Who Is Michael Vickers? The CIA's Afghan Jihad Architect Declares War On Trump
Regime change advocates are in continued meltdown mode.
Last week’s announcement of Trump’s shutting down the CIA’s covert weapons and aid program to anti-government insurgents in Syria – a move now widely interpreted as marking the end of the years long US push for overthrowing Assad – has deep state hawks and their media allies throwing repeat public fits and tantrums in all the usual op-ed pages and cable news panels (though it appears the Pentagon is still ramping up its presence in Syria, ostensibly to fight ISIS). Even John McCain found time, a day after announcing his diagnosis with brain cancer, to compose a statement which said: “If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”
On Monday night Trump gave confirmation of the closure of the program while taking issue with The Washington Post’s reporting:
The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Utilizing zero evidence, the Post described the president’s decision as “a move sought by Moscow” in yet another cheap attempt at playing the Russia card. Appeasement of Moscow in Syria is now a central talking point of the pro regime change enthusiasts now attacking Trump. But in the midst of such unsightly neocon weeping, wailing gnashing of teeth (actually a welcome spectacle) we can glean more information of things only previously discussed in the classified halls of Langley or the Pentagon.
For example, David Ignatius penned an unhinged column immediately after the news broke last week (he laments the US didn’t give jihadist “rebels” anti-aircraft missiles!) which reveals new information based on a quote from a defense official with knowledge of the CIA program:
Run from secret operations centers in Turkey and Jordan, the program pumped many hundreds of millions of dollars to many dozens of militia groups. One knowledgeable official estimates that the CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.
“Massive, dangerous, and wasteful”
Whether this estimate of Syrian troop death toll is low or high, it offers a rare confirmation that the CIA program was the prime driving force which fueled and escalated the war and its massive bloodshed since nearly the beginning. It is important to remember that the prevailing wisdom coming out of the DC echo chamber had perpetually cast the US as “on the sidelines” of a fundamentally internal Syrian drama. Though Obama ordered the covert program which “killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers” (and who knows how many civilians?) his legacy has been continually framed as the reluctant humanitarian warrior who didn’t do enough.
The New York Times, among many others, constantly promoted the lie that the CIA program was minuscule and inconsequential, and near daily reporting on Syria over the past years conveniently glossed over the massively budgeted program altogether. But Trump’s tweet further provides rare highest level confirmation that the program was “massive” (according to Snowden documents given to the Washington Post, “one the agency’s largest covert operations, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year”).
Importantly, Trump’s tweet also called it “wasteful”. As a recent report in the Financial Times reminds us, the CIA not only ran a US weapons pipeline into Syria, but actually payed salaries of “rebel commanders” and others. That’s right… your tax dollars at work funding jihad in Syria!:
One rebel commander who asked not to be named said US support had been waning for months but noted that the rebels had been given their salaries as normal last month. Still, he believed the decision was final. “The CIA’s role is done,” the rebel commander said.
As for Trump calling the program “dangerous”, this is probably the most immediately self-evident part of his description. He had campaigned on the promise to disentangle the US from Syria on the basic common sense idea that getting in bed with Syria’s so-called “moderate rebels” was tantamount to supporting al-Qaeda. In June 2016 he controversially tweeted the following:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016
The Hill commented on the tweet at the time:
The story, from the conservative Breitbart website, says the State Department received a memo from an intelligence agent who claimed al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that splintered off to form ISIS, was one of the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”
Based on the memo, the article claims that the Obama administration backed ISIS by setting up a program to train Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad.
