The Safari Club

Safari Club
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David; via Middleeastmonitor

The Safari Club would have likely never existed had it not been for the ideas of Karl Marx.

“Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing socials conditions…”, he writes.

Marx’s magnum opus, the “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei“, the source of the quote, is a thread in the revolutionary fabric woven with his philosophies. Packaged in its words is a rhetorical battle-cry; a call-to-arms directed by Marx to the workers of the world.

Those philosophies have resulted in violent political uprisings spanning multiple continents, and claiming millions of lives in their wake.   

And although his manifesto hit circulation in 1848, its opening words remain relevant.

A spectre is haunting Europe”, Marx writes, “the spectre of communism”.

This so-called spectre was still translucent in its written form, but as decades passed, Marx’s infectious ideas morphed into transparency. Transparency then reordered into the form of revolution. 

In 1917, Russia became the first nation to adopt communism as its political ideology. Between 1917 and 1979, Marxist revolutions would reach the Baltic region of Europe, China, and Cuba, and Africa. This spread was not without opposition, and large-scale conflicts between communist regimes and their belligerents erupted in the Korean Peninsula (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1955-1975).

Safari Club
Karl Marx (wikicommons)

Watergate and the Spirit of the Age

In a global sense, the United States has historically been near the apex of the vanguard fighting communism.

US actions in the Vietnam War are evidence of this, although its intervention inspired a national protest from a disenfranchised public.

Within American culture, Vietnam anti-war demonstrations are synonymous with the historic countercultural movement, both being crucial elements of the 1970s zeitgeist.

The military campaign in Vietnam was far from the only conflict within the American sphere during this period, and certainly not the sole causation of protest and unrest among the public.

A domestic political war was being waged in parallel.

The battle: President Richard Nixon vs. the checks and balances system granted by the US Constitution.

The battleground: Watergate. 

The revelations of the Watergate scandal unearthed a conspiracy at a presidential level.

On the 8th of August 1974, President Nixon resigned from the office, as he faced an inevitable impeachment trial for his corrupt actions. Nixon’s Vice President, Gerald Ford, swore into the presidency the following day.

Ford completed the final two years of Nixon’s elected term, but his re-election campaign fell short. The partisan pendulum had shifted to the other side of the political spectrum, and Jimmy Carter, a democrat, won the 1976 primary race.

A New Approach

Soon after inheriting the oval office, President Carter invoked hardline reforms on the intelligence community. The Watergate scandal and other controversies darkened the reputation of the intelligence community, including spying on citizens and controversial international assassination plots.

Carter appointed Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1977. Director Turner swiftly invoked serious reforms, and on the 31st of October 1977, he announced the deconstruction of over 800 positions in the clandestine operations wing.

In the time following, hundreds of other intelligence workers left the community because of involuntary retirement and job termination.

Turner synchronously mandated the CIA to resign the use of human intelligence gathering methods (HUMINT) and switch to primarily signals and communications gathering (SIGINT & COMINT).

Presidential driven reforms during Turner’s tenure as director changed the methods intelligence operations traditionally used. Gone were the days of covert operations and limited accountability, in were the days of increased bureaucracy, accountability, and “by the book” standard operating procedures.

The CIA became alike Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe’s work The Cask of Amontillado.

It was entombed.

Safari Club
Stansfield Turner being sworn in by President Jimmy Carter, 1977 (wikicommons)

The Safari Club was a multi-lateral Cold War Era clandestine group with the mission of fighting the global spread of communism.

Not Your Average Safari or Club

“the club sat on ninety-one acres of magnificent landscape, with Mount Kenya as a backdrop. There were mountain streams, rose gardens, waterfalls flowing into quiet pools… Peacocks, storks, ibexes, and exotic birds strolled about…”

Ronald Kessler, “The Richest Man in the World”

Exotic animals were not the only rare entity to grace the Mount Kenya Safari Club’s breathtaking backdrop.

In 1976, a clandestine meeting of international intelligence professionals would convene there with a serious agenda.

That meeting drafted the architectural design of a covert task force whose mission was to fight the Eastern Bloc’s advancement in Africa and Asia.

The rapid spread of the communism was unprecedented. That spread, coupled with the state of the Turner era intelligence community, set the conditions that led to the creation of a new multi-lateral covert group: The Safari Club.

Count Alexandre de Marenches is a revered patriot of France, and the former director of the SDECE: the French external intelligence services. In 1976, Marenches dedicated substantial time to building relationships in the Middle East and acknowledging the threat Communism posed to the free world.

Marenches was a long-time friend to the US and had taken part in joint intelligence and military operations dating back to World War II. Through his connections, he also knew of the current state of the CIA, and was quite familiar with the threat Eastern Bloc powers presented to South Asia and Africa. To navigate through strict governmental oversight, Marenches contacted an array of trusted intelligence heads who were friends of France and the US.

The request – to help in countering the communist threat without direct US support – was an early building block in the club’s construction.

The group rendezvoused at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, where they gained their infamous moniker. Five members attended this meeting:

  • Count Alexandre de Marenches, French SDECE
  • Ahmed Dlimi, Director of Moroccan Intelligence
  • Kamal Hassan Ali, Director of the Mukhabarat (Egyptian Intelligence)
  • General Nematollah Nassiri, SAVAK (Iranian Intelligence)   
  • Kamal Adham, Director of Saudi Intelligence
Safari Club
Mt. Kenya Safari Club (wikicommons)

The Scope Is Set

Morocco, Iran and Egypt contributed to the effort with troops and arms. France supplied the security and communications equipment. Saudi Arabia was the primary funder, using their prolific revenue from the oil trade to the club’s advantage.

By authorization of President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, Cairo became the Safari Club’s de facto command operations center, which included a physical space with its own support, planning, and operations sections.

With all the requirements for conducting covert missions in place, the Safari Club was finally on their way to carrying out the operations that would define their legacy.

On the 1st of September 1976, the official Safari Club charter reached legislation. It was time to embark on a safari into metaphorical land – or scorched earth hellscape – of communism, and to confront the violent militant movements that follow its ideology in unison.

Director Turner may have thought he impeded the CIA’s involvement in shadowy affairs, but the Safari Club had the strength derived from a shared goal. A goal of that magnitude has its way of being achieved. The club understood the reality of the mission, how it transcended the confines of bureaucracy, and that required a multi-lateral partnership.

For America, rebellion against Turner was a requirement.

Crooks, Criminals, and International Banks

In Hollywood cinema, hyper-dramatized portrayals of covert operations are doctrine.

Dead drops, wire taps, shell companies laundering money through corrupt banks to avoid state mandated restrictions – all elements of a good plot.

If the creation of the Safari Club was not mythical enough, they took directly the primary way they financed it out of a Hollywood producers’ playbook.

Prior to President Carter’s appointment of Director Turner, future President George H. W. Bush was at the CIA’s helm. Although Bush’s tenure was during the final year of the Ford administration, he used his role to help bolster the agency and its global operational capabilities.

Sheikh Kamal Adham from the Saudi Arabian Kingdom was a founding member of the Safari Club, and a close associate of Director Bush. Adham and Bush had alternative agendas in the realm of intelligence, yet determined that the establishment of a clandestine bank network would be beneficial for both states, despite conflicting motives.

On his end, Bush cleverly circumnavigated the Washington D.C. bureaucracy in partnership with Adham. He prayed for a clandestine guardian angel, and thus came arabella.

Beyond Blood Money

Its name was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI): a front for the agency’s most covert operations, and Bush’s shield from governmental oversight.

BCCI was once a small merchant bank of Pakistani origin. Under Adham’s watch, the bank expanded and began purchasing and absorbing small international banks, forming a rapidly growing network.

Funding covert operations was not the BCCI’s only practice, and a later investigation would end up exposing its internal structure. Its true nature sounded more like a mafia operation.

For instance, some of the more infamous clientele of the bank were Saddam Hussein and the Medellin Cartel. In 1991, Time Magazine published an expose on the BCCI, and claimed it contained a paramilitary wing that conducted assassinations.

Despite the highly questionable ethical, BCCI was the perfect front for the Safari Club’s work.

Safari Club
Bank of Credit and Commerce International building in Karachi, Pakistan (wikicommons)

The Safari Club Enters Zaire

The first account of the Safari Club’s activities took place in the African state of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Somewhere between 1977 and 1978, East Germany and Cuba contributed to the breakdown of stability within Zaire, in the political and social spheres. When the opportunity arose, they exploited Zaire’s vulnerabilities for strategic gain. Societal breakdown led to Zaire being the target of an invasion from across the border of Angola. The Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC) was the invading force.

The FNLC’s primary objective was to remove the Zairian president, Mobutu Sese Seko, from office.

Enemy of My Enemy

Although lack of concise evidence makes it difficult to clarify, Seko’s public rhetoric claimed that Cuba allegedly trained the FNLC in Angola, both militarily and ideologically. This exposed a deeper motive for the invasion, one that alluded to a higher involvement, rather than a tribal conflict. Despite having a “peaks and valleys” sort of relationship with the US, Seko shared their anti-communist stance. He understood the necessity of having a powerful ally on his side. Especially one that understood the potential ramifications if Zaire fell into the hands of the Eastern Bloc.

The Shaba Province of Zaire was a location of French and Belgium mining operations. Its natural resources were bountiful, and ripe for exploitation by historic colonizers of the continent.

In 1977, the FNLC made their way through the country and ended up in Shaba, where they faced resistance from Seko’s men. French and Belgium mining operations were under threat, and the Safari Club had the resources to help.

