March 11, 2013
Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady’s soon to be released book “Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry” is full of juicy details about America’s so-called “Ssecret Army,” the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which is located down at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Here are a few highlights from the book:
* Secrecy is deeply embedded in all aspects of JSOC’s operational culture. “JSOC has done a decent job of keeping to itself. The missions we hear about are but a fraction of the missions it completes. Likewise, JSOC has done a remarkable job of hiding from the public the incredible scope of the missions it is assigned and a fine job of preventing anyone outside the circle of trust from obtaining all but the slightest knowledge of its history, organization, function, and structure.”
* Virtually everything that JSOC does is classified Top Secret or higher. JSOC is currently participating in at least fifty Special Access Programs (SAPs), each with its own special codename and its own separate rules concerning who can know anything about the operation.
* The book describes some of JSOC’s innumerable successes in Iraq fighting insurgents. But the book reveals that JSOC has not enjoyed the same level of success in Afghanistan. According to the authors, “As of yet, JSOC does not seem to have found the kind of successes in Afghanistan that it did in Iraq. The enemy is different, more embedded in the population. The geography makes intelligence gathering more difficult. And the strategy from the White House is different. Yet as a force multiplier and as a hub of best practices, the Command may have prevented a decisively unwinnable situation from descending into disaster.”
* The authors provide new details of a shadowy military intelligence unit designated the Special Mission Activity (SMA), which is JSOC’s clandestine intelligence organization whose headquarters is located in a barbed-wire enclosed compound at the southern tip of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Within JSOC, the unit is known just as “The Activity.” The Activity can trace its origins back to March 1981, when a controversial unit called the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) was created by the U.S. Army to give the military its own clandestine intelligence gathering capability independent of the CIA in the aftermath of the abortive Iran hostage rescue mission. Today the MSA has a budget of $80 million, consists of several hundred operatives, and boasts a wide array of high-tech spy gear, including its own fleet of specially configured reconnaissance aircraft and presumably unmanned drones.
* Since 2002 MSA personnel have been assigned to a number of U.S. embassies overseas to conduct intelligence collection operations independent of the CIA station. These teams of MSA undercover operatives are known as Military Liaison Elements (MLE). The book reveals that MLE operations were severely curtailed after Robert Gates succeeded Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense in 2006, but in the years that followed MSA continued operating in places where the CIA’s presence was not particularly strong, such as Africa. The author has confirmed that there is still a large MLE intelligence team operating from inside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where it has been an important source of information about Islamist militants in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
* Some of MSA’s previous operations were of dubious legality and were a source of considerable friction with the CIA. For example, the book’s authors disclose that “In two countries with which the United States is not at war, according to three former U.S. officials with knowledge of its operations, MSA elements were tasked with tracking and killing specific terrorist targets. Technically, only the CIA can do that… Given the secrecy associated with the MSA missions, it is not clear whether the CIA had full cognizance of what the Defense Department was doing, particularly in the early years of the global campaign against transnational terrorism.”
* And finally, the book reveals that one MSA operative was kidnaped and almost got killed while following a suspect in Beirut, Lebanon. According to the book, “He escaped, shot his attackers, and wound up receiving—secretly—a medal for his valor.” I wonder how the Pentagon and State Department kept this incident from appearing in the newspapers????