Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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Posts Tagged ‘Uganda

This Is What the CIA Does and Should Do

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The CIA is in Libya and this has some people very upset.

Spencer Ackerman describes what they are doing:

[A]ccording to the Times, the CIA role in Libya is more furtive. The agency isn’t giving guns to the rebels. It’s finding out precisely who they are — important, since the U.S. has “flickers” of intel that they include some al-Qaeda members. And along with British spies, the CIA teams are learning “the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots [and] the clusters of government troops inside Libyan towns.” And figure they probably have some tasking to get Gadhafi’s inner circle to abandon him.

Dave von Ebers gives historical context:

Anyway, here’s the thing. This, unfortunately, is exactly what every president has done with the CIA, since its inception in the late 1940s.The CIA was on the ground in Vietnam long before the United States was at war there; meddled in the affairs of Guatemala dating back to the 1950s; was neck deep in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état that secured the brutal reign of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi; aided the Chilean military in the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power; worked with El Salvadoran death squads for decades; established secret prisons in Eastern Europe to detain and interrogate detainees in the “war on terror” … and on and on and on. I’m not suggesting that any of that was right – it most definitely wasn’t – but note that for decades the CIA was, in almost every instance, on the side of brutal dictators who were oppressing their own people.

And don’t forget that with or without the CIA’s assistance, past American presidents tacitly supported Pol Pot in Cambodia after Vietnam overthrew him in 1978 (later Pres. Reagan doubled down on America’s covert support for Pol Pot, leading to years of civil war there); supported the Shah throughout his dictatorial reign despite hishorrific record of human rights abuses; supported the Contra rebelsin Nicaragua, many, if not most, of whom formerly worked under the dictator Somoza; and only grudgingly (and ineffectively) came to oppose Apartheid in South Africa in the 198os.

Dave concludes that here, at least, the CIA is on the right side. (BTW: follow Dave on Twitter.) But even more broadly speaking, it makes sense to have some sort of communication with these rebels and to find out who they are, what their factions are, etc. We shouldn’t have to just wonder.

And it makes sense to give them basic intelligence of what we know about Gaddafi’s approaching forces. I don’t think warning them that they’re about to be outflanked works so well when you say it from inside the cockpit of an F-15.

And I’m really at a loss as to how the CIA being on the ground means there’s boots on the ground. We’ve had numerous memoirs such as this one written from CIA agents about how they were on the ground in places the US was not at war with. I remember a lot of stories when Anna Chapman, alleged Russian spy, was captured. None of which were: “OMG, Russia is invading the United States! Wolverines!” I’d certainly have hoped the CIA or Mi6 or some similar agency was on the ground making contacts in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. That information is crucial for policymakers to actually make the right choices.

What’s doubly surprising about the leak is that we’ve known about MI6 being on the ground in Libya for weeks now. In fact, this defense of human intelligence ought be read by anyone confused about the role of intelligence services (putting aside the role of SAS support):

First, much is made of the notion that the British could have simply put in a phone call. Such an assertion is naive in the extreme, and conveniently forgets the fact that telecommunications in Libya are vulnerable – as the British ambassador to Libya knows all too well.

As any intelligence officer would tell you, signals intelligence is vital, but it needs to be supplemented by human intelligence. When business people broker deals, they like to see each other first, check out the cut of their jibs, have a drink, build up a rapport – in short, build trust. Gathering secret intelligence is no different, and it is essential for agencies such as MI6 to build personal relationships with parties such as the Libyan rebels. A mere phone call will not do. [. . .]

Some have also speculated that all the British needed to have done was to have popped into Benghazi to see the rebel leadership, rather than head off into the desert. This is another naive assertion, and supposes that the rebel forces are a unified bunch under a centralised command structure. As we shall see, there are numerous groups of rebels, and it is possible that Tom had made contact with a group that was not represented in Benghazi. Besides, it is just as possible that Tom and his team had in fact received some sort of blessing from Benghazi. We don’t know, but what we do know is that the lives of two MI6 officers, six SAS men and a helicopter crew are not risked on a mere jaunt.

