Mil­i­tary, CIA shun 9/11 panel on covert op­er­a­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

The U.S. mil­i­tary and the CIA failed to agree on im­ple­ment­ing a key rec­om­men­da­tion of the com­mis­sion that in­ves­ti­gated the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks: Give spe­cial-op­er­a­tions com­man­dos the lead for all covert mil­i­tary ac­tion.

The 9/11 Com­mis­sion or­dered the shift in re­sponse to con­cerns that CIA covert ac­tion — a main­stay of the agency’s World War II pre­de­ces­sor, the Of­fice of Strate­gic Ser­vices — had “at­ro­phied.” The agency also had a “risk averse” ap­proach to spy­ing and semise­cret mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties.

Former Navy Sec­re­tary John F. Lehman, a mem­ber of the panel, said a re­port card made pub­lic two weeks ago by the Bi­par­ti­san Pol­icy Cen­ter didn’t ad­dress the fail­ure to im­ple­ment the covert ac­tion change be­cause of the se­crecy sur­round­ing the is­sue.

“The sit­u­a­tion has evolved far be­yond where it was at the time of our re­port,” Mr. Lehman said, adding that the raid to kill Osama bin Laden “shows that they are now do­ing some­thing right.”

Re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Wil­liam “Gerry” Boykin, a former Delta Force com­mando and Pen­tagon in­tel­li­gence pol­i­cy­maker dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that af­ter the com­mis­sion is­sued its rec­om­men­da­tion in 2004, dis­agree­ments arose over bu­reau­cratic turf, and the CIA and the U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand (So­Com) could not agree on how to im­ple­ment it.

The mil­i­tary has ex­panded spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces in re­cent years. But crit­ics com­plain that the Pen­tagon of­fi­cial in charge of the poli­cies for their use is Michael G. Vick­ers, a former CIA of­fi­cial who comes from the agency’s risk-averse, an­ti­covert-ac­tion cul­ture.

Mil­i­tary covert ac­tion in­volves train­ing and equip­ping for­eign mil­i­tary or para­mil­i­tary forces in semise­cret ac­tiv­i­ties where the U.S. role is hid­den. Past pro­grams in­cluded arm­ing Cuban rebels for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs in­va­sion, de­ploy­ing di­rect-ac­tion hit teams in Viet­nam, and the arm­ing and train­ing of anti-com­mu­nist rebels in Latin Amer­ica and anti-So­viet rebels in Afghanistan.

Since 2004, the CIA’s most suc­cess­ful covert mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion was the hunt for bin Laden and the raid to kill him in Pak­istan on May 2 with Navy SEALs.

The CIA’s other suc­cess­ful covert mil­i­tary ac­tion is the war against al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups us­ing drone mis­sile strikes in the Mid­dle East and South Asia.

One set­back was the sui­cide bomb­ing by a dou­ble agent in De­cem­ber 2009 at a CIA covert base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven agency of­fi­cers.

The mil­i­tary’s most se­cret units and those in­volved in covert war­fare are the Army’s Delta Force and the Naval Spe­cial War­fare De­vel­op­ment Group, for­merly SEAL Team 6.

CIA spokes­woman Marie Harf said the agency and the Pen­tagon have worked closely in the fight against al Qaeda, no­tably in the Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan, op­er­a­tion against bin Laden.

“Our ca­pa­bil­i­ties are com­ple­men­tary, not du­plica­tive, and the suc­cess of those ca­pa­bil­i­ties should speak for it­self,” she said.

Gen. Boykin said a task force was set up to study the 9/11 rec­om­men­da­tion, but it failed to de­fine para­mil­i­tary covert ac­tion. “This was a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion that no one could an­swer,” Gen. Boykin said.

If the com­mis­sion meant train­ing, So­Com al­ready had the mis­sion of work­ing with sur­ro­gates. But “para­mil­i­tary” op­er­a­tions — ac­tiv­i­ties that are mil­i­tary­like but car­ried out by groups other than the mil­i­tary — au­to­mat­i­cally would be­come mil­i­tary if the func­tion is passed to the Pen­tagon.

Gen. Boykin said that if the com­mis­sion wanted to give re­spon­si­bil­ity for covert ac­tion to the Pen­tagon, the CIA was op­posed, ar­gu­ing that the change would hin­der in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion. The agency said its fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment were “du­aluse” — for spy­ing and para­mil­i­tary — and could not be trans­ferred.

Gen. Boykin said the com­mand was against du­pli­cat­ing the CIA’s train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, meth­ods and equip­ment, be­cause of high costs needed to “age” equip­ment and weapons for op­er­a­tions.

“Work­ing from the as­sump­tion that the com­mis­sion was not re­ally sure what they were rec­om­mend­ing, the study group de­ter­mined that the ca­pa­bil­i­ties al­ready in So­Com were com­pe­tent to train in­dige­nous forces in­clud­ing us­ing clan­des­tine method­ol­ogy,” he said.

“The agree­ment was that the CIA would sup­port [spe­cial op­er­a­tions] as needed with fa­cil­i­ties and other re­sources.”

Bu­reau­cratic turf also played a role.

