The Skeptics

National Journal’s Unbelievable JSOC Story

A story in last week’s National Journal magazine by Marc Ambinder contains a paragraph full of stunning claims about the recent adventures of Joint Special Operations Command:

Created in 1980 after the disastrous hostage-rescue mission in Iran, JSOC is part of the U.S. Special Operations Command that oversees the various special-operations commands of the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy. Over the past 10 years, JSOC units have been essential to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. JSOC has fought a silent but successful proxy war against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—even, National Journal has learned, engaging directly with its soldiers in at least three countries. It has broken up nuclear-proliferation rings. JSOC has developed contingency plans to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a coup in that nation. It has killed Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon and Hamas terrorists on the West Bank. Its intelligence unit helps Colombian commandos dismantle lucrative drug rings that finance Hezbollah operations around the world. It has provided intelligence that has helped to break up domestic terrorism rings.

Ambinder has great sources and tells stories well, but this paragraph seems designed to mythologize JSOC, not inform readers. Much of it is hard to believe. There is no attempt at sourcing. Not even the anonymous government contractors and high-ranking diplomats that inform Seymour Hersh’s revelations. Why should we believe what the National Journal “has learned” if it will not say how?

Then there’s the fact that the claims are tossed off likes feats in a heroic ballad rather than explained. These are big scoops. If true, they should be headlines, not asides. They raise all sorts of unanswered questions. Consider the claims in turn:

· Why not identify the three countries where special operations forces had fire-fights with Iranian forces? Presumably two are Iraq and Afghanistan. If the third is Iran, was the clash reported in Iranian state media? What is the legal authority for fighting there?

· Why not specify what JSOC did to stop nuclear proliferation rather than vaguely say that it broke up “proliferation rings”? How did the breakup occur? What materials were seized? Who was the intended recipient?

· Why would we attack Hezbollah or Hamas militants? Wouldn’t killing people in the West Bank and Lebanon be illegal? Why wouldn’t Israel handle such operations itself?

· What is the evidence that Hezbollah benefits from Colombian drug trafficking, as the article implies?

· Other than poetic license, what makes domestic terrorists into a “ring”? If intelligence from a JSOC raid led to U.S. arrests of alleged terrorists, why not point to the arrests or prosecution?

Along with the CIA, JSOC deserves praise for its role in killing bin Laden. But if JSOC has done all the things Ambinder says it has, that requires an investigation, not cheerleading.