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Nick Turse: Secret Wars and Black Ops Blowback

7:39 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

US soldier helping Burundi soldiers use mortar

The United States wages a worldwide, secret war in over 100 countries.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers in or around New York City: On Friday, January 17th at 7 pm, Nick Turse will be discussing his bestselling book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback), with TomDispatch regular Chase Madar at a favorite independent bookstore of mine -- Brooklyn's Book Court.  For more details, click here. Tom]

These days, when I check out the latest news on Washington’s global war-making, I regularly find at least one story that fits a new category in my mind that I call: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Take last Saturday’s Post report by Craig Whitlock on the stationing of less than two dozen U.S. “military advisers” in war-torn Somalia.  They’ve been there for months, it turns out, and their job is “to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia.”  If you leave aside the paramilitarized CIA (which has long had a secret base and prison in that country), those advisers represent the first U.S. military boots on the ground there since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident of 1993.  As soon as I read the piece, I automatically thought: Given the history of the U.S. in Somalia, including the encouragement of a disastrous 2006 Ethiopian invasion of that country, what could possibly go wrong?

Some days when I read the news, I can’t help but think of the late Chalmers Johnson; on others, the satirical newspaper the Onion comes to mind.  If Washington did it — and by “it,” I mean invade and occupy a country, intervene in a rebellion against an autocrat, intervene in a civil war, launch a drone campaign against a terror outfit, or support and train local forces against some group the U.S. doesn’t like — you already know all you need to know.  Any version of the above has repeatedly translated into one debacle or disaster after another.  In the classic term of CIA tradecraft that Johnson took for the title of a book — a post-9/11 bestseller — send a drone over Yemen with the intent to kill, kick down doors in Afghanistan or Iraq, put U.S. boots back on the ground in Somalia and you’re going to be guaranteed “unintended consequences” and undoubtedly some form of “blowback” as well.  To use a sports analogy, if since 9/11 Washington has been the globe’s cleanup hitter, it not only hasn’t managed to knock a single ball out of the park, it’s struck out enough times to make those watching dizzy, and it’s batting .000.

You would think that someone in the nation’s capital might have drawn a lesson or two from such a record, something simple like: Don’t do it!  But — here’s where the Onion should be able to run riot — there clearly is no learning curve in Washington.  Tactics change, but the ill-conceived, ill-begotten, ill-fated Global War on Terror (GWOT), which long ago outran its own overblown name, continues without end, and without either successes of any lasting sort or serious reconsideration.  In this period, al-Qaeda, a small-scale organization capable of immodest terror acts every couple of years and, despite the fantasies of Homeland and Fox News, without a sleeper cell in the United States, managed, with Washington’s help, to turn itself into a global franchise.  The more the Bush and Obama administrations went after it, the more al-Qaeda wannabe organizations sprang up across the Greater Middle East and north Africa like mushrooms after a soaking rain.

The earliest GWOTsters, all Onion-style satirists, believed that the U.S. was destined to rule the world till Hell froze over.  Their idea of a snappy quip was “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran,” and they loved to refer to the Greater Middle East as “the arc of instability.”  That, mind you, was before they sent in the U.S. military.  Today, 12 years later, that long-gone world looks like an arc of stability, while the U.S. has left the Greater Middle East, from North Africa to Syria, from Yemen to Afghanistan, a roiling catastrophe zone of conflict, refugees, death, and destruction.  As it happened, the Bush administration’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be the only genuine weapons of mass destruction around, loosing, among other things, what could prove to be the great religious war of modern times.

And the lessons drawn?  As TomDispatch regular Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback), suggests in today’s post, the Obama administration has overseen the reorganization of the Global War on Terror as a vast secret operation of unrivaled proportions.  It now oversees a planetary surveillance network of staggering size and reach (itself leading to historic blowback) and the spread of a secret military spawned inside the U.S. military and now undergoing typically mindless expansion on a gargantuan scale. What could possibly go wrong? Tom

The Special Ops Surge
America’s Secret War in 134 Countries
By Nick Turse

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.

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Ann Jones: America’s Child Soldiers

9:10 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A row of 'JROTC' High School cadets

The increasing popularity of JROTC reflects the militarization of American childhood.

Another week, another revelation about spying by the National Security Agency.  This time, it was the NSA’s infiltration of online video games and virtual realms like World of Warcraft and Second Life.  And it was hardly a shock.  More than a decade ago, TomDispatch began reporting on the U.S. military’s collaborations with the video game industry, including a virtual world known as There.  As the years went by, the military became ever more enmeshed in the digital world.  In 2008, while covering the 26th Army Science Conference, I spoke to the chief of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command about a new recruiting initiative he was setting up in the fantasy realm of Second Life.  General William Wallace was over the moon about the possibility of engaging with the “four million young people” who had signed onto that virtual online environment.

While the Army was making an overt play for new recruits in the digital universe, the NSA was secretly targeting virtual worlds for clandestine activities.  A top-secret 2008 NSA document, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian and shared with the New York Times and ProPublica, cast online games as a “target-rich communication network.”  They were imagined (with little evidence) to be potential terrorist havens and so, as one document gushed, “an opportunity!”

In the time since I spoke to General Wallace, virtual worlds have bloomed.  The number of Second Life accounts, for example, has grown to 36 million registered users, according to its creator, Linden Labs.  And it seems, as the Times and ProPublica reported, that a surprising number of those new visitors were from the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Second Life, in fact, became so thick with spies from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI that it was necessary to create what one of the leaked documents called a “deconfliction” group to keep them from duplicating their efforts, spying on one another, and so turning their online push into a digital snarl.

And yet, after all that virtual snooping, there is no evidence that the untold millions of dollars spent infiltrating digital spies into worlds of pixies, scantily-clad lion-women, and pony skeleton avatars (no, I’m not making these up) has uncovered any terrorists or foiled any al-Qaeda plots.  It has, however, allowed the U.S. government to penetrate the lives of the young (and increasingly, the not-so-young) in new and intrusive ways.

Today, Ann Jones, author of the acclaimed new Dispatch Book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story, examines another way the U.S. military targets America’s youth — via a completely non-virtual, off-line, old school social network: the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.  It’s a startling look at the sort of everyday military indoctrination that may be happening, possibly in your very neighborhood, and almost as quietly as government agents slip in and out of their favorite digital fantasy worlds.

