The CIA & Special Operations Forces:

PDF warning: The Federation of American Scientists has obtained a new report by Col. Kathryn Stone, USAR, on the topic of integrated CIA-SOF warfare. Col. Stone notes that it has worked pretty well lately, but that there are a number of problems with the concept that haven't been resolved. Among them:

1) CIA paramilitary operations by their nature usually need deniability. Having large-scale SOF integration with their own special operations units could make it harder to carry off a truly deniable op. Too many US fingerprints, that is.

2) Furthermore, the two kinds of forces each have a different legal status. US military SOF are legal combatants, entitled to Geneva convention protections. CIA paramilitaries may reasonably be defined as illegal combatants, which would remove from them any GC protections; or, in fact, as spies, as which international law says that they can be shot without trial.

Taking a hard but practical example: if an op fails and our people are captured, the SOF would have to be separated out. They're taken off to a POW camp, where they are entitled to freedom from interrogation beyond name and serial number; they get hot meals and decent living conditions. The CIA men get none of that. It would be wise, then, if they pretended to be US military as well, both from a personal and an operational standpoint (e.g., they might avoid interrogation that could reveal US intelligence information). There, of course, goes deniability. Or, they could all pretend to be something other than US operatives. There goes the Geneva Convention protections for the soldiers.

3) Apart from the question of whether the combatants are legal, there is the question of whether the operation itself is legal. As the Colonel gently puts it:

CIA covert paramilitary operations may be contrary to customary international law or the laws of the country in which the activity is taking place, whereas U.S. military forces routinely operate in the public domain in a legally based forum requiring them to follow international law.... Covert actions do not imply that U.S. law is superior to that of another country's, or that of international law, but that, instead, there are overriding national interests (vital interests) that must be protected outside the framework of international law and regular diplomatic relations.
That is to say, CIA operations are frequently illegal. The distinction may seem a small one, given that US military SOF undertake some rough-and-ready missions themselves. For the brass, though, it's a real difference. They're a little nervous about sending their boys off to get themselves into serious trouble.

4) That ties directly into the next problem for the military, which is this:

[T]he combatant commander has the responsibility for missions in his geographical area of command, and commands all military forces assigned to his area of responsibility. The combatant commander, however, has no specific statutory authority over other U.S. Government personnel in his area of operations, such as CIA paramilitary operatives. Accordingly, when CIA paramilitary operatives are integrated with SOF in a warfighting operation in a combatant commander's area of operations, the combatant commander has no authority over those CIA paramilitary operatives[.]
Now this is the kind of thing that can make a field commander sweat bullets. It's bad enough when these paramilitaries are off doing what they think they need to do in your area of responsibility. It's worse when they're integrated with units you actually command, but they themselves don't have to obey orders. The Colonel notes that the President can give orders authorizing the military commander to command the paramilitaries, and I read the paper as suggesting that such an authorization be considered an absolute necessity for integrated ops. Yet, as she notes, CIA special operations occur only because they have special permission from the President himself. Even with a Presidential order demanding compliance with military commands, the CIA operative knows he has another Presidential order of equal weight demanding he complete his mission. If the CIA team decides that it needs to act in defiance of orders to accomplish the mission, it could do so just as readily as it could defy the order to complete the mission in favor of the order to obey military command.

The Colonel's report is highly complimentary to CIA teams, and recognizes that their capabilities are different from--and in certain cases superior to--military capabilities. The CIA is better, she says, at identifying correct targets, which cuts down on civilian casualties. She says that:

[T]he CIA's targeting process is usually quicker, more fluid, and encompasses fewer decision-makers in its "trigger-pulling chain of command" than DOD's.
The problem, though, is that having identified the target is not enough. The integration problems mean that the CIA is left either taking out the target with its own assets, or submitting its target to the DOD for approval. The first one is fine, if it falls within their capability (i.e., if a rifle can do the job). If an airstrike is needed, though, the approval process is actually lengthened even though the targeting was done more quickly.

Sadly, the Colonel reaches a predictable and mistaken conclusion: that these difficulties require a massive new bureaucracy to address, monitor, and control them. In this, she is acting exactly as one would expect a Pentagon officer to act. However, if her recommendation is followed, it will strip the CIA operatives of most of the things that make them useful to have around: freedom of action, fluidity, and the power to assume risks on their own authority, without needing multiple levels of authorization.

That is the minimum price. It could be that a joint bureaucracy would also, out of the timidity that is native to bureaucracies, handcuff the CIA in other matters. For example, one of the things the CIA can readily do is pay out cash to warlords who might be of use, as in Afghanistan. Since SOF usually don't have authority to do that, the payouts could be a signal that an operation was CIA or joint. "We can't allow such signals!" would be the natural cry of the bureaucrat. "They compromise operational security." And, therefore, the payments would be banned, and a level of freedom lost.

A better recommendation would be to increase the authority given to DOD SOF. This is particularly true in the case of the Green Berets, who have many of the same capabilities as CIA paramilitaries in terms of their ability to interact with the local populace. By giving A-team commanders freedom of action similar to the paramilitaries', you would increase the headaches and ulcers of all area commanders everywhere. You would also, however, fight a more successful GWOT.

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