The US military's most elite counter-terrorism force, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), prides itself on the secrecy of its operations. JSOC runs classified, compartmentalized task forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere around the world. It has operated secret prisons and detention sites globally and is the premiere organization tasked with killing or capturing individuals deemed by the president to be threats to the national security of the United States. It maintains a "hit list" of people targeted for kill or capture, including Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen living in Yemen. While there has been an uptick in media focus on the possibility of a widening CIA role in Yemen, JSOC has been operating in Yemen for years, where its operatives have carried out a variety of operations, including unilateral direct actions—in other words, they have bumped people off.
What has become abundantly clear is that the Obama administration has taken the Bush-era doctrine of the world as a battlefield and run with it. US special forces are now operating in seventy-five countries across the globe—up from sixty under Bush—and special operations sources say Obama is a major fan of the work of JSOC and other special operations forces.
Over the past few days, the ultra-secretive JSOC has publicly posted several jobs listings that open a small window into the type of work JSOC is performing under the Obama administration. Perhaps the most interesting revelations are those that confirm JSOC's ongoing interrogation program and its own counterintelligence operations in Washington, DC. The jobs also indicate that the individuals will be working on Special Access Programs (SAPs), which are black-budget black operations, which in some cases involve what are essentially assassinations. Former CIA operative Bob Baer said recently that SAPs allow "for the military, under Title 10…to assassinate. So, essentially, the military in what is called battlefield preparation can go into a country like Yemen we‘re not at war with, and assassinate leaders in al Qaeda or related groups. And this is Pandora‘s box. Once you open it, where else do you go? I mean, do you it in Thailand? Do you do it in Morocco?"
Seeing highly sensitive job descriptions on public job sites has stunned some special operations forces veterans. "This kind of advertising is new under the Obama administration," says a US military source who has worked on SAPs and with JSOC. "Under the Bush administration, we certainly were not advertising at USAJobs for these types of positions. It blows my mind to see 'help wanted' ads for SAPs and special reconaisance programs."
A job listing posted on USAJobs August 12 for an "Intelligence Specialist (Operations)" requires a Top Secret security clearance and is based out of JSOC headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It says that the job entails "planning, coordinating, and executing highly specialized, mission critical Interrogation, Exploitation, and Detainee related requirements for JCS-directed operations and contingency plans. Employee develops plans and strategies in support of complex tactical mission requirements. Coordinates and conducts mission essential training, as well as evaluating the execution of detention, interrogation, and exploitation operations. Responsible for all aspects of Interrogation, Exploitation and Detainee support during exercises, training, and operational deployments. Serves as a DOD certified interrogator, conducting interrogations and debriefings in support of military operations."
The job "Requires extensive travel (30% of the time), both CONUS [Continental United States] and OCONUS [Outside the Continental United States], on very short notice. Anthrax vaccination will be required. Frequent extended duty with long hours under high pressure with generally high-risk job responsibilities." It says that the job will be "performed under austere and potentially hazardous conditions during exercise and deployment operations. May be required to deploy into areas in which hostile action may occur." The job requires a "TOP SECRET/Single Scope Background Investigation (TS/SSBI), with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and selected Special Access Programs."
Another job listing, posted August 24 has the awesome title of "Future Operations Specialist." The job is described as a "staff action officer and advisor on plans, policies and operations related to sensitive activities (SA) and special access programs."
A third job listing, posted August 25, is for a JSOC counter-intelligence specialist in Washington, DC. The job entails responsibility "for highly specialized HUMINT, Area Intelligence and Signature Reduction (SR)requirements for compartmented projects/plans. Conducts specialized, multi-disciplined threat assessments." The individual will perform "CI duties as necessary and utilizes Counterintelligence badge and Credentials to validate status."
In June, sources working with US special operations forces told The Nation that the Obama administration's expansion of special forces activities globally has been authorized under a classified order dating back to the Bush administration. Originally signed in early 2004 by then–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is known as the “AQN ExOrd," or Al Qaeda Network Execute Order. The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing US special forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The ExOrd spells out that we reserve the right to unilaterally act against Al Qaeda and its affiliates anywhere in the world that they operate," said one special forces source. The current mindset in the White House, he said, is that "the Pentagon is already empowered to do these things, so let JSOC off the leash. And that's what this White House has done." He added: "JSOC has been more empowered more under this administration than any other in recent history. No question."
The AQN ExOrd was drafted in 2003, primarily by the Special Operations Command and the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and was promoted by neoconservative officials such as former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone as a justification for special forces operating covertly—and lethally—across the globe. Part of the order provides for what a source called "hot pursuit," similar to how some state police are permitted to cross borders into another state to pursue a suspect. "That's essentially what they have where they're chasing someone in Somalia and he moves over into Ethiopia or Eritrea, you can go after him," says the source.
"The Obama administration took the 2003 order and went above and beyond," said the special forces source. "The world is the battlefield, we've returned to that," he adds, referring to the Obama administration's strategy. "We were moving away from it for a little bit, but Cambone's 'preparing the battlefield' is still alive and well. It's embraced by this administration."
Perhaps the public ads for highly-sensitive positions are just part of Preparing the Battlefield 2.0.