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Intelligence Aide Flynn re McChrystal: “Everyone Has a Dark Side”

As Marcy pointed out yesterday, Rolling Stone has published an excerpt from Michael Hastings’ new book The Operators. As she predicted, I am unable to refrain from commenting on it. The polarizing figure of Stanley McChrystal has always intrigued me. The way that McChrystal’s “Pope” persona was embraced by a large portion of the press never made sense to me, given how deeply McChrystal was involved as the primary agent behind the “success” of David Petraeus’ brutal night raids and massive detention program in Iraq. For those paying attention, it was known as early as 2006 that McChrystal’s JSOC was at the heart of the abuses at Camp Nama and even that he was responsible for preventing the ICRC from visiting the camp.

In preparing for the short passage from Hastings that I want to highlight, it is important to keep in mind that McChrystal’s mode of operation when heading JSOC was to bypass both the normal chain of command and Congressional oversight by working directly for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. From Jeremy Scahill:

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC.

Next, we need to consider the figure of Michael Flynn, whom Hastings quotes. Flynn served under McChrystal in a number of positions related to intelligence gathering. From his biography:

Major General Michael T. Flynn assumed duties as the Chief, CJ2, International Security Assistance Force, with the additional appointment as the CJ2, US Forces – Afghanistan on 15 June 2009. Prior to serving in this capacity, he served as the Director of Intelligence, Joint Staff from 11 July 2008 to 14 June 2009. He also served as the Director of Intelligence, United States Central Command from June 2007 to July 2008 and the Director of Intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command from July 2004 to June 2007, with service in Operations ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) and IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). Major General Flynn commanded the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from June 2002 to June 2004. Major General Flynn served as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G2, XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from June 2001 and the Director of Intelligence, Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan until July, 2002.

Both the New York Times and Esquire articles linked above on torture at Camp Nama discuss events primarily from early 2004. From Flynn’s biography, that coincides with his duty as heading the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade and being promoted to Director of Intelligence for all of JSOC. Given those roles, it seems impossible that Flynn could have been unaware of what took place at Camp Nama, as he would have been assessing the information gleaned from interrogations there at the very least. It’s likely he spent a lot of time there. From the Esquire article: Read more

JSOC Denial of Ignoring Torture in Afghan Prisons Not Credible–They Trained Afghan Military Police

Brig. Gen. Saffiullah, Afghan National Army Military Police Brigade commander, proudly displays his certificate from Robert Harward, left, on April 5, 2010. (Air Force photo)

Yesterday, the Washington Post finally caught up to where Marcy was over two weeks ago and discussed the UN report “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody” (pdf).  I’d like to move beyond the primary findings of the report, that torture is widespread in Afghan detention facilities and that the US continued bringing prisoners to these facilities long after other nations discontinued the practice due to concerns over reports of torture, and to examine US denials of knowledge regarding the torture.

First, to set the stage from the Post article:

Department 124 was long sealed off from the outside world; the ICRC, the United Nations and other organizations concerned with human rights were barred by Afghan officials from monitoring conditions there.

But American officials frequently went inside, according to Afghan officials and others familiar with the site. U.S. Special Operations troops brought detainees there, and CIA officials met with Department 124’s leadership on a weekly basis, reviewed their interrogation reports and used the intelligence gleaned from interrogations to inform their operations, the officials said.

And now the denial I’m most interested in:

One U.S. official in Kabul said the CIA officers and Special Operations troops would not have ignored torture. “Not in the post-Abu Ghraib era,” the official said. “All American entities out there are hyper-aware of these allegations and would report them up the chain.”

We will dismiss the CIA denial out of hand: documentation of CIA torture practices and the CIA’s attempts to have DOJ provide legal cover for them now fills many books. However, JSOC involvement in torture is less well-documented despite the fact that JSOC torture played a central, but under-reported, role in David Petraeus’ COIN strategy as implemented in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Petraeus’ primary operative in implementing the torture strategy in both countries was Stanley McChrystal. Read more

The Death Squads “Protecting” Our Country

There was an odd pair of stories in the WaPo last week. On Thursday, there was a story by two reporters on the CIA’s increased focus on killing its targets, whether by drone or paramilitary strike.

In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agency has undergone a fundamental transformation. Although the CIA continues to gather intelligence and furnish analysis on a vast array of subjects, its focus and resources are increasingly centered on the cold counterterrorism objective of finding targets to capture or kill.

