Ammo 2.

Back in 2007, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers were firing a billion rounds a year. That’s a lot of bullets, even by my standards. About 1,500 Iraqis were killed by US and coalition forces in 2007.[1] About 4,500 enemy fighters were killed in Afghanistan in 2007.[2] So, that would end up totaling about 6,000 enemy combatants killed in 2007 in the two wars taken together. In theory, that means that American soldiers fired a billion rounds to kill 6,000 enemies. That makes it sound like they’re just spraying around on full-auto at the first sign of trouble. Except that it isn’t true. American soldiers and Marines fire a lot, probably most, of their rounds in training. Still, that leaves us with the question of how many rounds American soldiers did fire in combat. I haven’t figured out how to track that yet. It is worth doing because it is one way of measuring what may have been the experience of Afghans and Iraqis with American soldiers. Do they just shoot up any place that gives them guff or are they obviously discriminating in their use of force? This has implications for our relationships with these people going forward.

Then, bullets are a commodity just like, say, eggs. At any given moment, production is limited to some level. When demand goes up, prices rise until production expands. The federal government can always run a deficit and just print the money it needs. In contrast, state and local governments are required to live within their means. What this meant was that the federal government came to dominate the bullet market at the expense of both hunters and police departments. I don’t know what hunters did. Maybe there are a lot more deer and bear wandering around as a result of our wars. However, faced with a shortage of bullets, police departments responded by reducing the amount of live-fire target practice and training.[3] Apparently, this began back in 2007 at the latest. How long did the training reduction continue? For that matter, is it still in effect? Administrative systems develop a certain momentum that can be difficult to change. The point here is to ask if that training reduction is in any way connected to the recent high-profile cases of police officers shooting unarmed people? Or perhaps this is just an example of “apophenia” (seeing patterns where none actually exist).[4]

Over-lapping this ammunition shortage was another associated with events of the first Obama administration. Many gun-owners were deeply suspicious of the new president on the matter of the Second Amendment.[5] This led to the buying of guns and ammunition, just as my father-in-law’s own father bought several casks of brandy as Prohibition approached. In December 2012, the massacre at Sandy Hook school led to calls[6] for much tighter regulations of guns. Lots of people bought ammunition (and probably receivers). For example, the FBI reported 2.8 million background checks in December 2012, most coming after the Sandy Hook shootings. The price of .22-cal. Long Rifle went from 5 cents a round to 12 cents a round.[7]

Little things can be made to tell you a lot. Or, at least, raise questions.

[1] See:


[3] “Noted,” The Week, 7 September 2007, p. 20.

[4] See: William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003). Amazing book. My students hate it.

[5] His derisive comments about people “holding on to their God and their guns” didn’t win him any friends among gun-owners. See: “Stuff My President Says.”

[6] Including my own e-mailed appeal to one of my two idiot Senators.

[7] This is the ammunition fired by the very popular Ruger 22-10 semi-automatic rifle. Really sweet piece of work.

Power Surge.

In 2003 the United States attacked Iraq. Swift defeat of Iraq’s conventional forces then gave way to misstep after misstep. An insurgency arose among the minority Sunnis deposed from their long dominance by the American invasion. The Shi’ite majority demanded that the Americans leave as soon as possible so that they could get to the business of governing the country and settling scores. Al Qaeda in Iraq sought to foment a civil war that would make Iraq ungovernable and force an American evacuation. Foreign fighters poured into serve with Al Qaeda. By 2007 a disaster of epic proportions loomed before the Americans.

Then things began to turn around. Lower level American commanders began buying-off Sunni insurgents in their areas of operation. Many of the Sunni insurgents got fed up with the Al Qaeda fanatics. Together, these forces led to the “Sunni Awakening” that markedly reduced the level of violence from early in 2007. American special operations troops focused their efforts on killing the Al Qaeda fanatics. Civilian and military casualties began to fall. If only in comparison to the chaos visited on the country between 2003 and 2007, Iraq began to move toward something like a functional state.

