Secret government docs reveal a hidden truth about the Afghanistan War

Summary: At great effort and expense I have obtained secret documents from the US Government about the Afghanistan War. Although too secret to release the full contents, I make these excerpts available so that the American people will better understand our wars.

Afghanistan war

The great CIA counterintelligence ace, James Jesus Angleton (1917-1987) hacked into this page from his secret location in the afterlife. Although dead, he remains as acute an observer and analyst as ever. 

A grim status report about Afghanistan and its insurgents

A biefing by P. Michael McKinley, US Ambassador to Afghanistan 18 December 2016.

“… there seems to be a national attribute {in Afghanistan} which makes for factionalism and limits the development of a truly national spirit. Whether this tendency is innate or a development growing out of the conditions of political suppression under which successive generations have lived is hard to determine. But it is an inescapable fact that there is no national tendency toward team play or mutual loyalty to be found among many of the leaders and political groups within Afghanistan. Given time, many of these attitudes will undoubtedly change for the better, but we are unfortunately pressed for time and unhappily perceive no short-term solution for the establishment of stable and sound government. …

“The ability of the insurgents continuously to rebuild their units and make good their losses is one of the mysteries of this guerrilla war …Not only do the insurgents have the recuperative powers of the phoenix, but they have an amazing ability to maintain morale. Only in rare cases have we found evidence of bad morale among prisoners or recorded in captured documents …”

Angleton here: the Editor is an idiot. This is not about Afghanistan, nor from Ambassador McKinley. It’s from “The Current Situation in South Vietnam — November, 1964” by Max Taylor (General USA, Ret.), US Ambassador to Vietnam, presented to senior officials in Washington on 27 November 1964.

That this description of Vietnam applies so well after 53 years to another war demonstrates the US Government’s inability to learn from experience – a crippling disadvantage in a 4GW era. It’s a symptom of its deeply dysfunctional institutions.

About SecState Hillary during the Afghanistan War (2009-13)

“Dealing with the military, the President learned, was an awesome thing. The failure of their estimates along the way, point by point, meant nothing. It did not follow, as one might expect, that their credibility was diminished and that there was now less pressure from them, but the reverse. … Once activated they would soon dominate the play. Their power with the Hill and with journalists, their stronger hold on patriotic-machismo arguments (in decision making they proposed the manhood positions, their opponents the softer, sissy, positions), their particular certitude, make them far more power players then those raising doubts. …

“These years show how when a question of the use of force arose in government, the advocates of force were always better organized, seemed more numerous and seemed to have both logic and fear on their side, and that in fending them off in his own government, a President needed all the help he possibly could get, not the least a powerful Secretary of State. …”

Angleton again: Despite the eerie similarity to Afghanistan, this is David Halberstam writing about the Vietnam in The Best and the Brightest. The similarities between these two weak Secretaries of State, Dean Rusk and Hillary Clinton, highlight the pitiful condition of the State Department.

For most of US history State was the senior of the Executive agencies. Now they’re merely lawyers for the military, tilting US foreign policy toward military solutions. I saw it coming.

Importance of a Strong SecDef

“Donald Rumsfeld can handle the military. That, of course, was the basis of his legend. Washington was filled with stories of Rumsfeld browbeating the military, forcing them to reconsider their decisions and taking their pet projects away from them. Later, as his reputation dimmed and the defense budget grews (it was not just Afghanistan, it was other projects as well), suspicion grew that he had in no real way handled the military, but rather, that he brought them kicking and screaming to the zenith of their power. …

“It turned out that the best way for civilians to control the military only as long as we were not in a real war, and that the best way for civilians was to stay out of wars.”

Angleton: This was written by Halberstam about SecDef Robert Strange McNamara in the 1960s, not Donald Rumsfeld in the 21st century. How astonishing that Rumsfeld – tough, determined, experienced – could make military reform one of his top goals and utterly fail. That’s not a good sign for America’s future.

Learn from mistakes


These documents tell us much about the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year. We can draw the following twelve inferences.

  1. It is clearly imperative that

Angleton: I’m deleting these absurdities and substituting useful advice. (I wish I could have done this to the memos of CIA Director Richard Helms.) America has repeated in Afghanistan many of its mistakes in Vietnam, which shows a defective grand strategy. Until we fix this, America will stumble from mistake to mistake around the world. I recommend reading these posts about grand strategy to see how we can better manage our relations with the world, both friend and foe.

Reading about our incompetently managed wars make me feel right at home, even nostalgic for the old days when I was alive. When it comes to the American Government, the more things change…


James Angleton

Who was James Angleton?

James Jesus Angleton (1917-1987) was Director of Counterintelligence at the CIA. He was America’s greatest-ever counterintelligence expert. The Soviet Union was unable to seriously penetrate the CIA with him on guard. After Director Helms forced Angleton’s retirement, they penetrated it severely and repeatedly.

“Counterintelligence” is that branch of intelligence that tries to penetrate and counter or disrupt the other side’s intelligence activities. It has the responsibility for uncovering foreign agents within the CIA, for example, and for investigating people who are in the process of being recruited as spies to ensure that they are not double agents. It does not have the job of keeping unwanted intrusions out of CIA HQ in Langley – that belongs to the Office of Security.

For more about Angleton see the CIA’s official history page about him. Also see one of the best books about him: Cold Warrior James Jesus Angleton: The Cia’s Master Spy Hunter (see the NYT’s review). For an entertaining — if fictionalized — look at Angleton and the business of intelligence during the Cold War see The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littell (2002).

