[News] America’s Black-Ops Blackout - Unraveling the Secrets of the Military’s Secret Military

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 7 10:31:43 EST 2014

    *America’s Black-Ops Blackout*
    *Unraveling the Secrets of the Military’s Secret Military*
    By Nick Turse <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/nickturse>


    “Dude, I don’t need to play these stupid games. I know what you’re
    trying to do.”  With that, Major Matthew Robert Bockholt hung up on me.

    More than a month before, I had called U.S. Special Operations
    Command (SOCOM) with a series of basic questions: In how many
    countries were U.S. Special Operations Forces deployed in 2013? Are
    manpower levels set to expand to 72,000 in 2014?  Is SOCOM still
    aiming for growth rates of 3%-5% per year?  How many training
    exercises did the command carry out in 2013?  Basic stuff.

    And for more than a month, I waited for answers.  I called.  I left
    messages.  I emailed.  I waited some more.  I started to get the
    feeling that Special Operations Command didn’t want me to know what
    its Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos
    -- the men who operate in the hottest of hotspots and most remote
    locales around the world -- were doing.

    Then, at the last moment, just before my filing deadline, Special
    Operations Command got back to me with an answer so incongruous,
    confusing, and contradictory that I was glad I had given up on SOCOM
    and tried to figure things out for myself.

    */Click here to see a larger version

    /U.S. Special Operations Forces around the world, 2012-2013 (key
    below article) ©2014 TomDispatch ©Google/

    I started with a blank map that quickly turned into a global
    pincushion.  It didn’t take long before every continent but
    Antarctica was bristling with markers indicating special operations
    forces’ missions, deployments, and interactions with foreign
    military forces in 2012-2013.  With that, the true size and scope of
    the U.S. military’s secret military began to come into focus.  It
    was, to say the least, vast.

    A review of open source information reveals that in 2012 and 2013,
    U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) were likely deployed to -- or
    training, advising, or operating with the personnel of -- more than
    100 foreign countries.   And that’s probably an undercount.  In
    2011, then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175426/> that Special Operations
    personnel were annually sent to 120 countries around the world. They
    were in, that is, about 60% of the nations on the planet.  “We’re
    deployed in a number of locations,” was as specific as Bockholt
    would ever get when I talked to him in the waning days of 2013. And
    when SOCOM did finally get back to me with an eleventh hour answer,
    the number offered made almost no sense.

    Despite the lack of official cooperation, an analysis by TomDispatch
    reveals SOCOM to be a command on the make with an already sprawling
    reach. As Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven
    <http://www.navy.mil/navydata/bios/navybio.asp?bioID=401> put it in
    /SOCOM 2020/, his blueprint for the future, it has ambitious
    aspirations to create “a Global SOF network of like-minded
    interagency allies and partners.”  In other words, in that future
    now only six years off, it wants to be everywhere.

    *The Rise of the Military’s Secret Military*

    Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran (in
    which eight U.S. service members died), U.S. Special Operations
    Command was established in 1987.  Made up of units from all the
    service branches, SOCOM is tasked with carrying out Washington’s
    most specialized and secret missions, including assassinations
    counterterrorist raids, special reconnaissance, unconventional
    warfare, psychological operations, foreign troop training, and
    weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

    In the post-9/11 era, the command has grown steadily.  With about
    33,000 personnel in 2001, it is reportedly
    <http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131008/DEFREG02/310080014> on
    track to reach 72,000 in 2014.  (About half this number are called,
    in the jargon of the trade, “badged operators” -- SEALs, Rangers,
    Special Operations Aviators, Green Berets -- while the rest are
    support personnel.)  Funding for the command has also jumped
    exponentially as SOCOM’s baseline budget tripled from $2.3 billion
    to $6.9 billion between 2001 and 2013.  If you add in supplemental
    funding, it had actually* *more than* *quadrupled to $10.4 billion.

    Not surprisingly, personnel deployments abroad skyrocketed from
    4,900 “man-years” -- as the command puts it -- in 2001 to 11,500 in
    2013.  About 11,000
    special operators are now working abroad at any one time and on any
    given day they are in 70
    to 80 countries, though the /New York Times/ reported that,
    according to statistics provided to them by SOCOM, during one week
    in March 2013 that number reached 92

    *The Global SOF Network*

    Last year, Admiral McRaven, who previously headed the Joint Special
    Operations Command, or JSOC
    <http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/02/jsoc-ambinder/> -- a
    clandestine sub-command that specializes in tracking and killing
    suspected terrorists -- touted his vision for special ops
    globalization.  In a statement to the House Armed Services
    Committee, he said:

    “USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our
    interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded
    situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The
    network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations,
    and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate...”

