CIA director Leon Panetta got into hot water with Congress, after he revealed an agency program to hunt down and kill terrorists. A recent report from the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations University argues that the CIA didn’t go far enough (.pdf). Instead, it suggests the American government should set up something like a “National Manhunting Agency” to go after jihadists, drug dealers, pirates and other enemies of the state.
America’s military, intelligence and law-enforcement agencies already devote thousands of people and billions of dollars to tracking down top terrorists and insurgents. But even the most successful of these efforts — like going after Iraqi militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — have been “ad hoc” efforts, with units cobbled together from different corners of the government. Report author and retired Lt. Col. George Crawford instead would like to see a permanent group with clear authority, training, doctrine and technology to go after these dangerous individuals. These “manhunting teams would be standing formations, trained to pursue their designated quarry relentlessly for as long as required to accomplish the mission,” he writes.
Sometimes, that will mean operating “in uncooperative countries.” In those cases, the teams must be prepared “to act unilaterally, with no support or coordination with local authorities, in a manner similar to that employed by Israel’s Avner team in response to the Munich Olympics massacre.” (That was the controversial unit, fictionalized in Steven Spielberg’s movie, that allegedly roamed the world, assassinating Palestinian militants in response to the 1972 Olympic attack.)
The hit squads would only be one part of the manhunting agency, according to the Joint Special Operations University monograph, uncovered by Inside Defense. “Dedicated teams must be assembled, able to respond ‘on-call’ in the event of a raid on a suspect site or to conduct independent ‘break-in and search’ operations without leaving evidence of their intrusion,” Crawford notes.
Manhunting will also “require personnel who are experts at conducting surveillance of particular facilities, personnel, or activities without arousing suspicion or being detected,” he adds. “Picture in your mind a typical city street scene, with a little old lady walking her dog, the phone repair crew descending into a manhole, two little old men playing an innocent game of checkers, or the homeless person sleeping on the park bench, and you are on the right track.”
Such a group wouldn’t just go after terrorists. “Human networks are behind narcotics trafficking, arms proliferation, piracy, hiding war criminals from authorities, human trafficking, or other smuggling activities,” Crawford writes. “Human networks also lie at the core of national governments, offering an increased potential to nonlethally influence state actors with precision. A robust manhunting capability would allow the United States to interdict these human networks.”
Crawford, who says he served as the “lead strategist” for developing U.S. Special Operations Command’s “advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for counterterrorism operations,” compares manhunting to “curling, the Winter Olympics sport. As a skater releases the heavy stone onto the ice, a few strokes from a broom can alter the speed and trajectory of the stone. Likewise, a small amount of precise influence or force employed at an early point in a developing situation might divert the trajectory of an event away from crisis or full-scale conflict.”