Erasing Enemies: America’s New Way of War
Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.
America has been at war for more than a decade. There is no end in sight to this new perpetual war. The battlefield is now the entire world. After 2001, the Bush Neoconservatives essentially declared a war against the entire globe, against whoever dared to oppose the Empire. In a larger sense, of course, this is but an extension of the war for global control waged in the Twentieth Century.
The latest decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost America some three trillion dollars and several thousand young soldiers. The country is technically broke, running on printing inflated dollars and borrowing from China. Corporations easily find legal ways to avoid paying taxes, thanks to the generosity of the politicians they own in Washington. As the empire weakens, economically, more and more of the burden is shifted to the middle classes and inequality increases to an unprecedented degree. The common people groan under the burden, while corporate profits soar. War industries profit while people are told that they are in dread danger of being terrorized by new jihadist enemies.
Faced with unprecedented global opposition, particularly in the Middle East, the George W. Bush Government resorted to a policy of torture of captured prisoners. This policy further damaged the image of the United States around the globe as a bulwark of freedom. It also produced a backlog of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons in other countries. The Government did not know what to do with them. They would rot in jail forever, it seemed. Nevertheless, these policies only created more resistance and helped terrorist organizations recruit new members.
It was both politically and economically impossible to launch more wars, like those in the first decade of the Twenty-first Century. The solution to this dilemma for the empire was to be found, at least in the short run, in the new technology of the drone. America would throw off the last vestiges of international law, adopt the policies of Israel, become a rogue state par excellence and simply carry out targeted assassinations of its enemies. The CIA would return to the killing business in a big way. This was the “cost-effective” solution. As for the people, they would know nothing about it. It would all be secret. This all, of course, comes under the rubric of the greatest democracy on the face of the earth.
This book is about that so-called secret war which has now led to a foreign policy crises in Washington. There is, of course, no way to keep it completely secret when one can be killed like a bug at any time from a hell-fire missile from the sky. Some 3900 individuals have now been killed by drone attacks. New books are being published, if one wants to know the truth of what is going on. This book is one of them. Others include Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control by Medea Benjamin and Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill. Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been on hunger strike for 108 days as of this writing, and are being kept alive by using food tubes. Who would have thought that it would be the United States of America running its own international Gulag Archipelago?
Mazzetti is a reporter for the New York Times. We have all heard snippets of these stories in the news, but this book fills in some of the background so that one can see better how it all fits together. It is surely a disturbing book when one understands what the global Empire has come to at this point. It would certainly not do for the mainstream of America to become aware of it. Given the extraordinary talents of the American press, it is not very likely that they will. It will remain “secret” for all practical purposes as the great majority of the people, for the most part, simply do not care. Some sixty-nine percent of Americans say they support secret assassinations of “terrorists,” so they simply do not concern themselves with what the US CIA is doing in other parts of the world.
The latest phase of America’s secret wars goes back to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The Bush Neocons launched a “counterterrorist center.” (CTC) Small teams of assassins would be placed in other countries. The President would have a list of people marked for death and they would be tracked down and killed. One person on the list was Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, who helped sell nuclear technology to Iran and Libya.
The first director of the CTC was J. Cofer Black. The CIA director at the time was George Tenet. Black would later be a main figure in the infamous Blackwater security firm.
After 9/11, the US inserted paramilitary teams into Afghanistan to work with some warlords and take the fight to the Taliban. The US claimed that the Empire had the authority to operate in any country on the face of the earth. These secret operatives were also charged with finding Osama bin Laden. This meant that the CIA Director became a military commander with his own forces. Prisoners were rounded up and subjected to extraordinary rendition and put in secret prisons around the world. Hundreds of CIA analysts were assigned to work on “terrorism.” They arrested many innocent people and sometimes killed the wrong people too.
Donald Rumsfeld, as the Secretary of Defense, was jealous of the CIA getting their teams into Afghanistan and other countries ahead of the military. He wanted some of the action of killing Taliban and looked for a way. The Joint Intelligence Task Force (JITF) was set up within the military. He was not ambitions. He just wanted to “change the world’s political map.” His list of countries which needed remediation was very long, as I recall.
On the ground, just after 9/11, the CIA attempted to kidnap the Taliban Interior Minister in Afghanistan, Mullah Hair Khwa, but they got the wrong person. Ahmed Wali Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, was on the CIA payroll. At this point, the CIA established a working relationship with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan. The ISI helped the CIA get Mullah Khair Khwa and he was sent to Guantanamo Bay prison at the US Naval Base on the southeast corner of the Island.