That ISIS was fueled and strengthened through the US, Saudis, Turks and allies flooding the Syrian battlefield and its jihadists with cash and weaponry is now beyond dispute, confirmed by many of the very people with direct knowledge of the program: from the US ambassador to Syria to former DIA chief Michael Flynn to then Vice President Biden to General Martin Dempsey to members of Congress and many others. Here is Gen. Michael Flynn, long before he had any association with the Trump campaign, speaking to Al Jazeera about the 2012 Pentagon secret memo Trump tweeted about:
Confront the Russians! CIA’s Afghan Jihad 2.0
Meanwhile, we’ve recently pointed to the obvious comparison (and have been doing so for years) between the CIA’s Syria operation, called Timber Sycamore, and ‘Operation Cyclone’ – the 1980’s CIA program to arm Afghan and Arab mujahideen fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Whereas recent covert action in Syria fueled the rise of ISIS, covert action of the 1980’s produced the original Frankenstein of global jihad, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and spawned an entire generation of veteran terrorists. And now we can behold the spectacle of angry national security state insiders rant about the end of their beloved Syrian jihad, which like the 1980’s, had Russia as a prime target.
Who can forget the chilling words of former deputy and acting director the CIA, Michael Morell, issued in a Charlie Rose interview nearly a year ago?:
Morell: We need to make the Iranians pay the price in Syria; we need to make the Russians pay the price.
Rose: We make them pay the price by killing Russians and killing Iranians?
Morell: Yes. Covertly. You don’t tell the world about it. You don’t stand at the Pentagon and say we did this. But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran. I want to go after those things that Assad sees as his personal power base. I want to scare Assad. I want to go after his presidential car. I want to bomb his offices in the middle of the night. I want to destroy his presidential aircraft. I want to destroy his presidential helicopters. I want to make him think we are coming after him.
Ironically, Michael Morell joined the CIA in 1980, just as Operation Cyclone was getting started in central Asia – and even after personally witnessing the progression of how the US backed Afghan jihad became an international terror scourge by the 90’s and early 2000’s, Morell remains an apologist for arming mujahideen, but this time in Syria. As Tucker Carlson recently commented while citing Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, “people would rather provide support to Al Qaeda than give up their idea of regime change in Syria.”
Concerning the original Afghan jihad, it’s a little known fact that CIA support for the mujahideen did not completely dry up until well into the 1990’s. According a report in The Guardian from the end of that decade:
American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.
Since the fall of the Soviet puppet government in 1992, another 2,500 are believed to have passed through the camps. They are now run by an assortment of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist.
The US government understood in real time that it had set up camps for training terrorists. In what was probably the first ever US government classified report to identify Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist threat, a 1993 paper (now declassified) called “The Wandering Mujahidin: Armed and Dangerous,” admitted the increasingly global “jihadist movement” was spawned from “US support of the mujahidin.” The report produced by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted that the “support network that funneled money, supplies, and manpower to supplement the Afghan mujahidin” in the war against the Soviets, “is now contributing experienced fighters to militant Islamic groups worldwide,” and concluded the following:
The alleged involvement of veterans of the Afghan war in the World Trade Center bombing [February 1993] and the plots against New York targets are a bold example of what tactics some former mujahidin are willing to use in their ongoing jihad. US support of the mujahidin during the Afghan war will not necessarily protect US interests from attack.
The late Congressman Charlie Wilson with CIA-supported Jalaluddin Haqani. After 9/11 Haqani was sought by the US military as a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and terror network leader. Image: Charliewilsonswar.com
The intelligence officials who run such programs (far away from scrutiny of the public) understand quite well the consequences their actions will produce, yet they willingly proceed anyway. Morell, who has lately been a constant critic of Trump’s refusal to go to war with Russia inside Syria, is a prime example of such arrogance and is representative of the deep state’s long running war against Trump. But another Michael (and close confidant of Morell’s), who has a deeper connection to the CIA’s original Afghan jihad, has this week stepped out of the shadows to confront Trump over pulling the plug in Syria.
Who is Michael G. Vickers?
Mike Vickers recently added his voice to the chorus of frustrated pundits raging against Trump’s closure of the CIA’s Syria program. He wrote this week in the Washington Post:
Abandoning the goal of removing Assad from power will place the United States on the side of not only the barbaric Syrian regime, which has American blood on its hands dating to the early 1980s, but also Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. This is strategic folly.
Even with his impressive sounding bio as former assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities and undersecretary of defense for intelligence during the Bush and Obama administrations, Vickers will not be recognizable to most. He is the quintessential man behind the scenes – hugely influential and powerful in the national security bureaucracy and shaping military action abroad over the past four decades, yet largely out of the public eye.
