Lawrence E. Cline
June 2005
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ISBN 1-58487-199-7

This monograph examines the role of pseudo operations in several foreign counterinsurgency campaigns. Pseudo operations are those in which government forces disguised as guerrillas, normally along with guerrilla defectors, operate as teams to infiltrate insurgent areas. This technique has been used by the security forces of several other countries in their operations, and typically it has been very successful.
A number of factors must be taken into account before attempting pseudo operations, especially their role in the intelligence and operational systems. Although it is likely that most insurgent movements have become more sophisticated, many of the lessons learned from previous pseudo operations suggest their continued usefulness in counterinsurgency campaigns.
Strategic Studies Institute

LAWRENCE E. CLINE is a regular instructor with the Center for Civil-Military Relations, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.
He provides programs for foreign military and government officials in developing national counterterrorism strategies and in intelligence reform. He also is a professor of intelligence studies at American Military University and adjunct professor at Troy University and Norwich University. Dr. Cline is a retired U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer, and was trained as a Middle Eastern Foreign Area officer. He served as a United Nations (UN) Military Observer in Egypt and in Lebanon during its civil war; a staff officer with 7th Special Forces Group; advisor in El Salvador during its civil war; senior intelligence analyst with Central Command during Operation DESERT STORM; and as intelligence production chief for United Task Force (UNITAF) in Somalia. His final assignment was as Chief, Middle East Intelligence Branch, J-2, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dr. Cline earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo, with his dissertation on Islamically-based insurgent movements.

Pseudo operations, in which government forces and guerrilla defectors portray themselves as insurgent units, have been a very successful technique used in several counterinsurgency campaigns. Pseudo teams have provided critical human intelligence and other support to these operations.
These operations, although of considerable value, also have raised a number of concerns. Their use in offensive missions and psychological operations campaigns has, at times, been counterproductive. In general, their main value has been as human intelligence collectors, particularly for long-term background intelligence or for identifying guerrilla groups that then are assaulted by conventional forces. Care must be taken in running these operations both to avoid going too far in acting like guerrillas, and in resisting becoming involved in human rights abuses.
Just who should control pseudo operations has been somewhat contentious, but the teams typically have worked for police services or intelligence agencies. This has been largely a result of weaknesses in the military intelligence system. Ideally, strengthening military intelligence structures to support pseudo operations would be the best solution since it would provide better connectivity between the pseudo teams and response forces.
Several factors have marked successful pseudo operations.
First has been a system of incentives for insurgents to defect to the government. These incentives can be positive, usually monetary rewards for surrendering; or negative, causing insurgents to cooperate to avoid severe punishment. A mix of these forms has proven to be very effective, with very few incidents of insurgents redefecting to the guerrilla side. In general, the role of guerrilla defectors has been critical in successful operations.
A critical environmental factor enabling pseudo team success is weakness in insurgent command and communications systems.
Pseudo forces can thrive in environments in which guerrilla forces have problems in their communications and in which centralized control of the guerrilla groups has been weakened. Pseudo teams,
in fact, can help create a synergistic cycle by further weakening insurgent command and control, leading to even more opportunities for their use.
The final critical element of these operations is the effectiveness of the response to the intelligence the teams collect, and coordination with other government forces. Unless government response forces, whether military, police, or intelligence services, are well-trained and prepared to take full advantage of the intelligence provided by pseudo teams, these operations are unlikely to have their maximum impact. Also, unless secure systems are established to avoid interference between the pseudo groups and other security forces, the teams can be in as much danger from their own side as they are
from the insurgents.
Pseudo operation strategies used in earlier counterinsurgency campaigns can offer valuable lessons for future missions. It is likely that most guerrilla movements have become more sophisticated in their operations; as a result, pseudo teams must also develop better techniques. Still, the pseudo operations strategy should provide major benefits against insurgent groups.
The term “pseudo operations” (or some variant of it) indicates the use of organized teams which are disguised as guerrilla groups for long- or short-term penetration of insurgent-controlled areas. They should be distinguished from the more common police or intelligence infiltration of guerrilla or criminal organizations. In the latter case, infiltration is normally done by individuals. Pseudo teams, on the other hand, are formed as needed from organized units, usually military or paramilitary.
The use of pseudo teams has been a hallmark of a number of foreign counterinsurgency campaigns. In most cases, these operations have been very successful. This monograph examines the record of several of these cases, discusses some issues raised by these types of operations, and suggests key lessons learned.

