All conflicts in the world—whether local, regional, or global in scale—cannot be devoid of three fundamental components.  The first two are space (geography) and time (history).  The third aspect is culture; all human actions and reactions that occur within a defined space and time.  When identical methodology is applied to identical problems even in different space and time, outcomes can be similar if not identical.  In the context of origins and evolution of conflicts, their relation to each other, we must not ignore that.

Yet, it is exactly the reluctance to accept the reality that certain actions will produce particular outcomes that gets us in trouble.  Pause for a moment and consider historical moments and periods that we, today, look upon thinking “how could they have not seen that coming?” in regard to past generations’ mistakes.  Such an attitude stems from each new generation’s belief in its own intellectual superiority in decision making compared to that of previous generations.

In terms of the geography of conflict, an operational approach—the methodology of entering and engaging in conflicts—remains the same today as in previous wars.  This is where our ancestors’ experiences and actions should not be ignored.  They should be analyzed with scrutiny, because we are repeating them.  All of us are guilty, including the operators, politicians, and the general public alike.

Consider these passages bellow, written by late Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, United States Air Force, in his book The Secret Team published in early 1970s.  This was a turbulent era in the American history, with wars galore and domestic conditions less than stellar, not unlike what we are experiencing today.  Very few American servicemen have had a professional experience comparable to that of COL Prouty during the first golden era of the (perpetual) geography of conflict in 1950s and 1960s.  His role in the Pentagon had allowed him to acquire a great amount of knowledge in regard to clandestine and other operations.

Figure 1 (Source). Donald Sutherland plays L. Fletcher Prouty as a character “Mr X” in the movie JFK.

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From The Secret Team (2nd edition; my additions are in brackets only, not parentheses, for clarity):

For the world as a whole, the CIA has now become the bogey that Communism has been for America.  Wherever there is trouble, violence, suffering, tragedy, the rest of us are now quick to suspect the CIA had a hand in it. Our phobia about the CIA is, no doubt, as fantastically excessive as America’s phobia about world Communism, but in this case, too, there is just enough convincing guidance to make that phobia genuine.  In fact, the roles of America and Russia have been reversed in the world’s eyes.  Today America has become the world’s nightmare.

When an uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable team can flaunt the historic and traditional codes of civilization by disregarding the honor and sovereignty of other countries large and small, by intervening in the internal affairs of other countries for reasons real and contrived, the rest of the world does fear for its own welfare and for the future of this country. (pp, 34-35)

The CIA’s greatest strength derives from its ability to activate various parts of the U.S.  Government, usually the Defense Department, with minor inputs designed to create reaction.  It finds a minor fact, which it interprets and evaluates to be Communist inspired, or inspired by some other favorite enemy (Trujilo or De Gaulle), then it feeds this item into the White House and to Defense, where a response re-action takes place predictably and automatically.  To carry this to the next level, the CIA, by utilizing its clandestine facilities, can stir up the action it wants for further use in turn to stir up a re-action response within the U.S. Government structure.  Although such actions and re-actions usually begin on a very small scale, they escalate rapidly, as in Indonesia, Tibet and Greece. (They went completely out of control in Southeast Asia.)

It is the type of game played by the clandestine operator.  He sets up the scene by declaring in many ways and over a long period of time that Communism is the general enemy and that the enemy is about to strike of has begun a subversive insurgency campaign in a third country.  Then the clandestine operator prepares the stage by launching a very minor and very secret, provocative attack of a kind that is bound to bring open reprisal.  These secret attacks, which may have been made by third parties of by stateless mercenaries whose materials were supplied secretly by the CIA, will undoubtedly create reaction in turn is observed in the United States.  (This technique was developed to a high art in the Philippines during early Magsaysay build-up to the point where the Huks were actually some of Magsaysay’s own troops disguised and set upon the unwary village in the grand manner of a Cecil B. De Mille production.)

The next step is to declare the enemy’s act one of “aggression” of “subversive insurgency,” and then the next part of the game is activated by the CIA.  This part of the operation will be briefed to the NSC [National Security Council] Special Group, and it will include, at some point, Americans in support.  So it will go, as high and as mighty as the situation and authorities will allow.  It is not a new game.  It was practiced, albeit amateurishly and uncertainly, in Greece during the late forties, and it was raised to a high state of art under Walt Rostow and McGeorge Bundy against North Vietnam, to set the pattern for the Gulf of Tonkin attacks.  In fact, a number of the leading actors in the cast of key characters in the greatest scenario of them all, “The War in Vietnam,” received the earliest training in the Greek campaign of the forties.  All of the mystery surrounding these actions was unveiled in the Pentagon Papers with the revelation of such things as the covert OPLAN-34 [Operational Plan].

Operations arising in this manner and from such sources are, unfortunately, frequently the result of the endeavors of the overambitious, the irresponsible, and the ignorant. They are often enmeshed with and enhanced by the concealed drives of the special interest groups like the Marines who wanted a share of Vietnam in 1964, the general-contractor interests who wanted to dig a big hole in the shore and call it “Cam Ranh Bay,” the Special Forces Green Berets who wanted to resurrect the doughboy, and many others who simply wanted to sell billions of dollars worth of armaments. Such operations are carried out by those who either do not care about the results or who do not see far enough ahead to understand the consequences of what they are doing.

This is a delicate subject and needs much understanding.  Many innocent and totally loyal men become involved in these activities, but the trouble is that they come upon the scene after the first provocations have been made, and they are generally unaware of them.  An allowance must be made for the fact that the provocation can come from either side.  Neither side is all right or all wrong.  But the fact remains that most of the men who become involved in these activities do so after there has been already been clandestine exchange.  They are trying to correct what they believe has been a serious abuse.  They do not know where the real action began; to put it simply, they don’t know whether they came in on the first or the second retaliation strike.  Very few would ever be party to striking first in any event.  So the first strike takes place in deep secrecy.  No one knows this hidden key fact.  This is a fundamental game of the ST [Secret Team].

They have this power because they control secrecy and secret intelligence and because they have the ability to take advantage of the most modern communications system in the world, of global transportation systems, of quantities of weapons of all kinds, of a worldwide U.S.  military supporting base structure.  They can use the finest intelligence system in the world, and most importantly, they are able to operate under the canopy of an ever-present “enemy” called “Communism.”  And then, to top all of this, there is the fact that the CIA has assumed the right to generate and direct secret operations.

When we stop and think what the real struggle is and what we have been doing, we are faced with the stark realization that what has been going on is not anti-Communist, nor is it pro-American.  It is more truthfully exactly what those wise and wily chess players in the Kremlin have hoped we would do.  They have been the beneficiaries of our own defense-oriented, reaction prompted, intelligence-duped Pavlovian self-destruction.  How can anyone justify the fact that the United States has lost fifty-five thousand men in Indochina and that the Russians have lost none and then call that anti-Communist—or worse yet, pro-American? (pp, 41-43)

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Dejavu All Over Again

If COL Prouty were alive today, editing The Secret Team for the next edition, his task would be easy.  Places and names would require change.  The methodological framework for described operations, however, has resisted an impact of time.  The original ST’s legacy, well-preserved in contemporary operations, is evident throughout the globe.  The contemporary Team’s actions will be the legacy for the future generations who, too, will ask “how could they have not seen that coming?”

The Secret Team’s Methodology and Cultural Geographic Legacy