Documents Detail Histories of
Once Secret Spy Units
A National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book
Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson
May 23, 2001
A key part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s mission, since
its creation in 1947, has been the conduct of human intelligence operations
– which have included the recruitment of foreign nationals to conduct espionage
as well the debriefing of defectors and other individuals with access to
information of value. The primary focus of such HUMINT operations
has been strategic – the collection of information relevant to national
Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the United States
has conducted a second set of HUMINT operations – those carried out by
its military services and the Department of Defense. Each of the three
major military services established and disestablished organizations to
recruit spies and debrief individuals of interest in order to gather information
about foreign weapons systems, doctrine, and other matters of interest
to military officials.
Thus, in 1966, the Navy established a covert unit,
designated the Naval Field Operations Support Group (NFOSG) – also known
as Task Force 157. In 1977 it was disestablished. In 1981, in the aftermath
of the Iranian crisis, the U.S. Army established the Intelligence Support
Activity to provide clandestine intelligence and conduct covert operations
in support of military operations. In 1989, the designation ISA was terminated,
and responsibility for the unit transferred to the U.S. Special Operations
Command. The former ISA, known by the codename CENTRA SPIKE in 1993, played
an important role in the hunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar – as
detailed in Mark Bowden’s recent book, Killing Pablo.
The significance attached to HUMINT operations have
varied between the services, and within some of the services over time.
Only the Army maintained a consistently high-level of interest in HUMINT
throughout the Cold War.
When the Defense Attache Service, bringing all the
military service attaches together, was established in 1965, and placed
under the Defense Intelligence Agency, it gave DIA a significant HUMINT
role. While the attaches have primarily been overt collectors of open source
information, they have also engaged in covert collection operations.
In 1993, DCI James Woolsey and Deputy Defense Secretary
William Perry decided to establish a Defense HUMINT Service (DHS), under
the supervision of DIA, that would absorb the human intelligence efforts
of the services. It was a move strenuously opposed by the Army – which
had the most to lose – but was fully implemented by the end of 1996.
During that period, DoD HUMINT activities became
news due to incidents involving U.S. attache operations in China. On July
28, 1995 two attaches stationed in Hong Kong were apprehended and accused
of spying on restricted military zones along the southeastern coast of
China. (see Document 20) In January 1996 Lt. Col.
Bradley Gerdes, the U.S. assistant military attache in Beijing, along with
a Japanese military attache were stopped near a military area on Hainan
Island, after allegedly sneaking into a military airport near the headquarters
of the South China Fleet. That same month, other DHS officers, based in
Tuzla, were gathering and analyzing information on the warring Muslim,
Croat, and Serb communities in Bosnia and their leaders. The DHS was responsible
for reporting any immediate threats to U.S. and NATO troops.
The documents that make up this briefing book provide
a window into the creation, evolution and (in some cases) abolition of
a number of military service/DoD human intelligence organizations, the
product of their activities, and the controversies that have occurred over
the last several decades.
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Paul H. Nitze, "Instructions for the coordination and control of the
Navy's clandestine intelligence collection program," December 7, 1965.
Top Secret, 5 pp.
The U.S. Navy had conducted clandestine human intelligence
operations during the 1930s and World War II. By the mid-1960s the Navy,
however, was largely out of the clandestine HUMINT business. Then, in 1965,
Admiral Rufus Taylor asked Thomas Duval and Thomas Saunders to set up a
Navy HUMINT program. Despite some concern by senior Navy officers about
the "flap potential," their proposal was approved - resulting in this memorandum
from Secretary of the Navy Paul Nitze. The memorandum provides a rationale
for the creation of a new HUMINT organzation, relevant definitions, and
establishes the responsibilities of senior officials. With regard to security,
the memo mandates that very existence of the program be classified Secret.
Nitze's memo would lead to the establishment, in
1966, of the Naval Field Operations Support Group (NFOSG) to conduct clandestine
HUMINT operations. It would soon be given an alternative designation -
Task Force 157 - by which it would become more commonly known.
History of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, July - December
1967, n.d. Secret, 22 pp.
This portion of the history of the Air Force's Assistant Chief
of Staff, Intelligence for the last half of 1967 focuses on the activities
of the 1127th USAF Field Activities Group - the Air Force unit responsible
for conducting human intelligence operations.
The history discusses several organizational matters
- such as the creation of the Washington Field Activities Support Center
to coordinate military HUMINT activiites - as well as a number of operational
programs. The programs included SENTINEL SHOTGUN, the provision of U.S.
