Facts and expert opinion otherwise be damned by Daniel N. White

by Daniel N. White
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
June 1, 2012

Chicago Anti-War Protest

Image by World Can’t Wait via Flickr

No Shit, Sherlock. Or Duh! Or any other of those common expressions we all know so well when something obvious to everyone else is news to you because you were sleeping or in a coma or something equally incapacitating. The information in these two outstanding books–Intel Wars, by Matthew M. Aid, and The Operators, by Michael Hastings–at least the information that really matters is pretty damned obvious and has been for a very long time to me at any rate and that doesn’t change the sad fact that most people don’t know it. Or worse, won’t acknowledge it.

Biographical notes for the two authors: Matthew Aid is author of The Secret Sentry, which is about only the second history ever written on the NSA, and his is probably a better one than Bamford’s. He’s a DC academic type who isn’t in politics or on the government tit, which is rare for those parts. Michael Hastings is the youngish reporter for Rolling Stone who wrote the story on General Stanley McChrystal that got McChrystal fired and retired from his command of the war in Afghanistan. The Operators is the book version of that article.

I went on at excessive length in my last set of reviews of books about or pertaining to our ongoing glorious military adventures and I’ll be a bunch shorter here. Intel Wars is the best account to date of US intelligence efforts since 9-11. It has a good account of intel activities in Afghanistan and how they are failing, badly. The book has some excellent discussions of intelligence activities–intelligence here meaning mostly the covert ops demi-war evil bullshit–in several areas of the third world. Some of the discussions are less than excellent–the discussions of Pakistan foremost–on account of the author’s uncritical acceptance of US sources reports’ US-o-centric point of view on a more complicated situation than we like to acknowledge or engage with. Or know much about in the first place. Our American view of events and motives in the rest of the world is generally simpler if wrong; Aid’s is too in places, sadly. But mostly he’s right and his accounts of our actions and motives in the war zones of the third world are generally most informative and are a good antidote to the reportorial ignorance and illiteracy that most news coverage of them is. This information makes this book essential reading for all of us.

There is one hugely significant area untouched by Aid in this book, and that is the war in Iraq and our intel efforts there. I speculate that Aid’s editors had him cut it out for length considerations. Alternatively, our stunning military-political success there is such that we need not comment on it until such time as we manage to forget that it ever happened. Or something like that.

There is also a good account of the different intelligence agencies and their continuously ongoing intra-agency squabbles. For all the stated desires to fix the intelligence agency failures that let 9-11 happen we have failed in fixing the problems of making competing intelligence agencies work together. This is despite an unlimited funding effort by the USG to the various intel agencies combined with putting them under the direct supervision of a new national intel agency. What has resulted instead is a gross duplication of effort by enlarged and overfunded existing agencies with a new overarching supervisory agency sitting on top of them all, which agency can’t/won’t crack the whip and make the subordinate agencies work together but instead in turn winds up attempting to duplicate much of its underlying agencies’ efforts in house under its own roof. A most interesting failure in wartime, in a time of unlimited funding, that. Aid also makes the point that the personnel in the intel agencies work very long hours at their jobs, which isn’t something obvious. They produce immense amounts of intelligence, some of which is fairly good and much of which isn’t. The weakness has always been in analysis and remains so despite unlimited intel funding. This ongoing failure does not get the analysis it warrants. The problem existed in the Cold War too and it seems to be another problem that money can’t fix. Maybe it’s an inherent American problem; don’t know. The intelligence product may or may not get read by higher-ups in the bureaucracies or the White House because of the staggeringly large volume of it produced and the lack of analytical capability to process it into a coherent manageable product for its consumers. Additionally, the White House or other consumers of the intel agencies’ product are happy to ignore what they don’t want to hear, and often order rewrites to suit their own opinions. The intel agencies always comply and produce what they are told to, facts and expert opinion otherwise be damned. This problem has always been endemic in the world of intelligence and it is also noteworthy that we haven’t managed to solve it in wartime in an era of unlimited funding and unhindered executive branch authority.

