Pentagon Manhunters: America’s New Murder, Inc.?

When CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed that for eight years the Agency ran a secret program to hunt down and kill top leaders of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda, it set off a political firestorm.

While congressional Democrats and Republicans diverted the public’s attention with claims and counterclaims whether or not the Company had “misled” Congress by not disclosing the program’s existence, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported months earlier that former Vice President Richard Cheney had stood up an “executive assassination ring.”

According to Hersh, that fully-operational program was run, not by the CIA, but by the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a subunit attached to United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). During a “Great Conversations” event last March at the University of Minnesota, Hersh told the audience:

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.” (Eric Black, “Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring’,” MinnPost.com, March 11, 2009)

Old news right? Well, not entirely.

Wired investigative reporter Noah Shachtman revealed November 3, that a report published by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), the “educational component” of USSOCOM based at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, proposed creating a specialized “manhunting” unit with a global reach.

Shachtman writes that its author argues that the CIA “didn’t go far enough. Instead, it suggests the American government should set up something like a ‘National Manhunting Agency’ to go after jihadists, drug dealers, pirates and other enemies of the state.”

While not an “official” report, the fact that the monograph, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, was written by retired Air Force Lt. Colonel George A. Crawford and published by JSOU, lends added weight to arguments by critics that the United States Government has “gone rogue” and is preparing a planet-wide Operation Condor network to capture or kill imperialism’s enemies.

Currently a senior director for Archimedes Global, Inc., Crawford boasts a résumé that includes “operational assignments with special operations and special activities, intelligence collection and analysis, information operations and psychological operations.”

The shadowy firm, while short on information describing what it actually does, like many newly-minted intelligence and security outfits in Washington, is chock-a-block with retired spooks and special forces operators cashing-in on the tsunami of public funds fueling the “War on Terror.”

According to their web site the company offer services such as “Operations and Research” from “experienced, highly trained people” who possess “unmatched expertise across a number of industries and focus areas.”

In the realm of Technology, Archimedes specializes in “Cryptanalysis and Applied Cryptography.” Hint, hint, this is what the National Security Agency does when it isn’t spying on the American people and building an exploitable database on dissidents destined for “special handling” should the need arise.

The firm’s “Information and Risk” brief claims they will solve “the most difficult communication and risk problems by seeing over the horizon with a blend of art and science.” And with focus areas that include “strategic communications, media analysis and support, crisis communications, and risk and vulnerability assessment and mitigation,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to infer that those well-schooled in the dark art of psychological operations (PSYOPS) would find a friendly home at Archimedes!

With some 25-years experience “as a foreign area officer specializing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” including a stint “as acting Air and Defense Attaché to Kyrgyzstan,” Crawford brings an interesting skill-set to the table.

A trained interrogator “selected by the commander of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as an inspector for the Secretary of Defense Interrogation Special Focus Team,” one shudders to contemplate what his duties entailed in that capacity.

As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported in 2004 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, with Special Operations Forces (SOF) tasked with “greater responsibility for planning and conducting worldwide counterterrorism operations,” systematic human rights violations in Afghanistan and Iraq was just another day at the office.

Intimate with the narcotrafficking, al-Qaeda-linked Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), JSOU avers that Crawford “personally authored the intelligence plan for military operations in Kosovo and was the lead strategist for developing USSOCOM’s advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for counterterrorism operations.”

A rather ironic claim considering that right-up to the moment of the 9/11 attacks, as former FBI translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds revealed, the United States employed Afghan-Arab veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad for destabilization operations in innumerable global hot spots.

Manhunting: The Return of Operation Condor?

This isn’t the first time that America’s engagement with “dark actors” involved in “manhunting” as a state-sponsored blood sport led to a devil’s pact with torturers, drug dealers and sociopathic fascist killers.

During the 1970s, in the wake of the overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, the intelligence and security services of several Latin American states, notably Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay launched a secretive program, Operation Condor–with a major assist from the CIA and the Pentagon–that tracked down and murdered leftist opponents.

