We Are All Pirates Now

I recommend you start reading this story, on how the Navy wants a floating base, a “mothership,” to float around the Middle East from which to launch paramilitary operations, at paragraph 18 out of 20:

Ironically, the term “mothership” is also commonly used to describe a vessel used by Somali pirates. After hijacking a large container or cargo vessel, pirate crews often turn it into a floating base to extend the range of their skiffs or speedboats far into the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Gulf.

While the story reminds that our “mothership” will actually return the Navy SEALs to maritime missions, it’s also worth noting that the two threats the article cites to justify the urgent retrofitting of an old ship to serve as our “mothership”–Somali pirates and potential Iranian responses in the Straits of Hormuz–are both asymmetric threats. We plan to use this “mothership” to match their “mothership.”

Now, aside from the many answers to the question, “what could go wrong?” I had while reading this story, I couldn’t help but thinking how we’re increasingly fighting terrorism with non-uniformed enemy combatants, fighting piracy with tactics borrowed from the pirates.

The three big things that distinguish us from them is our money, our ability to control of the financial transfer systems, and our drones.

But other than that, I think we are become pirates.

53 replies
  1. jo6pac says:

    But other than that, I think we are become pirates.


    I think this country has been pirates since stoled the Indians Land then moved on to steal minerals from countries around the world. If you don’t give what Amerikan corp. want then the dod is on the way.

  2. joanneleon says:


    The conquistadors were professional warriors, using modern tactics, firearms, combat dogs, and cavalry tactics against unprepared groups. The Companies would often specialize in forms of combat that required longer periods of training that was not available in the form of a mobilized militia.

    [ … ]

    This conquest period endurance several centuries. There were a wide variation in the way armed groups were looking for supplies and monetarian funds. Mostly economic interest but sometimes political strategy, motivated a campaing. Then financing was requested, which could be due to King, delegates of the Crown, the nobility, rich merchants or own troops.

    [ … ]

    Sometimes, an expedition of conquistadors were a group of influential men who had recruited men, they had fed them and they had financed their dependents by promising a share of the booty that could be generated with the expedition. This group used to consist of young men without military experience,[ … ]

  3. Jim White says:

    And I’m sure that having a pirate ship mothership in the region where JSOC is carrying out so many missions has nothing to do with the fact that the new head of USSOCOM, William McRaven, is Admiral McRaven, who just happened to learn the fine art of chain of command bypassing and Congressional oversight avoidance at the right hand of Stanley McCrystal.

    Hold onto your hats, buckos.

  4. Rirer Capital says:

    The term “Yankee” is derived from a derogatory Dutch term applied to Americans meaning “Pirate”. So Americans, as Yankees, have always been pirates.

    Charles Dickens wrote and published a travelogue on America titled “American Notes for General Circulation” as a poke at widespread piracy of published literary work in the US.

    American economic strength was built on ethnic cleansing, slave labor, and pirating Continental Europe’s goods. Ironic Somalis are imitating our founders in a small way. If they get ambitious maybe they’ll upgrade to stealing land, and impressing humans for a vibrant slave trade.

    @emptywheel I think the Giants beat the Patriots 35-17.(ducking) Keep up the great work! Everyone here does an excellent job…Can’t wait for the next smack talk–Gonna be intense!

  5. emptywheel says:

    @Rirer Capital: Don’t tell bmaz, but I think you might be right. The Giants just match up VERY well against the Pats, and not vice versa. I’ll be very happy to be wrong. But I’m not holding my breath.

  6. MadDog says:

    I would also note that the “floating black site interrogation and detention” opportunities of this “mothership” (à la Warsame) that I mentioned earlier avoid things like those pesky issues of:

    1) Having to bribe other countries to hide our black sites,
    2) Avoid those international crime issues of transferring enemy combatants to other countries,
    3) And given the timing of Afghanistan’s demand that we immediately turn over our detainee prisons in Afghanistan which is apparently the only place we have left to ship folks we capture worldwide, I can understand the US government’s need for speed in getting this mothership moving.

  7. joanneleon says:

    @MadDog: I just came back here to bring that up — that fairly recent story about interrogation on ships in international waters.