But he might be more recognizable as portrayed in the 2007 movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, (based on George Crile’s 2003 investigative book by the same name) which depicts Congressmen Charlie Wilson’s role in organizing US support for the Afghan jihad:
CIA’s Afghan Jihad Mastermind
Vickers was considered the CIA’s top strategic mastermind tasked with choosing weapons systems and implementing guerrilla warfare strategies for the various mujahideen groups fighting the Soviets in the 1980’s war. This of course included supplying mass quantities of Raytheon’s Stinger heat-seeking anti aircraft missiles to Afghan commanders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others now considered notorious terrorists by the West. Hekmatyar was a close ally of Bin Laden and had a reputation of throwing acid in women’s faces should they be caught participating in public life. After 9/11 Charlie Wilson admitted that he “lived in terror” that one of the hundreds of Stinger missiles which were never recovered (and whereabouts still unknown) would be used to take down a civilian airliner.
According to Crile’s exhaustively researched book, Vickers was the CIA’s chief strategist that made it all happen, even expanding the weapons program beyond all historical precedent in the mid-80’s:
He [Vickers] was confident that the Stinger would add a lethal new dimension to the anti-aircraft mix that was already beginning to pay off. He had gone to great lengths to make sure the Afghans would be properly trained. In the past, U.S. trainers had taught the Pakistanis how to use the new weapons, and the Pakistanis had then instructed the mujahideen. This time Vickers proposed that the American specialists go into the camps dressed like mujahideen to personally supervise the training.
…Now that the anti-aircraft strategy was in place, Vickers insisted that his master plan, spelling out precise how the CIA should support the Afghans for the next three years was complete.
And like with the more recent Syria covert program, the massive Afghan jihad program had to be carefully shielded from public view:
And so all of Vickers’s calculations had to take into account maneuvers with Swiss bank accounts, shadowy purchasing agents, safe houses, phony corporations, contracts, lawyers, disguised boats, fleets of trucks, trains, camels, donkeys, mules, warehouses, disguised satellite-targeting studies, and secret payments to the families of the fighters.
…By the beginning of 1986 Vickers realized he was calling the shots on 57 percent of the Directorate of Operations’ total budget. He had by then grown accustomed to running the biggest CIA paramilitary campaign in history.
We all know how this ended up: an unprecedented rise in international Islamic terrorism as a permanent fixture on the world stage, horrific mass casualties of civilians in sophisticated terror bombings, the installation of the radical Taliban government in Afghanistan, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the 9/11 attacks. According to Crile the CIA was well aware of the nasty jihadist nature of the Afghan rebels it was dealing with at the time, and like with Syria of more recent years, it was warned of what would come and proceeded anyway.
Vickers: From Afghan to Syrian Jihad
With not a hint of shame, bashfulness, or recognition of the twisted irony of it all, Vickers actually invoked his prior experience overseeing the Afghan jihad in his recent Washington Post op-ed:
President Ronald Reagan understood the potential of covert proxy wars to alter global power balances. Through stepped-up support for the Afghan mujahideen and other anti-Communist movements, and other, complementary strategic policies, he won the Cold War. It took the Carter and Reagan administrations more than five years to come up with a war-winning strategy (work that I helped to lead as a CIA officer) against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The same could be done in Syria today.
At the very least, this might serve to educate the public of how the intelligence and national security deep state works: these guys never go away, criminality is rewarded (Vickers was literally praised as thinking “like a gangster” for his ability to implement nasty guerrilla tactics on shifting battlefield environments in a 2007 Washington Post profile), and it’s often the same guys running the show behind the scenes of ugly covert interventions which only serve to make the world less safe for Americans.
Vickers himself, as Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence until 2015, oversaw aspects of US covert action in Syria. The man has literally gone from overseeing the CIA’s covert support of Afghan mujahideen to overseeing US support for jihadists in Syria to now declaring war on Trump. The deep state has gone full circle here. But it’s our sincere hope that America finally defeats all the jihadists and their enablers both at home and abroad.