WELCOMING THE TALIBAN WITH OPEN ARMS: DEFECTORS AND DECEPTION IN AFGHANISTAN
By Douglas Valentine
Feb 1, 2010, 00:33
Last week the U.S. Government began floating the idea of welcoming
low and mid-level Taliban defectors into its war on terror against Al
Qaeda. After waging an eight-year "dirty war" against the Taliban,
U.S. military commanders and politicians are publicly acknowledging
their "insurgent" enemy is actually part of the "fabric" of Afghan
U.S. and NATO officials are also offering bribes from a billion dollar
"Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund" to Taliban fighters to defect.
Taliban leaders have condemned the buyout strategy as a "trick" to
divide and conquer its forces, and said that offers of reconciliation
were futile without a withdrawal of foreign troops.
This billion-dollar buyout may, indeed, seem a bizarre reversal
of fortunes, but only if one believes the U.S. genuinely wants
reconciliation with the Taliban. In reality, defectors programs
like the one proposed for Afghanistan are an essential part of the
traditional U.S. pacification policy. For example, the so-called Chieu
Hoi "Open Arms" program is touted by military historians as having
produced positive results throughout the Vietnam War by offering
"clemency to insurgents."
Make no mistake about it: this too is propaganda. Defector "amnesty"
or "clemency" or "open arms" programs are aggressive CIA intelligence
operations and have nothing to do with reconciliation.
As former DCI William Colby told me, CIA political action teams in
Vietnam (like Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan) employed
defectors whose job was to "go around the countryside and indicate to
the people that they used to be Vietcong and that the government has
received them and taken them in, and that the Chieu Hoi program does
exist as a way of VC currently on the other side to rally. [Defectors]
contact people like the families of known VC," Colby said, "and
provide them with transportation to defector and refugee centers."
Master spy Colby would certainly agree that information management —
language — is the essence of political warfare in general and defector
programs in particular. The first step in either case is concocting
a slogan that appeals to the sensibilities of the targeted audience,
which is why defectors programs are given names like "amnesty" or
"clemency" or "open arms."
Such cleverly crafted slogans need have no basis in reality. Instead,
by appealing to American (not Vietnamese or Afghan) sensibilities
(or lack thereof), these slogans serve as the first step in creating
deniability for the CIA’s roll in organizing repression.
During Senate hearings into CIA assassination plots against foreign
leaders, deniability was defined by the CIA’s deputy director of
operations, Richard Bissell, as "the use of circumlocution and
euphemism in discussions where precise definitions would expose covert
actions and bring them to an end."
Apart from using circumlocution and euphemism, and Madison Avenue
style slogans, the CIA creates deniability, and thus garners public
approval, by composing and planting distorted articles in foreign and
domestic newspapers. It also composes "official" communiques which
appear to have originated within, for example, the Karzai government
To ensure the deniability necessary for public support of its
repressive policies, the CIA conducts covert action under cover
of Civic Action programs that are advertised as fostering freedom,
patriotism, brotherhood, democracy.
Likewise, the Taliban defector buyout program is said to foster
In CIA jargon this manipulation of language is called "black
propaganda" and is the job of political and psychological (PP) warfare
officers in the covert action branch. "PP" officers played a major
role in packaging the Phoenix Program for sale to the American public
as a program designed "to protect the people from terrorism."~S
CIA disinformation campaigns persuade predisposed Americans to offer
their tax dollars to pay for the massive military and aid programs
that support the CIA’s covert action programs. The proposed billion
dollar Taliban defector program is just such a case.
After arranging for deniability, the CIA will launch a covert action
program like the Taliban defector program only if it has "intelligence
potential." Such a program must be able to produce information on an
enemy’s political, military, and economic infrastructure or it will
not be undertaken. The CIA after all, is not a "reconciliation" agency.
And defectors have superlative "intelligence potential."
Not only are defectors valued for their ability to sap the enemy’s
fighting strength and morale, but having worked on the inside, they are
an accurate and timely source of intelligence on enemy unit strength
and location. They also serve as guides and trackers, and after
defecting, many are immediately returned to their area of operations
with a reaction force to locate hidden enemy arms or food caches.
