Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin have made keeping track of U.S. covert intelligence a journalistic specialty. In the September 2, 2011 issue of the Post, the two corroborated on a dissection of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which has grown to about 25,000 troops, a number that fluctuates according to mission.
JSOC has the president’s authority to select individuals for its kill list and then to kill, not capture. The CIA has a similar but shorter list. JSOC has its own intelligence division; its own drones and reconnaissance planes; and even its own dedicated satellites. JSOC officers, when working with civilian government agencies in U.S. embassies, dispense with uniforms and wear no names nor rank identifiers.
The only significant difference in JSOC management between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is that Bush rarely briefed JSOC activities to Congress and Obama has insisted that JSOC activities be briefed to select congressional leaders.
Priest and Arkin write that even before Abu Ghraib photos began circulating in 2004, a confidential memo warned that JSOC interrogators were assaulting prisoners and hiding them in secret facilities. They detained mothers, wives and daughters. An investigation over a four-month period in 2004 found that interrogators gave some prisoners only bread and water, in one case for 17 days. Others were locked in cells so cramped they could not stand up nor lie down, while their captors played loud music. Still others were stripped, drenched with cold water and then interrogated in an air-conditioned room or outside.
In 2009, JSOC executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 500 enemy forces in Afghanistan.
The JSOC roles now include tracing the flow of money from international banks to finance terrorist networks and psychological operations.
According to the two reporters, Obama uses JSOC more than did Bush, repeating a pattern found in my prior blogs, whereby Obama follows Bush policies but pursues them more energetically.