January 8th, 2010

Daniel Ellsberg re Obama /
Bell helicopters in Vietnam & Predator drones in Pakghanistan

Another in Sibel Edmonds’ Boiling Frog interviews on the National Security Apparat.

Very worthwhile — as they’ve all been. This is number 18. She’s leading one of the most important discussions around.

Ellsberg is measured in assessing Obama, and even so the judgments are bleak. Syncs well with my own black-biled broodings.

Touches on the political consequences of allowing high hopes to fail for lack of leadership. Ellsberg doesn’t mention the Carter-Reaganism dynamic, but what he says brings it to mind.

And he puts the puzzle of the escalation decision in clear terms, observing that neither the top Pentagon brass, nor NS Advisor Jms Jones (retired four-star general), nor Rahm Emanuel — with the fine DC instincts and his eye on the 2010 elections — were pusihng the escalation. (Nor Biden.) And some were on record against it.

Is Obama more of a militarist than Petraeus, whose recent interview in Newsweek shows a mind less than persuaded of any successful outcome over there? Where did the decision come from?

Westmoreland and LBJ


Recall Col. Flectcher Prouty’s history of the Pentagon’s war in Vietnam (which, note, began in 1965) — and which Prouty thinks began almost accidentally, with a big push by Textron and its lobbyists to get the Gov to start buying Bell “Huey” helicopters en masse.

As conglomerate Textron — then as now a major war supplier — was preparing a corporate takeover of Bell Helicopters, a guy from Yale working on Wall Street kept showing up at Prouty’s office atop the Air Force staff in the Pentagon — trying to sell the notion that tactical helicopters would revolutionize counterinsurgency ops …

The Air Force kept saying no. Finally somebody got to somebody on the Nat’l Security Council staff in the White House, and the order came across the river: Let’s buy some more helicopters — and let’s base them across the border from Laos, rather than where all the shootin’s going on. Yeah, let’s put them in Vietnam.

The Huey program was greenlighted — but under CIA auspices. Which perhaps rounds around to explain why a banker out of Yale was lead salesman.

The CIA had opened its first official spy store in Saigon in 1954 (post French defeat at Dien Bien Phu) but our involvement there reached back into the war, when the OSS helped to arm Ho’s nationalists against the Japanese. Some say that the same guys, now wearing CIA badges, including Ed Lansdale, were covertly on the ground again well before ’54, working again with locals but this time to oust the French.

However that may be, Prouty writes that each early CIA Huey base in Vietnam needed some 500 (if memory serves) pairs of Pentagon boots to provide pilots, maintenance, security and support.

And when the bases started drawing fire from local insurgents even more Advisors were needed to Keep the Peace.

Wasn’t long before 16,000 soldiers were in country, under CIA command, shooting at insurgents from behind barricades as the choppers bounced and bombed around the South as Lansdale & company tried to figure out how to win their hearts and minds.

Then, in late ’63, a new President took office persuaded that it was time to let the Pentagon clean house.

Obama and Stanley


The obvious parallel is the CIA’s drone campaign, based in Afghanistan, attacking Pakistan, which began under lame duck Bush-Cheney, August 2008, rather late — perhaps to be sure it was online fait accompli before the new prez came in.

The latter again brings to mind the Bay of Pigs — in particular the panicked revisions to the plan that went on between November 1960, when Kennedy shocked the planners by defeating Nixon, and January when he took office.

Steps were taken to downsize the scheme (quite consciously beyond hope of success) and to persuade the new White House team that the raid had been approved by Eisenhower (not so — rather, by VP Nixon, who headed the CIA oversight committee in Ike’s White House).

The raid came 70 days into Kennedy’s presidency. He wasn’t quick enough to choke it off, but deserves great credit for frustrating the prime motive by refusing its gambit — ie, refusing to send in the Marines to rescue the raid (and execute regime change).

And, of course, he never escalated with the Pentagon in Vietnam. That came after Johnson won his ’64 election.

Obama within weeks of taking office enlarged the CIA drone program.

And now, against the advice and/or instincts of Jones, Mullen, Eikenberry, even it seems Petraeus (four four-star generals) as well as VP Biden and CoS Rahm, he’s escalating the war.

Ellsberg pointedly compares Obama’s decision to that of Johnson (under whom and closely with he worked) in 1965 — and sadly laughs at the notion of turning on a dime and getting out in July 2011. The commitment, he insists, cannot but be anything but indefinite re both time and manpower.

More than puzzling. Why did subordinate Stanley McChrystal win this policy debate? Why was he even involved in it?

And what is the War Aim over there? I STILL don’t see one, and neither it seems does the senior brass.

Let’s see, who makes the Predator drone? Expensive little bombs ….. Who’s their anchor banker …?

In the Land of the Blind …

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  1. ed says:

    The CIA-centric character of this entire drone bombing campaign, mass murderous in design, inevitably so, has not received enough attention until late. Perhaps some credit due here to the Obama administation.

