U.S. Special Operations Command

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The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is headquartered at Tampa, Florida. According to its former chief, Robert Andrews, SOCOM is "a small outfit." The American Forces press release for Andrews' December 12, 2001 news briefing noted "The unified command's 45,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen represent only 1.3 percent of the military's total personnel. Their mission includes special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare and direct action missions." SOCOM's 2005 budget was reported as $6.6 billion. [1]

An April 2003 Washington Post story gave 49,000 as the number of total SOCOM personnel, although "at least three quarters are in support functions, or psychological operations and civil affairs." Fewer than 10,000 SOCOM members are actual combat forces. The Post also alluded to recruitment problems, given the high standards for SOCOM members. "Special Operations does not even have on hand soldiers qualified to fill the positions it already has, let alone the new ones it is being given, a Pentagon official said. The Army is supposed to man a total of 270 Special Forces A-teams, with 12 troops each, but currently can only fill 225, he said." [2]

Andrews, a Special Forces captain in Vietnam, said SOCOM's members are different than those in the regular services - "generally older and more rigorously trained." He said, "When you talk to them, you'll find that they're all motivated by a desire to do well at that which is most difficult." [3]

Examples of SOCOM activities include the EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft, and other "airborne broadcasting studios," which "air two five-hour radio programs a day over Afghanistan. U.S. aircraft dropped over 10 million leaflets produced by the 4th Psychological Operations Group of Fort Bragg, N.C." [4]

Pondering hiring or hacking bloggers

A 2006 study written for SOCOM by James Kinniburgh and Dorothy Denning suggested "hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message." The study -- which was titled "Blogs and Military Information Strategy" -- added, "Information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence ... to pass the U.S. message." However, it warned, "people do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust." [1]

In addition to recruiting, building or promoting blogs friendly to the U.S. military, the study suggested hacking an "enemy blog" to use it "covertly as a vehicle for friendly information operations. ... Subtly changing the messages and data -- merely a few words or phrases -- may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger's credibility. ... The enemy may reason that the blogger in question has betrayed them and [may] take down the site (and the blogger) themselves." [1]

The study also cautioned about misinformation campaigns: "There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media. ... Given the watchdog functions that many in the blogging community have assumed -- not just in the U.S., but also around the world -- doing so jeopardizes the entire U.S. information effort. ... In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and nonattribution, as well as employing a well- thought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure." [2]

SOCOM spokesperson Lt. Commander Marc Boyd said the study's suggestions "are not 'actionable,' merely thought provoking. .. The views expressed in the article publication are entirely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, policy or position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, USSOCOM [Special Operations Command], or the Joint Special Operations University." Study co-author Dorothy Denning said she had received "some positive feedback from people who read the article, but I don't know if it led to anything." [1]

Counter-terrorism task force

"The roots of SOCOM's new counter-terrorism task originated from two major events," Jan Allen wrote for GlobalEcho.org, April 27, 2006:

  • In October 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed "the top-secret, National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMST-WOT)." (This plan has been superseded in January 2005 by a new classified plan. See below.)
  • In July 2002, President George W. Bush issued "an executive order transferring control of the covert operation Gray Fox (it now has a new codename), from the Army to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa at the insistence of Rumsfeld’s office." [5]
  • On July 22, 2002, "Donald Rumsfeld issued a secret directive to Special Operations forces allowing them to 'capture terrorists for interrogation or, if necessary, to kill them' anywhere in the world; this being documented in the Cooperative Research report for July 22, 2002: Rumsfeld Authorizes Killing Terrorists which relates that Bush already had issued a presidential finding authorizing the killing of terrorist leaders, but this increases such efforts."

"However," Allen wrote, "Bush has not rescinded a presidential executive order dating from the 1970s that bans all assassinations, claiming that terrorists are military combatants. Many past and present military and intelligence officials have expressed alarm at the legality, wisdom, ethics, and effectiveness of the assassination program. Apparently much of the leadership of Special Operations is against it, worrying about the blowback effect."


The Secretary of Defense has designated the Commander of the United States Special Operations Command (CDRUSSOCOM) as "the supported combatant commander for planning, synchronizing, and as directed, executing global operations against terrorist networks," according to the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMST-WOT) (dated October 2002 and superseded January 2005. See page 30.)

