Member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) salutes his black helicopter, an MH-60L Black Hawk.  (Army Times, July 10, 1995)

Perhaps we can put Waco in perspective by understanding the function of a select group of commandos within the US military.  Some military observers say that the fingerprints of these commandos are all over the Waco Holocaust.  Let's have a brief look that the history, philosophy, and operational basis of this group.

Each of the US military services has a covert operations command, sometimes called "Special Operations," sometimes "Special Operations Forces" (SOF), and sometimes simply "Special Ops."  Special Ops personnel are trained for making quick, secret, destructive, and illegal raids against selected targets.  They do the black bag jobs overseas for the CIA.

Performing secret acts of war was an integral part of the Reagan foreign policy, just as it was in previous administrations.  But under the Reagan Administration, Joint Special Operations became a separate command, reporting directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Since that time, the use of Special Ops has continued.  Headquartered in MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, in 1996, the Joint Special Operations Command employed 46,000 people and averaged 280 missions a week in 137 countries (The Tampa Tribune, March 1, 1996).  Special Ops. has its own helicopter unit: the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), formerly the 160th Task Force of the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

Special Ops can create task forces as they wish, picking and choosing from those with special skills required for the mission.  The Special Ops commandos can come from any branch of the military; they can be Special Forces, Green Berets, or Navy SEALS; they can be on active duty or on "retired" status.

"Least understood and appreciated of the Special Ops missions are those of the civil affairs and psychological operations units.  These people, most of them National Guardsmen and Army Reservists …" says the Army Times of January 8, 1996.  There we have it, from an impeccable source: Special Ops commandos can be members of the National Guard or Reserves.

A Special Ops black helicopter lowers commandos to the ground during a training exercise. At the time this picture was published, anyone who talked of "black helicopters" was ridiculed and accused of paranoia (e.g., RationalWiki, cached). The Army Times article published with this picture explains that the Special Ops "civil affairs and psychological operations units" are "least understood and appreciated." (Army Times, January 8, 1996) Truly, we should appreciate that the public stigmatization of reports of "black helicopters" was a highly successful mission in psychological operations.

Those chosen for Special Ops junkets can be flown in and out of the mission site by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) helicopter unit.  That is, the 160th can fly ATF, FBI, or any other commandos at will.  The Army Times, July 10, 1995, shows commandos being dropped at a site on a rope.  Note that the helicopter shown in the picture is black.

Special Forces personnel trained the ATF for the Waco assault (Treasury Report, pg. 73).  It is possible the trainers were on a Special Ops mission at the time the training was delivered.  In the same way, some of the National Guard personnel who participated in the Waco assault or siege could have been Guardsmen who were knowingly part of a Special Ops mission.

Operational Philosophy

Fashioned on the philosophy of Israeli and British commando units, Special Ops operates on a "take no prisoners" philosophy.  The British characterize the strategy as "Butcher and Bolt."

Training Ruse

Because illegality and secrecy are so much a part of the operations of Special Ops, cover stories are used to hide the real nature of their activities.  "Training" is a cover that has historically been favored to hide Special Operations involvement in combat.  We see that the military role in Waco was said to include "training," too.

Shortly after taking office in 1981, President Reagan used the "training" cover when he sent combat soldiers to El Salvador to shore up the military junta there.  To allay fears about another Vietnam War, Reagan simply lied — he said that the soldiers were there to train the Salvadoran army, that he was limiting the number of Green Berets to 55, and that they were prohibited from entering a combat zone (see Robert Parry's article "Lost History: Death, Lies and Bodywashing," in The Consortium, May 27, 1996; visit the Library for address).

In fact, thousands of soldiers took full part in combat there.  Twenty-one were killed in action.  The Pentagon admitted the truth in May 1996, when it honored the dead soldiers and fifty others who took part in the illegal operation (The Washington Post, May 6, 1996, Public Honors for Secret Combat).

Mindset of Secret Commandos

It is important to know the mindset of commandos who go on secret and illegal missions.  This can be discovered by looking at who they support and what they support.

The New York Times reporter Raymond Bonner was sent to El Salvador in the early 1980s to cover the civil war, in which the US intervened on the side of the junta.  Bonner interviewed junta head Jose Napoleon Duarte and asked why he had to fight guerrillas in his country.  Duarte said:

"Fifty years of lies, fifty years of injustice, fifty years of frustration.  This is a history of people starving to death, living in misery.  For fifty years the same people had all the power, all the money, all the jobs, all the education, all the opportunities."  (quoted in Killing Hope, pg. 353.)