Operating under the radar, Condor operatives included military personnel, European neofascists, CIA-trained Cuban terrorists and international narcotraffickers who did the “wet work” for their political masters, Latin American oligarchs and their North American allies. Thousands were killed and thousands more “disappeared” into clandestine prisons.

Long Island University political science professor, J. Patrice McSherry, revealed, “U.S. military and intelligence forces were well informed of Condor operations, and the United States played a key covert role in modernizing and extending the Condor apparatus. An Argentine military source told a U.S. Embassy contact in 1976 that the CIA had been deeply involved in setting up computerized links among the intelligence and operations units of the six Condor states.”

Indeed, so extensive were these links that “U.S. forces also gave the Condor organization access to the U.S. continental communications system based in the Panama Canal Zone.” A declassified 1978 cable from U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert White to the Secretary of State, “revealed that Condor operatives made use of a U.S. facility in the Canal Zone for secret communications and intelligence coordination.”

The Pentagon, according to White’s declassified cable, provided the narco-linked death squad with the sophisticated electronic means to coordinate global operations.

General Alejandro Fretes Dávalos, commander of Paraguay’s armed forces told the ambassador, “that intelligence chiefs from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay used ‘an encrypted system within the U.S. telecommunications net[work],’ which covered all of Latin America, to ‘coordinate intelligence information’.”

“Essentially,” McSherry wrote, “U.S. military and/or intelligence forces put the official U.S. communications channel at the disposal of Operation Condor. It was a collaboration reflecting high-level executive approval of Condor.”

This “high-level executive approval” of an international death squad reflected past–and current–Pentagon thinking that when it comes to killing capitalism’s opponents, everything is permitted.

The parallels to contemporary American covert intelligence and military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with their documented linkages to the flourishing international drug trade are striking.

That these moves by Washington to seize the geostrategic high ground vis-à-vis their imperialist rivals, as in Latin America decades earlier, have spawned an unholy alliance with far-right political forces, warlords, religious extremists and drug traffickers, exposes the lie that U.S. military intervention has anything to do with democracy and human rights. Thirty years ago Danish journalist Henrik Krüger observed:

International Fascista was a crucial first step toward fulfilling the dream not only of [SS Col. Otto] Skorzeny, but also of his close friends in Madrid exile, José Lopez Rega, Juan Peron’s grey eminence, and Prince Justo Valerio Borghese, the Italian Fascist money man who had been rescued from execution at the hands of the World War II Italian resistance by future CIA counterintelligence whiz James J. Angleton. They, and other Nazi and Fascist powers throughout Europe and Latin America, envisioned a new world order built on a Fascist Iron Circle linking Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima, La Paz, Brasilia and Montevideo. (Henrik Krüger, The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, & International Fascism, Boston: South End Press, 1980, p. 210)

Shaped by French unconventional warfare doctrines, U.S. counterinsurgency tactics employed in Southeast Asia, and their own on the ground expertise crushing dissent, the “new professionalism of internal security” deployed by Condor operatives–code for massive repression and unrestrained violence–was directed against the people of Latin America with predictable results.

Eerily prefiguring America’s “War on Terror,” counterinsurgency “specialist” Roger Trinquier, the author of Modern Warfare and an architect of France’s bloody repression during the Algerian anticolonial struggle (1954-1962), averred that counterguerrillas must employ the full range of psychological warfare techniques against the civilian population if victory is to be achieved. This is a thesis to which Crawford returns time and again, particularly as it relates to the covert decapitation of resistance networks by American manhunters.

Fast forward and it becomes all-too-clear that Krüger’s “Fascist Iron Circle” didn’t disappear with Pinochet’s fall from grace; instead, it has morphed into a high-tech killing machine whose tentacles have fanned-out from the Washington Beltway to encircle the globe. Peter Dale Scott, writing on America’s descent into a lawless state presciently remarked:

Mafias and empires have certain elements in common. Both can be seen as the systematic violent imposition of governance in areas of undergovernance. Both use atrocities to achieve their ends; but both tend to be tolerated to the extent that the result of their controlled violence is a diminution of uncontrolled violence. I would tentatively suggest an important difference between mafias and empires: that, with the passage of time, mafias tend to become more and more part of the civil society whose rules they once broke, while empires tend to become more and more irreconcilably at odds with the societies they once controlled. (“Deep Events and the CIA’s Global Drug Connection,” Global Research, September 6, 2008)

Indeed, the “controlled violence” implicit in Crawford’s thesis, provides stark confirmation of Scott’s analysis that as the imperialist empire unravels it tends “to become more and more irreconcilably at odds” with popular control in a democratic republic.