Others defectors, after being screened and interrogated by security
officers, are turned into double agents. Defectors who return to their
former positions inside enemy military units or political organizations
are, as Colby explained, provided with a "secure" means of contacting
their CIA case officer, to whom they feed information leading to the
arrest or ambush of enemy cadres, soldiers, and secret agents.
Defector programs also provide CIA "talent scouts" with cover for
recruiting criminals into counter-terrorist and political action
programs. Burglars, arsonists, forgers, and smugglers have unique
skills and no compunctions about preparing wanted posters or conducting
In Vietnam, the entire Fifty-second Ranger Battalion was recruited
from Saigon prisons.
With Obama’s surge and additional NATO forces providing cover for
more expansive CIA covert actions, CIA political and psychological
warfare experts are moving to the forefront of the occupation; and
of course, their Provincial Reconstruction Teams are, as noted in a
previous article, at the forefront of this "intelligence" surge. That
is why the Taliban defector buyout program is being launched now.
Let me repeat: what makes such an intelligence operation "covert"
is not any false impression on the part of the Taliban, but rather
the CIA’s ability to deny its involvement in the defector buyout
program to the American public.
A case study
Under cover of Civic Action, the CIA is waging a plausibly deniable
dirty war against the Taliban using black propaganda, defectors,
criminals, selective terror, indefinite detention and a slew of
other devious tactics disguised as bringing freedom and democracy,
but in fact designed to provide internal security for the puppet
The CIA perfected this practice in Vietnam, where it waged clandestine
political and psychological warfare with the U.S. Information Service
Ostensibly the overseas branch of the U.S. Information Agency
(which performed the same propaganda and censorship functions inside
America), the USIS had as its raison d’etre promotion of the "American
way." In its crusade to convert the world into one big happy Chamber
of Commerce, the USIS employed all manner of "media," from TVs,
radios, and satellites to armed propaganda teams, wanted posters,
Frank Scotton, a CIA officer masquerading as an USIS officer, played
a large role in political and psychological operations (psyops) in
Vietnam. A graduate of American University’s College of International
Relations, Scotton received a government graduate assistantship to
the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii.
According to legendary CIA officer Lucien Conein, it was there that
Scotton was recruited into the CIA.
About the CIA-sponsored East-West Center, Scotton said, "It was a
cover for a training program in which Southeast Asians were brought
to Hawaii and trained to go back to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to
create agent nets." After passing the Foreign Service exam, Scotton
was persuaded to join the USIS, which "dealt with people," unlike
the State Department, which "observed from a distance.
After arriving in Vietnam in 1961, and initiating his vast agent net,
Scotton turned his attention to "energizing" the Vietnamese through
political action that advanced American policies.
In looking for individuals to mold into unilateral political cadres,
Scotton turned to the CIA’s defector program, which in April 1963
was placed under cover of the Agency for International Development
and named the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty program.
There Scotton found the raw material he needed to prove the viability
of CIA political action and psywar programs. Scotton worked with
Vietnamese Special Forces Captain Nguyen Tuy (a graduate of Fort
Bragg’s Special Warfare Center who commanded the Fourth Special
Operations Detachment) and Tuy’s case officer, U.S. Special Forces
Captain Howard Walters in Pleiku Province.
As part of a pilot program designed to induce defectors, Scotton,
Walters, and Tuy set up an ambush deep in Vietcong territory and
waited till dark. When they spotted a VC unit, Scotton yelled in
Vietnamese through a bullhorn, "You are being misled! You are being
lied to! We promise you an education!" Then, full of purpose and
allegory, he shot a flare into the night sky and hollered, "Walk
toward the light!"
To his surprise, two defectors did walk in, convincing him and his
CIA bosses that "a determined GVN unit could contest the VC in terms
of combat and propaganda."