Air Force crews for Soviet aircraft entering or departing the United States.
That program resulted in the production of fifteen intelligence reports.
Another, MOON DUST, involved the collection of man-made material deorbited
History of Navy HUMINT Program (Human Source Intelligence) 1973, n.d.
Secret, 5 pp.
History of Navy HUMINT Program (Human Source Intelligence) 1974, n.d.
Secret, 6 pp.
These two histories provide some specifics about the intelligence
collection activities of Task Force 157. They provide information on the
number of intelligence reports produced, creation and disestablishment
of field units, the task force's role in maritime surveillance, its production
of ground-level photographs of Soviet naval vessels, and its collection
of scientific and technical intelligence.
Donald Nielsen, Commander, Task Force 157, To Director of Naval Intelligence,
Bobby Ray Inman, December 31, 1975 w/attached memo, 6 pp.
The memo attached to the letter is a "decision reclama"—an
appeal from Donald Nielsen, Task Force 157's commander, to Director of
Naval Intelligence Inman that Inman reverse his decision to offer to disestablish
the task force as a means of complying with Department of Defense-mandated
budget cuts. Explanations for Inman's willingness to abolish the task force
have ranged from being denied access to information about TF 157 operations
when he served with the Pacific Fleet to an aversion to the scandal potential
of HUMINT operations. The reclama both disputed that some of the expected
benefits of disestablishing the task force would actually be attained and
suggested a number of negative consequences that would follow from disestablishment.
The covering letter represents a personal appeal
from Nielsen and a reflection of the belief that when Inman assumed the
position of DNI, he intended to close down the task force. Thus, Nielsen
writes that, "You came to your job preceded by the information that you
would soon see that TF 157 was wiped out. Your initial protestations to
the contrary were accepted at face value, but your actions in the intervening
year have belied your words."
Memorandum for Deputy Secretary of Defense Ellsworth, Subj: Navy Program
for Clandestine Intelligence Collection; disestablishment of -- INFORMATION
MEMORANDUM, July 20, 1976. Top Secret, 1 p.
This memo informed Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth,
that Task Force 157 would cease operations on September 30, 1977 or earlier.
It also reveals that attempts to turn a significant portion of the task
force's operations over to the CIA failed - ostensibly due to congressionally
imposed restrictions, but there was also, according to some CIA officials,
agreement in the Directorate of Operations that they should not absorb
the task force in any case.
A disestablishment committee distributed task force
projects among the CIA, DIA, Army, Air Force, and Task Force 168 - an organization
established in 1969 to provide intelligence support to the fleet and conducted
overt HUMINT operations. The task force's case officers were told to destroy
all records of their employment by the Navy and deny that the task force
Lt. Gen. Philip C. Gast, Director of Operations, Joint Staff. Memorandum
for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Subject: Intelligence
Capability, December 10, 1980. Top Secret, 2 pp.
The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran in November 1979 established
formidable requirements for intelligence to support a rescue mission. This
memo notes the need for human intelligence to provide some of the required
information as well as the inability of either the services or the Defense
Department to provide such information.
An ad hoc organization, the Field Operations Group
had been established in 1980 to provide HUMINT support to those planning
a possible second rescue attempt. In 1981, it would be transformed into
a permanent organization - the Army Intelligence Support Activity (ISA).
ISA would conduct both human intelligence operations as well as SIGINT
operations, the latter usually from aircraft.
Frank C. Carlucci, Memorandum to the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy,
May 26, 1982, 1 p.
By spring 1982, the Intelligence Support Activity found itself
under attack for support to former Special Forces Lt. Col. Bo Gritz, who
had organized a private POW rescue mission, and other activities that some
considered questionable. Such concerns led to a very critical review of
the organization by the Defense Department's Inspector General.
After reading the report Deputy Defense Secretary
Frank Carlucci sent this memo to Richard Stillwell, the Deputy Under Secretary
for Policy, in which he characterized ISA as "uncoordinated and uncontrolled."
He also ordered the termination of all ISA activities within 30 days, but
also offered ISA a possibility of a reprieve if a satisfactory plan for
continued operations could be produced.
Charter of U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity, circa 1983, 9 pp.