Then and later, considerable energy has gone into myth-making about the turn-around. The commonly accepted—because commonly told—narrative is that the Bush administration belatedly developed a coherent and workable plan for victory in Iraq; General David Petraeus helped develop and then implemented an effective counter-insurgency strategy; and the “surge” of troops greatly enhanced security so that some form of national reconciliation could take place.

In fact, the Bush White House’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” had neither substance nor application. “Victory” had been redefined to mean bringing down the level of violence to a point where responsibility could be handed off to the government of Iraq with something approaching a straight face.

In fact, the administration and the Pentagon were in search of a “hero” to revive American morale. They found that hero in General Petraeus, adept at both war and image-management. The buying-off of Sunni insurgents and the increasingly effective work of the special operations forces were well underway before General Petraeus arrived in Iraq. He endorsed and broadly applied the methods already developed.

In fact, although Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for giving classified documents to WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden has been hunted across the globe for having revealed NSA spying on Americans, officials in the Defense Department appear to have provided favored authors with a trove of classified documents.

In fact, what the United States achieved in Iraq was not victory, but avoiding defeat. By avoiding defeat the United States has also avoided any honest reckoning with the causes and consequences of a disastrous adventure that spanned two different presidential administrations. “The fraud is that a 20 year military effort to determine the fate of Iraq yielded something approximating a positive outcome.”

So says Andrew Bacevich, a professor of political science at Boston University, a combat veteran of Vietnam, a retired Army colonel, a grieving father to a son killed in action in Iraq, and a bitter and clear-eyed critic of recent American foreign and military policies.[1]

[1] Andrew Bacevich, “Avoiding Defeat,” New York Times Book Review, 10 February 2013, pp. 20-21. Professor Bacevich reviewed Michael R. Gordon and Bernard Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (New York: Pantheon, 2012); and Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task: A Memoir (New York: Penguin, 2013).

What we learned from Seymour Hersh 8.

Jeb Bush[1], Judith Miller[2], David Brooks[3], and—apparently—Bob Woodward[4] have all argued that the George W. Bush Administration did not lie us into a war in Iraq in 2003. Instead, they were themselves the victims of an intelligence failure. Paul Krugman has offered a furious response insisting that the Bush Administration did too lie us into a war.[5] Krugman’s position essentially is that of the Democratic Party.[6] Who is more nearly correct?

Saying today that there was an “intelligence failure” directs one’s attention to the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department. They are, after all, the long-standing and still-standing foreign intelligence analytical arms of the government. If an “intelligence failure” did occur, it occurred there, right?

In truth, the intelligence accepted by the Bush Administration was of a decidedly “iffy” quality. In this sense, the Bush Administration did fall victim to an “intelligence failure.” However, according to Seymour Hersh, the intelligence was “iffy” because the Administration did not like the intelligence produced by the CIA and the State Department. It created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) inside the Defense Department, staffed it with outsiders to get a non-consensus view of the intelligence, and by-passed the normal procedure for creating a National Intelligence Estimate. The OSP gave the Administration what it wanted and did not receive from CIA and State: a justification for war in Iraq. Today, OSP is no more.[7] A post-invasion investigation found many faults in US intelligence, but was explicitly barred from investigating Administration use of intelligence.[8]

The controversy over how we came to be in Iraq obscures several other questions. First, how did CIA and State come to be shouted down by OSP? Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were effective exponents for OSP. Did Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell defend their own analysts and espouse their views? What of National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice? In theory, the National Security Adviser’s chief function is to co-ordinate the different government agencies to make sure that the President receives the best advice. Did she make sure that alternative views were heard?

Second, asking for a justification for a war is one thing. Not asking for an assessment of what would happen as the result of such a war is another thing. General Anthony Zinni had warned that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would lead to the fragmentation of Iraq and that “the crazies” would take over. He can’t have been alone in this belief. He certainly wasn’t wrong. Did anyone in the Administration ask for an assessment? Or did they just accept that American forces would be met with parades and flowers, unicorns and crystals?




[4] This one has me scratching my head.


[6] Heading into an election year proclaiming that “Oh, we’re a bunch of dopes who got played by the other side, so vote for us” must be disheartening.

