Category Archives: Today in Secret History

From the Arkin Archives: Why You Can’t Keep Secrets

I found a speech I gave twenty years ago to military and industry officers and officials at the annual U.S. Air Force National Security Leadership Course, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, delivered on 14 August 1996

William M. Arkin

I started thinking about this talk by polling friends in Washington to see if there were any good new jokes about secrecy.  In other parts of the world, political jokes are often the purest expression of zeitgeist, so I thought a current favorite — you know, some knee slapper about the new Executive Order on classification, or one about the latest string of Bill Gertz’ leaks —  would provide astute insight.

No dice though; people inside the beltway have never been renown for their humor.

In May, however, I was in Beirut, and the number of jokes about the Syrians were impressive.

Here’s my favorite.

Hafez Assad is with Bill Clinton and Jacques Chirac on the Mississippi River to negotiate Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.  Assad drops his watch into the river and when he bend over the deck railing to look for it, snapping alligators thrust up from the deep.  Clinton tells one of the Marine guards to retrieve President Assad’s watch.  The Marine goes to the edge, looks over at the alligators and says to the President  Mr. President, you know we live in the greatest country on earth, and therefore I can decline an unlawful order.  If I jump in to retrieve Mr. Assad’s watch I would die, and besides I have a family…

So Chirac, thinking he can tweak the American nose says to a French soldier, jump in the water and retrieve Assad’s watch.  The legionnaire snaps to attention and runs to dive in, but he then looks over and sees the snapping alligators, and turns to Chirac and says Monsieur President, you know our democracy is even older than America, and besides, I have a family…

So Assad whispers something in the ear of a Syrian soldier, who runs to the railing and without hesitation, jumps in the water, swims through the alligators, retrieves the watch, and returns safely to the boat.  The Marine and the Legionnaire, both amazed, crowd around the Syrian to ask what Assad said.

Well, the soldier explains, I too have a family…

**

So what does this have to do with secrecy?

To me, it is a real world reminder that to level any kind of indictment about the evils of U.S. government secrecy is to be trivial.  One only has to visit places like the Middle East to appreciate how free our system is.

What is more, the very reason I assume I was invited to address you this evening is that I’ve made a living by revealing government secrets.  Throughout that career, I’ve always felt shielded by my rights as a citizen, and always felt confident that if there was public benefit resulting from my revelations, even those in government would grudgingly concede and respect my rights.

I am often asked if there is some secret I wouldn’t reveal, and the answer, frankly, is yes.  In short, it is information that has no public policy relevance.  Now granted there is lots of room for debate here as to what that means, and some right wingers have tried in the past to tar me as “the Philip Agee of nuclear weapons.”

Yet I have faced on a day-to-day basis the challenge of defining what information can do damage to U.S. national security, and what information can not.  That is because secrets have a quality like trees, and if one falls in the public and nobody hears it, I would concede that the public benefit is dubious.

Yet the process of revealing a secret, however, also provides a check and balance if you will.  Since the news media is most often enlisted to circulate secrets, in doing so, reporters and editors and publishers have to themselves make decisions regarding government harm and public benefit.  The point I’m making is that those discussions do take place, and national security concerns are taken into consideration.

In 1996, however, classic government secrecy is hardly the civil liberties and first amendment conflict that it has been in the not too distant past.  Yet it does remain in the news.  Particularly recently with the explosion of the Internet, and the new mania about information security that has emerged, extending from the counter-communication and encryption debates to firewalls to information warfare.

I’m suspicious though, because again there are Cold Warlike warnings of the dire consequences of letting information circulate too freely.  And there has also been a reemergence of 1950’slike images of hidden enemies plotting to destroy our way of life.  To me, this is a significant over-exaggeration of both the threats and consequences.

The new technologies of information might indeed involve some truly revolutionary challenges in terms of the way huge amounts of data can be gathered and transmitted, and the threat mongers of computer security and information warfare have already put us on the slippery slope by attempting to control information or access to what are now worldwide networks.  To these government threat mongers, I say operations security and systems integrity and counterintelligence, all of the things the government has been doing for decades, and is supposed to be doing anyhow, regardless of the information medium.  Let’s not create new constraints, ones that mean a reduction in civil liberties in this country and a reduction of human rights in others.

