Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Only the Paranoid Survive

Lame duck President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have reportedly initiated covert wars in Iran and Pakistan in the last year of their administration. In fact, The New York Times reports that the United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere. These covert actions are reminders of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Fidel Castro's Cuba, an operation inherited by President John F. Kennedy that started under Eisenhower-Nixon administration in 1960. Needless to say that Bay of Pigs was a disaster for young JFK and the US. The invasion—planned and funded by the United States government beginning in 1960—was launched in April 1961, several months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban military, trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, defeated the invading force in a matter of days and the event accelerated a rapid deterioration in Cuban-American relations. This was further exacerbated the following year by the Cuban Missile Crisis. It seems that Barack Obama will most likely to be tested by these Bush-Cheney covert wars soon after he takes office, just as JFK was.

The news of secret planning of the CIA and US Special Ops joint covert actions in Pakistan started to leak in January, 2008. The New York Times reported that the United States had about 50 soldiers in Pakistan in early 2008. It was also reported that any expanded operations using C.I.A. operatives or Special Operations forces, like the Navy Seals, would be small and tailored to specific missions. Since these early reports, there has been a surge in CIA and Special Ops personnel operating out of Afghanistan to attack targets in Pakistan's FATA region at will.

A report published on March 26, 2008, by the Washington Post described the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American CIA spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

In June, 2008, at least 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and 10 militants were killed in an air strike by US-led forces on a security post of the Pakistan's Frontier Corps in Sheikh Baba area along the Afghan border in Mohmand tribal region on Tuesday night. Fifteen people, including six paramilitary soldiers, were wounded. Local people said that sporadic gunfire continued throughout the night.

A Pakistan military spokesman called the June US attack a “cowardly and unprovoked” act and said that 11 Pakistani soldiers, including a major of the Mohmand Rifles, a detachment of the Frontier Corps, were killed in the attack. It condemned the attack.

“Such acts of aggression don’t serve the common cause of fighting terrorism,” he said, adding that a strong protest had been lodged by the Pakistan Army. He said that Pakistan reserved the right to protect its citizens and soldiers against aggression.

In September, 2008, a team of US Navy Seals was dropped by helicopter in the area of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan. It was followed by an air strike which killed several Pakistani civilians that US said were militants.

"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," said Pakistan's General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in a strong statement after the September attack by US forces.

Since the September 2008 incursion by the US Navy seals, there have not been any more reported ground attacks in FATA but the frequency of Predator air-strikes on suspected Taliban and Al-Qaida targets has dramatically increased. Hardly a day goes by without reports of such strikes by US drones operated by the CIA.

The US covert intelligence operations in Pakistan appear to be aimed at more than just fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Michel Chossudovsky, Director of Montreal based Center for Research on Globalization (author of America's "War on Terrorism") in his article "The Destabilization of Pakistan" says: "Washington's foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation". He adds: "The US course consists in fomenting social, ethnic and factional divisions and political fragmentation, including the territorial breakup of Pakistan. This course of action is also dictated by US war plans in relation to both Iran and Afghanistan. This US agenda for Pakistan is similar to that applied throughout the broader Middle East Central Asian region."

In the wake of Mumbai attacks, the US covert activity is not all that Pakistanis have to worry about. In addition to reviving the talk of lightning air strikes strategy dubbed "Cold Start" against Pakistan, there has also been a rather open discussion in India about covert actions by Indian agents to destabilize and balkanize Pakistan. Former RAW chief B. Raman argues that India appoint a covert ops specialist as the new head of RAW. He says, “At this critical time in the nation’s history, RAW has no covert action specialists at the top of its pyramid. Get a suitable officer from the IB or the Army. If necessary, make him the head of the organization.”

Vikram Sood, another former top spy in India, elaborates on India's covert warfare options to target Pakistan in the following words: "Covert action can be of various kinds. One is the paramilitary option, which is what the Pakistanis have been using against us. It is meant to hurt, destabilize or retaliate. The second is the psychological war option, which is a very potent and unseen force. It is an all weather option and constitutes essentially changing perceptions of friends and foes alike. The media is a favorite instrument, provided it is not left to the bureaucrats because then we will end up with some clumsy and implausible propaganda effort. More than the electronic and print media, it is now the internet and YouTube that can be the next-generation weapons of psychological war. Terrorists use these liberally and so should those required to counter terrorism."