[7] OSP closed down in June 2003. See:

[8] See: ; and

What we learned from Seymour Hersh 7.

During 2002 and early 2003, OSP took on CIA and the State Department. W. Patrick Lang[1] summed up what he saw of the arguments within the Bush Administration over intelligence: the people at OSP “banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off. They’re running Chalabi. The D.I.A. [Defense Intelligence Agency] has been intimidated and beaten to a pulp. And there’s no guts at all in the C.I.A.” (p. 208.)   One source told Hersh in early 2002 that “if it became known that Rummy[2] wanted [D.I.A.] to link the government of Tonga to 9/11, within a few months they would come up with sources who’d do it.” One former CIA officer told Hersh that “George [Tenet] knows he’s being beaten up, and his analysts are terrified. George used to protect his people, but he’s been forced to do things their way.” Another told Hersh that the “analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. I’ve never seen a government like this.” (Quotes from p. 224.) CIA analysts working on Iraq and briefing senior officials “got pounded on, day after day,” according to one Bush administration official. Without any substantial support from George Tenet in response to the criticism, “Pretty soon you say ‘Fuck it.’” (Quoted, p. 228.)

In late February 2002, the State Department sent former ambassador Joe Wilson[3] to Niger to investigate the “yellow cake” uranium story floated by the Italians. Wilson came back by early March 2002 and wrote a report discrediting the story. What he found was that all of Niger’s “yellow cake” uranium came from only two mines. Both were operated by a single French company. The entire output of the mines was sold by prior contract to power companies in France, Spain, and Japan. “Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing,” an IAEA official told Hersh. (p. 237.) So, that was the end of that. Except that it wasn’t.

On 24 September 2002, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet[4] and others briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq’s WMD.   Tenet told the senators that a) a shipment of aluminum tubes, suitable for use in constructing uranium-enriching centrifuges, had recently been intercepted, and b) reports had been received that Iraq had sought to purchase “yellow cake” uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. That same day the British made public a similar report about the “yellow cake” uranium. On 26 September 2002, Secretary of State Powell repeated the assertion about the attempt to purchase “yellow cake” uranium before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In early October 2002, an Italian journalist who served as the conduit for an Italian businessman with political connections (who had been a proven source for an earlier story), contacted the American embassy. She transmitted what appeared to be documents from Niger about Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium. She turned over the documents on 9 October 2002. (pp. 231-232.) Soon afterward, the Italian journalist investigated the story in Niger and concluded—like Joe Wilson back in March—that the story was bogus. Hersh reports that the CIA officers who examined the documents regarded them a fake from the get-go. (p. 233.)

Nevertheless, on 23 January 2003, in an op-ed piece in the NYT, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice[5] affirmed “Iraq’s efforts to get uranium from abroad.” On 26 January 2003, Secretary of State Powell asked, in a public forum, “why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium?” On 28 January 2003, President Bush repeated the assertions about the aluminum tubes and the “yellow cake” uranium in his State of the Union address. On 5 February 2003, Powell made the American case for war against Iraq in a speech to the UN Security Council.

On 5 or 6 February 2003, IAEA officials concluded that the documents from Niger—which they only received from the Americans on 4 February 2003, were obvious forgeries. (p. 237.) IAEA informed the Americans and the British, then waited for a response. No response came. (p. 237.) A month later, on 7 March 2003, Mohammed ElBaradei[6] informed the UN Security Council that the documents upon which the accusations about “yellow cake” were based were forgeries.

On 19 March 2003, the United States and a “coalition of the willing” attacked Iraq.


[2] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.





What we learned from Seymour Hersh 6.

There were several different strands of policy-making that took place in late 2001 and early 2002. It brings more clarity if the strands are disentangled, rather than presenting the material in strictly chronological order.

