249. Memorandum from Bissell to Bundy, December 111

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  • Report of Counter-Guerrilla Warfare Task Force

1. For some months a task force of senior officers, under my chairmanship, has been discussing how best to ensure an adequate focus within the U.S. Government on the problems of dealing with Communist indirect aggression and subversive violence. The officers on this group have included officials of the State and Defense Departments, the White House, and CIA. They have, however, participated as individuals and have not committed their respective organizations.

2. The result of our effort, unanimously approved by the task force members, is herewith submitted for your consideration. I am also sending copies to General Maxwell Taylor for his comments in his capacity as chairman of the NSC Special Group, the charter of which would be enlarged by the report’s recommendations. Copies of the report are also being sent to the State and Defense Departments through their task force participants.

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3. I suggest that after soliciting the views of the agencies concerned you might well wish to take the initiative in submitting the report to the NSC for Presidential review of the action recommendations.

Richard M. Bissell, Jr.
Deputy Director (Plans)
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Report Prepared By

Counter-Guerrilla Warfare Task Force

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1. Serious Communist intent and capability to press forward with the technique of subversive intervention, often extending to guerrilla warfare in various underdeveloped countries or regions, confront the US with a critical problem which will persist throughout the Sixties.

2. However, despite the clear consensus within the US Government as to the magnitude and urgency of this problem, we are not yet organized to help threatened countries to deal adequately with it. We have at our disposal a variety of potential resources and programs for facilitating the prevention of Communist subversive violence and for repressing active guerrillas, but these have not yet been harnessed by a unifying concept of operations, high level focus on the problem, and greater impetus to the development of programs commensurate to the need.

3. Such policies and programs cut across a wide spectrum of existing agency responsibilities. In particular, they will require concerted and carefully focussed civil and military actions by the State and Defense Departments, AID, USIA, and CIA.

4. But there is no single high-level locus of authority and responsibility within the Executive Branch to undertake this vitally needed concerting of inter-agency resources. There is no present coordinating mechanism, short of the NSC, which is empowered to provide the needed centralized direction of effort, and there is none which is devoting a significant share of its [Facsimile Page 4] energies to the peculiar requirements of the guerrilla warfare challenge and to its inter-agency program implications. Except for such country Task Forces as have been constituted in specific instances, there are no mechanisms for focussing Government-wide resources on identifying and finding solutions to the unique problems of particular countries. Moreover, present Task Forces [Typeset Page 902] for critical areas have lacked a source of guidance and support on the special problems of preventing and dealing with Communist subversive violence, and they have not always focussed sufficiently on these aspects.

5. Therefore, the most immediate need is for adequate institutional arrangements to ensure continuing focus on and attention to the problem at a high governmental level. Because of its responsibilities in directly related fields and because the agencies chiefly concerned are already represented on it, expansion of the mandate of the NSC Special Group seems the most effective way to carry out this function.

6. New arrangements are also needed to facilitate the stepping-up or reorientation of existing departmental and agency programs to achieve maximum effectiveness in those countries where the need is most critical, and to enable us to anticipate future needs. However, action responsibility for programs to prevent or counter subversive violence should continue to rest with the appropriate departments and agencies. Most of these programs also involve broader objectives. The preventive aspects of our diplomatic, economic aid, overt informational, and certain covert programs on behalf of [Facsimile Page 5] social, economic, and political progress in threatened countries are inevitably closely related to the totality of US foreign policy toward such countries.


Accordingly it is proposed that:

1. The NSC Special Group, chaired by the Military Representative of the President, should be given the additional responsibility of providing focus and direction to interdepartmental programs for coping with threats of Communist subversive intervention, actual and potential, in nations and areas abroad which the President considers critical. Where appropriate, the Directors of the Agency for International Development and the US Information Agency would be invited to participate in Special Group deliberations in this field.

2. As a first step, the Special Group should recommend a directive delimiting and defining the new scope of its responsibility, to include the designation of the specific areas where subversive violence or guerrilla warfare is either already a major factor (e.g., South Vietnam, Laos, Colombia) or a potentially serious threat (e.g., Thailand, Iran, Bolivia). The designation criteria should be rigorously narrow so as to focus attention and resources on only the few most critical situations.

