Two recent major, major stories from America’s leading newspapers paint a disturbing and downcast portrait of the War on Terror, started by Bush and continued by Obama.
First is the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America” series, which portrays an American intelligence community growing and spinning out of control:
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation’s other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.
And today, The New York Times releases information obtained by Wikileaks, painting the Afghanistan war from the ground up, showing why the war is long, and seemingly far from over:
A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal. The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.
The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the voluminous records several weeks ago on the condition that they not report on the material before Sunday.
The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.
As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.
The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:
Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.
The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements — attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.
In reaction to these major, damaging reports, the intelligence community and the Obama administration are on the defensive. In response to Top Secret America, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a press statement:
In 2004, Congress and the Administration, in the midst of two wars, mandated structural Intelligence Community reforms and created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to mobilize a new, integrated Intelligence Community (IC) workforce and eliminate barriers to information sharing. Many of those reforms are less than five years old. While we have made significant progress, much work remains…
Also, what may appear to be unnecessary redundancy in analysis and analytic products is, in many instances,intentional overlap. The IC must be equipped to produce tailored intelligence for different customer sets…
Information sharing, while better than it has ever been, remains a significant challenge for the IC. Complex technical, legal and institutional barriers remain such as multiple information systems and legal regimes to protect privacy and constitutional rights.We have always acknowledged that there is much work to be done, but no assessment of the IC is accurate or complete without recognizing that progress in information sharing is real…
In response to the NYTimes report, the Obama administration denied misleading the public on the Afghanistan war:
White House officials vigorously denied that the Obama administration had presented a misleading portrait of the war in Afghanistan.
“On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on Al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” said Gen. James L. Jones, White House national security adviser, in a statement released Sunday. “We know that serious challenges lie ahead, but if Afghanistan is permitted to slide backwards, we will again face a threat from violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda who will have more space to plot and train,” the statement said.
General Jones also decried the decision by WikiLeaks to make the documents public, saying that the United States “strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security. WikiLeaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted,” General Jones said.
The U.S. government is in damage control mode. With all the talk of folding newspaper companies and the end of the news media, out comes the very reason why we have it: new information that the government doesn’t want their people to know, in order to reinvigorate debates over the War on Terror.