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“It was the sixth such attack this week and one of 66 this year by Somali pirates, a collection of shrewd businessmen and daring opportunists who have pulled off a series of spectacular seizures using high- and low-tech gear, from satellite phones and rocket-propelled grenades to battered wooden skiffs and rickety ladders,” the Washington Post reported today about the attack on a U.S.-operated container ship. “In the past year, their booty has included the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and antiaircraft guns, and the MV Sirius Star, a 300,000-ton, 1,000-foot-long Saudi oil tanker that is the largest ship to be seized in history.”
For months, a former senior CIA officer has been telling me that pirate activity off Somalia was a problem that needed to be aggressively dealt with. By chance, I had a meeting with him yesterday as the Maersk Alabama hijacking was unfolding. Here’s what he had to say (he updated his remarks today):
The American response to date has been incredibly naïve and woefully ineffective. Now, predictably, you have an American taken hostage. All of which should have been prevented. You’ve got a failed state in Somalia and pirates operating in an area of ocean that is larger than the state of Texas but we’ve been trying to deal with this from the ocean side, by sending the navy and with a limited application of technology, such as satellites and drones. We can’t afford to patrol that big a piece of the ocean; it’s too expensive to leave a naval task force out there.
We need to deal with this problem from the beach side, in concert with the ocean side, but we don’t have an embassy in Somalia and limited, ineffective intelligence operations. We need to work in Somalia and in Lebanon, where a lot of the ransom money has changed hands. But our operations in Lebanon are a joke, and we have no presence at all in Somalia. Attempting to interdict this exclusively from the water side is folly. The U.S. Navy is already stretched so thin with enormous other tasks and amassing the required resources to search for a small band of thieves would be a waste of valuable resources. The U.S. Navy should not have to shoulder this mission alone. Where is the CIA? Where is the humint effort in Somalia? Where is the covert action capability of the CIA that should be on the ground in Somalia, collecting, pressuring, attacking, and destroying pirate infrastructure?
The pirates have a base of operations and infrastructure. They’re not going out 400-plus nautical miles from shore in shitty boats; they have fuel supplies, docks, mechanics, and support infrastructure, on the beach. It’s all findable and disrupt-able. We need a contingent of agency personnel in Ethiopia and Somalia to go after this infrastructure, leadership and control elements in Somalia, and an aggressive humint [human intelligence] effort in Lebanon to follow, and choke off the money.
This is a challenge to confront, but it has to be dealt with. A band of thugs are tying up international shipping along a gigantic stretch of Africa that’s an approach area for the Suez Canal. Last year, the hijackers made $80 million, which is a staggering sum of money in that country. Up until now, little has been done to deal with it because of the expense, complexity and necessary commitment of manpower and resources required. Also, given the long history of Al Qaida in Somalia, no one wants to discuss the possibility that it may have a role in this pirate activity as a revenue stream. That’s a question that could be answered if we had better humint in Somalia.
The navy sent the USS Bainbridge to the pirate incident. Commodore Bainbridge was the commander of the task force that President Jefferson sent to fight the Barbary pirate incidents in Tripoli. Commodore Bainbridge is probably spinning in his grave at how feckless our response is today. In 1803-05, Jefferson sent Captain Eaton to conduct a covert action attack against the pirates and their infrastructure and leadership on the beach. Captain Eaton assembled a handful of of U.S. Marines and a group of Arab, Greek and North African mercenaries and attacked the Basha from the desert, overland side, while the Naval task force bombarded the sea side. And the State Department authorized a “payment” to the Basha, paid by that rat Tobias Lear.
It was the first combined covert action, U.S. Navy operational action against a foreign enemy. Unconventional warfare, against an unconventional enemy. What a novel idea. We handled things better 200 years ago!
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.
Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”
Ratio of husbands who say they fell in love with their spouse at first sight to wives who say this:
Mathematicians announced the discovery of the perfect method of cutting a cake.
Indian prime-ministerial contender Narendra Modi, who advertises his bachelorhood as a mark of his incorruptibility, confessed to having a wife.
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Science’s crisis of faith