- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

A group of CIA covert-action officials vigorously opposed Reagan administration efforts to supply Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Afghan rebels, fearing it would trigger World War III by exposing direct U.S. support, according to a CIA-sponsored study.
The officials in the CIA Directorate of Operations, the espionage and covert-action branch, also tried unsuccessfully to block transfers of Stingers to the rebels for political reasons. They wanted to keep the Pentagon from "meddling" in CIA covert action, according to the report produced by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Details of once-secret CIA opposition which included misleading interagency decision makers were disclosed for the first time in the Harvard study. They provide a rare glimpse of "politicization" of intelligence activities within the CIA during the Reagan administration.
The CIA's opposition to the provision of the state-of-the-art missiles, which have been credited with helping the rebels defeat the Red Army, contrasts with public statements by the agency after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988 and 1989. Then, the agency boasted of its covert action as one of its most successful paramilitary programs.

CIA claimed success as own

In February 1989, some 200 CIA officers involved in the Afghan operations held a party at the agency's McLean, Va., headquarters to toast the Soviet troop withdrawal. CIA Director William Webster stated three months later that the CIA Afghan Task Force of about 100 people "conducted one of the most successful covert operations in the country's history." He made no reference to agency opposition to sending Stingers.
The report quotes CIA officer Thomas Twetten, the Near East operations chief from 1983 to 1986, as working against political appointees in the Reagan administration who favored the Stinger transfers. Mr. Twetten described them as "strange people developing strange ideas."
"There was a concern [during the Reagan years] between what I call sensible bureaucrats, having been one of them, and the rabid right," Mr. Twetten said, referring to Reagan administration policy-makers. Mr. Twetten later was promoted to the highest position in the operations directorate.
The report, "Politics of a Covert Action: The U.S., the Mujahideen, and the Stinger Missile," is a 64-page analysis of the political infighting over the Stinger decision. Covert action is secret overseas military or political action; if asked, the U.S. government denies involvement.
The missiles were sent in 1986 after a successful lobbying effort led by two anti-communist Pentagon policy-makers who helped build near-unanimous support within the government for the project.

Small group opposed plan

Only a small group of anti-Reagan CIA officials in charge of the covert action program within the CIA's Operations Directorate opposed it.
The weapon allowed the mujahideen (Islamic "holy warriors") to shoot down Soviet helicopter gunships, and the Russian military debacle has been credited with hastening the demise of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.
Hundreds of Stingers were sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and after the war another covert operation was set up to buy back missiles from those in the region who had them. There is no evidence that any of the weapons ended up in the hands of Islamic terrorists, although fears persist among U.S. officials that they will.
In the case of Afghanistan, the report said, CIA support for the mujahideen began six months before the Soviet intervention of Dec. 24, 1979, when the Russians sent troops to back one faction in the divided communist government. Within a few years, the U.S. government was supplying $250 million annually in arms to the rebels.
However, the operation was limited at first by the CIA's use of less-effective weapons that could not be traced to the United States. The CIA's goal was to make life "difficult" for Soviet forces, but not to help the Islamic rebels win, the report said.

Mujahideen were losing war

However, the mujahideen began losing the guerrilla war in 1984 with Moscow's introduction of Spetsnaz commandos and armored Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships. The commandos and gunships were able to attack hidden rebel bases in remote and inaccessible parts of Afghanistan.
CIA-supplied Soviet-made SA-7 and British Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles were "impotent" against the helicopters, the report said.
Within the Reagan administration, Fred Ickle, undersecretary of defense for policy, and his deputy, Michael Pillsbury, established an internal effort to provide the 5-mile-range Stinger missiles to the Islamic warriors.
"The Directorate of Operations (DO) of the CIA, which ran the Afghan operation, disagreed vehemently" with the plan to send advanced missiles, the report said.
Midlevel DO officers, including Mr. Twetten and another officer, William Piekney, the station chief in Pakistan, opposed sending Stingers because the missiles would expose the CIA's hand.
These officials also feared the Stingers in Afghanistan "would risk provoking retaliation from the Soviet against host country Pakistan and such an attack could plausibly escalate into World War III," the report said.
The CIA also feared that sending Stingers "would expose a small well-run operation to meddling from the Department of Defense."

