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Thread: HVTs/Political Assassination

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    Default HVTs/Political Assassination

    An interesting piece can be found here on Israel's failed 1997 assassination attempt in Jordan against Hamas leader Khalid Mishal.

    On September 25, 1997, the Mossad espionage agency suffered one of the worst debacles in its history, when it bungled an attempt to assassinate Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal. The incident also jeopardized decades of secret cooperation with Jordan.
    Quite apart from the failures in planning and execution, it highlights issues of inter-service (in this case, Mossad vs Shin Beth) boundaries, political pressures, and especially the failure to anticipate the possible political consequences of an operation (especially a failed one).

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Thanks, Rex. Good read and very reminiscent of similar hijinks in the hit teams after Munich.

    best

    Tom

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    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    Default Why under 'Intelligence'?

    [rant]
    An assassination (or "selected target engagement" or "surgical strike" or "command and control node target" or whatever euphamism is prefered) is an operation. It is (should be) conducted in support of strategic and operational objectives. It is not the collection, management of collection, or analysis of information. Why does it end up under the Intel rubic in so many instances? The best possible operator for this sort of direct action might be a passible but specialized intel collector, but at the end of the day that is not his or her primary task.

    By putting the intel name on sexy operations like this, good collectors, collection managers, and analysts get some very confused notions about what should fall under their perview. Yes, intel and ops need to work next to each other on this sort of thing, but operators and policy maker should be driving this bus.
    [/rant]

    This is an outstanding study of how not to do it, a real rush job from the word go. To conduct such a volatile type of operation without doing a serious branch and sequel analysis and good coordination is gross negligence.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    [rant]
    An assassination (or "selected target engagement" or "surgical strike" or "command and control node target" or whatever euphamism is prefered) is an operation. It is (should be) conducted in support of strategic and operational objectives. It is not the collection, management of collection, or analysis of information. Why does it end up under the Intel rubic in so many instances? The best possible operator for this sort of direct action might be a passible but specialized intel collector, but at the end of the day that is not his or her primary task.
    [/rant]
    Van, I absolutely agree--when I posted it I was torn between the "trigger-puller" and "Middle East" forums, but in the end there's enough inter-(intel) service boundary problems, poor local information, and lack of assessment on longer-term consequences in this story that it seemed to go as well here as anywhere else.

    On top of that, I've grown dependant on Ted to move my posts when they're not in the best category

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    Every time I see a pundit talking about the advisability of "taking out" someone, I cringe.

    Some years ago, my father, an ex intelligence officer, military historian, and no stranger to the murky world of peacetime intelligence, researched and studied the 15 or so assassination attempts on Hitler, including traveling to Germany to interview surviving members of one plot.

    The operations ranged from "Lone Wolf" single person amateur operations to highly planned multi person military operations. His conclusion was that Hitlers survival demonstrated the very high degree of difficulty of conducting a successful operation against anyone who takes even the most rudimentary physical and information precautions - and has a little luck.

    When asked, during a seminar on the subject if he was aware if anyone had conducted a successful operation against a major target he simply said "Not Yet".

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    Quote Originally Posted by walrus View Post
    When asked, during a seminar on the subject if he was aware if anyone had conducted a successful operation against a major target he simply said "Not Yet".
    The Israelis have had significant success in assassinating significant Palestinian political-military figures. However, this is often bedeviled by the law of unintended consequences, as the Jerusalem Post piece that I started the thread off with suggests.

    A case in point: While the assassination of Fateh #2 (and Western Sector commander, effectively PLO Defence Minister) Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunis in 1988 was regarded at the time as a major operational success, I'm sure they now wish he had been alive 1994-present, given his relatively dovish political views and his probable contribution to a more professional and effective Palestinian Authority security service. Abu Jihad's assassination also did nothing to stop the intifada then underway (although there were some other retaliatory and deterrent goals on the Israeli side that may have been better attained).

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    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    law of unintended consequences
    Yes, a.k.a. Chaos theory, Complexity theory, Fog of War, or Friction... But what real makes me cringe (and reach for the soapbox to stand on) is that most of these consquences are fairly forseable. Example: The (thankfully failed) C.I.A. efforts to kill Fidel Castro in the '60s - did they really want Raul Castro (as he was then, he seems to have mellowed a bit) running the show in Cuba? Did they assess the implications of a compromised operation? I'm pretty sure the answer is 'no' to both, but there is a serious issue with the degree of thought applied to the problem.