The Northern Alliance warlords, Tajiks and Uzbeks, were getting support from India, while the ISI was playing the double game of working with the CIA and secretly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2001, General Mahmud Ahmed was head of the ISI. After 9/11, Deputy Undersecretary of State, Richard Armitage, confronted General Ahmed in Washington and laid down the law. You are either with us or against us. Pakistan would have to support the US, give access to Pakistan air space, allow US military and intelligence operations in Pakistan, allow access to sea ports and airports and give access to military bases in the west of Pakistan. Pakistan asked for money in return, but did not give everything Washington wanted.
The US began to operate from Shamsi military base in Baluchistan and Jacobabed in Sindh Province. Musharraf was not happy but bit the bullet. But he would protect Pakistan’s “strategic assets.” One of these, of course, was the Afghan Taliban.
Mulla Mohammed Omar, the Taliban Pashtun leader in Kandahar, refused to hand over bin Laden, preferring to “please God” rather than America, unlike the ISI Chief. Some Americans wanted to give the Taliban more time to think about it, but the CIA was ready to rush money and arms to the Northern Alliance warlords. The ISI urged caution, wanting to avoid a war, which endangered the political stability of all of South Asia. Nevertheless, the US launched its bombing campaign against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.
The CIA wanted General Ahmed sacked and Musharraf replaced him with General Ehsan ul Haq. Back in the US, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, met General Musharraf at the United Nations in late 2001. Powell was convinced that Pakistan had abandoned the Taliban, but he was badly mistaken.
The Haqqani network was being built up in North Waziristan from Miran Shah. The militia leader was Jalaluddin Haqqani who had been a key US CIA asset against the Soviets. Later, he had signed with al-Qaeda. When the ISI Chief met him, secretly, he would not go along with the American agenda. The US invasion, for him, was the same as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The stage was set for a long war, although, the ISI believed at this point that the Americans would not stay long in Afghanistan.
The new head of the Pakistani Army Corps in Peshawar was Lt. General Ali Jan Aurakzai, a Taliban supporter. He had helped in the coup to install Musharraf as President. His duty was to oversee the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Arab fighters, and others, including Osama bin Laden, filtered into Pakistan from Afghanistan, as Tora Bora and the Shah-i-Kot valley was bombed by the American B-52s. Aurakzai denied that al-Qaeda operatives were there.
The US CIA set up a fortified consulate in Peshawar, a spy station, which would appear as a diplomatic outpost. A secret Pentagon unit called Gray Fox with special intercept communications arrived. The CIA collected hundreds of cell phone numbers from Arabs, Algerians, Libyans, Saudis, Chechens, Uzbeks, and so on. They gathered intelligence and started making arrests.
The head of the ISI in Peshawar was Brigadier General Asad Munir. At this point, the ISI and the CIA were working together. There was much confusion, however. An agent working for the British MI6 was arrested and sent to Guantanamo (Gitmo). Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh were arrested in other cities in Pakistan. The US had also set up secret prisons in Bucharest and Thailand. Meanwhile, the ISI raked in millions of US dollars while maintaining ties with the Taliban and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
This approach was not going to solve the problem for the Empire. If the objective was a war on terrorism, then these activities were just going to create more. Jihadist groups would spring up like mushroom in the tropical heat of South Asia and all across the Middle East. If they rounded up large numbers of prisoners and packed them off to secret prisons, they were going to end up holding them for years without specific charges and torturing them for information, most of it worthless. When the prisoners were cleared for release, they could often not send them back to where they were picked up. Most of it was illegal. The other option was just to kill them, as soon as the technology for that was on tap. That is, as soon as the US learned to fly drones and kill people from thousands of miles away in Creech, Nevada, by remote control.
The CIA was the perfect vehicle for this. It was not the first time the organization had been in the business of killing. There was always a division in the agency over whether its purpose was to collect intelligence or to carry out covert operations, including assassinations. The CIA had used undercover agents to carry out sabotage, spread propaganda, rig elections, and carry out assassinations around the world. Attempts were made to clean up the killing operations in the l970s, at least in the public image. Assassinations were banned in l976, but this would not hold.
The psychopaths would soon be back in business. In l986, under CIA director William Casey, the Counterterrorism Center (CTC), was set up. The CIA would work with the Pentagon Special Operations Command, using the Army Delta Force. Targets included the Abu Nidal Organization and Hezbollah.
The invention of unmanned aircraft, the drone, however, would open up a whole new way of war. During the war in Bosnia, the CIA used US Air Force drones for spying. When Donald Rumsfeld took over the Pentagon in 2001, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was set up. It would use the Army Delta Force and Naval Special Warfare Development Group (SEALs) in its operations.
The military command demonstrated to Rumsfeld that they could insert commandos into a country, under cover, without being detected. They could be parachuted in and emerge wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase, ready for action. Rumsfeld’s problem was that the military did not have the freedom to carry out covert activities like the CIA and there were legal problems. A simple solution to that was soon found. They would be “sheep dipped.” When they needed to carry out a mission, they would simply be sent under the authority of the CIA. If you are an Empire, it seems, you can make up your own rules as you go along, regardless of national or international law.