Despite this clear statement about the nature of the war, the Reagan Administration illegally and covertly sent troops to assist the junta, on the basis that the guerrillas were "leftists."  It was to protect Duarte's regime that these soldiers risked and gave their lives.  And in May 1996, the Pentagon awarded medals and called it patriotism.

Murder and Torture of Civilians

The history of the Salvadoran civil war also helps us define the secret commando's attitude toward the torture and murder of civilians.  Again, understanding the mindset helps put Waco in perspective.

The Salvadoran junta's death squads routinely tortured and murdered civilians.  In December 1981, in the town of El Mozote, 700 to 1,000 people were massacred—mostly elderly, women, and children.  Engaged in what the US military calls "Close Quarter Combat," the Salvadoran forces butchered their victims face-to-face.  People were hacked to death by machetes or beheaded.  A child was thrown in the air and caught on a bayonet.  Young girls were raped in an orgy before they were killed (Killing Hope, pg. 359).

A few months later, The New York Times published an article written on the evidence of a deserter from the Salvadoran Army who described a class where severe methods of torture were demonstrated on teenage prisoners.  He stated that eight US military advisers, apparently Green Berets, were present.  "Watching will make you feel more like a man," the trainer told the recruits (Killing Hope, pg. 359).

In 1989 a former Salvadoran Army commando told CBS evening news that he had belonged to an intelligence unit that functioned as a death squad, and that two US military advisers attached to the unit were aware of the assassinations, and supplied money to the unit to help maintain vehicles used for death squad operations (Killing Hope, pg. 359).

In all of these cases, the US personnel and commanders had to know the nature of the Salvadoran forces on whose side they were fighting.  After all, they were "training" the killers.

In Guatemala, the US has sent troops and money to squash resistance to the repressive ruling oligarchy.  Several Americans were tortured at the hands of the Guatemalan military.  One such person was Sister Dianna Ortiz, a nun.  Sister Ortiz "related how, in 1989, she was kidnapped, burned with cigarettes, raped repeatedly, and lowered into a pit full of corpses and rats.  A fair-skinned man who spoke with an American accent seemed to be in charge, she said."  (Killing Hope, pg. 239).

The Making of a Commando

To understand a creation, it is helpful to understand the mind of the designer.  And the mind of a commando has been carefully architected.

In 1975 the public got a glimpse of the secret training delivered to commandos when a Navy psychologist, Lt. Comdr. Thomas Narut, spoke to The Times (of London) during a NATO conference in Oslo on "Dimensions of Stress and Anxiety."  The conversation took place just after the Senate Intelligence Committee had reprimanded the CIA for plotting political assassinations around the world.

Narut said that Naval Intelligence had taken convicted murderers from military prisons and conditioned them as assassins, and then placed them in US embassies around the world.  He also explained that he had worked with "combat readiness units" which included men being trained for commando-type operations.  These, Narut said, were "hit men and assassins" (Narut's words) made ready to kill in selected countries should the need arise.

The assassin candidates were identified by evidence of past violence or by psychological tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.  Once identified, the assassins were trained by audio-visual presentations.  The prospective commandos were "desensitized" to mayhem by being shown films of people being killed or injured in different ways.  At first, the films would show only mild forms of bloodshed.  As the men became acclimated to the scene of carnage, they were shown progressively more violent scenes.  The candidates, Narut explained, would eventually be able to disassociate even the goriest scenes from any feelings of repugnance.

At first, the men might be shown a film of an African youth being crudely circumcised by tribe members with a blunt knife and no anesthetic.  Afterward, the trainee would be asked about inconsequential details of the episode — such as the motif on the handle of the knife used to cut the foreskin.

Next, the commando trainees were shown a film of a man in a sawmill, where planks were sliced from huge logs.  In the operation of the saw the man slipped and cut off his fingers.  As the films progressed in gruesomeness, the reactions of the trainees were measured by sensing devices: heartbeat, breathing rate, and brain waves were recorded.  If the physiological responses, which might have been great in the beginning, slowed down and resumed normal patterns as the more bloodthirsty scenes were viewed, the candidates were judged to have completed this stage of conditioning.

The final stage of conditioning was the indoctrination of the future commandos to think of their potential enemies as inferior forms of life.  By that stage, the commandos were already selected for assignment to particular countries.  They would be shown films and given lectures that portrayed the customs and culture of the people disparagingly.  The people of those countries were presented as enemies of the United States.

It took only a couple of weeks to program the candidates through that process.  Those who did not do well in the conditioning were dropped out of the program and reassigned to other duties.  Dr. Narut said he did not have the necessary "need to know" where his trainees were assigned, but did say that his busiest time was when a large group of men went through such training towards the end of 1973, at the time of the Yom Kippur War.  (The account is based on Operation Mind Control, by Walter H. Bowart, pgs. 161-166.)