    O.K. I'll move away from the soapbox.

    On a more pragmatic note; the assassination of Yamamoto represents a near ideal case. A clean hit with strategicly trivial direct collateral damage, and little if any long term negative impact to U.S. interests... Unless you count the belief that we can repeat this miracle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by walrus View Post
    When asked, during a seminar on the subject if he was aware if anyone had conducted a successful operation against a major target he simply said "Not Yet".
    JFK? Lincoln? Trotsky? Sadat? Rabin?

    Quote Originally Posted by New York Times
    Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours.
    The entire article: If siding with us is a major success then they must be major targets for those who oppose us
    Last edited by Rank amateur; 09-27-2007 at 02:04 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen
    .....when I posted it I was torn between the "trigger-puller" and "Middle East" forums, but in the end there's enough inter-(intel) service boundary problems, poor local information, and lack of assessment on longer-term consequences in this story that it seemed to go as well here as anywhere else.....
    I agree with Van that this thread certainly doesn't belong in the "Intelligence" forum, but Political Assassination really doesn't fit the tactical intent of the "Trigger-Puller" forum either.....and the scope of the subject matter - and potentially the discussion - goes well beyond the "Middle East". So, here we are in the "Global Issues and Threats" forum - not the perfect fit, perhaps, but more appropriate than any of the others, I think. Any member can feel free to state otherwise, if you really feel it should go elsewhere.

    Rex, at this point I'll just stay along the lines of our original post and link a couple of articles for consideration. First is this Sep 02 paper in support of Israeli targeted killings from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies:

    Fatal Choices: Israel's Policy of Targeted Killing
    Israel has openly pursued a policy of targeted killing since the inception of the second intifada in September 2000. The Israelis have identified, located and then killed alleged Palestinian terrorists with helicopter gunships, fighter aircraft, tanks, car bombs, booby traps and bullets. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed, prompting international condemnation, domestic soul searching and bloody retaliation. Given its controversial nature and obvious costs, it is worth considering whether this policy is worth pursuing. Why has Israel embarked on a policy of targeted killings? Has the policy been effective in reducing Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians? Are targeted killings permitted by Israeli and international law? Is it moral? Most important, is the policy of targeted killing in the Israeli national interest?

    The answers to these questions are of critical importance. For Israel, it is necessary to know whether its policy of targeted killings is pragmatically and ethically justified. If it is, it makes sense for Israel to continue or even expand upon this approach. If there are serious shortcomings, they need to be highlighted so that the policy can be modified or discarded. For countries other than Israel, and especially the United States, assessing the worth of targeted killings is hardly less significant. Ever since September 11th, much of the world, with the United States in the lead, has sought ways to counter terrorism. If the Israelis have embarked upon a successful approach, it makes sense to emulate them. If Israeli policy is fundamentally flawed, however, better to understand that now, especially when voices demanding that terrorists be hunted down and killed have grown so loud. Either way, learning from the Israeli experience is central to those seeking to combat the threat from terrorism.
    ...and here's an interesting Jan 05 perspective from the Bank of Israel Research Department:

    Targeted Killings: Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Counterterrorism Policy
    Targeted killing (henceforth assassination) of members of Palestinian terrorist organizations was a major element in Israel’s counterterrorism effort during the Palestinian uprising which started in 2000. We evaluate the effectiveness of this policy indirectly by examining Israeli stock market reactions to assassinations. Our approach relies on the assumption that the market should react positively to news of effective counterterrorism measures but negatively to news of counterproductive ones. The main result of the analysis is that the market reacts strongly to assassinations of senior members in Palestinian terrorist organizations: it declines following attempts to assassinate political leaders but rises following attempts to assassinate military ones.....
    Finally a paper from a US point of view:

    Targeted Killing as an Element of U.S. Foreign Policy in the War on Terror
    This monograph examines the prohibition on assassination embodied within Executive Order 12333 and its effect on a U.S. policy of targeted killing of transnational terrorist leadership. Next this monograph will examine the numerous interpretations of applicable international law regarding terrorism and the states response. This examination will contrast the law enforcement model proposed by adherents of international humanitarian law, with international humanitarian law and the law of war model advocated by those who see the current “war on terror’ as an armed conflict between states and trans-national terrorists.

