The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported an item of news unlikely to get much attention in the American and European press: the expansion of "deprogramming" techniques, which have already proved successful in Indonesia, Pakistan and the UK to terrorist malefactors caught in Australia. At a stroke the story reveals the outlines of a hitherto unreported endeavor waged without much notice in the back corners of the War on Terror.
Commissioner Keelty [of the Australian Federal Police] says the process of "deprogramming" extremists has been successful in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and the UK. He says the technique involves using respected clerics or people previously connected with terrorist organisations to convert extremists and provide information to police.
"In some places they will use a cleric who has a good reputation with the community and who will be respected and listened to by the people in custody and in this case they've used somebody who was actually part of the Mantiki arrangement, so, it's somebody they would have otherwise looked up to as a natural leader, in terms of a terrorist, and they've turned him around and used him to convert the others," he said. "And not only convert the others, but also to provide a significant amount of information to the Indonesian national police." Indonesia's anti-terrorist squad Detachment 88 now has former Jemaah Islamiah (JI) commander Nasir bin Abbas working for them, re-educating arrested JI recruits.
The idea of treating the Jihad like a mental disease or lunatic cult may sound like an innovative approach. But in war, probably more than any other profession save one, the new is very, very old. An old but fascinating document describing the approaches developed by Colonel Edward Landsdale to suppress a Communist insurgency in the Philippines on a shoestring budget will remind the reader how dirty and cunningly fought the Long War was. Historians may have called it the "Cold War" but those in it shot real bullets and died very permanent deaths. After the Second World War Communist hit squads were swarming all over the island of Luzon in a battle to seize power that gave no quarter and showed no mercy. Facing them were a bunch of American and Filipino officers who built what in later years was nostalgically referred to as the Army of MacArthur and Magsaysay; men who slept on canvas cots and made up tactics and weapons as they went along. The Terry-and-the-Pirates atmosphere is illustrated by the way they cooked up their own napalm.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines set up, about 1949, a Research and Development Unit, a little department of dirty tricks. They had a nice old colonel in charge, the nicest man that I have ever known and with one of the nastiest minds. ... Due to policy and other complications, the Armed Forces of the Philippines were unable to secure napalm to use in the quantities they desired and the way they desired to use it. So the old colonel fooled around with coconut husks and gasoline, and this and that and the other, and came up with a very satisfactory substitute. This was much better than what was first used. I think the first home-made substitute for napalm used in this campaign was in an operation in Candaba Swamp in 1950. The Secretary of National Defense and a few other characters flew over an area which it was desired to burn, kicking out 5-gallon cans of kerosene and throwing white phosphorous hand grenades at them. It didn't really burn too much of an area, but it accomplished the job at that time.
Since the Philippines was independent country by then, the American advisors had to substitute influence for authority to manage the battle. One man, Colonel Ed Landsdale, knew that he had to make the new Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay part of the team, and not just the target of a briefing, when he arrived to advise him on counterinsurgency operations.
Lansdale—and the others to an extent—bunked with Magsaysay, ate with him, traveled with him on field inspections and operations, and held daily discussions with him—what Lansdale called "coffee klatches." Although on Lansdale's arrival Magsaysay was living at home with his family, within a week he was sharing Lansdale's room in the JUSMAG compound—the two men sleeping on army cots, in an arrangement that persisted for over a year. Bohannan, in an unpublished paper, explained the team's operational method as total immersion, and their relation with Magsaysay, a rather peculiar blend of buddy-buddy camaraderie and cold-blooded manipulation.
Operating without much supervision from Washington (Max Boot would probably approve), Landsdale and his team understood that the first order of business was to professionalize the indigenous Army and stop its abuses. Magsaysay, with Landsdale at his elbow, embarked on cleaning out the Filipino armed forces. That accomplished, they began to turn the enemy against themselves. They started by creating associations of ex-insurgents. To paraphrase Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty, they attracted the enemy with "somebody they would have otherwise looked up to as a natural leader, in terms of a terrorist, and they've turned him around and used him to convert the others ... And not only convert the others, but also to provide a significant amount of information". Landsdale was "deprogramming" in 1950; but went a step further. He formed units to impersonate the enemy.
