No one who was watching television news last week missed the Independence Day threat alert from the FBI and homeland security: ISIS was coming; it was our hallowed holiday; it was the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the Caliphate; it was the end of Ramadan; we’d just passed through the Garland, Texas shooting. This one was bad: “Not business as usual,” former Secretary Tom Ridge said on Fox. We got our hands on the original June 26 warning and you can read for yourself—but believe us, it’s lame.
Obama’s visit to the Pentagon Monday, his first in three years, is admittedly savvy political maneuvering by a president intent on securing his legacy before campaign season begins in earnest. Making a show of force before heading off on vacation, Obama ascended Olympus not as a supplicant, but rather Zeus overlooking his many, many ongoing operations abroad. The grandstanding, however, fell flat.
Behold the propaganda leaflets that the United States and its coalition partners are producing in the battle against ISIS. They have been circulating since December on social media, aimed to dissuade foreign fighters or just plain Muslims from joining the ranks. The message, and the imagery, are pathetic. But there is also a huge trap in critiquing them.
It’s been a year since ISIS announced its “caliphate” over an area straddling Iraq and Syria, accelerating its reign of terror and persisting in expanding its reach into the so-called civilized world. The brutality of the rampagers is now a given–the extreme acts of killing, genocide, and systematic rape all featured on social media and intended to be a bullet aimed straight at western sensibilities; offensive clickbait that demands a response, any response.
The slaughter of 28 people in the Tunisian tourist city of Sousse has yet to be directly attributed to ISIS, but given the extremist organization’s call for its followers to escalate their attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, it seems likely. Of course the response to Tunisia will be we must do more and where’s the Marines?, but lost in all of this might be accountability for what the United States is already up to. It is all over the continent—U.S. intelligence, diplomats and military personnel are scurrying and turning Africa into the latest theater of war. Whatever they are doing, it clearly didn’t prevent today’s attack, maybe because our African mission seems to be as concerned with ordering stationery and writing regulations as fighting terrorists directly or protecting civilians.
When I wrote about the Jordan-based Eager Lion exercise in 2012, I pointed out that it had supplanted Bright Star, the U.S.-Egypt nobody-here-but-us-nice-guys exercise, as the largest in the Middle East. The press releases that used to describe that annual strokeathon were boilerplate: most important U.S.-ally in the Middle East (!), promoting cooperation (!), second largest recipient of U.S. arms (behind you know who) so they might as well know how to use those arms.
Today marks the beginning of what I hope will be many opportunities to introduce true practitioners in the world of spying and killing to Phase Zero readers. Our first guest is Malcolm Nance, a 34-year veteran intelligence officer who has worked the Iraq mission since 1987, fighting in all of our Middle East wars since 1983. He has lived in and out of Iraq since 2003.
I get an email newsletter everyday from THE SOURCE, produced by something called The Intelligence Community, LLC, which markets itself as "the largest LinkedIn group for National Security professionals" and is building a business based upon nonpartisan expertise and insight. Yesterday's piece screaming ISIS just eight miles from Texas caught my eye, because this "community" of current and former government intelligence people must know something—my membership fee told me. And yet when I dug deeper, what I discovered was just an ecosystem of viral idiocy, of which Gawker is often criticized as being a part. And I learned another lesson: how the fight for eyeballs drives stupid stories, makes us all dumber and just increases the power of the permanocracy.