Rumsfeld also moved to step up military intelligence. The Military Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) had been established back in 1981 with a secret budget. Under Rumsfeld, it became “Gray Fox.” Hundreds would work under cover in countries around the world. They would plant listening devices and JSOC would carry out missions. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUM) after 9/11 had given Rumsfeld a license for global warfare. He believed that he had the authority to kill people anywhere in the world. This would soon come to include US citizens. The secret commandos would “find, fix and finish” terrorists, wherever they were. And in some cases, American ambassadors in the countries would not even be informed of their presence.
Yemen was in the American sights after the bombing of the Navy ship, the USS Cole, as it was planned in Yemen by Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was given 400 million dollars and the US sent commandos and spies in 2002. The President secretly agreed to allow flights from the drone base in Djibouti. Yemen would be the second country where Predator drones were used for targeted strikes, after Afghanistan. Al-Harethi was killed by a CIA drone.
While there was fierce debate about America becoming like Israel and carrying out targeted assassinations around the world, it seemed to be the perfect solution for the Empire. Getting permission to fire missiles simply took too long. Drones were dirt cheap, at two million dollars a plane. Richard Clarke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence for George W. Bush, argued that if one got shot down, it was no big deal. The pilot just went home and “fucked his wife.” So once the CIA learned to fire Hellfire missiles from Predator and Reaper drones, the game had changed. The temptation was too great.
In Pakistan, appearing to cooperate with the US became a problem for the military in 2004. In South Waziristan, trouble came from the militia led by Nek Muhammad Wazir who began to attack Pakistani soldiers. He was a Pashtun and operated from a madrassa. He protected al-Qaeda fighters and attacked the Pakistani Frontier Corps and American bases. Musharraf sent troops to put down the militia. Ayman al-Zawahiri, second in command of al-Qaeda, issued a Fatwa for Musharraf’s death. The cost to the Pakistani Army was becoming heavy.
In 2004, The Pakistani Army made a deal with Nek Muhammad, known as the “Shakai Peace Arrangement.” The Pakistan Government agreed to pay damages and release prisoners. But the truce did not hold. The Waziris continued to attack American and Pakistani forces. The ISI decided to let the CIA go after Nek Muhammad with a drone. With his high visibility, he was easy to track. Nek soon lost his neck in a drone attack. The Pakistan Military claimed that they had killed him. General Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani took over the ISI.
The CIA began to send special operations troops into Pakistan from Bagram Air Base in Kabul and kidnap individuals without Pakistani authorities ever knowing it. These were sort of practice runs for the later assassination of Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbatobad.
In 2004, the CIA continued violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture with its practices of water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other interrogation methods. Bucharest and Lithuania were sites for these American Gulags. Some in the CIA worried about the legal implications. But the problem could largely be avoided with drones. They would just be erased in strikes from the air. It would be a policy of take no prisoners.
Then the CIA decided to outsource its killing program to the Blackwater Security firm. They would carry out secret missions. The firm was also given a contract to load the Hellfire Missiles on the Predator drones at a base in Pakistan. Blackwater set up other secret companies. But Mazzetti claims that Blackwater never carried out the assassinations, of which A.Q. Khan was on the list. But all of this is supposed to be secret.
In 2005, Congress got around to passing the Detainee Treatment Act. But Rumsfeld had issued a secret order to JSOC to kill, capture and spy in more than a dozen countries with a budget doubled to eight billion dollars in 2007.
There was great scope for operations in Iraq, under General Stanley McChrystal, carrying out night raids and breaking down doors. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was captured. Spying was carried out secretly in Iran in preparation for a possible future war.
In Somalia, the CIA handed out two-hundred thousand dollars to each warlord in a pact called the “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.” (ARPCT) Some of these lucky individuals were known to be brutal thugs. This operation was run out of the American Embassy in Nairobi. The whole operation backfired when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and its wing, al Shabab, began to win against the US supported war lords.
The US managed to get Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2007 and provided funding. The US sent a plane to kill an al-Shabab leader, Aden Hashi Farah Ayro. The ICU was pushed back from Mogadishu but the Ethopians shelled market places and residences, killing thousands of civilians. There was looting and gang rape. Al-Shabab grew in strength as jihadists were recruited from Morocco and Algeria. Some even came from Minnesota in the United States.
And back in Pakistan, there was trouble with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which was conducting a jihad against the Pakistani Military. An American, Art Keller, was sent to a CIA base, on a Pakistan military base, in Wana, South Waziristan. He collected information from local CIA operatives, who he never met or even saw. These individuals were not even aware that they were working for the CIA. He could never leave the base the whole time he was there in 2006. The ISI made a truce with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the TTP, which he didn’t keep. He had little education and was in charge of a 5000 man army running a “defensive jihad.” He was finally killed in a drone strike in 2009.
