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The Wow Factor: Evolution of Joint Operations Special Command

Elizabeth Knipe: I am all for having the special operations forces take over from the Army. We have a huge investment in JSOC. Let’s put it to good use, and save our military.

Immediately after his election, President Obama told Leon Panetta, newly appointed Director of the CIA to “get Osama bin Laden.” This clear unfettered goal resulted in one of the most spectacular accomplishments ever of the intelligent community. One of its side effects is a window on a growing industry in a little known part of our government.

seal team six

Prior to 9/11, the agencies designated as keepers of our national security, the CIA, the NSA, the various intelligence agencies for the Armed Forces all went their separate ways, and there was little coordination or efforts to coordinate their activities were weak and ineffectual. Turf wars were more common than not, and one always wondered which came first protecting one’s turf or protecting the nation.

An effort was made during the Reagan Administration, when he signed the Executive Order 12233 in 1981 bringing some 15 agencies charged with collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence under one umbrella, and heretofore called the Intelligence Community (IC). However, the Director of this newly formed Intelligence Community had little status, and no real clout when it came to reining in these various agencies.

Come 9/11, and our world turned upside down.

One of the more reasonable responses to this catastrophe was the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004. This act gave the Director of the IC control over what is now a $57 billion budget to fund these agencies. Control of the purse strings, and the fact that the Director also reports directly to the President have combined to give the Director the needed clout to manage these farflung agencies.

Despite the non-leadership in the upper levels of the Bush Administration, efforts began to coordinate the activities of all these agencies. I believe that despite Bush’s abandonment of the search of Osama bin Laden, and the supposed dismantling of the unit within the CIA charged with finding him, there were ongoing efforts to gather and analyze intelligence that would lead to his capture/killing.

I heard Leon Panetta say in several recent interviews that the intelligence that led the Seals to bin Laden’s compound was the result of many years of painstaking sifting through all kinds of information gathered from many sources.

According to Marc Ambiner in his National Journal article of May 3, 2011, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is a result of the 2004 Act. However if we tried to draw an organizational chart of what has grown out of that 2004 act it would be like a Jackson Pollock painting - no clear delineation – all scribbles and here and there some connections. There has been so much crossover, combining of personnel and goals, that it is hard to track which agency is doing what. (I always wondered how Navy SEALs ended up doing commando work in Iraq and Afghanistan)

The core of the JSOC are the commandos -- the SEALs, the Special Forces, Army Rangers, Air Force Special Ops, and Delta Force. There are probably some other groups in there but we may never know. As any Tom Clancy fan knows, these troops train constantly for their missions.

What led to the discovery of bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, and the subsequent invasion by the Navy SEAL Team was the result of close collaboration between JSOC and the CIA. The CIA collected and analyzed all the bits and pieces of the intelligence from a multiplicity of sources, and the JSOC designated SEAL Team 6 to train and carry out the presidential mandate.

As Ambiner writes in his article, the JSOC is now staffed with approximately 4,000 soldiers and civilians, and has its own intelligence division and its own multimillion dollar building in Rosslyn, Virginia. It is involved in more than 80 current ops, spanning a dozen countries. That qualifies as a WOW factor for me.

The technology JSOC has at its fingertips is mind boggling. The NSA’s capacity to listen in on almost any conversation anywhere, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s photo surveillance of areas of interest – think Google earth only maybe better, voice recognition technology, DNA technology, to say nothing of those fabulous “stealth” helicopters they used are what we know they have.

Helmut cameras on the Seals allowed the President and his party to view the operation in real time, with Leon Panetta narrating the event, and explaining the action. “WOW”

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The incredible amount of planning and training in preparation for the invasion of bin Laden’s compound is unprecedented, and a credit to the Intelligence Community. I love the fact that they had enough pictures of the compound to be able to build a facsimile and use it to train. No more cowboys and Indians type approach, but a carefully planned assault with all options covered.

Like Marc Ambiner, I applaud the JSOC and their efforts to curb terrorism through the world. I also agree with him that this outfit has largely escaped Congressional scrutiny, and is truly flying under the radar so to speak.

However, as we withdraw from Afghanistan, and hopefully fully from Iraq, and get the ‘boots off the ground” in those two countries, JSOC’s role will increase. I have read of remarks here and there by various administration officials that “boots on the ground” i.e. full scale army units really don’t solve the problems in an Afghanistan, and perhaps the use of paramilitary groups would be more effective, and certainly less expensive.

General Petraeus has talked vaguely about increasing the use of special operations forces in Afghanistan. They are already training Afghanis in the countryside as policemen as and as special operations officers with a great deal of success. Kimberly Dozer in an article titled “Special Ops Units Seen as Key to Afghan Withdrawal” writes that there are some 10,000 special ops forces in Afghanistan. She says that some 4,000 are direct action forces targeting militants, and some 6,000 troops like the Green Berets are training the Afghans.

No wonder this startling statistic Marc Ambiner sited in his article that JSOC has some several dozen of its special operations folks in Afganistan over the past few years shouldn’t be surprising.

Gee whiz guys, take a lesson from Viet Nam. “Boots on the ground” did not solve the problems there either. We lost too many lives and created divisions in this society which still haven’t healed over a war with no goal and no end. Afghanistan has turned into something along those lines, and its cost is too dear.

I remember arguments between the CIA and the military about the effect a full-scale military invasion of Viet Nam would have on the efforts of the CIA, the Special Forces and the small military contingent already in place to train the Vietnamese army and intelligence units. The CIA argued putting a full blown army into Viet Nam would be disastrous, and it was.

I am all for having the special operations forces take over from the Army. We have a huge investment in JSOC. Let’s put it to good use, and save our military.

Author’s Note:

In the coming days, weeks and probably years, more information will released as analysts review the mounds material. We will also learn more about the high tech tools the SEALs used. I just read that the drone aircraft used in the operation was a stealth plane, like the helicopters. Intelligence agencies by virtue of their trade are fuzzy and information in this article may not be totally accurate, although I think that Kimberly Dozier and Marc Ambiner are excellent reporters, and have written accurate assessments of JSOC and the special ops in Afghanistan.

I recommend the article in the May 16 New Yorker magazine entitled “The Double Game, The unintended consequences of American funding in Pakistan," by Lawrence Wright. In this article he details the long and tangled history of our propping up Pakistan and why.

elizabeth knipe

Elizabeth Knipe

Elizabeth Knipe has been a longtime member of the Board of Valley Dems United, and active in local Democratic politics for many years. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, she worked in Washington D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Valley Dems United Newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor.