… Aren’t.

    Why aren’t we doing anything to discredit the people we pick up, and then release? Hell, with a bit of forethought, we could be turning every one of those Guantanamo Bay internees into a veritable treasure-trove of “Screw with their heads”. Just plant rumors that we’re only releasing the cooperative ones, who’ve given us actionable intel. Presto, bang–None of them go back into the organization, and they probably get offed by their buddies. With the Arab credulity that’s available to play with, why not put it out that we’ve implanted tracking devices in all of them, and that’s how we’re finding people like bin Laden?

    Frankly, I really think we’re missing a bunch of opportunities with things. OK, so OPM has been hacked; what the fuck are we doing to compromise the value of that information? I’d have kept that quiet, and taken steps to create “honeypot” records in that database, so that the Chinese or whoever went for it would never be able to be certain if they were recruiting genuine agents, or actual pre-planned double agents whose vulnerabilities were mirages we created for them. You wouldn’t have to do a lot to discredit everything they’ve got, to the point where they couldn’t trust a damn thing they collected. Are we likely to be doing anything like that? Oh, hell, no… Nobody on our side has that kind of deviant imagination, and they’d never get it past the brass.

    Having your records penetrated the way the OPM hack went down is as much an opportunity as it is a loss; all you need is the proper outlook to turn a disaster into a potential goldmine of headgames you could play, with the guys doing the penetrating. Couple of false leads planted in the database, for “agents” you already have primed to be very accepting of Chinese recruitment offers, and all of a sudden, you’re the one controlling the network. Play it right, and you’d have cozened the poor bastards so badly that it would be legendary, just like the Brits did with the Abwehr and other German agents in the UK. At the end of the war, the entire ‘effing network was theirs… Now, that’s intelligence work.

    Alas, ain’t nobody on our side got the chops to play these games. They’re all a bunch of second-rate Ivy League-educated hacks, whose imaginations are so stunted as to be mentally disabled.

    Of course, the devious bastards could be playing a really, really deep game, and only acting like they’re incompetent hacks. Telling myself that is the only way I sleep, some nights.

    1. Hognose Post author

      They’re not even Ivy types any more. Ivy wannabees from cow college, without the patina of worldliness that came from the old-money noblesse oblige characters from the Blackford Oakes era. Of course, noblesse oblige was deader’n disco by the time disco came alive.

      Damn, there’s a post in that, too.

      1. John Distai

        Noblesse oblige…I had to look that up. That was a new word for me. Thank you.

        Perhaps this explains why my rich friend’s family is always so kind and gracious to everyone, especially the poor, even though I know, and I think they do, that they will get taken. And I thought they were just acting on guilt from what I assumed was the source of the family wealth – slave labor.

        I’ve noticed this interesting phenomena in Corporate America. Those from the noblesse oblige type families tend to get promoted to management instead of the common rubes. I’d venture a guess that something similar happens in the military. Those from the noblesse oblige families some how “stand out” in basic, and get chosen to be officers, while well performing commoners remain enlisted.

        1. Hognose Post author

          It would be a depressing thing to discover that there is some intrinsic drive to hierarchy in homo sapiens.

          I’ve also seen the opposite. My family happened to have success in recent generations that put us in proximity with some “old money” then and now, and with all the vehicles available to dodge taxes, you can still see “old money” families implode and vanish. I think it happens when a generation becomes free riders on family history and no longer contributes. Andrew Carnegie used to observe a cycle of poverty to ambition to success to ruin to poverty, which he expressed as “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” An example of a family who has declined as leaders even as their wealth has grown is the Kennedys. In the current generation, none of them have the wit to sustain a political career, or even manage a life without crippling addictions. I’d feel sorry for them but the noblesse oblige that truly drove Jack — he was socialized to it, even though his father was up from shirtsleeves himself — did not stick in the family, instead mutating into a raw and unseemly lust for power, which manifests in the babysitter rapes and broomed court cases and that sort of thing.

          But while protesters think the sustained wealth of some comes from some amorphous “privilege” bestowed by skin color I think it’s simply manipulation of the tax code and founder effect. A very wealthy founder can leave a family with reserves of knowledge and character, not just money, and the money will last as long as the knowledge and character remain. (IF he’s clever in drafting his trust, the money can outlast the character, which is what we see with the Kennedys).

          Also, something that always shocks poor and middle class people about the rich is this: most of them are quite decent human beings, as far as that goes. I once saw a business damaged by a whim of Bill Gates. My own business, at the time, benefited, so I was glad. I later learned Gates merely expressed mild annoyance, and a flunky of his was the one who transferred it into taking Gates’s business away from my competitor and giving it to my firm. Gates was not even aware it happened!

          1. John Distai

            I agree about the shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves phenomena, if the recipient is without motivation.

            And yes, the opposite does happen where the guy who didn’t benefit from old money works hard and gets ahead. I’m oddly reminded of an old professor that I had who was black. She was akin to some African radical, always feeling that something was denied to her based on her skin color. She’s a tenured PhD Department Head in an engineering department at a black college. She may feel that she was discriminated against based on her color. I wouldn’t call being a tenured PhD head of an engineering department some trifling achievement. She had to work hard like the rest of us do, and it worked.

            Unfortunately, I don’t seem to see this in my current work environment. Perhaps I would at a company that was run differently.

            Perhaps what I’m envious of, and it is envy, is that the guy, and his wife for that matter, had the financial backing to explore and dive into academics and all that it offered with no worry. No worry about how the bills were going to get paid, and always with the reassurance that there is a place to return to and regroup if they failed. That’s a much different experience than having to worry about basic survival in the midst of trying to get ahead, with nowhere to return to.

            And I think it is that lack of anxiety about the basics of life that is somehow attractive to those in the position to promote others. Perhaps the company I work for is an anomaly, but I seem to see it all the time.

            While his family may not have the resources to sustain over many generations, those advantages gave him the tools and timing to put him in the right place at the right time to leverage bubble periods such as the dot com boom. A sizable lift from that bubble can sustain a family for another generation or so and make living quite a bit more comfortable. Like I said, I’m envious.

          2. Mike_C

            >the noblesse oblige that truly drove Jack — he was socialized to it, even though his father was up from shirtsleeves himself
            Grandfather Patrick J. Kennedy was himself up from shirtsleeves, but by the time father Joseph Kennedy was born PJ was already the owner of at least a couple of saloons and a member of the Massachusetts Senate. If not exactly born to 1% privilege, Joe Kennedy started off life way ahead most. But I suppose I’m quibbling.

            As to noblesse oblige , inherent in the concept that those of the upper classes, with wealth and privilege, have an obligation, a duty, to see to it that their social inferiors are treated and governed decently, is the idea that there ARE classes, and superiors and inferiors. There was never the idea that the person to whom you were giving a hand up was actually your equal. What seems to be happening these days, at least among the “intellectual” classes, is the idea that there are no differences between persons or groups of people, and everyone’s opinions and whims and wants are equally valid. This is not necessarily a class thing, but it is a real problem. We could argue all day about whether birth family is a good criterion for who should be in charge, but whoever should be in charge, when leaders fail to lead we have a problem.

            >I later learned Gates merely expressed mild annoyance, and a flunky of his was the one who transferred it into taking Gates’s business away from my competitor and giving it to my firm. Gates was not even aware it happened!
            Puts me in mind of a story from Gordon Liddy’s autobiography Will (which is actually a hell of a good read). Supposedly J. Edgar visited an FBI training class, and when asked by some sycophantic boot-licker of an administrator, “Well, what do you think, Director?” Hoover growled “There are some real pinheads in that class,” and swanned out. Left without instructions, but feeling that something needed to be done! to appease the Director, they checked the hat sizes of all the students, and booted out a few who the smallest head diameters. I have no idea if this is a no shit true story or of Liddy’s invention, but it’s a good example of the dangers of a cult of personality.

          3. Hognose Post author

            Well, at least there is a correlation (if a weak one) between cranial circumference and cranial volume, and a correlation (less weak) between cranial volume and intelligence. Of course, much of society today believes that intelligence doesn’t exist, or that anyone who’s an idiot on a verbal/mathematical scale makes it up in some other form of “multiple intelligence.” Which strikes me as multiple stupidity. Yes, IQ isn’t the only measure of ability, but it’s the most robust and well documented… and Idiot in unum, idiot in omnibus, I always say.

  11. Gray


    Your “…While Beckwith was in command, he sometimes did not attempt to extract compromised teams…”
    made my sexagenarian self think bad things. With friends like that, who needs…

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