January 23, 2005

Our Secret Paramilitary

How exciting. It appears that the Pentagon has been secretly taking over the CIA's old paramilitary and covert operations role all this while. And they just plain forgot to tell anyone. Oops! Oy. I'd work up more outrage and froth, but it's late and I'm tired... Oh, and look. They trotted out Gen. "My God can beat up your God" to handle it all.

UPDATE: Okay, fuck it. A little analysis. Yes, at a brief glance, the Pentagon's move makes a lot of sense—and the 9/11 Commission backed it, so how bad can it be? Most of these covert operations really require, well, military capabilities, and it seems a bit silly for the U.S. to have two separate-but-parallel groups that can conduct these sorts of adventures. So the Pentagon may as well do it. In the old, Cold War days, the military was never really agile enough to carry out covert work, but the times and the troops they are a-changing. Nowadays, the Pentagon has about 10,000 Special Forces ready to do crazy shit, compared to about 700 or so "covert operators" in the CIA.

So that's the glance. Now for the hard gaze. Like the 9/11 Commission, I think the Pentagon might be better off trying to work with the CIA, rather than around 'em, creating joint teams for these sorts of adventures. The CIA really does know what it's doing here, and it sounds like the Pentagon is still sending fucking Keystone Kops into danger zones, the sort of thing that gets people killed. Turf wars being what they are, of course, CIA-Pentagon cooperation will never happen, but it should. Those crazy kids all worked together wonderfully in Afghanistan, and that's a good model for success.

Right. And then we get into the accountability and oversight problems—which, um, pretty much eclipse everything else. Jennifer Kibbe delved deep into this in last year's Foreign Affairs. Basically, military covert operations don't require nearly as much congressional oversight, if any. And under international law, covert military operators would have "combatant" status, which raises all sorts of thorny issues. So this all needs to be straightened out, and now, before we start seeing Special Forces run amok, without supervision, in all corners of the earth. So the fact that Rumsfeld carried this out without telling Congress is really, really disturbing.

DOUBLE UPDATE: Wow, check out the crazy jackass running the whole show! Turns out that Special Forces in Iraq are not amused by the new Pentagon covert squad: "These guys can't set up networks and run agents and recruit tribal elders." Another: "The guy actually put us in danger." Oy.
-- Brad Plumer 4:00 AM || ||