John K. Singlaub

John K. Singlaub

John K. Singlaub was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War. He was parachuted into Nazi occupied France and helped to organize the French Resistance before the D-Day invasion. Later he was sent to China where he worked with Ray S. Cline, Richard Helms, E. Howard Hunt, Jake Esterline, Mitchell WerBell, Paul Helliwell, Jack Anderson, Robert Emmett Johnson and Lucien Conein. Others working in China at that time included Tommy Corcoran, Whiting Willauer and William Pawley.

Singlaub joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and he was sent to Manchuria during the Chinese Civil War. In 1951 he became Deputy Chief of the CIA station in South Korea. Later he moved to Laos where he worked closely with Ted Shackley.

In 1964 Singlaub became chief of Military Assistance Command Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG). This was an unconventional warfare task force that oversaw assassination and paramilitary operations throughout Southeast Asia. MACV-SOG now took over Oplan 34-A from the CIA. Ted Shackley, CIA chief in Laos, reported having monthly meetings with Singlaub. According to one report, Singlaub "oversaw political assassinations programs in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand" (Inside the Shadow Government).

In 1966 Ted Shackley was placed in charge of CIA secret war in Laos. He appointed Thomas G. Clines as his deputy. He also took Carl E. Jenkins, David Morales, Rafael Quintero, Felix Rodriguez and Edwin Wilson with him to Laos. According to Joel Bainerman it was at this point that Shackley and his "Secret Team" became involved in the drug trade. They did this via General Vang Pao, the leader of the anti-communist forces in Laos. Vang Pao was a major figure in the opium trade in Laos. To help him Shackley used his CIA officials and assets to sabotage the competitors. Eventually Vang Pao had a monopoly over the heroin trade in Laos. In 1967 Shackley and Clines helped Vang Pao to obtain financial backing to form his own airline, Zieng Khouang Air Transport Company, to transport opium and heroin between Long Tieng and Vientiane. In 1968 Shackley and Clines arranged a meeting in Saigon between Santo Trafficante and Vang Pao to establish a heroin-smuggling operation from Southeast Asia to the United States.

In 1969 Ted Shackley became Chief of Station in Vietnam and headed the Phoenix Program. This involved the killing of non-combatant Vietnamese civilians suspected of collaborating with the National Liberation Front. In a two year period, Operation Phoenix murdered 28,978 civilians.

As a specialist in unconventional warfare and covert operations, Singlaub kept a low profile. However, he eventually became chief of staff of the United Nations Command in South Korea. He was forced to resign in May, 1978 after criticizing President Jimmy Carter and his plans to reduce the number of troops in South Korea.

According to Peter Dale Scott, ten days before his retirement, Singlaub attended a meeting of right-wingers who "Did't think the country was being run properly and were interested in doing something about it". The meeting was hosted by Mitchell WerBell.

Singlaub now joined forces with Ted Shackley, Ray S. Cline and Richard Helms to get Jimmy Carter removed from the White House. In December, 1979, Singlaub and retired General Daniel Graham headed a delegation from the American Security Council, a private right-wing organization, on a trip to Guatemala. Singlaub pointed out that Ronald Reagan "recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done" in order to destroy communism in Guatemala. "death squad activity in Guatemala increased dramatically following the trip." Upon his return to the United States Singlaub called for "sympathetic understanding of the death squads" (The Iran Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era).

Singlaub returned to Guatemala in 1980. This time he went with General Gordon Sumner of the Council for inter-American Security. Singlaub again took a message from Ronald Reagan who was now campaigning for the Presidency of the United States. Singlaub told his audiences that "help was on the way in the form of Ronald Reagan".

Singlaub now became involved in extreme right-wing politics. He joined the World Anti-Communist League (WACL). Established in 1966 by the intelligence organizations of Taiwan and South Korea to provide anti-communist propaganda. Fascists played an important role in the WACL and at least three European chapters of the organization were controlled by former SS officers from Nazi Germany. By 1980 the WACL agreed that "Argentine counterterror and torture specialist would be dispatched to El Salvador to assist in the anti-communist struggle there". (Inside the League)

With a $20,000 loan from Taiwan, Singlaub created the U.S. Council for World Freedom (USCWF) in 1981. Singlaub was an advocate of unconventional warfare, which he defined as "low intensity actions, such as sabotage, terrorism, assassination and guerrilla warfare". Singlaub made clear that the USCWF would provide "support and assistance to the democratic, anti-communist Freedom Fighters of the world."

