Journalists Adam Goldman and Julie Tate reported that JSOC, an elite military unit which retired General Barry McCaffrey has referred to as the “most dangerous people on the face of the earth,” used the FBI to exploit “digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States.” In return, the FBI “could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.”
The agents who participated in these military raids came from the FBI’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT). As the Post recounted, ties between the FBI and military have deepened in recent decades. The FBI has trained with Navy SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which is in Dam Neck, Virginia. They’ve “completed the diving phase of SEAL training in Coronado, California.”
HRT deployed to Panama prior to US intervention in 1989. They also were part of the “1993 botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas” and operations against a “white separatist compound” in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
There were apparently officials in the FBI who wondered if agents should be in a combat zone getting killed. Agents were regularly involved in what the Post referred to as “insurgent assaults.” However, this was a part of a “natural evolution” to much of the FBI’s leadership.
Former FBI deputy director Sean Joyce told the Post, “We thought prevention begins outside of the US,” which essentially suggests that in fighting terrorism the FBI was shifting from detecting and prosecuting crimes to more of a pre-crime focus like other US intelligence agencies.
President Barack Obama’s administration has embraced “targeted killing” operations involving drones as a means of waging the war on terror. Often the terrorism suspects killed have not committed any crimes against the US but are merely known to have ties or associations of some nature to a group, which the US has designated a terrorist organization. Similarly, JSOC has carried out night raids on suspects — not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Retired Special Forces officer Col. W. Patrick Lang told The Nation that JSOC is “sort of like Murder, Incorporated.” He added, “Their business is killing al Qaeda personnel. That’s their business. They’re not in the business of converting anybody to our goals or anything like that.”
Which leads to a question that is not broached in this report: In how many of these raids were suspects or individuals actually seized and captured for interrogation? Or did most of these raids end with suspects being killed?
William Arkin and Dana Priest reported in 2011 that JSOC “has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission.”
“It has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconnaissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites. It also has its own cyberwarriors, who, on Sept. 11, 2008, shut down every jihadist Web site they knew,” according to their report on the rise of this military command.
Remarkably, Goldman and Tate report that the FBI’s HRT unit “left Iraq as the United States pulled out its forces” and reconsidered its deployment in Afghanistan after an agent was wounded in June 2010.
The FBI “drew down,” despite requests from JSOC to remain in Afghanistan, because the number of al Qaeda in Afghanistan was now less than 100. They were in Pakistan, “where the military could not operate.” And, as Joyce said, JSOC was now “targeting Taliban and other local insurgents who were not necessarily plotting against the United States.”
Or, as Joyce put it, “Our focus was al-Qaeda and threats to the homeland,” and, “The mission had changed.”
In other words, since the US continues to wage war in Afghanistan, for nearly four years now, the US military has been fighting people who pose little to no threat to the US. These are people the FBI cannot even justify sending agents on missions to target.
Another aspect of this story, which journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out, was the fact that the FBI’s HRT units will continue to be used in the US. Their involvement in the wars could lead to “war techniques” being brought back home.
Four different FBI agents shot and killed Imam Luqman Abdullah, who was a black Muslim leader of a mosque in Detroit, in 2009. Three of the agents who fired their weapons were from HRT. He was shot 21 times.
This is not the first hint the public has had that the FBI was deploying HRT into war zones. Garrett Graff, author of The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror, described the decision to deploy them in Iraq and how HRT operators were “chomping at the bit to be released into the war.” President George W. Bush’s administration wanted the FBI to have a long term presence in Iraq and to even help train Iraqi police forces.
Finally, the FBI continues to deploy agents with JSOC. An HRT operator was involved in the raid of a yacht in the Gulf of Aden, which Somali pirates hijacked in 2011, according to the Post.
In October 2013, an HRT operator was also part of a SEALs operation when forces “stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack.” And they were involved when US commandos kidnapped Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai on the streets of Tripoli, Libya. He allegedly is suspected of being involved in bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and was put on a Navy ship and sent to New York City to be prosecuted.
There is no mention of Yemen in the story. Whether HRT operators have been part of operations in that country is something the government is unwilling to disclose. (It is known that FBI agents have been in country to interrogate people.)
It is interesting that the FBI would reject any involvement in Pakistan but be willing to deploy with US military forces in raids in Somalia.
This is the effect of the war on terrorism, which has put America on a permanent war footing. A domestic law enforcement agency has not only transformed into a domestic intelligence agency that has gone from fighting crime to countering terrorism. It has become increasingly militarized and developed into a force that can be deployed by presidents into any region.
FBI agents can be sent on missions with military or covert operations forces because the world is seen by US officials as the country’s battlefield, and there is no place the US cannot or will not go.
Patch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team photo from the FBI, in the public domain