Then, on Friday, there was an excerpt of the chapter from Dana Priest and Will Arkin’s book on JSOC. In addition to describing JSOC’s own lethality…

JSOC’s lethality was evident in its body counts: In 2008, in Afghanistan alone, JSOC commandos struck 550 targets and killed roughly a thousand people, officials said. In 2009, they executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 500 enemy forces. As Iraq descended into chaos in the summer of 2005, JSOC conducted 300 raids a month.

…. It also described how JSOC has been infiltrating DC’s bureaucracy.

Then he gave access to it to JSOC’s bureaucratic rivals: the CIA, NSA, FBI and others. He also began salting every national security agency in Washington with his top commandos. In all, he deployed 75 officers to Washington agencies and 100 more around the world. They rotated every four months so none would become disconnected from combat.

Some thought of the liaisons as spies for an organization that was already too important.

Both stories were good additions to earlier reports that have already laid this groundwork. But I found them notable for the way they were featured at the WaPo with nary a nod at each other. Sure, the CIA story noted that it has collaborated with JSOC. And the JSOC story talks about them feeding targeting information to CIA. Both stories claim their paramilitary force has the greater authority. Both at least mention Leon Panetta; the CIA one mentions David Petraeus; neither mentions Panetta and Petraeus swapping agencies.

But what we’re really talking about is an increasing focus on paramilitary approaches to security, using both JSOC and CIA, with the reporting agency seemingly chosen based on which offers the neatest legal cover.

The point, though, is to have super-lethal organizations unbound by the bureaucracy or law that puts limits to them.

And, as the CIA story admits, the civilian leadership–the President–matters less and less, at least in terms of receiving analysis (and presumably making decisions based on that analysis) or judging efficacy.

“We were originally set up with a more singular focus on policymakers,” said Moore, the head of the CIA’s analytic branch. But for a growing number of analysts, “it’s not just about writing for the president. It’s about gaining leads.”

[snip]

“When CIA does covert action, who does the president turn to to judge its effectiveness?” a former senior U.S. intelligence official. “To the CIA.”

Which brings us to this David Swanson piece, relating an exchange Susan Harman had with Berkeley’s Law School Dean, Chris Edley. When asked why the Obama Administration had not prosecuted torture or wiretapping, Edley revealed the Administration was worried about the CIA, NSA, and military “revolting.”

“Then Dean Chris Edley volunteered that he’d been party to very high level discussions during Obama’s transition about prosecuting the criminals. He said they decided against it. I asked why. Two reasons: 1) it was thought that the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt, and 2) it was thought the Repugnants would retaliate by blocking every piece of legislation they tried to move (which, of course, they’ve done anyhow).

“Afterwards I told him that CIA friends confirmed that Obama would have been in danger, but I added that he bent over backwards to protect the criminals, and gave as an example the DoJ’s defense (state secrets) of Jeppesen (the rendition arm of Boeing) a few days after his inauguration.

“He shrugged and said they will never be prosecuted, and that sometimes politics trumps rule of law.

Now I’ve long suspected that Obama backed off all rule of law for both the national security establishment and the banks out of fear he’d end up like John F. Kennedy. And Edley’s comments, at least, don’t suggest Obama was worried the “revolt” would involve physical threats to himself.

Nevertheless, these three developments together really ought to be a worry.

We’re expanding two lethal paramilitary forces–death squads–that (taken together, especially) evade normal oversight. It’s not clear whether the civilian leadership controls them–or vice versa.

Is it really a good idea to make them even more lethal?

Themis Applies JSOC Techniques to Citizens “Extorting” from Corporate Clients

I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot of these posts, showing how Hunton & Williams asked “Themis” (the three firm team of HBGary, Palantir, and Berico Technologies) to apply counterterrorism approaches to combat First Amendment activities.

This particular installment comes from an early presentation and accompanying proposal Themis prepared for Hunton & Williams. These documents were attached to an email dated November 2, 2010 sent out by Berico Technologies’ Deputy Director. He explains that the presentation and proposal would be briefed to H&W the following day.

The Powerpoint includes a slide describing the purpose of Themis’ pitch to H&W.

Purpose: Develop a corporate information reconnaissance service to aid legal investigations through the open source collection of information on target groups and individuals that appear organized to extort specific concessions through online slander campaigns.

Now, this is in the period when H&W was only beginning to discuss the Chamber of Commerce project with Themis, long before the BoA pitch. That is, this is the period when they were discussing generalized opposition to Chamber of Commerce.

And of that they got “extortion”? “slander”?