I suspect that, either consciously or subconsciously, the focus on hackers and terrorists as the Clancyesque information enemy also has as much to do with separating the public from its tax dollars, and in framing an interesting defense problem for beltway bandits and think tanks to work on and make money from, as it has to do with true threats.  Particularly when more than ninety percent of computer intrusions and security problems as plain old fashioned insider criminal activity, stealing if you will with a high tech twist.

**

As William O. Douglas said in the Pentagon Papers case, if everything is secret, then nothing is secret.  Because of the end of the Cold War and the lack of any overarching grand strategy or national security organizing principle, we seem stuck for now in a world where near everything and anything can compete for the mantle of being “strategic.”  But if everything is strategic, then nothing is strategic.

In such a free-for-all world, the consequence is that what is really important  that is, what should be secret and protected  remains poorly defined, and thus vulnerable.

Thus perhaps one answer to the question why you can’t keep secrets is that you can’t even determine and articulate what is truly important.  The public is buffeted by endless enemies du jour, never able to give their true consent regarding what they believe should be U.S. national interests  implosion in Russia, Islam, proliferation, terrorism, warlords, ethnic hatred, population explosions, resource wars, Ebola viruses, drugs, international organized crime, Asian dynamism, the Internet, militias, Freemen, “instability.”  The menu is so full, how can one possibly determine what should be secret?

**

In the wake of the FBI files flap at the White House early this year, The New York Times reported that the federal government spent $5.6 billion in 1995 to keep secret documents secret.  Beltway habitues will point out that such numbers are apocryphal, but the public message is far more simple:

First, there is the common and probably majority view that there are still lots of legitimate secrets for the government to protect; and that there are, of course, loads of threats, old and new, that we need to protect ourselves and our secrets from.

But, there coexists another deeply ingrained belief that $5.6 billion is merely another example of the government wasting huge sums of money to administer its programs; that the secrets are really just bureaucracies covering up their law breaking, incompetence, sloth, or self-interests.

And then there is a third and simultaneous corollary of these two views.  And that is that all those secrets are really dastardly and incredibly complex and competent coverups of,

A.  the existence of UFOs and aliens,
B.  the CIA’s responsibility for the assassination of John F. Kennedy,
C.  the government’s surveillance and mind control program,
D.  POWs and MIAs still languishing in Southeast Asia, and/or
E.  the latest, the truth that Saddam used poison gas, which the government also is covering up.

One doesn’t have to scratch the surface of American society too deeply to find the UFO-POW/MIA-Gulf War Syndrome-militia constituency.  These are views that absolutely cross the political spectrum and more often than not break out into the mainstream (say when 20 percent of the population votes for Ross Perot, erstwhile surveillance subject himself).

But take for a moment Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK.”  After the movie came out, it ended up that some huge percent of the public believed that the CIA might have actually killed President Kennedy.  That in itself says a lot and should be disturbing to anyone working in the national security field.  But what I would like to point out is that the movie and the brouhaha was enough to move the Congress to undertake the most rigorous and extensive declassification effort ever.

Had the CIA released those records earlier, and had the government made some attempt to answer the conspiracy crowd in the preceding decades, then maybe, just maybe, some percent of the population would have been educated and convinced.  And maybe just in general the credibility of the government and the national security community would have improved, thus making it more implausible for other grand conspiracies to emerge.

I say maybe because I don’t want to be too naive.  There’s no getting away from one immutable fact about our society: That no matter what the government says, people will continue to believe what they believe.

This is seen most starkly this summer with “Independence Day” and UFOs on the covers of Time and Newsweek and the popularity of shows like “The X Files” and the irrepressible Roswell story.  The bottom line is that some significant percent of the population is just demented.

But as with Oliver Stone’s JFK, if you can confuse and manipulate enough people so that they think that a UFO really crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, you can actually move the government.  Like the CIA, the Air Force declassified all of its files on the subject of UFOs, and wrote a Manhattan-phone book-sized White Paper on the subject, item by item refuting every last scrap of coincidence and inconsistency in the 50 year record.

Yet all to no avail.

For when life on Mars is reported in the news media, as it was last week, the kooks seem as prominent as the astronomers in offering sound bites.  The fact is that subcultures continue to believe despite reports and White Papers and Congressional investigations and commissions and blue ribbon panels.  Somehow, I lay this public confusion about reality partly at the government’s doorstop.