The club finally had a mission and began exporting their resources to Zaire. France spearheaded the transportation effort using their air assets, with Morocco and Egypt supplying muscle on the ground.

The Safari Club’s intervention ultimately led to a turning of the tide in Shaba and became the first victory, showcasing the versatile nature of their multilateral operations.

Safari Club
FNLA forces training Zaire; via KonflictCam


European colonialization devastated Africa. 

Although formal colonialization is relatively over, the fractures and land disputes caused by it remain as a residual and traumatic reminder of the past.

France, Italy and Britain were three of the nations who had colonies in Africa going back to the mid-19th century. Their empires claimed large parts of the continent and its natural resources (also known as the Partition of Africa). 

Not long after World War II, European powers transferred land back to the control of the African people.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 were the impetus of that transfer and constructed an agenda to assist the process. Docket items included finding solutions to border disputes and awarding financial reparations to nations affected by the war. Ethiopia and Somalia were two of the affected countries. Both nations were survivors of European colonialization, and subjects of the peace treaties.

Reorganizing the boundaries of Ethiopia and Somalia was far from simple. The authors of the treaties drew lines in the Horn of Africa between the Italians (Italian Somaliland), the British (British Somaliland), and Ethiopia.

The proposed border solutions became highly contested. Ethiopia gained the Ogaden region from the British during the re-partition. This decision led to a territorial dispute. Tensions rose and morphed into a military campaign between Somalia and Ethiopia.

Beyond the Borders

Historically, the Soviet Union and Cuba supported both Somalia and Ethiopia with advisory training and other forms of aid. With much deception, the promise of Soviet and Cuban support was a smaller fragment of a bigger goal: the spread of Marxism and projection of power.

The Soviet Union and Cuba viewed Somalia and Ethiopia as a potentially unified socialist state. As tensions between the two African nations escalated, Cuban President Fidel Castro organized a summit in Yemen. Castro wanted to find a solution to the conflict, with reconciliation and peace as the end-state. 

Not long after the summits conclusion, Somali forces, under the order of President Siad Barre, invaded Ethiopia, with reclaiming the Ogaden as the primary objective, which sparked the Ethio-Somali War (1977-1978).

Cuba and the Soviet Union took Ethiopia’s side, abandoning the prior support for Somalia. Gone were Castro’s hopes for a diplomatic resolve; in was an Ethiopian state bolstered by two established communist powers.

The Safari Club intervened to support President Siad Barre and Somalia. Early help came as arms dealings. Egypt had a hefty surplus of old soviet weapons to sell and Saudi Arabia used their limitless surplus of Petro-dollars for financial support. Iran, under a directive of the Shah, assisted through the export of anti-tank and mortar systems.

The Club refrained from deploying Moroccan or Egyptian militants, as they did in Shaba, in contrast to the opposition.

Thousands of Cuban and Soviet soldiers and an abundance of military hardware supported Ethiopia, and despite the Club’s attempt at helping Somalia, money and military hardware alone wasn’t enough.

In March 1978, Somalia conceded, bringing an end to the conflict, and a loss to the Club. 

Safari Club
Siad Barre meeting with Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia (wikicommons)

Diplomacy on Safari

Fighting communism may have been the Safari Club’s primary goal, but they wielded influence in other arenas, including a knack for diplomacy and mediation between countries at odds.

Egypt and Israel have a history of tension going back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, the United Nations attempted to partition Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews. Israel, as a nation, was born from that divide, as did a military response from the Arab world, who passionately disapproved of it.

The Israeli state faced the Arab League, a coalition of Middle Eastern countries formed in 1945, as well as foreign fighters sympathetic to their desire for the partitioned land. The war lasted for almost ten years until the belligerents signed an armistice agreement in 1949. This began a long period of military and diplomatic tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Those tensions continue to this day.

A Hidden Correspondence

Within the ranks of the Safari Club, Morocco had established intelligence back-channels with Israel going back to the 1950s. King Hassan II of Morocco had a historically favorable opinion towards the idea of peace between the Arab world and Israel, and supported grafting the latter into the Arab League.

By the 1970s, murmurs of a peace agreement swirled in Middle Eastern diplomatic circles. Israel was transparent of their desire to strike a peace deal with Egypt, who were both a club member and belligerent to Israel during the 1948 war.

In 1977, using the Moroccan Safari Club representative as a proxy, Israel informed Egypt of a Libyan grown assassination plot. This came as an act of charity and symbol of intent for peace between the nations.

Israel’s act of benevolence had a warm reception from Egypt and was arguably the pivoting moment in the diplomatic relations between the nations. King Hassan began hosting talks between Israeli and Egyptian intelligence leaders, which led to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visiting Jerusalem in 1977, and the eventual Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. 

Safari Club
King Hassan II and President Jimmy Carter (wikicommons)

An Unexpected Revolution

The beginning of the Safari Club’s end involved revolution, although not of communist origin. 

In the 1970s, the Iranian public had enough. Progressive policies invoked throughout the Shah’s reign created disdain among the Islamic clergy, and the human rights abuses of the SAVAK (Iranian intelligence agency) revealed a vast power disparity between the people of Iran and their government. Safari Club member Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his SAVAK intelligence force became targets and rebranded as the enemy of the people.

In the mid to late 1970s, anti-government protests circulated across the Iranian capital of Tehran. These protests – which were overwhelmingly peaceful – drew millions of citizens. The rhetoric of the protests expressed the public’s desire for the Shah to step down. Ayatollah Khomeini, an exiled Shia cleric who strongly opposed the Shah, was the intended replacement. 

On the 16th of February 1979, the Shah and his wife left the country, never to return. Less than a month later, Ayatollah Khomeini came out of exile and returned to Iran, intending to dismantle the government, rebuild it to align with fundamentalist Islamic values.

With the Shah in exile and the SAVAK dissolved, the Club lost one of its strongest members.

Safari Club
Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Iran from exile (wikicommons)

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

The Iranian Revolution was a pivotal shift in the Safari Club. Despite the string of setbacks, remaining members continued their work.

Alexandre de Marenches shifted his focus to the Soviet’s interest in Afghanistan in what would arguably be one of the club’s last interventions.

Afghanistan is a vast land full of natural resources. Although it is geographically land-locked, the Soviet Union saw it as a strategic point in their effort to establish a warm water port. A successful conquest of Afghanistan could give the Russia a launching pad for an eventual push to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan or India.

An ideological shift in Afghanistan was needed to prepare.

In 1978, the Soviet Union influenced a communist revolution in Afghanistan, installing their own proxy into power. 
Marenches knew that this was a serious threat, which was confirmed by other international intelligence agencies.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. This was the beginning of a nine-year war that would not end well for the Russian bear.

In 1989, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Their puppet government dissolved, setting conditions for the eventual rule of the Taliban.

Another corpse in the so-called “graveyard of empires”.

The Safari Club had a limited role in the war effort against the Soviets. Facilitating the funneling of money and arms to the Mujahideen was the extent of their involvement. They achieved that primarily through the BCCI, along with the passing of intelligence between Safari Club members and their allies.

The Safari Must End

Following the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the Safari Club’s time reached its course.

1981 marked a watershed moment for US intelligence agencies following Ronald Reagan’s victory in the presidential race. Reagan appointed William J. Casey to replace Director Turner at the CIA post, which shifted the pendulum back to the pre-Turner days.

Director Casey carried out his own reforms in the intelligence community. Agencies were, once again, unchained. The Safari Club was no longer needed to carry out covert operations.

Through its time, the club played a vital role in the fight against Marxism throughout Africa and South Asia. As a whole, its actions directly contributed to the outcomes of various international conflicts, in both a positive and negative way.

The Safari Club did what they thought was right to preserve the integrity of nations they operated in, and in opposition to the monumental threat of communism.

 Revolutions may come and go, but the legacy of the Club is forever.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

Karl Marx

Big Safari: Private US Contractor Kill Chains in Operations

Big Safari

Since 2008, the Big Safari programme has spent $158 billion on private companies such as L3Harris Technologies, in a bid to streamline operational requirements for the USAF. In the 2019 US federal fiscal year alone, L3Harris was awarded $4 billion in federal government contracts. Two of the contractors killed in the January Manda Bay attack were also L3Harris contractors. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, T. Rowe Price Group, another large asset management firm, and Vanguard Group, with $6.2 trillion in assets managed, make up the three controlling shareholders of L3Harris.

Key Judgements

  • Founded in 1952, Big Safari is a specialised and secretive USAF acquisition programme, referred to as a ‘rapid procurement force’


  • Operationally, the secretive Big Safari facilitates private contractors and systems into the US chain of command


  • The January 5th, 2020 Manda Bay attack in Kenya by Al-Shabaab led to the death of three Americans, of which two were private military contractors


  • Manda bay is used as a key launchpad for USAF surveillance and airstrikes in neighbouring Somalia. Contractors are integral components in the intelligence ‘kill chain’ in the US AFRICOM mission

Skipping Bureaucracy

Critics of the programme cite the interconnection of military officials joining L3Harris, which skips the competitive betting process in military private contracts. In practice, the operational benefits of the programme provide the USAF with swift delivery of contractors in material and human assets for operations. For example, a 2018 Pentagon report relayed that the US military was relying on 5,500 contractors in Iraq and Syria. North Carolina firm IOMAX built 50 weaponised border patrol aircraft and dropped more than 4000 bombs on ISIS targets in the Middle East.

The Big Safari programme contracts extend into West Africa and have already been active with Yemen government contracts against Houthi rebels. While there are critics of the programme, the drawdown of US military presence globally will likely only see an increase in similar contracts. As seen with the Al-Shabaab terror attack on Manda Bay, there is much less public reaction for American contractor deaths compared to uniformed troops.