3. For countries or regions determined by the NSC Special Group to be critically threatened by Communist subversive violence and approved by the President for assignment to its jurisdiction, the Secretary of State in coordination with the department heads should constitute inter-agency country [Facsimile Page 6] or regional Task Forces in Washington (if [Typeset Page 903] not already in being), charged with the development and review of integrated action programs to deal with Communist violence or its threat in their geographic areas. The Task Forces would normally be chaired by senior State Department geographic officers at the Assistant Secretary level. If the endangered country is in an active US Military Theater of Operations or if the NSC Special Group determines that the military aspects of the country situation predominate, the Defense Department should assume the chairmanship. Members would be formally assigned and regard as primary their duties on the Task Force. Task Forces would report to and be under the guidance of the NSC Special Group on matters bearing directly on Communist-inspired violence.

4. In countries designated as critically threatened, the Country Teams should be charged with developing and forwarding integrated program recommendations and with ensuring effective local coordination in the execution of approved programs to counter the threat. The Country Teams would submit their recommendations and reports through normal channels to the chairmen of the competent Task Forces, who would keep the NSC Special Group informed of plans and progress.

5. The Special Group should also be responsible for focussing increased attention on those aspects of broader US Government programs which generate resources for the prevention or neutralization of Communist subversive intervention, e.g., Military Assistance Program (MAP), Overseas Internal Security [Facsimile Page 7] Program (OISP), certain specialized military forces and covert action programs. It should interest itself in the following types of problems, drawing on the informational resources and special skills of the various departments and agencies as appropriate:

a. The organization, equipment, funds, doctrine, and techniques required to improve the capabilities of designated threatened countries for internal security and counter-guerrilla measures. This may involve strengthening or initiating OISP activities, reorienting MAP activities to give increased emphasis to the counter-guerrilla training and equipping mission, or the provision of new authority, funds, facilities, personnel and equipment for CIA counter-guerrilla paramilitary operations.

b. Ways in which MAP and MAAG activities in threatened countries, possibly supplemented by AID and CIA capabilities, can help realize the constructive economic and political potentialities of civic action by the armed forces of the countries.

c. The adequacy of current appropriations, fiscal procedures, and enabling legislation to satisfy indicated program needs, with possible requests for new Congressional authority to permit inter-agency transfers of funds and achieve greater flexibility for counter-violence aid programs.

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6. While action responsibility for programs related to preventing or countering subversive violence would remain in existing departments and agencies, it is appropriate that the Special Group be authorized to comment [Facsimile Page 8] or submit recommendations on the particular implications of such programs for the critical problems of deterring Communist subversions and violence, especially for the shorter-term purposes of winning local popular support away from the Communists. The Special Group would provide focus on counter-subversion implications of departmental critical area planning both through its collective guidance to the critical area Task Forces and through the instructions of individual Special Group members to their own area representatives through their respective departmental and agency channels. The Special Group would also review integrated critical area program proposals, prepared by the Task Forces in coordination with the senior US field representative, and would approve them for execution if they fall within existing policy. In the event of inter-agency disagreements, or actions requiring fresh policy determinations, the Special Group members would refer them to their respective principals.

7. Once a critical area inter-agency program had been approved, the Special Group would monitor its execution both through the appropriate Task Forces and through the departmental/agency channels of Special Group members. The main contribution of the Task Forces in the monitoring and review process would be in providing collective judgments, by country or region, on the adequacy of program objectives and achievements in relation to the problems of preventing or countering subversive violence.

8. In view of the sensitivity of covert action programs and the special [Facsimile Page 9] procedures in effect for authorizing and reviewing them, covert aspects of counter-guerrilla warfare country and regional program planning and execution would be handled through special channels.

9. In considering action programs to counter Communist subversive intervention in designated critical areas, the Special Group and Task Forces should give attention to the possibilities for “offensive counter-measures”, as discussed on pp. 33–43 of this report.

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[Here follow the first 32 pages of the report.]

