Welcome Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, and Host Spencer Ackerman.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and The Path to Victory

Spencer Ackerman, Host:

Those familiar with Tony Shaffer generally know two things about him. The second is that we can’t really read his book.

When people who’ve worked in sensitive intelligence positions want to write their memoirs, they typically submit their manuscripts to their parent agency; there’s a back-and-forth about what can be revealed; it’s resolved; and the book goes to the printer. For Shaffer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer — and someone in the rare position of being both an operations guy and an analyst — something different happened. The Pentagon bought the entire 10,000-copy first printing of Shaffer’s memoir, Operation Dark Heart, and destroyed it.

And not even for the reason you’d expect.

The first thing we know about Shaffer is that he was involved in a still-murky project in 2000, under the auspices of the U.S. Special Operations Command, called Able Danger. Able Danger was an early data-mining program designed to ferret out connections people had with a then-largely-unknown terrorist network called al-Qaeda. In his memoir, Shaffer describes its “highly advanced algorithms” as “Google on steroids.” Shaffer maintains Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta as an individual in the U.S. with ties to al-Qaeda well in advance of the 9/11 attack. But Able Danger was taken shut down by SOCOM lawyers, who feared mining information on U.S. persons put the program on the wrong side of the law.

“It was not a ‘failure of imagination’ that resulted in the 9/11 attacks,” Shaffer writes. “It was pure bureaucratic bumbling and intellectual corruption.” In 2006, he testified before Congress about Able Danger claiming a cover-up that continued up till that moment: the Defense Intelligence Agency for whom he worked, Shaffer said, spent “what we now estimate $2 million in an effort to discredit and malign me by creating false allegations, and using these false allegations to justify revocation of my Top Secret security clearance.”

The thing is, you can read about Able Danger in Shaffer’s book. With the exception of a few black-bar redactions blocking out some text, Able Danger is on display. Turn the page after the Able-Danger chapter, and most everything is hidden. And that’s the real shocker.

Operation Dark Heart is the story of how the Afghanistan war languished and deteriorated in the mid-2000s while the Bush administration persuaded itself and the country that it was all but won. In particular, it describes the dawning realization of military intelligence officers like Shaffer that al-Qaeda had reconstituted itself in Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani intelligence, leveraging that new lease on life to aid a burgeoning Taliban insurgency. Shaffer describes going to higher headquarters with a simple solution: go into Pakistan and attack. The answer: No.

I’m not here to adjudicate the wisdom of that approach or any other — largely because I found reading about it, from the perspective of someone who experienced the frustrations of fighting a neglected war, so fascinating. Even the seemingly successful operations go pear-shaped, often due to bureaucratic miscommunication. Hanging over the entire story is the broad strategic confusion around it: Special Operations Forces, intelligence operatives and minimal numbers of regular U.S. troops are asked to find bin Laden, eradicate al-Qaeda and magically fix Afghanistan, with few resources and pretty much no one watching them. Why wouldn’t you think you should just rush into Pakistan and be done with it?

Or at least that’s where my mind wandered while reading Shaffer’s book, because so much of its discussion of Afghanistan operations is redacted, the compromise that his publisher reached with the Defense Department. It’s a striking meta-narrative, highlighting precisely what the Pentagon wanted concealed: a long and unlamented history of compounded mistakes in Afghanistan. And today we’ve got the author, who lived through it, to talk with us about what Afghanistan was like when no one was paying attention — and what to do about it now. This time, no one’s going to censor him.

105 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Tony Shaffer, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and The Path to Victory”

dakine01 November 20th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Lt Col Shaffer and welcome to FDL this afternoon. Good afternoon Spencer.

Lt Col Shaffer, I like most people, have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a couple of questions.

Why do you think the Obama Admin and the Pentagon were so adamant about not allowing the information you included to become available to a wider audience since it reflected more on the activities of the Bush Admin?

What can we, as citizens, do to fight the attempted censorship by the back door?

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Hey Tony, which I hope I can call you. Welcome to the Lake & thanks for doing this Book Salon. What kind of restrictions are you under for discussing aspects of the book that have been redacted?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Hey – here I am!

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Sorry for the delay…
Tony is great

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Thank you Spencer for having me!