**

Let me switch gears for a moment to say that I’m not so sure you can’t keep secrets  particularly when a revelation like Tacit Blue, the flying bathtub, is made.  Despite all the speculation from Area 51, despite the foolish with their binoculars and discussion groups and Web sites, despite lawsuits and even a mighty Sixty Minutes expose, despite all this attention no one outside of the government had any clear notion of what was, or is, going on at Groom Lake.

I won’t even get into the question as to whether the technologies involved in Tacit Blue were worthy of the fights and the lawsuits.  Nor whether such secrecy is needed.  My cynical mind tells me that bureaucratic interests were probably served in making the existence public.

Tacit Blue reminds me of the revelation of another “black” program  Senior Surprise, the conventional air-launched cruise missile used by the Air Force in the Gulf War.  The missile’s existence was unveiled with fanfare on the first anniversary of Desert Storm  I think it was around budget time, but I’m sure that was pure coincidence.  Anyway, the industry newsletter Navy News reported that the Air Force press release came only after Time magazine crowned the Navy’s Tomahawk “missile of the year.”

So, you can keep secrets, but at the same time, you may have so squandered your credibility by playing these sorts of games that cynicism is rampant and conspiracies flourish and pseudoscience coexists with real science.  But most important, with so many secrets in the stockpile, and with so little true ranking done as to what is or should be secret, real traitors and threats, insiders like the Walkers and Ames, can gain access so much more easily and do far more complex and inscrutable damage.

So many secrets.  A couple of years ago, the CIA announced they were going to release their files on operations in the 1950’s and 60’s.  But it warned that there were just seven employees to wade through a stack of secret files taller than  I’m not making this up  50 Washington monuments.  I calculate that as 7.13 Washington monuments worth of files per employee (the WM seems always to be the government’s preferred unit of measurement).

Anyone knows that in order to preserve real secrets, they need to be identified.  If the government practices indiscriminate secrecy on this scale, sweeping up with the real secrets those things that aren’t really secrets or don’t need to be, then the end result is neither protection nor respect.  Maybe the government is a lot smarter than I think it is, and by keeping silly things like the intelligence community budget secret they intentionally divert investigative attention from real secrets.  I doubt it.  But I would submit that making routine organizational and budget information, and the policy-making process, secret only breeds trivial leaks and public suspicion.

And most important, it just makes the American public stupid.  Government shows a contempt for the public and public opinion when it acts as if details about its activities aren’t needed for oversight and consent.  This I think is at the root of the decline in government credibility.

Take the Gulf War syndrome as an example.  After arrogantly maintaining that the complaining GI’s were either suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or were malingerers and extortionists, the Pentagon has admitted that some combination of toxic substances and administered vaccines might have worked together to create an auto-immunological reaction and thus a true medical affliction.  This raises some important new questions about the toxicity of the battlefield and of other potential dangers in industrial and occupational health.  But instead of conciliation, treatment and future prevention, the media focus has been on meaningless “revelations,” such as the most recent, that the Pentagon “really knew” of the existence of an Iraqi chemical weapons dump in the far northern corner of the Kuwaiti theater.

This is a fact that is unconnected to most of the veterans problems and to the syndrome itself.  But it suggests that the government is hiding more information.  The end result is a “hard copy” free-for-all where any claim, any news story, any conspiracy, begins to seem plausible.

**

Let me speak for a moment about the emergence of the Internet and the relationship with secrecy.  I note that there have already been some secrecy flaps.  When one of Scott O’Grady’s fellow officers wrote up his exploits on Email, the Defense Department put out a warning about the use of Email.  Last year, it turned out that an intelligence document placed online in the Gulf War declassification registry contained information about “sources and methods.”  The document said something to the effect that human agents reported X, an ordinary counterintelligence blunder.

Around mid-March of this year, a San Francisco reporter wrote a story that the Department of Energy was secretly preparing new nuclear warheads.  The headline says it all: “DOE designing new bombs, Web site shows.”  The Department explained that the document cited in the article was old.  But one of the things about the Internet is that often its impossible to tell the date of a document or its origin and status.

