15
Oct
10

Obama’s Wars: Chapter 1 (C)

The problem was sending American forces across the border into Pakistani cities where drones could not strike. Just two months earlier, on September 3, a day after McConnell had given candidate Obama his first briefing, President Bush authorized a cross-border operation into Pakistan. It was supposed to be a quiet, in-out Special Forces ground raid by about two dozen Navy SEALs on a house believed to be used by al Qaeda in the town of Angor Adda in the FATA. The plan was for the SEALs to seize al Qaeda’s documents and computers, their “stuff,” as McConnell called it.

But in that part of the world, people often ran toward automatic weapons fire and explosions-instead of away from the danger-to see what was happening, McConnell explained. Civilians were killed in the raid, causing all hell to break loose in the Pakistani press.

The raid had been poorly planned and coordinated, McConnell acknowledged. The Pakistani government angrily claimed it was a violation of their sovereignty. Bush was extremely upset about the civilian casualties, and said America would not do that again. In the Bush administration, there would be no more ground operations into Pakistan, period.

One important secret that had never been reported in the media or elsewhere was the existence of the CIA’s 3,000-man covert army in Afghanistan. Called CTPT, for Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, the army consisted mostly of Afghans, the cream of the crop in the CIA’s opinion. These pursuit teams were a paid, trained and functioning tool of the CIA that was authorized by President Bush. The teams conducted operations designed to kill or capture Taliban insurgents, but also often went into tribal areas to pacify and win support.

McConnell said a second immediate threat was al Qaeda in Yemen, which was commonly referred to as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The group had attacked tourists and in September 2008 detonated two vehicle bombs outside the U.S. embassy in Yemen, killing 19 people, including six of the terrorists.

McConnell and Morell turned to the Iranian nuclear program. It was well known that Iran was trying to get nuclear weapons. Despite the suspension of some of the Iranian nuclear programs, others continued or could be restarted. And there were hidden facilities. McConnell said he was convinced that Iran was going to get a gun-type nuclear weapon-probably primitive-but one that could be detonated in the desert with great dramatic effect. This would be done, in his view, between 2010-less than two years off-and 2015. It would create an incredibly unstable situation in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia would call in their chips with Pakistan, which had been receiving Saudi oil, and try to get help developing a Saudi nuclear weapon. Egypt and other countries in the region could go all out to develop their own weapons.

Another main threat, McConnell said, was North Korea, which had enough nuclear material for six bombs and an effort underway to increase that. The North Korean leaders were loony. Attempts to negotiate with the regime would likely repeat the Bush administration’s experience. It would be “negotiate, prevaricate, escalate and renegotiate,” he said. The North Koreans would talk, they would lie, they would escalate and threaten to walk away, and then they would try to renegotiate. “That’s how it’s going to work,” McConnell insisted.

Iran and North Korea were particularly difficult intelligence targets because of their closed societies. The absence of U.S. embassies in the countries made spying more of a problem. The nuclear programs in both had, in part, been penetrated by U.S. intelligence, McConnell said. But, Iran and North Korea represented serious short-and long-term threats.

“What else?” Obama asked.

“We haven’t talked at all yet about cyber,” McConnell said. “What the Chinese did to you.”

The Chinese had hacked into the Obama campaign computers in the summer of 2008 and moved files and documents out at an astonishing rate.

“Yeah,” Obama said, “they got McCain too.”

Yes, McConnell confirmed. “The point is what they did to you and did to McCain, they took your data. And they’re clumsy, so they got caught.” U.S. intelligence had detected it, and the FBI had warned both campaigns, which had taken some defensive steps. “But the real issue would have been, what if they had destroyed your data?”

That would have been a problem, Obama said.

“All right,” McConnell said, “roll that over to the nation.”

“This is important,” Obama said.

McConnell explained how the Real Time, Regional Gateway gave the NSA an incredible exploitation capability-reading other people’s mail, listening to their conversations, and sorting their data. That was NSA’s traditional speciality. But there was also an attack capability that Bush had approved in 2007 against computers and communications in Iraq. The NSA had argued that it was one of the most powerful capabilities in the world, so it had been used with the utmost care and restraint in order to avoid starting a cyber war.

The NSA’s offensive capability, called Computer Network Attack (CNA), was the most sophisticated stealthy computer hacking. Cyber teams could break into computer systems in foreign countries. Their digital work somewhat resembled the targeted quick strikes by the Delta Force or a Navy SEAL team. The highly secret operations were run through the Army Network Warfare Battalion of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters outside Washington, D.C.

There was another tier-Computer Network Defense (CND).

McConnell noted that the United States was vulnerable to cyber attacks. If the 19 terrorists from 9/11 had been cyber-smart and attacked a single bank, it would’ve had an order of magnitude greater impact on the American and global economies than dropping the two World Trade Center towers, he said. The Bank of New York and Citibank each handle about $3 trillion a day in financial transfers. To put that in perspective, the size of the entire American economy, its annual Gross Domestic Product, is $14 trillion. If the bank data was destroyed, there would be financial chaos. People wouldn’t be able to get their money, know whether they had it, or if they had made payments. Imagine if you disrupted that process? Wealth was most often just an entry on a computer. Modern banking was built on assurance and confidence in those digital entries rather than gold and currency. A few people could ruin the U.S. and the global economy and destroy faith in the U.S. dollar, McConnell said. There were no real protections and the system was totally open to attack, he said. Power grids, telecommunication lines, air traffic control-all computer-dependent enterprises-were likewise vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“I want you to brief my entire cabinet,” Obama said. “I want you to give me a roadmap about what the nation should do about this.” He thanked McConnell and Morell.

Obama later told one of his closest advisers, “I’m inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways, and I will have some powerful but limited and perhaps even dubious tools to keep it from happening.”

In an Oval Office interview on July 10, 2010, President Obama told me he did not want to confirm or deny specific quotes for this book. “What I’ll try to give you is a general overview of how I was thinking at any particular point in time.”

He said McConnell’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and along the countries’ border region was “sobering” but not “surprising.” The president explained, “It did corroborate some of my deepest concerns about the fact that the Taliban had strengthened, were controlling more parts of the territory, and that we did not have a strategy in Pakistan for the FATA and the Northwest region.”

He said the briefings “confirmed that fact that you had the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, a whole range of these al Qaeda affiliates, essentially, who were operating very aggressively. And we were not putting a lot of pressure on them.”

“And did you say, okay,” I asked, “this is one of the things I’m going to try to fix?”

“Yes,” he said.

He also generally confirmed the ideas in his comment to an aide about what he was inheriting. “Events are messy out there,” Obama told me. “At any given moment of the day, there are explosive, tragic, heinous, hazardous things taking place. All of which, objectively, you would say, somebody should do something about this.”

Obama acknowledged that after the election the world’s problems were seen as his responsibility. “People are saying, you’re the most powerful person in the world. Why aren’t you doing something about it?”

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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