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earlier burfling | later burfling


On May 20, 2003, the DoD announced the creation of a new Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, to be headed by Stephen Cambone. On June 20, the DoD announced that then-Major General William Boykin "has been nominated for appointment to the grade of lieutenant general with assignment as deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence, intelligence and warfighting support, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C. Boykin is currently serving as commanding general, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, N.C."

So what, one asks? Well, if one reads Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker article about Abu Ghraib, one will see Cambone's name all over it. Hersh claims that the roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal "lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of elite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror."

According to Hersh, there were a number of times early in the Afghanistan campaign where special-forces units thought they had clean shots at Taleban or Al Qaeda leaders but couldn't get authorization from their chains-of-command in time to do anything. Rumsfeld's reaction was

the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate "high value" targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. A special-access program, or SAP - subject to the Defense Department’s most stringent level of security - was set up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon. The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps. America’s most successful intelligence operations during the Cold War had been SAPs, including the Navy’s submarine penetration of underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and construction of the Air Force’s stealth bomber. All the so-called "black" programs had one element in common: the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to conclude that the normal military classification restraints did not provide enough security.
So far, so good. I spent several years in the submarine force myself, with a couple of "independent submarine operations" under my own belt, so I have some small idea of what an SAP might be like. And Hersh's description rings pretty true; small numbers of people, very high levels of training, everybody clear on why the program is classified top-secret-funny-codeword, drop-dead-before-reading. An argument can be made that it's even legal; depending on how you read the various Geneva Conventions, Al Qaida operatives don't qualify for either Third or Fourth Convention protections, and might not qualify for US Constitutional protections when captured and held overseas.

However, by August of 2003 the situation in Iraq was deteriorating rapidly, and the troops on the ground did not have adequate intelligence about the insurgents. According to Hersh, that's when Rumsfeld and Cambone expanded the scope of the SAP's rules - which included using rough treatments and sexual humiliation on prisoners - to Abu Ghraib. Then, Cambone went even further, bringing a number of the military intelligence officers already at Abu Ghraib under the auspices of the SAP. So now we have regular MI troops, who don't have the high training levels of the Delta Force / SEAL types, being told that the regular rules no longer apply. And we have Army Reserve MPs, with no internment/resettlement training, let alone "black ops" training, being given placed under tactical control of an MI brigade (which didn't have the black ops training, either). Now, nobody on the ground at Abu Ghraib has either a clear set of rules that define acceptable behavior, nor the sort of trained judgement that could substitute for those rules under the circumstances - what they do have is a high demand for intelligence, and an at-least-semi-officially relaxed set of scruples about how to get that intelligence.

Somehow, it's no wonder that things degenerated as badly as they did. According to Hersh, the CIA's senior people knew what was going on, and eventually wanted no part of it:
By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. "They said, "No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan - pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets - and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets'" - the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. "The C.I.A.’s legal people objected," and the agency ended its sap involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.
Part of the problem, it seems to me (and to Hersh), is that Cambone didn't have a lot of intelligence experience - what he did have was loyalty to Rumsfeld. Without the personal experience of what works and what's going to blow up in your face, it's a lot harder to adequately judge when you can disregard the rules and still succeed. And, frankly, if you've found that disregarding the rules in one area works well, you're going to find it even easier to assume that disregarding those same rules in a seemingly-similar area will work.

What about General Boykin? Well, as noted above, he is Cambone's deputy undersecretary and military assistant. He's got plenty of special-operations experience, including having been part of the 1980 hostage rescue attempt, and he came to Cambone's new office from a tour as commanding general of the Army Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. Presumably, therefore, he'd be the guy to point out any operational flaws in Cambone's plan to expand the SAP to Abu Ghraib. Right?

Well, maybe not. Boykin is also the same guy who gave a speech in June 2003 to a group of Oregon evangelical Christians claiming that the reason the Islamic extremists hate America is "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan." I remember the furor that erupted when this came out last October, but I missed something along the way - Boykin apparently has been giving that same speech for years. According to Newsweek (via MSNBC):
Over the last two years the general has given dozens of addresses to evangelical Christian groups in which, describing his battle with a Somali (Muslim) warlord, he has said: "I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." He has also repeatedly explained that America’s enemy was "a spiritual enemy ... called Satan." The enemy will only be defeated, he added, "if we come against them in the name of Jesus."
So, we have a situation where Cambone takes an operation (the SAP) that's quietly working (because the folks involved are highly trained and used to the top-secret-funny-codeword world, and because the targets involved are captured Taleban or Al Qaeda fighters), and expands it by bringing in lots of less-well-trained operators and using them against ordinary Iraqi civilians who happen to be picked up in sweeps. Cambone is noted for his loyalty to his boss more than anything else, and Cambone's boss just happens to be Rumsfeld, who routinely ignores advice contrary to his desires anyway. Cambone's immediate deputy has a religious conviction that the enemy is Satan himself.

This, neighbors and friends, is a recipe for a disaster. How surprised should we be that a disaster occurred?