D. Offensive Countermeasures Across International Borders

In reviewing the problems, resources, and kinds of action available to us to negate the threat Communist subversive violence in underdeveloped countries, we have hitherto dealt only with programs that affect the causes and manifestations of such violence in the threatened countries themselves. As previously noted, however, the Communist ability to mount and support subversive violence often depends on their control of an adjacent country which serves as a base of operations, a source of logistical and guerrilla troop replacement support, and a [Typeset Page 905] safe-haven for guerrilla forces if the pressure on them becomes too great at the scene of operations in the threatened country. Unless some feasible and acceptable means can be found to retaliate against the Communist-controlled third country from which subversive violence in a threatened non-Communist country is being mounted, [Facsimile Page 11] we are faced with the patently unjust situation that the physical destruction and human misery stemming from actions to counter the Communist threat will be limited to the soil of the victim. The situation also places us in the militarily and tactically disadvantageous position of being unable to destroy or neutralize the enemy’s base and source of strength.

We have generally felt deterred, however, in situations short of declared and formal hostilities between sovereign states, from carrying the military conflict onto the territory of the third country. This, of course, plays into the Communist pretense that violent upheavals in a threatened country are of strictly indigenous origin. Our reluctance to take offensive countermeasures, except for occasional limited and non-attributable covert operations, has stemmed in part from concern lest an escalation and widening of the conflict result, and in part from strictures imposed by US adherance to the doctrine of non-intervention.

The United States (and virtually all other nations) has always historically supported the doctrine of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. It has occasionally been suggested that our vigorous, and often self-righteous, public support of this doctrine inhibits us in efforts to counter Communist subversion and Communist use of violence, especially in the underdeveloped nations, and that we should therefore consider some modification of the doctrine.

The counter argument seems, however, not only to have more [Facsimile Page 12] support within the US Government but also to have greater validity. It is to the effect that the doctrine of non-intervention, even though universally flouted by the Communists, nevertheless is more valuable to us than to them. The reasoning is that although the open societies of the West are less successful than the Communist societies in practicing covert intervention while publicly adhering to a doctrine of non-intervention, nevertheless the public doctrine does exercise considerable restraint on the Communists. Since it is alleged that the Communists, if unrestrained, would have a vastly greater capability of violent intervention than the West, the conclusion is that the West can well afford to accept a greater restraint on the use of its lesser capability in order to maintain a greater degree of restraint on the Communists’ very much greater capability.

This appears to be the reasoning behind what might be described as the cold-blooded case for continuing publicly to uphold the doctrine of non-intervention. A more powerful pragmatic case is simply that this doctrine has acquired such wide respectability and appeal that the [Typeset Page 906] US could not propose publicly to modify or weaken it without paying an unacceptably heavy price. Accordingly, it is probably not worthwhile to debate whether if we threw off some of the restraints we could not develop a capability fully equal to that of the Communists. Realistically, our public commitment to the doctrine of non-intervention has to be accepted as a fact of life.

Taking this as a starting point, however, an ingenious application [Facsimile Page 13] and extension of the doctrine is proposed. It can be expressed in the following propositions:

1. Since all nations accept the doctrine of non-intervention, the US is going to treat the activities of any nation which incites and supports violence within another nation as a form of aggression morally equivalent to the military crossing of a border.

2. When a situation arises in which this subversive form of aggression is threatened or is being practiced, the US will generally favor the use of international control machinery to halt it, provided such machinery can be made to operate with full effectiveness.

3. If, however, in the face of clear evidence that violence is being supported across an international border, the establishment of international machinery to curb this type of aggression is opposed, or the machinery is ineffective, the US reserves the right to employ force (or to support the employment of force) up to at least the same scope and level in defense of the threatened nation.

4. Any such unilateral use of force by the US, or with US support, will be strategically a defensive action. That is to say, its purpose will be to induce a cessation of the subversive aggression to which it is a response.

5. Nevertheless, in taking such action the US will not deny itself (or its friends) the advantage of the tactical offensive, nor will [Facsimile Page 14] it limit itself to weapons of the enemy’s choosing. Specifically, it will feel free to incite and support violence within the aggressor’s territory and to use weapons in which it has an advantage, but will endeavor to avoid major escalation of the scale of violence or sophistication of weapons.