    In translation this means that SOCOM is weaving a complex web of
    alliances with government agencies at home and militaries abroad to
    ensure that it’s at the center of every conceivable global hotspot
    and power center.  In fact, Special Operations Command has turned
    the planet into a giant battlefield, divided into many discrete
    fronts: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; the sub-unified command of
    U.S. Central Command in the Middle East SOCCENT; the European
    contingent SOCEUR; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea;
    SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; and
    SOCSOUTH, which conducts special ops missions in Central and South
    America and the Caribbean, as well as the globe-trotting JSOC.

    Since 2002, SOCOM has also been authorized to create its own Joint
    Task Forces, a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant
    commands like CENTCOM.  These include Joint Special Operations Task
    Force-Philippines, 500-600 personnel dedicated to supporting
    counterterrorist operations by Filipino allies against insurgent
    groups like Abu Sayyaf.

    A similar mouthful of an entity is the NATO Special Operations
    Component Command-Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task
    Force-Afghanistan, which conducts operations, according to SOCOM,
    “to enable the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the
    Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), and the Government of the
    Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) to provide the Afghan people
    a secure and stable environment and to prevent insurgent activities
    from threatening the authority and sovereignty of GIRoA.”  Last
    year, U.S.-allied Afghan President Ha­mid Karzai had a different
    assessment of the “U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province,”
    which he accused <http://president.gov.af/en/news/17740> of
    “harassing, annoying, torturing, and even murdering innocent people.”

    According to the latest statistics made available by ISAF, from
    October 2012 through March 2013, U.S. and allied forces were
    involved in 1,464 special operations in Afghanistan, including 167
    with U.S. or coalition forces in the lead and 85 that were
    unilateral ISAF operations.  U.S. Special Operations forces are also
    involved in everything from mentoring lightly armed local security
    forces under the Village Stability Operations initiative to the
    training of heavily armed and well-equipped elite Afghan forces --
    one of whose U.S.-trained officers defected
    to the insurgency in the fall.

    In addition to task forces, there are also Special Operations
    Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements which, according to the military,
    “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation
    and engagement in support of theater special operations command,
    geographic combatant command, and country team goals and
    objectives.”  These light footprint teams -- including SOC FWD
    Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon -- offer training and
    support to local elite troops in foreign hotspots.  In Lebanon, for
    instance, this has meant counterterrorism training for Lebanese
    Special Ops forces, as well as assistance to the Lebanese Special
    Forces School to develop indigenous trainers to mentor other
    Lebanese military personnel.

    */Click here to see a larger version

    /Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) briefing slide by Col.
    Joe Osborne, showing SOC FWD elements/

    SOCOM’s reach and global ambitions go further still.  TomDispatch’s
    analysis of McRaven’s first two full years in command reveals a
    tremendous number of overseas operations.  In places like Somalia
    and Libya
    elite troops have carried out clandestine commando raids
    <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24423943>.  In others, they
    have used airpower
    to hunt, target, and kill
    suspected militants.  Elsewhere, they have waged an information war
    using online propaganda
    And almost everywhere they have been at work building up and forging
    ever-tighter ties with foreign militaries through training missions
    and exercises.

    “A lot of what we will do as we go forward in this force is build
    partner capacity,” McRaven said
    <http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121167> at the
    Ronald Reagan Library in November, noting that NATO partners as well
    as allies in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America  “are
    absolutely essential to how we’re doing business.”

    In March 2013, for example, Navy SEALs conducted joint training
    with Indonesian frogmen.  In April and May, U.S. Special Operations
    personnel joined members of the Malawi Defense Forces for Exercise
    Epic Guardian.  Over three weeks, 1,000 troops engaged in
    marksmanship, small unit tactics, close quarters combat training,
    and other activities across three countries -- Djibouti, Malawi, and
    the Seychelles.

    In May, American special operators took part
    <http://www.vm.ee/?q=en/node/17371> in Spring Storm, the Estonian
    military’s largest annual training exercise.  That same month,
    members of the Peruvian and U.S. special operations forces engaged
    in joint training missions aimed at trading tactics and improving
    their ability to conduct joint operations.  In July, Green Berets
    from the Army’s 20th Special Forces Group spent several weeks in
    Trinidad and Tobago working with members of that tiny nation’s
    Special Naval Unit and Special Forces Operation Detachment.  That
    Joint Combined Exchange Training exercise, conducted as part of
    SOCSOUTH’s Theater Security Cooperation program, saw the Americans
    and their local counterparts take part in pistol and rifle
    instruction and small unit tactical exercises.

