JSOC Decides It’s Ready to Return to Shadows … Soon

Vice Admiral William McRaven, the Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command–which has been celebrated for the last two weeks for its role in getting Osama bin Laden–told Marc Ambinder (who has long been one of the most informative writers on JSOC and wrote a detailed profile of them last week)–that he’d like JSOC to return to the shadows … soon.

Vice Adm. William McRaven, JSOC’s commanding general, expected a degree of exposure before the raid but hopes that his command’s 15 minutes of fame are over soon, two military officials said.

Though some other JSOC officers are not so sure they want to return to complete obscurity.

Some senior JSOC officers are prepared to deal with a future that includes more openness about their operations.

But it does seem rather remarkable that, after almost two weeks of barely anonymized national security sources leaking like justifiably proud sieves, someone has decided there has been enough.

Ambinder describes several details that national security types now worry may have revealed too much. Obama revealing–indirectly–that the special features on the Blackhawk we lost cost $10 million. The revelation that OBL relied on thumb drives to give couriers to transport his emails to a remote location to be sent. Or this list of CIA-related issues: “the existence of a CIA safe house in Abbottabad, the use of a sophisticated drone to surveil the compound, and the extent to which the CIA was able to monitor what was happening inside.”

But I wonder whether this newfound sensitivity–and the blame placed by “some” on the “dozens of [members of Congress] who have been given extensive briefings on the intelligence and the raid,” rather than the White House personnel who have obviously been behind most of the leaking, doesn’t have to do with stories like this coming out, with CBS’s animated simulation of the raid complete with details taken from the operatives’ head cameras:

  • The only firefight took place in the guesthouse, where one of bin Laden’s couriers open-fired
  • No one in the main building got off a shot or was even armed (although there were weapons nearby)
  • When the second SEAL entered bin Laden’s bedroom, bin Laden’s wife rushed at him, or perhaps was pushed forward by bin Laden

In other words, we’re beginning to learn solid details that undercut the narrative the government has been trying to tell for the last two weeks.

I also wonder whether the leak of several month old intelligence showing OBL doesn’t trust or care for Anwar al-Awlaki, who we keep trying to kill because of a purported relationship between the two, has renewed national security types’ concern about leaking.

Most of the leaking so far has fit under the Bob Woodward rule that says no secret is too sensitive if it makes the high level person who authorized the leak look good. Or if it makes the country’s nemesis look like a dirty old man (though doesn’t our country already know that religious conservatives tend to be dirty old men?)

But as is typical, as soon as the flood of leaks starts to solidly challenge the preferred narrative, all of sudden leaks get to be a problem again.

Which says the leaks are probably just starting to get interesting.

  1. tjbs says:

    The little people can’t see the helmet cam they paid for cause they’re secret snuff flicks.

    It’s just a little secret in an open democracy.

    Targeted assassination or sumpthing ( If Israel does it it sure is very legal) nothing illegal, it’s to save our glorious country from some third world slugs, honest. These people would kill in the blink of a eye in their country where as we would never kill in the blink of an eye in their country.

  2. PhilPerspective says:

    And what’s funny is that these people can’t help leaking because it lets them puff out their chest, as you say. Their narcissism is greater than their need for secrecy. I bet that’s what Seymour Hersh and I.F. Stone would tell you.

    • emptywheel says:

      I frankly don’t blame the SEALs for boasting about this (though suspect the boasting is coming from the WH). They rightly take their lumps when they fuckup royally. They ought to get a little credit when they do good.

      That said, the underlying issue is the secrecy that serves as a means to puff up various figures, but does little to protect our country.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The people who are sent into harm’s way deserve anonymity; the English SAS, for example, rarely talk about anything they do or anyone who does it. Even ex-members write under pseudonyms. The political issue is, it seems to me, who sets their priorities and sends them out to do their work, and why.

        • mzchief says:

          Compartmentalization is like that. One doesn’t get to pick and chose who one kills or if one dies for Chiquita or Bank of ‘Mercs.

      • mzchief says:

        Some questions that come up for me:

        * Are people involved in the JSOC guided activity US government employees, contractors or both? Are they US citizens, non-citizens or a combination?

        * Why would a person volunteer to have the act of killing as his or her only connection, experience and memory of another person? Are any of these persons coerced into this activity?

