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John McCain’s Terrorists

The White House strategy to “destroy” ISIS, the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, depends in part on a vague plan to support moderate elements in the opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, presumably to serve as boots on the ground to complete the job started through aerial attacks provided by U.S.-led coalition forces.

Ironically, President Obama in embracing such an approach contradicts his own assertion, made two months ago, that arming Syria’s pro-democracy opposition has always been a “fantasy.” Unfortunately, it is still a fantasy and the competition to find the good insurgents has led to some sharp exchanges between two Republican senators.

Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul have been trading barbs relating to a visit made by McCain last May to meet with Syrian rebels. The meeting included a photo op with the Northern Storm Brigade, a group then receiving U.S. assistance even though little was known about the organization or its leaders.

Paul has claimed somewhat hyperbolically that McCain met with ISIS, a charge that both the senator from Arizona and the mainstream media have sought to dismiss, but it now appears that the Northern Storm Brigade was the organization that sold American journalist Steven Sotloff to ISIS. Sotloff was subsequently beheaded.


John McCain may have been guilty of a ridiculous publicity stunt, but he certainly did not knowingly meet with a terrorist-affiliated group. Yet the fact that he did appear with these rebels—presumably after receiving the imprimatur of whomever from the intelligence or spec-ops community was managing ground operations in Syria from the U.S. perspective—demonstrates just how murky the whole Syrian enterprise has become. Shifting loyalties are certainly the norm, and by all accounts groups like the Northern Storm Brigade are ideologically fuzzy opportunists who are in the game for themselves and whatever they might get out of the continuing anarchy. It and similar groups might well constitute the majority of the “moderate rebels” that the president is hoping to mobilize. thisarticleappeared-novdec14 [1]

Amidst all the confusion, the intelligence community is particularly concerned lest it again be scapegoated by policymakers who want it to do the impossible. There are a handful of CIA and military operational officers on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but they lack the resources to track insurgents or to categorize their political leanings as good or bad, particularly as third-country volunteers continue to flow into the most extreme organizations worldwide. To a limited extent earlier in Iraq, and subsequently much more in Afghanistan, it was possible to track local residents using biometrics, a necessary expedient because it was and is far too easy to change one’s name and obtain false documents in the region. The biometrics program was so widespread that at one point it was suggested that most of the Afghan male population over the age of 14 might eventually be entered into a database. But that could be aspired to only because coalition forces controlled the ground, meaning that they could establish technical registration points and incorporate the information into something like public records.

No such control over the environment exists in the affected regions of Iraq and Syria, meaning that telling friends from enemies is largely guesswork.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "John McCain’s Terrorists"

#1 Comment By Woke Up With Wood On October 23, 2014 @ 12:21 am

I have it on good authority that McCain keeps a device in his Senate office that answers to this purpose. He grips it with both hands and trains it on Time magazine photos of various suspect foreigners, and by its shifts and turns it tells him who is a terrorist and who not. It is wooden, about 4 feet long, and cloven at the base, and in McCain’s experienced hands it is infallible.

#2 Comment By T. Sledge On October 23, 2014 @ 10:33 am

Next spring there will be lots of publicity about the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the triumphant march of NVN troops into the city.

What probably won’t be commemorated (at least not here in the US) are the exploits of South Vietnamese who worked closely with Americans such as Phạm Xuân Ẩn, who were simultaneously NVN spies.

How many “rebels” will be clever enough to take advantage of Americans lack of understanding of the fluid nature of the loyalties of these “rebels” to play Americans for fools as Phạm Xuân Ẩn did for over 20 years.

#3 Comment By Wkly Std Reader On October 23, 2014 @ 11:30 am

John McCain has demonstrated that he is able to transform terror organizations like MEK into “good insurgents” purely by the exercise of his mental faculties. Doubtless he is doing something of the sort with “Northern Storm Brigade”. Rather than questioning his judgment or sanity, we should be all be thanking him for his efforts to make us all safer.

#4 Comment By David Darnovsky On October 23, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

The Neocons need to realize that they’re the only ones involved in the region, who believe in grandiose ideas about “democracy”, “human rights”, and “liberty.” These rebel factions, like the Assad regime, are mainly concerned with gaining power and influence. They manipulate dopes like McCain to get American funding, only to turn on America later down the road.

#5 Comment By Clint On October 23, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

John McCain On Rand Paul,
“I’ve seen him grow, and I’ve seen him mature, and I’ve seen him become more centrist.
I know that, if he were president or a nominee, I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn’t be a problem.”

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 23, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

“How many “rebels” will be clever enough to take advantage of Americans lack of understanding of the fluid nature of the loyalties of these “rebels” to play Americans for fools as Phạm Xuân Ẩn did for over 20 years.”