For More Information

See Michael Ledeen’s articles at National Review about contacting Angleton with a ouija board.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our Vietnam War, about our military & defense strategy, and especially these about our failure to learn from Vietnam …

  1. Refighting the Last War: Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template.
  2. Presidential decision-making about Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have 3 choices, sir”.
  3. About our operations in Kandahar – all that’s old is new again.
  4. Another echo in Afghanistan of the Vietnam War. Will we hear it, and learn?
  5. The military takes us back to the future. To Vietnam, again and again.
  6. Stark evidence from our past about our inability to learn today.
Best and the Brightest
Available at Amazon.

To understand our wars first look at Vietnam.

From the publisher…

“David Halberstam’s masterpiece is the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy.Using portraits of America’s flawed policy makers and accounts of the forces that drove them, The Best and the Brightest reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country’s recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam, and why did we lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It is an American classic.”

From The Boston Globe…

“[The] most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. It is also the Iliad of the American empire and the Odyssey of this nation’s search for its idealistic soul. THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST is almost like watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.”

10 thoughts on “Secret government docs reveal a hidden truth about the Afghanistan War”

  1. Trying to nation build someplace that’s not even a nation is pointless.

    The endless supply of people will eventually come to an end, but that will require killing half of Pakistan. As far as their morale is concerned, have you been to that part of the world? They have nothing else better to do.

    IMO you’d have to wipe out everyone and we are not willing to do it nor should we. Let’s get out and bring the Afghans who have helped us to the U.S.

    1. Gute,

      “Trying to nation build someplace that’s not even a nation is pointless.”

      I agree with the sentiment. It is, however, not “pointless” — which implies there is no useful goal sought. Rather it is “almost impossible”, with any likely investment of time, money, and blood (ours and theirs).

      “IMO you’d have to wipe out everyone”

      I doubt that would work in any practical sense. It’s a small world. We would have suicide bombers out to destroy us on scale never imagined in history. Poisoned water supply, destroyed infrastructure, blown up dams — the list is long of things smart determined suicidal revenge-seekers could do.

  2. By strange coincidence, I’m currently reading Eric Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door in which he documents the extent of the activities of the CIA/FBI to recruit, resettle, retain and protect WWII Nazi functionaries in the US.

    Reading your essay above – and reflecting on many developments on the “global warming/climate change” fronts – strongly suggests to me that, sadly, some things in influential US government circles never change;-)

  3. FM, was Angleton on the record (off the record, of course) as an opponent of the Vietnam War, or at least a critic of the strategy coming from DoD/Johnson/Nixon? My sense was that he was more about empire-building within the Agency, counterintelligence etc.

    I read and quite enjoyed Donald Gregg’s memoir Pot Shards (offtopic, also insightful as commentary into US-North Korean relations). Gregg’s account gave me the sense that the often-failed, somewhat bumbling, and ultimately not very valuable Directorate of Operations paramilitary projects (parachuting behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere) — which as far as I know were most of how CIA was involved in Vietnam — would not have been particularly interesting to people like Angleton. He was playing the Great Game, with the Brits, the Israelis, and the Russians, operating on level 12 of higher order knowledge while the news media and politicians and military operate, more or less, at levels 0 to 1.

    I’m curious whether you agree with my perspective on CIA: as a federal bureaucracy like any other, it’s basically dysfunctional, but that doesn’t mean that certain movers and shakers within the organization didn’t leverage their access to exert extraordinary influence and/or achieve extraordinary insight into international affairs. I have no idea whether Angleton deserves his reputation as one of those movers and shakers. (And the CIA’s history/publicity pages are a very frustrating place to try to get insight into the agency…)

    I think an interesting book could be written on the question of whether Angleton had unique insight into what a disaster Vietnam was, and whether for whatever reasons he thought he had bigger fish to fry than attempting to reorient policy towards a more sensible course. But it’s hard to write such books with OSINT only, knowing that whatever conclusions one reaches — no matter how well-researched — could be immediately invalidated with more access to better, classified sources.

    1. sflicht,

      “was Angleton … an opponent of the Vietnam War”

      I don’t know. It was outside his area of responsibility as head of CI and liaison with Mossad.

      “My sense was that he was more about empire-building within the Agency, counterintelligence etc.”

      Absolutely not. He ran CI and was (due to his personal relationships) the primary liaison with the Mossad. He didn’t play the organizational games. If he did, he might not have been canned.

      “my perspective on CIA: as a federal bureaucracy like any other,”

      That’s not an accurate description.

      “it’s basically dysfunctional”

      That’s not true. It was designed to serve as the president’s private off-the-books covert army. It has done so quite loyally for generations. Many of its assignments were quite mad, but that’s biz-as-usual for military and intel agencies. The problem is that extreme loyalty and competence are often contradictory requirements. The CIA has, according to its masters’ preferences, chosen loyalty. That’s the opposite of dysfuncationality.

      “certain movers and shakers within the organization didn’t leverage their access to exert extraordinary influence”

      Good question, to which I don’t know the answer.

      “and/or achieve extraordinary insight into international affairs.”

      Perhaps so. No examples occur to me, offhand, in terms of its most senior executives. I’m sure that is true of many of its middle managers and expert staff.

      “I think an interesting book could be written on the question of whether Angleton had unique insight into what a disaster Vietnam ”

      I doubt that. US military, intel, and foreign service were focused on Europe, and shared the world-view of European elites. Which made them mostly pro-colonial. I doubt many even knew 4gw existed (in any form).

  4. I recommend reading these posts about grand strategy to see how we can better manage our relations with the world, both friend and foe.

    I think the link in that sentence is going to the wrong page.

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