An early example of pseudo-guerrillas was during the Huk Insurrection in the Philippines from 1946-55. The principal unit to be devoted to pseudo operations was the so-called Force X. The group initially was formed in 1948 by members of the Philippine Constabulary:
The basic idea was to make this specially trained force into a realistic pseudo-Huk unit that could, in enemy guise, infiltrate deep into enemy territory. The 47 initial members of Force X were dressed and equipped like Huks. They were taught in a remote rain forest base to talk and act like Huks by four captured guerrillas who had been “tested, screened, and reindoctrinated to our side and brought to the training base to serve as instructors.” The principal aim was to enable government forces to get close enough to guerrilla forces to eliminate selected targets.1
One very successful mission of this type is worth describing for an indication of how the Force X concept was used:
Accompanied by three military intelligence agents, a group of 20 former
Huks were infiltrated into [Panay’s] interior. After 3 months of gathering
information, establishing their cover as a bona fide Huk unit, and gaining the confidence of the island’s Huk leadership, they hosted a “by invitation only” barbecue for the Panay High Command. Between the ribs and potato salad, the covert government force sprang an ambush that killed or captured nearly all the Panay commanders and crippled the organization on the island for the duration of the campaign.2
Beyond the assassination campaign against the Huk cadre, the members of Force X also engaged in psychological operations and various “dirty tricks” campaigns, to include planting doctored ammunition in Huk ammunition caches that would explode when fired.3 They also were used for long-term intelligence collection.
A similar unit to Force X was established later in the anti-Huk campaign. This was called Charlie Company. Due to the Huks’ awareness of earlier Force X operations, Charlie Company operations normally did not involve actually trying to link with guerrilla groups.
Instead, they operated small team reconnaissance operations while dressed either in uniform or in guerrilla disguises; in some cases, they would also conduct “snatch” missions while dressed as guerrillas.4
During the same period, the British were conducting generally similar pseudo operations in their campaign against the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA), a predominantly Chinese-based insurgent group. This group was called “communist terrorists” (CTs) by the British. Originally, the use of pseudo-guerrillas was bottom driven, with police Special Branch officers in the districts initiating the teams.
One of these operations typified the use of pseudo teams. A Special Branch officer established links with a MRLA section leader by arranging for his wife to deliver her baby in a government hospital.
After becoming closer to the leader, the Special Branch officer made a deal with him. The leader led a column of six insurgents out of the jungle into a deliberate ambush in which the leader was carefully identified ahead of time and spared. Chinese British soldiers then donned the dead insurgents’ uniforms and were led back into the jungle by the MRLA member. From there, they operated against higher ranking members of the insurgency.5
Robert Thompson, one of the principal civilian architects of the counterinsurgency campaign argued that the captured insurgents, needed to “belong” to some organization in place of the Communism they had renounced; he believed they tended to turn to other ex-CTs for guidance in the new world into which they had just emerged . . . . [I]n a strange way they could only justify their escape from Communism by being personally involved in the struggle against it―which was why time after time they begged to lead patrols back into the jungle to attack their former comrades.6
Another author offered a more practical reason for the willingness of captured or surrendered insurgents to cooperate: They needed “to kill off all the Communists who knew them, and knew of their defection or capture, before this news could be spread around to the Traitor Killing Squads, which might extract retribution from relatives.”7
Whether from practical considerations or more complicated psychological factors, surrendered or captured MRLA members tended to cooperate with British authorities once under their control.
In Malaya, one aspect of dealing with surrendered or captured guerrillas presented a difficulty that has surfaced in other campaigns.
Psychological operations campaigns stressed the good treatment of surrendered insurgents in an effort to inspire others to surrender voluntarily. For other guerrillas to believe this approach, however, it was necessary to publicize the current satisfaction of those who had already surrendered through photographs and broadcasts.8
This approach, of course, conflicted with the requirement to keep hidden the identities of those guerrillas who had agreed to cooperate as pseudo-guerrillas.
