Saturday, February 05, 2005

Strategic Sense and Sensibility

Today’s Washington Post reports, “A preliminary study contracted by the Pentagon has concluded that the Defense Department should not take charge of the CIA's paramilitary functions, senior defense officials said yesterday.” The key paragraph in the story is this:

"If you take the very small paramilitary capabilities away from the CIA, in my view, it would limit their ability to conduct foreign intelligence activities which they are required by law to do," said one senior defense official familiar with the study. Moreover, "we don't have the legal authorities to be doing what the CIA does, so getting all those assets doesn't make any sense," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the issue is still unsettled.

This is the correct decision in my mind. There are important distinctions between conducting clandestine and covert operations, and a paramilitary capability is able to do things that a military unit cannot. For instance, a paramilitary organization is less encumbered by, say, which side of an international border it is operating on. Paramilitary units, however, are also not protected under Geneva Convention protections, although in the current GWOT, I think that issue can be oversold; to wit, it doesn't seem like Al Qaeda groups would afford our soldiers such protections in the first place.
Background and Definitions
In contemporary military history the distinctions between paramilitary and military units largely emerged in the Second World War. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) conducted many clandestine and covert activities against the Axis powers. The Jedburgh teams of the OSS, which were used to train, organize, and equip partisans, were actually the predecessor to the U.S. Army Special Forces. As the terrorist threat began to emerge in the 1970s, the United States created the so-called special missions units (SMU) to conduct highly classified activities, generally, although not exclusively, of a counterterrorism nature. A former member of an Army SMU, Command Sergeant Major (ret.) Eric Haney, in his book Inside Delta Force, argues that members of such units are called "operators" because of the seam that they inhabit between being special operations military personnel and intelligence agents.

special operations (SO). [JP 1-02] (DoD) Operations conducted by specially organized, trained, and equipped military and paramilitary forces to achieve military, political, economic, or informational objectives by unconventional military means in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive areas. These operations are conducted across the full range of military operations, independently or in coordination with operations of conventional, non-special operations forces. Political-military considerations frequently shape special operations, requiring clandestine, covert, or low visibility techniques and oversight at the national level. Special operations differ from conventional operations in degree of physical and political risk, operational techniques, mode of employment, independence from friendly support, and dependence on detailed operational intelligence and indigenous assets.

clandestine operation. [JP 1-02] (DoD) An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental departments or agencies in such a way as to assure secrecy or concealment. A clandestine operation differs from a covert operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of the operation rather than on concealment of identity of sponsor. In special operations, an activity may be both covert and clandestine and may focus equally on operational considerations and intelligence-related activities. See also covert operation; overt operation.

covert operation. S. [JP 1-02] (DoD) An operation that is so planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor. A covert operation differs from a clandestine operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of identity of sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation. See also clandestine operation; overt operation.


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