In a speech in San Diego, Singlaub argued: "I am convinced that our struggle with Communism is not a spectator sport. as a result of that view, we have opted for the court of action which calls for the provision of support and assistance to those who are actively resisting the Soviet supported intrusion into Africa, Asia and North America. The geographic regions of WACL must not only provide support to the freedom fighters who are engaged in combat in their own region, but they must develop plans of action to support the resistance movements in other regions of the world." Over the next few months committees were established to determine the needs of anti-communist resistance movements in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan.

Singlaub enjoyed a good relationship with Ronald Reagan and in 1982 USCWF was granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. Singlaub had to give an undertaken that "at no time will the USCWF ever contemplate providing material or funds to any revolutionary, counter-revolutionary or liberation movement".

Soon afterwards Singlaub helped establish a company called GeoMiliTech Consultants Corporation (GMT) a Washington-based arms trading company. In 1984 it is believed that Singlaub organized a shipment of weapons, ammunition and C-4 explosives to the Contras (Inside the Shadow Government).

In January 1985, Singlaub visited South Korea and Taiwan in order to obtain money and weapons for the Contras. Later that year Singlaub developed a plan for a large military action called the "Rainbow Mission" which involved the invasion of Nicaragua by Americans and Contras. This plan was approved by Robert Owen and Oliver North. Soon afterwards Singlaub procured a $5.3 million of Eastern bloc arms for the Contras through GMT. This included 500 pounds of C-4, five ground-to-air missiles, grenades and mortars.

Questions began to be asked about Singlaub's relationship with Oliver North. On 7th October, 1985, Robert McFarlane denied that: "Lieutenant Colonel North did not use his influence to facilitate the movement of supplies to facilitate the movement of supplies to the resistance. There is no official or unofficial relationship with any member of the NSC staff regarding fund raising for the Nicaraguan democratic opposition. This includes the alleged relationship with General Singlaub."

In October, 1985, Congress agreed to vote 27 million dollars in non-lethal aid for the Contras in Nicaragua. However, members of the Ronald Reagan administration, including George Bush, decided to use this money to provide weapons to the Contras and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Gene Wheaton was recruited to use National Air to transport these weapons. He agreed but began to have second thoughts when he discovered that Richard Secord was involved in the operation and in May 1986 Wheaton told William Casey, director of the CIA, about what he knew about this illegal operation. Casey refused to take any action, claiming that the agency or the government were not involved in what later became known as Irangate.

Wheaton now took his story to Daniel Sheehan, a left-wing lawyer. Wheaton told him that Thomas G. Clines and Ted Shackley had been running a top-secret assassination unit since the early 1960s. According to Wheaton, it had begun with an assassination training program for Cuban exiles and the original target had been Fidel Castro.

Wheaton also contacted Newt Royce and Mike Acoca, two journalists based in Washington. The first article on this scandal appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on 27th July, 1986. As a result of this story, Congressman Dante Facell wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, asking him if it "true that foreign money, kickback money on programs, was being used to fund foreign covert operations." Two months later, Weinberger denied that the government knew about this illegal operation.

Singlaub agreed to divert press attention away from the activities of George H. W. Bush, Oliver North, William Casey, Donald P. Gregg, Robert Owen, Felix Rodriguez, Rafael Quintero, Ted Shackley, Richard L. Armitage, Thomas G. Clines and Richard Secord. He gave several interviews where he admitted raising money for the Contras. This included an article in Common Cause where he claimed he had raised "tens of million of dollars... for arms and ammunition".

This money was raised via the World Anti-Communist League. Most of this money came from the governments of Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. As the U.S. Neutrality Act bans a private American organization from supplying weapons to foreign groups, Singlaub established a secret overseas bank account to collect this money.

On 5th October, 1986, a Sandinista patrol in Nicaragua shot down a C-123K cargo plane that was supplying the Contras. That night Felix Rodriguez made a telephone call to the office of George H. W. Bush. He told Bush aide, Samuel Watson, that the C-123k aircraft had gone missing.

Eugene Hasenfus, an Air America veteran, survived the crash and told his captors that he thought the CIA was behind the operation. He also provided information that several Cuban-Americans running the operation in El Salvador. This resulted in journalists being able to identify Rafael Quintero, Luis Posada and Felix Rodriguez as the Cuban-Americans mentioned by Hasenfus.

John Singlaub (second from left) with the Contras in 1985.
John Singlaub (second from left) with the Contras in 1985.

In an article in the Washington Post (11th October, 1986), the newspaper reported that George Bush and Donald P. Gregg were linked to Felix Rodriguez. It gradually emerged that Singlaub, Richard L. Armitage, William Casey, Thomas G. Clines, Oliver North, Edwin Wilson and Richard Secord were also involved in this conspiracy to provide arms to the Contras.