It seems that the India-Israel-US axis may be converging on a covert war to denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan.

Last year, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker magazine of clandestine operations against Iran. According to Hersh, United States Special Ops and CIA have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since 2007. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials.

In his recently published book, David Sanger talks about the Israeli anger and frustration after the US National Intelligence Estimate said Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that it is currently not pursuing such a program. After the NIE report came out, Sanger says that the Israelis demanded that Bush provide them with three things: Bunker buster bombs, mid-air refueling support for Israeli bombers and flying rights in Iraqi airspace to facilitate Israeli air strikes on Iranian underground nuclear facilities at Natanz, Iran. Bush hesitated on the first two and flatly rejected the third demand to fly over Iraq, realizing how such collusion would put the 140,000 US troops in Iraq at tremendous risk. Instead, Bush assured Israel that the US will put significant resources into covert operations aimed at destabilizing Iranian government. Talking about Pakistan, Sanger recently told Charlies Rose as follows: "Pakistanis do not want to let Americans to know how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has and where they are stored. They know too well that the US Navy Seals are right next door in Afghanistan ready to seize control of Pakistan's nukes at short notice."

Taking about the many Bush-Cheney covert actions, a senior US intelligence official told Sanger, “Bush wrote a lot of checks that the next president is going to have to cash.”

In view of the widely reported interest by the United States, India and Israel in destabilizing or at least neutralizing Iran and Pakistan, it is quite natural for the two nations to be particularly vigilant, even paranoid to effectively counter covert warfare. As former Intel CEO Andy Grove puts it in one of his popular business books, "Only the Paranoid Survive".

While JFK only inherited one Bay of Pigs, Obama is inheriting multiple covert wars, each much like the Bay of Pigs. Given the history of similar botched operations by the CIA, Barack Obama needs to very carefully evaluate what George W. Bush is leaving for him rather than simply accept it as fait accompli. It is in Obama's best interest to be just as paranoid as Iran and Pakistan at this time.


Anonymous said...

Not only Raman, Vikram Sood Secretary(R) between(2001-03) have also suggested activating covert operation in Pakistan.
Link to his blog is provided below for ur perusal.


Anonymous said...

Not surprising. Pakistan is fractured along ethnic lines - weak leadership and political turmoils are likely to help the covert actions even more. Even more important is the fact that as long as Pakistan is Punjab and Punjab is Pakistan, very little progress can be made for national cohesion... (The leadership is concentrated in Punjab and survive well on foreign grants....)

Ray Lightning said...

The paranoid have no friends.

Case in point : North Korea.

Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders.

It is more like the Taliban are killing anybody who says anything against them. The Pir of a mosque in Swat was murdered. After his burial, his body was exhumed and hanged in a public square. Journalists, artists and most importantly the politicians of the provincial government are being targeted and murdered.

Here are Swat's burning questions. At a time when civil society should speak up and protect the lives of every citizen and save the country from disintegration, you are advising the military to be "more paranoid" than it already is.

It is difficult to put a spy-label on top of each of these people.

Riaz Haq said...


You said, "It is more like the Taliban are killing anybody who says anything against them".

You are right! But that's what paranoia does to you. Since it's hard to tell the difference between genuine dissent based on political views and agents recruited to serve their foreign masters. That's the kind of paranoia that has allowed the Taliban to survive as long as they have.

Anonymous said...

Again a broad stroke..w.r.t the article..
@ray Lightening
Best paranoid example is Myanmmar junta.
North Korea is a puppet of Chinese..they can be made to bent by a large extent by PLA. Myanmmar is the most independent country which is paranoid to the hilt, so much so that, most of the time the rifles of soldiers are locked-up fearing coup by Than Shwe and Co. They are also highly superstitious and consult astrologers for every move, even they moved capital from Rangoon to an obscure Naypayidaw(following Iraq war..fearing US regime change).
A nation state must leave paranoia business to intelligence agencies and not to people like Pak is doing.

Riaz Haq said...

Jaydev and Ray:

Do you know who are the most paranoid people in the world?
By all accounts, it is Israelis.
In fact, Israel is the only place where I have heard statements like "Paranoia is healthy". That's part of the reason why they lash out at any one the slightest pretext. They even bombed an American ship named USS Liberty during 1967 war because they though it was spying on them.

