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Tuesday, January 25, 2005


the praetorian guard

in reading again the washington post's scoop on strategic support teams, i couldn't help but sort through for quotes:

Two longtime members of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, said they knew no details before being interviewed for this article.

Pentagon officials said they established the Strategic Support Branch using "reprogrammed" funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation.

Defense intelligence missions, they said, are subject to less stringent congressional oversight than comparable operations by the CIA.

Rumsfeld's ambitious plans rely principally on the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, and on its clandestine component, the Joint Special Operations Command. Rumsfeld has designated SOCOM's leader, Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, as the military commander in chief in the war on terrorism.

"Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and oversight, and the military has another," said a Republican member of Congress with a substantial role in national security oversight, declining to speak publicly against political allies. "It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around having any oversight by having the military do something that normally the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"

Some Pentagon officials refer to the combined units (of SOCOM) as the "secret army of Northern Virginia."
this last is particularly startling, as it so clearly parallels the function of the roman praetorian guard.

i can't imagine that the department of defense, armed with such freedom from senatorial interference as they are openly seeking to procure, is any less a constitution-wrecking, kingmaking threat than the praetorians were. if history is any guide, such a shadow army will quickly (if not already) be selected and staffed on vitriolic personal loyalty as much as competency. augustus was careful not to let the praetorians get too large or prominent -- preferring the illusion of republic, much as we do now -- but that cannot last once they realize their power.

perhaps rumsfeld is something of a sejanus -- but even if he isn't, someone soon will be. i don't think congress retains the authority anymore to provoke a confrontation with the imperial presidency and survive it as anything more than a hollow shell.


There's a few big differences between covert elements of the modern military and the Praetorian guard. For one, our military (of which I used to be a part) is indoctrinated to safeguard the constitution, not the executive. Also, however covert and special these elements may be, and unlike the PG, they still answer to higher conventional military authority who would never allow them the type of political influence enjoyed by the PG. I think the real risk here is that all the rules that have been established for CIA operations will get thrown out the window, and we will see our military getting involved with drug traffickers, thugs, assassins, terrorists, and so forth. This may apear ugly, but at least we'll get better HUMINT.

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