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Obama’s Wars: Chapter 1 (B)

In his September overview, McConnell also discussed strikes by small unmanned aerial vehicles such as Predators that had sophisticated surveillance cameras and Hellfire missiles. The covert action program authorized by President Bush targeted al Qaeda leadership and other groups inside Pakistan. Although classified, the program had been widely reported in the Pakistani and American media.

Only four strikes had been launched in the first half of 2008, Obama had been told. The U.S. had uncovered evidence that the Pakistanis would delay planned strikes in order to warn al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, whose fighters would then disperse. In June 2008, McConnell had taken human and technical intelligence to President Bush showing multiple conversations between an ISI colonel and Siraj Haqqani, a guerrilla commander whose network was allied with the Afghan Taliban.

“Okay,” Bush had said, “we’re going to stop playing the game. These sons of bitches are killing Americans. I’ve had enough.” He ordered stepped-up Predator drone strikes on al Qaeda leaders and specific camps, so-called infrastructure targets. It was like attacking an anthill-the survivors would run away in the aftermath. These “squirters” were then tracked to the next hideout, helping to build the intelligence data on terrorist refuges.

Bush had directed that Pakistan receive “concurrent notification” of drone attacks, meaning they learned of a strike as it was underway or, just to be sure, a few minutes after . American drones now owned the skies above Pakistan.

In addition, McConnell had given President Bush intelligence showing that the Pakistani ISI had helped the Haqqani network attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 7, four months earlier. The U.S. had warned India, which had put its embassy in a defensive posture. But it was not enough. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 100 injured in a suicide bombing.

McConnell had then moved during the September briefing to one of the most pressing worries. Al Qaeda was recruiting people from the 35 countries who didn’t need visas to enter the United States. It was paying them good money, bringing them into the ungoverned regions by the dozens, training them in all aspects of warfare-explosives and chemical-and trying to have them acquire biological weapons.

“We’re a big open sieve,” McConnell said. “They’re trying to get people with passports that don’t require a visa to get into the United States.” Al Qaeda had not succeeded yet, but that was the big worry. “We can’t find any cell in the United States, but we suspect there may be some.”

That got Obama’s full attention. Some of the 9/11 hijackers had operated for nearly 18 months in the United States before their attacks. As he had said at the end of that meeting, there were reasons to worry about winning the election.

The November 6 briefing to Obama picked up exactly where that earlier presentation had left off. McConnell could now provide him with a fuller description of how the intelligence community culled and collected information.

“Mr. President-elect, we can share anything with you,” McConnell said in the soothing accent of his native South Carolina.

For example, the top secret code words for the Predator drone operations were SYLVAN-MAGNOLIA. The code words set up Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) to which only people with the highest-level security clearances and a need to know were granted access. The president-elect was now, of course, one of those people.

The U.S. had scored an extraordinary intelligence coup in the un-governed regions of Pakistan as the result of blending two intelligence cultures-human sources and technical intelligence such as communications intercepts and satellite and drone imagery.

But, he said, the real breakthrough had been with human sources. This is what President Bush wanted to protect at all costs. The drones were basically flying high-resolution video cameras armed with missiles. The only meaningful way to point drones toward a target was to have spies on the ground telling the CIA where to look, hunt and kill. Without spies, the video feed from the Predator might as well be a blank television screen.

McConnell provided extensive details about these human sources, who had been developed in an expensive, high-risk program over five years. The spies were the real secrets that Obama would carry with him from that moment forward. They were the key, in some respects, to protecting the country. President Bush had absolute views on protecting them. “His instructions to us are no one except you or one of your designated cabinet officials can be provided the information,” McConnell said.

President Bush did not want any “tourists,” as he called them, and no “professors” who might be part of the Obama transition team but later reveal the spies in a speech, a book or a careless comment.

Obama indicated he understood.

The CIA is so guarded with human sources that each one has a randomly selected code name such as MOONRISE. If the source is productive and undertaking great risks, word might get around the agency. He’s doing great, but when too many people know about him he is killed off. There is a burial ceremony, everybody’s sad. MOONRISE paid the ultimate price, his CIA case officer would say. Except MOONRISE is not actually dead. His code name has changed. And now the CIA has another source called SHOOTING STAR. Same guy, new name. MOONRISE is SHOOTING STAR. It’s an elaborate and manipulative ruse in order to grant MOONRISE the ultimate protection-death.

On the technical side, McConnell explained, the National Security Agency (NSA), which he had headed from 1992 to 1996, had developed a breakthrough eavesdropping capability. It had begun years before with a project code-named SHARKFINN that was designed to speed the acquisition, storage, dissemination and availability of intercepted communications, including cell phone calls and e-mails. The project advanced and was soon referred to as RT10, which increased the speed in real time to factors of up to 10 to the 10th power, or 10 billion times faster. It was now called RTRG-Real Time, Regional Gateway. RTRG meant there was a way to capture all the data, store it, and make it instantly available to intelligence analysts and operators, allowing the U.S. to react quickly in response to the enemy.

In Afghanistan, the program code name was JESTER. Specialized units called JACKAL teams operated countrywide to monitor the insurgency.

“They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,” McConnell said.

The human and technical intelligence pointed with confidence, McConnell said, to the Quetta Shura Taliban as the central insurgent group in the Afghanistan War. This “shura,” an Arabic word meaning council, was headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who had fled Afghanistan after the U.S. attack into his country after 9/11. There had been a $25 million reward on his head ever since.

Mullah Omar was in the Pakistani city of Quetta, just about 60 miles from the Afghan border in the province of Baluchistan. Unlike the vast desert of the FATA, Quetta had a population of almost 900,000, which made drone strikes virtually impossible.

“Here’s the center of gravity,” McConnell said.

“Well,” Obama asked, “what are we doing about that?”

Not that much, McConnell indicated.

Source: Bob Woodward, Obama’s Wars, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010

Converted by W K net
Republished by Kajian Internasional Strategis

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2 Responses to “Obama’s Wars: Chapter 1 (B)”


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  2. March 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

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