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Scahill writes: "The scandal opens a window onto a different and more consequential relationship - that between the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command."

US Gen. David Petraeus. (photo: Brendan Smialoski/Getty Images)
US Gen. David Petraeus. (photo: Brendan Smialoski/Getty Images)

The Petraeus Legacy: A Paramilitary CIA?

By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation

15 November 12


It was the CIA director's relationship with JSOC-not Paula Broadwell-that should have raised concerns.

hile much of the media focus on l'affaire Petraeus has centered on the CIA director's sexual relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, the scandal opens a window onto a different and more consequential relationship-that between the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command. In a behind-the-scenes turf war that has raged since 9/11, the two government bodies have fought for control of the expanding global wars waged by the United States-a turf war that JSOC has largely won. Petraeus, an instrumental player in this power struggle, leaves behind an agency that has strayed from intelligence to paramilitary-type activities. Though his legacy will be defined largely by the scandal that ended his career, to many within military and intelligence circles, Petraeus's career trajectory, from commander of US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to the helm of the CIA, is a symbol of this evolution.

"I would not say that CIA has been taken over by the military, but I would say that the CIA has become more militarized," Philip Giraldi, a retired career CIA case officer, told The Nation. "A considerable part of the CIA budget is now no longer spying; it's supporting paramilitaries who work closely with JSOC to kill terrorists, and to run the drone program." The CIA, he added, "is a killing machine now."

As head of US Central Command in 2009, Petraeus issued execute orders that significantly broadened the ability of US forces to operate in a variety of countries, including Yemen, where US forces began conducting missile strikes later that year. During Petraeus's short tenure at the CIA, drone strikes conducted by the agency, sometimes in conjunction with JSOC, escalated dramatically in Yemen; in his first month in office, he oversaw a series of strikes that killed three US citizens, including 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki. In some cases, such as the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, commandos from the elite JSOC operated under the auspices of the CIA, so that the mission could be kept secret if it went wrong.

One current State Department liaison who has also worked extensively with JSOC describes the CIA as becoming "a mini-Special Operations Command that purports to be an intelligence agency." For all the praise Petraeus won for his counterinsurgency strategy and the "surge" in Iraq, he says, his real legacy is as a "political tool," an enabler of those within the national security apparatus who want to see a continuation of covert global mini-wars. Pointing to the "mystique that surrounds JSOC" and Adm. William McRaven, commander of the Special Operations Command, the liaison says, "Petraeus was trying to implement that kind of command climate at the CIA."

"Petraeus wanted to be McRaven, and now that window has closed," he said. "We are firmly in the age of McRaven. There is no other titular figure with the confidence of the president that is able to articulate strategies and hold their own in rooms where everyone else has the same or greater amount of intellectual heft. McRaven is everything that Petraeus is not."

Retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former senior defense intelligence official, says that Petraeus's arrogance-"smoothly concealed beneath the appearance of the warrior scholar"-made him deeply unpopular among the military's high-ranking officers. Dismissing the media's portrayal of Petraeus as a "super soldier" and great military leader as "phony bullshit," Lang describes him as the product of a military promotion system that encourages generals to think of themselves as "divinely selected." "In fact, he didn't write the COIN manual, the surge was not the main thing in improving the situation in Iraq.... They sent him to Afghanistan to apply the COIN doctrine in the same glorious way he did in Iraq, and it hasn't worked. So, if you look beneath the surface from all this stuff, it's just a lot of hot air. There are great generals, but this guy is not one of them." Arriving at the CIA, Lang says, Petraeus "wanted to drag them in the covert action direction and to be a major player."

As for Petraeus's future, the State Department liaison said, "There will be a lot of profits to be made by him and his immediate circle of advisers, as they're given a soft landing, whether it's in academia or within the nexus of the military-industrial complex."

Giraldi, the former senior CIA officer, expressed concern that in these circumstances, the "CIA is going to forget how to spy." He also noted the "long-term consequence" of the militarization of the CIA: "every bureaucracy in the world is best at protecting itself. So once the CIA becomes a paramilitary organization, there's going to be in-built pressure to keep going in that direction. Because you'll have people at the senior levels in the organization who have come up that way and are protective of what they see as their turf," he told me. "That's the big danger." your social media marketing partner


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-7 # brux 2012-11-15 23:40
> They sent him to Afghanistan to apply the COIN doctrine in the same glorious way he did in Iraq, and it hasn't worked.

The people that write and criticize such stuff are missing that these are things that have never been done before.

This is the United States trying a new technology, to perfect a way of extending power instead of killing masses of people and blowing up or rending useless large areas of land, killing those enemies who need killing.

I have a lot of skepticism about our military and what we are doing but there is no question that by almost all measures, ie. military measures, things work better now and do less damage.

Isn't that what we would want a military to do? Yet some people have to complain about anything, as if the world is every in any of our lifetimes going to work towards being peaceful.

