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U. S. Special Forces Enter the Intelligence World

Pages: 12

After a hiatus of nearly 30 years, the Pentagon’s elite Special Forces soldiers are preparing to fight in the shadowy world of “actionable intelligence,” covertly collecting information against terrorists and – most importantly – acting on that information with clandestine raids and attacks.
Recognizing the seriousness of the threat from non-state terrorist networks, it seems as though our national defense leaders in Washington, D.C., have finally gotten it right. 

An article in The Washington Times on Feb. 19 revealed that Army “Green Berets” will soon begin training to assume the role of “spies” in addition to their traditional combat roles. Let’s not read too much into the term, “spies,” which is often a broad-stroke description of anyone involved in the intelligence business.

Normally, the intelligence networks that the Special Forces personnel have nurtured, and cultivated, have been in support of their own unit-unique initiatives and mission requirements. 

But their collection skills have significantly improved with time and experience. As a result, various national-level intelligence agencies have shoehorned themselves into Special Forces intelligence operations that were initially designed for collection of tactical human intelligence. Many of these ops gained strategic and global intelligence direction as they yielded some unexpected bonanzas.

This marks a significant turnaround in the attitude of the U.S. intelligence community toward these elite soldiers. Ever since the end of our nation’s two decades of quagmire in Vietnam, the attitude of many civilian intelligence officials towards Special Operations Forces troops has been condescending.

But in the post-9/11 world, it seems that the intelligence community recognizes a strength in the Special Forces that their own operatives lack. Establishing and managing indigenous human intelligence operations in a rapidly developing or already fluid combat environment has not been a strong area for the ivy-league operatives. At least, not since the termination of the legendary Phoenix program in Vietnam in the mid-1970s. The Phoenix Phung Hoang (or Operation Phoenix) was a stroke of manifest brilliance by a former Saigon CIA station chief (and later CIA ! Director) William Colby. 

The CIA relied upon the Special Forces as key players in the Phoenix program. The soldeirs were often dispatched into the “denied-areas” in the war zone to perform their dangerous missions. They successfully established and maintained numerous intelligence networks in collusion with the CIA.

Phoenix was basically the shortest distance between two points during the Vietnam War – those points being (1) the decision to liquidate an adversary, normally a well placed Viet Cong official, or his minions, and (2) the end-game of the operation: the capture, disappearance, or publicized assassination of the target.

So why are Special Forces soldiers once again preparing to begin conducting their own intelligence collection, which will likely be fully sanctioned and supported by the CIA?

Because they can.

Special Forces soldiers are uniquely qualified to deal with the asymmetric unconventional threat that faces the United States today. International terrorist networks will continue to threaten our way of life for the next two decades, according to leading defense planners and strategists.

The lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq have painted a crystal clear picture for strategic planners at the Pentagon and throughout the free world. The entire mindset toward the system’s approach to warfare has been transformed. 

Long gone are the days when the linear battlefield could be identified in doctrinal graphics and map icons as rigid, defined and certain. This school of thought kept the conventional warfare planners comfortably assured in their intelligence estimates and planning matrices.

Today’s non-sovereign adversaries of the United States are connected globally and their foundations are built on many variables that the western World has had difficulty comprehending. Numerous sociological demographics connect and unite the enemies of the United States. A growing number of unpredictable unconventional threats exist. 

Among these motivating factors are cultural, religious and ethnic allegiances. Extreme devotion to causes and sympathy for a belief also serves to recruit players, or enablers, for the current style of fighter that we face. The United States must aggressively pursue, challenge and counter this shadowy global threat. Special Forces soldiers are the best we have to meet this menace. 

Our Special Operations Forces have been tasked to collect and produce – in the words of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – “actionable intelligence.” 

Rumsfeld’s reasoning is that highly-trained Special Operations Forces on the ground, collecting their own intelligence, can do a far better job in managing this task. I, for one, agree, particularly on the need to corroborate and verify highly-perishable intelligence information in the least amount of time. 

Both the new threats and the highly unorthodox battlefield situations that have emerged in the past two years demand almost immediate attention and action, once agents verify the information and facts. 

Pages: 12

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