One of the eventual results of the DoD Inspector General's
critique of ISA was the production of a charter to guide and constrain
ISA activities. The charter established ISA as an organization to be employed
only when there were no other available resources to carry out a mission,
and specified that "USAISA activities, especially those involving U.S.
persons, will be pursued in a responsible manner that is consistent with
the Constitution and respectful of the principles upon which the United
States was founded." The charter establishes authority over ISA operations
with regard to HUMINT, SIGINT, and covert action operations.
AFISR 23-2, Air Force Special Activities Center (AFSAC), December 20,
1984, 8 pp.
By 1984, the 1127th Field Activities Group had become the Air
Force Special Activities Center (AFSAC), a subordinate element of the Air
Force Intelligence Service. This regulation specifies the organizational
structure as well as peacetime and wartime missions of the AFSAC and its
902nd Military Intelligence Group, Subject: After Action Report for
Operation CANVAS SHIELD, July 30, 1985. Secret, 10 pp.
CANVAS SHIELD was an operational security assessment of GRAZING
LAWN, an aerial intelligence collection operation conducted from Honduras.
Participating in the operation were four members of ISA's SIGINT component.
The assessment explored the possibility that GRAZING LAWN personnel could
be ambushed while traveling to or from the Tegulcigalpa airfield, examined
newspapers and reviews of radio and television for mention of ISA activity,
and visited bars and restaurants to determine if GRAZING LAWN personnel
had been noticed in any significant way.
ISA, Brief History of Unit, 1986. Secret, 2 pp.
This document provides key data on the creation and evolution
of the Intelligence Support Activity. In particular, it explains how the
Field Operations Group was formed to provide intelligence support for a
second rescue mission in Iran, its transformation into ISA, and the approval
of an ISA charter in July 1983.
ISA, United States Army Intelligence Support Activity, 1986 Historical
Report, n.d. Secret, 23 pp.
ISA, United States Army Intelligence Support Activity, 1987 Historical
Report, n.d. Secret, 23 pp.
These histories provide information on the organizational evolution,
exercises, and operations of ISA for 1986 and 1987. Organizationally ISA
consisted of a number of headquarters directorates (including intelligence
and operations) and a number of operational squadrons. Exercises, with
codenames such as POWERFUL GAZE, QUIZ ICING, and POPULAR FOREST tested
ISA's ability to provide intelligence support to counter-terrorist and
conventional forces. Operations (requested or approved) included those
in Latin America and the Middle East. The 1987 history in particular demonstrates
the prolonged approval process for ISA operations. The histories also document
ISA's intelligence production in support of its operations.
Commander 500th MI Group, Subj: [deleted]/Guerrilla Use of Stinger
Missiles and Their Effect on Soviet Tactics in AF, circa 1987, 3 pp.
While ISA was responsible for intelligence support to special
operations and counter-terrorism, more traditional Army HUMINT operations
were conducted by the U.S. Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).
Among INSCOM's human intelligence components was the 500th Military Intelligence
Group, located at Camp Zama, Japan.
In 1986, President Reagan approved a proposal to
have the CIA supply the Afghan resistance with Stinger missiles. This report
describes how the resistance's use of those missiles affected Soviet air
Commander, USAISA, Subject: Termination of USAISA and "GRANTOR SHADOW,"
March 31, 1989. Secret, 2 pp.
On several occasions after 1985 the commander of the Intelligence
Support Activity requested that the organization be disestablished. At
least on one occasion, the request was a result of frustration with the
ISA approval and coordination process - that involved several CIA, DoD,
and Army officials.
This 1989 memo terminates the use of the terms ISA
and "GRANTOR SHADOW" - the later being the current designation of the special
access program that protected information about ISA (previously it was
known as ROYAL CAPE). The memo does not abolish ISA, however. According
to several reports, responsibility for ISA was transferred to the U.S.
Special Operations Command, given a new name (which is changed every two
years) and new special access program designation (which is changed every
Duane P. Andrews, Assistant Secretary of Defense, C3I, Memorandum for
Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Subject: Strengthening Defense Intelligence
-- DIA HUMINT Plan, August 6, 1991. Secret, 2 pp.
In the early 1990s, partially under pressure from Congressional
oversight committees, the Defense Department sought to streamline military
service and DoD intelligence operations - including HUMINT operations.
This memo would be the first step in moving toward a centralized Defense
HUMINT structure. It specifies development of a plan under which the military
services would continue to conduct HUMINT activities but a DoD HUMINT manager
would exercise control over tasking and how the military services satisfied
that tasking - although not managing day-to-day operations.
Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence [ODCSI], Annual
Historical Review, 1 October 1992 to 30 September 1993, n.d. Secret, 32
Of all the military services, the Army offered the strongest
objections to any restructuring of Defense HUMINT. Part of this portion
of the Army ODCSI history specifies the office's view of the centralization
activities and its objection to centralization that did not allow service
HUMINT collectors to determine how to satisfy tasking from DoD.
Another part of this document excerpt focuses on
the intelligence reports produced as a result of Army HUMINT activities.
Several of the reports concerned atrocities committed against Bosnian Moslems
by Serb forces. Other topics included Cuban biological warfare capacity
and signals intelligence, Russian ICBM development, and the role of Panamanian
air cargo companies in narcotics trafficking.
DoD Directive 5200.37, Subject: Centralized Management of Department
of Defense Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Operations, December 18, 1992. Unclassified,
This directive replaced the 1987 directive on DoD HUMINT operations.
It named the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency as DoD HUMINT
manager. The directive ordered the consolidation of the HUMINT activities
of DoD, the military services, and the unified and specified commands into
joint operating bases. Most importantly, it required the military service
organizations to receive and implement HUMINT tasking from DIA without
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, C3I, Plan for Consolidation
of Defense HUMINT, 1993, Secret, 11 pp.
This plan was developed in response to the agreement between
DCI James Woolsey and Deputy Defense Secretary William Perry to establish
a Defense Department organization to absorb the HUMINT operations of the
military services. The plan notes that its purpose was to "preserve the
Department's ability to manage HUMINT under the constraints of diminishing
resources while more rapidly and efficiently focusing the HUMINT elements
of the Department on targets worldwide." It instructed the DIA Director
to establish, during the 1994 fiscal year, a Defense HUMINT Service (DHS)
to incorporate DoD and military service HUMINT operations (excluding non-sensitive,
overt, tactical HUMINT activities).
William Perry, Subject: Consolidation of Defense HUMINT, November 2,
1993. Unclassified, 1 p.
In this memorandum Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry
approves the provisions of the Plan for the Consolidation of Defense HUMINT.
It directs the Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I) to "take the actions
necessary to effect the consolidation of Defense HUMINT by Fiscal Year
1997." The DHS would be established on a provisional basis on April 1,
1994. By October 1995, it had over 2,000 personnel stationed in over 100
locations. By 1996, DHS had completed absorbing the HUMINT efforts of the
DoD, [deleted] PLA Reaction to Attache Detention and Current Status
of the Sino-U.S. Relationship, August 4, 1995. Confidential, 4 pp.
This information report, probably transmitted by the U.S. Defense
Attache Office in Beijing concerns the detention of Col. Joseph Wei Chan
and Capt. Dwayne Howard Florenzie, attaches assigned to the U.S. Consulate
General’s office Hong Kong. They had been apprehended on July 28, 1995,
and charged with sneaking into restricted areas and “illegally acquiring
military intelligence by photographing and videotaping” the areas. They
had entered China on July 23 to consult with officials at the US Embassy
in Beijing and the Consulate General in Guangzhou. Reportedly, their actual
objective was the monitoring of ongoing Chinese military exercises north
DoD, [deleted] COSTIND Company Update, December 21, 1995, Confidential,
This intelligence information report, probably based on reporting
by the Defense Attache in Beijing, provides information on one of the enterprises
of COSTIND - the Commission of Science, Technology, Industry for National
Defense, a key PRC government institution that acquires both technology
and scientific and technical intelligence.
For more examples of DoD HUMINT documents see the National
Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, "The Death Squad Protection
Steven Emerson, Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations
of the Reagan Era (New York: Putnam, 1988).
Jeffrey Richelson, "Task Force 157: The US Navy's Secret Intelligence
Service, 1966-1977," Intelligence and National Security, 11, 1 (January
Jeffrey Richelson, "From MONARCH EAGLE to MODERN AGE: The
Consolidation of Defense HUMINT," International Journal of Intelligence
and Counterintelligence, 10, 2 (Summer 1997): 131-164.
Jeffrey Richelson, "'Truth Conquers All Chains': The U.S. Army Intelligence
Support Activity, 1981-1989," International Journal of Intelligence
and Counterintelligence, 12, 2 (Summer 1999): 168-200.
1. Nancy Feinstein and Christopher Simpson, "The
Spies Who are Left Out in the Cold," Inquiry, November 28, 1981,
pp.11-12; Interview with former TF 157 member.