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January 11, 2010

New Tomdispatch


The Shadow War
Making Sense of the New CIA Battlefield in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

It was a Christmas and New Year’s from hell for American intelligence, that $75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones. As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were our intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation. It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case -- except for the placement of the bomb material -- almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse. Army Major General Michael Flynn, U.S. and NATO forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone -- but by implication U.S. intelligence operatives generally -- “clueless.” They were, he wrote, "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers... Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy."

As if to prove the general’s point, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with a penchant for writing inspirational essays on jihadi websites and an “unproven asset” for the CIA, somehow entered a key Agency forward operating base in Afghanistan unsearched...

It was an intelligence disaster splayed all over the headlines: “Taliban bomber wrecks CIA’s shadowy war,” “Killings Rock Afghan Strategy,” “Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post was trusted informant from Jordan.” It seemed to sum up the hapless nature of America’s intelligence operations as the CIA, with all the latest technology and every imaginable resource on hand, including the latest in Hellfire missile-armed drone aircraft, was out-thought and out-maneuvered by low-tech enemies.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 11, 2010 10:33 AM

Great points as always, but the biggest "Black Hole" is the unwillingness of "us" to try and understand what motivates Al Qaeda and others to attack us. Helen Thomas tried at a recent White House press conference and was "blown off" by the President's Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs and the lap dogs who make up MSM. They appeared more than ready to move on to the "real" important matters after she had been dismissed.

I had the pleasure of working in the Mideast and the company I worked for went to the trouble to hire a native to teach us Arabic, cultural mores and a rudimentary understanding of the religion before we went, not that many prospective expats were interested, but hey, they had to sit through it anyway. I developed a respect for the culture and the religion that continues to this day and I would contend that without an "understanding" we are completely doomed in this struggle.

We have a pervasive culture of corruption in our government and that would include our judicial branch and the so called fourth branch, media. Surely, someone has a beef at least worth exploring when they are willing to have their children and parents blow themselves up in order to take us down. Now I don't claim to know all the answers, but I think it is a grave mistake to sent people, troops and whatever (Army of contractors) to a foreign land with no language abilities, cultural or religious understanding, much less respect for the same. Surely one must recognize to kill oneself for any cause requires some motivation that must equal outrage about something that it would behoove us to understand or at least attempt to understand. We seem to be determined to do ourselves in, I mean; I don't know what it costs, but sending F-15 fighters to "escort" every aircraft with a drunk or disagreeable person is surely over the top, I suspect I could retire quite comfortable off what just one such episode costs with lots left over. If I was a passenger I surely would be terrified to see f-15 fighters alongside, whatever could they do, except shoot the plane down I'm riding in?

Posted by: knowdoubt at January 11, 2010 02:02 PM


yes, it's an excellent article, and your comment is good too--we do indeed have pervasive corruption, though our elites mostly don't even see it. I have a different take on a few other things.

The war on terror and all this media noise about terror isn't intended to be, and doesn't function as, a rational response to a threat. It's a way to mobilize public opinion in support of an empire that is increasingly committed to increasingly distant and increasingly aggressive military actions in Asia. (The Cold War was much the same thing, though not quite as farcical as this go around.) The National Security elite thinks that is necessary, because otherwise our power will be eclipsed, and once that happens we will not be sitting in the catbird seat AND the world might become very unstable, which could really be bad. (They are right about some of that.)

So if you say you would be terrified if you were a passenger on a plane with a jet outside your window, THEY say "great!" Because making you terrified is the goal. That's the key piece. During the 90s, the military and rest of the National Security Elite and our huge energy corporations were presented with an opportunity that they had awaited for over fifty years, and then when it arrived the damn country wanted a peace dividend and the elected President hated foreign policy and we pissed around with humanitarian missions and there was no focus on taking what we finally could take. Just imagine how frustrating that was to our hawks! Basically because we didn't have a marketing program, and we didn't have an enemy to justify the sorts of measures we wanted to undertake with the sort of costs that would be required, we couldn't do what we had been waiting to do for the entire lifetimes of some very old powerful men.

So what happens? We get the war on terror, and it's easy to rationalize because we can be afraid of the bad guys who want to carry nukes in suitcases into our cities. So from then on everything we do is justified, because if the alternative is LA or New York and ten million people being killed, well obviously anything is better than letting that happen. That the bad guys are swarthy just makes it all the easier.

This sort of drama involving power rationalizing its own use has been happening FOREVER. We have the power, we want to use it, we can't get away with using it unless we have a provocation (and unless we lie about that provocation), and we need to blame the victims so we don't all feel like assholes after we kill them and steal all their resources. It's actually not complicated.

Posted by: N E at January 12, 2010 12:40 AM