  3. donbacon says:

    They’ve got to get a better PR agency on this, pronto. Somehow they’ve got to make sure the real scenario doesn’t get out.

    The Saudis set up bin Laden because he didn’t serve their purposes any longer and in fact was working against Saudi interests. The Arab Spring was partly his doing and getting Mubarak, plus Bahrain on edge, was the last straw. OBL had to go.

    So the courier purposely led the bumbling, fumbling U.S. intelligence establishment to Abbottabard. The U.S. had carte blanche from the Paks for raids anywhere, and they were told this raid was coming, target unknown (or possibly known). This permitted the Paks to turn off the power, set up road blocks and prepare for the phase two Pak arrival which would allow them to clean up the scene.

    The Seals, under CIA control, arrived and as ordered assassinated bin Laden. This was necessary because the U.S. had no evidence, and no hope of getting any, that OBL had any role in 9/11. Killing a harmless unarmed middle-aged man in his bedroom then was the ‘hero’s role.’

    So let’s see what the PR team comes up with next.

    the leaks are probably just starting to get interesting

    • onitgoes says:

      Somehow they’ve got to make sure the real scenario doesn’t get out

      You’ve posited that scenario before, which I’ve seen other sources suggesting, as well… mainly the suggestion that ObL had something to do with the Arab Spring, and that esp with the situation in Bahrain, the Saudi’s said: enough’s enough (or something).

      But really: what does it matter what gets out? Here in the USA, the propogranda outlets’ll churn out whatever stories that the PTB feel like pushing out. It’ll end up being a miasma of conflicting stories, combined with rumor, gossip & innuendo. And most citizens will fall back asleep, happily chanting how great Team USA is for assassinating ObL (no offense intended to the SEALs).

      Frankly, imo, most citizens really only give a stuff about pounding their chests and screaming: We Beat YOOOOOUUUUU!!!!!!! And then, that’s it.

      So I don’t think it matters much in the end what leaks out and what doesn’t. JMHO.

      • donbacon says:

        But really: what does it matter what gets out?

        It matters because truth and reality are beautiful.

        “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake;”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

        That’s what drives EW — truth and reality — which is why I’m here.

        Others concern themselves with superficiality and appearance, and name-calling, but she works her way down to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and says, This is, and no mistake.

  4. john in sacramento says:

    That video reminds me of this story going around

    1994: Army War College Paper Proposes use of Computer Generated Insurgents

    In 2008, Old-Thinker News reported on a 1994 strategic paper published by the U.S. Army War College titled “Revolution In Military Affairs And Conflict Short Of War,” written by Dr. Steven Metz (who works for the RAND Corporation) and James Kievit. Recent events have made this paper even more precient than ever. The document outlines an eerily familiar scenario in which a group of revolutionaries within government hijack control of the levers of power and begin a program of pre-emptive war, psychological operations at home and abroad, and false flag attacks blamed on “…computer generated insurgent leader[s]“.


    Here’s the paper


  5. Twain says:

    Too late to shut this off, I think. The movie will probably be out by the end of the summer.

  6. Scarecrow says:

    This has been a “bush” operation from the first announcement. If you are conducting a “war” against a ubiquitous group that you believe to be decentralized, but you have the opportunity to take out a nominal leader/organizer of high propaganda value, you do it almost in secret. You just say, “we got him,” and don’t say anything else about how it happened, where the info came from, what you found, what you’ve learned. And you say nothing because you’re going to need all of those resources for the next operation. If people were serious about these, we would know virtually nothing about what happened. Instead, it’s become reality tv.

    These people have acted from day one as though there is no real policy or concerns against a broader threat but rather only a political staging opportunity to be exploited. Well, they got that.

    But what if they’d kept quiet so as not to reveal what they knew or how it happened, and a reporter dug out all the details they’ve released, the Administration would be all over the NYT and other media not to publish it. If they published, there would be threats of prosecution and investigations of the leakers. Instead, the leakers are out in the open, bragging.

    • onitgoes says:

      Instead, the leakers are out in the open, bragging.