The Mechanics of Standing Up a Death Squad

In “Unconventional Warfare in the 21st Century,” Antifascist Calling revealed last December that USSOCOM had published its definitive doctrine on the subject. Titled Unconventional Warfare, the 248-page document asserted that Unconventional Warfare or UW establishes a “litmus test,” namely warfare conducted “by, with or through surrogates” and that their preferred assets are irregular forces:

Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political “undesirables.” (Army Special Operations Forces, Unconventional Warfare, Field Manual No. 3-05.130, Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 30 September 2008, p. 1-3)

And with an explicitly stated goal to “gain or maintain control or influence over the population and to support that population through political, psychological, and economic methods,” the organization that Crawford proposes in Manhunting clearly exists along this UW warfighting continuum.

Manhunting–the deliberate concentration of national power to find, influence, capture, or when necessary kill an individual to disrupt a human network–has emerged as a key component of operations to counter irregular warfare adversaries in lieu of traditional state-on-state conflict measures. It has arguably become a primary area of emphasis in countering terrorist and insurgent opponents. (George A. Crawford, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, JSOU Report 09-7, The JSOU Press, Hurlburt Field, Florida, September 2009, p. 1)

In the author’s view, a national manhunting agency of necessity, will be a hybrid organization, combining features of a Special Forces small tactical team with those of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), the U.S. Marshals Services’ Special Operations Group (USMSSOG) at the federal level, “down to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and fugitive or criminal task forces in most U.S. cities.”

In addition to American examples, the author cites New Scotland Yard’s Antiterrorist Branch (SO13), Germany’s Grenzschutzgruppe (GSG-9), and the French Groupe de Sécurité et d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) as examples of a combined task force built on the “elite unit concept.” Moving on, Crawford recommends Israel’s Sayaret Mat’kal, “a special reconnaissance unit within Israel’s General Headquarters Intelligence Corps.

Lest readers forget, New Scotland Yard’s Antiterrorist Branch, SO13, was the “crack” unit that murdered Jean Claude de Menezes in cold blood on a London subway in 2005.

After an investigation that was little more than a cover-up, it was revealed that de Menezes was entirely innocent and had been mistakenly targeted by SO13′s armed wing, SO19, as part of “Operation Kratos,” the Met’s controversial “shoot-to-kill” program meant to take down suspected terrorists and would-be suicide bombers.

De Menezes was neither, but that didn’t stop police from pumping seven bullets into his head.

Tellingly, SO13 was stood up after consultations with Israeli “experts,” well-known for their fidelity to human rights, the rule of law and the sanctity of life, as Israel’s murderous assault last year on Gaza amply demonstrated.

Acknowledged manhunting masters in their own right, the Israeli settler-colonial security apparat have perfected the art of the “targeted killing,” when they aren’t dropping banned munitions such as white phosphorus on unarmed and defenseless civilian populations.

Like their Israeli counterparts who come highly recommended as models of restraint, an American manhunting agency will employ similarly subtle, though no less lethal, tactics. Crawford writes:

When compared with conventional force-on-force warfare, manhunting fundamentally alters the ratio between warfare’s respective firepower, maneuver, and psychological elements. Firepower becomes less significant in terms of mass, while the precision and discretion with which firepower is employed takes on tremendous significance, especially during influence operations. Why drop a bomb when effects operations or a knife might do? (Crawford, op. cit., p. 11, emphasis added)

Where “influence” and “effects” operations are concerned, secrecy and deceit are the norm and discretion in choosing a “target” is transformed into a morality play with a unique demonstration effect:

