Strategic Activism 2: Applied Asymmetry and the Guardian’s Office

The first post in this series discussed the use of principles adapted from the military doctrine of asymmetric warfare as one possible strategy to combat Scientology. This weekend marks the 10 year anniversary of the start of the Anon’s version of asymmetrical warfare against Scientology, both in the virtual and physical spaces, and seems an appropriate place from which to assess Scientology’s use of similar asymmetrical or unconventional tactics.

As long-time Scientology watchers know, LRH’s many writings are full of contradictions, bloviating half-truths, malapropisms, and as well as questionable sourcing on pretty much every topic he wrote about. Thus, it’s important to use his writings, the historical record compiled by church historians, (LRH biographers, critics, etc.), as well as compilations of his many policy letters, “advices,” and other specific references, such as the “Data Series” in attempting a more balanced appraisal of church behavior. For example, I’ve made extensive use of the resources compiled from and church teachings in preparing this essay.

A glaring paradox in the church’s ongoing use of intelligence operatives, smear tactics, and other psychological warfare (psyops) tactics lies in their transition from that of an insurgent mindset into one of monolithic ineptitude, grounded in an obsession with retribution, petty vindictiveness, and the capers of PIs and other minions. The early days of GO operations did indeed have an insurgent bent to them, despite the prescriptive processes and LRH’s domineering, top-down management style, and obsession with all things covert and clandestine. Mary Sue Hubbard, Jane Kember and other guardians, fancied themselves a combination of George Smiley, Allen Dulles and Lavrenti Beria. so it would seem, in framing the extensive list of operations undertaken by the GO from 1966, to its eventual rebranding into a kinder, gentler Office of Special Affairs, in 1983.

Hubbard and Operational Paradoxes

Aside from the obvious question of why a “church” needs a black-bag intelligence operation, it’s important to understand LRH’s motivation(s) for creating the GO, as well as its eventual remit. Hubbard was obsessed with all things military, intelligence, and conspiracy-related; he fancied himself a student of warfare, statecraft and politics. Many of his writings veer off into incoherent tangents, anecdotes and analogies involving these topics, very much to the detriment of maintaining a cogent narrative to the subject at hand. Much of Hubbard’s writings are grounded in militarism, which can be defined as both “a veneration of military values and appearances in excess of what is strictly necessary for effective defence,” defense in this case being against attacks on himself and Scientology. For instance, in outlining the five areas of activity that comprised the GO’s focus, the description of the activity of “Danger” exemplifies this militaristic incoherence:

The GO was intended to be a sort of Scientological SWAT team, charging into action whenever Scientology was in danger after blunders by staff members. Hubbard gave this the curious title of “LRH Heavy Hussars Hat”; the Hussars, he explained, had been a cavalry force held in reserve until a battle line was dangerously strained, whereupon they would go in to straighten it out.

Aside from being anything but a “SWAT team,” his moniker of “Heavy Hussars Hat” is just nonsense. While there were “heavy” hussar units in the Polish army of the 17th century, primarily, hussars are light cavalry and tasked with reconnaissance, raiding sources of fodder for cavalry formations, and general provisions in advance of armies that primarily lived-off the land. When deployed in battle, hussars specialized in raiding, deep penetration and harassment raids, as well as over-running artillery batteries and the pursuit, capture, or elimination of enemy troops in flight.

A further irony in all this is that hussars practiced an early form of asymmetric, unconventional tactics in an age of highly scripted, highly structured linear-based warfare. Perhaps if Hubbard had done a bit of actual research, rather than inserting yet another spurious English affectation such as “hussars,”  he might of been able to better leverage his anecdotal description of “Danger” handling. Other GO activities included “Policy,” “Affluence,” “Long-range Planning,”, and of course, “Intelligence;” detailed descriptions of what each entailed can be found here. goes on to say that:

“The Guardian Office (more formally, the Office of the Guardian) represented a systematic effort to centralise the activities previously undertaken by separate HCO Departments. Hubbard defined its mission concisely:


[Hubbard, HCO Policy Letter of 1 March 1966, The Guardian]”