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I’ll start by answering the first question if that is ok…

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Why do you think the Obama Admin and the Pentagon were so adamant about not allowing the information you included to become available to a wider audience since it reflected more on the activities of the Bush Admin?

Well – there are three reason that I am aware of.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

First – there has been a general trend to not allow ‘bad news’ out.

I was told by one senior DoD officer had my book come out in Feb of this year it would not have been a problem.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

the issue of Afghanistan was made worse by GEN McChrystal’s removal.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

and the WikiLeak’s issue

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Second – I discuss the timelines of WHEN we knew things were going wrong – we worked very hard to make sure that there was no information that could be used against us by our adversaries – by finding sources (in the open media and from folks other than me) that were unclassified – the problem is my book back dates to 2003 the problems with the ISI – the problems with the Taliban coming back to Afghanistan and the problems with the Karzai adminstration

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

the third issue was ABLE DANGER – I made my first of two protected disclosures (as a whistleblower) regarding the existence of a pre-9/11 operation known as ABLE DANGER.

eCAHNomics November 20th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

The best book I’ve ever read about OBL & AQ is Unholy Wars by John Cooley. My copy was published in 2000. Knew everything about the org except the specifics of the 9/11 attacks. Just shows what a good journalist could do, back in the days when the U.S. still had a few good journalists.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

When you read the book -you’ll find the areas of the book that deal with these issues to be heavily readaced…one has to wonder why the Pentagon would be so adamant to redact information from the ABLE DANGER chapter that is more than 10 years old…

dakine01 November 20th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

As a technical note, there’s a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Clicking “Reply” prefills the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier to follow the conversation.

Note: Some browsers do not let the “reply” work properly if pressed before a page completes loading after a hard refresh of hte page.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I cooperated with the Army to have them (via their regulations and process) review and clear the book – and recieved written permission to print the book in Jan of this year – it was Defense Intelligence Agency – and their continued desire to retaliate against me for my blowing the whistle on ABLE DANGER that you saw the emotional reaction by them and DoD regarding the redactions.

November 20th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Respectfully, if you don’t mind can we cut to the bottom line and get what your view of the “path to victory” is.

How do you define victory?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

My lawyer, Mark Zaid, is now preparing to sue DoD about the tens of dozens of 1st Amendment violations that DoD/DIA did while “slashing” information out of my book…we have all the unclassified sources (many of which were from my own personal documents – given to me by DoD – that are unclassified).

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

My lawer feels we have a VERY strong case…so you’ll see this issue in front of a Federal Judge in the very near future…hope this answers your question.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I thought we might bracket ABLE DANGER for a second, given that your book is about very sensitive intelligence operations in Afghanistan. Most of them get messed up by bureaucracy, in your telling, even when they look like they’re going well, or are disconnected from a larger strategy. What do you think the implications of that are for a special-ops-centric strategy going forward in Afghanistan, which frequently gets discussed as an alternative to our huge, heavy footprint there?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Let me finish on Wikileaks first – my book confirms the wilileaks info – in a credible factual way – so my book adds defintion to the mistakes put out by the Wikileaks documents.

Phoenix Woman November 20th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Hell, stuff from World War Two is still classified.

How did you come to work on the Able Danger project, Tony?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Kelly – well – I would encourage you to read the last chapter of the book…that outlines the path to victory.
It is not a simple one line answer.

But the Path is NOT via the current policy.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

The path is in three parts.

First- we need to look at how we WON world war II – not lost Vietnam…

Second – we need to adopt a reconcilliation and peace process much like that in Northern Ireland – right now we are involved in tribal rivalries – we need to get out from in between.

Third – we need to hold the Pakistani’s accountable – if not for them the Taliban woudl NOT be an effective military force.

We need to work to de-militarize the Taliban – and allow them to be part of the official government…

There IS currentlly Afghan rule of Afghanistan – the Taliban have established a shadow government across afghaistan….we need to accept this fact.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 13

Spencer – we can discuss ABLE DANGERin more detail if you’d like

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 22

I was asked to join ABLE DANGER by then Special Operations Command commanding general Gen Pete Schoomaker…

spocko November 20th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I’m very interested in whistleblower issues, especially the techniques that are used against them after they reveal information.

