Some interesting arguments on nuclear deterrence in this addition of Secrecy News. I suspect that there is a rendering in Kaplan’s book “The Bomb: Presidents, General, and the Secret History of Nuclear War” of an event lost to history for more than 30 years which involved the potential deployment in combat of tactical nukes by the Russian commander in Cuba during the missile crisis of 1962. I have not yet read Kaplan’s book but I am ordering it today, as I’m hoping it will assist me with my chapter on intelligence and counterintelligence during the Cold War.
Just in case you’re unaware of the incident to which I refer here’s a short synopsis:
A Second terrifying lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis
Over the years since 1962 historians have focused on how John F. Kennedy’s wisdom, a naval quarantine of the island of Cuba, narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe. However, those same historians were unaware of the Soviets’ true intentions and tactical capabilities on the ground in Cuba and it was not until 1992, at a conference in Cuba of American, Soviet and Cuban veterans of the crisis, that the true extent of the danger of a nuclear exchange between the Super Powers was revealed. The Soviets had deployed more than just the Intermediate-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads which our U-2 overflights of Cuba had identified. They had also deployed 100 “tactical” nuclear weapons. These smaller, battlefield-oriented nuclear weapons were in place to defend against an expected US Marine invasion. And most significant, prior to October 22, 1962, the local Soviet commanding general had been pre-authorized by Moscow to use them against the American landing if it occurred. One can only imagine what our response would have been to the Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons against our Marines in Cuba.
In case you missed it, this is an excellent article from today’s Washington Post on a long-running communication intelligence operation by the CIA. This is just the type of operation that one hopes is among many others being run by our intelligence services and our allies to provide our national leaders with the intelligence they need to make critical decisions.
Washington Post-The intelligence coup of the century
Both of these articles have a connection to US – Iranian relations. The first, however, goes into some detail on directed assassinations. There’s a long history, some of it considered in this article, on the US connection to assassinations but not much on the actual target assassinations conduct by US forces or agencies after our covert operations in World War II concluded. On the other hand, the country that has perfected the technique of directed assassination, Israel, has conducted scores perhaps hundreds of the operations since their statehood in 1947. A book I can refer you to on these Israeli operations is “Rise and Kill First- The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” by Ronen Bergman. It is an eye-opening consideration of the subject and leaves the reader in doubt as to the effectiveness of the tactic over time.
I had an opportunity to talk with the Chief Justice of the military Court of Appeals after a presentation he made at the Washington and Lee Law school some years ago. I asked him about the justification in Constitutional law for the directed assassination of an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar Awlaki on September 30, 2011, by a US drone strike. He told me that the elements of proof for such a legal decision required the target, a US citizen, to be giving comfort to or aiding an enemy of the United States during time of war. This is generally the same definition in the Constitution of the crime of treason (less the third element, a requirement that it be testified to by two witnesses). As with all covert operations, the final authority to order a directed assassination lies with the president of the United States. There was an executive order issued by Pres. Ford in 1974 which prohibited the use of assassinations by all departments and agencies of the executive branch. This was an executive order and not a federal statute or a decision by the Supreme Court. As a result, and the wake of September 11, 2001, President Bush rescinded that order in the process is now considered to be lawful.
The US Iran and a No-Win Game