After recently shining much needed light on what happens to America’s veterans once they return from this country’s war zones, Jones turns her perceptive gaze on one way the military gets hold of young men and women in the first place.  If you thought only countries like Yemen, South Sudan, and Chad had child soldiers, think again. Nick Turse

America’s Child Soldiers
JROTC and the Militarizing of America
By Ann Jones

Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of 2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.

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Tomgram: Todd Miller, The Border-Industrial Complex Goes Abroad

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

<p><a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175774/tomgram%3A_todd_miller%2C_the_border-industrial_complex_goes_abroad/”>This</a> article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click <a href=”http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade”>here</a>.</p>

<p>As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren&rsquo;t often in the cards.&nbsp; The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability.&nbsp; Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office&nbsp;<a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/11/tsa-behavior-profiling-not-effective-gao-report-finds/”>released</a>&nbsp;a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a &ldquo;behavioral screening program&rdquo; involving 3,000 &ldquo;behavior detection officers&rdquo; at 176 airports.&nbsp; The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked &ldquo;probably no better than chance.&rdquo;&nbsp; Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175402/engelhardt_100%25_doctrine”>least pressing dangers</a>&nbsp;Americans face: terrorism.&nbsp; That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files”>Snowden revelations</a>, nothing much else about our security state was.&nbsp; Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Reid”>light his shoes</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar_Farouk_Abdulmutallab”>stashes a bomb</a>&nbsp;in his underwear or enters an airport and&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/suspect-charged-with-murder-in-lax-shooting/2013/11/02/20946d66-43fe-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story_1.html”>blows away</a>&nbsp;a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/tsa/189252-union-calls-for-armed-tsa-agents-after-shooting”>calls</a>&nbsp;for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one &ldquo;complex&rdquo; or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety.&nbsp; Much of this — like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175771/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_a_surveillance_state_scorecard/”>global eavesdropping operations</a>&nbsp;– has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling &ldquo;security&rdquo; provides no security for anyone.&nbsp; After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us.&nbsp; They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that&rsquo;s been looking a little on the peaked side of late.&nbsp; In this context,&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_surveillance_surge”>TomDispatch regular</a>&nbsp;Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough.&nbsp; The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow.&nbsp;<em>Tom</em></p>
<blockquote>
<p><strong>Border Patrol International&nbsp;</strong><br /><strong>&ldquo;The American Homeland Is the Planet&rdquo;&nbsp;</strong><br />By&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/toddmiller”>Todd Miller</a></p>
<p>It isn&rsquo;t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic&rsquo;s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore.&nbsp; There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.</p>
<p>One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.</p>
<p>If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that&rsquo;s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.</p>
<div></div>
<p>CESFRONT itself is, in fact, an outgrowth of a U.S. effort to promote &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad as part of its Global War on Terror.&nbsp; So U.S. Consul-General Michael Schimmel told a group from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, according to an internal report written by the law students along with the Dominican immigrant solidarity organization Solidaridad Fronteriza. The U.S. military, he added, was training the Dominican border patrol in &ldquo;professionalism.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Schimmel was explaining an overlooked manifestation of U.S. imperial policy in the post-9/11 era. &nbsp;Militarized borders are becoming ever more common throughout the world, especially in areas of U.S. influence.</p>
<p>CESFRONT&rsquo;s Dajabon commander is Colonel Juan de Jesus Cruz, a stout, Napoleonic figure with a booming voice. Watching the colonel interact with those detained Haitian teenagers was my first brush with how Washington&rsquo;s &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad policy plays out on the ground. The CESFRONT base in Dajabon is located near the Massacre River that divides the two countries.&nbsp; Its name is a grim reminder of a time in 1937 when Dominican forces slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Haitians in what has been <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/01/162092252/remembering-to-never-forget-dominican-republics-parsley-massacre”>called</a> the &ldquo;twentieth century&rsquo;s least-remembered act of genocide.&rdquo; That act ensured the imposition of a 227-mile boundary between the two countries that share the same island.</p>
<p>As rain falls and the sky growls, Cruz points to the drenched young Haitians and says a single word, &ldquo;<em>ilegales</em>,&rdquo; his index finger hovering in the air. &nbsp;The word &ldquo;illegals&rdquo; doesn&rsquo;t settle well with one of the teenagers, who glares at the colonel and replies defiantly, &ldquo;We have come because of hunger.&rdquo;</p>
<p>His claim is corroborated by every <a href=”http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20207590~menuPK:435735~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html”>report</a> about conditions in Haiti, but the colonel responds, &ldquo;You have resources there,&rdquo; with the spirit of a man who relishes a debate.</p>
<p>The teenager, who will undoubtedly soon be expelled from the Dominican Republic like so many other Haitians (including, these days, people of Haitian descent <a href=”http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kurlansky-haiti-dominican-republic-citizensh-20131110,0,5489523.story#axzz2kgwDTmLx”>born</a> in the country), gives the colonel a withering look.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s clearly boiling inside. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s hunger in Haiti. There&rsquo;s poverty in Haiti. There is no way the colonel could not see that,&rdquo; he tells Cruz. &ldquo;You are right on the border.&rdquo;</p>
<p>This tense, uneasy, and commonplace interaction is one of countless numbers of similar moments spanning continents from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. On one side, a man in a uniform with a gun and the authority to detain, deport, or sometimes even kill; on the other, people with the most fundamental of unmet needs and without the proper documentation to cross an international boundary. Such people, uprooted, in flight, in pain, in desperate straits, are today ever more commonly dismissed, if they&rsquo;re lucky, as the equivalent of criminals, or if they aren&rsquo;t so lucky, labeled &ldquo;terrorists&rdquo; and treated accordingly.</p>
