With the spotlight shining brightly on the Joint Special Operations Command, several of its component units have receded further into the shadows. As secretive as the Army and Navy special missions units are — here I'm talking about the units popularly known as SEAL Team Six and Delta Force — they are relatively easy to write about compared to their cousin, known informally as The Activity. As ABC News reports, The Activity's missions will now be told in comic book form:
So what's The Activity, really? It was formed after the Iranian hostage crisis to give Army special operations forces an indigenous, dedicated intelligence capability. Now, it is a self-contained special missions unit of its own, based in Ft. Belvoir, Va., and three other locations worldwide. It owns property in Alexandria, Va., Bethesda, Md., Rome, N.Y., and in four other cities nationwide.
It provides the entire special operations community with actionable intelligence ahead of discrete missions. With the exception of its new cyber squadron, its charter and structure is largely the same as when it was last disclosed: there's a signals intelligence division, a human intelligence detachment (spies and analysts), a communications squadron, an aviation squadron (pilots fly AC-130 gunships and RC-12 Guardrails), and an administrative support division. When The Activity provides its people to a joint special operations task force, it's known as "Orange." When its case officers, some of them women, recruit sources and sneak into countries to operationally prepare the battlefield, it is known by whatever nickname is given to the mission. Some old-timers refer it by a classified trigraph, OMS; it made an appearance in Bob Woodward's account of the early hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan as "Gray Fox." Gray Fox was the deployment name for The Activity in Afghanistan.
Its budget — about $80 million — is classified. And its intelligence missions are not subject to oversight by the Congressional intelligence committees because virtually all Activity activity supports active or planned military missions. A few people on the Armed Services Committees have some familiarity with the Activity, but its visibility is kept low. This isn't to shield it from Congress necessarily. The Department of Defense (and the president) have, with The Activity, an intelligence service about which so little is known that even the enemy doesn't think to wonder whether their spies are in country. The Activity frequently works in conjunction with the Technical Operations Support Activity, which does classified airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the Special Operations Command.
Recruiting for The Activity is done by the United States Army Skills Evaluation Detachment, which describes its classified mission in this way. USASED:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- How to stop misogynists from terrorizing the world of gamers
- How Harry Houdini escaped death
- On ISIS, neocons and liberal hawks have a 'boy who cried wolf' problem
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
Subscribe to the Week