Pentagon officials revealed important details of Vice President Dick Cheney's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) assassination at a Special Operation/Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) conference in Arlington, Virginia just weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Reporting to the Pentagon's Undersecretary for Plans and Policy Douglas Feith, the assassination team was known as "Black Special Operations Forces" or "Black SOF" and the assassination team were part of a group responsible for "special programs," according to information revealed at the conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).
The special hit squads used by Cheney were part of a Bush White House program, initiated by the neo-conservative cell in the Pentagon around Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that, according to Pentagon officials consciously shifted policy "to the right." The policy, known as "defensive intervention," gave the U.S. military the authorization to pursue targets for the defense of the country. The actual implementer of the Cheney policy was Robert Andrews, the then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for SOLIC, who stated in his remark on February 11, "the U.S. must take quick action against likely sponsors of terrorists . . . without waiting for a basis of legal evidence." Andrews also stated that the standing orders for JSOC and SOF personnel were to "take asymmetric warfare into the heart of terrorism and destroy it."
Andrews also stated that "targeted assassinations" were one means for defensive intervention. He declared, "If I could take out Saddam Hussein, I'd do it. My Secretary wouldn't let me do it, but I'd do it." At the time, the assassination of the foreign leader such as Hussein was prohibited by Executive Order 12333, which bans such actions against foreign political leaders.
Andrews revealed the reason that SOF personnel were used by the Cheney team to carry out assassinations was because they could easily get into otherwise denied areas under the aegis of "training" and "counter-narcotics" programs. He cited the example of Uzbekistan as one country where U.S. SOF forces operated more or less freely after 9/11. Andrews added that SOF were "sources for collecting intelligence in host countries" and that "training contacts are fungible, we can use them for counter-narcotics but for 'other things,' as well." Andrews also stated that counter-narcotics "played a big role in the Summer [0f 2002] allowing us to go in." He revealed that SOF personnel were active in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador in the Summer of 2002 and that they did "other things." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez narrowly escaped a coup against him in April 2002 that was supported by U.S. SOF teams.
The Pentagon's Joint Combined Education and Training (JCET) program gave the JSOC Special Forces team carrying out "defensive intervention" access to 59 countries under the cover of 139 "training missions." Detainee operations in Guantanamo and other detention centers were also part of the JSOC/SOF mandate.
Much of the defensive intervention strategy originated with the contractor Booz Allen and was part of a larger "strategic psychological operations" program initiated by the Pentagon. Under the umbrella of "influence operations," the program also targeted, according to one Pentagon consultant, "activists, anarchists, as well as opportunists" as the new terrorists. Specifically, animal rights and environmental activists were cited in the "activist" category. Infuence operations were green-lighted by both Cheney and President George W. Bush. Bush justified the program to Pentagon officials by saying "we're bringing justice to the terrorists."
SOF personnel charged with assassinating suspected terrorists also operated in the Philippines in 2002 as part of Operation Balikatan, a joint operation with Philippines Special Operations personnel.
The JSOC/SOF personnel reportedly operated in sensitive locations abroad, including Bosnia. Personnel possessed Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances and access for the Cheney-Wolfowitz-Feith "defensive intervention" program.
Pentagon officials also revealed that SOF personnel operated domestically under statute granted in the USA PATRIOT Act known as "consequence management."
JSOC/SOF also maintained a "less-than-lethal" program of using against their targets "pepper spray projectiles, ring-shaped rubber bullets, electro-static devices to immobilize vehicles, electro-magnetic devices to disable automobile electronics, light scattering particles to confuse crowds, and electro-shocking devices to immobilize crowds." It was conceded that the electric discharge devices could also immobilize pacemakers and aircraft, which could have lethal consequences.
Although the CIA claims it kept a wary distance from the Cheney assassination program, there was one country where the CIA directly funded an assassination in the waning days of the Clinton administration, an indication that at least part of the Cheney program was already in existence prior to his entering office. Shortly before the January 2001 assassination of Congolese President Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one State Department witness at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa personally saw large sums of cash arriving at the CIA station at the embassy said to be used for a "special operation." Four days before Cheney's inauguration as Vice President, Kabila was gunned down in a palace coup.