Of all the military units, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), none is more studied than the most elite and lethal unit, the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). When it was conceived, no one was supposed to know of its existence.
JSOC is officially described as a “joint headquarters designed to study special operations requirements and techniques; ensure interoperability and equipment standardization; plan and conduct joint special operations exercises and training; and develop joint special operations tactics” but this description is economical with the truth. JSOC serves as a standing Joint Special Operations Task Force responsible for unique special missions: execution, planning, training, tactics, and equipment development. JSOC was established in 1980 and is headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It also operates out of nearby Pope Air Force Base, also in North Carolina.
Although JSOC’s stated purpose is to provide a unified command structure for conducting joint special operations and exercises, it is widely reported that JSOC is actually the command responsible for conducting US counter-terrorism operations. JSOC is reported to command the US military’s Special Missions Units (SMUs). These SMUs are tasked with conducting counter-terrorism operations, strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas, and special intelligence missions.
In 1998, the US Department of Defense’s top policy official acknowledged that the military had covert action teams to combat terrorism and to counter potential terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. “We have designated Special Mission Units (SMUs) that are specifically manned, equipped and trained to deal with a wide variety of transnational threats,” said Walter B. Slocombe, then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
JSOC units reportedly had been involved in a number of covert military operations since its inception. Some of these operations included providing assistance to Italian authorities during their search for kidnapped US Army General James Dozier; participating in Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada; planning a rescue attempt of US hostages being held in Lebanon; rescuing hostages being held aboard the cruise liner Achille Lauro; participating in Operation Just Cause, the US intervention in Panama; directing US Scud missile hunting efforts during Operation Desert Storm; conducting operations in support of UN mandates in Somalia; and searching for suspected war criminals in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
JSOC units regularly conducted training with similar units from around the world, and provided training to nations that request US support. JSOC had also provided support to domestic law enforcement agencies during high profile, or high risk events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, political party conventions, and Presidential inaugurations.
The full text of PDD-25 was reported to exempt the Joint Special Operations Command from the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 18USC Sec.1385, PL86-70, Sec. 17[d]. which made it illegal for military and law enforcement to exercise jointly. The US Army’s Delta Force and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) were reported to have trained together at the $80 million upgraded Range 19 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. HRT also maintained an office at JSOC Headquarters, originally at Pope Air Force Base, adjacent to Fort Bragg. Both Delta Force and HRT were also reported to have trained together at Quantico, Virginia, where they have exclusive use of a new airstrip with enlarged C-141 capability. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, then based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky was said to provide aircraft during the training missions involving city urban assault assignments.
The Casualty Care System (CCS), developed in 2000 under a Chemical and Biological Defense Information Analysis Center (CBIAC) Technical Area Task (TAT), protected both patients and health care personnel from chemical and biological contamination. The biological protective material in the CCS was laminated with the biocidal resin, Triosyn®, while the charged melt-blown filter traps aerosolized biological particulates. The chemical protection of the CCS passed the Aerosol Vapor Liquid Assessment Group (AVLAG) liquid/vapor permeation test method in Test Operating Procedure (TOP) 8-2-501. Blowers provided filtered air both to the CCS and to the patient’s mask. The CCS contained glove ports, sterile interfaces for fluids and oxygen, and an equipment pass-through, and is compatible with fielded litter systems. The US Army and the JSOC guided the CCS development effort.
On 5 June 2001, the then Deputy Secretary of Defense amended the scope of the Anthrax Vaccination Immunization Program (AVIP) implementation to include only designated special mission units, manufacturing and Department of Defense research personnel, and Congressionally mandated anthrax vaccine research. The Anthrax Vaccination Immunization Program was reintroduced on 28 June 2002, by the DOD, Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies as a coordinated force protection program to defend designated people against possible, future anthrax incidents. The vaccination program was reintroduced in phases and only certain groups were initially eligible for the vaccine. Those groups included designated special mission units, manufacturing and DOD research personnel, and people assigned or deployed for more than 15 consecutive days to selected higher threat areas, primarily in Southwest Asia. This included emergency-essential DOD civilians and contractor personnel.
The DARPA Active Templates program, working in close collaboration with JSOC, developed the software tools-of-choice for special operations command and control. These tools allowed military planners to sketch out plans against a time-line or with a map or image in the background, merge plans from other teams that were connected to the network, de-conflict and coordinate changes as plans solidify, and then use these same tools to track the progress of the battle during mission execution. Time-and-motion studies showed that these tools sped planning by a factor of 4, buying time for rehearsal and critical decision-making. These prototype tools were advocated for use following several successful special operations exercises in FY01. In October 2001, they were deployed and were used continually to support combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom.
During Operation Enduring Freedom, much of the hunting for senior Taliban and Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan was being conducted by a unit called Task Force 11, composed mostly of Delta Force soldiers and SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
In 2002, a major disagreement delaying creation of the new Department of Homeland Security was over giving the President the flexibility to make national security related jobs non-union. In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush made such a determination for workers at the Defense Mapping Agency under the operational control of the Joint Special Operations Command.