What happened in these two cases?  The GulfLINK site was sanitized so that the declassification effort became more perfunctory than historically valuable.  The DOE shut down its Defense Programs Web site completely for a few weeks and sanitized it as well.  Now there’s nothing worthwhile on it, not even documents that if you are in Washington, you can get as a matter of routine if you know who to ask.

People acting out of their best intentions were trying to make a ton of stuff available on the Internet, and there were teething problems.  But it was the novelty of the new medium that magnified the significance of any leak.  And no one actually claimed that damage was done to national security.

The lingering message is that the Internet is a threat.   Here Internet enthusiasts and government gumshoes form a devil’s alliance, which is always dangerous.  Internet boosters  you know, the type of people who like Wired magazine  claim with wide-eyed enthusiasm that the Internet is the biggest threat to traditional secrecy that could exist.  That it portends a re-conception of national security based not on secrecy but on transparency.  That there won’t be any more secrets.  That the potential, with the Internet and high resolution imagery, will be for everyone to know everything instantly.

The same cyber utopia seems to be the operating threat scenario for gumshoes and information warfare gurus.  This is what a breathless Navy special agent assigned to the computer security said recently: “Right now, it’s bigger than all of us put together.  It’s bigger than counterintelligence, it’s bigger than fraud, it’s bigger than criminal investigations.  If Federal Agencies don’t stick with this, it’s going to eat us up.”
Internet junkies assert that the technologies for openness are growing faster than the technologies for keeping secrets and that the power balance is shifting towards individuals.  Their Pentagon analogues  information warriors  struggle meanwhile to develop new weapons, to define the military dimensions, focusing on network and essential infrastructure protection and attack.

The pace with which a new information warfare bureaucracy has taken hold in the Pentagon is astounding.  Now everything that used to be labeled electronic combat or psychological operations poses with new terminology such as battlespace and information dominance.  And old nuclear warfare scenarios and models  like the Day After game you are playing here  are retread.

Secrecy has also proliferated.  I’m sorry, but I just see beyond the bureaucratic and institutional self-interest of another new rage within the national security community, one that might have noble purpose and important justification, but ultimately just serves to frighten and thus control the public.  Not being an enthusiast though, I also admit that perhaps I just don’t understand the cult.  And cult it is, for the believers have adopted the very definition of “cult status:” It’s so good, so smart, so hip that it’s over the head of the idiot masses.

Being one of those idiots, there’s nothing like a new national security fad  with beltway bandits and defense industry swarming around the government trough  to get my juices going to find out the truth and to challenge the bureaucracies’ misguided assumption that it is in charge.

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When Does Preparation Become War?

Today in Secret History: February 10

As people continue to fret about an Israeli (or American) attack on Iran, is there some lesson we can learn from pre-Iraq war history?

On February 10, 2003, the main body of the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) arrived at H-5 airfield in the eastern desert of Jordan in preparation for the second Gulf War (All Roads Lead to Baghdad, p. 97), an in-the-shadows unit, in support of a non-existent special operations task force, at a secret base in a classified country.  Though in hindsight it looked like a war to depose Saddam Hussein was a certainty, at the time, there was still quite a public and international debate.

Of course, from Baghdad’s perspective, war seemed more and more certain, what with the accelerated bombing already taking place under the cover of Operation Southern Focus, with CIA and special operations forces inside Iraq, and special operations deployments building up along the Iraqi border in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the conventional military deployments centered in Kuwait.  In hindsight, as crazy as it might seem, it looks like everyone’s preferred outcome – everyone in the U.S. and Iraqi governments, that is – was war.

By the time the shooting officially started a month later in mid-March, this secret Joint Special Operations Task Force West (JSOTF-W), also known as Task Force Dagger, had built up to include these special operations helicopters of the 3rd Battalion, the 5th Special Forces Group from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a company from the Army Reserve 19th Special Forces Group, British and Australian special operations forces, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a quick reaction force from the 82nd Airborne Division, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System [HIMARS] battery, and the even more secret Task Force 20 (TF-20), the black Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task force given the mission of finding Iraq’s WMD.