First, in co-operation with former government officials, Chalabi worked up a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In late 2001, two unpaid consultants to Chalabi worked up a new plan for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The consultants were retired Army General and Special Forces commander Wayne Downing[1], and former CIA counter-terrorism chief Duane (“Dewey”) Clarridge. In October 2001, Wayne Downing was appointed as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. In December 2001, Chalabi presented the Bush administration with the new plan for overthrowing Saddam Hussein that had been worked up by Downing and Clarridge. A study group in the Defense Department then buffed up the Chalabi plan and sent it on to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Second, the Defense Department extended its role in fighting terrorism from special operations and intelligence gathering to intelligence analysis. In December 2001, a Department of Defense memorandum argued that terrorism experts had “downplayed or sought to disprove” the existence of a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, and that the intelligence community had a bias against defector testimony. The memorandum concluded that Abram Shulsky[2] and a couple of analysts be charged to “investigate linkages to Iraq,” and to be allowed to investigate defector testimony in this regard. (p. 211.)   In the course of 2002, Rumsfeld became angry with the CIA for failing to find any evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. (p. 210.) Rumsfeld ordered or approved someone’s suggestion for creation of a special intelligence unit “to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists.” (Quoted from NYT, October 2002.)  In September 2002, an Office of Special Plans (OSP) was created in the Defense Department to house Shulsky and his analysts.[3] Throughout 2002 OSP reports were “stovepiped” to Vice President Cheney’s office, and then on to the President. In this fashion, the reports bypassed normal intelligence agency vetting. (p. 217.)

Third, Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to have accommodated himself to the prevailing currents in the Bush Administration, rather than fighting against them. In December 2001, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) presented its report on Iraq’s WMD to Secretary of State Colin Powell. One analyst who helped write the report told Hersh that “It basically said that there was no persuasive evidence that the Iraqi nuclear program is being reconstituted.” (p. 225.) On 30 January 2002, the CIA informed Congress that “Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” (p. 228.)   On 6 February 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell went further than the CIA report that Iraq “may be…reconstituting its nuclear weapons program” and flatly contradicted the INR report that there was no persuasive evidence that Iraq was trying to revive its nuclear program. He stated before the House International Relations Committee that “with respect to the nuclear program, there is no doubt that the Iraqis are pursuing it.” (p. 228.)

Fourth, the President had decided on war against Iraq by early in 2002. On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush denounced an “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) in his State of the Union speech. In early 2002, President Bush told the various interested departments to come up with a plan to topple Saddam Hussein. The plan must be ready by 15 April 2002.




What we learned from Seymour Hersh 5.

In the days after 9/11 some intelligence and military people suspected that so complex an operation could only have been mounted by—or at least with the support of—a foreign intelligence agency. (p. 75.) On 14 October 2001, Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi army captain who had defected, told reporters for the NYT and the PBS program “Frontline” that the 9/11 attacks were “conducted by people who were trained by Saddam.” (Quoted, p. 216.) Another defector, apparently a former lieutenant general in Iraqi intelligence, said he had observed Arab students being taught how to hijack planes in a security facility at Salman Pak. (p. 216.)

In Fall 2001, Italy’s intelligence service sent a report to CIA of a February 1999 visit by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican[1] to Niger and three other African countries. The Italians—apparently—suggested that the ambassador had been seeking to arrange the purchase of “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. This report alarmed some officials in the American government because it suggested that the Iraqis were trying to re-establish a nuclear weapons program soon after the IAEA had declared that they no longer had a nuclear program. (p. 226.)   Intelligence analysts derided the report, but someone “stovepiped” it to Vice President Cheney. (p. 227.) So, in Fall 2001, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) launched a review of Iraq’s WMD programs. (p. 225.)

In late 2001, an unanticipated division arose within the ranks of the conservatives who had signed the 1998 letter to President Clinton. There were two issues. The first question was whether to extend the war on terror from Afghanistan to Iraq. On the one hand, according to Hersh, “Perle and Woolsey inspired a surge of articles and columns calling for the extension of the Afghan war into Iraq.” (p. 169.) On the other hand, Richard Armitage, now at the State Department, concluded that the extension of the war to Iraq would be a bad idea. (p. 169.) Armitage has adopted the long-standing position voiced by Anthony Zinni. A “former high-level intelligence official” who supported Armitage’s position in the debate told Hersh that “We have no idea what could go wrong in Iraq if the crazies took over that country. Better the devil we know than the one we don’t.” (p. 170.) Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to support for Armitage in the debate, apparently believing that his deputy would be able to hold up the momentum for war while he played the disinterested adjudicator.[2]