Apparently the team members of Themis–several of whom, as veterans, would have sworn an oath to our Constitution–accepted the premise that union members and poorly financed liberals opposing the wholesale sellout of our politics to private corporations constituted “extortion” and “slander.”

These firms, two of which deny any ill will, were willing to describe political speech–the opposition of working people to the Chamber’s hijacking of our politics–as “extortion” and “slander.”

More shocking to me, though, is where the proposal uses a Special Operations model to describe what Themis planned to do for H&W. On a proposal bearing Berico Technologies’ document header, Themis places their proposed “Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell” next to a Joint Special Operations Command F3EA “targeting cycle” with this explanation:

Team Themis will draw on our extensive operational and intelligence experience to rapidly make sense of the volumes of data we’ve collected through the application of proven analytical/targeting methodologies.  Drawing on the principles and processes developed and refined by JSOC in the “Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze” (F3EA) targeting cycle, we will develop and execute a tailored CIRC intelligence cycle suited to enable rapid identification/understanding, refined collection/detection, focused application of effects, exploitation, and analysis/assessment.

Mind you, this is just a fancy graphic for “analysis”–the kind of stuff civilians do all the time. But Themis–led by Berico Technologies in this case–decided to brand it as a JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) product, applying an American unconventional warfare model  to targeting political opponents engaging in free speech.

This is a bunch of veterans proposing to go to war against citizen activism on behalf the Chamber of Commerce and other corporations.

The proposal also highlights the JSOC experience of one Palantir team member.

He commanded multiple Joint Special Operations Command outstations in support of the global war on terror. Doug ran the foreign fighter campaign on the Syrian border in 2005 to stop the flow of suicide bombers into Baghdad and helped to ensure a successful Iraqi election. As a commander, Doug ran the entire intelligence cycle: identified high-level terrorists, planned missions to kill or capture them, led the missions personally, then exploited the intelligence and evidence gathered on target to defeat broader enemy networks.

Berico’s statement (from their CEO, Guy Filippelli, whose experience as Special Assistant to the Director of National Intelligence was also highlighted in the proposal) denied they would proactively target any Americans and spun the project itself as “consistent with industry standards for this type of work.”

Berico Technologies is a technical and analytic services firm that helps organizations better understand information critical to their core operating objectives. Our leadership does not condone or support any effort that proactively targets American firms, organizations or individuals.

[snip]

Late last year, we were asked to develop a proposal to support a law firm. Our corporate understanding was that Berico would support the firm’s efforts on behalf of American companies to help them analyze potential internal information security and public relations challenges. Consistent with industry standards for this type of work, we proposed analyzing publicly available information and identifying patterns and data flows relevant to our client’s information needs.

Yet it was Berico Technologies’ Deputy Director who sent out these documents adopting a military targeting approach for responding to citizens engaging in free speech.

But Who Has JSOC’s Back?

Michael Hayden has another tired whine at CNN about Obama’s treatment of the torture program. The entire logic of the piece is predictably silly. It goes something like this:

  1. ACLU and CCR are suing the government for targeting American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with no due process.
  2. According to Hayden, the targeting of Awlaki was “Authorized by the president, approved as legal, briefed to Congress.”
  3. According to unnamed legal scholars, the suit has little chance of success.
  4. But Obama’s DOJ released OLC memos on the torture program in response to an ACLU suit and investigated the torture of detainees that exceeded DOJ guidelines and therefore was illegal.
  5. This makes Hayden mad because it constitutes “exposing a previously authorized program for apparent political purposes.”
  6. Oh, and by the way, the UN rapporteur for extrajudicial killings also has a problem with targeted killings (and not just those of US citizens), though I’m not entirely sure what Hayden thinks Obama should do about that.

I guess this piece is supposed to be a warning to the White House–which has already assured CIA that it won’t be prosecuted for breaking the law on Obama’s orders–that it needs to make triple sure that none of those with the legal means to do so hold the CIA responsible for the illegal things it is doing. The whole thing would just make more sense if Hayden hadn’t personalized it so much (because, after all, he probably ought to be more concerned about a future President trying to distinguish herself from Obama’s abysmal record in this area). But I get it–Hayden lost some arguments with the Obama Administration and so this whole issue is very very personal.

And I wonder, really, does Hayden believe that Presidents really do have unlimited ability to make laws disappear? And if Hayden is so certain those unnamed legal scholars are correct about the legality of the assassination program and the poor chances the ACLU/CCR suit will succeed, then why complain? Or maybe, given the contortions that Obama’s DOJ is going through in contemplation of litigating the ACLU/CCR suit, Hayden’s confidence that the suit won’t succeed is merely bravado?

