Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities

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The Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), who was the Washington-based officer, usually a brigadier general, who coordinated covert action and some intelligence collection, in Washington, D.C. for the Department of Defense (DoD) with the JCS, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, and White House. The office existed from the early 1960s to sometime in the 1970s.

Incumbents included:


It grew out of an earlier function in OSD, the Office of Special Operations (OSO).[1] OSO, to a certain extent, was an organization formed around the personality, skills, and relationships of Gen. Erskine. OSO was responsible for, among other things, supervision of Department of Defense intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency, military support to the Central Intelligence Agency, support of the clandestine operations of the individual military services. While it had a coordinating role in the last case, it was not supervisory; the individual services still prepared and justified their budgets.

Other functions had been in OSO, but moved to other organizations in OSD:

  • Technology for special operations: to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)
  • State Department relations for military operations: to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (OSD/ISA)

Prouty indicated that strategic deception, which in WWII was the assignment of Joint Security Control working with the U.K. London Controlling Section was "next door" to SACSA.

Bay of Pigs

After the Bay of Pigs operation, GEN Maxwell Taylor was directed, by President John F. Kennedy, to do an after-action analysis. The analysis group, containing Taylor, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, former Chief of Naval Operations ADM Arleigh Burke and attorney General Robert Kennedy, became Kennedy Administration National Security Action Memorandum 55, along with two supplementary NSAMs, 56 and 57. Prouty described it as the President saying to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "You are my Advisor for clandestine operations, and all the other operations being carried out in peacetime."

This did not appeal to then-CJCS Lyman Lemnitzer, a conventional officer. Prouty also indicated that Taylor, while CJCS, did not like the idea of being a Presidential advisor, but more an operator as had been Allen Dulles.

While MG Edward Lansdale had been involved with counterinsurgency in the Philippines, and then in Vietnam from 1954 on, he suddenly dropped from the decision process in the early Kennedy administration. Another reason for creating SACSA was, according to Huck, to cut Landsdale, an Air Force general, but seen in the military as part of CIA, out of the military special operations process. [2]

Vietnam War era

During the Vietnam War, in addition to its Washington role, it took requests from, and passing direction to, United States Pacific Command (Hawaii), United States Army Special Forces (Ft. Bragg, North Carolina), various organizations that were to be come Air Force Special Operations Command (Hurlbut Field, Florida]], and Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Saigon, South Vietnam).

It was the controlling office for Operation IVORY COAST, the attempted POW rescue at Son Tay. Blackburn was transferred to a career-ending post after its failure.


  1. Prouty, L. Fletcher (1999), Understanding The Secret Team Part III, in David T. Ratcliffe, Understanding Special Operations And Their Impact on The Vietnam War Era, 1989 Interview with L. Fletcher Prouty, Colonel USAF (Retired)
  2. Huck, Jim, Chapter 2: Kennedy's secret war, The Secret War in Vietnam