Why people thought MI6 was running around Libya then and not the CIA boggles the mind (not everyone was so dense). The risk in early March was that the rebellion would not look endemic; by now it’s clear that there is no reason for that particular concern – which is one reason why it seems the Administration intentionally leaked this news now.

Indeed, members of the administration are even pointing to this Atlantic article that came to the same conclusion:

Perhaps two of the organizations least known for leaking, the CIA and the Obama White House, the latter of which has made a special habit of prosecuting leakers, appear to have both leaked the same story at the same time to the New York Times and to Reuters, the latter of which cites four separate sources. Together, they report that President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the clandestine operations in support of Libya’s rebels, including Central Intelligence Agency agents on the ground but not including arms for the rebels.  . . .

. . . [I]t’s also possible that the leak was planned, as so many U.S. government leaks are. [. . .] Such a leak makes appear Obama more bullish on Libya without requiring him to explain the plan for this new secret authority. It wards off domestic pressure without actually engaging those pressuring him. It also prepares the American people for the possibility of clandestine actions without actually carrying them out or even promising to consider carrying them out. After all, though the finding’s approval may be broad, very little appears to have actually been done with it. Arming the rebels, the first logical step in a serious clandestine commitment, doesn’t have the necessary congressional approval.

Perhaps most significant of all, leaking news of the finding would send a clear and no doubt chilling message to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the remainders of his regime: if you allow this war to continue, you could go up against the CIA . . .

With the rebel advance stalled, and the war appearing to head for either Qaddafi’s victory or a costly stalemate that could consume Libya for years, Obama faces a dauntingly hard choice: escalate U.S. involvement and risk entangling the country in another Afghanistan or, by refusing to escalate, put make the U.S. culpable for the rebels’ failure and Qaddafi’s sure-to-be bloody victory. The best possible way forward, then, could be to coerce Qaddafi into stepping down voluntarily, as both Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali did. These hints of greater U.S. involvement could be Obama’s way of showing Qaddafi the door. Also on Wednesday, a senior official with the government of Uganda, a close U.S. ally, suddenly announced to Al Arabiya, a pan-Arabic TV network, that his country would consider an asylum request from the Libyan leader.

The whole article is worth reading.

There’s no evidence that ground troops would be welcome by regional partners in the coalition. But liaising with the rebels, getting on the ground intelligence to match with satellite overlays, and maybe looking for creative ways to push Gaddafi out? That’s just prudent.

There are ways the Libya conflict could potentially escalate in ways I would not support. This is not one of them.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 31, 2011 at 9:16 am

Answering Rhetorical Questions on Libya

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Andrew Sullivan asks a whole bunch of questions without actually waiting around for answers:

The president’s speech was disturbingly empty. There are, it appears, only two reasons the US is going to war, without any Congressional vote, or any real public debate. The first is that the US  cannot stand idly by while atrocities take place. Yet we have done nothing in Burma or the Congo and are actively supporting governments in Yemen and Bahrain that are doing almost exactly – if less noisily – what Qaddafi is doing. Obama made no attempt to reconcile these inconsistencies because, one suspects, there is no rational reconciliation to be made.

Secondly, the president argued that the ghastly violence in Libya is destabilizing the region, and threatening world peace. Really? More than Qaddafi’s meddling throughout Africa for years? More than the brutal repression in Iran? And even if it is destabilizing, Libya is not, according to the Obama administration itself, a “vital national interest”. So why should the US go to war over this?

None of this makes any sense, except as an emotional response to an emergency.

Instead of seriously exploring possible rational explanations for the questions he raises (even if he disagrees with those reasons), Sullivan just calls the President an emotional wreck. This, of course, coming from someone so enraptured by the Iranian protests that he demanded his blog change color to show solidarity, as if that alone would mean one thing at all to any person anywhere  in the world.

So here’s the answer to Sullivan’s questions:

Yes, Libya is really destabilizing the region. Apparently even though he’s been live blogging this for weeks, Sullivan has missed the ongoing refugee nightmare, particularly on the Tunisian border. This is a serious problem that very much does destabilize the region.

