Domestic Counterterrorist Trainings: A Dangerous Trend

January 1, 1999


Conditioning the Public to Accept the Threat
of Domestic Terrorism While Masking
a Genuine Understanding of the Structural Injustices
that Lead to Global Impoverishment and Anger

"Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection."

–U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, 1998

Residential and downtown areas in communities throughout the United States are now being used as active training locations for Armed Forces’ counterterrorist exercises. Often conducted in secret and at night, sometimes with live ammunition, always with little or no public participation or knowledge in advance, these military activities signal that a systematic domestic terrorist training policy has been quietly developed at the top with virtually no democratic input. Secret Army Delta forces, an elite counterterrorist unit, flown in black helicopters by the equally secret Night Stalkers (160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Airborne), repel at night into their designated community target areas. Both are headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They have conducted at least 25 "invasions" of U.S. communities, perhaps more, in the last two years, from Kingsville, Texas to Chester, Pennsylvania. They are coordinated by the Army Special Operations Command located at MacDill AFB in Florida. The crack Navy counterterrorist force, SEAL Team 6, has conducted trainings from the Monterey Bay in California, to the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts. The SEALs operate out of Little Creek, Virginia and Coronado, California, respectively. More recently the Marine Corps has conducted "Urban Warrior" counterterrorist trainings in cities such as New York and Charleston, South Carolina in the east, and Monterey and Oakland, California in the west. These Marine exercises are part of Operation Sea Dragon, planned by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. All of these military units are experimenting with the latest in high-tech weaponry and tactics, one of their articulated rationales for these exercises.

In January 1999, the Pentagon requested from President Clinton appointment of a military leader to direct a new U.S. Continental Command to combat threats of terrorism–from chemical and biological agents, and cyberwar, to suitcase nuclear weapons. President Clinton appointed Richard A. Clarke as the nation’s counterterrorism czar to oversee the expenditure of $11 billion in federal funds intended to combat terrorism at home and abroad. Under Clinton the FBI’s counterterrorism budget has escalated to $286 million, including creation of a new FBI Counterterrorism Center that directs more than 2600 special agents in the U.S. and overseas. The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center now works closely with the FBI center.

How did we get to the point where domestic counterterrorist trainings are taking place so routinely in our communities with virtually no public participation or knowledge? Let us look into a bit of history. Ever since the creation of the first domestic police Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams more than 25 years ago, there has been a blurring of the line between military and civilian police missions and tactics. Use of both military and civilian police to contend with "terrorist" or "insurgent" threats has evolved worldwide from the concept of "unconventional" operations utilizing "special" forces in guerrilla warfare. U.S. Army unconventional warfare began with small units operating behind the lines during World War II. Army Special (counter-insurgency) Forces officially became part of its Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1952. Shortly after President Kennedy took office, prompted by the ill-fated April 1961 CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba, he substantially expanded the Special Forces (now wearing green berets) counterinsurgency capacities at their beefed-up Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. Special Forces were the first American troops dispatched to Vietnam under President Kennedy to conduct operational roles, often working under the command of the CIA and well insulated from Army regulars.

The Marine Corps, historically proud of its record and capacity for engaging in hostile local operations around the world going back to the late 1700s, was nonetheless bolstered in 1961 with the appointment of Major General Victor Krulak to fill a new post as Joint Chiefs’ Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities. The Air Force, too, established its First Air Commando Group in April 1961 and created its own Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Florida in 1962. Not to be ignored, the Navy created the SEALs (Sea, Air, Land forces) in 1962, combat paratrooper frogmen who could do everything the Army’s Special Forces could do and more. The Seals first saw operational action in Vietnam as well. By the 1980s, SEAL Team 6, with nearly 200 men, a far larger number than the normal 16-man units, was created specifically as a highly trained counterterrorist force. And the other military branches continued to refine their "special" and "unconventional" components as well.

In the 1960s the words "terror" and "counterterror" increasingly began to appear in Army field and training manuals, as their cooperative role with the CIA developed for shaping U.S. foreign policy, not just in Vietnam, but in places such as Guatemala and the Congo, among others. And when COINTELPRO first surfaced in 1971, and Congressional hearings had begun to disclose the 1960s infiltration by the Army–in association with the CIA, FBI and local police agencies–of domestic political movements, we discovered that our views and activities at home were also being "shaped." The lines were blurring even more between the military, the CIA, and law enforcement functions.

Army Ranger units, wearing black berets, were re-established in 1974 in response to fears of international terrorism. Rangers were relatively small forces trained for special missions such as rescue of hostages. In sorting out confusion and competition among the various military units claiming special prowess for dealing with "terrorists," President Carter rebuilt the Special Forces and Rangers as units to accomplish very narrowly defined tasks. The Army’s First Special Forces Operational Detachment, Delta, a secret unit for antiterrorist missions became operational at Fort Bragg in November 1977, competing with the counterterrorist Navy SEAL units as the best trained of the elite forces. The Delta force drew upon specially trained personnel from the other services, not just from Special Forces and Rangers. Their first mission, Operation Eagle Claw, launched in April 1980 to rescue the American hostages in revolutionary Iran, ended in tragic failure.

There is no better domestic example of the meld of military with civilian police operations and mentalities than the April 19, 1993 siege of the David Koresh Davidian religious compound in Waco, Texas. Fatigue-clad FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, accompanied by advisors from the Army’s secret Delta forces, fortified with helicopters, armed vehicles, tanks, and assault weapons, conducted a military, in lieu of a civilian law enforcement, operation. Over 80 human beings needlessly perished in the operation. The local sheriff possessed a regularly accessible and friendly relationship with members of the religious commune who often traveled to nearby towns. The sheriff was virtually totally ignored in the attempts to talk and negotiate with Koresh. The federal assault operation became the alternative. The military mind-set easily becomes a siege mentality where respect is ignored and nearly an
y response is rationalized.

The Reagan Presidency revived with gusto the Cold War ideology following the futile attempt of the Carter Administration to place human rights in the forefront of foreign policy. The nation was still feeling stunned from our defeat in Vietnam. Angry about the success of revolutionary Iran and perceived threats to our security interests in the Middle East, the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (only six months after President Carter angered the Soviets by pouring aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul), and the "Communist" presence in Angola and Central America, the Reagan administration set out to reverse "Communist" and revolutionary advances, and re-establish the U.S. as the prevailing, God-fearing nation in the world as claimed by our delusional belief in "Manifest Destiny."

In the heightened atmosphere of fear of global threats from "terrorists," revolutionaries, and the new menace of "drug traffickers," as well as "Communists," to preservation of the consumptive American Way of Life (AWOL), i.e., to our "national security," President Reagan formulated a number of secret policies granting expanded powers to the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Armed Forces for countering threats both at home and from abroad. In December 1981, he signed Executive Order 12333, establishing operating procedures for the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, intending to restore to them the domestic surveillance and other powers enjoyed prior to Watergate-initiated reforms, while still prohibiting assassinations. This Executive Order authorized the infiltration, manipulation, and disruption of domestic organizations even in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing. It must be remembered that in the language of the National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA, a huge loophole has enabled each and every President since to commit and direct heinous criminal activity in the name of "national security": The CIA could "perform such other functions and duties…as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." And please note again that as early as Vietnam various "special" military units worked closely with, often under the command of, the CIA in "eliminating" civilian leadership and organizations.

On April 3, 1984, President Reagan signed classified National Security Decision Directive 138 (NSDD 138), approving both preemptive and retaliatory raids against "terrorists." It authorized creation of FBI and CIA paramilitary squads for counterterrorist operations, and enabled the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to have its own contract intelligence agents for the first time. A Joint Special Operations Agency was created in 1984 under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to coordinate military counterterrorist activities in each service branch. Reagan’s Vice-President, George Bush, chaired the executive Task Force on Combatting Terrorism, which in turn created the Operations Subgroup (OSG) under the Terrorist Incident Working Group (TIWG) chaired at the time by Oliver North. NSDD 207 (Jan. 20, 1986) created a National Security Council (NSC) coordinator of counterterrorism, again chaired by Oliver North. Terrorism was indeed weighing heavy in the minds of the Reagan folks. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George P. Schultz, emphasized the need for the U.S. to use military force to combat terrorists, the "depraved opponents of civilization," even though he acknowledged it could mean "the loss of life of innocent people" ("Schultz Says Risks To Innocent People Part of Combatting Terrorism," The Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 1984).

