Intrepid warrior of transparency, Glenn Greenwald, leaked another classified NSA program, and as he has with just about all of his reporting, he expands a single tidbit of information into some global leviathan. In this case, Xkeyscore can apparently see EVERYTHING anyone does on the Internet anywhere on the globe, in real time. Yes, the NSA is worse than a corrupt intelligence organization. It’s replaced God.
Reporting on special operations and intelligence activities has taken the tone of a salacious gossip column typically reserved for the National Enquirer. All that’s necessary is a single fact, and the rest can be extrapolated into something guaranteed to sell papers. For instance, if I were a journalist, I could write an expose revealing that Glenn Greenwald is a homosexual child predator pedophile. All I would need is a single detail to extrapolate. In this case, Greenwald is in fact a homosexual, but he is not a pedophile. Homosexuality has absolutely nothing to do with pedophilia – let me be perfectly clear on that point – but there are plenty of people who would make such a leap and believe that it does. This phobia would allow someone to write such a story and leverage that fear, very much like the leaps being made with Greenwald’s reporting of the NSA. Program “A” exists, therefore problem “B” exists. Since it’s secret, the reader is forced to assume that the journalist is reporting truth, and thus the innocuous fact has become some cancerous growth. After all, the journalist doesn’t have an agenda, right?
Unfortunately, I can’t respond to any of the accusations about Xkeyscore because I’m not read on to the program, but I think it would be instructive to deconstruct a news article that I am read on to, just to show how such reporting can be skewed with a string of single facts.
A couple of months ago, Business Insider wrote an article entitled, “US Special Ops Have Become Much Much Scarier Since 9/11”. The entire piece is about the Joint Special Operations Command, an organization I served within for close to a decade during the exact time the article discusses. Like I suspect about the NSA reporting, it’s so full of inaccuracies it makes me wonder how the journalist was allowed to print it. But then I remembered, since it’s all classified, nobody will refute it, so the journalist gets a pass. At the risk of becoming Snowden, I’ll give it a try.
Right off the bat, the article states that JSOC grew from 2,000 operators to 25,000 after 9/11. I’m not going to give out real JSOC numbers, because they’re classified, but 25,000 is absolutely ridiculous. The entire force of SOCOM, including three Ranger Battalions, eleven SEAL teams, two MARSOC battalions, six Special Forces Groups, and the entire panoply of both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, to include all maintenance and servicing support, is only 66K. And that’s with JSOC included. So JSOC accounts for almost half of the number of the entire United States Special Operations Command? Really?
On a lighter note, according to the article, JSOC operators are known in the “covert ops community” as “Ninjas”. I have no idea what the “covert ops community” is, and I have never, ever, ever heard a single person in uniform call anyone associated with JSOC a “Ninja”. I’ve never even heard my daughter say that.
The article goes on to say that Rumsfeld and Cheney launched a multi-year effort carving JSOC away from the conventional command so that it could operate unilaterally, as a “global killing machine”. This assertion is made in numerous other news reports, and shows a complete lack of understanding of how the military chain of command functions under Title 10, United States Code. JSOC is a part of SOCOM, and follows a chain of command. I have been in a multitude of different operations, from overt hostilities to more clandestine endeavors throughout the spectrum of conflict, both before 9/11 and after, and during all of that time, I never deployed without going through the chain of command. Never. It was a laborious process involving country clearances, deployment orders, and message traffic to a bazillion people explaining what I was doing and why. I wish we had been “carved from the broader chain of command”, but it just isn’t true.
The article pounds this point home by stating that JSOC was “unrestrained and unaccountable to anyone except [Rumsfeld], Cheney, and the president”, and that Vice President Cheney began to make repeated trips to JSOC headquarters to give “direct action orders”. I honestly don’t know where this “Cheney” connection is coming from, because Seymour Hersh reports the same thing, but I never saw or heard of Dick Cheney visiting JSOC the entire time I was there, and make no mistake, if the Vice President of the United States had shown up, I would have known. We routinely did cheetah flips for mere ambassadors and general officers. At any rate, if he was going to HQ to give “action orders”, he was going to the wrong spot, because the commanding general, from 9/11 until about 2010 was deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The VP would have been giving orders to a radio operator. This whole concept is just puzzling to me. At the end of the day, JSOC is a military organization that operates under Title 10. It’s not the Taskforce.
A good example of extrapolation for dramatic affect, AKA the Snowden/Greenwald revelations, is the article’s discussion of “black sites”. According to Business Insider, JSOC ran an “Interrogation Program” parallel to the CIA “Black Sites”, that would provide the administration more “flexibility” and less “oversight”. Here, they’re taking one fact and turning it into something different, exactly the same as the NSA reporting. Did JSOC interrogate detainees captured on the battlefield? Of course. So did/does every other tactical organization. Information is perishable, and waiting four days to talk to a detainee is not the way to gather actionable intelligence, so he is initially interrogated at a temporary holding facility. JSOC had one. So did every battalion of the 82nd Airborne. When the 82nd caught a bad guy in Fallujah, there had to be some method of handling him before he was transferred to a permanent facility. The same was true of JSOC. It was not an “interrogation program”. It was simply a function of the battlefield. By comparing it to the CIA’s rendition operations, the reader is left to assume that JSOC has a string of secret prisons around the globe, when that isn’t remotely true. This same technique is used in almost all the NSA reporting I’ve seen.