    In September, according
    <http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130930/DEFREG03/309300033> to
    media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops
    from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries
    -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand,
    Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia -- as well as
    their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea,
    China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded
    coun­terterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West

    Tactical training was, however, just part of the story.  In March
    2013, for example, experts from the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special
    Warfare Center and School hosted a week-long working group with top
    planners from the Centro de Adiestramiento de las Fuerzas Especiales
    -- Mexico’s Special Warfare Center -- to aid them in developing
    their own special forces doctrine.

    In October, members of the Norwegian Special Operations Forces
    traveled to SOCOM's state-of-the-art Wargame Center at its
    headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to refine crisis
    response procedures for hostage rescue operations.  “NORSOF and
    Norwegian civilian leadership regularly participate in national
    field training exercises focused on a scenario like this,” said
    Norwegian Lieutenant Colonel Petter Hellesen. “What was unique about
    this exercise was that we were able to gather so many of the
    Norwegian senior leadership and action officers, civilian and
    military, in one room with their U.S counterparts.”

    MacDill is, in fact, fast becoming a worldwide special ops hub,
    to a report by the /Tampa Tribune/.  This past fall, SOCOM quietly
    started up an International Special Operations Forces Coordination
    Center that provides long-term residencies for senior-level black
    ops liaisons from around the world.  Already, representatives from
    10 nations had joined the command with around 24 more slated to come
    on board in the next 12-18 months, per McRaven’s global vision.

    In the coming years, more and more interactions between U.S. elite
    forces and their foreign counterparts will undoubtedly take place in
    Florida, but most will likely still occur -- as they do today --
    overseas.  TomDispatch’s analysis of official government documents
    and news releases as well as press reports indicates that U.S.
    Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to or involved
    with the militaries of 106 nations around the world during 2012-2013.

    For years, the command has claimed that divulging the names of these
    countries would upset foreign allies and endanger U.S. personnel. 
    SOCOM’s Bockholt insisted to me that merely offering the total
    number would do the same.  “You understand that there is information
    about our military… that is contradictory to reporting,” he told
    me.  “There’s certain things we can’t release to the public for the
    safety of our service members both at home and abroad.  I’m not sure
    why you’d be interested in reporting that.”

    In response, I asked how a mere number could jeopardize the lives of
    Special Ops personnel, and he responded, “When you work with the
    partners we work with in the different countries, each country is
    very particular.”  He refused to elaborate further on what this
    meant or how it pertained to a simple count of countries.  Why SOCOM
    eventually offered me a number, given these supposed dangers, was
    never explained.

    *Bringing the War Home*

    This year, Special Operations Command has plans to make major
    inroads into yet another country -- the United States.  The
    establishment of SOCNORTH in 2014, according to the command, is
    intended to help “defend North America by outpacing all threats,
    maintaining faith with our people, and supporting them in their
    times of greatest need.”  Under the auspices of U.S. Northern
    Command, SOCNORTH will have responsibility for the U.S., Canada,
    Mexico, and portions of the Caribbean.

    While Congressional pushback
    has thus far thwarted
    Admiral McRaven’s efforts to create a SOCOM satellite headquarters
    for the more than 300 special operators working in Washington, D.C.
    (at the cost of $10 million annually), the command has nonetheless
    stationed support teams and liaisons all over the capital in a bid
    to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway.  “I have folks
    in every agency here in Washington, D.C. -- from the CIA, to the
    FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial
    Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” McRaven said
    during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center in 2013. 
    Referring to the acronyms of the many agencies with which SOCOM has
    forged ties, McRaven continued: “If there are three letters, and in
    some cases four, I have a person there. And they have had a
    reciprocal agreement with us. I have somebody in my headquarters at
    Tampa.”  Speaking at Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the
    number of agencies where SOCOM is currently embedded
    <http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121167> at 38.

    “Given the importance of interagency collaboration, USSOCOM is
    placing greater emphasis on its presence in the National Capital
    Region to better support coordination and decision making with
    interagency partners.  Thus, USSOCOM began to consolidate its
    presence in the NCR [National Capitol Region]* *in early 2012,”
    McRaven told the House Armed Services Committee last year.