Numerous individuals and organizations in the U.S. fiercely opposed President Reagan’s aggression and internationally adjudged illegal policies in Central America. It is no surprise that Reagan quickly applied his secret "terrorist" guidelines leading to gross violations of civil liberties of a number of U.S. citizens by various federal agencies, civilian and military, in efforts to quell domestic dissent. During the Iran-Contra scandal it was revealed that there were plans to round up "dissidents" and immigrants in the event of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and detain them in emergency prisons, some located at U.S. military bases. This was all justified as being "legal" under the secret Executive Orders and National Security Decision Directives authorizing such draconian measures to protect "national security."

The momentum was rolling. "Terrorists," and the emerging "drug traffickers," were in the process of replacing "Communists" as major pretexts rationalizing intervention as the Cold War was nearing its end. The use of government instruments for repressing dissent and other perceived threats to "national security," whether here in the U.S. or by or from other countries, was of course not new. But a powerful new pretext was in the process of being ingrained, being conditioned, in the minds of the U.S. population. It is believed that both military and CIA and FBI counterterrorist units were present alongside civilian law enforcement agencies at both the July 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles and the Democratic convention in San Francisco to protect participants from "terrorists." Soldiers from the Army’s elite Delta force, discussed above, were apparently deployed in New York City to assist New York’s finest during the 1986 July 4 celebrations ("Army Antiterrorist Squad To Be In City, Officials Say," The New York Times, June 28, 1986). As these encroachments by the military on domestic law enforcement functions have leaked to the public, citizens and civil libertarians have severely criticized these operations as a dangerous violation of the long-held principle of the separation of armed forces from domestic law enforcement operations. Such military powers can very easily expand to seriously threaten the privacy, liberty and lives of the people.

Are these Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine forces preparing for domestic interventions in combatting "terrorist" threats or potential disaster scenarios within the United States? It is conceivable that the "suspects" they will be interrogating and the "adversaries" they will be apprehending will be people like you and me–residents who could easily be defined as unpopular or undesirable based on a convenient political demonizing because of their beliefs. This possibility has now become a probability since U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen declared that "Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection" (U.S. Army Times, Oct. 27, 1998).

Because the Marine "Urban Warrior" exercises that had been intended for Monterey on March 15 and Oakland, California on March 15-18, 1999, faced public opposition once the plans became known, Marine officers presented public briefings and "promotional" information justifying these operations. Their words and those of other military officers give us some clues about the nature of the Pentagon’s thinking relating to preparation for counterterrorist operations. Consistent with the Marines’ historical function of establishing beachheads from Navy transport vessels at various locations around the globe, they argue a need to practice counterterrorist operations in coastal cities as help is requested from friendly governments facing internal crises. They predict that the "battlescapes of the 21st Century" will arise from swelling problems in increasingly congested areas where "eliminating" an "asymmetrical enemy using the city as a shield" will require new tactics and techniques. Practice with a Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force is a critical part of these exercises. Col. James A. Lasswell, head of experimental
operations for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory which directs the "Urban Warriors," declared that "there will be widespread economic problems and cultural, ethnic, and tribal tensions, many caused by wave after wave of immigration."

Major General Scales is clear in his view of the military’s role for resolving future class conflicts in urban warfare:

"The future urban center will contain a mixed population, ranging from the rich elite to the poor and disenfranchised….Day-to-day existence for most of the urban poor will be balanced tenuously on the edge of collapse. With social conditions ripe for exploitation, the smallest tilt of unfavorable circumstances might be enough to instigate starvation, disease, social foment, cultural unrest, or other forms of urban violence.

"The enormous problems of infrastructure and the demand for social services threaten to swamp governing authorities in the urban centers of emerging states will most likely worsen….Moreover, the proximity of the disenfranchised to the ruling elite provides the spark for further unrest and sporadic violence." (Armed Forces Journal International, referenced in Gar Smith, "One Nation Under Guard," San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 10, 1999.)

This clarity of the nature of the harsh socio-economic realities was earlier uttered in 1990 by General A.M. Gray when he served as Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps under President Bush. He identified our threats as originating from the "underdeveloped world’s growing dissatisfaction over the gap between the rich and poor nations" creating a "fertile breeding ground for insurgencies which have the potential to jeopardize regional stability and our access to vital economic and military resources."