From here, the article goes off the rails, claiming that JSOC trained Iraqi death squads, that JSOC hired contract killers from Blackwater for “covert operations” in Pakistan, and even has a CIA veteran named Vincent Cannistraro claiming that JSOC had gone “wild” and had killed targets in foreign countries who were innocent.
A. Training of foreign SOF is a core Special Forces task, as in US Army Special Forces. That’s what they do. It is not a core JSOC task, but since JSOC has Special Forces members, I guess it’s okay for the journalist to extrapolate that they trained foreign forces. The fact is that JSOC didn’t train any Iraqi SOF forces the entire time they were in Iraq, death squads or otherwise. We had our hands full doing our mission.
B. The United States Government would never hire out missions of national importance to an independent business, especially one that involved a cross-border raid into another sovereign country. It makes for good fiction and action movie fodder, but it just doesn’t happen. Contractors do exist (google “Snowden”), but they are always in a supporting role (google “Snowden”). Notice I say US Government and not JSOC. That’s because it’s the US Government that would have the ability to do what the article claims. JSOC does not have the funding or authority to hire a bunch of mercenaries on its own. And why would they need to anyway? I mean, really, they have 25,000 operators. Surely they could break ten or so free to invade Pakistan – like they did for Bin Laden. I have no idea where this Blackwater/Pakistan fantasy came from, but I suspect it was something along the lines of Blackwater being hired to provide security for a convoy that accidentally crossed the border, which was then extrapolated into “Blackwater conducts covert action in Pakistan”. Sort of like Greenwald extrapolating that the NSA is now reading my brainwaves.
C. I can’t prove a negative, so there’s no way to show we didn’t kill a bunch of innocents in foreign lands, but I can say I’ve never heard of Vincent Cannistraro, and if he had anything to do with JSOC, not only would I have heard of him, I would have known him. He’s just one of many “experts” talking about something he heard in the bathroom from some guy who knows the girlfriend of a SEAL. Like I said about Seymour Hersh’s fantastic statements in another blog, other than allegations, there’s no proof that any of this occurred. You’d think there’d be something. In 2010 a leader of Hamas was killed in Dubai, most likely by Mossad. That one targeted killing made world-wide news for weeks. If these allegations are true, where are all of the dead guys killed by the JSOC “assassination” teams? Why hasn’t there been a single story on a killing – anywhere? Especially if it’s still ongoing?
Most of the Business Insider article is taken from a book (which I won’t name because I don’t want to promote its falsehoods) so the reasons behind the exaggerations are apparent. The author wants to make money, and Business Insider took him at his word. In Glenn Greenwald’s case, I believe the purpose is a little more nefarious. He has admitted that he began working with Snowden before Snowden sought a position with Booz Allen, and Snowden himself has admitted that the only reason he took the job was to steal secrets. You do the math. Greenwald is not an unbiased journalist, but a person with an axe to grind. He despises the intelligence community and will do anything to see it fail, and I’d ask you to remember that when reading anything he puts out. I’m not read in to Xkeyscore anymore than you or Greenwald are, and I can’t say for sure if it’s nefarious or not. I do, however, understand that propaganda is not solely reserved to governments, and I have seen on numerous occasions – beyond what I just relayed – how the press can mangle stories related to the intelligence community.
And that’s a press that I believe has nothing but good intentions. I cannot fathom how bad the reporting gets from a man with an agenda.
A perfect example of Greenwald’s selective use of the facts came out when his partner David Miranda was held at Heathrow airport for nine hours in August. To hear Greenwald talk, it was pure intimidation. His partner was simply visiting family in Europe, and the evil UK authorities detained him as a message to Greenwald. Poor Miranda was simply a pawn in the Evil Empire’s scheme to silence the white knight of journalism. That was the original story. Corrections to the story began occurring when real journalists – without an agenda – began digging into the facts. It turned out that a) Miranda was traveling from Greenwald in Rio to Laura Poitras (the other Snowden “journalist”) in Berlin. b) his travel was paid by the Guardian newspaper. (I wonder if they pay for all travel of partners visiting family on other continents?) c) he was carrying a massive amount of classified British information. The UK had every right to detain him. Would there be outrage if Kim Philby had been caught in the airport carrying British secrets to the USSR? Why does Miranda get a pass because he’s the partner of a journalist? He was breaking the law.
Here’s an example of how Greenwald took one document from Snowden and extrapolated it into something it’s not - written by a guy who used to work for the NSA. It’s exactly what I was trying to convey above. He also accuses Greenwald of being less than honest in other reporting. He’s not the only one. In the words of one journalist, “If you work for a major media organization and you don’t see things Glenn’s way, which you very likely won’t because you’re at least somewhat tethered to a desire to report objectively…”