Respected journalist Jeremy
Scahill wrote an article on 4 February for The Nation titled
Expanding US War in Pakistan." In his article he presented
as fact several assertions about the CIA and US military special
this article I will challenge those assertions.
many readers of The Nation, and other public sources of information
where the article appeared, accept without question the veracity
of these assertions.
lays my motive for writing this article. It is not a personal attack.
the lack of critical analysis of national security matters is an
institutional problem the antiwar movement needs to correct. Antiwar
spokespeople talk endlessly about the effects of national
security policy. But they rarely discuss how it works from within.
is not entirely their fault. The National Security State is the
province of the pro-war right. To get inside and rise to a position
of expertise, one must usually submit to years of political indoctrination
calibrated to a series of increasingly restrictive security clearances.
National Security State — the National Security Council, the military,
the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, etc. — is designed to keep antiwar activists
we saw during the Bush Administration, antiwar activists are even,
in some cases, considered terrorist sympathizers and equated with
"the enemy" within.
is the daunting challenge facing authoritative voices like Scahill
or Amy Goodman or Glenn Greenwald. It's tough, but at a minimum
they need to check their facts.
In this particular
case, Scahill reports that three people killed in
Pakistan last Wednesday were "special
forces soldiers" training a paramilitary force run by Pakistan’s
Interior Ministry. By his account, this confirms "that the
US military is more deeply engaged on the ground in Pakistan than
previously acknowledged by the White House and Pentagon."
how does this assertion confirm that the military is more deeply
involved in Pakistan than previously acknowledged (which certainly
may be true) without first proving that the three people killed
were, in fact, working for the military and not the CIA?
Special Forces soldiers detailed to the CIA have deniability, and
there are several reasons to believe the three people killed were
deniable assets working for the CIA, not the military.
begin with, correspondent Eric Schmitt at the New York Times
told me in July 2009 that Joint Special Operations Command
(JSOC) forces "have operated closely with CIA paramilitary
teams in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The typical covert
arrangement is that in Afghanistan, the team leaders are military;
in Pakistan, the CIA takes the lead."
Schmitt's assertion is supported by the fact that,
historically, the CIA goes where the military cannot legally go.
If Pakistan has not officially invited US military forces onto its
sovereign territory, the CIA would likely get the job. If the legal
arrangements have changed, that needs to be demonstrated, not asserted.
in describing the appearance of the three soldiers, Scahill cites
an unidentified Pakistani journalist as saying that "some"
of them were dressed in civilian clothes and were pretending to
be journalists. He also cites sources as saying the three people
were in Pakistan at the invitation of a private company (giving
the government deniability), as civil affairs trainers, and were
not involved in combat missions for the JSOC.
military special operations forces may disguise themselves as civilians
and pretend to be journalists while training paramilitary forces.
They are also known to work under cover of civil affairs. But given
the fact that the paramilitary force (the Frontier Scouts) that
was being trained is part of the Interior Ministry, not the Defense
Ministry, it is also more likely that people killed were working
for the CIA.
expanding on the assertion that the soldiers were military personnel
with the JSOC, Scahill, in the style of Seymour Hersh, turns to
an anonymous source he identifies as "a member of CENTCOM and
US Special Forces with extensive experience in the Afghanistan-Pakistan
firefights in Pakistan would be between JSOC forces versus whoever
they were chasing,” Scahill cites his source as saying. “I would
bet my life on that.”
is the source's life at stake? And while citing an anonymous source
does not lend any credibility to anyone's assertions (even a national
security "beat" reporter like Hersh or Schmitt), such
melodramatic statements serve only to undermine the source's credibility
— and the thesis Scahill bases on his source's assertions.
thesis Scahill advances, as informed by his anonymous source, is
that General Stanley McChrystal, who commands some 200 military
personnel in Pakistan, has "unprecedented influence on overall
US military operations, opening the door for an expansion of secretive,
black operations done with little to no oversight."
to Scahill's anonymous source, this turning of the CIA's traditional
prerogatives over to the military indicates "battlefield preparation"
for US military combat operations in Pakistan.
is a "paradigm shift," the anonymous source asserts. “Everything
is one echelon removed from before: where CIA was the darkest of
the dark, now it is JSOC. Therefore, military forces have more leeway
to do anything in support of future military objectives. The CIA
used to have the ultimate freedom u2014 now that freedom is in JSOC’s
hands, and the other elements of the military have been ordered
advancing this "battlefield preparation" thesis, Scahill's
anonymous source asserts that the CIA is "legally required
to brief" Congressional intelligence committees on covert operations,
but the JSOC is not. This allows the JSOC "freedom to expand
or absorb traditionally CIA missions.”
to Scahill's anonymous source, President Obama and his Defense Secretary
Robert Gates think this new arrangement, in which the JSOC pre-empts
the CIA, is fine, despite "deep resentment” it has generated
among those who have been excluded.
thesis is national security expert John Prados. As Prados explains,
"This is [Seymour Hersh's] thesis. But so far as I know, Sy
has not been able thus far to document that charge, in spite of
a trip he made to Pakistan last year.