According to the official Army special operations history, the Jordanian-based task force had two missions: “deter the launch of Scuds from western Iraq, and support conventional forces in their attack in southern Iraq.”  I love the use of the word deter here: Deter what?  Ignore for a moment that there were no Scud missiles to be found in Iraq anyhow, and certainly none deployed in western Iraq — an intelligence analysis failure that drove a lot of effort — but how does a secret mission deter?   Of course, the sage explanation for the sensitive Jordanian deployments – and Jordan denied the presence of any U.S. military forces in the country – was to keep Israel out of any war, which is to say, to convince Israel that the United States was doing all it could do to prevent Iraqi attack, just as it had done – and failed to do – in 1991.

It’s a head-hurting house of secret cards: a highly visible and officially secret coalition special operations force preparing to infiltrate into a country even prior to the “outbreak” of war.  Retired Gen. Mike Delong, the deputy commander of U.S. forces, says in his autobiography Inside CENTCOM (p. 93) that up to 300 commandos, “dressed as native Iraqis” infiltrated into Iraq prior to March 19.

When the special operations forces found no Scuds, they moved on to Iraqi airfields and Hadithah Dam – which intelligence speculated might be intentionally blown up to flood the Euphrates River valley; again no explosives were found to corroborate such speculation.  Some commandos headed for Saddam’s western palaces, others for suspected WMD sites.  It wasn’t without cost on the U.S. side: Three Rangers were killed at Hadithah in what was probably the first suicide car bombing of the long war.

Did the deployments make war more certain?  Would they have changed the public (or international) debate had they been known?  Do these clandestine special operations undermine or enhance diplomacy?  Why do we fall back on rote words like deterrence when in fact the mission was destruction and prevention?  All good questions still very much unanswered today.

The Folly of Deterring Extremists

Today in Secret History:  February 7

On February 7, 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld (“Don”) recommending approval of The National Defense Strategy, an annual document that, well, along with the other dozens of national security strategies and documents, unclassified and classified, basically collects dust.

I mean, if there is a national defense strategy worthy of being called a strategy, doesn’t an annual document sort of prove that there isn’t one?  An annual budget?  Absolutely.  And there used to be a day not too long ago when the Secretary of Defense actually even submitted a meaty annual report to Congress, but that has since gone by the wayside.  But I digress.

On February 7, Paul reported to Don that the draft had been through “the interagency” review and that the only objection “was State’s proposal to delete the section on “Countering Ideological Support.”

“I think we should retain it,” Wolfowitz recommended, and they did.  (An interesting aside is that in the memo from Under Secretary Douglas Feith to Wolfowitz, he actually said that State and the National Security Advisor’s staff recommended deleting the section. Wolfowitz chose just to mention State.)

So, what was so offensive about the section on counter ideological support?

The section on Countering ideological support for terrorism reads:

“The campaign to counter ideological support for terrorism may be a decades-long struggle, using all instruments of national power to:

  • Delegitimate terrorism and extremists by, e.g., eliminating state and private support for extremism.
  • Make it politically unsustainable for any country to support or condone terrorism; and
  • Support models of moderation in the Muslim world by:
    • Building stronger security ties with Muslim countries;
    • Helping change Muslim misperceptions of the United States and the West; and
    • Reinforcing the message that the Global War on Terrorism is not a war against Islam, but rather is an outgrowth of a civil war within Islam between extremists and those who oppose them.

The debate within the world of Islam between extremists and their opponents may be far more significant than the messages that non-Muslim voices transmit to Muslim audiences.

Countering the ideological appeal of the terrorist network of networks is an important means to stem the flow of recruits into the ranks of terrorist organizations. As in the Cold War, victory will come only when the ideological motivation for the terrorists’ activities has been discredited and no longer has the power to motivate streams of individuals to risk and sacrifice their lives.”

Other than encroachment on State Department’s turf – and what a wonderful job they’ve done at winning the battle of hearts and minds – the theme of extremists (versus, of course, the good moderates) triumphed as the U.S. assumption.  Hence the 2011 National Defense Strategy can continue the same line, saying that efforts to just kill terrorists “cannot be decisive and do not constitute a viable long-term strategy for combating extremism.”  The 2011 strategy suggests the “whole-of-nation” approach – one of those current Washington cheers that is supposed to convey that everything’s working – and support for “responsible states.”

“In the long run,” the 2011 strategy says, “violent ideologies are ultimately discredited and defeated when a secure population chooses to reject extremism and violence in favor of more peaceful pursuits.”

