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America’s Black-Ops Blackout
Posted on Jan 9, 2014
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Cole noted that, in Afghanistan, U.S. AID personnel were sometimes working hand-in-hand on the Village Stability Operation initiative with Special Ops forces. In certain areas, she said, “we can dual-hat some of our field program officers as LNOs [liaison officers] in those Joint Special Operations task forces and be able to execute the development work that we need to do alongside of the Special Operations Forces.” She even suggested taking a close look at whether this melding of her civilian agency and special ops might prove to be a model for operations elsewhere in the world.
Cole also mentioned that her office would be training “a senior person” working for McRaven, the man about to “head the SOF element Lebanon”—possibly a reference to the shadowy SOC FWD Lebanon. U.S. AID would, she said, serve as a facilitator in that country, making “sure that he has those relationships that he needs to be able to deal with what is a very, very, very serious problem for our government and for the people of that region.”
U.S. AID is also serving as a facilitator closer to home. Cole noted that her agency was sending advisors to SOCOM headquarters in Florida and had “arranged meetings for [special operators] with experts, done roundtables for them, immersed them in the environment that we understand before they go out to the mission area and connect them with people on the ground.” All of this points to another emerging trend: SOCOM’s invasion of the civilian sphere.
In remarks before the House Armed Services Committee, Admiral McRaven noted that his Washington operation, the SOCOM NCR, “conducts outreach to academia, non-governmental organizations, industry, and other private sector organizations to get their perspective on complex issues affecting SOF.” Speaking at the Wilson Center, he was even more blunt: “[W]e also have liaison officers with industry and with academia… We put some of our best and brightest in some of the academic institutions so we can understand what academia is thinking about.”
SOCOM’s Information Warfare
Not content with a global presence in the physical world, SOCOM has also taken to cyberspace where it operates the Trans Regional Web Initiative, a network of 10 propaganda websites that are run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets. These shadowy sites—including KhabarSouthAsia.com, Magharebia which targets North Africa, an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa.com, and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com—state only in fine print that they are “sponsored by” the U.S. military.
Last June, the Senate Armed Services Committee called out the Trans Regional Web Initiative for “excessive” costs while stating that the “effectiveness of the websites is questionable and the performance metrics do not justify the expense.” In November, SOCOM announced that it was nonetheless seeking to identify industry partners who, under the Initiative, could potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.”
Just as SOCOM is working to influence audiences abroad, it is also engaged in stringent information control at home—at least when it comes to me. Major Bockholt made it clear that SOCOM objected to a 2011 article of mine about U.S. Special Operations forces. “Some of that stuff was inconsistent with actual facts,” he told me. I asked what exactly was inconsistent. “Some of the stuff you wrote about JSOC… I think I read some information about indiscriminate killing or things like that.”
I knew right away just the quote he was undoubtedly referring to—a mention of the Joint Special Operations Command’s overseas kill/capture campaign as “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.” Bockholt said that it was indeed “one quote of concern.” The only trouble: I didn’t say it. It was, as I stated very plainly in the piece, the assessment given by John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former counterinsurgency adviser to now-retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus.
Bockholt offered no further examples of inconsistencies. I asked if he challenged my characterization of any information from an interview I conducted with then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye. He did not. Instead, he explained that SOCOM had issues with my work in general. “As we look at the characterization of your writing, overall, and I know you’ve had some stuff on Vietnam [an apparent reference to my bestselling book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam] and things like that—because of your style, we have to be very particular on how we answer your questions because of how you tend to use that information.” Bockholt then asked if I was anti-military. I responded that I hold all subjects that I cover to a high standard.
Bockholt next took a verbal swipe at the website where I’m managing editor, TomDispatch.com. Given Special Operations Command’s penchant for dabbling in dubious new sites, I was struck when he said that TomDispatch—which has published original news, analysis, and commentary for more than a decade and won the 2013 Utne Media Award for “best political coverage”—was not a “real outlet.” It was, to me, a daring position to take when SOCOM’s shadowy Middle Eastern news site Al-Shorfa.com actually carries a disclaimer that it “cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.”
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