As stated: "CDRUSSOCOM leads a global collaborative planning process leveraging other combatant command capabilities and expertise that results in decentralized execution by both USSOCOM and other combatant commands against terrorist networks. In this role, USSOCOM’s specific responsibilities include:

  • Integrating DoD strategy into GWOT plans and establishing intelligence priorities against terrorist networks; Leading the development and synchronization of plans against terrorist networks;
  • Prioritizing and synchronizing those parts of security cooperation activities, deployments, and capabilities that support campaigns against terrorist networks in coordination with geographic combatant commanders;
  • Exercising command and control of CT operations, as directed;
  • Providing representation, in addition to other military commands, to U.S. national and international agencies for matters related to United States and multinational campaigns against terrorist networks;
  • Creating, implementing and directing global operational preparation of the environment (OPE) to integrate operations to find, fix, and capture terrorists and other High Pay Off Targets (HPTs);
  • Supporting other combatant commanders for operational planning as required against terrorist network targets;
  • Developing and leading a time sensitive planning (TSP) process to rapidly propose courses of action and to provide operational recommendations to the Secretary of Defense considering the full spectrum of military options;
  • Interface with national, Military Department, and commercial laboratories to maintain awareness of promising state-of-the-art GWOT technology for the warfighter; and Lead the development of a GWOT Intelligence Campaign Plan (ICP) for DoD.

Rumsfeld and SOCOM

In April 2003, shortly before President George W. Bush declared "major combat operations" over in Iraq, the Washington Post reported that the apparently easy victory over Saddam Hussein had strengthened Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's ability "to reshape the U.S. military along the lines he has talked about since taking office, 'transforming' it into a more agile and precise force built not around firepower but around information, and willing to take risks to succeed."

Rumsfeld's transformation primarily involved "pushing the Special Operations Command from the sideshow niche it long has occupied to center stage in the 'global war on terrorism' and other U.S. military operations. After the Iraq war, which featured one of the biggest missions ever for Special Operations forces, that command 'is going to be the flavor of the month,' said one defense official." [6]

The Washington Post story continued, "Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander in the war, 'wouldn't have used Special Operations like he did in Iraq if Rumsfeld hadn't pushed him,' said Robert Andrews, who was the top Pentagon official overseeing the Special Operations Command until the middle of last year.

"The Iraq war was one of the biggest Special Operations missions ever, with a thousand Delta Force members and Rangers in the west and another thousand Special Forces troops in the north and south. In almost every aspect, the missions broke new ground: Some units 'staged' into Iraq through former Soviet bloc member Bulgaria. In northern Iraq, conventional Army paratroopers and tank units were put under the command of a Special Operations general. In the south, meanwhile, some Special Operations troops were put under the command of regular Army generals."

The Post story also mentioned that Rumsfeld was in the process of picking a new SOCOM chief. The leading contestants listed were the Air Force's Norton A. Schwartz, the Army's Bryan D. Brown, and the Marines' Emil R. Bedard, although Rumsfeld "is considering some younger two-star generals who have played prominent roles on the front lines over the last two years."

Advertising psy-ops

In what SOCOM spokesperson Capt. Kenneth Hoffman called "market research," it was reported in December 2004 that SOCOM was trying "to determine what commercial firms might add to its psychological operations or psy-ops." Of particular interest were advertising agencies who could produce "slick multilingual audio, video, print and Web packages to support [SOCOM's] global psychological war against terrorism." [7]

Hoffman defined psy-ops as "providing truthful information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. national security objectives." He gave the example of "SOCom's Superman comic book that illustrated the dangers of minefields to the children in Bosnia and Kosovo." Hoffman stressed that any advertising or other psy-ops campaign would be for foreign audiences. "By law, psychological operations cannot produce products directed toward U.S. citizens," he told the St. Petersburg Times. Such efforts, he said, are totally separate from public affairs, which is "geared to informing the U.S. public." [8]

Former SOCOM head during the first Gulf War Retired Army Gen. Carl W. Stiner said that "his command's psy-op unit relied on in-house experts at Fort Bragg." But Stiner supported SOCOM's seeking help from private businesses. "This war on terrorism is unlike any we've ever fought before," he said. "And right now, you might say we're losing to Al-Jazeera." [9]

Center for Special Operations

In November 2005, the Center for Special Operations was established "as the nerve center to coordinate global operations and actionable intelligence, particularly against 'high value targets.' Previous directorates of operations, plans and policy; and intelligence and information operations; have already have been consolidated into the new Center under three groups: the Intelligence Support Group (J2), the Operations Support Group (J3), and the Campaign Support Group (J5)," William A. Arkin wrote in the Washington Post.

The Center's director is Lt. Gen. Dell L. Dailey, who served as commander of Joint Special Operations Command from 2001 to May 2003. "Dailey was the overall clandestine special operations commander after 9/11, operating from Oman and then from Afghanistan as Commander, Task Force Sword (later called TF-11). ... Dailey is considered one of the [Bush] administration's primo shadow warriors," Arkin wrote.

SourceWatch resources

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Noah Shachtman, "Military Report: Secretly 'Recruit or Hire Bloggers'," Wired.com blog "Danger room," March 31, 2008.
  2. James Kinniburgh and Dorothy Denning, "Blogs and Military Information Strategy," Joint Special Operations University, June 2006.