Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Spec-Ops troops learn to be gumshoes

Fort Bragg's Special Warfare Center shows how the U.S. has turned hunting terror networks into half-science, half-art-form since the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Forging lessons painfully learned in the decade since into a formal curriculum, the training is intended to help elite military units track militants across international boundaries and work alongside sometimes competing U.S. agencies.

The coursework is similar to the CIA's legendary spycraft training center called The Farm, and is at the brainchild of Green Beret Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, a veteran of elite special operations units, and a long stint on loan to the CIA.

Among the students at the CIA-approved Fort Bragg course are U.S. Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Corps special operators. As in the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, everything from computers to fingerprints can be retrieved from a raid site and quickly analyzed. In some cases the analysis is so fast it can lead to several new targets in a single night.

The school is also an illustration of how special operations and intelligence forces have reached an easier coexistence, after early clashes where CIA officers accused the military operators of ineptly trying to run their own spy rings overseas without State Department or CIA knowledge.

While many in the public may not be aware that the military is allowed to gather information, and even run its own spy networks, special operations forces have been authorized to do just that since the disastrous Desert One raid meant to rescue the U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1979. The raid went awry because of a helicopter crash, not an intelligence foul-up. But before the raid, military planners had been frustrated that CIA employees working inside the country were unable to provide them the tactical intelligence needed to insert a covert force — even basic information like which way the streets ran outside the embassy.

That's why almost a third of every class at the CIA's Farm has been military, said a former senior intelligence official.