Cover Story: America's shadow warriors
They are already in Iraq, even before Bush has begun his military campaign against Saddam Hussein: the "Special Operations Group," the CIA's paramilitary organization. However, this elite group based in Langley, praised for its successful deployment in Afghanistan, must contend with the shadow of the past the spy agency's wartime efforts have frequently turned into foreign policy disasters.
They sneak across the border at night. They carry lightweight assault weapons. They have enough equipment and provisions to easily survive a few days under inhospitable conditions. With the help of their laptops, they pass on what they see and hear. They use satellite telephones to request supplies, which are dropped off rather precisely on-target by mid-sized cargo aircraft.
In the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, an area over which Saddam Hussein has long since lost control, they search for locals who could serve the American invasion force as guides and pathfinders during the approaching war. Their strongest argument is a suitcase full of cash, which is most likely to convince local clans to help the envoys of the superpower.
The storm over Baghdad has not yet begun, but America's advance guard is already underway. A small combat force has also infiltrated southern Iraq under cover of night, and is now scouting out the positions of Saddam's miserably equipped troops, troops with which he intends to stop the attackers as they penetrate into the country from Kuwait when the war begins. In the west, US scouts are looking for concealed rocket launchers, from which the Iraqi dictator could launch his remaining "Scuds" possibly equipped with biological or chemical agents in the direction of Israel.
Several puzzling mini explosions in the capital suggest that the enemy has already penetrated into Baghdad. The London-based newspaper "al-Shark al-ausat" has reported that attacks by American advance commandos are intended to test the response capabilities of Saddam's security forces.
Until now, Saddam's riot squads have only arrested uninvolved Iraqis, while the shadow warriors who have been smuggled into the country have remained undetected. They are highly trained loners, heavily armed with high-tech equipment, American archetypes who could just as easily be characters in a Hollywood epic, in which good and righteous warriors, acting on their own and driven by nothing but glowing patriotism, vanquish the forces of the dark side.
The secret search for targets for Washington's bombers has begun.
These heavily armed advance commandos are moving through enemy territory, and it's as if hordes of Rambos had left the celluloid world from which they are derived. They are members of an elite unit whose existence was only brought to light when intrigue-tested Washington bureaucrats tried to use the heroic exploits of this secretive force as ammunition in their struggle for bigger budgets and against the incursions of rival government agencies.
The CIA's secret army of Rambo lookalikes, the favorite child of its 50-year-old director George Tenet, was established only five years ago. Its official name is "Special Operations Group," and because almost everything in America is condensed into an acronym, it is referred to as the SOG.
Hollywood movies about muscle-bound, go-it-alone warriors (in the 1980s, Sylvester Stallone played "Special Ops" soldier Rambo, a former member of the Green Berets) reflected the excessive patriotism of the Ronald Reagan era, and transformed America's traumatic defeat in the jungles of Vietnam into moral triumph. In a similar vein, Tenet's heroic offspring were brought into the world to improve the image of the agency. In the cabinet of Bill Clinton, who clearly did not hold the CIA in high esteem, it was said that "the CIA was not even capable of stopping a column of three or four vehicles if they were protected by bodyguards."
Nowadays, the CIA can point to such icons as its agent Michael Spann, whose photograph riding a white horse through the deserts of Afghanistan, a shining knight in armor with a determined gaze was circulated around the world, followed shortly thereafter by the news of his death, making him a national hero.
And now it has turned its attention to Iraq. New SOG teams are infiltrating Saddam's realm. As soon as they find cover, they begin searching for targets for US bombers. They go about building a network among the local populace, whose help they seek to enlist to conceal American pilots who may be shot down. Others have been ordered to make their way to Baghdad, where they will complete the final mission given to them by their president: to eliminate Saddam Hussein.
The special unit is not large. Only a few hundred men have been trained for such covert missions: a small, efficient, elite unit trained to commit such acts of sabotage as blowing up bridges, scouting out combat territory, and training allies.
