CIA’s own studies: arming rebels almost categorically fails

Props to the CIA for honestly checking itself:

The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.

Almost the only “success” in arming rebels (as opposed to governments) was Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to their own internal review, and we all know what happened as a direct result of that.

Too bad President Obama, who seemed swayed by the study for some time, reversed course in September of this year and ordered an incomprehensible and ineffective program to arm and train Syrian rebels extremely slowly, narrowly, and pointlessly.

As I asked then:

Why do we have to provide military training and weapons to uncontrollable non-state actors in an already brutal civil war? Is it worth going through this effort and incurring this risk to help a declining rebellion that might even be over by the time these fighters arrive? Are we potentially making the situation for civilians in Syria worse by introducing a new source of destruction and death, rather than letting this war come to a finite end?


"First Sting" by Stuart Brown, CIA Museum, an artist's depiction of Afghan mujahideen rebels shooting down a Soviet aircraft with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles.

“First Sting” by Stuart Brown, CIA Museum, an artist’s depiction of Afghan mujahideen rebels shooting down a Soviet aircraft with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles.

Jimmy Carter’s election prevented a disastrous war in Cuba

Amid post-Vietnam War plans to rebuild relations secretly with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a sudden U-Turn and began planning for an overwhelming attack on Cuba, following Castro’s intervention in the Angola Civil War, say historians in a new book reviewing a new round of declassified documents (reported on in The New York Times).

Kissinger was furious by early 1976 — as President Ford was seeking his own term after the fallout of Watergate and battling a primary challenge by Ronald Reagan — about the Cuban opposition to the U.S.-supported Apartheid South African military interventions being staged from neighboring Namibia (then Apartheid South Africa’s illegally-occupied territory of South-West Africa). Zaire’s dictator, Mobutu, was also being encouraged by the United States to invade Angola. Communist China — in the middle of more public U.S. outreach efforts — was also providing military advisers earlier than Cuba, but they were being provided to help the same sides of the civil war that the U.S. and its allies had decided to back, because China wanted to oppose the Soviet/Cuban-supported side. Military advisers from the CIA were also on the ground, alongside the South African regime’s advisers. Most of the U.S. involvement in Angola at the time was a secret, whereas the Cuban deployment of advisers and then thousands of combat troops was very public. The U.S. also mistakenly believed there was a much greater level of cooperation between Cuba and the USSR on the intervention than later proved to be the case.

Here’s the BBC summary of the development regarding a proposed U.S. attack on Cuba in response to the Angola situation:

But the newly released documents show he was infuriated by Cuban President Fidel Castro’s decision in late 1975 to send troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.
“I think we are going to have to smash Castro,” Mr Kissinger told Mr Ford in a White House meeting in February 1976, adding Mr Ford should defer action until after the presidential election that November. “I agree,” Mr Ford said.

US contingency plans drawn up on the options warned any military aggression by the US in Cuba could lead to a direct confrontation with the USSR.

“The circumstances that could lead the United States to select a military option against Cuba should be serious enough to warrant further action in preparation for general war,” one document said.

The plans were never undertaken, as Jimmy Carter was elected president that year.

The bottom line here is that the election of President Carter in November 1976 — in a very hard-fought campaign Ford nearly won — appears to have stopped a U.S. war with Cuba and possibly the USSR itself.

But there are more details (see the full New York Times report) indicating knowledge that the assault might fail to topple the regime, would probably result in the destruction or abandonment of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, and force huge military adjustments in the Caribbean (especially in Puerto Rico), even if the USSR didn’t enter the war. Even so, that didn’t seem to put much of a damper on the plans, as far as we know, even in light of both the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Cuban Missile Crisis in the not-so-distant past at the time, as well as the recent debacle in Vietnam.

Map of Cuba, Angola, South Africa, and South African-occupied South West Africa. Adapted from Egs - Wikimedia

Map of Cuba, Angola, South Africa, and South African-occupied South West Africa. Adapted from Egs – Wikimedia

Don’t forget about Poland (and their CIA torture sites)

A reminder this past week from a key European court that Poland helped the CIA torture U.S. detainees outside American jurisdiction after 9/11 (yielding little to no information):

For the first time, a court has ruled on the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison network in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday found “beyond reasonable doubt” that two current prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA and tortured there.

The language in the judgment is damning. Evidence of the prisoners’ rendition and treatment is “coherent, clear and categorical.” The facts presented by their legal teams “demonstrate” that the Polish authorities knew at that time that the CIA was using Szymany airport and, as a secret detention site, the Stare Kiejkuty military base. The court judged it “inconceivable” that rendition aircraft landed in and departed from Poland, or that the CIA occupied the premises in the Polish base, without Poland being “informed of and involved in the preparation and execution of the [CIA’s High Value Detainee] Programme.” It concluded that “Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring.” In short, through its “acquiescence and connivance,” Poland “must be regarded as responsible” for secret imprisonment, torture and transfer onward to further secret imprisonment.
Numerous tortured suspects, released after the CIA belatedly determined their lack of involvement in terrorist activity, gave firsthand accounts of their treatment to lawyers and NGOs.
It is easy to be lulled into complacency by the bureaucratic language with which the CIA and the U.S. Department of Justice crafted their internal memorandums, but, as the court recognized, what went on in Poland and in other countries that hosted black sites included suffocation by water, confinement in small boxes, beatings, extreme sleep deprivation, exposure to cold and noise and other “enhanced techniques.”