The British also used pseudo-guerrillas for some psychological operations including disguising some troops as MRLA members, then launching a false bombing raid on their position. The troops were made up to look wounded and then sent into areas where they would encounter insurgents and spread tales of the effectiveness of British targeting. In general, however, the pseudo teams were used for intelligence collection and to target guerrilla camps for bombing

From 1952 to 1960, the British fought a counterinsurgency campaign against the tribally-based insurgent group called the Mau Mau in Kenya. The command and control system for British operations in Kenya consisted of provincial headquarters, with a provincial emergency committee consisting of police and army
representatives, and district committees established below them with similar members. The group with the principal responsibility for intelligence collection was the Special Branch of the police rather than military intelligence officers. Due to the increased demands placed on Special Branch by the Mau Mau operations, the army seconded sergeants from the Kenya Regiment to serve as Field Intelligence Assistants (FIAs). These FIAs were posted to “outlying parts” of the districts to collect information.9
After the FIA system was established, the army headquarters then began assigning some army officers at the district level as District Military Intelligence Officers (DMIO) to work with the Special Branch officers. It was not until later in the counterinsurgency campaign that an army officer was assigned to Special Branch headquarters to serve as the principal liaison to coordinate the operations of the army and Special Branch nationally.10
Most of the officers and noncommissioned officers had little or no formal intelligence training or background. Frank Kitson, who was key in developing the concept of pseudo-guerrillas in Kenya, noted the attitude of his superiors when he was appointed as a DMIO: “[I]f we could not be of any use, could we please not be a nuisance?”11
Kitson’s original concept was simply to develop camps in which the British “could keep a handful of Africans who could help [the FIA] with his interrogations and who could move around the countryside planting . . . and visiting informers.”12
In rather short order, however, he discovered that captured Mau Mau were willing to work actively against their former comrades. Former Mau Mau were used to train British African troops and deployed with these troops in the field
against the insurgents. As with Malaya, the initial deployment of the pseudo-guerrillas was bottom driven, with official approval from the British headquarters following only after a number of operations had been run. In about a year, the original small pseudo group had grown to a force of about 200.13
These teams were used primarily to collect long-term information and intelligence since, as Kitson notes, “. . . if we always directed Security Forces onto gangs immediately after visiting them, the terrorists would soon tumble to the idea.”14
It was only when a particularly valuable target was encountered that the teams would launch direct attacks, unless, of course, a team came under immediate
threat. Even when the pseudo teams (normally called “pseudo gangs” by the British) launched direct operations against insurgent groups, they typically tried to capture as many as possible rather than to kill them.
One tool that proved very useful in identifying Mau Mau members―a number of whom then were turned to the government’s side―was the “hooded man” system:
The Coleman Scheme was to have many more hooded men than Special Branch had used. He wanted at least 10 each time and possibly more . . . The FIA would then disguise the man before he came into contact with the other hooded men, some of whom might be prisoners rather than informers. When they were all safely hidden behind their masks, they would be assembled and sat down in a row of chairs, with one of our men standing behind each one. No hooded man was allowed to talk to another . . . When all was ready, the suspects would walk past the hooded men. If they recognized anyone they would give brief particulars to the FIA standing behind their chair. If a suspect was recognized by three or four of the hooded men and if the particulars given to the FIAs corresponded, then it was a safe assumption that they had picked the right man. In this way, we collected a lot of information about people,
and we also caught many senior Mau Mau supporters. Quite often we would even get active gangsters in the net.15
Although Kitson admitted that it was a “gross oversimplification,” he noted that in terms of recruiting former insurgents to serve with the
pseudo teams, the Mau Mau could be divided into three categories.
The first was what might be termed the “true believers,” for whom “the only thing to do was to give him away as soon as possible.”
The second category was those who “had merely joined because all their friends had done so, and because life was getting rough in the Reserve.” In general, Kitson found them unsuitable for the teams.
The final category was “the Africans who joined the gangs from a spirit of adventure.” He found the last group to be the best prospects for his teams.16
Training―or “taming” as Kitson calls it―of guerrilla defectors for the pseudo teams involved three phases. The first phase involved harsh treatment of the prisoner, including chaining him and feeding him only the most basic food. In the second stage, “the candidate would be incorporated gradually into the community as a friend but would not be told much about the business nor would he be left by himself.” Finally, “[h]e could sleep with the others, carry arms, do sentry duty or go out by himself.” Kitson states that after the system became fully implemented, the whole process could occasionally be completed in as little as 24 hours.17
Early operations of the pseudo gangs took place primarily in settled areas rather than in the “forest.” As the Mau Mau began being forced away from the population, the pseudo team concept expanded to longer-term jungle operations, which put much more stress on the teams.18 They did have some success in their operations, although it does not appear to have resulted in as much impact as in their previous operations.
Although most of the pseudo gangs’ activities involved very small scale operations, they had a definite impact on the counterinsurgency campaign. Kitson concluded that by 1954 his teams “had probably accounted for more actual gang members and weapons than any of the large military operations in the past six months.”19 Since the guerrillas operated predominantly in small groups, with problems in communications between the various groups, the environment
was ideal for pseudo operations.

The French military in Indochina and Algeria would have seemed well-placed to use pseudo operations extensively. During the French campaign in Indochina, about 325,000 of the 500,000 French troops were Indochinese, giving them a natural base for pseudo forces.20 Nevertheless, virtually all these native troops were used in conventional units.
