The Quick Read: Obama's Wars, by Bob Woodward
You've read the highlights of Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars" -- the divisions within the Pentagon, the lengthy process of the Afghanistan war review, the ongoing conflict between the military and the civilian chain of command. So here's a quick guide to the rest of the book: what's interesting, what's new, and what used to be secret. Basically, it's a quick counter-intelligence assessment.
A few observations: Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy played an enormously critical role in the policy review, and she is barely mentioned. Make of this what you will. Gen. James Cartwright comes out as a hero of sorts. Woodward does not mention the name of the U.S. intelligence chief in Afghanistan, Major General Michael Flynn, even once. He only mentions the commander of the special missions units, Vice Admiral William McRaven, once. Woodward does not seem to have spoken with McChrystal recently.
The code name for the CIA's Predator drone program was "SYLVAN-MAGNOLIA."
The NSA developed a program, initially called "SHARKFINN" and later called "RC10" that increased the agency's capacity to suck up and process all-source communications intelligence by a factor of 10. "JACKAL" units attached to brigades in Afghanistan used the capability, code name "JESTER," to much more effectively eavesdrop on the Taliban.
When Obama took office, the military had assigned only 36 Predator drones to the CENTCOM area of operations, including drones used for Joint Special Operations Command missions.
The CIA gave Pakistanis a TOP SECRET map detailing attacks in the Kam Sham training camp in North Waziristan. But the CIA did not share the fact that five Westerners were among the dead. Throughout the book, Woodward suggests that the greatest counter-terrorism threat to the U.S. comes from Westerners who hold U.S. passports.
In the latter part of the Bush administration, Pakistani PM Zardari told CIA director Michael Hayden that "collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me" in reference to drone strikes.
The U.S. intelligence community is nervous about the high level of operational security and technology used by the LeT terrorist group that carried out the Mumbai attacks. They use sat phones over VOIP networks and the latest commercially available crypto gear.
Former DNI Mike McConnell and former CIA director Michael Hayden apparently had disagreements over covert operations. McConnell was worried that Obama would be entranced by the allure of secret missions, and he worried that an inexperienced president might believe he could solve a foreign policy problem by them and them alone.
Hayden bristled repeatedly when anyone linked the enhanced interrogation program to the word "torture," chastising Leon Panetta directly for doing so.
Hayden read Obama into 14 ongoing covert action programs. He demonstrates the use of one of six "enhanced techniques" on the DNI's principle deputy, David Shedd, by lightly slapping him on the face. When Obama learned about the techniques that were no longer in use, "he seemed transfixed."
McChrystal's "jaw-dropping" counter-terrorism campaign in Iraq "did not translate into a strategic victory." McChrystal called this idea "a hell of a point." It helped him embrace the idea of a counter-insurgency.
It was Andrew Exum, the Army Ranger and scholar now at the Center for New American Studies, who convinced McChrystal to order new guidelines about safe and polite driving in Afghanistan.
Gen. Jim Jones feels that the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had a much tighter relationship with Tom Donilon, the deputy NSA. Jones also felt Emanuel would rely on him for things that Emanuel could have done himself ... using Jones, in essence, as cover for politically tricky decisions. ... Jones thinks that SecDef Gates's "trademark" "studied calculation" was occasionally a way of avoiding a big decision. ...
Gen. Petraeus had and has a back channel with Sen. Lindsey Graham, and regularly felt unloved by the president and his advisers.
Woodward's sources say that Donilon "didn't have the broad experience needed for the sensitive White House position and lived in a lawyer's bunker." Donilon, according to Woodward, often serves as a conduit for the president's frustration. The book contains a lengthy, personal critique of Donilon from Jones.
Obama's "favorite general" is Cartwright. It was Cartwright who stressed the fact that the pace of the timeline for troop withdrawal was the key point of the new Afghanistan strategy.
The State Department uses Saudi Arabia as a proxy for talks with elements of the Quetta Shura, the main Afghan Taliban group.
Leon Panetta fought, and won, a battle to make sure that his Kabul station chief, a man who had saved Hamid Karzai's life, had the ability to talk to him privately.
Geoff Morrell told a colleague that Robert Gibbs relished the fallout over McChrsytal's resignation a little bit too much, "like a pig in shit."