Although Poland did not officially join the European Union until May 1, 2004, Poland did join the Council of Europe on November 26, 1991, making it subject to the European Court of Human Rights well before the start of the U.S. War on Terror.

Post-Cold War Poland has been rapidly sliding toward disappointment with the United States after years of blind support that ultimately led as far as endorsement of secret CIA torture prisons and joining the ill-conceived U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. They expected to get a lot out of such a compliant relationship with the United States and instead got very little. Read more

Meanwhile in Libya…


The gains by ISIS in Iraq may be hogging the headlines, but let’s not forget about the situation in Libya. When we last left the story, in May, General Khalifa Hifter was attempting a second coup (again unsuccessfully) and rallying the anti-Islamist militias and secular-leaning non-loyal troops and aircraft to his side in Benghazi, the major eastern city. Benghazi is an ideal recruiting ground since many of the best organized militias started there at the beginning of the Arab Spring uprising against Gaddafi. He was having less success in the capital, Tripoli, in the West.

Since then, the internal fighting has continued to widen between the major blocs. Hifter was initially making more headway in his attacks on the Islamist militias in Benghazi and was rallying more forces to his cause. But loosely affiliated western forces under the Zintan Brigade had already held the main airport in Tripoli. Islamist militias struck back at the airport this weekend causing flight disruptions as well as consternation among outsiders (i.e. Westerners), who seem to vaguely prefer Zintan control of the facilities and runways — or perhaps just stability in who is controlling them.

There was also a national general election near the end of June, which although partially disputed and less than ideal is on track to be resolved relatively smoothly in the next couple weeks. The anti-Islamist bloc dominated the results this time, unlike last election, which means the side most sympathetic to Hifter’s position is expected to gain power, while the backers of the Islamist militia will be relegated to a minority. Could that position General Hifter for a “democratic”-coated rise to power in Libya?
Read more

AFD Ep 46 – Invisible Harms

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 46 – Invisible Harms”
Posted: Mon, 29 Apr 2013

Play Now
Guest commentator Sasha joins Bill to talk about less visible sequester harms and the Congressionally-imposed woes of the US Postal Service. Then Bill discusses chemical weapons in Syria, renewed turmoil in Iraq, and the CIA’s cash giveaways in Afghanistan.

Looking backward while going forward

In the United States, the Obama Administration in 2009 claimed it would not pursue torture investigations because that would be looking backward and distract the country from moving forward. Many on the left, including me and Nate at this blog, basically thought this was a rather absurd claim and a damaging decision. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, elected in May and heading a coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat cabinet, is taking the opposite approach:

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Tuesday that Britain’s new coalition government would appoint an independent inquiry into allegations that its security services, MI5 and MI6, colluded with the Central Intelligence Agency and other foreign organizations in the rendition and torture of terrorism suspects held in foreign prisons after the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Cameron had called for the inquiry before the spring election campaign against the former Labour government, which had endured years of criticism at home for being too cozy with the Bush administration in the reaction to terrorism.
“While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done,” Mr. Cameron said. He said this had “led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees.”

Under the Labour government, MI5, responsible for Britain’s internal security, and MI6, responsible for external security, issued strong denials that their agents were complicit in mistreatment. The agencies received vigorous backing from the government, at least until court disclosures began to show that the detainees’ allegations against them might have had some validity.

Certainly there will be complaints because this won’t be a particularly transparent investigation for security and international intelligence reasons, but it’s way better than the total lack of investigations we got in the United States. That was mainly a nakedly political decision, anyway. Cameron is also certainly taking politics into account, but he’s decided that in any case this will be a better and faster route to ending the speculation and criticisms dogging the British intelligence services. That’s the practical side. The moral side happens to be in the same general direction, unlike the Obama calculus.

Of course, Cameron has little to lose by this, and potentially much to gain. Obama faced an insane, pro-torture right-wing faction and pro-torture media in America, which explains some of his reticence. But he also somehow believed (or his advisers did) that he could get Republican support for some of his agenda by not investigating their Bush era buddies over torture. That didn’t happen. So Obama didn’t gain much practically speaking either.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Heavy fighting in Yemen

Just days after President Obama said he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” in Yemen or Somalia, US-supported and armed Saudi and Yemeni forces began heavily “cleansing” Yemeni villages of rebel forces.

Side note, added 11:57 PM US ET: I think cleansing is a surprising choice of words, especially since this is a Shia group with ethnotribal elements. So is Saudi Arabia admitting to ethnic cleansing? (Assuming this has been translated correctly.)

Two rebellions in rural, mountainous regions have grown in strength this year and pushed the Yemeni government’s attention away from terrorism and back to the rebellions, just when the United States expects the former to be a priority. Saudi Arabia, feeling threatened both by cross-border rebel attacks and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which has flourished in rebel-protected safe havens), launched a military offensive into Yemen in early November 2009.

Oddly, Yemen is still saying that they will not allow foreign troops into Yemen, despite the presence of Saudi Arabian troops right near Yemeni operations. The US has been sending arms and money to the Army, as well, and conducted missile strikes in mid-December on alleged al Qaeda sites. Yemen receives military training from US special forces advisers and the CIA is active in various covert or semi-cover operations there. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt was linked to Yemen, drawing renewed attention to the problem of terrorism there, Yemen had been (fairly successfully, if questionably) trying to cast the struggle against the rebels as part of the global war on terrorism, in an effort to secure funding.

Houthi rebels allege that the Yemeni Army has been bulldozing village houses to force rebels out. The central government of Yemen, which prematurely declared the war over in 2008, is insisting that they will wipe out the rebels once and for all.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.