Once upon a time, dystopian fiction was left to the novelists: Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick. And once upon a time, the futuristic dreams of the military were distinctly upbeat. They were of generals leading armies to victory, of air power causing the morale of enemy nations to collapse (with surrender on the menu), of admirals dominating the seven seas with a fleet beyond compare -- 11 aircraft carriers included -- that would awe the rest of the world.
That was then; this is now. These days you're likely to hear the word "victory" in Washington about as often as "peace." In fact, according to the Washington Post, the futuristic phrase of the moment at the Pentagon, the one regularly on the lips of "senior officers," is the dystopian "infinite war." In translation: almost 17 years after the administration of George W. Bush launched its Global War on Terror and American military conflicts began to spread across the Greater Middle East, Asia, and Africa, no end is in sight. Ever. And that's not just a passing phrase in the Pentagon's arsenal of words. As TomDispatch regular Nick Turse makes clear today, as early as 2016, the Pentagon's fantasists were already producing dystopian scenarios of the first order, bloodcurdling tales of a forever-war-fighting future as an over-muscled replication of the present never-ending war on terror. They were already, that is, beginning to write their own Brave New World (of War), their own 2084, their own The Lieutenant's Tale, their own Do Drones Dream of Electric Terrorists?; they were, in short, creating stunningly well-funded gravestones for the American (and global) future. But let Turse tell you the rest. Tom
Narco-Corruption, ISIS 3.0, and the Terror Drone Attack That Never Happened
Pentagon Documents Detail Dystopian Dangers
By Nick Turse
For almost 20 years, U.S. drone warfare was largely one-sided. Unlike Afghans and Yemenis, Iraqis and Somalis, Americans never had to worry about lethal robots hovering overhead and raining down missiles. Until, that is, one appeared in the skies above Florida.
But that's a story for later. For now, let's focus on a 2017 executive order issued by President Trump, part of his second attempt at a travel ban directed primarily at citizens of Muslim-majority nations. It begins: "It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks."
That sentence would be repeated in a January report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." Meant to strengthen the president's case for the travel ban, it was panned for its methodological flaws, pilloried for its inaccuracies, and would even spur a lawsuit by the civil rights organization, Muslim Advocates, and the watchdog group, Democracy Forward Foundation. In their complaint, those groups contend that the report was "biased, misleading, and incomplete" and "manipulates information to support its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim conclusions."
To bolster the president's arguments for restricting the entry of foreigners into the United States, the DOJ/DHS analysis contained a collection of case summaries. Examples included: the Sudanese national who, in 2016, "pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS"; the Uzbek who "posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS"; the Syrian who, in a plea agreement, "admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah," an al-Qaeda offshoot.
Such cases cited in the report, hardly spectacular terror incidents, were evidently calculated to sow fears by offering a list of convicted suspects with Muslim-sounding names. But the authors of the report simply looked in the wrong places. They could have found startling summaries of truly audacious attacks against the homeland in a collection of U.S. military documents from 2016 obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. Those files detail a plethora of shocking acts of terrorism across the United States including mass poisonings, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and that "People's Armed Liberation (PAL) attack on U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa, Florida, [by] a drone-launched missile."
That's right! A drone-launched missile attack! On CENTCOM's Florida headquarters! By a terrorist group known as PAL!
Wondering how you missed the resulting 24/7 media bonanza, the screaming front page headlines in the New York Times, the hysterics on Fox & Friends, the president's hurricane of tweets?
Well, there's a simple explanation. That attack doesn't actually happen until May 2020. Or so says the summary of the 33rd annual Joint Land, Air, and Sea Strategic Special Program (JLASS-SP), an elaborate war game carried out in 2016 by students and faculty from the U.S. military's war colleges, the training grounds for its future generals and admirals.
PALing Around with Terrorists
The 2016 edition of JLASS-SP was played out remotely for weeks before culminating in a five-day on-site exercise at the Air Force Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. It involved 148 students from the Air Force's Air War College, the Army War College, the Marine Corps War College, the Naval War College, the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, the National War College, and the National Defense University's Information Resources Management College. Those up-and-coming officers -- some of whom will likely play significant roles in running America's actual wars in the 2020s -- confronted a future in which, as the script for the war game put it, "lingering jealousy and distrust of American power and national interests have made it politically and culturally difficult for the United States to act unilaterally."
Here's the scene as set in JLASS-SP: while the U.S. is still economically and militarily powerful into the next decade, anxieties abound about increasing constraints on the country's ability to control, dictate, and dominate world affairs. "Even in the military realm... advances by others in science and technology, expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and non-state actors, proliferation of nuclear weapons and long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks have increasingly constricted U.S. freedom of action," reads the war game's summary.
While the materials used are "not intended to be an actual prediction of events," they are explicitly meant "to reflect a plausible depiction of major trends and influences in the world regions." Indeed, what's striking about the exercise is how -- though scripted before the election of Donald Trump -- it anticipated many of the fears articulated in the president's December 2017 National Security Strategy. That document, for instance, bemoans the potential dangers not only of regional powers like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, but also of "transnational threats from jihadist terrorists and transnational criminal organizations," undocumented immigrants, "drug traffickers, and criminal cartels [which] exploit porous borders and threaten U.S. security and public safety."