<p>In a seminal <a href=”http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/fileadmin/publications/Flynn_LASA.pdf”>article</a> &ldquo;Where&rsquo;s the U.S. Border?,&rdquo; Michael Flynn, founder of the Global Detention Project, described the expansion of U.S. &ldquo;border enforcement&rdquo; to the planet in the context of the Global War on Terror as essentially a new way of defining national sovereignty.&nbsp; &ldquo;U.S. border control efforts,&rdquo; he argued, &ldquo;have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years as the United States has attempted to implement practices aimed at stopping migrants long before they reach U.S. shores.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In this way, borders are, in a sense, being both built up and torn down.&nbsp; Just as with the drones that, from Pakistan to Somalia, the White House <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief”>sends</a> across national boundaries to execute those it has identified as our enemies, so with border patrolling: definitions of U.S. national &ldquo;sovereignty,&rdquo; including where our own borders end and where our version of &ldquo;national&rdquo; defense stretches are becoming ever more malleable.&nbsp; As Flynn wrote, although &ldquo;the U.S. border has been hardened in a number of ways — most dramatically by building actual walls — it is misleading to think that the country&rsquo;s efforts stop there. Rather the U.S. border in an age dominated by a global war on terrorism and the effects of economic globalization has become a flexible point of contention.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In other words, &ldquo;hard&rdquo; as actual U.S. borders are becoming, what might be called our global, or perhaps even virtual, borders are growing ever more pliable and ever more expansive — extending not only to places like the Dominican Republic, but to the edges of our vast military-surveillance grid, into cyberspace, and via spinning satellites and other spying systems, into space itself.</p>
<p>Back in 2004, a single <a href=”http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf”>sentence</a> in the 9/11 commission report caught this changing mood succinctly: &ldquo;9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there&rsquo; should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against Americans &lsquo;over here.&rsquo; In this same sense the American homeland is the planet.&rdquo;</p>
<p><strong>New World Border</strong></p>
<p>Washington&rsquo;s response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake provides one example of how quickly a mobile U.S. border and associated fears of massive immigration or unrest can be brought into play.</p>
<p>In the first days after that disaster, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane circled parts of the island for five hours repeatedly <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/us/19refugee.html?_r=0″>broadcasting</a> in Creole the prerecorded voice of Raymond Joseph, Haiti&rsquo;s ambassador to the United States.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Listen, don&rsquo;t rush [to the United States] on boats to leave the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If you do that, we&rsquo;ll all have even worse problems. Because I&rsquo;ll be honest with you: if you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that&rsquo;s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.&rdquo;</p>
<p>That disembodied voice from the heavens was addressing Haitians still stunned in the wake of an earthquake that had killed up to 316,000 people and left an additional one million homeless. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/19/haiti.broadcast.warning/”>explained</a> the daily flights to CNN this way: &ldquo;We are sending public service messages&hellip; to save lives.&rdquo; Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly dispatched 16 Coast Guard cutters to patrol Haitian waters, blocking people from leaving their devastated island. DHS authorities also cleared space in a 600-bed immigration detention center in Miami, and at the <a href=”http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/business-disaster-wheres-haiti-bound-money-going”>for-profit</a> Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center (run by the GEO Group) at the infamous U.S. base in Cuba.</p>
<p>In other words, the U.S. border is no longer static and &ldquo;homeland security&rdquo; no longer stays in the homeland: it&rsquo;s mobile, it&rsquo;s rapid, and it’s international.</p>
<p>Maybe this is why, last March, when I asked the young salesmen from <a href=”http://www.l-3com.com/”>L-3 Communications</a>, a surveillance technology company, at the <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>Border Security Expo</a> in Phoenix if they were worried about the sequester — Congress&rsquo;s across-the-board budget cuts that have taken dollars away from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security — one of them simply shrugged. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s the international market,&rdquo; he said as if this were almost too obvious to mention.</p>
<p>He was standing in front of a black globular glass eye of a camera they were peddling to security types.&nbsp; It was draped with desert camouflage, as if we were out in the Arizona borderlands, while all around us you could feel the energy, the synergy, of an emerging border-industrial complex.&nbsp; Everywhere you looked government officials, Border Patrol types, and the representatives of private industry were meeting and dealing in front of hundreds of booths under the high ceilings of the convention center.</p>
<p>On the internationalization of border security, he wasn&rsquo;t exaggerating. At least 14 other countries ranging from Israel to Russia were present, their representatives browsing products ranging from miniature drones to Glock handguns. And behind the bustle of that event lay estimates that the global market for homeland security and emergency management will <a href=”http://www.siptrunkingreport.com/news/2013/08/09/7336900.htm”>reach</a> $544 billion annually by 2018. &ldquo;The threat of cross-border terrorism, cyber-crime, piracy, drug trade, human trafficking, internal dissent, separatist movements has been a driving factor for the homeland security market,&rdquo; the market research company MarketsandMarkets <a href=”http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/homeland-security-emergency-management-market-575.html”>reported</a>, based on a study of high-profit security markets in North America, Europe, and Asia.</p>
<p>This booming business thrives off the creation of new border patrols globally. The Dominican Republic&rsquo;s CESFRONT, for instance, did not exist before 2006. That year, according to <em>Dominican Today</em>, a group of &ldquo;U.S. experts&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2006/8/7/16173/US-team-reveals-weaknesses-at-the-Dominican-Haiti-border”>reported</a> that there were &ldquo;a series of weaknesses that will lead to all kinds of illicit activities&rdquo; on the Haitian-Dominican border. The U.S. team recommended that &ldquo;there should be helicopters deployed in the region and [that] there be a creation of a Border Guard.&rdquo; A month after their report appeared, that country, by Dominican presidential decree, had its own border patrol.</p>
<p>By 2009, the new force had already received training, funding, and resources from a number of U.S. agencies, <a href=”https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10SANTODOMINGO5_a.html”>including</a> the Border Patrol itself. Somehow, it seems that what the U.S. consulate calls &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; between the Dominican Republic and the hemisphere&rsquo;s poorest country has become an integral part of a terror-obsessed world.</p>
<p>When I met with Colonel Orlando Jerez, a CESFRONT commander, in the border guard agency&rsquo;s headquarters in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, I noticed that on his desk he had a U.S. Border Patrol model car, a replica of the one that agency <a href=”http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/27/while-battling-drug-cartels-border-agency-spent-84/?page=all”>sponsored</a> on the NASCAR circuit from 2006 to 2008 in an attempt to recruit new agents. Along the side of the shiny box that held it was this mission statement: &ldquo;We are the guardians of the nation&rsquo;s borders, we are America&rsquo;s frontlines.&rdquo;</p>
<p>When I asked Jerez whether CESFRONT had a relationship with our Border Patrol, he replied without a second&rsquo;s hesitation, &ldquo;Of course, they have an office in the U.S. embassy.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Jerez is not alone. Washington&rsquo;s global boundary-building, its promotion of those strong borders, and its urge to preempt &ldquo;terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there,&rsquo;&rdquo; as the 9/11 commission report put it, are spreading fast. For example, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a $496 million U.S. counter-drug plan launched in 2008, identifies <a href=”http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2012/183455.htm”>&ldquo;border security deficiencies&rdquo;</a> among Central American countries as a key problem to be dealt with ASAP. So the U.S. Border Patrol has gone to Guatemala and Honduras to help train new units of border guards.</p>