Kill Chain

In partnership with the US, Kenya now has access to the Big Safari programme, of which it is reported $15 million was spent to access the system. The Manda Bay base is an integral part of AFRICOM operations in East Africa, with the Camp Simba mission officially changing from ‘tactical’ to ‘enduring operations’. The Manda Bay contractor presence is utilised mainly for the intelligence gathering stage, through air reconnaissance and surveillance, leading to subsequent airstrikes on identified targets. This integrates private contractors into the US kill chain. US AFRICOM defends the use of contractors, citing they are legal under domestic and international law.

Between February and March 2020, OCCRP analysed flight tracking data, observing private Gulfstreams jet flight patterns. The flight pattern indicated that it was likely collecting intelligence with specialised sensors, supported by the subsequent airstrikes in the flight pattern. The integration of contractors into the US military kill chain, while cost and time effective, has raised ethical questions in light of the mounting civilian deaths following airstrikes in Somalia.

In the first seven months of 2020, there have been more US airstrikes in Somalia than the administration period of George W. Bush, and Barack Obama combined. While the airstrikes are making progress against Al-Shabaab, the civilian casualties go hand in hand with Al-Shabaab’s recruitment mission and ‘foreign invader’ narrative. To support US regional allies and strategic interests, the Big Safari programme has a high probability of extending contracts significantly to support growing logistical challenges against USAF operations abroad.

Image: Senior Airman Cory Payne / USAF


Mercy of the Wicked: The CIA’s Phoenix Program

The CIA instituted a bloody campaign of exporting torture techniques across the world and into the hands of cruel regimes, officially known as the Phoenix Program.

In Ash

As the curtains fell on World War II, the modern world, militaries and governments adapted to meet the needs and want of the new era of society. The horrors of the war still reigned on the collective consciousness of the world. Footage of the Nazi death camps, the firebombing of Dresden, and the brutal but triumphant Operation Overlord landing on December 6th, 1944 were all still fresh in the minds of the war-torn but hopeful, world. 

The Nazi regime that strangled the free world with promises of an everlasting empire, or “Third Reich” as the leader of the party and nation, Adolf Hitler, would adopt as its designation, led a campaign of systemic terror and brutality against the European continent. Using techniques adapted from the Herero genocide during the colonial period of Germany, the Nazis cruelly tortured and killed people throughout Europe with little discretion. The Nazi party is known for its cruel experiments on the mind and body within the walls of its many death camps spread across Eastern Europe. They were dabbling in eugenics, mind control, and even human genome advancement trying to create a perfect army for the Reich. 

Smoldering Embers

When the Reich fell in 1945, the United States realized the intellectual value of Nazi scientists, engineers, and doctors, among many other individuals. To make sure that in the post-war period the United States had the scales tipped in their favour, they unveiled “Operation Paperclip”, a project designed to recruit past Nazis into the government, giving them jobs and new identities as long as they provided their knowledge to the U.S military and government. The most well-known and in a sense, catch twenty-two with this program is Werner von Braun. Braun designed the Nazi’s most technologically advanced weapon, the V-2 rocket. Using his skills in rocket technology and propulsion, he became head of the National Air and Space Program and is highly credited with getting the United States space program to a point where it could land on the moon in 1969. Without this acquisition of intellect from the United States’ former enemies, it is not known where the space program would be.

Wait! Who Let the Nazi’s in?

However, while there were notable successes with the acquisition of Nazi scientists and members into the government, the grievances and cruelty they projected spread in the intelligence community like cancer.

The Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, is America’s leading foreign intelligence agency and was formed in 1947 in response to the growing tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. Stemming from Nazi techniques and ideology and the cruel practices in which they learned how a break a person mentally, the CIA formed a basis for psychological torture. Furthermore, it sponsored its propagation around the world, under the guise of relief and assistance programs. The most famous was the Phoenix Program by the CIA during the conflict in Vietnam.

The Phoenix Shrieks

The Phoenix Program was crafted by the CIA as an intelligence ladder and channel in Vietnam in 1967. It was a cumulation of all counter-insurgency operations in the country. Such as police, military intelligence, and other CIA operations in the region. Through this compression of counter-insurgency operations, the CIA was in a better position to receive and extract information from high-value targets. The key factor and edge of the Phoenix Program’s structure were that it was almost just as loose and flexible as its enemies. For example, CIA agents and plain-clothes officers would work very closely and collaborate despite the differences in training and stature. 

One arm of the Phoenix Program, the Office of Public Safety, or OPS, was a program to help train allied police forces around the world that was created in 1962. It quickly became a key tool in disseminating CIA torture techniques and stopping communism worldwide. The OPS would take trainees from Latin America, Vietnam, and other nations to a clandestine training centre in Washington D.C, where they were taught torture techniques by U.S officials. In the case of Vietnam, trainees were trained under “stringent wartime measures designed to assist in defeating the enemy.” In 1971, a South Vietnamese trainee wrote in his thesis 

“Despite the fact that brutal interrogation is strongly criticized by moralists, its importance must not be denied if we want to have order and security in daily life.” (McCoy, 62)  

The Ladder of Intelligence

The Phoenix Program had crafted a ladder of intelligence from rural Vietnam to the head intelligence office in Saigon. This was mainly due to Peter DeSilva, the CIA station chief in Saigon. DeSilva wanted to replicate the Vietcong’s brutal techniques back onto themselves and instituted an equally brutal system. Using local thugs under the guise of “Provincial Reconnaissance Units” or PRUs, systematic torture would begin to plague the Provincial Interrogation Centers in each province. (McCoy, 64) 

K. Barton Osbourn, a military intelligence official who worked with the Phoenix Program in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, described the insertion of a dowel into a captive’s ear until it was hammered into their brains until died, and the sexual and electric exploitation of men and women prior to their death. Osbourn testified that all these procedures were outlined to him and all other operatives, Vietnamese or American, in the Defense Collection Intelligence Manuel, which was issued to him during training.

CIA Phoenix Program
K. Barton Osborn and intel agent Michael Uhl (Source)

There are chilling accounts of direct CIA atrocities in South Vietnam, particularly in the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital in Saigon. It is reported that in 1966 Dr Lloyd H. Cutter and two other psychiatrists were sent with an electroshock machine provided by the Technical Services Division of the Office of Public Safety (OPS), to test whether certain depatterning exercises worked on the brain to alter human behaviour. Utilizing the Phoenix ladder, Viet Cong prisoners were brought to the hospital and given excessive shock treatments. For one week straight, they were subjugated to 60 shock treatments every day. Not a single captive survived, and without any results, the CIA doctors packed up and flew back to the United States. 

Then in 1968, based on a journalist’s account, a CIA team and one doctor flew to the hospital and implanted “tiny electrodes” in each captive’s brain, and at the change of a frequency could make the men defecate and vomit at will. The men were also given knives and the doctor tried to get them to enact violence upon one another. When this did not occur, Green Berets, following CIA orders, shot and killed the men, and then burned their bodies in the hospital courtyard. (McCoy, 65)

In 1970-1971, William Colby, chief of pacification in Vietnam, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the Phoenix Program had killed 6,187, or just over 12% of the 75,000 strong Viet Cong, in just 1969 alone. Several days later, Colby reaffirmed to the Senate Committee the Program had killed 20,587 Vietcong “suspects” since 1968. (Colby, 1971) The South Vietnamese government countered with the number 40,994 since 1968. (McCoy, 67) Colby’s recollection of the casualties up until 1971 is as follows, 

“I believe that the figures in mid-1971 that were testified to at the time were some 28,000 had been captured, some 20,000 had been killed, and some 17,000 had actually rallied by that time. Obviously, the program has been going on since then, and those figures are larger today.” (Colby, 1971)

 According to the same release as Colby’s testament, the Phoenix Program was fully integrated into the South Vietnamese police forces in 1972, and all U.S assistance to the Phoenix Program through the Department of Defense has subsequently ended. (Colby, 1971)

William Colby (Source)

Wings of Fire

While the U.S was fighting the Vietcong in Vietnam, U.S officials understood more must be done to combat the perceived threat of communism, and to do so counter-insurgency operations around the world would be bolstered and efforts would be increased. This resulted in the creation of the Latin American prototype of the Phoenix Program, Project X. While one can argue it is merely an extension of the Vietnamese Phoenix Program, it is rather a synthesis and revision of techniques and practices used in Vietnam. Project X began sometime in 1965-1966 and existed, as a confidential Pentagon memo states, “to develop an exportable foreign intelligence package to provide counterinsurgency techniques learned in Vietnam to Latin American countries.” (McCoy, 71) 

The American public was first made aware of Project X and its stranglehold on Latin America in 1970 when an OPS advising officer, Dan Mitrione, was executed by Tupamaro rebels in Uruguay. It was revealed by a Cuban double agent that Mitrione, a father of nine, was a mastermind of torture and its dissemination through his role in the OPS in Uruguay. His motto was, reportedly, “The right pain in the right place at the right time”, and felt that premature death in torturing someone, meant that the technique had failed. (McCoy, 72) 

Dan Mitrione (source)

Starting in 1971, a congressional investigation into OPS had brought fruition to the claim it was proliferating torture manuals, programs, and training around the world. By 1975, Congress cut funding for all police and prison training abroad, which abolished the Office of Public Safety. (McCoy, 73) However, Congress never investigated who was the source of this information and training: the CIA. The CIA escaped any reform and scrutiny and had already changed its main arm of torture dissemination to the Army’s Military Advisor Program, which had just the same reach as OPS did. (McCoy, 74) The dissemination of such content came to a halt under Jimmy Carter’s humanist administration, in which he put a stop to all covert actions by the CIA and other agencies during his term as President.

