allows Pentagon to fight
By David Isenberg
"Run away from
the light": Such
might be the motto of a new, covert policy that the Bush
administration is considering implementing. According to
recent news reports, it would be the largest
expansion into the world of black ops and covert action
since the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
And that's saying quite a lot, considering that
since Vietnam the Pentagon has not exactly been dormant
in this area.
well-known military analyst William
Arkin pointed out in an October 27 column in the Los
Angeles Times, the development of the Pentagon's covert
counter-terror capability has its roots in the 1979 Iran
hostage crisis. The army created a highly
compartmentalized organization that could collect
clandestine intelligence independent of the rest of the
US intelligence community, and follow through with
covert military action. Today, it operates under the
code name Grey Fox. In Afghanistan it operated alongside
the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) paramilitary
Special Activities Division and the Pentagon's Joint
Special Operations Command.
Then there are
numerous recent initiatives, such as net assessment
capabilities at combatant commands, a new campaign
support group at Fort Bragg, a counter-terrorism
Technology Support Office, to name just a few.
Yet the Pentagon wants more. Its Defense
Science Board (DSB) conducted a 2002 "Summer Study on
Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of
Countering Terrorism". Excerpts from that study, dated August
16, were leaked and obtained by the Federation of
American Scientists, which posted them on their website. The
report was produced by a 10-member panel of military
experts that included Vice Admiral William O Studeman,
former director of the National Security Agency.
According to the leak, the United States is
engaged in a global war on terrorism that is "a real
war" in case anyone doubts it. This means, among other
things, a "committed, resourceful and globally dispersed
adversary with strategic reach" against whom the US will
wage "a long, at times violent, and borderless war"
which "requires new strategies, postures and
That explains why the United States
has, so to speak, decided to fight fire with fire.
Although the study is filled with lots of the usual
buzzwords and phrases that Pentagon planners love, such
as "robust connectivity, agile ground forces, adaptive
joint command and control and discriminant use of
force", one thing that does stand out is its call for
This is consistent with the
administration’s new National Security Strategy, which
called for preemption; indeed, since the DSB study
preceded the release of the strategy, it is possible
that the strategy was written to incorporate some of its
The study urges the Pentagon to "take
the terrorist threat as seriously as it takes the
likelihood and consequences of major theater war",
urging officials to launch secret missions and
intelligence operations to penetrate and disrupt
terrorist cells abroad. Some of those operations should
be aimed at signaling to countries that harbor
terrorists that "their sovereignty will be at risk".
If adopted, some of the proposals appear to push
the military into territory that traditionally has been
the domain of the CIA, raising questions about whether
such missions would be subject to the same legal
restraints imposed on CIA activities.
William Schneider Jr, chairman of the DSB, rejected such
concerns, saying that the panel set out to identify ways
that special operations units could do more to assist
the war on terrorism, not encroach on other agencies'
"The CIA executes the plans but they
use Department of Defense assets," Schneider said. He
emphasized that the board was not recommending any
changes to long-standing US policies banning
assassinations, or requiring presidents to approve in
advance US covert operations. Nor, he said, was the
panel advocating changes that would erode congressional
Yet lawmakers have expressed concern
with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's push to expand
the Pentagon's covert capabilities, mainly because the
Pentagon is not subject to rules that require the CIA to
report its covert activities to Congress.
DSB summary document suggests that many changes are
already under way. It cites the expansion of existing
intelligence analysis centers and the creation of new
management teams to direct covert operations at such
installations as Fort Bragg, where US special forces
such as Delta Force are based.
It recommends the
creation of a super-Intelligence Support Activity, an
organization it dubs the Proactive, Preemptive
Operations Group (P2OG), to bring together CIA and
military covert action, information warfare,
intelligence and cover and deception. For example, the
Pentagon and CIA would work together to increase human
intelligence (HUMINT) forward/operational presence and
to deploy new clandestine technical capabilities.
To bolster government HUMINT capabilities, the
task force advances the idea of an intelligence
"surge/unsurge" capability - a "robust, global cadre of
retirees, reservists and others who are trained and
qualified to serve on short notice, including
expatriates". This group could be pressed into service
during times of crisis.
P2OG would launch
secret operations aimed at "stimulating reactions" among
terrorists and states possessing weapons of mass
destruction, meaning it would prod terrorist cells into
action, thus exposing them to "quick-response"
attacks by US forces. The means by which it would do
this is the far greater use of special operations
Responsibility and accountability
for the P2OG would be vested in a "Special Operations
Executive" in the National Security Council (NSC). The
NSC would plan operations but not oversee their
execution in order to avoid comparisons to past abuses,
such as the Iran-Contra operations run out of the NSC by
Oliver North during the Reagan administration. Under the
board's proposal, NSC plans would be executed by the
Pentagon or the CIA.
Costs would include
developing new means to enable "deep penetration of
adversaries" ($1.7 billion annually); exercises and gaming
($100 million annually); development of technical capabilities
and the hiring of 500 new staff ($800 million
annually); establishment of centers of excellence
to handle increased workload ($500 million annually);
and expansion of the Joint Forces net assessment
activity ($100 million annually). The total cost
is envisaged as $3.3 billion.
The DSB study also provides tantalizing glimpses
of new capabilities already in the works, referring to
new high-tech sensors in development that would enable the
United States more closely to track the movements of
vehicles or even individuals by satellite. Some of
these capabilities are already advanced, such
as high-altitude airships, thermobaric weapons and
improved urban assault capabilities. Other new projects
are being executed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
If the DSB proposal is adopted, it would only
reinforce recent Pentagon activity. The Washington Post
reported last month that the Pentagon was preparing to
consolidate control of most of the global war on
terrorism under the US Special Operations Command,
signaling an intensified but more covert approach to the
next phase in the battle against al-Qaeda and other
international terrorist groups.
Operations units have been active in Pakistan for months
and are training military forces in Yemen and Georgia.
These missions could provide a cover for conducting any
covert raids and other actions against suspected
al-Qaeda members in the two countries.
United States has also placed more than 500 Special
Operations troops in the African nation of Djibouti,
where they are near potential hot spots such as Yemen
and Somalia. The USS Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault
ship that carries attack helicopters and a handful of
Harrier jump jets, has been stationed off the Horn of
Africa for about six weeks, ready to carry those troops
and some specialized helicopters.
And, in early
October, the Washington Times reported that US commandos
hunting Taliban and al-Qaeda guerrillas in Afghanistan
gained permission to employ "source operations" -
clandestine tactics typically confined to the CIA.
"Source operations" generally refers to recruiting
and maintaining spies within the enemy's camp. In
Afghanistan, it means finding Afghans and Arabs,
possibly within the Taliban and al-Qaeda network, who
would supply intelligence to US special-operations
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