And yes, it destabilizes it in a more acute and immediate manner than the repression Iranian protests (which, though tragic and against international norms, was an internal matter) or “meddling” – which is just vague enough that I really don’t know what Sullivan is referring to. Was Lockerbie “meddling”? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to the Libyan conflict with Chad that actually did involve French troops and American supplies at one point? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to the Libyan-Egyptian war in 1977 that would have destabilized the region had Gaddafi not retreated? I have no idea. Is Sullivan referring to Gaddafi supporting dictators like Idi Amin or Jean-Bedel Bokassa and if so how would that add up to regional instability rather than instability without a nation-state? I have no idea. Sullivan only refers to Africa.

If you want to argue the President is being overly emotional, perhaps one should thoroughly explain your objection instead of being, dare I say, overly emotional.  The best interpretation of his remarks is if he’s referring to Gaddafi’s participation in the Uganda-Tanzanian war, and if that’s the case I would certainly say the United Nations should have intervened, and in a post-Cold War world someone clearly would intervene. The Security Council did not even issue a resolution over the conflict – obviously that would not be true today.

But one thing is certainly clear: Tanzania counter attacked Uganda not to save the Ugandans from Gaddafi’s ally Imin, but rather for it’s own security purposes:

On 12 October 1978, Uganda invaded Tanzania in an effort to annex the Kagera region, but in February 1979, Tanzania counter-attacked with the help of Ugandan insurgents, overrunning Kampala, installing Milton Obote as President, and forcing Idi Amin to flee Uganda. After several months of occupation, Tanzanian forces withdrew from Uganda. Tanzania used force only once it had been attacked by Uganda and it succeeded in halting the systematic murder of thousands more people. As in India’s intervention in East Pakistan, humanitarian considerations seemed to have played an important role, but here again, its own security considerations took priority.

Were that to happen today there’s no doubt there would be international backing against that sort of invasion. Why not then? Probably because Julius Nyerere led Tanzania in the nonalignment movement. (Not to mention that Nyerere was no saint, having supported a coup in the Seychelles). In the politics of the time, the reluctance to intervene made sense, even for the Carter Administration. But it would not hold up today.

Point being this: Uganda-Tanzania That’s not what’s happening here, but if Sullivan is looking to this as an example of hypocrisy (and who knows what he’s referring to), well, he’s ignoring a lot of context.

What we do know is that the situation in Libya has deteriorated to such a point where imminent actions, clearly threatened by Gaddafi would overwhelm the region with refugees. In a situation like this, that destabilization is the main causus belli, but likewise the international community should also generally reinforce that killing your own people is actually against international norms too. That those norms are only enforced by force when regional stability is threatened does not mean that they are not violations of international norms.

One last point: none this is to defend the actual war planning or lack thereof. This is purely contesting the jus ad bello, not the jus in bello. (That is, decision to go to war, not the conduct within the war itself.)

Sullivan is so convinced the Libya is Iraq that he’s not even aware of, much less investigating, any differences in approach or scale. I wish Obama would do more to sell this action – a speech to Congress would be a must – but objectively judging his actions, Sullivan is the one being overly emotional, not the President.

As a footnote, someone needs to have Sullivan read relevant parts of US Code regarding United Nations Security Council authorizations.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Climate Change: African and American Responses

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The BBC has a slideshow up on the nascent effects of climate change on rural Africa. In short: it’s not good.

You’re not going to see much of this in America. If anything, you’ll see sophist efforts to ebunk the science, which won’t convince anyone on either side. Indeed, the political analysis of the climate bill is that bellss and whistles will have to be added to get people to vote for it.

In fact, climate change (like energy) won’t become an issue until it’s a national security issue. At that point, anything is on the table. The most likely area for that to happen right now seems to be in the Northwest Passage, which is creating conflict among the US, Canada, and Russia. (We’ll have more on that later, as Angelo is something of an expert on the topic.)

The reality though is that protecting an entire city that would be underwater (New Orleans) is fairly meaningless politically, but protecting trade routs in the Arctic Ocean will be of paramount influence. Only in America.

Written by John Whitehouse

July 6, 2009 at 6:05 pm