    One unsung SOCOM partner is U.S. AID
    <http://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are>, the government agency devoted to
    providing civilian foreign aid to countries around the world whose
    mandate includes the protection of human rights, the prevention of
    armed conflicts, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and the
    fostering of “good will abroad.”  At a July 2013 conference
    <http://ifpafletcherconference.com/2013/>, Beth Cole, the director
    of the Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation at U.S. AID,
    explained just how her agency was now quietly aiding the military’s
    secret military.

    “In Yemen, for example, our mission director has SVTCs [secure video
    teleconferences] with SOCOM personnel on a regular basis now. That
    didn’t occur two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, five
    years ago,” Cole said, according to a transcript of the event.  But
    that was only the start.  “My office at U.S. AID supports SOF
    pre-deployment training in preparation for missions throughout the
    globe... I’m proud that my office and U.S. AID have been providing
    training support to several hundred Army, Navy, and Marine Special
    Operations personnel who have been regularly deploying to
    Afghanistan, and we will continue to do that.”

    Cole noted that, in Afghanistan, U.S. AID personnel were sometimes
    working hand-in-hand on the Village Stability Operation initiative
    with Special Ops forces.  In certain areas, she said, “we can
    dual-hat some of our field program officers as LNOs [liaison
    officers] in those Joint Special Operations task forces and be able
    to execute the development work that we need to do alongside of the
    Special Operations Forces.”  She even suggested taking a close look
    at whether this melding of her civilian agency and special ops might
    prove to be a model for operations elsewhere in the world.

    Cole also mentioned that her office would be training “a senior
    person” working for McRaven, the man about to “head the SOF element
    Lebanon” -- possibly a reference to the shadowy SOC FWD Lebanon.
      U.S. AID would, she said, serve as a facilitator in that country,
    making “sure that he has those relationships that he needs to be
    able to deal with what is a very, very, very serious problem for our
    government and for the people of that region.”

    U.S. AID is also serving as a facilitator closer to home.  Cole
    noted that her agency was sending advisors to SOCOM headquarters in
    Florida and had “arranged meetings for [special operators] with
    experts, done roundtables for them, immersed them in the environment
    that we understand before they go out to the mission area and
    connect them with people on the ground.”  All of this points to
    another emerging trend: SOCOM’s invasion of the civilian sphere.

    In remarks before the House Armed Services Committee, Admiral
    McRaven noted that his Washington operation, the SOCOM NCR,
    “conducts outreach to academia, non-governmental organizations,
    industry, and other private sector organizations to get their
    perspective on complex issues affecting SOF.”  Speaking at the
    Wilson Center, he was even more blunt: “[W]e also have liaison
    officers with industry and with academia... We put some of our best
    and brightest in some of the academic institutions so we can
    understand what academia is thinking about.”

    *SOCOM’s Information Warfare*

    Not content with a global presence in the physical world, SOCOM has
    also taken to cyberspace where it operates
    <http://www.thetimesherald.com/usatoday/article/3443537> the Trans
    Regional Web Initiative
    a network of 10 propaganda websites that are run by various
    combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets. 
    These shadowy sites -- including KhabarSouthAsia.com
    <http://khabarsouthasia.com/bn?change_locale=true>, Magharebia
    which targets North Africa, an effort aimed at the Middle East known
    as Al-Shorfa.com <http://al-shorfa.com/ar?change_locale=true>, and
    another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com -- state only
    in fine print that they are “sponsored by” the U.S. military.

    Last June, the Senate Armed Services Committee called out
    the Trans Regional Web Initiative for “excessive” costs while
    that the “effectiveness of the websites is questionable and the
    performance metrics do not justify the expense.”  In November, SOCOM
    announced that it was nonetheless seeking to identify industry
    partners who, under the Initiative, could potentially “develop new
    websites tailored to foreign audiences.”

    Just as SOCOM is working to influence audiences abroad, it is also
    engaged in stringent information control at home -- at least when it
    comes to me.  Major Bockholt made it clear that SOCOM objected to a
    2011 article <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175426/> of mine about
    U.S. Special Operations forces.  “Some of that stuff was
    inconsistent with actual facts,” he told me.  I asked what exactly
    was inconsistent.  “Some of the stuff you wrote about JSOC… I think
    I read some information about indiscriminate killing or things like

    I knew right away just the quote he was undoubtedly referring to --
    a mention of the Joint Special Operations Command’s overseas
    kill/capture campaign as “an almost industrial-scale
    counterterrorism killing machine.”  Bockholt said that it was indeed
    “one quote of concern.”  The only trouble: I didn’t say it.  It was,
    as I stated very plainly in the piece, the assessment given
    by John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former
    counterinsurgency adviser to now-retired general and former CIA
    director David Petraeus.