The second question was whether to use Ahmad Chalabi and the INC in any effort to topple Hussein or to find someone else. (p. 179.) [It looks to me like the opponents of war with Iraq used the Chalabi-is-death argument as a fall-back position. This then required them to find an alternative to Chalabi in the form of other dissident groups.] For the State Department, the “someone else” turned out to be the two factions of the Kurds, the Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, and a group headed by Iyad Allawi.[3] (pp. 179-180.) For the CIA the “someone else” was Nizar Khasraji[4], a former Iraqi general who had bolted in the mid-1990s. (p. 181.) These candidates had various defects. Allawi appears to have been one of Hussein’s original supporters, a former senior intelligence officer, and a “thug.” In the mid-Seventies, Allawi parted ways with Saddam and then survived several assassination attempts. Khasraji was very Westernized, so he might not play well with the majority of Iraqis, who were not, and he had been involved in the use of poison gas against the Kurds in 1988.

[1] Who knew?

[2] To my mind, Powell was a soldier-turned-administrator, rather than someone with finely-honed political skills.



What we learned from Seymour Hersh 4.

In 1998, Major General Anthony Zinni[1], commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), told a Senate committee that “I don’t see any opposition group that has the viability to overthrow Saddam. Even if we had Saddam gone, we could end up with fifteen, twenty, or ninety groups competing for power.” (Quoted, p. 165.)

In 1998, David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security[2], and Khidhir Hamza, shopped around a book proposal for Fizzle: Iraq and the Atomic Bomb, which described the failure of the Iraqi nuclear project. They found no interest among publishers.[3]

In October 1998, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, providing $97 million to support training and equipment for the INC and other military forces.[4]

In 2000, after the failure of American publishers to take his story of Iraqi failure in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, Hamza reversed course and began talking about Iraq’s comparative success. This may have led to a break with Albright and the ISIS. In any event, Hamza alone published Saddam’s Bombmaker.[5]

By 2000, Anthony Zinni had not become more optimistic about plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein. He wrote an estimate of what it would take to get rid of Saddam Hussein for the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings. It would take six divisions of ground forces (150,000 men), lots of close air support, and the united political support of the American government and people. “There are congressmen today who want to fund the Iraqi Liberation Act, and let some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London gin up an expedition….And what will we have? A Bay of Goats most likely.” (Quoted, p. 174.) How did he ever make Major General? Should be a retired Lieutenant Colonel, playing golf in South Carolina, running a paving company.

In January 2001, the inauguration of President George W. Bush brought in a new group of policy-makers. Some of them had signed the open letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging support for the INC and warning of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. Donald Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense; Paul Wolfowitz became Deputy Secretary of Defense; Douglas Feith became Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy; Richard Perle became chairman of the Defense Policy Board; and Richard Armitage became Deputy Secretary of State.

In March 2001, Richard Perle[6] testified before a sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. “Does Saddam Hussein now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons….How far he’s gone on the nuclear-weapons side, I don’t think we really know. My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate…And, unless you believe that we have uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.” (Quoted, pp. 209-210.)

In April 2001, the INC opened a liaison office in Tehran, Iran—with the approval of the Bush administration. (p. 171.)



[3] Apparently, NOT running around with your hair on fire is an undesirable quality in mass market non-fiction publishing. Maybe if they had called it “The Saddam Hussein Diet,”…


[5] For a sense of the contemporary reaction among interested readers, see


What we learned from Seymour Hersh 2.

In 1986 the CIA established the Counter Terrorism Center. The founding director of the Center was Duane (“Dewey”) Clarridge.[1] Clarridge quickly recruited Robert Baer, an Arabic-speaking case officer with a lot of experience in the Middle East.[2] (p. 78.)