The French, however, did establish guerrilla groups based on native tribal groups. These units, called the Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés (Composite Airborne Commando Group or GCMA)―later renamed the Groupement Mixte d’Intervention (GMI) or Mixed Intervention Group―were intended to conduct guerrilla operations to attack Viet Minh rear areas. The GCMA was a subordinate element of the Service de Do*****entation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (French Counterintelligence Service) in Indochina. Although relatively effective, the GCMA basically was a “conventional” guerrilla force rather than a form of pseudo operation.21
In Algeria, the French used a large number of native Algerian troops called harkis. In total, over 180,000 harkis served in the war, a larger number of troops than was fielded by the FLN (National Liberation Front, the independence group).22 These soldiers generally were used in conventional formations either in all-Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units. They also were employed as platoon or below sized units attached to French battalions
in a role akin to the use of Kit Carson Scouts by the United States in Vietnam.23
Harki units in this third use were designed primarily in an intelligence gathering role, with some reported minor pseudo operations in support of their intelligence collection.24
The extent of these pseudo operations appears to have been very limited both in time and scope, however.
The most widespread use of pseudo type operations was during the “Battle of Algiers” in 1957. The principal French employer of covert agents in Algiers was the Fifth Bureau, the psychological warfare branch. In addition to other better known French counterinsurgency measures such as a block warden system and widespread use of torture to extract information, the Fifth Bureau also made extensive use of “turned” FLN members:
Among the most specialised stratagems within intelligence-led counter terrorism was the ploy to reverse the loyalties of captured FLN militants,so that after being interrogated they worked for French intelligence . . .
[Captain Paul-Alain] Leger [of the 10th Paras] ran a network of former FLN activists whom he “turned” and sent back into the Algiers Casbah after “persuading” them to change sides by torture or by threats against their families. These agents were disguised as street sweepers and municipal workers . . . [and] mingled with the FLN cadres. They planted incriminating forged do*****ents, spread false rumours of treachery and fomented distrust among the [FLN] . . . As a frenzy of throat-cutting and disemboweling broke out among confused and suspicious FLN cadres, nationalist slaughtered nationalist from April to September 1957 and did France’s work for her.25
It should be noted that this form of pseudo operation apparently involved individual operatives rather than organized units as discussed in other cases. Using individuals rather than teams in this case may, in fact, have been a more appropriate response since the FLN inside Algeria by this point was very fragmented in terms of operational control.26
As with the case of Indochina, rather than trying large-scale pseudo-guerrilla operations, the French focused on developing native guerrilla groups that would fight against the FLN. They had some success with a group in the Southern Atlas Mountains, providing it with arms and supplies.27 Unfortunately for the French, they also had a disaster with another group called “Force K.” In this case, the FLN essentially used pseudo-guerrilla strategies against the French guerrilla group. Some 1,000 Algerians volunteered to serve in Force K as guerrillas for the French. Most of the members of Force K either were FLN members already or were turned by the FLN once enlisted. Although Force K’s operations initially looked promising, complete with the corpses of purported FLN members displayed by the unit, these bodies were in actuality those of dissidents and members of other Algerian groups killed by the FLN.
Eventually, upon discovery by the French of the sympathies of the majority of “its” guerrillas, the French army tried to hunt down and kill its members. Despite French efforts, however, some 600 managed to escape and join the FLN with their weapons and equipment.28

The Rhodesian insurgency developed gradually, initially appearing to be more of a law enforcement problem than an organized insurgency. It took considerable time for the Rhodesian government to acknowledge the severity of the insurgent threat it faced and to develop a coherent response.29
Ultimately, the government faced two different major insurgent groups: the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), together with its military arm, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA); and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), with its military wing, the Zimbabwe National
Liberation Army (ZANLA). These two groups, largely tribal based, used two very different strategies―ZIPRA focused on conventional Soviet-style operations, while ZANLA operated under a Maoist rural strategy. Neither group cooperated with the other; in fact, there were clashes between the two.
Intelligence operations in Rhodesia―together with overall coordination of counterinsurgency―remained very complicated. There were a series of joint operations centers at various levels that combined the police and the military; in practical terms, however, the army almost always had the major authority. The senior planning level was at the Operations Coordination Committee, which combined the commanders of the army and air force, the Commissioner of Police, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Organization. As one study noted, “all decisions had to be reached through an arduous system of consensus, with each member retaining the responsibility for ensuring that his service carried out agreed-upon command decisions.”30
By 1977, in an effort to improve centralized planning, the post of Commander, Combined Operations (COMOPS) was created. The Rhodesian security system, however, never did have a completely unified headquarters, and overall planning remained somewhat shaky.31
This was particularly true for Special Forces, including the Selous Scouts. With the formation of COMOPS, all Special Forces units were removed from army control. Instead, they were controlled directly by COMOPS Commander Lieutenant General Peter Walls. The only role the army headquarters played was to
provide administrative and logistics support. Also, there was no central Special Forces headquarters, and no Special Forces-qualified officers were assigned to COMOPS.