But this Operation Rambo cannot succeed without assistance. Specialists from the US' large reservoir of elite troops (see page 106) are being assigned to Langley, a move that has infuriated the commanders of these highly effective Pentagon units. They are being forced to give up their people, while the CIA takes the credit for their successes.
The underground unit is organized like a small army, one whose war chest is always full. For example, the SOG has acquired its own fleet of speedboats that can deposit their commandos onto foreign beaches. The SOG also has access to cargo ships, with which they are able to transport larger equipment.
Scandals and failures have made a laughing stock of Langley's agents.
The CIA's miniature air force disparaged by rivals in the Pentagon with the macabre expression, borrowed from the German, "Waffen-CIA" consists of small passenger aircraft, with which its soldiers can be transported to any destination in the world. Cargo aircraft deliver supplies to these units from the air.
For missions in Afghanistan and Central Asia, where US aircraft would be too conspicuous, the CIA forces prefer helicopters and Soviet-era aircraft captured by the Pentagon or acquired from former Warsaw Pact armies.
In addition to being deployed in Iraq, members of the SOG are also currently stationed in Pakistan, in Central and Eastern Asia, and in North Africa. Last month, Hamburg-born CIA agent Helge Philipp Boes lost his life in Afghanistan, where CIA forces are still hunting for al Qaeda members. "These are people who work all over the globe every day," says their commander Jim Pavitt. "I can deploy a team quickly and inconspicuously anywhere."
The paramilitary branch of the CIA is in fact a top-secret division of the American secret service, and the "Company" generally denies its existence altogether. But much has changed in America since September 11th. The vulnerability of the nation, highlighted by the attacks on New York and Washington, has convinced Americans that they cannot rule out any weapon no matter how unorthodox in their fight against terrorism.
This is why the secret agents who, after decades of scandals and failures, had become a virtual laughing stock and who frustrated and their hands tied by strict political requirements had almost completely withdrawn from operations behind enemy lines, have suddenly become national heroes again. Best-selling authors such as Bob Woodward sing the praises of this resurrected unit, and credit them with having played a key role in ensuring rapid victory in Afghanistan. A Time Magazine cover story has revealed all the things that these supposedly top-secret commandos are doing to win the next war.
The CIA is helping the world's most powerful military to unleash its force and carry out the attacks with which it hopes to vanquish its enemies in the 21st century. Its agents consider themselves the military's eyes and ears on the ground. In theory, this could also be accomplished with satellites over the Gulf or Air Force reconnaissance planes. But even the most accurate aerial photographs, such as those that Baghdad has now permitted in response to international pressure, cannot accomplish the things that CIA agents can do.
Every morning, CIA Director Tenet meets with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office to report on his view of the situation and to evaluate such questions as: Just how much support does the Iraqi National Assembly have? Does an option still exist to force Saddam into exile without war? Is whether or not the Kurds want their own state a key issue in forging a large alliance?
Bush' father, the 41st president, who himself served as Director of the CIA from 1976 to 1977, has advised his son to pay attention to and trust the CIA. In fact, however, the resurrection of the CIA to combat terrorism is an irony of history. After all, the agency has demonstrated that it was completely taken aback by the events of September 11, 2001.
Not unlike German agents, who had had the later attackers in their sights for some time, but had not taken any action, the CIA did not take the threat posed by Osama bin Laden seriously enough. This in spite of the fact that their co-conspirators had already committed an attack against the World Trade Center in 1993 and blew up the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam five years later.
The CIA has certainly done its part to help convert democracies into dictatorships. It has been involved in both successful and failed attempts to assassinate foreign leaders. But on September 11th, it was neither unscrupulous nor the willing instrument of a cynical world power, but simply and undoubtedly clueless.