If you were to advise future whistleblowers on how to deal with this, what would you suggest? Also how do you feel the right wing media has treated you vs the main stream media?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 13

I’ve never read the book you reference…

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to spocko @ 27

Well – there are many techniques- the primary two are to find an issue and blow it out of proportion to justify getting them fired…the other is the removal of security clearance to removed them from their field..

I continue to work with Capitol Hill and others on whistleblowing issues- I work with Project on Government Oversight (POGO) on many issues – they supported me during my time testifying on the Hill

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

and – if i miss one of your questions – please do not be shy about asking me a second time…it is not easy to follow them as they come up… :-)

dakine01 November 20th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Don’t worry about it and take all the time you need.

We ask, you inform :})

November 20th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for answering the first part of my question, but the second remains:

How do you define victory?

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

So, as someone who’s been inside a big data-mining operation, can you tell us how you balance the privacy/security question? In the book, you tend to give short shrift to the legal questions involved with ABLE DANGER — I think you wrote, “hell, they’re terrorists,” at one point when recounting the SOCOM lawyers wanting to shut the program down.

But there’s a great fear that mining metadata for possible terrorist involvement is going to ensnare a great deal of constitutionally-protected behavior. Especially now that we’re seeing a stated desire on the part of al-Qaeda’s Yemen offshoot to encourage homegrown terrorism. On the inside, where do the legal restrictions come in?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 1

As to your question on “sensorship”.

My experience is this:

The U.S. government WAY over classifies information – most of what I’ve seen is more about hiding incompetence than keeping information from the enemny.

Often – the bad guys have already figured things out – it is the American people who the pentagon does not want to share info with.

Any citizen should demand accountability by calling their congressional represetatives – and pushing them to having hearings…

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:31 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 32

Kelly – Victory is the prevention of new attacks on the U.S. and our interests- and prevention of nuclear weapons from being lost by the Pakistan government to the Taliban or Al Qaeda – and this is not something that we can “achieve” and then walk away – we will have to remain engaged in the region indefinitley.

Victory does NOT include the installation and maintenance of a Jeffersonian style democracy in Afghanistan – we should NOT care or be involved in the internal issues regarding their choice of government…if they want to elect the Taliban we should not care as long as the Taliban do not seek to do damage to the U.S. or our citizens.

dakine01 November 20th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Often – the bad guys have already figured things out – it is the American people who the pentagon does not want to share info with.

It has ever been thus (I was USAF 12/76 – 9/82 plus was around and paying attention through most of the Vietnam era)

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Excellent question.

this is how I view the issue of Metadata – if it is avaliable via open (internet) or commercial sources the government should be able to look at it.

The Government has tied its hands behind its back in so many ways – this is one of them…I have fought about this with Govn’t lawyers for years…

I am the first to demand that the government NOT retain information about anyone’s personal activities – however – if it is avaliable – and one can find it through research or by purchase (via commercial databases) it should be avalible to government intel folks.

And – yes – especially where we now have an enhanced credible threat of “homegrown” terrorism – we do need to allow the government to maintain that which is necessary to spot trends – and montor trends…this can be done with effciency and oversight – I argue that Congress SHOULD have full oversight of these sort of things…all too often I believe Congress is afraid of exercising proper oversight.

I ran several operations which required annual congressional review of my activites – I welcomeed that oversight…anyone who is running legitimate operations should welcome oversight…not fear it…I never had a sigle problem with any operation I ever briefed or provided information to Congress – except for ABLE DANGER.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 36

Thank you for your service…and I suspect you’ve seen the same thing that I have then from your period of service -and the attempts to mitgate the truth from the american people.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

As a follow-up: how specific or rigorous are the instructions you receive during a data-mining exercise for what counts as a “connection”? If I try to access the al-Falluja extremist forum, is my IP address going to pop up, or will it be typically filtered out unless I have a variety of other connections to a given target?

And maybe this is a good segue into how ABLE DANGER actually worked, what it was/wasn’t, etc…

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Aloha, Col. and Spencer…! Mahalo for all your efforts…!

Do you think our stepped up Drone attacks in Pakistan, particularly with one sixth of the Pakistanis still displaced by the floods are beneficial…? How tenuous is the ISI/Military’s grasp on the nukes are…?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Well – there were multiple ways of identifying and determining a “connection”.

