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Counterintelligence operations in the Persian Gulf War and the Iran-Contra Operation

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Bob Boudahl

Counterintelligence played an enormous and very beneficial impact on the success of the first Gulf War, “Desert Storm.”Military action was swift, decisive and successful. During 1990 the CIA closely monitored Iraq’s military and political actions. The CIA also notified the U.S. Military and U.S. policy makers as Iraq began an armed forces buildup near Kuwait. CIA had determined they would probably attack Kuwait. CIA assessed the attack as being “highly likely” to occur in a short time and that forces were significant enough to not only seize all of Kuwait but also to drive into Saudi Arabia. CIA established continuous watch in its operations to conduct whatever collection, assessment, etc. needed. Included were operations officers, political analysts, weapons analysts, military analysts, economic and oil analysts, imagery analyst and cartographers. They produced mass amounts of intelligence cables, reports and briefings. Much of the intelligence dealt with probable locations and capabilities of Iraqi chemical weapons and systems. The analysts gave briefings to the US military on such topics as Iraqi ground, air and air defenses; their tactics of which included chemical weapons which Iraq utilized during their war with Iran, minefields, etc. The CIA warned Iraqi forces had chemical weapons, warheads and possibly biological warheads. And it was prepared to launch Scud missiles. The CIA also warned the Scuds would be launched into Israel within 48 hours of the start of the war. President Bush warned Iraqi President Hussein that grave consequences would await Iraq should they use chemical weapons.

The CIA also lent support that aided in the execution of the war. It provided specifics of what WMD might be used and locations of such. The logistical information on Iraqi ground forces was very beneficial. The CIA also provided logistics to the Coalition. The air and defense forces information was provided to the military, and also any threat to naval forces.

Although aligned with Desert Storm the US post war provided “Operation Provide Comfort” which provided humanitarian assistance to the Kurds and also enforced a “no fly zone” north of the 36th parallel and a no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel, and some later were renamed and continued operations.

In my second operation I will briefly analyze The Iran-Contra Operation, which was controversial in that it dealt with rogue nations but it did have strong merit as priorities were worthy and included persuading Iran to release American hostages and to aid the Contras since they were favorable to the United States rather than the Sandinistas which were pro-socialist.The Sandinistas gained power as socialists in Nicaragua through revolution in 1979. President Carter of the United States tried providing aid of $99 million to The FSLN so to influence them to a pro-US view. But FSLN had Cuban influence and also sought an alliance with the Soviet Bloc. They passed three decrees limiting the freedom of press and political organizing. Carter tired of this and authorized the CIA to support resistance forces in Nicaragua but did not include armed action.

In 1981 President Reagan is inaugurated and with it a shift to the conservative side of politics. President Reagan continues encouragement of the CIA, but stops short of authorizing arming the rebels. Reagan then establishes a “democratization everywhere” proclamation. In 1983 the CIA assists the contras in attacking transportation and economic targets in Nicaragua. In spring of 1984 the U.S. Congress found out about the CIA’s mining of the harbors-which even intelligence committee members did not have much knowledge of. In June of 1984 Saudi Arabia provided money through McFarlane for the Contras. Oliver North in Summer of 1984 asked Richard Secord to get supplies to the Contras. The Boland Amendment II established a policy of not financing the Contra’s and no solicitation of 3rd party donors. The Iran focus of the Iran-Contra operations was to obtain needed military equipment for its ongoing war with Iraq.  U.S. reluctantly did agree to provide arms after a long and arduous hostage release program that was unsuccessful and kept it distanced directly from involvement with the United States by shipping the supplies from Israel as a cover seller. Later in 1985 Israel initiated a sale to Iran of 500 TOW missiles which were obtained from the United States. Oliver North then assisted and arranged Hawk missiles to be sold to Iran to be shipped from Israel. Importantly “On January 17, 1986, the defendant JOHN M. POINDEXTER orally briefed the President from a memorandum prepared by the defendant OLIVER L. NORTH, after which the President signed a finding authorizing the sale of arms by the United States Government to elements in Iran in support of a United States initiative to establish a more moderate government in Iran, to obtain intelligence relating to Iran, and to secure the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.” Iran subsequently offered to pay $10,000 per TOW missile to the U.S for each missile. Oliver North arranged that the CIA be paid $3,469 per missile. The Iranians had made the $10 million dollar payment to the account Lake Resources for the 1000 TOW missiles. The ending financial results paid the CIA $3.7 million for the TOW missiles and left $6 million in the Enterprise account. These missiles were shipped from the U.S.

Funds kept crediting to the U.S. with a large portion of it being available for the Contras. In late 1986, 500 TOW missiles were again sent to Iran. The amount received for the missiles was higher than the amount paid to the CIA.

In addition during 1985 and 1986 military weapons and supplies flowed to the Contra leaders with $100,000 of radios. Also, money was earmarked for cash for use by DEA officers including gaining information on American hostages in Lebanon. The operation was made public and hearings took place. The release of hostages was an opportunity that most would attempt if it had a chance of success. Supporting Pro-American Nicaragua Contras instead of the Sandinista socialist form of government is preferred. It resulted in charges and most involved were pardoned. It had worthy purpose and cause but procedurally did not have authority to conduct all operations that were conducted, or at least in the manner they were.

Operation Desert Storm was very successful and counterintelligence played a beneficial role in the operation. This is a great example of post-Cold War to pre-9/11 in which it showed great technological advances in IMINT and SIGINT. The main challenge presented was to civilians in proximity to the war campaign and also friendly fire within such close quarters with amassed forces.

The Iran-Contra Operation was also pre-9/11 and as such did not have the leniency afforded intelligence personnel via the “Patriot Act.” I do think if this operation had been post 9/11 the Congress and public may not have perceived the operation as it did. The Iran-Contra operation faced enormous difficulties in the legal spectrum from violating our own doctrine of not aiding Iran and not directly interfering in political affairs. It resulted in investigations and charges filed.

These two operations are 180 degrees apart with conclusions at that same level of disparity and it illustrates how a counterintelligence operation such as “Desert Storm” given the support and tools needed can provide a most valuable service. In the Iran-Contra operation it had a wide spectrum of goals which perhaps were unrealistic. Their counterintelligence should have diligently and regularly provided statistics as to probability of outcome and risk/reward.

These two examples of operations I discussed may strengthen Mission Objective 1 of the National Counterintelligence Strategy regarding the deepening of understanding foreign intelligence entities plans, intentions and capabilities. In the Desert Storm Operation the CIA did a great job of assessing Iraq’s aggression towards neighboring countries. An accurate assessment was in place and perhaps could only be slightly improved upon. And the Iran-Contra operation realizes the need of Mission Objective 2 especially into assessing the adversary’s capabilities, strengths and weakness, as well as the capabilities and likelihood of the Contras gaining power.