The CIA’s 2009 High-Value Targeting Report From Wikileaks

Troops from the United States Army on patrol in Iraq

Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool (C//NF)” is the latest confidential government document to be released through Wikileaks, the first for some while. It reveals that in 2009 some analysts for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency or CIA were arguing for a more selective use of armed-drones in the US’ self-declared “War on Terror”, with an emphasis on “High-Value Targeting” or HVT. It seems that this tweaking of tactics was partly in recognition of the counter-productive nature of drone-based operations by the United States and its allies, particularly the willingness to inflict heavy losses on civilian life and property in pursuit of (frequently dubious) military objectives. However what’s also of interest about the report (tagged “SECRET//NOFORN” or not for foreigners) is the methodology of the authors. They, pretty much like the rest of us, make use of all sorts of resources for their study, including information already in the public domain. As we saw with the documented “evidence” in the US and British cases for attacking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 intelligence assessors have little hesitation in utilising the work of others, including journalists, writers and historians as well as online sources (which means anything from blogs to forums, Facebook to Twitter). So I thought I’d pick out from the latest leak those points relating to Britain’s counter-insurgency war in Ireland and examine some of the references being cited. Of course being the CIA you would expect the use of insights garnered from 007-like covert sources. Except you’d be wrong.

Basing Decisions on Knowledge of an Insurgent Group’s Internal Workings. Governments’ successful use of HVT operations—such as the British strategy in Northern Ireland that led to a peace settlement—generally draws on a deep understanding of the targeted group’s internal workings and specific vulnerabilities, which is usually gained by penetrating the group or debriefing defectors. Social, ethnic, or ideological differences among leaders and members and within leadership groups offer vulnerabilities to exploit, according to an academic expert on counterinsurgency. 74

Information from high-level Irish Republican Army (IRA) assets, including the head of the group’s internal security unit, allowed British military intelligence to undermine the IRA, according to a Western press report. 75 (C//NF)

Protecting Potential Moderates. Directing HVT operations against the most violent and extremist leaders may increase the likelihood of an eventual political settlement. Most insurgencies have

internal divisions between the more militant and more politically oriented leaders, according to academic experts on counterinsurgency. 82 83

The British may have used an HVT strategy over a substantial period of time to moderate the IRA leadership by protecting Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness while allowing some of their radical rivals to be eliminated, according to a book by an Irish journalist.84 85

Northern Ireland—IRA, 1969-98

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) emerged from the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21 and has pursued the political objective of a united Ireland on behalf of nationalists among the Catholic minority, according to an academic study. 128 “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland began in 1969 and ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Extensive high-level penetrations of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (commonly referred to as IRA) gave the British visibility into the group’s leadership dynamics, internal ideological conflicts, and operational plans, according to a US press report and a book by an Irish journalist. 129 130

IRA leader Gerry Adams initiated a secret peace dialog with the British in 1986 in which he identified himself as far outside the mainstream IRA leadership in his willingness to accept an eventual nonviolent settlement of the conflict, according to the same book by an Irish journalist. 131 This dialog suggests that the British saw an interest in protecting him and members of his faction, which included Martin McGuinness. Acting on intelligence gained through penetrations, the British eliminated some radical IRA members who could have obstructed the peace process or challenged the Adams faction for leadership of the group, according to the same book by an Irish journalist. 132 (C//NF)”

In fact a quick look to the footnotes reveals that much of the above “analysis” is based upon one book by one author:

“[Open Source | Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, (London and New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002) | 2002 | (U) | CIRAS ID:]”

Some critics might well argue the value of this resource given the politics of the author and the recent “Boston Tapes” controversy, as can be gleaned from reading some of my own articles here. Personally I have an open – if still sceptical – mind on Ed Moloney’s interpretation of the events that brought the “Long War” to an end.

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2 comments

  1. You are quite correct to be skeptical Seamus on the retrospective spin on the GFA by Ed Moloney.
    Ultimately, it was a stalemate which ended in a draw – but crucially, the GFA removed any British or Unionist veto over the now inevitable Irish Re-unification and has ended Unionist hegemony over the North in the interim.

  2. Equal skepticism should be applied to any Wiki-Leaks publication, as their material flow is at an apparent end, and verification as to the veracity of their more recent publications is difficult. Manipulation by spot-insertion of material of unknown origin into actually leaked material is too easy and too tempting. No sympathy for the devil here.

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