      What you point out is, indeed, interesting, esp given the Bradley Manning situation. Perhaps it’s partly bc of Manning that Obamaco figured they’d stop fighting it and just “join” the leaking. In some ways, they’ve probably been better able to control the narrative (??) maybe, albeit with all the different stories coming out, perhaps part of it is to confuse by releasing a variety of different, confusing and conflicting stories.

      It’s really hard to tell what happened, for sure, but most citizens truly believe that ObL was killed. So perhaps that’s: Mission Accomplished!??

  7. themisfortuneteller says:

    As President John F. Kennedy said (quoting I-don’t-know-whom): “The ship of state leaks from the top.”

  8. Petro says:

    With all due respect to Marcy, and others here (ain’t that a portent for a criticism?), I find the knee-jerk respect for murderers, SEALS or not, a bit unsettling. Yea, I don’t blame the soldiers, their brainwashing being what it is, but they are the bloody arm of this Sad State. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way in more copacetic times but, according to Major General Smedley Butler, this shit’s been going on a long time now.

    (Running behind the couch now.)

    • reddog says:

      With the SEALS, you cannot call it “brainwashing”. They know exactly what they are doing, and when they are given a mission they intend to complete it. SEALS are above average intelligence, and they really do understand all of the psychological aspects inherent in their training. Yes, they are “trained killers”, and they will readily admit it, but they are far more capable mentally than you seem to imagine, and much less susceptible to the brainwashing of which you speak. In short, they ain’t like you and me.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        No, they’re not like you and me. They have frailties, of course, and unusual strengths. They are first and foremost endurance athletes, not Schwarzenegger weight lifters. They never stop. That requires a focus, concentration and pain tolerance far beyond that required or expected of the average soldier or Marine.

        They have a remarkable ability to judge personalities and intentions, and to assess their space and dangers to it. They are, of course, trained in the usual and unusual combat arts and are blithely capable of using them. They are trained in foreign languages, and in the mechanics of whatever they might have to steal, sabotage, destroy or extemporaneously make use of.

        The issue, again, is not their unique talents, the fine edge that, like a pro-football running back’s, can be held for only so many years. The issue is the political forces that set them to work, that define their missions and the resources and costs worth expending on them.

        • emptywheel says:

          I’d add one more thing to this:

          They have a remarkable ability to judge personalities and intentions, and to assess their space and dangers to it. They are, of course, trained in the usual and unusual combat arts and are blithely capable of using them. They are trained in foreign languages, and in the mechanics of whatever they might have to steal, sabotage, destroy or extemporaneously make use of.

          The issue, again, is not their unique talents, the fine edge that, like a pro-football running back’s, can be held for only so many years. The issue is the political forces that set them to work, that define their missions and the resources and costs worth expending on them.

          At their best, they also combine solid intelligence more closely with operations. And at their best, they also have the ability to selectively take out targets. Plus, I certainly applaud investing our military, such as we have one, with high levels of training.

          Better reasonably smart guys join the military and get the skills they need to succeed than us constantly lowering our acceptance criteria and then throwing those mentally or tempermentally unfit soldiers into situations they’re not prepared for.

          • emptywheel says:

            Plus, whether I want SEALs out there or not, these guys are putting their lives on the line every day, and it’d be churlish of me not to recognize when they do what they’ve been ordered to do exceptionally well.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I knew of one who spoke Spanish and Thai; could manage the usual swims on and under water; and had higher than 5th degree black belts in kali, ninjutsu and san soo. Another spoke Spanish, French and Vietnamese; could swim like a dolphin, climb anchor chains, infiltrate into admiral’s cabins and what not; and plink a beer can at over 1000 yds. Both could drink at a bar and not be seen, both had PTSD.

      • emptywheel says:

        I’d add to that by noting that a lot of these JSOC guys have some of the best linguistic skills in the military, aside from people whose sole job it is to translate.

  9. reddog says:

    You can bet that the SEALS never said an ‘effen word except to their immediate chain of command. The leaks all came from above that, and that is exactly what I predicted a week ago. The Operators know how to keep their mouths shut, the political hierachy, not so much. And as for “porn on Bin Laden’s computer”–that sounds, how show I say it, “less than credible”. How would it get there? They’ve already said that the compound, where Bin Laden has been for 5 years doesn’t have internet access. Oh, yeah, the couriers were downloading porn in the internet cafe’s and bringing it back to the compound on thumb drives. How stupid do they think we are (apparantly pretty stupid because that’s the story, and so far they’re sticking to it).