A particular gap in Rhodesia’s counterinsurgency campaign was that of intelligence. Virtually all the effective intelligence being provided was through the police Special Branch. The military intelligence system was very weak throughout the war. In most cases, units below brigade level had only a corporal for their intelligence officer. At all levels, the job of intelligence officer was “. . . to be filled by someone not suitable for any other post. It was also considered
the first ready-use pool of officers and other ranks, should a shortage of personnel occur elsewhere.”32
Even after the formation of COMOPS, the intelligence system remained very weak:
. . . [L]ack of a central body for coordinating intelligence at COMOPS also had a decidedly negative effect on the total intelligence effort. Initially the
section consisted of a single member . . . This neglect had also led to an almost total lack on military intelligence officers capable of control and
co-ordination of intelligence at top level and to the neglect of military intelligence as a serious challenge at lower level.33
The original impetus for pseudo operations came from regional joint operations centers rather than intelligence or police headquarters.34
The main driving force was due to the intelligence problems already discussed: Field units simply were not receiving the intelligence they required to respond to the insurgents. Police made an early attempt to use pseudo operations in October 1966, but the effort was stillborn.35
The first formal pseudo team was formed in January 1973 as an all-African team, with two African policemen and four “turned” insurgents. The early teams did succeed in bringing in some valuable intelligence, but their overall impact was slight. In November 1973, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) R. H. Reid-Daly was tasked with forming the Selous Scouts as a pseudo-guerrilla force. Its original membership came largely from army trackers, and its cover throughout most of its existence was as a tracking unit. The original strength of Selous Scouts was about 120, with all officers being white and with the highest rank initially available for Africans being colour sergeant.36
One major recruiting incentive for African volunteers was that their pay was nearly doubled from their normal army salaries due to special bonuses.37
Additionally, somewhere around 800 turned insurgents eventually were recruited, whose salaries were paid by Special Branch.38
Ultimately, the unit reached a strength of somewhere around 1,500.
The original focus of the Selous Scouts was on intelligence gathering for operational forces rather than acting as some form of hunter-killer team: “. . . [O]ur pseudo insurgent groups should only resort to killing insurgents if they had been compromised, or the prize was so extraordinarily great that it was worth the high cost of a compromise.”39
Virtually all the intelligence collected by the pseudo teams was passed to Special Branch, and the “flow of intelligence from the Selous Scouts to local Army commanders was very limited.”40
Beyond the internal intelligence operations of the Selous Scouts, they also began conducting an increasing number of external operations. These operations involved both intelligence collection and direct action missions. Much of the impetus for these external operations came from the Selous Scouts themselves, whose leaders continued to push more and more for these types of missions. Reid- Daly argued that:
External operations, although rarely more dangerous than our internal operations, always excited interest and enthusiasm in the troops and proved to be a great morale-booster. They also provided a welcome break from the general tedium, which often bugged our internal pseudo operators.41
He also notes that the majority of insurgent casualties caused by the Selous Scouts, in fact, were created by external operations.42
A number of the external missions were long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions, but increasingly included offensive operations. Selous Scouts originally were involved in an assassination attempt against ZIPRA leader Joshua Nkomo in Zambia. This mission, which had to be aborted by the Selous Scouts, later was attempted by the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS); the SAS operation was a failure. The Scouts conducted regular operations in Mozambique, Zambia, and Botswana.
In many of these missions, the Selous Scouts would disguise themselves and their vehicles as being part of the neighboring country’s forces. Other than this, however, some operations resembled much more conventional raids than they did covert operations. The Rhodesian government normally demanded some
element of “plausible deniability” for these operations―principally by restricting most direct support air missions―but this political fig leaf was very minimal. This became increasingly pronounced as the Selous Scouts conducted larger and larger operations, many involving large motorized columns launched across Rhodesian borders.
Most of these missions were very successful militarily, but their overall political impact was counterproductive. Although the Rhodesians generally tried to avoid inflicting significant numbers of casualties on the soldiers of the countries they entered, such casualties were almost inevitable. Worse, a few operations resulted in the deaths of local civilians.43 Even where the Selous Scouts raids succeeded in striking guerrilla sanctuaries, the political results could be harmful.44
A good example of this problem was the Selous Scouts’ raid on a ZANLA camp at Nyadzonya Pungwe, Mozambique in August 1976. Eighty-four Scouts using Rhodesian trucks and armored cars painted in Mozambique military camouflage drove directly into the camp. Once there, they killed some 1,000 purported guerrillas.
