Keeping Secrets in Jordan

By William M. Arkin

11/16/05 "
Washington Post" -- -- "The United States has had no closer ally than Jordan in the war on terror, and Jordan will find no better friend than the United States at this difficult hour," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement issued on Nov. 9.

This is not just hyperbole.

From 1991, when King Hussein opposed the first Gulf war, U.S.-Jordanian military and intelligence relations have flourished. So when al Qaeda in Iraq says that it undertook its attack because "the tyrant of Jordan has turned [the country] into a back yard for the enemies of Islam, such as the Jews and the Crusaders," their rhetoric should not be dismissed.

Though nothing about Jordan's intelligence or military ties to the United States justifies the triple suicide attacks on innocent civilians, the secrecy imposed by our Jordanian ally and our own hyper-secrecy in the war on terrorism cedes territory that allows others to characterize the nature of our involvement and thus opens room for speculation and conspiracy theories, lies, and speculation. And it allows terrorists to justify their action by suggesting that Jordan just a puppet regime. Finally, excessive not-so-secret secrecy undermines the American's peoples interests.

King Abdullah II, himself a former commander of Jordan's special operations force, has forged ever closer military and intelligence ties with the United States.

U.S.-Jordanian intelligence cooperation grew in the 1990's as the Iraqi population and Iraqi commerce grew in the country. Iraqi refugees, businessmen and defectors who set up shop in Amman were exploited and recruited, and Amman became a hub for anti-Saddam operations. After 9/11, according to reporting in the Los Angeles Times, the United States increased funding and technical support for Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate, which today is considered the most effective allied counter-terrorism operation in the Middle East. The U.S. has also established permanent signals intelligence (SIGINT) monitoring stations in Jordan.

There have also been reliable reports that Jordanian secret services and intelligence personnel have done much “dirty work” for their American counterparts, including interrogations and targeted killings. Jordan has been a hub for extraordinary "renditions," or kidnappings, of high value terrorist suspects, and Jordan has tortured and interrogated detainees for the United States.

Most of this work, though obviously known to the bad guys, goes on in the shadows. But this is not the case when it comes to the military cooperation. Jordan flies American F-16s and its units carry out public exchanges with the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Arizona. The U.S. and Jordan have an active -- and mostly public -- combined exercise program, and since 1993, annual exercises have taken place and U.S. ships pay regular visits to Aqaba.

Jordan was officially designated a combat zone for U.S. personnel on Sep. 19, 2001 and the country has not only provided "secret" basing of U.S. military and intelligence collection personnel, but also was a key anchor of U.S. western Iraqi operations to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This era of modern U.S.-Jordanian military relations goes back to March 1995, when almost 1,200 personnel and 34 American F-15s and F-16s set up camp at two airbases -- Shaheed Mwaffaq airbase (Muaffaq-as Salti) and H-5 (Prince Hassan) -- near Azraq for almost three months, partly to enforce the Iraqi southern no fly zone.

These bases eventually became part of the secret network of U.S. facilities in the Gulf region, and as the 2003 Iraq war neared, U.S., British and Australian special operations forces and intelligence operatives flooded into the country. On Jan. 30, 2003, Jordan granted blanket overflight rights, facilitating aircraft carrier strikes on Iraq from the eastern Mediterranean.

By the eve of the 2003 war, Florida national guardsmen were protecting U.S. bases and supporting special operations efforts at the Iraqi border, communicators of the Rhode Island air national guard had deployed to Jordan to enlarge the infrastructure, five U.S. Patriot missile fire units set up around the Jordanian capital, and Army intelligence aerial surveillance planes were flying along the Iraqi border. By the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, over 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops were stationed in the country operating Joint Task Force-West under Maj. Gen. Jonathan S. Gration. The UK deployed Harrier Jump jets to support SAS operations in Western Iraq, and Australia deployed helicopters of its 5th Aviation Regiment.

All of this has been already described in numerous media articles and my book Code Names. Still, the Associated Press reported after the suicide bombings that "the U.S. military has a small presence in Jordan, 71 personnel, at last count," as if this publicly admitted accounting is to be taken seriously.

These kinds of standard and official accountings nowhere near describes the totality or dynamics of the U.S. presence. According to U.S. military documents I've obtained, for example, the United States currently has $4.1 billion in "prepositioned" assets, mostly in Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, and is planning to shift some of those munitions from Oman and the Gulf countries to Jordan, evidently readying itself for both beefed up and closer bases to Syria.

According to the documents, the largest site, Thumrait in Oman, is considered too remote for effective outloading and operations, and the second largest site, Al Udeid in Qatar, is at maximum capacity.

Though the documents are classified because they describe "secret" bases, particularly in sensitive countries like Jordan, they also say that DynCorp, which operates the network of storage sites, is employing 1,600 plus people at 10 plus "locales" to administer the stockpile. Secret? Not to anyone on the scene.

"There are some logistic security arrangements that we have with Jordan that I don't want to go into," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told the AP. I know that Di Rita is just a water boy, but this type of lying about the real U.S. military presence and intelligence relations with foreign governments ultimately undermines the war on terrorism and the American's public's ability to add its wisdom and values to the conduct of that war.

I'm all for legitimate secrecy to protect America's intelligence operations, but official secrecy imposed to obscure what is otherwise observable by the local population and the bad guys only serves to deny the American public the ability to understand what is being done in its name and to have proper context for understanding the not so insane targeting of our terrorist enemy.

Copyright 1996-2005 The Washington Post Company

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