    Gad, I hope that doesn’t have anything to do with it. For all the egregious and illegal stuff, if you can’t codify it, do it in international waters? Shoring things up against possible impeachment by rabid Republican hypocrites after leaving office ? Oh boy, I think I’ll just drop that thought.

  8. rkilowatt says:

    A floating Star Chamber* ? Architecural costs would be bypassed by simply adopting existing designs.

    Star Chamber–so-called bec the ceiling was designed with stars. A royal English court abolished in 1641, notorious for its secret sessions without jury,and for its harsh and arbitrary judgements and its use of torture to force confessions. When uncapitalized, can also refer to an Inquisitorial body. [h/t Webster’s New World dictionary]

    Emma Lazarus put it so clearly–‘yearning to breathe free”.

    The Americam Dream never left the downward spiral.

  9. MadDog says:

    It will be interesting to see (for this former Navy person) whether the USS Ponce (even its Wiki page has already been updated) will remain part of the regular Navy or be transferred to some other organization.

    Given that SOCOM’s latest head is Admiral (4 star) McRaven, and his recent Congressional testimony said this:

    “… As you know, there are certain individuals that are under the AUMF, the use of military force, and those are easier to deal with than folks that may not have been under the authority for AUMF. In many cases, we will put them on a naval vessel and we will hold them until we can either get a case to prosecute them in U.S. court or…”

    And in the same Congressional hearing, General Allen, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan had this to say:

    “…SENATOR AYOTTE: ….I wanted to follow up, General Allen, on the question of detention. If we were to, for example, capture someone like Ayman al- Zawahri in Yemen, for example, outside of Afghanistan, could we detain him in Afghanistan at the detention facilities there?

    GENERAL ALLEN: We would not recommend that.

    SENATOR AYOTTE: And why is that?

    GENERAL ALLEN: Because Afghanistan is a sovereign country.

    SENATOR AYOTTE: So we’re not going to use the detention facilities, for example, in Afghanistan to detain terrorists who are captured outside the territory of Afghanistan?

    GENERAL ALLEN: It’s not our intention…”

    Given the secrecy of all US Navy Seal ops, I’m guessing that SOCOM will “own” this mothership.

    And I’m guessing that with a normal crew size of 500+ Navy Officers and Enlisted, this mothership will instead be staffed by less than half that number, staffed with top security-cleared personnel, and staffed with non-Regular Navy personnel (perhaps contractors) and that with a smaller crew size, there will be plenty of space for interrogation and detention facilities.

  10. MadDog says:

    @joanneleon: I think that is exactly what it is going to be used for. Given Admiral McRaven’s and General Allen’s sets of testimony that I quoted in my comment at # 12 above, the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” rush to get this done, and the pending transfer of our Afghanistan detainee prison sites, I would bet big bucks that the USS Ponce is soon to be our floating black site.

    I read most of the crap about “support[ing] mine countermeasure missions” as nothing more than a convenient cover story. And as a former Navy person stationed on a US Navy Minesweeper, I can tell you that Navy Seals aren’t part of the “minesweeping package”.

  11. geoschmidt says:

    well back when I was a small child, my grammy told us stories. One of which was: the story of: “We killed a bare.” So the deal was, that sure when we… (we) go out and go a hunting, then sometimes, there is a kill, but ever body is in on it… ( it is not he or who, killed that baar, it was, “WE KILLED THE BAR… “.

    I might be wasting my time, if you don’t know this old time story… but you do, if you are real.

    So, bottom: ever body is ready to take credit, but… (Dadadah), but so…

  12. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And some other logic to buttress my theory:

    There is little value to having the USS Ponce act as a floating mothership for Navy Seal operations. The thing is slow as a pig! It only goes at 20 Knots (23 mph).

    Navy Seals can get almost anywhere for missions far quicker via planes (C-130s for example ), helicopters and even submarines than something that only goes 23 mph. Getting from the coast off of Somalia to the Straits of Hormuz is a couple thousand miles and at 23 mph it would take days via the USS Ponce.

