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General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/6/2009; Marines.mil, 10/7/2009]
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. [The Telegraph, 12/26/2009; New York Times, 12/26/2009]
Testimony by Patrick F. Kennedy, an under secretary for management at the State Department, before the House Committee on Homeland Security confirms that US intelligence officials prevented the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old Nigerian student, whom US intelligence believed was working with the Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on December 25, 2009 (see December 25, 2009). Kennedy informs the committee’s chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “We will revoke the visa of any individual who is a threat to the United States, but we do take one preliminary step. We ask our law enforcement and intelligence community partners, ‘Do you have eyes on this person and do you want us to let this person proceed under your surveillance so that you may potentially break a larger plot?’ And one of the members—and we’d be glad to give you that out of—in private—said: ‘Please do not revoke this visa. We have eyes on this person. We are following this person who has the visa for the purpose of trying to roll up an entire network, not just stop one person.’” With the exception of a story appearing in the Detroit News, this revelation will go unreported in mainstream news media outlets. [US Congress. House. Committee on Homeland Security, 1/27/2010; Detroit News, 1/27/2010]
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