But the other amusing thing about this screed is its focus on the CIA. Hayden treats this as danger experienced primarily by the CIA.

The CIA is asked to do things no one else is asked — or even allowed — to do. And when CIA officers agree to do these things (after appropriate authorization, judgment with regard to lawfulness and congressional notification), they believe that they have a contract with their government, not a particular administration, that the government will have their back legally, ethically and politically.That belief was shattered by the Obama administration’s actions. Agency officers were shown that those guarantees have the half-life of one election cycle in the American political process. No wonder one astute observer of the agency likened it to a car bomb going off in the driveway at Langley.

But what about JSOC?

After all, Awlaki has been on JSOC’s kill list for longer than he has been on CIA’s. According to reporting, JSOC is as involved in the targeted killing program as CIA (as they were in the torture program). Why isn’t retired General Hayden worried about those killers?

Granted, there is a distinction. When civilians at the CIA target people for assassination, particularly those who pose no imminent threat, the claim that the killing is legal under the law of war is much weaker.

But for some reason, JSOC doesn’t have the need to trot out spokesmen to defend itself every third month, but CIA does.

Joe Biden, Another Big Fucking I Told You So

The Toobz are a-tizzy this morning with a Rolling Stone article revealing that Stanley McChrystal said mean things about Joe Biden–both publicly and behind his back.

Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile.

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

But the article is far more subtle than the tizzy lets on. And the tizzy ignores the real moral of the story, revealed after five pages of eye-popping revelations. McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan is failing. It’s failing not because some of his aides said mean things about Biden, and not because he’s got a long-running spat with Karl Eikenberry, our Ambassador to Afghanistan. It’s failing because the Special Ops guys, whom McChrystal led killing bunches of people in Iraq, are not hard-wired to win hearts and minds. It’s failing because both the tools at McChrystal’s disposal (a bunch of JSOC guys) and the conditions on the ground mean counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency, is the best approach: precisely what Biden argued during the Afghan policy review.

When Vice President Biden was briefed on the new plan in the Oval Office, insiders say he was shocked to see how much it mirrored the more gradual plan of counterterrorism that he advocated last fall. “This looks like CT-plus!” he said, according to U.S. officials familiar with the meeting.

One of the real revelations of this story–one which actually takes up about 1/5 of the article and which is based not on aides revealing embarrassing stories but on watching grunts interact with the General they are often depicted as idolizing–is that they no longer buy that McChrystal can bridge the seemingly (and in fact) irreconcilable forces of the Afghan war; his bravado and mystique is not enough to persuade the grunts implementing his plan to buy into using less lethal force with the hearts and minds they’re supposed to be winning.

“I ask you what’s going on in your world, and I think it’s important for you all to understand the big picture as well,” McChrystal begins. “How’s the company doing? You guys feeling sorry for yourselves? Anybody? Anybody feel like you’re losing?” McChrystal says.

“Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we’re losing, sir,” says Hicks.

McChrystal nods. “Strength is leading when you just don’t want to lead,” he tells the men. “You’re leading by example. That’s what we do. Particularly when it’s really, really hard, and it hurts inside.” Then he spends 20 minutes talking about counterinsurgency, diagramming his concepts and principles on a whiteboard.

[snip]

“This is the philosophical part that works with think tanks,” McChrystal tries to joke. “But it doesn’t get the same reception from infantry companies.”

Read more

The Illegal War on Latin American (!) Terrorism

I linked to this Jeremy Scahill post already, but I wanted to point out a few things about Scahill’s elaboration on the WaPo’s covert ops story of the other day.

First, Scahill provides a list of locations where Obama’s expanded special operations war has deployed:

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

I’m not sure about you, but I, for one, have never heard of “Al Qaeda in Ecuador” or “Al Qaeda in Belgium.” While some of these deployments likely do have ties to fighters just one step removed from al Qaeda (later in the article, Scahill describes JSOC partnering with Georgia to pursue Chechens), others might be more likely to have ties to terrorist financing (Belgium) or illicit trade (including drugs) that might fund terrorism. Or hell, maybe just oil and gas, since they’re pretty criminal and we’re addicted, so it’s practically the same thing.