Most of the above is somewhat out in the open but readers of daily newspapers won’t know it unless they read news articles that have been written with a more critical eye than they generally are. But one blatantly out in the open obvious fact is that the total US annual intelligence agencies’ expenditures are in the region of $85 billion. This is more money than any western industrialized country spends on its entire military apparatus. Current estimates of the number 2 country worldwide for military expenditures, China, has its total military expenditures in the neighborhood of $110 billion, not that far from just our intel expenditures. It is also more money than the federal government spends on education and transportation combined. Lets see now. We spend more on intelligence than all but one other country spends on their total annual military expenditures. We get a product of questionable quality and dubious utility. Said product is ignored by the key policymakers if they don’t like it. Intel expenditures cost more than the two most important domestic governmental expenditure areas combined, which expenditure areas are arguably the most important investments in the nation’s future any government can make. Do tell–what conclusion can be drawn about a society that spends its resources like this? Aid doesn’t ask this and most nobody else in our society’s intelligentsia or political or moral leadership does, either. But I am, and to me the answer is obvious, if unpalatable.

Michael Hastings’ book is in part a larger account of his RS article and how he came to write it. With the more print space he’s written a good account of America, or at least parts of Washington DC, at war in Afghanistan. Along the way Hastings has done a decent piece of research into the ideological/intellectual underpinnings, such as they are, of our war in Afghanistan, and brought them out into the light of day. Here is also a good account of the present day behind the scenes workings of the senior US Army officer corps, undoubtedly the best yet written. This is something that rarely gets reported on, and almost never gets reported on with a critical eye like Hastings’. Anyone who spent any time in the military who didn’t swallow and internalize the brainwashing knows the deep and broad gap that exists between the PR and the reality of the military. That generally hard won piece of knowledge is a fact that rarely got reported on much in saner times past than ours present. The relentless PR drumbeat of supporting the troops and honoring them for their service has had as an inevitable consequence an elimination of clearsighted and honest reporting on the war and on the military like Hastings’, and we all are the worse for it.

Hastings’ book is an excellent read and is an excellent read to get a handle on what is really going on with our war in Afghanistan. But the best part of the book isn’t his writings; it is instead the report written in 2011 at the behest of the American general in charge of training the Afghan security forces. Anybody who wants to read the highlights should immediately go and read it. NOW. Hell, it even is quite funny in places, in a sick joke kind of way.


So after reading it, you have to wonder why on earth anyone thinks that there is any hope for any United States military or political endeavor succeeding in Afghanistan. It is just too obvious that there isn’t, and can never be, any hope of us and the Afghans coming to any sort of agreement and understanding where they will fight for us in our war in their country there. Out in the field, where it counts, they hate us and we hate them. There is no getting around that fact and it is the acme of dishonesty for our military and government to try and hide it like was attempted done here with this report’s classification upon publication and its subsequent largely being ignored by the newsmedia upon its being leaked. But once again, everything in the report is and has been out in the open for a very long time in our ten year old war in their country, assuming you could read between the lines in our news articles. All sorts of painful and ugly things can and should be said about us and our country continuing this futile and pointless war in the face of this obviousness. Hastings makes the point that in today’s DC, White House, Congress, or Pentagon, that the facts on the ground don’t count so much as the desired story spin being successfully put out and sustained. That’s how our system of government works nowadays, has for some time now. And sadly that’s probably how most Americans, at least the educated ones, see things too. That profound dishonesty is perhaps the worst feature about us and our times, and that’s out in the open too and we just don’t discuss it. That’s us, and it hurts.