Militarily, it was a remarkable feat. Unfortunately, the camp was formally registered with the United Nations (UN) as a refugee camp. Also, even by Reid-Daly’s account, most of those killed were unarmed guerrillas standing in formation for a parade.45
To make matters worse, the camp hospital was set afire by the rounds fired by the Scouts, burning alive all the patients. The international condemnation of this raid almost certainly outweighed its military success in the long term.46
Captured guerrillas were critical in the intelligence operations of the Scouts. The first step in potential recruitment of former guerrillas was in the interrogation process:
For a prisoner to be of any use to us, it was absolutely vital that his identity was totally protected and that neither the locals in the area of the contact, nor anyone back at the security force base, knew of his capture or even of his existence. . . . When a captured insurgent was brought into a Selous Scouts fort, the first priority was to give him the best possible medical attention available . . . [T]he only things said to him were concerned purely with his health and physical welfare. The captive was usually astonished to see that everything had been done to ensure his life was saved. And because of this, whether consciously or unconsciously, a feeling of gratitude would begin to permeate his mind.47
From this point, “in nine cases out of ten, the information just poured out.”
At times, of course, the captured guerrilla’s usefulness was expended after the interrogation. In virtually all cases, however, attempts were made to recruit the prisoners for the Selous Scouts.
The group had an excellent track record in its recruiting efforts. It developed a specific routine for “turning” the guerrillas:
. . . [T]he best recruiting method was to send another former insurgent to visit him in hospital . . . and have a long conversation, dwelling in particular upon the hardships the insurgents were experiencing in the bush . . . The process of turning insurgents was eased considerably by the knowledge that they could be hanged as violators of the Law and Order Maintenance Act. He would then be examined thoroughly by members of the Selous Scouts to ensure his loyalty―not to the government of Rhodesia, but to the members of the unit itself. The insurgent also would be offered a cash lump sum for joining the Selous Scouts (together with receiving the same salary as a soldier, with the funds being paid by Special Branch), and if possible, his family would be moved to the Selous Scouts base, where they received free rations, housing, education, and medical care.48
The Selous Scouts were the most important element in providing actionable intelligence for the security forces, however questionable the ultimate effects of their external offensive operations. According to a 1978 study by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, 68 percent of all insurgent deaths inside Rhodesia could be attributed to the Selous Scouts.49
With this record, the Scouts emerged as the most potent factor in Rhodesia’s counterinsurgency campaign.
Kenya and Rhodesia are the two best known examples of the use of pseudo-guerrillas, but similar techniques have been used in a number of other counterinsurgencies. The Portuguese in particular used pseudo operations extensively in their African colonies in the 1960s and 1970s.
Portuguese pseudo units included the Tropas Especiais (Special Troops), Grupos Especiais (Special Groups), and Flechas (Arrows).
At their maximum strength, some 11,000 personnel served in these units, mostly organized in small bands.50 These units, consisting both of African troops and “turned” guerrillas, generally were intended for intelligence gathering and were controlled by the Portuguese intelligence service, the International Police for the Defence of the State (PIDE).
Guerrilla recruitment was similar to that in Rhodesia, with positive reinforcement being stressed. In Mozambique, the Portuguese commander “claimed a 90 percent success rate in persuading captured guerrillas to turn against their former colleagues . . .”51
In Guinea, General Antonio de Spinola reportedly evacuated wounded guerrillas to hospitals before his own troops.52
More recently, the Salvadorans used pseudo teams for intelligence collection during their civil war. The Turkish government also has used Special Teams (sometimes called Special Action Teams) in operations against the Kurdish Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK).
These teams are composed primarily of former army and Jandarma (paramilitary) officers and noncommissioned officers. They normally dress in civilian clothing or PKK uniforms, or as close as the PKK comes to having uniforms. Apparently, the Special Teams do not employ former PKK members as part of the teams. Two particular issues with the Special Teams emerged during the course of their operations. First, they have been accused of “vigilante justice” in
executing suspected PKK members. Second, team members reportedly have been recruited heavily from the right-wing Nationalist Action Party.53
The governments that have used pseudo operations clearly have viewed them as very valuable. At the same time, however, the operations that have been conducted have raised a number of problems and issues. Not all these issues are amenable to easy solutions, but should be considered when planning such operations.
Intelligence or Operations?
The two major models of pseudo operations are as intelligence collectors or as operators for direct action missions. In some cases, of course, teams have been used for both roles. The main issue for governments is to determine in which role pseudo teams are most useful?
The main argument for using pseudo teams as intelligence collectors is that by virtue of their training and employment, they are ideally situated for collecting human intelligence. Their ability to blend with actual guerrillas at least for reasonable periods of time means that they can collect critical intelligence that likely would be impossible through normal intelligence means.
There are several practical issues involved with using pseudoguerrillas exclusively for intelligence collection, however. The first is the potential difficulty of extracting these teams before government forces act on their intelligence. Second, the longer teams remain in an area collecting information, the more chance of being unmasked.
Finally, there will almost always be a time gap between the time a team collects the intelligence and the time other forces can respond, potentially giving the guerrillas time to escape.