Phone calls, social contact – and frankly (as we now see on Facebook) social interaction.

There is a great picture of the 7 July bombers on a white water rafting trip – they were essentially team building – and they were linked “socially” that was observable.

any observable link – then examine frequency of contact – nature of contact etc…

This is as much an art as it is a science…there are very smart algorithims out there – and they can match and link things…it is up to an anlyst to make sense and validate the data…one cannot act on raw data alone

Dust November 20th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

“The U.S. government WAY over classifies information – most of what I’ve seen is more about hiding incompetence than keeping information from the enemy.” Big gov = big lies and coverups

Big Gov protects itself, first, then the people it serves. Just the way that it is

mikelopez November 20th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Lt. Col, are you going to do a run around the country promoting your book ?

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

From the perspective of finding U.S. persons, are you ever working toward a probable-cause standard? Or (as some intelligence analysts have cautioned me) is that just not a relevant term from an analyst’s perspective, given the category difference between intelligence and law enforcement?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 40

Hey CT – well =

First – no – I am NOT pro drone. I do believe drones are necessary – but they are overused – we need to capture these guys alive…not simply kill them…there is too much collateral damage – and when ever you kill innocent civilians you create new terrorists…I know I’d seek revenge if someone killed my brother or sister who was innocent.

Second – the nuclear issue is the primary reson we must “win” in some form – but the win is not to instill a democracy in Afghanistan – it is to stablize the region…having a strong central government in Afghanistan – and allowing the Taliban to continue to destabilize Pakistan would do NO good and cause more damage in the long run.

The central reason for instability in the region is the Pakistan/India cold war…this is an area we should focus on

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

(that should be “from the perspective of finding terrorist connections to U.S. persons…”)

November 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

One more question before I make any observations:

While there may be much in the way of metadata network connections, what about the content?

More to the point, are you yourself fluent in Urdu, Dari or Pashto, as well as any of the other “foreign” yet important languages in Afghanistan such as Farsi or Arabic?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:49 pm
In response to mikelopez @ 43

Yes – I am currently on my “book tour” – just finished up this week by visiting Queens College in Charlotte, NC and my alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio…and was scheduled to be in NYC yesterday to do MSNBC…but the train only made it to Balitmore…I will have additional signing events – we plan for Tampa, Atlanta, Los Vegas, several locations in California, New York City and Canada…

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

No – no probable cause standard…the reference is Executive Order 12333 – here is the link: http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/eo12333.htm
This is the implimentation gudance from and for the exeutive branch…this is not law enforcment…Title 18 is different than Title 50 (50 being the laws that govern the intelligence community – Title 18 is the law enforcement code).

mikelopez November 20th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

come to back to texas if i may have missed it already! by the way, love your alex jones interviews! too bad you didn’t name the book “Darkside of the force” i was hoping for that!

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

So given that we’re entering a period in which American citizens are emerging as terrorist assets — Anwar al-Aulaqi, Faisal Shahzad, Maj. Hasan — is there a need to harmonize PC standards with EO 12333′s guidelines? I know the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence labors to be the connection to sync up the intelligence and law enforcement communities, but is there a danger of broad data-mining jeopardizing a terrorism prosecution otherwise?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 47

yes – there is tons of information in “metadata” sourcing, time of information, specific issues relating to where it went and who had it, etc…the content can be manipulated – and it is important to detect the manipulation (as to who manipulated it, etc) – and knowing that it is manipulated by who is also a clue.

I am not fluent in any of the languages you metion – I was NOT an Afghan “hand” before the war…I am only a student of Afghanistan now…for Afghanistan Pasto and Urdo are very important – Dari less so from my experience…Farsi and Arabic are only usable when dealing with Al Qaeda folks in the region= and they are primarily in Pakistan at this point.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to mikelopez @ 50

Yes…thanks…I was out voted on the “Dark Side of the Force” title…but that means I can use it for another book – perhaps my next!

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Spencer – yes.

As to MAJ Hasan – all the indicators of “radicalization” were there – the legal basis for watching him is already in place -there IS no problem with identification and tracking of people who meet his profile – it was the “political correct” culture that prevented the laws and regulations from being effectively used…we DO NOT need more laws – we need better use of the ones that are there…we did not need the Patriot Act – we just needed intelligence and law enformement officers willing to take the necessary steps to identify terrorist.

