Tag Archives: special operations

Eager Lion Now Supplants Bright Star as Largest U.S. Exercise in Middle East

The details emerging about the Eager Lion 12 military exercise in Jordan are almost as scary as the speculation circulating in the press about a Syria (or Iran) mission preparation.  Jordan and the United States continue to insist that the exercise has no connection with any real-world events.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) now says that the exercise is “the largest annual exercise in the Central Command area of operations,” supplanting Bright Star, the exercise series previously conducted in Egypt.  I guess the masters of war planning have a lot of faith in the stability and resilience of the Jordanian government, come to think of it, just like they did about Egypt.

Eager Lion, which most press reports refer to as including 17 participants, actually includes 19 participants, according to CENTCOM.   They include Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.  The exercise is touted as “building relationships,” but the 19 nations weren’t named until May 15th: I suppose it’s more like a furtive affair than a relationship.  It’s interesting to note that Turkey, previously reported as participating, evidently is not; and that Iraq is there.

Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit offload from a Navy Landing Craft Utility vessel at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in Aqaba, May 2, 2012, to begin their participation in Exercise Eager Lion 12. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Richard Blumenstein)

And though special operations is the undeniable focus, more than 1,000 U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stormed ashore – okay maybe didn’t storm, but landed – in a display of amphibious readiness.  What surprised me in the belated announcement of the Marines May 2nd landing is that the Marine Corps casually referred to the augmented battalion and its Iowa Jima assault ship as the “forward-deployed crisis response force.”

I didn’t even know that there was such a crisis response force, and nothing was reported in the news media when it was deployed in March.

The on-scene U.S. commander for Eager Lion 12 is Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, who in his day job is Commander Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) and for the exercise is Commander, Combined Joint Task Force Spartan (CJTF Spartan).  Tovo is one of the most talented officers in our Army’s senior ranks and clearly is one of our nation’s Special Operations Forces’ superstars,” CIA Director David Petraeus said in an email to the Tampa Tribune.  There’s an odd hit job on Tovo on Examiner.com, as if anything is actually known about the man.

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Sainthoood for Robert Gates, really?

Every few days, something about former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, soon to be nominated for sainthood, flows into my in box.  The latest is some bumph from Drew University where Gates is lauded as the “soldier’s secretary” and a lot of blah, blah, blah proving that Gates has fully transformed into the Warren Buffett of national security, the nation’s grandpa with wit and wisdom about Washington; and, despite seemingly no political ambition …  auditioner to be Mitt Romney’s vice president?

The Gates legacy as Secretary still remains unclear.  After Rumsfeld, of course, one couldn’t help but label him the soldier’s man; Rumsfeld was such a cold and indifferent taskmaster.  Gates also became Secretary at a time when others had already solved the Iraq conundrum, and when the dollars were still flowing freely.

Gates’ record does include his decision to cap the F-22 fighter buy against Air Force objections, his decision to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and his other ‘efficiencies,’ and his embrace of irregular warfare and counter-insurgency as the everything of the future.

I’m an agnostic on the F-22, but I don’t agree with the old Gates’ line that the airplane was worthless because it wasn’t doing anything for the troops on the ground right at that moment in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And Gates’ decision to side with the Army over control of unmanned drones that fly above 3,500 feet and his support of efforts – in the name of jointness — to make everyone in the Air Force and Navy battlefield helpers was short-sighted, demonstrating the kind of courage of breaking eggs to make a Washington omelet but hardly being a designer of a larger menu.

The decision to eliminate JFCOM particularly will go down as short-sighted, IMHO: Jointness in the U.S. military is in name only and has not reached any working-level where the military no longer needs an advocate for it – Gate’s basic position.  If anything, under Gates, we’ve just seen a continuation of the proliferation of un-jointness, with institutions beyond the Army, Navy, and Air Force obtaining quasi-service status and working in their own self-interested bubbles: special operations forces, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) – a virtual Army in itself, Cyber Command (the first combatant command of the intelligence community), homeland “defense” (a post-9/11 perpetual resource suck); even the National Guard, which has now lobbied successfully for full joint privileges.