The forty-seven initial members of Force X were dressed and equipped like Huks. They were taught in a remote rain forest base to talk and act like Huks by four captured guerrillas who had been "tested, screened, and reindoctrinated to our side and brought to the training base to serve as instructors. " The principal aim was to enable government forces to get close enough to guerrilla forces to eliminate selected targets.
In those days before RFID chips, GPS and miniaturized communications devices, infiltrating a Huk stronghold called for large degree of intestinal fortitude. And when in trouble, how would agents call for help? Agents communicated with Landsdale's men through the Stone Age technique of leaving objects in certain configurations so they could be spotted by L-5 observation aircraft making apparently random patrols over the area. "The two open windows indicate that there is an enemy concentration approximately 200 strong in the area. The position of the animal tied in the yard in relation to the house indicates the direction of the enemy concentration, The open gate indicates that the enemy are planning to stay in this area." And Landsdale did treat the Communist insurgency like a cult. Consider his "vampire" tactics.
One psywar operation played upon the popular dread of an asuang, or vampire.... When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol.... They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next.... When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.
Landsdale was death; he made the enemy fear his men more than it would fear Stalin himself.
The army unit captured a Huk courier descending from the mountain stronghold to the village. After questioning, the courier, who was a native of the village, woefully confessed his errors in helping the Huks. His testimony was tape-recorded and made to sound as if his voice emanated from a tomb. The courier was killed. His body was left on the Huk-village line of communications. Soldiers in civilian clothes then dropped rumors in the village to the effect that the Huks had killed the courier. The villagers recovered the body and buried the Huk. That night army patrols infiltrated the cemetery and set up audio-equipment which began broadcasting the dead Huk's confession. By dawn, the entire village of terror-stricken peasantry had evacuated! In a few days, the Huks were forced to descend the mountain in search of food. [owing to the disappearance of the support village] They were quickly captured and/or killed by the army unit.
In his early counterinsurgency career, Landsdale extensively used counter-terror as a weapon. Huks were bayoneted in full view of their supporters. Enemy casualties were piled in trucks, their arms and legs artfully made to overhang the edges of the truck, and the vehicles were ostentatiously driven though rebel strongholds. He created hit squads to take out key enemy cadres. After he had gotten the upper hand and Magsaysay was elected to the Presidency, the counterinsurgency campaign cleaned up its act. But today's readers will find it astounding and not a little disturbing to realize at what price the Cold War victories were won while civilians slept unmindful in their beds. Landsdale described the mayhem in a private diary whose account read differently from his subsequent sanitized history of events.
All this killing during a peace is getting rather sickening. Bondoc, the accused mayor . . . was captured by Major Napoleon Valeriano's commando force of Philippine MPs. Valeriano is a friend of mine who heads a special headquarters intelligence team for MPC (PA) [Military Police Command (Philippine Army)]. These Filipinos run around Central Luzon with skull and crossbones flags flying from their jeeps and scout cars.... Cruelty and lust for murder are commonplace. Philippine Army MPs take but few prisoners. They merely shoot their newly captured Huks, often in the back of the head. It is hard to prove sedition, the true crime, against these folks, so why waste time with legal proceedings. On the other hand, MPs live but a few agonized moments after the Huks capture them. Both MPs and Huks have told me they learned to kill during the Jap occupation.
Leafing through history, one realizes that it is possible to write an account of warfare without mentioning a single weapons system other than the human mind. The reader can try to expunge from the tale all reference to the human heart, but in vain: for man is at the center of warfare. His will is its ultimate prize; his broken body its ultimate currency. In that light the "deprogramming" efforts of the Australian Federal Police in the dingy corners of the world are simply a return of warfare to its roots. The jihadis want our souls; the rule in warfare is that we will want theirs.