Tenet's resignation would have been a logical consequence of the disaster. Instead, he remains a respected guest at the White House. And thanks to the new carte blanche it's been given for what Bush calls "high-risk operations," his agency in Langley is now more powerful than at virtually any other time in history. In the middle of this month, Bush officially elevated the CIA to the leadership position in the war against terrorism. FBI agents, whose jurisdiction only extends to domestic investigations, must now report the results of their investigations into terrorism to the Director of the CIA.
For the first time since Vietnam and Watergate, CIA special commandos are once again permitted to commit murder, and can do so without consulting the White House. They were given this authority by a presidential decree, which formally relates to funds for "covert operations," code for the killing of selected US enemies, most prominently bin Laden.
In the asymmetric war against the al Qaeda network and against Third World dictators of the Saddam Hussein variety, the CIA is currently experiencing a total resurrection. Its agents interrogate prisoners at the Bagram airbase near Kabul and in Guantanamo on Cuba. Sometimes they turn over such "illegal combatants" Washington's term for prisoners taken in the war against terrorism, whom Bush has thus exempted from the requirements of the Geneva Convention and legal protection under American law to countries such as Syria or Egypt, where little attention is paid to rules against torture.
Bin Laden escaped detection by the US and its high-tech equipment on the back of a donkey.
However, the most prominent weapon in the arsenal of the Special Operations Group is the "Predator," a surveillance drone, equipped with "Hellfire" rockets, which enables it to immediately attack an identified target. The CIA unveiled its wonder weapon, on loan from the Air Force, in November 2001.
The cameras on board the Predator, which circles high above its prey, discovered Al Qaeda's chief of military operations, Mohammed Atif, in an exclusive residential area of Kabul. The drone's operator evaluated the images, which are delivered in real time, launched the rocket, and managed to achieve what was then the Americans' biggest success in their fight against the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
One year later, the CIA repeated its attack-by-joystick approach in Yemen. There, however, the rocket did not just hit Al Qaeda leader Ali Kaid Sinjan al-Harithi, but also an American citizen who was accompanying him. It was only the wave of patriotism that has gripped the United States since the attacks on New York and Washington that prevented public outrage over the fact that, in diametric opposition to American legal sentiment, secret service agents had executed a US citizen without any charges whatsoever.
And this was not the first embarrassing mistake during Predator deployment. Another rocket killed three Afghans as they collected scrap metal. The CIA operators were convinced that they had the long sought-after Al Qaeda chief himself in their sights. However, their conviction was based on a poorly defined piece of information: one of the victims was, like bin Laden, unusually tall.
However, the Predator mishap also sheds light on the biggest deficit the elite unit from Langley has suffered to date. Although it has literally moved heaven and earth, neither surveillance cameras nor tips from bribed tribal leaders has helped it discover bin Laden's whereabouts. None of its information has prevented bin Laden from eluding the SOG's high-tech pursuit on the back of a donkey.
"They're still developing their capacities," says a Bush staffer in defense of the search, which has thus far remained unsuccessful. "That doesn't mean that they are not turning into a force to be reckoned with. They just haven't reached that point yet."
Meanwhile, the CIA has advanced to the position of an agency ready to serve the Bush administration anywhere and at any time. Rarely has an intelligence gathering service been so frequently used as justification for foreign policy.
In fact, the sole mission of the CIA, with its up to 30,000 employees, is to collect and analyze information. In the United States, there are twelve other intelligence services that serve the same purpose. The National Security Agency (NSA), with its 60,000 spies, analyzes so many telephone conversations, faxes and e-mails worldwide that complete transcripts would fill the world's largest library, the Library of Congress, once every few hours. The Pentagon's military forces also have their own intelligence service. The United States spends a total of 30 billion dollars each year on its "intelligence services," with a tenth of this spending going to the CIA.
However, the "agency" enjoys a special status among the many competing organizations. The president is its biggest customer. According to the Constitution, he is the real chief of the intelligence service, while the CIA Director serves as his advisor. In theory, the CIA Director's mission is to tell the president the truth, so as to provide the man in the White House with an empirical basis for making important decisions.
