'Deep State' Sold Out Counter-terrorism to Keep
Itself in Business
22, 2017 "Information
- New York Times
columnist Tom Friedman outraged many readers
wrote an opinion piece
on 12 April calling on President Trump to "back
off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria". The
reason he gave for that recommendation was not
that US wars in the Middle East are inevitably
self-defeating and endless, but that it would
reduce the "pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and
suggestion that the US sell out its interest in
counter-terrorism in the Middle East to gain
some advantage in power competition with its
adversaries was rightly attacked as cynical.
fact, the national security bureaucracies of the
US – which many have come to call the "Deep
State" - have been selling out their interests
in counter-terrorism in order to pursue various
adventures in the region ever since George W
Bush declared a "Global War on Terrorism" in
whole war on terrorism has been, in effect, a
bait-and-switch operation from the beginning.
The idea that US military operations were
somehow going to make America safer after the
9/11 attacks was the bait. What has actually
happened ever since then, however, is that
senior officials at the Pentagon and the CIA
have been sacrificing the interest of American
people in weakening al-Qaeda in order to pursue
their own institutional interests.
'The only game in town'
It all began, of course, with the invasion of
Iraq. Counter-terrorism specialists in the US
government knew perfectly well that US regime
change in Iraq through military force would give
a powerful boost to Osama bin Laden's
organisation and to anti-American terrorism
generally. Rand Beers, then senior director for
counter-terrorism on the National Security
told his predecessor Richard Clarke
in late 2002, "Do
you know how much it will strengthen al-Qaeda
and groups like that if we occupy Iraq?"
After it quickly became clear that the US war in
Iraq was already motivating young men across the
Middle East to wage jihad against the US in
Iraq, the chief architect of the occupation of
Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, came up with the patently
false rationalisation that
Iraq would be a "flytrap"
But in January 2005, after a year of research,
the CIA issued a
major intelligence assessment
warning that the war was breeding more al-Qaeda
extremist militants from all over the Middle
East and even giving them combat experience that
they would eventually be able to use back home.
2006 National Intelligence Estimate,
the intelligence community warned that the
number of people identifying themselves as
jihadists was growing and was becoming more
widespread geographically and even the predicted
growing terrorist threats from "self-radicalized
cells" both in the US and abroad.
The war managers continued to claim that their
wars were making Americans safer. CIA director
Michael Hayden not only sought to sell the
flypaper argument on Iraq, but also
bragged to the Washington Post in 2008
that the CIA was making great progress against
al-Qaeda, based mainly on its burgeoning drone
war in Pakistan.
But Hayden and the CIA had a
huge bureaucratic interest
in that war. He had lobbied Bush in 2007 to
loosen restraints on drone strikes in Pakistan
and let the CIA launch lethal attacks on the
mere suspicion that a group of males were
It soon became clear that it wasn't really
weakening the al-Qaeda in the northwest Pakistan
at all. Even drone operators themselves began
privately criticising the drone attacks
for making many more young Pakistanis hate the
United States and support al-Qaeda. The only
thing Leon Panetta, Hayden's successor as CIA
director, could say in defence of the programme
was that it was
"the only game in town".
Obama wanted out of a big war in Iraq. But
CENTCOM Commander Gen David Petraeus and Joint
Staff director Gen Stanley A McChyrstal talked
Obama into approving a whole new series of
covert wars using CIA drone strikes and special
operations commando raids against al-Qaeda and
other jihadist organisations in a dozen
countries in the Middle East, North Africa and
Central Asia. At the top of their list of covert
wars was Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula (AQAP) had just been formed.
Since 2009, the Joint Special Operations Command
and the CIA
16 cruise missile strikes and 183 drone strikes
in Yemen. Unfortunately, they lacked the
intelligence necessary for such a campaign. As
one-third of the strikes killed innocent
civilians and local notables -
cruise missile strike in December 2009
which killed 41 civilians and
attack on a wedding party
in December 2013.
Virtually every independent observer agrees that
those killings have fed Yemeni hatred of the US
and contributed to AQAP's lustre as the leading
anti-US organisation in the country.
again claimed they were doing a splendid job of
hitting AQAP, but in fact the Yemeni offshoot of
al-Qaeda continued to be the primary terrorism
threat while the covert war continued. Three
times between late 2009 and 2012, it mounted
efforts to bring down airliners and nearly
succeeded in two of the three.
2011 and early 2012, the contradiction between
the US pretension to counter-terrorism in its
Middle East policy and the interests sharpened
even further. That's when the Obama
administration adopted a new anti-Iran hard line
in the region to reassure the Saudis that we
were still committed to the security alliance.
That hard line policy had nothing to do with a
nuclear deal with Iran, which came more than a
At first, it took form of covert logistical
assistance to the Sunni allies to arm Sunni
anti-Assad forces in Syria. But in 2014, the
Obama administration began providing anti-tank
missiles to selected anti-Assad armed groups.
And when the Nusra Front wanted the groups the
CIA had supported in Idlib to
coordinate with the jihadist offensive
to seize control of Idlib province, the Obama
administration did not object.
Obama national security team was willing to take
advantage of the considerable military power of
the Nusra Front-led jihadist alliance. But it
was all done with a wink and a nod to maintain
the fiction that it was still committed to
defeating al-Qaeda everywhere.
When the Saudis came to Washington in March 2015
with a plan to wage a major war in Yemen against
the Houthis and their new ally, former president
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deep state was ready to
give Saudi a green light.
A predictable consequence of that decision has
been to fuel the rise of AQAP, which had already
emerged as the primary threat of terrorist
attack on the US, to an unprecedented position
The biggest winner
by the International Crisis Group, AQAP
has been the biggest winner in the war, taking
advantage of state collapse, an open alliance
with the Saudi-supported government and a major
infusion of arms – much of its provided
indirectly by the Saudis.
with a political strategy of playing up AQAP's
role as champion of Sunni sectarian interests
against those Yemenis whom they wrongly call
Shia, AQAP controlled a large swath of territory
across southern Yemen, with the port of Mukalla
as their headquarters. And even though the Saudi
coalition recaptured the territory, they
maintain a strong political presence there.
will certainly emerge from the disastrous war in
Yemen as the strongest political force in the
south, with a de-facto safe haven in which to
plot terrorist attacks against the US. And they
can thank the war bureaucracies in the US who
helped them achieve that powerful position.
reason for the betrayal of US counter-terrorism
interests is not that the senior officials in
charge of these war bureaucracies want to
promote al-Qaeda. It is because they had to
sacrifice the priority of countering al-Qaeda to
maintain the alliances, the facilities and the
operations on which their continued power and
Gareth Porter is
an independent investigative journalist and
winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for
journalism. He is the author of the newly
published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story
of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.