There is so much wrong with this sentence.  It continues to disconnect terrorism (whoops! violent ideologies) from U.S. and western policy and actions, and ignores that there is no such thing as a secure population in this part of the world.  But most offensive, it speaks in do-gooder terms that are unhelpful and even counterproductive as a strategy for the military.

“We will adapt deterrence principles to our efforts in countering extremists,” the 2011 Strategy announces.  We’ll influence “states and other stakeholders” and make them accountable for supporting terrorists, the document opines.  And we’ll “deny terrorists the benefits they seek.”

That’s a strategy?  Saying the United States has lost the battle of hearts and minds is a no-brainer, but it is also a perennial lament that just results in the bureaucracy developing more institutions and more paper and more websites to do better.  Ultimately though, the “ideological” and “deterrence” paradigms drag terrorism back to a Cold War model.  Terrorists do not fight because they are terrorists (i.e., communists), and that if we could just convince them to be plumbers, they’d stop fighting.  Terrorists fight because that is what they think they must do to defend Islam from the very undifferentiated monoculture that this battle seeks to create.

Questioning Death from Above

Today in Secret History: February 6

Six years ago today, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was unveiled, affirming “irregular warfare” as “the dominant form of warfare confronting the United States, its allies and its partners.”

The shift from 20th to 21st Century warfare, the QDR, state “must account for distributed, long-duration operations, including unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and stabilization and reconstruction operations.” The document has been the basis for the abandonment of the so-called two-war strategy that had dominated U.S. military planning since the end of the Cold War. And it opened the war for irregular everything.

The 2006 QDR was the triumph of special operations forces (SOF), and on the same day, the Pentagon announced that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) commander Army Maj. Gen. Stan McChrystal would be nominated for a third star and that JSOC would become a three star command.

“SOF will increase their capacity to perform more demanding and specialized tasks, especially long-duration, indirect and clandestine operations in politically sensitive environments and denied areas. For direct action, they will possess an expanded organic ability to locate and track dangerous individuals and other high-value targets globally. SOF will also have greater capacity to detect, locate and render safe WMD,” the QDR stated.

In those two sentences, every aspect of the growth of “black” special operations since 9/11 is explained. JSOC now has its own Joint Intelligence Brigade, a beefed up headquarters, its own drones, its own airlift, communications, networks, and its each of its core commands (Delta force, Navy SEALs, Air Force special tactics) has significantly increased in size. JSOC is actively hiring contractors to work at its Ft. Bragg, N.C. headquarters, particularly in intelligence and information technology. And The New York Times reported Saturday that the United States would shift to these “elite units” as conventional forces are whittled down in Afghanistan.

That article, of course, could have been written any time in the past five years, and indeed it has been many time – on May 26, 2010, The Times reported pretty much the same thing, minus the Obama’s administrations election year promise. What’s interesting to me, now that black special ops – clandestine, long-duration, missions to “locate and track” high value targets – is bipartisan policy and conventional wisdom is that so few seem to question whether killing individual one at a time in this way is a winning strategy.

There is no question that reducing the U.S. military footprint in this part of the world will reap enormous benefits. But a combination of constant death-from-the-sky clandestine attacks and not really withdrawing (i.e., forces still in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, the Stans, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean, not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq), will undermine the benefits of withdrawal. And death from above, even on its own terms, needs to be more closely examined as a strategy. I get the sense that now that JSOC and the intelligence world have perfected the process – hence success with Osama bin Laden – there is mechanical acceptance of the pursuit.

Today in Secret History: February 4 – What’s in the Word Selected?

What’s in the Word Selected?

Why the continuing use of euphemism in foreign affairs when everyone knows?   For anyone who even has a passing interest in the subject, the famous words “such other duties” contained in the 1947 National Security Act probably ring a bell.  This was how the CIA was legally granted the authority to conduct covert action without the words ever being officially uttered.  Everyone knew it, but yet Congress conspired.

These days, the National Clandestine Service of the CIA states on its official website that it conducts “covert action.”   So I guess a lot has changed.