  10. tjbs says:

    Why do we need trained hair trigger murderers?

    Reality check , do you want every country to have the same capability?

  11. pdaly says:

    The title of the Reuters article, written by Hosenball and Zakaria, announcing porno! in the OBL compound is curious (my bold):

    A stash of pornography was found in the hideout of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. commandos who killed him, current and former U.S. officials said on Friday.

    How would “former” US officials know anything about this recent raid? And why would these reporters trust former U.S. officials even as anonymous sources? Does it suggest at all former U.S. officials in receipt of the PDB, the PDB offered as an ongoing courtesy to ex-(vice)presidents? ;-)

    The details are vague, just like the identities of the sources:

    The officials said they were not yet sure precisely where in the compound the pornography was discovered or who had been viewing it. Specifically, the officials said they did not know if bin Laden himself had acquired or viewed the materials.

    Sounds like psyops. The officials know nothing, but conveniently link OBL to porno merely by placing both in the same paragraph.

    It is unclear how compound residents would have acquired the pornography.

    I guess this article (and U.S. officials, current and former) cannot rule out the possibility that the porno was hand delivered, at night, by US helicopters dropping in for a visit…if that was the scenario I don’t know either whether OBL had time to acquire or view any of it.

    • emptywheel says:

      Btw, I’m leaning toward psyop as well.

      Mind you, I tend to suspect that religious conservative–whether Christian or Muslim–are using that partly as a cover for their horn-dog proclivities. But this is just too ham-handed.

      Though usually Hosenball sees through stuff like that. ABC, not so much (not at all, in fact). But Hosenball’s got a pretty good nose for bullshit.

      • pdaly says:

        I’ll defer to your sense of Hosenball’s abilities.

        If the porno was not planted (and maybe even if it was) I next expect to hear that it was a part of an al Qaeda communication plan using steganography.

        Next all viewers of porno around the world will be suspected of potentially willingly receiving hidden communication from al Qaeda, so it and they will have to be monitored closely.

        • bobschacht says:

          My first thought on the porno was that they used it for *recruiting* purposes.
          Perhaps I was driven by the thought of the propaganda line for sacrificial lambs that they would be greeted in heaven by hordes of virgins.

          Bob in AZ

  12. x174 says:

    my initial take on the OBL thing was that it had something to do with Wikileaks.

    now i’m inclined to think that it has something to do with the Arab Spring, especially in its relation to the Petraeus-Panetta high level switcheroo (28 April 2011), which happened two or three days before the OBL is dead festival (1 May 2011).

    Panetta (head of cia) was really outspoken immediately after the American jihad and even stated that the us would definitely release the photos of the assassination. wonder what that was all about.

    i think that it’s telling that the story began unraveling immediately after it was released.

    and now with this Wikileaks-like dribbling of info obviously intended to disparage OBL and pump up the propaganda machine. . .

    still not sure what this is all about.

  13. x174 says:

    wonder if this new found sensitivity is related to this article appearing in today’s NYT:

    U.S. Interrogated ‘Hostile’ Bin Laden Wives

    “The women, however, if they chose to, could presumably help answer questions about who knew that Al Qaeda’s leader was hiding in a town filled with current and former members of Pakistan’s military.”

    you think that if it was information that they were after they would have kept OBL alive.

    i remember that the first reports coming out about the daughter were saying that OBL was taken into custody and then executed.

    seems to me that the thing that they have been most interested in from the beginning is controlling the narrative.

    too bad for them their story has been leaking like cloth diapers.

    “the whole operation was filmed on 25 cameras mounted on the helmets of the Navy Seals”

    i sure have an innate trust for photographic evidence coming from the dod and the wh

  14. x174 says:

    Chalmers Johnson was right

    Pakistan suicide bomb kills 80 as Taliban seeks revenge for Bin Laden

    “US officials are hoping to leverage outrage over Bin Laden to gain concessions from the Pakistani army. They want the military to push into Waziristan, to sever relations with militant groups such as the Haqqani network, and to arrest high-level fugitives thought to be still inside Pakistan, mostly notably Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.”