Here's a link to YouTube video clip:


Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree..
Israel don't have to be paranoid.It is just the state of being "reacting" its environment,not a conscious effort. When you r between devil and deep sea,like for 60 years.All states surrounding Israel are hostile and want it wiped out.Jordan and Egypt are artificially restrained by America from doing so.Saudis are cowards from time immemorial.In history, Israel was attacked many times from multiple fronts(Even Pak volunteered fighter pilots in some wars).The great indicator of whether you are paranoid or not is how you channelize you energy(negative or positive). Israel is advanced and developed in all fields. Even America(Arrow-2 ABM system) and Russia(UAVs) are forcing Israel to part with technology they have.Chinese nuclear weapons capability like South African nuclear programme all have said to have critical Israeli assistance.Its incredible.Even India is at feet of Israel even though Congress's main "block-vote-bank" are Muslims.

Anonymous said...

I don't subscribe to USS Liberty conspiracy theory(the surviving crew does and its understandable..coz they were hit by Israelis from air and sea like there is no tomorrow..;-)).The main core of that theory is that US and Israel together did that for an excuse for US to enter war with Nasser's Egypt, not becoz of being a spy vessel.Today America have placed their best X-band radar with range of 1000+kms(with American crew) which can detect a even a bee buzzing around in Israel to detect in advance and restrain any surprise attack at Iran.In war time, soldiers are always very nervous and trigger happy. That is main reason why infantry rifle like M-16,Tavor,India's INSAS don't usually have automatic mode(only single and burst(3 rounds)).US routinely shoots at its own aircraft even though they have strong measures like friend-or-foe radio beacon,platforms linked to network-centric architecture etc.
Israel usually don't take risks with countries like US or Russia and lately with India.Israel amazingly happens to be reconciled to nuclear Iran too given that it cannot afford a single nuclear strike of any yield. Its good to be paranoid with a neighbor like Iran with whom Israel don't share a border, or have ever attacked it, but in return Iran even threatens to wipe it out.What a paradox.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting report in Pak Observer about ISI Chief's confrontation with CIA chief in Pakistan:

After my four hour long informal interaction with Admiral Mike Mullen, the most powerful man in uniform and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the multi-barrel gun directed at Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the residence of US Ambassador on the rainy evening of April 6, 2009, I had in my comments mentioned that now the ISI was the immediate target of the US Establishment. This was no “breaking news” at all as every one who keeps an eye on the ongoing war on terror knew well that US was hell-bent on (i) getting the Pakistan Army sucked in the domestic turmoil in Swat, FATA and beyond Waziristan, and (ii) reining in what the US calls “rogue elements” in the ISI.

There are confirmed reports that to achieve its objectives the CIA hired the services of at least a dozen Afghan warlords inside Afghanistan and provided through them arms and finances to militants in FATA and Swat to carry out murders and devastations in the country. It was like a double-edged sword not only to get the Army launch attacks against Taliban on Pakistani side of the border but also to give a message to the ISI that the CIA can use the Pakistani Taliban against their own security forces. It was in this background that after a long, long tolerance the prime intelligence agency of the country ultimately confronted the CIA Director Leon E. Panetta with some highly classified and irrefutable evidence. Panetta was startled when DG, ISI General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a no-nonsense General, placed the facts before him in Islamabad on November 20, 2009. The “deliberate leaks” after the meeting of the spy chiefs of the two countries, spoke of the mind of the ISI and the armed forces of Pakistan. General Pasha had earlier conveyed the facts about the interference of CIA in acts of terrorism in Pakistan to the Government but on realizing that either the message was not strongly conveyed to the Americans or it had no desired impact on them, finally put his foot down and expressed serious concerns over the CIA's crude interference in the country's internal matters. The proof about instances of covert US support to some hardened militant outfits and terrorist activities they carried out over the past few weeks and months, was presented to Panetta. It was indeed a startling revelation for the top US spy and a bold manoeuvre of Pakistan Army. General Pasha's tactical move baffled Panetta when he was told in categorical terms that Pakistan had incriminating evidence about the CIA officials' involvement in providing assistance to perpetrators of some terrorist activities within Pakistan, which had negative impact on Pakistan's efforts towards war on terror and that the CIA must shun such activities. The clarity with which the information was conveyed sent a loud message to Capitol Hills that if it wanted Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terror, it must give up playing double games. It is a known fact that the Indian intelligence agency RAW is operating in Afghanistan with the active backing of CIA and not only is it involved in acts of terrorism in the NWFP but also in Balochistan. The Indians cannot undertake such wide-scale activities in this region without the tacit approval and backing of the CIA. The question arises how come India has developed a huge presence in Kabul.

Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some recent revelations from Washington Post security blog about ideas of CIA dirty tricks contemplated against Saddam and Osama Bin Laden:

During planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the CIA's Iraq Operations Group kicked around a number of ideas for discrediting Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his people.

One was to create a video purporting to show the Iraqi dictator having sex with a teenage boy, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the project.

“It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” said one of the former officials. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”

The idea was to then “flood Iraq with the videos,” the former official said.

Another idea was to interrupt Iraqi television programming with a fake special news bulletin. An actor playing Hussein would announce that he was stepping down in favor of his (much-reviled) son Uday.

“I’m sure you will throw your support behind His Excellency Uday,” the fake Hussein would intone.

The spy agency’s Office of Technical Services collaborated on the ideas, which also included inserting fake “crawls” -- messages at the bottom of the screen -- into Iraqi newscasts.

The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said.

Eventually, “things ground to a halt,” the other former officer said, because no one could come to agreement on the projects.

They also faced strong opposition from James Pavitt, then head of the agency’s Operations Division, and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who “kept throwing darts at it.”

Riaz Haq said...

Washington Post: Pakistan is eyeing sea-based and short-range nuclear weapons, analysts say

In one of the world’s most volatile regions, Pakistan is advancing toward a sea-based missile capability and expanding its interest in tactical nuclear warheads, according to Pakistani and Western analysts.

The development of nuclear missiles that could be fired from a Navy ship or submarine would give Pakistan “second-strike” capability if a catastrophic nuclear exchange destroyed all land-based weapons. But the acceleration of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs is renewing international concern about the vulnerability of those weapons in a country home to more than two dozen Islamist extremist groups.  

“The assurances Pakistan has given the world about the safety of its nuclear program will be severely tested with short-range and sea-based systems, but they are coming,” said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, a Washington-based global security think tank. “A cardinal principle of Pakistan’s nuclear program has been: ‘Don’t worry; we separate warheads from launchers.’ Well, that is very hard to do at sea.”

Western officials have been concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear program since it first tested an atomic device in 1998. Those fears have deepened over the past decade amid political tumult, terror attacks and tensions with the country’s nuclear-armed neighbor, India, with which it has fought three wars.

That instability was underscored this month, as anti-government protests in the capital appeared to push Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to the brink of collapse. The political crisis was unfolding as Pakistan and India continued lobbing artillery shells across their border, in a tit-for-tat escalation that illustrated the continued risk of another war.

For more than a decade, Pakistan has sent signals that it’s attempting to bolster its nuclear arsenal with “tactical” weapons — short-range missiles that carry a smaller warhead and are easier to transport.

Over the past two years, Pakistan has conducted at least eight tests of various land-based ballistic or cruise missiles that it says are capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Last September, Sharif, citing “evolving security dynamics in South Asia,” said Pakistan is developing “a full spectrum deterrence capability to deter all forms of aggression.”

The next step of Pakistan’s strategy includes an effort to develop nuclear warheads suitable for deployment from the Indian Ocean, either from warships or from one of the country’s five diesel-powered Navy submarines, analysts say. In a sign of that ambition, Pakistan in 2012 created the Naval Strategic Force command, which is similar to the air force and army commands that oversee nuclear weapons.

“We are on our way, and my own hunch is within a year or so, we should be developing our second-strike capability,” said Shireen M. Mazari, a nuclear expert and the former director of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a hawkish Pakistani government-funded think-tank.

Pakistan’s nuclear push comes amid heightened tension with U.S. intelligence and congressional officials over the security of the country’s nuclear weapons and materials. The Washington Post reported in September 2013 that U.S. intelligence officials had increased surveillance of Pakistan in part because of concerns that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists.