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This true story of a Special Forces officer in Vietnam in the mid-sixties will acquaint you with the unique nature of Special Operations Forces and how covert operations are developed and often masked to permit — even sponsor — assassination, outright purposeful killing of innocents, illegal use of force and bizzare methods in combat operations.

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The Unconventional Warrior
by LTC Daniel Marvin, USASF (ret)

A  R  C  H  I  V  E  S

© 2002 Daniel Marvin

Part Six: Blow the ASWAN High Dam

September 16, 2002

Some of the most interesting and exciting subjects taught us in the Special Warfare training mentioned in Part Three of this Unconventional Warfare series were what I would call "fascinating" special demolition techniques. The "ear muff" charge was one we would be taught by way of a dramatic demonstration that left no doubt in our winds of its combat effectiveness. Instructors began by diametrically opposing two identical charges of plastic explosives on a round bridge support column, arming each with an identical detonator and attaching equal length lead wires to the detonating device. When the device was triggered both charges exploded simultaneously, sending the force of the explosion into the center of the column from opposing directions. When those forces collided in the middle of the column, as they so readily demonstrated, the column itself seemed to explode outwardly from its own center with sufficient force to destroy it. The earmuff charge would be used on wood and concrete columns or trusses, etc.

The dust-initiator charge was an exciting, even awesome special demolition technique designed for specific targets, such as was the case in the design and target application for most special demolition techniques. We were trained using a railroad boxcar as the vehicle for demonstrating the unbelievable as the railroad boxcar became a bomb, a very big bomb! The use of incendiary impregnated oat, wheat or rye grain, sawdust or similar absorbing type material, and a small but powerful explosive device whose primary purpose was to fill the air within the confined space (in this instance a boxcar). It could be an office, warehouse, or house, etc. and a separate charge would be triggered to ignite the incendiary laden material to cause a considerable amount of death and destruction if used in the right place at the right time. We were all convinced of that fact as students when that boxcar located a few hundred yards to our front was detonated and blown &part as if it were a cracker box.

Other special demolition techniques we were acquainted with included homemade napalm, pipe hand grenades, nail grenades, wine bottle cone charges, chemical fire bottles, acid-delay incendiary devices, chemical fire bottles, ribbon explosive charges and sabotage using thermite grenades.

Terrorism techniques taught at the school, including a wide variety of intimidation methods, such as the use of poisonous snakes to elicit fear, will be discussed In Part 10 of this series: Psychological Warfare Operations.

Much earlier in life, when I was 16 and worked for Daniel T. Walker, a farmer near New Lennox, Illinois, where I was first introduced to the peaceful use of explosives. Walker tilled 2500 acres, fed 500 head of white-faced Hereford cattle and 400 head of black and white Poland China hogs that he took to market at the Chicago stockyards.

It was he who taught his son Roe and me to use dynamite to remove old and newly cut stumps as a part of the clearing operation to remove hedgerows, making one bigger field out of two smaller ones for more efficient grain production. We used a standard plunger type detonating device and electric detonators. I was impressed with the lifting power of a stick of dynamite that had been dug in under a stump and tamped with wetted soil. The dynamite exploded and lifted the entire stump out of the ground sufficiently to expose all the roots. We'd cut the roots about a foot below the surface of the ground so they would not interfere with cultivation of crops, remove the stump and root stubs and fill in the depression with dirt from the surrounding area.

Once on the job as S-4 for the 6th Special Forces Group, my major task was making certain our far-flung operational teams were adequately supplied with items essential to the effective conduct of the team mission and the survival of the team members. Scattered around the world as Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) they would be re-supplied by normal and unusual means. Airdrop, International Mail, special courier or using another agency of our government were the channels used should the MTT be in country disguised as a functioning civilian group.

In the summer of 1964 I volunteered to command an eight-man team of volunteers that would take a man-portable atomic device into an objective area by parachute to destroy targets we would be told to neutralize. There were a total of four teams trained to carry and activate the SADM (Special Atomic Demolition Munition) device. As team leader I would carry the 95 lb device and my XO would carry the 35 lb trigger mechanism. Once on the ground in the target area we would first scout out a location within 15 minutes walking distance of the target site and quietly dig or prepare a pre-existing covered location such as a cave for our protection from the explosion and fallout. We would, after scouting the area during daylight hours, move with the device once darkness was again our protector to the detonation location, lock the two parts together, arm the device and return quickly to our own survival site.

