Seeing the Secret State: mapping SOCOM activities across the globe

“Secrecy is not efficient and gives rise to contradictions. So methodologically what I’m trying to do is find those contradictions. Where does that secret world intersect with something that I can see? The idea that when you’re doing all this secret stuff it fits imperfectly into the world. You have to have infrastructures that go into these covert operations. Infrastructure generates paperwork and a material footprint on the earth’s surface. […] So the question then is: ‘If secrecy is a way of organizing institutions and human activity in such a way as to render them silent, to render them invisible, how do we go about trying to see them?’ […]”

— Trevor Paglen “Seeing the Secret State”, 30th Chaos Communication Congress [30c3] (28 December 2013)

Recently, journalist Nick Turse put this theory into action, mapping out the “secret” infrastructure created by United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Check out this excerpt from his latest article, via Le Monde Diplomatique:

‘[…] I started with a blank map that quickly turned into a global pincushion. It didn’t take long before every continent but Antarctica was bristling with markers indicating special operations forces’ missions, deployments, and interactions with foreign military forces in 2012-2013. With that, the true size and scope of the U.S. military’s secret military began to come into focus. It was, to say the least, vast.

SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations) Forces Around The World (2012-2013)
U.S. Special Operations Forces around the world, 2012-2013
Red markers: U.S. Special Operations Forces deployment in 2013. Blue markers: U.S. Special Operations Forces working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops in the U.S. or a third country during 2013. Purple markers: U.S. Special Operations Forces deployment in 2012. Yellow markers: U.S. Special Operations Forces working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous troops in the U.S. or a third country during 2012.

A review of open source information reveals that in 2012 and 2013, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) were likely deployed to — or training, advising, or operating with the personnel of — more than 100 foreign countries. And that’s probably an undercount. In 2011, then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that Special Operations personnel were annually sent to 120 countries around the world. They were in, that is, about 60% of the nations on the planet. […]

As Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven put it in SOCOM 2020, his blueprint for the future, it has ambitious aspirations to create “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners.” In other words, in that future now only six years off, it wants to be everywhere. […]

U.S. Special Operations Command was established in 1987. Made up of units from all the service branches, SOCOM is tasked with carrying out Washington’s most specialized and secret missions, including assassinations, counterterrorist raids, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, psychological operations, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

In the post-9/11 era, the command has grown steadily. With about 33,000 personnel in 2001, it is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 in 2014. (About half this number are called, in the jargon of the trade, “badged operators” — SEALs, Rangers, Special Operations Aviators, Green Berets — while the rest are support personnel.) Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as SOCOM’s baseline budget tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.9 billion between 2001 and 2013. If you add in supplemental funding, it had actually more than quadrupled to $10.4 billion.

Not surprisingly, personnel deployments abroad skyrocketed from 4,900 “man-years” — as the command puts it — in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013. About 11,000 special operators are now working abroad at any one time and on any given day they are in 70 to 80 countries, though the New York Times reported that, according to statistics provided to them by SOCOM, during one week in March 2013 that number reached 92. […]’

Read the full article at: