May 2, 2011

"The Secret Team That Killed bin Laden"

Marc Ambinder, in a National Journal exclusive:

Were it not for this high-value target, it might have been a routine mission for the specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru.

This HVT was special, and the raids required practice, so they replicated the one-acre compound. Trial runs were held in early April.

DevGru belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command, an extraordinary and unusual collection of classified standing task forces and special-missions units. They report to the president and operate worldwide based on the legal (or extra-legal) premises of classified presidential directives. Though the general public knows about the special SEALs and their brothers in Delta Force, most JSOC missions never leak. We only hear about JSOC when something goes bad (a British aid worker is accidentally killed) or when something really big happens (a merchant marine captain is rescued at sea), and even then, the military remains especially sensitive about their existence. Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story — generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That’s the code.

How did the helos elude the Pakistani air defense network? Did they spoof transponder codes? Were they painted and tricked out with Pakistan Air Force equipment? If so — and we may never know — two other JSOC units, the Technical Application Programs Office and the Aviation Technology Evaluation Group, were responsible. These truly are the silent squirrels — never getting public credit and not caring one whit. Since 9/11, the JSOC units and their task forces have become the U.S. government’s most effective and lethal weapon against terrorists and their networks, drawing plenty of unwanted, and occasionally unflattering, attention to themselves in the process.


Under a variety of standing orders, JSOC is involved in more than 50 current operations spanning a dozen countries, and its units, supported by so-called “white,” or acknowledged, special operations entities like Rangers, Special Forces battalions, SEAL teams, and Air Force special ops units from the larger Special Operations Command, are responsible for most of the “kinetic” action in Afghanistan.

Pentagon officials are conscious of the enormous stress that 10 years of war have placed on the command. JSOC resources are heavily taxed by the operational tempo in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials have said. The current commander, Vice Adm. William McRaven, and Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel, McRaven’s nominated replacement, have been pushing to add people and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology to areas outside the war theater where al-Qaida and its affiliates continue to thrive.

Earlier this year, it seemed that the elite units would face the same budget pressures that the entire military was experiencing. Not anymore. The military found a way, largely by reducing contracting staff and borrowing others from the Special Operations Command, to add 50 positions to JSOC. And Votel wants to add several squadrons to the “Tier One” units — Delta and the SEALs.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal became JSOC’s commanding general in 2004, he and his intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, set about transforming the way the subordinate units analyze and act on intelligence. Insurgents in Iraq were exploiting the slow decision loop that coalition commanders used, and enhanced interrogation techniques were frowned upon after the Abu Ghraib scandal. But the hunger for actionable tactical intelligence on insurgents was palpable.

The way JSOC solved this problem remains a carefully guarded secret, but people familiar with the unit suggest that McChrystal and Flynn introduced hardened commandos to basic criminal forensic techniques and then used highly advanced and still-classified technology to transform bits of information into actionable intelligence. One way they did this was to create forward-deployed fusion cells, where JSOC units were paired with intelligence analysts from the NSA and the NGA. Such analysis helped the CIA to establish, with a high degree of probability, that Osama bin Laden and his family were hiding in that particular compound.

These technicians could “exploit and analyze” data obtained from the battlefield instantly, using their access to the government’s various biometric, facial-recognition, and voice-print databases. These cells also used highly advanced surveillance technology and computer-based pattern analysis to layer predictive models of insurgent behavior onto real-time observations.

The military has begun to incorporate these techniques across the services. And Flynn will soon be promoted to a job within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he’ll be tasked with transforming the way intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and utilized.

I hate that bin Laden’s death will be politicized — necessarily — because this is who the left is. But I am thankful that the politicization likely won’t involve prolonged scrutiny of covert techniques — making this one of those very rare times where having a “progressive” President with a sycophantic media might actually serve the country’s long term interests.

Because trust me: had bin Laden been killed during the later years of Bush, the mainstream press would be out looking for military or CIA malfeasance, raising concerns about their having violated some “international law” or other, asking “questions” about methodology that would have led them to publish leaks they knew would be harmful to national security, but which their journalistic ethics compelled them to publish (whereas embargoes on video from fundraisers that we, the taxpayers, are on the financial hook for? Not to worry, that kind of journalistic freeze out is just part of doing business!).

In this case, most of that situational anti-war crowd from the left will want to spin the narrative to favor Obama’s military acumen. And for that we should just smile to ourselves, knowing what they’re up to, and be grateful.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 9:35am

Comments (26)

  1. Thank you. You know who you are, even if we do not specifically know.

  2. While Col. Jessup stands on that wall where we need him, SEAL Team Six goes over the wall and takes the fight to the enemy. Jessup sleeps better at night because of them, and I can handle that truth.

  3. I hate the bin Laden’s death will be politicized — necessarily — because this is who the left is.

    As much as the Democrats and various other Leftists may wish to gloat, it is instructive to note that Osama bin Laden is dead today because Barack Obama broke his 2008 campaign promises and chose to continue George W. Bush’s war policies.

  4. The state-run media is abuzz with wonderfully presidential images and content. Their new-found patriotism is touching.

    And like his chin, up go Obama’s poll numbers.

  5. They won’t profit by attempting to politicize this successful operation. Most regular folks will see throught that instinctively, and immediately; only the partisan shills will keep repeating the talking points…

    And in their desire for viewership, and to analyze the “post-game results”, it will necessarily come out that this was based on years of intelligence work, heretofore condemned as “ineffective” interrogations at GTMO, and perseverence despite the political pressure from the left to cut and run.

    As I’ve said, Obama get’s credit for green-lighting the assault, and rightly deciding a few months ago that definitive IDing of the body was as important as getting the guy via bombs/cruise mussiles; but that’s the extent of it.

    So I say to folks like the odious Ms. Wasserman-Schultz, go ahead, try and say this was only possible because Obama was President; that it couldn’t have happened otherwise. Spin it however you’d like…

    People will know you’re lying, and as Jeff noted, what’s really important is that because they’re taking credit, the left won’t be on the warpath for cheap points by other means; like the leaking and other exposes Jeff spoke of.

  6. Another historic first! A Nobel peace prize winner carrying out a successful assassination!

  7. Bob Reed,

    They won’t profit by attempting to politicize this successful operation. Most regular folks will see throught that instinctively, and immediately; only the partisan shills will keep repeating the talking points

    Unfortunately, that includes the vast majority of the “credentialed” mainstream news media. Expect the politicization to continue unabated.

  8. I am quire happy that OBL is now fucking his seventy two virgins, but in the larger scheme of things, meh.

    “WOW! The war on terror is over!” Not even close. Osama was really nothing but a figurehead.

    I listened to that angel eared little Marxist asshole’s speech, and all I heard was “I, I, I, I, I, I, ad infinitum. Unbridled arrogance unleashed.

    “Too smart to be the president”! Please! That statement made me piss my drawers because I was laughing so hard.

    And to those of us who say “Gutsy move”, this little piece of crap had no choice. If he had let Obama (OOPS! Osama) walk, it would have eventually leaked, and the “man” who doesn’t have a leg to stand on would lose his last leg (the little tiny one), and be crucified when the truth became known.

    He is nothing but a conniving, arrogant piece of shit. AND I DON’T CARE WHAT FUCKING COLOR HE IS!!!! A clueless asshole is a clueless asshole, no matter his melanin component, or how much arugula his pompous ass of a wife eats.

    Obama is America’s worst nightmare. And you can take that to the bank.

  9. It’ nice that the young college kids can be all patriotic for a day or two.

  10. A word of caution, and a historical analogy is in order. Just as Bin Laden was the architect of the 9/11 attacks, so too was Admiral Yamamoto the mastermind behind the sneak-attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. While Yamamoto was killed in perhaps the longest-range fighter intercept ever, on April 14, 1943, the war with Japan continued until August 15, 1945-nearly 2 1/2 years later !

    So while we have accomplished an important goal, and eliminated an important member of the enemy’s chain of command, we can’t really declare victory until all our troops come home, for good, and we are no longer threatened by radicals and terrorists from abroad who hate us because of our way of life.

    Sorry if I harshed anyone’s mellow…

  11. Me, I’m just glad that ObL has had his breathing privileges revoked.

  12. No mellow harshed here, Bob. This was a major psychological (propaganda) victory, but definitely not the end of the war against the Salafist jihad.

    Perhaps, as Winston Churchill once said, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. This conflict will continue for a long time, and won’t end with a bang, but with a whimper (if you’ll pardon another cliché) when Jihad! eventually loses popular support in the muslim world, and radical movement goes back underground.

  13. Watching the coverage last night my wife and I were discussing just how different the tone of the coverage would have been if GWB were still POTUS. No doubt there would have been ominous bumper music, and serious scowls abounding among speculation over negative ramifications and the costs involved in the whole endeavor.

    But , on a bright note, apparently it is again acceptable for the death of a noted enemy to serve as cause for celebration. That it is only so due to a lefty being the current occupant of the White House does not concern me too much. I will celebrate, and equally so I will make them own their celebrations.

  14. A Nobel peace prize winner carrying out a successful assassination!


  15. I swear I heard ululating. Maybe it was my imagination.

  16. It’ nice that the young college kids can be all patriotic for a day or two.

    Singing the Star Spangled Banner required them to learn the lyrics. This could be a good thing.

  17. I suppose, Pablo, but I worry that it may only reinforce their support for that candidate they helped to get elected in 2008. Do they otherwise pay attention?

  18. Well, ain’t nobody more peaceful than a corpse.

  19. MMmmmmmmmm ….. chum!

  20. I wonder if he’s still experiencing that sinking feeling?

  21. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » THOUGHTS ON OSAMA BIN LADEN’S DEATH, from Michael Yon. Other thoughts from Barry Rubin, Ron Rado…

  22. Instalanche! It’s been a while, so congrats, Jeff!

  23. Congratulations on the link by Professor Reynolds JeffG!

  24. “Another historic first! A Nobel peace prize winner carrying out a successful assassination!”

    Yassir Arafat’s bloated corpse begs to differ.

  25. Pingback: ‘USA! USA! USA!’ (I’m Just Saying That Because It Bothers Liberals So Much) : The Other McCain

  26. Yassir Arafat’s bloated corpse begs to differ.

    He was assassinated by a Nobel Prize winner?

    Probably not bloated, now. Probably more like dessicated.