If internal security forces arrest a terrorist, it is an act of law enforcement, most often viewed favorably by both the international and domestic communities. If a terrorist is killed in an alley by an unknown assailant, it is an unsolved crime, a crime which may not be deeply investigated if the terrorist has a lengthy rap sheet. Thus it may be preferable to consign terrorist manhunting to intelligence and law enforcement organs and to avoid entanglements caused by crossing manhunting with military or diplomatic functions. Where manhunting is concerned, there may be legal and moral advantage in ambiguity and plausible denial. (Crawford, op. cit., p. 16)

Harken back to Seymour Hersh’s description of how Dick Cheney’s “executive assassination ring” actually performed in the real world: “they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.”

This too, was the precise mechanism employed by Operation Condor assassins across Latin America, Europe and the United States during the 1970s. Small teams of highly-trained, plausibly deniable intelligence officers and assets, including NATO-trained Italian neofascists, Turkish narcotraffickers and CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles carried out a reign of terror against their Southern Cone leftist opponents.

While the 1976 car-bombing in Washington, D.C. that murdered former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his secretary, Ronni Moffitt, may be the most notorious Condor operation to come to light, dozens if not hundreds of other “catch and snatch” operations were carried out, with a wink-and-a-nod from Washington. Those “disappeared” into Argentine or Chilean dungeons were never to be seen again.

The highly-specialized and compartmented nature of Crawford’s manhunting agency would become a permanent feature of America’s oxymoronic “War on Terror.”

They would be trained in physical, intelligence, and virtual-tracking techniques. The team will also include “shooters,” supported by on-call logistics and administrative support. Rather than an ad-hoc task force in the nature of the current law enforcement, Intelligence Community, or DoD operations, manhunting teams would be standing formations, trained to pursue their designated quarry relentlessly for as long as required to accomplish the mission. In cases where action must take place in uncooperative countries, it may be necessary for teams to act unilaterally, with no support or coordination with local authorities, in a manner similar to that employed by Israel’s Avner team in response to the Munich Olympics massacre. (Crawford, op. cit., p. 19)

Or I might add, by Pinochet’s murderous Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (National Intelligence Directorate) or DINA. Since intelligence will be central to the proposed national manhunting agency, “sensitive site exploitation (SSE) teams are the second tactical formation needed for manhunting.”

As with the actual shooters, SSE teams will be assembled and able to respond on-call “in the event of a raid on a suspect site or to conduct independent ‘break-in and search’ operations without leaving evidence of their intrusion.” Such teams must possess “individual skills” such as “physical forensics, computer or electronic exploitation, document exploitation, investigative techniques, biometric collection, interrogation/debriefing and related skills.”

Additionally, “Technical surveillance elements (TSE) or mobile surveillance teams (MST) will be stood up. According to Crawford, “Manhunting will require personnel who are experts at conducting surveillance of particular facilities, personnel, or activities without arousing suspicion or being detected.”

They will be taught to blend in unobtrusively into an urban or remote background, often “hiding in plain sight.” Some may be skilled at employing technical surveillance devices–wiretaps, video surveillance equipment, or more intrusive devices and methods. They will also be skilled at multiple forms of transportation across international boundaries. Their goal is to maintain surveillance on suspected activity, either confirming or denying hostile intent. Picture in your mind a typical city street scene, with a little old lady walking her dog, the phone repair crew descending into a manhole, two little old men playing an innocent game of checkers, or the homeless person sleeping on the park bench, and you are on the right track. (Crawford, op. cit., p. 21)

As if to drive home the point that the target of these sinister operations are the American people and world public opinion, Crawford, ever the consummate PSYOPS warrior, views “strategic information operations” as key to this murderous enterprise. Indeed, they “must be delicately woven into planned kinetic operations to increase the probability that a given operation or campaign will achieve its intended effect.”