The elevated status of the CIA can be a blessing, but it has also become a curse on many an occasion. After all, information delivered by Langley is not always politically opportune. On the other hand, the White House may, in a preventive move, dictate which information and interpretations the administration happens to favor at a given time.
Both of these scenarios have occurred under Bush. Last November, the agency delivered the news that North Korea was on the verge of building nuclear weapons with enriched uranium. In turning its attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, the White House opted not to focus on this news, and it took six months before it became public.
Conversely, Tenet made himself unpopular by remarking that his agency had no evidence of any close connections between bin Laden and Baghdad, and that there was no reason to assume that Saddam is particularly close to obtaining a nuclear weapon today. To the chagrin of the White House, the CIA Director was forced to testify before the US Congress that Saddam Hussein currently does not pose an acute threat to the United States.
The intelligence service was and remains at the mercy of the interests of the president who happens to be in power. Its status depends on the reputation enjoyed by the CIA Director at the White House. The wishes expressed by the Oval Office determine the extent to which the CIA must engage in unsavory activities, especially those from which the far more powerful special forces of the army, navy and air force are barred for legal reasons. In contrast to their colleagues at the CIA, the army's Green Berets and the Navy Seals cannot simply eliminate their unpleasant foes, except in times of war.
The CIA's secret army certainly has plenty of dirty work on its agenda. President Bush has already signed directives with which he intends to unleash his SOG unit against those countries that are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Experts from the Department of Energy have informed the CIA unit as to which weak points in a nuclear power plant are most vulnerable to attack. Could Pyongyang be next?
Five years ago, Tenet revived his still youthful intelligence unit because he agreed with some of his best agents in their assessment that the agency had reached a low point in its effectiveness. Robert Baer, for example, one of Langley's few experts on Iraq, did not hesitate to express his conviction that the CIA had "actually catapulted itself out of the espionage business." According to Baer, it is precisely in the Islamic world that the agency has lost its "human quality" and is relying increasingly as in all its other operations on the analysis of material it gathers electronically. As a result, however, the agency lacked access to mosques and universities, and to an understanding of the radicalization of a portion of the Arab world.
Tenet's organization was to enable the CIA to regain the necessary local flexibility, but also to sharpen the talons of the eagle on the CIA's insignia which, in the opinion of many experts, had become dull. "The CIA was systematically destroyed by political correctness," writes Baer. "At precisely a time at which the global threat posed by terrorists was growing, the organization, which should have been keeping an eye on terrorism, was being scrubbed clean."
Tenet's elite warriors are everything but politically correct. The only thing the CIA Director could not do, however, was raise his warriors on his own. Instead, and to the considerable and lasting annoyance of the Pentagon, he proceeded to tap the military for candidates. CIA recruiters prefer to lurk in the bars of Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the headquarters of the Green Berets, a special unit of the army, are located. The CIA pays its special commandos just under 10,000 dollars more than the Pentagon pays its soldiers.
But teams were also officially borrowed from the Navy Seals and the special forces of the air force, so as to provide the CIA soldiers with the necessary expertise on which they must depend during their missions. When a soldier is completely transferred to the top-secret unit, his military papers are modified to mimic an honorable discharge into civilian life.
The CIA has maintained paramilitary special units ever since its earliest days. It was President Harry S. Truman who, in July 1947, signed the "National Security Act," thereby establishing the organization that would become the CIA. Truman entrusted a handful of military personnel with gathering and filtering security-related facts and observations, principally because he himself did not wish to wade through mountains of files every day.
The fifth paragraph of the CIA guidelines expands the competency of the new secret guild, stating that it should concern itself with affairs "that relate to national security." In taking this step, Truman empowered the CIA to engage in covert operations, even to engage in the self-directed killing of its enemies, if necessary. The Americans never wanted to experience another surprise attack like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It is precisely for this reason that September 11, 2001 has become such a severe trauma, and that there is once again such considerable willingness to give free rein to the CIA's Rambos.