I have testified that the 9/11 attacks could have been prvented based on what I know about ABLE DANGER and other pre-9/11 intel…

We Did NOT need the huge intel buracracy we now have in place to stop 9/11 – we needed the political will of our leaders to allow me and others like me to do our job…and not hold us back.

No amount of legislation will stop the next 9/11 – it is all about the use of existing mechanisms and being smarter than the terrorist…

The TSA body scanning/search debacle is a perfect example – the TSA’s actions has made NO ONE any safer – but it is a victory for the terrorist as they have caused us to waste more time and resoruces useslessly – they will plan around this obstacle…and keep coming.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

there IS no problem with identification and tracking of people who meet his profile – it was the “political correct” culture that prevented the laws and regulations from being effectively used…

Tony, can you explain this a little further? This is a common refrain in the intelligence community and it needs a bit of unpacking. What’s the ‘politically correct’ culture amongst analysts and how does it inhibit good intelligence work?

bgrothus November 20th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I know someone who was “working” in Afghanistan during the approximate time period you were there. He says all of his “work” was on a computer that was sealed and he cannot talk about it. He returned to the US in about 2004 and was involved in the primary campaign of the general, I forget his name, until the candidate (? doofus here) dropped out. He then got involved in the Kerry campaign and has stayed involved in more local/state elections.

I wonder if this info rings any bells for you.

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Thanks for sharing you’ve worked with POGO. I’ve made donations to them in the past because of the kind of work they did, now feel more justification for doing so.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

– and knowing that it is manipulated by who is also a clue.

Have you seen firsthand ‘cherry picking’ and ‘stovepiping’ by the Darth/Rummy neocon Cabal…? When Shrub was elected by the Supremes, was there a notable shift in direction of the whole Intel process…?

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I must confess I am still finishing your book which is quite engaging in spite of the redactions — but I’m wondering if you were targeting a particular audience with your work, Lt. Col Shaffer? Was there a specific audience you hoped would read this, and any specific action you hoped they would take as a followup?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Three things inhibit good intel work.

First – the “religion” or “ethnic” issue – the adversary knows that the US culture is very progressive – and anyone who complains about being discriminated against based on these issues will be heard – and therefore they use this “blind spot” against us – that is why Al Qaeda used the Mosque system as a command/control/support system for the 9/11 attacks.

Second – the idea that one might get “fired” from their job if they are wrong. The Buracracy supresses creative thought – and anyone who pushes the envelope to find links and connections is usually ostracised…that is why you do not see a whole lot of analysts out fighting to get their information recognized- it is discuoraged…process over results is the rule of the buracracy.

Third – the intelligence community has been forced to view things differently and not take action…Unlike business that has to live with a bottom line and work for efficienty – there is NOT incentive to share or work with efficency in the U.S. government – it is discouraged…therefore there is no streamlining – so the very mechanisms that should work to share and enhance information to establish a common picture of the threat does not work because no one is encouraged or forced to cooperate.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to Rayne @ 59

Rayne – no – we wanted it to be readable – and most folks have found, just as you have, that it is still very readable despite the redactions.

I had the assistance of a female reporter from a major U.S. news paper to help make sure I wrote it at the level that MOST people without any intel or military background could understand and appreciate…I tried hard to make sure that most people can read it…

I do hope you enjoy it – while it is factual – and several of the folks who served with me in Afghanistan collaborated on helping me with it – we wanted it to be an “action adventure” that people would enjoy and be entertained by as much as educated by the factual content – and the fact that I witnessed the “tipping point” of the war.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 58

Yes – I have and experience the cherry picking.

It was VERY clear in the run-up to the Iraq war that the intelligence was not there to support the policy.

Similar in Afghanistan – the intel that we had indicated that there WAS an active threat – and the then policy makers did not want to hear about the truth…and this is why the tipping point happened in the case of Afghanistan – I talk about a policy of “wishful thinking” which is what we had in both the case of Iraq and Afghanistan…

Frankly – the Obama WH Afghan policy is nothing more than the super sizing of the Bush WH policy

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Couldn’t you also argue that our MIC/Intel Apparatchik has grown too large and the sheer mass of metadata collected is in itself the problem…?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:22 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 58

and to be fair – ALL White Houses, from what I’ve seen – every adminstration – wants intel to back up its policy.

This is something the American people should NOT stand for…I’ve seen the same thing from the current WH – intel is ignored when it is not convenient.

Bad policy has killed far more people than bad intel…and this continues to be the case.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

the Obama WH Afghan policy is nothing more than the super sizing of the Bush WH policy

Tease this out a bit, would you? Do you mean that it’s not a strategic approach, ie, bringing us to an acceptable endgame? Or that — as you write in your book about the mid-2000s — it neglects the centrality of Pakistan?

And going off that question: in the book, you and your colleagues argue repeatedly for raids into Pakistan. I’m not sure what I think about that — it seems hypocritical to bomb Pakistani targets 101 times this year from the air but balk at boots on the ground in the context of a “destabilizing measure.” But on the other hand, what if it is destabilizing? Faisal Shahzad didn’t just talk about the drones as a motivation for trying to blow up Times Square, he talked about the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan war.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 63

Hate to break it to you…pretty much ALL electronic communications is captured somewhere…it is just a matter of how much legal access the government has to it…

The question is NOT collection -it is retention and use…everything we are chatting about here is being recorded…and it is a question of use by the government…they have access to it…

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Frankly – the Obama WH Afghan policy is nothing more than the super sizing of the Bush WH policy

That would be our ‘Peace Laureate’ hard at work, eh…? 8-(

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Well – what is the end game exactly?

There is none that I am aware of other than “leaving Afghanistan”.

This should NOT be the end game.

The end game should be regional stability and prosperity…

If/when you read the book DARK HEART was about destabilizing the Taliban/Al Qaeda safehavens in Pakistan – to buy time – and I would argue the surgical use of deadly force wtih boots on the ground is far more desirable than shooting at people thru a soda straw with rockets that kills dozens of civilians.

I am not arguing we should be engaged in Afghanistan or Pakistan any more than necessary to prevent radicals from planning and mounting terrorism operations against us here or our interests globally.

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

The lack of an AUMF to conduct direct action against Pakistani elements is a major bottleneck, as well it should be. There’s very thin to little support in the existing 2001 AUMF Against Terrorism to target anything in Pakistan which cannot be identified as non-state terrorism.

As much as intel and military might want to go after Pakistani elements, they need to justify a third official front before they do so. I don’t see it happening until one of the other two AUMFs are firmly closed. It often appears that the need for authorization is forgotten in discussions.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:29 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 67

The current polcy is that first proposed by LtGen David Barno in early 2004 – I personally briefed him in 2003 on the intel – and he did not get it…he still does not get it from the comments I read in the news the last few days that came from him…

WE should NOT be doing the counterinsurgency – we should be doing security force assistance of the local military fighters.

The Sunni Awakening was of local Iraqis figuring out that they needed to do their own security…it was NOT the U.S. military that did that.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Interestingly, I blog extensively about our FP and particularly about the incestuous I/P relationship… I’m extremely alarmed about the Chicago/Minneapolis/etc… CTTF investigations…! Should I be alarmed…?

November 20th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Doesn’t this position only differ in degree, rather than in kind, of what the current administration proposes?

NCGal November 20th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Hello. You mentioned earlier that the US should focus more on resolving the Pakistani – Indian cold war. I agree. Unfortunately, the Administration on the recent trip just seemed to focus on India’s economic power. What are your thoughts on what Obama should do about the cold war between the 2?

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:33 pm
In response to Rayne @ 69

Except that the AUMF, practically speaking, authorizes anything an administration says it wants authorized. There’s nothing in there about drone strikes in Pakistan or cruise missiles (and soon drones) in Yemen. And yet they occur, justified under the AUMF’s unbounded grant of warmaking authority against al-Qaeda. Boots on the ground could be similarly defended — after all, there are Special Operations Forces in Pakistan now, in an officially “advisory” capacity.

I’m not making a normative case that we should be on the ground in Pakistan. Just that if we were, the AUMF is hardly an obstacle to doing so as it stands. The real obstacles are political and diplomatic.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

The Sunni Awakening was of local Iraqis figuring out that they needed to do their own security…it was NOT the U.S. military that did that.

But didn’t that give Betrayus a star or two…? ;-)

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:35 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 71

Yes you should.