These are the same people who work in industry and makes mistakes, only their product is national defense and projecting military power.

So many comments in RSN are from an point of view that simply doesn't or CAN'T make any sense because they do not understand how the world works. What we get are people complaining rabidly because the world isn't perfect - compared to their idea of perfection - and just reading a few lines of what they write shows their ideas to be in the main very shallow and superficial.
+2 # Michael_K 2012-11-16 17:51
You forget that you're typing to people who think Obama is a Democrat in the old "social safety net" people first mode, despite his doing everything he can to prove them wrong.

This level of mindless denial of reality is the only reason there hasn't yet been a revolution or a new civil war
0 # brux 2012-11-16 23:39
I was not attacking the President by these comments. The fact is the military is a bit part of what we do as a country. Going off the deep end about problems does not fix them. Saying we do not need a military does not help. Complaining that the military kills people does not help.

We like to say our space program brought consumer innovation to the masses in America, but most of it was really in the military. The mistake we made, or at least are making now is that we give this technology away for free instead of charging and getting royalties from it for the people and our national infrastructure.

Think people, think! We need to evolve by looking at improvements we can make in what exists now, not by bitching and moaning that life is not like a fairy tale.
+22 # BobboMax 2012-11-15 23:44
This article supports the real concern I've had about Petraeus. The CIA, in theory, was a civilian organization- the Central INTELLIGENCE Agency, not Central OPERATIONS Agency. Having someone w/ the ambitions of Petraeus move directly from the military to Intelligence was just too incestuous. Our whole intelligence apparatus needs reform- there are too many agencies with too much secrecy, too much money and too many personnel, taking too many liberties with our privacy and with the right of ALL people, American or not, to due process. The President, the CIA and the Army are not judge, jury and hangman.
+7 # dovelane1 2012-11-16 08:19
Couple hundred thumbs up for this idea.
+3 # Michael_K 2012-11-16 17:53
not to mention the systematic intimidation and bullying of the more competent analysts for political purposes
0 # brux 2012-11-16 23:53
You have a good point, but the military and the CIA are not a family, and that is part of the problem. Getting a good guy, perhaps, like Petreus in the CIA is a way to break the logjam of long standing stupid rivalries. When things do not change or evolve somethings you need to do something different.

Because of this affair, there is no indication that Petreus has done anything wrong. It is a little fishy and needs to be followed closely, but they need someone who is independent with "balls" to go in and find out what is going on in the intelligence agencies.
+6 # df312 2012-11-16 02:24
Don't forget that the CIA was born out of the OSS in WWII, which did conduct tactical military type operations. My uncle was one of the originals. This is not without precedent.
+3 # BobboMax 2012-11-16 11:38
Ref "This is not without precedent," yeah, but that doesn't make it a good thing, just a predictable thing.
+13 # WestWinds 2012-11-16 06:35
I'm really surprised that people are just now coming to this realization; that there is a connection between the CIA and the Pentagon/milita ry. People also don't seem to wonder why the USA has gone to heavy droning instead of ground forces; my guess is all of the suicides in our military; our kids get in there and realize something is very wrong and just can't live with what and why it is going on. Fascism at its very best.
+10 # Michaeljohn 2012-11-16 08:39
Perhaps Brux would like to share his thoughts with us as to why the US should become the next Roman Empire?
0 # Doubter 2012-11-16 11:51
And if he thinks it's tenable.
0 # brux 2012-11-16 23:49
I never said she should, but of the myths of the current superpowers, as Tom Friedman and David Brooks say in the few comments of theirs I respect ... people love American culture and freedom. No peoples who want to be free are clamoring to make their countries like China, North Korea, Russia, the an Islamic Republic.

That is the only sense I think the US should be a leader, and first to lead we have to start believing and living our own propaganda.

That said, you know there was a lot of benefit at the time to being a part of the Roman Empire. They did a lot of amazing things and they did them right .... 2000 years ago. If we want to compare ourselves to the Roman Empire we have to get the right stuff, right! We have to draw people in to relations with us, not threaten them or conquer them -the world does not now work like it did back then ... well, at least most countries. There are some countries that do need conquering.

Why is China building up a military, they are the ones who are thinking in old ways if you think about it. We are not going to invade China. They are afraid their hierarchy is going to break down, but over time every hierarchy that does not make people happy is going to break down, or should break down. The US is mostly helping with this.

We need to think in new ways.
+2 # AMLLLLL 2012-11-16 12:22
Thanks, Jeremy, you always ferret out the truth, no matter how ugly. This is in fact a bad trend, because accountability goes (even further) out the window, and life becomes cheap. The affair was a blip; the lack of judgement was relevant, especially the letter written to influence a judge. Betray~us is only one cog in a big, big machine. Eisenhower was correct regarding the military/indust rial complex. Too bad no one was listening.

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