What hasn’t though is the euphemism.  On February 4, 2003, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a revised Unified Command Plan (UCP), the Presidentially-approved document that assigns responsibilities to the military.  UCP 2002 with Changes 1 and 2 was the first major promulgation of a new directive after 9/11, and it assigned expansive new responsibilities to both Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Strategic Command (STRATCOM).  And included in those responsibilities were the underpinnings of a whole new world of military covert action, a world that continues and grows) today.

On SOCOM, the new UCP stated:

“The Commander, US Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida, is the commander of a combatant command comprising all forces assigned for the accomplishment of the commander’s missions.  SOCOM has no geographic AOR for normal operations and will not exercise those functions of command associated with that responsibility.  In addition to functions specified in sections 164(c) and 167 of title 10, USSCOM’s responsibilities include:

            a. Providing combat-ready special operations forces to other combatant commands when and as directed;

            b. Training, to including joint training exercises, of assigned forces and developing appropriate recommendations to the CJCS regarding strategy, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures for the joint employment of special operations forces;

            c. Exercising command of selected special operations missions if directed to do so by the President or the Secretary of Defense.”

 STRATCOM is given responsibility for:

“Integrating and coordinating DOD information operations (IO) (currently consisting of the core IO capabilities of computer network attack (CNA), computer network defense (CND), electronic warfare (EW), operations security (OPSEC), military psychological operations (PSYOP), and military deception (MILDEC)) that cross geographic areas of responsibility or across the core IO capabilities, including:

            (1) Supporting other combatant commanders for planning;

            (2) Planning and coordinating capabilities that have trans-regional effects or that directly support national objectives;

            (3) Exercising command and control of selected missions, if directed to do so by the President or Secretary of Defense;

            (4) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for DOD-wide CND [computer network defense], planning for DOD-wide CND, and directing DOD-wide CND;

            (5) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for CNA [computer network attack], conducting CNA in support of assigned missions, and integrating CNA capabilities in support of other combatant commanders, as directed;

            (6) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for joint electronic warfare and planning for and conducting electronic warfare in support of assigned missions;

            (7) Supporting other combatant commanders for the planning and integration of joint OPSEC and military deception.”

 Those italics are mine.  The actual UCP finds no need to highlight SOCOM’s selected special operations missions or STRATCOM’s selected missions.  Both refer to specific functions, in Special Operation’s case, the clandestine activities and indeed covert action of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  That’s well known.

But In STRATCOM’s case, since computer network attack and military deception is openly mentioned in separate paragraphs – and is now the responsibility of STRATCOM’s subordinate U.S. Cyber Command — it is unclear what “selected missions” are.  Given the new candidness of the CIA on its responsibilities for covert action, shouldn’t it be.

Today in Secret History – February 3 – Death in Pakistan

Death in Pakistan

Three Army Special Forces soldiers were killed and two were wounded in a suicide bombing in northwestern Pakistan on February 3, 2010.  Overall ten died and 70 were injured at a new girls’ school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Officially, the five were part of the Office of the Defense Representative, Pakistan, a 200 strong Islamabad-based organization that provides cover for special operations.

Cover?  It is well know that clandestine CIA and “black” special operations routinely take place in Pakistan, but the public face is to describe any activities as routine, innocuous, and humanitarian.   After the February 3rd attack, for instance, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad announced that the team was in the Lower Dir District to “conduct training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps.”  The statement said they were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.”  “The service members were assigned to the Office of the Defense Representative, Pakistan to conduct civil affairs-related training at the invitation of the Government of Pakistan,” U.S. Central Command said.

I’m not saying they weren’t.  But according to a Pakistani journalist traveling in the convoy, the U.S. soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and “Pakistani military guides referred to the foreigners traveling with them as journalists,” The Associated Press reported.

And Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the news media that U.S. military trainers were spread out across various locations throughout the country.  Meanwhile, the country’s leading Islamic political party called it evidence of the “ambiguity surrounding the presence of U.S. military and intelligence in Pakistan.”

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said that it had carried out the attack.  A TTP spokesman accused the men of working for Blackwater, the security contractor that changed its name to Xe in 2009. “We will continue such attacks on Americans,” Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told Reuters by telephone.

Richard Holbrooke denied the Blackwater connection.  “It is very revealing that they were on their way to the inauguration of a school. That’s what Americans do,” Holbrooke, then the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan also told Reuters.  “Ever since I have joined the Foreign Service, we have had people who have given their lives in a cause that we believe in.”