These military leaders demonstrate their understanding of the structural problems but seem unable or unwilling to envision just structural solutions. Over 3 billion people on the Earth have incomes of less than $2 a day, living and dying squeezed with but 6% of the world’s wealth. As of 1996 the world’s 358 billionaires owned more assets than the combined incomes of nearly 3 billion human beings. The 20% plus who live in the high-income countries enjoy 86% of the world’s private consumption. The 20% who live in the lowest income countries scrape out a living with but 1.3% of the world’s private consumption. And in the U.S. itself, over one-fifth of our children live in poverty while the top 20% control 80% of the wealth, the top 1% possessing more wealth than the bottom 90%. This widening of the income and wealth disparity between the Haves and the Have-Nots, both here and globally, will, of course, inevitably lead to instability. How can it not? Impoverishment and misery are grotesque violations of fundamental human rights. They continue because of structural conditions that can only be maintained by the use of various forms of terror and military force.

Since the beginning of our republic, our presidents have ordered more than 400 overt military interventions (only 5 declared as war as required by our Constitution), the majority initiated by Marines and Sailors, many in foreign coastal cities. The Marines first landed in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, in 1798 and have since landed dozens of times in over 100 countries. They have been practicing for more than 200 years. Virtually all these interventions have been and continue to be in "Third World" countries, the "enemy" being the poor, and for much of the 20th Century labeled as "Communist."

Thus, U.S. Marines and Sailors have been refining destabilizing intervention techniques throughout the world, "eliminating" "enemies" for two centuries with virtual total impunity. The primary uniqueness of the current training exercises is their dangerous expansion of training areas from designated military installations into domestic civilian communities, threatening civil liberties in the process, just as they have done to the poor and dissidents abroad as commanded by their superiors. They, of course, practice with the latest in high-tech weapons and tactics against "terrorists," the new pretext replacing the out-of-date "Communists," and against an "asymmetrical enemy," apparently a new euphemism for the struggling poor, generally called "insurgents."

There is an obvious common historical thread to the targets of U.S. intervention: people’s desire for self-determination, independent of imposed U.S. objectives. U.S. intervention and armament policy is driven by intense materialist appetites and an ethos of arrogance demanding that our collective 4.5% of the world’s population and its consumptive AWOL be forcefully maintained by denying justice to, and self-determination efforts of, the majority of the world’s 6 billion people, while eroding the Earth’s finite ecosystem in the process. Denial of our history of lawless and hurtful aggression is a necessary condition enabling its continuance, precluding the necessary radical changes if lasting peace is to be achieved through genuine commitments to justice.

General Smedley D. Butler (the most highly decorated Marine in U.S. history) concluded correctly after his retirement in 1931 that during his 33 years as a Marine operating on three continents, he served as "a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers…a gangster for capitalism." Butler understood the more honest function of the Marines (and U.S. foreign policy in general) to forcefully maintain structures protecting the Haves from the Have-Nots.



The current U.S. military "invasions" into our communities serve to uncritically condition citizens to expect, and accept, escalated policies of militarization, rationalizing the ballooning of already inflated post-Cold War U.S. military budgets. They represent more of the same bully military approach to fundamental structural injustices. Wise diplomacy would indeed require a new commitment on the part of our government to uphold standards of international law and respect for sovereignty and human rights. Preparation for "terrorist" attacks–the chances of which are ironically increased due to our continued illegal, bellicose foreign policies carried out with enraging double standards–foolishly, and dangerously, substitutes for addressing historical injustices.

United States foreign and military policies continue to be waged with dangerous arrogance. They are formulated with narrow, self-serving interests in mind. They seriously endanger U.S. American lives as the policies create ever-increasing numbers of angry and desperate people throughout the world for generations who find themselves on the bombable and discriminated-against side of the double standard. Our blindness to this overbearing "diplomacy" precludes our nation from recognizing the importance of humility, pursuing genuine justice in the world of more than 200 nations with ever diminishing resources. Forcefully maintaining systems of injustice through exploitation that selfishly benefit a small number of people at the expense of the majority and ecological health of the Planet is simply not sustainable nor fair. It is morally indefensible. In response to U.S. policies of committing "wholesale" acts of terrorism, the desperate are for the most part left with the choice of vengeance through attention-getting acts of "retail" terrorism. Everyone is a loser in this cruel imperialism. When Washington commits to being a law-abiding member of the international community, practicing golden rule principles of "do unto others as it would have them do unto you," the root causes of "terrorism" will be dramatically reduced.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the article.Thanks Again. Great.

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