The man who brought a device from the Seneca Army Depot in NY State in an unmarked 3/4 ton truck to train us in its operation (short of arming it of course!) told us this first model used the timing device from a commercial washing machine. How true I don't know, but I do know that the maximum time we could set for the blast delay was 15 minutes and that made it absolutely necessary to put together a team of truly optimistic, really daring volunteers. There seemed to be no problem within the ranks of the Special Forces.

If there had been an activation of the contingency mission we would secure the Special Atomic Demolition (SADM) devices in their special canvas containers, similar to the parachutist's adjustable equipment (PAE) bag, along with other PAE bags loaded with sharp entrenching tools, survival rations, skyhook harnesses and special radio equipment that would act as air-to-ground communications and homing signal devices for our after-mission pick up by C-130 aircraft equipped with a "skyhook" system.

We would use the most effective way to infiltrate the site with the device attempting to avoid detection. To locate, key in on, and exit at the right time and place to assure that we could, with what we knew about the weather conditions, pinpoint our landing we would use the high altitude high opening (HAHO) method. Going in at 30,000 feet over the ASWAN High Dam in the middle of, most importantly, a moonless night, leaving the aircraft up wind the proper distance from the desired landing site nearby the dam so as to compensate for winds at various altitudes, of the dam up to five miles. Once outside with the extra heavy clothing to keep us from freezing and the oxygen equipment to keep us alive until we got below 20,000 feet, we could glide for the entire distance to the landing point with little fear of being detected.

If there was even a trace of a moon we'd have to opt for the High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) method, leaving the aircraft at 30,000 feet but not opening our parachutes until we were almost on the ground. We would literally "fly" toward the target, using our extended arms to steer the course. Legs would be of little use as they were tied together with PAE bag straps. We'd be dropping fast by the time we got to 1000 feet above the ground where it was essential to "pop" our canopies and hone in on the area we'd predetermined to be sufficient distance from perimeter security lighting to be relatively safe from immediate detection, but yet nearby the upper entrance to the dam site where our target was located.

The intelligence we needed to provide us accurate target site information was derived from "'company" sources, including a Mafia-owned, CIA employed construction company out of Massachusetts in Egypt at the time on an "arranged" contract to help the Russians build the dam using mostly Egyptian labor. Strange bedfellows, I thought at the time, but perhaps necessary to got the job done. If the mob men got it right we'd be honing in on a location about four hundred yards from the fence that surrounded the hydroelectric station with its six huge water tunnels and we would have in hand the blueprints needed to place the device for maximum destructive results.

At the time I thought nothing about the potential loss of lives and widespread contamination downstream where millions of Egyptians lived.

Needless to say, the contingency mission remained just that and the geographies of politics in that region changed sufficiently to remove the ASWAN High Dam from danger of Special Forces actions as was envisioned when I commanded that small team of death-defying volunteers.

I did not, however, forget the SADM devices and how easily two men could carry, place and detonate a miniature atomic device. When the World Trade Towers, Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania were attacked by terrorist-driven aircraft, I thought back over my years in the Special Forces and what we'd learned about terrorist-type activities and came to realize that the potential existed for our stockpile of SADMs to fall into the hands of terrorists and be used against us or our allies if they were not adequately protected.

After providing the New York State Police information on the SADM and some "how to" on suspension bridge destruction, thinking it a good idea to advise Governor Ridge on this matter, I wrote him as follows:

8 October 2001

TO: Governor Tom Ridge, Homeland Security VIA FAX

C/o THE WHITE HOUSE Please forward to Governor Ridge's Office

Dear Sir,

The following was sent to the New York State Police Syracuse Office on 15 October 2001 and I thought I should send the information to your office for application on a nationwide basis. I failed in my attempt to get your FAX number thus I send it through the White House fax facility.