One larger point may militate against using pseudo teams for routine direct offensive missions. This is the potential political impact of such operations. It is all too easy for government opponents to brand the teams conducting these missions as “death squads” beyond the reach of the law. This certainly has been an issue with the Turkish Special Teams. Any mistakes in targeting in which civilians or even unarmed members of a guerrilla support structure are killed can have severe repercussions for the government. This, of course, is even further exacerbated if such operations are cross-border operations, leading to the potential for third country nationals being killed.
Given the potential political problems with direct missions, intelligence collection appears to be the preferable mission for pseudo teams. This, of course, is not completely an either-or proposition.
The teams in Kenya likely struck the right balance: When operating independently, their primary goal was always to take prisoners rather than to inflict casualties. Their attitude was that the potential risks involved in taking prisoners rather than killing the insurgents immediately were very much worth it in terms of the intelligence payoffs.
How Far to Go?
A key issue involving the use of pseudo insurgents is how far they are allowed to go in acting like insurgents. Clearly, unless the teams are accepted as authentic in a process that Cilliers calls “validification,” they will not be productive (and, of course, can be killed). On the other hand, their actions in gaining acceptance typically involve questionable activities.
At times, in fact, their operations have been counterproductive to ultimate government goals. Reid-Daly notes one particular egregious case in which a pseudo group conducted a bogus attack on a protected village. Their initiative so shamed the real ZANLA groups in the area that they started a regular mortaring campaign against the village.54
Kitson notes that at times his team members posing as guerrilla leaders ordered the beating and fining of Mau Maus; in fairness, however, these normally were for offenses involving the death penalty under the Mau Mau code.55
The very presence of pseudo teams can potentially destabilize an area. As these teams enter an area, they must sell themselves as legitimate guerrillas. Frequently this means conducting propaganda operations with the local populace. Even without active propaganda, the presence of “guerrillas” may well create doubts among locals as to the government’s ability to control its territory and to protect them.
This is an issue for which there are no pat answers. Governments should carefully consider the areas in which they insert pseudo teams and what types of missions the teams are given. Procedures and general rules of engagement should be worked out in advance by the headquarters and team commanders. Beyond this, the key element will remain the training and judgment of the independent teams.
Who Should Control Pseudo Operations?
Virtually all the pseudo teams operated to date have been controlled by either police services―usually in the form of Special Branch or its equivalent―or intelligence agencies. In the cases of Kenya and Malaya, this largely was a function of overall British counterinsurgency doctrine that emphasized the primacy of civilian control.56
Rhodesia appears to have followed the British model largely due to its colonial roots from Britain. Other countries such as Portugal, however, also have used a similar structure.
It is logical to put intelligence agencies or the police equivalent of Special Branch in charge of pseudo operations. Both police and intelligence services have experience in conducting undercover or covert activities. As such, they have gained proficiency in such critical issues as maintaining the security of the members involved, establishing covert systems of communications, and in general “tradecraft.”
The principal counterargument, that the teams should be run by the military, is that most police or intelligence undercover operations use individuals rather than formalized teams. Militaries are much more accustomed to handling units than are police or intelligence services. Also, members of pseudo groups normally will require at least basic military tactical skills, for survival, if nothing else. The pseudo units who become involved in offensive operations also are more likely to need military channels to provide support.
Beyond the tactical level, in many cases pseudo teams have grown in overall strength beyond the abilities of police services to directly supervise them. With the Selous Scouts for an example, their growth to about 1,500 strong and a shift to offensive operations would have overwhelmed the capabilities of any police service for direct supervision.57
Even with the smaller number of teams in Kenya and after their successes, there was a significant debate within the British administration over whether the pseudo teams should be controlled by Intelligence Branch or the Operations Branch.58
Perhaps the key factor in the historical cases leading to police or intelligence control of pseudo operations simply was that the military intelligence systems were so weak. If pseudo teams are to be used primarily for intelligence operations, then their supporting intelligence system must be capable of rapidly processing the information they collect. If the military intelligence structure is not prepared for adequate support of the human intelligence the teams
provide, then some other agency must assume this role.
The ideal solution would be for militaries engaged in counterinsurgency to strengthen their military intelligence system to support pseudo operations if required. This would include augmenting human intelligence coordination and analysis, training in how pseudo operations might be conducted, and establishing at least the framework for supporting teams. This likely would be particularly important if governments use military units as response forces to the intelligence provided by pseudo teams. Using military intelligence as the link between the teams and military response forces provides more streamlined bureaucratic channels for processing immediate intelligence.
What Type of Intelligence Should Pseudo Teams Provide?
There are several issues surrounding the intelligence provided by pseudo teams. The first is how to handle insurgents who have been captured as a result of team operations. A particular question is that of what should be gained from interrogations since this is typically the first stage of recruitment.
