Counterintelligence in Counterguerrilla Operations

50 Years Since Early Engagement in Southeast Asia
Counterintelligence in Counterguerrilla Operations

M. H. Schiattareggia

Introduction. By the end of 1962, the administration of President John F. Kennedy had committed more than 11,000 US military advisors to train and assist the military and police forces of the Republic of South Vietnam in combating a growing communist insurgency. The Central Intelligence Agency, involved in Vietnam since 1954, had also committed several score field operators to raise and lead village militia units in anti-guerilla warfare in the countryside, most successfully in the Central Highlands.

A different type of conflict from anything seen earlier in the 20th century by US military forces accustomed to large-scale conventional conflicts such as World War I, World War II, and Korea, counterguerilla warfare as developing in Southeast Asia was something relatively new. It was not until late 1961 and early 1962 that the US Army began developing a coherent counterinsurgency doctrine, encapsulated in FM 31-21, Guerilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations, to inform their operations.

The CIA had more experience at waging such conflicts, which were seen as part of its core covert action mission—these actions were always covert and on much smaller scales than their armed forces colleagues had ever attempted. Americans in general, however, had a steep learning curve to overcome in becoming proficient at waging counterinsurgency warfare—then known as counterguerrilla warfare—and in understanding the intelligence and counterintelligence aspects involved.

This article by M. H. Schiattareggia, the penname of a CIA operations officer with military, counterguerrilla, and intelligence experience, first appeared as a classified article in Studies in Intelligence in the summer of 1962. (It was declassified in 1995.) The work delves into the history of past insurgencies as a means of educating intelligence officers of the day who could expect in the years ahead to find themselves serving in Southeast Asian war zones.

As one of the first articles on the topic to appear in Studies in Intelligence, it hints at operational concepts that would become a major part of the CIA’s efforts later in the decade when eradication of the Viet Cong infrastructure, the winning of peasant “hearts and minds,” and rural security became foremost US goals. Of special note, Schiattareggia surveyed the classics of guerilla warfare literature produced by its most famous theorists to that time, those who would become household names to Americans during the later Vietnam War. Knowing how one’s adversaries think and operate, the author maintains, is the first step towards defeating them.

—Clayton Laurie, CIA Historian

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Posted: Oct 24, 2013 01:08 PM
Last Updated: Oct 24, 2013 01:08 PM