of this is true. That is, back during the Bush years, when
Rummy was concentrating power in DOD, he got unprecedented authorities
for [military intelligence] to “operate” (with JSOC an action agency)
for the ostensible purpose of “intelligence preparation of the battlefield,”
and that he then refused intel oversight on the grounds these were
military ops, creating a loophole for JSOC intel activity. And McChrystal
was in charge.
went into DOD declaring he was going to tune back Pentagon intel
ops, fired the asst sec for these activities (Cambone), and had
DOD negotiate a new agreement with CIA. I believe Gates did not
go as far as necessary, but I also think he clipped the wings of
some of this activity. That it has not ended is indicated by scattered
mentions of [JSOC] ops worldwide — eg Somalia — but is yet
to be demonstrated for Pakistan.
his proclivities," Prados says, "I’d not be surprised
if McChrystal pushed for a “parallel operation” now in the field,
but we don’t know anything concrete."
that the CIA is at a minimum represented at JSOC, if not, as Eric
Schmitt asserts, actually in command in Pakistan. Thus, if "battlefield
preparation" conniving is going on behind the CIA's back, "it
involves," Prados says, "some element of internal deception,
probably rationalized as stove-piping."
deception in Washington is divisive at best; in the field it is
a matter of life and death. For example, Scahill cites an anonymous
"military intelligence source" as saying that JSOC "conducts
targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives."
the military element of JSOC targets an individual for assassination,
how do they know that particular individual is not a CIA informant
or double agent, unless they check with the CIA station in Pakistan?
There are several
others good reasons to believe the JSOC is subordinate to the CIA
political intelligence is the bailiwick of the CIA.
And while General McChrystal and his JSOC chief Vice Admiral William
McRaven are certainly briefed on political developments, it is unlikely
they have the power to secretly, apart from the CIA or State Department,
forge the political agreements that are needed for US paramilitaries
to assassinate people and recruit agents in Pakistan.
2) The CIA
is concerned with strategic intelligence, while special military
units like JSOC are concerned with tactical intelligence. And yet
low-level intelligence — the type gathered by paramilitaries advising
Frontier Scouts — often reflects a high-level directive, which is
why the CIA station in Pakistan would need to know about captured
documents and intelligence reports generated by JSOC. That "need
to know" implies oversight.
activity military organizations like the JSOC want to win a battle.
The CIA has broader responsibilities in this area of operations,
including spying on the Pakistani intelligence agencies, and monitoring
their involvement with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, drug smuggling, and
opposition political parties.
The military, historically, is obligated to provide personnel slots
to the CIA, so CIA officers can operate under cover. CIA officers
have even been known to masquerade as generals. Why not Stanley
McChrystal? Most CIA officers in the military are in the various
As Ron Paul says, "There’s been a coup, have you heard?
It’s the CIA coup. The CIA runs everything, they run the military."
yet, perhaps, as Jeremy Scahill asserts, all this has changed. Perhaps
JSOC is now more secret than the CIA, and is absorbing traditional
CIA missions. Perhaps President Obama is fine with all this, as
well as with the resentment McChrystal's power grab is causing.
shouldn't Scahill, at a minimum, check with his White House, Congressional
and CIA sources to see if they agree? Isn't some corroboration required
before advancing such a thesis?
perhaps, as Scahill concludes, the killing of the three soldiers
is an indication that the US military is becoming increasingly entrenched
in Pakistan, and that, as the "US military presence in the
country expands, it will become increasingly difficult for the Obama
administration to downplay or deny the reality that a US war in
Pakistan is already underway."
shouldn't he be more careful with how he presents the assertions
that support this thesis? Presentation matters. Scahill wrote the
article in the Seymour Hersh style, mixing anonymous sources with
dramatic statements and phrases like "The Nation has
learned" this or that, suggesting that his evidence is authoritative.
is it authoritative, when compared to what Schmitt and Prados say?
is not much difference between disinformation and misinformation,
and often the difference is subtle and stylistic. One intends to
deceive; the other does so without trying. Writing in an authoritative
style when one is not an authority is an attempt to deceive, and
that's why the question arises, "Is this article an example
of deliberate disinformation?
it stylistic disinformation, for example, to omit the fact that
the three dead soldiers were killed while attending the opening
of a girls' school in Pakistan?
doubt it. But it does need to be emphasized that the CIA places
its paramilitary political action cadre in "civic action"
programs designed to foster democracy (a girls' school) while forming
self-defense forces (the Frontier Scouts) as a means of "protecting
the people from terrorism." Often these people are special
CIA performs these civic action and self-defense functions to cover
its actual purpose, which is to recruit agents to identify enemy
cadre, and capture or kill them.
from what Schmitt and Prados say, the fact that the three dead Americans
were in that situation is reason enough to think they were the CIA
employees, and not jump to the conclusion that they were JSOC "soldiers."
both reporting, and covert actions, omission indicates an intention
to deceive. I think the intention in this case is to deceive the
reader into thinking the writer is an authority, not to cover for
the CIA. But the effect is the same: people are deceived about the
spokespeople like Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman, and Glenn Greenwald
are driven to speak and write authoritatively everyday, like the
Glenn Becks of the world. They need to stop for a month, study in
depth the issues they talk about, and consult with identifiable
authorities, even if those authorities are not antiwar.