    The bomb at Khost — that killed the CIA forward team managing the drones — seems to have been a watershed.

    Most remarkably — and very much in sync with the picture of Pentagon-Langley turf war in the Huey helicopter history sketched above — the Pentagon this year has been wresting command of the Pakistan Drone program out of the CIA’s hands.

    CIA Deaths Prompt Surge in Drone Strikes

    UN Official to Ask US to End CIA Drone Strikes

    Pentagon Faults Drone Operators in Afghan Deaths

    Drone Strikes are Legal, US Says

    UN Report Highly Critical of US Drone Attacks

    Op Ed: Come Clean about the Drones

    June 30th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

  2. ed says:

    To refresh one’s memory as to how it all began:


    June 30th, 2010 at 1:03 pm

  3. ed says:

    Here’s an interesting detail in support of Prouty’s story (sketched in main post above) that the US military got drawn into Vietnam per se by CIA helicopters.

    It’s from JOHNNY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE, by Kenny O’Donnel and Dave Powers, perhaps the two people closest to JFK on a daily basis in the White House. Both Boston Irishmen.

    O’Donnell’s is the featured POV in the recent film THIRTEEN DAYS about the Cuban missiles. The film was based on RFK’s book of the same name and this book by O’Donnell and Powers.

    I’ve avoided the book for years, thinking it was mostly anecdotes and uncritical at that.
    But what do you know — a significant detail on p17:

    Under discussion is NSAM 273 (if mem serves), the order Kennedy signed in Oct 63 initiating the withdrawal of the 16,000 Americans in Vietnam (all under CIA auspices).

    “On Oct 2 … President Kennedy asked McNamara to announce to the press … the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers and to say that we would probably withdrawal all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965.

    “When McNamara was leaving the meeting to talk to the White House reporters, the President called to him, ‘And tell them that means all of the helicopter pilots, too.’ ”

    As if it were common knowledge, even among the press, that the choppers were the root of our presence.

    Very much in tune with Prouty’s at first strange-sounding story, which he told repeatedly across the years.

    July 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 pm

  4. Conversation » Pakistan closes Khyber Pass to US war machine as September to Remember closes says:

    [...] Two years of steady drone missile attacks from their American ally. Which in past weeks have increased while being supplemented (as noted) with large-scale helicopter raids on so-called insurgents — all again so reminiscent of Vietnam. [...]

    September 30th, 2010 at 9:45 am

  5. ed says:

    A Facebook Friend responds:

    Story I heard that made the most sense to me is that Johnson and his cronies were major shareholders in Bell and what better way to boost the share price than to launch an aggressive Government buying program of their helicopters?

    Had to put ‘em all someplace, ‘Nam was as good a place as any, so why not there?

    And once there, why then let them sit idle when you can put them to good use?

    Und so läuft halt.

    As far as the end goal in Pakistan/Afghanistan goes really the only thing that makes any sense, (other than boosting the share price of arms and drone aircraft companies), and is a legit concern, is that they want to keep the Taliban from getting any further out from the Swat Valley towards Islamabad than they’ve already gotten, i.e., not let those religious whack-jobs get any closer than the 100 klicks from Paki’s nuke arsenal than they already have.

    Which, like I said, is a legit concern.

    Right now it’s in my top 3 of probables of the likelihood of a nuke getting lit within the next decade, with all 3 scenarios of mine having said nukes being detonated by zealots.

    The other 2 are an exchange between Jerusalem and Tehran, with it being a coin flip as to who will throw the first punch, and the other being an entire Stealth Bomber flight crew of American Air Force Academy Christian going rogue for Jesus and thinking that they’re on a Jake & Elwood ‘Mission From God’ and circumventing all their Fail Safes.

    Like. y’know, over Mecca.

    After all if you’ve got your entire immediate chain of command from the controllers to the pilots and the guy that that replaces the cockpit window’s wiper blades all batting for the same team, whose gonna stop you?

    I give all 3 of these scenarios an equal chance of occurrence.

    Which makes me concur with Sam Harris’s assessment that it’s madness to run primitive Abrahamic caveman software in the 21st Century.

    Don’t think anyone is going to take Harris and Chris Hitchens’s warnings seriously until after somebody get their hair mussed and noses bloodied.

    December 18th, 2010 at 11:02 am

  6. ed says:

    London Times FOIA finds support for Sibel’s baseline :


    April 2nd, 2011 at 11:01 am

  7. ed says:

    the mideast chaos touched off by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions is well underway …

    Libya is now engaged in a great civil war …

    And obama this week ordered the pentagon/cia (not sure which — let’s see) to allow “NATO” to start using the Predator in Libya.

    A fortiori, then: one must wonder if the continuing expansion of the use of drones — utterly unproductive in strategic terms — may be based in MIC economics and the CIA’s insecurity within the now vast web of the us national security apparatus.

    April 22nd, 2011 at 11:55 am

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