Personnel skilled at conducting strategic information operations–to include psychological operations, public information, deception, media and computer network operations, and related activities–are important for victory. Despite robust DoD and Intelligence Community capabilities in this area, efforts to establish organizations that focus information operations have not been viewed as a positive development by the public or the media, who perceive government-sponsored information efforts with suspicion. Consequently, these efforts must take place away from public eyes. Strategic information operations may also require the establishment of regional or local offices to ensure dissemination of influence packages and assess their impact. Thus manhunting influence may call for parallel or independent structures at all levels…” (Crawford, op. cit., pp. 27-28, emphasis added)

This too, follows the Condor model where independently organized “task forces” drawn from a pool of technical specialists operating under deep cover, carried out intense psychological operations that targeted public opinion on the home front, the better to silence anyone who might oppose the “shooters” who did the dirty work.

While “government-sponsored information efforts,” i.e. illegal propaganda campaigns aimed at the American people by the secret state are viewed with “suspicion,” perhaps Crawford’s current employer, Archimedes Global, or dozens of other firms just like it would be better suited to for the “dissemination of influence packages”?

Unlike thirty years ago when Latin American oligarchs relied on CIA-financed publications such as El Mercurio in Chile or La Prensa in Argentina to fan the flames of anti-leftist discord and sow chaos, thus seeding the ground for the horrors that followed the military takeover, Pentagon media operations today still conform to principles enunciated decades earlier.

Indeed, Crawford’s “information operations” mirror precisely the chilling discourse of Argentine V Army Corps Commander General Acdel Vilas: “In reality, the only total, integral warfare is cultural warfare. … What we create in the individual is his mind. … The fight isn’t one to conquer terrain, physically, but to conquer minds. Not to take advantageous physical positions but to mold mental structures in his favor.”

As with his forerunners in decades’ past, Crawford’s manhunting weltanschauung is not conducive to a democratic model of society but rather, to the darkness of a technocratic and immutable fascism servicing America’s ruling oligarchy.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on November 23rd, 2009 at 12:38pm #

    Ever since the Black Budget and the CIA were instituted there has been no oversight by Congress. I asked my members of Congress how many secret prisons the US had. None of them could answer the question. Its a secret even from them.

    Also, Don’t forget that Bush signed an Executive Order that authorized assassination. At least one US citizen was assassinated in Yemen.

    We need to eliminate the Black Budget. Also, we need to rescind the Order that authorizes assassination. That would be ‘change we could believe in’.

  2. Annie Ladysmith said on November 23rd, 2009 at 6:00pm #

    Our US government, which we have lost COMPLETE control over, is run like the MAFIA. JFK was the last president that stood against the CIA and their clandesine ‘activities’, we saw how he got his head shot off in broad daylight by them ( Who else would have had the balls).

    The CIA recruits SATANISTS to do these ‘hits’ because people who do human sacrifices have no scrupples about this kind of work. The CIA give the concept of TERROR a whole new dimension.

    It is a fact, widely documented, that the CIA runs the worlds illegal drug business. The huge amount of moneys collected from this is used to fund all kinds of black-operations.

    This terrorist group is above all law, including basic moral decency, and should be dismantled. The only people that could do that now would be the American people themselves, and it may come to that one day soon.

    The CIA have been essential in developing the FEMA concentation camps across America, and we all know the kind of treatment we can expect, for we have not been blind to the atrocities of Iraq.

    And while we’re at it, another one of these rogue agencies that HIDE behind the US government are the incredible evil men behind the useless ‘space’ programs. They spend TRILLIONS of tax-payer dollars to build the crappiest ‘shuttles’ and have the gall to make up the most unbelievable story ever told…….wait for it……..yeah, THE FAKE MOON LANDING.

    NASA was built on the laurels of Hitler’s NAZI science elite, all evil, who should have been HUNG the very minute they scampered out of their hiding bunkers to make deals with the gullible Americans.

    As Americans we have allowed this to go unchecked and unabated for so long that the beast is out of it’s cage and has realized that it can live on devouring people and doesn’t need the slop we fed it in the cage. It will not go back, it needs to be ‘taken down’. It is no wonder that the whole world literally hates us.

  3. Rick Gandenberger said on November 23rd, 2009 at 7:09pm #

    Remember that JFK established the Special Forces and LBJ had the CIA working domestically…mumbles about “Bush” from the religious left ignore the realities of the threat from elitists that know better than the man in the street.