    Given the level of secrecy and lack of transparency involved in this policy and its implementation, how can we judge the moral and legal implications of the Bush administration’s policy of ‘targeted killing’ of al-Qaeda members or other suspected terrorists. Is this policy of ‘targeted killing’ morally justifiable and legal under both US domestic and international law? Can the United States maintain international legitimacy while implementing a policy of targeted killing of suspected trans-national terrorists? This monograph examines Executive Order 12333, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law to determine the legality of a policy of targeted killing.

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    "Targeted Killing as an Element of U.S. Foreign Policy in the War on Terror

    Quote:
    This monograph examines the prohibition on assassination embodied within Executive Order 12333 and its effect on a U.S. policy of targeted killing of transnational terrorist leadership. Next this monograph will examine the numerous interpretations of applicable international law regarding terrorism and the states response. This examination will contrast the law enforcement model proposed by adherents of international humanitarian law, with international humanitarian law and the law of war model advocated by those who see the current “war on terror’ as an armed conflict between states and trans-national terrorists.

    Given the level of secrecy and lack of transparency involved in this policy and its implementation, how can we judge the moral and legal implications of the Bush administration’s policy of ‘targeted killing’ of al-Qaeda members or other suspected terrorists. Is this policy of ‘targeted killing’ morally justifiable and legal under both US domestic and international law? Can the United States maintain international legitimacy while implementing a policy of targeted killing of suspected trans-national terrorists? This monograph examines Executive Order 12333, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law to determine the legality of a policy of targeted killing."

    I always cringe a bit when international humanitarian law is invoked since it can stand in opposition to the US Constitution, IMO and it has strong underpinnings of Socialism. Some might say Socialism defines it.

    I would suggest that the US can't maintain international legitimacy without whacking trans-national terrorists who fight as civlians, respect no established law but their own, heed no borders and have never heard of the Geneva conventions, a true scourge and blight they are. I first became aware of international legitimacy when I saw a clip of Nixon's car being stoned and pelted down in S. America so many years ago. This tripe floats to the surface with each succeeding Administration though today it has strong allies with the fashion and food police.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    This is an outstanding study of how not to do it, a real rush job from the word go. To conduct such a volatile type of operation without doing a serious branch and sequel analysis and good coordination is gross negligence.
    As I alluded to, this same thing only worse happened as the Munich reprisal operations unfolded. The teams had their problems as the film "Munich" accurately captures. Where things reall went astray was in Norway (I recall) as the "B" team who were supporting the operations from the rear succesively lobbied for an operational role. They scouted a target and took the suspect out; unfortunately they had the wrong man. Instead of a Palestinian involved in the Muncih planning, they killed a waiter from North Africa and got caught doing it.

    The problem with this tactic is the law of unintended consequences--also alluded to by others on here. Sometimes the "hardliner" you kill becomes a martyr or worse becomes a moderate compared to those who follow. In the case of Israel, that law has played large.

    Tom

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    JFQ, 1st Qtr 08: The Role of Targeted Killing in the Campaign Against Terror
    Targeted killing is “the intentional slaying of a specific individual or group of individuals undertaken with explicit government approval”. In recent years, targeted killing as a tactic in the ongoing campaign against terrorism has generated considerable controversy. Some commentators view it as an indispensable tool and argue for its expanded use, while others question its legality and claim that it is immoral and ultimately ineffective. The tactic of targeted killing is most closely associated with Israel’s campaign against the Second Palestinian Intifada. Since September 11, 2001, however, the United States has consistently conducted targeted killing operations against terrorist personnel.

    This article examines the legality, morality, and potential efficacy of a U.S. policy of targeted killing in its campaign against transnational terror. The conclusion is that, in spite of the genuine controversy surrounding this subject, a carefully circumscribed policy of targeted killing can be a legal, moral, and effective tool in a counterterror campaign. Procedures to guide the proper implementation of a U.S. policy of targeted killing are proposed.....

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    Keep this stuff coming, guys! As I may have mentioned, I think I'm going to do a paper on "high value targeting" for the RAND Insurgency Board.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Keep this stuff coming, guys! As I may have mentioned, I think I'm going to do a paper on "high value targeting" for the RAND Insurgency Board.

