Cia report on effective counterinsurgency.


Nov 26, 2012
CIA report warned
programme might
Press release
WikiLeaks today, Thursday 18
December, publishes a review by the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of its
"High Value Target" (HVT)
assassination programme. The report
weighs the pros and cons of killing
"insurgent" leaders in assassination
plots. After the report was prepared, US
drone strike killings rose to an all-time
The report discusses assassination
operations (by various states) against
the Taliban, al-Qa'ida, the FARC,
Hizbullah, the PLO, HAMAS, Peru's
Shining Path, the Tamil's LTTE, the IRA
and Algeria's FLN. Case studies are
drawn from Chechnya, Libya, Pakistan
and Thailand.
The assessment was prepared by the
CIA's Office of Transnational Issues
(OTI). Its role is to provide “the most
senior US policymakers, military
planners, and law enforcement with
analysis, warning, and crisis support”.
The report is dated 7 July 2009, six
months into Leon Panetta's term as CIA
chief, and not long after CIA analyst
John Kiriakou blew the whistle on the
torture of CIA detainees. Kiriakou is still
in prison for shedding light on the CIA
torture programme.
Following the politically embarrassing
exposure of the CIA's torture practices
and the growing cost of keeping people
in detention indefinitely, the Obama
administration faced a crucial choice in
its counter-insurgency strategy: should
it kill, capture, or do something else
Perceived benefits of
insurgent leaders
Evidence for successful assassinations
is slight. One of the few examples
claimed to have had positive results is
the assassination of Colombia's FARC
leaders Raul Reyes and Ivan Rios, which
is thought to have eroded the coherency
of the FARC. Similarly, morale of the
rank and file of HAMAS is said to have
weakened as a result of the
assassination of its founder and co-
founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel
Aziz al-Rantisi by Israeli missile attacks
in 2004. The CIA report nevertheless
pointed out that “HAMAS' highly
disciplined nature, social service
network and reserve of respected
leaders allowed it to reorganize after the
The CIA claimed that the paranoia its
assassination programme was
generating could be helpful: “HVT
operations typically force the remaining
leaders to increase their security
discipline, which may compromise a
leader's effectiveness.” HVT operations
had forced Osama bin Laden to stay in
hiding, rely on low-tech communications
and avoid meeting his subordinates. The
CIA considered that this had “affected
his ability to command his
organization”. Bin Laden was seen to be
isolated and out of command. Bin
Laden's assassination in May 2011
occurred as President Obama prepared
to run for his second term in office.
The assassination of Libyan Islamic
Fighting Group (LIFG) leader Abu Laith
Al-Libi and his deputy in Waziristan in
January 2008 by a US missile strike
informed the report's 'benefits' analysis.
The CIA analysts considered that it
resulted in “probably hindering the
group's merger with al-Qa'ida”. The
LIFG was dismantled a year after this
report was written. Many of its top
leaders subsequently became key
members of al-Qa'ida. ( http://
leaders )
CIA's 'pruning'
The secret assessment also goes into
what it calls “The Pruning Approach”,
where individuals within the insurgency
group are selected for killing so as to
affect the organization. Rather than
killing senior commanders, it is
sometimes more effective to kill
individuals who are important to core
functions. The Pruning Approach, CIA
analysts state, can be “used to remove
effective mid-level leaders, protect
incompetent leaders or restore them to
positions of authority, separate
insurgent personalities from potential
sources of government sponsorship, or
protect human sources that are
collecting intelligence on networks.”
egalitarianism to
blame for failure of
CIA targeted
The report acknowledges that the effect
of assassinating insurgent groups'
leaders is sometimes lessened by
organizations' command structure and
succession planning. This is said to be
a problem both in relation to al-Qa'ida
in Iraq and to the Taliban.
"The Taliban’s military structure blends
a top-down command system with an
egalitarian Afghan tribal structure that
rules by consensus, making the group
more able to withstand HVT
operations." Al-Qa'ida's less centralized
structure meant they were able to
“weather leadership losses such as the
death of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.” He
was killed by US forces in Iraq in June
In its key findings, the report warns of
the negative consequences of
assassinating so-called High Level
Targets (HLT), a prediction that has
been proven right. “The potential
negative effect of HLT operations
include increasing the level of insurgent
support […], strengthening an armed
group's bonds with the population,
radicalizing an insurgent group's
remaining leaders, creating a vacuum
into which more radical groups can
enter, and escalating or de-escalating a
conflict in ways that favor the
Capturing HVTs instead is not
necessarily a desirable option from the
CIA's perspective. Drawing on the CIA-
assisted capture of Nelson Mandela and
the ANC leader's 27-year sentence,
which he served in an Apartheid prison,
the report concludes that: "Capturing
leaders may have a limited
psychological impact on a group if
members believe that captured leaders
will eventually return to the group [...]
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)"
Assassinations by drone strike
escalated to an all-time high a year
after the CIA report was written.
According to findings by the Bureau of
Investigative Journalism, 751 people
were killed in drone strikes that year,
compared with 471 in 2009 and 363 in
Drawing on the experience of
assassination programmes in Thailand,
the report warns that High Value Target
assassinations "can capture the
attention of policymakers and military
planners to the extent that a
government loses its strategic
perspective on the conflict or neglects
other key aspects of counterinsurgency".
Read the WikiLeaks CIA Review of High-
Value Target Assassination Programs.

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