<p>As in Central America, border patrolling&rsquo;s most vibrant markets are in places that Washington sees as far too chaotic, yet where its economic and political interests reside. For six years now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sent its agents, <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbpphotos/sets/72157627531647935/”>clad</a> in brown jumpsuits, to Iraq&rsquo;s borderlands to assist that government in the creation of a force to police its &ldquo;porous&rdquo; borders (where chaos has indeed been endemic since the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of the country). U.S. boundary-building efforts began there in 2004 with an operation labeled <a href=”http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-08-14-iraq-border_x.htm”>&ldquo;Phantom Linebacker&rdquo;</a> in which 15,000 border guards were trained to patrol in — as the name of the operation indicates — the spirit of American football.</p>
<p>In 2012, agent Adrian Long <a href=”http://nemo.cbp.gov/opa/frontline/frontline_spring12.pdf”>told</a> <em>Frontline</em>, the CBP’s in-house magazine, that his agency trains Iraqis &ldquo;in Border Patrol techniques like cutting sign, doing drags, setting up checkpoints and patrols.&rdquo; Long was repeating the same lingo so often heard on the U.S.-Mexican border, where agents &ldquo;cut sign&rdquo; to track people by their trail marks and do &ldquo;drags&rdquo; to smooth out dirt roads so they can more easily see the footprints of any &ldquo;border intruders.&rdquo; In Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents are similarly training forces to police that country&rsquo;s 3,436 miles of frontiers. In 2012, during one training session, an Afghan policeman even turned his gun on two CBP agents in an &ldquo;insider attack,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/green-on-blue-murder-afghanistan-war-claims-two-us-cbp-agents-lives”>killing</a> them and seriously injuring a third.</p>
<p>Around soccer&rsquo;s World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010, CBP assisted that government in creating a Customs and Border Control Unit tasked with &ldquo;securing South Africa&rsquo;s borders while facilitating the movement of goods and people,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/frontline_magazine/frontline_sum10_print.ctt/frontline.pdf”>according</a> to CBP&rsquo;s Africa and Middle East branch country manager for South Africa Tasha Reid Hippolyte. South Africa has even brought its <a href=”http://www.irinnews.org/report/89262/south-africa-troops-reinforcing-a-porous-and-dangerous-border”>military special forces</a> into the border patrolling process. Near the Zimbabwean border, its militarized guards were using a triple barrier of razor wire and electric fencing that can be set to offer shocks ranging from mild to deadly in their efforts to stop border crossers. Such equipment had not been used in that country since the apartheid-era.</p>
<p>In many cases, the U.S. is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries.&nbsp; More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2007/jun_jul/extend_america.xml”>taken part</a> in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.</p>
<p>Meanwhile, U.S. borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters.&nbsp; As Michael Schmidt <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/europe/us-security-has-beachhead-at-foreign-airports.html”>wrote </a>in the <em>New York Times</em> in 2012, for example, &ldquo;An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.&rdquo; There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti&rsquo;s case, in the international waters around your country, the U.S. border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the &ldquo;homeland.&rdquo; If you don&rsquo;t meet Washington&rsquo;s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from travelling anywhere at all.</p>
<p>CBP attach&eacute;s are now detailed to U.S. embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, and Canada, among many other countries. According to an agency publication, <em>Customs and Border Protection Today</em>, they have been <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>tasked</a> with the mission of keeping &ldquo;terrorists and their weapons from our shores,&rdquo; as well as providing technical assistance, &ldquo;fostering secure trade practices, and strengthening border authority principles.&rdquo; The anonymous writer then typically, if floridly, describes &ldquo;our country&rsquo;s border&rdquo; as &ldquo;the armor of the body politic; it protects the systems and infrastructures that function within. Knives pierce armor and can jeopardize the body — so we sheath them; keep them at bay; and demand accountability from those who use them.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p>
<p>As CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>put it</a> in 2004, the U.S. is &ldquo;extending our zone of security, where we can do so, beyond our physical borders — so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first line of defense.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Perhaps this is why few here batted an eye when, in 2012, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin flatly <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/dhs-official-our-southern-border-is-now-with-guatemala”>declared</a>, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”</p>
<p><strong>On the Edge of Empire</strong></p>
<p>As dusk falls and the rainstorm ends, I walk along the river&rsquo;s edge where those Dominican border patrol agents are still sitting, staring into Haiti. Considering that U.S. forces occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times in the previous century, it&rsquo;s easy to imagine why Washington&rsquo;s border chieftains consider this sad, impoverished spot part of our &ldquo;backyard.&rdquo; Not far from where I&rsquo;m walking is the Codevi industrial free trade zone that straddles the border.&nbsp; There, Haitian workers churn out jeans mainly for Levi Strauss and the North American market, <a href=”http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2010/10/16/haitis_garment_industry_hanging_by_a_thread.html”>earning</a> less than three dollars a day.</p>
<p>I approach one of the CESFRONT guards in his desert camouflage uniform. &nbsp;He&rsquo;s sitting with his assault rifle between his legs. He looks beyond bored — no surprise since being suspicious of people who happen to be on the other side of a border can be deadly tedious work.</p>
<p>Diaz, as his name patch identifies him, tells me that his shift, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, is normally eventless because Haitians rarely cross here. When I explain where I&rsquo;m from, he wants to know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like. I tell him about the fencing, the sensors, the cameras, and the agents everywhere you look. I ask if he has ever met agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.</p>
<p>&nbsp;&ldquo;Of course!&rdquo; he says in Spanish, &ldquo;there have been training sessions.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Then I ask if terrorists are crossing this border, which is the reason the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo gives for supporting the creation of CESFRONT.</p>
<p>Diaz looks at me as if I&rsquo;m nuts before offering an emphatic &ldquo;No!&rdquo;</p>
<p>No surprise there either.&nbsp; CESFRONT, like similar outfits proliferating globally, isn&rsquo;t really about terrorism. It&rsquo;s all about Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a response to fears of the mass movement of desperate, often hungry, people in the U.S. sphere of dominance. It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited.</p>
<p>With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the U.S.-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>grown up</a> around it are heading abroad in a major way.&nbsp; If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along U.S. borders, but also at the edges of its empire.</p>
<p><em>Todd Miller, a <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_creating_a_military-industrial-immigration_complex”>TomDispatch regular</a>, has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog &ldquo;</em><a href=”http://nacla.org/blog/border-wars”><em>Border Wars</em></a><em>,&rdquo; among other places. His first book, </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/0872866319/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>Border Patrol Nation</a>,<em> will be published in spring 2014 for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.</em></p>
<p><em>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch”>Facebook</a> or <a href=”http://tomdispatch.tumblr.com/”>Tumblr</a>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones&rsquo;s </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463710/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America&rsquo;s Wars — The Untold Story</a><em>.</em></p>
<p>Copyright 2013 Todd Miller</p>
</blockquote>

