War Powers

Revealing the Deployment to Somalia: Drawing the Sting Before a Snowden Document Goes Public?

By Robert Chesney
Friday, January 10, 2014, 6:48 PM

Did the government reveal the presence of US military advisors in Somalia in order to beat the Guardian or some other Snowden outlet to the punch?

Earlier today, Jack posted about the likelihood that the metes and bounds of JSOC's shadow conflict with al Qaeda (and perhaps others) will come into public light involuntarily at some point, quite possibly in a very damaging manner.  He wrote this because of a report that the Snowden cache may contain a large number of documents exposing details of "vital" U.S. military operations, and it is indeed easy to imagine that somewhere in the trove are indications of such things as deployments of personnel to certain sensitive locations.  The important point, of course, is that there may be room to spin the nature of such deployments one way or another in the battle of public narratives regarding their propriety, and there is nothing quite like the first-mover advantage one gets in framing such stories, as the ongoing NSA revelations has illustrated more than once.

All of which makes me wonder whether the administration might be spending much time these days trying to determine which details of this kind might as well be revealed by it, on its own terms, rather than await the next unexpected headline.  They certainly ought to be doing that, both because it is simply a smart move in the context of their ongoing public affairs problems flowing from Snowden, and because it is always worth giving serious attention to whether such details can in fact be brought into public light.  At any rate, as if on cue, the Post reports today:

A cell of U.S. military personnel has been stationed in the Somali capital of Mogadishu since last fall to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia, an Islamist group whose leaders have professed loyalty to al-Qaeda, according to three U.S. military officials.

To be clear, I don't find this particularly surprising, nor problematic (it is a really good example of the increasingly-important counterterrorism mode in which our method is to act "by, with, and through" foreign partners).  But I can imagine the story having been framed in a very different way if it emerged from the "Snowden Files" complete with framing as an expose.

If this is an exercise in preemptive public affairs, it will be interesting to see if we see some kind of race-to-release regarding whatever other details of this kind might be in the Snowden files.  Funny that both sides in this potential dance might be acting through the Post, potentially...