    Steve, I just happen to be available for consultation on this subject. My fee is some of your famous B-B-Q
    I highly recomend "Killing Pablo" by Mark Bowden of Blackhawk Down fame. I was really surprised at the stuff that made it into the book very detailed. The first target was not Pablo but his "Lawyers"

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    Default Assassination of Enemy Leadership

    One rationale for avoiding assassination or targeting of enemy leadership for military strikes is that it can leave the "other side" with no one who is able to "turn the machine off" in the advent of surrender. This makes perfect sense in a conventional war of limited aims; in a total war or against non-state actors it may or may not be an appropriate. It depends on whom you are dealing with and the larger strategic picture.

    In WWII Japan had approximately 2 million men in its armies in China and Southeast Asia with a ferocious track record, even in engagements where the Imperial Army had taken a severe beating ( against the Soviets at Khalkin-Gol/Nomonhan and Chiang's all-out defense of Wuhan). It was feared by Allied leaders that these sizable forces would simply go down fighting even if the home islands fell. Therefore, Stimson and Marshall wisely kept the Emperor's palace off the target list for conventional bombing, starting with the Doolittle Raid, and Tokyo off the target list for the atomic bomb.

    In Europe, Allied intelligence was aware of the plot to assassinate Hitler by Stauffenberg's conspirators, thanks to Allen Dulles contacts with Gisevius and the Abwehr in Switzerland, but nothing was done to encourage the plotters beyond accepting their information. In contrast, British intelligence took out the dreaded SS intelligence chief, Reinhard Heydrich, via assassination not because of his crimes or intel role but because of his very effective ( in a political sense) occupational governorship in Bohemia and Moravia.

    In postwar eras, the U.S. and/or the CIA has been accused of complicity in the assassinations or deaths of Nkrumah, Ngo Dinh Diem and Salvador Allende. In each case, there were local actors with their own agendas involved in the overthrow who were beyond U.S. operational control ( and whose necks were in the noose if the coup failed). Where American control of such covert operations was direct, as against Arbenz in Guatemala and Mossadegh in Iran, no assassination actually took place. Operation Mongoose, about which much has been written, was a spectacular failure as Castro's continued existence in elderly dotage attests

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Keep this stuff coming, guys! As I may have mentioned, I think I'm going to do a paper on "high value targeting" for the RAND Insurgency Board.
    Steve's presentation at the USAWC National Security Seminar:

    Strategic Decapitation and Counterinsurgency
    High Value Targeting

    High value targeting (HVT) holds appeal to the American public and political leaders.
    • Experts often contend that it doesn’t work

    • Truth is somewhere in between

    • Need a framework focused on strategic effects

    • Not operational and tactical requirements, legality, or morality

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I think a more important quote is:

    "HVT more effective against early stage insurgents or those with limited regenerative capability.

    - - Governments unlikely to use HVT when it would be most effective."
    Simply because it highlights a problem that has essentially put us where we are today -- governmental dithering and failure to robustly respond to threats emboldens the attackers or others to increasingly dangerous action until massive effort is required. This invariably with more human, fiscal and political costs than would have been incurred had early, prompt and adequate action been taken.

    Steve is correct -- and five prior Presidents should have known better.

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    JSOU, Sep 09: Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare
    ....Manhunting—the deliberate concentration of national power to find, influence, capture, or when necessary kill an individual to disrupt a human network—has emerged as a key component of operations to counter irregular warfare adversaries in lieu of traditional state-on-state conflict measures. It has arguably become a primary area of emphasis in countering terrorist and insurgent opponents.

    Despite our increasing employment of manhunting, our national security establishment has not developed appropriate doctrine, dealt with challenging legal issues, nor have we organized forces and assigned clear responsibility to deploy and employ these capabilities. Were we to do so, manhunting could become an important element of our future national security policy, as highly trained teams disrupt or disintegrate human networks. Formally adopting manhunting capabilities would allow the United States to interdict threats without resorting to the expense and turbulence associated with deployment of major military formations. Manhunting capabilities could play a central role in the implementation of U.S. national security strategy in the 21st century....

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Building a Manhunting Force for the Future
    The United States has not yet established doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, or facilities needed to field a manhunting capability as a means to achieve its national security ends. Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, significant elements of our national security establishment remain polarized toward conventional, force-on-force warfare in order to combat massed mechanized military formations in a linear battle. But our adversaries have adapted, employing asymmetric capabilities to circumvent conventional capability.
    Once again an author takes an element of the fight, builds on it, hypes it and voila! a "new concept". I don't see much here beyond that. He has no grasp of what he refers to dismissively as conventional in the interest of hyping what he considers special.

    Tom

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