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An education in counterinsurgency

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  1. 1.

    The term ‘discretionary empire’ is used on a number of occasions in Schrader’s, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing​ (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019).

  2. 2.

    As one State Department official observed about lecturers on counterinsurgency during this period: “As with all White House enthusiasms, charlatans had jumped on the bandwagon. The sudden focus on guerrilla warfare and Marxist subversion spawned a horde of marginal scholars prepared to offer instant expertise to any agency with funds for consultancies.” Charles Maechling, ‘Camelot, Robert Kennedy, and Counter-Insurgency: A Memoir’, VQR: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion, Summer 1999.

  3. 3.

    Schrader, Badges Without Borders, p. 13.

  4. 4.

    Other formal and informal names for the NIS included ‘Country Team Seminar’ and ‘Counterinsurgency Seminar’, but for simplicity I will simply use NIS throughout this article.

  5. 5.

    This is to be distinguished from its pre-Cold War efforts to counter insurgencies in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  6. 6.

    Jeffrey H. Michaels, ‘Managing Global Counterinsurgency: The Special Group (CI) 1962–1966’, Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2012, pp. 33–36.

  7. 7.

    Department of State Newsletter, January 1965.

  8. 8.

    As the first director of the NIS put it: “I drafted sample courses for various lengths of time from four weeks to eight weeks, and after some discussion with the overseeing committee we agreed that five weeks was about right and also was as long as we could expect high officials to sit still for such study.” See: Interview with Kenneth P. Landon, April 1982, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. Also: Memorandum for the Record, Minutes of the Meeting of the Special Group (CI), March 29, 1963:

  9. 9.

    Michael E. Latham, Modernization as Ideology. American Social Science and "Nation Building" in the Kennedy Era (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

  10. 10.

    Memorandum from Thomas A. Parrott to President Kennedy, March 22, 1962, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Vol. VIII, National Security Policy.

  11. 11.

    NSAM 131, ‘Training Objectives for Counterinsurgency’, March 13, 1962.

  12. 12.

    The quarterly publication was called Transition. See for instance article by Andrew J. Kauffman “On ‘Wars of National Liberation’ reprinted in Military Review, Vol. 48, Issue 10, October 1968, pp. 32–44.

  13. 13.

    In addition to a case study of the Greek civil war, which was deemed ‘not particularly useful’, a handful of additional case studies on the insurgencies in the Philippines, Malaya, Vietnam and Algeria were requested to be produced. See for instance: Minutes of the Meeting of the Special Group (CI), July 18, 1963.

  14. 14.

    NSAM 163, ‘Training Objectives for Counterinsurgency’, June 14, 1962.

  15. 15.

    Interview with Kenneth P. Landon, April 1982, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

  16. 16.

    Minutes of the Meeting of the Special Group (CI), September 12, 1963.

  17. 17.

    NSAM 162, ‘Development of US and Indigenous Police, Paramilitary and Military Resources’, June 19, 1962.

  18. 18.

    Department of State Newsletter, January 1965. See also: See for instance, Interview of Seymour I. Nadler, Interview date November 21, 1989, The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series.

  19. 19.

    This was the case even when the head of OPS, Byron Engle, delivered a lecture to the course. See, for instance: Interdepartmental Seminar, Problems of Development and Internal Defense, Department of State, Agency for International Development, US Information Agency and Department of Defense, March 11-April 12, 1963. Available at:

  20. 20.

    This official was Justin E. O’Donnell.

  21. 21.

    Schrader, Badges Without Borders, p. 19.

  22. 22.

    NSAM 283, February 13, 1964.

  23. 23.

    ‘Evaluation of seminar participant, 33rd session, 4-29 September 1967’, Critiques of CIA participants in the National Interdepartmental Seminar. Available at:

  24. 24.

    Memo on ‘Comparative Analysis of the US policy on the Internal Defense in selected Foreign Countries (FIDP), 1968, and the US Overseas Internal Defense Policy (OIDP), 1962, 24 July 1968, CIA. Available at:

  25. 25.

    Memorandum from Macomber Jr. to Chairman, Under Secretaries Committee, Subject: Review and Recommendations on the National Interdepartmental Seminar (NIS), May 21, 1971. See also: Enclosures to Letter from Howard Sollenberger to Hugh T. Cunningham, March 11, 1971. Available at:

  26. 26.

    Memorandum for DCI, Subject: National Interdepartmental Training, CIA, 1 May 1968.

  27. 27.

    In addition to Schrader’s focus on the police, a similar examination of this sort of ‘boomerang’ effect can be found in: Jennifer S. Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

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Correspondence to Jeffrey H. Michaels.

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Michaels, J.H. An education in counterinsurgency. Int Polit Rev 8, 11–20 (2020).

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  • Counterinsurgency
  • Internal defense
  • National interdepartmental seminar