Back in camp, Scotton told the VC defectors that they had to divest
themselves of untruths. "We said that certainly the U.S. perpetrated
war crimes, but so did the VC [substitute Taliban]. We acknowledged
that theirs was the stronger force, but that didn’t mean that
everything they did was honorable and good and just." In this manner,
Scotton indoctrinated cadres for his political action teams.
The chief of CIA covert action programs, Tom Donohue, recognized
the value of intelligence obtained through defectors, and authorized
the establishment of Chieu Hoi programs in each of South Vietnam’s
provinces. In typical CIA style, there was nothing in writing, and
nothing went through the central government.
The CIA’s security officer would oversee the Chieu Hoi Program in any
particular province and select different defectors for different jobs,
working with agents at the district level and into the villages.
If a defector had potential, the province security officer put him on
an airplane and sent him to the central CIA re-indoctrination center,
where he was plied with special attention and wowed with CIA gadgetry.
The food was spectacular, full of protein, and the bullets weren’t
flying. The training was vigorous, but the defector was treated for
infections and put on weight. Other defectors then explained the
beauty of the American Way, and other applicable lessons of the day.
This brainwashing is "precisely" what political warfare is all
about: Having been selected into a "special" program and given
"special" treatment, defectors are taught the corporate sales pitch,
cross-trained as interchangeable parts for efficiency, then given
one last motivational booster shot of schmaltz.
Scotton called his program "motivational indoctrination."
This is deadly serious business, and conducted secretly at high
security CIA bases in Afghanistan. All defector debriefing reports are
certainly sent to the CIA station in Kabul for analysis and collation.
Translations are, typically, never considered accurate unless read and
confirmed in the original language by the same person, but that rarely
happens. Likewise, interrogations conducted through defectors are
rarely considered reliable, for significant information is generally
lost or misrepresented. And thus, the defector program will likely
be exploited by Taliban secret agents, just as the Chieu Hoi program
was penetrated in Vietnam.
According to Douglas McCollum, who monitored the Chieu Hoi program
in three provinces in Vietnam, "It was the biggest hole in the net.
They’d come in; we’d hold them, feed them, clothe them, get them a
mat. Then we’d release them, and they’d wander around the city for
a while, and then disappear."
What McCollom is referring to, "the revolving door syndrome," is
another reason the CIA is turning to the Taliban buyout program at
this particular time, when Obama’s surge will produce thousands of
more detainees and prisoners.
The CIA was plagued in Vietnam, as it is in Afghanistan, by
overcrowding in prisons, defector, interrogation, and detention
center. In Vietnam by 1966 there was little space available in the
prison system for actual "Communist offenders." And as more and
more people were captured and placed in pens, a large percentage was
necessarily squeezed out. Hence the revolving door.
Defectors and the Phoenix Program
In June 1967, the CIA’s Chieu Hoi defector program was incorporated
within its newly established Phoenix Program, as it was organized
by CIA officer Nelson Brickham, who appreciated Chieu Hoi as "one of
the few areas where police and paramilitary advisers cooperated."
The Phoenix program was designed to coordinate all intelligence
programs in South Vietnam so thee CIA could more identify and
neutralize Viet Cong political cadre. As Brickham said, "My motto was
to recruit them; if you can’t recruit them, defect them (that’s Chieu
Hoi); if you can’t defect them, capture them; if you can’t capture
them, kill them."
Brickham also emphasized that Chieu Hoi was a means for the CIA to
develop "unilateral penetrations unknown to the [South Vietnamese]
In other words, the Taliban defector buyout program will be conducted
unilaterally by the CIA, apart from the Karzai government.
>>From 1967 onwards, all "rallied" VC cadre were included in Phoenix
neutralization statistics, and by 1969 more than a hundred thousand
defectors had been processed through 51 Chieu Hoi centers. The Chieu
Hoi program was managed from 1966 until March 1969 by Ogden Williams,
and then by Eugene P. Bable, a career CIA officer who had served in
the Flying Tigers.
The Phoenix Program sought to resolve the "revolving door syndrome" by
arranging through the SIDE (Screening, Interrogation and Detention of
the Enemy) Program the construction of permanent detention facilities;
a registration system coordinated with Chieu Hoi programs; and judicial
reform aimed at the rapid disposal of pending cases, as devised by
Robert Harper, a lawyer on contract to the CIA.
