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The New Model Army – How the US Copied al-Qaida to Kill It

September 13, 2011

I’d written before on the idea of the ‘new model army‘ – a military force structured along the lines of P2P theory (voluntary self-aggregation of effort). It seems like former US commander, Stanley McChrystal, took some of the ideas of P2P into a radical reorganisation of the US military – in effect becoming more like their target to try and overcome it:

“[I]t became increasingly clear — often from intercepted communications or the accounts of insurgents we had captured — that our enemy was a constellation of fighters organized not by rank but on the basis of relationships and acquaintances, reputation and fame,” McChrystal remembered recently in Foreign Policy. “We realized we had to have the rapid ability to detect nuanced changes, whether the emergence of new personalities and alliances or sudden changes in tactics.” Think Bruce Wayne getting inspired by a bat to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

McChrystal set to work, as he put it, building JSOC’s network. One key node: CIA. During a January speech, he recalled how he needed CIA’s help getting intelligence on a Taliban leader he was hunting. CIA was secretive, compartmentalized and suspicious of other organizations meddling in its affairs — exactly what JSOC used to be like.

So McChrystal took the rare step of going to CIA headquarters, hat in hand. As it turned out, CIA just needed a promise that JSOC “wouldn’t go across the border” into Pakistan, jeopardizing its own operations. McChrystal agreed, the intel flowed, and the Taliban commander was killed.

It was the beginning of a new relationship between JSOC and the vast spy apparatus the U.S. built after 9/11. CIA operatives and analysts would visit McChrystal’s base of operations in Balad, Iraq, to plan joint missions.

And not just them: Satellite analysts from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, regional experts from the State Department, and surveillance specialists from the National Security Agency were the next people McChrystal effectively recruited. McChrystal spent his commander’s discretionary fund not on better guns, but on purchasing bandwidth so that all the nodes of his network could speak to each other, sometimes during missions.

Veterans of JSOC remember that as crucial. An NSA-created linkup called the Real Time Regional Gateway allowed operatives who seized scraps of intelligence from raids — a terrorist’s cellphone contacts, receipts for bomb ingredients, even geolocated terrorist cellphones — to send their crucial data to different nodes across the network. One analyst might not appreciate the significance of a given piece of intel. But once JSOC effectively became an experiment in intel crowdsourcing, it soon got a bigger, deeper picture of the enemy it was fighting — and essentially emulating.

“If you look at JSOC, you’re looking at arguably the single most integrated, most truly joint command within the U.S. military,” says Andrew Exum, who served in the Army’s Ranger Regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 and who advised McChrystal as a civilian in 2009. McChrystal and his brain trust “were seeking to do and succeeding in doing what many commanders and diplomats and government officials talk about: tearing down the walls that exist between various departments, agencies and military units.”

Also posted on P2P Foundation Blog.)

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