In 1993 or 1994 Baer got out of the CTC and was posted to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (p. 79.) (I haven’t yet figured out if he was there at the same time as Colonel Tom Wilhelm.[3])

In November 1993 Ahmad Chalabi,[4] the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sent its plan for the over-throw of Saddam Hussein to the Clinton administration.   Between November 1993 and October 1994, Chalabi’s plan wound its way through the Clinton administration and received approval for American support. In October 1994, a CIA outpost in Kurdish-held northern Iraq began operating in support of Chalabi’s plan. Robert Baer took charge of the local operations.

Between October 1994 and March 1995, Chalabi’s people tried to suborn treason on the part of a lot of Iraqis—purportedly. In March 1995, Chalabi attempted a coup against Saddam Hussein. It proved a complete failure. In April 1995, Chalabi and INC moved their base to London. From here they began trolling for new support among American conservatives. Chalabi developed close ties with the American Enterprise Institute. In 1996, the CIA cut off payments to Chalabi and the INC.

NB: The Cold War was closely bound with the history of refugee movements. Many refugees settle into some kind of life in their new homes. However, there are always some refugees who continue to involve themselves in the politics of their homeland. In sum, the Central Intelligence Agency has long experience at dealing with refugees as problematic sources.

In 1994, Dr. Khidhir Hamza[5], formerly a member of Iraq’s WMD program, defected to the West. Eventually he settled in the United States and was given a job by the Institute for Science and International Security, a pro-disarmament think tank in Washington, DC.

In August 1995, Hussein Kamel[6], the head of Iraqi weapons programs, and his brother, Saddam Kamel, defected to the West. They brought with them many documents that revealed the exact nature of Iraq’s WMD program. These programs turned out to have been largely invisible to the UN weapons inspectors. However, the Kamel brothers also claimed that large quantities of weapons had been destroyed to prevent their discovery by the UN weapons inspectors in place after the First Gulf War. (pp. 212-213.)

In October 1997, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared Iraq to be disarmed of nuclear weapons. (p. 225.) That still left poison gas, chiefly a battlefield weapon.

In February 1998, forty prominent Americans (including Frank Carlucci, Caspar Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Armitage) signed an open letter to President Clinton. They argued that Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of WMD posed a threat to the United States. The letter urged recognition of the INC as Iraq’s provisional government. This began a conservative campaign for action against Saddam Hussein.



[3] On Wilhelm, see:



[6] See his blood-curdling story in

What we learned from Seymour Hersh 3.

Between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, the C.I.A. had declined in some areas while growing stronger in other areas. The areas of its strength did not match well with the immediate needs of counter-terrorism. The areas of its weakness were just those areas where competence was in high demand. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld[1] knew very well the weaknesses of the C.I.A. because he had served on several task forces on intelligence during the previous Bush and Clinton administrations. It would take several years to bring the C.I.A. back to full strength. The terrorists were not going to wait in a neutral corner until the Americans got back on their feet and the referee allowed the fight to continue. If the C.I.A. could not fill the leadership role, then some other organization would have to lead.

Very soon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to press for “the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, and not the C.I.A., [to get] the lead in fighting terrorism.” (p. 17.) What Rumsfeld wanted was “to get the U.S. Special Forces community into the business of what he called…”manhunts,”…” (p. 16.)

Immediately following 9/11, Rumsfeld ordered General Charles Holland[2], commander of Special Operations, to come up with a list of known terrorist targets for immediate attack. (p. 265.) In October 2001, numerous cases occurred where either Air Force pilots or Special Forces teams were prevented from striking at suspected Al Qaeda targets by various bureaucratic and/or legalistic restrictions. (pp. 48-49.) At about the same time, Holland provided a list, but warned that there was a dearth of “actionable intelligence” to support any rapid attack. (p. 266.) Rumsfeld suggested that Special Operations be made a “global command” directly under the command of the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for all military operations against terrorists. (p. 271.)