 Latin America had stayed under the radar in terms of CIA-taught torture for some time until 1988 until a New York Times expose pointed to CIA-taught torture in Honduras under the command of Colonel Gustavo Alvarez Martinez. The correlation between the CIA and the Honduran government’s torture lies in the almost word for word Kubark interrogation manual produced in the 1960s as a result of MKULTRA by the CIA, and the Honduran Human Resource Manual that was drafted in 1983.

Talons of Smoke

In 1953, the CIA and Israeli Mossad instituted a coup in Iran to put the pro-Western Shah back to power. The CIA had to help maintain his control for the 25 years he was in power. Most importantly, in 1959, the CIA was involved in the reorganization of the Iranian secret police. The CIA is personally responsible for the Savak, the most brutal of the secret police squads, as they trained the unit and its interrogators based on Nazi torture techniques the agency inherited through Operation Paperclip, directly after WWII. (McCoy, 75) Jessie Leaf, a former CIA analyst, recalled “Although no Americans particularly participated in the torture, people who were there seeing the rooms and being told of torture. And I know the torture rooms were all toured and paid for by the U.S.A.” (McCoy, 74) 

This is another example of the CIA’s clear dissemination of not only torture techniques but quite literally whole torture rooms and funds to do so. In the 1970s, opposition grew to the Shah, and the Savak stepped up its cruel treatment and torture of dissidents. In an interview with Le Monde, the Shah said, “Why should we not employ the same methods as you Europeans? We have learned sophisticated methods of torture from you. You use psychological methods to extract the truth: we do the same” (McCoy, 75)

The widespread use of torture by the Shah would actually play into his own demise. Student protestors kept dissenting and protesting, so the Savak kept arresting and torturing. This cycle continued, and over time the Iranian government had over 50,000 political prisoners in its prisons. By 1979, an Islamist movement overthrew the Shah and pro-Western Iran. By resting his regime upon the arrest, torture, and forced will of the Iranian people, the Shah orchestrated his own downfall. The CIA-crafted torture that was meant to keep the peace and stop bad actors was the chisel that slowly fractured the legitimacy and reception of the Shah and the Iranian government.

A suspected SAVAK agent after being arrested by revolutionary forces. (Source)

Breath of Sulfur

The Philippines and its own rendition of CIA-crafted torture provide a dark and cruel look into the psychology of the torturer and how that affects society as a whole. President Ferdinand Marco was a cruel autocrat who, from 1972 to 1986, used torture as a key tool in his all-powerful regime. (McCoy, 75) Filipino torture specifically, was very theatrical in its approach. The torturer plays a grand inquisitor, and all-powerful form of salvation, while the victim is led to believe they are nothing but a coward, and confessing to their crimes, legitimate or not, is the only salvation from the torture they brought upon themselves. (Holden, 2011) 

This last part is very important. No matter what, the torturer would use language that points the blame on the individual, such as “you leave me no choice..” .. “because you choose to not cooperate” and “you are just making it worse for yourself” (McCoy, 97) These all play into the victim’s psychology so detrimentally they start to perceive their torturer as an omnipotent force, the only thing that can save them. 

CIA Phoenix Program
Ferdinand Marco (Source)

The Priest

Father Edgardo Kangelon was tortured by the government after a rumour that the Catholic Church was a safe haven for Communists. He was tortured for two months with minor physical pain – some punches and kicks, but mainly degrading comments on his sexuality, past and even faith. The torturers used everything they could against the priest until he finally broke and named other church officials as Communist agents. (McCoy, 79) He released a 25-page memoir, where the theatrics taken on his torturers was broadcasted to the world, and striking similarities between his torture and the CIA’s Kubark manual point to CIA involvement in the Philippine’s torture program. 

Salvaging the Phillippines

One cryptic reality and the well-observed case of collective trauma in a society is that of the Philippines. When the government would torture and kill somebody, they would almost always leave their bodies for display publicly. All who passed by were now part of the torture; their brains were not only tortured by the images, but the fact they are seeing the results of their own collective actions in governments and society. This surfaced a neologism in the Filipino-American dialect as “salvaging.” Now imagine America today, where every day a new unarmed person is killed by the police and society has now come to the acceptance and normality of such a barbaric practice that we brand a word or phrase like, “clean up”. For instance, “New York police “cleaned up” three men today, suspected of nothing.” That sort of trauma is hard to capitalize on and almost harder to get rid of, as everyone is affected in their own personal way by it. 

The Colonel and the RAM

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the CIA stepped up counter-insurgency operations in Asia and implemented its programs and techniques within its old colony and ally, the Philippines. CIA involvement leads back to 1978 when a popular human rights newsletter reported that the top torturer for President Marco, Lieutenant Colonel Rolando Abadilla was studying at the Command and General Staff School in Kansas. Also, another newsletter claimed that Abadilla’s protege, Rodolfo Aguinaldo, was on his way to study under the CIA for one year in the United States. 

Many of the torturers from the Philippines were young, recent graduates from the Philippine Military Academy. This would lead to implications in the government and society that will eventually lead to its overall destabilization. By being able to torture any member of society, such as priests, journalists, politicians, and even other military officials, these young officers’ view of society was a ripped veil. (Holden, 2011) Throughout their training, it was reaffirmed that anyone in their country could be an enemy, and no one was off-limits to such cruel treatment. They had this empowering feeling of authority and omnipotence that would lead some officers to form RAM or Reform the Armed Forces Movement, which would carry the country through destabilizing coups in the 1980s. (Holden, 2011)

Torture Backfires on Marco

By instituting this torture, Marco, like the Shah, played a key part in his own demise. These coups destabilized the country and eventually led to a guerilla like a campaign against the government by underground RAM forces, which included terror bombings and shootings. (Holden, 2011) Marco relied on this CIA-crafted and disseminated torture, and it cost him the overall stability of his regime. Due to the omnipotent and all-powerful role he prescribed his young officers, they quickly saw through the thin veil of civil society and chose to violently exert their will on it, just as they had done to so many people. 

The Eagle Extinguished?

The proliferation and perceived success of the Phoenix Program during the conflict in Vietnam not only led to more CIA-crafted torture programs, such as Project X but also actually furthered the deterioration of American allied governments abroad, specifically in the implementation of state terrorism and abuse by Iran prior to 1979 and the Philippines in the and 1980s.

The CIA, first using the Office of Public Safety and wartime channels in Vietnam successfully disseminated torture techniques that were derived from the MKULTRA findings and Nazi torture techniques in World War II, throughout the country and established a ladder of intelligence that made sure no one was safe from its oversight and agents – this was called the Phoenix Program. Then, using different channels and revised techniques, the CIA unrolled Project X, the child of the Phoenix Program. This then spilt into over ten countries in Latin America, most importantly, Honduras. 

By taking trainees from allied countries across the world, like Iran and the Philippines, CIA-crafted torture found its way across the globe still. Instead of holding up the regimes, it was taught to, it only did more to unravel and destabilize those regimes. 

In Iran, a sort of cycle appeared to occur, where dissidence occurs, cruel torture tries to extinguish it, then more dissidence in response to that torture begins to occur, and then the torture is ramped up until the dissidence reaches a radical and revolutionary point. 

In the case of the Philippines, CIA-crafted torture led to the creation of an exclusionary and radical military echelon that for almost a decade tormented daily life in the country.


LOC-HAK-331-4-20-7. (2010, May 13). Retrieved from

McCoy, A. W. (2007). A question of torture: Cia interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Holden, W. (2011). Neoliberalism and state terrorism in the Philippines: the fingerprints of Phoenix. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 4(3), 331–350.

Rosenau, W., & Long, A. (2009). The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center.



Action Division and the DGSE

Rare photo of Action Division operators during a training exercise. (Source)

Background of the Action Division

The Action Division is the clandestine wing of the French Directorate-General for External Security – France’s foreign intelligence service.

France’s covert intelligence capabilities and the Action Division came to bear in World War II, after the SDECE (External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service) was formed and the “Service Action” was created. The DGSE was formed in 1981 after the reorganization of the SDECE. (Source)

The Action Division was subsequently reformed from the Service Action of SDECE, and is still referred to as that by many. Officially, the Action Division, has been organized as independent units like the 11th Shock Parachute Battalion and the Action Division’s airborne component, Escadrille de Liaisons Aeriennes 56 Vaucluse (ELA).

Tactics, Training, and Procedure

Action Division commandos are since based in three “training centres” which compose the CIRP, “Paratrooper Reservist Instruction Centre”, where they receive specialized and unconventional training under three separate wings. (Source)

  • CPES, “Paratrooper Specialised Training Centre” in Cercottes for clandestine operations.

  • CPIS, “Paratrooper Specialised Instruction Centre” in Perpignan for special commandos.

  • CPEOM, “Paratrooper Training Centre for Naval Operations” in Quelern, which instructs combat divers.

CPEOM is unique in the sense that Action Division agents are trained in a variety of maritime transport methods. This includes kayaks, jet-skis, crude and improvised rafts, and miniature submarines.

Overall, the Action Division’s core specializations are sabotage, espionage, assassination, infiltration/exfiltration of persons into/from hostile territory and hostage rescue. The Action Division also routinely does security assessments of government and protected facilities, such as submarine bases and nuclear power stations. (Source)


DSGE and Action Division agents are outfitted with a variety of weapons at their disposal. Commonly agents of French special forces and reconnaissance groups are outfitted with an FN Scar-L or M16A2, drawing away from the service-issued Famas F1 and HK416 used by most French military personnel. DSGE agents most likely have access to the HK MP5 and MP7 as well as the FN P90, all of which are used by naval or special operations groups in the French military.

