Dave Ratcliffe interview with Fletcher Prouty.html
Dispersion of the OSO, Creation of the Office of SACSA
Ratcliffe: We've discussed briefly before, your office -- the Office of Special Operations -- being transferred in either late '61 or early '62 out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and into the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I'd like your ideas about the importance and significance of this change with the concurrence of your office being transferred from OSD to the Joint Staff and how, to quote you directly, "as a progression of this first move, the Joint Staff created an office called the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities, or SACSA."
Prouty: There had been an Office of Special Operations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, ever since its establishment in 1947-48 under Secretary Forrestal. That office was there to take the directives from NSC that had to do with covert operations and translate them into Defense Department action.
When Kennedy was elected, General Erskine had been working on an Eisenhower-directed study to establish, in the Defense establishment, a Defense Intelligence Agency. It was quite apparent that, although the CIA existed, it did not emphasize military intelligence gathering adequately for the intelligence careerists and professionals in the military. They felt that a common Defense establishment (DIA) would improve the military intelligence area. In many ways it would counterbalance the CIA for their own benefit. General Erskine, the long-time head of the Office of Special Operations, is the one who wrote that study.
When that study was concluded after Kennedy's inauguration -- and I believe almost on the day of the Bay of Pigs exercise, if I remember the date it seemed to me it came on almost the identical day -- it was approved by Secretary McNamara, shortly after the General had given it to him. Shortly thereafter General Erskine, who had then been in the Pentagon for more years than any other Assistant to the Secretary had ever been there, retired.
The question for McNamara then was: Should he retain OSO as it had been and try to put another man in there, or should he divide it into other functions? First of all, OSO was responsible for the overview of NSA. In the technical world that had developed in those latter years, with satellites, U-2's and SR-71's and all that, much of that work had moved over into what we called DDR&E (the Deputy of Defense for Research and Engineering). So that area of responsibility was transferred from OSO to DDR&E. That took away one big role from OSO. Another function in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that had moved was ISA (International Security Agency), and much of their role was in connection and coordination with the State Department. So that responsibility, which had been in OSO, was moved to ISA.
Then you get to this area of Special Operations (the support of the clandestine activities). The active work that was required for this task, for the most part took place in the services. But the three services had always been running each office independently. During the five years I ran that office in the Air Force, there was an Army counterpart and a Navy counterpart, and although we worked together frequently, it was more or less an ad hoc arrangement. We worked together, like for the Bay of Pigs, because we had to. It was a necessity. But we didn't work together on policy matters or on budget matters, which are so important. Each service did that independently.
So I was called in by General Wheeler (who at that time was the Director of the Joint Staff; this was a couple of years before he became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and asked what I thought about bringing the Special Operations function into the JCS. And of course I immediately approved it because I saw the rest of the OSO office going. In fact, they had gone and I had the only office left there, with a functional job but with no title. My boss General Erskine had gone. General Lansdale was doing some special work for Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gilpatric, and was making trips to not only Vietnam but to Central America at that time (which for Lansdale was quite a new thing).
I told General Wheeler that I thought it would be a fine move to set up Special Operations under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to create an office that would unify the work of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force (including the Marine Corps). General Wheeler agreed with that and arranged a meeting with Mr. McNamara.
When we went up to see him, Mr. McNamara said, `I will take care of getting the increase in the manning allotments for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (which were limited to 400) sufficient to create this office, and you can go ahead and set up the office.' So I moved from the physical area of the Secretary of Defense downstairs to the JCS area. An Army officer was assigned to my office, along with one or two staff, and a Navy officer, along with one or two staff. We had probably eight or ten people. And we established the Special Operations branch of what became SACSA -- the Office of the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities.
The SACSA development was very interesting. Nothing had existed in the Joint Staff like that before. This was a "Special Assistant" to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities: two roles that are not traditionally prime military roles. But during the Vietnam era they became extremely important. This function brought with it another very important office that you hear little about, and that's the office that handles Cover and Deception. Deception is a very important type of Special Operation.
You create things that you want to have discovered that are wrong: so that Moscow would think we had a gun that worked the way it worked and it didn't work, or a rocket that worked the way it did and it wouldn't work, or that we sent people to some place to do a job that they'd think we were going to do and we were never going to do it. This is important because when we set up the Bay of Pigs -- on account of Deception, if the Russians found out about that or if Castro found out about it -- they wouldn't know whether that was Deception or whether we were going to do it.