The National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) was in the news last week, with the government’s revised guidelines regarding its ability to acquire and retain information on Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism.
Then Greg Miller had a vivid almost-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-national-security profile of the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) in The Washington Post, an article that assaults the notion that NCTC is the epicenter of the terror war. The CIA’s Center, in addition to commanding the drones that do the killing, actually gets out there while the NCTC is a northern-Virginia based bureaucracy. They’re so far out there in fact, that their director “Robert” – we can’t know his real name – is a convert to Islam. Just weird.
If I didn’t know that it takes weeks, even months, for a journalist to score such a profile, I’d think the Post piece was a direct response to NCTC getting all of the attention in the news. Bureaucracies do hate other bureaucracies getting credit.
But the same week that all of this was going down, I was trying to wrap my head around another organization: the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which is in Tampa, Florida. They had a job advertisement for a new civilian chief of their “Exploitation Division” that said in part:
“As Chief, Exploitation Division, leads, plans and organizes the technical analysis and collaborative exploitation efforts of the Directorate’s six (6) divisions with a combined staff of military, active and reserve, civilian personnel, contractors and Interagency Partners (CIA, FBI, NSA, OGA, NCTC, DOS, USAID, DOJ, DHS, DEA, USCG, ASD-SOLIC, DIA and NCR….
Conducts strategic analysis and manages the evaluation of technical data associated with ceased digital media, cellular communications/equipment, documents, currency and weapons systems while concurrently writing and providing strategic and operational exploitation assessments to the IATF Director and USSOCOM Commander…”
The job announcement, besides being in a language other than English and replete with all sorts of errors (what the hell is “ceased digital media” and what’s OGA – other government agencies – the usual acronym for the CIA if the CIA is already mentioned?)makes it sound like something that I thought was just a coordinating Task Force is actually another action arm. A little more digging and in fact IATF sounds redundant of both NCTC and CTC and whole bunch of other organizations and agencies; part intelligence analysis shop, part targeter, part planner, part doer.
SOCOM’s 2008 posture statement before Congress describes the IATF simply as “a catalyst to rapidly facilitate CT [counter-terror] collaboration within the U.S. government against trans-regional, functional and strategic level problem sets and opportunities.” An official Defense Department definition of an IATF is a “full-time, multifunctional advisory element of the combatant commander’s staff that facilitates information sharing throughout the interagency community. Through habitual collaboration, it provides a means to integrate campaign planning efforts at the strategic and operational levels and throughout all U.S. government agencies. IATF bridges the gap between civilian and military campaign planning efforts for potential crises and irregular challenges.”
According to SOCOM’s FY 2013 budget, “SOCOM’s IATF quickly fuses knowledge from multiple sources and collection methods, and then rapidly disseminates essential information to theater SOF and/or agencies for operational planning or investigation.”
Delve deeper though, and like the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, almost synonymous to it in fact, the IATF is more than just another staff organization. Ten of its contractors and their activities demonstrate that:
* A-T Solutions: Senior operational planning and execution support contractor to the IATF Synchronization Division. A-T Solutions support SOCOM’s core mission as the global synchronization of the U.S. government – minus the CIA and DNI, that is – for the global war on terrorism operations plan (CONPLAN 7500). It organizes the regular Global Synchronization Conferences of the dozen or more agencies and departments involved in fighting terrorist networks.
* Blackbird Technologies: Operational planning support contractor to the Counter-terrorism Branch.
* Circinus, LLC: Document exploitation and cultural analysis in support of Exploitation Team.
* FEDSYS, Inc.: Operational research and intelligence analysis support to the Counter Narco-terrorism (CNT) Branch and the counter-threat finance (CTF) Team. FEDSYS assists in coordination of U.S. government agencies, partner nations and the private sector to accomplish SOCOM’s CTF mission, including finance-oriented assessments to support development of case files, evidentiary material, designation packages, to include actionable intelligence on finance-specific entities. This includes data mining, data manipulation, and multimedia production to identify/detect, target and interdict terrorist, and/or illicit criminal finance activities.
* High Tech Crime Institute: Designer and sole producer of the EDAS FOX series of forensics computers, which USSOCOM currently uses for cell phone and computer hardware and software exploitation. The Institute supports IATF Document and Media Exploitation (DOMEX) Branch.
* JACOBS Technology: Analytical and language support to IATF Document and Media Exploitation (DOMEX) Branch.
* OverWatch Technologies: Technical support to the Science and Technology Directorate in development of special reconnaissance programs.
