Best Practice for the CIA

HVTA release that the US Senate did not authorise is the CIA’s 2009 document Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool.  Its full text has just been released by WikiLeaks.

As its name suggests, if you follow CIA-speak, it is a “dos and don’ts” manual on murdering influential foreigners. Julian Assange might have read it with some interest, as just such a influential foreigner, or “High-Value Target” as the Americans like to call such people. The scope of the publication makes it clear that its intended audience is not just CIA operatives, but “policymakers”.  The politicians, in other words.

The paper aims to convey lessons learned, provide a framework for evaluating the strategic utility of high-value targeting (HVT) operations, and assist policymakers and military officers involved in authorizing or planning HVT operations. Most of our source information relies on clandestine and defense attache reporting, discussions with HVT practitioners, a CIA-sponsored study on HVT operations in counterinsurgencies, and our review of current and historical casestudies. (C//NF)

Note that the paper is based partly on “discussions with HVT practitioners”. What could a HVT practitioner possibly be other than a professional assassin? And “targeting” of course, it soon becomes all too apparent, means murdering. Usually. We read under the heading “Choice of HVT Method”:

Capture or refraining from lethal operations may be warranted if the government’s goal is to integrate an insurgent group into the political process.

But it is not really recommended:

Capturing leaders may have a limited psychological impact on a group if members believe that captured leaders will eventually return to the group, according to an academic expert on counterinsurgency, or if those leaders are able to maintain their influence while in government custody, as Nelson Mandela did while incarcerated in South Africa. (S//NF)

The whole thing reads like satire, but unhappily, all the indicators are that it is all too real.

Two things particularly struck me. The first is the cover. One would have thought that it one was running a secret organisation whose functions include murder, kidnapping, torture and so forth, a bit of decorum would be in order. A plain cover at the very least but, oh no! Here we have some fun graphic input. None of the people shown seem to be particularly High-Value, except – hold on – let’s zoom in on the chap in the camel:


There may have been a bit of photoshopping going on here, but this looks very much like T E Lawrence, our very own Lawrence of Arabia.

Lawrence Camel

Which is odd, partly because he died in a motor-cycle accident in 1935, so it is too late for the CIA to include him in their HVT program, and partly because he was actually on the same side as the Americans in WW1, and thus an unusual choice of target. Hey ho.

The other thing that struck me was the discussion about HVTing of senior members of the IRA was the suggestion that

The British may have used an HVT strategy over a substantial period of time to moderate the IRA leadership by protecting Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness while allowing some of their radical rivals to be eliminated, according to a book by an Irish journalist.

What is really cheering about this is that it reveals that the CIA’s intelligence about the British response to the IRA did not come from MI5, but from “a book by an Irish journalist”. Hardly surprising – MI5 would have well know that the IRA was being substantially funded out of the USA, and would have had good reason not to trust the CIA further than it could throw it on this topic. But given that we know that the Clintons have been rather keen on spying on their allies, it is gratifying to know that the CIA failed to gain access to MI5’s files on the IRA.

Sometimes, least said is soonest mended.


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