The three American soldiers were later identified as Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman, 27,  of Rosamond, Ca., and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller, 35, of Callettsburg, Ky. – both part of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), out of Fort Bragg, N.C. – and Staff Sgt. Mark A. Stets, 39, of El Cajon, assigned to the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne), 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), also at Fort Bragg.

A curious end to the story is that no less than Lt. Gen. John Muholland, commander of Army special operations, attended the funeral of Sluss-Tiller on a hill overlooking his home in Burnaugh, Ky.  “He was embarked on a very important if not critical mission that is directly tied to the security of this country,” Muholland told the local media.  Sgt. Sluss-Tiller’s mother told a local newpaper that her son grew a beard for his latest mission.  WSAZ.com reported that in a recent phone conversation, Sluss-Tiller hinted of a dangerous top-secret mission that could be his last.

American trainers are in Pakistan to help with intelligence gathering and technical knowledge and equipment, Gen. Tariq Khan, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps told local a ABC stringer.  And Ft. Bragg officials later described what the three were doing as a “low-profile mission.”

Secrets sure are seductive.   In this case though, there are so many counter-productive layers.  If this was just a routine civil affairs and humanitarian mission, then why conduct it as “low profile.”  And though It is what Americans do, why is it American soldiers rather than State Department or USAID representatives?   And what’s the benefit and value anyhow in Pakistan of having soldiers operating in civilian clothes when the local assumption is that military people are there to spy or kill.  So, what, put them in civilian clothes so that the locals think they are Blackwater or CIA?  The contradictions and consequences are numerous and unexamined.  At this micro level, you gotta ask: What, exactly, did these three give their lives for?

Today in Secret History: February 2 – “Critical” Infrastructure

The (Critical) Cottage Industry

Even before the Department of Homeland Security had been formally established, on February 2, 2003, President Bush signed a National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets, which opens the doors for the post-9/11 frenzy to catalog, map, secure, and track the “critical infrastructure” of the United States.  The Strategy established what it called “a new national cooperative paradigm,” which said, “The basic tenets of homeland security are fundamentally different from the historically defined tenets of national security.”  The Federal government would itself treat the United States as a potential battlefield, collecting intelligence and monitoring “threats;” and the private sector would be enlisted in the effort, alternatively seduced to be part of – and reap the benefits of – a closed and secret government effort while also being subtly directed to comply with government-imposed information and security standards.

The 2003 Strategy quantified “The Protection Challenge” with the following approximations:

  • Agriculture and Food 1,912,000 farms; 87,000 food-processing plants;
  • Water 1,800 federal reservoirs; 1,600 municipal waste water facilities;
  • Public Health 5,800 registered hospitals;
  • Emergency Services 87,000 U.S. localities;
  • Defense Industrial Base 250,000 firms in 215 distinct industries;
  • Telecommunications 2 billion miles of cable;
  • Energy
    • Electricity 2,800 power plants;
    • Oil and Natural Gas 300,000 producing sites;
  • Transportation
    • Aviation 5,000 public airports;
    • Passenger Rail and Railroads 120,000 miles of major railroads;
    • Highways, Trucking, and Busing 590,000 highway bridges;
    • Pipelines 2 million miles of pipelines;
    • Maritime 300 inland/costal ports;
    • Mass Transit 500 major urban public transit operators;
  • Banking and Finance 26,600 FDIC insured institutions;
  • Chemical Industry and Hazardous Materials 66,000 chemical plants;
  • Postal and Shipping 137 million delivery sites
  • Key Assets
    • National Monuments and Icons 5,800 historic buildings;
    • Nuclear Power Plants 104 commercial nuclear power plants;
    • Dams 80,000 dams;
    • Government Facilities 3,000 government owned/operated facilities;
    • Commercial Assets 460 skyscrapers.

Many would later make fun of the expansive and inflated government definition of “critical,” but over the decade, nothing was done to change the fundamental assumptions of 2003.  Numerous public-private partnerships have emerged to tend to critical infrastructure and every State has developed their own critical infrastructure departments, mimicking the national security apparatus of the feds.  Just peruse the results of a search under “critical infrastructure” on Google…  Fortress America.