The Marine Corps was exploring new ways to organize forces and maximize their usefulness to joint force commanders. The expansion of the Marine Corps’ relationship with the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) highlighted a commitment to this process, and to transformation. To that end, in 2003 the Commandant and the Commander of the US Special Operations Command reestablished the USSOCOM-Marine Corps Board. The board was a forum for the exchange of ideas between JSOC and deploying Marine Expeditionary Unit staffs, to establish and continue a dialogue between Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOC) and deploying MEU staffs, and to coordinate USSOCOM and USMC warfighting developments.
An interesting illustration of JSOC concept development activities was provided by a letter dated 2 February 2004, in which Lieutenant Colonel Douglas P. Weitzel petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on behalf of JSOC for an exemption from §§ 105.17, and 105.19(a) and (b), Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR). The proposed exemption would permit the JSOC forces to conduct night parachute operations using parachutes with no illumination, through clouds, outside of the special use airspace, at and below 1,500 feet above ground level (AGL). These operations would be conducted in Class B, C, D, or E airspace at airports closed to nonparticipating air traffic.
The petitioner stated that US Military forces were required to train and exercise the capability to seize airfields in support of national objectives. A combination of military, joint-use and civilian airfields were used in this training. This training included parachute and equipment drops that might occur in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) to meet training objectives. Additionally, the training included drops, which had to occur at night in ‘blacked out’ conditions to enhance realism and to meet training requirements. Placing lights on individual jumpers did not enable required training for night vision goggle operations. The petitioner stated that existing military forces were exempted from many parts of § 105, if the training was accomplished in a restricted area or in uncontrolled airspace. Few potential training airfields were covered by the military forces exemption. Therefore, an exemption would allow JSOC forces to train for mission essential tasks critical to maintaining national defense.
JSOC would provide advance notice to surrounding airports of its plan to conduct the operations and coordinate the planned operations with other sister agencies on a need to know basis. Also, the aircraft would be operated with lights-on throughout the operation. JSOC did not propose to operate the aircraft under lights-out conditions during the flight and only requested that the parachutists be allowed to jump without illumination. As such, the aircraft would be highly visible to any aircraft operating in the vicinity.
The proposed concept of allowing unlighted parachute operations to be conducted through cloud cover with reported ceilings as low as 300 feet AGL was unique. The FAA believed that the JSOC had to operate in hazardous conditions during combat and therefore had to train under simulated combat conditions to be fully prepared for the assigned mission. The likelihood that a non-participating aircraft or a person would be near the drop zones or in the affected airspace, given the level of available and proposed security, was virtually nonexistent. The FAA therefore believed that no hazard existed to anyone, other than the participants in the training exercise who were under the direct control of the military.
In January 2005, a small group of commandos deployed to support security at the Presidential inauguration. They were deployed under a secret counter terrorism program named Power Geyser.
Somewhere in the shadows of the White House and the Capitol, a small group of super-secret commandos stood ready with state-of-the-art weaponry to swing into action to protect the presidency, a task that has never been fully revealed before. As part of the extraordinary army of 13,000 troops, police officers and federal agents marshaled to secure the inauguration, these elite forces were poised to act under a 1997 program that was updated and enhanced after the Sept. 11 attacks, but nonetheless departs from how the military has historically been used on American soil.
These commandos, operating under a secret counter-terrorism program code-named Power Geyser, were mentioned publicly for the first time this week on a Web site for a new book, “Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs, and Operation in the 9/11 World,”(Steerforth Press). The book was written by William M. Arkin, a former intelligence analyst for the Army. The precise number of these Special Operations forces in Washington is highly classified, but military officials said the number is very small. The special-missions units belong to the Joint Special Operations Command, a secretive command based at Fort Bragg, N.C., whose elements include the Army unit Delta Force. In the past, the command has also provided support to domestic law enforcement agencies during high-risk events like the Olympics and political party conventions, according to the Web site of GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization in Alexandria, Va. The role of the armed forces in the United States has been a contentious issue for more than a century. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which restricts military forces from performing domestic law enforcement duties, like policing, was enacted after the Civil War in response to the perceived misuse of federal troops who were policing in the South.
Over the years, the law has been amended to allow the military to lend equipment to federal, state and local authorities; assist federal agencies in drug interdiction; protect national parks; and execute quarantine and certain health laws. About 5,000 federal troops supported civilian agencies at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City three years ago.
Since Sept. 11, however, military and law enforcement agencies have worked much more closely not only to help detect and defeat any possible attack, including from unconventional weapons, but also to assure the continuity of the federal government in case of cataclysmic disaster. The commandos were the same type of Special Operations forces who are hunting top insurgents in Iraq and Osama bin Laden in the mountainous wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But under the top-secret military plan, they are also conducting counter-terrorism missions in support of civilian agencies in the United States. “They bring unique military and technical capabilities that often are centered around potential W.M.D. events,” said a senior military official who has been briefed on the units’ operations.
