28
May
10

General Petraeus’s Secret Ops

by Robert Dreyfuss

This was taken from The Nation‘s website. Click here for the link.

A secret military directive signed last September 30 by General David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, authorizes a vast expansion of secret US military special ops from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia and “appears to authorize specific operations in Iran,” according to the New York Times.

Emphasizing the importance of a strong economy, education and innovation at home, Obama still maintains that America is “at war” with an amorphous network of terrorists.

If President Obama knew about this, authorized it and still supports it, then Obama has crossed a red line, and the president will stand revealed as an aggressive, militaristic liberal interventionist who bears a closer resemblance to the president he succeeded than to the ephemeral reformer that he pretended to be in 2008, when he ran for office. If he didn’t know, if he didn’t understand the order, and if he’s unwilling to cancel it now that it’s been publicized, then Obama is a feckless incompetent. Take your pick.

If Congress has any guts at all, it will convene immediate investigative hearings into a power grab by Petraeus, a politically ambitious general, and the Pentagon’s arrogant Special Operations team, led by Admiral Eric T. Olson, who collaborated with Petraeus. And Congress needs to ask the White House, What did you know, and when did you know it?

Drop what you’re doing and read the whole piece, by Mark Mazzetti, in the Times, which ran it on page 1 as the lead story in today’s paper. (Critics of the “mainstream media” take note: the Times broke this story fearlessly, even though it apparently redacted certain operational details at the behest of the administration.)

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: In September, Petraeus signed the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order providing for a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” in the region of Centcom’s responsibility, the Middle East and South Asia. Reports Mazzetti:

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.…

The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.

And:

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The Times story raises a million questions: Is this how the United States intends to carry out the order to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Yemen-based US citizen who is reportedly an Al Qaeda operative? Does the revelation of this order have anything to do with the abrupt resignation of Dennis Blair, the departed Director of National Intelligence? What sorts of “dissident groups” in Iran might the military connect with, and might they include paramilitary forces associated with rebellious Kurds in western Iran, several of whom were just put to death by Tehran, or the Pakistan-linked Baluchistan rebels in southeast Iran?

For decades, the military has tried to elbow the Central Intelligence Agency into a subordinate role. Even as the intelligence budget ballooned (since the 1990s) to enormous proportions, the Pentagon has gobbled up most of it and tried to force the civilian CIA into a subordinate role. (According to Mazzetti, the CIA supports the Petraeus directive, even though it is explicitly aimed at “break[ing] its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency,” but we’ll see.) The gung-ho Special Ops folks at the Pentagon have been pushing hard to become a kind of uniformed covert operations unit of the US government, even though military operations aren’t governed by the same sort of restrictive Congressional oversight that the CIA operates under. And, according to Mazzetti, the Petraeus order is intended to accomplish things that the CIA “will not” do:

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished“ by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

Petraeus, along with General McChrystal, should have been fired long ago by Obama, if for no other reason because of their insubordination in 2009 is trying to force Obama’s hand in pushing for a series of escalations of the Afghanistan war. Obama can still redeem himself by firing them now.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

——————————–

BONUS!

6 Ramificiations of Expanded Military Special Ops

by Max Fisher
President Obama has drastically expanded the authority and reach of U.S. military special operations throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Those operations, authorized in late 2009, can take place in nations with friendly governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as in hostile nations, such as Iran. This new power for military-led intelligence gathering and unconventional warfare is a drastic expansion of operations that began under the auspices of the Bush administration. It establishes the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force (JUWTF), the operations of which were previously codenamed Avocado. Here’s what the order does, what it’s meant in practice, and the policy’s ramifications.
  • What the Order Does The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports, “Its goals are to build networks that could ‘penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy’ Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to ‘prepare the environment’ for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. … General Petraeus’s order is meant for small teams of American troops to fill intelligence gaps about terror organizations and other threats in the Middle East and beyond, especially emerging groups plotting attacks against the United States.”
  • The Larger Mission The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder provides the big-picture. “Other ‘ex-ords’ signed by combatant commanders include provisions for secret American bases and operations,” he writes. “Political imperatives, the threat of terrorism, and the knowledge of what the U.S. military can accomplish if its strings are cut away has slowly changed the minds of some of Obama’s senior advisers. It is helpful that Congress has generally given the military a wide berth to conduct activities that intelligence agency paramilitaries would find objectionable. The authorization to write the orders allow combatant commanders to put together task forces for almost any purpose, and draw from almost any existing military unit.”
  • (1) The Military Risks From Mazzetti: “The authorized activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen — which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation — or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria. Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.”
  • (2) ‘Blurring The Line’ Between Military and Spies Liberal blogger Juan Cole worries, “the siren call of covert operations is steadily undermining the rule of law. Blurring the line between military action and spying makes it impossible to talk about the covert missions, since they are typically classiified. The same is true for predator drone strikes.” He adds, “That blurring could be bad for all troops. There is already a tendency in the ME for locals to see all Americans as CIA, and giving troops a lot of covert missions will reinforce these views.”
  • (3) Problem of What Constitutes Spying Conservative blogger Kenneth Anderson worries, “these clandestine activities do not require the regular covert action accountability mechanisms required of the CIA as a matter of law, although NSC is involved in anything significant. However, as these activities get closer to, well, ‘spying’ in the traditional sense, then the line between clandestine and covert risks becoming blurred. … as a matter of US policy, the divisions between the various services matter over the long run, and so there are important questions as to the proper division of roles.”
  • (4) Stepping In for CIA This grants the military powers that were typically limited to CIA. Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler notes, “Mazzetti makes it clear that he’s not covering this because CIA’s pissed about it (which sometimes appears to be the case for his reporting). … In fact, it appears DOD issued the directive because CIA wouldn’t do whatever JSOC is now doing.” Noting that the measure leads to reduced congressional oversight, she adds, “One would hope that Congress gets pissed about this, though.”
  • (5) Congress Should Investigate The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss insists, “If Congress has any guts at all, it will convene immediate investigative hearings into a power grab by Petraeus, a politically ambitious general, and the Pentagon’s arrogant Special Operations team, led by Admiral Eric T. Olson, who collaborated with Petraeus. And Congress needs to ask the White House: what did you know, and when did you know it?”
  • (6) Dangerous for Academics and Businessmen The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman warns that, because the military will now use businessmen and academics to gather intelligence in these countries, all such civilians will be “presumed” to be spies and thus “become targets.”

The Debate

Max Fisher is an associate editor for The Atlantic Wire. He writes primarily about foreign affairs and national security. He is the former producer of The Atlantic‘s Food Channel and has also written for The New Republic and Conde Nast Traveler.

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