272. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


Proposed Covert Action Program in the Arabian Peninsula


This proposal derives from a consideration of the deteriorating situation in the Arabian Peninsula by the Special Coordination Committee (SCC) on 5 March 1979.2


This proposal provides options for assisting the Governments of Saudi Arabia, the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and Oman in countering the threat posed by the aggressive policies of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). A long term subversive program by PDRY against the YAR has recently escalated into relatively large scale military incursions. PDRY is receiving substantial assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany. Failure of the United States to act could indicate to the Saudis and other area countries that the U.S. Government was not concerned with their security and could also lead to the destabilization of YAR. The options involved include:

  • (1) Defensive training for YAR and Omani military personnel
  • (2) Support for the YAR through consultants and advisors
  • (3) Propaganda Broadcasts [less than 1 line not declassified] into PDRY
  • (4) Agent of influence operations against PDRY


It is United States policy to maintain friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Yemen Arab Republic, and to respond positively to requests from friendly countries, where appropriate, for assistance to counter Communist-sponsored insurgencies and subversion.


PDRY has been sponsoring continuing insurgency in the border area between PDRY and the YAR, and to a lesser extent along the border between PDRY and Oman. There is historical tribal irredentism in these areas, which PDRY is exploiting. In late February the insur[Page 842]gency escalated in YAR. Three towns have been occupied, and the PDRY-backed forces appear to be moving on major population centers. It is believed that they intend to cut off the southern portion of North Yemen from the YAR proper.

PDRY is receiving political, economic and military support from the Soviets, Cuba and East Germany. The Government of Saudi Arabia believes that PDRY is acting as a surrogate for the Soviet Union and poses a serious threat to the stability of the moderate regimes in the Arab Peninsula. The Saudis have indicated that they will support [less than 1 line not declassified] efforts of the United States to increase the ability of YAR and Oman to resist PDRY aggression. Conversely, failure of the United States to [less than 1 line not declassified] at this time could convince the Saudis that the United States is not interested in their security and lead to a worsening of the United States position in the Arab Peninsula.

The Saudis have indicated that if PDRY-backed forces do not withdraw, they may open hostilities against PDRY. However, their military capabilities to deal with this crisis are limited. The Arab League is meeting in Kuwait to attempt to resolve the problem, but it is anticipated that their efforts will prove unsuccessful. Therefore, without U.S. intervention, the PDRY-sponsored insurgency will probably succeed, and PDRY may be encouraged to expand its aggression.

At the same time, PDRY itself is not without vulnerabilities, including: apparent tribal dissidence; opposition to the Marxist regime’s anti-Islamic policies; separatist tendencies in the Hadhramaut area; and resentment against the rule of the North Yemeni President, Ismail, by his South Yemeni subjects. Programs exploiting these vulnerabilities could substantially diminish, in time, PDRY’s ability to operate against its neighbors.


1. Overt Options: Through diplomatic channels, the United States can protest to the Soviets and their surrogates regarding PDRY’s activities and can mobilize other friendly governments to concern themselves with the deteriorating situation in the Peninsula. A U.S. military option is also available as a last resort.

2. Covert Action Options: CIA proposes the following options, which would serve both to improve area governments’ capabilities to resist PDRY aggression and to reassure them of U.S. interest in their security. [1½ lines not declassified]

a. Defensive Training for YAR and Omani Military Personnel. We would propose training, [less than 1 line not declassified] select YAR and Omani units to cope with subversion and destabilization operations run into the YAR and Oman from the People’s Democratic Republic [Page 843] of Yemen. Because of the current escalation in the YAR, the initial focus of the program would be in that country. Training would include, inter alia, instruction to government administrators on communist tactics; training of militia leaders in weapons handling and small scale military tactics; and assistance in the development of counterpropaganda operations against PDRY. (Note: This option may have little impact if military activity permanently escalated to the level of conventional warfare, involving tanks, artillery and tactical air support.)

b. [10 lines not declassified]

c. Propaganda Broadcasts [less than 1 line not declassified] into PDRY. Establishment of a transmitter [less than 1 line not declassified] for propaganda broadcasting into PDRY is a definite possibility. [7½ lines not declassified] A survey would have to be conducted to determine technical requirements. We assume that [less than 1 line not declassified] approach would be required to reach a wide PDRY audience. We doubt that [less than 1 line not declassified] currently has the necessary facilities.

The aim of our radio propaganda would be to denigrate the regime of PDRY President Ismail, condemn its anti-Islamic policies, and exploit tribal dissidence, separatism and regional frictions within PDRY.

d. Agent of Influence Operations Against PDRY. We propose recruitment and manipulation of dissident PDRY regional, tribal and political leaders to foment unrest within PDRY. [2½ lines not declassified] This activity would require good intelligence on PDRY, which in turn would necessitate undertaking new collection operations.


[less than 1 line not declassified] agent of influence activities are low profile and involve little risk. The defensive training and radio options, on the other hand, would be readily detected by our adversaries and, while U.S. involvement would be deniable, they would constitute a clear signal that the U.S. Government was involved. If they are successful, particularly the defensive training option, they could lead to an escalation by the other side. On the other hand, if they did not produce results, they could prove disappointing to our allies. This could lead to demands for intensification of our involvement, for example, for mounting cross-border paramilitary operations into PDRY as opposed to merely defensive training activities.

As indicated above, the risk of not carrying out some or all of these options is that the Saudis, YAR and Oman may come to believe that the U.S. Government is not interested in their security.


[1 paragraph (6½ lines) not declassified]


[table not declassified]

The sums involved almost certainly will require [less than 1 line not declassified].

[Page 844]


This paper has not been coordinated outside CIA and, because of time constraints, has received only limited coordination within the Agency. CIA believes that this proposal, if implemented, requires a Presidential finding and Congressional reporting under the provisions of Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act.3


There has been no prior SCC decision on this subject.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Congressional Affairs, Job 81M01032R, Subject Committee Files (1943–1980), Box 9, Folder 24, Covert Action Pres Find Saudi Arabia. Secret; Sensitive. The paper was considered at the March 6 SCC meeting. See Document 187.
  2. See Document 271.
  3. Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 that required a Presidential Finding that special activities of the Central Intelligence Agency in foreign countries were important to the national security of the United States. This was repealed in 1991.