A civil liberties advocate who was told about the program by a reporter said that he had no objections to the program as described to him because its scope appeared to be limited to supporting the counter-terrorism efforts of civilian authorities. Mr. Arkin, in the online supplement to his book (Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans), says the contingency plan, called JCS Conplan 0300-97, calls for “special-mission units in extra-legal missions to combat terrorism in the United States” based on top-secret orders that are managed by the military’s Joint Staff and coordinated with the military’s Special Operations Command and Northern Command, which is the lead military headquarters for domestic defense. Mr. Arkin provided The New York Times with briefing slides prepared by the Northern Command, detailing the plan and outlining the military’s preparations for the inauguration.
Three senior Defense Department and Bush administration officials confirmed the existence of the plan and mission, but disputed Mr. Arkin’s characterization of the mission as “extra-legal.” One of the officials said the units operated in the United States under “special authority” from either the president or the secretary of defense.
Civilian and uniformed military lawyers said provisions in several federal statutes, including the Fiscal Year 2000 Defense Department Authorization Act, Public Law 106-65, permits the secretary of defense to authorize military forces to support civilian agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the event of a national emergency, especially any involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
In 1998, the Pentagon’s top policy official, Walter B. Slocombe, acknowledged that the military had covert-action teams. “We have designated special-mission units that are specifically manned, equipped and trained to deal with a wide variety of transnational threats,” Mr. Slocombe told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These units, assigned to or under the operational control of the U.S. Special Operations Command, are focused primarily on those special operations and supporting functions that combat terrorism and actively counter terrorist use of W.M.D. These units are on alert every day of the year and have worked extensively with their interagency counterparts.” Spokesmen for the Northern Command in Colorado Springs and the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., the parent organization of the Joint Special Operations Command, declined to comment on the plan, the units involved and the mission.
“At any given time, there are a number of classified programs across the government that, for national security reasons, it would be inappropriate to discuss,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. “It would be irresponsible for me to comment on any classified program that may or may not exist.” But the Northern Command document that mentions Power Geyser is marked “unclassified.”
The document states that the purpose of the Department of Defense’s contingency planning for the inauguration is to provide “unity of D.O.D. effort to contribute to a safe and secure environment for the 2005 inauguration.” The Northern Command missions include deterring an attack or mitigating its consequences, and coordinating with the Special Operations Command. In a telephone interview from his home in Vermont, Mr. Arkin said the military’s reaction to the disclosure of the counter-terrorism plan and its operating units reflected “the silliness of calling something that’s obvious, classified.” “I’m not revealing what they’re doing or the methods of their contingency planning,” he said. “I don’t compromise any sensitive intelligence operations by revealing sources and methods. I don’t reveal ongoing operations in specific locales.” Mr. Arkin’s book is a glossary of more than 3,000 code names of past and present operations, programs and weapons systems, with brief descriptions of each.
Most involved secret activities, and details of many of the programs could not be immediately confirmed. The book also describes American military operations and assistance programs in scores of countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
The murky world of “special access programs” and other secret military and intelligence activities is covered in the book, too. Some code names describe highly classified research programs, like Thirsty Saber, a program that in the 1990’s tried to develop a sensor to replace human reasoning. Others describe military installations in foreign countries, like Poker Bluff I, an Eavesdropping and Electronic Surveillance Detection station in Honduras in the 1980’s.
Many involve activities related to the survival of the president and constitutional government. The book, for instance, describes Site R, one of the undisclosed locations used by Vice President Dick Cheney since the Sept. 11 attacks. Site R (Raven Rock) is a granite mountain shelter just north of Sabillasville, Md., near the Pennsylvania border. It was built in the early 1950’s to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack. The book also describes a program called Treetop, the Presidential Successor Support System, which provides survivors of a nuclear strike or other attack with war plans, regulations and procedures to establish teams of military and civilian advisers to presidential successors. A White House spokesman declined to comment on the continuity of government activities cited in the book.
People who advocate that the government declassify more of the nation’s official documents said the book would fuel the debate over the balance between the public’s right to know and the need to keep more military and intelligence matters secret in the campaign against terror.
“This is part of an ongoing tug of war to define the boundaries of public information,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “There has been a steady withdrawal of information from the public domain in the present administration, and a reluctance to disclose even the most mundane of facts.”
- Army Compartmented Element (Delta Force)
- Intelligence Support Activity (ISA)
- Naval Special Warfare Development Group (SEAL Team Six)
- 24th Special Tactics Squadron
- Joint Communications Unit (JCU)
- Joint Aviation Unit
- Technical Intelligence Unit
- Signals Intelligence Branch