You are among those misguided youths who actually believe that the US lost Vietnam to some invasion by the North.

check your history. The US along with the South Vietnamese won the Vietnam conflict. That we did not ensure that victory by remaining in country is sad.

But make no mistake, whatever the spy network, ultimately the North gave up and sued for peace, which they then as had been their custom violated the agreement by invading after the US departure.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 23, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

“The Neocons need to realize that they’re the only ones involved in the region, who believe in grandiose ideas about “democracy”, “human rights”, and “liberty.” These rebel factions, like the Assad regime, are mainly concerned with gaining power and influence.”

Obviously wholly ignorant of what party holds the wh and initiated and implemented the removal of Quadafi, arms the rebel factions in Syria but siding with Syria against ISIS — that’ll be an interesting conclusion, destabilized Egypt, didn’t care who took power according to Sec. Clinton and then immediately bemoaned the winners. Supported and encouraged a violent revolution in the Ukraine, failed to ensure the Shia administered a fair system of government, tolerated rampant kidnappings and murders and has now returned to Iraq after first abandoning the effort —

Will liberal never tire or distorting history by distorting the available data.

I am not sure if you are aware of this but democrats are responsible for current policy.

#8 Comment By T. Sledge On October 23, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

“The US along with the South Vietnamese won the Vietnam conflict. ”

The “victor” in a war is the side that sees its objectives achieved. Unless the American and South Vietnamese objective was to see the NVN drive down from the north and take over the entire country and unify it under North Vietnamese control, then WE LOST THE DAMN WAR.

#9 Comment By HeartRight On October 24, 2014 @ 9:35 am

T. Sledge says:

EliteCommInc is fully aware of that.
He is simply spinning the tale as Neocons do.
Not because he is one, nor because he approves of it, but to show what they are doing.

#10 Comment By T. Sledge On October 24, 2014 @ 11:40 am

To “HeartRight”:

You’re right, of course. BUT this idiotic notion that the NVN ever expected to march thousands of US troops into POW camps and have the US sue for peace misses the entire strategy that HO CHI MINH pursued.

He expected US to kill dozens of his for every one that they killed of ours, but he knew we are not a society that will sacrifice a whole generation in such a futile war. HO and GIAP were PERFECTLY WILLING to sacrifice a whole generation of NVN youth in order to break our will to sacrifice as many as 100,000.

As far as “breaking a truce” after American forces withdrew, is he so foolish as to think GIAP gave a rat’s ass about a truce signed with (as he saw it) a bunch of interlopers who were just part of a continual struggle of the NVN to rid his country of foreigners.

The Chinese conquered and ruled the Vietnamese over and over for centuries and the Vietnamese never stopped struggling against them — they never just threw up their hands and settled in to being just another minority in the Han Chinese Empire. EVERY Vietnamese kid learns that history in primary school.

I’m not some “misguided youth”. I am a 63 year old man who served as a (very) low level enlisted man near the tail end of that conflict (VFW MEMBER # 10196112 At Large Pennsylvania).

I did NOTHING heroic during that war … I was in a non-combat role. But the ONE thing we ought to do in memory of the 58,000 who died in that war is to stop pretending that the ones who got those 58,000 souls killed were anything but a bunch of screw ups — because that is what they WERE.

#11 Comment By sam masud On October 24, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

I admire Mr. Giraldi, but did he say that McCain does not knowingly meet with terrorist groups? Well, that would depend on one’s definition/perception of terrorism.

What is happening in the ME are civil wars. Let them sort things out themselves, and we can get back to business once the dust settles.

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 24, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

“it was possible to track local residents using biometrics, a necessary expedient”

Homeland Security, away from home.

I guess that’s what “exporting democracy” and “nation-building” are really all about. No wonder the Ferguson police look just like a foreign occupation army. “Necessary” as in “indispensable?”

#13 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 24, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

How does this murderous fool keep winning GOP primaries in Arizona?

#14 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 24, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

Clint: can you please provide a source for McCain’s statement about Rand Paul? I hope it’s not an accurate quote, and even more I hope that such an assessment of Rand is wrong.

So far Rand looks to be the best candidate who is considered likely to run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

But I’m getting the feeling that he will feel compelled to make enough war-mongering comments in the primaries that I will be voting for him only in the primary and then pulling the general-election lever for the Libertarian Party. (same as 2012)

Well, we live in California, so I don’t think my voting third-party again is going to “help the Republican lose” a close race for the State’s electoral votes anyway….

#15 Comment By Sandy On October 25, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

It’s trivial to tell friend from foe in the Muslim world. You know the enemy because he immediately attempts to shoot you, stab you, or blow you up. You know a friendly because he doesn’t shoot, stab, or blow you up until your back is turned. An infallible metric.