Nominated Defense Intelligence Chief Flynn Tied to Petraeus, McChrystal Night Raid Policy

On April 8, the US and Afghanistan finally signed an agreement handing over primary responsibility for night raids to Afghan forces. Although the Obama administration was hell-bent on inking that deal as part of the effort to have agreement with Afghanistan on overall status of forces thinking prior to the May NATO summit in Chicago, this agreement was a full month later than the agreement handing over responsibility for detention operations. Negotiations took so long because the US sees night raids as a central factor in success in both Iraq and Afghanistan while the Afghans are critically aware of the polarizing effect of night raids and how they fuel the insurgency.

As I pointed out in this post on an excerpt from Michael Hastings’ The Operators, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was a key intelligence staffer for Stanley McChrystal during the Camp NAMA torture and torture cover-up in early 2004. His biography notes that “Major General Flynn commanded the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from June 2002 to June 2004.”  Many of those who were victims of torture during that time in Iraq had been rounded up in night raids. Here is Michael Hirsh as quoted by Chris Suellentrop in the New York Times:

Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age men — actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.

The Hill adds this to Flynn’s background:

Flynn was also the top intelligence officer at International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan, working under former ISAF chiefs Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus.

Flynn often is credited with recognizing the poor state of intelligence on which the earliest night raids were conducted and working to improve the underlying intelligence. Despite claimed progress on this front, however, even as late as last year, a full 20% of night raids in Afghanistan were incorrectly targeted.

Flynn has now parlayed the success with which he is credited into a nomination to head the Defense Intelligence Agency:

A US general who once blasted the work of military spies in Afghanistan as “only marginally relevant” has been nominated to take over the Pentagon’s intelligence agency, officials said.

The decision to name Lieutenant General Michael Flynn suggests a possible shake-up of the sprawling Defense Intelligence Agency as the general has earned a reputation for pushing for dramatic change in his work with special forces.

The article goes on to make an indirect reference to night raids and subsequent interrogation of those rounded up:

At JSOC, Flynn reportedly persuaded special forces to place a higher priority on scooping up intelligence while carrying out targeted attacks on militants.

With the Flynn nomination, my take is that we are being asked to overlook those pesky issues of just how the interrogations were carried out and how often those rounded up in the night raids were innocent bystanders. Instead, we are asked to join the chorus of those praising special forces (they killed bin Laden!!) and to accelerate the careers of those who have been involved.

Flynn certainly has his fans, but another point from Hastings’ book comes to mind when I am asked to think about Flynn heading such an important agency:

Living up to his scatterbrained reputation, Flynn accidentally left his e-mail address on the report. He received, he said, “thousands of e-mails” commenting on it.

But hey, who needs mission security when you’re heading a large agency.

6 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:


    I may not always comment, but I do read your work. I commend you for the indepth coverage and knowledge you share with us. We cannot thank you enough for giving us the facts that we so sorely miss in America.

  2. MadDog says:

    Pat Lang, himself a former DIA heavyweight, seems to thinks Flynn is a good idea.

    I tend to take Pat’s opinion on this particular matter with a grain of salt due to organizational loyalty.

  3. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Thanks. Reading that and especially Spencer’s article that is linked adds to my general discomfort that is building around the career trajectories of all the folks related to Petraeus. Yes, McChrystal got fired, but Obama brought him back to run Joining Forces and he’s happily making consulting money while he waits for the heat to cool off. You can bet he’ll be back. McRaven is running JSOC and being pumped up today on Twitter by Robert Caruso. Flynn is next to advance among these guys.

    And the overwhelming thing tying them together is that as Hastings describes in his book, they are operators more than anything else. They are about the sensational headlines and getting there at all costs, and in my opinion that is why they leave a trail of torture, capture of innocents and botched operational security in their wake. I fear we will pay a huge price for putting these guys into ever more “responsible” positions.

  4. Ben Franklin says:

    The most frightening thing about the learning curve on dealing with insurgencies, is the domestic application.

  5. rugger9 says:

    The problem is the perception that we reward torturers, which will make us no better than Pinochet’s Chile or some other banana republic. It will not be ignored if/when US operatives are hauled in for torture & rendition crimes, especially if the politics favor it. The US doesn’t have to bring charges on this.

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