The US military has signed off on a document authorizing the expansion of a military spy system in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa. The story was first reported by Mark Mazetti in the New York Times.
The directive was signed on September 2009, by General David Petraeus. The directive “authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.”
This deepens a process of military covert activity begun under US president Bush, now broadened and further systematized under president Obama.
Mazetti’s writes in his New York Times article:
Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said.
[…] In broadening its secret activities, the United States military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.
[…]Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.
[…]The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.
[…]Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.
These clandestine activities, undertaken by the US military, are free from the same government oversight as CIA operations. Furthermore, the directive encourages a broad membership in intelligence gathering, “by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others — to identify militants and provide ‘persistent situational awareness,’ while forging ties to local indigenous groups.”
Although the media monitoring service is being touted as helpful to business and corporate clients, you might just be able to imagine its potential uses in open source intelligence. I learned about this service through a major arms journal.
Except from 7th Space Interactive:
Alterian announced its partnership with SocialEyez, the world’s first social media monitoring service designed for the Arab market. SocialEyez has adapted Alterian SM2 technology to cover more Arabic, English and French content from the Middle East as well as address Arabic-specific language complexities. SocialEyez, in conjunction with Alterian, have been working over the past year, to develop and launch an Arabic language interface for Alterian SM2 to make it the world’s first Arab language social media monitoring tool.
SocialEyez is a division of Media Watch Middle East, the leading media monitoring service in the Middle East, offering services in television, radio, social media, online news and internet monitoring across most sectors including commercial, government and PR. SocialEyez clients benefit from comprehensive Arabic and non-Arabic social media monitoring and also indepth qualitative and quantitative analysis of social media content.
The Globe and Mail reports on the role of a Canadian ambassador as a temporary CIA station chief in Iran, some 30 years ago.
The Globe writes:
Mr. Taylor, ambassador in Iran from 1977 to 1980, became “the de facto CIA station chief” in Tehran after the U.S. embassy was seized by students on Nov. 4, 1979, and 63 Americans, including the four-member Central Intelligence Agency contingent, were taken hostage.
…The request that he provide “aggressive intelligence” for the Americans was made personally by U.S. president Jimmy Carter to Mr. Clark, likely in a telephone conversation on Nov. 30, 1979, according to Prof. Wright.
Mr. Clark gave his approval, and informed his foreign minister, Flora MacDonald, who passed the request on to Mr. Taylor. He instantly agreed.
“I saw this [the hostage-taking] as something that wasn’t right,” Mr. Taylor said. “Anything in a modest way that I could contribute … looking for some sort of solution to this, I was quite prepared to do. I felt strongly about it. And I felt we could get away with it. They weren’t going to catch us.”
In the tumultuous period of the revolution, when various power factions were only establishing their place in the schema of future governance, the Iranian students who captured the US embassy and took hostages seem to have their own shadowy connections with one or more groups vying for control.
Anti-American sentiment though was genuine among many at the time, and its roots lie in the history of the 20th century.
In 1951 a highly popular politician, Mohammad Mosaddeq, managed to increasingly challenge the shah and at last put in place a democratic government which championed national sovereignty, therefore freedom from outside interference (which at the time meant British and Soviet action). In 1953 a US-led coup overthrew Mosaddeq and put the shah back in power. The coup was orchestrated and largely funded through covert operation which saw the CIA – as lead – work with the British Secret Service in what was dubbed operation Ajax.
The impact and trauma of this on Iran and Iranians can hardly be overstated. Following half a century of struggle for democracy and sovereignty, the country’s best attempts were denied via a US orchestrated coup. Prior to this, there was hope that the US could be a close ally: many people took seriously the US claims of opposing old style European imperialism and the right of nations to decide their own futures. So, to some extent the Mosaddeq’s ousting was seen as a betrayal from what was potentially a friend to independent government.
When the Shah took back his office, he, over time, concentrated greater power in his hands and reduced the constitution and parliament to near meaningless standards. He used his secret police, the SAVAK, to maintain control and was also dependent on the military and general security apparatus in his rule of the nation. These instruments were greatly aided through funding, training, and even at times handling by the US. So, not only had people lost a government that they could generally be happy with to be replaced by a monarch who, on record, would seek US guidance on at least some matters of domestic decision-making, they had to suffer a reign of regular terror funded and supported by the American government, which saw the Shah as its best friend in the Middle East.
This was the climate under which the 1978-79 Revolution took place. It was a period of chaos, of uncertainty with very active political factions from a wide band of secular and religious groups. The Shah fled the country for a second time (the first time during Mosaddeq’s government), and it was feared that further foreign interference would interfere with domestic politics. It is unfortunate that the US uses its embassies for covert activity, and so Iranian anxiety was felt toward the embassy of that time in the case that another coup was orchestrated from the embassy in Iran.
It’s important to know this history to realize what are some of the reasons for the Iranian students’ takeover of the US building. It did not come out of a vacuum. It was a response to an earlier incident in the 1950s that was regularly reinforced by SAVAK and other security repressions under the last Shah.
Below is a short documentary that reviews key points of the Mosaddeq government’s rise and fall under operation Ajax.