In the early years after World War II, when the adversarial relationship with Moscow was coming to a head, the image of the enemy was clearly defined. The CIA's methods, always at the technological forefront of their time, were frequently the stuff of Hollywood movies a little bit of Bond, a little bit of Frankenstein, and a lot of Terminator. The biological agent anthrax was part of its repertoire from the very beginning. And like its competitor, the KGB, the CIA also experimented with fortunetellers, parapsychologists, and psychics.
In contrast, the "Technical Service" specialized in the kinds of experiments of which Colin Powell is now accusing the Iraqis: human experiments. This department attempted to reprogram test subjects into killing machines. It pumped LSD, mescaline and other drugs into people, or performed brain surgery in the hope of being able to manipulate memory. The "Committee to Change the State of Health," whose name could easily have been coined by George Orwell, had an entirely old-fashioned mission: assassinations.
The CIA's "Directorate of Operations," which remains the bureaucratic home of the SOG today, was already both famous and infamous in its day. It was within that organization that regime change was conceived and attacks were planned. "If the president tells me to take care of a government, I couldn't care less about the consequences," snarled Richard Helms, CIA Director from 1966 to 1973. But at least in the long and medium term, the consequences of the CIA's military operations were generally disastrous.
The first regime change was undertaken in Iran in 1953, at the instruction of the DDO, or Deputy Director of Operations. Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh had dared to nationalize a British-Iranian oil consortium. Oil prices, already a key concern of the United States at the time, only settled down after a mob infiltrated by the CIA had heaved Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi back onto the throne. 25 years later he was still supporting the US' business interests in the Gulf, only to be swept aside himself by a crusading ayatollah.
The counter-revolution against Fidel Castro ended in fiasco more quickly. On the afternoon of April 19, 1961, Commander José Pérez San Román had to report to his CIA superior that "I'm disappearing into the bush." His brigade 2506, comprised of Cuban expatriates, which was to mobilize resistance against the victorious revolutionary, had been annihilated. The bodies of 114 men floated in a lagoon, and almost 1500 men were captured. From then on the situation only deteriorated further: 18 months later, the two opposing superpowers reached the brink of nuclear war, because the botched invasion of Cuba had given the Soviets the idea that they could install nuclear warheads just over 300 kilometers from Miami without risk of discovery or retribution.
Was the CIA simply an efficient tool of American foreign policy? Or was it a "horror shop," as the New York Times angrily claimed, in which power-hungry loners could pursue their delusions of grandeur unchecked?
There have also been many cases in which the CIA has been in the right. For example, its analysts predicted the 1956 Suez crisis with considerable precision. But because the White House had a different assessment of the crisis in the Middle East and, consequently, ignored Langley's warnings, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was ultimately caught by surprise when Great Britain, France and Israel marched on Egypt.
The discrepancy between politics and information gleaned by the intelligence services was even more glaring as the United States became increasingly embroiled in Vietnam. As the Pentagon Papers the official, initially classified history of US involvement in Indochina later showed, the CIA reports on South Vietnam's prospects in its war against the communist guerillas from the north were virtually dripping with pessimism. Nevertheless, first President John F. Kennedy and then his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, sent hundreds of thousands of US troops into the Southeast Asian jungle.
The sudden death of the CIA Director spared the president some embarrassing questions.
But time and again, the CIA was forced to allow itself to be misused as a willing instrument in the greatest moral disaster of American foreign policy. Agents orchestrated the murder of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. The "Phoenix Program" an attempt to track down and eliminate the Viet Cong was undertaken with the active participation of the CIA's paramilitary troops. One CIA expert later summarized the outcome of the program with these words: "They killed a hell of a lot of the wrong people."
In 1975/76, a fact-finding committee, known by the name of its chairman, Senator Frank Church, investigated the affairs of the espionage agency and attempted to curb the "malignant elephant" of the CIA. In the future, its agents were to notify the Congress about the beginning and objectives of every covert operation.