First, let’s start with Hastings’ big picture overview of his story. From p329, Hastings talks about the reaction to his McChrystal piece in DC:

“…I’d run into politicians and government officials and they’d all tell me they liked my reporting. Maybe they were lying, or trying to bullshit me, I didn’t know. While living in Vermont, I hadn’t understood the exact nature of the official Washington freak-out. But once I arrived in DC and started going to the cocktail parties and hitting the bars, I saw how the political and media class had completely misinterpreted my piece. The story had terrified them, striking deep-seated fears in the Washington psyche. It demonstrated just how tenuous one’s own position could be–careers could flame out overnight. And the political and media class saw the story as a threat to their schmoozy relationship–their very existence and social life. If you can’t get wasted with a journalist who’s writing a profile of you and piss all over the president who appointed you, what’s the world coming to?

“A number of famous journalists would say they heard these kinds of things all the time, but never reported them. It didn’t matter to them that I was on assignment to write a profile–I didn’t go to France and Kandahar on a social engagement. It didn’t seem to make a difference that I hadn’t violated any agreement with McChrystal. The unwritten rule I’d broken was a simple one: You really weren’t supposed to write honestly about people in power. Especially those the media deemed untouchable. Trash Sarah Palin all you want, but tread carefully when writing about the sacred cows like McChrystal and Petraeus. You’re supposed to keep the myths going. I’d fucked up–I wasn’t to be trusted because I tried to tell the truth.”

and from pp 270-272, from the 2011 leaked report:

“The stats: Only 20 percent of new recruits can read. One out of four deserts the ranks on a regular basis. Child rape is endemic in both the police and Afghan armies; in the south, Afghan soldiers take boys as young as eight or ten years old as lovers, dressing them up as girls at parties. It makes the Western forces very uncomfortable. It isn’t until January that Afghanistan signs a UN agreement to prevent child soldiers from joining the security forces (although teenagers are still welcome in government-backed militias). An American trainer estimates that 54% of the Afghan army and police smoke hash regularly. Another earlier study shoed at least 60% of police in Helmand province were users.

“Worse: The American forces and the Afghan forces don’t trust each other. Afghan soldiers have picked up a very bad habit of murdering American soldiers there to train them. NATO orders a study, and the conclusions are hot–there is a ‘growing systemic threat’ that is ‘provoking a crisis of confidence’ between the Afghan and American soldiers. Almost every twelve days there is a murder. In one five and a half month period, 16% of American casualties are caused by the Afghan security forces killing soldiers in the American Army. In a three-year period, at least 58 NATO soldiers have been killed, and around the same number wounded, in what are officially called ANSF-committed fratricide murders, 6% of all NATO deaths. ISAF decides they better classify the study, and quick. The study gets classified, but not before it gets leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

“The American trainers, according to the study, have a list of complaints about the Afghan soldiers: ‘pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, cover alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene, and the torture of dogs; The Afghans are cowardly and are ready to run away in battle, the Americans say.

“The Afghan soldiers have a list of complaints about the Americans” ‘extremely arrogant, bullying, unwilling to listen to their advice and lacking concern for civilian and ANSF safety.’ The Americans are always ‘urinating in public…cursing at and insulting and being rude and vulgar’ to Afghans while ‘unnecessarily shooting animals.’ The Americans are cowardly, the Afghan soldiers say, hiding behind heavily armored vehicles and close air support in battle.

“The study includes anecdotes from the approximately six hundred Afghans and five hundred American soldiers surveyed.

Verbatim quotes from the Afghans:

“‘They take photos from women even when we tell them not to. US soldiers kill many innocent civilians: If ambushed, US soldiers panic, spraying fire in all directions. A US MRAP killed six civilians traveling in a vehicle–it was intentional. We once loaded and charged our weapons because we got tired of US soldiers calling us “motherfuckers.” They always shout and yell “motherfucker.” They are crazy. They are too arrogant. WE try to warn them if the enemy is planning something, they usually fail to listen and get shot up. They treat us like thieves. US soldiers killed a carload of civilians in front of an OP. US soldiers have never been held responsible and sent to prison for any of these crimes. A raid in {redacted} province killed nine students; they were a study group and had no weapons. They pee all over, right in front of civilians, including females. If we tell them not to, they either don’t listen or get angry. Two US soldiers even defecated within public view. They peed in front of a house. They don’t care if women see them. A US soldier peed in a stream right in front of a woman. This greatly angered us. US soldier shoot cattle for no reason. They fired on donkeys for no reason. How we treat dogs is no one’s business; the Koran is very clear about the low status of dogs. US soldiers often retreat and leave us behind during firefights. Often the US lets itself get involved in personal feuds by believing an unreliable source. These people use the US to destroy their personal enemies, not the insurgents. They will break in doors before the people can answer. They don’t care if they cause accidents. For years, US military convoys sped through the streets of villages, running over small children, while shouting profanities and throwing water bottles at people. Infidels are not allowed inside mosques. They often don’t even take off their boots. It’s rude of them to wear their sunglasses when meeting with elders. They constantly pass gas in front of ANSF, in public, in front of elders–a very low class people. If they hand out candy to children, the children are at risk of getting hurt by being too close to the Americans if there is an attack. They put them in danger. The US soldier threw his hand grenade (without pulling the pin) with the candy he was throwing at the children.’

Verbatim quotes from American soldiers:

“‘They are high as fuck. Their eyes are always bloodshot. One ANA shot himself in the chest twice and leg once. He was high as shit. The ANP were high off their asses. The ANA were always high on hash. A police officer was shot. His tolerance for morphine was astronomically high due to heroin use. We were on patrol and they stopped the patrol so they could start smoking in front of us. They are totally infiltrated by insurgents. You just could not trust them. One of them at a base in Pech got caught working for the Taliban. They drew down on a US soldiers a few times. An ANA locked and loaded on a US civilian contractor because he accidently bumped into him even though he had apologized right away. A US soldier then locked and loaded against the ANA to emphasize the point of the apology. We do everything for them. IT’s like a kid you have to spoon-feed…but you have to put on an Afghan face. We even go training at JRTC (stateside training facility)who acted like stupid and lazy ANA. That set us up for what we found there. This is a lazy ass culture; they won’t do anything unless they have to. They are constantly showing up for duty or missions late, even thirty minutes late. They make excuses…but nothing changes. Their leader ship is hot garbage. Many of their soldiers are much better than their leaders. It’s like the commercial of the big bulldog and the small yipping dog bouncing around; you take away the big bulldog and the small dog hides its tail and slinks away. Whenever we made contact they would just hide. Others refuse to patrol if it is at all dangerous. If they are afraid, they won’t do anything. Theft among them is bad; they have local kids steal things for them. They are garbage, shit. These guys are not soldiers; they are a ragtag bunch of thugs and civilians dressed up in uniforms. I would never like to admit that Iraqis are smarter, but they are Einsteins compared to Afghans. They talk on their cell phones, yell into them on missions. They learned to be helpless and that is partly why they are so fucking bad. They are always on their cell phones during patrols. They are worse than teenage girls. They don’t plan ahead for fuel and water. We just give them shit so they stop bothering us. They are completely dependent on the US. They are turds. We are better off without them. The ‘Afghan Face’ strategy doesn’t work. They fucking stink. We had to take cover while they were returning fire. They would spray and pray. They listened to local mullahs and were pretty radical. The ANA use culture and religion as a shield to hide their incompetence. We had a big clearing mission during Ramadan. They just lay down and fell asleep. The ABP killed a couple of our dogs. They were strays but we fed them. Slowly they started disappearing. They killed them. We received no training for trainers. We got one part day cultural training. It was crap. We do not socialize outside of operations. I’d just as soon shoot them as work with them. Interaction with ANA was minimal. The only time was to go see what they had stolen. The people don’t want us here and we don’t like them.’

“…Nato has already spent more than $30 billion training the Afghan security forces. …$11.6 billion allocated to the training program in 2011.”