How the U.S. Trains Vast Numbers of Foreign Soldiers and Police With Little Oversight
The US may not export terror, but it certainly seems to export repression if not oppression, training foreign police, security, and military forces not only in tactics but also in torture. Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, and Moiz Syed report in The Intercept:
At 9:30 A.M. on a gray winter Monday, the State Department officials began certifying the names at a rate of one every two minutes and 23 seconds.
In rapid succession, they confirmed that 204 police officers, soldiers, sailors, and airmen from 11 countries had committed no gross human rights violations and cleared them to attend one of more than 50 training efforts sponsored by the U.S. government. The programs were taking place at a wide variety of locations, from Italy, Albania, and Jordan to the states of Louisiana and Minnesota.
Thirty-two Egyptians were approved for instruction in, among other things, Apache helicopter gunship maintenance and flight simulators for the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. Azerbaijanis were cleared for a U.S. Army course on identifying bio-warfare agents in Maryland and underwater demolition training with Navy SEALs in San Diego. Thirty-three Iraqis were certified to attend a State Department training session for bodyguards, held in Jordan. Bosnians were bound for Macedonia to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan. Ukrainian police were selected for peacekeeping training in Italy. Romanians would study naval operations in Rhode Island and counterterrorism in Skopje.
This was only the beginning of one day’s work of vetting security personnel for U.S. training. A joint investigation by The Intercept and 100Reporters reveals the chaotic and largely unknown details of a vast constellation of global training exercises, operations, facilities, and schools — a shadowy network of U.S. programs that every year provides instruction and assistance to approximately 200,000 foreign soldiers, police, and other personnel. The investigation exposes the geographic and political contours of a U.S. training system that has, until now, largely defied thorough description.
The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries — on every continent but Antarctica — involving, on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states. Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.
The contours of this sprawling system were discovered by analyzing 6,176 diplomatic cables that were released by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011. While the scope of the training network may come as a surprise, the most astounding fact may be that it is even larger than the available data show, because the WikiLeaks cables are not comprehensive. They contain, for example, little information on training efforts in Colombia, the single-largestrecipient of U.S. training covered by the human rights vetting process that produced these records. Other large recipients of U.S. security assistance, such as Pakistan, are vastly underrepresented in the cables for reasons that remain unclear.
“What you have stumbled across is a systematic lack of strategic thinking, a systematic lack of evaluation, but a massive commitment of people and money and time in a growing number of countries,” said Gordon Adams, formerly a senior White House official for national security and foreign policy budgets. “I think the word ‘system’ is a misnomer. This is a headless system,” he said.
The investigation raises serious questions about U.S. government oversight, safeguards, and accountability. The investigation found:
- A global training network without any coherent strategy, carried out by scores of agencies and offices with no effective oversight, centralized planning, or a clear statement of objectives.
- The lack of any means of testing and evaluation, let alone a comprehensive way to count or track foreign trainees.
- Vetting procedures designed to weed out human rights abusers that examine trainees so rapidly that experts question their worth.
A Rand Corp. analysis from 2013 found that the Pentagon alone has 71 different authorities under which it provides foreign aid as a means of “building partner capacity,” or BPC — part of a system that the report criticized as akin to “a tangled web, with holes, overlaps, and confusions.” The Pentagon, for example, maintains no master list of the people it trains nor does it keep aggregate figures.
“The way we do security cooperation has been a patchwork that we’ve added to over and over,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former member of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. “There are more than 180 authorities and scores of agencies working in these areas, and the way it has evolved over time has made it absolutely impossible for anyone to know what’s going on. … There really is no oversight.”
Details on the U.S. government’s training programs have long been lacking. In 2012, the Obama administration submitted a one-time report to Congress on foreign police training that covered just two fiscal years — and it was never made public. Annual disclosures by the State Department about foreign military training programs cover many volumes but are often vague and difficult to analyze, with information frequently missing or reported inconsistently. . .