[Viewpoint] Korea should follow U.S. exampleThe chain of command for the U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden is a bit of a mystery. Central Intelligence Agency chief Leon Panetta commanded the elite unit. Vice Adm. William McRaven, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, was under Panetta’s command in control of the Navy Seals in question. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was not part of the chain of command for Operation Neptune Spear. Gates was shown in a photo of the White House situation room during the operation, standing with folded arms. Gates is the second highest in the military chain of command, next to U.S. President Barack Obama.
At the same time, Panetta controlled the situation from CIA headquarters. That’s why he was not a part of the historic photograph.
The whole situation was like Korea’s operation against Somali pirates early this year. National Intelligence Service Chief Won Sei-hoon commanded the Navy’s operation, not Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
The situation was completely different from what happened shortly before the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan in 2001. At the time, the Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the CIA, under George Tenet, argued over the first special operation. Who are soldiers and who are spies?
In the war on terror, the boundary between the Pentagon and CIA disappeared. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, joint cooperation in the United States has evolved. It is a security system in which the president can assign the control-command authority of a military operation to an intelligence chief, not the defense secretary. The United States has changed. That’s the power of America.
The Sept. 11 attacks were a failure of intelligence. There were many signs of an imminent attack, but the CIA failed to link them. Three months before the attacks, the CIA submitted a daily briefing memo to the president titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.”
But a grand failure followed. Misjudgments were made about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification for the U.S. war against Iraq in 2003. The CIA linked a few indications and drew a clear line of information. There was not a “slam dunk” as expressed by Tenet.
Under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004, the CIA was put under the director of national intelligence’s control. The walls between intelligence agencies were lowered.
The starting point of Operation Neptune Spear was the CIA’s interrogations of Sept. 11 terror suspects. In 2004, they got the alias of Osama bin Laden’s courier. Three years later, the courier’s real name was uncovered. The CIA located Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound last October by following the courier’s movements. The National Security Agency’s cellphone wiretapping played a critical role. A spy satellite pinpointed the license plate of the courier.
A 24-hour monitoring system was established. The CIA created a safe house near Bin Laden’s compound and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency analyzed the hiding place. It was no doubt remarkable to see the intelligence offices weave a wide net of information together.
“In my nearly 50 years in intelligence, never have I seen a more remarkable example of focused integration, seamless collaboration,” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The unprecedented integration and collaboration were also demonstrated on the military side. The Joint Special Operations Command was the outcome of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, aimed at improving the joint operation of U.S. forces. It was created after the catastrophic failure of the Iran hostage rescue mission in 1980. The mission failed because of a lack of an integrated command and control system for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Forces.
The Navy Seal unit that performed the operation was under the Joint Special Operations Command. The Army’s Delta Force and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron are also under the joint command. It is an integrated field command for the Army, Navy and Air Force’s special operation forces.
The flexible system, reform through the Congress and spirit to learn from failures combine to form an intelligence DNA that has built today’s United States.
In comparison, Korea’s situation is extremely lamentable. The lessons from the Cheonan sinking are all forgotten.
Although “jointness” was stressed repeatedly, the Army, Navy and Air Force have all gone back to selfishness. Defense reform is not a theological debate. The military is too oblivious.
The National Assembly is holding all the cards. Bills governing defense reform will soon be submitted to the National Assembly and the legislature must go beyond the interests of the three forces for national interest.
*The writer is an editor of foreign and security affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Young-hwan