“Quiet Lobbying Campaign” For SOCOM: Hollywood Movie, President’s Campaign Slogan

Coming so quickly on the heels of Lt. Col. Daniel Davis documenting the depraved level of lying that characterizes the primary mode of action for many at the top levels in our military, it’s galling that Admiral William McRaven would take to the front page of today’s New York Times to advance his efforts–hilariously and tragically labeled by the Times as a “quiet lobbying campaign”–to gain an even freer hand for the Special Operations Command, which he heads.

Never forget that it was from within Special Operations that Stanley McChrystal shielded Camp NAMA, where torture occurred, from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Never forget that it was Special Operations who instituted the dark side of the COIN (counterinsurgency) campaign in Afghanistan that relied on poorly targeted night raids that imprisoned and tortured many innocent civilians. Never forget that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld bypassed the normal chain of command to work directly with Stanley McChrystal when he headed JSOC, sending McChrystal on missions not reported to area command. This relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld had a strong effect on JSOC, as noted by Jeremy Scahill:

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch.

Among the military commanders being bypassed by Cheney and Rumsfeld was the head of SOCOM, the position that McRaven (who was McChyrstal’s deputy when most of McChrystal’s war crimes were carried out) now occupies, but this same attitude of teaming with the executive branch to bypass the regular defense chain of command has survived intact.

Today’s article in the Times opens this way:

As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

At least the Times does pay a short homage to the quaint, old way of the chain of command as it currently exists:

While President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership have increasingly made Special Operations forces their military tool of choice, similar plans in the past have foundered because of opposition from regional commanders and the State Department. The military’s regional combatant commanders have feared a decrease of their authority, and some ambassadors in crisis zones have voiced concerns that commandos may carry out missions that are perceived to tread on a host country’s sovereignty, like the rift in ties with Pakistan after the Bin Laden raid.

See that? We’re only four paragraphs into the story, and we have two Osama bin Laden references and an admission that the Obama administration has decided that Special Operations comprises their “tool of choice”.

But in the end, the real reason that dark JSOC missions are now favored is that they are not subject to Congressional oversight. Going back to the Scahill article linked above:

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.'”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

So make no mistake that in asking for a freer hand, McRaven is seeking to institutionalize within SOCOM the free-wheeling, law-free sort of action that has characterized JSOC since McChrystal ran it as Cheney and Rumsfelds’ secret dark army.

With all that as background, now we can see how tragically funny the description from the Times of McRaven’s lobbying campaign is. Yeah, a “quiet” campaign relies on a Hollywood movie (opening in only 11 days!) starring active duty Special Operations forces. When I tweeted about that point last night, Marcy added that one of the Obama campaign’s re-election slogans also will rely on Special Operations:

Vice President Joe Biden today told a crowd of re-election campaign donors in Ft. Worth, Texas, that the best way to sum up President Obama’s first term in “shorthand” is with nine succinct words: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

There can be no doubt that this quiet little campaign will succeed. The Obama administration and Congress have both demonstrated that the last thing they want is public oversight of the darkest missions in our Great War on Terror. What’s probably the most remarkable thing here is that there is even any public notice of giving SOCOM a freer hand. Move along, the public has no part in this discussion.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
16 replies
  1. Benjamin Franklin says:

    Quiet Lobbying Campaign


    Was McRaven, as Deputy, contemporaneous with the manslaughter of Pat Tillman? So many crimes, so little time.

  2. justbetty says:

    Well, I guess when you decide that the entire world constitutes your battlefield, anything goes! And why would we expect any blow back from such a nifty concept? Conventions and treaties are for suckers, I suppose, in this brave new world.
    I despair.

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    They fear congressional oversight? It is to laugh. What oversight? Congress has been asleep at the wheel for so long now that it is a big surprise when it wakes up long enough to do anything.

    Bob in AZ

  4. Jim White says:

    @Bob Schacht: Yeah, that is hard to understand, isn’t it? But it fits with all the other executive branch moves to avoid Congressional oversight on intelligence gathering and war-making. Congress would bend over backwards to give them everything they want, but they still want full autonomy and no oversight.

  5. Bob Schacht says:

    @Jim White: I think it’s all tied to the AUMF, plus the political rhetoric about “supporting our troops.” If it weren’t for the damned AUMF, Congress might be willing to provide SOME oversight, even if not much.