Through Phoenix, the CIA also began a policy of offering Chieu Hoi
status to informers.
>>From the language of the Phoenix reports, one could easily think
that the Chieu Hoi program was a great success. But many Chieu Hoi
defectors simply regurgitated the American line in order to win
amnesty, make a quick visit to their families, enjoy a few home-cooked
meals, and then return to the war for independence, fat and rested.
Legitimate Chieu Hoi defectors were pariahs who were not accepted
back in their villages.
Jim Ward, the senior CIA officer in charge of Phoenix in the Delta
(1967-1969) described Chieu Hoi as "a great program. Well done."
Ward explained that most Chieu Hoi advisers were from the U.S.
Information Service, although some were State Department or military
Ward describes the defection process as follows: Upon arriving at
the Chieu Hoi center, the defector was "interviewed" and, if he had
information on the VCI, was sent to the CIA’s Province Interrogation
Center; if he had tactical military information, he was sent to
Next came political indoctrination, lasting from 40-60 days, depending
on the individual. "They had a formal course," said Ward.
"They were shown movies and given lectures on democracy." Upon
graduation each was given an ID card, a meal, some money, and a chance
to repent. Political indoctrination was handled by defectors who said
they had been well treated by the Americans and had decided it was
better to live for a free Vietnam than to die for the totalitarian
"Chieu Hoi had lots of guys who had been with the enemy before,"
Ward continued, "who knew how to talk to these people and would
persuade them to join the Territorial Forces or the PRU." Others
joined armed propaganda teams, which went back into VC territory to
contact Vietcong families and recruit more Vietcong defectors.
"The great thing about the Chieu Hoi program," Ward noted, "is that
we didn’t have to put people in jails or process them through the
judicial system, which was already overcrowded.
Political and Psychological Warfare
Despite his praise for the Chieu Hoi program, Ward said that
"Americans should have been targeted only against the North Vietnamese
and left the South Vietnamese forces to handle the insurgency,"
even though such a strategy would have precluded Phoenix.
The same lesson applies in Afghanistan. The U.S. has no legitimate
reason to be there, and thus it must rely on psychological ploys,
rather than any appeal to nationalism, to win the Afghanis over to
the American Way of doing things.
That is how High Value Reward and bounty programs become business
as usual. That is why the U.S. is instituting a defector program,
with a publicity campaign managed in the field by psyops teams
replete with radios, leaflets, posters, banners, TV shows, movies,
comic books falling from planes, and loudspeakers mounted on trucks
to spread the word.
On January 22, 1970, thirty-eight thousand of these leaflets were
dropped over three villages in Go Vap District. Addressed to specific
VCI members, they read: "Since you have joined the NLF, what have you
done for your family or your village and hamlet? Or have you just
broken up the happiness of many families and destroyed houses and
land? Some people among you have been awakened recently, they have
deserted the Communist ranks and were received by the GVN and the
people with open arms and family affection. You should be ready for
the end if you remain in the Communist ranks. You will be dealing with
difficulties bigger from day to day and will suffer serious failure
when the ARVN expand strongly. You had better return to your family
where you will be guaranteed safety and helped to establish a new
This is how defectors will be created in Afghanistan as well. Psyops
leaflets aimed at creating defectors will portray the Taliban as a
socially disruptive force that can only be stopped by America.
But Americans can only reach the Afghan "people" through "media" like
leaflets and loudspeakers — an indication of just how far removed
the CIA is from the reality of life in Afghanistan’s rural villages.
And while the CIA relies on cartoons to sell itself, the Taliban go
from person to person, proving that technology was no substitute for
human contact. Ultimately the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam for just
The Taliban defector buyout program heralds just such a development
in Afghanistan — defeat — and nothing more.
Doug Valentine is the author of "The Phoenix Program" and his latest
book is "The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and
Espionage Intrigues That Shaped The DEA." Please visit his website