Counter-Subversion

Emilio Henri
Anarchy No. 9

The author wishes to point out that the subjects discussed in this article are purely theoretical and have no relationship whatsoever to political intentions within the United Kingdom. There is no intention to incite anybody to commit, or to conspire to commit illegal acts, or legal acts by illegal means.

It is impossible to discuss urban guerrilla warfare without considering the attitudes, tchniques and abilities of those who seek to contain it.

Urban guerrilla warfare has little or nothing to do with traditional warfare in that, although wars are waged for political reasons, the act of waging war, the military action, is not normally carried through on a political level but on a technical level. Urban guerrilla actions, on the other hand, are intensely political. A guerrilla force operates within a community with the support, active or not, of that community. Any force that attempts to do otherwise is doomed to failure. Every action has to be planned with the considerations of the community in mind, every action is propaganda.

The containment of subversion has a long and interesting history based on the continuing inability of the agents of the status quo to understand the motivation and techniques of the guerrilla. The stock military solution to armed military subversion of the state has been massive repression which results in the subversive elements receiving even greater community support than they previously enjoyed.

Unfortunately for those who employ the techniques of guerrilla warfare, a considerable amount off effort is now being applied in the field of military theory so as to arrive at effective methods of counter-subversion. The latest development has been the focus of attention on the writings of, and the actions directed by, Brigadier Frank Kitson of the British Army. In 1971 he produced a book called ‘Low Intensity Operations’ which is a statement of his theories of containment. His basis is that armed political subversion of the state in the form of guerrilla warfare is the greatest threat to the security of the state in the future. This is more important than it may seem as in the past neither politicians nor soldiers were aware of this simple fact. He goes on to suggest that the development of an army (in this case, the British Army) should be toeards internal security duties, political policing. Certainly within the British Army Kitson’s ideas are very radical as the tradition of this army has been one of non-involvement in politics, a non-awareness of the reasons for its own existence and actions. The respons to Kitson’s book amongst the Left in Britain has been, characteristically, one of premature paranoia. The most constructive comment that Seven Days could manage was that they ‘hoped the bastard rots.’

The school of military thinking that Kitson represents believes that it has practicable methods of dealing with urban guerrillas. These methods have been developed from experience in dealing with rural guerrillas in Kenya (the Mau-Mau) and Malaya (Malay-Chinese communists). In both these situations the motivation of the guerrillas tended to be vague nationalism and this was the main reason for their destruction. The basic individual motivation of the guerrilla is of vital importance. If, as Carlos Marighella, the Brazilian guerrilla leader, said, political analysis comes before military technique, the strength of the guerrilla unit is greatly enhanced. The individual is active because of intense political commitment and not through loyalty to a leadership. Kitson and his exponents cannot understand the resultant decentralism and impenetrability of the guerrilla organisation. The other difference between a rural and an urban situation is that in a rural situation the fire-power of the Army is fairly unlimited whereas in an urban situation it is very restricted owing to the number of non-guerrilla personnel in the area of an action, and the continuous presence of the media.

The new techniques can be simplified into three basic categories. These are:

1) Intelligence. This is really a psychological war against the individual. The urban guerrilla is part of the community and has a ‘cover’ within the community. Once the individual is identified, he/she is ‘on the run’ and the resultant sense of insecurity leads to mistakes and death or capture. Information gained from informants or prisoners is the basis, plus collated snippets from observation etc. This is very effective against a centralist organisation but virtually useless against an efficient cell structure where no one individual has enough information to be a danger to the whole organisation or even a significant part of it.

2) Kitson’s pet theory of ‘pseudo-gangs.’ This means soldiers or guerrillas who have been persuaded to change sides operating as counter-terrorist groups. These groups can have several functions. The can attempt to alienate the guerrillas from their support by taking fake actions designed to kill indiscriminately. It is believed that an example of this was the McGurk’s Bar bombing in Belfast, where several people were killed by an ‘IRA’ bomb that the British Army suggested went off accidentally. The local people (in the catholic New Lodge Road area) are now convinced that the bomb was planted by the British Army SAS. At the time, Brigadier Frank Kitson was commanding the 39th Brigade in action in Northern Ireland. Pseudo-gangs can also operate inconspicuously in areas where normal troops would immediately come under fire. They can be used for liquidation of known guerrillas without the formalities of arrest and the resultant legalities. They can also operate as intelligence sources through observation which it would be impractical for normal Army units to undertake.

3) Superiority. A conventional army is far better trained in the rudiments of battle. It has vastly superior equipment and weaponry. If an urban guerrilla unit can be drawn out into open conflict, it can easily be contained and then destroyed. The army must concern itself with drawing the guerrillas out. An example of this kind of action could possibly be found in the actions of the British Army paratroops in Londonderry before, during and after the now infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’ events. If this was a deliberate, pre-planned operation then a description of its development would start with the paras hiding in derilict buildings and on their barricades until the civil rights march approached and then as a number of children thew stones at the barricades, the paras were sent in on an ‘arrest’ operation. Of course the protesters ran away, so the soldiers, many firing from the hip, fired ‘aimed’ warning shots through the backs of some of the demonstrators; they also shot several ‘gunmen’ none of whom had guns. At this point enraged IRA men should have opened fire, not realising what they were soing because of the fury from seing their mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers etc. brutally gunned down. If they had they would have exposed themselves hopelessly and a large number of them would have been captured or shot. As it happened there were no armed guerrillas in the vicinity and the Army and the ex-brigadier who was brought in to impartially investigate the deaths of thirteen people denied that there had been any ‘planned’ operation at all.

Of these three techniques the only real threat to urban guerrilla groupings comes from the ‘pseudo-gangs’ concept. The ‘superiority’ method fails if the self-discipline of the guerrilla is good. Also if an operation of this type fails, the result is a number of deaths which are hard to explain away and an increased hatred for any of the agents of the state, which means additional support for the subversive elements. The pseudo-gang fails when it is exposed through counter-intelligence by the guerrillas, their supporters or sympathetic sections of the media. This is precisely what happened when a number of policemen and militiamen in civilian clothes opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Mexico City early last year. Some of them were identified by the reporters present and their action, which was intended to confuse the ordinary people and turn them against the left-wing students, failed.

There have been more successful examples of this technique in other Latin American countries, particularly Guatemala.

It can be seen, then, that successful urban guerrilla struggles depend on the politically aware and committed individual, organising in small decentralised cells with good intelligence and propaganda control and a firm, disciplined base within the urban community. Such a force is uncontainable by any opposition. Kitson’s theories consist of two broad tactical concepts. That the urban guerrilla should be fought on guerrilla terms by the use of propaganda and the confusion of counter terrorism or that the urban guerrilla should be forced into entering into conventional military engagements. The former is logically impossible because the basis of good guerrilla action is to never engage the enemy on equal terms, to always have the advantage, maintained by strong discipline and superior intelligence. The latter relies for its success on bad organisation and poor discipline, a state of affairs that should not arise within a committed struggle.

– Emilio Henri

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