Which brings me back to the UN report on targeted killings. When describing the target of these covert ops, the WaPo story said the ops are directed “against al Qaeda and other radical organizations.” As I highlighted from the WaPo story, John Bellinger believes many of those targeted have nothing to do with 9/11.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

Which is a concern the UN report expresses: that the US has declared itself to be in a non-international armed conflict that is sufficiently vaguely defined as to include many people whose targeting would be illegal under international humanitarian law.

53. Taken cumulatively, these factors make it problematic for the US to show that – outside the context of the armed conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq – it is in a transnational non-international armed conflict against “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated forces”107 without further explanation of how those entities constitute a “party” under the IHL of non-international armed conflict, and whether and how any violence by any such group rises to the level necessary for an armed conflict to exist.

[snip]

55. With respect to the existence of a non-state group as a “party”, al-Qaeda and other alleged “associated” groups are often only loosely linked, if at all. Sometimes they appear to be not even groups, but a few individuals who take “inspiration” from al Qaeda. The idea that, instead, they are part of continuing hostilities that spread to new territories as new alliances form or are claimed may be superficially appealing but such “associates’ cannot constitute a “party” as required by IHL – although they can be criminals, if their conduct violates US law, or the law of the State in which they are located.

56. To ignore these minimum requirements, as well as the object and purpose of IHL, would be to undermine IHL safeguards against the use of violence against groups that are not the equivalent of an organized armed group capable of being a party to a conflict – whether because it lacks organization, the ability to engage in armed attacks, or because it does not have a connection or belligerent nexus to actual hostilities. It is also salutary to recognize that whatever rules the US seeks to invoke or apply to al Qaeda and any “affiliates” could be invoked by other States to apply to other non-state armed groups. To expand the notion of non-international armed conflict to groups that are essentially drug cartels, criminal gangs or other groups that should be dealt with under the law enforcement framework would be to do deep damage to the IHL and human rights frameworks. [my emphasis]

The UN reports that the US has admitted to using drones to take out Afghan drug lords; Scahill notes we’ve used these covert teams to target drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. And the inclusion of so many Latin American countries on Scahill’s list suggests further possible drug ties (while the presence of Georgia and Ukraine on Scahill’s list suggest the possibility of organized crime targets).

In other words, precisely the concern the UN report lays out may be reflected in Scahill’s list.

Read more

Obama and JSOC Targeting People Not Included under AUMF

The WaPo has an important story today–apparently following up on the NYT’s JUnc-WTF story from last week–describing the way Obama has expanded the scope of the use of special operations forces. Some key details are:

  • Obama has deployed JSOC in 15 new countries since taking over as President, for a total of 75
  • JSOC has about 4,000 people in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan
  • JSOC has 100 people in Pakistan but would like to triple that
  • Obama has changed the reporting structure in some good ways (reading Ambassadors into operations and reporting through regional commands) but has apparently increased direct conversations with JSOC (though remember that JSOC was supposed to be doing operations reporting directly to Cheney before)
  • JSOC is whining about needing civilian approval for targeting people in countries against which we are not at war, like Somalia and Yemen

But the most disturbing part of the story is something that parallels something in the Gitmo Review Task Force Report: Obama is claiming the right to target people not included under the Authorization to Use Military Force passed in response to 9/11.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

The Obama administration has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determines “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

If Obama is purportedly relying on the AUMF to authorize JSOC missions, then his authority should be limited to those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, at least according to John Bellinger, these operations are targeting people who had nothing to do with the attacks–presumably, people whose ties to al Qaeda are so attenuated that they couldn’t be claimed to have had a role in 9/11.

Read more

The Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order (AKA the JUnc WTF?)

On September 30, 2009–according to a big new story from Mark Mazzetti–David Petraeus signed a directive approving the deployment of small special operations teams to go into friendly (Saudi Arabia and Yemen) and unfriendly (Iran and Somalia) countries to collect intelligence.

Interestingly, 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).

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

In fact, it appears DOD issued the directive because CIA wouldn’t do whatever JSOC is now doing: the directive…

calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

One would hope that Congress gets pissed about this, though. Mazzetti quotes the document using the code–“prepare the environment”–that Cheney used for JSOC activities that he claimed did not need to be briefed to the Intelligence Committees, which (Mazzetti lays out implicitly) is being claimed here, too.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.

Read the whole thing.

In probably unrelated news, Esquire is previewing a story that Eric Massa claims Dick Cheney and Petraeus have met several times about the latter running for President–what Massa rather ludicrously (at least given the details thus far) calls “treason” or a “coup.”