Lying and Secrecy — Standard Operating Procedure

The commandos, of course, try to surround their activities in the strictest secrecy.  Their presence is known to the people whom they are about to kill; the secrecy is aimed at keeping the news of their activities from the American public.

The secrets are maintained by official lying.  We have already seen that for years the Reagan Administration said the Green Berets were training the Salvadoran army, while in fact 5,000 combat troops were deployed to shore up the junta and 21 died while doing so.

The Washington Post, May 6, 1996, described the lengths to which the US went to preserve the secret of its combat role in El Salvador: "… a US colonel, videotaped by a TV crew carrying an M-16 rifle in El Salvador in 1982, was whisked out of the country before too many questions could be asked."

When The New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner spotted a US military advisor on patrol with a Salvadoran army unit, Green Berets quickly lined up the Salvadoran soldiers and gave them false affidavits to sign, declaring that no American was with them.  (Robert Parry's article in the May 27, 1996 edition of The Consortium, cited above).

When an assistant secretary for defense was asked about the activities of the Special Operations helicopter unit in El Salvador (then the 160th Task Force of the 101st Airborne, out of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky), he said "to my knowledge the unit has never been deployed to Central America."  At the time the troops were being secretly deployed, the Boland Amendment to the War Powers Act prohibited such intervention.  On April 14, 1983, President Reagan on April 14, 1983: "Anything that we are doing in that area is simply trying to interdict the supply lines which are supplying the guerrillas in El Salvador."  (Frank Greve & Ellen Warren: "Secret US Unit in War Zone, Next-of-kin Say," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 16-17, 1984)

Special Ops Commandos Wear Civilian Disguises

Special Operations personnel often wear civilian clothing while on secret missions.  When members of the secret Army helicopter unit (then the 160th Task Force of the 101 Airborne Division), performed missions in Central America in the 1980s, the pilots knew that if they were shot down the US government would deny them.  So the members of the 160th would routinely wear civilian clothing.  And, even in the United States, "every time they got off the helicopter, they had to get off in civilian clothes," recalled a brother of a Special Operations helicopter pilot man killed in a Chinook crash in July 1983 (Philadelphia Inquirer, December 16, 1984, cited above).

Lawrence "Larry" Freeman, a member of Army Special Ops on "retired" status, was killed in Somalia in 1992 while on assignment for the CIA.  Freeman and three of his Army Special Ops companions were riding in his Isuzu Trooper when it ran over a land mine.  His three companions were crippled in the explosion.  Freeman is still identified by the Pentagon as a government civilian, and his three companions are identified as State Department security officers, according to Insight on the News, January 25, 1196.  "Secrecy Shrouds Spy Deaths," Insight on the News, January 25, 1996.)

"Retired" from the Military

Perhaps this is the time to mention that "retired" military officers, unless they resign or are kicked out of the service, are in the military until they die.  They are either on "active" or "retired" status.  Therefore, "retired" military people are said to receive "retired" pay, not a pension.  They are still on the military payroll, just in a "retired" category at a lower rate of pay.  Therefore "retired" military men are still "military" in a very real sense.

Smear Jobs and Character Assassination

When journalists or others reveal Special Ops secret and illegal combat roles, they are routinely discredited.  Journalist Robert Parry covered events in El Salvador in the 1980 and saw the government's operation at close quarters.

Parry says the strategy for discrediting honest journalists, such as Raymond Bonner of The New York Times who wrote about the El Mozote massacre, was always an important part of the US strategy for keeping secret the reality on the battlefield.  After Bonner exposed the El Mozote massacre in 1981, he was targeted by right-wing "watchdog" groups, such as Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.  Assistant secretaries of state Thomas Enders and Elliott Abrams disputed Bonner's stories during Congressional testimony, saying the massacre never occurred.

The Reagan Administration then allegedly put pressure on Bonners' employer, Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times.  Bonner was eventually recalled from El Salvador and assigned to the business desk at The New York Times.  When Robert Parry was in El Salvador in the fall of 1982, two senior US officials boasted about the embassy's success in discrediting Bonner and orchestrating his departure, he said.  Compare what happened to Bonner to the tactics used to discredit Linda Thompson (see Veracity of American Justice Federation Videos for description. )

Surprise — No Congressional Oversight

The Special Forces have no Congressional oversight.  "There are very, very few on the Hill who are even concerned about special operations," John Collins, the retiring senior national security specialist at the Congressional Research Service, told Insight on the News, January 28, 1996.