Soft power, all the rage in the ivory tower, but ever so slowly being eclipsed in the Defense Department as mission excitement builds for China and that old foe Iran, is here to stay in that way that the Pentagon knows how to overdo everything: write the regulations and doctrine, open specialty institutions, build an internal constituency. And of course, spend money, which in the military budget is a pittance but in comparison to other departments and agencies is a King’s ransom, which is why soft becomes hard, and everything that the U.S. government attempts to turn into non-military becomes military by default.
As Secretary Robert Gates nudged the rest of the government to do more so that the military didn’t have to do everything, and the commentators of everything-is-pathetic-except-for-the-military love to point out that the State Department can’t even find enough volunteers to man its hazardous posts in the perpetual warzone. Come to think of it, I wonder if DOD could if their assignments were equally voluntary.
But I digress. Institutionalized soft power a la Pentagon practice does take resources, and bodies, and pretty soon, hard power is compromised. So there’s a double loss for America: Military priorities get distorted, and the distinction between what is military and what is civilian fades.
This week, European Command (EUCOM) announced the opening of a new Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center in Stuttgart, Germany; a kind of unremarkable and typical blah, blah, blah, even for the once important European Command constantly looking for mission and relevance. The new center focuses on trafficking in drugs, weapons, humans and other illicit commodities. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, the center’s director, told American Forces Press Service that criminal networks were increasingly able to operate across national borders and build alliances. Among the greatest concerns, he said, is the convergence of drug and terror networks. The fusion center, the director says, has fewer than 40 staff members, and includes representatives of the FBI, DIA and other U.S. government agencies.
Fewer than 40 staff members indeed, but you gotta ask: Why is this paid for out of the defense budget? Why does the military have to take the lead for the interagency to work? How many additional contractors and supporters are really expended? How does this subtly impact and undermine core military missions? How does it slowly turn the military into a global law enforcement entity?
When the U.S. government started trumpeting the term narco-terrorism after 9/11, I took it to be a cynical effort to rename the war on drugs and the activities of the left-out combatant commands like Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in the new mono-focus of terrorism. The term in fact had been coined by President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of Peru in 1983, according to Wikipedia. The adoption by DOD was in fact cynical, but soon enough they discovered that the most pressing narco problem was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mission that initially they relegated to the Brits and the NATO partners, but have been slowly taking over. EUCOM’s center is really a product of endless fighting in Afghanistan.
EUCOM’s center joins the counter-narcotics and counter-narcoterrorism effort at Central Command (CENTCOM), which takes place in the Afghanistan and Pakistan Center (APC). SOUTHCOM has their new Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) division. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has both a CTF [counter-threat finance] team and a TNT/CNT [transnational terrorism/counter narcoterrorism] division. So does Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which has built up a whole group of Colorado Springs-based efforts fighting transnational criminal organizations (narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, weapons, money laundering/threat finance etc.), focused mostly on Mexico.
All of these field outposts feed into the counter-narcotics and counter trafficking intelligence efforts of the CIA – through its long-standing Crime and Narcotics Center — NSA, DIA, Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), etc. Even the Navy’s Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center has a Transnational Threat Department (TNT). This is not even to mention the two Joint Intelligence Agency Taskforces focused on the war on drugs: South (JIATF-S) in Key West and West (JIATF-W) at Camp Smith, Hawaii. The Department of Homeland Security, of course, has gotten into the act, opening an ICE Bulk Cash Smuggling Center and other organizations.
None of this particularly surprises me, even when budgets are supposedly so strained. But I can’t help continue to think that the entire effort is both cynical and ass-backwards. If we want soft anything, we have to lead with non-military efforts.
The Obama administration, not surprisingly, has made it worse, contributing to the mission creep into organized crime and human trafficking, through its Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security, released in July 2011.
That Strategy called for DOD to enhance its support to law enforcement with the creation of the Narcotics and Transnational Crime Support Center. James Miller, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called the Center “a dedicated DoD-led center that integrates military, intelligence, and law enforcement analytic capabilities to go after key nodes in global criminal networks.” It reflects, he says, “the added value that the Defense department brings to whole-of-government efforts against transnational organized crime.”
Kathleen Hicks, who replaces Miller as Principal Deputy, told Congress: “DoD should also consider how it can play a role in breaking the links among criminal organizations, terrorists, and insurgencies. As the President’s strategy states, “terrorists and insurgents are increasingly turning to TOC [transnational organized crime] to generate funding and acquiring logistical support to carry out their violent acts.” As the Department continues with its counterterrorism efforts around the world, it will be important to account for the links between criminal and terrorist entities.”
I’d never heard of this Center, and Internet research turns up very little. What I’ve pieced together is that it is located in Crystal City, Virginia, and the director reports to the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats. Camber Corporation is providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) expertise to link the Center to NSA. Semper Fi Solutions, Inc. is providing CENTCOM liaison officers in Tampa to the Crystal City based center, as well as corruption and “predatory” analysts.
Other contractors providing intelligence support to the trafficking empire include: BAE Systems, Celestar, Delex Systems, Duer Advanced Technology & Aerospace (DATA), FedSys, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 STRATIS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Prosync Technology Group, and SAIC. Parsons Corporation is working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.
Finally, one has to ask, with all of the enhanced intelligence collection and sharing and border control that is part of the post 9/11 world, why is this problem getting worse? How is that possible, that borders are more porous? So much for the war against terrorism. No wonder they call it the forever war.