The GO maintained an impressive operational tempo despite having originally consisted of a small cohort of operatives, centrally located in a command center at Saint Hill Manor in Sussex, England. When re-purposed in 1983, multiple sources have estimated that the GO had some 1,100 full-time staff, who in turn were tasked with the deployment and supervision of a diversity of volunteer “Field Staff Members” – agents/operatives/PR, etc. – globally. As part of the rampant “snitch” culture in the church, every org, regardless of location, included a clutch of “Assistant Guardians” on staff, as a means of ensuring doctrinal and behavioral adherence to LRH and the church at large.  Subsequently, it was clear in the late 70s, that the GO essentially ran the Church of Scientology. While these actions were in keeping with ensuring “affluence,” “long-range planning,” and certainly “policy,” a key duty was intelligence: gathering it, leveraging it, and implementing intelligence operations in general. Given Scientology’s 33 international orgs at the time, much of this effort was dedicated to influencing and subverting various foreign governments, all in supporting the goals of the “church.”

The GO: From Insurgents to the Stasi

A further irony in assessing the growth of the GO, was it’s increasing resemblance to a variety of Eastern Bloc intelligence apparatuses, in keeping with the activities of the Soviet Union’s KGB, East Germany’s Stasi, and other totalitarian-like intelligence and state security organizations. Contrast this with Hubbard’s fervent anti-communist leanings, and again, more Hubbardian contradictions surface. The GO leveraged the church’s considerable membership at the time as an informal surveillance network, corrupting the loyalties of thousands of church members into supporting various surveillance, spying, and intelligence gathering operations on “targets” perceived as foes of Scientology. The GO’s office evolved into a classic “state within a state”, the state being Scientology, and a state wherein the GO’s respective goals may not have been entirely in keeping with the stated aims of the church. goes on to note that:

“GO-run Field Staff Members were the people who stole thousands of documents from the US Government and framed New York journalist Paulette Cooper in a bomb plot (see the plan of action for the FSMs involved in the latter). With the close involvement of L. Ron Hubbard himself in its activities, the GO was the power within the Church of Scientology. It did not get quite as far as the KGB, which promoted its chairman Yuri Andropov to the top job, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, in 1984. All the same, the burgeoning power of the GO was to be a crucial factor in its eventual downfall.”

Early GO operations reflect an attempt at tactical cohesion, but never approached a level of strategic competence, either operationally or organizationally. This focus on the tactical, indeed the strictly “operational” is likely the result of Hubbard’s paranoia-driven, and ironically, his “reactive” impulses towards threats, both real and imagined, as well as Mary Sue’s on the job training as spymaster. A survey of the operations undertaken during her reign, with such names as Operation “Italian Fog”, Operation “Devil’s Wop” (detecting a trend here?), Operation “Speedy Gonzales,” and Operation “Bulldozer Leak” were all focused primarily on reputational ruin of the target, including the use of rumor mongering, salacious innuendo, as well as targeted infiltration, petty burglary, and other “black bag”-style operations.

Operation “Freak-out,” directed against a single target, journalist Paulette Cooper, was perhaps the ne plus ultra of operational excellence in combining all these various tactics in one operation. Lasting some 5 years, (1971-1976), GO operatives exhibited resourcefulness, tenacity, and at times brilliant tradecraft, in attempting to ruin Ms. Cooper by framing her for alleged bomb threats against the church. While demonstrating tactical excellence on many levels, as well as asymmetric influences, Ms. Cooper ultimately prevailed in court by fighting Scientology to a standstill, and later, as a result of documents uncovered by the FBI during the fallout from Operation “Snow White,” was ultimately exonerated. Operation “Snow White” on the other hand, is perhaps the best example of an attempted strategic asymmetrical operation by the church. However, due to operational failures, such as an overly-aggressive targeting plan, as well as an ongoing predilection towards excessive centralized command and control, Operation “Snow White” also ultimately failed.