This is not the man who ‘beat the Pentagon bureaucracy,’ and I remain surprised at how many Pentagon reporters and national security analysts can be so convinced merely because he was such a pleasant vacation from Grumsfeld.

Meanwhile, Gates never really did anything about contractors – let’s track them better was his initiative, especially after in-sourcing went nowhere – and Mr. Strategic vision, the former CIA analyst – seemed oblivious to the Obama administration’s do-anything-to-get-us-out-of-the-Middle-East pivot to Asia.  Also, by every account, Gates as Secretary had nothing to say in the early Obama period about Afghanistan that was useful, contributing mightily to leaving behind the same mess there.

Gates’ is labeled an airpower skeptic because of his supposed courageous decisions, but in reality he was little more than a traditionalist pro-Army-dominant, pro-boots-on-the-ground power broker who went with the institution that had the power.  I admit to being an airpower fan, but not a fan of the Air Force, which conflates a non-boots-on-the-ground future with its institutional interests.  Slogging it out Korean War style or even, one village/hill/tribe at a time in Afghanistan in a manpower intensive military is not the future, but nor is the war on terrorism myopic head hunting ISR war.

The future is something that fully leverages the cyber domain and the qualities of air and space power – the global reach, the ability to compress time so that it isn’t equal to distance, the non-kinetic elements of military defeat – but this is not, I repeat not, anywhere close to what today’s Air Force really is, nor could be.  I say could be because if U.S. defense is going to be defined by the ability to either defend against or defeat China, we certainly aren’t going to do it with boots; or F-22s and a new bomber.

So Gates, what’s his gig?  Washington is filled with smart people, in fact, Washington is filled with smart people who make a living telling us how hopeless Washington is.  But as for the future of U.S. national security?  I just don’t see the Gates’ era as exceptional, nor any trend that he put in place that changes the everyman for himself culture.

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.

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.

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: January 31

(From my own archives; here’s a DOT.MIL column published at Washingtonpost.com on January 31, 2000.  I was already thinking about Code Names and the cost of secrecy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the post-Cold War, pre-9/11 period.)

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain

William M. Arkin

Last September, the USS Kamehameha pulled into the Jordanian port of Aqaba, the first U.S. Navy submarine ever to visit the Hashemite Kingdom. The next day, the crew “manned the rails” in a solemn ceremony while King Abdullah Bin Al-Hussein and other dignitaries piped aboard and toured the submarine from end to end.

The Navy’s press release announcing the visit stated that the crew participated “in several community relations projects, prepared … for their next underway, and explored the sites in Jordan.”

But Kamehameha is no normal submarine, and the visit was neither tourism nor pomp and circumstance. The purpose was to conduct the very secret “Early Victor” exercise.

Early Victor is just one of hundreds of exercises and operations conducted annually by the U.S. military around the globe. Some are well-known, and most, when they are reported, are portrayed as mom and apple pie opportunities for training and good works.

But more often than not there days, there is a secret side to exercises where little more than some felicitous code name is revealed. It is without a doubt the busiest and most vivid engagement in American foreign policy. Or, I submit, in some ways it is American foreign policy.

The Secrecy Factory

What do Diagonal Glance, Promise Kept, Nectar Bend, and Eager Initiative all have in common? They are not they latest porno websites. They are classified exercises where the who and the where and the why can’t be known. An unclassified fiscal year 2001 Pentagon budget document leaked to washingtonpost.com lists hundreds of such exercises conducted with militaries and police forces and intelligence establishments overseas.

The document provides only a hint as to the day-to-day life of the military machine. The focus, according to sources, is increasingly counter-terrorism, and counter-narcotics, and counter-proliferation, and counter-information. So many cons one wonders who’s being conned, and what commitments are being sown in the name of military preparedness.