There are two opposing views as to the issues surrounding the use of interrogation of captured insurgents. Frank Kitson notes that if immediate tactical information is needed, direct interrogation is required. This must be accomplished by local commanders, who require detailed intelligence for their tactical operations. On the other hand, background intelligence for long-term operations is best achieved by Special Branch. Acquiring this form of intelligence
requires a very different approach: “[T]he chief use of a prisoner lies in gaining his co-operation and friendship, and a different process, which takes much longer, is required.”59
Reid-Daly, on the other hand, stressed the absolute criticality of focusing on immediate tactical intelligence:
Insurgent prisoners, immediately after capture, provided the best, immediate and hottest up-to-the-minute intelligence. But the speed of the acquisition of such intelligence was governed by the time it took to make the prisoner talk . . . It was important, therefore, that a captive was speedily broken, and the intelligence gained from him quickly acted upon. If this did not happen, the security forces gained nothing.60
The same competing approaches can be applied to pseudo operations more generally. Pseudo teams can provide a key contribution to the current intelligence picture. The problem of acquiring immediate intelligence was described well by Reid-Daly:
It is of little use to a soldier to know where the insurgents were yesterday, or even where they might be tomorrow. He needs to know where they are now, so that he can do something about it. And this, in effect, was the fundamental problem―the acquisition of intelligence, which could be immediately acted upon.61
The opposite approach taken by Kitson is to focus pseudo operations on developing long-term intelligence rather than immediate tactical intelligence. In this approach, short-term intelligence takes a back seat to trying to determine the broader pattern of insurgent operations. If done well, this can be critical in predicting future guerrilla activities and preempting them.
Ultimately, this may be of greater benefit in the counterinsurgency campaign.
A second key aspect of using the intelligence collected by pseudo teams is how to use this information. The risk of compromise of operations can be exacerbated by too obvious immediate use of the intelligence provided by a team. If a pseudo team’s intelligence reporting of a particular insurgent network results in an immediate “roll up” of the network, it likely will be apparent to the other side what has happened.62
This is particularly the case, of course, if such responses occur repeatedly.
This difficulty is a good argument for Kitson’s approach. Certainly, some high value targets such as key leaders are worth the risk of exposing the pseudo teams’ operations, but in most cases they likely are better used for longer-term collection. As with many other aspects of pseudo operations, governmental responses to their collection activities must be carefully coordinated so that they can continue to operate without being exposed. One technique successfully used by many teams was to purportedly move out of an area well before government forces arrived, but to maintain covert surveillance of the guerrilla forces they had mixed with.
Should Teams be Used to Conduct Psychological Operations?
In Rhodesia, teams would deliberately violate local customs to alienate the people from the guerrillas. They would also target members of ZANLA and ZAPRA, pretending to be members of the other group. Ultimately, this led to some firefights between the two groups. Likewise, the Philippine government used similar tactics.
Such operations certainly have had some success. Overall, however, they likely are not the best use of pseudo teams. Use of “dirty tricks” can create significant problems for governments when they are discovered. Also, these techniques can create a dangerous situation for civilians, either directly or as a result of guerrilla reprisals.
There also is the problem of determining where to draw the line; as these operations develop, the risk of being “overly creative” in new tricks to try is very real.
Are “Outsiders” Essential?
The insistence of both the British in Kenya and the Rhodesians in using white officers led to practical difficulties. Reid-Daly notes the problems in “blackening-up.”63 In most cases involving contacts with the insurgents, the white officers had to hide outside of the village or camp in which their African team members were meeting the guerrillas. In at least one case, however, a team used a white member as a “prisoner” to gain access to a group of guerrillas.64
Likewise, in Kenya, the presence of white members always presented security problems. Nevertheless, the mixed race teams typically faced only limited difficulties in “selling” themselves as Mau Mau despite using relatively primitive disguises.65
In fact, in one case in which a team unexpectedly encountered a group of Mau Maus, they successfully explained away the white team member with them as being an “Asian Mau Mau.”66
Clearly, most, if not all, of the insistence on using white leaders for the teams in Kenya and Rhodesia was a result of colonial heritage and/or racism. In fairness, though, the mixed-race teams seemed to bond very closely, and all the members were treated well.67 Also, the guerrillas in both countries seemed to see what they expected to see.
In retrospect, the teams got away with what seems in many cases to have been remarkably sloppy tradecraft.
Nevertheless, despite their successes in melding the teams, there seems to be no practical necessity for using such mixed teams. Other countries certainly have succeeded in using pseudo teams that could blend with the guerrillas. Portugal, in fact, started with white-officered units, but rather quickly shifted into all-African teams.68
The issue of using “outsiders” is almost certainly even more dangerous, given that most insurgent groups likely have become more sophisticated.
There seems to be little practical advantage to using mixed teams.

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