“CIA did not want to lose any­thing since that would re­sult in a re­duc­tion of re­sources as well as a loss of au­thor­ity,” Gen. Boykin said.

How­ever, spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces also “did not want the covert ac­tion mis­sion be­cause they saw it as some­thing that would ab­sorb huge amounts of time and re­sources and would be a dis­trac­tion,” he said.

Former CIA of­fi­cer Robert Baer, who was in­ves­ti­gated by the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion dur- ing a covert ac­tion in north­ern Iraq, said he fa­vors giv­ing the mis­sion to the mil­i­tary. “No mat­ter what the bosses say, the CIA hates covert and para­mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions,” he said.

“The place is man­aged by lib­eral-arts ma­jors who do a lot bet­ter op­er­at­ing on in­tu­ition and big-hori­zon stuff — like whether we’re win­ning or los­ing in Afghanistan,” Mr. Baer said. “But never ask it to run a bunch of Hmong tribes­men or dis­af­fected Pash­tuns and ever hope to win a war with them.”

Mr. Baer said the Pen­tagon is bet­ter tac­ti­cally at mak­ing things work and has a larger pool of re­cruits with for­eign-lan­guage skills.

“The prob­lem is that pres­i­dents al­ways reach for the CIA when they think they need a ‘sil­ver bul­let,’ like the Bay of Pigs,” he said. “The CIA in­evitably fails, and then it gets blamed for the mess.”

Ev­ery covert ac­tion re­quires a pres­i­den­tial di­rec­tive stat­ing that the pro­posed ac­tion is in the coun­try’s national in­ter­est. The pro­ce­dure is of­ten cum­ber­some and prone to pub­lic dis­clo­sure. Sup­port­ers of the change say mil­i­tary-led covert ac­tion would be more flex­i­ble and eas­ier to ap­prove.

Hir­ing former spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces at the CIA will not help the agency’s covert mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Mr. Baer said. “Out­side mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline, they just don’t per­form up to their ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” he said.

Mr. Baer said the covert pro­gram to sup­ply Stinger anti-air­craft mis­siles to Afghan rebels in the 1980s was less a covert ac­tion suc­cess than a “lo­gis­tics” plan to ship arms to the fight­ers in the field. “It was not a proper para­mil­i­tary cam­paign,” he said.

A Har­vard Univer­sity study sev­eral years ago quoted an­ti­covert-ac­tion of­fi­cials at the CIA as op­pos­ing the Stinger op­er­a­tion be­cause of fears it would trig­ger a war with the So­viet Union.

The 9/11 Com­mis­sion re­port de­scribes the CIA in 2001 as “in­sti­tu­tion­ally averse to risk, with its ca­pac­ity for covert ac­tion at­ro­phied.”

It also says the CIA did not in­vest in de­vel­op­ing “ro­bust” para­mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions with U.S. per­son­nel but in­stead re­lied on prox­ies trained and or­ga­nized by CIA of­fi­cers with­out mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence. “The re­sults were un­sat­is­fac­tory,” it says.

The 9/11 Com­mis­sion said the CIA could con­tinue clan­des­tine and non­mil­i­tary covert ac­tion, in­clud­ing pro­pa­ganda and non­mil­i­tary dis­rup­tion.

“We be­lieve, how­ever, that one im­por­tant area of re­spon­si­bil­ity should change,” the com­mis­sion’s re­por t says. “Lead re­spon­si­bil­ity for di­rect­ing and ex­e­cut­ing para­mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, whether clan­des­tine or covert, should shift to the De­fense Depart­ment.”

There, covert mil­i­tary ac­tion pro­grams should be con­sol­i­dated and placed un­der Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, it says.

“Whether the price is mea­sured in ei­ther money or peo­ple, the United States can­not af­ford to build two sep­a­rate ca­pa­bil­i­ties for car­ry­ing out se­cret mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, se­cretly op­er­at­ing stand­off mis­siles, and se­cretly train­ing for­eign mil­i­tary or para­mil­i­tary forces,” the re­port says.

The re­port notes that the joint CIA-mil­i­tary teams in Afghanistan were good, and the shift to the Pen­tagon is backed by those suc­cesses.

The re­port says the CIA was more ag­ile in op­er­a­tion while the mil­i­tary is me­thod­i­cal, but the dif­fer­ences should be re­solved through pol­icy guid­ance and man­age­ment and not by re­dun­dant and over­lap­ping ca­pa­bil­i­ties and au­thor­i­ties.

The com­mis­sion re­port says covert ac­tion con­sumes a “very small frac­tion” of the CIA bud­get. Leg­is­la­tion passed in the 1980s re­quir­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion to Congress of all covert ac­tion prompted the CIA and its of­fi­cers to op­pose the in­tel­li­gence tool, af­ter sev­eral were charged with crimes re­lated to their of­fi­cial covert op­er­a­tions.


Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, sec­ond from right, wear­ing shirt and no jacket, watches a helicopter de­liver soldiers to a roof dur­ing a tac­ti­cal demon­stra­tion of train­ing ex­er­cises by spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces’ com­man­dos head­quar­tered at Fort Bragg, N.C. on March 15, 2002.

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