U.S. Shadow Power

Juan Cole discusses U.S. covert operations in his broad-ranging article. Some of the key points are as follows:

  • Covert operations, despite being part of American history, have become the cutting edge of American state power: drones, electronic surveillance, JSOC, private corporations, and ‘mercenaries’ are now central tools of US foreign policy. Each has the potential for unforeseen blowback.
  • Special forces will likely take over long-term operations in Afghanistan, beyond 2013.
  • Although US troops have left Iraq, shadow power remains in the hands of contractors.
  • The CIA continues to spy on Iran. The United States has trained members of the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People’s Jihadis), based in Iraq at Camp Ashraf, to spy on Iran and carry out covert operations there. The MEK is suspected of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists.  US intelligence leaks say Israel’s Mossad, not the CIA, is the accomplice.
  • The American shadow government routinely kidnaps people it considers a danger off the streets, and sends them to black sites around the planet. These rendition programs often involve brutal third parties that engage in torture.
  • The US used contractors – shadow warriors – in the US occupation of Iraq, often to disastrous ends.
  • The extent of CIA infiltration in the streets of Pakistan was laid bare with the ‘Raymond Davis incident’ on January 27, 2011; a CIA contractor involved in the shooting of two Pakistanis, and the subsequent road-killing of a Pakistani motorcyclist by a CIA extraction team.
  • American drones are involved in a program of classified targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia–typifying Washington’s global shadow wars. As well as being deployed in “established” theatres of war, they are deployed in spaces were no war has been declared and no Status of Forces Agreement signed. They operate outside the Constitution, and outside of habeas corpus. The only international legal doctrine (recognized in the United Nations charter) invoked to justify drone strikes is the right of the United States to defend itself from attack. But this is hard to prove. The doctrine of “hot pursuit” does not apply in Yemen or Somalia, and often does not apply in Pakistan, either. The AUMF is difficult to apply to a new generation of Muslim militants that were not involved in 9/11.
  • The WikiLeaks State Department cables showed that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former Yemeni President Ali Abdulla Saleh secretly authorized drone strikes.
  • “Al Qaeda” has become an ever more vague term that is arbitrarily applied to a diverse set of regional groups, such as the Yemeni militants who have taken over the city of Zinjibar, or expatriate Arab supporters in Pakistan of the Haqqani network of Pashtun fighters
  • The greatest danger of a powerful shadow government is “blowback”. Even now, the Haqqani network and Hizb-i-Islami is a painful reminder of past secret intervention. And military technologies and practices developed in shadow are often transferred into the civilian sphere.
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