    Bob in AZ

  6. joanneleon says:

    A “dark, secret army” that operates on behalf of the executive branch and sets things up so as to avoid Congressional oversight. Please tell me what the difference is between this and a military dictatorship? Well the guys in the executive branch are civilians, but still, what’s the difference? And, in this respect, what’s the difference between this executive branch and the last one?

  7. rugger9 says:

    @Jim White: #4
    Keep in mind that future Congresses may not be as toothless or pliable. Take a look at how attack chihuahua Issa has been flogging the WH over Fast and Furious. The AUMF for what it’s worth is also technically moot once OBL hit the drink. But as with the Tonkin resolution, it will have a life of its own as long as the PTBs want it to go, i.e. forever, to keep the contractors happy.

  8. Bob Schacht says:


    The AUMF for what it’s worth is also technically moot once OBL hit the drink. But as with the Tonkin resolution, it will have a life of its own as long as the PTBs want it to go, i.e. forever, to keep the contractors happy.

    The first sentence is nonsense. No one is acting like it’s moot– Not the Administration, not Congress, not the Courts. It has not been declared moot by anyone with any authority, even though I agree with you that with OBL out, and Al Qaeda reduced to a few intransigent radicals, it SHOULD be moot. Your second sentence above is much more accurate.

  9. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: A few more tidbits on Ambinder’s new ebook The Command via a piece from Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell:

    Did the United States use the Kashmir earthquake to send intelligence operatives into Pakistan?

    And according to Ambinder, it wasn’t just intelligence operatives:

    “…Meanwhile, rotating teams of SEALs from DEVGRU Black squadron, aided by Rangers and other special operations forces, established a parallel terrorist-hunting capability called VIGILANT HARVEST. They operated in the border areas of Pakistan deemed off limits to Americans, and they targeted courier networks, trainers, and facilitators. (Legally, these units would operate under the authority of the CIA any time they crossed the border.) Some of their missions were coordinated with Pakistan; others were not. As of 2006, teams of Green Berets were regularly crossing the border. Missions involved as few as three or four operators quietly trekking across the line, their movements monitored by U.S. satellites and drones locked onto the cell phones of these soldiers. (The cell phones were encrypted in such a way that made them undetectable to Pakistani intelligence.) Twice in 2008, Pakistani officials caught wind of these missions, and in one instance, Pakistani soldiers operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas fired guns into the air to prevent the approach of drones…”

  10. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Thanks for the tip. I just went over and bought a copy (only $2.99!) and look forward to reading it.

    I’m past the military vs. CIA thing now, though. I think both JSOC and CIA realize that JSOC exists to do the things CIA could never even consider telling Congress about.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspect the administration would go to great lengths to avoid even toothless congressional oversight for at least two reason:

    1) Any oversight promotes the notion that Congress has the right to do it; the administration cannot assume every Congress and committee would remain toothless forever.

    2) Even toothless oversight documents a public record that may eventually see the light of day. Some statutes of limitation on criminal activity are long; some crimes, notably murder, have no statute of limitations.

  12. Robyn Wren says:

    This increasing emphasis upon JSOC as the “go to” group for military action abroad AND as the “enforcers” of US foreign policy is as distressing and dangerous a development as we have seen since we adopted Bush’s “Preemptive Strike” doctrine.

    In the past few years I have had occasion to spend a good bit of time, not professionally but socially, with more than a few members of the SF, and what I see is petrifying. A military group that has always had a sense of itself as a breed apart which puny mortals will never understand or fully appreciate has developed an even more radical and apocalyptic cult mentality.

    They seem to see themselves as divinely appointed avenging angels whose work is nothing short of the rescue of all of Christendom from its enemies. The Knights Templar comes to mind. It is as though they believe only their souls are pure and noble enough to bear the sin of all the horrors they must commit. Their atrocities and their immunity from the implications of their acts are both justified AND necessary according to their bizarre feedback loop logic. They might say, “We must be fighting against an evil which mere US citizens and the men and women of government simply can never fathom, otherwise why would be committing such inhuman and horrific acts against those others would mistakenly think of as innocent.”

    When one considers the military has admitted over and over again that JSOC’s activities are virtually beyond investigation and its members are essentially immune to accountability, one sees how much of this mind set has, in fact, been institutionalized for years.

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