Our Unilateral Counterterrorism Operations in Somalia

Somalia (source: CIA Factbook)

A detainee in what Jeremy Scahill describes as “a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held”–one with key US involvement–describes his internment this way.

I have been here for one year, seven months. I have been interrogated so many times. Interrogated by Somali men and white men. Every day. New faces show up. They have nothing on me. I have never seen a lawyer, never seen an outsider. Only other prisoners, interrogators, guards. Here there is no court or tribunal.

Scahill’s entire article, describing our counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, is of course a must read, particularly given questions raised by the Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame indictment.

But given my non-debate with Benjamin Wittes about drones and sovereignty (though these programs go far beyond drone strikes), I wanted to point to Scahill’s description of the arrangement the US has with Somalia in this.

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”



It is unclear how much control, if any, Somalia’s internationally recognized president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has over this counterterrorism force or if he is even fully briefed on its operations. The CIA personnel and other US intelligence agents “do not bother to be in touch with the political leadership of the country. And that says a lot about the intentions,” says Aynte. “Essentially, the CIA seems to be operating, doing the foreign policy of the United States. You should have had State Department people doing foreign policy, but the CIA seems to be doing it across the country.”

While the Somali officials interviewed for this story said the CIA is the lead US agency coordinating the Mogadishu counterterrorism program, they also indicated that US military intelligence agents are at times involved. When asked if they are from JSOC or the Defense Intelligence Agency, the senior Somali intelligence official responded, “We don’t know. They don’t tell us.”

Not only is the bulk of our relationship with Somalia going through these intelligence channels to intelligence channels. But it also relies on African Union forces.

The [defense bill authorizing increased counterterrorism support in Somalia], however, did not authorize additional funding for Somalia’s military, as the country’s leaders have repeatedly asked. Instead, the aid package would dramatically increase US arming and financing of AMISOM’s forces, particularly from Uganda and Burundi, as well as the militaries of Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.

I understand that Somalia is one of the most challenging places to work, given the absence of any viable state (save, perhaps, al-Shabaab). But our direct–and secret–control of other territories is worth thinking seriously about.

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