Notable Operations

The DSGE and Action Division have been active all over the globe in many infamous operations up until recently under SDECE.

  • In 1977, the SDECE was accused of aiding a failed counter-coup in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya following the Jamahiriya reforms in the country. Another unsuccessful attempt was said to be made as well in 1980.

  • In 1979, SDECE agents and the French military aided David Dacko in restoring the presidency and the Central African Republic from the Central African Empire and ousted Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa I.

  • In the context of the Angolan Civil War, there are sporadic reports of French and SDECE involvement supporting UNITA rebels against the MPLA. (Source)

  • In 1985, in a move titled Operation Satanique, 2 Action Division agents sank the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand. The ship was participating in protests against French nuclear activity in the region. One photographer died in the incident, the agents were arrested and charged by New Zealand, and France was faced with international backlash with accusations of state-sponsored terrorism by the DGSE and Action Division. (Source)

  • Off the coast of Somalia in 2008, DGSE commandos rescued 30 hostages being held for ransom by local pirates. The French Military reports no one was injured, but local Somali outlets reported 5 locals dead in the aftermath. (Source)

  • In 2011, the Action Division was involved in a number of operations in Libya, particularly at the second battle of Tripoli.

  • Since 2016, the Action Division is suspected of being in a offensive-combat role against Islamic State forces left in Libya. France and Libya have both denied this, and state that any DGSE presence in the country is strictly an advisory one. (Source)

Denis Allex affair

In 2009, the DGSE had sent two agents in an “advisory role” to Mogadishu, Somalia for support of the Somali government. The two agents, under the aliases “Marc Aubriere” and “Denis Allex”, were soon captured by local al-Shabaab fighters and held captive. Aubriere was able to escape by sneaking out of the compound they were held in, trekking thru Mogadishu, and to the safety of the Presidential Palace. Allex was left behind in captivity. (Source)

Three years later, the DGSE attempted to rescue Allex. In short, the operation was a complete failure. Five helicopters and 50 Action Division commandos were sent to Bulo Marer in Somalia from a French Navy vessel in the Gulf of Aden. US signals intelligence forces and local Somali assets concluded Allex was being held the location in Bulo Marer, and the French swooped in. (Source) In a firefight that lasted under and hour, it was reported that a mix of al-Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed, an Action Division operative was killed, and another was missing. al-Shabaab later stated that they had captured the missing DGSE operative, but he later died from wounds from the firefight. In the end, it was reported that al-Shabaab executed Allex out of retaliation, and even taunted the French by implying he was never even at the location of the failed raid. (Source)

The aftermath of this operation soured ties with the French and Somali government, as the Somali’s condemned the military action as they were not made aware it was going to be carried out. Also, it was reported that civilians were shot without warning by the advancing Action Division operatives. Reports say that locals woke up to the sounds of helicopters landing nearby, when they turned on their flashlights to see, they were killed by DGSE operatives. In total, 8 civilians lost their lives to Action Division operatives. (Source) Overall, this operation combined with its relative recentness and the loss of a total of 3 operatives is a tragic reminder that not all operations go according to plan.


The Action Division is the covert wing of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, and it has some of France’s most elite operators within it’s ranks. The history of operations that the Action Division has is immense, and their roots stretch into World War II.


CIA Vampires: US Meddling in the Philippines

A Hukbalahap fighter in Manila. (Source)
  • In the shadowy war against communism led by the United States, the Philippines was subjected to a disturbing branch of psychological warfare by the CIA.

  • Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale was sent to end the guerilla Hukbalahap (or the “People’s Army Against Japan” in Tagalog) insurgency against the government. This group remained from World War II in hopes of social and agricultural reform in the Philippines. During his time there he used local mythology and folklore to strike fear and coercion into the Huk rebels and the surrounding population among other methods to pioneer to burgeoning fields of psychological warfare. (Source)

  • After the conclusion of his psychological warfare campaign, Lansdale shifted to a political advisory role, and implemented the process for the CIA to control the political landscape of the country. (Source)


When the United States had finally pushed to the Philippines in WWII, the Japanese were already busy fighting the Huk rebels. Simultaneously using the Huks to their advantage against the Japanese while dismantling their networks, the United States began their plan to reinstate their control over the pacific island. The war ended in 1945, the US’ efforts did not. There were US troops kept active in the Philippines, and the US-sponsored government was preparing an army to fight the Huks. (Source)

The shift from conventional operations to psychological and clandestine began mainly once Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale arrived in 1950. Lansdale worked in the advertising field, then was an officer in the US Air Force prior to joining Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) covert operations in the Philippines. (Source) Through a mix of boots on the ground operations, propaganda, and political measures, Lansdale solidified the field we know as psychological warfare today as a standard tactic by military forces.

Heavenly Words, The Eye of God, and The Asuang

Lansdale arrived in the middle of a civil war against the Huk rebellion in the countryside of the Philippines. He organized a group called the Civil Affairs Office with his team from the CIA. This office was tasked with designing a strategy to bring down a popular guerilla army when force was not enough.

Lansdale organized his team to study the legends and folklore of the people on the surrounding countryside and try to use their beliefs against them. His first move, was a rather simple one. His team waited for a cloudy day, flew over local villages with a loudspeaker attached and projected curses in the native Tagalog language to the unaware villagers. These curses particularly were focused on those who continued to aid the Huk fighters with shelters and supplies. Due to this, Huk fighters in the targeted towns were starved out of their hiding places or revealed by superstitious locals. (Source)

Another operation led by the Lansdale team was a more mysterious one. The group worked to identify Huk sympathizers that were providing any amount of support to the fighters. Once identified, the group would work through the night to paint mysterious eyes on adjacent walls to the target home. These “Eyes of God” were meant to let the sympathizers know that some group knows of their actions, and kept the rest of the population wary to help the Huks. (Source) “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect,” said Lansdale. (Source)

In studying the folklore of the region, Lansdale’s team made a discovery of a creature that the locals believed to roam the hills known as the Aswang. The Aswang is comparable to a vampire-like creature that drinks its victim’s blood. The Huks would often operate out of the surrounding wooded area of a town and attack government forces, so Lansdale sent a team to where they were operating in an attempt to replicate the Aswang myth. Once they arrived the team kidnapped a fighter, poked holes in their neck, drained their blood, and left their body where it would be found. Once the dead, exsanguinated, body was found by the Huks, the remaining forces quickly left the area. (Source)

Edward G Lansdale (Source)

Lansdale collaborated with local forces and other advisors on other measures to take in the region, which included propaganda films, sowing dissent among Huk supporters, and even dressing Philippine-government forces as Huk fighters and harassing civilians. (Source)

CIA Faux-Reign Policy

Lansdale also manipulated the political structure of the Philippines to fit the CIA plans for the nation. By befriending the former defence secretary, Ramon Magsaysay, he was able to convince Magsaysay to run for president of the country with the CIA’s backing. Magsaysay was essentially a puppet of Lansdale and the CIA, with reports of Lansdale even physically assaulting him if he did want to comply with their plans. (Source) The CIA’s candidate won in 1953, but not after meticulous meddling by the agency. They drugged his opponents, funnelled in large sums of money to the campaign through the National Movement for Free Elections, and even snuck in weapons to the country in case Magsaysay lost. The Hukbalahap insurgency was quelled in 1954. (Source)

Lansdale, having built the foundations that Magsaysay’s government was built on, effectively facilitated the CIA’s puppeteering of the Philippines for the latter of the 20th century. The CIA wrote Magsaysay’s speeches, his foreign and domestic policy, as well as fed him false reports on their policies popularity with the Philippine people. The CIA even went as far as launching a developed smear campaign against a political rival of Magsaysay. First, they planted rumours that the individual was a Chinese spy, but also disseminated condoms with holes in them that were advertised as supplied by the individual as well. (Source)


The Philippines would prove to be a vital interest in the war against Communism for the United States, and the CIA was able to turn the state into a US-sponsored client. The Philippines would provide troops in the conflict in Korea, as well provide a launching pad for any military operations in Southeast Asia. Lansdale’s innovation in psychological warfare, particularly deep analysis of culture and mythos, sowing dissent in enemy territory, and political influence tactics would go on to influence future Us operations, as well as allies that these tactics were disseminated to. Lt. Col Edward G. Lansdale would go on in history to be the progenitor of US psychological warfare doctrine as well as the CIA’s first vampire.


Cuba´s Expansionism in the Horn of Africa

Cuba’s expansionism: motivations in Ethiopia

Cuba´s expansionism in Algeria, Guinea-Bissau or Zanzibar are examples of Cuban influence in Africa supporting domestic and anti-colonial insurgencies. Cuban intervention in Ethiopia, on the other hand, is an indicator of Cuban expansionism as a foreign policy objective. The Angolan conflict erupted in 1975, while simultaneously Cuban-Ethiopian relationship strengthened in 1976. This likely places Castro’s regime as a regional super-power instead of a Soviet proxy or as an export of revolutionary capabilities.

While Cuba was not a direct proxy, Castro likely depended on Soviet capabilities to obtain significant results in Africa and particularly in Ethiopia. Cuban expansionism, partly to achieve insulation from US influence, likely needed to serve as front-line reinforcements to be seen as a capable force not under the complete umbrella of the USSR. The presence of Cuban personnel in Ethiopia until 1988 was highly likely due to geopolitical concerns rather than ideological worries of an incomplete ‘revolution’.

