British Commander, Frank Kitson’s (1971) “Low Intensity Operations; Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping”: Blueprint For American State-Sponsored Terrorism Against Internal Enemies

Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping

Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, and Peacekeeping

Reviews: Classic Rendition of an Old Saga

1) January 28, 2006

I find it rather amazing that I, in early 2006, am the first to review this classic in asymmetric warfare. As current events in Iraq and elsewhere show, the Americans are not as adept as their former colonial masters in using stealth and deception to achieve military victory. Kitson, as a serving officer of the Crown, witnessed Britain’s largely successful counter insurgency moves in places as diverse as Kenya, Cyprus and the North of Ireland and he formalized much of the approach militarily dominant powers like Britain and Israel should take to their militarily weaker opponents. He stresses the dirty tricks department: psychological warfare, fifth columns, double agents and anything that weakens or demoralizes the enemy or cuts off their logistics. Kitson was an officer in Britain;s shadowy Special Air Services (SAS) who have been credited, rightly or wrongly, with all kinds of undercover military actions, some brave, other nefarious. This book is definitely worth a read and worth buying for anyone interested in the historical evolution of asymmetrical warfare, where Britain has an impressive record.

2) May 15, 2012

Kitson on COIN

Frank Kitson, a British officer and veteran of numerous counter-insurgent operations, analyzes the evolution of typical insurgent campaigns in his book “Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping.” Connecting with a grievance that resonates with a goodly proportion of the population is central to subversive campaigns. As a result, counterinsurgency measures should address the causes of unrest and thwarting the leadership seeking a revolution that extends beyond a particular grievance. Kitson also highlights the importance of intelligence operations for planning tactical operations as well as the types of units, equipment, and specialized personnel required for effective counterinsurgent operations.

3) Frank Kitson, Low intensity operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping (1971)

Reviewed by Dale Wharton, Montreal <>, 11 January 1966

Low intensity operations: subversion, insurgency, peacekeeping, by Frank Kitson, 1926-. Harrisburg PA: Stackpole Books, 1971. 208 pp, bibliography, index. SBN 0-8117-0957-4, LC call number U 240.K53 1971

Riots broke out in 100 US cities in 1967. (It was the year before Martin Luther King Jr died.) Inner cities have since decayed. The poor have sunk even deeper. Yet North America’s underclass has not risen. How could a ruling group keep the lid on civil unrest?

The circle near Her Britannic Majesty does it–and fends off social change–using warriors like Frank Kitson. The author fought subversion and insurgency (S&I) and tried peacekeeping in Kenya 1953-5, Malaya 1957, Cyprus 1962-4, and Northern Ireland 1970-2. He explains that traditional methods may fail against S&I. Gradually the more intelligent officers find themselves developing a new…deviousness, patience, and…determination to outwit their opponents by all means … (p 200). Their two main means: stealth and fraud.

The foe, S&I, aims …to overthrow those governing the country…or to force them to do things which they do not want to do. [S&I] can involve the use of political and economic pressure, strikes, protest marches, and propaganda, and…the use of small-scale violence for the purpose of coercing…members of the population into giving support (p 3). Subversives stop with harassment, insurgents take up arms.

Growth in S&I–that is, in modern warfare–may stem from the new ways of getting people to think and to act. Literacy, radio, and television are now widespread. S&I can use them to aggravate social discontent, racial ferment, nationalism, contempt for authority, etc. (High order conflict, on the other hand, has lost favour since refinement in weapons of mass destruction.) Kitson argues that S&I has three phases.

PHASE I. Preparing to protest, …the enemy [a section of the country’s people] is likely to be occupied in spreading his cause… (p 71). Set agents to work now! In normal times, and in the very early stages of subversion, the intelligence organisation has got to be able to penetrate small…highly secure targets (p 72). It may have to invent new ways to do it. (At a Rand Corporation symposium in 1962 the author found a consensus: field officers prefer lots of low grade information to a small amount of higher quality.)

Next, the army should help with psyops (psychological operations– propaganda, PR). Psyops can offset the popular appeal of S&I’s cause and enhance the government’s story. Experts develop policy; technicians put the policy into films, programmes, articles, leaflets; machines spread the results by broadcast, print, and projection. At this early stage, the army may even counterorganize. It can build controls over the civil community and frustrate any efforts by S&I to do so. The method adds to psyops with good deeds. It sends out persons whose tasks are …doing work [to] help remove sources of grievances and at the same time making contact with the people. The…jobs… range from teaching to the setting up of clinics, advising on simple construction works, and working on agricultural projects (p 79).

PHASE II. Nonviolent disorder–mass meetings, marches, strikes– requires persuading multitudes to do something. This phase focuses on crowds, usually in cities. Kitson suggests a …judicious promise of concessions [to split the many from S&I leaders, while] imposing …calm by the use of government forces [then announcing] that most of the concessions can only be implemented once…life…returns to normal (p 87). Civilians must look upon troops with …respect and awe…. If an impression can be built that although [they] have used little force so far, they might at any moment use a great deal more, the people will be wary and…fewer men will be needed (p 90).

PHASE III. Open insurgency erupts. The army’s job is first to find armed groups and their supporters, then to smash them. It collects and studies background information, developing it to enable contact with the opponent. Kitson tells how to fish for information and to snuff out …very small groups…in large urban rabbit warrens… (p 127). An example of a simple Special Operation would be the cordonning of a [community] and the examination of occupants by…informers concealed in hoods… (p 100). Technology helps. Suppose a central computer kept watch lists–data on S&I throughout the country. If a remote interrogator could search them by wireless, he might …get the information he needs to break down a prisoner without delay (p 142).

Then a brigadier, Frank Kitson wrote this as UK forces steadily shrank. He dwells on controlling costs. The book casts 11 chapters into three parts: trends and background, the army’s contribution, and preparation required. There are four organisation charts. Two maps illustrate a scenario of S&I. A lawyer in the US says LOW INTENSITY OPERATIONS is the leading treatise on nonstop spying and deceit.* The author seems selective with charges of terrorism, but he respects sensibilities: he omits details of interrogation and wetwork (torture and disposal of captives). Kitson’s other books are GANGS AND COUNTERGANGS (Barrie and Rockliff, 1960), BUNCH OF FIVE (Faber, 1977), WARFARE AS A WHOLE (Faber, 1987), DIRECTING OPERATIONS (Faber, 1989), and (editor) PRINCE RUPERT: portrait of a soldier (Constable, 1994).

WHO’S WHO 1995 sums up the career of General Sir Frank Edward Kitson. He rose to Commander in Chief, United Kingdom Land Forces 1982-5 and Aide-de-Camp General to the Queen 1983-5. In 1985 he became Knight Grand Cross, Order of the British Empire. Address: c/o Lloyds Bank, Farnham, Surrey… Club: Boodle’s (p 1086).

* Glick, Brian, WAR AT HOME: covert action against US activists and what we can do about it (South End Press, 1989), p 37. Glick includes an FBI memo of 3/4/68–some goals of COINTELPRO: Prevent the rise of a `messiah’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement …. You must discredit these groups and individuals (p 78f). #

%A Frank Kitson, 1926-

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