On 12th December, 1986, Daniel Sheehan submitted to the court an affidavit detailing the Irangate scandal. He also claimed that Thomas G. Clines and Ted Shackley were running a private assassination program that had evolved from projects they ran while working for the CIA. Others named as being part of this assassination team included Rafael Quintero, Richard Secord, Felix Rodriguez and Albert Hakim. It later emerged that Gene Wheaton and Carl E. Jenkins were the two main sources for this affidavit.

Six days after the publication of Sheehan's affidavit, William Casey underwent an operation for a "brain tumor". As a result of the operation, Casey lost the power of speech and died, literally without ever talking. On 9th February, Robert McFarlane, another person involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal, took an overdose of drugs.

In November, 1986, Ronald Reagan set-up a three man commission (President's Special Review Board). The three men were John Tower, Brent Scowcroft and Edmund Muskie. Richard L. Armitage was interviewed by the committee. He admitted that he had arranged a series of meetings between Menachem Meron, the director general of Israel's Ministry of Defence, with Oliver North and Richard Secord. However, he denied that he discussed the replenishment of Israeli TOW missiles with Meron.

According to Lawrence E. Walsh, who carried out the official investigation into the scandal (Iran-Contra: The Final Report): "By the spring of 1985 it became clear that Congress would not rescue the Contras any time soon. The House defeated a $14 million supplemental aid package in March, leaving the Contras to rely on North and his associates. Alfredo Calero found himself surrounded not only with recommended arms brokers like Secord - who by June 1985 had arranged several large arms shipments - but also willing broker/contribution solicitors like Singlaub."

Walsh also discovered that: "CIA officers in South Korea informed CIA headquarters on January 28, 1985, that retired U.S. Army Major General John K. Singlaub had asked the governing political party to contribute $2 million to the Contras. The Koreans told CIA personnel that some signal from the U.S. Government endorsing the Singlaub request would be necessary." Walsh obtained a memorandum from Oliver North to Robert McFarlane discussing this issue.

In 1991 John Singlaub published his autobiography, Hazardous Duty: An American Soldier in the Twentieth Century. The reviewer in The New York Times wrote: "In this readable, often engaging memoir, Jack Singlaub sounds like the kind of guy you would want with you in the trenches. But not necessarily after the shooting stops.

Primary Sources

(1) J. H. Crerar, Special Warfare (2000)

The Studies and Observation Group, or SOG, of the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, or MACV, operated in secrecy for eight years during the Vietnam War. At its height, SOG had a strength of some 2,000 Americans. Despite the considerable number of soldiers who cycled through SOG, the existence of the unit and its specific activities remained, if not secret, at least largely unknown.

Recent declassification of SOG's surviving records has allowed researchers to delve into SOG's history, and four recent books help to dispel some of the fog surrounding SOG's activities.

Although SOG was a joint organization, its leaders and its largest component were Army. Overwhelmingly, the Army component was composed of Special Forces soldiers, who were for most of SOG's existence assigned to the 5th SF Group for purposes of administration and cover.

A high percentage of the SF soldiers who were awarded Medals of Honor during Vietnam were operators in SOG. The organization also included a disproportionate number of the SF operators who were killed or wounded in action, and of those who still remain in the missing-in-action/body-not-recovered category...

The Army assigned its most experienced special operators to SOG. Two of the five colonels who held the position "Chief, SOG" had previous guerrilla-warfare experience: Colonel Donald Blackburn had served as a guerrilla leader in the Philippines, and Colonel John Singlaub had served as an OSS operative in France and in China. While the value and the applicability of their experiences as company-grade officers 20 years earlier might be debated, Blackburn and Singlaub were the best officers available. Blackburn and two other chiefs, Colonel Clyde Russell and Colonel Steve Cavanaugh, were former SF group commanders.

(2) John K. Singlaub, speech at a World Anti-Communist League meeting in San Diego (4th September, 1984)

When you have slowed or stopped the enemy's attack, it is the appropriate time to commit your reserves and launch a counterattack...

I am convinced that our struggle with Communism is not a spectator sport. As a result of that view, we have opted for the court of action which calls for the provision of support and assistance to those who are actively resisting the Soviet supported intrusion into Africa, Asia and North America.

The geographic regions of WACL must not only provide support to the freedom fighters who are engaged in combat in their own region, but they must develop plans of action to support the resistance movements in other regions of the world.

(3) John K. Singlaub, Hazardous Duty: An American Soldier in the Twentieth Century (1991)

In the spring of 1976, the military situation in Korea became more than an abstract matter to me when I was assigned as Chief of Staff of the United Nations Command (UNC) and U.S. Forces, Korea (USFK). The job's third responsibility was Chief of Staff and deputy Commander of the Eighth Army. Dick Stilwell, now a four-star general, had become the Commander-in-Chief of U.N. and American forces in Korea in late 1974.