    No, there would be little value in using the USS Ponce as a mothership for Navy Seal missions. It has limited space compared to land bases and limited mobility in terms of speed.

    As a floating black site, it’s perfect.

  13. orionATL says:

    all this busy “national security” action will be much easier to understand if one understands that

    – our president is up for re-election

    – our president has a generally poor record of domestic accomplishments

    – our president faces a national unemployment rate that would unemploy most presidents

    – our president has coddled the thieving major banks in a most disgraceful way


    – our president has decided that he must use “national security” as the means to turn attention away from domestic unemployment and from his well-documented insouciance to his fellow americans economic suffering.

    hey! lookee! over there! somali pirates

    hey! lookee! over there! iranian nuclear bombs

    hey! lookee! over there! sudani al-quaida

    hey! lookee! over there! yemeni al-quaida

    no matter that these latter bomb makers have a reputation of blowing their brother’s ass off without killing anyone else.

    but wait!

    there’s more! (from david axelrod)

    the next red-herring to refocus attention from domestic unemployment, domestic personal bankruptcy, domestic home foreclosure, and presidentially-pardoned domestic bank felony?

    why, the mexican drug capitalists, er, lords.

    one,two,three, four,

    who are we going to vote for?




  14. MadDog says:

    And speaking of captured pirates, via the NYT:

    “Seized Pirates in High-Seas Legal Limbo, With No Formula for Trials

    Earlier this month off the coast of Pakistan, 15 Somali pirates held aboard the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis were loaded onto a helicopter and flown to a newly arrived carrier nearby, the Carl Vinson.

    The pirates had been captured by yet another American warship on Jan. 5, taken from an Iranian dhow they had used as a high-seas base to attack passing merchant ships. Now the Stennis was departing the North Arabian Sea, and it could not keep its prisoners. Wearing leg irons, they were transferred from floating brig to floating brig.

    Behold a seam in international law enforcement, and a case of high-seas legal limbo…”

  15. geoschmidt says:


    Just joking but take that and turn it: [” uber-bama…… “] to…. (hya hya ha… ), “unibomber”… This asshole has so many weird changes that can be done, but one that is real well known is that the queer name from hell/Africa/hell, where the people sold their less desirable next of kinn, for a buck. Did you know that the gadamned Africans… (who did slavery big time… ) were not above… selling the least good slaves…

    so put that in your hopper jefrow, They sold the worst of the slaves, for good money, like we would sell em.

    So put that in your gadamned hopper, Jethrrow, you stupid punk!!

  16. MadDog says:

    And one final additional OT piece before I call it a night – via the AP, this doctor does house calls:

    “Panetta cites key intelligence on bin Laden raid

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is acknowledging publicly for the first time that a Pakistani doctor provided key information to the U.S. in advance of the successful Navy SEAL assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound last May.

    Panetta told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” in a profile to be broadcast on Sunday, that Shakil Afridi helped provide intelligence for the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan…”

  17. orionATL says:


    our military can always shave their private parts in good muslim tradition, read them the proper prayers from the koran, keep their leg irons on them, and have them walk the plank.

    of course, we could have civilian trials, but our president has declared that not an option.

  18. bmaz says:

    Yeah, I dunno about the floating black site thing. I think that the Administration may be much more circumspect about that practice, at least for extended periods of time like Warsame was, in the future. Short term expediency purposes, maybe, but I doubt that this is the secret hidden intent of the whole gig.

  19. Bob Schacht says:

    @MadDog: That’s why I was wondering why the new “mothership”, aka floating Gitmo, is not an aircraft carrier– even an old aircraft carrier would do; jet fighters are really not what they need anyway. Just a good flight deck for small planes and helicopters.

    BTW, I’d bet that the idea for this “mothership” came from some military or CIA bigdome (someone like Mikey Hayden) who was starting to worry about losing all our black sites, leaving us with no place to conduct nefarious deeds.

    Bob in AZ

  20. Starbuck says:

    We should name the mother ship “Penzance”. The actual combat vessels , well, one is Gilbert, an other, Sullivan.