Under legislation passed in 1976, agents of the intelligence services were not permitted to commit contract killings. One year later, former CIA Director Helms was tried and convicted of having lied to the Senate, and from then on Washington's intelligence community viewed him as a martyr who had resisted the attempt to disarm the intelligence service.
The Republicans, who returned to power in 1981 under Ronald Reagan, tried to give the CIA new teeth. Edward Bennett Williams, Helms' attorney and one of the Republicans' most important champions, referred to the agency as "a wonderful dog that was run over by a truck." The new chief of the agency, William Casey, made it his mission to revive that dog, and he received his first opportunity to do so during the Iran-Iraq war.
Casey stabilized the Iraqis' wavering front with highly inflammatory information about the strength of the Iranians. On Reagan's orders, the current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, even met with Saddam in 1983 to assure him that he was held in high regard by Washington. "We don't give a damn how long the fighting continues, just as long as the balance of power in the Gulf doesn't shift," said one high-ranking US diplomat.
At the same time, the CIA Director directed his efforts toward the expectations of the fanatic anticommunist occupying the White House. Reports that called Moscow's technological arms build-up capabilities into question were glossed over and replaced with alarmist reports, in keeping with the party line, on the Red menace in America's backyard. In 1979, the leftist Sandinistas had seized power in Nicaragua, and were allegedly in the process of spreading the Revolution to the Texas border.
CIA agents then trained the Contra rebels who, however, were unable to drive the Sandinistas from power. To funnel weapons to the Contras behind Congress' back National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane initiated an intrigue that almost drove Reagan from the White House.
Iran, officially the arch-enemy of America, castigated as the "Great Satan" by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, received spare parts and weapons for its military, which had already been excellently equipped with US materials by the Shah. The CIA then diverted 42 million dollars from the payment for these materials to finance the Contras.
The illegal deal fell apart and Casey was reprimanded by an indignant Congress, where he answered one explosive question after the next with "I don't know." On the day after a hearing, the CIA Director collapsed and died shortly thereafter. Since then, it has been conjectured that his sudden death spared Reagan some embarrassing questions and may even have saved his presidency.
The CIA also did not discover Saddam's attack on Kuwait in time. The war of 1991, and especially President George Bush, Senior's failure to effectively support the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north in their revolt against the defeated despot, led to the collapse of all CIA activities between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
During the ensuing years, Iraq experts left the agency en masse, including Warren Marik who, after leaving his position as a division director with the CIA in 1997, told SPIEGEL about the failed policies of his agency in the land of two rivers. According to Marik, this failure resulted in the betrayal of hundreds of Saddam's opponents and in the amateurish bungling of a number of coup attempts. In the end, Marik said, hardly an Iraqi could be found who was willing to collaborate with Langley's clumsy agents.
An aluminum suitcase containing three million dollars buys fighters for the war in Afghanistan.
More than any country, Afghanistan, which had already served as a staging point for major CIA operations on two occasions in the past, was used as justification for the CIA's warriors. It was there that the "Company" waged its last successful war against the Soviet empire. Milton Bearden, former CIA station chief in Pakistan, reported that the CIA flew to Afghanistan "several hundred thousand tons of weapons and ammunition to be distributed among Afghan fighters, known to the word as Mujaheddin."
In 1989, he witnessed the Russians' withdrawal over the "Bridge of Friendship." However, America immediately lost interest in this barren central Asian country. More important matters soon appeared on the global political horizon: The Soviet empire had collapsed and was dissolving. It was a great triumph that had to be savored.
In Afghanistan, however, a new explosive mixture of fundamentalism and terrorism was brewing. Former freedom fighters began to harbor terrorists, the pious Mujaheddin gave way to the even more pious Taliban warriors, and bin Laden was their honored guest. Just as the CIA was forced to serve as a tool of foreign policy when defeating the Soviet Union was on the agenda, it was once again called upon to conquer the Taliban and to hunt down bin Laden. And it was in Afghanistan that the agency experienced its rehabilitation.