Cuban expansionism highly likely pushed ethno-national conflicts in Africa and particularly in the Horn of Africa. Ethnic Somalis residing in the Ogaden, together with official and lawful control by Ethiopia of the region, made the conflict to be driven domestically in its majority. Cuba used military intervention to compete against the West on an international stage. In contrast with Angola, efforts of gaining influence cannot be portrayed as a struggle for de-colonisation and oppression.

Cuba’s provision of aid

Military support to Somalia

In 1972, Somali president Siad Barré traveled to the USSR and North Korea and prepared Somali forces towards a potential annexation of the Ogaden. Cuban military officers would allegedly train Somali soldiers in facilities provided by North Korea. By 1976, 2,500 Soviet personnel and 650 Cuban personnel resided in Somalia.

Cuban expansionism likely resided in the highest likelihood of revolutionary success in a country. In a transcript from a cable between GDR-head Eric Hockener and Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader expresses concerns regarding the veracity of the Somalian revolution. Following failed negotiations between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977, Castro questions the choice of military intervention based on geopolitical interests to the communist bloc. Instead of being a proxy of the USSR, Cuba became a proxy of the momentum of the communist bloc.

Secret support to Ethiopia

Until 1977 military aid was provided to Somalia. Both Castro and the USSR established secret contacts with Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1975. Mengistu, a colonel in the military junta responsible for the fall of the monarchy in 1974, became increasingly supported by the USSR and Cuba. The execution of the dean of the military junta, the rise of guerrillas in Eritrea, and tensions in the Ogaden increased Soviet and Cuban involvement within Ethiopian affairs. On the 2nd of February of 1977, Castro allegedly spoke with Mengistu to offer congratulations, as the Ethiopian leader executed the remaining members of the military junta and centralised all power in Ethiopia.

Overt and conventional support to Ethiopia

Overt support, deployed in stages at the demands of Mengistu, reached the capacity of 17,000 Cuban personnel. Cuban expansionism highly likely provided a significant advantage to the conventional conflict in the Ogaden. This was in particular through the presence of experienced armed forces which participated in Angola. In January 1978, Cuban General Ochoa pushed back the Somali army after initial ground was lost. In March 1978, Barre announced the fallback of Somali forces. While conflicts with belligerents in the Ogaden remained, Cuba’s military objective of preserving the ‘revolutionary’ Mengistu government was complete.

Cuban Expansion in Influence

Domestic importance

Cuba´s expansionism in the Horn of Africa extends further than the Ogaden War or an attempt to motivate an ‘anti-imperialist revolution’. Cuba established, simultaneous to the KGB, the presence of its security and intelligence personnel in Addis Ababa. This happened in 1977 after Mengistu’s execution of the military junta. In January 1978, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) denounced the presence of Cuban troops in Oromia. Likely, the domestic involvement in Ethiopia was necessary to secure enough significance without depending on the presence of foreign actors. Cuban expansionism lasted until 1989. The Cuban government placed the remaining three divisions as a reserve military force.

Regional importance

Cuba´s expansionism in the Horn of Africa likely served geopolitical interests to Cuba. Despite public knowledge, no one discovered Cuban personnel in Ethiopia until 15 days before the end of the Ogaden War. Simultaneously, a large majority of Cuban material, funding, and logistics originated from the USSR. Prior to the support to Ethiopia, Castro consulted with the head of East Germany on the strategy. Cuban expansionism developed ethnic rivalries by interfering as a super-power to provide a tactical advantage under the umbrella of revolutionary contributions.


The Congo Crisis and Foreign Intervention

The Congo crisis affected the current territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo from the 5th of July 1960 to the 25th of November 1965.

Key Judgments

KJ-1.    The US and the CIA intervention were the results of a possible invasion of the Soviet Union and communism in Congo.

KJ-2.    The Soviet involvement was reinforced by Czechoslovak support but limited by the continuous changes of the government and its factions.

KJ-3.    The intervention of China and Cuba was driven more by the possibility to expand the communist ideology in Africa than the support to Congo.


The Congo Crisis began after the Congolese declaration of independence from Belgium. Chaos and political instability characterised this period. On the one side, there was the President of Congo, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, and its supporters. On the other side, there was the Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba and its Vice-President, Antoine Gizenga. Riots, tumults and attempts of secession from the central government of the provinces of South Kasai and Katanga, the wealthiest province of Congo, affected the country.

The Congo Crisis also involved foreign powers, such as the United States, supporting the central government and the Soviet Union, supporting the Prime Minister. Also, the United Nations, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, China, Cuba and mercenaries took part in the various conflicts. After causing the death of more than 100,000 people, the conflict ended in November 1965. General Mobutu, supporter of the previous president, took the power with a coup d’état and established a dictatorial regime.

The Congo Crisis
Congo map showing political fragmentation and territorial control in 1960.

The Congo Crisis and the Overreaction of the US

The Congo crisis worried the US, which feared an intervention and expansion of the Soviets in Africa. The US invited Prime Minister Lumumba to Washington, but its visit was not successful due to Lumumba’s “magnanimous personality and proclivity to the Soviet cause”.

Many reports from Lawrence Devlin, the CIA Chief in Leopoldville, described the situation as a “classic communist effort to take over the government”. After the US received one of these reports on the 18th of August 1960, it was decided that something needed to be done to remove Lumumba from the picture. The CIA, with the support of the British MI6, came up with different plans to eliminate the Congolese Prime Minister, such as poisoning or snipers. In the end, the US did not carry out these plans. The difficulty and the political and military consequences were too high.

The government dismissed Lumumba. Right after, Congolese soldiers captured and killed him on the 17th of January 1961. Even though the CIA did not pull the trigger, there was its complicity behind Lumumba’s death.

The US Reaction

Congo and its territories are important for the United States, for its central location, size and mineral resources. After Lumumba’s death, the CIA bribed various politicians, tribal chiefs and a labour union to achieve its goals. Cyrille Adoula became the new Prime Minister, and the CIA helped him by bolstering him and hiring him a political adviser. Adoula’s government did not perform as the US hoped and they replaced him in 1964. Moise Tshombe took the power and once again, the United States supported the new Prime Minister. The US provided him with an instant air force and financial assistance.

The communist threat during the conflict was weaker than the one felt by the United States. The US actively took action in the Congo crisis in order to establish a pro-Western government. They also used mercenaries from all over Europe, South Africa and Rhodesia as an instrument of its foreign policy. The US supplied Congo with American weapons and aeroplanes. Many countries such as Belgium, France, Nigeria and Senegal did not want to send their troops. Hiring mercenaries was the only option.

CIA Interventions in the region

This secret intervention of the CIA was not the first in history. The CIA tried to “get rid of” Castro many times in the 1960s. They tried to poison him with a botulinum toxin in a box of his favourite cigars. In 1963, the CIA planned to contaminate with a fungus one of Castro’s diving suits. In the same year, the CIA tried to eliminate him using a hypodermic needle located in a pen. According to the Church Committee, the CIA attempted to kill Fidel Castro eight times between 1960-1965.

This operation is one of the largest covert operations in the CIA’s history. The US spent around $90-150 million in US dollars, without counting the weapons, the military equipment and the transportation. Since then, corruption, economic disaster, political instability and little capacity for governing afflicts Congo and its politicians.


The US and the CIA intervention were the results of a possible invasion of the Soviet Union and communism in Congo.

The Soviet expansion

Even though Moscow subdued Czechoslovakia, it had its strategic and economic interests in Africa.  Since its independence in 1918, one of the main goals of Czechoslovakia was to develop relations with countries outside Europe. For this reason, it approached states like Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Congo. Czechoslovakia was the only communist country to have diplomatic representation in Congo from 1948. Its wish, as the USSR one, was to expand communism in the African continent. It also had economic interests in the country. Congo was rich in natural resources, such as diamonds, uranium, and copper.

In 1960, KGB and the Czechoslovak State Security (StB) began their first joint operation in Congo. Even before Congo’s independence, Czechoslovakia was already present in the country. This facilitated the process of cooperation and infiltration of the Soviet Union. Moscow’s attention to the Congo crisis was drawn in 1960. The USSR agreed to support the UN mission with 10,000 tonnes of food, aeroplanes, helicopters and money.

After Lumumba’s death

After Lumumba’s death, Czechoslovakia increased its support to Gizenga. Both the Soviet Union and its junior partner sent some of their officers. The role of KGB officers was to gather information about Congolese politicians and the Western plans for the country. The StB role was to recruit informants, infiltrate their personnel into Western institutions and discredit Western powers in Congo.

Gizenga took the power. The USSR then planned to send military equipment, food, weapons, and medication to support its Congolese ally. The main issue was that countries, such as Sudan, did neither want to be involved in the conflict nor it to become an international incident. The CIA was an obstacle for the USSR since it kept devising plans to undermine the communist support to Congo.

The death of Lumumba started a series of events within the opposition in Congo, which made harder the support and intervention of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Even though in 1963, not many “communist officers” were left in Congo, this was the first major Soviet- Czechoslovak operation in the whole region. StB came out as the key Eastern bloc actor in the conflict in Congo.


The Czechoslovak support reinforced the Soviet involvement but the changes of the government and its factions limited the same.

The intervention of China and Cuba

The relation between China and Congo materialised in 1960 when the Chinese Communist Party offered economic support to Congo. The Chinese wish for expansion in the African continent and the fight against American imperialism and capitalism mainly drove this support.