If/when you read my book we purposely LEFT OUT CIA of the operational planning and implimentation – because we felt that if we told CIA of what we were trying to do they’d leak it to the Pakistani ISI – and they (the ISI) would tell the Taliban…

There remains deep devides within the intelligence community – and there are still problems in communication between intel and law enforcement – the Abdulmutallab (Christmas Bombing attempt) from last year is a primary example…all the info was there – and then when they arrest him the arrest itself was messed up.

I still feel there should be congressional hearings to discuss how the 9/11 commission recommendations have been met by the current intelligence and law enforcment changes…I do not believe we are any better of at this point…and probably worse off due to the bureacratic layering…see “Secret America” by Dana Priest:

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:37 pm
In response to Rayne @ 69

Ah, I might have read your comment too quickly — if what you mean is targeting Pakistani officials and institutions then yeah, I would imagine not even the Obama administration could argue the AUMF covers that.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:37 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 72

Yes- exactly – degree and scope.

There was a recent ABC news interview with SecState Hillary Clinton – and one of the questions was this:

“Doesn’t the money we give the Pakistani Government make its way to the Taliban?”

Her answer was “Well – that is changing…”

Well – that is an admission…that we KNOW that funding WE are providing to the Paksitan government is being given to the Taliban – a force that is now killing U.S. troops…

In my judgment this is unacceptable – and has been the case for the last six years.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Tony, we’re coming up on the final stretch here. What do you want everyone here to know about ABLE DANGER? When it first came to light in 2006 it seemed fantastical — a will to believe we could have stopped 9/11.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:40 pm
In response to NCGal @ 73

I feel that President Obama missed a HUGE opportunity.

As President Nixon played “The China Card” against the Soviest – here too is a smilar opportunitiy.

India continues to increase its support and influence in AFghanistan – the Haqqani Network (one of the three primary Taliban elements) is being used by the Pakistani ISI to conduct proxy warfare against the Indians…

We could do a number of things to help make/cut deals…i.e. we could help encourage the Indians to back off…if the Pakistani’s pick up their end…etc….but this was not done…and therefore I do not see any progress in the region…

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Exactly — non-state terrorism versus state-sponsored terrorism.

If the ISI or other entities with the support of elements within the Pakistani government/military are involved, we don’t have authorization. We’re already in a very precarious position there as it is, considering the contractor personnel built up in country.

It’s just a guess on my part, but I suspect this is why the heavy drone usage. It’s a lot easier to claim a remote target is believed to be Taliban, providing plausible deniability.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

But, you still need to resolve the principal thorn in the Cold War… Kashmir…! 8-(

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Spencer -

I believe the best resource is a blog run by Mike Kasper:

http://www.abledangerblog.com/

It was an offensive information operation that Gen Hugh Shelton came up with – and was implimented by Gen Pete Schoomaker – the then (1999) commander of Special Ops Command.

We used the then nacent capability of “datamining” to map a non-state target – that of Al Qaeda.

This mapping discovered two of the three cells that conducted the successful 9/11 attacks…

We did NOT know the significans of these cells – but we did discover them to be active and located here in the U.S. – and we did find Mohammed Atta…but we did nto know his significance.

There are two good sources to verify what I say about ABLE DANGER outside of me – and I had no influence over them.

First – Louis Freeh -= former director of the FBI said in a Nov 2005 Wall Street Journal Editorial that had he recieved the ABLE DANGER information he could have prevented the 9/11 attacks –

Second – a book call HORSE SOLDIERS- by Doug Stanton contains an admission by Maj Gen Geoffrey Lambert that he was briefed an had seen Mohammed Atta BEFORE 9/11 – and that he was the one who prevened the ABLE DANGER info from being transfered to the FBI – the admission is on page 26 or 28 as I recall:http://www.amazon.com/Horse-Soldiers-Extraordinary-Victory-Afghanistan/dp/1416580514

So- yes – I do believe had we been allowed to do what was necessary to share and/or follow-up on the information we discovered in the targeting of Al Qaeda – a full year before 9/11 – the attacks could have been prevented.

November 20th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

That’s what I thought.

Respectfully, what you and others including Spencer are arguing about in terms of the whole exercise are nits; size and scope and such rather than addressing the root causes of why the “adversary” is pissed off to begin with, enough to engage in these attacks.