  21. thatvisionthing says:

    @MadDog: Why not USS Bataan or USS Peleliu? They’ve already done that “service.” From Reprieve:

    USS Bataan is one of the US government’s most infamous ‘floating prisons’. Prison ships have been used by the US to hold terror suspects illegally since the days of President Clinton.

    At least nine prisoners are confirmed to have been held aboard the USS Bataan, including Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, who recently died in mysterious circumstances in Libyan custody…. Other prisoners held aboard the USS Bataan include John Walker Lindh and David Hicks.

  22. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Frak, now all of you want to be pirates? There goes the neighborhood. I guess I better start disposing of all my accumulated wenches and booty. Increased supply, lower prices, etc.

    Don’t give up on Brady.

  23. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Yeah, that was one of the answers to my “What could go wrong?”

    And it’d time up nicely with the NDAA’s requirement of reviews for all detainees.

  24. emptywheel says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: Oh, I haven’t. Nor on BillBel. The biggest thing the Pats have going for them (besides Brady and Welker and a gimpy Gronk) is that BillBel almost never loses to the same team twice in a season. At that level, at least, this game reverses what happened in 07-08.

  25. GulfCoastPirate says:

    @emptywheel: Yea, I’m not sure why so many are downplaying their chances. The Giants have been playing very well for a number of weeks now but it’s hard to keep that up at any level much less the NFL level.

  26. GulfCoastPirate says:

    @bmaz: Pirates of Wall Street??????????????? That’s hitting way, way, way below the belt.

    I see Timmy says he won’t be staying around for another term. I wonder what the over/under is on how much he’ll make a year on Wall Street. I bet he gets compensated handsomely.

  27. Peterr says:


    This strikes me more like a floating base in the region away from the pesky locals, rather than a black site.

    With the PR problems for the US military, like the lack of justice for the victims of the Haditha massacre, it’s got to be getting harder and harder for the DOD and State to convince countries in the region to allow the US to set up a base or enlarge an existing one. Indeed, the pressures flow in the other direction — “close your bases and get out of town. If you stay, we’ll want more oversight of your troops, including holding them accountable under local laws, because it’s clear that under your military system of accountability, PR trumps justice.”

    But if the base is in international waters, there are no locals to be demanding inconvenient things like oversight and such.

  28. phred says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: Not to pick a fight with our resident counselor, but the Wall Street folks are privateers, not pirates, in that they have the support of the government, albeit a “wink and a nod” rather than “letter” of marque. Hence, we cannot hang them when captured at sea ; )

    You on the other hand better pin your hopes on a fast ship and fair winds ; )

  29. Bay State Librul says:


    The Duck boats are warming up,
    The Parade’s been penciled in, and
    the Sam Adams Winter Warmer Beer is on tap.

  30. earlofhuntingdno says:

    “I think we are becoming pirates.” Yep. As with Queen Elizabeth and her pirates, who sank Spanish ships after looting the gold they extracted by the murder and pillage of Latin America, this is state piracy. This lukewarm milk and unbuttered toast PR campaign is Orwellian newspeak, cynically attempting to hide the cost, risk and predatory nature of what is involved.

    Purported “stateless” motherships are floating military bases, intentionally moored near the hottest political-cum-resource battlegrounds in the world. They are bases for our most expensive, talented and committed military assets, to be set loose on publicly unknown and undefined missions to take and guard those assets, and to disrupt governmental and non-governmental actors that threaten our control of them.

    What we need here, what this expression of newspeak lacks, is plausible deniability. Paging Colonel Hillandale. Paging Colonel Hillandale. We could also use another policy. Paging Ambassador MacWhite.

  31. Bob Schacht says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: I heard that Geithner was on the way out, too, but only in secondary comments. What is the source for this story?

    Timmy will probably rake in 10x his present salary, taking with him all sorts of handy info about how the Executive Dept works.

    Bob in AZ

  32. matt carmody says:

    @MadDog: What if the ship’s ownership is transferred to some private entity, say like Academi nee Blackwater, and then leased to the Navy with the contractor providing crew and facilities? That’s a gray area that I can see becoming reality.

    We’ve already privatized our federal prison system and large areas of military occupations. What’s to prevent this?

