Despite opposition from traditional intelligence agencies such as the CIA, Donald Rumsfeld has sent small groups of the special operations staff - reporting directly to him - to more than a dozen US embassies in South-East Asia, Africa and South America. Try reading between the lines here:
The forces gather information to help plan counter-terrorism missions, and help local militaries conduct them, officials told the [New York] Times...In other words, these are Rumsfeld's own secret spies and assassins, spreading around the globe, not only gathering information but also gettting actively involved in violent activities. From the Guardian report:
The teams may not arrive without the approval of the local ambassador, and the soldiers are trained to avoid mishaps with local citizens.
The forces include the army Green Berets and Rangers, the Navy Seals, the marines and special Air Force crews that carry out the most specialised or secret missions. Their skills range from quick strikes to long-range reconnaissance in hostile territory, military training and medical care.
The new Pentagon espionage arm, reported by the New York Times, was designed by Mr Rumsfeld to cut the military's dependence on the CIA for human intelligence.The report suggests there will be "turf wars" between Rummy's Special Ops and the CIA. Never mind that the "turf" they are actually fighting over is foreign soil!
"These small teams help gain situational awareness for geographic combatant commanders, and assist in their planning and preparation in support of the global war on terror," a Pentagon official said yesterday.
The official said the Military Liaison Elements (MLEs) would be based with the knowledge of the local US ambassador and the authorities in their host country. They would also help to train local forces in counter-terrorism. "MLEs are not deployed as forward elements of pending operations," the official said.
Defence analysts said Mr Rumsfeld had been pushing for an expanded role for the military since the September 11 attacks, and in 2002 he gave the Special Operations Command (Socom) authority to help arm and train foreign troops.
The original NYT piece shows that these forces were originally deployed by Rumsfeld in a secretive (and illegal) manner, and there has already been at least one cock-up:
In Paraguay a year and a half ago, members of one of the first of these "Military Liaison Elements" to be deployed were pulled out of the country after killing a robber armed with a pistol and a club who attacked them as they stepped out of a taxi, officials said. Though the shooting had nothing to do with their mission, the episode embarrassed senior embassy officials, who had not been told the team was operating in the country.And it sounds like the real "turf wars" are in Washington DC, between Rumsfeld and the CIA:
One official who was briefed on the events, but was not authorized to discuss them, said the soldiers were not operating out of the embassy, but out of a hotel.
Now, officials at the Special Operations Command say, no teams may arrive without the approval of the local ambassador, and the soldiers are based in embassies and are trained to avoid high-profile missteps.
The creation of the Military Liaison Elements, and the broader tug-of-war over the Special Operations Command's new role, appear to have exacerbated the disorganization, even distrust, that critics in Congress and the academic world have said permeates the government's counterterrorism efforts.So what's new, eh?
Znet has more on this and some of the Bush administrations other "special programs".