When the mercenaries were hired to join the fight, many radical African states as Egypt and Algeria announced their support to the rebels with troops and weapons. Rebels were led by Christophe Gbenye, a former colleague of Lumumba, who established a government in Stanleyville, thanks to the USSR and China.

The Cuban government, led by Fidel Castro, respond to the call and decided to join the fight. At the UN General Assembly in December 1964, Che Guevara, a member of the Cuban leadership, gave a speech and described the intervention of the Western powers as an “unacceptable intervention”. After touring many African states he went to China to seek more support for his cause in Congo. His goal was to extend the influence of the Cuban Revolution and defend those countries affected by Western intervention, especially by the US one.

The Cuban Plan

The Cuban plan was for one contingent to travel to Tanzania and then to North Katanga, and the second contingent had to fly to a base near Brazzaville, close to the Congolese capital. Che Guevara arrived with a smaller eastern column that comprised 150 guerrillas. Cuba was very prepared for the fight, nonetheless, it overestimated the willingness to cooperate of the rebels.

The Congolese rebel leadership was in Egypt to ask for support in that period. Consequently, Che Guevara had to share his plans with the rebel junior personnel, who was neither trained properly nor interested in listening. After months of exploration and fighting, the Cuban realised they were not advancing in the conflict. In November 1965 Che Guevara’s dream collapsed and decided to withdraw its troops from the country.

China and Cuba felt that communism was threatened by the Western countries and capitalism. Their ideology and beliefs were the ones that pushed both of the countries to join the fight. On the one hand, China contributed with weapons and financial help. On the other, Cuba sent Che Guevara and many troops to fight on the ground.


The possibility to expand the communist ideology in Africa rather than the support to Congo was the main reason for China and Cuba intervention.

Intelligence Cutoff date 23rd of March 2021 (UTC -7)


The Rise of Chinese Military Contractors in Africa

Chinese military contractors

This Grey Dynamics African intelligence article analyses the rise of Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing a context for their utilisation and analysing their activities.

Key Findings

  • With over 200,000 Chinese workers, 10,000 Chinese companies, and the rollout of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Africa, security concerns exist.
  • Enter the Chinese military contractors in Africa. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) integrated Chinese Private Military and Security Companies (C-PMSCs) to protect Chinese state interests abroad.
  • Private Chinese security groups were actively involved in the 2012 rescue of 29 kidnapped workers in Sudan. The Dewe Security Group were active in training security forces in Kenya and secured a contract to protect a Chinese LNG facility in Ethiopia.
  • It is highly likely that the use of such companies in Africa will increase. Under Chinese law, bearing arms for the contractors (with exceptions) is illegal, removing the capability for lethal violence. There is a real possibility this may change as operations expand into increasingly insecure zones.

While American military contractors such as Blackwater, and Russian Wagner Group activities receive significant research, Chinese military contractors enjoy less ‘limelight’. Shandong Huawei Security Group, Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service, Beijing Security Service, DeWe Security Service, and Ding Tai An Yuan Security are some of the many active Chinese military contractors.

The Need to go Private

The soft power approach Beijing has adopted in Africa benefits from a soft military presence. Although China created its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, this is highly unlikely to be a prelude for mass military expansion in Africa. However, with mass economic and political expansion in Africa, including the Belt and Road infrastructure project, protection is highly desired.

The desire is matched by significant spending power. Chinese state-owned companies in 2017 alone generated $51 billion in revenue from Belt and Road projects. While in 2020, China oversaw more construction projects than the combined projects of France, Italy, and the United States.

This is largely due to China’s willingness to invest in high-risk regions, supported by the statistic that 84% of the Belt and Road investments are in medium- to high-risk countries. The local operating environment requires Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing flexibility and with a blend of state and commercial-orientated security.

Activities & Capabilities

A key difference in Chinese military contractors in Africa compared to other key players in the alleged unarmed element. This translates to an emphasis on advising and working closely with local security and military forces. This has not only witnessed the supply of advanced military hardware for local forces but also intelligence collection and analysis on threats. A loophole exists for carrying weapons.

Consulting and equipping provide grounds to carry weapons, however, this loophole is used by Russian PMCs who actively engage in African security operations which a previous Grey Dynamics article covered. It is not yet clear if Chinese military contractors have or will adopt similar characteristics. As these companies expand into the Iraq and Afghanistan security markets, there is a realistic probability that the mandate will adapt to meet security requirements in a highly volatile environment.

There are other exemptions in armed maritime escorts in African waters, provided by the Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service. The DeWe Security Service Group is highly active, operating in DRC, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. The group has trained 70,000 Chinese contractors and completed 3,000 training contracts for local African partners. The $4 billion LNG project in Ethiopia is of key importance to Chinese commerce, requiring the group to secure the site.

DeWe also trained local security forces in Kenya, under a contract to protect the $3.8 billion Standard Guage Railway in Kenya. This railway is of significant importance to the Belt and Road initiative infrastructure. Chinese military contractors are also highly active in the mining industry. In June 2020, Zimbabwe, a Chinese manager working in a mine in Gweru was charged for allegedly shooting two locals. This was cited as an isolated incident but may indicate a nefarious element.


The operations of Chinese military contractors in Africa fall under China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) role in Africa, addressed in Chapter 2 of China’s Military Strategy (2015) White Paper:

  • Participate in regional and international security cooperation and maintain regional and world peace;
  • Safeguard the security of China’s overseas interests.
  • Safeguard China’s security and interests in new domains;

It is beyond a reasonable doubt that most of the Chinese military contractors, if not all, operating in Africa support Chinese foreign policy objectives. This is not only supported by the activities but the fact that the state has a significant majority ownership in the companies and can influence the Board of Directors through a majority. This allows the PRC to expand its military footprint in Africa, without having to use official PLA forces.

Link: South World (link)


The McNamara Line and The Jason’s

The McNamara Line was a project spearheaded by the clandestine JASON advisory group that was designed to get an advantage over the North Vietnamese freedom of movement on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

As destructive as war is, it creates things – often in ways peace-time cannot. Battlefield dilemmas spark innovation as governments, defense contractors, scientists, and the top brass convene in windowless rooms, developing the next advancement in technology or tactics that adapt to those of thy enemy. The United States (US) Secretary of Defense during part of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, knew this very well. And when it came to finding a solution to the problematic Ho Chi Minh Trail, a line had to be drawn – The McNamara Line.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

For the United States, the Vietnam War was a prime setting for the testing and implementation of newly developed tech. The state of warfare had changed quite a bit since World War II, and the long duration of the Cold War and its proxies gave plenty of incentive for global superpowers to embark on the race for battlefield advancements. In the context of Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was a piece of key terrain – whoever controlled it could have the upper hand in the seemingly never-ending conflict.  

The trail, named after North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, was a network of trails spanning hundreds of miles and going from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, and crossing through the border countries of Laos and Cambodia along the way. This trail was significant to the North Vietnamese who used its labyrinthian paths as an administrative and logistical support route for shuttling troops and other resources to the South – the tactical issue the McNamara Line was created to address.

McNamara Line

According to a now declassified CIA memo about “Alternative Programs for Bombing North Vietnam”, analysts estimated “based on performance to date, that the actual movement of supplies from North Vietnam into Laos and South Vietnam during the 1966-1967 dry season will be greater than it was during the 1965-1966 dry season.” That same memo also stated “it is almost certain that no interdiction program can neutralize the logistics target system to the extent necessary to reduce the flow of men and supplies to South Vietnam below their present levels. Both of these quotes are in reference to the US bombing campaign on North Vietnam that was unsuccessful in cutting their administrative and logistical lines.

Secretary McNamara along with his military advisors determined the trail to be a critical node to the success of the North Vietnamese. In his eyes, finding a way to impede the enemy’s capabilities along it would be detrimental for an eventual end to the war. In order to come up with a solution, McNamara mustered up the collective brainpower of the scientific supergroup known as “the Jasons” – a more intellectually driven alternative to the failed bombing campaign.

McNamara Line


“We’re doing this… for science…”        

The JASON group, also known as the Jasons, were a collective of minds that came from the top shelf of the scientific community. The extent of their works was remained heavily classified, and to this day relatively unearthed to the general public. Nonetheless, they were a central role in helping McNamara cultivate his Ho Chi Minh Trail strategy.

According to Science Magazine, “During the Vietnam War, the JASON group designed a forerunner to the electronic battlefield: an anti-infiltration barrier that linked hidden acoustic and seismic sensors on the ground to bombers and artillery.” This design was the byproduct of one of the Jasons annual summer studies taking place in 1966 on the campus of a preparatory school in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts – and then later moved to the University of California in Santa Barbara when the time came to tackle the Ho Chi Minh Trail problem. The anti-infiltration barrier/air-ground link solution the Jasons drafted can in essence be broken down into three stages:

  1. Large batches of acoustic and seismic sensors are placed around the jungle area along the trail. Each sensor had a specific sound to listen for (enemy voices, vehicles, troop movements that generate seismic waves, etc). Sensors were also emplaced that could detect distinct and relevant smells, such as ammonia which could signify an enemy presence.
  2. Signals from the ground sensors transmit to aircraft within the area of operations. Those aircraft transmit the signal back to mission specific centrally located computers with the capability of deciphering the signals and comparing and contrasting them with pre-programed examples. This was a way to mitigate false signals and differentiate between enemy and villagers (foreshadowing a bit).
  3. The computer would then conduct a calculation of target priorities and the transmit them to aircraft assets in the area of operations that would then carry out the strikes.

This system was the primary component of the solution the Jasons had planned, which also included other methods of interrupting the North Vietnamese activity on the trail.