    Bockholt offered no further examples of inconsistencies.  I asked if
    he challenged my characterization of any information from an
    interview I conducted with then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye.  He
    did not.  Instead, he explained that SOCOM had issues with my work
    in general.  “As we look at the characterization of your writing,
    overall, and I know you’ve had some stuff on Vietnam [an apparent
    reference to my bestselling book, /Kill Anything That Moves: The
    Real American War in Vietnam/
    and things like that -- because of your style, we have to be very
    particular on how we answer your questions because of how you tend
    to use that information.” Bockholt then asked if I was
    anti-military.  I responded that I hold all subjects that I cover to
    a high standard.

    Bockholt next took a verbal swipe at the website where I’m managing
    editor, TomDispatch.com <http://www.tomdispatch.com/>.  Given
    Special Operations Command’s penchant for dabbling in dubious new
    sites, I was struck when he said that TomDispatch -- which has
    published original news, analysis, and commentary for more than a
    decade and won
    the 2013 Utne Media Award for “best political coverage” -- was not a
    “real outlet.”  It was, to me, a daring position to take when
    SOCOM’s shadowy Middle Eastern /news /site Al-Shorfa.com
    <http://al-shorfa.com/ar?change_locale=true> actually carries a
    disclaimer that it “cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information

    With my deadline looming, I was putting the finishing touches on
    this article when an email arrived from Mike Janssen of SOCOM Public
    Affairs.  It was -- finally -- a seemingly simple answer to what
    seemed like an astonishingly straightforward question asked a more
    than a month before: What was the total number of countries in which
    Special Operations forces were deployed in 2013?  Janssen was
    concise. His answer: 80.

    How, I wondered, could that be?  In the midst of McRaven’s Global
    SOF network initiative, could SOCOM have scaled back their
    deployments from 120 in 2011 to just 80 last year?  And if Special
    Operations forces were deployed in 92 nations during just one week
    in 2013, according to official statistics provided
    to the /New York Times/, how could they have been present in 12
    fewer countries for the entire year?  And why, in his March 2013
    posture statement to the House Armed Services Committee, would
    Admiral McRaven mention "annual deployments to over 100 countries?" 
    With minutes to spare, I called Mike Janssen for a clarification. 
    “I don’t have any information on that,” he told me and asked me to
    submit my question in writing -- precisely what I had done more than
    a month before in an effort to get a timely response to this
    straightforward and essential question.

    Today, Special Operations Command finds itself at a crossroads.  It
    is attempting to influence populations overseas, while at home
    trying to keep Americans in the dark about its activities; expanding
    its reach, impact, and influence, while working to remain deep in
    the shadows; conducting operations all over the globe, while
    professing only to be operating in “a number of locations”; claiming
    worldwide deployments have markedly dropped in the last year, when
    suggests otherwise

    “I know what you’re trying to do,” Bockholt said cryptically before
    he hung up on me -- as if the continuing questions of a reporter
    trying to get answers to basic information after a month of waiting
    were beyond the pale.  In the meantime, whatever Special Operations
    Command is trying to do globally and at home, Bockholt and others at
    SOCOM are working to keep it as secret as possible.

    /Nick Turse is the managing editor of //TomDispatch.com/
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/>/ and a fellow at the Nation
    Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in
    the /New York Times
    /Los Angeles Times
    /the/ Nation <http://www.thenation.com/article/pentagon-book-club>,
    /on the/ /BBC/ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23427726>, /and
    at //TomDispatch.// He is the author most recently of the /New York
    Times /bestseller /Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War
    in Vietnam
    (just out in paperback).  You can catch his conversation with Bill
    Moyers about that book by //clicking here/

    *Key to the Map of **U.S. Special Operations Forces around the
    world, 2012-2013*

    *Red markers: *U.S. Special Operations Forces deployment in 2013.

    *Blue markers: *U.S. Special Operations Forces working
    with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops
    in the U.S. or a third country during 2013.

    *Purple markers: *U.S. Special Operations Forces deployment in 2012.

    *Yellow markers: *U.S. Special Operations Forces working
    with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops
    in the U.S. or a third country during 2012.

    /Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook
    <http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch> or Tumblr
    <http://tomdispatch.tumblr.com/>. Check out the newest Dispatch
    Book, Ann Jones’s /They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From
    America’s Wars -- The Untold Story

    Copyright 2013 Nick Turse

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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