By this time, the trust between the ISI and the US CIA had broken down and the CIA kept its information to itself. Keller was part of the process of looking for Osama bin Laden, but was not aware of it. The US began to believe that he was not hiding in the tribal areas, but in a settled area of Pakistan.
The US got a lucky break when the earthquake happened in the mountains of Western Pakistan. They could send in more spies under cover. The CIA was trying to get to bin Laden through his couriers.
This was to be secret from the ISI with its critical proxies, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. It was believed that General Kayani had called the Haqqani Network a “strategic asset.” From the US perspective, the ISI was sometimes helpful, but also playing a dirty game.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadist organization was founded in 1990. Lashkar fighters were sent to Kashmir. Mazzetti says they were sent by President Zia-ul-Haq, which could not be the case, since Zia died in a military plane crash in August 1988. But nevertheless, they were sent. The leader of the organization, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, preached against US imperialism. The headquarters of Lashkar was on the GT road at Muridke, just west of Lahore. The group was linked to the attacks in Mumbai.
In 2011, Raymond Davis, a CIA employee was working under-cover in Lahore. He had been a Navy Seal, worked for Blackwater security, and had previously worked in Peshawar in 2008. When he thought he was being attacked by two guys on a motorcycle in Lahore traffic, he shot and killed both of them. A third person was killed by a vehicle from the US Embassy coming to check on the situation. Davis was jailed.
In Pakistan, a cry arose for him to be hanged. Davis was CIA working under the cover of a “US diplomat.” Back in the US, President Obama called for the Pakistanis to “release our diplomat.” Technically correct, but misleading. The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta lied to the ISI Chief, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, in Washington, denying that Davis was CIA. Eventually, Davis was brought to court, but a deal had already been made for the US to pay 2.34 million dollars in blood money to the families of those who lost their lives. Davis was taken to the airport and flown out of the country. Back in the US, he beat up an elderly preacher over a parking space in a shopping center and landed in jail once again.
Eventually, the CIA got onto the trail of Osama bin Laden. The cell phone number of Ibrahim Saeed Amed, bin Laden’s courier, was found and traced to a large house in Abbatobad. The next phase of the operation was carried out under the cover of a hepatitis B inoculation health campaign for women in the area. Doctor Shakil Afridi was in charge of the door to door inoculations. The only house on Pathan Street to refuse the inoculation was the big house where bin Laden was staying. The doctor never got into the house. But it was suspicious that there were no telephone or internet connections to the dwelling.
Once everything seemed certain, the CIA hit team was launched from Afghanistan to assassinate bin Laden. Obama watched it take place in the White House. It was over before the Pakistani authorities ever knew what was happening. The US believed that the occupation could not succeed if the Pakistanis knew of the plans. The US Military Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, had charged the Haqqani Network was acting as an arm of the ISI. As for Dr. AFridi, he was warned by the CIA to get out of the country, but did not and landed in jail.
When General David Petraeus took over the CIA in 2011, the CIA was carrying out more covert action operations than at any other time in history. In Yemen, drone strikes picked up, carried out from a base in Saudi Arabia. President Ali Abdullah Saleh would claim the Yeminis carried out the strikes. The Deputy Governor of Marib Province, Jabar al-Shabwani, was blown up by a drone. However, he was working with President Saleh, not al-Qaeda.
As of May 2013, four American citizens had been killed by American drones. The first was Anwar al-Awlaki, born in the United States in l971. He began to preach Islamic sermons and became linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear if the US had any information that he was plotting any actions against America. Two weeks after he was killed in a drone attack in Yemen, another attack killed his teen-age son who was having dinner at a restaurant. He was also an American citizen.
The US claimed that al-Awlaki’s son was not specifically targeted, but officials have been careful not to call it an accident. Anwar al-Awlaki’s father is suing the US Government in a case which is scheduled to open in July 2013 in the United States.
John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, said that with drones, the US could use a “scalpel” not a hammer to carry out the secret war. When David Petraeus was forced to resign from the CIA after a love affair with his biographer, Brennan became the head of the CIA.
The Barack Obama Administration stopped using the term “war on terrorism” but could not back away from the forces unleashed by the neoconservatives of the George W. Bush Administration. With several thousand now killed in the drone wars, most of them innocent civilians, this has created somewhat of a foreign policy crisis and dilemma for the Empire. However, reining in the beast is easier said than done.
Mazzetti’s book is a good read and highly informative. It would surely be good if more Americans would pay attention to what their government is doing around the world.
May 26, 2013.