In late 2001 or early 2002, President George W. Bush signed a legally required “finding” that authorized the Department of Defense to create a special unit to attack Al Qaeda. Henceforth, Hersh identifies this program as the SAP (for “special access program”).[3] (p. 16.) This “highly secret program….was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate high-value targets…..The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps.” (p. 49.) “In theory, the operation enabled the Bush Administration to respond immediately to time-sensitive intelligence: commandos crossed borders without visas and could interrogate terrorism suspects deemed too important to for transfer to the military’s facilities at Guantanamo. They carried out instant interrogations, often with the help of foreign intelligence services—using force if necessary—at secret C.I.A. detention centers scattered around the world. [4] The intelligence would be relayed to the SAP command center in the Pentagon in real time, and sifted for those pieces of information critical to the “white,” or overt world.” (p. 50.) In July 2002 Rumsfeld ordered General Holland, commander of Special Operations, “to develop a plan to find and deal with members of terrorist organizations…The objective is to capture terrorists for interrogations or, if necessary, to kill them, not simply to arrest them in a law-enforcement exercise.” (p. 265.)

The Defense Department was going to collect and analyze intelligence on terrorism.


[2] See:

[3] See: The Wikipedia entry illustrates some of Hersh’s problems. There are a host of “Special Access Programs.”

[4] On the “black sites,” see:

The Weight of the Past in Iraq

The Americans invaded Iraq in 2003. The Sunni minority, which had traditionally dominated Iraq, didn’t like the invasion or the empowerment of the Shi’a majority, so they fought a guerrilla war against the Americans. Then Al Qaeda in Iraq joined in as allies of the Sunni. Then, Al Qaeda in Iraq sought to foster a civil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites in order to a) make the American position in Iraq unsustainable, and b) punish the Shi’ites for being “in error” about religious truth. Death squads and suicide bombings and car bombings and deaths-by-power-drills abounded.

Then Al Qaeda in Iraq tried to force their Sunni allies to submit to “sharia” (Islamic religious law). The Sunni Iraqis living in Anbar Province didn’t much like this. In 2006 many tribal leaders began to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq, forming “Awakening Councils.” They sought a truce with and help from the Americans. The Americans responded positively, then General David Petraeus made this a central part of his “surge” strategy in 2007. Awakening Councils spread from Anbar Province into the other areas with large numbers of Sunnis. With the US paying $300 a month and providing equipment to each “volunteer,” there were soon about 80,000 Sunni militia men fighting against Al Qaeda rather than against the Americans. Al Qaeda in Iraq took a savage pounding, while the Sunni component of the insurgency all but disappeared.

American politicians and even many in the media are prone to down-play the role of the “Awakening Councils” in the ending of the insurgency. Instead, they laud “the Surge” of American troops into Iraq. As is so often the case with American political discourse, the reality was different. In 2009 there were about 30 million Iraqis. About 20 million were Shi’ite Arabs; about 5-6 million were Sunni Kurds; and about 5 million were Sunni Arabs. US Army counter-insurgency doctrine held that 20 soldiers per 1,000 people were needed to defeat an insurgency. The US would need 100,000 troops, just to deal with the Sunni Arab part of the country, with many more troops required to garrison the Shi’ite parts. Thus, the “Awakening Councils” and their fighters made possible a radical shift in the balance of forces.

What did the future hold for the “Awakening Councils”? One problem is that the Sunnis have multiple hostilities. Al Qaeda had risen to the top of the list in 2007-2008, but next on the list were the Shi’ites and then the US itself. To take one example, the leader of a Baghdad neighborhood “Awakening Council” was a former officer of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. In 2008, he saw the Iraqi government as a pawn of Iran. Another problem was that the Americans hoped to see the councils and their militias integrated into the police and military of the new Iraq. The Shi’ites always opposed this and wanted the militias disbanded as soon as possible. They foresaw a civil war following the American withdrawal. Finally, in the absence of a single strong leader among the Sunnis, the various Awakening Councils fell fall into conflict with one another as they struggled for turf, weapons, American aid, and control of the local economy.

Thus, by early 2008 it was possible to foresee ugly developments. It all depended upon what the Shi’ites did with power once the Americans departed. Now we know.

Putting the pieces back together again isn’t going to be easy. Islam allows “taqiyya” (dissembling) to avoid persecution. Long oppressed by the Sunni minority, the Shi’ites are regarded as habitual dissemblers. How to build trust once again?

“The Sunni Awakening,” The Week, 1 February 2008, p. 9.