What does a CIA-style counterinsurgency campaign inside the U.S. look like? Just use Iraq and Afghanistan as a model.
By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News
Like most Americans, I was appalled and disgusted by what I saw take place in the Capitol building on Jan. 6, when a right-wing mob stormed the bastion of U.S. democracy, killing one Capitol police officer and injuring others.
And like most Americans, I wondered what we could do to make sure it never happened again. I’ve been following closely news of the arrests of at least 170 demonstrators, and I eagerly look forward to their prosecutions. They deserve what they get, especially in light of the fact that in June 2020, President Donald Trump, in the aftermath of demonstrations in which Confederate monuments were torn down issued an executive order calling for a draconian 10-year prison sentence for anybody damaging federal property.
With that said, I was horrified last week to see an op-ed written in The New York Times by a former boss of mine at the CIA. Robert Grenier was a former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, a CIA chief in Pakistan before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, and a former associate deputy director for operations. He opined in the Times that, as he has “struggled both on the side of insurgents and against them” during the course of his career, he believes that here in the United States, “we may be witnessing the dawn of a sustained wave of violent insurgency within our own country, perpetrated by our own countrymen.”
Grenier warns of those Americans “committed to violent extremism: the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, Christian national chauvinists, white supremacists, and QAnon fantasists.”
Grenier’s proposed solution at first glance looks perfectly reasonable. He says the U.S. government must do three things:
First, it must pursue criminal justice against the perpetrators of anti-government violence. Federal authorities must continue to track, investigate and bring to justice known extremists who commit crimes. I have no problem with that. People who plot to kidnap a governor, take over federal installations, or plan sabotage ought to be prosecuted.
Second, he argues that “we must isolate and alienate the committed insurgents from the population.” That sounds fine too, until you consider just how few people in this country are actually “committed insurgents.” In a country of around 330 million people how many made real trouble at the Capitol that day? Around 5,000? What does “isolation and alienation” mean? Does it mean segregating them? Putting them in camps? Grenier doesn’t say.
Third, he says casually that “the final element of the plan concerns insurgency leadership” before going on to criticize Trump’s unwillingness to accept his own defeat.
It’s that last — unspoken — part of Grenier’s plan that I believe is so dangerous and un-American. What he means when he warns that we may be headed into a period of political violence “not seen since Reconstruction” is that the government needs to start cracking heads.
In a subsequent interview with NPR, Grenier opened by saying that he’s not predicting that the U.S. is going to go the way of Iraq or Afghanistan. But that’s exactly what he’s implying. And it’s what he implied in his Times op-ed.
After all, what does a CIA-style counterinsurgency campaign look like? Just use Iraq and Afghanistan as a model. What it looks like is teams of military or paramilitary forces going around, blowing the doors off of houses, and killing everybody inside — killing them before they can commit a crime against the United States.
It also means a robust drone program. Remember Anwar al-Awlaki? The Obama administration accused him of being a major recruiter for al-Qaeda in Yemen. They executed him by drone, and then a week later they executed his 16-year-old son and 16-year-old nephew. The problem, though, is that the Awlakis were all American citizens. They had Constitutional rights, including the right to face their accusers in a court of law and a right to a trial by jury. The Awlakis had never been charged with a crime. The government just decided to murder them without due process.
Recall also former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder who, in response to a question from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in 2013, said that the president had a constitutional right to use lethal force against American citizens on American soil, even if those Americans had never been convicted of a crime.
That is what Grenier is recommending. He’s supposed to be one of the “moderates,” one of those Americans who is so concerned about America’s future and wants to offer a solution to ensure it. His recommendation is that we should be prepared to kill Americans whose politics we disagree with. All we need to do is declare that they’re “extremists” or “insurgents.”
That may be tempting for a lot of Americans who were angered and frightened by the takeover of the Capitol. But if this kind of retaliatory lunacy becomes the norm, what’s to keep the far right from going after the rest of us if they don’t like our politics?
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.