I had great respect for Stilwell, having served under him in a variety of assignments, beginning in 1951, in the CIA job in Korea, then commanding one of his battalions in the 15th Infantry. Most recently, he had been my commanding officer in the Sixth Army. I was proud that he had selected me to be his Chief of Staff in Korea.

Mary and I arrived at Kimpo Airport in Seoul on July 1, 1976. Driving from the airport northeast to the U.N. Command headquarters at the Yongson Post, I was impressed by the Seoul skyline. I'd last seen the city in 1973, on a brief visit with Dr. Wilbur. Then, I had been stunned by Seoul's transformation from the shell-pocked ruin I'd known during the Korean War. In the early 1970s Seoul was already a handsome, prosperous capital. Now it was a boom town. Elevated freeways curved among high-rise banks and hotels. There were towering T-head construction cranes everywhere. On the outskirts new industrial parks were surrounded by workers' apartment blocks, parks and athletic complexes. The roads were congested with shiny new cars.

But the bustling glitter of Seoul was deceptive. Korea was not at peace. Only twenty-five miles north of the city, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) still divided the Korean peninsula, just as it had since 1953. The demilitarized frontier between Communist North Korea and the South marked one of the most heavily fortified regions in the world. The same United Nations Command, led by American officers, still met regularly with the North Koreans at the site of the original cease-fire negotiations known to the world as Panmunjom. As UNC Chief of Staff, one of the hats I wore was that of the senior allied representative at Panmunjom. By 1976, the earlier collection of tents and quonset huts had evolved into an elaborate Joint Security Area (JSA), an 800-square-meter trapezoid of neutral territory, replete with permanent meeting rooms and guard outposts. The JSA, and the meeting rooms themselves, were bisected by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) at the middle of the four-kilometer-wide DMZ frontier. In theory, this was the site of dispassionate professional contact between the two sides, a place where potentially serious confrontational incidents could be defused before they erupted into open conflict along the DMZ. In reality, the JSA, itself, had become a site of angry confrontation.

(4) Joseph E. Persico, review in The New York Times of John K. Singlaub's Hazardous Duty: An American Soldier in the Twentieth Century (4th August, 1991)

General Singlaub emerges here as a cold war die-hard, even with no cold war left to fight. Perestroika, glasnost and the meltdown of the Eastern bloc are to him merely strategic retreats while "the Soviet Union is regrouping."

Despite its political rigidity, however, this memoir does have a rewarding dimension. It is a revealing self-portrait of that perennial figure of history -- the professional soldier. General Singlaub recalls sailing home from World War II as the men with him "talked longingly of normal peacetime lives, of college, families, of the dream homes they would build in the suburbs and the cars they would drive to them." General Singlaub opted instead for long separations from his family while he dared death in global hot spots. One cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for this gruff, honest soldier. He tells of enrolling in his spare time in college, where some instructors looked upon him as a curious relic of a bygone age. Their prejudices puzzled him. Do liberals really believe that the military enjoys war, he wondered. That, he reasoned, is "as logical as assuming surgeons enjoy cancer."

But in the end, the good soldier self-destructed. The Washington Post quoted General Singlaub, in what the general assumed was an off-the-record briefing, as criticizing President Carter's proposal for cutting United States forces in Korea. He was called on the White House carpet by Mr. Carter himself. General Singlaub managed to escape with his skin and his rank, but less than a year later, during a lecture at a college, he publicly questioned Mr. Carter's national security policies and was essentially forced to retire.

In mufti, General Singlaub became a missionary for the gospel of the right: "The Soviets are not born-again Christians. They are in fact born-again Bolsheviks." He revived the American chapter of an outfit called the World Anti-Communist League and announced he was going to keep out the racists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and other kooks who he admits infested the organization in the past.

When, in 1984, the Boland Amendment cut off military aid to the contras, General Singlaub found a new cause. He solicited foreign governments and American fat cats for contra aid. Then, after the Iran-contra affair blew up, Ollie North, General Singlaub feels, tried to suck him into the morass. Mr. North, he believes, told Congressional investigators that the arms company General Singlaub used to supply the contras was engaged in espionage against the West. But no illegality ever attached to General Singlaub's efforts.

He confesses that, 13 years out of the Army, he still wears his dog tags. That pretty much sums him up, a soldier to the core. In this readable, often engaging memoir (written with Malcolm McConnell), Jack Singlaub sounds like the kind of guy you would want with you in the trenches. But not necessarily after the shooting stops.