In the above form, this doctrine is proposed both as a policy to guide the US response to situations of violence and as a rationale which would underlie the public posture of the US. As a rationale this amounts to an assertion that the US (a) takes the doctrine of non-intervention so seriously that it is going to treat violent intervention as the equivalent of overt aggression, and (b) recognizes the right of any country which is the victim of subversive violence to practice subversive violence in its own defense. It may well be asked whether this is not a justification for a declaration of war by the victim of subversion against the aggressor. It could of course, be just that. But the essence of the doctrine is that, because subversive violence involves the use of force for purposes of aggression but on a scale considerably less than that typical of a declared war, it is necessary to recognize the right of the victim to use force on a similarly limited scale in its own defense. It could well be [Typeset Page 907] argued that unless either this remedy of the unilateral limited use of force or the preferred remedy of effective international policing is available, then the doctrine of non-intervention operates one-sidedly to benefit the nation that undertakes violent subversion. In a situation like that existing between Communist [Facsimile Page 15] Northern Vietnam and South Vietnam, it would be difficult to justify to what is called “world opinion” a declaration of war by South Vietnam as a response to the guerrilla activity of the Viet Cong within its own borders. A declared war would indeed involve a major escalation of the scale of violence as well as serious danger of a widening of the conflict. Under these circumstances, a persuasive case could be made to the effect that the doctrine of nonintervention should not deny South Vietnam a remedy against this form of aggression.

As an operational policy, this doctrine has important implications for US action in situations of the type to which it is intended to apply:

1. First, it puts a premium on acquiring persuasive proof that subversive violence is being employed in a particular situation. The test set up in this doctrine is that support is being provided and control exercised across a border. The aggressor country in such a situation has always claimed that the violent resistance is a purely indigenous revolution. Persuasive proof will presumably have to take the form of intercepting communications or of prisoners who can be produced in sufficient numbers or of captured boats, trucks, or aircraft. If the support being rendered across the border is in a mild enough form (for instance limited to money payments), it will usually not be worthwhile to try to invoke this doctrine.

2. The most interesting concept in the doctrine is that of the [Facsimile Page 16] tactical offensive and of independence in the choice of weapons. As to the former, the advantages of carrying the war to the enemy’s country are obvious. It is particularly unjust that the population which supplies most of the victims in guerrilla warfare should be that of the victim of aggression while the aggressor’s people and lands are untroubled. As to the latter, it is indeed high time that we applied ingenuity to the choosing or the development of weapons which involve no major escalation in the degree of sophistication but in which for one reason or another our friends have a relative advantage in a given situation. For instance, small boat operations may be much easier in certain situations than the infiltration of guerrillas into enemy territory by land. We may be able to develop weapons (other than conventional bombs) that could be used from aircraft with effects having some similarity to those of sabotage carried out by teams on the ground.

Finally, although the doctrine as here stated makes no specific reference to covert activities, it has an important application to them. It would lose much of its value as operational policy unless, in its aspect as a rationale, it became widely known. Accordingly, it must be assumed that, even if not in some official manner announced by the US Government, public expression would be given to the rationale in various ways. This would have two implications. On the one hand, [Typeset Page 908] it would permit the US to support more or less openly certain activities which, without such rationale, [Facsimile Page 17] can be supported only covertly. In this way, the vague disclosure of the doctrine would permit the realm of covert paramilitary action to be narrowed. On the other hand, the political risks of certain covert actions would be significantly reduced, since a rationale for such actions would have been made known publicly.

Taking these two implications into account, it seems likely that it would still be desirable for tactically offensive actions, those involving the support of violence within the territory of the enemy, to be done in such a manner as to be at least officially disclaimable. The whole reason for limiting the scale and technical sophistication of a paramilitary action taken in response to violent subversion is to avoid escalation. This advantage is lost if an offensive operation against the aggressor is conducted in such a manner as to compel him to regard it as a formal act of war. Unless, therefore, the enormous advantages of being free to employ the tactical offensive are to be foregone, every precaution should be taken to make such acts symmetrical in form, as well as in scale and technical sophistication, to the strategic offensive originally mounted by the aggressor. This would usually require that the acts be disclaimable but, with the proposed new rationale, it is far less important that they be truly covert.