Gary, a CIA veteran of 59 years and a member of the Special Operations Group, was there long before B-52 bombers appeared in the skies over Kabul and Kandahar. On the eve of his retirement, he was given the mission of sounding out the situation in northern Afghanistan. He was experienced and he spoke Pashtu and Dari, by then a complete rarity in the CIA. Most of all, he carried three million dollars in non-consecutively numbered 100 dollar bills stuffed into an aluminum suitcase.
Gary assembled a team of ten people, agents and paramilitary personnel. Their code word was "Jawbreaker." The small team crisscrossed the region to obtain an impression of the Northern Alliance, which had been unsuccessfully fighting the Taliban. Gary wrote encoded reports to headquarters, in which he recommended massive air strikes to launch the war: "In this case, the Taliban could quickly collapse and shrink to a hard core surrounding Mullah Omar."
"We have all witnessed how secret wars are transformed into public disasters."
Using his war chest, Gary purchased three Jeeps, a helicopter, and anything else his team needed. He requested boots, new uniforms and warm clothing for the tattered soldiers of the Northern Alliance. Feed for their horses was dropped from cargo aircraft.
Gary spent countless dollars to transform a strip of flat land into an airfield. And he spent a few hundred thousand dollars to convince the irresolute warlords and commandants that America was serious about eliminating the Taliban and hunting down bin Laden.
On October 19, 2001, his unit marked a landing site on the Shemali Plain near Kabul for the first team of the Special Operations Group. Each member of this commando was carrying 140 kilograms of provisions and equipment, including laser equipment to identify targets. The war had begun.
The CIA's small special unit, which was soon joined by other teams, functioned as quartermaster, scout and financier. Gary's assessment of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban served as the basis for a strategy that involved America waging its war from the air and the Northern Alliance fighting as its ground troops.
This enabled the United States to avoid significant losses. However, it also laid the groundwork for a bitter rivalry between Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet over the correct deployment of their special forces. The Pentagon chief's commando units were much larger, and Rumsfeld was not particularly interested in playing second fiddle to the CIA forces. "I have all my boys under arms and I have to wait in my nest, like a little bird, until the CIA lets us go in," complained the Secretary of Defense. He is firmly convinced that Bush should have sent the CIA Director, the last survivor of the Clinton administration, into the desert long ago.
Even more humiliating was the fact that because the CIA was short on trained hand-to-hand combatants, the Pentagon constantly received requests during the war in Afghanistan to place its own special commandos under CIA command. "The CIA carries out operations while using funds provided by the Department of Defense," complained Pentagon advisor William Schneider.
There is also no lack of admonishing voices quick to point to the long list of failures that have come about whenever Langley forces shaped rather than analyzed world events. "How secret wars are transformed into public disasters is a movie we have all seen," warns John Pike, director of the Washington think tank "Global Security." But even during the current deployment in Iraq, Rumsfeld's Rambos are, at least for the time being, subordinate to their CIA rivals.
For Robert Baer, the disappointed CIA Iraq expert, who spent his life seeing himself as a foot soldier in the CIA's war, this new enthusiasm for his former employer's special unit comes too late. But he does feel that the fact that the CIA is now sending its people back into mosques and casbahs to find out "what our enemies' intentions are" is the right approach.
However, Baer says that no one should be under the illusion, as they were a quarter century ago, that a decent and clean intelligence service could exist. According to Baer, the Directorate of Operations, the home of the CIA's army, is "the only institution within the federal government that devotes itself entirely to the task of breaking laws the laws of other countries."
RÜDIGER FALKSOHN, HANS HOYNG, SIEGESMUND VON ILSEMANN, GERHARD SPÖRL
© DER SPIEGEL 10/2003
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