* Scientific Research Corporation: Cyber intelligence analytic support to the Special Projects Division. SRC performs geospatial analysis of networks and effects-based cyber target characterization (EBCT) studies; and create and maintains specific EBCT studies consisting of continually-refreshed, fused, all-source intelligence assessments of target sets to expose vulnerabilities and Centers of Gravity (COG) in support operational actions.
* Special Applications Group: Writing, editing and publishing support to the Special Project Division. The Special Applications Group produces counter-terrorism propaganda for IATF and SOCOM, including “Argus” magazine. The IATF Division works with intelligence and operations specialists, social scientists, geospatial analysts, and software engineers working with very large repositories of structured and unstructured multi-source data.
* Streamline Defense: Analytical support contractor to the IATF Fusion Division. Streamline Defense conducts operations and intelligence research, data collection, analysis, production, and dissemination in support of IATF’s efforts. Its contractors interpret and analyze raw data in the production of intelligence from multiple sources along four separate and concurrent lines of investigation, compile, collate, analyze, and evaluate all-source information to produce intelligence and operational design products on terrorists, terrorist organizations/networks (al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliated groups), non-government agencies, state sponsors of terrorism, and potential links worldwide.
According to military documents, the IATF Exploitation Division additionally sponsors the Naval Postgraduate School’s work in the development of social analysis models for both current interdiction and forecasting political and social movements. The IATF’s Counter Radicalization and Counter Facilitation Branch also works with national police agencies from Afghanistan to Africa and Australia to gain insight into and solve domestic and transnational problems.
After 9/11, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) informally established its standing interagency element comprised of military members and other departments of the U.S. government. In 2006, according to a military study on interagency cooperation, the IATF was chartered to ‘serve as a coordinating activity within DOD and across the interagency that integrates … efforts while also “solving discrete problem sets that support the War on Terror.” The SOCOM commander also assigned the IATF the command’s Time Sensitive Planning process and mission and with the responsibility to support host nation governments.
The IATF, the study said, became “one of the most substantially resourced staff elements within the command” with new state of the art facilities. According to the study, as of 2009, the IATF consisted of nearly 100 interagency personnel and had established formal and informal relationships with nearly every element of the United States Government. The IATF Executive director was originally a one-star general officer, but since late 2010, the head of the Task Force isn’t even a military man: The current director is Frank Shroyer, a career Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official. Like so much about secret organizations and those developed since 9/11 to fight the forever-war (the new Africa Command’s deputy commander is a State Department officer), the whole-of-government approach is laudable, but I’m still uncomfortable with the obscuring of what is military and what is civilian, and I’m still opposed to the CIA targeting and killing with military means. Our practice undermines the distinction principle in the law of armed conflict.
SOCOM, moreover, funds nearly all of its contractor, travel and activities from sources external to the IATF. “The IATF budget is not a constraining factor in its functionality, the 2009 study concludes.
I’m sure that some special operations types will argue that the IATF is just a task force, an organization created (and necessitated by) the need for cooperation and coordination, for experience on the part of military people and others to work together. They will equally argue that SOCOM is the military and not the CIA, and that unlike the National Center (NCTC) – which is part of the DNI – the SOCOM it is a combatant command and not some Washington PowerPoint palace. So, on the one hand an explanation of the Task Force is that it doesn’t do anything – it’s just an interagency coordination group – and on the other hand the argument is that it is different than the intelligence organizations that don’t do anything. The warrior bureaucrats want it both ways.
The evidence indicates that SOCOM’s IATF does do something though, that it is much more than just an advisory element. But there is no denying that with its civilian director and its gaggle of contractor ex-military faux experts, it doesn’t command any forces or anything other than itself and its activities. What exactly it does do though, and how much of what it does it just redundant to other organizations, is virtually impossible to determine behind all of the ad-hoc-ery and euphemism and secrecy.
This is the general problem with the scourge of post-9/11 secret organizations: Enough money is available for multiple organizations – DNI, NCTC, SOCOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, DIA, JIEDDO – to all develop task forces and special organizations that don’t actually fight, with ambiguous control over analyzing, targeting, and synchronizing. SOCOM as a combatant command is no exception, because on the one hand it has an actual three-star warfighting command – the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – that actually goes out there and does the deed; and it had, until recently, a national Joint Task Force – the Center for Special Operations – that is supposed to do the staff coordinating of a global functional command. But on top of that, SOCOM, like so many other organizations, including the CIA, has merely grafted bloated ad-hoc and staff organizations on top of what already exists, organizations that in many cases have neither proven their usefulness or outlived their usefulness.
Still confused? That’s the way the bureaucracy stays in control and the money keeps flowing.