Operational Overreach and “Snow White”

I say “attempted strategic asymmetrical operation,” as when first envisioned, “Snow White” was designed to attack multiple threats at varying levels of intensity, using widely-dispersed resources on a global scale. Indeed, such was the international scale of the operation, that a targeting table compiled after the fact on, reflects some 23 nation-states and NGOs as potential targets and areas of operation for GO operatives and proxies. Much of the action appears to revolve around mitigating potential litigation and immigration actions, the result of the voyages undertaken by the Apollo, Hubbard’s Sea Organization flag ship. Interpol, the FBI, the  US Dept. of Treasury, and various governmental agencies in the United Kingdom and Australia were specifically targeted, due to alleged complicity in “crimes” against Hubbard and Scientology. It’s this focus on revenge, the always-present irrationality of Hubbard, that hampers any attempt at proper asymmetry, because inevitably, it’s all about him. Had Mary Sue Hubbard and others in command had some freedom of action, both operationally and in planning and strategy, Operation “Snow White” could have been the commercially-originated intelligence coup of the century.

While appearing to represent a strategic mentality, reflected in targets as diverse as the US,  UK, and Australian governments, wherein a successful outcome would have radically furthered Scientology’s organizational agenda, “Snow White” ultimately failed. It failed in that it was inept in execution in many instances, as well as losing sight of the potential endgame, as well as failing to plan for the many potential eventualities GO actions could entail. More so, in placing huge responsibilities on individuals such as Michael Meisner, fatal points of failure were unnecessarily introduced into what was a relatively well-planned operation. Essentially, rigid doctrinal belief in an individual Scientologists ability to “make things go right,” failed to account for the random actions of non-Scientology actors and events; in short, a lack of a “plan B” or “plan C,” as well as too ready a reliance on default tactics of infiltration, bluster, intimidation and amateur cloak and dagger tricks.  But what if the GO had been more selective in targeting, as well as demonstrating some level of sophisticated operational acumen, including an asymmetrical component in its planning?

The Great “What-Ifs” of Operation “Snow White”

According to Mark “Marty” Rathbun (said in 2015, well before he turned back towards Scientology):

“Snow White was originally a litigation strategy to purge the government’s files of all the quote/unquote ‘false reports’ about Scientology, the original intent was to get all these documents legally through FOIA, but the litigation process wasn’t going fast enough to satisfy Hubbard’s demands. So they decide to flank the whole legal route, like, ‘Let’s get in there and see what the government is withholding.’ Their impatience with the process trumped everything else, which is what always happens with Scientology.”

In deconstructing “Snow White,” the most obvious Achilles heel is Hubbard’s impatience, which is the nexus for the resultant list of failures. Meisner and an accomplice were caught as a result of using false gov’t ID; so the first question is, why didn’t the church use its formidable resources to obtain either real or highly accurate forgeries of the necessary identification for not only Meisner et. al, but all those involved in “Snow White”? Furthermore, why not take the time to assess the most vital agencies necessary to the cause, and then obtain the correct credentials for each? The repercussions of zealous Scientologists armed with legitimate US Government photo ID are staggering, especially when weighed against the laughable government security in place at the time. Further to planning, rather than hoovering-up every possible document, why not a targeted acquisition plan mapped to the documents deemed critical in the original FOIA request?

Again, Hubbard’s “more is better” pathology trumped any nuanced, selective approach, one that would have had a far greater chance of success. As to the international component of “Snow White,” Hubbard never appears to have weighed the potential blowback from interfering in the affairs of hostile nation-states. He escaped prison in multiple ports of call almost by chance, so did he really think escalating his fight with the authorities would result in a blanket vindication of Scientology? Hubris wins the day yet again. An asymmetric approach would have leveraged targeted legal action for specific outcomes, as well as using multiple, appropriately documented infiltrators, seeking crucial, rather than blanket sets of documents. Lastly, a separate campaign of international vindication would have used a similar approach, though utilizing overt, public relations-based tactics, rather than rampant subterfuge. Operation “Snow White” empirically demonstrated that Hubbard was his own worst enemy, and rather than a master of the operational art, he was a revenge-motivated dilettante at best, and a muddled, incoherent tactician at worst.