Tom Engelhardt: You Are Our Secret

6:54 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

NSA HQ

NSA Headquarters in Ft. Meade. Snowden’s whistleblowing has revealed much about what goes on in places like this.

As happens with so much news these days, the Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) spying and just how far we’ve come in the building of a surveillance state have swept over us 24/7 — waves of leaks, videos, charges, claims, counterclaims, skullduggery, and government threats.  When a flood sweeps you away, it’s always hard to find a little dry land to survey the extent and nature of the damage.  Here’s my attempt to look beyond the daily drumbeat of this developing story (which, it is promised, will go on for weeks, if not months) and identify five urges essential to understanding the world Edward Snowden has helped us glimpse.

1. The Urge to be Global

Corporately speaking, globalization has been ballyhooed since at least the 1990s, but in governmental terms only in the twenty-first century has that globalizing urge fully infected the workings of the American state itself.  It’s become common since 9/11 to speak of a “national security state.”  But if a week of ongoing revelations about NSA surveillance practices has revealed anything, it’s that the term is already grossly outdated.  Based on what we now know, we should be talking about an American global security state.

Much attention has, understandably enough, been lavished on the phone and other metadata about American citizens that the NSA is now sweeping up and about the ways in which such activities may be abrogating the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  Far less attention has been paid to the ways in which the NSA (and other U.S. intelligence outfits) are sweeping up global data in part via the just-revealed Prism and other surveillance programs.

Sometimes, naming practices are revealing in themselves, and the National Security Agency’s key data mining tool, capable in March 2013 of gathering “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide,” has been named “boundless informant.”  If you want a sense of where the U.S. Intelligence Community imagines itself going, you couldn’t ask for a better hint than that word “boundless.”  It seems that for our spooks, there are, conceptually speaking, no limits left on this planet.

Today, that “community” seeks to put not just the U.S., but the world fully under its penetrating gaze.  By now, the first “heat map” has been published showing where such information is being sucked up from monthly: Iran tops the list (14 billion pieces of intelligence); then come Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion), and India (6.3 billion).  Whether you realize this or not, even for a superpower that has unprecedented numbers of military bases scattered across the planet and has divided the world into six military commands, this represents something new under the sun.  The only question is what?

The twentieth century was the century of “totalitarianisms.”  We don’t yet have a name, a term, for the surveillance structures Washington is building in this century, but there can be no question that, whatever the present constraints on the system, “total” has something to do with it and that we are being ushered into a new world. Despite the recent leaks, we still undoubtedly have a very limited picture of just what the present American surveillance world really looks like and what it plans for our future.  One thing is clear, however: the ambitions behind it are staggering and global.

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Peter Van Buren: The Ultimate No-Fly List

7:24 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

State Department building in Washington, DC

State Department building in Washington, DC (Photo: NCinDC / Flickr)

Last week, touching down in India on his way to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta described reality as you seldom hear it in the confines of Washington and, while he was at it, put his stamp of approval on a new global doctrine for the United States.  Panetta is, of course, the man who, as director of the CIA, once called its drone air campaign in the Pakistani borderlands “the only game in town.”  (At the time, as now, it was a classified, “covert” set of air strikes that were a secret to no one in Washington, Islamabad, or anywhere else on Earth.)

In India, expressing his frustration over U.S. relations with Pakistan, he spoke the “W-word” aloud for the first time.  “We are,” he told his Indian hosts, “fighting a war in the FATA [the Pakistani tribal areas].”  How true.  Washington has indeed long been involved in a complex, confusing, escalating, and undoubtedly self-defeating partial war with Pakistan, never until now officially called by that name, even as the intensity of the drone air campaign in that country’s borderlands continues to ratchet up.  So give Panetta credit for rare bluntness.

In India, he said something else previously unspoken, acknowledging a breathtaking new reality: “We have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves. This is about our sovereignty as well.”  In other words, he claimed that, while the sovereignty of other countries might be eternally violable, U.S. sovereignty extends inviolably over Pakistani territory.  This is, in fact, the concept that underpins the use of drones there and elsewhere.  When it comes to its presidential version of war-making, only the U.S. has a claim to global sovereignty, against which the more traditional concept of national sovereignty doesn’t stand a chance.

In Washington, a controversy has now broken out over what are clearly administration leaks about our drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and our new cyberwar against Iran.  It’s clear enough that, in its urge to run a Republican-proof election campaign on the image of a tough-guy president, those in the Oval Office, themselves fierce anti-leakers in other circumstances, didn’t know when to stop leaking information they considered advantageous to the president and so badly overplayed their hand.  Now, as prosecutors from the Justice Department (one with a pedigree that should leave the administration shaking in its combat boots) are being appointed to look into the leaks, all bets should be off in the capital.  Hold onto your hats, tell your journalist friends that, as the investigations begin, they are the ones likely to find themselves in the hottest water, and expect almost anything in the coming months.

One thing won’t happen, though.  You’re not going to get tons more Panetta-style realism.  It’s clear that all of Washington’s players, however intensely they might argue with one another, will be pulling together to shut down those leaks and any others heading our way.  We at TomDispatch are convinced, on the other hand, that its time to open the faucets, turn those drips into a steady stream, and let the American people know just what is being done, what wars (even when not called wars) are being fought in their name, what new weapons are being released into the world with their imprimatur (if not their knowledge).