Application of this doctrine to the problems of negating externally-supported Communist inspired subversive violence in non-Communist underdeveloped countries should be actively considered. Apart from the [Facsimile Page 18] issues of the doctrine of non-intervention and the risks of escalation, however, there are several other factors that should be evaluated before undertaking specific operations against a Communist-controlled third-country base. These factors mainly concern the objectives to be achieved and the likelihood of attaining them without involving ourselves in implicit commitments that are greater than we wish to assume.

Offensive countermeasures are primarily intended as diversionary and harassment operations. They will serve as distractions and nuisances to facilitate achieving a defensive victory elsewhere. The enemy will have to deploy his forces both to contain these outbursts and to assure that any resultant unrest does not become the preliminary to a serious liberation movement. If an area where these activities are taking place explodes in the Communist face, as did Budapest, we will have some quick decisions to make on the pros and cons of exploiting the break, and we should be prepared to do so if it appears advisable. But the concept presumes that the operations will have achieved their purpose of diverting enemy forces from the offensive long before the boiling point of true popular insurrection is reached.

Here perhaps lies the main point of contention of the concept. It can be argued that if the enemy leaders believe there is real likelihood [Typeset Page 909] of their losing territory or being overthrown, the dangers of escalation through their over-reacting to the threat will increase sharply, and the policy of [Facsimile Page 19] offensive countermeasures will become almost unpredictably dangerous. The other side of this argument is that only a serious danger of losing control of a region will force the Communists to shift significant effort from other activities and that a succession of raids and minor depredations will not gain meaningful ends.

If indeed offensive countermeasures are successful only as diversions, and if the people of the region where they are undertaken cannot hope for the sustained large scale outside assistance needed to push through a successful insurrection, those people are more likely to be sullen than rebellious. A community which rises and fails in revolt loses its leaders and suffers grievously. Once burned they are thereafter twice wary. No matter how unpopular a Communist regime may be we cannot expect much help from the people in fighting it if we do not propose to see that the regime is overthrown. As T. E. Lawrence wrote of motivations in another revolt, “Freedom is a pleasure only to be tasted by a man alive”.

Under some circumstances in Communist areas, it may not be practical to count on the measure of local support essential to indigenous guerrillas even though they receive material aid from the outside. Hence, many offensive countermeasures will depend in large part on the work of specially trained men or groups introduced into the aggressor country to operate on a largely self-sufficient basis. While these groups may sometimes work with dissident local elements when such exist, they will have [Facsimile Page 20] few sources of information once they are in the field. This will place heavy and exacting loads on indigenous intelligence nets already organized and working in the area, and great care must be taken to assure that these nets are not compromised by direct association with the operating groups. The size of the groups committed to operations of this type can vary from the single agent up to whatever point the current risks of sharp escalation will bear.

Whatever the built-in limitations on cross-border operations, however, they may well be advantageous for us. They will offer the tactical values of destroying or disrupting supply lines and logistical installations vital to the Communist guerrillas and of causing some lessening or diversion of the Communist effort. They may also demonstrate to the people of the threatened country that its government, and such friendly non-Communist foreign powers as are supporting it, are resolved to carry the conflict to a successful conclusion and to reduce as far as possible the human and material losses of the friendly population. The psychological and political implications of this effect should reinforce the impact of our other overt and covert development and counter-subversion measures.

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The successful orchestration of the total strategy discussed in this report may be expected to win the needed grass-roots popular support, to facilitate the negative aspects of countering Communist subversion and guerrilla operations, and to achieve a viable basis for sound long-term economic growth and social and political development.

  1. Conveys report of the Counter-Guerrilla Warfare Task Force on “Elements of US Strategy to Deal with ?Wars of National Liberation.’” Secret. 20 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, CIA General, 12/61.