  33. geoschmidt says:

    OK… arkane wonk stuff, that aught to tell me to stay TFAway, nothing like a gadamned idiot straying into places, areas, don’t know what it is getting into. Kinda cool site though…

  34. thatvisionthing says:


    “Why do you seek gold when our land has such lovely flowers?”
    — Last words of Peru’s Inca ruler, Atahualpa, before being strangled by Pizarro’s men

  35. orionATL says:


    just so we don’t miss the flavor of john t’s citation, i’ll reprint a bit of it here.

    what does it foretell? i have no idea. but protecting oil supplies and interdicting oil supplies comes to mind.

    from “debka”:

    ” Obama (Also) Prepares for War

    Massive US Military Buildup on Two Strategic Islands: Socotra and Masirah

    While quietly casting lines to draw Tehran into talks on their nuclear dispute, President Barack Obama is reported exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Washington sources to have secretly ordered US air, naval and marine forces to build up heavy concentrations on two strategic islands – Socotra, which is part of a Yemeni archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and the Omani island of Masirah at the southern exit of the Strait of Hormuz.

    Socotra is situated 80 kilometers east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometers southeast of the Yemeni coastline. It lies athwart the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. A military base there is in a position to oversee the shipping moving in and out of those strategic naval waterways.

    Lushly verdant, Socotra is approximately 120 kilometers long by 40 kilometers wide. Its population of 55,000 has its own distinct language and culture. Since 2010, the US has been quietly building giant air force and naval bases on Socotra with facilities for submarines, intelligence command centers and take-off pads for flying stealth drones, as part of a linked chain of strategic US military facilities in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
    The Socotra facilities are so secret that they are never mentioned in any catalogue listing US military facilities in this part of the world, which include Jebel Ali and Al Dahfra in the United Arab Emirates; Arifjan in Kuwait; and Al Udeid in Qatar – all within short flying distances from Iran.

    Additional US forces are also being poured into Camp Justice on the barren, 70-kilometer long Omani island of Masirah, just south of the Hormuz entry point to the Gulf of Oman from the Arabian Sea.
    US military facilities were established there after the signing of an access agreement with Oman in 1980.

    Up to 100,000 US troops present by early March

    For the new buildup on Socotra, Washington had to negotiate a new deal with Yemen’s ousted ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh.

    Injured in an assassination attempt last year, Saleh demanded permission to travel to the United States for medical treatment. The Obama administration first refused, then relented when Saleh made it his condition for consenting to additional troops landing on the island.
    Western military sources familiar with the American buildup on the two strategic islands tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly that, although they cannot cite precise figures, they are witnessing the heaviest American concentration of might in the region since the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
    Then, 100,000 American troops were massed in Kuwait ahead of the invasion. Today, those sources estimate from the current pace of arrivals on the two island bases, that 50,000 US troops will have accumulated on Socotra and Masirah by mid-February. They will top up the 50,000 military already present in the Persian Gulf region, so that in less than a month, Washington will have some 100,000 military personnel on the spot and available for any contingency.
    US air transports are described as making almost daily landings on Socotra and Masirah. They fly in from the US naval base of Diego Garcia, one of America’s biggest military facilities, just over 3,000 kilometers away. The US military presence in the region will further expand in the first week of March when three US aircraft carriers and their strike groups plus a French carrier arrive in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea: They are the USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Carl Vinson, USS Enterprise and the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

    A fourth US carrier will be standing by in the Pacific Ocean, a few days’ sailing time from the water off Iran’s coast…”

  36. Bob Schacht says:

    @orionATL: If true, this can only mean that we’re heading for military conflict in the area. What I hope is the case is that this Show of Force is meant to be leaked to the Iranians so that they know we have muscle in the area, close at hand.

    On the other hand, this positioning may be intended to forestall the need for intervention, by showing our readiness.

    Bob in AZ

  37. P J Evans says:

    A fourth US carrier will be standing by in the Pacific Ocean, a few days’ sailing time from the water off Iran’s coast…

    They ought to check their map scale. The Pacific is at least a week away from there, with a lot of islands in between.

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