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The Reach of 'the President's Private Army'

By Thomas Neuburger


“Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as “the president’s private army“, today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach.” —Nick Turse


“[JSOC is] the ace in the hole. If you need someone that can sky dive from thirty miles away, go down the chimney of a castle, and blow it up from the inside — those are the guys you want to call on.” —General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton


I’m working on a series of novels set in the near future. But one aspect of these novels that’s decidedly not futuristic, near or otherwise, is U.S. government kill teams. This is an introduction to how JSOC (the Joint Special Operations Command) and how it operates. It’s drawn from the work of investigative reporter Nick Turse, now with The Intercept.


The President’s Private Army


Let’s start here, with this 2011 piece by Turse published in Aljazeera.

The US military’s secret military
Special US commandos are deployed in about 75 countries around the world – and that number is expected to grow
Somewhere on this planet a US commando is carrying out a mission. Now, say that 70 times and you’re done … for the day. Without the knowledge of much of the general American public, a secret force within the US military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries. This Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has generally been ignored by the mainstream media, and deserves further attention.
After a US Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the US military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight. It was atypical. While it’s well known that US Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has often remained out of the public scrutiny.

Keep in mind, this is 2011.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that US Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency. By the end of this year, US Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120. “We do a lot of travelling – a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently. This global presence – in about 60 per cent of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged – is evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

Turse details the creation and rise of SOCOM (the Special Operations Command), one of eleven “unified combatant commands” run by the Pentagon. Others include CENTCOM (Central Command, responsible for the Middle East), NORTHCOM (responsible for domestic surveillance in North America) and others.


What does SOCOM do?

SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialised and secret missions. These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations[.]

SOCOM contains a sub-command called JSOC:

One of [SOCOM’s] key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes US citizens. It has been operating an extra-legal “kill/capture” campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine”. […] In addition, the command operates a network of secret prisons, perhaps as many as 20 black sites in Afghanistan alone, used for interrogating high-value targets.

Again, this is 2011, three years into Barack Obama’s presidency. But the bottom line is as striking now as it was then:

Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as “the president’s private army“, today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach.

More on JSOC’s Earlier Days


Other articles from this period offer more context.


After Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration began waging a global war on terrorism both openly and on the "dark side." […] Directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the White House expanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) into a global capturing and killing machine.
In March 2009, investigative reporter for the New Yorker Seymour Hersh caused a minor controversy by telling an audience in Minnesota that he had uncovered "an executive assassination ring" that the Bush administration operated abroad. "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he said of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office."
"Their real days of glory ... really only started after 9/11," Colonel Walter Patrick Lang, who spent much of his career in covert operations, told [writer Jeremy] Scahill. "They didn't do a lot of fighting before that."
Known within the covert ops community as ninjas or "snake eaters," JSOC operators train to track a target, fix his position, and then finish him off without being detected.
"They're the ace in the hole," General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, told Scahill. "If you need someone that can sky dive from thirty miles away, go down the chimney of a castle, and blow it up from the inside — those are the guys you want to call on."

The real-life stuff of movies, straight from your imagination.


First, note Dick Cheney’s role in the JSOC story. They operated at his command.


Next, about “the end of the kills squads,” hold onto the salt shaker as you read that piece. Hersh has said many times that Obama changed little about Bush policies.



And as to “displacing the CIA,” don’t count on it. Since no one knows what the CIA does — perhaps even the CIA — displacement seems highly unlikely. Are there CIA kill teams today? According to my read of this, there used to be. Why would they want to stop?


JSOC Today


Where are we now? Another Nick Turse piece, this one from 2019, brings us mostly up to date. (See map at top.)

Revealed: The U.S. military's 36 code-named operations in Africa
Between 2013 and 2017, U.S. special operations forces saw combat in at least 13 African countries, according to retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who served at U.S. Africa Command from 2013 to 2015 and then headed Special Operations Command Africa until 2017. Those countries, according to Bolduc, are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia. He added that U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in action in at least six of them: Kenya, Libya, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia.
Yahoo News has put together a list of three dozen such operations across the continent.
The code-named operations cover a variety of different military missions, ranging from psychological operations to counterterrorism. Eight of the named activities, including Obsidian Nomad, are so-called 127e programs, named for the budgetary authority that allows U.S. special operations forces to use certain host-nation military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions.
Used extensively across Africa, 127e programs can be run either by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization that controls the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, the Army’s Delta Force and other special mission units, or by “theater special operations forces.” These programs are “specifically designed for us to work with our host nation partners to develop small — anywhere between 80 and 120 personnel — counterterrorism forces that we’re partnered with,” said Bolduc. “They are specially selected partner-nation forces that go through extensive training, with the same equipment we have, to specifically go after counterterrorism targets, especially high-value targets.”

Not all of the operations listed in the Yahoo report are murder squads. But Jupiter Nimbus in Nigeria (running a military operation against Boko Haram), or Paladin Hunter and Ultimate Hunter operating in Somalia, don’t look like teams of crossing guards.


"Ultimate Hunter"? Really?



As you peruse the list of operations in the Yahoo article, note also how many are “psychological” in nature. All of the ops named “Octave” appear to be doing information warfare.


Bottom Line


This suggests, or demands, several questions:


  1. Where else is JSOC operating? Africa and the Middle East can’t be the only places.

  2. Who really are they killing? Just “terrorists,” declared enemies of the U.S.? Or are they sent out by our “partners” to kill our partners’ enemies as well? The ongoing op against Boko Haram seems one example of the latter.

  3. Are they killing foreign politicians? Just curious.

  4. What are they doing domestically? NORTHCOM is responsible for North America, the “homeland.” JSOC isn’t geographically limited. Are people being quietly killed here as well?


In the real world, it’s hard to imagine the dystopia this represents. We are constrained by our assumptions. In fiction, however, imagination is plentiful, and many writers will challenge those assumptions by painting these pictures for you.


So what do you think is most likely — that the President and/or Pentagon murders only abroad, and simply polishes the furniture at home? Or something closer to what you’d think a self-important general, or Dick Cheney, might do?


I can’t answer any of those questions. But the questions are scary enough.

 

1 Comment


Guest
Mar 08

"Directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the White House expanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) into a global capturing and killing machine."

"an executive assassination ring that the Bush administration operated abroad. 'It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,' he said of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office."


This is the shit that happens when voters ignore PNAC and cheney/rumsfeld/etc history of pure evil. This is the shit that happens when democraps refuse to do jack shit about treason and war crimes. Ipso facto QED, this is wh…


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