Maybe 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.
This 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:
- A system of incentives (Carrot and/or Stick) to encourage enemy Gs to defect;
- 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.
- 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:
- Money counts (for inducing defections);
- 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);
- 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);
- 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);
- Effective of pseudo ops depends on the effectiveness of the force their intel goes to;
- 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.