It is entirely within our realm of decisions to NOT piss off these people, without endangering our so-called security. But those decisions are arbitrarily kept off the table.

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 3:48 pm

It’s not apparent in the U.S. media to the average reader; do you feel the Indian government has been encouraging the U.S. to do more about the Taliban including the Haqqani network?

And in your opinion are Obama, Clinton and Gates all on the same page?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
In response to Rayne @ 81

Rayne – I believe you are correct – but the drone strikes are taking the easy way out…and we are not fully considering ‘unintended consequences” – and we most certanly are not getting intel from anyone we kill.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:50 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 84

Kelly – we are tring to referee between the Hatfields and McCoys at this point…that is why I am arguing we should start the drawdown tomorrow – pull most all of the conventional forces out – and leave about 20K special ops forces to go after the real terrorists…it is not our job to instill a democracy in Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to Rayne @ 85

Rayne – they are not…would take too long to get into here…but I forsee more chaos coming from the adminstration in the spring – especially when Gates leaves.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

There is no Mossad linkage to any of those ‘cells’, right…? I’ve had to refute many 9/11 conspiracists whom cite the ’5 Dancing Israelis’…!

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 82

Yes – Kashmir is an issue…but that, too should not concern us as much as the safety and security of nuclear weapons…we can do things to make sure that Pakistan is not “surrounded” by the Indians – taht is the primary source of Pakistan’s concern…and we are in the position to help.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 89

There was no Mossad link that I am aware of.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Rayne @ 69

And agree…the AUMF is not much discussed.

We (DOD) wanted to pursue our own targeting – at least in 2003- based on what we recognized as legitimate military targets…CIA did not (probably still does not) want DoD doing things in Pakistan unless they control it…

BevW November 20th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

Tony, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the Afghanistan War.

Spencer, Thank you for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Tony’s website, book
Spencer’s website, Attackerman

Thanks all,
Have a great evening.

November 20th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I don’t disagree with you for a second about being involved in other people’s feuds, or minimizing our exposure to them.

What I am saying is that we could suck a whole lot of oxygen out of the fire vis-a-vis our Israeli and energy policies with regards to Saudi Arabia that would force pressures back onto local regimes.

But we don’t and probably won’t.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Coming up on the end here… One of the conclusions of the book is that we need to respect an Afghan reconciliation process with the Taliban. The Taliban leadership say they won’t negotiate until we leave. Do we put that on the table in the hopes of unlocking a peace deal? From the looks of this weekend’s NATO summit, that’s not really on the table. But should it be?

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:56 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 75

Yes…Gen Petraeus knew what buttons to push and was promoted….and he knew how and when to push those buttons- in Iraq…I am not sure he has buttons to push in Afghanistan.

Spencer Ackerman November 20th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

And thanks very much to Tony for taking the time for being part of this fascinating chat; and everyone for participating.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Yes-

I recommend in my path to victory – a “Northern Ireland” style peace process…

This specific process I recommend for specific issues – ones that you all can learn more about in my book.

Gen Petraeus apparently read my book – at least this part – because he said the very same thing three weeks ago publicly – that there will be the need for a Northern Ireland style peace process to end the insurgency…

The only way this will end in Afghanistan is via negociations…we cannot win this war in a traditional military way…

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

And – yes the negocation should be on the table.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer November 20th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Spencer – thank you! The two hours have flown by quickly! Thank you for hosting this – I hope this session was informative.

CTuttle November 20th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa…! It was a distinct pleasure to chat with ya, and, I look forward to reading your book…! 8-)

Rayne November 20th, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Thanks very much for chatting with us, Lt. Col. Shaffer, and a thank you to Spencer Ackerman for hosting today.

eblair November 21st, 2010 at 4:06 am

e pur se muove

Acharn November 21st, 2010 at 4:29 pm

How we won World War II was to pound Germany, its industries, infrastructure, and people, into dust, and even more so with Japan. Are you saying we can win in Afghanistan by bombing the place into the stone age? That’s what some people claim would have “won” in Vietnam, forgetting that the population of South Vietnam supported the Viet Cong rather than the government we imposed on them. So we need to have an army of 93 divisions and occupy every square foot of Afghanistan?

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