Once the Jasons study was completed, a detachment of them met with Secretary McNamara to present the plan. In his book Kill Chain, author Andrew Cockburn writes “the secretary, who was very fond of neat technical solutions to human problems, was highly enthusiastic and ordered the air force to get to work immediately”. And with his blessing, the bottomless US defense budget accompanied the Jasons as they began the operation to construct the Ho Chi Minh Line – also known, as the McNamara Line – which included the worlds first implementation of an unmanned air-to-surface strike operation; the early precursor to the US’s contemporary drone program. McNamara’s intent was for the line to be defensive in nature – the US would chip away at the enemy’s logistics, impede reinforcements the freedom of movement into the South, and eventually pressure North Vietnam into surrender.

The McNamara Line & Modern Drones: Parallels of Tragedy    

The McNamara Line is an example of typical US fashion in modern wars. A serious threat is identified that requires an innovative plan, a bunch of money is tossed around, and stuff happens. As always, the primary intention is to end the war (for some that is…) and “bring the boys home”, and that usually means “by any means necessary”, even if some rather unpleasant collateral damage occurs along the way. I mean, what do a few civilian casualties’ matter? It is just war, right?

And so it is, just war. And yes, there are indeed casualties in conflicts that have no part to play in the fighting, or even in support of either side. In the case of the McNamara Line, the line between conflict and government overstepping was heavily blurred.

To revisit Kill Chain, Cockburn writes “For nine years, high explosives of all shapes and sizes had rained down out of the sky, killing men, women, and children and obliterating their homes and much of the old forest”. When these villagers in remote parts of Southeast Laos were questioned years later about the bombings, they would report confusion as to who the “enemy” was, despite it being who they claimed bombed them. Little did they know, that “A massive computer hundreds of miles away” was the source of their pain and hardship.

This system, that was designed to put an end to the now second longest war in US history (thanks Afghanistan), was intended for good, but that good came at the price of innocent lives within geographical regions that were not even part of the conventional fighting in the Vietnam conflict. 

The McNamara Line may be a thing of the past, but the advancements in automated battlefields that it sparked led the US to the development and eventual primary use of unmanned aerial systems in combat theaters. Much like the events leading up to the McNamara Line operation, the drone program is relatively secret, and lies in a sometimes-moral grey area with limited accountability or exterior oversight. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 910-2,200 civilians have been killed in drone strikes between 2004 and now. Additionally, 283-454 children have been killed in that same timeframe. In the most simplistic and general way of describing it possible, all those accidental deaths were carried out by the twitch of a finger muscle of someone in an air-conditioned windowless room in the United States.

McNamara Line

The parallels between the McNamara Line and the modern drone program are valuable to examine as a case study in both military innovation and strategy, as well as the sometimes-dark symptoms of the US governments “by any means necessary” approach to conflict, and the ethical concerns that come with an increasingly automated battlespace.

There is of course a great need for a strong drone program, not just out of a position of matching the military capabilities of other global superpowers, but also as a way of conducting precision strikes on high value targets without risking the lives of boots on the ground. Weighing the pros and cons does nothing more but solidify how much tension there is between each side of the issue at hand.


Wagner in CAR: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part VI

Wagner in CAR

Wagner in CAR is an essential weapon in the hybrid warfare arsenal of the Kremlin. By utilizing Wagner and other private military companies (PMCs), the Russian state enforces its existing spheres of influence.With a focus not only on existing spheres such as former Soviet states like Ukraine and Belarus but also on new opportunities further afield in Africa, like the Central African Republic (CAR).

Timeline of Russian influence in the Central African Republic

  • The CAR government grew impatient with the UN arms embargo imposed on the nation since 2013.
  • Struggling against an insurgency from the Séléka coalition and anti-balaka militias, the CAR called for assistance in military equipment coinciding with a French material and political withdrawal. 
  • In 2017, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The nature of the meeting was to request assistance to bolster the CAR army against the rebels. 
  • Russia secured an exemption from the embargo in December 2017, ships Russian-made arms and Russian PMCs (Private Military Contractors) in 2018. 

France Withdraws

French soldiers were once very active in CAR affairs. Operation Sangaris in 2013 was an attempt by French forces to stabilise the civil war. Civilian deaths and scandals marred the campaign. Following the operation, France made the decision to withdraw from CAR, despite once having a strategic interest in the natural resource potential in the country. French state-owned nuclear giant Areva purchased uranium mining rights for $2.5 billion in 2007. However, in 2012 it proved to be a poor choice when uranium levels were significantly lower than estimated.

French Soldiers in Bangui 2013. Source: Idriss Fall VOA

The CAR government repeatedly requested military aid to fight the rebels, which was met by timid assistance from the French, in the form of poorly maintained Chinese and Pakistani AK-47s. These small arms were confiscated from the terror group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Disappointed, the CAR government was forced to deal with the Russians for proper equipment and support.

Wagner and Co. 

It is important to remember that the Wagner Group is just one cog in a growing Russian PMC machine; a machine providing military instructors, security advisors, and armed guards for VIPs, facilities, and mines. This includes protecting construction materials transported from Sudan, another African country with a Russian PMC presence. Wagner operators frequently arrive with the weapons sent to the CAR, under the context of “military instructors.” 

While PMCs are technically ‘illegal’ in Russia, giving it relative obscurity, and allowing them to operate under the umbrella of plausible state deniability. Consequently, when the UN agreed to let Russia provide military advisors to CAR, the UN expected official Russian military personnel; PMCs were not in the equation. This PMC loophole utilized in regions of interest provided plausible deniability to the Russian government, which was advantageous when reports of ‘heavy-handed’ tactics from military and law enforcement officials trained by Russian PMCs came to light. 

Wagner in CAR

Russian SOF or Wagner? Source: @AbraxasSpa on Twitter


Sewa Security Services

Sewa Security Services is a Russian PMC that provide close protection for the CAR’s President Touadéra, while the UN was told that the ‘instructors’ were present for training exercises. Sewa exists as a subsidiary of Lobaye Invest, owned by, unsurprisingly, Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka “Putin’s Chef.” Prigozhin is also the owner of the Wagner Group. 

In January 2018, Russian weapons and PMCs–Wagner landed in CAR, in June/July mining permits in the Yawa and Pama region were awarded to Lobaye Invest. Prigozhin is a close ally to Russian President Putin, using private companies to extend Russian influence. Prigozhin is also the orchestrator of the now-notorious Internet Research Agency; a troll farm in St. Petersburg and the artillery of Russian disinformation campaigns

In 2020, CNN investigations discovered Russian troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria, outsourcing disinformation campaigns, and thus increasing plausible deniability. The extension of Russian influence does not only exist through the private military company Wagner Group. Companies such as Lobaye Invest also acted as the financier of a Russian radio station, soccer tournaments and beauty contest in CAR, solidifying ties.

Wagner in CAR

Sewa Security members guarding President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Source: CAR Government

Military Instructors

Beyond instructor functions, Wagner PMCs are present with the CAR armed forces to ensure “weapons are handled properly.” In real terms, Russian PMCs serving alongside CAR assets are now in essence active personnel ready for engagement if the need arises. This designation expands to securing mineral extraction projects, a keen interest of Russians. These extraction projects usually occur in disputed territory with a heavy rebel presence.

Three Russian journalists investigating the PMC presence in non-government control areas were ambushed and killed in July 2018. UN observers report that Russian PMCs are operating checkpoints and joint patrols with CAR forces. The Russian PMC machine in CAR is well and truly active, but with numbers undisclosed, the size of the PMC force is unclear. 

Russian trained SAOS-GSPR (Section d’Appui aux Opérations Spéciale – Groupement Spécial Chargé de la Protection Républicaine) with a Spetsnaz patch

Hand in Hand

As a German Foreign Ministry Report stated, Africa, is Russia’s top geopolitical priority. CAR, also being one of Russia’s closest allies on the African continent, is set to be one of the six military bases to be established by Russia on the continent. The integration of PMCs, if successful, will provide the necessary stability to extend Russian soft power with vital UN votes, a flow of natural resources, and a growing market for Russian arms exports. 

10 BRDM-2 armoured personnel carriers gifted by Russia. Source: CAR Government

 The Inside Man

If the evidence of Russian state interest was in question, President Faustin Toudéra’s national security advisor is none other than Valery Zakharov, a former GRU intelligence officer. Zakharov’s appointment was facilitated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, furthering the Russian state and private business entanglements in the CAR.

Wagner in CAR

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov aka “Mazay” aka “The Colonel”. Source: Bellingcat

The Colonel

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov, aka “Mazay,” aka “The Colonel” under the guise of personal security, is influencing the direction of Russia’s Africa strategy, with Zakharov reportedly following his recommendations. Mazay was once a Russian military career officer, fighting in two Chechen wars, and involved with the PMC Slavonic Corps in Libya. Mazay is reportedly overseeing military issues in Africa through the “Convoy” Military Security Company, a Russian legal entity based in St. Petersburg. Mazay is serving as a liaison between the PMC military/political consultants and the Russian Ministry of Defense. This was highlighted by Bellingcat, which revealed email correspondence of Russian military instructions reaching Mazay in CAR. 

What’s Next?

Last week the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it is sending 300 soldiers to the CAR to avoid a Coup attempt, according to insiders. This fits in the narrative of Wagner and Russian regulars being deployed to support leaders that curry favour with the Kremlin. President Touadéra has already proven to be a loyal ally and has fully embraced Russian influence. If this Russian influence is better than France or the UN will be determined soon enough.

This article first appeared on Sandboxx News