Keeping Secrets in Jordan
By William M. Arkin
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
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
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
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.
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