Is the CIA too open and accountable? The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, thinks so. It was revealed last week that the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which is under his direct control, has been running clandestine operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries for the past two years.
The SSB was created after Rumsfeld issued a written order to end his “near dependence on the CIA”. The new organisation is made up of spies, interrogators and technical specialists working alongside US special operations forces.
A memo to Rumsfeld from General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, leaked to the Washington Post, says the intelligence unit’s focus is on “emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia”. The SSB was set up to give Rumsfeld the “full spectrum” of human intelligence operations—a term that covers interrogation of prisoners, recruitment of spies and scouting out wartime targets.
A Pentagon memo says the agents recruited by the spy outfit could include “notorious figures” whose links to the government would be embarrassing if made public, the Washington Post said. Rumsfeld’s private spy service is subject to even less oversight by the US Congress than the CIA.
The accidental apocalypse
The US came close to starting nuclear war by mistake last week. The doors of silos housing a battery of inter-continental ballistic missiles were opened, the radical webzine Counterpunch has revealed. A retired high-level government figure had to be called to respond to the nuclear incident at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, where 200 inter-continental ballistic missiles are kept.
Opening the silo doors would normally indicate that nuclear missiles were about to be launched against another country. Similar incidents during the Cold War years came close to starting a third world war.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) says there were several near-accidents at the Cheyenne Mountain early warning station in the late 1970s. “Twice, the equipment at the base generated false indications of a nuclear missile strike from Russia and nearly prompted US retaliation on both occasions.”
A computer failure in 1980 sparked a false missile warning to the national command centre, while in a separate incident the Pentagon was told a Russian missile strike had been launched after false data from a war simulation exercise was thought to be real.
Journalist Phil Patton says, “It took about eight minutes to determine that the end of the world was not, in fact, at hand.”
The NAPF’s Justin Murray says the US and Russia could be on the brink of nuclear armageddon, but the threat “does not stem from hostilities or a premeditated, intentional strike but from miscalculation and computer errors”.