It’s with some pride, then, that TomDispatch turns to its whistleblower-in-residence, State Department official Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, to offer his take on what this controversy really means for us all and just how it looks to someone who has been on the other end of the Obama administration’s fierce crackdown on governmental truth-tellers, rather than image-padders. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses how Washington has changed when it comes to both leaking and stifling information, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Leaking War
How Obama’s Targeted Killings, Leaks, and the Everything-Is-Classified State Have Fused
By Peter Van Buren

Read the rest of this entry →

Tom Engelhardt: Kicking Down the World’s Door

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a reminder for those planning their week: Jeremy Scahill, one of the best investigative journalists in the business, and I will be talking together on stage at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute on Friday, February 10th, 6-8pm. Click here for details and directions.  It’s for the official launch of my book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), which you can buy by clicking here.  For a contribution of $75 or more to TomDispatch, you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book with my thanks to you.  (Visit our donation page by clicking here.)  If you buy the book, or anything else, via any of our book links that take you to Amazon.com, this website gets a modest percentage of your purchase, which is a good way to contribute at no extra cost to you. Tom]

Offshore Everywhere
How Drones, Special Operations Forces, and the U.S. Navy Plan to End National Sovereignty As We Know It

By Tom Engelhardt

Make no mistake: we’re entering a new world of military planning.  Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget manages to preserve just about every costly toy-cum-boondoggle from the good old days when MiGs still roamed the skies, including an uncut nuclear arsenal.  Eternally over-budget items like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cherished by their services and well-lobbied congressional representatives, aren’t leaving the scene any time soon, though delays or cuts in purchase orders are planned.  All this should reassure us that, despite the talk of massive cuts, the U.S. military will continue to be the profligate, inefficient, and remarkably ineffective institution we’ve come to know and squander our treasure on.

Still, the cuts that matter are already in the works, the ones that will change the American way of war.  They may mean little in monetary terms — the Pentagon budget is actually slated to increase through 2017 — but in imperial terms they will make a difference.  A new way of preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming into focus and one thing is clear: in the name of Washington’s needs, it will offer a direct challenge to national sovereignty.

Heading Offshore

The Marines began huge amphibious exercises — dubbed Bold Alligator 2012 — off the East coast of the U.S. last week, but someone should IM them: it won’t help.  No matter what they do, they are going to have less boots on the ground in the future, and there’s going to be less ground to have them on.  The same is true for the Army (even if a cut of 100,000 troops will still leave the combined forces of the two services larger than they were on September 11, 2001).  Less troops, less full-frontal missions, no full-scale invasions, no more counterinsurgency: that’s the order of the day.  Just this week, in fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the schedule for the drawdown of combat boots in Afghanistan might be speeded up by more than a year.  Consider it a sign of the times.

Like the F-35, American mega-bases, essentially well-fortified American towns plunked down in a strange land, like our latest “embassies” the size of lordly citadels, aren’t going away soon.  After all, in base terms, we’re already hunkered down in the Greater Middle East in an impressive way.  Even in post-withdrawal Iraq, the Pentagon is negotiating for a new long-term defense agreement that might include getting a little of its former base space back, and it continues to build in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, Washington has typically signaled in recent years that it’s ready to fight to the last Japanese prime minister not to lose a single base among the three dozen it has on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military is dragging its old habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it’s still heading offshore.  There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent.  Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the Air Force, and a policy “pivot” to face China in southern Asia where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, “offshore” means the world’s boundary-less waters and skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems.  This change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed.  New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a harbinger of and model for what’s to come.  It was an operation enveloped in a cloak of secrecy.  There was no consultation with the “ally” on whose territory the raid was to occur.  It involved combat by an elite special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry and supported by the CIA.  A national boundary was crossed without either permission or any declaration of hostilities.  The object was that elusive creature “terrorism,” the perfect global will-o’-the-wisp around which to plan an offshore future.

All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty has been given little attention.

Since November 2002, when a Hellfire missile from a CIA-operated Predator drone turned a car with six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen into ash, robotic aircraft have led the way in this border-crossing, air-space penetrating assault. The U.S. now has drone bases across the planet, 60 at last count.  Increasingly, the long-range reach of its drone program means that those robotic planes can penetrate just about any nation’s air space.  It matters little whether that country houses them itself.  Take Pakistan, which just forced the CIA to remove its drones from Shamsi Air Base.  Nonetheless, CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands continue, assumedly from bases in Afghanistan, and recently President Obama offered a full-throated public defense of them.  (That there have been fewer of them lately has been a political decision of the Obama administration, not of the Pakistanis.)

Drones themselves are distinctly fallible, crash-prone machines.  (Just last week, for instance, an advanced Israeli drone capable of hitting Iran went down on a test flight, a surveillance drone — assumedly American — crashed in a Somali refugee camp, and a report surfaced that some U.S. drones in Afghanistan can’t fly in that country’s summer heat.)  Still, they are, relatively speaking, cheap to produce.  They can fly long distances across almost any border with no danger whatsoever to their human pilots and are capable of staying aloft for extended periods of time.  They allow for surveillance and strikes anywhere.  By their nature, they are border-busting creatures.  It’s no mistake then that they are winners in the latest Pentagon budgeting battles or, as a headline at Wired’s Danger Room blog summed matters up, “Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget.”

And keep in mind that when drones are capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will quite literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of crossing any.  (The Navy’s latest plans include a future drone that will land itself on those decks without a human pilot at any controls.)

War has always been the most human and inhuman of activities.  Now, it seems, its inhuman aspect is quite literally on the rise.  With the U.S. military working to roboticize the future battlefield, the American way of war is destined to be imbued with Terminator-style terror.

Already American drones regularly cross borders with mayhem in mind in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Because of a drone downed in Iran, we know that they have also been flying surveillance missions in that country’s airspace as — for the State Department — they are in Iraq.  Washington is undoubtedly planning for far more of the same.

American War Enters the Shadows

Along with those skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes a rise in U.S. special operations forces.  They, too, are almost by definition boundary-busting outfits.  Once upon a time, an American president had his own “private army” — the CIA.  Now, in a sense, he has his own private military.  Formerly modest-sized units of elite special operations forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military cocooned in the military, which is slated for further expansion.  According to Nick Turse, in 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.

By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers.  They function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army slowly withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called “lily pads” — think frogs jumping across a pond to their prey.  No longer will the Pentagon be building American towns with all the amenities of home, but forward-deployed, minimalist outposts near likely global hotspots, like Camp Lemonnier in the North African nation of Djibouti.

Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are likely to take place with little accountability to anyone, except the president and the national security complex.

In those shadows, our secret forces are already melding into one another.  A striking sign of this was the appointment as CIA director of a general who, in Iraq and Afghanistan, had relied heavily on special forces hunter-killer teams and night raiders, as well as drones, to do the job.  Undoubtedly the most highly praised general of our American moment, General David Petraeus has himself slipped into the shadows where he is presiding over covert civilian forces working ever more regularly in tandem with special operations teams and sharing drone assignments with the military.