I was involved in a considerable amount of training at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg in 1964 and have been involved in a few assignments that had to do with the type of actions a terrorist may consider In this time of terror attacks on our own soil.

I enclose my bio just for some background information and a copy of page 304 of JCS Pub 1 dated September 1974 as it contains the definition of the SADM (Special Atomic Demolition Munition).

The first item of concern is the SADM as it is a powerful man-portable atomic device that could be used to destroy or disable power stations, particularly those that are a part of a hydroelectric power generating capability which would, if blown - not only destroy a power source, but contaminate the water that was the source of power, carrying potential deadly and/or injury/sickness laden water (from radiation) down-river, which would then affect tens of thousands of people. When I was in the 6th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg in 1964 I volunteered to head one of three eight-man teams that had contingency missions with the SADM. My primary mission at the time was the power distribution facility of the ASWAN High Dam in Egypt. The dam was under construction by the Soviet Union at the time with the assistance of a US construction company out of Boston, Mass. At that time the SADM devices were stored at Seneca Army Depot (now closed, as you know). The bomb itself weighed about 95 lbs and the trigger device about 35 lbs. If there are any of those devices still in our inventory, the storage areas should be (and I feel certain already are) under close surveillance and high security.

Second; I believe that suspension bridges, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, are particularly vulnerable to attack and would be the kind of target that would have a great impact on not only the thousands of people who may be on it at the time, but disrupt a great deal of traffic capability. I recall being told in a special demolition course that it would be best to blow only one end of one suspension group of cables immediately adjacent to the concrete abutments. When severed, the cable would allow the bridge to twist and turn as it fell, causing real havoc.

If you would like any other thoughts that come in mind from my previous training or experience, just let me know by FAX and give me your fax number.

Signed, Daniel Marvin

By the end of the week, having heard nothing from his office, I wrote a second letter to follow-up:

2 November 2001

TS: TR01 1102

TO: Governor Tom Ridge, Homeland Security VIA FAX
C/o THE WHITE HOUSE Please forward to Governor
Ridge's Office
Dear Governor Ridge,

Reference is made to my fax dated 28 October 2001 that I sent to you via The White House Fax 0 as shown above.

Inasmuch as this fax concerned extremely dangerous subjects of interest during this terrorist attack sensitive time, I would like to know if you received it. And, I would like to know the proper fax number, telephone number and address for your office should I think of something else that may be of interest to Homeland Security

My 28 Oct 01 fax referred to my 15 October 2001 fax to the New York State Police, telling of my being involved in a considerable amount of training at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg in 1964 and my being involved in a few assignments that-had to do with the type of actions a terrorist may consider in this time of terror attacks on our own soil. I went on to discuss the need to locate and safeguard all stocks of man-portable Special Atomic Demolition Munition and to indicate the potential danger to Suspension Bridges to attack by terrorists.

I know your office is most active and I do not expect a formal response should you feel that merely penning the answers to my questions hereon and returning same by fax is sufficient for your office management criteria.

Most Sincerely,
signed Daniel Marvin

I did receive an excellent response from the Now York State Police, who were themselves waiting instructions from Governor Ridge's office. But, other than the standard "boiler plate" reply on an official postcard (postmarked 24 Jan 02) mailed some three months after my Inquiry and more than two and a half months after my follow-up letter) thanking me for my "suggestions" and then stating unequivocally that "An appropriate member of our staff will respond directly to you."

Almost eight months have passed and I have heard nothing from that "appropriate member."

I now ask the readers to judge for themselves if there is any possible reason for their lack of response and even more, their ignoring a potential danger of such magnitude as I posed to them. They have made no attempt to contact this former Green Beret combat veteran with experience in overt and covert, even independent unconventional warfare and whose credentials are immediately available to them. They would know, on searching of my military records, that I have been a credit to this nation in time of peace, contingency planning and actual war and have the experience necessary to be of value in any study on potential terrorist activity. Perhaps you should write Governor Ridge and ask him yourself? Ask him why something of such potential significance to national security was ignored.

Next week:
Part 7: An Offer from the Don.

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