But frankly, I believe Obama would embrace that “preparing the environment” all by himself if it meant further consolidation of power in the White House.

And in other probably unrelated news, Ray McGovern says one big reason Dennis Blair got fired is because he wasn’t amenable to a getting tough on Iran (Iran does feature prominently in Mazzetti’s story).

Contract Killers as PsyOp Warriors

Several things stuck out for me in the NYT’s big story about DOD’s PsyOp contractors-as-assassination-flunkies. First, the degree to which DOD allegedly hid its assassination program inside a PsyOp venture. As the story reports, Michael Furlong, the guy running this show, was ostensibly engaged in strategic information, collecting information on Afghanistan’s social structure. But in fact, he was using that money to employ freelancers who, at a minimum, were targeting Afghans for assassination.

Mr. Furlong has extensive experience in “psychological operations” — the military term for the use of information in warfare — and he plied his trade in a number of places, including Iraq and the Balkans. It is unclear exactly when Mr. Furlong’s operations began. But officials said they seemed to accelerate in the summer of 2009, and by the time they ended, he and his colleagues had established a network of informants in Afghanistan and Pakistan whose job it was to help locate people believed to be insurgents.

Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country’s porous border with Pakistan.

And that, in turn, is interesting because we really need the kind of information collection Furlong was supposed to be doing. So imagine what happens when those purportedly engaging in such information collection lead to the deaths of their potential sources–it’d make this kind of information collection toxic (and potentially end up in the targeting of journalists and academic anthropologists also employed for such work, as has happened). That’s particularly a problem when, as Danger Room’s Nathan Hodge describes, more and more contractors doing PsyOp work are apparently doing something else instead.

But it also sheds light on some lesser-known players like International Media Ventures, a “strategic communications” firm that seems to straddle the line between public relations, propaganda work and private security contracting.“Strategic communications” firms have flourished in the strange new post-9/11 media environment. Unlike traditional military public affairs, which are supposed to serve as a simple conduit for releasing information to the public, strategic communications is about shaping the message, both at home and abroad. Why is that problematic? As Danger Room’s Sharon Weinberger pointed out, “When a newspaper calls up a public affairs officer to find out the number of casualties in an IED attack, the answer should be a number (preferably accurate), not a carefully crafted statement about how well the war is going.”

Afghanistan, in fact, has been a longtime laboratory for strategic communications. Back in 2005, Joshua Kucera wrote a fascinating feature in Jane’s Defence Weekly about how one of the top U.S. military spokesmen in Afghanistan was also an “information operations” officer, who reported to an office responsible for psychological operations and military deception. That kind of dual-hatting continues today: Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan, is also director for strategic communications in Afghanistan.

And then there’s the military’s interest in newsgathering-type intelligence on Afghanistan’s social and cultural scene. As we’ve reported here before, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan complained in a damning report that newspapers often have a better sense of “ground truth” in Afghanistan (and suggested that military intelligence needs to mimic newspaper reporting, or even hire a few downsized reporters, to get the job done). Furlong’s scheme — and again, the Times account is a bit muddled here — may have shifted funds away from AfPax Insider, a news venture run by former CNN executive Eason Jordan and author/adventurer Robert Young Pelton.

Effectively, our propaganda efforts have themselves become cover for paramilitary activities.

And speaking of cover, was anyone else amused at the way this story reported the involvement of Duane Clarridge, an old CIA spook with a fetish for illegal ops?

Among the contractors Mr. Furlong appears to have used to conduct intelligence gathering was International Media Ventures, a private “strategic communication” firm run by several former Special Operations officers. Another was American International Security Corporation, a Boston-based company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret. In a phone interview, Mr. Taylor said that at one point he had employed Duane Clarridge, known as Dewey, a former top C.I.A. official who has been linked to a generation of C.I.A. adventures, including the Iran-Contra scandal.

In an interview, Mr. Clarridge denied that he had worked with Mr. Furlong in any operation in Afghanistan or Pakistan. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said.

NYT reports that Furlong employed Mike Taylor’s company, which in turn employed Clarridge. And after Clarridge says he didn’t work for Furlong, NYT just leaves it at that, apparently not pursuing whether Clarridge worked for Taylor, which was the claim in the first place.

In other words, even while reporting the egg-within-an-egg quality of this cover, NYT lets Clarridge issue a non-denial denial and leave it at that.

But there may be a reason why NYT doesn’t want to acknowledge that this PsyOp contract became cover to pay Duane Clarridge to engage in off-the-books spywork.

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