And don’t forget the Navy, which couldn’t be more offshore to begin with.  It already operates 11 aircraft carrier task forces (none of which are to be cut — thanks to a decision reportedly made by the president).  These are, effectively, major American bases — massively armed small American towns — at sea.  To these, the Navy is adding smaller “bases.”  Right now, for instance, it’s retrofitting an old amphibious transport docking ship bound for the Persian Gulf either as a Navy Seal commando “mothership” or (depending on which Pentagon spokesperson you listen to) as a “lily pad” for counter-mine Sikorsky MH-53 helicopters and patrol craft.  Whichever it may be, it will just be a stopgap until the Navy can build new “Afloat Forward Staging Bases” from scratch.

Futuristic weaponry now in the planning stages could add to the miliary’s border-crossing capabilities.  Take the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon or DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, both of which are intended, someday, to hit targets anywhere on Earth with massive conventional explosives in less than an hour.

From lily pads to aircraft carriers, advanced drones to special operations teams, it’s offshore and into the shadows for U.S. military policy.  While the United States is economically in decline, it remains the sole military superpower on the planet.  No other country pours anywhere near as much money into its military and its national security establishment or is likely to do so in the foreseeable future.  It’s clear enough that Washington is hoping to offset any economic decline with newly reconfigured military might.  As in the old TV show, the U.S. has gun, will travel.

Onshore, American power in the twenty-first century proved a disaster.  Offshore, with Washington in control of the global seas and skies, with its ability to kick down the world’s doors and strike just about anywhere without a by-your-leave or thank-you-ma’am, it hopes for better.  As the early attempts to put this program into operation from Pakistan to Yemen have indicated, however, be careful what you wish for: it sometimes comes home to bite you.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

[Note: I couldn’t have written this piece without the superb reportage of TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse on bases, drones, and special operations forces.  I offer him a deep bow of thanks. Tom]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt

Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Weapons of Mass Disruption

8:30 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch

Memo to President Obama: Given the absence of intelligent intelligence and the inadequacy of your advisers’ advice, it’s not surprising that your handling of the Egyptian uprising has set new standards for foreign policy incoherence and incompetence.  Perhaps a primer on how to judge the power that can be wielded by mass protest will prepare you better for the next round of political upheavals.

Remember the uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989?  That was also a huge, peaceful protest for democracy, but it was crushed with savage violence.  Maybe the memory of that event convinced you and your team that, as Secretary of State Clinton announced when the protests began, the Mubarak regime was “stable” and in “no danger of falling.” Or maybe your confidence rested on the fact that it featured a disciplined modern army trained and supplied by the USA.

*****

But it fell, and you should have known that it was in grave danger.  You should have known that the prognosis for this uprising was far better than the one that ended in a massacre in Tiananmen Square; that it was more likely to follow the pattern of people power in Tunisia, where only weeks before another autocrat had been driven from power, or Iran in 1979 and Poland in 1989.

Since your intelligence people, including the CIA, obviously didn’t tell you, let me offer you an explanation for why the Egyptian protesters proved so much more successful in fighting off the threat and reality of violence than their Chinese compatriots, and why they were so much better equipped to deter an attack by a standing army.  Most importantly, let me fill you in on why, by simply staying in the streets and adhering to their commitment to nonviolence, they were able to topple a tyrant with 30 years seniority and the backing of the United States from the pinnacle of power, sweeping him into the dustbin of history.  

When Does an Army Choose to Be Nonviolent?

One possible answer — a subtext of mainstream media coverage — is that the Egyptian military, unlike its Chinese counterpart, decided not to crush the rebellion, and that this forbearance enabled the protest to succeed.  However, this apparently reasonable argument actually explains nothing unless we can answer two intertwined questions that flow from it.

The first is: Why was the military so restrained this time around, when for 50 years, “it has stood at the core of a repressive police state.”  The second is: Why couldn’t the government, even without a military ready to turn its guns on the demonstrators, endure a few more days, weeks, or months of protest, while waiting for the uprising to exhaust itself, and — as the BBC put it — “have the whole thing fizzle out.”

The answer to both questions lies in the remarkable impact that the protest had on the Egyptian economy. Mubarak and his cohort (as well as the military, which is the country’s economic powerhouse) were alarmed that the business “paralysis induced by the protests” was “having a huge impact on the creaking economy” of Egypt.  As Finance Minister Samir Radwin said two weeks into the uprising, the economic situation was “very serious” and that “the longer the stalemate continues, the more damaging it is.”

From their inception, the huge protests threatened the billions of dollars that the leaders and chief beneficiaries of the Mubarak regime had acquired during their 30 year reign of terror, corruption, and accumulation.  To the generals in particular, it was surely apparent that the massive acts of brutality necessary to suppress the uprising would have caused perhaps irreparable harm, threatening its vast economic interests. In other words, either trying to outwait the revolutionaries or imposing the Tiananmen solution risked the downfall of the economic empires of Egypt’s ruling groups.

But why would either of those responses destroy the economy?

Squeezing the Life Out of the Mubarak Regime

Put simply, from the beginning, the Egyptian uprising had the effect of a general strike.  Starting on January 25th, the first day of the protest, tourism — the largest industry in the country, which had just begun its high season — went into free fall.  After two weeks, the industry had simply “ground to a halt,” leaving a significant portion of the two million workers it supported with reduced wages or none at all, and the few remaining tourists rattling around empty hotels, catching the pyramids, if at all, on television.

Since pyramids and other Egyptian sites attract more than a million visitors a month and account for at least 5% of the Egyptian economy, tourism alone (given the standard multiplier effect) may account for over 15% of the country’s cash flow. Not surprisingly, then, news reports soon began mentioning revenue losses of up to $310 million per day. In an economy with an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of well over $200 billion, each day that Mubarak clung to office produced a tangible and growing decline in it.  After two weeks of this ticking time bomb, Crédit Agricole, the largest banking group in France, lowered its growth estimate for the country’s economy by 32%.

The initial devastating losses in the tourist, hotel, and travel sectors of the Egyptian economy hit industries dominated by huge multinational corporations and major Egyptian business groups dependent on a constant flow of revenues.  When cash flow dies, loan payments must still be made, hotels heated, airline schedules kept, and many employees, especially executives, paid.  In such a situation, losses start mounting fast, and even the largest companies can face a crisis quickly. The situation was especially ominous because it was known that skittish travelers would be unlikely to return until they were confident that no further disruptions would occur.

The largest of businesses, local and multinational, are not normally prone to inactivity.  They are the ones likely to move most quickly to stem a tide of red ink by agitating the government to suppress such a protest, hopefully yesterday. But the staggering size of even the early demonstrations, the face of a mobilizing civil society visibly shedding 30 years of passivity, proved stunning.  The fiercely brave response to police attacks, in which repression was met by masses of new demonstrators pouring into the streets, made it clear that brutal suppression would not quickly silence these protests.  Such acts were more likely to prolong the disruptions and possibly amplify the uprising.

