The structure of Army special operations forces, their capabilities and characteristic mission profiles, and the role of intelligence in supporting them are described in a newly disclosed U.S. Army field manual (pdf).
There are nine distinct missions for Army special forces, including: unconventional warfare, direct action, counterproliferation, foreign internal defense, psychological operations, and “special activities,” which is the DoD euphemism for covert action.
“Special activities fall under Executive Order 12333, United States Intelligence Activities,” according to the Army field manual. “They require a presidential finding and congressional oversight. ARSOF [Army Special Operations Forces] conduct them abroad in support of national foreign policy objectives, but in a manner that USG [US Government] participation is neither apparent nor publicly acknowledged.”
The 200-page Army field manual, which remains in effect, was issued in 2001. A copy of the unclassified document was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Army Special Operations Forces Intelligence,” Field Manual FM 3-05.102, July 2001.
The secrecy of DoD special operations has significantly impeded oversight and accountability, reported Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker this week. The Hersh article also said that the Bush Administration had “unilaterally determined after 9/11” that military intelligence operations could be conducted on presidential authority without congressional notification — notwithstanding the contrary language of the Army field manual.
The “can do” attitude that characterizes Army and other special operations forces makes them attractive to policy makers, but it can also be a cause for concern, according to a congressional review (pdf) of the failed Army Ranger mission in Somalia in 1993 (cited in a 2006 paper [pdf] by David Tucker and Christopher J. Lamb of National Defense University).
“One of the weaknesses of a unit like Task Force Ranger, whose combat capabilities are unparalleled, is the belief by the unit members and its commanders that they can accomplish any mission.”
“Because of the supreme confidence of special operations forces, the chain of command must provide more oversight to this type of unit than to conventional forces.”
See “Review of the Circumstances Surrounding the Ranger Raid on October 3-4, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia,” Senate Armed Services Committee, September 29, 1995.