Internal rivalry a factor

"Covert actions are the most hallowed of all CIA undertakings, clandestine beyond secret," the report said. "Allow the Stinger and DoD would stand at the door. Covert would be overt and the operation destroyed," the report said of the CIA officials' argument.
Not all CIA officials opposed the effort. Clare George, chief of the CIA Operations Directorate at the time, and his deputy worked quietly with Mr. Pillsbury, the deputy undersecretary of defense, to garner support for the missile decision against those opposing it, the report said.
John McMahon, the CIA deputy director, also opposed the missile plan out of institutional loyalty, as did CIA Director William Casey. Both eventually changed their views and supported giving Stingers to the mujahideen.
"Leading the charge to stop the Stinger idea dead in its tracks was the Directorate of Operations at the CIA," the report said, noting that the agency was afraid it would lose "plausible deniability" if U.S. arms were used.
Mr. McMahon and the DO officials thought the arms were not allowed under an agreement with Pakistan to keep U.S. weapons out of the region. Mr. Piekney said Pakistani government sensitivities were "the predominant overriding concern" in not wanting to send Stingers.

Goal was: Topple Soviets

Mr. Ickle and Mr. Pillsbury pushed the decision to send the missiles through a reluctant government bureaucracy. They did so as part of the "the Reagan Doctrine" that was aimed at toppling the Soviet Union, the report said.
The doctrine included U.S. military modernization, economic pressure on Moscow and "covert actions to split client governments from Moscow," the report said.
Helping the rebels with the missiles was needed because intelligence reports from 1985 showed Moscow planned to sharply escalate its attacks on the Islamic warriors under its new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, the report said.
According to Mr. Pillsbury, the Afghanistan covert action fit within the anti-Soviet strategy of the Reagan administration. "Blocking that escalation would provide an opportunity to raise the costs sharply to Moscow of its empire, even as it was stretched thin in Poland, in its hard currency, and in Africa and along Chinese borders," Mr. Pillsbury stated.
Intelligence information also indicated the Soviet leadership was divided on how to deal with the costly Afghan war and U.S. officials saw increasing aid to the rebels as a way to deepen the political fissure.
The plan to send Stingers was helped by a directive signed by President Reagan in March 1985 on "Expanded U.S. Aid to Afghan Guerrillas" that called for challenging the Soviets with "all available means."

Directive's secret annex

A secret annex to the directive endorsed "direct attacks on Soviet military officers in order to demoralize them," the report said. It also called for providing the Afghan rebels with satellite intelligence photographs and communications equipment.
Mr. Ickle also had suggested using U.S. C-130 transports to make direct supply runs to the rebels, but that too was opposed by the cautious CIA, the report said.
Mr. Piekney is quoted in the report as saying the new Afghan policy was designed to help the rebels "kill as many Russians as they could."
The report states that the anti-Stinger CIA officials lied about requests from Pakistan's president, Zia ul-Haq, asking for the missiles for the Pakistan military and the Afghan rebels. Mr. Twetten, in particular, told one interagency meeting that Mr. Zia did not want them, a statement that was contradicted by several other participants in the debate.
Mr. Ickle stated that the CIA provided "contrary reporting" on the issue.
Mr. Pillsbury is quoted as saying that the midlevel CIA officers "were openly defying President Reagan's signed directives and most likely belonged to the opposition political party."
According to Mr. Pillsbury: "These officers acted in a near-mutiny by exploiting their monopoly on access to [Pakistani intelligence] and Zia about the sensitive Afghan program to deny information to their own [director of central intelligence], and to [Department of Defense] and the [National Security Council]."

Pakistan wanted missile

Another CIA official working at the White House who was close to the program, Vincent Cannistraro, is quoted in the report as saying the CIA's station chief in Pakistan withheld a request from Mr. Zia for the Stingers as "the CIA was not anxious to bring it up because they were opposed to it."
According to the report, Mr. Zia told visiting U.S. officials in Pakistan that he wanted the Stingers for the Pakistani military and that they would assist the rebels.
The first missiles were sent to Pakistan in July 1985 and after an internal debate described in the report as a "battle royal," the Afghan rebels began shooting down Soviet helicopters in 1986.
The Joint Chiefs also opposed sending the Stingers because they feared the weapons' technology would be compromised to Moscow if some were lost in Afghanistan. However, a Soviet intelligence defector, Sergei Bokhan, had revealed that Moscow obtained Stinger blueprints in 1984.
The Soviets announced the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan in December 1987 under the Geneva agreement. The last troops pulled out in February 1989, months before the fall of the Berlin Wall that began the unraveling of the Soviet Union.

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