Even if Washington was slow on the uptake, it didn’t take long for the relentlessly repressive Egyptian ruling clique to grasp the fact that large-scale, violent suppression was an impossible-to-implement strategy.  Once the demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians, a huge and bloody suppression guaranteed long-term economic paralysis and ensured that the tourist trade wasn’t going to rebound for months or longer.

The paralysis of the tourism industry was, in itself, an economic time bomb that threatened the viability of the core of the Egyptian capitalist class, as long as the demonstrations continued.  Recovery could only begin after a “return to normal life,” a phrase that became synonymous with the end of the protests in the rhetoric of the government, the military, and the mainstream media. With so many fortunes at stake, the business classes, foreign and domestic, soon enough began entertaining the most obvious and least disruptive solution: Mubarak’s departure.

Strangling the Mubarak Regime

The attack on tourism, however, was just the first blow in what rapidly became the protestors’ true weapon of mass disruption, its increasing stranglehold on the economy. The crucial communications and transportation industries were quickly engulfed in chaos and disrupted by the demonstrations.  The government at first shut down the Internet and mobile phone service in an effort to deny the protestors their means of communication and organization, including Facebook and Twitter.  When they were reopened, these services operated imperfectly, in part because of the increasingly rebellious behavior of their own employees.

Similar effects were seen in transportation, which became unreliable and sporadic, either because of government shutdowns aimed at crippling the protests or because the protests interfered with normal operations.  And such disruptions quickly rippled outward to the many sectors of the economy, from banking to foreign trade, for which communication and/or transportation was crucial.

As the demonstrations grew, employees, customers, and suppliers of various businesses were ever more consumed with preparations for, participation in, or recovery from the latest protest, or protecting homes from looters and criminals after the government called the police force off the streets.  On Fridays especially, many people left work to join the protest during noon prayers, abandoning their offices as the country immersed itself in the next big demonstration — and then the one after.

As long as the protests were sustained, as long as each new crescendo matched or exceeded the last, the economy continued to die while business and political elites became ever more desperate for a solution to the crisis.

The Rats Leave the Sinking Ship of State

After each upsurge in protest, Mubarak and his cronies offered new concessions aimed at quieting the crowds.  These, in turn, were taken as signs of weakness by the protestors, only convincing them of their strength, amplifying the movement, and driving it into the heart of the Egyptian working class and the various professional guilds.  By the start of the third week of demonstrations, protests began to hit critical institutions directly.

On February 9th, reports of a widening wave of strikes in major industries around the country began pouring in, as lawyers, medical workers, and other professionals also took to the streets with their grievances.  In a single day, tens of thousands of employees in textile factories, newspapers and other media companies, government agencies (including the post office), sanitation workers and bus drivers, and — most significant of all — workers at the Suez Canal began demanding economic concessions as well as the departure of Mubarak.

Since the Suez Canal is second only to tourism as a source of income for the country, a sit-in there, involving up to 6,000 workers, was particularly ominous.  Though the protestors made no effort to close the canal, the threat to its operation was self-evident.

A shutdown of the canal would have been not just an Egyptian but a world calamity: a significant proportion of the globe’s oil flows through that canal, especially critical for energy-starved Europe.  A substantial shipping slowdown, no less a shutdown, threatened a possible renewal of the worldwide recession of 2008-2009, even as it would choke off the Egyptian government’s major source of steady income.

As if this weren’t enough, the demonstrators turned their attention to various government institutions, attempting to render them “nonfunctional.” The day after the president’s third refusal to step down, protestors claimed that many regional capitals, including Suez, Mahalla, Mansoura, Ismailia, Port Said, and even Alexandria (the country’s major Mediterranean port), were “free of the regime” — purged of Mubarak officials, state-controlled communications, and the hated police and security forces.  In Cairo, the national capital, demonstrators began to surround the parliament, the state TV building, and other centers critical to the national government.  Alaa Abd El Fattah, an activist and well known political blogger in Cairo, told Democracy Now that the crowd “could continue to escalate, either by claiming more places or by actually moving inside these buildings, if the need comes.” With the economy choking to death, the demonstrators were now moving to put a hammerlock on the government apparatus itself.

At that point, a rats-leaving-a-sinking-ship-of-state phenomenon burst into public visibility as “several large companies took out adverts in local newspapers putting distance between themselves and the regime.”  Guardian reporter Jack Shenker affirmed this public display by quoting informed sources describing widespread “nervousness among the business community” about the viability of the regime, and that “a lot of people you might think are in bed with Mubarak have privately lost patience.”

It was this tightening noose around the neck of the Mubarak regime that made the remarkable protests of these last weeks so different from those in Tiananmen Square.  In China, the demonstrators had negligible economic and political leverage.  In Egypt, the option of a brutal military attack, even if “successful” in driving them off the streets, seemed to all but guarantee the deepening of an already dire economic crisis, subjecting ever widening realms of the economy — and so the wealth of the military — to the risk of irreparable calamity.

Perhaps Mubarak would have been willing to sacrifice all this to stay in power.  As it happened, a growing crew of movers and shakers, including the military leadership, major businessmen, foreign investors, and interested foreign governments saw a far more appealing alternative solution.

Weil Ziada, head of research for a major Egyptian financial firm, spoke for the business and political class when he told Guardian reporter Jack Shenker on February 11th:

“Anti-government sentiment is not calming down, it is gaining momentum…This latest wave is putting a lot more pressure on not just the government but the entire regime; protesters have made their demands clear and there’s no rowing back now. Everything is going down one route. There are two or three scenarios, but all involve the same thing: Mubarak stepping down — and the business community is adjusting its expectations accordingly.”

The next day, President Hosni Mubarak resigned and left Cairo.

President Obama, remember this lesson: If you want to avoid future foreign policy Obaminations, be aware that nonviolent protest has the potential to strangle even the most brutal regime, if it can definitively threaten the viability of its core industries. In these circumstances, a mass movement equipped with fearsome weapons of mass disruption can topple a tyrant equipped with fearsome weapons of mass destruction.

A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Press). Schwartz’s work on protest movements, contentious politics, and the arc of U.S. imperialism has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets over the past 40 years. He is a TomDispatch regular. His email address is ms42@optonline.net. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Schwartz discusses the Egyptian revolution and the power of nonviolent disruption, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Michael Schwartz