Tag Archives: special operations command

Special Operations Command Does What the CIA Does, or Does It?

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.

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Wonder Who They’re Shooting Now?

Virtually everything about the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the Navy component of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the home of the famed SEAL Team 6, is secret.  Other than the movie and the books that purport to tell the story of their killing of Osama bin Laden, the military is loath to officially even acknowledge the existence of the unacknowledged team or of so-called black special operations forces.

What makes them so special is the rigorous and meticulous training, and the resources devoted to their care and preparation.  So a small government contract asking for 400 3-D shooting targets for DEVGRU, as it’s informally called, caught my eye.  The targets – “vacuum formed hardened plastic … airbrushed and/or painted by hand” – are requested as:

  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a standing male sniper, with head dress, holding a rifle w/scope to his right eye.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a man, with head dress, aiming a RPG from his right cheek.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a young male with small hat, RPG launcher in his left hand, RPG in his right hand, and a shoulder satchel slung on his back with 5 additional RPGs.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a male drawing a pistol from his waist band.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a white skin tone male holding an AK47 to his right cheek.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a dark skin tone male holding an AK47 to his right cheek.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a male standing with a RPG over his right shoulder, the RPG shall be pointing towards the ground.
  • 50 torsos molded and painted to resemble a white skin tone male, holding a weapon to his right shoulder.

Why so many RPGs?   How white is the white skin tone?

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.