Special Operations is a euphemism for clandestine or covert operations. In 1955 the U.S. Secretary of Defense created an Office of Special Operations in the Pentagon to provide military logistical support for the clandestine activities of the United States government. The authority for this was based on NSC 5412, the “National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations,” approved on March 15, 1954. NSC 5412 defined “Covert Operations” and established how the United States government would perform and support these activities. For nine years Air Force Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty occupied a unique position in the initial implementation and operation of this military support structure run through the Office of Special Operations.
Understanding Special Operations is based on eleven hours of recorded interview with L. Fletcher Prouty, conducted in his home in May 1989. Prouty served in the U.S. military from 1941 to January 1, 1964. Whether as an Air Transport Command Pilot in World War II flying VIPs like Major General Omar Bradley in North Africa or the Chinese delegation to the Teheran Conference, managing Tokyo International Airport in the early fifties, setting up and running the Pentagon Focal Point Office to provide logistical support to the CIA -- first for the Air Force and later for all branches of the military -- or briefing officials from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down, Prouty’s experiences, observations and reflections are recounted to extensive degree with great detail.
Donald Sutherland’s character in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, was based on Prouty’s term in the Air Force. Prouty served as a consultant on the film. Prior to the interview, the author studied Prouty’s writings including his 1973 classic, The Secret Team, The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World. The bulk of Understanding Special Operations is an extended transcript of their conversation with additional explorations of the material in The Secret Team as well as the content of what became Prouty’s 1992 book, JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.
This is oral history of the first degree. By far one of the most significant periods of Prouty’s work was performing his duties as Focal Point Officer in the Pentagon for Allen Dulles’ CIA. When assigned to this position in July 1955 he worked for more than six months drawing up the formal paper entitled “Military Support of the Clandestine Operations of the United States Government.” From creating a clandestine Focal Point System throughout the Executive Branch, to a clandestine system of reimbursement, Fletcher Prouty describes how the United States government established a largely ad hoc system of euphemism and deception devoid of any public awareness or consent.
In essence, this interview explores one man’s first-hand experience of the way in which the United States political system became a government of reaction in the post-WWII world -- reaction based upon the inputs of selective intelligence gathered from around the world and interpreted according to a specific bias. These inputs became a primary source of direction for the government’s economic, political, and social actions through the influence of such individuals as Allen Dulles, John Foster Dulles, Walter Bedell Smith, Louis Johnson, L. K. “Red” White, Richard Helms, and Frank Hand, as well as from the development of nuclear technology and weapons. This influence produced such laws as the National Security Act of 1947 and the CIA Act of 1949.
Prouty’s recounting of his experiences and the insights he gained regarding how U.S. policy-making was shaped during the period of 1941 to 1964 are uncommonly useful for today’s scholars and students of that time. From such a source, Understanding Special Operations provides a unique addition to details surrounding the history of the birth and growth of the U.S. National Security State.