The Pentagon is running a 60,000-strong secret army made up of soldiers, civilians and contractors, who travel the world under false identities embedded in consultancies and name-brand companies — without the knowledge of the American people or most of Congress — according to a report.
The top-secret army was created by the Pentagon over the past 10 years as part of a program called “signature reduction,” and operates both domestically and internationally using a low-profile force of clandestine warriors who sometimes don civilian clothes as they carry out their assignments, Newsweek reported.
The force is 10 times the size of the covert elements of the CIA, comes with a cost of more than $900 million, and engages about 130 private companies in operations in locales like the Middle East and Africa, the report said.
Despite its size and budget, Congress has never held a hearing on the undercover army.
About half of the “signature reduction” force is made up of special forces, the highly-trained commandos who pursue terrorists around the world, including in Iran and North Korea.
Military intelligence specialists comprise the second largest element inside the force.
But the newest and fastest-growing group in the unit is made up of cyber-warriors who use false personas and “nonattribution” or “misattribution” techniques online to disguise themselves so they can track high-value targets, collect “publicly accessible information” and engage in influence campaigns to manipulate social media.
“Signature reduction” programs, which are administered by a number of shadowy government organizations, have no unclassified definition, and are portrayed by the Defense Intelligence Agency as what “individuals might use to … describe operational security measures for a variety of activities and operations.”
The report said ultimately the programs shield the operators from being identified by the groups they are tracking online and cover their cyber tracks to keep their identities secret to protect them from retaliation.
One recently retired senior officer who oversaw one of the programs said no one is fully aware of their extent or the implications they have for military warfare.
“Everything from the status of the Geneva Conventions – were a soldier operating under false identity to be captured by an enemy – to Congressional oversight is problematic,” the person told Newsweek. “Most people haven’t even heard of the term ‘signature reduction’ let alone what it creates.”
The report cited one instance in which a clandestine operative had been outed while trying to recruit a double agent.
Moscow in May 2013 ordered a “third secretary” by the name of Ryan Fogle to leave the country and released photos of him wearing a blond wig and carrying four pairs of sunglasses, a street map, a compass, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife, and a cell phone that, according to one media article, looked like it had “been on this earth for at least a decade.”
Fogle’s expulsion attracted the attention of the international news media and brought scorn from retired CIA officials about the lack of tradecraft.
But Fogle’s mocked cellphone hid a more sophisticated device.
Brenda Connolly – not her real name, Newsweek pointed out – works for a small defense contractor that produces instruments for “signature reduction.”
Connolly said Fogle’s seemingly outdated phone concealed a “covert communications” device and that he was wearing a radio frequency identification shield to block electronic tracking.
“And who do you think implants those devices?” Connolly asks, then answers. “Military guys, special ops guys working to support even more secretive operations.”