Atlas Gate, Dimming Sun, Eastern Eagle, Ellipse Echo, Frequent Storm, Noble Piper, Phoenix Jomini, Sacred Company, Trojan Footprint. All were held in 1999 – the details remain classified. In the coming months, more secret exercises with names like Blue Advance, Clean Hunter, Earnest Leader, Inferno Creek, Inherent Fury, Initial Link, Inspired Gambit, Juniper Stallion, Lucky Sentinel, and Ultimate Resolve will be held.

The mountain of secrets seems to have only gotten bigger with the end of the Cold War.

One has to wonder how many involve operations that by their very existence suggest covert commitments to foreign countries undertaken for the benefit of access to bases or exchanges of information or “training” opportunities.

Early Victors, Late Losers

Back in Jordan, after the bunting was stowed away on the Kamehameha, Navy SEALs emerged from special compartments, joining Jordanian commandos to conduct their annual Early Victor Red Sea exercise.

The Kamehameha is no stranger to secret missions. The nuclear-powered submarine was commissioned in December 1965 to launch Polaris ballistic missiles. For almost 30 years, it stealthily plied the waters of the Atlantic, remaining underwater for as much as 60 days at a time, always ready to fire its nuclear weapons in a moment’s notice at the Soviet Union.

Kamehameha had a good Cold War run, but in July 1992, the aging boat was modified for the post-Cold War era. Its missiles were removed and the spaces converted to accommodate Navy SEALs and divers, with special shelters and underwater vehicles able to stealthily place American commandos on an enemy shore. Exercises like Early Victor in Jordan undoubtedly hone these skills, but at what cost?

Special Operators

Early Victor is one of a dozen classified special forces exercises with Middle East commando units. The grand-daddy of secret operators is Special Operations Command. From its headquarters in Florida, SOCOM as it is called, controls the Navy SEALs and Green Berets and Delta Force elite.

SOCOM has a mind-boggling list of classified exercises and operations: Stablise, Skilled Anvil, Desert Sprint, Elegant Lady, Project 46, Link Acorn, Constant Gate, Able Sentry, Assured Response, Promise Kept, Polar Moon, Utopian Angel, Poise Talon, Operation Maraton, Present Haven, Silver Wake, Guardian Retrieval, Bevel Edge, Shepherd Venture, Joint Anvil, Autumn Shelter, Shadow Express. One wonders how many of these are building covert ties to governments and elites who may prove to be on the wrong side of democratic forces and change in the future.

Human rights activists may focus their ire on the military’s School of the Americas for training tomorrow’s secret policemen and dictators in Latin America, but these are whole extension campuses that get to tutor in utmost secrecy.

The secrecy exists because each of the so-called unified commands, such as SOCOM, sets their own priorities for building relations in their area of responsibility. The number of exercises and secret operations is so large, moreover, it is doubtful that many people, even inside the government, can see the forest for the trees.

Another Foreign Policy

I’m a believer that the more secrecy you have, the more likely you are to get into trouble. If there is even more secrecy in military relationships and exercises today than there was during the Cold War, there has to be a good explanation. Is all the secrecy necessary because our security is at stake as it was in the Cold War? Is it required to thwart countermeasures on the part of potential adversaries? Or is it merely avoidance of public involvement and political oversight?

In the Middle East, secrecy is the product of relationships which operate under the constraint that our friends get to call the shots with regard to candidness. The fact that the U.S. military exercises with Israel and Jordan and Egypt all at the same time makes for local sensitivities. Whether the ostensible benefit really enhances anyone’s security, or human rights, or democratic values, seems hardly considered.

The monarchies and dictatorships of the Middle East (and elsewhere) are not interested in any details of their covert relations with the United States to get out. Thus the regional commands have particularly full plates of secrets they must manage. The web of relationships, regardless of the real return on investment, become its own justification for both the activity and the secrecy. Thus the Pentagon’s mountain of secrets is also a slippery slope.

(This article was originally published January 31, 2000.)